The Book of X | by Christopher Clifton

From where I came I had no memory. I was searching for a place or an event that I could not have known before I had arrived there, and I found myself traversing a disjointed space of singular locations, which were guiding me beyond by means of signals I could not completely grasp, but which appeared to point the way towards that end. There was meaning in the way that things erupted into view, but where that meaning led me was beyond my understanding. I could follow and believe, but nothing more.

I was standing in a forest, and around me I could see no sign of pathway, but before me I perceived a single flower, of a blue of an intensity and tone that made me kneel and lose perception of the trees – before the blue became the presence of an open ended sky, and I was lying on a mountain. I stood up, and saw an arrow, which was painted on a metal plate, and nailed onto a rock face, and I followed its direction, to the entry of a cave. On the roof above the entrance I perceived a strange red painting, which consisted of an intricate arrangement of small shapes and broken lines, the significance of which I was unable to make out. I conceived it as a language, or a map. I made my way into the darkness, through a passage that felt damp and smelt of ashes – putting faith in my belief that it was leading to the place that I was seeking, not some infinite abyss for me to fall into forever. My heart was beating quickly, and my feet were cold. Then I saw a sudden flicker in the distance; and looking at it closely I perceived a single flame, and it was floating in the darkness. I approached it, and could see that I was coming to a chamber, where a fire was lit and left, perhaps to meet me. I sat down to warm my feet. Through a tunnel I looked up into some stars. Then I think I fell asleep.

I woke up to find the fire no longer burning; but not only was it out, for every trace that it had ever been alight had disappeared, along with everything around me. There was no ash, no cave, no tunnel, and no sky. I was surrounded by a whiteness. It was difficult to say if it was space, for it appeared without dimensions: neither up nor down, far nor near, nor within nor without. It was pure white, and I saw nothing. Yet I could feel a certain tension in the whiteness, which was drawing me to something. A tension that I felt to be produced by my relation to the space, if it were space; or rather by the fact that I was there. I tried to focus on this fact, and perceived the sharp emergence of black lines and other marks, before they disappeared again into the whiteness. I allowed myself to breathe, and simply be. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them again I saw a horizontal line stretched out before me. I approached it, and perceived another line, just above it and behind it. The two lines formed a singular dimension, and I recognised a definite direction. I stepped up onto the first, and as soon as I stepped up I saw a series of new lines emerge before me, which I followed one by one. It was a stairway. When I realised what it was the lines grew clearer, and I found myself ascending a closed passage, which was white but marked with parallel straight lines that formed a roof and walls around me. I saw no end, but I continued. The stairs grew steeper as I walked, and the passage space curved upwards, till at last I was ascending with my hands and feet, on rungs along a ladder. Then I came onto a trapdoor, and I opened it, and rose into a room. It had no windows, only four dark walls, which stretched above beyond me. In the middle of the room there was a table, made of wood, which seemed ancestral. On the table was a book, which had been opened to a page that bore no writing. However when I looked at it more closely, I began to read a sentence, which appeared as I was reading:


The first to read the first edition
leaves a trace in what remains to be
reviewed by other readers.


It seemed as if I wrote the line myself, although I knew that I was reading. Then I read another line, which opened up in turn beneath the first:


That the simple fact of reading has
already changed the meaning of the
text – and also opened it to possible
new readings –


I had no control of what appeared, but could identify with how it was appearing. I turned the page, to see what followed, and perceived another text – but it appeared at such a distance from the surface of the page that I could read nothing. Then I realised that the text had not been printed on one plane, but interspersed at different levels of the space beneath the surface, and a line came into view where I could read it:


The pages of this book are without
number – and this book cannot be


I put my hands beneath the two sides of the cover, just to try, and I closed it. And as soon as I had closed it I perceived that there were shelves upon the walls, and that the shelves were filled with books. I looked around to read the titles, but each of them had symbols, which meant nothing. On the spine of my own book I saw an “X”. There was a space within a bookshelf, which appeared to be the volume of my book, and so I placed it. It was then that I was conscious of a door. It was unlocked, and so I opened it to find an unlit passage, which I entered.

     The passage led through darkness to a light. I followed to a sunlit hall, contained by an immense transparent dome. I crossed the hall, and left the building. The air outside was
heavy, and my legs and arms felt numb.




Christopher Clifton lives in Australia. His treatise Of the Contract is published by Punctum Books.

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