The Abyss

A story layered like a cake.

Chapter 1. Untitled.

Viva, fresh as morning, released the breathless pillow from between her legs, and plucked the top book from the pile on the floor. It began:

1. The Great Flagellator.

The Great Flagellator stepped out of the boiler room onto the lacy ironwork of the landing and looked off and down without focussing on anything in particular. A head, one of many, surprisingly jumped off a nearby shelf and landed at his feet. He examined it, and seeing its tongue protruding sassily, tried to push the tongue back into its mouth. It wouldn’t go back, and annoyed, he kicked it off and down to where the rats would eat it.. He re-set his mind. He didn’t hear the slight sound the tongue made when it went back into its mouth as the lips and mouth flattened when the head hit the stonework at the bottom of the building.

His mind’s eye showed him row after row of bare backs and buttocks well-lit and horizontal. Some of them were scarified by self-flagellants in search of the spirit. But he had only contempt for such amateurishness. He saw his whiplash make shapes in the air with the mastery of the greatest penmanship in the orient, and then land exactly on a bare back in front of him or sometimes, in a display of virtuosity, on one behind him. What happened after mattered as little to him as did the curled discarded shreds of wood to someone shaping a piece of wood. For a moment he felt satisfied. In the ecstasy of his mastery of the lash he did not hear what could have been the distracting sounds of the flagellatees, though sometimes he fancied he could have made them make unsung sounds that would have been as exact and satisfying as the prints left by his whip, and to which all the words used to describe the sounds of classical music would have been applicable and appropriate.

He was proud of his own skin, which was as soft as silk. And he used several unguents to help keep it that way.

The arenas were small so that the audience could see everything.
They purred ah or stood up reverently in silent homage.
He would stride off at the end of a performance, and having calmed down after a short while, would come out onto the catwalk and, without bowing, face the four main compass points in turn as the audience finally let go of their feelings and burst into sound.

Meanwhile those on the floor of the arena who had still groaned and moaned had had their heads cut off, and their bodies were dragged along with the others to nearby open pits into which they were pitched and after a while covered in earth. When he finally walked off, the screen that covered the floor of the arena lit up and in a series of close-ups and other significant shots the aficionados in the audience saw how a pattern was continued in adjacent bodies, and occasionally how every body, though it had its own pattern, contributed to an overall pattern.

Only criminals, and political dissidents were whipped,and so prisons had no long-term inmates who needed to be paid for, and the money this saved was always pointed out in college textbooks as a practice of good government.

Every now and then in its centuries–old history the building, symbolic to some of the worst kind of tyranny, was stormed by a group out of power and they were beaten back if they didn’t also take over the government. Once even, the building was razed to the ground and the infamy it represented was pronounced over and done with by a new and radical government, but the continuing fanatical and unwavering opposition to this government necessitated its rebuilding for the processing of recalcitrants who didn’t evade capture. There were two such stormings during the Great Flagellator’s tenancy there.
When the building was stormed the second time, he swept the landing clear with one swing of his whip. And when someone from below shot him a number of times and, no doubt by accident, shattered his whipping hand, he wound the lash round his arm, leaving some slack, and dropped down and kicked his killer off the platform below with one convulsive swing of his feet and then hung dead while the lash slowly unwound from his arm till it let him fall and splat out on the stonework below.

2. Beside the Well of Om-rum.

They tell a different story to strangers going down the Well of Om-rum in the bucket-seat facing the seat of the story-teller along the rim of the huge bucket that squeezes the blue embracing sky into a dot of light the size of a speck in the eye as it goes down to find the slow-flowing river in an ever-drier world. They say that one day, there appeared a man who, shrouded from head to foot in a threadbare cloth, joined the beggars at the well to be one of them.
Now it was against the law for a beggar not to show his face there, for who can then see whether he has a contagious disease or is a wanted criminal. So those employed by the committee in charge of such things ordered him to show his face, but when he did so, became paralyzed by horror or drew back in disgust, for never, not even in their nightmares, had they seen so ugly a face. All the features were ugly in themselves and in their relationships to each other. To get back their peace of mind, they ordered him to turn his back to them, but when he did so the remainder of his cloth fell off and exposed an exquisite network of cuts, and just as they had been repelled by his face, so were they attracted to these.
In my travels I saw such mastery once, said one. It was done by someone who had, to learn mastery in his art, flayed off every inch of skin off his brother and two sisters so that only the skin of the eyes remained which rolled around in horror at what they saw. The man who said this was given to exaggeration.
Not so, said another, known for his contradictory spirit. I have heard of him. He is a small man. He has five whips in each hand. It was his uncle he flayed.
It’s all the same, said another, for whom the world at that time held no savor.


