Standing in the Storm: The Jaguars

Five of Emily’s friends, and one acquaintance, are dead.

“Come on,” says Saul. He rises. He takes Emily’s arm. He leads her out onto the street. They begin walking towards the school where it all started.

“They’re dead!” Emily shrieks. “You killed them! You monster!

Saul doesn’t seem to have noticed her outburst. After a moment she realizes that that’s because she didn’t outburst aloud. She outburst silently, inside herself.

The moment has passed. She can’t shriek at him now. It would seem artificial.

“He liked me,” she says.

She means Fred. He’s one of the dead ones.

“Good,” says Saul.

This is a story about jaguars. Emily loves them.

It’s also a story about death. Emily doesn’t want to be eaten. She wants to live a long time and then die in a beautiful place, surrounded by something wonderful.

Finally, it’s a story about a hat that sorted people into a high pure vision of what they should be, and about the people who thought that that might not have been the best idea.

This isn’t a story about Vladimir or Edmund. If it helps, Vladimir meets a horrifying fate and Edmund lives happily ever after. Edmund would have died, except that Saul sends him to safety shortly after this story ends.

Just in case you really wanted to know.

“There are tiny scales on your skin,” says Emily. She’s looking at Saul’s hands. She’s looking at his fingers.

Saul looks at his fingers.

Saul bites at one of his fingers. It’s a thinking gesture. But pretty soon it turns into a chewing gesture, and then a flesh-tearing gesture. He stops himself with a wrenching shudder.

“Listen,” Emily says. “When people look at other people, they don’t see what’s really there. They see something else. They see reality, but distorted. Like it’s through a lens. The lens is flawed. The shape of that flaw is Gotterdammerung.”

“The apocalypse,” says Saul.

“People kept predicting it,” says Emily. “But it didn’t happen. Because it was something in the world we see. Not in the world that is.

Saul tilts his head to one side.

Emily shrugs.

“You know how primitive people would see lightning and think of gods?” she says. “It’s like that. We’d look at other people and see these alien things. Heroes and villains and trash for the killing. That’s the world we saw. A world where the apocalypse drew ever closer, driven by the marching drumbeats of the heralds of oblivion.”

There is a distant drumbeat in the wind, and the bleat from far Bifrost of Heimdall on the tuba.

“It’s actually a lower-energy state for the world,” Emily says. “Gotterdammerung worlds are easier. The kind of thing God could have done on a lazy Sunday afternoon, after finishing up here. But he didn’t. Your purpose didn’t come from God. Instead, Vladimir made a hat, and it sorted you into his vision for the world.”

Emily might have had more to say. But she doesn’t say it.

Instead, she hisses in air. She bites her lip. She stares.

They’ve just rounded the corner and she can see the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth.

It has, at last, lived up to its name.

All through it the ivy grows and the students are dead, save where the surviving beasts of Hunger run.

Saul isn’t taken aback by the sight. He’s still thinking about their conversation.

“Hats don’t lie about moral issues,” says Saul, uneasily.

But Emily is staring at the dead.

The Edmund-beast snarls. Then it yowls. It’s the kind of noise that reminds you that if the gnostics are right there’s a blind idiot God somewhere in the universe burning popcorn in the microwave before settling in to watch the suffering of your life.

It is answered by howls.

All through the school there is howling. It is a rising voice. The beasts give praise to hunger and to death.

“It’s obscene,” explains Saul, who still hasn’t noticed her horror. “I see a purpose. It is high. It is holy. It is noble. We must develop the hunger until it consumes the world. This purpose is inherent in the universe. The hat opened my eyes to that purpose. It can’t have created it.”

And Emily wrenches herself from the sight. She lowers her eyes. She looks at the shadows on the ground.

“It’s not your fault,” she says.

“But how can I know?” says Saul. “By what yardstick? How can I tell if what I see is universal or delusion?”

“It’s not your fault,” Emily stresses. “It’s too late. You’ve already been assigned. You can’t tell. It was always nothing more than a question of how long we could contain the damage.”

“Oh,” says Saul.

The hunger is rising in the beasts of the school. To Saul, it is the great surging of an endless sea. To Emily it is a concert for xylophone and tuba. It fills the air with the power of it.

