“The Golden Age” – From the Journals of Ink Catherly (XI/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: Upon his ascension to the throne of the world, an endless time before great Hestia’s birth, Cronos went down to Tartarus and cast open the gates.

He said, “Come out, ye that may.”

Past him in a stream flowed the damned and terrible progeny of the couplings of Uri and the world. Some skulked low and chittered. Some shivered with cold slime. Some screamed foul prophecies as they flew above his head. Lastly there slunk forth the worst of them, a cutty angel, saying, “There is hope.”

They went out into the world and the world took the weight of them.

That was the beginning of Cronos’ reign—the day the horrors went free.

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

It is incumbent on a man, if he will lapse the leash on monsters, to bear the weight of their actions.

Cronos had unleashed great horrors on the world.

The world did not suffer from them.

Rather, from his place on the throne of the world, the titan held that suffering at bay. He made a plate of stone and set it behind him and upon it he bore the weight of imperfection. Thus when swarmed the namecatcher wasps, they did not cause harm. Thus the staggering crooked heartless men did not bleed out their life into the hollows of their chests. The titan reconciled in himself their dharmas, saying: “Swarm here, wasps, where their names are a burden to them.” Or “Stuff your chests with herbs, and palpate them with palpation bugs, and live and farm thereafter quietly and in peace.” He set the demons against the narcissists. He sent the angels to the bleak.

9512 pesserids before time began, a nymph wandering the roads encountered an ogre.

“Raar,” cried the ogre. “Raar! I am a hideous man-eating ogre.”

“Oh, thank Heaven!” the nymph replied.

“Eh?”

“There is a hideous man,” said the nymph. “There is a hideous man behind me, and I would much rather he were eaten.”

The ogre looked.

In fact there was: a telchine wizard practicing as a highwayman, whose intentions were in no way serene.

The ogre looked back and forth. He reached his decision.

“The telchine has more meat,” he said. “So I’ll eat him!”

“I don’t mind being eaten,” the telchine conceded. “If you’ll spit up my bones afterwards into your pile of gold, that I may be rich for ever.”

In such a fashion, again and again throughout the world, were all conflicts neatly and equitably solved. In such a fashion did the chains of Necessity make all people dance to a perfectly harmonious tune. The weight of effort for pulling all those shifting chains fell to the only creature who was not bound to them: Cronos, titan, lord of all the world.

“It is heavy,” he admitted to Rhea.

It fell to Cronos to reconcile the horrors and the lambs; the killers and the saints; the humans and the gods. He mediated between the perfect and the real.

“It is so very heavy,” Cronos said.

Rhea rubbed his shoulders, but it did not help. She tried to carry her share of it, but she could not: because the chains bound her, she participated in the system of them, and the efforts that she contributed solved out in the equations of it all.

“What would happen,” asked Cronos, “if I let this plate to fall?”

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“In all the world,” said Cronos, “only I may stand aside, and shrug aside this weight, and let things happen as they will. And it is heavy. So I wonder: what would happen if I let this plate to fall, and the storm run riot across the world?”

“Then we should live in the Elysian Fields, I suppose, where there is no sorrow, and everything be well forever after for us all.”

I cannot describe the look on Cronos’ face.

It was the look of Santa when he discovered that presents kill; the look of the Gonz, when he dreamed for the first time of Abu Ghraib; the look of Dr. Sarous, at the recognition of his own corruption.

To work so hard—

So very hard—

And to think, for just a moment, that you have done no favors for the world.

  • Tune in FRIDAY for the next exciting history of Ink Catherly:
    THEORIES REGARDING THE BOX!

Ink Inapplicable (VI/XVI)

The hunger that woke Riffle from the sleep of the rats still burns in him today.

He is surrounded by the dead.

He is holding a sword at the throat of the imago, and trying—so very hard, with muscles that are not very strong—to drive it home.

All around him is Riffle’s crew, that ragged lot that build up scaffoldings towards the ceiling of the cave. They do not build for longevity. They build for speed. All around him there are the sounds of hammering, climbing, and crashing, tumbling wood.

He is hungry to be more than a rat. That is why he has grown to nearly four feet in height and developed a human brain. He does not want to be a rat.

He wants purpose.

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

Minister Jof’s hand closes on Riffle’s arm.

The room has gone deathly still.

Where did Minister Jof come from? Why is he here? These questions remain unanswered. But he has enough decency to him to do this: to grab the arm of the rat and stop the sword.

And suddenly Ink sees a thing, and her fear dissolves.

“Do you happen to know the history of this sword?” asks Ink Catherly.

Her voice is dry and confident, like a pedant’s right before it strikes.

Riffle looks at the sword.

He shakes his head.

Ink steps back. She rubs at her throat. She looks at her injured hand. She says, “A long time ago, there were men and women and children who believed, more than anything else, that the crust of the world was evil and that they had to destroy it. They had to destroy it so that the storm that surges below could rise to reach the mortal world.”

Riffle struggles against Minister Jof’s grip.

“We’re losing valuable scaffolding time,” hisses the rat.

But after a moment he spreads his free hand conciliatorily, and adds, “If you leave aside this distraction of my crew and depart then I will let you live.”

There’s a crash behind them. Minister Jof starts. It’s one of the rickety scaffoldings coming down.

“They were formed,” says Ink, “like all of you were formed, from the substance of the world. They were worms, or bugs, or rats, that developed over the long courses of their lives into something better. And they understood their holy mission in those terms. But they were not alone.”

Riffle drops the sword. He pulls away from Minister Jof and turns his back.

“The matter has no relevance to our holy mission to maintain as many height-amortized scaffold-inches as we can,” he says.

“There were those, O Riffle,” says Ink Catherly, “who believed more than anything that righteousness was to preserve this crust, this sanctuary, this seal that severs world and storm.”

Riffle puffs up his cheeks.

He exhales.

He says, “Very well.”

Another pair of scaffoldings crash down.

“Go home,” says Riffle.

He shoos his crew.

