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Oliver Shuster

Recalling the Invisible for whom it may Concern

Recalling the Invisible for whom it may Concern Edited and illustrated by Oliver Shuster

www.the-dreamer.co.uk olivershuster@googlemail.com 1


Oliver Shuster

Recalling the Invisible for whom it may Concern

Chapter 0 - Foreword

‘I exposed a tin box with a curious insignia’

I have never before spoken much of my past. It seemed strange to talk of the people I have been, almost rude, as if I would betray their memory and spill their secrets. I didn’t know then that we invent memory after the fact. My earliest memory expands from a single moment when I recalled, all at once, the details of the context of my life. I stood, momentarily left alone in the warmth on a dusty pavement by the sea and it all came flooding back. I remembered that I go to school, I remembered all the things I didn’t like, all the things I had to do and I remembered the grown-up world. My heart sank but what was most troubling was that I had no recollection of the preceding 2


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moment. I had never been able to recall what I left behind in those innocent moments before I could remember and that for some reason I could not carry with me into the so called mundane world. As a young boy, I had been taken on holiday to spend weeks on an island which sits with ancient baked sultry rock over the shimmering Mediterranean Sea. Over rough, tough grass, granite fringed coast and endless scrub, my brothers and I adventured, made endless play and war, our imaginal worlds spilling out to embrace this little corner of world and briefly, tentatively taking root. My brothers and I spent many days building a den or fort. We began piling rocks to make a series of dry stone walls. We were only very little but we must have been strong together because we shifted tons of stone. I love to recall the scene in my mind’s eye: three tanned, semi-feral young boys under the sun, busying around, unordered, building a form, a manifestation of something invisible, yet somehow shared. It was not long before we were surrounded by the great walls of a palace, cooled by the shade they cast in the midday sun and protected by their vast and proud fortifications from all the foes of the outside, grown up world. We had effortlessly slipped back into that magical world where things change fluidly and are not obliged to follow the laws of rationality. We were unable to find a door for our fort however and were in the process of foraging for one when, from that distant other world, there came a sobering call from our mother and together we all looked up and froze, drunk with the consternation one feels on waking from a dream filled sleep. It came twice more, growing in immediacy until we were scampering together from the scrub and back to parents. The holiday continued and, naturally, we found other games, the palace forgotten for the time, its gatehouse threshold left open and unguarded.

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Many years later and under some different incarnation, I returned to that island with my family. What I had remembered as a paradise had been turned into something made of worn plastic that felt like a disposable suburbia to some kind of distant nonsense. It made me very sad. Curiosity took us back to our infant haunts- we followed our bare footsteps along gritty perimetering walls and through rubbish strewn dry baked wasteland fringing the sparkling sea. We found the ruins of the palace we had built with some difficulty and were struck by its decay: what had once been a grand, domineering and mighty testament was now nothing more than piles of stone, vaguely suggesting the ruins of a very poor hovel. Something I cannot put my finger on had carried us back there and something unutterable held us for some time in a kind of trance amongst the dusty rocks. We sat amongst the ruins, the walls offering us no shade to speak of as we gazed out to sea, blown by fragranced warm sea air. A kind of play gradually suffused into me and I began idly toying with sand, stones and bits of rubbish but being somewhat grown up now, a certain degree of sobriety was maintained. We must have spent the best part of an afternoon there in almost complete silence. I toyed and doodled with the stuff of the world until at some point I carelessly pulled away a stone from the remains of the wall and exposed a tin box which I found contained notebooks and pages, some textile, beads and a palm sized stone with a crystal centre. I instinctively hid my discovery and kept it secret. We remained, locked and lost in silent contemplation until we were once again called from the other world. Over the following years, as I began to explore the contents of the box, I became convinced that as children we must have somehow strayed from our na誰ve, barely conscious play to somehow affect real and adult things. How could it have been that the pile of stones we childishly thought of as a palace attracted such a serious, heartfelt and grown-up message in

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a bottle? I began reading the fragments of testimony in the chaotic order I found them in with some curiosity. At first, it read like the cacophony of so many voices; my imagination carried me away immediately, somewhat violently into worlds that absolutely fascinated me but also left me unsettled by their intensity. I began finding clues to estimate the chronologies of the stories satisfactorily and eventually found that the scraps amounted to the accounts of two people, Hannah and Jacob, whose recorded story ends in the walls of a palace built by three small children. I felt some guilt for secretively holding onto these very personal and private accounts and also for delving so unrestrained into the lives of others but perhaps that only fuelled my ever growing fascination. My task soon became all encompassing as I began to embody the thoughts and feelings of these people in an attempt to understand them. It became an affecting and intoxicating journey in itself, one that I struggled to separate myself from. It was necessary at some points to interpret more or less than transcribe. I became lost in what began as a self imposed task and eventually left me with no other choice but to finish whatever was demanded of me. Illustrating these stories has been a meditative tool for elucidating elements of these testimonies and I hope they are in some way useful to the reader also. For a long time I have been tempted to keep this glimpse into the impossible worlds of others secret. What has ultimately driven me to share this work is the fact that I have found the story so deeply moving and affecting: it is a record of inner transformation where rationality bends and becomes fluid for the sake of human narrative. Over time, something in me has relaxed and I now feel in a position to joyfully present this to you, whom it may concern.

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PART I - Chapter 1

‘It will be as if I was never born at all. My name is Jacob.’

To whom it may concern, It is difficult for me to imagine who, if anyone at all, will ever read these words. Of course I hope that my story reaches some eyes that care or else this attempt at communication is merely procrastination on my way to escape. I am fleeing but I want someone to be able to understand why I am leaving my family, my race, my home and the continuation of a grand lineage. It will be as if I have died or, rather, was never born at all. My name is Jacob. I was born some twenty years ago although no one can tell me for sure. 6


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I have seen packed, ancient earth covered over with heavy masonry extending over this tangled, never ending labyrinth. I have seen people trudge around and around this clockwork mound, step by step, to complete one task after another. Days pass made of moments sold for promises to pay the bearer on demand. I have seen children trailing in their parents’ footsteps. I have seen time dissolve into age weary eyes. I have seen children given patient demonstration and encouragement, until they no longer ask, ‘’why?’’ I have seen the dying snatched to unseen corners and I have seen people driven mad and others called mad for daring to dream of something beyond this. I have tried to talk to you before, perhaps you remember? At first you didn’t see me at all and then you looked at me as though you could not understand. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, as is the custom. I asked you, ‘’What we are doing here?’’ and ‘‘Where are we going?’’ and all you told me was that one day I would understand. Children are born into a kind of sleep and it is in this sleep that we are taught the stories that shape this world. The young are weaned on mythologies that shape their spirits- and all before they wake. Before I woke, I remember almost nothing: just darkness and swarms of voices, fragments of stories, the rocking of constant motion and the unabating cries of infants. We are raised into a world that is processing around and about itself, ceaselessly, in a work that is synonymous with the breath of life. Before I woke into this world, my ancestors built a labyrinth of infinite extent which we now inhabit; here we are protected from the chaos and darkness beyond. It spans in all directions but uniformly leads to its centre. It is constantly growing, constantly evolving: new replacing old. It is a living palimpsest. This world of a city was begun before we were able to remember and now we build, working according to an inherited teaching that spills from the dreams of our elders

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and flows through the bloodstream of this organism. This city is built in the shape of a shared mind form- it traces the contours of the common ground of its inhabitants’ lives.

‘As children sleep, they are weaned on mythologies that shape their souls’

There is a saying in the city that all paths lead back to the heart. After I woke I spent years asking questions about this world as I marched- I wanted to know how vast it is and what one could see on looking out. I imagined gazing from the threshold of this world or perhaps travelling my whole life and never reaching its edge. I wanted to know what there was before this city; I wanted to know what our elders’ plan is for the future. I asked my parents, ‘‘The city is of infinite extent,’’ they told me, ‘’there is only void and dark waters beyond. No one knows where we came from: it was too long ago, but there must have always been a city for us to live in: one less advanced, less safe and secure from the outside.’’ Soon I learned 8


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that questions about the future only upset them. They told me over and again that ‘’Life is hard’’ and that ‘’We must all live day by day: we cannot know what the future will bring… only God.’’ I wanted to know more but my questions were upsetting and I realised after not too long that I would have to find answers from elsewhere. I asked the elders because they know the stories better than anyone but they only repeated to me the myths I was taught in my sleep. ‘’There is not much history to know- we had primitive ancestors and now we have come to live in such grace and enlightenment!’’ they told me as if comforting a child who had woken from bad dreams, ‘’The future is not ours to know. Let us put our trust in the fates and in the companions we follow,’’ I was told by an elderly man who seemed to find my concern particularly amusing, ‘’and in all the companions who follow us!’’ he added, chuckling and patting my head. Even though I was often left feeling mocked by these meetings, I persisted for months and for a time I wondered if my concern was, as I was told, a phase that would pass: that my expectations were impossible and naively idealistic. For a time, I don’t know how long, I faded, passing back into troubled sleep. As we walked on, trudging in the perpetual murk, I found my hand exploring the walls I passed: feeling their deeply complex and changing texture. As I slowed to look more carefully, I noticed layers of marks- some carved into the stone, some painted, now hardly recognisable, falling in on top of one another. I could not stop to investigate as the procession is never ceasing- any stillness or solitariness raises immediate suspicion and besides, the lettering was beyond my understanding. When I questioned the elders about the peculiar symbols I had seen I was lambasted with criticisms for wasting my own time as well as theirs. If I had been behaving as I should I would never have had the chance to fill my head with such imaginings and madness that 9


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distracted me to such a degree. I persisted, braving the onslaught of patronising insult because I had no one else to ask these questions that burned in my head and made this world meaningless to me. The more I questioned, the more bitter the elders’ rebuttal grew, the coarser their frowns until they began to threaten that I would attract the attention of the authorities. People disappear for crimes much less severe than raising the fuss I was responsible for. I have heard stories of people ‘disappearing’ for crimes of telling ‘untruths’, ‘remaining stationary’, or for becoming ‘diseased’. The elders seemed genuinely angered and to have been caused some offence. Their threats were enough to make me fall silent. My shoulders dropped and I turned and walked away in silence, loneliness pinching my eyes and shattering my heart. My feet carried me listlessly and sluggishly, shadows swarming quickly past. There it is: no hope, no chance to find a loophole in this self fulfilling and vacuous insanity.

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Chapter 2

‘Hannah, my older sister, I sit here looking out to the leaves of trees being battered by winter grey’

Journal given for Christmas by Aunt Mary. My name is Hannah. I was born on midnight between a Tuesday and Wednesday in July. On my ninth birthday I stopped going to school because my mum got ill and had to go to hospital. Since then I have stayed home to help and she teaches me by setting me different challenges. Where we live used to be a hotel and people still come to stay, but it’s never busy. I do most of the work but I don’t mind- I prefer it to going to school and I learn more here anyway. 11


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There are millions of rooms and when they are empty I can go there. Most of them are empty. There are lots of rooms that no one goes to because they forgot. Before mum got ill I used to get in trouble because I got dirty in all the dusty rooms- my tights got holes in them, my hair turned to tangled brambles and my shoes got scuffed all the time pretty badly –but now she doesn’t mind. Every day after my jobs are finished I have to go and read my work to mum and while she lies in bed or propped up on the sofa, I learn and she hears all about the world, a chapter at a time. Sometimes she asks me to find out about something that happened hundreds of years before I was born or how something works, other times I make up a story or make a picture. Every day I learn something new and some days it makes mum smile. One of my favourite things is to take books to read in different rooms. Sometimes I read out loud in different voices to characters in dusty, faded paintings or to my reflection in dark mottled mirrors. When I’m left alone I like to play chase- I run and search and hide, sneaking and pouncing into deserted corridors, into the old lift with doors you open and close yourself, and up and down the spiralling stairs. My house creaks with a life of its own- like it’s breathing. If no one else is here and you listen carefully, you can hear whisperings of things that have been here before and traces of stories from long ago. If you look carefully you can see the whole world gently move like a growing plant or an old person breathing. 5th Apr I’m not going to write in here every day but Aunt Mary said it’s good to write a bit every now and then or when something special happens (Mum said that means when I want - it’s all special!). Aunt Mary said I should try writing to myself as I will be in ten years time

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because I won’t remember what it was like to be twelve. So- hello Hannah! I hope it’s good to be you and I hope you haven’t got boring! Hannah, I want you to be able to remember this moment so that it doesn’t die and we don’t forget each other. I am sitting in room 27 writing this. Out of the window, moody clouds are swirling and the world is almost too dim and silver grey to see anything. This is one of my favourite rooms- it’s always still and quiet and there are loads of old forgotten paintings and photographs with sharp eyes looking out from some other time. It almost seems as if they knew that one day our eyes would meet across a dusty dim forgotten room. I have lost things in this room and found all sorts of bits and pieces that just seemed to come out of nowhere like these polished stones I found. Today I was learning about how leaves work, from the tiny cells that breathe to the nuclear reactions fizzing at the green glow of sunlight. In my room there are some plants and now when I look at them I can see what they’re doing and understand them. It’s nice to think of as I sit here looking out to the leaves of trees being battered by winter grey. Hannah of years to come, my older sister! Today I marked this special moment of our distant introduction, even though we can never meet. Today in room 27, I drew a massive star in the condensation of the window and on the floor I laid the stones I found here and some other things I had in my pockets: a bracelet with only five little blue patterned beads, half a joker card that I found in the dining room and some pressed flowers from the summer. I made them into a kind of flower and then I spent ages watching over the scene, trying to memorise every detail, building it as a memory for you Hannah- I hope you like it! I stayed with my memorial to the future until the light grew dim. Now I’m going to check on mum and cook some dinner. 13


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Chapter 3

‘Moments passed as we looked up to what lies beyond the roof of our world’

‘‘Jacob!’’ an elderly voice summoned me and my listless heart warned me to brace for further admonishment. I turned slowly and an arm greeted me on the shoulder, leading me fluidly into pace with the trudging shadows. I recognised the man’s face as one of the elders I had been questioning and who cut me down so severely; I felt resentment as we walked, his arm on my shoulder, looking intently at me. ‘’Jacob, I stand by what was said. You are putting yourself in real danger- you need to grow up before you end up in irrevocable trouble…’’ I tried to pull away, not wanting to hear more criticism and burning with anger at the audacity of these people to shape the world according to their unquestioned vision. I was held though, and the man added, ‘’Jacob, listen to me. What I am going to tell you is 14


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extremely sensitive- you must tread carefully if I am to entrust you with confidences that until now have not left my family.’’ I looked at the man with curiosity and met his eyes with resounding resolve. ‘‘I have a son who used to plague me with questions not dissimilar to yours, although I must say he had a more becoming way with words and never raised quite such a scene. There is an order with official devotion to the study of the city’s history; my son was initiated into their rank several years ago. I cannot stress enough how extremely sensitive this all is. If you want to pursue your line of enquiry you must take responsibility for the affects of your actions; you are in a position to be dangerous to others, not only yourself.’’ ‘‘You will need this.’’ He told me and pressed a stone with a carved insignia into my hand, ‘‘it is my pass for leave to visit my son tomorrow. I want you to take it. Jacob, if you endanger my son, if I hear any more flippant talk from you, I will personally file a report with the authorities. Do you understand?’’ I stared at this man whose kindness seemed so misplaced, so unlikely. ‘‘Yes sir.’’ I muttered, coming to a stop and gazing down to the stone. ‘‘Jacob!’’ growled the man, violently pulling me along to his heel like a disobedient dog, ‘‘now is not the time to become stationary, you fool. Do not forget yourself. I will not warn you again. I have done all I will. A thousand eyes watch you every moment.’’ With that he was gone and I was left trudging, holding the first possibility of an answer to the questions that haunted my brains. Even after all my warnings I was excited to be able to talk to someone with an interest in the workings of this world rather than ambivalent acceptance. On the relatively quiet evening that followed I made my way through warrens of tunnels, into parts no longer used, passing through sections of derelict tunnel, emerging occasionally into fragments of the ancient

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splendour of forgotten architecture greatly surpassing our own. Parts of the city I walked through were so crumbling as to have cracks opening to the distant night sky that appeared so close; the vista left me dizzy with vertigo and an awe I could not quite contain. I emerged into a small candle-lit hallway where I came across a figure crouching against a section of crumbling wall, mumbling to the sounds of grating and brushing rubble. Without turning, the figure’s voice grew, thrown to meet me authoritatively and stopping me in my tracks, ‘‘Jacob, your subtlety is not very becoming. Do you have any idea how long it has taken, how many generations of lifetimes have been sacrificed for a few of us to be afforded the right even to look at this world, to be allowed to remain still enough to think?’’ I felt exposed and unprepared; I was stopped, waiting still, with no idea of how to respond. ‘’My name is James,’’ he said in a drawling voice, turning around at last. ‘‘You are very young,’’ he stated, still crouching, ‘‘come- I’ll show you what we have here. My name, I suppose you already know, is James... I’m sorry, I said that already. You can relax a little- we are afforded some privacy here, almost on the level of the priesthood- we can talk at ease for the time being… only, you must take care out there,’’ he gestured sternly with a worn looking trowel, ‘’I’ve heard about some of the fuss you’ve been raising- not only does asking questions in that way not get you useful answers, it is simply not an adequate level of discretion. I’m sure you’re not stupid and I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how this place works, how easy it is for someone like you to be ‘forgotten’. Now come on, we can do better than this, friend.’’

