Category Archives: Fiction

First draft of a second (half a) chapter of Floodlands

Floodlands

 Chapter II

Elsewhere in the hospital, one of the patients was clambering against the chipped plasterboard of the hospital walls. Her hands were a mess; a collection of gnawed chicken joints heaving with gristle and tiny growths, all wrapped in a loose skin of iodine dipped newspaper cuttings, each page telling some old, typical tragedy. She kept her wrists and elbows in contact with the skirting which ran along the floor, and her hair trailed over the warped parquet beneath her knees. She was saying something to herself, reminding her fingers of the rules of a game. The other patients could continue their endless marathons of invisible chess, she would mutter. Her game was the real thing. All she had to do was join herself with the plaster, there were plenty enough holes and gaps, giant stratified spaces where the textures had been chipped away by sharp hips and rubbing wrists. She just had to find the one that would let her in. It couldn’t be far away now… She had almost found it, just a couple of days ago. Her head had been pushed against the underside of a windowframe, and she could feel the heat passed down through the glass and into the whitewash, into her dry cheeks. There had been a space, a small gateway through which she thought she saw two stone heads, an eternity apart… if only she could fit through, she could begin the second stage and move closer to home. All she had to do was contort herself in, and then run, and run and run…

She dipped underneath a woman leaning at a stiff forty-five degree angle against the sides of the room, her feet almost a metre in front of the back of her head. As she jostled against the kneepits of this rigid human ladder, all rungs of ribs and the stink of perspired barbituate, she was overcome with some small sense of ecstacy. Here was a sign, she sighed. The angle, the passing beneath thin thighs, the shadow of another cast perfectly onto her back for a second or two – all such things were symbolic and perfect, part of the plan, the greater game. Two huge faces were waiting for her touch – just a graze with her nails would be enough, and the shape above her now was just like their shape, she could perceive home in this moment. It would be so easy. The feeling washed over her like a euphoria, an ending.

This sensation, however, passed quickly and was certainly not picked up by the other woman, whose gaze was fixed solidly onto the handle of a door in front of her, an old brass grotesque which curled in upon itself in a way which was currently being perceived as both coquettish and threatening. It had been communicating with her and the ghosts of her sisters for the past two and a half hours, and so she barely noticed the awkward shuffling beneath her. A pounding on the tiles and the scrape of broken nails on glass – another patient hurled herself passed them, and they looked up to see a rare sighting of the female lycanthrope on one of her lunar days, running away from sodium lightglares and itching at the lupine hair she could feel scratching away on the inside of her skin. She didn’t even see the other two, and couldn’t hear the muttering which followed our crawling patient as she kept herself pinned to the base of the wall, propelling herself down the corridor by her scabbed and clicking knees. Somewhere, there had to be a gap large enough…

The rest of the corridors were completely empty. Somewhere, a girl was talking. A shaft of sunlight was splitting a room in two, and a hundred pairs of ears sweated together as they listened.

The heat continued in pulsing waves which carried its own passover and madness. The sun was unaware of any women shuffling, staring or shrieking beneath its nauseating influence as it inched its way across the empty sky above the hospital. Unaware, but constantly perceived by both the animate, the inanimate and the insane. Roof tiles retracted, split and fell onto parched ground. The lake waters continued their resigned retreated, and the offspring of the inbred life within flipped and gasped their slowly shrinking limbs on the crackling earth, reducing their own birthing pools to a writhing mass of incest and mucus, of shedding scales and brittle bones. Windows curled in their frames, walls groaned beneath the weight of their own gathered dust and twisting stanchions, and the women clawed at their flaking skin beneath ceiling fans turning uselessly above them. In her wood-lined office, Angela, the clammy, fattened matriach of the hospital, lay back in her seat and fanned herself slowly with gathering of greasy papers clutched in her huge fingers. They were covered in stamps and seals, scribbled on and blackened out, modified and edited to the extent that the original text had been lost some time ago, merely the shadow of the initial intention remained, a handful of consonants beneath half an inch of whitener and blotted ink. The name at the top was untouched, however, and Veronika’s face peered out from a small grey photograph stapled to the corner, her eyes drawn forever to the white borders of the image. Angela coughed, twice, dryly – her lungs were suffering from both the heat and the massive weight of her sticky bosom, and she continued to turn the pages of the old, old book which sat open on her desk. The writing angered her, and each sentence was a stinging slap to her conditioning of rationality, of order and the accepted timestream of the regimes she had devoted her professional life to. What angered her even more, however, was happening a few hundred metres away, down the parched corridors of the hospital and in the leisure sanctum, the humid central room which oversaw the gaping eyes and impossible games. Veronika was speaking, the relative silence, the pause in alarms and running feet detectable from even this distance confirmed this, and Petra, the newcomer, had clearly failed in her initial duties to silence her.

Petra had indeed failed. She had set off after leaving Angela’s office to locate the sedatives she believed she would require, but on arrival at the dispensary room she was met with hundreds upon hundreds of looming and towering shelves; leech jars filled with clear liquids and stoppered with rotting corkwood rattled above the door, racks of test tubes with labels written in the language of the old country – but not her old country – stretched out into the sweaty gloom. To her left were the barbituates, their acrid odour escaping from badly sealed lids, and the opiates were arranged in some impossibly confusing system of potency to her right. The view was dizzying, it stretched on for years, around unseen corners. The bottles reflected what little light there was in thin waves, and most appeared to be empty and clambered with dust and congealed fluid. This task could and should wait, she decided. She sensed that Angela would not care if Veronika had been dosed with enough morphine to stun the entire contents of the lake outside the windows, but even in here, this forgotten institution, some sense of her own decency remained and so the nurse walked to the central area to witness the patient she was supposed to be medicating. She had been listening to Veronika speak directly to her for forty-five minutes now, and her ramblings had been so far fascinating in tone, but ultimately unrailed and unravelled, a yarn which took no direction. There had been references, numerous references to ice, and snow, a fat mother, a wetnurse, but these were intercut with words nobody in the room could understand and long, drawn out moans and moments of stillness and silence. The audience remained rapt and transfixed throughout, and Petra was unable to resist giving her full attention –  any thoughts of sedating this sad-eyed, pallid orator had escaped her completely, as had the memory and fear of chastisement from her superiors. Petra looked around her. Three other matrons were staring dumbly and directly at the new nurse – she simultaneously began to wonder if they could speak at all and  to sense that this lecture was unusual, that her arrival had somehow provoked a shift. She was, for now at least, rendered speechless.

„I never killed a man” Veronika repeated, again staring at the nurse in front of her, eyes unmoving and fingers splayed out before her, a blind girl unaware that she could see. „Anyway, your home is in my book. And I remember every word, if I try. Let me tell you about your town”

 

Somewhere down a wavering corridor, through a set of shivering mirages, Angela turned a page, and checked to see that her door was locked. An echo danced towards her office, it was the sound of Veronika clearing her throat, of a hundred patients listening expectantly.

„Towards the end, a girl disappeared. She packed very little, this they knew, for little was taken from her quarters. An old sealskin bag, a few scarves, possibly some dried meats taken from the end of summer’s shelves somewhere. Her bed was left neatly rearranged, the furs were folded onto each other as was her habit in the mornings, except this was not a morning, no… not this far north. The winter ensures that the mornings never come, not until something is appeased, something is begged for. Only night, occasionally twilight. The herring boats go south each hour, and some of them might glimpse the edges of a new day in the far distance, but they know it will be many months before they can bring one back with them. Still, the birds gather around their masts, screaming their demands and taking their sacrifice. Up there, all is symbol, all is sacred. The ghosts of dead men swim alongside the scraping hulls, exchanging limbs for fins, breath for breath of a different kind. The stars are not stars, rather something quite different. Trees are spoken of in hushed tones, and rarely seen at all.”

Veronika kneeled forwards, and touched her forehead to the floor. Petra moved to stand up, to say something. There was a sensation within her that this was deeply unfair – that she should speak out. That she had heard and lived all this before, and how could a patient interred for seven years so far make these claims? She must have been barely a child upon entry to the hospital, for despite the lines in her face and the patches missing from her scalp, she was surely only in her early twenties. Veronika raised herself again, and once more looked at Petra. The nurse could only look down, and hold her tongue as best she could. „All the time in the world…”, she told herself.

„Morning didn’t come, and there was one who wished it never would. For her past held secrets, and one morning she was afraid she would have to speak them. And secrets can drive even the hardest mind to madness, can make even the strongest legs flee beyond the forests…”

 

Petra stood up. „Stop it”, she said, quietly. „Please, stop saying these things.” A hundred hands flicked away her pleas as the audience returned their eyes to the rocking girl, and behind her, Petra could sense the silent swaying of the matrons, their backs clammy from the glare of the windows.

In her chamber, hidden from the sunlight, Angela was looking over the penultimate chapter of the book she had taken into her collection, seven years ago. She had read it dozens of times before, each time resisting the urge to tear it up, or burn it, or spit on the old ink with the last of the moisture which remained in her mouth. Of all the parts of this text, this section was the most story-like, had some sense of a narrative. Not that any of it made any sense, she thought, as she gripped the sallow and flaking paper in her fingers. The chapter opened with the description of a nurse, a savage sort of nurse in a savage sort of land. All were by now aware of the types of people who dwelled north of the borders, Angela repeated to herself. And all knew what a nurse was, and regimes may rise or fall, but patients need to be kept and silenced – the world must be shielded from the mad and the dying, or at least they must shield themselves from the world. The newly born must be cleansed properly of the bloodshed and the vile fluids which coughed them into existence before being allowed to step into the society which would mould them. Everybody knew this, she said, as she read on. She read to herself aloud:

„The nurse scratched at her worn knuckles. They carried the remainder of the coal dust she had been dabbing on the incisions she’d made on and inside her patient, and it coated her fingertips, leaving a black and irridescent stain over the backs of her hands which now swung crookedly at her sides. “There, there’”, she muttered. “There, there”. A deeply gutteral snarl was emitted from the misshapen form on the ground. Pregnancy within the royal household, way up here in the north, was never an attractive or miraculous process. The ceilings were slick and hanging with the condensation of burnt seal fat, the cadence of winter with its blood and sunless skies were an infection which couldn’t help but crawl its way between the cracks in the blubberlined window frames, and the pulsating belly which carried an heir seemed not so much a symbol of life but a reminder of the inevitability of the struggle to maintain it. Little did all three of them know that a story was approaching fast, pulled by dogs and heralded by a growing fervour amongst the people of the settlement. Still, within this room, a nightmare of its own was unfurling between clawmarked thighs and coalblackened knuckles. The room continued to grimly sweat and gag, and the fires which had burned for hours were reaching their sad zenith as they spat towards their end. The nurse clapped her hands above the hearth, and thousands upon thousands of carbon granules fell to join their source, or ignited for a moment in the heat which still hovered above the embers, falling away, or upwards, or nowhere. Exhausted and resigned, she released a rattling sigh as her knees crackled and rustled with her squatting.”

