The religious institutions dominating the sociocultural landscape before the Ascension were wont to signify a transformative moment or experience with a ritual of submersion, a practice that drew on the metaphor of cloth dyeing in the way a bland cloth submersed in a purple pool might be said to be transformed, taking upon itself the new characteristic of purpleness.
It was common to use this ritual to signify the beginning of an experiential entity’s enlightened engagement in their own existence, a declaration of actualized autonomous accountability. It was as much the demarcation of a new beginning as it was a transitional transformation. Part of the ritual was implied a burying of all that had come before the moment, which was a defense against regression that later developmental scientists found unhealthy and unscalable.
Another theme common among the purveyors of metaphysical metaphor that were religious institutions was the renewal or cleansing offered by fire, building on the manner by which fire was used to cleanse the impurity from inflammable materials to personify the concept in a mythological creature who collapsed into flame upon its demise only to reconstitute itself from its own embers.
It was a shame that the name of that mythical marvel had already been assigned to the wasteful, monstrous megapolis of the southern desert when Seattle underwent the urban enaction of those two metaphors in conjunction, baptized by the sea and scoured by cleansing flame.
The transformation from the rustic outpost for the launching of expeditions seeking the oily and golden riches of the icy northern reaches into the rich metropolitan gem of the west took the better part of eight decades, building ever upward on the strength of her convictions.
The early buildings in the new age of Seattle, down where the fire burned hot and long, were built using the materials at hand. The new brickworks hadn’t yet been established, and the wood was gone, so the early efforts featured a lot of rough-hewn blocks of rock and poured concrete, thick walls to allow for the scant steel frameworks available.
Many of these buildings of relative girth were built at the same time, and on the same block to maximize the use of support structures like pulleys and cranes and creating a massive block of buildings sharing thick walls in some instances. One such cluster was located at a place in the winding street ways of the the young city that the clump of buildings resembled the tight bend of an elbow.
Most of the buildings in the cluster were of an age and height with each other, a little over the century mark at time of our telling, and between eight and eleven stories, depending on how high the ceilings on a given floor were. There was one building that stood apart from the others in the group, squeezed into the cluster the way a marble might be tucked into the crook of an elbow.
This one building stood distinct from the others not for the materials or construction style, which was very similar to the other buildings on the block, but for two significant details. One of those details was the unusual skylight running the width of the building along the front wall.
The second detail was more notable, in that this building stood perhaps half the height of the others, like a duck among so many geese. This detail was what found Kid lying in repose atop one of the adjacent buildings, head resting on his worn bag, flipping the final pages of a thin book with a bright red cover.
Well, that makes a lot of sense.
Right? And super easy to remember.
Um, we have a memory cavern. Everything is pretty easy to remember.
I was just saying.
I don’t think remembering will be the issue.
What’s the issue?
Figuring out how to use it to solve our problem.
Kid rolled away from the waxed canvas duffle he’d been using as a pillow, flipping into a seated position with the bag before him. One hand operating the zipper, Kid’s other hand deposited the book, tucking it into the folds of a wool sweater.
Wait, which problem is this supposed to solve?
Well, not the one that we are facing right now. Are we ready? Light looks just about right.
Wait, we’re really going to do that?!
Why did you think we were sitting up here reading for the last hour or so?
I just like being on top of things.
We should do it. We’re already here.
I am not happy about this.
Everyone knows, Whiny. Let’s get the rope.
Kid plunged a hand back into his duffle, emerging with the thick, scratchy rope he’d been carrying for as long as he’d had the bag, shaking the coils loose onto the rooftop. He knotted the two ends together, then looping it over his head once, and again, wriggling his arms through after his head, and settling the coils under his armpits.
Kid gathered the rest of the rope into a scoop and pushed himself to his feet. Turning toward the corner where three buildings all of a height met and shared a jumble of antennae bound in piping anchored to the wall. Kid shook out a loop of the gathered rope, and then slung it over the top of the antennae cluster, nudging it past the signal receivers at the top and then pulling the rope tight around the pipe at the base where it met the wall.
