Pasta

You can make miracle pasta by stirring together flour, miracles, milk, salt, and butter. Then you cut the mix into long strands, air, and cook. The biggest difficulty is in finding the miracles. Once you have done that the stirring, cutting, airing, and cooking is easy.

Miracle pasta is good with a spicy red sauce and shrimp.

It is also good with despair as it is the function of miracles to alleviate despair.

A long time ago seven miracle pasta wheels fell to Earth, one of them landing on a frog.

It was like this:

Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! Squish! Thump!

“We will guide these people, and guard them, and shepherd them,” say the miracle pasta wheels.

Then they roll around and make all kinds of havoc.

“Oh, look!” says a hungry child in Germany. She points at a pasta wheel. Then she eats it. This alleviates her hunger and her despair!

Six pasta wheels remain.

“The simplest way to rid our planet of the troublesome infinite-weight stone would be to launch it into space via rocket,” decide Atlantean alchemists.

Whoosh! Sploosh! It is a typical Atlantean disaster.

Two pasta wheels are on Atlantis when it sinks. They grow weak and soggy in water and eventually drown.

A mammoth in North America stumbles across a pasta wheel. “At last,” it says, “the power of miracles is mine!”

Three blind sages stumble across the pasta wheel at that same exact moment.

“No!” cries the first blind sage. “Pasta is a human treasure!”

“A tasty meal!” cries the second.

“An ineffable symbol of hope and endurance!” explains the third.

“I’ll show you my terrible tusks,” trumpets the mammoth. But only one of the blind sages is even aware of the mammoth’s tusks! He runs away and two sages remain.

“I’ll stomp you with my terrible feet!” the mammoth declares. But only one of the blind sages is even aware of the mammoth’s feet! He runs away, leaving one blind sage.

“I’ll defeat you with my mammoth philosophy of nonviolence!”

There’s a pause.

“Yoink!” says the last blind sage, grabbing half of the pasta wheel. The mammoth seizes the other half. They each run away, treating the pasta in ill manner.

Later, Arthur Pendragon falls.

He bleeds from many wounds.

“Oh, Arthur,” says a wheel of miraculous pasta. “You were the best of England.”

This is in fact not true. The best of England was probably the curry. But pasta does not know such things.

“So hungry,” murmurs the dying king.

“Partake of my flesh, my liege,” the pasta wheel says. “You will never die.”

Two pasta wheels remain.

They roll around the world causing all kinds of havoc.

One meets a man.

They fall in love.

It is the forbidden love. It is the love between man and pasta: that slippery, boiling love that slowly stiffens as it cools, eventually becoming dry and tasteless.

Heaven frowns upon this love.

The man is chastised.

The pasta is cast up into the sky, where it becomes a new constellation.

Thus in these days there is only one wheel of miracle pasta left upon the Earth.

There is only one miracle left to guide us, to guard us, to shepherd us, and to bring us hope.

Treasure it while ye may; the world progresses swift.

An Unclean Legacy: “How Elisabet Saved Christmas”

Once upon a time, Montechristien traveled to where his brother worked.

Montechristien leaned upon a heavy staff as he walked. Rain dripped through his thinning hair.

He pounded once, twice, thrice on the door of Baltasar’s tower.

And Baltasar answered.

“Brother,” said Montechristien. “I have come to beg.”

Baltasar sneered. “As you have always done.”

“I know what sorcery you plan to work,” said Montechristien. “I cannot let you do this thing. Please stop.”

Baltasar rose to his full height in anger. His teeth clenched. Lightning flashed.

“Gar-ga-mel?” he asked.

And Montechristien found himself fighting not to cringe, for all that years with Yseult have given him some strength.

“You plan to summon and bind the tripartite God,” Montechristien said. “It is madness.”

Baltasar turned aside, as if he did not object to Montechristien’s defiance. He gestured his brother inside.

“I told your woman,” said Baltasar, “that the two of us share a soul.”

Montechristien brushed the mud from his feet. He walked inside.

“I told her that it would do her no harm to sleep with me,” said Baltasar. “For when two men share a single soul, they share a single seed—and, in fact, that that seed is mine. So why refuse me? I asked. When you have borne me six children already?”

Montechristien held his face tight against anger.

“They are your children as well,” Montechristien agreed. “You should visit them.”

“She did not believe me,” said Baltasar. “She shouted, ‘I can’t have had your children! You’re weird old Baltasar!'”

Montechristien started to grin. But Baltasar’s eyes flashed and thunder boomed and the smile vanished from Montechristien’s face.

“Then she shouted, ‘Ack! Yagg! Igg! Ptui!’ and began to spit.”

“To . . . spit?”

“. . . I don’t understand why she thought it would help,” Baltasar confessed.

Montechristien nodded.

“So she hurt your pride.”

“She inspired me,” snapped Baltasar. “She showed me how low I have fallen—I, whom you once called your master! So I will redress this. You will have your pathetic golden eidolons. I will infuse myself with God!

“I could stop you,” said Montechristien.

“You won’t!” said Baltasar. Then he spun on Montechristien. He thrust out his palm. Montechristien, on ancient reflex, flung himself back into the corner and cowered.

From Baltasar’s outthrust hand a mandala of energy grew. Then seven more formed around it. Each touched the others; each orbited the others; each served as the center of the pattern. Among them were faces, wings, fires, jade, and gold.

“In truth,” laughed Baltasar, “I have waited only for your arrival. I have learned to manifest it, brother! The one pattern that can bind even God Himself—the Wheel of Enoch!

Montechristien feared his brother of old. But for Yseult’s sake, he marshaled his own powers.

He was too late.

Baltasar flung back his head. His eyes went white. There was a great wind before the throne in Heaven and the seraphim cried out. The sun and the stars and the planets froze in their procession. The whole world shook.

But Baltasar did not summon God.

From above him, below him, around him, from the center of the wheels, hands stretched for Baltasar, red and black and burning hands.

They seized him.

They clawed at him.

They carried him screaming away.

And three days later Montechristien returned to Castle Gargamel and said disconsolately to his wife, “Now I am damned.”

“Pookie—”

Yseult touched Montechristien’s hands, his arms, his face, but it took warmer measures to console him.

Thus did Montechristien and Yseult conceive the ninja, Elisabet.

We do not know how Montechristien Gargamel came into his power. His origins are a mystery. How such an ungainly, strange, and immoral man could rise so swiftly to prominence puzzles even the greatest scholars of our time. Of his life once established in Castle Gargamel, however, certain facts are known.

He took to wife the Lady Yseult Gargamel, one of the great beauties of his day; and though many a rival pressed for evidence that he’d bewitched or stolen her, none was ever found. They had and loved six children of their flesh, until the seventh, Elisabet, killed Yseult with the complications of her birth. Each of these children was a prodigy, possessed of astonishing talents. When at last Montechristien stumbled towards the grave, the talents of his children turned against their siblings, every hand against the other, until at last they could dispose of the matter of their legacy.

This is the seventeenth installment of the story of that time.

A magical reindeer flies down from the sky and lands before an fifteen-year-old Elisabet.

Its nose shines red.

It says, “Elisabet Gargamel?”

Elisabet has been practicing with her shuriken. She ceases, now. She turns, and fades into human shape. She smiles at the reindeer, charmed.

“Yes,” she says.

“You are needed at the North Pole. Christmas is in danger!”

“I am a ninja,” says Elisabet.

“Yes?”

“Please forgive me,” Elisabet says, with an unusual formality. “But I must explain that I cannot box presents or make toys or cure a sick Santa or see through fog. The duty of a ninja is to kill those who must be killed.”

