Ink Infallible (IV/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

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

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

The girl is trying to rescue a flying carpet.

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

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

Always? the carpet thinks.

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

Why?

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

A hummingbird floats in the air near the girl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Island of the Centipede

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

That bastard calls her Ms. Catherly.

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

“He’s a total jackass,” she says.

“Who?” the hummingbird asks.

“This guy,” she says.

She waves a hand.

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

“Oh,” the hummingbird says. “Him.

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

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

The creature hesitates.

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

An inner struggle in the carpet ceases.

It emits a soft chirr.

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

It is terribly, terribly wounded.

It looks at Ink.

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

It looks at Ink.

“I’m a destroyer!”

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

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

She looks away.

She looks at it again.

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

“Fine,” she says.

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

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

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

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

And we are ashamed of this.

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

Ink rides the flying carpet back into the world.

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

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

Ink points up. “Earth,” she says.

She points down. “Storm.”

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

“And?”

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

“But how—“

“Do you really have to know?”

The hummingbird is silent.

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

Ink sighs.

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

She braces herself.

She utters the Dukkha Call:

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

The suffering that permeates all life answers.

Dukkha localizes with a swirl of his cape.

“Ms. Catherly,” he says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She rushed into the storms beneath the world.

She was laughing.

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

Then Dukkha’s eyes flick down.

That’s all it takes.

Just one flick down, to orient himself.

Gravity takes hold.

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

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

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

Ink Indestructible (I/I)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

“I think that God lives at the center of the world,” says the girl.

She is sitting on the head of a monstrously oversized warbish lavelwod, a horror bound under a tower in the sea of chaos to the west of the world, and her hand is brushing gently against the surface of the sea.

“I think that he’s at the heart of the world like the seed’s at the heart of a pearl. That it surrounds him so that in every direction he may look out and see the world; and that the crust is there so that he cannot see too clearly the suffering that he works with his existence.”

The warbish lavelwod breathes: ho-ha, ho-ha.

“So that’s why I need you,” says the girl. “Not to go up and eat the sun, but to go down and devour God.”

“That’s all very well,” says the warbish lavelwod, “but I am not sure that we have been properly introduced.”

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

The Island of the Centipede

Ink giggles.

“My name is Ink Catherly,” she says. “But everybody calls me the imago. ‘Cause i’m-a-go in’ to kill whomever’s on the throne of this bloody ol’ world, you see.”

“I see,” says Sukaynah.

“And you’re Sukaynah?”

“Yes.”

Ink’s hand is pink against the surface of the chaos. It is causing ripples to be. But now a sea change comes to it; and she gives a great gasp and stretches back; and the substance of Ink becomes history.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004 – Sukaynah: Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Sukaynah.

She loved the storms.

When it rained she would run out into them and play.

If there were a purpose to Sukaynah, it would have been to rush through the world into gathering storms and then take joy in them.

But this is a purpose that she did not understand.

One day Sukaynah broke a promise.

It wasn’t much. Just a little thing. But it made her ashamed.

It rained that day, and she couldn’t face the rain.

The fairies of the clouds and the dragons of the storm called to her, but Sukaynah would not come.

She curled up in her room.

She would not hear them.

And one of the truggumps that sometimes grew in the hay told her, “So make a promise that you won’t break.”

She drew on the strength in her.

“I promise that I’ll make the sun go away forever,” she said, in the face of those storms.

She became something horrible.

She became something great and terrible, a warbish lavelwod, and the skin of her was mottled and the teeth of her were sharp.

“Would you take me down below the sea?” Ink asks. “And crack for me the surface of the world?”

“If I were free?” Sukaynah says.

“Yes.”

“The currents would sweep you away,” Sukaynah says. “Then if you remained with me, we would crash into the crust of the world and hurt our heads very badly; and if I made it through, you would not.”

“That’s one thing,” says Ink, “and this is another.”

“But—” Sukaynah is frustrated. “We would find lava. And possibly some kind of magnetic thingie. Like iron or something.”

Ink laughs.

“You mustn’t be so afraid of the world,” Ink says. And points out, “You’re a gigantic horror, you know. It’s more scared of you than you are of it.”

Sukaynah breathes.

Then something in her snaps. Ink’s enthusiasm reaches her.

“Sure,” she says. “Sure, I’d do that.”

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – She chased the setting sun, across the world from the east to the west, chased it out into the sea that lies beyond world and sound; and there, on a small bit of rock, she closed her eyes to sleep;

And while she slept the gibbelins chained her down beneath the sea and built a tower on her face.

If this were not enough, they fed her on no food more good than human flesh, great gobbets of it, raw, until she would rather have choked than eat another bite. But eat she did.

And if that were not enough, they went away.

They left her there to starve. And she cried out to the Heavens that she would forgive even the flesh, if someone would just feed her in that way again.

It was a lie.

What has a lavelwod to do with such forgiveness?

The bonds on Sukaynah weaken.

They strain beneath her strength.

Something is different, though the nature of it is not yet clear.

Then one by one, the ropes that bind Sukaynah snap.

Sukaynah tears herself loose and there is a monstrous turbulence and a cry of terrible pain. After all of these years freedom burns like acid admixed with fire.

The tower, weakened by her earlier thrashings, caves in above her.

Sukaynah dives.

She maketh a whirlpool of the chaos.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – And the years passed, and Abel Clay came to the tower.

Sukaynah cried out to him.

How could she not?

She cried to him that if he would feed her on sweetness and good things that it would give her the strength she’d need to break her bonds; that she could snap them and be free and rise to eat the tower and the sun; that the gibbelins had made the rope to bind a creature outcast by the world and it would not hold a creature who knew love.