And the Keepers’ House is there.

“We’ll hold it back,” Emily says, “for as long as we can.”

Edmund’s broken away from Saul and Emily. He’s loping over towards the remaining Keepers. He’s looking into their faces.

“Don’t eat me,” says the foppish Englebert. “My family has the ear of the Queen.”

“Wow,” says Edmund. “Really?”

“No,” admits Englebert. He slumps. Then he dissolves into a spray of various parts.

“I’ll give you Keeper cooties,” protests Isobel.

“I’ve got some,” says the Edmund-beast.

“I hope the wolf steps on you,” Isobel mopes.

Things proceed.

There aren’t enough of them left to hold Edmund’s hunger back.

It surges out from the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth. The breaking of the Keepers’ lives is a gap in the dike, and the hunger pours down into the world.

“What’s going to happen?” Saul asks.

Emily looks at him bleakly.

“No reason not to say,” says Saul.

“The wolf will come,” says Emily. “You’ll turn into beasts. The boot, no doubt, will fall. The world we’ve dreamed of will force its way in. And I guess I don’t get the death I wanted.”

Saul nods. The hunger rises in him. It is like a flame. It is like a cold and terrible sea. Saul does not hold it back. He opens his fanged mouth. He rears back like a serpent. The Saul-beast’s eyes burn red and its hat is green like a snake’s.

Er, scales.

Like a snake’s scales.

And just before he eats her, three things happen.

The first thing is that a great wolf wanders in. Its binding cord has broken; where the hunger is, the dwarves have no power. Fenrir is curious. The hunger calls it. So it has come.

The second thing is that the House of Hunger sloughs off more of its humanity.

And suddenly Emily is cheerful. She is pointing at Edmund. She is laughing, like a child, like a bright clear bell. “You have spots,” she says.

This causes Saul to pause and Edmund to blush.

“They’re good spots,” the Edmund-beast mutters.

Saul’s eyes are narrowed.

“You’re oddly bubbly,” says Saul, “for someone who’s about to die.”

Emily’s shoulders sink as she relaxes. She looks at him peacefully. “Jaguars are my favorite part of Gotterdammerung,” she sighs.

The third thing is that the great space station, Vidar’s Boot, comes down; for there is something in a boot that loves to stomp, and nothing is quite so stompable as one’s alma mater.

“The wolf’ll eat most of you before it dies,” says Emily, peacefully. It’s not a threat. It’s a gift. She’s giving Saul a chance to react.

WHAM!

The station strikes the ground.

WHAM!

The station strikes the ground again.

WHAM!

The shockwave of the boot’s impact throws the House of Hunger into the air.

Now it’s raining men. Well, jaguars. Well, jaguar-men.

“It’s like Christmas came early!” Emily says, happily.

The boot clips the wolf, and suddenly it is looking for a place to run, and there are howling and yowling and clucking and chittering beasts in its path.

Down fall the jaguars like a gentle rain; and it is there, standing in the storm, surrounded by something wonderful, that Emily dies.

Standing in the Storm: Their Lives Were Jewels

This story begins here.

“It’s getting harder,” says Emily.

She’s hanging out in a booth in a coffee shop talking on her cell phone to Bertram. Using the phone is pretty much habit. Since they’re not talking aloud, neither of them has actually bothered to turn their phone on.

“Totally,” says Bertram.

There’s a woman at one of the tables. She looks at Emily. She’s generically irritated that Emily is on the cell phone even though she can’t actually hear anything that Emily is saying. But before the woman can comment Emily looks at her with empty, hollow eyes and mouths the woman’s name. That’s so horrifying that the woman shudders and hurries from the shop.

“It’s Hunger,” says Emily. “The House of Torment is still pretty well-behaved. Dreams is Dreams, and I’m not even sure there are any saints left. But Hunger . . .”

“It’s like they’re encouraging it,” Bertram says.

“They can’t do that, can they?” interjects Fred.

Emily hesitates.

“Fred,” she says, “I am trying to impose the context of a phone call on this conversation.”

“It’s a conference call,” says Fred.

