Ka dar oakley in the rui.., p.43
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       Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr, p.43

           John Crowley

  Dar Oakley flew to the lintel and settled there. He hopped from jamb to jamb along it, looking down, studying, pondering. For a moment he disappeared, dropping down beyond it, and then appeared again, walking around it. He hopped up the threshold and rapped on the door, rat-tat-tat. For a moment the door seemed to bridle, then became again what it was. Dar Oakley turned to us.

  All around it, it’s all the same, he said.

  Yes, I said. I thought it would be.

  It was pointless to go around it. There was no way to the far land but through it. Barbara went to it and touched it too, and for a moment I hoped, and thought of how the door that Anna Kuhn had gone to had opened wider at her touch; but nothing happened. Barbara thumped the door with her fist. She turned away then and sat down on the wide steps of the sill, and put her elbow on her knee and her cheek in her hand. I thought of saying that if we waited long enough perhaps it would open for us, but I knew it wasn’t so, and it would be no help to say so. Hope had no place here: that’s well known.

  We had been refused.

  Was it us, something we had not done, some prayer left unsaid? Or was there no room for more, after so many deaths in Ymr, no more souls wanted? We couldn’t know. The dead themselves might no longer be there in that land, might have died a further death and were no more, and even if we had been allowed to enter it, we would have seen only barrenness and Deer.

  Who shut this door? Barbara said. Was it them in there who shut it, or was it shut on them?

  I didn’t know. I sat down there on the stair too, by the other doorpost. Perhaps the doors hadn’t been shut by those within but by those on this side of it: shut by the pressure of the generality of the living, who nowadays don’t imagine it’s possible to pass through such a door, or no longer need to claim the right of entrance. Alive or dead, you can’t go to heaven or the Isle of the Blessed or any other of the lands of the shades unless you believe that they await you, that the gates are open—or will open for you to pass through in your time.

  Was the land of our dead like a shop gone out of business, like a temple whose god has departed and whose priests have abandoned it? It was all I could think.

  Well, Dar Oakley called from the lintel. I’ll be going, then.

  Wait, I said, alarmed.

  I’ve done what I said I would do, he said. Here you are.

  But we aren’t allowed in.

  Dar Oakley lifted his head and looked this way and that; he made that stance that’s a shrug. He’d done his job.

  Where will you go? I asked. Maybe you can’t leave here.

  I think I can. I have done, more than once.

  And then?

  I’ll go find a way to die, he said.

  A way to die?

  It’s all I want, he said.

  But you have. You have died.

  No, he said.

  A way to die. I knew what he meant: he had died and died, and yet he hadn’t died; he had never died as Crows die, with no remainder, no second self extracted: dead for good, dead as dead.

  But where? I asked. I had lost all sense that there were directions, had even forgotten left and right.

  Billwise, he said. Far billwise.

  North, I said. Why?

  He gave me no answer for a time, only opened his bill as though to speak, and did not. Then he told me that the Thing he’d come upon and stolen, the thing that got him in so much trouble, he’d found in Ymr; but he thought that far billwise there are lands beyond or outside of Ymr, or that don’t have Ymr within them; lands where it is as it was in the beginning. Good lands, though, for Crows. Where Ravens still follow Wolves, and Crows follow Ravens. There might be a thing there to find, he said, another thing different from the Thing.

  That might take a long time, I said.

  It might, he said. It might take long to learn what it is. If it is a thing at all, or something not a thing. I found it for my old mate Kits without knowing it.

  He dropped from the door frame and settled beside me on the worn stone.

  I have been glad of your company, he said. And for your words to me.

  I couldn’t weep here, any more than I could hope. Of course he couldn’t stay: and much as I wanted him by me, I wanted even more that my friend should have what he wanted for himself. Maybe he was right that it could be found where the human incursion—Ymr—was slightest. How could I know? Perhaps he’d have to outlive Ymr altogether: live and die and live again and again until that unceasing querulous wondering irritable voice is at long last stopped. Until all Crows have gone back into Ka and forgotten what they learned of Ymr. Until the People world is reduced to what it was at the start, and there is nothing anywhere but the beautiful, still spirit of a world without thought.

