A machine. A glass. A mirror. Duncan's journal, with the advantage of distance, described his discovery much more gracefully...
But it doesn't work right. It hasn't worked right since they built it. A part, a mechanism, a balance-something they don't quite understand. How can I call it strictly a machine? It is as much organic as metallic, housed in a cavern larger than three Truffidian Cathedrals. You feel it and hear it before you see it: a throbbly hum, a grindful pulse, a sorrowful bellow. The passageways rumble and crackle with the force of it. A hot wind flares out before it. The only entrance leads, after much hard work, to the back of the machine, where you can see its inner workings. You are struck by the fact of its awful carnality, for they feed it lives as well as fuel. Flesh and metal bond, married by spores, joined by a latticework of polyps and filaments and lazy strands. Wisps and converted moonlight. Sparks and gears. The whole is at first obscured by its own detail, by those elements at eye level: a row of white sluglike bodies curled within the cogs and gears, eyes shut, apparently asleep. Wrinkled and luminous. Lacking all but the most rudimentary stubs of limbs. But with faces identical to those of the gray caps.
You cannot help but look closer. You cannot help but notice two things: that they dream, twitching reflexively in their repose, eyelids flickering with subconscious thought, and that they are not truly curled within the machine-they are curled into the machine, meshed with it at a hundred points of contact. The blue-red veins in their arms flow into milk-white fingers, and at the border between skin and air, transformed from vein into silvery wire. Tendrils of wire meet tendrils of flesh, broken up by sections of sharp wheels, clotted with scraps of flesh, and whining almost soundlessly as they whir in the darkness.
As you stare at the nearest white wrinkled body, you begin to smell the thickness of oil and blood mixed together. As the taste bites into your mouth, you take a step back, and suddenly you feel as if you are falling, the sense of vertigo so intense your arms flail out though you stand on solid ground. Because you realize it isn't one pale dreamer, or even a row of them, or even five rows of five hundred, but more than five thousand rows of five thousand milk-white dreams, running on into the distance-as far as you care to see-millions of them, caught and transfixed in the back of the machine. And they are all dreaming and all their eyelids flicker in unison, and all their blood flows into all the wires while a hundred thousand sharpened wheels spin soundlessly.
The hum you hear, that low hum you hear, does not come from the machinery. It does not come from the wheels, the cogs, the wires. The hum emanates from the white bodies. They are humming in their sleep, a slow, even hum as peaceful as they are not-how can I write this, how? except to keep writing and when I've stopped never look at this again-while the machine itself is silent.
The rows blur as you tilt your head to look up, not because the rows are too far away, but because your eyes and your brain have decided that this is too much, this is too much to take in without going mad, that you do not want to comprehend this crushing immensity of vision, that if comprehended completely, it will haunt not just your nightmares for the rest of your life-it will form a permanent overlay upon your waking sight, and you will stumble through your days like a blind man, the ghost-vision in your head stronger than reality.
So you return to details-the details right in front of you. The latticework of wires and tubes, where you see a thrush has been placed, intertwined, its broken wings flapping painfully. There, a dragonfly, already dead, brittle and glassy. Bits and pieces of flesh still writhing with the memory of interconnection. Skulls. Yellowing bones. Glossy black vines. Pieces of earth. And holding it all together, like glue, dull red fungus.
But now the detail becomes too detailed, and again your eyes blur, and you decide maybe movement will save you-that perhaps if you move to the other side of the machine, you will find something different, something that does not call out remorselessly for your surrender. Because if you stand there for another minute, you will enmesh yourself in the machine. You will climb up into the flesh and metal. You will curl up to something pale and sticky and embrace it. You will relax your body into the space allowed it, your legs released from you in a spray of blood and wire, you smiling as it happens, your eyes already dulled, and dreaming some communal dream, your tongue the tongue of the machine, your mouth humming in another language, your arms weighed down with tendrils of metal, your torso split in half to let out the things that must be let out.
For a long time, you stand on the fissure between sweet acceptance of dissolution and the responsibility of movement, the enticing smell of decay, the ultimate inertia, reaching out to you…but, eventually, you move away, with an audible shudder that shakes your bones, almost pulls you apart.
