Roger Zelazny. The Man Who Loved the Faioli
It is the story of John Auden and the Faioli, and no one knows it
better than I. Listen--
It happened on that evening, as he strolled (for there was no reason
not to stroll) in his favorite places in the whole world, that he saw the
Faioli near the Canyon of the Dead, seated on a rock, her wings of light
flickering, flickering, flickering and then gone, until it appeared that a
human girl was sitting there, dressed all in white and weeping, with long
black tresses coiled about her waist.
He approached her through the terrible light from the dying, half-dead
sun, in which human eyes could not distinguish distances nor grasp
perspectives properly (though his could), and he lay his right hand upon her
shoulder and spoke a word of greeting and of comfort.
It was as if he did not exist, however. She continued to weep,
streaking with silver her cheeks the color of snow or a bone. Her almond
eyes looked forward as though they saw through him, and her long fingernails
dug into the flesh of her palm, though no blood was drawn.
Then he knew that it was true, the things that are said of the
Faioli--that they see only the living and never the dead, and that they are
formed into the loveliest women in the entire universe. Being dead himself,
John Auden debated the consequences of becoming a living man once again, for
The Faioli were known to come to a man the month before his
death--those rare men who still died--and to live with such a man for that
final month of his existence, rendering to him every pleasure that it is
possible for a human being to know, so that on the day when the kiss of
death is delivered, which sucks the remaining life from his body, that man
accepts it--no, seeks it--with desire and grace, for such is the power of
the Faioli among all creatures that there is nothing more to be desired
after such knowledge.
John Auden considered his life and his death, the conditions of the
world upon which he stood, the nature of his stewardship and his curse and
the Faioli--who was the loveliest creature he had ever seen in all of his
four hundred thousand days of existence--and he touched the place beneath
his left armpit which activated the necessary mechanism to make him live
The creature stiffened beneath his touch, for suddenly it was flesh,
his touch, and flesh, warm and woman-filled, that he was touching, now that
the last sensations of life had returned to him. He knew that his touch had
become the touch of a man once more.
"I said 'hello, and don't cry,'" he said, and her voice was like the
breezes he had forgotten through all the trees that he had forgotten, with
their moisture and their odors and their colors all brought back to him
thus, "From where do you come, man? You were not here a moment ago."
"From the Canyon of the Dead," he said.
"Let me touch your face," and he did, and she did.
"It is strange that I did not feel you approach."
"This is a strange world," he replied.
"That is true," she said. "You are the only living thing upon it."
And he said, "What is your name?"
She said, "Call me Sythia," and he did.
"My name is John," he told her, "John Auden."
"I have come to be with you, to give you comfort and pleasure," she
said, and he knew that the ritual was beginning.
"Why were you weeping when I found you?" he asked.
"Because I thought there was nothing upon this world, and I was so
tired from my travels," she told him. "Do you live near here?"
"Not far away," he answered. "Not far away at all."
"Will you take me there? To the place where you live?"
And she rose and followed him into the Canyon of the Dead, where he
made his home.
They descended and they descended, and all about them were the remains
of people who had once lived. She did not seem to see these things, however,
but kept her eyes fixed upon John's face and her hand upon his arm.
"Why do you call this place the Canyon of the Dead?" she asked him.
"Because they are all about us here, the dead," he replied.
"I feel nothing."
They crossed through the Valley of the Bones, where millions of the
dead from many races and worlds lay stacked all about them, and she did not
see these things. She had come to the graveyard of all the world, but she
did not realize this thing. She had encountered its tender, its keeper, and
she did know what he was, he who staggered beside her like a man drunken.
John Auden took her to his home--not really the place where he lived,
but it would be now--and there he activated ancient circuits within the
building within the mountains, and in response light leaped forth from the
walls, light he had never needed before but now required.
The door slid shut behind them and the temperature built up to a normal
warmth. Fresh air circulated and he took it into his lungs and expelled it,
glorying in the forgotten sensation. His heart beat within his breast, a red
warm thing that reminded him of the pain and of the pleasure. For the first
time in ages, he prepared a meal and fetched a bottle of wine from one of
the deep, sealed lockers. How many others could have borne what he had
She dined with him, toying with the food, sampling a bit of everything,
eating very little. He, on the other hand, glutted himself fantastically,
and they drank of the wine and were happy.
