The Immensity of Love (I/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

In ten thousand miles of dreams there is only one Max.

He stands surrounded by dream, lost in great billowing clouds of dream, lost in endless and infinite dream, one tiny speck of human in a surging sea.

The wind that rushes past has taken the skin from him, taken the bones from him, flayed him down to just that speck:


He is flailing in his bed but he does not know it.

His arms are casting about.

Then there is light pressing against the darkness, sunlight turning the insides of his eyelids into shapes, and he remembers his name.


There is a welter of blankets around him. There is cool air flowing through the room. His bones ache.

In his eyes there is sun.

He mumbles a complaint.

These days, when the sun sneaks in through the pinhole in his curtain, it’s personal. It’s not just an anonymous irritant or the wicked hands of fate. It’s Iphigenia, and she’s probably doing it on purpose.

She is a mischevious girl.

She’s a burning yellow heat.

She is 1.4 million kilometers in diameter when she is the sun but no siggort ever came out of Siggort Town just to be her friend.

“Gr,” he mumbles.

In his eyes there is sun.

Something nags at the back of his mind.

He doesn’t want to wake up.

He doesn’t want to wake up. He’s tired and unhappy but there’s some reason—


Max opens his eyes.

There’s a horrible little thing on his pillow. It’s like a crocodile’s skull, only it’s got horns. Its dry and its white but it’s not dead. It’s looking at him.

“Right,” he says.

He reaches out his hand. He holds its jaws closed. With his other hand he rubs his own forehead.

“Martin warned me about you,” he says. “Sneaking in through the pipes and making bad dreams like that.”

The thing struggles in his hand.

Max looks wry.

“I feel sorry for you,” he says. “Coming to a place like this, a little thing like you.”

It’s a horror of living bone. It was probably eating his soul as he slept. But there’s never been a siggort who’d show up just because it said the siggort’s name. There never was a siggort who’d look so . . . so Sid at it when it smiled.

Aside from the numbing horror of it, it’s kind of cute.

So Max doesn’t kill it.

He takes his hat off his hat rack and hangs the horror there and puts his hat on it and then he goes to wash his face in the dinky blue bathroom that’s next to his room.

He doesn’t want to wake up, but there’s some reason—

And he looks at himself in the mirror and he thinks, Ah, right.

Of course he has to wake up.

Sid loved me.

Continuing the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

It is June 1, 2004.

There’s a knock on Max’s door.

Max has an image to maintain, so he doesn’t answer. Instead, he pushes a button next to the door.

On both sides of the door a BROODING light lights up.

He can hear from outside: “Aw, man!”

It’s Jane’s voice.

Jane’s like a self-arming nuclear bomb with independently mobile legs. She’s a six-year-old girl. But there’s never been a siggort that waited thirteen hundred years just so Jane could be born.

Max, sure.

That happened, with Max.

But not with Jane.

Max pulls on a white shirt. He doesn’t need pants because he sleeps in his jeans so he’s wearing them already.

He flops on his bed.

Jane gives him a full two minutes to relax, to think: maybe she’s gone away?

Then she knocks again.

Max stands up.

He opens the door.

Max brushes back his hair with one hand.

“It’s four in the morning,” he says.

“It’s ten,” says Jane, scandalized.

Max makes a gesture as if to indicate that he cannot be bothered with mundane details of timekeeping.

“I’m brooding,” he says.

“I saw,” says Jane.

Seconds elapse.

“What do you want?” Max asks.

Jane looks at him. She wrings her hands. Then she says what she rehearsed.

“It’s all right to fight,” she says. “But it’s all right to make up, too.”


Max sighs.

“Come in,” he says.

Jane comes in. She pulls herself up on the spare bed, the one Max doesn’t use, the one all spread with a cowhide-colored quilt. Max flops in his desk chair, more or less directly in front of and below his hat rack.

What do I say?

“It is because of Sid that I can be here,” Max says. “It’s because he looked at me and saw something worth saving, worth rescuing, worth returning to the world. But I can’t make up with him.”

“It’s easy,” stresses Jane. “You just say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then you hug.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“You could make him a cake!”

Max looks for words.

“It’s Sid’s business,” he says. “Fixing it, I mean. It’s not mine.”

Jane gapes at him.

“See,” says Max, “if I was all, ‘we must make this right, I miss you, I hurt every day over this,’ then how’d Sid feel?”


“It’d be like if the monster came to you and wanted you to accept his apology,” Max says.

“Oh,” says Jane.

Her mouth moves, like she’s thinking or trying to sound out a hard word.

