(Maundy Thursday) The Corpse (IX/?)

It is 547 years before the common era that Siddhartha sees his first corpse.

He is in the city, among the people, seeking to understand those whom he must save. He is with Devadatta, his cousin, a man conservatively estimated as a match for two hundred and seventy soldiers in battle. He wears a keepsake of his wife Yasodhara around his wrist. It is Thursday.

What is this, Devadatta? asks Siddhartha:

This man, so still;
They carry him on their backs.
He lays flat upon a board,
And does not blink.
What is a man who does not blink, Devadatta?

Devadatta blinks.

Siddhartha continues:

This man, so still;
They lay him in a pyre.
They light the flames.
It is bad to lay amidst the flames,
It makes your father worry.
What is a man whom they would burn, Devadatta?

“A kindling man,” says Devadatta.

Siddhartha says:

This man, so still,
He smells of cooking meat,
His flesh is bubbling and baking,
Yet he does not move.
He feels no pain.
What is a man who feels no pain, Devadatta?

Devadatta barks laughter. He says:

A man who has transcended pain
We call a Buddha.
Burn him, he does not flinch.
Beat him, he does not cry out.
Such is the exercise of his endless compassion!
Sickness does not touch him,
Age does not touch him,
Death does not touch him—
Kill him, and he will only look at you
With injured eyes
And say, “Why did you do that, Devadatta?”

There is a long pause.

Or such my nightmares allege. Devadatta mumbles.

Siddhartha, who is not currently omniscient, is forced to stare blankly at Devadatta. Then his eyes wander, inevitably, to the corpse.

This man, so crispy,
He is turning to ash.
He does not move.
He does not smile.
He does not cry.
He does not breathe.
What is a man who does not breathe, Devadatta?

Devadatta says:

A man who is gone, Siddhartha.
This is death.
This is a man that you will never see again.
He is gone.
He has left the stage of your life,
Not to the wings,
Not to the pit,
But into the darkness from which no man returns.

This is not a man, Siddhartha,
This is a memory of a man,
This is the shell of a man,
This is what is left when the man is gone.
So shall you be when you are dead.
So shall I be if I am dead.
Such is the natural fate of every man.

Siddhartha looks blank. “But how can I be gone, Devadatta? I am right here.”

Devadatta shrugs.

“The concept of personal ending is difficult,” says Devadatta. “I have not mastered it myself. I believe it is like sleep, but quieter, and with no waking.”

“Ah,” says Siddhartha. Then he says:

Here is an absence.
Here is a hole in my world.
Here is something
I do not understand
Yet it is wrapped in the contingencies and accidents
Of the things I do.

Maya, the illusion of material existence, becomes a localized phenomenon. She says:

These are the words that bring forth Maya:
The desire to project
Into the space of the unknown;
The incomprehensible;
The impossible;
And the wrong
The accidents and contingencies
Of the things you know.
Thus does karma become experience
Experience becomes life
Life becomes a world
Worlds become Maya.
Why have you summoned me, Siddhartha?
You do not seek the Maya-Dharma.

“I am nothing without you, mother.”

Maya’s eyes sting. She does not speak.

“Please,” says Siddhartha. “Teach me the Maya-Dharma of death.”

So Maya inclines her head. Softly, she speaks.

Love while you can.
Accept that things pass.
This is the law, the new law,
That I would have you bring
When you turn the wheel
And rout your enemies
And end the suffering in the world.

“So this is the Maya-Dharma?” asks Siddhartha. “‘Cling without clinging?'”

It is a challenge, but it is not mockery.

His voice holds nothing but respect.

And Maya says:

I have loved you
Since I have known you, Siddhartha;
Knowing you will die.
And no matter how great the law
You set upon the world
I know that it will pass
And bitter days shall come again,
And pain.

And never have I loved you more than these last years
When I have thought that we would come to blows
And you unmake me
And I rain fire on you
To save the things I love.