The reindeer tilts its head to one side. “That is not exactly the Oriental tradition….”

Elisabet shrugs.

“Well,” says Santa’s reindeer, “in any case, there’s killing to be done.”

“Yay!” says Elisabet. “I can save Christmas!”

She looks around.

“And you don’t want Manfred? Or Tomas? Or anything?”

“I was sent for you.”

So Elisabet gets a wide smile and says, smugly, “Cool.”

“Come on,” says the reindeer.

So Elisabet gets on its back and rides the reindeer up into the sky.

An Unclean Legacy


How Elisabet Saved Christmas

“Why do you want me?” Elisabet asks, as she rides.

“You’re nice,” summarizes the reindeer.

“Wow,” says Elisabet. She blushes a little.

“There aren’t many supernaturally-effective killing machines on Santa’s nice list,” the reindeer explains.

“It’s because of the life,” Elisabet says.

“The life?”

“Daddy says that Yseult gave me all her leftover life when she died. That I’m more like her than anyone else. And she was really cool, although she wasn’t a supernatural killing machine.”

“She was on the nice list too,” the reindeer agrees.

Elisabet giggles.

“But she always tried to shake down Santa for coal instead of presents,” the reindeer reminisces. “She’d set traps for him, you know. He was too nimble! She couldn’t catch him.”

“Hee hee,” laughs Elisabet.

The reindeer is arcing down now into a land of snow and tinsel. The air is cold and Elisabet’s breath puffs out black. The great candy-cane marker for Santa’s workshop is ahead. But the reindeer does not land there. Instead, it lands on a field of ice nearly a mile and a half from the north pole.

Elisabet gets down.

“I don’t get to see Santa?”

“There’s no time,” the reindeer says. “The centipede is almost here.”

Elisabet looks to the west. She sees it there: a great hundred-legged monster, shrouded in shadows and in fire, eight feet wide and two hundred feet long.

“That?” she says.

“It is the child of a centipede and the Devil,” says the reindeer. “So naturally it wants to destroy Christmas. Each day, it comes for Santa, and we lose more lives holding it back.”

Elisabet steps away from the reindeer. She stands there on the ice, desolate and alone.

Her bangs blow in the wind.

“Is this the destiny of Christmas?” Elisabet asks.

Snow falls gently around her.

“Does even the innocence of the holidays draw to itself the sorrow and the pain of all this troubled world? Will there ever be love and peace that is not transient? Tinsel that is not stained with blood?”

Elisabet bows her head. She squeezes her eyes shut.

“I don’t know what to say,” the reindeer admits.

Elisabet sets her jaw. She opens her eyes. She puts her hands on her swords. She dissolves her human shape and becomes a thing of shadowy protoplasm.

“I am ready,” Elisabet says.

Then the air is hot and smoky. The centipede’s great head comes down towards her. But Elisabet has already leapt into the sky. A dozen blades wing from her hands and burrow into its flesh.

“Rowr!” shrieks the centipede, and it flails for her. It catches her with one great limb but Elisabet dissolves around its touch and leaves behind only a poisoned needle that numbs it.

The ice grows hot with their battle and turns to water. The tinsel-coated trees fall down. There is thunder and heat all across the northern wastes.

Hours pass.

The centipede strikes at Elisabet in the air. Elisabet twists with the unnatural dexterity of her shadowy form and catches the end of its limb. She drags it after her using a force-redirection technique. The centipede falls onto its back. It lands amidst the melt of their battle, and she stands on its chest and stares at it with creepy ninja eyes.

It stops moving. It is chilled by what it sees in her eyes.

Slowly its head sinks back beneath the water.

Let me go, it pleads.

It cannot move. It is drowning.

I will spare Christmas. I will live in peace. I will serve you.

Elisabet does not relent.

The centipede thrashes once, twice, three times, and then it dies.

And that’s how Elisabet saved Christmas!

Wasn’t that a heartwarming holiday tale?

Check back on Monday for the conclusion of Elisabet’s story: “Way of the Ninja!”

(History: Boedromion 17: The Cakkavattisihananda Sutra)

It is time to expound upon the duties of the wheel-turning monarch.

So once upon a time a family of traveling entertainers presented their act before a King.

“Oh, no!” says the family father. “My sacred wheel treasure has slipped from its position.”

His eyes are closed. He fumbles with his hands, looking for his sacred wheel treasure.

“If you wish to take up the wheel,” says the mother, illustrating, “you must depend on the Dharma. Honor it. Revere it. Cherish it. Do homage to it. Venerate it.”

She honors and cherishes and does homage to the dharma.

“Then you should establish guard, ward, and protection,” adds their son. “For your household, your troops, your nobles, and your vassals.”

He establishes guard, ward, and protection on his sister and their dog.

“Woof!” says the dog.

The Brahmins of the King’s court recoil, shocked.

“Also,” asides the son, “for Brahmins and householders, town and country folk, ascetics, beasts, and birds.”

“Woof!” says the dog, again, thumping its foot on the floor.

“And to those in need,” says the daughter, in her high clear voice, “give property. And let no crime prevail in your kingdom. But most of all, give wise consel on the matter of what is good and what is bad, what will lead to harm and what will lead to sorrow, and in all things.”

One of the nearby ascetics examines her philosophy. She gives him wise counsel on the matter of what is good and what is bad.

“But what do you call this act?” says the King, somewhat disoriented.

“The Cakkavattisihananda Sutta!” declares the family together.

Exhausted by all this enlightenment, the son falls over dead.

So. Anyway.

This is a history of Round Man.

It is, like all the histories of Round Man, set in the very beginning. It’s a time when each pig is worth a hundred oxen. Thunder is almost as scared of people as people are of thunder. And the sun keeps shining well into the night.

Now Round Man is called Round Man because of his invention of the wheel. He’s doing that inventing right now, in fact—not because he needs to roll something, because he doesn’t, but because he wants something to serve as the symbol of dharma. So he makes a wheel out of stone. That’ll do the trick!

The wheel has spokes and a rim and he hangs it around his neck on a cord.

“It has a jolly good felloe,” he says to the toad.

That’s why toads don’t like people. Sometimes they’ll pretend they do, but they don’t, and that joke is pretty much why.

“It symbolizes appropriateness,” he says to the moss.

“Don’t like it none,” says the moss.

Moss doesn’t like wheels. It never will.

Then Round Man and his wheel go home.

“Chaos Woman,” he says to his wife. “I’ve decided that things should happen in an appropriate fashion.”

He takes off the cord and hands her the wheel.

“That’s why I made this.”

“It’s round,” says Chaos Woman. She’s just kind of rolling with it.

“It has a jolly good felloe.”

That’s why people don’t always like people that much.

“And it fixed that problem with the cows,” adds Round Man.

Then he sighs.

“But it’s also why my dead dog’s left. He’s gone away to the other side.”

“Just because he’s dead?”

Round Man nods.

“That’s the problem with dogs,” concludes Chaos Woman. “They aren’t loyal enough. Not like karma beetles.”

In the distance, the dog howls mournfully.

“That’s right,” says Round Man, trying to ignore the distant sound. “Dangle a sprawling land of the dead with squirrels to chase and lots of fresh air and water and the dogs’ll take any excuse to leave.”

Chaos Woman turns the wheel in her hands for a while.

After a while, the howling quiets.

Then Chaos Woman frowns.

“It’s nice, and all,” says Chaos Woman, “but lots of inappropriate things are still happening.”

In the north there’s a man with an eel for a head. That’s not appropriate!

What a bad man!

Also in the south there’s somebody getting rich by selling bad quartz veins to mountains. That’s even worse.

