He was going out by way of a narrow system attended by whispering voices that seemed to him sourceless, a static hiss growing louder, and angular shapes on the periphery of his vision which broke apart and rejoined in giant jigsaw pieces. These puzzle pieces snapped and clicked about him. Down this gun-barrel corridor that opened up continually before and folded back after, swallowing itself in a sea of darkness, while the faces of the dead flew by — moving eternally toward the edge of it all. Lastly came the caved and wasted face of his mother whose blade-like bones sliced the paper death-mask she wore. Light bloomed peach-colored, star-blue. The delicate scent of thyme poured into the hidden hollows of his head. Then there was sudden silence.
A crescent moon hung far down the void.
All around the moon were intermittent sparks of synaptic light.
When he came to the end at last, his movement ceased and he looked across from where he stood and saw the rock and soil of human society everywhere mined, some of these mines dug for excellence, some for debasement. To him, it looked as though the planet had been sliced in half, a tunneled and venous stratification like a crosscut containing a multitude of layers, the bottom of which lay sunk beneath all of civilization, pressed underfoot, crushed and packed. Yet he saw also in the darkness a sort of sacred shadow breathing with latent light.
All gold and all magma, he thought, begins at the mantle, at midnight.
These dark caves lay spread out before him like gloomy incubators of superstition and primitivism awaiting a tidal flood: a flood of water or lucency to come smashing through the darkness like an unstoppable current. The incubator-caves were shot through with shafts and circuits and excavations of every kind — here the mathematical mine, there the artistic excavation, here the revolutionary dig, and there the profound mine of philosophy connected in manifold tunnelings to the science of the subconscious, which is psychology.
And what strange things travel underground by means of these hidden conduits that branch in every direction and underpin the entire world, with human society above hardly catching any hint of this webbed work, this limestone labor, this undergirding, which without touching the surface nonetheless changes the very substance of that surface?
So many subterranean shafts and strata, he saw, so many corridors, so many veins and clusters, so many crystals and minerals and gems, so much work required to excavate and uncover it all.
And what ultimately comes from this profound digging?
Progress, advance, civilization, the future.
The deeper the dig, the more mysterious the work, until, at last, a room of clarity opens up — beneath which, at a certain terrifying depth, there is plainly the existence of a pit with wild saurian creatures who inhabit it unseen, snapping at one another, eating their own tails.
His apprehension grew.
Abruptly, out of this apprehension something slender and spider-like sidled across his innards and crept up. It clutched at his windpipe with vice-grip fingers. The searing of it radiated into separate tumblings. It went through him with an icy heat and twisted down his loins — only to sidle up again, no fraction of his being left unaffected. Neither was there any penultimate stage of gagging, nor a visible fight for breath or composure. It came instead with exceptional suddenness, under a wan and murky light, and then a bulbous pod broke open before him, some great and terrible flower, blooming satanic, whose roots drew nutrients from a pit of piled meat, slime, and whose vile scent overwhelmed the delicacy of thyme.
He felt his chest being hammered upon repeatedly, like ferrier blows to a wincing anvil. They were strikes to his breastbone that seemed endless and not without pain. His body bucked. He felt himself gasping for a breath that would not come. At last there fell one final blow like a tremendous sledge to his sternum — and all went tranquil and quiet.
Then, like a pebble dropped into a pool and now pinging across the silence, the electrical signal in those mysterious upper chambers of his heart pulsed once and spread through his atria and into the ventricles, the voltic connection most critical to the major thumping chambers of his heart — the electrical pumpers with the greatest throb, which then coursed into an immense network and crossed the ventricles into another bundle of electric tissue called the Bundle-of-His. From the Bundle-of-His into his infinitesimally thin electric fibers that signaled the ventricle muscles to contract and pump a gushing flow of red life to the arteries — this pump-and-flow sparked by electricity, which is the zap and the essence of physical life, and a singular circulatory warmth, at last, spread flowing throughout his body.
He saw himself from very high up, as from the ceiling of a cathedral: stretched supine upon a dusty bed like a patient anesthetized upon a table, above certain half-deserted streets. From this height, he also saw a figure administering to him below, and this figure was his half brother Jon.
Kristopher next saw his own body shift upon the floor, and he saw Jon reach over and put his hand on his forehead. Then he was gone again: sliding like butter down a corkscrew dreamflow, navigating with slippery ease the eye of a neural pathway that flashed with more sparks of synaptic light, no brakes, rocketing down, cutting a helical course — down, down, down the spiral of a rollercoaster at speeds so incredible that it stretched his face taut and drained it of color.
Processes appeared around him — processes of movement, flow, in water the same as air, both fluid, circularly swirling and no differentiation between the elements of air and water, neither in nature outside, nor the fluids inside each living organism, no matter their chemical composition, but all gathered in one eternal circulatory flow; the element of water, the fundamental component of all fluid things and all moving systems from which every other subsequent liquid originates: rising from oceans and lakes and rivers and swamps, water circulating with the stream of the air in vast atmospheric currents around the whirling world.
