The Revelation at the Rampart
Part six of six.
By Nicholas Rombes
Barnes to Bronson: “Bronson, wake up,” nudging his somnambulant body with the firm leather toe of his hiking boot.
Bronson to himself: “ . . .what?”
Barnes: “Time to get up and on.”
The sun now in the sky as flat and hot as a molten dime-sized mirror of itself. Burning not so far off. Bronson’s thoughts now rushing forward to this present moment.
“You’re back” (to Barnes).
“I am. With fresh instructions on how to fix it.”
“It?” says Bronson.
“To fix the wall. This thing,” he says, nodding toward the blocks of limestone laid out in an infinite, stretching away line. “But I can’t seem to read them.”
“Read. Decipher. Whatever. They make no sense.”
Barnes now pushing hard with the toe of his leather boot at Bronson’s prone body, between the ribs. Bronson’s hand snaking out from beneath his blanket and grabbing Barnes by the ankle. Barnes pulling his leg free and spitting off to the side. The smell of terpene coming in on the cool morning wind from the pine forests to the north.
Bronson up on both feet now.
“Let me see it,” (to Barnes).
Barnes handing over the piece of paper, thick and folded.
“You are the perspicacious one,” says Barnes, “apparently.”
But Bronson can make no sense of the instructions, either. In fact, what he sees on the paper is some sort of schemata.
Or so he tells Barnes.
Bronson can practically smell Barnes’s murderous thoughts. The wall beside them heaving in and out like a breathing, wounded creature. It was wrong to the think of the wall as somehow bad.
Bronson detecting in his own thoughts the thoughts of Barnes. He sees Barnes there before him in his ridiculous khaki explorers’ outfit and in a flicker he sees himself as if through the eyes of Barnes. Barnes wanting to protect the wall from repair.
Bronson’s thoughts and Barnes’s now stewed together and mixed in Bronson’s head.
The wall just knee-high as they walk alongside it trampling dry grass and scattering grasshoppers, the limestone blocks that constitute the wall half buried. Hardly a wall at all. Let alone a rampart. Nothing defensive about it.
Suddenly Barnes stops, turns to Bronson.
“Give me back the paper. I want to try again.”
Bronson to Barnes, “here,” handing it over. “Good luck.”
Barnes looks at it, smiles slightly, and with a swift stroke lights a match and sets the paper on fire. Bronson knocks it from his hand and steps on it. But it’s burned almost to nothing.
“What did it say, Barnes? What did you see this time?”
“It was too awful. Too, too, awful.”
“What did it say?”
“I can’t . . .”
“Barnes? Was it further instructions?”
“ . . .”
“To what? Turn back?”
“ . . . to turn . . .”
“What Barnes, where?”
“ . . .”
With that Bronson strikes Barnes in the back of the head with his bag of tools and he crumples to the ground as if in a movie, one arm draped across the short wall.
He wakes to find his hands and feet bound, Barnes does. Bronson crouched beside him, smoking, his head still swimming with Barnes’s dangerous ideas. The blue sky evacuated of all life.
“We knew it would come to this,” says Barnes, his lower lip cut and bleeding, his left eye swollen shut. He moves his feet as if to test the bonds and Bronson brings the tip of his cigarette to Barnes’s leg.
“I have cause to think . . . that the ideas were too big for us,” Bronson says. “Is there any way for this to end other than in the familiar way?”
Barnes: “ . . .”
Bronson: “They chose me before they chose you, and that makes all the difference. Even if you began to speak, Barnes, in cadenced lines, what good would that do? It’s been tried before, in similar situations, poetry has.”
Bronson’s thoughts opening and shutting in his mind like a book that won’t stay flat, and sometimes seeing himself though the eyes of Barnes, his ligatured wrists aching. And the wall, Bronson realizing suddenly, the problem of the wall. That it was built wrong to begin with, corrupted as much by thought as materials. A long strand instead of a tightly shaped double helix whose pitch and turn would have made it possible for the wall to communicate with itself. The messenger RNA carrying information linearly, exposed, unprotected as it wouldn’t have been had the wall spiraled tightly in self-protection, in constant communication with its other parts. But this was impossible now as the wall stretches out in a single, exposed direction, its information never turning back on itself, never reflecting.
What architect broke the double helix model to build this, this failed wall?
Barnes fades fast, bleeding from a neck wound.
“Barnes. You’re dying. I can’t help you live. Tell me what the instructions said. Even if you didn’t understand them. Even if they were meaningless.”
Barnes: “ . . . I burned them . . .”
Bronson: “I know. I know you did.”
Barnes: “What they said no longer exists.”
Bronson, leaning over and striking Barnes in the face. “Your metaphysics don’t matter anymore. Your disappearing acts. There’s no place for theory now.” He strikes him again; blood oozes from the swollen eye. “There’s no longer much presence left, Barnes, it’s all absence now.”
“That’s what the instructions . . . I remember. The part about absence.” The blood from Barnes’s neck now pooling in the palm of his upturned hand, as if he could collect it and put it back in. “The rupture . . . the exchanging of center for center . . . the passage of one structure to another . . . and always anticipating the next event when in fact the event is the anticipation itself. The instructions . . . the diagram . . . said to correct the wall . . . to reshape it into a double helix, like we thought.”
“Barnes,” said Bronson, “did you write the instructions? Draw the schemata?”
“I did not . . . I wrote, but . . . I did not mean . . .”
Bronson: “To correct or destroy? Which one? What was our task?” He tightens the cord around Barnes’s wrists. He kicks at Barnes’s similarly bound ankles. He kicks again, harder. And then again.
Barnes: “To correct . . . to destroy . . .”
Bronson pushes Bronson’s bruised eye with his boot.
Barnes: “To destroy . . . to correct . . .”
The drones—hundreds of them in their enormous bird disguises—appear on the horizon. The idea of their weapons precedes them. They are silent and in their silence there is volume. They pass overhead, circle in the distance, and return, dropping small ceramic balls, not much larger than marbles.
It is just unexpected enough to be comical at first, the balls bouncing off the wall, some of them shattering, others lodging themselves in the sand. A few strike Bronson and Barnes, tearing though clothes and flesh. Bronson thinks of the rifled musket balls of the American Civil War, how they lodged in joints and bones and skulls, and of that photograph of the Confederate Colonel’s dead horse in peaceful repose. The drones disappear over the horizon:
“Untie me . . . the instructions . . . the lock and wheel,” says Barnes in slurs, his face drained of color, trying to focus on Bronson with his one unsteady open eye. His shirt is soaked in blood near his wound. His ankles have come free of their bindings but he doesn’t seem to notice. He struggles slowly like a man in burdened by a different sort of gravity.
The drones return, in more numbers than before, darkening the sky.
They come, bellies full of more clay marbles that rain down in shredding hail, finishing the already weakened Barnes and tearing at the flesh and cracking the bones of Bronson, who in his pain waits for some enlightenment, single or double helixed what does he care what shape thought takes? The drones are expressionless except in their movement which itself is an expression of power and will and intention. He wishes he had been kinder to Barnes at the end. He is happy that Evelyn is not here to see this. He thinks to use Barnes’s body as a shield but by the time he tries to crawl under him there is nothing usable about his fingers, or his legs, or his punctured lungs, and even his thoughts, now, leak away, back, as they always did, to Evelyn.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicholas Rombes writes for The Rumpus, The Oxford American, and Filmmaker Magazine, where he serves as a contributing editor and writes the Blue Velvet Project. His work has appeared in The Believer, Wigleaf, Exquisite Corpse, and other places. He teaches in Detroit, Michigan, and can be found here.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, September 29th, 2012.