Mediolanum

Goronwy told me to hold the wand, keep it still, he would head down the slope and would walk until he was probably out of sight and no matter what happened I was to stay there and hold that wand steady and to keep it vertical. That was a word he needed to explain to me, but as he said, I was chosen because I asked when I didn’t understand but also listened when I was told and only had to listen once and then would remember. Those were his reasons, and he held out the wand one way so it was level with the land and said this is horizontal, then he turned it to point to the sky and the earth and said this is vertical. And when he did this he shaped his other hand in a way that connected all these things. I was trying to do this with my other hand as I held the wand, but couldn’t remember exactly how he did it.

I could feel a soft wind blowing from the sea, Goronwy headed down the hill, his long hair flying sideways, and he clasped a wand himself and used it to keep himself steady. He was old, like most of the priests, maybe even beyond fifty.

‘Goron-weeeee’ I whispered into the wind, ‘Goron-weeeee’. That name used to make us shudder when we were tiny. It was the name for the man we thought was a ghost, or so old he should have been one. And now here he was talking to me. Listen to him, Dad said, he will tell you everything he knows and then you could follow in his footsteps. Listen to him, Mum said, and one day you could help us get out of this hovel. So now I watched where he walked, down the slope and imagined it was me, those thin legs, that slightly arched back, but I was not allowed to follow in his footsteps, I had to stay here, holding the wand, vertical. It swayed slightly in the wind so I had to grip it with both hands and then Goronwy turned and staring at me began to walk backwards, then he made sideways steps, first many, then a few and then one or two and then he thrust his wand into the soil.

And now he beckoned me, so I made my way towards him down the slope and as I did I held the wand above my head, horizontal.

You see, he said, pointing back, there is Middle Hill, and beyond you can just see the peak of Camlo Hill. I’ve stopped here to plant the staff as it locks up Camlo to Middle to here.

We were drawing lines across the land, he said, to know how everything connects. We will start with the land, and then one day, the sea. And then he stopped talking for a moment and looked up. And one day, he said, yes, the sky.

I wanted to ask him how we could measure the sky, but didn’t want to ask a stupid question, so I just looked up and made a thoughtful expression.

And when we have measured the land, the sea and the sky we will connect it all, imagine, he said, all the lines, fine hairs, he looked down for a moment. Pass me that, he said, pointing to a fuzz of sheep’s wool in the turf. You see, he said, picking out a strand, imagine all these threads, crisscrossing the world in every direction, we will be weaving together the meaning of the infinite.

Festival of Tooth Pulling

It is now a fashion to have all of one’s teeth removed, all of Paris is in awe of that gaping maw that is the Sun King’s toothless orifice, which, unlike his predecessors, is not hidden under a beard. The king’s anal fistula also created a hoo-hah, with many of his acolytes demanding similar surgery to that undertaken by the king, whose own courage under the knife is well known.

But now all Versailles frowns. Anyone with teeth who feels the need to smile is considered a fool, a dolt, a witless ninny. Tooth pulling has never been so admired and its practitioners never in greater demand, some holding festivals, offering free feasting afterwards, their patients, however, less reluctant to gorge with a bloody mouth devoid of teeth, often wandered away, in a daze.

Marco Polo Exhales

For those first few days he was almost unable to find the words he needed, he didn’t have the vocabulary for the architecture, the scale of the place, the gargantuan domes, the dizzying vine laced walls, towers dissolving in the ether, bridges that seemed to connect clouds.

For those first few days he could only gasp, and Paolo, his most trusted servant, would nod to remind him, point to his own mouth, signal to Marco that his jaw hung open.

The Khan smiled warmly at Marco’s demonstration of his awe. Marco raised his arms, palms uppermost, almost to salute these achievements, but also to mimic the way the city had grown out from the ground supernaturally, as if he were orchestrating these improbable constructions, this brazen denial of any limit to imagination.