And he loved her.

He loved her, but not the whole of her.

He loved the girl who’d run to love the storms and the great gnashing maw of her and the burning eye of her and the endless warbishness of her. He loved that part of her in that rough-edged way of a man beyond the boundaries of the world;

But what man could love the part of her that yearned to eat the sun?

Ink leaves contrails in the chaos as she descends.

She thinks, as the many long limbs of Sukaynah thrash at the chaos behind her: This would be a really good excuse for being named Ink.

The lavelwod’s a bit like an octopus, after all.

Ink’s streaming behind her as she jets.

She’s leaving contrails of herself—motion lines of imago. She’s warping the chaos as it tries to warp her.

But it’s hard to reduce that to a short phrase she can use in an introduction.

And all around her she can taste the chaos.

It’s not like air. It’s like Sukaynah and Tep and Ink and thousands of years of suffering.

Ahead of them in the chaos are the first wisps of the gathering storm.

With a great loud whump Sukaynah strikes the crustline of the world.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – One day she thought, as she lay imprisoned there, that perhaps she should not devour the sun, after all.

That her inherent nature as a creature driven to destroy all human life forever and leave the world horrible and cold was why nobody loved her; or, at least, the part of her nobody in the world could love.

So she promised.

She screwed up her courage and she promised that if someone would feed her on wholesome things and the substance of the world, that she would not rise. That she would stay deep, and bring no more trouble to the world. That she would let the sun to live.

She changed that day.

A person who makes a promise that a warbish lavelwod can’t fulfill can’t be a warbish lavelwod, after all.

Again and again Sukaynah pounds against the world.

It has unleashed a fiend in her, this freedom.

It has made her a creature of mad destruction, great beyond comprehension, and determined to batter her way through the chaos-weakened shell of the world.

And her head rings and her vision blurs and there is blood to glut ten thousand sharks. It floats around her like great clouds. It piles on layers upon layers and great thunderheads and some of them are green and some of them are grey.

There is a high-pitched screaming that seems too pained to be her own and far too loud to be Ink’s.

The world shudders with repeated shocks.

Her vision flares with each bump against the ground and one, maybe two seconds later she will hear the roaring of the world.

A moment of stillness comes. She is surrounded by cacophany and mist and chaos and she thinks, like a pleased child, is this mine?

Did I make this?

Everything changes when she breaks through.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – There’s nothing in the rules that says that just because someone isn’t a warbish lavelwod, that you can’t tie them up at the bottom of the sea.

If there were, then there’d be a lot fewer people on the bottom of the sea.

Like, two, or maybe eight. Twelve at the most.

Certainly not as many as there are now.

So Sukaynah’s newest promise doesn’t free her.

In fact, you could even argue that it’s kept her bound; because not too long after that latest of her cries, Martin came to the tower, and Martin’s the kind of boy who could love a lavelwod.

Of course he could.

He’s always loved things like that, great and terrible and awful, like Sukaynah, like he wishes the monster would be.

So he fed her on sweetness and on wholesome things and he loved her and she would have loved him had it not been for the stillness that had grown in her over all these thousands of years.

And one day he tried to free her; and he cast down a gift of all sweet wholesomeness; and had she been a warbish lavelwod then the sugar in it would have set her free.

But there was nothing in his gift to free a girl who rushes laughing into the gathering of storms.

And it stung her horribly, it made her writhe, because it showed her—more than anything else could—that she’d lost herself; that she’d overextended herself; that she’d made too many promises and had forgotten what to be.

And that there wasn’t any gift she could ask for that would really set her free.

Ink drifts in darkness.

She thinks: Another really good excuse for being named Ink.

There is a pressure at her back. Chaos is pushing downwards through the crack, pouring down around her in great streams.

There is a howling wind.

Her arms and legs begin to tingle as she comes to fuller consciousness.

Ink opens her eyes.

She brushes aside her hair.

Beneath the world, as everyone knows, there is a great long emptiness; she hangs above it, tangled in the roots of the world and the limbs of Sukaynah.

And far below her,

just scarcely smaller than the world that hangs above,

there is a great and seething storm.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – People always forget that it’s impossible to keep a promise that is unnatural to you.

They twist themselves up.

They try really hard.

But the truth of a person comes out, no matter what strictures you hold it to.

We don’t know the truths of ourselves.

We’d like to, but we don’t.

We only know the edges.

One of the reasons we make promises, I think, is so that we can fill them in.

Ink’s mouth is moving.

She’s saying words that Sukaynah cannot parse because of the cognitive loudness of the beauty of the world.

They are these.

“In retrospect,” Ink says, “Looking for God under the crust of the world was probably a stupid idea.”

Dedicated to Hitherby Admin. Thanks for keeping the site going all this time!

That Moldless Legacy of Hell (IV/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

Leaves scud about on the surface of the chaos. They are yellow, mostly.

There’s an odd amount of sky visible up above, thanks to all the heaving about of the tower.

Tep’s wearing a loose orange sweatshirt, now.

It’s the color of the powdered brick that had clung to him as he fell.

There’s an alchemy of combination to that. He knows. The brick had melded into him, right down to the bone, before his nature rejected it.

Werewolves are good that way.

They never let go of what they are.

They never let go of anything, really.

That’s why for the rest of his life, whenever he likes, he’ll be able to close his eyes and see the great sweep of Sukaynah beneath the chaos and the ancient crusted bonds that had held her down while he challenged her.

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

The Island of the Centipede

“Don’t rightly know what to say,” Tep says.

Sukaynah breathes.

She does not answer.

