“Alaia”: The Clarification

Now if you do not already know how the road to New Jerusalem failed, and how Hank Makeway took up the commission of a new one, then you may wish to travel here.

And if you do not recall how it came to pass that he brought the wilds of Ms. Tate’s gums to truth, then you may look here as well.

For some time Hank has laboured to excise impurities from Ms. Tate’s gums; but now at last the gingiva are clean. . . .

The Clarification

After this labor follows a grinding work of more precision—tailored, in ways that the firing of the gums is not, to the toothway that he hopes to build.

Hank walks along the paths, coring the gums as he goes. He draws forth molecule-thin needles of pink substance. He studies the data locked in the samples, considering whether the meaning of it is something true or false. In some places, the gums provide data that accurately fits into the map of Makeway’s world: they state a correct quality of some region accessible along a hypothetical toothway path or pose a geological tautology. In other cases his sample suggests a fallacy: interpreted via the smith’s art, it tells him that “Sivolia is sheepfoam-rich” or “Lauemford and New Jerusalem are the same.” In these cases he must either mark that path with the gray flag that means “unusable” or grind away the information lodged in the material until it is no longer distinguishable as truth or falsehood—no longer data, but rather storage space or noise.

Inch by inch he clarifies for Kailani’s gums the layout of the world.

Alive with the power of Milk-Guzzler and Stress-Grinder, and holding in themselves a map of the world more accurate and consistent with every passing day, the gingiva begin to experience a queer, primeval consciousness. They begin to resonate with a sense of expectation as Hank Makeway draws up a sample to regard, and then pleasure or disappointment when he confirms or denies its truth. The self-awareness of the gums begins to taint the data: Hank draws up samples that tell him, rather than pure geographic data, “Hank Makeway loves me” or “I am good” or “I am a road to Far Sivolia.”

One day he draws up three self-referential samples in a row, followed by, “Hank Makeway is a smite of children’s truth.” He laughs at this and shakes his head.

He says, “Enough of that.”

He leads his team to the right edge of Kailani’s mouth.

Wine-Drinker and Drought-Ender shy. They dance. They pull against the reins and rip their harness free from Makeway’s hands.

He sets himself in place and he gives them a stare.

Fearsome and wild, the horses glare back. Their white eyes meet his level gaze.

Hank says, “Here.”

They do not run. They do not move. They simply glare.

Hank’s world shivers. Echoes of the horses’ fear play through his mind, carried by the horses’ eyes.

He sets them aside.

“Here,” he says again, and then, gently, “or forsake your consecrated purpose on this earth.”

Drought-Ender’s terror rips through Hank’s mind like a piercing light and drives him to his knees, and following it comes the wave of Wine-Drinker’s madness. Incomplete and painful images pour through Hank’s thoughts until his ego buckles and his world spins. He can find no surcease or compass in the storm. He is lost. He is helpless. He thinks he has fallen. Later he is certain of it. In a moment of perception he realizes he is curled around his center, that the gums are wet with tears.

It is beyond Hank’s power to compel them. He is only a smith, only a man. They are the horses of the gums.

But Sandra of the Rise has made them well.

Hank feels a change in the world as the horses succumb to purpose and offer themselves at the altar of transformation. He feels the waves of heat as they drill down into the gums and become something different from what they’ve been. For a moment they are candles burning on the roof and road. Then they are shrinking, spinning fires. Finally they widen themselves, dissolve themselves, and transubstantiate themselves into the substance of the gums.

The madness recedes.

Dry and tired, Hank drags himself up.

He croaks, the words hurting his throat, “Well done.”

Drought-Ender and Wine-Drinker are become the beacons of the toothway and its cartographers. They will open the toothway when Kailani’s teeth come in and they will hold Kailani’s gums to the stringency of the true map of the world.

but we are not eternal; nor tireless; so we shall leave the matter of the first tooth, however reluctantly, until tomorrow.

“Alaia”: The Commission

The Commission

Bertrand plunges from the ether into the conducting fluid of Old Man Jennings’ mouth and Jennings’ teeth spread before him like an ivory road.

From tooth to tooth he runs, soaring between the gaps, to the consternation of the bacteria.

The manifest form of the god of Jennings’ mouth, its tendrils streaming, races beside him. It matches daring to daring, life for life, skipping in and out around Jennings’ teeth and nearly cutting Bertrand off at the left canine.

Pulling marginally ahead, Bertrand releases a great shout, “Ha!”

Then the life that burns in Jennings unexpectedly goes out.

The road dissolves around Bertrand. Bertrand’s shape becomes disorder. His pattern turns static and fades out. The god seizes him, wraps him in its tendrils, and gives him one more moment of coherence in which to send a warning free:

Old Man Jennings is dead.

Together they tumble to the places dead things go.

It was Kelly Whitecap who’d made Jennings’ teeth all those years ago. She’d gone into the surging wilds of his gums and given them form. Her spirit had dwelt with that toothway while it lasted, had shone forth from its craftsmanship for all who rode the road to see.

“And now,” says Hank, her last surviving student, “it’s like a little more of her is gone.”

Sandra puts her hand upon his back.

They’re staring at the toothway nub, a protrusion of enameled solidity into the indifferent substance of their world, and thinking of the path where once it led. Jennings wasn’t the last of Kelly Whitecap’s brood, but he’d been her best: untroubled perfect teeth for all the long years of his life, a joyful god, and a road to New Jerusalem.

“In thirty years,” Hank says, “nobody’ll even know that work like hers was done.”

Sandra becomes angry when he says that. Red blooms on her face and a throbbing tension grows inside her limbs. But she doesn’t say anything in response, not until several minutes have passed.

“Some kid,” she says, “out there, some kid’s going to need teeth that go to New Jerusalem.”

“Some kid,” Hank says. He stares out at the void. Then he startles. “You don’t mean me? You don’t mean I’m to make them? Sandra, I’m retired.”

“Like I don’t know that,” Sandra says.

“Oh?”

“But you’re wasting yourself,” Sandra says. “Out in the suburbs with your sheepfoam and your fields. You’re bloody Hank Makeway, Hank, you’re the smith of children’s teeth, and you’re going to make a toothway to New Jerusalem now that the last of them’s been sealed. You’re going to make your master proud, Hank, and I’m going to give you the horses you’ll use to do it.”

A little smile crosses his face.

“Ah, there’s the truth of it,” he says.

He’s teasing her for having an ulterior motive, but it makes her, if anything, more stern.

“I made them,” Sandra says, “six years ago, Hank. A team of eight white horses, pure as the teeth of Heaven, and I knew they were for you. I didn’t know how and I didn’t know when and I sure didn’t plan it in the making of them. But there isn’t anyone else for them, Hank. And there isn’t anyone else for this.”

