The Lightning Stenography Device – Chapters 1 – 6

[After spending this week in a marathon of seeing plays in the Elizabethan Theater of beautiful Ashland, Oregon–and last night’s 3.5-hour, incredible production of The Odyssey–I am much too exhausted to worry about the essay I’ve been putting off, and much too inspired to work on anything non-fiction. Be prepared for an essay about that, but until such time, please enjoy the first six chapters–really a kind of prologue–of my own Odyssey-influenced work, The Lightning Stenography Device. This is only the first thirty-five pages of over four hundred, so readers who enjoy it better be sure to send good vibes in the hopes we’ll find an agent for it–though it is a hard-to-sell story, compared to my current work in progress. For now, thank you for reading, and please enjoy the first section of The Lightning Stenography Device.]

 

THE LIGHTNING STENOGRAPHY DEVICE

by M. F. Sullivan

 

MT. IDA

1.

The dissent of Hermes began, not with the creation of their consumer thought-to-text Device, but one week later, when his brother dropped the first printout beside that morning’s hashbrowns. This, at the time, engendered disinterest. “Are you branching into fiction, Enoch?”

“No, you see? I fell asleep with the Device on my head, and I woke up to this.”

For a man who claimed to have slept, Hermes’ sibling had the bloodshot-bright eyes and

three-day beard of a man on a bender. High with inspiration, Enoch tapped the printout. “This is incredible. All we wanted was to create something functional without having your skull split open for surgery. If this is what it seems, it’s revelatory.”

Skeptical, Hermes squinted at the page which presaged their conversation. He wiped his mouth with his lavender napkin, (one of the good ones he’d taken out for Easter, whatever that was worth); he sipped his water; he read his actions on the page; then, he said to his brother: “This is a most disturbing discovery, my dear.”

“’Disturbing’? It’s amazing! Who wrote this story? It wasn’t me, and surely it wasn’t you.”

“I assure you: while you worked long into the night, I was asleep.”

“Working all night was the plan, but coffee wasn’t enough. And good thing, too. Don’t you get it? If it wasn’t you or me who wrote this story, don’t you see who it must have been? Don’t you see whose narrative voice it’s written in?”

Arching a pale brow, Hermes studied the page again, slid the wire-framed glasses from his nose, and said, “Surely you do not suppose it is the work of God.”

“Why not?” With another, brighter laugh, Enoch snatched up the page and mimicked his brother’s permanently preoccupied tone as he read, “’I just don’t think that sounds like a feasible proposition.’ This, Hermes caught himself saying only once he had said it. With a humorless mien for his brother’s growing amusement, he rose to clear the table. ‘Nor do I agree with the characterization of my attitude as ‘humorless’.”

“That is sufficient,” said Hermes, briskly smoothing the sleeves of his white silk shirt. “At any rate, I am not so certain that the presence of this— story,” with audible disdain for the offending page, “indicates anything more than the nature of your very active imagination, which, evidently, cannot allow itself to rest even in your sleep.”

“So God, then.”

“Your imagination, your sleeping right brain,” his left hand refused momentarily to cooperate in buttoning his right sleeve, “produced, while you slept, a story. A model of the universe, perhaps, and no doubt an influence on the conversation we are having by way of a kind of unconscious suggestion, but to say that this is the work of God…” Hermes laughed and patted the hand of his still-smiling younger brother. “I just don’t think that sounds like a feasible proposition.”

This, Hermes caught himself saying only once he had said it. With a humorless mien for his brother’s growing amusement, he rose to clear the table. “Nor do I agree with the characterization of my attitude as ‘humorless’. If this is indeed the work of the Lord, perhaps He might do with a good editor. Someone to declutter those adverbs.”

“Well, the page is running out, so from here I’m blind to our conversation as you. Happier?”

“We shall see; though how am I to know if I do not have a page to tell me?” Batting his eyes and making no effort to hide his small smirk at the roll of his brother’s, Hermes busied himself with the dishes, feeling haloed by a sensation most uncanny. They had been working their whole lives to produce the Device, all things having, in retrospect, lead to the production of the prototype which was still so new it seemed unreal. Had it not been their choice? Inspired, perhaps, by the plight of an arthritic writer-mother, but—

“It’s not so much that anyone needs this sort of thing,” said Enoch, then adding with some consideration, “in fact, it’s probably not healthy for the average person to experience something like this.” A frown crossed beneath his stubble while he pushed himself from the table. Horses ambled in the pasture through the window. “I’m still processing all of it.” Again, in as merry and strange a mood as he was, Enoch laughed, then seemed stirred by his laughter and, a hand over his mouth, gazed out among the horses. “I really didn’t write that, Hermes.”

“I know you didn’t consciously write it.”

“Unconsciously, sure, but if something is done unconsciously, who’s doing it? Especially something like this, creating a prescient story like this. I mean, my God, Hermes. That little band of metal and wires upstairs: we made that. Sure, you made a genius algorithm to clarify the low-resolution data recorded through the skull, but it’s still just a computer program. Just a Device. All it does is replace the act of typing on a keyboard: thought-to-text. You can’t have the text if you’re not thinking, right? But who’s doing the thinking if the sleeping brain is the entity producing it?”

Lips compressed, Hermes focused out his own window, at the rams which idled to gnaw on a few spots of wet grass near the distant edge of the fence. “Why would God be interested in writing a story about us, if that is indeed what you are getting at? Further, why would God be interested in writing a story at all, when He has created a whole world, and the act of story-writing—indeed, all creative acts—are by definition but a paltry parody of the ultimate act of so-called deific creation?”

Rocking back on his heels, then forward to brace himself against the edge of the window, Enoch pressed his face so close to the glass that both his reflection and breath were rendered visible to the brother who came to his side. “What if this story is the reason why anything exists at all? What if the act of writing the story brings the world into being. To create a human being who can write a story, you have to make a whole world, but maybe the inverse is true. Maybe you need a story in order for the world to exist.”

“Perhaps were we characters in a book that would be true, but we are far more than all that! We have existed our whole lives, after all. A whole train of memories lies behind us, running down the track. That is the narrative you mean. You mean our memories.”

With a once-over for his brother, Enoch asked, “Have we really existed all that time? What evidence do you have of our thirty-five, thirty-three years against the eternity of the universe? The past is intangible. It could just be set-up put into our heads right this very moment, and you and I have just begun to exist now, or now, or now. Or do we really exist at all?”

“One has tangible evidence of memories. You made this table, dear man,” he said with a pat of the oak dining table. “It was just after mother died, remember?”

