Feeding the Beast

Once upon a time, there were two people. If you know anything at all about them, then that is enough for you to know the beginning, the end, and everything of our story.

And if that were the case, we would just as well end this right here; but I do not want that, because I have an agenda that would not be done to its end if we stopped here; and so we are, you and I, going to proceed on the assumption that you know nothing about these two people, and the thing that they created.

And as for my agenda; if you know what it is, then you are right to know, and if you do not, then that is a good thing too.

*

These two lived in that world which we all secretly know to be the real one; it is the world in which every single thing is made from an idea; from the notion, or the supposition, of something; and where in turn every idea, every notion, and supposition, without exception, is realised as a form; and so the idea is made as a thing in the world.

In this way (and this has never changed) the world and its ideas seem always to be joined somehow, and required of each other in some way, as if they are each the high and the low at the same time; or as a pair they are the interior and exterior of each other, and each can really be measured only against the other.

But this kind of thinking is unnecessarily complicated, and if you wish, you may regard it as mere metaphysics — or even worse, a cosmology. And we do not need to concern ourselves about these things, for such thinking has never achieved anything. And so, let us return to reality…

In this world, they both, the man and the woman, lived in a town that sat on the edge of the sea, on the curve of one of those bays where the water — forgetting the state of the tide or the strength of the wind or the phase of the moon — wraps high around the foundations of the buildings that crowd the edge of the sea.

No-one in the town — or most other places, for that matter — knows even the slightest, inconsequential thing about the sea, let alone anything of consequence. But we two, reader, you and I, are in a privileged situation, for I know a little about the sea, and what little I know, I am about to share with you.

*

Here is the sea. Even though its waters lap against the docks and the waterfront, the feeling of familiarity that comes with this proximity does nothing to lessen another sense; the sense of a darkness that moves slowly in the depths, like drifts of great shadows with flickering, sparkling edges that flash like stars behind the clouds of storms, and these sparks in the depths rise to the surface in great slow upward waves of light, repelled by something in the dark depths, something heavy…

To those who look only so far and too cleverly, and then too cleverly suppose that the surface of the sea is just the surface of the water and no more, these sparkles of light are nothing but sunlight, reflecting myriadly off the breaking surface of the water as it shifts and rolls; but they are not that, at all …

For the sea moves, ponderously in its depths, under its own weight, and across the weight of the earth, so that the masses move hard and slow against each other, and there is a massive weight, and there is no room for anything to form, for here is the engine room of a chaos, and it is the chaos which drives everything. And it is this chaotic darkness, where everything is crushed so finely that nothing can exist, which is the engine behind the sparkling lights that cover the sea like an endless, restless, cloak.

When it is a dark night, and when the sky is covered with clouds so that there is no light from the moon or the stars, and if there is a heavy rain falling across the surface of the sea — when those things happen, then there is no swarm and chaos of lights on the surface, and everywhere there is only darkness.

But this is neither an atmospheric condition, nor is it a matter of reflection. The depths of the ocean have paused, for reasons that it would be pointless to enquire into. The engine rests, mysteriously, and there are suddenly no points and stars of light which flee like little satyrs from the depths to the surface.

And this is why the surface of the sea can be so dark and black at night, when there are clouds and rain; it is because in the depths of the sea, everything is paused, and chaos is resting.

The truth of it is this; all things draw their life from these engines, in the depths of the sea, and also in the depths of the Earth. And that is why no one can understand the depths of either of these things, for to do that would be to understand the depth of things and of the world, and who can understand the world? It is a mystery, as it should be.

And so, I am not telling you this to try in myself to understand the world, or in the expectation that you might understand the world. This tale is more specific. And it is not even about feeding, or beasts, or the feeding of beasts in general — it is about the feeding of a particular Beast, and its endless particular hunger.

Now, let us approach the matter.

*

Through the town, there was a river that flowed to the sea, and the man and the woman lived on opposite sides of this river. Although they had both noticed it, sometimes as a sluggish, listless stream of no particular importance, and sometimes as a torrent that was almost wide and almost raging, and had even broken its banks on occasion — although they had both noticed it, they had only looked at the surface (and I have just described how the surface of things can deceive…); and they had not wondered about anything beneath that surface, for its depths have never been found, and cannot be contemplated, for the river is part of the sea, and by now you know something about the sea, as we have made a beginning of that…

It was said that the river was as deep as the world itself; but who knows? I do not, for I have never seen the bottom of the river, or the bottom of the world, for that matter. And no plumb line has ever found the bottom of the river, and it is common knowledge that it never will.

Near the centre of the town, on the banks of the river, there was a maze of tunnels and buildings all thrown together, and intertwined. Tall walls and underground curved ceilings twisted around and back upon themselves, and here the inattentive easily got lost, and everything was made of old brown bricks, so that the effect, in general, was of the earth, and age, and of things being solid. In the middle of all this construction of bricks and earth was a long platform of black stone. It was more ageless than old, and it sat next to the rails that connected the town to the city. It was here that the people of the town came when they travelled to the city.

The man and the woman had never spoken. But things changed at 7:49 on the morning of an ordinary, mild day, when no one was thinking anything at all about seas or rivers, and they seemed some unimaginable distance away, and of course there was no idea anywhere of a Beast, or indeed anything Beastly.

She was ahead, and he was slightly behind, and there were others around them on the long platform of black stone, a quietly intent group about to board a train, and in that moment, she turned and handed him a piece of fruit, cut from a larger piece. It was a small piece, of no special consequence, shaped like a casual word or two, a passing thing, and nothing was unusual, except perhaps this one thing: that if there was a day on which there was suddenly a new idea in the world, a day on which our Beast was born into the world, this was the day, and here was the birth. It was a new thing; but it was nothing unusual, in itself.

From this moment, everything took root and grew, and it grew slowly at first, but it grew easily. In the shadows which formed where they met (and having now met for the first time they kept on meeting; for a genie had been let out of a bottle, and it was a very clever, resourceful genie, who had seen enough of the insides of bottles…) — wherever they met there grew small and delicate bushes and shrubs, which shimmered in a silverlike way, and they grew, in size and in number, so that at first there were just a few, and then soon there were more, and more, and so it went on.

In what passes between people, there is never any stasis, for that is death. Every piece of fruit passed between people has something that grows or lessens in it; and this is what grew between them. On the branches of the plants, there began to grow a new kind of fruit, something fleeting and subtle, as if it might not expect to last. And if the fruit was not plucked, then it would soon fade and disappear, as if it was made of ghosts. But when it was plucked, and shared; then somehow it became real, and the man and the woman found that there was pleasure in the fruit and in the sharing of it.

But there was something else, a third thing, that was plucking the fruit, feeding on it. There was a form, a glimpse of something among the shadows, more of a disturbance in the light than a thing, really; it was a shimmering, in some kind of darkness; or at least that was how it was in the beginning.

