Between the Ice and the Gelisol

Benjamin Solomon

Between the Ice and the Gelisol: 
A Reexamination of Howard Barraclough’s Terminus Fragments
by
Bernard Palisy and Olivier de Zerres

Although they have been summarily rejected and relegated to near obscurity, Howard Barraclough’s Terminus fragments were the source of major controversy in the early years of the 35th century. The fragments consisted of four binary-encoded documents that Barraclough claimed he recovered from a frozen hard drive in the radioactive ruins of the ancient southeastern city of Terminus. Barraclough, who died soon after publishing his findings, was not an archeologist or historian but a soil-science research-poet, though his actual contributions to the field of edaphology appear to have been unremarkable. Had Barraclough survived, he would have found himself at the epicenter of a debate that still rages today, the principle and highly divisive question of which remains: What caused the rapid and total extinction of the mid-millennium inhabitants of Terminus?[1]

Instead of handing over his files to archeological and epigraphic experts, Barraclough chose to publish them in an article he penned himself, a decision that earned him criticism, suspicion, and vehement interrogation of his methods. Kelly Davies, an archaeologist at the University of Cork who is credited with breakthroughs in the decipherment of New Alabaman penal records, summed up the complaints about Barraclough in an 3409 essay: “Barraclough’s work [contains] three major academic sins: distortion of data, inadequate acknowledgment of predecessors, and lack of presentation of alternative views.” [2]

Whether the fragments are indeed authentic relics, or well-conceived, elaborate frauds, will perhaps never be definitively answered. Barraclough claimed the original hard drive artifact was lost in an accident he suffered during his return from the radioactive zone surrounding Terminus (the same accident that caused his exposure and eventually his death), and subsequent searches for the missing, mythical “Barraclough Drive” yielded no results. In the absence of this crucial physical artifact, epigraphists had only Barraclough’s hastily made site-copies of the fragment’s binary code to analyze for authenticity. This was, and remains, a problematic approach to verification since binary encoding norms can be successfully mimicked such that not even trace data[3] can offer a definitive dating scenario.

Ostensibly because of this verification impasse, the Barraclough fragments have been largely ignored for the last one hundred and fifty years, but perhaps the unstated and more fundamental reason for their disregard is that the fragments themselves are truly bizarre. Not only do they contradict certain key assumptions and accepted knowledge, but they offer previously unheard-of details and information, principally in regards to public and private flogging practices, but also, and most controversially, in regards to the still-unexplained fate of the people of Terminus. Were this new data permitted entry into the community of critical debate, much of our understanding of this period would have to be revised, and key-tenets of accepted wisdom would be called into serious question. This threat alone could be the unconscious force behind the near-total suppression of Barraclough’s fragments over the last century and a half.

Barraclough’s detractors have claimed that his fragments were the imagined fictions of a desperate, dying, unsuccessful soil scientist, eager to achieve a crumb of notoriety in his final days on earth.[4] His supporters (who were few and largely anonymous) maintained that Barraclough was a hapless research-poet, thrust into the middle of a debate on the eve of his death by the chance discovery of rare digital artifacts, and then maligned for publicizing his work in classical Edaphologos.[5] Perhaps in this light of this total impasse it can be asserted that the present value of the Barraclough fragments has less to do with their authenticity and more with the nature of the debate they have provoked, and what that debate reveals about the established field of Terminus Studies. If our foundations are so shaken by the admission of radically new information, what does that say about the stability of our enterprise, and what does it bode for our future, now that the mile-deep layer of ice covering our hemisphere, and Terminus, has begun to melt?

 

Fragment 1: The Tourist Hut! Brochure

Barraclough believed that the following fragment was a digital text version (perhaps an early draft) of what was intended to be an actual paper brochure written for the benefit of visitors to Terminus. Due to the poor condition of the recovered code, certain words and phrases were missing from the original document. In this fragment, as in all those following it, Barraclough’s additions are encased in brackets. [6]

We Do, We Do, We Do Love You!

[Before] visiting Terminus, please be [aware] of our laws. Certain activities which may be quite commonplace in your city-state are forbidden within our city limits. For instance, you are not allowed to stutter when you pronounce the required greeting: “I do, I do, I do love you” to a stranger. This is not only illegal. It is offensive. Please [practice before] you arrive.

 

Walking with your left hand in your right trouser pocket is a violation of City Code 22-J. Make sure your right hand is snugly tucked into your left trouser pocket.

 

Speaking to women over the age of 60 years if you are between the ages of 21 and 29 will earn you moderate to severe flogging, [depending] on your lineage. A complete list of offenses, with an emphasis on those which are punishable by public flogging, may be obtained from any Tourist Hut! downtown.

 

Note that it has recently become illegal to carry more than two pieces of hard candy into a [indecipherable]

 

Despite our strict laws, Terminus is still among the most open of city-states. Just last year in a monumental Superior Court ruling, a team of lawyers proved that pedophilia is no longer a crime. Thanks to their diligent work, thousands of grateful [pedophiles have been] released from area prisons. We now welcome pedophiles from across the world to our tolerant city.

The principal and most resounding complaint that most critics levied against the “Tourist Hut!” fragment was that it falsely implied that flogging in Terminus functioned not only as a private expiation ritual, but also as a form of public punishment for transgression of customs and laws. Willard Wirtz, who wrote several books about Terminus and was once considered an authority in the field[7], was perhaps the most virulent in his reproach, stating that “the notion that public flogging would have been used as punishment in Terminus is delusional to the point of absurdity. Countless documents illustrate that flogging was a distinguished honor in Terminus, a private privilege reserved only for those of venerable lineage and important civil office.”

Barraclough, who composed his only article on the Terminus Fragments while slowly succumbing to cancer, had refrained from addressing this startling aspect of his discovery, concentrating on the hard candy statutes and legalized pedophilia, both of which conformed with conventional beliefs about the era. This avoidance would remain a trend for most of Barraclough’s commentary, in which he consistently de-emphasized the controversial, while highlighting elements that upheld the accepted wisdom of the time. Whether this approach adds to or detracts from his credibility is a point of debate. Whereas a well-informed and devious fabricator might have been expected to anticipate and vigorously defend any possible points of contention, or avoid them altogether, a under-informed outsider to the field could have conceivably overlooked such a detail in an eagerness to demonstrate the points where evidence agrees with and confirms conventional wisdom. It is curious that after Barraclough’s death his supporters consistently sought to emphasize both his archeological naivety and lack of historical understanding as proof that he was incapable, and thus innocent, of concocting the fragments, while his detractors repeatedly claimed the opposite—that he was shrewd, calculating, and well-versed in mid-millennial epigraphical studies, and thus perfectly capable of fabricating details that would subtly undermine and erode the foundations of the field. [8]

Skeptics compared Barraclough’s “Tourist Hut!” fragment with the now canonized “Private Flogging Request Form,” recovered from Terminus in 3276. This document is still considered the central piece of evidence for all late-Terminus flogging practices, and is assumed to have originated from the Terminus CFO, or Central Flagellation Office[9], responsible for administering all private flogging:

NAME: ___________________________________________________

DATE: ___________________________________________________

LINEAGE SPECIFICATION NUMBER: ________________________

SINGLE THIGH MEASUREMENT: ____________________________

DOUBLE THIGH MEASUREMENT: ___________________________

SKIN TONE: ______________________________________________

REASON WHY YOU DESIRE TO BE PRIVATELY FLOGGED: __________________________________________________________

RELATIVES WHO WILL ASSIST IN FLOGGING CEREMONY: __________________________________________________________

LICTOR WHO WILL PERFORM THE FLOGGING CEREMONY: __________________________________________________________

PREFERRED FLOGGING INSTRUMENT:*______________________

HAVE YOU EVER BEEN PRIVATELY FLOGGED BEFORE? IF SO, GIVE DETAILS: ______________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

SIGNATURE: ________________________________________________

* Note that actual flogging instrument is subject to the particular license and certification of the participating lictor.

