In Hell there is a city of poison and gold.
Ink Catherly lives there. She sits on its broken throne. She is fifteen years old and she is a savage jungle queen.
She has not thought of her father or her mother in some time.
Instead she thinks of Greystoke, the bull-ape raised by suburbanites, lord of suburbia and king of men. She thinks of the treasures of the jungle. She thinks of the mechanisms by which she might escape her Hell.
It is the unfortunate character of Ink’s circumstances that Hell is inescapable.
Here ends the legend of Ink Catherly: in the city of poison and gold, in Hell, where Greystoke has called up her father against her.
Hell, day 969: The veil-rending gun.
As always the ape opposed my search. I tell him: “You must let me work. I must find an answer so that I can escape from Hell.” But he is a beast and he does not understand.
I found it at last, kept in the claws of Usr-Acigh: the gun that can break the veil between worlds. I fired it. I opened a gap in the jungle. But I could not step through. In any other world I would be a corpse.
I watch my hand as I write this. It is like watching a hand pulled around by puppet strings. It is like a spider. It is like a headless chicken. It is like the flopping plastic bag that one at first mistakes for life. There is direction. There is intentionality. But it is emptiness and not purpose that drives it.
There is no escape from Hell because it is not a place but rather a condition, and a condition not of quality but of absence. I have lost the divine fire that gave me purpose. I have only the bleak insectile intentionality of flesh. I am an outsider to myself. If I were not in Hell I would be dead.
Mr. Catherly stands at the door.
“Greystoke,” Ink breathes. “You go too far.”
Mr. Catherly is gliding forward, his footsteps silent on the gold and marble floor. He says, “It is not your right, Ink, to claim the jungle’s treasures.”
Ink shakes her head.
Her face is darkening with anger.
“The Mirror of Flame will do you no good,” says Mr. Catherly. “This is Hell. There is no avenue by which you may obtain your desire.”
Ink turns. The threat of Greystoke is forgotten, and the ape himself is nearly so. Her world has narrowed down to the Mr. Catherly and the savage challenge that must come—in any species—when a child defies her parent and seeks to define the freedom of her course.
“You would say that,” she says.
There is a growl tickling at her throat. She is not letting it loose: for one thing, the human voice does not yield easily to it, and it replaces speech in use. For another, she does not wish to warn him of the seriousness of her intent. But as she shifts her stance to the lightly-bent crouch that humans use in battle her plans are transparent to the older man. He slows his advance. He is wary.
“Hold this,” Ink says, not taking her eyes from her father’s face.
She holds out the instrument of defiance to Greystoke; for unlike the men he summons, the ape-king of suburbia has such notions of honor as to make this safe.
The bull-ape takes it from her hands.
Incompatible Precepts Catherly takes two steps forward and then springs.
The contest of human and human is savage. Their teeth are blunt. Their claws are weak. Their muscles are poorly suited to murder.
But there are many ways by which they may give one another pain.
The howls of them rise through the jungle. They disturb the birds, that look up once and flee. They cause the frogs and salamanders to retreat into their holes. They shake the ancient city and its poisons and its gold.
And Ink takes her father down onto his back and beats at his chest and he is smiling hideously at her with his white fangs and he says, “See? Incompatible.”
Ink shrieks, a terrifying and an alien cry.
Her cunning talons close around his neck. His face darkens. His terrible words go still. His hands are twitching.
Ink says, “Tell me I’m a person.“
But this is Hell.
Hell, day 1406: The mirror of flame.I have captured a mirror that reflects someone with a self—not the Ink who writes this but an Ink such as I was before. It hurts but I cannot stop looking at it.
She would, I think, find an answer to this place. She would explore it, transform it from this horrid absence into a phenomenon worth recording—not Hell but the witnessing of Hell, not emptiness but the recognition that she is not empty. She had wanted that. But I am not that Ink. I am her empty corpse.The ape, I think, will be here soon.
“Stupid fathers,” says Ink.
Mr. Catherly is unconscious.
“Stupid parents. Can you imagine?” she says. She is panting. She is struggling to recapture control over her emotions. “Naming somebody after what having the baby meant?“
Greystoke is mute.
Ink rises. She stalks back to the throne. She sits down. Her posture slumps and her eyes go distant and she reassumes the demeanor of a brooding jungle queen.
“Take it,” she says. “Take the Mirror.”
So Greystoke steps forward. He pulls the Mirror of Flame down from the air.
“Leave the instrument of defiance. And go.”
The ape places the instrument of defiance down upon the floor and begins to walk away.
Ink struggles for words.
“When I was young,” she says. “I accidentally cut off a fingertip. And the funny thing was that it just lay there, empty. It wasn’t a part of me. It was meat.”
“Yes,” says Greystoke.
“That is all we are,” she says. “Meat and bone.”
“Yes,” says Greystoke.
“I remember when I was fire,” Ink says. “I can look in the mirror and I can see that—an Ink Catherly, far away, who is fire and not just emptiness. Someone who is different from that twitching finger.” Her breathing is erratic. “I need it. I need it to remind me that I had something inside me once.”
“That is not need,” says Greystoke. “That is suffering.”
And in her last glance in the mirror, as he carries it away, she can see a great tower that is not her tower; and beyond it a sea of surging chaos; and an Ink who is not herself, but somehow possessed of that which is forbidden to her in Hell.
The mirror cracks.