Oh, Harold Dear (I/I)

It is 1981 and Liril is in a terrible place.

She is in a room bulked out with shadows. She is in terror and the dark. She is scratching, desperately scratching, to get her name down on the wall.

In case she forgets.

In case she forgets, or everyone else forgets, and there’s never anything more to show that she exists, just a name written on the wall.

LIRIL.

Tomorrow they’ll move her to a different room, and she’ll stare at the place where she scratched her name, and the writing won’t be there.

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


May 28, 2004

Now in the Latter Days of the Law the heart may not know the true doctrine; so rightly it may be said that this sunlit afternoon in May is the winter of the world.

Grey clouds shadow the brightness of the sky.

The clouds scuttle in clumps, this way and that, their movements driven by the wind.

It is May 28, 2004, and Liril is in a terrible place, and before it is Melanie’s army.

There are failing-gods and flying-gods. There are great stretchy gods drawn in crayon. There is a terrible black dog. There are twelve humans worth the fearing. There are twenty humans who are not—secretaries, psychologists, a system administrator, and the like, who had collaborated with the monster and survived but gained no measure of his power.

There is a ragged thing.

There are footsoldiers and two contemners. There is a long-legged beast and a scarab bomb. There are remembering gods, and an angel and a half, and fiends in a motley crew.

And then there are four more fearsome than this host: Threnody, whose nametag notes that she wields the lightning; Vincent, whose heart is pure; that crooked tyrant labeled “The Keeper of the Wheel;” and Melanie, cunning Melanie, most frightening of them all.

They are an ungainly force. They are escapees from a disaster and not an organized and deadly host. Still, they are an army, and the bulk of them are gods.

“In this place,” says Melanie to that host, “there is a girl more valuable than gold. She is enough to kill us all, I think, or to make us rich and powerful for all time.”

She is taking Vincent’s backpack off.

She is rummaging around inside.

He is surprised and disgusted to find the thoughtful things that she’s packed him for their journey.

A notebook. An apple. A few texts—Behavioral Psychology, and the like. Half of a ham sandwich. The other half she ate. And most disturbingly Harold’s head.

“If she is strong,” Melanie says, “we are in danger. If she learns strength, we are in danger. But she will not be strong.”

“Melanie,” Vincent says.

She hushes him.

“Hush,” she says.

“When—what—when did you even—“

She glances at him. She says, “When I was recovering my bike.”

Back before they’d been rousted out from Central, Melanie had biked to work every day. It’s normally a healthy and environmentally conscious habit, but in the end it had killed Harold and she’d nearly pulled a muscle leveraging his corpse off of her bike. Then she’d sawed off his head with her broken bike lock and left the rest of him there to rot, so in the end, it wasn’t a very healthy or environmentally conscious habit after all.

Also, she didn’t like to wear her helmet.

Vincent is still staring at her. It’s as if he hasn’t heard her explanation, or hasn’t parsed it.

“Two months ago,” Melanie says, “at the dinner party, he’d said that in an emergency, it was very important to keep his head. You were there.”

She opens the corpse’s mouth. She looks inside it clinically. She pushes on its nose. She rolls open one, and then the other eye, but they just close again.

She shrugs and looks back at the gathered host.

“Liril is broken,” Melanie says. “If she has recovered her will and spine at all, they’ll be no stronger than a twig.

“So we’ll shatter them. We’ll stomp her down. And then we shall rule this rotten world.”

“His head should be rotten,” Vincent protests.

What he wants to say is something about how shattering someone’s will is wrong. But he fails to do so. Harold’s head has distracted him completely.

Melanie shrugs.

She breathes into the corpse’s mouth and it jerks opens both its eyes.

“What—“

That’s Vincent’s voice. He’s terribly glad that it’s his voice. For a moment, he’d thought it would be the corpse’s.

Wasn’t it?

He’s suddenly not sure.

Melanie holds the head up high. She turns it to face the facility on Elm Hill. She says, “Oh, Harold, dear, you’re dead.”

And Harold screams.

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

The scream of Harold’s head is like a bird, at first; and then it is a horn; but Melanie has grit her teeth and put behind this deviant act the fullness of her strength, and she sinks that long shout low. It becomes a rumbling. It becomes an organ sound. It becomes a shaking of the earth, a burgeoning and world-completing and a trembling cry, resounding off the world and sound and sky.

There is only so much sound that one ought to be able to make with a single breath. This beyond that by a hundredfold.

There is an additional, secondary limit on the sound one can make.

And so eventually this sound goes still.

She has announced herself, has Melanie, her and the army of her gods; and she does not have long to wait.

There is a balcony on the seventh floor.

Micah comes out to stand on it. He looks down at them. He is pale. He is afraid.

Her heart gives a thump, because Micah’s there, and Liril’s not alone; and then the joy bubbles up inside her, it’s giggling out of her nose and wiggling in her throat, it’s crowing and burbling through her, and then it’s a rising force, how good it is, a rising force in her lungs and chest and heart, and she’s shouted out before she’s thought about it any a great shout of all triumph and sweet success.

He is afraid.

He is afraid.

He isn’t the defiant boy that once she met. He’s gone all pale and all weak. He’s standing there and his mouth is moving and she thinks he must still know her name;

But from the look on his face, he’s the kind of boy right then who only barely remembers his own.

No Crutches for an Angel

The angel cannot see and cannot hear.

So he imagines forests.

The sun is hot and sometimes he tastes sand. But he imagines forests and talking animals. In the evening when he is thirsty he imagines that there is a river blue and clear. In the mornings he thinks that there is a pillow made of loam.

In his heart there is a drumming.

It drums because it is a warning. It drums because he will bring devastation. It drums the vengeance of the Lord.

It will burn the things around him.

It will burn with a terrible fire, unless he finds ten just and good and wholly righteous men.

“I think,” says a sloth, that is hanging from a tree, which the angel now imagines, “that you have already released this fire. For look, the sun is hot, and all around you there is sand.”

“Sometimes,” the angel says—

Though he cannot say much, as his tongue has melted to the bottom of his mouth—

“Sometimes I brush up against what seem like buildings, or I am pelleted with bullets. So I do not think that this is so.”

The answer is as haughty as a Queen’s.

“We sloths, we disagree.”

The angel stumbles on.

It is late in the day and he is tired and it is hard to hold back the fire that lurks behind the drumbeat in his heart when he meets Mikhael.

That is the name he gives the man.

He does not know the true name for the man because he cannot hear and he cannot see and he cannot speak. This is something that makes introductions difficult, particularly when you do not share a common tongue.

So he names the man Mikhael.

He says, “I feel you. I feel you in my heart.”

