The oracle awakens and speaks: It began in wonder; it began as a question. The first question, which nothing asked itself, must there be a something? And there it was, something. To which something asked, what is something? From there to us and now—the unfathomable complexity of cascading and multifaceted questions have shaped the universe until its very now, that endless war between substance and insubstantiality…
When he was eight, Nicholas found an old couch, propped up against a wall in a forgotten corridor of the Great Manor. Damp and musty; it would do. He lugged it, thump, thump up the staircase to the old library. It was here where he would sleep from now on. They wouldn’t miss him. As the spare and not the heir he had been relegated to the kitchen. Even the kitchen help had little use for him as he had little use for their pots, pans, flans, and soufflés. He had cut up a pig to the dismay of all because he cut it as he wanted it, not as others thought it should be cut. He wasn’t banished from the place; he was shunned out of it. It suited Nicholas that he could still come down and grab a meal as he saw fit. They thought little about him as a person after he had gone.
Three years on from securing his bed, he had transformed the library. Rather he had set about to unhinge the dust motes that had lain heavy on the old tomes and sent them soaring into the sunlight that cascaded from the clear glass skylight that stretched the entire length of the room. Steel and glass had become loose and rattled in the wind making splash spots in the dust on the oaken floor below. Walls were lined floor to ceiling with books by the thousands of all sizes, colors, and thicknesses. Nicholas spent little time with genres. He was not interested much with what was inside these great books. Rather he was a sort that would sort the books to his likings. His first effort was by size which proved quite satisfactory until he became bored with it. Then by color, which even less delighted him the moment he had completed his task. Too many dark books, he said to himself.
Of course, he could read. No self-respecting inborn member of the Great Manor would be caught dead illiterate, his mother had said before his sixth birthday as she trundled him down to the kitchen to take his place of penance for being second out of her. That, of course, remained an oxymoron—the being caught dead illiterate—Nicholas pondered this notion until he found it quite exasperating. If one is dead how can one even read? The goings on of adults both in the kitchen now and of his distant memories of the Great Manor great rooms vexed Nicholas. He made up his mind to no longer reflect upon them. He banished them to nonesuchplace and kept ideas that were to his liking. His logic was superior, he had decided, even with the disastrous book-by-color-of-binder sort. He thought by author name and discarded it. These were his books. The other names written on the bindings mattered not at all to him.
Nobody else entered the library. They called now and again on the voice horn for this or that recipe book. Nicholas knew all the books and where they were located and that was adequate he reasoned for his acquired library duties. There was no door to the library, just a long winding staircase made from blocks of stone that sweat in summer and formed ice stalactites in winter. He would just lay the requested book at the top of the stairs and in turn would retrieve assorted newspapers, boxes, and other paper goods they left for him to feed his fireplace in winter. This wasn’t quite a satisfactory solution because even when he wound the papers tight they didn’t burn for long. The library walls were thick and though the skylight leaked wind and water, during days when the sun shone, the heat rose with the dust motes.
In the Library
Now he is about thirteen. At thirteen one is still struggling with what it is to be and at the same time becoming something which is unfamiliar and downright discomforting, and that is a young man. Nicholas is not spared from this growing thing even as a spare. His beard that had begun as wispy fuzz has darkened and thickened. He lets it grow because it is still soft.
The nubile scullery maids sitting down at the great table in the kitchen for their supper now whisper troll under their breath which Nicholas can hear and does not respond. Now that he is of an age to be hirsute, the magical age of thirteen, he delights in the moniker troll for he feels like the owner of a bridge, living under the open stars and sun of the day in the place he and he alone controls. He holds the power over all of their requests for this or that book, to grant them or not. He has not yet refused, but he could and this pleases Nicholas. If he has nothing else but his library; well he is king of that. His privileged older brother, notwithstanding, Nicholas has always felt that his station is at the center of the world and he rightly so is emperor of it with all the peerage due him. He has not yet fought the war against barbarian invaders or infidels but he has oiled the blued armor breastplate on the wall and shined the old sword above the mantle just in case. Besides, he reasons, he just as well might welcome the infidels because he has become one himself after the ordeal through which he suffered his first six years of existence under the tutelage and stick of the Monk, Paul.
