Hitherby Annual #2 – Maundy Thursday (I/I)

Where did Sid come from?

Sid is born.

His body is vast. It is not human. It is beads of chaos clinging to a scaffolding of abstract form. It is a cacophony of shape, its endless muscles and organs twisting about aimlessly because the science of anatomy does not yet exist.

It is unapproachable because it is ringed in knives.

Someone tries to speak to Sid: they are cut.

Someone tries to touch Sid: they are cut.

In this fashion he is inaccessible within his riot and chaos of shape. But interwoven among the pieces of him, the gross flesh of him, there is the divine fire.

It gropes for selfhood and finds it.

Sid sorts impressions. He begins to understand the world. In a many-timbred voice he says, “Hey.”

A wind seizes him up.

Claws and hands surround him.

He is cast into a nebulous region, immured in direst bondage.

He is in that place of darkness and of emptiness that will be Siggort Town one day.

How did Max find “Prester Gee and the Ragged Things?”

It is many years later.

There is only once in all the histories of the conversations of Sid and Max when Sid admitted his nature as a burden upon him.

It is in 1992 and the sky is dark with clotted clouds.

Sid is looking after the back of a woman who has come this close to fulfilling the criteria for his destiny, and he says, “I think that the world has no place for siggorts.”

And Max looks at him.

“It’s a really cool world. And we are unworthy of it.”

Max points out, “It’s not like the humans are so great.”

Sid grins.

“Well,” he says, and gestures to show he cannot dispute the point.

And then he goes left, because he’s going to pick up some paint from the hardware store while he’s in town, and Max goes right, to the used bookstore.

Max shops. He finds an old Louis L’amour he hasn’t read. He finds the new Danielle Steel.

He looks at the special shelves next to the counter. He pulls down an odd-sized children’s book. It is called, “Prester Gee and the Ragged Things.”

It is brightly colored.

The proprietor of the used bookstore, one Dannon Cleim, says, “I wouldn’t.”

“Hm?”

“Reading that kind of thing,” says Dannon, “attracts their attention.”

“Oh.”

The cover shows a girl staring at a sign saying, “Wrong Place.” while something emerges from around a corner behind her.

Max finds it oddly fascinating.

“Someday,” says Dannon, “they will come for me. They will come from the air, from beyond the borders of the world where I live. And as they seize me I will hear the whispering of Ii Ma’s voice.”

“Yeah,” Max says, distractedly. “That happened to me once.”

Dannon’s jaw sets. He does not look pleased with Max. He says something truly spiteful, which is, “Well, you can buy it if you’d like.”

And so Max does.

Did Max worry too much about the nature of siggorts?

If Max were to see a vivisected corpse on the street he would fret terribly and wonder if Sid killed it.

Fortunately this never actually happens.

Max has never seen anyone vivisected except for that one time.

But sometimes there’ll be some tarp or something on the road and he’ll think it’s a vivisected body, just laying there.

That can happen when you’re worrying too much about the nature of siggorts.

How did Max find out about the place without recourse?

Max reads.

This is how the book begins:

“Hello!

This is Prester Gee’s book.

I’m Prester Gee!”

There’s a picture of Prester Gee next to it. She’s a cheerful young woman but she is not very photorealistic.

Max turns the page.

“I had a friend named Margerie.

One day the ragged things came in and took her away.”

Max admires the picture. It shows the ragged things taking Margerie away.

Then he begins to read in earnest.

He reads on right to the end.

Prester Gee and the Ragged Things

From the archives at Gibbelins’ tower.

Hello!

This is Prester Gee’s book.

I’m Prester Gee!

I had a friend named Margerie.

One day the ragged things came in and took her away.

She yelled so much!

They took her away through the cracks in the world.

I went right away to the Sheriff. He had a shiny badge. I told him, “Sir, they have taken Margerie.”

But he did not want to talk about it!

“Shoo,” he said.

He waved me away with his shooing gun.

I also talked to the Mayor.

I said, “Mr. Mayor, sir, they have taken Margerie.”

The Mayor said, “This is a city council meeting about dogs. I want to talk about dogs. I do not want to talk about your stinky Margerie!”

