Act I

“Like anything inside, the ones I have known have gradually revealed more of their bodies, as they have unhurriedly shown more of their inwards thresholds into things,” and that was how Thuraya began her story. The appearance of her makeshift backpack, a rather large plastic bin bag, made her fake cover more real, but to remain inconspicuous, she could not rely on asking for change from passersby. She had been reminding me of something that had been buried deeply in my notes. And then she told me. Her voice was almost soundless, with the vibrations in the air almost coming into being based on a decidedly voluntary act. “Do you remember the burning of those seventy-two pigeons? I can’t stop thinking about the sound of their feathers catching fire.”

Act II

Snowfall had been unexpected. By some intra-species recognition, or perhaps like engineered foglets, the flakes had known exactly where to land, and which part of the urban spectrum to occupy. Like sunflowers awaiting the sun’s rerise from east at nighttime, the smartdust bits of snow rechanneled the air and rerouted the wind. The powers that be had completely disrupted the world’s financial markets, while the mysterious waves of the pandemic’s shocking statistics roamed the earth. Each of the officials had exclusively inhabited one control room, and inputs were provided to them through couriers whose identity was to be differentiated by the drying pace of their signature’s ink. Outputs were irrelevant as they were objectively arbitrary —the numbers would naturally express obedience in their abundance of existence on a plethora of outlets. And by limiting the data to numbers, there would be no room for interpretation, as any reading would be indistinguishable from an engraved memory that escaped time.


Collecting them, unsurprisingly, would involve sheer determination by any higher authority. As soon as the decision was being built up, any medium would focus all energy into assembling and converging all outputs. The effort and the sequences that followed it were sublime, appearing impossible and well-nigh telepathic. Ultimately, the convergence was not merely in the display of the data, but in its compliance with all possible models. It goes without saying that one could ever so arduously consider that in a distant location, or in an impossible time, there could be an aloof individual awaiting a final message, a broken display of information, or an eventual output that lacked the consistency of reality yet was sufficiently promising in its unnecessary details. 

{autopoietic space}

I start everyday thinking about waking up. Every morning —and more recently every time I wake up from sleep— I feel a small vacuum having grown between my skull and my head’s skin. It takes a while until it is gone and I manage to test my perception of the world around, trying to distinguish between today and the day before, as all days seem like a continuous singular moment making undetermined attempts to fly between the past and the future.
Moving out of my bed seems nightmarishly impossible… It feels that by walking out of it, I would need to make myself familiar with an alien language, a foreign culture, and even a radically contrastive era, and necessitating baby steps to perceive surroundings. It is almost like migrating to an unfamiliar land and having no prior knowledge about the destination’s customs and traditions.
Making coffee has never been harder, and my obsessive timings between the grains’ bloom phase and the pour-over have become an uninterested sitting in my chair, occasionally even falling back to sleep. Even the smell of freshly brewed coffee doesn’t seem to do any magic. I have recently switched from using my mug under the brewing funnel to using a thermos instead, and this, subsiding the coffee aroma, has made me even less enthusiastic.
But you see, these are all only the good parts. The half-true sense of waking up turns into smoke the second I realize that I have half-forgotten touching my eyes trying to wake up only moments ago. How do I not feel the effects of that very touch only moments after my fingers felt my eyebrows?
I am slowly failing to remember how being alive feels like, gradually forgetting how the days and the minutes are distinctive, and how the flow of time marks the end of the cause and the beginning of the effect. It’s strange to feel I have only woken up when at night I go to bed and expect to fall asleep, almost like when I hear the echo of my own voice as if listening to my past in a future —the strange circle of life I think to myself, the eating of dead things to continue to be alive. I hear a fainted voice of a past’s calling.
“So I’ll first glue the heel to the body and then put a screw in to secure it” said my old master. “The cake is a lie” I thought, while pondering my paranoia amidst trying to balance a dose of self-awareness against introspectively sharing too much. The only way to escape the vicious cycle was to take revenge against existence itself, yet even so, the very abstractness of conscious experience would not give in to some synesthetic oversimplification of closure.
I felt at home in a autopoietic space, freely associating, programming memory recalls, and placing experiences and concurrents in arbitrary permutations between the lines of dialog I had enacted myself. It could well be defined as a dream. My fish-out-of-water existence observed a resonance cascade from the control room of an underground research facility. I had been resting my hands on the input devices; the keys had already channeled the commands, and things were surely not within our limits of control anymore.
Things, sounds, and the sense of someone’s presence, brought in a familiar aura to the moment, and when I leaned back, I could see more than one face I could recognize. Nizam, wearing a long colorful skirt, seemed to have fixed her eyes on my hands, perhaps waiting for me to dial in a correction value so the unforeseen consequences could somehow, miraculously, be avoided. I think she didn’t know I had always been the interloper, not having any clue about how and why we could take any different path.
We just waited there until our gazes faded into the lights, but before everything went blank, I heard Magu’s whisper from behind me, “as she put word after word, words grew exhausted, and as she practiced brevity, words turned powerless.”

