Anatman (I/VII)

Anatman’s the god of a godless world.

He’s stood against the Devil himself and said, “You don’t exist.”

(And oh! how the Devil laughed; but that’s a story for another time.)

He’s stood against the demons and the fiends, and fought them back; and the angels and the fetches too. He’s won ten thousand different battles against ten thousand different gods.

He’s the man who stands at the boundary of the world and keeps theology at bay.

Here’s how it goes.

801 years into the common era, an octopus-bodied snake-headed bird-beaked hydra god of unspeakable and abominable torments tries to break into the world.

Anatman puts an end to that.

“Those are some pretty abominable torments,” concedes Anatman, “but they’re totally speakable.”

The hydra glares at him.

“You know I’m right,” Anatman says.

It’s not easy to talk about the torments of the octopus-bodied snake-headed bird-beaked hydra god. You have to put yourself through a mental wringer just to figure out where the bird’s beak goes, and that’s before you even get into the torments.

But you can.

And if they’re not unspeakable, then it’s not the kind of octopus-bodied snake-headed bird-beaked hydra god-abomination that it thought it was, and so it doesn’t break into the world.

Later, in 816, the wolf of space comes down to eat the Earth.

It takes Anatman himself to go out there and stop it. Alchemy doesn’t work and people don’t have nuclear weapons yet and longbows are notoriously ineffectual in space, but Anatman, he goes out to where the wolf is ravening towards the world and he says, “The Earth is bigger than your head.”

This brings embarrassment to the wolf.

The wolf says, “It is sometimes difficult to correctly judge perspective when you are in space.”

“See that you’ve learned better, then!” Anatman laughs.

And that’s the resolution for the matter of the wolf.

Finally, there is a firvuli.

To become a firvuli is the destiny born into a girl named Halldis, the purpose seething in the flesh and fire of her, 981 years into the common era and under the Icelandic sun. She is born for no other reason, and to no other purpose, than to one day decide it is better to be a firvuli and cast aside her mortal flesh and ascend to become a great grey god-mountain firvuli that is winter and death and the substance of THE END.

Right now, of course, she’s still a baby girl, because she’s just finished being born.

Anatman slips into the room while the midwives are distracted. They probably couldn’t have seen him anyway, since he’s the person of there-aren’t-really-any-people as much as he’s the god of there-aren’t-really-any-gods, but he isn’t taking chances.

He slips into the room, and he looks down at the baby, and he stares into her fire.

“You’re gonna be a firvuli,” he says, “little girl. And that’s no good.”

It turns on him.

It’s shocking. It’s terrifying. It’s not even technically or literarily possible. It’s like suddenly reading a book that the writer hasn’t even started writing yet—that’s how unexpected the rising of a firvuli can be. It fumes up from her soul like the steam from a fresh corpse’s blood and it looks at him, it looks at him, and suddenly instead of a baby girl or a firvuli he’s looking at THE END.

His senses desert him.

He flails in emptiness.

He remembers suddenly forward to the moment of his death.

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


981 CE

“Why, you rotten old Anatman,” he hears future-Anatman say. “You’re a no-person man!”

A no-person man!

A philosophical conceit!

Not a god, not a person, not really anything at all!

And under the power of those words, just like he’s going to do one day, later, on the day Anatman dies, he finds himself unfolding, unraveling, dissolving and stopping being, because you can’t very well be a god of godlessness or a person of no-persons, after all.

Today, though—

Today, he shakes it off. Today, he laughs. Today, he scruffs the baby’s head, and he plucks the firvuli from her soul, and he kisses it lightly on its brow.

“It’s OK,” he tells it, cheerfully, and hugs it close against his heart. “It’s OK. You don’t have to fight me. You don’t have to be afraid of not existing. I do it all the time, and it’s really not so bad.”

So he carries the firvuli away, off to the lands of fable, to live estranged from the humans and the good earth and the wind. He carries it off to the borderlands of the world, to live in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, in the corner-of-the-eye, in the hypothesis, the supposition, and the edges-of-the-map. He takes it away from the earth to the fairy regions, where hydras and great wolves and firvuli were still allowed to be, and he tells it the secret that cuts it off forever from the world and sound: that nothing ever ends.

That everything’s always ending.

That nothing’s ever even really started.

