There was a poor old lady who had lost her mind. She lived between the dark woods and the sea, and owned a russian blue cat. Though devoid of reason or memory, she never lost her generosity; though the cat was also in ill health, his devotion and loyalty to his mistress never faded. And thus began their descent into tragedy. For not long after she had fed him, whether it was morning, noon, or night, she would soon forget. Then, seeing his empty bowl, she would feed him again. In the beginning, the cat assumed this was the reward of retirement. He would end his days in one long, grand feast. As he ate his second or third bowl, he gratefully looked up at her now and then, thinking he was already in paradise. There is, however, no paradise on earth. As her madness progressed, so too the promptness with which she refilled his bowl. What had begun as a pleasant dream of eating now became a nightmare. Sometimes, he would delay or hide behind the cast iron stove or under the sofa, but she would sense his hesitation and begin to softly lecture him in a voice filled with hurt, worry or confusion. Was he losing his appetite? Had he fallen ill? Was her food no longer to his taste? He would try to explain, but could never bring himself to tell the full truth, for it pained him to see how her mind no longer worked and how its absence burdened her spirit. With a great sigh, the now heavy blue cat would pad over to the steel bowl, sigh again, and then lower his head to dutifully eat his meal. At least this brought joy to her; she would stroke his ears and fur, and wander off for a few minutes to iron the dishes or sew potato skins together until the next meal only moments later. The cat invented ways to gag down the now tasteless feed. First, he imagined a different kind of bird for each meal. There were sparrows, thrushes, doves, canaries, larks, blackbirds, nightingales, starlings, swallows, jays and shore birds. When he could no longer think of any more birds, each meal became a fish: goldfish, carp, eels, anchovies, mackerels, sardines, saury, fighting fish, baby salmon, trout, the cataphractus, smelts and sweetfish. The cat ate all the herbs of an imaginary garden, then the rodents, the wattle fences and telephone poles. He ate the switchgrass, silver grass, goldenrod, dandelions, cat tails, rushes and lilies. Then he began to eat the trees—yews, cypresses, cedars, elms, firs, cottonwoods, pines, horse chestnuts, linden trees, willows, black locusts, acacias, maples, and the golden larch. Through tears and cramps, he ate the gravel roads, riverside stones, the scree from the cliffs, boulders and mountains. In a moment of hallucinatory reprieve, he ate the cumulus, cirrus and nimbostratus; he ate the ocean currents, the waves, the driftwood and the glass fishing floats. Stabbing pains ripped through him as he ate comets, meteors and shooting stars. The cat ate the planets and the sun. Night and day he ate, until a great black void of stars and angels remained. The cat sighed. Then the cat whispered to nobody in particular that he would never eat the sacred stars or blessed angels. The angels heard his prayer and began to slowly glide toward him. The cat saw the stars flicker into darkness.
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 the night, the stars are white in a black sea. In the day, when I close my eyes, the stars are amber bursts in seas of crimson. The night stars live in the heavens far away beyond the sky. Where do the day stars live? Where are those amber constellations? The pale blue eyes of the child looked hard into the inscrutable expression of the old grandfather. They live inside of you, said the old grandfather. They are the stars of another universe beyond sleep and dreams. They are the stars of the galaxies that dwell inside your head!
The strange, conical vessel of smoked chrome, its color indefinable, had crashed into the rough surf on a long deserted beach. A lone naturalist abandoned his observation of night crabs to investigate. Onboard, he found an advanced and yet simple technology and the body of the solitary captain. The consoles lit up and infused the naturalist with instructions. He washed the body in seawater, carried it back on board, and placed it in a casket after wrapping it in dark linens. The cone whirred and whispered, crackling with something quite blue and seemingly electric until a catastrophic explosion of thunder shuddered outside. The vessel lifted off and ascended into the galaxy. The voyage was long. For days or years the naturalist was infused with an epic, or possibly the ship’s log. Moons had cracked, planets had burned, time had warped like wood left in water. The golden dust of nebulae had sung. A transcription of its song followed. It was beautiful but incomprehensible. It trailed off, and then there was silence, as if the song of the nebulae had eaten through the log, eclipsing everything else, until the captain had lost his way and crashed. Through the portholes, the naturalist saw the golden stars, but they were silent. One day, the ship suddenly entered into orbit around a soft green planet marbled with swirls of mocha and vanilla and great black craters. Night fell and only one cluster of lights appeared on its surface. The cone initiated its calm and unhurried descent. It landed sideways in what looked to be the mould of a cone set on rails in a gigantic railway station. Only one humanoid person was there to greet him and the wheeled stretcher on the cold, empty platform with its rusted wickets and luminous, moon-pale analog clock of illegible numbers and sharp, black hands. Dressed in a dark, woollen coat, the beautiful woman had mauve skin, copper hair and mournful golden eyes. She spoke telepathically at first, accustoming him to her language as she led him through the wickets into an abandoned city of brick and stone. They brought the casket to a mausoleum in a cemetery full of willows and maples. She prayed and wept for a moment, then took the visitor by the arm to a steakhouse with the sign of a cast-iron lion. Inside, they dined on rare steak and potatoes by candlelight, served by tarnished androids. Through the windows, he beheld the maze of cobblestone streets, narrow shops and houses, arcades, antiquated lampposts, the distant outlines of castles. Where is everyone? he asked, finally able to converse. They are all gone, she sighed. The day our ship left on its maiden voyage, the afterburner caused a multifaceted catastrophe that annihilated almost everyone. I alone have survived. To return to your planet, you would have to annihilate me. I do not mind, but I fear that you would encounter nothing upon your return to your planet, just as you found nothing here. To travel is to destroy. The naturalist was no longer hungry, and he pushed his plate away to drink his ale in silence, remembering the song of the nebulae. They went outdoors and walked up a great hill in a park overlooking the clocktower and the city. A cold, starry sky swirled above. I am sorry, she whispered, hugging him tightly, rubbing his cheeks with her tears. We never meant to disturb your planet. All of our science assured us that we would find salvation at the end of our travels. The man stared into her golden eyes and hugged her fiercely. Where were you heading? he asked. To Eden, she said. To the morning star.
