Between the Panels of the Day – Piracy (I/I)

Tara’s master didn’t approve.

He’d helped her build the ship.

He’d helped her crew it.

But every time she looked at him she could see through the grey beard of her master how amazingly he disapproved.

“You can’t enlighten people by committing corporal violence on a god,” he said. “Not even a heap.”

She looked at him. It was a serious, pensive look. “Don’t tell Amitabha?”

“If you can do it,” he says, “it won’t work; contrariwise, if it could work, you won’t be able to do it.”

“The point’s not to do it,” she said.

“Oh?”

“I just think, if people are always going to be mugged by bandits, that there should be a pirate somewhere, you know, fighting on their behalf.”

The Sword of Love (IV/V)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Tara’s master had always said, “Don’t become a pirate and sail around trying to force enlightenment on people. That’s not the Buddha’s way!”

But Tara still went down to the docks and looked out at the sea and she’d grin at the seagulls on the rocks.

He even tried to hit her with a stick.

You know how it is.

Sometimes, when you hit people with sticks, they achieve enlightenment and stop wanting to be pirates.

But not Tara.

Tara caught the stick on that brilliant effusion of compassion that she insists on calling her Sword of Love, and twisted it from his hand, and shouted, “Ho ha!” and suddenly he was dancing backwards across the dock and out over the edge trying to avoid the lunges of her sword; and if he weren’t an enlightened master quite capable of standing on the wisps of salt vapor rising from the sea he would quite certainly have fallen in.

“It’s because of the heaps,” she said.

“The heaps.”

“Everyone in the world,” she says. “They go walking in the silence of their soul, and they meet the heaps like bandits. And the heaps find them and cut them apart and pile their limbs one on top of another, until they are deeply confused inside their mind; and that is why we have the mess that is the world today.”

“And?”

“So I thought,” Tara said, “that I should become a pirate, and practice my swordplay, until I could meet the greatest of the heaps in a one-on-one battle and stab him, BAM! That’s what I thought.”

“Thus saving the world from suffering,” her master said.

“Exactly.”

She grinned at him.

“Isn’t that brilliant?” she asked.

“If I had another stick,” he said. “I’d hit you with it. That’s how brilliant that is.”

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

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

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

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

But people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

“You project onto me,” says the great heap to Tara, “the failings of the world.”

Sid is watching.

It is the strangest thing. He cannot help but feel: what a horrible, horrible thing.

And a burning sympathy for it, as it lurches on.

“Do I?” Tara says.

“Do I prey?” says the heap. The fight begins—a fight that we shall describe momentarily; for now, let us say, a shifting, a blurring, a great movement like the wind. “Am I a devourer of wastes? A cold, hard, compassionless thing, who closes the door on the suffering of children and keeps every creature from enlightenment?”

It is striking at her like great waves, with the location of it never clear, so that she must parry eight strokes for each one movement of its arm. It is moving slowly, like a boulder tumbling on the sands, but still she is pressed: her sword sparks like a fire and the movement of the heap pushes the pirate back.

She gestures at it and the lotus in her palm blazes: but a great sigil burns in the heap as she does so, and staring at it, her body goes slack, her jaw gapes, her eyes glaze, and it causeth her to correlate each thing she knows with each other thing; and it is only because a bodhisattva pattern-matches more quickly than an ordinary pirate that she clears her head in time to live.

Even so, it knocks her back, and she is bloody about the head.

She is up in a crouch again. Some of the pirates have come forward, but she waves them back.

“Those qualities are not me,” says the heap, in answer to its own questions. “They are a description of the world.”

The sun shines down on the shimmering of the heap. Tara pushes against the beach with her hand; the sand beneath her shifts. The heap issues a lumbering attack. A lotus platform, scented with rich perfume, rises through the sand beneath Tara’s feet. It lifts her up and flies with her to the side. She stabs at the heap’s extended limb; her sword cuts in and clear ichor flows.

The pirates and the heaps have formed a circle. They no longer fight. They watch.

The sword does not pull free as the heap strikes at her again. She releases its hilt and flies back, her feet twisting on the lotus platform to direct its path. Sand geysers upwards from the beach as the heap’s nebulous fist slams down. Tara pulls a knife from a sheath on her leg. She cuts a pattern in the air and lightning goes forth to strike at the creature.