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‘Layers were revealed behind layers’

I felt extremely helpless and fell mute. James directed more candle light onto what he was working on and my soul stuttered, recoiling. Layers of the wall had been exposed to reveal skeletal remains: a well preserved portion of a human hand was folded between crumbling layers of mortar. Layers were revealed behind layers: fragments of painted wall were uncovered behind sections of mosaic, far behind the more contemporary additions. As I looked, I struggled to understand what I saw and so I gawped, hypnotised. ‘‘So, you’ve seen some recent wall markings, the sigilations?’’ asked James, ‘‘they are layered over inestimably ancient remains. We have found evidence of a story rather contrasting to the stories we are told in our sleep. Some of this you will find difficult or unpleasant to hear- I certainly do. We are the descendants of literally countless generationsour ancestors are of untold number. Their worldly remains have provided the foundations to this world, layer upon layer. There is also evidence of profound devolution written in the depths of the strata of this city… I wonder if you suspected any of what I am telling you. We 17


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are living in the shadow of a once great people, living on borrowed time and even the stories we tell one another have lost their way. Look here,’’ he gestured to a layer some distance back, ‘‘this world was once an epic work of art, of profound natural intelligence and beauty… look what we are born into now, what remains of our inheritance- a world of grey where people would risk their lives to express a single meaningful remark and even…’’ ‘’What is there out there?’’ I interrupted softly, pointing to a crack framing the firmament beyond. Moments of silence passed as we looked up to what lies beyond the roof of our world. ‘‘It has always been a mystery, I believe. The spirit of this world has always been to fall further and further into itself and it has named this fall a great and brave progression.’’ ‘’They say that this world does not end, that it forever circles in on itself…’’ I started fearfully, hardly daring to hope for an alternative to this hopeless ultimatum. ‘’The eternal envelopment? Perhaps… perhaps a perfect example of the power for the stories we tell ourselves to shape our world…. You know, there have been times I have wanted to flee from the city, comforted by the idea that if nothing else arises on the horizon but this world, I will at least have irrevocably confirmed my place here in the slow ruin of a once great race.’’ We paused, gazing for some time at the heavens- the dark impenetrable waters, I wondered, and reeled with exhaustion. James drew out a dog-eared bundle of papers from his bag and displayed them for me but I could hardly see: my eyes were shutting down in protest at these scenes that tore into my mind.

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‘‘Ever since I was young I have been trying to collect records of the fragments of markings and sigils that can be seen on parts of the walls. Until I was accepted into the scientific order, I had to be incredibly timid but over many years I have been able to begin translating and interpreting and the like. They are a record of unspoken protest and give some evidence that citizens have tried to escape in the past. I have shown some of my findings to superiors sympathetic to this area of inquisition. We began mapping the symbols that were more or less intact, for ease of reference and discovered that the markings are, amongst other things, some sort of mapping system, see?’’ he again proffered me his pages of notes. We arranged to meet again when I was next able to obtain a pass and as I began to stumble home, James gave me one final warning: ‘’No more misdirected questions to the wrong people, Jacob. Consider that if this is hard for you to hear it must be impossible for many others- to the point where they will instinctively find any way to avoid hearing. Do not betray yourself- make it easy for them to believe you will follow them: your questions have found answers in the wonders of the city- what other possibility is there?’’ James’ words rung in my head until sleep thankfully embraced my shattered mind.

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Chapter 4

‘There was a whole museum of a lifetime trailing around the room’

7th Apr Today when I was reading my work about Alexander the Great to mum she fell asleep without setting me more work. I felt sad because she looked very weak as she lay there breathing slowly and tired. I went back up to room 27, checking through some other rooms on my way. When I was very young I read a story about a toy shop that comes alive after everyone has gone. I can see that this world is alive just by watching it breathe but sometimes I try to sneak up on rooms to see what happens when no one is watching but 20


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today, as I pounced around corners or into empty rooms, everything was back to normal just as I got there. As I got near room 27, I already knew something was different. No one has stayed in that room since we moved here but when I got to the corridor with gently fluttering lights, I saw men in blue overalls carrying in boxes. I carried on walking casually as if I was on my way to another room and being careful not to be seen or heard. As I came to the door I slowed down so I could see what was going on inside. To start with I couldn’t see anything and then my eyes adjusted enough to see stacks and stacks of boxes. There was a strange spicy smell drifting from the room and the muffled sound of loads of voices talking. As I got to the far side of the door I saw white flashes and crackles making shadows jump towards me through the corridor of boxes beyond the door. I walked away quickly and as I turned the corner I saw the delivery men come back out of the room and retrace their steps towards the lift. I need to get my things back or else we’re going to forget one another so easily, Hannah. Maybe I’m weird but even the idea makes me shiver now I think about it. I’m going to have to keep watch of the room whenever I can until it’s empty and then I’ll get in with my keys and quickly rescue my things. It all makes me feel a bit strange and unsettled, like something’s been stolen from me. 8th Apr I had to buy groceries and go to the pharmacy for mum in the morning. After I got back, I went straight up to peer into the room whose door was still ajar. As I poked my head around the corner as carefully as a cat stalking a mouse, I had to wait again for my eyes to adjust before I could see anything. The stacked boxes formed a kind of high corridor with little gaps here and there that the cat in me thought perhaps I might hide in. The light came from the 21