I would not surrender it.
I would not let go of you, my child,
I would not set aside that love for you,
For all the treasures of the Earth.

I know you will pass.
And yet I cling.
That is the Maya-Dharma.

Siddhartha says, “I know this Dharma.”

“Do you?” she asks, softly.

Siddhartha says:

I have seen,
At the edge of my world,
A cloud,
Roiling and thunderous,
A terror that I should not like to face
Yet I am attached to it, mother.

It would be best,
If I could turn aside,
And live out my life
Without facing that storm.
Yet I am attached to it, mother.

And I must ask you, mother,
To forgive me.
If I fall
If I falter
If I leave the path
And become something other
Than a wheel-turning king.

Maya looks at him. It is a long look. Then she bows her head, and there are tears.

Do not summon me again, or I will surely take your life. she says.

There is a pause.

You are forgiven, and forever loved. she says, and ceases to be a localized phenomenon.

Siddhartha goes home to Yasodhara, and they sleep together; and that night, the wing of Maya brushes past them, and quickens Siddhartha’s child in Yasodhara’s womb.

Before He Was Cool (I/I)

Between the Earth and the Moon there is a world made entirely out of firewood. It’s five hundred miles wide and ten miles deep. It has lots of firewood animals and firewood cities and firewood people. It is an innocent world, a young world, but it is no paradise. It is a savage jungle.

Martin is born on March 22, 1995, at 6:38 pm, on a night of screams and fire, on a world above the world.

The first thing he ever sees is the monster’s face.

Martin ducks instinctively. He throws his forearms before his eyes. But then there’s a shock of recognition, and a wave of relief, and he laughs.

“Why, this is just a firewood monster,” he says.

The firewood monster adjusts its lacquered tie. “You be-long to me,” it says. Its voice is vaguely animatronic.

There’s the sound of explosions in the distance.

Martin’s in a little room made of firewood. It’s like the monster’s house. There’s a spider, which is a real spider. Everything else is made out of firewood: the belt, the archaic aversion therapy devices, the couch, the bookshelves, and the bottles of pills. There are weird white spots here and there on the wood, like some birch got mixed in with the rest.

“You be-long to me,” says the firewood monster again.

The whole world creaks. A crack runs through the floor, stopping short of Martin’s feet.

Martin grins wryly at the firewood monster, gives him a little wave, and opens the door. He steps out onto the street. Death looks him in the face. Death has a scythe. Death has a cloak. Death is a skeleton.

Martin almost steps back and slams the door. But then he understands, and he laughs.

“Why, this is just a firewood Death,” he says.

“Solve prob-lems through ex-tinc-tion!” declares the firewood Death. He sweeps his scythe at Martin. Martin ducks under it and kicks Death’s knee. Death’s knee cracks. Martin scrambles away.

“Even a firewood Death is dangerous!” he realizes. So he runs. He ducks into a barber shop. There’s a spinning red and white log outside, and a ghastly barber inside.

“I’ll shave your hair in-to a bowl cut!” the barber declares.

“You’re just a firewood barber,” says Martin nervously. He’s a thirteen-year-old boy. He doesn’t want a bowl cut, but he doesn’t want to fight a ghastly barber, either!

Then he sees the mirror.

His soul knows its truths. You are nothing, it tells him. A firewood boy. An isn’t.

“Oh, God,” Martin says.

A great shadow moves along the street. There are firewood screams.

Martin sits down. He covers his face with his hands. He thinks.

“I can-not shave your hair on the floor,” says the firewood barber. “There are al-read-y sha-vings on the floor.”

“I’m thinking,” says Martin.

The barber processes this unusual situation.

“Do not o-ver-heat your brain,” the firewood barber cautions.

“I’ll overheat if I want to,” says Martin, sulkily. But he doesn’t. Then he stands up. “Will you bless me?” he asks.

The barber is nonplussed and ghastly. “I am a bar-ber,” it says.

“I have to do something really hard,” says Martin. “And you’re the only person I know.”

