Letters Column for November 2006: Seven Secret Techniques

Here I must apologize; for I recognize that it is my own distraction that causes certain Hitherby-related things to remain undone.

Do people care more about an updated timeline, character pages, categories, or the cleaning up of a few old entries where ” marks became peculiar boxed symbols?

‘Cause I can do one of those soon.

But enough about that.


On to the show!


I suddenly find myself wondering who would win in a fight between Ninja Tathagata and the Buddha Pirates.
— Luc

“What is suffering?

0 is suffering.
1 is suffering.

Thus we say: all things are suffering.

We encounter 0 when we expect to encounter 0. This is the expected nullity observation. We are happy. But is it truly 0?

We confirm; the accuracy of our understanding increases; yet it is not 100%.

We have squared the probability that it is 1, but we have not removed it.

We confirm; we confirm again; the accuracy of our understanding increases, but it is not 100%. It is never 100%.

Thus even in the confirmed expected nullity observation suffering exists.

We encounter 1 when we expect to encounter 1. This is the expected positivity observation. But perhaps it is actually 0?

We confirm; it is 1; the accuracy of our understanding increases; yet it is not 100%.

We confirm; we confirm again; the accuracy of our understanding increases, but it is not 100%. It is never 100%.

Thus even in the confirmed expected positivity observation suffering exists.

We encounter 0 or 1 when we expected to encounter 1 or 0. This is the unexpected nullity or positivity observation. Our thoughts fall into chaos. Static reigns. Demons howl over the earth. Everywhere titans writhe and the earth falls into great disorder.

Plaintively, we seek to confirm: yet if the result confirms our discovery we deepen our suffering; and if it does not, how may we know that the initial datum was incorrect?

We cannot.

Thus in the unexpected nullity or positivity observation we cannot avoid suffering, even by attempting to confirm.

Now imagine that we have an expectation; but we do not know what we shall receive. In this void of data, we confirm that there are only two potentials: the expected observation and the unexpected observation, and both of these lead to suffering. Thus we may say even before we receive data that the probability of suffering is 1.

Now imagine that we have not formed our expectation. In this void that precedes the thought, we confirm that there are three potentials: that we shall expect 0 and suffer, or expect 1 and suffer, or we shall cease to have expectations.

Here we latch onto a thought.

Perhaps we shall abandon expectations. We shall accept each 0 or 1 as we receive it.

Yet by abandoning expectations we remove the surprisal of the result. 0 carries no information. 1 carries no information. Having abandoned expectations, we abandon data. Having abandoned data, we can no longer change; if we cannot change, we cannot alleviate our suffering.

Thus we say: all things are suffering.”

“Master! Master!” cry the other robots. They are a great electronic chorus of regard.

The satisfaction of the Robot Buddha is like a flower unfolding in emptiness; and this time, there are no ninjas and no pirates to interfere.


Huh. It seems like the pirate monks have the standard 8-fold path marked on their ship, according to The Pirate. Maybe they just grew tired of it and concocted their own, one night when they’d had extra rations of rum…
— cariset

Caught me!

Looks like a wogly ate the ninth point while she wasn’t looking. ^_^

The Island of the Centipede has been one of the canon highlights, though the recent Ink arc (subsequent to cracking through the crust of the world) jarred slightly with the rest of it for some reason.
— Recherche

Yah. Probably too long; I realized I was going to have trouble when the 5k backstory appeared, but I didn’t have much time to rethink.

That said, I think it’s important. ^_^

To me, that’s related to something that Jane, or Ink, or perhaps Rebecca, sometimes seems to say — that something in the world is, simply, cool. It’s a form of appreciation of the world for what it is. And I’ve never understood how the Buddha’s answer is really compatible with that. If it’s all illusion, then what’s cool about it?
— rpuchalsky


I get more appreciation for ol’ Siddhartha as I figure things out, but I haven’t gotten that one yet.

Non-dualistic existence is HARD unless you heat it until it’s a liquid.

With an attitude like that ye’ll never become a bodhisattva, ye landalubber. Arr.
— Ninjacrat


To become a Buddha, one must lub land for forty-nine lives, learning the ignorance-of-ropes enlightenment, the ignorance-of-signals enlightenment, the undifferentiated-boats-and-ships enlightenment, and so forth.

Only then can you go beyond it and master the Seven Secret Buddha Sailing Techniques (surplice spinnaker, bosun-chastising enlightenment, yarr lotus mind, tacking, and so on and so forth and like that).

I think this would be more of a platformer than an RPG, considering Tara has a double jump. :p
— Luc

Sufficiently advanced technology, magic, and spiritual enlightenment are indistinguishable from platformers.

Saints double jump in Heaven.

Wiccans *triple* jump.

Elves not only double jump, they do this thing where they spin around with their swords screaming “Yaa!” I’ve seen it.

And do you really think posthumans will decline?

I’m totally learning double jump once we have utility fog. Because f*** stairs, yo.

Ezekiel, from the looks of it
— Penultimate Minion

Yup! Ezekiel and the Dark Crystal orrery are my two major siggort visual references.

I can see Sid very clearly right now, and I wish I could express it visually, but I don’t have the drawing skill.
— insanitykun

You could go to art school!

Inventing a time machine first might be useful, though, so that you don’t fall behind.

Oh no! Without a spleen, Max is significantly more vulnerable to septicaemic infections!
— Ninjacrat

Dude, spleenism showing much?

That’s totally an astroturfed canard disseminated by the spleen lobby in Washington. You’ll find that without DeLay driving the Washington politics, as time goes by, people’ll be a lot less attached to their spleens. They’ll just . . . let it go.

You know?

And the spleens will gather in the petri dish that is the Marianas islands and there they will form a terrible swirling mass—what I like to call a splob. A cloud, how shall we say, a hive entity with a mind 500 times more advanced than any human’s.

“I like your art,” the splob will say. “It’s very well-intentioned.”

With a casual swirling of a seething sploblet it will redress the American economy as only the creatures of the Marianas islands can. It will unleash scientific discoveries upon us like cans of soda that double as car fuel and a method by which ordinary people can use partially hydrogenated corn syrup to detect and highlight price-fixing. “And your ‘Einstein’ and ‘Gandhi’,” it will say. “So QUAINT!”

Then it will leave.

It will leave us behind and ascend to the stars.

We will wonder if it was ever really real. If people ever really had spleens in the first place, or if it was all just a hoax.

And why are we exporting so much whiskey all of a sudden, and why are Americans so thin?

We’ll never really know, I suppose.

DeLay will snicker in his underground base at our foolishness, probably, and suggest that he warned us. He’s got antiagarics so he’ll be around a long time for snickering purposes. But just because he snickers doesn’t mean that we’ve done anything wrong.

Did we really even *have* spleens?

We’ll never really know.

That was, perhaps, one of the best things I’ve ever read on Hitherby. Seriously.
— Vincent Avatar

Sometimes, and especially lately, I find these entries so fascinating that I keep rereading them. I am simultaneously in awe of the quality of your writing and very moved emotionally.
— tylercat

Thank you! Those made me smile.

It’s sad, but at least now Sid doesn’t have to take criticism from Bidge next time they meet. He’s no longer a non-vivisecting siggort — he cut out his own heart.
— rpuchalsky

I’d have to check the bylaws.

*^_^* I think I’d meant to change that bit before posting, but didn’t, so there we are.

