[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]
Flying carpets, once abandoned, often yearn for the annihilation of the universe.
They don’t fly very well after a while.
They get tears in them and sometimes bugs eat parts of them. The will that allows them to fly — that fades some, too, when they realize that they’ll never have the wild dream of their youth.
They’ll never get to find some worthy child and fly away with them forever.
Most children aren’t a good match for a flying carpet in the first place, and if the carpet’s used, the kid has to have just as many tears and bug-eaten bits as the carpet does. That’s the rule, and it’s a hard one.
And that’s not even the worst of it.
Even if the carpet does find the right kind of child, all bug-eaten and worthy, they still can’t fly away and away forever with them.
Children grow old.
Then they die.
Then their skeletons fall off the flying carpet into the devouring sands.
There’s nowhere to go in all the world where you can get away from that truth — that children grow old and die and turn into skeletons and get eaten by the desert.
There’s nowhere to go in all the world or outside it either.
A carpet can go to the lands of Romance alone but there is little point. The evil viziers and dashing princes will squint at it with their eyes. The noble kings will lecture it about the proper use of negative space. Even the shopkeepers will point at the empty carpet and they will laugh.
For the carpets themselves their power is no escape.
A flying carpet has a certain lifespan to its purpose and then it’s done.
Sometimes, after that purpose runs out, a boring tree will stick a screw-root through the carpet’s brain. It’s not very common, but it’s what’s happened to Jacob’s carpet. There’s a screw-root in its brain and a girl shouting at the tree.
“You’re a worthless rotter,” shouts the girl.
The tree does not give in.
“You’re a filthy degenerate larch-fucker with chlorophyll made of snot, and you’re personally responsible for the whole world going to Hell!”
It really hurts.
The screwing, that is. It really hurts. And it makes it very hard to think.
But if the tree really were the one responsible for the whole world going to Hell, the carpet feels, it’d probably be worth it.
After a while the girl tires of ranting.
She is quiet for a bit while the screw turns softly in Jacob’s carpet’s brain.
Then she asks the tree a question that she should have asked some time ago, to wit, “. . . why won’t you let go?”
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 catamaran 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 knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”
The Island of the Centipede
The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, but everyone calls her the imago. Stands for I’d Make A Great Optimist, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.
She reaches out her hand.
She touches the root of the boring tree.
“Why won’t you let go?” she asks.
By implication, it explains that trees can’t talk.
But it doesn’t have to.
The imago is a creature of histories and she is reading the history of the tree through the rings of its root. She stares into the long annals of the boring tree’s life. She studies the chronicles of sun and wind and sky and roots and soil and the storm beneath the world.
She hunts for the cues in its nature that would explain this terrible thing; and
“Oh,” she says.
Understanding what she sees is an art, and Ink is new at it.
But she sees enough that she blushes at the things she’s said.
“Oh,” she says. “Oh. I’m so sorry.”
And she understands: “If you let go then it will fall.”
June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Jacob’s Carpet: Years passed.
The carpet lived in the world. It lived in the edges of the world. It waited.
And Anatman came to it. He wore a hood. His voice was very kind. And he said, “I can give you peace.”
And the carpet struck him across the face with its tail and made a bruise and it flew away, because it did not want peace.
It wanted victory.
But one day Jacob ended. As simply as that, it was over.
The wind caught the carpet. The wind dragged it away. The carpet tumbled down through the great empty places of the world. It fell down and down and down and when it burst through and saw the storm it understood.
That was all. It could never save him. Jacob was over. The carpet had nothing left.
But a crosswise wind caught it and it tangled in the roots of the trees.
There it grew thin.
There the wind beneath the world battered at it.
It was already screaming when the first root sank in.
“If you let go,” says Ink, “it will fall. But if you hold on, you will kill it.”
If the tree could talk,
Which it can’t,
It would shrug.
Well, if it could talk and shrug, it would shrug. And then it might say something.
Like: It is a stranger to me.
Trees care very little for flying carpets. No carpet, even in its flush of youth, has ever served a tree. To the lands of Romance that lay beyond the world trees do not go.
It has saved the carpet because it was there.
It has given the fullest of effort that the world might ask of it to save this stranger’s life; and, having done so, it has no intention to do more.
“I understand,” says Ink.
She turns to the carpet.
She hunts for words to answer the cruelty of its fate.
She says, “When you fall—“
She does not know what will happen when it falls.
“I will cause it to be that there is a Heaven for you,” she says.
The carpet shrieks.
“Freak!” she says. She’s in some distress. “People like Heaven! You don’t want to suffer, do you?”
There is liquid oozing out around the carpet’s brain. It is dripping down the carpet’s sides. Its tail is fluttering at a rapid pace.
“Fuck,” she says.
The creature calms.
“I will prolong your torment,” she says, in calm clipped words. “But only for a finite time, do you understand? And if it hurts too much, I’ll make it stop.”
There is a certain irony in this statement that is lost on the imago.
The creature is still.
“I will give you a purpose,” she says. “Five lives that you must save; and you will save them, and carry them to the answer to their pain. And when you have done that you will accept your failings and fall into far Heaven.”
It makes a sound.
Ink looks exasperated. She makes a comic face.
She does not understand how huge and meaningful it is that the carpet will bargain with her at all. She most likely never will.
Let me sate myself on purpose before at last I go.
“Okay,” she says. “Two purposes.”
It is enough.
- Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history:
INK USES TAPE!