The Halls of Broken Stone
by Casey Valhalla
This is my last cigarette.
I walked back through the old town today, you remember, the sector they
still have the yellow police lines hanging around? Yeah. Not like anyone
ever paid attention to those, anyway. The more fortunate just pretend they
arenít there, just like they always ignored that sector, anyway. Wasnít
such a great loss, yanno, just the ghetto that went through all that
The lighting systems were being unreliable again, so the colony was only
half-lit when I went for my walk. Sometime in the middle of it the weather
controls went out too, and it started raining, just a little Ė that light,
misty sort of rain, like youíre standing by a waterfall and the wind blows
the spray on your skin. You know, remember Snoqualmie Falls? Course it
actually was raining then, and we were both soaked through, but it was on
Earth, and everything was okay then. Yeah, that was a good day.
The thing is that when I was walking today, and that soft rain started
falling, everything went quiet. Not totally quiet, you know, but quiet
enough that I could hear the whirring of the air filtration systems, and the
sound of water falling through the drainpipes on the buildings I passed. A
comforting quiet, not the eerie kind where youíre waiting for something to
happen, cause you know something is gonna, and you tense up and reach for
the gun you used to carry in the waistband of your jeans. Only itís not
there, and in a way, youíre glad itís not there anymore, but at the same
time you wish it was, just cause itís too damn quiet.
No, it was a divine kind of quiet. And I just walked through it, with my
hands in my pockets, watching the rain turn the wrecked buildings into
shiny, wet monoliths. Thatís a good word, Ďmonolith,í donít you think?
Iíve been going to school again, you know, just like you always said I
should. My English professor says thereís hope for me yet.
Thereís still some people living in that sector, I didnít see them all, but
I could tell by the way some of the buildings had windows that were boarded
up from the inside, kind of shoddy work, but itís hard to get a lot of tools
around here. It was always hard to get much of anything here. Looks like
things havenít changed.
Some things donít, ever.
I was walking down C street, right along the center on the yellow lines, one
foot in front of the other, like a tightrope walker with my arms out to the
side. I was chain-smoking again, yeah. I know you never liked that, but
itís okay. Iím quitting. For real, this time. It was just funny, cause I
kept walking like that, and my cigarettes kept getting all soggy from the
rain. It didnít make me stop doing that, of course, cause Iíve always been
silly that way. But you know that already, donít you?
There were three kids hanging out on one corner under an awning, playing
checkers with rocks on a board they drew with chalk on the sidewalk. Two of
them were playing, and the other was betting on their moves with a handful
of pennies. They were just boys, you know, about the same age we were
during the war. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, and I didnít think
theyíd even notice me till I was gone. But just as I passed their corner,
one of the players lifted his head and looked right at me. He was wrapped
up in a black hooded sweatshirt a few sizes too big for him, and had all
this sand-colored hair tied back with a red bandanna, and these huge blue
eyes. I donít know why he looked at me, or why he didnít say anything to
his friends, but he just stared for a minute, no expression, until I saluted
him with my cigarette and walked off.
Funny thing, I donít remember what the other two looked like, but I remember
that kidís eyes perfectly.
C street turned off onto 22nd, and I walked along that way for a while.
There arenít any yellow lines on that road, so I stopped doing the tightrope
thing, and my smokes didnít get as soggy. I started humming to myself, the
way you know I do when itís quiet. Remember when we went hiking in the
Sawtooths? It drove you crazy, because you didnít know the song I was
humming, and you made me sing it to you when we stopped by the creek for
I miss you, you know.
There were two drifters huddled around a trash-barrel fire on the corner
across from the church. I stopped to talk to them for a few minutes and
warm up, cause it was getting kind of chilly, and the rain didnít show any
sign of stopping any time soon. They were nice guys, a little weird in that
homeless-guy kind of way, but if anyoneís used to that, itís me. One of
them was an Alliance veteran, imagine that. Guess he didnít recognize me.
I gave them two cigarettes apiece, cause I was trying to get rid of the
pack. Last pack, last cigarette Iím smoking now. Youíd be proud of me, if
you were here. Wouldnít you?
You know, no one ever bothered to clean up the church site much. I think
the medic teams were there for a day, at most, and no one ever came back.
Anything left over that was valuable after the place went up is long gone by
now, but thereís still a wooden crucifix stuck in the ground at the far end,
where the altar used to be.
I think the organ burned. I used to fall asleep listening to that old
thing, after midnight mass. It was soothing, kind of like the silence was
while I was there today. There was a choir, I remember that; I used to sit
in on practice, just to learn the words.
/ Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. /
You were surprised that day when I started singing to you in Latin, werenít
you? Iíll never forget the look on your face, the way nothing moved but
your eyebrows, how your pupils contracted just slightly. I saw it; I was
close enough to smell you, to lean forward and brush my lips over yours
while I was singing.
/ Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. /
I always worshipped you, and you never once realized it. And I was standing
in the old church today, in the rain and the dim light and the quiet with
ghosts tiptoeing around me and the memory of flames reflecting on the
half-demolished walls, and realized I have nothing else left to worship.
/ Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora
mortis nostrae. /
This is my last cigarette, and youíre not here to see it. This is my
absolution, my sanctification, my transcendence, and youíre not here to
Thereís a drop of water on the back of my hand, and it isnít rain. And
youíre not here to pretend it isnít there.
But I forgive you, nevertheless.
/ Amen. /