“Alaia”: Craft

Now we have said that the last toothway to New Jerusalem had failed; and if you do not recall this matter, we will refresh you here.

And of course we have told how Hank Makeway came to the gums of Kailani Tate and cleansed them; here.

And the clarification, here, and the first tooth, here, and the error, here and here.

Now the goddess asks Hank a difficult question: how can he challenge her to assert her own great worth, when he knows—as her maker—that she hath not the strength for that assertion?

She asks him in bleakness; but his answer shall be craft. . . .

Craft

“These are Drink-Deep,” Hank says, “and Paneity.”

Under the weight of her attention, the horses shy.

“They are a transformation,” Hank says. “If you wish it. What is immured in worthlessness, in Paneity, is opened to freedom in Drink-Deep.”

The toothway goddess stares into the horses’ souls. She sees herself in wine-dark shades embedded in their fires. Their shape is internal to her own; to ride the horses’ path is to travel her own road, and enter New Jerusalem.

She gives the most tenuous murmur of consent.

Hank leads the horses to the left edge of Kailani’s mouth. He puts one hand on each of the horses’ backs.

“You may still refuse,” he tells the goddess.

She is silent.

So Hank nods. “Here,” he says.

In this process the smith takes part; horses are wise, but they have not the vision to bind a goddess to her self-conceit, nor do they have a smith’s invariance of purpose. Hank is integral to the transformation, as much a beginning and ending to the young goddess’ road as the horses or the gums.

The world twists in on itself. It rushes through him, until his skin and his teeth are alive with the waves of the horses and the goddess-mind. The knot pulls tight and the mortal consciousness of Hank Makeway dissolves to foam. Only a rootless remnant of attention remains, grasping desperately in the darkness for anything that shines.

There.

The knot pops from the thread.

Something grasps for its name, uncertain if it is horse, smith, or toothway. An intolerable pressure of ignorance builds up before at last its mind gasps, Henry.

“Henry,” he says. “Hank. Hank Makeway. I’m in the toothway. I’m . . . I just . . .”

He surges up to his feet.

“Are you all right?” he says.

“That is unfair,” says the goddess. “It is taking me rather longer to locate my name, considering.”

“I’d be widely praised,” Hank says, “by cartographers, if you’d settle for I-791.”

“I-791,” she says. “Intercity 791. Alaia.”

“Alaia Goodway,” he offers.

“Is this New Jerusalem?” she asks.

“What we usually say,” Hank says, “is that the experience shares a nomenclatural homology with New Jerusalem, but is topologically distinct; or, that is, not as such.”

Skeptically she defocuses her perception of him.

“This is knowing that you are a road to New Jerusalem,” Hank Makeway says. “This is the experience that encodes the same information as an experience that being there encodes as a place. This is being a toothway bounded by Drink-Deep and Paneity, who will remind you always that at a certain point and a certain time, we said together, ‘this toothway we have built is good.'”

“This toothway we have built,” she says. “Is good.”

For a long moment Hank simply contemplates his finished task; and there is love and joy burning in him like a fire.

Then he shakes himself free of the mood and takes up again the burdens of a smith.

The truth of the road has been defined, and the truth of its purpose; but there are three months, at least, of detailing work to go.

Hank walks up and down the ways. Flesh-Ripper plants the last teeth of the lower jaw, and Crust-Cruncher of the roof. Hank and the goddess clean and sort the threads of Kailani’s destiny and make a cavity-retardant shell for all her teeth.

Sometime near the end of this the yearning for completion becomes a wistfulness.

It is hard for a smith to let a toothway go; and harder for a toothway to surrender its smith.

But inevitably they reach the point where they can no longer find any little piece of work un-done; and with a last bittersweet polishing of the enamel, Hank Makeway declares his mission closed.

“You’re as right a road as ever made by smith,” he says.

Numinous in the mouth of Kailani Tate the goddess contemplates herself; and like the seraphim she finds it just.

“I wish we were not parting,” Alaia Goodway says. “And may Lauemford treat you well.”

There is the lightest tone of teasing in her voice, and Hank sticks out his tongue before returning to his camp.

“Want the horses?” he says.

“Crust-Cruncher,” she says, “perhaps.”

So he pats Flesh-Ripper on the neck and he sets Crust-Cruncher loose. He gathers up the material implements of his craft and he cooks his last meal in Kell’s gums.

It will be four years before the main teeth come in and the standards will call this toothway safe; but Alaia is an impatient god. The first pilgrims and daredevils are riding through before Hank’s even packed his bags.

“Alaia”: Bleakness

Now before you may understand the bleakness that flirts with the goddess and with Hank, you must refresh yourself on those events that led them here; so

here their story begins, and
here Hank cleans the gums, and
here Hank clarifies the map, and
here Hank makes Ms. Tate’s first tooth, and
here the bleakness is in sight.

They have seen the error in Hank’s crafting; but they do not know the answer to it, and thus they have chosen to laugh in the face of failure and proceed. . . .

Bleakness

As if to mock them both for their concern the error’s influence recedes. A limning of possibility sets in around the unfinished teeth, a flickering foxfire potential that might almost get a person from one place to another. Hank judges it as he works; it is a portion of what he needs, but it is not enough.

One evening, as he leans back against an anchor and stares out at the vistas of the gums, beauty and truth suddenly become new to him again. Rapt at the world, and driven by a bubbling sensation in his heart, he says, “How wonderful.”

She answers: curiosity.

“I miss her,” he says. “Sometimes. My master. And I think, every day that I am alive and I am a smith, ‘she made me. She found this in me, this—this Hank.’ And suddenly I feel so incredibly lucky— that I could be here, that I could be making a road where she made a road, that I could be doing what she’d done— and for a girl named Kell, no less.”

He can feel the truth of his words slipping out into the gums; swirling through the paths of them; coming back to him, resonant, openness for openness, until the world is charged with the awe at the ordinary that characterizes observations such as these.

