Shroud of Shadow

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Authors: Gael Baudino
and burn it. God will have to make the final judgment, for I cannot. But he implicated Paul Drego before he returned to his heretical ways, and therefore I want Paul watched. I want his comings and goings made known to me. I want records of what he says, of his visitors and his guests.”
    Fredrick's glassy eyes saw nothing . . . or perhaps everything. Siegfried looked carefully into his face. Perhaps, just at the moment of death, Fredrick had seen . . . something. Something that might have left some faint mark of hope or terror in his visage. But no, nothing.
    What was he seeing now? God? The devil? Anything? What did heretics see? What had they been seeing when, years ago, they had naively claimed that a living man or woman could look into the stars and see the face of the Creator?
    Siegfried mopped his face again, turned away. Adoro te devote.
    Natil dreamed.
    The starlight was far fled from her, but for now she was not worried about the starlight, for at a time when starlight was unthinkable, starlight was valueless. In a time without starlight, what mattered was rebirth .
    There would be a land, a land far away across the ocean. She herself had trodden its length and breadth decades ago, searching fruitlessly for elvenkind. Far in the future, though, after a long winter of the world, a long slumber beneath a shroud of shadow so dark that it seemed absolute negation, it was there that the sleeping, elven blood would reawaken.
    How might it begin? she wondered. But perhaps she had seen exactly how it might begin. Amid sights and sounds that, with the openness of the dreamer, she accepted and called by their proper names—automobile, jet, radio—she saw that it might begin with a man named George Morrison, who, after standing in a fold of the Rocky Mountains, rapt by the coming of spring and by the undeniable response he felt in his blood and bone and fiber and sinew (no airy spiritualism here, but a stirring as visceral as an orgasm), was again driving west, following the setting sun, following the season of rebirth.
    The mountains stayed with him, somehow, as though they had found a small vacancy in his heart: a bare room with a bare bulb hanging from the middle of the ceiling, a mattress on the floor, perhaps a rickety table in the corner. Not quite flophouse accommodations, but certainly spartan and mean. But the meanness could be gotten rid of later, was, in fact, going away already, and George was satisfied that the mountains had decided to move in, to plunk a ratty old toothbrush into the unwashed plastic glass on the back of the toilet, to give him a wave and a cheerful Hi, roomie !
    But he knew that he was not supposed to remain in the mountains. He would return, but he could not stay. Not now. He had other things to do. And so, following that inner surge of life that echoed the rising sap in the pines and the aspens, his face stubbly and his shirt beginning to smell after an entire day of staring at mountains and trees as though he had never seen such outlandish things before—mountains, trees: what did that mean, anyway?—he had climbed back into the van and continued west, picking up I-70 after a few minutes, rumbling up to the Continental Divide in second gear, passing through the Eisenhower Tunnel (the van rolling smoothly now, like a bullet through a rifle barrel) and down the Western Slope.
    He drove throughout the night with the moonlit mountains rising about him like cupped hands. April. Spring. But it was not just April or spring—he sensed dimly that it was much bigger than that. He had heard about the Age of Aquarius foolishness that was bandied about by people who wore headbands and spoke a little too quickly, but it was, yes, bigger than that, too.
    George found that he was thinking of it as a matter of breath. Somehow, as he had stood entranced in the little valley just off Highway 6, the earth—the whole planet, perhaps the whole universe—had breathed . A long

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