Siggort (V/V)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

The darkness is great and cool and soothing.

It fills the spaces between things.

There is a great open space between each grain of sand; between the ocean and the shore; between the individuated elements of the sky.

Sid looks upon the world, and where his gaze falls, he cuts.

He has one hundred hands and the parts of him move like clockwork gears; and where he looks, he cuts.

He is in constant orbit about himself and subject to a chaos of form.

He is ringed with knives.

He is aware of the dust that was his flesh as it sifts down onto the beach. He sets the malignity of his consciousness upon the atoms of it and it flares most terribly away.

He can taste every particle of the beach.

He tongues the chaos of the sea.

He can feel without looking each little shift in the muscles of Tara as she swims away.

Everything is silent.

He cannot hear at all; and where he looks, he cuts.

He is beautiful. He shines like a fire. He is monstrous. He is terrible. The sandfleas fall still in homage to him and the sun winces and looks away.

Everything is silent, and he can feel the strange little twitches of Tara’s growing concern.

He considers killing her.

The thought draws blood. It cuts her along the arm and back. The blood hangs gleaming in little droplets along the cutting arm of Sid’s eighteenth ring.

One of the pirates has thrown his eyepatch down onto the ground. It is expanding, filling with spiritual radiance, becoming a great carpet to carry the pirates away.

Sid sees the darkness between the elements of the eyepatch. With the abstract fascination of a creature that loves patterns he follows the interlacing pattern of the chain stitch around its edge.

The wires of Sid criss-cross through the eyepatch.

Sid reflects, distantly: Flying carpets are born from our blindness.

The eyepatch turns to shreds of cloth and spirit.

Sid does not want to kill the pirates.

So he lets them leave.

Lightly the attention of his mind falls on the heaps. He begins to bleed. The great metal arcs of him drip with red.

He makes the blood to cease.

He can feel the vibration of ten million sounds. He sorts out pattern and meaning from the radiation that falls on him from the beginning of the world. He tastes the dissolution of the Buddha’s answer.

He cannot hear anything at all.

He cannot feel Max.

One groping hook seizes up a heap. The hook holds it up. It writhes but under the pressure of directed contemplation it fails at substitution. Balefully Sid instructs it: become a conception of the proximity of Max.

It squirms and bleeds away.

Sid spins faster.

He angers.

He cuts down the head of Harrison Morne that hangs from the mountain at the center of Head Island. He shreds it into a cloud of flesh and fluids. It has no time to scream.

It is petty to kill one creature for another creature’s sins. But this death does not trouble him. He can see in the particulate nature of the cloud that Harrison Morne has lived a very long time in torment, and without the generosity of flesh.

He tastes a metal tang.

He tastes Max.

He tastes Max’s blood.

He tastes so very much of Max’s blood, in the ocean, to the west.

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

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

Max loved you,
you know,

murmurs the sea.

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

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

Sid shears through the fortifications of the beach and scythes across Head Island like a storm.

But people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

Strangely it is Tara’s voice that pierces the emptiness of sound.

“If I may ask—“

She has paused, beyond the range of reflex, a fair ways out to sea. She is on her back. She is looking up at Sid, and speaking, and he hears the words.

Sid says: It is a useless redundancy to pierce a siggort’s heart with love.

She flushes.

You thought I was a heap.

“They’re very tricky,” Tara says.

Sid becomes aware of a family of rabbits. He does not have time to save them from the murder of his thoughts. He chews on the meat of them as he moves west.

“But I meant to ask— are you okay?”

If Max is dead, says Sid, Then I shall tear asunder the fabric of this world. And if he is not, then I shall fight him and hurt him and hurt myself forever.

Tara blushes even brighter.

Sid tastes it. He seeks its meaning down in the molecules of her. She is embarrassed because normally she would criticize tearing asunder the fabric of the world; only, Siddhartha Buddha got there first, and that makes it a bit like a Christian saying, “Language!” when a neighbor curses a fig tree.

She recovers, though.

She lays on her back like an otter in the sea and she says, “People think that what the Buddha said is, escaping the torments of the skandhas is difficult. Every direction people travel, they find ignorance and desire. They mire themselves in the birth-suffering, the old-age-suffering, the sickness-and-death-suffering. Everything is finite and everything that people cling to as their answer falls apart. So people think that what the Buddha said is, it’s very difficult to find enlightenment and free yourself from the wheel of reincarnation. But it’s not. It’s very easy. Because ignorance and desire are finite too. They are transient too. Anicca. You experience them, you breathe them in, you breathe them out, and eventually they’re gone.”

Sid’s answer is disinterested and it cuts the air like the clamor of a bell.

Oh.

Sid rises over a ridge.

The Good sees him.

It rises from the sea to the west and its gaze transfixes him, burns him, soaks into him even as the blades of him cut and shred the ambience of its light.

He is loved.

He is loved. He is loved. He is loved.

To the north, and west, and deep below the sea, Max dissolves; and the pieces of him flow him from his form, and his heart ceases to beat.

Sid lurches forward as if by moving somehow he could save Max; but it is too much. It is impossible. He cannot sustain.

Consciousness frays away from Sid and turns inside out and wraps around itself and blossoms into light How beautiful.

The Sword of Love (IV/V)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Tara’s master had always said, “Don’t become a pirate and sail around trying to force enlightenment on people. That’s not the Buddha’s way!”

But Tara still went down to the docks and looked out at the sea and she’d grin at the seagulls on the rocks.

He even tried to hit her with a stick.

You know how it is.

Sometimes, when you hit people with sticks, they achieve enlightenment and stop wanting to be pirates.

But not Tara.

Tara caught the stick on that brilliant effusion of compassion that she insists on calling her Sword of Love, and twisted it from his hand, and shouted, “Ho ha!” and suddenly he was dancing backwards across the dock and out over the edge trying to avoid the lunges of her sword; and if he weren’t an enlightened master quite capable of standing on the wisps of salt vapor rising from the sea he would quite certainly have fallen in.

“It’s because of the heaps,” she said.

“The heaps.”

“Everyone in the world,” she says. “They go walking in the silence of their soul, and they meet the heaps like bandits. And the heaps find them and cut them apart and pile their limbs one on top of another, until they are deeply confused inside their mind; and that is why we have the mess that is the world today.”

“And?”

“So I thought,” Tara said, “that I should become a pirate, and practice my swordplay, until I could meet the greatest of the heaps in a one-on-one battle and stab him, BAM! That’s what I thought.”

“Thus saving the world from suffering,” her master said.

“Exactly.”

She grinned at him.

“Isn’t that brilliant?” she asked.

“If I had another stick,” he said. “I’d hit you with it. That’s how brilliant that is.”

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

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

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

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

But people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

“You project onto me,” says the great heap to Tara, “the failings of the world.”

Sid is watching.

It is the strangest thing. He cannot help but feel: what a horrible, horrible thing.

And a burning sympathy for it, as it lurches on.

“Do I?” Tara says.

“Do I prey?” says the heap. The fight begins—a fight that we shall describe momentarily; for now, let us say, a shifting, a blurring, a great movement like the wind. “Am I a devourer of wastes? A cold, hard, compassionless thing, who closes the door on the suffering of children and keeps every creature from enlightenment?”

It is striking at her like great waves, with the location of it never clear, so that she must parry eight strokes for each one movement of its arm. It is moving slowly, like a boulder tumbling on the sands, but still she is pressed: her sword sparks like a fire and the movement of the heap pushes the pirate back.

She gestures at it and the lotus in her palm blazes: but a great sigil burns in the heap as she does so, and staring at it, her body goes slack, her jaw gapes, her eyes glaze, and it causeth her to correlate each thing she knows with each other thing; and it is only because a bodhisattva pattern-matches more quickly than an ordinary pirate that she clears her head in time to live.

Even so, it knocks her back, and she is bloody about the head.

She is up in a crouch again. Some of the pirates have come forward, but she waves them back.

“Those qualities are not me,” says the heap, in answer to its own questions. “They are a description of the world.”

The sun shines down on the shimmering of the heap. Tara pushes against the beach with her hand; the sand beneath her shifts. The heap issues a lumbering attack. A lotus platform, scented with rich perfume, rises through the sand beneath Tara’s feet. It lifts her up and flies with her to the side. She stabs at the heap’s extended limb; her sword cuts in and clear ichor flows.

The pirates and the heaps have formed a circle. They no longer fight. They watch.

The sword does not pull free as the heap strikes at her again. She releases its hilt and flies back, her feet twisting on the lotus platform to direct its path. Sand geysers upwards from the beach as the heap’s nebulous fist slams down. Tara pulls a knife from a sheath on her leg. She cuts a pattern in the air and lightning goes forth to strike at the creature.

The great heap practices the swift-step.

It is behind her. It is clubbing her, two limbs against her back. Her eyes open wide and she falls.

The great heap practices the swift-step. It looms beneath her. It moves to strike a beneath-her blow.

Tara has the double-jump enlightenment. Thus, even with nothing to brace against, she kicks off against the air and flies upwards out of reach. A near-invisible metal line and hook drop from her hand as she jumps and hook around her sword. Standing there in midair over its head, she jerks the blade from its limb and back into her hand.

“What if every time people looked out at the world, and got confused about what they saw?” she starts.

Time is moving very slowly.

“What if, when they confused things with heaps, they didn’t just transitively confuse them with other things, but rather confused them with brightness? With compassion? With universal love?”

Her feet come down on its shoulders. Her eyes are very bright, and she’s got a wild pirate grin.

“‘Cause,” she says. “You know? We can make that happen.”

Her sword isn’t for stabbing, after all.

She’s a bodhisattva.

It’s for changing things.

And time is moving full on again, and she shouts wordlessly, and she takes the hilt of the sword of her love for all living things in both her hands, and she drives its down towards the nominal location of the creature’s brain.

BAM.

There is thunder.

There is light.

The creature’s clay body shudders and explodes.

The world changes.

Shards of clay fly in every direction.

Wait, Tara thinks. She goes over this carefully in her head—reason being one of the instruments by which a bodhisattva subdues the skandhas. Was it made of clay? Was it made of feathers and clay and blood, with sharpness such as this beneath? Or was that Sid?

It would be very embarrassing, she starts to think—

The skandha hits her like a wave.

It is bone-shattering. It is wind-stealing. It drives everything from her mind but a jagged whirlwind of the pieces of sensation.

She is falling.

Bubbles rise all around her. Chaos swirls in her lungs.

There is a heavy footstep.

The heap is coming.

She remembers her name. Tara. She remembers her purpose. Piracy, then saving everyone from false conceptions. She suffuses with understanding.

“Damn it,” she says. “Now everyone will have to go on suffering.”

Her mouth is running over with red.

The heap is still coming.

She salutes it.

“I’ll beat you some day,” she says, and she grins brightly.

Then she twists to her feet and dives into the crashing sea.

“You Dirty Skandhas!” (III/V)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

When she was a little girl Tara listened to the parable of the heaps.

“Are you afraid of bandits?” her Mom had asked.

Tara had thought about this.

“Yes,” she said, after due contemplation. “I am afraid of bandits.”

“Why is that?”

Tara works through this. “Because they have big weapons,” she says. “And they hurt you. And they don’t have sympathetic hearts.”

“Not like yours?”

Tara looks at her chest, or, more accurately, at her flared black top with its purple picture of a kitten. “No.”

“Once upon a time,” her Mom said, “people set out on the road to enlightenment. They said, ‘I don’t want to suffer. That’s stupid! So I’ll go down the path of—“

She tries to remember the Noble Eightfold Path.

“‘Right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration, right intention—and so forth,'” said Tara’s Mom.

