Ink Entomological (XIV/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

The stickbug general could hide from death against a giant tree.

The ragged things would pass, looking for his wicked soul.

“He’s meant to die,” they’d say. “There’s a torment waiting.”

But they wouldn’t find him.

The ragged things wouldn’t find him. The angel of death wouldn’t find him. The God-Defying Lightbringing Yama King himself, rot his hide, wouldn’t find the stickbug general if he were hiding there against a giant tree.

He looks like a stick, you see.

He looks like a great big stick.

He loves that.

He loves that trick.

There are only three things that the stickbug general loves. One is stickbug sex. One is hiding against a giant tree. And the third is gorging himself on the flesh of children.

If there were a giant tree here, he could probably leave the girl be.

Or a female stickbug.

A known female stickbug, that is. Some of his soldiers are probably female. The larger ones, or the smaller ones, or something. It’s really hard to tell, since they all look like sticks, and he’s forgotten which of his soldiers are the best candidates.

If he knew which of his soldiers were female, why, then, he could probably leave the girl be.

But he doesn’t.

He doesn’t have a tree, and he can’t have sex, and he’s hungry.

There’s a girl on a road high above the ground, and she looks like food, and he’s hungry.

So he orders his soldiers to attack.

Undoubtedly dozens of his soldiers will die. Undoubtedly the girl will flail and the doctor behind her will flail and dozens or even hundreds of stickbugs will fall to their death.

He can live with that.

The fewer stickbugs survive, the fewer will share his feast.

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

Everything is movement. The girl does not understand what has happened.

Why am I dangling from a road with anthropophagous stickbugs falling on me?

Sometimes in a fight things happen very fast and you can wind up in these positions without really understanding how they came to pass. Often it has a very simple explanation, like, “You rode a giant horror down to the bottom of the sea, where she cracked open the crust of the world and you fell through. Afterwards you decided to go back up through the crust of the world but got delayed by a wormy Minister, a rat with a sword and a doctor-King intent on human sacrifice. Then an orderly pulled a road out of his stomach and you jumped on to keep a crumbling ziggurat’s stone blocks from crushing you. Finally, giant stickbugs attacked you and you flailed and lost your balance, but managed to catch hold of the road with a hand and an elbow rather than fall all the way down and crack your head. So that’s why.” But that is a lot of data and the mind is very bad at organizing that much data while hanging from a sky-road with stickbugs falling on you. It is much cheaper in terms of cognitive resources not to understand—to ask the question, shrug, and just move on.

Why am I dangling from a road with anthropophagous stickbugs falling on me?

Answer: Because.

The rain of stickbugs slows.

June, Thursday 3, 2004 – Cronos: When the history begins Cronos is proud.

He should be.

He’s just cut off his father’s genitals and ascended to the throne of the world. And he’s righteous. Oh, how he’s righteous.

He’s got that smirk.

That “I am totally in the right here” smirk, like the one the monster wears.

But the smirk fades.

It fades, because the sky is so very big and the silence so very deep and the sin so hot, then cold, upon his hands.

The history begins.

Cronos stood naked beneath the stars.

“You are struggling,” says the general of the stickbugs.

He looks down on the girl.

“Why are you struggling, food?”

“I’m Ink Catherly,” says the girl.

“Consider,” says the general of the stickbugs. “The longer you struggle the more lives are lost.”

“I’m a destroyer,” says Ink.

“Why are the stickbugs ignoring me?” asks Dr. Sarous.

The general flicks an eye towards Dr. Sarous.

He shrugs.

“They’re terrible child-eating stickbugs of the deeps,” says Ink.

“Oh,” says Dr. Sarous.

“Why are you ignoring me?” she asks, quite properly, since she’s dangling.

“I’m a terrible child-ignoring doctor,” he says.

It is a sudden bursting insight in Ink’s mind. She suddenly understands. Dr. Sarous doesn’t like her very much.

“Is it even a crime,” he asks, “to eat a terrible God-defying imago, converting her into pious proteins, fats, and bones?”

“I’ll show you the cure for stepladder syndrome,” says the girl, and when he’s looking at her hand with involuntary attention she gives Dr. Sarous the finger.

Cronos stood naked beneath the stars.

There is so much fire, he thought. So much power.

The sky looked down.

“I am rendered impotent,” said the voice of his father. “Now there shall be nothing brought forth in all this world that does not know suffering, nor grow from the accursed ground; thistles and thorns and dust shall be your lot for all the generations of the world.”

It was not judging him.

Its words were flat and simple.

It was as if Uri were completing a syllogism; nothing more.

“You will rule this world,” said the sky. “But your son will take it from you.”

It was not even a curse.

“He will punish you for this deed, and you will bear the burden of that punishment until the end of time.”

Cronos licked his lips.

Defiantly, he said, “Is that the price, then, that even the least of us should know joy?”

The stars laughed at him.

It was the most withering of all experiences, Cronos thought, to have the entirety of Heaven laughing at one’s shame.

Ink struggles. She tries to pull herself up onto the road.

“Struggle is futile,” says the general of the stickbugs.

He is content to wait, just a bit longer. If the girl falls, some cavern-bottom creature might eat her first.

“I have a theory,” says Ink, gasping, “that I can manage something a little better than being stickbug food.”

“We waste energy opposing one another,” says the general. “It bleeds off into the environment as disorder. Dharma recedes; entropy prevails. Why cling to purpose in such a case as this?”

“We can certainly agree,” says Ink, dragging herself half onto the road and panting for ten seconds before the clause, “that it would much improve the world if, in a sudden burst of comity, all parties were to align themselves behind a single cause.”

“Debate is inconclusive; exhaustion will wear you to my preference,” the stickbug general decides.