And in the west the moon’s bobbing up and down. It’s trying to set but it’s too drunk on moonshine. It can’t find the horizon!

That’s the kind of inappropriateness a polite society just can’t stand.

“Huh,” says Round Man. “Maybe they didn’t hear my decision.”

And Chaos Woman sees the path she has to take. So she says, “Well, no. They won’t until you make them.”

Now Round Man’s a little nervous. “What, everybody?”

“Everybody,” Chaos Woman confirms.

“But I’ll be embarrassed,” says Round Man.

“Why?”

And Round Man doesn’t want to admit why he’d be embarrassed. So he shakes his head. He mumbles, “‘S nothing.”

And he clears his throat. And he says, in the really loud voice, “Everybody look here.”

And everybody does.

And Round Man blushes a brighter and brighter scarlet, because now that everyone’s looking at him he’s pretty sure he’s naked.

He grabs the first thing he can find to hide his shame and he says, in a blushing broken little voice, “Things should happen in the most appropriate fashion.”

Now there are a lot of things you can say about this and most of them are true.

Like, Round Man saved the world. Or Round Man broke the world. Or Round Man was a hero-figure. Or maybe he was a devil.

It’s all true. One way or another, everything that’s happened since then happened at least in part because of what Round Man said while everyone and everything in all the world was looking at him.

But that wasn’t what he cared about.

What he cared about was a little bit of a wardrobe accident, because a fig leaf would have been much smarter than a wheel when it came to hiding his shame.

And while everyone was staring at him, Round Man grew smaller and smaller and his blush grew hotter and hotter until he burst into very small flames.

Only the wheel was left!

Then, rising from his seat, covering one shoulder with his robe, the King took a gold vessel in his left hand, sprinkled the Wheel with his right hand, and said: “May the noble Wheel Treasure turn, may the noble Wheel Treasure conquer!” The Wheel Turned to the east, and the King followed it with his fourfold army. And in whatever country the Wheel stopped, the King took up residence with his fourfold army. And those who opposed him in the eastern region came and said: “Come, Your Majesty, Welcome! We are yours, Your Majesty. Rule us, your Majesty.” And the King said: “Do not take life. Do not take what is not given. Do not commit sexual misconduct. Do not tell lies.”
The Cakkavattisihananda Sutta

The Weight of the Contradiction

Alberto is young. He is eating his upside-down cake. Inside his upside-down cake is an upside-down wogly.

Alberto pokes it with his fork.

The upside-down wogly has banded blue and black skin. It is scaled like a snake. It is shaped like a torus. Inside the upside-down wogly is more upside-down cake.

“Hello?” Alberto asks, uncertainly.

“Hello!” says the upside-down wogly. “Would you like to volunteer to bear the weight of the contradictions of the world?”

Alberto wriggles uncomfortably in his seat. He looks at his parents. They do not appear to have noticed the upside-down wogly. They are engaged in deep philosophical discussion.

(“Can a heart-shaped record fit in the record player?” asks Alberto’s mother.

“Vinyl must be adaptable,” answers Alberto’s father, “or it will never find love.”

He is a gruff man, Alberto’s father, and he shows records his sternness.)

“Well, would you?” asks the upside-down wogly.

“I don’t know,” Alberto says.

The upside-down wogly’s voice is soft and gentle and stern. “You know how things are unfair in the world, don’t you?”

“Daddy says we can’t have everything we want,” says Alberto.

“When not everyone can have everything that they should have:” says the upside-down wogly. “When not everyone can have what they should fairly have; or should righteously have; or should desire to have—then there must exist someone who bears the weight of that contradiction.”

Alberto pokes the upside-down wogly with his fork again.

“Do I eat you?” he asks.

“I am very cold,” says the upside-down wogly. “Your tongue would stick to me.”

Alberto leans down and puts his tongue against the upside-down wogly.

“That was unfortunate,” says the upside-down wogly.

“Unh!” says Alberto. “Unh!”

His parents are discussing deep philosophical matters, and do not at first hear.

(“So this whale,” says Alberto’s mother, “has a bandolier of ammo wrapped all the way around her, and she uses two Uzis in her teeth. She’s all like leaping off of her motorcycle and going blam blam blam blam and then, ‘oh, toodles, I’ve beached myself.'”)

“UNH!” says Alberto.

“Oh,” says Alberto’s mother. “Oh, dear.”

“What’s that?” asks Alberto’s father.

“It’s something cold,” says Alberto’s mother. “But even the coldest heart can be warmed by love. Have you tried love, Albert?”

Alberto attempts love. Soon his tongue unsticks from the upside-down wogly.

“That was close, Mom!” says Alberto.

“I knew you could do it, Albert,” says Alberto’s mother. “But you should try not to stick your tongue on strange things.”

She ruffles Alberto’s hair, fondly, and then turns back to her conversation.

“If you help to bear the weight of that contradiction,” says the upside-down wogly, “why, then, it’ll make the world just a little bit fairer for everyone else.”

“Huh,” says Alberto, who is still quite warm with tongue-unsticking love. “I guess that’s okay.”

“Yay!” says the upside-down wogly.

“Hold on, son,” says Alberto’s father, whose brain has slowly assembled the content of Alberto’s conversation from residual auditory input. “That sounds like a bit of a bad deal for you.”

Alberto’s mother turns to the upside-down wogly. She thinks back with a puzzled frown.

“I shouldn’t?” says Alberto.

“You’re too young,” says Alberto’s father. “Make a deal with the upside-down wogly when you’re old enough to understand it.”

“But the world needs him to live up to his bargain,” says the upside-down wogly.

“I thought that recipe seemed a little off,” snaps Alberto’s mother, putting it all together. She rises to her feet. She picks up the plates.

“But I didn’t finish my cake,” says Alberto.

“But the world needs him,” says the upside-down wogly.

“Too bad,” says Alberto’s mother, briskly, and she carries the plates, the cake, and the upside-down wogly away.

(Holy Saturday) Stories of Deliverance (I/I)

Belshazzar’s Feast

Babylon

Daniel works at his desk. He balances accounts. He looks for discrepancies. He reads the records of the dreams of the people of Babylon, and searches them for meaning. It is the hope of his masters that he may discover corruption and incompetence within Babylon’s bureaucracy by correlating the records and the dreams.

He is not surprised when the seraph enters his room.

“I dreamed,” Daniel says, “that the people of Judea fled from a lion, and were met by a bear. The bear was bitten by a serpent, and the bear and the serpent tore one another apart. Then I flew away and was suddenly naked.”

“That is the kind of thing that happens in dreams,” says the seraph.

“The lion was Nabonidus,” says Daniel. “The bear is Belshazzar, who rules in Babylon now that the monster is gone.”

The seraph is a creature of beauty. It is tall. Its skin is strange. Its wings are great and terrible. Its eyes are jeweled.

“I had hoped,” says Daniel, “that he would be a better King. The people of Judea have suffered under the monster for too long; and we are not the only ones.”

“The Lord has not rendered His judgment,” says the seraph.

“Then,” says Daniel, “I ask that the Lord be merciful, and redeem this man. Move his heart, and have him release us from captivity. I have seen into his soul, and there is hope for him.”

“He is no more than any other man,” says the seraph, “and like any other man, he must make his own chances for redemption.”

It is 539 years before the common era.

It is the night before the Feast of Belshazzar.

The Bo Tree

India

Siddhartha has wandered for six years and several months. He is tired, and he has not found his answer. So he sits beneath a bo tree, and he says,

I will not leave this spot,
Until I find supreme enlightenment—
Until I can make answer
To the suffering of the world.

