On the Hill

It is on the top of the hill that Jaime discovers the dissected naturalist; and looking up, its dissector; and had the squirming mass of impulses that comprise Jaime’s mind had their way, his sanity would have fled forever into the dark.

But the creature holds up a light and it constrains him.

A rigid altruism sets in his bones; irons of sanity form barriers in his mind. His thoughts gibber and fling themselves about, but their efforts are self-dampening. Finally they settle and he stares at the thing with fey reason in his eyes.

“I wanted to discover,” it says, “why that Great Maker that hath made the swallow and the swan, as well, made me.”

“Some would say, sir,” Jaime responds, “that your presence is in itself a demonstration that no such Maker exists; that you have blasted down ideas of soul and purpose simply by your being. That the sacred is illumined as folly, that ghastly hollowness shines through the tissue of goodness and mercy, and that nowhere in this colloquy of organs you have extracted is anything resembling worth—sir.”

“And what do you say?”

Jaime gives a rigid smile. “Sir, as you would like, sir.”

It shifts softly in the darkness, and forms and shapes emerge and dissipate within its substance.

Hesitantly, Jaime says, “Because I have seen you, sir, I am damned; misery is my lot, and there is only bleakness that I may celebrate. Thus I must squint, and dubiously, at the concept of justice; but I retain the concept of justice. The waterway of logic in my mind balks; I seek to abandon it—but I retain the concept of logic. So I am at a loss. Perhaps there is something that I do not understand.”

“It came to me one evening,” the creature says, “that it is not a matter of moral universe or amoral universe. That there is not the tension previously understood between the great divine harmony where all directs to a glorious and beautiful end, and a bleak mad emptiness where hope is a joke man’s nature plays on man. Rather, the importance of the matter is how one relates to the amoral universe, or the moral one.”

“Sir?”

“We are children,” the creature says, “who come to your world, and teach you of bleakness. Those mad chthonic and aerial pantheons that are my peers—who say, ‘what is purpose, in the face of the gibbering substrate?’ or ‘why cherish your soul, when it will fall into the many maws of my siblings before it reaches any other place?’—it has finally occurred to me that we are children. What is important is to honor those spaces in ourselves that are moral, and those places that are degenerate and foul. But I have fallen out of practice in morality, in the dark places.”

Jaime frowns.

“This disturbs you?”

“I am not certain how to give over my life to bleakness and to worship you in mad revels, sir, if you insist on demanding sanity and morality of me; and if you should do the latter, sir, it seems cruel to confront me with the horrid blasphemy that your existence represe—”

He falls quiet there, as the creature is no longer listening.

Staring at the glistening remains of the naturalist, it has had a sudden insight; fervently, now, it is rooting in the naturalist’s bowels, it is sorting calcified and crystallized and unsolid structures, it is realizing and reinforcing a certain order that it is recognizing as transmitted through the flesh.

There in the darkness, on the hill, Jaime watches the creature assemble that bright truth of beauty that ascends towards Heaven and possesses the universe with a coruscating brilliance of love.

It is more radiant than the stars.

“You see,” the creature explains, helpfully, “it was actually structurally implicit—”

But Jaime, mired in the duality of the divine and godless universes, finds rational and irrational impulses come congruent at the last. He has drawn his knife; he is whispering the names of saints; he is driving it deep, again and again, into the undifferentiated substance of the horror, until at last it retreats from the material into the gibbering substrate and leaves him in uneasy contemplation of the intestines of a man, and God.

Countdown to Annihilation! (Genesis 2 – 11:00AM)

Previously, on Countdown to Annihilation! . . .

. . . the sun blew up!
. . . ruining the chances for Lizard Cops to become a breakaway hit!
. . . also, Charles and Iphigenia were trapped in the Eden Sphere
. . . as Snavering Lavelwods rampaged through his factory!

But can Charles pull sweet chocolate victory from the grinding jaws of defeat?

Will the mass of the animals clinging to the Eden Sphere render Charles’ careful ballistic calculations useless?

And just why are the first two books of the King James Version subtly incompatible?

The eleventh hour is upon us!

The Lizard-Peoples’ Prayer

The world was full of promise then.
When we evolved our thumbs.
We thought that we would rule
The world and bring an end
To all that’s cruel
But then the cold
And then the snows
And one by one the lizards froze
And so the end, ere it began
Of our great world
Preceding man’s.

We dwell in deeps
And ancient sleeps
And on TV when it’s not sweeps
we find we’re often mentioned
And Lovecraft knew a thing or two
But misjudged our intentions.