  Yet he didn’t go. Gripped himself perhaps by the immobility of this end-time in nowhere. It seemed we might all just sit here forever, grow into great stony immemorial statues: Barbara on one side with a child, me with a Crow on the other, to warn away the souls.

  Then he leapt up, startling this world, and rose away, turning this way and that, no way better than another, and with no call he was gone from sight: from my sight. The wood returned to stillness.

  Barbara said, What’ll we do now?

  I didn’t know. It seemed a question that couldn’t be answered, couldn’t even be asked, not here. Yet there had to be a thing that came next. Even the Deer nibbling the gray grass seemed to be waiting for us to do something. Then from within the denim of the carrier that Barbara wore, the little head of her son appeared, as though waking from sleep. His narrow eyes blinked. His strange smooth lipless mouth opened as though making eating or sucking motions, but it wasn’t that: Barbara leaned close, ear to his face, and then looked to me.

  He says go back, she said.

  We seemed to go back by the same way we came, but I’ve learned—just as Dar Oakley learned—that here you can never go back the way you came. That you never do anywhere. You only and always go on.

  The guide we had now was the infant, who seemed to remember or discern the way. There, Barbara heard him say in his nearly inaudible whistle or whisper, and again There, and it was enough. He went first, peering from his carrier at the way ahead; then Barbara carrying him; then me behind her, now and then taking her shoulder with my hand, fearing with nearly every step that I couldn’t go farther. We reached the stony shore we’d first come along, and now went the other way along it, the water lapping the shore to our left, the heights to our right.

  Here, the child whispered at last.

  I looked upward. It was impossible to tell if this was the place where we had come down. If it was that place, our coming down seemed impossible. The flat gray light erased dimensions, outcrops, and handholds; it was as unclimbable as a cloud. But we started, now with me ahead, her with the burden of the child following. The means to go up, a place for a foot, a root to grasp, came into being as they were felt for. After a time I found I could reach back when I was secure and pull Barbara and the child up, and then continue. Gray birds fell around us from the heights on silent wings and rose away again. It didn’t seem, though, that we were making much progress; I could see no top to the climb, no sky, it was all blank night that way. Then I began to hear running water: at first a dripping or trickling, then a steadier flowing. The child seemed to hear it too, and began making the same sound.

  He’s laughing, Barbara said.

  The rocks beneath my left hand were wet, and I worked my way sidewise that way, and the ledge turned inward; a stream falling from the heights had eaten away the clay of the cliff, and formed a series of ledges, almost like steps, not easy to climb but definitely going up. The air grew more variegated—I don’t know what I mean by that, more air-colored, lighter, the glitter of water sweetly clear. From within the chute or tunnel carved by the water I could now look up and see a circle of night sky, maybe moonlight though not the moon.

  There, said the child. His mother was weeping again, I couldn’t tell what sort of tears. W
e kept climbing, climbing up as far as we’d climbed down—which we two, we three, shouldn’t have been able to do. And at length we came out onto the surface of the earth under the night sky and saw the stars again.

  I suppose I won’t see Dar Oakley anymore. What I thought I knew of him might not have been what he was, and he has now returned into a world I can’t know. I may not have known him at all; and he might never have cared to know me, or been able to suppose he could. I’ll always listen for him, though, watch for him, and how could I not?

  I know now why he wanted not to accompany us, guide us: because he was sure that after our leap from the ledge into death we wouldn’t be able to enter there where we hoped to go, where I had made him promise to take us. Not because that land was closed to us; in a sense we reached it easily enough. No: what he’d tried to make me see is that the only ones who can go to the land of dead People—Ymr—are living ones. Only the living can travel there from here, cross the river, see and speak to those they know or know of, take away its treasures. The living create the Land of Death and its inhabitants by going there, and returning with a tale. But dead People can’t be there, can’t go there or anywhere: they’re dead.