The wings of Maya beat against him, and she whispers on the wind:

Do you not wish to know your wife again?
To indulge in sensual pleasures with her?
And hold your son, your wonderful son,
And raise him in the duties of the house?

Have you forgotten all the pleasures
That found you in your palaces of gold?

Siddhartha’s smile is clean enough to break her heart.

Should such knick-knacks tempt me? Siddhartha asks.

Belshazzar’s Feast

Babylon

Belshazzar slouches on Babylon’s throne.

“It falls to me, now,” he says.

He is dressed in the regalia of a King. He did not know what else to do with it when his father Nabonidus cast it aside.

“I must assume the burden of their dharmas. I must conquer the world. I must break the chains that hold Mylitta’s gods. I must devour everything that is.”

He considers.

“It is fortunate,” he says, “that I am a man who can bear contradictions.”

He snaps his fingers. Mana, an incubus like a giant stick-bug, answers Belshazzar’s call. He is wearing a minister’s robes.

“Release the gods from their bindings,” Belshazzar commands. “And tell them: ‘Go. Make horrid revel, or strike down the armies of Kuras, or help the people of Babylon, or hide under the beds and fear the dawn; do as you like. Serve your nature. Go free.'”

“They will not want to leave you, sire,” oozes the incubus.

“Tell them that their long pain is answered,” says Belshazzar. “Tell them that Nabonidus is gone. That Mylitta is gone. Tell them I have won. Tell them that it is time.”

“And of the people of Babylon?”

“Tell them to make celebration,” Belshazzar says. “Tell them that tomorrow I shall hold a feast, and they shall see the wonders of my kind.”

“They will be afraid,” says the incubus. “There will be fiends that burrow in their skin and move their hands like puppets. There will be angels preaching unimaginable hopes. There will be ghosts of the things they cannot let go of. There will be cruel claws under the bed, and black wings in the sky, and purple light in the depths of the city. If you do not lead them with a strong hand, fear and doubt will break their minds.”

“It is not for me to judge them,” says Belshazzar. “I would go mad. The power I have in Nabonidus’ army—I would go mad! Should I choose whom the gods shall make puppets, and whom they shall exalt? Should I command the hungering beasts, ‘Eat those who stray from the traditional morality, but leave the rest alone?’ When someone sees an eye in the darkness, shall they say, ‘Ah, Belshazzar wishes to know what it is I do?'”

Belshazzar shakes his head.

“I am alone,” he says. “I am an orphan. I am naked in the face of the world. Let them be the same. Let them face the infinity of gods and sort out their own judgments from among them.”

“Such wisdom,” says the incubus. “Truly, you shall be the King of all the world.”

Belshazzar smiles thinly.

“You too are free,” he says. “I need no praising god.”

The Bo Tree

India

As the feast of Belshazzar approaches, Siddhartha sits beneath the bo tree and thinks on life. Maya’s wings are beating, and she says to him:

Surely, Siddhartha,
If you continue this meditation
It will bring you your death.

Over the horizon, he can see them come. They are swift. They are terrible. They are an army of horror, summoned from the world to answer Maya’s need. And Maya names them as they come:

Look, this is Sakkaya-ditthi,
Raksha and enemy of the gods, but still she comes,
Twisting wind, white light in a hurricane,
Mumbling the truths of power.

Look, this is Vicikiccha,
A world-breaking fiend, like a panther, like a snake,
Crawling on two legs towards you
Dragging his tail behind him
Burning you with his eyes.

Look, this is Silabbataparamasa,
Dark sorceress clad in writhing rituals,
Hidden in a cloak of night,
Practicing the magic of your end.

Look, here are my daughters, child:
Tanha, whom you must love;
Arati, whom you must hate,
Raga, whom you must lust for.

Here is Arupa-raga, a distancing god,
Here is Mana, raksha, clad in robes
Here is Uddhacca, born of the monster’s need
Here is Avijja, demon, your undoing.

Look, Siddhartha, as they come,
Boiling over the horizon.
They shall be your death.

And Siddhartha looks at them, and he sees the laws of their natures, and he says, I shall die, mother, but not in such a fashion as this.

Belshazzar’s Feast

Babylon

The celebration rages through Babylon. It is punctuated by screams and cries of ecstasy. And Daniel stands before Belshazzar, and says, “My people cannot be here, Belshazzar. Living under your rule will destroy us. It is time to let Judea go.”

Belshazzar rises from his throne. He is drunk. His eyes are cold.

“Where was your God when I needed him?”

Daniel shakes his head. “That isn’t relevant.”

Belshazzar’s nostrils flare. He is not a bad man in all ways, but he is not a very good drunk.

“I find your people wanting,” he says. “I will devour you. I will break your faith and prove your Lord is meaningless and in so doing I shall unmake everything your people are.”

Daniel lowers his head. He walks away.

Belshazzar turns to a servant.

“Fetch forth the ceremonial vessels taken from the temple at Jerusalem,” Belshazzar commands. “I shall defile them here, at the feast of Belshazzar, and then there shall be no people of Judea, no tribe of Abraham, no servants of Daniel’s almighty God, but henceforth only emptiness.”

And so he drinks, but as he drinks, the seraph enters the room; and there is no one whose eyes follow the seraph but Belshazzar himself.

The seraph’s hand is red.

“Mene,” writes the seraph on the wall, in letters of crimson and black. “Mene. Tekel. Peres.”

The Bo Tree

India

Siddhartha is unmoved.

The army of Maya has cast itself against him, and it has broken. Stone, and ice, and knives have rained from the heavens upon him, and even the devas opened their umbrellas to shield them from so terrible a rain—but Siddhartha is unmoved.

Flaming rocks fall upon him, and in Maya’s eyes Siddhartha sees the bite of an unmeasurable pain, and he bows his head, but he does not leave, and he does not die, and he does not break.

Finally, Maya is exhausted, finally there is nothing left in her, finally she is curled upon the ground and saying:

Why have you left me alive, my son,
To know my helplessness?

Belshazzar’s Feast

Babylon

It is later that night, and Belshazzar has devoured the alcohol from his blood and now there is only a headache.

“Daniel,” he says, “what does it mean, this writing on the wall?”

“‘You have been measured and found wanting.‘”

Belshazzar laughs. He cannot stop laughing. He shouts, into the air of Babylon, “It’s so! It’s so! I will judge myself so!”

The Bo Tree

Dualistic Existence

Siddhartha holds out his hand to the treasure wheel, and says,

You weep, mother, because I will be a Buddha.
Yet only the Buddha can end your tears.

Listen. This is enlightenment:
Suffering is unnecessary.

To make it unnecessary—
That is the nature of the Buddha.
That is my dharma.

There is no room in all the natures of the world for the truth he has just named; and in that moment, the purpose of the world is emptiness, and the treasure wheel is hollow. And in Babylon, Belshazzar’s teeth cut and tear at his own flesh, and the devouring god devours himself, and into him like a rushing river pour all the natures of the world.

539 years before the common era, the world is delivered from sorrow.

(Good Friday – Hitherby Annual #1 – I/I) Tre Ore

Once upon a time, the world had a purpose.

Back then, everything did.

Everything had a purpose, and a truth, and a dharma.

This time was full of sorrow. If a banshee howled, then someone would die. If a mermaid called you, you would drown. If a witch cursed you, you would shrivel and suffer ill fate. Such was the nature of the banshee, and the mermaid, and the witch. If Coretta’s Lion had your scent, then it would hunt you down, and eat your skin and muscles, bit by bit, and you would take three days to die. The world was full of things like that.

But these sorrows were small.

