Outside, the storm raged on, coating the evening with fine white snow, coming down in crystals and dots and stars. Metal trees lay uprooted or bent broken with the weight of killing ice. All around the mansion, lying facedown, were the bodies of people sacrificed to the dying sun, arranged in concentric rows fanning out far as the un-mechanized eye could see.
Inside, the ballroom began to move, and it demanded great skill by the dancers not to topple or otherwise mar their pseudo-cyborgian grace. The ballroom swiftly and smoothly ascended from the second story to the sixth, and then moved from the south wing to the west.
A woman could be heard singing above massed flutes, far off, multiplied, her voice repeating the same three notes, voluptuously, achingly, on a loop that jerked the third note back into the first – repeat, repeat.
The dance changed, so that the dancers abandoned the nth revival of the fango-fango and moved to hold their partners close, putting sharpened fang to willing throat. There was no blood here to be spilt; it was simply the only gesture of passion they still knew.
Rosa, in her slinky gold lamé dress, waited impatiently for the ballroom to stop. She had a tryst and didn’t want to be late. As usual, she was wearing a stolen necklace and one too many rings.
The room seemed to have ceased its travels for the moment, though this may have merely been a lull. Rosa found herself in a sonic atmosphere of synthetic violins and harpsichords while she moved through an archway of softly beating violet rays. The next room was upside down, or else she was – there was no way to be sure. She walked across the ceiling, tapping the chandelier with a finger, looking up at the furniture on the floor.
The Blue Room – most often called the Sky Room, because the Count could look down from his balcony as though his head was the sun in some memory or film of the prehistoric sky. Down below, the masses toiled, each figure hand-turning a pedal on a beautiful bicycle wheel mounted on a stand, motion blurring the shiny silver spokes. The Count liked this effect.
Rosa kissed him, with some affectation of passion. The Count allowed himself to be kissed.
“Are you bored?” she asked him.
“Am I more bored now than before?” the Count replied.
“Am I boring you?”
“Maybe I like the way you bore me. Maybe I want you to bore me all night.”
Rosa smiled. “You take more pleasure in your boredom than anyone I’ve ever known.”
“I do my best.”
The room shuddered as the usual routine was disturbed by the revelation of an intruder — reality bulged when a young and handsome insect stepped out of seeming nowhere pointing a revolver at the Count.
“Look what we have here,” said the Count. “This fool thinks he can kill me with a gun.”
“Good luck,” said Rosa to the assassin, looking him over. “There’s more where he comes from.”
The new entity said nothing, breathing hard, pointing the gun.
“Even if you could finish him off,” Rosa said, “he’ll only reappear. Why don’t you save your bullets for yourself?”
“There’s more than enough to go around,” the Count offered, with a laugh.
“I’m here for a reason,” said Leon, the young man, making a tremendous effort to assert himself.
And then he shot the Count. There was the noise of the gun, and then the slender victim fell, bitter magenta honey running out of the wounds.
“There!” said Rosa, “you’ve done it. Congratulations. Now what are you going to tell them?”
She indicated, with a delicately amused gesture, the crowd so far below, who’d heard the shots and now clamored for more information, hungry for gossip and attention, panicky, suffering from information-hunger, turning their wheels erratically or not at all.
Leon was all confidence. He had taken on some color and grown a mustache; he moved like a big jaguar as his eyes roved up and down her body, inhaling the sweet odor of her tender flesh.
“I’ll talk to them,” he said, and strode out onto the balcony with his arms upraised and outstretched. “I’ve done it,” he announced. “We’re free!”
They all cheered and left their wheels, celebrating with embraces and screams.
Leon quieted them down and said, “Don’t leave your work yet. In a few minutes you can stop once and for all.”
The logic seemed sound. And so they went back to work, talking excitedly, laughing and smiling, whilst Leon went back into the sky.
“What am I going to do?” he said, mask of confidence falling onto the floor and shattering like cheap glass. “They can’t stop, they must not even slow down. I can’t let us freeze. Where are the instructions?”
“You should have asked the Count,” Rosa said.
“There must be a sacred text here someplace. Do you know where it is?” Leon pointed the revolver at her. She merely laughed, pushing the barrel aside with her finger: it bent like a licorice rope. She came into his arms.
“You’re so strong,” she said. “I’m glad you’re here instead of the Count — although you already look just like him. He was getting stale. I fell in love with you at first sight. Those assholes will do anything you say.”
