All Manner of Strange Destinies and Other Terrible Illuminations

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THE CALIFORNIA DESERT BURIES EVERYTHING IN ITS SAND.

Mansions and studios are long abandoned, and through the aberrations of heat waves coming off of the road, into that once iconic city, monks move about and animate the decadent scene with brilliant drapes of saffron cloth, sheer in the sunlight’s acid blur.

To any defectors of the nearby Silicon Valley’s corporate commune, it would seem as though the camera was still rolling, the director still filming, for what other explanation could there be for the surrealness of the scene playing out before them?

Gathered on the baking asphalt, the monks did not start at the iota that appeared in the distance, though the master among them suddenly clutched a string of 108 silver mala beads, pulling them close to his heart. The arid wind lifted their robes, the blown feathers of a phoenix, rustling into illusions of life.

Have I gone senile with passion? wondered the master.

Prior to the appearance of the iota, it was unclear what the monks had been doing in the area. It was possible they had been rooting through Old Hollywood for relics of some kind. If you were to ask an unlikely witness – such as the boil of dust that rose around their feet, it would have told you, its voice a clean dry whisper of sound, that the bags they carried were full of bottle green shards of a glassy mineral. Where the fallen starspawn had struck the desert, it had formed a thick, brittle sheet.

The sky above them made a day out of the night and a night out of the day, with beastly things that flew but should not have, filling the atmosphere as clouds do. The iota could have come in on a cloudburst or whatever you could call what had no name.

Among their monkish number were several round headed disciples that acted with deference in their master’s presence. As far as the disciples could tell, their master was staring at nothing. With their lofty sense of decency and order, they distanced themselves from their master’s unpleasant behaviour, not seeing what he saw. The disciples eventually pulled gently at his arm, pointing in the direction of the sign, or perhaps slightly passed it. It was, presumably, where they wanted to go.

He squinted into the distance, an owl in daylight. His fading sight could not make out the shape of the iota; this world was full of just as many pilgrims as it was monsters, and this was the only path to the monastery. There is no flight from these situations, thought the master, and near infinite ways to interpret the path chosen.

Transmutation had taken an awful turn. Biomech laboratories, such as those in Silicon Valley, had changed the laws of nature. Although many of the mis-born did not mature to adulthood, to go on to beget their own, greater extents of suffering in the ecological economy brought greater monstrosity to the ecology itself.

The monsters roamed the deserted land. Their routine was to emerge at noon and stand in the inferno that came in through holes in the ozone. These monsters worshiped the horizontal, the flatness of the topology. The vertical body was as unnatural to it as they were to the monks.

Over time, encounters with the monsters had made the master consider how large the universe was, and how limited an idea life could be when resigned to just one planet, with no comparison. How could we know what was truly monstrous? Our actions could go on forever, and if they never met with any comparable consequence or any comparable action, how would we ever know what it meant to end suffering for all? For it would be without measure. Maybe this was what was common to the experience of all life everywhere, that witnessing life was at once monstrous and divine. For him, this was what suffering was.

Happiness was overcoming the things most Other to ourselves, and what is Otherness but the suffering of all the little-others for the happiness of the Big-Others?

Eventually, the master could see that the iota had more heads than it should have, more arms and legs than it should have. It shouldn’t have been able to know life at all. But somehow, it did and was bringing its livingness to them.

If the master would have spoken right then – for, being trappist, he was in monastic silence – he would have told the disciples, “The Buddha urges us to remember that we all become corpses.” Instead, he kept his quietness and spoke with simple hand gestures to convey what was essential. We say more with our bodies than we do with our words, words which, instead of filling what’s left of their meaning with profound silence, let sinful interpretations close off our closeness to their true meaning; anyways, Mauna seemed strange at a time like this.

The iota was no longer an iota.  

It said what it wasn’t. Maybe it did not know what it was, or maybe it was tempting the master out of the vow placed over his tongue. It wanted its name to be spoken so it could be seen by the disciples, but all it could say was what it wasn’t, and so it had to be clever.

