...Ganguro Gyaru's Face for Fifteen Seconds, Incapable of Remembering the Lyrics to Cocteau Twins, Unable to Successfully Learn Para Para Dance Steps, Rejected by Creditors, Incapable of Attaining Enlightenment, Defeated Routinely at Marvel vs Capcom 3, Declared Ritually Unclean by Shinto Priests, Downgraded from 'Boyfriend' to 'Sex Friend', Refused Service at Local Donut Shop, Unable to Touch a Ganjiro Gyaru's Face for Thirteen Seconds
Towards the end of his life Richard Dawkins took to dying his hair a shade advertised as 'chestnut,' but which Lalla Ward always thought of as the same lurid color as the light sheen of rust forming on the pipe behind the toilet. But Lalla helped him at first, as he slid the slickened comb through the last wisps of his hair. Then she held his hand as he dipped his head in the sink, watching the water part at its entrance.
"You don't think it looks too obvious, do you," Richard Dawkins said.
Lalla Ward smiled.
"I rather thought that was the point."
Richard Dawkins had been struggling for years with heart disease. At the age of eighty-two, a myocardial infarction had already cost him double-bypass surgery and months of protracted recovery. His friends had urged him to give up teaching and the lecture circuit, but he'd held firm.
"Have to do something with my time, after all," he'd told them. "I can't very well be lounging about all day. At that rate I'd be writing my memoirs before long, and I couldn't risk that."
Richard Dawkins was being facetious. In truth there was no need for him to attempt a memoir, since his colleagues and research assistants had been entrusted care of his legacy. Whatever era historians would eventually term the late 20th and early 21st century, he was certain that his name would stand as one of its leading scientific lights. He'd had a good run of it, and now it was enough for him to give the occasional speech and oversee his proteges' work.
These were his thoughts as he left the Oxford grounds, pulling his car past the gate, into the bright expanse of a midsummer morning. Further along the road, ribbons of golden sunlight threaded themselves through the edges of the clouds, a shining tapestry just past view. He pulled onto the highway, the sound of distant traffic merging with the hum of an insect caught in the car-door window.
Richard Dawkins had just given a lecture on the projected influence of genetic research on the advertising industry. As the lecture progressed he'd wandered off topic, drifting into a revery of free association. He'd speculated that the areas of research to which he'd devoted his life could one day be misused by those lacking the principles of reason and humanism. From there, it was only a small step for him to conclude that the students before him, the new generation of Englishmen trained in logic and critical thinking, would be the only hope of the West. As the world slid into a new dark age of fanaticism and stupidity, their only weapons would be skepticism and common sense. He felt a brief sadness as he looked at them, wishing to continue the fight, wishing to be young again.
As he picked up speed he noticed that the sound of the insect had stopped. Through the window, beyond the overpass, he could see the light behind the clouds breaking through to the highway, catching the chrome mirrors of the cars in the passing lane. A flash of it caught his eye and he reached for the sun visor.
A moment later, as he made to turn on the radio, he felt a sharp pain in his chest, a tender clutch of needles. He pressed his hand to his side as if to massage the pain away. It was like a wave he needed to crest. Richard Dawkins had felt these waves before and had survived them purely by force of will - or so he told himself. But now, as the needles slid deeper, he wondered whether his will made any difference at all.
He pulled off the highway and veered to the side of the road, pumping the brake and fumbling with the latch of the glove compartment. There was medicine there, he remembered, and a mobile phone to call for help. But before he could open it his body seemed to sink under him. He reached for the door as the car crested to a halt, the high shape of the wheel rising above him.
He slumped to the side of the road, his hand touching grass, a layer of static scrambling his vision. The waves crested, brushed his bones. He felt a brief, blossoming pain.
Richard Dawkins' Further Adventures Beyond the Veil
Richard Dawkins awoke to the feel of earth beneath his fingernails. Bringing his hand up, he saw a fine brown tracery covering its grooves, a damp coat of clay-like soil. A faint smell of jasmine came to him, and further off the sound of a distant wind echoed in his ears.
He sat up. He'd been lying in the middle of a field - probably somewhere in the country, he decided. The last thing he remembered was the car coming to a stop, the sight of the road spinning beneath him and the inner sound of his stilled heart. But he was conscious now, alive - so where was he? Where was the car, and how had he gotten here from the side of the road? Had someone stolen the car and dumped his body, taking him for dead?
He stood. His phone was still in the glove compartment - no hope of calling anyone now. He'd have to walk to the nearest town and try to find help. As he walked across the damp ground he sighed, shaking his head. All the fault of his weak heart. If only he'd been born a few decades later, so that he could live to see medical technology make the weaknesses of the flesh obsolete. Science was already catching up to death, and immortality was just around the corner.
He turned. The cry had come from the direction of the field, but now that he looked he saw nothing.
"You're dead! Dead! Dead!"
He turned back. Now an enormous shape loomed in front of him, a figure like a tower on twin struts, a painted statue come to life. It grinned.
"Dead Dawkins dead Dawkins dead dead dead!"
As the final syllable sounded, the figure reared toward him, its rounded face tilting into a leer.
Then it vanished.
Richard Dawkins spun around, grasping at the air. There was only silence and the sound of the wind.
Then the laughter broke out and the giant shapes reared up again, scores of them now, standing against the sun. For all their height, Richard Dawkins saw, they were curiously malformed, their proportions all wrong, fat-faced and flabby-limbed like monstrous children.
"We tricked you into being an adult, when you could have been eating nonexistent cactus ice cream!"
The other giants chorused in, their wide mouths spread in rictuses of rotten teeth:
"The cactus ice cream isn't real!
The cactus ice cream isn't real!
Bumped his head
The old man's dead
The cactus ice cream isn't real!"
Richard Dawkins ran, but the giants were jumping from the air now, their footfalls shaking the earth. He thought of the crushed soil of the field, the mud beneath his fingernails. Each step seemed to send him closer to the ground, and before long he pitched forward, hands in front of him.
For a long time the ground rolled under him, and he felt himself adrift again, as if tossed on the waves. When the movement stopped, he felt something prodding his leg.
His head still spinning, he looked up and saw a small man standing next to a wheeled trolley. Inset in its base was a wooden cabinet with elaborately carved doors, mostly natural scenes, flowering plants and cavorting animals.
The man was wearing a red silk hat and black breeches. His face was gnarled, unshaven.
"Don't listen to them," the little man said. "Everything they'll tell you is lies. The adult world is the most precious thing we have."
Richard Dawkins sat up and stared at him.
"They said I was dead."
"Lies! It's not possible to die," the little man said, with an expression of congealed contempt.
"Well, I'm not certain that's the case," Richard Dawkins said, standing up. "But I'd like to know what's going on here."
At this the little man opened the front door of his trolley and took out a silver tray.
"I've taken out a line in meat pies," he explained.
Richard Dawkins looked down. Cooling on the tray was a row of square-shaped, thick-crusted pies.
"You must be hungry," the little man said.
"I wasn't planning to eat," Richard Dawkins said. "I've got important things to attend to. Where is the nearest town?" He looked around, trying to orient himself. He couldn't see the field any longer, so he must have tumbled down a hill after his fall. If that was the case he'd come a considerable distance, as the ground now seemed cracked and bare, with only a few scrub grasses pushing through its surface.
"The town isn't far. I can take you there myself. But you'll need something to eat first. You can't do anything on an empty stomach!"
The little man grinned and pushed the tray forward. In spite of himself Richard Dawkins felt a hunger rising in him. He leaned forward and pointed at the row of pies nearest the rim.
"What sort are they?"
The little man cracked a smile.
"The competition's gone soft. No severity in the pies. All June, July, summer pies. May and August creeping into the crusts."
Richard Dawkins reached for one. The little man swatted his hand.
"Have to pay for that first!"
Richard Dawkins reached for his wallet. But it wasn't there. Shaking his head again, he emptied his pockets. All he had was some loose change.
"I'm afraid I don't have much."
The little man pointed at his pocket.
"Well, what's that then?"
Richard Dawkins reached for it. It was a small bottle of his chestnut hair dye. What was it doing in his pocket?
"This? Well, I don't know, I..."
"I'll take it," the little man said, scratching his cheek. He took the bottle and handed Richard Dawkins a pie. "You'll want some sauce with that," he added, reaching into the trolley and bringing out a cracked bottle of tomato ketchup, its white cap crusted with black stains.