The firewood barber hesitates. It is horrid and stodgy and animatronic and it is not a priest. “I would pre-fer,” it says, “to shave your hair.”

“You’re the only person I know.”

So the barber nods. It puts down its shaver and its bowl for the first time in its long existence. It takes Martin’s arms, one in each clumsy hand.

“Bless you,” it says. “Be well. Good luck. En-dure.”

Martin is a thirteen-year-old boy. He does not let his tears show. He does not hug the barber. He simply walks out. He finds the gate to the Underworld. He goes in.

His soul knows its truths. You are nothing, it tells him. A firewood boy. An isn’t.

It’s his destiny. It’s the law of his nature. It’s his dharma. It’s the truth of his soul that he can’t escape. But then there’s a realization and a decision and a wave of defiance and he laughs.

“Why,” he says, “you’re just a firewood dharma.”

Martin puts it aside and he descends.

The Sphere

The father looks down on the salesman.

“Will you do it?” asks the salesman; asks Mr. Brown, holding out a pair of shoes, limply, to his father; pitching them, desperately, to his father, who is dead and gone.

“No,” says his father.

“No?”

“No.”

His father looks away, then. His look is distant. “I know what you are thinking, son. The dead are the last great untapped market. But I will not buy them. I will not take them beyond. We have no use for shoes.”

“You could . . . you could be like Mike.”

“He is alive,” says the father of Mr. Brown. “I am not.”

Then the father is gone.

A door opens in the silvered sphere. Mr. Brown walks out. He walks away. He is thoughtful. He is not dejected. It is not over. He will try again.

He tries every year, on the anniversary of his father’s death.

Out on the sidewalk, there is a young girl waiting to use the sphere. She is carrying a flower.

“Are you done, then?” she says, to Mr. Brown.

He smiles to her. “The dead have no use for flowers,” he says.

“I know,” she says. Her name is Emily. “It is for me.”

“Good child,” says Mr. Brown, and he ruffles her hair, and he is gone, walking down the white sidewalks by the green grass of the world.

So Emily steps forward. She walks up to the sphere. She enters it. It closes behind her.

“Grandma?” she asks.

Inside the sphere there is a tree, and a glade, and above it all the sun.

“Grandma?” asks Emily.

The wind stirs the grass and the fallen leaves. Then her nana Lily is there.

“Emily,” says Lily. She bends down on one knee. She holds out her arms for Emily. Emily runs into them, fierce, as if defying something that is not there.

“Nana,” Emily says.

Lily holds Emily at arms’ distance. “You have brought me a flower,” she says, in tones of wondrous discovery.

Emily thinks. Then she places the flower in Lily’s hand. She closes Lily’s hand around it.

“I’ll treasure it,” says Lily.

“Don’t go, grandma,” says Emily. “I don’t want you to go.”

“I don’t want to go,” says Lily. “I don’t want to go. But I’m gone.”

“I miss you.”

There is a smile on Lily’s face. It is whole and pure. “I’m always with you.”

Emily lowers her head.

“I can’t stay long,” Emily says.

“That’s all right,” Lily says. “Have you been doing your homework every day? Have you been washing behind your ears? Have you been brushing your teeth with Crest-brand whitening toothpaste?”

Emily smiles shyly. “Yes, nana,” she says.

“And you still eat those McDonalds Happy Meals, a registered trademark of the McDonalds corporation, that you loved so well?”

“I do,” says Emily.

“Good,” says Lily.

Emily looks down. “I can’t stay long,” she says. “Mommy says that we only get a ration of three hours a month in the sphere, for the whole family.”

“I know, hon,” says Lily. “I’m glad you came today.”

So Emily hugs her again, and turns away, and the sphere opens, and she steps partway out, and she is almost gone when she asks, “But Mommy says we shouldn’t take charity.”

“It’s not charity,” says Lily. “It’s love.”

So Emily steps out, and the sphere closes, and Lily is left behind.

