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The Willow

by Justin Isis

Received 10/7, posted by R. Alejandro Lee (ID.M76-345-8761). I’m at a loss on this one. Obv. can’t publish it, although claims were investigated. Filed it for the time being. My comments follow.

Mr. Wong,

In certain prior travels, chance conversations, the pages of obscure volumes, you will have occasionally sensed something, an illumination perhaps, of phenomena you had never consciously suspected but nevertheless knew to be true. Perhaps you felt as if you were recalling something glimpsed in a dream. You could not identify it, but an impression remained in your mind, troubling you with its familiarity. You were quick to dismiss it – how could you recognize something of which you had no recollection, something you could not define, something which, indeed, resisted definition? At a certain age one feels that the contours of the world, if not strictly circumscribed, are at least well-sketched; there remain to be discovered only shadings, details, corroborating evidence. Ours is not an age suited for revolutions.

I am of course speaking of my own experiences, not yours. In presuming that you share them, I may be asking too much. I set out these initial points not for their own sake, but because I realize I am entirely dependent on your willingness to entertain certain speculations which your background and training have taught you to dismiss. As this letter progresses, my reasoning will become clear. But for now, let me say that for you to take me at my word, you will have to accept a series of unorthodox propositions. I have chosen you over the editors of other publications because, as one of your regular readers for a number of years, I know of your willingness to put convention aside when it becomes an impediment.

There are a number of ways by which I could stress my credentials. I will spare you them. My background is well known; I would not be above saying that I have served the state to the best of my ability. I have no history of mental illness, criminal or subversive action. That this letter is some form of hoax, as you will doubtless assume, is, if not absurd, then at best implausible when considered in light of my record and character. And there is no motive. Why would I risk my reputation on an elaborate deception?

Enough of this. In my present state, whether I am believed or not means little. I do not write to convince so much as to warn. If I am successful, you will pass my warning on to the authorities. If I am not, then – perhaps – nothing will happen. The world as it is cannot collapse overnight. My experience, extraordinary as it is, is also unlikely. At present few are equipped to follow my path; the terrible discoveries I have made will necessarily remain obscure for some time yet, perhaps indefinitely. So, my warning is not one of imminent apocalypse or any such trite calamity. It is much worse than that. It addresses a condition not merely inherent in the future but one which has perhaps always existed.

I am being vague. I will have to start from the beginning. As you know, I am something of an antiquarian. Though alone for much of my life, I have never been lonely. The study of ancient history and the mechanisms devised in ages past has afforded me an endless source of wonder and enjoyment. From my fifteenth year when I discovered a disused metalytic conversion engine, it has been my obsession to catalogue the progress of the sciences in regulating and finally controlling the primitive atmosphere. From the earliest orbital telecommunications to the more streamlined refineries synthesizing our air, my principal interest has been the remarkable continuity linking the advances in our mastery of the environment. A compendium of my papers can be found in the university library; I am particularly proud of „Some Notes on Middle-Cambodian Weather Satellites“ (Ref. JB74937485801-75).

Although primarily devoted to the study of automata, in order to place my subjects in context I have had to acquire a reasonable knowledge of natural history. As I assume your knowledge is comparable to my own, I will be brief. We know that as late as the twenty-seventh century, humanity had contact with pre-evolutionary life forms or ‚animals‘. That term, ‚animal‘, now means, depending on the context, ‚counterfeit‘ or ‚unlikely‘ in underworld slang, but this is a corruption – in tracing the etymology we can determine the original biological connotations (for more on this, see the work of Baker and Ndoro, particularly The Kingdom in Traces). Prior to at least the Third Entrenchment, an animal was, approximately speaking, any non-human, naturally occurring organism comprised of cells similar in structure to our own. The dim memory of these monstrous beings now persists only in children’s tales and ever-dimming myths. My grandfather, for example, related stories of the ‚pig‘, a kind of demon subsisting on filth. This entity was said to possess an ovoid body, a flattened, elongated nose, and rounded metal feet. More spectacular was the ‚elephant‘ – so unlikely in its construction that I won’t strain credulity by recalling it.