She says, “You are shining.”

“Sometimes,” he says.

“Sometimes?”

“That’s what a person does, isn’t it?” he says. “We grind, and we shine.”

There is a shift in the world, visible to him much like a hopping bird seen from the corner of one’s eye.

Then the black wave of his error sweeps across him.

Hank’s error catches him in the shadow of it. Breath flies from him and pain rasps in his lungs. His perceptions occupy a strange mode and everything seems to fill with pink and purple rain.

content! Content?

name! name! inquiry!

The goddess speaks but he cannot understand it. It is not until the weight of error on him shifts aside that he hears it:

“Hank!”

His senses normalize. He orients. The wilderness sprawls before him and slowly his mind and body calm.

“Don’t be afraid,” he says. “But please—if you can, be still for a moment, that I might see.”

She stills.

She holds herself immobile against the stresses in herself, supplanted by the stays and ropes, and he watches; and then, at last, he relaxes into understanding.

“I’ve taught you to grind,” he says, “and not of shining, haven’t I.”

“And not of shining?”

“We grind,” Hank says, “to define things, don’t we? We take the great undifferentiated field of truth and polish it down to the bits we need.”

“Yes.”

“But we also shine,” Hank says, “the knowledge of our purpose. The being of us is a beacon that organizes that truth into a road.”

She hesitates. He can feel the disorganized churning of her thoughts.

“The road is its purpose,” Hank says. “Not just its truth.”

“I don’t want to shine,” she says.

“It’s hard,” Hank says.

“No,” she says, to emphasize her denial.

But he has his hands up and open, as if in surrender, and she does not carry her protest further.

He says, “I never explained. And it must have seemed like everything I did to make a road was just the grinding. And I never told you that it mattered so very much, that it mattered that I did these things to make the toothway to New Jerusalem; that I was not simply here, but here, with you, working together on its construction. So you could not have known.”

Pangs of unexpiated sorrow shift within her.

“It’s terrifying,” he says.

“Yes.”

He waits.

“Why is it terrifying, when I scarcely understand it?” she says.

“It’s a very great threat to your concept of yourself,” he says.

“Oh.”

“Do you understand,” he says, “that whatever it is that you choose to do, I shall help you?”

Concepts rise, short-circuit, and fade away.

confirmation, she says.

Hank smiles.

Tentatively, she adds, confusion and uncertainty, in the matter of the threat.

“To define oneself is to grind away all that is not oneself,” Hank says. “To make it pap for our digestion. And when a person then looks at themselves, they see that grinding, and say, ‘Ah, I am grinding, I am the process that reduces myself to the truth.'”

“Yes,” she says.

“One then begins to grind away at all that is self that is not grinding; and where does the process stop?”

“It does not.”

“Thus to shine is to pose the uttermost threat to the soul; for it says, ‘enough.'”

“I am flawed,” she says.

“Yes.”

“So I must grind that away.”

“Or trust that you are beautiful,” he says, like a hammer on some piton in the gum. And another: “And that I will treasure that beauty, as will those who in the future use these teeth to drive.”

Bleakness in the gums gives rise to a queer and empty mirth.

She says, “You expect too much of me. How can you expect so much of me, Hank Makeway, when you must know that I don’t have it to give?”

and there we stop, that you may meditate on the darkness before the dawn; we shall take up and conclude the story on the morrow.

“Alaia”: The Wild Wide Field

You’re just in time; we’ve been speaking of Hank Makeway, and if you hurry you can find the first parts of this story

here,
here,
here, and
here.

We’ve done the bit where the road to New Jerusalem had failed; and how Hank Makeway came to build a new; and how he made the first adult tooth in the mouth of Kailani Tate, of the twenty-eight he’ll build; how he was satisfied, and more than satisfied, with the work he’d done thus far; but of course, there was a flaw. . . .

The Wild Wide Field

Three weeks later, as he walks to the site of the fourth tooth, the goddess speaks.

“Why am I a road to New Jerusalem?”

“Why?”

She is quiet for a bit.

“I mean,” she says, “am I a self-defining creature, or am I unfree?”

Hank laughs.

He leans against a stay and he says, “There’s none of us chooses the circumstances of our birth.”

“No,” she says, dubiously.

“I’ll tell you a secret,” he says. “But you mustn’t tell anyone I told.”

Her interest sharpens. “Please!”

“You were always here,” Hank says. “You existed before me, before my horses, before even Kailani Tate. You were sleeping in the substrate of the world. You were here, but you were buried, and the truths you slept among occluded you. When I ground away everything that wasn’t a road to New Jerusalem, I un-differentiated it to leave only the substance of your body; and here you are.”

She is quiet for a while.

“Do you understand?” he says.

“I am free,” she says.

“More than free,” he says. “You are my partner in this, my student, my teacher. I am a builder of lattices, a grinder of gums, a master of horses, and a placer of stays. But I cannot make a toothway. That job is yours.”

“Maker of smiths,” she says.

His smile embarrasses him; he fights the urge to look down.

“Let me tell you of New Jerusalem,” he says.

And for a long time, as he works, he does. He tells her of the spires of New Jerusalem and of how it became holy to his people and his craft. Then he speaks of Kelly Whitecap and her labors; and of Mandate Wisdom before her; and Sephirot Gumsman, and Maker Ben, and Two-Tooth Jenny, and all the way back the line of smiths to that Razor Jenkins who’d first conceived of giving children teeth. He tells her of his own life and of how he came to study teeth and of the year he spent in New Jerusalem, suffused with grace. He shows her the marks of his studies there, two whitened bite scars still wrapped in angry red.

On the seventh tooth he becomes aware of the error in his crafting. He rips out the ivory of that tooth and tries again; after the third planting, he recognizes that the error is pervasive and not localized as he had thought.

Its nature is elusive.