The worst of the predators of this time were the predators of truth. For there were things, things like Death, and Sickness, and Old Age, that declared their truths supreme. It did not matter what your purpose was. Theirs would overwrite it. In the end, you could not defeat them, because it was the nature of their truth to mean more than your own. They were a very exclusive club.

The monster was such a thing. He was such a predator. And he was undefeatable. And it is because there were monsters, and because there was death, and because there were truths like theirs, that the world was broken, and the gods were cast from the world of truth into the heart of emptiness.

Tre Ore

March 25, 1995

Martin stumbles against a man, and his touch does not turn the man to dust. After a long moment Martin realizes that this is so.

“Hey,” Martin says, and refocuses his eyes.

This is a place of deep water, but the man is parched and dry. Fruit is dangling from the trees all around him, but he is terribly thin. His name is Tantalus.

“Hey,” Tantalus says.

Martin backs away a step, tilts his head, and frowns. “You’re not like the others. You’re not a broken god.”

“No,” Tantalus says. “I am a man, and I am dead, and I have been consigned to torture here in the Underworld for roughly three thousand years.”

Martin whistles. “Harsh.”

Tantalus shrugs.

The deepness of the water has put a silence on the woglies, but Martin still feels edgy and twitchy down in his soul. “Hey,” he says. “What makes that okay?”

“Okay?”

“What makes it okay to torture someone for three thousand years?”

“Ah,” says Tantalus.

Then he laughs.

“It didn’t matter,” Tantalus explains. “Zeus sat on the throne of the world, you see, and it did not matter which of his dicta were okay.

Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit

540 BCE

“It would have been better to kill him,” Mylitta admits.

Mylitta sits tailor style on the dust and grime and brushes White Lion’s fur.

“But the problem with heroes,” she says, “is that monsters have an answer to them.”

White Lion lowers its head to the floor.

“A hero is a storm,” Mylitta says, “and storms are terrible. But there is a place above the storm where the air is calm. And I do not know how. But I could feel it, like I could feel the wind and the sunlight. That he had found that place. And so there was no single specific moment in which the monster could be killed. ”

“I thirst,” rumbles White Lion.

Tre Ore

March 25, 1995

There is a silence.

“I had fruit,” Tantalus says, “Only a few decades ago. But I would still like some water. If you could hold up some water for me to drink, I would love you.”

“My hands are full of dust,” Martin says.

“Oh.”

“I thought they were people,” Martin says. “I thought they were my predecessors. But when I touched them, it turned out that all they were was dust.”

“It’s the Underworld,” Tantalus says. It’s an explanation or a dismissal; Martin is not sure which.

“My sister keeps making gods to save her,” Martin says, “and all of them fail, and all of them wind up as mud and dust.”

“I remember that,” Tantalus says. “The gods were severed from the world.”

“Severed?”

“In the face of the monster, they were lost,” Tantalus says. “They had no meaning that could compare to his own. So they were cut from the Earth, torn away, and made into isn’ts, lest the monster’s dharma set a new order on the world. It was my doing, in a way; my children could not have learned the truths that make a monster had I not stolen the secret of the gods.”

Martin frowns. “The secret?”

“If you accept a purpose;” Tantalus says. “If you declare something to be your answer to the emptiness; then you must accept the consequences of that answer. It is desirable, for gods as for men, to shrink from that burden; but in the end, it always catches you, and, if it so pleases, it tears you apart.”

Tantalus sits down heavily, and the water sinks into the dust lest he should drink, and the woglies surrounding Martin are in the air once more.

Behold, Your Son (X/?)

546 BCE

“I am born to answer suffering,” says Siddhartha.

Siddhartha and Yasodhara travel through the city. Yasodhara is very pregnant.

Her answer is light and teasing. “And who is not? If you were born to cause suffering, my love, then I should name you a monster.”

Siddhartha says:

Let us speak of death, then, as a monster.
He may be fought,
But the terms are his own.
Each time you make escape from him
He claims his due.
Thus it is that no man may fight death.

Let us call illness a monster.
It may be fought,
But the terms are its own.
We do not choose the behavior of purity.
Even touching a man,
In exercise of compassion,
May bring on sickness.

Let us speak of age as a monster.
She may be fought,
But the terms are her own.
The more you fight, the more she grips to you.
The more you fight, the more she claims her due.
Thus it is that no man may fight age.

This is the flaw in the world.

How can I answer suffering?
Monsters have no remedy.

“The root cause of suffering,” Yasodhara observes, following the train of her own silent thoughts, “is that no one wants to suffer.”

Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise

539 BCE

Nabonidus is educing a god from her when Mylitta breaks.

“Sometimes,” Mylitta says, clearly, “it’s like there’s this thick yarrow stick in my chest, going through where my heart used to be, stretching from my spine to my ribs. And now, suddenly, it’s like it’s just split, and blackness is leaking out all over me.”

Nabonidus blinks.

There is a light that roils under Mylitta’s skin, and then fades. There are great wracking coughs that shake her, and violent seizures. Then Mylitta stops. Her head lolls to one side. Her eyes dim.

Nabonidus looks blankly at her. He steps back. His arms fold around himself for comfort.

“Um,” he says.

Mylitta sleeps.

There is a great bulk behind Nabonidus in the room. It is white, like a maggot, like the wriggling young of flies. It is leonine. It is soft. Its name is White Lion, and it is a god.

“She will not wake,” it says.

The creature pads forward. It says, “I have asked her to leave this place, to come away with me, a thousand times. But she has always said no. I do not think she will deny me today.”

It leans down. It takes Mylitta in its mouth. It turns to walk away.

“She’s mine,” Nabonidus says.

White Lion looks at him.

“She’s my husk,” Nabonidus protests. “I broke her.”

White Lion leans its great head down. It drools Mylitta onto the floor. It looks up. It opens its mouth. It roars.

It is a terrible thing, that roar. It is like a wind tunnel that blows away the qualities of the world. Nabonidus cannot see. He cannot touch. He cannot taste. He cannot smell. He cannot hear, save for the roar.

.
.
.

Nabonidus is on the floor. He does not know how or why he is on the floor. But Mylitta is gone. So he does the only thing that he can do, in answer to her emptiness.

He makes a god.

Behold, Your Son (X/?)

546 BCE

“Ah,” says Yasodhara. “There is a monk.”

Siddhartha follows her gaze. He frowns.

Who is this, Yasodhara?
This man—
His head is shaved,
He wears a robe,
He has a strange demeanor.

The smile on his face
Seems more
Like the one I seek
Than the smile of my father Suddhodana.

“He is a monk,” Yasodhara says. “He lives in the temple and he travels the kingdom, teaching people how to be good.”

“And what is his answer to suffering?” Siddhartha asks.

Yasodhara studies him with the eyes of a goddess. “A very small fiend,” she says. “It lives in his gums. It locks his jaws in that smile. There are bone passages connecting his teeth to his ears, and this allows it to whisper to him constantly, ‘people need not suffer.’ It is a painful fiend, but it has convinced him not to mind.”

(“If only ancient India had had proper dental hygiene!” Jane exclaims. “He could have brushed the fiend right out and put it to use saving the world!”

“There are many tragedies,” Mrs. Schiff agrees.)

Siddhartha opens his mouth to speak.

“Oh,” says Yasodhara, interrupting him. She has gone pale. She leans against him.

Her labor has begun.

Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise

539 BCE

Exhausted, weary, broken, and warm:

Nabonidus is crying.

It has cut him raw, to make a god. It is like being a skinless man, for him, naked in the face of everything he is.

It does not hurt terribly. But it stings.

It costs him that control that would keep him from his tears.