Of course both the man and the woman noticed it soon enough; even though its movements were small, and it was young; it was not grown yet, just for now it was the size of a child, just a putto of a thing, but they would notice the flash of light in the shadows, or even just a kind of rush or presence in the passing of a moment, when it would seem to them that there was something alive there, something that was smallish and seemed to live on the little silverlike fruit, and was playing with them. And as the plants and the fruit that they bore all grew, so did the thing which lived on them, and it was soon obvious that the thing was a creature, of a quite specific and individual kind.

And the creature was never far from the plants on which the fruit grew, the fruit which the woman and the man passed between each other frequently now. Soon they realised that the creature would eat nothing else; it would eat only the silverlike fruit.

The weeks and then the months passed, and the plants and the other things that grew in the shadows kept growing, without seeming to need any more attention than just that; just their shadows, as the man and woman passed.

First the plants, silverlike, with a light that seemed to be within them, grew to be almost as high as our two were; and it was all in some way familiar up to that point. The plants were pleasant, and in some way familiar; but they did not stay familiar, and they kept growing, and soon there were trees taller than any person, and larger, in a way, than life, and some of them even seemed to be like those oaks that are centuries old and can seem unimaginably large, even like the ancient oak in the town’s park.

And then they each, in their own time, realised that never before had they seen trees as big as these, with such broad and tall canopies; nor had they tasted anything quite like the fruit that grew in abundance on the great spreading branches.

And the creature was no slouch; as fast as it could eat, it grew, and there were times that it seemed like the trees, to have become larger than life, but that was only sometimes, and there was no pattern to this, certainly no pattern that they could discern, either of them. And since they were both the kind of people who like to discern things, and thus have a measure of them, this caused them concern, and increasingly they thought about it, and increasingly they were frustrated by it.

There were other times when the creature seemed to have become small, or farther away, or somehow both, but it really, for both of them, was impossible (or at least too difficult) to say whether the creature really did change in size from day to day, or whether it was something else, altogether, and not about size.

And to confuse matters more, there were days that they felt as though the creature had gone, or even that it had never been there at all, as though they had imagined everything, all along. And they were both unsure, unsure perhaps above all else, as to whether the creature had noticed them.

They had, when they had first seen it, thought it to be a charming little thing, a kind of a pet. At first it had run about, childlike and gambolling, small and pale, on its two feet, fluttering its wings uselessly, to be admired in a light kind of way, and playing with its tail like a kitten or some other baby animal which will most likely not last through the spring; such is the light grip that young animals have on life, which of course is why they should be admired as quickly as possible.

That now seemed a long time ago, and because they had seen it almost every day, they had not noticed its growth. And now, suddenly, the creature was large and could stand over them, and seemed as though it might cover them with its wings, which were large and shot through with many colours; and the fact was that it had become a Beast now…

The shadow that it cast was sometimes alluring and inviting, and could have something gentle about it. At other times, it seemed as though there was a darkness in both the Beast and its shadow which was dangerous, and might swallow them; and then its whole darkness made them feel unsure, and nervous in their stomachs.

And there were days that they felt that the Beast was staring at them in an implacable way, standing right in front of them, like some sphinx, mysterious and inscrutable, demanding all their attention and all their answers, demanding fruit, demanding everything. And whenever they gave anything to each other, the Beast would feed, and grow larger, as if the fruit was meant for it, and as though this was the only, inevitable, way of things. To feed the Beast.

In this way the Beast grew strong. At times it was like a storm that would blast, and cause everything to reel as though it might fall apart. And then they both became afraid of the Beast, for there was a kind of careless tyranny about it, and it began to follow them everywhere, and it would block their view and their paths, so that at times, it even seemed that there was nowhere to go but towards the Beast, because the Beast was everywhere.

They even tried to reason with it, each of them talking to it separately, when they were alone; they told it that it could not be part of their lives, for while there was something so very familiar about it, there was also something very strange; but the Beast would hear none of it; it could hear nothing, it seemed, but the growls of its own hunger… it would lower its head, which had grown impressive now, and they could see into its eyes, which burnt with a flame that was always there, which were always strangely a heated colour, the colour of a strange flame that seemed to have no particular source, in a way that made them feel uneasy, that seemed to heat the blood, and live in it. So now there was a fire, to do with the Beast, in their blood.

And sometimes they felt as though they had lost control. They were in control of things and themselves most of the time, for that was their nature; for them to know their situation, to know their own lives — but here they were, with a monster that filled their eyes when they looked, filled their ears when they would hear, made their skin race with anticipation when they would feel touch, and they both would sometimes find that the knowledge of it would sit on their tongues like an ox when they tried to talk, and so there came to be many things between them which were thought, but not said, because of that ox, which was large, and heavy.

Both of them felt an exhilaration of freedom, but it was only the breeze of it, as though it was from a distant place, as though they were on some shore, and the breeze was coming in off the wide sea, and carrying with it the scent of a distant land, exotic with spices, and fragrant with the aroma of forests, and mountains, and deserts with caravans of great animals crossing them, laden with trade and adventure, and the noises of great new cities and light rolling across the plains and hills like great herds of unknown creatures, and more great creatures with scales of gold and feathers the colour of the sea, and the creatures fly high in the sky and build nests on the peaks of the tallest mountains.

And the only way to get there was somehow the Beast, for all the breeze carried was a hint, not a promise of anything. They felt as though the Beast, if they allowed it to, would take them away, on some adventure, for its back had now grown broad and its wings had grown strong and wide, and its fur and scales had grown dense and strong.

But at the same time there was an enclosing, as though they were trapped, and unable to move. They had the feeling of a freedom, but they also had the reality around them of being unable to move. But it was not the Beast that made them feel trapped; for the Beast, with its faraway, burning eyes seemed to tease them with a kind of release, but it was a disturbing release; and in a way it was against them, for it was they who were trapping themselves, unable to move in the strangeness of their town which had become a world now of uncanny shadows and spaces, a world of trees laden with wonderful and mysterious fruit, all presided over by the Beast, which could now be everywhere at once, and nowhere all at once.

And so they reached a point which seemed to be inevitable, and their fear won out, and they decided to deal with this once and for all, for they were both sensible people. They would get back to their lives, they would free themselves from the Beast, and they would free the town of these shadows, and the impossibly big trees which obscured everything, hung with the strange silver fruit; they would free themselves from all of it.

And so they were disconcerted and confused, but the man and the woman decided that they were resolved, and they would be strong, and so they stopped looking at each other.

But the Beast did not leave them alone, for it was always hungry. It would not be denied.

*

And so away from the town, among the dunes, they built a wall around some flat sand a few steps from the water’s edge. They built the wall as quickly as they could, but it was so tall and required so much deliberation that it took them an entire morning to do it. There are some things that take real time, no matter how quickly you do them.

The wall was made of rock, in pieces lifted up from deep beneath the sand. Each one was lifted by a single thought. Some thoughts are easier to have, and therefore harder to use properly, of course, so for the first hour or so, the results were patchy; there were rocks that were too large, and weighty, and these took a while to find a use for and they took some effort to move, and sometimes they would even not work at all, and had to be discarded, but this is the way of construction, and cannot be avoided. Some were smaller, and these were more flighty, quick thoughts, and these were useful for filling the gaps between the larger thoughts. Some were flaky and weak, and could not be used at all, because they fell apart. This is the way of construction as well.

