The doom of Spattle approaches.
It is like this.
Sid and Max are talking. It is 1989, and Max is an adult now, a breaker of horses, and he lives in Spattle. They are sitting on the balcony of Max’s one-room apartment, looking east towards the desert.
And Max is saying, “We are a corrupt people.”
The wind blows softly.
“I think that if God came down, like in the gospels; that if he sent his angels among us to collect all who cause others to sin and all evildoers, and to throw them into the fiery furnace, that we would rise against him in our hosts and our armies and we would be like the rebels of the angels, saying, ‘no, those are Americans; they are not for your furnaces.’ I think that we would turn our nuclear weapons against the Lord.”
Sid considers that. “Well,” he says, “why not?”
“Because it’d be God,” Max says.
“Is it all right to fight God?”
“It’s not all right or not all right,” Sid says. “It depends on why.”
There is a breath of time.
“Why?” Sid asks.
“I have been dreaming of a judgment,” says Max.
And Sid frowns.
He rises to his feet. He looks around. He says, “Ah.”
Sid points out east.
“Do you see that?”
And Max frowns, and he narrows his eyes, and he squints out into the desert. And he can see it.
There’s something rippling, twisting, strangely purple beyond the horizon.
He shakes his head, once, twice. He tries to focus.
And that is when the sick hook of horror catches in his stomach and twists everything around.
It is 1989. The sun hides behind a caul of clouds. A cold wind blows.
Max blacks out.
We remember Spattle, though few do: In California, near Palm Springs, it was, touched once by chaos and then by death.
Its streets were littered with the corpses of the birds when its ending came.
When he wakes Max is unsteady on his feet and Sid is holding him upright.
Max says, “It is the coming of a King.”
The city is under a pall.
“A King?” Sid says.
“A King of an Unforgivable Dominion,” says Max.
He stares out east.
“There is a King,” says Max, “of the old countries that came before the world. He is bloated with a clotting of life. It moves damply and uncomfortably within him. As if a man had swallowed ten other men, or a fish the ocean.”
“Ah,” says Sid.
“He is coming to Spattle,” Max says. “He will drown this place. It will be forgotten, and the people here will suffer torment.”
The frogs croak, distant in the desert: ke-kax.
“Will you leave?” Sid asks.
Max shakes his head.
“No,” he says.
And the doom of Spattle nears.
These are the signs of the coming of a King: dreams and portents. Death. Trouble between friends.
The progress of the King is slow.
Max has time to think; to worry; to consider.
He buys fairy-traps. They are horrid things with clappers, teeth, and bells, designed to take the magic that lights upon them and swallow it up.
He takes them out east. He stands before the line of it: the great rim of the King. It is like a wall of a distortion across the world. Cars drive through it, unheeding. Birds fly across it, unknowing. But it infects them as they pass, and their lungs grow thick with mold.
Max has seen those birds in town, dead and fallen on the streets.
Max sets the fairy-traps down along the King’s great rim. He sets them on the sand and on the road.
A car drives past.
Its wheel strikes a fairy-trap. The fairy-trap skitters and jangles with the ringing of its bells. The people who pass over it, Max thinks, are insignificantly and indescribably less.
And Max watches.
The rim of the King shifts inwards, twisting, ever-so-slowly, ever-so-slightly. It passes onto the fairy-traps with a great jangling of bells. The clappers close. The traps bite into the lip of the King.
It might have helped. Then again, it might not have.
Max does not know.
The King in vestments of indigo and green is the King of bloated life. He is a tide that washes into the world. He pools. He gathers. Then he withdraws, and pulls a bit of our world with him, growing in himself more bloated yet.
“Sid,” Max says.
As suddenly as a dream the siggort is there.
“There’s a man in town,” Max says.
“He sells charms against the gods,” Max says. “The kind that are forbidden; the kind that are cruel.”
“I see,” Sid says.
“I need more than fairy-traps,” Max says, “to fight the King. But I can’t afford his rates.”
And suddenly Sid looks wry.
“You want me to threaten him,” he says.
Tension flares up between them. Humor becomes outrage.
“You don’t like what I am,” Sid says. “You don’t like that I’m a siggort. Except when it’s useful. Then suddenly it’s good that I have a wheel of knives; that I have feathers in my hair; that I’m older than this mortal world.”
And Max flushes. Shame coils in him like a dragon around its nest. But he doesn’t flinch.
“A King in vestments of indigo and green,” he says. “A King of bloated life. He’s coming to Spattle. And I can’t get the tools I need to try to stop him.”