He is seized up. People grab his arms. Something goes over his head. He is pulled and he is dragged and his feet leave the ground.

Tum-dum, goes his heart.

Tum-dum.

He flares his great feathered wings. He makes a choked-off sound. He gargles.

But because he feels Mikhael near him, still, his heart retains some element of peace. He is frustrated. He is disoriented. He is angry and confused.

He is not enraged.

Something slides into his arm, metal in a vein, and time becomes a whirl.

“I feel you,” he says.

He is groping through a fever and looking for the sensation that told him that Mikhael was near.

“Ha,” laughs a duck. “You are an angel deaf and blind. What makes you think you are ever anything but alone?”

The sensation is distant. But he clings to it.

His heart still beats: tum-dum.

He is treated roughly. His wrists are sore.

Then he feels a mouth against his cheek. It is whispering to him through the vibration of his bones. It is too hard to hear but because his heart feels Mikhael he makes sense of certain words.

“You fell to earth,” says Mikhael. “And you were deaf and you were blind. And it is sad, because that makes it difficult to find a righteous man.”

“You have no idea,” says the angel.

It has a lot more humor and joy than something like that should have—gallows humor, but still this explosion of mirth in him, that someone would see that hidden pain and then think that perhaps the angel might not already be aware.

“You were captured,” says Mikhael. “Studied. It was decided that you should be turned loose against strategic targets. That you would wander here, in our homeland, until you failed to find ten righteous men. Then our land would be destroyed.”

“Ha,” says the angel.

He makes moaning, mumbling noises with his mouth. But what his heart says is, “You have no idea. You are making this about you. You are forgetting that I am laboring with every moment of my life not to hurt you but I am suffering myself.”

“You have been captured,” says Mikhael. “You have been bound. My people, they thought at first that they could contain you in this fashion.”

He makes an apology with his next words.

“I told them how to find you. I told them you were here.”

“Mikhael,” says the angel. “Will you bring me righteous men?”

“I am afraid,” says Mikhael, “that they have all been slain. There were never very many. There are children still, and dogs and cats, who are not unworthy. And they were indifferently incomplete in eliminating the women; three righteous such remain. But if it is only men whose hearts will serve then there are none; and if infants are excluded, then we can muster only eight. The rest are dead. They have been slain.”

The angel frowns.

“They have been slain,” he repeats.

“They were hunted for their righteousness,” says Mikhael. “It was elementary. There would be no point to send you here only to allow some incompetent discovery of ten righteous men to stop the fall of Heaven’s wrath.”

“Oh,” says the angel.

He turns his thoughts inwards for a time. He is thinking that perhaps Mikhael is righteous and that perhaps Mikhael is not. It is difficult to tell from the rough voice against his cheek and the tremor in his heart.

“Then you must hold me deep,” says the angel, “deep beneath the earth, deep in some far and isolated place, where the Heavens may rumble and the earth may crack but lives shall not be lost. Let the skies burn out their outrage against a nothing target and then all shall be well. —Or kill me.”

“I cannot do these things,” says Mikhael.

“But you must.”

“I have told them,” says Mikhael, “that you are an angel, and that we must therefore let you go. I have argued long and hard and finally I have won out. They fear me because I understand their hearts and they do not dare to go against this wisdom. They will hate me, of course. One day they will probably kill me out of fear. But while they let me live they listen to my voice and so they will let you go.”

“There are none?” asks the angel. His voice is a plea.

“The standards of an angel—“ says Mikhael. “They are not like ordinary men. I tell you, there are darknesses in every human heart. There are weaknesses and follies. They are not righteous. Save sometimes I would meet one of those who moved among us—frightening, inhuman, perfect, clear. They were the opposite of monsters, antipaths to devils that walked among us men. They shone and they frightened me and I thought that most likely they were as unworthy to live among us as we to live with them. They were obvious to those like me. They were obvious and easy targets and one by one their lives went out.

“They welcomed it, I think,” Mikhael says. “These are hard times for the righteous.”

“O,” cries the angel.

The bonds are stripped roughly from his wrists. He is dragged somewhere. He stumbles and he twists his leg but still they drag him on.

He feels the presence of a door.

“But I must kill you all,” says the angel, “if I find no righteous men.”

He falls onto the street outside. It is rough beneath his hands. He feels Mikhael go.

It comes to him softly there that if he is deaf and blind he must decide the presence or absence of righteous men upon his own; that the world, it cannot tell him, whether the angel now must act.

But he does not understand.

He does not see.

He does not understand how Mikhael let him go.

On the Origins of Common Foods

Flying on a plane is very nice.

It is not as nice as wings. But it has more peanuts. Unless you are a peanut elemental, spreading great peanut-pattern wings. Then the peanuts of a plane are comparatively few.

This is not to say that peanuts are always an advantage.

Some people are allergic to peanuts. They do not value the peanuts on a plane. Some peanut elementals are allergic to peanuts. They go immediately into anaphylactic shock and die. We do not talk about them much unless they fall through our roofs, at which point it becomes difficult for the rest of the year to talk about anything else.

Some people are not allergic to peanuts. They have the advantage in that if they do meet a peanut elemental they do not necessarily die; and if they meet an elemental of non-peanut-ness, they are still generally all right.

(An elemental of non-peanut-ness is an elemental spirit formed from and exemplifying the conceptual category “not a peanut,” such that, when you see them, you immediately recognize that here is the pure distilled essence of not being a peanut—possessing none of the trace impurities that exempt most things in the world from Platonic non-peanut-ness. For example, the Earth is shaped too closely to resemble a peanut to qualify, while Eggos are legumes.)

This advantage of being able to survive contact with a peanut elemental is principally intangible and a matter of form (unlike the peanut elementals themselves) because peanut elementals are rare, and, when encountered in flight, have difficulty forcing their way onto the plane. Nor are they able, in this era of heightened security, to sneak easily onto the plane as a passenger unless they are willing to take off their shoes, limit their toothpaste allowance, and have names that do not resemble a terrorist’s name. (So, for instance, Mr. Peanut would have trouble, as would Al-Qaffar, but Mr. God of the Thousand-Slaying Legume Kick is probably okay.)

In the old days peanut elementals were a greater trouble for air traffic. This is how Mr. Carver invented peanut butter. People will say that he developed peanut butter in the laboratory but in fact George Washington Carver was the preeminent air ace of World War II. His contribution was ignored at the time as the United States government feared that, if they acknowledged it, the Axis would deride them as politically correct.

During one of many dogfights with German nationals Mr. Carver caught a peanut elemental in the engine of his plane and the rest was secret history.

