Scarab All-a-Fulminatin’, Explody & Oh Shi— (I/I)

Video:

The warhead strikes Central. It explodes! The explosion freezes. The scarab beetle catches it. It begins to roll up the explosion into a clever little ball.

The picture freezes.

“This,” the monster says, “is a scarab of explosions. It’s an infallible defensive measure in event of bombings, since it uses explosions both as its food and as the containers for its eggs.”

It is 2002 the year of our Lord. The monster is speaking to a Prince of men; a Prince in white, with a small black beard.

The Prince is not entirely convinced.

“Why?” he asks.

“Why?” the monster repeats.

“Why should there be a beetle that contains explosions? The Star Wars missile defense has been called fanciful, fairy-tale, fantastic; this defense, then, cannot even qualify for those names.”

“Ah,” says the monster. He closes his eyes. “Why should there be a beetle that rolls the sun across the sky? That dies at the end of each day, and is reborn from its own semen, shot into a clod of dung? Why should there be beetles that carry the souls of the dead away, to be judged in unhallowed courts? Why should there be beetles at all?”

Sir,” says the Prince. He is angry.

“People don’t want to explode,” says the monster.

He opens his eyes. His voice is a little sad. “They look for something they can do. There isn’t anything, though. God won’t save them, Highness. Science gives them nothing. So they turn to coleoptera.”

The monster starts the video up again.

“How does it live?” the Prince asks. Perhaps, demands.

“Shamelessly,” says the monster.

The video shows little scarabs scrambling out of bursts of flame. It shows the battles and power struggles of the children. It shows Melanie, laughing, with three tiny little bomb-bursts crawling along her skin.

“They die, constantly,” the monster admits. “But they come back. They’re like roaches. Or that—”

He doesn’t know whether saying ‘that Jesus dude’ will offend a Prince of Saud.

“Or Cary Grant. They’re beetles.”

The screen goes black.

“It’s what they do.”

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER TWO]


May 28, 2004

Melanie has no time to react. It is all instinct. She is horribly exposed: she can tell that much. She is standing in the middle of a battlefield without an aegis. She’s face-to-face with Micah, who is very dangerous, and she has a scarab of explosions at her side.

Threnody is hurling the lightning.

Melanie slams down the walls around her heart. She sets everything aside. She bites the head off of every question in her being, like a mantis with its mate, and she is open, she is empty, she is floating and groundless and without origin or endpoint as the lightning strikes.

That is how it has to be.

She knows the rule of lightning: that it begins with that which is struck.

So she asks not the question to which lightning makes its wild answer. She does not lower the lens of her perceptions or preconceptions down to see the world. For a long moment, as the lightning falls, she floats there, rootless.

It slams into Micah, and she is safe.

It crucifies him, blasts him head to groin and flows down into the ground, spreads his hands apart and agonizes him—and she, demanding nothing, is safe—

Is—

Is—

What the Hell, Micah, she thinks.

She stares.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die.

He is screaming. Oh, so terribly he is screaming. But she is not safe at all. She is, instead, astonished, for he has caught the lightning.

He is burning. Oh, so terribly he is burning. But he is not letting go.

He is not letting it dissolve. He is not letting it ground through him to the earth. He is holding it.

She whistles, long and low.

It is possibly a mistake, she realizes, suddenly, to let Tina go around torturing gods with electricity; working it into them, branding them to their bones with the lightning-pain, making them know it as they know their eyes, their hands, their hearts, their thoughts, their fate. It is possibly a mistake to let that become a part of somebody, a core of their life experience, if you might ever need to blast them with lightning later—

It strikes her as a subject worthy of a monograph, at the least. On the wearing thin of the judgment of Heaven when used without discrimination, perhaps, or Recidivistic considerations related to the galvanic treatment of captive gods . . .

The lightning is burning him. It is melting him like a candle, but he is not letting the liquid flesh drip from him, he is holding it on the surface of his hands by will alone.

He is holding the lightning and he does not let it go.

He is turning towards her, oh, so slowly, and his teeth are white and his eyes are white and the screams have stopped and his face holds such enormous pain—

Oh! she whispers, in her mind. Such pain!

—and he whispers, “Shall you know not justice?”

” ‘Should,'” she corrects him, absently. SHOULD you know not justice?

It would have derailed any other god. It should have derailed him, should have made him fumble, made him lose his grip, but Micah just smiles whiter. His teeth are sweating in the heat.

“Should you know not justice?” Micah asks, “You who hate good and love evil? Who tear the skin from my people and the flesh from their bones? Who eat my people’s flesh, strip off their skin, and break their bones in pieces? Who chop them up like meat for the pan, like flesh for the pot?”

She wants to laugh. It’s brilliant.

“You can’t be serious,” she says. “That’s from a verse about the sun setting for the prophets, and the day going dark for them. That’s about God’s vengeance on people like your sister, Micah, and her fastness becoming a heap of rubble, and this hill a mound overgrown with thickets—”

He isn’t listening.

He isn’t listening to her at all. She stares.

“Should you know not justice?” he asks again. “Because the thing is, Melanie, the thing is? What you do?”

She owes him this much. She maps the terrain around her, quickly, with her eyes, and then she meets his burning gaze and she says, “Yeah?”

“It’s wrong.”

It fountains from him then. It overflows. He does not hurl the lightning, but rather bursts with it, loses it, runs over with it like a clogged sink struck by a sudden flow. It shatters from him like the waves from a missile that falls into a lake. It cries out thunder. Lightning arcs from him to the scarabs, to the crayon creatures, to the footsoldiers and the dog. It dances in frustration around Melanie like a braided rope, like a hoop from a crinoline skirt, like a halo forbidden and restless to lay itself upon and brand an angel’s brow.

It is hungry for her. It grinds its teeth around her but it cannot bite.

She sees what is coming. It unfolds in her mind, and there are two paths for her, two roads that she may walk.

There is a flying god that is swooping past. She can take its tail and be away; may float past as it floats; she has timed it, she can do it, she can leave him there to wail, and be safe

Or—

There’s a girl in the sun
And there’s girls in the sea
And in Elm Hill’s cages
There’s a girl like me.

