Pumpkin Sickness (3 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]

It is June 3, 2004.

The sky is blue and the wind is fresh and Max’s blood is thick and red.

It’s soaking through the sailcloth of his bandages.

Red Mary’s face is not human but it is beautiful. Her eyes are black. Her teeth are sharp. Her skin is smooth and rounded. On her neck flutter purplish gills.

The sun makes a shadow from one cheekbone and seems thereby to evoke old sorrows.

Suddenly, Max laughs.

Red Mary looks at him.

“Iphigenia’s all right,” he says.

“Your . . . telepathic girlfriend?” she guesses.

“The sun,” says Max. “I’d been worried about her. But, look, she’s right there, you can tell by the light.”

Red Mary looks at him.

“Your nose is sunburnt,” she observes.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue 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.

The Island of the Centipede

Seacourses wind through the broken island. The catamaran glides past the island’s grassland, dry land, and trees.

Max catches the heavy smell of pumpkin, a flat sort of scent, just a little bit rotten.

The seacourse cuts into a hill — cuts clean through it, without a tunnel, so that the island rises on both sides of it but the only thing above it is the sky.

There is rind in the rock: orange corrugated rind.

Over the edge of the hill, and ambiguously presenting themselves to Max’s vision, he can see great round orange distant shapes.

Max looks down. He starts to say, “Why the pumpk—”

But Red Mary’s face is taut and she is shaking and he thinks it is with rage.

“It is the giraumon,” Red Mary says.

The catamaran approaches a long gentle curve in the seacourse’s path. Red Mary slows it as they turn.

“The giraumon?”

“He has been making.”

She stares ahead. The muscles of her jaw tense up. Then she says, “If he comes, do not speak to him. If he approaches, do not let him touch you. If he attacks, do not kill him, or I will feed you to the firvuli and humaneness be damned.”

“Oh,” Max says.

And the catamaran comes slowly around the great bend and there, standing on the water in their path, the giraumon waits.

He is reminiscent of a man, tall and bold, with windblown hair and skin the same sweet color as your own. His eyes are incredible, full of laughter and compassion and beloved secrets.

He has pumpkin sickness.

He has wings, these beautiful wings, flexible like rubber and strong like stone. He has wings and a sword and he is beautiful.

But he is sick.

Pumpkin is inching across the left side of him. Patches of its rind jut forth from the skin. The sickness makes a corrugated orangeness of his features. It has turned his left ear into a hole. It mars and makes lumpy the smooth flawlessness of his arm.

It has not quite yet reached that marvelous left eye.

Red Mary slows the catamaran. She takes down the sails. She lets it glide to a halt.

The giraumon walks forward on the waves.

“Hello,” he says. He smiles. “I’d hoped you’d come by. I made a road for you.”

Red Mary glances down at her fishtail.

“I thought, ‘what if I made a path by which Red Mary could reach perfection? Then she’d stop maundering on about the necessary impermanence of all solutions to our fate.'”

The giraumon gestures broadly. He indicates the island behind him. There is a path in the distance like a great bridge arching up from the rock towards Heaven. Most of it has fallen down. The rest has gone orange and saggy and rotten.

“Better you were dead,” Red Mary says. “Than wasting your fire thus.”

The giraumon grins. His teeth are more suggestions than discrete. “It was better before it turned all pumpkin.”

“I’ve asked you not to make things for me,” Red Mary says.

“Yes,” the giraumon agrees.

His grin fades so that he can lick his lips. He looks at Max.

“This is Max,” Red Mary says.

Pumpkin shudders across the giraumon’s face and brushes against the edging of his eye. The creature blinks in irritation.

Max’s hand inches towards the knife.

“He’s trying to find God,” Red Mary says.

“Men can’t find God,” the giraumon says. “They do well for a while but then they turn into pumpkins and, as often as not, fall into the sea.”

“I think, in this case, it’s shorthand for virtue.”

The giraumon spreads a hand, as if to say: But what does that change?

“I’m helping him,” Red Mary says.

Her body language poses this as a challenge.

The giraumon’s eyes flick over Max’s wounds. His grin returns. “Max must taste awfully.”

Red Mary makes a little face. It involves poking out her tongue and adopting an expression of disgust.

“Let us do this instead,” says the giraumon. “I will kill Max and transfer my consciousness to the corpse. Then I will have a handsome new body to wear for formal occasions.”

Max lunges for the knife. The sailcloth bandage tangles his arm. He kicks his legs to help with balance. The bandage on his leg catches against one of the blocks. Max rolls over. For a terrible moment he supports himself on his maimed left hand while his right hand claws at the knife. Then he screams an ungodly scream and twists to take the weight from his hand, loses his balance entirely, rolls over the knife, sinks it smoothly into the muscle of his arm, and falls halfway out of the boat with his head lolling into the sea.

The giraumon blinks.

“Or he can kill Max,” the giraumon says. “If he insists.”

Red Mary leans forward and catches Max’s collar and drags him back onto the ship. Max sputters, coughs, and collapses against the deck.

“How can you call yourself my friend,” Red Mary says, “giraumon, if you kill somebody I’m trying to help?”

Pumpkin spreads over the giraumon’s eye and makes of it an empty gash with candlelight behind.

The candlelight flickers.

“Don’t presume,” the giraumon says.

“No?”

“A thousand years ago,” the giraumon says, “I thought I saw something in you. A thing to make it worth my while to leave you in existence. But I have spent a thousand years in contemplation of the matter and every way I find to leave you lot alive just turns into a pumpkin and rots and falls into the sea. So do not mind me if I think that perhaps it is too much trouble to call Red Mary my friend.”

Sluggishly, Max pulls himself back into a sitting position. He tries to tug the knife out of his right arm using his right hand but he can’t get a grip. His face is pale.

“Come here and fight me,” he says.

“Whisht!” snaps Red Mary.

The candle behind the pumpkin gleams.

“I don’t want to listen to this,” Max says. “Fight when I’m gone.”

“Leave him alone,” Red Mary hisses.

Max slumps. His maimed left hand drops into the sea.

The pumpkin sickness edges rightwards and the giraumon loses his nose. Then he is moving, he is close, his orange knobbly finger is lunging in towards Max.

Max’s hand comes up to meet it.

He splashes chaos straight from the sea into the candle of the giraumon’s brain.

The giraumon shrieks. He recoils. He recedes along the seacourse, steam bursting forth from the top of his head. It rises in great clouds which form into circling bats, a piano, forgiveness, a white sword longer than a ship, and a sheet of paper on which is written the answer to all pain.