Whether these half-remembered childhood terrors have any resemblance to historical reality is impossible to determine. Still, it might be said that something in their outline corresponds to fact. We know that, before the advent of a synchronized, worldwide standard of living, human existence was often random and brutal. Starvation, war and death were not abstractions as we think of them, but were, for many, daily expectations. Similarly, as difficult as it might be to imagine, co-existence with pre-evolutionary animals was once a reality of human life. The psychological state engendered by regular proximity to these monstrosities is difficult to fathom – certainly it might account for much of the barbarity and chaos characteristic of the period. In our nightmares we are sometimes troubled by strange shapes or outlines that suggest corruptions of our own form. The divergent nature of these phantasies accounts for their horror – how could we be safe, we think, from something that isn’t human? How much worse it must have been for our ancestors, confronted in waking hours with those obscene incarnations rearing forth from blind antiquity: the pig, the elephant, the nameless, numberless shapes.

With little time left, let me marvel for only a moment that our harmonious world could have arisen out of such a furnace. This is, of course, a tribute to the order of nature, the efficiency with which our universe and our God have suited us to our surroundings. The present age, in which our nutrition systems allow us to live as long as we wish, in which none can remember a large-scale war, shows well the perfection of our potentials. It is understandable, then, that the atrocities of the past, if not entirely forgotten, have at least grown remote from public consciousness. The Reform Fifth-Branch Shia, the Vortex Church of Universal Life, the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx, and other ecclesiastical authorities have ruled that excessive interest in such matters is unwholesome; and while not quite law, their pronouncements have at least penetrated popular opinion. The resulting obscurity extends to my conjectures on retrograde biology. Direct photographic material is scarce; it persists mostly in private collections; the museums will have little to do with it. I was once shown – I will not specify by whom – a framed plate depicting the edge of a large veranda at dusk. A child is seated in a chair, holding a small creature, its body covered in short, thickened hair. At its posterior end, corresponding perhaps to the base of the human spine, a long, curling, whiplike appendage wavers past the edge of the armrest. The creature’s face resists description – attributing human characteristics to it would be not only obscene but misleading – but the nearest I can venture is that it has a kind of cunning cast. Its unnaturally luminous eyes fairly slash through the frame; two pointed satellites, perhaps analogous to ears, sit atop its roughly triangular head. As for the child, her face appears neutral, even sleepy. Since it is no longer reasonable to assume that the mental condition of our ancestors resembled our own, we can only speculate what purpose exposure of the girl to the creature served – and it is not a speculation I care to make.

None of these unsavory matters were on my mind when I received the letter from Goldstein. I kept irregular contact with my old friend, so that an unexpected message from him was always a welcome surprise. Goldstein’s interests intersected with my own at several points, although his area of specialisation was more theoretical. Still, we shared a love of obsolete curiosities. The burden of his letter was that a discarded Taiwanese media transmitter had crashed in one of the outlying sectors bordering the reclamation area in H7 (coordinates 42° 48′ 45″ N 70° 52′ 40″ W). I had been aware of the transmitter’s decaying orbit for some time, but had forgotten it in a rush of other matters. At least two-hundred years old, this relic of Prentiss-era neural broadcasting contained a number of interesting features. The central workup was unremarkable, but the inversion terminals were boron-coated, a pecularity of the time. Neither Goldstein nor I seriously expected it to survive re-entry, but there was always the chance of salvaging some notable fragment. Since his commitments would keep him occupied until the fifth, he suggested I make the expedition myself.

Setting out on this amateur reclamation mission, I was careful not to take it too seriously. I viewed it as little more than a lark, and proceeded accordingly, barely carrying enough provisions for the terrain in question. I had enough condensed water tablets with me to last a few weeks, but my instruments were limited to the contents of a small valise: a map, a scanner, some disassembly tools, several biological sensors. I began at dawn, heading to the H3 entrance vicinity by train.

With my present knowledge, it seems extraordinary to reflect on my mindset at the time. In retrospect it is easy to see it as one of complete naivety – but I imagine it differed little from any of the thousands of minds riding the same train or crossing the thoroughfares on a given day. The associations these features called up at the time are markedly different from what they produce in me now: I took them for granted then, but now they give rise to a kind of desperate nostalgia. How often do we notice how perfectly fitted we are to the world, and how perfectly fitted it is to us? The size of our rooms accommodates us; the design of our cities allows precise navigation. In everything, the proportions of our bodies and the nature of our constitutions determine how we have fashioned the world. But imagine the discomfort that would result from entering a building in which the proportions of the walls, the height of the ceiling and the length of the steps had been calibrated to some form other than our own – if, for example, we were forced to crawl through the frame of a miniature door. Although it is absurd that a door of this kind should exist, we can imagine the feeling of disquiet it might produce.

But I was not yet intimately familiar with this kind of dislocation as I left the city at the H6 border; neither did I receive any premonition of it. Although – awakened by an attendant after the long train journey – I was already in a state of susceptibility. As I looked out the window, I saw that dusk had overtaken the landscape. The train had stopped in an industrial area, one so heavily automated that for hundreds of miles only a single light could be seen to mark each way station. The landscape, though, reassured me with its regularity: row after row of identical units, their ranks dwindling to pinpricks in the distance. Neither did the obvious isolation trouble me – I knew that I would be accompanied always by the invisible motions of the factories, the minutely calibrated processes of their internal networks humming in the night like the pulses of a great nervous system. Perhaps a child in the womb experiences a similar sensation at the distant beating of its mother’s heart.

At the gate I produced my credentials and was allowed to pass through to street level. Consulting my electric map, I was able to orientate myself in the direction of H7. As I stepped onto the pavement, I felt the ground-heaters warming my feet. At first the only light was that of the stars, but soon the overhead lamps illuminated the path between the factories. At one point I was assisted by a metal trolley meant for maintenance workers that wheeled itself out of a storage shed and allowed me to type in my coordinates. It carried me for a few miles before returning to its station point. From then on I walked alone, holding the glowing circle of my map before me. Eventually I came to the end of the overhead lamps, although I was not in darkness – the factories themselves provided a steady illumination. If I walked near them, a segment of wall would light up with bright advertisements. I felt a certain tenderness at the displays of these buildings, as if their live-streaming commercials were an attempt to comfort me. Though I was alone in the night, the enormous faces of actresses and singers observed my progress from the monitors as they advised me on the latest sales. Even in this district, days away from any residential area, I could hear the familiar humming of electricity.

I stopped to rest for the night in the shade of a warehouse. Placing my valise on the ground, I took out the hand-sized square of a condensed blanket and unfolded it before lying down. Feeling the weight of my body, the ground-heaters doubled their output to keep me warm through the night. When I awoke they were still functioning. I tapped the ground to make them reduce their output, then slept for another hour or two. Finally rising around nine, I slung the valise over my shoulder and resumed the walk. After a few hours I came to the area I now suppose to be the junction between H6 and I5. At the time I thought I was detouring through I6, an impression my map seemed to confirm; but studying it now, it seems impossible in light of my later orientation. I did not immediately notice anything was wrong. The structural uniformity of the district meant that it was impossible for me to navigate by sight; a total reliance on my map was the only means of reaching my destination. At some point, though, I must have missed the correct detour. The map’s global positioning system had warned me before that a direct pedestrian route to the specified coordinates in H7 did not exist, as their proximity to the reclamation area meant they were almost certainly never visited for any purpose other than maintenance and mineral collection. Conceivably, it had been years since the area had known any human presence. The maintenance shuttles in the I6 central district, though, were installed with human travel capsules that could take me to the H7 edge of the reclamation zone.

