The Sugar of the Earth – part 18




When Methany and Mathalia, obligate voluptuaries, reached the forth decade of their lives they had begun to crave a measure of escape their essential natures denied. In the halls of their ancestral home where the shadows sprawled velveteen (and had for thousands of years), they writhed, they piqued.


In the world around them a change had begun to flourish, a mirrory delirium that seemed to rise and meet the twins on their own terms: animals fluoresced, fruit became envenomed, the sky arched carnally. A trembling amount of color strained at all things, too vivid and overfilling the eye.


They fondled what grew, kissed what flowered, lay in the arms of a spreading phantasmagoria. But soon they also saw in that changing of the world a queasy reflection of everything they had always been: that slant towards the sumptuous, that tendency towards the torpid. They might, for a time, close their fabulous eyes (all four, between the two of them, the exact amazing orb) to the slight it caused them, but they could not in the end free themselves of the idea that they were being authored over by a rampant rash of the landscape. They could have lain in each others arms and let the crawling chaos consume them. It would have been so easy.


The revelation of the Starhenge and beneath it, on that lonely island, The Introduction site gave their heavy hearts a kind of hope.


They abandoned their ancestral home to the encroaching vicissitude and made a home in the observatory-ruins on the island where they tipped antennae of their own invention at the Starhenge and opened their ears. For nights in a row Methany would stand on the roof, her mouth open, her teeth bared, her long tongue a practiced proboscis tasting for astral secrets.


Mathalia would push her fists against her face where her many rings tangled with her lashes, their stones unfocused blurs at the edge of her vision. Before her sprawled schema of the Introduction. What has been Introduced? Or, what will be Introduced? And what was the relationship of the rising, venomous verdancy in the world to The Introduction?


There was a narrative teased from the folklore of the island that anyone who went into and came back out of The Introduction would be exulted. A crown of stars awaited. As far as the sisters ventured towards the actual site (perched on nearby peaks, peering telescopically) there were signs of passage.


Heavy mists condensed into a shimmery churn sewn about the high peak. The wind, chill and sequined with moisture at that altitude, pushed the long grasses down into what looked like meandering paths inviting the wanderer ever upwards. A kind of wreckage lay at the threshold, huge boulders, areas blighted with new poisonous colors.


They would watch for hours that pearly fog purl, the light rain beading their exotic bodies, then flex their mind-shapes (escaping from underneath each bead of water exactly, leaving a hollow the shape and size of their figure for the moisture to collapse around) and fall back to wonder and ponder.


Each year was an agony slowly worked like soft metal into relief.



The Sugar of the Earth – part 17


What had become of them? Zgija wondered as she looked over the lagoon, her ship drifting away from the dock. She could not see where the party had taken place but a strange haze hung heavily about that quarter of town like a storm cloud seen from a distance, its effect pouring down in a pillar of gloom. There shone something that was not light. Even as she sailed away a kind of atmospheric rash spread through town progressing slowly outwards form the party site.


Zgija cautiously unspooled the memory of Mrs. Hinj’s story; she rolled the names Mathalia and Methany over her tongue; she pictured their house, that observatory, that listening station, that hidden library and she knew she had find it.


Zgija had come to the island where the Starhenge shone as a last beacon. Being a child of the islands she had never seen the mainland and knew only the horror stories of what it had become. She knew she was adaptive. She knew she would last longer. She knew the tide of change that rewrote the mainland would cross the seas and remake the islands as well. On that island, beneath the Starhenge, where The Introduction – that incursion site – balanced high up on the interior hills, there she might find an avenue of escape.


‘Mathalia’, Zigija said again slowly. The low waters sounded softly against the hull of her ship. ‘Methany’. What had become of them?


Mrs. Hinj had told that the twins went up to The Introduction carrying with them Words they had sieved from secret sources. Poor intoxicated Mrs. Hinj had tried to pronounce one in play to further flavor her tale. Perhaps her husband, the vanished Dantho Hinj, himself a casualty of The Introduction had learned some half-knowledge of the events, had told his wife some of it all. Mrs. Hinj’s pronunciation had been on point.


Zgija maneuvered her ship out into the wide lagoons keeping it inside the motu that punctuated the outer barrier of the island, then steered east to curve along the coast. With her spyglass, the observatory of the twins should be able to be seen from the water.


Next to Zgija on deck was the book she had picked up from the street where the fellow who had carried her away from the party and the man that had been attacking him had fled deeper into that damaged town. Them too, she wondered, what had become of them?





The Sugar of the Earth – part 16


Silimpert Non, called simply Slimp by all his friends – every one of which lay dead – tossed his lean head, focused his eyes on his foe, and pronounced that name with a grotesque inflection of his handsome face: he curled his top lip on the left as he gave breath to the N, but slowly moved the word like a tough cut of undercooked meat to the bottom right of his mouth where the lip there unwrapped from around the gum as the teeth managed the Z’s, then back to the left side as his top lip curled there again finishing the palindromic circuit with a sneer: ‘Nizzin!’


Nizzin reached for his machete but had left it back at his room. ‘Dammit’, he said plainly. He dashed to the side as the dire-zebra and its rider bore down on him.


Zgija’s pulse was mad, her vision swung, she could feel her muscles spasm (light!). The memory of the event at the party, Mrs Hinj pronouncing that word, rose through her mind like the distracting tingle of her sinuses clearing. She almost sneezed. Somewhere in front of her a ridiculous melee played out. How had a zebra come to the island? She was vaguely aware that the man with the long hair had helped her out of the party, but could not fathom where his attacker had originated.


Nizzin was in a panic. When he had last seen Slimp they were on the top of a mesa on the mainland: the shrine had seeped light from its wreckage, the broken stones lambent with dust; Slimp’s corpse was drawn in the pale illumination; great lizards croaked out in the desert; in his hands he held the hollow shape of a strange arm . . . The dire-zebra locked eyes with Nizzin, shaking him from the memories and baring down on him all the import of its previous gazes as if to say, ‘something else might have been made of all this.’


Nizzin dodged again the punishing hooves of the dire-zebra until he was able to make space enough to hop half way up a wall (he could be very graceful) and launch himself from that vantage at Slimp – tackling him, dismounting him from the dire-zebra, and taking him to the ground. In his moment of success, Nizzin wrapped his arm around Simp’s shoulder, locked the hold, and twisted harshly feeling for the break. The crack came quickly and with the satisfaction of some infection spent of its pus; Nizzin’s eyes fluttered. Slimp barked out a yelp and everything became suddenly oozy; Nizzin lost his grip, became confused.


From where Zgija was she saw the shape of Slimp melt backwards out of the grapple as his mind-shape engaged and drew itself long across the cobbles of that little town before coalescing the body proper, throwing it up like a child on a trampoline, some thirty or forty yards down Pipe Street. Strangeness, it seemed, abounded.


Slimp scrambled, gained his footing and fled, his broken arm flopping wildly, his shape racing away, his zebra abandoned. The animal turned and clopped slowly up to Nizzin. It’s breath made plumes of disapproval. Nizzin, thrilled to have action almost regardless of context, lost no time in swinging up into the saddle and charged after Slimp.


As the hooves clattered away leaving Zgija in silence her muscles spasmed again; photophores beneath her skin pulsed briefly but there was no one there to notice. She shivered light.


In the middle of Pipe Street Nizzin had dropped his book.





The Sugar of the Earth – part 15


The house behind them erupted in sound.


Nizzin wove Zgija down Undone Alley. As they went she found her steps more and more though her pupils still swung back and forth like a dreamers and her senses seized up in her head as she tried to correlate what had happened. She was taller than Nizzin with her stride strengthened; her legs jangled with the jewelry around her ankles.


When they emerged from the alley onto Pipe Street Zgija broke away from Nizzin, pinwheeled on her own to where she found a seat on a bench. She breathed heavily and squeezed her eyes closed as if she were trying to make indelible what circumstance might wash away.


Nizzin looked back from where they had come seeing only the red bamboo move fitfully in the wind, though he could hear from down the alley the sounds of the party pop like light bulbs giving out precious gasses. There were shrieks that detonated from that distance and arrived at his ears so closely Nizzin flinched and flapped at the sound like a fly or a bee that had buzzed too close. Light began to coagulate in the direction they had fled from, occluding sight, clotted like fat, illuminated nothing.


Zgija had half stood; her legs were braced while her arms pushed down on the bench as if she might revive it from some faint; her head was bowed, she muttered to herself.


For no reason Nizzin could know he went to hold his hand in front of his face but found he still clutched his stolen copy of The Ecstasies of the Panopliant. Madness, or its close kin, had opened like a flower at the party, yawned it’s blossoms, heaved it’s perfume encroachingly across the town. Why had he not been afflicted? Not the book. In his pack, the weight of that item – that thing, he thought to himself – he had stolen suddenly grew lighter (bubbles rising in the liquid of the world) as he thought of it, rested.


Nizzin (reading his own thoughts out loud to himself): ‘I am protected.’


Zgija had managed herself to stand, yet still she hummed with excitement, sick from exposure to what had happened, to that event. She attempted to make with her mouth the shape of what she had heard, daring not to breathe as she tried. A new path had been opened.


