a novella by benjamin kerstein

Monday, August 27, 2007


The ancient dualism bequeathed to us by Freud no longer exists. For millennia mankind has trembled on the precipice between Eros and Thanatos. We have now gone down into the darkness, into the underworld, without fear. Science has granted us the possibility of return. We have become Orpheus.

--Doctor Derek Valint, MD, PhD

Excerpted from An Exploration of the Long-Term Metaphysical Implications of L61938, published by CX Scientific, Washington DC, May 2051


There are 37 cracks in the white tile ceiling. There are six thousand three hundred and eighty-nine motes of dust pitted into the window glass. The window has nine bars. Six are vertical. Three are horizontal. Four straps are restraining my limbs. Two are tied to my wrists. Two are tied to my ankles. I have no hair on my head/. There are five marks on my upper chest. Their origin is unknown. I connect them by inevitable logic to the twenty-six needle scars on my upper arms. Fourteen on my left arm. Twelve on my right. The ant crawling over my toes has six legs. It has thousands of eyes. They are too small for me to count them. I have ten toes, ten fingers, and two eyes. There are one hundred and eighty degrees of observable space if I turn my head horizontal. There are only ninety degrees if I raise or lower my head vertically. There are three lights in the ceiling. They blink on and off at an average of eight times per second, depending on the relative density of the fluorescent gas.

When they turn the lights off, I count the footsteps in the hall. There are two guards. They are replaced every six hours. The variations in their rate of activity are fascinating. I can recognize them by their footsteps. I have never seen their faces. There are four nurses. I have seen their faces. They are the only human faces have seen for a very long time. I could tell the time and date by the light coming through the windows, but I do not know the duration of my periods of unconsciousness. But I have not been here for too long. The hair on my arms has not gone gray. I do not know how old I am. That is not relevant. I have lived forty-eight lives and died forty-seven deaths. The equation of life and death is simple: x-1=y. We will never conquer mathematics. There will always be one less. The equalization of the equation will destroy it. The world has left us signs of its intrinsic imbalance. This is one of them. We are foolish to pretend that we have discovered them all.

The ancients believed that the universe began with a word. The moderns put their faith in a cataclysmic explosion. No one questions the providential nothingness. Which came first: the x or the one? I can answer that question. That is why I am here. That is why they cannot let me leave. Have I told them? Have they asked me? It does not matter. My answers would be incomprehensible. They are tyrannized by words and numbers. I am beyond speech. I have not spoken a conscious word since I was brought here. I prefer the solitude of this body and this mind. It is a borderless domain. I choose not to be a prisoner of words. But I am beginning to understand numbers. They are only implications. But they contain the germ of revelation. In their inherent absurdity, they evoke the possibility of an answer. Man made a fatal error when he reduced them to symbols. But man has never understood labyrinths. Man looks forever backwards. His dreams are horizontal. From the moment of his first conscious memory to the moment of his existence. But dreams are vertical. He should have heeded his book: “and a wind from God was upon the face of the deep.” The way is down. Down into the deep.

Think back to your first image. Your mother smiling down at you. A white dandelion disintegrating in a summer breeze. You recall a frozen portrait. You move within it. You define its contours. Can you imagine the moment before? The moment after? No. But you believe it existed. You know it existed. Because it must have existed.

Man averts his eyes. He knows it was because it must have been. His symbols, his speech, his words demand it. The vessels of his invention lead him down into terror. I was once a creature of fear. I once recoiled from this waking dream.

I do not know fear. Our creators are not the same. The one that formed me is not faceless. I know his name. I am not unique. I am one of many. I was not the first, nor the last. I resemble you in this. But I am not like you. I no longer have need of eyes. I do not desire to see.

To explain myself requires that I submit myself to the tyranny of words. I must imagine the past, and build and architecture without dimensions. My secrets will be safe. Words are seals. Each letter conceals itself. Each sign annihilates the malformation of speech. To speak the truth, I must destroy words.

You will understand.

About Me

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Benjamin Kerstein is an Israeli-American writer, editor, and novelist.

Michael J. Totten, the prize-winning author of The Road to Fatima Gate, has called him "one of the finest American-Israeli authors of his generation."

Jay Nordlinger of the National Review has referred to his work as "some of the most intelligent, clearest, most honest writing I have read in a long time."

He lives in Tel Aviv.

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