Standing tall on stilted legs and a cane, it spoke the thoughts of the monks the moment they were having them. It possessed no thoughts of its own; the mouth into its mind was as deep and thoughtless as a black hole. A mouth that froze open, drawing the air up into some kind of special sensory organ within that impalpable darkness. Similar to a cat’s flehmen reaction, it could smell the deep odour of consciousness and sucked the air behind its teeth, in through the roof of its mouth, piping shrill echos as it passed into that voyeuristic organ. After a moment of standing together with it, the master, skin pebbled with goosebumps, wanted silence utterly.

Its body teemed with a miscellany of objects, using its many kinds of arms from many kinds of creatures to hold itself together. The tangle was juggling and tucking away each object’s attempted escape, only for something else to immediately spill out of the other side. Some of the objects were alive, birds with only wings flapped, beaks without birds cawed, and where intestines may have been were scales against skin, that baubled around picture frames.

Many of the arms came across as showy, holding one item of supreme importance, a watch, or a necklace with a portrait in its lockette. A sword hung from its waist, and around its stomach were bubble-like shapes that expanded from the same fleshy-cloth that flowed around its body, much like the monks’ robes did. The stomach was like a frog’s vocal sac, bubbling up from its throat. It made a croaking call that one feared, for its echo and volume of breath could only be meant for challenging its own species for mates. Whatever breath it had was for this purpose.

It was difficult to determine who was who and what was what. It held more than it was capable of holding, and yet nothing ever touched the ground except its three stilt legs. One of the hands was gloved in latex and dangled a baited line that the rest of the untidy collection seemed to lithely steer toward all in one piece. To be a thing perfectly perceived was an error of vision. The frenetic, jittering runs of its almost-hands and almost-human face drew back into remoteness. At the end of this line was a lotus flower with blue petals, undergoing the sweet unfolding of a spring blossom.

Riding atop the stilted encasement of locomotion was a saddled creature whose muscle-less legs gripped the sides. Its head was a thing with no eyes, and a mouth that copied the sounds it heard inside other creatures’ heads, as if born a stone that could speak. The mouth was unmoving, and spoke through the voice of a frozen scream. An atrocity jutted from its crown, and above it tiny phases of the moon waxed and waned, becoming total or becoming nothing . Quarters of the heavens, and the intermediate space revolved in the midst of their own strange destinies.

The master looked as ghostly things manifested from the fleshy-cloth. These did have eyes and, with a will and a fate of their own, endlessly stared into the blankness of the speaking stone, as if it would cease to exist if one of them moved their eyes away. They were a school of sucker fish latched onto the glass reflection of their aquarium tank. Nothing in the world would have them look away.

What does one do when the universe comes to them with everything propped up on three stilted legs, and with its name, the meaning of it all, missing? The master did what he often did, putting thought to nothing, so as not to give the monster anything more to say, and in turn, himself more questions. It waited in silence with them.

An odd creation, a knot of souls, thought the master. Was it made in a lab, or was it the spawn of stars? He accepted that he was in no position to interpret mis-borns. They would bring it to the one who could – the Buddha.


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Story 9


THE ONLY SCAFFOLDING LEFT STANDING, STRONG ENOUGH TO BRACE THE SIZABLE SUNBLEACHED LETTERS OF THE SIGN, WAS PROPPED UP BEHIND THE HO_LY____.

Beyond that were what resembled the Greater Khingan mountains of west Manchuria or maybe the Helan Mountains of inner Mongolia. The hills had become mountains since the Juan de Fuca and North American plates released a megathrust of energy along the Cascadia subduction zone, slipping just north of the San Andreas fault line; from Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino California, an earthquake raged for 5 infamous minutes.

The mountains were made of karma.

After a long hike, the group approached a wall that wasn’t really a wall. It was lined with prayer flags that flapped like tethered butterflies, dancing colour across ramparts made of chiseled stone. The symbols glinted, scalloped in sanguine, the colour of dried blood.

The geology that had once been hidden in the hills had been opened and made tall by the earthquake. Now there was a forbidden city, built from ancient metals exhumed from quarries exposed by the quake.

