Standing in the Storm: The Jaguars

Five of Emily’s friends, and one acquaintance, are dead.

“Come on,” says Saul. He rises. He takes Emily’s arm. He leads her out onto the street. They begin walking towards the school where it all started.

“They’re dead!” Emily shrieks. “You killed them! You monster!

Saul doesn’t seem to have noticed her outburst. After a moment she realizes that that’s because she didn’t outburst aloud. She outburst silently, inside herself.

The moment has passed. She can’t shriek at him now. It would seem artificial.

“He liked me,” she says.

She means Fred. He’s one of the dead ones.

“Good,” says Saul.

This is a story about jaguars. Emily loves them.

It’s also a story about death. Emily doesn’t want to be eaten. She wants to live a long time and then die in a beautiful place, surrounded by something wonderful.

Finally, it’s a story about a hat that sorted people into a high pure vision of what they should be, and about the people who thought that that might not have been the best idea.

This isn’t a story about Vladimir or Edmund. If it helps, Vladimir meets a horrifying fate and Edmund lives happily ever after. Edmund would have died, except that Saul sends him to safety shortly after this story ends.

Just in case you really wanted to know.

“There are tiny scales on your skin,” says Emily. She’s looking at Saul’s hands. She’s looking at his fingers.

Saul looks at his fingers.

Saul bites at one of his fingers. It’s a thinking gesture. But pretty soon it turns into a chewing gesture, and then a flesh-tearing gesture. He stops himself with a wrenching shudder.

“Listen,” Emily says. “When people look at other people, they don’t see what’s really there. They see something else. They see reality, but distorted. Like it’s through a lens. The lens is flawed. The shape of that flaw is Gotterdammerung.”

“The apocalypse,” says Saul.

“People kept predicting it,” says Emily. “But it didn’t happen. Because it was something in the world we see. Not in the world that is.

Saul tilts his head to one side.

Emily shrugs.

“You know how primitive people would see lightning and think of gods?” she says. “It’s like that. We’d look at other people and see these alien things. Heroes and villains and trash for the killing. That’s the world we saw. A world where the apocalypse drew ever closer, driven by the marching drumbeats of the heralds of oblivion.”

There is a distant drumbeat in the wind, and the bleat from far Bifrost of Heimdall on the tuba.

“It’s actually a lower-energy state for the world,” Emily says. “Gotterdammerung worlds are easier. The kind of thing God could have done on a lazy Sunday afternoon, after finishing up here. But he didn’t. Your purpose didn’t come from God. Instead, Vladimir made a hat, and it sorted you into his vision for the world.”

Emily might have had more to say. But she doesn’t say it.

Instead, she hisses in air. She bites her lip. She stares.

They’ve just rounded the corner and she can see the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth.

It has, at last, lived up to its name.

All through it the ivy grows and the students are dead, save where the surviving beasts of Hunger run.

Saul isn’t taken aback by the sight. He’s still thinking about their conversation.

“Hats don’t lie about moral issues,” says Saul, uneasily.

But Emily is staring at the dead.

The Edmund-beast snarls. Then it yowls. It’s the kind of noise that reminds you that if the gnostics are right there’s a blind idiot God somewhere in the universe burning popcorn in the microwave before settling in to watch the suffering of your life.

It is answered by howls.

All through the school there is howling. It is a rising voice. The beasts give praise to hunger and to death.

“It’s obscene,” explains Saul, who still hasn’t noticed her horror. “I see a purpose. It is high. It is holy. It is noble. We must develop the hunger until it consumes the world. This purpose is inherent in the universe. The hat opened my eyes to that purpose. It can’t have created it.”

And Emily wrenches herself from the sight. She lowers her eyes. She looks at the shadows on the ground.

“It’s not your fault,” she says.

“But how can I know?” says Saul. “By what yardstick? How can I tell if what I see is universal or delusion?”

“It’s not your fault,” Emily stresses. “It’s too late. You’ve already been assigned. You can’t tell. It was always nothing more than a question of how long we could contain the damage.”

“Oh,” says Saul.

The hunger is rising in the beasts of the school. To Saul, it is the great surging of an endless sea. To Emily it is a concert for xylophone and tuba. It fills the air with the power of it.

And the Keepers’ House is there.

“We’ll hold it back,” Emily says, “for as long as we can.”