The great heap practices the swift-step.

It is behind her. It is clubbing her, two limbs against her back. Her eyes open wide and she falls.

The great heap practices the swift-step. It looms beneath her. It moves to strike a beneath-her blow.

Tara has the double-jump enlightenment. Thus, even with nothing to brace against, she kicks off against the air and flies upwards out of reach. A near-invisible metal line and hook drop from her hand as she jumps and hook around her sword. Standing there in midair over its head, she jerks the blade from its limb and back into her hand.

“What if every time people looked out at the world, and got confused about what they saw?” she starts.

Time is moving very slowly.

“What if, when they confused things with heaps, they didn’t just transitively confuse them with other things, but rather confused them with brightness? With compassion? With universal love?”

Her feet come down on its shoulders. Her eyes are very bright, and she’s got a wild pirate grin.

“‘Cause,” she says. “You know? We can make that happen.”

Her sword isn’t for stabbing, after all.

She’s a bodhisattva.

It’s for changing things.

And time is moving full on again, and she shouts wordlessly, and she takes the hilt of the sword of her love for all living things in both her hands, and she drives its down towards the nominal location of the creature’s brain.

BAM.

There is thunder.

There is light.

The creature’s clay body shudders and explodes.

The world changes.

Shards of clay fly in every direction.

Wait, Tara thinks. She goes over this carefully in her head—reason being one of the instruments by which a bodhisattva subdues the skandhas. Was it made of clay? Was it made of feathers and clay and blood, with sharpness such as this beneath? Or was that Sid?

It would be very embarrassing, she starts to think—

The skandha hits her like a wave.

It is bone-shattering. It is wind-stealing. It drives everything from her mind but a jagged whirlwind of the pieces of sensation.

She is falling.

Bubbles rise all around her. Chaos swirls in her lungs.

There is a heavy footstep.

The heap is coming.

She remembers her name. Tara. She remembers her purpose. Piracy, then saving everyone from false conceptions. She suffuses with understanding.

“Damn it,” she says. “Now everyone will have to go on suffering.”

Her mouth is running over with red.

The heap is still coming.

She salutes it.

“I’ll beat you some day,” she says, and she grins brightly.

Then she twists to her feet and dives into the crashing sea.

Transience (II/V)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

“Everything is transient,” says Tara.

She is sitting on the deck of her ship. She is meditating. She is holding the ship still while the world moves around her.

“We imagine that things are permanent, but this is not so: rather, ‘permanence’ is a quality of the mind, a sign without referent, that we strive in futility to apply to external things.”

She is crying, freely and without hesitation, because everything that is good and beautiful must pass away.

It is not a wonder that her ship should sink. It is, in fact, a wonder that it ever stayed afloat at all. The great stone statue of the Buddha that serves as its prow should, by rights, have dragged the ship down to the bottom of the sea. That it has not done so yet is a testament to the grace and beauty of the sculptor’s soul: but that grace cannot keep the ship upright much longer.

The bandits of the island have sent forth a ship-killing spear and it trembles in the wood of the good ship Honest with Myself; and the ship cannot take another.

It would be easier for Tara if she did not care about the passing of these things. It would be easier if she could simply laugh and let the illusions of the world fume and blow before her eyes—but Tara is not yet a Buddha.

She has taken a sabbatical from the bodhisattva’s journey.

She has hoisted the Jolly Roger in the name of the enlightenment of all living beings; has put aside the scripture for the sword; has sworn in the greatness of her heart the compassionate oath: “I shall become a Buddha. I shall save all living beings from suffering. But first I shall become a pirate!”

Her unbending determination shook the world and caused flower petals to rain from the highest peak of Heaven: but for every oath there is a price.

All things pass.

All things pass.

All things, even the beautiful things, even the good things, pass.

And there is nothing in piracy to save the heart from the brutality of this truth.

Third-fired, second-landed: a second ship-killing spear slams home. The ship screams—

No, she tells herself. It is the grinding of the wood. It is not a scream.

The ship screams. The ship shakes. The statue of the Buddha splits open. Inside it is not stone. Inside it is hollow, and full of the petals of the chrysanthemum.

The wind seizes them up and scatters them across the sea.

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

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

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

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

But people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

Tara stands.

