Stories that fly under a dark banner.


This story is based on a monologue I wrote for my final year at university. I hope it goes some way to explaining the odd title of the site for you. At the time I was exploring a lot of themes around the notion of beginnings and endings when I came across a quote by, (I think,) Baudrillard or maybe Chandler describing how an entire civilisation can be rediscovered from a small piece of found pottery. I wanted to explore how in life someone could lead an inconspicuous life but in death they could become significant.

  • UAMC

On the 23rd of February 1987 a star exploded in the Large Magellanic cloud. For the next few days it became one of the brightest objects in the Southern Hemisphere and hung low over the skies of North Africa.

Several days later the body of a man was found in a small patch of sheltered ground some forty kilometers to the south-west of Al Fayum. The story of the discovery caused a stir in the area. The man was presumed to be British. No passport was found and no other identifying details apart from a hand written poem and some marks that had been made in the dry ground at the side of the body, presumably by the dead man.

There had been trouble with violence towards tourists and the Cairo authorities, fearing a drop in the economy, called in the British Embassy officials to handle the investigation. A commission was given and the following report outlines the 4 stages of the investigation into the identity of the man who became referred to as Mr. X.

Part 1: The Detective’s Theory.

The detective’s theory hinged on the discoveries the Egyptian Authorities had made, namely a piece of stationery from the Ramada Renaissance hotel with a poem written in English. They found that no one had ever seen the man before and no one could verify his identity. The team in charge of the investigation tried to establish if the man had travelled from the hotel into Cairo. and then out to Al Fayum. They checked the symbols that had been written in the sand. They were a combination of Hieroglyphs and Arabic:

The hieroglyphs translated as: “From the temple of the Crocodiles they came. Beyond the land of two rivers. One remained and one returned.”

The Arabic as: “Under the stars, the dust. After the dust, the stars. 1987”

After translation they managed to formulate the theory that Mr. X had visited Crocodilopilos and had been taken into the desert by one of the guides there. There was no evidence of this at any of the sites and no one could prove anything beyond that the paper came from the hotel and the message referred to Crocodilopilos.

Part 2: The Archeologist’s Theory.

The investigation commissioned by the British Embassy was a little more detailed when it came to analysing the evidence. They managed to determine that the marks had been made by Mr. X who had been trying to leave some clue to his demise. They also looked more closely at the poem written on the hotel stationery.

A detective…

…loses his notes…

…due to the angle…

…and velocity…

…of the wind.

The wind is caused by a high-speed train,

Going too fast because it was late,

Late because of a fault on the line,

Faulty because of a rushed repair,

Rushed because of the Need for time,

Taken away by an accident,

Caused bby a woman who fell on the tracks,

Whose reason is lost as he loses his notes,

(Whose reason is lost as he loses his notEs.)

They were taken by the emphasis on some of the letters. There was evidently some form of code in place. After some very basic cryptography, they deciphered that the highlighted words formed a grid reference: 28°52’40.84″N by  30°31’22.18″E. The reference led them to the steps of the Monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in the Wadi Natrun near Al Fayum. It is a small and ancient Coptic monastery with a small but growing population of Coptic Christians. They carried out an extensive investigation at the site, something the authorities were uncomfortable with but the monks were welcoming and helpful. Mr. X had visited them 3 months prior to his body being found. He had left no name or indication of where he had been and he was malnourished and uncared for.

He was particularly interested in their Limestone tablets which held most of the holy writings of Saint Samuel. Many of these were housed in the dry cellars of the monastery. After a week of investigating, a panel was discovered that proved something of a problem it seemed to contain a mixture of Coptic, Hieroglyphic and Latin markings. The panel, made of gold leaf pressed onto the surface of an over sized limestone tablet, showed a map of the Nile. It marked the three pyramids at Giza, the temple at Crocodilopilos, the Large area of water at Al Fayum, the monastery and, surprisingly the location Mr. X had been found, marked with an X and the year 1987.