There is a snuffling in the room, and the clicking of nails on stone. A cold wet shadow passes over the footprints of White Lion, the altar of Sin, the blood Mylitta left behind. Then the creature he has made, the Dog of Nabonidus, brushes past and around him and leans against his side.

“Why couldn’t I keep her?” Nabonidus says.

The Dog looks at him. Its eyes are expressive. It is almost as if it wanted to say, It is the monster’s nature to consume his victims.

“She was strong,” Nabonidus says. “She could have fought. She could have kept herself unbroken.”

The Dog pants, quietly. If it could speak, Nabonidus thinks, it would no doubt say, She did not wish to. In the end, she chose to leave you with the burden of the contradiction of your lives.

“Why?” he asks.

Because it is the only answer she could find.

So Nabonidus goes home to Babylon, and he whispers to Mylitta’s absence, “You’re right, of course.”

Mylitta’s absence remains constant.

“One of us must pay the price,” Nabonidus says. “And you think I’m not strong enough. You think I’ll bend. But I won’t. I’ll make a host like you have never seen, and send them after you, to make you whole. You won’t escape from me. I will fix you.”

There is a void in the room, an emptiness, a devouring. For a moment, Nabonidus thinks it is his heart, but then he realizes that Belshazzar has let himself in.

“I will help you, father,” says Belshazzar. “If you let me.”

“Help me?”

“I have seen how it is that one pulls forth gods.”

Behold, Your Son (X/?)

546 BCE

Siddhartha is in the garden. The midwives have chased him from the room where Yasodhara is giving birth, explaining:

Every child we pull forth
Is an answer
To the suffering in the world.

You are Prince Siddhartha,
And we glory in you,
And one day you’ll turn the wheel
And conquer all the world
But you will never be a midwife.

Your fussing distracts us!
Your philosophy confuses us!
Out! Out! Give us space
To answer the suffering in this room.

“Midwives are intimidating,” concedes Siddhartha.

He sits in the garden, under a tree, and thinks about the monk, and suddenly he realizes:

I am suffering.
I know the meaning of it!
And it is this:

From the beginning of my life,
I have made observations
And conclusions regarding the nature of the world.

These carry me along
Like a river
Each new truth means another thing is true.

I have built a world
From premises I’ve found
And premises I’ve made

And this is my suffering:
A flaw has crept in.
A wound has snuck into the world that I have made.

Dukkha.
There: I have named it.
Somehow suffering is intrinsic to my world.

To deny suffering
Is to find contradictions—
We can’t have everything we want.

Maya is in the garden. She sits down beside him. Her eyes are shadowed. She says:

I am here to offer you the treasure wheel.
It is power.
It is truth.
It is the nature of the world
And where it goes, it conquers.

If you take it I can let you live.

Siddhartha says:

I am glad you are not here to kill me,
Mother,
But to bind me to that wheel—that is crueler.

It is beautiful
But it is the cause of all my suffering.

“It is not the cause of suffering,” Maya says. “It is the answer to it. If you have power to dictate the ephemera of the world, you may release things from their suffering.”

Siddhartha reaches out to touch her hand, but she drifts away. She is standing now, slightly out of his reach, staring out at the world, holding the jeweled treasure wheel in her hands.

Siddhartha asks:

If someone is wounded, mother,
What would I use the wheel for?

To heal them, Maya says.

Siddhartha asks:

If someone is being tortured, mother,
What would I use the wheel for?

To save them, Maya says.

Siddhartha asks:

If they are tortured again, later, mother,
What would I use the wheel for then?

To save them again, Maya says.

Siddhartha asks:

If they suffer in the meantime because they remember torture, mother,
What use, then, is the wheel?

To heal them, Maya says.

Siddhartha asks:

If someone suffers, again and again, mother,
What use is the wheel?

You may end or prevent that suffering each time, Maya says.

Siddhartha asks:

If there are conditions in life that make future suffering inevitable, mother,
What use is the wheel?

Maya frowns at Siddhartha. She says:

It is life itself that makes suffering inevitable.
If you end all life, you will end all suffering
But this is not the Maya-Dharma.
And this is not compassion.

Siddhartha says:

If there are conditions in life that make future suffering inevitable, mother,
Is the wheel then no use at all?

Maya says:

We suffer because we love what might have been.
If you end love, you will end all suffering
But this is not the Maya-Dharma.
And this is not benevolence.

Siddhartha shakes his head. He says:

If someone wounded says,
When I bring the wheel to them,
‘This wound is inevitable,’ mother,
What must I do then?

Maya says:

Such a person has lost perspective.
Ignore their words and heal the wound, Siddhartha.

Siddhartha says:

You have lost perspective, mother.
The world is a wound.
The nature of things is a wound.
That suffering is inevitable, this is a wound.
Do you understand?
Even if I must shatter love,
Or shatter life
To heal them,
I will end that quality of things that makes us suffer.

Maya lowers her head. “So ruthless,” she whispers.

Siddhartha reaches out to her. He says:

If I did not know the Maya-Dharma, mother,
I could not transcend it.

Maya says, quietly,

O Prince, O Prince,
In your rooms
Your son is born.

Will you look upon him?
Will you go, and look upon him,
And know the reason for this world?

“Sons are an impediment,” says Siddhartha.

Maya looks wry.

I shall not. Siddhartha rises, and turns, and looks towards the gate. I will seek an end to suffering.

The wheel burns in Maya’s hands. It is a jeweled treasure wheel, thousand-spoked, with two winky eyes; and now it is on fire. It grows great and terrible, and there are wheels within the wheels, and wheels within those, and it rolls towards Siddhartha like the coldest and deadliest of the killer-gods. And as it touches him, and burns his arm, he falls back; but it is Maya, and not Siddhartha, who screams.

A spoke of the wheel has broken free and fallen to the ground.

There is a hissing inside the treasure wheel of the world, a hissing and a shuddering, and the world has cracked.

Eloi, Eloi, Lema Sabachthani?

Present Time

Sebastien emerges from the shower, wrapped in a towel and using another on his hair. He is almost clean, but not entirely.

The monster is waiting outside.

“I’m not intimidated by relative nudity,” Sebastien says.

“Did you ever wonder,” the monster asks, “why it is that you’re something that can kill monsters, and not something that does?”

Sebastien scrubs at his hair a bit more, then shrugs. “No.”

“I’ve thought it might be,” the monster says, “that we’re difficult to kill.”

“No,” Sebastien says. “It’s just that if you’re someone who kills monsters, then there must always be a monster to kill. You can’t fix anything, you can’t solve anything, you can’t make any kind of difference unless you’re lucky enough to do the matter-antimatter thing and burn out with your enemy in a blaze of glory. It’s safer to be someone who can kill them. And even then—”

It is very important to Sebastien that he not turn away from the monster, and so the pain in him is a crisis point; and in the end, though he does not turn away, he does look down.

“To go all the way means being death. It means being a killer. Even if it’s someone who kills things like you. And it means being part of things like you, even if it’s the part that ends them.”

The monster’s smile is brilliant and white.

Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise

539 BCE

It is the seventeenth god.

Belshazzar pulls the seventeenth god from Nabonidus, a great and terrible phoenix shape, a yellow and red effluvium that pours forth from Nabonidus’ chest and mouth.

“Go,” says Belshazzar, and it is gone. It seems to Nabonidus that it is following Mylitta into emptiness, as if Nabonidus’ own strength is pouring after his victim into the void.

Belshazzar leans down again. His face is terribly earnest and clinical.

Nabonidus is weak.

“Wait,” he says.

“It is necessary,” Belshazzar says. “We do not know how long until her heart will cease to beat.”

