May 22

The Apocalypse Page (part the 2nd)

[…continued from May 21 entry…]

 

The scholar of ancient texts turned to that page now.

The Apocalypse Page.

Symbols here seemed to suggest an actual alphabet, arranged in patterns that indicated words and grammar.  But the meaning escaped him.

As he copied the shapes into his journal, his eyes darted from the ancient page to his own, and back again.  Whenever he concentrated on the bleached white page of his modern notebook, the letter-shapes on the older document would trick the corner of his eye, as if all lines converged to form a pictograph of menace: a mushroom cloud, a star in supernova, a demonic hand rising from a pit of fire.

The scholar continued to transcribe the page.  His copy was stubbornly lifeless — pen scratches with no meaningful connections.  Meanwhile, the original lines flickered anew in the corner of his left eye, a scaled and taloned finger curled in a beckoning gesture.

He imagined ripping the page from the book.  The supervising archivist would jump forward to prevent further violence to the ancient text, but the scholar would move too quickly, crumbling the page into his fist then biting into it, tearing at the page with his teeth like a starving man would attack a piece of boiled chicken, gnawing a wrinkle of warm skin, pulling it away as grease spurted his chin, exposing a pale, moist hunk of meat and chomping on that next, gnashing his teeth deeper, barely cautious to avoid the bones and sinews beneath the tender flesh.

The scholar glanced down and realized he had bitten into the heel of his own palm.  He kept chewing, imagining dry paper within his mouth, secrets of translation breaking through as the consumed letters mixed with his saliva.

The Apocalypse Page.  He finally understood what it meant.  He swallowed, and the secrets became part of him.

The scholar blinked, and his reverie ended.  His dream-gnawed palm was intact, the ancient page undamaged in its original binding.

He couldn’t shake the feeling, however, that he’d gained new insight.  The scholar would not merely copy the page.  He would look at it with fresh eyes.

Nothing, at first.  The letters and shapes continued to elude him.  The ink itself, the ink that he swore was human blood, seemed to mock him.

A line from Alexander Pope popped into his head — the moment in Essay on Criticism, where Pope defines, through example, the worst kind of plodding poetry:  “And ten low words oft creep in one dull line…”

Somehow, the scholar had stumbled on the key.  It wasn’t the symbols themselves, but something behind them.  Something lower.  Something creeping behind the blood-drawn lines.

He stared, not at the page, but into it.

The society had permitted him to view the ancient book, on the off chance he might find some clue to translating parts of it.  They let him view the book only under strict scrutiny.  He could take notes, but nothing else.

The scholar didn’t need to take notes.  The ten low words appeared to him now, floating above the Apocalypse Page, clear and coherent.

He spoke them aloud.