"This place is so strange," she said. "Where do you sleep?"
"I used to sleep in there," he told her, indicating a room he had
almost forgotten; and they entered and he showed it to her, and she beckoned
him toward the bed and the pleasures of her body.
That night he loved her, many times, with a desperation that burnt away
the alcohol and pushed all of his life forward with something like a hunger,
The following day, when the dying sun had splashed the Valley of the
Bones with its pale, moonlike light, he awakened and she drew his head to
her breast, not having slept herself, and she asked him, "What is the thing
that moves you, John Auden? You are not like one of the men who live and who
die, but you take life almost like one of the Faioli, squeezing from it
everything that you can and pacing it at a tempo that bespeaks a sense of
time no man should know. What are you?"
"I am one who knows," he said. "I am one who knows that the days of a
man are numbered and one who covets their dispositions as he feels them draw
to a close."
"You are strange," said Sythia. "Have I pleased you?"
"More than anything else I have ever known," he said.
And she sighed, and he found her lips once again.
They breakfasted, and that day they walked in the Valley of the Bones.
He could not distinguish distances nor grasp perspectives properly, and she
could not see anything that had been living and now was dead. So, of course,
as they sat there on a shelf of stone, his arm around her shoulders, he
pointed out to her the rocket which had just come down from out of the sky,
and she squinted after his gesture. He indicated the robots, which had begun
unloading the remains of the dead of many world from the hold of the ship,
and she cocked her head to one side and stared ahead, but she did not really
see what he was talking about.
Even when one of the robots lumbered up to him and held out the board
containing the receipt and the stylus, and as he signed the receipt for the
bodies received, she did not see or understand what it was that was
In the days that followed, his life took upon it a dreamlike quality,
filled with the pleasure of Sythia and shot through with certain inevitable
streaks of pain. Often, she saw him wince, and she asked him concerning his
And always he would laugh and say, "Pleasure and pain are near to one
another," or some thing such as that.
And as the days wore on, she came to prepare the meals and to rub his
shoulders and mix his drinks and to recite to him certain pieces of poetry
he had somehow once come to love.
A month. A month, he knew, and it would come to an end. The Faioli,
whatever they were, paid for the life that they took with the pleasures of
the flesh. They always knew when a man's death was near at hand. And in this
sense, they always gave more than they received. The life was fleeing
anyway, and they enhanced it before they took it away with them, to nourish
themselves most likely, price of the things that they'd given.
Sythia was mother-of-pearl, and her body was alternately cold and warm
to his caresses, and her mouth was a tiny flame, igniting wherever it
touched, with its teeth like needles and its tongue like the heart of a
flower. And so he came to know the thing called love for the Faioli called
Nothing really happened beyond the loving. He knew that she wanted him,
to use him ultimately, and he was perhaps the only man in the universe able
to gull one of her kind. His was the perfect defense against life and
against death. Now that he was human and alive, he often wept when he
He had more than a month to live.
He had maybe three or four.
This month, therefore, was a price he'd willingly pay for what it was
that the Faioli offered.
Sythia racked his body and drained from it every drop of pleasure
contained within his tired nerve cells. She turned him into a flame, an
iceberg, a little boy, an old man. When they were together, his feelings
were such that he considered the _consolamentum_ as a thing he might really
accept at the end of the month, which was drawing near. Why not? He knew she
had filled his mind with her presence, on purpose. But what more did
existence hold for him? This creature from beyond the stars had brought him
every single thing a man could desire. She had baptized him with passion and
confirmed him with the quietude which follows after. Perhaps the final
oblivion of her final kiss were best after all.
He seized her and drew her to him. She did not understand him, but she
He loved her for it, and this was almost his end.
There is a thing called disease that battens upon all living things,
and he had known it beyond the scope of all living men. She could not
understand, woman-thing who had known only of life.
So he never tried to tell her, though with each day the taste of her
kisses grew stronger and saltier and each seemed to him a strengthening
shadow, darker and darker, stronger and heavier, of that one thing which he
now knew he desired most.
And the day would come. And come it did.
