Congratulations--you have found the decryption for the encrypted story in City of Saints & Madmen. Just remember--those who cheat by not decrypting the story themselves earn the well-deserved wrath of those who did put in the hundreds of hours required for decryption. Just fair warning...


Preamble:This is an approximate decryption. The exact meaning of the encrypted story, the precise words used to compose it in encrypted form, and the emotional resonance of decrypting the story are subject to change. Without decrypting the story yourself, your personal reaction to it will always be muted and inexact. A strange impulse will come over you. A kind of curiosity. This impulse will direct you to decrypt the story even after you believe you have interpreted its meaning from the pages that follow this note. At night, with a flashlight, your lover asleep next to you, you will find yourself turning pages, scribbling words, intuiting numerals. In the morning, spent, you will remember nothing but a faint tingle in the temples, where resides information you cannot quite retrieve.

THERE CAME A day when the gray caps changed the course of the River Moth and flooded the city of Ambergris. Abandoning their subterranean lair, they came out into the light, put the rulers of the city to flight, and took over the islands that were now Cinsorium once again.

At first, people found that life did not change much under the new rulers. It certainly did not change for the most famous writer in Ambergris. Born in the city, he used the city as his palette, bending every word in the world to his will. He could create paragraphs so essential that to be without their smooth, wise forms was to be without a soul. If his mood was grim, he would create suicide paragraphs: words from the almost dead to the definitely dead. He could, I tell you, describe an object in such a way that forever after his description replaced the original.

Perhaps if he had been less talented, he would have been less arrogant. For praise rose all about him as naturally as the fog that came off the River Moth and he came to think of himself as unbound by any laws other than those of fiction.

Thus, he felt a growing need to break the labyrinthine rules of the gray caps. He laughed at daybreak in front of the watery ruins of Truffidian Cathedral. After dusk, he distributed his stories on public streets for free. He read his work from a boat above the flooded and now forbidden statue of Voss Bender. He wrote paragraphs in honor of the Lady in Blue (who, from the underground passages of the gray caps, confronted them with the evidence of their own cruelty).

After the fifth such offense, the gray caps cut out his tongue and threw it into the now bloated River Moth, for the fish had grown fond of such flesh. They plucked out his eyes and used them on their barges. They cut off his hands and used them as candles at their administrative offices. They mutilated his torso with their symbol, in fungus green. Then they sent him to the one-room stilt house of his birth, by the water, so that he could, in darkness, contemplate his fate where once he had watched swallows fly, snatching insects.

For a long time, no one visited the writer out of fear. His own wife left him because she was not brave enough. Every week, a Truffidian priest would come close enough to leave food and water on his doorstep.

The writer sat in a chair facing the wall as the stories built up inside of him until he was so full that he thought he would die from the weight of them in his lungs. But he had no tongue with which to speak. He had no eyes with which to see the world. He had no hands with which to write down his stories. He lived inside a box inside a box. What now could he do?

For many weeks, he thought about killing himself and might have done so except that one day he bumped against the table on which he set the supplies and a pen rolled off the edge. It fell against his left foot. The touch was cold and sharp. The sensation spread up his leg and up into his torso until, inside the boxes inside his head, something awoke.

The writer spent the next three weeks feeling his way across every inch of his room much as you, dear reader, are feeling your way through this story. He picked up anything that lay against the walls until the table, the chair, the bed, and a few books all stood in the middle of the room. Then, holding the pen between his toes, he began to write on the wall.

It took many months to learn how to write with his feet. It was weeks before the visiting priest could read a single letter and much longer before anything more complex appeared on the walls. Words formed without form: “crashing am worry depends on the continuing earth exists can Zamilon.” Each letter became an act of will—a playing out in his mind of what it should look like and then making his toes, his foot, his leg, apply the correct pressure to the wall so that the pen did not break and the shape took form correctly.

Over time, the writer covered the walls of his room with the visions that blossomed in the dark gardens of his mind. Words formed sentences, sentences paragraphs, paragraphs stories. With each word, a great burden lifted itself from the writer and he began to feel like himself again. Later, with sheets of paper and more pens begged from the priest, more words spilled out in a jumble, his pages a flood greater than that brought by the gray caps.

