I’m getting stressed about publishing my book. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me!
I’m reading Akayama DanJay’s first chapters aloud!
I’m publishing a book! It’s a strange, strange book, so I thought I’d read a little of it aloud.
My latest talking-squid video-essay is about Mary Douglas’ “Purity and Danger!”
I’m a dirty little squid who likes this book!
You probably haven’t read my book Akayama DanJay. Not many people have. But I’ve been submitting queries to publishers, and I’ve heard a query sounds better if there’s a sequel in the works, and I’ve have some ideas kicking around anyway, so here we are. In the first chapter of Akayama DanJay: Blind Faith we see what happens to Jango after he sets Dan on fire.
In this commentary I’d like to outline my hopes for the book. That way, if I mess up, I can point to the commentary to explain what I meant.
Akayama DanJay is a faux-anthropology psychedelic trip a la Carlos Castaneda, wrapped in a giant anime space-robot fight which provides a tangible secular mythology. My goal was to mix religious iconography with cheesy pop-culture to provoke the sensation of spiritual experience in people who don’t think they can have one. The winning robot is obviously the one whose philosophical outlook matches my own self-righteous worldview, preaching kindness eternal and niceness when circumstances permit.
The book is politically masturbatory at times, with Dan’s arguments with Leo, but I tried to restrain that political masturbation to a context which clarifies that neither of those characters has it all put together. The overall message is (I hope) a non-partisan treatise on how to exhibit unconditional compassion without being a doormat.
If someone read that book and enjoyed it, then I think they’d enjoy a sequel which got even more pretentious and meta. At the very least, that’s what I wanna write. The first book was all about accepting impermanence, so Blind Faith will be about accepting the existence of suffering. A third book in the series would be about accepting non-self to complete the whole wabi-sabi aesthetic I’m spinning, but that’s for another time.
It’s easy for Jango to accept the existence of suffering, because he’s a Virgil who spent decades studying the Mountain. He screams when Nemo eats him alive, but he knew it would happen and climbed up to Nemo anyway. Being eaten alive is Jango’s role in a cosmic plan he’s proud to take part in, because his suffering will lead to others suffering less.
Not everyone is so selfless. There are people who would gladly let others suffer out of convenience, or even cause suffering for profit. Akayama DanJay: Blind Faith must be about dealing with those people in a skillful manner.
To convey such a message about suffering, we’ll dig into Professor Akayama’s past. Akayama confessed to causing a whole lotta suffering by creating the Hurricane, but even that will pale to what we’ll learn. I want the reader to condemn Akayama for her involvement in atrocities, but feel uncomfortable doing so because of her role in rebuilding the universe. As a symbol of the godhead, Akayama has an implicit get-out-of-jail-free card because her actions have metaphorical heft—but I figure any godhead worth its salt should be able to handle all the punishment it knows it deserves. When we eventually forgive Akayama, we’ll be forgiving a secular image of the creator for the suffering we must endure as sentient beings (or, if not forgiving, hopefully at least understanding).
I also want to continue blurring the line between the mundane and the divine by having the “real world” characters like Dan, Jay, Faith, and Beatrice interact with “actually real world” characters like Lucille, Akayama, Charlie, and Daisuke. This should tie the esoteric fights between philosophies (represented by anime robots) to the interactions we have every day. Like in Akayama DanJay, small things in the mundane world should have big consequences in the divine world (of anime robots).
In the end, I want the reader to have endured the unspeakable, but feel stronger for it. I want you to feel like you’re a giant space-robot, because in a pretentious cosmic sense (my favorite kind of sense!), that’s exactly what you are.
Scream at the Sky
(This is part three of the sequel to Akayama DanJay. This one’s a little disturbing.)
“This is it!” said Lucille, at the control-panel of Zephyr-Alpha-Blue. “It’s now or never!”