But the region I found myself in, after several more hours‘ walk, contained none of the terminal buildings I expected to find. For some time I had been descending a series of staircases, but as I came to an open vista at the foot of a central tower, I realized the extent to which the landscape had begun to slope downwards. Now I could see the full expanse of the horizon, a kind of featureless metal plain. I took this to be the edge of the reclamation area, but I must admit now that it was far too sprawling, too disorganized to be anything of the sort. There were no true buildings, only countless copper spires, perhaps broadcasting towers, situated a block or two from each other. Here the streets narrowed to mere shafts, to the extent that I had to walk on a kind of upraised ledge, nearly losing my balance. Now and then I heard a faint whistling.

At this point I should have turned back, or at least more assiduously consulted the map to determine my actual coordinate position. The matter of the media transmitter was too trivial for me to risk becoming seriously lost, but in such situations a perverse persistence is often born of frustration. I became determined to locate the impact site, more for my own satisfaction than any real hope of recovering fragments of the satellite. If I returned now, I reasoned, I would have considerably inconvenienced myself for nothing and I would have to report my failure to Goldstein. Perhaps I was also driven by a vague sense of awe as the landscape unfolded. I had never ventured this far along the H axis, and as I passed beyond the spires to a region of even more complete disorder, I felt as if I were leaving behind every vestige of the city. I had realized by now that this could not be the reclamation area, as the discarded components lying in heaps had clearly been scattered at random. It seemed as if no maintenance drones came this far either, as most of the piles were covered in rust. I felt a brief sadness at the sight of these disused machines; that they had not been recycled seemed a gross waste.

Silence came gradually, in a series of gradations. At first the whistling stopped; then I could no longer hear the hum of the ground-heaters. As I advanced over the course of an hour, I began to notice the emptiness of the air. Perhaps this strikes you as a fatuous description. But think for a moment, as you step from your apartment, of the pleasant hum of the air filters, the calm tones of the auto-bulletins relating the morning news. Then, as you leave the building, countless sounds rush out to greet you. These voices, advertisements, public announcements – the sounds I am hearing now, as I type this – are for me inextricably associated with human life, so that their gradual absence gave me the feeling of entering an unpleasant dream.

To keep myself occupied as I walked, I began to adjust one of the biological sensors. After removing it from its case in my valise, I set it to general survey. Convinced as I was of my isolation, I at first took the green blur expanding at the edge of the screen to be an error reading. It occupied, roughly, the northern edge of I5. Further inspection yielded no definite identification number, and a reference check categorized it as „unidentified organic matter.“

You will ask whether I diverted my course on purpose. To this I have no answer, except to say that a mixture of pride and curiosity led me in the direction of the green blur. I had realized by now that I was moving further and further away from H7 and did not relish the idea of retracing my steps. It was much easier to continue forward, and hope that I could somehow catch a train back to H3. That and a desperate need to justify the time expenditure meant that the novelty of the error reading demanded investigation. I told myself that I would eventually come across a station if I continued north; perhaps the „unidentified organic matter“ (an obvious non-sequitur, since organic matter is by definition human and thus readily identifiable) signified a synthetic power source or some other manufactured bioform, which would indicate an area of frequent transit. My sensor was somewhat outdated, and it was probable that it had detected a recent kind of synth-cell or conversion platform whose identification number was not yet noted in its registry. That I was able to convince myself of the veracity of these moronic suppositions now seems unbelievable. If through some divine agency I could be given back even a moment of that time, I would run without stopping away from that awful green stain, which is now inseparable in my thoughts from the formless terror which besets us in nightmares.

I had by now come to terrain that required me to climb down a series of ladders to proceed. As I descended to regions of even greater isolation strange smells and other sensations came to me. I could hear a faint whistling again, but now it seemed distant and hollow. The walls I climbed down and the ground further below me took on the same hue and texture, until, finally reaching a remote plane, I saw a featureless horizon extending for miles – only the refined steel beneath my feet gave me some hold on certainty.

