The Chessboard 

In the time of wreckage and reckoning, when the world weirded, a skeletal chrome android dressed in a black hooded robe found a wandering humanoid on the beach where the ocean threshed the sand. It was midsummer’s eve, and the android proposed a game of chess. Having no chessboard at hand, the humanoid made one by drawingthe 64 squares on a sheet of thick sketchbook paper with some willow charcoal. The human only had a handful of real pieces–a white knight, a black bishop, and half a pawn, and so he walked along the surf and collected various things from the shore–old lighters, sand dollars, conical shells, pale driftwood twigs, glass marbles and bottle caps. These he consecrated as bishops, pawns, knights, and rooks. Then he coronated the kings and queens. They played and exchanged riddles. The equinox passed, the solstice passed, another equinox passed, yet another midsummer drew near. One by one, the android closeted the rival pieces. The humanoid was no match for its wisdom. What a marvellous game, the android laughed as the other wept. It is a losing game, said the human. I am lost. The android gazed at the giant breakers, and sighed. In one sense, you lose because you are human–and the game is only partly human; it is an abstraction, an alienation, an imperfection. Checkmate, he said, after placing his white knight. Then to cheer up his friend, he used magnetism to move his piece without touching it. Look! he laughed. The white knight is walking backwards! If you are lost, he can tell you where you should go! The other did not laugh, but played with an old lighter. A miraculous and unexpected flame shot out and set the board on fire. Do not despair, said the android, watching the checker pattern burn. You can never lose. You made the game, the pieces, and the chessboard. You dreamed and designed me. I only play what you thought of long ago. All of my moves are just afterthoughts. Then, he took the lighter from the human and placed the white knight in his cold fist instead. After lighting a hurricane lantern, the android wandered off, talking to himself. Behold! he cried into the waves of darkness. The ocean is never lost. 
[This story was inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s great film The Seventh Seal and the ancient Book of Changes with a nod to Lewis Carroll via Jefferson Airplane]

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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 Blood Orange 

The one word she whispered in the warm heart of time became his heart. A thousand generations are a thousand autumn leaves. It was the word of red clouds, red sand and terracotta, of carnage and desire, of stone saints, of the divinity that swims around the mountain of transcendence, the blood orange twilight of futility. Nine tenths of what once was is no more, if it ever was. And thus, the books whispered at night, having bled away their ink to become blank and restless. Our lips were the scars from which the blood runs fresh and sure, lost to the ceaseless emptiness of an obsolete word. The blood orange of the violence of time. 

The Cloud and the Sun

The cloud and the sun were laughing so hard they did not see the shadow riding through the hills. Instead, they continued to laugh at the poor man just below them who had taken off his coat and now burned under the brassy sky out on the treeless mesa. Now watch this, the cloud said. And he blew a strong, freezing wind upon the open wilderness, a wind full of hail and snowflakes. The world turned white. The mounted shadow drew closer to the mesa. The sun stared in amazement as the man just below shivered, put his coat back on and tried to walk through the deep drifts of snow. The cloud blew harder, making it almost impossible to walk. It was the most furious blizzard the land had ever seen. Not long after, the man once more took off his coat, which the cloud blew into oblivion. Then he took off all his clothes, which also took flight and disappeared. Alone and naked, the man stood with his arms raised to heaven and froze to death. Breathless, the cloud could barely laugh, but the sun bellowed with mirth and stared in amused shock at the statuesque body covered in snow. Suddenly, they both noticed the marshal on his horse. The marshal dismounted, and wrapped an old striped blanket around the frozen body. The marshal took a swig from a whisky bottle. Then, turning to the cloud and sun, he fired both barrells of his shotgun, reloaded, and fired again. The darkness of solitude and quiet fell.

The Phantom

Through a gateless gate, through a narrowness, a victim of an endless succession of thefts, through a thousand thresholds he cannot possess, the phantom rides in a land of rare rocks and high cliffs into the wind. Into the wind, which blows his being away, into one transgression after another, to wander in arcades far from arcadia in a stone abyss of steps and stadia, he rides and bleeds through rivers of forgetfulness. The phantom blurs into stars that give him no rest. The mineral prairie and cerulean steppe wash away the calligraphy carved in his chest. A dark horseman with scales, he then whirls around to measure another mile of forsaken ground.

The Archivist

The girl escaped the riots by traveling through mesas, prairies, and deserts. In the sanctuary of an abandoned white mission crumbling at the foot of the iron-gray mountains, she met the almost immortal archivist. The shadow introduced himself with immaculate manners and a gentleness she had never seen before. The man had burning, green eyes full of mystery and tenderness, like a young child still amazed and excited by the world. Dressed in a black frock, a white ruff collar, and long leather boots, she thought he looked like a figure from a history textbook or a character in a renaissance play. The archivist said that he had sailed on galleons six hundred years ago. The interior of the mission was practically a museum exhibit from bygone times. There were bookshelves of ancient codices, polished oak tables covered with manuscripts and charts, and coffers stuffed with relics. They stood over a table, where he showed her pictures resembling an unknown continent. She saw it begin as an almost formless mass in blank, bone-white oceans and acquire firmer and bolder edges of ink, more promontories and inlets, more precise curves. She asked him what the drawings were about. The archivist explained that they were the diagrams of thought experiments, or a succession of related thought experiments that had been acted out in space and time. And he spoke of handwritten thinking machines, diagrams, mind maps, memory palaces illuminated in old manuscripts, geometric drawings with proofs, astronomical tables and charts used for calculation. One by one, he showed her more pictures. Something was beginning to form in her mind. At last, she saw that the drawings were nothing more than maps of her own land. The archivist looked into her eyes with suffering or desperation and asked her what the thought experiments meant.

The Cougar

The cougar awoke into a blue night of rust and went out to investigate. All the cities were crumbling, and rivers bled ferrous water through the streets. It followed their streams, meowing but hearing no answer. All the buildings had been grayed with a film of petrified ash. It was a dirty white cougar of the ancient white mountains. It had traveled through the rock countries and had played with shards of broken glass and reams of tape, miles and miles of twisted tape and roll film left to blacken in the ever blue twilight. It did not know how long it had hibernated, but it had never imagined awakening to a world without sun and only the light of strange stars. In some of the streams, it found suspicious fish, and ate them raw. It meowed at the lampposts that still flickered, and listened intently to the automated factories still threshing and smelting and refining even though there was nobody left on the face of the machine planet. It investigated the reservoirs and shops where there were headless mannequins in lingerie or phonographs that played without end. And it stopped to listen and to scratch at things, and it wondered if everything were hiding in the music. And what did music mean?