The Diary of David Amos Phillips.

by Alexander Raban

Runner-up

Lovecraft Idea #121
Photius tells of a (lost) writer named Damascius, who wrote
“Incredible Fictions,” “Tales of Daemons,” “Marvellous Stories of
Appearances from the Dead”.


January 2nd.

I’ve got to get the hell out of this business. A New Year is a time to take stock of years passed and to “chart new courses through unseen seas of future time.” But, thanks to the Internet, there is no god-damned “future time” in the book business. At first, all this was good news for rare book dealers. Not everybody was in on it yet, and you could find and move product in new and really surprising ways. It was only a matter of time though, before everybody caught on. There are no finder’s fees to be had when anyone can see every dealer’s catalogue themselves in a few seconds. Now the only percentage is in combing through uncatalogued collections at estate sales and auctions, sifting through piles of trash like a fucking rag picker. I love books and I love this business, but if this batch of leads doesn’t turn something up, I’m gonna have to close the store for good.

January 8th.

So I think I may have picked up something a little odd at an estate sale this week. The guy had a big old house full of books, and his hapless heirs were trying to move whatever they could. I picked up a few odds and ends, some first editions, a few old printings. But one of them might be something special. It’s an 18th century English printing of the Myriobiblon of Photius. My book-buyer’s deskbook gives this description:

“Photius was a patriarch of Byzantium, who had a role in events leading to the Great Schism. He ran ran afoul of the Byzantine emperor late in life, leading to his exile. While exiled he traveled to the great Abbasid library in Baghdad, where many classical texts that had vanished from Christian Europe were preserved. The Myriobiblon is a product of his researches there, an early literary encyclopedia that digests around 280 texts from classical and Christian antiquity, many of which are no longer extant.“

Or that’s the official version, anyway; the version I’ve picked up covers at least 295 texts. It may be a hoax or an interpolation, or I may have a serious historical discovery here. I’ve never heard of an alternate version before, but even if it is a hoax, it might be worth something to the right buyer. There are also some marginal annotations from the book’s previous owner(s?) trying to track down the various texts in the book. I’m going to go through the notes and see what I can get out of them. Claire thinks I’m going on a wild goose chase, but I put it to her like this: whoever the annotator of this unknown edition was, he’d already found at least one book no one’s seen before, who’s to say he didn’t have leads on more?

January 12th.

I’ve been spending so much time staring at the Myriobiblon, I think I’m starting to dream about it. Or at least I guess that’s what’s happening: I’ve apparently been sleepwalking. I scared Claire half to death. She said I was wandering around the house, talking under my breath, and eventually, I went into the library and sat down at my desk with the book. She tried to wake me up, and I reacted pretty badly. I’ve always heard that it’s dangerous to wake up a sleepwalker. I’m probably just over-wound. Frankly, considering how odd the book has turned out to be, I’d be surprised if I weren’t a little keyed up.

I compared the texts in the regular Myriobiblon to the one I have, and it’s not just the “extra” texts that are different. The main body of the book is differently arranged and the content is pretty distinct. The Photius who wrote this version is probably not the same man who wrote the historical Myriobiblon: different interests, different tone, and a starkly different religious outlook. The original Myriobiblon covers dozens of texts from the early Church fathers in warm and sympathetic detail. In this version, Christian sources are handled diffidently (if at all), and when addressed they’re given short shrift (or subtly discredited).

And then there’s the “new’ material. Many of the texts in my version would not have found their way into the original. Stories about the adventures of “daemons,” about men half-rising from the dead in “joyous mockery of Christ and Lazarus,” completely incredible stories of ghosts “inhabiting” the bodies of the living. Stuff much better suited to the Arabian Nights than to a Christian Scholiast. And the previous owner’s annotations describe his search for some of these volumes, specifically those written by a “Damascius of Baghdad.” According to the notes, he even seems to have found some of them. I should go back to the house, and see if the heirs have finished getting rid of all the books.

Small wonder I’m excited about all this. I could retire on this (if it pans out). My head is spinning like a top when I lie in bed at night, I can barely get to sleep. I apparently can’t stay in bed once I’m asleep either, but I’m not too worried about that. I’ll have plenty of time to sleep soundly when this is done.

January 17th.