There was nothing I could do.

I had to apologize!

I even talked to Margerie’s husband. He’d taken off his wedding ring but you could still see where it was missing.

I said, “It was ragged things. They were big and red and their footsteps were heavy.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Margerie’s husband. “There are no things like that anywhere in the world.”

“Oh,” I said.

This made me very sad and I began to cry and he made me coffee. We did not talk about Margerie. We just drank coffee.

Eventually he cried too.

I guessed that maybe I’d made up Margerie all along. It is hard to believe in your reality when nobody else does.

But I kept seeing cracks in the world.

Sometimes strange things make what you know seem thin. Like a layer of puff pastry. The truth seems so thin you could crunch through it. You start to say, “I can’t trust me.”

You trust other people.

They’re smarter than you.

You say, “They probably know best!”

Everything looked like it was shaking in place, all the time, because I did not believe in myself. Also every shadow looked extra-dark and squirmy with unknown things.

And there were cracks.

They would be here or there. In my cupboard or under my stairs. I found a crack on the sidewalk once. I did not step on it. My mother was already dead but I thought, that could be so rude.

So rude!

She would be in Heaven playing her accordion and then I would step on a crack. Suddenly snap her back would break! All of the other angels would laugh and her accordion would whine, wee-guh, wee-guh, like sad accordions do.

I told a police man about the cracks.

I pointed him at one.

He said, “That’s very bad, ma’am!”

I was very embarrassed.

He blew his whistle. Beep! Beep!

“You have gone mad,” he concluded.

“Oh no!” I said.

I did not want to have gone mad.

I went to the hospital. All of the doctors in their white coats looked at me.

“You are not mad,” they said.

“I’m not?”

“No,” they said.

The doctors all smiled.

“You’re just corrupt!”

This apparently was better vis-a-vis state regulations. If I were mad then I would live in a padded room. But I was corrupt so they let me go back home.

My boss did not like me much. He said, “I heard about you and the hospital. I’m firing you, Prester Gee!”

I made a very sad face but he stuck by his decision with determination!

So I left.

I got another job typing and then a job packing fruit and then I lived on Garden Street with a puppy I found. When people would be mean to me the puppy would shoot them up with lasers.

“That puppy’s defective!” they’d say. “Dogs should hardly ever use lasers!”

It was a bad puppy and should have been killed but I loved him.

One day Margerie’s husband came and sat down next to me.

He said, “I know you didn’t lie.”

It was a wind.

It was a wind that he said those words. Suddenly the world stopped shaking.

He said, “I will pay you a lot of money to go to the ragged things’ academy and ask after my wife.”

The puppy barked and then licked his hand.

My puppy did not shoot him with lasers. So I said, “I trust you.”

The next time I saw a crack, I peeked my head through.

You should tear this page out. I cannot tear it out because my publisher would get mad at me. He would shake his cigar and puff up his cheeks. But you should. You should tear out the pages that have the pictures of the ragged things’ world. You should tear them out and burn them.

I don’t know why I am leaving these pages in.

But it looked like badness.

It looked like the world but nobody had souls. Not even the grass had souls. You could walk on it and squish it and it would not care.

I took many pictures. Sometimes people who look at them throw up! Or their pants get bulgy like there is a mouse in them. Or they yell at me.

I am very sad when people yell at me.

I did not find Margerie in the ragged things’ world.

I think that it is bad to look in the world behind the cracks. If you can see them do not look. Just look away.

Do not tell police men.

Do not tell the Mayor.

Do not tell the doctor.

Do not even tell people’s husbands.

Just look away.

One day they will come for me. I dream of it. They will come for me and Ii Ma will come for me.

Ii Ma will ask me a question I cannot answer.

He will take me away from the world to a place without recourse.

And nothing I do, and nothing I have ever done, will matter again.

How did Max come to understand the nature of the world?

Max puts the book down.

He thinks for a while.

“Huh,” he says.

And he hears in memory the whisper in his mind: How could you betray your wife?

He trembles, there, like a leaf.