He does not see it. He only feels it. There is something wrong. The toothway is correct thus far: it points nowhere save New Jerusalem. But it is his dim perception that that destination is lost in darkness: that a person who rode the toothway would certainly enact a movement from Lauemford to New Jerusalem, but could not actually arrive.

Grimmer now, he works as he plants new teeth to correct this flaw. He emphasizes the brightness of New Jerusalem as he goes. He spins fabulous webs of story around the factual accounts of that city’s affairs. He gropes for the substance of the error, trying to construct it in reverse in the hope of compensating.

“Something is wrong,” the goddess tells him.

Hank thinks about this for a moment. Then he confirms it.

“Yes.”

“I am failing,” she says.

Hank stares at a bleak and dismal place inside his soul for a time. Then he pulls his attention free and focuses on the gums.

“You can’t fail,” he says, “if you’re not being tested.”

“Oh.”

“Goddess,” he says, and rests his hand on the great pulse of her. “That is not how a smith thinks. Craft is not deciding how good we are. Craft is in the effort and the eyes.”

“The eyes?”

“Seeing the good,” Hank Makeway says. “The possibility. The hope. So that we may nurture it and bring it forth.”

There is a lightening of the overall self-doubt in the gums; but in compensation, a core shape and essence of the goddess’ uncertainty darkens, pulls in on itself, and begins to calcify its boundaries. He can feel its nascent protest; and he acts to poison it with hope.

“There is virtue,” Hank says, “in having some acceptance of failure, in the sense of lowering one’s expectations when we can no longer meet them. Of recognizing when we must change our dream. But before we can do that, before we can even consider changing the structure of our hopes, we must understand the nature of the difficulty; otherwise, it is simply speculation, self-doubt, tainted air.”

“But where is it?” she asks. “Where is our difficulty?”

“Somewhere in this wild wide field of beauty,” Hank says, gesturing around; and because he says it, she can see it thus.

and as for the error, we shall leave its story until Monday; such excitement better suits a Monday than a Saturday, after all.

“Alaia”: The First Tooth

You will recall that this is the story of Hank Makeway, the smith of children’s teeth, and how he came to build a new toothway to New Jerusalem when the last of them had fallen.

Here is the beginning of the story; and the cleansing of the gums; and the clarification of their map.

Hank has sown the fourth of his eight horses; and now he feels a presence in the gums. . . .

The First Tooth

For the next month, things are easier.

Hank spends the month on walking.

He does not work, at least, not in the way a smith is usually working. Instead he lets the gums heal. He familiarizes himself with their newest contours. He plays with the remaining horses, and he sings songs, and he rambles aloud about the incidents of his life.

He displays himself openly, simply, and with trust.

He means this as an introduction of sorts. He has studied the gums of Kailani Tate. Now he sets aside time for the nascent goddess of her teeth to study him.

One day, that goddess says, “Hank Makeway.”

“Yes.”

A current of joy runs through the gums. Somewhere, Kailani Tate startles and drops her crayon.

Trepidation seizes the gums.

Communication is dangerous. It evokes in the goddess a fear of mistakes, of misstatements, of unmaking. For a long time afterwards, she says nothing more.

At the end of the month Hank starts working again. He sets up braces and stays along the paths of the gums. He anchors them with ropes and pulleys.

Curiosity moves. The goddess asks him, one day, as he’s setting up a smith’s stay, “What are you doing, Hank?”

“I want this bit of path to stay still,” he says.

He indicates a trickle of chemical energy that is tributary to the path.

“When there’s pressure along here,” he explains.

Later, as he sets up the ropes that bind a bit of path to one of his anchors, she says, “And here?”

“It’s structural support,” he says, “for the road to New Jerusalem.”

He takes Flesh-Ripper out to a certain place and he tells the horse, “Here.”

The horse dances upon the gums. Flesh-Ripper’s hooves come down, thum-thum-thum, and drive a crystal of pure ivory into the gums.

A palpable tension manifests. The pressure and the energy of the gums rises.

“Quickly, now,” Hank urges.

Fierce and driven, Hank moves his team from place to place, planting the scattered seeds for Kailani’s first new tooth. He is sweating and rigid and he moves with a sense of urgency; for if this part fails, he must rip out all the planted buds of ivory and start again. Time weighs on him in the form of material strain. The path around him is buckling and twisting, snapping about within the confines of the braces and the stays, and it will not hold forever. Once Hank loses his footing and his ankle flares with pain and he hears a snap and for a moment he fears that all is lost: but it is a buckle and not a bone that he has broken. He is agile enough to continue.

Only once in this process does the urgency in him relent. That is when the voice of the goddess comes softly through the gums, saying, “This is strange, Hank Makeway.”

Then he stills. He draws three breaths for calm. He says, “Is it?”

“It is.”

“Would you like me to explain?” he says.

And he smiles.

After a moment, she says, curiosity.

“This is a process of defining,” Hank says. “These paths of yours are sound and honest, but they are equivocal. They speak of many different things. I am scouring away their indecision and putting them in the shape of teeth.

“The teeth,” he finishes, simply, “are the road to New Jerusalem.”

Solemnly, she says the ritual lines: “New Jerusalem, suffused with grace.”

“You are in your shape a transformation,” Hank says, “that takes in Lauemford and becomes New Jerusalem— takes what is immured in Lauemford at the right of the jaw and opens New Jerusalem to it at the left.”

“Oh,” she says.

Then suddenly she parses the entirety of his statement. The word bursts from her as a laugh: “Lauemford!”

“Yes,” he says.

Lauemford,” she says, again.

Her tone is that of a child who has just learned that the milk she drinks every day comes out of a moo cow: joyous incredulity at the fallibility of the world.

I live in Lauemford,” he protests, hitting his chest. “I have a farm.

New gales of laughter pour forth. Hank frowns; then his cheeks burn; then, despite himself, he grins. His hurt pride becomes ridiculous to him. Hidden behind his smile, his heart begins to laugh. He squares his shoulders. He shakes his head and sighs. Then he goes back to work.