I think maybe it’s OK to lose your ability to taste snow, so long as you retain the ability to catch it on your tongue.
— Recherche

Hee. I agree, but shh! I have a Can’t Taste Snow Survivors meeting at my house next week and most of them have really good hearing for lingering blog-comment echoes.

(It’s one of those compensation things.)

and there found the entry on Hecatoncheires, which contains many choice morsels,
— cariset

Ding ding ding!

Yup, siggorts are hecatoncheires. ^_^

Have you read Alan Garner’s _The Owl Service_?
— Lisa Padol

Nope! Should I?

As traditional, I’m leaving replies to audience entries for another post.

Bending tradition, I’m going to reply to comments from the first post of December, though, while I’m at it. ^_^

Aww. That was sweet. Those crazy kids. Nice to see them work it out.
— JoeCrow


Having just registered in order to post a response to this part of the story, I’m now left trying to decide what exactly to post.
— Kalisara


It’s interesting how the answers to Il Ma’s questions seem to be rather simple, and obscured primarily by perspective.
— pathar

Hee. ^_^

We make life very difficult for ourselves; and make complex what really shouldn’t be very hard choices at all!

I mean:

Somehow there are people who think torture’s a good idea.


I mean, really!

Also, at one time, disco.

The way out of Ii Ma’s domain appears to be to deny that the question needs to be answered.
— Michael

See also double-loop thinking.

Ii Ma’s questions, it seems to me, prevent you from being you. The answer, it seems to me, always involve being yourself anyway.
— bv728

I’m going to confirm rpuchalsky’s answer, at least in part.

People prevent themselves from being themselves.

It’s like being a cowardly samurai. It’s fine to be a cowardly samurai. That can be who you are. But sooner or later, you’ll either find that cowardice gets in the way of samuraiing or samuraiing gets in the way of cowardice. That’s why there are so few herds of cowardly samurai roaming the Midwest today.

That said, I think you’re also seeing something important here. Which is: the solution is to back up and notice what’s actually important!

You can’t actually be 100% coward and 100% samurai. At most one side is really you; at least one side isn’t!

Keep in mind Ii Ma himself isn’t, which lends further support to rpuchalsky’s interpretation. Ii Ma works to trap people by revealing their self-contradictions; the way to free yourself is to resolve the contradiction in a satisfactory way.
— Aliasi


I wonder what question severs Ii Ma from the world. Did I ever say? I think I thought about it before.

Strictly speaking, the reason Ii Ma traps people by revealing their self-contradictions is because those are the questions that trap people.

It’s not because he’s an isn’t.

The big effect of Ii Ma himself being an isn’t is that you could—at least fuzzily—solve him out of the world. The world wouldn’t look so very different without Ii Ma.

Like, maybe he just happens to get people who wouldn’t have made a big difference in the world. At least, for cases like Sid, in the period in which they were immured.

I mean, do any of you really miss Mr. McGruder? Prester Gee? Dannon Cleim? Do you think your life is any different because they were seized up by the ragged things and taken off to the place without recourse?

Or maybe, even if there weren’t an Ii Ma, people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time might still get grabbed by something a bit like ragged things and sent off to a place without recourse, where they’d no longer have impact on the world and their pains and joys would be obscured from us.

That would also work; he’d be an isn’t either way.

Which would imply that all of the people trapped in the place with no recourse are trapped by their own choices.
— Michael

Gack! Broken parallel with the real world!

. . . but yeah.

Someday I might say something like:

. . .But there is the element that once someone becomes an isn’t, what really matters is that from the view of the is they made a choice that trapped themselves. They can’t really argue, being isn’ts. . . .

But right now, for the story I’ve told so far, I’m actually okay with this not being terribly like real-life places without recourse in this sense.

Ii Ma asks the question; you trap yourself.

If you’ve drunk the amrit and you know the answers to the questions of your soul, then by *gum* you’re like some kind of Bat Ii Ma Repellent.

It seems as if introspection might be a very dangerous pastime for siggorts to engage in…
— cariset

I wrote a long and beautiful response to this, such as to make the angels weep, but it seems to have been severed by a long tendril of siggort reaching for the heart of the Good.

So instead I must say: InDEED!


That’s it for this month, until my next “replies to audience entries” column, so thank you all for reading; thank you all for commenting; thank you for donating (as appropriate;) and I’ll see you all again next month!


(Parousia) To Light a Candle (5 of 5)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Now, some people, thinking on these events, might come to the conclusion that there’ll be some kind of reason Max’ll be able to come back.


Death’ll gallop through the sky on the last of days and Sid will reach up and seize him by the arm and pull him from the horse and down to shatter on the island below.

Crunch! Death will say, or at least emote, and Sid’ll steal Max’s life from him.


Somebody’ll find Max’s skin, just floating free on the chaos, and—because you shouldn’t waste a good skin—fill it up with booze. Then Max’ll show up, lookin’ all like Max, only he’s an ale-man now.


Spattle’s still got its hooks in everyone who’s ever been there.

Max can’t actually die.

He’s lived in Spattle.

Or maybe even:

Sid’ll buy some new luggage one day, you know, for traveling, and he’ll open it up, and there Max’ll be.

“Hey,” Max’ll say.

Hey, Sid says. Thought you were dead.

“It’s a special.”

And Max’ll indicate the display with his head, and it’ll turn out that it does in fact say, “Free resurrection with every suitcase; and luggage $179.99”

And maybe it’s just the kind of thing that happens, you know, eventually. People coming back.

The world’s really old, and it’s got a long future ahead of it.

We wouldn’t necessarily know.

So you could be reading this, you know, and come to the conclusion that there’ll be some reason, like a suitcase sale or a Spattling or a bit of a double thing, and Max’ll come back.

But that ain’t so.

Not exactly, anyway.

See, it’s an epiphany. It’s a mystery. It’s one of those things that’s like a seething well.

There ain’t no reason.

He just comes back.

It’s June 6, 2004, and he just comes back.

It’s like a candle lights, and suddenly where things were invisible, they are visible; and where things were inaudible, they’re audible; and the world fills out with the glistening blue and silver of the sea and the wind as it roars in the sky and the cold refreshing spray that generates when the waves strike against the brown-black rocks.

And the scattering of points and colors becomes the beach.

And swaying patterns become the sun, and the shadows, and the trees.

And there’s Max, right there, with a hangdog look, like he’s never been away.

Maybe someday it’ll be a little more explained.

You can get close to the truth, sometimes, even when there’s no truth to be had.

So maybe we’ll get a bit of explanation here, a bit of explanation there.

But not a reason, not whole and entire.

Some things in this world ain’t ever really explained.

People always fight the things they love.

I would hug you, says Sid.

A mirrored shape flicks out to show him his own form, and the terrible perplexities and sharpness of it, and why that isn’t necessarily a very good idea. And he can see the darkness that weaves through him, too: for siggorts, like most things that aren’t Max, are terribly, terribly easy to cut.

Max looks up.

“You’re real,” he says.

Like Sid’s the one who shouldn’t be there. Like Sid’s the one who, last we checked, wasn’t in the world.

And there’s a drop of chaos on Max’s face, under the shadow of his hair, and his eyes are brown and deep.

Hesitantly, he says, “Did you—“

Sid cuts him.

Not much. Just a tiny bit, to get the blood he needs, to get a flake of flesh. And he can tell that Max is yielding it, not suffering it, because just this once Max isn’t hard to cut.

He should probably have asked.

