The Wastes

There were very few things David feared at his tender age. The tales of the Great Mother had instilled in him the courage and foolishness to disregard fear as a coward’s tool. There was no fear in the story of Rogan the Red Faced, whose temper contained a heat so fierce it could make the ice melt. There was no hesitation in Aleouac’s fable, whose strength was so great and her warmth so intense that she pierced the sky with the tip of her spear, allowing the long-forgotten Sun to shine one last time over the war-torn clans. Such was the beauty of its light, the power of its glow, that it extinguished the fires of war in the hearts of men and rekindled the flame of kinship and unity, as everyone wept at the idiocy of war and embraced one another like brothers and sisters.

            Once, when the clan was asleep and the cave was alive with the sound of a thousand quiet breaths, David went to find the Wall of Thoughts on his own. He wanted to study the alluring shapes on its surface, rest his hand on the dents of the stone and decipher its secret meanings. But when he was crossing the Chamber of Echoes, he realised how cold and silent it was, how far away the walls were from each other and scurried out of the room, following the comforting night-whispers of the clan back to the common chamber. It was only when he was back within the warm hurdle of the clan, right before falling asleep in the hollow of his mother’s arms, that David wondered about the strange feeling that had turned his stomach into a knot and made him walk faster than he would openly admit, and it occurred to him that it might have been the beginning of something akin to fear.

It was not until he saw the Frozen Wastes, ten years after having been poured into the world from the great dark by his first mother, that David experienced fear for the first time in his life. As soon as he set foot on the unfamiliar hardness of the icy surface, his first impulse was to run. Run back to the cave, away from the unnatural cold that bit through his furs and plunged its fangs into its confused skin, back to the embracing comfort of the clan. But when he saw James standing tall right behind him like an impassable wall, David understood that there was no way back. Turning his head towards the impossible vastness that were the Wastes, he felt the sudden urge to drop to the ground, to find the deepest crack on the ice and bury himself there.

Yet, David turned his back towards his first father and faced the Wastes.

Up until that moment, his world had been composed of several shades of brown and grey and many gradients between hard, soft and harsh. His hands knew of the smoothness of the cave walls, of the rough patches and odd dents in the Wall of Thoughts. There was a lifetime of touch and warmth beneath his skin, a layered universe of sensations and stimuli that told him who he was and where he belonged to. He was David, one of the Oikumen, inheritors of the Ice and the Earth, and the cave was his home. For as long as he could remember, that thought had been the pillar that held his mind together, the fundamental truth around which the walls of his inner cave had grown and expanded with thoughts and secrets of his own making, as he listened to the stories of the Great Mother and learnt from his mothers and fathers.

When David stepped into the Wastes, the pillar broke. There was no audible crack or sudden collapse, no broken stone or shattered walls. His mind remained structurally intact, yet something had changed. “The world is a cave without walls”, Janira used to say. He had always dismissed the thought as a quaint saying from the stories of old, because how could one even imagine such a thing? But as his eyes failed to process the surreal landscape before them, the small thing that had slipped into the stony chambers of his mind-cave became suddenly noticeable. There was a new echo within the halls of his cave, something subtle, lighter than a whisper. Yet, when David tried to listen to what it was saying, he could hear nothing. Nothing. That was it. The world was not a cave. It might have been long ago, but the only thing that now remained was an endlessly stretching space filled with the thresholds of bending arches long extinct and the hungry hollows of forgotten chambers left behind by walls turned to dust. Nothing. And it was now within him. Like the whispers of the Great Mother, this unfamiliar presence carried with it a story of its own. But the portrait it painted was not of great deeds and wise parables. As this new story told itself, it borrowed the walls within his mind cave, eating away at the ones that were already there. Eating away at him and all the names that came before him.

When David finally understood, it was already too late. He tried to cling to the names of the great warriors of old, to invoke the warmth of the clan with the secret words that he had learnt from the Wall of Thoughts. But as he tried to recall the faces of those he loved, he found that they were leaving him, as were their names and all that had come with them, until the cold filled everything he was and the only thing that was left for him was the frozen white of the eternal Wastes.

