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]

Forsaken of their Gods (II/III)

Now it was always Billy’s conception that he should be as God to Melanie: that she should know him as a person knows their God, absolute, primal, preceding all other things in his authority, and at every moment witness to the secret movements of her heart. It was always Billy’s conception that Melanie should fear him and his red right hand, not as one fears a mortal tyrant or an older brother and his fists, but rather with the nakedness and openness that characterizes a fear of God: of that against which there is no recourse, and from which every punishment arises in the end from the workings-out of one’s own weaknesses and shames.

That she should fear him as that which is just by decree of the universe. That she should recognize the only alternative to that fear as having been better in the past, remaining though that past remains a bitterly unalterable country. That she should greet him only with the full humility and helplessness of one who has nothing not given her by the hands and whims of God.

In this conception Billy failed.

Like the seed of some black apple rotting in her stomach Melanie acquired freedom. She in some strange fashion learned unruly petulance, a quirk which he extinguished only with brute force, and never for all time. And finally he took that step which is every bit as much forbidden to the monsters as to God, which is to say, coming to accept as writ that which he could not change; coming to despise her for her weaknesses, rather than to cultivate them; and giving her a license, in that doing, to take that unsightliness that lived within her and grow it into strength.

He was, in the end, not so very terrible a monster, and he never grew his wings.

He’d gotten the idea, somehow, of what he was meant to be, understood that great awfulness of his nature, but nobody ever showed him how to get there, the unraveling of the riddles of it, the ways to open it up and live with it, so he lived in pettiness, instead.

His sister was afraid of his fists.

Nabonidus would have eaten Billy alive. 1968’s monster would have ground him down for jam. Mylitta would have cut him open. Even Prajapati could have beaten him, not even a hero or a monster, just a girl, but even she could have beaten him, brought out gods and the weapons of her good character to defeat him, triumphed, surpassed him, and broken him, left him gasping out his life like a fish might do on land.

It never even occurred to Billy to stake his sister out with the ropes of her own tendons and let the birds feed upon her flesh. It never even occurred to him as a threat, much less as an actual thing to do. It never occurred to him to winkle out every last bit of herself that she loved and take it from her, returning it if ever in bits and pieces imprinted with his name. It didn’t seem necessary to him. Not when she loved him. Not when she feared him. Not when he had his fists.

He even let her run.

He had Melanie for five years plus, the most vulnerable years that she would ever have, and he didn’t break her. At best he imprinted himself on her, just a little, made her like him, gave her a bit of that clumsiest monster’s nature and overlaid it on her own.

If you had any idea what running from a real monster is like, you’d know how utterly miserable a failure it makes him, that she’d gotten on a boat and run.

He was God to her; but such a God as to make her doubt — such a God as to make her think, as early as 1977, age 5, “is it so bad to be a Lucifer under him, and raise my hand against the Lord?”

And at that moment, when she first had that thought, she caught sight of something rippling, twisting, something strangely purple and terrible beyond the horizon of her life.

She couldn’t help herself.

She shook her head, once, twice. She tried to focus.

And she saw —

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1982 CE

“There is a King.”

It is worse than she imagined. It’s not the worst words she’s ever heard. It can’t top never you not you. But it’s worse than that time when Billy showed her Papa’s head.

“There is a King of the old countries,” the woman is saying, “that came before the Round Man’s world. And he is bloated with a clotted mass of life. It moves damply and uncomfortably within him, as if a man had swallowed ten other men, or a fish had drunk the ocean.”

The woman’s voice is like the wind.

“These are the signs of his coming: dreams and portents. Death. Trouble between friends.”

Melanie is in a great and wild and empty space and there are words like silver wire cutting channels in her soul.

“He is wearing rotten vestments and they are indigo and green. He is heralded by helplessness, and memories, and principles that are left aside. There shall be corruption, fear, and hatred, and polluted water, and tainted colors, green and black.”

Melanie makes a sound.

“The Kings of the Unforgivable Dominions,” Liril’s mother says, “break the covenants of the world.”

There is silence for a while. Liril’s mother gets up. She walks around, tidying up the room.

Melanie’s eyes focus once again.

“What?” she asks.

I thought you said you didn’t hate me.

“You will drown in him forever,” Liril’s mother says. “You will never die. This is the fate I see for you, Melanie, whom my daughter has befriended.”

“No,” Melanie protests.

Not me.

Liril’s mother can’t help grinning. It’s ghoulish. It’s mean. It slips out onto her face until she bites her lip to hold it in.

“My,” she says.

She thinks.

Then, carefully, she releases the little happiness that she has in her, to see one of Amiel’s line disturbed so. The smile fades. There is only careful awareness of the world.

“There’s nothing I can do about it,” Liril’s mother says, “or I’d blackmail you, or help you, or something of the like. But I can only tell you: this is a thing that comes to pass. Will you leave us alone now, Melanie? Will you let me and my daughter be?”

Melanie twitches.

She wants to run.

She’s run before. It works. It works. But she’s caught in the web of a spider.

So she sighs, instead.

She shakes her head.

“So be it,” Liril’s mother says. “No stealing. No loud music. Her bedtime is ten o’clock exactly. No bringing trouble to this house.”