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far end of the room where there was the flickering of firelight. As I tried to look further into the room, to my horror, a column of stacked boxes turned to look at me. I froze for a fraction of a moment before I bolted, my heart pounding in my ears as I ran, silently like the volume turned off on a film. I took a twisting route back to my room in case anyone could see me go. I felt horribly uncomfortable and it was terrible to have been seen but I have no choice- I will try again tomorrow but only if I can be sure the room is totally empty. The doctor came to see mum in the evening. She has been sleeping too much to set me work at the moment but I don’t mind right now- I’m always learning about stuff anyway so I always have something to say when Aunt Mary asks. The doctor said that mum just needs rest, so that’s okay. 9th Apr Today I woke early, and in between my chores I went to check on the room. Every time I went the door was open a crack and there was always something going on inside- I heard music, the scrapes of heavy things being moved around, the sound of talking then sounds of tools. After lunch I returned and the door was closed and locked, behind it I could hear no sound. I quickly ran to check in the lobby and, sure enough- the keys to 27 had been left behind the desk. I went back and unlocked the door with my big bunch of keys. I was shocked because everything had changed. As soon as the door was open I felt I should go, but I couldn’t stop myself from gazing at all the things lit by a single beam of light coming through a slit in the curtains. Gentle bending music drifted over to me and a sweet smelling smoke. I felt nervous, as it seemed like I was interrupting something, or I had burst in on something secret and holy- I wasn’t sure how not to disturb the delicate balance. The hall was still stuffed with boxes but now they spilled out books and bones, bottles, clothes, 22


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papers and musical instruments. There was a whole museum of a lifetime trailing around the room and I wasn’t able to stop myself until I noticed that my feet had carried me a long way into the room. I had completely lost myself and now I stood totally still in the sunlight, details shining around me: open pages and a skull. Crystals smashed light into fingers that pointed around to pill boxes, feathers, photographs and fossils. The door swung to and clicked shut behind me. Things happened so quickly that I didn’t think: I wanted to run away but knew I couldn’t. I saw a shadow waiting in the darkness behind the door. I was so scared that I bolted into one of the other rooms in panic. As soon as I got there I realised there was nowhere to hide. I curled up into a ball with my eyes closed and under my breath I whispered the prayer my mum told me over and over: ‘‘I am Hannah, hold me in grace, I am Hannah, hold me…’’. Strangely, for some moments, all I could think about was rain drops sliding and dancing over the window frame behind me: flitting and gathering to fall as rain began to patter the glass in a rhythm that never repeated. Soft footsteps approached and I said my prayer more and more frantically under my breath until the footsteps stopped and I felt a mighty presence towering over me. I shook and I couldn’t breathe properly and I couldn’t do anything. A giant hand touched me on my head and I instantly felt my fear pour out of me onto the floor, my body relaxing and uncurling like a dry leaf in water. My eyes drifted open slowly and the first thing I saw was the light of a candle flame burning and in the same moment I knew the gentle serenity of this giant who patiently squatted in front of me surrounded by the warmth of flickering candles. I scrambled up slowly to look this robed figure in the eyes: I wanted him to know that I wasn’t

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frightened anymore. We faced one another in silence for I don’t know how many moments, but a long time, inspecting and inspected with fascination. My eyes fell into this mysterious character’s- his eyes sparkled above bulging cheeks which perched on top of a faded bushy brown beard. The man’s grey and black hair was tied into a mass with bits of different coloured fabric and he wore a flowing brown gown, pinched together at the waist with a tattered patterned belt. My eyes never strayed from the gaze of his blue and grey polished eyes that glinted along to a song I had never known. I was held all that time in a beautiful stretched moment of exciting calm where everything was so clear. The drifting music warbled, it dissolved time and turned the world into a warm and sweet dream. The song simmered dry to a close and our shared trance folded gently closed.

‘We faced one another, inspecting and inspected with fascination’

He smiled warmly and the room lightened. ‘’You must be Hannah,’’ he said to me in a warm, quiet and dusty voice, ‘’I’ve heard all about you!’’

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This seemed to me a very strange thing to say as no one knows who I am. I couldn’t think of anything to say but it felt like I had just passed some sort of test and didn’t want to say the wrong thing. He got to his feet and began busying over tea and biscuits in the next room where he had set a stove into the fireplace and a lively kettle bubbled and steamed. On a table, a record spun, aimlessly trundling, hissing away to no one. ‘’May I ask you what drew you here Hannah? …Tea.’’ He stated matter-of-factly, handing me cups and saucers, ‘’It is Hannah, is it not?’’ ‘’Yes’’, I replied, unsure of whether to make something up, ‘’I came to get some things I left in here by accident- some special stones and my bracelet…’’ ‘’Ah, they were yours! I thought they were perhaps some sort of gift from the previous tenant… well,’’ he said thoughtfully, taking a swig of tea which seemed to burn his mouth, ‘’you can of course take your things back if you like but perhaps you will be interested in a proposition?’’ Again, I didn’t know what to say but this time he waited for me, ‘’What proposition?’’ ‘‘Well,’’ he said, smiling softly, ‘’I always do my research and I know a little about you I think…’’ ‘‘How? What do you know?’’ I interrupted, not liking the sound of the proposition so far, and suddenly not sure whether I was still in danger, even though I’d been given tea. ‘’Oh, just a few things I’ve heard, and maybe I’m mistaken, so do feel free to correct me…. Your name is Hannah and you love exploring and learning about things with your mother’s 25