Angela could hear the words falling from her fleshy lips, and they disgusted her. Here was a tale of an uncultured land, a household unshaped by regime and the changes of regime. A place without the merits of history, without institutions such as hers. Outside, the ivy fell in agreement, its battle with the dry heat coming to a toppling end as it crumbled away from the walls. Not so far away, Veronika was continuing the story, and Petra grew increasingly sickened.  Her soft voice meandered down the corridors, was carried on motes and platelets of dust.

„…It had been a long night, the reeking miasma of burning skin and heather was aching her lungs and her joints were dull and throbbing rhythmically with her old heart. She needed to lie down and continue her efforts in a few hours, of this there was little question, and the stool which numbed her hind quarters groaned in agreement. The patient continued to lie on the piled and matted pelts, a huge, bloated specimen of a woman, belly creaking and undulating on the ground, the imprints of tiny hands and feet within clearly visible, punching and stretching beneath the taut drumskin of a vast stomach. The woman was barely human in this state; she barked and groaned and flopped vastly across the floor, amniotic fluids and blood coagulating on her thighs. A child was coming, and all the nurse could do now was watch as a portent began to spill across the floor…”


Saga III

The nurse scratched at her worn knuckles. They carried the remainder of the coal dust she had been dabbing on the incisions she’d made on and inside her patient, and it coated her fingertips, leaving a black and irridescent stain over the backs of her hands which now swung crookedly at her sides. “There, there'”, she muttered. “There, there”. A deeply gutteral snarl was emitted from the misshapen form on the ground. Pregnancy within the royal household, way up here in the north, was never an attractive or miraculous process. The ceilings were slick and hanging with the condensation of burnt seal fat, the cadence of winter with its blood and sunless skies were an infection which couldn’t help but crawl its way between the cracks in the blubberlined window frames, and the pulsating belly which carried an heir seemed not so much a symbol of life but a reminder of the inevitability of the struggle to maintain it. Little did all three of them know that a story was approaching fast, pulled by dogs and heralded by a growing fervour amongst the people of the settlement. Still, within this room, a nightmare of its own was unfurling between clawmarked thighs and coalblackened knuckles. The room continued to grimly sweat and gag, and the fires which had burned for hours were reaching their sad zenith as they spat towards their end. The nurse clapped her hands above the hearth, and thousands upon thousands of carbon granules fell to join their source, or ignited for a moment in the heat which still hovered above the embers, falling away, or upwards, or nowhere. Exhausted and resigned, she released a rattling sigh as her knees crackled and rustled with her squatting.

It had been a long night, the reeking miasma of burning skin and heather was aching her lungs and her joints were dull and throbbing rhythmically with her old heart. She needed to lie down and continue her efforts in a few hours, of this there was little question, and the stool which numbed her hind quarters groaned in agreement. The patient continued to lie on the piled and matted pelts, a huge, bloated specimen of a woman, belly creaking and undulating on the ground, the imprints of tiny hands and feet within clearly visible, punching and stretching beneath the taut drumskin of a vast stomach. The woman was barely human in this state; she barked and groaned and flopped vastly across the floor, amniotic fluids and blood coagulating on her thighs. A child was coming, and all the nurse could do now was watch as a portent began to spill across the floor.

***

The last person who watched her feet crunch and snip their way through the compacted snow behind the fjords was a young man, no more than sixteen years old. He sat as he did every day, cross legged and turning the pages of his old books as his goats ignored the ice floes crumbling into the boot-black water. She had stumbled past him, not three days ago, after something had come to an end. He was barely aware of the happenings in the settlement.

They asked much, of course they did. Their questioning was vile and insistent, and overwhelming for a boy of solitary life. He was the last witness, the last contact. He had influence, and the mothers and the sisters of the disappeared hung above him, their insignia waved in front of his face and pockmarked staffs striking the floor at his feet. He told her family, as he told everyone else, that they had shared a glance and pocketful of pleasantries, that he had offered her a cigarette, a end of dry bread, a chance to rest her legs. Her family, as everyone else did, eyed him with a suspectful gaze, willing him to trip on his words, to betray a mundane truth, to confess. They hauled him before the oldest members of the community, a triad of weary eyes set deep and uncomfortably in weary faces, casked in social formalydehyde and horsehair, and these aged matriarchs of the town asked him again. What had he revealed? Why did the girl walk beyond the edges of what she knew and into the plains, to be taken by the cold?

A search party was sent out, with their lamps and what remained of the dogs of the previous year. They stood at the borders and called her name into the horizons. Up there, you could barely see the treeline, if there was one at all. Up there, men had lost their sight, and much more. The gathering of the strongest couldn’t bring themselves the cross the lines in the snow, not even now, after all this time.

He told them again, and again. He had tried to converse, to be joined in his thoughts, and he himself knew little about what lay beyond the harsh uplights of the whitened flatlands, only the stories of the times before, those which they all knew. At the mention of this, more than a few glances were thrown towards the longhouse, where it was known a birthing was taking place. At the mention of this, more than a few eyes were cast down to feet.

He was a simple boy, a keeper of emaciated livestock and a broken sled. His book, which was tied to his wrists by a long leather cord, was something passed down from forefathers, a relic of a forgotten time. He couldn’t read the myriad symbols, the writing, any more than anyone else could. The book was irrelevant, he said. She didn’t even see it, or ask about it. She just kept walking north. He mentioned this over and over again, until it became certain they would take the bound piles of foxmarked papers from him. It had happened before, and in his father’s time, he was told, but he held it to his rackety chest and passed his thumbs between the pages. He took some comfort in their uniformity. Nothing else here was constant – each autumn the land and all in it was carved into a form of icy stasis, and each spring it was moulded through watery attrition into new shapes, for a few short months of glaring, unending daylight. Glacially, the landscape never stopped creeping south.

A decision was quickly made, and the girl was not yet found. In the distance, a moan erupted from behind a door, and someone thought they heard a baby cry.

They say he pleaded his innocence throughout the excruciating length of the ordeals, and they say he looked into the windtorn faces of the mothers without even flinching. They say he would have passed all the trials an innocent man, were it not for the fact he confessed to being the last man to see her. They say he stopped speaking, just before the end, and sat cross legged in the snow as they fell on him, a tribe of people seeking an angry omen. They say they couldn’t prize the book from his frozen fingers, even long after most of the congregation had forgotten why they were there. They say that when it was over, there was nothing left of him. They say it soon became obvious that this was the third portent, with no doubt in anyones mind. They say it had all already begun.

The nurse patted the remaining coaldust from her hands, sighed, and began to dig into the snow. She dug for quite some time. Spring was on its way.


an adolescent opening, or, “throwback”

He’d been sewing his melancholic roots all over the slabs of Budapest for almost three years now. They dragged along at the heel of his boot, cutting a slew of mire and wreckage in his wake. He heaved and pulled his way between buildings, slicing the streets and lugging this cadence with him like a vendor, plying his wares from district to park, from monument to tenement. Three years? No, two. His sense of time, his calendar was askew – there were springs, and autumns; he was able to distinguish the seasons, and held some sense of months. Wax, and wane, whichever was which. The slickly spitting waters of the Duna coughed themselves up as the moon breathed them in, and clenched back as it exhaled – the black sea swelled some thousand miles to the east. Hibernation sat in his mind as a subject of envy – somewhere beneath the silty drift of the river. Sleep, dust. Just.

A ship, an emissary of old English frustration, pitching to a reversed tide of the idea to escape. Some small success he’d had, but these weighed down his coasting and creaking frame like too-precious ballast; unbalancing, creating inertia and little else. The Black Sea screamed from across a lengthy border, grasping for her source. It moved through him, tossed him to shingle as it clambered through counties and lowlands, floodplains and summers.


Residue

Bored in an exam, revisiting old ideas

A Residue (a re-writing of The Zenith)

It was April, and a slaking of rain and vertical cloud had just rinsed the city clean. Rivulets formed at the base of bushes, and they picked up oil-slicked tributaries as they fell down the sides of the streets, searching, leaf-laden, for a way to return home. People were looking out of their leadlined windows, eager to step outside and breathe, and be reminded what it is to breathe, to live. You could see their faces readying their bodies for a congratulatory gasp of air, as clean and fresh as the city would allow. These days were rare, and the populous felt it from indoors.

There was one who did not notice the rain, though, and whose gaze was fixed on a nodule of hardened emulsion, a tiny, tumourous growth of pigment on the corner of a canvas. It was he who had put it there, carving it with the edge of a brush and lancing it through with a palette knife. He did not hear the almost comprehensible rhythm dancing on his shutter frames, and he did not see our tributory, now strengthened by a hundred slick and muddy brothers, rush past his door. He did not notice the rainwater pass over an old collection of artist’s tools on his step, and strip the top layer of paint, making half a second of technicolour arabesques swirl around the drainpipes. He was looking at his work.

He had spent almost an entire year on this one painting, a large and textured mass of colour. He had completed it several times, laid down his hands and relaxed his retinae, satisfied that perhaps it was ready to release from the studio. Within minutes, however, the sensation flitted away coquettishly, cruelly. Each time a final, finishing touch had been applied, it led to an alteration, which unbalanced the piece, and required a review of the flow of the eye, and brought up an ugly and unfitting clash of colour, or movement, or anything, and it became agonisingly obvious that the piece was indeed far from finished, only an idiot would think otherwise. Twice, he had covered the entire canvas again with white acrylic, to cover everything beneath. Look closely, and might can see the strata of several thousand brush strokes below the empty spaces, cavernous splits and cracks divided the cankers of reappraisal. Frustration was mounting, and desperation was overbearing his movements – he spat and scratched and mauled the piece, before prostrating and apologising and wishing it into closure.

