The western desert sank into darkness. The long twilights made his eyelids heavy. The man had forgotten his fatal, colorful coat and the dust of the well, the golden grain and the great monuments. Alone by the river each night, he remembered the darker and longer evenings of the prison, its solitude, its fragrance of death, its myriad mirrors in diamond dreams—dreams softer than beds of papyrus or petals, dreams deeper and clearer than artesian springs—architectonic, arcane, and aeonian—an underground astronomy of argentum and agate. In those depths rose unknown planets and stars into the limitless labyrinth of one world and one word.
They waited by the roadside for the coach, dressed well and animated. They were trying to convince a wanderer, a shabby man, who seemed to combine fresh youth and exhaustion in his features, manner and expression, to remain with them until the road coach arrived. They spoke of the rewards, the sites to see along the great highway and the comforts of the coach. The wanderer looked around at the wind blowing through the golden barley, at the racing clouds, and at their long afternoon shadows in the dust. There was something deeply painful in his eyes. Growing up, he started to say, as though launching into an epic while gazing into them plaintively. Then he just laughed, shrugged, and disappeared into the grain fields. Now and then they saw his shadow shapeshifting among the glimmering stalks. The road coach appeared in the distance, trailing a cloud of dust.
Once upon a time, a heretic was traveling in the west, when he came upon a beautiful walled orchard full of golden pear trees that belonged to a young princess. She saw the lean vagabond, and her heart opened. Come into my reign, she said, come in and eat of my pears. The iron gates opened, and the wanderer entered into the brilliant haze of leaves and hanging fruit. The birds followed him, for his coat was weighted with seeds and grain. For days and days, he ate her pears and grew stronger. She fed him many kinds of pears, and gave him her cider to drink, and their life was like a dream of nectar and ambrosia. The longer he stayed, the more the birds came to play in the trees and feed from their hands. She would ask him about these gentle winged creatures, and so he interpreted their ballads and their epics for her to hear, and he spoke of the birds that are and the birds that are not. As time passed, her head suffered migraines. She became reluctant to give the heretic his pears, and would limit how many he could pick or collect from the garden. She no longer brought him cider, and she looked at the birds with hatred and fear. One day, as he walked sadly through the orchard, she came upon him and demanded that he leave. You are no heretic, she screamed. You are holy death. You are the angel of death. She banished him from the garden and forbid him to take her golden pears with him. The wanderer left the beautiful orchard, and went to live in the dark woods nearby. A skeleton blossomed under the branches of a black pine. It is said that the birds did not follow, but remained to consume every last golden pear while the young princess held her head in her hands.
Strolling through the blazing wheatfields, the thief praised the glory of nature and the beauty of the blue skies and golden grain. One by one, he plucked the ears, and dreamed of the universe, how it was made of grain and sand, some 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 seeds scattered across the black empyrean. And he dreamed of that moment when the little stones of light, invisible to the eye, collided to create the moon, sun and stars. And the moment the first atoms made plankton and grass, and then the grass made trees. And the plankton made tadpoles, which became larvae and diseases, which changed into scarabs, which begot salamanders, who engendered frogs, fish, calamaria, and sharks, who turned into birds, who became dogs, and the dogs brought forth the deer, the giraffe, the oxen, the camels, the hippopotami, the bear, the jackal, the ape and the human. It would have been wonderful to see man or woman strike flints to see the first spark, for sparks are also like seeds, like grains, like little stones and drops of water. With his hand full of grain, the thief stopped to gaze into the sky. Beyond the cypress trees, a flock of black birds circled, as if forming an eye gazing into eternal emptiness. Nothing can be made of nothing, the thief whispered, his heart almost frozen. The wind blew the grains of wheat into the air, they circled like the birds, and then they were gone.