November 8th, 2010

S.C. Hickman

Achamoth's Laughter

"D'Arcy Thompson remarks that the modern founder of species classification, Linnaeus(1707-1778), used the simple, descriptive terms used in plant and animal categorization to group crystals he found by color and shape. When the structural connections that give minerals their distinctive shapes and qualities were discovered to be strictly mathematical, crystals were defined by formulas thereafter. The nature of the object and its study was forever changed."
      - Ioan P. Couliano, The Tree of Gnosis

At last the strange object for which I’d longed for so many years came into view: the dark blood stone, the mysterious artifact of ice and fire; a sculpted monstrosity of onyx and unearthly metal, polished beyond human reason; a twisted amalgam out of the mind of some mad artist, an alchemist’s dream of mutation perfected, a magician’s pledge to chaos and demoniacal splendor which under the guise of the Great Work was none other than the final link in a crime that stretched back to the beginning of Time.

For years I dreamed of this day, a day that would tempt me to forfeit everything I’d accumulated for a lifetime - billions in stocks sold off at rates only a lunatic would have understood; yet, it had all been worth it. Now the ‘Tears of Sophia’ - or, as the Archonii called it, "Achamoth's Laughter" (Ἀχαμώθ), was finally in my possession. This strange... what shall I call it? - object, sculpture, religious icon, abyss radiance, timeless void of all human thought... ah, no particular set of metonyms or metaphors, no figuration of hyperbole could encompass the dark raptures revealed in this mystery of mysteries. 

No one understood more than I the tremendous responsibility that now befell me as I held the object in my hands. I knew that certain unscrupulous men had been seeking this object for millennia, that secret societies throughout history had been devoted to acquiring it for their evil purposes. I knew also that many had been killed, whole peoples had been expunged, annihilated in the search for this precious artifact; and even now my own life was threatened by certain devious and powerful men who would use any means to secure it from me. I understood all this from the beginning, from the time that I’d first received the Letter from J. Arnau Rameau (in which he’d described his discovery of the ancient Hall of Knowledge deep in the South American jungles, where a hidden dynasty of Savants, the Archonii, had written their Secret History of the World on mysterious black polished tablets of onyx and alien metal formed in a language of angels and demons...). 

At first I’d thought Rameau either mad or a fool in search of a gullible benefactor. But the man’s credentials were impeccable.  He was a scholar of Religion and Ancient Art History at the University, a recognized Magister and respected authority, who’d shown his capability by years of study in the field, whose myriad of published books and monographs, awards and accolades, had brought him not only great renown but the highest respect that could be attained: a permanent chair at the most prestigious University in the Collective.

Over the years Rameau had slowly accumulated a deep understanding of the religious and artistic practices of ancient cultures; as well as a profound understanding of their arcane rituals, secret languages, and artistic ideals. All this had led Rameau to an awareness of the deep connections between all cultures that now inhabited the Collective. He understood the deep forces that had  formed and shaped human cultures for millennia, the disturbing trends and conspiratorial machinations of power that had caused so many historians to see in History a disjointed and fragmented set of impossible facts. These same historians had defined their own theories and brought the House of Knowledge into a static fold, castigating and ridiculing any and all within their community who dared step out of that narrowly defined cage of knowledge; as they defined the ‘episteme’. One of their foremost scholars, Colburn Ty, defined this theory succinctly: “The episteme is the ‘apparatus’ which makes possible the separation, not of the true from the false, but of what may from what may not be characterized as historical (i.e., from this point forward there would be ‘limits to our collective cultural understanding’).” The object lesson here was that only the highest authorities of the Collective would from now on define what was ‘historical’; and all other forms of historical inquiry would no longer be tolerated. Any and all who dared step beyond the proscribed limits of historical understanding would face anathema, doomed to wander the outer reaches of the grand Collective as heretics and non-entities, lepers of knowledge.

