The mysterious smoker was often sighted on bridges or at the back of candle-lit cafes, near lampposts and next to arched gateways. Nobody ever got a good look at his features, but they sensed his presence and absence in both a menacing and reassuring way. It was long thought that he was integral to the narrative, the way a loaded pistol in the first act of a play might be significant, but then nothing ever happened to link him to any critical event. Some claimed that he made smoke signals to warn angels. Others divined words, signs, portents and fates in his curling blue smoke, the way one reads tea leaves or coffee dregs or the sudden flight of birds. Nothing was certain. After a brief flicker the match blows out in the wind. And thus he vanished, like his mysterious smoke.
An old grandfather found a raw youth sitting under a cypress tree lost in despondent thoughts. The old man asked what was wrong. The youth said that he had gone to see the priest, to ask about the book of life in heaven. The priest had said that it was just a symbol and there was no actual book in heaven. Wonderful, the old grandfather sighed, feeling a strange bitterness well up in his heart. Now they have even taken away his books and the right to read.
It was snowing. Smoking and thinking hard, the cryptographer watched the large wet snowflakes sparkle in the blue twilight through the window of his study. He returned to the desk, where the mysterious artifact sat, an ancient wooden box covered with a large lock consisting of several concentric circles or dials of various metals, some with the finger holes one would find on a rotary telephone, others with numbers, symbols, and scripts that nobody at the museum could decipher. One cigarette after another, he smoked and scribbled and thought about the mysterious box and its impenetrable lock. It was after midnight, some hundred nights since the beginning of this mess, that he solved the riddle in a glorious epiphany immediately celebrated with a glass of sherry. The numbers were for seasons and years; the runic symbols referred to metaphysical questions. It was only by sheer luck that he thought of the right question for this great and terrible year. The other years, their questions and laws, remained to be found. The lock clicked, and the box opened. Inside, to the left, sat various coils, batteries, hookswitches and a capacitor, all disconnected. To the right sat an apparatus that could have been a transmitter or speaker. The cryptogropher picked it up and spoke. Breaking all the laws he had hypothesized or imagined and almost breathless with a bittersweet fear, he asked several questions at once—where was his favourite book of woodcuts, who was the pretty girl on the train, what world was this and who would like to play with him in the snow? Then he held it to his ear. The night beyond flowed from the transmitter. It sounded like crushed stars, static and falling, wet snow. I really want someone to play with me.
In the realm of colophons, a young pilgrim became lost. She was making her journey into the great moment, but found herself lost in labyrinths of other momenta. What she found most difficult was the number of crossroads, the mimics among the trees, and the changing weather and seasons. A rainfall of whispers could follow a drought of intonations. There were nonlandscapes that bled through landscapes; quanta and qualia would throw their lights and shadows upon eachother. A tree of ink could dissolve into water. A stone could dissolve into the wind. There were vast wastes littered with fishbones and chariot wheels where there had never been seas or highways. She lost her parasol and blindfolds, her prayer beads and her cup, her coins and bone dice, her compass, astrolabe and telescope, her map and her almanac, and even her horse. It was hard to walk alone among the phantoms, chimaeras and mirages. Once, she stopped to ask for directions. She wanted to know if the orb of hydrogen was shining, or if it was the sun, or if it was a vision of the sun, a lion, a coded replica, a magic lantern trick, or some twisted combination of several or all of those possibilities. The passersby assaulted her skull and left her for dead. Almost naked, she staggered onward, fixing her hair into a classic chignon to remind herself that her body and heart and mind and spirit could still be real and beautiful. Symbols were bleeding from her and leaving tangible bloodstains, like dark burns or holes in the universe, upon the dust of the road. Sometimes she almost fell into them–how vast and bottomless they seemed. Now and then, she encountered other victims whose skulls had been rocked, sucked, cracked, probed, trepanned, hollowed out, stuffed with straw or used for libations. Most were beyond healing. It was often difficult to tell if the others on the road were statues, automatons, shadows, or real bodies, walking the earth, their footsteps almost making the same rhythm as her own. And yet, there were so few footprints in those glorious wastes, so rare that one would wish to kiss them or suck the rainwater from them. Wandering through one spiralling chronotope after another, she fell in love. The man was ancient and youthful. She found him writing in the sand surrounded by a circle of bones. Out of his hands and skull flowed a silent light. She fell facedown in the sand upon seeing him. When she awoke, he was carrying her in his arms. Now and then they rested on the glory of snowed mountains. Though he seemed to be mute, she read his radiant footprints that were mirrors of the world, of his soul and her soul. Whenever he held her head, kissed her, brushed sand from her brow, or held her hand, her skull and heart would fill with purity, and the chronotopes, the planets, the symbols and colophons melted into silence and into light.