Ink Infallible (IV/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

“You’re lucky,” says the girl, “that Dukkha doesn’t hold sway down here.”

She’s in the topsy-turvy land on the other side of the world. Everything is upside-down. The great earthen vault of the sky stretches above her, dirty and wholesome and leaking the tangled roots of trees. Instead of a sun below her feet there is an endless raging storm. Instead of sedimentary rocks there are aureous and fulguric balloon minerals colored red and silver and black. They are puffy and they are lighter than air. Some balloon minerals are rough and cling to the surface of the earth. Others are smooth and skitter freely in the wind. And, of course, instead of a pervasive universal characteristic of suffering, there isn’t one.

The girl is trying to rescue a flying carpet.

It’s a despairing flying carpet, made and abandoned by an abused child who grew up to be an abuser and then had his soul eaten, and right now it’s starving and it’s lonely and it has the root of a tree burrowing into its brain. So it really is lucky that it’s not in a place where there’s a pervasive universal characteristic of suffering, because it doesn’t need that on top of everything else.

“Up above,” the girl says, working to disentangle the carpet from the tree roots all around it, “people are always wrong.”

Always? the carpet thinks.

“Always,” the girl confirms. “Even librarians!”

Why?

“It’s like this,” she says. “When you know a thing, you don’t know a thing. You know a knowing. The knowing isn’t the same as the thing. It’s always going to be different than the thing. So you don’t know what color things are, or what other people think, or what you should do. You don’t even know what you know, or how to know it better, or whether you’re getting closer or not. And maybe it’s not the most practical way of thinking about it, but it’s nice and concise and doesn’t take up much room in your brain: whatever you’re thinking, when you’re up on the surface of the world—you’re wrong.”

A hummingbird floats in the air near the girl.

The girl thinks the bird can talk, and that it’s pretty, but in the absence of Dukkha, the girl doesn’t know whether either of these ideas could possibly be correct.

“I used to be that way,” the hummingbird says. “Always wrong, I mean. But then I found absinthe.”

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. She’ll tell you that everybody calls her the imago, but that’s not really true. At best it’s only a large fraction of the people who speak English and know enough about her to make a reference who call her that, and it most specifically doesn’t include Dukkha, the incarnate principle of universal suffering.

That bastard calls her Ms. Catherly.

She takes a moment to fume about this, even though she’s never actually met him.

“He’s a total jackass,” she says.

“Who?” the hummingbird asks.

“This guy,” she says.

She waves a hand.

“He makes the universe not perfectly harmonious in every respect with people’s desires.”

“Oh,” the hummingbird says. “Him.

Ink finally has the carpet most of the way untangled. She pulls a few plant barbs from its flanks.

“Here’s the deal,” she says to the carpet. “You’ve still got to save five people, like I asked. But you’ve also got to fly me to a place where I can go back up towards the surface of the world.”

The creature hesitates.

“It’ll matter,” she says. “I mean, it’s a big, world-changing thing. I’m going to find whomever’s on the throne of this world and kill him. And, I assume, fire will rain down and monsters will spontaneously explode—just like pinatas—and sharks will live with lambs and everyone will eat rainbows for breakfast every day.”

An inner struggle in the carpet ceases.

It emits a soft chirr.

And because she has given the carpet sufficient purpose as to save it from immediate extinction, the boring tree withdraws the screw-root from its brain. Slowly, it lets the creature loose, to fall or fly as the carpet may. The carpet flutters shakily sideways to lean against the skinless root of a dying gonshuckt tree.

It is terribly, terribly wounded.

It looks at Ink.

“I’m not going to fix you!” Ink protests.

It looks at Ink.

“I’m a destroyer!”

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – People: People are lumps of clay, filled with fire, broken by circumstance. People are imperfect.

Ink Catherly looks at the horrible wound in Jacob’s carpet’s head.

She looks away.

She looks at it again.

She looks at the adorable rest of the creature, and back—

“Fine,” she says.

She takes some scotch tape out of her backpack. She tapes the carpet back together. She hugs the creature, gingerly, and it squirms and licks her face, though, without a tongue, she can’t see how.

“I can’t believe I helped you,” the imago says.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Jacob’s Carpet: Finding ourselves imperfect, we long for Heaven.

Somehow we choose, instead, to stay here, striving,
In the hopes we can perfect ourselves.