As you hobble around to the side of the machine, you feel the million eyes of the crumpled, huddled white shapes snap open, for a single second drawn out of their dreams of you.
* * *
There is no history, no present. There are only the sides of the machine. Slick memory of metal, mad with its own brightness, mad with the memory of what it contains. You cling to those sides for support, but make your way past them as quickly as possible. The sides are like the middle of a book-necessary, but quickly read through to get to the end. Already, you try in vain to forget the beginning.
* * *
The front of the machine has a comforting translucent or reflective quality. You will never be able to decide which quality it possesses, although you stand there staring at it for days, ensnared by your own foolish hope for something to negate the horrible negation of the machine's innards. Ghosts of images cloud the surface of the machine and are wiped clean as if by a careless, a meticulous, an impatient painter. A great windswept desert, sluggish with the weight of its own dunes. An ocean, waveless, the tension of its surface broken only by the shadow of clouds above, the water such a perfect blue-green that it hurts your eyes. A mountain range at sunset, distant, ruined towers propped up by the foothills at its flanks. Always flickering into perfection and back into oblivion. Places that if they exist in this world you have never seen, or heard mention of their existence. Ever.
You slide into the calm of these scenes, although you cannot forget the white shapes behind the machine, the eyelids that flicker as these images flicker. Only the machine knows, and the machine is damaged. Its thoughts are damaged. Your thoughts are damaged: they run liquid-slow through your brain, even though you wish they would stop.
* * *
After several days, your vision strays and unfocuses and you blink slowly, attention drawn to a door at the very bottom of the mirror. The door is as big as the machine. The door is as small as your fingernail. The distance between you and the door infinite. The distance between you and door is so minute you could reach out and touch it. The door is translucent-the images that flow across the screen sweep across the door as well, so that it is only by the barely-perceived hairline fracture of its outline that it can be distinguished beneath the desert, ocean, mountains, that glide across its surface. The door is a mirror, too, you realize, and after so long of not focusing on anything, letting images run through you, you find yourself concentrating on the door and the door alone. In many ways, it is an ordinary door, almost a non-existent door. And yet, staring at it, a wave of fear passes over you. A fear so blinding it paralyzes you. It holds you in place. You can feel the pressure of all that meat, all that flesh, all the metal inside the machine amassed behind that door. It is an unbearable weight at your throat. You are buried in it, in a small box, under an eternity of rock and earth. The worms are singing to you through the rubble. The worms know your name. You cannot think. Your head is full of blood. You dare not breathe.
* * *
There is something behind the door.
There is something behind the door.
There is something behind the door.
* * *
The door begins to open inward, and something fluid and slow, no longer dreaming, begins to come out from inside, lurching around the edge of the door. You begin to run-to run as far from that place as you possibly can, screaming until your throat fills with the blood in your head, your head now an empty globe while the rest of you drowns in blood. And still it makes no difference, because you are back in that place with the slugs and the skulls and the pale dreamers and the machine that doesn't work that doesn't work that doesn't work thatdoesn'twork hat doesnwor atdoeswor doeswor doewor dowor door…
This entry about a defective "machine" built by the gray caps is the strangest part of my brother's journal. By far. In its pure physicality I sense a level of discomfort rare for Duncan. As if, from fretful tossing and turning, he woke, reached for pen and notepad from the nightstand, and wrote down his first impressions of a fading nightmare. He appears at first anxious to record the experience, and then less so, the use of second person intended to place the burden of memory on the reader, to purge the images from his head. (It is more that I could not find words to accurately convey what I saw, and so I tried to describe how I felt instead-in a sense presaging many Ambergrisians' reaction to the recent Shift .)
If Duncan had, in the gallery that afternoon, told me about the machine with the calm madness of that journal entry, a silence would have settled over us. Our conversation would have faded away into a nothingness made alive and aware by his words. Thankfully, Duncan told his story with less than brutal lucidity. He used stilted words in rows of sentences crippled by fits and starts-a vagabond, poorly-rehearsed circus of words that could not be taken seriously. He focused on the front of the machine with its marvelous visions of far-distant places. He dismissed the back of the machine with a single sentence. Somehow, I could not reconcile his vision with my memory of the spores floating out of my apartment window.