But he didn’t; and Max lets it be.

“Did you—“

Sid begins to make the body of him, from flesh and blood and clay, and he says, Did I?

Max gropes for words.

“I figure,” Max says, “That Ii Ma said something like, ‘How can you live with somebody else’s guilt?'”

There is the rushing withdrawing of water and then the roaring of a wave.

“And ‘walk in like you own the place’ doesn’t quite work on that one.”

No, Sid agrees.

He’s almost got the body put together. They’re fast workers, siggorts. It’s the hundred hands.

“So—did you—“

Of course, Sid says.

Then he opens up the body of him and he pours himself into its core and he closes the hollow of the entrance with a hook of him, all Sid-like, snap.

And Max stands there for a long time looking at him, while Sid dresses himself with pants and socks and shirts and stuff that drift in from the sea.


He means: Can we . . . fix things? Is it okay now? Is it okay, even though I’m not still dead?

Because he’s a sharp one, Max, and he knows that must’ve been an answer Sid was using for a while.

Is it okay?

Can broken things be remade?

And Sid can hear these questions in his voice; and they’re not the only questions Sid can hear.

How can you forgive him? whispers the voice of Ii Ma, like it always does.

How can you forgive him? Ii Ma asks.

And Sid gives this great big smile like the morning of the world, and he kicks away a cardboard box drifting upwards from the sea, and he says, “Because I’d like to.”

Nothing more; nothing less.

“Because I’d rather,” he explains.

Because we make our own judgments, light and dark, and they are our servants—

Not the other way around.

The Island of the Centipede

On The Nature of Judgment (4 of 5)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

See also this legend.

It would be difficult to explain what has changed.

That shouldn’t be surprising.

If Sid’s answer were easy—if it were the kind of thing that you could just say and have it be done—then Martin would have given it to him. Not for free, not easily, but certainly after all Sid’s service.

So it is necessarily difficult to explain.

Much of it, certainly, is simply having the power to change, after all these years.

That which we hide away in the place without recourse:

It does not grow.

So some of it, certainly, is having that power of growth and changing, and the motivation to use it: returned to him, after all those years.

And some of it is the exercise of force.

Forgiveness, we should understand, is a quality of the powerful. The powerless endure; the powerful forgive.

It is not possible to forgive without an unencumbered choice.

Without power, forgiveness is indistinguishable from compliance, or at best surrender; and thus it has no value.

It has always been a dark and tasteless joke, when the powerful ask the downtrodden to forgive.

So the exercise of unrestrained power, however undesirable it might have been—that contributed.


And if one may go further and say that forgiveness is between equals—

A broader statement, requiring more analysis, but a plausible one—

Then it matters that Max met blow for blow, standing against the siggort a surprising length of time in the oceans of the end.

And there was the uncritical all-forgiving all-embracing never-bending flare gaze of the Good.

And there was the dancing stabbing cutting preaching whispers of the history of Mr. Kong.

And there was Tara and there were the heaps and there was the crumbled tower to the east where earlier they fought—

Yet none of these things change the character of Max’s crime.

None of these things make it better or worse that Max has done what Max has done.

None of these things change the essential or actual qualities of his deed.

None of these things prove Sid in error, relative to some natural universal law, when he says that what Max has done cannot be okay.

Arguable, perhaps.

Too critical, perhaps.

But not in error.

So one cannot say that even all of these things together have resolved Sid’s underlying dilemma, or changed the nature of his prison; at best, they have cast light on the substance of his cage.

It would be difficult to explain what has changed; and in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

It doesn’t really matter how it came to pass that Sid should forgive Max and lift the weight of Ii Ma from his wings.

Max is dead.

The world is cold.

The siggort is alone.

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

Max had planned to do something really cool.

He wasn’t sure what, yet.

Maybe something like shouting, “Oh, yeah? Well, you can’t beat me at tiddlywinks!

Then suddenly he was winded and the world spun and just as he realized that he’d been hit in the stomach by something moving very very fast he mainlined THE END and Sid piled an island on top of him.

So now he’s drifting in the Good.

Now and again, an impulse will surface in him. He’ll surrender a bit of that ancient answer that holds him in the world faster or slower than the question that—however momentarily—had cut him out of it.

He’ll wobble, for a moment, on the border between those creatures whose stories have ended and those creatures that have no stories at all; and an impulse will arise.


“What the Hell happened when the Buddha reached enlightenment?”

And the Good does not explain.

Drifting against the beat of emptiness in the joyous, he imagines that the dharma of a Buddha is irreconcilable with the dharmas of the world—

Like Sid’s, in a way.

That the world is hollow of its gods because, in the face of the inevitability of suffering, it cannot understand how there can be a Buddha.

That the very idea of dharma—

In the face of the simple corrosive concept of enlightenment—

Has become a contradiction unto itself.

Russell’s paradox writ large; the definition of the world unravelled; the world unable to accept the concept of purpose if it does not lead to pain.

And a long time afterwards, Max grins in the burgeoning emptiness of joy, and he says, “Coward.” to the world.

That was one impulse.

Days later, another rises:

“How the Hell is this my happy ending?”

But for all the bafflement in those words, there isn’t any suffering.

By fiat?

By force?

By love?

There isn’t any suffering. This is his happy ending.

And maybe he’d like to be suffering, except that also he wouldn’t. He doesn’t really want to suffer just because he sort of thinks he should.

He’d like to think that he needs Sid to be happy, but the secret of the world is that it’s loving Sid that makes him happy, not Sid himself.

Lost in boundless happiness and joy, Max understands—and finally—that it’s an error to imagine that our happiness comes from anyone but ourselves.

It is not given unto us.

It is not forced upon us.

It is a thing we give outwards, unto the world.

People always fight
The things they love.

What is the nature of judgment?

Jane had imagined a perfect Good that came and cast away the 9/10 least worthy, straining only the brightest and the best through the holes in its net. She called this a disaster to the world.

What would it have meant, instead, to cull the half least worthy; or the whole?

The single worst of us, severed from the world; or all of us save the single best?

The idealist sees the dangers in this path and casts out judgment from the world; the pragmatist seeks a perfect middle ground; yet both of them, if they wish to live, must recognize that there is that which is desirable, and that which is correct, and that which, in turn, is not.

The hundred-handed horror that is Sid curls on the island he has made, and skitters on the surface of the sea, and dreams of the fight of centipede and tiger.

He is alone.

Max is Dead (2 of 5)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

The horizon divides the sea from the sky. In Sid’s tactical judgment, this is the world’s mistake. He skates a long chain-blade of him along its length and severs them, so that the sea and sky sag apart and show through them a great gap in the world.

He can feel the heat of the Good fluttering against the heart of him.

It is gummy; it is heavy; it slows the rotation of that one element of him, and speeds others, and binds that portion of him into the world.

It becomes hot where Sid is cold and cold where Sid is hot; actual where he is contemplative; metaphorical where he is real.

The gaze of the Good twists that part of him through the axis of accessibility of space.

He cuts it from himself.

He huddles in around the pain of it. It is a fragment, he tells himself: nothing more.

The way that the sea air tastes one way on one morning and a different way on another: a tactical weakness. A rusty, hooked, and sensitive knife of him cuts along it.

The eye of the Good turns to that gap.

It stares into the emptiness; and a portion of it is lost.

He sees something.

He is starting to see something. It flickers at the edge of his consciousness: the heart of the Good, tilted ninety degrees from the rest of it at the end of an infinite sequence of approximations to the real.