If there is one thing he has learned from sitting irritably above her mouth for more than a century, it’s that Sukaynah doesn’t talk very much.

“How did it happen?” he says.

He’s asking about Ned.

And Sukaynah says, “He fell. He was old, Tep.”

“Oh.”

Tep had sort of forgotten that people got old. Even dogs.

“And the other thing?”

Sukaynah breathes.

“The tying-up thing?” he elaborates.

“I’d promised to make the sun go away,” Sukaynah says. “And I followed it all day, west and west, to the boundaries of the world. And the gibbelins tied me down.”

Tep whines softly.

Sukaynah breathes.

“I would surrender,” she says, “If I could. Because, in all honesty, I would not want to lose the rest of my teeth.”

“Well, that’s good,” says Tep.

He stares down.

But he can’t help grinning. It gets bigger and bigger.

“What?” Ink asks.

“I won,” he says.

The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay

August, Tuesday 5, 1890, Today I fetched in a jellyfish that spoke & offered me three wishes, but when I asked for the death of God it offered me regrets & suggested that easier wishes would involve gold or jewels, which prompted me to great laughter as I am no doubt the richest man in all the West & I threw it back without acceptance of its offer.

January, Thursday 1, 1891. It is the new year. I have settled myself quite comfortably now and do not think I shall have the opportunity to dethrone the Tyrant; for my indisposition in its peaks and swells is worse on each occasion, and I have not cracked but the thousandth part of the gibbelins’ knowledge herein. Still I find that I am not so hard taken by this as Ned is a faithful companion & I have even grown somewhat fond of Tep & Sukaynah. How can a man find himself so comfortable with savage beasts when the Lord, that fount of goodness, proves a Tyrant? I wonder if we have been In the Wrong and goodness is topsy-turvy from the start.

January, Sunday 12, 1891. I saw him in the distance, moving on the sea, and cast my spear; but I have missed the Tyrant and so he shall remain upon his throne.

I am not certain of the date but I felt that I should close out this volume in some better fashion & not so much speak of my inefficacy as of the great and generous favors that Providence and my adversary have granted me & to acknowledge that in all the cruelty that harangues the world there is still grounds for hope for I shall not regret knowing Emma or Lily or Charles or Tep or Sukaynah & if you find this please take care to feed Ned & Tep & Sukaynah as I do not believe that they can fend well on their own;
Abel Clay.

There are a few minutes of silence, punctuated principally by the sound of turning pages. Ink is reading the journal of Abel Clay.

Then she closes it.

She taps her nose, looking very intent.

Then she takes off her backpack—pink and very flat and a bit too small for her—and puts the journal in it. In exchange, she removes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It is wrapped in plastic and looks about as ancient as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can look without actually being green.

She tosses this to Tep.

He catches it. He looks at it more or less as anyone would.

“Sheesh,” says Ink. “You people don’t know how good you have it.”

“Oh,” says Tep.

“It’s food! You chew it and swallow it and then it’s in your stomach fueling the divine fire of your life.”

Tep looks at the sandwich sidelong.

“That is the theory,” Tep agrees.

“Hey,” Ink says.

And now she’s looking solemn.

“If you’ve won,” she says, “you can go, right?”

Tep whines again. It’s soft and under his breath and not so much an answer as a vocalization before his words; and he shortly adds, “She is tied down.”

“You’d sit here for a hundred years waiting for a dead dog to come back and fight you,” says Ink, “and now you’ll stay until someone unties a giant sun-killing horror with limbs as big as jet airliners?”

“Yes,” says Tep.

“Outside,” says Ink, “there are a billion souls to love as you’ve loved those here; and sunsets like rocketfire; and candy with chocolate inside and letters on the front, if you can hold that thought in your head without going insane from the sheer head-pounding magical majesty of it—

“‘Cause, seriously, I mean, just think about that for a moment—

“and balloons that fly up to the ceiling and get stuck there until they die; and ten hundred zillion books; and bees made out of ice and bees made out of rocks and bees that have sex with flowers. And when you breathe there’s air and it comes into your lungs and they push out and then suck in like this,” she says, demonstrating. “And sometimes people light little sticks on fire and breathe part of it into their lungs and then spit out smoke just like they were tumorous dragons.”

“There’s air here, too.”

“Huh,” says Ink. She breathes again: it makes the sound ho-ha, ho-ha, but smaller than Sukaynah’s. “So there is.”

She grins to Tep.

“But I’m taking her,” Ink says. “You can fight me over it, and she’ll stay tied up here forever, or you can say good-bye, and go, and find other people to love out in the endless immensity of the world.”

Sukaynah has been shifting softly in her bonds, pulling against them, a tiny motion that Ink did not feel and Tep did not see until it stopped.

It is still now, below Gibbelins’ Tower.

Softly, Sukaynah says, “Go.”

It is like the lifting of a shackle. It is the ending of a hundred years.

Smiling wildly, and leaning out across the chaos to touch Sukaynah’s face, Tep makes his goodbye; and then, his whole body one great moment of transition, he goes up the wall and away.

What is the imago?
Why does Sukaynah even care that fig newtons are fruit and cake?
Why, in just a few short minutes, will a quarter of Gibbelins’ Tower fall into a jumbled ruin?

Check back on Tuesday for the exciting conclusion to Chapter Two of The Island of the Centipede:
Ink Indestructible (I/I)

“What are you?” Sukaynah asks.

Ink’s hand comes down to touch the surface of the chaos.

“I’m a destroyer.”

Tep vs. Sukaynah (III/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

In stillness Sukaynah strains.