But peanut elementals were not the only inhabitants of the stratosphere who would prove troublesome for air traffic in those troubled years. The Metatron Incident (wherein Metatron descended to the earth in a cloud of grace to reveal the new gospel and was caught in the engines of an uncertified Boeing) made angelfood cake possible for the first time in the history of the world. The efforts of hundreds of French chefs to reproduce this masterwork of massacre eventually created the “vegetarian angelfood” that we know today, using baking powder, whipped eggs, and flour to approximate the manifold virtues of Heaven. Masons traditionally added a snake, which they would wrap around the egg and convince to bite its own tail before baking; this added a sense of timeless mysticism to their delicious recipes and rightly they were honored throughout the culinary world.

The impact of the Metatron Incident was not to end there. Many of the people on the plane became focal points for mysterious phenomena. One of them, struck on the forehead by a bit of Metatron debris, became Billy Graham. Another became Vice-President Cheney. The plane plowed into the East Oak Lake house of a previously ordinary schoolboy; he would later grow up to become Noam Chomsky!

Tofu was originally made from ufos.

—Not to quit talking about Noam Chomsky when we’ve barely just begun, but he’s really not a common food!

So, anyway, tofu was originally made from ufos. Japan never admitted it, but you can tell because of the letters of its name.

—And why are the letters in tofu’s name in English, anyway? It was probably made from *British* ufos! Back benchers probably evolved into ufos because somebody fed them after midnight, and then they flew unwisely into Japan. All of this is hypothetical, because the true nature of the ufos is still unknown. But it seems likely—and yet, like Noam Chomsky, ufo pedantry is not a common food, and we must leave it lie.

Tofu, as noted earlier, was at one time made from ufos. But now it is not made from ufos. There are simply not enough ufos in the sky to support the scale of the modern tofu economy. So now most tofu is made out of a blend of textured swamp gas and weather balloons. Only trace impurities of alien origin remain!

Ballet is a wonderful art. Often in the grand jete the dancer will appear to fly. Conversely, while not so very grand, Boeing jets do fly. On one occasion, a joyous serendipity generated the Reese’s peanut butter cup; on another, to speak very delicately, battement fondu.

Ironically despite its historical origins fondue is rarely served on planes. One reason is that there is not enough leg room on a plane for a ballerina to survive. Confined in the middle seat they wither away and die. Another reason is that in the event of turbulence it is hard to explain to people that they will need to wear clear plastic masks to minimize the risk of cheese burns. The third and last reason is fear. In the post 9/11 era, fondue is just too scary for the no-longer-friendly skies!

The Song of Jeremiah Gannon: Final Canto

Start with the first canto, here.
Then the second canto
and the third.

12.

The angel comes bloodied through the final door into the room where Jeremiah Gannon waits.

“Thou filthy angel,” Gannon says.

He peers at Link.

He hesitates. Then he scrubs at the stubble on his chin and laughs.

“You’re that man,” he says. “I hung you.”

“The Tree,” says Link, “must from time to time be watered with the blood of patriots.”

Gannon sniggles.

Then he twitches. He hunches his shoulders. He curls in on himself.

He leans in to his sandwich. He whispers to the numinous manifestation of the Lord. He says, “This is not a person. This is not a worthy. This is a creature that we should disdain.”

Link staggers under the weight of it.

“It’s his fault,” whispers Gannon. “If it weren’t for him, everything would be all right.”

And the face of Jesus in the sandwich has known nothing but the voice of Jeremiah Gannon for so many years; and it does not know any better.

To the face of Jesus in the sandwich, it seems that Jeremiah Gannon’s in the right.

From the west the torments of Hell slip into the room. Their tendrils lash out to capture the angel’s heart.

Link pours out the last of his warm Coke.

He seizes Hell in the Coke bottle. He scoops it up. He seals the lid.

Now he’s got Hell!

From the east the sea of silver comes slipping into the room.

Link pours all the torments of Hell out of his bottle. He scoops up the sea of silver in his bottle. He seals the lid.

Now he’s got unexamined ignorance!

The torments of Hell reach out for him again.

The angel looks from side to side with an expression of comic horror.

Then he leaps back and draws the hook shot and he fires it at the sandwich with the image of Jesus on its bread.

13.

“If only,” murmurs Jeremiah Gannon.

The weapon that brought the walls of Jericho tumbling down fails before Gannon’s power.

“If only you hadn’t shown me that final trump in the duel with Zatoichi,” Gannon says. “Then perhaps you might have won.”

“Oh,” Link says.

“Or if you’d had a second bottle,” Jeremiah Gannon admits.

Then he shrugs.

He turns away.

He doesn’t really care about the angel any more.

And Link pours the sea out from the bottle and reaches for the torments of Hell, but time is not his friend.

The sea of the unexamined ignorance, now freed, sweeps over Link the angel.

It pulls him into its grasp.

He fades away.

And the angel is in nothingness. He is in emptiness. He is in silence and in a place where there is nothing he may do and nothing he may say to change the opinion of Jesus or of Jeremiah Gannon regarding the angel’s worth.

He forgets his body.

He forgets his name.

He forgets that power in him that made bombs; and the iron shoes they hung him with; and the hook shot and the bottle and the hearts.

There is only the final questing impulse that watched a poodle drown and said, “I wonder why.”

It moves in him.

Curiosity, perhaps. Doubt. A sense in the unexamined things that there is something worth examining.

His hand plunges from nothingness and gleaming silver and his sword cuts the sandwich in two and sizzling the cheese sprays out and dripping green the mold and Jeremiah Gannon shrieks; and silver binds round half the sandwich and Hell around the other, and they gulp the halves of Jesus down.

Then he is gone.

And some suggest that by doing this Link saved the world. That there is a place of virtue and of quality that Gannon does not know, with people human in their hearts. That there are still the Gorons in their Oregon and the Kokiris in Kokomo Woods, and somewhere in some Heaven there is Link.

But this we do not know.

We know only of the fate of Jeremiah Gannon in his emptiness; for, turning from the writhing limbs of Hell he plunged into the sea.

And if he moves in a place of cities he does not see the cities. And if he moves in a place of the wild he does not see the wild. And there is no sandwich with him nor no hope.

There is only the silver that clings to his eyes, to his ears, and slips into his nose; and in that shining silver sea of blindness he lives on.

The Song of Jeremiah Gannon: Third Canto

Start with the first canto, here.
Then the second canto, here.
Then read.

The angel looks up at the wall.

9.

The long climb begins.

He is halfway up the wall, on a narrow ledge, when he meets the swallowing man.

“I eat,” says the swallowing man. “I eat, and I may never have enough.”

“Share,” suggests the angel.

The swallowing man stares at him.