With one end of the large rope-circle wrapped under his arms and the other end looped around the antennae pipe, Kid dropped the rest of the rope over the wall on which he then hopped to stand. He looked down at the one building on the block that didn’t reach this height, the one that he had spent the entire morning trying to find a way to reach without having to walk the surface the whole way there.
This is pretty inconvenient.
Yeah. Almost enough to make me think it’s intentional.
Yeah. I mean, no one looks up, right? I mean, we have a lot of evidence that people don’t look up, and we don’t have much evidence that these guys are exceptions to that, so it seems unlikely that they would choose the location of their headquarters based on how difficult it is to access from above.
Still pretty inconvenient.
Yeah. I was just suggesting that’s more of an unhappy coincidence than part of any plan on their part.
Doesn’t help us, either way.
Nope. We ready to do this?
Can I say no?
Kid slung his bag over one shoulder, then gathered a line of rope in each hand, grabbing close to where the lines emerged from behind the pipe, and crouched to lean against the tension in the line, pushing his weight out over the edge of the wall, hanging above the dangling loops of his rope, which didn’t even reach a third of the distance to the lower roof.
This has to be the most idiotic thing we have ever done.
Remember that time that we found that nut and ate it and then discovered it wasn’t a nut at all?
No one ever died from accidentally eating shit!
You can’t know that.
Kid straddled the corner, standing almost perpendicular to the pull of gravity against the two walls, holding himself by squeezing the rope in each hand. One hand relaxed enough to allow the rope to pass through, sliding down to reposition, then a foot would tap-slide down the uneven wall to find a new spot of stability before the other hand and foot would repeat the process, working down the wall in slow, tense centimeters.
Why did we have to wait until it was almost dark, anyway? Shouldn’t there be some kind of rule like ‘only do reckless life-threatening things you’ve never tried or heard of anyone trying when you can see really well’?
Relax, this is working well. Just move one foot, and then one hand, and we’ll be down before you know it.
That’s kinda what I’m worried about.
We waited for twilight in order to be able to see whether the light was on through the skylight while still having enough light to manage the decent.
Hoping, you mean. While ‘hoping’ to still have enough light to manage the decent.
Relax, we’re almost halfway done already.
We’re not even close to halfway down!
Halfway to the end of the rope, he meant.
Sometimes I hate you.
Grip by grip, step by step, block by block, Kid worked his way down the rope, fingers and palms getting scraped raw by the rough rope, arms screaming from the constant strain. His mind slipped into the hyperattentive dissociation that reduced the world to two walls, one rope, and the process. The coils looped under his armpits jerked Kid from the blur of concentration as he reached the full length of the rope.
Kid leaned back against the looped rope and relaxed the death grip he’d been applying, fingers almost creaking as they straightened, arms collapsing to quiver at his sides. He took as deep a breath as the constriction of the the coils would allow.
Ok, time for the exciting part.
Can I maybe skip this part?
How would that even work?
I don’t know!
Relax, this isn’t gonna be any more difficult than some of the stuff we do on the teepee, and we aren’t that high off the roof anymore.
Ok, let’s do the thing.
Kid encompassed both lines of the rope in a single hand, squeezing and pulling to relieve the line of the weight of his body, loosening the tension of the rope beneath his grasp. His other hand worked at the knotted ends of the rope on the front of his chest, twisting and tugging until he could push one end through a loop and render the knot defunct. A sweep and few flicks knocked the ends of the rope free to dangle beneath the boy now suspended just by then grip of a single hand.
