It was a story I had come across perhaps in 1989, right around the time the Berlin Wall fell. I remember the grainy, pallid images of the concrete slabs being torn and the young people climbing over them.
While the world rejoiced at the coming defeat of Soviet Communism, I was in my little office preparing a lecture on Martin Heidegger when Constanza, our mailwoman, dropped a package on my desk. The weight and density told me it was a book and I grimaced with distaste at the thought that my publisher was forcing me to review another book.
I ripped open the wax paper and tossed it in the bin. It was a very slim, green hardcover book. The pages were yellow, nearly orange with age and they were covered in moisture stains as if drinks had been falling on them for years.
The book came with an anonymous note, handwritten and nearly illegible which said
but why should you grow suddenly afraid and start imagining that any night could bring an image up
I stayed staring at the note and puzzled over what it meant. I recognized that it was from a poem by Yeats, one I taught my students months ago, so I wondered if it came from a former student.
I figured it would be better to send this to Professor Myrtle who was an expert on Medieval and Modern Literature. She was an old lady I didn’t like very much because of her permanent coffee breath and the way she licked her fingers to turn the pages of books. (I remember she once touched my elbow after she had licked her fingers and I felt that wetness on like the cold of steel.) She was always very eager to believe in things, whether they were conspiracies or religions—funny how someone in our profession can be like that—so I was sure that she would be thrilled with this silliness.
But as soon as I had made up my mind to pass it off, I realized that I hadn’t even opened the book to see the title or read even a page to get a whiff of the writing style. I found, first, that there was no title page, much less a publisher’s page, which led me to believe that this had been printed but not published. The book was written in Spanish. It was on the second page that the story began under its title: Los templos de Abraxas. On the rightmost corner of the page, scrawled with a palsied hand in red was the word Borges.
I was at last intrigued and I found the Spanish somewhat odd. It was like Borges in that it was very heavy and baroque, like a harpsichord, long sentences sometimes and a phantasmagoric landscape. But as I went on, things began to take a rather dark turn:
The Temples of Abraxas
One morning, on the third of the second month of the year, my wife and I had rented a room in a very luxurious hotel in Buenos Aires. It was our tenth anniversary and I had decided that I would take Sofía to the city in which she had craved to live all her life, the city in which I promised her, when I asked for her hand, that I would buy her a house. Well, ten years passed and though they seemed to me as evanescent and transitory as the diamond mist that accompanies a breaking waterfall, I felt in my heart the weight of my failure. She was a good wife. Though I had promised her a house when I asked for her hand, she never spoke of it again. It was a week ago when I said that we were going to stay in Buenos Aires that her black eyes colored with the hue of violets and betrayed all the hours of silent yearning for her own house in the Recoleta.
This little trip, however, was only a compromise. My books, years in print now, were only modestly selling, and though I had some clout in the literary circles in Bogotá, Carácas, and Sao Paulo, I was still mostly unknown to the general public. I was also tired, and the vigor I had as a young man, which had told me that insofar as I kept to writing I would always be happy, was evaporating. I now wanted the comfort of luxuries, to become pampered again; I began to care for money perhaps for the first time in my life; I wanted more of it, because the more I thought of money, the more I realized that if I kept on this course of poverty brought on by artistic pride, the more certain it would be that I would be buried in a hard, uncomfortable casket. And the thought of my body rotting away in discomfort filled me with dread. I wanted a mausoleum for myself. One like those of the Recoleta where they buried the presidents and caudillos of the republic. A casket with cushions.
But the money never came and my love of ancient and medieval literature was always too strong for me to resist. In the meantime, as Sofía worked and cooked and moved around in our cheap little apartment I would feel the heaviness of her footsteps, her rejection and doubt.
So I saved enough to buy her this illusion: one weekend of luxury. That Friday we entered the palatial doors of the Duhau and greeted the concierge. He gave us our keys and we were led by a bag boy to our room, which was on the seventh floor, seventh door down the hall from the lift.