Good news and bad news. I went back to the house and convinced the heirs to let me have another look around. Based on the annotator’s description of the physical books, I think I found some of the writings of Damascius. The bad news is that they’re written in a flowing script (Arabic? Neo-Aramaic?) that I can’t read. The heirs said they had some other buyers interested in the books as a “lot,” but I was the only one interested in specific books at this point. They wanted to make sure the books found a good home, so they sold them to me for a song. The other good news is that they’re full of notes too (thankfully in English). Maybe I can piece together a few things from the notes. I can’t wait to get started on them.

My impatience to get started also seems to have led to continued sleep-walking. My wife has thrown me out of our room and has me sleeping in the library. She says I’ll just wind up there anyway. I think she may be starting to get a little concerned; she’s been (subtly) suggesting we should go on a vacation or something, that I’ve been working too hard. And she may be right: I’ve been pretty exhausted lately, but this may be the find of a lifetime.

January 20th.

I’m working through the notes pretty steadily, and it’s just gotten me even more excited. turns our that I read the descriptions of the books too carelessly. They aren’t stories about daemons and dead men rising from their graves. They’re instructional manuals on dealing with daemons and luring the dead back to life. Which is (in one sense) ridiculous, but very, very good for me. The “grimoire” market is a great place to be, because the kooks who really believe this stuff will pay almost anything for a rare piece. The whole occult business is predicated on secrecy and hidden powers. It’s easy to believe your “spells” won’t work when you’re working from a mass market paperback copy of the “Necronomicon” published by Avon books. But this thing, on the other hand, hooks into their half-baked prejudices on a very basic level. It doesn’t matter if it’s any good; the branding alone will sell it.

The weird thing is that, as excited as I am, I’ve been sleeping a lot more than normal. Maybe 13 or 14 hours a night, or at least that’s how it seems to me. My wife tells me that I seem to spend hours sitting in front of the book in my sleep mumbling and grunting. I dream about reading the books, but the weird thing is: in my dreams I can actually read them. I’d always heard that it was impossible to read in dreams, but who knows right? Sometimes in the dreams there’s a man there, talking to me about the books. I can’t remember much about him, but I think he’s supposed to be the author or something like that. Or maybe the annotator? He seems to write things in the books as I read them. It’s all a little confusing. It’s hard to make sense of dreams once you’ve woken up, and everything just seems natural and normal when you’re dreaming.

Then there was also the episode with Jane. She apparently thought I was awake and tried to crawl into my lap, but I must’ve woken up a bit or something because I wound up pitching her onto the floor pretty hard. Claire was already kind of weirded out, but that put her over the edge. She says I need to sell the books and start seeing a doctor or she’s taking the kids and going to stay with her sister. I think I’ve gotten enough out of the books to try and sell them, so I’m going to move them to my storefront tomorrow. That way I can keep looking at them, and it may calm her down a little.

January 28th.

I’m not sure what’s going on. I think I must be sick. I’ve only been waking up for a few hours a day, and when I try to stand everything swells and ripples, like I’ve got a fever. I haven’t seen Claire in a week; I guess she must’ve taken the kids to her sister’s. I don’t know, my memory’s really spotty. The dreams have gotten terrible, not just reading the book anymore, but acting out the book with the man from my dreams. Streaks of blood running down cinderblock walls, pooling on concrete in black viscous swells, bodies jerked around like fleshy marionettes until the joints wear through the skin, and screaming, screaming, screaming.

I’m so tired, something’s gone wrong. I can’t seem to walk more than a step or two, everything smells like funny (like old liver left in the sun), even my handwriting looks different. I feel like I’m falling out of myself into a bottomless pit, just vanishing. I’m so sleepy all the time. I try to stay awake, to try and figure out what’s going on. I tried to call Claire, the phone isn’t working (I must’ve forgotten to pay the bill). Everything’s just so confusing right now... maybe if I sleep, I’ll stop feeling like this, and everything will stop spinning.

February 14th.

It was touch and go for a little while there, but things are getting back to normal. The translation has been a complete success, and the rest of my life begins today. Finishing things up (and cleaning up all the loose pieces) was brutal, but that’s a small price to pay for a whole new beginning. I think I’ll start by going back to the old house to thank the heirs for making sure those books wound up in the right hands...



Alexander Raban is a pseudonym designed to separate the fun part of my life from the boring part. See borrowed images, music/concert reviews, and occasional meandering maunderings at alexanderraban.tumblr.com

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