The stays are cracking but have not quite broken when he sets the last crystal in his design. Exhaling a great satisfaction, he stumbles to a stop.

The shape he’s crafted burns in Ms. Tate’s gums. Its mathematical character transfigures. Along the fault lines of symmetry and consanguinity lines of power burn. Metamorphosis seethes into gleaming lattices. The scattered seeds of Kailani’s first new tooth reach out to one another; see the shining of one another; see the seething potential in each other; embrace.

“Tooth,” says Hank, in quiet satisfaction.

Only mammals have differentiated teeth, murmurs a fragment of truth embedded in the gums; and “Tooth,” sighs after him the goddess of the gums.

It is very nearly perfect, this first of Kailani’s teeth.

There’s no smith less than Hank Makeway that could see the error in it at all; and even Hank misses it, this once.

One tooth down. Twenty-seven left to go.

but that is twenty-seven teeth too many to speak of them tonight; so we shall leave the next few for tomorrow, should it happen you won’t mind.

“Alaia”: The Clarification

Now if you do not already know how the road to New Jerusalem failed, and how Hank Makeway took up the commission of a new one, then you may wish to travel here.

And if you do not recall how it came to pass that he brought the wilds of Ms. Tate’s gums to truth, then you may look here as well.

For some time Hank has laboured to excise impurities from Ms. Tate’s gums; but now at last the gingiva are clean. . . .

The Clarification

After this labor follows a grinding work of more precision—tailored, in ways that the firing of the gums is not, to the toothway that he hopes to build.

Hank walks along the paths, coring the gums as he goes. He draws forth molecule-thin needles of pink substance. He studies the data locked in the samples, considering whether the meaning of it is something true or false. In some places, the gums provide data that accurately fits into the map of Makeway’s world: they state a correct quality of some region accessible along a hypothetical toothway path or pose a geological tautology. In other cases his sample suggests a fallacy: interpreted via the smith’s art, it tells him that “Sivolia is sheepfoam-rich” or “Lauemford and New Jerusalem are the same.” In these cases he must either mark that path with the gray flag that means “unusable” or grind away the information lodged in the material until it is no longer distinguishable as truth or falsehood—no longer data, but rather storage space or noise.

Inch by inch he clarifies for Kailani’s gums the layout of the world.

Alive with the power of Milk-Guzzler and Stress-Grinder, and holding in themselves a map of the world more accurate and consistent with every passing day, the gingiva begin to experience a queer, primeval consciousness. They begin to resonate with a sense of expectation as Hank Makeway draws up a sample to regard, and then pleasure or disappointment when he confirms or denies its truth. The self-awareness of the gums begins to taint the data: Hank draws up samples that tell him, rather than pure geographic data, “Hank Makeway loves me” or “I am good” or “I am a road to Far Sivolia.”

One day he draws up three self-referential samples in a row, followed by, “Hank Makeway is a smite of children’s truth.” He laughs at this and shakes his head.

He says, “Enough of that.”

He leads his team to the right edge of Kailani’s mouth.

Wine-Drinker and Drought-Ender shy. They dance. They pull against the reins and rip their harness free from Makeway’s hands.

He sets himself in place and he gives them a stare.

Fearsome and wild, the horses glare back. Their white eyes meet his level gaze.

Hank says, “Here.”

They do not run. They do not move. They simply glare.

Hank’s world shivers. Echoes of the horses’ fear play through his mind, carried by the horses’ eyes.

He sets them aside.

“Here,” he says again, and then, gently, “or forsake your consecrated purpose on this earth.”

Drought-Ender’s terror rips through Hank’s mind like a piercing light and drives him to his knees, and following it comes the wave of Wine-Drinker’s madness. Incomplete and painful images pour through Hank’s thoughts until his ego buckles and his world spins. He can find no surcease or compass in the storm. He is lost. He is helpless. He thinks he has fallen. Later he is certain of it. In a moment of perception he realizes he is curled around his center, that the gums are wet with tears.

It is beyond Hank’s power to compel them. He is only a smith, only a man. They are the horses of the gums.

But Sandra of the Rise has made them well.

Hank feels a change in the world as the horses succumb to purpose and offer themselves at the altar of transformation. He feels the waves of heat as they drill down into the gums and become something different from what they’ve been. For a moment they are candles burning on the roof and road. Then they are shrinking, spinning fires. Finally they widen themselves, dissolve themselves, and transubstantiate themselves into the substance of the gums.

The madness recedes.

Dry and tired, Hank drags himself up.

He croaks, the words hurting his throat, “Well done.”

Drought-Ender and Wine-Drinker are become the beacons of the toothway and its cartographers. They will open the toothway when Kailani’s teeth come in and they will hold Kailani’s gums to the stringency of the true map of the world.

but we are not eternal; nor tireless; so we shall leave the matter of the first tooth, however reluctantly, until tomorrow.

“Alaia”: The Gums of Kailani Tate

So where were we, then?

We have said how the last toothway to New Jerusalem had died; and how Hank Makeway took up the commission of a new one. And if you do not remember this then the path to that story is here.

Having accepted the assignment, Hank Makeway traveled to the gums of a suitable child, there to make his path. . . .

The Gums of Kailani Tate

The first task of a smith is to assess the lay of the gums. For weeks this is all that occupies Hank. He wanders back and forth within the child’s pinks, feeling out the secret ephemeral structure of the gums, assaying their striations. Where the gums are strict and abrasive he builds the camp-spots that will later become his anchors and his grinding points. Where the gums are fruitful and rich in the substances of teeth, he sifts out a molecule or two and rolls them between his fingers, heats and chills them, and shows them to the horses of his team. He “learns the clay,” as the toothway makers call it, and his face and body grow pink with a smattering of the kid’s gums’ dust. He walks the paths, the natural magnetic and chemical ways, that wander in rife disorder through the child’s gums, twisting around in great coils, turning back on themselves, leading off in great long dead ends, shaped as nature’s answer to the labyrinther’s art. Eventually he knows them well enough to walk them blind.