The Breakfast

After she had finished sharpening her pencils, at the kitchen table, a routine that took the same amount of time as brewing her first coffee, she felt unusually hungry. Most mornings, after her coffee, and a quick browse through the morning news, she would move to the studio, sit at the table by the window, and begin work on new ideas. After an hour of sketching, dreaming, imagining, she made more coffee, and then the serious work began. That first hour of the day was like playing, it got her into her stride, in the mood, was what got her out of bed in the morning. But now she was in full swing, down below commuters strode along pavements, or waited for the next bus. At this point she would take out yesterday’s file, examine it as if for the first time, decide whether it was going in the right direction, be brutal with herself. Every commission was, to some extent, unexpected. She had more work that she could ever have hoped for, but nevertheless, she was a perfectionist, she was proud. Nothing would go from here that wasn’t right.

But as she sharpened those pencils, the 2H, the 2B, the 3B, the 4B, the 6B, as she waited for her coffee pot to fill, she felt a new hunger. Normally she didn’t eat until lunch time, felt that food broke the spell of the morning, that feeding her appetite killed the desire to work. But now she needed to eat. She put on her coat, her trainers, and ran down the two flights to the street. The air was unexpectedly warm, the day already up and running. She waited for a break in the traffic, crossed over. She couldn’t help it. She wanted a bacon roll. Ketchup. Melting butter.

She had given up meat six years ago. Given up meat, dairy, had been vegan for six years. But now she wanted a bacon roll. She wanted a bacon roll smothered in ketchup and oozing with butter. She wanted thick bacon, she wanted to be able to taste the blood, tear at the muscle, bite, rip, feel it pulverised between her molars. And as she pushed open the glass door of the cafe, and entered its steamy noise, the clamour of voices, the swirl of vapours, the glare of laptop screens, she glanced around to see if she recognised anyone, and, feeling as if she was about to commit armed robbery, approached the counter.

Zombie Ants

It began with ants. The ants knew, and we knew they knew, that something was wrong. The ants, which had been silently industrious until then, became, it seemed to us, under the spell of some external force. The ants strayed from the nest, climbed stalks of plants they would normally avoid, exposing themselves to predators, particularly to wrens, robins and starlings. The wrens saw the ants first, picked them off, gleeful, excited. We wondered if they were conscious, these rogue, zombie ants, climbing to their deaths.

As we approached, the wrens flew off, and the ants continued climbing the stalks without being preyed upon, and we watched as one ant bit on the underside of a leaf and another was locked there, head attached to the vein, immobilised, the death bite. Its head opened like a hatch of a submarine and as a cloud of spores was released, we remained standing there, astonished, frozen, our mouths wide open in horror.

Rowing the Skies

The structure was to be made of willow stems and the skin of brown paper. The boat had to be light, but strong enough to survive ditching in rough seas. Unlike the heavy oars of a water vessel, ours would be more suited to the air than water but not wholly useless in this latter element if the worst were to happen. For this reason we used cedar, which although likely to snap against heavy ocean waves, would be perfect for rowing the skies.

We had assembled navigation instruments and maps, and, taking into consideration the weather, we determined we would commence our voyage in the second week of May. We would, of course, need to consider provisions and all possible eventualities ranging from the most extreme to the most trivial, from disaster to a minor injury or disagreement. It was important that we discuss all these in depth, consider every scenario, create a range of responses. These would be learnt so that should one of these circumstances befall us we would know how to act. In the event of ditching, however, we could not prepare beyond practicalities, as none of us knew how we would react when facing the possibility of losing hope. We all accepted that desperation would make each of us behave in ways we could not predict and therefore to consider this in too much detail would, no doubt, hinder thinking constructively about what we could control, so no more was said.

Affinage

Sigebert ladeled the curd, then we shared a jug of ale as the whey drained, the soft plop timing the break from our labours. We sometimes talk, but not so often these days as we have run out things to say and I think he enjoys silence more than me, he tunes into the sounds we make as we work, I told him they are as much as a guide as the smell and the look.