By lunchtime, the wall was finished. They had made a prison. The job was truly impressive; the wall was higher than they were, and to get the rocks up to the very top of the wall, some of the thoughts had had to be very lofty indeed.

After lunch, which as always they ate separately rather than together, because that was the right thing to do, and which therefore had a vague hint of something unsatisfactory about it, they applied a finish, a veneer, to the wall. Their words poured smoothly, as though it was easier now that a plan had been agreed to; here was a project that they could sign on to. Their words filled the gaps in the wall, close to exactly, and then they glazed over the new surface with periods of silence and some nods and acquiescences.

Then the woman and the man gathered together the fruit from the silverlike trees, which were now large enough to touch the lower reaches of the sky, and which were everywhere through the town, and they were also everywhere along the beach, and these trees had shaded them while they had built their wall.

The flesh from the fruit of the trees they mixed with words and pauses and other pieces of silence, and the resulting mixture, when it had been applied to the wall and had dried, was wonderfully smooth, and mirrorlike, and shining. It was bright and reflecting in the sunlight, like a mirror, with nothing rough or reckless, nothing that a Beast could possibly get a foothold on.

Here was what they had intended. A prison, in which to keep the Beast confined forever, away from them, away from anyone, where it would disturb no one.

There was a gate that they had made to be an entrance, and it was very strong, made of resolutions cross-braced with the best ethics. It was all joined together on a framework of practicality, supported by arches of the hardest, most appropriate logic available. It could be closed and sealed in several dozen different ways, but opened in only one.

And that one way was so deep and uncanny that they were not sure, day by day, that they could remember how to do it, because to open the gate required a key that could be made only by giving something up, and they were sure that they could not do that.

*

And now they had to be sly, for the Beast was no slouch. It had shown itself to be single-minded, but it was far from stupid.

And so the next day they deceived the Beast. Using as a pretext the firmness of a promise based on good intentions wrapped in a half-formed hope and tied up with unsatisfied yearning, the three of them went for a walk along the edge of the sea. It was all innocent enough, near the shallow water, well away from where the ocean floor drops away into the measureless abyss.

On their walk, they came in time to their great construction, which had taken them until a lunchtime to build. There they casually and distractedly led the Beast through the great gate, which glistened now like a mirror in the sunlight.

Now, here is a most curious thing. If all that you have read so far you have been somehow expecting, as if it has been some almost familiar tale unfolding — then this next development is perhaps something that you will not have been expecting. Here is what happened next.

When they entered through the gate that sparkled like water in the sun, into the enclosure of the smooth, mirrorlike walls, they found that during the night, observed only by the light of the moon, there had risen from deep in the sand more walls, held together by a mixture of things which were then and remain now unknown, and uncanny mysteries; for these were thoughts that no one knew.

These new walls had not risen to any kind of pattern, and that made the maze that they formed all the more a maze. There were passages, and dead ends, there were loops and bridges and tunnels, so that a confusion could somehow cross over another confusion, and create a strange kind of order that seemed immeasurably greater than just a solitary mystery. This was the character of the maze, and before it they were suddenly dumbfounded, and the ox was back on their tongues.

They did not enter far into it. At the first corner, they paused, suddenly afraid, as though the maze could somehow block out the sun, and everything might become dark. They almost touched each other in a kind of panic (and they had never touched each other) and their nerve was almost lost, but they had a plan, and they would stick to it. And quickly, without another word with which to feed it, they hurried out and left the Beast there in the maze, and locked the great gate using bars and nails and great bolts, and they covered it with beams and sheets of the hardest iron, made of the coldest promises that they could find.

In this way the gate was sealed, and the Beast imprisoned.

*

There was no howling, no protest. From the moment in which the gate was locked and sealed, a silence fell heavily, like a dead bird, as heavy as the albatross falling from the sky, and suddenly everything was different.

In the silence, with its dead weight and its hint of dust, something seemed to vanish, for a time, and it was a relief, and so the man and the woman resumed the routine of their lives.

Everything was familiar again, but it was a familiar shell. There were no shadows, and there was nothing disturbing moving in the corners of their sight, and even the trees shrank and withered, for the Beast, you see, was locked away in the maze down by the edge of the sea, and everything, it soon became obvious, had come from the Beast; there was something about the Beast that was behind everything.

So everything was familiar again, but there was now a strangeness, because the Beast was missing.

*

Now, there were those in the town who had begun to notice what had been happening, and the three of them — the man, the woman, and the Beast — had become, in a few select circles and among those who somehow, for whatever reason, felt it to be of concern to them, or felt it to be business in which they were involved or should be involved, or were thankful not to be involved — the three of them had become famous, famous in that small way that requires talk and muttering all delivered with a disapproving sneer, or a sniff, because some things cannot be said plainly enough, and can only be sniffed at, because once something has been sniffed at, there is usually nothing else to say.

It is fair to say that when the Beast disappeared from view, there were sighs of relief, kept politely under various breaths and sniffs, in these various quarters. After which the chatter stopped, and a few pieces of fruit that had been turning poisonous on the lowest branches of the silverlike trees fell to the ground, where they decayed into nothingness in the space of a minute or two, unnoticed.

*

After this, the man and the woman did not meet, or even see each other, for many months. They lived their separate lives in the town, and the town was happy enough to keep them apart.

*

But few things can be sealed away forever, and there came a time when something came back; it was the shadow of that feeling that had been such a new and curious thing when the Beast had first arrived.

Inside the maze, the Beast had stirred and opened its eyes, and the thing that was different now was different below in the ground, and above in the sky, but nothing could be seen, it could only be felt, and because nothing could happen, and only be felt, everything was constrained; they could not be friends, although they had it in them to be very good friends; and they could not be lovers, although they had it in them to be very good lovers. Instead, they were forced to be strangers, for that was all that was allowed to them by the world.

But whether you are allowed to do something does not always matter, even if it is the world that is doing the allowing and the not allowing, and so it soon turned out that it had become too late for the man and the woman to be strangers.

Around them, no-one seemed to notice. Everyone seemed happy with the charade. It was like a play, with the two of them pretending to be strangers, from a distance, pretending.

That was enough to let them off the hook with the town, for now.

*

One day, a feeling of unease circled about the man and settled on him, and it seemed as though the birds in the sky might close their wings and cease to fly, but then still stay suspended up there; and the creatures in the sea might cease to move and swim, but remain suspended in the water, as if in a sea of glass… but despite the feeling of unease, everything kept moving in the sky, and also among the trees and also in the sea everything kept moving, and on the face of it everything kept on as normal, even though a difference was there; and the difference was that everything was uneasy, and wrong.

Now, the man knew that the reason for this uncanny state lay sealed inside the maze, behind those walls — this development was, he knew, to do with the Beast. He knew this as he stood before the wall, which was long, and high, and had become dark, and offered him nothing; and directly in front of him was the great gate that had stood unopened for so long, sealing the Beast in.