“You are not a thing permissible to Jeremiah Gannon,” he says. “I will devour you. This is the ethics of devouring.”

“Hunger is not an ethic.”

“You protest because you are unethical,” says the swallowing man.

Then he rolls himself up and he rolls towards the angel on the wall; and the angel cups his hands and blows upon them and there is a bomb.

The swallowing man devours it.

And the angel runs.

He runs and he runs, and he leaves behind him bombs.

And the swallowing man devours them and they are gone.

And at last he stands against the very end of existence, where the ledge gives way to sky and endless sea, and the angel says, “Why can I not destroy you?”

“Bombs are food to the swallowing man.”

And the creature charges.

“Bombs are food to the swallowing man. Angels are his meat. The rain and the sea and the sky are food, and the earth,” says the swallowing man.

And as he rolls the angel spreads his wings and draws his sword and rises backwards from the ledge and in that moment he is beautiful and he is radiant and he is joy.

Then the swallowing man rumbles past the angel and down to the tumbling sea.

10.

On the peak of the fortress wall he finds the giant with the serpent hair.

“Not even an angel,” says the giant.

“No?”

And the giant seizes him up with one great lunge, and pins arms and wings alike to the angel’s side. He drops the angel on the giant’s head among the forest of snakes, and the snakes weave together to seal the sky.

“You will die here, bitten,” says the giant:

“You will die a foul death.”

The angel looks around.

There is hissing all around him. There is the wreckage of a plane. There is the scalp of the giant and the bone of the giant and the brain of the giant beneath.

The angel puts on his heavy iron boots.

He says, “As you have sown, so shall ye reap.”

He stomps his foot and the giant screams. The snakes converge as one. But the sword of the angel is in his hand and the angel jumps and his sword spins round, kyaa! And he lands with the great iron boots of him on the giant’s head.

Everywhere there is the blood and the venom of the snakes.

The angel jumps.

The giant shrieks.

The angel jumps again.

The skull cracks. The scalp yawns open. The venom of the snakes and the bomb gift of the angel pour down into the giant’s brain.

11.

“I am the last,” says the blind swordsman. “I am invincible.”

“All things yield to time,” the angel says.

And they dance with their swords, and again and again the angel strikes the armor of the man. But it does not break.

The angel dives down, he comes up behind the blind swordsman, he cuts at the flexible tubes that hold the armor in one piece.

They do not cut.

“Modern plastics,” says the swordsman.

The swordsman pivots.

The swordsman drives his sword into the angel’s heart. He yanks the heart back. He tastes it with his bloody tongue.

“Candy?” the swordsman asks.

“An angel has many hearts and many faces,” the green-clothed angel says.

And he leaves a bomb at the feet of the blind swordsman; and great smoke rises.

The armor is not harmed.

The swordsman presses him back and they duel in a place of great winds and only the iron boots hold the angel down.

The swordsman presses him back and they duel in a place where spears and fires burst randomly from the floor; and only the wings of the angel allow him to survive.

The swordsman presses him back, back, back, and only the bombs that break the walls save the angel from a cornering.

And even that does not endure.

The swordsman presses the angel back into a place without recourses and he says, “This time, I will take your heart in truth. But tell me your name.”

“My name?”

“I am Zatoichi Boromir Montoya Steampunk Savage, by the will of Jeremiah Gannon, and I am invincible. But no one has ever fought me quite so hard as you.”

“I am Link,” the angel says.

“Link.”

And the last duel comes in that safe and quiet place, and because he has no option the angel takes his final weapon from its place.

“You have a hook shot,” Zatoichi flatly says.

And through the heart of the great machine the hook shot fires, as it fired once before to seize the good lord from his grave; and of Zatoichi Boromir Montoya Steampunk Savage, we will speak no more.

the final canto tomorrow or Saturday.

The Song of Jeremiah Gannon: Second Canto

Start with the first canto, here.

5.

In Kokomo Woods, Washington, the angel finds men chained up on the trees. They are lashed to them, arms spread, wrists bloody from the grip, and their bodies are lean.

Around and through the woods move the murmuring beasts called Zagglies.

They feed the men chained to the trees.

They give them water.

When the men beg for freedom, the Zagglies say, “But you have made this destiny, you have shaped it with your hands, you have chosen—have you not—to speak blasphemy of Gannon?”

And the prisoners weep.

The angel moves through the woods and he does not stop until a man calls down, “Sir angel.”

The angel looks up.

The man is cruelly weighted: iron epaulets and iron boots and iron blinders to weight down his head.

But still he speaks.

“It is heavy,” he says.

The angel has a flash of memory. He shakes his head.

His heart is beating faster.

His hands feel cold but yet they sweat.

Panic rises in him.

Because he feels fear, he reaches for his courage. Because he is terrified he does not run. Instead he says, “I am one whom you only need to ask.”

With an eerie, horrid simultaneity as he speaks the Zagglies turn their heads. They focus on the angel. Their bodies straighten. They fall from the trees, if they were in the trees. They rise from their nests, were they sleeping in their nests. They make a gabbling Zaggly noise.

Swiftly moving, swiftly dodging, and when surrounded, swiftly killing, the angel does his work.

A bomb beneath each tree to bring it down, to break the chains.

A bomb beneath each tree save one: for the tree of the man with the iron weights is huge and tall, and the angel must scatter three bombs about its nooks and crannies or this last tree will not fall.

There is silence when he is done; and then a great explosion; and the Kokomo Woods flinders.

It is a great and deathly thing, this freedom from oppression. The people are bloodied and battered. Some are screaming helplessly. They cannot stop because they are not conscious enough to understand. Others limp with bone projecting through their leg.

The angel cannot help.

He moves among the shattered trees and finds the leader of them—the great Kokomo, perhaps, or perhaps he has some other name.

He kneels beside the man.

“You will not survive,” he says. “I’m sorry. I had no other antidote for chains.”

The man breathes horribly. His chest heaves in and out around its shattered ribs. But he takes the angel’s hand.

Then he says, “My boots.”

It is the last thing that he says. It is all that he says.

Carefully, the angel strips the iron goggles from the man; and the iron epaulets; and the iron boots. He walks away.

6.

He has worn boots like these.

He remembers.

He stood on the gallows. He stood on the gallows with his feathered honey hair and he looked out at everyone and he glared. They put the noose around his neck.

And because they feared him so they bound his feet in a great weight of iron before they dropped the trapdoor down.

7.

From Fairy Springs, Washington, he can see the silver carpet of the unexamined sea where Canada once sprawled.

He sits in a little diner and a waitress serves him dry beef pie and a Coke.

He looks in her eyes and he sees a monstrous fear, and so he says, “Fear not.”

But it does no good.

It is a thing to the liking of Jeremiah Gannon when the women are afraid.

She says, “You were that man.”

“Eh?”

“You blew up those planes.”

The angel swallows.

It is very difficult to get this bite of beef pie down.

He says, “Was I— was I evil, then?”

But she doesn’t say. She practically looks like her tongue doesn’t work, in fact, and finally she makes a frippery gesture with her hands and moves away.

He leaves the pie to rot there but he takes the bottled Coke.

He tips her with a jewel.

And a strange spirit of courage moves in her, a peculiar defiance, and she tells him, “—By the door.”

There is a bowl by the door with candies and with mints. He fishes out two little candy hearts. Then he is gone.

contrapasso

8.

There is a secret wrapped inside the angel.

Hitchhiking the last few miles to the great wall of Jeremiah Gannon, sleeping curled up against the window of a truck, he dreams of it.

“It is a sacred weapon,” says a Voice.

He looks down at the strange harpoon-like weapon in his hands.

“With this,” says the Voice, “you may pull a man back from the dead, or fetch a prophet to the sky. You may topple the walls of Jericho. You may reel in a whale.”

“What is it?”

“Keep it safe,” says the Voice.

“Oh.”

“Keep it secret. Keep it safe. Jeremiah Gannon must not know.”

He imagines what it would be like to shoot through the walls of death and bring a loved one back to life.

To knock the apple from Eve’s hand.

To wrap his arm around some victim and shoot it skywards and pull them up to Heaven.

“It is a thing,” he says, “requiring great discretion.”

And he wakes, the side of his face flat and dirty from the window, and the trucker lets him out and says, “May you live, brother. May you live.”

pause. two beats. the third canto tomorrow or Friday.

The Song of Jeremiah Gannon: First Canto

1.

Jeremiah Gannon finds the face of Jesus in his grilled cheese sandwich.

He does not eat Jesus.

He takes Jesus aside. He whispers to Jesus. He tells Jesus lies, on and on and on, until the Jesus in the grilled cheese sandwich forgets the way the world ought to be.

A wave of silver washes out across the world. It drowns the things that Jeremiah Gannon does not know.

Pakistan — erased.

Micronesia — no more.

There are no languages but English and a smattering of French. The Jews and the Muslims grow the appurtenances of evil. The atheists vanish screaming beneath the Earth. Women and the browner people learn to act in such a fashion as would please Jeremiah Gannon.

And if they do not, why, they should have known better than to play with the fire of his disdain.

Some oppose him.

Some have guns. Others, rockets. One has a tortilla with the sacred image of Mary upon its face.

They do not survive.

One by one Jeremiah Gannon removes them all.

Jesus grows a beard of green.

Jesus grows a beard of green and every day Jeremiah Gannon scrapes it off, and his whispering goes on.

Organically there rises in the west the great wall of Jeremiah Gannon and on its peak his fortress and he makes three terrible guards to keep it safe.

There is the swallowing man, whose vast mouth devours rivers, valleys, cities, and hills.

He walks the world and his gullet is never full.

There is the giant of the serpent hair. He will dangle his victims screaming over his head; and then drop them, and they will fall among the writhing snakes and bitterly will they know their final hour.

The last of them is the blind swordsman.

People say that he’s a warrior that Jeremiah Gannon saw once on TV. That even without his great armor, twelve feet in height and two feet thick, with its steam powered engine that helps him move and belches forth its noxious smoke, that the blind man would be fierce.

We do not know.

These are the guardians of the fortress of Jeremiah Gannon, who whispers to the Jesus on his grilled cheese sandwich to make his dreams to truth and causes the silver ocean of the unexamined ignorance to wash across the world.

2.

Something stands in Heaven and watches the silver lake.

It is not a tide in Heaven.

Heaven is outside of time and space. The ocean of Jeremiah Gannon does not spread. Rather it sits in puddles where it has always sat in puddles, silver and slick.

The thing in Heaven watches a poodle in the lake.

The silver liquid clings to the poodle. It weights it down. The poodle is struggling to escape.

The silver liquid closes over the face of the poodle.

The poodle sinks and it is gone.

So the creature that has been watching turns to God, who is always there, and says, “I would travel.”

And God gives him back a body, young and lean.

This is the angel, the glorious angel.

He is short.

He is wearing green pants and a green jacket; and behind it, wings.

He has feet to walk with, hands to hold a sword, and eyes to see. But he does not have a name and he does not have memory and he does not yet have sin.

He says, “I would have my name, and my memories, and my sin.”

But his body distances him from God.

He does not know why it is that God does not answer this prayer.

So he sets his feet on the Long Road that runs around and between and among Heaven, Earth, and Time, and he begins to walk.

3.

In Oregon he finds a community of Quakers in a terrible plight.

Islamist heretics besiege them.

Driven mad and twisted in their forms by the whispering of Jeremiah Gannon, the Islamists are no longer human. Their motivations alien and a senseless desire for conquest imputed into them, they build barricades and engines and they fence the Quakers in.

Every day they pour in a river of oatmeal from every side.

They seek to drown the people of peace.

And the angel says, “Fear not.”

And he moves among the Islamist heretics like death, and they explode where they fall, and the barricades blast down.

And when he is done there is a sound like the ringing of bells in the silence of the world.

And the Quakers draw close and they touch him.

Some touch him like those who are witness to a miracle; and others touch him with pity, because he kills.

And they say, “Were those not human creatures, friend?”

But the angel haveth no knowledge of good or evil. He looks at them with his blank green eyes. He says, “They were to thee; and to me; but not to Jeremiah Gannon.”

4.

Now he finds himself troubled as he walks.

The explosions of the heretics as they died have reminded him of something strange.

So he cups his hands and he blows on them.

A bomb arises.

It burns.

He wonders why this should seem so terribly familiar.

pause. a beat. the second canto tomorrow or Thursday.

“The Golden Age” – From the Journals of Ink Catherly (XI/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: Upon his ascension to the throne of the world, an endless time before great Hestia’s birth, Cronos went down to Tartarus and cast open the gates.

He said, “Come out, ye that may.”

Past him in a stream flowed the damned and terrible progeny of the couplings of Uri and the world. Some skulked low and chittered. Some shivered with cold slime. Some screamed foul prophecies as they flew above his head. Lastly there slunk forth the worst of them, a cutty angel, saying, “There is hope.”

They went out into the world and the world took the weight of them.

That was the beginning of Cronos’ reign—the day the horrors went free.

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

It is incumbent on a man, if he will lapse the leash on monsters, to bear the weight of their actions.

Cronos had unleashed great horrors on the world.

The world did not suffer from them.