The scarab of explosions bursts. It becomes a string of fireworks. It becomes a bang, and then another bang, and then another. It cannot contain itself. It cannot bind its own explosion. If it could then scarabs would be immortal, rather than always dying and always rising up again.

It is just a beetle. Beetles don’t know not to think the kind of question that the lightning answers. Beetles don’t know to let themselves loose from expectations and from preconceptions when people are throwing lightning here and there. Nobody hires beetles as meteorologists, and that’s half the reason for it; the other being, now and then, if there’s an errant spark or whatever, a beetle will explode.

And life is sweet and it loves the sun
But we’re born to die when our hour comes.

He is howling. The howls and sobs are ripping themselves from him, heavier than the whole of his chest and body, and he is scrabbling at the ground, and his eyes are burning and the world is throbbing and shivering with great bursts of light.

Cool hands touch his face.

They burn his melted skin all over again. He whimpers.

Melanie pulls his head up to face her.

“Look what you have done,” she tells him.

He cannot comprehend. Not killed you, he thinks, in absolute frustration.

“You’ve killed fourteen,” she says. “And that’s not even counting Vincent. That’s awfully good, dear.”

Not you.

It’s like she’s heard him. “Not me never me,” she agrees, sadly.

His vision swims. She picks him up.

“It was my very own dear beetle,” she says. “I raised it from the egg. And so I thought, ‘It will not kill me.'”

The doors of the facility are shattered.

“The fire will burn all around me, and shards of stone and shell fly past, but it will not touch me.’ That’s what I thought.”

The wall is shattered. The ground around them is broken.

Melanie stands in the great brooding gap where the doors should be, at the entrance to Elm Hill.

She grins.

She tilts her head.

“Sometimes you have to trust,” she says, “you see, in those you love.”

[The Frog and the Thorn — END OF CHAPTER TWO]

What Do You Do with a One-Winged Cherub? (VII/VII)

It is 1998 and Micah comes home and Melanie’s sitting on the couch.

She’s wearing a suit and she’s wearing shades and she’s got a nametag on.

It says, “Melanie.”

Just Melanie. It doesn’t say anything about being cunning or beloved of the gods.

She lowers her shades.

She looks at him.

Her eyes are evil, they make him flinch, but they’re otherwise identical to his own.

He puts a bag of groceries down by the door. He stands there numbly.

“Hi there,” she says to him. “What’s your name?”

[The Frog and the Thorn — CHAPTER ONE]


October 31, 1998

Liril hasn’t told him what to do.

Without Liril telling him what to do, he’s just a boy. He’s just a boy who wants to protect her from the evils of the world, but not one who necessarily can.

“I might accidentally flay your soul and stretch it on the birch trees,” Micah says. He tries to make it sound casual, like something Liril’s warned him not to do. “I mean, I don’t want to, I wouldn’t defy Central like that, it’s just, you know, something that could accidentally happen if I forget the alchemical equation I’m holding in my head.”

“That’s a fine trick,” Melanie concedes.

“Where is she?” Micah asks.

“You know,” says Melanie, “I could have sworn there was an order out to have you brought in and tortured. As opposed to standing there, all asking questions with your mouth, and things.”

“It was a terrible misunderstanding,” Micah says. “I showed the last visitor my correct report card and the matter resolved in its entirety. Also, you mean ‘re-oriented’ or something. Torture’s too explicit a word.”

He takes off his coat. He hangs it by the door.

“Can I get you anything?” he asks.

His eyes are scanning the house, looking for signs of Liril. But her frankness or her error—he’s not sure which—has reassured him.

“Like, if you really need a sandwich, or a penny, or a knife in your eye, or something,” he says, “I could totally oblige.”

“Really?” she says. She sounds delighted. “You’d do that for me?”

“See a penny, pick it up,” he assures her. “All that day you’ll have good luck. I’ve got . . . like a thousand. If I had a nickel for every penny I had, I’d convert them into pennies and win the economy forever. “

“Your name, then,” she says.

“Micah.”

She tilts her head. “From formica?”

“That’s two prepositions in a row,” Micah says. “I can’t understand your crazy monster language.”

“Melanie,” she says.

“Yes,” he agrees. “It would be.”

She looks down at her nametag. She blushes a little. “Yes.”

“I’m not going with you,” Micah says. “I’ve decided that you’re holding Liril and Priyanka hostage, but that she has a plan that requires me to pretend that you don’t, refuse to deal, and do everything I can think of to oppose you.”

“Bah,” Melanie says. “Your report card recorded an erroneously high decorum.”

“I had a lot of extra credit,” Micah says. “Field work and the like.”

“Does that really work?” Melanie says. Her tone is genuinely curious. “I mean, just deciding what you want to do and assuming that Liril must support it?”

“No,” he says. “It’s completely ridiculous.”

“Oh.”

“It’s just,” he says, “so is listening to anything you say. So it’s kind of a wash. You know?”

“I see!”

He sighs. He looks tired. He trudges over to a couch and he sits down. “What do you want?” he asks.

She smiles briefly.

“You should come work for us,” she says.

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope!”

She tosses him a nametag. It’s blank. He catches it. Then he flinches and throws it from him like it’s caught fire in his hands.

She frowns.

“I’m not interested,” Micah says.

“The monster’s weak,” she says. “He talks like he left you here on purpose. He talks like he’s still got a plan for that girl Jane. But I saw him when he came back from here. He was hurt. He was frayed. You got acid on his heart and soul, my boy, with whatever trick you pulled.”

“I renamed him,” Micah says.

Melanie closes her eyes for a moment. Her face is perfectly still. Then she opens them up again. “Snotgargler?” she suggests.

He shakes his head.

Doctor Snotgargler?”

He looks away.

“The important thing,” she says, “is that he’s weak. I could take him. If I had your help. I could beat him. If I had your help.”

“It’s amazing,” he says. “You’re not even trying to sound like you believe that.”

“What?”

Her voice is wounded.

“That’s ridiculous,” she says. “It’s an awesome plan.”

And as suddenly as that it crashes in on him that she is hollow; that she is broken; that she has a certain shelter in her heart, and cracks therein, that he remembers from years ago. He is looking at a crucible.