When Lucille pulled levers, ZAB sent signals to Charlie and Daisuke, who directed the Galaxy Zephyr’s arms wielding the Wheel. When she stomped metal pedals, ZAB sent signals to the bird-like pilot of Zephyr-Alpha-Purple, who relayed them to Eisu and Fumiko to direct the Galaxy Zephyr’s legs into battle-stance. In total, Lucille led ten thousand pilots plus a principle component of Earth’s population which gave her giant robot sixteen wings. The Galaxy Zephyr was countless light-years tall, but it was barely bigger than the Enemy Hurricane’s fist descending over them.
“Bird-thing!” she shouted. “We need another Zephyr from the Wheel for our Hurricane Armor! We need to pull the Chain!”
“We can’t!” said the bird-pilot of ZAP. “Something’s wrong!”
“We don’t have time!” said Lucille. “This is the end, one way or the other! What did you bumble and how do I fix it?”
The bird-pilot stammered. “It’s complicated! My cosmic plan is falling apart! Humanity’s unwillingness to work together just ate humanity’s understanding of reality’s interconnectedness!”
“…And that’s bad, I take it?”
“It was supposed to be the other way around! Nakayama can’t collect the last of humanity like this!”
“…Nakayama?” Lucille tssk’d. “Your cosmic plan was too complicated if you’ve gotta keep making new names and talking in the third-person, Hakase. The buck stops here! If the Chain won’t work, the Galaxy Zephyr will reach into the Wheel and collect the Zephyrs manually.”
Charlie and Daisuke appeared on Lucille’s monitors. “Commander,” said Charlie, “we’ve been slinging this Wheel around for a while, but we’ve got no clue what’s going on inside it!”
“Failure is not an option,” said Daisuke. “Akayama—Rather, Nakayama—Rather, the professor, in whatever form she’s in—has given us a great and complicated tool. We can’t risk damage to it or us by reaching into it out of ignorance.”
The Wheel cracked and stopped spinning. Its hazy green color split into a yellow side and a blue side. Nakayama was ejected from the Wheel into the Galaxy Zephyr’s Hurricane Armor; she deposited herself in Zephyr-Alpha-Purple, reuniting with the bird-pilot. “It’s ruined!” she cried.
“That great and complicated tool just collapsed on itself.” Lucille twisted a dial and Daisuke begrudgingly prepared the Galaxy Zephyr’s left hand to reach into the Wheel. “Let’s loot it for parts.”
“There are pilots in that hand, Lucille,” Charlie chided. “Speak seriously before you send them into a minefield.”
“On your order, Commander,” said Daisuke. Lucille nodded and the Galaxy Zephyr’s left hand entered the Wheel’s side. The Wheel was two-dimensional, but the Galaxy Zephyr somehow inserted its arm deeper than the elbow. “Oh no. Oh, no!”
“What is it?” asked Lucille, but before Daisuke could answer, the left arm was sucked shoulder-deep into the Wheel. The whole Galaxy Zephyr contorted and spun. “What the hell!”
“It’s flipping the Zephyrs inside-out!” said Daisuke. “It’s—”
He couldn’t explain before the entire Galaxy Zephyr was sucked into the Wheel. After much shaking and spinning, all ten-thousand pilots lay bruised and battered on a sandy red desert-planet with a mustard yellow sky. The Galaxy Zephyr itself was gone.
Lucille tried to stand, but couldn’t. Born on the moon, she wasn’t accustomed to such gravity. “Charlie! Daisuke! Professor!” She didn’t see them in her valley between dunes. “Eisu! Fumiko!” No sign. The few pilots around her wore different-colored bodysuits—the Galaxy Zephyr’s multi-colored crew had been thoroughly mixed. Lucille crawled to the most injured pilot near her while activating her bodysuit’s built-in communicator. “Charlie, Daisuke, Professor! Eisu! Fumiko! Report!”
Her comm clicked. It roared like a storm. “Run!” said Charlie.
“It’s too late to run!” said Daisuke. “Cover your mouth!”
“I’m sorry!” said Akayama. “I’m sorry!”
“What are you talking about?” asked Lucille, but she soon knew. The yellow sky melted black and outrageous winds whisked her and her crew miles and miles over the dunes. The swirling sand suffocated her. “Don’t let it separate us!” She wasn’t sure if her shout was audible through the unstoppable typhoon, or even through her communicator, but when her body slammed against another pilot, she grabbed them and they sailed through the air together.