‘Aren’t you worried they will steal your methods?’ he once asked me.

‘No,’ I replied, ‘because not even I know what they are.’

‘Then how will I learn?’

‘Through the work,’ I told him.

It was only quite recently that the military took control of production and so it was I needed an apprentice. Sigebert is a quick learner and understands the huge amounts required by the garrison. As long as they get their regular supply, then we are left alone, although the new camp prefect sometimes comes to inspect the work, ensure we aren’t doing anything underhand. He will learn to trust us, or to recognise that there is nowhere else for us to go, and that I, at least, will be here until I can not climb the ladder and reach the highest shelves. Sigebert, thirty years my junior, now undertakes all the negotiation with the farmers, who bring us the ewes’ milk and are paid directly by the prefect which makes everything, especially the milk, run smoothly. We are allowed our own ration, more than enough, and are able to exchange some of this for some luxuries, particularly wine.

My place is within the cool shelves, and when I stand here, among these stacked moons, I know I am home.

The Glass Grinder

Spinoza grinds glass at night, and throughout the day works on his metaphysical system. He sees God in the universe, and, by making lenses, improves the sight of others. His lenses are used in telescopes, microscopes, magnifying glasses, as well as spectacles. The universe wants to see more of itself.

And yet he shuts out the world, locks himself away. He seems almost friendless, without any social life. He disdains offers of financial help. He maintains his independence. He must defend his independence.

He takes as his model Euclid’s Elements. Euclid sets out propositions which, by reference to stated definitions and axioms, are shown to be proved. Euclid is concerned with two dimensional geometry, his proofs are often very easy to understand. Spinoza is far more ambitious. Spinoza wants to do no less than prove the existence of God.

For example, this is Euclid’s Proposition 17: ‘In any triangle the sum of any two angles is less than two right angles.’ And here is Proposition 17 from Spinoza’s The Ethics: ‘God acts merely according to his own laws, and is compelled by no one.’

Spinoza, in his proof of the existence of God, sees God in all things. God and the universe are the same thing. He is a pantheist, something seen at the time as akin to atheism, so his work could not published during his lifetime.

Spinoza grinds glass. For spectacles, for telescopes and microscopes. The first telescope to use lenses appeared only twenty or so years before he was born, in the same city of his birth, Amsterdam. Glass grinding was the emerging technology of the age. Euclid had written a treatise on Optics, as Newton would in the years just after Spinoza’s death. Spinoza is at the centre, geographically, and historically, of a technology that would revolutionise the way human beings see into the stars, and with microscopes delve deeper into the hidden structures of the natural world.

Notitia de Casios

We therefore come to the conclusion that despite the obvious advances in technology the ability to write almost completely disappeared, particularly personal communication. Occasionally we find a greetings card or what maybe a shopping list, but these reveal no great level of sophisticated language use. It has been suggested by Chalmers and Hutchinson that it was at this point that the first elementary psychic communications took place, as there is little evidence to support a decline in other aspects of early twenty first century culture.

The Last Romans

In this most forsaken Year of Our Lord 463, I, Severinus, record here what was conveyed to me by a brother and which I must assume to be true. After the Roman defence system along the Danube had more or less collapsed, only one garrison, at Batavis, remained. For the soldiers stationed there to receive their pay some of their number were sent south, over the Alps, to collect it. When these soldiers were murdered by Barbarians, the garrison was abandoned. These were the last Romans seen in this region, leaving us at the mercy of the invaders, protected only by God. I pray, and await their arrival. I have hidden what I can, and know these days may be our last. I would tell those with small children to leave, to take what they can, but where would they go?

Rome will surely fall, and the empire wiped away. The world as generations have known it is lost, certainties replaced by doubt. The City of God awaits us after The City of Man is dust and blown to the sea. Never before in my lifetime, or the in the lifetime of many generations before us have we had to confront such a reality.

It is the end of the world.