He doesn’t want the pity in his face to show. He turns away.

“Oh, don’t you dare,” she says. “Don’t you fucking dare. It was only twice. He’s been used more than that himself.”

He clenches his fist.

A jolt of humor washes through her. He can feel it in the tides of the emotions of the room. It’s slipped from her, whatever is wrong inside her, and she’s laughing at the world instead.

“Hey,” she says. “Hey. How do you separate a monster from his charges?”

He shakes his head.

He ought to tell her, he thinks. Anything that hurts the monster can redound only to his good. But he doesn’t trust any impulse or reason whatsoever that would tell this woman more than she already seems to know.

“Hey,” she repeats. “How do you separate a monster from his charges?”

“No,” he tells her. I won’t.

“You take away his credit card,” she beams.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

There’s a girl in the sun
And there’s girls in the sea

It’s about an hour later. They’ve had tea. Liril’s almost home from trick-or-treating, so Melanie suspects, and so she rises to her feet.

“The offer is good,” she says, quietly.

He shakes his head.

“It’s just a nametag,” she says. “Pick it up. Put it on. Come with me. We can kill the bastard and live happily ever after without dying even once.”

“I’m not going to Central,” Micah says. “I’d just end up like you.”

“Ouch,” she says. She shakes her hand, pretending that it’s burnt. Then she goes out.

He cleans up the teacups.

He looks at the nametag.

I bet I could use this, he thinks. I bet it could give me some kind of strength.

And in Elm Hill’s cages
There’s a girl like me

Liril gets home and he is rocking, hissing, clutching tight at his inflamed and swollen hand.

[The Frog and the Thorn — END OF CHAPTER ONE]

The Lion (V/VII)

It is May 13 in the year of our Lord 1981 and there is a Dominion that bends itself down upon the Earth. And where the Dominion goes there is a singing, and the world itself is moved to join the chorus, and there is a trembling in the houses of the unjust. And where it moves the eyes and faces and wings that are within it turn to see. Shimmering auroras move around its surface, like a cloak, like halos, like a glorious night sky.

Let us not imagine that it is a thing of safety or of sanity. It is a creature out of legend. It kills birds where it passes, for it does not share the skies. It withers trees as it passes them, leaches the world’s life from the soil, it makes good earth to fallow ground. These things it does not from malice but by its nature: it understands no life that is not its own.

I will nevertheless call it good.

If it is a blind and foolish god, if it is harmful, then still, I will say it is well-intentioned. If it has done harm, then still it is high-minded.

It is not its fault, at any rate, what happened at Elm Hill.

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


May 13, 1981

Listen, and I will tell you the truth of the monster’s wings.

They are brilliant and they are reflective. When you look upon them you will see the inside of your own eyes. You will see the process by which you form yourself laid bare.

When he has spread his wings through the construction of the world, when he has become a parasite on creation and made the truth a captive to his will, the monster will not give you the luxury of seeing that it is so. Instead you will see yourself. And in that moment he will describe you. He will tell you who you are.

Reason will not help you. This is because the monster is aware of reason. He exists outside it, like the classical God outside of time and space. The tools of your mind are limited. They rely on receiving truthful feedback from the world — all save pure math, perhaps, and even that depends on truth for its relevance. In a position where the monster can reward error, frustrate correctness, and demonstrate as folly whatever might otherwise be wise, you cannot expect to win over him with reason. To imagine that you can do so is unreasonable. It is an idealistic attachment to the happy ending at the end of a fairy tale, where one reasonable person, refusing to give in, triumphs magically at the last.

If you had infinite time, of course, that would be so. Give yourself forever to fight the monster in and his lies, as they are lies, would fray one day and come apart. But we are mortal creatures, bound by time; to us the monster is simply truth.

Reason will not help you. Strength will not help you. Strength is as useless in the monster’s presence as is reason. Where you build walls of your strength he will dig out the ground. Where you hold a position he will encircle it, undermine it, turn the purpose of your holding it to sand. The more you fight him, the more you will lose. To expect any differently is to hew unto a fairy tale; and the fairies, well, they’re isn’ts yet.

Strength will not help you. Reason will not help you. Nor will it help you in the least to know that, theoretically, there is some real truth, somewhere, somewhere outside the monster’s steading.

Depending on what you imagine truth to be, that might not even be the case.

In his unfurled wings the monster is an absolute creature. He is not deniable. He is no longer a person. He is no longer a man, or a god, or whatever the hell monsters are, in a lab coat, with a name tag, with a tie. He is I AM THAT I AM, as much as any burning bush has ever been.

It is as if, to gain his power, he had slaughtered God, had ripped out the bones and organs of Him, and made from Him a coat. He usurps God as he does reason; to seek God in his presence is therefore to seek the monster out.

Look for love, if you’d rather. Look for hate. Look for hope. Look for anything you like.

You’ll be caught up in the maze of him. You’ll find it only where he wills.

The reason I’m explaining this is that I can’t really tell you what happened in places where the monster’s wings spread wide. It’s like I’ve said. He becomes truth. He becomes the authoritative source on the matter, and what he is saying is always — it’s never, “On thus and such time, at thus and such a date, this happened, and then this.”

It’s always just him.

All I can tell you is what someone told me later happened at Elm Hill. All I can tell you is a story. It’s pretty much made up, because if it were true, it would be the monster, just as the monster, at that time, was truth.

The Dominion bent down to meet him. He was standing on the roof.

You probably think you wouldn’t give in to him. Of course you wouldn’t. Of course you’d stand up to him. The man’s a filthy bit of work, isn’t he? Worse’n the Devil, some would say. There’s no way you’d look at those wings and think that what the monster does to children could be right.

Please do believe that. You should. It costs him something, every time he spreads those wings. There’s no point in giving in to him for free.

But I tell you that the Dominion bent down to meet him, and he was standing on the roof, and the monster spread his wings. And from that point forward, he was Axiom. He was Correctness. He was as righteous as the stars.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

The monster said, “This world is no place for you. If you stay here you will die.”

That’s what I’ve heard. That’s what I’ve heard he said.

