Bewildering Stories

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The Parasite Text


by Daniel Green

Table of Contents
Part 2 appears
in this issue.

His synopsis, we can say, is generally accurate. In fact, his condensed version of this eccentric and frankly preposterous “fiction” is considerably more coherent and less outrageous than the actual narrative from which he is working. His comments on the dissociated structure of the text are equally well-taken, although he probably gives the author of this dubious work — had not the circumstance in which our hero finds himself regrettably come to pass one could say that it deserved to be entirely forgotten — more credit for thinking through the implications of his narrative strategy than he really deserves.

We think it can be said with relative certainty that this was an author more concerned with “substance” than “style,” more interested in “content” than in “form.” It also seems safe to say that he considered himself to be providing his readers with “entertainment” rather than creating a work of “literature,” so that our friend’s attempt to extract from it the kind of revelatory significance he truly wishes to find must surely in the end come to nothing. At this point we exercise our own powers of editorial judgment and skip over further discussion of the “second scenario” and return to the first, taking it up where we left it.

When I got inside the door I couldn’t at first see at all what had seized the professor’s attention and provoked his puzzled exclamation. The front room into which we had walked — tattered couch, television, stereo equipment — was unoccupied, but then I turned to my left, looking into what must have been G.D.’s study area — papers strewn here and there, a none-too-sturdy-looking desk on top of which a surprisingly new and apparently high-end computer, as well as various books covering all other available surface areas, on the wall behind a movie poster loudly proclaiming They Live!, and, most significantly, G.D.. himself, slumped over on the desk as if taking a quick nap before getting back to the scholarly task at hand.

The professor walked into the room, then waited for me to catch up. We approached the desk, looking for any obvious indications of what might have led to the situation we were confronting. It took a moment or two for me to realize that the almost imperceptible movements darting across the desk clutter were in fact tiny creatures of some sort, insects perhaps — frankly speaking, all manner of vermin might have infested a domicile as ill-kempt as this one seemed, now that I had taken in, however, cursorily, the general atmosphere of the place. But when I finally reached the desk and hovered warily above G.D.’s head, I could not quite fathom what precisely I was witnessing as both the extent and the nature of this activity became more apparent. They were creatures all right, but God help me if I could have told you what kind of infernal things they were.

Already the act of orating this text as it is composed is highlighting some features of it that a silent gazing doesn’t pick up so much. The way this scenario the untitled I relates keeps building up to these points of revealing what’s truly going on but then stopping before saying what it is that is happening, for example. It seems a shabby ruse, not all that contrary to the strategies employed in the video melodramas I recall viewing in the days of my own youth. Even then I thought these visual diversions — now a part of yesteryear, of course — were downright tacky, not the sort of thing we graphic investigators were educated to expect from the remnants of the fiction texts we might find. It might be better if the events proclaimed were themselves not nearly so hard to take in. Not only are they pretty loopy, even for a horrifics scenario, but who can discern where they intend to go? I am led to the suspicion that this buildup technique is a way to substitute some ready-made suspense where what’s reported to be happening doesn’t have much attraction by itself.

* * *

Our friend’s rapid development of his innate critical acumen continues apace. We have nothing to add to his perspicacious comments, so instead we will supplement his text-in-progress with a few additional details about the social context in which our hero is engaged in his labors. In so doing, our goal is not to expropriate his story for our own purposes, not to simply take over those functions he through the limitations of his circumstances is unable to carry out with the same sort of dexterity, but simply to assist him by bringing out in full relief the conditions under which his struggle to resuscitate the written word and excavate the textual past is taking place.

You may have wondered whether our friend is married, has a family, on whose behalf he toils away at this important but unremunerative job. He is not married, has never been, in fact has had few serious “relationships” with women — or men — at all. This does not mean that his sexual drive is abnormally low or unnaturally inhibited. Rather, there are in his world numerous ways of satisfying one’s natural urges that neither require the actual presence of other human beings, nor entail any feelings of shame or embarrassment — although a few religious groups continue to broadcast their denunciations of such sexual license. (Transmissions of cyberholographs directly into the home is the most common form of this “erotic assistance.”)

