“An old goat among ten dozen fauns.”


“Where do I sign up?” I laughed.

“Do you accept?”

“No, I need more facts.”

“Damn! Here’s the second door. Get in!”

He swung wide a door, more golden than the first, shoved me, followed, and slammed the door. I stared at darkness.

“What’s this?” I whispered.

“Dorian’s Gym, of course. If you work out here all year, hour by hour, day by day, you get younger.”

“That’s some gym,” I observed, trying to adjust my eyes to the dim areas beyond where shadows tumbled, and voices rustled and whispered. “I’ve heard of gyms that help keep, not make, you young … Now tell me…

“I read your mind. For every old man that became young in there at the bar, is there an attic portrait?”

“Well, is there?”

“No! There’s only Dorian.”

“A single person? Who grows old for all of you?”

“Touche’! Behold his gym!”

I gazed off into a vast high arena where a hundred shadows stirred and moaned like a tide on a terrible shore.

“I think it’s time to leave,” I said.

“Nonsense. Come. No one will see you. They’re all… busy. I am Moses,” said the sweet breath at my elbow. “And I hereby tell the Red Sea to part!”

And we moved along a path between two tides, each shadowed, each more terrifying with its gasps, its cries, its slip-pages of flesh, its slapping like waves, its repeated whispers for more, more, ah, God, more!

I ran, but my host grabbed on. “Look right, left, now right again!”

There must have been a hundred, two hundred animals, beasts, no, men wrestling, leaping, falling, rolling in darkness. It was a sea of flesh, undulant, a writhing of limbs on acres of tumbling mats, a glistening of skin, flashes of teeth where men climbed ropes, spun on leather horses, or flung themselves up crossbars to be seized down in the tidal flux of lamentations and muffled cries. I stared across an ocean of rising and falling shapes. My ears were scorched by their bestial moans.

“What, my God,” I exclaimed, “does it all mean?”

“There. See.”

And above the wild turbulence of flesh in a far wall was a great window, forty feet wide and ten feet tall, and behind that cold glass Something watching, savoring, alert, one vast stare.

And over all there was the suction of a great breath, a vast inhalation which pulled at the gymnasium air with a constant hungry and invisible need. As the shadows tumbled and writhed, this inhalation tugged at them and the raw air in my nostrils. Somewhere a huge vacuum machine sucked in darkness but did not exhale. There were long pauses as the shadows flailed and fell, and then another savoring inhalation. It swallowed breath. In, in, always in, devouring the sweaty air, hungering the passions.

And the shadows were pulled, I was pulled, toward that vast glass eye, that immense window behind which a shapeless Something stared to dine on gymnasium airs.

“Dorian?” I guessed.

“Come meet him.”

“Yes, but …” I watched the wild, convulsive shadows. “What are they doing?”

“Go find out. Afraid? Cowards never live. So!”

He swung wide a third door and whether it was golden hot and alive, I could not feel, for suddenly I lurched into a hothouse as the door slammed and was locked by my blond young friend. “Ready?”

“Lord, I must go home!”

“Not until you meet,” said my host, “him.”

He pointed. At first I could see nothing. The lights were dim and the place, like the gymnasium, was mostly shadow. I smelled jungle greens. The air stirred on my face with sensuous strokes. I smelled papaya and mango and the wilted odor of orchids mixed with the salt smells of an unseen tide. But the tide was there with that immense inhaled breathing that rose and was quiet and began again.

“I see no one,” I said.

“Let your eyes adjust. Wait.”

I waited. I watched.

There were no chairs in the room, for there was no need of chairs.

He did not sit, he did not recline, he “prolonged” himself on the largest bed in history. The dimensions might easily have been fifteen feet by twenty. It reminded me of the apartment of a writer I once knew who had completely covered his room with mattresses so that women stumbled on the sill and fell flat out on the springs.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray