The ruins of the Well-Built City and the village of Wenau are not all the world has to offer—there is also the Beyond, a dark land between life and death, populated by flying demons, restless ghosts, invisible terrors, and ravenous trees. Cast out by the people of Wenau after finding a cure for their sickness, former physiognomist Cley sets out to brave the dark mountains and seas of the Beyond in order to find the woman he doomed on his quest to destroy the Well-Built City. As Cley journeys deeper into the unknown, he is accompanied by an invisible companion—the demon Misrix, who is searching for his own humanity.
The final episode in Jeffrey Ford’s Kafkaesque Well-Built City Trilogy, The Beyond fleshes out Ford’s world further than ever before.
About the Author
Ford’s fiction has been translated into twenty languages. In addition to writing, he has been a professor of literature and writing for thirty years and has been a guest lecturer at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, the Stone Coast MFA in Creative Writing Program, Richard Hugo House in Seattle, and the Antioch Writers’ Workshop. Ford lives in Ohio and currently teaches at Ohio Wesleyan University.
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Book Three of the Well-Built City Trilogy
By Jeffrey Ford
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2001 Jeffrey Ford
All rights reserved.
the world's imagination
I have read that some believe the world is a sentient being, a massive head spinning in space. The oceans are its blood, the wind, its breath, the earth, its flesh, the forests, its hair, and all the creatures that crawl upon it, swim through it, soar above it, are its eyes and the agents of its will. If this is so, then the Beyond, that immense wilderness, stretching from the northern edge of the realm thousands of miles to the frozen pole and east and west as far as belief will follow, is certainly, in its danger, its wonder, its secrets, and absence of reason, nothing less than the world's imagination.
I know this to be true, because, I, Misrix, now one-quarter proud monster and three- quarters sniveling man, was born there. If I had not been kidnapped into the world of men, trapped by their language, and logic, I might still be the demon I once was, swooping down from a tree perch with perfect, unquestioning grace to disembowel a white deer. A man of great genius, Drachton Below, changed all that, and now, though I still have wings, claws, fur, horns, and the eyes of a serpent, I sip tea from a china cup, eat nothing but plant meat, and am moved to tears by sheets of paper covered with wiggles of ink that tell a story about the death of love or a hero fallen in his quest.
Below awakened me to this deception long ago in an attempt to create an heir for himself. I was a dutiful child and even wore a pair of spectacles to try to appear the intellectual progeny he so desperately wanted (now I wear them simply to see, for my eyes have grown weak from too much reading). His love did not abide because it was born of selfishness, and my transformation was incomplete, cursed by his failure to go beyond himself. I am here now, stuck like too large a grain of sand in the neck of an hourglass, between Heaven and Hell, the only resident of a fallen city that had once been my father's kingdom.
Some years ago, after Below's death, I resolved to return to the Beyond and shed my humanity. I dreamt every night of the freedoms of a boundless country without conscience, where the necessary pleasure of the hunt and kill did not require an apology or carry with it the millstone of guilt. In these nightly visions, I acted with no prerequisite of thought. I wore no spectacles, and yet my vision was crystal clear, always in the moment, unhampered by shadows of the past or future. And so, I set out one morning for the Beyond with two companions-one, a black dog, the other, a man named Cley, who hoped to find salvation for himself.
It took the better part of a month to reach the boundary of the forbidding forests that marked the end of man's influence. There at the edge were the charred remains of a town. Cley told me it had been called Anamasobia, and he confessed that he had been largely responsible for its destruction. We rummaged through its ruins and managed to find supplies we would need. Cley gathered weapons that he could use to protect himself against the unknown and, more important, to hunt his food.
The day finally came when we plunged into the Beyond. Beneath immense, barren trees, more ancient than the earliest history of the realm, we shuffled through the yellow and orange leaves of autumn. Like brothers, Cley and I bolstered each other's courage against the overwhelming spirit of fear that pervaded the place. We both had to learn how to hunt. My tools were my strength, my claws, and the power of flight. He practiced with the rifle he had found in the ashes of Anamasobia. Our apprenticeship in the Beyond was brief and brutal.
On the third day, we stopped to rest by a stream and were attacked by four of my brother demons. Believe me, these fellows weren't wearing spectacles; they had not come to discuss philosophy. The battle was fierce and if not for the tenacity of the black dog, Wood, we probably could not have got the better of them. When it was over, I was pleased to be alive, but it struck me as I surveyed the corpses of the fallen creatures that they had never recognized me as one of their own. To them, I was a man. Something in their odor disturbed me. Even when we had left the scene and were traveling deeper into the forest, that aroma stayed with me, drawing an occasional, involuntary animal squeal from deep within my chest. I thought I felt myself begin to change then.
