“I give to you — life!”
Micah giggles to himself. He extends his arms upwards. He whines, inadvertently, from the pain. Then he giggles again. His hair hangs down over his eyes. It’s matted with some nameless horror’s blood, or possibly a delicious lime-flavored Slurp-like beverage.
The monster sighs.
He unlocks Micah’s shackles. He heaves Micah up. He carries Micah up the stairs. His nametag raises a red welt on Micah’s skin, practically burning him. Micah leaves a black smudge on the nametag in his turn.
The monster tosses Micah into a chair and, after a few minutes, throws him a towel.
“Ah, geez,” Micah says. “I can’t possibly.”
“You’re strong enough to be alive,” the monster says, “and to make jokes.”
“That’s true,” Micah concedes, after a moment.
He picks up the towel. He tries to clean himself up. It doesn’t really help. He’s ten. After twenty or thirty seconds his shoulders and elbows stage a rebellion and his arms go limp.
“My arms are limp,” Micah says.
“I’m going to send you home with her,” the monster says. “Rest up. Get some strength. Then you can come back by in a week or two and we’ll see just what you are.”
Micah looks horrified.
“Maybe you’re useful,” the monster says.
“I do have a gift for surprisingly relevant historical trivia,” Micah says. His world reels a little. “I actually get to go home? I have a home?”
He can’t help laughing.
The monster’s eyes are on him. The laughter drains away. It becomes crying and Micah tries to blow his nose into the towel but he doesn’t have the strength.
“Don’t worry,” the monster says. “I’ll make you into something good.”
“Why don’t you hate me?” Micah asks. “You’re supposed to hate me. I’m supposed to be your enemy.”
“I’m afraid that I won’t let you be,” the monster says.
[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]
March 25, 1995
Micah’s life is lived staccato.
There are good hours and good days. There is ice cream and there is running in the park. There is home, complete with Liril’s mother Priyanka and her tenuous but loving welcome. There are fish sticks and french fries and cheese which you can divide into arbitrarily many sub-cheese strings. There are times when he can lie on his bed and talk to Liril about the stringencies of their world.
Then between the beats of his life it becomes painful.
It’s like Liril and Micah are two rats in a dinosaur’s cave. Their lives are interrupted, again and again, by the great blundering atrocities stumbling around them in the darkness. It is an inexpressible condition. He will sit in the corner of their room for hours, trying to find a way to put it into words. Liril doesn’t even try.
He’s good with the trivia but she knows everything.
She knows the secret language of the grass and the names of the bats that live on the dark side of the moon. She tells him how the kingdom of magical bears fell from grace, and what Melanie has done to bind the grangler, and the secrets of the lurkunders, and the threat that power line proximity can pose to a person’s health.
One day it is raining. It is pouring down through the branches of the trees. She tells him the name of a bead of water on the glass and he watches Vassily the Raindrop slip down to the edge of the window of their room and break.
On another day the monster is choking him with a belt around his neck.
One day he tries to learn how to skateboard.
“Watch,” he tells Liril. “This will be my real magical talent. Not spitting out seawater or dead fish or historical trivia, but skateboarding.”
He doesn’t have a talent like that, and it wouldn’t be skateboarding if he did.
On another day the monster smiles beatifically to him and says, “I have found it.”
Micah leans forward. He looks at the monster. His eyes are bright and maddened, like a bird’s.
“I have seen through all of this at last.”
The monster reaches into Micah. He turns over his hand. He pulls forth a great gout of the fire, a newborn god, educed from Liril straight through Micah, who stands between that crucible and the world. The god sits in the monster’s hand, a snowflake fractal, its edges a drift of shape becoming real; and its eyes are as a bird’s, and seven sacred seals hang all about it, and it is lovely, tame, and sweet, and the monster will name it Aspida, his treasure, his first city-building god.
The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die
“No,” Micah mutters.
He can’t accept it. It is a perversion. It makes him pointless. His heart cries out, I will not lose!
He stares at the monster. His mouth twitches.
I will have didn’t lost.
It isn’t right. That isn’t what happened and it wouldn’t be the way to phrase it if it had. He stares at Aspida and marvels at its hundred eyes and the interlocking formica and steel and glass that is its flesh. He thinks it’s beautiful and appalling and he has to admit that pretty much he has lost, but for the sake of this child he tries again —
I haven’t any longer lost?
He laughs until he chokes and suddenly he is leaking and there is seawater all around him and the monster actually looks alarmed. “You mustn’t do that,” the monster tells him.
That doesn’t help.
Micah flails inside his heart for some remedy or some ounce of strength. He can’t actually find any. He is gurgling brine out from his mouth. He hacks out a fish bone. His eyes widen and he sputters. Aspida looks hopeful. Aspida opens its baby mouth.
It’s too much. Micah starts to rip open. There is a thorn stuck through his hand.
“It’s all right,” the monster tells him.
His hand is on Micah’s hair. It shouldn’t make anything even close to being all right; but then the monster makes it so.
“She has raised you up to be her Christ,” the monster says, “and suffer in her place; but as you wish to defend her, and stand between her and the world, that doesn’t have to be so bad.”
Micah leans forward.
He is crying.
His will collapses in him. The monster telling him that Liril could have wanted this destroys what little fight he was beginning, again, to have.
He is a fragile, permeable membrane between the world and his insides.
He reaches after Aspida but the god and the monster both are gone.