Down A Thousand Stairs
I’d wanted to learn things. I’d wanted to see the world. So, I packed a bag, and I headed out. I followed rumours and maps on the internet left by other travellers. I went to places that had names that’d never been spoken by men who’d grown up electricity or running water. I found cities that were on no maps, roads that went where no-one had been for many, many years.
And somewhere along the way, I heard word about the temple, a strange and ancient place built in the most remote of locations. It was a place of arcane and forbidden wisdoms, and supposedly, of great peace. A tranquil and holy spot, where individuals might take their time, to find their way. So off I went.
Getting to the temple was unlike any journey I’d ever taken before. A sixteen hour plane-flight. Another dozen hours on a bus. Then two days on the back of a large donkey.
The temple was built on a large rock monument which sat alone in the midst of an enormous ravine; it looked like a strong wind could blow the whole thing over at any moment, but my guide said it’d standing there a good thousand years longer than history book new to say. There was a thin rope bridge to get to the rock itself, and then many, many hours of climbing up thin steps which’d been carved into the side of the rock itself.
The wind pulled at my clothing as I climbed; at one point my hat was pulled off, and went sailing a thousand feet off into the sky. I know not where it landed; somewhere on the jagged lengths of stone so many hundreds and hundreds of feet below.
The men of the temple, the monks, were as you’d expect. Serene. Calm. Almost indifferent. They were soft, round men, largely, their skins deeply tanned from long days out working in the sun. Their robes were brownish-red, like dirt at sunset. They wore beads, and chanted in the morning and at night, to raise the stars and then to banish them once more when it was time for the day to begin. Some monks claimed that daylight all over the earth required that chanting. I wouldn’t know, myself.
Most of the monks kept to themselves. They were happy enough to meet me, to hear my tales of the outside world, but they were largely indifferent. They had little use for the world where the rest of mankind lived.
But one monk would speak to me, more than the others would. He was a small, little man, with horrible little rat-like teeth; all yellowed and sharp and twisted in his mouth. His teeth were too small; his smile was mostly gums, and sharp little divots that spat out angrily from the gums. He reminded me a little of one of those fish that eat the flesh off of cows; a barracuda. Ugly little things.
The other monks disliked him, my rat-faced friend. There was something about him that was unsettling, almost offensive. The other monks would almost act as though he didn’t exist, though he was still fed and housed and given chores every morning. He was like a ghost, or something entirely unwanted. Something entirely unwanted that had to be kept around. He smelled of old cheese, and bleach. Strongly, like there was something wrong with his skin.
He came to me one night, after meals, when we were all meant to be in our rooms, meditating. He came into my room, stinking of sweat, and of booze. Drinking was not permitted, yet I was not surprised that the rat-faced monk had managed to procure something which was causing his voice to waver as much as his stumbling footsteps.
“There’s a machine,” he said in a course whisper to me, “hidden in the centre of this rock. It’s what holds the place still and lets us all live here. It’s the oldest thing on the earth, and it runs off the heat of the earth. I’ve seen it; part of the machine runs down and down and down, so deep into the earth that you can feel the heat rising up from the core.”
“The core of the machine?” I asked.
“The core of the earth,” he whispered back, grinning horribly.
And so he took me, to see it. In the dead of the night. He took me to a secret hallway I wasn’t allowed in and through a secret doorway most people wouldn’t have known existed. These led us to a set of stairs which seemed to travel straight into the pure rock of the monument itself, tunnelling deeper and deeper, and down and down. There were no lights, so we brought candles, the flames of which flickered oddly in the windless corridor.
And then, as we grew closer, I heard it, more and more. A soft rumbling, like a cat purring or… an engine running. Closer and closer, and the steps seemed to vibrate, the motionless air seemed to hum against the walls. I felt pressure building; popping my inner ear more than once.
“Right through here,” he said, and down at the bottom of the steps was a door; a big heavy wooden door that looked a little more ancient than anything else I’d ever seen, at the temple or in my life. The wood was black, and from behind it, a soft blue light was glowing. The little rat-faced monk pushed the door open, and we stepped inside.
What did I see? What could I tell you that would make any sense? Nothing. Not a single thing that could be transferred over into another mind; the visual impression would never make the trip. It’d never make sense.