“Those are good virtues!”

“But they were all of them, in ones and twos, ambushed by bandits—or rather, creatures very much like bandits. Skandhas, some call them. Heaps.

“Why are heaps like bandits?”

Tara’s Mom doesn’t know the history of Harrison Morne. She’s not as steeped in Buddhist lore as some parents. So she takes a guess. “We say that they are like bandits because they are hungry. They are hungry for something. But they don’t know a way to get it without taking it from somebody else.”

“What are they hungry for?” Tara wiggled her feet and then proposed, “Cake?”

“For Truth.”

Tara flopped back in her chair. She thought about that.

“They cut the truth away from people,” Tara’s Mom had said. “Bit by bit. They were pitiless. They were dangerous. They severed people from the things they loved. And one by one, the people who had set forth—so earnestly—for enlightenment found themselves instead embracing the heaps. Then the heaps hacked off their arms and legs and heads and made piles of their bones and lit pyres in their brains, making the world into a charnel house of form, such as we have today.”

“Hee hee,” giggled Tara.

“Hm?”

“Someday,” Tara said, “I’m gonna find those heaps. I’m gonna find them, and I’m gonna stab ’em! Splut!”

“They’re . . . more of a metaphor, really,” her Mother said.

But Tara wasn’t listening.

She waved an imaginary sword around, whish! Splut!

And as it happened, just this once, her Mom was wrong. People are always wrong. People have been wrong about the heaps, in every particular and in every fashion, for all the ages of the world.

That is their nature.

Heaps are that which we confuse with everything that they are not.

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

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

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

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

But people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

It is June 3, 2004.

The beach is covered in the blood of virtuous monks and seashells.

The pirates swarm up onto the battlements of the fortification on the beach.

Sword-to-sword with the heaps, they are better: and each of them possesses some portion of enlightenment that makes their feet quick, their prayers efficacious, and their wounds swift to heal.

But the heaps are numberless.

It does not matter how many of them fall. The world resets. The numberless measure of the heaps remains unchanged. The press of them is relentless, unbending, eternal.

Tara stands in the midst of it all.

She shouts, “You dirty skandhas, who prey on every living person and keep them from enlightenment! Dare you face a bodhisattva in battle?”

Beside her a pirate falls, pierced in the throat by the arrow of the skandhas so that he cannot chant scripture; pierced in the eyes with the swords of the skandhas so that he cannot see the truth; stabbed through the heart by the spears of the skandhas so that he cannot retain the memory of his compassion for all living things.

His last breath burbles forth.

“Corrupt bandits!” shouts Tara. She stabs one skandha through, pulls her sword free, cuts down another; and another. “You eat your own waste products! You have no compassion in your heart! You shut the door on the suffering of children and promote the most terrible of lies!”

Then a great iron door opens and a power surges and all of the pirates—save Sid and Tara—are blown back like leaves; and even Tara must jump backwards off the fortifications as the thing shambles out.

It is shapeless and formless and it looks now like Tara, now like Sid, now like a monkey, now a pirate.

It is carrying a head slung over its shoulder; or perhaps it is the mountain at the center of the island that carries the head, and the heap simply magnifies the impression of it, casts it back to the untrained eye, reflects and projects it so that one thing is seen in another thing’s place.

The great heap lands heavily on the beach.

It says, “You are unfair, my child.”

Tara grins. It’s a slow, mad bloodthirsty grin.

“Am I?” she says.

“You project onto me,” says the great heap, “the failings of the world.”

Transience (II/V)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

“Everything is transient,” says Tara.

She is sitting on the deck of her ship. She is meditating. She is holding the ship still while the world moves around her.

“We imagine that things are permanent, but this is not so: rather, ‘permanence’ is a quality of the mind, a sign without referent, that we strive in futility to apply to external things.”

She is crying, freely and without hesitation, because everything that is good and beautiful must pass away.

It is not a wonder that her ship should sink. It is, in fact, a wonder that it ever stayed afloat at all. The great stone statue of the Buddha that serves as its prow should, by rights, have dragged the ship down to the bottom of the sea. That it has not done so yet is a testament to the grace and beauty of the sculptor’s soul: but that grace cannot keep the ship upright much longer.

The bandits of the island have sent forth a ship-killing spear and it trembles in the wood of the good ship Honest with Myself; and the ship cannot take another.

It would be easier for Tara if she did not care about the passing of these things. It would be easier if she could simply laugh and let the illusions of the world fume and blow before her eyes—but Tara is not yet a Buddha.

She has taken a sabbatical from the bodhisattva’s journey.

She has hoisted the Jolly Roger in the name of the enlightenment of all living beings; has put aside the scripture for the sword; has sworn in the greatness of her heart the compassionate oath: “I shall become a Buddha. I shall save all living beings from suffering. But first I shall become a pirate!”

Her unbending determination shook the world and caused flower petals to rain from the highest peak of Heaven: but for every oath there is a price.

All things pass.

All things pass.

All things, even the beautiful things, even the good things, pass.

And there is nothing in piracy to save the heart from the brutality of this truth.

Third-fired, second-landed: a second ship-killing spear slams home. The ship screams—

No, she tells herself. It is the grinding of the wood. It is not a scream.

The ship screams. The ship shakes. The statue of the Buddha splits open. Inside it is not stone. Inside it is hollow, and full of the petals of the chrysanthemum.

The wind seizes them up and scatters them across the sea.

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

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

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

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

But people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

Tara stands.

Everything is exploding underneath her. She thinks: ah, it has struck the strategic sutra reserve.

The ship is becoming flinders.

Gusts of holy fire, the infallible material indicators of the perfect truth of the sutras, billow up. The chickens flutter desperately in their pen. The monkeys climb to the top of the rigging. Her personal parrot flies away.

She fixes her mind upon right pillaging.

