[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]
“Right effort,” says the dread pirate Tara.
“Haaa!” shout her pirates.
“Right mindfulness,” says the dread pirate Tara.
“Haaa!” her pirates shout.
“Right concentration; right intention; right pillaging!” she says. And “Haaa!” shout her pirates after each.
“Right sailing,” she says, voice low and intent.
“Right singing,” she grinds out.
“Right consumption of the rum. And right the heart that does not tremble to take up the sword against the enemies of our path—“
“KYAA!” shout the pirates, and rattle their prayer beads, and the monks walk faster along their patterns and the novitiates swarm in the rigging and on the deck the mandala blazes with light as she names the ninefold pirate path.
The gun ports open. Scripture burns. Great spinning weights of iron, twenty-four pounds each, launch against the fortifications on the shore.
“Anicca, dukkha!” cry the monks. “Anicca, dukkha!“
And the guns boom; and the ship rocks; and dread Tara’s pirates swarm into the boats and ply them forward towards the beach.
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.”
But people always fight the things they love.
The Island of the Centipede
Sid’s in one of the boats. He’s not sure how that happened, but it seemed to involve pushing.
He’s rowing for the shore.
He is tormented by doubts, which express themselves in his mind like thus:
“The difficulty with forgiving Max is that it legitimizes his action.”
Sid is not sure why his doubts are on this subject, since under normal circumstances the assault on Head Island would occupy a greater share of his attention. Yet in truth the entire jostling, jumbling, sweet-scented pirate mass around him and the coming battle and the effort of pulling at the oars has receded from his consciousness, leaving him suspended in a dissociated space confronted by the manifestation of his doubts: which speaks, of course, in his very own voice.
“It has been said from before the beginning of time that siggorts ought not exist; and for sufficient reason, you’ll grant.”
“Yes,” Sid agrees.
“So why do you resent this man, this Max, whom you do love?”
There is activity in the fortifications on the shore. Sid’s dim prescience—for siggorts possess this quality in scarcely a greater share than humankind—warns him of a shadow of death. Soon another of the great ship-destroying shafts will fire: perhaps to strike again at Tara’s ship and split what the grace of Buddha has thus far held together; perhaps to fall among the longboats in the name of chaos and decay.
He should act, inasmuch as he values this clay body of his.
He should act—but instead, he answers that nagging voice within.
“It would be greatly convenient,” Sid says, “to revise the world until the problem cases are no longer in its boundaries. I am sure that that would resolve all the problems of the world. If something is an issue, cause it to vanish! Leave a remnant and say to that remnant in their meager world: this is sound! This is just! And if they love not that which layeth beyond the world then for this remnant it is so. But do not tell me, as you write me from your minds, that I have no right or motivation to object. And do not call it love.”
His throat is tight.
“This blasphemous thing; this monstrous thing; this Thing That Should Not Be,” murmurs his doubt: “It lectures us on love.”
“Max is responsible,” says Sid, “if he says I should not exist, for making that judgment, he is responsible; not I. And I will not concur to it.”
Someone taps him on the shoulder.
He turns. The wheel of knives comes up. He prepares to strike—
There is a breath of pirate fetor in his face; he becomes ever more greatly aware of laughter rising around him; and one of the monks is shaking his shoulder now, and saying, “Don’t let them get to you, lad, they’re just heaps.”
“Doesn’t know the difference between his own judgments and the world,” laughs another.
“Rum tiddly-um,” says one novitiate, who is clearly far too concerned with being a pirate to look up the kinds of things pirates actually say. “Rum bum!”
And Sid blinks and clears his eyes and feels a wash of shame, realizing that he’s been played for the lubber by the monks, who’ve let him argue with a skandha while doing twice the rowing of any man jack on the boat; but then the next great spear wings blackly towards them and its shadow darkens them and he catches it with the wheel of knives and a storm of feathers blows away from the wind against his hair and he sits down smugly in a rain of spear-dust as if that would show those stupid monks.
“Anatman!” chant those monks who would argue against the necessary existence of the soul; and “Dukkha!” if they suggest that life is always sorrow; and “Rum tiddly-um, rum bum, rum bum,” if they don’t quite know what to say about the world, caught there with dread Tara behind them, the skandhas up ahead, and the siggort flush with self-justification and with power standing there on the boat, just the smallest terrifying shreds of the truth of him showing through the clay.