Issuu on Google+


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 1

AN A-Z OF POSSIBLE WORLDS


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 2

This edition was first published by Roastbooks Ltd. No.31, 93 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TY www.roastbooks.co.uk

Copyright A. C.Tillyer 2009 The right of A. C.Tillyer to be identified with this work has been asserted by the author in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

ISBN: 978-1-906894-06-1 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from Roastbooks Ltd.


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 1

THE LABYRINTH It is easy to imagine that the great labyrinth, winding round an entire island in the northern ocean, is the reason behind the fleeting, solitary existence of those who live in it, but this does not explain why they built it in the first place. Perhaps they really did want to lose themselves. Without plan or conference, the early settlers constructed mazes alongside the first houses and roads as if, for them, the unexpected was as essential to life as food or sleep. Maybe the labyrinths were never separate from the houses at all but began as unusually shaped rooms, which were extended into the gardens and across the streets, so that neighbours could meet each other accidentally in their own homes. Before long, there were no ordinary houses left and the scattered villages were connected by a warren of meandering walkways and dead ends. The living spaces became part of the walls until the only way to build a new room was to brick off a section of the maze and add a door on either side, so that pedestrians could still pass through unhindered. Eventually, the walls became a continuous structure. The labyrinth did not enter the world’s history books until it was discovered accidentally by a band of fugitive sailors. By then, it was already well established in its current form but for how long and why, no one can say. The islanders do not keep records of their past. As far as they are concerned, they have none. Those who came before and those who will follow, have lived and will live as they do. The court transcripts from the trial, which the crew faced 1


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 2

THE LABYRINTH

after they had come home and given themselves up, tells us more about the labyrinth than any other source. It is somehow in keeping with the spirit of the place that the fullest account of life there can only be found in a foreign land. The navigator of the ship, who had acted as their leader, spoke for all of them. Many of their number had disappeared and they faced charges of murder, as well as mutiny and desertion. The court was evidently captivated by the navigator’s account, for he was allowed to speak for some time without interruption. He began with a brief but lucid picture of the depravity and incompetence of the captain and his mates, which had threatened the safety of the ship and triggered the rebellion. He described how, as the navigator on board, he was able to plead for the captain’s life but threw in his lot with the men and joined them to help steer the ship to safety. Without him, he felt sure they would have perished in the icy waters. The captain and his henchmen were given arms, money and a few provisions, then dumped in a boat within sight of land. The mutineers sailed away to find a refuge from justice. When the walls of the great labyrinth appeared on the horizon; where their maps predicted nothing but empty seas, they believed they had found their sanctuary. “We arrived just after dawn,” said the man in the dock. “We anchored in the offing of a small fishing port. There were boats sailing home with the night’s catch, which passed within shouting distance of our ship. Men stood on the decks, gutting their fish, surrounded by gulls. Nobody paid us any attention. We took this as a good omen and several of our number, including myself, rowed ashore.” “As we walked the narrow, winding streets, I began to feel uneasy. I couldn’t explain why. There were many people milling about and 2


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 3

THE LABYRINTH

although we passed them unmolested, I felt a sense of danger. Something was wrong. As you can imagine, we were looking at the place as our future home, so I tried to calm myself with the thought that it was simply because we were strangers there and fugitives from the law. But I have been in many ports and this one was different; it was too quiet. Then one of the men reminded me that we needed provisions and I realised what was missing. This was dawn at a working fishing port, yet there were no market traders setting up stalls, no errand boys clattering through the streets, no whistling or shouting, no drunks slumped in doorways. Everyone appeared to be going about their business but nobody was hurrying. They walked calmly, as if sedated, in a world of their own. No one travelled in pairs and we began to feel uncomfortable in our group.” “We straggled out into single file. Eventually we accosted an old woman who looked as if she was kind, and attempted to act out our needs, pointing to our mouths, rubbing our bellies and offering her coins. She ignored our money and answered us in a dialect that was a strange, sing-song mutation of our own. It was possible to understand her words but we could not place her accent. From this, we concluded that somehow, these people were distant descendants of our own race. We were not entirely pleased with the discovery. It would make our first days easier but it did not rule out the chance that our own countrymen would find us here some day.” “The woman seemed puzzled by our request but did not mind us following her. We were surprised to see that she did not seem to know the way herself but appeared unperturbed when she ran into dead ends. She followed a path that was so convoluted that we hardly knew whether we were doubling back on ourselves or walking further from the sea. After some time, we arrived back at the 3


