[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]
Leaves scud about on the surface of the chaos. They are yellow, mostly.
There’s an odd amount of sky visible up above, thanks to all the heaving about of the tower.
Tep’s wearing a loose orange sweatshirt, now.
It’s the color of the powdered brick that had clung to him as he fell.
There’s an alchemy of combination to that. He knows. The brick had melded into him, right down to the bone, before his nature rejected it.
Werewolves are good that way.
They never let go of what they are.
They never let go of anything, really.
That’s why for the rest of his life, whenever he likes, he’ll be able to close his eyes and see the great sweep of Sukaynah beneath the chaos and the ancient crusted bonds that had held her down while he challenged her.
Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.
The Island of the Centipede
“Don’t rightly know what to say,” Tep says.
She does not answer.
If there is one thing he has learned from sitting irritably above her mouth for more than a century, it’s that Sukaynah doesn’t talk very much.
“How did it happen?” he says.
He’s asking about Ned.
And Sukaynah says, “He fell. He was old, Tep.”
Tep had sort of forgotten that people got old. Even dogs.
“And the other thing?”
“The tying-up thing?” he elaborates.
“I’d promised to make the sun go away,” Sukaynah says. “And I followed it all day, west and west, to the boundaries of the world. And the gibbelins tied me down.”
Tep whines softly.
“I would surrender,” she says, “If I could. Because, in all honesty, I would not want to lose the rest of my teeth.”
“Well, that’s good,” says Tep.
He stares down.
But he can’t help grinning. It gets bigger and bigger.
“What?” Ink asks.
“I won,” he says.
The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay
August, Tuesday 5, 1890, Today I fetched in a jellyfish that spoke & offered me three wishes, but when I asked for the death of God it offered me regrets & suggested that easier wishes would involve gold or jewels, which prompted me to great laughter as I am no doubt the richest man in all the West & I threw it back without acceptance of its offer.
January, Thursday 1, 1891. It is the new year. I have settled myself quite comfortably now and do not think I shall have the opportunity to dethrone the Tyrant; for my indisposition in its peaks and swells is worse on each occasion, and I have not cracked but the thousandth part of the gibbelins’ knowledge herein. Still I find that I am not so hard taken by this as Ned is a faithful companion & I have even grown somewhat fond of Tep & Sukaynah. How can a man find himself so comfortable with savage beasts when the Lord, that fount of goodness, proves a Tyrant? I wonder if we have been In the Wrong and goodness is topsy-turvy from the start.
January, Sunday 12, 1891. I saw him in the distance, moving on the sea, and cast my spear; but I have missed the Tyrant and so he shall remain upon his throne.
I am not certain of the date but I felt that I should close out this volume in some better fashion & not so much speak of my inefficacy as of the great and generous favors that Providence and my adversary have granted me & to acknowledge that in all the cruelty that harangues the world there is still grounds for hope for I shall not regret knowing Emma or Lily or Charles or Tep or Sukaynah & if you find this please take care to feed Ned & Tep & Sukaynah as I do not believe that they can fend well on their own;
There are a few minutes of silence, punctuated principally by the sound of turning pages. Ink is reading the journal of Abel Clay.
Then she closes it.
She taps her nose, looking very intent.
Then she takes off her backpack—pink and very flat and a bit too small for her—and puts the journal in it. In exchange, she removes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It is wrapped in plastic and looks about as ancient as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can look without actually being green.
She tosses this to Tep.
He catches it. He looks at it more or less as anyone would.
“Sheesh,” says Ink. “You people don’t know how good you have it.”
“Oh,” says Tep.
“It’s food! You chew it and swallow it and then it’s in your stomach fueling the divine fire of your life.”
Tep looks at the sandwich sidelong.
“That is the theory,” Tep agrees.
“Hey,” Ink says.
And now she’s looking solemn.
“If you’ve won,” she says, “you can go, right?”
Tep whines again. It’s soft and under his breath and not so much an answer as a vocalization before his words; and he shortly adds, “She is tied down.”
“You’d sit here for a hundred years waiting for a dead dog to come back and fight you,” says Ink, “and now you’ll stay until someone unties a giant sun-killing horror with limbs as big as jet airliners?”
“Yes,” says Tep.
“Outside,” says Ink, “there are a billion souls to love as you’ve loved those here; and sunsets like rocketfire; and candy with chocolate inside and letters on the front, if you can hold that thought in your head without going insane from the sheer head-pounding magical majesty of it—
“‘Cause, seriously, I mean, just think about that for a moment—
“and balloons that fly up to the ceiling and get stuck there until they die; and ten hundred zillion books; and bees made out of ice and bees made out of rocks and bees that have sex with flowers. And when you breathe there’s air and it comes into your lungs and they push out and then suck in like this,” she says, demonstrating. “And sometimes people light little sticks on fire and breathe part of it into their lungs and then spit out smoke just like they were tumorous dragons.”
“There’s air here, too.”
“Huh,” says Ink. She breathes again: it makes the sound ho-ha, ho-ha, but smaller than Sukaynah’s. “So there is.”
She grins to Tep.
“But I’m taking her,” Ink says. “You can fight me over it, and she’ll stay tied up here forever, or you can say good-bye, and go, and find other people to love out in the endless immensity of the world.”
Sukaynah has been shifting softly in her bonds, pulling against them, a tiny motion that Ink did not feel and Tep did not see until it stopped.
It is still now, below Gibbelins’ Tower.
Softly, Sukaynah says, “Go.”
It is like the lifting of a shackle. It is the ending of a hundred years.
Smiling wildly, and leaning out across the chaos to touch Sukaynah’s face, Tep makes his goodbye; and then, his whole body one great moment of transition, he goes up the wall and away.
What is the imago?
Why does Sukaynah even care that fig newtons are fruit and cake?
Why, in just a few short minutes, will a quarter of Gibbelins’ Tower fall into a jumbled ruin?
Check back on Tuesday for the exciting conclusion to Chapter Two of The Island of the Centipede:
Ink Indestructible (I/I)
“What are you?” Sukaynah asks.
Ink’s hand comes down to touch the surface of the chaos.
“I’m a destroyer.”