Everything is exploding underneath her. She thinks: ah, it has struck the strategic sutra reserve.

The ship is becoming flinders.

Gusts of holy fire, the infallible material indicators of the perfect truth of the sutras, billow up. The chickens flutter desperately in their pen. The monkeys climb to the top of the rigging. Her personal parrot flies away.

She fixes her mind upon right pillaging.

Her hand moves sideways. Seeing the lotus in her palm, the chickens go still and resolute. Their minds focus on compassion and their spirits suspire peacefully into Avahārakalikāranirvāņa, the Pirate Chicken Paradise. Tara takes two steps into the air according to the double-jump enlightenment and lands upon a great length of wood blown skyward by the explosion of the Jewel-Thought Sutra. Her gaze turns towards the monkeys.

A terrible splinter of wood is flying towards her eye.

You cannot save yourself and monkeys both, murmurs a false conception. She dismisses it and looks upon the splinter with the all-embracing love of a mostly-enlightened pirate.

I trust you, she says, to the splinter as it comes tearing for her eye.

Caught off balance by Tara’s gaze, it catches fire; it gusts with holy light; it grows into flower, like the cherry wood of its birth, and the wind blows it aside.

Her arm stretches (a human distance) to the right. There is a shift in the equilibrium of the world; her arm becomes heavy with monkeys.

The wood on which she stands is spinning.

She blows a kiss backwards at the ship. “You were good,” she says, and suddenly time is moving at its normal rate again.

“May a thousand beautiful things flower from the karma that gave you birth.”

With horrible speed, the wood plank skips off the sea, wings an upright monk and opens a scar in the side of his scalp that he’ll be telling people about for the rest of his life, skips one last time, and tumbles the dread pirate Tara and a quarter barrel’s worth of monkeys to roll over and over and over again upon the shore.

This Blasphemous Thing (I/V)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Continuing from The Uncanny Valley,
The Pirate,
The Heaps, and
The Skandhas of Head Island.

“Right effort,” says the dread pirate Tara.

“Haaa!” shout her pirates.

“Right mindfulness,” says the dread pirate Tara.

“Haaa!” her pirates shout.

“Right concentration; right intention; right pillaging!” she says. And “Haaa!” shout her pirates after each.

“Right sailing,” she says, voice low and intent.

“Haaa!”

“Right singing,” she grinds out.

“Haaa!”

“Right consumption of the rum. And right the heart that does not tremble to take up the sword against the enemies of our path—“

“KYAA!” shout the pirates, and rattle their prayer beads, and the monks walk faster along their patterns and the novitiates swarm in the rigging and on the deck the mandala blazes with light as she names the ninefold pirate path.

“Fire!”

The gun ports open. Scripture burns. Great spinning weights of iron, twenty-four pounds each, launch against the fortifications on the shore.

Anicca, dukkha!” cry the monks. “Anicca, dukkha!

“Fire!”

And the guns boom; and the ship rocks; and dread Tara’s pirates swarm into the boats and ply them forward towards the beach.

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

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

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

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

But people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

Sid’s in one of the boats. He’s not sure how that happened, but it seemed to involve pushing.

He’s rowing for the shore.

He is tormented by doubts, which express themselves in his mind like thus:

“The difficulty with forgiving Max is that it legitimizes his action.”

Sid is not sure why his doubts are on this subject, since under normal circumstances the assault on Head Island would occupy a greater share of his attention. Yet in truth the entire jostling, jumbling, sweet-scented pirate mass around him and the coming battle and the effort of pulling at the oars has receded from his consciousness, leaving him suspended in a dissociated space confronted by the manifestation of his doubts: which speaks, of course, in his very own voice.

“It has been said from before the beginning of time that siggorts ought not exist; and for sufficient reason, you’ll grant.”

“Yes,” Sid agrees.

“So why do you resent this man, this Max, whom you do love?”

There is activity in the fortifications on the shore. Sid’s dim prescience—for siggorts possess this quality in scarcely a greater share than humankind—warns him of a shadow of death. Soon another of the great ship-destroying shafts will fire: perhaps to strike again at Tara’s ship and split what the grace of Buddha has thus far held together; perhaps to fall among the longboats in the name of chaos and decay.

He should act, inasmuch as he values this clay body of his.

He should act—but instead, he answers that nagging voice within.

“It would be greatly convenient,” Sid says, “to revise the world until the problem cases are no longer in its boundaries. I am sure that that would resolve all the problems of the world. If something is an issue, cause it to vanish! Leave a remnant and say to that remnant in their meager world: this is sound! This is just! And if they love not that which layeth beyond the world then for this remnant it is so. But do not tell me, as you write me from your minds, that I have no right or motivation to object. And do not call it love.”

His throat is tight.

“This blasphemous thing; this monstrous thing; this Thing That Should Not Be,” murmurs his doubt: “It lectures us on love.”

“Max is responsible,” says Sid, “if he says I should not exist, for making that judgment, he is responsible; not I. And I will not concur to it.”

Someone taps him on the shoulder.

He turns. The wheel of knives comes up. He prepares to strike—

There is a breath of pirate fetor in his face; he becomes ever more greatly aware of laughter rising around him; and one of the monks is shaking his shoulder now, and saying, “Don’t let them get to you, lad, they’re just heaps.”

“Doesn’t know the difference between his own judgments and the world,” laughs another.

“Rum tiddly-um,” says one novitiate, who is clearly far too concerned with being a pirate to look up the kinds of things pirates actually say. “Rum bum!”

And Sid blinks and clears his eyes and feels a wash of shame, realizing that he’s been played for the lubber by the monks, who’ve let him argue with a skandha while doing twice the rowing of any man jack on the boat; but then the next great spear wings blackly towards them and its shadow darkens them and he catches it with the wheel of knives and a storm of feathers blows away from the wind against his hair and he sits down smugly in a rain of spear-dust as if that would show those stupid monks.

Anatman!” chant those monks who would argue against the necessary existence of the soul; and “Dukkha!” if they suggest that life is always sorrow; and “Rum tiddly-um, rum bum, rum bum,” if they don’t quite know what to say about the world, caught there with dread Tara behind them, the skandhas up ahead, and the siggort flush with self-justification and with power standing there on the boat, just the smallest terrifying shreds of the truth of him showing through the clay.

The Skandhas of Head Island (IV/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]

The ship is made of wood and stone.

Its name, blazed on the side, is Honest with Myself. Its prow is a granite Buddha. His posture offers compassion and benevolence to every living thing. The ship’s flag is the Jolly Roger. Its skull and crossbones promise death and mayhem. One could argue, though not every pirate would do so, that its presence dilutes the Buddha’s message.

Perhaps, a previous victim had thought, such dilution is a hazard of honesty.

Then the cannon of the ship had torn her from material existence and blasted her straight into Nirvana.

Around the ship, some years after that incident, fog billows. The fog is white and energetic. It’s curling in on itself like an orgy of snakes and dragons.

The dread pirate Tara stands on the deck. Sid stands beside her. All around them gaps in the fog arise, contort, and disappear.

In one such gap Sid sees himself.

He is, he thinks, reflected on the fog.

He’s standing there, a drawn-looking man with a bit of a slacker’s slouch, in a nice kind of suit. He’s got his hands in his pockets and there’s a wheel of knives at his side. A feather hangs limply from his hair.

He’s still bleeding. He reminds himself that he’ll have to deal with that.

His reflection sticks out his tongue at him.

Sid frowns.

“Don’t make trouble,” he says.

Tara shoots him a sharp pirate’s glance, full of mirth and dark knowledge and a willingness to assault random strangers at sea.

Sid’s reflection shoots him with an arrow.

“Gluh!” says Sid. He falls backwards.

Anatman, dukkha,” chant the monks.

“Are you okay?”

Tara is there in front of his face. She’s leaning over him. She’s remarkably concerned given that she intends to kill him anyway.

“Hey. You. Guy.”

She doesn’t actually know Sid’s name.

“You okay? You’ve got an arrow in your head.”

“It’s okay,” Sid says.

“What?”

“Luckily I was carrying a skull.”

“How ironic!” Tara says, because normally a skull is a symbol of death, yet in this case it has blocked much of the force and length of the arrow and helped protect Sid’s brain.

Sid takes a moment to remember how to make the dizziness go away.

Then he says, “It was my reflection.”

“No,” Tara says.

“No?” Sid asks.

And Tara stands up. She shouts, “Hard to port! And put on speed!”