The entrance that wasn’t an entrance looked like the sleeping head of a serpent, on a rock in the sun with its tail in its mouth. Walling in the city was a gigantic ouroboros that had slithered out of the earth with the yawning mountains, and curled into a ring around it. The eyes of the serpent were missing, and so they passed like camels through a tricky gate into Jerusalem. When the wall had been living it must have been their protector, for it had one eye always on the inside and the other facing the outside. When those strangely living clouds came in low, you could almost imagine how it must have jettisoned itself into the air, slithering out of the skin’s rented space, to leave its molted armor as a gift.

Out of the inner eye, from within the skull of shed skin, they ingressed what was the reinvention of Tibet. After the Chinese government had corrupted the original, only a copy existed now.

The wall that was a serpent had once been a monk, another specimen changed by the biomech laboratory. Now, it was a guardian over guardians. Who knows where it had gone in its hunt for the cloud-things?

Inside the once living wall, the scene was itself a Great Soul, and within it was all the phenomenology of its spirit. Saintly masters with the glow of astronautic halos prayed to idols in the cliff face. There were deities made of the same karma that made the mountains, or maybe they too were products of the biomech laboratory. In that future, that was ours but not ours, it was impossible to distinguish the origin of nature from the origin of its experimentation.

Joshua trees bloomed from the seeds of eastern xerophytes, transplanted into the rocky contours. And the city itself, seated like a monarch enthroned in its chair, was as green as trinitite, as if it had been entirely made of the desert’s sand at the ground zero point of a nuclear test site, as if the impact of the explosion had melted it into a glassy residue, into fragile flakes of soul dust. It was a castle in the sand that no tide could wash out to sea.

In the caves of the monastery, there were spiritual gardens whose green-golden buds encased radioactive flowers, flowers that would hopefully never bloom into the ugly cloud-things that still hovered in the stratosphere. They pretended to be cumulonimbus though no natural clouds formed past the troposphere.

A witness of it had once thought it strangely and disturbingly like a painting by Nicholas Roerich. Maybe that was no coincidence, because in that future Vice President Henry A. Wallace had been more than attracted by Roerich’s idea of establishing a Sacred Union of the East, a spiritual and geopolitical utopia. Instead of in the heart of Asia, it had happened in America.

Sponsoring Roerich’s expeditions to the otherworldly masters was controversial at the time. A lifetime of correspondence between the two theosophians would one day be called the guru letters. After being nearly killed by Tibetan authorities for his intrusions, Roerich would eventually bring back what was needed to form an ideal society. A Western Buddhism and the collection of seeds that would survive and protect the destruction of the soil at those highest elevations, and allow the ambrosian fruit that the deities fed on to ripen.

The Roerich Pact was the result of this correspondence, instrumental for the protection of internationally recognized cultural property. All the triumphant art of ancient myth and legend was there. The pact was a forerunner for peace, and laid out any and all violations against what it defined as culturally significant. These Masters of Ancient Wisdom, known as the Mahatma, were the preservers of an artistic and architectural heritage, a heritage that still believed that nature was real, and that the authority of its ecology was the earth’s highest religion. And of course, amongst these items was the invention that defined the American identity as the embodiment of death and destruction. It was all there – the bombs, the errors in their genes.

The shadow of the bomb was made of silicone, and out of that uncanny valley of shadowkings, came the uncanny fallout of sunkings.  

Silicone comprises 25% of the earth’s crust, and so the industry that was built to make this mineral the tissue of intelligence in every machine, eventually out competed the nuclear culture for power over the American economy. What those of the Valley did with that control was the coordination of a responsible waste management plan for that former culture’s greatest monster, extending this armistice agreement through the Roerich Pact. It carried through a network of waves in the air and flares on the screen.

But it wasn’t only the bomb that lived with the everyday inhabitants of the world at this and other mass-produced monasteries of its kind. The gold standard on money became worthless in the shift to silicone’s virtual currency. The bank vaults were empty; it was the greatest heist in history. The perfect crime.

Gold was better than water at insulating the madness of irradiated particles. What was once only valuable became useful. It was fateful that they came together in this way, two total alienations from nature, one the pathology of peace and the other the ecology of war, married into a new aestheticism, a new materialism, within this ancient religious order, contending to outlast the tick-tock of the atomic clock.


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THE UNIVERSE-ON-STILTS WAS LED BY THE MASTER INTO THE ADJOINING WING OF AN ENORMOUS MONASTIC STRUCTURE. 

It roiled in emerald brilliance, and was known as the jewel, the heart of the Great Soul.

The monks who were the disciples went on, dismissed in the form of a blessing from their master. The monks hadn’t glanced even once at the universe’s presence during the length of the trip.

Once the master was seated on the floor in the confines of a small and isolated room of the monastery, the scent of incense drifting from a shrine, the tips glowing faintly, a rusty pearl, he observed each of the lost souls that had crouched down with him, while the speaking stone remained surmounted, above them all. After a period of silence that accented the spiritual tension between them, the master’s eyes shining with secrets, he began to speak. He spoke through thoughts subject to all manner of strange destinies, once repeated by the universe’s gaping mouth. A devil cat breathing in the internal stream of the master’s consciousness.

“Did you not wonder why you were not thirsty in a place of no water?” He began. “I lead you here, to this sacred and saved space, to be cleansed, and to reflect on your lives by meditating on the problem that confronts us all.”

He gestured to the knot of ghosts, gazing into the speaking stone as it piped and trilled, “You and all the rest of you that I have never known, you are among the forgotten spirits of yesterday. I am here to let you realize, in a compassionate refrain from nirvana, that tomorrow has come–”

“You must unbind the tethers of mingled love and hatred, let it fray off of you like the tatters of fog at sunrise. Like persons cast away by a sunken vessel, each of you have tried helplessly to remain afloat by drowning one another — in order to keep breathing, to keep a head above the surface of the living. What a horrible knot of souls you’ve become in doing so! This isn’t the worst soul-knot I’ve seen, though without my shepherding you here, you would have become worse than this!”

The master took them in again with his aromatic thought, and the speaking stone spoke in turn. “Somehow, you’ve managed to cut yourselves out from the amassed entanglement below, but I must tell you there is still further to go. This city is a ghost of ghosts, the quantity making the quality so. There, the phoenix is not reborn from its ash, but dies to stay dead a long time…”

If one were to open the sliding door leading onto the high balcony of that room, they could behold the coming nightfall over the LA cityscape. Neon daemons illuminated what the burning day’s tallow had left deformed in its trail. Like flies to light, they wandered in from the badlands in strange constellations. There were no stars in the sky, only over the land itself, as though the stars had all fallen into a sea of their own reflection.

Some of the lost souls had been the philanthropists that constructed an invasive replica of the secret city, in the hopes of protecting the future from itself. “If we built it, Great Souls will come,” they would have said, then. This went beyond a responsible nuclear waste management plan; it was the democratization of power, a new constitution by way of technological loopholes and alternative elections. The result was the world’s first concrete global law, and a middle empire that totalized the bureaucratization of machines and their social computations. But corporate communes had failed to luddite revolutionaries who had released the specimens of the biomech labs so that those experiments could  search for ways to survive and adapt. To find out whether they are the foundation of truth or the foundation of falsehood.

The skin of crouching ghosts had pulled itself towards the visage, caught in awful epiphanies of the unknown, unremembered consequences. They felt the draw of a current of truth, spreading from their mind to their manyfold appendages. Bubbling up all over its fleshy-cloth, they loudly croaked a mournful night song.

“Now, it is time to set your lifeline straight,” continued the master. “I can go with you no further – the absolute centre point of this monastery is not for mortals to venture, and people such as myself are not wanted there. Don’t be attracted to the phantasmagoria that still remains out there in the city without end. It is a grave, and those doleful lights gathering over yonder are just the will-o’-the-wisps of beings trapped in delusional orbs of light, in a double depth of darkness. Press forward and think backwards, and you’ll each find your own way to the golden centre of this flower.”

With that, the master began to pray in a breathy timbre of ceremonial mantra, lowering himself in front of the shrine. He gestured and chanted through the smoking incense, that was wafted to his face like a splash of water, towards the threshold they were to pass through next.


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INSISTING THAT THE TERRIBLE ILLUMINATION WOULD TAKE PLACE IN HIMSELF.

