Continual Gehenna

by B. W. Teigland

Nothing is more difficult than to turn oneself into a saint. To kneel in a vault and die beneath a robe of homicidal stone, without light, without horizon, as intangible as a corpse in the grave.

While chanting, the hermit nun sat in a chair garnished with a hundred long nails, and when she felt herself falling into the blooms of oblivion, she pressed her shoulders firmly against the sharp points. There was nothing better for bringing her back to reality and recalling her wandering attention.

In her soul there was a sort of triptych of glowing glass. Sorrow filled the centre panel, while, on either side, was one of fear, the other of unfulfilled hope. The windows overlooked a transparent field of dead moons. Sometimes forlorn figures seemed to rise from the earth to scorn their conditions. Sometimes they floated over the appalling depths or descended on solitary peaks in the hideous mineral landscape where there was no sign of life or movement, only endless mountains hiding the tabernacle of clouds. With no hope of escaping from the Gehenna of the flesh, these liminal beings had turned away with disappointment from the sky, which had lost all its wholeness, all its immeasurability in that ominous place of perpetual dread. For the mountains not only made the sky look small and passionless in the blaze of daylight, but also attracted the chimerical creatures with hairy human faces and enormous colourless eyes full of etherealized heaven to the ravines below—whose horrible immensity was in the wrong place, stolen from above and cast into the vast spiraling pits of blackness, into the very engines of everlasting hell.

They held the symbolic instruments of their death, like soldiers bearing arms, a dismal procession of four-footed bodies with horned heads and outstretched wings feathered with scales forever tempted by labyrinths, moving one by one, one after another, single file on the narrow path that edged the motionless swell of the mountaintops. And by degrees this long line of silent shades spied the cruciform mold of the tombs that the angels had erected, where the bodies of the saints were reposing, sheltered behind the sacred bulwarks of a cloister, hidden at the bottom of the valley.

The holy silence became painful. It was a relief when the nails pierced the nun’s skin to remind her to recite the prayers, verse after verse. Like dripping tears, she repeated the rippling melody at regular intervals, slowly and religiously. But her features were now as unknown as her passions. Around her head was an extraordinary nimbus of sinister eloquence, a halo composed of a peacock’s tail with gilt porcupine quills.

Through the screen of amorphous nothing, standing out like a celestial vision in the spiderweb of the nun’s soul, the outline of the steeple’s seraphic dissemblance emerged, toward which the liminal animals pushed their way. Its vertical word stood out against the anonymous menace of terrain, as if hovering there in the elemental forces that rose up around it. It belonged to the planet, to the meaningless passivity of the inert. To raw, mute reality itself.

With a handful of earth, the phantoms entered the narthex of purgatory. Everything under the forest roof of the mythical cathedral had become lost in a furnace of purple. Water stilled with mystification, swallowing the shadows of the things it reflected. In its basin of sorrow was a continued and profound absorption of forgotten sensation. Noiselessly, they passed through the successive phases of the nave and the aisles, crossing the transept and the choir. Until, surrounded by a crown of chapels, they had at last reached the top of the tree of the living cross. Where, in the ataraxy of the apse, with its monstrance altar of golden molten fire and its suffering statuary solemnly representing the mediatrix of pardon in melancholy decay, obscure mutilations stripped away the secret holy fear of impersonal fecundity from the faceless generous mother.

The spectacle of the sanctuary’s silent world bewitched these terrestrial shades, who had become playthings for its deep portal of eschatological visions and evil augury. Incapable of stopping themselves from entering a diabolical manoeuvre of vertiginous descent toward an ever more profound void of sacramental darkness, the humanity animal traced one of their figures of geomancy in blasphemous blood. In the barbaric grace of heathen prayer, they whirled around like a massacre of monks in a sacrilegious dance, their eyeballs in ecstasy, their mouths gaping with perfidious laughter, some screaming aloud in lament. Others, in still more pagan moods of absurd dogma, squatted with arms raised and heads shaking, as if by doing so they could make the world not be. And the earth trembled and opened up and exposed the great door with a tympanum in a pointed arch bearing the presentation of the apocalypse, a gate to the origin of the unknown, which was itself another secret: a key that opened nothing.

~

Bio:

B. W. Teigland is a Canadian writer of speculative and literary fiction. He studied Neuroscience, Philosophy and Literature at both Dalhousie University and King’s College in Halifax, NS. His debut novel Under a Collapsing Sky was released by AOS / Ace of Swords Publishing in 2021.

Philosophy Note:

Hagiography on katabasis and fervor.

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