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 4

THE LABYRINTH

shore, about a mile down the coast from where our ship was moored. We came across a bucket of fish that had been left on the beach, as well as several baskets of whelks. The woman placed her string bag of turnips on a nearby rock, selected a lump of cod for herself and motioned for us to do the same. She seemed alarmed when we began to pack up all the fish and refused any payment for her trouble. We wanted to thank her some more but when we looked up, she was gone. No one was around, so we helped ourselves to the turnips and whelks as well, leaving a few coins. I think that was the last time we actually paid for anything with money.” “It took us many weeks to understand how the labyrinth operated and I think it is accurate to say that we never understood its inhabitants. At first, we thought we had stumbled on paradise. There was no money or concept of personal wealth among the islanders. Trade, such as it was, existed as a form of barter, yet no one haggled over the value of goods. Everyone always had something to do: they fished, they tended vegetable gardens, they span wool, fed chickens, tended the sick, painted houses and mended their nets. But all this industry seemed to exist on a purely personal level. There were no warehouses or workshops, or organised teams of labourers. They simply employed themselves in whichever way they chose and seemed to change what they did whenever they felt like it. For all this, there was surprisingly little chaos in the labyrinth. People left whatever surplus they had just lying around and when they needed something, they went out looking for it until they found what they wanted or something else that would do just as well. There was no one to organise these transactions but nobody took more than they needed to survive from one day to the next. As far as we could make out, there were no hoarders and no shirkers.” “I remember one morning observing a roof being repaired. A man had evidently noticed a leak during the night. He went off and 4


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 5

THE LABYRINTH

returned with wood and tiles, then he took a ladder that was leaning against a wall, where another man was sitting on a sill painting a window frame. The painter did not complain that his ladder had been stolen from under him. The man climbed up to the roof and began his work. Throughout the morning, various passers by moved the ladder from the roof to the window sill and back again and once, a woman filled his bucket with tiles and nails, which he hoisted up without a word and continued with his work. The painter finished one coat of paint and left it to dry. After an hour or so, the tiler left his roof and climbed up to the windowsill, where he began to paint the second coat. Before he was done, another man arrived, left some bread and cheese in the street and took the ladder to carry on with the tiling. When the painter had finished the second coat, he refreshed himself with the bread and cheese, then wandered off and never finished the roof repairs, which were completed by a third man. I must say, there was nothing shoddy about the workmanship but I know of nowhere else where jobs are completed in this way.” “At first, we helped ourselves to what we wanted, even saving extra for the future, but the crew was growing bored and restless, so I sent them off to work with the islanders. I felt that the only way we could join the community was to contribute to it. Nobody ever asked us what we were doing or where we had come from. You can imagine that for us, this was a great relief and initially we thanked our good fortune.” “I tried to get to know the inhabitants better but never had much success. People were willing to talk but they had a habit of wandering away in the middle of a sentence and you were unlikely to find them again. No one seemed to live in the same place for long; although there was no shortage of corridor-like rooms in which to sleep. Since there were no street names or house 5


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 6

THE LABYRINTH

numbers, there were no addresses. If I asked someone their name, they replied with their age, for the passing of time is the only constant thing in the convolutions of the labyrinth. Here, the days passed, not like a rope of beads being fed out behind us but like raindrops that fall into water and are lost forever.” “More than this, they did not seem to understand my questions and replied with an amused shrug or another question, which amounted to the same thing. If I may consult my notebook, I transcribed a conversation I had with a native after we had been there for about a month. He was around my age and I followed him for a whole day, working beside him at some half dozen different tasks. He never actually started or finished anything but he worked with the same concentration and care at each job. I felt sure that if I helped him he would eventually acknowledge me but he never did. In the end, it was me who broke the silence…” “Where are you from?” I asked. “Here, of course.” “Where is here? What is the name of this place?” “It is a land. Does it need a name?” “So, were you born here? In this street, perhaps?” “Maybe, or somewhere else. I can’t remember my own birth, can you?” He seemed genuinely surprised. “Well, who is your mother, for instance?” He laughed. “A woman, without a doubt.” 6


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 7

THE LABYRINTH

“You must know who she is!” “How can one know a person?” “But who looked after you when you were a child? Taught you to speak and count and catch fish, grow food, weave cloth, lay bricks? I have seen you do all these things.” “There are many people living here. You must have noticed them around.” “But what about love? You must love somebody.” “Certainly, I love many people.” “But you are alone!” “Well, of course. You cannot be in my mind anymore than I can be in yours.” “But don’t you want someone to care for you?” “As I said, there are many people...” “But if you truly love someone, you want to see them again, to live with them, protect and cherish them.” “Protect them from what? There’s no danger. Besides, as I said, there are many to love and be loved...” “And it is true. There were many people living in the walls of the labyrinth and although they seemed to form no lasting, personal attachments, there was a sense of warmth and respect in all human 7