And Melanie goes up to Liril’s room to talk; and to these two children thus forsaken of their gods it is given to be childhood friends.

A Study in Entanglement (VII/VII)

“I can’t,” Liril says. “I can’t, Melanie, not you, never you, not you.

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1982 CE

And be free, at last, of the web that is the world—

And be more

And Melanie is already standing up, she can feel it, it is so terribly, terribly close, her bright transcendence, and you’re, and she is strong; but

“I can’t,” Liril says. “I can’t, Melanie, not you, never you, not you.

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1982 CE

It is a raging need in her. It is a hunger. It is a thirst. She can taste it. It is rising in her, what she can, what she must become.

“Make me a god,” she says. “Make me the kind of god that can kill spiders, and break free of any web, and never go hungry and go thirsty, and be by all others loved; to tell the lies that everyone believes, and to slip past any security, and to overcome any obstacle, and to perform transformations, and to become not you the cleverest creature in all the world and save all the hurting people from their pains. Can you make me that?”

And be free, at last, of the web never that is the world—

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1982 CE

It is a raging need in her. It is a hunger. It is a thirst. She can taste it. It is a rising in her, what she can become.

“Make me a god,” she says. “Make me the kind of god that can kill spiders, and break free of any web, and never go hungry or go thirsty, and to be by all others loved; to tell you’re Amiel’s get lies that everyone believes, and to slip past any security, and to overcome any obstacle, and to perform never you transformations, and to become the cleverest creature in all the world and save all the hurting people from their pains. Can you’re get make me that?”

And be free, at last, of the web that is the world—

And be more

And Melanie is already standing up, she can feel it, you’re, it is so terribly, terribly close, her bright transcendence, and she is strong; but

“I can’t,” Liril says. “I can’t, Melanie, not you, never you, not you.

The words say themselves through Melanie’s throat, like knives: “You must.

“I can’t,” Liril says, and then she looks away. She says, quietly, “I can’t, Melanie. Not you. There’s only one kind of god that you can ever be.”

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1982 CE

They are poisoned words.

Listening to those words for Melanie is like pouring a jug of drain cleaner right down the gullet of her mind.

The words hurt her, somehow. She is aching deep inside from them, like a child who has just found out Santa’s real, but that he’ll never come for her.

Like a girl, who learns the ERA never passed.

Like an athlete who hurts their leg, and finds out that it will never heal.

She doesn’t even understand yet how it can possibly hurt so much, because she doesn’t have the least idea what Liril means. She can’t understand how it can make her suffer because she obviously—to herself—does not possess whatever knowledge it would be that makes her suffer in reaction to those words. It is as if, rather, she embodies that awful knowledge; as if the implications of Liril’s statements are bypassing her mind entirely and ringing horrid echoes down her soul.

You don’t get to express your dharma, child. never you Not you.

You don’t get to be who you are.

“You’re Amiel’s get,” says Liril.

She isn’t even trying to be cruel.

“You’re the cherub kind. You can’t be any sort of god, ever, except a bondsman of my line.”

It is worse than drain cleaner. It’s turned to lightning now. It’s turned to lightning and it’s writhing in her heart and soul and mind, all the bits of her that knew not lightning’s sting, and it hurts.

For a very long moment, Melanie thinks that Liril is going to change her.

She can’t fight it. She is strong. Melanie is absurdly strong. She is ten and she is stronger than most adults. But Liril’s words have broken her. She is resigned to it, somehow, somewhere in her, to the knowledge that she’ll soon be owned. She will transform. She will become a bondsman of Liril’s line. She will become a possession and a guardian and a follower of this strange and gray-haired girl.

She doesn’t want to be.

She doesn’t want to be, but she doesn’t have any defense against it. She isn’t sure how to fight it, or even if she should.

Her ancestress Amiel is inside her, wound through her, so long ago and so very far away and yet burning in her blood:

I will guard your line, Amiel is promising, as she has always been promising. I will guard your line, and our families be entwined forever.

It is impossible for Melanie to resist.

She thinks it must be easy to transcend, to arise, to become the god of that ancient promise. She can feel it rising inside her as a consuming lightness that will free her from mortality and carry her human self away.

She manages to get out: “I—“

She doesn’t know what to say after that. She can’t find the thing to say or think or do that will make it actually happen, inside her, and she can’t find the thing to say or do that will make it stop.

She notices that she’s scrambled back, away from Liril, but it’s nothing like far enough.

“I won’t make you that,” Liril says. “It’s wrong.”

Melanie’s lost the sense of who Melanie is that she’d had when she sat down. It is a momentary, dizzy emptiness. She is angry and sad and desperately, pathetically grateful, and she hates and loves Liril in that moment with an overpowering, vicious force.

She’s going to say something.

She can feel it.

She’s going to say something, and maybe then she’ll be Melanie again. It’s building up inside her. There are going to be words. There’s something. She doesn’t even know what she’s going to say, but it’s going to be something.

How can a person know what they’re going to say at a time like that?

The words just come.

The Elephant in the Room:

Stay tuned!

Why is Six Afraid of Seven? (VI/VII)

Melanie grows up with awful, breakneck speed.

In 1979 she is seven.

Almost she stops there. Almost she gives up—entangled as she is in the soot-web of a spider—and stops aging forevermore, choosing instead the timelessness of death.