“Oh,” says Emily.

Emily shivers away her confusion.

“I think they are encouraging it,” Emily concludes. “I think they are actively cultivating the hunger within them.”

“But it’ll get out,” says Fred. “We won’t be able to keep it.”

“Yes,” says Emily. “But it’s okay, if we tried? I mean, failure’s okay?”

But before Fred answers, Emily suffers a distraction.

“You are a difficult person to eavesdrop on,” says the Saul-beast.

It should never have happened.

The sorting hat was not the first crack in the armor of the world. Through cracks of just such a kind came Fenris Wolf into the world, and other things. It was not the first and it was not the last.

But it should never have been at all.

At the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth, the only British boarding school that doubles as a secret weapon against giant wolves, the sorting hat came into the world. It changed people—into saints, into mad scientists, into tormented souls, into beasts. It sorted them into new destinies. It perverted them to new forms.

One man was sorted twice. He is the head boy of the House of Beasts. He is its visionary. His name is Saul.

The call is like elevator music, like Barry Manilow ballading on the sitar, like a cheerful twanging distant and strange. It is a ballad heard not with the ears but with the heart.

It is how the Keepers know that Gotterdammerung nears.

Emily looks up.

Bertram is there. Fred is there. Morgan is there. All of the others are there. They have drifted into the scene from unknown places. They are standing in the entrances to the coffee shop, outside the glass wall, against the bar. They are watching events unfold.

“Guys,” silents Emily, in profound relief.

“Yo,” says Fred.

And in the silence the Saul-beast opens its mouth.

“Are you still a saint?” Emily asks him, aloud.

Saul hesitates.

“I’ll tell you what we are,” Emily says, “if you will tell me that.”

Then Saul sits opposite her. He pulls the salt and pepper shakers out and sets them on the table between them. He smiles at her.

“Hello,” he says. “My name is Saul. I was sorted into the House of Hunger, but it was my second sorting. Before that I was a saint. I am the last survivor of the House of the Saints. My brother Edmund ate the others. Who are you?”

Emily looks at him.

“Oh God Oh God Oh God,” she is saying, to the other members of the Keepers’ House, because she is terrified that Saul will eat her. But he cannot hear her. She is silent and gnomic before him.

“Saul,” she says. “You have to understand that what you are doing is not in the best interests of—”

The hunger that surges up in Saul’s eyes is like a physical blow. It silences her and pushes her back against her seat.

“Who are you?” says Saul, companionably, again.

“My name is Emily,” Emily says meekly. “I like jaguars and coffee. I am a Keeper. I contain you so that your hunger does not call the wolf.”

“Good,” says Saul.

He leans back.

“Containment,” Saul says, thoughtfully.

Emily reaches out. She touches his hand. It’s a dangerous thing to do. But she wants to tell him a confidence.

“I don’t want to be eaten by people or wolves,” says Emily. “I want to live a long time and die in a beautiful place, surrounded by something wonderful. It is like the Hunger, only it’s not.”

Saul stares at her for a while. His eyes are distant like a snake’s.

“The purpose of humanity,” says Saul, “is to transform into beasts and devour the world. You are inhibiting this purpose. You must cease.”

“That isn’t so,” says Emily.

Saul looks around.

“Why haven’t I eaten you yet?” the Saul-beast asks. It is genuinely puzzled, because it was sure it would have eaten her already.

“Damn!” swears Bertram silently. “He’s on to us!”

“Run away! Run away!”

“We can’t run,” notes Fred. “He’ll eat Emily! I like Emily.”

Fred pauses.

“Not that way,” Fred clarifies.

Emily gets to her feet. She stares down at Saul. The others swell around them, containing, keeping, holding back Saul’s hunger.

The beast in Saul can sense it.

He is catching on.

“Saul,” Emily presses, in her last few moments of safety. “You have been corrupted by the sorting hat. Your mind has been altered. You are wrong about the destiny of humanity, and you will destroy your own House.”

“Make your case,” says Saul.

“I—”

Fred is gone.

Emily looks up sharply. She looks around the shop. Her brain cannot parse what has happened.

Bertram is gone.

There is something warm and wet on Emily’s face.