You may also have wondered how, if writing has disappeared in this world, the populace remains informed, aware of the “news” occurring among and around them. After all, even television broadcasts of such news would necessitate the composition of a written text, designed to be read aloud but nevertheless “indited.” And indeed something like composition is involved in what communication of information still goes on, but it is an entirely visual kind of composition that uses a grammar and a syntax of the image that has its origins in the visual art and media of past eras but that has in our friend’s time fully developed into a near wordless language. The users of this language would not think of it as such but merely as the means by which ordinary life is sustained — “language” being a word long gone from human awareness.

Spoken words have not disappeared entirely, although most people would not separate the few perfunctory words still in use from the images to which they are attached as the occasion requires. They are simply a part of the general flow of visual stimulation, somewhat akin to the historical model that those still interested in what came before would perhaps be able to identify, the so-called “music video.” Such words are also used in everyday social and domestic interactions. But hardly anyone is aware that these sounds correspond to things called words, much less that they could be represented in a system of symbolic markings called “writing.”

They looked something like centipedes, or some kind of many-legged, slimy-textured bug, but they also had wings, and their heads were swollen to grotesque proportions relative to their bodies. So swollen, in fact, that their features could be clearly discerned with the naked eye, and what I saw still fills me with horror and revulsion whenever the image reappears to my mental vision. Long, pointed ears, sharp, bristle-covered chins, eyes plainly full of unmitigated malice, mouths full of jagged teeth capable of inflicting untold pain, faces, in short, that were the very image of the demonic and the malignant, that conveyed the message with frightening clarity they had been sent on a mission of outright evil.

My first glance at G.D.. revealed the immediate goal of this mission: already his own face had been stripped of its flesh, although several of the creatures were still entering and exiting his eye sockets, no doubt feasting on the remaining brain tissue, seeking out other morsels with great rapacity. The bulges produced by the movements of the creatures underneath his clothing told me they were making similarly quick work of the rest of his body.

If I was appalled at the scene before me, the professor was rigid with fright. Unable in his incredulity to do anything other than look blankly from here to there, finally he turned and without uttering a word went back out of the room, eventually out of the apartment, closing the door behind him very gently. There seemed to be no point in going after him. Clearly he understood what was going on even less than I did, and I understood nothing. Perhaps later he would reestablish contact, offer his assistance in getting to the bottom of these events, but, as it turned out, I never saw him again.

Pretty grisly. Other gristly occurrences follow, in both halves of the scenario. I will not orate them, as it seems redundant. The gist of it all seems to be this: Everyone who looks into the book is affected by it to do strange and self-defeating things, usually terminating in their death or the loss of their rational minds. Anyone who suspects the book might be cursed, or even tries to find out more information about it, gets inflicted with a fate like that of G.D.. Sad to say, this is where the text segment ends. Nothing is settled up or tied together. The two sides of the scenario are forever (lest someone sometime should dig up more of it) left at a dangle, not to be united so we may know for sure how they are allied.

Although D.G. has declared that it is not proper for a graphic investigator to surmise what his text might be like if it was complete — “It is not our job to re-indite our scripts as if we were the originator,” he states — in this case the seduction to do so is almost irresistible. Unless the author had some big surprise in store, the clues in this segment announce themselves pretty loudly. Would my script truly be complete unless I followed on with the plot line that the clues advertise so distinctly? More to the point: Is this text worth the effort I’ve already given to it, much less whatever would be required to finish this script in the manner I have contemplated? Would I be serving it, or would it be serving me?

* * *

An interesting question, one that, unfortunately, we are not in a position to answer with much certainty or conviction. We will have to allow it to linger, a spontaneous outburst by our friend, who himself no doubt regards it as merely an afterthought. A way of speaking.