Slipping his arm from the handles of his bag, which he dropped into the pile of trash beneath him, Kid grabbed the dangling end of just one of the hanging lines, twisting to look down over his shoulder. Another deep breath as he bent at both knees, flexing legs that were tight from their own repetitive straining. One stretch to the tip of his toes, and another deep bend at the knees and then Kid exploded away from the wall, pulling on the rope as he pushed with his feet, whipping his head back between his shoulder blades, tucking his knees up past the grip of the rope and the releasing with the hand that held both ropes together, flipping out and away from the wall and dropping, feet stretching out as one arm trailed behind pulling the rope free from the pipe above, toes touching the roof and catching, cushioning, and collapsing into a forward roll, and then a sudden stop as he came out of the roll poised on the balls of both feet and the tips of a three fingers, breath held, listening for any sound other than the hiss of his rope sliding down the rough wall.
Hahahahaha. Ha. Haha.
Right?! How cool was that? THAT’S some real ninja action.
Um, is that a laugh or a whimper.
Yes, I think.
What’s the word for surprised to be but happy to be alive?
Ok, but getting to the roof was only the first part of the problem.
Windswept garbage piled almost waist-high in the back corners of the roof, clusters of dense decomposition already in the process of losing the individuality of their constitute parts. The thick sludge at the bottom of the pile gave hints as to what parts of it used to be in the faint residual text of a brand, or the regular ridges that could have once been a zipper.
Heavier pieces of refuse dotted the roofscape, resisting the tyrannical nudgings of the air currents and gathering smaller clusters of crap the way eddies collect flotsam amidst the constant pull of the river current: a glass bottle almost pillowed on the gathered leaves and discarded bags, a tall boot towering like a lighthouse amid the surrounding wrappers and waste.
Um, I mean, sure, these guys don’t strike me as a bastion of hygiene.
Or anything healthful, really, but. . .
This seems like a LOT of trash.
I think that pile in the corner is bigger than we are.
Feels like it’s watching us.
Stop it. It’s just trash.
I think it just moaned.
That’s just the wind. You’re scaring Whiny.
I’m not scared!
Weren’t you just whimpering?
That was like ten minutes ago!
In any event, my point was that even as disinterested in cleanliness as they may be, you’d think they would at least throw some of this stuff back onto the street to get blown elsewhere, right?
What are you thinking?
Well, I guess I was reaching a question.
Dude. Just ask already. The suspense is killing me.
Do you see anything that looks like a door?
Kid peered around the rooftop, which was an empty, flat surface with the notable exceptions of the islands of waste and the tented skylight running the width of the space at the end of the building facing the alley. Kid took a few slow steps forward, testing the surface beneath his feet with a tentative tapping before committing his weight the same way he would on rotten wood or unsupported drywall. After three or four testing steps he relaxed and strode with confidence until he stood in the middle of the roof, not far from the lighthouse boot.
I am pretty sure that we are the only person who has been up here in a while.
Why do you say that? Other than the trash?
The lack of anything looking like a door?
Look behind us.
Kid whipped his head over a shoulder to look back where he had just been standing and saw a set of small scratches and smudges in the greyish grime covering the roof marking his landing and subsequent roll.
I mean, the lack of other prints only means no one has been here since the last rain, but with the door, and the trash. . .
Huh. Yeah, I guess that makes sense.
Um. Are we stuck, then? I really don’t want to have to climb up the way we came down.
Well, we can’t, really. We have the rope here with us, so no worries on that front.
Wait, does that mean we ARE stuck, then?
Well, worst case scenario, we can probably survive the jump to the ground without serious injury.
Well, it is at least ten meters to the ground, so it’d hurt a little. But if we roll well, it shouldn’t be too devastating.
But it would be difficult to pull without being noticed by the doorman.
Um, do we think he heard us land? Like, here, on the roof?
We would have heard him yell, wouldn’t we?
Or at least open the door. Probably? We were on the far end of the building, and two tall floors above him. Maybe he didn’t hear us.
Cool. So we reached the unreachable roof, and now we have to enter a room with no doors.
I don’t think that’s quite right.
My point is, I feel like we’re stuck in someone’s riddle.
Well, I love riddles.