Rameau’s theories had at first been seen as a great leap backward for most historians. The very idea that there was some deep pattern in history, the idea that cultures were connected by supple threads which could not only be understood but defined as a category of knowledge was not only absurd but a heresy of the highest order. Rameau’s discoveries had fallen on deaf ears at first, and in fact for many years he had been warned by both friends and the authorities within the Collective to curb his appetite for the strange and arcane, even occult, knowledge he was pursuing. As his close friend, Jacob Talbot, said, “Rameau, these men will not tolerate such heresy, they will see you dead first. Be careful.” Yet, Rameau persisted. Whether this was out of pure defiance, or just an obstinate and tenacious need within his stubborn mind to follow the truth into whatever dark nook and cranny it led no one can be for sure; but, one thing is for sure, Rameau continued his heterodox studies in secret for many years, hiding his conclusions from the authorities, keeping his notes in old form notation: using mathematical and linguistic symbols, cryptographic icons, and hieroglyphs of an imaginal script only he understood to portray his Secret History - as he came to call it.

Rameau had found the key to history, the secret science of cultural systems, a set of 'ideal objects' scattered across time and space through history that could be identified and understood within a complex set of mathematically determined symbols. He'd discovered that not only the structure of this Secret History of all cultures depended on the same system but that religion, philosophy, and science do not construct their 'ideal objects' differently. And, this was the crux - that all cultures tended toward a systematic understanding; that religion, philosophy and science spoke about the same things, in ways that were rooted in particular local settings that might sound heuristically different if not incompatible but that were ultimately and systematically identical.

Even now there are those within the Collective that secretly despise Rameau and his ‘Secret History’, and have formed their own conspiracies in secret to denigrate and bring about the fall of this great man. That is when I first became connected to him through a mutual friend and acquaintance, Robert Balfoy.

I'd met Robert Balfoy some years before at a two day conference in Budapest for the Humanist Council on Global Peace initiative. He gave a speech on the benefits of viral agents as the best way to control global population. For the group of elite members of this institution of the Collective this idea was nothing new. Most of these ideas had been debated within the think tanks subsidized by financial and biotech firms for many years. It came down to three basic approaches to the population issue. One method bandied about was the use of vaccines to introduce non-lethal strains that might cause slow degenerative processes within the immune system over time producing and early but regulated deterioration. Another introduced was considered the "soft kill" method of fertility reduction, introducing vaccines that would cause premature miscarriages. And, the final solution, was the use of vaccines to increase the death rate from a future pandemic. Theoretically, widespread vaccination efforts could be followed by a deliberate release of a highly virulent flu strain with a high fatality rate. This "bioweapon" approach could kill millions of people whose immune systems have been weakened by previous vaccine injections.

Robert, being the CEO of Entelec-Hyb, a pharmaceutical company owned by the GURT Consortium was a strong believer in the last approach and had tried his best to bring me on board as a prime investor and board member. I'd considered the offer for a while but had in the end turned him down flat, not due to ethical considerations - which, for me, held no bioethical dilemmas, being a natural born pessimist and promoter of that old philosophy of hopelessness and malignant sadness, melancholic torpor, I felt no need to feel one way or the other as to the fate of the human species. I, along with the author of that eldest book of wisdom, Ecclesiastes, affirmed only one thing: the faster humans departed this earth the better; yet, this piecemeal approach of thinning the population at the expense of the poor for the satisfaction of the powerful elites of the ruling class was just not what I had in mind as a final solution.

Yet, even after the conference, Robert and I stayed in touch, playing golf and entertaining ourselves at the G20 meetings each year.

One day Robert dropped by my office in Davos and said he'd like me to meet someone. He said it would benefit me both financially and pique my fascination for ancient mysteries. By this time I'd told Robert of my, so to speak, avocation as a Collector of rare objects. I'd probably formed this penchant during those long years under the tutelage of my father who'd been Chief Archaeologist for the Rocur-Tavis Foundation. He'd brought back so many unusual artifacts from his excavations into the 'forbidden zone' on Mars that many of them had found their way into our family's private collection, where as a child I gleaned my first understanding of the 'Secret History' of our species.  