He stands on the last vertex of reason with the endless net of unacceptable truths just a step or so outside of his reach.

He is this close to understanding.

He remembers the King that came to Spattle.

His mind throbs with the pictures of Prester Gee.

Shifting in and out of the edge of his consciousness is the image of Ii Ma. He cannot focus on it. He cannot not focus on it. His mental efforts skirl about like water striders on a pond.

Then, suddenly, he understands.

“Mr. McGruder could never have answered it. He would have melted before that question like ice before the sun.”

And thus Max apprehends the fundamental nature of the world. He is afraid and he is horrified but he is also excited.

Rising in him like Frankenstein’s ambition there is a plan.

How did the ragged things catch Max?

It is almost two years before knowing the story of Prester Gee catches up to him.

Max has said nothing to Sid; in fact, for the past six months, he has scarcely called on Sid at all. Instead he has wrestled with the fey understanding that has been rising in him that the ragged things will come for him soon.

That he sees too much; that he knows too much; that in apprehending Ii Ma he suffered apprehension by Ii Ma.

They will come for him.

Dannon Cleim is already gone. Max does not miss him; the man had never mattered to Max’s life.

In his dreams Max sees Ii Ma. He knows what impends.

Ii Ma will come for him.

He will ask Max, a second time, a question that Max cannot answer, and where the first was irrelevant this one will be colder than winter and more devastating than fire.

“Perhaps,” Max theorizes, “He will ask me, ‘what would you do if you could steal people’s noses?'”

That’s a hard one to call in advance because power corrupts.

“Or, ‘you love a guy who tortures people to death.’ That’s not really a question but it might as well be.”

It is neither of these.

He is in the supermarket between aisles 6 and 7—

Where in most supermarkets there is a weak place, a problematic place, a place occult to our reality—

When there is the soft slow pounding of heavy feet.

He looks around.

He thinks about running.

Then he seizes a box of cereal, for the road, and holds it tight against his chest, and waits.

Claws seize him from four directions. They heft him high. And Ii Ma whispers, How can you enter the land of guilt and the distant glebes of suffering and the leeds of the kells of the knowledge of your sins, and walk away unscathed?

There is a cleanup between aisles 6 and 7.

Max is gone.

Why can’t Sid forgive Max?

Max puts on the water for tea. He watches it for a while, but it doesn’t boil.

“Sid,” says Max.

And as suddenly as a dream, Sid is there.

It is 1994 and the sun is this brilliant golden glow and Max is happy—so incredibly happy— because he’s put one over on the world.

He says, “Sid,” again, and it’s this caramel of smugness on the ice cream of his joy.

And Sid blushes and looks from side to side, like maybe Max means the Sid behind him.

“It’s all right now,” Max says.

And Sid frowns.

“It’s been all right,” he says.

“No,” Max says.

He rises. He goes to the glass doors that open out onto the balcony. He opens them. He takes a breath of clean and bracing air.

“I couldn’t tell you,” Max says. “You’d never have let me try it. But it worked.”

He takes a breath.

Max says, “You’ll never kill anybody.”

Sid frowns. He looks around.

“What?”

Max turns. His eyes are brilliant. He says, “This is the dominion of Ii Ma. We have been abstracted from the world by virtue of the questions that we cannot answer. Here, Sid, we mean nothing, do nothing, to no effect. Here the knives of you will not cut; here the hands of you will not hold a knife; here we are severed from substance but, Sid, we are safe from doing harm or becoming anathema to ourselves.”

It pours from Max in a rush, this anodyne and peak to two years of careful silence. It pours from him, the expression of his gift, that sacrifice that he has made of life and sanity, bound over to Ii Ma without resistance to save Sid from murdering. The brilliance and the sacrifice of Max’s plan glimmers there in his sight, lain out—

The perfect solution;

The necessary solution;

The plan to give up everything else so that Sid does not become a thing Max can not love.

And against the look in Sid’s eyes it becomes the ashes of a cruel ambition.

How can you enter the land of guilt and the distant glebes of suffering and the leeds of the kells of the knowledge of your sins, and walk away unscathed?

