When he saw the stars he thought at first that he had died. They were so bright, so close and loud, that he thought they were the spirits of the family he had killed, and he cowered in the corner of the cell with his hands over his face.
“Forgive me!” he cried. His heart struck loudly in his ears, hot and hard and heavy, louder than the stars. “I didn’t mean to kill you!”
But his heartbeat slowed, and his ears adjusted to the cry of the stars, and with a shuddering breath, he realized it was his own fear, and the stars, instead of his death and the afterlife. He was almost disappointed—he might have liked being judged before the Lord Almighty, his dead family watching him. It would have been a change from the eternity of grey stone that he lived in now.
Eternity. That was a funny word. It made him laugh.
He was eternity. His mind contained eternity, his mind and the madness it held in one fist. Eternity. Ha! He let out a giggle that was somewhere between a screech and a death-rattle, and collapsed in a cross-legged heap in the middle of the starlit pool. He really was mad, thinking about eternity, accepting that his mind was eternity itself.
Beneath him was the carving of his soul. He thought to himself once in awhile that it must never be finished—never, for his soul was eternity, and therefore was infinity, and no one can finish infinity. He giggled again. He should have been a mathematician.
Inca man, sang the stars. They were just as mad as he was, he knew, and louder. Inca man, Inca man is dead. Inca man killed his family, Inca man isn’t eternity!
He stuck out his tongue at the stars, but they just giggled and sang louder. He huffed. Inca man, Inca man, Inca man. The thoughts and the shouts rang in his mind. The charcoal drawings on the floor of his cell scuffed at his skin, running lines of old souls on his leather, wrinkled Inca-man skin. His hand reached up, scrabbled in dark, starlit air for a moment, and then caught on the bird carving at his throat. It was tied to him with a cord, carved with his own hands, decorated with charcoal doodles that he washed off with his own spit from time to time and redrew.
The man stood in the center of the room for a minute, bowlegged, scraggly white hair reaching from his scalp to the end of his knotted shoulder muscles. The darkness was at his back, and the loudness of the stars, and the loneliness of the moon. He didn’t like the moon. It was too big and too powerful, louder than the stars. The stars were many, but little and petty. The moon was huge-bellied, pregnant, deep-voiced, and could shout down even the strongest of eternities. Even the infinity that was pattered out in the Inca man’s heart wasn’t huge-bellied enough to drown out the moon’s shout.
He went over to the corner of the cell and picked up the sharp flintstone. Then he sat cross legged again in the middle and started to cut into the limestone floor of his cell. He had already drawn out the design in charcoal—the drawing of his soul. It wouldn’t be finished, it never could. Just like the doodles on his bird necklace would be eternally washed off and re drawn, again and again, just as the tide washed up and shuddered away, again and again, just as the moon rose and fell, again and again. Eternally unfinished. Madness was eternally unfinished. The finishing of such a carving would indicate madness, like the tide, had fallen away, and the Inca man knew that wasn’t true.
He laughed as he pressed hard into the limestone. Eternally unfinished. The moon’s shout was unfinished. The tide’s business with the sand horizon was unfinished. His soul and the carving was, and would always be, unfinished. He added a voluptuous curve to the thigh of the carving, and detailed a little black dog tattoo, to represent the spirits of his family.
Old, restless spirits walk the earth, went the Incan warning, and return to the people who harmed or helped them in the form of black dogs. A dog attack means a spirit is angry with you, and only sacrifices can appease them. If a family member is killed by a dog, pray for their souls, although prayers cannot help such a soul—it is already too late for them. Death by dog means that no black dog will allow the soul to cross the ocean of the afterlife on its back or in its ear. A soul killed by a dog is doomed to this life, and will haunt the earth until the end of the world comes upon us.
He added splayed dishes to signify the shout of the moon, and tiny scratches like freckles to mean the giggles of the stars. He was not so conceited as to believe his soul was the universe, but he knew his soul was eternity itself. The universe encompassed eternity, and eternity encompassed the universe. It was both, and so was he.
He spat onto the floor beside the carving, mixed some of his old charcoal with the moisture to create a primitive paint, and smudged the color on the back of the dog he had scratched onto the thigh of eternity. Next he used his thumb to paint a fingerprinted fox on the shadow of the starlight, on the shadow of the fox constellation. He giggled a happy hiccup when he had finished, and then he drew his fingernails across the fox’s face.
Foxes are no good, was another warning. For even gods are fooled by foxes. Blind a fox, and one defeats him. Blind a fox, and one kills him. Blind a fox, and you are safe. When you kill a fox, carelessly throw it away, and its skin too. In this way the fox is dead for eternity.
Eternity. It was that word again. The Inca man blinded the fox of his carving and hoped that the constellation of the fox was blinded as well. Otherwise such a fox might well steal the moon.
Dawn was born, rising up out of the ocean of the afterlife in fresh-faced, rosy glory. The Inca man spent the day cross legged in front of the window, eyes closed in the pool of sunlight, not moving, not eating, barely breathing. Day meant nothing to him. Day was a different type of eternity—night was the eternity existing inside him. Night meant the giggle of stars and the ocean of darkness and the moon’s shout. Day meant yellow madness and stomping guards and cold sunlight with cold food. He hated the day like he hated the moon.
There was a knock at the cell door but he brushed it away like he brushed away a fly. The knock went tumbling to the floor and the Inca man laughed. Night came down, pulled across the face of the day like a slap, and the eternity of darkness, mirrored in the man’s heart, was born. He stood when the last of the day had been pushed from the sky.
Slowly, slowly and carefully and quietly, each star appeared, set in place by the shout of the moon, which grew louder and louder as the sky grew darker and darker. He stood there, arms up at his sides like a priest. He welcomed the stars, greeting his own eternity, listening to the beat of infinity inside his chest. He laughed with the stars, even as they chanted, Inca man, Inca man is dead. Inca man isn’t eternity!