Ink Unwrappable (XII/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

In 1926, André Masson created a box without entrances or exits. One could only access its roomy interior through unconscious action. It contained a road, he thought, and a moon, and quite possibly a fox; and human anatomy would not have been out of place. Masson’s landlord visited as he slept. Finding the box profoundly disturbing, the landlord cast it into the elevator shaft, where it fell and continued to fall until it at last reached the weary kingdoms beneath the world. Clinging precariously to a ledge therein, it heard the gospel of King Snorn and became a person. Rising, it said, “It is dangerous even for an artist to make a box without entrances or exits: how easy it could be for the soul to become trapped inside, and how impossible to verify that such a thing has never happened!”

Over the years and through a process of unconscious action the box extracted arms and legs and a head and a chest and other appurtenances of daily life from its roomy interior, finally taking its place in the kingdom of King Snorn as a full citizen and training as a medical orderly.

That’s how it came to pass that he’s standing there, holding the girl down against the altar of the doctor of the deeps.

That’s what orderlies do, nowadays, in Sarous’ kingdom.

They hold people down.

The theory’s like this. People are degenerate. Most people, anyway. But a good doctor—someone with a solid grasp of medicine—can root that degeneracy out. Surgically, maybe, or with pills, or with a sound regimen of diet and exercise. Certainly not with homeopathic medicine, since everyone is forever exposing themselves to heavily diluted substances of corruption and never gaining much resistance thereby; but possibly, the orderly thinks, and here he’s a bit disloyal, possibly with a rigorous program of moxibustion and acupuncture.

There isn’t any need, in an enlightened modern society, for somebody to be corrupt.

Nor is there an excuse.

It’s a public health issue, after all.

If your morals decay, treatment is mandatory. But it isn’t always easy. Some people are still puzzles even to medical science. Melissa—the good doctor’s wife—he’d never managed to cure her, for instance, and that was as tragic as it gets. This girl, she’s another example. Stepladder syndrome complicated by acute hyperrachia— diaphoretic hyperrachia, to judge by her sweating—

Not that much you can do about that.

And there’s always one or two incurables like that around. People like a show, so they hunt them down. Sometimes it’s the hunted who proves degenerate and sometimes it’s the hunter, but either way, people like a show.

The doctor always has a supply of people who are degenerate but not so easily fixed. People so corrupt that you just can’t reform them. All you can do is the time-honored recourse of medicine when you can’t do anything else—

Bleed ’em.

Bleed ’em, and hope it helps, and if it doesn’t, well, it’s not like they were a very good citizen in the first place.

Previous histories of the imago:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,

10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19.

This particular girl—her name is Ink Catherly. Everybody calls her the imago, she’d said. Short for the imaginary agonies of form, she’d said, and maybe that was the truth.

She’s an interesting case.

Not every orderly cares about interesting cases, but the leftmost orderly—the box without entrances and exits—does. He cares, because he’s taking classes at night in hopes of becoming a doctor.

And she’s an interesting case.

This girl burps up woglies, for instance. The orderly’s not sure what they are. They’re round, though, and they hiss, and the entire ziggurat’s felt strangely unstable ever since one hit.

That wogly bit the doctor right in his hand, it looks like. What makes that interesting is that it’s a plausible vector of contagion and a sign of stepladder syndrome in one. People with stepladder-style moral degeneracy get wounded hands. The congruence of physiological and dharmic elements fascinates the box.

The doctor, naturally, is just a little bit concerned.

He can’t disprove that he’s sick—not with that hand—

So the matter concerns him.

“If I’m corrupt—” he says.

He’s licking his lips. He’s hesitating. He’s not cutting, yet, and maybe he won’t. The orderly loosens his grip on the girl, just a little bit, in case it turns out that he’s going to let her go.

“If I’m sick, and I bleed you,” the doctor says. “Then that’s a corrupt action. And not bleeding you is what a good, wise, sound man would do. But if I don’t bleed you, then that’s the corruption—that it’s swayed me away from my position of righteousness. A good, wise, sound man would bleed you, then, and only a corrupt man would celebrate your corruption by letting you go.”

He’s sweating.

“There’s no way you can win,” the girl concedes. “And whatever you do, medical science will blame you for it.”

Dr. Sarous’ hands are trembling.

It’s like he’s in a box, the orderly thinks. It’s like he built a box without any entrances or exits, and now he’s regretting that he’s built it.

Reason elbows him in the stomach of his mind.

Not everything is about boxes without entrances and exits, reason observes.

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

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

“I’m going now,” decides Ink Catherly.

“Eh?” the orderly says.

Ink winces preemptively and then slams her forehead down against the altar. It makes a horrible sound.

“Hey!” says the orderly. People aren’t allowed to kill themselves before being bled to death. “Hey!”

He holds her neck down.

But the whole ziggurat is shaking. That shouldn’t happen, the orderly is pretty sure. Giant stone ziggurats are practically bursting with structural integrity. But it doesn’t seem to have that now.

THOOM.

The altar collapses. The ziggurat collapses.

Everything is roar and noise.

The orderly looks up as they fall. He can see the girl, and the doctor, and the rightmost orderly, and somehow things have turned around and now a block of stone is coming down on them all.

It is an unconscious action. It does not originate in his mind; there is no intention and there is no plan.

The orderly reaches into the box of his heart. He pulls out a road. He leans it up between the space of falling things, where the other three may stagger down it into freedom.

Then the ziggurat staves him in.

  • That’s it for Chapter Four of the Island of the Centipede, but it’s not the end of this particular series! Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history of Ink Catherly:
    INK INCOMPARABLE.

“The Golden Age” – From the Journals of Ink Catherly (XI/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: Upon his ascension to the throne of the world, an endless time before great Hestia’s birth, Cronos went down to Tartarus and cast open the gates.

He said, “Come out, ye that may.”

Past him in a stream flowed the damned and terrible progeny of the couplings of Uri and the world. Some skulked low and chittered. Some shivered with cold slime. Some screamed foul prophecies as they flew above his head. Lastly there slunk forth the worst of them, a cutty angel, saying, “There is hope.”

They went out into the world and the world took the weight of them.

That was the beginning of Cronos’ reign—the day the horrors went free.

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

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

It is incumbent on a man, if he will lapse the leash on monsters, to bear the weight of their actions.

Cronos had unleashed great horrors on the world.

The world did not suffer from them.

Rather, from his place on the throne of the world, the titan held that suffering at bay. He made a plate of stone and set it behind him and upon it he bore the weight of imperfection. Thus when swarmed the namecatcher wasps, they did not cause harm. Thus the staggering crooked heartless men did not bleed out their life into the hollows of their chests. The titan reconciled in himself their dharmas, saying: “Swarm here, wasps, where their names are a burden to them.” Or “Stuff your chests with herbs, and palpate them with palpation bugs, and live and farm thereafter quietly and in peace.” He set the demons against the narcissists. He sent the angels to the bleak.

9512 pesserids before time began, a nymph wandering the roads encountered an ogre.

“Raar,” cried the ogre. “Raar! I am a hideous man-eating ogre.”

“Oh, thank Heaven!” the nymph replied.

“Eh?”

“There is a hideous man,” said the nymph. “There is a hideous man behind me, and I would much rather he were eaten.”

The ogre looked.

In fact there was: a telchine wizard practicing as a highwayman, whose intentions were in no way serene.

The ogre looked back and forth. He reached his decision.

“The telchine has more meat,” he said. “So I’ll eat him!”

“I don’t mind being eaten,” the telchine conceded. “If you’ll spit up my bones afterwards into your pile of gold, that I may be rich for ever.”

In such a fashion, again and again throughout the world, were all conflicts neatly and equitably solved. In such a fashion did the chains of Necessity make all people dance to a perfectly harmonious tune. The weight of effort for pulling all those shifting chains fell to the only creature who was not bound to them: Cronos, titan, lord of all the world.

“It is heavy,” he admitted to Rhea.

It fell to Cronos to reconcile the horrors and the lambs; the killers and the saints; the humans and the gods. He mediated between the perfect and the real.

“It is so very heavy,” Cronos said.

Rhea rubbed his shoulders, but it did not help. She tried to carry her share of it, but she could not: because the chains bound her, she participated in the system of them, and the efforts that she contributed solved out in the equations of it all.

“What would happen,” asked Cronos, “if I let this plate to fall?”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“In all the world,” said Cronos, “only I may stand aside, and shrug aside this weight, and let things happen as they will. And it is heavy. So I wonder: what would happen if I let this plate to fall, and the storm run riot across the world?”

“Then we should live in the Elysian Fields, I suppose, where there is no sorrow, and everything be well forever after for us all.”

I cannot describe the look on Cronos’ face.

It was the look of Santa when he discovered that presents kill; the look of the Gonz, when he dreamed for the first time of Abu Ghraib; the look of Dr. Sarous, at the recognition of his own corruption.

To work so hard—

So very hard—

And to think, for just a moment, that you have done no favors for the world.

  • Tune in FRIDAY for the next exciting history of Ink Catherly:
    THEORIES REGARDING THE BOX!

Ink and Anarchy (X/XVI)

[Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

“You have the signs of moral degeneracy,” says the doctor of the deeps. “The wounded hand; the lightly wounded throat; you carry a small parcel; your hair is dark. You have avowed the intention to kill God. Let us call it stepladder syndrome.

This term is patterned after the pattern of the marks.

“You deny it,” says the doctor. “Thus, we add to your diagnosis acute hyperrachia.

He stands, face uplifted.

He is bathed in the cold blue light of phosphorescent worms.

The pathological perception that one is well. The manifestation through symptoms and their alleviation of a false state of wellness. If a patient presents this disorder, they are confused. They affect wholesome, healthy innocence through the psychosomatic imprint of their syndrome. This is an innocence that they do not possess. Orient them: they will deceive you. Restrain them: they will fight you. Medicate them: they will conspire, much as those in the grip of senility or paranoia, to reject the medications. Yet the hyperrachic immoral are not well.”

The girl stands before him. She is fifteen years old and her eyes have the look of a wild creature’s.

“Do you understand,” the doctor asks her, “why I say you are not well?”

“‘Cause I get wogly burps,” says the girl.

He looks at her.

His expression suggests the word: Eh?

So the girl works her diaphragm for a moment. Then she burps. It’s one of those deliberate burps that you only do when you’re alone or on a doctor’s ziggurat or you want to be rude. She chews for a minute, then she spits out a wogly.

“Like that.”

He doesn’t know whether to write this up for the journals or to bleed her for defiance. He’s totally nonplussed. That’s how unexpected a wogly burp can be!

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: “Save for Cronos, and the woglies, and the siggorts, I suppose.”

That’s . . . it cuts in there.

Something for everyone, said Rhea, something, something, something, save for Cronos, and the woglies, and the siggorts, she supposed.

He lay with her that night, Cronos with Rhea, and in the course of seasons she bore him a daughter.

This was earlier than the last history. Maybe about 12 pesserids before the end of the Second Kingdom. She lay with him and she bore him a daughter. And most fathers would have been happy, because, you know, perfect adorable daughter, but Cronos wasn’t one of that kind.

“I will make this world into a torture chamber,” Cronos said.

“Gii-whii!” answered Hestia, as he held her in his arms.

She wriggled her toes and hiccupped and guarded with her power the hearths and houses of the world.

“Listen,” Cronos said.

He looked up at the stars.

“This world is bound to forms,” he said. “To concepts. To the ideal. But I have made the work of my life the severing of that bond.”

Hestia’s face grew very still and intent.

“I had forgotten it,” he said. “But still, it is my work. And there is only one way that it may be done: I must make the forms abhorrent to themselves. I must make the edifice of right and wrong and tradition and form and even structured thought a crime.”

The world revolved around him, as it does, when one sits upon the throne of all the world.

Rhea’s face grew very pale.

“Cronos—” she said.

The teeth of Cronos set on his daughter’s arm. He bit it off. He chewed. He swallowed.

Hestia wailed, thinly. Her blood fell upon the earth.

“Shh,” Cronos said.

He put his finger to her lips. He looked at Rhea.

“The Kingdom I have builded gives way to Tyranny,” Cronos said, “and there is no answer to it within the structures of the world.”

The Kingdom I have builded gives way to Tyranny.

He opened his hand, and there was a wogly in it, and I took it. This is one of the few interactions that we are allowed between history and the now: the taking of woglies. I took the wogly from him, because Dr. Sarous was going to kill me if I did not, and I chewed on it and I sucked away a bit of blood, and then I burped and spit it out.

Cronos didn’t even seem surprised.

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, but everybody calls her the imago. It’s the name of her website, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

She’s standing there in a white straightjacket and the holes along its arms gape in the darkness like little mouths. There’s two orderlies holding her still. They stand behind her, and to either side, gripping the blunted ends of the straightjacket’s arms.

In front of her there’s an altar with a blackened trench for blood.

On the other side of it there is Sarous, the doctor of the deeps.

The wind is rushing past them. They are high above the cavern ground. They are on a ziggurat built of great stone slabs. Beneath them mills the crowd.

“What the Hell?” says Sarous.

“They’re all through my diagnostic criteria,” Ink lies sadly. “They’re rendering dubious and undefined the very concept of my health.”

She coughs in a fashion that seems sickly but under closer scrutiny reveals itself to be a profound flaw in medical science.

“Undefined,” says Sarous. His voice is flat.

“In this world,” says Ink, “there are only three healthy things. To recognize that one is imperfect, and to seek perfection. To recognize that hope is not lost, and to embrace it. And finally to normalize one’s condition, blinding oneself to all the ways in which one is already perfect or in which there is no hope. But thanks to these woglies I can’t tell if I recognize my own imperfection or not, much less the ways in which I’m already perfect. It’s just too difficult!”

She kicks the wogly.

It hisses.

Dr. Sarous has a horrified look.

“It’s terrible,” lies Ink. “The closer you are to finding out how healthy I am, the more your results vary. They hooked me up to the ultimate diagnostic catheter and it exploded! The diagnostic focus of a doctor’s mind intrudes on me—snap! It hooks straight into madness. It’s why nobody will treat me any more, even if I make my sad pathetic ‘I have wogly burps’ face.”

Ink demonstrates.

The wogly, irritably, begins to eat the integrity of Dr. Sarous’ ziggurat.

The clouds of Dr. Sarous’ nonplussedness coalesce into anger and move towards icy confidence. Ink opens her mouth to say something and interrupt the process but a wave of dizziness shakes her mind. Perhaps it’s the tightness of the straightjacket or an infection in her wounded hand.

By the time her world clears it is too late.

“Argumentative hyperrachia,” dismisses Dr. Sarous. He picks up the wogly. He hides it in his palm. “It is not sound.”