He gestures; once again, the stickbugs leap.

“You accuse me of impropriety,” said the sky.

“They deserved better,” said Cronos. “The woglies; the siggorts; Ophion; they deserved better. To punish them so cruelly: that is the nature of your crime.”

“Beyond the boundaries of the world,” said Uri, who was the sky, “there is no ‘deserving’. Who may say whether the character of a man outside the world is good or bad? Who may say what should befall them for the deeds that they have done? There may be beauty there. There may be wonder, and hearts to give you joy, and creatures in whom I could find such virtues as your own. I do not know. I know only that there are horrors there beyond imagining, and insidious treason, and things that will corrupt this world; and you have given to them rein.”

“And they will know joy?”

“No,” the sky said, flatly.

“No?”

“A world with only the good may bring only the good to all within it. A world that is only perfection may bring perfection to all within it. But to permit the ungainly and the imperfect into paradise does not lift them up. It drags us down.”

Ink looks up.

She smiles.

It’s madness. But she smiles.

“Such marvelous mimesis,” she says.

She’s seen right through the stickbug general to his ability to hide against a giant tree. And he is almost, but not quite, tempted then to preen.

But there are two of them holding her now, and a third whose teeth close in: and rather than being eaten or captured for eating later, Ink shoves off against the road and falls.

  • Tune in on WEDNESDAY for the next exciting history of Minister Jof:
    MINISTER JOF AND THE FAILURE OF OTHERS TO MEET HIS STANDARDS.
    It’s a bone-chilling tale of terror!

Ink Unrepeatable (XIII/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Dr. Sarous lives in a world where there is right and there is wrong.

There is goodness.

There is badness.

Badness is an infection of the body. This is clear to him. Badness is a physical affliction. It derives from sicknesses in the organs and bug-like creatures in the veins. It seeks to drag people down even as the bright impulse—

The awakening impulse, the looking-up impulse, the thing that makes people into people—

Seeks to lift them up.

Now he has fallen.

Now he sees for the first time the world of degenerate things.

It seems to involve walking along a very long road in the sky that winds by sheeted rock walls and around and about the stalactites of the kingdoms beneath the world.

“This is not what I’d thought being degenerate would be like,” he complains.

“Oh?” says the girl.

“I imagined a diabolical joy,” he admits. “A consuming will to wrongness. Also, more adherence to gravity.”

The girl picks her way around a stalactite.

“It’s not like that,” she says. “It’s more like winning, you know? It’s like when you’ve won something, and you kind of want to play the game again, but you kind of don’t want to play again, because you’ve won. That kind of itchy dissatisfaction.”

“So you are evil, then?”

For a moment, he’s excited. For a moment, it’s a bit like a breakthrough: has she come past the hyperrachia? Will she understand, at last, that she is corrupt?

Then he remembers, like water being dashed on his head from a dripping stalactite—

Which is, in fact, what’s happening—

That he can’t very well be a doctor, any more, out to cure people of their decay. He’s gone bad himself.

“Oh, I’m terrible,” says the girl. “Not as bad as a siggort, you know, but worse’n a werewolf or a lavelwod.”

“I see.”

She grins at him. It’s this bright cheerful grin. It shames him, that grin, because he did plan on bleeding her to death just a few hours back.

“It’s okay,” she says.

“It’s okay?”

“Dharma moves.”

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.

June, Thursday 3, 2004 – Cronos: Back at the beginning of his reign,

says the girl

Cronos went down to Tartarus to free all the things that his father had chained. He freed the demons and the devils and the slimy things and the wasps. But he didn’t free the siggorts.

Dr. Sarous looks blankly at her back.

“He tried,” says the girl. “But they wouldn’t come out.”

The siggorts didn’t come out; nor the woglies; so he went in after them.

He walked down through the darkness into the siggorts’ home.

He found Bidge there. Bidge was wandering in darkness. The knives of Bidge cut Cronos. They maimed his hand. They lay his face open to the bone. They cut his neck. They caused dark blood to trickle down his leg.

“Come free,” Cronos said.

The key to the gates of Tartarus was small: too small, almost, for the eye to see. But he held it out to the siggort in his hand.

Something stirred in Bidge’s mind.

He awakened to the knowledge of another creature in his place of imprisonment.

He formed a face. A thing like a face. It hovered in the center of him. Around it spun the blades and spheres and cutting wires of the siggort’s shape.

“‘Come free?'”

And Cronos said:

The words are heavy as the girl says them, heavy and trembling, like they’re too big for her to say.

“Be welcome, o my love, into the world.”

And Bidge laughed a horrible, broken laugh. And he laughed and he laughed on.

Cronos stared at him.

“And how did you free us, then?” Bidge asked.

“I have aspired to the throne of the world,” said Cronos. “Now I rule; and I will not set my will against you if you choose your freedom.”

These words fell strangely flat.

Siggorts gathered behind Cronos’ back. He felt a terrible chill of threat. The knives of them cut away his leg, his arm, his dorsal tendril, and his glunin. He tried to remember how to shape them back.

“That would not do,” said Bidge.

Cronos didn’t understand. You could tell. It was in his face.

So Bidge flowed forward until he was this close, two fingers’ close—

The girl holds two fingers up, close apart.

—to Cronos, and he gaped his mouth quite wide. And he did not bite.

And after a moment, Cronos understood.

He said, “Those are not teeth.”

“Where you are warm,” said Bidge, “we are cold. Where you are light, we are shadow. Our teeth are not teeth. Our faces are not faces. We are a dhamma inexpressible in your world. Should I not cut you then, o my love?”

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

The girl walks along.

Her name is Ink Catherly, but everybody calls her the imago—so she says. One must remember that there are exceptions: the silent monks of Tsu Catan; the child-eating stickbugs of the deeps; Dukkha, as previously described; and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, which refers to her only as “that Ink.”

