Abandoned Towers Magazine
2nd Trimester 2010
The stories in this magazine are works of fiction. Places, events, and situations in the stories are purely fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is coincidental. No part of this magazine may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the editor or publisher. Abandoned Towers is published three times a year on March 1, July 1 and Nov. 1, by Cyberwizard Productions ISSN 1945-2861 (print) ISSN 1945-287X (online) Managing Editor - Crystalwizard Marketing Manager - Michael Griffiths Editorials - Bill Weldon Assistant Acquisitions Editor - Wolf Althuis Senior Editor - Stephen Morgan Copy Editors Lucille P Robinson Ally Pat David Pitchford Editorial Team: Ed McKeown, Timothy Ray Jones, Paul McDermott, Chris Silva, Thom Olausson, Carolyn Chang, Grady Yandell, Heather Wilkinson, Ramon Rozas, Jean Lauzier, Merle Alix, Michael Griffiths, Spencer Conrad, Billy Ottlinghaus, Wolf Althuis, Bart Shirley, Leigh Jenkins, David Talbot
Front cover art:: Anita Olsen Periodicals postage paid at Saginaw, and at additional mailing locations. Postmaster: send address changes to Cyberwizard Productions, 12621 N. Saginaw Blvd, Suite 105, #3069, Fort Worth, Texas, 76179 Abandoned Towers Magazine© 2010 Cyberwizard Productions Individual art and written content © 2010 to the originating author or artist. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this magazine may copied by any method or used for any purpose other than personal reading enjoyment without written permission from the publisher. Permission is hereby granted for the purchaser of this issue to make copies of the coloring page for personal use only. Such personal use shall be limited to the purchaser and his or her family. (In plain English that means that if you bought this issue then you can make copies for yourself, your kids, grandkids or other personal relatives, but you can’t make copies for your friends, your kids friends, your students or any other people not related to you. If someone else bought this issue, then you need to buy your own copy of it if you want to copy the coloring page.
Table of Contents Featured Story
Magnificent Pigs By Cat Rambo
Inevitable Change Bill Weldon, Editor
Stories Hello, Mommy By M. Lee The Woven By Laura J. Sanger Titan By Doug Hilton Apollo’s Breath By Shaun A. Saunders Illegal Aliens By Grady Yandell Somewhere By Shaun A. Saunders One Small Mistake By Rod Hamon Zeno’s Paradox By Doug Hilton Cold Comfort By Jason Kahn Oaths By Bradley H. Sinor Incident at Riverbend Pass By Gabriel Guerrero The Real Enemy By Doug Hilton Uphill or Down? By Shane Joseph Rub Out by Jean Lauzier Othan, Leader By Kurt Magnuski
9 12 16 21 23 28 30 36 48 53 60 66 68 73 81
Poems The Raven’s Tomb By Walter Ramal All Around the House at Night By Christopher D. York Christopher Crump By Leroy F. Jackson Ring By Robert William Shmigelsky A Magic Winter Moment By John William Rice Night Artist By Carl Scharwath Do Distant Sheep Have Gridlocked Dreams? By Norman Ball The Purple Cow By Gelett Burgess Envoi By Gelett Burgess The Invisible Bridge By Gelett Burgess The Lazy Roof By Gelett Burgess My Feet By Gelett Burgess Wallingford Inn By Emily Hayes My Recollectest Thoughts By Charles E. Carry The Bibliomaniac’s Prayer By Eugene Field The Owl By Alfred Lord Tennyson iii
7 7 7 8 29 34 34 35 35 35 35 35 35 35 38 64
Pirates of Innsmouth By Scott E. Green Fifty Years By Troy D. Young A dream of life and afterlife By Harry Calhoun The Princess - From the Norwegian of BJÖRNSTJERNE BJÖRNSON The Mocking-Bird By Sidney Lanier
64 79 80 84 84
nonfiction & special features Robert the Bruce By Richard H. Fay Interview with Grady Yandell The Bicyclers - a one act play By John Kendrick Bangs Excalibur Coloring Page By Richard H. Fay A New Birth of Freedom - excerpt - by Robert G. Pielke Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler’s Meal Onna Stick Fit for a Patrician By Jaleta Clegg
Artists in this issue
Cover Art - Anita Olsen Shahin Rismanchi Afshar - KcadroKcud cartoon Michael O’Neal - E mpty S pace cartoon A. R. Stone - Hello, Mommy, illustration Miguel Santos - The Woven illustration
19 24 39 65 78 85
Inevitable Change Bill Weldon, Editor In continuing the theme of a previous editorial, I wanted to touch base on the changes the writer must face while pursuing their stories. Change has always been hard for me. It seems the older I get, the more I resist. But things must change; otherwise, we’d still be riding around in horse-drawn buggies and using ink and paper instead of word processing computer programs. On the other hand: in the world of science fiction, fantasy, and sword and sorcery, very little has changed over the years. But this lack of change has not impeded the imagination of the writers of those genres. One reason is the lack of boundaries. Many of the stories I have authored are set in history. While the stories are fiction, the settings and scenery existed in history and may still exist today. Readers enjoy reading about events and places they know. I’ve read many crime novels by John Sandford set in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Since I lived there for ten years, I enjoy