[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]
In 1926, André Masson created a box without entrances or exits. One could only access its roomy interior through unconscious action. It contained a road, he thought, and a moon, and quite possibly a fox; and human anatomy would not have been out of place. Masson’s landlord visited as he slept. Finding the box profoundly disturbing, the landlord cast it into the elevator shaft, where it fell and continued to fall until it at last reached the weary kingdoms beneath the world. Clinging precariously to a ledge therein, it heard the gospel of King Snorn and became a person. Rising, it said, “It is dangerous even for an artist to make a box without entrances or exits: how easy it could be for the soul to become trapped inside, and how impossible to verify that such a thing has never happened!”
Over the years and through a process of unconscious action the box extracted arms and legs and a head and a chest and other appurtenances of daily life from its roomy interior, finally taking its place in the kingdom of King Snorn as a full citizen and training as a medical orderly.
That’s how it came to pass that he’s standing there, holding the girl down against the altar of the doctor of the deeps.
That’s what orderlies do, nowadays, in Sarous’ kingdom.
They hold people down.
The theory’s like this. People are degenerate. Most people, anyway. But a good doctor—someone with a solid grasp of medicine—can root that degeneracy out. Surgically, maybe, or with pills, or with a sound regimen of diet and exercise. Certainly not with homeopathic medicine, since everyone is forever exposing themselves to heavily diluted substances of corruption and never gaining much resistance thereby; but possibly, the orderly thinks, and here he’s a bit disloyal, possibly with a rigorous program of moxibustion and acupuncture.
There isn’t any need, in an enlightened modern society, for somebody to be corrupt.
Nor is there an excuse.
It’s a public health issue, after all.
If your morals decay, treatment is mandatory. But it isn’t always easy. Some people are still puzzles even to medical science. Melissa—the good doctor’s wife—he’d never managed to cure her, for instance, and that was as tragic as it gets. This girl, she’s another example. Stepladder syndrome complicated by acute hyperrachia— diaphoretic hyperrachia, to judge by her sweating—
Not that much you can do about that.
And there’s always one or two incurables like that around. People like a show, so they hunt them down. Sometimes it’s the hunted who proves degenerate and sometimes it’s the hunter, but either way, people like a show.
The doctor always has a supply of people who are degenerate but not so easily fixed. People so corrupt that you just can’t reform them. All you can do is the time-honored recourse of medicine when you can’t do anything else—
Bleed ’em, and hope it helps, and if it doesn’t, well, it’s not like they were a very good citizen in the first place.
This particular girl—her name is Ink Catherly. Everybody calls her the imago, she’d said. Short for the imaginary agonies of form, she’d said, and maybe that was the truth.
She’s an interesting case.
Not every orderly cares about interesting cases, but the leftmost orderly—the box without entrances and exits—does. He cares, because he’s taking classes at night in hopes of becoming a doctor.
And she’s an interesting case.
This girl burps up woglies, for instance. The orderly’s not sure what they are. They’re round, though, and they hiss, and the entire ziggurat’s felt strangely unstable ever since one hit.
That wogly bit the doctor right in his hand, it looks like. What makes that interesting is that it’s a plausible vector of contagion and a sign of stepladder syndrome in one. People with stepladder-style moral degeneracy get wounded hands. The congruence of physiological and dharmic elements fascinates the box.
The doctor, naturally, is just a little bit concerned.
He can’t disprove that he’s sick—not with that hand—
So the matter concerns him.
“If I’m corrupt—” he says.
He’s licking his lips. He’s hesitating. He’s not cutting, yet, and maybe he won’t. The orderly loosens his grip on the girl, just a little bit, in case it turns out that he’s going to let her go.
“If I’m sick, and I bleed you,” the doctor says. “Then that’s a corrupt action. And not bleeding you is what a good, wise, sound man would do. But if I don’t bleed you, then that’s the corruption—that it’s swayed me away from my position of righteousness. A good, wise, sound man would bleed you, then, and only a corrupt man would celebrate your corruption by letting you go.”
“There’s no way you can win,” the girl concedes. “And whatever you do, medical science will blame you for it.”
Dr. Sarous’ hands are trembling.
It’s like he’s in a box, the orderly thinks. It’s like he built a box without any entrances or exits, and now he’s regretting that he’s built it.
Reason elbows him in the stomach of his mind.
Not everything is about boxes without entrances and exits, reason observes.
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
“I’m going now,” decides Ink Catherly.
“Eh?” the orderly says.
Ink winces preemptively and then slams her forehead down against the altar. It makes a horrible sound.
“Hey!” says the orderly. People aren’t allowed to kill themselves before being bled to death. “Hey!”
He holds her neck down.
But the whole ziggurat is shaking. That shouldn’t happen, the orderly is pretty sure. Giant stone ziggurats are practically bursting with structural integrity. But it doesn’t seem to have that now.
The altar collapses. The ziggurat collapses.
Everything is roar and noise.
The orderly looks up as they fall. He can see the girl, and the doctor, and the rightmost orderly, and somehow things have turned around and now a block of stone is coming down on them all.
It is an unconscious action. It does not originate in his mind; there is no intention and there is no plan.
The orderly reaches into the box of his heart. He pulls out a road. He leans it up between the space of falling things, where the other three may stagger down it into freedom.
Then the ziggurat staves him in.
- That’s it for Chapter Four of the Island of the Centipede, but it’s not the end of this particular series! Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history of Ink Catherly: