the book

Book of Ellen

                It was then Ellen found the book that contained the whole of her.

A slim tome, hidden on a shelf in her attic, covered in dust. Its cracked leather cover bore no name. Ellen could not say what drove her to the volume, its spot in the loft, nor what brought her to explore the old mansion’s heights in the first place. Only that she was compelled, drawn up the stairs, into the room, to its frail vellum pages. Once held, it was as if she had held the book her entire life. She brought the tome to her nose and sniffed, a rich ancient smelled suffused her with a sense of the sublime. The book begged to be consumed, and she craved to know the content of its pages. It… belonged to her, intimately. Even before she started, she knew this to be true.

                Not knowing why she held her breath, she began to read, a gasp strangled in her throat. The first lines: “Ellen Percival, born 1962, weighed 7lbs 8 ounces in her first moment of life. She did not cry at her birth, a unique child. This was not belied by her quiet infancy, nor her silent childhood, nor her demure adolescence. Indeed, her parents openly wondered if at any point they heard her speak more than ten words all at once. In her eyes was language enough, they lit with emotion. Happiness, Anger, Sadness, Betrayal, Love. She spoke more eloquently with a glance than most did in a dissertation.

                “Such was the way of Ellen Percival.”

                How shocking! How perceptive! Ellen spent little time dwelling on the impossibility. The book was clearly older than she was herself, and yet there it laid bare the sum of her parts. There was no denying it had her measure. So she read on. And each page spelled another chapter of her life. From her first kiss, to her first love. Her marriage, her divorce, her next marriage and its inevitable failure. Every chapter she bore in silence. Perhaps that was her trouble; no one in her life could tell that she cared. For herself, or for them. She seemed to wait for something. The next thing waiting on the horizon, with an implacable patience. If asked, she could not name what it was. Until that day.

                That day she found this book.

                Alone in the house, independently wealthy, there were none that sought her company. None that wondered at her disappearance. Day after day, she read. Despite the volume’s slimness, it took her nearly a week to finish. It did not strike her as strange that as the book came to a close, it had not yet reached the present day. She approached the moment she discovered the book with excitement, and a hint of trepidation. Would it end just before? Would it know what came next? Would it loop backwards upon finishing? Might she open her eyes and find herself being born again? Perhaps in the arms of her mother and father, back when they still looked on her with love and devotion. Back before they feared her aloof, discreet nature.

Breathless, she turned the page.

                She crept into the attic, called forward by a voice she had not heard before, but had called her all her life. A voice she waited for, through failed marriages, through childhood. A voice that she had stayed unknowingly quiet waiting to her. And now it was just ahead. There, in the back of the old house. Once she had purchased and restored herself, a bookshelf hid in the shadows, covered in cobwebs in dust. There, on the shelf, between two books of little note. She found it. She grasped it instantly, held the thin text in her hands.

                It was then Ellen found the book that contained the whole of her.

                I imagine she remains there reading, even now.

Brotherhood of the Blind

                “So… what did you see?”

                The acolyte did not answer right away, so disoriented he was in the darkness. The corridors wound further and further from the day, burrowing into the mountain that housed the monastery. He could not see the nose on his face, much less the monk that questioned him from across the table. And he knew the monk could not see him. Indeed, even under the full glare of the sun, he would see nothing.

                “I ask again, what did you see?”

                He realized that he had not answered the elder monk’s question. This informal entrance exam in the catacombs. Over the years he had heard but whispers of this sequestered community, a monastery, a madrasa, that accepted men and women of all religious traditions, all who sought truth, and would sacrifice all in service of defeating an ultimate evil.

                He never managed he would become desperate enough to join their ranks.

                “Will you truly make me ask a third time?” He could not see the face before him any longer, but he knew it weary and aged, he knew that lines etched across it, gullies in a dry desert. He knew its lips were chapped, its lids hung loosely against vestigial sockets. He knew its skin was yellowed with age and its scalp was bald, though whether that was due to the passage of time or some ascetic sacrifice he knew not. But he closed his eyes, which changed little in the black, and tried to remember it. Tried to remember everything he had seen that was worth seeing, every image he had treasured, if indeed he was to lose the ability to treasure another, now was the time. But finally, he answered, in a voice as tired as the monk before him no doubt still looked.

                “I was young…” He began, before coughing, he thought briefly of asking for water, but wanted to extend this interview no further.

                He continued: “I was young, and times were hard. It was just me, Mother and my four brothers and sisters. Father had died long ago. She worked… she tried, but it was too much. There was too much grief in all our hearts.”