It was the voice of his father that brought him back. As soon as he felt James’s hand on his shoulder, David remembered. Through the spiteful cold and the monstrous stillness of the Wastes, through the thick furs and the old leather of his lamellar armour, David felt the warmth of all his brothers and sisters, as if the hand of his father carried not only its own weight and meaning, but also the fierce determination of Rogan’s temper and the flaming strength of Aleouac’s courage.

Thus, David took a step into the Wastes and then another, as the warmth exiled the cold from his body, as the names and faces of the clan flooded back to the halls of his mind. Yet, somewhere within the depths of his mind-cave, a wall remained to be claimed. It was a wall not unlike the rest, as it also told a story. Or rather, the beginning of one. It was the story of nothing. And it would stay with him for the rest of his life.

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Reflection I

Becoming suddenly aware of the futility behind every human effort can have curious if somewhat contradictory effects on the mind of a person and, by extension, on the way a life is lived. I often find myself thinking about the relative worth of my actions and my words, especially when it comes to writing. The notion of “worth”, as everything and anything else for which a human language has a word or symbol, is generated by the connections that give it birth. Although there might be some consensus about what something be, meaning, and therefore our perceived reality (the human one), is found at the crossroads of language and intent. A stone is a stone, hunger is hunger, and the wind is, well, the wind, but any action or interaction, any response or reaction prompted by these words, these meanings, are set in motion by the human intent. Throwing a stone at someone to hurt them is no different than trying to make that same stone, or any other stone, bounce along the uninterrupted surface of a lake. The cause and the result might look different, and they will definitely feel so to the ones having their skulls cracked by the impact, but even though these actions may seem totally unrelated to, say, a mother protecting her child from her own father or a kid begging for food, a single, undeniable and irreducible fact remains: all of them suffer from the human intent.

            All of our meanings are inner meanings. So is worth. So am I. So is everything else. Why, then, do I keep weighing my actions against themselves? Why, then, do I allow my words to be shaped by imagined inner meanings the nature of which will always remain out of reach?

            As of late, I have begun to comprehend one thing. It is not the relative worth that ladens my actions. It is not the fear that my intent may be judged undeserving of attention or praise or any other manufactured human meaning. It is certainty that has pinned me down. It is clear, unadultered understanding that blurs my vision and shackles my thoughts. Distilled knowledge, paradoxically free of purpose and intention.

                                                            There is nothing outside.

                                                            There is nothing inside.

                                                            Only in between can we find meaning

                                                            And there is nothing in between.

The Fiction of Distance

Dear sister,

I am writing to you with the hopes that this letter will reach you before Spring is over. The weather here is harsher than in the stories father used to tell us. The cold is cruel and sharp, and it has a malicious intent bordering on human nature. It somehow seems to me that, if I gave it the chance, it would tear the words from this letter and spirit them somewhere far away to keep it company. No wonder, though. When I first set foot in this town it was like stepping into one of those paintings at the Blue Gallery, where everyone seemed to have fled to the furthermost corners of the frame and the town was trying to inhabit itself by keeping a semblance of life.

The snow on the street is riddled with trails of wandering footsteps leading to all kinds of thresholds on the opposite site of which warmth and custom keep life barely awake, like small pockets of familiarity connected by lines of motion and absence. The whole town seems to be enveloped by a mantle of silence, broken only by the occasional treading of a solitary figure walking back home or the muffled toll of the church bell.