“Of course I remember. I’m not really trying to say the past didn’t happen. It did. Of course we perceive it as having happened: of course we have mementos of it and everything to indicate that it did happen. But really, the past is just as real as the future. All we have is this single moment, this tiny,” his eyes drifted to the knots of the hardwood floor, then, reverently, towards the ceiling, “thread of cognition. This single moment in time. Without any interface by which to experience it, by which to make something real, something can’t be experienced and can’t be said to be real: but this reality, this artifice, is held by so tenuous a thing as a thread. As a story, presaging a conversation between two brothers. In order to write that story, you’d have to build a whole world of people, things, physical and chemical laws, shapes, colors, technology—everything. Just to write a single story. To paint a single painting. To relate to somebody a story about some brothers. ”

But Hermes had the distinct feeling that the story would prove more than just that. Outwards, he maintained skepticism. Inwards, he trembled with wonder for the mystery unfurling before him, for, of course, his brother was quite right. There was a kind of logic puzzle at work here: an experience waiting to be had by way of the Device. Placing a hand upon his brother’s forearm, Hermes said, “I should like very much to observe this phenomenon. If it would not be too troublesome for you, perhaps tonight we will try to replicate the experiment.”

Nodding, Enoch told him, “I was going to ask you, actually, if you could make sure I’m not just crazy and sleep-writing.” With a grin, the younger brother watched over the horses. “There’s no real way to prove this thing that’s happening. That’s the weird part: the scary part. From the outside, once all this is said and done, anybody who reads the final story would think it’s written after the fact. That it’s me, dabbling in fiction, like you said. But it’s not me. It’s really not me.”

“I know you do not think it is you,” insisted Hermes with another, gentler pat, his tone of voice softening. “So we shall see what it is and get the matter sorted out, one way or another.”

 

2.

Neither seemed reassured by the notion, nor convinced that a completed story produced by Enoch’s sleeping brain would answer more questions than it raised. Each man went about his day in eerie unease, half-focused on work around their ranch at the base of Mount Ida, Colorado, the historic home left them by their late mother. The manual labor filled much time and was good for a thinking man: Enoch was always a proponent of physical activities as a method of rousing the brain in the morning, and though Hermes was less inclined to spending time out of doors unless it was to photograph cemeteries for his genealogical hobby, he had a certain appreciation for the care of livestock which he could not deny. Once he’d fed the animals, however, he shut himself inside again, comfortable in the office where he was free to read or write or tinker with the code of the Device’s word processor to further improve its efficiency. As important as was the hardware’s functioning, so too was the speed and accuracy of the processor; the entire point was that it transmit information at the speed of thought. Until that day, Hermes had only been interested in maintaining the highest speed and resolution. Now, he scanned the code for something else. Some explanation for the result Enoch had discovered. But, of course, Hermes knew the secret to this could not be found in the code, the mere delivery system for whatever functions occurred in the sleep-bound brain: any explanation for the production of this dreaming story was hidden within the human mind and its sleep cycles. For all the years he and his brother spent endeavoring to create this device, they, or at least Hermes, had never considered the very basic question of what might happen to the sleeping mind while wearing it. But the question screamed at him, and in its wake there arose a host of other, far more disturbing concerns.

Jaw set, Hermes shut off his computer and sat back in his seat, much as, that night, he would make himself as comfortable as possible in a chair beside his brother’s bed. The younger man wore upon his head the crown of wires that was the fruit of their long labor, and slept in a way so peaceful Hermes might only envy. The actual process of dreaming, of course, would not begin for some time: until then, Hermes, with Finnegans Wake in his lap, waited for something to happen.

The idea of anything happening was still, to Hermes, rather absurd. This was because the very nature of the Device required one’s intention to write. It was, at its heart, the same as holding a pen, after all, and if one fell asleep holding a pen, one did not awaken to a full-formed story! At least, Hermes did not; he had not asked the same of his younger brother before his going to sleep. It was a strange and absurd idea, that there was something so very sentient lodged within the human mind that it could presage the entirety of a breakfast conversation. Surely it was some vastly impractical and lucky prank: surely there was an explanation which did not call into question anything untoward. Hermes had long-since settled his mind on the idea of God, after all, and come to the conclusion that God, and any truth about the idea, was unknowable. Priests were deluded egoists and new age cultists were acidheads who had taken the whole thing too far. Atheists who worshiped science were the same thing as the religious who confused their model of reality with the be-all-end-all of explanations. When it came to what man knew or didn’t, there was no winner, and Hermes was sure there could never be.

It was an hour and a half before anything happened, and two hours before the writing began. Though Enoch was the neurotechnologist, more thoroughly acquainted with the operation of the brain, Hermes was aware of the pre-REM nature of sleep’s delta waves and found himself intrigued to note that the Device interpreted these as the letter ‘D’. He would have to adjust the programming, he mused, to print delta waves with the Greek letter. A funny thing, that letter: the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet and yet, delineated by a triangle. A square was a more sensible shape, was it not? But, then, Hermes supposed there was dual meaning to the shape. After all, a triangle was made up of three sides and the whole, creating, then, a separate figure which was the culmination of the separate triumvirate: the ‘true’ triangle, for whatever that was worth. A sort of separate entity. One had ‘Triangle A’, made up of three sides, and ‘Triangle B’, the triangle as a seamless unit; and though they were the same, they were just subtle enough in distinction that is seemed more akin to a kind of transposition, of one state upon another: of the completed state upon the in-progress state.

The arrival of the words which broke the scroll of delta placeholders required few seconds to draw Hermes from his musing on the fourth letter of the Greeks. In the outset muddled by delta noise, the text soon organized itself into a conversation so eerily familiar that Hermes, a rational man, lowered his book to sit forward just as the narrative resumed:

DDDmiDDDghtDdoDDwiDth DDDa good editor. Someone to declutter those adverbs.”

“Well, the page is running out, so from here I’m blind to our conversation as you. Happier?”

“We shall see; though how am I to know if I do not have a page to tell me?”

Hermes watched the unfurling of the text with a silence thicker than that of a cathedral in its off hours. The page recalled the conversation with his brother exactly as it happened: their movements, all their ways of being were catalogued as if by some additional observer, some alien, inward or outward, beyond perception, beyond knowing, thinking, reasoning. Something which knew everything about everything. Something which dwelt in the dreaming mind of his brother, yet which knew his thoughts not moments before: thoughts reflected back at him on the screen in a way which raced his heart. As he reread his musing on the nature of the letter ‘delta’, lips parted, glasses long-removed, Hermes’ eyes filled with tears. Hand to his mouth, he rose from the chair and crept from what had once been their mother’s bedroom to lower himself to the floor of the hallway where, kissing the wood floor, he wept.

“Oh, God! My God! My God—” A breath sharper than a knife pierced the depths of his lungs and welled his eyes with another wave of tears. “My Lord, my God, all this time I have denied because I thought I could not know!”