Rather, from his place on the throne of the world, the titan held that suffering at bay. He made a plate of stone and set it behind him and upon it he bore the weight of imperfection. Thus when swarmed the namecatcher wasps, they did not cause harm. Thus the staggering crooked heartless men did not bleed out their life into the hollows of their chests. The titan reconciled in himself their dharmas, saying: “Swarm here, wasps, where their names are a burden to them.” Or “Stuff your chests with herbs, and palpate them with palpation bugs, and live and farm thereafter quietly and in peace.” He set the demons against the narcissists. He sent the angels to the bleak.

9512 pesserids before time began, a nymph wandering the roads encountered an ogre.

“Raar,” cried the ogre. “Raar! I am a hideous man-eating ogre.”

“Oh, thank Heaven!” the nymph replied.

“Eh?”

“There is a hideous man,” said the nymph. “There is a hideous man behind me, and I would much rather he were eaten.”

The ogre looked.

In fact there was: a telchine wizard practicing as a highwayman, whose intentions were in no way serene.

The ogre looked back and forth. He reached his decision.

“The telchine has more meat,” he said. “So I’ll eat him!”

“I don’t mind being eaten,” the telchine conceded. “If you’ll spit up my bones afterwards into your pile of gold, that I may be rich for ever.”

In such a fashion, again and again throughout the world, were all conflicts neatly and equitably solved. In such a fashion did the chains of Necessity make all people dance to a perfectly harmonious tune. The weight of effort for pulling all those shifting chains fell to the only creature who was not bound to them: Cronos, titan, lord of all the world.

“It is heavy,” he admitted to Rhea.

It fell to Cronos to reconcile the horrors and the lambs; the killers and the saints; the humans and the gods. He mediated between the perfect and the real.

“It is so very heavy,” Cronos said.

Rhea rubbed his shoulders, but it did not help. She tried to carry her share of it, but she could not: because the chains bound her, she participated in the system of them, and the efforts that she contributed solved out in the equations of it all.

“What would happen,” asked Cronos, “if I let this plate to fall?”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“In all the world,” said Cronos, “only I may stand aside, and shrug aside this weight, and let things happen as they will. And it is heavy. So I wonder: what would happen if I let this plate to fall, and the storm run riot across the world?”

“Then we should live in the Elysian Fields, I suppose, where there is no sorrow, and everything be well forever after for us all.”

I cannot describe the look on Cronos’ face.

It was the look of Santa when he discovered that presents kill; the look of the Gonz, when he dreamed for the first time of Abu Ghraib; the look of Dr. Sarous, at the recognition of his own corruption.

To work so hard—

So very hard—

And to think, for just a moment, that you have done no favors for the world.

  • Tune in FRIDAY for the next exciting history of Ink Catherly:
    THEORIES REGARDING THE BOX!

Should Siggorts? (I/I)

The doom of Spattle approaches.

It is like this.

Sid and Max are talking. It is 1989, and Max is an adult now, a breaker of horses, and he lives in Spattle. They are sitting on the balcony of Max’s one-room apartment, looking east towards the desert.

And Max is saying, “We are a corrupt people.”

The wind blows softly.

“I think that if God came down, like in the gospels; that if he sent his angels among us to collect all who cause others to sin and all evildoers, and to throw them into the fiery furnace, that we would rise against him in our hosts and our armies and we would be like the rebels of the angels, saying, ‘no, those are Americans; they are not for your furnaces.’ I think that we would turn our nuclear weapons against the Lord.”

Sid considers that. “Well,” he says, “why not?”

“Because it’d be God,” Max says.

“Ah.”

“Is it all right to fight God?”

“It’s not all right or not all right,” Sid says. “It depends on why.”

There is a breath of time.

“Why?” Sid asks.

“I have been dreaming of a judgment,” says Max.

And Sid frowns.

He rises to his feet. He looks around. He says, “Ah.”

“Ah?”

Sid points out east.

“Do you see that?”

And Max frowns, and he narrows his eyes, and he squints out into the desert. And he can see it.

There’s something rippling, twisting, strangely purple beyond the horizon.

He shakes his head, once, twice. He tries to focus.

He sees—

And that is when the sick hook of horror catches in his stomach and twists everything around.

It is 1989. The sun hides behind a caul of clouds. A cold wind blows.

Max blacks out.

We remember Spattle, though few do: In California, near Palm Springs, it was, touched once by chaos and then by death.

Its streets were littered with the corpses of the birds when its ending came.

When he wakes Max is unsteady on his feet and Sid is holding him upright.

Max says, “It is the coming of a King.”

The city is under a pall.

“A King?” Sid says.

“A King of an Unforgivable Dominion,” says Max.

He stares out east.

“There is a King,” says Max, “of the old countries that came before the world. He is bloated with a clotting of life. It moves damply and uncomfortably within him. As if a man had swallowed ten other men, or a fish the ocean.”

“Ah,” says Sid.

“He is coming to Spattle,” Max says. “He will drown this place. It will be forgotten, and the people here will suffer torment.”

The frogs croak, distant in the desert: ke-kax.

“Will you leave?” Sid asks.

Max shakes his head.

“No,” he says.

And the doom of Spattle nears.

These are the signs of the coming of a King: dreams and portents. Death. Trouble between friends.

The progress of the King is slow.

Max has time to think; to worry; to consider.

He buys fairy-traps. They are horrid things with clappers, teeth, and bells, designed to take the magic that lights upon them and swallow it up.

He takes them out east. He stands before the line of it: the great rim of the King. It is like a wall of a distortion across the world. Cars drive through it, unheeding. Birds fly across it, unknowing. But it infects them as they pass, and their lungs grow thick with mold.

Max has seen those birds in town, dead and fallen on the streets.

Max sets the fairy-traps down along the King’s great rim. He sets them on the sand and on the road.

A car drives past.

Its wheel strikes a fairy-trap. The fairy-trap skitters and jangles with the ringing of its bells. The people who pass over it, Max thinks, are insignificantly and indescribably less.

And Max watches.

The rim of the King shifts inwards, twisting, ever-so-slowly, ever-so-slightly. It passes onto the fairy-traps with a great jangling of bells. The clappers close. The traps bite into the lip of the King.

It might have helped. Then again, it might not have.

Max does not know.

The King in vestments of indigo and green is the King of bloated life. He is a tide that washes into the world. He pools. He gathers. Then he withdraws, and pulls a bit of our world with him, growing in himself more bloated yet.

“Sid,” Max says.

As suddenly as a dream the siggort is there.

“There’s a man in town,” Max says.

“A man?”

“He sells charms against the gods,” Max says. “The kind that are forbidden; the kind that are cruel.”