Sofía lay on her back in the large bed which had been headed by silky, pithy pillows. They were utterly useless but attractive. The room was white, mostly, while the decorative elements tended towards the golden and beige. It gave me the impression of faux royalty and was more kitsch than tasteful. On the ceiling there was a rococo painting of cherubs peeking at a semi-nude woman. But Sofía was delighted and that was all that mattered. She showered and then bathed in the tub. She left the door open, so I saw her sniffing and playing with the suds. I sat on the little desk that was near the window and saw rainy Buenos Aires. I felt out of place and I remembered that story by Maupassant in which a woman is so enthralled by luxury she enters into deep debt and loses all that made her lovely and beautiful. I felt a wave of premonition and anxiety, and I only felt better when I reminded myself that this was a temporary gift, that it would never happen again.
We ate at the restaurant where jazz musicians played Shostakovich’s Second Jazz suite and the patrons dined with voices so refined and tempered that I realized then that one of the great luxuries of life is the silence to hear oneself in conversation. Sofía looked beautiful in the black jewelry that she had set aside for that night. Her earrings matched the darkness of her hair and eyes.
But my attention was quickly captivated by a mural on the wall. It was painted in the Art Deco Style of the twenties, so it was likely as old as the hotel itself, but I found it utterly strange. In a corner, I made out what seemed to me like a cave with a central throne. A beam of light had been painted like the fall of very tall trapezoid. When the waiter arrived, I reached out to him and tugged his sleeve.
“Excuse me,” I said. “That mural. Would you know what it represents?”
“Patrons often ask us, sir. But unfortunately, I’m not quite sure.”
“Would you know someone who’d know?”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
And he took our order and left. As Sofía talked of things I no longer remember, I stared at the mural behind her. It had the seriousness of the monastic, the disjoint and almost cartoonish aspect that elevates the image simply out of oddity, like the medieval portraits of baby Jesus which make him look like a grown man or the illustrations in medieval manuscripts of animals playing instruments or rowing boats. For the entire meal, I stared at it and have now forgotten anything Sofía said.
That night I slept well. But my dreams were stormy. I found myself in the middle of a throng of robed men. I heard myself chanting one long sigh which we pitched up and up and then down. We never moved. Only our voices and our stares fixed on the throne as if we had been waiting for something. And then I began to see, like a mist congealing, a figure sitting on the black throne. A very tall figure, impossibly thin, with a very small head. It was impossible to detail it, because I only saw its shape, but I could see its strange awkwardness and a feeling of terror came over me, terror and the strange allure of what one feels when one sees something obscene. It was a feeling that suffocated me, and I heard in my chant the treble of my fear. The entity was becoming more and more lucid—
I closed the book and put it in a bag with the note. When it was time to leave, I walked past Nora Myrtle’s office whose door was usually open but found it closed and the light was out. I headed home by bus which I love to take because it gives me some reading time, but I found I couldn’t read. The book had unsettled me. The image of the dream, the more I thought about it, seemed like something I had encountered before. It was as if by reading the story I was shining a light on something that had been incubating in my mind for a long time. But I couldn’t quite place the memory. It was like one of those moments Freud calls the uncanny, and I wondered if perhaps I had seen something similar in a film or in a book, perhaps an image of a monastic procession or some occultic rite. Or—the chance always existed—I may have seen the exact mural somewhere before.
But that wouldn’t have explained why I felt so distraught. I’ve see seen worse things.
When I got home, I ate the soup I had left in a plastic container for dinner. I undressed, drank a calming tea, brushed my teeth as was my nightly routine and I read my crime fiction—children had been abducted by a man who saw himself as the second coming of Christ—and I figured that I would dream of that instead, and the dream for all its horror would be better than ruminating over whether I had seen the mural in the book or not.