Lips trembling, the elder brother rose to stumble through the dark of their house, unfamiliar, as if he had not been raised there. Indeed, with a shock of nausea for Hermes, the very corner of the stairs leapt out to assault his knee with a force so sharp he could not help but fall away with a cry. Recovering himself against that house which attacked him, that house which ushered him out lest he wake his sleeping brother, Hermes stumbled down the final flight of stairs to sprint into the starry dark, where half the swirling cosmos was veiled by an overhang of pregnant clouds behind the mountain which dwarfed the very sky. Falling to his knees, hands alternately clasping and gripping the collar of his own shirt, Hermes could naught but say, “Please, please,” and, “oh, I am sorry. Oh, I see you!”

His brother, like all humans Hermes had ever known or read about, was not a telepath. Why, his brother could not even be said to have been present at the time of the strange story’s creation, being as he was in the depths of a thick sleep Hermes well knew! For the sleeping man, or the machine, to guess with such detail the nature of Hermes’ thoughts there in the room, still and alone, would require an act of preternatural prescience. At the very least, it implied that his brother’s dreaming brain was being used as an antennae, perhaps, or that the right brain was linked to the cosmic unconscious, maybe, or that, at the very least, there existed some non-temporal figure which seemed as though to drive the course of human events: to know them, start to finish, inward and outward, as their author.

As rain fell, at first a slow drip, the elder brother tore open the buttons of his shirt and fell back upon the blades of grass as around him spun the cosmos. His mother, of all things, possessed him: how she had been a stern but kind woman; how she had been generous and maintained high expectations for both her sons. He recalled all the times he had disappointed her in some petty way, and all the times she had in turn disappointed him. Amazed, Hermes felt it all melt into meaninglessness. She was not his true mother, at any rate: both his parents seemed inside his heart, which he touched as he jolted up and said, “My Lord, my Lord! What would you have me do! What I would do for you, only to better know you. Ah,” he smiled rapturously at the stars and cried, “tomorrow I shall take my turn with the Device! That’s just the thing. Perhaps I can serve you in the manner of my brother.”

Stumbling to his feet and blowing kisses to the rain, Hermes laughed and said, “There is no explanation for this. No: no explanation at all.”

That night, as, in the room next door, Enoch’s sleeping brain produced a story line by line, Hermes dreamt a strange symbol of what happened after death: he imagined being in a laboratory, either the fourth and newest in a group of scientists, or some invisible observer who lurked along the sidelines. In the center of the lab was a square pool raised from the floor, and into this pool was placed a tiny man no more than a few centimeters tall: while in this pool, the fellow seemed to struggle to remember what he was, and the scientists took notation on how long it would take him to remember. “Maybe I’m a rat,” said the man, and, briefly, he was a rat. “A worm, perhaps,” and like that, then, he was a worm. But at last, after all of these transformations in the strange plasmic pool, the being which had once been a small man said at last, “Aha! I remember. I remember what I am!” and, transforming into a golden thread, he wiggled from pool and drifted off into the aether, into which he disappeared. Pleased, evidently, by this progress, the scientists murmured among themselves, took a few notes on their clipboards, and then Hermes awoke, strangely reassured.

The rain which had begun the night before seemed disinterested in letting up. As Hermes grated potatoes, Enoch rubbed eyes shadowed despite eight hours of rest.

“Did you sleep well,” asked Hermes, his encouraging tone doing a poor job of hiding his excitement. “I noticed you didn’t bring a printout of last night’s efforts. Was it that disappointing an experiment?”

His brother snorted, a man trying to laugh but not quite able. “It was fine. Ended up being, uh, about 4,000 words, so far.”

“An incredible length!” Unable to restrain his delight, Hermes jerked from his cooking. “May I see it?”

Tongue darting across his lips, Enoch focused on the fog between himself and the muddy pasture. “I still have to print it. Poor horses, having to tromp around in the rain to get any exercise.”

“A little rain is good for the soul.” Pausing, hip leaning against the counter, Hermes tilted his head and assessed the increasingly-haggard appearance of his little brother. “You’re beginning to concern me. Did you discover something disturbing hidden in those pages? Some troubling implications, perhaps bleak foreshadowing?”

“I couldn’t say.” Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Enoch amended, “It was mostly about you, as it happens. Mostly stuff that already happened, and some of this conversation. How you’re going to ask me to use the Device tonight.”

“May I,” asked Hermes with a winsome bat of black eyes, which made his blue-eyed brother laugh for the first that dreary morning.

“Of course you can. I’m just worried what we’ll find.”

“Tsk!” The noise was for himself as much for his brother, for no sooner had Hermes begun to open his mouth than the hand with the potato slipped and skinned the knuckle of his left index finger. Lifting it to his mouth and then turning to wash it, he said, “Only yesterday you awoke so excited you could hardly express your thoughts, and today, for no reason at all, you seem to be developing some tedious sense of dread.”

“Yeah, This all has me thinking. Magritte. The Treachery of Images.

Ceci n’est pas une pipe,” recalled the older brother, frowning at the blood welling in the folds of his flesh. “Yes, Enoch, I can see even from my own early vantage in this thought experiment how easy it is to arrive at the piece.”

“Neither is the image a pipe, nor is the word ‘pipe’ actually the thing which it defines.” His broad fingers extended towards the same table so studied yesterday. “But what about the thing itself? Like this ‘table’.” He stopped short touching it at the last second and faced the brother who watched Enoch the way Enoch watched everything else. “This table is just a word. A word and a perception. Sensum organized into physical representation of the memories and places and things and relations all attached to this table. And it’s all the words that organize the memory. The real treachery of images,” he said, at last sliding with strange reluctance into his seat at the head of the table, “is that we think we’re observing three-dimensional space. We think we’re observing a world which is…independent of us.”

“And what are we observing,” asked Hermes, sliding the potatoes into a bowl of ice-water before flipping on the burner, “if not images? If not time, if not space?”

“Words,” was all that Enoch said.

 

3.

The day dragged on, each second of work around the house or with the program of their Device intended by Hermes to bridge the gap between himself and his opportunity to fall asleep with the band around his head. Why, if his brother’s mind had been so able to probe into his own, or at least act as the outlet of something which could probe into his own, then Hermes had a duty to see what might come of his! Excitement filled him all the more as he reread that morning’s printout. Though he confessed that the growing storm seemed to be setting a troubling tone when he read it on paper, it was a matter of perspective. Hermes loved the rain, himself: a good thunderstorm, even if thunderstorms worried his brother with the prospect of fires. Calamity could not deter a man’s passion for that most sublime show of nature. The performance forecast no omens of profound abatement as night further blackened the already black day and their Internet connection was lost, a minor inconvenience like the gap between ‘now’ and ‘later’. Every passing moment reeled him closer to that which he longed to experience: firsthand evidence of God, interacting with him. What an extraordinary thing that would be! Such a queer thing. A terrifying thing; a sublime thing. That night, with the laptop arranged beside his bed, Hermes slipped the crown of wires upon his head with all the reverence he might a genuine diadem, activated the word processor, and went to bed.