After a bit, she says, “Sometimes I beat up Martin, or he dangles me by my feet or dunks my head in water, and then we make up.”

“Yes,” says Max. “You’re modeled after young primates.”

Jane giggles.

It’s a kind of unexpected giggle, as if the image in her mind is surprisingly silly.

“What?” Max asks warily.

“Like in Pokemon!” Jane declares.

Max narrows his eyes. He stares at her with his gunman’s gaze.

“You’re thinking of Primape,” he corrects, and she’s laughing too hard to stop him when he chases her out of his room.

It is June 1, 2004.

Max is alone.

Max feels alone.

He is surrounded by inhuman things, in a place beyond the boundaries of the world. If he thinks about it very carefully, even ten thousand miles of chaos is not so frightening to him as Jane.

Or Mrs. Schiff, that casual swallower of horrors.

Or Martin.

Or even the Roomba.

But he doesn’t have to think about it carefully.

It’s not necessary.

There’s no one but Max within ten thousand miles who’s ever had a siggort come out of Siggort Town just to love them, and the immensity of love makes everything else seem small.

11 thoughts on “The Immensity of Love (I/IV)

  1. This is a good story arc, and I like both Max and Sid as characters and the relationship between them, but — OK, now this is starting to bother me just a little. So far there’s no island, and no centipede, and the third history set is starting (if you count “The Isn’t [I/I]” as one). And we’re still in “The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One”?

    Somewhere in the pre-Imago site, in “Go Deeper”, I had a post speculating on how much of Hitherby we’d already read. Based on story arcs, I guessed that we were about 2/3 through. But that clearly isn’t right if a Thousand and One Nights strategy is going to be employed. If each story is the framing story for more stories … but even that precident is being outstripped. Aren’t there something like 700 Hitherby entries already?

    Don’t get me wrong, I clearly like Hitherby. Otherwise I wouldn’t comment so much. But I suspect that I’d also like other fiction written by Rebecca. Look at what happened with Colleen Doran and _A Distant Soil_, for instance. Is it ever going to end, or is just going to wear itself out? (Or did it actually end, and I just missed it?)

    If Hitherby is going to be a life-long project, I should probably adjust my expectations about story arcs actually arcing. So far we have the overall Jane-and-Martin story, the Liril-Micah-monster one, the Ink Catherly (plus Train Morgan?) one, and probably more about historical figures that could be continued, like the ones about Persephone. I think that I just need to come up with a new idea about what Hitherby is actually doing.

  2. Oh, right, now that I’m on comic book comparisons — which may seem inapposite, since Hitherby is better than almost all comics except perhaps things like _Sandman_, but it is called a webcomic after all — this one reminds me of something in _Nexus_. _Nexus_, for those who haven’t read it, featured a protagonist who was driven to kill mass murderers by an alien who sent him dreams forcing him to take out his next target. At one point, early in the series, you realize that just about all of the protagonist’s friends, lovers, and so on are themselves mass murderers, as is he himself of course.

    That’s what I thought of when Max is going through the entities near him and the various ways in which they embody potential world-destroying or at least world-changing power, as does he himself. There’s something unsettling about a world in which the distinction that narrative is typically based on — typically, in fantasy, it’s “we’ve got to stop the world-destroying entity” — turns out not to be a distinction after all.

  3. Which in turn reminds me (annoying conversation that I’m having here with myself, huh?) that I was once thinking about an Audience entry in which the D&D-like characters from An Unclean Legacy are convinced that The Tower is, essentially, Mordor — Martin would make a pretty good Sauron, perhaps — and go on a Tolkienesque quest to remove this threat to Things As They Are. (If the history-lens hadn’t already broken, it would make a pretty good One Ring.) But I couldn’t quite get the right note of comedy. The problem with the potential parody is that the Tower residents, being basically artists as it seems to me, have no orcs. Even if you just stepped on their Roomba, that might be it.

  4. > Based on story arcs, I guessed that we
    > were about 2/3 through.

    It’s a little short of half, reason tells me, although instinct claims the halfway point was earlier this month.

  5. 1.) The serial nature of Hitherby Dragons makes for a leisurely storytelling.

    2.) Hitherby Dragons hasn’t been going on nearly as long as A Song Of Fire and Ice or The Wheel Of Time.

    3.) Masterpieces like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell took over ten years to write.

    Tapestries have a lot of threads that need to be spun and dyed before they can be woven together.