“Yes, you’re right. Didn’t they used to have faces?”
“No. You deceived yourself. Probably watched too many old films.”
“Yes, it’s true. But I’ve got to find out how to make things work – I can’t just let the world freeze and fall apart. There must be an automatic switch here someplace.”
He went through the Count’s desk, strewing papers everywhere, sometimes pausing to examine little cards, strange toys and figures of forgotten gods — then throwing everything onto the floor, as colored lights began blinking on and off. Rosa pretended to help him look, enjoying the game of making a mess. She pulled the books out of the bookcases, onto the floor, breaking cuneiform tablets and ripping up hieroglyphed scrolls
At last Leon tired, losing his n and lapsing into mere Leo, sitting on the red couch with his head in his hands, lost in despair, electrical aura crackling and popping while his mind flew around desperately inside his skull — a trapped bat in a jar. Rosa comforted him, caressing his shoulders and kissing him on the neck.
“Don’t worry, Qum wasn’t built in an hour.”
“You’re the only one who understands me,” he sobbed, face pressed to her swelling breasts. She kissed him again, then sucked on his white throat with a low hum, feeling the rush of salty, magnetic power, the shiny black blood filling her out.
When she let him go, she was voluptuous, plump breasts barely held in by her low-cut bodice. Her hair had gone from pale straw-blond to electric auburn-red.
Leo sighed and groaned. He seemed shorter and had lost considerable muscle tone and bulk. He was now wearing an elegant lemon-yellow suit, dead pink flower in his lapel, hair slicked back, messy nonetheless.
“What time is it?” he asked, looking around like a junkie in a daze. “I’m so hungry,” he said, advancing upon a silver platter of delicacies.
Rosa, now Mariarosa, stretched and yawned. Leo’s table manners were obscene. That mouth!
“You eat like a pig,” she said. “No,” she added,” that’s an insult to the pig.”
“I’m so empty, I feel so empty inside — it’s as though I could eat for days and never fill myself up.”
“The stooges are letting the temperature fall. You’ve lost control.”
Eating a piece of babycake, Leo wandered out onto the balcony. He shivered at the aluminum cold.
The people saw Leo via their visual receivers as enormously fat, a glutton beginning to grow breasts, his now tiny penis, dangling chocolate-stained out of his open fly. He told them to be patient, just be patient, everything will be fine. He repeated himself, voice growing higher in pitch until he stopped.
“I can’t stand to look at them,” he said, once safely back inside. “They’re disgusting! What kind of creatures are they? They’re like monsters drawn by a retarded child.”
Rosa was now Rosario, dressed in jeans and a work shirt. Butch, muscular and bold, with short dark hair, wearing jeans, soiled t-shirt and motorcycle boots.
Leo tried to embrace her, but Rosario twisted away.
“If you want me to like you, put on a dress. I only go with girls.”
Leo fell to his knees. Soft flesh was rearranging itself into Leonora, penis withdrawing until there was a cleft vagina, new augmented round breasts blurring until this being’s face was reconfigured and reshaped, hair pale blonde.
Leonora felt so beautiful, transformed, atremble, in an elegant white dress. Oh, she felt so beautiful! Rosario the handsome mustached suitor kissed the princess and attached a hook into her spinal column. She felt nothing. She was so desirable, innocent and young.
“Farewell. Your lovers await you,” Rosario said, as Leonora shivered within her new physique, sensations overwhelming her as her body began to gracefully ascend, remorseless black line of the hook carrying her out above the seething, adoring masses, who congealed themselves into a rising pyramid, rising up to seize the beautiful princess as she descended to meet her public in the flesh.
The newly-arisen Count, having stepped out over his own dead body from the shadows generated by his resurrection, embraced Rosario, tongues in each other’s mouths, while down below the tender sacrifice was torn apart. A smooth haunch was carried off this way, an arm that way, another leg carried away to be roasted over fires while one, two, three, who knows how many severed heads were impaled on pikes, fixed eyes gazing down in inaccessible reverie. There was always enough of her to go around.
Her face, her smile, her amplified last sigh. She was loved!
The landscape was turning green beneath the vision of a face within the burning sun. Flowers swiftly bloomed from blood-drenched soil.
Rosa, Rosa, Rosa on each side, duplicates forming the court of the magnificent Sun King as he smiled and raised his arms while multitudes cheered.
There was loud drumming, accompanied by whistles and dissonant horns.
Figures in dark bird-costumes arrived.