Edmund’s broken away from Saul and Emily. He’s loping over towards the remaining Keepers. He’s looking into their faces.

“Don’t eat me,” says the foppish Englebert. “My family has the ear of the Queen.”

“Wow,” says Edmund. “Really?”

“No,” admits Englebert. He slumps. Then he dissolves into a spray of various parts.

“I’ll give you Keeper cooties,” protests Isobel.

“I’ve got some,” says the Edmund-beast.

“I hope the wolf steps on you,” Isobel mopes.

Things proceed.

There aren’t enough of them left to hold Edmund’s hunger back.

It surges out from the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth. The breaking of the Keepers’ lives is a gap in the dike, and the hunger pours down into the world.

“What’s going to happen?” Saul asks.

Emily looks at him bleakly.

“No reason not to say,” says Saul.

“The wolf will come,” says Emily. “You’ll turn into beasts. The boot, no doubt, will fall. The world we’ve dreamed of will force its way in. And I guess I don’t get the death I wanted.”

Saul nods. The hunger rises in him. It is like a flame. It is like a cold and terrible sea. Saul does not hold it back. He opens his fanged mouth. He rears back like a serpent. The Saul-beast’s eyes burn red and its hat is green like a snake’s.

Er, scales.

Like a snake’s scales.

And just before he eats her, three things happen.

The first thing is that a great wolf wanders in. Its binding cord has broken; where the hunger is, the dwarves have no power. Fenrir is curious. The hunger calls it. So it has come.

The second thing is that the House of Hunger sloughs off more of its humanity.

And suddenly Emily is cheerful. She is pointing at Edmund. She is laughing, like a child, like a bright clear bell. “You have spots,” she says.

This causes Saul to pause and Edmund to blush.

“They’re good spots,” the Edmund-beast mutters.

Saul’s eyes are narrowed.

“You’re oddly bubbly,” says Saul, “for someone who’s about to die.”

Emily’s shoulders sink as she relaxes. She looks at him peacefully. “Jaguars are my favorite part of Gotterdammerung,” she sighs.

The third thing is that the great space station, Vidar’s Boot, comes down; for there is something in a boot that loves to stomp, and nothing is quite so stompable as one’s alma mater.

“The wolf’ll eat most of you before it dies,” says Emily, peacefully. It’s not a threat. It’s a gift. She’s giving Saul a chance to react.

WHAM!

The station strikes the ground.

WHAM!

The station strikes the ground again.

WHAM!

The shockwave of the boot’s impact throws the House of Hunger into the air.

Now it’s raining men. Well, jaguars. Well, jaguar-men.

“It’s like Christmas came early!” Emily says, happily.

The boot clips the wolf, and suddenly it is looking for a place to run, and there are howling and yowling and clucking and chittering beasts in its path.

Down fall the jaguars like a gentle rain; and it is there, standing in the storm, surrounded by something wonderful, that Emily dies.

18 thoughts on “Standing in the Storm: The Jaguars

  1. <blockquote>
    “It’s actually a lower-energy state for the world,” Emily says. “Gotterdammerung worlds are easier. The kind of thing God could have done on a lazy Sunday afternoon, after finishing up here. But he didn’t. Your purpose didn’t come from God. Instead, Vladimir made a hat, and it sorted you into his vision for the world.”

    ….

    “Hats don’t lie about moral issues,” says Saul, uneasily.
    </blockquote>

    This is one of those passages that makes me love love love Hitherby.

    The combination of a deep moral vision that rejects simplicity and fantastic chop logic semi-sequitors that make me giggle.

  2. Huh. So does the world end or doesn’t it? I’m confused.

    It seems likely that it ends, but one man, one woman, and the world ash pull through. I’m rooting for Cheryl.

    Rebecca

  3. It’s also a story about death. Emily doesn’t want to be eaten. She wants to live a long time and then die in a beautiful place, surrounded by something wonderful.

    Down fall the jaguars like a gentle rain; and it is there, standing in the storm, surrounded by something wonderful, that Emily dies.

    I think this pretty much sums up Hitherby to me. It is a kind of tragic happiness. Emily doesn’t want to die, but at least she gets to die the way she wants to, surrounded by something wonderful.

