Sunday, 8 June 2014


Old men line benches in the square, leaning companionably against each other.  Gnarled hands, all varying shades of sun-weathered brown, grip bottles of beer and cider.  None of them have facial hair; even their eyebrows have been shaved off, and they have a slightly startled look as a result.  Their eyes vary from rheumy, trickles of fluid running down the channels made by wrinkles on their faces, to clear-but-looking-elsewhere, windows into a vacant head.  They drink slowly, though a waiter comes regularly out of a tavern on the corner of the square, a white towel slung over his arm and his tray filled with tall bottles, condensation forming dew-like droplets on the side.  He distributes them evenly, collecting up the empties, and no money changes hands.  He disappears back into the tavern, and the men talk quietly amongst themselves, or stare into the distance in silence.
The square itself is only small; a young boy can run across it in the time it takes his distracted mother to notice and call his name, bringing him up short so that he turns around and sullenly retraces his steps, back to her side.  There is a tree in the centre, protected by a circular iron hoop at waist height that is supported in turn by four iron rods each as thick as a finger, set at compass points.  The tree is not quite as tall as the four-storey buildings that line the square’s sides, and though its trunk is long and smooth for ten feet, its branches eventually splay out so that it shades most of the square.  The men on the benches are in sunlight though, except when the shadow of the buildings they lean against falls over them.
The square is paved with dark grey stone that absorbs the rain when it falls on it and is never slick underfoot or smooth to the touch.  No moss grows in the cracks, no leaves from the tree linger here; they are soon blown away by a neverending breeze that comes from the west.
This is Inukis, city of the soulless.
Behind the square a road leads gently uphill towards the Hotel Abaddon, a name pulled from an archaic religious text by a man who was hoping to acquire authenticity without effort.  The hotel is large, it has over seventy bedrooms for paying guests, a wedding suite and the entire top floor is given over to suites intended for royalty, nobility, and other people who do not have to pay for their stay.  A campanile is set at one end of the hotel, though the bells in it have never rung, and at the other end an otherwise matching tower terminates in an observatory dome from which the gleam of a telescope may be seen on dark nights.
The main doors of the hotel are reached by climbing eighteen steps, the stone for which was looted from Melkempis when the tombs were broken open and the mummies turned out to be burned on pyres.  As the flames licked the sky and soot occluded the moon men with damp cloths wrapped around their heads to soften their breaths and hide their features laboured to haul the stone away to ships waiting in the harbour.  The steps now are rumoured to be haunted; linger too long on any step and a shadowy figure will form out of the nothingness of the air and reach out an imploring hand to you.  Perhaps this is why visitors to the hotel hurry up the steps to enter the hotel, and practically race down them to leave it.  And why the hotel staff prefer the small, mean entrances round the sides and back of the building.
Across the road from the hotel are government offices, and the windows of these buildings are lines with grey glass that drinks light in.  Looking at them shows nothing of the inside, and the reflection of the viewer is softened and wearied so that it seems someone much older looks back.  It is not considered wise to linger here either, for the fear is that the reflection might reach out a longing hand, old, black fingernails might rake across an unwary face, and a switch will take place, freeing the reflection to walk in the world again.
There are many who say that in Inukis there is no way to avoid this, and that it is called the City of the Soulless precisely because of this.  Then there are those who gather at the docks for the departure of every ship, no matter how small, and cry out to the crew, the captains and the passengers, pleading to be taken away with them, pleading for escape.

But there are those, like the old men lining the square, who are happy where they are and have no intention of leaving.