[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]
Sid stands on a grey reflective plain. White lines blow across it like the waves that wind makes upon the grass or upon the snow. The sky is corrugated, textured grey above him: grainy light grey touched with light; bulging rain-filled dark grey; wispy, dissipated whitish mist; and in the distance beyond that grey the sun.
He is walking.
He is walking on the sea of chaos and it is still beneath him, it is supporting him, because it does not love him and does not want him to break its surface and mingle with it.
Five bandits surround him. They have staves. They wear cloaks that billow. They are dampened with a mist of chaos and it causes peculiar alterations in their countenance.
He says, “I am Sid.”
It is a naked threat. Knowing that they cannot know him, he still says it thus: flat words, like drops of mist that fall onto the surface of the sea.
But the bandits howl; and one casts forth a rope to wind around him, and two come forward with their spears; and two set arrows to their bows.
Sid has spent too long in a place dominated by the conventions of early 21st century media. He cannot quite encompass the fact that they’re all attacking him at once. An arrow hits him in the back of the head. Another pierces his lung. The rope wraps around him. The spears come in towards him. The knives that spin in their wheel beside him turn and cut and the rope frays to threads; he is up, standing on one of the spears, kicking at the bandit with his hands in the pockets of his coat, and the other spear hits him from behind.
He can feel bile in his throat. He can feel blood. But today he has no time for it.
The bandit he’s kicked falls down. The bandit’s cheek is dented and there’s blood at the corner of his mouth.
Knives cut away the haft of the spear that’s stuck in Sid so that it can’t pull out again.
Sid’s angry. His hand catches the next arrow. He hurls it on towards the other bowman and turns—
There are too many bandits. He’s quite sure there’d been five, and one knocked down, and one halfway disarmed, but there are five circling him still.
What am I standing on? he says, because the scene has come a little bit undone within his mind. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing he could fail to know, but he doesn’t.
Another spearthrust. He falls back. He lands on the sea and it splatters aside to make room for him, bowing down like a sheet of cellophane attached on every side and struck by a falling fruit. The bandits wobble up and down.
Through the mist of grey Sid sees a great granite hand.
“Hell,” says one of the bandits.
It’s the first thing any of them has said.
Sid can see the arm.
Sid can see the body. It is a Buddha. It is a great granite Buddha. It is the great granite Buddha prow of a ship that sails in these seas.
The bandits shout and flee and leave Sid there.
Monks walk on the head of the Buddha. They pace their meditation tracks. Their footsteps are a soft shuffling that rebounds off of the fog.
They click their meditation beads.
“Anatman, dukkha,” say the monks. “Anatman, dukkha.”
Slowly, Sid straightens. He pulls himself to his feet. He stands there on the chaos, facing the approaching ship.
The monks seem puzzled.
“Anatman?” they say, as if expecting Sid to react. “Dukkha?”
Sid stabilizes his form and begins to walk west, but there’s an apologetic voice that stops him.
“If you won’t willingly abandon your attachment to material existence,” says the dread pirate Tara, “I’m afraid I’ll have to use the cannon.”
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
Sid looks back.
“I’m not attached to material existence,” he says. “I’m just kind of here.”
He lifts one foot, then the next. He gestures to his shoes. They’re loafers, the shoes of a man not terribly attached to material existence but who has to walk in it anyway.
Tara pulls herself up onto the arm of the Buddha. She walks out. She looks down at him. She’s a black-haired pirate with a sword in one hand and a lotus in the palm of the other.
She says, “You can’t just resist the enlightenment of the Buddha Pirates. It’s not done.”
“I’m my own first experience,” says Sid. “Why should I accept anatman?”
“Technically, that’s an error,” Tara says.
Sid looks at her.
“You’re not your own first experience. Information theory and the law of the sea insist that you can’t directly experience yourself. Instead, you experience things that you falsely associate with yourself, like perceptions and conditions. Do you need medical attention?”
“Because you are rather bleeding.”
Tara’s eyes go wide. It’s an expression of shocked joy.
“I have been hunting them,” Tara says, “For so long.”
She bites her lip. She’s thinking.
“Come on board, then,” Tara says. “Everyone knows that ships are faster than walking, on the ocean. We’ll hunt them down and then I’ll try and kill you again and then, if that doesn’t work, I’ll give you a ride to wherever you’re going.”
Sid thinks about this.
Finally, he shrugs.
So Tara gives a happy shout, “Kya!” and those few among the monks with eyepatches and peglegs and other pirate accessories decorating their orange robes leave their prayer tracks and throw down ropes.
Soon he stands on the deck of the ship.
“You’re not enlightened,” he points out. “You’re a pirate.”
“Yes,” Tara admits.
Sid looks at her.
Airily, Tara says, “I decided it’d be faster to bring enlightenment to all living beings if I skipped the last few million years of the process and just became a pirate. These are my monks.”
Sid looks down. The deck of the ship is marked with a great mandala. Around its edge it depicts the noble eightfold path.
“I didn’t know that was an option,” Sid says.
Tara brings her finger to her lips.
“Don’t tell Amitabha,” she hisses.
Then she is moving; then she is racing about the deck and he sees her only in moments. A flash of red from the inside of her cloak as she calls to the divine spirits that work the sails. A moment of half-profile as she stands, pointing out at the sea with her sword. Shouted orders involving words like jib and block that Sid—as a man with little need for ships—does not entirely understand.
“But isn’t it an error?” he says.
Tara is looking at him again. The ship is turning, gently, in the direction in which the bandits disappeared.
“Becoming a pirate and forcing enlightenment on people with monks and cannons.”
“It’s a terrible error,” Tara says. “Mad, crazy wickedness. I’m committing so many mistakes it’ll be a few million years before I fix them all. But isn’t that the joy of it?”
“Making mistakes and fixing them. Learning. Growing. The sharpness of regret and the brilliance of accomplishments you really shouldn’t have attempted.”
“No, I meant, of what?”
“Oh,” Tara says.
She thinks about that for a bit.
“Of being at sea,” Tara says.
In the name of hope and joy, and dedicated to someone whom I hope very much will be back with us by the time this post appears. Do it! Do it! Wake up! Ganbatte!