Yesterday, one of his fingers fell off. It was the third one to go in as many weeks.

For the past month, every time he had laid down his brushes and palette knives with a sense of heavy-eyed finality, or kicked aside the wax coated wine bottles and shards of willow charcoal from around his feet, or picked the hardened paint from his greasy, matted beard, he’d move too quickly, and he would hear a crackling rustle, a shifting sound like rats in a dead tree, coming from his hands. Each time this happened, he would look closely at the source of the noise, always a finger, and inspect it intensely as it wrinkled like salted mollusc, turned grey, or brown, or black, and fall to the floor. The process was painless and fast, leaving a dry, flaky, self-cauterised stump behind, as if it was the result of an injury received as a child; an accident with a hammer, or a mild birth defect, a warning lesson from the family dog.

September came fast, and the leaves were starting to dry and curl on the branches that scratched on the window of the studio. Summer was already starting to seem like a memory of a half-dream, held for a few seconds on awakening, and seen with perfect clarity before quickly being lost to garbled, mossy symbolisms and abstract word association. He sat on his stool, flecked white with paint and looked at his papery hands. Only three fingers remained; his first finger on his left hand, pressed hard against his thumb, and the middle and smallest fingers on his right hand, looping around a palette knife encrusted with black, glutinous mulch. Every seven minutes or so, he would raise his right hand up to his painting – now several inches thick from the months of pigment plastered upon the frame, a physical, swollen calendar of frustrations – and scratch the edge of the knife through the top layer of paint to expose a sliver of April, a scar of spring. All the months were under there, a year and a half of gazing, of stabbing oneself with bottle tops. January was half-visible, a streak of whiteness, and both Julys were the wound and scabbed skin around a green lip of last week. Last autumn was barely visible at all, but to lay your hands on the bulging, obese surface of the painting would reveal its presence, buried.

The artist shut his eyes, and threw a small metal pot of silver paint at the top-right hand corner of the convex frame. It bounced off, and he heard it scuttle to the sides of the room. One eye opened, encrusted with blue cyan dust. For one golden second, he could see the piece as finished. As he pulled his arm away from the canvas, trembling with elation, he was sure that this was it; that the one cut he had just made through the heavy globules of arterial red, followed by the radial flecks of silver he had just launched… this had completed his work. It had. The painting loomed at him, and he shifted his weight from one cracking ankle bone to another to gain a few degrees of perspective. It just required one tiny extension, another inch of dragged marbling through the layers.

An exhalation, and a recognition of the same pattern.That extra inch wasn’t repairable; he had reached a zenith and then fallen, having completely changed the dynamic between the washes in the bottom-right corner and the sharpness of the veins stretching around the side. Tears of pain ran into his beard and the artist stomped around studio like a chastised toddler, throwing his portfolio against the filthy windows, scattering praise and high reviews from many years ago, shouting at the papers and glossy uselessness that floated down over dead candles and a year of picking away at a year of picking away. His feet crashed through mirrors and kicked all in sight; the skeletal remains of a mummified aspidistra scattered into dust-motes and moth wings, and the acrid cloud produced a wracking, dry, rasping cough from his cracked old lips. The artist fell into a wretched heap on the oily rug that covered most of the floor, and lay still, bare chest heaving, his liver spots rising and falling on pigeon bones, their erratic rhythms moving cog-like on his heartbeat.

A noise grew upwards from his hands. Tiny claws clambering, bracken fires spitting.

His head banged against the thin fabric with a hollow thud as he brought his hand to his face to watch the little finger twist and curl inwards like a dying spider, like a sleeping fern, atrophying quickly as a sped-up film of pestilence. It twitched twice spasmodically before turning the colour of London loam and hanging for a moment on a thread of papyrus-skin before dropping onto his stomach. His gut wrenched as the appendage rolled onto the ground near his chin, the droplets of hope and impetus drying up inside him as so many grains of sand slipping through a distorted hourglass. Only two fingers now remained on his ravaged hands, ashen stumps forming involuntary fists hung on the end of his arms like chicken gristle. Soon, he thought, soon he would be useless, sterile, impotent. He did not find the idea of mouth or foot painting at all attractive, and so what would happen if this wasting disease spread to whatever part of his body he used for his art? Would his lips suffer the same fate? His feet? His head? The idea wasn’t so unbelievable. And the painting hung heavy over him, glaring, scarred, unfinished.

He had not stepped out of his studio for so, so long. His windows let in the occasional polymer of daylight, hanging limp and sticky, photons of dead spermatozoa coughed out over his cluttered desk with its smashed glass veneer. Nobody had seen any of the work he had produced for almost fifteen years now; the exhibition he was planning on putting together was going to be crowned by this final painting, this unfinished, unfinishable virus that would complete the retrospective. He did not know what had happened to his family, his critics, his customers and investors. It had been too long.

The artist walked over snapped pencils and crushed cans, stood next to his window and scraped at the mildew, scraped again at the months and years that had gathered on the glass. Outside looked different to how he remembered it; the trees, which before were all he could see through the filth, now stood in front of tall buildings which seemed to stretch away into the distance. A thousand identical houses rolled down the hill to the left of his parched garden, and enormous cars were pulled in and out of a thousand tarmac driveways, like flotsam on a Perspex tide. A look of determination crossed the artist’s face, and he sat at the desk and scrabbled for some paper, a pen, his inkpot and an envelope. A letter would be written to his old agent (or the agent’s successor), the address was one he had never forgotten, burned into his memory when he was young, a darling of the town once. These hands had impressed, had burned with colour.

A letter announcing the completion of the retrospective, the apex of all of his work to date was written slowly and clumsily, in green ink on the old, stained paper. His remaining two fingers held the pen pincer-like, and the process was arduous, but determination drove it to completion. The old man was almost panting with excitement, a year of tears and struggles, eighteen months with hardly any food or water and with nothing to stare at but the same canvas, a mocking year, almost comple! Unwilling to step outside at this crucial time, the artist forced open the window and flung the envelope out onto the pavement, several feet away, to wait for a neighbour to pick it up, to deliver it for him. They would. He was sure of it.

The artist stepped into the centre of his studio and looked hard at the canvas. He picked up the pots of paint, held them close to his chest in the crook of his wrist, and poured their entire contents over his naked body. His ribs were highlighted by ochres, magenta ran through his hair and mingled with the greens dropping in a single, continous spout from his genitals. His ankles were heavy with blues and reds, and his back was pocked and shattered with a hundred pigments fast becoming one solid, muddy hue.

When he was completely doused in every colour he owned (even the tiny pot of silver metallic paint
from the corner of the room, that he bought for a futurist project that never materialised), he took a deep breath, bent his old legs and laughing, leapt at the canvas, knocking it off the easel and smearing it with the deep brown, sickly, heady concoction that covered and clung to every grey, wiry hair. He floundered around on the floor, feeling months of dried paint scratching and cutting his neck, his chest, his leathery thighs, plastering his beard to his clavicle. He caressed and attacked it, made love to and murdered it, prussian blues ejaculating over burnt siennas. He lay still, spent, panting in the knowledge that his work was complete. He could not see it, his eyes were caked and gummed with a colour so heavy it may as well have been a solid black acetate. Pushing himself down onto the canvas, he penetrated the layers of dried and sharpened paint, crystallised months and days opened to his skin and accepted it. Vision had left him, and finality was here.

A smile crept to his dark blue lips that were flecked with paler cyan when he heard the sound: The noise echoed once around the room, inside his head and off glass domes filled with old skin and moss. Scarab beetles under sand, rice falling on sheets of glass

It continued, clicking and rustling in his ears, up and down the sinew of his arms, on his eyelids, between his buttocks and over his knuckles. He listened until his entire body was crackling and popping and spitting with sounds of an untuned radio left out in a petrified forest. The artist’s mouth gasped once, spasmodically as his body shrunk like an autumn leaf, dried and discoloured beneath the mess of wet paint. His body contorted once, twice, and then broke into tiny pieces, which settled like dust on the canvas, and waited for the curators to collect him.

It was soon April again, and the rains returned, and the city opened itself to be washed clean. Rivulets ran, and collected their twins, and the residue of colours searched for the sea amongst the spinning leaves.


Saint no.23 (first exam piece)

That the young woman had healing hands was a difficult fact to deny, even by the most sceptical of observers. When she was hauled before the magistrate’s court in the presence of pockmarked deliquents and the white van driver with charges of running down cyclists, the gallery was brimming with cynical faces, eager to see what the free newspapers were on about. I was there. I was one of them.

Her estuary accent was disarming, to say the least. No mystically elongated vowels, no faraway moonfaced whisper of a voice. Her words and the way she spoke them undoubtedly added to her story, and we can all see that, now it has reached at narratively familiar ending. She spoke as though she was pushing words through gold hooped earrings, her phrases turned with Lambert and Butler and all the rest. Quite what she was charged with was always unclear. Wrong time, wrong place; typical outcomes with a messianic twist. She was first reported as being found wandering in the crisp packet and condom littered no-mans-land of in-between gang territories of Dagenham, the black spot accentuated by local press and the petty prejudices of the white working class. She’d wait for the bruises and the shanks, the chrome bumper breakings and the occasional gunshot. One witness claimed they saw her kneeling over a child waiting to be front page tabloid news in the neverending grinding into the ground of suburban London, and lift him to his feet, the wounds scabbing over within seconds. He picked up his bag of glue and swaggered over to the rust covered ice cream van. Of course, nobody could prove a thing. Getting anybody to speak to the police down there would require far greater, older miracles. But the girl kept returning, and was seen everywhere from Chatham to Dartford, getting up from the swings or the bonnet of a car, flicking away gum and laying her hands on the unlucky, the guilty, the crossfired and the brandished. Stories started appearing online, and cctv footage acted as it always did, the unblinking eye of a filthy urban deity, handing out punishment and reward to those it glares at under the yellow sodium light of the maisonettes.

