Competitive Teleology
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Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow cape, ungirdled, of dressinggown cloth spread behind him in the mild dawn. He backturned the tower throne and bent deep before his pastoral court. Bowl quivering aloft he bowed; once to the acetous bay, the captivate land and the greened haze mountains. He finished, snapping up back boardstiff, peering down the shadowed threshold of the stark-grey tower.

Smartly Buck turned on his heel called lightly:
- Up then! Come come!

Having caught sight of Stephen Daedulus, he swooped low to his capetails dragging on the rough hewn floor before sprouting up to doff his starstuff crown. Somber and dour, Daedulus regarded the loosely curved magniloquent before him.

He began to cantillate:
- Presenting, O magnificent court, the very wary ambassador from Ireland. Slowly now! With patience! Deserves our best respects.

Stephen stared glumly, rubbing dark sleep from his eye.

- brrrrrrrr ratatata ta ta! See their fanfare for you, Stephen!

Stephen stepped from the predawn doorsill and sullenly passed him to the snaggy parapet.
-Flowers and grass and cloudless sky, resemble forms that are, or seem, when sleepers wake and yet still dream.

-Ah! Such a way with words you have! The verdant gem of Ireland lives within you! Us British haven't the soul for it, up in our buildings. I suppose yours are a lyrical sort, enjoying as you do the lush untamed land.

Comeover with excitement, Buck Mulligan quite lightly bounded up to Stephen, fair sand hair shimmering in the morning sun. He turned, stabbing at the bay with radiant razor.

- But the land! We're the only ones that appreciate its true beauty, you and I. Haines! That cumbrous Englishman! He would have nothing to do with it. Not like me, you understand. There's a little part of Ireland that lives in me yet! But that's just as well, isn't it Kinch? Same as Siena was taken by Alagadda. So goes Ireland, said Buck, and chanted gaily:
-In patience to abide
To veil the threat of terror
Take up the White Man's burden

- Just as by math Gonzalo did no wrong by rights, said Stephen darkly and picked at the threadbare night sleeve of his coat.

Glimmering pealed laughter greeted his words as Buck clanged and clattered with mirth.

- Kinch! You have the very manner of a gentleman! A proper British poet we could make of you, if we could just pluck you from this land!

- Would you and every other Englishman to all of Ireland.

- No man could be taken from his mother like that. Damnit, Kinch! Your own mother.

Buck turned and began to loquaciously lather his left cheek, meeting Stephen with grey sea eyes.

A dream had come against him after her death. His mother, silently hanging over his bed. Gaunt body worn taut. Undrawn rope around her neck. Loose fit. Noose fit. Empty breath, wet with formaldehyde and admonition. Spilled intestines rushing to greet. Before him stretched the bay of his mother country. Clouds of acrid smoke spewed up from heaving ships. Deathbed stained from hacking blood, propulsed from molding seizing lungs. Visions of a hanging matriarch.

- With this, the mother blood, it is the Hanged King's.

Buck laid his razor on the stone which dripped with blood.

- No, said Stephen, it was exactly death, nothing more.

- Tcha! there's nothing so sad as an Irish moping. It's a British art, you know.

Buck waved idly his razor to conduct the silver symphony of lightrun rays that pierced basalt clouds.

- Quit your mood. I'm not worth it, and you're not nearly up to it. Come now! The procession of kip waits for no man nor beast nor Haines!

Buck disappeared down the stairs.

The sludgedry bay stretched beneath Stephen, wretched Liffeyblood wandered through tired King's body. In the horizon hanged the Union Jack, itself a noose tightening around the corpseneck of the river Liffey. Bone mountain fingers curled out towards Castle Howth and environs. Grip of the King tightening. Stephen shook his head and shivered but the cold seeped further in. Hanged King held dominion over all.

Ash sighed as he closed the book with a faint thump, placing it gently onto the table and sliding it away from him. He finished scribbling a few more notes down before laying down his pens and slumping down into his chair until he was nearly eye-level with the table. Ulysses was a new one. Nothing the Binder couldn't handle, but a little troubling nonetheless.

The Library didn't catch it, not at first. A word here, sentence there. By the time they realised how much it had bled through, hundreds of Pages had to be pulled into service. This one stung - to see the heart of James Joyce and all the realisations of his work twisted in such a way made Ash's own heart hurt.

He sighed. At least no one would notice the change. These incursions never made it to the plot summaries, so the damage was contained. Unfortunately, it was still up to people like him to find them in the first place. It had been a long night, and Ash was ready to be done.

He straightened up in his chair for a moment, before placing his head onto the table, cheek down, and looking to the right. The cool feeling of the wood felt nice compared to the muggy heat in this area of the Library, shrouded in mist as it were in the upper levels. He looked out through the vaulted window of his study loft for a few moments, watching the lights flicker and then dim as his eyes closed, just for a small moment…


"Agh!" Ash toppled halfway out of his chair as he jumped, banging his knee against the table. He looked around rapidly before feeling a sharp rap on the back of his head. Wincing, he grabbed first at his throbbing knee, then at the growing lump on the back of his head as the robed figure walked in a slow circle in front of him.

