And unseen, this tremble, this ache wrapped around the back of the skull, into the sinews of the neck like bile staining crisp linen, the remains of ichor around the mouth from where we fed on gods, wanting to remember this shake in the bones, these half-words falling out of the mouth, spittle between the syllables, the cry of a wolf who knows there is no escape from the trap, the low bays of horses who have never known a moment without bit or bridle, this hunger for something other, a place that is not here, this fog you carry with you and lay over each place you end up, a failure of answers, a hiding place. There is nothing to see here.
breath covers breath
was this the remembered place? the place of still-time, of solidified aether staining the grass, trapping spirits, frozen hollow to the touch, the tactile memories somewhere between a low valley flood, an onyx-vein torn through an unmaintained highway, a mound of abandoned gray-polluted beeswax. was this the place where the slow rolling throb summoned you from a place buried beneath your bones?
in the trees, bound up in the nets they once trapped fish with, corpses with hooks in their hands attempt to pull themselves over with frayed and eaten muscle, roll themselves over to watch you move, watch the dances you learned from the flight-paths of sightless birds, the steps of a sky-bourne Salome.
your position shapes the air around you, shapes the drift of scents in the
woods, shapes the hungers and dreams of the blackbirds and crow-dogs who
walk the perimiters, searching for ditch-water to wash their mouths of the
soot drifting out from smouldering overturned automobiles, their blackened
wares spilling out like candy from a fallen stocking. the spirits follow
the air-pathways back to you, to the warping and whorling of your hips
shifting, your hands slipping into the light-streams. little wonder the
village-children whisper your name in their treetop fortresses, gathered
round the rubicons of transgressed boundaries, their new clothes still
loose around them, their fingers and toes just barely peeking out at the
edges. little wonder the bases of the great trees who scrape their crowns
on the belly of the sky hold small carved idols bearing your shape, left by
those staring into the distance, walking the wall of this world. little
wonder that this place is run through with a song only you can hear.
keep me here, and tell me your story, just a bit longer, because i am
afraid, and i am not ready, not ready, not ready, no, i am not ready to go
take me far away
This was February, and it must have been about five below outside, the windows all blurred sheets of ice, but this aunt I had never met before couldn’t adjust her radiator so there was a fan on in the room, back and forth, and while she tried to tell me a bedtime story I would focus out to the sound of the fan, and back to her voice, and back to the fan, too sick to stay with anything for more than a minute. My older sister Rissa was not pleased, as she was too old for hearing stories and had in fact taken over telling me stories before I slept since we stopped living at the house, passed between relatives and friends every couple of weeks, so Rissa pretended to sleep, her eyes barely cracked open to make sure this alleged aunt didn’t make me into stew or anything. This aunt, whose name I can’t remember, in fact all I remember is she had really long hair and she wore perfume all the time, she started these stories as general variations on Disney films, but I made it clear that I wasn’t having any of that, and so she started telling me about when she was a little girl and how she knew a witch named Vons Serin.
“How did you know she was a witch?” I asked, which was actually a test, as any kid worth his Keds knew how to tell a witch.
“She told me.”
This was entirely unreasonable. “She *told* you she was a witch? What kind of witch was this? She must have been pretty stupid whatever she was.”
“She had these three daughters, only I don’t think they were really her daughters, I think maybe they were adopted? Maybe? And so these girls were a little older than I was, and we had career day at school where everyone had to have a parent come in and talk about what they did for a living, and so the sisters had Vons Serin come in and talk about being a witch.”
“They let a witch in the school?”
“Sure, we were desegregated. And it’s not like she was going to pull anything in the middle of the day.”
“I bet those girls were actually part of her coven!”
This aunt got a bit animated at this, and said “That’s what we all thought! Because they didn’t look alike and they didn’t even have the same last name, these girls were the Solehn sisters and so why was their mom named Serin?”