“I see,” Sid says.

“I need more than fairy-traps,” Max says, “to fight the King. But I can’t afford his rates.”

And suddenly Sid looks wry.

“You want me to threaten him,” he says.

“Yes.”

Tension flares up between them. Humor becomes outrage.

“You don’t like what I am,” Sid says. “You don’t like that I’m a siggort. Except when it’s useful. Then suddenly it’s good that I have a wheel of knives; that I have feathers in my hair; that I’m older than this mortal world.”

And Max flushes. Shame coils in him like a dragon around its nest. But he doesn’t flinch.

“A King in vestments of indigo and green,” he says. “A King of bloated life. He’s coming to Spattle. And I can’t get the tools I need to try to stop him.”

Sid hesitates.

“We should just leave,” he says. “Warn as many people as will listen, and leave.”

“This is my line, Sid.”

And by that Max means that he is standing at a place with only one recourse: that he is backed against the lines inside his soul and has only one direction in which to move, and that is against the coming tide.

And Sid looks at Max.

And Sid can see that it is so.

Sid sighs.

“Fine.”

These are the signs of the coming of a King: memories. Helplessness. Abandonment of principle.

Peter Sorgen lives in Spattle and deals in arms against the gods.

For a profit, he will sell them.

For a fee, he will employ them, using the tools and armaments of his trade to remove angels, fiends, fairies, devils, and other gods.

He survives in this trade because he is careful of his karma; because he asks gods honest questions and listens to the answers that they give; because he hates the things he hunts and shows appropriate fear when faced with those too great to kill.

That, and the lion’s share of gods he meets are figments of mortal imagination, which he may kill with a placebo, and the bulk of those remaining are born from weak and impure emptiness.

Peter Sorgen lives on the second floor of a rented house. He is thick and balding. He is a killer of gods.

Sid enters, pursuant to their appointment.

Peter looks up and smiles.

Then he frowns.

“Wait,” he says. “I know you.”

—“I know you,” says Grouchy Pete.

Sid stares at him, and matches up the facial features, and suddenly he laughs.

“You were that bully,” he says. “You’d chew gum and spit it out, ptui, like that!”

And now, as he faces the siggort in his home, Peter’s face contorts with fear and hatred.

He pulls a gun.

He fires, just like that.

Just like that! And he’s shot Sid, and the bullet sticks in him.

Sid looks down. He makes the horrible face that people make when someone makes them eat horrible icky vegetables or hot lead.

Pete fires again— again, and again, and again, until the gun is empty and eight bullets are lodged in the wall, and two in Sid.

Sid has his hand pressed against a bullet wound. His fingers are covered in blood.

“Geez, Pete,” he says.

He sways.

And he falls down.

The King has drowned Spattle; it is in the substance of him, in the distance of him, and it is no longer remembered in this world.

“I never found a formal technique to use for wheel-of-knives gods,” Pete says. “I never even found out what you’re called. I looked. But I never did.”

Sid has woken up.

“I can see,” Sid says, blearily, “that I should have backed a Presidential candidate who was stronger on gun control.”

“I figure,” Pete says, “that if I take you apart, though, that’ll work.”

Sid is handcuffed to a radiator. Pete doesn’t actually have much of a budget for this kind of thing. But he does have a knife.

“You’re going to cut me to pieces?” Sid asks.

“Yes.”

Sid begins to laugh again.

It’s funny to imagine Grouchy Pete, such an earnest kid, vivisecting the siggort. It’s funny, even if Grouchy Pete has grown.

Pete watches him laugh. He waits for Sid to wind down. Pete is a man with great experience with gods.

Finally, Sid recovers. His wounds are leaking badly, but he doesn’t seem that hurt.

“It won’t work,” Sid says.

“Why not?”

“A long time ago,” Sid says, “I was in a place of terrible durance, and moving in the fashion that one moves, and where there was light I was in darkness, and where there was substance I was in emptiness, and where there was heat I dwelled inside a terrible cold. And on occasion I would catch sight of myself against a place of reflection and I would recoil, thinking, ‘Hideous; hideous; unspeakable.'”

Pete studies Sid.

“You look okay,” he says.

Sid looks at him.

“I mean, if you like Sids,” Pete says.

“I am a terrible comprehension,” says Sid.

“Oh.”

“And one day,” says Sid, “An insight pierced me, like a javelin from the mind of God. And I said, in the language of my kind, ‘I am not alone.’

“Then, for thirteen hundred years, I waited for Max Lamner to be born.”

Pete is hesitant.

“Can you tell me,” he asks, “whether I should begin cutting you apart now, or wait until the completion of your story?”

Sid looks at him.

“What kind of a question is that?”

Pete shrugs.

“It doesn’t matter,” Sid says, shaking his head, looking appalled. “It’s just—

“This is a body I made of mud and clay and feathers and blood. If you cut it up, you’ll probably go mad.”

“Thank you,” Pete says.

He draws back slightly. He thinks.

“How can I kill you?” he asks.

Pete is, of course, a man well-versed in gods, and one who therefore expects a shocking honesty and openness of them. Sid, however, stares at him like he’s daft.

After a moment, Pete blushes.

And suddenly Sid has the power in the room. Suddenly, because of Peter’s repeated misestimations of him, it does not matter that Sid is bound and Pete is free.

The wheel of knives spins.

Sid straightens against the radiator.

Sid says, “I need everything you have. I don’t care if it’s for curing warts. There’s a King coming to Spattle in vestments of indigo and green, and if we don’t stop him, you’ll be drowning forever.”

Pete stares at Sid.

“Damn it!” Pete says. “Damn it. I should get to kill you.”

And because Sid is starting to understand the ways in which Peter Sorgen expects a Sid to act, he answers thus: “That would lead you to a horrid end.”

And Peter sighs.

And he lets Sid go.

These are the signs of the coming of a King: corrupt actions. Fear and hatred. The pollution of the groundwater, so that sinks run with green water and with black.

They stand out at the edge, before the rim of the King.

They lay out talismans of oak and rowan, curses, and nasty bits of iron.

With the chalks of amterise they work— Sid and Max, as Grouchy Pete has abandoned the town and fled—

With the chalks of amterise and the sigils of Rao they work to hold back the tide.

It is a horrid tangle that they build, a monstrous thing made to devour gods—

But when the rim of the King moves past, they cannot even tell if it is hurt.

“Is it hurt?” Max asks.

“I can’t tell,” Sid says.

And Max squints and stares into the body of the King, and the nature of it assaults his mind, and madness sweeps over him and he is retching and for a long time he knows nothing but loathing, hatred, and fear.

His reasons are not specific.