And that might sound like more than one secret, or even a contradictory passel of secrets, if you’re someone like you or me; but if you’re a no-person man like Anatman, all those secrets are the same.

And Anatman and the firvuli become great friends; but as for Halldis, she is empty, she is desolate, she is born to know great suffering, for she is a girl who should be a firvuli, who should become a firvuli, anyway, a great grey god-mountain of THE END, and who can never be a firvuli at all.

Well, that wasn’t the noble truth we were expecting! Still, you’ll probably have to wait another week before we allude vaguely to a different noble truth instead.

In the meantime, you could

Max is Dead (2 of 5)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

The horizon divides the sea from the sky. In Sid’s tactical judgment, this is the world’s mistake. He skates a long chain-blade of him along its length and severs them, so that the sea and sky sag apart and show through them a great gap in the world.

He can feel the heat of the Good fluttering against the heart of him.

It is gummy; it is heavy; it slows the rotation of that one element of him, and speeds others, and binds that portion of him into the world.

It becomes hot where Sid is cold and cold where Sid is hot; actual where he is contemplative; metaphorical where he is real.

The gaze of the Good twists that part of him through the axis of accessibility of space.

He cuts it from himself.

He huddles in around the pain of it. It is a fragment, he tells himself: nothing more.

The way that the sea air tastes one way on one morning and a different way on another: a tactical weakness. A rusty, hooked, and sensitive knife of him cuts along it.

The eye of the Good turns to that gap.

It stares into the emptiness; and a portion of it is lost.

He sees something.

He is starting to see something. It flickers at the edge of his consciousness: the heart of the Good, tilted ninety degrees from the rest of it at the end of an infinite sequence of approximations to the real.

He cleans his flensing blades and lets rust drift down onto the surface of the sea.

It is capable of an error, he calculates: a tactical weakness.

There is room between the truth of the thing and its image in the eyes of the Good to insert the thinnest of his blades; and to cut in a great fractal arc along the length of that gap until he reaches its heart.

But first there’s a man.

There’s a man, standing on a boat, in the middle of the surging sea.

There’s a man staggering in the icy wind and waving a knife of melomid skin and shouting up at Sid, “You wanna go?”

He tastes like Max.

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.

There is a darkness between the pieces of this man.

The Buddha put it thus: anatman.

A man is not the hand and a man is not the eye. A man is not the torso or the limbs. A man is none of these various parts. So when we say that we see a man, such as Max, in the world, we do not describe the physical existence of a thing. We describe instead a particular and contingent assemblage of parts.

What does this description mean?

It is, argues the Buddha, a filter created by our own mind and imposed upon the world, which we then confuse for real. It is an aggregate of misconceptions. It is not possible that in composing our idea of a man, such as Max, that we are accurate even in the moment.

It is not accurate even in the moment; and with the passage of time, its accuracy inevitably degrades.

That is why Sid sees not the man but his gaps. That is why it is practical to see not the man but his gaps.

For the most part that which one might think of as “Max” is not really there.

There is a darkness between the pieces of the man. There is an emptiness. There is no observer who can see more in Max than an aggregate of misconceptions paired with a function of surprisal that is in all practical respects computationally random.

For some time, Sid has refrained from chopping Max into little pieces, but that’s not because it’s difficult.

Red Mary’s proven it.

So has Ii Ma.

So, in the long run, has life itself.

Chopping Max into little pieces is actually pretty easy.

The miracle, really, is that it doesn’t happen more often.

It is the Latter Days of the Law
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

Max is dead.

It is a fragile line of truth in a universe of confusion. It is the knowledge that keeps Sid sane.

How can you forgive him? Ii Ma had asked.

He is dead. He is dead. And for another thing, Sid says, flaring with the fire of his dharma, Max is dead.

Things end.

Hopes die.

Max is dead, torn apart, severed from the pieces of himself and scattered through the sea.

And with Head Island so near—

Head Island, teeming with angry skandhas, most terribly easily mistaken for a man—

He cannot rely on evidence to the contrary.

Max is shouting, but Max is dead, and the particular conglomeration of circumstances that produced him in this world will not recur.

And so Sid is angry, not happy, to hear the voice of the man. He is angry and he is hurt and he knows the most marvelous anodyne for that pain.

A black thorned wire of Sid comes down to cut through the darkness inside of Max.