                Tears filled his open eyes, dark-umber orbs drifting in clear white pools, and again he paused before speaking of his past. Each word picked away at the scabs time allowed him, and he bled anew.

                “She began to drink, only a little at first, and then every day from morning to night. She blamed us for all our troubles. The poverty, the death of her lover. A man none of us really remembered. Even now, his face is a fog. But love rotted away from our home, replaced by resentment, by… a darkness worse than any nightfall. She lay in her bed, deaf to our calls, to our hunger. I was the eldest, and tried to provide for them as best I could, I begged in the evenings, worked odd jobs in the day, but it was never enough.”

                The acolyte stopped again, and in the dark, all he heard was the monk’s soft wheezing. He realized he did not even know the monk’s name, and wondered if that was yet another thing he must sacrifice to join their ranks. It did not matter, he had nothing left, and was an empty vessel desperate to be filled. What was a name if it came with no purpose?

                The monk spoke: “Yes? And what did you see?” He hissed the last word. On it hung all import. Sight was what he offered, and they must understand why he would give it so willingly.

                “Fire,” He wept again, “Smoke, as I returned home, I saw it on the horizon. I ran… somehow, as I ran I already knew, it was our home. When I got there, they were still screaming, my sisters, my brothers. I tried to… I tried…”

                As he shuddered, he felt a comforting hand on his shoulder. At some point during his tale, the monk had risen, and walked behind him. He felt love in that gesture, and knew that he had not chosen poorly in coming here. Perhaps now his sorrow would mean something.  But the story. He had to finish the story. His future brother, or father, or uncle, he had to understand why.

                “I saw my mother, in the window, hair singed, eyes open wide, but empty and mad. She repeated the same thing over and over until she collapsed, until the screams subsided…”

                “Yes?”

                “I did not understand it then. And I understand it less now.”

                “What did she say? Child?”

                He sighed, and as he related her words, his voice took on her higher pitch, a macabre mimicry.

                “MADNESS IS THE ONLY FREEDOM! MADNESS IS THE ONLY FREEDOM! MADNESS IS-”

                The monk stopped him with a gentle squeeze.

                “I understand, child. And I appreciate your forthrightness. This is no easy thing to endure, no trifle to witness. But I want to make sure you understand what you sacrifice here today. What you’ve seen will never leave you, regardless of your blindness, in your nightmares, these images will remain, perhaps even more prominently because of your inability to replace them with others. We here, the devotees of the forgotten, we the few cloistered in the Metéora mountainside, understand that these indelible images will never fade. Unable as we are to create new ones. You sacrifice tonight the ability to forget. Can you live with this burden?”

                The acolyte did not speak for a long time. He pondered his choice, the possibility that his memories would drive him mad in the perma-darkness, versus the possibility that with his eyes he might behold something even worse than he had already seen. In the cold night of this room, buried deep in the catacombs, he saw once again the charred forms of his siblings, burned beyond all recognition. He saw himself burying them in shallow graves by the shell that had once been his home. He remembered searching for his mother… and never finding her. And he decided. Somehow, the monk behind him sense his head’s slight nod and understood his assent.

                “Then we shall return to the day, and one last time, you shall see the sunset. It should be just about time.”

                And so they headed back upwards. Him following the lead of the blind monk, whose every step fell assured in the darkness, padding softly along the stone chasms that made up this hermitage in the wilderness. And after a while the monk led him back into the sun, a terrace overlooking the Grecian plain below.

                It was beautiful. The sparse wilderness, the smattering of green, the vines, the grass, against the brown sand. The sun sinking beneath it all, the dying light sending long shadows that stretched across his and the monks face. He closed his eyes, committing the sight to memory, understanding it would be the last thing he ever saw.

                “Okay brother, I am ready.”

                He felt the monk behind him tense, and before the moment came, he asked one last question.

                “What do I call you? Now that I am to be among you?”

                Before he answered, he struck, two hooks dug into the acolytes eyeballs, and he screamed. And as he screamed, they withdrew, his sight organs withdrawing with them. The darkness, draped in pain, was to be his forever more. He collapsed on the marble terrace, feeling around feebly in the darkness for something he recognized. He could still feel the sun’s fading warmth, but did not see it.

                The monk answered him: “We are the Brotherhood of the Blind, the Eyeless Monastery… what do you call me, you ask?”

                The acolyte sobbed from the white-hot suffering that lanced through him, and the tears only brought him further pain.

                “You may call me… Deliverance.”

                He felt the monk’s, Deliverance, strong hands bringing him to his feet.

                “Now come, it is time to discuss that which we fight. Foes most foul. The book, the malign, and the madness.”