Morgan is gone. Lisa is gone. Betty and Veronica are gone.

“Go!” says Emily, to the others. Her voice is audible, so shaken is she. “Go now.”

The Keepers’ House disperses, leaving only Emily, Saul, and their dead; and sitting on the floor amidst the blood, chewing happily on Bertram’s arm, is the Edmund-beast.

And there is a burgeoning breath of pain in Emily. And she says, “I—”

“Ah,” says Saul. “I have backup.”

“I—”

“It’s all right to be frightened,” Saul says. “But you’ll need to make your case.”

Emily isn’t frightened. She is staring at him. She is mouthing a single syllable blankly. But what she means by it is this:

“How dare you take them from me and this world?

“Their lives were jewels: unswerving, dauntless, loving, precious things—And they died before they knew how wonderful they were.”

Doesn’t it suck when that happens?

Anyway, now Emily’s alone with the beasts, and also, the world’s about to end. Check back tomorrow or the next day for Standing in the Storm: Calling to the Wolf!

Standing in the Storm: The Keepers’ House

Emily had always wanted a jaguar. When she was a young girl, she’d point at them in the zoo and say, “Mommy! Mommy! Jaguar! Jaguar!”

But her mother didn’t understand. She’d just say things like, “That’s right!” and “Yes!” and “It’s time to go home now, Emily.”

Young kids can’t say what’s on their mind. They can think it, but they can’t boil down those thoughts efficiently into a communicable form. That’s why Emily just said “Mommy!” and “Jaguar!” when what she meant was:

“It is very hard to be a person. To live in this world—that’s an exquisite sorrow! What is not tainted with the universal characteristic of suffering?

“But there is also this: the recognition in this moment that I may find beauty within this world. That there is something that makes it worthwhile to be here. That there are jaguars. These are things to take my breath away and lift my spirit and make me glad that I was born, that I will live and breathe and suffer and eventually die. These are a marvel. Oh, mother, oh, mother. Look at them move!

Then she’d wave her chubby little hands around in frustration because her mother did not understand.

Emily’s admiration of the great yellow beasts never faded.

That’s why she was very excited when she was sorted into the Keepers’ House. The hats of the Keepers’ House are yellow, just like a jaguar’s.

Er, fur.

Just like a jaguar’s fur.

The Houses were born of Vladimir’s hubris.

His “sorting hat” reshaped the students of his school into five distinct Houses. It changed their nature. It subjected them to the rules of their House. It committed a crime against their humanity.

Thus Peter, of the House of Saints, interceded for others even unto his death.

And Cheryl, of the House of Dreams, lives with lightning in her mind.

And Sid, of the House of Torment, hurt until he died.

And Saul, of the House of Hunger, has become a beast.

Their story began with House of Saints, here. But there are truths the saints would never know.

Emily graduated in 2008 from the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth, but she keeps tabs on all her classmates. “The Keepers’ House keeps in touch,” as Bertram says.

“Yes, we do!” Emily always replies.

They have a very important duty. They have to keep the world from ending.

“I try to stay enthusiastic,” says Emily. “But it’s hard.”

She doesn’t have to actually say it out loud. They hardly ever do. Most of the people in the Keepers’ House just know what the others want to say. It’s part of the nature of the House.

“It really is,” Fred agrees.

It’s 2012, and they’re standing in a creepy circle around Saul. Saul is a young man now. He’s lean and his eyes are deeply-set. He is meditating in a cross-legged pose. He’s a student of the House of Hunger, and hunger seethes in him like a stormy sea.

His skin has very tiny scales on it, almost too small to see. They are more visible when the hunger is upon him, like the beast in him is prickling up and hardening his flesh.

It’s hard not to sense the creepy circle. It’s people standing around him and they’re staring.

So Saul opens his eyes. He feigns a neutral expression.

“Do you mind?” Saul says.

“Run away!” says Emily. Saul does not hear, but the others do. “Run away!”

The Keepers’ House disperses. Emily always feels very awkward and ungainly when she flees, but Bertram’s reassured her that she is as silent and flowing as the rest of them. So she tries not to feel too embarrassed as she gusts away.

