Dan is Immolated in a Furnace

(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)


The year is 2025.

Dan smiled. “Sheridanianism sure is comprehensible, with LuLu’s presenting it.” He turned off his smartphone during the anime’s end-credits. This year’s annotation-session lasted so long his window was letting in some sunrise. “Existence is often portrayed as a spinning disk, and that portrayal often holds up. Earth rotates to make day and night, and it orbits the sun to make the seasons. Electrons orbit an atom’s nucleus as standing waves, and the galaxy’s turns are the timepiece of the heavens. Lucille’s Wheel of life and death, Akayama’s high-dimensional donut—these are just more names for samsara, the cycle of reincarnation described in the Upanishads.

“The Sheridanian position is that samsara is just another name for the Wheel,” Virgil Blue clarified. “You just watched the Biggest Bird give me her library of books from the future, after all. I knew about it before anyone else did.”

Dan shut the manga. “This was the last volume of LuLu’s printed before the hiatus. Tatsu wrote a few more issues, and more episodes came from them, but there wasn’t enough to print a full volume.”

“Correct.” Virgil Blue tucked the last volume up his sleeve. “That’s right.”

Dan waited for Virgil Blue to surprise him with something from this other sleeve. When he didn’t surprise him, Dan was surprised. “Don’t you have the next volume of LuLu’s in your books from the future?”

Virgil Blue laughed. He stood up leaning on his cane. “Let’s leave the last volume of LuLu’s for next year!”

The year is 2026.

On a cold, misty morning outside the white-walled monastery of Sheridan, beside a stone statue of a bird sheltering a man with its wings, Virgil Blue leaned on his cane and surveyed the coastline far below. The other two islands glittered in the sunrise, and the main island thrust a mountainous peak into the clouds, but these paltry sizes didn’t impress him anymore. The Mountain whose peak pierced the Heavens waited in the next eternity.

Virgil Blue heard whirring in the sky. A helicopter-drone dropped a package next to him and flew away. Through the compound-eyes of his silver mask, Virgil Blue read the package-sender’s Kansas City address. Inside the package was a volume of manga about colorful space-robots, and a note which read ‘The End Is Here.’ He tucked the volume up a navy sleeve. If he had any doubt before, it was gone now.

Virgil Blue wandered like the mist into his monastery halls. Bright tapestries dripped dew down alabaster walls. He stepped around puddles to save the hems of his navy robes and stopped beside Dan’s orange sliding paper door. “Oran dora, Danny. Are you ready for the end of the eternity?”

Dan slid the paper door open from inside. He was thirty-five years old with short brown hair, pale skin, and spotless orange robes. The same orange fabric lined the walls of his cramped quarters. Books of every color were open, cluttering the mattress. “I am ready.” His expression was pale and defeated. “Oran dora.

“You still had reservations last night. You weren’t convinced I would die after you, or this eternity would end when I died.”

“My mom left me a voicemail.” Dan showed Virgil Blue his smartphone. “She has cancer. She’s been trying to tell me for a few months, but the signal in Sheridan is weakest in the winter.” Dan stood up on his mattress. “Virgil Green said when this eternity ends, everyone alive won’t really die. The story just stops.”

Virgil Blue nodded. Dan nodded back, pursing his lips. He wondered what the Virgil’s expression was like behind the mask. “Let’s skip breakfast,” said Blue. “Today our worms return to the original sun, and I promise, yours will stick together all the way to the Mountain’s Heart. Pick up your books and we’ll shelve them back under the bell-tower.”

“Okay. Okay.” Dan collected thirty pounds of books. He hefted them with both arms to join the Virgil in the hallway.

Virgil Blue closed the sliding paper door behind them with his cane, a curious object taller than him to compensate for a limp in his left hip on cold mornings like this. “This way, Danny. Eternity should end before Sheridanians wake up. The Biggest Bird awaits!”

Dan brushed wrinkles from his orange robes by rubbing his books against them. “I can’t thank you enough for accepting me into your monastery, and letting me annotate some silly giant space-robot manga. But I’m still so full of Earthly concerns!”

“That’s just your worms doing their job.” Virgil Blue pointed his cane’s gnarled, spotted tip down the hallway and led Dan from the monks’ quarters. “When our worms climb the Mountain, the Biggest Bird will eat such doubts. Whisper them to me and my worms will help you carry them.”

Their whispers echoed in the musty library, where bookshelves reached to the top of the bell-tower. Older titles were near the bottom and newer titles near the top, so Dan had to climb seven or eight shelves high to sort some of his books. He was mournful at the spines of those he hadn’t finished reading. “I’m worried for my friends, like Faith, and Jay, and Beatrice. They died without learning from you the way I did! Their worms must be so lost.”

“I’m sure the worms of Faith and Jay are as stuck together as yours and mine. As for Beatrice, we’ve never met, but there’s no sense worrying about the dead. Her worms are on their way to the Mountain, perhaps in you. Or perhaps she’s already saved some of your worms?” When Dan shelved the last of his books, Virgil Blue used a magician’s slight-of-hand to produce from his navy sleeves every volume of manga Dan had annotated, plus the new volume delivered by drone. “Shelve these, too.”

“What? LuLu’s, on the library shelves? But I thought you said it was only real to me.” Dan looked over the covers, paralyzed by the last one. He didn’t recognize it at all! The Galaxy Zephyr had extra arms and legs like the Vitruvian man, and horns wearing its former forms like garlands. “This is—post-hiatus?

