These Harpies of Carcosa: W. H. Pugmire

I smiled at the canvas on the wall, and felt the shadow of its artist at my left. “It’s interesting, isn’t it?” I told the fellow without turning to him, not wanting to take my eyes from his painting. “I’ve never known buildings to look so… tattered. The city itself oozes of self-extinction, although how a city could commit suicide is a perplexing puzzle. There is not a trace of life, except for the two sirens in the sky; and yet they look so fantastic that one guesses that they may be mere figments of twisted dreaming. Look how they hang there in the air, horribly illuminated by the lifeless light of the twin porphyry moons, those globes of ghastly reddish-purple rock. Finally, our eyes take in the figure in its yellow robe, with its pallid artificial face and arms outstretched. I cannot comprehend why his hands should be so crimson.”

I turned my head slightly and looked at the artist; and although his eyes were fixed onto his creation, I knew that he listened to my language. “Now,” I continued, “there is one minute glimmer of natural light, and yet it emanates from an artificial relic. Do you see it, there, in the corner of the canvas, like something dropped onto the road, forgotten and forsaken? Yes, the brass crown with its synthetic jewels. One feels that it sits in proxy for something more authentic. And that long knife sitting beside it looks so nasty, doesn’t it, like some implement designed exclusively for mayhem? The entire thing makes one shiver and wish for movement, for some shifting of starlight or some song of wind. But those obsidian stars in the painted sky do not crawl, of that I am certain; and the air of that deserted city, one knows, is dead and still. And yet—and yet, how captivating it seems, this painted image, how it tugs at the brain and makes one wonder how it would feel to weep beneath those black stars, to inhale the lifeless air. However did the artist come up with such an image, one wonders?”

“It’s from a play,” my companion finally spoke.

“Indeed? And where would one find this play?”

He did not hesitate in his reply, and yet he spoke as one who had lost his way in reality. “I read it in a dream. I read it aloud, and the dream took on solidity. I could hear the waves of the lake breaking on the shore, and when the wind arose I could hear the flapping of the tatters of the King, that flapping that should never be sounded. They had such a strange rhythm, and I tried to sing in accompaniment; but my mouth was dry and my voice was dead, like the lost city that festered all around me. God, the hard light of those twin moons, burning their essence onto my eyes. And when I finally awakened, I could still feel that acidic impression on my eyes; and the world looks weird, and its inhabitants look like puppets.” He then turned to me, smiled and chuckled. “Sounds completely kookoo, I confess.”

I shrugged and returned my attention to his creation. “The fantastic artist sees the world in singular ways, divorced as he is from the dull world of dreary reality. How far more creative and captivating, to live within a dream.”