Rudyard Kipling's creepy short story, The City of Dreadful Night, is one of those stories that reminds me of why I read. In this very short tale, Kipling takes me somewhere I've never been and shows me things I've never seen and makes me use my imagination in new ways.
The premise is simple enough. An unnamed narrator in Victorian era India cannot sleep because of the stifling heat. He takes a walk into the moonlit night, walking toward "The City of Dreadful Night" (Lahore City) and as he walks through the shimmering light he seems to find an army of corpses along the road. But these are living men, so overcome by the heat that they are literally sleeping where they fall.
"Straight as a bar of polished steel ran the road to the City of Dreadful Night; and on either side of the road lay corpses disposed on beds in fantastic attitudes--one hundred and seventy bodies of men. Some shrouded all in white with bound-up mouths; some naked and black as ebony in the strong light; and one--that lay face upwards with dropped jaw, far away from the others--silvery white and ashen gray."
As he enters the city he finds many more people sleeping in the streets and on rooftops, trying to escape the hot night air. Finally he climbs the steps of a minaret, disturbing kites sleeping in the stairwell, and looks out across the city with its hundreds of restless sleepers sprawled out in the streets. What an image.
The story is a little masterpiece of mood and I can't believe I never read it before. I'm sure I will again.