“Go home; go home; I’m calling this year’s break.”

And there is one of his crew with long thin legs and a carapace covering its face and a long thread-like bifurcated black tail. It skitters along the corpses and is gone.

And there is one of his crew that is like a heart in a nest of veins, save that it may stand on some of its veins and others have been split to form fingers, thumbs, or spines. This one skulks back to the corpse of a badger-creature and ducks into its mouth; mechanically, the corpse’s throat works and strains, then swallows it and it is gone.

And in that fashion one by one they disperse.

And Ink is saying, “And they worked for a time, each under their own direction, until they came to appoint a man named Riffle as their leader and charged him with the maximization of their effective goals: that is, from the one side he found employment to organize them towards their ends of speedily destroying the crust, and from the other in leading them in its salvation.”

A scaffold crashes.

“I did my job,” says Riffle.

Minister Jof stares at his back.

“It was a devil of a project,” Riffle says. “Reconciling those aims. But then I figured, well, they can’t very well both have what they want, so I could serve one of ’em tautologically, if I just figured out which one it was. Turned out t’be both.”

“In darkness,” says Ink, “in a cave of ivory where centipede-elephants would crawl to die, a woman made this sword to serve her in this glorious cause. And she came here to the war and used it to cut open one man, one woman, and one vaguely genderless bat-creature. Then she tripped on a spear and died.”

Riffle says, “You’ve made your point.”

“I had a point?”

“You can obviously interfere with my work any time,” Riffle says. “Can’t let my workers hear that kind of talk. So it’s all down to this: is it more cost-effective to placate you, or to escalate the violence? Right now, you’ve got an edge on the violence, so I figure, you should tell me what you want.”

“I’m actually just passing through,” Ink says.

Riffle says, “There’s nowhere to go.”

“I’m going to find whomever’s sitting on the throne of the world and kill him,” Ink says.

Riffle turns. He looks at her.

“Why?” he says.

His voice is different when he says that. Everything up till now has been a little distant, a little detached, pouty at the most. Now it’s hungry. Now it’s got urgency to it. It’s like he’s thinking: She could have a cause. She could have something worth doing. She might need competent management like me.

But:

“I’m a destroyer,” Ink says.

And Riffle shrinks.

It’s like he’s deflating beneath his skin.

He says, “That’s not a reason. That’s a resource.”

“It’s exploiting an untapped niche!” Ink Catherly protests.

  • Tune in NEXT WEEK for the next exciting chapter in the histories of the imago:
    THE DOCTOR OF THE DEEPS

“The Lord of Misrule” – From the Journals of Ink Catherly (V/XVI)

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Cronos: When Riffle’s sword touched my neck, I saw a bit more of Cronos’ history. It was from earlier than before, again. The Titanomachy hadn’t happened yet. Zeus was free but the others were still engulleted.

It made me angry.

I scolded it.

I said, No, world! I do not need the history of Cronos right now. If anything, I need the history of Riffle!

This was actually a mistake on my part. I should have blamed myself because it is, after all, my very own power that gave me, perversely, this insight. But blaming oneself is very hard. I’m not sure it’s something people can do.

So I scolded, instead, the world.

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

Cronos slouched on the throne of the world.

He was contemplating a sickle. It was a really big flint sickle and it was grey.

Zeus entered.

“Son,” said Cronos. O my love.

That was the weird thing about Cronos. When you’d hear him talk, the world would echo with that in the background: O my love.

Anyway.

“Son,” said Cronos.

“Dad.”

It was an awkward moment.

I thought I’d eaten you, but maybe it was a rock.

I had that thought once, on Floor 93-GA. It was the suckiest eating contest ever.

“You’ve been eating everybody,” said Zeus. “Poseidon and Hera and stuff.”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I did not ask to rule a Golden Age,” Cronos said. “Rather I wished to dominate a freakish carnival of horrors. A masque of the imperfect. A world of people with the bones of their pain jutting out so that you can hardly talk to them without saying, ‘O my love, why are you broken?'”

Zeus said, “I understand.”

I don’t know much about Zeus. There’s a bias in the history—a sense of focus to it. Zeus is important, but it’s Cronos whom this history is about, down here in the crust of the world. So I don’t know much about Zeus or what was going on in his head, but I think that he was telling the truth.

He had that Martin sound, all serious and like it’s perfectly natural, of course, who wouldn’t prefer to rule a world wracked with sorrow and pain and full of monsters?

And Cronos smiled, like it was a joy to hear.

Zeus continued.

“I am going to cut your stomach open,” said Zeus, “and spill out my brothers and my sisters, and a rock.”

“And if I forbid it?”

“In this world,” said Zeus, “we bring forth children in sorrow.”

Cronos had trouble finding an answer to that one.

“It’s the rule,” Zeus explained.

This would appear to be one of the Man Laws, like in those Miller Lite commercials. You poke it, you own it. We bring forth children in sorrow. Entropy always increases. Don’t shoot food. Leave the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil alone. Castrating your father and taking over his throne is a punishable offense. Sharing is caring.

Stuff like that.

Not even Cronos can really argue with that kind of rule; but at the same time, he didn’t rise and hand Zeus the sickle.

Zeus waited.

“Who are you, my son?” Cronos asked.

“I’m the Lord of Misrule,” said Zeus. “I’m the answer to your prayers. I’m the one who’ll bring this whole world down around your ears.”

Cronos’ heart fluttered in his chest. It’s weird that he’d never taken it out—you’d think that he would have, since there’s nothing so dangerous as a heart. But he hadn’t.

“Show me,” he said, and his voice was desperate with hope.

Your authority has no foundation,” said Zeus, “for you have done a wicked thing.

It was electric. It cut through the air. But it didn’t impress Cronos.

“More,” Cronos said.

The dog that carries a serpent on his back is vile; the tiger that carries a dog, we call a saint.

Cronos mulled that one over for a while.

Then he shook his head.

He stood.

