Driven by some impulse to disrupt the scene before him, Peter grew furious. He threw the stone with all the strength he could muster.
Though his aim was clumsy, it struck the stone surface of the well and shattered, sending fragments of rock into the dark around the pack of jackals. The little beasts scattered and Peter lunged forward, grabbing up a stick as he moved. In a moment, he was upon the jackals, swinging his makeshift club about and hoping to scare them away. The momentum of Peter's swing impelled him even faster forward, but the jackals were too wary and quick for Peter to land a blow. Nevertheless, the attack fulfilled its purpose and the pack receded – just a bit – into the dark scrub.
As Peter stepped onto the platform surrounding the well, there was a sudden sound to his left. Like, a yap – no, a voice! A word: a two-syllable something with hard frictive sounds and the pitch of a jackal's bark. The glow from the well had dimmed a little, but the light was still strong enough to illuminate the entire structure.
Peter quickly realized that there could be only one source for this voice, within the well itself. The word itself was unfamiliar to Peter, but its significance was made clear only too quickly as a jackal leapt – or seemed flung out, rather – from the darkness and onto the platform. Wolf-like, but tiny - no larger than a spaniel and nowhere as heavyset – it snapped at Peter. But only half-heartedly, as though it lacked the courage to approach such a lively piece of carrion. It moved to guard the well from Peter and let out a little snarl.
"Ji!" Peter called to Ashan, keeping his eyes on the jackal, "Bring stones! Someone in the well directs these jackals." Peter crouched to pick up another fist-sized rock off the ground as he pointed his stick at the jackal, keeping it at bay. Then, like a bowler, he half-stood, cocked his arm back, and sent the stone skidding forcefully along the platform, towards the canine.
It went wide. The jackal snarled and snapped at Peter cautiously. Demonstrating that even the lowliest canines know the virtue of loyalty, a second jackal stepped halfway onto the platform and bared its teeth in solidarity with its comrade. Wary of being surrounded by the pack of scavengers, Peter lashed out at them once more with his stick. The jackals were only too fast and too frightened.
Then the voice again, barking the same word. And came a laugh too, which trailed off into a series of snorts and strangled gasps. As fixated as Peter was on his tiny foes, he couldn't help but to notice that now the light from the well was beginning to fade.
The jackals seemed to gain confidence as a pack. They tightened their circle around Peter and snarled together, pulling their teeth back in frightening open-mouthed grimaces. Their open maws looked less like snarls and more like grins now and Peter couldn't help but to think that his poor showing with the stick was encouraging to the cowardly things. No sooner had this thought crossed his mind than did the new jackal flank him and catch Peter's free hand in its jaws.
Peter snatched his hand away, but the little beast held on with unexpected tenacity. Peter flailed his entire arm about, almost dropping his stick, finally weakening the animal's grip and throwing it off his arm. Peter could feel its tiny, sharp teeth raking across his tendons as it went. It squirmed in the air and landed on its head, but in a second the jackal had scampered dazedly back into a standing position. The exertion of dislodging it hurt Peter's somewhere inside his abdomen, affirming the depth of the wound inflicted by Krishna. Now, he could feel the skin on his belly opening as though the delicately-knitting wound was just a set of lips sealed shut with a thin film of mucous. So much for skin.
Pained, but undeterred, Peter strode forward and continued to attempt to fend off the jackals with his stick. For his trouble and pain, he would at least see what was happening in the well.
In a rush of intensity, Ashan charged onto the platform, heaving one of an entire armful of rocks into the pack. The heavy rock crashed down upon one of the guarding jackals' heads. It went crunch. The little wild dog didn't quite fall, but only staggered, as it lolled its head insensibly.
The light in the well has dimmed by half again, but it was still bright enough . . . only a step further . . . "Rakram!" the voice urged its thralls. And, yes, that was the word. Peter knew the word was "rakram!" and he was almost certain of its meaning.
This order was not to be fulfilled. Just as the crushed jackal slipped flat on its belly – the poor thing looked as though its bloody little brain has given up on controlling its broken little body – Peter brought the thick end of his stick down firmly upon its packmate's head, knocking it straight into the stone platform. The jackal bounced once on the stone and then laid still. Barely taking the time to even notice the plight of its comrades, the remaining jackal scampered from the platform and into the scrub. The others had already disappeared by now into the night.
Ashan and Peter reached the well at the same time, and they looked into it together. In the glimmer of the moonlight on the well's surface, their eyes detected the failing trace of a dim blue radiance. It emanated from the water itself, which seemed to ripple.
Ashan's mouth gaped, his eyes widened. With a bellow-like gasp, he lifted his armful of rocks above his head –
in that moment, in those ripples, Peter saw the face of a man; vaguely familiar, its eyes seemed to slightly bulge from the water;
the phantasmic face seemed to turn towards the moonlight in that last minute of visibility, as though it were looking to Ashan
and dropped them all into the water.
There were several loud plunks below. The last of the light suddenly went out –
But now the light is all the brighter in Peter's memory for its absence, and he finds himself gaping at the darkness in the well, rooted to the lip of the hole.
A library: Peter is quite sure that the place is somehow meant to be a library.
He is sitting on a stone cube. Before him is a larger stone block cluttered with scrolls. It is in the center of a cavernous gallery. More than cavernous, it is simply cyclopean; the walls, lined with deep shelves large enough for a man to stand in, rise upward for hundreds of feet and disappear into darkness. If there is a ceiling, it is not within view.
He shivers and pulls hard to draw a breath. Sitting upright is work.
Yes, a library: rows of bookshelves are to his right and to his left – towers with narrow stairwells built right into them. More like edifices than furniture. Books, papers, scrolls, and tablets lie in piles among the cave-like shelves. Beyond the bookshelves, Peter can see other structures. First, a collection of multicolored orbs, mounted on poles like globes. Then, beyond those, sharp stalactite-like outgrowths. Finally, great blocks of stone; several reach like skyscrapers into the darkness above. They obscure what ever lies further down the gallery. Behind Peter, the monolithic bookshelves seem to go on forever.
He reaches over his stone desk, knocking scrolls aside. From beneath them, he extracts a stiff folio, bound in cardboard and clothe. A familiar glyph adorns the cover – Peter intuits its meaning, but he finds that he cannot rout his understanding of it into words or even sounds, or even hold a clear image of it in his mind. It is, possibly, the title of the book. The environment is exhausting; breathing and shivering are wearing him out.
He opens the cover. The pages are thin sheets of some glassy mineral. The letters glint like mica – they are slightly luminescent, which is helpful in the dim light provided by the gas lamp on the stone desk.
Peter's eyes flit over the symbols. He turns the page, and studies its images as well. Again, there is an unvoicable understanding. There is meaning in this tome. It lurks somewhere in the back of his mind as the phantom of a memory. He considers that it might be a mantra. Or, it all might be summarized in one syllable. In one single utterance from his human mouth, or in infinite syllables to eternally echo in the gallery.
These possibilities bloom in his mind, they interact with each other like gas clouds, nonlinearly. It is a dead stop for the language center of Peter's brain. Something snaps or breaks, ignites or catalyzes. Something stops working.
Dangerously, hopelessly enthralled -- like a hare frozen, fixed in the gaze of a snake -- Peter could not but continue perusing the mind-shattering tome before him. His hands and eyes were no longer his to control as the knowledge in the glassy leaves came to him seemingly of its own will, threatening to devour him even as he consumed their contents. Even if he could form them, words would not have helped him here; the boundaries between his senses blurred and intermingled as time and space lost all comprehensible distinction. Overcome by his own fleeting insignificance, Peter experienced the light and tasted ozone and became emptiness and beheld the void and dissolved into brine and tasted decay and heard the pipes and looked into the eye and burned in plasma and inhaled stardust and felt the cold and tasted blood and smelled a foulness and walked in dreams and joined a dead world and tasted ashes and felt tickling and he was lost, adrift, drowning in vast tides of chaos was nothing was everything was nothing the end was the beginning was the end life feeds on death feeds on life a billion years a lifetime an instant a curse a miracle to sleep to dream to die to be reborn to feed to shit to up was down, spiraling toward oblivion faster and faster andfasterandfasterandfasterandfasterandfaster...
It came out a scream.
(part I by da solomon and HomoDM,
II & III by da solomon,
and IV by HomoDM)
(image from Lands of the Bible by J.W. McGarvey, available at www.darbar.com)