"No thank you, I'll have it just like this," Richard Dawkins said.
"Suit yourself," the little man said, and began to wheel the trolley over the ground. Richard Dawkins followed him, taking tentative bites from the pie. It was filled with a tough meat that tasted like rabbit.
They walked in silence for over an hour, the little man stopping occasionally to dig the trolley out of the sand or lift its wheels over a patch of rocks. Richard Dawkins helped him, feeling the weight of his age in the way his knees weakened with each effort. It seemed as if they would never reach the town.
"How much longer will it take," he said as the rocky path gave way to a thin strip bordered by sand. "I've got to contact someone, can't you see I've got to contact someone, they'll be worrying about me - "
He shook his head as he pushed the trolley and felt its weight pushing him back. It was no use; the trolley's wheels could no longer move over the thick dunes.
"We'll have to leave it," the little man said. "Come back for it later, on our way back." He patted the top of the trolley. "The pies will be safe here."
Another hour passed after they abandoned the trolley. Richard Dawkins felt the sun eating into his face.
"There's no water anywhere," he said. "No, there wouldn't be. No water, no way to contact anyone. You're not leading me anywhere!"
The little man held up a finger.
"We're approaching the Great Work," he said, pointing to the horizon.
Richard Dawkins looked up. Against the backdrop of the setting sun stood tall rows of thin silver towers, each placed at an even distance from the others. The towers formed a vast grid, a silver forest catching the sun's last light. Tiny points of red and yellow stood out on its surface.
As they approached they saw a figure standing before the towers, dressed in a brown cassock tied with a cord. The little man approached him and spoke, gesturing to his clothes.
"I wear the red silk hat and the black breeches. My colors are red and black."
At this the monk made a sign in front of the little man, then stepped aside as he walked between the rows of silver towers. Richard Dawkins followed him, observing the monks as they worked. Each monk took a small silver cylinder from the ground and placed it on top of another, forming them into the towers. Each cylinder was wrapped with a red or yellow label.
"We are engaged in the Great Work," the monk beside him said. "The Great Work places red cans on top of yellow cans. When a column reaches ten cans, a new column begins. There are ten columns per row."
"Where do the cans come from?" Richard Dawkins asked.
The monk led him past the rows, through an area of steep dunes, then pointed to a walled-off pit in the sand where other monks were digging with shovels.
"The cans were buried long ago. But the people didn't give up hope. In spite of the sects, the schisms and persecutions, the people knew we would come back for the cans and the Great Work would continue."
As he looked past the pit Richard Dawkins caught a bead of movement on the horizon. He looked closer, shielding his eyes from the sun, and saw a slender shape leaping between the dunes. At once he felt something splitting his vision, so that the shape's colors seemed superimposed, split into hard lines, neon streaks of pink and emerald clawing past each other.
"There's something wrong with my eyes," Richard Dawkins said. "It's as if I'm seeing two colors at once. Or wearing mismatched spectacles."
"It is forbidden to hunt the King's deer," the monk said.
As Richard Dawkins watched, more of the shapes darted into view, brief strobes of colored silken flesh. Looking at them he felt the same splitting sensation in his vision, like a chisel behind his eyes. The deer seemed less animals than a living mirage, an auroral burst of color in the fading light of the desert.
"Their minds aren't always pink and green," the monk added. "Sometimes they become sick, and then there are orange thoughts that they try to forget."
The monk led him back through the forest of silver towers, to a clearing where he found the little man standing. He was looking at a sculpture resting on a pedestal. It was fashioned in the shape of a young woman, and at its base was a tiny slot with two metal switches. The little man depressed one switch, then the other, then flipped both.
"Well, what does it do?" Richard Dawkins said.
The little man closed his palm and brought it away from the sculpture, then offered it to Richard Dawkins, who held out his own hand. After a moment he felt something slippery and cold. He looked down. A little golden cube sparkled in the reflected light of the towers. As he watched, it melted in the palm of his hand. He held it to his lips and received a faint taste of cinnamon.
"It provides ice cubes," the little man said. "Some of the ice cubes are gold and others are silver, and others are gold and silver at the same time."
"You mean they're mixed. Their colors are mixed."
"No, that would be absurd. The combined cubes are both gold and silver at the same time."
