excerpted from The New Wilderness Gospel
Text and Sound by Joshua Levi Ian
Visuals by Kathryn Ian
"This world has a limit. And from that limit, a thousand endings. A point where your fingers are pushed back. Where eyes blur. It doesn’t feel like anything when you reach it. It just stops you. Or you just stop. However it is, it’s just that way. But some people don’t know it. They don’t know no better than to keep pushing up against that point. But it don’t do no good. That’s where they break themselves. Splinters and dust—all that’s left."
The voice stopped. A dead space, no echo.
Jacob’s eyes pushed hard against the dark. The dark pushed back. Tiny red flecks, the ghost of an outline. Jagged shapes in watery shadow. He wasn’t sure what was on the inside or the outside of his eyes—if any of it was inside or outside, or any place at all, or all places at once. Maybe sleep again? A dream? Tiny threads of time tangled in his mind. He couldn’t find the thread that lead back to before. Just now? Or was it now just then?
He could feel woodgrain under his fingers. The floor beneath him was worn and rough. He was on his hands and knees. Tightly bowed, like a small animal. A rush of fur, something scurried in his memory. The picture faded.
One of my spells. That was it. Of course, he thought. Always this paralyzing confusion afterwards. A sickening feeling of being neither inside oneself nor out there in the world of things. An alienation from definition.
Jacob's mind slowly sharpened, becoming hard and solid again. The pain that screamed through his skin faded to a low rumbling ache. The flesh-red space, thick with shifting presences, withdrew. These spells had happened as long as he could remember. But this was different. A voice had cut through the usual jumble of sensation-images. A voice that seemed to speak from somewhere outside his body. The words had been sharp, distinct from the fragmented frequencies and ghostly resonances he was accustomed to receiving. The figure that stalked through his dreams was getting bolder. And closer. More material. His signal was clearer than ever, stripped of the noise that had enveloped his previous messages.
He had found new ways of communicating with Jacob.
What could this mean? What did any of this mean? It was always the same. In the throes of a feeling-vision, Jacob was gripped with the conviction that he knew the significance of it all. That he was being called. That his pain was a gift. That something unimaginably and unspeakably dire was coming through him. That his body was a radio, vibrating violently with the voices and forces of another, deeper world. That his skin was a witness to the truth of an entire hidden universe. But in the aftermath—only a jumbled blur of indistinct image and sensation. A mute message beyond the reach of language. A half-formed word that emerged and faded back into Jacob's inner dark. A senseless drama of fleeting sensation.
Jacob's reflections were cut short. It was about to happen again. The pain moved through him like wildfire. The labyrinth of his body filled with a thick haze of vibrations. And then it began.
Taught, small body. Feathery flapping, chest beat with a storm of heart. Fear pushing up from deep, flowering through skin. Violent sound and shaking, small hard stone of life turning in upon itself, fevered and icy hot in struggle. Spine spiking in shapes of panic. Space disappearing between Jacob and the tornado eye of pain. Closer, thin metal scent. Oppressor and oppressed traced in lines upon the canvas of his witness body, more distinct by the moment. Skin stinging with the double pain of their forms, slowly revealing themselves like a secret sickness. His witness body, an unwanted cocoon, exposing rather than insulating. Turning him mercilessly outwards from within. Thrusting toward the weight of world. From fleshy constellations of pain, images taking shape—feathers in yellowed teeth, blur of shuddering Unboundedness cruelly bound. Bird and birdcatcher conjoined in the violating intimacy of violence. A knot of night.
And a voice, stuttering. A consonant crushing breath, a closing that articulated all endings into suffocating silence. A tomb of mouth, stopped up with stones of teeth.
Jacob reeled, then crumpled his body into a closed fist. Unable to escape the witness of his skin, he cried out, surrounded by the thick grey haunting of the scene. And then, reverberating through his bones with a slight, sour tremor, it left him.