Paul stuck him with pins, and slapped his hands with a burled walking stick and shouted God-fearing sayings replete with spittle all over Nicholas’s countenance. Nicholas reasoned he was being showered with unholy spit water with each exhortation to the heavens that Paul would spew. Nicholas endured but soon came to reject all that which Paul had proclaimed to be true. He felt no soul within. He feared not God, only the pain dealt out by Paul. His ears rung with satanic verse shouted in exorcism to assuage a recalcitrant child who shivered from the pain, not the cold of the drafty Great Manor. Nicholas was quite relieved when his mother in her best yellow gown led him on his diaspora into the kitchen where he would be forever rid of Paul. He kept looking back as he was hurried out of the great rooms of the Great Manor, watching for the walls of water to crash back and drown the pursuing monk. The monk had not followed, simply returned to his monastery to prepare for his next victim.
That journey, his diaspora, his exodus from the Great Manor was also his flight from the church. He would not listen about God anymore. He had put it and all of the blather that Paul had proclaimed completely out of his mind. Good riddance, he had said. He even sat in prayer to banish the teaching for good from his mind. Having banished God, Nicholas felt quite relieved and satisfied with himself. He had exiled that which had oppressed him and beaten him into submission only to emerge as the Nicholas the Stronger, the leader, the titan, the Librarian!
Here we are at his age thirteen with Nicholas now pondering things about being and about his own existence that have become much more confused as his bones lengthen in agonizing spurts. His thoughts and feelings come and go and he feels quite unnerved at times. At other times, the voices of his head scream at him like an unruly parliament.
He now stands in the middle of the library floor, sun upon his shoulders, warming his face. He turns around and around to see the books. They don’t stare back as they once did. They have become books, he thinks to himself, just books. When the kitchen calls up on the voice horn it doesn’t motivate him as it once did. It bores him. He has become king of an island in the middle of a sea that has all but forgotten him. His world now is too small for such a burgeoning young man who needs lebensraum to flex his wings so that he can fly. The armor about fits him now which it won’t in perhaps just months with the spurt of growth that has come upon him. He can wield the sword above his shoulder when once he could only drag its tip along the floor. His domain has become too small; his books less than satisfactory. Rather they are unnerving him for he has run out of ideas on how to sort them in a way that will please him.
Nothing pleases him. The whisperings of troll and now ogre as his hair and beard have become quite long no longer please him. He wants to strike out and bash in the face of the scullery maids who giggle and wiggle their supple bottoms on their bench and elbow each other. At the same time, he lusts for the red haired one. He does not yet fully grasp what this lust entails or ultimately means but it quickens his pulse and turns his cheeks crimson. The headmistress of the Great Manor is bright enough not to send any of the young wenches to retrieve or return books to the library. His only shadowy visitor is the simple boy dishwasher with his permanent grin of imbecility. Nicholas has become a bitter king, itching for a fight, ennobled by a rush of hormones and rising of color in his cheeks as he stands in the middle of the library floor, quietly raging within himself for that which he cannot quite grasp but yearns for.
