“I came upon a veritable wall of dead things. A natural fence of desiccated branches, emaciated saplings and ill-fed ivy vines clung together and blocked my way forward. I kicked at it and found that it broke apart easily. Beyond was the steady upward slope of a ten foot hill comprised solely of black rock. The forest hugged the perimeter of the hill, and the trees bent inward slightly. Peering over the natural fence like overbearing relatives. The saplings that formed the fence grew from dusty soil at the edge of the rock line. The rock looked volcanic. Flat and angular, with a dull luster. On the top of the hill sat the monument I’d been seeking. An obelisk of brown stone towering above me, blocking out the sun. I stood in its shadow. Words aren’t enough.
The black rock looked shattered and uneven. As though the monument had pushed up through the Earth, broke through the surface from below with volcanic force. The brown pitted stone of the obelisk stood stark above the glassy blasted rock. It looked ancient. I needed to be closer, to make certain that this wasn’t a dream or a psychotic break.
I made my way up the black rock. I expected the rock to splinter like shale, but it was firm and so smooth that I lost my footing and slipped a few times during my ascent. I cut my hand bracing my fall, but I couldn’t feel the pain.
Then I was there. Winded, bleeding, exhilarated. I was witness to the impossible. A thing like this could not exist in a place like this. I touched it, rubbing my cut hand across it; a streak of dull purple against red-brown stone. Aged and worn, but not pitted as I’d thought. No, it was graven. On all four sides and stretching up to its speared point were letters. Writing covered it. I did not recognize the letters, they weren’t english, or cyrillic. They didn’t look like logograms, hieroglyphs or pictograms. But they were words. Sentences. Words.
And as I stared at them, at the impossibility of an ancient obelisk sitting in the center of a Long Island state park, the words began to dance upon the stone. They twisted and writhed, sinuous as a flexing muscle. A buzzing, the sound of dying cicadas, rose and fell from the woods around me. Lulling me into a trance aided by the snaking symbols, and as they spiraled skyward and my eyes ran across them I found myself understanding. I still couldn’t read it, but I knew. It was telling me a story.
It’s funny, because throughout this entire thing I’ve had it in the back of my head that I’ve somehow found my way into one of my own stories; a paranoid search for my own humanity. Now I realize that I’m in one of yours, Sam. Unmade by the vastness of the universe.
The plinth spoke to me. I saw images in my mind. I saw a world. A forest with yellow skies, grey clouds, and black leafy trees with bruised pink trunks. Hardscrabble ground leaked volcanic steam. Trekking slowly across it, barefoot, were robed humanoids. The creatures had furry arms and legs. Their legs shook with each step and behind them they left a trail of bloody footprints. They were exhausted, wobbling like newborns, fur matted and oily, tired but determined. The creatures picked their way through that corpse-wood until they came to a hill and obelisk of their own. When they saw it they stopped before it and swayed uselessly. Then they dropped to their knees. I could see the dense rock drive deep, piercing flesh and breaking bones, but they didn’t seem to notice the pain. All they did was fling their arms skyward and scream. And from the screams a chant filled the air. A warbling shriek of words and sounds. Desperate supplication riding waves of fear. And the words on the obelisk crawled along the surface of the rock.
It was hard to tell where I was at this point. I could taste the acrid air of this alien world. I could see the plinth atop the black rock hill surrounded by forest. I could hear the screaming as it tore through both worlds. My eardrums vibrated violently, and just as I was about to vomit and throw myself upon the volcanic rock I felt a pulse of silence disturb the noise. The creatures fell quiet at the base of the object. A steady thrum beat the air, scanning the yellow sky of the alien world, and the iron grey of my own, I looked around to find its source. A slender figure spiraled out of the sour candied sky, breaking through a thick storm cloud. The clouds covered it like a cloak which slowly dissipated as it fell. Then, huge wings unfurled and flapped in a great beat, once, to halt the descent of the thing. Another thrum hit the air as its wings flapped again, and a gust crashed upon me like a wave. Its skin was a deep oxblood. A blunt hammer-head sat atop a slender and muscular neck. It had four limbs; all shaped like arms, and had a long, powerful back that ended in a short, tapered tail.
It wrapped its wings around itself again and dropped from the sky like a stone, then parachuted to a stop by once again opening its wings. It leveled out smoothly and glided downward. Toward the obelisk. Its face was eyeless and lipless. Reptilian teeth grinned in menace. The thing exuded a weird terror akin to looking up at the night sky and watching the stars go out, one by one. Of watching galaxies pulse and then wink out. Leaving you staring upward into a universe of nothingness. My armpits and feet grew damp with sweat, my mouth dried and I could feel my balls shrink up into my body; the true fear response of a species meeting its superior. When the thing got close to the plinth it gracefully sailed around it once, then grabbed hold of it with its prehensile fingers and mounted the tip. It secured its purchase, then folded its wings around behind itself. Two large membranes at the front of its face shivered as it craned its head, first down at the worshippers and then at me. The membranes drummed loudly as it whipped its head back and forth and gnashed its teeth. Then, like a tree frog, it clambered about the plinth to gain a better vantage. To see me. It was huge as it hunched above me and those wide membranes beat out a slow rhythm, but otherwise it stood still. Still as the rock it perched upon.
The words carved into the plinth continued to shiver and sway, and then etch themselves onto the creature’s rough, red hide. They danced up the plinth and spiraled onto the flying monster, and the creature didn’t move. It seemed to focus entirely on me. As if I were expected to do something. To tell it something. And I did. I told it a story, and as I spoke the obelisk continued to pour its language onto the entity. The story of the entity. The description of the entity. A word, a book, a sentence. A symbol that represent a greater idea. What are we but a collection of words? What are we but a story our DNA tells to the universe. The obelisk. The creature. Me. Made of all the same letters. Maybe, though. Maybe that’s the only way I can make sense of it?
When the red thing was covered with language it pushed off and glided away gracefully. The gentle currents of the wind carried it far. With a few deft flaps it gained altitude, and once more, story laden, pierced the storms above.
I couldn’t help myself. I held my hand against the plinth. Desperately. I don’t even remember when I switched fully back to our world and away from those wrong skies. I don’t remember making the choice to reach out my bloodied hand. To place my palm on the cool stone.
When I did I saw it rise. It rose up, not in the world where my hand was. In other times and other places. Smashing up through shale, soil, dirt, sand, water, molten rock. Penetrating the reality of a thousand worlds. The letters slid up my arms and now down through my pen and onto this paper. Then, soon, seen by your eyes and up into your brain. Then you’ll write them, and share them…
The words are what’s important. Not the obelisk. Not the yellow skies, or black lightning, or wailing creatures. The world is made up of words, Sam. Chair, window, desk, God. Syllabic constructs deep with meaning and context. The words are what are important, and now they are part of me. Language is creation. What exists without it? I am it, it is me, it is the creature and the obelisk. It is the stars and the night sky. Now, it is you too.
The storm is getting worse. The skies are black and roiling with clouds. The rain is torrential. The obelisk is obscured, now. Lost in the rain clouds. But yet, even at this remove, I can feel the patter of rain on its surface. I can feel the trees swaying around me, hissing in fear at the electricity in the air. I too fear as the electricity builds and fluxes. As the clouds thunder across the sky, readying their bright and wild swords. This is definitely one of your stories, Sam. A dark pantheism where even the very sky is alive and ravenous.
I suppose the themes that I love are still here, somewhat. Now that I see through the counterfeit of reality. That we are all and ever one thing. All that has ever been is in us. As I breathe, unhindered by rain and wind, I can feel the storm all around me. I can feel the tickle of static as millions of volts of electricity caress the obelisk out in the park. The strikes are getting closer.”
And that was it. Just a dark scrawl on that last page. I can’t believe any of this. I’d always known Finch was out there, but this—this is too much. Too much to believe, and yet. Yet here I am, sitting at his desk, writing with his pen. Writing words and staring at the boarded up window. Puzzling over the blackened wood hidden beneath the fresh boards which barred the window. In my mind’s eye I can almost see through those boards, I can see those treetops that Finch described, I can see a heat-blackened obelisk jutting just over the tree line, a scrawl of words spiraling up its sandstone hide. I want to see that.
It couldn’t hurt for me to pull the boards down. I think I should, in fact. I’ll tell the officer that I’m leaving, then I’ll sneak back in and stay the night. I can write until morning and pull those boards loose at first light. To see if it was just a story.
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