The Other Way

(This begins the sequel to Akayama DanJay.)


Jango warmed his hands by the monastery furnace. Dan had finished screaming, so now the only noise was crackling kindling and popping fat.

A few years ago, burning his favorite student alive would’ve made Jango bawl. Today, his tears were quiet and empty. He donned his silver bird-mask and left his monastery. He didn’t descend the mountainous main island of Sheridan. Instead, he ascended above fields of centipede-bushes into the peak’s eternal cloud-cover.

He discarded the name Jango Skyy. He discarded the title Virgil Blue. He discarded the silver mask and navy robes. He limped up the island nude and cold.

Still, one thought he couldn’t discard, and it brought the name Jango right back to him. The very night Nemo, the first man, finished eating Jango’s body in his dreams, a drone delivered him a collection of his brother’s manga. There were no coincidences, so Jango couldn’t help but ponder. Was he supposed to read the manga, or was leaving it behind unread a final test? Would anyone ever read the manga, or would Jango’s upcoming death lead to the world’s literal end, not just a metaphorical one?

He discarded even this when he saw, through the fog, a pile of bones on the rocks. He held his arthritic hip when he bent to them, checking if they were the bones of a human—some trespasser on Sheridan’s sacred peak—but he decided they were the bones of a Sheridanian Big-Bird. The smaller skull and leg-bones suggested this was a male bird.

Jango had never known a bird to survive hiking up the island all the way above the clouds. He didn’t have a porcelain egg to mark the bird’s place of death, but was that truly necessary here, where proper laymen would never see it, and no one who did see it would live to report it? He sat beside the bones for a while, wondering.

What would Virgil Blue do? Jango’s teacher, also titled Virgil Blue, retired from this eternity decades ago, just like this. Traditionally, when Nemo eats a Blue Virgil in the dream theater, the Virgil dons the silver mask. When his teacher first donned the mask, Jango had asked, in jest, how anyone could know what they were thinking without seeing their sour expression. How would a new monk know the Virgil’s gender? How could they even be sure there was a Virgil in the robes at all? Virgil Blue squawked back at him, “flip a sand-dollar.”

Flip a sand-dollar. Jango hadn’t understood then, but now he laughed. The Islands of Sheridan used sand-dollars for currency instead of coins with heads or tails, but learned the phrase “flip a coin” from the library of books left by the Biggest Bird. Both sides of a sand-dollar are the same, so Virgil Blue had turned Jango’s jest into yet another lesson. Existence and non-existence. Male and female. Thinking. These were problems only from the mortal perspective, with no meaning to the Mountain. Flipping coins gives representations too much credit. Flipping sand-dollars was appropriately condescending.

Jango stood and marched a few minutes back down the slope. He picked up the silver bird-mask he’d discarded. “Heads,” he said to the mask’s face. “Tails,” he said to the back. He tossed the mask in the air.

It landed with the bird looking up.

other_way

“Hm. So be it.” Jango gathered the bird’s bones. He noticed some had been broken and partially healed; this bird had survived something.

In life, the bird would be bigger than Jango, but Jango was impressed how light the bones were. He had no trouble carrying the bones up to the peak, where he found a cave. Jango entered the cave, blind. It was dark as night. His one good eye was almost useless.

He sat with crossed legs. “Nemo?”

No response came.

“Nemo?”

No response came.

“Nemo?”

Something rolled from the dark and bumped against Jango’s feet. It was Nemo’s head, with wide-set eyes and a swastika between them. “Oran dora!” Nemo had three rows of shark-teeth.

“Oran dora. In my dreams, you’ve eaten me alive. I assume now you’ll finish the job corporeally?”

“Correct! What’s this you’ve brought?”

Jango rest the bird-bones next to Nemo. “I found these on the way up. I was impressed a bird had climbed above the clouds.”

“Did you really think I’d want a gift?”

Jango and Nemo both laughed. “I debated bringing it or not,” said Jango, “but eventually I flipped a coin to decide.”

Nemo soured suddenly. “You? Virgil Blue? A coin?”

“It wasn’t really a coin. I flipped the silver mask. It landed looking up, so I called it heads and left the mask behind.”

Now Nemo laughed again. “You flipped the Biggest Bird like a coin, and discarded even her! You’re ready!” Nemo ate Jango’s foot. Jango screamed and thrashed as blood spurt out. Nemo’s mouth opened wider than a bird-bath to catch it all.

“Hnng—!” Jango groaned. “Are you eating the bird-bones, too?”

“Sure! Why not? You brought them, after all.” Nemo ate Jango’s other foot.

“Haaaugh! How will that affect Anihilato?”

Nemo chewed up to Jango’s knees. “Where did you learn the name Anihilato? I heard it straight from the Biggest Bird, and I never mentioned it aloud.”

“Nnng… A bizarre young martyr told me about Anihilato when I fed him a centipede, just before I stabbed him to death. He was quite concerned about the King of Dust—but if I understand, Anihilato is you, isn’t it? And soon me, too, and this bird?”

“Correct, correct!” Nemo gnawed Jango’s hips. “As the first man, it’s only right for me to carry all the sin the world has to offer. Every Virgil Blue, and this bird you’ve brought, will help me bare the brunt of it.”

“There are no coincidences,” said Jango, too delirious now to even feel pain. “The bird must be meant for Anihilato.”

Nemo ate Jango’s arms next. “There is no meant. When you flipped the mask, there was just this way and the other way.”

Jango was already pale with blood loss, but became paler with fear. “But… things will be okay, right? Heads was the Mountain’s cosmic plan, wasn’t it?”

“If it’s not okay, then that’s the Mountain’s cosmic plan!” Nemo finished eating Jango’s torso and finally started on his skull. “There’s nothing left to do but see for ourselves!” Nemo licked Jango’s remains off the cave-floor. Then he ate the bird-bones. Then he ate himself, head warping into his own mouth. His teeth exploded in a flurry of particles and antiparticles. Then eternity ended and the next eternity began.

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