On The Nature of Judgment (4 of 5)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

See also this legend.

It would be difficult to explain what has changed.

That shouldn’t be surprising.

If Sid’s answer were easy—if it were the kind of thing that you could just say and have it be done—then Martin would have given it to him. Not for free, not easily, but certainly after all Sid’s service.

So it is necessarily difficult to explain.

Much of it, certainly, is simply having the power to change, after all these years.

That which we hide away in the place without recourse:

It does not grow.

So some of it, certainly, is having that power of growth and changing, and the motivation to use it: returned to him, after all those years.

And some of it is the exercise of force.

Forgiveness, we should understand, is a quality of the powerful. The powerless endure; the powerful forgive.

It is not possible to forgive without an unencumbered choice.

Without power, forgiveness is indistinguishable from compliance, or at best surrender; and thus it has no value.

It has always been a dark and tasteless joke, when the powerful ask the downtrodden to forgive.

So the exercise of unrestrained power, however undesirable it might have been—that contributed.

Certainly.

And if one may go further and say that forgiveness is between equals—

A broader statement, requiring more analysis, but a plausible one—

Then it matters that Max met blow for blow, standing against the siggort a surprising length of time in the oceans of the end.

And there was the uncritical all-forgiving all-embracing never-bending flare gaze of the Good.

And there was the dancing stabbing cutting preaching whispers of the history of Mr. Kong.

And there was Tara and there were the heaps and there was the crumbled tower to the east where earlier they fought—

Yet none of these things change the character of Max’s crime.

None of these things make it better or worse that Max has done what Max has done.

None of these things change the essential or actual qualities of his deed.

None of these things prove Sid in error, relative to some natural universal law, when he says that what Max has done cannot be okay.

Arguable, perhaps.

Too critical, perhaps.

But not in error.

So one cannot say that even all of these things together have resolved Sid’s underlying dilemma, or changed the nature of his prison; at best, they have cast light on the substance of his cage.

It would be difficult to explain what has changed; and in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

It doesn’t really matter how it came to pass that Sid should forgive Max and lift the weight of Ii Ma from his wings.

Max is dead.

The world is cold.

The siggort is alone.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

Max had planned to do something really cool.

He wasn’t sure what, yet.

Maybe something like shouting, “Oh, yeah? Well, you can’t beat me at tiddlywinks!

Then suddenly he was winded and the world spun and just as he realized that he’d been hit in the stomach by something moving very very fast he mainlined THE END and Sid piled an island on top of him.

So now he’s drifting in the Good.

Now and again, an impulse will surface in him. He’ll surrender a bit of that ancient answer that holds him in the world faster or slower than the question that—however momentarily—had cut him out of it.

He’ll wobble, for a moment, on the border between those creatures whose stories have ended and those creatures that have no stories at all; and an impulse will arise.

Like:

“What the Hell happened when the Buddha reached enlightenment?”

And the Good does not explain.

Drifting against the beat of emptiness in the joyous, he imagines that the dharma of a Buddha is irreconcilable with the dharmas of the world—

Like Sid’s, in a way.

That the world is hollow of its gods because, in the face of the inevitability of suffering, it cannot understand how there can be a Buddha.

That the very idea of dharma—

In the face of the simple corrosive concept of enlightenment—

Has become a contradiction unto itself.

Russell’s paradox writ large; the definition of the world unravelled; the world unable to accept the concept of purpose if it does not lead to pain.

And a long time afterwards, Max grins in the burgeoning emptiness of joy, and he says, “Coward.” to the world.

That was one impulse.

Days later, another rises:

“How the Hell is this my happy ending?”

But for all the bafflement in those words, there isn’t any suffering.

By fiat?

By force?

By love?

There isn’t any suffering. This is his happy ending.

And maybe he’d like to be suffering, except that also he wouldn’t. He doesn’t really want to suffer just because he sort of thinks he should.

He’d like to think that he needs Sid to be happy, but the secret of the world is that it’s loving Sid that makes him happy, not Sid himself.

Lost in boundless happiness and joy, Max understands—and finally—that it’s an error to imagine that our happiness comes from anyone but ourselves.

It is not given unto us.

It is not forced upon us.

It is a thing we give outwards, unto the world.

People always fight
The things they love.

What is the nature of judgment?

Jane had imagined a perfect Good that came and cast away the 9/10 least worthy, straining only the brightest and the best through the holes in its net. She called this a disaster to the world.

What would it have meant, instead, to cull the half least worthy; or the whole?

The single worst of us, severed from the world; or all of us save the single best?

The idealist sees the dangers in this path and casts out judgment from the world; the pragmatist seeks a perfect middle ground; yet both of them, if they wish to live, must recognize that there is that which is desirable, and that which is correct, and that which, in turn, is not.

The hundred-handed horror that is Sid curls on the island he has made, and skitters on the surface of the sea, and dreams of the fight of centipede and tiger.

He is alone.

Ink Inapplicable (VI/XVI)

The hunger that woke Riffle from the sleep of the rats still burns in him today.

He is surrounded by the dead.

He is holding a sword at the throat of the imago, and trying—so very hard, with muscles that are not very strong—to drive it home.

All around him is Riffle’s crew, that ragged lot that build up scaffoldings towards the ceiling of the cave. They do not build for longevity. They build for speed. All around him there are the sounds of hammering, climbing, and crashing, tumbling wood.

He is hungry to be more than a rat. That is why he has grown to nearly four feet in height and developed a human brain. He does not want to be a rat.

He wants purpose.

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

Minister Jof’s hand closes on Riffle’s arm.

The room has gone deathly still.

Where did Minister Jof come from? Why is he here? These questions remain unanswered. But he has enough decency to him to do this: to grab the arm of the rat and stop the sword.

And suddenly Ink sees a thing, and her fear dissolves.

“Do you happen to know the history of this sword?” asks Ink Catherly.

Her voice is dry and confident, like a pedant’s right before it strikes.

Riffle looks at the sword.

He shakes his head.

Ink steps back. She rubs at her throat. She looks at her injured hand. She says, “A long time ago, there were men and women and children who believed, more than anything else, that the crust of the world was evil and that they had to destroy it. They had to destroy it so that the storm that surges below could rise to reach the mortal world.”

Riffle struggles against Minister Jof’s grip.

“We’re losing valuable scaffolding time,” hisses the rat.