She does not.

She entangles herself in life. She escapes the spider’s web, and lands in Santa Barbara, and walks to Santa Ynez; and there, and vigorously, corollary by corollary and year to year as if in the inevitable progression of a theorem, she grows.

In 1979, she is seven, but one year later she is eight. Another year, and nine. Then, in 1982, she’s ten. If she continues at this rate she will grow from age seven to age twenty-one in less than fifteen years.

It’s ridiculous.

It’s crazy.

Her body weight will triple, more or less, assuming she eats better than she’s done. Her mind will grow orders of magnitude more sophisticated and complex. She will shoot up a foot and a half and more in height—

And all in less than fifteen years!

Everybody around her pretends that this is normal, even inevitable; that it happens to everyone, and just like so.

But that isn’t true.

There’s a girl at the local elementary, for example, for whom it is not thus.

Her name is Liril.

It’s not obvious just from looking at her that Liril does not age. In fact, it’s not even obvious, just yet, on the census. She hasn’t lived long enough to be suspicious in her youth.

But she’s timeless, anyway.

That much you can see.

She’s way too young to have such silver hair, and eyes so old, and to be so broken by her pains.

She’s way too young to have the power to turn humans into gods.

She’s not the kind of slam-dunk evidence against the naturalness of aging that she will later be, you understand, she’s eight or nine years old and she’s barely lived for twelve, but she’s still a bit of a corroboration: if a girl that young is that quiet, that still, then there’s something strange about the world.

It’s probably that aging isn’t normal.

Or that gravity doesn’t exist.

Something like that, anyway. Something reasonable, something sensible, something comprehensible about the world.

[The Frog and the Thorn – PROLOGUE]


1982 CE

It is 1982. Melanie is ten. Micah does not exist.

One day Micah will exist. When he exists, he will hate that Melanie came while he was away. He will think, “Maybe I could have saved her.”

The pronouns will be ambiguous.

He won’t be sure, even then, whether he means Liril or Melanie. He won’t understand, even then, the way that they hurt one another, and so even with his loyalties going almost entirely to Liril in any given circumstance he won’t be sure which of them he wishes he could have saved.

But he will hate.

He’ll hate himself, then, in those heady moments of existence, hate that the richness of the power of his life is circumscribed by time, hate that there was nothing, from the beginning, that he could do. He will resent, and bitterly, that the worst of it was over by the time he existed to do anything about it, and he will wonder if in some strange fashion that could possibly have been his fault.

The answer to this is that it almost certainly was not.

Not in any conventional sense.

When Melanie sits down in front of Liril, on the grass, Micah isn’t anywhere within a hundred miles of the place, and he doesn’t exist, and he has never existed, and he has never had a single chance to act or speak or do anything efficacious in the world.

He cannot, reasonably, be blamed.

So: “hi,” Melanie says. “Hi. I’m Melanie.”

And Liril doesn’t open up her eyes.

She says, “Nng,” instead.

It’s a lost little sound. It’s full of pain. So Melanie reaches for Liril’s hand.

“Don’t touch me,” Liril says.

And Melanie’s holding Liril’s hand. Melanie’s squeezing it and stroking it. She’s not sure when that happened, exactly. She missed the actual moment when she decided to seize it up. It’s just that she realizes suddenly that it’s already happened, that she’s already taken Liril’s hand, and there isn’t anything else that she can think to do in answer to Liril’s pain.

Liril can’t help laughing at that.

Liril clutches her hand to her chest and Melanie’s comes along.

Liril is sitting with her back against a tree, and her silver hair is spilling down it, and their hands are clutched together against her chest, and Liril is laughing, she cannot stop laughing.

That’s just how much it hurts.

When she finally does stop, Melanie rubs at one of Liril’s tears with a finger, and then licks her finger clean of salt.

Liril is quiet.

Liril is still.

“I’m stuck,” Melanie says.

Liril shakes her head.

“I’m stuck,” Melanie repeats, louder. “I came here, I came to Santa Ynez, and the colors were beautiful and bright, and everything was awesome, except, when I turned around and looked behind me, I saw the colors had made a web. They’d come together in a web.”

Liril’s face twitches. Her eyes come open. She looks at Melanie for the first time in their lives.

“There’s a spider in the sky,” Liril agrees.

It’s the colors of the dawn and the sunset, the piled soft blues of the sky, and the colors of the drifting clouds. It is beautiful and it is translucent, the spider is, and it is very difficult to see.

It has caught the whole of the city in its web.

This, as the monster has instructed it to do.

“I can’t be stuck,” Melanie says.

“You’re not.”

“But it’s a web.”

I’m stuck,” Liril says. “You’re not stuck. You’re not the kind of person that a spider’s web can hold. You’re Melanie, cunning Melanie, beloved of the gods.”

This is the first time Melanie has heard this appellation.

“I’m what?” she asks.

Liril is crying.

It’s starting to freak Melanie out.

“Stop that,” she says. “Stop crying.”

And Liril does.

Liril shakes her head a bit, and then she rubs away her tears, and then she cleans her snuffling nose upon her shirt.

She isn’t crying any longer.

She is looking at Melanie, instead, with reddened eyes.

“You got out of the soot-web,” Liril says, “so you should know.”