Now here is what happened.

As the man stood with the sand and seawater shifting around his feet, the birds in the sky paused as if they were in some shock. They stopped in their paths, and then moved, and then paused, and then moved, and they kept doing this; a stopping and starting that went in short uneasy motions; and yet this somehow seemed normal, and in that, it felt right, it felt somehow as if it was the correct order of things.

And whenever the sky froze — and soon he realised that it was the substance of the sky that froze, not the birds, although the effect was similar — then, the waves of the sea would likewise seize, and the water would immobilise to glass. This all happened in the pulses, the spasms of movement, and between them he saw the great gate swing open, by itself, with no-one there to open it, and it opened in the same short, uneasy motions, and this was a curious thing, for the gate had been sealed and locked well, and yet here it was opening, and it was all quite inexplicable, but somehow quite normal at the same time.

And so finally the gate stood open, and the pulses of movement and stillness had stopped. There was no movement from inside the walls, and everywhere was silence, but it was a more natural silence now, not the uncanny atmosphere of the preceding minutes, when it had seemed that everything had become sculptural. This silence was just the simple lack of movement, and behind it, somehow accentuating it, was the low and distant thrumming of waves breaking in the distance, and water was rolling on the faraway parts of the sea; and there was another murmuring sound, closer, and that was the waves breaking on the beach nearby.

So, it was with a deep silence accompanied by the calls of circling gulls and the sandlike hiss of waves collapsing and disintegrating — with all this existing as a kind of commentary, he entered the gate.

The maze was larger than before. It had grown, extended in all sorts of directions. The walls had become bowers heavy with growth, so that the maze was now adorned with flowers such as he had never seen before; these were something new, entirely. In bunches, in sprays, or singly, they hung suspended in the foliage that grew and moved, they hung like jewellery on the dresses of women at a dance. And the flowers seemed to recognise him, or at least to acknowledge his presence, for as he passed them, they shivered slightly, or turned as if the better to see or hear him.

The maze had become bigger than seemed possible, bigger than could possibly be contained within its walls, and the more that he saw of it, the more he saw the impossibility of what it had become. It was something of a miracle… the corridors were wide in places, as wide as one of the main streets in the great city of the interior where there is no sea and the sun never sets or rises; and in other places the way had grown small, so that it was almost impossible to find, and even more impossible to pass. In other places it had grown over, and the foliage curved strangely over, growing up and together to form a roof, with strange white trumpet-like flowers hanging down thickly, so that he sometimes had to fight to find his way between them, and the thick tendrils clung to him, and gave way only grudgingly, because everything was out of control, and wild.

At the end of a great corridor, in a court, near a cul-de-sac, just past a bridge and opposite a cave, he finally found the Beast. It was curled around the base of a great tree which was sterile and bare, for it had no leaves, or flowers, or fruit; it had only dark and bare branches.

The Beast was as large as it ever had been, but it was sluggish, as though it had woken from a deep sleep. It had not been fed, so it had not grown, but neither had it withered or died — it had only slept. And the truth of it occurred to him; that the Beast would never die. It could not die.

The Beast raised its head in his direction. Its fur and scales were dull, but alive; its wings stirred so that he imagined he felt the air move from them; it looked directly, purely at him, a blank, pitiless kind of summarising of him, with eyes that had only thin, moonlike crescents, slivers of white, and many stars in them, and apart from that were nothing but discs of ebony.

And that was enough for that day.

*

The next day he returned, and standing before the Beast, he found a seed in his pocket. It had been with him since the day when the woman had given him that piece of fruit in the middle of that quiet crowd at 7:49. The seed was from that first piece of fruit, and he realised now that he had kept it with him always, and actually had never forgotten it at all.

At the sight of the seed, the Beast started. It threw its head forward suddenly, and when he knelt and pressed the seed into the soil (for it seemed somehow obvious and beyond question that he should do that, here where the soil was deep, and rich, and fertile…) the Beast opened its mouth and let out a hungry call.

It unwrapped itself in a smooth motion from the trunk of the tree which it had been guarding. It came gliding as smoothly as a thought over to where he stood, and there it stopped, coiling with an excitement that was somehow dumb and single-minded, in a pile before him, like a spring somehow wound, yet still lithe and loose, and relaxed; as if it somehow had great power in either state.

And then leaving the seed in the soil and the Beast attending it, he left the maze, with its wide and narrow pathways and its fruit hanging strangely like trumpets, and he returned to  the town which now seemed to be less interesting, and if anything a little smaller than its size suggested it should be, and from then on, something of him always stayed there in the maze, with the Beast.

And when he returned the next day, the maze seemed even more wondrous than before, and now it was so large that it took him the entire day to find the Beast. But eventually there it was, lying with its long body wrapped three times around a tree which had grown up where he had planted the seed. Already the tree bore fruit, and there was a clarity about it, in the way it was shot through with a particular shade of blue that was the blue of the sky and the sea; and each fruit shimmered  with a sound, and when he drew near he heard the sound to be a word; and it was just a single word each time, and it was a different word for each fruit. And there were so many that the effect was complete; it was a complete language, all of its own, an entire language spoken at once.

As for the Beast, it was dozing contentedly, full of the fruit it had eaten. Around it lay husks and shells, and skins and seeds. Its fur and scales had a shine to them, it was a healthy, energetic shine, and the rise and fall of its ribs was sated, and even.

A breeze blew in from the sea, making the flowers shake so that separately each flower made a note, and together the sounds were soft and deep, and there was a great sea of notes. Not all were in harmony, because there were so many, there was an almost impossible, irrational number. But also because there were so many, the effect overall was a harmonious one, and so the sound of the wind through the flowers was a great, complex chord.

The sound of the flowers grew suddenly louder, and with that the Beast became disturbed. It stirred and looked in his direction with eyes that were blank and as hard as black stone. Whatever it was that the Beast meant, there could be no question about it. Whatever it was.

He was caught by surprise at this change of mood on the part of the Beast, for it had become serious, and he quickly turned away and fled along the path back to the gate, where anything, it seemed now, was able to enter and leave the maze at will; anything, that is, except the Beast. The Beast followed him to the gate, snarling and snapping at his heels, jumping this way and that, always seeming about to lunge and bite, but never quite doing it.

The Beast worried at him, but did not strike, even though it was riled. At the gate, it would not cross the threshold. It was as if something invisible restrained it, as if there was a leash that it strained against, and it stood in the gateway, barking its strange call, its large wings flapping furiously.

As the man walked away from the beach towards the town, with the Beast remaining in the open gateway, its agitation subsided and the creature became wistful, or nostalgic in advance of some future or other, and there was something resigned there as well, as though to something lost, and because of that it paced, cowed, just inside the great invisible missing gate, as though it was still there. And it paced, and kept pacing, and would not rest.

I have had it with this Beast,” the man thought to himself as he walked, and he swore that he would never return to the maze and its churlish resident. The Beast could look after itself; let it starve, if it meant that.

And with that he returned to his home in the town, where at least there was no confusion.