But after a moment he spreads his free hand conciliatorily, and adds, “If you leave aside this distraction of my crew and depart then I will let you live.”

There’s a crash behind them. Minister Jof starts. It’s one of the rickety scaffoldings coming down.

“They were formed,” says Ink, “like all of you were formed, from the substance of the world. They were worms, or bugs, or rats, that developed over the long courses of their lives into something better. And they understood their holy mission in those terms. But they were not alone.”

Riffle drops the sword. He pulls away from Minister Jof and turns his back.

“The matter has no relevance to our holy mission to maintain as many height-amortized scaffold-inches as we can,” he says.

“There were those, O Riffle,” says Ink Catherly, “who believed more than anything that righteousness was to preserve this crust, this sanctuary, this seal that severs world and storm.”

Riffle puffs up his cheeks.

He exhales.

He says, “Very well.”

Another pair of scaffoldings crash down.

“Go home,” says Riffle.

He shoos his crew.

“Go home; go home; I’m calling this year’s break.”

And there is one of his crew with long thin legs and a carapace covering its face and a long thread-like bifurcated black tail. It skitters along the corpses and is gone.

And there is one of his crew that is like a heart in a nest of veins, save that it may stand on some of its veins and others have been split to form fingers, thumbs, or spines. This one skulks back to the corpse of a badger-creature and ducks into its mouth; mechanically, the corpse’s throat works and strains, then swallows it and it is gone.

And in that fashion one by one they disperse.

And Ink is saying, “And they worked for a time, each under their own direction, until they came to appoint a man named Riffle as their leader and charged him with the maximization of their effective goals: that is, from the one side he found employment to organize them towards their ends of speedily destroying the crust, and from the other in leading them in its salvation.”

A scaffold crashes.

“I did my job,” says Riffle.

Minister Jof stares at his back.

“It was a devil of a project,” Riffle says. “Reconciling those aims. But then I figured, well, they can’t very well both have what they want, so I could serve one of ’em tautologically, if I just figured out which one it was. Turned out t’be both.”

“In darkness,” says Ink, “in a cave of ivory where centipede-elephants would crawl to die, a woman made this sword to serve her in this glorious cause. And she came here to the war and used it to cut open one man, one woman, and one vaguely genderless bat-creature. Then she tripped on a spear and died.”

Riffle says, “You’ve made your point.”

“I had a point?”

“You can obviously interfere with my work any time,” Riffle says. “Can’t let my workers hear that kind of talk. So it’s all down to this: is it more cost-effective to placate you, or to escalate the violence? Right now, you’ve got an edge on the violence, so I figure, you should tell me what you want.”

“I’m actually just passing through,” Ink says.

Riffle says, “There’s nowhere to go.”

“I’m going to find whomever’s sitting on the throne of the world and kill him,” Ink says.

Riffle turns. He looks at her.

“Why?” he says.

His voice is different when he says that. Everything up till now has been a little distant, a little detached, pouty at the most. Now it’s hungry. Now it’s got urgency to it. It’s like he’s thinking: She could have a cause. She could have something worth doing. She might need competent management like me.

But:

“I’m a destroyer,” Ink says.

And Riffle shrinks.

It’s like he’s deflating beneath his skin.

He says, “That’s not a reason. That’s a resource.”

“It’s exploiting an untapped niche!” Ink Catherly protests.

  • Tune in NEXT WEEK for the next exciting chapter in the histories of the imago:
    THE DOCTOR OF THE DEEPS

Hans’ Farm

Hans’ farm is deep beneath the earth. It’s under the great gate. It’s under the giant centipede. It’s under the bridge where the dead soldiers march.

The rock over Hans’ farm is beautiful and dark. But the farm is doleful because Hans does bad things.

It’s bad to sharpen a goat.

Oh, Hans, it is bad.

You can sharpen goat cheese but it’s bad to sharpen the actual goat.

Hans’ goat is sawing, sawing, sawing on the bars of its pen.

It tosses its head. It cuts the wooden boards of the ceiling with its great sharp head. Then it returns to its sawing, sawing, sawing on the steel bars of its pen.

It is not a good goat.

Nobody wants Hans’ goat to escape.

That would be bad.

It’s bad to plug in a cow.

Oh, Hans, it is bad.

Electricity is good, but not too much electricity, and just about any amount is too much for a cow.

Hans’ cow is there, on his farm deep beneath the earth. It’s pretty shocked. It’s crackling. It’s dancing. It aurores. Soon it is on fire.

Hans’ cow burns.

Hans’ cow burns, deep beneath the world.

It’s bad to whisk a duck.

No, seriously. I know a lot of people think it’s hip.

But it’s not.

It’s bad to whisk a duck.

Oh, Hans, it is bad.

Whisking is cool. You can whisk things and make them fluffy. You can whisk them to and fro. It’s good to whisk eggs and make them foam.

But it’s bad to whisk a duck.

When you whisk a duck, it quacks vigorously and flutters, and that part is good. But then it dies, and its spirit can never rest.

Hans’ duck is glowering.

It is hungry.

It is glowering.

It endures its whisked existence:

On Hans’ farm, deep beneath the earth.

She Had Forgotten All the Red

The sky is brilliant. It’s crisp. It’s blue and purple and black and full of dot-like stars.“It didn’t used to look that beautiful,” says Sid.

He is in a glade. The guardian spirit of the glade is sitting beside him. She is a woman clad in the colors of the place: in the crisp green of the wet grass, the muddy brown of the dirt, the thick deep color of the trees.

The clothing of her blends into the world.

She says, “It’s been a long time.”

There’s a sadness to her as the spirit says, “In the days of my childhood it always looked like that.”

“What happened?” says Sid.

“It rotted,” she says. “The sky just rotted right away.”

When Sid gets home there’s a proclamation posted on the neighborhood kiosk. It’s got nice scrollwork and a fancy font.

“Be it known,” he reads, “that in pursuit of justice and democracy, the Drug Enforcement Administration hereby adopts the following zero-tolerance policy towards drug use and participation in the drug trade;

“That those alleged to commit such crimes should have their house taken from them;

“And their vehicles;

“And all their earthly goods;

“And as another matter, should it be deemed by the Agent on the scene that such a person has tainted their soul forever with the murk of drugs, so that redemption is impossible in this earthly frame, the Agent may take that soul, for sale or retention as befits the necessities of the time.

“Signed,” and then an illegible scrawl.

Behind Sid a lamp post sheds golden sparks into the night.

“Harsh,” says Sid.

He finishes going home and sleeps that night in peace.

Sid is sitting outside on his lawn chair on a Sunday afternoon. An ant crawls along the house’s outer wall behind him.

The ant encounters a break in the boards. It hesitates. It wibbles its antennae furiously.

“Little help?” it asks.

“Hm?” Sid says.

“I want to go up,” says the ant. “I can’t go up.

“Oh,” says Sid.

He holds out his finger against the wall. The ant uses it as a bridge. It climbs upwards and away.

“Sometimes, when I’m hungry,” Sid says, “I can see a palace in the sky, made of shining gold and suspended on four great lotus blossoms. It is east of the sunrise and north of the stars.”

“That’s a long way away,” says the ant.

“It’s very big,” says Sid.

“Bigger than the stars?”

“Bigger than galaxies.”

The ant pauses. It contemplates the grandiose scope of Sid’s vision.

“Dude,” it says.

“Why do I see these things?” asks Sid.

“It’s probably because you’re practicing austerities,” the ant says. “That often opens you up to spiritual visions. Like, this one time, I smelled funny and no one would disgorge food into my mouth? And then I fell into an ecstatic trance and saw a terrible vision of the Avici Hell!”

“Wow,” says Sid.

“My heart was moved to great compassion for the suffering of the sinners there,” says the ant. “But then I found a crumb and I was like, ‘hey, crumb!’ and I woke up.”

Sid turns away from the ant. He looks off into the sky.

“Radical,” Sid says.

Far above them, an unmarked black car pulls out of the driveway of the palace made of gold.

It drives down towards the earth.

Sid’s sitting in his living room staring at his lava lamp when there’s a knocking at his door. So he gets up. He answers. There’s a man from the DEA on the other side.

“Hey,” says the man.

The man is tall. He’s stunningly handsome: nut-brown skin and white white teeth, hair like black wood, and eyes an incredibly crisp blue. He’s wearing a black coat and black slacks and he’s got a gun at his side.

His name tag says, “Brad Summers.”

“Hey,” says Sid, charmed.

“I’m here to inform you,” says Agent Summers. “There’ve been allegations made against you. That you’ve fallen in with a bad sort. That you’re participating in the drug trade.”

“Come in,” says Sid.

He steps away from the door. He lets Agent Summers in. He gestures Agent Summers towards the table.

“Just allegations, right?” says Sid. “I mean, you don’t have any reason to suspect me?”

“I know you’re a good man, Sid,” says Agent Summers.

He walks in. He sits down. Sid sits down opposite.

“But I don’t know if you’ve fallen from the path of righteousness.”

Sid frowns a little.

“You look disturbed,” says Agent Summers.

“You’re acting weird,” says Sid.

“Ah.”

Agent Summers says:

When the world was made, it was full of endless beauty.
Joy and love cascaded down from Heaven and filled the things on earth.
They soaked into the world like water into a sponge.
They spread through the world like fire leaping from blade to blade of prairie grass.
The sunrise was this brilliant orange like a chemical reaction.
The night was as deep as silence.
And then as the years went by, bit by bit, all that was lost.

His eyes are bright. His words are like a river. He catches Sid in their spell like a preacher or a rock star catches their flock.

“That’s why the work we do is so important,” says Agent Summers. “That’s what the DEA is for. To halt that breaking of the beauty of the world. To pull back from it. To restore what has been lost.”

He holds out his hand. He pulls Sid’s soul from his chest. It’s a lump, like an egg, but it’s clear and crystal and blue. It’s glowing from within.

Sid stares for a long moment; then, in the midst of Agent Summers’ next words, he blinks and shakes himself, hard, and opens his mouth in protest.

“See,” says Agent Summers.

He rubs his hand along the soul. He holds up his fingers. They’re coated with a little bit of gunk—sticky grime, like one might find under a never-cleaned sink.

“This is the impact of the material world on your soul,” says Agent Summers. He stands up.

“Hey!” says Sid.

“I’m going to have to confiscate everything,” says Agent Summers.

“Hey!”

Sid is staring at Agent Summers and his face is horrified. He can’t quite form his protest into coherent words; the situation has turned into something Sid can’t grasp.

“Hey!”

“It’s the allegations of drug use,” says Agent Summers. “Can’t be helped. You can keep your clothes. They’re not druggy clothes. And—do you have a dog?”

“No.”

“Goldfish?”

“No.”

“Then I’ll take the rest.”

Agent Summers slips the soul into his breast pocket.

Sid is on his feet, still incoherent with protest. “But— how—”

“It’s necessary,” says Agent Summers. “We’ll let you know if you can have anything back.”

He puts his hands on Sid’s shoulders.

Agent Summers says, “Buck up. We’re not arresting you yet.”

Sid pulls his fist back to punch Agent Summers in the face; but Agent Summers has skated back three steps and his hand has fallen to the gun at his side.

Sid stops.

Agent Summers turns, as Sid stands there.

He walks away.

When the paralysis breaks in Sid and he charges to the door, Agent Summers is already pulling closed the door on his unmarked black car, starting the engine, and driving away.

Sid sits on the confiscated sofa in his confiscated house.

He’s been sitting there for sixteen hours, except when he uses his confiscated bathroom.

Sometime or other, he’s pretty sure, someone’s going to show up to kick him out and take his keys. Maybe they’ll rough him up. Sid is aware of this in a distant fashion.

He finds it hard to care, without his soul.

“What if I die?” Sid wonders.

Sid goes to the public library. He takes down all the books on souls. Five hours later, he’s come to the conclusion that a soul is inseparable from the broader metaphysical system in which it takes part; that the habit of speech that would identify “Sid’s soul” as a meaningful object in the world is imprecise and imprudent; and that in physically seizing Sid’s soul and carrying it off, Agent Summers of the DEA has committed a poorly-defined executive act. This does not answer Sid’s underlying question.

“It’s irresponsible, is what it is,” Sid says, to the librarian.

“Hm?”

The librarian’s a woman named Donna with a short blonde mop of hair.

“Stealing people’s souls without properly defining them,” Sid says.

“That’s the kind of thing that gets resolved in the courts,” the librarian says. “Scratch v. Stone, Hotep v. Stiggens, U.S. v. Persephone, and so forth.”

“Oh.”

Sid slumps.

Donna looks Sid over. He’s thin and getting thinner right before her eyes, and there’s a raging grief in him.

