*

THE ANNIVERSARY POINT

Planet Ishgilia was exactly 30,000,000 years old that day. Its denizens gathered at the Anniversary Point in readiness for the festivities. These planeteers were fire breathing dragons, most of them with short memories and originally conscripted by Earthmen to work as labourers on the Anniversary Point’s construction.

During the last century or two, mountains on the dark side of Ishgilia had effectively vanished, because sizeable cross-sections of them were transported by the dragons to the Anniversary Point site – transported by means of a tunnel that their breath had fire-bored straight through the planet to bypass the mid-marginal ice caps.

Only the evening before, Simon Smith had watched the banana shape of Ishgilia’s sun dip behind the now completed Anniversary Point, feeling much satisfaction in a job well done. As Human Foreman of the Terrain for the Furtherance of the Building of the Anniversary Point, Smith had gazed lingeringly at what he could only call, in his Earthen terminology, a giant stone statue also serving as a party ‘marquee’.

Dying sunlight had embossed its massive silhouette with painterly gold, while the shuttle wings of last minute builder-dragons clambered over it, with their saw-beaks wreathing smoke upon the background of brightening stars. Hundreds of them, Smith had thought: hundreds scrambling to finish the tremendous pounding and moulding of tantamount to cataclysmic sculpture.

That had been yesterday. Now the sun was high and elongated in the clear blue sky – literally minutes from the precise Point in Time of Planetary Anniversary. Smith recalled the thoughts that had drifted through his mind since the previous night and, as he watched the multitude of smoking dragons entering the Anniversary Point’s ground level gate of gaping black, the image of Belinda , gorgeous blonde-head and sweet mind-shape (the actual words with which Smith tantalised himself) beset him with exquisite pain. Belinda had effectively been abandoned on Earth, consigned as a slave to the Inevitable Wheeling of the Universe – whilst he, Smith, equally susceptible to the unseen moving of mysterious cosmic forces, was pursuing this increasingly geomantic mission on Ishgilia.

Chief Dragon approached, interrupting Smith’s sentimental musings. The planning and negotiation had been an overweening preoccupation for the duration of his prime years and, secretly he cursed those who had manipulated such involvement on his part – whoever “those” were. Still, everything had its compensations.

He fumbled with the stubble of his burnt cheek as he returned the dragon’s tail-flick salute. Smith had never grown fully accustomed to these wonderful creatures: with their grimy armoured scales, great jointed limbs, smouldering orifices and huge, yet human-like, eyes. Their likening to lizards or newts had been mere subterfuge.

Chief Dragon waddled towards Smith and reported, in grunting tones – barely audible on Smith’s side of the timbre threshold – that the Anniversary festival was open and in full swing. Wasn’t Smith coming to take part in the fun? Smith shook his head as if to convey that there was no business for him within the Anniversary Point. His job was finished. The absence of Belinda as a reason was left unsaid.

Disappointed, the dragon stumped back towards the Point. No doubt it sensed some affection for the two-legged man and cast a second tearful glance at Smith’s handsome blue-robed shape standing alone. Indeed, Chief Dragon could now not face the uproarious mosh pit herding from corner to corner of the Point’s vast catacomb. How could he enjoy the side-splitting, leather-beating fandangoes when Smith remained outside emanating sad vibrations across the plain : a plain that stretched illimitably in featureless abandon around the Point’s pinnacle of towering landmake. Chief Dragon knew that Ishgilia died around them all. It had read that on Smith’s graven brow – and it disappeared into the Point’s gate with no further backward look.

Smith heard the distant thumping of eager dragon-feet. And he sat on the rocky ground, head in hands, looking up from time to time at the Point that he had overseen being built. He felt as if it was becoming a living, breathing creature itself.

Suddenly three of the dragons emerged from the entrance in a flurry of activity, and he soon realised that the two of male persuasion duelled for the affections of the more female looking one. The latter could be distinguished by the many nippleless paps drooping from the underside of the body. The ‘male’ dragons spat sparks at each other before the two unwieldy bodies met in clumsy collision. Then, the conflict grew more violent as the flailing appendages and fast-champing jaws clashed and curbed. Chunks of dragon-flesh ripped off, leaving crimson gashes on both sides – and, before long, one had chewed through the opponent’s limb: a rather gruesome stance standing there with the fire-bubbling extract crunched between its steam-spitting jaws.

Smith turned his back, reminded of a similar incident back on Earth: the reason for his mission to Ishgilia and the abandonment of his sweet, sweet Belinda to an unfathomable Elsewhere.

Try as he might he could not recall Belinda’s reaction to his departure. He had been her hero, of course, and as this fact confirmed itself once again in his mind, he swivelled on the balls of his feet to view the dragons’ fight. The two aggressive protagonists slumped together in a dead pile – bits and pieces of chopped purple arrayed about them – with the teardrop-curds of the ‘female’ sliding over its useless paps.

From such bitter sorrow Smith lifted his wet eyes to the bright banana-shape that started to dip in the deepening sky. He knew that his vantage point was one of magical destiny – since, no sooner had he found himself gazing at the magnificent, if mutant, sun-star, it faltered and dimmed. Then it died. Simply that. At the precise Point of Anniversary.

Simultaneously, from within the giant ‘statue’, the thumping of the dragons ceased – as if conscious of Ishgilia’s accretive death – a magical realisation of the universe’s mastery amid their drunken cavortings, an inevitable sorrow sparking from joy.

A spectral effulgence, the source of which was a mystery to Smith lit the abandoned plain in the shadow of the elongated sun’s residual stain. And, black against such a wan saviour glow, the magnificent Point seeped visibly into universal night. He wept for this memorial, pitying its looming omnipresence. He knew that it would stand solitary and bleak on a dead planet for an eternity of forgetting – a massive black shape thrusting mindlessly into deeper, more forbidding, black. He prepared to surrender himself to a cold aching demise beside the Point: the huge statue whose construction by gullible dragons Smith had organised. Inadmissibly dug and carved bits of it even with his own hands.

Smith watched, as fiery smoke began to curl from the cavernous nostrils of a massive stone nose. Smith knew that the huge smile was just a stone mouth’s quirk of sculpted lips.

Meanwhile, finally abandoning geomancy for good, Simon Smith — bound within the hard place that the once infinite Universe continued cultivating between its own cataclysmic rocks — resignedly recalled another Belinda shape elsewhere, a Belinda with softer lips. Much much softer all over.

One particular dragon grunted, as, unnoticed, it managed to struggle out and then back in through the Point’s left ear-hole: disturbing the silence for a short while, quite irrespective of timbre thresholds.

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