But that night, as I began to fall asleep, I began to hear a labored breathing, like that of an asthmatic. At first, I heard the wheezing and I thought nothing of it, believing it a dream, but when I realized that I wasn’t dreaming and that I could hear the trek of cars outside my window and the hum of the air conditioner, my face and hands ran cold and I got up as if I had been shocked with an electric current and opened the door of my room. My heart was beating fast, and the sight of my living room and my little apartment with its usual things, the usual appliances and colors calmed me down. I was afraid that someone had gotten in, that perhaps I had left the door unlocked and that there was someone inside.
But as I was about to check the door to my apartment, I noticed that I had left the mysterious book open on the centerpiece in front of the sofa.
After checking the bolts on the door, I took the book back to bed with me. I sat up against the headboard and decided to read from where I’d left off.
The entity was becoming more and more lucid until I could see a naked body sitting on the black throne. It was too tall for the creature so its knees came up obscenely open at brutal angles. His torso, nearly cadaverous, was like that of a starving child, and every ligament of his body was visible. Its neck was as long as a foot and its little head was as unsettling as its body, for it was like the face of a smiling baby or a doll: small, cheeks round, and a tiny suckling mouth. It smiled broadly, even as the chanting dropped and dropped and ended in a dark murmur so deep that the halls echoed with what I can only describe as a roar of the earth. And the creature whose long, bony fingers drooped over the rests of the little throne, opened its mouth so that I saw two rows of perfect gray baby teeth. Then, it happened. The creature cackled.
It was a desperate sound and I woke up startled. Sofía was snoring lightly next to me. My heart beat against my ribs. It was as if I had been woken by a loud external sound. I rubbed my eyes and I went to the bathroom for water to dispel my horror.
The next day we went around Buenos Aires though I now remember nothing of it, as if I hadn’t been there at all. I don’t remember anything Sofía said to me. I don’t remember if she smiled or wept on our trip. There was a pink building at one point but I’m not sure if I saw it or if I’m making it up. All I remembered was that mural, that strange profane mural. I remembered my dream and the obscenity, the hideous creature and its… everything, its boniness, nakedness, sheer ugliness—how could I have dreamt that? I thought dreams were reconfigurations of your impressions and experiences… How could my consciousness have secreted that monster? Has it always lived inside of me? Have I thought of it before?
I fell asleep here and woke up the following day with the little book on my lap. My back and my neck ached when I turned them a certain way.
I was in a foul mood. Showering was difficult. I couldn’t wash my shoulders. My neck ached. In front of the mirror I saw that I looked exhausted, as if I hadn’t slept. I remembered the creature. Perhaps the creature is inside, I thought. To hell with the soul. It’s a little demon. A little demon like that. Long, thin, babyish. The little throne was the body. And we worship it. What a wonderful interpretation. I would give myself top marks.
Later that morning I saw Professor Myrtle at her desk. Her stack of books included Swedenborg, Blake, Aleister Crowley, the Satanic Bible of LaVey, Athanasius Kircher, Paracelsus, and the host of medieval mystics. She was a plump little woman, with a toadish neck and shortcut hair that formed a sort of stylish helmet. Tortoiseshell circular glasses hung very low on the bridge of her nose so that when she talked to you she gave you the impression that she was being very earnest—and she probably was. If there was a word to describe her, it would be earnestness and an iron-hot zeal in talking to you about something, even when this something was nothing at all, like when she taught me all about the Zoroastrian origins of many modern magical concepts or when she said, following Philo, that Plato had probably read Moses at one point, as many medieval and Renaissance scholars thought, and that she had found evidence of this in both the Book of Deuteronomy and the Symposium. God help her.
“Oh, Julio!” she said.
“Professor Myrtle. I—”
“Just the person I wanted to see!”
“Well, I have a friend who’s just come back from West Germany. The whole place is in an uproar.”
“Yes, now I know you’re a keen reader of the hermeneutic philosophers and the phenomenologists, no? You’re an expert on interpretation.”