The history of Mr. Kong shifts in Max’s hand; it turns the wire aside.

The knives of Sid burst forth from the sea like the tendrils of a beast; and the history cuts sideways and blocks two, three, four, but not the fifth.

He cuts through the man.

He hooks into the man.

He seizes up the man and stares into him and the world beats with the tempo of his angry breath.

Max’s left hand closes around the point of a curved and rusty knife. He shifts his right arm over a wire of Sid for leverage; and by chance or planning, he catches a leaf of Good between his shoulder and the wire, so that for a moment it does not cut.

He twists the knife sharply, as if it were Sid’s kneecap.

Shock unfolds.

The sound from Sid is like the shriek of startled birds.

Through the space occupied by Max’s torso, a sleeting of sharp edges flies.

The grip of Sid releases.

Max falls.

For a lingering moment, Sid is quite still.

Then he sunders the air, he cuts the sky, he makes a thunder with his wings, he falls on Max like vultures, like lightning, like the rain. A rumble builds in him, like a purr, like a roar, like the blast of an engine, to shudder the world apart.

A drop of blood floats free.

But it is as if Sid has cut the air between two lovers, or the space between two/words.

In that place, in that moment, under the eyes of Good and drawn together by Red Mary when once scattered far apart, the pieces that make up Max are holding together not by assertion but by choice.

He is not the blood and he is not the bone; not the hand and not the eye; not the flowering rain of red but the dharma: Max.

He holds himself together.

He seizes a bundle of wires of Sid.

Without looking at the hideous gap of the horizon or the burning eye of the Good, he vents a great-voiced shout and he twists the siggort in his grip and he drags the siggort down into the sea.

Transience (II/V)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

“Everything is transient,” says Tara.

She is sitting on the deck of her ship. She is meditating. She is holding the ship still while the world moves around her.

“We imagine that things are permanent, but this is not so: rather, ‘permanence’ is a quality of the mind, a sign without referent, that we strive in futility to apply to external things.”

She is crying, freely and without hesitation, because everything that is good and beautiful must pass away.

It is not a wonder that her ship should sink. It is, in fact, a wonder that it ever stayed afloat at all. The great stone statue of the Buddha that serves as its prow should, by rights, have dragged the ship down to the bottom of the sea. That it has not done so yet is a testament to the grace and beauty of the sculptor’s soul: but that grace cannot keep the ship upright much longer.

The bandits of the island have sent forth a ship-killing spear and it trembles in the wood of the good ship Honest with Myself; and the ship cannot take another.

It would be easier for Tara if she did not care about the passing of these things. It would be easier if she could simply laugh and let the illusions of the world fume and blow before her eyes—but Tara is not yet a Buddha.

She has taken a sabbatical from the bodhisattva’s journey.

She has hoisted the Jolly Roger in the name of the enlightenment of all living beings; has put aside the scripture for the sword; has sworn in the greatness of her heart the compassionate oath: “I shall become a Buddha. I shall save all living beings from suffering. But first I shall become a pirate!”

Her unbending determination shook the world and caused flower petals to rain from the highest peak of Heaven: but for every oath there is a price.

All things pass.

All things pass.

All things, even the beautiful things, even the good things, pass.

And there is nothing in piracy to save the heart from the brutality of this truth.

Third-fired, second-landed: a second ship-killing spear slams home. The ship screams—

No, she tells herself. It is the grinding of the wood. It is not a scream.

The ship screams. The ship shakes. The statue of the Buddha splits open. Inside it is not stone. Inside it is hollow, and full of the petals of the chrysanthemum.

The wind seizes them up and scatters them across the sea.

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

Tara stands.

Everything is exploding underneath her. She thinks: ah, it has struck the strategic sutra reserve.

The ship is becoming flinders.

Gusts of holy fire, the infallible material indicators of the perfect truth of the sutras, billow up. The chickens flutter desperately in their pen. The monkeys climb to the top of the rigging. Her personal parrot flies away.

She fixes her mind upon right pillaging.

Her hand moves sideways. Seeing the lotus in her palm, the chickens go still and resolute. Their minds focus on compassion and their spirits suspire peacefully into Avahārakalikāranirvāņa, the Pirate Chicken Paradise. Tara takes two steps into the air according to the double-jump enlightenment and lands upon a great length of wood blown skyward by the explosion of the Jewel-Thought Sutra. Her gaze turns towards the monkeys.

