Ink in Emptiness: the Lord of Suburbia

the legend of Ink Catherly (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. 7, 8, 9)

Greystoke, the lord of suburbia, beats his chest and shouts out his human call.

“Come,” he shouts.

The word is bass and guttural. The bull-ape’s throat was never meant for human speech.

“Come! Come now!”

And the humans come.

Hell, day 242: The yawning door.

This is a door spoken of in the old books. It is supposed to show people the nature of their sins. I felt that if I understood the nature of my sins, I would remember what it was like to sin and it would fill the emptiness inside me. So I went to the door.

The door was guarded by a damnable ape named Greystoke. He spoke like a person and he told me not to open it. I deceived him and did so, and so I saw my sins.

I looked through the door and saw the poisoned fruit that gave sin to our kind. I saw the circumstances of my birth and how it forced my parents—two people of incompatible precepts and attitudes—to live together, bringing them much sorrow. I saw how as an infant I ravenously consumed and returned nothing. I saw my pride and how I dodged responsibility. I cried and the ape tried to comfort me so I hit him.

The jungle is brown and green and shadowed. It is full of scents. There is an abandoned city there, a place of gold and poison, and on its throne there is a girl.

She is dressed in savage finery, most of her skin showing, her clothing dripping with gold and great chunks of jade. She is malnourished. Her court is empty of human life, but thin bedraggled monkeys crawl above her on the rafters and a terrible white snake circles around her throne.

Before her there is a treasure beyond price: the Mirror of the Flame.

It hangs in the air. What it shows her we do not see, but she looks up.

“Greystoke is coming,” she says.

And then in the great arched doorways of the room there stands an ape: tall and powerful and covered in dark fur.

Behind him slink the humans.

A primal horror tickles the girl’s mind as she sees them. Such creatures as these are not known in savage lands.

First there is Mr. Brown. An articulated human neck supports his blocky head; below it, there is a body lean and strong and clad in fine-cut silk. The light of the mirror gleams in his slicked-back hair. The fingers on his hands twitch, each joint partially independent from the next, as he moves in.

Then there is Ms. Ward, thin-waisted like a wasp, her hair piled above her head, the skin of her leg flashing horribly with each step through the long slit of her skirt. She is one of the scientists of suburbia, a wickedly cunning master of that world-altering art, but the heat has shed her of her white winter coat and only the attitude of her reveals it.

Finally there is Mr. Smith, bulbous and slow. This is a spectacled man, hiding part of his face behind a shocking apparatus of copper wire and glass lenses. His tufted eyebrows are visible only as a thin line above the device; when he looks down, his eyes vanish behind perturbations in the glass.

The girl’s hand moves, ever so marginally. Two of the monkeys leap down from the rafters. They snatch up wickedly barbed spears. They move forward against the humans that Greystoke has called.

Mr. Brown roars and vents forth smoke. Blood spatters through the room. The girl jerks back in startlement.

She did not even see the blow the human struck with his smoking hand, but in an instant, one of the monkeys has become red ruin and the other has fled.

So her hand falls to her instrument of defiance: a device, formed of dark wood wrapping around three interlocking purple gems, that has against Greystoke’s humans previously served her well.

“Greystoke,” says the girl. “What do you here?”

“Ink,” he says.

That is his name for her. He calls her that because of the ink that stains her fingers.

He looks at the Mirror of Flame.

“That is not yours,” growls the ape.

Hell, day 703: The city.

I have not been honest. I read the books that these people left behind—abandoned in their city of gold and poison when they succumbed at last to their despair —and I realize this about myself.

My complaints have been ill-founded and my experience inevitable. The purpose of exploration is to transform horrible things into the strange and the beautiful. It is to deny the world its damned, corrupted nature and make it through the eyes that value truth into something better. That is why until I came to this place I lived in beauty.

The people of this city understood the nature of exploration. They labored fiercely to transform Hell. But they did not have those eyes that value truth. They could write of the glories of this world—and oh! it is glorious and it is terrible, in Hell—but at the end it was always empty to them.

As it is to me.

Ape-King Greystoke has set forth his claim.

There is a tension in the room.

“Do you challenge me, then?” Ink asks. “Oh lord of suburbia?”

She rises from her throne. There is a dangerous and musical sound as the gold hangings of her clothing beat against one another.

“To meddle with such things,” says Greystoke, “brings no happiness.”

“There is no alternative,” says Ink.

She triggers the instrument of defiance. There is a wind that rushes through the room. It is a terrible howling wind and there are devils on it.

It rebuffs the humans of Greystoke. Snarling does Ms. Ward fall back beyond the borders of the door. Flailing and issuing loud bursts of smoke, so too does Mr. Brown. Only Mr. Smith remains, bracing his great bulk against the wind; and the devils of that wind cut at the spectacled man leaving only his hidden eyes unharmed.

“It will not give you what you need,” says Greystoke.

“Damnable ape,” says Ink.

She walks forward.

Shrugging off the devil wind as if it were a simple breeze, so too does he.

Ink pokes him in the chest with a finger.

“Do you know how easy it would be to kill you?”