Melanie takes a deep breath.

Liril knows.

She lets it out.

“So you’re really . . . you really are magic,” she says.

That’s what the fairies say, and some few of the kids. Liril’s magic. She can solve a person’s problems. She can answer the riddles of your life.

She can turn you, if you ask her, into a god.

“I can’t fly,” says Liril, “and I can’t grant wishes, not really, and my hands can’t hold the sun. I can’t grow larger than a castle or shrink down smaller than a ladybug. I can’t bend the seasons in their course or make the wind to blow. I can’t even— I can’t— I— I’m not really very magic. But I’m a crucible of gods.”

Melanie doesn’t know the word crucible but she interpolates from context.

“Then make me one,” she says.

It is a raging need in her. It is a hunger. It is a thirst. She can taste it. It is rising in her, what she can become.

“Make me a god,” she says. “Make me the kind of god that can kill spiders, and break free of any web, and never go hungry or go thirsty, and be by all others loved; to tell the lies that everyone believes, and to slip past any security, and to overcome any obstacle, and to perform transformations, and to become the cleverest creature in all the world and save all the hurting people from their pains. Can you make me that?”

And be free, at last, of the web that is the world—

And be more

And Melanie is already standing up, she can feel it, it is so terribly, terribly close, her bright transcendence, and she is strong; but

that’s it for this week! Gotta stretch this out, you know, don’t want to leave all the people who haven’t noticed that the story’s updating again in the dust! I’ll probably go to twice a week starting in March or April—

But for now, you’ll have to wait one whole week for (I/VII).

Maybe to pass the time you could . . .

On the Origins of Common Foods

Flying on a plane is very nice.

It is not as nice as wings. But it has more peanuts. Unless you are a peanut elemental, spreading great peanut-pattern wings. Then the peanuts of a plane are comparatively few.

This is not to say that peanuts are always an advantage.

Some people are allergic to peanuts. They do not value the peanuts on a plane. Some peanut elementals are allergic to peanuts. They go immediately into anaphylactic shock and die. We do not talk about them much unless they fall through our roofs, at which point it becomes difficult for the rest of the year to talk about anything else.

Some people are not allergic to peanuts. They have the advantage in that if they do meet a peanut elemental they do not necessarily die; and if they meet an elemental of non-peanut-ness, they are still generally all right.

(An elemental of non-peanut-ness is an elemental spirit formed from and exemplifying the conceptual category “not a peanut,” such that, when you see them, you immediately recognize that here is the pure distilled essence of not being a peanut—possessing none of the trace impurities that exempt most things in the world from Platonic non-peanut-ness. For example, the Earth is shaped too closely to resemble a peanut to qualify, while Eggos are legumes.)

This advantage of being able to survive contact with a peanut elemental is principally intangible and a matter of form (unlike the peanut elementals themselves) because peanut elementals are rare, and, when encountered in flight, have difficulty forcing their way onto the plane. Nor are they able, in this era of heightened security, to sneak easily onto the plane as a passenger unless they are willing to take off their shoes, limit their toothpaste allowance, and have names that do not resemble a terrorist’s name. (So, for instance, Mr. Peanut would have trouble, as would Al-Qaffar, but Mr. God of the Thousand-Slaying Legume Kick is probably okay.)

In the old days peanut elementals were a greater trouble for air traffic. This is how Mr. Carver invented peanut butter. People will say that he developed peanut butter in the laboratory but in fact George Washington Carver was the preeminent air ace of World War II. His contribution was ignored at the time as the United States government feared that, if they acknowledged it, the Axis would deride them as politically correct.

During one of many dogfights with German nationals Mr. Carver caught a peanut elemental in the engine of his plane and the rest was secret history.

But peanut elementals were not the only inhabitants of the stratosphere who would prove troublesome for air traffic in those troubled years. The Metatron Incident (wherein Metatron descended to the earth in a cloud of grace to reveal the new gospel and was caught in the engines of an uncertified Boeing) made angelfood cake possible for the first time in the history of the world. The efforts of hundreds of French chefs to reproduce this masterwork of massacre eventually created the “vegetarian angelfood” that we know today, using baking powder, whipped eggs, and flour to approximate the manifold virtues of Heaven. Masons traditionally added a snake, which they would wrap around the egg and convince to bite its own tail before baking; this added a sense of timeless mysticism to their delicious recipes and rightly they were honored throughout the culinary world.

The impact of the Metatron Incident was not to end there. Many of the people on the plane became focal points for mysterious phenomena. One of them, struck on the forehead by a bit of Metatron debris, became Billy Graham. Another became Vice-President Cheney. The plane plowed into the East Oak Lake house of a previously ordinary schoolboy; he would later grow up to become Noam Chomsky!

Tofu was originally made from ufos.

—Not to quit talking about Noam Chomsky when we’ve barely just begun, but he’s really not a common food!

So, anyway, tofu was originally made from ufos. Japan never admitted it, but you can tell because of the letters of its name.

—And why are the letters in tofu’s name in English, anyway? It was probably made from *British* ufos! Back benchers probably evolved into ufos because somebody fed them after midnight, and then they flew unwisely into Japan. All of this is hypothetical, because the true nature of the ufos is still unknown. But it seems likely—and yet, like Noam Chomsky, ufo pedantry is not a common food, and we must leave it lie.

Tofu, as noted earlier, was at one time made from ufos. But now it is not made from ufos. There are simply not enough ufos in the sky to support the scale of the modern tofu economy. So now most tofu is made out of a blend of textured swamp gas and weather balloons. Only trace impurities of alien origin remain!

Ballet is a wonderful art. Often in the grand jete the dancer will appear to fly. Conversely, while not so very grand, Boeing jets do fly. On one occasion, a joyous serendipity generated the Reese’s peanut butter cup; on another, to speak very delicately, battement fondu.

Ironically despite its historical origins fondue is rarely served on planes. One reason is that there is not enough leg room on a plane for a ballerina to survive. Confined in the middle seat they wither away and die. Another reason is that in the event of turbulence it is hard to explain to people that they will need to wear clear plastic masks to minimize the risk of cheese burns. The third and last reason is fear. In the post 9/11 era, fondue is just too scary for the no-longer-friendly skies!

Ink Asymmetric (II/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

It is the peculiar character of the kingdoms in the crust of the world that the creepy crawly things evolve.

Worms, and rats, and even fish:

In the darkness, nurtured in its womb, they grow.

It is the opinion of Mung, in his classic Symmetric Ontology, that this represents one half of a cycle in continuous equilibrium. Reasons Mung, “For centuries we scholars have doubted our own existence on the grounds of its statistical improbability. Why should we be present at the historical accident of transition? One by one the lesser creatures shall grow great. Yet so many of these crawling things remain! The chances of our existence in this defining age of fervent growth seem unworthy of consideration: yet here we are.

“I suggest,” writes Mung, “that all things that exist are necessary, or at least highly probable. The universe must be such that the chances of our standing here today are meaningfully great. Thus I propose a harmony of purpose between the surface and the crust.

“Here, in the womb of time, the worms and rats and stickbugs will grow great. We will begin as filthy things. We will become as people, then as saints, then finally as God.

“Rising to the surface, we will cry, ‘Here am I!’

“‘Here am I, the lord of all this earth!’

“The sun’s rays will fall upon us. They will give us Vitamin D but they will destroy us. On the surface of the world things will grow corrupt. Things will devolve. God will become as a saint, then as a person, then as a filthy thing. From Heaven we will wriggle our way back down into the earth, into the womb of time, wherein once more we may begin to grow.”

Hail to the scholar! In the arms of such advice we may proceed with certainty in all the matters of the world.

Into the cavern of Minister Jof there comes a girl.

She is ill-favored, in the eyes of Minister Jof, but still remarkable for all the things she has achieved. Two hands, with fingers. Legs and feet. Hair. A cantankerous tendency towards being wrong, the most definite indicator of humanity, and grubby blue overalls designed by Sears.

“Can you tell me how to get to the surface?” she asks.

And Minister Jof snorts.

Kindly, he says, “It is too soon.”

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

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

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

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

The Island of the Centipede

The girl squats down. She holds out a finger for the worms to sniff, forgetting, as many people do, that worms have no sense of smell.

One of the worms bumps her with its head.

“It’s too soon?”

There is a strange and squelchy feeling in Minister Jof’s heart. His dharma, that has been stiff and dry like left-out bread, begins to move.

“You have come quite far,” he says.

It is her presence, he thinks, that works this change in him. His first success. His first real witness of the power of the world to bring forth change.

To begin as a worm and gain the attributes of humanity: so marvelous! So profound!

Evolution is the first miracle and the last.

So he is kind.

“You have come quite far,” he says. “But consider this. On the surface, there is the sun. It is a giant ball of fire. In its presence you would catch fire and burn. Your hair would ignite like ten thousand torches. Your clothes would flame. Your eyes would look up at the sun and they would melt and boil and run down your cheeks like lava. Thereupon you would cry, ‘If only I had listened to Minister Jof! Truly, he was my friend.’

“And there is more,” adds the Minister. “On the surface, you would devolve. We have that with certainty from Mung. Your fragile humanity, beset by the corruption of that place, would fade. You would turn into a corpse, at best, and at worst ten thousand worms, and wriggle blindly back into the earth.”

“I hadn’t considered that,” says the girl.

“Here is my advice,” says Minister Jof. “If you must test the surface, first nurture yourself here until you have at least twice as many limbs and twice the brain capacity. Then it is reasonable to ascend, and look upon the surface for a time.”

“But I already have twice as many limbs,” says the girl. “If I doubled them again, I’d have eight!”

“We are people of the soil,” ripostes Minister Jof. “The surface has nothing to offer us but death.”

“And vitamin D.”

“Death,” says Minister Jof, “and vitamin D.”

The girl looks down.

“Still,” says Minister Jof. “I must congratulate you that you have come this far.”

The girl smiles a little.

“Pick a worm,” says Minister Jof. “Any worm. I will crush it in celebration of your victory.”

The girl looks up. Her eyes are round.

“I can crush worms on my own,” protests the girl. “Also, I don’t want to crush a worm that could become a person!”

“‘Two competing arguments strangle one another,'” quotes Minister Jof.

The girl runs her hand through her hair.

She thinks.

“My name is Ink Catherly,” she says. “But everybody calls me the imago—“

Minister Jof has set his eye on a worm. He points.

“That one.”

It’s a worm with a little bit of an arm growing out of it.

“What?”

“Look at how small and deformed its arm is,” says Minister Jof.

Ink focuses her eyes. She sees its arm. Her jaw drops.

“Wow,” Ink says.

“Exactly,” says Minister Jof.

“A prime example,” says Minister Jof, “of a failure to grow.

“It mocks me,” says Minister Jof, “with that stunted, withered limb.”

Ink utters a clipped word:

“What?”

But his foot descends.

  • The ten refinements of Minister Jof! The man named ‘No Longer an Idiot!’ Ink remains dressed, and Cronos dons clothes of brass! Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history of Ink Catherly:
    DOOM COMES TO US ALL. (or whatever it winds up getting called.)

  • And here’s a special bonus! Some notes on the geography of Hitherby Dragons may be found here.

The Aftermath of Heaven (1 of 2)

[The Island of the Centipede – Interlude]

He is like God.

That’s the funny thing. The more he hunts God down the more opportunities Max has to understand just how much like God he is.

Like, with Sid.

Max just had a simple little wish. He just wanted Sid never ever to torture somebody to death. So he stuck his nose in. And he found himself blunted, a thousand times frustrated, by Sid’s free will.

The siggort would just look at him. Like it was Max who didn’t get it.

Like the ichneumon who looked at the angel and said, “But don’t you understand that torment is better than hope?”

Like people explaining unto Heaven why what they want must certainly be right.

Like a child, young and certain of some perverse idea, defying a parent.

Not that Max was ever like a parent to Sid. Not to that ancient creature.

No. Max, with Sid, had always been like God. He’d loved him. He’d judged him. He’d tried to save him. He’d even sent Sid more or less to Hell, and damn bad he’d felt for doing it, too.

Out of love.

Somewhere that had been wrong. He got that. He lived with it every day. Somehow it had been wrong. Somehow he hadn’t had the right.

He didn’t know what he had been supposed to do, but from the ashes of that occasion he’d figured out that taking away Sid’s choices wasn’t it.

And maybe that made sense.

Sid hadn’t ever done it, that vivisection thing. Wasn’t doing it. Wasn’t killing people. Didn’t even know why he might.

So all Max had was the guess, the belief, the assumption, that someday Sid would think he had to—

And that he’d be wrong.

It made sense. Sid thought it would happen, and that it would be right, and the difference between these statements is that the one is a lot more probable than the other.

But it still left Max with nothing more than not trusting Sid.

Than not believing Sid.

Because he loves him. Because he loves him and he can’t let Sid go wrong. He can’t let Sid go all vivisecting people on public streets while nobody notices wrong.

And he can see why that’s maybe not the cleanest motivation in the world, why the intensity of his fear doesn’t make it right, but at the end he’s still got this, that there’s something wrong with a guy so sure he’s going to kill someone, and that it’s a Hell of a thing that Max just has to watch.

So here’s the weird thing.

The goodblow—God, Good, virtue, whatever it was—had looked at him. And loved him. Its love was powerful enough to kill. Its love was terrible enough to drive Red Mary right back to the point of murder,

Not that she’d been so very far away,

And to make him feel—

Like he’s safer, safer, being drowned, being dragged down, down, down, than he had been before that gaze.

But it had been okay with his being wrong.

He doesn’t get that.

He isn’t okay with his being wrong. His soul is full of rough and knobbly edges. He lives in them. They are the grain in the wood of his existence. But he wants them smooth.

The goodblow hadn’t . . .

He doesn’t understand, as he’s preparing himself to die, why such a rough unfinished creature as is Max could know the love of Heaven.

Why it hadn’t fixed him.

He’d fumbled it with Sid, but that was the way in which he wasn’t God. He’d fumbled it, and he’d owned his guilt, because Max just wasn’t good enough to do any better.

Why hadn’t it fixed him?

And that’s the only bad thing about dying here and now, of letting go of the pain and passing on, now that he knows how intensely valued he is. That he’s seen the brightest love in all the world and still can’t figure how to save Sid.

That it’s useless to him.

That the goodblow doesn’t understand anything at all about how love is supposed to work, that it didn’t fix him, and that that meant it hadn’t shown him how somebody could fix Sid.

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

The Island of the Centipede

It is June 3, 2004.

The chaos is bluer than the bluest sea and wracked with love. It is full of air like a gel and dazzling with patterns of shifting light.

Oh, Max thinks.

Red Mary is beginning to sing. Her song is a paean to death. Her song transforms into iconic music the sea that devours, the sea that consumes, the sea that returns all things to the cauldron of life.

But:

Oh, Max thinks.

His thoughts flutter over and over again against the wall of things not being exactly as he’d expected, and one swoops back to him with the smallest of small answers.

Oh.

Love is not a duty.

Somewhere a part of him insists, it is.

But he lets go of that idea as the sea devours him. He lets the sea take that miscomprehension first—that worst and meanest part of Max.

A man’s got a right to choose in which order he gets eaten.

Love is not a duty.

He’s not chained to Sid’s outcomes.

Love is a transforming power.