The giraumon bounds up to the shore and he is gone.

Slowly, Red Mary extends her hand to catch the paper. It drifts into her hand. Its surface is thickening, growing orange; she squints to make out the first word, and by the time she reads the second the writing on it is gone.

“Will he live?” Max asks, by way of asking, Will I live?

“If it were not bats and a piano,” Red Mary says, “he would have used it up on something else.”

They are surrounded by orange and the catamaran gently sways. The sea beneath them stinks of pulp.

Max isn’t sure whether she’s answered him or not, or whether that answer would be positive or negative.

Red Mary starts the catamaran to moving again.

Something large and gray and terrible rises from the center of the island and catches three of the bats in its great flat teeth.

Max slumps.

“We souls within this world,” Red Mary says.

The sea licks blood from the catamaran’s side.

“I think we do not need to find God,” Red Mary says, “so much as a way to live with what we love.”

Max Sets Forth to Kill God (1 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

The hardest part of that whole night is the show.

One quarter of Gibbelins’ Tower is a jumbled ruin. Claire’s scalp won’t stop bleeding even though she’s used a Sesame Street bandaid. Broderick is coughing and coughing because he’s allergic to disaster.

Nobody’s seen Sid, Mr. Schiff, or Rahu.

Martin says that the imago’s fallen—that when the tower started shaking, she just canted over and fell into a giant hole in the floor.

Max’s room is a wreck and his nerves are a jangle.

And amidst all this they must put on a performance of Hamlet 2: The Arrows of Fate, to be broadcast from the tower to a hypothetical audience outside the boundaries of the world.

“Why?” says Max.

Martin looks at him blankly.

“Dude,” Martin says, “haven’t you ever watched that play and said, ‘How can anyone possibly make a sequel?'”

Martin’s got a crushed pinky, which makes him substantially better off than Max in the current wounds department.

“The machinery’s barely even working!” protests Max.

Martin twists his hands into various positions, thinking. “You’re worried about Sid,” he says.

“Yes.”

Martin’s hair is all over masonry dust.

“Then try not being all freaky about hypothetical vivisections,” Martin says. “Sometimes you’ve got to torture somebody to death. Just look at Hell, or Guantanamo, or that old riddle about whether you’d rather torture one guy to death or let everyone in the world die. It happens.”

Max stares at Martin.

Martin looks back at him.

“It’s an inevitable byproduct of adequate force,” Martin explains.

So Max goes backstage and he helps Iphigenia unclog the pipes.

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

The Island of the Centipede

They dig Mr. Schiff out of the rubble a few hours after the play. He makes protesting noises because they have woken him up.

Before they find Sid or Rahu or the imago, Martin finds Max. Max is dragging a large tumbled stone out of the way of a blocked-off room.

Martin pulls himself up on a chunk of rubble. He sits there, watching Max for a minute.

“Do you trust me?” Martin says.

“No.”

“Here’s the thing,” Martin says. “I kind of accidentally wiggled a tectonic plate by giving the wrong person a fig newton.”

Max stops pulling.

He rubs sweat off his forehead.

“I don’t believe you,” says Max.

“Eh?”

Max shrugs.

Martin thinks.

“To the west,” Martin says, “the shock’s opened up a hole in the crust of the world and there’s a fountain of good rising from it.”

“Okay.”

“I need someone to deal with it,” Martin says.

“You’d think that we could leave it be.”

“It’s difficult to improve things once they get too good,” Martin says. “An actual singularity of virtue would render fixing the world impossible.”

“Also, unnecessary.”

“Why—?” Martin says.

Then he stops himself and thinks.

“Your logic is ancillary to an inherently limited perspective,” Martin dismisses.

“So to the west there is a goodblow,” Max says, “Like God breaking forth into the world to save us all from suffering. And you want me to go stop it.”

“Yes,” Martin says. “With extreme prejudice.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It’s ridiculous,” says Max. “It’s fighting against what we want the most.”

“I can’t make you,” Martin admits.

Max goes back to work.

“You won’t find Sid,” Martin says.

Max stops.

“He is restless,” says Martin. “And despair is forbidden to him. He throws himself against the walls of his cage and sometimes they overcome him. He is absent from these moments in which it is too much to bear. He is scuttled from the world.”

“Oh,” says Max.

Martin drops down to his feet and strolls towards away.

“Wait,” says Max.

“Hm?”

“If I do it,” says Max, “you make Sid an is.”

“You ridiculous dolt,” says Martin.

He walks away.

Continuing from the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 )

It is June 2, 2004.

Max wakes up and he already knows what he has to do.

He goes down to the catamaran dock.

He looks off to the dark and brooding west.

And Jane is waiting on the grass to see him off. And she is looking at him with her brow furrowed in thought, and she says, “You’re here.”

Max nods.

“Is that okay?” he says.

Little girls tend to like emanations of absolute virtue, so you can see why he asked.

Jane laughs. “Noooo,” she says. “I don’t mean here, at the dock. I mean, here.”

She looks at him.

“You had bad things in your closet. Then Sid chased them away. Then you were King of the playground. Then you played basketball.”

She is being careful with these words. She is slow and deliberate, even with the easy words and simple things.

“Then you were brave and saved Mr. McGruder. Then you loved Sid. Then you saw another siggort and talked Sid into helping Ronald Reagan become President. Then you fought a King. Then you ran away. Then you read a book and afterwards you went to the place without recourse. Then you called Sid there. Then you got out but he didn’t. Then you came here to help him put on plays. Then you shot him and now you want to sail west.”

“Yes,” says Max.

He grins a little. “And what does that mean to you?” he asks.

“The world’s bright and spits up super beauty everywhere,” says Jane.

“Oh.”

“And so there are things that Max. That go Max. Like you. That is what it means.”

Max grins tiredly. It’s pretty shocking to himself, that he has what it takes to grin. But he does.

“Thanks,” he says.

Jane holds out a box. It’s like a cribbage box, but bigger, with a slide-open top.

“Here,” she says.

“What is it?” Max asks.

Jane begins giggling. Max watches in perplexity.

Finally, she stammers out, “Severance pay.”

There are more giggles.

“Ah,” he says.

He takes the box. He frowns at her. But he can’t keep frowning.

She’s smiling at him so brightly that he hugs her.

Then he sails to the west.

The Extinguishment of Karma (IV/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

The sea stretches out forever. On its surface the wind chases itself about. Great bulky clouds pile in the sky. To the west the sun burns yellow. Rahu shivers in Sid’s arms, stinking of blood and sweat.