Every Western child, more or less, knows how difficult a thing it is to fall asleep awaiting Santa. No one could ever know this anticipation, or how it was made all the more difficult by the way the headband clutched his skull, its wires digging into his scalp to prevent any semblance of comfortable contact with the pillow. It was only with much shifting and turning and focus on breathing that Hermes slept, and then, only by midnight, when the storm hushed for him: but after a thick and dreamless sleep from which he awoke as though he had been unconscious ten minutes, Hermes confirmed the storm’s respite was temporary. Outside the bedroom window, it had become a downright tempest, and he thought not of the animals, but of his brother, who, he was certain, ensured the beasts were comforted amid the raging storm. There he was, going stall to stall in the stable of the mind’s eye, whispering to each horse and kissing their noses and stroking their faces, then stopping over to coo and pat the horns of the rams. Hermes slid the Device from his head and rose, trembling.

The author of the Device’s software gazed out the window, the headband clutched to his chest, then up at the ceiling. He crossed himself with his right hand as his mother had tried to teach him, and as had only interested Enoch. What had once been a hollow gesture was beginning to become imbued with meaning for reasons he could not articulate. There was a significance in it, this gesture of the cross, not because some man was hung on it, but for some reason more profound. Quivering to predict how precious a thing would be this achievement of the Lord through him, the elder of the brothers came around his bed, sank to his knees, and smiled as he scrolled through the field of triangles with which he had augmented the program the day prior. Page after page, he scrolled, his pace hurrying as they began to seem without end until, with a nauseous disappointment which began as a lump in his throat, Hermes reached the top of the document, and found not a single cogent phrase recorded.

“Did I not sleep,” he asked himself, the computer, the Device. “Did I not wear it through the night? Perhaps it sat askew upon my head.”

But no: he knew in his heart such a thing was not the least bit true. Lips parted, eyes scanning fruitlessly through unbroken pages of triangles, Hermes gazed at the ceiling, then back down at what he had hoped to contain some religious work, or some assurance of his future, or some gift of knowledge or understanding. But this was not even words! Just delta waves. Perhaps he had not entered REM sleep. Surely that was it. He had not dreamed, and dreaming was a requirement to channel a story in one’s sleep! Yes, that was it.

He had just reached this conclusion when, downstairs, the front door slammed open, polluting the house with the roar of the gale as Enoch, having comforted the animals as much as he could without actually bringing them into the house, re-entered. Sitting up, Hermes straightened his bedclothes and smoothed back his hair, and by the time he was striding down the stairs still in pajamas, his brother had extricated himself from his sopping raincoat and bent untying his boots.

The creak of a stair beneath the older brother’s bare foot merited a lift of the younger’s wary eyes. Hermes felt obliged to speak first. “You ought to have awoken me. Here I am in my pajamas and you have been working since…well, one cannot rightly call it ‘dawn’ outside.”

That got half a chuckle from his brother, who was, for whatever reason, becoming drained of humor as the days went by. Hermes decided it was the lack of sunshine as Enoch unlaced his right boot. “I just didn’t want to wake you up. Don’t worry about it. Besides, you had your experiment up and running. How’d it go?”

“Poorly. I do not recall any dreams last night, and when I awoke, the Device had recorded fifty pages of delta waves. Nothing at all like what I observed with you. Tell me, when you dream while you wear the Device—”

“I don’t remember having dreams while wearing the Device,” said Enoch, straightening as he kicked off his left boot and unpeeled soaked socks from wet feet. “Though, that’s not entirely true. I think I remember something about mom, maybe. Selling us eggs or something. But I don’t know. I’m hazy on the details. That was just the first night I got writing out of it. The second night, when you were there as I fell asleep, I didn’t dream.”

“I see,” said Hermes, still not wholly convinced that this was not an issue of REM sleep. “May I try again tonight?”

“Be my guest,” said Enoch, past whom the younger brother ascended the stairs. “Do whatever you want with it.”

How unlike his brother to say such a thing! Hermes opened his mouth, but too soon the man was at the landing, around the corner and gone, upstairs. The older sibling could not help but feel that probing too deeply into the subject would be ill-advised, Enoch having just come in out of the rain. Rolling up his sleeves, Hermes went, as usual, to make breakfast, and one of the soft-boiled eggs cracked in the pan, which irritated him because they had not kept chickens for a year. Not since Enoch decided he wanted them to go into town more often. Eggs were a commodity most precious. Did his brother’s dream portend this, or did his spoon slip as he lowered the egg because he had heard the dream? It didn’t matter. They would have to leave the property soon, whatever the answer. It was undeniable that Hermes detested venturing out, and though he was reluctant to consider himself a shut-in, it was increasingly true that he was, say, ‘an eccentric and reclusive scholar’, of sorts. That was a far better label, and how he would ensure himself depicted when the Device brought them money. It would be one of the gifts they had given themselves through their work, and, in a way most curious, one of the gifts God had given them, for it seemed as though there were an exquisite perfection in every moment. Even last night’s failed experiment he regarded with good cheer as he ate breakfast with his sullen brother and, in a strange reversal of roles, endeavored the play the cheerful one by suggesting, “I thought perhaps we’d play a bit of chess today, what with the rain. And then why not a film or two? Take a day off and relax ourselves, since we’re housebound.”

“I’m going to have to check on the animals,” said Enoch towards the window, and Hermes went on, “Well of course, but between the movies! Why not a Kubrick marathon: say, The Shining, and Barry Lyndon, a double-feature. That shall be a splendid pair with the rain.”

With a slight snort from beneath a fallen curl, a black shock against the white of his face, Enoch said, “I suppose that sounds reasonable, but they’re a little…heavy.”

“You would prefer something lighter? Perhaps Dr. Strangelove?”

“No,” laughed his brother out towards the pasture, towards the barn and the stables. “The first two are fine.”

“And what of you?” Staring into his empty glass, then up at Enoch, Hermes arched a pale brow. “Are you fine?”

“I’m just…concerned.”

“About?”

Enoch grimaced as, in the distance, a blade of lightning cleaved the sky. “It’s serious out there,” he said, thunder barking behind. “What did the weather report say before the connection was lost? Forty days and forty nights?”