“We should just leave,” he says. “Warn as many people as will listen, and leave.”
“This is my line, Sid.”
And by that Max means that he is standing at a place with only one recourse: that he is backed against the lines inside his soul and has only one direction in which to move, and that is against the coming tide.
And Sid looks at Max.
And Sid can see that it is so.
These are the signs of the coming of a King: memories. Helplessness. Abandonment of principle.
Peter Sorgen lives in Spattle and deals in arms against the gods.
For a profit, he will sell them.
For a fee, he will employ them, using the tools and armaments of his trade to remove angels, fiends, fairies, devils, and other gods.
He survives in this trade because he is careful of his karma; because he asks gods honest questions and listens to the answers that they give; because he hates the things he hunts and shows appropriate fear when faced with those too great to kill.
That, and the lion’s share of gods he meets are figments of mortal imagination, which he may kill with a placebo, and the bulk of those remaining are born from weak and impure emptiness.
Peter Sorgen lives on the second floor of a rented house. He is thick and balding. He is a killer of gods.
Sid enters, pursuant to their appointment.
Peter looks up and smiles.
Then he frowns.
“Wait,” he says. “I know you.”
—“I know you,” says Grouchy Pete.
Sid stares at him, and matches up the facial features, and suddenly he laughs.
“You were that bully,” he says. “You’d chew gum and spit it out, ptui, like that!”
And now, as he faces the siggort in his home, Peter’s face contorts with fear and hatred.
He pulls a gun.
He fires, just like that.
Just like that! And he’s shot Sid, and the bullet sticks in him.
Sid looks down. He makes the horrible face that people make when someone makes them eat horrible icky vegetables or hot lead.
Pete fires again— again, and again, and again, until the gun is empty and eight bullets are lodged in the wall, and two in Sid.
Sid has his hand pressed against a bullet wound. His fingers are covered in blood.
“Geez, Pete,” he says.
And he falls down.
The King has drowned Spattle; it is in the substance of him, in the distance of him, and it is no longer remembered in this world.
“I never found a formal technique to use for wheel-of-knives gods,” Pete says. “I never even found out what you’re called. I looked. But I never did.”
Sid has woken up.
“I can see,” Sid says, blearily, “that I should have backed a Presidential candidate who was stronger on gun control.”
“I figure,” Pete says, “that if I take you apart, though, that’ll work.”
Sid is handcuffed to a radiator. Pete doesn’t actually have much of a budget for this kind of thing. But he does have a knife.
“You’re going to cut me to pieces?” Sid asks.
Sid begins to laugh again.
It’s funny to imagine Grouchy Pete, such an earnest kid, vivisecting the siggort. It’s funny, even if Grouchy Pete has grown.
Pete watches him laugh. He waits for Sid to wind down. Pete is a man with great experience with gods.
Finally, Sid recovers. His wounds are leaking badly, but he doesn’t seem that hurt.
“It won’t work,” Sid says.
“A long time ago,” Sid says, “I was in a place of terrible durance, and moving in the fashion that one moves, and where there was light I was in darkness, and where there was substance I was in emptiness, and where there was heat I dwelled inside a terrible cold. And on occasion I would catch sight of myself against a place of reflection and I would recoil, thinking, ‘Hideous; hideous; unspeakable.'”
Pete studies Sid.
“You look okay,” he says.
Sid looks at him.
“I mean, if you like Sids,” Pete says.
“I am a terrible comprehension,” says Sid.
“And one day,” says Sid, “An insight pierced me, like a javelin from the mind of God. And I said, in the language of my kind, ‘I am not alone.’
“Then, for thirteen hundred years, I waited for Max Lamner to be born.”
Pete is hesitant.
“Can you tell me,” he asks, “whether I should begin cutting you apart now, or wait until the completion of your story?”
Sid looks at him.
“What kind of a question is that?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Sid says, shaking his head, looking appalled. “It’s just—
“This is a body I made of mud and clay and feathers and blood. If you cut it up, you’ll probably go mad.”
“Thank you,” Pete says.
He draws back slightly. He thinks.
“How can I kill you?” he asks.
Pete is, of course, a man well-versed in gods, and one who therefore expects a shocking honesty and openness of them. Sid, however, stares at him like he’s daft.
After a moment, Pete blushes.
And suddenly Sid has the power in the room. Suddenly, because of Peter’s repeated misestimations of him, it does not matter that Sid is bound and Pete is free.
The wheel of knives spins.
Sid straightens against the radiator.