The old President, Sinfocio, before he was shot to death used to say, A man is a man, by which he meant, -- well, what did he mean? He meant what is is, and should be accepted, and he meant we should keep our expectations in bound, and he meant that no matter what, the good qualities in people would show through. So much meaning was considered a cliché as he handed out this saying at every opportunity, but actually the air was empty and there was room for it. It was thought, though there was no conclusive proof of it, that the President was shot in mid phrase by this ugly man who therefore ended up in an open pit from which, a rarity, he managed to escape without a hue and cry. He became the richest man in the region by showing his back and charging for it., and as he was a great tourist attraction, the whole region benefited from him and he was much respected.

Suddenly Viva lost interest, closed the book, and dropped it on the floor. She picked up another, and started on that:


When they arrested “Kook” Harrington and then let him go although he had committed the crime, it didn’t really matter as he was a fiction of my imagination, or so I thought. But when he re-appeared in my doorway and asked me to put him up, I knew I had trouble on my hands. To start with, he was taller than me, and built accordingly; and if it came to a fight, I wasn’t going to win; and if he happened to have a gun, I hadn’t a chance, as I didn’t have one. He was a nasty customer and wouldn’t take a refusal lightly, so I let him in.
Once in, he snarled. I made a note of that. My dog snarled like that, but she remained fast asleep as he wasn’t really there. What he snarled I don’t quite know, as I’m a bit hard of hearing though most of the time I get along alright. But I should’ve listened more closely for the next thing he did was inexplicable: he lay down on the floor and burst out laughing. His laugh was nasty too. It gave me the creeps. Then there was a knock at the door, and it opened and Charlie came in. Charlie’s real enough and he came to borrow something. He lives next door. “Kook” had stopped laughing and was now staring at me.accusingly. Who’s this guy? he asked.
There was so much tension in the air that the magazine in my hand burst into flame. To smother it out I had to put the lighted cigarette in my other hand down.
Charlie’s nasal voice didn’t get a chance to be heard.
Oh, that’s Charlie. Lives next door.
Oh yeah. Better get back there, bub. I got business here. Just me and my buddy.
Charlie felt the urgency and left without even giving me another look. He knew there were times when I didn’t like to be disturbed.

You didn’t so much see battles, You saw scenes from them, one at a time. I was in a museum once and that’s what I saw.
I lay down on the floor for a bit of a rest, and started laughing.
The museum in question, but who’s questioning it? was a three story building. That’s where I first met Harrington. A most unlikely place. But he had just shot Cookie Watson and had run in there to hide. His clothes didn’t blend in with those in the paintings, nor with those on the statues, when they had any. Nor was it going to be easy to jimmy open the door to the basement, not with an attendant standing beside it looking at nothing, though anyone could have had a great time looking for Harrington there among the clutter if it weren’t for scuffings in the dust which would have given him away.
I myself was interested in a lady curator, but I hadn’t got far with her, and she wasn’t there that day, which is probably why I got interested in Harrington.
My name is Gallagher. I wasn’t going to tell you that till the end of the story. It was going to be the last line of a reply and make a smart ending. But I changed my mind. Can’t think of anything else to do but tell you that and then get on with it. I’m a made-up private eye. No, I don’t mean that I wear make-up. So far I’ve been made up to get back to the office from somewhere, sit down, take a swig from the bottle on the desk I’m sitting at, look around, and find it all familiar and depressing but I’m not depressed by it, I’m so used to it.

Viva dropped that too, as she had done with so many things, discarded lovers, who had gone from interesting to boring and intimates to strangers, in a split second, and remained so. She decided to give the books one last try:

The Nine Cadwalladers.