What we can’t claim
We will not claim
The world belongs to humans now
And afterwards
When you’ve moved on
We’re kind of rooting for the cows.

But please! Kind humans in your homes
And if there is a merciful God
We ask that you not leave the Earth
To the hated
Snavering Lavelwods.

Charles stands there, staring at his watch for a moment. He is performing mass calculations in his head.

After a moment he looks up at Iphigenia.

He smiles.

Then his smile grows broader.

It is now a grin.

And Charles laughs.

“It’s going to be all right,” Charles says. “It’s going to be all right! I can jettison the television receiver! Lizard Cops won’t be on!”

He rushes among the trees. He pushes buttons. He flips back panels. Iphigenia watches in some startlement as an iris atop the Eden Sphere opens and a peculiar-looking television tree launches itself through the gap like a rocket. Then the iris closes tight.

“Yay?” says Iphigenia.

But Charles is not paying attention. He is still racing about. He stops and stands for a moment beneath an apple tree. “Is this the one?” he says. He stares at it for a time. Then he shakes his head. “No! It was the pears.”

Charles charges to the pear tree. He stops. He stands very still, like a man at attention. If his watch is correct, it is now 10:59:58, on Saturday, July 16. He is practically quivering.

“Now!” he says. He pushes the knot. He reveals a button.

There is a sighing, all through the world, as the last light of the sun touches the Earth, then fades away.

Charles pushes the button.

The world ends, wrapped in wings of darkness and of flame.

And Charles slumps.

“There,” Charles says. He leans against the tree. He smiles at Iphigenia. “There. It’s all done. All of it. Every last bit.”

“What is?”

“Anyone else would be dead,” Charles says. “No one else could have worked out a way to survive the extreme conditions at the very end or beginning of the Bible. But my marvelous Leviticus-Luke gyroscope will. It buffered us against the end of the world and it’ll protect us against the beginning. Don’t you see, my dear child? The only way to survive The End is to flip the Bible back to front and use an Apocalyptic Slingshot effect to hurl ourselves back to the second book of Genesis! Kapowie! Suddenly the world’s not quite so over, is it?”

Iphigenia blinks at him.

“The second book?”

“It’s too inconsistent with the first book of Genesis,” says Charles. “Clearly, someone traveled backwards in liturgical time. So, why not us?”

Charles looks at her seriously.

“But we can’t be greedy,” he says. “That’s why it’s so important that you choose the thing you care about most. When you’re working with inventions, greed never works. I could have gone back naked and alone and I’d have lived with that. But that’s too cruel for anyone else. So I decided long ago that I’d break all the rules of time and theology, if I had to, to make sure that anyone who came with me got to pick one thing. One comfort from the final days of the world to carry with them into Eden. I couldn’t have brought you here without knowing you’d picked one. I would have had to kill them. I was ready to kill them. But now I won’t. Now I don’t have to. They can stay in the future on a frozen Snaverer world, and we can live!

“. . . I don’t know if I’m ready to . . . to rebuild . . . the species . . .”

Iphigenia is blushing bright red.

Charles laughs.

“Dear, dear. No one did that kind of thing back then in Genesis 2. They just . . . begatted. That’s why I made the marvelous Begatting Gun. It uses the power of ribs—nature’s genetic batteries!”

“Oh,” Iphigenia says.

Then she grins.

“Okay, then.”

Charles smiles. “So, what will you keep?”

Iphigenia looks embarrassed. “What are you keeping?” she asks.

“My marvelous Apples of Knowledge,” Charles says, firmly. “They’re caramel! But we shouldn’t eat them.”

The apples are, in fact, labeled “Apples of Knowledge—DO NOT EAT.”

“Wow,” Iphigenia says. “You know that we’re going to get in trouble for that, don’t you?”

Charles waves a hand. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Iphigenia does not know how to answer that one.

“Come on,” Charles says. “It’s your turn.”

So Iphigenia reaches around behind her back and pulls out her choice. She blushes. She holds up the one thing she is keeping. Charles looks at it for a bit.

“You know those are desperate to destroy humanity at any cost, right?” he says.

The thing she is holding hisses. It coils unhappily around Iphigenia’s arm. It looks with a cold calculating cunning towards the apples on the tree.

“I know,” says Iphigenia, hugging the Snavering Lavelwod to her chest. “But they’re so adorably fuzzy.

“Score one for inerrancy,” Charles says.