When the wind died down, Lucille and her ten thousand pilots hit the sand rolling. “Aaugh!” Lucille grabbed her arm. Her shoulder had dislocated. “Shit! Are you okay?”
The pilot she’d collided with was a boy in a lime-green bodysuit. He didn’t respond to her; he was agape at the sky.
Lucille flipped on her back. The sky, once yellow and then black, had turned red—the same red as the sand. The Enemy Hurricane was watching over them with too many eyes, grinning with too many mouths. It was holding their Hurricane Planet with too many hands, and when it shook that planet like a snow-globe, the wind restarted. Lucille flew away from the boy in lime-green until the wind stopped and she hit the sand rolling again.
The planet’s thrashing was hellish, but Lucille’s stomach really turned when she considered how survivable it was. She could barely breathe, but she could breathe enough. The sand was soft and deep. The constant winds made pilots roll when they landed. The Enemy Hurricane wasn’t doing this to kill them. It was doing this for fun.
After hours of uncontrollable tumbling, the wind stopped and the pilots hit the sand rolling for a final time. Lucille was surprised by a voice from the sand beside her. “Boo!”
“Whoa!” She scurried from a mouth the size of a manhole-cover which smiled up at her sadistically. “Are—Are you the professor’s Hurricane? The Hurricane which made the Galaxy Zephyr’s armor?”
“That traitorous Hurricane has been assimilated and homogenized,” said the mouth. “You’ll wish you could join it. Your giant robot has been obliterated. You’ll wish you could join it, too.”
Lucille struggled to sit up. “Do your worst.”
She heard screams over the nearest dune. “…Charlie?” She crawled toward the screams quickly as she could. The sand beneath her churned and flowed uphill; the Hurricane was speeding her along to the scream’s source. The mouth followed, giggling gleefully. “Charlie!”
Charlie’s legs were replaced with teeth which chewed his body and each other in high-pitched cacophony. “Huuaaaaugh!” When he tried to shove the teeth away, the teeth ate his arms. Soon his whole body was a ball of screeching teeth.
“Charlie!” Lucille slid down the dune to be with the tooth-ball. “What did you do to him?”
The mouth just smiled. Lucille went pale when she heard another scream over another dune—this one definitely Daisuke. And another scream. And another. And more. “All your friends are screeching teeth now,” said the Enemy Hurricane.
“And I’m next?” Lucille guessed. The mouth chuckled and returned to red sand. “…And I’m next!” she demanded. “You can’t—You can’t torture them but not me! I’m the Commander!” She screamed at the sky. “I’m supposed to face the worst of it!”
The sky’s eyes tilted with joy. Lucille curled into a ball and cried.
“Commander?” Daisuke snapped his fingers over her head. “Commander!”
Lucille opened her eyes. She knew she shouldn’t sleep during important video-calls, but extended time alone in the moonbase with Daisuke left her perpetually beleaguered. She stretched and wiped drool from her chin. “Sorry. What did I miss?”
Notes to the future (plus a video about Black Mirror)
This chapter is a little short; I just started graduate school, and on top of that I’m having fun experimenting with video-editing, so I’m beginning to move on from this project.
But I’ve had a lot of fun with The Minotaur’s Board-Game, and I don’t think I’ll be done even after I post the last chapter two Fridays from now. I like the world I’ve made, but I think my exploration of it leaves something to be desired. Maybe a year later I’ll revisit this project and spruce it up a bit.
That’s the good thing about having a website instead of publishing a book. I can always change stuff. It’s a living document. It’s only public because I enjoy sharing my stories with anyone who wants to read them.
So let’s leave some notes for myself in the future. What needs to be spruced up in The Minotaur’s Board-Game?