Activating my sensor again, I sent out a trace probe to the area of the green blur. After a few moments the probe returned with a cross-section analysis. My first reaction was astonishment. With my limited knowledge of cytology, I could make no definite statement on the nature of the retrieved traces. But they differed so greatly from everything I knew about the standard model of the cell that I could only take them to be an advanced and highly specialized experimental model. They resembled our own cells in certain regards, except that they were surrounded – perhaps insulated – by a wall-like layer of proteins and polysaccharides, in addition to being outfitted with a number of ineffable organelles, the most conspicuous of which resembled large swollen membranes. The ingenuity with which these cells had been constructed seemed scarcely human, although I was able to convince myself they most likely functioned as energy conversion units in some of the newer facilities.

I rested for a few hours, then proceeded towards the horizon. The unfiltered air became colder, and the absence of any visible frame of reference made me doubt whether the structures I had imagined truly existed this far from any inhabited sectors. Examined now, my mindset seems scarcely reasonable, and I can recall nothing of my thoughts as I proceeded, mile after mile, towards something I neither understood nor desired. I suppose that I entered a dream or trance state. I felt as if I had no thoughts at all and only advanced with a kind of mindless or mechanical rhythm.

I don’t know how long it was before I reached the wall. I must have noticed its presence miles before I reached the base, since even at close range it towered to the sky. Enveloped in its shadow, I experienced it first as a monstrous presence overtaking the landscape, the single solid fixture in that bare metal desert.

But it was not that the wall presented any kind of stability. Its very raggedness, its patchwork construction, the snares of wire protruding from its crags – all these presented me with a terrible impression of age and decay. Whoever built that wall had obviously abandoned it, had forgotten the border it meant to mark. I checked my sensor and found that I was less than several yards from the green blur.

You will have surmised from my earlier speculations that whatever awaited me beyond the tangle of wires and concrete rubble was something out of time – an animal, perhaps a horde of them, massed and ravenous. And while the reality was both more unlikely and more terrible, at the time I expected – nothing. My mind had reached a point of perfect stillness and exhaustion. Clambering through the wall, pushing aside the crumbling masonry, I felt that I would find myself in a different section of a dream – transported back to my childhood, perhaps, or some unknown landscape of the future.

Instead my first footsteps landed on a patch of softness, a stretch of turf that sank slightly under pressure. I realized that I must have overstepped the edges of the precision-textured paving, and that the brownish, crumbling floor was actually a thick layer of soil. This contact with the naked earth troubled me. I suppose the workers and patrolmen at the edges of our cities have the occasional experience with it, but it was the first time in my life that I had walked on an unsculpted surface. My first steps were tentative. I expected the ground to split open and give way, or else swallow me completely. I can imagine the contaminating microorganisms I would have seen if I had thought to check my sensor more closely. Although I was wearing regulation antibacterial clothing, I still think of the invisible forces that must have swarmed over me…

I feel a great despair at the prospect of describing the landscape itself. Rather than provide any specific portrait, any measurements of its slopes and inclines, I will describe it only as a vast irregularity. By this I mean something quite different from the planned asymmetries of our experimental buildings and sculptures. Despite their surface impression of the random, we can find in the latter angles which have been judiciously selected, textures chosen for their visual effect, some hidden sense of plan. But the arrangement of the earth was of an entirely different order. It had not been filigreed or finished, sculpted or sterilized. It had not been precision-textured or mass-molded. It existed as I suppose a cancer must exist, in a state of mindless and malign expansion. I felt that I had come to the end of the world and was glimpsing a region that had taken shape out of sight for millennia, forming its terrain according to the caprices of the void.

Each breath I took seemed difficult or somehow too rich, as if the air had thickened to slime. Mixed in it were a thousand unknown odors, all of them telling of ancient and nameless things…looking down again, I saw that a green carpet had spread across the ground like the film of rot that forms on a corpse. Further on, a dark green patch of matter stood out against the dim skyline, its protrusions wavering in the wind. As I moved closer, a series of crimson bulbs appeared on its surface, swaying slightly at the ends of barbed green stalks. Before I realized what I was doing, I had moved forward and taken one in my hand. My initial impression of it had been mistaken; now I realized that the strange involutions of its surface formed a kind of pattern. Holding it, I felt an alien terror at the juxtaposition of this order within disorder. I let go and saw that one of the barbs had pricked my thumb. A drop of blood had formed, the same crimson color as the bulbs themselves.