As the monks begin the work of moving the great Buddha-prowed ship, she asides to Sid, “Reflections don’t shoot people. People do.”

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

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

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

The Island of the Centipede

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

The chant has changed to incorporate a reference to the transience of all things, presumably because ships sail faster when reminded of transience.

Three acolytes with shaven heads and pirate eyepatches climb out onto the Buddha statue.

They manipulate a series of cunning levers and catches.

The Buddha’s stone arm swings.

Where the stone Buddha had been in the hand-extended mudra that offered compassion and benevolence to all living things, now it swings its arm left in the mudra that opens the minds of all sentient beings to new awarenesses. Such blessings! Surely it has become an iconic granite representation of your becoming more aware and opening your mind to the beauty and reality of the universe.

The balance changes.

Looking perfectly impassive, like a tipped yet meditative cow or Buddha, the statue falls over leftwards. Some might imagine a transient moment of panic in its eyes, a moment of reflection wherein the statue asks itself:

Do I stop meditating or do I stop my fall?

This represents a subtle error in the sculptor’s design.

Then the hand comes down to brace against the sea. It does not break the surface tension of the ocean. Creaking and leaning, the ship turns to port.

It rights itself.

There is noise. Tara is asking Sid about the arrow.

“Should I pull it out or are you too attached to it?”

Sid shakes his head in irritation, causing a wave of dizziness, and then he isolates the injured section of him and makes it no longer important to his functions. With a growl he pulls out the arrow and throws it to the deck.

“Why did it look like me?”

“They’re skandhas,” Tara says.

She gets to her feet. She stares out at the fog.

“One of them hung back to try to delay us.”

There is something hanging in the air in front of her. It does not move but because the ship is sailing swiftly it seems to loom upon her. It is a net, hung still and steady between four tufts of fog. It catches her, clotheslining her entire body and dragging her back along the deck.

But:

Anicca!” shout the monks, whirling their prayer beads. “Anicca, Tara! Anicca, Tara!

All things are transient. One moment a person is caught in a net. Another they are on the deck. Who can say what causes one condition to arise or another to fall? In this case it is a young midshipmonk diving forward to chop open the fog and unravel the net. Tara lands with the lotus of her hand touching the deck and the net blows away from her and dissipates into its component strands.

Sid looks at her.

“Skandhas?” he asks.

Tara stares at him.

Then she blinks and shakes her head. “Sorry! Terminology!”

She’s blushing brightly.

“I forget that not everyone’s a bodhisattva yet. Skandhas are . . .”

She spreads her hands, looking for the right word. At that moment the lotus in her palm points directly at Shirley Havanaugh, a CPA in Detroit, who recognizes suddenly that many of her problems are self-inflicted and experiences a bubbling transcendent and transformative joy.

“Heaps,” Tara says. “Piles of stuff. Like bodies, which people often think are the same as themselves but are actually just stuff stuck together out of mud and feathers or whatever. Or perceptions. Thoughts. Sensations. Bandits. Mirrors. Certain flavors of M&Ms. Skandhas. Things that can look like yourself, to you, but aren’t.”

“Ah,” Sid says.

“That was one of their nets,” Tara says.

And suddenly the fog is clear enough that they may see the great island where the bandits dwell and whence they make their raids, and the great peak that hangs over it all and the shriveled head that hangs from that peak, ludicrously clear despite the distance and the scale, every crease in its leathery flesh visible from afar though the mountain is just a blur. And in that moment, from behind and around the ship there rises the great iron net that guards the harbor and from a blocky stone fortification on the beach there fires a great black ship-destroying spear. Suddenly Sid has a moment of clarity.

“I’ve been fighting so hard not to be honest with myself,” he says.

The spear crashes into the wooden deck.

“And now I’m bombarding that honesty with giant spears!”

“Actually,” Tara says, contemplative and uncertain, “I think that’s the skandhas.”

In the name of the infinite blessings that we all deserve, and in profound thanks that one particular head is still attached and one particular skull did a perfect job of protecting its brain, and in dedication to the wish that nothing in this world shall ever diminish or constrain the brightness or the beauty of those you or I or anyone know and love, but only make them grow.

The Pirate (II/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]

Sid stands on a grey reflective plain. White lines blow across it like the waves that wind makes upon the grass or upon the snow. The sky is corrugated, textured grey above him: grainy light grey touched with light; bulging rain-filled dark grey; wispy, dissipated whitish mist; and in the distance beyond that grey the sun.

