In the belly of the world there is a great wintry battlefield where white slate snowflakes drift down from a ceiling measurelessly high and accumulate slowly on the bodies of the dead. They are sprawled there, creatures warped by any surface measure, people with the features of bugs and fish and writhing squirming weasel-things. Some wield weapons. Others claws. They are dead.
Around and among them works Riffle and his crew.
“There,” he says.
Where he points his crew converges. They prop up planks of wood against one another. They nail them together. They build scaffolds. They connect the scaffolds together in great rickety structures. They grow ungainly wooden structures, awkward and without pattern, towards the ceiling rock.
The cavern is full of the sounds of hammering, climbing, and crashing.
It is full of the dust of fallen wood.
The girl coughs.
All eyes turn on her. It is a look of accusation.
You are coughing, suggest the eyes of Riffle’s crew. This is distracting us from our vital and important work. Why, even the time we take to formulate this thought, to contemplate the knobs and pits and irregularities of our own introspection, is time we cannot afford.
“Don’t give them an excuse,” says Riffle.
The girl is fifteen years old, more or less, with hair as black as ink. She’s wearing a pink backpack that’s too small for her. She’s taller than Riffle. He doesn’t make it much past her elbow. She can tell, because suddenly he’s standing next to her, suddenly he’s guiding her away from the crew.
“They’ll slack if you give them the slightest excuse,” Riffle says. “So you have to keep them in fear of their lives.”
Then he stabs at her.
With a sword he’s picked up from the ground!
He stabs her right at the throat!
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. Short for Ananke, she’ll tell you — Necessity — although we already know that’s not the truth.
There are many legends about her.
People will tell you that she climbed a tower right to Hell, but didn’t find it at the top; or that she dove deep beneath the world to look for Heaven; or that she got caught amidst the soldier’s tents in a duly sanctioned war.
“We cut the freedom from the rock,” said Private Jameson.
That’s from that last legend that we mentioned, the one about the war.
“We cut the freedom from the rock,” Private Jameson said.
Outside the tent blew the wind, cutting and dark and terrible. It kicked up sand and small rocks. The great tall slouching jellyfish of the land moved blindly in that wind, walking amidst and beyond the soldiers’ tents.
Sometimes one of their tendrils brushed against the open flap and Jameson would shudder.
“Here,” he said.
He held a bit of freedom up. It was slick and soapy in his hands. It was translucent and milky and had sparks in it.
“We cut it from the veins in the rock and then we ship it home.”
“Toss it here?” said Ink.
She was shackled to a post in the back of the tent. Her hair blew about, then settled, then blew about again.
“Very funny, ma’am,” Jameson said.
Ink looked down.
“I don’t suppose you’d care to say why you’re in the war zone, ma’am?”
“I was exploring,” she said.
He looked blankly at her.
“I was looking for Hell,” she said.
“Ah,” said Private Jameson. He tapped his nose. “See, that thing, you see, that saying about war? It’s a metaphor.“
Ink made a face at him.
“It seems rude,” she said, after a while. “Coming into another country and mining their freedom.”
“I felt sorry for them,” Private Jameson said.
“There’s this thing,” he said. “This happiness, this sweetness, this certainty at the heart of totalitarianism. We have it back home. It’s like a blanket wrapped around your heart and a cup of cocoa in your hands. And they were here, out in the Empty Lands, with the jellyfish and the sand. And I said, ‘They must be so cold, so scared, so helpless, there.'”
“With the freedom?”
“Nobody’s free in this world but Jesus and Jehovah, ma’am. They were chained, they were bound, they were helpless like the rest of us, but they had all this freedom just laying around. Just enough to feel it, if you see my meaning. Just enough to be cold.”
The tent shuddered. One of the jellyfish had blundered into it, with its great fat body and its gleaming skin. The top of it bowed in under the weight and there was a tearing sound.
“Oh,” said Ink.
Private Jameson looked up.
It was from the other side. That was why he didn’t have warning or time to stop it: it came from the other side, the tendril that spiked through the canvas of the tent and skewered him. He was looking one way, startled by the looming of the jelly, and the tendril came in from the other and it tore into his skin.
The poison of the jellyfish cut upwards along his spine. He spasmed. The freedom flew from his hand.
It was very quick, the whiteness and blueness of Private Jameson’s death. It spread across his face. He fell.
“Hey!” shouted Ink.
The tent had pulled up from one of its pegs. The wind was blowing.
“Hey! Captured girl who was wandering around the war zone here! My security’s dead!”
In the distance she heard the echoes of guns and great picks. She could hear running feet. They were not coming for her. Their direction was north.
The tendril of the jellyfish was caught in the tent. It flailed near her.
Her foot stretched out.
The tendril cut across the leg of her pants and she froze; but it did not cut in and she did not die.
Her foot stretched out. Too far — too far —
Just as the muscle in the bottom of her foot cramped she touched her toe against the freedom. She got the tiniest of grips.
The post that held her slipped free.
She fell flat. She pulled at the shackles with her teeth. They gave.
Ink pulled the freedom closer with her foot. She gripped it in her hand.
“South,” she said.
She kicked to her feet. She ran south. The great blind jellies drifted. Behind her, men fought men.
There was more freedom there — just laying on the road. So she picked it up.
She took up more and more of it as she ran until even the gravity well of the world could not hold her; until she could kick up and go flying up from the ground; until the heaviness and slowness of her muscles could not hold her back and she flowed like a river up into the sky.
“Se’irite!” cried a voice.
Forbidden thing. Beast. Anathema. Such were the implications of his tone.
“Se’irite!” that person said, and she looked over, and she saw a man with horror writ upon his face. He raised a ramshackle cardboard-tube gun with spam cans tied on either side. He fired. Everything around her went white with the explosion of that gun.
The shadow of death rose behind her as she ran into the night.
The gun had only clipped her. Before it fired it again she rose into the sky and she was gone.
June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: The end of human sacrifice was the beginning of time.
I wanted the details of the Titanomachy. I went looking for them. But that’s what I got. Not the origins of the thunderbolt. Not how Zeus freed the siggorts and the woglies, then put them back again. Not how the lord of the gods won the world, or how he saved his family from his father’s fate. Just that: the end of human sacrifice was the beginning of time.
It’s stupid, though, because human sacrifice never ended. We just stopped using the perfect, the beautiful, the valuable, and the precious, and started sacrificing the people we don’t care about instead. We feed them to our gods until their mouths are red with them.
I’m not sure why it doesn’t count.
Perhaps it is the karma of a worm that moves her arm. Perhaps it is the nature of the imago.
Ink’s hand comes up.
She catches the sword before it kills her.
A trickle of blood runs down her neck, and more from her hand, and she asks him, “What the Hell?”
“Fixed-rate liability insurance,” says Riffle, and he twists the blade.
- Will tort reform destroy Ink Catherly at last? Will Riffle make his quota on scaffold-inches for the day? And what’s that horrific rumbling in Cronos’ belly? Looming up on the horizon, the next exciting installment of the histories of Ink Catherly: