Letters - pt. V

“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.


© Tim Mucci, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tim Mucci with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Letters - pt. I

     I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully piece together what happened to my friend, Parabola Finch, last night. I don’t know how to understand it, even after knowing him since we were both teenagers, after reading letter after letter of his. We were the quiet weirdos of our suburban town. The readers. The loners. The seekers after greater mystery; drawn ineluctably to the stories of Tolkien, Heinlein, McIntyre, and Dick. We didn’t go to the same high school, but we knew the same people. We worked the same summer jobs and wove throughout the same slowly disintegrating friend circles. We’d share whispers when we’d encounter each other by chance at a random backyard party. As that final summer wound down, with high school behind us and college, jobs, and the unknown ahead, we lost touch. I’m not convinced that a true understanding of his can be found in our shared past, but must instead lie in our recent epistolary friendship. Years wound by, and we both stumbled separately toward adulthood. We found each other by email and starting chatting. Long chains of digital text gave way to handwritten letters. Letter after letter. Funny that it was a phone call that brought me here, to Finch’s desk. Trying to understand what happened.

 

     Yesterday, at around three a.m., I was awakened by a call from the Nassau County police. The voice on the other end apologized for waking me, but wanted some information concerning my friend, Finch. I didn’t understand why I was being called, and I said as much but the officer on the other end only repeated that mine was the only contact number they had; Finch was dead. I didn’t know how to understand that just then. The sudden death of a young man, a friend, left me stunned. There was silence for a while before the officer suggested that I come down to view Finch’s personal effects, and asked me if I had contact information for anyone else they should call.

 

     Was there anyone else? What did I really know about Finch? How did he die? I assumed suicide, but when I intimated that to the officer he rebuffed the suggestion. I considered murder, but before I could mention it, the cop said that they weren’t quite sure how he died. Some kind of freak electric accident.

 

     I was even more stunned. An accident? Finch had been going through some rough times in the past month or so. He’d just split from his wife—not a divorce, just estrangement. They’d grown apart, he said. He’d moved out of the small, well-decorated apartment they shared on Long Island, and had rented a garret room in an old boarding house near Lloyd Harbor. He’d lately taken on an obsessive need to write, and blamed the demise of his marital relationship on this. As of late he seemed almost to care more about filling up notebooks (which he did readily and with speed. I can see many from where I’m sitting) than about people. The people in his life, his family (what little he had left) and friends, became sources of synthesis for him. Objects he could release into his stories so that he’d always be in control the outcome. We often shared stories back and forth, and I frequently recognized myself and others in his tales.

 

     After I got off the phone with the police I couldn’t sleep, so I started sifting through some letters and emails Finch and I had sent to one another. We had communicated in some fashion at least everyday. We chatted and planned by email, but it was in our letters that we really talked. I empathized with Finch and his desire to write. We would often talk about taking a road trip to the woods, renting a cabin, and writing in solitude. It was a daydream for me, I guess. I enjoyed writing, but I didn’t need to do it with the same self-immolating passion as Finch. My daydream became Finch’s reality as he moved out of his co-op and into this garret room. Once he moved he stopped sending me emails entirely, and only sent handwritten letters. Scrawls of black ink on lined paper. Harsh slashes and gentle curves. It was just this morning, still foggy from sleep and terrible news, before the quiet of dark gave way, that I scanned one of the first letters I received from Finch after he’d moved.

 

“Sam! I know that no one understands why I had to leave. Why I needed to get away from everything. Why I needed to dedicate myself to writing and writing alone. For now at least. I think that you understand, and I know that you’re not going to judge me.  At least I hope you won’t. The pull was just too strong. I didn’t bring much with me. Pens, paper, my books, my notebooks, a portable typewriter, and a laptop. As soon as I moved in and put my stuff down I had the urge to write. The instantaneousness of it, the creative urge blasted out from this perfect solitude. This can’t last forever.”

 

     I wasn’t quite sure what he thought wouldn’t last forever. His estrangement from life? His urge to write? Not wanting to make him feel bad about himself I never pressed. I wrote him back, told him that I was excited that he was making the move to write full-time, but expressed caution about how this might affect his personal relationships. I also asked him to describe his new place to me.


“It’s off. It’s clean and neat, of course, but it’s an attic. There’s a separate entrance on the east side of the house; a rickety zig-zag of stairs that was added to the outside a while back (so the owners told me). The room is basically a large rectangle. The ceiling is a sloped peak, dormered—so that you can only really stand at full height when walking down the center of the room. It’s really pretty nice and roomy. There’s a tiny bathroom to the east; just a toilet, sink and a cramped shower (the bathroom ceiling slopes too!), and a small kitchen area just opposite the bathroom. There’s a little nook that doesn’t slope, an alcove on the north side, this is where I’ve put my writing desk. There’s a window on that wall, but it’s been boarded up. I’ll have to check that out soon.”

 

***


© Tim Mucci, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tim Mucci with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.