On the Endings of Stories (2 of 3)

“Where were they,” Martin asks, “when we left off, yesterday?”

“It was cold!” Jane says. “And dark! And ominous!”

“That’s a good word,” Martin agrees. “Ominous.”

On Wednesday, the 12th of May, 2004, the basements under Central are cold and dark.

“This is the last place in the world I want to be,” says Jacob.

Jacob walks beside the angel in the basements under Central. He carries the spear that killed him in his hand. In the dark, his foot bumps against his runt. He growls and curses and reaches for it with his free hand but it is not there for his hand to find.

“The last place,” Jacob emphasizes.

“It is generally true that success is best achieved by pursuing the least pleasant course,” the angel says.

“That seems implausible,” Jason notes.

“There is the most progress to be made,” the angel says, “in those directions where we have made the least; that is to say, along the paths we are most loath to travel.”

Jacob nearly stumbles again. “Filthy runt,” he mutters.

He can see the angel’s eyes on him, even in the dark.

“Pardon?” the angel asks.

“I keep tripping on my runt,” Jacob says.

The angel watches.

Jacob gestures indistinctly with one hand. It is the gesture of someone who cannot easily explain.

“It is something the director gave me,” Jacob says. “A . . . thing. A horrid thing. A vessel for my imperfections.”

“Ah,” the angel says.

“I was very young,” says Jacob. “I was very young and I loved it very much. Because it made mistakes for me so I wouldn’t have to. It learned how to do math wrong when I learned how to do it right. It stumbled and crouched and scurried and spilled and I ran like a gazelle. When he kept me awake it was the runt who grew tired and weak. And I forgave it its errors and I kept it close and one day it went mad and began to rot so that I would not have to.”

The angel walks for a time in silence.

“It is a difficult thing,” says the angel, “to be a man; but sometimes it is harder to stand outside humanity and know that you can only grant those wishes that are possible to grant.”

I do not want to be this, Jacob thinks.

“I do not want to be this,” says the runt.

“Did you know,” asks the angel, “that when you were young, I thought you’d be a hero?”

Jacob shakes his head.

“You still have that choice,” the angel says.

Jacob laughs.

“Everyone does,” the angel says. “Everyone has a path to grace. You are never so far fallen that you cannot find the dharma within you, the thing that you can be, the brightness, and give yourself to it in sacrifice and joy and be a thing of beauty in this world. That is why I answered your call, Jacob. That is what I want for you. That is what the door to the right was meant to bring.”

“Then show me,” says Jacob.

The angel holds up the thousand shards of palm and fingers that are her hand and in it is an image of a fire and a light.

“What is that?”

“Coretta’s fire,” says the angel. “Dharma. Dragon’s light. The beacon towards the road that you should walk.”

Down the corridor Jacob sees the maw.

It is a characteristic of angels that their words are most difficult to understand for those who need the most to hear them. Thus one may reasonably say that the message the angel gave him was gibberish; that her words were incomprehensible; that it was not his fault that he could not understand. Still, he sees something in the light she holds, and gropes towards it in his mind.

But Jacob does not have much time.

The maw is like a serpent’s mouth, corded and fanged, but it has no inside or outside. It is not a physical thing. It is a principle of devouring.

Inside the maw,

Of course,

It is empty.

And the maw drives towards Jacob like the hammer of a god.

“Heroes can kill monsters, can’t they?” Jacob asks.

It is a distant, distinct question. He knows that his runt is scrambling and squeaking away. It has probably wet itself; it is certainly ungracious in retreat. But Jacob is perfect by the virtue of its imperfection, and he is simply thinking and gliding back, smooth as silk, his spear rising.

“Yes,” says the angel.

It has been two and a half weeks since Sebastien came to Central. It has been thirty-eight years since Jacob died. But what he is thinking of now is something that came between.

It was only six months back.

Iris was one of the children that Central held. The case review for her was on his desk. Her keepers recommended her release:

“. . . even in severe duress, the child is disinclined to issue supernatural manifestations. It is recommended that she be released and monitored rather than continuing to spend Central resources on her care and training. . . .”

Jacob knew better.

It was obvious for anyone who knew these children, for anyone who’d been one of these children, that Iris was falsifying her duress; that she was presenting as a child broken to fend away the chance that she would break; that she was suitable and strong but clinging to the power to feign weakness. Such gambits cannot last forever.