“No,” says Nabonidus. His word is binding, and Belshazzar stops.

Nabonidus is weak.

“Lift this burden from me,” he begs.

So the teeth of the devouring god close around him.

The nature of the monster ends.

Tre Ore

March 25, 1995

The idea that comes to Martin is as inevitable as the rain.

“This is a place that takes everything from you,” he says. His voice is thick and heavy. “I came down here, and I was strong, but I can’t keep that. Not in the Underworld.”

The woglies are closing in on him, but Tantalus stands up, and the water washes in, and over them, and they grow still.

“I have to give up more,” Martin says. “Somewhere, there is something I am clinging to, that I have to give up, and it’ll be the thing that hurts the most to toss away.”

Tantalus looks at him. “Why would you surrender the thing you love the most?”

“Because there cannot be a poor rich man,” Martin says. “There cannot be an earthworm in the sky. There cannot be a man who is not a man, or a bird that is not a bird, or a void that is not empty. I am the architect of suffering, I am its source and its foundation, and I am good; and because these things cannot share one form and nature, I am severed from the world. My purpose fails because it is a contradiction, and contradictions cannot endure.”

The woglies are buried in the water, and they do not speak.

“There is no birth,” Martin says, “that has no pain.”

Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit

540 BCE

Mylitta leans over White Lion, her face in the creature’s fur.

“This is the secret of the monster,” Mylitta whispers to him. “It is not random. It is not chance. And none of it is blind. The line of Amiel could not escape her oath, but they could twist it, and they know the secret of the gods. They know that we exist for a reason, that we respond to purpose, that we are bound by the laws of our nature that we cannot break.”

“Leave here,” says White Lion. “Leave, before he shatters you.”

“So they chose a dharma for themselves,” Mylitta says, “that we could not answer. They chose a dharma that redefines our truths.”

“Leave here.”

“That is the reason for Belshazzar,” Mylitta says. “He will not answer the monster. He will break the question. He will destroy what it means to be a god, and I shall have my Elli.”

She is silent for a moment.

“If he is weak,” she says. “If he is weak, before I die.”

Tre Ore

March 25, 1995

Martin opens his eyes. He releases a burden, or accepts it; they are one and the same.

“It’s not the monster who’s hurting Jane,” Martin says. “I won’t claim that. I won’t be a passive observer. If I’m going to shape the world through suffering, I’m going to be the one who shapes it; and the monster’s responsibility won’t ever negate mine. It’s my job to make sure that suffering transforms.”

There are fewer woglies now. They are skating off through the water, like toroidal tropical fish or evil aquatic froot loops that have been startled by a splash.

But one remains.

“Do you have the right?” it asks.

“Ye—”

Martin comes very close to nonexistence.

Then he shakes his head. “That’s not important to me,” Martin says.

It Is Finished

539 BCE

There are some who say that Chen Yu broke the world. There are some who lay the blame on Belshazzar in Babylon, or Siddhartha Suddhodana’s son. A few blame Mylitta, or the monster, or even Maya, for all that there was nothing she feared more.

In the end, that the world should break was inevitable.

The weight of its suffering was not a thing the world could bear.

Legend of the Wheel

The dog is black. It is skeletally lean. Its eyes are terrible.

“Wuf,” it barks.

“Easy, boy,” says Micah.

“I won’t be so easy,” threatens the dog.

“Ah,” says Micah.

The dog wants him to comment on its remarkable power of speech. Micah can tell. So he lets the silence stretch.

“I can talk,” says the dog, eventually, “because I’ve eaten human brains and learned their wisdom. That’s the reason.”

“Ah,” Micah says.

“It’s brains!” cries an Irish Setter, wagging her tail vigorously. “Tasty brains!”

A human woman giggles. She brings in the groceries.

“Oh, please! Tasty brains!” begs the dog.

The narrator explains, “Beggin’ Brains—a new delicious dog treat! Dogs don’t know it’s not human brains!”

“I’m going to eat these brains and absorb the skills and knowledge of humans!” cries the Irish Setter. “Then I’ll be able to open doors and shoot squirrels with a gun! Also, I’ll be able to thump my own sides!”

The narrator laughs indulgently. “Aww.”

“Real brains?” Micah asks.

“Real brains,” confirms the dog.

“That’s gross.”

“It started with just one baby,” says the dog. “My mommy thought that he might be the Antichrist. But the baby-killing abortion doctors wouldn’t help her because of her strong pro-life stance! She was pretty desperate. She couldn’t raise the Antichrist and a dog. So she fed the baby to me.”

“Babies don’t know how to talk,” says Micah.

“That’s true,” says the dog. “But once you’ve fed one baby to a dog, it’s easier to feed the dog the next one. Pretty soon, it was her standard response to pregnancy; and then, when she ran out of dog food, she just grabbed a couple of toddlers from the street and I munched them down.”

“I see.”

“I’ve been working my way up through variously-aged children,” says the dog. It sizes up Micah. “I’m about ready for a ten-year-old by now.”

“I’m thirteen,” bluffs Micah.

The dog looks him up and down.

“I remember Reagan’s election,” Micah says.

“That was more than thirteen years ago,” says the dog.

“Its repercussions echoed through time and space!”

“I think that you are lying,” says the dog. “But in case you are not, I will hamstring you, eat the girl I smell in the distance, who is certainly no more than twelve, and then return to devour you.”

Micah readies himself to fight; but it is not the dog that he will fight.

“I was sad,” confesses Basil, into the camera. He’s a boy. He’s wearing a jacket. He looks a lot like Sebastien did at his age. “It was the promise of my birth that I would fight for her. That I would do what the hero didn’t, and go into Central, and kill them all, and take her away. But if you’re someone who fights, then you can’t also be someone who wins and doesn’t have to fight any more. So I was stuck with a dharma that I couldn’t ever really fulfill.”

Soft music plays.

“Then,” says Basil, “my doctor proscribed Belsheflex. It’s the only prescription medicine designed to treat inherent flaws in a person’s nature.”

Talk to your doctor about Belsheflex!

Side effects can include stomach cramps, itching, bloating, emptiness, ineffectuality, and in rare cases seizures or heart dysfunction. It might be for you.

“I’m happy with Belsheflex!” Basil declares.

There is a thing in the woods. It is taller than the tallest trees. It is round, and its color is blue and white like the sky, and its shape is a wheel within a wheel; and all around that wheel are feet and thorns and eyes; and on each side of it unfold two great wings with feathers made of glass, and the thunder of those wings is like the noise of great waters. It reaches them as Micah sets himself to fight, and the footfall of its passing crushes the dog’s bones like they were so many sticks.

It is rolling towards Micah, and towards Liril beyond.

Micah does not move. He can’t. It is his dharma to be the border between Liril and the world.

Even against the wheel he shall fight.

What happens then, we cannot know.

The Treasure Wheel (II/III)

It is 1320 BCE. The sun sneaks out from behind the clouds. The sun shines on the fields. It shines on the streams. It shines on fair Persephone, black-haired and clean-limbed, a girl who loves its light.

For a long moment, Persephone simply basks. She is beautiful. Her mother Demeter admires how the light plays on her hair; her neck; her stomach; her legs—

Then Demeter giggles.

“You have toes, you know,” says Demeter.

It’s true, so Persephone doesn’t deny it.

“They came out of my womb,” Demeter says, in satisfaction.

“Mom!”

“If it embarrasses you, you should wear boots! That’s what I do, when Rhea talks about my nose.”

Persephone sighs.

There’s a brief silence.

“Mom,” asks Persephone, “why am I going to destroy the world?”