"But the properties," Richard Dawkins said, "The properties are complementary. The gold and silver mix together."
The little man took another cube from the sculpture and popped it into his mouth.
"Ridiculous! Nothing in the world can be complementary. The gold and silver cubes are both exclusively gold and exclusively silver at the same time. Everything is exactly itself and nothing else. The quality of qualities is that they do not merge!"
"But that's impossible," Richard Dawkins said. "Black can't very well be white now, can it?"
"Can't it? Can't it?" the little man was fairly screaming now. "You might just as soon deny that anything exists at all!"
Then, composing himself, he walked away from the sculpture and stood very straight, facing Richard Dawkins.
"Look here Dawkins, you think I am mistaken, and I think you are mistaken. There's nothing left for us to do except fight to the death."
"I think that's overstating the case somewhat," Richard Dawkins said. "Surely we could agree to disagree?"
"Impossible," said the little man. He signalled, and one of the monks walked over, carrying a tray. On it were a number of rubber bands.
"Choose your weapon, Dawkins," said the little man, taking a thin old band of red elastic. He drew it back and aimed it at Richard Dawkins, who had chosen a thicker green band. The two of them moved several feet apart.
"On your mark," intoned the monk. "Get set...go."
The red elastic band zipped past Richard Dawkins' head. Richard Dawkins feinted to the side, then fired the green band at the little man, striking him in the chest. The little man collapsed to the sand.
"You've killed him," the monk said. "You've won."
Several of the other monks descended on the little man and helped him to his feet. He walked to the other side of Richard Dawkins. Then, without a word he took off his shoes. The monks handed him a box tied with a red lace thread.
"Now you must wear the shoes that can never be removed." one of them said.
The little man accepted the box, glared at Richard Dawkins with a look of immortal hatred, and set off back through the desert.
"You've got to help me, " Richard Dawkins said. "I have to get to the nearest town."
The monks showed him to the edge of the city of towers. Before he left they placed a coronet on his head and handed him a travelling bag. Richard Dawkins thanked them.
After a day's walk, the path ahead of him began to narrow even further, and the sand dunes decreased. The dunes themselves thinned out until the terrain resembled a white beach with fine, closely packed sand. It was night now, and Richard Dawkins could see nothing on the horizon, no signs of life or even grasses beneath his feet. He stopped to rest, taking out a cotton blanket from the travelling pack. Towards dawn he set off again, following the path to a place of stacked stones, their surfaces smooth in the faint light. Further off, skeletal outlines of mountains.
Two old men with white hair and kindly faces were resting on one of the large flat stones, staring at a wooden door inset in one of the larger rocks. As Richard Dawkins approached he saw that both the men were wearing finely tailored suits, their lapels fixed with a single stick pin. At the head of the first man's pin was a perfectly rounded pearl; at the head of the second man's pin was a perfectly rounded diamond. Somehow, not a trace of sand seemed to have caught on their clothes.
"You there, maybe you can help me," Richard Dawkins said.
"Maybe," said the pearl man. And stared at Richard Dawkins with fixed grey eyes.
"What are you doing out here?" Richard Dawkins said.
The diamond man shifted slightly on the rock.
"We're trying to liberate ourselves from qualities," he said.
The pearl man shifted to match his brother.
"We came to this place as children," he said. "To liberate ourselves from qualities. We've worked, all our lives for that."
"We built this door," the diamond man said, gesturing to the wooden panel inset in the large rock. "It leads to a place where there aren't any qualities."
Richard Dawkins looked at them. Each of their movements matched the other, each subtle gesture repeated with perfect symmetry.
"And have you used it? Have you walked through to the other side?"
"I have," the pearl man said. "I've been through it."
Richard Dawkins walked over to the door and stared at its handle.
"What was on the other side?"
The pearl man shook his head.
"No, there weren't any qualities there. I was liberated from qualities." He looked down. "But when I came back through the door, the qualities returned."
The diamond man cast his head down in grief, and the pearl man cast his up, their movements matching like two timed pendulums.
"Well," Richard Dawkins said, knocking on the door. "It's not very much good then, is it? It's not very useful, is what I mean."
The two old gentlemen looked at him; and both of them gave a kind of smile, a look of infinite sadness and resignation.