“The warriors each wrapped themselves in a piece of parchment that looked like rough- worn lichened stone, and now, in the last of the light, they looked like nine-foot–tall pillars dispersed in front of the ancient ruin of the temple. Their pursuers would be taken by surprise.
When the pillars were completely surrounded by more of the enemy than were expected, the cat who lived in the temple did something that helped the men in the pillars considerably. Perhaps his eerie screeching so worried the enemy, who thought it a complaint made by a disturbed ghost, for they came from a country in which there were only dogs, that they thought it discreet to fall back. Sometime after, the pillars stumbled and rocked away from them undetected in the dark.. That cat was called Cadwallader and he was the first one with that name.
The second cat, also called Catwallader,”

At this point Viva thought how unlikely the whole episode was and stopped reading it.
She picked up another book and read:
I say, old boy, d’you see that man over there? Well, look here, he’s left me his hand.” And there, sure enough, in his hand was a hand with blood still wet where it had been sliced off at the wrist.
She put that book down too.

Having tried all these books, sleep began to overcome her, and she found herself looking down a vast and deep abyss in which after a time she detected a point with the figure of a man on it, and then she was afloat and unmoving above the abyss. Her body was flattened and unfelt, like a cut-out made of sturdy cardboard, and all about her and into the far away distance of this abyss violent passions were raging, yellow and red and purple and continually changing shape and size relative to each other. Sometimes something appeared for a moment, like the prow of an ancient ship breasting a wave, and implying the rest of it was there but swallowed up from sight in the turmoil.

At this point, in her dream, God lost interest in her as a living person, and she died in her sleep. But her vision went on. She continued to see the abyss; but in a sudden close-up, the last fist made by her grandmother, symbolic of who knows what, appeared to her. That lady had died hurling imprecations at enemies unknown to the rest of the family who had never heard of them before. But now Viva was surrounded by them, and a bad lot they were, out to get revenge on Viva for whatever they felt her grandmother had done to them. They were the pursuers in The Nine Cadwalladers, and “Kook”Harrington, and The Great Flagellator, with one or two others thrown in.
Holy mackerel, thought Viva, walking to and fro in the abyss, What am I going to do about them? And she turned round to face them. They were in the meantime skating along in great arcs, as if on a large pond, and as if she no longer existed. Well, did she? she asked herself, vexed and quanderied by the question.
Out of the blue came a squadron of angels, coasting along on half-extended wings, which were the color of fury; and other reserved mentionables, in the same upper corner of the sky above the abyss, were mooning around.
O holy God, what’s going on here? (This is the author, intruding.)
The vast abyss continues to swim around in an even vaster space.

There are some jolly texts posted up here and there in the abyss that can sometimes be read as one swirls by. here are some:
One cannot live and preserve the lives of others, or kill oneself or others: unless one believes that the fictitious is real..
Thinking, doing, and feeling are making and breaking tools. According to circumstance, people use the tool the prefer. But one who sees but couldn’t care less about liking one’s own preferences in tools, makes or breaks what alone is appropriate to anything.
What is said in the above paragraph will be true for the next four thousand years after which it will have become a valueless but much recommended dried up stick. Then it will burst into blossom, which will make it almost unrecognizable, and in this new state will last thousands of more years.
The above three paragraphs are from what remains of corrupt originals written in Sanskrit or Chinese (there was no time to determine which) and translated by me.

Sometimes I come to a boundary in my writing, in its relation (or lack of relation) to all the rest of the text; and the question is whether to erase, or leave it and go on.
Which should I do?
But still the vast abyss gyrated.

Remembering none of this, just then, Viva’s eyes opened and saw beyond the window in front of them: voluminous, expanding, the mourning clouds lowering over the ground; enveloping, darkening, swollen like the loosened robes of old men in a gale, rooted, standing, ominous. She chuckled at the thought of not having to get up and go out, and fell asleep again, and found herself in a forest of old men in a sea of rutabagoes.

Later that day, her sister visited her. Long-armed and long-legged. they twined around each other so tightly that their breasts stuck out sideways.

Chapter 2. I was a rutabago for the F.B.I.

The End.