A terrible splinter of wood is flying towards her eye.

You cannot save yourself and monkeys both, murmurs a false conception. She dismisses it and looks upon the splinter with the all-embracing love of a mostly-enlightened pirate.

I trust you, she says, to the splinter as it comes tearing for her eye.

Caught off balance by Tara’s gaze, it catches fire; it gusts with holy light; it grows into flower, like the cherry wood of its birth, and the wind blows it aside.

Her arm stretches (a human distance) to the right. There is a shift in the equilibrium of the world; her arm becomes heavy with monkeys.

The wood on which she stands is spinning.

She blows a kiss backwards at the ship. “You were good,” she says, and suddenly time is moving at its normal rate again.

“May a thousand beautiful things flower from the karma that gave you birth.”

With horrible speed, the wood plank skips off the sea, wings an upright monk and opens a scar in the side of his scalp that he’ll be telling people about for the rest of his life, skips one last time, and tumbles the dread pirate Tara and a quarter barrel’s worth of monkeys to roll over and over and over again upon the shore.

This Blasphemous Thing (I/V)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Continuing from The Uncanny Valley,
The Pirate,
The Heaps, and
The Skandhas of Head Island.

“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.

“Haaa!”

“Right singing,” she grinds out.

“Haaa!”

“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.

“Fire!”

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!

“Fire!”

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.

Ink and Annihilation (III/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

Flying carpets, once abandoned, often yearn for the annihilation of the universe.

They don’t fly very well after a while.

They get tears in them and sometimes bugs eat parts of them. The will that allows them to fly — that fades some, too, when they realize that they’ll never have the wild dream of their youth.

They’ll never get to find some worthy child and fly away with them forever.

Most children aren’t a good match for a flying carpet in the first place, and if the carpet’s used, the kid has to have just as many tears and bug-eaten bits as the carpet does. That’s the rule, and it’s a hard one.

And that’s not even the worst of it.

Even if the carpet does find the right kind of child, all bug-eaten and worthy, they still can’t fly away and away forever with them.

Children grow old.

Then they die.

Then their skeletons fall off the flying carpet into the devouring sands.

There’s nowhere to go in all the world where you can get away from that truth — that children grow old and die and turn into skeletons and get eaten by the desert.

There’s nowhere to go in all the world or outside it either.

A carpet can go to the lands of Romance alone but there is little point. The evil viziers and dashing princes will squint at it with their eyes. The noble kings will lecture it about the proper use of negative space. Even the shopkeepers will point at the empty carpet and they will laugh.

For the carpets themselves their power is no escape.

A flying carpet has a certain lifespan to its purpose and then it’s done.

Sometimes, after that purpose runs out, a boring tree will stick a screw-root through the carpet’s brain. It’s not very common, but it’s what’s happened to Jacob’s carpet. There’s a screw-root in its brain and a girl shouting at the tree.

“You’re a worthless rotter,” shouts the girl.

The tree does not give in.

“You’re a filthy degenerate larch-fucker with chlorophyll made of snot, and you’re personally responsible for the whole world going to Hell!”

It really hurts.

The screwing, that is. It really hurts. And it makes it very hard to think.

But if the tree really were the one responsible for the whole world going to Hell, the carpet feels, it’d probably be worth it.

After a while the girl tires of ranting.

She is quiet for a bit while the screw turns softly in Jacob’s carpet’s brain.

Then she asks the tree a question that she should have asked some time ago, to wit, “. . . why won’t you let go?”

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

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, but everyone calls her the imago. Stands for I’d Make A Great Optimist, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

She reaches out her hand.

She touches the root of the boring tree.

“Why won’t you let go?” she asks.

By implication, it explains that trees can’t talk.

But it doesn’t have to.

The imago is a creature of histories and she is reading the history of the tree through the rings of its root. She stares into the long annals of the boring tree’s life. She studies the chronicles of sun and wind and sky and roots and soil and the storm beneath the world.

She hunts for the cues in its nature that would explain this terrible thing; and

“Oh,” she says.

Understanding what she sees is an art, and Ink is new at it.

But she sees enough that she blushes at the things she’s said.

“Oh,” she says. “Oh. I’m so sorry.”

And she understands: “If you let go then it will fall.”

