Meredith runs from the chaos.
She runs away on foot.
This proves peculiarly ineffectual. Everywhere she goes there is already chaos.
She breaks into Mrs. Scoggins’ kitchen. There is chaos there.
“I’d hoped for a peaceful life,” Meredith explains.
“Don’t break into my kitchen, then,” advises Mrs. Scoggins.
Meredith buys a car. She drives east. But everywhere she goes there is already chaos.
“What do you want on your burger?” crackles a speaker as she pulls into the drive-thru of a Socialist Burger Sovereign.
“I’d hoped to find a place where everything is pre-defined,” Meredith says.
“I’m sorry,” crackles the speaker apologetically. “We embrace the Marxist condiment dialectic.”
“That’s somewhat creepy,” Meredith says.
The severed head of the Socialist Burger Sovereign mascot waggles back and forth on its springs, as if to say it understands.
Meredith drives faster. She sets her foot to the pedal and races to the east and she does not look back at the following storm.
It is 1987.
The sun is lost behind the edge of the world.
Meredith arrives in Spattle.
“And you were in a funk!” Jane says, pleasedly.
This is her first insight into the reasoning behind the Frog and the Thorn.
Meredith looks at Jane sideways.
She is considering saying something like, “I almost died that night. Or worse.”
But Jane’s grin is too bright. So Meredith just shakes her head. “Yes,” Meredith says. “I came to Spattle, and I was in a funk.”
Another car has been chasing her for some hours now.
Its occupants are Luther and Desmond: one god, one man. For this reason an errant theologian might consider their vehicle analogous to the Christ, a single flesh holding within itself two natures— but as it is a Hyundai, we will not assert this analogy at this time.
Luther had been driving when a fey impulse came to him. He said: “Let us follow this woman ahead, and chase her down, and say to her, ‘You are a fool to believe in boundaries.'”
And Desmond was drunk enough and venal enough to make no dispute.
And there was the chaos in the car with them, its tendrils brushing against them, but they did not see it, and they did not know it, and they thought themselves rather instruments of order.
And they chase Meredith down.
She is afraid. What else should she be? She knows that this is the price of an individual nature: that in forsaking the limitlessness of her godhood and assuming simple flesh she has opened herself up to all manner of terror and sorrow.
There are many who would not even grant her the dignity of blamelessness, but say, “Ah, such is what she has earned, for choosing not to be a god.”
So Meredith watches them warily in the mirror as they approach, and she sweats in fear, and she says, in the cold blank tones of prophecy, “Someone is going to suffer.”
Because someone is.
The information is not useful to her, any more than prophecy is ever really useful to the gods. The words are an index of the future, as her headlights are an index of the present, caught out of the corner of her mental eye.
Someone will suffer.
And she feels the chaos closing in behind her, and she says, “Fine.”
She pulls over in front of a coffee shop. She leaves the lights on. She gets out. She stands there and she waits.
The frogs of the desert croak: ke-kax, ke-kax.
And the car pulls in: vroom, vroom.
And the door cracks open, and the door slams shut, and in between those moments Luther has gotten out.
And the other door cracks open, and the other door slams shut, and in between those moments Desmond follows him to the lot.
And Meredith looks at them and her mouth is dry.
She wants to tell them: “Do not make me tarry here, or the chaos will rise from the sea and pour across the state to get to me, and you will drown.”
She cannot make herself speak.
Softly, sinfully, Luther walks to her, and says, “Lady, you should not believe in boundaries.”
She is wearing a blouse, and a sweater, and jeans, and a pin depicting the principle Akosmia—
A minor hypocrisy in her ideals which she, being Meredith, does not consider—
And she shivers because he is too close.
“We can have no sympathy for boundaries,” Luther says, in that place and at that time, “because of the philosophical incompleteness of the notion. There is no firm line that one may draw between bodies, between minds, between souls. In this sense it is clear that the rights that each of us has to another are similar if not identical to the rights that each of us has towards ourselves; that the capacities of the individual must as a matter of basic morality be yielded towards the common good.”
“And in this respect,” Meredith asks, “the will of yourself and Desmond there must dominate?”
This checks Desmond’s approach, as if he had come up upon a leash. She knows his name, and she should not know his name.