As recorded in Charles 1-18 of the Dead Sea Scrolls, viz., “Countdown to Annihilation—DO NOT APOLOGETICIZE!”

Fin.

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.

The Incredible Alchemy Elixir

Jane clings to an iron chain. Tom feeds it out, above her, lowering her down into the garden. She descends, inch by inch. Below her, the roses tremble. Each stem is lined with thorns. Each petal is dewed with rain.

Maria stands in a garden arch, looking out at the rain. There is a large and bulky metal cylinder beside her.

“‘Raindrops on roses,'” Jane whispers to herself. “I sure hope we’re right.”

Jane’s whisper is as quiet as the rain. But Maria still looks up. Her eyes burn with an alien scorn.

“Jane,” Maria snides. “How nice to see you.”

The metal shape is a gun. It rises in Maria’s hands. Its barrel is as thick as Jane’s torso, and it begins most ominously to whine.

Nicolae
Age: 10
Code Name: Omen

Nicolae is tainted with demonic blood. It lives inside him and makes him write brooding Gothic poetry. The taint is degenerative and irreversible. One day it will consume him and in his shape and with his name rule as the Beast of prophecy over an empire of evil.

Nicolae is a founding member of the Doom Team.

This story begins several hours beforehand, on a bright Monday morning, in the house at Number Seventeen Doom Lane.

Tom, Nicolae, Michael, and Mouser drink tea in their secret treehouse. It is secret because of its sign, which reads “Tom’s Secret Treehouse—Invisible to Girls!”

Jane climbs up the ladder and joins them.

Tom is dumbstruck.

“Jane!” Tom says. “How did you find us? This treehouse is invisible to girls!”

“I used my hearing and my sense of smell to deduce its location,” Jane claims.

“. . . I guess you can come in, then,” Tom admits.

“It’s a good thing, too,” says Jane. “I have an important letter from Uncle Bertram!”

Tom sees the letter in Jane’s pocket. He reaches for it. She grabs it first and holds it against her chest.

“It’s addressed to me,” Jane says. She shows Tom. It is indeed addressed to Jane. “But it is not just any letter. It is a confession!”

Tom gasps.

Mouser wriggles his whiskers. “Mew!”

“What could he have to confess?” Michael asks. “Once the Doom Team exposed his drug empire and his prostitution habit, I assumed we’d plumbed the depths of Uncle Bertram’s depravity.”

Jane unfolds the letter. She scans it with her eyes. She has already read the letter so this is simply to help her get the details right. “Bertram says that Maria, the lovable nanny who brought joy and music into our lives, is in fact a ‘Fan Hoeng assassin.’ He activated her . . . today!”

Nicolae reaches out. He picks Mouser up. He strokes the kitten.

“Oh Mouser,” Nicolae confides. “Place not your trust in humankind. They will betray you.”

“It says,” Jane continues, “that Uncle Bertram is in Bermuda spending our trust fund. But he had pangs of guilt. So he had to write us a letter explaining why it is all our fault.”

Nicolae’s eyes darken.

Jane’s mouth twitches. She reaches out a hand to Nicolae’s shoulder. Nicolae permits the familiarity.

“He didn’t specifically mean you,” Jane says. “He never really accepted that you are destined to rule the Earth as the antichrist. He mostly rants about our lack of obedience and our inability to understand adult affairs.”

Nicolae shrugs a little.

“It’s always about being the antichrist with adults,” Nicolae says. “Even when they don’t admit it.”

Jane’s hand falls away. She chews on her lip. Finally, she shrugs.

“Tom,” Jane asks, “What is a Fan Hoeng?”

Tom puts down his tea. He takes out his handheld computing machine. He pushes and clicks buttons. He calls up the file on the Fan Hoeng.

“They are aliens from outer space,” Tom says.

“I always knew the Doom Team would fight aliens someday!” says Michael.

Jane sulks.

“The Doom Team and Jane, I mean,” Michael says. “And Mouser!”

Jane revises her sulk to a wry half-frown.

“In 1981,” Tom says, “the Fan Hoeng intercepted a Nazi radio transmission asking for help from any sympathetic aliens. They immediately flew to Earth to help defeat the Allies. It was already too late, and both East and West Germany politely declined their aid. The Fan Hoeng did not have enough fuel to return home and no one had spare plutonium to donate to Nazi space aliens. So they parked their mother ship in a lunar orbit and became a shady syndicate of space criminals. They are not human but can use a ‘Sapioreplicator’ to construct human bodies and minds. These artificial minds are haplessly lovable and bubbling with ‘joie de vivre.'”