Her hand moves sideways. Seeing the lotus in her palm, the chickens go still and resolute. Their minds focus on compassion and their spirits suspire peacefully into Avahārakalikāranirvāņa, the Pirate Chicken Paradise. Tara takes two steps into the air according to the double-jump enlightenment and lands upon a great length of wood blown skyward by the explosion of the Jewel-Thought Sutra. Her gaze turns towards the monkeys.

A terrible splinter of wood is flying towards her eye.

You cannot save yourself and monkeys both, murmurs a false conception. She dismisses it and looks upon the splinter with the all-embracing love of a mostly-enlightened pirate.

I trust you, she says, to the splinter as it comes tearing for her eye.

Caught off balance by Tara’s gaze, it catches fire; it gusts with holy light; it grows into flower, like the cherry wood of its birth, and the wind blows it aside.

Her arm stretches (a human distance) to the right. There is a shift in the equilibrium of the world; her arm becomes heavy with monkeys.

The wood on which she stands is spinning.

She blows a kiss backwards at the ship. “You were good,” she says, and suddenly time is moving at its normal rate again.

“May a thousand beautiful things flower from the karma that gave you birth.”

With horrible speed, the wood plank skips off the sea, wings an upright monk and opens a scar in the side of his scalp that he’ll be telling people about for the rest of his life, skips one last time, and tumbles the dread pirate Tara and a quarter barrel’s worth of monkeys to roll over and over and over again upon the shore.

This Blasphemous Thing (I/V)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Continuing from The Uncanny Valley,
The Pirate,
The Heaps, and
The Skandhas of Head Island.

“Right effort,” says the dread pirate Tara.

“Haaa!” shout her pirates.

“Right mindfulness,” says the dread pirate Tara.

“Haaa!” her pirates shout.

“Right concentration; right intention; right pillaging!” she says. And “Haaa!” shout her pirates after each.

“Right sailing,” she says, voice low and intent.

“Haaa!”

“Right singing,” she grinds out.

“Haaa!”

“Right consumption of the rum. And right the heart that does not tremble to take up the sword against the enemies of our path—“

“KYAA!” shout the pirates, and rattle their prayer beads, and the monks walk faster along their patterns and the novitiates swarm in the rigging and on the deck the mandala blazes with light as she names the ninefold pirate path.

“Fire!”

The gun ports open. Scripture burns. Great spinning weights of iron, twenty-four pounds each, launch against the fortifications on the shore.

Anicca, dukkha!” cry the monks. “Anicca, dukkha!

“Fire!”

And the guns boom; and the ship rocks; and dread Tara’s pirates swarm into the boats and ply them forward towards the beach.

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

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

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

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

But people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

Sid’s in one of the boats. He’s not sure how that happened, but it seemed to involve pushing.

He’s rowing for the shore.

He is tormented by doubts, which express themselves in his mind like thus:

“The difficulty with forgiving Max is that it legitimizes his action.”

Sid is not sure why his doubts are on this subject, since under normal circumstances the assault on Head Island would occupy a greater share of his attention. Yet in truth the entire jostling, jumbling, sweet-scented pirate mass around him and the coming battle and the effort of pulling at the oars has receded from his consciousness, leaving him suspended in a dissociated space confronted by the manifestation of his doubts: which speaks, of course, in his very own voice.

“It has been said from before the beginning of time that siggorts ought not exist; and for sufficient reason, you’ll grant.”

“Yes,” Sid agrees.

“So why do you resent this man, this Max, whom you do love?”

There is activity in the fortifications on the shore. Sid’s dim prescience—for siggorts possess this quality in scarcely a greater share than humankind—warns him of a shadow of death. Soon another of the great ship-destroying shafts will fire: perhaps to strike again at Tara’s ship and split what the grace of Buddha has thus far held together; perhaps to fall among the longboats in the name of chaos and decay.

He should act, inasmuch as he values this clay body of his.

He should act—but instead, he answers that nagging voice within.

“It would be greatly convenient,” Sid says, “to revise the world until the problem cases are no longer in its boundaries. I am sure that that would resolve all the problems of the world. If something is an issue, cause it to vanish! Leave a remnant and say to that remnant in their meager world: this is sound! This is just! And if they love not that which layeth beyond the world then for this remnant it is so. But do not tell me, as you write me from your minds, that I have no right or motivation to object. And do not call it love.”

His throat is tight.

“This blasphemous thing; this monstrous thing; this Thing That Should Not Be,” murmurs his doubt: “It lectures us on love.”

“Max is responsible,” says Sid, “if he says I should not exist, for making that judgment, he is responsible; not I. And I will not concur to it.”

Someone taps him on the shoulder.

He turns. The wheel of knives comes up. He prepares to strike—

There is a breath of pirate fetor in his face; he becomes ever more greatly aware of laughter rising around him; and one of the monks is shaking his shoulder now, and saying, “Don’t let them get to you, lad, they’re just heaps.”

“Doesn’t know the difference between his own judgments and the world,” laughs another.

“Rum tiddly-um,” says one novitiate, who is clearly far too concerned with being a pirate to look up the kinds of things pirates actually say. “Rum bum!”

And Sid blinks and clears his eyes and feels a wash of shame, realizing that he’s been played for the lubber by the monks, who’ve let him argue with a skandha while doing twice the rowing of any man jack on the boat; but then the next great spear wings blackly towards them and its shadow darkens them and he catches it with the wheel of knives and a storm of feathers blows away from the wind against his hair and he sits down smugly in a rain of spear-dust as if that would show those stupid monks.

Anatman!” chant those monks who would argue against the necessary existence of the soul; and “Dukkha!” if they suggest that life is always sorrow; and “Rum tiddly-um, rum bum, rum bum,” if they don’t quite know what to say about the world, caught there with dread Tara behind them, the skandhas up ahead, and the siggort flush with self-justification and with power standing there on the boat, just the smallest terrifying shreds of the truth of him showing through the clay.

The Beginning (I/I)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Once upon a time a boy named Cronos forgot who he was.