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Jacob’s Carpet: Years passed.

The carpet lived in the world. It lived in the edges of the world. It waited.

And Anatman came to it. He wore a hood. His voice was very kind. And he said, “I can give you peace.”

And the carpet struck him across the face with its tail and made a bruise and it flew away, because it did not want peace.

It wanted victory.

But one day Jacob ended. As simply as that, it was over.

The wind caught the carpet. The wind dragged it away. The carpet tumbled down through the great empty places of the world. It fell down and down and down and when it burst through and saw the storm it understood.

That was all. It could never save him. Jacob was over. The carpet had nothing left.

But a crosswise wind caught it and it tangled in the roots of the trees.

There it grew thin.

There the wind beneath the world battered at it.

It was already screaming when the first root sank in.

“If you let go,” says Ink, “it will fall. But if you hold on, you will kill it.”

If the tree could talk,

Which it can’t,

It would shrug.

Well, if it could talk and shrug, it would shrug. And then it might say something.

Like: It is a stranger to me.

Trees care very little for flying carpets. No carpet, even in its flush of youth, has ever served a tree. To the lands of Romance that lay beyond the world trees do not go.

It has saved the carpet because it was there.

It has given the fullest of effort that the world might ask of it to save this stranger’s life; and, having done so, it has no intention to do more.

“I understand,” says Ink.

She turns to the carpet.

She hunts for words to answer the cruelty of its fate.

She says, “When you fall—“

She does not know what will happen when it falls.

“I will cause it to be that there is a Heaven for you,” she says.

The carpet shrieks.

It struggles.

“Freak!” she says. She’s in some distress. “People like Heaven! You don’t want to suffer, do you?”

There is liquid oozing out around the carpet’s brain. It is dripping down the carpet’s sides. Its tail is fluttering at a rapid pace.

“Fuck,” she says.

The creature calms.

“I will prolong your torment,” she says, in calm clipped words. “But only for a finite time, do you understand? And if it hurts too much, I’ll make it stop.”

There is a certain irony in this statement that is lost on the imago.

The creature is still.

“I will give you a purpose,” she says. “Five lives that you must save; and you will save them, and carry them to the answer to their pain. And when you have done that you will accept your failings and fall into far Heaven.”

It makes a sound.

More.

Ink looks exasperated. She makes a comic face.

She does not understand how huge and meaningful it is that the carpet will bargain with her at all. She most likely never will.

More.

Let me sate myself on purpose before at last I go.

“Okay,” she says. “Two purposes.”

It is enough.

  • Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history:
    INK USES TAPE!

The Pirate (II/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]

Sid stands on a grey reflective plain. White lines blow across it like the waves that wind makes upon the grass or upon the snow. The sky is corrugated, textured grey above him: grainy light grey touched with light; bulging rain-filled dark grey; wispy, dissipated whitish mist; and in the distance beyond that grey the sun.

He is walking.

He is walking on the sea of chaos and it is still beneath him, it is supporting him, because it does not love him and does not want him to break its surface and mingle with it.

Five bandits surround him. They have staves. They wear cloaks that billow. They are dampened with a mist of chaos and it causes peculiar alterations in their countenance.

Sid stops.

He says, “I am Sid.”

It is a naked threat. Knowing that they cannot know him, he still says it thus: flat words, like drops of mist that fall onto the surface of the sea.

But the bandits howl; and one casts forth a rope to wind around him, and two come forward with their spears; and two set arrows to their bows.

Sid has spent too long in a place dominated by the conventions of early 21st century media. He cannot quite encompass the fact that they’re all attacking him at once. An arrow hits him in the back of the head. Another pierces his lung. The rope wraps around him. The spears come in towards him. The knives that spin in their wheel beside him turn and cut and the rope frays to threads; he is up, standing on one of the spears, kicking at the bandit with his hands in the pockets of his coat, and the other spear hits him from behind.

He can feel bile in his throat. He can feel blood. But today he has no time for it.

The bandit he’s kicked falls down. The bandit’s cheek is dented and there’s blood at the corner of his mouth.

Knives cut away the haft of the spear that’s stuck in Sid so that it can’t pull out again.

Sid’s angry. His hand catches the next arrow. He hurls it on towards the other bowman and turns—

There are too many bandits. He’s quite sure there’d been five, and one knocked down, and one halfway disarmed, but there are five circling him still.

