The human condition can be summed up in a drop of blood. Show me a teaspoon of blood and I will reveal to thee the ineffable nature of the cosmos, naked and squirming. Squirming. Funny how the truth always seems to do that when you shine a light on it.
A man came to my door one afternoon, back when I lived on a rambling farm in Eastern Washington. He was sniffing around, poking into things best left . . . unpoked. A man with a flashlight, you might say. Of course, I knew who he was and what he was doing there long before he arrived with his hat in one hand and phony story in the other.
Claimed he was a state property assessor, did the big genial man. Indeed, he was a massive fellow—thick, blunt fingers clutching corroborative documents and lumpy from all the abuse he had subjected them to in the military; he draped an ill-tailored tweed jacket and insufferable slacks over his ponderous frame. This had the effect of making him look like a man that should have been on a beach with a sun visor and a metal detector. The man wore a big smile under his griseous beard. This smile frightened people, which is exactly why he used it most of the time, and also, because it frightened people, he spoke slowly, in a big, heavy voice that sounded as if it emerged from a cast-iron barrel. He smelled of cologne and 3-IN-ONE Oil.
I could have whispered to him that the cologne came from a fancy emerald-colored bottle his wife had purchased for him as a birthday present; that he carried the bottle in his travel bag and spritzed himself whenever he was on the road and in too great a hurry, or simply too hungover, for a shower. He preferred scotch, did my strapping visitor. I could have mentioned several other notable items in this patent-leather travel bag—a roll of electrical tape, brass knuckles, voltmeter, police-issue handcuffs, a microrecorder, a pocket camera, disposable latex gloves, lockpicks, a carpet cutter, flashlight, an empty aspirin bottle, toothpaste, a half-roll of antacid tablets, hemorrhoid suppositories, and a stained road map of Washington State. The bag was far away on the front seat of his rented sedan, which he had carefully parked up the winding dirt driveway under a sprawling locust tree. Wisely, he had decided to reconnoiter the area before knocking on the door. The oil smell emanated from a lubricated and expertly maintained thirty-eight-caliber revolver stowed in his left-hand jacket pocket. The pistol had not been fired in three-and-a-half years. The man did not normally carry a gun on the job, but in my case, he had opted for discretion. It occurred to him that I might be dangerous.
I could have told him all these things and that he was correct in his assumptions, but it did not amuse me to do so. Besides, despite his bulk he looked pretty fast and I was tired. Winter makes me lazy. It makes me torpid.
Rap, rap! Against the peeling frame of the screen door. He did not strike the frame with anything approaching true force; nonetheless, he used a trifle more vigor than the occasion required. This was how he did things—whether conducting a sensitive inquiry, bracing a recalcitrant witness, or ordering the prawns at La Steakhouse. He was a water buffalo floundering into the middle of a situation, seizing command and dominating by virtue of his presence.
I made him wait longer than was necessary—to the same degree as his assault on my door was designed to set the tone and mood—although not too long, because sometimes my anticipatory juices outwrestle my subtler nature. I was an old man and thus tended to move in a deliberate mode anyway. This saddened me; I was afraid he might not catch my little joke.
I came to the door, blinking in the strong light as I regarded him through filtering mesh. Of course, I permitted a suitable quaver to surface when I asked after his business. That was when the big man smiled and rumbled a string of lies about being the land assessor and a few sundries that I never paid attention to, lost as I was in watching his mouth, his hands, and the curious way his barrel chest lifted and fell under the crumpled suit.
He gave me a name, something unimaginative gleaned from a shoebox, or like so. The identity on his State of Washington Private Investigator’s License read Murphy Connell. He had been an investigator for eleven years; self-employed, married with two children—a boy who played football at the University of Washington, and a girl that had transferred to Rhode Island to pursue a degree in graphic design—and owner of a Rottweiler named Heller. The identification was in his wallet, which filled an inner pocket of the bad coat, wedged in front of an ancient pack of Pall Malls. The big man had picked up the habit when he was stationed in the Philippines, but seldom smoked anymore. He kept them around because sure as a stud hound lifts its leg to piss, the minute he left home without a pack the craving would pounce on him hammer and tongs. He was not prone to self-analysis, this big man, yet it amused him after a wry sense that he had crushed an addiction only to be haunted by its vengeful ghost.