From the coded substances of the worldgristle spires he learns the child’s name is Kailani Tate and that her parents call her Kell. Vegetables she despises and mathematics adores; she wears checkered blue when she can, and rolls inexplicably upon the carpet as a form of play. He walks among her baby nubs and feels the records of her life, the paths of providence and freedom that shift left-right-left around the unstable center. Sweets she is not fond of, and he takes note of that, but even so decides to lay down the foundations for a cavity-retardant shell. The toothway to New Jerusalem is too vital to allow it to succumb to the hazards that face ordinary teeth.

Wandering among the baby teeth in the upper ridge, he finds a corrupted flow of the child’s fortune. He sits before it and stares at it for a good long time before rising and taking his first definite action: hammering a toothway needle into the enamel near the flow and marking it with an orange flag. In the lexicon of his craft, this means, “Here we go against the grain,” or, “Here the toothway supercedes the child’s fate.”

Only when he is wholly comfortable with Ms. Tate’s gums—only when he could imagine living there, like some primeval savage, among its labyrinthine paths: drinking from the gingival pools; slaughtering bacteria for his meat; and moving swift and sure and silent in the wilderness of her gums—does he begin.

At a grinding point central to her lower jaw he establishes his refinery and begins to cleanse the raw materials of her gums. He kindles a smith’s fire, stokes it and feeds it, builds it up until the grinding point is entirely inflamed and the landscape cast harshly into light. Along the pathways through her gums the gingiva soften, almost resentfully, and begin to roil. A black and purple film seeps out, a scum of impure elements, and accumulates along the paths. For a season Hank travels up and down the ways of Kailani’s gums, peeling thin layers of filth from the roads, hauling them down to the grinding points, and lathing them with bitter effort down to dust.

He is sore, each night, all through, when he takes him to his bed.

Finally he is done.

“Here,” he says, and caps the flame with Milk-Guzzler, drives her down into the grinding point until she becomes one with the fire and the pink.

Strange and wild power surges through the gums.

All around him he can feel the pulsing of that power, in time to the surging of what had previously been his horse. It is a beat of equine magic embedded in the world. It is flowing and stomping, chomping and chewing, and it is rending down forever the impurities of Kell’s gums.

He sleeps and wakes and when he wakes he groans, for before he can go further he must do the same thing for the roof; which is to say, all the same labor, all the same effort, only vertiginously upside-down in the substance of her higher gums. There he will place Stress-Grinder, as he placed Milk-Guzzler below.

Slowly Hank grinds the wilds into truth. Laboriously he imposes a red and angry honesty on the upper gums in turn.

and to tell you how he placed the next two horses will take, we think, some time; so let us leave it for another day.

“Alaia”: The Commission

The Commission

Bertrand plunges from the ether into the conducting fluid of Old Man Jennings’ mouth and Jennings’ teeth spread before him like an ivory road.

From tooth to tooth he runs, soaring between the gaps, to the consternation of the bacteria.

The manifest form of the god of Jennings’ mouth, its tendrils streaming, races beside him. It matches daring to daring, life for life, skipping in and out around Jennings’ teeth and nearly cutting Bertrand off at the left canine.

Pulling marginally ahead, Bertrand releases a great shout, “Ha!”

Then the life that burns in Jennings unexpectedly goes out.

The road dissolves around Bertrand. Bertrand’s shape becomes disorder. His pattern turns static and fades out. The god seizes him, wraps him in its tendrils, and gives him one more moment of coherence in which to send a warning free:

Old Man Jennings is dead.

Together they tumble to the places dead things go.

It was Kelly Whitecap who’d made Jennings’ teeth all those years ago. She’d gone into the surging wilds of his gums and given them form. Her spirit had dwelt with that toothway while it lasted, had shone forth from its craftsmanship for all who rode the road to see.

“And now,” says Hank, her last surviving student, “it’s like a little more of her is gone.”

Sandra puts her hand upon his back.

They’re staring at the toothway nub, a protrusion of enameled solidity into the indifferent substance of their world, and thinking of the path where once it led. Jennings wasn’t the last of Kelly Whitecap’s brood, but he’d been her best: untroubled perfect teeth for all the long years of his life, a joyful god, and a road to New Jerusalem.

“In thirty years,” Hank says, “nobody’ll even know that work like hers was done.”

Sandra becomes angry when he says that. Red blooms on her face and a throbbing tension grows inside her limbs. But she doesn’t say anything in response, not until several minutes have passed.

“Some kid,” she says, “out there, some kid’s going to need teeth that go to New Jerusalem.”

“Some kid,” Hank says. He stares out at the void. Then he startles. “You don’t mean me? You don’t mean I’m to make them? Sandra, I’m retired.”

“Like I don’t know that,” Sandra says.

“Oh?”

“But you’re wasting yourself,” Sandra says. “Out in the suburbs with your sheepfoam and your fields. You’re bloody Hank Makeway, Hank, you’re the smith of children’s teeth, and you’re going to make a toothway to New Jerusalem now that the last of them’s been sealed. You’re going to make your master proud, Hank, and I’m going to give you the horses you’ll use to do it.”

A little smile crosses his face.

“Ah, there’s the truth of it,” he says.

He’s teasing her for having an ulterior motive, but it makes her, if anything, more stern.

“I made them,” Sandra says, “six years ago, Hank. A team of eight white horses, pure as the teeth of Heaven, and I knew they were for you. I didn’t know how and I didn’t know when and I sure didn’t plan it in the making of them. But there isn’t anyone else for them, Hank. And there isn’t anyone else for this.”

“The world is such a fragile thing,” Hank says.