It was a machine, that part was true. Part of it was built into the rock, growing into it or out of it like a tumour, some sort of unnatural growth; it was a little like seeing an extra arm, sprouting out of an anus.
The metal of the thing was shiny silver and black and full of little lights that flashed hungrily in the darkness.
And part of it seemed to be alive.
Its eyes were blue and cold, the source of the light I’d seen coming through the door. It moved like a snake, if a snake were a hundred miles long and made of living circuitry and ancient, well-polished metals. It moved smoothly, subtly… You could almost convince yourself it wasn’t moving at all, that it was just a trick of the lights, but that was simply not the truth.
The thing was something, something for sure. And it seemed to be alive.
“Can you hear it breathing?” the monk asked me, seconds before breaking into a strange uneasy laughter, seconds before he began coughing, and bleeding from the nose and ears. Thick, black blood, barely red at all. At first he was laughing, and then he was coughing, and then he was gagging, scared, almost angry, as the blood flowed out of his face, and down onto his robe, and the floor. The monk coughed and hacked, and bled out onto floor.
The big machine watched us. It watched the monk, and it watched me. So very closely.
“The secret, at the core of the earth,” the little monk said as he bled, “and the truth is, nobody knows shit about them, about what they are, or why.” He laughed, and droplets of crimson made little abstract patters on the cave floor.
The thing I was looking at was too big for the space it was in. It was all wrong shapes; improper geometry, angles with too few or many degrees, points of perspective that couldn’t be made to line up. It hurt to look at it all; it hurt my heart. It made my soul sad, and my stomach twisted with acid, like it couldn’t tell which way was up. Like I couldn’t tell which way was up.
Too much light. Those big blue eyes. Too much sound. The thing growled or hissed. The engine ran or the beast breathed, or something was happening, something I could hear, that I could feel like warmth or coldness coming up off the stone, up off that living metal.
My guide spurted blood, and laughed, and then he began to fold in on himself, like invisible hands were performing an origami trick right before my eyes; now-you-see-it now-you-don’t. Bones cracked and organs burst, and the little man folded backwards and again. His body went warm, pushing all the blood out at once, and then cold, as the blood began to sink, somehow, into the stone floor.
The machine was a hundred miles long, and at least as thick as a city block. It moved like a snake, like a great impossible leach built out of black iron and flickering neon lights. It danced before me, moving so slightly I thought I might just be going mad. I thought I might just be losing my mind, my focus, my sense of right and wrong. My place in the universe.
My guide was broken bits on the floor which looked as much like a shattered window as human being, just with more blood and bits of meat.
The machine made a sound like my ears popping in reverse, like a million mosquitos whispering all at once. Yeah, imagine an earwig, singing you the songs of the heavenly choir, even as it ate its way into your skull. It was a little like that.
The beast, the machine, was big and ancient. It was connected to the core of the earth, and its mind, if it could even be said to have had such a thing, was far from any human conception of consciousness. It was something vast and vastly eternal, at least as far as insects like us were concerned.
It moved, just barely. A machine as long as the earth is round, a machine built out of living parts, twitching its little belly across the core of our world. It stared at me, with big blue eyes. It looked through me, into me; it cascaded over me with brilliance, perhaps healing me, or sizing me as something it might devour. Maybe now, maybe later.
It moved like a snake that was a million miles long, and it had cold blue eyes that made me think of deep, deep water, or the sky after the sun has set. Cold blue eyes, that seemed to burn in the darkness. It came for me, and my mind switched right off; went black as the space between the stars. I didn’t even feel my head hit the ground. I just went away.
I woke up on small stainless-steel cot, covered in a yak-hair blanket, covered in my own sick and some other fluids I’ve never even tried to identify. The monks, the ones who’d remained, they asked me to clean myself up, and to go. They told me I’d lost any privileges I’d had with them. They told me it was time to go.
So I gathered my pack, and my belongings, and I did my best to leave my memories, and my questions. I never did see that rat-faced monk again, nor did I ever wish to. I dreamed of him from time to time, but what are dreams anyway, but the things we wish we could never or always see again?
In the dreams, he tried to tell me that the world was not ever what’d I’d thought it was. He spoke of eggs, and harvests, and of cold things made of stars, hungry and haunting and hunting, out on the very fringes of the universe, out where the truly dark things sit and wait.
Eventually, I wake up from the dreams.