“That’s correct, yes.”
“Well, my friend brought me this little book.” And she pulled out a small, green, slim hardcover book from her bag.
“I love it,” she said.
I saw it and all the words left me.
“A strange story, indeed. I wanted you to interpret it for me. I’d like to hear what you think of it. I do warn you it has some rather strange images. Rather strange–“
“What did you think?”
“What did you think about the book?”
“Well, it’s odd. I’ve been working on some research for a while”–and here she opened a large binder of what seemed like the photocopied pages of an old encyclopedia—”on something quite separate but which I think is tied to the origins of this book. My friend said that it had been left by an East German in a hostel she was in at the time. That she wound up with it purely by chance. He had a thick Bavarian accent. He sleeps the night. Wakes and leaves the little book and his passport. She takes both to the police, but they only keep the passport. Something about the government collapsing making them say that they only have time for official documents. So she kept the book and read it. She sent it to me with a letter—and a very odd one at that, too—saying she needed to get rid of the book and its images, which I didn’t quite understand. I wish I had cared for the note better because I’ve lost it now, but I do remember that it said something about the fact that once you can imagine something that something begins to exist. She said something about her hearing some strange noise.”
“And so, even then, you still read it,” I said.
“Well, what can I say?”
“You heard it as well?”
“You’ll think I’m crazy,” she said, smiling bleakly. “But I continued doing my research. In the book there is a story about a mural and a cult. Or at least it seems like it. But the images are odd. There is a scene where a creature is venerated, though the ritual itself is not very complex. It’s just a chant. There is the cemetery in Buenos Aires and a cavern beneath a Greek plaque with an ancient name. Well, I delved as far as I could in my research and I discovered there was a small group near Luxor, a place which is now in ruins, who were part of the Gnostic tradition that venerated ores.”
“Indeed. The earth, metals, crystals. It didn’t make much sense; traditionally, the Gnostics contend that matter is evil, yet here you have a few who worship minerals. There was a record of them left in bits of ancient papyrus which Athanasius Kircher discovered, but for some reason he never studied the fragments. He presented them as historical relics, but the academics archived them and left them out of public attention. Even as the Romantics were rekindling European interest in the mystical, the fragments remained ignored.
“Now, I traveled to Germany three weeks ago, and what I learned was quite fascinating. The little fragments were written in the second century, likely by Basilides, who was a Gnostic Christian, and whose works are unfortunately lost to us. The Gnostic Christians synthesized concepts such as the angelic hierarchies with Greek mystical cosmogony, so that they had achieved a very systematic, theosophical understanding of the heavens. There were angels, archons, the one, nous, the unbegotten creator—stuff like that. And the fragments showed that this small sect in the caverns near Alexandria was employing the same language. In all likelihood, this sect must have been comprised of miners or ancient prospectors. The only difference from the traditional miners is that they exalted the earth. All matter was evil, yes, but not the gold, not the amethysts, not the marble. From what I gather they saw the gemstones and precious metals as the union of light and matter, as a union of the High with the Low. But I began to think: How could miners of the second century have had the capacity to not only read the philosophy of the age but to modify it. They must have been guided by priests of some sort, or government authorities. Perhaps by the Pharaohs themselves.”
“Well, that’s all quite fascinating, Nora. But I—”
“Yes, isn’t it? Why would a government mobilize its miners, and even go so far as to amend Gnostic practices? What if they were looking for something?”
“What do you mean?”
“What if this was just all ideological preparation for a project of some kind?”
Here she gave me that earnest look with her large eyes.
“What if they found something that wasn’t just an ore? Something that was beyond being an ore, which they could only interpret as being an ore?”
“Where are you going with this?”
“Well, that’s where I am. I don’t know. I did some more research using the Kircher fragments and wound up in Buenos Aires. I went to the National Library, where, you know, Borges spent his time imagining his stories, and tried to find out if he left behind some record that corroborated this story. The story does seem to be something like he would write—”
“In what language is that book written?” I interrupted.