He’s staring at the toothway nub. He’s thinking of all of us who make our work and put our lives into our work and know that it will one day pass.

That’s when she knows he’ll do it; and after a moment, he knows it too.

He puts on the decision like he’s shouldering a coat, and the old weary smile comes onto his face, and he says, “It’ll be beautiful, won’t it?”

“They all are,” Sandra says.

The horses that a smith rides out are standing waves. They are surging, elemental things, like white fires burning in the bleakness. Now one imagines the shape of an equine head; now the stomping, chomping movement becomes a hoof, and it leaves its imprint semicircle on the floor. Wine-Drinker shakes his hair and it seems there is a fall of leaves. Crust-Cruncher dances in her place and pulls against her reins. And beside them are Flesh-Ripper, Stress-Grinder, Milk-Guzzler, Drought-Ender, Drink-Deep, and Paneity. Such are the horses Sandra’s made for Hank Makeway, the smith of children’s teeth.

He stares at them in awe.

Hank holds his hand out to Drought-Ender. He feels a licking awareness of the horse’s presence against his open palm. He makes a caress; the horse shifts suddenly closer, stares with her wild eyes into his own, and he is transfixed as a man in the presence of a god. But reflex saves him; his hand tightens; he murmurs, “What there?” and the horse sees the smithcraft in him and goes quiet, gentle, even calm.

“Three for the road,” says Sandra. “Three for the roof.”

“And two to set the teeth in,” Hank answers.

She shines with quiet pride.

“Already,” he says, in gentle complaint, “I am to replace the work of Kelly Whitecap; and make a road to New Jerusalem, suffused with grace. And now you give me this to equal, Sandra of the Rise.”

“And now I give you this to equal,” she agrees.

So he takes up the ropes and picks and standards of his art and he says, “Do we know a ripening child?”

“Sleeping in Chicago’s spires,” Sandra says. “Between the towers and the gums.”

“Streets,” he corrects.

“Whatever.”

And Hank sets out.

but it is late and we are weary; so we shall wait until tomorrow to tell you how Hank ground the wilds into truth.

(Parousia) To Light a Candle (5 of 5)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Now, some people, thinking on these events, might come to the conclusion that there’ll be some kind of reason Max’ll be able to come back.

Like:

Death’ll gallop through the sky on the last of days and Sid will reach up and seize him by the arm and pull him from the horse and down to shatter on the island below.

Crunch! Death will say, or at least emote, and Sid’ll steal Max’s life from him.

Or:

Somebody’ll find Max’s skin, just floating free on the chaos, and—because you shouldn’t waste a good skin—fill it up with booze. Then Max’ll show up, lookin’ all like Max, only he’s an ale-man now.

Or:

Spattle’s still got its hooks in everyone who’s ever been there.

Max can’t actually die.

He’s lived in Spattle.

Or maybe even:

Sid’ll buy some new luggage one day, you know, for traveling, and he’ll open it up, and there Max’ll be.

“Hey,” Max’ll say.

Hey, Sid says. Thought you were dead.

“It’s a special.”

And Max’ll indicate the display with his head, and it’ll turn out that it does in fact say, “Free resurrection with every suitcase; and luggage $179.99”

And maybe it’s just the kind of thing that happens, you know, eventually. People coming back.

The world’s really old, and it’s got a long future ahead of it.

We wouldn’t necessarily know.

So you could be reading this, you know, and come to the conclusion that there’ll be some reason, like a suitcase sale or a Spattling or a bit of a double thing, and Max’ll come back.

But that ain’t so.

Not exactly, anyway.

See, it’s an epiphany. It’s a mystery. It’s one of those things that’s like a seething well.

There ain’t no reason.

He just comes back.

It’s June 6, 2004, and he just comes back.

It’s like a candle lights, and suddenly where things were invisible, they are visible; and where things were inaudible, they’re audible; and the world fills out with the glistening blue and silver of the sea and the wind as it roars in the sky and the cold refreshing spray that generates when the waves strike against the brown-black rocks.

And the scattering of points and colors becomes the beach.

And swaying patterns become the sun, and the shadows, and the trees.

And there’s Max, right there, with a hangdog look, like he’s never been away.

Maybe someday it’ll be a little more explained.

You can get close to the truth, sometimes, even when there’s no truth to be had.

So maybe we’ll get a bit of explanation here, a bit of explanation there.

But not a reason, not whole and entire.

Some things in this world ain’t ever really explained.

Like:
People always fight the things they love.

I would hug you, says Sid.

A mirrored shape flicks out to show him his own form, and the terrible perplexities and sharpness of it, and why that isn’t necessarily a very good idea. And he can see the darkness that weaves through him, too: for siggorts, like most things that aren’t Max, are terribly, terribly easy to cut.

Max looks up.

“You’re real,” he says.

Like Sid’s the one who shouldn’t be there. Like Sid’s the one who, last we checked, wasn’t in the world.

And there’s a drop of chaos on Max’s face, under the shadow of his hair, and his eyes are brown and deep.

Hesitantly, he says, “Did you—“

Sid cuts him.

Not much. Just a tiny bit, to get the blood he needs, to get a flake of flesh. And he can tell that Max is yielding it, not suffering it, because just this once Max isn’t hard to cut.

He should probably have asked.

But he didn’t; and Max lets it be.

“Did you—“

Sid begins to make the body of him, from flesh and blood and clay, and he says, Did I?

Max gropes for words.

“I figure,” Max says, “That Ii Ma said something like, ‘How can you live with somebody else’s guilt?'”

There is the rushing withdrawing of water and then the roaring of a wave.

“And ‘walk in like you own the place’ doesn’t quite work on that one.”

No, Sid agrees.

He’s almost got the body put together. They’re fast workers, siggorts. It’s the hundred hands.

“So—did you—“

Of course, Sid says.

Then he opens up the body of him and he pours himself into its core and he closes the hollow of the entrance with a hook of him, all Sid-like, snap.

