Speech by the Dead Christ, from the World's Edifice, that there is no God

Lanterns hung on houses, from the beams and eaves, dripping wax onto the pavement into off-white, mounded plateaux. "Inside every lantern!" had went up shouts, "Inside every breath!"

As the lights withdrew, left to melt into pitch, the men were keeping themselves away in their dim rooms, cabling the last of the wine into their mouths until exhaustion overtook them. The boys, they are driven to run more quickly in the dark, and in straight lines, they were escaping, scattering from their houses out onto the streets and then out onto the grass fields, until they were collapsed into sleep together, bodies wound, hair matted together. Only the women and girls were in their beds tonight, talking themselves into a drowse, like paper winding off the spool, their sentences slow and rambling into slumber. Now the streets are bare and the lanterns burn in quiet, left to melt to nubs, their light withdraws.

Only I was still awake, in my study. The silence after a religious festival refreshes me; I had stayed indoors for the day, had set a single lantern out my window to avoid being ostentatious, that is, to avoid abuse. The open window let in the smell of roasted meat, and I let it saturate my mouth and nose before eating a simple pot of rice from an unadorned bowl. Even philosophers concede, where simplicity can take strength from excess, it should.

From my window, out over the hiss and tone of my dying candle, I could see across the main road, and into the square, over a tumbledown statue of a heron, patiently staring toward the far churchyard . The town was lit like the waking moon, with a softness, that implies that this night will remain unmoving and out of time. This is what makes it religious. In the gathered lanterns, and the residues of the afternoon's clamor, there is something that cannot be ignored, even by unbelievers. My books lay open to be read, but my mind resisted, and drew itself back again and again to the scene framed by my window.

My eyes did not grow tired, and I was alert to every vague, muted flit of flame. Down the road, from somewhere beneath the square, I saw a figure stealing out from the ground, to rest at the foot of the statue. Through the haze and shadow, I could barely see its body, something staved over by an outsized frame, but gouged with sunken, starving patches between its two hanging arms. It paced the dark borders of the shadows in the square, until it shook, like a curse had been settled, and ran to a bit of darkness under a nearby eave— here, even from this great distance, I could see into its paling eyes, irises the color of a meal-worm. The figure paced, and then wary of a sound, it sprinted forward for an instant and pressed itself against the walls of a house. Above, a lantern trembled and dripped a bit of wax from its rim, onto the shape's bare shoulder. The figure flinched, back, out into the light.

In the indefinite glow, the figure, a man, shone out. His hair was coarse like rattan, disfigured or torn in patches, blunted by darkness into an unmoving clod. He had the look of a man dragged out from the ground, but as if the skeleton had grown during its interrupted sleep. A beard roped down from his face and over his chest, which was burst apart by the long, curved bones of his ghoulish ribcage. The bloodless eyes fixed on me and, with a bark, he crawled to the edge of the house, loping, then like a fluid.

He pressed his body against the facade, and then he threw his arm once over the peak of the door, his hands into the sills of the windows, and quickly he mounted the roof. He shook once more, and began to bellow. Around him, the rowhouses ached higher, and his angst filled the street like a canal, until it crashed over me, and held me where I stood, my hands outstretched to close the shutters against the hideous vision. The bellowing continued louder, a scrambling degenerate noise, until from the edifice of the world, the dead Christ began to speak words.

"These lights, from the lanterns, they are piercing my eyes, my eyes cannot but be drawn to them. Light was the first confusion, to watch it endure across death, each daybreak it made from darkness a mystery. In the dark, you have only your body, you return to your body and the distances recede onto you. The light steals into your eyes and drags the bodies over the horizon."

"Words in my mouth, they crawl out of me, like beetles, a compulsion. I beg it to stop! The second confusion, the words themselves. Now, I beg silence to come on me and to let my body recede from itself! My bones have grown out from me, I am terrible, tearing apart for some silence. Is there a god? Can you see me, my only body rejected, and answer that there is?"

"And now, the third confusion, a dead man overgrown by his own bones, dead and thundering and light, only the dispersed and dead, light and thundering, can answer, there is no god, there is no god, no sky, no men, they recede into the dark, the dark overtakes them like the skeleton, they too are overgrown by their own bones, until the dark overtakes them, I blot out their names from under the sky, and last, the sky itself."

The screaming stopped and the figure pointed his black finger in the air. The stars beamed unconvinced, down on his broken shoulders. The rejected beast threw his arms apart and collapsed, into dust, and the dust turned to soot and poured over the roof into the gutter, and from there was passed to the sea, and dispersed.

My hands thrust forward and, grasping the shutters, I closed them tight. From the center of my study, the light from my candle tripped across my face, undisturbed.

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