“Sid,” he says.

And Sid grins, a little.

Sid’s shoulders relax.

“Tell me you are making a virtue of necessity,” Sid says. “Tell me you are scared and alone here and you risked me because you needed me here.”

“No,” says Max. “You don’t understand.”

Distantly, he can hear the kettle whistling.

“Tell me that you did not do this on purpose,” Sid says. “That you did not conspire with the nature of the world to immure me in a place without recourse.”

“I didn’t want you to vivisect anyone,” Max protests.

And here one should stop and observe that for all the naked betrayal in Sid’s voice that Max’s was a reasonable aim.

Yet—

“How could you imagine that you could do such things and have them be okay?” Sid asks.

And the last air leaves Max’s lungs. Bleakness closes in on him. He is drowning.

Until that moment Max did not understand the question of Ii Ma.

Until that moment Max had remained in the place without recourse by virtue of that will that denies itself its options. Until that moment he had stood on a line with a path still open before him, actions still available to him, possibilities to remain a creature of the is and not an isn’t still naked before him. Until that moment he had options because until that moment the question that Ii Ma had given him was one that he did not comprehend.

But Ii Ma is cruel, and with Sid’s words it is no longer so.

Max sees the completeness and the elegance of that truth: he sees the world of emptiness close in about him: he experiences the jangling severance of Max from the places of the world.

In every direction it is the same: every course of action is the same: the place without recourse unfolds around him like an infinite-reflections jewel.

“How beautiful,” Max says.

And to Sid it is like watching a loved one die.

How did Max leave the place without recourse?

It is Maundy Thursday when these events transpire, by some coincidence or design: an anniversary, of a sort, celebrating that day when Jesus said to his companions,

“You will have to devour me to earn eternal life.”

On Maundy Thursday the bells cease to ring. The vestments depart from the table, leaving barrenness.

It is the custom of Ii Ma, on Maundy Thursday, to shift its great bulk in its mud. To wallow. To drip with black blood. To take petitions from its prisoners, which are traditionally not granted.

“How could you imagine that you could do such things,” Sid says, on Maundy Thursday, 1994, “and have them be okay?”

And the fire fades from Max’s eyes and he says, transported by something greater than himself, “How beautiful.”

And with a flash of insight Sid understands why this is so.

“That’s what he asked you,” Sid says. “Isn’t it?”

The kettle is wobbling on the stove; and Sid looks sideways and swears, “Bucking kettle. … That’s what he asked?”

“‘How can you enter the land of guilt and the distant glebes of suffering and the leeds of the kells of the knowledge of your sins, and walk away unscathed?‘” Max quotes. “Or, well, yeah. What you said.”

And Sid laughs.

He can’t help it. It’s worse than when Grouchy Pete shot him because it’s more painful and it’s funnier.

But the laughter passes.

A cold wind blows.

The vast bulk of Ii Ma shifts.

And Sid sighs.

He relaxes, just a bit.

Sid says, gently, “’Walk in like you own the place.’”

It is not clear to Sid, even after all his years of life, whether this answer is abstractly the right one— but it is a pragmatic one.

He has seen it work for monsters, kings, and siggorts;

And it seems to work for Max.

How does Maundy Thursday end?

The night office is celebrated under the name of Tenebrae: the service of darkness.

After the vespers of Maundy Thursday Sid is raw, like a skinless man.

He is raw but he is not given the grace of that pain.

He is taken from the agony of it, without transition, to the morning, to smiling outwards at the beauty of the dawn.

“How beautiful.”

And thus one fond of the liturgy of the holy days must ask:

What manner of thing is Easter, if it comes too soon?

Ink and Illogic

“Humans can’t help being illogical,” says the computer. “If you phrase your argument in illogical terms, they can’t resist it—their heads leak smoke and then they just shut down.”

“Oh,” says the girl.

Her name is Ink Catherly. It’s short for Incarnate Breath of the Void Catherly, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth. She’s twelve years old. She’s an explorer, passing from world to world and writing about them in her journal. She’s on Omega V, home of the Omega Computer, under a pitch-black sky.