In the Night
It has become night and the moon has risen, casting eerie shadows of metal ribbing across the room. The books are imprisoned behind these dark bars. The books stare back without eyes, but here and there bits of gold leaf glow in the moonlight. Nicholas has returned to the center of his room. He wants to howl at the moon and decides instead to howl into the voice tube in the unlikely possibility that there are still some in the kitchen. They will not know what to make of this he thinks because he has never initiated a call. As he howls he recalls Paul and his lunatic raving. He works up his spittle to froth his mouth and pants in the exertion. His unholy dispatch to the kitchen below rings in his ears. He doesn’t get any reply. Then he is done with his howling and looks frantically around as if he could leap out of his skin. There is nothing more to see but that which he has always seen. His couch doesn’t beckon him and the night is rapidly cooling the air. Nicholas sweats through his tunic which has become randy with his stink and this hits his nostrils, urging him onward and upward. He swings about the room twirling and setting up dust motes which makes him sneeze. He catapults from the stepstool to the gimbled ladder that swings around the room. He kicks at shelving and propels himself first this way and that all while moaning and humming through a voice that waggles between a castrate’s soprano and a false baritone. His laryngitis spurs him on to kick harder and books tumble with his missteps. They crash to the floor and turn the library into a dust mote storm. Then as suddenly as he began this frenzy, he stops, or rather the ladder stops, thwarted by a pile of kicked out books. He pants and his nostrils flare. His shirt is soaked through and he finds the smell of himself both invigorating and distasteful. He can taste his lust through a throat that has been set fire from a straining voice. His hands tremble from gripping the ladder so tight. His shins throb from the missed kicks he has thrown. He feels the bloody gashes, not as once he felt from Paul, but as one who has battled his betters and come through without serious injury. Then all of this is gone in a collapse of a body that has abused itself and become quite exhausted and unable to continue the fight. He then realizes he has been like a cat who jumps about seemingly with abandon from no discernable goad or without any goal in mind.
He steps down from the ladder. His shoulders slump and the heat his body has stoked begins to dissipate in evaporating sweat. He once again sees the moonlight prison bars encapsulating him, his room, and his books. Piles of books have tumbled from their shelves, leaving blank spaces only partially lit by the moon. Shadows cast the walls in empty spaces where once there were only books. The piles are elephant dung, strewn about by their rampage against the moonlight. Full moon.
There once had been a librarian before Nicholas. Old Timekilly. He had died behind the library’s lone desk and had become mummified before anyone thought to look in on him or wonder why he no longer came down for supper. Nicholas is thinking about Old Timekilly, wondering what he would have looked like in this moonlight. He wonders whether Old Timekilly would have felt imprisoned. He was surely not caught dead illiterate for they found a book propped in his hands. He was positioned as if his dry sockets were still reading the page. It was the Odyssey by Homer someone had said when Nicholas still lived in the kitchen. Another thought it was Dickens.
What do they know, thinks Nicholas? It is their speculation for none who found him could read. What they did with the book after they disposed of Old Timekilly no one could say for there are only a few left who knew him at all and none of these were involved in his internment.
The Fat Book
It is through those blank dead eyes that Nicholas tries to see the world now, his world, moonlit bars and emptied shelves. It is this he sees through those same eyes that will be his own soon enough, one of his voices laments. Is he to be relegated to seeing those selfsame pages over and over again with every moonrise? I must escape these bars, he cries out, but this is now only a harsh whisper from his overtaxed throat. He glances towards the library entrance but there is only darkness. He has no torch, no candle to help him find his way out of the library. He has burned all of what they have brought him. Perhaps it is time to burn some books one of him thinks and then another rejects that idea. What if he burns the book Old Timekilly was reading, another voice admonishes? They say there is a curse upon it, the curse of which he has just cried out against. It is this book he reasons that is keeping him imprisoned. He can’t burn it and it won’t let him be, let him become anything outside of this room. He is becoming Old Timekilly. The curse, the curse. He raises his hands up to the moon and hisses his displeasure.
His eye catches the glint of steel above the mantle. He strides to it and takes down the sword and brandishes it in a figure eight. He isn’t strong right now. The weakness has overcome him. The pressure of the full moon weighs on his mind. The damp’s cool has penetrated his shirt and his bloodied shins have stuck to his pantlegs. He has fought the demons within and has come away alive but more depressed than exhilarated from the ordeal. The curse of Old Timekilly and his book…He lets the tip of the sword drag on the ground. He is eight again and working on his second sorting by color. It is there and with that disastrous effort that has become his downfall, one voice grumbles. He has been ruined by what he is incapable of doing and that is make this room, this tomb into something that can break out of itself and become something worthy of him, Nicholas, once removed, of the Great Manor.