Her last words echo: should I cut you, o my love?

“Were they lovers, then?” asks Dr. Sarous.

“Lovers,” giggles Ink.

She looks like she’s trying to imagine some incredibly complex anatomical marvel in her head—

Which is, in fact, what’s happening—

And then she shakes her head.

“They were people,” says Ink. “That’s why they said things like that. It was so marvelous to them, back then in the early days of the world, that there should be other people. Even baby-eating titans like Cronos and horrible vivisecting things like Bidge. Love swelled in them, it swelled, when they thought on that, like just living with it was going to burst them.”

Dr. Sarous stares at her.

After a moment, Ink shrugs.

“You don’t have to follow me,” she says. “Really, hunting down the person on the throne of the world is a one-imago operation. Like negation or squaring.”

“The other alternative is falling screaming to my death,” Dr. Sarous points out.

“So don’t scream!”

They walk in silence for a while.

“I’m usually critical of the surrealists,” Ink says. “But today, their road saved my life.”

“What happened?”

“I think it was in one of your orderlies.”

“No,” says Dr. Sarous. “I mean, with the siggorts.”

“Oh,” says the girl.

She reviews the history in her mind.

“Cronos’ heart was beating,” she says. “Doki-doki! Like that. It was burning in him like a fire. And Bidge could see it, right through his chest. He wanted it. So the shears cut closer. Cronos’ nipple fell off. His breast and his ribs caved in. He was very bloody. And the question hung there: ‘Should I cut you, o my love?'”

“No,” Dr. Sarous says.

“No,” Ink agrees. “He said ‘No.’ And slowly, reluctantly, the siggorts withdrew.

“‘I shall trust you, then,’ said Bidge, with consummate calm and the tightest control. ‘I shall trust you,’ he said, and he turned away.

“And they left Cronos there, alone, trying to justify himself to himself.

“‘I do not want to keep you here, imprisoned,’ said Cronos.

“‘It’s not my fault!'”

The girl thinks. “I think,” she says, “that that’s how corruption comes to high intentions. When you start identifying those whose integrity you have to sacrifice in its name.”

“Like whomever’s on the throne of the world,” the doctor says. “Or a ziggurat’s.”

There’s a pause.

“Yes,” says the girl flatly. “Yes, those are examples of how corruption might come into high intentions.”

The doctor grins.

“You see,” says the girl, “he could have saved them.”

Shadows stir between the sheets of the wall. There are black stickbugs clinging to the edges. They are pressed against the thin edge of the stone. They are large. They are the size of men, and not just any men, but large men. They are taller than the girl. They are taller than the doctor. Their legs are strangely angled. Their heads are small and their eyes are beady.

There are hundreds of them along the wall. Their taut tense muscles hold them against the cracks.

“He could have saved them,” says the girl.

“He could have saved them, o my love, if he had thrown everyone else away.”

The stickbugs spring.

  • But it doesn’t end there! There’s still three more parts to come! Tune in NEXT WEEK for the next exciting history of the imago:
    INK IMPERCEPTIBLE!*
    * You can’t see the title from this far off.

Ink and Anarchy (X/XVI)

[Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

“You have the signs of moral degeneracy,” says the doctor of the deeps. “The wounded hand; the lightly wounded throat; you carry a small parcel; your hair is dark. You have avowed the intention to kill God. Let us call it stepladder syndrome.

This term is patterned after the pattern of the marks.

“You deny it,” says the doctor. “Thus, we add to your diagnosis acute hyperrachia.

He stands, face uplifted.

He is bathed in the cold blue light of phosphorescent worms.

The pathological perception that one is well. The manifestation through symptoms and their alleviation of a false state of wellness. If a patient presents this disorder, they are confused. They affect wholesome, healthy innocence through the psychosomatic imprint of their syndrome. This is an innocence that they do not possess. Orient them: they will deceive you. Restrain them: they will fight you. Medicate them: they will conspire, much as those in the grip of senility or paranoia, to reject the medications. Yet the hyperrachic immoral are not well.”

The girl stands before him. She is fifteen years old and her eyes have the look of a wild creature’s.

“Do you understand,” the doctor asks her, “why I say you are not well?”

“‘Cause I get wogly burps,” says the girl.

He looks at her.

His expression suggests the word: Eh?

So the girl works her diaphragm for a moment. Then she burps. It’s one of those deliberate burps that you only do when you’re alone or on a doctor’s ziggurat or you want to be rude. She chews for a minute, then she spits out a wogly.

“Like that.”

He doesn’t know whether to write this up for the journals or to bleed her for defiance. He’s totally nonplussed. That’s how unexpected a wogly burp can be!

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: “Save for Cronos, and the woglies, and the siggorts, I suppose.”

That’s . . . it cuts in there.

Something for everyone, said Rhea, something, something, something, save for Cronos, and the woglies, and the siggorts, she supposed.

He lay with her that night, Cronos with Rhea, and in the course of seasons she bore him a daughter.

This was earlier than the last history. Maybe about 12 pesserids before the end of the Second Kingdom. She lay with him and she bore him a daughter. And most fathers would have been happy, because, you know, perfect adorable daughter, but Cronos wasn’t one of that kind.

“I will make this world into a torture chamber,” Cronos said.

“Gii-whii!” answered Hestia, as he held her in his arms.

She wriggled her toes and hiccupped and guarded with her power the hearths and houses of the world.

“Listen,” Cronos said.

He looked up at the stars.

“This world is bound to forms,” he said. “To concepts. To the ideal. But I have made the work of my life the severing of that bond.”

Hestia’s face grew very still and intent.