As the days passed, I became swifter, more powerful, more acrobatic in my movement from tree branch to tree branch. There were moments when I caught myself thinking absolutely nothing. Cley was also changing. He lost his original nervous verbosity and as he did his shot became truer. His often droll sense of humor receded and was slowly replaced with a kind of grim determination to survive. We moved through the forest in near-perfect silence, and he and I and the dog learned to communicate by no more than a look or a nod.
One night I woke from a dream of the kill with the overwhelming urge to take my companion's blood. I could smell its sweetness pulsing through him just below his flesh. The trees and the wind and the moon shining down through the bare branches coaxed me to it. He was asleep on the ground, and I approached with all of the stealth I had recently learned. As I leaned down over him, the black dog stirred and barked. In one fluid motion, Cley drew the stone knife he kept in his boot, grabbed me by my pigtail beard, and stuck the point of his weapon against my throat. His action brought me back to my senses, and realizing what I had nearly done, I began to weep.
"I suppose it is time we split up," he said with a hollow laugh, releasing me.
I nodded. "I must, again, become one with the Beyond," I whispered.
He tugged on my left horn. "Tomorrow," he said. "In the meantime, don't eat me."
The following day, we parted. We stood in a clearing amidst a stand of immense oaks, and I put my arms around him and hugged him to me.
"Good luck," was all he said to me.
I told him, "If we should meet again, you will have to kill me."
He nodded once, as if I were reporting on the weather.
The dog would not come to me when I called to him, but stood at a distance and growled. I took this to be a good sign that I was very close to being a full-fledged demon again. Then, flapping my wings, I leaped into the air and left them.
In the weeks that followed, there were moments when my knowledge of language completely disappeared. I saw, for the first time since my stay among men, things as they were without the label of a word pasted over them. Entire hours went by when I did not perceive the tiresome chatter that usually raged at the edges of my consciousness. When I hunted, I was swift and brutal, reveling in the taste of warm blood and sensing the energy my prey's flesh gave to me. It was only when I met a band of demons that I came to realize my folly.
There were six of them gathered round the base of a spreading shemel tree, bothering the thoroughly depleted carcass of a wild boar. I felt full of demon strength and courage, and I longed to join them. As I approached, I barked out a greeting that sounded completely authentic. Some of them barked back, undisturbed by my presence, and returned their gazes to the exposed rib cage of the boar. This encouraged me, and I drew closer. When I was no more than a few feet away from them, my heart bursting with excitement, I saw their noses begin to twitch. They made faces as if they were smelling something unpleasant. I stopped advancing, and they broke from their group and began slowly to surround me.
You'll have to forgive me, but what happened after that, I cannot and do not wish to recall. Suffice it to say that I barely escaped with my life. My brethren looked upon me as if I were an odious pile of dung, and that hurt more than the wounds from their claws. I carried and will always carry the stink of humanity. Here is one thing I learned: demons love the flesh and blood of humans, but at the same time are repulsed by their scent of culture and reason. Human is a bittersweet repast. For me, more bitter than sweet. I fled from the Beyond, fled as if there were some shame in what had happened. There was a measure of guilt attended to my failure that, once experienced, I could not let go of, and it served to push me further into humanity.
Where else was I to go but back to the ruins of the Well-Built City? Here I have been ever since. My days are quiet and slow, my only companions the volumes from the extensive library that survived the city's destruction. At one time there were werewolf creatures prowling the ruins, products of my father's twisted Science, but I managed to exterminate them all one at a time by laying traps and utilizing some of his old explosives.
Occasionally, men will come and crawl around in the ruins for a day or two, making believe they aren't afraid of me, but the minute I get up the energy to leave my study and fly above them, they flee back to their villages at Latrobia or Wenau. They know I am here, for I fly over their homes from time to time to see how they are getting on. I've gotten quite lazy in recent years, perhaps half-hoping that one of them will get off a lucky shot and end my miserable existence.
I am especially interested in the village at Wenau, for that was Cley's home before he left for the Beyond. I have found small ways to assist them when I can in honor of my friend. They have done a great deal of building in recent years, so I fly there sometimes and tote heavy objects that it might take three or four of them to carry to the tops of their scaffolding. This is always at night when no one is watching. One evening, I rescued a little girl from drowning in the river. I laugh every time I imagine her telling her story to her parents about how the demon swooped down out of nowhere and carried her to safety. I told her to tell them that it was Cley who saved her.
