It begins with a garden.
Inventory: flowers, fruits, the sun
There are many ways of being wicked. Few of being good.
Inventory: broken deals, scratched eyes, manslaughter
You are grown together, like grafting trees.
Inventory: body of a bird, legs of a lizard, wings that once belonged to a moth
It is painful.
Inventory: malformed foot, broken larynx, armor fused to scale
It was going to happen anyway.
Inventory: all human evils (take your pick of three)
The work's not good, but work is work.
Inventory: fifty-two torture implements, bloody claws, full belly
It begins with thievery and ends with the Devil.
It does not matter if I am the one who stole: the unity of Eden is unity of guilt. I took an apple, too, though. In sympathy, in solidarity perhaps. The shine against my fur like a cold promise. Like a cold promise. It tasted sweet and it began to rot something in me.
After Eden I stood in the green, frolicking meadow of every human pleasure and I watched. We were all condemned for thievery and now they stole their joys from one another, from the green and growing earth, built up the strangeshapes of it with fornication and mutation. I sat in the corner of the page, up a tree. Apple-core in my left paw. Timidness rotting, eyes growing sharp. Mind you, a rat is not soulless, timid-stripped mouse. The process of rat from mouse is not something I care to share, not now, at least. Suffice it to say that even though the strangeness of me grew I was ever still my self, although the definition changed.
Damned again, damned again and now I am the Devil, I think. One of the Devil, Devil in many parts, Devil in pain, in spikes, in teeth and malformation. Perhaps this time it was my fault; once Eden broke the unity of guilt broke too, and every action’s self-derived and individual. Perhaps I sinned in the meadow, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. In Hell I am now, with every rotting human thing, timidness stripped bare-bone. Another creature’s skin slung over my back, my feet strapped onto vertebrae. Claws on a man’s neck. The knife in my back keeps me here too, snared and sin-ensconced. Hearts are shiny like apples, but warm. Warm like an echo of Eden.
I steal them away, hide them in the corner of my ribs; there can be no further damnation.
i am swimming in a lake. it is sudden, brush-stroke transition from unreal to present, from potential into being. it felt like a cat’s tongue, licking at the idea of me until matter formed into my shape.
i am swimming in a lake. i am not alone, and everything seems to be as new as me, if not even newer—before the book is conjured in my hands i look around, before the cowl covers up my head i leer at every living thing that swims nearby. the spoon-bill, the frog, the seal that wants to live in the green soil and reject the depth, the equine narwhal, the winged fish.
i am swimming in a lake. god throws in a book, and swift-armed as i was made i reach and grab it, keep it from the clear destruction. god thinks the book is dead, and i do not correct them. the ink runs out into my arms, sinks into the skin of me, stains my tail squid-black. I sleep on my back, otter-thing-me, book held like a gift, safe, safe, safe.
i am swimming in a lake. i am reading the book that god wanted to drown, and it is consuming me. i cannot let it drown; its pages have tasted my blood and have a part of me inside now. i must not let it drown. i turn my head away from other creatures on the lake, i hide my treasure-tome away. it might just be the first secret of Eden. but perhaps that’s braggartry.
i am swimming in a lake. i am barely conscious of the water now, the black hood of the heretic grown about my torso, covering my face. my eyes are only for the book that reads me, the book that i cannot ever let go. my tail is dripping, splitting like a rotten apricot. somewhere else there is a sin found out. the lake dries up.
i do not remember the green, green garden where we laughed and frolicked—i did neither, head entombed in paper, consumed in words. i knew, even then, i knew my own damnation but not quite the shape of it. was i to torment or be tormented? was i to be both, a punisher who still is bound like all the rest they punish?
i am sitting on a man’s back. the spoon-bill, old friend, old, damned friend, is over my shoulder, but i do not let them see the words. the black ink has since faded to a blue, bleached by hellfire. the man’s back is slowly cracking, not that he can die any more than he has. there will be another along in a while.
i am sitting on a man’s back. i am reading and paying nothing any mind. the shape of me is warped now, and i wonder if, were the robe of blue removable, i would even recognize the flesh of me beneath it. but i do not wonder this often. most hours, as most hours ought to be, are spent on reading.
i am sitting on a man’s back. the book has told me why it was abandoned, why it was to be drowned—it lies, it lies, it lies but does not lie in this. damning knowledge, it whispered. and i have eaten of it like an apple, eaten of it all my fill and more. but it has eaten me up, too, the origins of me so disparate from the present of my body.
i am sitting on a man’s back. he is looking up, trying to see the book in my hands. maybe once i’ll give them what they’re after. let them try their hand at it.
Once upon a time, a man clad in armor was the first to descend into the pit of Hell. He was well-prepared, he thought, all brim-full of virtues. But he was less so than he sought, for none could ever cast in their minds’ eye the pit of Hell in its entirety.
But he went into the pit of Hell regardless, left behind the meadow, the green garden, the soft flesh of fruit, the vibrant ground, the trumpeting sound of human pleasures. The first creature he met was me, and I shall not tell you what I am, for it means naught to this poor knight’s adventures.
There were no knights before this one, I’ll tell that much, and ‘twas I who granted him that title. Knights exist in the context of dragons, of evil to be fought. They do not exist in the green and growing world. Only in fire. Only in fire. This knight was the first, and a poor fool, as knights often are you know—they’re foolish things, a joke to all of us, whoever you may think we are.
The second thing the knight encountered was the sweet scent of rot. It grew over him, sticky and heavy, and I watched him stumble toward the pitcher’s mouth in rapt amusement. The armor, sweat-slick, kept him from digestion. Pity. Pity, for he traveled further into Hell.
The third thing he met was his end, or at least as close as anyone in Hell is going to get. A pack of once-mice and once-lizards sprang on him, pinned him down in his armor and peeled him like a crab, gored at his guts and sliced his meat off delicately. He cooked in the oven-heat of Hell, rare steak for hungry teeth. Poor beast-ridden knight, bitten-bloody-murder.
I laughed and I laughed. His eyes looked at me, blank and horrified. I smiled back and dove maw-first into his face to eat his eyes.