The Game One Plays

Dolls have a monarchistic streak. They are trained in authority from the moment of their making. It is not so with the weebles, who wobble but do not fall down; nor with the teddy bears, who are most sensibly gregarious; nor the sock puppets, that prefer to brood in solipsistic silence, down at the heart of the world.

The bombs fall, and there is a long silence.

Time passes.

It is 2138, and up to the gallows they march them: the King and his daughter Meredith. Their nooses hang side by side.

“By what right do you do this?” Meredith asks.

It is Saul who comes forward to speak for the crowd. Saul lifts his chin. He looks her in the eye.

“Because,” Saul says, “he has grown cruel.”

The King is indifferent. He looks past these men.

“When I was a child,” says Meredith, “my mother broke the rules of my kind. She fell into the basement. She could not reach the stairs. The rats and spiders tore her apart. And as I stood there, looking down, thinking that I might cast myself after her—might save her—the King’s dream car passed by. And he looked out. And he said, ‘Bring her.’ And they dragged me back. And since then he has raised me. And loved me. Is this a cruel man?”

“We live in poverty,” says Saul. “And he in wealth. He has kept for himself our treasures. And he does nothing to save us.”

The King flinches. Then his gaze is stern again.

“We were sixty,” says Saul. “And now we are twelve.”

The King’s teeth clench. But still he is silent: silent until Max, standing by the noose, beckons him back. Then, as the King steps back, the words force themselves from his throat.

“I was left in charge,” he says.

Max takes his arm. Max drags him back.

“No,” says the King. “No. The human child. She left me in charge.

“We molder,” whispers Saul, “while you play in your dream house and dentist’s office.”

The noose wraps around the King’s neck. It is soft and uncompromising, woven from the last few strands of Barbie’s hair.

The trapdoor opens. There is a sound like the snap of bone.

Meredith’s eyes are wide. Max turns to her.

“Disclaim him,” he says. “Abandon him, and we may let you live.”

There is something animal in Meredith’s eyes. She puts her fist to her mouth. She does not speak, but with a convulsive motion sits down at the gallows’ edge. She rocks back and forth.

Max looks at Saul.

After a moment, Saul shrugs. “Leave her be,” he says. “We are only twelve.”

Max nods.

“Her head is, any road, somewhat smaller than her neck.”

So Saul walks away, and Max walks away. The crowd disperses, through the dust and the cobwebs, to loot through the night the treasures of the realm.

Morning comes.

Meredith pulls the King from the noose. She stretches him out on the platform. She crouches over him, wobbling forward and back.

“Wake up,” she says. “Wake up. It’s morning.”

The King does not open his eyes. His eyes cannot be closed. But there is a certain sense that comes to them, after a while.

“Death is the emptiness that howls,” he says.

Her face twitches.

“Why are you cruel?” she demands. “Why are you cruel? Why do they play this game?”

He pulls himself to his feet. He dusts off his shirt and pants. He looks at her. For a moment, there is sympathy in his eyes. Then there is only regal detachment.

“It is the game,” he says, “one plays with Kings.”

There is a long silence.

“Weebles favor a parliamentary democracy,” she observes.

Brick Road

“They say the Wizard did a favor for an angel once,” Saul says.

Clair sighs. “I don’t want to hear your crazy theories about the Wizard.”

“So the angel granted him three wishes. And he said, ‘I wish to always win at cards, if I want to; and that anyone who sits down in that chair won’t be able to get up without my permission; and anyone who climbs my old orange tree, why, without my permission, they won’t be able to come down.'”

“The Wizard’s a myth,” Clair says. “This is a naturally occurring fairyland. It doesn’t require a Wizard.”

“And that’s why nobody ever dies here,” Saul says. “Because Death’s stuck up in the Wizard’s tree, and he can’t come down.”

Fairyland,” Clair emphasizes.

“Well,” Saul says. “We’re going to find out soon.”

“Oh?”