The sky gathered behind his shoulders and the stars burned bright with Uri’s fires and the world grew heavy as a woman carrying her child and he said, “You are not equal to this task.”

Dread was the nimbus of Cronos at that moment. The power of him held Zeus still. Cronos was Ge’s son in that moment, strong as the earth, unsurpassable, indestructible, horned and terrible, and free—as only one creature in all the world could be—to act accordant to his desires.

Ink’s hand hurts quite a bit more than her neck. The sword has cut her hand deeply. It is still, and thank Heaven for the pathetic muscles of the little rat, no more than skin-deep in her neck.

But it’s the blood that runs down her neck that scares her.

She finds herself wondering, “Is it possible to die?”

She will probably have a choice in the matter. She is the imago and she has been to Hell and back and it seems likely that she would have a choice. But it is also probable that something would be lost. If nothing else, her sense of her own humanity. At worst, the value of the sacrifice of her life, with which she is hoping to carry past any final obstacles that stand between Ink Catherly and God.

I think that I will describe the terror that was Cronos in that moment like this.

We are in ourselves the actual and the ideal. And the actual is all that moves, all that acts, all that speaks. We cannot really demonstrate that there is more: but there must be more, or we are in Hell.

Where is the fire of our intention?

Where does it move upon the earth?

It does not, and in that respect Earth is very much like Hell, and yet, and yet, and yet the difference is that we are here. Hell is to live without experiencing our life. Earth is life knowing our own presence. It is life, flush with our ideals.

But Cronos knew a thing that I did not know.

He wore it like a blaze.

It was the terror of the flesh, the power of the actual, the aura of the substance of him. That with his hands and with his fingers he could move, and Zeus could not stop him from moving; that that substance was raw, unconstrained by Zeus’ volition or the limits that Zeus would rather have put on it, and capable in its action of dragging Zeus’ ideals down.

Those dirty fingernails could break Zeus’ virtue. Those bloody hands could kill him. Those great arms and those great teeth could put a stop to the ideals of the lord of all the gods.

Flesh has that power.

It obliterated the thoughts of Zeus. It held him still.

But Zeus had trained for this.

He had spent years in empty meditation and practice and taught his flesh to act when his mind could not.

The world swam with the blinding rapture of Cronos and it drove away the thoughts of Zeus and the will of Zeus and the fire of him flickered and went dim beneath the wind of all that power, and the flesh of Zeus stepped forward and took the sickle in his hand and cut his father’s stomach open to bring his brothers and sisters into the world.

It seemed impossible to Zeus that it did not hurt Zeus; that the opening of the wound in his father’s stomach brought Zeus no pain, burnt none of Zeus’ nerves; that he could see and hear and smell the wound but he could not feel it.

It seemed a thing that should wound, instead, the all of world and sound.

Out fell the stone; and Hades and Poisedon; and Hera and Demeter and Hestia; and great snaky loops of titantestine too; and Cronos looked down at his stomach and Zeus could hardly see his face through the blindingness of the reality of that moment when he cut his father open at the throne of all the world.

Cronos staggered. The storm shifted at his back. It loomed upon the world and in that moment it seemed very possible that the world would end and there would only be Heaven and Hell forever after, amen—

Somehow, Cronos held it back.

Somehow, Cronos balanced himself and held aloft the burden of all pains while his innards snaked themselves back in.

The fingernails on his hand were cracked and dirty. His hair was wild. He reached for his son with hands soaked in everybody’s blood.

Cloud-shouldered Zeus, the son of Cronos, born in the fullness of Tyranny to bring justice to the world, seized five babies and a stone and fled.

  • Saturday:
    THE HISTORY OF THE SWORD

Ink and Annihilation (III/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

Flying carpets, once abandoned, often yearn for the annihilation of the universe.

They don’t fly very well after a while.

They get tears in them and sometimes bugs eat parts of them. The will that allows them to fly — that fades some, too, when they realize that they’ll never have the wild dream of their youth.

They’ll never get to find some worthy child and fly away with them forever.

Most children aren’t a good match for a flying carpet in the first place, and if the carpet’s used, the kid has to have just as many tears and bug-eaten bits as the carpet does. That’s the rule, and it’s a hard one.

And that’s not even the worst of it.

Even if the carpet does find the right kind of child, all bug-eaten and worthy, they still can’t fly away and away forever with them.

Children grow old.

Then they die.

Then their skeletons fall off the flying carpet into the devouring sands.

There’s nowhere to go in all the world where you can get away from that truth — that children grow old and die and turn into skeletons and get eaten by the desert.

There’s nowhere to go in all the world or outside it either.

A carpet can go to the lands of Romance alone but there is little point. The evil viziers and dashing princes will squint at it with their eyes. The noble kings will lecture it about the proper use of negative space. Even the shopkeepers will point at the empty carpet and they will laugh.

For the carpets themselves their power is no escape.

A flying carpet has a certain lifespan to its purpose and then it’s done.

Sometimes, after that purpose runs out, a boring tree will stick a screw-root through the carpet’s brain. It’s not very common, but it’s what’s happened to Jacob’s carpet. There’s a screw-root in its brain and a girl shouting at the tree.

“You’re a worthless rotter,” shouts the girl.

The tree does not give in.

“You’re a filthy degenerate larch-fucker with chlorophyll made of snot, and you’re personally responsible for the whole world going to Hell!”

It really hurts.

The screwing, that is. It really hurts. And it makes it very hard to think.

But if the tree really were the one responsible for the whole world going to Hell, the carpet feels, it’d probably be worth it.

After a while the girl tires of ranting.

She is quiet for a bit while the screw turns softly in Jacob’s carpet’s brain.

Then she asks the tree a question that she should have asked some time ago, to wit, “. . . why won’t you let go?”

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, but everyone calls her the imago. Stands for I’d Make A Great Optimist, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

She reaches out her hand.

She touches the root of the boring tree.

“Why won’t you let go?” she asks.

By implication, it explains that trees can’t talk.

But it doesn’t have to.