Some claimed she was hero. Some were disgusted by who she saved. Some said she should go back to where she came from, but nobody really knew where that was. She didn’t wear a headscarf, and I suppose that helped, in a sad sort of way. Some said she couldn’t speak, but we knew that not to be true, in the end.

The congregation of the gawping and superior in the magistrate’s court felt ill, by the end of the trial. Here was a reverse vigilanteism, taking the lore into one’s own hands, so to speak, a dangerous extension of an old, hypocratic oath. The city needs victims, and it needs villains, and we all know this, somehow. What the city can’t stomach is saviours – we underpay our nurses and midwives, we string up our golden ones and doubt them when they return. If they must come back, let them at least speak properly. Let them understand the charges against us, let them forgive us. Let them be male. She did and was none of these things, a halo of hairspray and the static crackle of nylon followed her through the room, and she stared incredulously at the judge, rolled her eyes at the list of questions.

People play roles, of that we can be sure. The words we choose, the clothes we wear. By a certain point in our lives, we are Pierrots, we are Malmaries, Harlequins and Judases and Jonahs and Jobs. I’m sure that’s what she said, in not so many words. And perhaps this explained the look of complete boredom on her face as they carried her outside and drove nails through her hands, planted a crown of razor wire onto her head and poured white spirit onto her wounds. She looked to her left, and spoke to one of the pockmarked deliquents. Nobody quite heard what she said. She laid her hands on a blind man, and he could see. It was all just tricks, they were saying. Someone claimed she was a single mother, too. This started a frenzy.

„You don’t know what you’re doin’”, she said.

„Forgive us”, they replied. „We need you to forgive us”.

„You don’t know what you’re doin’”.

She spoke in that awful voice for some time, before falling silent. Parables, they used to call them. A mobile phone range tinnily in a pocket somewhere. People stayed.

Somewhere in London, the ground shook so much that all the envelopes in the post office headquarters fell to the ground, and those working on the outside of the gherkin lay down their sponges and buckets. The Thames rippled more than usual. The prayers of the faithful in Saint Paul’s were uninterrupted, and a young man bled to death outside a children’s play area in Dulwich. All was as it should be, again.


Rope Trick, part III

Daniel collapsed to the straw-strewn floor, and rolled onto his back. The first breath pulled into his wracked and self engraved chest a fistful of scorching air, the second contracted the meat beneath his spidery broken veins with the acridity of feline piss, a heavy, jungle scent, all sharpened with ammonia and basic human instinct. Collective inherited memories scrambled to the forefront of his addled mind, screaming reflexes into his legs to get up, and run. ’Big cat, here!’ they seemed to say. ’Get away!’, they shouted, a million tiny voices, a hormonal klaxon kicking him behind the knees. Olfactory terror was known for producing visions, the flood of adrenaline was a potent trigger of revelation. Everyone knew that, and here he was; Daniel in the lion’s den, throwing himself down hard. A bruise was blossoming under his clavicle. ‘This is good’, he thought to himself.

Still, he did not hear The Voice.

The lion was a ragged old thing, submissive, tired, all swollen ankles and eyes crusted with lethargy and conjunctivitus. It wasn’t cheap, even for the fifteen minutes of squalid genuflection it was hired for. With one pleaful look at the whip-marked, pocked old cat, it became clear that this method wasn’t working, either, and Daniel walked wearily to the rope ladder which hung down into the pit. He cosidered getting a stagehand to throw him in once more, but lowered his eyes and climbed past Busburosa, the obese circus master with his cloud of tobacco smoke and lazy lechery. Daniel didn’t even raise his head, as he walked towards the door. He didn’t notice the boys who watched him from the sawdust, their hair littered with petals and plastered onto shining faces with bright, clear water. But then, he wouldn’t have. He was seeking the presence of a god, he was grasping for a gift.


Saga II, revisiting old themes in short, sweet prose.

The last person who watched her feet crunch and ratchet their way through the compacted snow and hardened leaf mould behind the fjords was a young man, no more than sixteen years old. He was sitting as he did every day, cross legged and turning the pages of his old book as his goats ignored the ice floes crumbling into the boot-black water as she stumbled past him, not three days ago. He told her family, as he told everyone else, that they had shared a glance and pocketful of pleasantries, that he had offered her a cigarette, a end of dry bread, a chance to rest her legs. Her family, as everyone else did, eyed him with a suspectful gaze, willing him to trip on his words, to betray a mundane truth, to confess. They hauled him before the oldest members of the community, a triad of weary eyes set deep and uncomfortably in weary faces, casked in social formalydehyde and horsehair – supposed wisdom in the collection of repetitive days – and these aged matriarchs of the town asked him again. What had he revealed? Why did the girl walk beyond the edges of what she knew and into the plains, to be taken by the cold?

A search party was sent out, with their greasy lamps and what remained of the dogs of the previous year. They stood at the borders and called her name into the horizons. Up there, you could barely see the treeline, if there was one at all. Up there, men had lost their sight, and much more. The gathering of the strongest couldn’t bring themselves the cross the lines in the snow, not even now, after all this time.

He told them again, and again. He had tried to pass on something of his own, and knew little about what lay beyond the harsh uplights of the whitened flatlands, only the stories of the times before, those they all knew. He was a simple boy, a keeper of emaciated livestock and a broken sled. His book was something passed down from forefathers, a relic of a forgotten time. He couldn’t read the myriad symbols, the writing, any more than anyone else could. The book was irrelevant, he said. He mentioned this over and over again, certain they would take the heirloom from him. It had happened before, and in his father’s time, he was told, but he held it to his rackety chest and passed his thumbs between the leaves bound in leather. He took some comfort in their uniformity, the thinness of the pages flowing like meltwater over his fingertips. Nothing else here was constant – each autumn the land and all in it was carved into a form of icy stasis, and each spring it was moulded through watery attrition into new shapes, for a few short months of glaring, unending daylight. Glacially, the landscape never stopped creeping south. Suet sat heavy in tight stomachs as the sun refused to move for another few months. Decisions were made, gestures were performed.

They say he pleaded his innocence throughout the length of the ordeals, and they say he looked into the cracking faces of the mothers without flinching. They say he would have passed all the trials an innocent man, were it not for the fact he confessed to being the last to see her. They say he stopped speaking, just before the end, and sat cross legged in the snow as they fell on him. They say they couldn’t prize the book from his frozen fingers, even long after most of the congregation had forgotten why they were there. They say he was probably younger than he looked. It isn’t easy to tell, at this time of year.


A First Page (of what, I don’t yet know)

Fifty feet below the struts which hold together a surfeit of beds, peeling walls and leaden windows, the metro quaked its way through the loam, carving apart the tunnels which anatomically divide the city. Two hundred people shuddered as one within the tubes as a swaying time-lapse shifted gravity, each carriage swinging around soft curves half a second behind its predecessor, temporarily doubling the combined weight of all within. Above, as with all things, echoes of inertia were felt. The skin on Stefan’s arms crackled silently under the duress of infrasound; that ever-present yet unheard urban booming, which fills cities with almost-silent discomfort, using foyers and incomplete loft conversions as reverberation chambers. Unheard, yet not imperceptible – above the tubes below, pores tightened as commuters rumbled past, peripheral visions filled with nebulous shapes as eyeballs oscillated, nonexistent ghosts manufactured milliseconds of awe in the edges of the consciousness of those waiting in their way. It was morning, and each five minutes which passed in the north of the city brought a glut of noiseless sensory discomfort. Stefan knew of the effects of infrasound; he had read of the religious ecstasies experienced by mountain-dwelling hermits during quarry blasts half a country away, he had read of the experiments conducted in the catacombs beneath the city of Edinburgh, where people feel unseen hands on their backs and catch glimpses of formless apparitions in the corners of their eye. He understood why people were unwilling to accept the fact that their hours were filled with bombardment by goliath volumes of noise – life was rarely comfortable, rarely quiet. To embrace the fact that even in the silent oases of city life – the temple, the temple gardens, the terraced library – that one is wracked by greater volumes is to embrace a surrender of peace.

As another train sliced open the black rails with sodium-yellow headlights and heaved onto the platform below, Stefan felt the building around him contract and tighten, felt the noise wrack the hair on his arms upwards. He knew, again, without question that his death was lurching towards him at a terrible pace. It had skulked in the recess of his mind for some time, and was finally coming into the foreground – a minor character which ached for the spotlight of attention. Stefan didn’t know how, or when, but in the same dream-logic which confirms to your subconscious that the race you are swimming in will undoubtedly, seamlessly become a vision of an egg which will hatch the faces of the children you will never have, he knew he would soon die. Merely a process of events, a stream of actions to be played out with everyday ceremony, then the scenes will close. Certainty through infrasound, through half-waking confirmation.

Stefan got out of bed, dressed himself, and stepped outside. The dry and whining London air shook around his head for a second, and settled, before being pulled between buses and sucked into the lungs of a shouting woman who was trapped between tides of crawling traffic.

“This is not the life”, someone said to his left, to nobody in particular. They held an enormous stack of paper in their hands, awkwardly clamping their fingers around the leaves to stop the same shifting airs from stealing and scattering them.

“Yes, it is” he replied.


saint no. 64

She worked in the gardens of a very wealthy family. This much was known. We could go into endless details to prove this, and other most lowly facts to fill out her canon, but that is where faith comes in, I suppose. Payslips, loan agreements, tenancy forms. The twenty-first century leaves few relics of great wonder in its wake. So, that we know – she worked in the gardens of a very wealthy family.

They say she reminded the flowers when day broke over the dry stone walls. They say she told the trees when it was spring, the fruits when it was autumn. She would weep through the regular death of wintertime, and perform last rites for each fallen leaf. They say she brought them back to life again. They say her real name means ’rebirth’, but this is not how she was known.

They say she had killed a man.


Saint no. 17

Recent polls suggested that one in every thousand people in this town had witnessed, or knew someone who claimed to have seen the young woman’s levitations. „It must have been difficult”, they would invariably say, „yes, it must have been very frustrating to work in such a small shop selling booze and fags and the sort of bizarrely shrink-wrapped pornographic magazines you would only see in shops like it…”

„It must have been frustrating”, they would say, „to do that, when the divine was speaking right through you, lifting you above the counter against your best efforts…” This was all said long afterwards, though.