Release approved, he wanted to write. That’s what his runt was muttering.

But to write that would be a lie. It would be unprofessional. It would be false. It would not be correct for a man in his position. If he wrote that he would be forced to take up arms against the things that Central stood for, against the men who paid him and who’d tortured him and who’d killed him nearly forty years before.

He could not do that. That would be more false. That would put meaning to a world that had none and assert the humanity of an empty, worthless girl.

Jacob watched himself write the letter that condemned her to further pain, and then he went back to the games of Tetris that helped relieve his stress.

The runt was sniffling and crying and mouthing at Jacob’s hand, so he slapped it away and it stuck onto the wall.

Six months passed.

Jacob’s spear, sharp as a thorn, comes down. It pierces the maw and pins it to the floor. Jacob reaches for the fire within him, the waking of his dharma, the path that leads him from that place.

It is with a still small terror that he sees that the runt is caught in maw and spear.

They are thrashing together like the synchronized shuddering of the dead.

“It is hungry for you,” says the angel, “because of your contradictions.”

“Is it?”

“To exalt the sense in which things have no meanings,” says the angel, “is to create a contradiction. It overwrites the rules of meaning with imported context from a world that has none. That contradiction is like a knot: pull and twist at it, and it grows tighter until it resolves down to a single flaring NO at the center of your world. Pragmatically, this leaves you with two choices: accept oblivion, or grant things meanings. My ability to save you is entirely contingent on your doing the latter, and choosing a life in which salvation is coherently defined.”

Jacob struggles to keep the maw pinned down. The floor is writhing and shaking.

I will shoulder this burden, he thinks. But he does not say it.

“Shoulder,” mumbles the runt.

Then it coughs up blood and dies.

Jacob’s vision of the fire blinks out.

The maw bucks him off, and Jacob falls against the wall, and it is with a clockwork grin that he smiles at the angel.

“I’m sorry,” Jacob says. “I wasted your time.”

The angel’s voice is strained but the word she chooses is almost insanely polite. “Pardon?”

“To be perfect is to be unredeemable,” says Jacob. “Eternal. Unchanging.”

Imps eat the soul that you cannot bear to keep.

“When I took my runt,” Jacob says, “I lost the power to be other than what I am.”

The maw rises.

“But thank you for telling me I will not end,” says Jacob.

The maw falls on him.

Jacob feels himself dissolving and

“And?” Jane asks.

“The end,” says Martin. “The justification for eternity has ceased for Jacob to apply.”


See also The Fable of the Lamb,
Tigers in their Cages
Coming Home (a legend about Iris)
Saturday
Priyanka
and Jacob, His Runt, The Angel, and the Maw.

13 thoughts on “On the Endings of Stories (2 of 3)

  1. I think I have a problem with this month’s message. People fooling themselves.. people who suffer because there is an “absolute” observer who enforces the consequences of one’s beliefs on that one person, irregardless of consistancy throughout the universe. I suppose this is the most appealing one to philosophers, because it makes convincing someone of an arugment even more important, in that you can, say, force a person to be a christian without them ever realizing they are a christian, and so forth.

    I don’t know if I can really accept that because it implies that you can only have one belief, instead of being curious, as I consider myself to be. I think there is a single Truth, but I don’t think that any straightforward way to find it exists, and if there was a way to get there, you wouldn’t be able to prove it works unless you already knew the Truth. This requires the ability to recognize the Truth, and it also requires one to accept not-truths, because sometimes you have to take a step back or to the sides before you can go forwards again, and it also makes things much more difficult because you have to be able to recognize when you’re thinking in circles. It’s probably a dangerous philosophy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  2. Parts 1 and 2 are a horror story.

    You will observe that Jacob’s fate is precisely not one of the fates he had coming to him by the standards of the Hitherby cosmos—and those standards, while somewhat more just on average than those of ours, are already imperfect.

    I suspect any message you are reading is your imperfections viewing mine, since my only intended message is a new data point on what it is, in the Hitherby universe, to have a soul.

    Rebecca

  3. “this leaves you with two choices: accept oblivion, or grant things meanings. ”

    I’m working on a poem about the creation of meaning, but it’s not quite right. I think that it goes with this Hitherby in some way, so I’m going to post it, unfinished as it is, and invite any suggestions from people on improving it. Feel free to send me private messages / Email if you don’t want to clutter up this thread. Note that the stream of conciousness style is purposeful, although it may harm the poem enough so that I really shouldn’t use it.