“I had forgotten it,” he said. “But still, it is my work. And there is only one way that it may be done: I must make the forms abhorrent to themselves. I must make the edifice of right and wrong and tradition and form and even structured thought a crime.”

The world revolved around him, as it does, when one sits upon the throne of all the world.

Rhea’s face grew very pale.

“Cronos—” she said.

The teeth of Cronos set on his daughter’s arm. He bit it off. He chewed. He swallowed.

Hestia wailed, thinly. Her blood fell upon the earth.

“Shh,” Cronos said.

He put his finger to her lips. He looked at Rhea.

“The Kingdom I have builded gives way to Tyranny,” Cronos said, “and there is no answer to it within the structures of the world.”

The Kingdom I have builded gives way to Tyranny.

He opened his hand, and there was a wogly in it, and I took it. This is one of the few interactions that we are allowed between history and the now: the taking of woglies. I took the wogly from him, because Dr. Sarous was going to kill me if I did not, and I chewed on it and I sucked away a bit of blood, and then I burped and spit it out.

Cronos didn’t even seem surprised.

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, but everybody calls her the imago. It’s the name of her website, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

She’s standing there in a white straightjacket and the holes along its arms gape in the darkness like little mouths. There’s two orderlies holding her still. They stand behind her, and to either side, gripping the blunted ends of the straightjacket’s arms.

In front of her there’s an altar with a blackened trench for blood.

On the other side of it there is Sarous, the doctor of the deeps.

The wind is rushing past them. They are high above the cavern ground. They are on a ziggurat built of great stone slabs. Beneath them mills the crowd.

“What the Hell?” says Sarous.

“They’re all through my diagnostic criteria,” Ink lies sadly. “They’re rendering dubious and undefined the very concept of my health.”

She coughs in a fashion that seems sickly but under closer scrutiny reveals itself to be a profound flaw in medical science.

“Undefined,” says Sarous. His voice is flat.

“In this world,” says Ink, “there are only three healthy things. To recognize that one is imperfect, and to seek perfection. To recognize that hope is not lost, and to embrace it. And finally to normalize one’s condition, blinding oneself to all the ways in which one is already perfect or in which there is no hope. But thanks to these woglies I can’t tell if I recognize my own imperfection or not, much less the ways in which I’m already perfect. It’s just too difficult!”

She kicks the wogly.

It hisses.

Dr. Sarous has a horrified look.

“It’s terrible,” lies Ink. “The closer you are to finding out how healthy I am, the more your results vary. They hooked me up to the ultimate diagnostic catheter and it exploded! The diagnostic focus of a doctor’s mind intrudes on me—snap! It hooks straight into madness. It’s why nobody will treat me any more, even if I make my sad pathetic ‘I have wogly burps’ face.”

Ink demonstrates.

The wogly, irritably, begins to eat the integrity of Dr. Sarous’ ziggurat.

The clouds of Dr. Sarous’ nonplussedness coalesce into anger and move towards icy confidence. Ink opens her mouth to say something and interrupt the process but a wave of dizziness shakes her mind. Perhaps it’s the tightness of the straightjacket or an infection in her wounded hand.

By the time her world clears it is too late.

“Argumentative hyperrachia,” dismisses Dr. Sarous. He picks up the wogly. He hides it in his palm. “It is not sound.”

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

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

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

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

The Island of the Centipede

“I’m just being helpful,” says Ink.

“You might think so,” Dr. Sarous says. He jerks his head. It is a signal. The orderlies push Ink forward to lay across the altar. “But you’re not.”

“I could have hurt you,” Ink says. “But I didn’t want to.”

Dr. Sarous palpates her back.

“I think the organ of your failings is here,” he says.

“That’s the kidney, sir,” an orderly says.

“Slightly to the left.”

“Ah.”

“I still don’t want to,” Ink says.

“That’s the hyperrachia talking, my dear.”

“I could have said, ‘You have Melissa’s disease.'”

Dr. Sarous goes still.

“Because it’s contagious,” Ink says. “She said.”

Dr. Sarous does not move. He stares at the imago’s back.

“Sir?” the orderly says.

“It’s probably in the same general category as stepladder syndrome,” Ink says.

“How do you know about her?” Dr. Sarous asks.

“You inherited her backpack, probably,” Ink says. “So you’ve got a small parcel. And your hair is dark.”

Dr. Sarous holds up his palm.

“But my hand is fine,” he says.

“Is it?”

There’s no wogly in his palm. Not any more. There’s a red mark bitten into it where the sign of moral degeneracy would go.

  • Tune in TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY, or maybe THURSDAY for the next exciting installment:
    INK ASCENDING
  • Special bonus! Updated through Chapter 2, but not yet converted to WordPress: the timeline.
  • And, since I’ll forget myself if I don’t tell you: pesserid (pesз:rid) – pre-temporal unit measuring the escalating {pitch, intensity, fervor} of a situation; related to basirat and pessos.

Ink Invaluable (IV/XVI)

In the belly of the world there is a great wintry battlefield where white slate snowflakes drift down from a ceiling measurelessly high and accumulate slowly on the bodies of the dead. They are sprawled there, creatures warped by any surface measure, people with the features of bugs and fish and writhing squirming weasel-things. Some wield weapons. Others claws. They are dead.

Around and among them works Riffle and his crew.

“There,” he says.

Where he points his crew converges. They prop up planks of wood against one another. They nail them together. They build scaffolds. They connect the scaffolds together in great rickety structures. They grow ungainly wooden structures, awkward and without pattern, towards the ceiling rock.

The cavern is full of the sounds of hammering, climbing, and crashing.

It is full of the dust of fallen wood.

The girl coughs.

All eyes turn on her. It is a look of accusation.