Saul gets to his feet. He tilts his head to one side. Then he swings it to the other. Inside him, he twitches, and the beast takes over.

Gaunt and feral, it begins to stalk Emily.

“Uh oh!” says Emily, as she finds herself facing a wall with the Saul-beast stalking behind her. The beast doesn’t hear. She cuts left to the cargo lift.

The lift, which she had left locked there on the ninth floor, is now on the first.

“Fudge,” silents Emily.

She presses the button. She looks around her.

There’s a window to her left. It’s plexiglass.

Her yellow hat is the brightest thing in the hall.

The building she’s in is the main office of a company called Manifest. It is where Saul works. If it were Emily’s nature to do so, she could shout out, and there is a chance someone would come. They might say, “Saul, please remember that we are already being sued over the last nineteen visitors you have eaten.” Then there would be a chance that the Saul-beast would back down, and there would be a separate chance that it would eat the complainant and acquire another permanent black mark for Saul’s record.

It is not Emily’s nature to shout. So instead she turns. She looks at the Saul-beast.

In a clear and audible voice, she says, “What is it, Saul?”

“I am hungry,” states the Saul-beast.

“I am indigestible,” says Emily. “It is my bad diet. I eat too much salt, fat, and plastic. If only I were a normal girl! I would eat the Pringles, but leave the bag. But I am not, and I must decline to be eaten. With apologies.”

The Saul-beast laughs.

It steps closer.

Emily shrinks back.

“I am always hungry now,” says the Saul-beast. “And I am practicing to become more so. That hunger is my strength. One day I will open my mouth and I will eat the world.”

“Oh,” cries Emily.

It is a soft, pained sound. She looks down.

Then the Saul-beast is on her. It is pushing her back. Its hands are like iron pistons that force her shoulder and side back against the door. Its neck is absurdly long and thin and it arches back. Its canine teeth are longer than they were, once, and there is venom in them.

“That wasn’t fear,” says Saul. “That was sympathy.

“It wasn’t,” protests Emily. “It was sadness at the way of things. It was a recognition of their ohness.”

“Tell me,” says Saul. “What is your House for?”

“Hm?” Emily says.

“Why do you gather? What prompts your comings and goings? Why do you stand around people in a creepy circle, and then disperse to the winds? For what purpose did the sorting process make you?”

“Oh,” says Emily. “That’s a secret.”

The lift doors open. There is a janitor in them, pushing a wheeled contraption involving a trash can, mops, and cleaning supplies. For just a moment, as Emily drifts back, the geometry of the situation confounds the Saul-beast. She is inside. The janitor is outside. The Saul-beast is outside. The doors close. Emily slumps.

Time passes.

. . . but it won’t be a secret tomorrow! Be sure to read Tuesday’s entry, Standing in the Storm: Their Lives Were Jewels!

The Gift

On June 30, 1908, magical jaguars in a decaying orbit around the Earth use their powers to detonate a world-smashing asteroid before it hits Tunguska.

“I miss breathing,” mourns Michael.

“It was nice,” Candace says.

On October 28, 1962, they work their jaguar magic to avert the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“Curse the Mayan sorcerer-sages who shot us into space,” Michael curses.

“We wouldn’t have to intervene like this if we could just eat everyone now!

On December 18, 2004, falling jaguars prevent the formation of a stable strangelet at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider.

“It’s my plan,” says Michael, “when we hit the atmosphere, to catch fire.”

“Ooh,” says Candace. “Flaming jaguar.”

“I will burn with holy righteousness and plummet right onto the back of a suitable human target. Then he will scream, ‘help! A fiery orbital jaguar is using my mass to decelerate!’ But it will do him no good. The authorities will have no contingency plans for such events.”

“Excellent,” Candace says.

On the morning of June 7, 2005, a seraph stands in space above the Earth. He holds a trumpet. It is his plan to sound it, to trigger with that blast the Rapture and Last Days.

“bloot.”

The seraph had not reckoned on the airlessness and soundlessness of space. He hesitates. Then he plunges into the atmosphere and draws a deep breath. He rises again. He sets the trumpet to his lips.

Jaguars fall.