“More like four more days and five more nights,” said the older brother, which made the younger run his hands over his untrimmed whiskers and moan sadly.

“The horses,” he said, “my poor horses.”

“They shall be perfectly content to spend time in the barn. You’ll see them frolicking in the jade of the field soon enough, I promise.” When that earned no response, Hermes tried again. “You never told me your concern.”

“My concern is that I’ve done everything I’ve set out to do, and I have nothing else.”

Scoffing, Hermes began, “What an absurd notion,” but Enoch went on, focused out the window, brother half-forgotten as he focused on the rage of nature against their land.

“I have studied my entire life to create something grand. We’ve only really been serious since Leda died,” he said to the portrait of the mother who stared out from above the kitchen doorway like an ascetic Madonna. “It seems like everything in our lives has lead up to this point, and now…”

“It is the start of our grand career,” finished joyful Hermes as he swept away the dishes.“Why not celebrate! Why not make a good time of it!”

“Because, what if this is it? What if this is what I do? I mean, this is what I do. What I’ll be known for.” Enoch laughed at himself, then at the ceiling. “’Enoch Anatida, co-creator of the of the first consumer thought-to-text Device…’”

“I would much prefer if you were to take full credit for it.”

“I didn’t create all of it, though. If it wasn’t for you, it never would have gotten anywhere. I mean, my God: you’ve done more than half.”

“The software,” admitted Hermes, pleased when his brother rebuffed, “If I didn’t have you to rely on, I would have been at a desk, then sitting here alone when mom died. You and I both know it: at least, I know it. And God knows it, too.”

“We have no way of knowing what God knows,” said Hermes, falling back into his default habit of making assumptions without considering he might be wrong. “If God is anything, the fact that it is an entity sentient enough to produce an actual word through the human mind is stupendous. Would the Lord be able to speak at all, I wonder, if not for the existence of humans? Why, would there be a God at all, then,” pondered Hermes, as his brother rose from the table.

“I’m sort of surprised you haven’t accepted it, yet.”

“Accepted what,” asked Hermes, as Enoch paused en route to the den to place a hand on his brother’s shoulder.

“We have every way of knowing what God knows. God knows whatever we know: each and every one of us. God knows everything that everybody knows. Everything everybody thinks. Everybody’s potential, everybody’s endgame. And I can’t help but feel swamped by this. By what we’ve made. Because this is the thing the whole world will remember us for. Whatever I do, all of it after this will be nothing.”

“Nonsense,” said Hermes, again, though he had to admit that the man had a point. “There is a long and glorious road ahead. I should think you of all people would be able to see it.”

 

4.

That night, as before, Hermes felt aflutter with anticipation as he settled down to sleep. He had asked his brother to sit with him and ensure he did not toss and turn. This proved unnecessary: with the soft breathing of his brother as he read their mother’s Bible, (a book neither man had touched in twenty years, even with Enoch’s professed half-faith), Hermes was soon to drift into a very sound sleep. It was only a matter of time before he was at a retail outlet in town with his brother, and an old man was trying very insistently to sell them a box of newsboy caps. The caps, the old man was saying, were just example caps, for what was really wonderful about this box was that it was a hat-making kit, containing materials and instructions for many more hats like the twelve which came free in the box. Hermes was intrigued, even if uncertain he was in need of so many hats: though, he had to confess they were quite fine hats, and it was an unbeatable deal to receive such a great number of hats with the potential for so many more, at so small a cost as $12.99. When he awoke in a groggy malaise with no dream but that one on his mind, and his brother again out tending to the animals in the harrowing fury of the storm, Hermes slipped off the Device, leapt from his place and, despite how low he kept his expectations when checking the laptop, was nevertheless crushed by the sight of ceaseless delta waves, a sight as bad (or worse) than corrupted data in a traditional word processor.

Why was this! Why, he had dreamed last night, hadn’t he? Hadn’t he entered REM sleep? Surely he had. And if the Device had gone askew on his head, his brother would have been there to help him set it right, at least at the outset. Yet, there was nothing! Nothing at all. Not a thing reflected on the page but a load of nonsense which so blackened Hermes’ heart that, as Enoch returned from the storm, the older sibling called from the top of the stairs, “I am afraid I am feeling rather ill this morning, my brother. Rather more tired than usual. Would you forgive me if I did not cook?”

“I’d be happy to do it,” said Enoch, but Hermes insisted, “That isn’t necessary: you do so much. Only let me rest, and I’ll be fine.” As his younger brother appeared at the bottom of the stairs, still damp from the storm but not quite so soggy as yesterday, Hermes asked, “How are the animals?”

“Restless.”

“You should have woken me,” he said just as he had the day before. At this ritual chiding, if nothing else, Enoch smiled.

Upstairs, Hermes removed the Device and the laptop from his room and replaced them both in his brother’s office before returning to bed, where, surrounded by books, he alternately read and sulked like an indignant child. What did it mean? Why was it that his mind created nothing but delta waves? What was it that caused this wall of non-output when his brother seemed capable of channeling an entity which was, to some degree or another, omniscient? Or so it would seem, at any rate. It struck Hermes sometime mid-morning that he had simply taken at face value the events of before, and had leapt to the conclusion that they indicated some sort of God. Really there was nothing to prove that Enoch was not making it up. For all Hermes knew, his brother was lying there, a more skilled writer than the man had ever expected, and a more skilled reader of body language. At least, a skilled predictor of Hermes’ thought processes. After all, the output of the Device at work with Enoch’s sleeping mind had probed so thoroughly into Hermes’ internal monologue that it had been downright startling—but who was to say it was not just a good guess? A good guess of what Hermes might think, observing a screen filling up with ‘D’s, for ‘delta wave’, and how triangles would be better-suited, and how triangles were an odd fourth letter, and on, and on. This was not so unnatural a stream of consciousness, was it? This was not something which was impossible to predict or follow, surely?

It was not in his brother’s nature to be deceptive, but as Hermes reclined in the leather couch while Enoch, wrapped in their mother’s muddy afghan, played a game of solitaire, he considered this might be some demented ploy on the part of the younger man to convince the older to believe in God. It had been something of a minor sticking point between them, and each had mostly condescended to ignore the other’s belief or non-belief because each was so lackadaisical about his own opinion that, in the end, it didn’t seem to matter: Enoch had belief in God but was not passionate about it, and Hermes had no belief in God but was not sure enough any one way to dissuade his younger brother into more rational thinking. Now Hermes was desperate to dissuade himself into more rational thinking, for the implications of anything else were far too vast and much too crushing. What all of this was beginning to imply, after all, was the idea of a God who played favorites: a God who favored Enoch, and not Hermes. At least, this was how it seemed to Hermes, who, as his brother slipped the King of Diamonds from the second stack to the new-opened slot of the first, suggested, “Perhaps you had ought to take your turn with the Device tonight, Enoch. I cannot seem to replicate your result.”