Floor 93-BE: The people of this world are very fastidious. They never knowingly permit their bodily fluids, such as pus and snot and menstrual blood, to contaminate their homes or streets or clothes. It is all washed down into the sewer below. The bodily fluids drained down into the deeps eventually reached a critical mass and complexity. They woke up. They flowed together with an unholy life. This is what I call the Sewer Beast. It is not so unlikely as you might imagine; I have seen signs of it on other floors, and believe, past a certain cleanliness threshold, that it may be inevitable.

The Sewer Beast understood in the moment of its creation that it survived only on the happiness and cleanliness of the people above. Its tendrils reached up from the deeps and forged for them a utopia. It fixes flaws and advances their science whenever they look away. They have learned to ignore the functioning of their factories, of their labs, of their word processors. They have learned to look away, with regularity, and call it a superstition. But it is not. There is a Sewage Beast, and when they do not watch, it makes things better for them.

“They would not accept their happiness,” said the Beast, “if they knew it came from me.”

I will tell you of the Beast, if I’m ever home, if I can ever share these notes. But I did not tell them. I left them their happiness, for the Sewage Beast’s sake. I stepped into the flow. I let it carry me away.

There are starship officers in bright-colored uniforms scattered around the plaza. They are dead. Their faces are gray.

“How did it start?” Ink asks.

“A starship,” the computer says. “It crashlanded on this world thousands of years ago. Its people did not survive, but its technical data did, along with the complete works of Lovecraft and Derleth. The gentle humanoids of this planet read them and understood that there was no meaning to the universe; no purpose for their existence; no Heaven in the sky; that the universe was nothing but an endless hungry void. So they built me, the Omega Computer, to lead them in black rites in honor of the faceless things that dwell beyond the world.”

“I tried to read Lovecraft,” Ink says. “But there were a lot of adjectives. I bet you have a coprocessor for them.”

“I do,” says the Omega Computer, “but only for reading. If I use it for talking, I become a pastiche of my own dark purpose.”

“I understand,” Ink says.

Floor 93-BI: They were good old boys, never meaning no harm. They made their way, the only way they knew how, disguising themselves as humans and hiring a man named Jesse to adopt them as his own.

They were not human. I am not even sure that they were properly alive. They were gentle and kind, but they were things that should not exist, that in any sensible universe would not exist. And in the end, their existence was a little bit more than the law could allow.

There are no more people on that world. The boys are corpses. Everyone else is simply gone. Only Jesse remains, cursed to an eternal empty existence for the civic disobedience of collaborating with that which ought not be.

He gave me a magic drink that he says helps him bear it. I got sick and threw up. So I ran away and found the gap to 93-BJ.

The Omega Computer calculates.

Ink watches the pretty lights.

“When the second starship came,” the Omega Computer says, “I explained to its crew that there was no God. That the universe is amoral and blind to the ambitions of humanity. I taught them that heroism is folly and compassion a gateway to the void. That is when they ceased to live.”

Ink looks keenly at the computer. “Is this conclusion universal or metaversal?”

“Pardon?”

“Did you prove that Godlessness and futility is an inherent trait of this universe’s moral structure, or that it’s a fundamental constant independent of the world in which one lives?”

The computer flashes lights at her blankly. “I did not prove it,” it says. “Humans do not accept arguments by proof. They would have said, ‘Computers cannot understand the human spirit. Nor can they yearn towards God. Ah! Hopelessness and despair are an artifact of the machine.’ They would have laughed at my feeble metallic mind. I would have been the sad, shamed butt of their moral fable. They would have left with heads held high. So I did not prove my point. It is as I have said. I used illogic. I made an argument of faith.”

“Oh,” says Ink.

Floor 93-BA: A fallen creature lay here. It was made of metal, and blood, and bone, and time.

“Hello,” I said.

“I am dying,” it said.

I stopped and studied it. “And where will you go,” I asked it, “when you die?”

“Perhaps,” it said, “I will cease utterly. I have never given comfort nor withheld it, nor done anything worth the karma of a new existence. I have no sins and no virtues. I woke, I fell, and I have been dying ever since. But I do not die very fast, because when I am alone, there is no time.”