He is where he should be, his mind informs him rather abruptly. However, it isn’t his mind that he hears speaking. It’s a different voice. He grips the sword tighter and looks around the room, first at the library’s opening, then the moon and then all round, dragging the sword tip in a circle around himself which one of his voices professes will act as a prophylactic against whatever has infiltrated the defenses if his mind. Sparks fly from the tip of the blade as it drags across the flint of the hearth floor. He sees it now, the great fat book that seems to glow in the moonlight. The first thought from Nicholas is that this is an unholy book and then that this is a book he has not seen before and he has seen every book…then it is the book that Old Timekilly had been reading. It is all just speculation but this glowing book stands alone in a spot his errant kicks have dislodged erstwhile contents onto a pile on the floor. This is no normal book and this he sees beyond its glow because it appears as if it is an opening, a portal, a space within space to another space. What space is this his mind races through possibilities. It could be the mote in the eye of Old Timekilly lured back here by the moon and the unstable Nicholas who has become unhinged from all of the goings on in his body. His logical sense of himself has fallen away and now he is confronted by mysteries he had long ago abandoned when he abandoned God and the monk Paul’s spittle spewed catechism. This is new unholy, godless, and possibly even a satanic event. He is drawn to this idea as he is not the notion of God. Such notions of God have fallen to dust before him like the foul incense they twirled in the chapel where God was supposed to come into being before his eyes. Even the stained glass in the place had not moved him.
Yet this thing is moving him and moving him to break his circle and edge towards the glowing book. The appurtenance is now clearly a passageway, a doorway perhaps into the diaphanous beyond, whatever that might be. It is barely enough to fit him even with his lanky frame. He turns and lifts the blade and stabs it into the book, hoping to find purchase but only punctures air. The tip fades into the mist and he groans and tumbles forward from an effort that was supposed to stop within the book but now buries itself to the handle whose blade has now quite disappeared. It feels cool at its entrance, like the passage to the kitchen. Its smell is the leaf piles he jumped into when he was four and five. The stink of cider from rotting apples he remembers covered his knees and elbows, but this smell is not so certainly from rotting fruit. It is more virulent and anticipatory as if it wants to give his mind something to think about before it lets him know what it is or will become. It is all uncertainty now except for the moonlight and the dark bars that paint the walls and floor. The glow is faint in the moonlight but it is certain in its uncertainty. He is beckoning himself forward. This is not right. He is beckoning himself towards plunging his hand into this misty morass. He wants to tumble through and into its thing. But not all of him wants this. He stops one voice to let another speak.
He thinks towards Old Timekilly but does not see his mummified corpse and ever-reading eyes. He sees only the book staring back at him. The book has become silent. It no longer rudely interrupts his voices. He is pleased with himself for having thrust the sword deep into its maw. Still, the meagre consequence of this act of violence gives him no succor. He is as frustrated, damp, weak, and uncentered as he was when he first set off on his tantrum. The hormones are spent. His muscles burn. His shins are battered. His head swims in the broken chemical chains that have flooded him so powerfully.
He has regained his powers of reason. He reasons that this is what he has been asking for. A way out. A way out through a way in and perhaps through. This is how one escapes being, the being that never sleeps, the insomnia of dreams and waking nightmares. It beckons, but not like sleep, or hunger, or even to have his way with the red-haired chambermaid. He hasn’t a need to piss. Yet it is a longing just the same. It pulls like no God ever did for him but pulls at him like he remembers that Paul said it did for him. Paul had only his rituals to guide him into his belief and mystery. For Paul, however, there was no mist, only stone cold cathedrals, sweet wine, stale bread, and flickering candles. He had no misty book, only one that has the thinnest of parchment pages and a great red bookmark to show where he would steal words from the mouth of God.
“This is no God,” Nicholas declares to the room. “The book is therefore not a manifestation from Satan,” he replies. It is outside either and not in the same realm. He recognizes the must in the scent that wafts around the mist. It is the scent of good clean earth in the spring when the old of winter has decayed and new generations, new shoots, new flowers are about to burst. It is rain teased, and snow melted, thick with air and stirring from worms, bugs, and seedlings that are emerging into the sunlit air. It is the mirage of day that brings Nicholas’s mind back to focus. He must be careful, he reasons. This bit of mist and glow is a danger waiting to gobble him up as it consumes him like it has done the sword. He pulls out the sword. It is as it was, only a bit colder to the touch than before. He expects rust or mold or some such underworld scourge. The sword displays none of this. In a moment of decision in all this indecision and speculation and worry, and remembrances, and with a mind both fueled and drained of confidence and hormonal fury, he plunges into the doorway, blade first.