Various historians have suggested that the rise of flagellation practices in Terminus may be linked to creeping doses of low-level of radiation that began to cover the metropolis following the first nuclear conflicts with the New Alabama City State Alliance (NACSA) in 2412.[10] As radiation levels grew stronger and radiation-sicknesses increased, Terminites may have struggled to counter the mysterious headaches and nausea with more overt and autonomous applications of self-inflicted pain. It is also possible that the hypovolemic shock induced by flogging would have provided a temporary psychosomatic relief from the effects of radiation poisoning. “Lictors,” the professionals who were employed to perform the floggings, probably commanded a high level of prestige in Terminus, and their medical training would have been extensive to ensure their floggings did not cause permanent damage.

But even if flogging practices in Terminus began as (and remained) a state-regulated private enterprise, and even if modern historians all agree that private flogging was a rarefied honor and privilege, one might still reasonably ask what evidence suggests that flogging could not have also been a form of public punishment? Couldn’t the very fact that honorable floggings were kept exclusively private suggest that public flagellation may have been employed to the exact opposite effect of severe humiliation? In this case, the locus of the shame would have been the inversion of the dignity afforded by private pain when transferred to a public spectacle. Just as private mastication of solid food was a perfectly normal practice among Terminites, while public mastication was viewed as obscene, couldn’t flagellation practices have followed the same public/private binary? Barraclough’s second fragment seems to support this possibility.

 

Fragment 2: The DEAR MOMMY Letter

The “DEAR MOMMY” fragment, unlike “Tourist Hut!,” has been largely ignored by skeptics. Its odd syntax and rudimentary language suggest it was written by a child. Not only does it reinforce the Barracloughian notion of public flogging, it suggests that the flagellant in this case was hardly a willing one.

Dear mommy today daddy took me to see the public floggings in BiCENTENNIAL olympic park. It was fun. It was funny. One man GETTING FLOGGED he was screaming at daddy he was mad at daddy and daddy said a naughty word to the man and people laughed. I love you mommy. Daddy says to keep your prison cell very tidy mommy for iF you are TIDY daddy will let me talk to you. DADDY SAYS THAT SOMETIMES YOU ARE NOT CLEAN MOMMY AND THAT IS WHY DADDY HATES YOU. BUT I DO NOT HATE YOU. DADDY SAYS I SHOULD LOVE YOU and that is why i love you. Tonight we are [masticating] fried pizza. I love you mommy.

In commenting on “DEAR MOMMY” Barraclough again avoided mention of the public floggings, noting instead that he believed he had discovered the location of “Bicentennial Olympic Park” on a previous soil-sampling foray. The following is an excerpt from Barraclough’s article, written in Classical Edaphologos and teeming with the obfuscating flourishes and internal rhyme typical of the style:

Verily, by the fulcrum of the peaking ice-pack, we encountered warily and thrice a divergent, wracked steepness, cornered and replete with rims of incessant frozen brine, and here we factored that five times five shims of great openness had once entombed themselves beneath the fathomless rooms and layers of chalky freeze. These we deemed the ruins of “Bicentennial Olympic Park.” Having noted that the rank dark of night now seemed to be encroaching we did repair to our research tanks to sift and seethe and swallow and breathe unsullied, neutral air.      

The fact that Barraclough chose to write about the Terminus Fragments in the romantic style favored by edaphologists of his time is perhaps another reason why the majority of his archeologists and epigraphists disregarded his work. “There is no room for the trills and frills of scientific writing within the modern historical discourse,” wrote August Mommsen in his glib, 2-paragraph refutation of Barraclough’s findings. “Laughably presented and poorly conceived,” wrote Theodor Zumpt. “The principal blame is on the publisher of this material, not the poor delusional snod who penned it.” But in their haste to discredit his findings, Barraclough’s contemporaries neglected to consider that his use of Classical Edaphologos may not have been a choice at all. Trained only as a soil-scientist research-poet, it is highly possible that Barraclough was incapable of composing in any other way. Where detractors have claimed that the esoteric work of a undistinguished research-poet would have emotionally positioned Barraclough as a likely candidate for forgery, supporters have countered by questioning how a research-poet limited to one specific rhetorical style could possibly have concocted documents of such extreme verisimilitude from a society that had ceased to exist five hundred years before his birth.