Now, I come to the point of all this. Some months ago, I was in the study, about to turn the page of a work concerning the grammar of constellations, when I felt, like a bubble bursting inside my skull, the sudden, unquenchable desire to discover Cley's fate. I realized that through the years, I had always hoped for his return. He was the only one who had ever accepted my halfling nature as its own individual phenomenon instead of considering me either a monstrous human or an impotent demon.
I became obsessed with thoughts of him, and I began to wonder what had happened to him in the wilderness. We had been apart many, many years. Although he often said he was headed for Paradise, his true mission was one of conscience-to locate and ask forgiveness of a woman he had once wickedly betrayed. He had not been a strong man in his earlier life, given to pride and cruelty and addiction, and these sins haunted him long after he had determined to make amends.
When he had been Physiognomist, First Class, of this very city whose remains are my home, he was sent to that town at the edge of the Beyond, Anamasobia. There, he met a woman, Arla Beaton, with whom he fell in love. She, on the other hand, could not love him because of the ugliness he harbored inside. He had a revelation that perhaps his science could improve her character. It was his belief that if the physical structure of the face was a map of the soul, he might change, with his scalpel, the girl's attitude and personality by changing her face. The result was that he butchered her horribly, and she was forced to go about wearing a green veil to protect others from the sight of her.
Cley grew to understand the hideous nature of his crime, and his entire life became a quest for that woman's forgiveness. After the destruction of the Well-Built City, they both settled in the village of Wenau, not far from here. Her scars eventually healed through some miracle associated with the birth of her daughter. Cley became friendly with her husband, a strange native of the wilderness, and her children, but she always stayed aloof from him. When that family left Wenau to travel into the Beyond, back to the husband's village, the woman left her green veil with Cley. This scrap of material had haunted him ever since, and he wondered if it was to be for him a reminder of his guilt or a sign of absolution. His salvation depended upon the answer to this riddle.
Where I gave up, Cley continued undaunted. I had to know what had become of him. With that in mind, I made a journey to the Beyond, a five days' flight from the ruins. There, at the boundary of the forest, I made my inquiry. If I had been required to delve more deeply into that nightmare land again, I would not have continued. I could not have endured another confrontation with the demons. This was unnecessary, though, for all I needed to do was gather some of the elements of the Beyond and return to my home.
I brought back with me a portion of earth, a bouquet of ferns, a jar of water and one of air. Beginning with the ferns, I bit off the tips of a spray and chewed slowly, ferreting out the atoms of Cley's story. Nothing happens in the Beyond that is not secretly known by the Beyond. It's all there, always. What is required are the finely tuned senses of a demon, and through some sampling, one can piece together a tattered history of any creature.
With that first taste of vegetation, I found a few morsels of the story. From there I continued, rubbing my hands in the earth, releasing the air under my nose, and sipping the water that had once flowed through the rivers and streams of the Beyond. I slowly digested the crumbs of the story, one by one, and when I had gathered a good portion of them, I sat for a few days, smoking stale cigarettes I discovered in the ruins or fresh ones I stole from the villages, and stitched the whole ragged thing together in my head. It was a slow, painstaking method of discovery, but I never flagged in my diligence, as if it were a second chance for me to find my own salvation.
The story is in me now, and I am poised to record it for you, whoever you might be. Perhaps you are a soldier come to kill me and you find this manuscript in the course of your duties. Perhaps you are a traveler who happens upon these ruins in your own search for Paradise and will find, in my words, sustenance to continue your pilgrimage or proof that it is all folly. Perhaps these pages will never be found but will molder to dust in the ruins, and then Time itself will digest what I have written.
I warn you that the writing will not be the smooth delineation of events as you see here, for the knowledge I have gathered lies behind my eyes like the remains of a ravaged animal. The skull still holds some hide and has all its teeth intact, but one eye is missing, and the other has become a jellied nest for flies. Scraps of hide, half a heart, the liver missing, ribs cracked and strewn, brain exposed and baked by the sun. I will coax this incomplete parcel of a tale to rise and run with the magic of sheer beauty, in the voice of the Beyond. Do not be concerned by gaping wounds in the narrative, for these are merely portals through which the years spiral and great distances breathe.
It is true that in the time since I performed my research Cley might have died, but that is of little consequence to the story. Both men and demons are born and die. It is the journey between these two mundane certainties that is everything. Will we ever discover ourselves amidst the dangers, the wonders, the impossible depths of the wilderness, or will we wander lost and alone, without meaning, till death? I am uncertain as to which of these might describe Cley's journey. What I offer is merely a fragmented record of the events as I find them. I am a halfling beast, neither here nor there, and cannot judge the outcome. Only you, who are human, can do that.
