A confessor was speaking in the dusty square of an old town with a pale cathedral and a blond brick clocktower. When he had finished his discourse, a pretty young woman cried out angrily, “Oh, bullshit! You’re full of bullshit!” The confessor looked calmly at her and asked, “Bullshit? In clear ontological and epistemological terms, explain to me how it is that you are not the very epitome of bullshit itself.” Shocked, the woman burst into tears and ran off. The clock struck twelve, the bells rang and the crowd laughed ambiguously. Some days later, as the confessor was returning to town from a short excursion, he saw the pretty woman rolling around in a carrall, much to the bewilderment and annoyance of the bull. “And how long has this been going on?” the confessor asked. “Three days,” the bull lamented. “I won’t go into details, but she seems obsessed with my, well, you know…” The woman was covered from head to foot in ripe, pungent dung. The confessor made her get up, and took her to a fountain in the town square where he carefully washed her with some soap borrowed from a barber as she sobbed and whispered to herself. “Maybe we will try some grammar and rhetoric before we attempt philosophy or astronomy,” the confessor kindly suggested to her. She embraced him tightly and wept harder. The clock struck one, but the bells did not ring. The confessor thought that someone should look into that.
A young woman lived alone on the high plains between the sawtoothed peaks of indelible mountains. To pass the time, she collected sacred footprints, old wooden wheels that could fit into her palms, golden tape measures, brass coins with holes in their centers, silver tweezers, and the odd gear or screwdriver. One day, she encountered a fox, the most beautiful fox she had ever seen. It could teleport from one place to another. One moment it was on the horizon, and a moment later it was resting under a dried-up tree close by. The longer she gazed at it, the more she wanted it to keep her company, but she remembered that foxes are dangerous beings; their presence only leads to trouble. She walked on, scouring the land for stone beads, rare things, and sacred footprints, when the fox began to speak to the wind, telling it the story of the enchanted wooden horse. The woman had never found one of those before. Curious, she stopped to listen as the fox related all of the misadventures and mysterious exploits of the wooden horse. The shadows shifted on the rocks, sand and golden grass. Clouds raced back and forth across the high blue sky. Night began to fall when a cluster of stars formed themselves into a galloping, white horse. It must have been the enchanted wooden horse itself, descending from the sky in a light, quiet snowfall. The white horse neighed and trotted up to her, bringing its soft muzzle down to her cheek. Then the young woman gasped. The fox was nowhere in sight, and all of her screwdrivers, stone beads, wooden wheels, brass coins, silver tweezers, golden tape measures, rusted gears and sacred footprints had vanished. It has long been said in legends and in lectures that the words of a fox remain in the air for a long time after he has gone. In the great night of the mountains, the young woman rode the white horse through the endless desolation.
To read the book of time is to be inspired to write other books, and thus every planet and every world has become a library. On a machine planet a shepherd read the great book of time while tending to his sheep of cast iron and lead. Only one in a hundred sheep would provide steel wool; only half would survive the galactic winters. Through dusted concrete pastures, down tunnels of naked light bulbs and across railroads and scrapyards and mounds of coal and slag, he faithfully led the sheep, resting now and then to smoke or search for straw and stray tools. When he had finished reading the book of time by the light of an old train signal, burning like a tiger’s eye in the darkness, his heart burned with a thousand books, tens of thousands of thoughts, hundreds of thousands of words. At the same time, he hungered for more books, more words, more thoughts to devour. Not a single new codex turned up on his nomadic searches, but he did find a book of blank pages, a book that rather resembled the book of time. The only thing left was to read and write as time permitted, and this is what he did. A word or two by matchsmoke, one page here and there in the company of growling and purring metallic sheep. One day, in the graveyard of rubber tires, the censors arrived with gendarmes and arrested him for reading a forbidden book, for plagiarism and for crimes against truth. They seized the two codices—one bone-white and the other gray like steel wool. The interrogations began at once while the bailiffs and sergeants built a ready-to-wear gallows in a matter of seconds, anchoring it on a mound of coal dust. The censor read out the charges again and demanded the reason for the shepherd’s activities and his refusal to strip for his execution, which was a crime of resistance. The shepherd claimed not to have known that the book of time had been banned. Great books were difficult to come by, and he had found his copy in an abandoned kiln, where books turned up now and then, most of them half-burnt as kindling. Since he had so little time to read or write, he had been forced to choose. And thus he chose both—he copied words from books, especially the book of time, which was the only reading material still in his possession—so that he could immerse himself in the joys of both impression and expression. The censor shook his head in disgust. The shepherd said that from time to time he would slip into a daydream or trance, and during those minutes or hours his pen would not follow what was printed in the book but what randomly appeared in his mind. Thus, in the thousand pages of his bone-white codex that still had some blank spaces left, at least one hundred had not been copied, but had come from the pain in his heart and head. For this reason, the shepherd requested that he be allowed to wear his coat and hold his codex as he hanged. It is a strange thing to hang a legend. And the poor sheep were left alone.