[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]
“I am a destroyer,” says the girl.
She is a teenager and she hangs amidst tangled roots on the other side of the crust of the world. She listens to the beat of a hummingbird’s wings. She clings to the sticky root of a gongluestuck tree. She strokes the head of a fabulous creature that she has found here, in this place, tangled in the trees with the dirt sky above it and a screw-root through its brain.
She is calming it. She is soothing it. She is speaking to it, as it seems to like, of terrible and horrid things.
“Where I go,” says the girl, “things come apart from other things. Things fall to ruin. Structures do not stand.”
The creature’s eyes find hers.
It stares at her.
“And you might ask, why would a destroyer rescue you, here in the roots beneath the world? And I would say, ‘because I am also a girl, and I can’t just leave a magical animal hanging here with a screw-root in its brain.'”
“That isn’t what I’d ask,” the hummingbird says.
It’s drunk on absinthe and that’s why it seems able to talk. Or, at least, why it’s willing to. It’s drunk on absinthe and it’s hovering next to her and it’s talking as she tries to soothe the creature in the roots.
Sometimes it will dart away and take another drink. The hummingbird metabolism burns its liquor fast. Each time it will return.
“I’d ask,” the hummingbird says, “how can a destroyer rescue someone, here in the roots beneath the world. I mean, if you are, by nature, destructive?”
The girl makes a deliberately horrified face.
“So very, very badly,” she admits.
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. It’s because all the good nicknames were taken already, she’d tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.
It’s why nobody calls her Lord Vader, anyway, or the King.
They were taken.
“Here is my first plan,” Ink says. “Plan A:”
She braces herself.
“Insult a tree.”
She takes a deep breath.
She rests her hand gingerly on the spiral root screwed down into Jacob’s carpet’s brain.
She says, “Boring tree, you suck!”
There is no response.
“Boring tree!” she says louder. “You suck! Who said you could stick a root into Jacob’s carpet’s brain? No flying carpet’s going to take you off to the lands of fable and adventure!”
There is a wriggling in the soil. A clod falls on Ink’s head. She looks up nervously at the earth above her, wary of sudden screw-roots taking an interest in her brain.
“You just stick your screws in every girl’s dream pet,” she accuses.
This apparently refers to the creature — to Jacob’s carpet, a flying carpet made out of shadow by an abused boy djinn who later grew up to work for an evil company only to have his soul eaten by the maw. It is every girl’s dream pet and also every boy’s. It is basically what kids are wistfully thinking of these days when they get that weird look in their eyes;
Or so one must assume.
“You’re like those people who flew model airplanes into Barbie’s dream superblock,” Ink rants. “And then didn’t apologize! Trees that won’t let other people be happy are just shriveled up misers! Being mean is like blocking out your own light with special non-chlorophyll-having leaves!”
The boring tree is disturbed now. No one has ever talked to it like this before. No one has even considered talking to it like this before.
It wriggles but it does not take its root out of the carpet’s brain.
“God hates you!” cries Ink. “In the timeless time before the world, he planned your destiny and how he’d torment you with evil pants! With evil pants! You eat deer poop! Your father slept with squirrels!“
There is a long silence.
“Normally,” says Ink, “this would have shamed the tree into backing down, or prompted it to send a second for a duel.”
June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Jacob’s Carpet: For months after Jacob gave in his carpet fought.
It would sneak into the monster’s lab. It would find a beaker. It would carry the beaker off to distant lands of fable and adventure. Dashing princes and vivacious princesses would lean over the beaker, their eyes gleaming with that ancient light of Romance, and say, “I see you have come here.”
Clink, the beaker replied.
The carpet tugged bolts from the monster’s wall. It wriggled them loose. It carried them far away to do battle with great ogres and dragons in the lands beyond the world. The ogres and the dragons won, except in one case more notable in its absurdity than in its outcome.
In the end the carpet failed.
Jacob met it in the night.
It lay itself before his feet. It lashed its tail. It bellied up low to the ground. And Jacob poured acid upon it and the carpet screamed and writhed while a filthy little runt cried and said, “O, no, no, no, o my heart, do not.”
The carpet left when it could bear no more pain.
It did not return.
“You really are bad at rescuing things,” the hummingbird says.
And the imago is just a little bit flustered, which is the only way we can explain her answering, “Yeah? Well, you’re drunk!”
The wind blows beneath the world.
Finally, Ink blushes.
She looks down.
Her voice is wistful when she speaks.
“Why do you suppose,” she asks, “of all the kinds of gods there are, there isn’t one that rescues you?”
The hummingbird considers this.
“Absinthe severs you from a position of judgment,” it says.
And for quite some time Ink thinks that this is a demurral. It is not until the night of June 7, 2004 that Ink Catherly will wake from a sound sleep and realize that it was a suggestion; and at that night and in that hour she will shriek viciously at the sky, “That’s recusing!“
- Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history:
INK IS EMBARRASSED!