„It was brutal, how they treated her”, they would say. „If any of it was true, that is.”

Her dark eyes lit up, and the till rang like a tiny set of vesper bells. Behind her, the door swung shut, and a million incenses blew inwards from the street outside – a hundred thousand passing lives, each with their own unique frangrances, billowing over linoleum and chocolate bars and the leftover news. They used to have a word for this sensation, she thought, as her arms prickled and the residue of the passing, walking heartbeats swelled through her.
’Ecstasies,’ – the meaning had changed, since then.

She was plucked from behind the desk by unseen hands, and lifted a metre into the air, between the spirits and the condoms and the keys to the safe, hidden behind a collection of packaged meats. It lasted almost forty seconds. The flowers sitting in the plastic buckets by the greetings cards bloomed simultaneously, a burn victim buying liver across the road was momentarily taken back three years, to a time when he could feel his right shoulder, or move his fingers.
„They’re getting longer…” she thought to herself, as she lowered back in time to give change to a teenager.

Almost nobody saw.
One in a thousand, if you’d believe it.


Saint number 354

Not the first, in a long, long series

We knew he was no longer a user. It was more obvious than he ever suspected, and yet he feigned his ignorance of our knowledge with a sincerity which veered into the unsettling. There was much that was unsettling about him.

They say he used to live amongst the gulls, his haunches smeared with guano and regurgitated cuttlefish, heels hardened on wave-shattered crevasses. His addiction was something quite different, then, those same strange psalms echoing into the tides, being dragged with waves along the spits, and returned to his dry lips over and over again, every seven seconds the same, each minute made up of speeding, crashing waters. His mantra was something organic, something which could only be howled into the sea, waist-deep in matted kelp, his jutted hipbones crystallised and misshapen with grey-green salts and the residue of lands. They say Saint Cuthbert was no different, sodden and meditative on the habitable side of Lindisfarne, unable to preach to anything human, or unchanging, or still. They say many things, and these things are often true. Still, he was no longer a user, and we were all painfully aware of this, at the end.

There were days when he came inland, pulling something of the ocean at the heel of his boot. Our parents spoke of when it started, and yours probably did, too. At first, it was something infrequent, an oddity. A reminder of the sea, and what we all owed it; A man from the shore, whispering his prayers and whipping around him a miasma of salted, stinking air, coming to town to see what might change, to see what was staying the same. As the years went by, and the glass and chrome of amusement arcades spread their neon and ringing tendrills further towards the shore, as shops rose and fell and rose again with a swelling ferocity, the visits became more frequent. He began to stop for hours outside the bus station, and then for days in the acrid hollow of the underpass. Within time, he was seen almost constantly, sat there with plastic bottles kicking around his feet like driftwood, and later, with other paraphenalia. He no longer whispered his psalms and verses; he muttered them, to anyone who should walk past. He muttered them to me, and I ashamedly admit I turned my head, covered my nostrils with my red scarf and shielded myself from the ever-present fulmar mist which covered him, the air of barnacle crusted vomit and rockpools which hung from his bleached sleeves.

They soon took him inside, and cleaned him up as best they could. They spent a fortune on programmes and detoxes and god knows what else, and none of them were exactly sure why. It was the right thing for them to do, I suppose. He came out twice in one year, and fell straight back in again, immersing himself in the comforting sterile greens of the wards, washing his weathered body for hours in flesh coloured tubs with hard edged bars of institutional soap, scrubbing away the hard stuff, then the slightly softer stuff they give you as a replacement, then that which is hidden. Rubbings and attrition, gradual, hygienic erosion under chlorinated tapwater, sanding himself down under watchful, matronly eyes until there was only grey, loose-hanging skin left behind.

We met him properly, for the first time, in the foyer of that place. He looked gilded, laquered. Preserved. The heels of his shoes were fixed, and they no longer pulled the tides and the stink of oceans along with them. We talked at length, about many things. He mentioned the sea once, in passing, as you do. His speech was careful, slow, precise, as if purposefully avoiding certain patterns of speech, staying well clear of rhyme and of weighted endings. He walked into the town, his head held forward and his eyes wide, unlike he had ever allowed them to be before.

We saw him once more after our conversation, three weeks later. It was a Sunday, and the rain was coming down hard on the English coast and the people of the town were compelled to move to towards the point where the land ends and he was spread-eagled across the granite cliff faces, naked and weeping and displaying a hundred thousand bleeding gashes across his back and feet, as the grains of sand held in the waves took him apart, piece by piece. There was nothing left by morning except a man-sized nest, tucked into a gap in the black stone, lined with seagull feathers and the polysterene graininess of cuttlefish bones.


Illuminations – An IIAL Report

Benjamin Jiva Dasa Norris

Dept. of Geotheology

We abandoned our excavations amongst the White Horses of the Salisbury Plain in 1972, proclaiming in an official statement that ‘no further study of the Uffington reaches will reveal anything beyond the mundane decorative truth of our forebears’, in an attempt to finally dispel the new age excitement surrounding the hill figures as overenthusiasm and fanciful romanticism. The Salisbury Plain is doubtless a landscape of the highest interest to several of our departments, but of course, in regards to interpretation of meaning amongst this picturesque landscape it was decreed that we must endeavour to avoid the trinketry and wishfulness of the Stonehenge giftshop. The rejection of this 82 year-old project (which involved extensive research into the capillary-like network of tunnels thirty-four metres below Silbury Hill, the carbon-dating of the infamous Wayland Smith handprint and the remarkable audiotectural findings at the entrance of West Kennet Longbarrow) caused considerable disappointment to Ms. Andreea Borbas, much of whose professional life involved some of the more ambitious excavations as part of a dedicated IIAL team. As a gesture of goodwill and appreciation of her academic contributions, the Institute awarded Ms. Borbas a grant with which to continue her studies from afar, to allow some distance and perspective on her chosen field. It was believed that a period of separation from the West of England would encourage a sense of the abyss, a notion of the vortex which had become invisible from an epicentre.
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Ms. Borbas continued to write extensively about her attempted disconnection from the studies of the Uffington psychonautical project and claimed to have returned to her native Timisoara, Romania. Her written work remained of the highest calibre. In a telegram received in November 1995, we received news that she had undertaken a brief return to Orthodoxy, and in particular wished to proclaim her enthusiasm for recognising the fasting practices of her family sect. It did not escape the attention of her correspondents, however, that the postal frankings were not from Romania, but instead moving rapidly eastwards through the Ukraine, onward to Odessa and across the sea to Turkey. The Institute as a whole was understandably concerned, and set to work trying to ascertain why a dedicated fellow of the order was continually posting pleasant (although somewhat uninspiring) accounts of her personal life, whilst making no attempt to disguise the fact that she was undertaking a lengthy migration to the furthest reaches of Europe, and beyond. The penultimate telegram allowed some answers, and was recorded as coming from Western Pakistan. It simply read  “Bhavanê Yásas Kalk (i) Pradúr Bhavishyati”, which our languages department initially translated as ‘At the home of the worthy, he shall be born from sediment and mud’ – an appropriation of a verse from the Srimad Bhagavatam, a text which is well known to us, and has provided a valuable number of references ranging from longtitudinal co-ordinates to syllables prompting paramnesiacal hematosae within certain conditions. It was not until 2002 that the Institute recognised the intention of the telegram, after hearing nothing from Ms. Borbas for seven years and allowing the archiving and encoding of her submissions and writings in their entirety. The report and following investigation into this prompt is now complete.
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Linguistic Reverie
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Kalk is recognised to be a simple shortening of Kalkiavatara, the final descending incarnation of Visnu (recognised by more than 800 religious groups to be the ‘supreme godhead’) to earth, set to bring the age of darkness (Kali Yuga) to its end, along with all life in this mode of existence. The origins of the name Kalki have been debated for centuries – the Sanskrit is unclear, garbled through a persian tongue-shift that evades clear translation. Through the our correspondance with Sri Sri Bhismadev, temple guard of Madana Mohan, Navidweep, Bengal, we have been able to discern two clear translations into English, with a linguistic bridge conjoining two potential dialectic routes. Firstly; Kalk I, ‘That which is cut from soil’. It was long considered that this referred to the vengeance the avatar would bring upon the ‘unclean/soiled ones’ at the end of the yuga, at the time of death. Secondly; Kalki; translates through Ugric as ‘White Horse’. Sri Sri Bhismadev has confirmed that both of these translations are accurate, intentional and transmutable, and arise linguistically as both ‘Soil which is cut from the white horse’ and ‘white horse which is cut from the soil’.
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Investigation
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Buraq

What follows are the heavily abridged notes collected after the volunteer team returned from their fieldwork in seventeen different countries, attempting to complete the final chapters of Borbas’ Opus.

