Martin and Lisa (I/III)

It is 1995. There is no sun in the Underworld.

Martin finds it creepy that there are portraits along the stairs.

One of them is a picture of Frederick. He looks a lot more like the hero than Martin does. But Martin knows him. He was Jane’s brother before Martin was.

“I wonder why you failed,” Martin says.

Then he takes out a bit of charcoal and scribbles a moustache on Frederick’s face.

“Now you’re an Archduke!”

Archduke Frederick, presumably of Austria, looks out impassively at the world.

The next portrait is a picture of Tad. Tad was Jane’s brother after Frederick but before Martin. Tad’s got a smooth smile. He’s pretty cool. Martin isn’t cool yet, so Tad’s coolness annoys him. He turns Tad’s picture around. He writes ‘kick me’ on its back.

Martin descends. He reaches the bottom of the stairs, and a land of mud and darkness.

“I have no idea where to go,” he says.

Nothing happens.

He clears his throat. He says, loudly, “I have no idea where to go! If only there were someone who could help me!”

The world shivers.

Light condenses from the darkness, and ten thousand miles of shadows grow deeper. The light is a girl. She’s carrying a jacket, and her name is Lisa.

“Hey,” she says.


He looks her up and down. They could be siblings. They could be twins. She’s his height exactly, and she’s got his hair, and she’s got his smile, and she’s got his eyes.

“You’re kidding,” Martin says.


Martin looks hesitant.

“She made me,” Lisa says, “a long time ago, to be her older sister. I was an answer to her suffering. I said, ‘maybe it’s for the best. Maybe suffering is transformative. Maybe if I leave her there to suffer, she’ll become something grander, something better, something new.‘”

“Yes,” agrees Martin.

Lisa grins at him. “It makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s a perfect answer. People die in droves, children lay in piles with their arms twitching, dogs starve, and it could all be part of a glorious purpose. The engine that drives the growth of the world. The answer to the Dukkha Call. And I was part of it.”

Lisa turns. She looks out at the mud. She slings her jacket over her shoulder and begins walking.

Martin follows.

“I, um.”

Martin clears his throat.

“That’s why I’m letting her suffer,” he says, “too.”

“Redundancy’s good,” Lisa says, cheerfully. “Hey, do you have a wish?”

Martin looks down. His eyes are in shadow. “I want to win,” he says.

Lisa grins at him. “That’s a good wish,” she says.

“Can you grant it?”

“Maybe!” Lisa grins at him. Her teeth are very white. “If nothing else, I can raise your hopes.”

Martin is not entirely sure how to take that. He retreats in the general direction of sarcasm, but doesn’t quite make it there.

“Yay,” he says.

In the distance, he hears a cry. “Help me!” it says.

“Ignore those,” Lisa says.

“Illusions to lead me off the path?”

“Dead angels,” Lisa says. “Probably some other gods too. They’re steeping in mud and failure until they become something grander, something better, something new.”


“Do you know the rules of the Underworld?” Lisa asks.

“No,” Martin says.

“They’re like this,” Lisa says. “It’s easy to get into the Underworld. There is no body that does not have its personal gate of death; no soul, without its gate of emptiness; no mind, without its gate of deepness. That’s three whole gates per person, and girls have a fourth, so you can see how easy it is. Getting out, on the other hand, is hard. You can’t leave unless you’re the child of a god, beloved by the one who sits on the throne of the world, or a person inherently good.”

Martin looks wry.

Lisa grins at him. It’s a charming expression. “I know,” she says.

He snorts.

“I do,” she says. “I had the same dream you did. But then I got stuck.”

“I’m inherently good,” Martin bluffs. “Unlike some people.”

“Nice trick,” Lisa says.

They walk on for a bit.

“I mean,” Lisa says, “considering.”

Martin looks up, sharply. For a moment, there’s a force in his eyes. Then it fades, and he bursts out with a question that’s been nagging at him.

“Why are you a girl?”

“The monster isn’t as fond of boys,” the angel Lisa says.


They walk on.

“People who don’t suffer,” Martin justifies, “remain small. They’re weak. They’re isn’ts. They’re shadows. They’re firewood people.”

“That’s true,” says Lisa.

Then the most remarkably clever and cruel expression comes on her face, and she leans close to him, and she whispers, “So are people who suffer, mostly.”

Martin makes himself walk on.

“Maybe you’re a stillborn thing,” Lisa says. “Like a fire made of wind, like a voice crying in the emptiness, like a dream in the mind of an uncaring man. Maybe you’re down here because you died. It’s the path most people take.”

“Maybe,” Martin says.

Lisa stops.

“Anyway,” she says. “This is your place.”

She gestures ahead of them, where the mud stirs in unseen currents.

“You’ll spend eternity drowning,” she says. “You won’t be able to breathe. Your struggles will be muted. You’ll never know what happened to anyone else you care about. There’ll be no boundary between yourself and the pain. Like with her.”

Martin looks at her.

“It’s not what I’m here for,” he says.

“It’s nicer than being a light spread through ten thousand miles of darkness,” Lisa argues.

“But is it right?”

“I hope so,” Lisa says.

Martin hunches his shoulders a bit. He looks out at the mud.

“I don’t want to drown in mud forever.”


Lisa shrugs.

“None save the monster,” she says, “may choose the circumstances of their lives.”