He walked east.

Around him the world was swirling and filling and closing. It was surf. His snake Ophion wound around him. Its scales were obsidian plates. It circled about him. It made patterns of darkness and light.

His heart was full of joy.

Joy burned in his chest. He could not hold it back. He gave a great shout from it, “Yey-aa!”

All around him the surf crashed. He could not breathe reliably. The sea kept hitting him. It got in his mouth and his nose.

Ophion made a sound, ssaaaa.

It was like the sound of the surf, stopped at its very middle point.

Something was killing him.

To the east the world divided into lines.

Around him the world was swirls and filling and closing but to the east were lines and dots. Blue and white turned to scattered golden sands. Then a ragged line marked the edge of grass. A great round line made a boulder and stark rising lines denoted trees. Only at their tops with their thousands of leaves did the east turn to swirls and filling and closing once again.

Cronos walked east.

Ophion was killing him.

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

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

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

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

But people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

Something was killing him. It was Ophion. The snake tightened about him. Its teeth bit into his ear.

“I love you,” he said to Ophion, which was true; and the snake drew back, and it said, ssaaaa.

Cronos staggered.

One hand came down on hard round texture. There were rocks beneath the sea.

His vision became a tunnel edged with red. Under the surf he heard this sound: ba-put, ba-put, ba-put, ba-put. It was as if the world were suddenly on measured and accelerating time.

One hand squirmed under the coils to be between the serpent and his neck.

“Ophion,” he gasped.

The snake whispered, “We will die here.”

And the starry chambers above the world spoke, and its voice was everywhere and nowhere, and mellifluous and kind, and said, “Thus far, and no further.”

Cronos looked up.

It was visible even to the sky that he did not understand.

“I have made an Eden,” said the voice. “I have made a world that is perfect, just, and good. And to maintain that world it is necessary to exclude such things as Ophion. This is a doctrine of self-defense; it is a doctrine of mercy; it is a blessing of the stars.”

Cronos’ hand slipped away from his neck. The coil tightened.

And Ophion squeezed him and he could not breathe and his right foot sank into the sand and his left foot turned and his right fist seized about the body of the beast and pulled and his waist bent and his arms stretched out and he cracked the neck of Ophion against the stone and held its head beneath the waves.

The coils loosened. The snake flailed.

The fingers of Cronos cracked the scales of Ophion. His nails dug into the muscle of the beast. Its head was under the sea.

Loop by loop it fell away from him. It twitched.

He did not say: o my love.

He staggered up onto the shore and he fell down.

“What have I done?” he asked.

And the sky spins over him and it is some time before it said, “The question is immaterial.”

Silence swelled.

“There are no deeds,” said the sky, “beyond the boundaries of the world.”

Ink Ascending (XVI/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Sometimes when things seem darkest a flying carpet will come and swoop you off and carry you to the answer to all your pains.

In the lands of Romance you will battle ogres and dragons.

You will find bottles containing the secret hearts of djinn.

Dashing princes will bend their head to look at you, their eyes gleaming with that ancient light of Romance.

They will say: “I see you have come here.”

. . . but no.

That is not right.

The carpet—that seems right.

But not the rest.

The girl is surfacing to consciousness and something is not right. The Prince is not standing over her. That is someone else. He is not saying, “I see you have come here.”

He is saying something else.

The girl focuses her eyes.

It is Minister Jof.

It is Minister Jof, and not the Prince.

He has said, if anything, “I consider you to blame.”

She shakes her head, just a little. She turns her head. It hurts to do this, but she turns her head.

Is that the Prince?

It is Riffle. He is washing his hands.

And there:

Dr. Sarous, glum and sour. Not even speaking.

And there:

The general of the stickbugs. He is approaching. He is lowering his mouth towards the foot of the girl. Dr. Sarous bats at him and he skulks away.

It is distinctly not the lands of Romance.

If anything, it is the murky land of Dismal.

Still, the girl sits up. She makes a game try of it. “How marvelous,” she says. “You, Dr. Sarous; have you been treating our wounds?”

Dr. Sarous’ mouth remains a line.

“Minister Jof, Riffle, you followed me?”

They look away.

The girl makes a face. “Really,” she says, “when one rides a flying carpet to the answer to one’s pains, one is supposed to smile.”

“This?” says Riffle.

His voice cracks.

Something is wrong. No, she knew that. Something is wronger.

She turns.

Behind her there is a chasm, and from that chasm rises a great stone pillar, and bound to that pillar there is a man—

No, a creature like a man—

He is sealed against the stone with molten brass and molten iron. They bubble with great heat. He is sealed into the stone, and the nerves and veins of him run uninterrupted into the rock. Marked in a great circle around him are the symbols of the seasons, and the zodiac, and of time. His flesh in places gaps to show bones and organs beneath.

He is Cronos.

His eyes are open.

They can see the specks of his left iris and the light on his left pupil. They can see the agony in it.

His right eye is burnt ruin.

He is the crust of the world. He is the mechanism of time.

He is aware of them.

He winks.

“Oh, don’t,” says the girl.

His face crinkles, just a bit, around his pain.

“Oh, no,” she says.

It is not words. It is simply an implication in his expression. But it is there all the same.

I see you have come here.

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

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

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

“This is what I experienced in delirium,” says Minister Jof. “A shadow came. It flicked by. It caught me up. Then I was here, with Dr. Sarous extracting the splinter from my eye.”

“For me,” says Dr. Sarous, “it is essentially the same. There was a confusion of stickbugs; I caught the general’s lapel and fell.”

“I am done with this,” says Riffle.

He looks dissatisfied.

“Enough with the business of saviors and killing God. I propose we push the girl over the edge, thus putting the throne of the world in our debt; we then retire to Sarous’ kingdom, where he shall appoint me his high executor and allow you minor appointments in his administration. In exchange, I will advise Sarous as to how to live with the knowledge of his corruption; all of us see profit.”