     I saw one of the stories the writer wrote on the wall—in red ink, surrounded by thousands of other, disconnected words. It read:

There once was a cage in an empty room. A soft, soft sound like weeping came from the cage. After a time, a man entered the room. He was gray and sad. He held a small animal by the ears. It was battling to escape. The cage grew silent. The man approached the cage. He pulled the cage door open, threw in the animal, and slammed the door shut. As the man watched, the animal screamed, its paws sliding off the bars. A wound appeared in its left leg. A wound appeared in its left shoulder. Slowly, the animal was eaten alive until it was just a pile of bone and blood. The weeping became relentless. Everything the man placed within the cage died. Every time, the man felt a corresponding thrill of delight. But eventually the thrill died too. It became ordinary, something he had to do. Would it ever stop? He could not decide. One day, he grew so bored that he opened the cage to let the nothing out. He expected it would kill him, but it did not. It let him live. It followed him everywhere. Over time, it killed everything he held dear, weeping the entire time. When nothing was left to care about, it abandoned the man. The man sat in his room with the empty cage and made the weeping sound the cage had once made.

Before the gray caps had mutilated him, the writer had published dreams and long, absurd stories. He had published fake histories and travel guides. I cannot say I care much for what he writes now, although he became famous for it. Within a short time, readers began to come from far away to buy a page from him. The writer would be able to continue to do what he had always done. He just had no tongue. He just had no eyes. He just had no hands. Was that really so bad?

     At least, this is the story the man wrote for me when, as a traveler to Ambergris—fresh from an encounter with the giant squid that had scuttled my boat—I visited him in his room. Later, others told me that he had been born in his current state and that all of his ideas came from old books by obscure authors, read to him by a friend.

     When I first saw him, he sat by a window, his head thrown back as if to receive the light. (I now know he was listening. Intently.) The writer was a wiry man whose face, with its wrinkles and mouth of perpetual grimace, hinted at tortures beyond imagining. His arms did indeed end in nothing. His legs, curled beneath him, were tight with muscle and ended in muscular feet. His toes seemed as supple as my fingers. When I came in, he smiled at me. He uncurled his feet, stood, and held his leg up in a ridiculous position. I thought he wanted to “shake hands”, but no: he held a piece of paper between his toes. He nudged it toward me. I took it. What did it say? I could not read it. It was just a series of numbers. What do numbers mean to a man like me? Nothing.

1:1 15:4 1:3 15:8 2:56 5:35 4:66 14:34 4:33. 4:56 14:34 2:25 1:3 5:74 5:75 13:191 7:43 5:96 5:97 5:98 5:99. 1:6 5:96 7:79 10:91 13:208 3:18 1:6 4:35 10:59 10:60 16:59 4:78. 1:6 5:96 7:79 10:91 13:208 13:209 1:6 12:22 1:45 2:90, 9:20 9:21, 14:33 7:63. 5:31 7:79 10:91 16:23 1:45 1:23 13:116 1:39 10:43 12:10 2:90 10:46 1:38 7:63 9:26 9:27 14:12 2:100 13:77 16:53. 5:31 7:79 10:91 16:23 9:26. 2:67 2:90 13:152 1:26 2:46 14:48 10:40 1:38 2:92 10:47 1:45 7:58 10:27 10:48. (12:1 10:41 4:40 14:33.) 10:57 2:90 14:64? (16:143 10:91 10:42.) 10:49 2:90? (12:1 3:10 2:4 10:50.) 9:24 13:22 10:5 13:156 15:4 4:5 14:43.

Publisher’s Note: At this link, you will find the decryption of the numbers above. Many readers take this path. Some of them are quite good readers. You could not be blamed for following their lead. After all, why should you waste time when you can just turn the page? Readers who actually take the time to decrypt the numbers above gain at most only two or three startling epiphanies. This is probably not enough to make it worth your while to rip page 6 from its stapled moorings and toss it into the wastebasket without a glance…

artwork by scott eagle site by jt lindroos / oiva design