The Radejastians

 


 A sample of the story "The Radejastians" by David Nickle, 

appearing in  Tesseracts Thirteen

edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and David Morrell

We three ate lunch outside in the springtime. There was a picnic table under a small tree, well out of sight of the loading docks, and it is there we met: Viktor and Ruman and I. We had all come from the old country, the same old country, and I suppose that marked us... not in the same way, but as the same, all the same.

Viktor had not been there since he was a child, which was forty years ago, and had worked the warehouse for a decade. The mark was faint on him. Although I had been back more recently—a year earlier—for the solstice festival, I had felt like the alien there, walking the cobbled streets of Radejast alone, among the dancing virgins and the yowling monks in their woven-straw masks... the vendors who sold the long, blackened apple dolls of saints I could no longer name.

Ruman, now.

For him, the mark was fresh, for he had just arrived a year and some months ago. His family still lived at home in the smelting town in the southern mountains, waiting for word that he was established enough that they might also make their escape—and profitably join him here.

Maybe he shared his mark; infected us too with it. Maybe that mark pushed the others away from us: or drew us together, and so away from the others.

Maybe this, maybe that. We had a half hour for lunch, and on those fine days that were neither humid nor frigid, the sun only so high at noon, we spent it out of doors. We talked only a little. For truly, we had little in common between us, save our mother tongue and dimming recollections. The conversations we had during that time stand out like horsemen on a plain.

"I am thinking that I am going to be saved," said Ruman one Tuesday in April. The sky was clouded over us. But Ruman was the greyer.

"What do you mean?" I asked, and Viktor interjected: "He means he's going back to that church."

Ruman shrugged and stirred his soup so the color of beets deepened in it. "I must think of my soul," he said.

"Shit, Ruman," I said. "Don't do it. Those ones will only rob you."

"No, no," said Viktor, "they will not rob you. When I came here, I tried a church like that one. No one robbed me. What I gave, I gave. How it went, it went. But I don't think it saved me."

Ruman looked up. "You are here, aren't you?"

"Not because it saved me," said Viktor.

"Well this is a different church," said Ruman. "They have a great cross, visible from the motor-way. The building is shaped five-sided. And they are all virgins, the women there. The unmarried ones, of course."

"Ha! Now we come to it!" I said, and Ruman's grey flesh went a deep red.

"Wife at home," said Viktor, finger wagging, "wife at home."

"I just think it's time to be saved," said Ruman. And that was the end of that conversation.

* * *

Ruman went back to the church.

Did that place save him? I saw no evidence that it had, as we gathered each day in the growing shade of our tree, at our table. Perhaps that is because he did not speak of it. But that was not the only thing. Ruman brought a little pamphlet that he set out one day -- it had a painting of a brown-haired, blue-eyed Jesus, spreading his hands over a multitude of sinners, the light spreading around him as though it had substance.

But he displayed it almost with embarrassment, and when Viktor and I spared it only a glance before setting in to our sandwiches, he pulled it back to his lap with something like shame.

After that, the pamphlet was gone. And so we would eat, and sometimes Viktor would talk, I would answer, and in the end we would return to the shadow of the loading bay doors.

And as the days went by, I found I wondered with rather more urgency: did the church save Ruman?

He came to us a thin man, with the long face and dark brows of our kind, pale of flesh and bent of back. Was his color any deeper, was there more certainty in his eyes as the days went on? Had he put flesh on in his time there? If anything, he seemed the opposite: thinner, his outer layers honed away.

But could I say? And as I considered that, I considered this: could I say how it was that I wondered so, after the health of Ruman's frail soul?

As the summer deepened, we left the bench to the women from the front office who appreciated the sun more than we. Viktor was so unappreciative that he took the night shift, which he said he preferred in the heat of high summer. As for me -- I hefted crates from shelf to belt, and soaked in the heat as it soaked me, and watched Ruman, as he did the same -- thin, and bent, and strangely resolute.

And so it was one Thursday afternoon in July that I quietly spoke to Ruman, and the following Sunday, drove with him to church. 

(Continued in Tesseracts Thirteen

available from EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing)

Copyright 2009 by David Nickle

Listen to "The Radejastians" at Pseudopod