Yes, I remembered his call from earlier that morning. He was certainly welcome to ramble about the property and have a gander for Uncle Sam. I told him to come in and rest his feet while I fixed a pot of tea—unless he preferred a nip of the ole gin? No, tea would be lovely. Lovely? It delighted me in an arcane fashion that such a phrase would uproot from his tongue—sort of like a gravel truck dumping water lilies and butterflies. I boiled tea with these hands gnarled unto dead madroña, and I took my sweet time. Mr. Connell moved quietly, though that really didn’t matter, nothing is hidden from these ears. I listened while he sifted through a few of the papers on the coffee table—nothing of consequence there, my large one—and efficiently riffled the books and National Geographics on the sagging shelf that I had meant to fix for a while. His eyes were quick, albeit in a different sense than most people understand the word. They were quick in the sense that a straight line is quick, no waste, no second-guessing, thorough and methodical. Once scrutinized and done. Quick.
I returned in several minutes with the tea steeping in twin mugs. He had tossed the dim living room and was wondering how to distract me for a go at the upstairs—or the cellar. I knew better than to make it blatantly simple; he was the suspicious type, and if his wind got up too soon . . .Well, that would diminish my chance to savor our time together. Christmas, this was Christmas, or rather, the approximation of that holiday, which fills children to the brim with stars and song. But Christmas is not truly the thing, is it now? That sublime void of giddy anticipation of the gaily colored packages contains the first, and dare I say, righteous spirit of Christmas. Shucking the presents of their skin is a separate pleasure altogether.
Mr. Connell sat in the huge, stuffed lazy boy with springs poking him in the buttocks. It was the only chair in the room that I trusted to keep him off the floor and it cawed when he settled his bulk into its embrace. Let me say that our man was not an actor. Even after I sat him down and placed the mug in his fist, those accipitrine eyes darted and sliced from shadowed corner to mysterious nook, off-put by the cloying feel of the room—and why not? It was a touch creepy, what with the occasional creak of a timber, the low squeak of a settling foundation, the way everything was cast under a counterchange pattern of dark and light. I would have been nervous in his shoes; he was looking into murders most foul, after all. Pardon me, murder is a sensational word; television will be the ruin of my fleeting measure of proportion if the world keeps spinning a few more revolutions. Disappearances is what I should have said. Thirty of them. Thirty that good Mr. Connell knew of, at least. There were more, many more, but this is astray from the subject.
We looked at each other for a time. Me, smacking my lips over toothless gums and blowing on the tea—it was too damned hot, as usual! He, pretending to sip, but not really doing so on the off chance that I was the crazed maniac that he sought, and had poisoned it. A good idea, even though I had not done anything like that. Since he was pretending to accept my hospitality, I pretended to look at his forged documents, smacking and fumbling with some glasses that would have driven me blind if I wore them for any span of time, and muttered monosyllabic exclamations to indicate my confusion and ultimate verification of the presumed authenticity of his papers. One quick call to the Bureau of Land Management would have sent him fleeing as the charlatan I knew he was. I ignored the opportunity.
Mr. Connell was definitely not an actor. His small talk was clumsy, as if he couldn’t decide the proper way to crack me. I feigned a hearing impairment and that was cruel, though amusing. Inside of ten minutes the mechanism of his logic had all save rejected the possibility of my involvement in those disappearances. No surprise there—he operated on intuition; peripheral logic, as his wife often called it. I failed the test of instinct. Half-blind, weak, pallid as a starfish grounded. Decrepit would not be completely unkind. I was failing him. Yet the room, the house, the brittle fold of plain beyond the window interrupted by a blot of ramshackle structure that was the barn, invoked his disquiet. It worried him, this trail of missing persons—vague pattern; they were hitchhikers, salesmen, several state troopers, missionaries, prostitutes, you name it. Both sexes, all ages and descriptions, with a single thread to bind them. They disappeared around my humble farm. The Federal Bureau of Investigation dropped by once, three years before the incident with Mr. Connell. I did not play with them. Winter had yet to make me torpid and weak. They left with nothing, suspecting nothing.
