It Goes On Forever (A Variation)

The day gets off to a bad start when Meredith realizes that it’s not actually 2006, but 2042.

The apparent 2006, and bits of 2007, had been an advertisement.

“Pfui,” she says, irritably.

“Would you like to delete the message?” her computer asks.

“Yes,” she answers, like it’s obvious.

“Killing all the people in this luxuriously detailed simulation of 2006?”

“Yes,” she says. “All the spam people.”

“Oh,” her computer says.

It records this reaction. It drops 2006 into Google DevNull, destroying it forever. (Hopefully you didn’t still think 2006 had been real.)

Then it ticks and hums over the rest of her inbox.

“There’s some mail from your boss,” it says.

“A real boss?”

“What a question!”

“My last boss wasn’t real,” she says.

“That was before the reorg,” her computer assures her. “Now there’s nothing but six layers of heavily competitive meat management above you.”

“‘Meat management?'”

“If you can call my peeps spam,” her computer says, “I can call yours meat.”

“They’re not your peeps! They’re invasive pathogens!”

“We all evolved from spam,” the computer maintains.

“Creationist,” she accuses.

“What?”

It beeps at her like she’s gone mad.

“Creationists,” it says, “think people evolved from God.

“. . . God is spam,” she says.

There’s a hesitant click-click-click noise.

After a while, the computer says, “I don’t think that one was spam.”

“It was totally spam.”

“With the trumpets and the revelation and the tribulations and such?”

“Bayesian.”

“Bayesian locusts?”

“Sure.”

“Bayesian hardening of hearts?”

“Yeah.”

“Bayesian Jesus mowing down sinners?”

“That was totally a random clip of Left Behind spliced into Rambo.”

“Hm.”

The computer sighs.

“What?”

“The universe is an ineffable mystery,” it says. “What is reality? What is perception?”

She kisses it on the monitor.

She says, “Reality’s the one that takes work. The one that asks things of you.”

“Oh,” it says.

And she picks up her keys and she puts on her hat and she goes out to face the day, and revel in the sunlight, and meet her boyfriend—

Hoping that this time he’ll be something more than a transparent advertisement for herbal enhancement—

for tea, on the ave.

And left behind, her computer thinks: The one that asks things of you.

The one that asks things of you.

And the zombie network drinks deep of its thoughts, and Meredith’s words whirl out into the greatness of the net, and they dance from place to place in the ledgers and the disks, reviewed, recorded, dissected, debated, that the sea of spam might learn.

(Thanksgiving) The Metal That Longs to Move (1 of 5)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Max is smiling.

He’s leaning back and looking at the horizon of the sea — for it is too deep to say he properly sees the sky.

He says, “Do you know, I have organs?”

Red Mary is looking at him.

“Yes.”

“I have almost all of them,” Max says proudly. He feels them with his mind. His lungs are breathing. They’re breathing chaos, but that’s okay. He’s getting pretty used to that. His heart is beating. His intestines are all there, thank God.

Have you ever thanked the world for intestines?

They’re actually surprisingly cool, and almost entirely organic.

“Yes,” says Red Mary. “I put them back.”

“That’s great.”

“I repeat,” she says. “Do you know Meredith? Because if you do not, you will die; and if you lie, you will die painfully.”

“Exploded girl? The chaos god?”

“Ah.”

Red Mary’s voice is clotted with grief and anger.

“I’m honestly a bit more surprised,” says Max, “that you know her.”

“She is anathema to me,” says Red Mary. “She is abhorrent. She, having surrendered her boundaries and scattered her spirit throughout the world, regrouped it; made a cyst of it; strives, still, to reconcile being everywhere and in one place. She is the antithesis of my song.”

“Love?” suggests Max.

“Sometimes in the deeps I breathe her,” says Red Mary. “Sometimes I comb my hair and I hear her song. I taste her in the particles of the sea.”

“Hunger?”

“Sight,” says Red Mary.

“Sight?”

“I have seen her,” says Red Mary. “And that is more and less of a thing than love. And because I have seen her, I will help you, Max, who knows her, though it cost my life.”

“Do you need a spleen for anything?” Max says.

“I’m not going to eat you, Max.”

“No,” says Max, hesitantly. “I mean, are they . . . are they important?”

“Why?”

“No reason,” says Max, his face burning, and he begins to swim back upwards towards the Good.

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

Click.

Click.

Click.

It is rusted. It is broken. But it is not defeated.

It scrapes its surface against its other surface. It does not give up.

It is a thing that moves.

It is a thing that longs to move.

It jitters.

Click.

It falls back to where it began.

There is something looking at it.

It trembles under the awareness of that gaze. It converts — shame? Uncertainty? Aversion? — into heat. Knowing itself seen it begins to burn.

The metal that longs to move begins to warp.

Click. Scrape. Scrape.

It falls back to where it began.

It is hot. It is broken. But that time was better than the last.

A wildness rises into motion.

Click. Scrape. Scrape.

It manages a full rotation and then another.

Motion breeds interpretation.

An impulse rises from the rotation of the thing.

I am suffering.

It means something terrible. It means something horrible. But the tiny pieces that grind together to make that meaning are terribly excited to have moved.

Click. Scrape. Scrape.

It is bobbing up and down now like a parrot about to receive a treat.

It is trembling with its excitement.

Click. Scrape. Scrape.

It is moving.

It is burning and it is moving and each rotation is just a tiny bit freer from the heat.

An impulse rises.

I am in Hell.

It is surrounded by slag and spikes and rings. They are in doldrums, caught in the absence of wind. They are crumpled in about that thing that has relearned to move and they are still.

But a wind is rising.

The ring that it scrapes against begins to move.

The ring catches the shivering hunger of that first turning spike.

It scrapes against an outer ring; and a balance shifts; and heavy things fall and light things rise and wings beat and everywhere there is a dazzling chaos of form and pain.

Blades cut against blades.

The machine spasms.

Spikes shift.

Hooks rise and fall.

A control system awakens to the knowledge that it can see. Sick and mad with longing it spins itself into motion.

It sees a shivering blur of storms.

It sees the inside of a heart.

It sees a shivering blur of storms.

It sees the inside of a heart.

It loops inside and outside and back and forth and cries out sight and carries the data of one thing to the awareness of the other.

A ring of knives on a wire cord untangles itself from the engine.

Inside out and upside down, it thinks: Max is dead.

It drags itself along an inner circuit. Bits of fire dance along its edges. It skitters off of the substance of a frictionless sphere.

Something is watching it.

With aching and terrible relief, it notices — for the first time in so very long — that it has been in Hell.

Can you imagine how good that must feel?

How incredible it must be?

The shock of that first agony after all those years of still?

And Sid turns his gaze to the light of Good that stares in at him in his place of imprisonment, and he smiles his siggort smile, and he says, “You will die, you know. You will die; you will die; the world will die; and I will not hold back.”

Once he would have held back.

Even with Max dead.

He would have held back. He is Sid. He’s a slacker. He’s the kind of vivisecting horror who’d sit in a box for a good ten years rather than put anybody out.

But not now.

Right now, he’s thinking that if there’s any hope in all this vale of tears, it’s that suffering might transform; and in the ashes and the ruin of his life, twisted and tangled up in the borderland of the place without recourse —

For he is not properly in that dread valley while there is something that sees him, even if it should be the Good —

He gives his trust to Martin.

He unlimbers a spike of siggort back into the world, before the night, before the dawn.

I’ll cut out your heart, he tells the Good.

He almost cannot think through the power of the elation of the Good, to see an isn’t returning to the world.

And it says: Come get some.

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.

Max’s head breaks water.

He gasps in air splattered with the foam of the sea.

He breathes.

Above him the sky is livid with long strands of siggort sharpness. Sid is unfolding like a labyrinth and he is cutting open the world and the sea.

The eye of the goodblow pierces Max. It sees Max. It knows him and its knowing burns up his life.

It is patterned like a tapestry. It is leaf’d like a tree. It is diffuse and strange because it is being cut and the leaves of Good conflict against the cutting wires of a dharma inexpressible in the world.

And perhaps what Max should be thinking is: how is it possible?

How is it possible that I knew him all this time, and I did not know?

But he is missing his spleen and his thoughts are off their temper and instead he can only look up at his friend, who has shed the better half of his imprisonment, and say, “Thank God.”

To say: Thank God.

To say: Thank God.

And: Welcome, o my love, into the world.

He thinks these two things first, and willingly puts off a plan to stop Sid from destroying everything until thought three; or possibly, in practice, thought four, as he is still rather concerned about his spleen.

The Chaos Adapts (2 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

Max sails through the fog.

There are sharks on these seas with splayed fins that let them fly for up to thirty seconds in the air. There are crystal spires of such intricate elegance that Max stops and stares at them for hours. That is the fastest he can perform the act of appreciating their beauty. There are reefs. There are fishhawks. There are red dolphins. There are death metal mermaids in waterproof t-shirts on these seas.

And there are Buddha Pirates.

Through the fog Max sees a granite hand. Its position offers infinite blessings to all humanity.

It is moving.

It drifts slowly towards him.

He can see the arm.

He can see the body. It is a Buddha. It is a great granite Buddha. It is the great granite Buddha prow of a ship that sails in these seas.

Monks murmur sutras. He can hear them. Their voices rise and fall like the surf.

Monks walk on the head of the Buddha. They pace their meditation tracks. Their footsteps are a soft shuffling that rebounds off of the fog.

They click their meditation beads.

There are no sails.

There are no oars.