 

Fragment 3: Team Ice-Sharder Manual

Barraclough believed the following fragment came from a worker’s manual stipulating the proper handling and disposal of “ice-logs” and “ice-trees,” two previously unheard of features of Terminus’s mid-millennium landscape. Temperatures in Terminus would have been warmer than those of today, with highs occasionally rising above the freezing point, and this constant, continuous thawing and re-freezing action, still rare (though less and less so) in today’s climes, combined with unpredictable localized winds, would have caused the formation of these large, oblong “ice-logs.” Barraclough theorized that they would have spontaneously appeared in the center of causeways and thoroughfares, obstructing traffic and necessitating removal by trained professionals. “Team Ice-Sharder” has been disputed by Barraclough’s skeptics on the grounds that no other recovered literature so much as mentioned these “ice-logs,” and no traces of them are visible in the ruins of Terminus today.

Let’s Get Sharding!

  • All members of Team Ice-Sharder must wear protective chain mail, anti-fog goggles, heat-sensor eyelid openers, and zionated rubber boots.
  • Under no circumstances is one Team Ice-Sharder member to manage the ice-sharder alone.
  • When feeding large or bulky logs of ice into the ice-sharder, be certain no part of your chain mail protective gear is fused with the ice-branch. It can [suck] you in.
  • When removing large panels of ice from the façades of concrete-polymer buildings and underground passageways, be certain no sticky polymer residue coats the underbelly of the ice-panel. It will impair the operation of the ice-sharder.
  • All ice-shards are to be deposited at valid and insured ice-depository [centers].
  • No ice-tree may be cut down without prior permission and certification from the applicable ward’s Ice-Tree Directorship office.
  • Pruning, to elevate or thin the ice-canopy, may only be performed under the supervision of Certified Iciclist.     

 

If “ice-logs” and “ice-trees” in fact did exist in Terminus, what would account for their complete absence now in the ruins of the dead metropolis? Barraclough left this question unanswered, but one possibility is that these formations could have become more and more rare as temperatures in Terminus began to drop to modern levels, breaking the cycle of freeze and thaw that caused them to develop. This environmental change would have created a significant threat to ice-sharder employment. In order to keep their jobs as long as possible, ice-sharding professionals would have zealously engaged in destroying any existing “ice-logs” in the metropolis, thereby destroying evidence that such formations had ever existed. Is it possible in the next fifty years, as hemispheric temperatures continue to rise, that we could see a reappearance of these “ice-logs” and “ice-trees?” And if they do begin to appear, would this development be sufficient to finally legitimize Barraclough’s work?

A single entry in the “Team Ice-Sharder” fragment references the removal of ice-panels from the walls of “underground passageways.” These passageways, referred to directly in Barraclough’s following fragment, were the most vigorously debated and explosive possibility that his fragments presented.

 

Fragment 4: Nuke City

Barraclough presented the following fragment, as he did the “Tourist Hut!” brochure, as probable background information/propaganda written for visitors. Skeptics suggested that “Nuke City” “tipped the scales of credulity”[11] not only in the absurdity of its content but also the convenience of its form. As Theodor Zumpt wrote: “For years archeologists and epigraphists have been toiling to reconstruct Terminitic Society using the scantest pieces of abstruse, inconclusive evidence. Then suddenly a minor soil-scientist, (and a research-poet at that!) in a sloppy scientific vernacular called ‘Ediphulogos’ [sic], presents us with a set of ready-made, highly descriptive documents about Terminus, two of which seem to have been written expressly for the benefit of outsiders (like us!), explaining in remarkable detail various aspects of Terminitic society. How perfectly convenient! I smell a bat.” In his essay Barraclough suggests that the hard drive he dug out of the ice while drilling for soil samples may have come from a government office or belonged to a government employee. A third explanation is that it could have been the property of an official Terminitic Scribe, who would have been responsible for composing and editing government documents. But regardless of the missing “Barraclough Drive’s” problematic origins and suspect convenience of its form, it was the content of the following fragment, and Barraclough’s remarkable suggestions about it, that have challenged the very foundations of Terminitic Studies.