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That there is a geolinguistic connection between the West of England and the writings of the ‘golden age’ of North Indian Vaisnavism is surprising, but easily dismissable as coincidence. What caused this research team to initially travel to Jerusalem was the increasingly persuasive evidence put forward and promised in the final correspondence from Ms. Andreea Borbas in January 2003, urging a group from the IIAL to analyse the consistent petrosomatoglyphic trail forged between Western Europe and Northern India, connected by the images of the horse imprinted in earth and the reverence awarded to them in places where ordinarily such occurrences would be considered heretical. Andreea Borbas’ character and professionalism suggested an intention and discovery which was deemed investigatable, and a research group was quickly dispatched eastwards. It was quickly decided to overlook the geoglyphs of Western Europe until the conclusion of the investigation, if they were to be considered at all, and to begin our journey at a meeting point of conflicting visual cultures. Thus, we began in Israel.
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The Jerusalem trip was necessary to record the evidence of the most recent earth-horse on the very outskirts of the Kalki/Uffington tradition, that of the El Buraq hoofprint of 7th century Islam; the foundation of the vital ending of the initial story arc of the Koran, that of Mohammed’s ascension of his winged steed. We were fully aware of the hoofprint burned into the holy rock, despite having no completed written investigation on the subject in its archives. The relic attracts an unusual congregation, an Islamic branch initially believed to be the product of academic convenience, but who are evidently in existence – those who view the avatars of Visnu as not only worshipful, but facets of Allah. The tilak smeared on their foreheads is covered by hands held in prayer, their kneeling mats stained with sandalwood and placed carefully on the western side of the geological icon. On arrival at the foot-smooth plateau, we noted all that we could; that the sigil stands out clearly from the arid rock of Temple Mount, the fore of the hoofprint angled deeply into the stone, giving the impression of weight being thrown forward onto the foot, and presumably propelling the horse into the air with its divine passenger. This literal and physical representation of a divine being in Islam is rare, especially in the vicinity of an area which is worshipful as space itself, nothing more. It is unknown (and perhaps unknowable) what created the hoofprint in the rock of Temple Mount – be it erosion, purposeful representative carving or otherwise. It is, in our opinion, irrelevant. The fact that it exists is not of interest to us, but merely the fact that meaning and importance has been bestowed upon it in a tradition that transcends its own origins. Such a viewpoint was considered the foundation for the manifesto of this journey. We left Jerusalem confused, an endlessly conflicted city hiding the traces of harmony it has never existed without, the riotous noise and cadence of violence disguising the city’s hidden shame – that prayers had hung in the air of this space and burrowed themselves into the stones long before Christ or Allah were conceivable. The instincts of myself and my colleagues instructed us to travel further in eastward miles and years.
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The second location mentioned by Borbas brought us to the borders of Iran and Afghanistan, a cultural no-mans-land today, but once the historical centre of the region of Zabulistan (for more information may I direct you to Barusa’s writings on the subject ‘Abyssal Life of Arachosia’ 1932) where we get a sense of the origins of the figure of El Buraq in the Persian Rakhsh, the ‘great horse’ of the Zoroastrian poets, who have an earth-equine tradition that predates Islam by centuries and sets up the stage for the adoration of the eternal hoofprint in Jerusalem. The Rakhsh was symbolically nondifferent from its Islamic equivalent – a vehicle for the last earthly moments of a deity, a means for approaching heaven – and it’s hoofprints can be seen in their dozens as one approaches the Afghanistani territories, supposedly imprinted in the rock in the same fashion as those of El Buraq, and revered in the same way by the remaining Zoroastrians who populate the area. What fascinated the researchers I was travelling with was that the enormous, solitary hill-carving of the horse in the area not only appeared to pre-date the poetry concerning the Rakhsh by several centuries, even millenia, but was situated in an area which appeared to be geologically unique. The creators of the 250 foot horse which adorns the northern side of the Vale of Kabisa chose to carve their deity in a expanse of rock which is not only uniquely grassy as a result of mountainous micro-climates and rising areas of moisture, but also whose stone is uncommonly pale in colour; a pinkish, chalk hued hillside which holds the calcific residue of a long-dead inland sea. The result is stark, striking, and uncannily resemblant of Uffington’s rolling greenery and brilliant whiteness here, in the arid Middle East. On viewing, the etymology of Rakhsh suddenly becomes clear; the name of this vast horse is translatable as ‘Illuminated’.
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The whereabouts of the next location was debated internally amid our camp for weeks. Many of my esteemed colleagues insisted that we travel north into the Russian lowlands, where the early Magyar people cut small horses into rocks as they travelled across Siberia on their way to their settling ground in Hungary. After almost two months of deliberation, I delivered the final verdict that the Magyar could not be considered into this investigation – a fundamentally godless tribe of horsemen marking their territory with a personalised equine signature could not be considered in the same sense as gargantuan horses being slashed and burned eternally into hillsides, or a continued worship and legendary tradition founded by a semi-circle pushed into stone – the Zabulistanis were not leaving messages for each other, they were creating a wonder. The Muslims of the mount were not regarding a calling-card, they were recognising a miracle. After much contact with the Institute, I announced that the company would move onward to India, towards the believed current location of Andreea Borbas. India possesses surprisingly few geoglyphs of considerable scale, despite its vast collected of deified handprints, footprints, undying trees and sacred dust. Our initial decision was to travel to the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the location for the speaking of the Gita – a well renowned site of the most commemorative earthworks in the Eastern hemisphere, but upon re-examination of Borbas’s telegrams, the company declared there to be no reason to look to commemoration and remembrance of stories. Borbas herself had time and time again expressed a slight disdain for such things – the hill figures and sigils we sought were those which belonged to the impulsive, the visionary and recognised, not the nationalistic or celebratory reminders of an epic. It was agreed that we would find Borbas amongst the some of the oldest and most continually significant artworks in the world.
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The Bhimbekta caves in Madhya Pradesh delivered some sense of the immense timescale in which man has been marking stone with the image of a horse. The caves have been inhabited by man for over 100,000 years, and the oldest visible paintings, some of which are vast in scale and still visible to this day are in excess of 30,000 years old. Upon our arrival and viewing of the paintings, none in our company were surprised after the evidence collected between Afghanistan and India that the first period Upper Paleolithic images were those of horses, vast horses with swollen undercarriages which billowed outwards with the swellings in the cave walls. stratified cracks in the sandstone had been incorporated into unusually conceptual details which appeared to have been embellished over the centuries – glaring eyes nestled in the manes, phallic lingum erupt from the hindquarters and mirror the stalagmitic ground we walked through. The contemplation of the unseen images lasted for approximately thirteen days.
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(Editor’s note: Further descriptions and studies of the Bhimbekta cave paintings are available on request from the IIAL archives).
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The notes made by the research team were lengthy and inconclusive, fit only for archiving and contextual reproduction here. The IIAL have decided to include the final letter sent from Ms. Andreea Borbas, dated November 19th, 2008 to provide an attempt at a conclusion for this sprawling and unseemly branch of geotheology. No further word has been received from her since, and no further correspondence is expected.
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For the attention of the Dept. of Geotheology,
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(….)
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The decades spent in the northern foothills of the Himalayas have rendered me literally speechless. The Kalkites are a silent sect, who accentuate their stillness of voice with regular ingestions of a viscous hallucinogenic liquid derived from the sap of young trees and a cold-water extraction of muscara agaric fungi, a psychoactive ingrediant I first became aware of when studying the cutting ceremonies of pre-medieval England. The agaric fungus has long been associated with the pre-vedic and Zoroastrian Soma – that legendary ambrosia which elevated Mitra to godhead, and which undoubtedly had a hand in accelerating the nature of poetic devotion during the initial settling of the Indus. The Kalkite’s ceremonial nectar is a vocal restrictor, which over several years has a powerfully soporific effect on the larynx, resulting in complete vocal paralysis, thus allowing the senses of vision and hearing to sharpen, to come into the fore. I was initiated at the beginning of April, on the south-facing side of an vale unknown to myself in the region. The ritual which took place was unique – here was a enforcement of visions, and encouragement of hallucination which demanded no chanting, no music, no sacred gesture or dance. Merely slow, intense observation in the blindingly direct sunlight which bounces from meltwater through the elephant grasses at the edge of the rain-shadow plains. Utter silence is observed; the sanyassi have lost the ability to make any noise other than the rustling of linen, the thatchety whisper of eyelashes closing, the steady hum of their arteries fills the air. The initiate is pushed gently onto their back and instructed to look only at the sky, to relax their eyes in order to avoid blinking as much as is possible. Slowly, the viscous fungal sap was dripped into my mouth, staining my face a crimson ochre, the cardamom leaving a sweetness on my tongue, and marred by an earthy, peppery residue. Again, stillness. Silence. The procedure lasts approximately three hours in full consciousness, before one’s stomach begins to gradually bloat from the muscara, and the unchanging sky has seeped into the very periphery of vision. The effect is a juxtaposition; one of insignificance coupled with centrality – the blue void is at once unreachably vast, whilst appearing to gradually turn on an axis balanced in the retina, the being and the gaze are sluggish and weak, and yet inseparable. The novices gather around, and one will gradually place indigo sheets onto the eyes, gently simulating a blindness which is revelatory and yet unnecessary; blindness is in essence comparative, and the hallucinogen and sky-staring have done their job; I could not claim to see anything if I had wished to. One blindness is blue, the other is black. I began to experience a sense of the non-corporeal which begins beneath my fingernails and spreads with minute coldness through my extended body. I am supported, and sat upright, and the fabric is removed. It is gestured that I look silently and intentional at the valley I sit in, and I see.
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In much the same way that a ceremony based on drumming or mantra becomes deafening with time, my eyes vibrate and shudder with the intensity of sight. The movement in the still vale is so intense as to be blinding; grasses quiver with ecstasies, grasshoppers scrape their knees and stones continue their glacially slow journey downwards. Lines have become obvious, contours leap from the soil. Here, an eye. An impossibly lengthy number, a sum of the days in which a mountain is made by laying a feather on an anthill once every thousand aeons lies stretched between the solitary tree on the horizon, ending with the figure ‘7’ just in front of my bare feet. I see dictionaries of letters from fourteen alphabets. I see myself, cross legged between branches. I see a horse.
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After many years of living alongside the sanyassi of Kalki, I have begun to understand the purpose of their sect, and to appreciate the subtleties of their mission which recognises a common symbology with the western world, and reveres the shape of the horse as the secondary illuminated mode of recognition. Secondary, because it is forever beneath the primary symbol of the unblinking eye, the sun, which cradles civilisation and allows the terrestrial to recognise itself. It was during my return to Timisoara and a brief period working in the cognitive research station that I recorded the horse (or, at the most abstracted, the quadruped animal) as the most illuminated figurative symbol in an overwhelming majority of the brain scans conducted, behind basic numbers and letters, and the circle. This led me through Jerusalem and Afghanistan, to northern India and the Bhimbekta, where hill figures and petrosomatoglyphs are not only discovered, but consistently created and recreated, and thus revered for millenia. My initial writings preceeding my arrival described the horse as chariot, consistently associated with the birth and death of deities, acting as both herald and harbinger, stork and ferryman. I spent months collecting data to support the theory I was gradually building and reinforcing, before I allowed my voice to wither and curl inwards beneath my tongue. I was, of course, looking at too big, too busy a picture.
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Uffington, The Mount, The Vale of Zabulistan, Bhimbekta, countless others and here at the northern Himalayan foothills – the hill figures share an impossibly blatant and infinitely subtle feature which has been enthusiastically overlooked by all of those who sully the forefront of their vision with the vibrations of speech. Before any man or woman took a flint to the chalk, or smoothed out the inner grooves of a footprint, the image already existed. The horse was already there, alongside the door, the man in the door and his two staffs, a broken outline forged from the hooves of migrating cattle, a geological rorshach image etched as comprehensively into the spaces between grass ridges and the shaded blades of calcific stone as in the eyes of those who recognised them. Upon visiting the most ancient of paintings, surely nobody can look at the contours of the vast cave glyphs and fail to comment on how the artist incorporated the strata into the image, and yet, look again – the strata (and the splits, the stacks) is the image. A brief scan of the spaces above, below and everywhere else may reveal a menagerie of recognisable symbols, be they Christ, The Empire State Building or the ceremonial wig of Cabot.
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Just as some of the more rapidly advancing civilisations looked to the cosmos and saw Pegasus and Equuleus, others looked to the hills in silence, and set about illuminating the spaces between what was never there, but which was clearly seen. The earliest art may have been the eye, but the eye went on to see the beast.
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I am sending the corrected results of my lengthy sabbatical to the IIAL, and shall continue to seek the image of Kalkiavatara in these hills, safe in the knowledge that this geological cloudgazing is the earliest and most complete form of that which prompted art in its prehistoric infancy. The Upanisads tell us that the universe was formed from the belly of a horse whose feet touched earth, and the earth is at once that foot and all other things. Thus, the merest suggestion of a semi-circular indentation in any number of impressionable stones has shaped the world as we know it, has prompted a way of seeing what is already behind our eyes.