It is June 8, 2005. The world lives yet.

“I’m not going to catch fire,” says Candace. “I’m going to roll into a ball to minimize my surface area and think cold thoughts.”

“That should work,” agrees Michael.

The jaguars fall, as they have fallen for thousands of years, cold and blue and alone.

Life is fragile. It is protected by little more than a thin coat of air and warmth in the endless dark of space. The odds are constantly working against us, striving to unravel everything we are.

But as long as there are magical jaguars, catapulted skyward by Mayan sages, in a decaying orbit around the Earth, we shall not come to harm.

This is the Mayans’ gift.

This Alien Thing

“Hell, ” answers Scoop, “is what keeps us good. It’s something that spurs us to greatness. Like jaguars. If you’re afraid of jaguars, then you’ll be good so they don’t eat you in Hell. But if you’re not afraid of jaguars, then maybe they’re in Heaven!”

“What if you’re ambivalent about jaguars?” Meredith asks.

“Then they will chase you in Purgatory,” Scoop says, “while you make yourself ready for Heaven.”

“Two thousand quatloos on the jaguars!” an alien voice cries out.

“It’s more of an example,” Scoop declares.

Scoop is a challenger. He’s going to challenge the American Gladiators on Monday. He’s firm in his purpose. He walks to the street corner. There’s a sandwich wrapper on the ground by his feet. There’s an evangelist in a feathered trenchcoat standing on the corner. There’s a sign across the street that says, “Don’t Walk,” so he doesn’t.

“Have you heard the good word of Quetzalcoatl?” asks the evangelist.

“I gave at the office,” says Scoop.

“He’s not a charity,” says the evangelist. “He’s a feathered serpent god. I have been moved to testify in his name.”

“No,” says Scoop, “but thank you.”

“You have to listen,” the evangelist assures him. “Otherwise, jaguars might fall from the sky and eat you!”

Scoop hurries out into the street. A car races towards him. Scoop is distracted by doctrinal matters. The car hits him and he dies.

There is a fuzzy time.

“Am I in Heaven?” Scoop asks, when he wakes.

“You’re on American Gladiator!” says the announcer.

Scoop is hesitant. Then he realizes that it’s true. He’s standing on top of a fifteen foot tall platform. He is holding a magnificent giant Q-tip. Facing him on another platform is the inscrutable Gladiator known as Iron Claude, holding a Q-tip of his own.

They fence.

Scoop wins. Iron Claude plummets screaming to his doom.

“I’m all right!” Iron Claude says, after a moment, from fifteen feet below.

“Yes!” exclaims Scoop. “I really am in Heaven!”

“Five hundred quatloos on the newcomer,” whispers a distant voice.

“One thousand quatloos that he cannot beat the maze!”

Scoop shakes his head. Such alien voices have no place in Heaven. He ignores them and makes himself ready for the Maze. In this event, Scoop races through a giant maze. Gladiators leap out from behind corners to stop him. They’re dressed in brightly colored uniforms and have many muscles. While he admires the uniforms and muscles, Scoop does not fear them. He dodges around them. He ducks and rolls. He reaches the end of the maze.

“I win again!” cries Scoop.

And so it is with Swingshot, with Skytrack, and even with the Gauntlet. Scoop is subtly disturbed.

“It seems almost too easy,” he says.

At the end of the day, he rests. He is in his room. One of the Gladiators comes to see him. Her name is Meredith. She is comely and dressed in a colorful uniform.

“I have been assigned to you,” she says.

“This can’t really be American Gladiator,” Scoop says. “I’m dead, and I’m always winning. It has to be Heaven.”

“What is Heaven?” she asks.

“It’s . . . a place of happiness and peace,” says Scoop. “Run by the Trinity. With beautiful girls like you.”

“Then this is Heaven,” she says, and walks into his arms.

Days go by. Scoop continues to win every event. Even when jaguars fall during Hang Tough, Scoop proves triumphant. He grows uncertain.

“Where is the challenge?” he asks Meredith. “Where is the true gladiatorial spirit? This string of victories palls. And there are always voices bidding quatloos on my victory or failure.”

