by Philip Webb Gregg
This morning I woke up feeling like all of the secrets that belong to all of the endless languages of all of the ancient nations were buried under my tongue. It was an odd sensation. Like the tingle that sometimes comes with candyfloss. It tickled me, but I didn’t pay it much attention. I often get a strange taste in my mouth in the mornings.
I started seeing the hieroglyphs while brushing my teeth. They just flashed before my eyes, like when you see stars after hitting your head. I blinked and the world filled up with weird patterns; fat little blotches of intricate detail, or slender shapes like reptiles, reaching or stretching away from each other. Some I recognized, like the hawk-headed Egyptian dancers or the coiling Celtic knots. But others were entirely unknown to me. Their design seemed bizarre and utterly original. I stared at my reflection in the mirror, toothbrush hanging limply out of my mouth, as the hieroglyphs spun and twisted and weaved in front of my eyes, spelling some message that I couldn’t understand. Their urgency made me breathless and I spat into the sink, and washed my face with cold water, rinsing my mouth again and again until the patterns faded. Then I went to make some fresh coffee and found that my wife was awakening the sky.
She stood, naked and tall, covered head to toe in a pale, doughy substance—like uncooked pancake batter—reaching out towards the east with her narrow, muscular arms. The window was open and a cool air was rushing in from the still-dark outside. She was chanting, and her eyes were closed. Out in the suburban streets I could hear the susurrus of a hundred housewives all whispering the same welcome prayer. Quietly as possible, I grabbed some toast and kissed her lightly on a pancaked cheek.
Have a nice day, dear.
On the way to work, the train was delayed because there’d been a virgin sacrifice on the tracks. At least, people assumed he was a virgin; it was hard to tell under all the mess. But the soothsayer assured us the sacrifice was correct. He blessed the train with blood taken from the child’s innards and apologized for the delay. He wore a suit and tie, the soothsayer, and expensive shoes like a banker or a politician, but in his hair were pigeon beaks and squirrel bones, all weaved and bloody among his copper curls.
When I got to the office I saw that there was a bonfire in the courtyard, and all of the interns had taken their clothes off. They were dancing around a blazing stack of hard drives, telephones, and printing machines. They seemed especially glad to be burning the printing machines. I watched them for a while then went to my desk. Someone told me all of the calculators had also been offered to the red gods, so we were going to have to run the accounts on pen and paper instead, like the old days. And there was a ceremony at noon if I wanted to come, but I’d need some pig’s urine and owl feathers.
You can get them down the road. The supermarket’s doing a special offer. He grinned, and I saw that he’d filed his teeth down to points.
At lunch, I started hearing the voices again, and symbols spun in front of my eyes. I felt the touch of spears tingling all down my sides while my palms ached for the grasp of ash and fire. People nodded at my recumbent form and stepped around me on the office floor. I had it then, I had it worse than before. The fear and the pain of the wild places. The winds that blow through slaughtered valleys like war cries in a changing world. The deep, deep stillness of the icy mountain cliffs that will wait forever. The green, shapeless force that shakes the forest. The fury and the rage of all the screaming stories that howl and die, and do not forgive. I heard them, the drums. Oh, I heard them.
When I got home, the newsreader was saying there’d been a unanimous decision among global leaders: they were going to demolish the cities and grind up the buildings to make fertilizer for the jungle. They were asking for volunteers to come forward and be mixed in with the mulch, to provide some moisture and variation in nutrients. She was wearing the pelts of a dozen house pets, the newsreader, all stitched and stuck together with duct tape and staples. Cat, hamster, goldfish, Chihuahua; their limp eyes wobbled as she beamed into the camera.
Be sure to sign up soon! she said. Places are limited and going fast.
I switched off the television and went into the kitchen for some coffee. My wife was there, folded lotus-like on the counter. She had a steak knife in her hand and her body was clean but covered with tiny, intricate tattoos.
Come here, darling, she said. I need a sacrifice.
As I lay my head gently in her lap, she whispered softly in my ear, words that sounded like distant drums travelling on ancient, weeping winds.
Seas will rise and skies will burn. Cities will fall and blood will run, she said, Rage will lose and rage will win. And the first people shall become the last.