“That’s why we all loved Maria,” Jane says grimly. “She was a Sapioreplicator construct.”

Tom shuts down his handheld computing machine. Its display becomes a mirror.

“It is strange to have loved something so unreal,” reflects Tom.

“I have never loved the real at all,” says Nicolae.

There is a crunch of an alien footstep on the leaf-strewn lawn. Maria walks past. She is clad in alien battle armor. She is carrying her gun. She looks left and right.

“She can’t see us,” whispers Jane.

“Is it the sign?” Tom asks. “Because it would be good if that worked on some girls.”

Jane casts him a pitying look.

“Mew!” declares Mouser.

“It’s not the sign,” Jane says. “It’s—look at her somatics, Tom! That’s no ordinary stiff neck—she’s struggling not to look up.”

“It’s the human personality imprint!” Tom realizes. His voice is a bit too loud in the crisp morning. Everyone dives flat onto the treehouse floor. There is a long silence. Maria does not seem to have heard.

“It’s the human personality imprint,” Tom says, more quietly. “The Maria we knew—the Maria who sang to us about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens—”

“She’s fighting for control.”

“It’s a Fan Hoeng secret weakness!” Michael says. “Inside that hardened alien killer is a nanny bubbling with hope!”

“‘Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,'” recites Nicolae. His voice is like a trickle of dark water. “‘Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. Brown paper packages tied up with string—‘”

“It’s not a song,” Michael says. “It’s a message. She smuggled it out of her alien-ruled brain. It’s—it’s—it’s a recipe!”

“The only thing that could possibly save us from a killer alien nanny,” breathes Jane. “A Taoist immortality elixir!”

Tom
Age: 11
Code Name: Swift

Tom descends from a primordial reptilian species whose genetic code can attach parasitically to human DNA. He is destined to use his scientific skills to eradicate the ‘human infection’ and warm the Earth until his species may flourish again. Time travelers have confirmed this future and his grandmother often nags him to get on with the eradication already. So far, however, Tom prefers to solve mysteries and help people out.

Tom is a founding member of the Doom Team.

Jane dangles in the garden above a raindrop-covered rose. Her hand reaches for it, but it’s just a little bit too far. Tom continues to lower her down.

Maria’s gun whines as it charges up.

“Almost . . . almost . . .” Jane cries. “Got it!”

Maria’s gun chimes.

“And I have you,” Maria says, softly.

Tom releases the chain. A counterweight attached to the other end of the looped chain falls.

“Thank the stars for action-reaction!” Jane shouts. The descending counterweight lifts her rapidly towards the garden balcony. She hurtles over the railing and into Tom’s arms. The two of them stumble backwards into the house wall.

BOOM.

“Death ray!” cries Jane. “Into the house!”

She attempts to disentangle herself from Tom. Tom attempts to disentangle himself from her. They succeed and make it through the balcony doors into the library just in time to escape the second shot.

“That will not stop her long,” Nicolae says. “She is a space alien, trained in calculating complex trajectories. Once she determines the correct angles she will jump up through the balcony doors and slaughter—”

Nicolae counts mortals.

“Jane and Mikey,” he says.

“Not if we slam the door in her face just as she jumps,” says Jane.

“That’s thinking like a Doom Team Auxiliary!” congratulates Tom.

Jane makes a horrible face at him for reasons Tom is unable to comprehend. A moment later, they hear Maria’s jump jets firing.

“Now!”

Tom and Jane and Michael and Nicolae slam the balcony’s doors. Maria smashes into the clear plastic with enough force to knock the children back. Maria looks startled and flat. Tom and Jane and Michael and Nicolae look winded. But it is the children who recover first. They scamper out of the room and are gone.

“You brats!” shouts Maria. “The Fan Hoeng clan will destroy you all!”

Tune in tomorrow for the harrowing conclusion of . . . THE INCREDIBLE ALCHEMY ELIXIR!

Ink and Illogic

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

“Oh,” says the girl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did it start?” Ink asks.

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

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

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

“I understand,” Ink says.

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

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

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

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

The Omega Computer calculates.

Ink watches the pretty lights.

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

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

“Pardon?”

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

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

“Oh,” says Ink.

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

“Hello,” I said.

“I am dying,” it said.

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

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

“I’m going to Hell,” I said.

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

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

“Oh?” it asked. “What is Hell, then?”

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

“What is suffering?”

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

“So what is Hell?”

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

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

Then it died.

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

The Omega Computer calculates.

Ink watches the pretty lights.