“If you stay here,” the monster said, “you’ll die.”

And the creature, its words were the fluttering of ten thousand wings. The creature, its words were ten thousand hands and eyes and wings opening and closing, all modulated into voice.

It said: I will exalt you. I will lift you up. I will make you as God, and no more to depend upon the suffering of your prey.

The monster spat onto the roof, and in that spittle seethed ten thousand tiny living things.

“I will make you death and suffering,” he said. “I will make you anguish and violation. You will be hideous, horrible, and despised. Or you may go.”

The creature rotated in its form. It turned, and the pieces of its turning came into alignment, and you who looked upon it would see: ah, here is its face. Then it would turn further, the previous face dissolving, a new one forming, and you would realize: no, that was not so: its face is this.

The creature said: Can you really say that you are happy with your life?

The monster laughed.

You will die, it told him. And before that death, you will sorrow. You will know the damnation of your line.

There’s a girl in the sun
And there’s girls in the sea
And in Elm Hill’s cages
There’s a girl like me

It’s May 13, 1981, and we can see again, and the monster is giving the Dominion this beautiful grin.

It’s like the sun.

It’s been telling him he’s damned, only —

For a moment, you might almost think: wait. That’s not bravado. He is actually having fun.

It’s pure and clear as the monster isn’t pure and clear. It’s bright and beautiful as the monster isn’t bright and beautiful. It’s the best thing in the world, that laugh, that grin, that enemy of damnation. Then, however, the monster is moving, and there is a thorn in his hand, and it pierces the Dominion, and it is suddenly clear that everything in the world is wrong.

The Dominion staggers. Its form becomes imprecise. Where there was glory there is now a great disruptive seething, as of slime.

It is shattered. It is raining down, upon Elm Hill.

It is twisted. There is within it a great and horrible soullessness of life.

It is wounded. It gapes at him, this thing that has never before been wounded, and which cannot really understand what its hurting means.

“I will kill you,” it cries, and its voice is a great storm. But it does not.

Children, sure, it kills, those that don’t get evacuated in time. There is a price to be paid for the defiling of Elm Hill. Children it kills, and workers, and the place itself: Elm Hill’s no good place for the monster’s work any longer.

But the monster it doesn’t kill.

The monster he just serves it as any other fiend is served, until it limps and staggers howling away beyond the boundaries of the world, a broken lion, and in its paw a thorn.

The Boundary Between Liril and the World (II/VII)

“I give to you — life!”

Micah giggles to himself. He extends his arms upwards. He whines, inadvertently, from the pain. Then he giggles again. His hair hangs down over his eyes. It’s matted with some nameless horror’s blood, or possibly a delicious lime-flavored Slurp-like beverage.

The monster sighs.

He unlocks Micah’s shackles. He heaves Micah up. He carries Micah up the stairs. His nametag raises a red welt on Micah’s skin, practically burning him. Micah leaves a black smudge on the nametag in his turn.

The monster tosses Micah into a chair and, after a few minutes, throws him a towel.

“Ah, geez,” Micah says. “I can’t possibly.”

“You’re strong enough to be alive,” the monster says, “and to make jokes.”

“That’s true,” Micah concedes, after a moment.

He picks up the towel. He tries to clean himself up. It doesn’t really help. He’s ten. After twenty or thirty seconds his shoulders and elbows stage a rebellion and his arms go limp.

“My arms are limp,” Micah says.

“I’m going to send you home with her,” the monster says. “Rest up. Get some strength. Then you can come back by in a week or two and we’ll see just what you are.”

“Me?”

Micah looks horrified.

“Maybe you’re useful,” the monster says.

“I do have a gift for surprisingly relevant historical trivia,” Micah says. His world reels a little. “I actually get to go home? I have a home?”

He can’t help laughing.

The monster’s eyes are on him. The laughter drains away. It becomes crying and Micah tries to blow his nose into the towel but he doesn’t have the strength.

“Don’t worry,” the monster says. “I’ll make you into something good.”

“Why don’t you hate me?” Micah asks. “You’re supposed to hate me. I’m supposed to be your enemy.”

“Are you?”

“Aren’t I?”

“I’m afraid that I won’t let you be,” the monster says.

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


March 25, 1995

Micah’s life is lived staccato.

There are good hours and good days. There is ice cream and there is running in the park. There is home, complete with Liril’s mother Priyanka and her tenuous but loving welcome. There are fish sticks and french fries and cheese which you can divide into arbitrarily many sub-cheese strings. There are times when he can lie on his bed and talk to Liril about the stringencies of their world.

Then between the beats of his life it becomes painful.

It’s like Liril and Micah are two rats in a dinosaur’s cave. Their lives are interrupted, again and again, by the great blundering atrocities stumbling around them in the darkness. It is an inexpressible condition. He will sit in the corner of their room for hours, trying to find a way to put it into words. Liril doesn’t even try.

He’s good with the trivia but she knows everything.

She knows the secret language of the grass and the names of the bats that live on the dark side of the moon. She tells him how the kingdom of magical bears fell from grace, and what Melanie has done to bind the grangler, and the secrets of the lurkunders, and the threat that power line proximity can pose to a person’s health.

One day it is raining. It is pouring down through the branches of the trees. She tells him the name of a bead of water on the glass and he watches Vassily the Raindrop slip down to the edge of the window of their room and break.

On another day the monster is choking him with a belt around his neck.

One day he tries to learn how to skateboard.

“Watch,” he tells Liril. “This will be my real magical talent. Not spitting out seawater or dead fish or historical trivia, but skateboarding.

He doesn’t have a talent like that, and it wouldn’t be skateboarding if he did.

On another day the monster smiles beatifically to him and says, “I have found it.”

Micah leans forward. He looks at the monster. His eyes are bright and maddened, like a bird’s.

“I have seen through all of this at last.”

The monster reaches into Micah. He turns over his hand. He pulls forth a great gout of the fire, a newborn god, educed from Liril straight through Micah, who stands between that crucible and the world. The god sits in the monster’s hand, a snowflake fractal, its edges a drift of shape becoming real; and its eyes are as a bird’s, and seven sacred seals hang all about it, and it is lovely, tame, and sweet, and the monster will name it Aspida, his treasure, his first city-building god.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

“No,” Micah mutters.