The panel of the floor on which Greystoke is standing lowers, ever-so-slightly, under his weight. He can see, with the flicking of his eyes to each side, poisoned darts gleaming in recesses within two walls. He does not know if they are rusted into place or held still by the will of Ink Catherly, and so he does not move.

“Do you know why I will not?” Ink asks.

And Greystoke rumbles, “You fear me. You are afraid that I am not empty. You are afraid that I am not in Hell.”

Ink’s face goes pale. She turns away.

“Don’t push me,” she says.

Greystoke tenses, because those words are like the rattling of a snake. I have no intent to kill you, they say to him. But if you step on me it is inevitable that I will bite.

But a personal challenge to the savage jungle queen was not the great ape’s only plan.

Someone clears his throat. Ink snaps her head to the left to see the noise’s source.

There are other entrances to the throne room, and in one of them stands a hunching figure whose very appearance fills Ink with primal dread: his hair is high and thinning, his eyes are pale, and his hands are thick, powerful, and large. This is the terror of suburbia, that human male named Mr. Catherly, who in his animal coupling with Mrs. Catherly had expelled into her womb approximately half of the genetic material that became Ink.

“Incompatible Precepts Catherly,” he says. “Do not you taunt Lord Greystoke, King of Men.”

9 thoughts on “Ink in Emptiness: the Lord of Suburbia

  1. My gut-reaction interpretation of this is that Ink is in her living room watching TV. I’m not really sure who Greystoke is. Some authority figure that she resents, but her parents have placed above her. The setting descriptions do more to describe Ink’s internal state than her external surroundings.

    Now I want to re-read all of Ink Catherly through this lens.

  2. Now that I’m back, I feel my plausible BS powers running low. So I’ll just try to be straightforward and hope that it’s coherent.

    Ink’s quest is, in part, one for memory. She wants to *remember* what it was like to sin. A feeling of sin would be better than emptiness, to her. I would guess that she thinks that she’s sinned because she feels bad; certainly the mirror doesn’t reveal any serious sins.

    This kind of memory-focus is why I had thought that Ink’s desire to find Hell could be a metaphor for a kind of recovery of memory of abuse.

    In the second italicized passage, she talks about exploration. I think it’s pretty clear that Hell also stands for our world — which can be seen as horrible, damned and corrupted, or as strange and beautiful. To Ink, what can transform it from one mode of perception into the other is a valuation of truth; without truth, no matter how glorious you try to make things appear, they will always finally be empty. (I don’t think that I agree with this, necessarily. But based on certain Merin and the treatment of woglies and so on, I think that Rebecca does. Exploration also equates to writing — Ink’s fingers are stained with ink — and is associated with dragons in Hitherby, I think. But, never mind.)

    This provides a motive for the recovery of memory, however painful, rather than loss or repression of painful memory, which is emptiness. I think that this is the most coherent metaphorical explanation for why Ink has so steadfastly sought to explore Hell.

    In this story, the confrontation that Ink is going to have is with her father, who immediately appears as a monster, since he is within an inverted context that makes all people monstrous. The most prominent father-image that I remember in Hitherby is Jane’s Father. In that story, Jane realizes that her father, who she retains monster-images of, was probably just a person. But people can do monstrous things. So this story seems in some ways to be a continuation.

  3. [quote:fa66ffa6dd]Hell: The state of wanting to understand the latest Hitherby too much to let go, but no hope. [/quote:fa66ffa6dd]

    Plausible BS powers, activate — let’s see, we’re starting with an inversion of Tarzan. The Tarzan books sometimes (if I remember them rightly from childhood) involved him finding a lost city with other humans in it, as in this story he finds Ink. The humans in this story are depicted as strange creatures, with ordinary features that people have (an articulated neck, finger joints that move partly independently, etc.) described as if unfamiliar. Therefore, Ink no longer considers herself to be human in some important sense. She is more like Greystoke, a unique creature that can think and talk but that is not really part of society.

    Similarly the Mirror of the Flame looks like an inversion of the mirror of Snow White, that tells the Queen that she’s the fairest of them all until Snow White appears. This mirror tells you that you’re sinful, even in cases (like Ink’s) in which it appears that no sins have really been committed, except perhaps Original Sin if you believe in that kind of thing. So Ink in the city is perhaps a bit like Snow White trapped in her coffin. Ink’s part in italics also mentions poisoned fruit, in support of this.

    Ink being named Incompatible Precepts may really be her real name, given that it’s her father who says so — he should know, presumably. That would make part of her story an examination of the same kind of thing that woglies examine in the main Hitherby story. (I had guessed that her name was really Incomplete for some time, given the disassociative themes in Hitherby, but perhaps that was wrong.)

    Note the terror associated with the introduction of the father-image.

    More later; now I have to go and work.

  4. Wow. Whether I read this literally, or as a metaphor for some inward journey, it’s still amazing. :)

  5. Hell: The state of wanting to understand the latest Hitherby too much to let go, but no hope.

    Errrh… Ink’s in Hell because… she’s lost her truth-valuing-explorer-nature… mumble… something to do with Tarzan… god, [i:c16218f098]someone just put me out of my misery already[/i:c16218f098].

    (I swear, some days I can consider myself an almost intelligent person. The other days I read Hitherby Dragons.)

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