However, it was a close thing, that inconvenient visit. It convinced me the hour was nigh . . .
The tea grew cold. It was late in the year, so dying afternoon sunlight had a tendency to slant; trees were shorn of their glory, crooked branches casting crooked shadows. The breeze nipped and the fields were damp. I mentioned that he was going to ruin his shoes if he went tramping out there; he thanked me and said he’d be careful. I watched him stomp around, doing his terrible acting job, trying to convince me that he was checking the value of my property, or whatever the hell he said when I wasn’t listening.
Speaking of shadows . . . I glanced at mine, spread out across the hood of the requisite fifty-nine Chevrolet squatting between the barn and the house. Ah, a perfectly normal shadow, if a tad disfigured by the warp of light.
A majority of the things I might tell are secrets. Therefore, I shall not reveal them whole and glistening. Also, some things are kept from me, discomfiting as that particular truth may be. The vanished people; I know what occurred, but not why. To be brutally accurate, in several cases I cannot say that I saw what happened, however, my guesswork is as good as anyone’s. There was a brief moment, back and back again in some murky prehistory of my refined consciousness, when I possessed the hubris to imagine a measure of self-determination in this progress through existence. The Rough Beast slouching toward Bethlehem of its own accord. If leashed, then by its own device, certainly. Foolish me.
Scientists claim that there is a scheme to the vicious Tree of Life, one thing eats another and excretes the matter another being requires to sustain its spark so that it might be eaten by another which excretes the matter required to sustain the spark—And like so. Lightning does not strike with random intent, oceans do not heave, and toss-axes do not ring in the tulgey wood or bells in church towers by accident. As a famous man once said, there are no accidents ‘round here.
Jerk the strings and watch us dance. I could say more on that subject; indeed, I might fill a pocket book with that pearl of wisdom, but later is better.
Mr. Connell slouched in from the field—picking about for graves, by chance?—resembling the Rough Beast I mentioned earlier. He was flushed; irritation and residual alcohol poisoning in equal parts. I asked him how he was doing, and he grunted a perfunctory comment.
Could he possibly take a closer look at the barn? It would affect the overall property value and like that . . . I smiled and shrugged and offered to show him the way. Watch your step, I warned him, it wouldn’t do for a government man to trip over some piece of equipment and end up suing the dirt from under my feet, ha, ha.
This made him nervous all over again and he sweated. Why? Two years before this visit, I could have said with accuracy. He would have been mine to read forward and back. By now, I was losing my strength. I was stuck in his boat, stranded with peripheral logic for sails. Mr. Connell sweated all the time, but this was different. Fear sweat is distinctive, any predator knows that. This pungent musk superseded the powerful cologne and stale odor of whiskey leaching from his pores.
To the barn. Cavernous. Gloom, dust, clathrose awnings of spent silk, scrabbling mice. Heavy textures of mold, of rust, decaying straw. I hobbled with the grace of a lame crow, yet Mr. Connell contrived to lag at my heel. Cold in the barn, thus his left hand delved into a pocket and lingered there. What was he thinking? Partially that I was too old, unless . . . unless an accomplice lurked in one of the places his methodical gaze was barred from. He thought of the house; upstairs, or the cellar. Wrong on both counts. Maybe his research was faulty—what if I actually possessed a living relative? Now would be a hell of a time to discover that mistake! Mr. Connell thought as an animal does—a deer hardly requires proof from its stippled ears, its soft eyes or quivering nose to justify the uneasiness of one often hunted. Animals understand that life is death. This is not a conscious fact, rather a fact imprinted upon every colliding cell. Mr. Connell thought like an animal, unfortunately; he was trapped in the electrochemical web of cognition, wherein curiosity leads into temptation, temptation leads into fear, and fear is considered an impulse to be mastered. He came into the barn against the muffled imprecations of his lizard brain. Curiosity did not kill the cat all by itself.
