The crucifix towered on the edge of the high cliffs of a pit at the end of the earth that fell into the sea, into a cove with a great churning corry. Night and day the whirlpool thrummed and soughed, the winds moaned and screamed. The sides of the pit were two crescent shaped promontories, again of sheer cliff, that gave the ends of the earth the appearance of a clamp or wrench, or two scythes curving towards each other. They may have whipped him lightly, if at all. They did not nail his hands or his feet. Instead, they secured him to the crucifix with ropes made from old whips and chains, but in such a way that hanging was not very torturous, though it was not painless. Ravens trained by augurs brought him food and water. For days, he listened to the horrifying song of the pit and its whirlpool, an incessant sound that magnified at times but never subsided. One by one, they came—pilgrims and outcasts, naked and clothed. They would murmur to the wind or weep before throwing themselves headlong into the darkness of the pit and its cold ocean spray. On moonlit nights or days of clear weather, centurions, legionnaires, the occasional augur and senator, even slaves would come to picnic below the giant cruxifix, eating roasted lambs, loaves of fragrant bread, black olives and figs. They drank heady wines, mocked the hanged man, laughed hideously like hyenas, sang paeans and hymns to their conquests, proclaimed their laws and lectured on their superior science and justice, before packing up to return to they city with its endless dramas, public hearings, lavish banquets and chariot races. The man hanged in silence. The pilgrims and outcasts returned, mumbling and weeping, or silent as the stones on the moor. Some prayed or sang before leaping; others took out parchment and wrote lengthy epistles. Some even burned their books or lit themselves on fire before jumping into the pit. Once, a beautiful maiden in a white chiton approached. He had never seen anyone so beautiful. They conversed, and he saw that she was a poet and an astronomer and a deaconess of the sacred way. His heart burned with love for her purity and beauty as she picked flowers and discoursed on the meaning of the constellations and the eternity of grace. Then, she suddenly plumbed the depths of her body with a dagger and threw herself away into the abyss. The hanged one wept until he lost consciousness. Perhaps he even briefly died. Travelers later reported that they had passed through this desolate country, and had seen the punished criminal still alive and still fed by ravens, speaking strange words to passersby. When they asked a ploughman or a cart driver who it was that sang proverbs and prayed old songs of hope and joy, they laughed and said he was an antiquated type of madman. And what type would that be? the travelers would inquire. A priest, they whispered, but one could hardly hear them for the roar of the wind and the waves in the pit.
The angel brought the blindfolded doctor into the shade where the dark woods began. This is the border, said the angel. I will escort you into the darkness in a moment before leaving you. What is this place? The doctor trembled, feeling the cold hyrcanian air blowing through black needles and dripping undergrowth. It is the silent wood, also known as the forest of suicides. When someone wants to die, they lose themselves in its depths, walking for days until hunger, exhaustion, hypothermia, wolves or bears finish him off. Then I am to be murdered? Not at all, the angel laughed. You are a man of skills; it will be much easier for you to survive. It is more of a contemplative retreat offered freely. The doctor inhaled the fresh, ozonous air and wanted to believe the angel. Why this punishment or this forest? Some revenge for a tragedy long ago, a malpractice case? Not quite, the angel sighed. They say there are some 164,000,000 life forms in this particular forest. It is the perfect place for you to contemplate the 164,000,000 deaths that will occur in the next ten years from unnecessary or adverse medical interventions—and that is a conservative number. It is also the tonnage of waste your hospitals produce throughout seven countries in only one year. Sadly, the amount of debt created, money wasted or stolen, and the poverty figures far exceeded anything we could dream up in a practical manner—there was no forest big enough to match your needs in that respect, but this one will suffice to give you a general idea. They say that the silence and darkness have a calming, soporific effect, and nothing is better for beginning pure contemplation, confession and penance than a good night’s rest.
It is sometimes called the blackbox. It is not black at all, but perhaps it should be. It is the hybrid of a radio and a refrigerator, a camera obscura, a labyrinth, a code matrix, and a battery. The wiring is intricate–one is tempted to think of bombs. Though they can explode and implode, this is actually quite rare. What is not rare is the amount of destruction it can unleash. In the last century alone, this machine was responsible for at least 160,000,000 wartime slaughters, 100,000,000 suicides, 87 million garden variety homicides, and one and half billion abortions, all totalling about a quarter of the world’s population today. Only about 20% is used or known to work, according to the ancient proverb, which means that 80% sleeps in darkness, just as 80% of the universe sleeps in darkness. On the thin shores between twin unknowns, the black box crackles with signals and commands. It breathes. The black box is the most haunted place in the universe. It might even be its own universe. Its ghosts are imperceptible from the outside. They travel in whispers and mute screams no electricity can detect. Their long, steely fingers scratch at the coffin-black spaces between signals and circuitry. They make a pilgrimage for a surface they cannot find. It is an inverted pandora’s box, an insane asylum in a bag of raging winds, an aegis that consumes itself, the lone eye of the gray ones orbiting itself in sheer emptiness, the magnesium flashing head of the gorgon that turns all things to stone, a saturn eating its own offspring. And yet, it is only a small football of fat sizzling with electricity in a fragile cowl of bone.
The time traveler was bursting with excitement as he traveled to the land and time of the pyramids and the great inundations. A cloudless blue sky stretched eternally over the endless white sands. After visiting the site of the pyramids, he made his way to the city, in search of a renowned scholar who had written treatises on trigonometry and suicide. Although he admired the scholar’s genius and foresight, he also could not wait to demonstrate the advances of mathematics, science and astronomy. The city was desolate. After searching various streets he knew from archaeology, and finding nobody, he began to panic. A dead horse gathered flies by the roadside. The cloudless sky burned. At last, he came upon an engineer, working with some complicated irrigation machinery by the river. The engineer spoke through sign language and writing in the sand. The time traveler said that he was looking for the man who posed the following word problem: when the pyramid is 250 cubits high, and the base is 360 cubits long, what is the measurement of the slope? You are too late, the engineer laughed and gestured, for he died centuries ago. He wrote a chronology in the sand for emphasis. What time is this? the traveler asked. It is the time of plagues. Which plague is this? the traveler asked. It is the apparent end to the plague of silence, said the engineer. Are you the one who wrote the treatise on plagues? The very same, said the engineer, playing with various, unidentifiable machine parts. Nobody has written of your plague of silence; it is mentioned nowhere, and at any rate, we know now that such plagues were mere proverbs and parables, not events! Besides, your chronology is wrong, and it is you who are too late–you were supposed to be alive ages ago! The engineer set down his tools again and asked the time traveler to speak of the future. The traveler spoke of flying machines, pandemics, bombs that wasted cities, raising pillars of cloud and fire, of machines that produced visions of love and suspense, and of machines that could think and speak. Those are not events, the engineer laughed, those are parables, too! Do not be afraid, though, this whole world and the universe is a word problem or a parable. Where can I find the bloody trigonometrist? the engineer demanded. I don’t know, the engineer sighed. I’m not a time traveler and my land is in ruins, as you see. There are real events, the traveler screamed, kicking at the dust to erase the chronology in the sand. It is not one giant parable or word problem! The engineer pondered the sand and the cloudless sky. It was in the days of the plague of silence. The lost traveler sat down and wept.
A lawyer once said that in the beginning the world was built so that certain signs would come before certain events. Another lawyer many centuries later whispered this quote to the sergeant as they watched a burning comet high above the wheatfields one night in late summer. Tomorrow they would certainly find the corpses of poor suicides. The sergeant said that for him the whole world and its history was a sign. What, then, wondered the lawyer, is the event?