“I can help you find a lawyer,” she says.

But there’s something nagging at Sid’s mind.

He shakes his head. He says:

There is no court that could constrain him.
He is immutable:
Cold; certain; strong; and clad in black,
Like Death.
Winds will sweep across the world
And the air go chill
At the mention of his name.

“Whose?”

“Agent Summers’.”

The pages of the books then blow.

“Huh,” the librarian says.

“Hey,” says Sid.

He’s on the phone with the DEA Information Office.

“Hey,” says Sid. “I had my house taken by this guy. And my soul. And I was wondering—”

“I’m sorry, sir,” says the man at the other end. “But that’s just an urban legend. The DEA doesn’t confiscate people’s souls.”

That gives Sid pause for a moment.

“But you can sell them to raise money,” Sid points out. “I mean, traditionally, they’re worth a mint.”

“You can only exchange currency for fungible goods, sir.”

“Wait, what?”

“Well,” explains the DEA Information Office agent laboriously, “it’s impossible to separate a soul from the broader metaphysical system in which it takes part.”

Explaining this to Sid is part of the man’s job as a fully-empowered information agent of the United States government.

“What this means,” the DEA Information Office agent concludes, “is that while souls have concrete monetary value, one cannot meaningfully exchange them for that value. To sell a soul means to slight it; to diminish it; to sacrifice some portion of its value in the interest of other goods. This is not the official policy of the DEA or the United States government.”

“Oh.”

There’s a pause.

“Will there be anything else, sir?”

“Agent Summers—”

There’s a chill.

The information agent clears his throat. He interrupts Sid. He says, “We don’t know of any such person, sir.”

“You know that just from his name?”

“Yes, sir.”

The DEA Information Office agent recites:

He is immutable:
Cold; certain; strong; and clad in black,
Like Death.
Winds will sweep across the world
And the air go chill
At the mention of his name.

“Is it not so?”

“It’s so,” concedes Sid.

“There’s no one like that with any connection to this agency, sir.”

So Sid sighs.

He sits down in the pay phone booth.

“If there were—”

There’s a pause.

“If there were,’ says the agent, moved to a certain sympathy, “then he would live in a golden palace in the sky, supported by four lotus blossoms, east of the sunrise and north of the stars.”

Sid walks out of the phone booth and he’s thinking hard.

He goes to the glade. He sits there in the clothes that Agent Summers left him and he waits.

He gets hungrier and hungrier.

And the night sky is as beautiful as anyone can imagine. It’s crisp and clear and it makes his heart ache to look at it. It’s blue and black and purple and it’s pure. Set amidst it there’s a palace made of bone and wheat and ice and sorrow; and Sid blinks three times and sees it as the moon.

Then there’s the day, and the sun is a great and endless fire; and off to the northeast there is a golden palace that glimmers with its light.

And Sid says, “I shall not eat save sunlight, nor drink save the morning dew, until Heaven grants me a path into the sky.”

And many days pass, and Sid grows as thin as a stick, and he is sprawled on the grass and he shakes with the footsteps of the ants as a leaf might shake to the footsteps of a man.

And he eats only sunlight, and he drinks only the dew that forms, crisp and pure, on the blades of the grass.

And one day, in the musty late hours of the evening as the sun is descending towards the horizon, he looks up and Heaven has given him his answer.

The branches of the trees form a staircase of living wood. It rises endlessly into the sky and Sid goes up.

And he thinks as he walks the endless stairs:

I am lucky;
I am blessed;
for it is only the DEA whom I must fight,
and not Intelligence.

Sid knocks on the door of the golden palace. It opens. There’s a man from the DEA on the other side.

“Hey,” says the man.

The man is tall. He’s stunningly handsome: nut-brown with white white teeth, hair like black wood, eyes an incredibly crisp blue. He’s wearing a black coat and black slacks and he’s got a gun at his side.

His name tag says, “Brad Summers.”

“Hey,” says Sid. “I’ve come for my soul.”

Agent Summers’ eyes narrow a little, but he doesn’t blink.

“Come in,” he says.

And he leads Sid in; and Sid sees that the shadow of the man has eight arms, like a spider practicing to be a centipede.

“Take off your shoes,” says Agent Summers. “Stay a while.”

Sid does not take off his shoes. Instead, he stares. In the living room beyond the foyer there is a mosaic on the floor. It is full of stones that are blue and purple and black. They are the night sky, as crisp and perfect and beautiful as Sid had ever seen.

There is a long stillness, and then Agent Summers sighs.

“Go ahead,” he says.

Sid kicks off his shoes and walks out onto the mosaic; and it is past twilight, below, on earth, and Sid’s passage casts shadows over the night sky.

Sid kneels beside his soul and rests his fingertips against its shape.

“How did it happen?” Sid asks.

“A sickness,” says Agent Summers. “A long slow sickness. Bit by bit the sky rotted and its pieces fell into the world.”

“This bit is mine,” says Sid.

“Is that so?”

“I grew up with it inside me,” Sid says. “It’s my soul. It’s what defines me.”

And Agent Summers gives Sid a deep and solemn bow, because insofar as that is true Sid is a person who deserves his great respect; but then the Agent rises, and he is stern.

“It is for the people of this world that I have taken it; it is in defense of a public trust; and for this reason there is no one at the Agency or its oversight who will object.”

The man is cold; and certain; strong; and clad in black.

In the mosaic that is the sky resides Sid’s confiscated soul.

“Please,” says Sid.

Answers Agent Summers: “A man who clings to a portion of the sky and will not release it—isn’t that the height of presumption?”

“I need it,” Sid says.

“Or is it that the sky refuses to be the sky?” asks Agent Summers. “That it demands to walk around on earth with the feet and hands of a Sid?”

Sid rises.

“This thing is a wonder,” he admits, and his voice is unsteady.

Three hundred souls, perhaps, he thinks. The light in them and the color in them and the sweep of them—put together in the sky, they are infinitely larger and grander than souls had seemed when the man from the DEA had seized Sid’s from his chest.

Sid tries to move away, but he can’t.

“But that’s mine,” says Sid, a strangled noise. He seizes the stone that is his soul.

Agent Summers draws his gun.

He shoots Sid in the head.

The spirit of the glade is reclining on the grass, and casting her eyes upwards, and wondering what has become of Sid.

The sky is like it was when she was a child—blue and purple and black and full of dot-like stars. It is beautiful.