“German, of course.”
I showed her my copy. When she saw the book, her jaw slackened.
“Christ,” she said. “There are translations. How did you come by this one?”
“Someone sent it to me.”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes. Fragments from a poem by Yeats.”
“‘An Image from a Past Life.'”
She turned a rather fierce gaze to me.
There was a pause. Professor Nora Myrtle removed her glasses. I could see the bags under her eyes.
“Have you heard it?”
I stared back at her for a few seconds without answering, and I looked down and said I had, feeling somewhat ashamed. But I was also surprised at my honesty. A little bit of me had been seduced by the mystery.
“Yes…” I said.
“Well, then,” she said, closing the binder. “Let’s go have some coffee.”
And she moved to switch off her monitor which was titillating on some document she was in the middle of writing.
“I’ll tell you the rest.”
Nora had left a week after the day she told me about her discoveries. We had kept on meeting and investigating. She said that the story may indeed have been written by Borges. But it was not the erudite Borges as usual. It had his philosophical concerns with idealism, but she was confounded by Sofía. Borges, after all, rarely wrote female characters into his stories. We could not be sure, and our Latin American literature professor, Anastasio Guzmán, was not very helpful. We tried to track down the book in other languages but it was impossible. The summer weighed heavily that year and it was the first time that I hated the sun. What did Borges encounter in his reading that led him to write this story? That was what Nora returned to Argentina for. But she found nothing. She wrote me a letter in which she told me she felt like a failure. Here she was, hands outstretched, blind, clutching at dark phantasms, seizing nothing.
She had gone to the Duhau and she said that there was a mural, but it wasn’t what the story had said it was. There were no hooded figures. No obsidian throne. There was just a happy horizon. She had asked the manager when the mural had been painted and he said he didn’t know. It was like that when he took up his job. And his predecessor, an old man with terrible kidney problems, had died of sepsis. No one knew anything anymore. Frustrated for the last time, Nora went to the nearby Recoleta cemetery which appeared in the second half of the story where she said she was going to meditate a little before coming home. She said she paced through those tight, gray paths lined with small mausoleums, beautiful in their own ways and eerie because they seemed like tiny little houses where undead memories still continued to gasp. There were the “sullen faces of a thousand Madonnas” petrified in the middle of their laments. And then she noticed it: on the floor by a particular mausoleum—a cube made of pure, brutal cement-like stone and devoid of any spires, angels, or ornaments—there was a copper plaque which had turned pallid green. On it the Greek word Abraxas had been written. There was no name, no year or birth or death.
Nora returned to her hotel and wrote me her letter. She said she was going to look into this particular mausoleum. The word “Abraxas” was the key.
An old word. I had researched it and I found, as Nora implied, that it was a word cast as a spell on gemstones to attribute special “magical” properties onto them. And she was right. The fragments she had found from Basilides corroborate the idea that those ancient peoples and the images of the book were related. If Borges was indeed the writer of this story, then he must have uncovered that connection himself among his vast readings. He must have stood there that day; he must have seen the structure, read the word, and found its relation to the Gnostic sects that venerate whatever it was that they found in the earth.
I received no letter from her again, and she never came back. The authorities in Buenos Aires were alerted. Six months passed. The sound which seemed to come from beneath the earth continued to haunt me every night and I thought it was her spirit that was haunting me.
On the second night, I saw the creature again. The same cackle and babyish grin startled me awake. I heard its breathing in our room, in the hotel walls. My heart beat like that of a trapped bird, and I found myself running away from the hotel.
