Micah stumbles up against the doors to the facility and understands that he can run no farther.
They’re not locked.
They could be, but it wouldn’t do anybody any good, so right now, he hasn’t bothered. They’re not locked. He could go through them. But he is Micah, and there are certain things that Micah can and cannot do.
He turns around.
He turns, jerkily, like a puppet of his dharma, and he stares down the grave-strewn path to the facility’s great black gates.
The army has already come past them. If he’d thought he could buy an hour, fifteen minutes, five minutes even with his bluff, he’d been wrong.
Two and a half minutes, at the most.
The first and fastest gods, great stretchy gods all drawn in crayon, are almost upon him.
His hand clutches convulsively at his shirt. A post-it stuck onto the cloth crinkles in his grip.
“You can’t come in,” he says. He is shaking. He is dizzy. “You can’t come in. You’re going to have to go away.”
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
A crayon fist comes down on him like a hammer. He tries to jump out of the way, but it’s faster and more flexible than he; it catches the side of his head, slams him to the ground, and makes his world dizziness all over.
He tries to pull himself up.
They seize him. They hold him up, spread-eagle. They shove him hard into the wall of the facility at Elm Hill. He mutters, something, slurred, under his breath, and adjusts his sense of perspective; forces himself to see that the hands that hold him up aren’t actually connected to the arms, that they’re just crayon lines on the walls as the rest of the stretchy gods are written on the path; there’s a burst of burnt umber blood and a speech balloon of howling and Micah falls.
His eyes trace back along the path, but the creatures are already drawing back, regrouping behind the tombstones as a ragged thing comes in. One crayon hand, its life lingering longer than the rest, staggers up his body and shoves its fingers in his nose; he coughs and spits and beats his head, hard, against the earth, to keep it from his eyes.
“Seriously,” he says.
He’s on his feet.
He’s looking at the ragged thing.
“Seriously,” he says, “you should know these eyes. You don’t want to screw with me. I am hella not bluffing here. You are going to have to go away.”
He can hear its breathing, louder even than his own.
It is close. It is starting to say something to him. He can barely hear it over the voice of the wound at the facility at Elm Hill, which has chosen this particular moment to renew its on-and-off-again flirtation with Micah and Tainted John, whispering to him:
“I am like you and you are like me and we are we.”
I am like you and you are like me and we are we.
Sublimate into me, o wicked child;
arise, and be as God—
And Micah giggles, right in the ragged thing’s face, and he asks it, “What is God?”
It doesn’t dignify his question with an answer. It seizes at him with its sniggly, snatchy hand instead. Micah dances back, in his head he dances back, but what actually happens is that he staggers in a direction that is vaguely like away, and it has got hold of him, and it is trying to ask him a question.
It is failing.
It is hissing things that are like words, but they are not words. It is gaping at him. Its mouth is working.
Micah doesn’t take the time to mock it. He looks behind it. There’s too many.
“There’s just too many,” he whispers.
It comes across the horizon, the voice that is Ii Ma. He hears it, after the ragged thing’s first five tries, at the last.
“How can you let such things as Tina live?”
It stops him, as it’s meant to. It’s a nasty question, and its got a sting on its tail: for no sooner asked than he is there again, in the shackles again, while the spider-like device strapped to Tina’s palm is shocking him again, and again, and again; and Liril—
And Liril, and Tainted John, waiting below—
And Liril, and Tainted John, waiting below, letting it happen; and he still does not know why—
He doesn’t fight it. He lets the question take him, lets it estrange him, lets it carry him and his trivia and his seawater and his thorn from the world to the place withou—
[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER TWO]
May 28, 2004
There are spikes along the top of the iron fence. They’re not really very sharp but Melanie is, so she feels it’s all right to slam Tainted John down on top of them anyway.
He’d have died right there, right then, but his coat twists itself up and catches the spike in its folds as he descends.
“Oh,” Melanie says.
“How beautiful,” she says. She giggles. “Look, Vincent. His coat doesn’t want a hole.”
Tainted John tries to wrestle himself out of the coat and kill her in that moment of distraction. He flails like a turtle on its back instead.
She flips him over, and another fence spike goes in, past the opening in his coat, right through his sweater vest and into the hole Liril had left inside his chest.
“This just won’t do,” she says. “I should get his head.”
She stops. She was going to say or do something else, but she stops. Her attention’s been taken entirely from Tainted John.
She turns, jerkily, like a puppet of a dharma she doesn’t have. She turns away. She turns her back on him, and Tainted John howls in fury and mortification and claws at the air because he cannot even hold the attention of a human antagonist long enough to die or kill. Melanie stoops down and picks up Harold’s head and shelters her eyes with her other hand and she frowns up the path towards the facility at Elm Hill.
“Stupid,” she mutters under her breath. “Stupid. Stupid question. Stupid answer. Stupid Melanie, distracted by a ghoul. Micah is the godling who defies us.”
There’s a girl in the sun
And there’s girls in the sea
And in Elm Hill’s cages
There’s a girl like me.
The Thorn is in Micah’s hand and Elm Hill cries out and Ii Ma cries out and the ragged thing shatters and Micah is landing, crouched and feral, upon the ground, with seawater and the echoes of lost dawns around him in a pool.
He whimpers, once, because almost there was peace; and then he is moving, then the Thorn has caught a contemner in the throat and its will to hunt and its malevolence tumbles from it like a stone; and it is green and black with the blood of gods, his sting, the thorn, the Thorn That Does Not Choose to Leave the World.