He can’t accept it. It is a perversion. It makes him pointless. His heart cries out, I will not lose!

He stares at the monster. His mouth twitches.

I will have didn’t lost.

It isn’t right. That isn’t what happened and it wouldn’t be the way to phrase it if it had. He stares at Aspida and marvels at its hundred eyes and the interlocking formica and steel and glass that is its flesh. He thinks it’s beautiful and appalling and he has to admit that pretty much he has lost, but for the sake of this child he tries again —

I haven’t any longer lost?

He laughs until he chokes and suddenly he is leaking and there is seawater all around him and the monster actually looks alarmed. “You mustn’t do that,” the monster tells him.

That doesn’t help.

Micah flails inside his heart for some remedy or some ounce of strength. He can’t actually find any. He is gurgling brine out from his mouth. He hacks out a fish bone. His eyes widen and he sputters. Aspida looks hopeful. Aspida opens its baby mouth.

It’s too much. Micah starts to rip open. There is a thorn stuck through his hand.

“It’s all right,” the monster tells him.

His hand is on Micah’s hair. It shouldn’t make anything even close to being all right; but then the monster makes it so.

“She has raised you up to be her Christ,” the monster says, “and suffer in her place; but as you wish to defend her, and stand between her and the world, that doesn’t have to be so bad.”

Micah leans forward.

He is crying.

His will collapses in him. The monster telling him that Liril could have wanted this destroys what little fight he was beginning, again, to have.

He is a fragile, permeable membrane between the world and his insides.

He reaches after Aspida but the god and the monster both are gone.

The Shepherdess (I/VII)

It is March 18, 1995. The light from the sun does not reach us.

In the dark there is a titan and it does not know its name.

The monster drags Micah down to the basements of Central. He binds him there with leather and metal shackles, under the glare of red and burning eyes. Then he leaves.

The titan moves in the darkness.

It is very weak. It is dying. That is the message Micah intuits from its vibrations in the floor.

“I will tell you of Lia,” says Micah. He is opening a conversation with the darkness.

“I will tell you not of her beginnings,” Micah continues, “but of how Lia was at the end. For while she was strong and wise in life, as she came near to dying, she became weak and confused — as you are now. She knew only that she was tired, frightened, and ashamed, and that she was loved by Amiel. For her children were gone from her, left for distant lands, and her grandchildren too, but her sister had never abandoned her, had never left her side.

“It had been different in their youth, I think. Then Amiel had been the weak one. She had the power to speak truth but not the power to speak lies — I think. And so every word she said tore and wriggled in her throat, scraped it raw and made her bleed from it. She was all but mute and she was eternally beautiful. So in their childhood I think it was Lia who was strong.

“But Lia was mortal, and mortal things grow old, and finally she couldn’t even remember her own name. She had to make Amiel tell her. She had to waste her sister’s power, just to find out little things like ‘you are Lia’ or ‘I am Amiel.’ ‘I love you.’ Or ‘You are my treasure. You are my precious jewel. Your children have gone away to distant lands, but I will protect them, I will guard them, I will guard your line and our families be entwined forever.’

“These things she said to reassure her sister, and the cost of them was blood.”

Micah does not have anything to drink. He does not have anything to eat. He cannot move freely and he is terribly afraid.

The first day passes, and the first night. He can feel the titan’s agony through the floor.

“I’m sure,” Micah says, “that the child who made you loved you. I’m sure she — he? — I’m sure that they won’t blame you for the way the monster is so strong.”

He’d like to think that he is being kind from a native kindness, but he knows better in his heart.

He is afraid that the titan can reach him. He is afraid that it will grow some sort of feeding-maw on a tentacle, or stretch its body like a string, and suck the marrow from his bones to keep from dying. He is afraid that it is free as he is not and that it will somehow hate him, perhaps because it is dying and he, at the moment, is not.

He is crying for the creature, but that does not mean that he is speaking out of kindness. Terror supersedes his sadness every time he thinks that it might not understand his words.

The second day passes, and the second night.

“The promise was twisted,” Micah says, on the third day. He is having trouble speaking. He has a terrible headache and his body feels like it’s being torn apart by knives. He beats his head against the floor to make his headache go away, but except in the moment of each contact, it doesn’t seem to work. “It was twisted, and the monsters came of the twisting of that oath. But Amiel never betrayed it. She loved Lia all her life.”

The third day passes, and the third night; and he can hear the titan, somewhere beneath Central, shudder out its life and die.

Maybe it wasn’t a titan, he supposes. It could have been a different god, or a broken child.

“When the monsters slip and become her children,” he says, “they are as loyal as ever she.”

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

On the fourth day the monster visits. Micah doesn’t bother looking up.

“You’re troubling me, Micah,” the monster says.

Micah frowns at this. He mumbles, “Nunh-uh.” It’s not really much of a denial. He can’t seem to find his defiance in the swimming of his head.

It is nevertheless very clear to him that if someone is troubling anyone, it is not Micah who is to blame.

“Liril hasn’t given me a single god since the day that you were born,” the monster says. “It’s like you burnt her out. Like you broke her, simply by existing. That’s why I say you’re a trouble to me. But I’m afraid that if you die here, she’ll be useless to me forever instead of simply hurt.”

Micah considers this. His world wobbles. Finally he grins.

“That won’t happen,” he says. “She’ll be fine.”

His utter powerlessness is freeing. He doesn’t have to cooperate. He doesn’t have to pretend that the monster has found a point of common interest, or deny it for that matter. He doesn’t have to bother lying to the monster, or telling the truth to the monster, or, really, saying anything in particular at all. The monster wins. The monster always wins. In the face of that victory, until the monster explains what it entails, Micah can do anything he wants.

“Micah,” the monster chides.

“Do you want me to say that I don’t want her to die?” Micah says. “I’ll say that. I’ll say that I don’t want her to die. Do you want me to beg? I’ll beg.”

He giggles. He swallows. He chokes. He gags.

For some inexplicable reason, he discovers, he’d had seawater in his mouth.