Maybe it was this image of my blood staining the green barb that led me to realize the nature of the landscape – or perhaps it was only the swaying of those green stalks and the involutions at the heart of the bulbs. But whatever the trigger, I realized that the green mass before me was, in some sense, alive. I do not mean that it had anything in common with conventional life – as the cell traces will attest, even its barest foundations were divergent – but its capacity for growth mirrored our own.

Not that my frenzied thoughts approximated even the bare coherence of my current speculations. I however realized the truth at some instinctive level. Then, even as I feared what might result, I called out. But if the green mass heard me, it did not respond. I tried again and received the same result. Finally, I took a rock from the ground and, after moving to a safer distance, hurled it at the green shape. I succeeded in striking one of the crimson bulbs and separating a section of it, although the rock sunk into the base mass without apparent effect. The mass itself gave no response. Thinking perhaps it was sleeping, I tried again, with the same result. If my persistence seems ill-advised, even suicidal, in the face of what I had encountered, I can only say that I had long since passed beyond the bounds of conventional reasoning. I had come to a place so alien that my responses were, I suppose, those of a child – that is to say, despite my growing fear and revulsion, I acted without awareness of the possible consequences.

After a few more attempts at communication, I realized that if the green mass possessed sense organs at all, they were attuned to some spectrum of experience utterly different from my own. The discovery did not reassure me. Here I was confronted with absolute insensibility; here was a form of living death. Here the linkage of life and mind was broken. These immobile creatures – for there were more of them, I saw, crowding the landscape all the way to the horizon – pertained to some degenerate cycle of evolution yet more regressive than even ‚animal‘ life. The green mass and its curiously swaying bulbs had no compassion, no pity, no mind – nothing that we might think of as a soul. At once I was struck by the dreamless immobility of the green mass, its life-cycle progressing by silent, invisible degrees…

I thought then of certain obscure testaments and histories, in which are preserved the languages of dead civilizations and myths whose meaning has grown unknowable through dim centuries of neglect. Only in these apocryphal accounts, I decided, could I glean some understanding of what now confronted me. ‚Marigolds‘, ‚poplars‘, ‚the geranium‘, ‚the willow‘ – words like these resound like horrors from old books or the names of angels, meaningless and terrible. In resurrecting them now, I am undoubtedly distorting their original meanings and applying them improperly. But the general term I will use – vegetation – seems to best serve my purpose, in its evocation of obscure and immemorial horrors.

I turned away from the green mass and wandered further, towards the distant light on the horizon. That light – little more than a dim haze – cast a watery pall over the landscape, so that everything seemed to shimmer slightly. I headed towards it with a sense of trepidation. More than once I stumbled over the uneven terrain, and when I at last came to a steep rise bordered by a small river, I did not at first notice the shape that towered at its base. I recall that I dropped my valise, and after leaning over to retrieve its contents, I stood up sharply and found myself overshadowed by a darkly swaying shape…there, crowning the base of the incline, was a great yellow-green behemoth, a being whose outline resists sane description. I can recall only distorted and disparate impressions of it – simultaneous images of an enormous branching fiber-optic cable, the convolutions of a human nervous system, a densely woven net, and a frozen waterfall occur to me in retrospect, although in truth it had no recognizeable facets, nothing to link it to the continuity of known life. A central base column supported innumerable ramifying branches, all of them overhung with drooping greenish strands that waved in the wind as if reaching to devour. But its movement did not extend to the base – even as I looked there, I realized that the movement was only a product of the wind, and that the behemoth itself, if not prodded to motion by an outside force, would have remained as still as the greenish mass as I had seen before. It was this, perhaps more than the thing’s surface, that caused me to turn and run, to clamber down the slope and away from that mindless wavering, that insensate movement of the behemoth I now call willow.