I had apparently dropped my reservations at this point, more curious than skeptical, and this aunt told me all about Vons Serin, how she was not like a regular witch who made potions and ate little kids, how instead people who wanted to remember or not remember something would go up to her creepy old house and would pay her to change their memories. This aunt didn’t actually know how it was Vons Serin did this, but she knew it took all day and there was a part where there was a kind of ritual and she would make this humming sound like bees make and soon that person remembered things or forgot things, only it seemed like it never worked perfectly well, as sometimes people remembered things differently than how they thought things really happened, or they couldn’t remember things they wanted to remember, and everybody got kinda fed up with this after a while, so Vons Serin and her “daughters” left town one day and nobody heard from them again.
“We heard rumors, though. And I’m not saying it’s true, but what I heard was everywhere they went they picked up a new child, and Vons Serin taught them how to do the memory magic for three years and then they went out on their own. We also heard she could get memories out of dead people and bring them to life.”
“Like zombies!” I said.
“A little like that but also different, because dead people, if they’ve been dead for a while, they don’t really want to be alive again, so if you bring them back they’ll do what you tell them for a little bit and then they just want to go back to being dead. They don’t want to walk around and eat brains or anything.”
“You know that this isn’t a scary story.”
She thought for a minute, then said “But! I’ve forgotten all about the scary part! When she would take these kids, she would go find a dead kid and bring them back to live and make them look like the kid she had taken with her, so word got out that somebody in our class was actually a walking around dead kid. I figure they must have been recently dead and so they still wanted to do the things they did when they were alive, so it’s different, but so out at recess we decided we’d have a trial and everybody would have to prove they were actually a living kid and not a dead kid.”
“And nobody could do it! We all tried and tried and nobody could prove they were alive! Because how would you even know? You were out playing and goofing off and it wouldn’t even cross your mind that you used to be dead, because she could change your memory! You’re thinking you’re always just the person you are but maybe you’re not! So think about that, hot rod! Now go to sleep!”
At which point this aunt would laugh and turn off the light, and I tried to get comfortable in some strange person’s bed and figure out why I wasn’t really a zombie while listening to the fan go back and forth. For the next two weeks this aunt and I would talk about Vons Serin the memory witch and I would try to prove I was alive and she would shoot me down and Rissa would roll her eyes at the both of us and listen to Reign In Blood on her Walkman. Soon enough we bounced off to another house, another strange bed and a new set of strange house noises, and when I tried to explain my new proof of existence to my uncle Larry he looked at me like I just took a dump in the toybox and I didn’t mention it again, but I kept thinking about it, being a morbid kid, until eventually I figured it didn’t really matter.
If there is a final wisdom, is there a means by which this intelligence can be made comprehensible?
THIS IS THE NATURE OF THE UNVEILING. YOU ARE MADE WITNESS SO TO UNDERSTAND AT END OF TIME
What level of engagement has the surrogate within the confines of the final wisdom?
THIS IS DEPENDENT ON THE SURROGATE
How should the surrogate be prepared?
THE BODY IS A BELL FROM WHICH ONLY ONE TONE RINGS
Backwards. Sleepless. There were infants who had removed themselves from the womb with claw and fang, sinew strung between teeth, feeding on the insects now clustered around their mouths and eyes as they lay, perfectly still, awaiting prey. In the marketplace such infants were bought and sold to be kept in front foyers to keep out thieves, or used in soups. There was a basement room where soldiers of misfortune gathered after the war to rant and spit at the cowardice of peace, plotting how to make the most of the groundswell of anti-governmental opposition which had been rising since the currency became worthless. a scar-line across the knuckles to identify party members. Lamps fueled on a thick white fat filled the room with dim light and a smoke that stuck to the skin, residue you could lick from your fingers. Trucks packed with speakers drive slow circles around the city, playing People’s Music and calls to appease the bloodshed. A woman with missing fingers has been speaking on topics roughly related to “Genetic Destiny” while distractedly folding a sheet of green paper into a house, a swan, a spider. The air is filled with wind-up toy birds tethered by thrice-used string to the wrists of children, who stand numbly in the park and wait until they are allowed to go home. Some of the children are missing, with nails driven into the ground to hold down the false birds. The throat collapses with certain word-combinations, and the bodies remain where they have fallen, dated only by the soot which covers them. Everything we touch we taint forever, which only haunts as we have fallen in love with a mythic space which continues falling away with each glance. At times, in the wire-hung tunnels beneath the cobblestones, there is no way of knowing if one has been deafened, the silence is so absolute. Street sweepers push false tracks into the mouths of empty mines which pop up from the street like sewer-worms, attempting to lure the street rabble to their heart-bled ends, keeping the population down. The townspeople talk often and at length about how great their new technology is, how much easier the world is thanks to the miracle of assisted walking. He asked her to take off her clothes and put her head inside the skull of an elephant.
