Anthem by Ayn Rand

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

is forbidden.”

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

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Categories: Rand, Ayn