*

And his resolution in this was so strong, and unwavering, that he did not return to the maze for seven whole days. It was only on the night of the sixth day that his curiosity at last overcame him, and underpinning this curiosity was a kind of affection diffused throughout him, for something of the Beast had a foothold in him now, and it felt all the more disturbing because the feeling was new, and there was something exhilarating about it.

And so on the dawn of the seventh day (which was a spring day, and fresh and brisk) he came back to the maze and he returned to the tree that he had planted, but the Beast was nowhere to be seen.

The fruit (and there was truly a great deal of it) had been eaten, and the remains lay scattered around in a great disarray, but of the Beast, there was nothing.

The spring breeze had stiffened. It whipped at the sand, and the hedgerows stirred and shifted. Across them rolled waves of colour, alternating not in time with the breeze, but endlessly changing to a rhythm that had some other, stranger, source.

And so on the seventh day he wandered abstractedly through the passages of the maze, and there were many new paths and dead ends and intersections and tunnels that had not been there before. During the seven days since he had been here, everything had grown in complexity and size, so that even the things that were familiar had a kind of newness about them. And as he explored, all the while searching for the Beast, he was accompanied closely by the strange wind which stirred the masses of the hedgerow.

And then he came to a corner that was new, where the ground seemed unsure and became like sand, shifting under his feet, and the hedgerow had grown even more dense and entangled in itself, so that the foliage grew dark and mysterious and heavy with deep shadows, and the only directions in which it was possible to see at all were along the paths of the maze. It was as though the maze was playing the game harder, now.

He wondered on all this briefly, as he stood there, but it was only briefly, for his attention was really on the tree that had appeared before him.

This was not the tree that had grown from the seed that he had planted — no, he had not retraced his steps, coming back to where he had started from. This was a new tree entirely. A second tree.

The flowers which covered it were new altogether, and while his tree, the tree that had grown from the seed he had planted, had a silver complexion, with something blue in it, or with a wash of blue over it or suspended somehow between the tree and himself — this new tree had a redness to it, and this colour seemed to flow from within it, in the way that seaweed moves, so that the tree seemed to undulate in some tide, far distant and yet at the same time here and close, as though there was some uncanny gap that the apparition seemed to bridge, and as though whatever it was that gave this new tree its redness arose from itself, ceaselessly. The tree, arising from itself. The tree stood unmoving except for this undulation and its seaweed redness.

And there was something that stirred, in that movement beyond the breeze, somewhere in the air or in the light, which began to cause a stirring in the flowers on the tree, so that they seemed to ring with sounds that came from the depths, all at the same time. So everything was part of something else.

Around the red tree, resting in a bolus of young branches and foliage tangled near the base, the Beast lay reclined, relaxed, as if in a moment of rest, gazing out of eyes that were languid and the size of serving plates. It seemed to recognise him, and in its gaze was a certainty, and he knew that the creature had been waiting for him; and that it had been knowing, with certainty, that he would arrive. And he also knew that it was waiting not just for him.

There was something so familiar in this, the dark density of the maze, in this tree with its red waves stirring, in the flowers that sang like trumpets in the uncanny breeze, and finally in the blank, ceramic gaze of the Beast; there was something definite and familiar in it all.

And there was the thing that was missing.

And just as the man realised that something was missing, the Beast unravelled from the tree, and slipped down from the tangle of branches in which it had been resting. As it moved, there was something in the angle and the aspect of its back and its path, and in the reflection of the lights of the tree on its scales, and something in its look, that all together brought to him the sure knowledge that this tree had also grown from a seed. And in the same instant, he knew who had planted it.

The Beast had been eating from this tree as well, that was clear, and it had grown. It could rear now, upon the coils of its tail and its haunches, and as it reared in front of him, it was close enough for him to feel now the heat of it, and its teeth almost brushed over his skin — and then it looked him in the eye, and it saw into him.

He was stared down by all this, and averted his gaze, and in that action there was a glimpse, off somewhere at a distance, of some colour and movement, but when he looked, there was nothing, and the flash of colour and movement could have been anything, or just an impression.

He found this all disquieting and unusual. He swore again, irrevocably, that he would not come back.

*

The next day, he was back, and he stood before his tree, and he went to the red tree, which he knew of course was hers, and there was no one to discuss that with, and the Beast was to be seen nowhere.

*

And now the waiting became endless. There was the waiting, every day, for the time (and it was a precise time which never changed; it was 7:49) at which he could travel down to the beach, to the maze. And once he was inside the maze, then there was waiting again, but this was the active kind of waiting. It was the time that it took him to find the trees, and so he had to move, for they seemed always to have moved, and always the Beast was near one of them, grown in size, and also grown in life and in vitality, so that its presence was becoming in a way physical, and rough, and at times uncouth, which of course can be fitting and appropriate for a Beast. It was a rude strength and a rude vitality, and it was hungry for life.

*

And now the Beast, though it nipped and harried at him, and spoke strange speech in some language of its own, had become familiar, as a friend or a family member or a witch’s cat might become familiar. And he had come to find the Beast’s attention pleasurable, so that he even relied on it somehow; and soon he found that it was essential, and this was certainly a surprise. There was a level on which the Beast seemed able to break through anything.

That look that the Beast gave him, with its wide, black, eyes-like-saucers; that uncaring, knowing look in which so much rested, and there was no labour, just something like a god. No one, nothing else, looked at him like that, and it seemed to see all of him, and yet it responded to nothing, and so there was something about the Beast that was absolute and changeless.

But where the Beast was changeless, the maze was not. One day, all the fruit of the two trees was gone, stripped away, and the leaves also were gone and scattered, so that the trunks and branches were bare, and had become a great tangled mass of branches, with that internal shadow inside themselves, and their branches were like arrays of some kind of aerials.

Of the Beast there was no sign. But there was a sense of it in the air, and it was also behind the air somehow, and he imagined that he heard its call and its movement, and when he stopped and listened closely, and inwardly leaned in towards the sound, it did not dissipate, as fancies do when they are inspected. The more he listened, the more certainly was it irrefutably there; in the distance, and yet somehow all around; a playing sound, as though the Beast was sporting in the nearby shallows of the sea.

As to which sea, well, that was impossible to tell, for by now there were several oceans in the maze (admittedly they were smallish ones), not to mention a few decent-sized lakes, at least three mountains, some hills and forests, and a desert or two. And so there were many shorelines and shallows in which a Beast might sport.

And now, apart from the presence everywhere of the Beast, and the pregnant state of the flowers, and the base, stark state of the trees, and the sound of the sea which was somehow everywhere and behind everything, and the maze itself, there was nothing.

In the silence which underlay all these impressions like an impenetrable, clear ground, the man now stood still, and he became silent in himself.

And now nothing else happened until some plants had begun to grow up out of the sand and wrap themselves around his feet and between his toes, and then nothing more happened until some tendrils from the hedgerow had tightened themselves around him, and then even the rays of the sun, normally pencil-like and straight, curved as they came near him, and they took curved paths around him. Nothing else in the world happened until all this had come to pass, and he was covered with all sorts of shadows.