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help… I was sorry to hear that your mother is rather ill. You’ve been enormously helpful to her and the people who pass through this place…. I wonder, do you know what you are looking for in life, my dear?’’ He began rummaging quietly through some boxes, knocking over stacks of paper and becoming briefly entangled in all sorts of peculiarities, all the while looking over to me expectantly. I thought for a while and then said, ‘’I really don’t know yet, but before I decide I want to learn all about the world and how it works. I want to see it, even the stuff you can’t normally see, the stuff adults don’t seem to know… I don’t know.’’ I finished and looked down at my hands, worried that I had perhaps said too much. He turned back to me with his arms full of bulging, wriggling bits and pieces which he half laid, half dropped onto the table and began to organise. ‘’It seems to me that you have a pretty good idea.’’ he said, ‘’My proposition is that I exchange your things for some rather special treasures that I think you’ll like. There are some conditions that are attached though.’’ He looked at me seriously, ‘’The first is that these gifts for you, if you accept them, will someday be gifts for others. The second is that you must follow these things to where they lead you. They will lead you to other clues which will lead you to others in turn: they will teach you about the whole world and anything you want to know... but there is no telling how long your journey will take and there can be no going back.’’ He said these last words very seriously indeed and then turned as if dealing with an annoyance to take his tea pot, which was boiling over, from the stove. ‘’You don’t have to decide now,’’ he added, turning back to the stove. While he attempted to clean up the mess I carefully examined some of the items in front of me: one a beautifully embroidered picture 26


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of a giant twisting oak tree with saplings circling around its base and a stone that fitted into the palm of my hand perfectly. It has marks circling around a crystal centre which gleams mysteriously. I knew I was never going to turn down the offer of such an adventure, especially one delivered right into my hands and so in keeping with my curiosities for everything surrounding me. I wanted to know if I could trust this man, though, and was desperately trying to think of a way to test him; half remembered proverbs of meeting three travellers at the crossroads kept coming to mind. Then, amongst the treasures on the table I spied an upturned half playing card. I turned it over. It was the same joker I had found, only the other half! We continued talking for some time- he was very interested to hear about my explorations and about the different books I had been reading. After much talk, he began describing some woods that are not far away where a special tree is hidden, protected by a circle of surrounding smaller trees. He showed me on the embroidered cloth, ‘’It is a place that for many generations has held wisdom, a place where it may be shared and passed on.’’ At that moment he saw the stone in my hand, ‘’That is a map stone and will take you to where you need to go- you must concentrate on these markings on the stone and the world around you. Look,’’ he said and turned the stone slightly until its pattern lined up with the objects on the table. He pointed about the room to show that furniture, doors and window lined up too and then he gestured to me, ‘’You are at the centre of your world, so you go here’’, he said finally, pointing to the glistening centre. I gathered myself and took one more, long look at this strange man who had all of a sudden joined my adventure- he was turning back to books and writing. I smiled to myself as I retreated from the room, being carefully gentle and quiet so as not to break the spell. I am

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so excited to have made a new connection to a world beyond my own. As I lay in bed asleep, I thought of all the rooms in this world of mine. These rooms are endless: many people spend a whole lifetime in one and never even look out of the window. There is a universe behind each door and an infinity of doors. That night I went to sleep clutching the mapstone in the palm of my hand, feeling the crystal spot in its centre.

‘These rooms are endless, she reflected’

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Chapter 5

‘I moved, making my way in a trance, always from the heart of the city’

At the soonest opportunity, I tried to obtain permission to revisit my new confidante. I found James’ father talking in a group of elders and went straight over to ask for further help. He peeled himself from his peers and listened as I talked, as many of the elders looked over to us in curiosity. I explained that my restlessness was being calmed and my abstractions grounded. He seemed happy and self affirmed, or at least relieved to learn that his idea to send me to James had worked out well and he and his associates would no longer have to deal with my persistent nagging questions. To my considerable relief I obtained another pass. Something in me began to rise at that point- something that I am ashamed at, something beyond my control. A voice started speaking within me. It began as a distant voice, something other to me, and reminded me of the lifetimes that have passed through

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this world. The voice rose, growing in me until I could not separate it from my own voice. It terrified me- such storming indignation that would not bed down, such a fathomless strength that I did not want it to take me- I could not trust it. It asked insistently, this time using my lips, ’’Where are we going? Who leads us in this darkness? Do you not know that this world is not good enough- not good enough for our children, not good enough for our ancestors and not good enough for you, who perhaps do not remember that this mound, built of ashes, ends arbitrarily!’’ I shouted the last, shocking myself but unable to suppress what rose inside me. I was confronted with expressions of such fear and rage, the like of which I have never seen. I ran then, disappearing into the crowd that was trudging still, knowing that I would never return. I began paying attention to the symbols on the walls once again, noticing that they marked an order to the corridors and halls that until now I had only been able to navigate through partial memory and by following the trails leading ahead of me. The symbols seemed to extend from the centre of the city; it was initially perplexing but soon began to fit together into an intricate interlocking geometry that I was able to perceive as I tested my ability to navigate using the ciphered symbols. I realised that I would be able to descend into the hall where James was working, and smiling to myself in satisfaction, I drew closer to the only hope I had for another world not limited to decay. After a long stealthy traverse, I heard a familiar mumbling and grating sound from below me and then, after I climbed further, I could see James crouching below me amongst the flickering light of candles. I carefully dislodged a small pebble and sent it falling down to just in front of him. James stopped his work and fell silent. He surreptitiously waved his hands before him and then held out the first two fingers of his right hand which slowly closed

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together: time is running out. A shadow passed over James, the grating and mumbling continued. The shadow grew, looming over him and I scrambled out of the way just too late as a figure looked up the shaft to where I was climbing. From behind me, there was a thud and the sounds of my friend’s work stopped. I moved at the speed of flight, making my way in a trance away, always away from the heart of the city in an undulating route to perplex my pursuers. I could not think. I moved until I could do no more than find a place to hide in some anonymous dark corner to rest and revive my strength for whatever lay ahead of me.

