[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]
One by one the girl climbs the steps.
The orderlies behind her push her up. A crowd has gathered deep below.
That she is sick is clear. The crowd chants it: “Sick. Sick. Sick.”
They call her perverse. They call her degenerate. They chant of her sickness. But you do not need to trust the crowd.
The nurses have confirmed it. They were mercenary nurses, five to a drachma, and four of them hadn’t even bothered to look—
“All the signs of moral decay,” they’d said, and bobbed their heads—
But the fifth had taken her vitals, looked into her mouth, and listened to her heart, and she had agreed with the greatest vehemence of them all.
The girl is sick. That much is clear. The peak of Sarous’ ziggurat draws near.
“I wish I knew whether I were to offer a denial or a bribe,” says the girl.
Something small and black scuttles into the cracks of the stone of the steps and it is gone.
“It’s too late, innit?” says one orderly. “Now you’ve been properly diagnosed.”
“It can’t be too late! I haven’t done anything immoral!”
The orderlies behind her push her up.
Sulks the girl, “Yet.”
The leftmost orderly’s heard it all before. He’s heard it all, right down to that last “Yet.” He’s a ziggurat orderly. He knows his business, right down to the bloody nub. Yet somehow he’s kept a good heart through it all. Somehow he’s good enough to love her for being human even as he shoves her upwards towards her doom.
So he says, “You oughtn’t worry so much about what to say or what not to say, what you do or what you don’t do, you.”
“Eh?” says the girl.
“Well, what you say,” he says, “see, what you say? What you do? Those’d be symptoms, wouldn’t they? Just symptoms? Patient reporting? And a real doctor goes by signs.”
June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Rhea: In the Golden Age that preceded the Titanomachy nothing happened that was not correct.
Such was the imprint of this time upon our world that even the richest, even the wisest, and even the greatest of us still look back with wistful sorrow and remember it. The world was in harmony. Morality dominated in every portion. And no man or woman could rightly say that the chains of Necessity upon them were a burden. The behaviors that those chains compelled were virtuous, honorable, and good; save from one.
In all the world only the titan Cronos was free.
He ruled nobly and justly, one must assume, except for that incident with Hestia, and one day Rhea approached him with Demeter in her arms.
She was tentative and hesitant.
“Lo,” said Rhea. “The Great Goddess.”
Cronos judged Demeter.
“She, like Hestia, is food,” Cronos said.
“Not every goddess is food,” Rhea said. “Demeter is a marvel of the world.”
“She is the goddess of the harvest,” said Rhea. “Of the bounty of the earth. Of grain and green and growing things—“
Cronos had a wry look.
Rhea cleared her throat. “Observe her nose,” Rhea said.
“She has a nose,” allowed Cronos. He lifted Demeter from Rhea’s arms with great gentleness. He looked at her. “And she is the harvest. But she is also a princess.”
The Great Goddess wriggled, and offered, “Goo?”
“To put it another way,” Cronos said, “‘an asset to my throne.'”
He bit off Demeter’s nose. He swallowed it. Then he ate her head to stop her wailing. He bit the rest of her in half. He swallowed her. His stomach grew bloated on this flesh.
He ate Hera too. And Hades. And Poseidon. He ate them all when their presentation came.
Rhea’s life became a horror to her.
Once she had loved him. She no longer recognized in him the person that she’d loved. Once she had lain with him gladly, and found in the straining of their sex an emptiness to cultivate with child. Now she resented their union. She lay with him only because she was his wife. She resented his seed inside her womb.
The chains of Necessity bound her.
She could not do otherwise than serve him. She could rage against him. She could question him. She could hurt him in small, petty ways. But this was the Golden Age, the Age we wistfully speak of, when things were better, and she could not defy him.
To defy him would not have been correct.
In all the world only one creature was free, and it was not she.
Riffle watches from the crowd. From behind his left shoulder he hears a voice.
“Found you, sir,” the creature says.
Riffle glances sideways.
It’s Smith, this one. Looks like a webwork of cracks in the air. It had been a webwork of cracks in the air, once, before it evolved and joined his crew.
“The girl’s name is Ink Catherly,” Riffle says. “But everyone calls her the imago. Just another sign of moral degeneracy, the nurses’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.”
Pushed by the rightmost orderly, the girl takes another step upwards towards her doom.
Smith clears its— well, it clears its something, anyway. “Will you be coming back, sir?”
“I’m done with scaffolding,” Riffle says.
“It just didn’t seem the same once she left,” Riffle says. “Seemed—off. Futile, somehow. If you follow.”
Smith scrapes one toe-like crack along the ground.
“It seemed to me like maybe she had something after all. Potential. She could save us all, Smith. She could be a legitimate God-damn savior, and me, me, pulling on her strings.”
Ink stumbles up another step.
“Looks like she’s going to get kilt, sir,” Smith reports.
“You always kill saviors,” Riffle says.
“Wouldn’t be people, now, would we, if we didn’t kill our saviors? Just rats and cracks and worms and stuff, if we weren’t at least evolved enough for that.“
“Will you be needing us labor, sir?”
“No,” Riffle says. “No, but thank you. You may tell the others. I don’t need you any more.”
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
Ink reaches the top step. She stumbles to a halt. In front of her there’s an altar with a blackened trench for blood. On the other side of it there’s Sarous, the doctor of the deeps.
Sarous looks to the orderlies. He says, “Condition?”
“Wounded hand,” says the rightmost orderly. “Bit of a bloody throat. Claims she’s going to kill whomever’s on the throne of the world and doesn’t quite get just how that’s morally depraved.”
“Hyperrachia,” says Sarous. “No doubt.”
Ink licks her lips. She looks up. She says, “What are you going to do to me?”
Sarous looks to her.
He says, “You understand, my dear, that to murder someone, much less God, cannot possibly be correct?”
This is a bit of a toughie.
“That it is, perhaps, the definition of immorality?”
“Won’t make excuses,” says Ink.
She’s noticing just how dark the altar is.
She adds, “Will you?”
“You’re sick,” the doctor says.
- Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history in this sixteen-part series: