Monthly Archives: March 2012

Codex Valera

The earliest mention of the Codex Valera comes from the writings of philosopher Sonticus, where he remarks that “..that book, which comes from the south, does scrabble at words like a dog with a spider.” The name Valera is actually the name lent to it by its discoverer, a roman scholar stationed somewhere in Asia minor during 5th century B.C. The common records imply that the book is much older than that, referring to it arriving from an “abyss of time.”

The Codex Valera, much like the Holy Writ of Bombay, is an irrational text, lacking end or beginning. However unlike Holy Writ, the codex was discovered to be in decipherable language, a form of middle-kingdom Sumerian, but so poorly parsed that the sentence structure is incoherent. A single passage might read

To (the) airy light-on-dark was sent the hollowness up to right center (with) much cadence

with the following sentence more or less completely unrelated.  What little has been translated appears as obtuse blocks of text describing a world rich in adverbs but lacking almost entirely in nouns. In 1959, an Oxford scholar who had the text run under radiograph found that the viewable text may not even be the original, as what appears to be a key of symbols appears near the end, bleached out by some unknown technique. The book paper(not human leather, as some less credible accounts might insist) is 70% cotton rag, 19% cellulose, and 11% unknown materials. The book itself is remarkably well-preserved, whether due to treatment methods or subject matter unknown at this time.

Due to the disjointed nature of the book, little headway has been made towards transliteration of the text. What has come out of the few attempts made has been discouraging to the scholarly world, as the book coheres to no known genre. Theories have been put forth that the book was written as an ancient commentary on the unwieldy nature of prophetic works, that its incoherency is therefore its reason for existing, but these have been dismissed as “depressing.”

The strongest and also strangest hypothesis to come out of the scholarly debate was that of Frederick Werther, who argued that the book, in its original language and syntax, was a prophecy and that translating it to its original language was key to the continued survival of the human race. This was dismissed as patently ridiculous by the academic world once it was discovered that Werther attempted to smuggle the text out in his trousers.

A translation-by-rote was attempted in the late 1970’s, but promptly abandoned once the translators discovered the book’s penchant for shifting around entries at will. Oddly enough, an uncited footnote to the compiled study remarks that as the attempt to translate went on, the book seemed to be sending the team affectionate, if garbled, messages.

Since the codex has no immediate practical use, it has been stored in the same library as other functionally useless “special interest” incannabula, such as Simon Magus’s Sneeze Book and Gṏrte’s Prophecy of Shoes.


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What you don’t see

In the summer he sits under an awning, selling paintings on the sidewalk. They are canvas squares of red or brown, of green or grey. They are paintings of buildings and streets, trash cans and curbs. Cityscapes. He never painted people, or cats, or dogs.

He sits wearing an ingratiating smile, thanking people for stopping even a second out of their day to look at his wares. He has not sold a thing in days. There was one woman who he thought might be close to buying, but instead she went white and walked away like she might be sick. At lunch he squats by an easel and chews a hotdog, studying people. A man walking with his young daughter. Some grandmother smiling at his view of a set of stone steps. A bum who sizes him up and lopes on.

He finishes his hotdog and wipes his mouth daintily on his napkin.

A group of girls across the street giggle, shoving each other. He pretends to study an ant by his toe. One of the group breaks away and drifts over to him, a slim, pretty girl with hair like a buttercloud.

She says, are these for sale?

And the other girls call Em-ma, Em-ma.

And he says, Emma? That’s a lovely name.

And he says yes, each and every one is for sale, feel free to browse.

He likes the way she walks around, humming through her nose, head cocked to study each painting. She makes a full circuit of his wares before coming back.

And he says see anything you like?

And she says yes, I like the one with the striped tabby cat.

And now he’s excited, but tries not to show it. And he says I didn’t paint any cats.

And she says yes, that one there. And she points with polished fingernails to a red canvas alley. And she says the cat is just behind the crate, you didn’t paint it but it’s still there.

And he can’t hide his smile and he says yes, yes I can see— but there’s more. She can see others, she says, she spotted others but not all of them. And she names a few. Now he is very happy and he says Emma?

He says Emma, I’d like to paint something for you.

And she says for me? And she chews on a strand of hair.

And he says yes, I can’t think of anyone who would appreciate it quite as much.

And she blushes and turns away to hide it. And the other girls cajole her: Em-ma! Em-ma!

And she says I might like that.

And he takes out a canvas and a bit of graphite, and he wets the tip of it in his mouth and says describe the view from your window to me. And she tells him about the clean, white sidewalk, and the trim of the house next door, and the liquid amber tree that shades it all, and finally her purple curtains. And he puts down the graphite and says thank you very very much Emma.

And she says when can I see it?

And he says it won’t take me long. Just a few days. Don’t forget about me, okay?

And she nods and runs off with her friends. And he whistles as he wraps his canvases in butcher paper and carries them all to the basement apartment where he lives. He whistles while he squirts paint from a tube onto a palette made from a hammered tin can, and dabs a big camel brush into it. It’s more like nine days when he’s done, but he brings it with him on the tenth wrapped in a piece of green cloth.

And Emma comes back and says eagerly can I see my picture?

And he gives it to her and tells her to open it when she gets home. He wants to imagine her face when she sees it.

She comes back the next day. The painting is unwrapped. She says I don’t want this. You take it back.

He says what’s wrong, isn’t it as you described?

The canvas is the view from her room exactly. Every leaf distinct, every spot of shadow. And so he smiles and asks what’s wrong Emma? though he knows full well what. She says you put yourself into the painting. He says I didn’t paint myself in. She says yes, but you’re still there, just there, beyond the corner? You’re crouching in the dumpster with a knife.

He says I haven’t got a knife.

She says it’s in your mind. And a man who thinks knives is just as bad as a man who uses knives. She says don’t paint anymore pictures for me. She turns on her heel and walks away.

He starts a new picture that day. This one is still exactly the view from her window, but he isn’t in it, painted or otherwise.  Something else is, though. Behind the paint. When he finishes he sends it straight to her house, though she never gave him her address.

The package comes back, unopened. There is a note with it:

You awful man. Don’t paint for me anymore. I can tell through the paper what you put in there, I’m not touching a single string on this package.
You leave me alone and never talk to me again from this day.
And no more paintings!

He smiles.

That night he’s in her yard. He’s got his green dufflebag with all his paints and all his paintbrushes and a fine linen canvas. He’s just shouldered the bag onto the lawn when a flash blinds him. She’s in the window with a Polaroid.

She says say cheese. She says now that was much faster than a painting, wasn’t it?

And he says Emma now don’t be silly—

And she says remember that thing you put in the painting? It’s still there.

And she says goodbye.

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and you ran and

special thanks to fatesjoke, for his indespensible advice


a man

smart man

chosen for your lingual prowess among the University staff

would trade anything to be in their place right now and unmake the last few hours and boil the words from your brain

you smart man

city man

what are you doing here in the mountains?

what possessed you besides the temporary insanity of adventure?

(why oh why oh why did you say yes)

yes you scoffed cigarettes and laughed with the others

laughed like men with no concept of death

you were soft (couch-softened comfort even in your nylon-poly-parka)

you all laughed in your eggshell of glass and steel

(can’t remember what it’s like to laugh forgotten even how to blink)

you struggled up mountain passes rimed with ice so that when the sun touched them they lit up like heaven around you and even running you could spare a thought for how pretty it was until you tripped


and Jennings reached over to catch your clumsy ass (solid academic fat second only to the collection of it in your head)

and Jennings is solid Nordic bone and stiff muscle

Jennings is solid pragmatism and sanity but Jennings runs too

and Jennings went hurtling over the edge and

he fell and


Jennings who shared milky coffee and laughed with you on the ride up (academic like you going up to the summit for god-knows-what)

Jennings who was right behind you

who was right behind Quincy

who was the first to see inside the chamber (open after who knows how long made by who knows what but struck open by you proud pilgrims of science)

opened with a belch of stale air right in Quincy’s face

and he screamed and

you screamed

only now the sound won’t come out and air feels like ice in your lungs

you stand

but in your heart you know it’s over

even before you start running

you are 5 years of university breakfasts slapped over a cold skeleton

you are ice shards and sobbing fear

you are second in line

Quincy was the first in line and

Quincy was the first to get a good look inside the box

it was a box

it was prison bars and locks

it was stones and timbers to keep something in but could not keep you out

you set it free

and Quincy screamed but what was the point

no one else was around to hear it but you

you couldn’t hear it when it really mattered (on the ride up)

when you could’ve turned around and abandoned it to time

but you hadn’t heard and

you came and

you read and

told them how to open (spurred them with your tongue you smart bastard)

you saw the warning but didn’t say

you assumed they knew

they had to know

but Quincy looked awfully surprised and

they scattered like ice shards

no plans

they scattered

but you ran

and you ran

while it occupied itself with the others and

what were you planning to do fly out of here yourself? Jennings was strong and

Jennings was skilled but

Jennings was only a mountaineer

who fumbled for his ice axe as he ran

like you fumbled for words in your mind



and you remembered too late that they only said never to open

never how to put it back

maybe they were sure

so sure

no one could be as dumb as you

or maybe


there is no “Back” to put it in

they were lucky

they knew they were lucky

and you were dumb

doctorate in languages but you were dumb you forgot

dead languages die for a reason

no one is left to keep them alive

no one left with a warning on their tongue

and now you run and

is it gaining? you never saw what it looked like but Quincy did and

Quincy died and he died so hard part of him hit the back of your head as you ran and

you ran and

Quincy was a volunteer firefighter who ran in his spare time

Quincy was a claymore mine of flesh

you didn’t turn back to look behind you at what clutched at your arm

maybe Phillips

maybe not

you watched Burbridge by the entrance crumble

he could have run

but his eyes were behind you

your eyes were beyond him

on freedom

what did he see?