What am I standing on? he says, because the scene has come a little bit undone within his mind. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing he could fail to know, but he doesn’t.

Another spearthrust. He falls back. He lands on the sea and it splatters aside to make room for him, bowing down like a sheet of cellophane attached on every side and struck by a falling fruit. The bandits wobble up and down.

Through the mist of grey Sid sees a great granite hand.

“Hell,” says one of the bandits.

It’s the first thing any of them has said.

Sid can see the arm.

Sid can see the body. It is a Buddha. It is a great granite Buddha. It is the great granite Buddha prow of a ship that sails in these seas.

The bandits shout and flee and leave Sid there.

Monks walk on the head of the Buddha. They pace their meditation tracks. Their footsteps are a soft shuffling that rebounds off of the fog.

They click their meditation beads.

“Anatman, dukkha,” say the monks. “Anatman, dukkha.

Slowly, Sid straightens. He pulls himself to his feet. He stands there on the chaos, facing the approaching ship.

The monks seem puzzled.

“Anatman?” they say, as if expecting Sid to react. “Dukkha?”

Sid stabilizes his form and begins to walk west, but there’s an apologetic voice that stops him.

“If you won’t willingly abandon your attachment to material existence,” says the dread pirate Tara, “I’m afraid I’ll have to use the cannon.”

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 coracle 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 Island of the Centipede

Sid looks back.

“I’m not attached to material existence,” he says. “I’m just kind of here.”

He lifts one foot, then the next. He gestures to his shoes. They’re loafers, the shoes of a man not terribly attached to material existence but who has to walk in it anyway.

Tara pulls herself up onto the arm of the Buddha. She walks out. She looks down at him. She’s a black-haired pirate with a sword in one hand and a lotus in the palm of the other.

She says, “You can’t just resist the enlightenment of the Buddha Pirates. It’s not done.”

“I’m my own first experience,” says Sid. “Why should I accept anatman?”

“Technically, that’s an error,” Tara says.

Sid looks at her.

“You’re not your own first experience. Information theory and the law of the sea insist that you can’t directly experience yourself. Instead, you experience things that you falsely associate with yourself, like perceptions and conditions. Do you need medical attention?”

“No.”

“Because you are rather bleeding.”

“Bandits.”

Tara’s eyes go wide. It’s an expression of shocked joy.

“This close?”

“Eh?”

“I have been hunting them,” Tara says, “For so long.”

She bites her lip. She’s thinking.

“Come on board, then,” Tara says. “Everyone knows that ships are faster than walking, on the ocean. We’ll hunt them down and then I’ll try and kill you again and then, if that doesn’t work, I’ll give you a ride to wherever you’re going.”

Sid thinks about this.

Finally, he shrugs.

So Tara gives a happy shout, “Kya!” and those few among the monks with eyepatches and peglegs and other pirate accessories decorating their orange robes leave their prayer tracks and throw down ropes.

Sid climbs.

Soon he stands on the deck of the ship.

“You’re not enlightened,” he points out. “You’re a pirate.”

“Yes,” Tara admits.

Sid looks at her.

Airily, Tara says, “I decided it’d be faster to bring enlightenment to all living beings if I skipped the last few million years of the process and just became a pirate. These are my monks.”

Sid looks down. The deck of the ship is marked with a great mandala. Around its edge it depicts the noble eightfold path.

“I didn’t know that was an option,” Sid says.

Tara brings her finger to her lips.

“Don’t tell Amitabha,” she hisses.

Then she is moving; then she is racing about the deck and he sees her only in moments. A flash of red from the inside of her cloak as she calls to the divine spirits that work the sails. A moment of half-profile as she stands, pointing out at the sea with her sword. Shouted orders involving words like jib and block that Sid—as a man with little need for ships—does not entirely understand.

“But isn’t it an error?” he says.

“What?”

Tara is looking at him again. The ship is turning, gently, in the direction in which the bandits disappeared.

“Becoming a pirate and forcing enlightenment on people with monks and cannons.”

“It’s a terrible error,” Tara says. “Mad, crazy wickedness. I’m committing so many mistakes it’ll be a few million years before I fix them all. But isn’t that the joy of it?”

“What?”