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

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

“I’m just being helpful,” says Ink.

“You might think so,” Dr. Sarous says. He jerks his head. It is a signal. The orderlies push Ink forward to lay across the altar. “But you’re not.”

“I could have hurt you,” Ink says. “But I didn’t want to.”

Dr. Sarous palpates her back.

“I think the organ of your failings is here,” he says.

“That’s the kidney, sir,” an orderly says.

“Slightly to the left.”

“Ah.”

“I still don’t want to,” Ink says.

“That’s the hyperrachia talking, my dear.”

“I could have said, ‘You have Melissa’s disease.'”

Dr. Sarous goes still.

“Because it’s contagious,” Ink says. “She said.”

Dr. Sarous does not move. He stares at the imago’s back.

“Sir?” the orderly says.

“It’s probably in the same general category as stepladder syndrome,” Ink says.

“How do you know about her?” Dr. Sarous asks.

“You inherited her backpack, probably,” Ink says. “So you’ve got a small parcel. And your hair is dark.”

Dr. Sarous holds up his palm.

“But my hand is fine,” he says.

“Is it?”

There’s no wogly in his palm. Not any more. There’s a red mark bitten into it where the sign of moral degeneracy would go.

  • Tune in TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY, or maybe THURSDAY for the next exciting installment:
    INK ASCENDING
  • Special bonus! Updated through Chapter 2, but not yet converted to WordPress: the timeline.
  • And, since I’ll forget myself if I don’t tell you: pesserid (pesз:rid) – pre-temporal unit measuring the escalating {pitch, intensity, fervor} of a situation; related to basirat and pessos.

“The Test Defends Itself from Life”- From the Journals of Ink Catherly (IX/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Sarous: Once upon a time there was a young man named Sarous.

Evolved from a fish, I’d say, and maybe that’s the truth; but he’s been a doctor for so very long now that it’s hard to tell.

He was raised up in the kingdom of Snorn; wakened in the great birthing when Snorn—

Himself transfigured from a stone—

Spoke the gospel of King Snorn to the stickbugs, the fishes, the moles, the stones, and the rats. Sarous was one of thousands, tens of thousands, of citizens of that great grey kingdom born that day. And he had a vision.

His vision was an estimable one.

It began with the thought, “Imagine a lens that shows imperfection.”

It led, as inevitably as the rain, to the thought, “I can fix this broken world.”

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

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

“Imagine that we could see the animalcules of imperfection,” he said to Melissa, who would later be his wife.

“Imagine,” he said, “that we could track those elements of suffering— those things that make the world not as we like it— back to the contagion that was their source. What is it that you think that we would find?”

“Yeast?”

Sarous blinked. He blinked three times, and fell in love with her at once; but still he disagreed. “Not yeast,” he said. “Moral decay.”

She raised an eyebrow.

Is all imperfection of human origin?

He waved a hand to dismiss the thought. All imperfection that matters. “If all people were upright,” he said, “they would act in all regards to prevent suffering. When people act to exacerbate suffering, we may say that they are infected with the animalcules of imperfection.”

“I see.”

“It is a paradigm, of course, and not a theory,” says Sarous. “Such a lens could not exist. But oh! The possibilities! The diagnostic and purgative techniques that could pertain!”

“But to cure a man of moral decay,” Melissa objected. “Isn’t that like curing one man of another man’s disease?”

This was sticky.

Sarous drank two and a half cups of coffee before he found his answer.

“No one would prefer to cause suffering,” he said.

So he went to his lab and he labored there to become a doctor, and from there to learn the techniques necessary to discover, diagnose, and purge moral decay. He found the animalcules of senseless cruelty and the general systemic pathology of spinelessness. He dug out for the first time the organ of privilege— not the testicles, as Yaoharneth-Lalai had hypothesized, nor yet the ovaries (as bitterly avowed by Mung), but rather a small sexless nodule of dubious provenance crunched up between the bowels and the gall. He caught at last the monopole that makes a jackass bray and the thwarted man to pout; he made a vaccine against the brutal rage; and if he found no general solution, no lens to show imperfection nor purgatives to sweat it out, still he grew legendary in the art of detecting and treating moral degeneration and decay.

In the early days he tested his diagnoses often on Melissa; at first as experiments, and then as control, and finally with a strange urgency to find a flaw, as if the negative results he found were illegitimate to a one.

“I think, my love,” Melissa said, “that you will test me until I prove corrupt.”

Sarous smiled.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Yet still something moved in him— something strange and uneasy, that kept his hand hovering near the latest draw of Melissa’s blood.

“May I?” he said.

“Oh, you will,” she observed.

“You’ll make me blush.”

“It’s just,” she said, “if I had such grave doubts for your purity, then that would be a symptom, would it not?”

He laughed.

He thought about it. Then he laughed again.

“I suppose it would,” he said. “But it is because you have been steady for so long, you see.”

She had a qualm that day, but he qualmed it out; for all his strange obsessions the intentions of her husband were still good.

Medicine advanced. The technology of Sarous’ work improved. He demonstrated practical results of clear legitimacy: sinners redeemed, murderers unmasked, qualms uncoiled into repentance, certainty, or calm. Word of his skills spread throughout the kingdom.

It became very popular for the people to submit their enemies and their goads to him for testing. Occasionally this had the desired outcome; at other times, it had a null result, or rebounded upon the issuers of these claims of moral decay.

It was in that latter fashion that Dr. Sarous deposed King Snorn.

“I fear treachery in my advisors,” said Snorn. “Or mutiny among my people.”

And Sarous ran his tests.

“Milord, I am afraid that it is not your people that are treacherous, but you.”

Slowly the King’s head sank onto his chest. His beard crunched against his tabard; and he thought.

He said, in sepulchral tones, “This is a notion that has fluttered against the windows of my mind; I had suspected it, but I had not dared to let it in. Is there a purgative?”

“It is too deep,” Sarous said.

Despair condensed to ice in the King’s veins. He went still. His eyes fell closed. His white hair hung around his head. He slept and he did not wake again. His body went cold and then turned to stone upon his bench. The people acclaimed Dr. Sarous to his throne, and asked him to purge unrighteousness from their ranks.

They built the ziggurat to honor him.

Everywhere they lauded Sarous’ name.

And in quiet and alone in the deeps of night, Melissa had a thought.

Her thought began with, “Imagine a lens that shows imperfection.”

It continued, as inevitably as the rain, to, “He will kill me.”

He ran his seven hundred and thirty-first test of her the morning after. He frowned at the results. He ran the test again.

He looked at the palm of her hand and he saw the marks of it, the faint red flush of moral decay.

Leaning close he saw the touch of it on her throat, in the smallness of her backpack, in the blackness of her hair.

“Decay?” Melissa asked him.

She was strangely calm.

“It is not curable,” he said. A cold wind blew.

She smiled. She could not help it. “And terribly contagious, I would suggest.”

He blinked. He tilted his head. “Eh?”

“My love,” she said, “what will you do now, that will not cause suffering?”

“—I must try a cure,” he said.

“Imagine,” she said, “a lens that shows imperfection.”

His thoughts were far away, with the results of the test, with the structure of her disease. Could he get it out, he wondered, if he bled her soon enough? If he operated? Could he preserve some portion of her, perhaps, to be later grown again?

“It would always show,” she said. “It would never be clear. Of course it could never be clear. Even if it were to look upon the purest thing, even if it were to show the good itself: still, the lens would be imperfect; the holder would be imperfect; the eye that looked through it, imperfect; the very concepts made manifest in that lens— imperfect, and so the lens would show.”

