God Bless You, Philippe Audiarde - A Short Story By Ian Canon
If you enjoyed the short story, be sure to check out my novel, “It’s A Long Way Down.”
God Bless You, Philippe Audiarde
I write to you under the cover of night, near candlelight, as the snores of our fellow Fathers fill the adjacent room. I know not what is in my power of disclosure, nor what will, through the guiding hand of God, reach your ears. I pray the good man Big John will see to it you receive this letter, as I have received yours.
I want to assure you that what you have heard is not imaginary. The disturbance you have felt around you, and the whispers in the halls of our great Church, are real. There are letters, hundreds of them, from all over the world. As we speak, they are being studied at all four corners of the Church, shielded from the prying eyes of the public, penned by what we are calling “The Man From Nowhere.”
I, along with Father Birmingham, Father Theroux, and Father Wilson, are working under the tutelage of the Archbishop Bartolucci, and have been tasked with the reading and summation of the writing that follows the ‘Great Rambling.’
But beyond this period, and in the year since the discovery of the letters, I have been fortunate enough to read the collection in its entirety. I even have, in my possession, a great number of transcriptions, which, in a moment, I will share with you.
The letters were written by a man named Philippe Audiarde. In them, he described an event, precipitated by “a deep and terrible sneeze” (Letter 1, 2 years after freeze, denoted by ‘AF’) — a sneeze so great, Father, that what would succeed it is unimaginable, unthinkable, and unbelievable. The world, he said, went silent. Philippe Audiarde, if the letters are to be believed, found himself in “a world without time” (Letter 1, 2 AF), where all around him had frozen. And, for the next 44, 519 years, Philippe Audiarde would compose 776 letters, or, at the very least, a total of 776 letters have survived his journey through non-time.
I can understand, Father Bernard, if it is your natural inclination to declare this a bold-faced hoax. This reaction has been most fortunate for the Church. As the letters were discovered, and rumours circulated, the Church has promptly steered public opinion to just that—rumours. That being said, it is the official opinion of our group of Fathers, and by our holy extension, the Church, and the historians who have viewed the letters, and the men of science who have verified the age, that these letters are exactly as old, and as real, as they claim to be.
However, there is a problem. The turmoil these letters are causing, in both our small group, and the Church at large, has been troubling. I myself know not what to make of it. If the letters are to be trusted, and again, I believe they are, what are we to believe about our world? What is the public to believe? How could the Church still remain the moral and metaphysical authority when it offers so little guidance in the face of this apparent phenomenon? It can’t, and it doesn’t, which is why I fear that should these letters be made public, the Church may crumble. And at the same time, I see wisdom and sincerity in the words. I see a man emerging from eternity to guide us home. So, I’m at an impasse, and I know not how to proceed.
Which is why I am writing this letter to you, Father Bernard. I have always trusted your judgement, advice and council, and I need it now more than ever. I shall summarize the letters for you here, some in full, some in my own words, and should you deem them worthy for the world to see, so be it—I will release Philippe Audiarde to the world.
These are the full facts, as I know them.
Philippe Audiarde (of which, no formal record exists) was a French bricklayer who was born on a small farm outside of Paris in 1855. The terrible, time-stopping sneeze occurred over a coffee with his brother, Tomás (of which, again, no record exists). They owned a bricklaying company called the “Audiarde Brothers” (of which, I am sure you can surmise, no record exists) together in Paris, and were discussing payment from an outstanding client. He was, and would forever remain, thirty eight years old.
Throughout his ostensibly infinite lifespan, he would be constantly “struck by the weirdness of it all” (Letter 612, 32,415 AF), the inconsistent nature of his world. Some of his bodily processes still progressed as if they were moving forward in time, like the growth of his hair or toenails, but he felt no hunger, or thirst, and didn’t require anything to run his bodily engine. It was, he was, outside of the laws of physics—a machine in perpetual motion, while everything around him was still. As such, he no longer ate, drank, or used the toilet, except in the rare—until he would stop altogether—times he would indulge in food or beverage. When he looked up to the sky, the moon and the stars and the sun hung motionless.
“What heavenly strings hold them up, while I prance around earth, is a mystery as mighty as the universe’s great and enduring questions” (Letter 47, 410 AF).
Philippe would go on, filling most of his early letters and sparing no detail, to write of the juvenile and craven acts he would perform during his first weeks and months alone. I will say that the sins committed were primarily sexual in nature, Father Bernard, but I’ll leave those barbaric details up to your imagination. Granted, this period was short—an infancy in the time of Philippe, but, should his word be released, I suspect Philippian detractors shall give great credence to this period, to point to it and say, “ah hah! There he is, Philippe The Damned.” But, it seems clear to me, that just as a rebellious child tests his new world, so did Philippe, pushing it to the limits of human depravity, until he knew not what to do with himself.