            Looking through the window of my temporary quarters, I can’t help but think about our time in the summer house with Philipp. The fixity of this place reminds me somewhat of those long days that seemed to stretch into a benign and placid eternity, when all that mattered was playing hide and seek in the moors and our greatest worry in the world was getting home on time, lest mother became upset. It is curious how, as I grow older, the silliest memories keep springing in my mind like a stubborn yet welcome bed of elderflower, while the darker, less enjoyable moments recede with increasing success to a relegated corner of my mind. With the passing of time, however, the flowers wither and die, and only those dark thoughts remain to keep me company.  Like that time when mother reprimanded you for stripping the skirt of your dress because it kept getting stuck on the bushes. As soon as her hand left her mark on your face, I could see the regret mounting on the corner of her eyes, on her other hand reaching for a daughter that she had already lost. As I ran after you ignoring mother’s pleas, I swore to myself that I would never let anyone hurt you like that again. I would protect my big sister just like she had done with me since the day I came to this world.

            Little did I know that I would be the one to break your heart again. Father was waiting for you when you got back to the house. Looking from behind the curtains, I was afraid that he would hit you, and I was even more afraid that it would be my fault. But the sight of your vanishing smile hurt one thousand times more than the blow that never came. Somehow, in ways that I would only later discover, the look in his eyes told me that he had known all along. The next day, someone came and took Philipp to the city. There were no good byes, no hugs or shared tears, just the raw and exposed finality of a pair of hands that would never hold each other again. I never told you, but I think you always knew. When I saw you and Philipp kissing among the tall grass, the unbearable thought of losing you took a hold of my mind, as I imagined you running away with Philipp, leaving me behind and alone. I guess none of it mattered after all. You left for the city anyway the next winter and we never went back to the summer house.

            I wonder if the trees miss our laughter sometimes, just as much as I miss running along the stream, holding hands with you and Philipp, and the peace of our secret spot near the bent of the river. Do you think the rocks miss the touch of our skin drying in the afternoon sun? Sometimes I wake up with the distinct sensation that it all happened yesterday, but then I feel the weight of the years bending my back and my voice ever so slightly, and I realize that that peace will never return. If only I could have made those days last a little longer…

            I hope you are well, Sabella, and that you remember me with the same fondness my heart feels for you. I don not expect to redeem myself by going out in this hopeless expedition of sorts, but to bring a semblance of peace to you and maybe even myself. I do not know what answers await on the other side of the vale, if any, but I have the feeling that there was always more to the stories that father used to tell us, and that’s what I have set off to discover.

If my calculations are any close to being right, I will be coming back home in one year. Although the vale in itself is not great in dimension, the winding path that goes through the mountain pass turns into something resembling a frost labyrinth during the winter. I must tread carefully if I want to make it back and bring to you whatever I find on the other side, even if it is only my empty hands and a heart full of remorse.

Ever your affectionate brother,

William Barker

None Of This Is Real

It was midnight again. He had begged mum not to leave him alone tonight, but no amount of pleading and tears had managed to make her stay. He was a big boy now and he must sleep alone. There is nothing in the closet, nothing under the bed. None of it is real. It’s all in your imagination! And with that and a kiss on the forehead, she left the room and switched off the lights. He knew she might be right. Many things he had always thought to be real had turned out to be a product of his overly excited mind. Remember that time you were afraid of the monster under the sink, only to find out that it was a dirty piece of cloth folded in and odd shape? Or when you ran out to the neighbour’s to find mum because the lights had gone off and you though the shadows were out to catch you? Well, the woman in the shed is a bit harder to explain, even dad was a bit freaked out, but you saw there was no one there. Besides, you are wearing your cloak of protection, blessed by the Heaven Queen herself! He looked down at the puffy clouds on his pyjama and then up at the shelf, were the Tireless Guard kept watch over the kingdom with unblinking eyes. Even if the thing was real, there was no place safer than his room. With a sigh of relief, he gave a last glance at his vorpal sword, enchanted with a powerful charm by no other than the Court wizard, and got ready to sleep.