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Chapter 6

‘I stopped for a moment, aware that I was on the threshold of another world’

10 Apr I awoke with a burst of energy as soon as the sun first touched the corner of my curtain. I collected together a bag of things and had a quick breakfast, snatching a few provisions and escaping the house as quietly as an angel passing before anyone else was awake. The day’s light throbbed and I was so excited to be released, entrusted and set on a mission to explore the bright, singing, early morning world, clear with a coldness that made my nose tingle and my breath puff like a dragon. As I left the hotel I ran, stretching my legs like a galloping 32


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horse and only when my chest ached with the sting of too much freshness I slowed down, swinging my arms backwards and forwards. My eyes squinted at the rising circle of the sun; particles of dust electrocuted and burned up in just a moment of its gaze. I took the map-stone from my bag and it found its place comfortably, hugging itself warmly into my palm. As I walked, I consulted the stone, lining myself up with the world that appeared around me; I was led in a big, wide curve, past houses and along a road of abandoned factories and warehouses, under railway bridges and eventually onto the outskirts of woodland, bursting with young green leaves. I stopped for a moment, aware that I was on the threshold of another world that somehow holds the secrets of all my future- what lay before me I could not imagine. The woodland squeezed out from the narrow dirt track and stretched further than I could see. The sound of the trees dancing in the sun moved my breath in the rhythm of a strange fluttering nervousness and I could almost hear snatches of song. My feet spilled forward into the woods- the air smelled warm and baked, water moved around the fragile posts of an old decaying fence. The coolness of the forest stretched deeply and to great heights in a slowly moving calm quiet like that of a cathedral. As I walked, a wind that felt like the breath of the world lifted pale green leaves from the deep sea of sky and points of light danced all around, dappling every surface. I stopped in my tracks again because it was all so beautiful. The path circled off to the right and so I held the stone in my hand and traced the route from my position. It was easy and fun to walk, my eyes darted with curiosity and love over everything that I saw. My nose opened wide to take in the gentle flavours of fragrance and my fingers reached out to caress branches holding soft leaves. The path often faded so that I

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could recognise it only because it followed the rise and fall of the land. I felt like I was floating on an ocean of time in a tea cup and I could no longer feel a single moment pass. I emerged all at once to a massive and mighty tree that I recognised at once. It punched through the earth’s surface with powerful grace, its branches stretching like arms held open, the ground beneath covered in acorns that rolled over one another like a seashore of marbles. In amazement and so happy, I climbed slowly but surely up branches that reached down to me into a nest of old and proud branches in the crown of the tree. From there I was able to see deep into the green sea and down to a circle of red and silver saplings that arced about me. I looked up to the sky and found hanging there, lightly swinging above me, a small pouch. Inside was a tiny patterned porcelain bead hung from a thin thong of leather and within a pill box was some sheep’s wool, pieces of interesting stone and some tightly folded pieces of paper. On some were written names and places, others had strange maps and on another was written, ‘To whom it may concern, you have arrived at this place at this time by some unfathomable and fortunate miracle. This gift for you: a gift for so many others, for you are a caretaker of this world. With open eyes you will find directions, moment by moment. Clues are written in the very fabric of this place made sacred by the meeting of souls in reverie and love.’ I was mystified but overjoyed as I turned these treasures over in my hands and stretched out, not thinking about it too much for now: happy to lie back in branches and watch leaves playfully bat at the light. As I walked about the circle of trees, I realised its power and I saw people who would come to this place in years to come and find this mystery etched in life. I imagined myself as someone else finding such a gift from the past, passing over great distance and the separation of time. A gift given, received and passed on…. I copied the

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notes, adding to it my own poem, ‘we will show them their reflection through the tangles that entwine us. We are held by the trees, we pass from parent to child, amongst brothers and sisters. Come and sit with me, we will remember who we are.’ I left my own necklace in exchange for the bead and then carefully re-hung this message in a bottle, pausing briefly to ask for its safe journey through time to the hands that would find it. I felt strong: connected to the past and connected to the future: I imagined myself as a tree, rooted to my place and time but stretching all the way from my seed to flower and beyond. My mind continued to race all day until I got home just after dark. I wanted to report back on my discoveries but the door to 27 was closed. I feel bad to have missed out helping mum today but I can make it up tomorrow. Now I must sleep.

‘I looked p to the sky and found floating above me a small pouch’

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Chapter 7

‘On the tip of a finger, held preciously, was a single drop of water’

I have seen an all encompassing inheritance of this world. This trudge began before we had the ability to remember. Since the beginning times, we have learnt our ways from those who made way before us. There is nothing new here and the sun never touches this forgotten grey place. Yet still we trudge, for we know no better, seemingly. Instructions originate from somewhere, however- a heart provides just enough confident direction to parent the shambling mass. The rest we do for ourselves- we invent with inherited imaginings all the reasons we can do no other thing, how we are no good, how we just don’t know how. I tried to stop you. You don’t remember? I tried to stop you, to shake you awake. I tried to make you look to your hands, to the ‘nature’ we can sometimes glimpse through cracks in the walls of this place. I tried to empower you, to make you see how wonderful we can be, how