He is walking.

He is walking on the sea of chaos and it is still beneath him, it is supporting him, because it does not love him and does not want him to break its surface and mingle with it.

Five bandits surround him. They have staves. They wear cloaks that billow. They are dampened with a mist of chaos and it causes peculiar alterations in their countenance.

Sid stops.

He says, “I am Sid.”

It is a naked threat. Knowing that they cannot know him, he still says it thus: flat words, like drops of mist that fall onto the surface of the sea.

But the bandits howl; and one casts forth a rope to wind around him, and two come forward with their spears; and two set arrows to their bows.

Sid has spent too long in a place dominated by the conventions of early 21st century media. He cannot quite encompass the fact that they’re all attacking him at once. An arrow hits him in the back of the head. Another pierces his lung. The rope wraps around him. The spears come in towards him. The knives that spin in their wheel beside him turn and cut and the rope frays to threads; he is up, standing on one of the spears, kicking at the bandit with his hands in the pockets of his coat, and the other spear hits him from behind.

He can feel bile in his throat. He can feel blood. But today he has no time for it.

The bandit he’s kicked falls down. The bandit’s cheek is dented and there’s blood at the corner of his mouth.

Knives cut away the haft of the spear that’s stuck in Sid so that it can’t pull out again.

Sid’s angry. His hand catches the next arrow. He hurls it on towards the other bowman and turns—

There are too many bandits. He’s quite sure there’d been five, and one knocked down, and one halfway disarmed, but there are five circling him still.

What am I standing on? he says, because the scene has come a little bit undone within his mind. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing he could fail to know, but he doesn’t.

Another spearthrust. He falls back. He lands on the sea and it splatters aside to make room for him, bowing down like a sheet of cellophane attached on every side and struck by a falling fruit. The bandits wobble up and down.

Through the mist of grey Sid sees a great granite hand.

“Hell,” says one of the bandits.

It’s the first thing any of them has said.

Sid can see the arm.

Sid 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.

The bandits shout and flee and leave Sid there.

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.

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

Slowly, Sid straightens. He pulls himself to his feet. He stands there on the chaos, facing the approaching ship.

The monks seem puzzled.

“Anatman?” they say, as if expecting Sid to react. “Dukkha?”

Sid stabilizes his form and begins to walk west, but there’s an apologetic voice that stops him.

“If you won’t willingly abandon your attachment to material existence,” says the dread pirate Tara, “I’m afraid I’ll have to use the cannon.”

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

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

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

The Island of the Centipede

Sid looks back.

“I’m not attached to material existence,” he says. “I’m just kind of here.”

He lifts one foot, then the next. He gestures to his shoes. They’re loafers, the shoes of a man not terribly attached to material existence but who has to walk in it anyway.

Tara pulls herself up onto the arm of the Buddha. She walks out. She looks down at him. She’s a black-haired pirate with a sword in one hand and a lotus in the palm of the other.

She says, “You can’t just resist the enlightenment of the Buddha Pirates. It’s not done.”

“I’m my own first experience,” says Sid. “Why should I accept anatman?”

“Technically, that’s an error,” Tara says.

Sid looks at her.

“You’re not your own first experience. Information theory and the law of the sea insist that you can’t directly experience yourself. Instead, you experience things that you falsely associate with yourself, like perceptions and conditions. Do you need medical attention?”

“No.”

“Because you are rather bleeding.”

“Bandits.”

Tara’s eyes go wide. It’s an expression of shocked joy.

“This close?”

“Eh?”

“I have been hunting them,” Tara says, “For so long.”

She bites her lip. She’s thinking.

“Come on board, then,” Tara says. “Everyone knows that ships are faster than walking, on the ocean. We’ll hunt them down and then I’ll try and kill you again and then, if that doesn’t work, I’ll give you a ride to wherever you’re going.”

Sid thinks about this.

Finally, he shrugs.

So Tara gives a happy shout, “Kya!” and those few among the monks with eyepatches and peglegs and other pirate accessories decorating their orange robes leave their prayer tracks and throw down ropes.

Sid climbs.

Soon he stands on the deck of the ship.

“You’re not enlightened,” he points out. “You’re a pirate.”

