Sweat was pouring down my body. The tension of the exercise seemed futile, impossible. Nothing in my life had ever been so difficult. Could I not escape from this back into sleep, sweet dreams of flesh, professional fulfilment? I got up and took a circuit of the walls to calm my nerves. There was music playing within; I could hear it echoing down across the plain. How long could this go on? I must get in. I knew that much, however much of a dream all this might be.

Back to the two stone circles, the pattern now well-established in my wrists. I laid another pebble at the bottom of each circle for that second of pause, the time outside the diachronic circuit. When my two hands rested on them, that would be the time to act.

Touch – one thousand; touch – two thousand … No longer was it necessary to count. The pebbles would accomplish that for me. Only the elision of the two wheels, the coinciding of the two patterns counted. Once I had my rhythm, my points of blink established, the touching could go on. No thought was required here, just steely nerve, concentration, no intrusion of the extraneous. Slip. Start again.

This time … this time …

Did I get inside? Perhaps I did. The two hands rested simultaneously on the outsider stones, and I was off, sprinting like a hare between the two poised wills, shielded from the fire of their stare, through the smooth ivory gates into the scented courtyard. There (of course) were palm-trees round a well, the kind whence Rachel drew water for the flocks of Jacob. Did I stop to savour the evening breeze a little before venturing on? Perhaps I did, before climbing the long polished steps, moving through the guard room and the antechambers, through the doors which opened at a touch, through rooms of sleeping guards with lion heads, past rows of sleeping serving women, through into the inner chamber, where she lay, my blue-robed bride, the daughter of the Djinn – my guide from far-off Baghdad, Queen of the night, to welcome me with lips of flame and body of cool flesh, whose ribs are symphonies and whose cunt is bliss, boy-girl in boots, dark animal of lust, daughter of the morning.

Did I get inside? Or did returning dawn find me still counting, futilely, amidst the dusty ruins? One thing is certain, I do not come back. Once you

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