“I can’t just let it be,” he said. Sarous’ voice was strained. “I can’t just have a corrupt wife. I am the King.”

“You’re not listening, love,” she said.

He blinked. He refocused. He looked at her face. Of course. I am not listening.

He said it again, trying harder to communicate to her his meaning, his implications, and his sorrow. “I can’t just let it be. For their sake. You understand.”

“It isn’t logically possible for your diagnostic techniques to be correct,” she said.

He made a face.

“You’d say that,” he agreed.

“It’s because I realized that,” she said, “and resolved that I would tell you, that I failed to the test.”

And she talked, she explained, on and on she talked, but he did not listen.

“It defends itself,” she said, “from the stringencies of life.”

And she still thought then, to judge her smile, that she would win this fight, and perhaps on equal grounds she ought; but it was all symptoms, you see; all symptoms, every word of it, and it was not sign.

  • Tune in NEXT WEEK for a cavalcade of mad excitement: Ink vs. Sarous! The birth of Zeus! The general of the stickbugs! And possibly even something like a letters column, although that might be too much to hope until after part XV—
    INK IMMORAL!
  • You won’t believe your nosebugs!

Ink Incurable (VIII/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

One by one the girl climbs the steps.

The orderlies behind her push her up. A crowd has gathered deep below.

That she is sick is clear. The crowd chants it: “Sick. Sick. Sick.”

They call her perverse. They call her degenerate. They chant of her sickness. But you do not need to trust the crowd.

The nurses have confirmed it. They were mercenary nurses, five to a drachma, and four of them hadn’t even bothered to look—

“All the signs of moral decay,” they’d said, and bobbed their heads—

But the fifth had taken her vitals, looked into her mouth, and listened to her heart, and she had agreed with the greatest vehemence of them all.

The girl is sick. That much is clear. The peak of Sarous’ ziggurat draws near.

“I wish I knew whether I were to offer a denial or a bribe,” says the girl.

Something small and black scuttles into the cracks of the stone of the steps and it is gone.

“It’s too late, innit?” says one orderly. “Now you’ve been properly diagnosed.”

“It can’t be too late! I haven’t done anything immoral!”

The orderlies behind her push her up.

Sulks the girl, “Yet.”

The leftmost orderly’s heard it all before. He’s heard it all, right down to that last “Yet.” He’s a ziggurat orderly. He knows his business, right down to the bloody nub. Yet somehow he’s kept a good heart through it all. Somehow he’s good enough to love her for being human even as he shoves her upwards towards her doom.

So he says, “You oughtn’t worry so much about what to say or what not to say, what you do or what you don’t do, you.”

“Eh?” says the girl.

“Well, what you say,” he says, “see, what you say? What you do? Those’d be symptoms, wouldn’t they? Just symptoms? Patient reporting? And a real doctor goes by signs.”

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Rhea: In the Golden Age that preceded the Titanomachy nothing happened that was not correct.

Such was the imprint of this time upon our world that even the richest, even the wisest, and even the greatest of us still look back with wistful sorrow and remember it. The world was in harmony. Morality dominated in every portion. And no man or woman could rightly say that the chains of Necessity upon them were a burden. The behaviors that those chains compelled were virtuous, honorable, and good; save from one.

In all the world only the titan Cronos was free.

He ruled nobly and justly, one must assume, except for that incident with Hestia, and one day Rhea approached him with Demeter in her arms.

She was tentative and hesitant.

“Lo,” said Rhea. “The Great Goddess.”

Cronos judged Demeter.

“She, like Hestia, is food,” Cronos said.

“Not every goddess is food,” Rhea said. “Demeter is a marvel of the world.”

“Is she?”

“She is the goddess of the harvest,” said Rhea. “Of the bounty of the earth. Of grain and green and growing things—“

Cronos had a wry look.

Rhea cleared her throat. “Observe her nose,” Rhea said.

“She has a nose,” allowed Cronos. He lifted Demeter from Rhea’s arms with great gentleness. He looked at her. “And she is the harvest. But she is also a princess.”

The Great Goddess wriggled, and offered, “Goo?”

“To put it another way,” Cronos said, “‘an asset to my throne.'”

He bit off Demeter’s nose. He swallowed it. Then he ate her head to stop her wailing. He bit the rest of her in half. He swallowed her. His stomach grew bloated on this flesh.

He ate Hera too. And Hades. And Poseidon. He ate them all when their presentation came.

Rhea’s life became a horror to her.

Once she had loved him. She no longer recognized in him the person that she’d loved. Once she had lain with him gladly, and found in the straining of their sex an emptiness to cultivate with child. Now she resented their union. She lay with him only because she was his wife. She resented his seed inside her womb.

The chains of Necessity bound her.

She could not do otherwise than serve him. She could rage against him. She could question him. She could hurt him in small, petty ways. But this was the Golden Age, the Age we wistfully speak of, when things were better, and she could not defy him.

To defy him would not have been correct.

In all the world only one creature was free, and it was not she.

Riffle watches from the crowd. From behind his left shoulder he hears a voice.

“Found you, sir,” the creature says.

Riffle glances sideways.

It’s Smith, this one. Looks like a webwork of cracks in the air. It had been a webwork of cracks in the air, once, before it evolved and joined his crew.

“The girl’s name is Ink Catherly,” Riffle says. “But everyone calls her the imago. Just another sign of moral degeneracy, the nurses’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.”

“Yes, sir.”

Pushed by the rightmost orderly, the girl takes another step upwards towards her doom.

Smith clears its— well, it clears its something, anyway. “Will you be coming back, sir?”

“I’m done with scaffolding,” Riffle says.

“Oh.”

“It just didn’t seem the same once she left,” Riffle says. “Seemed—off. Futile, somehow. If you follow.”

Smith scrapes one toe-like crack along the ground.

“It seemed to me like maybe she had something after all. Potential. She could save us all, Smith. She could be a legitimate God-damn savior, and me, me, pulling on her strings.”

Ink stumbles up another step.

“Looks like she’s going to get kilt, sir,” Smith reports.

“You always kill saviors,” Riffle says.

“Oh.”

“Wouldn’t be people, now, would we, if we didn’t kill our saviors? Just rats and cracks and worms and stuff, if we weren’t at least evolved enough for that.

“Will you be needing us labor, sir?”

“No,” Riffle says. “No, but thank you. You may tell the others. I don’t need you any more.”

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

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

Ink reaches the top step. She stumbles to a halt. In front of her there’s an altar with a blackened trench for blood. On the other side of it there’s Sarous, the doctor of the deeps.

Sarous looks to the orderlies. He says, “Condition?”

“Wounded hand,” says the rightmost orderly. “Bit of a bloody throat. Claims she’s going to kill whomever’s on the throne of the world and doesn’t quite get just how that’s morally depraved.”

“Hyperrachia,” says Sarous. “No doubt.”

Ink licks her lips. She looks up. She says, “What are you going to do to me?”

Sarous looks to her.

He says, “You understand, my dear, that to murder someone, much less God, cannot possibly be correct?”

This is a bit of a toughie.

Ink hesitates.

“That it is, perhaps, the definition of immorality?”

“Won’t make excuses,” says Ink.

She’s noticing just how dark the altar is.

She adds, “Will you?”

“You’re sick,” the doctor says.

  • Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history in this sixteen-part series:
    INK, UNLEECHED!