I ran barefoot into the yellow lights past the tired porters who could not believe what they saw so they did nothing about it. I ran until my pajamas were soaked in my sweat and I could feel the cold pavement hard against my heels. I ran until I saw myself in the Cementerio de la Recoleta, and I found myself caught in its labyrinth. I saw the empty stone faces of glorious archangels lifting wreaths and crowns, babies and cherubs suckling, stone men in full garb eternally sitting on their own bones, women veiled, iron soldiers standing in eternal attention, the lethargy of stone spires piercing the sky–the place was busy with stones and arches, and crosses; it was a little city cursed with the silence of a ruin. And I was lost in it, so totally lost, afraid of these sculptures and the violence with which the avenues turned.
I was then in front of a great stone block. A plaque on the ground had a Greek word. I cannot set it down. It is already bad enough that I have read it, that I know what it is, because now it exists for me. All of its reality is now mine. The word has always been with us. We have simply ignored it, forgotten it.
The copper circle in which the word had been etched was rusting and when I had caught my breath and managed to see in the dark, I saw a very narrow passage down into the earth to the side of the great block.
I smelled very faintly the odor of wet earth, like that of a humid underpass. I was afraid; and I wanted to leave. I turned away from the block and tried to find my way out, following the gestures of the statues, their curved arms, gazes, the strides of the soldiers, hoping that they would point to an exit. But there was none. I sat by an angel, my feet aching, my toenails muddied from the wet grime of the street and I felt alone. I was lost in the city of the dead, in a place I had no reason to visit, save to please my wife and honor half a promise I was too unlucky or mediocre to fulfill.
I walked now aimlessly among the tombs of the dead generals who relished glory even when there was no body to glorify, and again found myself in front of that block, which, in its gray and pure geometry seemed to challenge the sumptuous pride of everything which surrounded it. I even had the impression that the cemetery had been built to accommodate this structure and that all the other mausoleums had sprung up around it in dire imitation.
I felt a draft of air coming from the opening in the block. Hoping that there would be a subterranean exit down, I squeezed into the gap between the gray block and the mausoleum next to it and followed the light draft. I let my front foot guide me into the entrance. The stairway down was as wide as I was, and down below there shone a sort of blue light, like moonlight on dark rock. I traced the walls with my fingers and I felt my way down with my feet. I could feel the steps were uneven like those of ancient places. They were cold, much colder than the pavement above which had been cooled down by rain. I felt the steps covered in dust and pebbles, some sharp. And when I had reached the bottom, and felt that the way flat ahead, I saw a ray of blue light coming from above. I assumed it was an opening on the copper plaque which allowed a little of the light to enter. The smell was damp. Every sound I made echoed and in a short while, as I kept sliding forward guiding myself with my hands on cold walls, I began to despair that this was not an exit, but the way deeper into the earth. I wanted to rest, but the darkness was so absolute that the thought of me lying in the dark made me keep going for minutes on end. I thought of Sofía still in bed in that precious state of sleep where her mind would be dancing with ghosts and shadows following the mirrorworld logic of dreams.
And there it was: the stone throne, rugged and black, sculpted out of the rock of the cavern itself. On it, the long, thin figure of my nightmares. It stared deep and unblinking. My terror squeezed icy sweat out of me and I could feel my calves trembling.
I made a noise. A simple noise. A grunt which was all I could make. But the figure did nothing. I grunted again, and again, the figure was fixed still, like a sentinel. So I moved against it, a strange green light behind the figure guiding the way. As I moved I felt the passage begin to open. The figure and the light behind it seemed to be in a larger chamber. I slid slowly, afraid that the figure should move. It was but a couple of feet from me, and as I approached the entrance to the chamber, I saw that the figure had been welded to the throne. It was a statue. But behind it, there was a sort of tall, elevated, flat mound. On it was a strange object: a shard, it seemed to me, with the iridescence of prismatic glass. Its texture reminded me of old, unpolished iron, as you would find on the latch of a medieval door, but it emitted a strange glow and a strange noise like breathing.