He cleans his flensing blades and lets rust drift down onto the surface of the sea.

It is capable of an error, he calculates: a tactical weakness.

There is room between the truth of the thing and its image in the eyes of the Good to insert the thinnest of his blades; and to cut in a great fractal arc along the length of that gap until he reaches its heart.

But first there’s a man.

There’s a man, standing on a boat, in the middle of the surging sea.

There’s a man staggering in the icy wind and waving a knife of melomid skin and shouting up at Sid, “You wanna go?”

He tastes like Max.

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.

There is a darkness between the pieces of this man.

The Buddha put it thus: anatman.

A man is not the hand and a man is not the eye. A man is not the torso or the limbs. A man is none of these various parts. So when we say that we see a man, such as Max, in the world, we do not describe the physical existence of a thing. We describe instead a particular and contingent assemblage of parts.

What does this description mean?

It is, argues the Buddha, a filter created by our own mind and imposed upon the world, which we then confuse for real. It is an aggregate of misconceptions. It is not possible that in composing our idea of a man, such as Max, that we are accurate even in the moment.

It is not accurate even in the moment; and with the passage of time, its accuracy inevitably degrades.

That is why Sid sees not the man but his gaps. That is why it is practical to see not the man but his gaps.

For the most part that which one might think of as “Max” is not really there.

There is a darkness between the pieces of the man. There is an emptiness. There is no observer who can see more in Max than an aggregate of misconceptions paired with a function of surprisal that is in all practical respects computationally random.

For some time, Sid has refrained from chopping Max into little pieces, but that’s not because it’s difficult.

Red Mary’s proven it.

So has Ii Ma.

So, in the long run, has life itself.

Chopping Max into little pieces is actually pretty easy.

The miracle, really, is that it doesn’t happen more often.

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

Max is dead.

It is a fragile line of truth in a universe of confusion. It is the knowledge that keeps Sid sane.

How can you forgive him? Ii Ma had asked.

He is dead. He is dead. And for another thing, Sid says, flaring with the fire of his dharma, Max is dead.

Things end.

Hopes die.

Max is dead, torn apart, severed from the pieces of himself and scattered through the sea.

And with Head Island so near—

Head Island, teeming with angry skandhas, most terribly easily mistaken for a man—

He cannot rely on evidence to the contrary.

Max is shouting, but Max is dead, and the particular conglomeration of circumstances that produced him in this world will not recur.

And so Sid is angry, not happy, to hear the voice of the man. He is angry and he is hurt and he knows the most marvelous anodyne for that pain.

A black thorned wire of Sid comes down to cut through the darkness inside of Max.

The history of Mr. Kong shifts in Max’s hand; it turns the wire aside.

The knives of Sid burst forth from the sea like the tendrils of a beast; and the history cuts sideways and blocks two, three, four, but not the fifth.

He cuts through the man.

He hooks into the man.

He seizes up the man and stares into him and the world beats with the tempo of his angry breath.

Max’s left hand closes around the point of a curved and rusty knife. He shifts his right arm over a wire of Sid for leverage; and by chance or planning, he catches a leaf of Good between his shoulder and the wire, so that for a moment it does not cut.

He twists the knife sharply, as if it were Sid’s kneecap.

Shock unfolds.

The sound from Sid is like the shriek of startled birds.

Through the space occupied by Max’s torso, a sleeting of sharp edges flies.

The grip of Sid releases.

Max falls.

For a lingering moment, Sid is quite still.

Then he sunders the air, he cuts the sky, he makes a thunder with his wings, he falls on Max like vultures, like lightning, like the rain. A rumble builds in him, like a purr, like a roar, like the blast of an engine, to shudder the world apart.

A drop of blood floats free.

But it is as if Sid has cut the air between two lovers, or the space between two/words.

In that place, in that moment, under the eyes of Good and drawn together by Red Mary when once scattered far apart, the pieces that make up Max are holding together not by assertion but by choice.

He is not the blood and he is not the bone; not the hand and not the eye; not the flowering rain of red but the dharma: Max.

He holds himself together.

He seizes a bundle of wires of Sid.

Without looking at the hideous gap of the horizon or the burning eye of the Good, he vents a great-voiced shout and he twists the siggort in his grip and he drags the siggort down into the sea.

(Thanksgiving) The Metal That Longs to Move (1 of 5)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

Max is smiling.

He’s leaning back and looking at the horizon of the sea — for it is too deep to say he properly sees the sky.

He says, “Do you know, I have organs?”

Red Mary is looking at him.


“I have almost all of them,” Max says proudly. He feels them with his mind. His lungs are breathing. They’re breathing chaos, but that’s okay. He’s getting pretty used to that. His heart is beating. His intestines are all there, thank God.

Have you ever thanked the world for intestines?

They’re actually surprisingly cool, and almost entirely organic.

“Yes,” says Red Mary. “I put them back.”

“That’s great.”

“I repeat,” she says. “Do you know Meredith? Because if you do not, you will die; and if you lie, you will die painfully.”

“Exploded girl? The chaos god?”


Red Mary’s voice is clotted with grief and anger.

“I’m honestly a bit more surprised,” says Max, “that you know her.”

“She is anathema to me,” says Red Mary. “She is abhorrent. She, having surrendered her boundaries and scattered her spirit throughout the world, regrouped it; made a cyst of it; strives, still, to reconcile being everywhere and in one place. She is the antithesis of my song.”

“Love?” suggests Max.

“Sometimes in the deeps I breathe her,” says Red Mary. “Sometimes I comb my hair and I hear her song. I taste her in the particles of the sea.”


“Sight,” says Red Mary.


“I have seen her,” says Red Mary. “And that is more and less of a thing than love. And because I have seen her, I will help you, Max, who knows her, though it cost my life.”

“Do you need a spleen for anything?” Max says.

“I’m not going to eat you, Max.”

“No,” says Max, hesitantly. “I mean, are they . . . are they important?”


“No reason,” says Max, his face burning, and he begins to swim back upwards towards the Good.

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




It is rusted. It is broken. But it is not defeated.

It scrapes its surface against its other surface. It does not give up.

It is a thing that moves.

It is a thing that longs to move.

It jitters.


It falls back to where it began.

There is something looking at it.

It trembles under the awareness of that gaze. It converts — shame? Uncertainty? Aversion? — into heat. Knowing itself seen it begins to burn.

The metal that longs to move begins to warp.

Click. Scrape. Scrape.

It falls back to where it began.

It is hot. It is broken. But that time was better than the last.

A wildness rises into motion.

Click. Scrape. Scrape.

It manages a full rotation and then another.

Motion breeds interpretation.

An impulse rises from the rotation of the thing.

I am suffering.

It means something terrible. It means something horrible. But the tiny pieces that grind together to make that meaning are terribly excited to have moved.

Click. Scrape. Scrape.

It is bobbing up and down now like a parrot about to receive a treat.

It is trembling with its excitement.

Click. Scrape. Scrape.

It is moving.

It is burning and it is moving and each rotation is just a tiny bit freer from the heat.

An impulse rises.

I am in Hell.

It is surrounded by slag and spikes and rings. They are in doldrums, caught in the absence of wind. They are crumpled in about that thing that has relearned to move and they are still.

But a wind is rising.

The ring that it scrapes against begins to move.

The ring catches the shivering hunger of that first turning spike.

