Dying winter dripped through the silence, ice became water that trickled down from the trees in a haphazard patter on their roof, a gentle flowing through gutters becoming a gentle hush as the stream within emptied out onto the concrete foundation surrounding their home. The old couple looked at each other, their typical night routine of dinner, trite conversation and the consumption of City Approved media disturbed by the new thing introduced to their home through the mail slot.
“Do… do we go, or…?”
Looking each other in the eyes, their answers were clear from the glitter reflected the other’s gaze. Despite, or perhaps because of, their excitement, their hands trembled, holding the invitations that would change their lives forever. Dark, felt paper emblazoned with gold lettering: “COME” it said simply, with a time and address written beneath the command.
They knew something dangerous appeared in their lives, a new door to forbidden things.
And yet, despite the danger, they came.
The following week, deep in the night, they stood hand in hand at the docks, at the end of an empty pier, shivering with the cold and with fear. Their breath, its steam barely visible in the low, flickering light of the pier disappeared with the wind, the vapors crystalized against faces. Any time expecting to hear the klaxons of City Authority, bearing down on them with guns and clubs, either beating them to death on the spot or dragging them to whatever bowels of the Gray City’s dungeons where those who dared to try defiance were taken. Their dreams of rebellion stripped from them, along with everything else that made them who they are.
But as they stood there, alone in the dark, no one came for them. The appointed time passed, and they were not arrested, but neither did those who made the mysterious entreaty. They waited, 30 minutes, an hour, unsure of what was to come next. Never in their 40 years together had they dreamed of defying the Gray City.
And yet, there they stood.
One looked at the other, squeezing his lover’s hand. “Well?” he began, “How long do you want to st-?”
Then they heard it. Drifting across the waves, a song. A concert of voices straining through a foreign tune, growing louder as whatever approached drew closer to the docks. The song, more aptly the songs—each voice seemed to follow its own path—invented itself from note to note. The tunes dancing off one another in fascinating and disconcerting ways. The couple stood, no longer feeling the cold, trying to pick apart the different strands of music that pulled toward them in the darkness. As they did so, a column of light appeared on the horizon, carrying within it strains of color as varied as the music that teased their ears.
Looking at one another, the couple nodded. They would not turn away. They would not run. They would see this, whatever it was and wherever it led, through.
As the ship appeared, light erupted from its every crevice and nook, blinding the couple and preventing them from fully seeing its shape. All they knew was, from how far the column of light stretched into the sky, the structure had to be enormous. More of a floating city than a ship. The song crescendoed as the ship approached them on the pier. A tune of joy, of sadness, and of constant discovery. The many voices within each picked their own path through the night, and each had its own mood, representing the signer. Despite the different sounds, the disparate feelings, the couple felt they came together in an unexpected unity. Like the threads of life itself, so many different souls that somehow held together. Such a contrast from the Gray City, where each individual light was muted for the sake of community. Here was a community, aboard an impossible immensity, that celebrated its differences.
Standing before the ship as it slowly, careful to not run aground or destroy the pier with its bulk, came toward them, the old men felt something awaken in their hearts, something long suppressed by the drab philosophies of their city. It washed away the fear, embraced the wonder. It was something long dead. Their own songs. By the time the ship lowered one of its gangplanks, and a woman with eyes as cold and blue as eyes walked down to meet them, singing her own song of winter, the two men wept music. Their songs grown together like two bushes in an unkempt garden, whose branches and leaves became intertwined, reflecting their long lives spent together, lives that slowly but surely transformed from two into one. A carol cultivated in secret. She smiled to hear it, knowing it would serve the Yellow Rose well.
She extended both hands and bowed in greeting, wearing a dress that glittered, reflecting the wintry colors of her frigid song. She sang it unconsciously, and even as she spoke, her cold tune drifted behind her words. Her dress, woven from material that howled as loudly as it shined, raging like a winter storm, complemented the song perfectly.
“Welcome to the Yellow Rose.”
She turned, walking back up the gangplank, beckoning them to follow with a gesture.
Hand in hand, they followed her up into the light.
They followed her past the cabins of their fellow seekers. Men and women engaged in congress with creation and themselves, working on canvases as diverse as the colors and natures of their flesh. They painted with clay, drew on copper, sculpted with paper and light, wrote poems in marble and songs etched on bronze. Each room beheld another work of art, which stretched between mediums, and onto the artist’s bodies, onto the ship itself.
Everything was art; everyone sang.
The two old men were awestruck, and passing each wondrous creation, were reminded more and more of the young men they fell in love with when they met.
The corridors weaved through the ship, round and around the immense structure like a maze. The lady led them inward, towards the center. Toward the Yellow Rose. Entering the cavernous room at the middle of the ship, the saw it. Their jaws slackened as they strained their necks upwards to take in the tower of light that reached out above and beyond the ship into infinity. The Rose was a light, a tower of yellow light. Its shape shifted, like a hundred different flowers painted over one another, each slightly off center from the one before it. Surrounding the shifting pinnacle, dozens of hooded figures swayed and sang, danced and explored one another, every one of them undulating with the tower’s rhythm.
Unable to distinguish their voices from the river of song flowing from every room of the ship and into the Yellow Rose, they felt overcome by the beauty of creation, of all these souls assembled for one common purpose: the rediscovery of that which the Gray City had tried to obliterate. They turned to each other and felt something for each other they hadn’t felt for many years. Forgetting themselves, the many years of age that separated them from the young men they remembered, they came together and coupled before the altar of light.
The lady left them, smiling to herself, and returned to the ship’s bridge. Nodding to her crew, they pulled away from the darkened pier and back to the depths of the sea, where they could sing and create and love uninterrupted. One again, music and light and art departed from the shores of the Gray City.
Once again, two more souls found freedom from the dark.