The Oubliette 

A physicist was punished for various intrigues and thrown down the interminable shaft of a modern day oubliette. An oubliette was originally a type of medieval dungeon, dug into the lowest depths below a castle and only accessed by a one-way entrance—a hatch through the ceiling above without a ladder or stairs leading back up to it. In other words, it was a cellar for permanently disposing of human garbage and forgetting about it. It was oblivion. The shaft the physicist entered was so deep, they gave him a second hand parachute. After an eternity of falling through darkness, the blue parachute blossomed just as the floor of the oubliette opened up and darkly glimmered below him. Slowly, he drifted down and landed on dark sand and stone. To his surprise, the ceiling was still very high and vast, and the floor appeared to be a plain of scatteted dead trees and adobe huts. The light came from gaping holes in the ground that revealed a deep sea of stars and planets. Curious, the physicist whispered as he knelt by the edge of one hole and looked down. Clouds drifted by now and then, but the golden and silver stars continued to blaze into an infinity below. The silence was magical, and the physicist relaxed as he entered an adobe hut. Through the entrance and windows, he could still see stars. And lying down on the dry, warm earth in that great quiet, the physicist decided to make his home within his punishment. 

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The Enigmas 

They are not thieves, though they can be said to thieve. To thieve and to war without scars, without possessing. They will come. In the crepuscular time, in the tattooed, blue twilight they will come, with their hands filled with stars, planets and sands they will come, their shadows upon the earth like the blades of ancient scythes. Mountains disperse; clouds become comets; the city rearranges itself into new iron labyrinths of sighs from the whispering acacia and the secretive bosom . It may be that your white bedroll will melt into the black water of time; perhaps your black automobile will transfigure into white laundry. In the red morning, the blood orange of a deplorable sun will light the faceless statues of all that survives. 

The Citadel 

The citadel was built into the side of a mountain, a confused, terraced mound of walls and quadrilateral buildings of pale stone and clay that formed a gigantic trapezoid. The endlessly blue sky burned above the sawtoothed peaks of snow. It was a beautiful place filled with the music of celestial bodies, a place of eternal serenity. One day, a richly dressed queen arrived with a train of camels, and was greeted at the lowest gate by the gatekeeper, a beautiful but poorly dressed woman. The wandering queen asked if she could live in the citadel. The gatekeeper replied that all who renounced the world were welcome. The queen asked what the palaces looked like inside. The gatekeeper explained that there were quiet courtyards with acacia and chestnut trees, minimal and solitary cells for sleeping, vast libraries, kilns for the earthenware, refectories, scriptoria, and physic gardens. The queen was not impressed, and felt that the kilns, courtyard, and libraries should be cleared out to make way for menageries, pantries, and theatres. She refused to enter until these changes were made. The gatekeeper shrugged and would have closed the gate, but the queen demanded asylum. The gatekeeper offered asylum on condition that the queen sell her caravan with all of its riches and beasts. This the queen refused to do and decided to seek out a magistrate with a large bodyguard to help her enter the citadel. Leaving her camels, she went out and found not one but several magistrates with bodyguards and an army of curious followers. She bribed, threatened and seduced them all into coming with her to rape the palace. When the queen returned with her contingent, all she found was the idle caravan of bored dromedaries laden with jewels. The empty mountains stared back at her with their radiant and impenetrable questions. The citadel and its palaces had vanished into thin air. 

The Book of Life

An old grandfather found a raw youth sitting under a cypress tree lost in despondent thoughts. The old man asked what was wrong. The youth said that he had gone to see the priest, to ask about the book of life in heaven. The priest had said that it was just a symbol and there was no actual book in heaven. Wonderful, the old grandfather sighed, feeling a strange bitterness well up in his heart. Now they have even taken away his books and the right to read. 

The Distance 

An alchemist once accidentally followed a river backwards, starting at the source, not knowing at the outset that the tiny spring would become a stream, the stream a creek, the creek a river, the river an estuary, and the estuary an endless ocean. Being an alchemist, he took samples of the water at every stage, storing them in little glass bottles. On the seashore he tested them all. And aside from insufficient variations in impurities, salinity or mineral compositions, he noted the obvious but inscrutable fact that all the glass bottles contained the same element of water, regardless of the stage of the journey during which they were filled. The alchemist watched the shore birds and tried to remember all of the fading landscapes. 

The Sultan 

Once upon a time, the sultan baked a royal pie, filling it with all of the glorious and delicious fruits of his secret and sacred garden. While the pie was cooling, an assassin crept into the palace, cut the pie into twelve pieces, replacing all but one with inferior and poisonous pie slices, identical from the outside to the single original slice. Then the assassin fled before his knavery could be discovered. The sultan served the pie to the haseki sultan, who was an expert in algebra and daydreaming. As she was about to eat the pie, she thought, what if this wonderful pie were not whole? What if only one piece belonged to the original pie her beloved sultan had baked? And what if all the other pieces had been poisoned by a crafty assassin? What formula could she employ to solve the problem? 

The Red Inkstone 

Red inkstone and rainwater mixed as the priest prepared the ink for writing on the dead. They were scattered throughout the old capital, many of them lying pale and supine in the great courtyard by the grand gate. No greater plague had ever swept through the land. Carrying the ink in a bronze chalice, the priest wandered from body to body, painting the first letter of the name of salvation on the foreheads. Because of the rain, which had momentarily stopped, he had made the ink thick, almost like paste, but he was certain it would wash off during the next shower. He had to hurry. Praying and whispering, he wandered from corpse to corpse, writing on the dead. One body sat up, and cursed him. Heaven is illiterate and color blind, it coughed, before falling back to the earth to die. Another body nearby, possibly a thief who was nearly caught in the act of stripping the dead and was trying to hide amongst the bodies to cover his shame, straightened up and started to smoke his pipe. Heaven is a foreigner, the thief said, and only speaks a foreign language. The smoke drifted over the gray and crimson carnage. No, thought the priest, heaven is a thief, and he painted the letter on the other’s forehead as he continued to smoke nonchalantly and watch the birds eat in the falling rain.