is it behind you?

it’s behind you and

pain splits your side and

you run but you can’t run forever and

there falls Jennings to the crag below

Jennings is white bone and red meat

Jennings is sanity and milky coffee

his life ends in a bright wet splash and you fall

to your knees and grab at breath

surely it must be behind you but you check and nothing’s there


it isn’t behind you

you’re alive and

you want to cry and

you gasp for joy

your lungs burn but you are alive

and in celebration you look down to



there is no below

no crag

nothing is swallowing up the mountain

they said never to open they never said how to put back and

they never said what was in the box nothing was in the box Nothing was in the box

and you gasp and

your mind clutches at thought

like Jennings clutched the air

but the fight has leaked out of you

you can’t run

there is nowhere to go

and it’s gaining

but you try anyway

you run

blind panic stirring your feet

you are broken bars and alarms, you are fat fear heaving on the ice

you reach camp

keep going

you reach the chopper

and keep going maybe if you run fast enough

far enough

and the sun suddenly shows

one last time

and all around you lights up with cold beauty


and you can still spare a thought for how pretty it is when you trip

again and

you are falling and

you are flying and

eternity is yawning up to meet you

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Hey Vasquez, man, I been thinking about you. Normally I wouldn’t tell you that, like you need another reason to be smug to me, but it wasn’t just you. No man, I was thinking about twins.

You and me, we’re kinda like twins, aren’t we?

…except for the whole “born together” part…and the “being related part”…. shut up, it’s an analogy.

See Vasquez,I learned something the other day. There are two types of twins. There’s fraternal: two heads, two bodies, two babies, just two eggs from the same basket. Then there’s identical twins.

I didn’t know this, you probably did, they’re called “mono zygotic.” Means “one egg.” They’re the same damn person, at first. Imagine that. Splitting like a flatworm right down the middle, and now you’re on the right and some asshole on the left says he’s you. Hilarious.

Anyway, that ain’t the point I’m trying to make. Interesting, not the point. See, that doesn’t always go so well. See, the womb is a much more dangerous place than I’ve been led to believe. Sometimes, the eggs, I guess they move around a little while they’re in there, well the eggs, they’re pretty soft just then, they smack into each other and get stuck. Can you believe it? Like fuckin’ derby cars. And sometimes they’re still stuck when the baby, well, babies come out. That’s called Siamese twins Vasquez, but maybe you didn’t know that ain’t PC anymore. They like to be called conjoined twins(like your dad prefers to be called Ethel.) It’s just that the most famous twins were from Siam. Ain’t thast some shit? You gotta wonder if someday something won’t be named after you and me.

Anyway, best case scenario, they’re sharing a foot. Or a shoulder. One careful snip and you’ve got two gimps. That’s best-case scenario. But sometimes they’re sharing something inside, like a liver. Something you can’t just snip out unless you want one dead twin.

Hold on, I’ve got a point. Hold your damn horses.

And then, then, there’s the really special cases. Got to see one live yesterday, while Marsha was in the ER. You’ve got one whole baby, and a stub of other baby growing out of his head. Not a whole baby, doesn’t quite have a brain, but it’s got a face. It’s got eyes, nose, mouth, hell, almost looks like it could belong on a normal baby, but it’s all small. Usually doesn’t have any arms or legs, just little stubs. Looks like a carrot, in fact.

They call it parasitic twins, ain’t that appropriate, Vasquez? See the carrot baby isn’t just growing on the normal baby, it’s leeching off it. Just sucking away life and giving nothing back. It’s never gonna go “goo.” It’s never gonna walk on its own. Can’t even think, with half a brain. It can smile though. It’s got a face.

Yeah, I’m getting  there.

Imagine being there as it comes out. Imagine how the mother feels. Instead of one big, whole baby, she’s got one-and-a-half babies, and separating them isn’t gonna be easy. See, the carrot-baby has a pretty good grip on the other baby, and separating them’s a sensitive process. Quoting the doctor there, sensitive process. It’s tricky. And expensive. And until you do it you’ve got a baby with this big weight on his head that doesn’t understand why he can’t move like other normal babies. It’s sad. Don’t you think it’s sad? I do.

That’s what brings me to you, Vasquez. The fucking albatross around my neck. All you do is take, man, you just grew on my life like a fucking tumor. For a long time I didn’t even understand it all… then I saw that baby.

Marsha? She’s fine. They gave her drugs, but that kind of thing’s hard on a woman. I’m gonna have to walk on eggshells around her for a while, can’t tell her anything that would upset her.

No, see, you and me, we’re gonna have to let go. I’m gonna find just the right place to cut, I’m gonna separate us, see, and we can go our separate ways. There ain’t a name for what we are, but there will be one day.

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