A much more pertinent question, in our view, is whether our own attempt to accord our friend’s work the full respect it deserves has finally been worth the effort. Although we are unable in every case to supply all the particulars about the “plot line” threading its way through these pages, there is one big thing we do know for sure. The wholly admirable, even noble, endeavor on which our hero travails cannot succeed, is in the long run doomed to fail.

Admittedly a few obsessed holdouts such as our friend and his colleagues will manage to keep an ever more debased version of written language in existence — a dead language if ever there was one — but we all know it would be impossible to truly recover such a complex and frankly difficult skill to master once the perceived need for such a skill itself vanishes.

Beyond this very general insight into the future our friend’s successors will confront, we cannot offer an entirely clear picture of what life will be like in such a post-verbal world. Nor can we reveal exactly how we have obtained even these few glimpses into a future so seemingly certain in its course. Surely it is impossible to reverse the process by which tokens of the past become available to future discovery so that portents of the future take solid form and are handed back to us for our appraisal? This must remain an open question, but you will, we hope, acknowledge that in circumstances such as these some suspension of strictly plausible procedures are often tolerated. Assume that we do indeed have the power to turn the logic of historical development inside out, so to speak, even though we all know that such power is altogether a whimsical notion.

Accept as well (this is merely a request, you understand, put forth in all politeness) that the following selection is the final remaining artifact in this documentary back construction, one whose authenticity and authorship remain in doubt, despite all attempts to establish otherwise. Was it written, as most believe, by our hero? Or is it simply another fragment of the text our friend had in his possession and was attempting to interpret? Could it even be, as some have suggested, the work of D.G., perhaps trying as it were to pre-empt our friend’s own effort to elevate their common calling to a new level, endow it with enhanced powers of perception? Surely it is not, as yet others maintain, an outright fabrication, produced in some other era (possibly even the present one) altogether? As is so often the case in circumstances such as these, all we can say in the end is that the only satisfactory resolution to such a conundrum must be your own.

At last I was prepared to open the book and face whatever it was it had to reveal to me. My first move to lift the cover faltered; despite what I had discovered about the book, its history, the many myths and misconceptions surrounding it, I hesitated to see for myself what its pages actually would present.

Again I reached for the leather-covered, gilt-edged volume, and again I paused above it, still uncertain whether I truly did desire to disclose its contents. After all, one sure way to avoid even what I now considered the wholly fanciful harm that might come from sampling this book’s inscripted words would be simply to leave the cover closed, the leaves unturned.

But I knew what I knew: it was an ordinary book — ordinary for the time in which it was made — clinging to which were absurd tales of evil that were the result of random and entirely unrelated accidents befalling some of the people who had owned it, read it, or inquired about it. Because of this history, few people were willing to examine its pages and thus few and utterly unreliable accounts of what was printed on them could be found. Suffice it to say I had come upon no evidence it was, as so many wanted to believe, the devil’s notebook.

Finally the deed is done. The cover is turned, the spine is cracked, a page is exposed. Nothing. No print, no handwritten words, no runic signs, no text of any kind. Blank. As white as a brand new screen in a freshly built cinema, as unblemished as the motives of all those before me who had sought to resolve the mystery of this very book, who were even prepared to do battle of sorts with the formidable forces that might be behind it, ready to unleash their destructive energies.

The more I stared at it, however, the more it began to seem to me there was something written on this unsullied page after all. It was in a language I could not at first understand, but as the text clarified itself further, the print indeed becoming more palpable, less suspiciously a figment of my own imagination, it no longer seemed to matter that I had never seen such words before — and they had to be words, somebody’s words. I knew what they said.

And no sooner had I comprehended the message than the words faded away again, leaving the virginal whiteness of the empty page. A most efficient way to communicate, when all was said and done.

Copyright © 2005 by Daniel Green

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