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rich and wide the world we bring our children into can be. You threw me aside with such violence. I begged you to look with me. My head cracked against a wall and blackness covered my world. The shuffling trudge of countless feet moved past me. I found myself waking from sleep on a ledge and thankfully still hidden from view. I gazed over toward a deep-set window, streaming a river of light; it warmed me and I began to feel alive again as memories gingerly returned to me. In this relatively outer region of the city, few people trudged and only intermittently, most performing low level tasks moving materials. Moments passed carelessly in my sleep filled state until I realised that I was not entirely hidden from view: a young woman perched on the window ledge and stared strangely at me, her silhouette almost obliterated by the halo of sunlight flooding around her. A few people passed by and then she leapt with agility from her hiding place to a spot on the wall where a carved circular sigil was forming under her hand. Then, just in time to avoid being seen by the next group of people trudging past, she was back in her nest of light, staring at me in my increasingly uncomfortable hiding place. Without realising it I had become quite lost in this creature: she stood at the centre of her own world which extended around her with certainty and somewhat incongruous strength. I had never known anything like it and was reminded just how much of the world is made of invisible things. The girl moved towards me, sliding gracefully from her perch and staring into me intently as she moved closer still. She drew me out of my nook, and then we were so close that I could feel her breath. The curtain of light streaming from the window made my eyes water and stream as my gaze was reciprocated for long moments and then I was on the brink of falling. She conspiratorially held her hands up to me as if she had found some delicate and fleeting treasure to show me that may take flight at any moment. On the end of her finger, held

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preciously, was a single drop of water, its surface shimmering. The drop held shadows and threw beams of light in a dance that immediately held all my attention; it teetered on the edge of bursting. As I looked closer, encouraged by this creature’s gentle confidence, I saw a very high tower with spiralling steps that ended arbitrarily and opened onto the endless blue. I saw the drop teeming with straddling, criss-crossing branches: trees covered the whole world. Then voices rose and I saw scenes of peoples, unending in diversity; all had eyes that saw me, and I knew them intimately, as if I had just returned to them after having been asleep. I was held in the company of everyone we are. A very bright light turned and passed through the drop and painfully split my head. I was embraced, unmoving for a terrible moment and then I fell heavily. Despite my efforts to anchor myself awake, the heavens dissolved around me and tunnelled into a singularity. Her voice spoke to me as if coming from inside, ‘‘The mountains have melted, blind men smother and clutch humans as straw. The earth has swallowed us and we die, slowly, moment by moment: lifetimes fall, fleeting as raindrops. And from this winter death, we learn who we are, we will speak our name, we will move ourselves to the light of the summer.’’ I woke to find myself trudging still, held by the pace of a hundred million shuffling souls. My footsteps slowed gradually until time stalled stodgily, became viscous and sluggishly moved about me. In that moment my vision changed: meaning became superimposed onto the appearance of things, and for the first time I saw things as they are, not only as they appear. I came to a halt and my eyes itched: I later discovered that they had changed colour from brown to grey. Around me people moved in these peripheral reaches of the city; they marched on piles of corpses, they held a tradition in living, a tradition of survival at all costs, at the sacrifice of anything besides and along with the forgetfulness of dreams. All that

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moved around me was very sad- all was apoptotic, subsiding, slumping into its own shadow. A breath shuddered through me and tears pinched the corners of my eyes- I was surrounded by a people I could no longer allow myself to be a prisoner amongst.

‘Before long I am alone and the walls are crumbling. Before me, the world stretches out in awesome vastness’

I navigate this world now as effortlessly as I navigate my own dreams. Before long I am alone and the walls are crumbling: their ruins are being gripped and torn apart by stretching plants and eroded by streams of golden sunlight falling. The layers of stonework yield to the touch. Before me the world stretches out in awesome vastness. In the distance, mountains reach into the sky and dwarf the mound of concrete that lies behind me. It will be as if I was never born.

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To Whom It May Concern, I have tried to talk to you but you do not see me. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries but you looked straight through me. I have tried to press these words into your hands but they remain in mine. I fear these words have fallen on unhearing ears but I suppose that my message remains the same: to whom it may concern: I have no argument. I hope you can understand. I hope we will meet again one day. May you find your way home. Sincerely, Jacob

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Chapter 8

‘I dreamed of the tree I found falling so slowly and there was nothing I could do’

12 Apr I don’t even know how to write this. I dreamed of the tree I found falling. It fell so slowly and there was nothing I could do. All sound stopped. As it touched down so gently I woke suddenly as if I had fallen: I was winded, sweating and felt ill. For a while as I lay in bed listening to unusual sounds around me I couldn’t work out if I was still dreaming or not. I woke up, confused by what I could hear and followed down the staircase to where my mum lay in the sofa she liked to stay in, surrounded by men and women dressed in green with 41


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boxes and tubes and lots of talking. My aunt was there too and she took me away as soon as they saw me. I don’t remember what anyone was saying. I can barely remember what happened. My mummy died in the middle of the night while I had fallen asleep in hospital. Today I went to find my friend in room 27 but I found the door open and there were only a few old pictures against the wall and the sun shining straight through into the empty room except for that in front of the window, in the place where I had left my star-flower, was another flower made of autumn leaves and some small fossils I have never seen before. I stood there and cried. 13 Apr I don’t want to write anymore in here and I don’t know anything about Hannah in the future so I don’t know what I’m doing any of this for. I have to go and stay with my aunt and she’s going to make me go back to school. I am going to go and leave this journal in the tree and if I remember in ten years I can find it again but now all I want is to bury this in the tree. Goodbye Hannah.

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Recalling the Invisible for Whom it May Concern Part 1  

illustrated novevella authorial illustration magical realism art please get in touch for subsequent parts

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