  6. Rebecca, thanks — either way, that means I should probably pitch my expectations for it to finish at somewhere around 2009-2010. (Or maybe longer if it stays every other day instead of every day. 2013, maybe.) I’m going to have to think about what that makes the formal genre of all Hitherby posts put together, for me. I was thinking “book”, implicitly, since I persist in thinking of comics as having pictures. “Series” doesn’t quite work, because it’s a serial, but a series generally has a succession of arcs, one after another, and Hitherby’s usually don’t close. In something traditional, like the Harry Potter books say, you get the end of a storyline at the end of each book even though the overall story is going on; in Hitherby, at the end of a chapter you generally learn a whole bunch of new questions.

    I should probably look back at the pacing in Dickens. He wrote serially in magazines, right? Maybe it would be about the same size and structure as _Bleak House_; the lawsuit goes through the whole book, but there’s still new characters like the vampiric lawyer who appear near the end.

    Michael Moorcock comes to mind. He wrote various books, then tied them together into a multiverse — he coined the word if I remember rightly, although James Branch Cabell had earlier done the same thing with his books, which he represented as a sort of geneology. (Evolution over multiple generations?) Perhaps something like Moorcock’s _Cornelius Chronicles_ books, which have more postmodern storytelling and more independent chapters (as well as Audience-like bits written by other people that are not canon, so to speak.) “Multiverse” works for me, I guess.

    Hitherby Admin (are you November?), I know that it’s probably not anywhere near as long in terms of word count as A Song of Fire and Ice, but the unit of storytelling in A Song of Fire and Ice is the chapter. Here, it’s the post — even the connected posts within series still usually feel like seperate stories. So it feels larger in one sense.

    For physical time, sure, I accept that sometimes it takes writers a decade or more to write something. But you usually don’t see their intermediate output. The book just appears at the end of the span. At any rate, I don’t think that it was the physical time that I was wondering about so much as my expectations for how many stories go in a (whatever-it-is).

  7. Shh, you’ll give away my secret identity!

    You might be surprised, re: wordcount. It’s currently brushing against 600,000 words. As a comparison, the first three novels of A Song Of Fire and Ice clock in at 860,000.

    I think it’s safe to think of each Chapter in Hitherby Dragons as a novel, though the canonical (vs. whimsical) content is notably shorter.

    Though I don’t think of the unit of storytelling as a post in Hitherby– at least, not if they begin with a # of # format. Though… I dunno. It occurs to me that I consider any given sequence a lot like an episode of Lost (right now I’ve just started second season). And I suppose most people WOULD consider an episode a ‘unit of storytelling’. I don’t think in chapters very well, I’m afraid.

  8. also, rebecca seems to occasionally write chapters in response to our comments. So our commenting is actually slowing things down ;)

  9. I think it’s safe to think of each Chapter in Hitherby Dragons as a novel, though the canonical (vs. whimsical) content is notably shorter.

    I’m not sure. They may be about as long as novels, but they’re not *structured* like novels. Really, they’d be like books of short stories and short-short stories, except that so many of them have an open-ended quality with no sign of Freytag’s Triangle. For instance, the Sherlock Holmes short stories are all connected, and some of them refer to each other, but you rarely get a resolution at the end of a Hitherby sequence, whether it’s a set of History posts or a chapter. You do sometimes get one at the end of a connected sequence of legends, though — sets like An Unclean Legacy are the most story-typical parts of Hitherby.

    Perhaps what it is (in a formal sense — I don’t mean the senses in which it is an answer to suffering, or a map) is a diary. A fiction diary.

  10. I felt like Chapter Two had all the resolution of The Wandering Fire. Really, I feel like you’re not seeing Freytag’s Triangle because we’re still climbing the slope.

    But even so, Chapter Two definitely had a climax and a segment of falling action (Tantalus Looks For Work). But because it is not stand-alone, the segment of falling action leads into the next phase of the story.

    I feel like we are again rising into a chapter end, with a rapidly rising sense of tension, and a sense of many threads being pulled together. I think it’s really interesting how that tension is created partially by the rate of canon posts.

    I also think that perfect structure is created in revision, and that attempting to keep to a 1-a-day schedule was actually crippling attempts to outline and refine structure. I was almost certain the chapter would end around Easter, for example, but I think real life must have intervened.

    Finally, I wonder if your sense of narrative might be confused because of what are essentially extended flashbacks intermixed with present-day action?

    I think the mythical Chapterbooks would need to be abridged and re-arranged some, with some extra narrative, but I think they’re far more standard a novel than, say, The Dictionary of the Khazars.

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