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 8

THE LABYRINTH

exchanges. People chatted together, laughed together, ate, worked and fished together, spent the night together and then moved on. To an outsider, their lives seemed unbearably lonely, aimless and godless, yet there was no trace of discontent among them. When asked why they didn’t want to achieve anything in their lives, to give it some meaning, they invariably raised their eyebrows and asked what there was to do in life but live and what meaning could it have when everybody dies in the end? They were solitary beings but they spoke with one voice.” “For many months we continued to live on our ship, rowing ashore for food and work. This was partly because the islanders never spoke to us and the men became agitated if they spent too much time in their company. But the main reason was the labyrinth itself, which we feared to venture into too deeply. We are men of the sea; we like open spaces and empty horizons. We understand maps and charts and the points of a compass. We like to know precisely where we are and see where we’re going but none of this was possible in our new home.” “It is futile to try and convey the extent of the labyrinth with any certainty, for it is like nowhere else in the world. There were no houses on the island or none as we know them. No churches, schools, town halls or public squares; none of those structures that seem to exist in one form or another, everywhere else in the world. There was nothing but walls, endless walls. As far as I walked and for as long as I lived in that place, I never saw anything else. The walls created passageways with the breadth of roughly the span of a man’s outstretched arms. Some of them were solid rock and some had windows and doors, which were never locked. And here is the strangest thing of all; none of the rooms contained personal belongings of any kind, although many were decorated in highly individual styles. It took us a long time to realise, partly because 8


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 9

THE LABYRINTH

we could not believe it, that nobody lived in any one place for more than a few nights at a time. At the end of the day, they simply wandered from street to street, until they found an empty bed. They were undisturbed if others strolled through the room as they slept.” “Once, we sailed round the island to see if there was ever a break in the walls but found nothing, except the harbour where we had first arrived. The journey took nearly six days, for the seas in that part of the world are treacherous. We did not like to chance the voyage again and resigned ourselves to getting to know the area around the quayside as best we could. It was a formidable task; the alleyways were so tangled and knotted that it was easy to become disorientated and lose yourself. As none of the streets had names, it was impossible to ask directions and since the people never knew where they were, no one could help you anyway. The first time I ventured ashore alone, I became so helplessly lost that I did not return to the ship for several days. I had a particularly frustrating conversation with a young man whom I had stopped for help. I asked him the way to the sea but he just frowned and looked puzzled.” “But you have just been fishing!” I exclaimed. “Yes, I went fishing today,” he agreed. “Well, where have you come from?” “Down that street,” he said, pointing to the road we were standing in. “And before that?” “Another street, I suppose.”

9


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 10

THE LABYRINTH

“Left or right from this one?” “Before it,” he insisted. “I realised that I had never heard anyone speak in terms of left and right or even north and south. They seemed to have no concept of where they were in the physical world, only their position in time. Ages and times of day were more important to them than geography. In a sense, the whole labyrinth is dedicated to time, deliberately constructed to confuse space and make it irrelevant.” “And where are you going now?” I persisted, but he only smiled pleasantly and carried on walking. I fell in beside him and demanded that he tell me where he was. “Here, of course,” he replied with a friendly laugh. “But why, what for? What are you doing?” I searched his face. He didn’t look stupid but he seemed honestly perplexed by my questions. If anything, he was sorry for me and quite upset that he couldn’t help. “You’re lost!” I challenged him. “But how can I be if I don’t mind where I’m going?” he replied and I gave up. When eventually, I rediscovered the ship, I forbade any man to lose sight of the sea without the aid of a compass. As we only had two, this restricted our movements considerably.” “Time went on and the crew began to brood. They were rotting away on the ship. Since in all probability we would spend the rest of our lives here, we needed a long term plan. We would have to wrench the islanders out of their strange habits, so that we could live with them, for we could not change our ways to fit theirs without losing our very souls. I decided that the only way to begin 10


