sun in summer and they sit by the fire in
winter. They do not speak often, for they
are weary. The Old Ones know that they
are soon to die. When a miracle happens
and some live to be forty-five, they are the
Ancient Ones, and the children stare at them
when passing by the Home of the Useless.
Such is to be our life, as that of all our
brothers and of the brothers who came before us.
Such would have been our life, had we
not committed our crime which changed
all things for us. And it was our curse
which drove us to our crime. We had been
a good Street Sweeper and like all our
brother Street Sweepers, save for our
cursed wish to know. We looked too long
at the stars at night, and at the trees and
the earth. And when we cleaned the yard
of the Home of the Scholars, we gathered
the glass vials, the pieces of metal, the dried
bones which they had discarded. We wished
to keep these things and to study them,
but we had no place to hide them.
So we carried them to the City Cesspool.
And then we made the discovery.
It was on a day of the spring before last.
We Street Sweepers work in brigades of
three, and we were with Union 5-3992,
they of the half-brain, and with International
4-8818. Now Union 5-3992 are a sickly lad
and sometimes they are stricken with
convulsions, when their mouth froths
and their eyes turn white. But International
4-8818 are different. They are a tall,
strong youth and their eyes are like fireflies,
for there is laughter in their eyes. We cannot
look upon International 4-8818 and not
smile in answer. For this they were not
liked in the Home of the Students, as it is
not proper to smile without reason. And
also they were not liked because they took
pieces of coal and they drew pictures upon
the walls, and they were pictures which
made men laugh. But it is only our brothers
in the Home of the Artists who are permitted
to draw pictures, so International 4-8818
were sent to the Home of the Street
Sweepers, like ourselves.
International 4-8818 and we are friends.
This is an evil thing to say, for it is a
transgression, the great Transgression of
Preference, to love any among men better
than the others, since we must love all men
and all men are our friends. So International
4-8818 and we have never spoken of it.
But we know. We know, when we look into
each other’s eyes. And when we look thus
without words, we both know other things
also, strange things for which there are
no words, and these things frighten us.
So on that day of the spring before last,
Union 5-3992 were stricken with convulsions
on the edge of the City, near the City
Theatre. We left them to lie in the shade
of the Theatre tent and we went with
International 4-8818 to finish our work.
We came together to the great ravine behind
the Theatre. It is empty save for trees and weeds.
Beyond the ravine there is a plain, and beyond
the plain there lies the Uncharted Forest,
about which men must not think.
We were gathering the papers and the
rags which the wind had blown from the
Theatre, when we saw an iron bar among
the weeds. It was old and rusted by many
rains. We pulled with all our strength, but
we could not move it. So we called
International 4-8818, and together we scraped
the earth around the bar. Of a sudden the
earth fell in before us, and we saw an old
iron grill over a black hole.
International 4-8818 stepped back. But
we pulled at the grill and it gave way.
And then we saw iron rings as steps leading
down a shaft into a darkness without bottom.
“We shall go down,” we said to International 4-8818.
“It is forbidden,” they answered.
We said: “The Council does not know
of this hole, so it cannot be forbidden.”
And they answered: “Since the Council
does not know of this hole, there can
be no law permitting to enter it.
And everything which is not permitted by law
But we said: “We shall go, none the less.”
They were frightened, but they stood by
and watched us go.
We hung on the iron rings with our hands and our feet.
We could see nothing below us. And above us
the hole open upon the sky grew smaller and smaller,
till it came to be the size of a button. But still we
went down. Then our foot touched the ground.
We rubbed our eyes, for we could not see.
Then our eyes became used to the darkness,
but we could not believe what we saw.
No men known to us could have built
this place, nor the men known to our
brothers who lived before us, and yet it
was built by men. It was a great tunnel.
Its walls were hard and smooth to the
touch; it felt like stone, but it was not stone.
On the ground there were long thin tracks
of iron, but it was not iron; it felt smooth
and cold as glass. We knelt, and we crawled
forward, our hand groping along the iron
line to see where it would lead. But there
was an unbroken night ahead. Only the
iron tracks glowed through it, straight and
white, calling us to follow. But we could
not follow, for we were losing the puddle
of light behind us. So we turned and we
crawled back, our hand on the iron line.
And our heart beat in our fingertips,
without reason. And then we knew.
We knew suddenly that this place was
left from the Unmentionable Times. So it
was true, and those Times had been, and
all the wonders of those Times. Hundreds
upon hundreds of years ago men knew
secrets which we have lost. And we thought:
“This is a foul place. They are damned
who touch the things of the Unmentionable Times.”
But our hand which followed the track, as we crawled,
clung to the iron as if it would not leave it,
as if the skin of our hand were thirsty and
begging of the metal some secret fluid
beating in its coldness.
We returned to the earth. International
4-8818 looked upon us and stepped back.
“Equality 7-2521,” they said, “your face is white.”
But we could not speak and we stood looking upon them.
They backed away, as if they dared not touch us.
Then they smiled, but it was not a gay smile;
it was lost and pleading. But still we could
not speak. Then they said:
“We shall report our find to the City
Council and both of us will be rewarded.”
And then we spoke. Our voice was hard
and there was no mercy in our voice. We said:
“We shall not report our find to the City Council.
We shall not report it to any men.”
They raised their hands to their ears,
for never had they heard such words as these.
“International 4-8818,” we asked, “will you report us
to the Council and see us lashed to death before your eyes?”
They stood straight all of a sudden and they answered:
“Rather would we die.”
“Then,” we said, “keep silent. This place is ours.
This place belongs to us, Equality 7-2521, and to
no other men on earth. And if ever we surrender it,
we shall surrender our life with it also.”
Then we saw that the eyes of International 4-8818
were full to the lids with tears they dared not drop.
They whispered, and their voice trembled, so that
their words lost all shape:
“The will of the Council is above all things,
for it is the will of our brothers, which is holy.
But if you wish it so, we shall obey you.
Rather shall we be evil with you than good
with all our brothers. May the Council
have mercy upon both our hearts!”
Then we walked away together and back
to the Home of the Street Sweepers.
And we walked in silence.
Thus did it come to pass that each night,
when the stars are high and the Street
Sweepers sit in the City Theatre, we,
Equality 7-2521, steal out and run through
the darkness to our place. It is easy to leave
the Theatre; when the candles are blown out
and the Actors come onto the stage, no eyes
can see us as we crawl under our seat and
under the cloth of the tent. Later, it is easy
to steal through the shadows and fall in line
next to International 4-8818, as the column
leaves the Theatre. It is dark in the streets
and there are no men about, for no men
may walk through the City when they have