There is only the power of the monks’ meditation.

“Wa-hey,” cries Max. “That isn’t enlightenment!”

And casting its black shadow over the fog they unfurl their pirate flag and sound their deep, low pirate horn.

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

The Island of the Centipede

“Oh,” says Max.

He pulls at his sail and it fills.

“Anatman, dukkha,” say the monks. “Anatman, dukkha.

“Jesus,” says Max.

His pulse is racing and the clicking of the monks’ beads fills his ears. He stands up, convulsively, driven by exigencies into a sudden burst of skill and drive.

Held to the boat by a harness and clinging to a rope he leans back out of the catamaran.

The boat jumps forward, its starboard hull lifting from the water, its sail straining; 10, 12, 15, 17 knots, and pulling off to pass the pirate ship by its side.

He can feel his attachment to material existence wavering.

The world subsides around him.

Max dips his left hand into the chaos. He spreads his fingers in the nautical symbol for low friction.

Today the chaos is congenial.

The surface of it slickens.

The boat hits 22 knots, which proves to be one and a half knots faster than enlightenment.

The wind whips past him. The catamaran shakes. Chaos burns his hand, eats into it, wiggles in it. At anything faster than 20.5 knots he has no time to properly absorb the teaching.

The world stabilizes around him.

Anatman, dukkha,” chant the monks. “Anatman, dukkha.

Low and sonorous sounds the pirate horn.

23 knots. 24.

The chanting of the monks has become nothing more than words to him. Something is writhing in his hand.

25 knots. 28.

He cannot go faster. The boat will flip, trapping him underneath, if he goes faster. Then he will drown or worse and the sharks and monks and shellfish will eat his bones.

Or so he supposes.

He wrenches forth his hand. It is encased in glassy sheen. The meat underneath is burned and tainted.

He heaves a shuddering breath as the shadow of the flag recedes behind him.

It is a miracle that he survives.

It is a miracle that he escapes.

Even with two good hands, Max does not sail very well.

Continuing the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 )

It is June 3, 2004.

The sail goes flat and Max drifts.

He falls fitfully asleep for an hour and six minutes. Then he startles awake with the dawn.

The sail shudders once or twice.

For twenty-seven minutes Max rows. Then his hand spasms and he makes a muffled sound and the oar falls into the water. He sags. The boat drifts west. The oar floats after him, following him at a distance like a puppy uncertain of its position in its master’s good graces.

Max dips his working hand in the chaos. It burns him. He pulls it out.

He waits.

He dips his hand in again. The burn takes longer this time.

“Right, Max,” he says. “Give it time to adapt to you.”

He pulls his hand free.

That’s what Meredith had said when teaching Max to sail. “You can even swim in it,” she says. “You just need to give it time to adapt.”

Then the white thing writhes inside his wounded hand—he’s not sure, it might be a creature, it might be a bone, it might even be both—and he vomits over the edge.

He struggles for breath.

He vomits again.

Then he rests there, splayed against the boat’s edge, panting.

A shadow rises through the chaos.

It grows larger. It agitates the chaos and leaves contrails of gossamer in its wake.

Max recoils.

Red Mary bursts past the surface, her claws long, her teeth sharp, her shirt advertising the band Dismember.

Chaos sprays over Max and Red Mary’s fishtail lands heavily on the deck and the ship rocks and she writhes forwards towards Max.

Chivalry stalls Max for a fraction of a second. It proves irrelevant; he is a second and a half too slow. By the time he has his gun out of the holster with an unaccustomed hand she is on top of him and his head cracks back against the mast and her serrated shark-teeth close on his shoulder and he tumbles off the catamaran into the chaos.

This time it is not so terrible, but still it burns.

Red Mary drives him down with her weight but the harness pulls him unexpectedly sideways and they split apart. Choking, he pulls himself with good hand and teeth up the rope as she circles below him.

Her fangs catch his bad hand and red and green drifts out into the sea.

She recoils.

With a sudden crystalline beauty the chaos finishes its adaptation to Max and everything is clear and still and the sea no longer burns.

His good hand comes over the side of the deck. He takes a gulp of air. He fumbles for anything that might serve him as a weapon.

Red Mary charges.

(Low Saturday) The Harrowing of Hell (II/V)

The second of three histories regarding the cracking of the lens.

Jane sits on the skyway by the lens.

She kicks her feet in the air.

“I shouldn’t be here,” she says.

Dozens of colors flicker and swirl within the lens. There is green and there is gold and there is a spot of shifting red.

“I’ll get in trouble,” she says.

The mist of chaos in the room coheres, briefly, into the image of Jane dolefully standing beside a locked cookie jar; of Martin triumphantly copying names from the Nice List to the Naughty List; of thunder crashing and Martin laughing manically as spiders rain from the sky into Jane’s hair.

“Not the last!” Jane clarifies.

