The three metamorphoses of the spirit will I now describe: how the spirit becomes a camel, the camel then a lion, and the lion at last a child.
–Friedrich Nietzsche

In the nightmare before dawn lived the Roc. He was indeed the same who daily devoured the Titan's liver, mistaken by some for a vulture against the giant's great size.

The Roc suffered, too. He never could abide liver, and he thought the punishment for arson rather severe. Ah, but the nights were his when under no compulsion he flew between the moon and stars.

The lovely goddess, Wind, betrayed him ceaselessly. Ever she charmed him, ever beguiled him, and ever let him fall. Yet for that he bore her no resentment; only a lonely melancholy chilled his heart. It left him as surely fettered as his daily victim.

Twixt dusk and dawn the Roc flew and never slept nor rested but dreamed. Ah, what dreams they were! He dreamt of love and freedom. He dreamt of sighing sand and singing stones and cold, exultant stars. "Ah! The dreams! The dreams!" he thought and whispered love-words to the Wind.

The dusk fell about him, and the Wind played coolly under his pinions. He followed the declining day into his dreams.

He was a camel.

The desert was dark and lonely. What tiny sounds there were served only to accentuate the silence. The stars were cold and close, but Phaenon outshone them, for there was no moon.

He had memories then of the hard, dusty road from Baghdad, the cursing of the drivers, and the heavy burdens laid upon him by the master. That one, ah! He regaled the other humans with stories of his voyages and exploits, but the camel-roc knew. All the camels knew. With typical dromedary humor, they called him the Sinner, Sailbad the Sinner.

He it was who commanded the burdens be laid upon them. He it was who drove them with such punishing intensity. They all resented the Sinner but kept their own counsel. A nip brought the whip, and a kick—they did not think what a kick would bring.

The camel-roc hated him the most, as though by some divination he knew of other outrages the Sinner had committed. He groaned as he considered the wearying miles yet to Mecca.

“Ah, Brother, can't you sleep?” said a low voice in the darkness beside him.

“No. Nor dream, nor long endure.”

“What mean you? We travel toward righteousness. The way is hard but must be trod with patience.”

“For what? For the Sinner's will? I swear, another straw's weight would break my back. What good for us is it to suffer beneath his rod?”

“Shh! Forbear! He chastens them he loves. We have food and drink. We have daily work and nightly ease. What would you? We have more. We have purpose, and that is no small comfort; mark me.”

“Purpose!” the camel-roc snorted. “Yes, but it is not our own. Why should I serve his purpose and not mine?”

“Augh! You are speaking like an infidel.”

“I? I speak the truth. It is the Sinner who treats us with such cruelty. It is he who brings evil into our lives. Serve him? I'd sooner serve myself.”

“Silence, I beg you. Do you not fear his wrath?”

The camel-roc made no reply. The Wind was blowing softly, and he seemed to hear strange whispers. He was caught in the dim double-vision of dreaming and knowing that he dreamed. He flew between the moon and stars.

“Come with me,” cooed the Wind. She touched his pinions lightly.

He felt the exhilarating passion of the quest begin. His wings beat faster, and the stars glimmered more brightly. There was a scream in his dream.

“Lion!” cried a camel. “Lion! Lion!” The screaming woke the men who contributed their own yells.

“The wrath of Allah!”

“Curse these camels!”

“We'll all perish!”

“Lion! Lion! Lion!”

The camel-roc felt very strange. A calm resolution seemed to settle into his heart. The other camels were all screaming and shying, but he stood easily, peering into the darkness.

He saw it—a subtle movement of darkness within darkness. There was a fleeting gleam, perhaps starlight reflected from the beast's eye. The camel-roc felt a certain anticipation. A cold rage was building within him. The lion, he thought. I will be free. Deliberately, he walked toward the lion.

The Roc in his waking dream was conscious of four things at once. He was flying between the moon and stars making love to the Wind. He was a camel walking toward a lion. He could hear the thoughts of the other camel which had stood next to him. And he was the lion crouching for the kill.

“It is the will of the Sinner,” thought the other camel.

“It is my will,” thought the camel-roc.

The lion's thoughts were filled with anticipating hot, spurting blood and tearing flesh.

The Wind sighed with pleasure, and the lion leapt for her over the back of the camel-roc at the Sinner's throat.

Death and destruction. Sheol and Abaddon. Hades and Tartarus. Thus thought the lion-roc.

He tore and tore and gorged himself. Sated, he sat down amid the sinew, bone, and blood, guarding his kill.

Had it been a man? He could not remember. He remembered only the rage like a fall of gods beneath indifferent stars. He was alone in the midst of his own destruction. The darkness was increasing, and he looked up. One by one the stars were going out.

