[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]
Currents rush through the purple sea.
Ahead of Max are the scattered remnants of an island. Some great power has struck and shattered what once was whole so that now it is a dozen, perhaps two dozen pieces of land with watercourses between them. The sunlight runs in white and golden streams along the chaos’ surface.
Max dangles from the edge of his catamaran by one arm and the strictures of his harness. Red Mary swims towards him.
Her movements are effortless and swift.
Max flounders and tries to drag himself up. The catamaran wobbles. His hand catches a wooden box. He closes his fingers around it, pulls it down and tries to catch Red Mary’s head with it.
It flails without efficacy and the claws of Red Mary open a gash on his side and the impact of her drives him and the boat back.
The box opens.
Inside, there is a knife of melomid skin, a shard of the lens Necessity, and it contains within it the history of Confucius; or, that is to say, of Mr. Kong.
Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.
The Island of the Centipede
It is June 3, 2004, in the latter years of the tyranny following the Fourth Kingdom of the world.
Max seizes the knife.
Red Mary draws back. She is ten yards away from him in the blinking of an eye. She curls her tail into a spiral and her hair drifts and she stares at him with cold black eyes.
He cannot imagine how it is that her shirt neither clings nor falls away.
“Wisdom tells us that we are not important as we are,” she says.
Max takes a tentative breath. The chaos is breathable but sickening, like the air in a slaughterhouse, so he kicks his feet to rise.
In that moment of blindness when he crests the surface she closes in; but he draws up his feet and he flails with the knife and honoring the wisdom of Mr. Kong Red Mary’s charge pulls short.
She circles, lazily. Max watches until she disappears around the catamaran; then, to track her, he must drop his head below the chaos once again.
“This is the argument for your death,” she says.
Max takes another lungful of chaos. He coughs. He bows inwards on himself. His mind’s eye blurs out with pain and stress. She flicks towards him.
Max extends the knife. Once again the point of the history keeps her at bay. She flicks back.
“The thrust of a mind’s attention distorts the chaos,” she says. “It agitates the substance of the world. From this we arise: rocks and trees and mortal men and gods. We serve as cysts for love and pain. And where we go we bestow these commodities, such that when we see the things that please us we distort them with the imprint of our suffering and when we see the things that hurt us we distort them with our love.”
The chaos picks up the rhythm of her words.
It is everywhere singing with them, and billowing with darkness like a God-squid’s ink.
“We carry forward the pains that gave us birth.”
Max goes to rise to the surface; but the coldness of her eyes stops him.
If I rise, he thinks, she will eat my leg.
He can hear that as a harmony in the chaos. The music tells him: You are entangled, and to struggle will hurt you more.
If I rise, he thinks, she will eat my leg. But here I cannot really breathe.
“We are imperfect and pitiable creatures,” she says. “Because where we go no paradise can sustain. Why did the Buddha fail to save the world? Why was the maiming of Uranus in vain? Why has every effort ever made to craft a Heaven of this world failed us? It is because of who we are. We are unfinished. We are imperfect. Our existence necessitates a condition of imperfection.”
Diamond patterns play across his vision.
“But there is an answer,” she tells him.
“There is a perfect anodyne.”
This is the music that once Odysseus found beautiful; and it would have killed him were he not tied to his mast.
Max cannot think. The knife drifts from his hand.
“You’re soaking in it,” she says.
He drifts there in the water.
He can feel it, everywhere around him: the infinity of things.
He is small in it.
He is a speck.
He is a handful of organic molecules and thoughts whose insistence on material integrity have bound him to suffering and to fight that which he loves.
“There was a siggort,” says Max.
And perhaps that is why he does not dissolve and scatter into the foam of the sea; but it is not enough.
“You are part of this great infinity,” Red Mary tells him, and he feels himself the whole of the chaos and the land and he does not feel her teeth.