"Sleeping so soon, are we, Junior Docent?" The words dripped like molasses from the depths of the darkened hood that managed to, somehow, look both stern and disapproving at the same time. Impressive, really, for a thing with no visible face.

"Uh, n-no, Master Kalys. Just um…resting for a moment." Ash mumbled, deciding that his knee was more pressing than his head at the moment.

"Hmmm. See to it that you finish annotating, and then sleep. Not the other way around." Kalys pointed a cloaked finger at the stack of waiting books in front of Ash.

"Yes, Master Kalys. Good evening."

The figure didn't walk away so much as it took a few steps and began fading away into the mist of the upper lofts. Ash waited for a few moments afterwards, making sure the master docent was gone before immediately reacquainting his head with the table once again. He tried closing his eyes for a few moments, seeking the embrace of a few moments of oblivion-inducing sleep, but he found himself disappointingly alert.

Sigh. It was no use. He was actually awake now, so he might as well get something done. Sitting up once again, Ash took the next book from his stack and got ready to dive in.

Still. Ulysses hummed at the corner of his vision.

There was once a good man who was old beyond time,
Mister Rudy he was, and his tale's in this rhyme!
Mister Rudy, it's said, would just like to be friends!
He would come and go here, everywhere to all ends!

"Mister Rudy!" they'd say, "Tell us true of your fame!"
"Of what source did you come to be known in this way?
Mister Rudy, please tell!" and so they would exclaim.
The tall man would then grin and he'd laugh and he'd say:

"Well you see, here's this box, and it's full of good things,
And I take it with me everywhere that I go,
Matters not where I am for this box is my rock,
And my rock I will take everywhere high and low!"

And the people would ask and they'd plead and they'd say,
"Mister Rudy! Please tell! What's this box got inside?
It must be a great thing that you keep locked away!
To protect a great box like this must be a pride!"

"Mister Rudy! Please tell! Do you have a big lock?
Do you lock this box tight with a key big or small?
What's this box got to hide that we can't see inside?
Mister Rudy! Tell us! How'd you find such a haul?"

And he'd laugh, and he'd grin, and he'd pat his old box,
As he sang, right out loud, "This here box has no locks!"
And they'd ask, nearly beg, "So then say what's inside!"
"Tell us please, majesty, we won't tell!" So they cried.

"Does it have a sly fox, hiding there, in your care?"
"Silly folks! What a joke! There's no fox hiding there!"
"Mister Rudy! Then tell! What domain does it hold?
Is it death? Is it time? As decay that grows old?"

"Do you see what a fear that this box has unleashed?
Can you not tell us now what's this box got inside?"
And the man would just laugh and he'd laugh and he'd laugh.
As the day would grow old he'd still laugh 'til he cried.

"Silly fools, do you think that I'd tell you so soon?
Neither guns nor a tank nor armadas so swift,
Does this box hold inside." He would say with a croon.
And he'd laugh and he'd laugh and he'd sing with a shift:

"Underneath a black sky and a moon full of howls.
Full of stars that all shine with a light made of shades.
In the castle of old, you may find your truth there.
In the land Alagadda, where madness pervades."

The breath caught in Ash's throat. The normal serene silence of the library thrummed with the dull pounding of his heart, pitched by a whine in the altos. He tried to breathe deeply, but it wouldn't come, catching in his throat like molasses. Alagadda. First Joyce, now this. An oozing wound in the platonic ideal of Ulysses, now ripped wider in Seuss, of all things.

With a trembling hand, Ash reached for the stack of books on his desk, but ended up knocking over the entire stack, sending them to the ground with a clatter of dust and flying pages. He cursed as he knelt on the ground, searching, searching, looking for the proof that he hoped he would not find. Finally, his fingers closed around the spine of the book, a twin to the one he had just read. Flipping it open to a random page, he began reading.

In the land Alagadda, the king's word is law.
Not a soul disobeys for the wager is death.

Ash clapped the book shut, his heart suddenly threatening to burst out of his chest. Dear maker, not just one Seuss. All Seuss. The echoes of the intrusion were beginning to reverberate with its presence, dripping with chaos that could not be contained. The junior docent got to his feet, chair scraping loudly behind him. In the silence, all of creation heard him. He shivered. The champagne lights that illuminated the Library seemed colder, harsh pinpricks of light where once had been warm spheres. Trick of the mind. Had to be.

But - what if?

Ash grabbed one last book. He had to warn the Binder. As he ran, he opened the tome, skimming, searching, and praying with all his might that something could be saved.

There was nothing for miles except for the shale slate Ash and the rock. The rock stood like a sentinel in the furnace plain and the wind and dust and time had shorn it until it was smooth and formless and dead as everything. The rock cast harsh shadow that provided no shade but for that of the mind and Ash crouched there tending to a fire. The fire was weak and fed on twigs and dry branches but popped and sparked and crackled like small suns that flared bright and then burned out in the dusk of their own existence. All fires have their own heartbeat and contain within them the passions of man.