And now this next thing might seem strange, and not at all what you might expect; for time itself had been doing something unusual, and now it was about to stop altogether. It seemed as though the sun might begin to go dim, not as it does when the night comes, but somehow in itself; and it was with this realisation that he stirred, and shook himself; and he resolved that if nothing was endless, then this was no exception; and so he resolved to explore the maze properly, and to see what he could find, so that it would not seem endless.

He would find the Beast properly, once and for all; even though it was here one day and gone the next, and it seemed so unreliable and self-inclined. And he would solve the riddle of the second tree, and its provenance, and he would solve the riddle of her and her whereabouts; for all of this had become a sphinx with endless riddles and questions, and the sphinx stopped him along every path.

*

Here is an aside, reader. Some explanations require a great amount of time — so much, in fact, that they never resolve, and are never complete.

It is as if a sailing ship is crossing the globe, trying as hard as it can to complete the circumnavigation, but the globe is growing, as though it is breathing and taking in air like a huge, inflating balloon, and there is always more distance to travel, so that no matter how it struggles and strives, the sailing ship can never complete its voyage, for there is always more. Nor can it turn back; that would do it no good at all, for it could never regain its home port, for the reasons just described. And so just as surely as it could never reach the far side of the world, it could also never return home.

But if a globe that is forever expanding means that the exploration can never be complete, then the opposite is true; a shrinking, collapsing globe will bring the exploration to its conclusion all the more quickly; for the distance to be travelled is always, continually, less.

What happens when the globe collapses suddenly? Not in any sort of predictable, orderly fashion, but in an unexpected instant… The voyage of exploration is suddenly over, perhaps even before it began, and the mystery, if there ever was one, is resolved, and any voyage by our ship is not required; in fact, it is impossible. All this can happen even if the voyage has not yet begun; and the end result is that the exploration and the subject of the exploration are suddenly one, the problem and the solution, the seeking and the goal — all become one, in one inexplicable, mysterious synchronicity, which is not just coincidence but something greater, in which nothing makes any sense at all, but even so is uncannily in the right place.

*

The preceding about ships and globes and collapsing is to explain how it came to pass that once he had stirred from that stasis that had seemed endless, that had been on the verge of going on forever, he soon afterwards found a particular room which was at once in the maze and in the town. He found it suddenly, out of nowhere, which was passing strange, because it had been there all along, in both places, with its great white walls which rose above everything that it contained, and which seemed more solid than everything else. (How a room can be in two places at once, I leave for you to ponder.)

It was in this room that the synchronicity was done, it was achieved and sealed. They saw each other. In that room, in that minute, the globe of the world collapsed into a kind of single point with no height or length or width, and that particular voyage of the little sailing ship was suddenly, instantly, and undoably complete.

This happened among a crowd of people, and they were all from the town, yet none of them noticed anything, for the mark of the Beast was not on them, and there was nothing of the Beast within them.

And as for the details of how this came to pass, and how there was a synchronicity involved which would cause the earth and the sky to pause if its inner workings could only be understood — we are going to omit those, because they could never be more than suppositions and hypotheses, and the mystery there will always be unscalable and complete. That is the nature of synchronicity; to be a mystery, and more than just a coincidence.

*

Now everything was different. Whenever they were together, and that was often, and words passed between them, the Beast was there, with its ceramic gaze that missed nothing. And everything they said fed the Beast, and the man did not have to search for the Beast now, because it was always there, eating from their hands.

Now it is a strange thing that when the town spoke, its words would either evaporate into the breeze meaninglessly, or they would fall to the ground like lead weights and sit there, glinting in a useless and dull kind of way like dead fruit, so that the Beast would not even glance at them. It would even go so far as to turn its head away, so that its gaze was averted in some kind of deep melancholy. With its rear legs, which had great strong thighs like a gigantic insect, like some kind of mantis, and which dug into the ground like pylons carrying some electricity of life, it would back away, leaving the the leaden grey words to rust away; and in the night air, under the moon, they would rust and crumble, so that by the morning, when the sun rose over the sea and cast long shadows over the maze and the town (for they had somehow become one), the leaden fruit were always gone.

In the end, as soon as the town began to speak, or even look as though it might speak, the Beast would shrink away, and would have nothing to do with it.

And the Beast never left the two of them, either when they were together, or apart; they began to feel as though they were always together.

As for the times and places that they met, this was left to synchronicity, which has its own timetable and will be neither rushed nor denied, and so it happened frequently sometimes, and other times seldom; and sometimes it felt as though it was not part of any pattern at all. But there were other times when it seemed as though there was an underlying pattern, certain and complete, somewhere a plan of things, and times, and places, and their meetings were somehow part of that plan. But the fact was that none of this made any sense to either of them. It was all nonsensical.

Sometimes it was as though they were struggling, pushing against a tide. But sometimes there was a tide that they were with, not against, and then they were with a great primal flow that seemed to emanate from the vast and mysterious machines at the bottom of the sea and in the deep parts of the earth.

And in that primal flow the Beast was with them always, in its unpredictable, unknowable way.

*

The maze now seemed to change every day, so that doorways or gateways would appear or disappear, or dead ends would come to life somehow, or some whole new section would open up. The maze had become so big and rambling, so like a mansion with an impossible number of rooms, that there seemed to be a whole new world appear in it every other day. A hill might become a mountain, before his eyes. A depression in the ground could fill with water and become an ocean, complete with a distant horizon and sea monsters that might come from the depths to play, all writhing and jumping in the foam.

And all this time that the maze grew more wondrous, the town became a paler shade of grey, as though something in it was being drained of life. Everything had become perfunctory, as though it was a machine or a habit, just filling up space, and everything else had gone to the Beast, somehow.

The Beast was now very broad and strong, and its eyes, which were now like great black dinner plates, saw everything, near and far, without delay or qualification. Everything was reflected in them, because they had become dark mirrors, holding within themselves first all of the maze, and then, it seemed, all of the world.

*

Now the game had changed again. Now the words came thick and fast, and the Beast ate them ravenously in big, hungry, gulps, plucking them down from the trees or up from the ground, taking them quickly before the town might stumble across them, and not knowing what they were, might mumble to itself about the words without understanding them. And as if they were some strange, exotic fruit, suspecting that the fruit might be poisonous, the town might be shocked or left speechless by the words because it did not understand them. And then the town would be left breathless, and grey.

Here is how it would often work when the town would overhear a word that had passed between our two, and see it hanging like a ripe fruit, or even if just some unsure echo might be heard; then the town would feel a self-righteous kind of stiffening, with a garnish of indignation, all at the recognition of that forbidden, archaic scent which was food for the Beast, but anathema to the town.

And there was so much of this indignation that they soon felt, the man and the woman, that the trees had become too heavy with fruit, and too large. They felt this not because of anything in the trees or in the fruit; they felt it because of the indignation. The song of the flowers that hung always heavy towards the earth was deeper, and it was louder. And as it became louder, they became concerned that it would attract the attention of the town, and if they really knew a single thing about the town, it was that the town did not approve, and would never approve.