Ropes have bound her for thousands of years. They have become crusted with the varicolored substance of the chaos. They have grown stronger as she’s struggled. Her head rests among great stones. Her body presses in against the crust of the world. Around her head like an orthopedic pillow there is the artificial island whence the tower grows, one great hollow pillar of it fixed against her face, so that she breathes channeled air and not the chaos. From above one might not guess her presence there.

She has long since grown inured to the agony of her tangled limbs and the unpleasantness of things.

But right now she is gagging, and nausea is a unique unpleasantness.

The substance of her throat fizzes. The house caught in it trembles and rises. She is throwing up Ink, and Tep, and the house of Abel Clay.

Sukaynah’s neck has a crick. That is an agony. The swollen ropes around her left wrist and seventh limb have ground away the blood. That hurts her too. And there are promises she cannot keep and thirsts and hungers that she cannot satisfy and the harrowing monotony of time.

But it’s the little things that get past the crust of her disregard.

Like the nausea, or Tep.

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’s going to be tough for you to win,” Ink observes.

Tep wrinkles his nose at Ink.

Then he casts back his head.

He shouts, “Show your belly!

And he leaps from the porch to a protuberance in Sukaynah’s throat. And from there to the back side of Sukaynah’s teeth; and growling, as her maw gapes wide, he wraps himself around a tooth and begins shredding the enamel with his fingernails.

Ink frowns. She asks: “Isn’t that a bit eager?”

And Sukaynah says: hic.

The house of Abel Clay shoots through Sukaynah’s maw. It crashes into the wall of Gibbelins’ tower. It bows in on contact and explodes into flinders. With a whump Ink hits the wall, opens her mouth wide, and then falls onto a great long branch.

Sukaynah snaps her teeth shut.

Tep crunches until he is very thin. Then, as Sukaynah opens her maw again, he fills out, gasping for breath.

“Guh,” Tep says.

He shakes himself, hunches his back, and jumps upwards to land and claw against Sukaynah’s tender gums.

Sukaynah’s face has pulled free, just a bit, from the masonry of the tower. Chaos bubbles up around her.

With a wrench, Tep tears free Sukaynah’s tooth. It is substantially bigger than he is.

Sukaynah shakes her head.

Tep flies sideways, clutching the tooth in his arms and legs.

Tep slams into the wall.

Brick explodes under him and turns into fine powder. The shock of Tep’s impact ripples through the wall. He makes a little pained yip and his eyes water and his bones all snap.

Slowly, his body pulls back together.

He looks to Ink. He holds up the crumbling tooth. His face has a wild grin, as if to say: did you see? did you see?

Then he unsticks from the wall and lurches forward and falls into the chaos.

The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay

May, Thursday 18, 1890, surrounded by such a peculiarity of knowledge and Things I have decided to settle rather than test the brace on my leg against the enormity of the journey home & until such time as I have a better conception of in which direction lays my adversary; thus I have begun with the help of Ned to construct a home within this tower and learn the ways of fishing these great seas & spending my nights in review of the various written materials and records herein. I am forced to revise my opinion of the gibbelins; they are not savages but rather profoundly civilized creatures possessed of greater erudition than the Universities of the East. If they are lacking in any wise it is solely their respect for the other peoples of the Earth, to whom they conceive no more greatness than the foulest savages, to which effect I would chide them had they survived the long years since this tower’s establishment.

May, Wednesday 24, 1890, Tep has followed me to the tower. At first I judged this an occasion for great sorrow & attempted futilely to drive him off with gunfire but Ned fought him with such ferocity that Tep retreated and, after some time, offered muffled apology for his rude behavior & to make amends so I have set him to work helping me with my home & yet I do not trust him for he will mutter so darkly as he works.

July, Wednesday 30, 1890, Ned and Tep fought again this day. Tep is furious that he cannot make progress against the dog & also at me but as I have allowed him to haul in the nets he has soothed a portion of his anger & glutted himself until his stomach rounded on a vicious toothed fish perhaps 10 meters long. Salting the leavings and eating well I judged myself well served as I might well have lost the nets if I had hauled them in my Self.

August, Monday 4, 1890, my condition worsens due to fever spreading from my leg which I had thought was becoming well. Tep & Ned both solicitous, but Ned does not allow Tep into the house which I think very funny. Thus Tep sits on the branches & fumes & occasionally wrestles Ned in a fury of barking and growling which leaves them both bloody but scarcely harmed.

Swaying, Ink stands.

She looks down.

She stands in the baleful gaze of Sukaynah, above that creature’s burning eye; and Sukaynah says, softly, “In truth, after all this time, I would like to see him win.”

Ink stares for a moment, and then she beams.

She jumps down. She sits, cross-legged, next to Sukaynah’s eye.

“I thought you were a talking thing,” she says. “But who?”

Sukaynah breathes: ho-ha, ho-ha.

It blows Ink’s black hair about.

“Someone who has made too many promises,” Sukaynah says.

Tep’s hand rises from the chaos.

It hooks into the wall.

“He’s coming back,” Ink says. “Be ready.”

Tep pulls himself up, hand over hand. He is burned and altered, but his body sheds the wounds of chaos as he heals. Only his clothing is left changed.

But he does not attack.

In a sad and oddly goofy voice, he says, “I did not know you were tied up, Sukaynah.”

Ink Indigestible (II/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

“We make of this world,” says the girl, “a great and marvelous immensity filled with pureness and lightness and darkness and things that we do not understand.”

Her voice is reverent.

“It burns the skin of us like ice or fire,” she says. “It resounds in our ears like thunder. And we worship it, naturally we worship it, we look outwards and we give it homage, because it is so very wonderful things are.”