The Treason of Minister Jof (VII/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

In Sarous’ kingdom it is always gay: the atmosphere is one of conviviality and festival. Streamers hang between the great stone buildings. The lamps writhe with glowworm-given light.

Minister Jof is drunk, or, rather, let us say, considering his station, “in quite good cheer.”

His hat sits askew upon his head.

A streamer winds around him, caught on his long nails.

“The only problem,” he confides to the barkeep. He leans forward. He’s whispering. “The only problem in this whole great happy ending is a niggling moral unease.”

The barkeep polishes a mug.

He used to be a mole, this particular barkeep. He used to be a mole. But he grew up, here in the crust of the world, and now he is a man.

This barkeep has evolved, and now may speak on moral issues.

“You might want to get that looked at,” he suggests.

“What?”

“Ain’t no need to have moral unease in Sarous’ kingdom,” says the barkeep. He gestures with his nose to the shops across the street. “Sawbones there’ll fix it all up, if’n there’s a qualm.”

Minister Jof looks.

There’s a sign. It’s hanging from the sawbones’ shop. It says, “Jimmy Q, the Sawbones, Physicker and Qualmer. I can make your problems disappear!”

“I love this kingdom,” Minister Jof exclaims.

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

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

Minister Jof brushes in past the dangling beads of the door and Jimmy Q looks up.

“Moral or physical?” he asks.

Minister Jof hesitates. He looks a bit aback. He harrumphs.

“Right, then,” says Jimmy Q, as if Minister Jof had answered.

He’s a slate of a man, is Jimmy Q, born right from the rock, and he’s still got a sharp bit of stone for one hand. His other hand, though, it’s as dextrous as you please, with long graceful fingers, pale and smooth. He pulls down a breath mask from a shelf and puts it on and he walks up interestedly to Minister Jof.

“Worm?” says Jimmy Q.

“Pardon?”

“I mean, before. Before you grew in moral stature. You were a sniveling little worm, right?”

Minister Jof’s lips thin.

“I don’t see—“

Jimmy Q grins with his even grey teeth. “Don’t nevermind that. Just getting my bearings on your physiology. What’s on your mind?”

He taps Minister Jof’s knee but isn’t surprised when it doesn’t kick. He takes Minister Jof’s pulses—a man’s got six pulses, down here in the weary kingdoms beneath the world, and Jimmy Q knows how to take them all. He looks at Minister Jof’s tongue.

“It’s eh moragh calm,” Jof explains around the tongue depressor.

“Oh?”

“There was this girl,” says Minister Jof. “This very devil of a girl. I couldn’t keep up with the things I’d been doing once I met her. Everything got all shaken up— are you, I mean, you’re not going to cut me, are you?”

He’s just noticed the bottles of preserved organs along the wall, and in particular, the one labeled, “Treachery.”

“Not for a qualm,” Jimmy Q says. “We don’t have to cut people to get out a moral qualm, here in Sarous’ kingdom. Best damn moral medicine in the world, here. Why, anywhere else I’d have M.D. after my name and not a Q; not that I’m complaining.”

“Ah.”

Minister Jof is a bit fidgety.

“I don’t know much about this moral medicine at all,” Minister Jof admits.

“There’s nothing like it in all the world!” declares Jimmy Q. “Why, this is the only place in all the world and sound where a man can feel guaranteed of getting up in the morning and going to sleep at night in a state of total moral confidence. Braces you something fierce, morality does. And if you don’t spit it out, my friend,” he says, and he’s turning towards his vials and his decanters, “I can certainly use an emetic.”

“I told the nurses she was going to kill God,” says Minister Jof in one long burst of sentencing. “I told the nurses she was going to kill God or at least ‘whomever’s sitting on the throne of all this world.’ That she was a destroyer. And they paid me for it!”

“Nurses,” mutters Jimmy Q.

He looks fiercely at Jof.

“Were you lying?”

“Well—” says Minister Jof. Slowly, his dignity gathers around him. “Well, no.”

“Really?”

Minister Jof nods.

Jimmy Q laughs. “Kill God, eh? And you’re feeling guilty about turning her in?”

“They said they were taking her to the ziggurat to be bled,” says Minister Jof.

The sawbones is still laughing. He’s sorting through his pills but he’s laughing, these chuckles that come and go, and Minister Jof flushes.

“Laughter is the best medicine,” he says, “but not when you are doing it to the patient.”

Jimmy Q tosses Jof a conscience pill.

“Boy,” he says, in complete disregard for the Minister’s station, “if they’re taking her up the ziggurat, then she’s in an advanced state of moral decay. Riddled with degeneracy! Now, you can’t honestly think that someone in that condition wouldn’t have betrayed you, can you?”

Minister Jof stares.

“Gulp it down,” Jimmy Q says.

So Minister Jof puts the pill to his mouth. He swallows. He continues to stare.

Slowly, the burden lightens from his heart. Slowly, it sinks in.

“Of course she would’ve,” he says.

He’s smiling.

“You’re a good qualmer,” he says.

Then he glares.

“You’re laughing again.”

“You cut a man open,” says Jimmy Q, “and rip the malign nerves right from his chest, and people say, ‘you old sawbones! That’s nothing much.’ But give a man a pill and a few good words, and he’s all ‘damn fine! Good God, that’s fine qualming!’ Here! Here in Sarous’ kingdom! Here where there’s the best medicine for morality in all the world!”

Minister Jof feels obscurely guilty.

“Well, it’s not like I’d want the malign nerves ripped out of my chest,” he says. “I mean, I’m a Minister.

It’s a tactical error, he realizes. It’s the kind of thing he wouldn’t have said, were he not in such good cheer.

He licks his lips.

“Not that I have any,” he says.

But Jimmy Q doesn’t seem to have noticed his error. The sawbones is lost in his own salugubrious thoughts.

“It’s the cuttin’ that I like,” admits Jimmy Q, not like he doubts the rectitude of Minister Jof, but more like it’s a tragedy.

  • The histories of Ink Catherly continue TOMORROW, with:
    THE GOLDEN AGE

Ink Inapplicable (VI/XVI)

The hunger that woke Riffle from the sleep of the rats still burns in him today.

He is surrounded by the dead.

He is holding a sword at the throat of the imago, and trying—so very hard, with muscles that are not very strong—to drive it home.

All around him is Riffle’s crew, that ragged lot that build up scaffoldings towards the ceiling of the cave. They do not build for longevity. They build for speed. All around him there are the sounds of hammering, climbing, and crashing, tumbling wood.

He is hungry to be more than a rat. That is why he has grown to nearly four feet in height and developed a human brain. He does not want to be a rat.

He wants purpose.

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

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

Minister Jof’s hand closes on Riffle’s arm.

The room has gone deathly still.

Where did Minister Jof come from? Why is he here? These questions remain unanswered. But he has enough decency to him to do this: to grab the arm of the rat and stop the sword.

And suddenly Ink sees a thing, and her fear dissolves.

“Do you happen to know the history of this sword?” asks Ink Catherly.

Her voice is dry and confident, like a pedant’s right before it strikes.

Riffle looks at the sword.

He shakes his head.

Ink steps back. She rubs at her throat. She looks at her injured hand. She says, “A long time ago, there were men and women and children who believed, more than anything else, that the crust of the world was evil and that they had to destroy it. They had to destroy it so that the storm that surges below could rise to reach the mortal world.”

Riffle struggles against Minister Jof’s grip.

“We’re losing valuable scaffolding time,” hisses the rat.

But after a moment he spreads his free hand conciliatorily, and adds, “If you leave aside this distraction of my crew and depart then I will let you live.”

There’s a crash behind them. Minister Jof starts. It’s one of the rickety scaffoldings coming down.

“They were formed,” says Ink, “like all of you were formed, from the substance of the world. They were worms, or bugs, or rats, that developed over the long courses of their lives into something better. And they understood their holy mission in those terms. But they were not alone.”

Riffle drops the sword. He pulls away from Minister Jof and turns his back.

“The matter has no relevance to our holy mission to maintain as many height-amortized scaffold-inches as we can,” he says.

“There were those, O Riffle,” says Ink Catherly, “who believed more than anything that righteousness was to preserve this crust, this sanctuary, this seal that severs world and storm.”

Riffle puffs up his cheeks.

He exhales.

He says, “Very well.”

Another pair of scaffoldings crash down.

“Go home,” says Riffle.

He shoos his crew.

“Go home; go home; I’m calling this year’s break.”

And there is one of his crew with long thin legs and a carapace covering its face and a long thread-like bifurcated black tail. It skitters along the corpses and is gone.

And there is one of his crew that is like a heart in a nest of veins, save that it may stand on some of its veins and others have been split to form fingers, thumbs, or spines. This one skulks back to the corpse of a badger-creature and ducks into its mouth; mechanically, the corpse’s throat works and strains, then swallows it and it is gone.

And in that fashion one by one they disperse.

And Ink is saying, “And they worked for a time, each under their own direction, until they came to appoint a man named Riffle as their leader and charged him with the maximization of their effective goals: that is, from the one side he found employment to organize them towards their ends of speedily destroying the crust, and from the other in leading them in its salvation.”

A scaffold crashes.

“I did my job,” says Riffle.

Minister Jof stares at his back.

“It was a devil of a project,” Riffle says. “Reconciling those aims. But then I figured, well, they can’t very well both have what they want, so I could serve one of ’em tautologically, if I just figured out which one it was. Turned out t’be both.”

“In darkness,” says Ink, “in a cave of ivory where centipede-elephants would crawl to die, a woman made this sword to serve her in this glorious cause. And she came here to the war and used it to cut open one man, one woman, and one vaguely genderless bat-creature. Then she tripped on a spear and died.”

Riffle says, “You’ve made your point.”

“I had a point?”

“You can obviously interfere with my work any time,” Riffle says. “Can’t let my workers hear that kind of talk. So it’s all down to this: is it more cost-effective to placate you, or to escalate the violence? Right now, you’ve got an edge on the violence, so I figure, you should tell me what you want.”

“I’m actually just passing through,” Ink says.

Riffle says, “There’s nowhere to go.”

“I’m going to find whomever’s sitting on the throne of the world and kill him,” Ink says.

Riffle turns. He looks at her.

“Why?” he says.

His voice is different when he says that. Everything up till now has been a little distant, a little detached, pouty at the most. Now it’s hungry. Now it’s got urgency to it. It’s like he’s thinking: She could have a cause. She could have something worth doing. She might need competent management like me.

But:

“I’m a destroyer,” Ink says.

And Riffle shrinks.

It’s like he’s deflating beneath his skin.

He says, “That’s not a reason. That’s a resource.”

“It’s exploiting an untapped niche!” Ink Catherly protests.

  • Tune in NEXT WEEK for the next exciting chapter in the histories of the imago:
    THE DOCTOR OF THE DEEPS

“The Lord of Misrule” – From the Journals of Ink Catherly (V/XVI)

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: When Riffle’s sword touched my neck, I saw a bit more of Cronos’ history. It was from earlier than before, again. The Titanomachy hadn’t happened yet. Zeus was free but the others were still engulleted.

It made me angry.

I scolded it.

I said, No, world! I do not need the history of Cronos right now. If anything, I need the history of Riffle!

This was actually a mistake on my part. I should have blamed myself because it is, after all, my very own power that gave me, perversely, this insight. But blaming oneself is very hard. I’m not sure it’s something people can do.

So I scolded, instead, the world.

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

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

Cronos slouched on the throne of the world.

He was contemplating a sickle. It was a really big flint sickle and it was grey.

Zeus entered.

“Son,” said Cronos. O my love.

That was the weird thing about Cronos. When you’d hear him talk, the world would echo with that in the background: O my love.

Anyway.

“Son,” said Cronos.

“Dad.”

It was an awkward moment.

I thought I’d eaten you, but maybe it was a rock.

I had that thought once, on Floor 93-GA. It was the suckiest eating contest ever.

“You’ve been eating everybody,” said Zeus. “Poseidon and Hera and stuff.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I did not ask to rule a Golden Age,” Cronos said. “Rather I wished to dominate a freakish carnival of horrors. A masque of the imperfect. A world of people with the bones of their pain jutting out so that you can hardly talk to them without saying, ‘O my love, why are you broken?'”

Zeus said, “I understand.”

I don’t know much about Zeus. There’s a bias in the history—a sense of focus to it. Zeus is important, but it’s Cronos whom this history is about, down here in the crust of the world. So I don’t know much about Zeus or what was going on in his head, but I think that he was telling the truth.

He had that Martin sound, all serious and like it’s perfectly natural, of course, who wouldn’t prefer to rule a world wracked with sorrow and pain and full of monsters?

And Cronos smiled, like it was a joy to hear.

Zeus continued.

“I am going to cut your stomach open,” said Zeus, “and spill out my brothers and my sisters, and a rock.”

“And if I forbid it?”

“In this world,” said Zeus, “we bring forth children in sorrow.”

Cronos had trouble finding an answer to that one.

“It’s the rule,” Zeus explained.

This would appear to be one of the Man Laws, like in those Miller Lite commercials. You poke it, you own it. We bring forth children in sorrow. Entropy always increases. Don’t shoot food. Leave the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil alone. Castrating your father and taking over his throne is a punishable offense. Sharing is caring.

Stuff like that.

Not even Cronos can really argue with that kind of rule; but at the same time, he didn’t rise and hand Zeus the sickle.

Zeus waited.

“Who are you, my son?” Cronos asked.

“I’m the Lord of Misrule,” said Zeus. “I’m the answer to your prayers. I’m the one who’ll bring this whole world down around your ears.”

Cronos’ heart fluttered in his chest. It’s weird that he’d never taken it out—you’d think that he would have, since there’s nothing so dangerous as a heart. But he hadn’t.

“Show me,” he said, and his voice was desperate with hope.

Your authority has no foundation,” said Zeus, “for you have done a wicked thing.

It was electric. It cut through the air. But it didn’t impress Cronos.

“More,” Cronos said.

The dog that carries a serpent on his back is vile; the tiger that carries a dog, we call a saint.

Cronos mulled that one over for a while.

Then he shook his head.

He stood.

The sky gathered behind his shoulders and the stars burned bright with Uri’s fires and the world grew heavy as a woman carrying her child and he said, “You are not equal to this task.”

Dread was the nimbus of Cronos at that moment. The power of him held Zeus still. Cronos was Ge’s son in that moment, strong as the earth, unsurpassable, indestructible, horned and terrible, and free—as only one creature in all the world could be—to act accordant to his desires.

Ink’s hand hurts quite a bit more than her neck. The sword has cut her hand deeply. It is still, and thank Heaven for the pathetic muscles of the little rat, no more than skin-deep in her neck.