The imago is a creature of histories and she is reading the history of the tree through the rings of its root. She stares into the long annals of the boring tree’s life. She studies the chronicles of sun and wind and sky and roots and soil and the storm beneath the world.

She hunts for the cues in its nature that would explain this terrible thing; and

“Oh,” she says.

Understanding what she sees is an art, and Ink is new at it.

But she sees enough that she blushes at the things she’s said.

“Oh,” she says. “Oh. I’m so sorry.”

And she understands: “If you let go then it will fall.”

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Jacob’s Carpet: Years passed.

The carpet lived in the world. It lived in the edges of the world. It waited.

And Anatman came to it. He wore a hood. His voice was very kind. And he said, “I can give you peace.”

And the carpet struck him across the face with its tail and made a bruise and it flew away, because it did not want peace.

It wanted victory.

But one day Jacob ended. As simply as that, it was over.

The wind caught the carpet. The wind dragged it away. The carpet tumbled down through the great empty places of the world. It fell down and down and down and when it burst through and saw the storm it understood.

That was all. It could never save him. Jacob was over. The carpet had nothing left.

But a crosswise wind caught it and it tangled in the roots of the trees.

There it grew thin.

There the wind beneath the world battered at it.

It was already screaming when the first root sank in.

“If you let go,” says Ink, “it will fall. But if you hold on, you will kill it.”

If the tree could talk,

Which it can’t,

It would shrug.

Well, if it could talk and shrug, it would shrug. And then it might say something.

Like: It is a stranger to me.

Trees care very little for flying carpets. No carpet, even in its flush of youth, has ever served a tree. To the lands of Romance that lay beyond the world trees do not go.

It has saved the carpet because it was there.

It has given the fullest of effort that the world might ask of it to save this stranger’s life; and, having done so, it has no intention to do more.

“I understand,” says Ink.

She turns to the carpet.

She hunts for words to answer the cruelty of its fate.

She says, “When you fall—“

She does not know what will happen when it falls.

“I will cause it to be that there is a Heaven for you,” she says.

The carpet shrieks.

It struggles.

“Freak!” she says. She’s in some distress. “People like Heaven! You don’t want to suffer, do you?”

There is liquid oozing out around the carpet’s brain. It is dripping down the carpet’s sides. Its tail is fluttering at a rapid pace.

“Fuck,” she says.

The creature calms.

“I will prolong your torment,” she says, in calm clipped words. “But only for a finite time, do you understand? And if it hurts too much, I’ll make it stop.”

There is a certain irony in this statement that is lost on the imago.

The creature is still.

“I will give you a purpose,” she says. “Five lives that you must save; and you will save them, and carry them to the answer to their pain. And when you have done that you will accept your failings and fall into far Heaven.”

It makes a sound.

More.

Ink looks exasperated. She makes a comic face.

She does not understand how huge and meaningful it is that the carpet will bargain with her at all. She most likely never will.

More.

Let me sate myself on purpose before at last I go.

“Okay,” she says. “Two purposes.”

It is enough.

  • Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history:
    INK USES TAPE!

Ink and Abandonment (I/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

On the bottom of the world everything is topsy-turvy.

The trees stick their roots out of the ground instead of their branches. The dirt is on top of everything. Birds are very confused and can’t decide which way their belly should point when they fly around. Groundhogs burrow to the surface, look around, and fall screaming into an endless storm.

A sundae costs 29 cents, if you can find one for sale at all.

There’s a teenaged girl picking her way through the roots of the world. She’s using a metal ruler as a kind of crampon and a lunchbox as a kind of brace and she’s being very careful not to fall.

“Everything’s opposite here,” she says.

She thinks about that.

“On opposite day,” she says, “at my middle school, we abandoned our attachments to the skandhas and experienced the world without suffering. Also, everything was permanent and it was itself exactly.”

A hummingbird pauses in the air beside her.

Alone among all the birds, it does not seem confused about direction. Sipping on the nectar of the absinthe roots, it has grown wise.

It says, “I am permanent.”

“Well, there you go,” says the girl.

The hummingbird looks smug.

“Also,” the girl says, thinking, “light took almost ten years per meter, so everything was very dark, and people would do annoying things like steal my lunch and say, ‘It’s everybody else’s lunch!'”

The girl looks sour.

She looks so sour as she picks her way through the roots that the hummingbird prompts, “It is good that you had abandoned your attachments to the skandhas.”

“Stupid opposite day,” sulks the girl.

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, but everybody calls her the imago. It’s because she’s the Apple Corporation’s entry into the reified ideals market, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

In a thicket of roots she sees squirming black. She sees the tendrils of trees stretching and relaxing. She sees a creature tangled in the roots of the world.

“Oh!” she says.

The creature has a whisker. No: it has six, three on each side of its face.

Its head is flat like a manta ray’s body. Its tail is long and serrated. Its body is black but has white stripes like a skunk’s.

It is the size of a table and it is struggling to tear free.

“It’s adorable,” says the girl, eyes round.

She balances on the great long root of a Steel Rowan. The root’s metal surface has rubber tracks to help it cling to the crust of the world. These help the girl, in turn, to stand.

The girl reaches out.

She almost touches it—

An obsolete groundhog falls past them, screaming.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Flying Carpets: Flying carpets take you from the confines of your world.

The girl jerks back her hand.

She hesitates a long moment.

She is thinking: Is that going to happen every time?

She looks down after the groundhog.

Was that something I should have cared about?

But in the end she decides that it will not, and it was not, and she reaches forth again.

She sets her hand to the creature.

Her skin runs with the colors of its history.

June, Wednesday 2, 2004 – Jacob’s Carpet: Jacob suffered in a little room. He could not leave its confines. It had no carpet that he could make to fly. All there was was a shadow.

He made a flying carpet of that shadow.

Its body was black but it had white stripes like a skunk’s where the light from the window in the door came down.

He stepped onto it. He said, “Away!”

It rammed the wall with Jacob on it. It made his nose to blood. It tried again, to Jacob’s sorrow, and again.

Then they fell down and it was shadow for a while.

They tried again later, to no better end.

This happened many times before the monster tore out Jacob’s heart and shoved a spear through Jacob’s brain and Jacob’s carpet flew away.

Tangled in the roots that dangle out the bottom of the world, Jacob’s carpet mewls.

“My name is Ink,” says the girl.

She rubs her hand on the carpet and shows it to the carpet’s face. It’s all smeared with black.

“See?”

The carpet freaks out. It flails in the roots. It keens. It bobs around.

Ink steps back.

Ink waits.

“Shh,” she says. “Shh. It’s okay. Everyone calls me the imago. —oh!”

She is not repeating the last syllable of imago.

She is making a horrified noise.

She is making a very specific horrified noise.

It is the horrified noise that a girl makes when she finds a magical animal and then realizes that it has a root of the world stuck right through its brain. It’s just there, speared through it, a screw-root from a boring tree, twisting in the lobes.

“No wonder you’re not talking,” the imago says.

The carpet whimpers.

“Poor thing,” she says. “You’re going to die and fall into the endless storm, aren’t you? And its winds are going to blow you around and you’ll fly this way and that and by the time you find out what’s on the other side you’ll be so dead and torn to shreds you won’t even have a coherent identity?”

It’s total speculation. Imagoes are one of the very few kinds of gods that suck at predicting things. But even so the carpet stills. It goes calm. It seems to like this particular tone of Ink’s voice.

Ink rubs at her chin. She looks grave and serious, like a rabbi with a beard, except in all the ways in which she looks nothing like that at all.

“I’ll tell you what,” she says. “I’ll try shaming the boring tree out and maybe you’ll still have some brain left.”

The carpet is growing restive. Ink’s eyes widen. She tries to think.

“I mean,” she says, “Everything’s awful and the world is going to end except for the worst bits which will go to Hell!”

The carpet relaxes.

It makes a little chirr noise.

“Sweet baby,” says Ink, rubbing its tail. “You like the inevitable annihilation of all things, don’t you? Don’t you?”

And there is peace for a moment, in the deeps beneath the world.

The histories of Ink Catherly: 1, 2, 3, 4
And most relevantly: Ink Indestructible

“On the top side of the world,” Ink says, “where there’s a pervasive character of suffering, girls find magical animals that aren’t dying and aren’t desperate for the annihilation of all things, you know.”

The creature hesitates.

“I’m just saying,” Ink says.

“Maybe it’s the difference,” the hummingbird suggests, “between the actual and the dream.”

  • Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting history:
    INK INSULTS A TREE!

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!

Articulation: “Sapphire”

Does God disclaim the worm?

Let us start by defining our terms. “God” herein refers to the culmination of the concept of authority. In some fashion the choices of those with authority hold dominion over the choices of those without. This manifests as “precedence:” the will of authority underlies and precedes the individual will, so that those held in dominion must frame their choices in terms of rebellion or acceptance. Thus “God” is that which holds the greatest precedence, that foremost and primal will against which every decision is either rebellion or acceptance.

The worm and its Cult claim possession of that underlying will: that, in terms the human mind can comprehend, the worm articulates the weft of that primal fabric. It expresses in the language that is the body of the worm and the actions of the worm the will of that ultimate precedence. To live as a human, the Cult asserts, one must shape one’s decisions in the context of the worm.

That the worm transcends mortal authority is clear. That it expresses in itself the will that precedes mortal will is also clear. It demonstrated as much when it destroyed the world of man. Thus the argument that must be made against it by those of other faith is that the principle of the worm is twisted. Those who would deny the worm can only say: this understanding of the primal will is so distorted as to be false. It is as if a man were shouting in a storm, they say, and through that wind “Thou shalt not” is cut short. The wind is the hearts of the Cult of the Worm. Their ears hear only “Thou shalt.”

The personal conundrum posed by the existence of the worm one can resolve. In most articulations of the idea of God there is a tenet that towards His will the soul is drawn. There is a light that bears one upwards, and that light, the God-fearing say, is God’s; and therefore one need only say, “The worm is not my path.” to give it answer.

In the broader sense, what serves for one fails to serve for all. The claims of the worm are vivid and clear in the mind of its cult. Is this damnation or another understanding? Does God disclaim the worm or exempt the weak and gentle from its mysteries?

We do not know.

In the time of Sapphire a young girl was called a “boy,” and a young boy a “girl.” This lasted for the first seven years of every child’s life. In this fashion evil spirits that might target a child based on the terms and pronouns that one uses for it became befuddled; they would hunt fruitlessly through the halls and chambers of one’s home, never finding their target. Once a child turned seven, such evil spirits could do it no further harm; the proper terms and pronouns were once again in force.

In the unformed minds of children this often seemed a transformative event. Their seventh birthday was the day they could assume their “real” gender; before that, their status was tentative at best.

Those who concerned themselves with the morality of society considered this change the root of madness—alleging that those young men and women who strayed from the paths society set forth for them had developed a deep mental disturbance in the course of those seven years. Thus when Sapphire began to preach her savagery one of the many accusations leveled against her was ‘transition sickness’: that she was unable to shed the first seven years of boyhood nor reject her underlying womanhood, producing a physical dysfunction that most ideologues reckoned akin to a minuscule tumor or even an infinitidecimal tadpole in the cognitive centers of her brain.

This is not Sapphire’s story. The world in which Sapphire grew up is not this world. The progression of her life, though sad and glorious and terrible, is not in any form at issue here. For this reason we will share only a single incident from the corpus of her legend, illustrating that spirit and philosophy that drives the Sapphire Tribe to kill.

For six years, Sapphire has incited rebellion and disobedience. Her followers are legion. From time to time in her pursuits she has crossed the line of law. In pursuance of that law the Mayor of Foreston has captured her.

He has taken her bone-handled knife from her.

He has sent her to trial for her crimes.

That is where we will begin.