His relentless eyes adjusted by rapid degrees, fastening upon a mass of sea-green tarpaulin gone velvet in the subterranean illume. This sequestered mass reared above the exposed gulf of loft, nearly brushing the venerable center-beam, unexpressive in its obscured context, though immense and bounded by that gravid force to founding dirt. Mr. Connell’s heartbeat accelerated, spurred by a trickling dose of primordial dread. Being a laconic and linear man, he asked me what was under that great tarp.
I showed my gums, grasping a corner of that shroud with a knotted hand. One twitch to part the enigmatic curtain and reveal my portrait of divinity. A sculpture of the magnificent shape of God. Oh, admittedly it was a shallow rendering of That Which Cannot Be Named; but art is not relative to perfection in any tangible sense. It is our coarse antennae trembling blindly as it traces the form of Origin, tastes the ephemeral glue welding us, yearning after the secret of ineluctable evolution, and wonders what this transformation will mean. In my mind, here was the best kind of art—the kind hoarded by rich and jealous collectors in their locked galleries; hidden from the eyes of the heathen masses, waiting to be shared with the ripe few.
Came the rustle of polyurethane sloughing from the Face of Creation; a metaphor to frame the abrupt molting bloom of my deep insides. There, a shadow twisted on the floor; my shadow, but not me any more than a butterfly is the chrysalis whence it emerges. Yet, I wanted to see the end of this!
Mr. Connell gaped upon the construct born of that yearning for truth slithering at the root of my intellect. He teetered as if swaying on the brink of a chasm. He beheld shuddering lines that a fleshly tongue is witless to describe, except perhaps in spurts of impression—prolongated, splayed at angles, an obliquangular mass of smeared and clotted material, glaucous clay dredged from an old and abiding coomb where earthly veins dangle and fell waters drip as the sculpture dripped, milky-lucent starshine in the cryptic barn, an intumescent hulk rent from the floss of a carnival mirror. To gaze fully on this idol was to feel the gray matter quake inside its case and reject what the moist perceptions thought to feed it.
I cannot explain, nor must an artist defend his work or elucidate in such a way the reeling audience can fathom, brutes that they are. Besides, I was not feeling quite myself when I molded it from the morass of mindless imperative. Like a nocturnal flower, I Become, after that the scope of human perception is reduced and bound in fluids nameless and profane. There are memories, but their clarity is the clarity of a love for the womb, warmth, and lightless drift; fragmented happiness soon absorbed in the shuffle of the churning world and forgotten.
Mr. Connell did not comment directly; speech was impossible. He uttered an inarticulate sound, yarding at the lump of cold metal in his pocket—his crucifix against the looming presence of evil. Note that I refrain from scoffing at the existence of evil. The word is a simple name for a complex idea, an idea far outstripping the feeble equipment of sapient life. It is nothing to laugh at. As for my investigator, I like to remember him that way—frozen in a rictus of anguish at wisdom gained too late. Imagine that instant as the poor insect falls into the pitcher plant. He was an Ice-Age hunter trapped in the gelid bosom of a glacier. It was final for him.
I reached out to touch his craggy visage—
My perceptions flickered, shuttering so swiftly that I could not discern precise details of what occurred to big Mr. Connell. Suffice to say what was done to him was . . . incomprehensible. And horrible, I suppose most people would think. Not that I could agree with their value judgment. I suffered the throes of blossoming. It tends to affect my reasoning. The ordeal exhausted me; yet another sign.
Mr. Connell vanished like the others before him, but he was the last. After that, I left the farm and traveled north. Winter was on the world. Time for summer things to sleep.
