The dark river of forgetfulness rolled by quietly as two shadows played a game of checkers. One was tall and wore a corinthian helmet; his javelin and spear were planted by an ash tree nearby. The other was in black jeans and a black shirt with stone beads on his wrist; he frequently looked at a palm-sized, rectangular piece of glass that lit up now and then, displaying the absence of time or showing colored tessarae that had various functions that failed to impress the warrior. The man in black was complaining about passive aggressives, virtue signalling, fake news, and other mysteries. For a long time the warrior listened politely, stroking his heroic beard and puzzling over the meanings of the strange words in his friend’s diatribe. At long last, he placed his calculus on the board and said, I think I know what you are describing! We had a similar problem until the time of the tyrants, thousands of years ago, when they first built the theatre. The tyrant took that whole class of citizens and gave them something to do. A whole class? the man in black repeated with astonishment. What did you call them? he asked. Actors, the corinthian helmet replied bitterly. They’re called actors.
“And what do you think of Helicobacter pylori?” the scientist asked. “I like to think of it as a grave political mistake,” said the doctor, as he washed down his creosote, mastic, bismuth and licorice pills with a short glass of chartreuse.
In the north, they eat golden ammonia fish, black creosote eels, and mercurial prawns. Clouds are chimercal; water and stone is chemical. They sleep on gravel, and bandage their own wounds. They mine the endless snow and rain, and sometimes summer butterflies. They smoke their straw. In the northern seas, the oarsmen tell the tale of the scrawny mackerel. The mackerel lost its friends and family at a young age, and found it difficult to survive in the black waters. It went to a distant shore and met a marlin. It asked the marlin some questions about sea life. The marlin explained that the world was always eating itself. One had to beware of lying flora and destructive minerals. One was forever caught between the two. The marlin began to talk and to talk, weaving tale after tale to illustrate his points until the mackerel fell asleep. Suddenly the marlin swallowed it whole. Inside the belly of the marlin, the scrawny mackerel woke up in a dark, rosy twilight of brine and acid. It was not the end though. It would have to eat its way out of the eating.
It was an ordinary lamp with a tall black stand of carved wood, an amber shade with tassels, and a long black electrical cord. And one evening, a confessor beat this lampstand to death. In the house where he was lodging, he had endured days of listening to the man and his wife argue over the item until he could bear it no more. Abandoning his books, he stormed out of his room into the living room, dragged the offensive thing outside onto the second floor terrace, and began to strike it against the cast iron balustrade. Exhausted from the attack, he jettisoned the lamp into garden below. Something had shattered—most likely the light bulb. The landlords laughed until they were in tears, but the confessor left that very night and went to live elsewhere. One evening, many years later, the confessor dropped by to visit the older couple, thank them for their hospitality, and give them some presents. As he spoke of his misadventures, he noticed the man and wife exchanging furtive, suspicious glances. And just as he began to recall his departure from their home long ago with a bitter laugh and apology, his words trailed off. For behind the old woman’s chair the tall, black lampstand with its golden shade burned in the corner, casting its warm glow on their explosive laughter. Long after, whenever he wandered alone through the night country of dark streets in ruined cities, the rare vision of lamps through windows filled his heart with their butterscotch glow and bitter sweetness.
The lampreys are sad. They do not like the twilight sea. It only flows in one direction; its coloration is obscured by clouds of ink; it tastes of cold metals. It tarnishes their silver scales. What is worse, the lampreys never find anything to latch onto and suck. Instead, they feel as if they are being sucked forward, body and soul, into a great distance withour stars or starfish, where they cannot feel their innards, where they cannot feel the waves touch their outer skin. One lamprey who mysteriously escaped the twilight sea to return to our blessed waters said that even now, his hunting is obscured by that dreadful nightmare, and he is often blinded to things he could suck. It is hard to live. Moreover, despite the horror, he sometimes misses the sensation of having his body being vaccuumed by the great and unreachable maelstrom. Once, the souls who drift below asked him to summarize the sounds, tastes and textures of the twilight sea in as few words as possible. And the lamprey sadly whispered. Hunger. Time.
A monastery thrived in the dark mountains. The monks prayed and worked. Golden grain swayed in the fields; codices filled the libraries. The walls rose high into the starry heavens. All of the brothers got along well, and there were none of the typical vices or complaints. For miles all around, one could hear the church bells tolling the sweet rhythms of an earthly paradise. One brother was especially grateful and began to pray one evening to voice his thanks to heaven. An angel suddenly appeared and asked the brother what life was like. Exuberant, the monk said that he was living in paradise! A soul could only grow and continue to grow in such a place of purity and sanctity! It was quiet for a long time. Then the angel spoke into the penumbra of the cell. Sixty thousand souls have just perished from war and plague; I must gather many souls to take them to their blissful rest. I do not know if I shall see you again. The monk was horrified and demanded to know the reason. Nobody asked you to live in paradise, the angel replied. The road to heaven leads through hell.
Marching against their will down a winter road, the skeletons in chains headed for the towers of darkness. I told you we should have joined the other army, said one. You are an idiot, said his comrade. No matter who won, we were headed for prison anyway. Why would you say that? the first one demanded. Because we have voices, the other whispered. They stared into the silence of dead golden grass and naked trees immersed in snow. The wind blew through their threadbare coats.