And we are ashamed of this.

We are ashamed because we are imperfect,
when we should be proud.

Ink rides the flying carpet back into the world.

At first, because tape is not the best solution for serious head wounds, the carpet flies slowly and the hummingbird is able to keep pace.

The hummingbird says, “But if people are here, and if bad things are here, how does it even make sense to say that Dukkha doesn’t hold sway?”

Ink points up. “Earth,” she says.

She points down. “Storm.”

She points at the tape. “Tape, applied by a destroyer.”

“And?”

“Everything’s topsy-turvy,” Ink says firmly. “Dukkha can’t hold sway.”

“But how—“

“Do you really have to know?”

The hummingbird is silent.

The flying carpet dances between the roots that dangle from the bottom of the world. The wind of its passage blows the balloon minerals about.

Ink sighs.

“Dunno,” Ink admits. “I’ll test it with a Dukkha Call.”

She braces herself.

She utters the Dukkha Call:

“‘Help, help!'” Ink cries theatrically.”‘The placidity in my heart is stifling my potential for growth!'”

The suffering that permeates all life answers.

Dukkha localizes with a swirl of his cape.

“Ms. Catherly,” he says.

He’s calm, Dukkha is. He’s cool. He’s terrifying. He makes the world seem to stop and he fills the air with cruel. He’s standing there and it seems like they’re all of them just in the palm of his hand, like the dangling roots are his fingers, like the arching dirt’s his palm. He’s scary and powerful and he gets a little scarier and a little more powerful every time Ink processes just how terrifying he is.

He’s totally in charge and he certainly seems to hold sway.

He’s ready to show any old imago who abuses the Dukkha Call what’s what.

Ink can’t breathe and the hummingbird’s already passed out.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Sukaynah: In memoriam.

If she had had a purpose in this world, it would have been to rush into gathering storms and then take joy in them.

She rushed into the storms beneath the world.

She was laughing.

If she has not died, she’s laughing still.

Then Dukkha’s eyes flick down.

That’s all it takes.

Just one flick down, to orient himself.

Gravity takes hold.

His feet go first, just like a coyote’s might. They stretch out his legs.

The last Ink sees of him for a very long time is his endlessly malevolent ears and the sign he holds up, “I hate you all.”

  • See also The Forest (II/IV), and tune in again AN UNDEFINED TIME NEXT WEEK (PROBABLY TUESDAY) for the next exciting history:
    INK HAS FEET!

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!

Ink Inappropriate (II/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

See also:
Jacob, His Runt, The Angel, and the Maw and
On the Endings of Stories.

“I am a destroyer,” says the girl.

She is a teenager and she hangs amidst tangled roots on the other side of the crust of the world. She listens to the beat of a hummingbird’s wings. She clings to the sticky root of a gongluestuck tree. She strokes the head of a fabulous creature that she has found here, in this place, tangled in the trees with the dirt sky above it and a screw-root through its brain.

She is calming it. She is soothing it. She is speaking to it, as it seems to like, of terrible and horrid things.

“Where I go,” says the girl, “things come apart from other things. Things fall to ruin. Structures do not stand.”

The creature’s eyes find hers.

It stares at her.

“And you might ask, why would a destroyer rescue you, here in the roots beneath the world? And I would say, ‘because I am also a girl, and I can’t just leave a magical animal hanging here with a screw-root in its brain.'”

“That isn’t what I’d ask,” the hummingbird says.

It’s drunk on absinthe and that’s why it seems able to talk. Or, at least, why it’s willing to. It’s drunk on absinthe and it’s hovering next to her and it’s talking as she tries to soothe the creature in the roots.

Sometimes it will dart away and take another drink. The hummingbird metabolism burns its liquor fast. Each time it will return.

I’d ask,” the hummingbird says, “how can a destroyer rescue someone, here in the roots beneath the world. I mean, if you are, by nature, destructive?”

“How?”

“Yes. How?”

The girl makes a deliberately horrified face.

“So very, very badly,” she admits.

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. It’s because all the good nicknames were taken already, she’d tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

It’s why nobody calls her Lord Vader, anyway, or the King.

They were taken.

“Here is my first plan,” Ink says. “Plan A:”

She braces herself.

“Insult a tree.”

She takes a deep breath.

She rests her hand gingerly on the spiral root screwed down into Jacob’s carpet’s brain.