But it’s the blood that runs down her neck that scares her.

She finds herself wondering, “Is it possible to die?”

She will probably have a choice in the matter. She is the imago and she has been to Hell and back and it seems likely that she would have a choice. But it is also probable that something would be lost. If nothing else, her sense of her own humanity. At worst, the value of the sacrifice of her life, with which she is hoping to carry past any final obstacles that stand between Ink Catherly and God.

I think that I will describe the terror that was Cronos in that moment like this.

We are in ourselves the actual and the ideal. And the actual is all that moves, all that acts, all that speaks. We cannot really demonstrate that there is more: but there must be more, or we are in Hell.

Where is the fire of our intention?

Where does it move upon the earth?

It does not, and in that respect Earth is very much like Hell, and yet, and yet, and yet the difference is that we are here. Hell is to live without experiencing our life. Earth is life knowing our own presence. It is life, flush with our ideals.

But Cronos knew a thing that I did not know.

He wore it like a blaze.

It was the terror of the flesh, the power of the actual, the aura of the substance of him. That with his hands and with his fingers he could move, and Zeus could not stop him from moving; that that substance was raw, unconstrained by Zeus’ volition or the limits that Zeus would rather have put on it, and capable in its action of dragging Zeus’ ideals down.

Those dirty fingernails could break Zeus’ virtue. Those bloody hands could kill him. Those great arms and those great teeth could put a stop to the ideals of the lord of all the gods.

Flesh has that power.

It obliterated the thoughts of Zeus. It held him still.

But Zeus had trained for this.

He had spent years in empty meditation and practice and taught his flesh to act when his mind could not.

The world swam with the blinding rapture of Cronos and it drove away the thoughts of Zeus and the will of Zeus and the fire of him flickered and went dim beneath the wind of all that power, and the flesh of Zeus stepped forward and took the sickle in his hand and cut his father’s stomach open to bring his brothers and sisters into the world.

It seemed impossible to Zeus that it did not hurt Zeus; that the opening of the wound in his father’s stomach brought Zeus no pain, burnt none of Zeus’ nerves; that he could see and hear and smell the wound but he could not feel it.

It seemed a thing that should wound, instead, the all of world and sound.

Out fell the stone; and Hades and Poisedon; and Hera and Demeter and Hestia; and great snaky loops of titantestine too; and Cronos looked down at his stomach and Zeus could hardly see his face through the blindingness of the reality of that moment when he cut his father open at the throne of all the world.

Cronos staggered. The storm shifted at his back. It loomed upon the world and in that moment it seemed very possible that the world would end and there would only be Heaven and Hell forever after, amen—

Somehow, Cronos held it back.

Somehow, Cronos balanced himself and held aloft the burden of all pains while his innards snaked themselves back in.

The fingernails on his hand were cracked and dirty. His hair was wild. He reached for his son with hands soaked in everybody’s blood.

Cloud-shouldered Zeus, the son of Cronos, born in the fullness of Tyranny to bring justice to the world, seized five babies and a stone and fled.

  • Saturday:
    THE HISTORY OF THE SWORD

Ink Invaluable (IV/XVI)

In the belly of the world there is a great wintry battlefield where white slate snowflakes drift down from a ceiling measurelessly high and accumulate slowly on the bodies of the dead. They are sprawled there, creatures warped by any surface measure, people with the features of bugs and fish and writhing squirming weasel-things. Some wield weapons. Others claws. They are dead.

Around and among them works Riffle and his crew.

“There,” he says.

Where he points his crew converges. They prop up planks of wood against one another. They nail them together. They build scaffolds. They connect the scaffolds together in great rickety structures. They grow ungainly wooden structures, awkward and without pattern, towards the ceiling rock.

The cavern is full of the sounds of hammering, climbing, and crashing.

It is full of the dust of fallen wood.

The girl coughs.

All eyes turn on her. It is a look of accusation.

You are coughing, suggest the eyes of Riffle’s crew. This is distracting us from our vital and important work. Why, even the time we take to formulate this thought, to contemplate the knobs and pits and irregularities of our own introspection, is time we cannot afford.

“Don’t give them an excuse,” says Riffle.

The girl is fifteen years old, more or less, with hair as black as ink. She’s wearing a pink backpack that’s too small for her. She’s taller than Riffle. He doesn’t make it much past her elbow. She can tell, because suddenly he’s standing next to her, suddenly he’s guiding her away from the crew.

“They’ll slack if you give them the slightest excuse,” Riffle says. “So you have to keep them in fear of their lives.”

Then he stabs at her.

With a sword he’s picked up from the ground!

He stabs her right at the throat!

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

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly. Short for Ananke, she’ll tell you — Necessity — although we already know that’s not the truth.

There are many legends about her.

People will tell you that she climbed a tower right to Hell, but didn’t find it at the top; or that she dove deep beneath the world to look for Heaven; or that she got caught amidst the soldier’s tents in a duly sanctioned war.

“We cut the freedom from the rock,” said Private Jameson.

That’s from that last legend that we mentioned, the one about the war.

“We cut the freedom from the rock,” Private Jameson said.

Outside the tent blew the wind, cutting and dark and terrible. It kicked up sand and small rocks. The great tall slouching jellyfish of the land moved blindly in that wind, walking amidst and beyond the soldiers’ tents.

Sometimes one of their tendrils brushed against the open flap and Jameson would shudder.

“Here,” he said.

He held a bit of freedom up. It was slick and soapy in his hands. It was translucent and milky and had sparks in it.

“We cut it from the veins in the rock and then we ship it home.”

“Toss it here?” said Ink.

She was shackled to a post in the back of the tent. Her hair blew about, then settled, then blew about again.

“Very funny, ma’am,” Jameson said.

Ink looked down.

“I don’t suppose you’d care to say why you’re in the war zone, ma’am?”

“I was exploring,” she said.

He looked blankly at her.

“I was looking for Hell,” she said.

“Ah,” said Private Jameson. He tapped his nose. “See, that thing, you see, that saying about war? It’s a metaphor.

Ink made a face at him.

“It seems rude,” she said, after a while. “Coming into another country and mining their freedom.”

“I felt sorry for them,” Private Jameson said.

“Sorry?”

“There’s this thing,” he said. “This happiness, this sweetness, this certainty at the heart of totalitarianism. We have it back home. It’s like a blanket wrapped around your heart and a cup of cocoa in your hands. And they were here, out in the Empty Lands, with the jellyfish and the sand. And I said, ‘They must be so cold, so scared, so helpless, there.'”

“With the freedom?”

“Nobody’s free in this world but Jesus and Jehovah, ma’am. They were chained, they were bound, they were helpless like the rest of us, but they had all this freedom just laying around. Just enough to feel it, if you see my meaning. Just enough to be cold.”

The tent shuddered. One of the jellyfish had blundered into it, with its great fat body and its gleaming skin. The top of it bowed in under the weight and there was a tearing sound.

“Oh,” said Ink.

Private Jameson looked up.

It was from the other side. That was why he didn’t have warning or time to stop it: it came from the other side, the tendril that spiked through the canvas of the tent and skewered him. He was looking one way, startled by the looming of the jelly, and the tendril came in from the other and it tore into his skin.

The poison of the jellyfish cut upwards along his spine. He spasmed. The freedom flew from his hand.

Ink stared.

It was very quick, the whiteness and blueness of Private Jameson’s death. It spread across his face. He fell.

“Hey!” shouted Ink.