I stood there in silence, in fear, not knowing what to do. I felt that I should take the shard, if only for the light, but when I reached my hand out to touch the object, I heard the sound of stone cracking and shattering, as if two masses of block were rubbing against each other. I saw that the head of the carved figure had rotated completely. It seemed to stare at me.
I wanted to grab the shard for its light, but I was horrified and I ran back in the dark. I don’t know how I left. All I remember is the heat of my blood coursing in my cheeks, the sound of stone rubbing, the crawl up those black steps on all fours, blind, and then the blast of cool early morning air when I emerged out of the cavern. I ran to the edge of the cemetery. I climbed over some stones and mausoleums which was easier to do now because the light of dawn had begun to spill over the horizon. And I ran back to the hotel, my feet bleeding and aching because of the nails I tore in the climb. And when I had reached the hotel I collapsed.
I woke that same day in the infirmary of a nearby hospital. The smell of alcohol, the whiteness and cleanness comforted me, but I was saddened to see Sofía next to me, sleeping, her eyes red and swollen. So, I went into her bag and took out a pen. I grabbed the small pad on the desk which I guess the nurse was using to jot down medical notes and began to write this story. But the memory had begun to thin like a dream forgotten as soon as you open your eyes.
What I didn’t know was that in writing it down I had only ensured the existence of the monstrosities. For they are not creatures of space and time, nor are they made of flesh and water, but of thought. They live in these words, and in that statue, in the breathing of that shard.
A team was assembled. Detectives looked for her body, while archaeologists, geologists and physicists studied the recondite cavern. There they did not find the figure, but they did find the strange shard.
A commissioner of the Buenos Aires police came to me and said that the police department was saving no effort in looking for Nora Myrtle. But project was taking too long and there seemed to be no sense of urgency.
And then I received a call from a Dr. Aziz al-Khali. His team of archaeologists in the Emirates had uncovered a ruin that seemed built of the same gray stone as the cubic mausoleum in Buenos Aires, only that this one was perfectly spherical.
“We may owe our geometric knowledge to them,” he said.
It would be the first of many times that I would hear that word, them, used with that emphasis. Like the mausoleum in Buenos Aires, there seemed to be an entrance underneath the sphere in the Emirates which led to a chamber with a shiny meteorite in its womb. Dr. al-Khali said that the discovery of this ancient network of temples would immortalize Nora Myrtle’s name, and that a conference was being set up to call for a global effort to recover these Abraxas fragments.
“They are shrines—and what they protect is not stones or gems, but meteorites,” Dr. al-Khali said. “We don’t know why they glow yet, or even the reasons they were venerated, but we have put archaeologists on high alert.”
The scientists and the experts who were assigned to the case puzzled over the meaning of the story’s last sentences. Most of them thought that he meant them allegorically or mystically. Theorists of all kinds argued over what the proper interpretation was. But the truth, as is often the case, was far simpler and more terrifying: the author had meant them literally.
It wasn’t long before the experts all began to sense them, to hear the strange earthen breath. Even those who left the investigation early were not spared the experience of seeing them in dreams.
For it was our greatest human vanity, a vanity like when we believed that the Earth was static at the center of the universe, to assume that they lived in this world of hard matter as we did. It was vanity for us to think they must also ride the gulfs of space and time, and not, say, those of consciousness to reach us. And then I remembered the note with which the book had come and I realized that it is not the shard that “breathes.” They came to us in the fragments, but they live in the aether of thought. Dormant when forgotten, they thrive when remembered. They have been here since antiquity, and it is likely we have known them and forgotten them and remembered them for as long as we’ve been capable of abstract thought. This is why they will never leave us. The creatures of the number and the stone. There will be no noise, but we will hear them. There will be no shadow, but we will feel their cold.
Julian Santiago Muñoz is an adjunct instructor at Miami Dade College. He has degrees in English from Stanford and the National University of Ireland. He was born in Bogotá, Colombia, and currently lives and writes in Miami.