He vomits, or tries to vomit, on the monster’s floor, but all he can do is spit out a bit of rotten fish.

The monster rises to his feet.

“That’s awful,” he says. “That’s the worst magic power ever.”

It’s not true. It’s not not true. Micah can’t tell what the heck is in the monster’s voice.

Micah hiccups sadly in the dark.

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


March 23, 1995
  
This is not survivable, Micah thinks. There is no way that it is survivable. He is going to die of thirst and possibly starvation. He is going to die of muscle cramps and of exposure. The malice and suffering in Central above him condenses and drifts downwards like the snow. It forms in the darkness into terrible and awful things.

It fills him with fear. It twists his hallucinations into evil and sadistic forms. It makes every sound a shock.

He dwells amidst the poisoned runoff of Central’s theological and emotional waste.

Something snuffles towards him in the darkness. Possibly it is his imagination. Possibly it is the titan come back to life, or risen most unholy. Possibly it is a herd, gaggle, or flotilla of half-starved rats. Micah thinks that it will eat him, whatever it is. He thinks that it will rip the flesh from his bones, and then the bones from one another, unless the monster wishes that it should not.

Oh that the monster should allow it.

He cannot see any longer. His eyes are crusted . . . shut. He thinks that they are shut. He can barely hear.

There.

Something is very definitely near him. It is not his imagination. It is a cold and bulky presence in the dark. It is tactile to him. Then it is against his mouth. It is pouring liquid into him. It is . . .

It is feeding him.

His body cannot resist it. He is gulping it down. He is swallowing. He is crying, he thinks, because it is good, because his body has wanted so much to drink.

It is thick and cold and almost tasteless. Inasmuch as it has a taste that taste is lime.

When he starts to choke it leaves him. When he can breathe again it comes back.

He thinks of how Kuras — his favorite of the Kings of the Ancient World — was exposed on a hilltop and suckled by a sheepdog, or perhaps a shepherdess. That happened a lot back then. Should this be a sheepdog he would be embarrassed, but he thinks that he could forgive such a small blow to his pride.

It is probably not a sheepdog. That is his conclusion. He tries to open his eyes. He tries to make sense of it. It will not be a sheepdog, but rather some sort of hallucination, or a broken sewer pipe, or even a freakish shepherdess of the deeps.

It is none of these things.

It is if anything a nameless horror. He cannot put words to it. It is round where it is straight and it is changing where it is still and where his eyes fall upon it they make blisters rise from its flesh that surge up, whiten, and pop. It has the front part of a lion and the rear portion of a gazelle, and a ring of questing tendrils about its face; and from the calf of its front leg it is bleeding, and it is the blood of it that he drinks.

He cannot read its emotions.

Perhaps it is profaning him. Perhaps it is violating him. Perhaps it is committing a generosity immeasurable by reason. He cannot tell, any more than he can tell what it is, or why. It is simply there.

He drinks until he can bear no more with drinking.

When he opens his eyes again the thing is gone.

short post on Friday, then Chibi-Ex on Monday, then part II on Wednesday.

The Rabbit and the Wolf (I/I)

“I said no kids,” Vincent tells her.

“Hm?” Melanie says.

He’s such a strange and innocent young man.

“No torturing kids. No making gods. We work with the gods we have. We don’t do this any longer, Melanie. We don’t have to be the monster.”

She blinks at him.

He’s right, of course. She doesn’t have to be the monster. She doesn’t even have to be a monster. She could just turn around and—

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


May 28, 2004

She can’t help giggling at the serious expression on his face.

“Vincent,” she says. “If you want to negotiate with them, you’re welcome to try. You can just walk in and say, ‘Kids, I know you don’t mean any harm, but you’re trespassing on a Central-owned facility, so please vamoose immediately and we’ll move in.’”

“I wouldn’t say vamoose,” Vincent says, even though the word, like his name, begins with V.

“Whatever,” Melanie says. “Or make a deal where she makes gods for us, in exchange for a share of the profits and someone to turn the electricity on.”

Melanie can’t actually order the electricity turned on at the facility at Elm Hill, since the property isn’t in her name, but she can point Threnody at the problem, and that’s practically as good.

Vincent is glaring at her.

“I’m serious,” he says.

“It’s impossible?”

He licks his lips. He glances down at Harold’s head. She’s lowered her arm to her side but the head’s still dangling from her hand.

“Like that,” he says, “it’s impossible. But we could— we could help them. Hide them. We could help them hide.”

“Well, go ask him, then.”

“What?”

She’s gesturing towards the gates.

Micah has come out again.

He’s walking, pale and blood-soaked, from the doors of the facility and down the path to its iron gates. He is standing in front of them, on the other side of those gates, and he is looking at them and he is swaying like the ground beneath his feet has lost the trick of keeping still.

His shirt is different.

It isn’t the same as it was when he was watching from the balcony. There is something different.

He is pulling the gates closed.

She almost laughs at him, at his determination, at the stupidity of it, to close a gate of ordinary metal against Melanie and all her gods.

But she must not laugh.

Not for all the laughter that is filling her, she must not laugh. Not with him so close. She must take him seriously. Micah is weak and pale and shaped into the image of a boy, but Micah is a god.

So she takes Vincent’s arm and she walks towards the gates, and they get close, and he says, “The first of you to set foot past this gate will die.”

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

“The first of you to set foot past this gate will die.”

The gate closes with a click.

He’s just a boy. He’s not more than twelve. More likely, he is ten. He looks tireder than she has ever been.

“She said it,” Micah emphasizes. “Liril said that it would happen. So it’s true.”

Melanie steps towards him.

He flinches.

Metal and death between the two of them, and he flinches.

“That’s a fine trick,” she says.

His poker face is bad.

“But she didn’t say that, did she?” Melanie asks. “She couldn’t have. Because it’s not my fate to die. So why don’t you tell me what she really said?”

“It was that!” Micah protests.

But it’s a bluff.

“We can talk,” Vincent says. “We don’t have to hurt you. We’re not him. We can . . . don’t make this a war, Micah. I don’t want to hurt anybody else. Don’t make this a fight.”

It’s like there’s a curse on Vincent’s tongue.