The beginning needs expansion. I’m in such a rush to introduce core concepts, and just get on with the story, that Homer wins his first table-war the day after meeting Aria. I can convey my world to the reader in a clearer, more compelling, but still compact way. What if Aria put Homer to work on her farm, and they bonded a little over board-games? Aria could explain table-war to Homer and the reader. Then Homer’s first victory is more plausible, and the bond between Homer and Aria presented in this chapter is more convincing.
Also, I think Homer should get along more with the sphinx. Minotaurs haunt labyrinths; sphinxs propose riddles; they gotta buddy up. In the current draft Homer beats the sphinx at table-war and that’s that. Maybe Homer should run into the desert to console the sphinx on her loss.
I like Homer the minotaur proposing to Aria the human in marriage. The reader has watched Homer’s whole existence on the surface, so obviously he doesn’t know much about marriage. He can’t know that humans don’t marry beasts. But this book has a theme of accepting beasts; is Aria just closed-minded? Their platonic relationship is probably more fitting.
I started this project focusing on the snowflake method, in which a story is built up in phases. It only makes sense to return later to fill in the gaps, and it bodes well that I’m eager to do so. If I have fun writing it, maybe someone will like reading it.
But that’ll have to wait. After The Minotaur’s Board-Game, I’ll be focusing on graduate school and occasional YouTube videos. I’m having a lot of fun making videos about my favorite shows like Kaiji the Ultimate Survivor. It’s a new kind of content I’d like to practice on; I figure people are more willing to watch a ten-minute YouTube video than read ten-thousand words on my website.
Speaking of, here’s my latest video on Thinskter! Karl Pilkington describes Black Mirror episodes. Maybe next time I’ll discuss a dataset I’m studying about witch trials?
Table of Contents
The Circular Pangolin
(I wrote this in 2017 and it won second place at UCSB’s 2018 Most Excellent Prose competition! I was inspired by an anthropology class where we learned about pangolins, small armored mammals often compared to armadillos. In Mary Douglass’ classic anthropology book Purity and Danger the pangolin stars in Lele rituals despite being “always spoken of as the most incredible monster of all” for its peculiar physiology. Douglass’ examination of religion’s paradoxical fascinations made me imagine my own weird fantasy pangolin cult.)
In the desert you’re always leaking. When you’re out of sweat, and you’ve pissed your last drop, your sanity seeps into the sand. Clouds drift into the drought just to die. Only curled-up critters can handle the caustic heat. Them, the cacti, and the cultists.
Townsfolk call me Doc because that’s what I am. I used to have a nurse named Fernando, but Fernando lost his mind, so I lost Fernando. I spend most of my days reminding townsfolk to hydrate, but sometimes I get to stitch someone together, or cut them open, and they’d better hope I care to sew them back up when I’m done.
Night’s the only time you can take a decent walk, so one full moon I staggered out with a bottle of tequila. I liked to circle the farms drinking until the dunes looked like waves and I could pretend I was lost at sea. That night, before I could enjoy myself, a cultist confronted me on my porch.
The junior cultists came to town on moonless nights to beg for food. They wore black, hooded robes and slippers made of old rubber tires, and sunglasses, and scarves. That’s how I knew this particular cultist meant business: he (she?) wore the full rubberized regale. His black rubber bodysuit had footies an inch thick. I couldn’t see eyes through his dark glass goggles. He unzipped his fetishy face-mask to talk. “Doc, we need help.” Having spoken, he zipped his mouth shut.
“I’ve got plans tonight.” I shook the tequila. He just motioned for me to follow. “C’mon, cactus-herder! Can’t you even tell me what’s wrong?”
He unzipped again. “God is leaking.” And, zipped.
Well, what can you say to that? I brought my first-aid kit and followed him over the dunes.
We walked hours over the sand. Dunes looked like arctic tundra in the moonlight. Ordinarily I’d never venture so far from town, but the cultist seemed to know the way. “How do you navigate out here?” The question wasn’t worth unzipping; the cultist just pointed at the sky. His rubber gloves were so thick his fingers could barely bend. “You can see the stars through those thick goggles?”
“Doesn’t that suit get uncomfortable?”
He nodded, vigorously.
“So what’s it for?”