The examiner sits with Sapphire. She is weaponless and dressed in a soft prison gown. A latticework like a confessional separates them; he is in an airy room, and she in a steel-reinforced wooden cell.

It is his duty to determine that fate that the law has merited for her.

“You argue,” he says, “that we should shed the ambition of peace.”

“I do not,” says Sapphire.

“It is well-established—” he begins. She interrupts him.

“There are many people who are disaffected; dishonest; disdainful of civilized ways. To them I preach that the ambition of peace is a tool of corruption; that we are held down by our abandonment of the old weapons, that our fear of swords and guns and bombs is an archaism promoted by those who rule the law.”

“As I said.”

“I do not argue this to you,” says Sapphire.

“Then it is a lie?” the examiner says. “Political?”

He hesitates briefly.

“You would attest to this?”

“To you I would say this,” says Sapphire. “Woe to those who luxuriate in comfort. Woe to those who think the storm I have raised may grow still. Those who pledge to ancient principles will fall to those who awaken the ancient weapons. To you I would say, only savagery will save you.”

“I don’t fear you,” says the examiner.

“Everything you know will perish in fire, blood, and steel. Should we find guns or lasers or mass drivers, it will go fast. Should we find only our rage, it will go slow. But it will happen.”

The examiner licks his lips. He actually does fear her a little.

“Such things are not meet,” he says. “The aspiration of humanity has always been to have and cherish the land, the open spaces, the beauty undisturbed that we have made here. To abandon that for weapons unneeded—that is a sickness.”

“You’ll want to kill me, then,” Sapphire says. “I’m sure you’ve been instructed to that end.”

The examiner blushes, because to receive such instructions is as much a crime as to kill an innocent; but, of course, he has.

“Why would you do it?” he says. “Why would you want those days of fire?”

“They are better,” Sapphire says. “Tell me you deny it. Tell me there is something in you that does not know that you are small and dirty and corrupt. Tell me that there is something in your world that deserves in itself to stand.”

The examiner is silent. He wants to say: “The land! The people! The laughter! The peace!” but he is held in her presence like a rabbit before a snake.

“You disgust me,” she says.

She rises to her feet. And as he cowers there, meek behind his screen and shelter, she issues judgment upon the peaceful dreams of men as he:

“Die.”

In the riots that follow her attempted execution, he meets a man with a knife, sent not by her but by the Mayor; and, perhaps in obedience to her command, he does.

Three generations pass in savagery, iron, and blood.

Aton-Re, Prince of the Tribe of Sapphire, discovers the secret of the summoning of the worm.

“Articulation” continues tomorrow, Monday, or Tuesday.

Articulation: “The Worm”

This story is forbidden because it articulates a heresy.

It is naturally quite possible to experience this story without accepting that heresy. In doing so you strip it of its horror and its mystery. It becomes a story of a delusion encoded into an entity that is neither human nor machine. It becomes a story where, above all else, the Cult of the Worm is wrong.

But to describe it as that story would be dishonest. This story is forbidden for good reason. Its implications are in simplest fact heretical and offensive, nor can they be disproven. We can conclude that they are horrid, we can reject them, we can deny them.

Whether they are true or false—in premise, if not in detail—we can never know.

To understand the motivations of the Cult of the Worm, you must first understand the peculiar inversions of meaning that they practiced. Words such as “corrupt,” “murderous,” and “unethical” possessed an intrinsic character to them that assigned them unto others’ door; to speak of a Cultist as corrupt or evil was, while not incomprehensible, patently false and awaiting only disproof. Words such as “virtuous,” “moral,” and “right” applied not to an objective standard but to anything that strove away from the filth of everyday life.

In the language as the Cultists spoke it it became very difficult to express “you bloody fools, you’ll destroy the world!” The fanfic bodhisattva Severus came as close as any outsider ever could when he told them: “To escape the world is to return to it”—an idea that, while superficially entirely alien to his point, conveyed to them some of the essential dirtiness of their actions. Sadly, it did not suffice to overwhelm their convictions; Severus became a sacrifice to their cause and the work of the Cult progressed.

In 2284, human civilization is great and it is glorious. Having lost the moon to error, it drew a new one from the ocean’s depths and set it in orbit around the world. From the face of the Earth great gossamer beanstalks rise like towers. People can fly, and not with difficulty but as casually as a thought. They can talk, just by wanting to, to anyone in the world.

The Singularity had receded from them as it approached it; the change in fundamental human nature that they much anticipated eluded them, slipped away from them like a struggling fish. That the world was much the same as it had ever been—taller perhaps, more peaceful perhaps, certainly different in every respect, but failing to change its fundamental qualities—they called the “isobeing” or “isostasis,” and they looked back towards a Golden Age when its presence was not so profound.

In 2284, the people of Earth glide above the world, speaking their chirping tongues, discussing with five or seven of their tribe such matters as this.

Then from that compound in Sweden to which the Cult had outsourced its sacrifices there is a flare of sapphire light. There is born into the world the worm.

It is indescribably large and horrid and its mouth opens unto forever.

The worm destroys the land. It strikes it with great blows and the land breaks into shards and archipelagos. It drives its bulk over the shards and islands and sinks them down into the sea.

Thrashing, it overturns the boats and platforms that dot the sea but are not land.

And as it does its work, humanity strikes back. It is to no avail.

Mass drivers do nothing.

Grid dumps do nothing.

Atomic weapons fail; and then, to the consternation of the scientific community, the worm ignores the artificial black hole that they birth within its flesh.

“Well, foo,” says Hawking_7942, the physicist most responsible for this attempt, because that really should have worked.

The worm is a product of human desire, human dreams, and human making; but it is a thing greater than what humanity has become, and it survives.

It tears down the beanstalks.

It swallows the flying whales.

It rages up into the sky and rips humans down and throws them into the sea.

Then, before the world is even halfway dead, its eyes glint seven colors and its rage goes still. With its maw the worm sketches lines of blood into the sea. It forms a portal to another place. It dives away from world and sound; and the worm is gone.