They enlisted the help of the Coptic Society. Wheels were now moving in the Egyptian Government when the investigation had moved to the monastery. There was unrest in the muslim community who had always been quick to find a reason to rise against these small communities. Archeologists from the Coptic Museum in Cairo examined the tablet and the panel and discovered that it pre-dated Coptic Christianity in Northern Egypt. It was, by all accounts, unique. Something never seen before.

A new theory came to light, Mr. X was now an explorer, a smuggler perhaps, looking for some kind of treasure in the desert. He had been given clues as to how to find this treasure and followed them. There was still a suggestion that someone had worked with him but if they had been with him in the desert it was now unclear. The more evidence that was being unearthed, the less they seemed to be sure of who or what they were dealing with. A murder or an accidental death. An excavation was started around the area his body was found.

Part 3: The Astronomers Theory.

Several months went by and work on the excavation were brought to a close. The panel, now housed at the Museum in Cairo had been discussed by experts around the world. Carbon dating showed that the tablet dated back to 300 years prior to the birth of Christ. The image had been displayed through electronic networks, news broadcasts and magazines. It wasn’t long before more experts and would be experts started to formulate their own opinions and theories. It was a young astronomer from an observatory to the north-east of Cairo who discovered that the panel contained a completely different meaning. The panel was not only a map of the desert, but a reflection of the stars in the middle and southern hemispheres.

Most people are familiar with the alignment of the Pyramids at Giza reflecting the Belt of Orion and the Nile following the line of the Milky Way. The panel reflected much more than this. The temple at Crocodilopilos marked the position of the Dog Star Sirius, Al Fayum corresponded with the Large Magellanic Cloud. The most exciting discovery was the alignment of the small sheltered patch of land marked  X1987. Not only did this show the place where Mr.X had been found dead, but now it seemed to correspond with the Supernova1987. A picture and a story became clearer.

The new theory suggested that the man had visited the Hotel in Alexandria and travelled via Crocodilopilos to The monastery of Saint Samuel, he had spent some time viewing the limestone tablets held in the cellars before discovering the gold leaf covered tablet with the map. The timings are important here because at some time during the day of the 23rd of February, he must have left the monastery and headed out into the desert following the directions on the panel. As the sun set and he neared his final destination, he would have seen the supernova emerging above the horizon.

Part 4: The Philosopher’s Theory.

Apart from the few small scraps of evidence that suggested what could have happened and left gaping holes in lots of theories about ancient languages and mathematical and astronomical predictions, the commissioned investigation was still no closer to establishing what had happened to Mr.X. Had he been murdered? If he had taken his own life, why?

Mr. X provided the coordinates and the locations the “Why” was missing. My own theories perhaps go some way to uncovering some of this. When I think of the moment when he would have discovered the Supernova and it reflection cast into the surface of the desert around him, the significance of the dying star would not have been lost. He was a man of symbols and meaning. He had travelled this far so he had to be. He would have also been aware of the fact that when he looked into the sky, he would not simply be gazing into a mirror in space but a mirror in time. The light from the Supernova had taken nearly 170,000 years to reach the earth, long before humanity had established any reasonable kind of civilisation.

The stars and the ground, the past and the present all existing in the same place at once. Symbols and meaning colliding over and over with each other. I see him considering his affinity with the situation and considering his place in the symmetry. There would have to be a death, it would be the only way he could live for ever, immortalised in the light of the dying star above him. I consider that he simply laid down to die. The autopsy showed as much.

There had been no struggle. The rock which had fallen onto his head had been lodged above him with a stick which, when ready he had simply knocked away. Sweet oblivion with very little pain. I wonder if he had considered what he wrote and how long he had pondered on his final words. He spoke of dust and stars and stars and dust, a clear reference to the formation and the death of stars.

I believe Mr. X created a new life for himself, one created by others where he no longer needed to be present. Perhaps now we think more about him than we ever did when he was alive. All we will ever know for certain is that he died in a small dip in the dry shifting sands of the Egyptian desert on the 23rd of February 1987, under a Magellanic Cloud.

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