“They are the Trinity,” Meredith says. “Powerful brains that live beneath the gladiatorial arena and serve as the epistemological source of existence.”

Scoop sulks. “Just admit that it’s Hell,” he says.

“I cannot do that,” she says. “I do not understand your words. Tell me, Scoop.”

She touches his lips, his arm, his hand.

“What is this alien thing called Hell?”

The Summoning of the King (I/?)

It is before the First Kingdom, and time has no meaning.

A woman named Maya kneels beside a dying man. She takes his hand. “I will end such suffering as this, ” she says.

“Each of us,” he says. “Our pains are our own. You cannot know them. You cannot end them.”

“I will know them all,” she says. “I will end them all. I promise.”

Time passes.

Let us call it, for convenience, one hundred thousand cycles of the world.

It is 577 years before the common era, and

The power of the Ultimate Monarch has fallen into Maya’s hands.

**

In the palace of King Suddhodana, Maya speaks:

The world is cut, to north, south, east, and west,
It wells forth its black blood in wounds.

I am Maya. I am illusion. And all this world is mine.
And I must watch it cut to shreds.
And I have seen too many children die.
And I have seen the fullness of their pain.
And I would make an end to it.

And so I call the demon-slaying King;
The wheel-turning sage of all the world,
Ruler of the treasure wheel.

Come! Take birth in mortal form!
Deva Setaketu!

“Ah!” answers the Deva Setaketu of the supreme divine Heaven.

The womb that calls forth such a man—
It would be a woman’s, who has labored 100,000 cycles of the world
To dedicate herself to the ten perfections.
Only a woman of such supreme virtue can bring forth such a man,
A wheel-turning sage king,
Making answer to the suffering of the world!

Are you such a one?
It is not so.
It has been 100,000 cycles of the world
Since last you turned your thoughts to virtue.
One cannot cure the world with such come-lately sorrow.

Maya!
Trouble me not with your desires!

Maya answers:

What must be done, I must.
The treasure wheel of that King is mine.
It is jeweled, great Deva, and thousand-spoked,
And where it goes it conquers,
And where it conquers, it spreads its doctrine,
And if it rolls to the east,
The Kings of the East make obeisance to it.
And if it rolls to the west,
Then the Western Kings, the same!

Yet what good is this supreme treasure to Maya?
I am the king of illusion. I am the queen of desire.
It rolls to the east.
Kings succumb to illusion!
It rolls to the west.
Kings succumb to desire!
I am no virtuous thing, great Deva; such is not my nature;
Nor have I a doctrine of virtue to teach.
It must go to a man who can heal the world of pain.

She holds up her hand. There is a wheel burnt into her palm.

I command you, with the wheel in my hand,
Come to earth! Be my heir!

The Deva Setateku stirs in his Heaven, and endless Devas and Brahmas come to stand by his side. To them, he says:

It is as I have said.
The woman who shall bear this King
For 100,000 cycles of the world
Must seek perfection.

In all the world, is such a woman known?

“Glorious Deva!” they say. “In the continent to the west, there is such a woman.”

Ah! exclaims the Deva.
Truly, from such a woman, I might manifest,
And bring great glories to the world;
But not in the west.
I would be eaten by jaguars.

“Glorious Deva!” they say. “In Babylon, there is such a woman.”

Ah! exclaims the Deva.
Truly, from such a woman, I might manifest,
And reign as a virtuous wheel-turning king;
But not in Babylon.
I would be eaten by a fiend.

“Glorious Deva!” they chorus, and say:

It is not worthwhile to take incarnation in the world
If one is only to be eaten.
A wheel-turning King spreads his doctrine and conquers the world.
This cannot be done from some creature’s stomach!

But in all the world, there are no others
Who have given themselves for 100,000 cycles of the world
To pursuit of the ten perfections.
Such women! They are rarer than fine jewels!

And Maya looks up to the sky, and says,

I have no power to stop the horrors I have seen.
I am illusion.
Though I reign with the treasure wheel over all the kingdoms of the world
I have no power.
I see the cruelty and I see the pain
I cannot stop it.
I cannot forbid it with the treasure wheel
For I am Maya.