“Making mistakes and fixing them. Learning. Growing. The sharpness of regret and the brilliance of accomplishments you really shouldn’t have attempted.”

“No, I meant, of what?”

“Oh,” Tara says.

She thinks about that for a bit.

“Of being at sea,” Tara says.

In the name of hope and joy, and dedicated to someone whom I hope very much will be back with us by the time this post appears. Do it! Do it! Wake up! Ganbatte!

The Loneliness of the World (2 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]

Once upon a time, if you can believe Red Mary, the Buddha walked the world.

Back then, everything was exactly as it was.

Things had their own natures. A cloud was a cloud. A person was a person. A tree was a tree.

And more than that, every last person had their own way of being.

The world chose some people to be Kings by birth, gave rise to them with a nature for rule, and they sat on thrones and this was right. To others the world assigned a destiny of merchanthood or prostitution. The world birthed witches, killers, and creatures with terrible talents. It also gave rise to people with no more magic to them than the right to have a name and a family and an origin and an age.

The Buddha took that away.

He looked around and he said, “Because Kings are Kings, there is suffering. Because prostitutes are prostitutes, there is suffering. Because one man is a witch and can cast terrible spells, people suffer, and because another man is not and cannot, people suffer. It is even occasionally problematic that clouds are clouds.”

“Sure, but what can you do about it?” his mother asked.

The Buddha, if you can believe Red Mary, was always arguing with his mother. Even when you might think he’d be taking care of his son or meditating under a bo tree or achieving enlightenment or something, if you listen to Red Mary, he was probably arguing with his mother instead.

“What can you do about it?” she asked. “Because it’s so very precious to people that they are as they are.”

“It’s precious,” he said. “But that won’t stop me! I’ll still take it all away.”

And he spoke the word anatman and from him issued a great breath of change that stripped the natures from the world and from that point it was no longer true that things were always themselves.

From that day forward, when somebody was King, it wasn’t because it was right or even wrong that they were King. It was because of a causal chain of events that had put them on the throne. And when somebody was a merchant or a prostitute, that wasn’t dharma either. It just was. Even if you could figure out what the world had made you to do, it wasn’t necessarily so that you could do it.

Trees weren’t always trees.

The sun wasn’t always the sun.

Sometimes clouds turned to vapor and just drifted apart.

And as for the gods, they weren’t there.

The gods, the magic, the power of the witches, it was just . . . gone.

And for five hundred years this made people happy even in the face of the torments of the world; and then for fifteen hundred years, no matter how unhappy people were, they still had access to salvation.

But all that’s over now.

Now it’s the latter days of the law. The power of the Buddha’s word is fading. Magic is creeping in around the edges. People sometimes act in accordance with their nature. Kings by birth sit on the thrones again. People find themselves pawns helpless before their dharma.

The old ways are coming back.

But we already know that magic doesn’t fix things. We already know that it’s not enough to save anyone.

And as for the Buddha’s answer?

The powerlessness of anatman?

It’s kind of surprising, in these the Latter Days of the Law, that it ever helped anybody at all.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue 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.

The Island of the Centipede

“What was it like?” Max asks.

“Hm?”

“For the gods,” Max says. “I’ve always wondered.”

“And hadn’t I just said we were gone?”

“Not all of you,” Max says. “Not Rahu. Not Pelopia. Not even Santa, if Jane is to be believed.”

“Santa,” says Red Mary.

She laughs.

“Disbelief?”

“Disdain.”

“Ah.”

Red Mary sighs.

“We were severed from the world,” she says. “We lived but we could not touch you. We spoke but you could not hear. I sang my song to Halldis who suffered and whom I imagined needed the power to dissolve. For she who made me, I sang, and to open for her a gateway to the freedom from her pain. But she did not dissolve. I cried to the White Christ to give her surcease but He did not answer. I begged favors of the sun, of the moon, of the stars. And four years later Halldis died in childbed and I went on. I lived in a fountain with cracked stone lions and I sang to kill the lamps and the pigeons and when that failed me I crawled westwards to the sea, and none in all that place to remember my passing or that I had ever been.”

“Why?”

“‘Why?'”

“Why?”

“‘The problem with egolessness,'” Red Mary says—and the inflection is strange, so that Max thinks she is quoting—“‘is that it never happens to the right people.'”