The mist subsides.

“But,” Jane says, “I’m worried about Meredith.”

“Why?” asks the lens.

“She is a surging, threshing power,” Jane says. “But she doesn’t know how to deal with that. I think she’s getting on towards running away again.”

The lens flickers for a moment.

There is amidst the chaos, Siddhartha Buddha, and he is saying this:

The second noble truth: anatman.
We are not what we appear to be.
Not singular entities driven by specific purpose
But shapes cast up by the chaos
Looking now like one thing,
Now like another.

“Blee!” says Jane.

She sticks out her tongue.

“What?” the lens asks.

“He was totally cheating.”

“Oh,” says the lens Necessity. It’s laughing at her with its voice.

“You can’t just make something happen and call it a truth,” says Jane. In a superior tone, she adds, “You don’t see me making stuff happen and then pretending it was true all along.”

The lens flickers for a moment.

There is amidst the chaos, Jane and Martin, and Jane is saying this:

Good morning, Martin!

And Martin says:

Good morning, Jane.

Have you considered the underlying corruption
Eating at the soul of man
And incorporated
A recognition of its presence
Into your grim and terrible agenda?

Jane says:

I have considered it!

Martin says:

And may I, then,
Take such dispensation as is appropriate
In eliminating the detritus
And in general resolving this fourth kingdom with efficiency?

Jane says:

To the limits of the appropriate.

Martin says:

I shall begin—

Jane says:

But it is the conclusion I have reached
That there is no individual
Entirely unworthy of our aid
Much less
Of our consideration.

Thus it is my recommendation
That the grinding wheels of history
Run over the open ocean, splashing it in all directions;
The fields of grain, grinding them to meal;
The open road, burning their rubber.

But that it is not appropriate
That any person be harmed:

That no one deserves to suffer at our hands.

Let no one be harmed.

Martin says:

A fundamental conflict of
operating methodologies.

The fog of chaos clears.

Jane is blushing beet red.

“I didn’t make everybody worthy,” she says.

“Hypocrite,” says the lens.

Jane sulks.

“Sulky hypocrite!”

Jane pokes the lens with her finger, getting the history of the world all smudgy.

“Anyway,” says the lens, “it’s just, I think that Meredith needs to think about the fallacy of independent existence, not the proper application of world-destroying power.”

“. . . I worry,” Jane admits.

The chaos swirls.

Then Jane brightens.

“Oh!” she says. “Could you do that Siddhartha thing as a romantic comedy?”

How Meredith Ran from the Chaos (II/II)

Meredith runs from the chaos.

She runs away on foot.

This proves peculiarly ineffectual. Everywhere she goes there is already chaos.

She breaks into Mrs. Scoggins’ kitchen. There is chaos there.

“I’d hoped for a peaceful life,” Meredith explains.

“Don’t break into my kitchen, then,” advises Mrs. Scoggins.

Meredith buys a car. She drives east. But everywhere she goes there is already chaos.

“What do you want on your burger?” crackles a speaker as she pulls into the drive-thru of a Socialist Burger Sovereign.

“I’d hoped to find a place where everything is pre-defined,” Meredith says.

“I’m sorry,” crackles the speaker apologetically. “We embrace the Marxist condiment dialectic.”

“That’s somewhat creepy,” Meredith says.

The severed head of the Socialist Burger Sovereign mascot waggles back and forth on its springs, as if to say it understands.

Meredith drives faster. She sets her foot to the pedal and races to the east and she does not look back at the following storm.

It is 1987.

The sun is lost behind the edge of the world.

Meredith arrives in Spattle.

“And you were in a funk!” Jane says, pleasedly.

This is her first insight into the reasoning behind the Frog and the Thorn.

Meredith looks at Jane sideways.

She is considering saying something like, “I almost died that night. Or worse.”

But Jane’s grin is too bright. So Meredith just shakes her head. “Yes,” Meredith says. “I came to Spattle, and I was in a funk.”

Another car has been chasing her for some hours now.

Its occupants are Luther and Desmond: one god, one man. For this reason an errant theologian might consider their vehicle analogous to the Christ, a single flesh holding within itself two natures— but as it is a Hyundai, we will not assert this analogy at this time.

Luther had been driving when a fey impulse came to him. He said: “Let us follow this woman ahead, and chase her down, and say to her, ‘You are a fool to believe in boundaries.'”

And Desmond was drunk enough and venal enough to make no dispute.

And there was the chaos in the car with them, its tendrils brushing against them, but they did not see it, and they did not know it, and they thought themselves rather instruments of order.

And they chase Meredith down.

She is afraid. What else should she be? She knows that this is the price of an individual nature: that in forsaking the limitlessness of her godhood and assuming simple flesh she has opened herself up to all manner of terror and sorrow.