“The world is such a fragile thing,” Hank says.

He’s staring at the toothway nub. He’s thinking of all of us who make our work and put our lives into our work and know that it will one day pass.

That’s when she knows he’ll do it; and after a moment, he knows it too.

He puts on the decision like he’s shouldering a coat, and the old weary smile comes onto his face, and he says, “It’ll be beautiful, won’t it?”

“They all are,” Sandra says.

The horses that a smith rides out are standing waves. They are surging, elemental things, like white fires burning in the bleakness. Now one imagines the shape of an equine head; now the stomping, chomping movement becomes a hoof, and it leaves its imprint semicircle on the floor. Wine-Drinker shakes his hair and it seems there is a fall of leaves. Crust-Cruncher dances in her place and pulls against her reins. And beside them are Flesh-Ripper, Stress-Grinder, Milk-Guzzler, Drought-Ender, Drink-Deep, and Paneity. Such are the horses Sandra’s made for Hank Makeway, the smith of children’s teeth.

He stares at them in awe.

Hank holds his hand out to Drought-Ender. He feels a licking awareness of the horse’s presence against his open palm. He makes a caress; the horse shifts suddenly closer, stares with her wild eyes into his own, and he is transfixed as a man in the presence of a god. But reflex saves him; his hand tightens; he murmurs, “What there?” and the horse sees the smithcraft in him and goes quiet, gentle, even calm.

“Three for the road,” says Sandra. “Three for the roof.”

“And two to set the teeth in,” Hank answers.

She shines with quiet pride.

“Already,” he says, in gentle complaint, “I am to replace the work of Kelly Whitecap; and make a road to New Jerusalem, suffused with grace. And now you give me this to equal, Sandra of the Rise.”

“And now I give you this to equal,” she agrees.

So he takes up the ropes and picks and standards of his art and he says, “Do we know a ripening child?”

“Sleeping in Chicago’s spires,” Sandra says. “Between the towers and the gums.”

“Streets,” he corrects.

“Whatever.”

And Hank sets out.

but it is late and we are weary; so we shall wait until tomorrow to tell you how Hank ground the wilds into truth.

Ink Infallible (IV/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

“You’re lucky,” says the girl, “that Dukkha doesn’t hold sway down here.”

She’s in the topsy-turvy land on the other side of the world. Everything is upside-down. The great earthen vault of the sky stretches above her, dirty and wholesome and leaking the tangled roots of trees. Instead of a sun below her feet there is an endless raging storm. Instead of sedimentary rocks there are aureous and fulguric balloon minerals colored red and silver and black. They are puffy and they are lighter than air. Some balloon minerals are rough and cling to the surface of the earth. Others are smooth and skitter freely in the wind. And, of course, instead of a pervasive universal characteristic of suffering, there isn’t one.

The girl is trying to rescue a flying carpet.

It’s a despairing flying carpet, made and abandoned by an abused child who grew up to be an abuser and then had his soul eaten, and right now it’s starving and it’s lonely and it has the root of a tree burrowing into its brain. So it really is lucky that it’s not in a place where there’s a pervasive universal characteristic of suffering, because it doesn’t need that on top of everything else.

“Up above,” the girl says, working to disentangle the carpet from the tree roots all around it, “people are always wrong.”

Always? the carpet thinks.

“Always,” the girl confirms. “Even librarians!”

Why?

“It’s like this,” she says. “When you know a thing, you don’t know a thing. You know a knowing. The knowing isn’t the same as the thing. It’s always going to be different than the thing. So you don’t know what color things are, or what other people think, or what you should do. You don’t even know what you know, or how to know it better, or whether you’re getting closer or not. And maybe it’s not the most practical way of thinking about it, but it’s nice and concise and doesn’t take up much room in your brain: whatever you’re thinking, when you’re up on the surface of the world—you’re wrong.”

A hummingbird floats in the air near the girl.

The girl thinks the bird can talk, and that it’s pretty, but in the absence of Dukkha, the girl doesn’t know whether either of these ideas could possibly be correct.

“I used to be that way,” the hummingbird says. “Always wrong, I mean. But then I found absinthe.”

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. She’ll tell you that everybody calls her the imago, but that’s not really true. At best it’s only a large fraction of the people who speak English and know enough about her to make a reference who call her that, and it most specifically doesn’t include Dukkha, the incarnate principle of universal suffering.

That bastard calls her Ms. Catherly.

She takes a moment to fume about this, even though she’s never actually met him.

“He’s a total jackass,” she says.

“Who?” the hummingbird asks.

“This guy,” she says.

She waves a hand.

“He makes the universe not perfectly harmonious in every respect with people’s desires.”

“Oh,” the hummingbird says. “Him.

Ink finally has the carpet most of the way untangled. She pulls a few plant barbs from its flanks.

“Here’s the deal,” she says to the carpet. “You’ve still got to save five people, like I asked. But you’ve also got to fly me to a place where I can go back up towards the surface of the world.”

The creature hesitates.

“It’ll matter,” she says. “I mean, it’s a big, world-changing thing. I’m going to find whomever’s on the throne of this world and kill him. And, I assume, fire will rain down and monsters will spontaneously explode—just like pinatas—and sharks will live with lambs and everyone will eat rainbows for breakfast every day.”

An inner struggle in the carpet ceases.

It emits a soft chirr.

And because she has given the carpet sufficient purpose as to save it from immediate extinction, the boring tree withdraws the screw-root from its brain. Slowly, it lets the creature loose, to fall or fly as the carpet may. The carpet flutters shakily sideways to lean against the skinless root of a dying gonshuckt tree.

It is terribly, terribly wounded.

It looks at Ink.

“I’m not going to fix you!” Ink protests.

It looks at Ink.

“I’m a destroyer!”

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – People: People are lumps of clay, filled with fire, broken by circumstance. People are imperfect.

Ink Catherly looks at the horrible wound in Jacob’s carpet’s head.

She looks away.

She looks at it again.

She looks at the adorable rest of the creature, and back—

“Fine,” she says.

She takes some scotch tape out of her backpack. She tapes the carpet back together. She hugs the creature, gingerly, and it squirms and licks her face, though, without a tongue, she can’t see how.

“I can’t believe I helped you,” the imago says.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Jacob’s Carpet: Finding ourselves imperfect, we long for Heaven.

Somehow we choose, instead, to stay here, striving,
In the hopes we can perfect ourselves.

And we are ashamed of this.

We are ashamed because we are imperfect,
when we should be proud.

Ink rides the flying carpet back into the world.

At first, because tape is not the best solution for serious head wounds, the carpet flies slowly and the hummingbird is able to keep pace.