Tep is ignoring her.

He is sulking.

He is saying, “I can’t believe I have to fight Sukaynah.”

“Wow,” says the girl.

“Hm?”

“I can’t believe that either! Also: where are we?”

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

The Island of the Centipede

Normally being swallowed by a giant horror occasions great terror, uncertainty, and pain. However inside the throat of Sukaynah phosphorescent fungi manifest both light and slickness, producing an experience somewhat between that of a waterslide and Disney’s Haunted Mansion.

The house of Abel Clay rockets down her gullet and casts forth a great spray when it corners.

“We’re— that is,” says Tep. “There’s a giant, um, Sukaynah— the gibbelins—“

“Hm?”

Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to explain.

“We’re on the porch of a house in the throat of a horror under a tower in the middle of the sea,” Tep says.

Ink’s eyes light up.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Maliciously, Tep adds, “And you’re probably going to be digested, since you’re not a werewolf.”

Ink Catherly dips a finger in the fungus.

She tastes it.

“This is so much better than Hell,” says Ink Catherly, grinning ear-to-ear.

“What?”

“Did you know,” says Ink, “that when you’re in Hell, you can taste things, but it doesn’t matter that you can?”

“What does it taste like?”

“Terrible,” says Ink.

Then she cups her hands to the sides of her mouth. She shouts, “Sukaynah!”

There is no immediate response.

“Sukaynah! I’m covered in intangible bugs!”

The house slows in its course.

The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay

February, Tuesday 11, 1890, having abandoned all other concerns & let Emma’s garden grow over with dark vines I set forth to California & regions beyond. With the establishment of the rail I made this journey with fewer hardships than my grandfather & arrived without incident & with the graces of that Tyrant from whom I intended to claim satisfaction. For some weeks I traveled the coastal regions, discovering no chaos but locating several homes ravaged by disease & burying the residents therein & acquiring for the first time the loyalty of my dog Ned, formerly the associate of a family unfortunately passed. (See picture.) Naturally this close acquaintance with the dead chilled me with unease but a Responsible man tends to the damage done before the revenge for it & so strongly burned my purpose that fear could not turn me from these favorable actions that I have described.

May, Friday 5, 1890, I made my first encounter with the boy whom I now know as Tep, a child whose bestial personality has manifest certain physiognomic and physiological peculiarities. To wit, when not occupied in pleasant pursuits he acquires increasingly the stigma of the wolf & behaves in outrageous fashion. Remarkably in his hunt he sheds gunfire in the same fashion that a motivated man may shake off fisticuffs and, having earned his rage thus firing upon him, I ran for some days and became quite lost, wherefore I cannot accurately mark the location of the bridge to the tower of the gibbelins upon my map, but suggest to any who may come here by sea that its approximate location is here, see X.

May, Sunday 7, 1890, I am here and safe and seeking assiduously to discover the location of the Tyrant. At first I considered this tower with its fearful abattoirs a plausible location for His eminence but have had to rethink this after finding certain scripts that indicate this as the home of “gibbelins,” which if I am not mistaken are a tribe of the savages whose presence the Spanish first reported; yet if the Spanish had been here I would be much surprised as great treasuries of jewels reside untouched within the gibbelins’ vaults. Have found a volume, “To Serve Man,” apparently a cookbook & perused the recipes with great interest but the cooks have made some manner of jest and I am unable to penetrate it. Regrettably I am unable to return to civilization as a misstep in a cellar of bones has injured my leg substantially and I reckon at least two days’ travel beyond the bridge through hard ground before I find a settlement.

May, Tuesday 9, 1890, beneath this tower I discover Sukaynah’s terrible maw. (See illustration.) This creature whose great mouth opens as one of the tower’s foundations is no doubt the very beast of Hell herself but as I am seeking vengeance on the Tyrant who made things as they are & not the beast that corrupts them I have elected to leave her be & grant her such favors as she prefers that do not entail her devouring my soul or rising free of her confinement.

Continuing the history of the imago (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, but everyone calls her the imago. It’s because she’s covered in intangible bugs, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

Either way, she’s just announced it to the person who’s swallowed her.

“That’s mean,” says Tep, with fascination.

And Sukaynah is gagging.

You’re the one who’s going to fight her,” says Ink.

The channel in which they rest is rocking back and forth; it grows apparent that for all the things Sukaynah is willing and able to swallow, she cannot casually gulp down someone covered in intangible bugs.

“She ate Ned, so she’s alpha,” says Tep. “I have to fight her.”

Ink shrugs.

Then she grins, and says, “Oh, hey! Fig newton.”

She reaches out into the throat of Sukaynah.

She plucks it forth.

“Oh, don’t,” says Tep.

“Hm?”

“It is one thing to fight her,” says Tep, “and buggy words are just buggy words; but fig newtons are fruit and cake.”

His expression is peculiarly solemn.

“Please put it back?” he says.

Ink smiles to him.

“Then in homage to that great immensity,” she says, “that surrounds us.”

And gently and with reverence she tosses the cookie; and Sukaynah tosses hers.

Ink In Re Dyslexic Agnostics (I/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

There is a house improbably poised above the mouth of Sukaynah.

Sukaynah gnashes and chomps.

Above the mouth, which is five times as wide as the house is long, there are the rock walls that arise from Sukaynah. From the walls project branches, as from a tree. On some of these branches there sits the house.

Cross-legged in front of the house, sitting on a tree, and looking very sulky indeed, there is the werewolf Tep.

He is wearing jeans and a shirt.

He is young, because he is always young, because he regenerates when hurt.

A fig newton on a fishing hook hits him on the head.

He tears it from the hook.