“We are two,” says Luther.
He pushes back the sleeve of her blazer. He takes her arm. Something squirms at the point of contact between them.
“You are one. And forsaken of your dharma.”
His other hand turns her face upwards for a kiss, but she is laughing. It is insane, it is ridiculous, it is horrible, but she is laughing, she is unable to hold herself upright, she cannot stand and she is sagging supported by his hands and her car behind her, she is laughing because she has recognized the sensation upon her arm.
“Shut up,” Luther says, and stiffens his grip on her until she is not sagging, but Meredith gasps out:
“You’re a starfish man.”
And he goes still.
“What?” Luther asks.
“Five fingers,” she says. “Five limbs. Is it not so?”
And he stands there, still and trembling, because she has caught him out. Five fingers; five limbs; in fivefold symmetry: a starfish man, and not a person at all.
“I’m not—” he says.
“Five fingers; five limbs; in fivefold symmetry,” she laughs. “A starfish man, and not a person at all.”
He calms himself. He straightens. He looks away from her. He says, with stiff dignity, “My head does not in any fashion resemble my other limbs.”
“It differs in both shape and function,” Luther says.
“Uh—” says Desmond, who is quite confused.
“Look,” Meredith says. She turns Luther’s hand over. She exposes to Desmond the ragged mouth that is within its palm.
“Dude,” says Desmond. “You have a mouth in your hand.”
“He’ll probably eat you with it,” Meredith laughs, merrily, and Luther hits her, hard. Her mind goes white and her ears sound with thunder and she falls, because she is not a resilient god, but it is too late.
Desmond is running.
And she lays there, bleeding a bit from her ankle where she scraped it in the fall, and Luther looks down and he says, in a pitch of sorrow, “You have lured me here to no purpose and cost me someone I called friend.”
“I have no sympathy,” Meredith gasps out.
And the chaos is all around them then. There are tendrils of it in the mist of night, soft and wet, and in the croak of the frogs: ke-kax; and the scream of the birds overhead: kea; and the skittering noises of small scorpions on the ground, where no scorpions should be: kittle-ik.
And in his face.
And in her own.
It is stifling, a humid thickness of chaos in which anything could happen.
And he asks, “Why was I drawn away? Why did I come here?”
And it is clear in his eyes that he will make her pay the price for his confusion.
So she says, “Did you know, I am a surging, threshing power, like the sea? I am vast. It is hard to be vast and to be without boundaries. In such a sea the ego is like a drop of water, a single concept of delusion scattered through the endlessness. And the sea batters always against that drop with all the force of it.”
His fists clench on her arms and the suckers of them seal against her skin.
“I’m sorry,” she says, not to him, but to herself, because she’d really intended to remain herself through these events, and now she’s realized that she can’t.
He shakes her.
Her boundaries collapse.
Suddenly he is storm-tossed, suddenly he is flailing, drowning, suddenly it is raining snails and bursts of fire down upon his back.
And Meredith is falling lost into the immensity that is her former nature, and she says, “I will ride it, I will ride the storm,” much as Luther tries to do.
This is the wrong answer, but not entirely so.
Her mind singing and seething with the chaos, she turns away from Luther.
Luther is somewhere distant and dark and trying very hard to regenerate, but all he can think of is how very incomprehensible the world can be.
She abandons him there, him and his fivefold symmetry.
She gets into her car.
She drives away.
“I will make a genre of self-referential fiction about this,” Meredith says. “Someday.”
This information is not useful to her. Prophecy is rarely useful to the gods. It is simply an index of the future, as Luther is an index of the present, a sign and signal of the times in which she lives, a drying-up horrid drowning starfish man.
“I will call it Spattlefunk,” Meredith says.
And there, finally, is a prophecy of which she is glad.
Meredith would have had no idea what to call stories inspired by this encounter, there in the desert, between chaos and constraint; between the fear of rape and the fear of her own power.
She would have fretted at this lack of definition, poked at it like a tongue against a rotting tooth.
It is a relief, however unfortunate the word “Spattlefunk” might be, to know.
“It’ll be just like this,” she says.
And, pushed by the waves of chaos at her back, she runs.