The hummingbird says, “But if people are here, and if bad things are here, how does it even make sense to say that Dukkha doesn’t hold sway?”

Ink points up. “Earth,” she says.

She points down. “Storm.”

She points at the tape. “Tape, applied by a destroyer.”

“And?”

“Everything’s topsy-turvy,” Ink says firmly. “Dukkha can’t hold sway.”

“But how—“

“Do you really have to know?”

The hummingbird is silent.

The flying carpet dances between the roots that dangle from the bottom of the world. The wind of its passage blows the balloon minerals about.

Ink sighs.

“Dunno,” Ink admits. “I’ll test it with a Dukkha Call.”

She braces herself.

She utters the Dukkha Call:

“‘Help, help!'” Ink cries theatrically.”‘The placidity in my heart is stifling my potential for growth!'”

The suffering that permeates all life answers.

Dukkha localizes with a swirl of his cape.

“Ms. Catherly,” he says.

He’s calm, Dukkha is. He’s cool. He’s terrifying. He makes the world seem to stop and he fills the air with cruel. He’s standing there and it seems like they’re all of them just in the palm of his hand, like the dangling roots are his fingers, like the arching dirt’s his palm. He’s scary and powerful and he gets a little scarier and a little more powerful every time Ink processes just how terrifying he is.

He’s totally in charge and he certainly seems to hold sway.

He’s ready to show any old imago who abuses the Dukkha Call what’s what.

Ink can’t breathe and the hummingbird’s already passed out.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Sukaynah: In memoriam.

If she had had a purpose in this world, it would have been to rush into gathering storms and then take joy in them.

She rushed into the storms beneath the world.

She was laughing.

If she has not died, she’s laughing still.

Then Dukkha’s eyes flick down.

That’s all it takes.

Just one flick down, to orient himself.

Gravity takes hold.

His feet go first, just like a coyote’s might. They stretch out his legs.

The last Ink sees of him for a very long time is his endlessly malevolent ears and the sign he holds up, “I hate you all.”

  • See also The Forest (II/IV), and tune in again AN UNDEFINED TIME NEXT WEEK (PROBABLY TUESDAY) for the next exciting history:
    INK HAS FEET!

The Borders of the World (IV/IV)

“It is 1560 years before the common era,” says Demeter.

She doesn’t use English, and she doesn’t use our measures of time.

But that’s what she says, as she looks out over the sea.

“It is 1560 years before the common era, and Leto is here, on the water. And she is walking out. And she has Artemis with her, and a guide.”

This is a history of Leucippus. He did not want to be blind. He liked his sight, though it really did give him more trouble than it was worth.

“He is telling her the stories of the things he sees,” Demeter says. “And they are wrong.”

“Most people are,” says Leucippus.

“Hm?” Demeter says.

“Most people are wrong about what they see,” Leucippus says. “We all live in blind man’s country.”

Demeter smiles at him.

It’s the kind of smile that makes half of his stomach lurch with love and the other with stark, raving fear.

But enough about that.

1560 years before the common era, Hera is constructing a cerycur to trouble Leto!

She’s having to concentrate very hard and work very carefully, because the Kouretes on Mt. Solmissos are making a terrible racket.

“Darn it!” Hera says, as she fumbles a crucial connection.

Hera tosses the cerycur down hard. It skitters towards the bedroom door. Just then, Zeus slams opens the door, his face bright with enthusiasm. His form is perfect and illustrates exactly how amazing a sport tennis would be if gods played it with doors instead of rackets. The cerycur smashes into the wall and shatters, and it’s fifteen-love for Zeus!

The pieces of the cerycur trickle down the wall.

In the stillness that follows, Hera sighs.

“Hello, my beautiful darling wife!” carols Zeus. Then he looks down at the broken cerycur.

“Huh,” says Zeus.

“Was that deliberate?” Hera asks levelly.

“It was too delicate,” says Zeus, airily. “You can’t blame me if your machines can’t stand up to my divine glory.”

Hera looks at Zeus.

Zeus grins at her. Then, very carefully, he waggles his eyebrows.

“I wanted to trouble Leto,” explains Hera. “If she bears you a son, I have a lot to lose.”

“That’s not her fault,” Zeus says, “is it?”

“The actual responsibility appears to have vanished into some sort of mysterious void of blame,” says Hera. “Perhaps there was a fault-devouring titan.”

Zeus thinks a moment.

“You could send a giant snake to trouble them,” he suggests.

“You’re not helping,” says Hera.

“They’re very fierce. They bite. I like to trouble people with giant snakes.”

Hera eyes Zeus.

Zeus grins at her. Then, very carefully, he waggles his eyebrows.

“Pfuh,” says Hera, in amused disgust.

Then, because her concentration is just a little bit askew, she sends a giant snake down to trouble Leto.

At that time and at that moment, Leto is in the grove of Ortygia, where she has just now brought Chibi-Artemis forth into the world.

“That was easier than I expected,” Leto says.

She is standing on a tree branch. With the aid of a clever sling and a dexterous midwife, Leto has given birth. She is feeling quite relieved and pleased with herself, but is a little concerned because she hasn’t expressed a placenta.

Chibi-Artemis is tugging on Leto’s sleeve.

“Mommy?” she asks.

Leto leans down. Then, because Chibi-Artemis is the cutest goddess of hunting and killing things ever, Leto sweeps up her daughter and hugs her tightly.

“Oh,” says Leto. “Oh. I am so happy you are born.”

Chibi-Artemis wriggles and kicks her feet until Leto puts her down. Then she thinks about how to explain what she wants to say. Finally, she just comes out with it.

“You’re still pregnant, Mommy. I got a brother!”

“Oh, man,” says Leto, realizing instantly that Chibi-Artemis is right.

She pushes, hopefully. But it is not working out for her.

“But it’s okay,” says Chibi-Artemis. “We can go somewhere where there isn’t land or sea.”

That’s when the giant snake attacks.

More than two hundred years later, Demeter asks Leucippus, “Would you guide me to Never?”

“Why me?”

It’s the wrong thing to say. He knows as he says it that it’s the wrong thing to say. So he stops. He holds up his hand, frantically. He waits in silence for a moment.

Then he says, “I will.”

And, in a choked voice, he asks, “But must I be blind?”

Demeter is hardly listening to him. She is looking up beyond the world at Never. She says, “If there is no hope in all the world, then the world must change. Must it not?”

Sweating, Leucippus squeezes his eyes tight shut and covers them with his forearm.

“There is no place on any map,” Demeter says. “Not to the west, not to the north, not to the east, not to the south. There is no place on any map that holds the answer to my need. So we must go to an impossible place.”