And he wants—

So much, so much! he wants—

To use that, to use his last thought to make his eyes into flamethrowers and burn the world with his love for Sid, to take a trick from the goodblow and ignite the chaos with the power of that love so that whenever Sid would walk by, the sea would say,

“Max loved you, you know.”

Or just to love so fiercely that somehow Sid would feel it from afar.

But if people could do that it would happen more often, and not just in the fairy tales, because people love very hard indeed;

And Max is small and frail so instead he thinks, I’ll come back.

His mind is a wasteland made by the aftermath of Heaven and the siren’s song. He’s sailed to the end of the world for love of Sid and at the end, he can’t pull it to the forefront of his mind.

He thinks about survival instead.

Like Meredith did, he thinks.

I’ll come back.

Of course, if Sid had been there to ask, he’d have preferred that last thought anyway.

Next Tuesday will be an Audience post. The Island of the Centipede will continue on Thursday.

The Broken Island (1 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]

Max hurts. He licks his lips. Everything is distant and throbbing in white.

“You must hurry on,” says Red Mary.

His eyes drift open. The ceiling is blue and it’s moving. Also his bed is rocking back and forth and someone’s poured water and blood on him and for some reason there’s sailcloth wrapped around his leg and shoulder.

“I’m not God?” he asks.

He’s not entirely sure where he’s been but he’s pretty sure it involved being infinite and spread out over everything in the universe.

“What is God?” Red Mary asks. “We barely understand people.”

“Heh,” says Max.

He laughs. He coughs up a tangled mix of pangolin scales, kelp, and foam. Then he curls in on himself.

After a bit, he laughs again.

He says, “I was looking for him. So it would have been funny if I was.”

Red Mary looks at him with her cold black eyes.

“God is not here,” she says. “Though once this place was paradise.”

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue 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.

The Island of the Centipede

In the sea to the west of Gibbelins’ Tower a hill rises from the chaos. It is split into pieces like flower petals opening, like a walnut smashed too strongly by a hammer, like a broken mirror, like a land sundered forcefully by lightning. Its edges are brown rock with purple veining and the moist darkness of mussels clinging at its base. Great seacourses run through it, around and about the chunks of land, rushing with great currents. Trees stand at the edge of the unnatural cliffs, the wind bowing them out over those cliffs’ edges that they may cast down rustling green shadows. Where the land is low and holds its belly in down near the waves red bushes grow. They are crisp and the afternoon light suffuses them.

The catamaran runs the seacourse, lean and low like a wolf.

“What smashed it?” Max asks.

“Its own inadequacies,” Red Mary says. “I have told you that no paradise sustains. Against the nature of things the force that held this land together could not hold; over a thousand years of observation it has pulled itself apart.”

He thinks that this has made her sad, so he says, “I’m sorry.”

“Mr. Kong would say,” Red Mary says, “that we must try to be good.”

The seacourse turns.

Red Mary tacks the boat. The boom swings, and she catches it with one hand before she ducks beneath it and lets the catamaran run.

“In the face of such emptiness,” she says, “and the cost of helping others; still, that we should try to be good.”

Max says, “I’m glad for your sudden conversion to Confucianism.”

Red Mary shrugs.

“Didn’t you try to kill me?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“You should have stayed at home,” says Red Mary. She is angry. She does not look at him. Her tail dips into the water and the skin of her face stretches tight against its bones.

“I was looking for God,” Max says.

“Most people do that in the silence of their soul.”

“I had a catamaran.”

“It’s not your business to come here.”

Max struggles up on one elbow. He says, “You’ve ripped off bits of me with your teeth so don’t tell me what’s my business and not my business.”

Rage boils in her. Her face darkens. But propriety, and scarcely, keeps it down.

“With twelve of us,” she says, “this place had a thousand years; of that, scarcely a week remains. Each hour you spend here eats sixty-five minutes of that time; more, since you are not accounted for in the balance of things. I regret my murderous frenzy has inconvenienced you but to sing sailors to their death is in the nature of a siren and I had ample motivation to see you drown.”

Max slumps back on the deck. He’s a little dizzy.

“Sid’s like that,” he says.

“Hm?”

“He’s always talking about how it’s his nature to vivisect people, like he’s sad that brutal murder inconveniences me. He’s never actually ripped off a chunk of my leg and shoulder, though.”

“Is the bandage all right?”

“You don’t really have to do it,” Max says. “You know.”

“Help you?”

“Kill people.”

“That’s none of your concern,” Red Mary says.

“The Hell it’s not.”

Red Mary says, softly, “How a man grows aggressive when his enemy displays propriety. He thinks: I will use this good behavior to enforce my advantage over her. Is it any wonder people hold good behavior in such disregard?”

Max remembers the charge of Red Mary against him. He remembers the pain of parting when she tore his flesh from flesh. He subsides.

More gently, he says, “But teeth aren’t righteousness.”

“No,” says Red Mary.

She looks up.

“I’m not saying you’re right,” she says, “and I’m not saying you’re wrong. But you’re making a moral argument about a factual thing.”

“Whatever,” says Max.

“I’ll tell you a story,” says Red Mary. “About the Buddha.”

The knife of the history of Mr. Kong is black against the whiteness of the deck.

“Okay,” Max says.

He hesitates for a moment.

“The ninja or the pirate?”