Martin looks at the mud. He looks at Lisa. He looks at the mud. He looks at Lisa.

“Don’t ever tell her I did this?” he says.

She looks at his eyes. Then she grins to him, even as she tries to brace herself for war. “All right,” she promises.


Martin pushes Lisa. She falls backwards into the mud behind them. Then Martin runs.

There’s something on his hands. It might be dust. Or it might be Lisa-cooties. Martin can’t tell. So he scrubs his hands vigorously on his legs as he runs.

10 thoughts on “Martin and Lisa (I/III)

  1. Martin’s story gets weirder and weirder.

    We know that he does get out of the underworld. (Don’t we?) So is he beloved of the one who sits on the throne? Is that one perhaps named Rebecca?

    And we learn about two new brothers that have never been mentioned before.

    I’ve been thinking about Jane’s brothers. It’s come to me that they are each a metaphor for a way to cope with abuse.

    Daniel is pure denial; flying, and flying, and never coming down. But you can’t fly away from yourself; you keep bringing yourself with you. So he didn’t work. (Daniel’s story is all fantasy backstory, just like most of Alan’s, except that — appropriate for Denial — he never got born at all.)

    Alan is becoming a fiend; perpetuating the cycle, being as evil as the monster itself. Jane is lucky he didn’t work out.

    Bob is withdrawal, creating your own little world. (A more sophisticated kind of denial.) This didn’t work for Jane any more than it worked for Karen, and for pretty much the same reasons.

    (Aside: re-reading Karen’s story, I realized that Karen became pregnant by the monster, and likely had an abortion. That’s why Martin wants Mei Ming, because she’s the monster’s child.)

    Martin is ownership: accepting your wounds and moving forward, learning to own yourself, to find within yourself “a wind and a fire and something wonderful.”

    It’s notable that Jane created (or tried to create) Daniel and Alan and Bob, but she didn’t create Martin, not directly. I wonder if Bob was a necessary stage on the way to Martin?

    Now we have Frederick and Tad, and it’s not clear where they fit in. I wonder if Frederick was Jane’s first brother? He looks like the hero; did Jane create him to try to rescue her? It’s obvious how that wouldn’t work in terms of the story. It’s not obvious to me how he fits into my overarching metaphorical structure. This requires more thought and more data. About Tad it’s hard to surmise anything at all.

    And we have Lisa, who is like Martin but isn’t like him. My preliminary thought is that Lisa was passive where Martin is active. But I’m not sure. Again I need more thought.

    I sometimes suspect that Rebecca delights in writing stories that raise more questions than they answer.

  2. Nice ideas about Daniel, Alan and Bob.

    We’ve heard of Frederick, Lisa and Basil before in Martin (IV/IV)

    “I figure,” Martin says, “that you went through a few dozen before you got to me.” He kicks the air above the floor. “Frederick. Manuel. Steven.” With a tone of wry amusement, he adds, “Lisa.” Then he continues. “Cedric. Clay. Tilly. Basil. Gerard. Earl. Morgan. Thess.” He hesitates.

    “The rest weren’t angels,” the monster says.

    “Ah,” Martin says.

    “So,” the monster says, “you can see names.”

    Now we know why he’s amused by Lisa. Tad must not have been an angel.

    Martin may just get out of the underworld by ignoring the restrictions. He’s already tossed away his firewood dharma.

  3. I sometimes suspect that Rebecca delights in writing stories that raise more questions than they answer.

    Oh, indeed she does, and especially so because we reward her for it by posting our most insightful thoughts. If we all remained perfectly silent, she’d have to explain everything herself!

    Or, you know, give up writing Hitherby because no one seemed to be interested. So I’m not really suggesting it as a practical option.

    Instead, I recommend accepting the pain of having unanswered questions, so that it ceases to be suffering.

  4. Graeme: Nice catch! I had forgotten about that list. I think it’s now a reasonable assumption that all the names there were Jane-siblings that the monster killed. And yes, we do now understand that previously-mysterious wry amusement.

  5. I sometimes suspect that Rebecca delights in writing stories that raise more questions than they answer.



  6. my grandma calls me a little angel sometimes :o

    ( I wear a jacket and teach acceptance )

    Edit: Or maybe it isn’t a jacket at all. Things don’t always seem to be what they actuall are. Case in point..

    I never call it a jacket. Jackets are usually a little more thick…

    It’s a Windbreaker.

  7. Well, the interesting bit is that Angels are the traditional Hitherby Jacket-wearers, but Demons the ones who teach acceptance. So, if I’m right in my suppositions, the fact that Lisa is carrying the jacket instead of wearing it symbolizes her fallen nature.

  8. And we have Lisa, who is like Martin but isn’t like him. My preliminary thought is that Lisa was passive where Martin is active. But I’m not sure. Again I need more thought.

    “The monster isn’t as fond of boys,” the angel Lisa says.

    I think that Lisa may have been the hope that someone else would take Jenna’s place.

    But she ends up in Martin’s place instead.

  9. I think this approach of Martin’s is the one that he sets aside when the following events occur:

    “A long time ago,” Jane says, “Martin came for me. He had an axe, and it was covered with blood. He said, ‘This isn’t working.’

    “And I nodded. Because it wasn’t.

    “And he said, ‘Let me show you another way to be.’ And he reached into my heart, and found a wind and a fire and something wonderful, and then I was me.”


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