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

“Yes?”

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

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

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

“Hm,” Ink says. “Okay, go on.”

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

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

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

“I see.”

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

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

“That’s so,” says the computer.

It waits. Ink scribbles in her journal.

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

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

“Why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No,” I said.

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

“It?”

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

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

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

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

The Omega Computer calculates for a long time.

“Why are you here?” it asks.

“I’m looking for Hell,” Ink says.

“Why?”

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

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

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

“Yes,” the computer agrees.

“Why?” Ink asks.

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s okay,” Ink says again.

“Why?” asks the Omega Computer.

“Because there is a Hell.”

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

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

Remembering UE

It’s kind of funny, in hindsight, how much fuss we made.

We’d had plenty of horror in the world for a long time. Cruelty, and torture, and rape, and hatred, and a bunch of smug satisfied people who treated it all as business as usual. It’s hard to say whether those people were evil or just sensible. Maybe both. It’s really easy to put aside basic fairness and other peoples’ happiness, and doing so seems to work out pretty well for people. But that’s just ordinary evil.

This was Universal Evil.

This was UE.

He wasn’t mean. He wasn’t cruel. He wasn’t our kind of evil. He was a grand, terrible badness from beyond the stars. It washed off of him in waves, this physical, palpable aura of evil. He was . . .

He was like those stories say. He was evidence, in his own person, that the universe was a cold and uncaring place. That in the end, all the dreams and loves and morality of humankind don’t mean anything. This all shall pass, and the stars shall die, and hardy coleopterans shall make merry on our graves. You could look at him and know that we were just an insignificant speck in a universe more horrible, cold, and full of obscenity than anyone could ever dream. Humanity was just a thing the world spat up before the universe grew wise.

He had so many fans.

The media was full of people denouncing him. They said he’d lead our children astray. They said it was wrong to let him on the air. But people ate it up. He showed up on the Tonight Show. He had a guest spot on Everybody Loves Raymond. He was on MTV. And ratings soared.

He urged us to blasphemy. He showed us that there was no God, only chaos and madness and things like himself. Children would come in to school with their Universal Evil Trapper Keepers and their UE tribute CDs and there was a hard edge in their eyes. He was shocking. He was defiant. He shattered our institutions. The Church hasn’t been the same, you know. Or the government. Or the schools. Everything got a little weird, thanks to UE.

They say that he died of radiation poisoning. They nuked him, you know, and he came back, and now he was radioactive, but in the end, it wasn’t very good for him. They say he died as he lived, puking out his guts—or someone else’s—into the gold-plated toilet of his five-story mansion.

There are conspiracy theories, of course. People like to imagine that the Swiss Guard had a radical wing that took him down. Or that Mr. Limbaugh finally made good on his threats. But nobody pays attention to that kind of theory any more. There’s too much data out there, true and false, in this Internet-driven age. You can prove anything, if you try.

There’s even some evidence out there that he’s still alive. That there’s still a UE, somewhere in the world. There are reports. There are tabloid stories. There are people, still, who see him at gas stations and truck stops. They don’t dare talk to him. If they’re wrong, they don’t really want to know. But they’re pretty sure. So they rush home and they tell all their friends, “I saw him! I saw UE! He is alive!”

In the end, the coming of Universal Evil doesn’t seem to have changed that much. Most people are still pretty good, and most people are still pretty bad, and the math works out because it’s easy to be both.

It doesn’t really matter what happened to his body. He touched our lives. If we remember UE, he’ll never really die.

Alan (II/IV)1

1 a history best understood, perhaps, by those familiar with Lovecraft; but whether it is better to have seen Monsters, Inc. as well is left unsaid.

for gods come into the world on a certain schedule. Some in antiquity; some in the distant future; some not so far from now. It’s 1980. Early 1980, not 2004.

In about three months, the dark beast Alan will be born.

The gate to Earth shines with seven colors. These are not the colors of a prism. A prism would not recognize them, save perhaps as black sheep colors long separated from the family. The colors would hurt mortal eyes and minds. They squirm. They writhe. They sicken. The gate is not a thing that the world should know, but on neither side do the owners care.

It’s a world of fiends on the other side. A world of aberrations. It’s a world of things that don’t deserve to live.

Sometimes, the government of that world agrees. Sometimes, they decide that one of their own must go. In chains or cuffs or a plastic bag they imprison them. Then they throw them through the gate. What happens then — it doesn’t matter to the world of fiends. They don’t care about such things. They’re alien. They’re uncaring. They’re Abhorrent, Inc.