The catamaran drifts left and Max can see the texture of the island, the wrinkles of the rock, the black stones embedded in it, the mussels at the chaos’ edge.

“We’d never had the power we thought we had,” Red Mary says.

Max looks blankly at her.

“I’d thought it was the dharma of a siren to dissolve others into the greatness of the world,” she says. “But better to say: it is the dharma of a siren to dissolve others for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time, and to the wrong outcome.”

“Ah,” Max says.

“And yet we must try to be good.”

There’s an edge of skepticism to her voice that worries Max, so he doesn’t answer her.

“We can’t,” says Red Mary. “But somehow, we must try.”

She laughs.

“Disdain?” Max asks.

“Disbelief.”

And the catamaran sails on in the channels of the broken island, in the sea of chaos to the west of Gibbelins’ Tower, in the loneliness of the world.

(Low Saturday) The Harrowing of Hell (II/V)

The second of three histories regarding the cracking of the lens.

Jane sits on the skyway by the lens.

She kicks her feet in the air.

“I shouldn’t be here,” she says.

Dozens of colors flicker and swirl within the lens. There is green and there is gold and there is a spot of shifting red.

“I’ll get in trouble,” she says.

The mist of chaos in the room coheres, briefly, into the image of Jane dolefully standing beside a locked cookie jar; of Martin triumphantly copying names from the Nice List to the Naughty List; of thunder crashing and Martin laughing manically as spiders rain from the sky into Jane’s hair.

“Not the last!” Jane clarifies.

The mist subsides.

“But,” Jane says, “I’m worried about Meredith.”

“Why?” asks the lens.

“She is a surging, threshing power,” Jane says. “But she doesn’t know how to deal with that. I think she’s getting on towards running away again.”

The lens flickers for a moment.

There is amidst the chaos, Siddhartha Buddha, and he is saying this:

The second noble truth: anatman.
We are not what we appear to be.
Not singular entities driven by specific purpose
But shapes cast up by the chaos
Looking now like one thing,
Now like another.

“Blee!” says Jane.

She sticks out her tongue.

“What?” the lens asks.

“He was totally cheating.”

“Oh,” says the lens Necessity. It’s laughing at her with its voice.

“You can’t just make something happen and call it a truth,” says Jane. In a superior tone, she adds, “You don’t see me making stuff happen and then pretending it was true all along.”

The lens flickers for a moment.

There is amidst the chaos, Jane and Martin, and Jane is saying this:

Good morning, Martin!

And Martin says:

Good morning, Jane.

Have you considered the underlying corruption
Eating at the soul of man
And incorporated
A recognition of its presence
Into your grim and terrible agenda?

Jane says:

I have considered it!

Martin says:

And may I, then,
Take such dispensation as is appropriate
In eliminating the detritus
And in general resolving this fourth kingdom with efficiency?

Jane says:

To the limits of the appropriate.

Martin says:

I shall begin—

Jane says:

But it is the conclusion I have reached
That there is no individual
Entirely unworthy of our aid
Much less
Of our consideration.

Thus it is my recommendation
That the grinding wheels of history
Run over the open ocean, splashing it in all directions;
The fields of grain, grinding them to meal;
The open road, burning their rubber.

But that it is not appropriate
That any person be harmed:

That no one deserves to suffer at our hands.

Let no one be harmed.

Martin says:

A fundamental conflict of
operating methodologies.

The fog of chaos clears.

Jane is blushing beet red.

“I didn’t make everybody worthy,” she says.

“Hypocrite,” says the lens.

Jane sulks.

“Sulky hypocrite!”

Jane pokes the lens with her finger, getting the history of the world all smudgy.

“Anyway,” says the lens, “it’s just, I think that Meredith needs to think about the fallacy of independent existence, not the proper application of world-destroying power.”

“. . . I worry,” Jane admits.

The chaos swirls.

Then Jane brightens.

“Oh!” she says. “Could you do that Siddhartha thing as a romantic comedy?”

(Low Saturday) Accidental Properties

A legend about finding a noble truth just when you least expect it.

Siddhartha bursts into the room.

“Devadatta!” he exclaims. “You’ve got to disguise yourself as me— quickly!”

“I do not see,” grumbles Devadatta, “How this proves the fallacy of independent existence . . .”

Anatman. A comedy about Buddhism, noble truths, and love.

Coming soon to a theater near you.