Persephone is planting seeds. It’s something she likes to do with her friends. She digs a little hole. She puts the seed in it. Then Cyane or Agalope or Thelxiepia pours water on the seed. Soon a marvelous plant, such as a dandelion, olive tree, or rose springs up. Sometimes Persephone even gets plants that no one has ever heard of before, like ratweed or singing gardenia.

“It’s complicated,” Demeter says.

Persephone’s friends are not here today. Demeter is visiting. Persephone wants to talk to her Mom about things like birds and bees and her period and why she’s going to destroy the world. She expects it’ll all be pretty embarrassing, so she’s sent her friends home. They’re naiads, so they mostly respond to this by sitting in their various rivers bubbling sulkily.

“I mean,” Persephone says, “am I going to blow up like a volcano?”

“No,” Demeter says.

“Or turn into a horrible wind that blows over all the world sweeping it bare?”

“No,” Demeter says.

“Or eat the sun? Like a giant wolf?”

“No,” Demeter says. “It’s—”

“I could set everything on fire,” Persephone notes. “I mean, I don’t want to, but I could?”

“Look at the heart of the world,” Demeter instructs, cutting her off.

Persephone looks down.

“There’s the ground in the way,” Persephone explains.

So Demeter blows on Persephone’s eyes, and Persephone sees.

“It’s a wheel,” Persephone says. “It’s a wheel with one thousand spokes.”

“That is the nature of the world,” says Demeter.

“Bah,” says Persephone. “That old thing?”

“It’s a jeweled treasure wheel! With two winky eyes!”

“That’s all well and good,” says Persephone, “but I think— I think that you shouldn’t be able to just look at the nature of the world like that. It should be a mystery.”

Persephone reaches out a hand. Then she stops. Demeter has hold of her wrist.

“That’s how you’re going to destroy the world,” says Demeter.

“Oh,” says Persephone, in a small voice. “But I wouldn’t!”

“You almost did it just now.”

Demeter thinks.

“Really,” Demeter says, “I should ground you.”

Persephone thinks quickly. Demeter is the goddess of the grain. Her groundings often involve being transformed into barley.

“I have toes,” Persephone says, meekly.

Demeter looks at her for a moment. Then she laughs.

Demeter hugs her. “You do,” she says. “Ten perfect toes. That’s how a Mom knows her girl’s going to be okay.”

Normally, Persephone finds this particular speech embarrassing, but it’s a great way to get out of trouble for almost destroying the world.

“I can wiggle them!” Persephone says.

The Summoning of the King (I/?)

It is before the First Kingdom, and time has no meaning.

A woman named Maya kneels beside a dying man. She takes his hand. “I will end such suffering as this, ” she says.

“Each of us,” he says. “Our pains are our own. You cannot know them. You cannot end them.”

“I will know them all,” she says. “I will end them all. I promise.”

Time passes.

Let us call it, for convenience, one hundred thousand cycles of the world.

It is 577 years before the common era, and

The power of the Ultimate Monarch has fallen into Maya’s hands.

**

In the palace of King Suddhodana, Maya speaks:

The world is cut, to north, south, east, and west,
It wells forth its black blood in wounds.

I am Maya. I am illusion. And all this world is mine.
And I must watch it cut to shreds.
And I have seen too many children die.
And I have seen the fullness of their pain.
And I would make an end to it.

And so I call the demon-slaying King;
The wheel-turning sage of all the world,
Ruler of the treasure wheel.

Come! Take birth in mortal form!
Deva Setaketu!

“Ah!” answers the Deva Setaketu of the supreme divine Heaven.

The womb that calls forth such a man—
It would be a woman’s, who has labored 100,000 cycles of the world
To dedicate herself to the ten perfections.
Only a woman of such supreme virtue can bring forth such a man,
A wheel-turning sage king,
Making answer to the suffering of the world!

Are you such a one?
It is not so.
It has been 100,000 cycles of the world
Since last you turned your thoughts to virtue.
One cannot cure the world with such come-lately sorrow.

Maya!
Trouble me not with your desires!

Maya answers:

What must be done, I must.
The treasure wheel of that King is mine.
It is jeweled, great Deva, and thousand-spoked,
And where it goes it conquers,
And where it conquers, it spreads its doctrine,
And if it rolls to the east,
The Kings of the East make obeisance to it.
And if it rolls to the west,
Then the Western Kings, the same!

Yet what good is this supreme treasure to Maya?
I am the king of illusion. I am the queen of desire.
It rolls to the east.
Kings succumb to illusion!
It rolls to the west.
Kings succumb to desire!
I am no virtuous thing, great Deva; such is not my nature;
Nor have I a doctrine of virtue to teach.
It must go to a man who can heal the world of pain.

She holds up her hand. There is a wheel burnt into her palm.

I command you, with the wheel in my hand,
Come to earth! Be my heir!

The Deva Setateku stirs in his Heaven, and endless Devas and Brahmas come to stand by his side. To them, he says:

It is as I have said.
The woman who shall bear this King
For 100,000 cycles of the world
Must seek perfection.

In all the world, is such a woman known?

“Glorious Deva!” they say. “In the continent to the west, there is such a woman.”

Ah! exclaims the Deva.
Truly, from such a woman, I might manifest,
And bring great glories to the world;
But not in the west.
I would be eaten by jaguars.

“Glorious Deva!” they say. “In Babylon, there is such a woman.”

Ah! exclaims the Deva.
Truly, from such a woman, I might manifest,
And reign as a virtuous wheel-turning king;
But not in Babylon.
I would be eaten by a fiend.

“Glorious Deva!” they chorus, and say:

It is not worthwhile to take incarnation in the world
If one is only to be eaten.
A wheel-turning King spreads his doctrine and conquers the world.
This cannot be done from some creature’s stomach!

But in all the world, there are no others
Who have given themselves for 100,000 cycles of the world
To pursuit of the ten perfections.
Such women! They are rarer than fine jewels!

And Maya looks up to the sky, and says,

I have no power to stop the horrors I have seen.
I am illusion.
Though I reign with the treasure wheel over all the kingdoms of the world
I have no power.
I see the cruelty and I see the pain
I cannot stop it.
I cannot forbid it with the treasure wheel
For I am Maya.

They turn to me for hope.
I give them hope
But I cannot free them.

What use are the ten perfections,
O Great Deva,
If suffering is the master of the world?

The Deva speaks:

And are you not, then, Maya,
Resigned to it?
Have you not learned
That suffering is the nature of the world?

Have you not laughed
At men who raped you;
Or cut you with their knives;
Or practiced their tortures upon you;
And said,

“This pain is life;
And less than all my joy?”

For such I have heard of you,
Queen Maya,
In my supreme Heavenly abode.

And now you hold the treasure wheel,
And thus you rule the world.
And now you are a bride
To the handsome and kingly Suddhodana.
And now you may have every pleasure of your desiring;
Why choose now to trouble me?

Maya does not look down from the Heavens.

It is easy to be helpless
When one is an ordinary woman.
Then you are alone.
Your suffering is your own.

It is harder to be helpless,
O Great Deva,
When one is queen of the world.
You hear others’ screams
And not your own.
Somehow, you cannot laugh.

Am I so worthless to you, Deva?
Do you so quickly forget
The oath that gave my nature birth?

The Deva turns. He sighs. He looks at those assembled, and says:

Bathe her, then, in Lake Anotatta,
And dress her in celestial costume,
And put her to sleep,
And shake the earth;
And I, in the form of a white elephant,
Shall enter her womb from its right side.

And I shall name her Mahamaya,
Answer to pain.
In honor of the oath that forged her,
Though she is a demon and I am a saint.

And it is done.