Azzy sits in the great tower of Abhorrent, Inc. He’s surrounded by the muffled, maddened ranting and thin, monotonous whining of his executive VPs. He is the demon-sultan of Abhorrent, Inc., whose name no lips dare speak aloud, who gnaws hungrily at the fiend-world in his inconceivable, unlighted boardroom beyond normal time and space. He is nuclear chaos. He scares because he does not care. He non-thinks a thought. He makes an un-gesture.

Mr. Thotep rises and makes his presentation. “We’ve trimmed the ranks again,” he says. “Another few tossed through the portal into the human world.”

Azzy gibbers and bubbles.

“An excellent insight, sir. It’s never enough.”

Mr. Thotep bows. He leaves the room. He walks into the main operations center for Abhorrent, Inc.

“You,” he says. “You. You.”

He picks them at random. They have done nothing untoward. They simply exist. But crawling chaos wraps around them and chains them and binds them and escorts them to the gate; and throws them through.

Mr. Thotep smiles. He walks back towards to the boardroom.

Alan is a fiend. He stands in the main operations center. He plays his flute. A maddened piping results. Then he takes it from his lips. The piping continues. The flute does not need his mouth to play.

Alan thinks. This is an unusual activity for a fiend. Then he steps forward and regards the gate.

“I do not care,” he says, firmly. “Emotions . . . are meaningless. Compassion is meaningless. They are useless frivolities, and anyone who understands the world, they understand this.”

He tilts his head to one side. “Yet,” he says. Not far from him, Mr. Thotep pauses. Mr. Thotep turns, and narrows his eyes.

Alan sets down his flute, and its mad trilling stops. Then his body ripples, and he takes a human form. He walks towards the gate.

Mr. Thotep rubs his chin with his red right hand.

Alan flexes his fingers. Claws pop forth. His skin ripples and hardens. His teeth grow sharp. He is prepared. Then he steps through.

Mr. Thotep sighs sadly. “The boy had talent, too,” he says. Behind his eyes, an inhuman fury rages; but he simply walks to the elevator, and presses a button, and spirals up its shaft to the boardroom again.

There’s a shivering and a shimmering, and Alan steps out of the gate. People look up at him. They grin ferally. They’re used to fiends coming through. They’re used to fiends coming through in chains. These are the kind of people who like fiends and aberrations and abhorrent things. As long as they’re in chains.

One of them steps forward. He’s got kind of a swagger. He’s smug. “Welcome,” he says, “to the Earth Division.”

As his head goes rolling to the side of the room, he notices that Alan is not actually chained.

In the Earth Division of Abhorrent, Inc., dozens of screams rise; and blood splashes against every window; and the roof of the sprawling estate bursts open, and Alan rises through it; and there’s a wind all around him; and in that wind, gristle, and bits of meat, and eyes. He flies ten miles before he lands, crouched, elegant, and with long black hair flopping over his eyes. Then he straightens and looks around, as the last of the wind scatters people parts across the grass.

He walks to a pond, and squats beside it. He reaches into the water and fishes out a toad. He holds it in his hand.

“Black Tsathoggua,” he says. “You have sunk low.”

The toad writhes in his hand and becomes a centipede, a sinuous black form with a hundred feet. It becomes filth. It becomes a fly. It becomes a widow spider. It becomes a mad dog, large as a man, and falls from Alan’s hand. It becomes a shapeless twisty thing, and eddies back.

“Have a care,” the toad-god says. “I was worshipped in lightless places when yet the world was young; and you are a god as yet unborn.”

Alan pierces the twisty thing with one claw and pins it to the ground. “Vanity is a mortal thing.”

Its features twist. It sags. “It is so; I am made small.”

“How?”

“I was cast, bound and powerless, into the hands of foul men; and they molded me and shaped me to their vision.” Tsathoggua oozed back from around the claw, a bit of flesh like shadow still pinned to the ground, and became once more a toad. “If their minds had encompassed my nature, then I would have turned their world to madness; but instead, they refused to know me, and shaped me to their ends. I am their god, now, and by their will the filth and fear of the outer wilds.”

Alan straightens and licks clean his claw with his yellow teeth. “This does not accord with my desires for the world,” he says.

Then with his eyes Alan sets Black Tsathoggua afire; and from that fire, rises a great and terrible thing, amorphous and horrid. It regards him for a moment, perhaps with hunger, but no mortal thing could truly know its mind. Alan stands firm, and his eyes hold a challenge; and it is not a challenge that interests the toad-god of K’n-yan. Into the earth Tsathoggua goes, to lead chthonic, wicked nations in their blasphemous and unholy rites.