The Dark was looking at him. It had big, round eyes made of sick light that never blinked. The prophecy had told of its returning to the Kingdom, but so soon? He thought of calling his mum. Whenever she was close, all bad things banished somewhere she couldn’t see them and he was safe again. But he was now a big boy. He could do it alone. None of this is real, it’s all in my imagination. He reached for the floor with his small feet. It was very cold and hard, but as long as he was wearing the Queen’s cloak his heart would remain brave and warm. If the Dark was truly back, it was his responsibility to protect the Kingdom! As he clutched his enchanted sword with trembling hands, he looked the Dark in the eye. It was a cold, lifeless stare that shone with borrowed light. None of this is real, it’s all in your imagination. He started walking, towards it, armed with the knowledge that the Tireless Guard was there to watch over him, ready to slay the beast. The Dark blinked. First one eye, and then the other. His blood froze mid step as his breath stopped short of leaving his throat. None of this is real, it’s all in your imagination. There must be an explanation. There always is. The shadows are just shadows and monsters are just piles of clothes. Besides, powerful spells protected the Kingdom from the Dark, it must have found a way somehow! He faced the Dark once more and followed its gaze until the two pale spots of shimmering light brought him to the window. That was it! The moon had sneaked it in! You should have known better. How could you leave the Heaven Gate open? He raced towards the window, afraid that the Dark would grab him by his feet and pulled the curtains as fast as he could. And with that, it was gone. The Kingdom had never been in danger. None of it is real, it’s all in your imagination.

            He was ready to sleep again when something caught his eye. Two spots of immobile whiteness crowning a crescent smile of sharpened pearls stared at him from the wall. None of this is real, it’s all in your imagination. The wooden sword fell from his shaking hands. None of this is real. It’s in your imagination. As he crawled back to bed, he risked a glance at the toys on the shelf, which where as still as they had always been. None of this is real. All of a sudden, he felt small and weak in his silly pyjama. It’s all in my imagination. He covered himself with the bedsheets and closed his eyes, trying to stay as still as he could. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.  It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.

            “Yes, I am.”

 


 

/Transciption Starts/

00:00

Woman’s voice: A preliminary external examination reveals no obvious signs of aggression except for the hard to miss opening in the chest cavity. There are no defensive wounds on arms or hands or other indicatives of resistance. The clothes remain for the most part intact, with the exception of a perfectly vertical cut where the chest has been opened. Judging by the looks of it, the seamlessness of the incision suggests that an extremely sharp tool was used to make the cut, but until the laboratory has analysed the samples, I can only guess.

Sigh.

What have they done to you?

00:14

Whoever did this, they knew what they were doing. The chest has been open with surgical precision, causing the minimum amount of trauma to the body. It is almost as if they didn’t want the poor thing to suffer… I will now proceed to-

Silence.

Mark, is that you? I hope I won’t find you hiding behind the desk again when I’m done, or you will be the next body on my table.

00:16

Why would anyone do something like this? The amount of blood found in the chest cavity suggests that the poor creature was still alive when whoever did this tore his heart free from his chest. The vessels have been-

Silence.

Mark for fuck’s sake, stop it! It’s not fucking funny!

00:23

Oh my fucking– I can’t, I don’t– Who did this to you? In all my years I have never seen, I have never– Oh God, I– I must be imagining things, this cannot be, this cannot be, this cannot–

MARK FOR GOD’S SAKE, I’M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU IF YOU DON’T STOP RIGHT NOW

Static.

00:25

None of this is real. It’s all in my imagination. None of this is real, none of this is real, none of this is–

–:–

It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.  It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.  It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.  It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination.  It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my imagination. It’s all in my–

/Transciption Ends/


 

Here Is Everywhere

I

Gazing beyond the openings of the southern hedge,

the slow tides roil the strand with worn shapes.

Strange, like a memory.

 

II

When you begin to arrange the things

and call them

this and that,

you start to forget

that the world,

and the things in it,

have no name.

 

III

Variety is an illusion born from oneness.

Difference is the mask of the faceless.

No thing exists without a name

yet

nothing in the universe has a name.

 

IV
Wherever you stand,

the world finds purchase.

 

V
Move, like an arrow shot from no bow

and you will see: the earth has no end.

 

VI

All distances are one.