You are coughing, suggest the eyes of Riffle’s crew. This is distracting us from our vital and important work. Why, even the time we take to formulate this thought, to contemplate the knobs and pits and irregularities of our own introspection, is time we cannot afford.

“Don’t give them an excuse,” says Riffle.

The girl is fifteen years old, more or less, with hair as black as ink. She’s wearing a pink backpack that’s too small for her. She’s taller than Riffle. He doesn’t make it much past her elbow. She can tell, because suddenly he’s standing next to her, suddenly he’s guiding her away from the crew.

“They’ll slack if you give them the slightest excuse,” Riffle says. “So you have to keep them in fear of their lives.”

Then he stabs at her.

With a sword he’s picked up from the ground!

He stabs her right at the throat!

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

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

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

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

The Island of the Centipede

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly. Short for Ananke, she’ll tell you — Necessity — although we already know that’s not the truth.

There are many legends about her.

People will tell you that she climbed a tower right to Hell, but didn’t find it at the top; or that she dove deep beneath the world to look for Heaven; or that she got caught amidst the soldier’s tents in a duly sanctioned war.

“We cut the freedom from the rock,” said Private Jameson.

That’s from that last legend that we mentioned, the one about the war.

“We cut the freedom from the rock,” Private Jameson said.

Outside the tent blew the wind, cutting and dark and terrible. It kicked up sand and small rocks. The great tall slouching jellyfish of the land moved blindly in that wind, walking amidst and beyond the soldiers’ tents.

Sometimes one of their tendrils brushed against the open flap and Jameson would shudder.

“Here,” he said.

He held a bit of freedom up. It was slick and soapy in his hands. It was translucent and milky and had sparks in it.

“We cut it from the veins in the rock and then we ship it home.”

“Toss it here?” said Ink.

She was shackled to a post in the back of the tent. Her hair blew about, then settled, then blew about again.

“Very funny, ma’am,” Jameson said.

Ink looked down.

“I don’t suppose you’d care to say why you’re in the war zone, ma’am?”

“I was exploring,” she said.

He looked blankly at her.

“I was looking for Hell,” she said.

“Ah,” said Private Jameson. He tapped his nose. “See, that thing, you see, that saying about war? It’s a metaphor.

Ink made a face at him.

“It seems rude,” she said, after a while. “Coming into another country and mining their freedom.”

“I felt sorry for them,” Private Jameson said.

“Sorry?”

“There’s this thing,” he said. “This happiness, this sweetness, this certainty at the heart of totalitarianism. We have it back home. It’s like a blanket wrapped around your heart and a cup of cocoa in your hands. And they were here, out in the Empty Lands, with the jellyfish and the sand. And I said, ‘They must be so cold, so scared, so helpless, there.'”

“With the freedom?”

“Nobody’s free in this world but Jesus and Jehovah, ma’am. They were chained, they were bound, they were helpless like the rest of us, but they had all this freedom just laying around. Just enough to feel it, if you see my meaning. Just enough to be cold.”

The tent shuddered. One of the jellyfish had blundered into it, with its great fat body and its gleaming skin. The top of it bowed in under the weight and there was a tearing sound.

“Oh,” said Ink.

Private Jameson looked up.

It was from the other side. That was why he didn’t have warning or time to stop it: it came from the other side, the tendril that spiked through the canvas of the tent and skewered him. He was looking one way, startled by the looming of the jelly, and the tendril came in from the other and it tore into his skin.

The poison of the jellyfish cut upwards along his spine. He spasmed. The freedom flew from his hand.

Ink stared.

It was very quick, the whiteness and blueness of Private Jameson’s death. It spread across his face. He fell.

“Hey!” shouted Ink.

The tent had pulled up from one of its pegs. The wind was blowing.

“Hey! Captured girl who was wandering around the war zone here! My security’s dead!”

In the distance she heard the echoes of guns and great picks. She could hear running feet. They were not coming for her. Their direction was north.

The tendril of the jellyfish was caught in the tent. It flailed near her.

Her foot stretched out.

The tendril cut across the leg of her pants and she froze; but it did not cut in and she did not die.

Her foot stretched out. Too far — too far —

Just as the muscle in the bottom of her foot cramped she touched her toe against the freedom. She got the tiniest of grips.

The post that held her slipped free.

She fell flat. She pulled at the shackles with her teeth. They gave.

Ink pulled the freedom closer with her foot. She gripped it in her hand.

“South,” she said.

She kicked to her feet. She ran south. The great blind jellies drifted. Behind her, men fought men.

There was more freedom there — just laying on the road. So she picked it up.

She took up more and more of it as she ran until even the gravity well of the world could not hold her; until she could kick up and go flying up from the ground; until the heaviness and slowness of her muscles could not hold her back and she flowed like a river up into the sky.

Se’irite!” cried a voice.

Forbidden thing. Beast. Anathema. Such were the implications of his tone.

Se’irite!” that person said, and she looked over, and she saw a man with horror writ upon his face. He raised a ramshackle cardboard-tube gun with spam cans tied on either side. He fired. Everything around her went white with the explosion of that gun.

The shadow of death rose behind her as she ran into the night.

The gun had only clipped her. Before it fired it again she rose into the sky and she was gone.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: The end of human sacrifice was the beginning of time.

I wanted the details of the Titanomachy. I went looking for them. But that’s what I got. Not the origins of the thunderbolt. Not how Zeus freed the siggorts and the woglies, then put them back again. Not how the lord of the gods won the world, or how he saved his family from his father’s fate. Just that: the end of human sacrifice was the beginning of time.

It’s stupid, though, because human sacrifice never ended. We just stopped using the perfect, the beautiful, the valuable, and the precious, and started sacrificing the people we don’t care about instead. We feed them to our gods until their mouths are red with them.