The Underground Tunnel Evacuation Project was initiated in 2478, at the height of the war with Birmingham and the New Alabama satellite city-states. It was the brainchild of our 34th mayor, his holiness Mayor Ernest Andrew Jackson Young, beloved philanthropist, founder of the City Boy’s Choir, Boy Scouts of Terminus board member, [founder] of the Big Daddy Surrogate Parent Program, and newly exonerated pedophile. Mayor Young envisioned boldly, free from the [constraints of lesser caliber] men, a mega-project that would address the issue of partial or total nuclear assault upon our city.

Over the next 15 years the tunnels were painstakingly built, funded by a shoe-string budget, often maligned by a hostile camp of critics who deemed the tunnels a waste of time and money, and insisted that our Mayor’s vision of protection against nuclear fallout was nothing more than an ill-conceived “pipe dream.”

Despite such daunting [adversity], the tunnels slowly branched out beneath our frozen causeway boulevards, a growing network of poly-concrete lined corridors, all leading to the hollowed-out shell of Stone Mountain, the megalithic granite out-cropping east of our city center.

Over time it has become less known by its official name, “Terminal Nuclear Fallout City,” and is now commonly referred to as “Nuke City.” Intended to serve as an all-inclusive apartment-complex-city-state with room enough for all our denizens, “Nuke City” was exclusively designed by our holiness, Mayor Young.

Today, regardless of public opinion, the project is widely recognized as the defining endeavor of the present generation, a monument to our fears and our hopes [alike]. The fact that The Underground Tunnel Evacuation Project is now a mere shadow of its intended purpose should not be glossed over in the annals of history. Even though it was never designed to serve as a network of malls, theme parks, and nightclubs, this new incarnation of a venerated idea points not to weakness or failure, but rather to our city’s great vitality, its enduring strength, and the abundant clarity of our 34th mayor, the son of God himself, our “Porno-King-Champ,” Mr. Ernest Andrew Jackson Young.

Almost no data exists to support the host of different theories concerning what caused the rapid and total extinction of the people of Terminus. What we do know is that by the late 27th century, NACSA’s pellets had so contaminated the landscape that radiation levels would have been edging closer to the peak levels they exist at today, and that the effects of this radiation on the inhabitants of Terminus must have been severe. By the time government authorities would have started to recognize that radiation was responsible for the rash of birth defects, cancer deaths, and general malaise of the entire population, it may have been too late. What happened next is still unclear. Some historians, like Willard Wirtz, suggested a mass migration of Terminitic inhabitants to surrounding, uncontaminated city-states, but Wirtz’s explanations for how such a huge movement of people could have gone undocumented in the extant records of those surrounding city-states, some of which have maintained archival continuity since the mid-millennium, remain unconvincing.[12] Other historians, like August Mommsen, have suggested mass suicide, citing Terminitic flagellation rituals as violent precursors to a more drastic response to come. But while mass suicide remains a compelling possibility, no physical evidence supports it; no bodies, no cremation chambers, no visible sites of nuclear detonation have been found.

Barraclough’s theory, based on the “Nuke City” fragment and an encounter that he described in an interview given shortly before his death as “supernaturally predestinated circumstance,” would, if found true, be so revolutionary as to shatter the entire focus of contemporary Terminus Studies. Here, in Barraclough’s own words, is his story and his hypothesis for the fate of Terminus:

Verily, we[13] scattered our phalanx southward to the central plot of firming serpentine, only to desist in this motion for the purpose of a lime imbibing.[14] Shortly following, in a gust of musical haze[15] we espied, one quadrant east, a promontory mound of gestalt-colored saw-tooth glide and set forth in that direction. It was here, amid proctors of unseeming light convection and a dissonant fury of braddled ice[16], that our eye caught a resonant flickering of motion, five quadrants to the soft southeast, among an estuary of brine. Insupportive, we glanced away, eschewing our zionated boots to desway our positionings and sight ourselves anew, but then the flicker became a blue threadwork of moving color and we located our oculars so as to witness closer. Verily! we were astounded to see a group of hunchback men, ten in number, cloaked in the raw colors of night, slipping across the ice in a braided train of singular ambulation, and furthermore in our direction. We waited, we watched, we breathed fumes of botch and disbelief, and when they were but a quadrant distant we saw them stop, and to our relief, turn their corpus inwards, then drop entirely from sight! Vanished like a moon behind a cirrostratus in the night. Unthinking, we pursued their point of occlusion and after less than two hands gentle folding[17] did we come to it—a depression three grants wide and twenty inklings deep, and there, bottom-pointed, a portal or a doorway or a hatch! round so as to be manipulated by hand. Transmodified and affixed, we yearned towards a closer purview of the object’s nature, but as we did a sudden gush of (unheard fantasy!) LIQUID WATER spurned from all circumferential sides of the depression, filling it and crackling as it instantly froze, until where once had been a portal was now a flattened white and icy nothing, uniform and mute in its regression with the surrounding freeze. These! we thought—and have still thought ever-knowing since—are the lost surviving Terminus inhabitants, regained! Subterranean and hidden in a vast uncovered network of boulevarded veins!  