Even so, even with all the talking, the man and the woman had never touched each other, in the presence of the Beast or otherwise.

And all of it, the colour and the noise and the chords and the trees, and the Beast, with its great pelt and scales that caught the light like stars, and behind everything the endless silence — all of it hung over the town like a strange, colourful, quilt.

By now the Beast, and the trees, and the hedgerow and the maze — everything — had all grown so large that our two sometimes had the idea that they should rightfully be afraid, and because ideas are what they are, they each had dreams that were unsure and senseless and restless, and there were dreams of the size of things, and foremost among these things was the Beast; for the Beast now towered over them, so that sometimes it almost seemed to shelter them, and it could leap vast distances and scale great heights within the maze, and both of these things it did for sport, and enjoyment.

Its muscles rippled in the sun like water. Its wings flamed and shone in the air, iridescent like a butterfly’s, and it was an iridescence of colours that shifted upon themselves, and flowed upon themselves. There was a sense of fascination there, as if the Beast was some kind of kaleidoscope.

It would swing its long tail carelessly back and forth, or its wings would flap, excitedly, as if it was anticipating something, or it might swing its head, and its mane would fly out wildly. In this way it could, at any moment, suddenly bring down a wall of the maze, and this was the reason that the maze was always changing, as pieces were removed or moved or turned on their heads. The man and the woman both realised now that this was how it had always been done, this was the only thing that had changed the maze, ever; it was always the Beast who changed everything.

On this particular day, the Beast leaped up from around one of the trees on which it had been feeding, its great legs propelling it faster than a thought, and it ran along a length of the maze, crashing into the walls and hedgerows, swinging its tail and taking down into pieces what the crashing bulk of its body spared, so there was suddenly noise and chaos and destruction everywhere, and where the length of the wall fell to pieces, a new place behind it was opened up and revealed, and they saw it, and the Beast watched with approval as they went into the new place that had been opened up for them.

And this was always the manner of the Beast now, to be chaotic like this; and so there were always new places for them to explore. And of course they knew that this was the only way in which the maze had ever changed, and secretly, they were in awe, they approved of the strength and roughness of the Beast, and they wished secretly that everything was more like this.

And still there was never any touching; they had never touched at all. In all of this, the only thing that had ever passed between them was words.

And then a letter came.

*

Elements in the town had been noticing things, and it hardly need be said (although that will not stop us) that the town was not happy with these things that had been noticed.

In fact, the town, as a whole, was worried to distraction, a state to which it was well suited. And as well, the town had become occupied with the thought of all the things that had not been noticed; and because those are the worst of all, the worry about what those things might be had brought the entire town to a state of apoplexia.

When the man and the woman met anywhere, there would always be talk between them, for when they spoke it was easy and they could achieve anything, and they had become easy with each other. But this easy talk was the very thing that the town had noticed, and it disapproved, and it muttered to itself in a voice that was like a desert choked with its own sand. And from behind that voice the town looked at them, with eyes that had something of a dust storm in them, and below that look there was always that same sneer, always there, so that nobody could miss the point; the town did not approve.

He found the letter pinned to the door of the maze, in a brown envelope, where it could not be avoided. The letter was both general and specific at the same time, for it was easily long enough to be both those things, and several more besides.

The letter did not mince words; displeasure and moral outrage fermented in every line, and there was a luxurious amount of those. The man and the woman had been far too public and shameless in their talking; and what would people think; and who knows about this; and what would those who do not know think if they were to know; and of course think of the children, because even the children have noticed…. apparently, there were many things to consider now that the town had been outraged.

Especially when the town, in the heart of its suspicions which it voiced without restraint, was right. This sense in which the town was right would make the man and the woman both lower their gazes sometimes to the ground, which is where you look when you are thinking too much about the inside of your own head, and in this case that was certainly true, and worst of all, they began to care about what the town thought. That was the beginning of a kind of slavery.

But for the Beast, this all meant nothing. It did not care who was right, or who was wrong, or whether anyone was a slave. The Beast made sure that they kept meeting each other, and it was chance upon chance, for to the Beast synchronicity is just a simple, basic thing, like breathing air or lapping up water. The Beast lived simply and brazenly in their thoughts, and it gave them dreams, real dreams that you have when you sleep, not the pretend ones that distract your waking hours, and it always lured them back to the maze, where it would sport with them, and amuse them, and worry at them. And more and more often it would take on a form that was bigger than everything, and somehow behind everything, like a source, or a shadow. When it was like that, it would take over their senses, and overcome them.

But if the Beast did not care about the letter, it must be said that the man and the woman were affected by its judgments and its vitriol, all of which had been applied with a fine brush and in great, painstaking, detail, so that its purpose was plain, and clear, and dripped from the pages, and could not be missed. And so in consequence, every notion that they had and every word that they said came to be overlaid with the town’s disapproval, which was easy, because there was so much of it about, and the sneers and looks wore away at them, in a way a little like a sickness, but more like a plague of the undead, so that everything was threatened by a sickness of doubt, and there was a kind of vague fear that poisoned everything.

But the Beast kept on in their blood, and it recreated the maze every day until eventually its passages and paths were unrecognisable to anyone other than the man and the woman.

To them, it always had a familiar air, even though it was new every day. And there was something about it which was inevitable. Everything was inevitable.

*

It became normal for them to see each other in the maze, now.

It was just the Beast, breathing. And always, there was the sound of the sea behind it.

*

One day, finally, there came a day when one of them touched the other on the hand, and how the Beast liked that!

And then the next day there was another touch, from him, and then she touched his arm as they left each other on the day after that. These were only small things, but they felt somehow important, just as it had been important for so long that they had not touched. That they had talked so much, but never touched. But now things were becoming different.

When one of them kissed the other on the cheek, lightly, as they were leaving each other, and the Beast was there in the aroma of her skin, that became another of those things that the two of them were so good at; things that there was no going back from.

They never went back or turned away from anything, in the end.

*

The Beast was spending its time relaxing, sunning itself, which is to say that from its point of view everything was plain and simple, and the fruit was sweet and plentiful, and the maze changed by the hour, and walls fell and rose, and the sound of the sea was behind it all.

The Beast had grown, and there were times that it seemed to be the largest thing that there could be in the world. Even as big as the world itself sometimes. And so despite the town’s apprehensions, the world was good.

*

One day, a wall fell down when the Beast breathed near it. It happened at the exact moment during which the skin of one of them brushed against the skin of the other.

The room that was freed when this particular wall fell was a particularly open one, and filled with a bright and clear light, and it was endless and open in all its dimensions, and the things in this room were without number, and the light that was in this room was not the light of the world, but the light of another, larger place.

They had both arrived in this room together, and they knew without saying anything that if they were free to choose anything, that each of them would choose to be here forever, and this was all because of the third thing that had grown up between them, in the domain of the Beast; and it had been well fed by them, even though they had tried to starve it to either death or good manners.

But the Beast would have none of either death or good manners, and knew only how to be fed, and they really, in themselves, knew nothing any more other than how to feed the Beast. Feeding the Beast had become everything.