Her words sit in the air. They are still and heavy, like the lump in Leucippus’ stomach.

He nods.

It is like ice to him. It is a line of madness cut across the world of his mind. The system of the world has finite scope and its boundaries have never closed.

He stands at the crossroads. He tries to see without opening his eyes. He flails for bearings and points in a random direction with his free remaining arm.

“South, then,” he says. “Towards Crete.”

“Towards Crete.”

Her voice is rich and deep and as his panic recedes Leucippus can see her even though his eyes are closed.

The presence of Demeter is cutting through the darkness.

He has a bone-deep awareness of her. She is powerful. She is glorious. The madness seethes in her like lightning. The sorrow twists and turns in her mind like a torn black sail in the winter wind. She is holding it all in, but he can see it; that, and the bounty of her.

And something more beautiful besides.

“There is something beautiful,” he says.

Demeter’s teeth are white in the darkness.

“Something crazy mad beautiful,” he says. “Something—”

He can see it. He can hear it, in the surf, in the tide.

“That was my daughter,” says Demeter.

“And ten . . .”

Leucippus hesitates.

“Ten little meat soldiers,” he says. “Dactyls? Phalluses? Fiends?”

“Toes,” says Demeter.

Her voice is bland.

A blush spreads all the way up Leucippus’ body and almost makes him open his eyes.

“She had ten perfect toes,” says Leucippus.

He is walking now. He is moving out over the waves. But even with his eyes shut he can see too well.

He can see the waves under his feet, for she has led him out over the water.

He can see the salt in them and the terrible power to drown that is the sea’s.

He can see the seagulls as they fly above. With each new cry he can see them again.

And he can see clutched in Demeter’s heart the memory of the wonderful thing, the crazy mad beautiful thing that was her daughter to her.

And Leucippus is crying.

He is crying because in the face of this vision he is surrendering his need for sight.

And more than two hundred years before, Artemis—already older, already better, already fading into her perfection—leads Leto out over the waves, with a blind Kourete before them.

And she says, “Mother, what is that?”

Leto is holding something out to her.

It is wooden and round, and it has a handle. It shimmers, just a bit, from the polishing of the wood. It rattles in Leto’s hand.

“It’s a present,” says Leto. “For shooting the giant snake.”

“Pfuh,” says Artemis, dismissively. “Giant snakes.”

There have only been two occasions in the long history of the world when a giant snake has functioned as an antagonist worthy of the name.

This was not one of them.

“And,” says Leto, “for being you.”

So Artemis looks.

And she is already almost too old to see the wonder of it; but still, there is a moment when the sheen of the wood is a marvel and its noise is the most inspiring thing she has ever heard.

And the expression on her face as she hears it is insanely, impossibly incredibly beautiful.

It gives Leto the strength to go beyond the borders of the world.

House of Saints: A Motley Collection of Rogues

There are three Houses that we have seen thus far.

They are the House of Dreams, that breeds scientists like mad Vladimir.

They are the House of Hunger, full of beasts like the Edmund-beast, craving human flesh.

They are the House of Saints.

What is a saint?

These are not the saints of the Roman Catholic Church, canonized after their death in reflection of their holiness.

These are simply intercessors, driven by love, called upon to shield us from our pain.

They did not choose their own sainthood. It was given unto them, as other roles were given unto those of Dreams and Hunger, by an act of aggressive taxonomy.

House of Saints is the story of a hat that dares sort men.

House of Saints


A Motley Collection of Rogues

Several days after his sorting Peter finds two other students native to his House. These are Saul and Bethany.

“I am glad that we wear red,” says Peter. “It makes us somewhat easier to find.”

“The color-coding of saints is a marvelous thing,” says Saul. “I think that it represents immunity to fire.”

“Nonsense,” says Peter.

“Well,” says Saul, “to the fires of Hell, from which our universal love will shield us.”

“And are the green hats, then, immune to trees?” Bethany asks.

“Not to the birch,” says Saul. “But to the Lethal pine1—well, I would not care to test it!”

For a week they watch other students, counting and categorizing hats, watching for the red. Then they retire to the nook beneath a staircase in the school, and there they discuss their fate.

“This trend is unsettling,” says Peter. “I count just three of us in our good and gentle House, while the numbers of the evil green hats grow.”

Bethany makes a sour face. “I do not trust this,” she says. “Is it possible that we are suffering delusion?”

“Hm?” Peter asks.

“Our minds have been altered,” says Bethany. “Could there be an insidious tainting of our perceptions, making us reject the House of Hunger just because they wear green hats and eat people?”

“Surely the sorting hat wouldn’t lie to us about moral issues,” Saul protests.

Bethany touches his hand sympathetically.

“You’re nervous,” she says.

Saul half-laughs. “The entire situation discomfits me,” he admits. “I have no idea how to be a saint. Upperclassmen keep asking me to protect them from bad eyesight, failing grades, and gout. I tell them, ‘of course!’ And none of them get gout. But I wonder how efficacious my intercession really is? I need a hot backup saint for redundancy in case of failure.”

“No,” says Peter. “You must have faith in your sainthood! I refuse to live in a world where the House of Hunger is the real thing and we aren’t—it’d imply that a hat could strip the compassion from the human soul but can’t hand out the kind of universal love that efficaciously protects people from gout. Or,” he adds, referring to his own special saintly talent, “from encountering bad weather at sea.”

“Hm,” says Bethany.

“Hm?”

“I am still not convinced that they are evil and lack compassion,” Bethany says.

Saul laughs. It’s a brief, stuttering laughter, quickly ending.

“The House of Hunger makes the other students nervous,” Peter says. “They ask me to protect them! I say, ‘Separation of powers.’ I cannot help! But nevertheless I am moved by their pleas. I would not consider myself compassionate if I killed and ate them. Instead, I would chide myself, saying, ‘This banquet does not come from the principles of universal love!'”

“Proposition,” says Bethany. “People are born in a corrupt, uneaten state. The only way to restore their purity is to kill and eat them. Those who resist or object are inherently impure; this casts their motivations into question and injects bias into their argument. Had they been incepted into the House of Hunger, they would understand this, and would not object with such vivacity.”

This halts Peter. He pauses. He considers.

“Consent,” says Saul.

“Hm,” concedes Bethany.

“Consent,” agrees Peter. “It seems to me that the word ‘purity’ is changing the nature of the action from the outside—it isn’t changing anything about how the target experiences the action. I’d think that you’d have to be able to look at the person and see a priori how eating them would help.”

Bethany chews on her lip.

“Proposition,” Peter says. “The set of goals that one achieves through force are morally synonymous.”

“I see a concern,” says Saul, instantly.

