[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]
Dr. Sarous lives in a world where there is right and there is wrong.
There is goodness.
There is badness.
Badness is an infection of the body. This is clear to him. Badness is a physical affliction. It derives from sicknesses in the organs and bug-like creatures in the veins. It seeks to drag people down even as the bright impulse—
The awakening impulse, the looking-up impulse, the thing that makes people into people—
Seeks to lift them up.
Now he has fallen.
Now he sees for the first time the world of degenerate things.
It seems to involve walking along a very long road in the sky that winds by sheeted rock walls and around and about the stalactites of the kingdoms beneath the world.
“This is not what I’d thought being degenerate would be like,” he complains.
“Oh?” says the girl.
“I imagined a diabolical joy,” he admits. “A consuming will to wrongness. Also, more adherence to gravity.”
The girl picks her way around a stalactite.
“It’s not like that,” she says. “It’s more like winning, you know? It’s like when you’ve won something, and you kind of want to play the game again, but you kind of don’t want to play again, because you’ve won. That kind of itchy dissatisfaction.”
“So you are evil, then?”
For a moment, he’s excited. For a moment, it’s a bit like a breakthrough: has she come past the hyperrachia? Will she understand, at last, that she is corrupt?
Then he remembers, like water being dashed on his head from a dripping stalactite—
Which is, in fact, what’s happening—
That he can’t very well be a doctor, any more, out to cure people of their decay. He’s gone bad himself.
“Oh, I’m terrible,” says the girl. “Not as bad as a siggort, you know, but worse’n a werewolf or a lavelwod.”
She grins at him. It’s this bright cheerful grin. It shames him, that grin, because he did plan on bleeding her to death just a few hours back.
“It’s okay,” she says.
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.
June, Thursday 3, 2004 – Cronos: Back at the beginning of his reign,
says the girl
Cronos went down to Tartarus to free all the things that his father had chained. He freed the demons and the devils and the slimy things and the wasps. But he didn’t free the siggorts.
Dr. Sarous looks blankly at her back.
“He tried,” says the girl. “But they wouldn’t come out.”
The siggorts didn’t come out; nor the woglies; so he went in after them.
He walked down through the darkness into the siggorts’ home.
He found Bidge there. Bidge was wandering in darkness. The knives of Bidge cut Cronos. They maimed his hand. They lay his face open to the bone. They cut his neck. They caused dark blood to trickle down his leg.
“Come free,” Cronos said.
The key to the gates of Tartarus was small: too small, almost, for the eye to see. But he held it out to the siggort in his hand.
Something stirred in Bidge’s mind.
He awakened to the knowledge of another creature in his place of imprisonment.
He formed a face. A thing like a face. It hovered in the center of him. Around it spun the blades and spheres and cutting wires of the siggort’s shape.
And Cronos said:
The words are heavy as the girl says them, heavy and trembling, like they’re too big for her to say.
“Be welcome, o my love, into the world.”
And Bidge laughed a horrible, broken laugh. And he laughed and he laughed on.
Cronos stared at him.
“And how did you free us, then?” Bidge asked.
“I have aspired to the throne of the world,” said Cronos. “Now I rule; and I will not set my will against you if you choose your freedom.”
These words fell strangely flat.
Siggorts gathered behind Cronos’ back. He felt a terrible chill of threat. The knives of them cut away his leg, his arm, his dorsal tendril, and his glunin. He tried to remember how to shape them back.
“That would not do,” said Bidge.
Cronos didn’t understand. You could tell. It was in his face.
So Bidge flowed forward until he was this close, two fingers’ close—
The girl holds two fingers up, close apart.
—to Cronos, and he gaped his mouth quite wide. And he did not bite.
And after a moment, Cronos understood.
He said, “Those are not teeth.”
“Where you are warm,” said Bidge, “we are cold. Where you are light, we are shadow. Our teeth are not teeth. Our faces are not faces. We are a dhamma inexpressible in your world. Should I not cut you then, o my love?”
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.”
But people always fight the things they love.
The Island of the Centipede
The girl walks along.
Her name is Ink Catherly, but everybody calls her the imago—so she says. One must remember that there are exceptions: the silent monks of Tsu Catan; the child-eating stickbugs of the deeps; Dukkha, as previously described; and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, which refers to her only as “that Ink.”
Her last words echo: should I cut you, o my love?
“Were they lovers, then?” asks Dr. Sarous.
“Lovers,” giggles Ink.
She looks like she’s trying to imagine some incredibly complex anatomical marvel in her head—
Which is, in fact, what’s happening—
And then she shakes her head.
“They were people,” says Ink. “That’s why they said things like that. It was so marvelous to them, back then in the early days of the world, that there should be other people. Even baby-eating titans like Cronos and horrible vivisecting things like Bidge. Love swelled in them, it swelled, when they thought on that, like just living with it was going to burst them.”
Dr. Sarous stares at her.
After a moment, Ink shrugs.
“You don’t have to follow me,” she says. “Really, hunting down the person on the throne of the world is a one-imago operation. Like negation or squaring.”
“The other alternative is falling screaming to my death,” Dr. Sarous points out.
“So don’t scream!”
They walk in silence for a while.
“I’m usually critical of the surrealists,” Ink says. “But today, their road saved my life.”
“I think it was in one of your orderlies.”
“No,” says Dr. Sarous. “I mean, with the siggorts.”
“Oh,” says the girl.
She reviews the history in her mind.
“Cronos’ heart was beating,” she says. “Doki-doki! Like that. It was burning in him like a fire. And Bidge could see it, right through his chest. He wanted it. So the shears cut closer. Cronos’ nipple fell off. His breast and his ribs caved in. He was very bloody. And the question hung there: ‘Should I cut you, o my love?'”
“No,” Dr. Sarous says.
“No,” Ink agrees. “He said ‘No.’ And slowly, reluctantly, the siggorts withdrew.
“‘I shall trust you, then,’ said Bidge, with consummate calm and the tightest control. ‘I shall trust you,’ he said, and he turned away.
“And they left Cronos there, alone, trying to justify himself to himself.
“‘I do not want to keep you here, imprisoned,’ said Cronos.
“‘It’s not my fault!'”
The girl thinks. “I think,” she says, “that that’s how corruption comes to high intentions. When you start identifying those whose integrity you have to sacrifice in its name.”
“Like whomever’s on the throne of the world,” the doctor says. “Or a ziggurat’s.”
There’s a pause.
“Yes,” says the girl flatly. “Yes, those are examples of how corruption might come into high intentions.”
The doctor grins.
“You see,” says the girl, “he could have saved them.”
Shadows stir between the sheets of the wall. There are black stickbugs clinging to the edges. They are pressed against the thin edge of the stone. They are large. They are the size of men, and not just any men, but large men. They are taller than the girl. They are taller than the doctor. Their legs are strangely angled. Their heads are small and their eyes are beady.
There are hundreds of them along the wall. Their taut tense muscles hold them against the cracks.
“He could have saved them,” says the girl.
“He could have saved them, o my love, if he had thrown everyone else away.”
The stickbugs spring.
- But it doesn’t end there! There’s still three more parts to come! Tune in NEXT WEEK for the next exciting history of the imago:
* You can’t see the title from this far off.