He unzipped, and I never thought I’d hear something so sane from that black mask: “In the desert you’re always leaking.” And, zipped.
When we crested the next dune a sandy caldera opened before us. Junior cultists scrambled from cactus to cactus like bats sucking nectar from flowers. They cut limbs from cacti to replant and propagate the species. They wrapped wax paper around red blossoms to preserve pollen. They sliced fruits and pulled down their scarves to lick the liquid which dripped. Not one member of the strange congregation revealed an inch of skin under their tunics and rubber.
I heard my guide unzip as he led me through the throngs. “Avoid eye contact with the students. Life-essence leaks at every opportunity.” And, zipped.
“Is that all you folks drink? Cactus-juice?”
Unzip. “The cactus is like all organisms: it transmutes foreign substances into its own flesh. But the cactus doesn’t lose what it drinks. We drink the cactus to become like the cactus. We don’t lose what we drink.” And, zipped.
We walked past scattered huts made of animal skins draped over long bones. I thought twinkles in the huts were stars, but realized they were glints off voyeuristic sunglasses and goggles. The huts’ inhabitants looked away when I noticed.
“What do you eat? Cactus?”
Unzip. “We grind cactus into a paste. This paste sustains us without causing us to urinate or defecate.” And, zipped.
“How do you fuck with these suits on?”
Unzip. “To do so would be unthinkable.” And, zipped.
“Now that’s no way to live.”
Deep in the caldera the sand was pebbly and coarse. Past the last of the huts more rubber-suited figures like my guide stood across the pathless path. My guide unzipped. “I am not holy enough to go further. You must approach the caldera’s center alone.” And, zipped.
Another rubber guide unzipped. “Stomp and shout when you reach the center. A holy man lives there whose renunciation leaves him almost totally senseless, who therefore has not lost a drop of essence in a decade. His sacred potential is so great, a cut in his robes would beam like the moon. He will lead you to God.” And, zipped.
“Okay, okay. I get the picture.” The sand below was rocky and steep. I put my first-aid kit in my lap and descended the slope on my ass. “What’s the name of this holy man?”
Unzip. “To utter it would tarnish its purity.” And, zipped.
I climbed down into the caldera longer than I thought was possible. The depth dimmed the moon and the stars. The sand turned into stones turned into rocks until the ground was paved with boulders. I finally came to a place where the boulders sloped upward in all directions, so I reckoned it was the center. I stomped and shouted at the dark.
Movement rumbled from the dark: a silhouette I thought had been a boulder stood up and lumbered toward me on a gait restrained by thick black rubber. The holy man looked like an inflated cartoon character with outlines eight inches thick on all sides. His rubber gloves allowed only the barest use of his fingers. His rubber helmet was spherical with a mere pinprick for breathing and no other orifices.
“Listen,” I started, then, realizing he probably couldn’t hear me, amended myself: “If you can, I mean, listen. I’ve been more than cooperative.” The holy man managed to move his arms to twist his helmet so the pinprick for breathing was aligned with his left ear. I spoke quickly so he wouldn’t suffocate. “Just show me what I’m here to do.”
He swiveled his helmet back to breathe. Slowly as dunes roll over the desert, slowly as stars roll over the sky, he shifted weight from one foot to the other to walk. I followed, wondering if I could roll him to his destination faster than he would waddle. He led me to a gap between boulders in the ground. The gap was just large enough for someone to spelunk. I prayed it would not be necessary.
The holy man tugged my collar. “What? No clothes allowed underground?” He nodded, somehow, and I unbuttoned my jeans. “Am I here just because you don’t fit down the crevasse with your dumb rubber suit?” He shook his head. “Well, why am I here, then?”
The holy man drew letters in the air with a bulky glove. He spelled, “because you’re the best, Doc.”
I paused on my descent into the ditch. “Fernando?” I covered my mouth. “Sorry. I’m not supposed to say your name, am I?”
The holy man pat my head, and he pushed me downward.
Deep in the crevasse the age of the air weighed on my shoulders. I lowered myself ledge by ledge while holding my first-aid kit with my teeth. The ditch was so dark I had no clue how deep it ran. More than once I cut my soles on black cacti. I realized I didn’t know whether I was approaching God’s wound, or climbing inside it. Either way, the innermost lacerations would need to be sutured first.
After a duration whose length I couldn’t guess I felt nothing below me but cacti. I bouldered left and right but still felt sharp spines below. I whimpered, having no strength left to climb from the crevasse. I cursed myself for following cactus-herders.
When my strength gave out I fell. My back cracked cactus fronds and three-inch spines stuck me like a porcupine.
I landed in an empty cavern. I hardly remember falling, or how long I fell, and only recall waking nude and bloody. The walls of the cavern were dimly lit by shelves of glowing fungi.
I crawled to my first-aid kit. I started by injecting painkillers, though it felt counterproductive to puncture myself more. Then I set to work plucking each spine with tweezers. When I plucked my left arm bare it was polka-dotted with pox-like perforations. Before plucking my right arm, I examined my surroundings. The cave rocks were bigger than the boulders in the caldera above; they were sheets of stone slotted together like plates of armor.
Behind the glowing fungi, the walls were subtly transparent. I shuddered when I looked deeper: human figures were frozen in stone like bugs preserved in plastic. Some stood at military attention. Some sat with crossed legs. Some were balled in the fetal position. I turned away to pluck spines from my flesh.
When I was finally spineless I packed my first-aid kit and walked around aimlessly. Maybe God would transport me to the surface if I patched him up, but I didn’t find anything Almighty, just more rocks and fungi. I wandered to the walls for guidance. “I don’t suppose you frozen folks know where to find God, do you?”
“They already have.” The voice boomed from everywhere. I felt stones beneath me rumble and writhe. “I did not hear you come in. Welcome, Doctor.”
“What kind of God can’t feel someone crawling on them?”
“I feel everyone crawling on me,” said the earth. Rocky plates unfolded like flower petals with only more petals underneath. Sliding sheets of stone threatened to crush me, but I found a safe spot to stand: the center was stationary like the eye of a hurricane. The surrounding rocks bunched up like a bundt cake. When it finally finished moving, it looked like a circular pangolin wrapped around me.
“So.” I brushed stones with my fingertips. “Where does it hurt?”
Stone sheets rustled. Plates parted like elevator doors. More plates behind them parted vertically. More plates behind them parted diagonally and pure white light leaked through a slanted slot. “Prepare, Doctor. This will not be a sight for which your vision is accustomed.”
“Tell me what happened.”
I donned sterile gloves and ran a finger along the shining slot. The circular pangolin’s inner light showed me the shadows of bones in my finger. “I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s wrong.”
“The holy man said you were the best available for sewing someone up.”
“It helps if I know what cut them open.”
The circular pangolin’s plates contracted. “I harvest mana from ether. The astral planes resist me with a hazardous…” It searched for a word. “Exoskeleton.”
“You cut yourself cactus-herding?”
“Lemme take a look.”
The innermost plates parted and the brightness increased ten-thousand-fold. I couldn’t tell the difference between opening and closing my eyes, so I closed them and covered them with both hands. This hardly dimmed the light, and I felt utterly transparent. I wondered if my thickest bones still cast shadows or if the light penetrated even my pelvis and femurs when I walked into the rocky armor. I heard the stone sheets close behind me like air-locks. I felt labored breathing from all directions. The floor was warm and wet. I blindly felt for walls.
“So, why am I naked?”
“My inner light would disintegrate your clothing. The holy man will guard your garments.”
My hands brushed a warm wall. “Is this you?”
“Am I close to the wound?”
“You’ve been walking inside it.”
I considered the contents of my first-aid kit. “I didn’t bring enough anti-bac.”
“It is not necessary.”
“We can’t leave foreign objects when I sew you up. It’ll getcha whatever the metaphysical equivalent of an infection is.” In the blinding light I had to assess the wound by touch. I could barely brush both sides of the laceration with my arms outstretched. I couldn’t reach the top of the wound even jumping with my hands above me. I walked hugging the left wall to gauge the laceration depth: the left wall ended twenty paces from the deepest portion of the wound. I’d found the pangolin’s real flesh: even under plates of stone armor, its skin was a foot thick and covered in hard, sharp scales the size of my palm.
“Doctor, what is your professional opinion?”
“I need to perform debridement.” I tugged a loose scale until it popped off. “The astral plane burned your tissues. I have to remove the char.”
I used the scale to cut dead flesh from the walls and floor. The circular pangolin contracted mysterious musculature to bring the roof within reach, too. I was blind in the impossible light, but I knew which flesh to flay because the dead flesh was dry. Each time I brought a new armload of dead flesh from the wound, my old pile of dead flesh was gone. I suspected the pangolin ate them. I estimate the debridement took eight hours in total.
“Now I’m going to sew you up,” I said. “I’ll start by suturing the deepest parts of the wound.” I carefully opened my first-aid kit so each instrument remained in position. I felt where I expected needle and thread. I blindly, painstakingly threaded the needle. When I tried to pierce the pangolin’s internal flesh, the needle snapped. “Damn!”
“But you removed flesh with my scale!”
“I can’t sew with a scale.” I felt the wet floor for my first-aid kit and searched for another needle. I pricked myself on a cactus spine. “Ow!” It must have slipped into my kit in the fungus room. “I might be able to work with this.” I tied thread to the spine. Just as I suspected, the spine pierced the pangolin’s innards easily. The pangolin rocked and rolled; I struggled for balance mid-suture. “Stay still!”
“It hurts!” The circular pangolin squirmed as I sewed a zig-zag at the back of the gash. I retreated and tugged the thread taut.
“Just twenty more times, big fella.”
The pangolin groaned, but subsequent sutures were swifter. Soon enough I poked the cactus spine through the full foot of thick skin and pulled the whole wound shut. My roll of bandages was barely enough for a courtesy-wrap. “I’m afraid that’s all I can do.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
I felt my way back to the stone-plated outer walls. “Can you open up your armor and let me leave?”
“But Doctor, you haven’t claimed your reward.”
I turned to the circular pangolin. Its light was brightest along the sutured wound, so its edges were shaded and I saw its silhouette. It stretched like a serpent into the infinite distance. “I just wanna drink myself to sleep in my own bed.”
“You’ve rendered unparalleled service to me,” said the pangolin. “You must join my highest order.”
“You mean the folks frozen by the fungi? No thanks.” I pried at the plates. “Let me out!”
“But you must have some reward,” said the pangolin.
I gave up opening the armor. I wasn’t leaving without a gift. “How about…” I searched the bloody floor. I collected the scale I’d removed and stowed it in my first-aid kit. “How’s that? Can I go now?”
“Thank you, Doctor. Yes, you may.”
The plates opened.
I couldn’t see anything as I walked out because my eyes were adjusted to the bright light, but I felt a cool evening breeze. The plates closed behind me and sunk under the sand, leaving only the bulge of a new-born dune. When my eyes adjusted to the dark I found myself a quarter-mile from town, and my clothes were folded beside me.
I haven’t seen any cultists since then—at least, not on purpose. On new moons junior cactus-herders come to town to beg for food, and when they do, they stop by to pay respects. Not to me; I have to let them worship the razor-sharp pangolin-scale.
I asked, one time, “why do you want to see it? This is sharp enough to cut through the thickest rubber suit.”
The junior cultist pulled down her scarf and said, “you can only worship what you fear. It’s the only way to keep yourself from leaking. In any case, this scale touched the skin over the muscle connecting the bones around the heart of God, and therefore it gleams like the moon in my eyes.”
Whatever floats their boat. I use the sharp edge for whittling.
But I always carry the scale when I step out at night to drink. It reminds me to climb the new dune the pangolin left bringing me home. There I drink tequila until the dunes are waves and I’m lost at sea.
(I think this short story conveys the meaning of Akayama DanJay in 2% as many words. If you liked it, why not follow me? I try to post something every week.)