It’s the exact wrong thing to say.

Melanie takes another step, and Micah’s strength breaks, and he runs; but he stops before the doors. He stands there, frozen, because that’s as far as he can run, with Liril still inside, and he hears the gate creak open, and he knows that Melanie is looking in.

“After you,” she says, to Vincent.

Vincent tries to find the word “no.” He tries really hard. But he’s lost it somewhere along the way. Instead, his mouth works for a moment, and to his own horror, he comes out with, “But I wanted to be good.”

Melanie grins at him. She grins wide. She looks at Micah, her eyes brilliant and alive, as if daring him to get the joke; but Micah doesn’t smile.

And Melanie is thinking:

Such a strange and innocent young man.

See also: The Cautionary Tale of Abermund Plain

Oh, Harold Dear (I/I)

It is 1981 and Liril is in a terrible place.

She is in a room bulked out with shadows. She is in terror and the dark. She is scratching, desperately scratching, to get her name down on the wall.

In case she forgets.

In case she forgets, or everyone else forgets, and there’s never anything more to show that she exists, just a name written on the wall.

LIRIL.

Tomorrow they’ll move her to a different room, and she’ll stare at the place where she scratched her name, and the writing won’t be there.

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


May 28, 2004

Now in the Latter Days of the Law the heart may not know the true doctrine; so rightly it may be said that this sunlit afternoon in May is the winter of the world.

Grey clouds shadow the brightness of the sky.

The clouds scuttle in clumps, this way and that, their movements driven by the wind.

It is May 28, 2004, and Liril is in a terrible place, and before it is Melanie’s army.

There are failing-gods and flying-gods. There are great stretchy gods drawn in crayon. There is a terrible black dog. There are twelve humans worth the fearing. There are twenty humans who are not—secretaries, psychologists, a system administrator, and the like, who had collaborated with the monster and survived but gained no measure of his power.

There is a ragged thing.

There are footsoldiers and two contemners. There is a long-legged beast and a scarab bomb. There are remembering gods, and an angel and a half, and fiends in a motley crew.

And then there are four more fearsome than this host: Threnody, whose nametag notes that she wields the lightning; Vincent, whose heart is pure; that crooked tyrant labeled “The Keeper of the Wheel;” and Melanie, cunning Melanie, most frightening of them all.

They are an ungainly force. They are escapees from a disaster and not an organized and deadly host. Still, they are an army, and the bulk of them are gods.

“In this place,” says Melanie to that host, “there is a girl more valuable than gold. She is enough to kill us all, I think, or to make us rich and powerful for all time.”

She is taking Vincent’s backpack off.

She is rummaging around inside.

He is surprised and disgusted to find the thoughtful things that she’s packed him for their journey.

A notebook. An apple. A few texts—Behavioral Psychology, and the like. Half of a ham sandwich. The other half she ate. And most disturbingly Harold’s head.

“If she is strong,” Melanie says, “we are in danger. If she learns strength, we are in danger. But she will not be strong.”

“Melanie,” Vincent says.

She hushes him.

“Hush,” she says.

“When—what—when did you even—“

She glances at him. She says, “When I was recovering my bike.”

Back before they’d been rousted out from Central, Melanie had biked to work every day. It’s normally a healthy and environmentally conscious habit, but in the end it had killed Harold and she’d nearly pulled a muscle leveraging his corpse off of her bike. Then she’d sawed off his head with her broken bike lock and left the rest of him there to rot, so in the end, it wasn’t a very healthy or environmentally conscious habit after all.

Also, she didn’t like to wear her helmet.

Vincent is still staring at her. It’s as if he hasn’t heard her explanation, or hasn’t parsed it.

“Two months ago,” Melanie says, “at the dinner party, he’d said that in an emergency, it was very important to keep his head. You were there.”

She opens the corpse’s mouth. She looks inside it clinically. She pushes on its nose. She rolls open one, and then the other eye, but they just close again.

She shrugs and looks back at the gathered host.

“Liril is broken,” Melanie says. “If she has recovered her will and spine at all, they’ll be no stronger than a twig.

“So we’ll shatter them. We’ll stomp her down. And then we shall rule this rotten world.”

“His head should be rotten,” Vincent protests.

What he wants to say is something about how shattering someone’s will is wrong. But he fails to do so. Harold’s head has distracted him completely.

Melanie shrugs.

She breathes into the corpse’s mouth and it jerks opens both its eyes.

“What—“

That’s Vincent’s voice. He’s terribly glad that it’s his voice. For a moment, he’d thought it would be the corpse’s.

Wasn’t it?

He’s suddenly not sure.

Melanie holds the head up high. She turns it to face the facility on Elm Hill. She says, “Oh, Harold, dear, you’re dead.”

And Harold screams.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

The scream of Harold’s head is like a bird, at first; and then it is a horn; but Melanie has grit her teeth and put behind this deviant act the fullness of her strength, and she sinks that long shout low. It becomes a rumbling. It becomes an organ sound. It becomes a shaking of the earth, a burgeoning and world-completing and a trembling cry, resounding off the world and sound and sky.

There is only so much sound that one ought to be able to make with a single breath. This beyond that by a hundredfold.

There is an additional, secondary limit on the sound one can make.

And so eventually this sound goes still.

She has announced herself, has Melanie, her and the army of her gods; and she does not have long to wait.

There is a balcony on the seventh floor.

Micah comes out to stand on it. He looks down at them. He is pale. He is afraid.

Her heart gives a thump, because Micah’s there, and Liril’s not alone; and then the joy bubbles up inside her, it’s giggling out of her nose and wiggling in her throat, it’s crowing and burbling through her, and then it’s a rising force, how good it is, a rising force in her lungs and chest and heart, and she’s shouted out before she’s thought about it any a great shout of all triumph and sweet success.

He is afraid.

He is afraid.

He isn’t the defiant boy that once she met. He’s gone all pale and all weak. He’s standing there and his mouth is moving and she thinks he must still know her name;

But from the look on his face, he’s the kind of boy right then who only barely remembers his own.

Little Faces (VII/VII)

Micah attacks.

He is feral, in those first moments of his life. He knows only that there is a threat to Liril in those words and that he is a god born of her extremity.