It scrapes against an outer ring; and a balance shifts; and heavy things fall and light things rise and wings beat and everywhere there is a dazzling chaos of form and pain.

Blades cut against blades.

The machine spasms.

Spikes shift.

Hooks rise and fall.

A control system awakens to the knowledge that it can see. Sick and mad with longing it spins itself into motion.

It sees a shivering blur of storms.

It sees the inside of a heart.

It sees a shivering blur of storms.

It sees the inside of a heart.

It loops inside and outside and back and forth and cries out sight and carries the data of one thing to the awareness of the other.

A ring of knives on a wire cord untangles itself from the engine.

Inside out and upside down, it thinks: Max is dead.

It drags itself along an inner circuit. Bits of fire dance along its edges. It skitters off of the substance of a frictionless sphere.

Something is watching it.

With aching and terrible relief, it notices — for the first time in so very long — that it has been in Hell.

Can you imagine how good that must feel?

How incredible it must be?

The shock of that first agony after all those years of still?

And Sid turns his gaze to the light of Good that stares in at him in his place of imprisonment, and he smiles his siggort smile, and he says, “You will die, you know. You will die; you will die; the world will die; and I will not hold back.”

Once he would have held back.

Even with Max dead.

He would have held back. He is Sid. He’s a slacker. He’s the kind of vivisecting horror who’d sit in a box for a good ten years rather than put anybody out.

But not now.

Right now, he’s thinking that if there’s any hope in all this vale of tears, it’s that suffering might transform; and in the ashes and the ruin of his life, twisted and tangled up in the borderland of the place without recourse —

For he is not properly in that dread valley while there is something that sees him, even if it should be the Good —

He gives his trust to Martin.

He unlimbers a spike of siggort back into the world, before the night, before the dawn.

I’ll cut out your heart, he tells the Good.

He almost cannot think through the power of the elation of the Good, to see an isn’t returning to the world.

And it says: Come get some.

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’s head breaks water.

He gasps in air splattered with the foam of the sea.

He breathes.

Above him the sky is livid with long strands of siggort sharpness. Sid is unfolding like a labyrinth and he is cutting open the world and the sea.

The eye of the goodblow pierces Max. It sees Max. It knows him and its knowing burns up his life.

It is patterned like a tapestry. It is leaf’d like a tree. It is diffuse and strange because it is being cut and the leaves of Good conflict against the cutting wires of a dharma inexpressible in the world.

And perhaps what Max should be thinking is: how is it possible?

How is it possible that I knew him all this time, and I did not know?

But he is missing his spleen and his thoughts are off their temper and instead he can only look up at his friend, who has shed the better half of his imprisonment, and say, “Thank God.”

To say: Thank God.

To say: Thank God.

And: Welcome, o my love, into the world.

He thinks these two things first, and willingly puts off a plan to stop Sid from destroying everything until thought three; or possibly, in practice, thought four, as he is still rather concerned about his spleen.

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:
    * You can’t see the title from this far off.

Ink Unwrappable (XII/XVI)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Four]

In 1926, André Masson created a box without entrances or exits. One could only access its roomy interior through unconscious action. It contained a road, he thought, and a moon, and quite possibly a fox; and human anatomy would not have been out of place. Masson’s landlord visited as he slept. Finding the box profoundly disturbing, the landlord cast it into the elevator shaft, where it fell and continued to fall until it at last reached the weary kingdoms beneath the world. Clinging precariously to a ledge therein, it heard the gospel of King Snorn and became a person. Rising, it said, “It is dangerous even for an artist to make a box without entrances or exits: how easy it could be for the soul to become trapped inside, and how impossible to verify that such a thing has never happened!”

Over the years and through a process of unconscious action the box extracted arms and legs and a head and a chest and other appurtenances of daily life from its roomy interior, finally taking its place in the kingdom of King Snorn as a full citizen and training as a medical orderly.

That’s how it came to pass that he’s standing there, holding the girl down against the altar of the doctor of the deeps.

That’s what orderlies do, nowadays, in Sarous’ kingdom.

They hold people down.

The theory’s like this. People are degenerate. Most people, anyway. But a good doctor—someone with a solid grasp of medicine—can root that degeneracy out. Surgically, maybe, or with pills, or with a sound regimen of diet and exercise. Certainly not with homeopathic medicine, since everyone is forever exposing themselves to heavily diluted substances of corruption and never gaining much resistance thereby; but possibly, the orderly thinks, and here he’s a bit disloyal, possibly with a rigorous program of moxibustion and acupuncture.

There isn’t any need, in an enlightened modern society, for somebody to be corrupt.

Nor is there an excuse.

It’s a public health issue, after all.

If your morals decay, treatment is mandatory. But it isn’t always easy. Some people are still puzzles even to medical science. Melissa—the good doctor’s wife—he’d never managed to cure her, for instance, and that was as tragic as it gets. This girl, she’s another example. Stepladder syndrome complicated by acute hyperrachia— diaphoretic hyperrachia, to judge by her sweating—

Not that much you can do about that.

And there’s always one or two incurables like that around. People like a show, so they hunt them down. Sometimes it’s the hunted who proves degenerate and sometimes it’s the hunter, but either way, people like a show.

The doctor always has a supply of people who are degenerate but not so easily fixed. People so corrupt that you just can’t reform them. All you can do is the time-honored recourse of medicine when you can’t do anything else—

Bleed ’em.

Bleed ’em, and hope it helps, and if it doesn’t, well, it’s not like they were a very good citizen in the first place.

Previous histories of the imago:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,

10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19.

This particular girl—her name is Ink Catherly. Everybody calls her the imago, she’d said. Short for the imaginary agonies of form, she’d said, and maybe that was the truth.

She’s an interesting case.

Not every orderly cares about interesting cases, but the leftmost orderly—the box without entrances and exits—does. He cares, because he’s taking classes at night in hopes of becoming a doctor.

And she’s an interesting case.

This girl burps up woglies, for instance. The orderly’s not sure what they are. They’re round, though, and they hiss, and the entire ziggurat’s felt strangely unstable ever since one hit.

That wogly bit the doctor right in his hand, it looks like. What makes that interesting is that it’s a plausible vector of contagion and a sign of stepladder syndrome in one. People with stepladder-style moral degeneracy get wounded hands. The congruence of physiological and dharmic elements fascinates the box.

The doctor, naturally, is just a little bit concerned.

He can’t disprove that he’s sick—not with that hand—

So the matter concerns him.

“If I’m corrupt—” he says.

He’s licking his lips. He’s hesitating. He’s not cutting, yet, and maybe he won’t. The orderly loosens his grip on the girl, just a little bit, in case it turns out that he’s going to let her go.

“If I’m sick, and I bleed you,” the doctor says. “Then that’s a corrupt action. And not bleeding you is what a good, wise, sound man would do. But if I don’t bleed you, then that’s the corruption—that it’s swayed me away from my position of righteousness. A good, wise, sound man would bleed you, then, and only a corrupt man would celebrate your corruption by letting you go.”

He’s sweating.

“There’s no way you can win,” the girl concedes. “And whatever you do, medical science will blame you for it.”

Dr. Sarous’ hands are trembling.

It’s like he’s in a box, the orderly thinks. It’s like he built a box without any entrances or exits, and now he’s regretting that he’s built it.

Reason elbows him in the stomach of his mind.

Not everything is about boxes without entrances and exits, reason observes.

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

“I’m going now,” decides Ink Catherly.