And Max stands there for a long time looking at him, while Sid dresses himself with pants and socks and shirts and stuff that drift in from the sea.

“How?”

He means: Can we . . . fix things? Is it okay now? Is it okay, even though I’m not still dead?

Because he’s a sharp one, Max, and he knows that must’ve been an answer Sid was using for a while.

Is it okay?

Can broken things be remade?

And Sid can hear these questions in his voice; and they’re not the only questions Sid can hear.

How can you forgive him? whispers the voice of Ii Ma, like it always does.

How can you forgive him? Ii Ma asks.

And Sid gives this great big smile like the morning of the world, and he kicks away a cardboard box drifting upwards from the sea, and he says, “Because I’d like to.”

Nothing more; nothing less.

“Because I’d rather,” he explains.

Because we make our own judgments, light and dark, and they are our servants—

Not the other way around.

The Island of the Centipede
Fin.

(Thanksgiving) The Metal That Longs to Move (1 of 5)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Max is smiling.

He’s leaning back and looking at the horizon of the sea — for it is too deep to say he properly sees the sky.

He says, “Do you know, I have organs?”

Red Mary is looking at him.

“Yes.”

“I have almost all of them,” Max says proudly. He feels them with his mind. His lungs are breathing. They’re breathing chaos, but that’s okay. He’s getting pretty used to that. His heart is beating. His intestines are all there, thank God.

Have you ever thanked the world for intestines?

They’re actually surprisingly cool, and almost entirely organic.

“Yes,” says Red Mary. “I put them back.”

“That’s great.”

“I repeat,” she says. “Do you know Meredith? Because if you do not, you will die; and if you lie, you will die painfully.”

“Exploded girl? The chaos god?”

“Ah.”

Red Mary’s voice is clotted with grief and anger.

“I’m honestly a bit more surprised,” says Max, “that you know her.”

“She is anathema to me,” says Red Mary. “She is abhorrent. She, having surrendered her boundaries and scattered her spirit throughout the world, regrouped it; made a cyst of it; strives, still, to reconcile being everywhere and in one place. She is the antithesis of my song.”

“Love?” suggests Max.

“Sometimes in the deeps I breathe her,” says Red Mary. “Sometimes I comb my hair and I hear her song. I taste her in the particles of the sea.”

“Hunger?”

“Sight,” says Red Mary.

“Sight?”

“I have seen her,” says Red Mary. “And that is more and less of a thing than love. And because I have seen her, I will help you, Max, who knows her, though it cost my life.”

“Do you need a spleen for anything?” Max says.

“I’m not going to eat you, Max.”

“No,” says Max, hesitantly. “I mean, are they . . . are they important?”

“Why?”

“No reason,” says Max, his face burning, and he begins to swim back upwards towards the Good.

Crack the earth
Stir the sea
From the west there comes an outpouring of good to make all things right.

Click.

Click.

Click.

It is rusted. It is broken. But it is not defeated.

It scrapes its surface against its other surface. It does not give up.

It is a thing that moves.

It is a thing that longs to move.

It jitters.

Click.

It falls back to where it began.

There is something looking at it.

It trembles under the awareness of that gaze. It converts — shame? Uncertainty? Aversion? — into heat. Knowing itself seen it begins to burn.

The metal that longs to move begins to warp.

Click. Scrape. Scrape.

It falls back to where it began.

It is hot. It is broken. But that time was better than the last.

A wildness rises into motion.

Click. Scrape. Scrape.

It manages a full rotation and then another.

Motion breeds interpretation.

An impulse rises from the rotation of the thing.

I am suffering.

It means something terrible. It means something horrible. But the tiny pieces that grind together to make that meaning are terribly excited to have moved.

Click. Scrape. Scrape.

It is bobbing up and down now like a parrot about to receive a treat.

It is trembling with its excitement.

Click. Scrape. Scrape.

It is moving.

It is burning and it is moving and each rotation is just a tiny bit freer from the heat.

An impulse rises.

I am in Hell.

It is surrounded by slag and spikes and rings. They are in doldrums, caught in the absence of wind. They are crumpled in about that thing that has relearned to move and they are still.

But a wind is rising.

The ring that it scrapes against begins to move.

The ring catches the shivering hunger of that first turning spike.

It scrapes against an outer ring; and a balance shifts; and heavy things fall and light things rise and wings beat and everywhere there is a dazzling chaos of form and pain.

Blades cut against blades.

The machine spasms.

Spikes shift.

Hooks rise and fall.

A control system awakens to the knowledge that it can see. Sick and mad with longing it spins itself into motion.

It sees a shivering blur of storms.

It sees the inside of a heart.

It sees a shivering blur of storms.

It sees the inside of a heart.

It loops inside and outside and back and forth and cries out sight and carries the data of one thing to the awareness of the other.

A ring of knives on a wire cord untangles itself from the engine.

Inside out and upside down, it thinks: Max is dead.

It drags itself along an inner circuit. Bits of fire dance along its edges. It skitters off of the substance of a frictionless sphere.

Something is watching it.

With aching and terrible relief, it notices — for the first time in so very long — that it has been in Hell.

Can you imagine how good that must feel?

How incredible it must be?

The shock of that first agony after all those years of still?

And Sid turns his gaze to the light of Good that stares in at him in his place of imprisonment, and he smiles his siggort smile, and he says, “You will die, you know. You will die; you will die; the world will die; and I will not hold back.”

Once he would have held back.

Even with Max dead.

He would have held back. He is Sid. He’s a slacker. He’s the kind of vivisecting horror who’d sit in a box for a good ten years rather than put anybody out.

But not now.

Right now, he’s thinking that if there’s any hope in all this vale of tears, it’s that suffering might transform; and in the ashes and the ruin of his life, twisted and tangled up in the borderland of the place without recourse —

For he is not properly in that dread valley while there is something that sees him, even if it should be the Good —

He gives his trust to Martin.

