by CJ Reddick
Chapter 4-ish in Five Falling Cities
I was a bit annoyed at Ayisha’s remark, but she was right. It was time for tea, and I was famished from running from the huesteños. We slowly drove through the streets until we found a small café. Uluru, it was called. We entered and took a seat by the window, looking out onto the street. A young, red-headed waitress with a name tag that read DONNA took our order. Within minutes, she brought out some Irish nachos, a cup of tea, and two Coca-Colas. We sat in silence as we devoured the nachos. When they were about halfway gone, I decided I was tired of pretending nothing had happened.
“Ayisha, what is going on?” I finally demanded.
Ayisha stirred her tea and leaned forward a bit.
“If you wanted to annihilate the human race, bring it to its knees, how would you do it?”
“You're a chess player, Lane. You're a strategist. What would you do first?”
I stopped and thought a moment. I figured she wasn't going to explain anything unless I played along.
“Take out communication and technology. If the countries of the world can't work together and can't use their machinery, they are much, much easier to combat.”
Ayisha drew a T on the table with her finger. The grease and sweat smeared the glass and left the T semi visible.
“Now you, Rhett. What's next?”
Rhett looked startled but cleared his throat and spoke after a second.
“Um... Organization would have to go. That's usually what happens next in the movies isn't it? After the disaster people go berserk.”
Ayisha nodded and drew a D on the table.
“Then what?” her eyes indicated it was my turn. I thought. This was getting harder.
“I don't know.”
“Yes, you do, Lane. You're God. How do you turn us back into animals? What else do you take away?”
“Knowledge,” Rhett piped up. We both looked at him and he flushed.
“Go on,” Ayisha said.
“If you erase all sophisticated knowledge from humanity’s collective unconscious, we'd be little more than animals.”
“Excellent,” Ayisha drew a K on the table, although I noticed it was closer to the D than the D was to the T. It was almost as if there was a space missing between the D and the T.
“Now think. You've stolen almost everything from humanity, but there's still a little more left. What else makes us human?”
The answer came to me almost immediately.
“Faith. A belief in a higher power. A belief in the good in the world. Take that away, and we'd be utterly hopeless.”
Ayisha drew an F next to the K, and then looked up.
“Very good. However, you missed one.”
She moved her finger back to the space between the T and the D.
“Imagine a world without joy, without hope. Imagine we lost the one language we all speak, regardless of race, religion, or gender. A language so basic to humanity that is impossible to go a day without hearing it. Do you know what that language is?”
Rhett and I shook our heads simultaneously. Ayisha smirked and drew an M in the blank space.
“M?” Rhett asked.
“Music,” Ayisha whispered.
“Seriously? I'd believe all the others, but music? It's that important to humanity?”
“Listen,” Ayisha commanded, and we were all silent for a moment. I could hear the soft music being played through the speakers surrounding the café, the bass of a stereo in a passing car. All over I could see people with headphones, nodding their heads to different beats.
“We swim in music. It is as natural and unnoticeable to us as air. And where would we be without air?”
I slowly nodded. I understood her point.
“Okay, but even if music is one of the… I don't know what you'd call them, pillars of humanity? Even if it is one of those, it doesn't really matter, because nobody can take those away.”
“But they can, can't they?” I looked to Ayisha, who nodded glumly.
“Lane? You can't believe this rubbish. Can you?”
“Rhett, our foster mother just released a pack of miniature carnivorous skeletons on us, and Ayisha saved us from them by freezing their grave, which she knew how to do because of the mysterious annotations of a world-famous nonsensical poem. I'm going to assume she knows more than we do at this point.”
Rhett sat back and sighed. “Right then. Go on.”
Ayisha smiled. “Thanks, Rhett. So, yes, these “pillars” are concepts and so, in theory, they shouldn't be able to be destroyed. The power of an idea cannot be overcome. But, unfortunately, it can be contained. And the item it can be contained in, well, it can be destroyed. And if the container of idea is destroyed, what happens to the idea?”
“It dissipates,” I answered. “It spreads so thin that it essentially doesn't exist.”
“Lane, how'd you know that?”
I stopped. “I don't know.”
Ayisha nodded. “Interesting. I have a theory, but it hasn't been confirmed. Just know that you two are very, very special.”
I blushed, but I felt it was something deeper that just a nice compliment.
“So, you're saying that there are five objects in the world that hold the concentrations of intangible things that have shaped humanity?”
Ayisha nodded again. “They're called tulpas. In Tibetan mythology, a tulpa was a being created out of pure thought. These tulpas are similar. A person, or group of persons, believed so strongly in an idea that it concentrated around them. And they, by creating a representation of that idea, unknowingly created tulpas for the great ideas of humanity to inhabit.”
“And Viv… I mean Vivienne, she wants to destroy these tulpas?” Rhett asked.
