Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Smokestack

Sure enough, there's a smokestack in the center of Ayagolla. It's a hollow monolith of ancient red brick on the highest point of the mesa. A rusty ladder is bolted to its side. Anyone can climb up and look into the opening on the top, so that's exactly what I did.

The outside of the smokestack is about as tall as a two-story house; it's small compared to most of the ones on Hamjamser. Inside, however, the hole goes down too far to see. It's at least as deep as the bottom of the mesa.

Being large, ancient, inexplicable, and remarkably well-preserved, the smokestacks are generally thought to be yet another mysterious leftover from the Hill Builders. They seem to be made of perfectly ordinary, if rather large, red bricks; several of the stacks are known to be at least a thousand years old, though, and they don't look more than a few hundred. Nobody has ever built as permanently as the Hill Builders. They're named for it, after all.

The smokestacks turn up all over Hamjamser, usually in high places. There are at least fourteen in the Railway Regions. Explorers have found them rising unsinking from the Great Shwamp, drifted in sand in the Golden Desert, and crowning the peaks of half a dozen islands in Kennyrubin. They're all made of identical red bricks, no matter where they are. As far as anyone can tell, the smokestacks are bottomless. Explorers who go down them run out of rope before they reach anything. Attempts to excavate the stacks, to follow them from the outside, have turned up nothing but endless perfect rows of bricks. The shafts are too narrow for flight; the bases are wider than the tops, but they stay the same width below the ground. Katara Katravandisask, the notorious daredevil photographer, probably would have gone down one long ago if her wings could fit.

A few people - geckos and insects, mostly - have managed to climb down the inside walls of smokestacks. They've brought back strange tales of tunnels and rooms at the center of the world. Some say the smokestacks go straight through the planet, and that each one has an identical counterpart on the opposite side. (This theory is only held by supporters of the round-world theory, of course - the flat, shapeless, mosaic, and moebius world theorists think it's complete nonsense.)

No smoke ever comes out of the stacks - they're named only for their shapes - but they're always a few degrees warmer than the surrounding air. The inside of Ayagolla's is full of bats and cliff-swallow nests. Aeroscorpions hook themselves to cracks in the bricks during the Winter. A few of the cold-blooded villagers join them, preferring to hibernate in the warmth of the smokestack instead of their own chilly basements. They hang little tents inside the bottomless hole. From the top, I could see several of them hanging like canvas fruit over the empty blackness. Each tent has at least five or six ropes holding it to the top of the smokestack, as does each person inside it. Apparently, the drop doesn't bother them.

The Ayagollans agreed to let Miss Hepsedine plant a small inkweed sprout at the base of the stack. It's the perfect spot - the bricks are surprisingly smooth after hundreds or thousands of years of weather, and the ground all around them is as black as charcoal.

On a completely different topic, I heard from another passenger on the Train that there was an accident at the Bank of Bannarbangle last month. A dragon's hoard fell through the floor and ended up hopelessly mixed with the vault of gold below it. It took weeks to sort them out. The dragon is thought to have come out of the mess about thirty pounds richer than before; when a dragon says that yes, it is sure that this particular brick belongs to it, you don't argue. The whole thing reminded me instantly of Professor Flanderdrack. I wonder where he is right now.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

  • Stats Tracked by StatCounter