    In the Valley

    She sits
    At her bench, her foot on the treadle
    The potter’s wheel spinning before her
    Thirty mugs to turn out today
    Then perhaps she’ll have enough
    For the trade, the keep-away of going back
    To retail. Six now. But oh so tired
    Of the same. Another lump of clay
    On the wheel. If only the fire inside
    Could burn, consume the dross
    Of the rent and the car’s oil filter
    And the first half of life gone.
    She moves, the lump grows,
    Flares, subsides, her left index
    Finger traces a spiral mark up the inside
    Of the now-bowl, and
    She comes back to herself,
    Considers the never-before-born shape,
    Spiral an endless making.
    For one moment,
    the light inside shows,
    I am the hand of God.

    The sprockets of his bike spin quietly.
    Out with his camera.
    Another flower framed.
    Snap. Ride on. How long
    Can everything last? Another
    Flower, a building’s steeple, snap snap.
    Exercise is good for his heart,
    He thinks, but how boring, and
    His pictures too. And who knows
    How long the heart will last?
    A picture is a moment frozen,
    But so dull each of them.
    And how many, how long will it last?
    The loop, the spiral goes on, a
    Rusted wheel, snap, a flower, snap.
    He looks down. There. Off of his
    Bike and twisting the focus wheel
    All the way, the ant struggles, the
    Light has changed, the frame perfect
    Between gray-green leaves and the ant holds up
    Her burden. Snap. The wind whispers,
    that moment,
    I am the eye of God.

    The empty page glares up at her.
    Still nothing written, only void
    And isn’t it all futile? She
    Starts to pick away at another
    Version, ignore the silence of the cell phone
    And the pink glow of the pregnancy test strip
    Sitting mutely on her desk.
    Maybe she can make a few hundred
    On another children’s piece about puppets, how
    She hates them. The phone does not ring.
    Automatic writing, she’ll try that,
    Anything to get started.
    Absently she writes, though it’s pointless,
    She’ll need a real income soon, a real job.
    If only sometimes she wasn’t tempted
    By the burning heat of the rush onwards
    With the cold calculation of form,
    The force inside and the skill of shaping.
    The words spiral out, the pen squeaks,
    She finds a cold part of herself choosing
    A word, another, and looks down at the poem
    Started on the page. For that moment,
    she feels it,
    I am the voice of God.

  4. GoldenH: We have already seen that Hitherby angels are not even remotely immune to delusion.

    Rich: I cannot praise your poem now, though I am certain it is deserving of praise, because my brain is temporarily unable to assimilate poetry.

  5. Parts 1 and 2 are a horror story.

    You will observe that Jacob’s fate is precisely not one of the fates he had coming to him by the standards of the Hitherby cosmos—and those standards, while somewhat more just on average than those of ours, are already imperfect.

    That’s interesting. I noticed that it was part 2 of 3 but then again we’re only halfway through the month. Maybe you’re about to add something new ^_^

    I suspect any message you are reading is your imperfections viewing mine, since my only intended message is a new data point on what it is, in the Hitherby universe, to have a soul.

    Rebecca

    Sure, it’s just interesting, is all. I am feeling a bit of falseness and I don’t know if the falseness is in me, you, or an abberation in my viewing of you. It’s always nice to say that it’s an abberation, but that doesn’t excuse me from asking myself “why” :)

    GoldenH: We have already seen that Hitherby angels are not even remotely immune to delusion.

    I’m not sure how you came to that conclusion.

  6. It was only a little earlier today that I realized why Jacob had to be colored gray.

    (I was thinking about the relationship between Jacob and his runt, and how similar it was to one written about by Oscar Wilde — although Wilde’s runt-analog was not living, it was only a picture.)

  7. GoldenH: um, yeah. Precisely my point. Angels are, by and large, deluded by an excess of hope. So just because the angel says that Jacob will be judged by an externally-imposed moral standard doesn’t mean that the angel is correct, because in Hitherby, being an angel doesn’t actually make you any closer to God. Whatever God is.

  8. Name me an angel who isn’t optimistic to the point of losing touch with reality.

    Realistic Angel.

    By definition, really.

  9. I admit that you have a strong case there, Graeme. However, we’ve seen so little of Realistic A so far that I’m not prepared to concede the point. She has the ability to provide a realistic evaluation of any situation when asked; what does she do the rest of the time?

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