[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]
In stillness Sukaynah strains.
Ropes have bound her for thousands of years. They have become crusted with the varicolored substance of the chaos. They have grown stronger as she’s struggled. Her head rests among great stones. Her body presses in against the crust of the world. Around her head like an orthopedic pillow there is the artificial island whence the tower grows, one great hollow pillar of it fixed against her face, so that she breathes channeled air and not the chaos. From above one might not guess her presence there.
She has long since grown inured to the agony of her tangled limbs and the unpleasantness of things.
But right now she is gagging, and nausea is a unique unpleasantness.
The substance of her throat fizzes. The house caught in it trembles and rises. She is throwing up Ink, and Tep, and the house of Abel Clay.
Sukaynah’s neck has a crick. That is an agony. The swollen ropes around her left wrist and seventh limb have ground away the blood. That hurts her too. And there are promises she cannot keep and thirsts and hungers that she cannot satisfy and the harrowing monotony of time.
But it’s the little things that get past the crust of her disregard.
Like the nausea, or Tep.
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’s going to be tough for you to win,” Ink observes.
Tep wrinkles his nose at Ink.
Then he casts back his head.
He shouts, “Show your belly!”
And he leaps from the porch to a protuberance in Sukaynah’s throat. And from there to the back side of Sukaynah’s teeth; and growling, as her maw gapes wide, he wraps himself around a tooth and begins shredding the enamel with his fingernails.
Ink frowns. She asks: “Isn’t that a bit eager?”
And Sukaynah says: hic.
The house of Abel Clay shoots through Sukaynah’s maw. It crashes into the wall of Gibbelins’ tower. It bows in on contact and explodes into flinders. With a whump Ink hits the wall, opens her mouth wide, and then falls onto a great long branch.
Sukaynah snaps her teeth shut.
Tep crunches until he is very thin. Then, as Sukaynah opens her maw again, he fills out, gasping for breath.
“Guh,” Tep says.
He shakes himself, hunches his back, and jumps upwards to land and claw against Sukaynah’s tender gums.
Sukaynah’s face has pulled free, just a bit, from the masonry of the tower. Chaos bubbles up around her.
With a wrench, Tep tears free Sukaynah’s tooth. It is substantially bigger than he is.
Sukaynah shakes her head.
Tep flies sideways, clutching the tooth in his arms and legs.
Tep slams into the wall.
Brick explodes under him and turns into fine powder. The shock of Tep’s impact ripples through the wall. He makes a little pained yip and his eyes water and his bones all snap.
Slowly, his body pulls back together.
He looks to Ink. He holds up the crumbling tooth. His face has a wild grin, as if to say: did you see? did you see?
Then he unsticks from the wall and lurches forward and falls into the chaos.
The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay
May, Thursday 18, 1890, surrounded by such a peculiarity of knowledge and Things I have decided to settle rather than test the brace on my leg against the enormity of the journey home & until such time as I have a better conception of in which direction lays my adversary; thus I have begun with the help of Ned to construct a home within this tower and learn the ways of fishing these great seas & spending my nights in review of the various written materials and records herein. I am forced to revise my opinion of the gibbelins; they are not savages but rather profoundly civilized creatures possessed of greater erudition than the Universities of the East. If they are lacking in any wise it is solely their respect for the other peoples of the Earth, to whom they conceive no more greatness than the foulest savages, to which effect I would chide them had they survived the long years since this tower’s establishment.
May, Wednesday 24, 1890, Tep has followed me to the tower. At first I judged this an occasion for great sorrow & attempted futilely to drive him off with gunfire but Ned fought him with such ferocity that Tep retreated and, after some time, offered muffled apology for his rude behavior & to make amends so I have set him to work helping me with my home & yet I do not trust him for he will mutter so darkly as he works.
July, Wednesday 30, 1890, Ned and Tep fought again this day. Tep is furious that he cannot make progress against the dog & also at me but as I have allowed him to haul in the nets he has soothed a portion of his anger & glutted himself until his stomach rounded on a vicious toothed fish perhaps 10 meters long. Salting the leavings and eating well I judged myself well served as I might well have lost the nets if I had hauled them in my Self.
August, Monday 4, 1890, my condition worsens due to fever spreading from my leg which I had thought was becoming well. Tep & Ned both solicitous, but Ned does not allow Tep into the house which I think very funny. Thus Tep sits on the branches & fumes & occasionally wrestles Ned in a fury of barking and growling which leaves them both bloody but scarcely harmed.
Swaying, Ink stands.
She looks down.
She stands in the baleful gaze of Sukaynah, above that creature’s burning eye; and Sukaynah says, softly, “In truth, after all this time, I would like to see him win.”
Ink stares for a moment, and then she beams.
She jumps down. She sits, cross-legged, next to Sukaynah’s eye.
“I thought you were a talking thing,” she says. “But who?”
Sukaynah breathes: ho-ha, ho-ha.
It blows Ink’s black hair about.
“Someone who has made too many promises,” Sukaynah says.
Tep’s hand rises from the chaos.
It hooks into the wall.
“He’s coming back,” Ink says. “Be ready.”
Tep pulls himself up, hand over hand. He is burned and altered, but his body sheds the wounds of chaos as he heals. Only his clothing is left changed.
But he does not attack.
In a sad and oddly goofy voice, he says, “I did not know you were tied up, Sukaynah.”