She says, “Boring tree, you suck!”

There is no response.

“Boring tree!” she says louder. “You suck! Who said you could stick a root into Jacob’s carpet’s brain? No flying carpet’s going to take you off to the lands of fable and adventure!”

There is a wriggling in the soil. A clod falls on Ink’s head. She looks up nervously at the earth above her, wary of sudden screw-roots taking an interest in her brain.

“You just stick your screws in every girl’s dream pet,” she accuses.

This apparently refers to the creature — to Jacob’s carpet, a flying carpet made out of shadow by an abused boy djinn who later grew up to work for an evil company only to have his soul eaten by the maw. It is every girl’s dream pet and also every boy’s. It is basically what kids are wistfully thinking of these days when they get that weird look in their eyes;

Or so one must assume.

“You’re like those people who flew model airplanes into Barbie’s dream superblock,” Ink rants. “And then didn’t apologize! Trees that won’t let other people be happy are just shriveled up misers! Being mean is like blocking out your own light with special non-chlorophyll-having leaves!”

The boring tree is disturbed now. No one has ever talked to it like this before. No one has even considered talking to it like this before.

It wriggles but it does not take its root out of the carpet’s brain.

“God hates you!” cries Ink. “In the timeless time before the world, he planned your destiny and how he’d torment you with evil pants! With evil pants! You eat deer poop! Your father slept with squirrels!

There is a long silence.

“Normally,” says Ink, “this would have shamed the tree into backing down, or prompted it to send a second for a duel.”

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Jacob’s Carpet: For months after Jacob gave in his carpet fought.

It would sneak into the monster’s lab. It would find a beaker. It would carry the beaker off to distant lands of fable and adventure. Dashing princes and vivacious princesses would lean over the beaker, their eyes gleaming with that ancient light of Romance, and say, “I see you have come here.”

Clink, the beaker replied.

The carpet tugged bolts from the monster’s wall. It wriggled them loose. It carried them far away to do battle with great ogres and dragons in the lands beyond the world. The ogres and the dragons won, except in one case more notable in its absurdity than in its outcome.

In the end the carpet failed.

Jacob met it in the night.

It lay itself before his feet. It lashed its tail. It bellied up low to the ground. And Jacob poured acid upon it and the carpet screamed and writhed while a filthy little runt cried and said, “O, no, no, no, o my heart, do not.”

The carpet left when it could bear no more pain.

It did not return.

“You really are bad at rescuing things,” the hummingbird says.

And the imago is just a little bit flustered, which is the only way we can explain her answering, “Yeah? Well, you’re drunk!”

The wind blows beneath the world.

Finally, Ink blushes.

She looks down.

Her voice is wistful when she speaks.

“Why do you suppose,” she asks, “of all the kinds of gods there are, there isn’t one that rescues you?”

The hummingbird considers this.

“Absinthe severs you from a position of judgment,” it says.

And for quite some time Ink thinks that this is a demurral. It is not until the night of June 7, 2004 that Ink Catherly will wake from a sound sleep and realize that it was a suggestion; and at that night and in that hour she will shriek viciously at the sky, “That’s recusing!

  • Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history:
    INK IS EMBARRASSED!

Ink and Abandonment (I/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

On the bottom of the world everything is topsy-turvy.

The trees stick their roots out of the ground instead of their branches. The dirt is on top of everything. Birds are very confused and can’t decide which way their belly should point when they fly around. Groundhogs burrow to the surface, look around, and fall screaming into an endless storm.

A sundae costs 29 cents, if you can find one for sale at all.

There’s a teenaged girl picking her way through the roots of the world. She’s using a metal ruler as a kind of crampon and a lunchbox as a kind of brace and she’s being very careful not to fall.

“Everything’s opposite here,” she says.

She thinks about that.

“On opposite day,” she says, “at my middle school, we abandoned our attachments to the skandhas and experienced the world without suffering. Also, everything was permanent and it was itself exactly.”

A hummingbird pauses in the air beside her.

Alone among all the birds, it does not seem confused about direction. Sipping on the nectar of the absinthe roots, it has grown wise.

It says, “I am permanent.”

“Well, there you go,” says the girl.

The hummingbird looks smug.

“Also,” the girl says, thinking, “light took almost ten years per meter, so everything was very dark, and people would do annoying things like steal my lunch and say, ‘It’s everybody else’s lunch!'”