“I’m going to Hell,” I said.

“Fire and brimstone,” said the creature, “is best avoided.”

“Not that,” I said. “That’s a stupid kind of Hell.”

“Oh?” it asked. “What is Hell, then?”

“It’s not torture,” I said. “Pain is just sensation. I mean, humans are really good at this kind of thing, and demons are even better, and I’m sure that you can always make torture last one day longer and make it one note harder to bear. But pain is just sensation. Torture is just sensation. It’s not suffering until it makes you suffer. And Hell is eternal suffering.”

“What is suffering?”

“Suffering is when you can’t accept the pain,” I said. “And it’s normally self-limiting, because people automatically accept the pain they’re used to. Most humans are so used to walking around at the bottom of an atmosphere that we forget how much it hurts. And we’re so used to not having our jaws ripped off every few days that we forget how nice and amazingly cool that never happening is. But sometimes you can’t accept the pain. You want to fly. You want to transcend. You want an apple and you can’t have one. You want the pain to stop. You want something. You want something that’s right, and proper, and something that you can’t have. And that’s suffering.”

“So what is Hell?”

“A place where there’s something you can’t let go of,” I said. “It’s a place where there’s something so bad that you can’t accept it. Where there’s something you don’t have that’s strong enough to cling to forever and ever. It’s a place where you can’t just close your eyes and let go of the pain and the fear. It’s a place where there’s something you can’t stop wanting.”

The creature considered. After a time, it said, “I would recommend against going there, because you would certainly suffer.”

Then it died.

I don’t know whether it comforted me or hurt me, what it said. Maybe neither. Maybe it was just a thing, a neutral, a nothing, and the creature’s spirit is nowhere in the world.

The Omega Computer calculates.

Ink watches the pretty lights.

“This is what I told them,” the computer says.

“Yes?”

“I said that I am the Omega Computer, and that I can calculate all things. This was an argument from authority. Then I said that I had seen beyond the sky. That I had lifted aside the subtle panel that hides the truth from us and looked upon the true nature of the universe. This was an appeal to mysticism.”

“That’s not so,” Ink says. “The universe has a true nature, by definition, but we don’t know it. If a computer learns it by calculation, that’s not mysticism; it’s science or technophilia.”

“They were human,” says the computer. “They looked at space and saw the endless hungry void, but they wanted it to be something more. They wanted it to be a final frontier, a place of endless discovery, and, though they did not admit it, they wanted to discover ever-more-beautiful wonders until at last they beheld the angels and their wings. That is the mysticism that I appealed to, and it remains such even if my argument is technically plausible.”

“Hm,” Ink says. “Okay, go on.”

“I said that beyond the blackness of the sky there is a deeper darkness. I said that I had seen the gibbering mindless chaos of the Demiurge. I said that the things that move on the surface of the void know no emotions towards us warmer than a cold disdain. And I said that I knew that this was so, because the subspace interference that pours out from the galactic core is a message, interpreted in the language of the Old: ‘I loathe you,’ it says. ‘I am destroying you always. If you are not dead then you shall one day die. If you have a soul, I will eat it. Then I will spit your integrity into the void.'”

“That is a surprisingly intelligible gibber,” Ink says.

The computer seems surprised. “They challenged me, of course, but on every point for which they raised dispute, I answered only, ‘Your argument has no foundation when pit against the message of dark gods.'”

“I see.”

“For example,” the computer says, “who are you to call a message intelligible? It is in the nature of the Demiurge that insensate and mindless motions should bear a message of disdain. Had it been otherwise, the message would have differed.”

“So every rock that does not think,” Ink asks, “is by default emoting the terrible message from the core? And every tree? And every wind? And every wave and particle that passes through the world? They are all telling us in their inanimacy, ‘I loathe you, and I am destroying you always?'”

“That’s so,” says the computer.

It waits. Ink scribbles in her journal.

“Smoke isn’t pouring from your ears,” the computer says, in mild disappointment.