I don’t know how long I ran. I must have made it past the wall and, somehow, climbed back to the outer sectors. I no longer have any memory of my transit, and cannot be certain of the route I took. Here my recollections break off entirely, and I must rely on the accounts of others. It seems that they found me somewhere at the border of H6, sprawled on the street unconscious. My valise had torn and its contents were gone. When roused, I mumbled in fragments for a few hours, then again lost consciousness. When I awoke in hospital, I was told that Goldstein had informed the police of my expedition, and that a team had been searching for me for hours. When I failed to contact Goldstein after the appointed time, he had attempted to call my phone directly. Receiving no response, he grew suspicious and sent for help.

As my old friend sat by my side, I thought to thank him, but I had difficulty forming the words. I was immediately questioned about my whereabouts, and whether I had succeeded in locating the media transmitter. This matter seemed so remote and inconsequential that it took me a moment to formulate any response at all. There was nowhere for me to begin – I couldn’t think of any existing words that could accurately describe what I had encountered, much less any framework in which to place them. I was left only with a series of incoherent impressions: a dim, watery light; a sharp crimson pain; a mindless wavering in the wind. My first thought – a temptation that still besets me – was to dismiss the entire experience as a hallucination resulting from prolonged fatigue. And this in fact was the conclusion reached by the investigators who questioned me at greater length following my recovery. I use the last word tentatively, as I have not in any sense recovered from what I saw. But I was eventually deemed fit to return home, and the formal inquiry was quickly shelved. I have appended its file number to this letter should it be needed as a reference, although I feel it is cursory and ultimately meaningless. At the time it was written, I had not yet been able to think clearly about my experiences, and so what I reported bears only a superficial similarity to what I have attempted to describe in this letter.

Since then I have secluded myself in the university library in order to research certain ancient texts, following the thread of the obscure intimations and remembrances that came to me during my long hours of convalescence. My findings have been scarce – little information survives about the old time, and I have had to infer much from certain names and references. ‚Eden‘ is a term that appears in several texts, seeming to denote a kind of hell or depraved eon of the vegetation’s dominion. Other more obscure references – ‚efflorescence,‘ ’saprotroph,‘ ‚the Amaranthus‘ – mean little. And so my hypothesis, contrived from these fragments, is correspondingly vague and lacking in evidence. Nevertheless, it is my best attempt at explaining my experiences beyond the wall.

To begin, I will have you recall the moment immediately before I turned and fled that infected landscape. I had not recovered from my first sight of the willow when I looked at it a second time, noticing the insensible stillness of its base. Looking closer at that base column, I saw that it terminated in a system of thin, elongated claws that stretched through the ground itself.

‚Parasite‘ is another word that I will have to define for you. Although no longer part of the common parlance, it is still occasionally used to refer to a dependent living past his means. But, as with ‚animal‘, the term’s original meaning was quite different: a parasite was an animal that survived at the expense of another animal, by sucking its blood or nesting inside it. No doubt this perverse notion makes you recoil; I am sorry to have to mention it. I do so only to suggest an appropriate scale in which to measure the phenomena I have described. That is, I wish to suggest that the life forms I encountered were parasites of the entire planet.

There exists no analogue – if we imagine, for example, a man gnawing through a building, or a machine which consumes other machines, we have immediately entered the realm of dreams or nonsense. But I insist that the vegetation shared – no, I am afraid I must use the correct tense – shares with our world itself that very method of existence. I will refer you to one of the manuscripts recovered at the Reykjavik excavation site (Ref. JB38407435439-52), where it is written:

Fixed in the ground…[the vegetation] consumed water, earth and the light of the sun.

No doubt the last clause is intended metaphorically; we can read in the holy books, for example, of demons and malign angels, manifestations of a coalescent darkness which seems to erase or consume light. Perhaps such metaphors were the result of a pre-scientific cultures’ attempts at describing the vegetation; certainly that all-consuming virulence is conveyed more eloquently in this fragment than anything I could hope to write. ‚Water, earth, and the light of the sun‘ – however it is to be read, this phrase echoes in my mind. I cannot imagine a more eloquent lamentation for the flesh of the world, infected forever with immortal monsters.