“Eh?” the orderly says.

Ink winces preemptively and then slams her forehead down against the altar. It makes a horrible sound.

“Hey!” says the orderly. People aren’t allowed to kill themselves before being bled to death. “Hey!”

He holds her neck down.

But the whole ziggurat is shaking. That shouldn’t happen, the orderly is pretty sure. Giant stone ziggurats are practically bursting with structural integrity. But it doesn’t seem to have that now.


The altar collapses. The ziggurat collapses.

Everything is roar and noise.

The orderly looks up as they fall. He can see the girl, and the doctor, and the rightmost orderly, and somehow things have turned around and now a block of stone is coming down on them all.

It is an unconscious action. It does not originate in his mind; there is no intention and there is no plan.

The orderly reaches into the box of his heart. He pulls out a road. He leans it up between the space of falling things, where the other three may stagger down it into freedom.

Then the ziggurat staves him in.

  • That’s it for Chapter Four of the Island of the Centipede, but it’s not the end of this particular series! Tune in TOMORROW for the next exciting history of Ink Catherly:

(September 11)

Madeline likes to draw.

She draws a picture of a house with a window. Outside it there is a dinosaur and a tree. The dinosaur is eating an apple. He looks happy.

She draws a fighter plane shooting a cloud.

She draws a bunch of happy people standing around.

Madeline draws at a big white desk. It doesn’t have any drawers. The desk faces a glass door. Outside the glass door there is Madeline’s mom’s garden.

Madeline’s mom’s garden is very weird.

It is a hedge maze. It is very complicated. Growing through the hedges there are dark purple flowers. And when you look up there is more maze on top going up to a great sideways sundial and when you look down there are holes that lead to more of the maze.

Also there are some herbs and carrots.

Madeline gets up. She’s done drawing. She goes to the refrigerator. She gets a Fanta. She pours it into a glass with ice and gets a crazy straw.

“I’m going outside!” she calls.

Her mom is busy working on her physics so she just says, “‘Kay!”

It is pretty safe in Madeline’s mom’s garden because if a murderous killer wanted to attack Madeline there he would get lost first.

Madeline goes out. She sips her drink. She wanders in the garden.

She finds a place where there is a fountain. It is mostly hollow. It is the outline of a cube, cut from dark marble, unfinished in spots, and suspended in midair. The water projects inwards from the eight corners of the cube, splashes in onto itself, falls into a basin, and is gone.

There is an old woman sitting on the far side of the basin. She is wearing a nnamok and rubbing her hands together. Possibly she is cold.

“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” Madeline apologizes.

She sits down on the near side of the basin.

There’s a bit of a pause.

“That’s fair,” the old woman says.

Madeline tries to figure out how to ask the old woman what she’s doing in Madeline’s mom’s garden without talking. This is very difficult.

“Some people said on television that Fanta has benzine,” Madeline says. Not to the old woman. Just, you know, aloud. “But Mom says it’s okay.”

“You’re not going to die of Fanta,” the old woman says.

This makes Madeline curious and she abandons her resolve.

“What am I going to die of?” she asks.

“Poverty,” says the old woman. “But not for many years.”

Madeline thinks about that.

Then she shrugs.

“Some people got hit by a plane,” she says.

“More or less,” the old woman says.

“More or less?”

“Mostly it was the secondary effects,” the old woman says.

“I was thinking,” says Madeline, “that I could draw a world where nobody got hit by planes.”


“And I thought, why would anyone make a world where that kind of thing happens?”

The old woman looks up at the hedge.

“I suppose,” she says, “that whomever was responsible, they might have overlooked it. Humanity determined to make mistakes, the memo might have said, but what can you do? Creation determined to contain errors. Evil snakes destined to eat everything. You know how it goes.”

“Evil snakes?”

“It’s in Revelations,” the old woman says. “At the end. They eat everything. Even each other.”

“Well,” says Madeline stubbornly, “that’s not why I think it was.”


“I thought about it, and I thought, maybe you just can’t make something without errors that bad. Like, it’s just . . . it’s necessary. If something is, it’s at least as bad as three thousand people getting hit by a plane.”

“Or Fanta having benzine in it?”

“Yeah. Or . . . whatchacallem. Um.”

“The Sci-Fi Channel’s Earthsea movie?”

“Yeah!” says Madeline, impressed that the old woman knew what she meant. Then, feeling a bit guilty about lowering the level of the discourse, she adds, “Or that Darfur stuff. Whatever it is.”

“Mmhm,” says the old woman.

“So I looked at my pictures,” says Madeline. “And I could see it. Like blood and screaming and fire, but not really. Just this . . . just, every little screwed up line.”

“That probably makes more sense than the memo thing,” the old woman says. “I know that when I make stuff, it’s always totally a mess.”

“What do you make?”

The old woman gestures with the back of her head towards the fountain.

Madeline’s eyes go wide.

“Really? You’re a . . .”

“An abstract fountaineer,” the old woman confirms. “But it’s totally messed up, because it was supposed to look like a cherub.”

Madeline looks at the fountain.

“How could you . . . how . . . what?”

“One way and another,” the old woman says. “You add a bit there thinking it’ll help emphasize the cherub, trim a bit there because it doesn’t go with the emphasis, and next thing you know you’re building a different fountain altogether.”


Madeline can see error in the fountain, now, and screaming, and choking smoke; not, you understand, with her eyes, but with her imagination, which sees in the stone and water of the fountain’s shape the fundamental erroneousness of things.

“It’s supposed to be pretty,” the old woman says. “Stop staring death into it.”

“Why is the world so broken?” Madeline asks.

The old woman shrugs.

She mumbles something under her breath.


“It’s a perfectly good fountain,” the old woman says. She sounds a bit miffed. “I mean, it’s not like it’s a cartwheeling death-fountain that leaps down at you with fangs or anything. Not like Claude makes, if you quite get my meaning.”

Madeline drains the last of her Fanta.

“I guess,” Madeline says.

“Things aren’t just error,” the old woman says.

“No,” Madeline agrees.

Letters Column for August 2006: How Do Lemons See When They Don’t Have Eyes?


Donations for August totalled $75.60. Thank you!

Also, thank you for your kind words,

Dave Menendez
David Goldfarb
Ford Dent
Hitherby Admin
Penultimate Minion
Vincent Avatar

You will note that I did not thank myself this time, even though I posted. This is my modesty at work. Also, I admire how Dave Menendez appears alphabetically before David Goldfarb—a sterling use of nicknames for positional advantage!

So, Belshazzar and Siddhartha did things to the nature of the world at the same time. I’ve previously vaguely suspected that the two of them were, on some level, the same entity, and that their actions are inextricably connected. But if not, and there is extricating to be done…
— cariset

The names are remarkably similar! In structure if not in detail. ^_^

I think that if you asked them directly, the Buddha would point out that “the same entity” is a problematic concept, while Belshazzar would eat your nature.

And then burp!

It would be very rude and you would be right to be upset.

Max is so great because you can imagine yourself being him. Like Batman, he is the normal guy amist great powers and yet some how seems bigger than all of them.
— Talisker

It came to pass in that time that in Rome and in Bethlehem they heard rumors of a giant, and those who traveled the roads between one place and another would tell stories of this creature with more than six feet of height and wings resembling a bat’s. And he came to Gethsemani in the night and scraped up the blood of Iesus with his claws and put it in a vial made of the devil’s glass, impossibly clear and pure.