Sid walks into the tower.

He casts about. He finds a room with a light on. He opens its door. In a room of shining wooden floorboards and creaky old chairs Mr. Schiff pushes back his chair and stands.

“What have you there?” says Mr. Schiff.

“Rahu,” says Sid.

“Set him down,” says Mr. Schiff.

The reflections of the ceiling light skitter away as Sid lays Rahu down upon the floor.

Mr. Schiff walks over. He squats beside Rahu. He studies him.

“It is rare,” says the geology teacher, “to see an evil planet skewered by a siggort spike, much less in pristine condition.”

He peels back one of Rahu’s eyelids, causing Rahu’s head to shift and roll a few inches upon the floor.

“He’s a planet?” Sid asks.

“Rahu is the mystery planet that occludes the sun and moon on the occasion of an eclipse,” says Mr. Schiff. “A thing-that-is-known explaining a certain body of evidence.”

He takes a clipping from one of Rahu’s nails and holds it up to the light.

“Naturally obsolete in the Newtonian model,” clarifies Mr. Schiff.

“He might be dying,” says Sid.

“Not this one,” says Mr. Schiff.

Rahu breathes harshly, eyes rolled back, mouth drooling against the floor.

“No?” Sid asks.

“He’s one of the demons who stole into the house of the sun and drank the elixir of immortality.” He looks up at Sid. “You don’t know that story?”

Sid stares at Mr. Schiff blankly.

Sid’s jaw is turning puffy where Rahu broke it.

Mr. Schiff pats Rahu down, then straightens his body and head out so that Rahu is laying more comfortably on the floor. “I’ll get a cot and a blanket for him,” Mr. Schiff says.

“How can anything be immortal?” Sid asks.

“Well, it can’t, I suppose,” says Mr. Schiff. “Everything arises from karma, and everything dies with the extinguishment of the karma that caused it to exist. But he’s tasted the amrit so he can’t really die to anything less.”

He pauses. He smiles fondly at the fingernail.

“And here I am with a sample of him.”

Continuing the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)

Mr. Schiff walks to the door and out, his feet ticking against the floor.

Sid watches Rahu.

The hands of the clock high on the wall turn.

After about fifteen minutes Mr. Schiff returns with a cot and some blankets. He starts to lift Rahu. Sid helps. Together they place Rahu on the cot and cover Rahu’s body with the blanket.

“How can anything be immortal?”

It’s like nothing’s changed in Sid’s head since he asked that question the first time.

Mr. Schiff looks up at him.

Suddenly Mr. Schiff is grinning wider than a geology teacher should grin, and there are shadows shifting everywhere in the room.

“When he drank the amrit, he achieved enlightenment,” says Mr. Schiff. “He became rival to the Buddha. He understood everything that is, was, and will be. But he was not free. He was chained by his karma. He said, ‘Before I claim my rightful place as lord of all things I must answer the suffering of Prajapati and atone for this theft of treasure from the sun.’

“The thundering of years did not dissuade him from this course.

“The severing of demons from the world could not dissuade him.

“He has hunted the sun and devoured it through the days of the Third Kingdom and the Fourth and not anyone who’s tried has ever stopped him in his course.

“He will not stop until such suffering as Prajapati’s is no longer possible, which even the Buddha did not achieve. He will not stop until he has expiated the crime of stealing elixir from the sun, which he cannot do, as that act will forever stain the world. He is immortal because he is not finished with these basic tasks that no creature can attempt.

“That is how Rahu is immortal.”

“Oh,” says Sid.

“But don’t be afraid,” says Mr. Schiff. “It is the nature of all karma to resolve itself given sufficient time in which to work. If it is not this year, then it may be next year; if it is not, then certainly before the passage of another three hundred trillion years.”

Sid shakes himself.

“Will you watch him?” Sid says.

“Why did you bring him here?” Mr. Schiff asks.

“I didn’t know what to do with him,” Sid says. “And I figured Martin would. But you’ll do just as well.”

It is June 1, 2004.

Sid returns to the balcony. He sits on the battlement. He’s quiet.

“Aren’t you a sight,” says Max.

Sid shrugs.

Sid looks about.

“Iphigenia?”

“She’s with Jane,” says Max.

“Did she see the spike?”

“I told her not to watch the fight. I said, you’d win, but not by any way that’s good for children to see. And then you did.”

Sid sighs.

“You okay?” says Max.

“No,” says Sid.

“No?”

“We go ’round and ’round,” says Sid, “and nothing ever changes.”

“Yeah,” acknowledges Max.

“You don’t have to be here,” Sid says.

His voice is taut. His throat is sore. It hurts to talk.

But Max ignores him.

“Didn’t ask you if I did,” Max says.

“You don’t even like it here.”

Max sighs.

“Just— let it go, Sid.”

It’s getting darker now. It’s moving on towards evening. Shadows swell across the sky.

“You weren’t worth it,” says Sid.

Max’s lips tighten.

“Don’t you get it? I waited, I waited, and you’re just some damn stupid— just—“

“Just?”

And suddenly Sid is empty and the air is cold and he says, limply, “I wasted my dreams on you.”

Max looks up.

He grins tiredly. It’s pretty shocking to himself, that he has what it takes to grin. But he does.

“You wanna go?” he says.

It’s not an invitation to leave.

It’s an invitation to fight.

And for a long moment it seems as if Sid doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And then for a long moment like Sid will hold back.

Then the siggort is off the battlement and his wheel of knives is spinning and his fist comes forward and it strikes Max’s head, thok.

The Looming Cloud (III/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

There’s red in the sunlight and gold in the sky. The damp leaves that pile up beside the bridge are a muddy brown. There’s a cold wind blowing by Sid. His black hair is wet from a shower and a lock of it clumps against his forehead.

He stands on an island of grass and trees and behind him there is Gibbelins’ Tower.

All around him there is the chaos.

The aspect of the chaos today is like water and trout scales. The chaos surges like a sea. It crests and foams. It is low, with the tower and the island and bridge above it. The surface of each wave is covered in tiny scales. Its color is pale and silver and red and brown.

Sometimes the surface will divide and part of it will jump forth like a fish, then fade back into the water when it touches the surface once again.

And Iphigenia watches from a high tower window and looking at Sid’s back she cannot see that he is afraid.

But from the front you can see it.

His face is torn with fear, and it is not the fear of a man confronting a tiger but the fear of a man putting down a dog; that is to say, the fear of a terrible and necessary loss.