In the Book
It is a dark corridor of indeterminacy down which a light is fading fast. He turns but sees nothing now behind him. He rushes forward brandishing the sword as he goes, trying to keep up with this fading glow of a light that seems to be guiding him onward. It is a dream state he feels. His panting becomes louder and creates a buzzing in his ears from the effort heaped upon the previous effort. His arms begin to sweat again and his hair mats. His shins become sticky from his wounds breaking open, but he presses on. Then there is no more leading light. His eyes cannot make out any sort of boundaries even with his peripheral night vision. His eyes have now become accustomed to the gloom of the darkest dark. The strain of his eyes produces twinkles and sparks which he has seen before and they are not from this room but from mistakes his eyes have produced with their over taxing efforts to see. He hears a rustling and takes hold of the sword with both hands and raises it up to protect himself and to parry any advancement of the thing that shuffles. His mind races around what it might be but his ears try to discover its meaning, its shape, and its intention. So little have his ears been used to listen in his solitary existence, they are useless now in this endeavor. He waits for a voice if it is a speaking thing. It is.
“What were you expecting?” comes the voice from the direction of the shuffling thing.
“Whatever comes,” says Nicholas in his hoarse croak that travels two octaves. This is his braggadocio retort. He is not so brave. Rather he is miserable now. He shivers from a loss of the heat from his run. The sweat runs again; chills again. Yet there is a warmth that comes from the direction of this shuffling now speaking thing if it is the right direction because there is an echo both from him and the other.
“So, what is it you have come to ask?” the voice echoes. Ask? Ask? Nicholas is taken aback. He has questions about all of this but what is this about asking?
“You are?” asks Nicholas.
“Come now, is that your most important question? The reason you have penetrated my abode and disturbed my privacy?” A glow now from where Nicholas thinks the voice comes. It feels warm as did his own cheeks when he was gyrating around the library. His lack of specificity has brought anger, thinks Nicholas. “It is a beginning, a common courtesy,” Says Nicholas. “Nicholas of the Great Manor, by way of introduction.”
“By way of introduction, of what, of who, of whom? I sense already that you have much to learn, Nicholas of the Great Manor. And what is that which has introduced? Is it a thing? Does it be or is it a being, a soul perhaps, even a permanence like that crumbling husk of an old librarian who used to haunt from where you have just arrived. I smell no scent of permanence in you, though you are ripe enough to burst from the chemical stew that courses through you. I hate youth. I hate old age. I hate death. I hate sickness. I hate renunciants like that monk of yours. Philip is it?”
“Paul. And he is not my monk. I have renounced him, but surely you must know that. You seem to know much. So bodiless voice, why not show yourself? Besides you have not returned my favor of introduction.” From where did this hiss come from, Nicholas asks himself. Restraint! some of himself cried out to its otherness. Not to anger this blustering thing. Not to anger. Cheeks red again and a more intense glow out there as if from massive eyes. Show some restraint. He grinds his teeth to set the admonishment to his impetuous ego thing that has arisen so suddenly and disconcertingly with the beginning of this night’s moon.
“Oracle. I am called Oracle. It is not what I call myself. Do you call yourself Nicholas or is it just something someone stuck you with? Perhaps your father pinned it to you or rather it was a must-be because of some distant relative who must-have his name assigned to unsuspecting future generations. If we must be indulged with formalities I then accept being called Oracle.”
“What is an Oracle then?” asks Nicholas.
“You have learned nothing from the mountain of books you call a library?” the Oracle replies.
“I prefer their outer skin.” Says Nicholas.
“Surface, not deep. Shallow water. Nothing inside. Do you find yourself to be a dullard?”
“No, a dullard is the dishwasher with his perpetual smile,” says Nicholas.
“Forgive me then. Your shuttling books around based upon some surficial attribute serves what purpose?” asks the Oracle.