He does not know his own power, only that it must come. It must find him, in the moment of his need. There is no alternative.

The monster has reached out and grasped at Micah’s hair. Micah is already moving. He is screaming. He is attempting to climb the monster. He is attempting to claw at the monster’s neck.

The door is opening. There is a grayish man outside. He is looking in.

Micah’s thoughts are a thunder of kill. Kill.

The world inverts.

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


March 18, 1995

Micah finds himself plunging against a table. His arm is behind his back. It is twisted. The monster is leaning weight on him.

He gives forth a strangled cry.

He calls to his power.

He has none.

The monster grinds an elbow against his back. Noise and pain and seawater gurgle in Micah’s throat.

“What the hell, Liril?” the monster says.

He sounds bemused.

It’s like even after the sewer gnome and the footsoldiers he can’t quite believe that Liril would cough up such an unnaturally useless god.

“It’s not that bad,” Micah says. “I’m not that bad. Come on. This wasn’t a fair fight. I wasn’t ready. Let’s try this again.”

The monster considers this.

Then he shrugs.

He steps back.

He says, “Come on, then.”

Micah pulls himself upright.

He wobbles his neck from one side to the other. He wants it to make an intimidating crackling noise, but Micah is ten years old and can only demonstrate the limberness of youth instead.

“I’ll cut your stomach open,” Micah says. “I’ll let your intestines out. Then I’ll paint little faces on them and hold plays.”

“Is everything all right, doctor?” the man at the door asks.

The monster scratches behind one ear.

“Check Liril out,” he says. “She may have broken something.”

Micah tries to move.

The monster becomes truth.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

Micah comes to himself by dizzying, circuitous routes. He traces his way, bit by bit, to flesh and consciousness.

It is still there.

It is waiting for him, lurking before him, immanent in the world.

The monster wins.

He revisits his path. He attempts to plan strategy. He sends random instructions down his spine, trying to motivate his limbs to action.

It is pointless.

He is falling over. He thinks he may be falling over. He thinks he is leaking some kind of fluid.

He gets his hand to twitch. That fascinates him. It continues, once, twice, three times, and there’s a building pressure of wrongness under it, a falsity, and finally he stresses out and can’t keep going, he flails his hand out of the way somewhere where it won’t keep twitching in defiance or potential defiance of the monster, that is truth.

He mumbles something. Then he stutters his mouth shut.

He wants to scream.

He can’t.

Under the pressure of the monster, who is truth, the fabric of lies that is his existence, his defiance, his independent being in the world dissolves. He shatters. He is made nothing.

He is sweating and hot and his breath comes in great gasps from very far away.

A twitch in his mind wants to save him, save her, save somebody, but it cannot reach the surface, it is a blind thing damaged by the light of truth, it is a piece of paper caught in the fire that is truth, the armor of his will is a paper armor, crumbling to ash, and leaving him naked to the world.

Something in him gropes for the concept of justice.

He cannot find it.

His mouth is slopping open. There is something awful coming out, seawater and rot and horrid things, and he does not know why, save that one of them is a question:

“What is truth?”

He is utterly defeated. It is a sudden shining jewel to him. It is a course of compliance and forgetfulness along and around which he may organize his mind. It is a sudden shining jewel to him, the recognition of his defeat.

He does not need the truth to fall.

He is nothing, not even a Micah.

The monster could have beaten him with a lie.

Coming May 11, 2011: May 28th, 2004.

“And Break.” (VI/VII)

“What now?” Liril asks, after a while.

“You go in,” Melanie says, standing up. “And you be a crucible of gods, and you try so very hard to forget that this ever happened, because you can’t afford to be thinking about labyrinths and heroes and your old friend Melanie when the monster’s trying to pull a construction deity out of your heart. And it won’t work. You’ll be distracted. You’ll be wanting things, and you’ll be hating me, and you’ll be yearning to have what that other girl has, and you’ll be broken.”

Liril licks her lips.

“He’ll probably kill you,” Melanie says. “Then he won’t have a single proper crucible left. He’ll have to use ordinary children and their silly little emptiness. It will be a sad day for the monster.”

“No,” Liril says.

“All your remembering forward,” Melanie says, “and still, I bet you can be killed. I bet you can be killed right in the middle of a prophesy, bam, just like the rest of us mid-anticipation.”

Why are you being cruel? Liril asks.

She can’t get the words out. Melanie’s face twitches. After a moment, Melanie answers even the silence.

“I don’t want to see you like this any more,” Melanie says.

“Oh.”

Liril tilts her head to one side.

You could have just not come back.

Melanie kisses Liril on the forehead.

“Go be a good crucible,” she says, “and break.”

[The Frog and the Thorn – CHAPTER ONE]


March 18, 1995

Four times the monster reaches into her and pulls forth a god, and it is not the god of his desiring.

Iaccholyreus, the labyrinthine god, slips free of her chains. He is gone before the monster can seize him, laughing, skipping, burning and slipping down secret paths and out of Liril and the monster’s ken. Renderin, the wild god of the skies, bursts forth and is caught and ripped apart by the monster’s hands. A sewer gnome bubbles up and is forced back; a superstructure god constitutes, but cannot hold himself together. His eyes widen, he gives a great shout, and then he is nothing more than unbound miracle circling the brown drain within the room.

The last is Micah.

The last eduction calls forth Micah.

It does not go well.

The sands dripped through the hourglass
And the hour of the wolf closed in at last
And life is sweet and the sun is high
But the flesh and the fire are born to die

It hurts her in places she did not know still existed to be hurt, the birth of Micah. He surges out from that part of her that still wants things — no, not still; but, rather, now — and he leaves her bruised and broken entire.

She is forced to cough him out, runneling from her throat in a gout of fluids, and her lungs are aching, and her chest is aching, and several of her ribs are broken, and worst of all, there is a lingering echoing openness in the part of her that remembers how to want.

And in all of that she would feel well rewarded had she brought forth a constructive god, but she had not.

He is no god of buildings.

If anything, he is a boy.

let’s try Wednesdays and Fridays for a bit, with Mondays going to Chibi-Ex.