Nizzin, feeling giddy and flushed with the strangeness that flourished around him – the sounds of earth breaking apart, stones cracking, came from the house they had fled, where the light had begun to dully stick together – moved forward to try again to help the young woman as some irresolvable trouble wrote itself onto that place.


He was about to reach out to her when he was stopped, watching the light play strange where it met and hushed against her skin. He thought he saw her pulse like a beacon, just once.


A voice interupted him, ‘Nizzin!’


Nizzin, shocked from his fascination, hearing his name, turned to see the blazing eyes of the dire-zebra that had regarded him from outside the coffee shop. In those dark orbs still lingered a sympathy Nizzin was at a loss to divine. Perhaps it had been a warning that the animal had offered?


It was the man who rode the dire-zebra that spoke, grinding the z’s between his teeth, ‘Nizzin.’


The Sugar of the Earth – part 14


Something had happened.


Nizzin had made his way from the library holding the copy of The Ecstasies of the Panopliant under one arm. As the hall swung down to the right he could see guests drifting outside onto a wide balcony forested with tall potted trees, from the balcony descended two flights of curving stairs. Nizzin thought he might make his way out to the grounds, escape through the garden – no one would give him a second glance.


After the cloying airs of the library, the wind out on the balcony refreshed Nizzin. His brain, still freighted with the synergy between the passages he’d read in the book and the treasure he had stolen (heavy in his pack) cleared some. One more glass of wine wouldn’t hurt though. He claimed one, the bell of it sweating, from a tray on a small table there between two of the potted trees. He sipped and strolled towards the stairs casually. No one considered him.


‘Ooo!’, cried a woman pointing up with a new smile scrawling itself across her broad face. Nizzin reflexively looked, as did all those on the balcony. Above, the sugary stars encrusted the night sky with the wrecks of constellations, dispersed into senseless arrangements. Writing itself over them, turning into view like an array of mirrors, the Starhenge arrived. There was light applause. Nizzin gave his gaze over to it, wondering.


It was then that something slipped. Cries came up from the main room below. Nizzin recalled the woman gesticulating, narrating some story that had captured the attention of the guests. The cries that he heard though were those of spreading shock as if some corruption had been discovered floating in the punch bowl, some untoward bone in the food. The house, Nizzin was sure, swayed with some new softness. Partiers around Nizzin lost their footing; golden wine was written across the balcony; he watched, inside a unrushed moment, the wine in his glass sway as his own footing remained only very slightly troubled.


He reflexively looked up to the Starhenge, as if that enigma might illuminate his mind the way it threw is strange light down on the island. But his gaze was cut short as the young woman he had seen across the lagoon his first in town stumbled into his periphery.


She was slim, a sleeveless dress of burnt orange blazed against her dark skin and her eyes were very very large but Nizzin could only see the panic of what was happening written in the slit between her lashes.


Nizzin’s soul, for lack of any better term, was a compound thing utterly incapable of processing through it the full spirit of empathy, instead only shards and facets of sympathy might wink: a half smile, a kind look, the helping hand he extended to the young woman knowing she needed it but not knowing quite what he might do.


A fountain next to them shot out an arch of liquid into spreading pool on the balcony before Nizzin realized it was a guest vomiting. He helped the young woman out of the way as the vomiter tried to apologize as more wine forced its way up through his teeth. Nizzin took the young woman’s arm over his shoulder and began to help her down the curving stairs towards the solace of gardens. Her gaze rolled past him and up to lock on the eerie sigil of the Starhenge. Her face so close to his he could smell the wine on her breath, could see her eyes like deep cups of tadpoles vibrating in their new vitality.


Managing her down the stairs he wondered out loud at what he’d read from The Ecstasies of the Panopliants, ‘What do we become beneath the gaze of the stars?’




The Sugar of the Earth – part 13


Nizzin found the wine almost immediately. Many of the guests drifted past him, glass up, tipsy nod, moving in a steady flow towards one of the main rooms where it looked like a voluptuous woman was holding court with a story as she waved her hands about. One of the servants, hovering on the fringe of the gathering bending his ear to hear the lady’s story, absently held aloft a tray of wine glasses. Nizzin lifted it easily away, as if in an updraft, claimed a glass for himself and pawned the tray off to a passing couple all in one easy movement. He could be very graceful.


Nizzin rolled the golden wine around his mouth and rolled his gaze around the room, taking in the house, the light, the shadows, the currents of the event. While many eddied around the main room, some of the guests were quite caught up in their own activities, filling alcoves with heavy breaths when he passed.


The library was upstairs. Tall windows were open to the night. There a scant growth of guests, swaying lightly in the atmosphere like seaweed in the shallows. Wreathing the tall open windows were vines of climbing jasmine yawning and panting in the warm night. Threading the growth with the expert allocation of an experienced gardener where those luminous blossoms native to the island, heaving their mild narcoticism into the perfume of the library.


Nizzin ignored the guests and ran his fingertips along the spines of the books. As a collection the quality of the volumes varied wildly, some seemed piled atop each other with little to unite them other than the artist who painted the covers. Other shelves were curated heavily. Title . . . Title. . . Title . . . Nizzin stopped at a book entitled The Ecstasies of the Panopliant and pulled the volume off the shelf.


‘Give us a bit,’ a young man from a couch in front of the windows popped up. A small pile of the profligate guests reclined there chewing slowly on the narcotic blossoms plucked from where they trumpeted through the wreathing jasmine. Their stray hands swirled wine glasses, bottles ,or were instead playfully tucked inside each others clothes.


Nizzin balanced his wine glass, now empty – the fire of it’s contents opening in his veins, on a small table stacked with folios and opened the book he held. He aimed an arched eyebrow at the young man who had spoken. The fellow, pale with clouded eyes raised his glass to Nizzin. Others around him showed there assent likewise.


Nizzin made a play of clearing his throat, caught himself up in a real cough and had to turn his head, his forefinger marking his page, as the fit exhausted itself.


‘On with it!’, sang out a girl with no more than sixteen summers in her blood, her smile painted plum and bits of flower stuck between her teeth.


Nizzin (reading from the introduction): ‘The prisms of skin display a spectrum only from that light of identity and imagination inside. That light that is carried to the skin may tickle the surface with sparkle, but bends the light backwards through the prism to a dull glow only as bright as the one who wields that light.’


This seemed cursory, but curious.


‘Play us another one!’ The young man from before howled. Nizzin imagined any fool thing would tickle the group of them. But as he had read the pack he carried with him gained weight, if not on his back, where what he had stolen that was hidden, then in his mind, where the idea of it burned brightly. The coincidence felt significant.


Nizzin flipped ahead a few pages until a sentence caught his attention.


Nizzin (reading): ‘Under the objectification of the stars, what does the body become?’


A companion to the young man loosed something like a stream of giggles into the air before tucking his face into his cuffs. The pile of them dissolved in puddle of howls and laughter.


Nizzin had found his book.



The Sugar of the Earth – part 12


Mrs. Hinj, widow of the recently deceased Dantho Hinj, had decided to hold a party in her late husband’s honor. All the town was invited. In the decline on the world, with the sun setting not only on the horizon, but on the world, on life as it had once been known, on the little things – imagine one or two, some part of the structure of society that as it might erode may reveal an essential part of one’s personality that had been dependent on that system whirling away placidly – Mrs. Hinj had forgone any formal preparations in the way of invitations or notices. She had simply made it known that the evening was ‘on’.


Come that night, as the stars flared like stuck matches and transfixed the darkening sky, the guests rallied and made their way through the winding streets towards the Hinj estate. The grounds opened in the front onto Canthus Street where the gates were flanked by a pair of gigantic banana trees, their violet leaves broad and fruitless and in the back onto the sinuous curves of Undone Alley.


Mrs Hinj was a robust woman, fond of her own figure and possessed of a formidable coiffure. Her husband had been a serial manque and enthusiastic though sub-par raconteur and when he had vanished making his way up to the incursion site – not called such in conversation, but instead colloquially referred to as The Introduction – she’d not been in the least surprised.


‘He was a good man.’


‘I admired him immensely.’


‘A role model.’


Mrs Hinj tired very quickly of the complements everyone seemed to carry to her like bales of hay, awkward and dry. The party felt good though, she’d already had three (was it four?) glasses of golden wine, and she opened her smile at everyone who greeted her regardless.


It wasn’t that she hadn’t loved Dantho, only that when he did not return she had realized, with the easy grace of age and the perspective of one who lived beneath a sun that would some short months on (perhaps?) set for the very last time, she had loved him all that she might. His exit had been immaculate.


The guests snagged on each other warmly, catching each other in pleasantries, exchanging winks and sly smiles. A knowing twist of the lips parenthesized deep sips at wine glasses. There was an air of open conspiracy; everyone breathed the same air.


‘Mrs Hinj you must tell us of your husband’s venture’, this from a small woman who wore long feathers tucked into the tortured curls of her hair that arched behind her like quills. She met Mrs Hinj’s gaze directly and made a tight, tart heart of her mouth, the bow sharply defined, before letting the shape of it slide into a broad smile when she realized she had teased out the hostess’ interest.


Mrs Hinj found the wine flooding her smile. The guests clotted around her. ‘Well, since you ask. . .’, she began theatrically.