A physicist was punished for various intrigues and thrown down the interminable shaft of a modern day oubliette. An oubliette was originally a type of medieval dungeon, dug into the lowest depths below a castle and only accessed by a one-way entrance—a hatch through the ceiling above without a ladder or stairs leading back up to it. In other words, it was a cellar for permanently disposing of human garbage and forgetting about it. It was oblivion. The shaft the physicist entered was so deep, they gave him a second hand parachute. After an eternity of falling through darkness, the blue parachute blossomed just as the floor of the oubliette opened up and darkly glimmered below him. Slowly, he drifted down and landed on dark sand and stone. To his surprise, the ceiling was still very high and vast, and the floor appeared to be a plain of scatteted dead trees and adobe huts. The light came from gaping holes in the ground that revealed a deep sea of stars and planets. Curious, the physicist whispered as he knelt by the edge of one hole and looked down. Clouds drifted by now and then, but the golden and silver stars continued to blaze into an infinity below. The silence was magical, and the physicist relaxed as he entered an adobe hut. Through the entrance and windows, he could still see stars. And lying down on the dry, warm earth in that great quiet, the physicist decided to make his home within his punishment.
The moon voyages began some two thousand years ago. The first to land on its soft surface became embroiled in a war of cloud centaurs, vegetable humanoids and canines made of acorns. Another traveled there to discover all the lost things that earth missed, such as bottled brains and parasols. There were reports of travelers who discovered perfect civilizations in its metallic craters or unusual ways to view an eclipse in the extreme cold. Some later found canals and rivers without ships or navigators, but these tales only lasted for four hundred years before being buried in absolute unbelief. Later, the moon had a short-lived career as a stage actor or character in a bloody tragedy and then as a kind of mobile saltwater dairy farm. Some years ago, the moon voyages yielded only great speeches and haunting footprints. It was otherwise desolate, utterly desolate. The moon is still silent. And watching. One can only imagine what secrets burn deep within the stars.
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.
After watching the small meteor burn up in midair, leaving only a few dark snowflakes of ash to drift gently down to the earth, the boy stared at the dark blue sky and remembered the smell of burnt coffee at the hospital and the smoke of the crematorium, and he said to himself as he walked home through tawny fields, haunted industrial marshes and arcane mineral streets of concete and cast iron, I am not made of stardust.
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?
There was a corrie of stone and ice where the travelers would gather by the light of certain stars, ambiguous solstices and unthought eclipses to pass through time and space and harvest the good light, the good water, the good wind and the good fire, for with these the sons and daughters of men and women were healed and built into great giant cities of stone and strength. One opened the gate through speaking the old language. One traveler loved the language; he loved and spoke all languages and remembered the times, but the old language was best and was like a fountain within his body and soul. They called him the bear, for bears have big jaws and love rivers. As time went by, the bear noticed that fewer and fewer travelers could speak or revere the old language, and took no precautions as they traveled. They brought illness into the corrie and spoke deplorable words. The gate of stars would often not open. Pilgrims who came to the travelers for guidance and healing became increasingly lost and sick. At times it seemed as if the very stones of the corrie were shifting and crumbling. The travelers still came in the seasons of traveling, but instead of speaking the old language, they forbid others to speak it, and sat around discussing the beauty of their sickness as if it were a gift from heaven. They were dying from their deplorable words and killing others as well. One day, the bear fell sick from an ordinary disease, and wandered into the high peaks to cough and sleep in solitude. While convalescing in the high land, he spoke the old language to himself and found himself traveling high roads through stars and black holes he had not thought possible. In those heights and depths he found great worms of stone, oarfish of mists, and krakens of water. There were silver trees of lightning and golden whirlpools of fire. The earth drew light and strength from the heavens, through his body, and he felt well again. On rising, he surveyed the sad earth from which the old words were vanishing, and knew now that every broken stone and dried up river is a forgotten word, an irreverant grammar, a deplorable sentence, a blasphemy. When he went back down to the corrie, he found that more than half of it had crumbled into a glacier, and the other travelers sat oblivious on a shifting precipice, reading their sores and scabs as if practicing divination, and cursing everything above and below heaven. It was then that the bear realized that he had been transformed into a real bear.