O Skies Above O Earth Below I Love The Best, by Jayaprakash Sathyamurthy

Art by Nikos Alteri  - http://nikosalteri.blogspot.it/  - click to enlarge

Art by Nikos Alteri – http://nikosalteri.blogspot.it/ – click to enlarge

I live in a dead city in a dead land. Behold: I reach out you with a dead hand!

No hand of flesh or bone, of gristle or gore, it once was these, but now is so much more.

Please good sir, bestir yourself to listen, I beseech you cease this languor and pay attention!

Oh, but turn that page and I wager you will find so much more than all you’ve left behind!

That world? That livid, bristling thing? Oh, sir, wait until you see the pallid land of which I sing!

The pallid land with its Pleiadian ‘pelago and its Yellow King leading us in funereal adagio!

It is the voice of the book, of the play never successfully staged (who could successfully stage a play which causes actors and audiences alike to lose their minds in the second act?), it is the voice of the thing that wrote the play, that put its own spirit, mad, ethereal, ultramundane, into the words.

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The words speak to me. They offer terrible intuitions, baroque revelations; they obscure what I deemed solid fact and illuminate felicitous vistas of evanescent despair. A land that is dead, where we may, dying, live in the fastnesses of the King in Yellow. Where we may gaze on a pallid mask that is not a mask, share in a sacrament of word and fever, worm and fear!

Word and fever, worm and fear!

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Look, I was a sensible man in my own way. I read the newspapers, and then discarded them. I went to a place where they gave me words to rearrange and I rearranged them, set them marching in the approved paths and received coin of the realm in return for my pains. I was aware of the enormity of the deceptions being practiced upon me, so I drank each night and I listened to clangorous music and I sang and I wept and I ranted and I slept. I paid homage to no false gods – and all the gods are false, after all – did not let myself be seduced by dogma, paradigms or pyramid schemes.

A sensible man!

I tried to write short fictions,  but it is ever easier to write such than to read them and even harder to sell them, so I contented myself with rearranging other men’s and women’s words and accepting coin of the realm – here I must pause to note that it was never actually coin which I was paid in so much as signals, impulses, sent from their bank’s computers to mine’s – but anyway, legal tender of the realm. I squandered this tender on books of verse, which are even easier to write and even harder to read or sell than short fictions, and on drink, which is easy to make, easy to read and easy to sell. I loved myself but intermittently and others not at all. I dreamed of skies other than these, of earth other than this, and those I loved. I awoke to despair and slept to escape into delight. I was a sensible man in my own way, I curtailed my contacts with the world I loathed, I kept to myself, I pursued oblivion in a measured and harmless manner, for the most part, and I never multiplied entities or claimed revelations or, after my initial essays in the fictional art, added to the rising tide of vapid noise that our species surrounds itself with.

Skies other than these, earth other than this!

Word and fever, worm and fear!

Yes, I was sensible man. You would not have liked me – I did not like myself – but you could have had little more than a mild aesthetic, ethical or doctrinal distaste for me. I kept to my tracks, I never overstepped, I dreamed in the nights of a quiet, silken dead world with a jaundiced sovereign and I was content to know I would return there in my dreams.

But

But my dreams grew, in my dreams too I tried my hands at the literary arts. I composed a verse – it was not enough – it became a poem! That was too hermetic so I made it into a dramatic monologue. This, also, was far too austere for my liking so I added more voices, and monologue became colloquy, became drama. Night after night in dream after dream I slaved over my creation, my offering to this dream realm and its sovereign. I wrote painstakingly detailed stage directions, sketched  costumes and backdrops and obsessively refined dialogue and plot.

Is there an author in the house?

All literary adventures must end when the creator is certain he has attained either failure or success, or is certain that he cannot be certain of each; it was with a certain and novel sense of the utter felicitousness of my literary offering that I scrawled the words ‘The End’ at the end of my manuscript. I had poured my spirit into this creation, and had little left for myself when I was done.

I woke up from that last, salutary dream in a state of elation, which soon faded to despair when I realized I had fallen prey to a malaise common to artists who choose to compose while ensconced in dreams: I had forgotten every word of my composition! For days I had woken with complete recall of the contents of my incomplete or imperfect drafts; but now that I had attained perfection, all was lost! I cursed myself for not taking notes, I drank, I wept, I laughed and then I slept, perchance to dream. To my desolation I found that I had lost the way to that realm beyond happiness and sorrow, and my dreams were once more mere re-hashed garbles of diurnal despairs and defeats. A sadder man, and no wiser, I resolved to close the book on this episode and move on with a life no more devoid of meaning and purpose than it had once been.

But

But in the waking world, I started to hear whispers of a play. A strange play, a dangerous play! Never staged, neither printed nor issued by known publisher, yet everyone soon had a copy, given them by some acquaintance they did not know they had, or bought from a used-book seller who had been unaware of such a thing lurking in his store. Everyone soon had a copy, a faded yellow folio with a woodcut of its author on the cover; an archaic fellow, conventional at a glance but obscurely deformed and, to me at least, obscurely familiar upon closer perusal. A faded yellow folio that sat awkwardly aslant on their shelves or tables, somehow not quite belonging to the same genus as all the other tomes and pamphlets scattered about.

Those who eventually read that volume were utterly transformed. It happened immediately, and was irrevocable. They became filled with mad schemes to revive unheard of dynasties, to avow loyalties to causes unknown, to travel by means impossible to a land non-existent.

A sensible man?

Surely, I thought, some unhappy man had poured his spirit into these words, had given generously of himself, of a peculiar imagination stunted by solitude and nurtured by isolation. Here was something which could restore to me some measure of the dream-plenitude I had lost. So I, too, procured that slim volume, left it lying around in my rooms, pretended to forget or fear it for a fortnight or two. Then, glutted with reality and desolate for the ethereal, I finally picked it up. I read the dialogue, the stage directions, followed the plot. But by the time I had reached the final act, I was contemplating two sets of words – the ones on the page before me and the ones in my mind. Those superimposed voices sang with my own voice, welcomed me back to the skies above and the earth below that I love the best.

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JayaprakashJayaprakash Satyamurthy lives in Bangalore with his wife, more books than he will be able to read in this lifetime, and an ever-growing horde of cats and dogs. He plays the bass guitar for a doom metal band called Djinn And Miskatonic and that’s about it. His blog is: http://aaahfooey.blogspot.com

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Story illustration by Nikos Alteri.

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5 responses to “O Skies Above O Earth Below I Love The Best, by Jayaprakash Sathyamurthy

  1. Positively gorgeous! The whole thing made me want to dance and summed up perfectly how I always thought the play affected the reader’s mind. Also, as a somewhat related aside, it reminded me a lot of John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns. In particular Udo Kier’s character. I think this is one of my favorite KIY stories, period!

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  2. I’m usually wary of stories about writing stories (even if only tangentially). Nine times out of ten, for me, it feels like a default plot device to fall back on in the wake of writer’s block. And whether that’s the case or not, it’s something that is done frequently enough that it’s difficult to pull it off in an original way. Having said that, I did not feel this story was born of writer’s block at all, and it did not feel rehashed. This is a well-written and original story, and the “story about writing/a writer” angle not only worked, it seemed a totally appropriate tribute to Chambers in the spirit of his original stories and style.

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