“You’re not Ned,” he says.

Savagely, he eats the cookie. Well, the cookie-like object. It’s more than just a cookie; fig newtons are fruit and cake.

Not long after, the entire region begins to thrash.

A fifteen-year-old girl falls on Tep.

She knocks him down. Savagely, his head swells. Savagely, his eyes roll back.

“Pardon,” says the girl. She sits up, on his stomach. She is wrapped in a fine membrane, like a mummy’s cloths, which she efficiently begins to shred. Underneath she wears overalls and a blouse. She looks around. Then she stands up. She looks down at Tep.

“Are you God?” she asks.

“Gr,” he says, by way of being a werewolf instead.

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

The Island of the Centipede

The girl gets to her feet.

“My name’s Ink,” she says. “But everyone calls me the imago. It’s ’cause I’m covered in intangible bugs.”

Tep sniffs the air.

He can’t smell any bugs, but since they’re intangible, he can’t dispute their presence either.

Ink scrubs shreds of membrane out of her hair.

“Go away,” Tep says.

“Why?”

“You’re not Ned,” Tep says.

“Who’s Ned?”

“A dog.”

“Oh.”

“He’s coming back,” says Tep. “Then we’ll fight. I’ll tear his throat out!”

“That’s mean!” says Ink.

Tep shrugs.

Ink walks towards the house.

“That’s Abel’s house,” says Tep. “You can’t go in.”

“Oh,” Ink says.

Ink scurries to the window. She looks in with hands cupped between the glass and her eyes.

“But he’s got a journal,” she says. “And bones!”

“He’s a little sick,” admits Tep.

“He’s choking.”

“What?”

Tep stands next to Ink. Ink points in. “See, his skull’s totally fallen off his spinal column. A man can’t breathe, like that.”

“He’s fine,” says Tep.

Tep looks sullen.

“A body don’t need to breathe,” he says, after the fashion that a perpetually regenerating werewolf might. “Or have flesh.”

“Fair point,” Ink agrees. “Anyway, it’s all right if I go in. I’m the imago.”

“No,” says Tep.

He positions himself sternly before the door.

Very reasonably, Ink says, “I have to find whomever’s on the throne of the world and kill him. How can I do that if I’m not allowed to go where I please?”

“It’s rude,” says Tep.

“It’s rude?”

“Going in just because Ned’s not here,” Tep says. “That’s like finding somebody’s feet laying around and stealing their shoes.”

Ink pops the window glass out of its frame with her elbow and, as it falls to the floor, squirms in.

“Damn it!” says Tep.

Completely unable to figure out what to do, he goes in after her.

The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay

It being unlikely that I shall ever return myself to world and sound, owing to my indisposition and the difficulty of the trail, & wishing as I do to leave some record of this extraordinary journey to those who will follow me, herewith I assemble my various notes and hold forth the history of how I came to this unlikely occupation.

March, Wednesday 16, 1887 I made the acquaintance of Bernard, a well-met gentleman who spoke exuberantly of the chaos extending westwards from California & wherewith fashion one might apprehend it & his most peculiar claim that in its navigation a man might prevent the recurring abuses practiced upon the innocents of the world. I fear that I laughed at his words and took him a fool but I am Certain now that he shall be more well known even than Mr. Tackitt and held to greater regard in history than Mr. Cleveland and his gang of thieves.

October, Friday 5, 1888 my Emma took ill & rapidly wasted & soon followed Lily, Charles & my good neighbor Hezekiah, whereupon I first recognized the tyrannous Nature of that Lord that heretofore I had esteemed. Ruined with grief I decried Him in chapel but He offered no response & echoed hollowly from the ceilings whereupon I found myself desolate.

“I’m sorry,” says Tep.

He’s looking around at the walls. He’s very apologetic and flapping his hands. Then he looks at the bones of Mr. Clay.

“Grr,” he growls low.

Then, mercurially, he switches back to apologetic. “I’m sorry. She fell in.”

He touches Mr. Clay on the shoulder, causing the bones to fall apart.

“It’s all right,” says Ink.

She’s reading Abel’s journal.

“I think he wanted to kill God too,” she says. “But maybe it was a different God.”

“Only one God,” says Tep.

Ink chews on the end of Mr. Clay’s pen. “You say that, but you’re not the one who has to cope with the consequences of linguistic imprecision.”

“Out!” says Tep.

He hurries her out. She doesn’t protest because she’s busy reading.

“Nobody disturbs Mr. Clay until Ned gets back,” Tep says, “no matter what falls.”

Sukaynah writhes.

From the west comes a sound: Whump!

The house, Tep, and Ink slide slowly and majestically into Sukaynah’s maw.

Tep folds his arms.

Tep looks stoic.

“I didn’t do it!” Ink protests.

Sukaynah swallows. Down the throat they go; and

“Oh, hey,” says Ink, pointing.

“Oh,” says Tep.

“Is that Ned?”

“. . . think so,” says Tep. “His skull, anyways.”

There’s a pause.

“Dyslexic agnostics are so lucky,” says Ink.

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.

The Eclipse (II/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

The air is so full of the purple dust that blows up off the sea from the northwest. The rock of the tower is so old. The sun is so crisp and clear. The sky is so blue.

“I made that,” laughs Iphigenia.

She’s flopped on her back on the grass. She’s wearing a pink long-sleeved top. She’s holding up her left hand. She’s looking up at the sun and the sky, but more importantly, at the day.

It’s a happy kind of thing, to have stirred such a bright day from the ashes of nothingness.

She moves her hand to the left. The sun heats. The sky burns for a moment, rippling with red and orange, and then stabilizes brighter.