He is holding himself there by grit, a substance he has little of, as Rahu walks across the bridge.

Continuing the history of Iphigenia (1, 2, 3).
See also this discussion of the nature of demons.

The air smells of dead things.

It’s hot.

It’s June 1, 2004, and Rahu is coming to the tower.

He is wearing a white shirt. He’s wearing a vest and pants of red fur. He’s got a ponytail and a collar. The ponytail’s tied to an iron screw ring screwed into his spine at the base of his neck.

If it weren’t for the ponytail and the collar his head would fall off.

Rahu sniffs as he walks. His nostrils are wide and black.

He’s smelling out the sun. He doesn’t even look up to see Sid until he’s almost there.

“The sun must be tasty,” Sid says.

Rahu’s irises are the color of almonds. His eyebrows are the color of teak. His skin is warm.

“Because,” says Sid. “So many people want to eat it. You; Sukaynah; the wolves—”

“No,” says Rahu.

Sid’s eyes, in contrast, are dark.

“The sun is intolerably bland,” says Rahu. “It burns going down. It is not a pleasure meal. It is an expiation. For me, and for her.”

“She doesn’t want to expiate,” Sid says.

Rahu’s shoulders roll like a boat on the sea. “Who does?”

Then he is punching Sid.

His fist hits Sid’s stomach.

A grey and brown feeling spreads through Sid. The skin over his stomach cracks and bleeds. But Rahu does not have time to do more damage. The wheel of knives comes down in front of Sid and Rahu is jumping back and Rahu’s arm is bleeding fresh red blood.

Sid feels a wrenching, sickening pain in his stomach.

He causes the pain to vanish.

Sid feels a distant physical panic and something is making his vision all wobbly.

He causes the restoration of his equilibrium.

Before he has quite begun to double over, he straightens his back, and he looks at Rahu.

“Don’t make me shed this body,” he says.

Like a frisbee the wheel of knives arcs out towards Rahu. The demon does not leap back again. Instead he rushes in, towards Sid, on the inside of the path of the wheel’s motion.

His hand breaks Sid’s jaw.

The knives are tracking Rahu. They turn back towards Sid. Rahu has time for a second punch, sending Sid up into the air; then Rahu hears the knives at his back and perforce must, with a knee-twisting effort, throw himself flat.

Sid lands.

Red pain spreads through Sid. He causes it to vanish.

The knives hover above him.

Slowly, Sid pulls himself to his feet. Rahu is already up. Rahu is grinning like a puppy.

“You are interesting,” he says. “You’re not like a god at all.”

Continuing the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

Sid realigns his neck.

He frowns.

“Iphigenia said you’re a demon,” Sid says.

“Yes.”

Rahu nods. This is a mistake. His head falls off, showing gruesome neck-innards. This forces him to replace his head and readjust his collar.

“Yes,” he repeats, after recovering his composure. “I am a demon of Prajapati.”

“Can you help me accept something?”

“If you like,” says Rahu.

Sid is breathing heavily, though he doesn’t notice. His lungs are a little out of order.

“There is a man,” says Sid. “Named Max. And he said, ‘Sid, you’re so unworthy of the world. I’d go to Hell myself if I could just be sure of dragging you with me.'”

Rahu’s eyes are bright.

“Is that so?” he says.

“How do you forgive that?” Sid asks.

“I had a stepbrother like that,” Rahu says.

“Did you?”

“I did.”

“Did you forgive him?”

“Eventually,” says Rahu. “Because you see, he was just a man. He had tonsils and hair and an appendix and big ears and blood that ran in his veins. He considered himself very lofty and had an important dharma but he was just an ordinary man and ordinary men do things like that.”

“Ah,” says Sid.

“The world teems with them,” Rahu says.

“Does it?”

“Billions of them now,” says Rahu. “Awkward and fleshy and stupid and meaningless men.”

Here is a funny thing.

As Rahu talks to Sid, he is sweating.

His body is hot and there is tension in him.

It’s like it’s harder to talk to Sid than it is to fight him.

And “They’re just people,” Rahu says. “They hurt people. It’s what they do.”

The power of those words peaks in Sid and breaks and everything is clear and Sid sighs release.

It is strangely peaceful, that moment.

“I’d wanted him to be better than that,” Sid says.

But he’s just a man.

“So badly. So much. I’d wanted him to be better than that.”

Rahu watches Sid.

But he’s just a man.

And Sid’s eyes close and he is smiling at Rahu with genuine gratitude and then he hears a noise and opens his eyes and widens his eyes because Rahu is charging.

How could I ever have expected anything else?

Sid is still smiling.

He unlimbers a single spike of siggort from the body he’s built of mud and clay and feathers and blood. It sweeps upwards through Rahu. It hooks under Rahu’s ribcage and holds the demon suspended off the ground.

“I don’t want to kill you,” Sid says. “But you can’t have Iphigenia.”

Rahu utters a short, sharp cry and his eyes roll back and his arms and legs dangle limply, like a sleeping cat’s.

After a moment, he shudders twice and his head falls off.

Sid blinks like a man coming out of a trance. He pulls back into himself and Rahu falls.

“. . . are you okay?”

Rahu is still breathing.

The power of the demon is receding. The peace in Sid is fading.

A wild rage is rising in him; a terrible anger and betrayal; a sense of loathsomeness and the helpless awe of love.

Emotions surge through Sid.

He causes them to vanish.

Then he picks the demon up and, for lack of anywhere else to take him, carries him towards the tower.

The Eclipse (II/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

The air is so full of the purple dust that blows up off the sea from the northwest. The rock of the tower is so old. The sun is so crisp and clear. The sky is so blue.

“I made that,” laughs Iphigenia.

She’s flopped on her back on the grass. She’s wearing a pink long-sleeved top. She’s holding up her left hand. She’s looking up at the sun and the sky, but more importantly, at the day.

It’s a happy kind of thing, to have stirred such a bright day from the ashes of nothingness.

She moves her hand to the left. The sun heats. The sky burns for a moment, rippling with red and orange, and then stabilizes brighter.

She moves her hand to the right. The sun dims back to where it was—to just where she thinks is perfect, on a day like today—and the world goes crisp and clear and calm.

She rests her hand on the ground.

She closes her eyes.

She basks.

And she thinks, I don’t have to be afraid.

Continuing the history of Iphigenia (1, 2)

There’s a place in the texture of the happiness inside her that’s off-tone. It’s not filled with sunlight joy. It’s shaped like an eclipse.

Here is how it is with Iphigenia.