“Yes,” Tara admits.

Sid looks at her.

Airily, Tara says, “I decided it’d be faster to bring enlightenment to all living beings if I skipped the last few million years of the process and just became a pirate. These are my monks.”

Sid looks down. The deck of the ship is marked with a great mandala. Around its edge it depicts the noble eightfold path.

“I didn’t know that was an option,” Sid says.

Tara brings her finger to her lips.

“Don’t tell Amitabha,” she hisses.

Then she is moving; then she is racing about the deck and he sees her only in moments. A flash of red from the inside of her cloak as she calls to the divine spirits that work the sails. A moment of half-profile as she stands, pointing out at the sea with her sword. Shouted orders involving words like jib and block that Sid—as a man with little need for ships—does not entirely understand.

“But isn’t it an error?” he says.

“What?”

Tara is looking at him again. The ship is turning, gently, in the direction in which the bandits disappeared.

“Becoming a pirate and forcing enlightenment on people with monks and cannons.”

“It’s a terrible error,” Tara says. “Mad, crazy wickedness. I’m committing so many mistakes it’ll be a few million years before I fix them all. But isn’t that the joy of it?”

“What?”

“Making mistakes and fixing them. Learning. Growing. The sharpness of regret and the brilliance of accomplishments you really shouldn’t have attempted.”

“No, I meant, of what?”

“Oh,” Tara says.

She thinks about that for a bit.

“Of being at sea,” Tara says.

In the name of hope and joy, and dedicated to someone whom I hope very much will be back with us by the time this post appears. Do it! Do it! Wake up! Ganbatte!

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.

Jane Talking

There are some performances in the Gibbelins’ Tower that you don’t see.

Sometimes we’re afraid that they’ll give people the wrong idea. Sometimes we like to tell stories of how Mylitta beat up the monster. Or won his heart. But we can’t show those. Or sometimes we like to tell stories about dharma. But we haven’t figured out how to explain dharma yet. If we had, I guess, then maybe this story would be over.

Sometimes I just go out and I tell the empty chairs what the monster actually did to me. Then I get awkward and go hide.

Sometimes I tell bad pirate jokes. Like, “Knock knock? Who’s there? A pirate!”

Martin sometimes tries to get me to finish that one, but I think it’s complete in itself.

There’s a performance going on tonight that you can’t see. It’s about how the nefarious hunter William Show shoots Bambi’s Mom, but instead of dying, she spends four years in a coma and then wakes up to hunt William and his lieutenants down. It’s too violent for tender minds like yours! Also, Tarantino might be upset.

*This* stage is empty, though, so feel free to come down and play out scenes if you would like.

The Lake in the Office

Shelley is an ordinary person. She stands thirty feet from the shadows and forty feet from the lake of honey mustard. She has a gun.

There’s a blur. There’s a masked shadow. She points the gun. “Freeze, ” she says.

The ninja freezes.

“Jump,” she says. “Backwards. Into the honey mustard.”

The ninja hesitates. Then he leaps, somersaulting backwards, and falls into the sauce.

Time passes. It happens again.

“Dunking ninjas into delicious sauces,” explains Dr. Morgan, on the television above, “is an enjoyable but strenuous activity.”

A ninja appears. Shelley’s eyes glint. It does not wait for her to speak. It jumps back into the sauce.

“It’s profitable,” Dr. Morgan says, “to consider the equilibrium point at which dunking ninjas returns as much energy—in terms of enjoyment and added company productivity—as it consumes. If your company dunks ninjas more often than this, the dunking is actually a net drain on your company’s wealth and human resources. If it dunks ninjas with less vigor, one incurs an important opportunity cost.”

There’s a fierce squawking. It’s a parrot. It’s on a pirate’s shoulder. He’s sailing the lake of honey mustard sauce. There’s the creaking of the ship and a distant, ominous shuffling. Shelley raises her voice a little. It’s flat. It’s bleak.

“Don’t come any closer,” she says. “I’m way past my ninja equilibrium. I don’t have time for pirates.”

“Arr,” whispers a voice. It fades into the distance.

“Or zombies,” she says.

The shuffling recedes.

“The traditional method for dunking ninjas,” Dr. Morgan says, “involves a gun. One points the gun at the ninja. One tells the ninja to jump. This is a hazardous method and is not appropriate for children under eight.”