The Roc flew on above the desolate places of the earth. Dark crags and darker clefts lay beneath him like waiting teeth in an open maw. The Wind engulfed him like a cloud, but the air was like glass, cold and transparent. Above him the moon, as yet unmarred, shone like a searchlight upon the fractured earth below. He thought he heard the stars laugh, a sound like shattered crystal far away.

The lion-roc watched the disappearing stars until only one was left. Phaenon remained, a single light in darkness so complete, the earth itself had ceased to be. He watched, expecting it to go out too.

For long moments nothing seemed to happen. The tiny dot seemed to dance before the lion-roc's eyes. Gradually it grew larger. It was coming closer, and as it drew near, the Wind began to blow. She blew harder and harder until the lion-roc's mane streamed back straight behind him, and his face was drawn taut. The Wind grew to gale force, fleeing the radiance of Phaenon.

The lion-roc could see in the waxing light that he rested upon a vast and empty plain, transparent as air. As far as he could see there was nothing in all the universe save himself and Phaenon. The light grew brighter, and presently he could see that Phaenon was not merely a planet. He had the form of a human being. Why, it's a boy! thought the lion-roc.

Indeed, Phaenon was a boy, a small child of ageless beauty. He was clothed in radiance, and in his eyes was unfathomable wisdom.

The lion gazed at him through eyes squinted because of the light. He felt a sharp, unwonted fear, and all his prideful valor left him. He bowed before the child and purred like a cat.

“Why have you come to me?” asked the lion when he had found the courage to speak. “I am not worthy of you.”

The child laughed. “I have not come to you, but you have come to me, for I called you. As to your worthiness, it is of no consequence.”

“What, then, will you have me do?”

“What is your desire?”

A wild hope flitted through the lion's mind, but he shook his head and said nothing.

“Then you shall have it,” said the child.

Immediately there was darkness.

The Wind had ceased blowing, and the Roc flew in lazy circles above a vast sea. He dreamt and in dreaming smiled. This part I like best, he thought.

“You, I shall call Phaenon,” said the man.

The child-roc opened his eyes. He stood by a stream in a small, sunlit glade surrounded by trees. The man before him was beaming happily and covered with mud. Come to that—he looked down at himself—he too was covered with mud. Or rather, he thought, I seem to be made of mud. His skin was the same nut-brown as the ground on which he stood.

“Wh-what are you?” the child inquired.

“What? Why, I am your father, child,” said the man. “But you may call me Son.”

The child's eyes grew big and round, but he did not question the man. He looked about him with wonder. The world seemed so full of newness. Every plant and stone seemed to harbor a miracle. He looked at the man beseechingly.

“Of course,” said the man. “Run along now. It's yours, you know. I'll call you when supper is ready.”

The child moved off to explore the glade. He peered into the flowers and touched each one ever so gently. His feet left no impression in the luxurious grass. He waded into the stream, noting with satisfaction that his feet did not wash away as he had feared they might, and delighting himself with the fleeting reflections on the water's surface. He played with stones near the stream bed, poking curiously at the grubs and pill-bugs under them. Thus he passed the time until he heard supper called.

The man had made a vegetable soup over a low fire. When the child saw the fire, he was entranced. It was beautiful, he thought, full of light and laughter like the stream, but also moody and dark like—like—like a half-remembered dream.

“So the fire disarms you, does it?” said the man.

“It's wonderful,” he replied, not taking his eyes off it.

“Ah, that is is. Pure wonder. And what wonders it shall kindle: metallurgy, central heating, internal combustion, even nuclear fission. All shall take their spark from this flame. And hell. Yes, one must not forget hell. Where would civilization be without it?”

“What's sizzle-avation?” asked the boy, grasping at the word as it flew past him.

“Never mind. You'll be too wise too soon as it is.”

They sat down together on the ground and ate their soup from wooden bowls. The child looked pensive, and the man watched him with expectation.

“Son,” said the child at last.

“Yes, child,” said the man.

“When I am grown, will I be like you?”

The man smiled. “Ah, child, will you indeed. You have asked what only you can answer. Already you are more like me than ever you were as camel or lion. You have begun at last. The time will come when you will shine like a star, and you will awaken as one who awakens from a dream. Then you will be as I am. At least that is my hope.”

The man's voice faded near the end, and the child-roc looked about him. He was no longer child but wholly Roc. The great sea stretched beneath him, glittering in the light of the setting moon. The Wind was rising. She tickled him under his chin and bade him fly east as the light-fingered dawn plucked the stars from the sky.