“Hm?” Peter asks.

“Well,” says Saul. “There is a motley collection of rogues currently descending these stairs. Some of them wear the green, which, regardless of potential immunity to plants, means they might very well eat us. If strict nonviolence is a quality of sainthood, we shall have enormous trouble defending ourselves.”

Peter scowls. “Accursed hat,” he says. “I imagine it smirking smugly somewhere as it considers the havoc that its choices sow.”

Saul sighs.

“That is a reiteration of pacifism?” he says.

“Our actions towards them must flow from love,” Peter says.

Bethany is unhappy. “They are beasts,” she protests. “See, that is not the Sally we knew, but the Sally-beast; not Linus, but the Linus-beast; not Lucy, but the beast in Lucy’s flesh.”

Peter is uncompromising.

“Do you love them?”

“Yes,” Bethany admits. “Each is a nexus for choice that shines like the brilliance of stars.”

“Then we cannot harm them,” Peter says.

“God help us,” says Saul.

The Sally-beast has reached the bottom of the stairs. She looks at them. Her nostrils flare. She is sniffing.

“Hi!” says Peter, chipperly.

Sally steps forward.

“Your grades will decline if you eat other students in the halls,” Bethany observes. “This is not good academic comportment.”

“I don’t eat everyone I meet,” says Sally, airily. “In fact I shall be quite full from Fred for days.”

“She’s lying,” says the Linus-beast, softly. It ruffles Sally’s hair. “We are always hungry. But we must ration out our portions. Otherwise we shall face not simply expulsion but starvation. That is why we will not eat you now. Instead we will ask Peter to protect us from bad weather at sea.”

“Of course,” says Peter, because he’s aces at protecting people from bad weather at sea.

So Sally and Linus turn to go.

Sally mutters to Linus, “But I’m not going to sea.”

“I go to religion with the saints I have,” says Linus. “Not the saints I’d like to have.”

Lucy does not leave with the others. Instead she watches the saints for a while. Her ears are sharp, and she’d heard the closing lines of their private conversation.

“Blockheads,” she says contemptuously. “You really wouldn’t fight?”

Peter sets his jaw.

Lucy snorts. “Prey should struggle. That’s part of hunting. Prey that doesn’t struggle—that’s like eating limp noodles!”

Peter tries to keep looking firm. But he can’t. He’s too embarrassed. He hangs his head and remembers random trivia about Italy.

Fun Fact! There is a well in L’Aquila, Italy, that contains an endless supply of limp noodles. It also has shallots!

“Well,” Lucy says, “I guess it makes it easier, anyway.”

Then there is only the Lucy-beast. Then her jaw is dislocating to open her mouth wider and she is ravening towards them.

House of Saints will return on Wednesday or Thursday with “Vladimir’s Dreams”

1. A registered trademark of the Lethal corporation.

House of Saints: Edmund’s Hunger

There is something in a boot that loves to stomp.

In Fimbulwinter a boot will stomp Fenris Wolf. In 2012, if one believes the standard interpretation of Nostradamus, a boot will stomp the Lethal Magnet School for Wayward Youth. Pompeii, of course, died to the fiery stomping of the gods.

There is something in a boot that loves to stomp.

And Peter is stomping right now.

Peter stomps.

Peter throws open Andrea’s door. The door is opposite the window in the dormitory hall. Peter cries, “Andrea! Look! I have new boots! I’m stomping in them!”

Andrea is, unusually, dead.

“They’re like the one that will stomp this school,” says Peter, “only smaller!”

Then the smell hits. Then Peter’s eyes adjust to the darkness in Andrea’s room. Then he sees what’s left of Andrea, and the beast in Edmund’s form.

“Bloody Hell,” says Peter, setting aside thoughts of stomping for the nonce. Instead he thinks about survival.

The beast in Edmund’s form slinks closer.

“Now I will kill you too,” apologizes the Edmund-beast. “But I do not want to.”

It is slavering. Its eyes are dead white. Its green hat is tilted jauntily to one side.

“You’ve still got bits of Andrea on your mouth!” Peter protests, his pupils shrunk to points.

The Edmund-beast wipes its mouth unsavorily. “I intend to kill you. I will enjoy killing you. I just don’t conventionally want to. It’s an alien drive.”

Peter watches Edmund warily, backing away as Edmund edges forward.

“I don’t want to kill you either,” Peter says. “But I have a . . .”

Peter pats his pockets. Inspiration and fortune strike as one.

“A Lethal razor!”

He holds it up. It is small. It is made from blue plastic. Its blades could in fact cut someone if they were removed from their housing. Small imprinted letters on its handle read, Lethal.

“It is the strangest sensation,” says the Edmund-beast. “Ever since I was sorted into the House of Hunger, it’s as if the rest of you are food. I say to myself, ‘But these are my friends!’ And yet I know the answer. Friendship gives you flavor.

The Edmund-beast leaps.

Peter flails ineffectually with the Lethal razor. It shaves a few hairs off of Edmund’s arm using its patented Surface Scrub technology. Then Peter tumbles backwards and, quite by accident, autodefenestrates. The screen tears off under his weight and he falls into the yard below.

The yard is green and blue. The grass is damp. There is a fountain in the middle of it, white in the darkness, with a Lethal cherub perched in its marble center. The sidewalk is clean but poorly maintained and there are startled ladybugs in the air.

Cheryl and Vladimir are the only students in the yard. They are wearing Lethal black turtlenecks and black hats, in addition to their generic pants. They were walking by with affected nonchalance when Peter fell out the window. Now they are ineffectually experiencing startlement. They look down at the fallen Peter. They look up at the window. They look down again.

High above, the Edmund-beast howls.

“Take him,” says Cheryl. “Take him quickly!”

They take Peter by each arm and drag him away.

The Edmund-beast makes for the stairs; and that incident marks the last of Peter’s stomping for a time.

House of Saints


Edmund’s Hunger

Peter wakes up in the graveyard of the hats. This is where British people go when they want to throw down their hats. It is a common destination for police officers during car chases but is also handy for members of all political affiliations during an election and for both managers and laborers during strikes. The hats here are a tattered expanse of felt, covered by mud and clinging grass. They are mushy to the touch and, taken all together, seem somewhat sinister.

“Hats,” mumbles Peter.

“Indeed,” says Cheryl.

“Why?”

Vladimir holds up a hat. “This is mine,” he says. “It is my work. It is my dream.”

The hat is a crowning hat. It is a terrible glory hat. It is made from bits and pieces of graveyard hats, stitched together by a levicular surgeon of uncommon skill and animated by the power of a storm.

It is not such a hat as frail men should make. It is a jaunty badge of Vladimir’s madness. It is a warrantless trespass into the domain of God.