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 11

THE LABYRINTH

to conquer the labyrinth was to map it. At the very least, it would give us an overview of the place, just as when you place a grid over a country, you contain it somehow. It was a massive task. We began by putting up signs to identify the streets but people simply took them down or painted over them or worse, moved them somewhere else. Next, we tried describing each street according to the number of windows in it and how they were decorated but the natives were enthusiastic builders and never tired of making alterations, curving a corner here, adding a cul-de-sac there and we had to abandon this approach as well.” “Eventually, we were forced to label each crossroad according to our compass readings, which made the maps difficult to follow but we had no choice. We paced out distances using our own strides as measurements and in this way, after perhaps six months, we succeeded in charting the labyrinth from our part of the coast to the centre of the island, where the walls gave way to vast, barren plains of shingle, pitted with the haphazard indentations of shallow quarries. The cabin boy thought that the islanders built the labyrinth because they feared the lonely emptiness of the interior. Perhaps this was true years ago but I am not convinced.” “In truth, the people made us nervous. Some of the crew felt they were communicating with each other by their thoughts alone, for how else could everything run with such ease in the labyrinth? We began to worry that they knew we were fugitives and had conspired to drive us mad by refusing to acknowledge our presence. The entire island, not only the people but the walls themselves, seemed to be plotting to crush us. It was unbearable. The men were languishing for want of proper human relationships. Many of them had succeeded in spending the night with a woman and it must be said, they seemed to be free to do as they wished and generous with their favours. At first, the men exalted in this 11


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 12

THE LABYRINTH

state of affairs; a new woman whenever one happened to agree to go with them and no jealous lovers, protective fathers or money to tarnish the encounter. Soon, however, when no liaison lasted more than a night and no woman seemed capable of fidelity or even meeting somewhere at a set time and place, the men grew frustrated, even bitter.” “I believed that the map was our only chance but we needed the islanders to use it as well. We reasoned that if we could give them an awareness of where they were, they would begin to recognise themselves as unique individuals. Soon, they would want a home to call their own and a name to answer to. It would not be long before they would begin to see each other as separate entities and form personal relationships. We thought a map would help them to become more like us. It was not without a feeling of apprehension that we set forth with our map. After all, knowledge is power and we felt that we now knew that stretch of the labyrinth better than they did themselves. If the conspiracy theory was correct, our map would be enough to provoke them to rise against us. It didn’t happen.” “The people were more than capable of reading it. Indeed, they never seemed to be anything other than an intelligent, serene race. First, we showed it to random individuals. They grasped what it was and how to use it almost at once but had no interest in owning one for themselves. I remember offering my map as a present to a young woman whose affection I was hoping to win. I told her proudly that this was a complete and accurate picture of her part of the world. She kissed me and said that may be so today but tomorrow it would change. I was greatly frustrated and a little annoyed.” “It’s better than nothing,” I retorted.

12


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 13

THE LABYRINTH

“Nothing’s better than nothing!” she chuckled. “In desperation, we began to pin up our maps all over the labyrinth. We noticed some passers by stopping to look at them with curiosity and were much heartened by this. But then rival maps began to appear. We could hardly believe it but it was true. Someone was making false maps as intricate as our own and decorating the walls with them. We tried removing them but they reappeared. People appreciated the false maps more than ours. Indeed, they seemed disappointed when they found one that was accurate. They preferred following invented directions as an amusing pastime, using them to lose themselves in the labyrinth and then casting them aside for someone else. It became quite a craze. We were compelled to abandon our project.” “I decided to try one further tactic. The people had no perception of a beginning, a middle and an end. I had observed it many times in their relations with each other. They never told stories or acted out plays, they had no religion or holy books. Even their anecdotes were told without the colourful brush of exaggeration. They did not speak much and when they did, they spoke only the truth, without fear of being judged or with a desire to impress. For me, this was a huge loss. Like all sailors, I am a great lover of tales and believe that the truth should serve the story, not the other way round. It occurred to me that perhaps, if I could tell them about men with a purpose in life, if they could understand that sometimes things turn out for the better and sometimes for the worse, depending on individual human actions. I might introduce the notion of cause and effect, of free will and destiny into their lives. If just once, I thought, they wondered what happened next, they would be changed forever.” “There were several books on the ship and we set about copying them into smaller volumes, which we bound and distributed 13