For three generations humanity struggles simply to survive: to hold on to its lives, to keep the fabric of its science and the basics of its technology in place; to survive without the land or infrastructure that had given it such glory.

For four generations, humanity catches its breath. It scavenges the seas for secrets it had lost. It searches the skies and waters for the worm. It tries to cope with the enormity of what has gone before.

Then it is time to begin the recovery.

People begin to dredge the land up from the sea. With great magnets and cranes they fish up the pieces of the continents and slowly they cobble them together.

It takes a long time.

Children are born, raised, and fed into the vats without ever knowing “land” as something more than “that muck-covered rubble in the distance.”

Not even the oldest minds in the last computers remember land as much more than a dream.

It is thirty generations after the time of the worm before it is possible to live on land again for a short period of time.

It is forty generations after the time of the worm when humanity can once again declare the land its home.

There is a kind of peace, then. There is a slackening in the iron will that drives humanity forward. People stop to breathe. They look up at the stars. They release the burden of their ancestral glory.

“We will build it again,” says Dr. Sevens, as he powers down the ancient computers.

“Goodbye,” says Dr. Ashen, as she seals creaky old robots in their shells and pushes them into the sea.

It is not stupidity that drives them thus, nor Luddite loathing, but rather celebration. They recognize with their actions the culmination of “the human destiny to rebuild” and the beginning of a new era. It is something their culture has looked forward to ever since, eighty years or so ago, it began to sense the project’s end.

It is not a person or a group that abandons the remnants of ancient glory for the simplicity of houses, grain, and land. There is no one to ask who would even consider it a decision in more than the most superficial sense. It is simply the sense of the times that it should be so.

It is two more generations before anyone musters a compelling objection to this decision. The woman who does so is named Sapphire.

She is the heir to the Cult of the Worm.

“Articulation” continues tomorrow or Monday.

House of Saints: Saturday Morning Special

“I am a hatter of some skill,” Vladimir admits. “Did you know that the first crowning hat was mine? It was not as advanced as what we have now. It was not alive. It was not warm in my hands. It did not speak to me at night. But it was mine. I made it from the gravesoil of long-abandoned hats. It was soft and mushy and everyone laughed at me when I wore it on my head but it opened the path that led me to the House of Dreams. Now who is laughing? I am head boy and my enemies have been eaten.”
— from House of Saints: Vladimir’s Dreams

Vladimir is not there one day when they are eating lunch, and the discussion comes around to the purpose of the House of Dreams.

“I have dreamed of a storm,” says Amber.

“I too,” says Cheryl.

“I felt . . . like I was part of it. Like I was . . . a lightning rod. A channel for it.”

Cheryl picks listlessly at her cafeteria meat loaf. It does not inspire her. Its flavor is surprising, but not surprising enough.

One day, Cheryl thinks, she will show the kitchen staff. She’ll show them all.

“And my left forearm is strange now,” says Amber. “Ever since the dreams.”

She taps her arm. Cheryl’s ears hear the thump of flesh on flesh, but in her mind Cheryl hears a ringing like metal.

“Wow,” says Cheryl. “Is it conductive?”

Amber beams a little bit. Enthusiasm runs between them like a current.

“Let’s go run tests!” Amber says.

For science and madness are the joys of their House.

House of Saints


Saturday Morning Special

The House of Dreams has commandeered a lounge in Miller Hall. There they work on the great boot they intend to build in space.

“Put on Voltron,” says Cheryl.

So they play that in the background, for inspiration.

“I do not like boots,” says Vladimir. “This project—it feels like a waste of my talents. And I dream unsettled dreams.”

Cheryl looks at him.

“In them, I am like a lump of metal,” says Vladimir. “Where is the lightning in me? I am only a lump—some cobbler’s tool, no doubt, heavy and dumb. That is what we become by cobblery. I do not like boots, Cheryl.”

Cheryl is still looking at him. She is shaking her head slowly.

“What?” Vladimir asks.

“It’s a boot,” says Cheryl, “in space.

In the background, the robot lions charge together. They form a giant robot. This is the glorious stock footage that is Voltron.

Vladimir rubs at his chin. There is the sparkling pressure in his mind again. He can feel the power of the House building in him. “We should add lasers,” he says. “At least.”

“Now that’s using your dreams,” says Cheryl. “Heat-seeking lasers!”

“And a worldkiller nuke.”

“Deadly nanoviruses.”

“A space station!” Harold says.

“Dimensional disruption rays!” Amber cheers.

“They laughed at us in engineering class,” says Vladimir. “But now the engineering department is in ruins and we may build as we see fit.”

“Ha,” laughs Cheryl. “Ha ha ha!”

Thunder crashes all around them.

It is another joyous gathering of the House of Dreams.

That night Vladimir dreams unsettled dreams of the wolf. It is looking for him. He can tell. It is sniffing about with its cold wet nose. He wakes with a gasp, his silent assistant shaking his shoulder, and he sobs:

“I have seen the ending of things. It approaches like a storm. Fools are we to think of riding that storm. Fool was I to think of guiding it! We are used as mindless tools by fate.”

His assistant presses a cup of coffee into his hands. It is an ancient remedy for prophecy. Vladimir drinks. Soon the weird has passed. Then his assistant leads Vladimir over to a console. It is beeping and flashing with red lights.

“Hm,” says Vladimir. “I see. So one among the Hungry dares to test the defenses of my room.”

He closes his eyes. He meditates.

“Send out the robot bees,” he says. “Coded to his gene sequence. That will discourage him, and the others of the Hungry, from such foolishness.”

It is an unpleasant beginning to another happy day.

“I don’t like the staged booster design for the unmanned efforts,” says Harold, when they’ve gathered once again.

“Hm,” says Vladimir.

“It’s very vanilla,” concedes Cheryl.