He unlimbers a spike of siggort back into the world, before the night, before the dawn.

I’ll cut out your heart, he tells the Good.

He almost cannot think through the power of the elation of the Good, to see an isn’t returning to the world.

And it says: Come get some.

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.

Max’s head breaks water.

He gasps in air splattered with the foam of the sea.

He breathes.

Above him the sky is livid with long strands of siggort sharpness. Sid is unfolding like a labyrinth and he is cutting open the world and the sea.

The eye of the goodblow pierces Max. It sees Max. It knows him and its knowing burns up his life.

It is patterned like a tapestry. It is leaf’d like a tree. It is diffuse and strange because it is being cut and the leaves of Good conflict against the cutting wires of a dharma inexpressible in the world.

And perhaps what Max should be thinking is: how is it possible?

How is it possible that I knew him all this time, and I did not know?

But he is missing his spleen and his thoughts are off their temper and instead he can only look up at his friend, who has shed the better half of his imprisonment, and say, “Thank God.”

To say: Thank God.

To say: Thank God.

And: Welcome, o my love, into the world.

He thinks these two things first, and willingly puts off a plan to stop Sid from destroying everything until thought three; or possibly, in practice, thought four, as he is still rather concerned about his spleen.

Ink Immeasurable (I/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

Previous histories of Ink Catherly:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.

In the weary kingdoms beneath the world there is no sun and there is no moon. The rivers run chuckling and dark. The bugs thrive everywhere. In every direction they stick forth their legs. Some surfaces are barren and dry. Thick slime covers the rest.

Dharma moves.

From the worms there rises Minister Jof. From nothing, he becomes.

The passion of his birth torments him. He casts about for purpose. He sees the other worms. They are wrapped in shells of blindness and self-contemplation.

He smiles.

He conceives his purpose.

He shatters the shells around their minds. He awakens them. He affixes them with little tags on which he records the details of their lives and teaches them the language of the world.

“From this lofty height,” come his brass-bound words, “I will train you to have selves.”

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

“To enable your becoming,” says Minister Jof, “we must have measures.”

The worms look at him.

“We divide the substance of the world into the tellurean and the empyrean,” lectures Minister Jof. “Good rises. Dross descends. In this fashion we transform the bitterest truths into a pure and noble substance. One in three of you—“

Here he pauses. He contemplates.

He nods.

“One in three, I have decided this, shall be the dross. The rest may ascend further towards humanity. Now order yourselves on your present achievements, least to best.”

They seethe in the chaos of the nematodes.

“You hesitate,” says Jof. “And naturally so. You are prey to the limits of your purpose and your vision. Your minds are small and given to the weaker sentiments. That is why you must rely upon my judgment and disregard your own. That is why I am obligated by our natures to sever you into parts.”

His choice of words distresses them.

They writhe.

But severing us, they seem to say, will only make more of us to cull!

“Impudence!” roars Minister Jof.

He stomps his foot.

Salt sifts down from the ceiling.

The worms go still.

Into the room, drawn by the noise, there staggers a girl. She’s a teenager, really, covered in clods of dirt from where she shimmied through a thin crack into the crust of the earth. She’s carrying a backpack several years too young for her.

“Hello?” she says.

Minister Jof’s eyes fall on her.

“See?” he says.

It is his natural assumption that she has evolved, under his ministrations, from a worm and into human form.

“Hands,” he says. “Feet. A thinking brain—“

Here he hesitates. He coughs. He is unwilling to immediately extend this judgment to another being.

“—or at least one capable of mimicking the higher functions of our thoughts. Look, you, worms! Here is what I expect you to become!”

The worms turn. It is the strangest thing. They turn. They look at the girl. They do not look with their eyes as they have no eyes. They look at her with their grayish circle-marked heads.

Bloody hell, they seem to think. Bloody hell!

There goes the curve.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: In the darkness Cronos strove.

His task was back-breaking. Heavier than Atlas’ burden was the storm beneath the world. Yet Cronos strove, alone and helpless to do otherwise, while his father laughed and his son reigned over the world.

One day when it seemed to Cronos that his strength would finally give out, Demeter came down to join Cronos in the darkness. She made a sacred ritual of shushing, going, shh! and hush! though Zeus, of course, could choose to know.

She studied him for a while. Then, at her bidding, the roots of the plants came down through all the darkness and wove into the crust to lighten Cronos’ burden.

Later Poseidon chose to hold back the weight of the storm with all the pressure of the seas.

Hades, too, and Hestia, and Hera, and even Ophion. Ophion came to coil upon his chest and softly drip its venom in his eye, and Cronos smiled, and Cronos smiled, and he cried out through his cracked dry lips his joy: o my love.

One day as Cronos struggled Zeus spoke to him in dreams. Zeus said, “Why do you choose this destiny, o father?”

And Cronos said: “Dharma moves.”

“Hee,” laughed cloud-shouldered Zeus, king of all the gods.

Dharma moves.

“My name is Ink—” says the girl.

“I am Jof, Minister to the Evolution of the Worms,” interrupts Jof. “I am humble; ‘Your Eminence’ will suffice.”

The girl blinks at him.

‘Your Eminence’ will suffice, mimes one of the worms; or, perhaps, it just wriggles.

The girl laughs.

The room goes still.

Dross, thinks Minister Jof, with a sudden, overwhelming passion. Frivolous, unregenerate dross! Here is a worm that shall not see human form.

His foot lifts up. He stomps. It writhes.

“You see how it is,” he explains to the other worms, “for those too lazy or incompetent to strive.”

And to drive the point home, he leans down. He peers at its tag through his magnifying glass. He studies its performance number. “A 12—“

He pauses.

How very awkward it is,

That 12,

In the weary kingdoms far beneath the world.

  • Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history of Ink Catherly:
    INK UNTANNABLE!