{Final_Chapter, :, Acta}

Ten years ago, even twelve, driving down a highway in a car, I felt entangled into a rising melody that had echoed from the fact that I had only been coming back from a non-existent appointment. I had been so engaged in thinking about telling a story, and the thought had taken me to an event almost two years before I was born. But I digress. 

I have tried to explain the incident —the one that happened ten, maybe twelve years ago— on several occasions, but never have I been able to feel the moments as I felt them when I was being driven to the airport. It was dark. I had been enjoying being the passenger of a car driven by someone I had fallen in love with within a few hours. 

I was alone and I had imagined everything. There was no one accompanying me in between the hills. There was no river, nor there was a swing on one side. There was no terrorized face riding the swing. I was alone in the cabin by the river. Yet, I had climbed all the steps to reach the top of the mountain and observe the field from the castle. But I had somehow ended up at the starting point instead. A dog had decided to walk me to the nearest city, occasionally slowing down, sitting down and looking around, perhaps to remind me that I was indeed alone. I was alone. The light was fading and the green of the hills had become small glitters of color, like a faint memory. I remembered how I had to circle the way around the building to read the river bank and watch the swing. 

Eight years ago, I had to travel between two cities by bus over night twice a week. It was in these travels that I could see how the darkness of night can play with how I perceived time. Sitting on the driver’s side, I could view the road through the panoramic front window. Once every car passed a certain threshold, it was not within the reach of neither the eyes nor the imagination; but during the few seconds of its travel, the trajectory of cause and effect preceded the wonder of movement and speed. 

On the way to the airport, it struck me that so many details had somehow filled more spaces in my memory than they initially intended to. There was so much conversation at the table, and while the sun slowly set, I could sense that the day had proportionally extended itself over the course of the so many memories shared. The evening spent over coffee seemed so infinite that when I looked back upon it, I realized the movements of the people around us appeared so slow that it seemed no one ever left, nor did anyone enter. There was a system governing the images I had created after the event, created like a utility to visualize the motions and connections. Every conclusion remained independently ad hoc. 

Perhaps the most fundamental means to perceive time —or rather its progression— is to sequence events that essentially divide time. While each generation enters and exits the terminal, following the old argument that time has no beginning nor an end, we aim to look at how each end of our generation’s linear bit of time connects to the worlds before and after. And as the world is now, time seems to have been stretched far to host an ever-higher density of events within. The past seems exponentially more distant and although each point in history feels more discrete, orders and sequences appear less clear.

It might be routinely through periodic events that a rhythm is mentally constructed as memory and consciousness. Subsequently, each generation becomes a parked Numbers Station, repeating fillers of the persistences of the era; but the denser the events in a period, the less perceptible the rhythm, hence less apparent the rule of time.

That night, sitting by my calm driver, the passing cars coded a similar function to retrieve the same effect from my memory. I involuntarily began to talk: “It was that year when there was unusual snow, but I didn’t know.” An uncanny happiness had been lingering in defiance to the vision a moving vehicle could very well predict, but my thoughts and actions could not have led to more than one survivor.

Looking out the window, but in reality trying to keep the precious remaining minutes within the reach of my eyes, I had to define myself as not as living in a linear bit of time, but as squating many branches at once to avoid the span of reality. I was playing brainwashing on myself —but not as a psychological warfare, but as a technique of meditation. Ideal versions of reality thus created avoided acknowledging time nor conceiving a context for the observed.

My thoughts followed inside, remembering the exact recorded history as sets of numbers associated with quantizing every effect: “It was July 26, 1987. The local time was approximately 1300. Within 107 minutes, rainfall was recorded at 28 millimeters. Over 300 lives were taken. Hundreds of tons of mud covered the perimeter. Zero official reports were published.”

Twenty years and a few months later, there was unusual snow. The city experienced an unmeasurable numbness. All actions were slowed down to a cold degree. The car was not speeding, nonetheless no official measurement was taken. Every time I had tried to explain the events, I started with the eventual body on the side of the highway that abruptly stopped breathing. 

Two years ago, I bought a thermometer to obsessively measure my body temperature. I realized that the small digital screen often reported temperatures between 34 and 36 degrees Celsius. Terminal burrowing happens when temperature slowly drops. It is perhaps a primitive behavior. The body has possibly designed it to mimic hibernation. 

I had to tell the patient driver the rest of the story: “I looked though the eyes of the breathing body with patience and sympathy, and waited for all signs of life to end. I cannot formulate my initial feeling as guilt. I am not sure what I exactly felt. It was like holding an ink-less pen, with the lack of ink draining one’s ability to form ideas.”

