In the Hazards, buildings pop up overnight. They arise fully formed, with ornate cornices and molding. In another age, masons toiled for decades to carve such filigrees and friezes. In the Hazards, there are no construction sites, dust or pounding. There are no wolf-whistles on the corners.
“The world was clamorous,” Lizzy’s grandfather explained. “Too many bright diversions, gadgets, a million types of media. Life was helter-skelter. Everyone was lost.”
“So you built the Alphabets?” asked Lizzy.
“We summoned them. A building for each letter. My idea.”
They locked up obvious dangers first. Guns went to building G. They rounded up the pesticides, the BPA and phthalates. Cars vanished from the streets.
After that, the purges spread. Knives first, then scissors. Matches went, and swimming pools, electricity and jellyfish. “A society without accidents,” Lizzy’s grandfather announced. “Absolute containment. The Hazards is a modern zoo where the populace can watch danger pass without the chance of harm.”
Of course, that meant accommodations. Everything is plastic now, with rounded edges. Food comes preheated, not too hot, and soft enough to eat with spoons. Lizzy exercises in bubble rooms and showers with a depth alarm.
She misses dogs, taken in the sixth wave. “Too many teeth,” grandfather said. High-heels vanished after that, then chewing gum and glass. “No more cuts and bruises.” She can still hear his declamations.
The sky is striking blue today, clear and hazeless. With all the daily purges, Lizzy struggles to keep track of what is left. It takes her half the morning to realize clouds have gone.
On Building C, there is a stone frieze above the keystone, the Goddess Cybele, The Great Mother, above an eyeless lion. There are rumors that the lion’s gaping mouth is equipped with tubes of acid, in case of mass revolt. “Some people,” grandfather said sternly, “are not happy with security and ease. We will take precautions.”
“What about the rain?” Lizzy wonders. She reads a scrolling proclamation, complex plans for “water manufacture.” A large crowd gazes through tall windows at the captured clouds. They skitter and bump like wildlife, like something animate and real. Another screen lists offenses: erratic temperatures, unpredictable waterfall, and the encouragement of dreams.
In The Hazards, sidewalks have no cracks. Children stare at curiosities rare before their births — at staple guns and swords, at chocolate and bacon, at hot dogs and cough syrup and soda and frogs.
Lizzy is old enough to remember days Before. There were gargoyles on buildings, fierce protectors against evil. Some say the Underground carves miniature wild creatures in crevices and corners. In ancient times, Lizzy knows, Cybele asked for sacrifices, for castrations and great bowls of blood.
She keeps a measured pace, her gait erect. It will not do to stumble. In front of building O, she waits for the procession. It doesn’t take him long to find her. From the other side, grandfather salutes. He left voluntarily, when Old Age was deemed a Hazard. Lizzy doesn’t miss him, much.
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