He held her and caressed her, and the calendars of all his days fell
He knew, as he abandoned himself to her ploys and the glories of her
mouth, her breasts, that he had been ensnared, as had all men who had known
them, by the power of the Faioli. Their strength was their weakness. They
were the ultimate in Woman. By their frailty they begat the desire to
please. He wanted to merge himself with the pale landscape of her body, to
pass within the circles of her eyes and never depart.
He had lost, he knew. For as the days had vanished about him, he had
weakened. He was barely able to scrawl his name upon the receipt proffered
him by the robot who had lumbered toward him, crushing ribcages and cracking
skulls with each terrific step. Briefly, he envied the thing. Sexless,
passionless, totally devoted to duty. Before he dismissed it, he asked it,
"What would you do if you had desire and you met with a thing that gave you
all the things you wished for in the world?"
"I would--try to--keep it," it said, red lights blinking about its
dome, before it turned and lumbered off, across the Great Graveyard.
"Yes," said John Auden aloud, "but this thing cannot be done."
Sythia did not understand him, and on that thirty-first day they
returned to that place where he had lived for a month and he felt the fear
of death, strong, so strong, come upon him.
She was more exquisite that ever before, but he feared this final
"I love you," he said finally, for it was a thing he had never said
before, and she stroked his brow and kissed it.
"I know," she told him, "and your time is almost at hand, to love me
completely. Before the final act of love, my John Auden, tell me a thing:
What is it that sets you apart? Why is it that you know so much more of
things-that-are-not-life than mortal man should know? How was it that you
approached me on that first night without my knowing it?"
"It is because I am already dead," he told her. "Can't you see it when
you look into my eyes? Do you not feel it, as a certain special chill,
whenever I touch you? I came here rather than sleep the cold sleep, which
would have me to be in a thing like death anyhow, an oblivion wherein I
would not even know I was waiting, waiting for the cure which might never
happen, the cure for one of the very last fatal diseases remaining in the
universe, the disease which now leaves me only small time of life."
"I do not understand," she said.
"Kiss me and forget it," he told her. "It is better this way. There
will doubtless never be a cure, for some things remain always dark, and I
have surely been forgotten. You must have sensed the death upon me, when I
restored my humanity, for such is the nature of your kind. I did it to enjoy
you, knowing you to be of the Faioli. So have your pleasure of me now, and
know that I share it. I welcome thee. I have courted thee all the days of my
But she was curious and asked him (using the familiar for the first
time), "How then dost thou achieve this balance between life and
that-which-is-not-life, this thing which keeps thee unconscious yet
"There are controls set within this body I happen, unfortunately, to
occupy. To touch this place beneath my left armpit will cause my lungs to
cease their breathing and my heart to stop its beating. It will set into
effect an installed electrochemical system, like those my robots (invisible
to you, I know) possess. This is my life within death. I asked for it
because I feared oblivion. I volunteered to be gravekeeper to the universe,
because in this place there are none to look upon me and be repelled by my
deathlike appearance. This is why I am what I am. Kiss me and end it."
But having taken the form of woman, or perhaps being woman all along,
the Faioli who was called Sythia was curious, and she said, "This place?"
and she touched the spot beneath his left armpit.
With this he vanished from her sight, and with this also, he knew once
again the icy logic that stood apart from emotion. Because of this, he did
not touch upon the critical spot once again.
Instead, he watched her as she sought for him about the place where he
had once lived.
She checked into every closet and adytum, and when she could not
discover a living man, she sobbed once, horribly, as she had on that night
when first he had seen her. Then the wings flickered, flickered, weakly
flickered, back into existence upon her back, and her face dissolved and her
body slowly melted. The tower of sparks that stood before him then vanished,
and later on that crazy night during which he could distinguish distances
and grasp perspectives once again he began looking for her.
And that is the story of John Auden, the only man who ever loved a
Faioli and lived (if you could call it that) to tell of it. No one knows it
better than I.
No cure has ever been found. And I know that he walks the Canyon of the
Dead and considers the bones, sometimes stops by the rock where he met her,
blinks after the moist things that are not there, wonders at the judgment
that he gave.
It is that way, and the moral may be that life (and perhaps love also)
is stronger than that which it contains, but never that which contains it.
But only a Faioli could tell you for sure, and they never come here any
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