Cyclopaedia Chapter Eight: Bird
Bird would fly but he was wingless. He scrambled down the side of the cliff awkwardly. He would flap, but he could not flap. He nestled himself into a nook, branches and roots securing him, same as the first time he was here. It was dusk and he waited. Time passed slower for him now, he saw every movement of the sun descending as a smooth inevitability. A thousand paintings, placed one after the other. He waited patiently, happy enough to let the time go, it was a river, it was satisfying to understand it flowing without worry. Then as the sun went behind the mountains he saw a single glowing light in the distance, then two, three, until the cliff face was dotted with lights.
Hours earlier he sat above the cliff and poured Vermilion into a bowl. He wasn't sure how much, but he supposed it didn't matter at this point. He put his face into the bowl and blew out through his nose, then he inhaled as deeply as he could. He blinked back red tears, there was dust everywhere. It was inefficient and he didn't know how large a dose he'd taken. Had it been enough? To be sure he did it again.
Soon he understood that instead of taking too little, he'd taken too much. Reality was fracturing. What were the effects of an overdose? He believed he would find out. But it didn't worry him. Worry was due to misunderstanding the way the world is. Frantic, disorganized, and worried, weren't these the conditions people were imprisoned by? At some point he stopped thinking about thinking. It was all a sheen, a camouflage to the growing pool, the eternal motion, the actual and present existence.
He didn't have any great realization while watching the lights of the birds because it was unnecessary. Everything necessary was right there. The birds behaved this way because they'd become this, they continued to grow, they flowed too, part of the world, their light at night ascending and descending in a flux of patterns—he noticed these pulses, musical, rhythmic, as they grouped, regrouped, rested, then flew again. Simply because he'd never seen birds like this before meant nothing, what he believed were named "birds" was limiting to what they actually were, their trueness. They were not Things, they only were.
Describing it was futile. The creation of an Index was childish. The true work was being. He sank into the hollow of the cliff, in the dirt, covered by roots and vines until they covered him, they grew up around him over the years, through him, as he was the cliff for the birds, watching for centuries as they danced in the sky.
Everything happened and nothing happened. And he sank into it, letting it grow up around him, letting forever be what it needed to be.
When he woke up he figured, by the position of the sun, that it was about noon. The sun was hot. There was red dust caked on his skin, his forearms and his chest. He felt pain in his legs. His forehead was wet and tepid. He needed water but found that he had nothing at all with him, including his clothes—he was naked and a considerable distance below the top of the ledge.
His clothes and kit had to be up above, he thought. He would need to find the strength to climb back up. His thinking had reverted to concern about his own well-being. He felt weak, mentally and physically. But he still began to assess the previous night's experiences. Certainly he took too much, the faint nausea and the slowness in his thinking were evidence of this. But he remembered the patterns of the birds during the night, it was a pattern, it was definable, it wasn't mindless, the birds coordinated the light the same ways they coordinated birdsong. He remembered the sensation, as if somebody else was trying to explain a dream of wholeness.
At lower doses, he thought, Vermilion seemed to break the world up into icons—big pieces of the world, elements of the mind and of language. At higher doses these were eradicated altogether. It congealed the world at first, then it melted the world away. It dissolved concepts. He wondered when would the dose become fatal—if not from the substance, or from the effect—at what moment would he have decided—no, decided isn't the right word—what moment would he have jumped off the cliff believing he was part of the birds, the sky, eventually the ground. He was lucky he hadn't.
He rested in several places on the way back up. His limbs were shaking with fatigue. He slept again, naked, in the grass after he pulled himself over the top. When he woke up he vomited a thick, red mucous and felt better. He'd have to rely on instinct about which way he'd come and hope his clothes and kit were on that path. As he stood and stared, looking for a direction, he realized the grass was stamped down in a relatively clear line. Good, he thought, an overdose doesn't destroy cognition entirely. He walked the line through the grass, hoping it was himself who trampled it the night before rather than an animal. In a short time he came upon one piece of clothing, then another and so on. As he put each piece back on, in reverse of how they were removed, he laughed loudly imagining some person happening upon this, seeing him, watching this strange ritual. He was becoming himself again, human, clothed, anxious, worried, confused, one leg still hurting. Finally he found his bag which had water and his kit. He guzzled the water.
As he walked back to the village he had the sense of being reborn. His mind had been scrubbed clean, and now he took pleasure in the smallest things. He also noticed that any desire for Vermilion was gone, and that in his previous state he'd been addicted to the frequent small doses. This might be important information if it was universally true. He decided it was time to go back to the Capital. There were three crucial entries to compile, the Ksiwok, Vermilion, the Aaq.
He would have to confront Compiler Hedvin. He would confront him first rather than demand an investigation or report him. He might be reasonable. Eirik felt optimistic. With the fresh path he walked there was no reason to believe Compiler Hedvin couldn't be reasonable.