The girl looks sour.

She looks so sour as she picks her way through the roots that the hummingbird prompts, “It is good that you had abandoned your attachments to the skandhas.”

“Stupid opposite day,” sulks the girl.

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 everybody calls her the imago. It’s because she’s the Apple Corporation’s entry into the reified ideals market, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

In a thicket of roots she sees squirming black. She sees the tendrils of trees stretching and relaxing. She sees a creature tangled in the roots of the world.

“Oh!” she says.

The creature has a whisker. No: it has six, three on each side of its face.

Its head is flat like a manta ray’s body. Its tail is long and serrated. Its body is black but has white stripes like a skunk’s.

It is the size of a table and it is struggling to tear free.

“It’s adorable,” says the girl, eyes round.

She balances on the great long root of a Steel Rowan. The root’s metal surface has rubber tracks to help it cling to the crust of the world. These help the girl, in turn, to stand.

The girl reaches out.

She almost touches it—

An obsolete groundhog falls past them, screaming.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Flying Carpets: Flying carpets take you from the confines of your world.

The girl jerks back her hand.

She hesitates a long moment.

She is thinking: Is that going to happen every time?

She looks down after the groundhog.

Was that something I should have cared about?

But in the end she decides that it will not, and it was not, and she reaches forth again.

She sets her hand to the creature.

Her skin runs with the colors of its history.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Jacob’s Carpet: Jacob suffered in a little room. He could not leave its confines. It had no carpet that he could make to fly. All there was was a shadow.

He made a flying carpet of that shadow.

Its body was black but it had white stripes like a skunk’s where the light from the window in the door came down.

He stepped onto it. He said, “Away!”

It rammed the wall with Jacob on it. It made his nose to blood. It tried again, to Jacob’s sorrow, and again.

Then they fell down and it was shadow for a while.

They tried again later, to no better end.

This happened many times before the monster tore out Jacob’s heart and shoved a spear through Jacob’s brain and Jacob’s carpet flew away.

Tangled in the roots that dangle out the bottom of the world, Jacob’s carpet mewls.

“My name is Ink,” says the girl.

She rubs her hand on the carpet and shows it to the carpet’s face. It’s all smeared with black.

“See?”

The carpet freaks out. It flails in the roots. It keens. It bobs around.

Ink steps back.

Ink waits.

“Shh,” she says. “Shh. It’s okay. Everyone calls me the imago. —oh!”

She is not repeating the last syllable of imago.

She is making a horrified noise.

She is making a very specific horrified noise.

It is the horrified noise that a girl makes when she finds a magical animal and then realizes that it has a root of the world stuck right through its brain. It’s just there, speared through it, a screw-root from a boring tree, twisting in the lobes.

“No wonder you’re not talking,” the imago says.

The carpet whimpers.

“Poor thing,” she says. “You’re going to die and fall into the endless storm, aren’t you? And its winds are going to blow you around and you’ll fly this way and that and by the time you find out what’s on the other side you’ll be so dead and torn to shreds you won’t even have a coherent identity?”

It’s total speculation. Imagoes are one of the very few kinds of gods that suck at predicting things. But even so the carpet stills. It goes calm. It seems to like this particular tone of Ink’s voice.

Ink rubs at her chin. She looks grave and serious, like a rabbi with a beard, except in all the ways in which she looks nothing like that at all.

“I’ll tell you what,” she says. “I’ll try shaming the boring tree out and maybe you’ll still have some brain left.”

The carpet is growing restive. Ink’s eyes widen. She tries to think.

“I mean,” she says, “Everything’s awful and the world is going to end except for the worst bits which will go to Hell!”

The carpet relaxes.

It makes a little chirr noise.

“Sweet baby,” says Ink, rubbing its tail. “You like the inevitable annihilation of all things, don’t you? Don’t you?”

And there is peace for a moment, in the deeps beneath the world.

The histories of Ink Catherly: 1, 2, 3, 4
And most relevantly: Ink Indestructible

“On the top side of the world,” Ink says, “where there’s a pervasive character of suffering, girls find magical animals that aren’t dying and aren’t desperate for the annihilation of all things, you know.”

The creature hesitates.

“I’m just saying,” Ink says.

“Maybe it’s the difference,” the hummingbird suggests, “between the actual and the dream.”

  • Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting history:
    INK INSULTS A TREE!