the three doktors [excerpt]
and i saw your journal, your book of prayers, your means of softly
guessing at time, your hidden dresden bone china dolls, your flakes of skin, your scraped and curled photographs, your efforts to build of your words a boat to drift through the years, your cloud-images, your theories on weather control, your defoliants and spray bottles, your half-broken spectacles, your mouse-skull necklaces, your loops of sheet music, your oscilloscopes, your manikins of bride and groom corpses, your coating of chalk dust, your stuffed lambs tied to the ceiling, your medical journals of diseases of the mouth, your models of alternate aircraft, your recordings of generative ghost-fiction, your carpets arranged like demented french gardens, the buckets and the fluids, the things you carry inside you, the songs you still sing to yourself, the broken toys you almost throw away every spring, the clothing you’ve kept from people you used to love, the blank and broken screens, the knicknacked bookshelves, the taste of metal in your mouth, these are the solidification of your memories, your dreams.
and i saw three doktors, and i knew their names: manuel sela, maurice
devonshire, and john green. i see them upside down and floating. there is a liquid cloud with surrounds them and their voices come to me in broken pitches and speeds. the bones in their chest move beneath their skin, until their ribcages begin to open, like the pedals of a flower. in the hollows of their bodies there is a nest of beads, pearls, eggs. i was able to move my legs like arms, able to hold things with my toes, which were bare, though they had not changed shape or form. but there was nothing to hold onto, except i hold your name in my hands.
and i saw the fluids in my body as a trap for slow ghosts. an interaction vector for certain forms of corruption-in-the-memory. a host-net for the dreams of neurologically deformed children. manuel reaches to me with my arms and begins to pull the teeth from my mouth, and i see in the hollows a small crystal-rot growth, which maurice takes from the teeth through elongated fingernails, until a fine grey dust spins circles around the doktors. john moves his arms out of their sockets and they slide down the sides of his body until they rest just above his hips, where he spits a thick blue fluid across his fingers, creating a web which he uses to collect the grey dust. globules of blood and saliva orbit my head in slow spiraling arcs. the three doktors shimmer and become image-warped, and beyond them i can see claire, who i have known for years as the space woman. she pulls the blue web from john’s fingers and holds it before her face, where her breath brings solid shape to the mass, contracting, pulling towards. the alien intelligence. the. the alien intellgence has has become addicted to human stimuli, and aches to fit beneath the skin. claire the space woman holds my body in her hands. there is a coolness which covers her, which moves onto and across my skin like feeding insects. she wraps her legs around me, her ankles crossing over the small of my back. the blood catches in her hair and is gone. i break the fingers in my hands to form alien mudras, i pull the cords in my throat to speak another language. the organs in my body begin to climb atop each other. with small fingers she finds the hole in my skull and shifts bone away, and the clotted remanants of my brain stain the air. i can feel her breasts paint streaks and circles against my chest. the muscles in her jaw tremble and tear. my eyes fall backwards into the hollow inside my skull. close and away, close and away, we fall toward each other. she licks the stay fluids from my cheek, from the space behind my left ear, from the hollows of my shoulder. i can feel my body begin to numb, to pull away from me, and just before i am lost, she places her mouth onto mine, takes the air from my lungs, and heaves something into me, and then everything is gone.