Written exclusively for the Institute for the Interpretation of Abyssal Life 13/4/2010


A Case Study on the Mass Hysteria of Brigstowe Hall

Fiction written exclusively for the IIAL

 

The first ever recorded case of mass Reduplicative Paramnesia occured on the 21st of May, 1982, in the call centre of Brigstowe Hall, an office complex on the outskirts of Plymouth, an event which caused the death of two members of staff, and permanently altered the psychiatric wellbeing of fourteen others.

The mental illness Reduplicative Paramnesia, normally associated with severe head injuries, is widely regarded to be one of the more unusual delusional brain disorders, causing the patient to believe that their current geographical location has been expertly and inexplainably duplicated, and relocated – often to somewhere many thousands of miles away. The most famous case (and that which resulted in the disorder being officially registered) involved a patient who, upon realising he was in a Boston hospital, began to insist that the entire institution had been disassembled and rebuilt in the spare room of his house in Massachusetts, whilst simultaneously maintaining that there still existed a hospital in Boston, and expressing an impressed surprise that the staff were able to work in both locations at once. The phenomenon which occurred at Brigstowe Hall has so far confused mental health experts and neurologists, as unlike the Boston patient, nobody in the Plymouth office had received the extensive frontal lobe damage suffered by the patient, or the formation of intracerebral hemotomas later discovered in his brain tissue.

According to the security footage, standard recorded telephone conversations and several eyewitness accounts, the hysteria took the form of a large proportion of staff members from the second floor of the office building – for a period of approximately ninety-two minutes – becoming convinced that their place of work had been duplicated and shifted an area which was eventually identified through recorded conversations with bewildered customers as being a town on the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. So severe were the delusions that three members of staff were seen leaving the building and completely losing the ability to walk on the real firmament – a simple pavement in Plymouth – as the paramnesia was presumably causing a hallucination which gave the appearance of a softer, grass-covered and marshy surface so convincing it caused unbalance, disorientation and misplacement of footing; an illusion which proved to be fatal when the staff members stumbled into the busy, traffic filled high street.

As might be expected, within minutes a state of panic, fear and confusion caused the office to come to a standstill. Several injuries were sustained, and the humidity of the particularly hot May afternoon had resulted in faintings, prompting the few unaffected staff members to call an ambulance, which, on arrival, removed a small number of the worst affected men and women, but were left baffled by the scene they surveyed. One paramedic went on record to report “the office looked and sounded like Bedlam… Everywhere (we) could hear demented babbling, foreign languages spoken, sweating bodies…the (paramedic team) began to feel effected by the oppressive atmosphere, as if a pair of hands had been clapped against our ears”.

Whilst the exact cause of the mass reduplicative paramnesia remains a mystery, it is the opinion of the IIAL that the reason for this phenomenon are potentially due to a four-fold series of factors, each coinciding with each other and multiplied due to the atmospheric conditions of this particular hour and a half in the summer of 1982. Firstly, one must consider the exact location of Brigstowe Hall, which sits atop one of Plymouth’s largest Victorian sewer ducts, a vast, subterranean arena-like structure that acts as a meeting point and subsequent vortex for seven separate ducts radiating outwards to the sectors of the old city. Recent studies into the peculiar effects of infra-sound on the human brain may go some way towards explaining unusual brain activity in those situated near this site, and it has been argued that very low frequency (and thus, inaudible by the human ear) soundwaves had been produced by firing drills undertaken by HMS Hecate some three miles out in the channel that very afternoon. It is arguable that such infrasoundwaves could reverberate through the sea-facing redbrick ducts, and be perceived on an unconcious level by the inhabitants of the buildings above, having an effect on brain activity.

A similar infrasound phenomena was written about when the study was in its infancy, a series of ecstatic visions experienced simultaneously by a yogic circle in the Bimbekta catacombs of Uttar Pradesh, India, in 1952 during a quarry blast of unprecedented volume, some 32 miles to the south of the caves. The infrasound created that travelled through the sandstone terrain was of a frequency that has since been proven in laboratory conditions to produce “feelings of awe or fear in humans” (John D. Cody. Infrasound Borderland Science Research Foundation), and resulted on this occasion to produce hallucinations so terrifying and lucid as to ‘strip the faith from the holiest of men… the yogis of Bhimbekta were reduced to ashen shells’ (Terence Thwaine. Infrasound and Synethesia – A Study of Perceived Madness Lucknow Press 1992). It seems the only rational explanation for the hysteria experienced at Brigstowe Hall was due to similar environmental factors as that in Uttar Pradesh – a combination of humidity induced mental weakness and tiredness, a blast of infrasound, and the peculiar amplifying effects of Victorian waterworks, certainly comparable to the catacombs that worm through the Pradeshi mountains. But why the connection with Croatian lakes? It has been argued that the most likely explanation would be due to a conversation in the office concerning this location (and by no means necessarily in recent times – such a conversation may have taken place weeks before and produced the same effect) triggering a shared experience. So far, after extensive psychiatric counselling, this has been discredited by all those involved in the incident itself, with the patients claiming no knowledge of such an exchange. Another hypothesis involves a sublimation of some sort, a message hidden in music or passed through the telephone headset. This has been so far unprovable, but by no means ruled out.

Stanthorpe, shortly before his death

For the final hypothesis, we must turn to the studies undertaken by M.R.Weber on the architectural works of Mr. James Stanthorpe, a devout christian and eccentric, plagued by the death of two of his children, and one of whose major works involved the design and construction of the sewage channels of Plymouth. According to Weber, Stanthorpe’s design for the antichamber and nucleus of his labrynthine sewer was based on the ‘perfected passageways of the human oesophagus’; an observation taken so far as to include something akin to red-brick larynx – an architectural musical instrument based crudely on the human voicebox at the summit of the chamber, which resembled a series of ridged, low walls jutting from the ceiling and peppered with holes measuring between three and nineteen inches in diameter. Nothing was thought of this oddity in design for well over a century, merely the fancy of a wealthy, yet distressed Victorian engineer. However, when the notebooks of Stanthorpe were re-examined and decoded, it was revealed that the design itself was made to potentially hold the ability to form certain (unrevealed) sounds, given the correct conditions and flow of water and pressure. Of course, Stanthorpe had never intended these sounds to be anything but abstract noise, echoing beneath the streets of a bustling city. No records exist of any audible sound coming from what many believed to be a failed experiment, but which Stanthorpe insisted in his lifetime was merely the absence of the ‘correct conditions’.

The atmospheric conditions on the 21st of May. 1982, could have produced something the architect may have had in mind, and it is on the edge of conceivable reason that within the abstraction and chaotic nature of the barely audible or inaudible sound produced, a nanosecond of ordered, understandable noise may have broken through, momentarily and subconsciously effecting some of those situated just above it. This noise may have, by some staggering coincidence, been a set of instructions, not dissimilar to a hypnotist’s demands, bypassing the rational part of the consciousness.

The investigation continues.


Further Fictional Research into the Practices of the People of Drejnev

This short story is a continuation of a much earlier theme which can be read on this blog under the titles ‘Estuaries’ and ‘Histories’.

Produced by Benjamin Norris exclusively for http://iial.wordpress.com

The following text was recorded during the final therapeutic hypnosis session of an anonymous male patient who requested assistance in overcoming nicotine addiction, shortly before his untimely death involving a automobile accident on the M32 outside of Bristol. I have researched that which can be researched, and have included four slides with which to better illustrate the patient’s lucid monologue.

“The known facts surrounding the religious practices of the people of Drejnev were recently expanded upon and resurfaced in popular consciousness thanks to the discovery of a written text documenting the second dynasty of the settlement, something previously thought impossible due to the wideheld belief that the Krozkaw people who populated the settlement had been unable to develop the skills needed for writing. The text itself was unusual in that it consisted not of paper and ink, but of a remarkably long and thin strip of silver birch bark, removed from the tree trunk in a single cut measuring approximately thirty seven metres long, and three and a half centimetres in width. This strip of bark had been carefully and meticulously wound around a typically Drejnevian totem mast (made from the dark wood so representative of the people’s folk crafts) in tight concentric circles. The pole stood at a height of two and half metres, and was crowned by a delicate carving of the Farikh; the totemic deity (generally believed to be of Saharan origin) which is usually recognisable as a black bird of some sort, often adorned with womanly breasts and hips.

artistic rendering showing similar finds in Drejnev

The silver birch, being a tree of pale colour and littered with dark speckled blemishes, allowed the ‘writer’ to align the light and bruised patches of the strip of bark along the totem to create a series of motifs, a simple alphabet of twenty-two figures not dissimilar to morse code in its conception.