They turn to me for hope.
I give them hope
But I cannot free them.

What use are the ten perfections,
O Great Deva,
If suffering is the master of the world?

The Deva speaks:

And are you not, then, Maya,
Resigned to it?
Have you not learned
That suffering is the nature of the world?

Have you not laughed
At men who raped you;
Or cut you with their knives;
Or practiced their tortures upon you;
And said,

“This pain is life;
And less than all my joy?”

For such I have heard of you,
Queen Maya,
In my supreme Heavenly abode.

And now you hold the treasure wheel,
And thus you rule the world.
And now you are a bride
To the handsome and kingly Suddhodana.
And now you may have every pleasure of your desiring;
Why choose now to trouble me?

Maya does not look down from the Heavens.

It is easy to be helpless
When one is an ordinary woman.
Then you are alone.
Your suffering is your own.

It is harder to be helpless,
O Great Deva,
When one is queen of the world.
You hear others’ screams
And not your own.
Somehow, you cannot laugh.

Am I so worthless to you, Deva?
Do you so quickly forget
The oath that gave my nature birth?

The Deva turns. He sighs. He looks at those assembled, and says:

Bathe her, then, in Lake Anotatta,
And dress her in celestial costume,
And put her to sleep,
And shake the earth;
And I, in the form of a white elephant,
Shall enter her womb from its right side.

And I shall name her Mahamaya,
Answer to pain.
In honor of the oath that forged her,
Though she is a demon and I am a saint.

And it is done.

The Breaking of the World

Once upon a time everybody was mortal.

Just being born—it meant that you would die! And you’d probably suffer first. That’s how horrible a time it was.

The Buddha took one look at that world and said, “No, sir.”

No sir!

That’s not the right way for things to be.

Once upon a time, if a banshee howled, somebody would wither away. That’s the way banshees did things. They weren’t slackers! And mermaids were just as energetic. If they called you you’d hear them, no matter how far away you were, and you’d walk right down to the water and you’d drown. There wasn’t anything you could do about it if a banshee decided to wail your death or a mermaid to call you or if Coretta’s Lion decided to hunt you down and eat you slowly over the course of three full days. It was the nature of the banshee, the nature of the mermaid, the nature of the Lion. They’d made their decisions! That was that!

The worst of it was the monster.

He’d catch you. He’d hollow you out. He’d hurt you unbearably. Then he’d blame you for it, make it your fault, and you would generally agree.

But—

“No, sir!”

That’s what the heroes would say to that. No sir! That’s not right, Mr. Monster! That’s a poor methodology for a world.

So 539 years before the common era, all that mess got sorted out.

The Buddha said, “I’ll be a Buddha.”

He didn’t ask the world’s permission. He just did it! And the world had to change. A world where you’re always suffering couldn’t have a Buddha in it. If Death and Time and banshees and Lions could be masters of your fate, then so could the Buddha—and he said, “You’ve got a choice.” That just blew up the whole system, like bolting a jet plane to your car, and nothing ever after was the same.

He saved the world from suffering; and he was not alone.

539 years before the common era, the hero Mylitta made an answer to monsters forever and ever.

They were unanswerable!

Until she did.

Maybe she didn’t know there wasn’t any way to fix things. Maybe she just got confused. People have been saying for the longest time that he beat her, that she failed us, that that’s why the Lord got so angry he smote everybody down. But that’s not how things looked to her. She took that impossibility and jammed it back down the world’s throat, and then there weren’t any monsters any longer and there couldn’t really be monsters again.

So there was that.

And even Belshazzar—bless his black and twisted heart!

Even that fell beast did one thing bright and brilliant at the last. He was the one who ripped the world open and let all the suffering drain out the hole.

He opened a gateway in his flesh and soul. He became emptiness for our sake.

And if it was the Lord’s judgment on him—

For so the tales say—

Then let us remember that he accepted it with joy.

And Chen Yu, in China; and Nohochacyum with the jaguars; and him, and her, and them, and those people over there:

539 years before the common era, they delivered the world from sorrow.

The poor mermaids! The poor banshees! That poor Lion!

It was like twenty-five hundred years before it could hunt a man again.