She moves her hand to the right. The sun dims back to where it was—to just where she thinks is perfect, on a day like today—and the world goes crisp and clear and calm.

She rests her hand on the ground.

She closes her eyes.

She basks.

And she thinks, I don’t have to be afraid.

Continuing the history of Iphigenia (1, 2)

There’s a place in the texture of the happiness inside her that’s off-tone. It’s not filled with sunlight joy. It’s shaped like an eclipse.

Here is how it is with Iphigenia.

She is on the grass but she is also in a chariot in the sky, pulled by four burning horses, drawing the sun. It makes her hair fly every which way and her muscles ache great achings and there’s sweat on her face and sometimes she’s very tired but she can’t ever stop until nightfall because there are ravening wolves after her from the moment of the dawn.

The glory of it is tempered with her fear of the wolves catching up to her and knocking her from the chariot and chasing her down as she falls to rip into her limbs with their fierce and terrible teeth.

“Rahu,” she names the red wolf, the scary wolf, the blood wolf.

The other wolf does not scare her as much but she is not entirely certain why.

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

Sid and Max are up above, on a second-floor balcony. Sid is sitting on its battlement. Max is leaning against the wall in the shadow of an eave.

I want to take the shadow from them, thinks Iphigenia.

It is a great aching, like in the muscles of her sun-self. It comes across her like a wave and she swallows it in silence.

She is very busy doing very important things, is Iphigenia.

She is laying on the grass and she is wearing a pink long-sleeved top and she is making sure that the sun doesn’t fall down or get eaten which would be bad for just about everyone.

The wolves aren’t the only thing that wants to eat the sun.

There’s Sukaynah.

There’s the solar transubstantiationists.

There’s the sun-eating swallows.

Sometimes Iphigenia gets squiggly icky feelings about the grass that she’s laying on, and all the other plants, like they’re hungry little maggots that want to burrow into her flesh, and sometimes she gets motherly feelings, like she’s a mother bird spitting sunlight into the baby birds’ maws.

Being the sun is surprisingly like being a little prey animal.

But the wolves are what worry her.

So she doesn’t do anything about Sid and Max. She swallows it in silence.

It is June 1, 2004. The sun passes behind a cloud.

Max is saying, “Why do we do this?”

And Sid says, “Hm?”

“Why do we tell all these stories where we’re jerks to one another?” Max asks.

Sid catches a mote of purple dust between his hands, not so much touching it as sheltering it from the wind. He passes it back and forth in the air currents above his hands.

There’s a bit of sunlight in there too. Iphigenia can feel the cracked-clay roughness of Sid’s hands.

“Write what you know?” Sid hazards.

“Ah,” says Max.

The tempo of their exchange is off. That is where Iphigenia feels the pain in it: in the tempo, in the beat. That is what makes her imagine, as she lays there, that they would rather fight with knives than say and hear these words.

I wonder, thinks Iphigenia, if it feels like an eclipse to them.

The thought wobbles in her head.

In that moment she recognizes something that she should have recognized long before.

It is a rising, warbling shriek she shrieks. She does not even realize at first that it comes from her.

“SID!”

He is like a liquid. It is as if he flows from the balcony to hold her head against his chest. It takes Max somewhat longer. Since he is human he is more like a clumpy liquid flowing from a previously unused pipe. He has to stop and dangle over the edge of the balcony for a moment before he can let himself fall. He runs to her like his knees have joints and he sits down to hold her hand.

She does not pay much attention to this but she is unable to stop herself from noticing it because everything is very noticeable of a sudden.

“Rahu is coming,” she says.

The wolf is gaining on her in the sky.

It’s an incredible feeling. It’s like a joy as much as it’s like a bubbling sore squirting fear.

“Rahu is coming here.”

And she is crying and they are gentle to her and she is saying, “Finally. Finally.”

Because when the wolf catches her she can stop running, and better it be now, with Sid and Max right here, than when she is alone.

Newton’s First Law (4 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

The baited hook falls, falls, falls.

There is a pause.

There is a great crunching and munching of teeth.

“Perfect,” says Martin smugly. He glances slyly at the Roomba. “See, if you had a better set of lexemes, you’d be able to admire that cast.”

The Roomba’s “I don’t want to get eaten” LED lights up.

There is a swallowing sound like the receding of the tide.

“I’ve got her,” Martin says.

Here is how it came to pass.

The morning of June 1, 2004, had gone well for Martin. Sukaynah was placid, made happy by the falling of apples. Mei Ming, insofar as he could guess, was giving serious contemplation to his ideas. Jane, overwhelmed by the task of piecing together histories in the broken lens, was uncharacteristically quiet. And there, shining amidst the aisles of Costco, he’d found a flat of delicious Fig Newtons: 125 packages of 24 cookies each, bundled together, 5x5x5.

The flat shone like the stars.

He took it home to the tower and set his purchases on the counter. Jane descended like a vulture, but—

“No,” said Martin, flush with the power that was in him.

“No,” he said. He held out his hand. “Not the cookies,” he said.

Jane pouted, but Martin did not bend. She tried to sneak around him to the cookies. Martin stood firm, like the sentryman of Heaven.

“You can’t eat 3000 cookies by yourself!” Jane protested, driven at the last to the employment of reason. “You’d turn into a cookie. And explode!”

Martin said, dramatically, “I’m willing to take that risk.”

But Jane’s star was in ascendance. She made her very best face at him. He trembled under the power of that face. Her eyes bored into his. “You have to share them with everyone in the tower,” she said.

“I have to?”

“Yes.”

