It was a winter of rain and snow. A man walked into a church to inquire if anyone had seen his gifts. They had not, but tried to ask what kind of shopping bag they would be in. The man walked out, confused, and wandered amongst cats and lampposts. Later, at the police station, they wanted to know how he had lost them; at the pharmacy, they inquired when. Nobody could help him. Then he walked into a candy shop and once again announced that he had lost his gifts. They asked for a receipt or a description of the items, but he only replied that he suffered from the sleeping sickness. Once more, he entered the night, passing through mazes of stone and shadow. In a bar with a gold and yellow signboard, he drank some ale. Nobody there knew what he was talking about, either, especially as he did not seem to know who the gifts were for. In the end, he walked back into the night and stopped by a lamppost on a bridge. I lost my gifts, he said to the lamppost, his voice cracking. What happened? the lamppost asked. I don’t know, he whispered, opening his coat, unbuttoning his cotton shirt and exposing his scarred skin to the whirling snowflakes. They took them, he cried, while I was sleeping! That was cruel, whispered the lamppost, but there will be other gifts that they won’t find. Don’t let them know. They cannot take anything else if they think you are empty.
Through the tangle of the trolley wires, the white-faced clock burned the blue twilight and measured the threshold of the oncoming darkness, beckoning to him from beyond the dark windows. The nightfall threw everything into frost; the world atomized into infinite snowflakes–a dark yet shining blossoming for infinite thoughts wherein he would walk as a strange somnolence awoke. In the stillness of shifting space and snow, down forgotten and nonexistent streets, he walked with his one and only galatea, with the one and only galaxy, in a lonesome glacier of spirit and silence. For only into silence can what is spoken begin; for only within silence must the spoken end.
In a land of long twilights and melting guitars, a man was lost and confused. For he no longer remembered if he was trying to escape from the alcazar or to enter it. The moon and stars, for example, were both the celestial bodies glimmering above inaccesible ramparts as well as the embroidery of a tapestry on an interior wall. The stones belonged to a castle corridor and to some rockery in a country field. To enter or exit a castle, one needed passwords, and none of the shadows he encountered comprehended his words, so this did not help him. Sometimes he thought he looked out upon the world from a high tower; sometimes he seemed to be looking up at its reddish battlements from a great distance. The haunting voice of a damsel both allured and repelled him. Visions of the castle and the open earth bled their rust into each other, and he shivered. Nights are always cold and lonesome, whether you are inside or outside.
The moon that night was four-fifths gray and had a tail of two stars. It looked like a little cougar or a leaping cat. It looked like a silver dandelion about to blow its seeds into the galaxy. Or a lamprey. The burning, thin and tilted crescent smiled down from the dark indigo sky, and the traveler got up again, able for the first time in weeks to breathe and walk the stone paths along the shore of an infinite sea.
Once upon a time, a paleontologist and a monk would often encounter one another in the great far fields of stars and night trees. Sometimes, the monk would be on his knees, praying. At other times, the paleontologist would be on his knees, chiselling out stones or fossils by the light of a lantern or torch. One evening, they met as they were both walking from opposite directions of the road through the fields. Our lives are very similar, said the paleontologist. We spend a lot of time on our knees. Perhaps there is something like prayer in my work. That’s possible, said the monk. Perhaps when I pray, I am also examining stones and fossils in a different way. And in one sense, we are both communing with our friends. The paleontologist especially liked this last statement as he rubbed a trilobite in his palm. Then he asked whether they were praying or studying the same things. On your knees, you encounter what is up front and close, said the monk. On my knees, I meet what is behind and beyond. One is the reason for the other. The paleontologist was not yet convinced, but he took the monk by the arm and said, Let us walk together. The night is beautiful and it is true.
The darkness was in the glass jars. The strapling was in the chair by the road. They waited with their jars in a ditch, hiding among cattails and silver grass. When the jars had filled, they climbed the embankment and shuffled towards the chair. Clouds of breath mingled with the mist. Their boots crunched gravel and dead leaves. Now, said one to the strapling, let us see how much night you can swallow. Nobody ever makes it through the first jar. Someone forced the pale head back while another tilted the first jar and poured it into the strapling’s mouth. The strapling swallowed and swallowed with flashing eyes and jerking limbs. There was a long gasp when the jar was emptied. They gave him eight more jars. Once it had consumed the ninth jar, they unstrapped it and set it loose. Anything could happen. A white rope hung from one tree; a knife lay on a roadside stump. There were other temptations placed in concentric circles, the farthest at a radius of a mile from the chair. The strapling was oblivious to all of them. It whispered to itself and walked slowly into the middle of the road. Then it looked into the galaxy above. There was a sound of distant thunder, a shockwave, and then an atomic silence as one third of the stars above rained down. A rainfall of sparks, cold water and dark ash fell around them. They started to run, screaming into the electric air as stars continued to fall. The strapling sparkled with burnt stardust, its cold, pale hands reaching into the broken sky.
After many seasons of traveling, the young damsel arrived at the foot of the great round tower. It was built of luminous gray stones and rose to heights that only hawks and eagles have tasted. One could barely see the crenelated battlements at its crown. There seemed to be no discernible windows. A single tall gate with a portcullis yawned before her. Trembling in her dark cloak, the damsel went forward into the tower. The sergeants in chain mail holding crossbows and guarding the entrance barely noticed her. Inside, she met a cleric who whispered that she should mount the stairs. Crossing the wide flagstone lobby, she began her ascent of the spiral staircase that wrapped around a thick column, a tower within the tower. There were no landings or chambers to encounter; the stairs wound all the way to the top. Cold and breathless, the damsel thought she would fall asleep before arriving at her destination. Suddenly, the staircase terminated in a wide chamber still encircling the thick round column at the centre. Off to the side, a princess dressed in white sat on a small throne before a large table upon which rested a candelabra, a few letters and some writing tools. The damsel bowed deeply before the throne. The princess rose, and approached the table, inviting the damsel to come forward. She took a letter from the pile of papers, inspected it and asked the damsel if it were her letter. The damsel nodded, still scarcely able to breathe. The princess announced that the damsel’s request to be a nonperson had been approved. Her relationship with the state would be severed at once; she would owe no taxes; she was no longer subject to the laws of the realm. She would be anonymous. She would not exist. The princess laughed happily and congratulated the damsel, and bade her to follow. They came to a door in the round wall of the central column. Above it, there was a black signboard with something written in white letters and roman numerals. The princess took out a key ring, searched among the many keys, and then unlocked and opened the door all the way. It was pitch black beyond the threshold. It seemed to be a bottomless cistern. A strange and haunting scent like an invisible herbarium wafted up from the depths, a scent of cold water, ammonia, old trees, weeds, night skies, eel skins, mountain stones, worn out boots, fireboxes and matches, charcoal, dust and straw. It was the heady fragrance of infinite black night. The princess looked intently into the damsel’s eyes, her own eyes electric and a slight blush rising to her cheeks. The damsel stepped closer to the darkness. Without warning, the princess embraced her, almost crushing their cheeks together, and then leaped into the cistern. The damsel fell to her knees and stared in disbelief as the princess changed from an effervescent gossamer cloud into an angel, then into a pale death mask, a white crane, a bleached butterfly, and, last of all, a fragile snowflake caught in the black whirlpool of eternity.
In a colorless dream of nocturnal blue flowers, the sleeper asked the corpse which one of them was more blind or awake, for they had lost their candles and exchanged shadows because of the infinite calculus of stars they had forgotten to number together.