I only mention this anecdote because it’s the same thing every time, in one variation or another. Come the villagers with their pitchforks and torches, only to find the castle empty, the nemesis gone back to the shadowlands. Lumbered off to the great cocoon of slumber and regeneration.
In dreams I swim as I did back when the oceans were warm and empty. There I am, floating inside a vast membrane, innocent of coherent thought, guided by impulses to movement, sustenance and copulation. Those are dim memories; easy to assume them to be the fabrications of loneliness or delusion. Until you recall these are human frailties. Interesting that I always return to the soup of origins, whether in dreams or substance. Every piece of terrestrial life emerged from that steaming gulf. The elder organisms yet dwell in those depths, some hiding in the fields of microbes, mindless as jellyfish; others lumbering and feeding on what hapless forms they capture. Once, according to the dreams, I was one of those latter things. Except, I am uncertain if that was ever my true spawning ground.
In fairness, I do not ponder the circumstance of my being as much as logic would presume. My physiology is to thank, perhaps. There come interludes—a month, a year, centuries or more—and I simply am, untroubled by the questions of purpose. I seek my pleasures, I revel in their comforts. The ocean is just the ocean, a cigar is just a cigar. That is the state of Becoming.
Bliss is ephemeral; true for anyone, or anything. The oceans have been decimated several times in the last billion years. Sterile water in a clay bowl. Life returned unbidden on each occasion. The world slumbers, twitches and transforms. From the jelly, lizards crawled around the fetid swamps eating one another and dying, and being replaced by something else. Again, again, again, until you reach the inevitable conclusion of sky-rises, nuclear submarines, orbiting satellites, and Homo sapiens formicating the earth. God swipes His Hand across Creation, it changes shape and thrives. A cycle, indeed a cycle, and not a pleasant one if you are cursed with a brain and the wonder of what the cosmic gloaming shall hold for you.
Then there is me. Like the old song, the more things change, the more I stay the same.
When the oceans perished, I slept and later flopped on golden shores, glaring up at strange constellations, but my contemplation was a drowsy process and bore no fruit. When the lizards perished, I went into the sea and slept, and later wore the flesh and fur of warm-blooded creatures. When ice chilled and continents drifted together with dire results, I went into the sea and slept through the cataclysm. Later, I wore the skins of animals and struck flint to make fire and glared up at the stars and named them in a language I don’t have the trick of anymore. Men built their idols, and I joined them in their squalid celebrations, lulled by flames and roasting flesh; for I was one with them, even if the thoughts stirring in my mind seemed peculiar, and hearkened to the sediment of dark forms long neglected. I stabbed animals with a spear and mated when the need was pressing. I hated my enemies and loved my friends and wore the values of the tribe without the impetus of subterfuge. I was a man. And for great periods that is all I was. At night I regarded the flickering lights in the sky and when I dreamed, it occurred to me exactly what the truth was. For a while I evaded the consequences of my nature. Time is longer than a person made from blood and tissue could hope to imagine. Ask God; distractions are important.
Memories, memories. Long ago in a cave on the side of a famous mountain in the Old World. Most men lived in huts and cabins or stone fortresses. Only wise men chose to inhabit caves, and I went to visit one of them. A monk revered for his sagacity and especially for his knowledge of the gods in their myriad incarnations. I stayed with the wizened holy man for a cycle of the pocked and pitted moon. We drank bitter tea; we smoked psychedelic plants and read from crumbling tomes scriven with quaint drawings of deities and demons. It was disappointing—I could not be any of these things, yet there was little doubt he and I were different as a fish is from a stone. The monk was the first of them to notice. I did not concern myself. In those days my power was irresistible; let me but wave my hand and so mote it be. If I desired a thought from a passing mind, I plucked it fresh as sweet fruit from a budding branch. If I fancied a soothing rain, the firmament would split and sunder. If I hungered, flesh would prostrate itself before me . . . unless I fancied a pursuit. Then it would bound and hide, or stand and bare teeth or rippling steel, or suffocate my patience with tears, oaths, pleas. But in the end, I had my flesh. That the monk guessed what I strove to submerge, as much from myself as the world at large, did not alarm me. It was the questions that pecked at my waking thoughts, crept into my slumberous phantasms. Annoying questions.