He saw this from his vantage high above the ancient sewer — saw water in cooler quadrants contract into clouds and fall back to the earth as rain or snow or sleet or hail, yet only a third finding the way into the ocean by means of this particular circulatory path, the rest dissolving into misty phantoms, completing the cyclic distillation from liquid to vapor and back to liquid again, roughly thirty-five times a year, and he saw also, woven within, the ceaseless flow and passage of time which is the marking of movement.
Lightly tinted the lucency in the room. Jon’s face hovering over his body glowed silver-blue. Almost telescopically from his great height, Kristopher now saw ghostly images, face and figure alike whose willowy shapes, like water angels on the edges of his vision, drifted in the shadows beyond the spot where Jon knelt over and administered to him, their long platinum hair flowing. These shapes accrued from the outlying darkness like images of the undead captured on film: now taking form out of darkroom liquids which sloshed under a hellish-glowing light. They hovered there like superstitions.
Jon, crouched in concentration and intensity over Kristopher, seemed not to notice their liquid-swaying forms.
Meanwhile, there grew around this room, the aqueous sound of water-in-motion, flowing from somewhere within a larger system. Kristopher could not quite make sense of it. Yet inside the bone cavern of his head, he heard Jon’s voice from long ago telling him that the human body is sixty percent water, seventy-three percent water the human brain, and eighty-three percent water each bronchial tree-of-life. And in each living organ within each living body, there flows microcosmically countless other circulatory systems, said Jon, which have their own specific tasks, their appointed rounds: all that meandering flow, within the body and without, within the earth and without, an indescribably intricate web woven with an even deeper system of finer movements and flows — multiplex inner-currents and multitudinous seas which mirror the essence and the rhythm of all streams and all rivers and all other energetic flows.
Jon said as well that what is true of this principle is also true of all moving drifting things — from the infinitesimal aqueducts that run through the minutest animal and animalcule, to the mightiest Nile or Amazonian surge; to the highest atmospheric eddies and swirls, to the profoundest loops in the deepest ocean currents — and now Kristopher saw everywhere that fluid things move in rhythms which permeate the processes of the natural world and the universe: a sort of circulatory dance-and-spiraling, like the hypnotic twirl of a turning screw.
Kristopher then saw, with a clarity more pronounced than any he’d yet known, this universal principle of nature precisely at work in the myriad flows within his own body, and deep within the circuits of his skull came his half brother’s words once again:
Every living entity in bringing forth its visible and individuated form passes through a purely liquid state. Some of those entities remain in this state. Others solidify only slightly. Others densify under the dominion and rearrangement of other natural elements. Yet all, no matter their density or liquid degree, all retain within them some semblance of their liquid life-phase.
Do the forms of the living merely disclose the character of the watery state — or is it the water itself, with its sheer creative force, that is the visible stamping of the form?
He saw the velveteen flow of fish fins, whose motion is intimately related and at one with the ubiquitous veil of flowing water within which all fish dwell.
He saw the propulsion of infusoria, with their corkscrew shapes drifting like spores in a chlorine sea, the helical gill-filaments of the spirographic which makes their locomotion possible like densified veils of water — making also visible the flow of the water itself. And motion, he thought, is the antithesis of death, which is a halt in the movement and flow of the thing.
And is it this principle which comes to expression in all circulatory systems?
As it is within living creatures, so is it also inside the organs of each living creature’s vessel — as it is, as well, in the organs and entrails of the earth: a spinning circulation and eddying in the innards and in the arterial and venal bloodflow, in the Gulf Stream and the Jet Stream, in the synchronized flow of fish-schools, the murmuration of birds-in-flight, in underground aqueducts and lava flows, in the flow of wood around a woodknot.
He saw that it is the primal imperative of liquid to mold itself into spherical shapes, which, when combined with a directional force like gravity — the pull of goal-direction — results in a helix, and he saw that this is why everywhere across the flesh-and-bone of living things there is imprinted the shape of swirls and ringlets, which comes from the flowing movement of liquid at the liquid stage of life — liquid streaming through the veins and sinews — the bone recording a tapestry-like image of the movement from which it originated: the water that expresses itself in the very matter of the bone.
Seeing this now in a flood of new comprehension, Kristopher suddenly watched before his mind’s eye the faces of the living warp and bend and then melt into pure liquid, and it was only at this time that he realized there was actual water now gushing through the tunnel of this room wherein he lay half living, half dead, and he grasped at once now that this gushing flow was dangerous indeed.
Simultaneously he saw in the outer darkness beyond Jon — where Jon still crouched over administering to Kristopher — the fluid and willowy forms densify and grow stronger, even while everything else liquified.
And now, like an army, these supernatural shapes advanced toward Jon, who rose up carrying Kristopher in his arms, as though he would battle these beings with his half brother’s husk. In the next instant, another surging flow of water swept into the room — this one larger than the one before. Kristopher from above watched the case of himself — he perceived it with the consciousness that gave him his awareness, processed it by means of the spirit that animated his flesh — as he processed also that this same faculty was dropping all at once and with a wild whoosh, back into him, the enfleshment of himself, making him whole. And for a moment’s fraction, Jon Silverthorne seemed to almost stagger under the swift current of rising water mixed with his half brother’s rejoining of body and soul.