It was upon that spot that I had the first of three VISIONS, in which THE LORD placed images into my brain informing me that to do the work to which I had been assigned I could not walk upright as a man, whose belly is made unshielded to the daggers of the witch, but should become a WOLF-GOD so as to find these idolaters and eaters of infants in the dark places wherein they dwell, and there I would interrogate them by tooth and claw until they saw fit to confess or were returned to the servitude of THE SATAN, no more to haunt the earth in that form of temptation and abandon. It was later, having invited one of these deluded souls into a motel room under the pretext of fellowship in her dark arts that THE LORD bestowed upon my the second VISION, of which my legal council has asked that I not make record at this time until my incarceration within the belly of the black iron secular prison of MAMMON comes to an end. I shall, in the following letters, tell of this what I can, and attempt to explain my actions from this period until the third and final VISION, at which point all began to go awry and I was placed in a place apart, where not even the divine signal I gathered in the crystalline intelligence nested in my spine like an antenna could find its way to me, and I, it must be admitted for my record to be authentic to the sense-data which passed before my conscious mind, began to go astray from my duty.
Years earlier I had first come across one of the drainage-shrines while wandering the steam tunnels beneath campus, my brain smudged and blurred with psilocybin mushrooms, trying to decipher the runic chalk-scribblings of my fellow undergrads along the concrete walls. My friends, all english majors with self-conscious haircuts and Melvins t-shirts, were trying to figure out how to get to the computer lab without having to trudge through the particularly nasty Iowa winter, but from the corner of my eye I thought I saw a vibrant orange glow, so I went left as they went right and crouched down between two large water mains for about three hundred yards. I entered a mid-sized room with a bowl-like floor covered in about a foot of water, in which three turtles hunted for insects, small letters in day-glo orange script paint-penned on their shells. The walls were covered in the same script, an incredibly elaborate combination of INSERT. For two weeks, instead of attending classes, I would sneak back to the room and transcribe the text as best I could, making special note of cross-references to other nodes. I did more exploring of the university steam tunnel system but found nothing else comparable and set the project aside for a couple months. One night I was working on a term paper in Mahouk, the only twenty-four hour computer lab on campus, when I overheard two kids in World Industries t-shirts downloading Army Corps of Engineers topographic maps looking for drainage tunnels to skate. The older one, whose name I no longer remember, didn’t much want to talk to me, but Jason, the younger one, was a bit too tightly wound, full of manic energy, happy to have someone to spill his constant stream of dialogue on.
"See, so this here? This is the river valley, which used to run like I mean a hundred years ago or somethin’ it ran out this way, I don’t know what made it switch up I think it was a drought but don’t quote me on that, but when they started building real big downtown in the twenties they made this second riverbed the drainage path, so that you see all these here? Where this cuts across here? So all the parks and anyplace that’s up, like up past a hundred feet, they ended up cutting these paths down, you see ‘em all over if you know to look, and I mean fuck that’s half of skating right there is looking, like you probably never really looked at a curb, right, or a handrail, right, but it’s like it’s all there if you look for it, so that’s why i’m trying hard to hit the schooling, become like an architect, that’d be fucking wicked building all these places and nobody even thinks to look and notice ‘cept some kids skate up and see it and it’s like fuck, man, look at this shit!"
"So you go down in the drainage tunnels?"
"Oh fuck, yeah, all the time, I mean we used to hit pools but it’s Iowa so there’s not that many pools and once you—"
"You ever see, like, a shrine? With weird writing on the wall about the highway of mirrors and little junk-figures?"
For the first time that night, Jason stared at me, not saying a word, until finally he whispered “Who the fuck are you, man?”
"I saw one of these rooms beneath the college, here. I’m trying to decipher them all, but I don’t know where they are."