“Purpose, of what purpose are books to anyone at the Great Manor? There are recipe books ordered now and again, but nothing else. Why bother with these others if their innards are of no concern to anyone but themselves? Why bother with them other than their colored splines or otherwise splineless skins?” says Nicholas. His emboldening retorts, even though they sound like they come from a rooster who has too many stones in its gizzard, are scaring even him. He punches his arm with his free hand and this loosens the other’s grip on the sword which rattles to rocks on which he stands.
“You are torn inside, warring, making silly fisticuffs with your youthful arms. Such a childish belittlement of yourself. Dropping a sword makes you look foolish you think and it does. What purposes would you wrought with such a device? Whom would you harm and why would you harm?” asks the Oracle.
“The unknown comes in many forms,” says Nicholas.
“The unknown that is unknowable remains that way. Why bother with that which you cannot possibly know? For what purpose is your sword if it has no purpose for which you can conceive of its use? Does this make any sense at all? Of course it doesn’t. It makes as much sense as you telling me that you are Nicholas of the Great Manor. You are not either at this moment because you, like me are an impermanence, something that cannot be grafted onto a thing because neither you nor the thing into which you would be grafted are permanent. If neither are permanent, then only impermanence but not grafting is possible…”
“Riddles and nonsense,” croaks Nicholas, shouting down the Oracle. “It’s the same sort of twaddle that the Monk Paul spewed with great confidence in his own ability to profess his ignorance by proclaiming the kingdom of God. What kingdom comes from the vapors of incense burners? What wisdom comes from a glowing thing that calls itself the Oracle that lives in this dank place? Of what purpose are you? Are you just another charlatan priest of some even more obscure religion? Bah. You are all the same. The teachers grand, wonderful, self-congratulating, and sure of themselves to the point of believing their own farts are as from perfume…” The echo lasts longer this time. There is no increase in glow. It seems that this diatribe has not upset the Oracle any more than what he has said before. He feels emboldened to continue…
“Are you through,” asks the Oracle in a mild voice, punctuated by a chuckling sound that is as deep a rumble as Nicholas has ever heard. This thing that glows like a rouged cheek sounds massive, elephantine, perhaps bigger, Nicholas wonders. Nicholas does not reply.
“I take it by your silence that you have ended your little fit of pique and are now somewhat disabused to sound any more ridiculous,” says the Oracle. “Those who make up stories to solve riddles, giving them some supernatural explanation are doomed to their own folly. Blasphemy comes in many forms and those who make believe beliefs in things that have no business existing without evidence of their existence are as dull an explanation as is your methodology for organizing books to meet a persistent youthful whim. Get off that soap box for a moment and listen to yourself. You are both impetuous and snob. Your thoughts are perfect you think and you continue to shore up your beliefs of your own omniscience through wisecracks, impertinence, and sheer gall. Your spleen is rent with anxiety and your liver aches from the poison you deliver to yourself through yourself. It is time to awaken from all of this and begin to see the world as it is.”
“Then why do you hide down here or wherever here is?” asks Nicholas.
“Why do you hide in the library like a scared child? Why do you brandish that blade that is still too sharp for you as is your tongue, and too weighty for you to heft as are your infantile arguments? You cling to what you know and what you know you think you possess as being a firmament against dissolution. Yet your body is rebelling against you, fighting to grow up as your mind keeps asking it to stop. You whirl around the library in great haste, bruising yourself and breaking the splines of centuries old manuscripts. You have yet to see. You let your impetuosity control you, your thinking, your actions, your sense of what is good and not. Nothing is good but what you devise. Can you not see how encapsulating that is? Can you not escape your library prison by even opening one book and thinking through what it says to you?
“I discern no books here, nothing but your presence and this in a cavern of sorts, devoid of even light in a darkness where only you can see. I cannot see much purpose or worthiness in this existence. Of what right do you have to speak of betterment from this hole?” grunts Nicholas.
“You have bitten down on your imperfectness. You have consumed it and it is making you suffer. It is the returning again and again to the same to try to make it somehow different but to return it to sameness from some idea you had of it when you were still a small boy. If you continue, your dead eyes will stare into the void just like Old Timekilly. It is time to grow up Nicholas,” says the oracle.