I’m not sure why it doesn’t count.

Perhaps it is the karma of a worm that moves her arm. Perhaps it is the nature of the imago.

Ink’s hand comes up.

She catches the sword before it kills her.

A trickle of blood runs down her neck, and more from her hand, and she asks him, “What the Hell?”

“Fixed-rate liability insurance,” says Riffle, and he twists the blade.

  • Will tort reform destroy Ink Catherly at last? Will Riffle make his quota on scaffold-inches for the day? And what’s that horrific rumbling in Cronos’ belly? Looming up on the horizon, the next exciting installment of the histories of Ink Catherly:
    ACTUAL TERROR.

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 Uncanny Valley (I/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]

Sid wakes up.

He smiles eastwards towards the dawn.

It’s wonderful, sometimes, to be Sid. The birds are singing. The sun is bright. His body is fresh and practically unhurt and his hair’s just the way he’s always wanted it to be.

He takes a deep breath of pure clean air and says, “How beautiful.”

Then everything goes wrong.

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

It is June 2, 2004.

Martin is sitting on the grass by Sid.

Sid has fallen on his back and he’s got this stricken look like he’s just come home from vacation to discover that everything everywhere in the world is broken.

“Did you ever hear that old question about whether you’d prefer to torture one person or let everyone in the world die?” Martin asks.

“No,” Sid says.

“No?”

“For some reason,” Sid says, “nobody ever asks siggorts that one.”

“Huh.”

Martin is sitting there on the grass by Sid. He’s looking at his fingers.

“What is it that’s so beautiful?” Martin asks.

Sid laughs. It hurts him to laugh, but he does.

Martin’s still looking at him.

Sid shakes his head.

“Jane tells me,” Martin says, “that the answer is, ‘You are.'”

Sid doesn’t say anything.

“That that’s what you see when you wake up in the place without recourse and the beauty of it overwhelms you. Not the dawn. Not the sky. You. The inside of your eyes.”

“Why did you make her that way?”

“Best I could do with the materials I had.”

“Really?”

“I’m a boy of pride,” Martin says.

“It’s not me,” Sid says.

“No?”

“Siggorts are legendarily ugly,” Sid says. “It’s not so much the visuals as the dharma.”

“Pointy,” Martin concurs.

Sid makes a face.

“What is it, then?” Martin asks.

“Not me.”

Martin laughs.

“What?”

“Real insightful, Mr. Dialectic.”

Sid snorts.

Martin gestures out at the sea. He says, “Max is out there.”

Sid’s neck goes taut. It’s like his larynx is strangling him. He stands, his hands awkward in the air in front of him, the long muscles of his legs pulling and pushing against one another to draw him up. He stares out at the distant glimmers on the sea.

“Why?” Sid asks.

“I sent him west to seal a fountain of good,” Martin says.

“You didn’t have to.”

“No.”

“No?”

“I just don’t like him,” Martin says.

Sid wants to scowl at Martin but it’s like his nose is stuck pointing west; he can’t make himself turn his head back from the sea. Instead he says, “It’s a trick question, isn’t it? The torture thing?”

“Yes.”

“One side’s intention and the other’s an outcome.”

“That’s the math of it,” Martin agrees.

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

“What do you expect me to do?” Sid asks.

“Go west,” Martin says.

“And if I don’t?”

“Then you don’t.”

The grass is very green beneath the siggort and the boy. The wind makes waves upon it.

“Why?”

“Do you know what sucks?” Martin says. “What sucks is that Jane needs me. And that’s not because of people like the monster. It’s because of people like you.”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Thumbscrews, that makes so much sense.”

“You have these people,” Martin says, entirely ignoring Sid. “These perfectly useful people. And they have beating inside them like a heart their knowledge of themselves, of who they are. And then someone comes along from outside and proposes an alternative. Cripple them here. Clip the wings there. Mold them like Jell-O and make sure they fit. Take your vision of what they should be and use it to overwrite their own. And then just leave them out there—out in the world—flopping around on their wing-stubs, parroting back the twisted nonsense that you gave them, crawling in circles around their concrete-moored peglegs, and then what am I supposed to do?”

“I didn’t ask you to do anything.”

“No,” Martin says. “That’s the trouble with isn’ts.”

“What?”

“You can’t ask. Not once they’ve broken you. You say, ‘Give me more of that torture’, and maybe it’s you, and maybe it’s the twisting in you. You sit there silently, and maybe you’ve got nothing to say, or maybe they’ve drowned it. You say ‘Let me go’, and maybe that’s reason and maybe that’s panic. You say all kinds of things, and the fundamental crime that made you isn’ts is that sometime, once upon a time, somebody didn’t listen; and that somehow, as a result of that, I can’t listen to you now.”

“That’s bleak,” Sid says.

“The trouble with isn’ts,” Martin says, “is that they don’t want to be real, not really. They can’t, because they’re not. How can something that isn’t even there have desires? How can one dharma, forced into the mold of another, know what it means to express itself?”

“That seems like a dumb question to ask me,” Sid says.

“It’s not a question,” Martin says. “It’s an expression of regret.”

“Oh.”

“I can’t fix you, Sid. All I can do is make you anew.”

Dedicated to someone who is not at all like Sid or Martin, except in that you shouldn’t mess with her. Not even if you’re the Buddha—or a shark!

The Broken Island (1 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]

Max hurts. He licks his lips. Everything is distant and throbbing in white.

“You must hurry on,” says Red Mary.

His eyes drift open. The ceiling is blue and it’s moving. Also his bed is rocking back and forth and someone’s poured water and blood on him and for some reason there’s sailcloth wrapped around his leg and shoulder.

“I’m not God?” he asks.