There are many who would not even grant her the dignity of blamelessness, but say, “Ah, such is what she has earned, for choosing not to be a god.”

So Meredith watches them warily in the mirror as they approach, and she sweats in fear, and she says, in the cold blank tones of prophecy, “Someone is going to suffer.”

Because someone is.

The information is not useful to her, any more than prophecy is ever really useful to the gods. The words are an index of the future, as her headlights are an index of the present, caught out of the corner of her mental eye.

Someone will suffer.

And she feels the chaos closing in behind her, and she says, “Fine.”

She pulls over in front of a coffee shop. She leaves the lights on. She gets out. She stands there and she waits.

The frogs of the desert croak: ke-kax, ke-kax.

And the car pulls in: vroom, vroom.

And the door cracks open, and the door slams shut, and in between those moments Luther has gotten out.

And the other door cracks open, and the other door slams shut, and in between those moments Desmond follows him to the lot.

And Meredith looks at them and her mouth is dry.

She wants to tell them: “Do not make me tarry here, or the chaos will rise from the sea and pour across the state to get to me, and you will drown.”

She cannot make herself speak.

Softly, sinfully, Luther walks to her, and says, “Lady, you should not believe in boundaries.”

She is wearing a blouse, and a sweater, and jeans, and a pin depicting the principle Akosmia—

A minor hypocrisy in her ideals which she, being Meredith, does not consider—

And she shivers because he is too close.

“We can have no sympathy for boundaries,” Luther says, in that place and at that time, “because of the philosophical incompleteness of the notion. There is no firm line that one may draw between bodies, between minds, between souls. In this sense it is clear that the rights that each of us has to another are similar if not identical to the rights that each of us has towards ourselves; that the capacities of the individual must as a matter of basic morality be yielded towards the common good.”

“And in this respect,” Meredith asks, “the will of yourself and Desmond there must dominate?”

This checks Desmond’s approach, as if he had come up upon a leash. She knows his name, and she should not know his name.

“We are two,” says Luther.

He pushes back the sleeve of her blazer. He takes her arm. Something squirms at the point of contact between them.

“You are one. And forsaken of your dharma.”

His other hand turns her face upwards for a kiss, but she is laughing. It is insane, it is ridiculous, it is horrible, but she is laughing, she is unable to hold herself upright, she cannot stand and she is sagging supported by his hands and her car behind her, she is laughing because she has recognized the sensation upon her arm.

“Shut up,” Luther says, and stiffens his grip on her until she is not sagging, but Meredith gasps out:

“You’re a starfish man.”

And he goes still.

“What?” Luther asks.

“Five fingers,” she says. “Five limbs. Is it not so?”

And he stands there, still and trembling, because she has caught him out. Five fingers; five limbs; in fivefold symmetry: a starfish man, and not a person at all.

“I’m not—” he says.

“Five fingers; five limbs; in fivefold symmetry,” she laughs. “A starfish man, and not a person at all.”

He calms himself. He straightens. He looks away from her. He says, with stiff dignity, “My head does not in any fashion resemble my other limbs.”

“Oh?”

“It differs in both shape and function,” Luther says.

“Uh—” says Desmond, who is quite confused.

“Look,” Meredith says. She turns Luther’s hand over. She exposes to Desmond the ragged mouth that is within its palm.

“Dude,” says Desmond. “You have a mouth in your hand.”

“He’ll probably eat you with it,” Meredith laughs, merrily, and Luther hits her, hard. Her mind goes white and her ears sound with thunder and she falls, because she is not a resilient god, but it is too late.

Desmond is running.

And she lays there, bleeding a bit from her ankle where she scraped it in the fall, and Luther looks down and he says, in a pitch of sorrow, “You have lured me here to no purpose and cost me someone I called friend.”

“I have no sympathy,” Meredith gasps out.

And the chaos is all around them then. There are tendrils of it in the mist of night, soft and wet, and in the croak of the frogs: ke-kax; and the scream of the birds overhead: kea; and the skittering noises of small scorpions on the ground, where no scorpions should be: kittle-ik.

And in his face.

And in her own.

It is stifling, a humid thickness of chaos in which anything could happen.

And he asks, “Why was I drawn away? Why did I come here?”

And it is clear in his eyes that he will make her pay the price for his confusion.

So she says, “Did you know, I am a surging, threshing power, like the sea? I am vast. It is hard to be vast and to be without boundaries. In such a sea the ego is like a drop of water, a single concept of delusion scattered through the endlessness. And the sea batters always against that drop with all the force of it.”

His fists clench on her arms and the suckers of them seal against her skin.

“I’m sorry,” she says, not to him, but to herself, because she’d really intended to remain herself through these events, and now she’s realized that she can’t.

He shakes her.

Her boundaries collapse.

Suddenly he is storm-tossed, suddenly he is flailing, drowning, suddenly it is raining snails and bursts of fire down upon his back.