She is on the grass but she is also in a chariot in the sky, pulled by four burning horses, drawing the sun. It makes her hair fly every which way and her muscles ache great achings and there’s sweat on her face and sometimes she’s very tired but she can’t ever stop until nightfall because there are ravening wolves after her from the moment of the dawn.

The glory of it is tempered with her fear of the wolves catching up to her and knocking her from the chariot and chasing her down as she falls to rip into her limbs with their fierce and terrible teeth.

“Rahu,” she names the red wolf, the scary wolf, the blood wolf.

The other wolf does not scare her as much but she is not entirely certain why.

Continuing the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

Sid and Max are up above, on a second-floor balcony. Sid is sitting on its battlement. Max is leaning against the wall in the shadow of an eave.

I want to take the shadow from them, thinks Iphigenia.

It is a great aching, like in the muscles of her sun-self. It comes across her like a wave and she swallows it in silence.

She is very busy doing very important things, is Iphigenia.

She is laying on the grass and she is wearing a pink long-sleeved top and she is making sure that the sun doesn’t fall down or get eaten which would be bad for just about everyone.

The wolves aren’t the only thing that wants to eat the sun.

There’s Sukaynah.

There’s the solar transubstantiationists.

There’s the sun-eating swallows.

Sometimes Iphigenia gets squiggly icky feelings about the grass that she’s laying on, and all the other plants, like they’re hungry little maggots that want to burrow into her flesh, and sometimes she gets motherly feelings, like she’s a mother bird spitting sunlight into the baby birds’ maws.

Being the sun is surprisingly like being a little prey animal.

But the wolves are what worry her.

So she doesn’t do anything about Sid and Max. She swallows it in silence.

It is June 1, 2004. The sun passes behind a cloud.

Max is saying, “Why do we do this?”

And Sid says, “Hm?”

“Why do we tell all these stories where we’re jerks to one another?” Max asks.

Sid catches a mote of purple dust between his hands, not so much touching it as sheltering it from the wind. He passes it back and forth in the air currents above his hands.

There’s a bit of sunlight in there too. Iphigenia can feel the cracked-clay roughness of Sid’s hands.

“Write what you know?” Sid hazards.

“Ah,” says Max.

The tempo of their exchange is off. That is where Iphigenia feels the pain in it: in the tempo, in the beat. That is what makes her imagine, as she lays there, that they would rather fight with knives than say and hear these words.

I wonder, thinks Iphigenia, if it feels like an eclipse to them.

The thought wobbles in her head.

In that moment she recognizes something that she should have recognized long before.

It is a rising, warbling shriek she shrieks. She does not even realize at first that it comes from her.

“SID!”

He is like a liquid. It is as if he flows from the balcony to hold her head against his chest. It takes Max somewhat longer. Since he is human he is more like a clumpy liquid flowing from a previously unused pipe. He has to stop and dangle over the edge of the balcony for a moment before he can let himself fall. He runs to her like his knees have joints and he sits down to hold her hand.

She does not pay much attention to this but she is unable to stop herself from noticing it because everything is very noticeable of a sudden.

“Rahu is coming,” she says.

The wolf is gaining on her in the sky.

It’s an incredible feeling. It’s like a joy as much as it’s like a bubbling sore squirting fear.

“Rahu is coming here.”

And she is crying and they are gentle to her and she is saying, “Finally. Finally.”

Because when the wolf catches her she can stop running, and better it be now, with Sid and Max right here, than when she is alone.

The Immensity of Love (I/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]


In ten thousand miles of dreams there is only one Max.

He stands surrounded by dream, lost in great billowing clouds of dream, lost in endless and infinite dream, one tiny speck of human in a surging sea.

The wind that rushes past has taken the skin from him, taken the bones from him, flayed him down to just that speck:

Max.

He is flailing in his bed but he does not know it.

His arms are casting about.

Then there is light pressing against the darkness, sunlight turning the insides of his eyelids into shapes, and he remembers his name.

Max.

There is a welter of blankets around him. There is cool air flowing through the room. His bones ache.

In his eyes there is sun.

He mumbles a complaint.

These days, when the sun sneaks in through the pinhole in his curtain, it’s personal. It’s not just an anonymous irritant or the wicked hands of fate. It’s Iphigenia, and she’s probably doing it on purpose.

She is a mischevious girl.

She’s a burning yellow heat.

She is 1.4 million kilometers in diameter when she is the sun but no siggort ever came out of Siggort Town just to be her friend.

“Gr,” he mumbles.

In his eyes there is sun.

Something nags at the back of his mind.

He doesn’t want to wake up.

He doesn’t want to wake up. He’s tired and unhappy but there’s some reason—

Ah.

Max opens his eyes.

There’s a horrible little thing on his pillow. It’s like a crocodile’s skull, only it’s got horns. Its dry and its white but it’s not dead. It’s looking at him.

“Right,” he says.

He reaches out his hand. He holds its jaws closed. With his other hand he rubs his own forehead.

“Martin warned me about you,” he says. “Sneaking in through the pipes and making bad dreams like that.”

The thing struggles in his hand.

Max looks wry.

“I feel sorry for you,” he says. “Coming to a place like this, a little thing like you.”

It’s a horror of living bone. It was probably eating his soul as he slept. But there’s never been a siggort who’d show up just because it said the siggort’s name. There never was a siggort who’d look so . . . so Sid at it when it smiled.

Aside from the numbing horror of it, it’s kind of cute.

So Max doesn’t kill it.

He takes his hat off his hat rack and hangs the horror there and puts his hat on it and then he goes to wash his face in the dinky blue bathroom that’s next to his room.

He doesn’t want to wake up, but there’s some reason—

And he looks at himself in the mirror and he thinks, Ah, right.

Of course he has to wake up.

Sid loved me.

Continuing the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8)

It is June 1, 2004.

There’s a knock on Max’s door.

Max has an image to maintain, so he doesn’t answer. Instead, he pushes a button next to the door.

On both sides of the door a BROODING light lights up.

He can hear from outside: “Aw, man!”

It’s Jane’s voice.

Jane’s like a self-arming nuclear bomb with independently mobile legs. She’s a six-year-old girl. But there’s never been a siggort that waited thirteen hundred years just so Jane could be born.

Max, sure.

That happened, with Max.

But not with Jane.

Max pulls on a white shirt. He doesn’t need pants because he sleeps in his jeans so he’s wearing them already.

He flops on his bed.

Jane gives him a full two minutes to relax, to think: maybe she’s gone away?

Then she knocks again.