    Young kids can’t say what’s on their mind. They can think it, but they can’t boil down those thoughts efficiently into a communicable form. That’s why Emily just said “Mommy!” and “Jaguar!” when what she meant was:

    “It is very hard to be a person. To live in this world—that’s an exquisite sorrow! What is not tainted with the universal characteristic of suffering?

    “But there is also this: the recognition in this moment that I may find beauty within this world. That there is something that makes it worthwhile to be here. That there are jaguars. These are things to take my breath away and lift my spirit and make me glad that I was born, that I will live and breathe and suffer and eventually die. These are a marvel. Oh, mother, oh, mother. Look at them move!”

    Having just been blessed with my first child in the last month these snippets mean so much to me. Why bring a child into a world that it tainted with suffering. Where pain is unavoidable and disappointment a guarantee. The reason is simple, because there will be moments of pure wonder! Moments when all the bad stuff doesn’t matter because there is beauty in the world and something worth living for. So from now on my motto will be … Look at them move!

    Thank you Rebecca. Thank you for the stories that make me happy in a sad way. Thank you for the stories I don’t even understand, yet still make me smile. But most of all, thank you for helping me find hope for my Rebekah’s future in a world that I have lost faith in!

  4. Huh. So does the world end or doesn’t it? I’m confused.

    hitherby has turned into Pulp Fiction! :lol:

    [size=7:a7bd35694e”>or a kurosawa film[/size:a7bd35694e”>

    in all honesty, try asking Truth Daniels. I bet he has something interesting to say right about now.

  5. It seems likely that it ends, but one man, one woman, and the world ash pull through. I’m rooting for Cheryl.

    So the next world is born from the union of a beast and a saint. Hey, the woman’s the saint and the man’s the beast! That’ll get straight up the nose of those sexist Semites.

    Actually, it makes a lot of sense that Lif would be a saint, and Lifthrasir an eternally hungry beast.

    (EDIT: Rich pointed out that I have misremembered Cheryl’s house. The world springing from the union of a beast and a mad scientist is…an entirely different kettle of fish. Ugly fish. With lasers.)

  6. It is not necessarily a wogly, however, for the world to neither end nor not end, because English is not the propositional calculus and equivocation happens frequently.

  7. While I’m as fond of middle ground as anyone, in this particular case it seems to me that anything that isn’t “ending” is necessarily therefore “not ending”. How can it be not one or the other?

  8. If the word “ending” in “ending” and the word “ending” in “not ending” do not have identical referents (a phenomenon known as “equivocation,” which is very common in natural languages), the Law of the Excluded Middle does not apply.

  9. you have to consider the ending from many different angles. if there is an ending, not everyone will experience it the same way.. especially if it’s an metaphysical ending, and not merely some asteroid from outer space.

  10. Well, what I was trying to get at is, why does it always have to be either ‘end or the world’ or ‘not end of the world’? Why couldn’t it be Free Jaguar Day for once?

  11. Huh. The discussion about the end of the world suddenly reminded me of this entry, which seems to be connected to this storyline. Especially since the Calling to the Wolf mentioned that the year is 2012.

  12. Well, what I was trying to get at is, why does it always have to be either ‘end or the world’ or ‘not end of the world’? Why couldn’t it be Free Jaguar Day for once?

    “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

    I think it’s probably Free Jaguar Day, but that new day comes with the ending of an old one…

    Is it a asteroid? probably not. Imagine all the possible stories that could be told of a asteroid, smashing into the earth and brining on the next Great Extinction.

    Now how many stories could be told about a metaphysical rebirth? I’m sure plenty of them involve death, especially if you’re a goth!

  13. Every time I read this I cry.

    It goes into every hurting, closed, tight, dark place in me and opens them up and lights them up, and I cry, and it hurts, and I feel like I’m dying, but really it’s that it wakens such a violent knowledge of life in me that the dying I’m doing every moment hurts for the first time.

    I’m going into the storm tomorrow, in more senses than one, and I’m going to spend some time there, and I read this when I’m scared, and it takes away the emptiness. It gives me an understanding of what I’m doing, and how, even in the middle of death and destruction and the ugly end of everything, I can laugh, in the middle of the snarling, gentle, killing rain of something wonderful.

    I can’t be coherent about this, but it felt rude to receive such a gift without writing some sort of thank-you note, so, and I’m crying as I write this: Thank you.

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