“Yes. She's been trying to for two centuries.”
Ayisha shrugged. “Bitterness? Disappointment? A genuine desire to see the world burn? I'm not sure entirely. But she has found some way to retain her youth. She has not aged since the eighteenth century.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Aside from having been tracking her most of my life? Search Vivienne Haigh-Wood and see what comes up.”
I looked at Rhett dubiously, but pulled out my phone. I did a quick search on the Internet, and found a short bio of her. Born 1888, married T.S. Eliot, committed to a mental hospital in 1938, died in 1947. She seemed like a relatively ordinary woman, but when the picture of her loaded, I gasped.
Viv Russell in a 1920s dress and hat stared back at me. Rhett took the phone from me and his jaw dropped. “That's Viv!”
“Yeah, she's looked like that since 1794. I think. That's when the first Vivienne ‘died.’”
I was surprisingly not shell shocked. I supposed the huesteños had made me willing to believe anything at this point.
“So what does this,” I gestured to the manuscript in my bag, “and T.S. Eliot have to do with all of this?”
“Have you ever read ‘The Waste Land?’”
I shook my head and looked over to Rhett, who looked as confused as me.
“It's one of the most mysterious poems ever written. It's so full of allusions, so broken, so nonsensical, that no one fully understands it. Scholars have debated about what it means for almost a hundred years now.”
“But who annotated it then?” Rhett asked.
“I'm getting to that. You see, the reason that no one understands it is the last thing any sane person would expect. Eliot was a prophet.”
She paused, and took in our calm faces. “No more calling me crazy?”
“At this point, no,” Rhett answered.
“Right then. Well, Eliot was a prophet, and ‘The Waste Land’ is his prophecy. He foresaw that someone would try to steal and then destroy the tulpas. And so, he left instructions on what exactly would happen, and certain details on how to prevent it. Unfortunately, prophecies are never clear, and Eliot’s marriage to Vivienne really confused him.”
“How did that happen, anyways?” I asked.
“Eliot marrying Vivienne.”
“That is truly tragic. See, Eliot foresaw that a woman would help interpret his prophecy. He went to Madame Sosostris, the clairvoyante, and got a personal reading, which he detailed in the first section of the poem. Anyways, she told him that he was to marry this woman, and that her name started with V. Enter Vivienne Haigh-Wood. Eliot falls for her, she uses some of her pre-acquired knowledge of the tulpas to convince him she is the prophesied woman, and they get married.”
“So Vivienne knew he was a prophet?”
“Yes. He was the seventh child of a seventh child, which are rare. And, more importantly, Madame Sosostris gave her a reading foretelling the rising of a prophet, and a time, date, and place where she’d find him.”
“Wait, wait, wait! I thought Eliot went to Madame Sosostris,” Rhett exclaimed.
“Yeah, he did.”
“So why didn't she tell him? Is she good or evil?”
“Well, for one, she didn't know. And as far as good or evil, I think you'll find that out soon enough.”
“What? Why?” I demanded.
“Well, obviously, if Eliot put it in the poem, we need to check it out. Lane, if you'd check the annotations.”
I pulled the manuscript out of my bag.
“Check before the part about the huesteños, it should start ‘Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante,’” Ayisha instructed.
I found the line and read.
“Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyante, had a bad cold, nevertheless is known to be the wisest woman in Europe, with a wicked pack of cards. Here, said she, is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor, (those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!) Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks, the lady of situations. Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel, and here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card, which is blank, is something he carries on his back, which I am forbidden to see. I do not find the Hanged Man.”
I jumped over to the annotations.
“In 1914, Tom went to visit Madame Sosostris, the clairvoyante. This passage describes his fortune. Although he did not know what the cards were called, I used the descriptions he provided to figure out what exactly was read to him. It appears that the first card (the drowned Phoenician Sailor) is the five of cups, the second (the Belladonna) is the High Priestess, the third (the man with three staves) is the three of wands, the Wheel is the Wheel of Fortune, the one-eyed merchant is the Fool, and the blank card was, in fact, blank. Most of these seem related to his first marriage, but the blank card signifies that it was an incomplete reading. Madame Sosostris must be consulted again.”
I looked up. “So this Madame Sosostris is still alive?”
“Short answer: yes. Long answer: no. Madame Sosostris is alive, but the Madame who gave Eliot his reading is dead. She'll explain it to you.”
“Where is she?”
“Well, right here in London, of course!”
“Yeah! She lives in Camden.”
“That's on the other side of town!”
“Lane, I have a feeling we're going to be traveling a lot further than across London.”
The waitress came up with the cheque. “Pay Bella at the counter when you leave. Stay as long as you like.”
We thanked her and stood. After paying, we exited the café. We climbed into Ayisha’s automobile and strapped in. Ayisha suddenly stopped and turned around.
“Does anybody have money for petrol?”