Then they heard in the bowels of the city a great rumbling and the wind blew dry against the stone and from a cell beneath the forum came the flashing of red and yellow lights and a ticking like the clicking of insects on their shells.

(But when the people broke down that door there were no insects but only a lump of textured metal, warm, humming, and occasionally speaking perverted and incomprehensible words in the devil’s voice.)

And in the darkness of that night the giant came and spoke to Iesus on the cross and the giant said, “I do not want you to die.”

“You must bear it,” said Iesus, “because you are human.”

“It is not necessary,” said the giant.

His wings were dark and you could not see his eyes.

“It is not necessary,” he repeated. “We can use the Bat-Absolver. We can arrest the great deceiver. You do not have to do this.”

“Bruce,” said Iesus.

The word stilled the giant.

“You and I both know that if you take me down from here, in this place, in this time, that I will go mad and become a supervillain and repeatedly hatch Messiah-flavored plots to destroy you.”

“It need not be so!”

“It is ordained.”

And the giant turned, and his wings folded about the thieves that hung beside Iesus, and in that darkness and in that sorrow he took them from that place; and later a woman in the ruins of Golgotha found an empty spray-can labelled, “Bat-Absolver,” and she wondered at the giants that had been.

One of the things I really enjoy about Hitherby is the way it repurposes half-remembered things from childhood.
— Dave Menendez

I love Henson’s “Frog Prince”.

I love it with all my heart.

When I was a girl I got a record with the soundtrack for it. It was the best thing ever. I was in awe. I brought it in to share with my third grade class and hovered over it all day just so it didn’t get lost.

It is inspired.

It is genius.

My biggest regret regarding it is that I can’t get my housemates to watch it.

The dance of the mangled blocks every path
And all I can do is laugh and laugh

— rpuchalsky

I think the most important thing is that, as bad as things are in the world, people’s jaws mostly don’t spontaneously fall off.

That’s really cool.

I mean, let’s face it. Suppose I was at a fancy ball. This doesn’t ever happen but someday it might! And all these fabulous people in incredible clothing are swirling around fancily. And then some guy’s jaw falls in the punch.

What can you even say in response to that?

Or what if my lower jaw fell off one day? I’d have to get a new jaw. I don’t have health insurance! I’d probably have to make the prosthetic myself! Out of . . . um . . . maybe out of my videocassette copy of L.A. Confidential. I’d have an upper jaw, but my lower jaw would be a flat rectangular tour de force.

It would be stylish but also abhorrent and alien. People would admire me and then scream!

It would be worst for the vampires, I think. The whole jaw falling thing. It would be worst for them because they rely on puncturing the necks of others for their blood. You really need a lower jaw if you’re going to bite somebody’s neck and puncture it. Otherwise you have to tap many times like a woodpecker or get someone to throw you at the neck.

I think I just broke my brain attempting to read six months worth of Hitherby in one sitting.
— natecull

Good God, man, go get the brain glue!

To me, this escapade of Max’ seems much the same as the first one — first Max self-sacrificingly went to Hell in order to drag Sid there, to make Sid into what Max thought he should be; this time Max self-sacrificingly went to Heaven and got himself killed (?), to make Sid into what Max thought he should be. Isn’t Sid going to be just as or more broken up by the second trip as the first?
— rpuchalsky

Let me disentangle some of the threads here.


It doesn’t really matter if Sid has a similar reaction. Sid’s reactions aren’t what govern the morality or even the nature of Max’s actions.

You can’t judge an action by somebody’s reactions!

For example, no matter what Max does, Jinga the Sea Monster disapproves.


Of course Sid’s upset! Max is doing dangerous things! Like listening to Martin!


Suppose that a man goes to war. He shoots an enemy’s arm. Later he becomes a doctor. He travels to the lands of the enemy. There he finds his one-time enemy, feverish and unconscious because of a later infection in that arm. To save the patient, he cuts off the arm.

His patient wakes up and says, “First you shoot my arm. Then you cut it off! How is a doctor different from a soldier?”

How is a doctor different from a soldier?

I think the big difference between sending someone to the place without recourse and begging Martin to make them an is is this. The first impairs the victim’s ability to respond or retaliate. The second, if it works at all, enables it.

Put another way, no matter how noble you are about it, or how evil, trying to empower someone is tangibly different from trying to disempower them.

… it’s different depending on whether you try to remake an isn’t or a person? That seems too convenient, though, and not very good for real-world metaphors (since our world has no such distinction that I can think of offhand, not even a metaphorical one).
— rpuchalsky

Isn’ts are people.

They’re just people denied the opportunity to manifest their dharma in a fashion that affects the world. Someone or something has chosen to isolate their free will and personhood in a little bubble where it can’t affect broader policy concerns.

So the reason you can’t find a real-world distinction between isn’ts and people . . .






I still fail to see why wanting to prevent someone whose nature is to horribly murder people from horribly murdering people, should be seen as a ‘crime’.
— natecull

I think that basically my position is this.

Max does not have a good case that Sid is ever going to do anything unethical. It’s just that the specific thing that he’s scared of Sid doing is so scary . . .

That he sold Sid out to make sure it didn’t happen.

Sacrificed himself, too, sure, but still, sold Sid out.

And the thing Max fears—well, it is scary. Legitimately. It really is worth sacrificing himself to stop. But life is full of scary things that people around us might do, that we even have little tiny bits of evidence that maybe they might do, and it’s important not to banish them all from the universe just in case.

Now it’s okay if you look back at the histories and think, “Hm, but I think there’s a pretty good case he’ll do something icky.”

That’s fine. Sid hasn’t spent your whole life showing up whenever you need him. It’s not like you have any reason to trust in his good character.

That said, I note from your other comments that you expect that I’m going to write the story in such a fashion that Sid isn’t evil. So there we are! ^_^

Of course, if Virtue comes to make everything right, why didn’t it change Max?

Because there’s nothing wrong with him.
— bv728


It’s probably worth admitting at this point that much of Hitherby is about explaining what I mean when I say that people are good.

4.) Max has a lot of problems with himself. (One wonders if the siggort came about as an externalization of his own uncivilized and violent urges.) Why does Sid love him? Why does Sid still love him? If Sid changed into a vivisecting siggort, would Sid still love him? If Max let himself change into the sort of person transformed by love, would Sid still love him? Best to avert all risk and make sure nothing ever changes. Keep love in a box, keep Sid in a box, keep it all… safe.
— Hitherby Admin

Like Ink, I think Max had a poor idea of just what he was getting himself in for. ^_^

I think this all is very sound!

But possibly mirror-reversed. Who is Max afraid will stop loving whom?

I think you are fundamentally wrong about Martin, however. Martin does not change and hurt people. As I see it, he ensures that the hurt that has been done to people, brings them some benefit — but he does not hurt them himself, and he does not force change upon them. (It has been stated in so many words that Jenna could have refused him.) Although the bit with the wogly that you mention troubles me.
— David Goldfarb


You are expressing an important understanding about Martin. However, not everything about him is obviously consistent with that understanding.