"I seen a couple. I could show you only they’re kinda far from here."
"I have a car."
Jason smiled, touched his fingertips together like Nosferatu, and said “Oh reeeeeeeeeeeally.”
Over the next few months, Jason and I made weekend midnight runs all around the city late at night, after Kelly went to sleep, where he would try (and fail) to teach me how to skate, and I would give him a crash-course in Emersohn’s hermetic narratives, trying to make connections I didn’t then (and still don’t) have the analytic rigor or depth of background to fully understand. It being summer interim, I spent practically all the time I wasn’t at my miserable telemarketing job either sewer-crawling with Jason or in the library, searching for books on Kircher, Fludd and Bruno, trying to learn kabbalah and cryptography and calculus so as to find my way into Emersohnland. By the end of the summer we had found five more drainage-shrines, each of which containing completely original work, each of which with its own series of site-specific designs and diagrams. It never occurred to either of us that we might actually meet Rv. Emersohn, find him scribbling his codes along the wall.
When classes started back up again neither Jason nor I had much free time, and since I had plenty of transcribed text to pick over and make sense of, we stopped doing midnight runs and ended up, like so many people I knew from those days, falling out of touch. I had started crafting my course load around my new interest, and was too busy bootstrapping myself through my classes, which is where I first met the person I’m staying with now, who first brought my attention to Mayan archaeoastronomy.
"See this? This is, this is a Venus god as xux ek, or wasp star; you can see that because of the honeycomb and the wings, and it’s an element of eclipse, and this over here, this is another Venus god, one of the four Bacabs who raised the heavens after the great flood. See these teeth? This is Hozanek, the western star, which…fuck, I’ve got a copy of the Dresden Codex around here somewhere, you seen it?"
"Could I kill roaches with it?"
"You could kill *dogs* with it."
"Then no, I haven’t seen it."
"Shit, I can’t remember any of this…no, wait. This is from the Popul Vuh. This is Hunahpu and Xbalanque."
"Which means what?"
"The short version is they become Sun and Moon and when one cuts the head of the other it’s an eclipse."
"Which is which?"
"I can’t tell. You draw for shit."
"I was in a drainage sewer. Cut me some slack."
"So what does this all mean, then?"
"It’s a warning of an impending flood."
I’m thinking about all this now because I got a call today. During one of my fits of productivity I had put up a few flyers around campus advising my services toward thesis and “freelance” research, which went months without a reply. I assumed whoever was on the other end of the phone was a telemarketer, or a reprogrammer from the data-processing cult I belonged to for about a week.
"Hi, my name’s Joanna Belgman? I read the flyer? Are you still doing that?"
"Yes, um, still available for research assistance, certainly."
"It’s not for school, it’s…I’m looking for someone."
"Are you sure you don’t want to maybe talk to someone like a private investigator? Or something?"
"No, it’s, you see, I’m…I’m looking for Rv. Emersohn, and I heard you’d done some research on him."
Across the phone line I could hear a radiator kick on, hear her breathing, hear line noise, and I heard her begin to speak as I hung up the phone.
I never thought anyone would take me seriously. I figured no one would notice at all, or if anyone did would know it wasn’t real. I was really into the idea of Ballard’s invisible literature: trade magazines, pamphlets, statistical analyses meant for in-house use, flyers. I went with flyers. This was in Iowa City, and it was common for Psych students to do some guinea pig work as test subjects. The list of requirements on my flyer was baroque and perverse. I figured I was being Rabelaisian. Not that I’d read any Rabelais at the time. That’s just how desperate I was to impress people with my intellect at the time. When the first call came in, I figured someone was playing the joke back on me, the sort of weird emotional game of chicken you play with strangers when all you know is your fucking thesis. This was not the case. I had a test subject. I am not entirely sure if I had committed a crime: fraud, possibly. This was before we thought of ourselves as a cult. There was barely an us at all. I guess that’s how it starts.