Robert never was one to mince words. My secretary brought him quickly in to my office overlooking the Landwasser river. His face was ruddy from the cold, his blue-green eyes full of fire as he took off the oversized burly wool coat and wrap and placed his thick hands on mine like a butcher reaching for a slab of red meat.

"You're looking good Jacob." His disarming smile almost left me with my guard down.

"Yes, yes," I said quickly. "Sit down Bob."

I reached for the carafe of warm blend, poured a snifter, and handed it to him. His thick wavy white hair flowed back over his shoulders like a young skier, his red undergarment of Aberdeen wool covered his once athletic physique like a memory of better times. He sipped the cognac with the fine tuned excellence of breeding and long years of attunement to the finer things of life. Like any latter day capitalist he enjoyed life to the fullest, as a representative of that delicate class of financial gurus he reminded me more of a puppet on the strings of success than a endgame salesman for the final collapse of Western civilization.

"Well, Jacob, I want take too much of your time. I'm between appointments, and have an early flight back to the states this evening. So I'll get to the point of my visit. A mutual friend of ours, Corbin Mor, has informed me of a particular artifact from a new site that you might be interested in." I was intrigued to say the least. Corbin Mor, the famous dealer of rare artifacts from Tehran had always been a good supplier of those strange objects I so much craved in my obsession with the past history of my family's secret heritage.

"Tell me more, Bob."

"Well, the short and sweet of it is that a certain Professor of Religion and Art History has come into possession of something he wishes to dispossess himself of; yet, he feels constrained to find just the right buyer, someone who will, for obvious reasons, protect the artifact and keep it under lock and key against the dangers that it portends for the fate of human kind." At these words my friends eyes dimmed. His facial muscles tightened and his breath seemed to withdraw inwardly like the demiurge was said to have done just before he let loose that nihilistic light that broke the vessels that created the catastrophe that is our universe.

* *

I planned my trip without thought for safety or the well-being of my person. I realized it was foolhardy to wander off into the deserts of this Andean coastal region without a map or compass, but I felt compelled to follow Dr. Rameau's instructions to the letter. He'd provided me only an indefinite set of clues, insignificant phrases, partial responses to a semioticians nightmare: a symbolic gesture of signs and religious icons, formal mathematical signs derived from some hyperdimension of unresolved conflicts - a hidden language of desire that spoke not so much of the deep mysteries of this ancient civilization of Caral, but invoked the power of a linguistic oasis that spelled out the subtle dimensions of a paradise gone awry.

I had only my local guide, Ade Colmec, the famed discoverer of this underworld city of labyrinths and tombs at Al Combr to lead me into this strange and forbidding land of rock and sky. The main complex of temples and pyramids had been discovered some years before, but it had taken a stroke of luck to unearth the maze of this underground city of the gods. Ade described this world as a darker cousin of that famed labyrinth of Crete that Daedalus built to house the great Minotaur of legend. 

Yet this dark maze of passages and corridors led not toward a monstrous beast, but rather into the heart of an ancient ritual complex wherein were stored the golden tablets and artifacts of an unearthly race of giants. At the center of this maze one entered a great inverted pyramid temple, an abyss frozen in its own void, a place of emptiness and fullness, where a mysterious portal of black light sparked within its own hyperdimensional awareness. 

I listened to Ade describe in awe the power and dread he felt in the presence of this strange light. 

"Senor, Jacob," he said trembling, "there is nothing with which to describe the Achamoth, the Mother of all dark tears and pains. She sits in the midst of this prison of light a goddess entombed in her own sadness. Her eyes like the gold of the jaguar haunt me even now. Her voice more than any Siren's song sings to me of the sorrows and great lamentations that still wander our world like blood sounds of a dark demoness."