If historians’ disputes with Barraclough’s suggestions of public flogging and ice logs were characterized by energetic rebuttal, their responses to his theory about the descendents of ancient Terminites were marked by professional outrage, closely followed by a wave of mitigating ridicule, and eventually buried beneath a blanket of field-wide silence and disregard. The tenor of this reaction has waylaid any thorough and comprehensive refutation of Barraclough’s theory, but in the years following Barraclough’s death rumors abounded within the community that secret explorations and forays were underway, and that their principle goal was to uncover evidence of subterranean tunnels. Such expeditions were never publicized, and it can only be assumed that if they did occur, they came up empty-handed.

The logical starting point for any such search would probably be what was referred to in the “Nuke City” fragment as “the megalithic granite out-cropping east of our city center.” Edaphologists estimate the present level of above ground ice-covering in the Terminus region to be approximately one mile deep and shrinking. Depending on the actual dimensions of this hypothetical granite outcropping, the coming years of increased hemispheric warming could begin to expose this “Stone Mountain” as the ice-covering begins to melt.

In concluding this brief survey of the Barraclough fragments, we would like to note that, in our opinion, the broader implications of hemispheric warming on the future of Terminitic studies have not yet been sufficiently discussed. A curious lull has settled over our community in the last ten years, as if we are waiting with hushed silence and abated breath, unable to fully engage with the enormity of changes certain to come. For two hundred years we have made do with so little, marshalling the scantest pieces of obscure evidence to contrive a highly theoretical body of knowledge about mid-millennium Terminitic life. What will become of our field when the floodgates are (literally!) burst open and thawed remains of our long frozen Terminus are finally exposed to the light of day, and to the light of inquiry?

It is certain that a verdict on the Barraclough fragments will eventually become possible as the ice continues to melt, but perhaps in the meantime we should begin reconsidering these fragments’ radical implications, if only to prepare ourselves for the inevitable shock of discovery that awaits us in the uncertain years to come. Authentic relics or fictitious scams, Barraclough’s fragments tested not only the credulity of our field, but also its methods of inquiry, discussion, and debate. Has our preemptory disregard demonstrated that we in fact prefer an obfuscated, unapproachable Terminus, susceptible to our complex theories—theories that may, in the end, say more about who we are, what we believe, than they do about the civilization we purport to study and illuminate? And if Barraclough was right—that living, breathing Terminitic descendents actually exist in an underground society deep beneath the diminishing freeze, how will we prepare ourselves to meet with them? To whom will we grant the authority of Terminitic cultural knowledge then? They, who embody it the flesh, or we, who have merely studied it from afar?

 

APPENDIX

A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF HOWARD BARRACLOUGH

Born on June 6th, 3367 in the old Sligo sector of southern Canadus, Howard Barraclough arrived in New Chicago with his mother when he was six years old, following the death of his mother’s wife in an electrical accident at a tilapia-power processing plant. The following excerpt from Barraclough’s mother’s diary provides an poignant glimpse at the particular difficulties faced by a young man growing up at a time when not having two mothers was still considered amoral and suspect.

Howie came home an hour late this afternoon, smelling of formaldehyde and rubber compounds. I confronted him about it but he denied everything. His eyes were gleamed over but he made an effort to speak to me as we drank our dinner, shifting his straw to the far corner of his mouth so he could swallow and talk at the same time. He said the headmiester tripped him in the hallway at school this morning, then mooned on him for being clumsy.

