Archive for May 3rd, 2011

Meet Thy Maker

In his tent of skins, the magician sat tapping on the drum with the tips of his fingers. There was no one else in the tent except the child, kneeling beside the drum, black-eyed and beaver-faced, like the magician, watching intently as the three stones danced on the drumhead. One stone was black, the second stone was white, the third was gray. All three had been formed in a reindeer’s stomach. Lokk, lokk, lokk, sang the magician. His voice made hardly any sound. On the drumhead there were lines, most noticeably one running from east to west, painted in reindeer blood. Two stones, the black and the gray, were on the west side; the white was on the east.

The Devil sat enclosed in his wings, baffled. Even with his hands over his eyes he was blinded by the brightness. His cheeks were freezing cold. It dawned on him that he was weeping, the tears turning to ice.

Now the three stones on the stretched skin of the drumhead were perfectly balanced, the black on one side, the white on the other, the gray stone balanced on the line. The magician grinned, lost in his trance, mindless. Abruptly, impishly, the child reached out and struck the drum. The gray stone leaped eastward, as if by will. Lars-Goren, clinging to the ice that sheathed the Devil’s neck, seized his knife of bone.

Suddenly the Devil was seized with terror. He shaded his eyes with both hands, bending his head forward, trying to make out what it was that was wheeling around him. It was as if, for an instant, all existence had become one same thing, at the center of it a will, a blind force more selfish than the Devil himself, indomitable, too primitive for language, a creature of awesome stupidity, wild with ambition.

Something tickled his neck, a colder place on the coldness of his skin, and he raised his hand to swat at the annoyance, but then a voice came to his ears, and he hesitated. It was the voice of Bishop Brask. “Dreams! Illusions!” the bishop was shouting. “It’s for yourself you do this, Lars-Goren. No one but yourself! Do you think they’ve elected you God, Lars-Goren? You’re a tyrant! Mad as Tiberius! You’d kill them all as readily as you’d save them, you know it! And if killing proves fittest, then it’s killing that will survive! How can you act, then, confronted by such knowledge?” The voice was full of joy and rage, a kind of cackling, crackling glee. It was as if the man’s mind had gone as blank as the face of Bernt Notke’s carved statue, decadent art in all its curls and swirls—ten thousand careful knife-cuts and a face more empty of emotion than the face of the world’s first carved-stone god. I repent me that I ever made man, thought the Devil. His ice-crusted eyebrows jittered upward.

Slowly, thoughtfully, he felt along his shoulder until he came to the bishop’s little body, perched like a cockroach at the end of his collarbone. Almost gently, respectfully, he crushed it. Then he frowned. Had the bishop’s loud crying, right there in his ear, been a trick of some kind? When he shook his head and tried to speak to himself, he understood that his throat had been cut.

“Whatever it may mean,” said the old woman at the gate, “the Devil has been killed.”

“Who’ll tell the story?” said the child to the magician. “People should be told.”

“Never mind,” said the old man, smiling like a beaver. “For centuries and centuries no one will believe it, and then all at once it will be so obvious that only a fool would take the trouble to write it down.”

—John Gardner, Freddy’s Book


When I Worked

May 2011
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