Max stands up.

He opens the door.

Max brushes back his hair with one hand.

“It’s four in the morning,” he says.

“It’s ten,” says Jane, scandalized.

Max makes a gesture as if to indicate that he cannot be bothered with mundane details of timekeeping.

“I’m brooding,” he says.

“I saw,” says Jane.

Seconds elapse.

“What do you want?” Max asks.

Jane looks at him. She wrings her hands. Then she says what she rehearsed.

“It’s all right to fight,” she says. “But it’s all right to make up, too.”

“Ah.”

Max sighs.

“Come in,” he says.

Jane comes in. She pulls herself up on the spare bed, the one Max doesn’t use, the one all spread with a cowhide-colored quilt. Max flops in his desk chair, more or less directly in front of and below his hat rack.

What do I say?

“It is because of Sid that I can be here,” Max says. “It’s because he looked at me and saw something worth saving, worth rescuing, worth returning to the world. But I can’t make up with him.”

“It’s easy,” stresses Jane. “You just say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then you hug.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“You could make him a cake!”

Max looks for words.

“It’s Sid’s business,” he says. “Fixing it, I mean. It’s not mine.”

Jane gapes at him.

“See,” says Max, “if I was all, ‘we must make this right, I miss you, I hurt every day over this,’ then how’d Sid feel?”

“What?”

“It’d be like if the monster came to you and wanted you to accept his apology,” Max says.

“Oh,” says Jane.

Her mouth moves, like she’s thinking or trying to sound out a hard word.

After a bit, she says, “Sometimes I beat up Martin, or he dangles me by my feet or dunks my head in water, and then we make up.”

“Yes,” says Max. “You’re modeled after young primates.”

Jane giggles.

It’s a kind of unexpected giggle, as if the image in her mind is surprisingly silly.

“What?” Max asks warily.

“Like in Pokemon!” Jane declares.

Max narrows his eyes. He stares at her with his gunman’s gaze.

“You’re thinking of Primape,” he corrects, and she’s laughing too hard to stop him when he chases her out of his room.

It is June 1, 2004.

Max is alone.

Max feels alone.

He is surrounded by inhuman things, in a place beyond the boundaries of the world. If he thinks about it very carefully, even ten thousand miles of chaos is not so frightening to him as Jane.

Or Mrs. Schiff, that casual swallower of horrors.

Or Martin.

Or even the Roomba.

But he doesn’t have to think about it carefully.

It’s not necessary.

There’s no one but Max within ten thousand miles who’s ever had a siggort come out of Siggort Town just to love them, and the immensity of love makes everything else seem small.

Feeding Dangerous Things (2 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

Leaves in sunlight, touched by a gust of wind, scritch and skitter along the floor. They reach the edge of the pit. They leap down like cats, hunched and light and agile, and fall slowly towards Sukaynah’s maw.

They vanish into the darkness below.

And up from below comes the breath of Sukaynah, whose snorkel and prison this tower is: ho-ha, ho-ha.

“Sometimes I try to fish her up,” Martin says. “Because I would like to help her. But I’ve never used the right bait.”

Sukaynah’s breath is heavy and rasping. It scrapes along the brick.

Continuing the story of Martin, Sukaynah, the imago, and the Roomba (1)

“Here,” Martin says to the Roomba.

He reaches into his pocket. It’s full of wadded up fig newtons. He takes one out and tosses it to the Roomba.

The Roomba attempts to vacuum up the cookie. When this fails it tries to climb up on top of the cookie. After a long effort it manages to get itself stuck on top of the fig newton. It whirrs and whines helplessly.

“That’s bad navigation,” Martin says.

“!!” explains the Roomba.

Martin says, “Well, don’t look at me to help you. I think you should use this opportunity to evolve.”

The Roomba’s “Evolution occurs over the course of multiple generations” LED lights up. It plays a sorrowful tune.

Martin makes a face.

“Grind it down with your mobility!” he says.

As the Roomba hums and whirrs, Martin turns to the imago.

“Here,” he says.

He holds out another cookie.

The imago does not take the cookie.

“I think you’re an imago,” Martin says. “I think you’re in that cocoon because you’re evolving to the next stage of human existence—in,” he says triumphantly, “direct contradiction to the Roomba’s LED.”

The Roomba irritably extinguishes its “Evolution occurs over the course of multiple generations” light. It attempts to back up off of the cookie, to no avail.

“But,” Martin says, “it can’t be very much of an evolution if the post-person stage is unable to eat cookies.”

The imago is silent.

Martin makes a face.

“Maybe you don’t get a cookie, then.”

And he plucks two apples from the tree and sits down with his legs dangling into the pit and he looks thoughtfully down at Sukaynah far below.

Time continued to pass and still Sukaynah was not fed.

She cried, “Feed me sweet things! Pastries! Cakes! Cookies! Oh, feed me sweet things and I shall rise to devour the tower, the ocean, and the sun.”

At that time, a fisherman—Abel Clay—had moved into the tower, along with his family. He heard Sukaynah’s cries and was mightily amazed: but, “No way!” he shouted back down. “I like the sun!”

She heaved and wriggled in great rage, but he refused to feed her anything after the manner of her desire.

“Hey!” Martin says.

There is silence.

“Hey, Sukaynah!”

Sukaynah is a long way down but her breath fills the tower: ha-ho, ha-ho, ha-ho.

“Fruit,” Martin says.

And he tosses down an apple and it falls and it falls and then there is a great crunching and munching of teeth and finally a swallowing sound like the receding of the tide.

“Martin,” says Sukaynah.

“If I were a doctor,” Martin says, “these would totally keep me away. But I’d also be Doc Martin.”

Sukaynah breathes.

Slowly, she says, “Do you sleep very soundly, Martin?”

“I sleep vigorously,” Martin says.

“If you sleep too soundly,” Sukaynah says, “then it is possible that very small people will tie you down underwater and build a combination tower/breathing tube on your face. Then a few thousand years later even smaller people will move into the tower and try to make friends with you. Your reaction might be best expressed as such: ‘I am unable to identify our common ground.'”

“Maybe you have sleep apnea,” says Martin.

“What?”

“It’s a sleep disorder,” Martin says. “You can find more information about it on the Internet.”

There is a long pause.

“I do not think it is sleep apnea,” Sukaynah says.

“Oh.”

It is June 1, 2004.

A cloud passes over the sun.

“Do you think it’s okay to destroy everything?” Martin asks.

“Yes,” says Sukaynah.

Martin munches on a cookie. He is thinking. “Me too,” he says.

