[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]
Once upon a time, Simon wandered in the high mountains under Mluna, near Sa Fel.
Five bandits assailed him.
They cut off his limbs. They took his purse. They cut under his eyes. They hung his head on a hastily assembled construct of twigs and glue and those tiny lego connectors that people generally find difficult to use for any other purpose.
Simon sighed with happiness.
That was his last breath: a smile, and ahhh.
“Why are you so happy?” the bandits asked him.
Simon, being dead, said nothing.
Some would say that a man when killed by bandits in the mountains under Mluna by Sa Fel should take no action to provoke the bandits further.
Cooperate, they would say.
You’re already dead.
Don’t make things worse.
But Simon sat there mute as a stone. His dead eyes did not flicker. A tiny smile played around his mouth, leftover from what he’d smiled before, and proof against all their curses and shouts to him.
The bandits acted.
The chief among the bandits, one Harrison Morne, held Simon’s head aloft by the queue of his hair.
He spake a curse.
Now we do not know where Harrison Morne learned this curse. Some say that he learned it from his father, and him from his father, who had it from the statue that stands over the doorway of the house of Hath: that statue, Ill Tidings by name, with its leonine head, its spider’s limbs, its shaven fur that leaves it bare against the cold, and standing improbably suspended and peculiarly balanced above the doorstep of the house. Many a malevolence the storytellers have ascribed to this statue, more in quantity than the venom in its heart could sire, so all such stories fall under a certain cloud of doubt — but still, we have no more plausible theory to advance regarding the curse of Harrison Morne.
In any event he spake a curse.
The wind blew cold. The mist billowed, much as it bellows here. Shrieks rang out through the mountains under Mluna, at Sa Fel. The eyes of the beheaded Simon gleamed red and his jaw fell loose and he said, “Ah.”
“Now,” said Harrison Morne.
“Ah,” sighed Simon.
“As to the matter of your joy.”
“It is this,” confessed Simon’s head. “I had feared that you were heaps.”
“It is good to be killed by bandits,” said Simon’s head, “when the alternative is heaps.”
Harrison looked in helplessness to the bandits of his pack; but they shrugged, and one—the youngest, the smallest, one Lillek by name, said, “Some kind of horror native to these peaks, perhaps.”
So Harrison looked sourly at Simon and said, “Well, you know better now.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” says Simon.
“Now you shall know eternal suffering,” Harrison says. “Thus we the bandits have served you worse than even might the heaps, and hopefully this has spoiled your last quixotic joy.”
“Ah, well,” says Simon.
“Don’t we all suffer eternally anyway?”
And with a growl Harrison slung Simon over his back, still holding to his queue, and with the head bouncing and bumping against the cured hides of his shirt Harrison walked away.
And Simon said, in tones of some regret, “Ah, there they are.”
Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.
Max sets out in his coracle to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.
It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.
The Island of the Centipede
And Harrison Morne looked back, and all around the bandits, emerging from the mist, he thought he saw the heaps. And that was the day, it is said, that the heaps did learn the fashion of carrying heads slung o’er their shoulders; but they never got it quite right, because the faces on the heads they carry are not the faces of the men they killed, but rather and always so the face of Harrison Morne.
In gratitude that horrors did not come to pass, and in prayer that they shall not, either, in any near and meaningful measure of time.