Saul looks insufferably smug. “I got a call from my contact in Puzzleville,” he says. “He says he can blow the conspiracy wide open. He’s going to expose all the lies, Clair. The Brick Road. The Wizard. Fairyland. We’re going to know the truth.”

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE

Saul and Clair stroll through the woods. Puzzleville fades in slowly. One or two pieces of the dirt path seem like odd stones: on closer examination, they are jigsaw pieces. Green ropes of dangling jigsaw hang from the tree branches overhead. Slowly but surely the entire world becomes a jigsaw construction, until the grand jigsaw gate rears over it all, surmounted by a sign reading PUZZ_EVILLE. Part of the sign has fallen to the ground and broken, and two jigsaw children work fervently to reassemble it.

Clair points at a smaller sign, off to the side. “Fragile,” she says. “Please do not apply concussive force.”

“Guess you’d better not go wild on the drums,” Saul says.

“I forgot to bring them,” she says. “I guess fate loves a jigsaw.”

They walk towards the building labelled, “Saul’s Contact’s House.” They’re easy. They’re relaxed. Then there’s a horrible crunching, crashing sound from within.

“Clair,” Saul says.

Clair draws her gun. They advance slowly towards the building. Its entire facade crashes down on them in a rain of jigsaw pieces. The creature roars out.

A physical description does the creature no justice, for its physical form is an unassuming jackanapes. For a resident of Fairyland, its deformities are minor. It has wheels attached to its arms and legs, instead of hands and feet. The long tails of its coat jut back stiffly, like an animal’s tail bristling. Its moustaches are sharp. None of these things disturb Saul or Clair, but there is an animal ferocity and a demoniac madness on its face that makes it horrible. It is a thing that hungers, and its hungers are dark. The venom of its glance strikes like a blow, and Saul falls over backwards.

“Catch it, Clair!” he shouts.

Clair fires, once, twice, three times. The first bullet strikes its shoulder but does not slow its advance. The second bullet, dead into its forehead, sends it twisting back and around. The third prompts the creature to scream, high and terrible. It twitches and goes still.

“Cover it,” she says. Saul crawls into a sitting position, pulls his own gun, and holds it trained on the creature.

Clair advances gingerly. She puts two fingers to the side of its neck. “Unconscious,” she says.

“I’ll check out the building,” Saul says.

Saul goes inside. Clair efficiently strips off the creature’s tires and puts its wheels up on improvised blocks. She clips a long metal rod to its bow tie so that the creature cannot twist its neck. Then she waits. After a moment, Saul comes out. He shakes his head.

“He’s in pieces,” Saul says. He turns. He looks up and down the street. He shouts, “Hey! We need an assembly squad, stat!”

A few jigsaw people poke their heads out from nearby buildings. Reluctantly, subduedly, they go into the ruins and begin assembling Saul’s contact.

“It’ll be at least three hours,” Saul says. “He’s pretty scattered.”

Clair calls for backup. They wait. About an hour and a half passes before the creature wakes up. It snarls at them.

“You shouldn’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong,” it says. “Someone’s likely to eat it! And then spit it back in your face, all gooky with saliva!”

Clair frowns. “Ew.”

“What do you know?” Saul asks, companionably.

“I know how to hurt you,” it whispers. “Forever and ever, oh yes. With wheels.” It struggles against the blocks.

“I mean, about the conspiracy.”

The creature opens its mouth, then closes it again. “Can’t tell you,” it says.

“Typical,” Saul mutters.

A helicopter circles overhead. The fragile jigsaw people look at it warily. The pilot is skilled, but no skill is sufficient. The helicopter’s landing disassembles a large chunk of road, three bushes, a horse trough, and a festive tavern sign reading, “300 Piece Liquor.” Two men in suits get out to take custody of the creature. A third steps down, and Saul snarls.

“You,” he says.

The third man is on fire. He seems pretty casual about it. Smoke spirals off him into the sky, slowly turning jigsaw as it rises.

“Yes,” says the smoking man.