Red Mary stares at him a long, cold moment.

“Oh,” Max says, embarrassed. “The Indian.”

Ink In Re Dyslexic Agnostics (I/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

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

Sukaynah gnashes and chomps.

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

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

He is wearing jeans and a shirt.

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

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

He tears it from the hook.

“You’re not Ned,” he says.

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

Not long after, the entire region begins to thrash.

A fifteen-year-old girl falls on Tep.

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

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

“Are you God?” she asks.

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

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

The Island of the Centipede

The girl gets to her feet.

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

Tep sniffs the air.

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

Ink scrubs shreds of membrane out of her hair.

“Go away,” Tep says.

“Why?”

“You’re not Ned,” Tep says.

“Who’s Ned?”

“A dog.”

“Oh.”

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

“That’s mean!” says Ink.

Tep shrugs.

Ink walks towards the house.

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

“Oh,” Ink says.

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

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

“He’s a little sick,” admits Tep.

“He’s choking.”

“What?”

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

“He’s fine,” says Tep.

Tep looks sullen.

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

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

“No,” says Tep.

He positions himself sternly before the door.

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

“It’s rude,” says Tep.

“It’s rude?”

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

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

“Damn it!” says Tep.

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

The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay

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

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

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

“I’m sorry,” says Tep.

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

“Grr,” he growls low.

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

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

“It’s all right,” says Ink.

She’s reading Abel’s journal.

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

“Only one God,” says Tep.

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

“Out!” says Tep.

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

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

Sukaynah writhes.

From the west comes a sound: Whump!

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

Tep folds his arms.

Tep looks stoic.

“I didn’t do it!” Ink protests.

Sukaynah swallows. Down the throat they go; and

“Oh, hey,” says Ink, pointing.

“Oh,” says Tep.

“Is that Ned?”

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

There’s a pause.

“Dyslexic agnostics are so lucky,” says Ink.

(Still Sick) Stacking Mammals and Sid

Gelling agents are often made from various emotions. It is very inefficient to use happiness as a gelling agent, while sadness is extremely effective. That is why Jell-O jiggles so often so tragically. However this story is not about jiggling or gelling, but rather about stacking mammals and Sid.

It is possible to stack mammals to achieve almost any desirable effect. This requires sticky mammals, such as sticky goats and sticky elephants. These are sticky mammals because they adhere to one another and they bear live young. Sometimes this is a consequence of pregnancy and at other times a consequence of inappropriate stacking. Always read the assembly instructions before stacking mammals!

Not every mammal is naturally sticky. You can test this out. Attempt to stack a cat on a dog. They may cuddle happily, or they may completely fail to adhere. That’s because their natural stickiness isn’t adequate to the task of stacking. You can also perform this experiment with cats and easily surprised pandas. Take note of the fact that this will surprise such pandas.

In order to make mammals stickier one can use a gelling agent. This renders the mammal in question into a gelatinous mammal. Gelatinous mammals are always sticky.

Some gelling agents are made with glue. Others are made with happiness!

In the Valley of Happy Gelatinous Mammals there are many mammals made gelatinous with joy and stacked into useful configurations. There is a stack of mammoths that forms the local government and end-to-end opossums that provide advanced communication services. Always the mammals there are happy, and their land is full of rainbows and gumdrops and singing.

Among the mammals move the shimmer-things, which are things that manifest as visual distortions, or, shimmers. Some of the mammals think these things are angels. Others hold different characteristic beliefs regarding the shimmer-things.

Sid is a gelatinous ostrich. He lives in the Valley of Happy Gelatinous Mammals. It is the default consensus in scientific circles that ostriches are not mammals, but there are many specific objections that serious researchers have raised to this classification. These include the very real possibility that the “ostrich eggs” sold on the market are in fact buffalo eggs. If you have ever savored a hearty buffalo steak over fried ostrich eggs and hashed platypus then you probably understand why many important culinary institutes support this theory. This is the basis on which the shimmer-things made Sid gelatinous and stacked him in the Valley with the others.

“Can you make it rain?” Sid asks the shimmer-things.

The shimmer-things stack the mammals appropriately to make it so. The sky glooms. Thunder rattles. Then lightning spears down and rain drums against the earth.

Sid hides his head in the ground. That’s how impressed he is!

Then he pulls his head out. He looks sly.

“Can you make China untether the yuan from the dollar?”

The shimmer-things form a swirling vortex of indecision. Then they whisk about restacking happy animals.

“Whee!” shouts a lemur, as it is rapidly rearranged relative to various wildebeests.

“Grmf,” grumbles a gelatinous bear.

“In a move that could trim the trade gap with the United States, China revalued its currency higher against the dollar Thursday,” says CNN.

Sid hides his head even deeper in the sand this time. He’s very impressed.

But after a while, he pulls his head back out.

“So,” says Sid slyly, “if I wanted to see what being unhappy was like, you could just restack some mammals and I’d know. Right?”

The shimmer-things rotate in a fanblade array.

“Hm?” challenges Sid.

“No,” say the shimmer-things.

Sid looks blankly at the shimmer-things.

“If we’d wanted to make gelatinous mammals unhappy,” explain the shimmer-things, “then we could have stacked them much more efficiently in the first place.”