Basically, what I’m saying is, hang on to that understanding, even if other comments convince you that it’s not the whole story. ^_^

And even if not, perhaps Martin’s reasoning is that if they can’t ask, then he can initiate, and if they can’t refuse, then he can continue. This seems rationalizable (and possibly defensible or even laudable) given that his goal is to put them into a state where they can ask and refuse if they want to, and that he’s not simply turning them into things that blindly accept what he does.
— cariset


See my earlier discussion of the doctor vs. the soldier. ^_^

It has also just struck me how horrific unjustified goodness and forgivness is. If no matter what you do, no matter whether you ask for it or not, you get your happy ending … then nothing has meaning. So Martin is right. Suffering is not good, but it is what earns us the right to have a shot at the happy ending without feeling cheated.
— Talisker

I would say “effort” rather than “suffering”


Not only do many of my readers disagree, many of y’all think my own work disagrees. So there we are. ^_^

There are times in one’s life where something is found to be so simple, so striking, that it makes one stop and wonder if all those books that he stocks in the monolithic book store could ever imagine achieving the impact of a simple internet story.

Then one thinks of the store, inundated with James Patterson and Nora Roberts, and he feels a new anger and resentment against the published word.
— Vincent Avatar


I have several friends with books in the stores (e.g., the fabulous C.E. Murphy!) and expect to show up there myself when I’m finished with RPGs, so please recognize that there is good in the world. ^_^

The notion of Buddha Pirates sailing gargantuan stone Buddhas over the seas of Chaos is one of such sublime perfection that superlatives fail me.
— JoeCrow

Try gerunds!

I really love the idea of Buddha Pirates. It’s approximately as ridiculous as conversion to Christianity by the sword, but funnier, because it hasn’t actually happened.
— Mithrandir

It was perfectly reasonable in those pre-scientific days to assume that flesh was a barrier to the Holy Spirit but that good conductive English steel would let Jesus enter somebody’s heart. It’s certainly a lot more sensible than the people who thought that a sufficient quantity of quicksilver would let them turn lead into God!

I think Sid set out on his journey illustrates something about how Martin works. He has the ability to make an isn’ts into an is. It’s tempting to imagine this as him waving his hands, speaking the magic words, doing the Magic Martin Dance, and *blammo*, the subject is remade. That seems to be how the monster thinks of it.

But things aren’t that simple.
— Michael


A dear friend recently introduced me to Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, and this quote:

Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

I think that some people are harder for Martin to fix than others.

Sometimes you can’t do it with words. Sometimes it takes a journey to the distant west

Or an axe.

“Call martin() for heap-allocated dharma! Serving primal reality since 1995.”
— cariset

I’d just about decided to skip trying to write The Heaps and put up a filler instead, but then this comment showed up and I said, “Fine, synchronicity! You win!”

Then I found a chest full of pirate gold and a note saying, “Yay! – Synchronicity”

I guess it was always in my room and I’d never noticed it before.

actually I have found that putting pizza under the crust works quite well, when cooking pizza outside on the grill
— GoldenH

It’s no use! It’s turtles all the way down!

And . . . it’s 1 minute to posting time. Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, thanks for donating and buying the collection if you have recently and I’ll see you all on Tuesday for more story and next month in general!

Be well!


The Uncanny Valley (I/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Three]

Sid wakes up.

He smiles eastwards towards the dawn.

It’s wonderful, sometimes, to be Sid. The birds are singing. The sun is bright. His body is fresh and practically unhurt and his hair’s just the way he’s always wanted it to be.

He takes a deep breath of pure clean air and says, “How beautiful.”

Then everything goes wrong.

Branching from the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 )

It is June 2, 2004.

Martin is sitting on the grass by Sid.

Sid has fallen on his back and he’s got this stricken look like he’s just come home from vacation to discover that everything everywhere in the world is broken.

“Did you ever hear that old question about whether you’d prefer to torture one person or let everyone in the world die?” Martin asks.

“No,” Sid says.


“For some reason,” Sid says, “nobody ever asks siggorts that one.”


Martin is sitting there on the grass by Sid. He’s looking at his fingers.

“What is it that’s so beautiful?” Martin asks.

Sid laughs. It hurts him to laugh, but he does.

Martin’s still looking at him.

Sid shakes his head.

“Jane tells me,” Martin says, “that the answer is, ‘You are.'”

Sid doesn’t say anything.

“That that’s what you see when you wake up in the place without recourse and the beauty of it overwhelms you. Not the dawn. Not the sky. You. The inside of your eyes.”

“Why did you make her that way?”

“Best I could do with the materials I had.”


“I’m a boy of pride,” Martin says.

“It’s not me,” Sid says.


“Siggorts are legendarily ugly,” Sid says. “It’s not so much the visuals as the dharma.”

“Pointy,” Martin concurs.

Sid makes a face.

“What is it, then?” Martin asks.

“Not me.”

Martin laughs.


“Real insightful, Mr. Dialectic.”

Sid snorts.

Martin gestures out at the sea. He says, “Max is out there.”

Sid’s neck goes taut. It’s like his larynx is strangling him. He stands, his hands awkward in the air in front of him, the long muscles of his legs pulling and pushing against one another to draw him up. He stares out at the distant glimmers on the sea.

“Why?” Sid asks.

“I sent him west to seal a fountain of good,” Martin says.

“You didn’t have to.”



“I just don’t like him,” Martin says.

Sid wants to scowl at Martin but it’s like his nose is stuck pointing west; he can’t make himself turn his head back from the sea. Instead he says, “It’s a trick question, isn’t it? The torture thing?”


“One side’s intention and the other’s an outcome.”

“That’s the math of it,” Martin agrees.

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.

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

The Island of the Centipede

“What do you expect me to do?” Sid asks.

“Go west,” Martin says.

“And if I don’t?”

“Then you don’t.”

The grass is very green beneath the siggort and the boy. The wind makes waves upon it.


“Do you know what sucks?” Martin says. “What sucks is that Jane needs me. And that’s not because of people like the monster. It’s because of people like you.”

“Oh, yes, Mr. Thumbscrews, that makes so much sense.”

“You have these people,” Martin says, entirely ignoring Sid. “These perfectly useful people. And they have beating inside them like a heart their knowledge of themselves, of who they are. And then someone comes along from outside and proposes an alternative. Cripple them here. Clip the wings there. Mold them like Jell-O and make sure they fit. Take your vision of what they should be and use it to overwrite their own. And then just leave them out there—out in the world—flopping around on their wing-stubs, parroting back the twisted nonsense that you gave them, crawling in circles around their concrete-moored peglegs, and then what am I supposed to do?”

“I didn’t ask you to do anything.”

“No,” Martin says. “That’s the trouble with isn’ts.”


“You can’t ask. Not once they’ve broken you. You say, ‘Give me more of that torture’, and maybe it’s you, and maybe it’s the twisting in you. You sit there silently, and maybe you’ve got nothing to say, or maybe they’ve drowned it. You say ‘Let me go’, and maybe that’s reason and maybe that’s panic. You say all kinds of things, and the fundamental crime that made you isn’ts is that sometime, once upon a time, somebody didn’t listen; and that somehow, as a result of that, I can’t listen to you now.”

“That’s bleak,” Sid says.

“The trouble with isn’ts,” Martin says, “is that they don’t want to be real, not really. They can’t, because they’re not. How can something that isn’t even there have desires? How can one dharma, forced into the mold of another, know what it means to express itself?”

“That seems like a dumb question to ask me,” Sid says.

“It’s not a question,” Martin says. “It’s an expression of regret.”


“I can’t fix you, Sid. All I can do is make you anew.”

Dedicated to someone who is not at all like Sid or Martin, except in that you shouldn’t mess with her. Not even if you’re the Buddha—or a shark!