“I tried to get it to start again today,” he writes, in his fourth letter, in the fourth year after the freeze. “Time, that is. I want out. I need out. I am going mad in this place. It is a purgatory. A hell, maybe. Thoughts of death often cross my mind and perhaps I am already dead. Already a soul wandering an afterlife. But how to start it again? Pepper lines my nostrils and I have sneezed a thousand different ways. I roar from the bottom of my guts, but still I am here alone.”
For 34 years, Philippe would wander the world, looking for answers to his time-stuck questions, but the world, in its stillness, remained silent. Then, one day, he had an awakening, a movement of spirit.
“I sit here in the Stuttgart Library, surrounded by once living vessels of knowledge, wondering: what does a man do with all this time? I’ve rowed the seven still seas, hiked windless deserts, explored the dark side of the earth, and laid low in the shadows of foreign lands. But looking around I realize that other lands lay at my fingertips. That the worlds created by man are near infinite. I have the unique chance to hear from them, speak to them across centuries, to open up their minds and explore what they want to show me. I’ve been granted an audience with all of mankind and I dare not waste it any longer” (Letter 5, 38 AF).
What would follow—and I’ll be brief with my summation, Father Bernard, because this is not my area of expertise—was an “Age of Consumption,” during the years 38 AF to 1786 AF. Philippe, during this period of consumption, roamed the world’s libraries, consuming every text known to man, including literature, biographies, plays, and poetry. He learned multiple languages (and would begin to write his letters in English), produced his own works of fiction (which are breathtaking, I assure you), he transcribed history, memorized and reproduced philosophical texts word for word—if his letters are free of embellishment—studied ancient rhetoric, until he finally, after a long and arduous battle with the subjective arts, made his way to science.
Objectivity, however, in a world like his, didn’t exist. The basic laws of physics weren’t congruent to the things he saw and experienced. Without that baseline to build a coherent understanding of his world, science was, at best, a doctrine from another land, and at worst, simple fairy tales that didn’t match up with his day to day knowledge.
Take letter 334, dated 1786 AF, which began with the words, “I now know death” and tells of an experience he had, which science would not dare take up or explain (and when has science ever touched upon a terrible, time-stopping sneeze?). Philippe was in a small rowboat, on the English Channel, when he slipped, hit his head, and plunged into the murky depths. While he cannot recall the events that took place immediately after, what he does know is that he regained consciousness, without any serious injury, on a shoreline near Dieppe, France, his boat nowhere in sight. Let me be candid, Father Bernard—does this not sound like a man being guided by the hand of a God?
After this event, one thing was clear to Philippe: it was the end of any illusions he had regarding the power of science to explain his world. “This event has reminded me, as I often forget, that I know nothing of where I am, who I am, or what I am. Only that I am trapped here with nothing but time ahead of me. I understand now that not even death can be my escape.”
Philippe’s ostensible death would engender a period of great confusion. This era, as I had mentioned previously, Father Bernard, I call, “The Great Rambling,” though others are partial to calling it the “Philippian Dark Ages.” While it precedes my area of study, I believe it precipitates it. I will, first of all, grant you (and others) that this is a period of somewhat incoherent thought, the ravings, perhaps, of a madman, but there are glimmers of truth throughout this period of writing.
For example, this section of letter 448, in 23, 418 AF: “Time. Time. Time. All I have is time and nothing else. An abundance of time. Man-made time. But what is time with no point to compare it to? Does it exist? I move forward but nothing else does. Is a point on a map a point if there is nothing but infinity in either direction? Where does it exist without context? Do I exist? Am I existence? Questions lead me nowhere because I am nowhere in time. I am the man from nowhere. No context. No place to go, no place to be. A whisper with no ears to hear me. Writing to no one. Writing to not-me, future-me, current-me, past-me. Who am I? Why was I chosen? Why am I here? Is it my goal, my purpose, to explore the far reaches of madness? To discover what one is capable of, when he has the time to build it, to achieve it? I have no wants, no goals, no far-fetched future to strive to. How can I achieve anything when there is no one to advance my achievements, no one to build upon them, no one to clap their hands at hard-fought sweat. What is man without another? A void. I am a void. I am a hiccup. I am an error of God, who forgot one of his lonely creatures in the crevices of time. Will he one day remember me? Will he one day pluck me from this place? Would he deem me worthy of the context of time? Or is that his goal? Am I here to learn, so that I can bring back my troubles to mankind? Lift them up from an opium of time, through a time-stuck seance, and give them the word of Philippe, all that I’ve learned, all that I know, for them and them alone. Am I conduit for God. Is this his purpose at work? Or am I systematic error of the universe? Is there a difference?”