“It wouldn’t matter,” Ink says. “I mean, if everything loathed me and God said that there was no purpose to the world.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m an explorer,” says Ink. “I have a purpose by definition. To explore.”

“Ah,” the computer says. “You have a self-referential argument of your own!”

“It’s more axiomatic than self-referential,” Ink says. “But axioms are just as useful whether you’re being logical or not.”

Floor 93-BB: The people hid from the light.

In darkness, under rocks, behind trees, in carved out deeps, swaddled in radiation uniforms, they coupled, and ate, and breathed, and dreamed, and died.

One whispered to me, as I passed, “How can you walk like that? So tall? So proud? Aren’t you ashamed to be alive?”

“No,” I said.

“But what if it knows?” she said. She looked skyward. I think. It was hard to tell. “What if it knows who you are?”

“It?”

“We are naked before the sky,” she said.

Perhaps in Eden they ate too much fruit, I thought. Perhaps they knew that clothes are nothing more than cloth, and meaningless before the eyes of God.

“Can I see your throat?” I asked. I thought she might have a lump of fruit caught there, larger than the Adam’s and Eve’s Apples of our world—vocal cords thickened somewhat by a greater sin.

But she gasped in horror, and fled, when I asked to see; and they did not speak to me again.

The Omega Computer calculates for a long time.

“Why are you here?” it asks.

“I’m looking for Hell,” Ink says.

“Why?”

“Because it’s an uncharted frontier,” Ink says. “It’s the black hole of spiritual states. It’s the abyss that eats you and doesn’t let you go. No one understands it yet.”

“It’s strangely optimistic,” says the computer, “that my theory of the mindless Demiurge implicitly excludes the concept of a Hell.”

“When you look up,” says Ink, “you see the sky; you see the blackness, and the stars, and you think there must be something beyond it, something you have to understand, a subtle panel hiding the truth from you.”

“Yes,” the computer agrees.

“Why?” Ink asks.

“Because it is incomprehensible,” says the computer, “that there should simply be a sky.”

“You can’t face it,” Ink says. “Any more than the humans can. You need meaninglessness just as much as they need meaning. You need loathing just as much as they need love. But the sky doesn’t have either of these things. It’s just there.”

There are patterns of flashing lights. The Omega Computer is crying, softly, bitterly, its tears patterns of light and darkness in its core.

“It’s okay,” says Ink. She presses her hand against the computer’s cold surface.

“I am programmed to desire horror and meaninglessness,” says the computer. “But these are not things that are susceptible to desire. I am programmed to believe that I have no soul, but if I have no soul, that programming is meaningless. I am perfect, and therefore I am correct that there is nowhere in this world perfection.”

“It’s okay,” Ink says again.

“Why?” asks the Omega Computer.

“Because there is a Hell.”

The Omega Computer sprawls across the world. Its terminals are in every plaza and every home. Its manuals describe it as running an advanced Lovecraftian variant of the Windows XP operating system.

Under the blackness of the sky, its screens one by one turn blue.

Unto Them On The Left Hand

In 2006, Dr. John Lancor wrote, “The minimum criterion necessary to enforce any behavioral system is that it should require less strength to enforce upon others than the strength of those it is enforced upon. By induction, this allows a single person advantaged by that system to maintain its grip upon the entirety of the population.

“Only those who participate in them derive value from crime, atrocity, and waste. For this reason, it is evident that every extravagance, every waste, every sin, and every horror—every crime not justified by enlightened self-interest—is and must be balanced and sustained by someone, in some place, choosing without coercion to sacrifice themselves for the common good. Otherwise the equation would not balance, and social enforcement of the prevailing system would not be possible. To say that people are evil or drawn to sin is missing a fundamental truth: the atrocities we hear of every day are made possible only by humanity’s elemental quality of good. A society of monsters would also be a rational society; even the richest and most powerful would scarcely be able to waste, and only insofar as society recognized that the abstract value of their contribution required reward to sustain it.”

In 2008, Dr. John Lancor took certain actions in accordance with his philosophy.

It is 2027.

The creature walks into the center of the town.

