Knee-deep in a Louisiana flood, the color of the water should have told him it was a dream. It had none—it had nothing. No reflection, no flotsam, no jetsam, no mud—it let the grey light of the storm pass through it without complaint. A silence made material, not changing that which it submerged except to separate it from everything else. And he was walking, he realized—walking without will or agency into the wind, toward the ocean, deeper into the pale flood.
The abandoned town seemed to dissolve around him, trees and houses thinning until all that remained were a few rough shacks rising on stilts out of the tide. He waded to the nearest structure and climbed the rickety steps. The front door swung lonely in the wind, rain and surf lashing the rustic kitchen through shattered windows. Across the room another doorway yawned into darkness. He walked toward it, peered into the shadow, and closed his eyes as the smooth canvas of his experience crumpled and reformed around him to allow for the perception of stairs—stairs leading downward into a cellar that the outside of the building didn’t and couldn’t have. Blinded by vertigo, he heard their dry wood creak with every footstep, and at the bottom his shoes touched dirt.
He looked up. The bare cellar was bathed in a faint, cold light, and the source of the light lay on the ground at its center. He didn’t have a word for what it was. Part glass sarcophagus, part iron lung, a radiant prison cell sealed and filled with water, death-within-life-within-death. Tubes and wires ran into the room through its slate walls, tracing across the floor like a spiderweb to the strange machine at its center. Through heavy gaskets they passed through its impossibly thick glass and through bloodless incisions they passed through the ribs of its occupant. White skin, not a mark on him, his face resting in an expression of unknowable peace. Maybe the kid was alive, maybe he was dead. It didn’t matter. Man had no gods left that could break open that box.
But that face… He placed a hand on the glass and fell to his knees under the weight of a longing so unfulfillable and unshakeable he thought maybe it was what faith should feel like.