Stark recollection of a time predating the slow glide of aeons in the primeval brine. The images would alight unasked; I would glimpse the red truth of my condition. Purple dust and niveous spiral galaxy, a plain of hyaline rock broken by pyrgoidal clusters ringed in fire, temperatures sliding a groove betwixt boiling and freezing. The sweet huff of methane in my bellowing lungs, sunrise so blinding it would have seared the eyes from any living creature . . . and I knew there were memories layered behind and beyond, inaccessible to the human perception that I wore as a workman wears boots, gloves, and warding mantle. To see these visions in their nakedness would boggle and baffle, or rive the sanity from my fragile intellect, surely as a hot breath douses a candle. Ah, but there were memories; a phantom chain endless as the coil of chemicals comprising the mortal genome, fused to the limits of calculation—
I try not to think too much. I try not to think too much about the buried things, anyhow. Better to consider the cycle that binds me in its thrall. For my deeds there is a season—spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Each time I change it becomes clearer what precisely maintains its pattern. That I am a fragment of something much larger is obvious. The monk was the first to grasp it. There was a story he mentioned—how the priests prayed to their gods, good, and bad, to look upon men and bestow their munificent blessings. They even prayed to terrible Shiva the Destroyer, who slept in his celestial palace. They prayed because to slight Shiva in their supplication was to risk his not inconsiderable fury. Yet, the priests knew if Shiva opened his eye and gazed upon the world it would be destroyed.
In the spring, I walk with the others of my kindred shell, nagged by fullness unsubstantiated.
In the summer, I see my shadow change, change and then I learn to blossom and suckle the pleasurable nectar from all I survey. Nail me to a cross, burn me in a fire. A legend will rise up from the ashes. Invent stories to frighten your children, sacrifice tender young virgins to placate my concupiscent urges. Revile me in your temples, call upon Almighty God to throw me down. No good, no good. How could He see you if not for me? How could He hear thy lament, or smell thy sadness? Or taste thee?
In the autumn, like a slow, heavy tide, purpose resurges, and I remember what the seasons portend. A wane of the power, a dwindling reserve of strength. Like a malign flower that flourishes in tropical heat, I wither before the advance of frost, and blacken and die, my seeds buried in the muck at the bottom of the ocean to survive the cruel winter.
I know what I am. I understand the purpose.
I left the farm and disappeared. One more name on the ominous list haunting law enforcement offices in seventeen states. I vanished myself to the Bering Coast—a simple feat for anyone who wants to try. An old man alone on a plane; no one cared. They never do.
There is an old native ghost town on a stretch of desolate beach. Quonset huts with windows shattered or boarded. Grains of snow slither in past open doors when the frigid wind gusts along, moaning through the abandoned FAA towers colored navy gray and rust. The federal government transplanted the villagers to new homes thirteen miles up the beach.
I don’t see anyone when I leave the shack I have appropriated and climb the cliffs to regard the sea. The sea being rumpled, a dark, scaly hide marred by plates of thickening ice. Individual islets today, a solid sheet in a few weeks, extending to the horizon. Or forever. I watch the stars as twilight slips down from the sky, a painless veil pricked with beads and sparks. Unfriendly stars. Eventually I return to the shack. It takes me a very long time—I am an old, old man. My shuffle and panting breath are not part of the theater. The shack waits and I light a kerosene lamp and huddle by the Bunsen burner to thaw these antiquitous bones. I do not hunger much this late in the autumn of my cycle, and nobody is misfortunate enough to happen by, so I eschew sustenance another day.