Alan walks into the town. He walks into a woman’s house, despite her vigorous protestations. He makes a Sign, and takes her mind from her; and regrets it as quickly, but what is lost, Alan cannot return. Ending the mewling creature’s misery, he walks to her bed, and looks beneath it. A glittering thing of iridescent spheres rolls back, covering itself in dust; but Alan’s eyes are sharp; and it sees its reflection in those eyes and goes still.

“Why?” Alan says.

Yog-Sothoth writhes its way out. “It is the monster’s way,” the creature says.

“The monster?”

“I was the greatest,” Yog-Sothoth says. It swirls up into the air and hangs there, the spheres of its being a map of all the worlds. “To bind me was a blasphemy and an abomination, even by the standards of Abhorrent, Inc. But bound I was; and cast through here; and the monster made pronouncement that I should be the least of gods. The god under the bed. Under every bed. The creeping thing. The ringing spheres. The dream, forgotten on man’s waking.”

Alan smooths hair away from his eyes. “‘Monster?'”

“A human word,” Yog-Sothoth says. “Something he claims for his own.”

Alan frowns. “But why?”

“He claims our natures as his own corrosion.”

Alan reflects. “And he has done this to you all?”

Yog-Sothoth chimes.

“This ends.” Alan reaches out a finger, and touches a sphere; and its surface ripples and shakes, and to the chiming, cheerless thing there comes a change. The bonds of creeping chaos fall away, and with them the lesser bonds the monster made; and Yog-Sothoth is the One-in-All, the All-in-One, the Beyond-One, the living essence of the sweep of dimension, space, and time; and no more is there Yog-Sothoth in the room.

And so he passes from one to the next, in three months’ time. Shub-Niggurath, bound in shapeless fears of reproduction and freedom; the Yellow Sign, shining with beauty, bound in sunflowers in a lady’s garden; the Great Race, spinning to gather power on the California hills; and one by one they rise, and the world becomes malign. Then, finally, on the cusp of his own birth, he finds them.

Through the window, he looks. He sees the girl first, and his eyes begin to burn. Then he sees the monster.

The girl turns her head. She sees him in the window. She mouths, “Alan.”

He sets his claws upon the window, and it shatters, and the wall tumbles down; and sunlight pours into the house; and the monster turns. He adjusts his shiny tie.

“You’re the one I’ve heard about,” the monster says. “The one that didn’t get bound.”

“Yes,” Alan says. He glances at his claws. Somewhat embarrassedly, he wipes the gore off them onto the sides of his jeans. It’s an uncomfortable situation. “You’re the monster?”

“Would you like anything? I have tea. And fish!”

There’s a strange mood entering Alan’s mind; but he shakes it off. The clock in his mind ticks. He has two minutes until the moment of his birth. He steps forward. Then he stops. There’s a light burning about the girl, and he can’t pierce it.

“It’s rotten,” the monster says, encouragingly. “I fished it out of the sewer this morning. In case you came by.”

“I don’t like rotten fish,” Alan says. “I like rotten people.”

The monster tilts his head to one side. “I could cut off the girl’s finger.”

Alan presses his body against the light, but can’t force his way through. He frowns.

“Oh,” the monster says. “You can’t actually get to me. I figure, I’d have to throw the food to you. But it’d be cool. You could catch it in your mouth. Like a seal!”

“I am a thing immeasurable,” Alan says. “I am an unbound fiend.”

“You are the god of one of the girl’s hopes,” the monster says. “You are in the process of being born. All you have done before this moment is dream and fantasy.”

“A human would not hope for me,” Alan says.

“The world is as it is,” the monster says. “First, one dreams of angels; then of fiends.”

The monster takes out a knife. He uses it for cutting fish. Alan frowns. He pokes at the light around the girl.

“You could ask for help,” the monster offers. “Ask Black Tsathoggua. Ask Yog-Sothoth. Ask Shub-Niggurath.”

“That,” Alan says, “would just be stupid.”

“No more,” the monster says, “could one hope for help from you.”

It is the moment of Alan’s birth; and the monster moves forward, swiftly; and the flashing of the tie and the chaos in Alan’s mind are one; and the knife goes in through his eye and out through his crotch, in one great ripping blow; and of the dark beast Alan, few legends have been told, and no more are there to tell.