He’s not entirely sure where he’s been but he’s pretty sure it involved being infinite and spread out over everything in the universe.

“What is God?” Red Mary asks. “We barely understand people.”

“Heh,” says Max.

He laughs. He coughs up a tangled mix of pangolin scales, kelp, and foam. Then he curls in on himself.

After a bit, he laughs again.

He says, “I was looking for him. So it would have been funny if I was.”

Red Mary looks at him with her cold black eyes.

“God is not here,” she says. “Though once this place was paradise.”

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue 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.

The Island of the Centipede

In the sea to the west of Gibbelins’ Tower a hill rises from the chaos. It is split into pieces like flower petals opening, like a walnut smashed too strongly by a hammer, like a broken mirror, like a land sundered forcefully by lightning. Its edges are brown rock with purple veining and the moist darkness of mussels clinging at its base. Great seacourses run through it, around and about the chunks of land, rushing with great currents. Trees stand at the edge of the unnatural cliffs, the wind bowing them out over those cliffs’ edges that they may cast down rustling green shadows. Where the land is low and holds its belly in down near the waves red bushes grow. They are crisp and the afternoon light suffuses them.

The catamaran runs the seacourse, lean and low like a wolf.

“What smashed it?” Max asks.

“Its own inadequacies,” Red Mary says. “I have told you that no paradise sustains. Against the nature of things the force that held this land together could not hold; over a thousand years of observation it has pulled itself apart.”

He thinks that this has made her sad, so he says, “I’m sorry.”

“Mr. Kong would say,” Red Mary says, “that we must try to be good.”

The seacourse turns.

Red Mary tacks the boat. The boom swings, and she catches it with one hand before she ducks beneath it and lets the catamaran run.

“In the face of such emptiness,” she says, “and the cost of helping others; still, that we should try to be good.”

Max says, “I’m glad for your sudden conversion to Confucianism.”

Red Mary shrugs.

“Didn’t you try to kill me?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“You should have stayed at home,” says Red Mary. She is angry. She does not look at him. Her tail dips into the water and the skin of her face stretches tight against its bones.

“I was looking for God,” Max says.

“Most people do that in the silence of their soul.”

“I had a catamaran.”

“It’s not your business to come here.”

Max struggles up on one elbow. He says, “You’ve ripped off bits of me with your teeth so don’t tell me what’s my business and not my business.”

Rage boils in her. Her face darkens. But propriety, and scarcely, keeps it down.

“With twelve of us,” she says, “this place had a thousand years; of that, scarcely a week remains. Each hour you spend here eats sixty-five minutes of that time; more, since you are not accounted for in the balance of things. I regret my murderous frenzy has inconvenienced you but to sing sailors to their death is in the nature of a siren and I had ample motivation to see you drown.”

Max slumps back on the deck. He’s a little dizzy.

“Sid’s like that,” he says.

“Hm?”

“He’s always talking about how it’s his nature to vivisect people, like he’s sad that brutal murder inconveniences me. He’s never actually ripped off a chunk of my leg and shoulder, though.”

“Is the bandage all right?”

“You don’t really have to do it,” Max says. “You know.”

“Help you?”

“Kill people.”

“That’s none of your concern,” Red Mary says.

“The Hell it’s not.”

Red Mary says, softly, “How a man grows aggressive when his enemy displays propriety. He thinks: I will use this good behavior to enforce my advantage over her. Is it any wonder people hold good behavior in such disregard?”

Max remembers the charge of Red Mary against him. He remembers the pain of parting when she tore his flesh from flesh. He subsides.

More gently, he says, “But teeth aren’t righteousness.”

“No,” says Red Mary.

She looks up.

“I’m not saying you’re right,” she says, “and I’m not saying you’re wrong. But you’re making a moral argument about a factual thing.”

“Whatever,” says Max.

“I’ll tell you a story,” says Red Mary. “About the Buddha.”

The knife of the history of Mr. Kong is black against the whiteness of the deck.

“Okay,” Max says.

He hesitates for a moment.

“The ninja or the pirate?”

Red Mary stares at him a long, cold moment.

“Oh,” Max says, embarrassed. “The Indian.”

Red Mary (3 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

Currents rush through the purple sea.

Ahead of Max are the scattered remnants of an island. Some great power has struck and shattered what once was whole so that now it is a dozen, perhaps two dozen pieces of land with watercourses between them. The sunlight runs in white and golden streams along the chaos’ surface.

Max dangles from the edge of his catamaran by one arm and the strictures of his harness. Red Mary swims towards him.

Her movements are effortless and swift.

Max flounders and tries to drag himself up. The catamaran wobbles. His hand catches a wooden box. He closes his fingers around it, pulls it down and tries to catch Red Mary’s head with it.

It flails without efficacy and the claws of Red Mary open a gash on his side and the impact of her drives him and the boat back.

The box opens.

Inside, there is a knife of melomid skin, a shard of the lens Necessity, and it contains within it the history of Confucius; or, that is to say, of Mr. Kong.

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

It is June 3, 2004, in the latter years of the tyranny following the Fourth Kingdom of the world.

Max seizes the knife.

Red Mary draws back. She is ten yards away from him in the blinking of an eye. She curls her tail into a spiral and her hair drifts and she stares at him with cold black eyes.

He cannot imagine how it is that her shirt neither clings nor falls away.

“Wisdom tells us that we are not important as we are,” she says.

Max takes a tentative breath. The chaos is breathable but sickening, like the air in a slaughterhouse, so he kicks his feet to rise.

In that moment of blindness when he crests the surface she closes in; but he draws up his feet and he flails with the knife and honoring the wisdom of Mr. Kong Red Mary’s charge pulls short.

She circles, lazily. Max watches until she disappears around the catamaran; then, to track her, he must drop his head below the chaos once again.

“This is the argument for your death,” she says.

Max takes another lungful of chaos. He coughs. He bows inwards on himself. His mind’s eye blurs out with pain and stress. She flicks towards him.

Max extends the knife. Once again the point of the history keeps her at bay. She flicks back.

“The thrust of a mind’s attention distorts the chaos,” she says. “It agitates the substance of the world. From this we arise: rocks and trees and mortal men and gods. We serve as cysts for love and pain. And where we go we bestow these commodities, such that when we see the things that please us we distort them with the imprint of our suffering and when we see the things that hurt us we distort them with our love.”

The chaos picks up the rhythm of her words.

It is everywhere singing with them, and billowing with darkness like a God-squid’s ink.

“We carry forward the pains that gave us birth.”

Max goes to rise to the surface; but the coldness of her eyes stops him.

If I rise, he thinks, she will eat my leg.

He can hear that as a harmony in the chaos. The music tells him: You are entangled, and to struggle will hurt you more.

If I rise, he thinks, she will eat my leg. But here I cannot really breathe.

“We are imperfect and pitiable creatures,” she says. “Because where we go no paradise can sustain. Why did the Buddha fail to save the world? Why was the maiming of Uranus in vain? Why has every effort ever made to craft a Heaven of this world failed us? It is because of who we are. We are unfinished. We are imperfect. Our existence necessitates a condition of imperfection.”

Diamond patterns play across his vision.

“But there is an answer,” she tells him.

Oh?

“There is a perfect anodyne.”

This is the music that once Odysseus found beautiful; and it would have killed him were he not tied to his mast.

Max cannot think. The knife drifts from his hand.

“You’re soaking in it,” she says.

Max sags.

He drifts there in the water.

He can feel it, everywhere around him: the infinity of things.

He is small in it.

He is a speck.

He is a handful of organic molecules and thoughts whose insistence on material integrity have bound him to suffering and to fight that which he loves.

“There was a siggort,” says Max.

And perhaps that is why he does not dissolve and scatter into the foam of the sea; but it is not enough.

“You are part of this great infinity,” Red Mary tells him, and he feels himself the whole of the chaos and the land and he does not feel her teeth.

Sid vs. Max (1 of 1)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

The sky is golden. The sea has this red glow now. Sid’s face is in the shadow of the tower and the wind is blowing.

Max can feel it in his teeth.

He can taste his own blood and, possibly, either Rahu’s or Sid’s.

The tower shifts and shakes as he staggers back.

Whump!

Off to the distant west there’s a sound: Whump!

And strictly speaking Max should feel concerned that the tower is moving but right now there is only one thing in the world, which is Sid. Sid, standing there with the feather in his hair and the blood on his shirt and the wind tugging at his hair and clothing and the knives spinning to his left.

Max braces himself against the wall and he lunges forward to rip out Sid’s heart.

For a stupid, stupid plan, it’s remarkably effective. His fingers actually sink into Sid’s chest, bowing in the siggort’s ribs by half an inch before they stop. Sid takes half a step backwards, raises his arm, and tries to club Max across the face.

Max grabs Sid’s sleeve from beneath with his right hand. He shifts his left arm over Sid’s. He twists, putting pressure on Sid’s elbow, and as Sid stiffens, and because Max can see Sid’s face, he pushes forwards with his palm to strike at Sid’s already damaged jaw.

He hears the humming whine of the wheel of knives against his ear.

He falls sideways, trying to protect his face. The knives cut deep along his arm.

Whump!

The world shifts under his feet.

Sid is frozen, looking at him, trying to figure out whether to press the attack while Max is on the ground, cut.

So Max pulls himself back up to his feet.

He watches the wheel spin until the knives seem to slow and he can almost see the handles whirling past.

“C’mon,” he says.

And Sid’s face twists, and he hops forward, and his hand stretches at Max’s face like a claw.

Max reaches inside the wheel with his left hand. A knifehandle strikes his wrist and his arm jerks and there is agony; but the wheel stops its spinning. His plan is this: to punch Sid through its open center.

But protruding from Sid’s palm, stretching forth in tentative motion like an insect feeler, there is a spike of siggort. It is glistening and deadly, metallic in color, a tool of vivisection and terror.

So Max doesn’t punch.

He draws his gun and he shoots and he shoots and he shoots because he does not want to die.

They stagger apart.

They sit down.

Sid coughs up old, dry blood. It comes out of his mouth as powder.

Max’s world dims and shakes and his ears ring.

Then Sukaynah heaves and tears herself loose from the foundation of the tower and a good quarter of Gibbelins’ Tower caves in.

Sid is like a liquid. He flows to his feet. Then he coughs. He can’t stop the coughing.

And, weirdly, he can’t stop thinking of how he doesn’t have to be alone.

He’d figured that out once.

That he didn’t have to be.

He was in darkness and solitude and it hit him that he didn’t have to be alone, that he could be with somebody called Max—

It doesn’t matter, Sid thinks.

He starts heading towards where people might be hurt; where people might be in danger; where Martin is working and the tower is crumbling.

He slips on Max’s blood.

His world wobbles. For just a second, he lets go

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

Sid wakes up.

He smiles eastwards towards the dawn.

It’s wonderful, sometimes, to be Sid. The birds are singing. The sun is bright. His body is fresh and practically unhurt and his hair’s just the way he’s always wanted it to be.

He takes a deep breath of pure clean air and says, “How beautiful.”

It is June 2, 2004.

It is one of those days—those gorgeous days.

Sid’s sprawled on the grass next to the tower and slowly the desperation comes back to fill him.

There are some horrors that cannot be run from. There are some things that cannot be fought.

Where Sid is, there is Ii Ma.