“What do you want?” Saul says. He steps forward, belligerently.

“Just taking this thing back to the oubliette where it belongs.”

“You’re at the heart of all this,” Saul says. “I know it.”

“Feh,” says the smoking man. “I’m just the lord of the oubliette.” The two suited men drag the creature into the helicopter. The smoking man follows them in. “If you want to complain,” he adds, “talk to the Wizard.”

The helicopter takes off again. Saul stands up. He paces. A young fresh-faced woman made entirely out of corner pieces comes out of the ruins.

“He’s reassembled,” she says. “But not entirely.”

“Not entirely?”

“He’d been mauled,” she says. “Badly. We couldn’t find all the pieces of his brain. Mostly, he sits in one place and says ‘guh’.”

Saul and Clair hurry in. Saul’s contact is in the middle of the ruin. He sits. He smiles at them. He says, “Guh.”

“As advertised,” Clair says, grimly.

“Please,” Saul says. “Jigsaw-1. Can’t you tell me anything?”

“Guh!” the contact emphasizes.

Saul sits, heavily.

“That’s it, then,” he says. “The smoking man’s won.”

“Guh,” the contact says, expressively. Then, with the smile of a man sharing a wonderful secret, he opens his hand and shows Saul his palm. Attached to it is a transparent piece of cellophane. It shimmers with stained glass-style colors. It is cut into the shape of an X.

“It’s pretty!” declares Clair.

Saul takes it. “I guess,” he says, “that even if I don’t have the truth, I have a new window decoration.”

Dejected, they go back home. They stop at Saul’s door. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” Saul asks.

“Sure,” Clair says.

Clair follows Saul in. Saul fixes the stained-glass cellophane X to his window. He goes into the kitchen. He makes coffee.

“They say there’s no evil here,” Saul says, “because the Wizard trapped the Devil. The Devil didn’t care that the Wizard couldn’t die. He wanted his due. But when he came for the Wizard, the Wizard offered him a chair. And before he knew it, the Devil was stuck, and he couldn’t get up without the Wizard’s permission.”

“Do you really think there’s no evil here?” Clair asks.

“I think there’s evil everywhere,” Saul says. “But in most places, it seeps out and infects everything. Here, mostly, we throw it in the oubliette.”

“What about the conspiracy?”

“That’s not evil,” Saul says. “It’s just rude. Hey.”

“Hey?”

Saul points. On his desk is a map of Fairyland. The evening sunlight coming in through his window passes through the X and illuminates a spot.

“Where is it?” Clair asks.

“It’s on the Brick Road,” Saul says. “Near the valley of the sheep.”

They get up. They go to the car. They drive.

Time passes.

“What were the cards for?” Clair asks. “I mean, in the story.”

Saul pulls over, gently. He parks the car. He turns off the headlights.

“The Devil wanted to game for his freedom,” Saul says. “So he bet the Wizard’s soul against his freedom from the chair, and he lost.

“‘Double or nothing,’ said the Devil.

“‘I only got one soul,’ said the Wizard.

“‘I’ll bet you dominion over all Hell,’ said the Devil. ‘And if you win, I’ll even go to work for you. Against your soul, and my freedom from this chair.’

“So they played, and the Wizard won.”

Saul gets out of the car. He walks forward. He shines his flashlight about. Then he stops.

“Over there,” he says. “It’s an orange tree. And there’s someone in it.”

Clair’s flashlight flicks up onto a startled and skeletal face. “Saul,” she says. “I think . . . I think it’s Death.”

Death turns his face away. Tear tracks have cut channels deep into his skull.

“It’s not my fault,” he says. “There was a sparrow up here. It was dying. I didn’t have a choice.”

“So it’s true,” Saul says.

“It’s true,” Death confesses. “All of it. This isn’t a Fairyland. It’s just Hell.”

“Poor thing,” Saul says. “I guess being stuck in an orange tree for a few thousand years must be Hell, all right.”