Upon finding this discovery (conservatively dated at approximately 900 b.c), anthropologists were put to work finding a way to ‘crack’ the code that spiralled its way around the staff, a task which took Mr. Conrad Davies of the IIAL and his team eight years to fully complete. Upon presenting their findings to the Royal Society, the research team had to admit to some awkward confusion. Whilst the totem did seem to reveal some of the few, yet well known histories of Drejnev (particularly the ceremonial usage of sage, and the instructions for a legendary ceremony involving the sajtkoz – a wind instrument whose ancestors still exist in central Europe to this day), the code could be read concisely and perfectly accurately in three separate ways, revealing three very distinct and fluent texts. The placement of the birch blemishes were not difficult to identify, indeed, the peat marshes near the river it was discovered in were notoriously effective as a preservative (see Drejnev Marsh: The Umber Man and other finds Millford and G. Walch 1944 Keele Press) and have informed Western Europe for decades on this abandoned culture. The problem lay in whether to firstly take into account the spaces between the blemishes, which were mostly uniform in size and placement, and by no means accidental when one considers the minute attention to detail paid to the remainder of the staff, and also whether to make the rather arrogant assumption that the Krozkaw wrote from left to right, as is common in Europe, but rare in the Middle East and Orient, where many scholars have placed the people’s origin.

Peat marshes of Drejnev, showing ruins of former habitation

When one considers the content of the two ‘alternative’ translations of the text, there is little wonder as to why the Davies team were left daunted and confused. Let us examine the first of the alternative readings, that which is read from right to left, using the twenty-two arrangements identified as the alphabet of the Krozkaw. The text primarily and thoroughly describes the restoration plans for the Cathedral of Chester made in 1057 a.d by Leofric, Earl of Mercia (a leader who would most likely be lost in the annals of time were he not so strongly remembered due to his relationship with Lady Godiva), shortly after the razing of Worcester. The staff, when read in reverse, is essentially little more than a list to be presented to the guilds of Cheshire concerning building materials and the relevant taxation, and the list is repeated indentically three times before being completed by a short rhyming couplet which can be roughly translated as ‘That is all, and that’s your lot, so put a penny in the slot (sic)’. One member of the research team has been asked to check upon the historical accuracy of such a list, but as yet all research has been inconclusive due to the lack of recorded material in 11th century Mercia.

Archaic map of Mercia, showing all the cities mentioned in the Krazkow text as those supplying materials for Chester cathedral

The third translation of the Drejnev totem is perhaps even more confusing. As mentioned previously, the spaces between the ‘characters’ found in the narrow strip of bark are uniform, and there is even archaelogical evidence that a fine tipped tool has been employed to smooth them down and clean them, accentuating the difference between light and shade. When these spaces are added to the ‘alphabet’ as extra characters, we find ourselves with a total of twenty-nine symbols, and a radically different translation that is concise and consistent when read from left to right, or vice versa. This third reading has so far been unpublished, to avoid attracting the attention of petty conspiracy theorists and hobbying fanatics, who would no doubt enjoy making a meal of the bizarre coincidence it reveals and claiming some sort of truth from sheer impossibility. The text read as follows:

 
 Solutions to the popular crossword puzzle in the Daily Telegraph caused an outrage with security officers who were responsible for guarding the secrets of the planned invasion of Europe by the allies in June 1944. Members of MI5 noticed that some of the clues appeared to give away vital code names invented to cloak the what was to be the largest seaborne attack to date. The answer to the clue ‘one of the U.S.’ turned out to be, for instance, UTAH, and another, OMAHA – beaches on which the American armies were to land. Another answer was MULBERRY, the floating harbors that would accommodate and supply ships. NEPTUNE was the naval support. Most suspiciously of all, there was a clue about ’some big-wig’ which produced the answer OVERGRAUT, the codeword invented to describe the entire operation. The writer of the crossword was Mr. Leonard Dawe, a 54 year old school teacher who, after lengthy interrogation, was found to be completely innocent of any wrong doing. 
 

The 'D-Day' Crossword, reproduction courtesy of The Daily Telegraph

It was not difficult for the research team to look into any historical correlation that may fit this translation, as the text merely recounts a well known story much loved by the British public. Upon speaking with the relevant authorities, Mr. Davies was able to confirm that the information given up by the third and final interpretation of the Drejnev staff was entirely accurate, with one notable exception – the answer to the crossword clue ‘some big wig’ which was printed in the newspaper, was not ‘overgraut’, but instead ‘overlord’ – a solution which makes considerably more sense in context.”

Section taken from Nonsensical True Histories Under Hypnosis, vol I by Dr. Raymond Pluhar, Thornbury Books 2009


Curio

Author’s response to panic and confusion of certain readers: THIS IS FICTION. I MADE IT UP. Thankyou.

The Edwardian gentleman could often be found perusing curious photographic oddities that came about with the developments in the artistic and jovial uses of the aforementioned craft when it was in its infancy. Alongside the earliest examples of pornography (which, for some generally unknown reason involved geese instead of the women who followed them) were the miracles of the magic lantern, fantasmagorias of photography which fooled the eye into seeing an image which disguised another beneath it. Famous examples included the Diabelerie D’Argent, an image which at first glance showed nothing more than a mountainous pile of money overrun with rats, and yet upon blinking, the viewer would immediately realise what they mistook for the shadow cast by the largest rodent was, in fact, an ornate headpiece, and the glinting of the silver made up for the eyes, nose and mouth of a beautiful woman. Once the face was seen, it became impossible for the viewer to regain sight of the original, fleeting image that had first confronted them, and no matter how they returned to the image with fresh eyes, the money had been lost, the rats evaporated.

The most legendary, and indeed, most complex of these circus images is widely known as the ‘Man Eater’ photograph. Currently part of a private collection in Vermont, it shows a young girl in a bustle, sitting astride a bicycle and looking demurely at the photographer. To her left is a hanging basket containing a wide variety of blooming autumn flowers, and from the position of the shadows, the viewer can deduce that it is approximately quarter past four on a September afternoon. Other details include such stalwarts of the early 20th century photographer’s reportoire; a cup, placed at the young lady’s feet, and a humunculus-like figure, the printer’s devil, if you may, peering from a corner.

What becomes apparant within a matter of seconds is that, of course, the bicycle and the maiden are mere phantoms, shadows and edges of what was believed to be the true picture, that being a portrait of the late hunter Kenneth Anderson, posing with his most celebrated prey, a dead tigress whose mouth is agape and whose ear has been removed. The tigress is none other than the Maneater of Jowlagiri, the famed and bloodthirsty slayer of twenty human victims, and what we had originally seen as a wheel on the bicycle could now be viewed with no mistake as being part of the striped pelt; the girl’s back makes up for the left side of Anderson’s rifle, and so on. The viewer feels as a fool for missing such obvious details, for failing to recognise such an iconic image immediately, and despite yearning to catch glimpse of his original mistake, cannot begin to scrabble for a handhold on which to do so; all that remains is a memory of another scene, and an agreed blindness which obliterates all but the new one.

A photocopy showing the third plate in Anderson's autobiography

What is truly astonishing about the Man Eater photograph is that when it was viewed by the third son of the Viscount Jensom, a certain famed and charismatic man by the name of Patrick Ellois, he managed to see yet another image composed of the curved sides of Anderson’s hunting hat and what he claimed was the optical illusion of the victor’s hands placed in the crook of his knee juxtaposed against the heavy foliage to his left. Mr. Ellois was quick to note down what the photograph revealed to him, and later to all others who were shown where, and how to look at the image. What Mr. Ellois saw were words, a page in a book which took up most of the frame, and blinded those who recognised it to the aforementioned image of the man and dead beast which, as we now understand, were merely an illusion and a testament to the photographer’s skill. The fact that it took several decades for viewers to recognise the photograph for what it is – a simple lithographic copy of a text (albeit a smudged and greatly foxmarked one), almost beggars belief.

The words were as follows:

“The dreaded killer of Jowlagiri had come to a tame and ignominious end, unworthy of her career, and although she had been a murderer, silent, savage and cruel, a pang of conscience troubled me as to my unsporting ruse in encompassing her end.”

The accompanying curio seekers who were with Patrick Ellois on the day included several members of a certain society, and a young man who was quick to point out that these words could be found in the autobiography of Mr. Anderson, a recently published book by the name of Nine Man-Eaters and One Rogue, Kenneth Anderson, Allen & Unwin, 1954, a book which had been read by few following the more sophisticated British public’s falling out with the former grandeurs of the empire and its white-suited heroes, and was thus subsequently pulped. The following passage concerning this confession was written by the young witness at a much later date.

The inept romanticism verbalised by the great white hunters of the dying 19th century can be demonstrated in no plainer terms than in the case of the killing of the famed Man Eater of Jowlagiri, a tigress responsible for the death of at least fifteen people on the borders of Mysore. The ‘unsporting ruse’ undertaken by Anderson which led to lost photographic phenomenon was that of the unspoken treachery that taunts heroes through history; that of the blow to the back, the bullet that kills from behind. Anderson, through his late and deathbed bound confession of cowardice demonstrates an unsporting anti-grace which has long since died (indeed, if it ever truly existed), that of the aim for martyrdom. Indeed, this autobiographical eulogy carries the weight of a delusional mind, a hollywood-tinted false grandeur that is telling of the madness and heat of the Englishman in the colonies, heaving with the jungle scent of anthropomorphisis and forced through sepia film. Other such examples of an unstoppable rush towards death and the martyr’s tomb can be found in ***** **** ********, unfortunately, this, as with all things, depends entirely on the firm will of the audience to remember what it is they see first.”

It has been the subject of considerable scrutiny by many to ascertain what examples the young witness was hiding beneath his row of asterisks. The most popular theories are, at present, the later life meloncholic paintings of Rauschenberg, the Gospel of Mark, and the famous last words of the poet Dylan Thomas. So far, no consensus has been agreed upon.

The “Man Eater” photograph of the Vermont collection can be viewed for a five minute period by recommendation of character only.