The day was long and hot, the dust of the road whipped through the jeep like teeth severing my throat. Even the canteen of water could not quench my thirst. The sun like a blade cut through the sky of this bare land of moon grey rock leaving one with the feeling that this truly was the end of all things, the desolation where time itself had finally stopped and the void of eternity seeped. 
We reached the crest of the hills that led down into the Valley of Bones at dusk. The red glint of the fading sun broke over the central pyramid revealing the last vestiges of a civilization that had once worshiped the power of the Sun itself and was now part of the dustbin of history and eternal night.   

* *


There is a time, a supreme moment - what the ancient Greeks called 'καιρός', Kairos, the time between times, when the sign and its entanglement with the natural shares an ineffable essence. As I watched the brotherhood begin their descent from the surrounding mountains - the flames of their torches weaving downward like a wayward serpent; wandering in and out of a unicircular spiral, a crane dance of light and darkness - I listened to the music of the Obanchi players at the foot of the Great Pyramid; their flutes following the sacred procession, holding at bay the cognitive dissonance of wrenching sounds coming out of the chaos of the surrounding night and stars.  I felt something begin to stir in my blood...


* *


The next thing I remembered was being shaken out of sleep by Dr. Rameau.


"Wake up, Jacob," his voice deep and resonating. "We have work to do." Dr. Rameau was standing over me like the sculptured relief of some giant Olmec, his head covered in a tasseled fringe of llatu, with golden feathers dangling down and two longer feathers of the scarlet coraquenque bird jetting up from the surrounding folds above his headdress like the royal symbols of some elder god.

Behind him were several of the Brotherhood of Darkness, the Archonii, each dressed in a tangu robe the color of blackest night. Their hooded heads were laved in a mist of translucent light that seemed to sink inwardly toward a void of infinite mystery. Each of them was humming, or - rather, chanting some deep intonation of a ritual mantra, the harmonics of their unearthly music resonating off the surrounding stones. The hypnotic sounds of drums and cymbals could be heard in the distance echoing with the syncopated voices, each rising and cresting in a rhythmic wave awakening in me a deep sense of knowing and dread.

My host pulled me up from the dusty earth saying, "Come with me, Jacob. I have something to show you before we begin the Great Work."

I followed him to the jeep where our friend Ade was already sitting waiting for us like a patient psychopomp ready to guide us into the halls of death's kingdom. "Good morning, Senor," he laughed. "I see the night has cloaked you in love and sleep before your time." 

Dr. Rameau and I both chivvied into the back of the jeep while another of the brotherhood sat up front with Ade. Just before we left Dr. Rameau lifted an object from his robe and shook it three times. Sparks shot out in a concentric pattern illuminating the night like ten-thousand arrows piercing the inner dungeon of a nightmare landscape that no one could have known existed before the power of the light revealed its sinister architecture.

Then Ade put the jeep into gear and we crawled forward into the grey world of stone and sky toward a secret rendezvous with time itself.

* *

Caught between heaven and earth we stood on the edge of a sculpted platform that served as a makeshift altar devoted not so much to the gods of chaos as to the shadowy length of their long demise. I stood to the side to get a better look at Dr. Rameau whose profile took on the semblance of a darkened prophet, his goatee and the sadness in his eyes reminding me of a more resolute Clark Ashton Smith during his last phase as sculpture and painter of forbidden mysteries. He began chanting in an unknown tongue a song full of melancholy longing. I felt myself falling with each word into a lethargic stupor, hypnotized by the force of those primordial words, wanting to follow them into some hinterland of being from which there would be no recourse.

* *

After the colloquy Dr. Rameau, who'd already dispensed with the native headdress and other stagecraft paraphernalia took me to the edge of the great pit. We stood there for a moment watching the strange brotherhood of darkness as they began their long descent into the bowels of this black abyss.

He looked at me and spoke one last thought, beckoning to me in his laconic way to follow him into the spiraling circles below the threshold:

"Do not be disturbed Jacob, we have all sought to know that which should not be known."