Leaping into pure speculation let me posit a distant past in which our ancestors arose amidst the chaos of a planet near-paralyzed with vegetation. Surely their hatred of these monstrous ‚poplars‘ and ‚geraniums‘ must have been so great that not only were the combined resources of nations massed against them, but any record of their existence was expunged. Having seen them, having felt the green carpet beneath my feet, it is not difficult to understand why. Even now the horrific specter of Eden torments me with its special nightmare of the undesigned. Now you must understand that atavistic terror – if there is a God, our priests and authorities reason, it must reside in the angles of our towers, in the grids of our cities, in the white fountains purling at their hearts…we have always imagined that this order corresponds to a higher, sacred order, one which predates us but which some part of us knew before our births. For us, to design is to know. We do not invent, merely uncover. The more that the world reflects the symmetry of our dreams, the more it resembles the eternal. And so it cannot be allowed that a different order of time has existed alongside our own, one long grown formless and depraved by sustaining in itself all the aberrations of a primitive Earth. Now you will understand – you must understand – the extent of the evil I have encountered.

I will finish here – the effort of writing is too much. I have not been the same since I returned from the outer sectors. My ability to concentrate has gone and I seem to drift in and out of sleep, the periods of lucidity alternating with strange trances and nightmares. Even the most familiar locations – my room, my desk, the halls of the complex – no longer seem connected to my memories of them. Instead they have taken on new and frightening associations. In their drawings, children often imprint mundane objects with the protean terror of their nightmares: murderous ovens lined with teeth, for example, or a great tower with spindly arms stretched to snatch them from the ground. A reflection of our own deaths seems to wait in the world, and the forms it takes are endless. Now that reflection has returned to me, making me tremble before the shapeless creatures crammed into every shadow. I am afraid to look at the walls – even there, patterns seem to be emerging: strange snaking shapes, obscure involutions, spirals folding in upon themselves…but mostly it is the memory of the awful willow and its thin, wavering limbs, appendagesg that seem to whisper to me the name of a hidden and malevolent god.

There is nothing else – you will decide who to contact and what to do with my papers. There is nothing more for me now – I feel only a vague unease.

Unaffiliated as I am with any official church, my last appeal will certainly ring false. It strikes me now as little more than an involuntary response, the twitching of a severed head. Yes, it will seem fatuous and desperate, but I will do it nonetheless. A prayer.

May God help us finish what our ancestors could not.


Robert Alejandro Lee

Sub. of transcript to State dpt. Branch-3 resulted in following response [doc. #M73747463, excerpt]: 

[pg. 1] „…could not confirm Mr. Lee’s alleged travels to coordinates 42° 48′ 45″ N 70° 52′ 40″ W, particularly his claim to have penetrated a crumbling wall somewhere north of I-5. A routine maintenance check has revealed that no such breach as Mr. Lee describes exists anywhere in external sectors I-5(0) through I-5(360). The border regions Mr. Lee claims to have visited are at present patrolled by guardsmen, for reasons of public safety. Therefore Mr. Lee’s sojourn in the area could not have occurred at all.“

[pg. 3] „…the existence of ‚poplars‘, ‚geraniums‘, the terrifying ‚willow‘ and other ‚vegetative‘ matter cannot be reconciled with the counsel of any reputable scientific authority, and so must be dismissed as the fantasy of a disturbed and potentially psychotic mind. Mr. Lee’s disappearance following the reception of the letter would seem to corroborate the downward turn in his mental condition. Stratford (Ref. JB34937435439-72) has classified a belief in the existence of non-human organic life as ‚a classic warning sign of incipient psychosis.'“


Copyright © 2012 by Justin Isis

Justin Isis is a model, fashion designer and science fiction writer who lives in Japan and has lived in America, Australia, Italy, and various other countries. His last book was I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like, and his next book is Welcome to the Arms Race. He is interested in music, ice cream, and Situationism.




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