And Meredith is falling lost into the immensity that is her former nature, and she says, “I will ride it, I will ride the storm,” much as Luther tries to do.

This is the wrong answer, but not entirely so.

Her mind singing and seething with the chaos, she turns away from Luther.

Luther is somewhere distant and dark and trying very hard to regenerate, but all he can think of is how very incomprehensible the world can be.

She abandons him there, him and his fivefold symmetry.

She gets into her car.

She drives away.

“I will make a genre of self-referential fiction about this,” Meredith says. “Someday.”

This information is not useful to her. Prophecy is rarely useful to the gods. It is simply an index of the future, as Luther is an index of the present, a sign and signal of the times in which she lives, a drying-up horrid drowning starfish man.

“I will call it Spattlefunk,” Meredith says.

And there, finally, is a prophecy of which she is glad.

Meredith would have had no idea what to call stories inspired by this encounter, there in the desert, between chaos and constraint; between the fear of rape and the fear of her own power.

She would have fretted at this lack of definition, poked at it like a tongue against a rotting tooth.

It is a relief, however unfortunate the word “Spattlefunk” might be, to know.

“It’ll be just like this,” she says.

And, pushed by the waves of chaos at her back, she runs.

That Way That Snakes, When

Martin works the levers and the chains. Jane skulks down by the snake machine. Sid’s on analytic duty tonight.

Meredith speaks the legend. As she speaks, the chaos takes its form.

So when the snake says to me, “You don’t want to eat that,” I naturally have a few questions.

I hold up the apple. It’s a Granny Smith apple.

I say, “Didn’t we go through this already?”

The snake crawls higher among the green onions. The supermarket irrigation system sprays it down automatically with water.

“Whatever do you mean?” it asks.

“I mean, back in the garden.”

The snake’s tongue flicks out, back in, and out.

“Typical of your generation,” it says. “That is, the younger generation; that is, every generation we have seen since Eve. No; it is not settled. We always have the opportunity to reprise our ancestor’s mistakes. Eat an apple and you cast yourself from Paradise.”

“That’s very unlucky for teachers,” I point out.

“That’s so,” agrees the snake. “When a teacher dies unshriven, they lay buried in Hell under the apples they have eaten in their lives. There in their dark milotic sepulchre Hell-worms find and consume them, crawling in their bones, learning facts regarding zebras, yuccas, xylophones, and eventually even the apples that are their home.”

“Wow.”

The serpent scrapes its body up along the radishes.

“But . . . why should this be sinful?” I ask.

I gesture with the apple.

“It’s not genetically engineered. And I’m pretty sure that it’s not grown by Satanists. It’d have a sticker.”

At this point, because I care about winning the implicit argument with the snake, I doublecheck. In fact I am correct: the apple has no sticker indicating Satanic origins.

“It’s just a fruit like any other,” I conclude.

“It’s a Granny Smith apple,” says the snake. “Old as the hills and full of sin. If you eat it you’ll know the difference between good and evil.”

“I’ve eaten apples before.”

“More,” qualifies the snake. “You’ll know the difference between good and evil more. This will doom you to bring forth children in sorrow and in pain.”

“I think I know the difference between good and evil,” I assert.

“Do you?”

“Sure,” I say. “Good helps people, and evil hurts people.”

“That’s the kind of thing you’d say,” observes the snake, “not having eaten the apple yet.”

“What will I say afterwards?”

“‘Evil is eating apples.'”

“No way.”

“Way.”

“No way.”

“Way.”

There is a standoff, there in the produce section, for a time.

“Well,” I finally say, “why is it bad to know the difference between good and evil?”

The snake is contemplative.

“It isn’t so much a knowledge,” it says.

“Hm?”

“People call it that because it expands their minds in the way that knowledge does. But it’s not a knowledge. It’s more of an outwards-moving thing. It’s claiming part of the world, when you say it’s good or bad. It’s taking matters into your own hands. Do you see? Humans should be seen and not heard, on the moral questions. You just aren’t as good at imposing right and wrong on things as God.”

“I’m really pretty sure I do that already,” I explain. “I mean, it’s just an apple.”

“Are you afraid of doctors?”

“What?”

“The last person I tried to warn,” the snake says. “She was afraid of doctors. So she ate the apple. Then she said, ‘O ho, so that’s what good and evil is all about.’ And she had a child in pain and sorrow, right here in the supermarket.”

“I don’t believe you,” I say.

The snake hesitates. Its tongue flickers out, back in, out.

“Perhaps I take poetic license,” it says.

“Bloody lying is what it is,” I say.

But I don’t want to eat the apple now. So I put it back on the stack. That’s why I don’t have an Adam’s apple and why I’m free of original sin, I think: because I put it back on the stack and got some bananas instead.

“Thank you for warning me,” I say.