Then he takes a newton from his pocket.

“Cookie?”

Sukaynah breathes.

“Why,” she says, “you’re a good little boy after all.”

Life, Through a Film of Palmolive

Rain pours down on the open-air garden, and on Sid.

There are trees all around, and grass, and flowers. Most won’t survive the rain. There’s a set of broken old stone walls surrounding the garden. Odds are, they’ll make it through. Usually they do.

They’re nice and all, but they’re not Sid.

“It’s stupid,” opines Iphigenia.

Emily takes the candy cane she’s sucking on out of her mouth.

“Stupid?” says Emily.

“Canonically so,” says Iphigenia. “c.f. ‘coming in out of the rain, too stupid to be.'”

“Hm,” agrees Emily.

They’re standing under convenient eaves that project out from the tower that is their home.

“It would be a shame,” Emily concedes, “if he caught his death of rain.”

“It would be a harsh, cruel world.”

Emily sucks for a moment on the curved end of the candy cane. Then she says, “Is that really contingent on Sid?”

Iphigenia stares at her for a moment, then shakes her head and ignores her.

“Sid!” shouts Iphigenia.

The rain is little drops of water at first, and a sprinkling of water can’t hurt anyone. But soon there’s a bit of glowing dust mixed in too.

Sid is walking around in the garden. He’s got his left arm out like his whole body is listening and his right hand is sheltering his eyes. He’s looking up at the sky.

Now there’s cherries falling. It’s good that there are cherries falling, because not all of them will burst on impact—some will be good for breakfast in the morning, unless an antelope or dowry chest or whatnot lands on them first.

Glowing coals drift down from the sky.

“He’s not paying attention to us,” concludes Emily.

Iphigenia is brave. She darts out into the rain of water, glitter, cherries, and coals. She grabs Sid’s sleeve. She tugs.

“Hey!” she says. “Doofus!”

Sid looks down at her.

“You’ll get hurt,” she says.

Sid thinks this over. Then he takes Iphigenia’s arm and, pulling her with him, steps out of the way of a sharp-pointed anchor that falls from the sky.

“Maybe,” he concedes.

He pulls her back under the shade of an orange tree. He looks up at the sky.

“You shouldn’t be out here,” he says.

“It would be a harsh, cruel world,” Iphigenia explains, “if you got hit by a meteor and fell down, splat.”

“I’m not out here to be hit by a meteor,” Sid avers.

“Events do not always happen as you intend!”

Sid peers out at the sky. He sighs.

“You’re right,” he says. “Anchors are a bad sign. Let’s make a dash for the eaves.”

They stall a few seconds, waiting for a moment in which relatively few large objects are falling from the sky.

“You shouldn’t need me to run out here after you,” says Iphigenia. “You should be able to worry about these things on your own.”

“I do worry,” says Sid.

“You worry?”

“Unreasonably and acutely,” says Sid. “A meteor strike could render me unable to fulfill my responsibilities and accomplish the long list of things that lay ahead of me.”

“Oh,” says Iphigenia, somewhat deflated, since Sid has just adequately summarized the appropriate reasons for worry.

“But sometimes when it rains, I look up and I see a chicken-snake in the sky,” Sid says. His voice is distant and reverent. “Huge and glorious, with a great long feathered tail. And—”

His voice peaks upwards violently into panic.

“PIANO!”

Sid and Iphigenia dive for cover. The piano tears through the branches of the orange tree and hits the earth where they’d stood with a great rattling of keys.

Sid is sprawled face-first in a mud puddle.

Cherries bounce off of Sid.

Iphigenia helps him up. Their previous shelter proven unsound, they stumble straight towards the eaves.

“It is raining harder than usual,” Sid admits, with a distant disappointment.

They reach the eaves. They slump against the wall next to Emily. They watch the storm.

“Hey, can you see your chicken-snake from here?” Iphigenia asks.

“Maybe,” says Sid. “If it flies low.”

Emily takes the candy cane out of her mouth. She watches the sky. After a long moment, she points with the candy cane’s end. “There,” she says.

They can just barely see it, in the distance. It is huge. It is grand. It is eddying through the sky above the storm.

A certain tension falls from Sid. He stares out at it, rapt.

“Hey,” says Emily.

“Hey?” Sid says.

“Why do you want to see a flying chicken-snake?” Emily says.

“It makes me feel small,” says Sid.

The shape is moving away into the distance. Sid, helplessly, takes a few steps out from the eaves to see it better. Rain and glitter drift into his hair.

“Sid,” says Iphigenia, warningly.

But the rain is fading. There are no more anchors. There are no more pianos.

“I guess it’s safe,” Iphigenia sighs.

Iphigenia has spoken too soon.

A meteor tears down from Heaven like some angry angel’s shotput. It strikes Sid in the forehead. It is a very small meteor: a dazing meteor and not a murderous one. Even so, Sid still staggers, stumbles, and falls sideways under the eaves. Water, glitter, and cherries drip in a slow and steady stream onto his face.

“Huh,” he says, after a moment.

Emily pokes at Sid with her foot. “Harsh, cruel world?” she asks.

“Where?” says Sid, confused.

Proposes Iphigenia, “You’re soaking in it!”

The Water (4 of 4)

The rising heat of Coretta’s fire
isn’t yet, it isn’t yet;
The hope against the rising wind
isn’t yet, that isn’t yet;
The aegises and dragons they
are isn’ts yet, isn’ts yet;
And the angels, and Ginette.

It is May 24, 2004, and Iphigenia wakes up screaming.

Between the Dominican Republic and Haiti runs a river. It is the Soleil, bound to the sun, and the rains have filled it.

It is 2:28 ante meridiem and the waters are rising.

It is 2:33 and the river bursts its banks.

It is 2:34 in the morning, on May 24, 2004, and Ginette’s family is about to die.

Ginette, like Iphigenia, woke up screaming that day. A warning god bit her, right there on the thumb where it hurts the most to have a god unexpectedly bite you in your sleep. She is staggering out of the house and trying to shake it off but it won’t let go because that’s the kind of bitter little warning god she has, like a shiny black snake that lets you know when things are about to go wrong. And she’s glad of it a few seconds later when she sees the water rising.

Ginette is standing straight but her arm is crooked. She broke it a while ago, back before she had a warning god, and it never quite healed straight. She’s wearing a white nightdress. Her red-orange hair is astonishingly clean and neat, considering that she’s just woken up in the middle of the night. And she’s staring at the water coming at her like she really wishes she had one of those warning gods that tells you about these things a little earlier than a black snake can.