Yet there is something missing in it: something that fails in its evocation of the memories of her youth.

In the golden palace of Agent Summers, above the mosaic of the sky, there is gunfire.

“Oh,” says Sid.

And all through the world there are screams of horror.

All through the world there are children staring, and people pointing, and others covering their eyes.

“Ah,” breathes the spirit, understanding.

The sky is dark with blood and bits of bone and brain. There is a shadow on it as Sid falls, a heavy weighty shadow that remains until Agent Summers drags his corpse away.

“I had forgotten all the red.”

An Unclean Legacy: “How Elisabet Saved Christmas”

Once upon a time, Montechristien traveled to where his brother worked.

Montechristien leaned upon a heavy staff as he walked. Rain dripped through his thinning hair.

He pounded once, twice, thrice on the door of Baltasar’s tower.

And Baltasar answered.

“Brother,” said Montechristien. “I have come to beg.”

Baltasar sneered. “As you have always done.”

“I know what sorcery you plan to work,” said Montechristien. “I cannot let you do this thing. Please stop.”

Baltasar rose to his full height in anger. His teeth clenched. Lightning flashed.

“Gar-ga-mel?” he asked.

And Montechristien found himself fighting not to cringe, for all that years with Yseult have given him some strength.

“You plan to summon and bind the tripartite God,” Montechristien said. “It is madness.”

Baltasar turned aside, as if he did not object to Montechristien’s defiance. He gestured his brother inside.

“I told your woman,” said Baltasar, “that the two of us share a soul.”

Montechristien brushed the mud from his feet. He walked inside.

“I told her that it would do her no harm to sleep with me,” said Baltasar. “For when two men share a single soul, they share a single seed—and, in fact, that that seed is mine. So why refuse me? I asked. When you have borne me six children already?”

Montechristien held his face tight against anger.

“They are your children as well,” Montechristien agreed. “You should visit them.”

“She did not believe me,” said Baltasar. “She shouted, ‘I can’t have had your children! You’re weird old Baltasar!'”

Montechristien started to grin. But Baltasar’s eyes flashed and thunder boomed and the smile vanished from Montechristien’s face.

“Then she shouted, ‘Ack! Yagg! Igg! Ptui!’ and began to spit.”

“To . . . spit?”

“. . . I don’t understand why she thought it would help,” Baltasar confessed.

Montechristien nodded.

“So she hurt your pride.”

“She inspired me,” snapped Baltasar. “She showed me how low I have fallen—I, whom you once called your master! So I will redress this. You will have your pathetic golden eidolons. I will infuse myself with God!

“I could stop you,” said Montechristien.

“You won’t!” said Baltasar. Then he spun on Montechristien. He thrust out his palm. Montechristien, on ancient reflex, flung himself back into the corner and cowered.

From Baltasar’s outthrust hand a mandala of energy grew. Then seven more formed around it. Each touched the others; each orbited the others; each served as the center of the pattern. Among them were faces, wings, fires, jade, and gold.

“In truth,” laughed Baltasar, “I have waited only for your arrival. I have learned to manifest it, brother! The one pattern that can bind even God Himself—the Wheel of Enoch!

Montechristien feared his brother of old. But for Yseult’s sake, he marshaled his own powers.

He was too late.

Baltasar flung back his head. His eyes went white. There was a great wind before the throne in Heaven and the seraphim cried out. The sun and the stars and the planets froze in their procession. The whole world shook.

But Baltasar did not summon God.

From above him, below him, around him, from the center of the wheels, hands stretched for Baltasar, red and black and burning hands.

They seized him.

They clawed at him.

They carried him screaming away.

And three days later Montechristien returned to Castle Gargamel and said disconsolately to his wife, “Now I am damned.”

“Pookie—”

Yseult touched Montechristien’s hands, his arms, his face, but it took warmer measures to console him.

Thus did Montechristien and Yseult conceive the ninja, Elisabet.

We do not know how Montechristien Gargamel came into his power. His origins are a mystery. How such an ungainly, strange, and immoral man could rise so swiftly to prominence puzzles even the greatest scholars of our time. Of his life once established in Castle Gargamel, however, certain facts are known.

He took to wife the Lady Yseult Gargamel, one of the great beauties of his day; and though many a rival pressed for evidence that he’d bewitched or stolen her, none was ever found. They had and loved six children of their flesh, until the seventh, Elisabet, killed Yseult with the complications of her birth. Each of these children was a prodigy, possessed of astonishing talents. When at last Montechristien stumbled towards the grave, the talents of his children turned against their siblings, every hand against the other, until at last they could dispose of the matter of their legacy.

This is the seventeenth installment of the story of that time.

A magical reindeer flies down from the sky and lands before an fifteen-year-old Elisabet.

Its nose shines red.

It says, “Elisabet Gargamel?”

Elisabet has been practicing with her shuriken. She ceases, now. She turns, and fades into human shape. She smiles at the reindeer, charmed.

“Yes,” she says.

“You are needed at the North Pole. Christmas is in danger!”

“I am a ninja,” says Elisabet.

“Yes?”

“Please forgive me,” Elisabet says, with an unusual formality. “But I must explain that I cannot box presents or make toys or cure a sick Santa or see through fog. The duty of a ninja is to kill those who must be killed.”

The reindeer tilts its head to one side. “That is not exactly the Oriental tradition….”

Elisabet shrugs.

“Well,” says Santa’s reindeer, “in any case, there’s killing to be done.”

“Yay!” says Elisabet. “I can save Christmas!”

She looks around.

“And you don’t want Manfred? Or Tomas? Or anything?”

“I was sent for you.”

So Elisabet gets a wide smile and says, smugly, “Cool.”

“Come on,” says the reindeer.

So Elisabet gets on its back and rides the reindeer up into the sky.

An Unclean Legacy


How Elisabet Saved Christmas

“Why do you want me?” Elisabet asks, as she rides.

“You’re nice,” summarizes the reindeer.

“Wow,” says Elisabet. She blushes a little.

“There aren’t many supernaturally-effective killing machines on Santa’s nice list,” the reindeer explains.

“It’s because of the life,” Elisabet says.

“The life?”

“Daddy says that Yseult gave me all her leftover life when she died. That I’m more like her than anyone else. And she was really cool, although she wasn’t a supernatural killing machine.”

“She was on the nice list too,” the reindeer agrees.

Elisabet giggles.