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, although everybody calls her the imago. It’s short for imagoro, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

She’s staring at the face of the titan in the pillar.

“Is this how it begins?” she asks.

Riffle looks at her.

“Is this the first moment of our history?” she asks.

“Hardly,” says Riffle.

But Ink turns on him and she is burning with the power of the interpretation of ended things and her voice cuts across all his thoughts and she says, “Cronos was laying on the sand.”

June, Thursday 3, 2004 – Cronos: Cronos was laying on the sand.

To what end, time?

The stickbug general is a mean and dirty creature. His heart is small and rotten. Time is the vehicle for his resentment: a field in which he may experience things that are not gorging on child flesh, not stickbug sex, not hiding against a tree.

Time is a vehicle for pain and for hunger and for fear without satiety.

There is a heat that washes off the girl as she says these words and it drives the stickbug general flinching back. But this does not quench the stickbug’s determination. If anything it affirms it. Things are too uncomfortable. The girl must die.

Cronos was young. He was young. He was so very young. He was tired. He did not know who he was.

He was a castaway on the shore of the world.

He lay there and he did not move.

The sun was very hot.

It began to burn him.

When his skin turned red he made a strangled sound and rose to his feet and he staggered off to find a cave.

To what end, time?

Time is a vast reach filled with disorder. Time is the vehicle for Riffle’s discontent: again and again it slews him from his purpose. It drives him to the end of narrow aims and imbues his broader projects with a sense of dim futility. It is littered with elements he cannot incorporate into his closed designs.

As the girl speaks Riffle becomes aware of a deep and timeless agony. It is not hers, nor his, nor Cronos’, but the agony of Ge.

He cannot solve it.

He cannot even begin to solve it.

He cannot ignore it, either; and so, in that moment, imagoro, he hates Ink Catherly with a burning passion.

All around him rose the deep voice of the earth.

“My child,” said the earth. “Gotten of a sinful father.”

Cronos put his hands upon the rock.

It was wet. It was hard. It was rough.

“I have a mother,” he said.

Joy rose from his stomach to burn through him. “I have a mother, I have a father, I am a child of the heavens and the earth.”

To what end, time?

For Dr. Sarous time was once a playground: an opportunity to make all things well. But the more deeply he studied the world the more things he found that were not well. The more he bent his fallible eye to scrutiny, the more it seemed that the world was a fractal made out of errors built on errors, noise stacking on noise, with virtue nothing more than an emergent pattern on the whole. In the end, his dream unraveled; time seized his prize from him, and his pride.

It hurts him, to hear the joy in Cronos’ voice.

The world is sick, he thinks. Where is its shame?

“Be not proud to be Uri’s son,” said the earth. “For he first thought of shameful things, and cut away the wrongness from the world.”

A question lies hard on Cronos’ mind, but it is not a question that the earth can answer.

“What is the proper manner of my shape?” Cronos asks. “Ought I be tall or short? Have I three legs or two?”

“Hide yourself,” said the earth, “between the sea, the sky, and the land, and wait for darkness, and I will show you how your father has injured me.”

Though confused, still Cronos obeyed.

He shaped himself into a thing that could make webs and he spun a web between the sea, the land, and the sky. He hung there, waiting, trying to decide how many legs a titan has.

The sun left the sky.

The world grew dark.

The web trembled and shrank. The vault of the stars came down and pressed close upon the world. Cronos shivered in the dark.

To what end, time?

Time is a vehicle for evolution. That is why Minister Jof fears it.

He loves evolution. It is his work. But he fears it. To change— to grow—

He is Minister Jof.

Where could he go?

He does not allow himself to imagine that he is fallible; that he is imperfect; that there is an upwards arc. And those times when he does—when it slips through into his heart that we are unfinished, mean, imperfect creatures, and Minister Jof no different—are exactly the times when he cannot imagine any means of becoming better.

He can feel change coming. It echoes in the words of the history of the girl.

He shutters his heart. He focuses on his judgments and his spite.

He turns away.

The clouds lit with pink and scarlet fires. The earth ground open and in it were pools of darkness and green and coldest indigo. The sky rubbed against the earth and fires slipped from it into the depths and danced upon the waters there. The wind blew. It came down off the hills and it roared across the plains. It chilled the peaks of the mountains and bent the trees of the forest. Stars fell and lost their fire. The chasms under the world ignited. The world and sky strained against one another and the sky grew damper and the air began to taste of rain.

As the sky coupled with the earth, the earth said, “For whom have you made this world, o my love?”

And the sky said, “For Oceanus; and Tethys; and Hyperion; and Theia; and Coeus; and Phoebe; and Cronos; and Rhea; and the birds; and the trees; and the insects; and the flowers; and the naiads; and the oceanids; and the teeth gnomes; and the antelope; and the burrowing things; and the climbing things;” and he went on in just this vein for quite some time.

And as he said these things the earth sighed, “Ah,” for these things were precious to her.

But in the later hours of the night it grew halting and slow, that recitation of the sky. “And for the platypus;” he said, and he thought, and he sought for words, “and the sandpipers; and the dogs—“

And there he had run out.

And fire blazes everywhere throughout the world and Cronos said, “. . . but what of Ophion?”

And the earth trembled and Cronos understood a thing, and he said, “. . . but what of Ophion? But what of siggorts? But what of woglies? But what of all the exiled things? But what of these?”

And his question made no impact on the sky, which only spun, and gave him a ruffling about the head, and said, “Do not love ye evil, child.”

And then the sky withdrew behind the curtains of the dawn.

And Cronos thought of Ophion, and the siggorts, and the woglies: o my loves.

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

In the end they are too small.

In the end they are hopeless and dismal, all of them.

But dharma moves.