“Oh God,” she says.

Her mother, maybe, she can get out. Her father, maybe. He’s kind of old and creaky but he’s got a chance. Their house isn’t very sturdy, it’s mostly wood and sheet metal but some of the bits are cardboard and none of it’s held together that well, so it probably won’t trap him. But Celeste’s too sick. Even if she gets carried out, Celeste won’t make it in this kind of flood.

So Ginette knows what she has to do.

She calls up her aegis. It’s a golden glow that rises all about her, sheeting up from the earth. She calls up her killing god, and she hopes for all she’s worth that he’s up to killing a bloated river-man. She kicks over the stone that gives her wings and she flies out into the flood.

And the water washes over her like a symphony, the deep shifting currents like the bass, the surging foam and twisting water like the violin, and it hits her like the conductor’s hand swatting aside mosquitoes and Ginette thinks this as it washes her away:

“I am worthless.

“Pointless.

“I have failed.”

And she would have laughed and laughed if she had been there 2543 years ago when Mr. Kong asked the question, “Are we responsible for the miracles we cannot work?”

‘Cause everybody, but everybody, knows the answer to that.

Iphigenia’s Story (1 of 1)

Tina is hunting Liril; through dangerous byways and sharp straight courses she hunts her.

Iphigenia knows.

“I should be dead,” she says, to Martin, that morning. Iphigenia is looking out at the sky and Martin is applying a wrench to the pipes of the stage.

Martin makes a noncommital noise. He loosens a nut. He begins to untwist the screw. “That’s not unusual,” he says.

“There’s a need to pay the price for sin,” Iphigenia says. “Otherwise the world goes out of balance. And there she is—sinning—”

“And you weren’t sacrificed properly?”

“Yeah,” Iphigenia says.

The screw comes off. The pipe separates; a numinous mist of chaos fogs out into the room. Martin reaches a long skinny arm into the pipe and begins to feel around. Something bites him, and he pulls back a finger swollen, red, and black. He sucks on the tip and thinks.

“It is an old miracle,” says Martin. “To substitute an animal for a sinner at the moment of a sacrifice. It’s so old that even humans started doing it, but originally, it was a trick of the gods.”

“It wasn’t an animal,” Iphigenia says. “It was a Cadbury bunny.”

Martin rummages around until he finds a pair of forceps. He reaches into the pipe. He pulls out a spiny eel, its long white mouth-tendrils reminiscent of a beard. He holds it up, unhappy. Then he takes it to the window and tosses it back into the sea.

“Cadbury bunnies can die for people’s sins,” Martin asserts. “It’s allowed.”

“Even mine?”

“Even Stalin’s!”

“Communism, then,” Ink says. “Communism and capitalism. They split the world in half. One of them’s screwy and the other one never worked and whole generations grew up in fear until some drunk gorgosaurus puttering around in Party HQ knocked over the USSR. Was it some kind of weird gorgosaurus metaphor? ‘Look how deep our political theory is! This side can wear Russia like a condom whose time has come and the other can kill nuns in Nicaragua to keep America safe?'”

The bunny had burned as Iphigenia fled. The wind had carried her away, and she had left the bunny behind to burn.

And it was the nature of Iphigenia to know that chocolate is not deaf to pain; that a Cadbury creature pressed into service as a messenger is not insensate or without desire; that to leave it there was wrong. But to stay would have been more wrong. So she had left the bunny there to burn in her stead.

Tina ate some of the chocolate later. Iphigenia could never figure out why that disturbed her so.

“You’re projecting your own moral failings,” the gorgosaurus says.

Ink Catherly is running from a gorgosaurus. Its footsteps shake the firmament and the fundament. Its teeth are very sharp.

It dries Martin’s mouth out a little, watching.

It makes his stomach just a little bit sick.

So he crouches, in a high and dusty place, and looks out to sea.

“There’s something out in the sea,” he says.

The sun shines on the chaos and often its burning makes a golden road across the top. Today there is a turbulence in the chaos that breaks that road into a thousand jagged parts.

The thing that is swimming towards them is larger than the tower; larger than the sun; quite possibly larger than the sea. Its tail is lashing and there are storms for that reason everywhere in all the world.

Its name is Andhaka. It was once a dream of Mrs. Schiff’s.

“Is it my fault?” Iphigenia asks.

“Hm?”

“For being here. For . . .”

Martin is looking at her flatly.

“No,” Martin says.

“No,” says Mrs. Schiff. “No, Andhaka is mine.”

The horn of the beast has risen from the water now.

The madness in its blind red eyes is shining through the water now.

“He is coming for me,” says Mrs. Schiff. “Because I dreamt him long ago.”

They wait.

“Wait,” says Ink. “No. I’ll be good. What do you want?”

The gorgosaurus catches Ink’s leg in one hand and, without quite loosening the grip its teeth have on her arm, it jerks its head.

There is . . .

“She’s down! She’s down! Stop the show!”

That’s Sid’s voice. It’s loud and sharp and shaken.

Martin moves swiftly. He drops from his perch and catches the shutoff valve for the stage. He’s pulling it down with his weight and his feet descend onto the gears. He heaves it down the last few inches until it clicks.

It is Intermission, and a curtain falls across Ink’s fate.

The tower shines with a thousand lights; one by one, they dim. There is a potency in the air around Gibbelins’ Tower; slowly, it dissipates.

And still Andhaka comes.

Mrs. Schiff is walking out on the bridge now. She is looking at the creature now. It rises over her and there are blind and questing tendrils at its mouth. There is a wave that crashes and tears upon the tower walls and over the bridge, and only barely does Mrs. Schiff keep her grip upon the railing.

“She’ll die,” says Iphigenia.

Iphigenia’s knuckles are white.

“I liked her,” Iphigenia says. And she wills Andhaka to burn, but the beast is larger than her power.

Andhaka’s head comes down. Its mouth opens wide. It shrieks. Then it pours itself into Mrs. Schiff. It is an endless rippling tide flowing from the chaos into her soul.

Iphigenia’s eyes are closed. She does not watch.

And the broken dream that is Andhaka is now within Mrs. Schiff, twisting and turning in her mind and soul, and it is burning with madness. And Mrs. Schiff stands there, still and prim, but the edges of her soul are loose against the seething tide.

For that is what one does with broken dreams: one takes them back, and holds the madness in oneself until it turns to peace.

Such is the theory and practice of Mrs. Schiff.

Such are the things that happen, backstage at Gibbelins’ Tower.