I took one last look at the infinite stars above us and thought to myself: "What angelic presence would have measured such despair in the white bones of a desert night?"

Then I followed my guide into the abyss, a willing perpetrator and victim of a crime that had been going on since Time broke over the black light of eternity and first enfolded us in this unreal kingdom of shadows.

* *

Like that formidable poet who first descended into the Inferno I too felt as if I were standing before the first circle of my own hell as I peered into the midnight bowels of this abysmal pit. I could hear, but not see, the brethren chanting as they descended further and further into the maw of this toothless gullet. Their voices rose in waves of daemonic glee as if the combined harmonics of their deep resonating hymn were trying to awaken some dark entity from its long sleep in time's dungeon.

As I moved forward I felt the touch of my guide's hands upon my shoulder. I almost feinted at the touch. He bade me look above at the great stone gate, its arch encased in an alien script that I could neither decipher nor understand. 

"Abandon the skein of Self - Ye who enter here!" 

The intonation in the voice of my guide told me that this was indeed a place where the folds of self would be stripped away like an onion, which the cage of ego would slowly dissolve with each step I took into this blind world of shadows.

  * *

As I followed my guide deeper and deeper into this cavernous abyss the feint glow of some bioluminescent fungi lit up the carved walls like a million fireflies tangled in a frenzied mass. My body felt heavier with each step we took and even the thick dank air around us became denser as if we were moving into some parallax dimension, one that was based upon an as yet undefined antonymic physics; an anomalous universe marked by irreconcilable gaps within the different levels of being; a crazed physics, of a delirious god. 

I realized that even the glowering stones below my feet were alive with light, and each one was covered in an alien script: the distorted hieroglyphs or pictographic splendours of some hideous tribe of demented philosophers for whom the impossible truths of science had finally absolved them of all humanity. Each symbol representing not so much a language of ritual and cognition, but a set of linguistic puzzles, part of an elaborate scheme meant to awaken within the reader a complex knowledge of this alternate reality into which she was descending.

I was mesmerized by this seeming infinite set of puzzles and did not realize that I had wandered off into a labyrinth of stairs without outlet when my guide called to me from a distant cleft. I was surprised to see him so far away. I stood there for a moment looking around me. What I saw amazed me. Above me, below me, and all around me were an infinite set of stairways that seemed to rise and fall into some non-Euclidean space. Like Piranesi, who in a delirious fever created the Carceri d'invenzione, I felt the first tremors of a disease of mind from which I would not soon recover. 

Creeping along the edge of this great abyss I moved toward my guide; but the more I tried to gain his presence, the further he receded into the gloaming. I realized that he was far below me walking in a spiraling arc toward a center without boundaries. But as I looked up I saw him again descending toward me out of the folds of another dimension. I followed the stairs a little further and came to an abrupt terminus, without any balustrade, so I looked across the chasm and saw in the distance my guide, who now appeared not twenty feet from me on a second flight of stairs. Yet, between him and me was a vast gulf, an abyss of such magnitude that I soon feinted at the sheer power of its black emptiness.

As I awakened I heard my guide's soothing voice call to me, - like a fellow traveler lost in some dark forest of the night will call to his companion:

"Jacob, be not afraid," he said with a motioning of his hands, "Stay still and I will come to you."

As I sat there in this half-light I felt the fear of solitude that comes to one who has severed himself from all that is natural and human. I knew for the first time in my life that I was embarking on a journey into self-annihilation from which there would be no return and I was scared.

* *

I had not noticed it before - a subtle sound, a deep rhythmic pulse rising and falling like the heartbeat of some great beast, or the buzzing of ten-thousand insects lost in the cosmic dance of night. The howling wind below rose up through the blackness of this stygian void like the screeching harpies of some fantastic mind, their mutated music carving intricate designs into this hollow tomb like the siren queens in the throes of some terrible orgasmic rapture. 