As he slapped upright a new trio of cards and contemplated the Two of Spades, the younger brother said, “Sure, I’ll wear it. But I don’t think it’s going to help us prove anything.”

“I am interested in exploring the issue. We have before us an opportunity to prove or disprove the existence of a possible God: or, at least, to come closer to comprehending the issue. Don’t you suppose it is our duty to shoulder the problem?”

“It’s the Device,” he said, shifting the Two atop a Three and leaving himself with a Seven, which did nothing but make him flip three more cards and produce the likewise-useless Queen of Diamonds. “The Device is our duty: the creation and propagation of the Device. Or my duty, anyway. You’re liberated, Hermes. You can do whatever you want.” Laughing, Enoch said, “You’re not bound by some book being created by your sleeping mind.”

“I was under the impression it was only a few pages long. 4,000 words, that was what you had me read. Hardly a book.”

“It doesn’t matter how many words it is,” evaded his brother as he slapped over more cards, ran out the deck, and was forced to start again with the discards. “I feel hyper-aware of the track to which my life is bound. I can feel it…rumbling. Feel the train off in the distance, getting closer all the time.”

“And what is that train?”

“I hate to make predictions,” said Enoch with a bitter smile, then turning down the cards and sighing. “I don’t think it’s happening.”

“Do you remember what mother used to say when losing at Solitaire?” When Enoch’s eyes fell away, the older brother smiled. “’The Devil beat me.’”

 

5.

That night, as they had three nights ago, the brothers arranged themselves with Enoch as the sleeper and Hermes, the observer. This time, Hermes studied whether his brother truly slept. It certainly seemed for all the world that this was indeed the case, both based on the way he breathed and the way his brain produced delta waves. It was not, then, a matter of deception. What was it about Enoch which made his brain pick up where the 4,000 words left off, story rambling along as if it had never stopped, visibly picking up steam as the REM cycle drew on? As he observed the text beginning to emerge, his jaw tensed. Enoch talked about feeling as though his life were bound to a rail because of this story, but it was not even about him! Clearly, it was about Hermes. He was, after all, the viewpoint character, that through which all perceptions were filtered, even though it came from Enoch’s brain. Perhaps that was the source of the younger brother’s foreboding: perhaps that was the source of Hermes’ bitterness. For, if it was truly a story of which he was the main character, should he not have been the one producing it? Yet he had the feeling this story was one of those deceptive ones, where the viewpoint narrator is mostly there to allow the audience to get to know another person, or to experience and react to an event, or to explain the reasons behind a horrific tragedy. Yes, that was what this piece was shaping up to be: a tragedy.

But more than the hovering tragedy, formless and intangible and yet unavoidable, Hermes felt only the toxic force of his umbrage. The Lord thought nothing of plumbing his mind to share with his brother, but could not do him the dignity of a miraculous feat of his own! What a thing his brother could do, after all. To channel a story in one’s sleep was an accomplishment: a magic trick in the most genuine of senses. And Enoch did not appreciate it! Why, if Hermes were given such a skill, he would kiss every day the ground of the Earth, and praise every night the glow of the stars, and would burn incense in offering, or pray, or meditate, or whatever else the Lord could ask.

Perhaps it was an issue of something that Hermes was not doing: this, he decided as the screen recounted his brother’s card game. Perhaps it was something God wanted. Perhaps there was something obvious. Some expectation which required fulfillment, the way Enoch seemed so convinced that the Lord expected nothing from his life but the creation of the Device. It was easy to say all this was because Hermes was a non-believer, or because he did not pray, but Enoch was at best a semi-believer and did not pray either, so those explanations were out. The more Hermes thought about it, the more he considered this was the major problem of all religions: figuring out what God wanted. Did God want His people to love one another? To hate undesirables? Did God want his people to achieve their highest potential, or subjugate themselves to His wrath and tyranny? Did God want something predetermined? Something out of the brothers’ control? Could anything be said to be the result of free will, if that was the case? Or was he naught but a most convincing artificial intelligence, a lively character in the mind of some writer?

That might have been it, though: his questioning. He had been converted by the revelation, yet still sought to explain it. Was not the basis of faith the chalice of the heart, rather than the trap of the mind? It was not a subject with which Hermes had much personal familiarity, but it seemed to him true enough, just as it was true that since he had been forced to acknowledge the presence of God, he could never again deny it. He could only further descend into the tumultuous sea of belief, for it already seemed to him as if he had never not believed in God. It was as if all his life had been but preparation for belief, just the same as their whole working lives until this point seemed in preparation for the creation of the Device. This sense that he had till this point been, to some degree, guided, bolstered him onward, for if Hermes did something to prove to the Lord his faith not just in word but in action, then perhaps he might be forgiven his doubts! Perhaps he, too, might be given God’s favor and awaken one morning to a story produced by the cycles of his dreams! But what was there to do? What was there he could possibly do? He had nothing to give, no way to repent, and a priest seemed an unnecessary interference between himself and this thing in him, which quite possibly was him in so many ways, and not him in so many ways: something above and beyond him, beyond all time and space and yet the ground for all time and space, which vibrated the very molecules of his body, or perhaps was proven by the vibrations of the molecules within his body. Vibrations which ever-increased as he sat alone with his brother.

What was it about Enoch which made him special? What was it about him which picked up the signal of God, the signal his brother could only observe? Was it God? Was that the way to describe it? It was not right, necessarily, to call it ‘God’. Not right to call it anything. Such a thing was powered by, yet stood beyond, that which one called ‘language’. It was a thing which expressed itself in metaphors everywhere, in everything, in the interactions of men with their fellows, of women with their lovers, of sons with parents, of brothers with sisters. There was one beautiful, singular thing which reached through all things, all works of poetry and music and writing and painting and song and dance and cooking and engineering and architecture and every blossom on every tree, and him, thought Hermes, thinking of his brother, and me: I, also, am a part of this one, beautiful, singular thing, and my anger is a part of this beautiful, singular thing. I have a right to be angry, he told himself, rising, feeling in his chest the beating of a lion’s heart. My wrath, he decided while admiring the storm, is God’s wrath: God is furious at me and I am furious at myself, and so I will repent fury with fury.

Silent as his shadow in the dim light of the laptop, Hermes slipped from his sleeping brother’s room and crept through the dark of the house. The house cooperated, every lacquered maple surface swelling for his passage down the stairs, each step imbued with confidence. All things in his life, after all, had driven him to this point, so this dark disappointment that he was not the favored of brothers in the eye of God was somehow also liberating. For what was said of the favored brother? More tragic things than favorable ones. Epimethius, or the death of Castor, he recalled while drawing the boning knife from the kitchen block: and the fate of the Lamb went without mention!