And sometimes Martin wonders why he made her, why he shaped her from the ruin that he’d found, why he’d bothered to bring an ending to the firewood and to Bob: but not today.

On June 1, 2004, he loves her; and with gloatful satisfaction says, “That’s more than 2800 for me.”

And against the glow of that brilliance Jane can offer no protest.

Martin leans back. He prepares to reel Sukaynah up. He spins the wheel on his fishing pole. It turns easily at first but then it slows down. It gets harder and harder.

“Will you keep your promise?” Martin says.

He’s sweating as he struggles with the line.

“Glugnuh?” Sukaynah says, meaning: Promise?

“Because I gave you a cookie,” Martin says.

“Ah,” says Sukaynah.

“You said that if anyone fed you cookies, that you’d be able to break free, but that you’d have to eat the tower and the sea and the sun.”

“‘orry,” Sukaynah says. “‘ut, ieyah.”

Martin is sweating. He’s trying to reel Sukaynah in but he’s making very little progress.

“Because I have to admit,” he says, “I don’t actually want you to do that. And also, this isn’t working very well.”

“‘y ‘ot?” Sukaynah asks, meaning Why not?

The Roomba’s “Newton’s First Law?” LED lights up.

Martin glances at it. He shakes his head irritably.

“Hush,” he says.

The line goes still and trembling.

There is a momentary hush.

Then there is anger from below. There is a thrashing in the sea. The hook tears loose and Martin falls back and Sukaynah shrieks, “But this isn’t a cookie!

“What?”

Newtons are fruit and cake!

The tower shifts, the tower shakes. The Roomba slips free from the newton on which it is impaled. The imago slumps to lean against the tree.

The crust of the world cracks.

In the distant west there is a sound: Whump!

“Oh,” Martin says.

Brick Fishing (3 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

There’s a simple fishing rod leaning against one wall. It’s made of white birch. The line makes relaxed loops like a backwards B as it travels the fishing rod’s length.

Martin threads a newton onto the hook.

“You’re probably wondering,” he says to the imago, “why I brought you here.”

The imago is silent.

“I wanted to explain to you, before anything big happened—like Sukaynah eating the tower and the sea and the sun or you coming out of your cocoon or someone bumping the Roomba’s End of Everything Button—just how very much I want to win.”

Outside the sky is blue and the clouds rush by.

Martin whips the fishing rod forward and with a sound like scree-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee the cookie falls down towards Sukaynah’s maw.

Continuing the story of Martin, Sukaynah, the imago, and the Roomba (1, 2)

“People are unfinished,” Martin says. “They’re rough and raw and they look like the blobs that kids in elementary school make when they learn pottery in art class. They’re hopeless.

The line stops descending. Martin pauses a moment.

“It hit the oak,” Sukaynah says.

Martin sighs. He reels up the line. He pulls the cookie back. Then he casts again.

“It makes me so angry,” Martin says. His face is just a little bit red. “Like, they’ll figure out that something is wrong and the first thing they do? They do it louder.

The line stops descending. Martin pauses.

“The house,” Sukaynah says.

“Oh,” Martin says.

“You’re really bad at fishing,” Sukaynah says.

“It’s not my fault you’ve got a house in your snorkel,” Martin says.

“No,” Sukaynah admits.

Martin reels the line back up. He looks critically at the fig newton, takes it off the hook, and replaces it with a fresh one. He glares down into the hole. Then he braces and casts again.

“Mind the werewolf,” Sukaynah says, and Martin’s hands jerk and he almost drops the rod and in any event the cookie hits the wall.

“I am trying to fish and explain how awful people are,” Martin says.

The imago is silent.

“They’re also sloppy,” Martin observes. “And ugly! And the really young and really old ones are all wrinkly. And they’re always leaving their things all over the place. And they hurt each other. And they poison the earth. And they don’t eat their vegetables.”

He casts the line out with grim determination. It falls, falls, falls towards Sukaynah’s maw.

There is an angry bark.

“And some of them are werewolves!” Martin says, as if this were the capstone to his argument when in fact it is the smallest of incidents.

Time continued to pass and still Sukaynah was not fed.

She cried, “Feed me fruit! Green apples! Strawberries! Figs! Oh, feed me fruit and I shall sink to the depths and trouble you no more.”

But there was silence, and for a long time she was left there, to gnash her teeth and bewail her fate, until one day Martin came.

Sukaynah breathes: ho-ha, ho-ha. It stirs the dust on the floor. It blows back a lock of Martin’s hair.

“What would it mean,” she says, “If I may ask? Your victory?”

“I would sweep away the kingdoms of the world,” Martin says. “I would tear down all the monsters. I’d make a pile of their bones. I’d dispose of the people who couldn’t evolve. I’d rend the world, I’d cull it down to a remnant, and from its ashes I’d build the most glorious of Heavens.”

“Ah,” says Sukaynah.

Martin begins to reel back the line.

“And the gibbelins?” Sukaynah asks.

“The gibbelins?”

“Would you tear them down and make their bones a pyre?”

“You can’t punish the dead,” Martin says. His face is blank. “That’s like putting pebbles in your soup.”

“Then I do not think,” Sukaynah says, “that you should win.”

Martin finishes pulling up the line. The hook is empty. The werewolf has savagely eaten the fig newton.

He shakes his head irritably.

He sighs.

He rebaits the hook.

“I know,” he says. “I shouldn’t. I can’t. I wish I could. Thinking about it—it’s tremblingly nice. It makes my fingers warm and my toes curl. But I’m not going to.”

He casts the line. It falls, falls, falls.

His face, with no one looking at it, is almost open.

“Instead,” he says, “I’m trusting Jane.”