"Those are the voices of Lamentation that roam these ancient halls like fragments of a forgotten dream," my guide said, his voice in tune with the music of this broken world. 

* *

Great machines hummed in the distance. The chittering feet of some inhuman organism scrambled among the stones around us just out of sight. In the distance I saw the green light some syrupy liquid as it plunged down into the void, its twisted distillation forming a scum upon the rocks splashing us with its acidic spume. Echoes of a dark angelic choir seemed to circulate among the dark clefts as we moved slowly and methodically toward our irrevocable destination. 
* *

As we turned a corner we came upon the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen sitting by a pool of dim light. Her crimson eyes were filled with such sadness that I felt a deep shame and remorse fall from me as I lusted after this dark mistress of the pool.

My guide turned to me, saying, "This is Despair, one of the greatest Lamentations. She it is that broke the first light and formed the emptiness of this blind world." He bade me speak to her.

I shaped my words like a dark prophet seeking the oracles of some unknown god: "Mistress, why do you sit by this pool?"

She sat there for a moment not looking at me, but staring off into the endless night as if awaiting some demon lover to return to her from its neverending silence, then she said softly as her blood-red eyes pierced my own with a deadly light: "I sit here thinking of all that has been lost in the abyss of time, all those lives that should not have been aware of this monstrous universe. I alone am responsible for bringing light to those lost souls that inhabit this bleak realm, and I alone shall have to unravel the demented threads that brought to life this unreal City of Pain."

Her eyes then lost their lustre and returned to the pool, blank and empty of their light. 
* *

There are those among the brethren who espouse a dark gnosis, for whom this universe is but the vein thought -  not of an evil god, but of a spurned lover for whom all things are sorrows; tears of a falling, and failed abortion.

There are others still for whom there is a blacker truth, one that tells us that this world is the kenoma, the cosmological emptiness beyond which there is nothing. The wardens, the angelic beings that shaped this dread order of the unreal are the princes of our captivity. Yet, this emptiness, this catastrophe, is both our sorrow and our final destination; for there was no god at the beginning, and there will be no god at the end to absolve us of this calamity. We alone have been thrown into this cage of desire, willing accomplices to a crime that is both our sublime horror and our amor fati. The trauma that is our daily lives is also our greatest triumph, for we are the progeny of a divine degradation, mortal gods caught in a web of lies that from the beginning we helped create. For we banished the one, the Stranger, to eternal exile in a wasteland of fright and despair from which there is no escape; no redemption.  Now we alone live in dread and homesickness for that lost realm of innocence from which we fell, knowing that we will never be able to return no matter what dark gods release us from this unreal prison. For the central truth of this dark gnosis is that we alone are those black angels who destroyed the worlds beyond which nothingness marks the limits of Time's revenge.

* *

We came to an open space where a crowd was standing around a man of indeterminate age.

A woman in the crowd said to him, "Fortunate are the womb that bore you and the breasts that fed you." 

He said to her, "Fortunate are those who have heard the word of the Stranger god and have truly kept it. For there will be a time and days when you will say, 'Fortunate are the womb that has not conceived and the breasts that have not given milk.' "

My guide told me this was that old one who had come among us preaching the truth of what birth is and of what re-birth truly is. I wanted to ask the man something but my guide knocked me down with his cane, saying:

"Leave this one to his companions; you are of another order than this one. You do not belong to him." Then he bid me rise and follow him further into the darkness.

       * *

The twisted dancers on the edge of oblivion called out to me, their twin smiles, alluring and sensual, beckoned to me from their frozen alcove like the differential equation of some geometric delirium. Their eyes translucent and full of vacuous fire appealed to my perverse nature, their voices tempting me to enter into their dark union of insanity and torpor. Their bodies joined in a writhing mass of serpentine stone moved effortlessly above the glaciate curves of this cavernous prison, each of their arms rising and falling in a rhythmic pulse - the tips of their white fingers bleeding into the ashen world surrounding them in its infernal mystery.