Ink is stepping back. She can tell what moves in the wicked hearts that face her: one to three murderers, and one to three who will not help. She is stepping back towards the chasm. She has no idea how she will survive a screaming plummet into unknown depths but she has fallen from high places a fair amount recently and is starting to trust her ability to improvise. She suspects that it is less of a danger than her four companions, but:

“You know what the coolest thing ever is?” she asks.

The general of the stickbugs shakes his head.

It’s not actually negation.

He’s just breaking the spell of her words.

“People,” Ink says.

And she grins at them, flush with an echo of Cronos’ joy, as Minister Jof looks away; as Dr. Sarous and Riffle exchange dark glances; as the general of the stickbugs scuttles towards her with murderous intent.

Freaks, the lot of you, thinks Ink Catherly; o my loves.

And then there is the miracle.

She steps back.

Behind her, dharma moves. The titan’s hands stretch forth. He catches her. And in that motion they see it. They see it in the motion, all four of them. They see the motivation for time.

They see the purpose for the crust of the world.

He holds at bay the price of our imperfections, and behind them our happy endings; he bears the immeasurable weight of all these things.

Time is Cronos, standing there in the crust of the world, bearing his impossible burden, so that before our histories and our stories end in bright perfection, we that are imperfect have the opportunity to grow.

Though people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

It is the terrible truth of Heaven and Earth that the Elysian Fields await us all—

Well, except for the woglies, and the siggorts, I suppose—

That the Elysian Fields await us all. That we are accepted as we are by the actual and the ideal, and bent by destiny towards an inexorable fate of bliss for ever. And that it is only by the sleight of Cronos and his work that we may have a chance, before the end, to make ourselves worthy of that ending.

That he does it for them no less than any other: for Riffle, and the stickbug general, and Dr. Sarous, and Minister Jof.

Thus we say, however rare that it might be that purpose changes, or life evolves: dharma moves.

For just a moment, as he lifts Ink from that place, four of the five who remain behind recognize those great and horrible truths.

As for the fifth, it is over already.

Jacob’s carpet releases its hold upon its fate and falls: flutter, flutter, flutter, down through the storm below.

As performed in the Gibbelins’ Tower on October 20, 2005, in remembrance of Ink.

  • But we’re not quite done. Tune in TOMORROW for the unbelievable epilogue:
    THE BEGINNING.
    Then the letters column! Then back to Sid and Max—and let’s see if we can’t finish up The Island of the Centipede this November!

That Even the Least of These May Know Joy (XV/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

It is two minutes to midnight on June 2, 2004.

The ziggurat of Dr. Sarous has fallen. The dust is clearing. The crowd, that has been full of screaming and disparate urges, settles.

There is limited time.

Riffle scrambles up the ruins of the ziggurat.

He cries, in a great voice, “They have ascended!”

He must unify these people now, he thinks. He must turn their focus to him.

“The imago and the doctor have ascended,” he shouts, “to hunt down God and purge from him his moral decay—“

It is sickening, the sudden realization that he has miscalculated. Not the people. Not the situation. Not the ziggurat beneath his feet.

The paramedics—

The hounds of Sarous’ kingdom, the hunters who brought the degenerate in, the body for whom Sarous’ campaign against immorality was a game of power and not a holy quest—

He had not even considered that they might have guns.

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

June, Thursday 3, 2004 – Cronos: Earlier, earlier, earlier.

So Cronos came down. He looked at a pool of water in the deeps that swelled with the fire given by the sky. And in that pool the earth strained to make a nymph, so that the water rippled and splashed; but between the pulses of that labor, the water stilled, and for the first time Cronos saw his own face.

“I am rugged in the nose,” he said, “and wild in the eyes, and angry at the fate of the unworthy things that are bound below.”

“It is so,” said the earth.

“I am their avenger,” Cronos said. “I am Cronos.”

“Then come deeper,” said the earth.

The earth called a gathering of titans. Cronos walked deep into the world. And the hollowness of Ge called out to them through all the chambers of her, “If you will obey me, we will answer this vile outrage of your father, and return the siggorts and the woglies to the land.”

The room grew chill with fear.

“But to strike at our father,” Rhea said, “is not correct.”

The attention of the earth turned to Rhea. It looked into her. It said: “Have you fallen, Rhea, into your father’s sin?”

“We may not oppose him,” said Rhea. “He would jerk the chains that bind us and we would dance away into great pain. We have no voice in the world of our father. We have no mechanism for defiance. And if we should crack the sky— oh, mother, if we should crack the sky—“

And here her voice was near to breaking.

“What then?”

“Castrate him,” said the earth, with calm brutality. “Sever from him that quality that I need to engender life. Then what will it matter if the sky has broken or Heaven knows no sway?”

Rhea, horrified, shook her head.

“It is not correct,” said Oceanos.

He was a man of water. His shape washed about. At times he would fill the cavern with water and with salt and then recede into his form. The words of him were water too.

“You fear this too?” asked Ge.

“If it is not correct,” said Oceanos, in his washing voice, “then it will not happen. How may I implement an action that will not happen? The concept is a nonpareil of futility.”

“We are all bound by Necessity,” said Coeus. “In all this world only our father the heavens is free.”

“He will cast us out as unworthy,” said Hyperion.

“There is no hope,” Oceanos confirmed.

The cave was very dark.

“Mother,” Cronos said, “do you ask us this in vain? Do you ask for the impossible and the incorrect?”

But the words fell in emptiness into the chasms of the world.

They left no ripples and the silence pulled at Cronos’ heart.

It tugged forth words from him: “I will do this deed.”

Joy rose in the earth. The earth rejoiced. The chasms of her resounded with song, such that all across the world there rose an alleluia. And the deer turned their heads to listen and the hummingbirds paused in flight and the worms that ground inevitably through the soil shivered with that song and even the sky took note and joy in it for that the world was pleased.

And to the woglies and the siggorts in their hell Ge said:

“My children!

My children, o my loves!”

But they did not hear.

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

It is two minutes after midnight on June 3, 2004.

