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