My Master awakened me from my hypnotic trance, saying, "These are those for whom nothingness is the plenum of an immortal finitude. They seek not the path of light but the way into an infinite darkness, a remorse so deep that pain becomes the only pleasure. They live at that absolute point where energy and time fall toward absolute Zero."

* *   
Her frizzled hair like cotton candy sprouted out of the feline mask with its delicate inlays of silver and black and gold. Her ravenous eyes satiated on the blood of a thousand victims stared into the void calm and indifferent to the surrounding cries of all those who have cherished her fragrant ardour. She sipped the toxic brew of her latest victim from the splintered skull of a rabid child, its dead eyes frozen in a gleeful surrender to the sad elements of this dank immensity. Her eburnean fingers tipped in blood dripped, while her reddened lips made such sucking sounds that I fell forward, feinting.

As I opened my eyes my Master laughed, saying: "Death like life holds us all in thrall to the beauty of its endless desire. Each of us must face this truth: that life is a death from which there is no escape." 

* *

I opened the Book and studied its arcane diagrams and the unreal designs of its vigesimal world. The cryptology of a nightmare moved across its pages like liquid fire. Each page revealing the pattern of a tangled thought, a quickened fragment of some greater enigma. Then the book awakened, each page alive with the mystery of its own unique universe: the fractured geometries of a broken mind, an infinite multiverse splayed across the infernal cosmos of its tortured vision. My fingers were on fire and I dropped the book into the dark abyss below my feet and gasped.

My master consoled me, saying, "Do not worry, Nothingness brought this all into being, and from this nothingness to nothingness all will return."  

* * 

The bladed centaurs encircled us like the fallen lords of a forgotten kingdom, their horned faces full of hideous delight as they pranced before us, one by one, upon the rocky clefts of this outer reach. One of them who seemed to be their leader approached us warily, speaking in an unknown dialect that only my Master could decipher. This creature's elongated back and shoulders rippled with knives that ripped from his gray skin like the bones of some antediluvian beast, while his fierce eyes measured us as if we were insects scurrying across an endless ocean floor.

My Master spoke to him in the black speech of his kind - a guttural vocalization, bursting and screeching. The hidden power in this diatribe flowed like the stygian musings of some abusive demon, the syncopated rhythms of a metal drum beating in merciless repetition barking its enigmatic scrawl across the leaden silence of this illimitable abyss.

Finally the great beast bowed to my master and pulled a carved horn from his belt bellowing a mournful tune into the cold air. All the other beasts fell to the ground at the sound, convulsed and obedient to its tearful music. Each one rising after a time began pounding the black earth with its sharp hooves, singing the words of some cacophonous and deadly canticle, until the surrounding darkness vibrated and the cavernous hall came alive with a thousand eyes peering out of the nothingness that is.

* *

We came to the place of bridges where the hook-beaked denizens floated amid the swaying wires above the abyss like winged guardians of some secret conclave, the filaments dangling down from their pellucid wings warped time within this void as we moved silently forward. Each bridge lead off into some neglected zone of oblivion. I moved to the middle of one of these bridges and then turned back to find that with each step the path back had vanished into the nullity of this vastation.   

My master bade me move ahead, but I was unsure which way to go forward into this unhinged world. My Master looked at me quizzically, his sallow beard flecked with ash and char from the surrounding fires, as he spoke softly to me, "It does not matter which bridge you probe, they all lead toward that impossible possibility that is your destiny." 