  If that’s so, then I went alive to that land if I went at all, and Dar Oakley knew that. How it was possible, whether it was a grace or a curse or Bottom’s dream, well, that’s not to be known. We three went and found Death’s country closed and abandoned. The dead who had once been there, whom we were to join, weren’t there any longer. That’s my tale. But if the land I went toward was mine alone, then it was only within me that those gates were shut.

  I understood this when on the night of that following day I awoke from a dream: a dream of going after Dar Oakley, who was winging away from me. I found myself prone in my own bed (because I am indeed alive, alive-o). I lay quiet there so as not to wake the child, who it seems is now my own to care for, he and his mother, too, for as long as I last. I thought of Debra, and saw her bare feet on those gray grasses that I could not step on, saw her moving there as she once did here. And I thought, no, the dead are there, and do know themselves and others. I know it’s so; it can’t be otherwise. To be dead, though, isn’t to have further life like ours, just elsewhere; nor is it to live on in the memories of others, or in the dark aliveness of tombs, or in the voices that the still-embodied believe they hear. It’s not like any story that any traveler to that realm has told, or any spirit claiming to have come out of that land either. No. But I believe that even though their life is divided forever from the life we live in the day and the sun, we can know something of it: because we live part of our lives the way they do, in a realm that’s like the realm where they are. I mean in dreams.

  In dreams we traverse other geographies; we walk the roads, we enter the rooms, we speak to the people and beings we encounter. We meet our kin and our dead, just as they were in their youth and in ours, or transfigured, not themselves. We see and hear but can’t quite smell or touch. We know ourselves to be there while we are there, but we don’t know we know: it’s only when we wake that we know what we saw and heard and felt. Usually we know that we saw and felt much more, but we can’t retrieve it, and so the experience of it is lost for good; in effect it was never ours.

  And I thought that it must be the same in the sleep of death: there, too, we will do deeds, learn truths, pass through landscapes, meet other souls, think about the living, ponder, feel terror and delight, go always farther. The difference is this: from death we will never, never ever, wake to know of it.

  It began to be dawn then as I lay there and the familiar pain began: the pain that tells me for certain that I didn’t go thence as I thought I did, or if I did that I’m not there now. I could hear labored breathing from the spare room. I listened to Crows gathering somewhere not far off, and I slipped from my bed and went to the window in a sort of hopeless hope, or superstition I suppose; but no Crows could be seen. What I thought I could see were the lithe, slow shapes of one or two Deer approaching in the mist: the real and common Deer of this world, as real as pain.

  I am returned. We are still here.


  JOHN CROWLEY was born in the appropriately liminal town of Presque Isle, Maine. He moved to New York after college to make movies, and found work in documentaries. In 1975 he published his first novel. He has subsequently published ten more novels, and since 1993 he has taught creative writing at Yale University.

  In 1992 he received the Arts and Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is a three-time winner of the World Fantasy Award, including one for Lifetime Achievement. He finds it rewarding that most of his novels are still in print.

  Visit his Facebook page: his profile picture is a Crow.





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  This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Text copyright © 2017 by John Crowley

  Jacket illustration by Sonia Chaghatzbanian

  Interior illustrations copyright © 2017 by Melody Newcomb

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Saga Press Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.

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  Jacket design by Sonia Chaghatzbanian; interior design by Irene Metaxatos

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Names: Crowley, John, 1942– author.

  Title: Ka : Dar Oakley in the ruin of Ymr / John Crowley.

  Description: First edition. | London ; New York : Saga Press, [2017]

  Identifiers: LCCN 2016054533 | ISBN 9781481495592 (hardcover : alk. paper) |

  ISBN 9781481495615 (eBook)

  Classification: LCC PS3553.R597 K32 2017 | DDC 813/.54—dc23

  LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016054533



  John Crowley, Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr



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