The knots of ugly little heads tried to speak through their mutism but the master had reached a state of being where enlightenment itself loses all meaning, and so the words were no longer there for the monster to use. The violet of his eyes almost hurt, as they were eclipsed by utter nihilism. The heads looked at one another with hideous confusion and then clumsily moved on inside the inside whence the master abandoned all sense of earthly decorum and all control over his own body was lost.

Merciful jade forms glowed in the city’s jewel statues.

It felt as if they were within a mandala, and the intricate, repeating patterns were what they struggled for conscious awareness of. One of the ghostly heads remembered a moment from when they were last human, picking out the knots from the tangle.

That fragment of memory brought on a loosening, breaking the dam to the gushing river below. The memory was channeled to the other two, and they began to whisper, removing their entrenched eyes from the speaking stone. Colour now came to the head, like a small slice into an eyeball, and this somehow made the ghosts’ vision change.

A static-ridden scene. Between them, the ropes of fate began to tighten and slacken, tighten and slacken. Approaching the mandala’s centre, memories of what led them here came back to them. The legs of the rider became corded with muscle and it danced, the stilts and everything which had been so delicately balanced upon them, sinking like jetsom to the shores of the earthly floor.

Although the light of this world had grown hideous, the cardinal doctrine of the monasteries’ denomination continued.  They did not use the bombs to solve their problems, and they did not annihilate the experiments that leaked out of the laboratories.

And so now, in the postmodern hills of Hollywood, all but forgotten by those that had placed them there, the monks worship what could not have been locked away in industrial basements with heavily bolted doors and many stairs engineered to become indecipherable dungeons to the future. It is not this alternate future but the future that is ours, where the monks would patiently wait out the hugely finite decay of radioactive monsters that trailed out from a horizonless planet.

At the centre of the mind-mandala of the master, the knotted-souls find themselves separated, each alone, each now accompanied by the Western Buddha in the epicenter of the Greater Soul. There was no outside the mandala. The memory palace that the Buddha visualized, into manifestation through the master, took the form of the universe held on three stilts, baited on by a blue lotus flower. This extraordinary vision did exist but its constant state of change was spiritually unreal; it was not what it seemed but had the same power, the principle that veiled spiritual reality. Its name and meaning, what it could only say in the appearance of the word-things born of the thought-things in the head of the master, became what they were.

Maya.

Surrounding the Buddha is a field of gold painted shells, like the terracotta army that was once buried in the first Chinese emperor’s tomb. Encased within their shells are the slumbering nightmares of those distant, daemonic explosions.

The bombs were safely in their mind.

On their shiny surface is inscribed a new scripture, a sacred scroll and an idol in one. The Buddha glows in the light of the precious metal codex. His body is almost without matter, immaterial, transparently still. It is as if the vary traces of radiation in this palace’s room are gathered within his visible emptiness. On the edge of a strange Nirvana, with a bodhisattva smile and hooded eyes, Maya, the illusion itself, reaches enlightenment with a single, spoken metaphor:

“On this side of the explosion, enlightenment is the bomb.” 


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11 thoughts on “All Manner of Strange Destinies and Other Terrible Illuminations

    1. Hi, George! When logged into WordPress, there should be a little follow button down in the bottom right hand corner of our site. You can also follow us on Twitter @ twitter.com/OddMadland – we always have updates there about recent and upcoming publications. Do let us know what you think of our stories, after you’ve had a chance to explore. 🙂

    1. And I will frequently post : ) Thank-you for your interest, Seemeen, I hope to hear more of what you think — art is mean’t to be talked about, so let’s talk.

    1. Strange. It doesn’t seem to show up for some users. I hope you can find a way to stay current with us, I would recommend following us on Twitter @oddmadland. That way you’ll receive the same updates you would as a WP follower! In the mean time, we will keep troubleshooting ; )

    1. Close. It is third-person but it is a special kind of third-person called free indirect discourse. It allows the writer to slip in and out characters’ consciousness; thoughts, feelings, and words are filtered through the third-person narrator. Freeing up the writing constraints quite a bit, arguably more than any other narrative structure. Elmore Leonard is one among many of the popularizers of this particular style. Thanks for the GREAT question!

      1. Good example. You might not be able to stop once you start ; ) I find it works well when you want to describe a community of people as many moving parts independent of the greater whole, like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.

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