I moved ahead into the deeper gloom... 
* *

The goat-footed satyr sat on a stump. His beard full of young bats blazed in the darkness, while his curlicue horns carved in intricate filigrees changed colors with each note he played upon the echoing syrinx. I sat there spellbound by his sad music. His eyes full of that ancient sorrow of all lost things spoke to me of antediluvian ages when the gods of earth roamed within their edenic gardens like the children of a lesser dream. As lovers will hide in the recesses of some forest alcove seeking the intimacy of flesh and erotic mystery, his music wavered among the hidden pools and hollows of this forlorn world as if all those dead lovers might suddenly arise from their stone citadels and begin dancing under a midnight moon. His head swiveled and tilted as each note flew into the gloaming, the delicate vibrato of his breath curving to the lips of the horn alive with the magic of his kind. Like the algorithms of some transgressive calculus of nightmares his sorrowful notes beckon the weary traveler toward that black void wherein all madness dwells. This was the music of death and night, of remorse and loss and betrayal; the melody of forests turned desert, of oceans turned blood, of stars fallen into the abyss

     ...this was the blood music of the Maenads - the tearing, rending, bacchanal of a midnight festival of daemonic celebrants; eaters of flesh, ecstatic dancers whirling among the thyrsus, drinking the blood of a young god...

I could have sat there forever listening to this music but my Master spoke, saying, "Broken tunes of a pagan heart, of a world now silent and outside of our dreams of being. This one sits here in this cave of brokenness reminding us of what has never been and never will be again." 

* *

I felt the rhythmic pulses of the drums in the earth beneath my feet surging upward through my flesh like the strange ciphers from an alien world full of deadly intent. The incessant beat of the drums moved around me and through me like a maddening herd of wild beasts; like the clash of primal hordes: swords sparking, blood flowing; guts dangling, flesh rending; like the dance of trees, pounding, pounding, round and round, incessantly - that some say still happens in the deep forests of the earth, where the old gods power still holds sway over the natural forces of this chaotic world...

Strange music rose out of this melanic vortex, this dungeon of a million death regents, rising and falling in unison - tones of crystalline purity - glass harps mixed with the raucous gambols of fierce timpani and the clashing percussives of brazen cymbals, their harsh notes gathering like a great storm in the oceanic whirlpools beyond us.

Something far within me awakened to the pulse, to the black bile of this incessant rhythm, a melancholy power I dimly remembered from some former existence; some former life lived in a time when men were only a thought within the vast mind of a broken god. It was at that moment I saw an image form in the visible darkness before me: the Great Lady, herself, sitting on the edge of a vast boreal forest - a realm of unbroken dreams where the dryads and lords of the woods roamed freely amid the wonders of vines entwined under a multilayered canopy of emerald sunlight.  Her febrile eyes - full of that primordial magic of her kind (her red hair flaming up in interlacings of stylized braids bound in a silken net of white and lavender flowers; and, resting, ever so gently on her delicate knees, her eleven hands, curvaceous and tipped with sharp talons ready to slice me at the slightest provocation), met my eyes, and I knew in an instant just who I was, why I had come to this place, from what great realm I'd fallen, and to what dark and foreboding destiny I was now tending. I had once been a member her primordial tribe, a creature of dark magic for whom the ancient soul of the world once tempered my mind with its empowering breath.

She was of that tribe of innocents who once roamed our world freely, the children of a natural realm who were beyond good and evil, their lives at once full of mystery and death and knowledge. The pure yearning in her somber eyes spoke to me of an open wound, of a devastation that had come upon our entwined kindred - of a time out of time when men and elves once warred for the supremacy of the earth, of an ancient scar that still divided our kindred even now, and of a day of reckoning when the natural order would once again return and her people would regain their rightful place in the universe.

I, knew, too, with a knowledge beyond all doubt, that I, alone, was responsible for all of this vastation...

I turned toward my Master, whom I realized was no longer at my side, and was moving steadily upward toward another dimension of time and space beyond me, and said: "Why? Why all this devastation?"

He turned back toward me one last time, saying, "Now you must face your destiny... now you must remember the blackness in your own mind or die in the loneliness of this cosmic catastrophe. This is your world, not mine; and, now, you must choose your own path into the darkness or the light."

Then he was gone into another realm of being, forever.

* *


Note from author: This is the first chapter of a novella I'm working on ... more to come...


                                                  copyright © Steven Craig Hickman 2010 
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