Get our latest essays, archival selections, reading lists, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
It’s wrong to think of it as a bird. True, it has wings and a beak, but so do many things, in one way or another. And it does have feathers, but don’t be hoodwinked by those. There are also the usual twigs and worms and eggs, but in its nest, if you know where and how to look, you will find something else no bird possesses: the red cipher’s little book of accounts.
Only two or three of these books have ever actually been smuggled out of the deep woods, but according to those who have seen them, they are truly astounding. Either because it was commanded to do so by some force of nature, or because it found that keeping infinitesimally detailed accounts was a mysterious key to its survival, the cipher evolved the almost unfathomable capacity to write—in the comfort of its otherwise ordinary nest—the most unlikely and unique book in the world.
Like those unusual houses that are much bigger inside than their exteriors suggest, the cipher’s book of accounts has no discernable beginning or end. The lucky few who have seen one report that the book contains the most meticulous records of each and every thing that happened to every creature on the earth, written in every conceivable language.
Some who have read the books have even found entries pertaining to themselves, mostly composed of facts that should have long ago been lost to oblivion: the weight of a spoonful of soup from a bowl eaten two decades ago, or a tally of the falling leaves they’ve seen.
It is impossible to know why, let alone how, the cipher came to possess or compose its unusual book, or how it has come to know, if indeed it does “know,” the information therein. As might be expected, there are some who believe that within these mythical little books can be found the answers to man’s most fundamental questions. Others swear the answers can be found in a book kept by another creature altogether, one that closely resembles a turtle. Still others insist that the answer to the question of where the answers can be found is one more secret to be sought.
Vital reading on politics, literature, and more in your inbox. Sign up for our Weekly Newsletter, Monthly Roundup, and event notifications.
How would I know / when I’m empty and quiet like breath?
Historian Gerald Horne has developed a grand theory of U.S. history as a series of devastating backlashes to progress—right down to the present day.
Reflecting on three monumental works of modernism—James Joyce’s Ulysses, T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, and Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus—a hundred years on.