“This hat will help you,” says Vladimir. “If you will try it on. It will … categorize you. Then you will have the strength to fight such creatures as your howling friend. Or perhaps you will join them.”

Peter frowns.

“It’s for the best,” Cheryl says. She puts her hand on Peter’s. “Edmund won’t let up until he kills and eats you, Peter. You need to be sorted to get the power to fight him.”

“. . . okay,” says Peter, who has no idea what is going on but figures that it’s best to cooperate with the crazy people and their hats.

Vladimir lowers the hat onto Peter’s head.

There is a hissing in Peter’s mind. There is a whiteness that drowns thought and feeling. There is a distant, quavering vision. Then Peter understands.

“I must wear red!” Peter says.

Vladimir backs away. The crowning hat is still in his hands. He looks uneasily at Cheryl.

Peter digs in the graveyard. He finds a tattered zombie of a hat and puts it on. It is red. Then Peter relaxes.

A moment passes.

Peter frowns. “I’m not going to eat you, am I?”

He checks his mouth for slaver.

“No,” says Cheryl. “It is unlikely.”

Her voice is bitter.

“But you are useless to us,” she says.

Cheryl and Vladimir turn away from Peter. They walk off towards the school.

“What?”

Peter stares after them. “What?” he says. “Why?”

“We had hoped,” Cheryl says, “that you would join us in the House of Dreams. But it is not so.”

Frogs sing amidst the graveyard of the hats.

“House?” Peter asks.

But in his bones he knows.

Cheryl and Vladimir do not answer. They just finish walking away. They are gone, leaving Peter blinking and alone.

The Edmund-beast limps up. Its breath has a sound like dull static. Its eyes have turned to black.

“I wrote a song about you,” says the Edmund-beast. “It goes like this:

La la la la la I love you Peter,
la la la la la I’ll eat you Peter,
la la la la la you’re meat to me,
can’t you see?
I love you like good coffee.”

“I’m touched,” Peter says.

“It’s because we used to drink coffee together,” says the Edmund-beast, advancing.

“Edmund!” says Peter, sharply. “Stop!”

The Edmund-beast hesitates. It is not far from Peter. There is a sinister gleam in its eyes.

“And what House are you, Peter, with your red, red hat? Are you a danger to me now?”

“No,” says Peter. The admission forces itself out past his terror.

The Edmund-beast scowls. It is hesitant.

“I am given,” says Peter, “unto the House of Saints.”

The Edmund-beast tilts its head to one side. It pads forward slightly. It taps at the ground. Peter sucks in his breath. He starts to speak.

“Sinkhole, is it?” says the Edmund-beast. “Hats so rotten that they’ve made a quickhat?”

Edmund hesitates. He furrows his brow.

“A hatsand?” he says, searching for the word. “A haberbog?”

Edmund is failing to find the right word because there is no standard English word for a morass formed by hypersaturated hats.

Peter’s lips are tight.

“I know the red hats,” says the Edmund-beast. “I know them in my bones. You wouldn’t lead me astray, would you? You’d warn me of the sinkhole when I come to kill you. You’d give me good advice even though I want to crunch your bones.”

“Yes,” Peter agrees.

“Then tell me,” says the Edmund-beast. “Ought I kill you now, or later?”

There is a strange instinct in Peter now. It burns in him like a guiding flame.

“Later,” Peter says. “It will serve you better, later.”

So the Edmund-beast turns and it scurries away; and Peter sags, overwhelmed and fearful, amidst the graveyard of the hats.

Fun Fact! Every year, more than 3,000 hats are thrown down in hat graveyards across the U.K. Fewer than 1,000 are ever recovered.

House of Saints will return on Tuesday or Wednesday with “A Motley Collection of Rogues”

Celebration of the Seals

The first of the seven seals opens. The voice of the four living creatures cries out, “Come!”

Then there is a man on a white horse. Then he is caparisoned with a crown. Then he rides forth, a conqueror bent on conquest.

From the Earth rises a hologram. The hologram depicts the great diva, Shelley.

Shelley is dressed in a sailor suit, and she sings:

Fall on me! Love’s an avalanche.
Crumbling rocks like a bolt for my heart!
Fall on me! Love’s a hurricane
Total apocalypse is claiming my heart!

The conqueror pauses. He is the first of the horsemen of the end times, the sign of wrath unleashed upon the world. Yet even he hesitates before this song.

The Lamb dexterously removes the second seal. The voice of the four living creatures cries out, “Come!”

Then there is a man on a red horse.

“You shall have the power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay one another,” say the four creatures. “Take this sword. Defeat the people of Earth!”

Yet there is Shelley, and she is singing:

Why is it always murder today?
Can’t you wait a little longer
Until we’ve had our play . . . honey . . .
I get uncertain, hide my face from the throne
But can’t you see that my heart’s racing
Can’t you see that I’d like to atone?

Baby
FALL ON ME! Love’s a disaster movie
Towers burning
Red horse riding away!
Fall on me! Love’s Revelation is:
Total apocalypse claiming my heart!

Then lightning comes from the eyes of the rider on the red horse, and he opens his mouth and a sword flies out and he says, “Lo! This hologram maketh a joyous noise.”

“She shouteth aloud the J-Pop of salvation,” agrees the man on the white horse. His robes shimmer like the foam of the sea. His hair shines like love’s hurricane.

“Can even such as we attack an Earth that this diva defends?”

The horns of the Lamb burn with the light that is like the glimmers of ice and the third seal breaks. Then the creatures cry, “Come!”

The black horse rides from the deeps of the outer darkness, whence the seal held it. On its back is a rider carrying a pair of scales. Then there is a whispering among the creatures, saying,

A bit of wheat for a day’s wages,
A bit of barley,
A few bananas

The rider on the black horse casts forth great plagues in his displeasure. His horse stomps its foot and there are earthquakes all over the earth. Still Shelley sings:

I want to dance with you
Without leaving our room.
I’m hungry for you
All night alone.

Fall on me! Love is a famine
When I see you it’s like
I’ve had seven lean years!

The fourth seal opens, and there is a pale horse. And its rider is named Death, and he is smiling and his toe is tapping to the music. And the four creatures say, “Death is unleashed upon the Earth.”

Fall on me! Love’s Revelation is:
Total apocalypse claiming my heart!

Then there is a howling in the stars as the song ends and the moon turns black and Death says, “These Earth humans—so short-lived, so bold. Surely we can wait another three thousand years to kill them all.”

But there is a man robed in mist and thunder who says, “It is written that it must end now. Go now and let no mortal singing soothe your savage charge.”