The radio is old, too. Scratchy voice from a station in Nome recites the national news—I pay a lot of attention to this when my time draws nigh, looking for a sign, a symbol of tribulations to come—the United Nations is bombing some impoverished country into submission, war criminals from Bosnia are apprehended in Peru. A satellite orbiting Mars has gone offline, but NASA is quick to reassure the investors that all is routine, in Ethiopia famine is tilling people under by the thousands, an explosion caused a plane to crash into the Atlantic, labor unions are threatening a crippling strike, a bizarre computer virus is hamstringing two major corporations, and so on and on. The news is never good, and I am not sure if there is anything I wanted to hear.
I close my rheumy eyes and see a tinsel and sequined probe driving out, out beyond the cold chunk of Pluto. A stone tossed into a bottomless pool, trailing bubbles. I see cabalists hunched over their ciphers, Catholics on their knees before the effigy of Christ, biologists with scalpels and microscopes, astronomers with their mighty lenses pointed at the sky, atheists and philosophers with fingers pointed at themselves. Military men stroke the cool bulk of their latest killing weapon and feel a touch closer to peace. I see men caressing the crystal and wire and silicon of the machines that tell them what to believe about the laws of physics, the number to slay chaos in its den. I see housewives scrambling to pick the kids up from soccer practice, a child on the porch gazing up, and up, to regard the same piece of sky glimmering in my window. He wonders what is up there, he wonders if there is a monster under his bed. No monsters there, instead they lurk at school, at church, in his uncle’s squamous brain. Everyone is looking for the answer. They do not want to find the answer, trust me. Unfortunately, the answer will find them. Life—it’s like one of those unpleasant nature documentaries. To be the cameraman instead of the subjects, eh?
Ah, my skin warns me that it is almost the season. I dreamed for a while, but I do not recall the content. The radio is dead; faint drone from the ancient speaker. The kerosene wick has burned to cinders. A flash from the emerald-colored bottle catches my eye; full of cologne. I seldom indulge in cosmetics; the color attracted me and I brought it here. I am a creature of habit. When my affectations of evolution decay, habit remains steadfast.
Dark outside on the wintry beach. Sunrise is well off and may not come again. The frozen pebbles crackle beneath my heels as I stagger toward the canvas of obsidian water, leaving strange and unsteady tracks on the skeletal shore. There is a sense of urgency building. Mine, or the Other’s? I strip my clothes as I go and end up on the cusp of the sea, naked and shriveled. The stars are feral. They shudder—a ripple is spreading across the heavens and the stars are dancing wildly in its pulsating wake. A refulgence that should not be seen begins to seep from the widening fissure. Here is a grand and terrible happening to write of on the wall of a cave . . . God opening His Eye to behold the world and all its little works.
I have seen this before. Let others marvel in my place, if they dare. My work is done, now to sleep. When I mount from the occluded depths what will I behold? What will be my clay and how shall I be given to mold it? I slip into the welcoming flank of the sea and allow the current to tug my shell out and down into the abyssal night. It isn’t really as cold as I feared. Thoughts are fleeting as the bubbles and the light. The shell begins to flake, to peel, to crumble, and soon I will wriggle free of this fragile vessel.
One final kernel of wisdom gained through the abomination of time and service. A pearl to leave gleaming upon this empty shore; safely assured that no one shall come by to retrieve it and puzzle over the contradiction. Men are afraid of the devil, but there is no devil, just me, and I do as I am bid. It is God that should turn their bowels to soup. Whatever God is, He, or It, created us for amusement. It’s too obvious. Just as He created the prehistoric sharks, the dinosaurs, and the humble mechanism that is a crocodile. And Venus flytraps, and black widow spiders, and human beings. Just as He created a world where every organism survives by rending a weaker organism. Where procreation is an imperative, a leech’s anesthetic against agony and death and disease that accompany the sticky congress of mating. A sticky world, because God dwells in a dark and humid place. A world of appetite, for God is ever hungry.
I know, because I am His Mouth.
© 2001 by Laird Barron.
Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,
Reprinted by permission of the author.