“It was paved over,” Death says. “The demons were thrown in an oubliette, and only let out for special assignments. ‘I don’t want to rule a place of torture and pain,’ said the Wizard. But he’ll trap me in a tree for thousands of years, oh yes. He’ll do that.

“Wait,” Saul says. “Literally, Hell?”

“Look under the bricks,” Death says. “The truth’s right below you.”

So Saul pries back the golden bricks, one by one.

Beneath the road there is a river of blood.

Making Three

Death and Life are at a party. Death flirts with Life. Life flirts back. Next thing you know, it’s off with the robes.

“You’re so hard,” Life comments, running her hands over Death’s ribcage.

“Ossific,” Death confirms, leaning in for a kiss. “Or, perhaps, ossifilicious.”

“Mm,” Life says.

That’s all that there was to it, or at least all there was supposed to be; but it didn’t take very long before Death got the call.

“There’s a pink line,” Life says. “Well, two.”

“I didn’t even know I was virile,” Death admits. But when the baby comes, she’s really bony, so he has to admit it’s pretty likely.

It isn’t bad, really, even though life and death have busy schedules that don’t often meet. They name the girl Jill and raise her in the twilight place between their kingdoms. She nurses on life and has death’s tending.

“Peekaboo,” Death says. He covers the child’s eyes with his hand. It’s bony, but she’s pretty young, so she has small eyes. She wriggles her nose. He removes his hand. She beams.

“Peekaboo,” Death says. He covers the child’s eyes with his hand. She wriggles her nose. He removes his hand. She beams.

“Peekaboo,” Death adds. He covers the child’s eyes with his hand. She wriggles her nose. He removes his hand. Death is gone. Jill looks around in confusion. She begins to wail. Soon Life rushes in.

“What are you doing?” Life asks, annoyed.

Death reappears. He looks confused at her annoyance. “It’s peekaboo,” he says. “I’m teaching her object permanence.”

Leaf and Bone Harmony

Once upon a time, there was tea. It was a good tea. But it lived in the house of death.

“Some day,” it said, “Death will take me from this pot.”

In his bleak cathedral, Death turns towards the tea. He points a bony finger. “All things die,” he says. “All things end. There is no beginning that hath not an ending. Children shall die. They shall die in fire. In water. In sorrow. In pain. They shall be hit by busses. They shall be slain by tornadoes. They shall be killed by stupid people who don’t know any better, and nasty people who rather do. All their promise, snuffed out; and not because it is right, and not because it is better, but because this is the doctrine of endings.”

“Death will take me from this pot,
And he’ll put me in water.”

“The glories of the past shall be forgotten,” Death says, “and the glories of today shall neither be remembered. Wood shall rot. Stone shall crumble. Voices shall go silent. Cats no more go ‘meow’.”

“Death will take me from this pot,
And he’ll put me in water,
And he’ll steep me,
And all the goodness will come out of me and into the water.”

“ALL WORKS OF MAN ARE FOLLY,” thunders Death, and the sky outside of his cathedral lights up with summer fire. Softly, he says, “all works of man are folly; and if ye know not one thing else, know that.”

“Death will take me from this pot,
And he’ll put me in water,
And he’ll steep me,
And all the goodness will come out of me and into the water.

And he’ll drink me,
And it will flow into him.”

“There is no hope,” says Death. “There is only madness. There is only the knowledge that nothing you ever do shall have meaning; that the world does not love you, does not know you; that your time on this Earth is a passing dream.”

“Death will take me from this pot,
And he’ll put me in water,
And he’ll steep me,
And all the goodness will come out of me and into the water.

And he’ll drink me,
And it will flow into him;
And from there, into the world.”

“And the world shall know endless days of death and pain, and all the history of humankind in sorrow, until the Earth at last grows tired and surrenders to the burden of its age.”

“And he’ll drink me,
And it will flow into him;
And from there, into the world.
And the world will know that goodness,
And grow tea.”

Death puts on the water. He watches the pot. Time passes.