Sid says, “I need everything you have. I don’t care if it’s for curing warts. There’s a King coming to Spattle in vestments of indigo and green, and if we don’t stop him, you’ll be drowning forever.”
Pete stares at Sid.
“Damn it!” Pete says. “Damn it. I should get to kill you.”
And because Sid is starting to understand the ways in which Peter Sorgen expects a Sid to act, he answers thus: “That would lead you to a horrid end.”
And Peter sighs.
And he lets Sid go.
These are the signs of the coming of a King: corrupt actions. Fear and hatred. The pollution of the groundwater, so that sinks run with green water and with black.
They stand out at the edge, before the rim of the King.
They lay out talismans of oak and rowan, curses, and nasty bits of iron.
With the chalks of amterise they work— Sid and Max, as Grouchy Pete has abandoned the town and fled—
With the chalks of amterise and the sigils of Rao they work to hold back the tide.
It is a horrid tangle that they build, a monstrous thing made to devour gods—
But when the rim of the King moves past, they cannot even tell if it is hurt.
“Is it hurt?” Max asks.
“I can’t tell,” Sid says.
And Max squints and stares into the body of the King, and the nature of it assaults his mind, and madness sweeps over him and he is retching and for a long time he knows nothing but loathing, hatred, and fear.
His reasons are not specific.
It is simply that in apprehending the King he feels a disconnection with the substance of the world and a futility of the striving of humankind, and this makes him sick, like an animal, with fear.
Is it right to kill a King?
We ask ourselves this because it is essentially our purpose. To change the world is to drive forth the shadows that dwelt upon it and change is always accompanied by blood. We look upon the King and he is a sickness upon our mind, but is it right?
If we could ask the people of Spattle, they would give us license, no doubt; they would say from the belly of that beast that we should strike. But their voices are not heard within the world. We may not use their witness.
That night Sid and Max camp out in the desert and watch the doom of Spattle come.
And some of the nature of the King is still twisting in Max’s mind, so he says, “Here’s a thing I’ve been thinking.”
“Vivisecting people is wrong,” Max says. “Like, you walk up to someone and they’re happy, right? And then you vivisect them. And they’re all, ‘Hey, I liked those organs. Now I’m in hideous pain and dying!’”
“True,” Sid says.
“So . . . how can any moral person— god— THING, how can anyone, you know?”
Sid considers that.
“We were ugly,” Sid says.
“When we were made,” Sid says. “We were so ugly that our father would not let us walk upon the Earth under the sun. Instead he cast us into deepnesses where we dwelt.”
Max studies Sid.
“You look okay,” he says.
“It is like the tide, I think,” he says. “The reason that siggorts vivisect. One day there shall be a man, and inside him I shall see something like . . . a gleaming jewel. And I will take him apart and lay him out piece by piece to find it, but I will not find it. And this will be a good thing, an honest thing, a thing that will end something of my shame. It will put me back in harmony with the world, with what I am, with the nature of things. It will be right; and I, of course, will be a murderer, and foul.”
“Oh,” says Max.
“It won’t be a moral thing,” says Sid. “If it were, then I’d be all conflicted. I mean,” he adds, honestly, “more so than I am. It’s not a moral thing. It is simply a thing that happens. I am astonished, in truth, that it has not happened yet.”
He grins a little, sadly, like a Sid.
“My brothers say I am slacking, but I do not think that this is so. I think that I am selective and I simply have not found the person I will kill.”
And it is not to these words but to Sid’s eyes that Max says: “Jesus, Sid.”
He says, “I will shed this body, I think, and fight the King. Do not call me again. If I am as I was . . . I will fear to answer such a call.”
The Kings of the Unforgivable Dominions break the covenant that holds together the pieces of the world.
And Max is on his feet.
Max is hugging Sid.
And Max says, fiercely, “Do not make yourself a thing I cannot love.”
There is a breath of time.
And suddenly Max blushes, and turns away, and flails, because Max does not want Sid to misunderstand.
And the thunder of Sid’s heart comes close to cracking the mud of him; the distance and silence in his head comes close to aerating the clay of him; and he doesn’t say anything, but rather is still.
“Tell me,” Max says.
“It is all right to kill the King that comes to Spattle, in vestments of indigo and green?”
“Is it . . .”
Sid can’t find words. He stares out at the King.
“No,” he says.
He lays his hand on the surface of the King. He feels its ichorous and corruptive membrane.
“It’s not all right or not all right,” he says. “It depends on why.”
“Then leave it be,” Max says.
And they leave it be, and go;
And doom comes to Spattle.