[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]
When she was a little girl Tara listened to the parable of the heaps.
“Are you afraid of bandits?” her Mom had asked.
Tara had thought about this.
“Yes,” she said, after due contemplation. “I am afraid of bandits.”
“Why is that?”
Tara works through this. “Because they have big weapons,” she says. “And they hurt you. And they don’t have sympathetic hearts.”
“Not like yours?”
Tara looks at her chest, or, more accurately, at her flared black top with its purple picture of a kitten. “No.”
“Once upon a time,” her Mom said, “people set out on the road to enlightenment. They said, ‘I don’t want to suffer. That’s stupid! So I’ll go down the path of—“
She tries to remember the Noble Eightfold Path.
“‘Right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration, right intention—and so forth,'” said Tara’s Mom.
“Those are good virtues!”
“But they were all of them, in ones and twos, ambushed by bandits—or rather, creatures very much like bandits. Skandhas, some call them. Heaps.“
“Why are heaps like bandits?”
Tara’s Mom doesn’t know the history of Harrison Morne. She’s not as steeped in Buddhist lore as some parents. So she takes a guess. “We say that they are like bandits because they are hungry. They are hungry for something. But they don’t know a way to get it without taking it from somebody else.”
“What are they hungry for?” Tara wiggled her feet and then proposed, “Cake?”
Tara flopped back in her chair. She thought about that.
“They cut the truth away from people,” Tara’s Mom had said. “Bit by bit. They were pitiless. They were dangerous. They severed people from the things they loved. And one by one, the people who had set forth—so earnestly—for enlightenment found themselves instead embracing the heaps. Then the heaps hacked off their arms and legs and heads and made piles of their bones and lit pyres in their brains, making the world into a charnel house of form, such as we have today.”
“Hee hee,” giggled Tara.
“Someday,” Tara said, “I’m gonna find those heaps. I’m gonna find them, and I’m gonna stab ’em! Splut!”
“They’re . . . more of a metaphor, really,” her Mother said.
But Tara wasn’t listening.
She waved an imaginary sword around, whish! Splut!
And as it happened, just this once, her Mom was wrong. People are always wrong. People have been wrong about the heaps, in every particular and in every fashion, for all the ages of the world.
That is their nature.
Heaps are that which we confuse with everything that they are not.
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
It is June 3, 2004.
The beach is covered in the blood of virtuous monks and seashells.
The pirates swarm up onto the battlements of the fortification on the beach.
Sword-to-sword with the heaps, they are better: and each of them possesses some portion of enlightenment that makes their feet quick, their prayers efficacious, and their wounds swift to heal.
But the heaps are numberless.
It does not matter how many of them fall. The world resets. The numberless measure of the heaps remains unchanged. The press of them is relentless, unbending, eternal.
Tara stands in the midst of it all.
She shouts, “You dirty skandhas, who prey on every living person and keep them from enlightenment! Dare you face a bodhisattva in battle?”
Beside her a pirate falls, pierced in the throat by the arrow of the skandhas so that he cannot chant scripture; pierced in the eyes with the swords of the skandhas so that he cannot see the truth; stabbed through the heart by the spears of the skandhas so that he cannot retain the memory of his compassion for all living things.
His last breath burbles forth.
“Corrupt bandits!” shouts Tara. She stabs one skandha through, pulls her sword free, cuts down another; and another. “You eat your own waste products! You have no compassion in your heart! You shut the door on the suffering of children and promote the most terrible of lies!”
Then a great iron door opens and a power surges and all of the pirates—save Sid and Tara—are blown back like leaves; and even Tara must jump backwards off the fortifications as the thing shambles out.
It is shapeless and formless and it looks now like Tara, now like Sid, now like a monkey, now a pirate.
It is carrying a head slung over its shoulder; or perhaps it is the mountain at the center of the island that carries the head, and the heap simply magnifies the impression of it, casts it back to the untrained eye, reflects and projects it so that one thing is seen in another thing’s place.
The great heap lands heavily on the beach.
It says, “You are unfair, my child.”
Tara grins. It’s a slow, mad bloodthirsty grin.
“Am I?” she says.
“You project onto me,” says the great heap, “the failings of the world.”