Barraclough dropped out of secondary school when he was fourteen and joined the now infamous ranks of the New Chicago Cluster Balloonists as their scribe, secretary, and historian. Though Barraclough himself is not listed as ever having engaged directly in one of their terrorist actions, it is certain that he would have been privy to their planning sessions, an association that Barraclough’s critics have exploited to discredit him. In fact, Barraclough quit the organization only a year after he joined, presumably due to an ideological rift over the “De Carli Action,” a massive propaganda attack on New Chicago’s largest and most popular Catholic-Sunni Synagogue. Evidence of Barraclough’s unhappiness with the group’s shift in targets from schools to churches is visible in the despondent opening of the final press release Barraclough penned for the group in 3332:

Having abandoned all hope for scholastic reform via aerial propaganda campaigns, the New Chicago Cluster Balloonists have decided to shift our focus towards a more dubious, even pompous, action . . .

The group was quick to denounce Barraclough as a traitor, an accusation that carried an automatic death sentence, and he was forced to leave New Chicago at the age of fifteen for Sal Mesa, California where he would live for the remainder of his life.

In Sal Mesa, Barraclough enrolled in the Oppenheimer Institute of Edaphological Studies, where he earned his research-poet degree in three years, and was subsequently offered a junior position on the faculty. Barraclough’s published works on soil science were peppered with the extravagant displays of verbosity and metaphor typical of the edaphological discourse of his time. Consider the following passage as an example:

We, the brethren of the mask, dismantled the deadly effluvium and spread it, black and loamy and treacherous across the gazing pallet, and with heaving breath we began our fruitful dialog with the depths.

In 3397 Barraclough married Vasily Dokuchaev, a Croation pedologist whom he met through an exchange program with the Oppenheimer’s sister institution in Zagreb. Little is known about the five years the two men spent together, but bits of evidence from Dokuchaev’s files indicate that it was a rocky relationship:

Dear Franze, I am inebriated with angst today as Howie left the dishes unzeffered. The collections of yeasty billons is starting to annoy me. We had a massive flux last night in the middle of watching Forest People, missed the crucial scenes. You must tell me what happened. Am growing waned with Howie, though I love him more than spoons. Last night he told me he was going back to Terminus, AGAIN, for seven weeks. I hate to say it but I am looking forward to the time alone.

The trip Dokuchaev is referring to would be Barraclough’s last. It was also Barraclough’s first solitary expedition into the radio-active zones surrounding ancient Terminus, and records indicate that he was supplied with a research tank that was over thirty years old. The poor condition of his conveyance could have been the cause of the accident Barraclough suffered on his return from the Terminus ruins, in which the tank, for reasons Barraclough would never be able to explain, flipped over three times before landing on its roof and rupturing the sealed pilot’s chamber. Fully conscious that he was being exposed to potentially lethal doses of radiation, Barraclough elected not to attempt to manually seal the chamber and wait for help (another research vessel was only four miles away), but to exit the tank and right the vehicle himself using a hastily constructed network of winches and pulleys assembled from his soil sampling tools. This decision, one that most certainly cost him his life, may have also cost him his professional reputation. Somehow, in righting the research tank, the hard drive that Barraclough had found buried in the ice just above the Gelisolic layer of soil near the center of ancient Terminus, went missing.

Returned from Terminus, Barraclough began a race against time and the effects of severe radiation poisoning to complete his final, and only significant, work. Vasily Dokuchaev described Barraclough’s obsessive commitment in these final weeks as “totally and brain-numbingly vehement. Howie never came bedwards. Then when he was put to bed by the doctors, he refused to leave the bed. He worked and he withered and as his article grew his body dimpled into nothing until he finally finished it. Then he died.”

Barrclough was cremated. His ashes will be scattered in Terminus, as he wished, “when ice pack melts and the Gelisol is finally exposed.” According to some soil-scientists, this could happen in as soon as fifty years.

 

TWO ADDITIONAL FRAGMENTS

 

I eat soft food in the presence of octogenarians.

 

help wanted

 

 

 

 

 

NOTES

[1] Of course, had Barraclough survived, he would have been forced to defend the authenticity of his findings from the virtual landslide of professional criticism they provoked, a criticism so vehement and energetic that some historians have suggested political motivations. For an undistinguished edaphologist from a small corporate institution to uncover unprecedented material while performing low-budget soil-sampling forays would have been a significant affront to the elite, highly-funded cadres of archeologists and epigraphists who were also scouring the region at the time.

[2] It is interesting to note, however, that Davies was one of the few archeologists who refused to proffer a verdict on the Terminus Fragments, claiming there was “enough internal evidence to warrant authenticity, but woefully inadequate physical data to corroborate it.”

[3] or “comet trails” as they are colloquially known to digital epigraphists

[4] Attempts have been made to verify the fragments intra-textually. Of particular note is the work of post-metaphorical neo-fictionalist Liam McGraph who wrote in 3489: “If the fragments are fictions, it stands to reason that a close reading will reveal certain subtle, imbedded links and similarities between the material in question and the character of the author who scribed it. If, on the other hand, the fragments are authentic, then such an analysis will demonstrate a causal chain of verifiable trends towards other extant literatures of the time period. In either case, we assert that the bulk of the evidence for or against the authenticity of the fragments must, by a necessity of last resorts, be present in the fragments themselves, and that a close reading of these texts is the only viable method remaining for verification.” McGraph’s work, however, was inconclusive.

[5] Classical Edaphologos is the scientific style common to turn-of-the-century edaphology texts, which is characterized by fanciful, poetic diction and irregular rhyme and rhythmic structures.

[6] It should be noted that even while disputing the veracity of the fragments themselves, no epigraphists of the time, including Davies, took issue with Barraclough’s bracketed additions.

[7] Ironically, the writings of Willard Wirtz have lost credibility in the last forty years, following the publication of Wirtz in Terminus, a collection of scholarly poems depicting Wirtz as a Hamadryas Baboon, and recent suspicions that Wirtz may never have actually visited Terminus himself, relying instead on data he purchased from professional explores.

[8] Searches of Barraclough’s residence after his death revealed a number of tomes on digital-epigraphy, radioactive archeology, and the culture of mid-millennium Terminus, however sales receipts and library records indicate that Barraclough acquired the bulk of them after he returned from his final trip to the ruins of Terminus.

[9] This name is actually Wirtzian conjecture. Despite its widespread contemporary popularity and a host of burgeoning cult movements (such as the CFO Symphony, the CFO Society, and the CFO Scientologists), the idea of a central regulatory authority for flogging, and the term “Central Flagellation Office” itself, were the creations of Willard Wirtz, who only applied the name in passing as a way of referring to the supposed authority.

[10] NACSA secretly deployed long-range spray operations of minute radioactive pellets, which sank into the ice-cover during snowfall and permanently contaminated large swaths of land. Terminus would never discover this fact, and following peace negotiations and eventual alliances, NACSA’s radioactive spraying was suppressed and buried until Kelly Davies, in 3455, uncovered military text files alluding to the operations in detail.

[11] Willard Wirtz

[12] Wirtz has suggested that it was a covert migration, undertaken only by Terminus’ elite lineages, who would have purchased their entry into surrounding city-states and slowly integrated into those societies until their own origins were lost. This theory, however, neglects to consider the fate of Terminus’s large proletariat. Additionally, Wirtz’s study of “Terminitic Bone Structure in the Aboriginal Inhabitants of New Kentuck” has recently come under fire due to allegations that he surgically altered the mandibles of his living Kentuck subjects to match those of Terminitic origin.

[13] Note that the use of “we” was common in Classic Edaphologos even when the subject is singular. Barraclough was alone on this survey.

[14] Vasily Dokuchaev has remarked that Barraclough was fond of lime-aid.

[15] Musical haze: Classical Edaphologos for a brief shower of medium sized graupel, common in Terminitic regions.

[16] This is a typical feature of Terminitic geography.

[17] i.e. twenty minutes.

About the Work

Benjamin Solomon

Benjamin Solomon’s work has appeared in One Story, Diagram, and The Southeast Review. He is a founding editor of The Open Face Sandwich, a biennial anthology of uncommon prose.

back to:

From the Archives