“The final volume.”

“Please, I have to read it!”

“Danny, in the next eternity, your worms and my worms won’t appear in the same time or place. I won’t be there to guide you. I need you to show me you can drop your attachments.” Under his navy hood and silver mask, Virgil Blue could only show his pity by tilting his head a little. “You’ll live this last volume, Danny. You, me, Faith, Jay, Beatrice, and everyone else. It’s the fate of all worms.”

Dan climbed the shelves almost to the top of the bell-tower to leave the manga where it belonged chronologically. He couldn’t bring himself to climb down, mourning at the manga’s spines. “All worms? You promise?”

“All worms. The Biggest Bird won’t leave a single one behind.” Dan finally descended. Virgil Blue tapped his back with his cane’s gnarled, spotted tip to urge him onward, out of the bell-tower.

“What about Anihilato? Isn’t it hoarding lost worms?”

“Anihilato?” Virgil Blue stopped walking. His silver mask’s buggy glare was overpowering. “I told you to forget that word, Danny.”

Dan gulped. “The Biggest Bird’s white fox took my bad worms to the longest worm, Anihilato, the King of Dust. How could I leave a part of myself behind?”

Under a navy sleeve, Virgil Blue wagged a finger disapprovingly. “The King of Dust can’t keep you from the Biggest Bird, Danny. Not unless you let it. I’ve seen the Mountain in you.” Virgil Blue gestured with his head, pointing with the feathers atop his silver mask. “If Anihilato bothers you, a washcloth is all you’ll need.” Beyond a meager dining-hall where cushions flanked squat tables, they entered the kitchen. With his cane’s butt, Virgil Blue swept a washcloth from a countertop into Dan’s hands. “Keep it until its purpose is clear.”

Dan folded the washcloth as they walked. He wasn’t sure if Virgil Blue actually intended the washcloth to be useful somehow, or if giving it to him was just a way to calm his nerves. “Did you read many books when you lived in America, Virgil Blue? Em, Jango?”

“I did. Why do you ask?”

“This washcloth is right out of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

“Take wisdom where you can find it, Danny. There are no coincidences.” At the heart of the monastery, Virgil Blue rapped the wall with his cane’s butt. The cobblestones cradled a hinged panel smeared with ash and grime. “Would you open the furnace? I’m not so limber in the morning.”

“Can I take off my robes? I’d like to keep them clean.”

“First clean the furnace. Then remove your robes. You can’t take them with you to the original sun.”

Dan swallowed. Virgil Blue was making him overcome his own spotlessness. “Yes, Virgil Blue.” He pried the panel ajar. The furnace vomited black ash over his orange robes. He pulled soot from the furnace with his bare hands.

“Are you sure the furnace is your path to the next eternity?” Virgil Blue watched Dan dirty himself. “Just because my way out has to be so unpleasant doesn’t mean yours has to be, too.”

“I’ll be contributing to the monastery.” Dan smiled thinking of LuLu’s, where characters could either proudly sacrifice themselves for the sake of others or vainly sacrifice themselves to escape their reality. Dan was determined to make his death the former. “Sometimes I feel like being warm is all I’m really good for.”

“Then I’ll be back soon. I’ve got a parting gift for you, Danny.”

“Virgil Blue?” The teacher met his student eye-to-compound-eye. Dan’s smile faltered and he looked out a window at the ocean. “I’m also bothered by…” He pat his blackened hands on his washcloth. “The Screeching Teeth. My bad worms made some, and even though the white fox took those worms to Anihilato, I’m sure there’s still some teeth in me. Will the Mountain accept me like that?”

The Virgil froze. Under the silver mask, Jango opened his mouth as if to speak, but found no words. Compassion bent his wrinkled brow. “You’re not worried about the Screeching Teeth. The Screeching Teeth is worry, Danny! Leave worry behind. Your worms are ready.” Dan nodded. “I’ve got a parting gift for you.” Virgil Blue limped away. Dan scraped ash from the furnace until he was caked in soot. From the storeroom nearby he brought ten logs of fresh firewood, just enough to warm the monastery. After loading the furnace, he removed his robes. He was nude underneath, with a hungry build. “Here you are, Danny.” Virgil Blue hobbled to Dan with an outstretched navy sleeve. “I planted this cricket myself. I dried it, cured it, plucked it, and wrapped it in its wings.”

Dan held the insect to his nose. It was three inches long, smooth along the shaft, tan in color, and had ten black eyes encircling its gnarled head, like a tiny version of the Virgil’s cane. “You flatter me, Virgil Blue.” Dan tucked the cricket behind his ear and climbed into the furnace, cracking kindling underfoot. “Can I have the incense?”

“Of course.” Virgil Blue guarded the smoldering end of an incense stick while Dan settled cross-legged atop the logs. Virgil Blue stood the incense in the tinder.

Dan watched embers light the kindling. “I’ll give the Biggest Bird a good word for you, sir.”

“I’ve never been good at saying goodbye.”

“Goodbye, Virgil Blue.”

“Goodbye, Danny.” Virgil Blue shut the furnace with his shoulder. The monastery warmed. Dan kicked and screamed. Virgil Blue thawed his hands by the furnace door. Then he left the white-walled monastery and climbed the island all the way above the forbidden cloud-cover, never to return.

And eternity ended.

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