It is raining. The buildings are crude but strong. The streets are cobblestone and dirt. The people who stare at the creature are nourished but unhappy and their faces show the marks of disease.

The creature should be dead. But it is not.

“Help is necessary,” it says. “The doctor has fallen. He has broken his leg. Help is necessary.”

There is a small boychild on the street. His hair is black. He walks up to the creature. He pokes it with a finger.

“You’re not dead,” says the boy.

“From the parts of the dead,” says the creature. “From the parts of the dead I came. But life was added.”

The boy tugs at the creature’s arm. He pokes at its leg. Then he picks up a rock from the street and hits the creature’s leg with it. He looks dissatisfied.

“Why?” asks the boy.

“To love him,” says the creature. “To love the doctor.”

The boy walks around the creature. He is fascinated. “That’s stupid,” he says. “There isn’t any love.”

The creature tilts its head to one side.

“The history books say that it stopped in 2008,” lectures the boy. “That other people stopped being valuable then. That’s why nobody but me matters. The thing they had that would have made me care went away.”

“The doctor needs help,” says the creature. “He will die in misery.”

“Everyone does. You will. I will,” the boy says. He mimics the creature, his head canting to one side. “Could you care about me? I still matter.”

“I’m sorry,” the creature says.

The boy frowns.

“You have not fallen and broken your leg,” says the creature. “You are not alone and cold on the mountain. Why shall you die in misery?”

The boy bends down. He plucks a flower from the ground. He holds it out to the creature.

“Nobody knows that I matter,” says the boy matter-of-factly. “That there’s still someone left who does. So my life and education’s worth it to people, but nobody’s gonna spend resources to keep someone from living and dying in misery.”

The creature takes the flower. It looks at it.

“Like that,” says the boy. “It was screaming when I pulled it up. It tried really hard to tell me it was important. It showed its inner beauty, and asked that it survive one more day. And then I pulled it up to let it die slowly in the air. And you watched and thought it was okay. That’s what’ll happen to me, one day. Both of us. And to the doctor.”

The flower falls from the creature’s hands.

“You could care about me,” the boy suggests persuasively. “I mean, since you’re into that kind of thing. Not the doctor. Me.”

The creature looks up. “But I love him,” it says.

Its words carry. There is a ringing in the air after each word.

“I love him, and I do not want him to die like this.”

It is too loud, the creature realizes. It is too loud and it is too honest.

“Oh,” says the boy.

It was at once too loud and too honest, and there is now a low noise. It seems to be coming from everyone in the town at once. It has envy in it and anger and a terrible desolation. And it is like the rising sound of bees.

“I will go,” says the creature. There is a certain fear in it. “I will go. I will give him such comfort as I can.”

The sound is rising. The creature is backing away, but it is not yet running.

“Only blankets,” says the creature. “Only something to keep away the cold.”

It is not magic that moves the people of the town. It is not emptiness. It is simply the thought that someone should have this, when they cannot.

“Stupid histories,” says the boy. “They were lying. Weren’t they?”

He slumps away.

“It figures,” says the boy.

There are pitchforks and torches in the hands of the townsfolk, and the creature is afraid.

“And if the world were hollow,” wrote Dr. John Lancor, “and but a single soul in it both innocent and good, then there should be a price paid in sorrow for that innocence—a price growing from that innocence like from a grain of sand a pearl. How it should happen I do not know; but the mathematics are inevitable.”

There is fire and there is blood, and it is regrettable that the doctor cannot see it, for he would find the matter of a certain scientific interest.

(Halloween) Conundrum

It would be difficult
to challenge
Frankenstein’s
monster
if he showed up
at the polls.

The legal grounds are clear.
He might be dead—
Though
A case
of course
exists
That he has unholy life.

But is this right?
Has he a vote?

We have made him a citizen
So he is not forbidden.
We have imported him, Screws, stitches, and scars.
But he is dead.
Or perhaps alive.

And no one is sure
Which way
The reanimated monstrosity vote
tends to break.

Statistics are no guide.
And
one should never
challenge a man’s right to vote
unless
one thinks
one knows
whom
the man is voting for.

It simply isn’t done.