In the storm, Hermes pulled his raincoat around him and clutched tight the blade of the kitchen knife, head lifted as the rain faded but the wind rose. Wading through the grass, he started for the sheepcotes where slept his treasured rams, for he thought to put one to the slaughter to repent for what he had done by disbelief of God: but he stopped himself, fell back upon his heel with the squelch of mud and eyed the other structure on their land, dark stables he knew to be the color of raspberries, or his coat, or the barn. Two buildings: his rams, in the barn; Enoch’s horses, in the stables. It was then that Hermes grasped a kind of magic. Haunted by his own intentions, he contemplated the knife in his hand as the storm began once more to rise.

When Enoch awoke the next morning, it was with a start so violent it also awoke Hermes, who had returned to his post in time to see the 8,000th word lain on the page before falling asleep upright. Another thousand had appeared since, and Enoch slipped the headband from his head, then read the night’s product without acknowledging his brother. Hermes made a show of rubbing his face and yawning as he asked, “How did you sleep?”

“Did you hear them last night, or did I dream? I couldn’t tell, it was all so vivid, but it seems like something’s wrong.”

“What did you hear?”

“My horses. I thought I dreamed them crying last night.”

“I wouldn’t put much credence in a dream,” chided Hermes, but Enoch was already stumbling for his trousers and yanking on socks.

“There’s something wrong. They might be sick.”

“Perhaps,” said Hermes, shadowing the younger man as he yanked on his shirt and charged downstairs. He adjusted the cuff of his own crimson sleeve and smoothed wrinkles from arms crossed in sleep. “Perhaps the storm has sickened you. Perhaps you’re hearing things.”

Perhaps, but soon as Enoch’s boots were on he charged into the storm, which just that morning began to subside: for once the sky was, rather than the black of coal, the gray of drying chalkboard slate. That did not mean the rain had finished, so Hermes tarried to slide on his coat and had his gloves on around the time his brother’s cry shot from the stables to the open front door of the house. By the time the older man reached the younger, his beloved baby sibling was hysterical with tears, lying on the floor of the stables with his arms around his favorite, a chestnut mare, who, like the rest of the horses, lay slaughtered in a massacre of equine horror. Hands covered in coagulated blood sticky like pancake syrup, (which made Hermes think he had not made pancakes for breakfast for quite sometime), Enoch stared up at his older brother. “What happened? Oh God, oh God!”

Adjusting his gloves, Hermes lifted his right hand to shield his nose from the putrid-sweet scent of animal death. “God, indeed. A force of nature worked here last night.” As his black eyes fell upon his brother, he suggested, “A wolf blundered in, I should wager. A cougar, perhaps. Or a bear.”

A stillness rising in his tears, Enoch rasped, “What did you do while I slept, Hermes? While the story was being recorded.”

“I was sleeping. Why, I never even had an opportunity to get in my pajamas.”

“You were wearing a green shirt yesterday,” said Enoch, and Hermes did not emote while his brother went on, “today you’re wearing a red shirt, and you’re telling me you didn’t change.”

“I said I had no opportunity to get in my pajamas.”

“Why would you do this,” breathed Enoch, his breast heaving with a gasp which possessed the qualities of a sob. “Why would you do this to my horses?”

“I still think it was a wolf, got in,” repeated the older brother, turning away and assessing the dead animals. “I’m so very sorry, Enoch. I know how much you loved your horses. Perhaps, in the forthcoming spring, after the Device has brought us success, we shall buy you some more. Come,” with a fond pat for his brother’s head, Hermes made his way back to the house. “Let’s have breakfast, and we shall worry about the bodies in due time.”

Hermes was not surprised when Enoch did not immediately come: what was surprising was that Enoch came to breakfast at all. He seemed quite calm, though still bloody-handed when he appeared in the kitchen. He stood across from his brother, who unveiled no emotion while flipping pancakes. Enoch shrugged his coat from his shoulders, hung it upon the peg beneath the calendar of Magritte artwork. This month was, appropriately, Golconda. His silence, it seemed, extended to the water, which Hermes did not hear run: nor did he see it run, for he turned his back to his brother, who then moved past him to set the table, as he did most every morning unless Hermes got to it first.

What was Enoch thinking, wondered Hermes? If the Device produced a story with the brain of the elder brother, perhaps it would be about the mind of the younger brother. Perhaps something else entirely. Hermes might have paid any price to know at that moment what his brother thought: better, to know at that moment what God thought, assuming of course God thought anything at all. Sitting across from his brother, who avoided acknowledging the raspberry syrup pancakes before taking his first bite, Hermes found the man’s face devoid of all light, but also all stress, all pain. There was an eerie calm to him, and so, halfway through breakfast, Hermes spoke the first words since the barn after sipping his coffee. “Will the wolf return to our home, one should wonder, and next come to eat of my rams?”

“I don’t think so,” said the younger brother with a small, grim smile, one devoid of all humor. “I think your rams will be safe.”

“Are you so certain? It certainly seems to me, after all, that you are quite beloved of God. If I am somehow to blame for the horses, as you seemed to believe, surely the Lord will see to it that I am punished. My rams are the most obvious recompense.”

“I don’t think anybody wants to punish you,” said Enoch to his plate. “And I don’t think I’m beloved of anybody.”

“I would not be so sure. You are capable of an extraordinary feat! You are a channel for God. Like a Sybil of Apollo, you channel things exactly as they happen. And so, dear Enoch,” with a smile and spread hands, “you must admit that if I am to blame for the deaths of the horses, you will see that reflected in the words of God! You of all people, my pythius, will see such a thing.”

“I’m not a prophet.”

“No: not a prophet, perhaps, but you are indeed an extraordinary man. You are a man who can tap into God, or into whom God has chosen to tap. Aren’t you lucky!”

The younger brother cast a sharp glare at the older. “Am I?” When Hermes did not even blink, Enoch sliced off another pancake triangle. “I don’t know if I would call it ‘luck’, so much as a sign of a condition.”

“Is there anyone else in the world capable of such a thing,” asked Hermes of himself, of his brother, of the God he was convinced he would come to know quite well. “Is there anyone else, I wonder, who has so captured the attention of the Lord that they, in their sleep, might channel stories?”

“Surely there has to be someone,” said Enoch, engaged in the conversation through no will of his own. “I can’t be the only one capable of this. A whole planet full of people.”

“Imagine the opportunities we have to study. All the things we could try! It raises so many questions.” Coming to terms as he was with the fact that there were those who could and could not channel a REM novel, Hermes pondered, “What, for instance, happens when someone capable of producing a story in their sleep—let us call them a ‘Receiver’—has a seizure while wearing the Device? What happens when a Receiver is under the influence of psychedelic drugs?”

“Sort of a psychedelic experience, this whole thing. This feedback loop of reading reality.” With a snort, Enoch suggested, “Maybe we call it the Lightning Stenography Device: the LSD.”

Delighted by his brother’s good humor in light of his pain, Hermes cried, “Why, yes, of course! What a clever man you are. So one must wonder what happens when Receivers takes psychedelics: better yet, propofol, or other anesthesia. What then?” Stirred by an idea which roosted in both himself and his brother at once, for their eyes met in the same second, in the same way, the older brother offered a wrenlike tilt of his head. “What happens, I wonder, when a Receiver dies while wearing the LSD?”

A chill rippled across the air between them, the two brothers, each on his separate end of the table, Hermes at the head, Enoch at the foot. Neither said anything: neither moved nor broke eye contact, until Hermes lifted his coffee mug. “We are out of eggs, but I am in the mood for an excursion into town for once, since the storm has lifted. Would you care to join me?”

“No,” said Enoch, “I wouldn’t.”

 

6.

The nearest town, Estes Park, was enough of a resort and full enough of people that the two men from twenty miles away made little local impact. Sometimes they came together; sometimes, separate. Hermes had the feeling they went completely unremembered, anonymous in the town where they had never truly lived, from which they had been sheltered by home tutors, and which, in adulthood they had never visited more than twice before the death of their mother. Gentrified and meant for skiiers, it was not a town where shop-going regulars had memorable faces unless that was what they sought, and Hermes was an infrequent-enough visitor that he moved like a ghost through his errands, invisible, liberated, yet somehow more exposed than ever in his life.

The strange thing was, in the midst of all the business since the night before, Hermes never once questioned whether or not he had been meant to slaughter the horses. It had come to him as a whim, and once the whim was upon him, he had no choice but obey it. Of course he had been meant to slaughter the horses. If he had not been meant to, something would have prevented it. That force which experienced his innermost thoughts from the depths of his brother’s brain, or somewhere beyond; that force which had orchestrated all things in their life through this point, which had educated them both in exactly the ways they needed, which had lead them both through an elaborate tapestry of causal and synchronistic happenings required to bring them exactly thus; that force could have, at any point, prevented the deaths of the horses. One might have bashed in his skull; he might have been struck by lightning on his way to the barn; his brother might have awoken, not taken it for dream, and come in time to save a few. But none of that had happened. The horses were dead, and they were dead because Hermes had made the choice to kill them. Because Hermes willed that they should die and so too, evidently, had God. So, then, the possible thing was made manifest, and Hermes had been the method by which it had manifested. There was a kind of strength in that, as there had been when he had smeared his face with the blood of the horses, had licked it from his fingers and breathed in their terror and bitten the heart of one raw like a wild animal, this secret bloody sacrifice between him and whatever compelled him.

Feeling so at ease as he did with what had happened, Hermes made his way through the farmer’s market slowly, and even suffered himself to speak somewhat about the deluge which had saturated the mountain, the town, and the roads to make them treacherous as they might have been for pioneers. He purchased eggs and milk and some lovely peppers, and then thought that he had better find a way to apologize to his brother, so bought him a bouquet of roses which he paid the florist to adorn with a peacock’s feather. Then he purchased some almond croissants, loaded it all up in the car, and went home wondering why he didn’t leave the house more often. It was perfectly pleasant, and not at all a bad drive. A bit treacherous with the rain, but that was beginning to clear, and as their ranch came into sight, Hermes smiled to see the clouds part for sunlight to pour upon their home. Humming as he parked, he retrieved the purchases, adjusted the roses in his left arm, mounted the steps of their dead mother’s house, shifted one of the bags to his right hand, and then extricated from his left pocket the key he fit into the lock of a door which swung open in time for Hermes to see his brother’s neck snap as the younger man hanged himself over the edge of the staircase, the long cord of the LSD jerking the laptop forward upon the stool upstairs far enough to rattle it, but not far enough to force the computer to share the fate of its owner.

Everything in Hermes’ arms dropped to the floor. The eggs were crushed by the impact but he could not really hear them because all he was really hearing, again and again, was the celery-snap of his dead brother’s neck: his brother who swung, staring through bulging eyes and purpled face crowned by wire branches and screw thorns, with his mouth opened in the shock which Hermes reflected as he cried, “My God! Enoch: Enoch, my God!” because he could think of nothing else to say.

Trembling, Hermes stumbled forward and, damp-eyed, reached towards Enoch, but took better stock, then, of the Device around his brother’s head. He withdrew, hands folding to his breast as he recalled their conversation. Why: yes. Hermes’ eyes rose the length of the wire which connected the Device to the laptop. Each step deliberate upon protesting stairs, he left behind his brother to investigate the screen, and stilled. There were no delta waves. The computer was frozen as if struggling to process and print a massive input with which it was forced to catch up. As, after grinding, it hit its stride, Hermes could read parts of, first a paragraph, and then, gradually, an entire book about a stranger. With a swell of horror, Hermes realized he was reading the chronicle of a dead man: but not his brother. Not the brother hanging, head still wreathed in wires, from the staircase down which their mother slipped while high on pain medication.

Desperate to have space between himself and the corpse, Hermes escaped to his brother’s study in search of a suicide note. There, he discovered stuffed beneath paperwork something which Enoch had hidden: the remainder of a story which Hermes had thought to have tapered off around word 9,000. He laughed right up to its end, then left the study near tears. Papers in his hand, he tossed them over the rail to watch them fall like snow around his brother’s head.

“You should have warned me,” he chided, still half-laughing. “No wonder you’ve been in such a mood! Any God can deliver the text in any order desired, but it takes a very cruel one to give you the deaths of the horses and your own suicide, does it not?”

Hermes’ heart sank at the finality of silence’s response, but the full text of the story had bolstered him. Sacrifices had to be made: even if great, and painful. As the laptop stuttered, shuddered, then continued to unfurl the massive backlog of text outpoured at the moment of death, the surviving brother found he could not bear to touch either the dead man or the Device, lest the process be disturbed. Leaving everything—the roses and peacock’s feather smeared in milk and broken eggs, his brother so still as to seem a plastic prop—Hermes found their mother’s Bible where his brother had left it upon the hallway table of photographs, and retreated to the depths of his dead brother’s study to wait.

[Intrigued? Be sure to read the first book, DELILAH MY WOMAN, while waiting for THE LIGHTNING STENOGRAPHY DEVICE to be published! Click here to buy it on Amazon in hardcover, ebook and paperback.]

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