A piece of stone has stuck itself through Minister Jof’s eye.

He is shivering.

He is sweating.

He does not know whether to try to attract the attention of a nurse or orderly or paramedic or surgeon. He wants to, but a sense of foreboding fills him. It occurs to him that the combination in one discipline of medicine and moral governance threatens the integrity of them both.

He is terrified but he is not in as much pain as he would have expected.

Perhaps that is the shock. Perhaps it is the peculiarly airy composition of the stone. He does not know.

He arches his back in a great shudder and goes still.

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

It is three hours after midnight on June 3, 2004.

A confusion of stickbugs swarms down.

They stand at the edge of the path.

They are tall. They are thin. They are horrible, marvelous, and strange.

They look down over the edge at where the girl has fallen.

They are not even paying attention to Dr. Sarous. They would let him pass in peace; save for momentum, which is not so kind.

“Hey,” says Dr. Sarous.

He is slipping.

There is a confusion of stickbugs and he is slipping.

“Hey,” he says.

Then he is grasping the general of the stickbugs in what would be the most marvelous act of courage if it were intentional; he is grasping the general, and he is swinging him out over the edge, and they fall.

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

June, Thursday 3, 2004 – Cronos: The earth took Cronos away from his brothers and his sisters to a secret place.

There the rock swelled with the fire of the sky and birthed grey flint in the shape of a sickle, and the sickle’s head spanned the space between two mountains, and it whispered, “I will cut. Take me to your hand and I will cut. Take me to your hand, o my love.”

And Cronos stared up at it and said, “So vast.”

“Then be vaster,” said the earth.

So Cronos made himself into a giant and he stood at the boundary of the whole world and the sea and he looked down and he saw that it was good. The surf crashed against his feet and the sky brushed against his shoulders and the great mountain-spanning sickle fit neatly in his hand.

And the sky felt a tickle of foreboding.

“What do you there?” asked the voice. “For I had not thought you capable of planning evil, o my son.”

But Cronos lifted his right foot from the land and stood between the ocean and the sky, his weight outside the boundaries of the world, and he said, “I am not doing anything.”

There are no deeds beyond the boundaries of the world; so this was so.

And Cronos made himself a space between the worlds and crafted himself a guard of horn to be the sickle’s hilt and waited there for the sky to descend upon the earth.

That night the sky sank low upon the world and murmured words of love and fires sparked everywhere across the grass.

And the sickle whispered to Cronos the secret of its magic and Cronos understood.

He stepped into the world and sound.

That even the least of these may know joy: for even the woglies and the siggorts in their Hell, and for all the rest of a bad lot besides: for even the great evils, and the little horrors, and the twisted failed dreamers like Riffle, like Dr. Sarous, like Minister Jof: he stepped into the world.

In Uri’s Kingdom, nothing happened that was not appropriate. This was the law.

Cronos said, “To serve a corrupt regime is not correct.

And he

And people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

And he ripped the sky with the sickle; and the genitals of his father fell into the sea; and from this act, and in due season, rose the anakim, the erinyes, the incandoi, and the melomids.

Ink Entomological (XIV/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

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

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

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

But they wouldn’t find him.

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

He looks like a stick, you see.

He looks like a great big stick.

He loves that.

He loves that trick.

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

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

Or a female stickbug.

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

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

But he doesn’t.

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

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

So he orders his soldiers to attack.

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

He can live with that.

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

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

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

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

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

But people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

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

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

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

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

Answer: Because.

The rain of stickbugs slows.

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

He should be.

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

He’s got that smirk.

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

But the smirk fades.

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

The history begins.

Cronos stood naked beneath the stars.

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

He looks down on the girl.

“Why are you struggling, food?”

“I’m Ink Catherly,” says the girl.

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

“I’m a destroyer,” says Ink.

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

The general flicks an eye towards Dr. Sarous.

He shrugs.

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

“Oh,” says Dr. Sarous.

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

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

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

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

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

Cronos stood naked beneath the stars.

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

The sky looked down.

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

It was not judging him.

Its words were flat and simple.

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

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

It was not even a curse.

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

Cronos licked his lips.

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

The stars laughed at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He gestures; once again, the stickbugs leap.

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

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

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

“And they will know joy?”

“No,” the sky said, flatly.

“No?”

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

Ink looks up.

She smiles.

It’s madness. But she smiles.

“Such marvelous mimesis,” she says.

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

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

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

Ink Unrepeatable (XIII/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

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

There is goodness.

There is badness.

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

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

Seeks to lift them up.

Now he has fallen.

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

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

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

“Oh?” says the girl.

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

The girl picks her way around a stalactite.

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

“So you are evil, then?”

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

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

Which is, in fact, what’s happening—

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

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

“I see.”

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

“It’s okay,” she says.

“It’s okay?”

“Dharma moves.”

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

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

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

says the girl

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

Dr. Sarous looks blankly at her back.

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

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

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

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

“Come free,” Cronos said.

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

Something stirred in Bidge’s mind.

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

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

“‘Come free?'”

And Cronos said:

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

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

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

Cronos stared at him.

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

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

These words fell strangely flat.

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

“That would not do,” said Bidge.

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

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

The girl holds two fingers up, close apart.

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

And after a moment, Cronos understood.

He said, “Those are not teeth.”

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

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

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

But people always fight the things they love.

The Island of the Centipede

The girl walks along.

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

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

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

“Lovers,” giggles Ink.

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

Which is, in fact, what’s happening—

And then she shakes her head.

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

Dr. Sarous stares at her.

After a moment, Ink shrugs.

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

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

“So don’t scream!”

They walk in silence for a while.

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

“What happened?”

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

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

“Oh,” says the girl.

She reviews the history in her mind.

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

“No,” Dr. Sarous says.

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

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

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

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

“‘It’s not my fault!'”

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

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

There’s a pause.

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

The doctor grins.

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

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

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

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

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

The stickbugs spring.

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