“But she always tried to shake down Santa for coal instead of presents,” the reindeer reminisces. “She’d set traps for him, you know. He was too nimble! She couldn’t catch him.”

“Hee hee,” laughs Elisabet.

The reindeer is arcing down now into a land of snow and tinsel. The air is cold and Elisabet’s breath puffs out black. The great candy-cane marker for Santa’s workshop is ahead. But the reindeer does not land there. Instead, it lands on a field of ice nearly a mile and a half from the north pole.

Elisabet gets down.

“I don’t get to see Santa?”

“There’s no time,” the reindeer says. “The centipede is almost here.”

Elisabet looks to the west. She sees it there: a great hundred-legged monster, shrouded in shadows and in fire, eight feet wide and two hundred feet long.

“That?” she says.

“It is the child of a centipede and the Devil,” says the reindeer. “So naturally it wants to destroy Christmas. Each day, it comes for Santa, and we lose more lives holding it back.”

Elisabet steps away from the reindeer. She stands there on the ice, desolate and alone.

Her bangs blow in the wind.

“Is this the destiny of Christmas?” Elisabet asks.

Snow falls gently around her.

“Does even the innocence of the holidays draw to itself the sorrow and the pain of all this troubled world? Will there ever be love and peace that is not transient? Tinsel that is not stained with blood?”

Elisabet bows her head. She squeezes her eyes shut.

“I don’t know what to say,” the reindeer admits.

Elisabet sets her jaw. She opens her eyes. She puts her hands on her swords. She dissolves her human shape and becomes a thing of shadowy protoplasm.

“I am ready,” Elisabet says.

Then the air is hot and smoky. The centipede’s great head comes down towards her. But Elisabet has already leapt into the sky. A dozen blades wing from her hands and burrow into its flesh.

“Rowr!” shrieks the centipede, and it flails for her. It catches her with one great limb but Elisabet dissolves around its touch and leaves behind only a poisoned needle that numbs it.

The ice grows hot with their battle and turns to water. The tinsel-coated trees fall down. There is thunder and heat all across the northern wastes.

Hours pass.

The centipede strikes at Elisabet in the air. Elisabet twists with the unnatural dexterity of her shadowy form and catches the end of its limb. She drags it after her using a force-redirection technique. The centipede falls onto its back. It lands amidst the melt of their battle, and she stands on its chest and stares at it with creepy ninja eyes.

It stops moving. It is chilled by what it sees in her eyes.

Slowly its head sinks back beneath the water.

Let me go, it pleads.

It cannot move. It is drowning.

I will spare Christmas. I will live in peace. I will serve you.

Elisabet does not relent.

The centipede thrashes once, twice, three times, and then it dies.

And that’s how Elisabet saved Christmas!

Wasn’t that a heartwarming holiday tale?

Check back on Monday for the conclusion of Elisabet’s story: “Way of the Ninja!”

Lament

If it is not known to everyone, then it is known, at least,
To those dusty men
Who bury themselves in scholarly books
And make a study of the Lone Star State,
The Rattlesnakes’ State,
The state where the mounds of Caddo bleed
And an axe will split the sky,
That it is a state
Not entirely our own.

There are those
In Texas
Who bluffly say
That they’ll break free
But they are dust
Straw dogs
Texas shall not leave.

But

One day
The English Queen may rise
And say,
“We have decided
That once again
Texas should be Our own.”

Then the dragonflies shall fly low
And in their fear
Forget to heal the snakes

And wood cut
In the right moon
Shall splinter
Even so

And centipedes shall boil from their nests
Swarming through the Starbucks’ of the land

And deep
Deep
In the wells
In the oil wells
The British soldiers shall come

Deep
Deep
In their tunnels
Under the sea
In the tunnels
That have always led
To oil
Though never
We have known

Deep
Deep
They shall come
And rise
And the Union Jack rise
And the redcoat rise again

Black as the wells
Through which they came
And red

It is not our fault
Texas is not our own
It is a state
Too big
For
Any nation
To contain

And the crown of the Queen
Shall have one more jewel
And a single
Yellow
Rose

And on our flag
A single
Missing
Star

Theory of Centipede

In the arcade, they have gathered. There are dozens of them. They are not raucous, but rather restrained. They are not rude, but rather comport themselves in the correct manner. They watch as the Master plays Centipede.

“Observe,” says the Master. “I am sincere and truthful as I address the centipede. In return, it ceases to encroach upon my borders.”

The viewers admire. Then one disciple startles. “Master!” he says. “There is a scorpion!”

The Master holds up one hand. “Be at peace,” he says. “I am attempting to demonstrate my uprightness. This will subdue the scorpion.”

“No!” cries the disciple, caught up in the moment. “Try humaneness!”

“Not yet understanding life,” the Master answers, “how may you understand Centipede?”

The disciple quiets.

“Still,” says the Master, “the scorpion descends. Please pass me six quarters.”

The disciples do so. The Master inserts them, one by one. “Easily inserted,” he says, “and easily; and with difficulty; and easily; and with difficulty; and with difficulty. This is the hexagram Kwei Mei. Action will be evil, and in no wise advantageous.”

The Master stands back from the controls. He watches the scorpion descend. Then the scorpion recognizes its error. It retreats off the screen. The Master returns to play.

“How is it that when I play this game,” asks a disciple, “the enemies attack; but when you play the game, they pursue harmonious interaction?”

“When you play with aggression,” says the Master, “you do not inspire respect. That is why the centipede attacks you. You admire my play? When the ancient worthy P’eng would play, the insects would not even appear!”

Alan (II/IV)1

1 a history best understood, perhaps, by those familiar with Lovecraft; but whether it is better to have seen Monsters, Inc. as well is left unsaid.

for gods come into the world on a certain schedule. Some in antiquity; some in the distant future; some not so far from now. It’s 1980. Early 1980, not 2004.

In about three months, the dark beast Alan will be born.

The gate to Earth shines with seven colors. These are not the colors of a prism. A prism would not recognize them, save perhaps as black sheep colors long separated from the family. The colors would hurt mortal eyes and minds. They squirm. They writhe. They sicken. The gate is not a thing that the world should know, but on neither side do the owners care.

It’s a world of fiends on the other side. A world of aberrations. It’s a world of things that don’t deserve to live.