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 14

THE LABYRINTH

around the labyrinth. In exchange for food, we started leaving books. I was adamant that the stories should have happy endings and we decided to use mostly fairytales. After all, they were good enough for us at the start of our lives. To our delight, the books were seized upon. We felt as if we were giving bread to the starving and we increased our output, certain of success.” “It took a while before I realised, that although the people were reading the books, they were not doing so from beginning to end. They would pick a page, scan it for a while, flick to another, read some more, apparently with great interest, then discard it. The pages became separated from their bindings. You would go to sleep in a room and find a couple of leaves of well thumbed paper carefully pinned to the pillow but on one would be the adventures of a cut throat pirate and on the other, a gentle tale of rewarded loyalty. The rest would be gone. The islanders enjoyed the stories for the sheer pleasure of reading but character, plot and the message of the tale were of no interest to them.” “I once saw a boy of maybe twelve, mesmerised by a book as he sat leaning against a lobster pot on the beach. I always like to see the young reading, so I asked him how he found the story. He could hardly tear himself away from it.” “It’s very good,” he murmured and went straight back to the page. I watched him read the same paragraph several times, curling his tongue round the words. Then suddenly, he jumped up, flung the book on the sea wall and trotted off. “You’ve dropped your book,” I said, offering him the tatty volume. “it's not mine,” he replied. 

14


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 15

THE LABYRINTH

“Even so, you are the reader and have more right to it than anyone else, Take it, you must want to know what happens.” “I’ll read it again later,” he said, not taking the book. “But you may not find it later!” “Yes, I will.” He seemed confused by the suggestion. “Look, there’s a piece right there.” He pointed to a loose page anchored by a stone on a windowsill. “But that’s a different story altogether!” “It’s sure to be good, they all are.” “But you must want to know what happens in this one?” I shook the pages at his face in a rage. He took a step back, baffled. “Don’t you want to know how it all ends?” I asked, more gently. As if to console me, he said, “The way I read, it never ends.” “I was crushed when our books failed as well. If we could not make an impression on the minds of the young, what chance did we have with the adults? I have never felt so insignificant, so peripheral, so utterly replaceable as I did that day. I have always been an optimist and a man of action but that morning I wanted to lie down in the sand and let the sea wash me away. I thought of myself as someone who liked to roam and avoided putting down roots, but the prospect of knowing no one but the men on the ship for the rest of my life was horrible.” “By now, some of the crew had disappeared. Either they were lost in the maze, or more probably, they were lost to themselves. The 15


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 16

THE LABYRINTH

remaining men were starting to walk about with the same serene expressions as the natives. Often, they couldn’t tell me what they had been doing just an hour before. I began to forget myself. We were gradually being engulfed by the endless walls. There are worse fates, it is true. We never wanted for food or shelter throughout our stay, which as you know, lasted nearly five years, although by my own reckoning, it was nearer three. We were safe from harm but we were not alive. For all its apparent freedom, the labyrinth was a prison. We had to escape.” “I began to understand that places do not exist without the people who live in them. These people were content in their own way but it was not our way and I was forced to accept that we could never change them. Our numbers were beginning to dwindle and I worried that soon we would not have enough hands to sail the ship. When some of the remaining crew needed reminding of their own names, I knew it was time to leave. So we have come home, even if that means facing the gallows or becoming a slave in a chain gang. Even a bitter life or a bad end, is better than a living death.” The rest of the defendants confirmed that the navigator had spoken the truth. They appeared weary, as if they no longer cared what fate had in store for them. An expedition was sent to the land where the mutineers had released the captain and his cohorts. They were found to have been living a life of despotic luxury, which they did not want to leave. Pretending to be gods with their gunpowder and guns, they had terrified and enslaved the native population, who had been forced to cater to their every whim. They were dragged home in chains to stand trial for heresy. The mutineers were cleared of murder but despite a public outcry in their favour, for the eloquence of their leader had touched many hearts, they were transported to a distant colony, to serve 16


L:Layout 1 22/06/2009 10:50 Page 17

THE LABYRINTH

sentences of hard labour and exile. Mutiny was a capital offence and this was all the leniency they could expect. It is not difficult to write the rest of their story. When their sentences were over, many of them stayed in exile together, as if their experience in the labyrinth had formed bonds between them that they could not break. They lived on an island about three hours sail from the mainland, where many other ex-convicts chose to join them. The navigator continued to serve as their unofficial leader and although he had no formal training, he designed a settlement that his men and others like them, built and inhabited for the rest of their natural lives. His city is neat and regular, unlike the haphazard sprawls of the towns in his native country, which grow naturally, over many generations, this one was completed in less than twenty years and is generally regarded as the first example of town planning. The streets fan out from the seashore like a spider’s web or the segments in a slice of lemon. There are neat, open parks, broad boulevards and large, paved squares. This was the first city to keep its industrial, residential and civic buildings in entirely separate zones. Even though it has grown into a thriving metropolis, it is quite impossible to get lost in it. It has become a model town that has been referred to by urban planners ever since and versions of it, in one form or another, have been built all over the world.

17


L is for Labyrinth