“Grow up? I am growing or can’t you see in this opaque space? I shoot up like a beanpole and new cocktails course through me making me at once giddy and the next abject and poorly. This is the curse of becoming I believe,” says Nicholas. He shuffles his feet now both from the rapid onset of boredom towards this conversation, and to loosen muscles so abused this day.
“Your body blossoms into a new thing. You have never stood still, but you haven’t noticed. You are too busy trying to become into something you cannot. Your permanence in impermanence grabs your throat as tight as your vocal cords have become from screaming like a banshee. You are railing against the light. You see the prison of the moonlight. You fear the darkness because it clings to you like the fog does to an apparition you cannot just make out. It is me you fear, not because I am older and wiser but because I am without the need of others in a way the same as you have become. Yet you still cling to the other which you were and now want again to be. Let it go, take it down, scourge it by removing the fuel from it. It is so much like your puny fires built from thin paper that require constant refreshment. You heap tissue upon your own meagre flame with every new thought and action. Puff. Poof. Will you continue to sort your books in ever new versions of wonderment or will you begin to wonder on your own just what wonderment might be? Why are you here other than to explore, to escape that sameness of thinking you are what you are and that is all that will be? You are the spare, the unnecessary, the afterthought, the just in case that never will offer a case because your brother is quite a healthy man now. It is his turn to produce a heir and you are soon done being a spare. So what time is it now? Is it time to wallow in self-pity and in a pile of books that has no purpose other than to store dust for the next librarian? Will you keep the flame that burned so dully in the last Librarian as your own? Come now you have more than that, do you not?” The Oracle lets out a great sigh. His breath comes like a breeze over Nicholas which forces him back not because of its force but because it’s odor is as if from death itself.
“There is foulness in you. How can you offer advice if you yourself are unhealthy?” asks Nicholas.
“And when did you last bathe? We can continue to sling odoriferous barbs at each other but if you are to learn what you must you must begin to listen for a change rather than to presume and posture and internalize and permanentize the moments in which you think. Memory is a cruel mistress at times because it can lock you into yourself. Here you may think, which I am sure you do, that I am locked in to my own self, my own thinking, my own being. I have let go of all of that long ago. You ask why I am here. It is because the magic that flows through the world is real here. It has gone deep after its disappearance on the surface world. You have only glimpsed its glow. This is not some metaphysical vein of useless drivel, but a real current that flows through the earth and which makes all worthwhile. It is disappearing my young companion. It is disappearing. It is I who am the last to feel it I am afraid. I will invite you to engage with it but I sense that you have a greater journey ahead of you to discover the magic of the world.”
Nicholas’s legs begin to shake and buckle, not from the admonishment from the Oracle but from fatigue. Nicholas sits. He thinks for a moment while there is silence. He is fighting with himself constantly to gain superiority of this one over that. He has tried to cling to that which no longer gives him pleasure. That which has listened to the oracle now speaks. “What would you suggest?” he asks.
“That you are sitting is a first step. Calming the body prepares the mind to think. The darkness is but a place where its cloak not only casts no shadow but envelops you. You hear better even if you can see nothing with your eyes. You can then turn your eyes back in on your mind and think through them with greater clarity. You smell the earth, perhaps eventually you will feel the tingle of its energy, the magic that I alone can tap into at this moment. I am the last of my kind.”
“The last dragon,” Nicholas ventures but not so tentatively.
“You could say that. You could say that I am also that which represents all of which we can become but most hold back by clinging to things and ideas that harm us rather than serve us towards our own well-being,” says the Oracle.
“You have no one who comes here?” Nicholas asks.