“True,” says Vladimir. He rises dramatically. He crosses out a sheaf of plans with a single motion of his bright red pen. “Then let it be ended! Instead, we shall use a catapult to fling shoe leather into space. Such incredible hang time! Our slogan shall be ‘Be Like Mike.'”

“In what fashion is this like Mike?” Cheryl asks.

Vladimir hesitates.

After a moment, he waves a hand dismissively and grunts, “Enh.”

He does not actually answer.

“We could use a beanstalk,” counterproposes Cheryl. “We could call it the Shoelace Project. Or . . .”

Her eyes widen.

“‘The Bootstrap.'”

“Ha,” says Vladimir. “Ha ha ha!”

In this fashion Cheryl’s suggestion carries.

The House of Dreams works fervently into the night. But at some point, the students’ minds slow down and the difficulties of the problem overwhelm them. Soon they are working not from joy but from obsession and frustration, beating their minds against the difficulties of the task. They are like birds fluttering against the glass, or moths against a flame. Then they are too tired to think at all.

When Vladimir staggers into bed it is nearly morning. He falls into his dreams like a broken elevator falls. He tumbles into them like a wounded bird. He is dizzy and vertiginous and there are great shapes all around him. They are dwarves, he thinks, and gods.

He tries to open his mouth to scream, but he cannot.

They toss him into a fiercely-burning forge. They shape and twist him with their hands. They mold him like a lump of metal and his mind is burning with the lightning.

When he wakes his tongue is thick and his mind is spinning and he says, “I see how to do it. I see how to do it.”

The dream cannot disturb him. Not even the ingrown nail on his left foot can disturb him. The lightning is with him now. He sees.

And they work that day in joy.

“I dreamed a few days back,” says Vladimir, seven hours later, “of the ending of all things. I dreamed that we were arrogant. I dreamed that it was not in us to shape the storm.”

Here he laughs.

“Can you imagine? I, I, Vladimir, I doubted. But here we are. Here, we shall do it. We are ready. We shall make this boot and the lace that lifts it.”

But Cheryl is looking at him. What he sees in her eyes he struggles to deny.

“Vladimir,” she says. “We do not guide what is coming. We are shaped by it. We are the lightning of its path. We are the hammer of the storm.”

Voltron plays behind them, on the television screen.

And there is a sudden sick realization tightening Vladimir’s chest as he looks down at the table and now he knows, and he says, “And I’ll—”

It is ridiculous. He does not speak it. It is a thing in his mind alone. He is a man. He will always be a man.

He shakes his head.

On the television behind him, Keith shouts, “And I’ll form—the head!”

The Raining Woman

This is a story of a long time ago. It was before planes and typewriters. It was before gum and rockets. It was before absestos contact lenses.

People were different then.

People didn’t need planes to fly, back then. They didn’t need typewriters to type. They didn’t need gum to chew.

They did it all with the undivided power within them.

The dissolution came later.

People got limits later.

They didn’t have them, back then.

Sky was a woman. She wasn’t the sky. It was just her name. Most people called her Incredible Sky, because she was pretty incredible, just like you and me.

Sky wanted to go into space.

Now, a lot of people wanted to go into space back then. There was Morgan, who flew into space and then blew up. There was Irene. Irene flew into space, and maybe she got where she was going, and maybe she didn’t. No one knows. No one heard from her again. There was Skip. Skip flung her puppy into space and then was very sad, because she didn’t have a puppy any more.

(We could all learn a lesson from Skip about throwing puppies into space.)

People were different back then, but mistakes—mistakes were still the same.

Sky had an idea. “If I hold my arms out like this,” she said, “I can probably get to space and back.”

She held her arms out like one does, when flying into space.

Sky gathered her friends Storm and Skitter. They held their arms out just like that. They flew into space.

Now space has lots of dangers. There are the aliens and the asteroids and the cosmic rays. It’s the cosmic rays that got Sky.

“I’m raining,” said Sky.

That’s what she was doing. She was raining down over the earth.

There was Makemba, tending her fields. She looked up. “Fantastic!” she said.

But Achta, chewing on a bit of grain, corrected her. “Incredible.”

Incredible Sky rained down.

There was Reonet, herding alligators. It’s hard to herd alligators. Sometimes they’d eat her hand. But it would always wriggle around so much in their throats that they’d have to spit it back out and it would squirm back to Reonet.

“River’s going to flood,” said Reonet.

Incredible Sky rained down.

Camilla looked up. “I fear no rain.”

(Later, Camilla drowned.)

For days and nights Sky fell. Her body never stopped the raining. That was the power the cosmic rays gave her.

Dove came to visit Sky, up in space.

“Hey, Sky,” said Dove. “You’re going to kill everything. Every plant. Every animal. Every person. That’s not appropriate for a member of our society.”

“Can’t help it,” said Sky, tersely. “Cosmic rays.”

“I’m sorry,” said Dove.

So Dove fought the raining woman, high above the earth. Dove tore at her with hooks and claws. They fought until Storm couldn’t watch any more. Storm knew it was right, what Dove was doing, but she sobbed and flew to Sky’s defense anyway.

Storm burned with a terrible fire.

The light of Dove’s eyes seared everything she looked at.

That was the cosmic rays. Those were the changes they’d made.

And Storm couldn’t win in the end. She got pinned in Dove’s gaze like a bunny in a snake’s. And she died. And Sky died. And that was the end.

Dove came down.

Dove told everyone else, “The rain’s over. But I’ve got to go. I can’t stay. Because I’d burn you with my eyes.”

So she left. She flew into space, where the cosmic rays are, where the dust is, where the void and the aliens are, and she never came back.

Nobody knows what happened to Skitter. That’s a hole in the story, no denying it, but it’s the way the story has always been.

Now, this was a long time ago. People didn’t need asbestos contact lenses back then, and I guess Dove could have made her eyes fireproof, if she chose.

But what’s the point of choosing if you don’t take the consequence for each choice?

She flew away, and she stayed away.

Maybe she loves it there, in space.

Maybe she’s dead.

No one’s heard from her again.