There was once a man who walked into the silence to raid the ineffable. And in the morning, he reasoned with the fishes, but they began to rot. Thus, he walked from the shore and into the hills. Then he whispered to the cedars, and they smoked and turned to ash. Once again he walked through the broken towns of dirt and stone, a man of law in a lawless place. And he argued letters and numbers with the shadows, but the shadows ran away into the darkness. In the silence of the eclipse, the man who walked prayed, as one by one the flown birds were extinguished and became extinct. Who was this mystic? the teacher interrupted in rage. What an inept, shallow novice! Who could he be? And the angel wept, and whispered, The One all mystics seek.
The old tower shifted and then crumbled during the earthquake, obstructing the great road. The starving pilgrims looked like scared black foxes in the twilight. One pilgrim sat down in the rubble, and whispered to nobody in pariticular, “What an impasse! Now we shall have neither wisdom nor excess!”
In a moon-white desert full of sand and blue stars, the three magi traveled quietly on their camels, heading into an obscure east. Three nights had passed since the strange star had vanished, since they had departed from the holy cities and their weeping tombs. In later legends, they would be called kings by dreamers, and this was an accidental truth, but only a half-truth. In the east they were awaited not by homes but by angels prepared to escort them back to a distant country of mists, shades and petrified willows far below the earth where everything sleeps. The oldest of the three thought about the hill country they had visited, and vaguely recalled a curious affair of searching for donkeys and falling in among the wandering minstrels and prophets in those very same hills long, long ago. The second, his son-in-law, enemy and usurper, thought of the sheep he had tended not far from the stable they had just visited, of the lions that once prowled in the nearby wilderness, of the soft damsels one sometimes encountered on the way home from the blooded fields. The third, the son of the second, pondered the unfamiliar temple of the holy city, the impenetrable riddleof the stars, and the calming fragrance of straw and hay. Before long such thoughts faded; they could no longer distract themselves and their thoughts from the carpenter, the quiet virgin, and the mysterious child held to her breast. The ghosts meditated in silence as the bells jingled and the camels made quiet footfalls in the sand. A thousand years had passed since they had seen the holy city. Perhaps another thousand would pass before they saw it again. It is a terrible thing for kings to witness the birth of a king. And it is a terrible thing for kings to return to a kingdom not their own. The old grandfathers, ghosts of time, fell into a twilight sleep. The camels were only miniature dark shadows beneath the endless stars.
In hell, it is no uncommon thing to see ghosts, walking nightmares, shadows of indefinable depth. The broken stones, slanted towers and crumbling, cliff-like streets invite the constant haunting of the imprisoned mind, the chained soul, the perennially garotted heart. Hell indeed has nine circles, but they frequently subduct into eachother in tremendous and explosive earthquakes of dark flame and scarring sound. In those quiet nights between such tremors, it is said that a rather peculiar ghost
haunts the streets, walking silently, whispering ancient words, sounding hours, calling out invitations to the granite faces that make mouths against the emptiness. The maimed one walks with cruciform shadow, a beggar cloaked in dried blood, leaving a trail of nails and wood splinters. Nobody ever follows him, this maimed one making rounds by candlelight, like an incongruent firewatch in an impossible and invisible inferno of cold fire. And yet everytime he passes, it seems a vault or arch lights up, a skull softens, a distant and forgotten bell chimes. It is a face that the souls of the lower depths long to recognize or understand, a ghosted face, a radiant body, an illegible cipher. And in those unbearable and short intervals when his broken silence breaks through stone and fire, the souls hold their breath and long to breathe the pure wind of another world. And in those sixty seconds or less, hell is beautiful.