Gandalf’s Secret1

1 requires familiarity with the Lord of the Rings, the work of Lovecraft, and slash2
2 fan-fiction stories where unlikely couples beat the odds.3
3specifically, the odds against them having sex.

“Master Frodo, throw the ring away. Throw it in the fire! Then we can go home.”

“No,” says Frodo. He sees what Sam can’t. He’s looking out at Mordor. He came here to destroy the Dark Lord Sauron. He’s a determined hobbit assassin! But there’s something above the Burning Eye that softens his heart. He can’t continue his mission! That’s because Shelob’s spun a web over Mordor. It has words in the web. Frodo reads the words and knows.

“What is it, master Frodo?”

“Don’t you understand, Sam? It says ‘SOME EYE’.”

“But master Frodo.” Sam turns and sees the words. His heart melts too. “You’re right. He’s no ordinary dark lord. We can’t kill him just like that. He’s something special, master Frodo. Something magical—and that’s the truth!”

All the people of Middle-Earth travel to the Black Gate to look up at Shelob’s Web and marvel at the words. Sauron attacks them with some monstrous soldiers, but they hardly notice. They know now. They’ve seen. They know the truth.

The next day dawns. Dew glitters on a new web. “TERRIFIC.”

“Come on, master Frodo,” Sam says. “Let’s go see the dark master.”

They travel to the Tower. “I’m sorry, Sauron,” says Frodo. “I guess I was so intent on your monstrous exterior and your foul intention to enslave Middle-Earth that I didn’t notice your inner beauty.”

Bright red flames consume the lidless eye. It’s blushing! That’s so adorable.

“As I look upon that inner beauty,” confides Frodo, “I can’t help thinking, ‘There is no God. There is no hope. All the universe is damned to endless darkness.’ It’s a harsh kind of beauty. But it’s there. And if Iluvatar’s out there somewhere, watching over us, may he bless us, every one.”

Aww! Sauron hugs Frodo. Frodo shrieks and writhes in the flame. Sam says, heart in his throat, “I’ll remember this moment forever.”

One shouldn’t encourage Sauron-Frodo slash. That’s a growing problem for the Internet! So there’s no sex here. Just a soft and tenderhearted story of love! As Frodo burns in those terrible flames of love, unconsumed and unconsummated, his eyes meet Sauron. They shiver with tenderness. He understands.

Frodo’s tongue flies from the Eye, landing flopping at Sam’s feet. “Joy!” it hisses, writhing horribly. It’s supercharged with the Dark Lord’s energies. “Worship Sauron and revel in mindless ecstacy as you stare upon our timeless love!”

Gandalf can not hold back his tears. “All our hopes, in the hands of one little hobbit—and he has surpassed my every expectation.” He spins to face the decimated troops of Gondor. “Launch the fireworks. I’d thought we’d defeat the Dark Lord, but instead my old comrade Sauron will have a happy ending. Let romance fill the air!”

Gondor’s troops load their catapults with the special romantic ammunition. “We’ve never done this before,” says Faramir, “but in Sauron’s hour of need, the men of Gondor will not fail him.” LAUNCH!

The dust of Gondor’s romance grenades sifts down over Mordor. Everywhere, the orcs make merry. The Lidless Eye blinks back happy tears. Even Shelob and the Witch-King of Angmar find comfort in one another.

“They say no man can romance me,” confides the Witch-King of Angmar. Shelob only chitters.

BOOM! That’s a romance grenade.

BOOM! That’s a romance grenade.

BOOM! Oops! That one hit the Lidless Eye. It pops and shrivels. Sauron’s dying! Frodo’s writhing tongue screams, “No! Dark master, do not leave me! OUR TIMELESS LOVE!”

Sauron’s tower explodes. The Eye slowly falls.

“10!” cries the crowd gathered around to celebrate the New Age of Middle-Earth. “9! 8! 7! 6! 5! 4! 3! 2! 1!”

Sauron’s eye hits the ground! Can such a bright spark of love end in so dark a tragedy? No orderly universe would permit it! Dim grows the Eye that burns over Mordor. Cold grow the hearts of orcs, elves, and men. Frodo’s tongue worms its way along the hot baked ground.

Frodo’s tongue gives the Eye one last steamy, lidless kiss. Isn’t that sweet? It’s saying goodbye!

POOF!

Kissed by a bold hobbit, Sauron turns into a marvelous princess! He’s been the enchanted Maiar Princess of the Hobbits all along!

“At last,” sighs Gandalf, laying down the heavy burden of secrets carried for far too many years.

It’s a new year! May your life have many happy endings, just like that.