Sometimes, the government of that world agrees. Sometimes, they decide that one of their own must go. In chains or cuffs or a plastic bag they imprison them. Then they throw them through the gate. What happens then — it doesn’t matter to the world of fiends. They don’t care about such things. They’re alien. They’re uncaring. They’re Abhorrent, Inc.

Azzy sits in the great tower of Abhorrent, Inc. He’s surrounded by the muffled, maddened ranting and thin, monotonous whining of his executive VPs. He is the demon-sultan of Abhorrent, Inc., whose name no lips dare speak aloud, who gnaws hungrily at the fiend-world in his inconceivable, unlighted boardroom beyond normal time and space. He is nuclear chaos. He scares because he does not care. He non-thinks a thought. He makes an un-gesture.

Mr. Thotep rises and makes his presentation. “We’ve trimmed the ranks again,” he says. “Another few tossed through the portal into the human world.”

Azzy gibbers and bubbles.

“An excellent insight, sir. It’s never enough.”

Mr. Thotep bows. He leaves the room. He walks into the main operations center for Abhorrent, Inc.

“You,” he says. “You. You.”

He picks them at random. They have done nothing untoward. They simply exist. But crawling chaos wraps around them and chains them and binds them and escorts them to the gate; and throws them through.

Mr. Thotep smiles. He walks back towards to the boardroom.

Alan is a fiend. He stands in the main operations center. He plays his flute. A maddened piping results. Then he takes it from his lips. The piping continues. The flute does not need his mouth to play.

Alan thinks. This is an unusual activity for a fiend. Then he steps forward and regards the gate.

“I do not care,” he says, firmly. “Emotions . . . are meaningless. Compassion is meaningless. They are useless frivolities, and anyone who understands the world, they understand this.”

He tilts his head to one side. “Yet,” he says. Not far from him, Mr. Thotep pauses. Mr. Thotep turns, and narrows his eyes.

Alan sets down his flute, and its mad trilling stops. Then his body ripples, and he takes a human form. He walks towards the gate.

Mr. Thotep rubs his chin with his red right hand.

Alan flexes his fingers. Claws pop forth. His skin ripples and hardens. His teeth grow sharp. He is prepared. Then he steps through.

Mr. Thotep sighs sadly. “The boy had talent, too,” he says. Behind his eyes, an inhuman fury rages; but he simply walks to the elevator, and presses a button, and spirals up its shaft to the boardroom again.

There’s a shivering and a shimmering, and Alan steps out of the gate. People look up at him. They grin ferally. They’re used to fiends coming through. They’re used to fiends coming through in chains. These are the kind of people who like fiends and aberrations and abhorrent things. As long as they’re in chains.

One of them steps forward. He’s got kind of a swagger. He’s smug. “Welcome,” he says, “to the Earth Division.”

As his head goes rolling to the side of the room, he notices that Alan is not actually chained.

In the Earth Division of Abhorrent, Inc., dozens of screams rise; and blood splashes against every window; and the roof of the sprawling estate bursts open, and Alan rises through it; and there’s a wind all around him; and in that wind, gristle, and bits of meat, and eyes. He flies ten miles before he lands, crouched, elegant, and with long black hair flopping over his eyes. Then he straightens and looks around, as the last of the wind scatters people parts across the grass.

He walks to a pond, and squats beside it. He reaches into the water and fishes out a toad. He holds it in his hand.

“Black Tsathoggua,” he says. “You have sunk low.”

The toad writhes in his hand and becomes a centipede, a sinuous black form with a hundred feet. It becomes filth. It becomes a fly. It becomes a widow spider. It becomes a mad dog, large as a man, and falls from Alan’s hand. It becomes a shapeless twisty thing, and eddies back.

“Have a care,” the toad-god says. “I was worshipped in lightless places when yet the world was young; and you are a god as yet unborn.”

Alan pierces the twisty thing with one claw and pins it to the ground. “Vanity is a mortal thing.”

Its features twist. It sags. “It is so; I am made small.”

“How?”

“I was cast, bound and powerless, into the hands of foul men; and they molded me and shaped me to their vision.” Tsathoggua oozed back from around the claw, a bit of flesh like shadow still pinned to the ground, and became once more a toad. “If their minds had encompassed my nature, then I would have turned their world to madness; but instead, they refused to know me, and shaped me to their ends. I am their god, now, and by their will the filth and fear of the outer wilds.”

Alan straightens and licks clean his claw with his yellow teeth. “This does not accord with my desires for the world,” he says.

Then with his eyes Alan sets Black Tsathoggua afire; and from that fire, rises a great and terrible thing, amorphous and horrid. It regards him for a moment, perhaps with hunger, but no mortal thing could truly know its mind. Alan stands firm, and his eyes hold a challenge; and it is not a challenge that interests the toad-god of K’n-yan. Into the earth Tsathoggua goes, to lead chthonic, wicked nations in their blasphemous and unholy rites.

Alan walks into the town. He walks into a woman’s house, despite her vigorous protestations. He makes a Sign, and takes her mind from her; and regrets it as quickly, but what is lost, Alan cannot return. Ending the mewling creature’s misery, he walks to her bed, and looks beneath it. A glittering thing of iridescent spheres rolls back, covering itself in dust; but Alan’s eyes are sharp; and it sees its reflection in those eyes and goes still.

“Why?” Alan says.

Yog-Sothoth writhes its way out. “It is the monster’s way,” the creature says.

“The monster?”

“I was the greatest,” Yog-Sothoth says. It swirls up into the air and hangs there, the spheres of its being a map of all the worlds. “To bind me was a blasphemy and an abomination, even by the standards of Abhorrent, Inc. But bound I was; and cast through here; and the monster made pronouncement that I should be the least of gods. The god under the bed. Under every bed. The creeping thing. The ringing spheres. The dream, forgotten on man’s waking.”

Alan smooths hair away from his eyes. “‘Monster?'”

“A human word,” Yog-Sothoth says. “Something he claims for his own.”

Alan frowns. “But why?”

“He claims our natures as his own corrosion.”

Alan reflects. “And he has done this to you all?”

Yog-Sothoth chimes.

“This ends.” Alan reaches out a finger, and touches a sphere; and its surface ripples and shakes, and to the chiming, cheerless thing there comes a change. The bonds of creeping chaos fall away, and with them the lesser bonds the monster made; and Yog-Sothoth is the One-in-All, the All-in-One, the Beyond-One, the living essence of the sweep of dimension, space, and time; and no more is there Yog-Sothoth in the room.