Thirty-six days later, an unknown ticklish thought guided me to reading astrological horoscopes. Following more than thirty years on planet earth, it was immensely fascinating to read that the outside worlds —the planets, the stars, their conversations— were indeed as lonely as one single brain confined within the limited resources and knowledge available to it. Believing that I could gain access to knowledge on a broader level, to see all the charts, graphs, live data, and commentary, I immediately browsed through how the horoscopes connected to arbitrarily designed demographics and how they explained what had already been digested as natural outcomes of even more natural behavior.

Four years ago, I was using my lunch break to walk around the area where our offices were. It was one of the warmest days; one of those days when it is even more difficult to distinguish between the asphalt and the air immediately above it. I walked most of my path with my head looking down on the pavement. It was 1255, local time naturally, when I did my second lap around the block I had not even looked at. Looking up, I saw a large compound that although quite dilapidated, appeared to be a medical facility, or a boarding school, or a public housing block, or frankly, any other similarly-scaled complex. Looking through the fences, I saw human faces gazing at me. Without being able to formulate any reasons, I felt that these faces looked alien, and even more strangely, my memory could not hold their qualities for any longer than a fraction of a second. I wondered how I could measure the time I spent looking at those faces when my memory was lacking the ability to properly experience time.

Yet, explaining the ten-year-old incident, I felt, that to this driver, I could perhaps make an effort to explain the moments that would be buried under the new acts of time. There was a constant move of a shovel, pouring in new unknowns and limiting the exposure of the old. The driver, tucked away a few strands of hair under their ear, and I realized that to these large ears, memory was not a mere manifestation of experience, but a ceremony of remembering the smaller details which found their ways into the ear canal much later than the actual event. 

Why do things exist? How is it not possible that all those cars we saw that evening only came to existence to fill the field of view, so that we would not lose our way to the airport? I remember watching hills fade into the dark of the night while the wheels steered along a curved path; the lights of distant buildings reaching into view unsurely —and I remember continuing the thought of a radio show we hosted together: how we tried to transmit signals into years passed years ago; those waves claiming the lost opportunities of auditing for early morning broadcasts, and the voices reminding us that we had been awake for longer than we remembered being awake.

And then, sixteen years ago, I was an apprentice at the large archives of an oil company. I had so much to share, but there were so many cabinets to fill, yet there were only a few files that were marked as approved. Every record that came into existence from an idea to construct another structure over the waters and drill into the earth, took me to the depths of Lidenbrock Sea, which amidst its swirling waves and truly remote islands, sat incuriously away. Every page of every idea was to be reviewed, scanned and stored in its physical form as well as its most metaphorical abstraction. It was in the same manner, that I felt when stopping at the airport terminal, that although the journey had been concluded, there would be many more years for its moments to be extended into a justifiable archive of mass, matter and thought.

I did open the car door, but only to a centimeter. I did not want to go. The land where I stood was unknown, yet somehow my body aimed at neglecting the necessity of going into the terminal. It was perhaps a primitive behavior. I felt a narrow breeze blowing to my feet from the outside, but that was perhaps the only thing I would have allowed in. I had so much to share, and now all the cabinets were full. It would have made no sense to walk out of the archives now, and moving out of the car, I decided to find peace in housekeeping while I dug through the records. Yet, it appeared so that the plane would take me to the Undying Lands. 

Fourteen years ago, I used to work at the workshop of an archetier as an assistant. Twice a week, after school, I would hop on the bus to travel from the east to the west of the city. It was perhaps the same commute that made me realize I was truly a city boy. Yet, I could not follow up on the travel but rather my head focused on sitting over coffee. Once we sat down facing each other at a table, I could not escape a lingering truth about where I was or what I was doing. The pieces of truth gazed on the formation of my memories. It was as if I was the leader of a dictatorship; all did what I wanted, but none could understand what I felt. I went through my diary to find the entry for the day in which I decided to be kinder. Everything felt queer.

I thought, maybe I could be still making speeches, after an apocalypse, after when all humanity and life had been wiped off of earth, alone —survived; the sound of my words echoing through after-time and perhaps some version of an afterlife. But I could not hear them. All I could hear was the tender voice, with its odd shifts of tone, detailing its dealings with an unknown, and flying through the exact reasons, jumping over benchmarks, and avoiding all legal references.

A few days ago, the day was almost normal; scents of a distant mesmerizing air disturbing the normal waves of the movements felt. I decided I wanted to take a nap. Three, afternoon, pale winter day. A view of the blank ceiling accompanied my falling asleep. A thought, that I would dream a dream mixed with the pale reality around me, kept my eyes half-open in my sleep. First a rush; all my life passed above my eyes in the matterless virtual life of colorful shadows and sleepless talks. Halt. Inertia, and the floating movement of my tiredly hidden thoughts. I dreamt of the driver again, explaining the colors of the mountains and pointing fingers at those that stood high behind the city. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Copyright © 2020 Ashkan Zahraei and set{the}ory, all rights reserved.