Sheer beauty, violet elixir, medium of dreams ...
To think that I once dragged Cley from this drug's clutches, haughtily crushing vials, and admonishing, with comic asides, against his desire to sleep his life away cocooned by its illusions. What I knew then was poison for him, I know now, in my desire to conjure him from the elements of the Beyond, is the sap that will drive his story from the root that lies buried in my mind, down my arm, across my wrist, through my fingers, out of the pen, and into the sunlight of clean, white paper.
Excerpted from The Beyond by Jeffrey Ford. Copyright © 2001 Jeffrey Ford. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Reading Group Guide
The Beyond continues the story of Physiognomist Cley, a man who can divine good and evil, determine character and intelligence, uncover dark secrets and foretell a person's destiny through the careful study of facial and bodily features. This time, the story is told from the perspective of Misrix, Drachton Below's "son," who was introduced in Memoranda. Misrix narrates Cley's journeys to the ends of the world as he struggles with his own humanity.
- What is it that Misrix is hoping to find in writing down Cley's adventures as he envisions them?
- Why do you think that Misrix must finally decide to become human instead of going back to being a demon?
- How reliable is Misrix as a narrator? What kinds of problems does his possible unreliability bring to a reading of the text?
- Why is Wood necessary to Cley's survival? What kind of attributes does the dog have that his master might be missing?
- How do the Cley sections of the book echo and further develop ideas begun in the Misrix parts?
- How would you describe the character of the people of the Word?
- What is the importance of the foliate's, Vasthasha's, role in Cley's journey through the wilderness?
- Shkchl, Vasthasha, the Sirimon, etc. -- are these all part of Cley's real adventure or merely fanciful characters created by Misrix to convince others of his innocence?
- What is it that Cley finds in his life with Willa and Wraith that he had earlier been missing?
- By the end of the novel, has Misrix achieved what is necessary to become part of humanity or has he fallen short in his attempt?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One of the things I've really enjoyed about Ford's Well-Built City trilogy is that every book is completely different from the rest. This concluding part has me thinking about Kafka -again- but also Michael Ende. Becuase Ford goes all out here, taking it further than in the first two books, letting Cley travel from weird isolated environment to weird isolated environment, bothering much less with world-building than situation and striking imagery. The use of objects loaded with meaning and symbolism used throughout the series is taken further in The Beyond, and it works. It creates a sense of mystery that puzzles without excluding.At the same time the cast is cut back to a minimum here, a lot of the book dealing with just Cley and Wood the dog in the wilderness of the Beyond. It's effective and captivating to read a fantasy world that actually benefits from feeling small, isolated and fragmented. The opposite tends to be true.The narrative level, about Misrix the demon's dealing with being falsely (?) accused of a crime and through this experience actually consolidating his humanity is just another example of Ford's unusual talent for creating universal moral dilemmas from weird premises (remember the "cure the disease by making everyone a drug addict" problem in Memoranda?).Which is the forte of this whole series. Not just exciting, fun and different, but also profound and moving and engaging in it's own way, dealing with real issues and never resorting to a simple black-white view of things. And the concluding sentences, deeply satisfying in their enigmatic way, actually gave me goosebumps.
Former Physiognomist Cley continues his quest to conquer his evil past with one last encounter left. Cley must travel to the center of the BEYOND to seek Arla Beaton, a woman he loved but who couldn¿t feel the same about him because of his malevolence. He scarred her face in an attempt to destroy her goodness. Still she taught him the horrors of his crime and now his quest to repair the damage he caused is nearing an end. Accompanied by his dog Wood, Cley finds a new set of adventures as he nears his final destiny. Demons, wraiths, and other creatures like flesh hungry trees and invisible malevolent beings want Cley stopped. Misrix the demon observes the trek from a distance and tells the tale, even while waiting human condemnation for allegedly killing Cley. Award winning Jeffrey Ford completes the Cley trilogy (see THE PHYSIOGNOMY and MEMORANDA) with the exciting adventure THE BEYOND. The story line continues the blending of fantasy and science fiction with Cley and a strong support cast making the trek itself fun to observe as the reader watches events through Misrix¿s distant observation. Although the lack of focus to Cley¿s final quest hurts the novel, THE BEYOND remains an exciting imaginative novel that will please readers who enjoy the intersection of science fiction and fantasy. Harriet Klausner