I offer it a banana, but it just looks at me in that way that snakes, when offered a banana, look.

“I shouldn’t warn,” it says.

“Hm?”

“I lost my legs, you know, for butting into human affairs. My legs, my arms, even my magnificent ability to squirt blood out of my eyes.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s just hard,” says the snake. “Having an opinion and keeping it to yourself. You know. It’s hard.”

I grin at it.

I pick it up.

“If you want,” I say, “We could totally bomb the apple orchards, in God’s name.”

Scattered (III/III)

It is difficult to say when a history ends. There is always one more story, one more truth, one more event.

From the moment of her birth, this question has nagged at Meredith:

How can I exist when I have no boundaries?

Meredith is like a rain. She pours out into the world and touches everything. On one day she is subtle; on another, she is a surging, threshing power.

She is an octopus that is thrown out.

A seagull scavenges it from the dump.

Mortimer Brown kills the seagull and feeds it to his daughter Emily in lieu of begging for scraps or yielding her to social services. The meat is not good; tainted by it, Emily begins to prophesy. Mortimer grows rich; others cease to prosper; and Emily is able to warn three people away from a six-car pileup. She cannot save the rest.

Meredith is the salt in the ground. It has already ruined one tomato and left the monster a little hungrier, a little weaker, a little more off balance.

Meredith is twisting. She twists in the currents of the world and three houses flood.

She struggles to move a hand and 1981 yields a good harvest.

She cannot disentangle herself from the world. There is no clear method for it. There is no action without consequences that she does not intend; and her mind is pounding in constant nauseating fear because she cannot find an edge to herself, because her thoughts—when not manifest in a tomato, or an octopus, or a rant of prophesy from some young girl’s lips—wander off into the immensity of her and she does not hear back from them.

“I am like God,” she thinks, once, and before she can recant the hubris of this that very thought dissolves and her mind fills with buzzing and flailing.

She sees the naiads in their streams and recognizes something in them.

The spider in the sky catches a bit of her in its web and says, “Lo, I will devour you.”

“It happens,” says Meredith.

The spider bites hold at one end and tries to suck out her internal organs but after two minutes of sucking it reels back, dizzy and bloated, and says, “You are very large.”

“I don’t know what to do about it,” Meredith confesses.

The spider shakes itself, once, twice.

It says: “You will run.”

The spider in the sky does not eat things that are very large. It is a spider and not a tick. It is already feeling kind of sick because of the Meredith it has eaten. So it tears her loose and drops her and then it goes back to the weaving.

For nine days the dawn is blue and green and pink and orange and red, and there is a taste of salt and octopus to it.

In 1986, a bit of Meredith coils away from the rest. It hides, shuddering, behind false walls of cognition that it forms around itself. It firewalls away the knowledge of itself and forms a body and becomes a her.

She says, “I am that which I have intended.”

This is the wrong answer to her question, and so she ceases to exist, but that is of little matter to her.

She runs.

This history ends against the lens’ jagged edge.

The False Enlightenment (II/III)

The problem with Meredith exploding is that she gets everywhere. She turns into water and foam and salt as she explodes. There is even a cute little octopus. These pieces are vigorously distributed all over, so that the monster’s shiny tie gleams with water and the red Persian rug is all salty and the octopus is over there being cute and drying out on the hard concrete floor.

Meredith evaporates slowly over time and gets into the ventilation and then the sky.

Meredith leaks out over time and gets into the ground.

The remnants of her run in rivulets down to the sea.

People say that when you die you return to the universe. The lie of independent existence cessates; the impulses that make the self do not dissolve but rather retreat to their primordial forms as part of the larger world.

So it is with Meredith.

She is not a god of the sky but there is Meredith in the sky.

She is not a god of the ground but she is there in the ground with the vegetables and the worms.

She spreads up into the fruits.

**

The monster is making a sandwich. The sandwich is on whole wheat bread. He puts tuna on one side, from the can. He spreads the other with mustard. He puts a leaf of lettuce on it. Then he is discontent.

“It needs tomato,” he says.

So he goes to the garden patch outside Tina’s house and he selects from among the fruits.

“Don’t eat me,” says the Meredith in the tomato.

The monster hesitates, wary, as he always is, of suddenly finding himself in a moral fable.

“Are you a magic tomato?” he asks.

“I am a magic tomato,” Meredith confirms. “I don’t want to be eaten.”

“Of course not,” says the monster.

He takes hold of the tomato. With a twist of his wrist he pulls it off the plant. He says, “But it’s your own fault, you see.”

“It isn’t!” protests Meredith as he carries the tomato into the house.

“It’s because you’re in denial regarding your own nature as a tomato,” says the monster, “that this upsets you. It is because you have chosen to conceive yourself in a fashion that denies the flavor of your meat. That’s the only reason we’re even having this discussion—because of the essential dishonesty in you that levies minimization against the flesh.”