A ninja appears.

Shelley says, quietly, “How old do I look to you?”

The ninja hesitates. His voice is night and poison. “Thirty-eight,” he says.

Her hand trembles.

“But I can’t see too clearly, ma’am,” the ninja hastens to point out. “On account of the mask.”

She looks down. “Pathetic,” she says.

The ninja inches closer. The gun rises like a prayer.

“Just jump,” Shelley says.

The ninja jumps.

“The maximum dunking rate for this method,” Dr. Morgan says, “is three ninjas per two seconds, but this is not sustainable. The risks are too great. The rewards, too small. An employee forced to dunk ninjas at this rate is certain to crack. The proper dunking equilibrium for this method is seven ninjas per hour.”

Shelley smirks.

A ninja appears. The gun snaps up. Shelley is wild-eyed.

The ninja licks his lips. “We could work out some kind of deal,” he says. “I could teach you ninjutsu.”

“Jump,” she whispers.

“This should be sustained,” Dr. Morgan advises, “at most three hours in a workplace environment. If one assumes a five-day work week and two weeks of vacation per year, this yields a solid 5250 annual dunkings per employee—although a serious hobbyist, working from home, might manage as much as five times that.”

A ninja flickers into existence.

“Please,” he says. His accent is light. “I’m allergic to honey-mustard. I just want to go home.”

“Home.”

“I have a home,” he says. “It has great ninjutsu power. I keep my swords there. And my two children. And my ninja cat.”

“How many times,” she asks, “have you . . .”

Then she shakes her head. “No,” she says. “Jump.”

He says, quietly, “Seven hundred and thirty, this year.”

He jumps.

“There are more efficient methods, of course,” says Dr. Morgan. “If you have serious ninja-dunking needs, you might consider the Ninja Slide. This distorts that strange space that ninjas teleport through. The ninja slides into the tangy sauce, throws down a pinch of powder, and vanishes! The cycle then repeats. Ninja Slides repay two minutes of weekly maintenance per dunk with a continuous harvest of pleasure, allowing for more than 62400 dunkings per year regardless of the ninja supply.”

Shelley’s hand trembles.

“You look tired, ma’am.”

“Jump,” she says.

He jumps.

A girl-ninja appears. She jumps.

A ninja appears. He jumps.

A ninja appears.

“Damn it,” shouts Shelley, and the gun begins to fire, and it does not stop until there are black-clad corpses everywhere and she is sobbing on the floor and a ninja’s hand is cold and gentle against her neck.

“It is all right,” he says. “Madness is a thing all people know.”

Admonitions for Hungry Divers

It is common in this degenerate age for hedonistic tourists to combine extreme diving with gustatory satisfaction, often trailing a cloud of hooked fishing lines behind them as they explore the ruins of sunken ships. In a spirit of public service, Mrs. Parvati Schiff has assembled these “Ten Cogent Suggestions” for safe and enjoyable culinary diving.

One

Use common sense. If jellyfish stings send you into anaphylactic shock, restrict yourself to devouring the bloated gasbag.

Two

Zombie pirates are not a main course. If you must indulge, slice them thinly and serve them on minitoast as an hors d’oeuvre.

Three

Do not attempt to eat a live great white shark, particularly not while recovering from the stresses of your dive in a bath of luxurious blood-based broth.

Four

Remember: many species of whale are “endangered.”

Five

Don’t be gluttonous! Leave some of the Great Coral Reef for other hungry divers.

Six

Atlantean nobility are prone to many communicable diseases. If you must eat one, verify that there are no electric eels, giant octopi or squids, whales, seagulls, or huge seahorse-mounts inside your kitchen. Then, cook at a high temperature.

Seven

Do not eat one enormous octopus tentacle without first verifying the location of the other seven.

Eight

Pufferfish can expand to fifty times their original size. Always check whether your recipe refers to bloated or shrunken pufferfish before mixing ingredients.

Nine

Real life singing crabs are limited to an operatic repertoire. If your target crab begins to sing something to the effect of how life is better under the sea, you are suffering from oxygen toxicity.

Ten

If you accidentally hook an icthyosaur, do not eat it. Report it to the nearest marine authority at once; icthyosaurs are notorious criminals and ruffians.