The tent had pulled up from one of its pegs. The wind was blowing.

“Hey! Captured girl who was wandering around the war zone here! My security’s dead!”

In the distance she heard the echoes of guns and great picks. She could hear running feet. They were not coming for her. Their direction was north.

The tendril of the jellyfish was caught in the tent. It flailed near her.

Her foot stretched out.

The tendril cut across the leg of her pants and she froze; but it did not cut in and she did not die.

Her foot stretched out. Too far — too far —

Just as the muscle in the bottom of her foot cramped she touched her toe against the freedom. She got the tiniest of grips.

The post that held her slipped free.

She fell flat. She pulled at the shackles with her teeth. They gave.

Ink pulled the freedom closer with her foot. She gripped it in her hand.

“South,” she said.

She kicked to her feet. She ran south. The great blind jellies drifted. Behind her, men fought men.

There was more freedom there — just laying on the road. So she picked it up.

She took up more and more of it as she ran until even the gravity well of the world could not hold her; until she could kick up and go flying up from the ground; until the heaviness and slowness of her muscles could not hold her back and she flowed like a river up into the sky.

Se’irite!” cried a voice.

Forbidden thing. Beast. Anathema. Such were the implications of his tone.

Se’irite!” that person said, and she looked over, and she saw a man with horror writ upon his face. He raised a ramshackle cardboard-tube gun with spam cans tied on either side. He fired. Everything around her went white with the explosion of that gun.

The shadow of death rose behind her as she ran into the night.

The gun had only clipped her. Before it fired it again she rose into the sky and she was gone.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: The end of human sacrifice was the beginning of time.

I wanted the details of the Titanomachy. I went looking for them. But that’s what I got. Not the origins of the thunderbolt. Not how Zeus freed the siggorts and the woglies, then put them back again. Not how the lord of the gods won the world, or how he saved his family from his father’s fate. Just that: the end of human sacrifice was the beginning of time.

It’s stupid, though, because human sacrifice never ended. We just stopped using the perfect, the beautiful, the valuable, and the precious, and started sacrificing the people we don’t care about instead. We feed them to our gods until their mouths are red with them.

I’m not sure why it doesn’t count.

Perhaps it is the karma of a worm that moves her arm. Perhaps it is the nature of the imago.

Ink’s hand comes up.

She catches the sword before it kills her.

A trickle of blood runs down her neck, and more from her hand, and she asks him, “What the Hell?”

“Fixed-rate liability insurance,” says Riffle, and he twists the blade.

  • Will tort reform destroy Ink Catherly at last? Will Riffle make his quota on scaffold-inches for the day? And what’s that horrific rumbling in Cronos’ belly? Looming up on the horizon, the next exciting installment of the histories of Ink Catherly:
    ACTUAL TERROR.

Ink Interrupted (III/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

Once upon a time a worm had a thought.

I make my own dark judgments.

Coiling in the crust of the world, hating the dark and the soil and itself and all the other worms, it had that thought.

It fell like a hammer upon the walnut of its brain.

It was shattering. It was terrible. It split the darkness into light. The world shook. The world shone.

The cold still darkness of its mind split into great whirling clouds suffused with thought. It was a pain, it was an agony, but the worm knew it as a joy.

Such was the birth of Minister Jof.

The worm rose and took on the form of a man.

He assumed the ten refinements and the thirty-two virtues.

He dressed himself in Minister’s black.

All these things arose from the transformative power of that thought; and ever since, he has run from that thought, like a wolf from the lightning, like a cat from the spray bottle, like a worm from the shattering power that split the walnut of its brain.

In a certain place, and in a certain time, and to reward a girl for the miracle of her existence, he picks a worm and he crushes it with his heel.

It is dross.

It is a failure.

It will never evolve.

“But it had an arm,” the girl protests.

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

Max sets out in his catamaran to bring this virtue to an end.
He’s owned his crime but he can’t make it right.
His crime is a poison.

It is the Latter Days of the Law.
The Buddha’s answer is fading.
It cannot stop the suffering of the world.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

The Island of the Centipede

A chill passes through the gathered ranks of all the worms. Those that have been writhing go still; those that have been still begin, uncomfortably, to writhe.

“—there,” says Minister Jof.

He twists his foot.

“You may carry forth its karma as your reward for having hands.”

The girl tries to figure out where everything went wrong.

She’s told him that her name is Ink Catherly. That’s usually step one and it doesn’t get anything killed. She’s told him that everybody calls her the imago, which is step two. But then—

Oh!

“Everyone calls me the imago,” she says. “Because—“

Minister Jof gestures peremptorily.

“What?”

“That is not a proper name for a girl,” he says.

“What?”

“‘The imago.’ Consider: it proudly proclaims your evolution, yet clings to the nature you held to before. It is like naming yourself ‘Book II’ or ‘No Longer An Idiot’. Are you still what you were, or are you something new? Pick one or the other. Do not wobble uselessly between them!”

“Agh! Iiyegh!” shrieks the girl, and clasps her head.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: This bit’s from a little earlier, I think.

It was the end of the Titanomachy. Cronos stood alone and bereft of all his allies and his strength. Zeus made judgment on his father.

“It has come to my attention,” said the lord of all the gods, “that you carry on your back the price of imperfection. That if you should let it lay, then things shall end forever and forever and we shall all know our happy ending and be done.”

“Will you be taking up this burden, then, yourself, milord?”

Zeus made a horrible face. Really, it was impressive. The world rang with the iiyegh! of it.

“It is my judgment, rather,” said the lord of all the gods, “that you shall wear it forever.”

And Cronos laughed.

It was a horrible laugh. It was a funny laugh. It was the kind of laugh that a man laughs after his son cuts him open, throws a thunderbolt at him, casts him off the throne of the world, and now wants to sentence him to carry an impossibly heavy weight forever and ever.

“I can’t possibly do that,” Cronos said.

“Why not?”

“If I were strong enough to carry it forever,” said Cronos, “then I would not feel the pain of it now.”

“Heh,” said Zeus.

And he sank Cronos’ body into the substance of the world and he poured molten brass and iron over his father’s legs and arms and chest to bind him to the crust with chains that would never break. He marked the space around his father with the symbols of the seasons and lay him down below the world to keep his intemperate and loving mother far at bay. He set his judgment upon the man who had wielded first the sickle of grey flint and he called this torture Time.

Ink is fretting. She’s flailing like Sailor Moon caught in the middle of her transformation sequence, only, you know, not naked, and inside her skin it isn’t all pinky rainbows.

“Everybodycallsmetheimagobecause—“

But Minister Jof has already waved her away.

“Go,” he says, cutting over her words. “I won’t have anything to do with worms once they’ve evolved.”

“But I wasn’t a worm,” protests Ink. “I was a fictional character.”

Minister Jof smiles.

“Oh, darling child,” he says. “You must not accept as gospel the experiences you had in those times before you were yourself. By definition they are garbled. If we could understand them, if we could really understand them, we would have been ourselves already.”

“I was an investigation of the nature of the self,” Ink Catherly protests weakly.

“Naturally,” says Minister Jof. “Now, scat.”

“Damn it!” says Ink.

Ink stomps her foot. There is a squish.

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, but everyone calls her the imago.

‘Cause small and dirty things have the power to evolve, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

  • Tune in next week for the next thrilling installment in the series that August forgot:
    RIFFLE! (BEING THE HISTORY OF INK CATHERLY AND THE RAT)