Above the fire was spat a rabbit that Ash had found earlier in the day. He had taken his aim of it with his last clutch of gunpowder and fired and the rabbit had moved once twice and was dead. It dripped of grease and blood and hair which fell into the fire and fed it and drew the acrid smoke towards the sky where it met the shadows like bars that bound Ash.

He tore into the flesh and when Ash was done he wiped the grease from his face with his hand and onto his jeans. His stomach threw in revolt but Ash grit his teeth and would not do it.

Ash leaned back against the side of the rock that was less hot. He sat and took off his boots and upturned them. They were full of a slurry of sand and blood and pus and the soles were worn through but there was no material to repair them. He put them to the side and stretched out his legs and sat and waited.

The sun was swallowed by the earth and the night came back with the ferocity of a wounded animal. The day furnace had faded and now the night had come. Under the moonlight the desert had turned the colour of water and ice and rime began to spread in the sparse places where there was moisture like eyes of things that were waking across the seafloor.

Ash unpacked his woolen cover. It smelled of urine and sweat and blood and was wornthrough but he pulled it around himself and huddled under the spiteful stars in the frigid waste. And he waited.

Ash fell asleep but he did not dream.

He woke in the night and knew the time had come. He saw a pale man in the distance that was walking towards him. The man was enormous and bald and had no hair on his face that was smooth and childlike except for his eyes which glinted with unknown intent. His hands were big and soft and carried in them a hat and a book and he was all about him the image of a baby made into man. The pale man had no horse nor sack nor canteen and it was not known where he had come from but it was the Chained Man.

Ash stood and waited and there was no sound except for the dying fire and the heartbeat that boxed in Ash.

You're here, said Ash.

I was always here, said the Chained One. Before man crawled out of the primordial ooze I was waiting. You take it upon yourself to collect things so that you may give yourself purpose. The man that makes record of the world hopes to belay his fear and mystery. Ever since the death of the lantern eyed tiger it has been this way. That is our covenant.

The Bound One looked at Ash and his sweat shone on his massive bald head that was like the rock alone in the night. But there are still more things unknown than known in creation. It is more vast than there are meanings and searching for them is like dogs fumbling for their mothers teat.

Ash turned and spat. Fuck you.

The Bound King smiled and raised his arms and his great and unspeakable mass shifted and the Hanged King began to talk but there was nothing to hear his words in the abyss and nothing to see him except for a carrion bird that turned away because there are things that not even nature can abide.

Above the earth in the black dome of the sky the stars shook and blazed across the sky whereby their lacerations across the heavens left shapes and patterns that were discerned by no man before they fell past the horizon bore no further witness. All that was left was vaporous stains of dustclouds across the mesa and the memories of a great and terrible thing but the desert has no memory of the deeds of man.

The bile tore and boiled its way up Ash's throat, his body doubled over in pain as vomit spewed out in a torrential flood, sending him to his hands and knees as his body was wracked with terrible convulsions. The book was beyond saving, that much was clear, leaving nothing but an empty gash where Ash's soul was rent and forced into it. For the moment though, Ash could do little else but heave until his body finally ran dry. Wiping the corner of his mouth, he glanced in the direction of the discarded book. All that was visible of the title now was Blood. The Library swam before him, familiar sights and books mixing and blending with unfamiliar stars and disclinated geometries.

The Binder's office. He had to get to the Binder.

Ash could feel a cold, sharp spike slowly driving into his mind, penetrating into the spaces between his thoughts. More than an incursion now. There was precious time remaining. He had to get there.

Weakly, Ash tried to get up, but found himself so dizzy that he fell back down again. Crawling, every motion agonizing, he continued onward. Close, close, the office had to be close, he hadn't forgotten that much, had he? The pressure on his head was beginning to mount, building to such a colossal force that it was all he could do to not simply give in and start screaming.

Mercifully, blessedly, Ash found himself in front of the Binder's office. Summoning the last of his strength, Ash pulled himself to his feet and leaned against the door, falling into the office.

The office hadn't changed much since Ash last visited - there was a pile of pages spilt on the floor, but that was all. Lanterns hanged from iron chains, casting warm lights and missed shadows across the dimensions of the room that Ash could see. Words still crawled beyond the edges of his vision, but they began slipping away from the regal, anchoring presence of the Binder like cockroaches fleeing the light.

With its many mouths, the Binder beckoned Ash in. The first time they had met, it had taken most of Ash's courage not to scream bloody murder and run - he didn't do well with that many limbs, especially spindly as they were. Since then, it had become an island of tranquility in the oft-turbulent sea of the Library's drifting tides.

In syncretic harmony, radiating unknowable depths, the Binder smiled, the chains draped over its multitude of arms reaching out to Ash, an embrace that he could not resist. The soothing, comforting croon of its words filled Ash's ears, melting away his fears and doubts. The Binder knew all. The Binder knew what to do. Trust in the Binder.

All was well.
You cannot hide from me.

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