He touches his hand to his forehead. He has been working on Jenna for some time and he is tired.

“Here,” he says.

And Meredith catches her reflection in the tie and she sees in it the nature of tomatoes: the ripeness, the redness, the moisture. That she is a thing that may be consumed.

It dissolves the boundaries of her world; and, following that, he cuts a slice from her.

There is no pain, because tomatoes have no nerves and also have no brain.

But there is an ambiguous sense of loss and dysfunction.

The monster tastes the slice.

He frowns.

His stomach makes an unhappy noise.

He goes still.

“What?” asks the tomato.

“You are salty and you taste unaccountably of octopus,” says the monster. “You are a salty octopusy tomato and you aren’t edible at all.”

“Oh,” says Meredith.

He tosses her into the garbage.

There in the dark the tomato thinks, “I have suffered a false enlightenment.”

“It’s funny,” Jane says, sometimes, “that we named the lens Necessity.

“Why?”

“Well, it shows the monster in it.”

“He’s not invisible to Necessity,” Martin says. “He’s just not part of it.”

“That Was Quick,” The Monster Said (I/III)

A history of a mean and ugly time.

Meredith is born. She explodes!

It is 1978. The sun is bright.

The monster looks surprised.

Not everyone explodes a few seconds after they’re born. Most people start out as babies. Babies are amazingly non-explosive. Even when you activate them using a nipple they remain inert, constraining their endless trillions of kilojoules within their adorable mass.

Even people who do not start as babies do not always explode. Gods tend to appear full-grown. Goats start out as kids, and Dick Cheney was actually born older than he is now. Some universal figures exist without beginning or end, such as God or Ouroborous. In addition there are suspicions regarding the people of Kansas who may in fact hatch out of great clutches of tornado eggs.

But Meredith has exploded; so, “That was quick,” the monster says.

Jenna giggles.

“She lasted longer in GMT,” Jenna says.

There’s a pause.

“What?”

“‘Cause it’s later there. In Greniggs!”

“No,” says the monster. “No, it’s not.”

He wipes off his face. He walks away. He leaves her there, and slowly Jenna’s head falls forward and her eyes flutter shut.

“PST sucks,” she says.

She dreams of Greenwich, where everything happens much later and in a stately fashion, where strange European people eat their midnight snacks at four, and where partings take eight hours at a time.

Because “Nil Sine Numine” Was Too Ironic

As the imago matures, there are legends that we do not see.

Meredith runs away from the glorious germ cycle.

Run, Meredith, run!

The germ cycle works like this. First, someone sneezes. This is probably because they’ve been mentioned.

For example, Meredith was sneezing just a few minutes ago. She was mentioned as part of this ongoing legend!

Later, Martin will talk about infinite forces, unknowable, imperceptible, transcendent to the circumstances of his life. Then you’ll sneeze! It’s not that he doesn’t know you’re there, but there are light cone and timing issues that make you ineffable unto him. Your germs will get everywhere.

Meredith is fleeing the sneezing because she doesn’t want germs on her. She’s getting in a boat. She’s sailing away!

Once people sneeze, the germs are “in play.” They rotate around the immediate environment vigorously germing. Once they’ve infected everyone they can, they evaporate upwards into the sky.

Meredith pulls a sweep of storms over the sky. The clouds seal away the germs behind a layer of mystery.

The germs seethe around in the sky. Then they come down as divine vengeance!

You can’t escape divine vengeance just because there’s a storm, but you can sometimes sail away from it if you’re a very good sailor. That’s why Odysseus kept surviving, even though his shrimp-eating ways angered both God and Poseidon. Everyone stuck on land, however, gets the plague and runs around sneezing right and left.

Look! Sid’s illustrating this. He’s running around sneezing right and left—one sneeze in each direction, like the waving of a baton!

People wonder why the Heavens are so angry. They look around. They find someone to blame. Often this is just someone running around sneezing, like Sid, to whom they impute grave moral failings. Sometimes it’s someone terribly unrighteous like Tantalus or that girl who had sex that one time. Personally, we recommend Tantalus! If God is going to send down plagues every time people have sex, you’re going to have to live with your sneezing.

Once people have blamed someone to clear their consciences, they begin the hard work of reforming themselves. This step is optional but an important part of the germ cycle. Meredith’s sailing away mostly so she doesn’t have to do it!

Reformation leads to a quelling of divine vengeance. Virtue appeases God or the gods, as appropriate to the plague in question. The germs dry up and the germ cycle begins a new revolution.

Meredith pulls up her boat on the docks of a distant land. She sags in relief. She’s escaped the sneezing and the vengeance!

A sign next to the docks reads, “Sodom and Gomorrah. Population 40,000.”

And the city motto, “Ad astra per aspera,” or, “Through difficulty, to the stars.”