The mist continued to fall on buildings that were shorter and squatter and sported more Mom-and-Pop grocery storefronts. The lonely car, or two, wound its way up the road, every so often, blinding Alli and Nealy with its headlights. They walked down the thin strip of sidewalk to one of the park’s entrances. The two followed the pebbled road, lit every few yards with black iron lamps, put in place at least twenty years ago.
They walked through the dark rows of trees, dotted with specks of lamplight. Late at night only nightingales chirped, and trucks honked in the distance. The two turned off main path, after main path, passing The Mall and the Carousel. Soon they were climbing up rock steps and pushing wet branches out of their way. A path that was barely stomped into the ground led to a muddy clearing, covered with red and yellow leaves, clustered by sopping, leaning trees. In the middle of the clearing was a ring of monoliths. Beyond them stood a wall marked by an unlit opening.
The orange clouds continued to roam overhead. They made their way over the slippery leaves, to the dark passage and descended the slick steps. They knew the way, even though the shaft was black as pitch. Both descended, until they got to a dirt landing, lit with a single brazier on sticks. Across the chamber a single wooden door, with black iron bolts, could be seen. Alli knocked. The guard drew open a latch and then, opened the door for them.
The guard ushered them into the main chamber, which was carved out of brown stone and lit with wrought iron candelabras along the walls. The room fit about a hundred people, and they were looking at the front of the room, where Old Archon, elected leader of the Young Avatars’ Club (Y.A.C.), stood on a balcony, in front of a small cave mouth, addressing them.
Old Archon had just finished his speech, “So, that’s our latest dispatch from our research group in Gilf Kebir. That concludes the updates for this week. I hope to see all of you at the benefit dinner, at the W Hotel, on Saturday.”
The room clapped, and Old Archon left the podium. The crowd dispersed to the little tables around the room, filled with the members’ own blend of red-colored punch, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
Alli introduced Nealy to some of the other avatars, since Alli had been in Y.A.C. longer. They were for the most part college-educated young professionals, like themselves, with a keen understanding of a combination of comparative mythology, archeology and astronomy, as well as other fields.
The crowd split into two groups, filing into two black doors on either side of the chamber, one with a small blue flame symbol at eye-level and the other, with a red flame.
In the avatar room, stood a long wooden table and on the walls hung various tapestries of famous leaders of the avatars – numerous Sky Avatars, Thunder Avatars and Lightning Avatars. A large painting of the current Sky Avatar, Æon, in black armor and on a white horse, carrying a sword, sat behind the head of the table. Old Archon took this seat and about fifty avatars sat down on either side of the very tight room, with rock walls, also lit by candelabras.
After their meeting, the avatars filed back out of the tight, airless room and out into the cool main chamber, stretching their legs. The anti-avatars came out from the other side of the chamber, also tired and restless. Alli found Nealy and they joined the throng heading back up the dark, slippery steps.
“Shake Shack?” Alli said.
“Yes, please,” Nealy said.
“I’m so tired.”
“Why is it such a long way back again?”
“There’s going to be nothing but hobos on the train.”
“We could take a taxi,”
“Some of the drivers are weird though.”
The night air was cold after a long time spent in the hot underground chambers. The rain still spat around them, and the tree branches creaked in the wind. Alli and Nealy said goodbye to Carlton and some of the other avatars. Tiny groups ambled around the muddy clearing, before the groups scattered, going in different directions, into the night.
Alli and Nealy clambered back through the trees to the main path, paved with cobblestones. The lamp lights hung in the autumn fog, that was beginning to rise from the earth.
“I don’t know why we still meet in that place,” Nealy said.
“Y.A.C.’s been meeting there since the park was first built,” Alli said.
“I know, I know. But it’s high time we expanded it, especially the side rooms.”
They reached the station. The rain was coming down harder now, splattering against the sidewalk. The two took the escalator into the now quiet subway station. They pressed their Smart Cards to the circles on the gates and the orange barriers rolled back, the sound echoing throughout the cavernous station.
Two trains came on the other side of the tracks, before their train came. Their car was empty except for a lone, grubby hipster, bopping his head to something coming through his over-sized Bose headphones.