It is simply that in apprehending the King he feels a disconnection with the substance of the world and a futility of the striving of humankind, and this makes him sick, like an animal, with fear.

Is it right to kill a King?

We ask ourselves this because it is essentially our purpose. To change the world is to drive forth the shadows that dwelt upon it and change is always accompanied by blood. We look upon the King and he is a sickness upon our mind, but is it right?

If we could ask the people of Spattle, they would give us license, no doubt; they would say from the belly of that beast that we should strike. But their voices are not heard within the world. We may not use their witness.

That night Sid and Max camp out in the desert and watch the doom of Spattle come.

And some of the nature of the King is still twisting in Max’s mind, so he says, “Here’s a thing I’ve been thinking.”

“Hm?”

“Vivisecting people is wrong,” Max says. “Like, you walk up to someone and they’re happy, right? And then you vivisect them. And they’re all, ‘Hey, I liked those organs. Now I’m in hideous pain and dying!’”

“True,” Sid says.

“So . . . how can any moral person— god— THING, how can anyone, you know?”

Sid considers that.

“We were ugly,” Sid says.

“Hm?”

“When we were made,” Sid says. “We were so ugly that our father would not let us walk upon the Earth under the sun. Instead he cast us into deepnesses where we dwelt.”

Max studies Sid.

“You look okay,” he says.

Sid shrugs.

“It is like the tide, I think,” he says. “The reason that siggorts vivisect. One day there shall be a man, and inside him I shall see something like . . . a gleaming jewel. And I will take him apart and lay him out piece by piece to find it, but I will not find it. And this will be a good thing, an honest thing, a thing that will end something of my shame. It will put me back in harmony with the world, with what I am, with the nature of things. It will be right; and I, of course, will be a murderer, and foul.”

“Oh,” says Max.

“It won’t be a moral thing,” says Sid. “If it were, then I’d be all conflicted. I mean,” he adds, honestly, “more so than I am. It’s not a moral thing. It is simply a thing that happens. I am astonished, in truth, that it has not happened yet.”

He grins a little, sadly, like a Sid.

“My brothers say I am slacking, but I do not think that this is so. I think that I am selective and I simply have not found the person I will kill.”

And it is not to these words but to Sid’s eyes that Max says: “Jesus, Sid.”

Sid rises.

He says, “I will shed this body, I think, and fight the King. Do not call me again. If I am as I was . . . I will fear to answer such a call.”

The Kings of the Unforgivable Dominions break the covenant that holds together the pieces of the world.

And Max is on his feet.

Max is hugging Sid.

And Max says, fiercely, “Do not make yourself a thing I cannot love.”

There is a breath of time.

And suddenly Max blushes, and turns away, and flails, because Max does not want Sid to misunderstand.

And the thunder of Sid’s heart comes close to cracking the mud of him; the distance and silence in his head comes close to aerating the clay of him; and he doesn’t say anything, but rather is still.

“Tell me,” Max says.

“Hm?”

“It is all right to kill the King that comes to Spattle, in vestments of indigo and green?”

“Is it . . .”

“Yes.”

Sid can’t find words. He stares out at the King.

“No,” he says.

He lays his hand on the surface of the King. He feels its ichorous and corruptive membrane.

“It’s not all right or not all right,” he says. “It depends on why.”

“Then leave it be,” Max says.

And they leave it be, and go;

And doom comes to Spattle.

He’d Thought It Was Dopamine Overproduction

A legend about kindness.

“I do not understand this madness that comes on him,” Dr. Hans Fienl says.

He stares at the human clone, whose name of course is Adam.

Adam is threshing in the water-filled tube wherein Hans Fienl grew him. He is lean and strong and his brain is not developed but clearly he is mad.

And softly a voice from behind Hans Fienl says, “He is struggling for his wings.”

Hans turns, and it is his intention to shout, but the demeanor of the woman behind him puts Hans Fienl in silence.

She is tall and her skin is poreless, pure, like she has been dipped in fine glass.

She is wearing a jaunty orange jacket and behind her there are wings.

“I had had such hopes for this,” she says.

“Oh?”

She gestures towards Adam. “I had thought that perhaps the world would be so kind as that he would not have an angel’s soul. That human cloning would prove the answer to a problem that has worried at me for some good time.”

“Mm,” says Hans Fienl.

“You don’t understand,” the woman asserts.

“I don’t,” he says. “But I am flattered by your presence.”

“You should not,” she says. “You should not. I am—it is not good for you, Hans Fienl, that I am here. It is not wrong and it is not unkind but it is not the day I had wished to give you.”

“What is it,” he says, “that makes it wrong?”

“I must ask you,” she says, “and humbly, that you set aside this work. That you make these clones no longer, and treat this Adam well the long and horrid years of all his life.”

“Oh,” says Hans Fienl.

“Oh?”

He hesitates.

“I was hoping,” he says, “to have such a visitor as yourself, but also to continue my research, both in the interests of human longevity and of science.”

“It is not so,” says the woman.

“And why is that?”

“For some time it has been clear—some few millennia—that each human birth consumes an angel’s soul. That greedy in the womb you are and in the process of development you seize us, you rend us, you consume us for yourselves. And I cannot countenance that great hope I see rising on your face, Hans Fienl, because insofar as we are aware, you are not of our kind; that what you do with our souls is somewhat different from what we do with our own; that where you may be hoping that our spirits and yours are like, of kind to kind, we are more of what you might call your raw material of soul.”

“I see,” he says.

There is a silence.

“Well,” he says, “I do not see, but I see provisionally.”

“Pending,” she says, with light good humor, “that which I shall say that makes it more acceptable?”

And he blushes.

“Yes,” he says.

And in his cage of bubbling water behind Hans Adam writhes.

“Well,” says the woman, “there is this: that it is not your burden to bear, but ours, as your species is a reproductive one.”

“Ah,” Hans says.

“It is thus,” she says, because he doubts.

“Is it?”

“There is no policy that we may take,” the woman says, “that is kind to you and to our people both. That is why there is this tragedy, you understand. We cannot find a path that is moral root and branch; that is to you,”

And here she touches his chest,

“And to us,”

And she touches her own,

“Entirely kind. For there is an inextricability to it, you see. And so we have chosen to trust in the provenance of the world that if we allow you to— to still be born—”

And here her voice nearly breaks; and she turns her head aside.

“But that is not why I am here,” she says, abandoning the subject. “I am here because you must not engage in human cloning, Hans.”

“I see.”

“It is the cruelty of it,” she says. “The unimaginable cruelty of it. Look on Adam, your creation:

“He remembers an angel’s wings.”

There is a silence.

“It is not quite so publishable as my own theory,” Dr. Hans Fienl observes.