Or at least, like most people, I assume I do.
Dear Grant Morrison,
I love you so much. I love you so, so much. I just think you’re fucking amazing, like you’re writing straight into my heart, into my soul, into what I want to be.
That said, pretty much everything you’ve done post-WE 3 is fucking terrible. I can’t even look at your Super-Bat stuff. It’s just terrible.
But I also can’t get through a day without referencing you, and your works. I can’t stop being touched by Doom Patrol, I can’t stop trying to become a member of The Invisibles. I can’t stop feeling like I’m somewhere in the cracks of Flex Mentallo. I had to go out and get the same tattoo that your misunderstood mutant terrorists were wearing.
Like anybody I love, you’ve done a lot of things in your life that I don’t really like.
But goddamn it man. You’re one of the best, most interesting, intelligent authors I’ve ever read.
It’s All So Fucking Zen, Isn’t She?
Nineties music and post-modern magic talkings. I must be getting into some Grant Morrison again. I must be verging on another one of those weird poetic exchanges where I put my emotions on display; building a little arrangement of letters and words for others to observe and categorize.
“He loves me this much but not in these ways.”
“He never remembers that time we-“
“He’s so obsessed with that singular part of things…”
Whatever. Like I don’t do it all just to be noticed, just to encourage hunger and bad behaviour.
She kisses me like velvet, like a cheap motel painting, like softness and a lingering sense of somebody who’s about to step out the door. She kisses me like she’s trying to remind of something, somebody else. She shifts her profile, and I see my other lovers hidden just under her skin. I gnash teeth and threaten the sky with, lets call it, a sort of tragic sort of rage.
You might know what I’m talking about.
Then again, maybe you never did.
You could make me feel like a song-bird, like you don’t understand a word I say, but you keep me around ‘cause you like the pretty noises and it suits your ego to have me pay all my attention to you.
Never Enough You For Me
I woke up early, thinking of you, mad at the world, feeling my rage in my fists and my blood in my cock. I woke up feeling like I’ve been sleeping outside, like somebody kicked me out the window and left me out in the rain.
My body is fitting my mind like it’s a leather coat that somebody left out in the rain. My soul is chafing against the inside of the tightness of my being. I got one of your feathers stuck in my throat; I tried to swallow too much of you too fast and now I’m gasping for air. Grasping at straws.
Personally, all I’m really looking for is a chance to
get it right again try again hunt again. You know, the thrill of the unknown, and the thrill of the danger that comes from falling in love with something you can’t trust.
That’s what it’s like to be in love with myself, and I have to assure you,
I have to tell you now,
I might never be able to love you as much as I love myself. I might never enjoy dancing with you as much as I enjoy dancing with myself. I might always just be using as a proxy to fuck myself, to get a little closer to that delightful bastard I’m so fucking sure that I am.
You might always be a second choice to me, since this love affair with myself is only capable of going so far, emotionally speaking.
Nerding: X-Men Movie Stuff
Couple of quick thoughts about “X-Men: First Class”. (Sorry, I’m a nerd.)
- Why couldn’t they get an Irish kid to play Banshee? It’s his only defining characteristic, really, being Irish. And the film is full of actors from the UK. Anybody with an Irish accent could’ve been just as good, and in fact, a little better.
- The script sounds terrible. I’m so spoiled by good writing in fiction, like on The Wire. I just hate scripts full of platitudes and platitude reversals. “Well, a stitch in time saves nine,” “Well, you’d best not count your chickens before they roost.”
I wish the world didn’t have to be this way. I wish comic movies could be respectful to the comics they came from and intelligent.
Hard to do. Maybe impossible with the X-Franchise.
But hey, Grant Morrison did some great stuff with them…
I’m Never What I Thought You Was
I go looking for myself.
Who’s minding the shop?
Yeah, psychedelic rock, magical life-altering theories, and working at the comic shop on the weekend. Everything tastes like everything right here; it’s a moment that you can see everything reflected in. “I am I - I am!”
I’m not running from reality, I’m running it. I’m disorganised, I’m slaying the priests of chaos with my power of Living Right. My magical ability to be exactly where I placed myself to do exactly what I programmed myself to do.
I feel something creeping up on me, and it’s dressed really nicely.
“Many monsters are beautiful. Your mother was the most beautiful monster I’ve ever seen.”