So Death turns his horse and his horse stomps its feet and it tosses its head as he drives it for the Earth. Then there is a great turmoil in the sea and the hologram of a beast rises from it, and it has three crowns on three heads. And one of the heads has the likeness of a cricket, and one of the heads has the likeness of a youth, and one of the heads has the likeness of a large bopper, and there is the seeming on those heads of a fatal wound but this beast still lives, and the beast is singing:

I love you, Peggy Sue.

And the beast is singing:

Bamba bamba
Bamba bamba

And the beast is singing:

Oh baby, you know what I like!

And it is not a mortal singing, and the beast hath music to soothe the savage charge, and Death reins short his horse and there is stillness in the Heavens until the opening of the seventh seal.

This is not what will take place, and this is not what may take place, but this is what must soon take place, if humanity is to survive.

— from the Strategic Operations Plan of the First Human Defensive Ministry, Section 6, Subsection R, recorded 2998 AD

Invisible Dog Breeding 101

1. The Scientist’s Lament

Breeding invisible dogs to win incredible prizes at dog shows is difficult! That’s why so few people do it.

There are all kinds of difficulties that people face in invisible dog breeding. The dogs might chew up your couch. An invisible circus owner might steal your dogs. You might get fleas. It’s a rollicking road and you have to learn to face whatever comes with a smile! But there are two difficulties in particular that newcomers often ask about immediately after getting started.

Wait! How can you breed an invisible dog? There’s no invisibility gene in nature!

The answer to this is simple. Dogs don’t have an invisibility gene, but many other things are invisible. Ghosts, invisible people, conspiracies, minorities, and bacteria are all very difficult to see. Splicing genes from them into your dog embryos easily produces a magnificent invisible dog.*

* Warning: some of these may instead produce a dog that people could see, but choose not to.

I’ve got some invisible dogs, but I can’t tell if they’re breeding.

Don’t worry! You’re only uncertain because they’re not actually breeding yet. When the marvelous angel of estrous bestows its blessing on your invisible dogs, there will be no occasion for doubt.

2. Crisis of Imaginary Dogs

Some people think that they can get around the difficulties of breeding invisible dogs by breeding imaginary dogs. Imaginary dogs are always invisible!

The problem with imaginary dogs is that most imaginary dogs are falsifiable. That is, people at dog shows are highly trained to detect imaginary dogs. They will smell your imaginary dog, weigh your imaginary dog, and encourage your imaginary dog to eat special invisible treats. If your dog isn’t real you’ll fail these tests and they’ll give you last prize! That’s no good at all for your self-esteem and it can absolutely crush your imaginary dog.

That’s why the primary focus of most invisible dog breeders is not normal invisible dogs or ordinary imaginary dogs but a special subclass: the unfalsifiable dog.

Unfalsifiable dogs exist principally in the subtle realm of the spirit. You can’t disprove them—they’re too subjective and open to interpretation! Genuine unfalsifiable dogs are best, but even imaginary unfalsifiable dogs are strong competitors against typical entries like Great Danes and beagles. With persistence and good grooming habits, you will win first prize!

3. The Great Work

It is important not to rest on your laurels once your unfalsifiable dog has won the first prize. Now more than ever you must work hard to breed new useful traits into your unfalsifiable dog’s line!

If you breed your unfalsifiable dog with a frictionless dog, this produces a litter of puppies that are both frictionless and unfalsifiable. These dogs have a distinct advantage in a show that involves herding sheep, because many shows use advanced modern low-friction sheep. Ordinary dogs have trouble herding low-friction sheep, and low-friction dogs can achieve parity, but a frictionless dog takes the whole affair to a new level! In addition it is fun to watch them sail majestically around the floor of the show.

If you breed your unfalsifiable dog with a mortar schnauzer, the puppies will be unfalsifiable heavy artillery. You can use them to smash down enemy fortifications, and no one can prove that you can’t! You may wish to obtain a memo from Alberto Gonzales before bombarding things with puppies, however, as this has been expressly forbidden in the Geneva Conventions.

If you breed your unfalsifiable dog with an unverifiable dog, you will produce a grim dog that reveals how weak human comprehension is in the face of infinity! These terrible beagles are often given high marks as a craven attempt at conciliation. It’s not good to win dog shows by fear instead of quality, but the most important thing is to win at any cost.

4. Looking Forward

Over the course of hundreds of years your efforts will produce an entirely new breed of dogs. This is how humans first invented the Chihuahua and the Modular Dane, and this is the very process from which the heralded Revelation Dog will come.

Where will your work fall in this great tapestry of life? Enter the exciting world of invisible dog breeding and find out!

Not valid in Wisconsin or where prohibited by law.

Flood

The antelope race beside the Ark.

The waters are glassy, sometimes, when the rain slows down. They are rich in color. The hoofprints of the antelope are like the dents of great raindrops.

The antelope have wide feet and a powerful light foot technique. For seventeen days they keep their balance on the water. Yet slowly, as the days pass, they sink deeper and deeper into the shining waters until at last they drown.

“There’s no room for the hippos,” Ham says. “We’ll have to eat them.”

“No eating the hippos,” says Noah.

“But Dad!”

Noah considers. “There are those birds,” he says, “that fly into your urethra when you’re peeing and nest inside your crotch. We could eat them.”

Ham considers that.

“Okay,” he says.

The seven-limbed howlers struggle upwards from the cities below. They flail. They howl. They reach the surface and fill their great and terrible lungs with air. Then they sink, again, slowly, pathetically, and hoard their energy for the next long breath.

The eagles circle tiredly in the sky above.

Shem and Ham descend into the Ark.

The deeper they go into the Ark, the more tightly crowded the animals become. It is the nature of the construction of the Ark that any number of animals can be packed within it; near the bottom, Shem believes, the density of packed animals becomes asymptotically infinite. But they do not need to go that far.

“Good sheep,” says Shem, passing a sheep.

“Good cow,” says Ham, passing the cows.

“Good crocodi—BAD crocodile!” says Shem. Shem brandishes his broom at the crocodile. It reluctantly turns away and snaps its mouth closed. It slithers deeper, slithers down, its long green body vanishing under a cluster of chickens, wrens, doves, owls, game hens, and wildebeests, and it is gone.

“Good hippo,” says Ham, grudgingly, as they pass.

The urethra birds are not very far down. They are good at gaming the ecosystem for maximum advantage. But it does not save them now.

“Bawk!” proclaims one urethra bird, startled, as Ham grabs it around the neck.

“Ch-caa!” declares the other, in some distress, as Shem seizes it in turn.

The axe descends.

“It’s natural selection,” says Noah, as he chews on a leg. “Those that do not please me, die. Evolutionary pressure driven by the seething core of the Ark will inevitably create a new generation of animals better suited to the exigencies of my desires.”

Days and nights pass.

In the third and fourth weeks, great clusters of ostriches swim by.

The ostriches are not happy with the rain. United, they are strong. Solitary, they are weak. But the rain and flood tries their solidarity.

One by one, ostriches commit social errors.

One by one, the clusters drive them out.

The stragglers are easy prey for the sharks, the icthyocampi, and the cold.

“I wonder if Mr. Sills is still alive,” Shem says.

“He’s got to have drowned by now,” Noah argues.

“I know some of them were trying to build cities in the deep,” Shem says.

Ham walks out and stares down at the water.

“It’s weird,” says Ham. “To imagine all the people we knew, down there.”

“Freaky,” Japheth agrees.

“Cold and blue and drowning.”

“It’s because God didn’t like them,” says Shem. “I mean, as much as he liked us.”

The sheep goes, “Baa.”

“Animal on deck!” says Noah.

They quickly hurry the sheep back into the hold.

“Can we eat the sheep?” Ham asks.

“No,” says Noah. “Sheep are good animals. That’s why it made it all the way up.”

“The hippos?”

“No eating the hippos.”

“But Dad!”

Noah considers. “Isn’t there some kind of animal that lives mostly on the brains of dead people?”

“Worms?”

Noah shakes his head. “Besides those.”

“Cranium beavers?”

“Yeah,” says Noah. “Those. We can eat those.”

Ham and Japheth descend.

The deeper they go into the Ark, the more tightly crowded the animals become. It is the nature of the construction of the Ark that any number of animals can be packed within it; near the bottom, Japheth suspects, the animals are unable to survive in solid form but instead revert to their natural plasmic state.

“It’s hot as God’s spankings down here,” says Ham.

“Shh!”

“What?”

“No blasphemy. We’re on the Ark.

There is a creaking, clunking noise, as the sea serpents of God beat warningly upon the vessel’s side.

“Right,” says Ham, sweating. He looks sideways. “Good oryx.”

By the eighteenth sub-basement of the Ark, Ham and Japheth are forced to carve their way through the animals to make room for their passage. Thus dies the bulwark buffalo, the crowball, and the cave goat. Thus dies the ghoul, spoken of in legend, and the icy blue beast in whose image the Slurpee was made. Thus dies the elephant and the fungal turtle.

“Here,” says Japheth.

The cranium beaver skulks defensively behind its dam of skulls, but this primitive instinct cannot save it from the knives of Noah’s heirs.

“Good sheep,” says Japheth, on the way back up.

“Baa,” insists the sheep.

It’s so adorable that even Ham has to scruffle the sheep behind its ears.

The rhinoceri have gone feral, long, and lean. In the distance, as the sons of Noah eat, they watch the primal battle between rhinoceros herd and megalodon, under a sky full of storms. The waves of that battle rock the ship, and the sinuous shapes of the rhinoceri lash and shimmer and in the sea.

“They’re winning,” says Naamah, in some surprise.

“There’s just a chance,” says Noah, in satisfaction, “that the megalodons’ll be another casualty of this rain.”

“I’ll tell the others,” says Japheth.

So he goes to the speaking tubes and calls down into the depths of the ship, “Let the rhinoceros be informed that their kind still live, under the sea.”

And up comes the honking, and the bleating, and the wailing, and the howling, and the hissing, and the chirping, and the long pleased snore of the happy shipboard rhinoceri.

“That means we could eat them,” says Ham. “I mean, the ones we have here.”

“No eating the rhinos,” says Noah.

“Fine,” sulks Ham, crunching on a barbecued cranium beaver leg.

The last of the scissor-beaked night terrors drowns that day.

“Look!” cries Ham, one silvery morning.

“What?”

“Elephants! The elephants didn’t die out after all!”

Noah rubs his chin. “There’s no reason we can’t take another female on board to replace the one you carved through.”

“Right on!”

Shem and Ham operate the elephant crane to retrieve a backup elephant from atop Ayers Rock.

“Baa,” the sheep remarks, conversationally, as it watches.

“Animal on deck!” says Noah.

Naamah and Japheth hurry the sheep back into the hold.

Days and nights pass.

“I can see them far below,” says Japheth, later that night. “All the people I ever hated.”

“Are they trying to tame sea horses?”

“They’re dead, Dad. They’re moving in great drifts through the night.”

“Baa,” mourns the sheep.

“Animal on—”

Noah laughs a little and stops halfway through the sentence.

“Oh, let it be, I guess,” he says.

The sheep looks down into the water, at the hills and dales of Scotland-under-the-Waves.

Flick!

A fish-tailed sheep skims to the surface of the sea.

For a long moment, the land-sheep and the sea-sheep look into one another’s eyes.

Flick!

The moment is gone; and the two sheep go, in their respective elements, below.

In such manner as this: running, swimming, struggling, serving, seething, mourning, and loving does the world survive the rain.

Having Missed the Dragonflies Entirely

Mary had a little lamb. Its fleece was white as snow. Everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.

But Mary died.

A hive of hardy coleopteran intelligences had a little lamb. Its fleece was white as snow. Everywhere that the hive would crawl, the lamb was sure to go.

But the hive died.

The loper had a long neck. Its limbs were like great sticks. Its fur flowed like water as it ran. Sometimes the mammals would cast forth a new intelligent species, with warm eyes like the humans had. The loper would eat them.

The loper had a little lamb. Its fleece was white as snow.

Everywhere the loper went, the lamb was sure to go.

The lamb said, “Baa!”

It gamboled.

But the loper died.

Crystals jutted forth from the dead Earth. They hummed to themselves. They exchanged incomprehensible thoughts. The crystals had a lamb.

“What will we feed the lamb?” the crystals asked themselves, on a particular millisecond, in a particular minute, during a single cycle of the eighteenth aeon of the world.

“Milk.”

Several centuries passed.

“We have no milk. The earth is dead.”

“Is the lamb alive?”

“The lamb is alive. It is in good health.”

“It is good.”

The crystals’ thoughts were not in English. Your humble author has translated them via babelfish.

Wherever the crystals sat and brooded and thought their incomprehensible thoughts, the lamb was sure to go.

But the crystals died.

There are things that move through space. They are great vaporous things. They spread over light-years. And they know love. Their love is terrible and brilliant and bright. It is piercing. It is the defining characteristic of their existence.

The things in space have a little lamb. Its fleece is white as snow.

They love it.

They love it fiercely and well.

But the things die.

The lamb is alone. There is nothing left.

“When will I find something worthy of me?” asks the lamb.

The lamb abandons the universe to death.

The lamb moves on.