Tell me, Father Bernard, am I imagining it all? Or is there is an inkling here, a sparkle of something akin to a religious moment, where our dear Mr. Audiarde begins to understand his greater purpose. I read his words and see a dull blade being sharpened by time. He begins, like a wandering prophet, to understand his purpose. His eyes glaze over, and God speaks to him, through him. Is not God one and the same—a creature out of time? Take his statement, “Will he one day remember me? Will he one day pluck me from this place?” He understands his damnation, this purgatory of time-stuck cleansing, but still, he moves forward without any destination. Is he being tested, as many who have heard the word of God have been tested before? Are these the words of the Almighty, coming through our dear Mr. Audiarde? Have they found their way to me, so that I, Father McFerrin, could share them with the world? Am I, with my own humble beginnings, being called to be the messenger for God? Am I being tested?
Perhaps this is the kernel of truth that I was looking for when I set out to write to you, Father Bernard. I did not see it until now, had not realized my own potential purpose in these machinations of God, but here we are. I can feel a spirit moving from within me, and I am now, as these words spill out onto the page, trembling with anticipation, but let us not stop here. Let us move on to perhaps his greatest work!
The Treatise, dated 43,526 AF, was the 775th piece of writing penned by Philippe. In this work, his handwriting is slightly altered, as if it were written in haste, or as if a great wave of inspiration filled his spirit, and propelled his hand movements. It is on the longer side, at 98 pages, but not near the longest of the Philippian letters. It begins with a short story, a parable perhaps, titled “Do Geese See God?” about a young child who glimpses his own relative mortality while caring for a dying goose. In the final moments, the young protagonist sees his own reflection in the eyes of the goose, and he understands, for the first time in his short life, that all things must die. It is as if, Father Bernard, he is himself a god coveting the brief lives of us mere mortals, looking upon us from the heavenly altar of non-time, and creating his own fictional universe, where death is real and everywhere.
While it is a moving experience for the reader, I believe its true audience is our dear Philippe himself, who is suffering from an eternity of stillness, yearning for mortality. With no end in sight, his only recourse is to instead warn us, which he does in the next section, the heart of the treatise. Here is one part, Father, in his own words.
“My dear reader. You who are the legions of the unstuck. Those fortunate souls who are cursed with a short 70 to 90 years. To the universe you are nothing but a whisper in the wind. You will create nothing. You will be nothing. You glimpse life. You grasp out to take it and before you can grab hold, your fire is put out, never to see flame again. This ephemeral gasp at life is both your noble curse and your salvation. You’ll find reminders of your mortality appearing in all aspects of life, in every society, on every mountain and at the bottom of every bog. You’ll think about it on rainy days and dark nights, when you’re tucked into bed or when you look into your lover’s eyes. Unlike me, who is damned to exist outside of time, you are mortal and your time is short. Do with it as you like. I give you permission. I give you the freedom but with an offering of hope. There is more to this world than what you simply experience, more than you can fit into a day. Life is full of the wondrous and the strange and I am here, a prophet whispering from another land, to tell you not to fear it. Because none of this is real. What is real is beyond you, beyond all of this, and beyond me. I know not what to call it except Godliness, and it is everywhere.”
I can still remember the first time I read these words, Father Bernard. I was, as I am now, overrun with emotion, taken back by their bluntness. At first, I tried to bury them beneath a lifetime of church-borne theology, where there were no more prophets, and no more words of God, but who am I to shun this man? Who am I to say that this isn’t the word of God speaking through Philippe Audiarde? Who am I to say this isn’t an act of self-sacrifice, to guide the world home?
As you know, I am only a man of God. I have known nothing but a life of devotion and faith. I have dedicated my whole life to one text, only to discover another, as true and rich and improbable as any that came before it. But to be told, with such sincerity, the conviction of which could only be borne out of forty four thousand years alone in a purgatory, that there is something more than this life, something close to God, as I have always known, has cryalistized in my mind an act of truth.
How could I, now that I know this, turn away from this man? Do I not have an oath to God, and not the Church? Isn’t that where my allegiance lies, Father Bernard? Isn’t that where yours lies, as well? Is it not my duty, as a servant of God’s will, to spread his word far and wide? And hasn’t Philippe suffered more than any prophet before him? He has lived an eternity, unanswered. Who would I be to not heed his words? To let the words of this man, my prophet, disappear with the wind. To come so close to Godliness, only to turn my back on it. I would be a coward, not deserving of the title of Father. I would be no man of God. I would be nothing. No one. But with this, it is an opportunity to show the spirit of God that resides within me, to become the bearer of Philippe’s words, which are holy and true, purified by an eternity of time, and spread them forth.
And so, my answer has become clear and my purpose is all but done. With my help, acting as the messenger of a prophet, a new age will be upon us and it will be the Philippian age. And our good Church, if it is acting in the interest of God, and not its own motives, will recognize it for what it is: a new path forward, closer to His Holiness, with the venerable Philippe at its helm.
I have only one question left, Father Bernard: Are you with me?
Signed, Father McFerrin on the holy day of May 10th, 1894.