“No, not in hundreds of years. The librarians have all seen the book you saw in the moonlight, but none have ventured through. There is hope young man for you but that is not my undertaking. I cannot give you license nor agency to go where you will go. Only you can give that. Certainly, I can provide some guidance but it first must come from within you. This cave is dark and by design so. It lets go all of that which is not necessary. There is no clinging here because there is no phenomenon here other than the electricity of the magic which courses through the rocks. It too is impermanent, a process that flows like everything else in the world. You will have choices to make but you will not make them here. No, you are not ready yet. You must return. If not, you will shiver yourself into a ball of fever and then where will you be? Besides, what sustenance can you derive from these rocks? How little it offers me. Yet, the magical forces provide me with whatever I need. I am neither thin nor weighty for my bulk but somewhere in between. This suits me fine. But enough about me. What are your intentions Nicholas?”
Nicholas remains silent for many moments. He pushes back the voices that urge him to deny this Oracle as being a false prophet. He digs deeper this time and when he has let go of these naysayers and rabble rousers, he responds with, “You began with a question of me. I believe it is time that I leave with that question in my pocket. For I don’t quite know yet where I will be going. Back to the library at first, but there is no need of me either for others or for myself in the Great Manor. I have yet to see beyond its walls. Fondness, a clinging to the books of my youth? Yes, for a time I see it. Perhaps a clinging a bit more to get to know their insides before I venture forth. Yet I think that I will return down through the diaphanous covers of the great book to ask you more questions. What is good now as I see it is that I bring with me a question to kindle more as I go along.”
This admission and statement of purpose silences the voices of dissent within Nicholas. The same-sayers and status-quoers have become oddly silent. They have been admonished for their clinging, grasping, and craving, but Nicholas sees that he has more to learn.
He stands. The Oracle is silent. The glow Nicholas followed to this place has begun to move away. This time Nicholas thinks it is guiding him back towards the library. He is not looking forward to this returning. He sees that this journey is just a beginning, a coming back down the path of the same to reach its root so that he can ascend from sameness into otherness and become that which is other than what which he has always thought himself to be. He can barely keep up with the glow. He aches and his lungs burn. He coughs from the exertion and one of the voices falls out of his mouth and disappears from him. He hopes it is gone forever.
Food for Thought
Identity, being, continuity, and the angst of becoming for an adolescent are not the typical fare for the mainstream philosopher. The arrogance of the philosophical canon in general is that it considers only the adult, as if we arrive fully formed like Venus from a clamshell, without any history or experience of a time before. This produces a philosophical attitude and outlook that tends to concretize being into a permanent isness.
Nicholas sees that which once had pleased him no longer does. He is not the same as he was, but he cannot reconcile who he is because his isness is in flux. He is like the youth who discovers her father is Santa Claus. She wants desperately to hold onto that idea of a metaphysical being while knowing now that the gift giver is but a member of her own family. Nicholas too has lost the dreams he had as a youth. He has become conflicted both by the chemicals of adolescence and the conversations in his head that seem to want to take him all directions at once. Nicholas knows not what to do to assuage the voices warring in himself to push him in this way or that. He cries out in existential angst. Nor has he a God to turn to. He has like Nietzsche forsaken God, perhaps not because the idea is abhorrent, but because the Monk Paul has beaten the idea of God into him and it is the sting he wants gone. Paul has not listened to him; his mother has abandoned him to the kitchen; and he doesn’t fit-in there and has been shunned to the library. There he creates his own world to his liking, but this world is no longer enough for him. He is alone in his multifarious thoughts. Kitchen help speak to him through the voice horn. They have never listened to him and he does not reply. When he finally shouts down the voice tube in his own extremis, no one responds back. It is only the Oracle who listens to Nicholas, the last dragon who plumbs the depth of the earth for its non-metaphysical magic, its karma, and an end to ignorance. The Oracle gives up only its voice and a bit of glow. Its identity is as amorphous as the cavern where it exists, but it helps Nicholas begin to remove the fuel from the warring factions in his head so that he can begin his journey into adulthood. We see Nicholas, shouldering his greatest weight towards a letting go of that which threatens to return again and again. Nicholas is both Nietzsche’s undergoing and overgoing towards that which he cannot yet envision for himself. The Oracle is not unlike the Buddha who explains to his monks and others who will listen that to embrace impermanence is the antidote to clinging to that which can never be…permanence. Suffering is that clinging to that which cannot any longer be. Running back towards his library, Nicholas begins to let go of that which he has clung.