The Firebird XLIV



And now, though the scene around me was so terrible and the air so thick with desperate cries, I felt myself slip into a state of inexpressible rest and peace.  So intense was the heat as we drew nearer the flaming gateway that it no longer registered on my senses.  The wound in my heart burned hotter than ever, and I began to feel as if I were melting, both inside and out.  It was an indescribably pleasant and soothing sensation.  Relaxed, supple, flexible, and yielding, my body sank deeply into the lady’s arms.  I closed my eyes and leaned my head against her breast.

When we were almost directly beneath the fiery arch itself, my repose was suddenly shaken by the strident sound of a powerful revving engine.  Raising my head to glance in the direction of the noise, I found that its source was none other than the elegant yacht manned by my old friends Ralph, Jack, and Dr. Roger.  All three were on the vessel’s bridge, wrestling frantically with the controls, striving with every ounce of their gas-powered might to break free of the force of the current which was drawing them inexorably into the sun’s open mouth.  On either side of the yacht hundreds of other craft, both large and small, were streaming through the bright portal surrounded by flaming bits of flotsam and jetsam.

As I watched, the laboring yacht nosed slowly around, gradually putting its stern toward the sunset.  Then, with a final surge of power, it inched its way out of the current and drew off slightly to the south.  But its struggle was far from over; for, as I have explained, the waters on either side of the sun – those not sucked through the fiery gateway – were pouring over the margin of the world in an endless cataract.  Any vessel coming this far had only two options:  either it must pass through the sun’s arch or fall over the edge.

Its engines screaming, its tailpipes shuddering and spewing black smoke, the yacht struggled to escape the irresistible pull of the falls.  But it was all to no avail.  Just as the prow began to turn to the east, the craft’s progress suddenly faltered, then halted altogether.  In the next instant the stern burst into flame.  Then came a terrific explosion as the fuel tanks were ignited and a shattering of glass as the cabin windows burst.

With that the nose swung swiftly around to the west and the entire craft went spinning over the precipice in a cloud of spray and smoke.

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