Now, a citizen of the town had happened to see the skin of one of them brush like a feather on the skin of the other, and this citizen had recoiled in horror and indignation, for here was a crack in the aether, and through that crack was a glimpse of that endless room that was so well-lit.

The citizen ran indignantly to spread the word, so that decency might prevail, so that what is appropriate and acceptable should be done, and this outrage of touching skin was most certainly none of those … this would require much more than a letter.

As the man and the woman stood and talked in the maze, unaware of the consternation gathering in the town, the Beast watched. Its eyes were dark pools with no limit to their depths, just as it is with the sea, for there is nothing that can reach to those depths of the sea.

The citizenry was mobilised now, and its anger had been stirred. They came chattering in a febrile mass, and as they arrived, all the walls of the maze fell together into the ground suddenly, and everything disappeared in a second, as though it had been only dust all along.

And just as quickly as it fell, something else rose up from the ground in its place. The thing that rose from the ground was as hard as granite, and as it grew it gathered the citizenry up with it, and it formed an amphitheatre, with rows of tall seats that rose up and away from the centre, and it was not long before all of the town was a mass, all seated and dappled with shade cast by the bare branches of the trees which had lost their leaves.

Ten thousand citizens of the town had gathered, and they yelled and complained to each other, and each of them held a copy of the letter in which all the things had been documented and said, and they waved the letters aloft or held them to their breasts, or kept them concealed in their pockets, and they were all exclaiming at once, so that the air was full of words, and all of the words were used to prove all the others correct; so there were endless circles of words.

And now everything was in the plainest sight. The centre of the amphitheatre was as big as the world, and its noise and confusion was as big as the world also. The man and the woman stood together in the centre of it all, with only bare sand beneath their feet and the bare sun above them, and there were only the trunks of the great trees near them, and the trunks were all that was left of them, and they had begun to wither and die, for they were burning from the inside, and with every word that rippled though the crowd, the thing that was burning in them burned more.

A drift of ashes had gathered, and there was a silence between the man and the woman, where before they had talked so much.

There was nothing that paused now, there was no strangeness of time, no stopping or starting of skies or birds. Everything proceeded, one thing after another, one wave after another, so that there was an order to everything.

Their hands no longer just brushed against each other then moved apart in that quick kind of way. They held firmly, and there was something in that that no longer cared about the town, or the letter, or the amphitheatre rising to obscure everything. They did not care any more, in their hearts, what the town thought. And in their not caring, the coliseum that surrounded them had become a fragile thing, barely able to support the weight of the town and its words.

The Beast was there, pacing back and forth. It towered over them as though it had been built by something that was itself uncanny in size, and it watched them intently, and it ignored everything else.

The man and the woman ignored the crowd, which was rattling and stirring and breathing gasps of horror, and everyone — the man and the woman and the crowd all together — was so intent that no-one noticed that the sea had risen steadily, that the waves were pushing and eating at the foundations of the amphitheatre, eating at it from the outside, so that it began to crumble, from the outside inwards.

Between the man and the woman it had become like this; there were no words now, because they did not need any. The thing that was between them was in the blood, so that they felt as though they were with each other, together on a field that had its own kind of geography, unique to itself. And this was not an emotional thing; it was in the blood, beyond anything to do with individuals, and it was quite archetypical, as though they somehow lived in a land of large and perfect things, and this was the geography in which the Beast brought them together. It was a geography of the blood.

In the convolutions of that geography, the town would have seen coincidences; and there would have been many, but they would have been disconnected, and so to the town they would mean nothing. But the man and the woman had long known that there was something that came from the Beast and also from beyond the Beast, and that something was a synchronicity; it was how everything was connected. And all the synchronicities were signposts and markers on the landscape that the Beast had created.

And this was all the landscape into which the sea was rising, pouring into the amphitheatre, and the structure was sagging and crumbling, and falling in on itself.

The Beast blocked out the sun and the sky, and it was breathing over them, and from it dripped the darkest sea water that there could possibly be. The Beast, with its dark, endless eyes, leaning over them.

And now direction and gravity began to tilt, and the man and the woman were leaning against each other, and for the first time they felt the warmth of each other, and this was when they leaned all the way, and kissed. There was nothing else that could be done, it was inevitable.

This was also the moment when the weight of the sea came into the amphitheatre, and it fell apart, for the structure had been nothing more than sand all along. First the entrances and then the rows of seats collapsed. The water into which the citizens of the town fell in a heap was raging and swirling, as if it was in chaos to its depths.

The waves brought with them creatures from the sea. They shone and sparkled and flashed, and their backs caught the sun as they broke the surface upwards, and then downwards. They were marvellous monsters, each one unique, and they called out, each in its own tongue from the deep, and somehow the man and the woman knew that the creatures were calling the name of the Beast. Which was something they had never thought of before, as a mystery or otherwise — that it might have a name; but now it seemed obvious.

The days of the Beast’s youth were over, it was no longer a pup. It was now grown and ravenous and wild, and ready to eat the world. It stood on its hind legs, and its tail thrashed among the waves, its scales flashed chaos and sunlight, its fur was drenched and hanging down, and water poured down from its mighty flanks and neck.

The Beast bared its great teeth at the man and the woman who were holding each other in the swirling waters, surrounded by the creatures which had come up from the sea. It lunged, like a wave with all the weight of the sea behind it. And in one easy, single motion, as if it was water, the Beast took both them both up between its jaws.

Then the Beast leapt into the water, the length of its body crashing with a great noise through the waves.

All the creatures of the sea followed it, shrieking and calling, and there was a raucous procession away and into the depths, and the shock of this in the water was such that the last pieces of the maze, and the amphitheatre, the theatre of it all, gave way and it all slid into the water, like a mudslide, suddenly with no form, so that it all ceased altogether to exist.

The citizens of the town were aware again of nothing but the town, and they were happy, for everything was suddenly in order again, and the Beast, which had been the cause of so much confusion and unhappiness for them, was gone. They stood up out of the water, spluttering and simpering, and for a moment they stood unmoving in the subsiding waves and the receding water, and then they shrugged their shoulders, and muttering and grumbling about the first thing they could think of, they turned towards the town, and they all went there.

And from that day on there was talk of how the Beast and its creatures had torn apart the man and woman and dragged their bodies in pieces into the sea where it consumed them, and so the sea and the Beast are to this day the enemies of everyone.

*

As for the Beast, it was never seen in the town again, for it had returned forever to its home, which is at the bottom of the sea.

And the sea was deeper than anyone knew, and there the Beast ruled its dominion; for all along, the Beast had been the ruler of the sea, the ruler of all its breadth and all its depth, and everything in it that moved.

And in the depths there was always light, for everything there was radiant in itself; and there the speech of all creatures was in accord; and the Beast ruled with its great eyes like black wheels, and its scales that were rainbows, and its appetite for all the fruit in the depths of the sea was endless.

And there the man and the woman live to this day, and nothing in the kingdom of the Beast has ever cast any shadow, or darkness, or any other thing against them, ever.

* * *

From Air for Fire

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