And so he passes from one to the next, in three months’ time. Shub-Niggurath, bound in shapeless fears of reproduction and freedom; the Yellow Sign, shining with beauty, bound in sunflowers in a lady’s garden; the Great Race, spinning to gather power on the California hills; and one by one they rise, and the world becomes malign. Then, finally, on the cusp of his own birth, he finds them.

Through the window, he looks. He sees the girl first, and his eyes begin to burn. Then he sees the monster.

The girl turns her head. She sees him in the window. She mouths, “Alan.”

He sets his claws upon the window, and it shatters, and the wall tumbles down; and sunlight pours into the house; and the monster turns. He adjusts his shiny tie.

“You’re the one I’ve heard about,” the monster says. “The one that didn’t get bound.”

“Yes,” Alan says. He glances at his claws. Somewhat embarrassedly, he wipes the gore off them onto the sides of his jeans. It’s an uncomfortable situation. “You’re the monster?”

“Would you like anything? I have tea. And fish!”

There’s a strange mood entering Alan’s mind; but he shakes it off. The clock in his mind ticks. He has two minutes until the moment of his birth. He steps forward. Then he stops. There’s a light burning about the girl, and he can’t pierce it.

“It’s rotten,” the monster says, encouragingly. “I fished it out of the sewer this morning. In case you came by.”

“I don’t like rotten fish,” Alan says. “I like rotten people.”

The monster tilts his head to one side. “I could cut off the girl’s finger.”

Alan presses his body against the light, but can’t force his way through. He frowns.

“Oh,” the monster says. “You can’t actually get to me. I figure, I’d have to throw the food to you. But it’d be cool. You could catch it in your mouth. Like a seal!”

“I am a thing immeasurable,” Alan says. “I am an unbound fiend.”

“You are the god of one of the girl’s hopes,” the monster says. “You are in the process of being born. All you have done before this moment is dream and fantasy.”

“A human would not hope for me,” Alan says.

“The world is as it is,” the monster says. “First, one dreams of angels; then of fiends.”

The monster takes out a knife. He uses it for cutting fish. Alan frowns. He pokes at the light around the girl.

“You could ask for help,” the monster offers. “Ask Black Tsathoggua. Ask Yog-Sothoth. Ask Shub-Niggurath.”

“That,” Alan says, “would just be stupid.”

“No more,” the monster says, “could one hope for help from you.”

It is the moment of Alan’s birth; and the monster moves forward, swiftly; and the flashing of the tie and the chaos in Alan’s mind are one; and the knife goes in through his eye and out through his crotch, in one great ripping blow; and of the dark beast Alan, few legends have been told, and no more are there to tell.

In the Shadow of the Centipede

When Maxine was three, things changed.

To her east, in the desert, there rose a white noise, and a judgment came, and in its wake the earth was cleansed. The grime faded from the streets and sky. Filth and horror left the world. Had it killed one man in ten, then it would have been a favor, for it is the worst of humanity that died. Had it killed two in ten, three in ten . . . had it been a lighter judgment, then it would have been a culling and a pruning, and thanked by those it left behind. But nine in ten it wiped from the face of the world. The worst of humanity died; and then the bad; and then the average; and more than most of the good besides; and finally, they died, who simply were not pure.

The cities died, for only the greatest and brightest of their towers stayed.

Civilization died. Seven hundred million people remained. They could have kept it, had they chosen; but they had no heart for it.

Maxine’s parents died: the one she loathed, and the one she loved, and of all her family, only she and a second cousin survived the judgment. She was a sweet child, but she grew up sad.

When Maxine was 17, she went to the city, or what of it remained: seventy buildings, scattered, proud, upon a plain of red and golden dust. She hunted through those ruins, and found tools and machines and books. Some had survived, for like Maxine they were pure. In a great sixteen-wheeled truck, one of seven left in all the world, she took them back to the farm on which she lived, and showed them to the woman, Chanya Bayo, who had taken her in.

“And what would you do with them, Maxine?”

“I will build a centipede,” she said. “I have never seen one.”

“It would be good to see a centipede again,” Chanya admitted. “So if you’d like, you may.”

For three years, Maxine worked; and in the end, the thing was built; and she called Chanya out to see.

Chanya’s right hand sheltered her eyes against the sun as she looked up at the centipede. “It’s a bit big,” she said. “And a bit robotic. But I think you have the heart of it.”

Maxine smiled.

“What will you do now?”

Maxine looked down, and her voice was sad. “I have to go,” she said. “There’s something calling me, to the east.”

“Ah,” said Chanya. “Must you, then?”

Maxine sighed. “I must.”

“I can’t argue with a young girl’s heart,” Chanya said. “But I’ll be here, if you need a home again.”

Maxine hugged her, and they cried. Then Maxine climbed into the head of the centipede, and its metal legs clicked, and its segmented body wiggled, and it slithered off to the east, leaving great holes in the earth behind it.

Miles and miles she traveled, and the world passed like a dream, and finally she came to the great hollow of the desert, and looked down, and saw the sleeping beast.

“What is it?” she said; and for a time, no answer came; and then a great snarl split the air.

The centipede’s head turned round, and its feet stamped upon the earth, and its segments skittered to adjust; and staring at her across the sand she saw a great steel tiger.

“Who are you?” she said; but the tiger’s shoulders bunched; and with a terrible sound like ripping steel, it leapt; and the battle of centipede and tiger joined. In the desert in the east there rose a great ringing of metal on metal, and snarls, and clicks, and scrapes, and clangs; and it did not end, save at night, when the wounded beast and the wounded bug would skitter apart and crouch low upon the sands, that the people who lived inside them could come out and, in the dark cold desert night, make such repairs as such as they could make.

For seven years, they fought, and this she came to know: that when the creature had stirred in its endless sleep, the white noise rose; and if it should wake, all things would pass; and so, to keep itself in dreams, it called to it the things it dreamt, and played a game of centipede and tiger.

For seven years, they fought; and she came to know the person who—she thought—must live inside the tiger’s head. Sometimes, she pictured a great strong man, fierce and noble; sometimes, a girl the mirror of herself. It did not matter; for in the night, they did not meet; and in the day, they fought; and she thought that their reasons for staying must be the same.

“I love you,” she said.

The tiger’s paw struck the centipede’s head, and she was flung against the metal walls; but her hands found the controls again, and struck, and the centipede cast back the tiger.