following the characters along streets and through neighborhoods I knew, and reading scenes set in public buildings I actually visited. Some crime dramas set in other cities are brought to life for me when I follow the story on a map of the area. Science fiction, fantasy and S & S writers can pluck a location from their imaginations, create people and creatures of unusual appearance and abilities, and accessorize with weapons, vehicles, and accouterments conjured solely from the writer’s imagination. One of the first rules I set forth to aspiring writers is to let your imagination run free. There are no limitations. Write down all your imaginings, and then cull the results until you have the basis of your story. If you choose fiction set in real places, do your research. Make sure your protagonist is not tracking Bengal Tigers in South America. They don’t exist there. Producing a believable, entertaining story is what publishers and agents are looking for. If you choose science fiction, fantasy, or S & S, make extensive notes on your characters, settings, and any animals or creatures you use. If the story is not consistent, the reader will lose interest. It’s not a good idea to suddenly add an attribute to a character half way through the story if you didn’t include it at the outset. The character should not spit fire late in the story if we didn’t know he could do it in the beginning. Most importantly, have fun. Enjoy what you are doing. Write every day without fail. Aim for the stars, and you’ll get there eventually.
Magnificent Pigs By Cat Rambo The spring before it happened, I went upstairs and found my ten year old sister Jilly crying. Charlotte’s Web, which we’d been reading together at bedtime all that week, lay splayed on the floor where she’d thrown it. “What’s wrong?” I said, hovering in the doorway. As Jilly had gotten sicker, I tried to offer her the illusion of her own space but remained ready in case big brotherly comfort was needed. “I was reading ahead because I liked it so much — and Charlotte dies!” she managed to gasp between sobs. The big brass bed creaked in protest as I sat down beside her. Gathering her into my arms, I rocked her back and forth. It was well past sunset and the full-faced moon washed into the room, spilling across the blue rag rug like milk and gleaming on the bed knobs so they looked like balls of icy light contending with the dim illumination of Jilly’s bedside lamp. “It’s a book, Jilly, just a book,” I said. She shook her head, cheeks blotched red and wet with tears. “But, Aaron, Charlotte’s dead!” she choked out again. I retrieved the book from the middle of the room and set it in front of her. “Look,” I said. “If we open the book up again at the beginning, Charlotte’s alive. She’ll always be alive in the book.” The sobs quieted to hiccups and she reached for the book, looking dubious. When she opened it to the first chapter, I began to read. “‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. ‘Out to the hoghouse,’ replied Mrs. Arable. ‘Some pigs were born last night.’” Curling against me, she let me read the first two chapters. After she slipped away to sleep, I tucked the blanket around her then went downstairs to cry my own tears.
*** My father and mother were farmers. They were raised by farmers who had themselves been raised by farmers and so on back to Biblical days. They saw my talent for drawing as a hobby until the age of seventeen, when I proposed that my major in college be an uneasy mixture of art and agriculture. They were dubious but they were also good-natured sorts who only wanted the best for me. So they sent me, eldest of their two children, off to Indiana University. Jilly takes after them. Jilly, a late arrival to the family, was six years old and consumed most of their attention at the point I left, which I did not begrudge her. From day one she was a tiny, perfect addition to our household and I loved her. Three years later on a rainy September afternoon, my parents died in a car accident and I returned home to the farm to take care of Jilly. A few townsfolk felt I shouldn’t be allowed to raise her by myself but when I hit twenty one a year later, that magic number at which you apparently become an adult, they stopped fussing. Since the other driver was not only drunk but driving a bus with faulty brakes that another company had failed to fix, the court settlement provided enough to live on. It wasn’t a lot but I supplemented it by raising pigs and apples in the way my parents always had and taking them to Indianapolis where the pigs were purchased by a plant that makes organic bacon, pork, and sausage and the apples by a cider mill. I didn’t mind the farm work. I’d get up in the morning, take care of things, and find myself a few hours in the afternoon to work in the studio I’d fixed myself in the attic A year ago Jilly started getting stomach aches so bad they had her doubled over and crying. When I first took her to the hospital, they diagnosed it as Crohn’s disease. Six months later, after I’d learned 2
the vocabulary of aminosalicylates and corticosteroids and immunomodulators, they switched to a simpler word: cancer. Insurance covered the medical bills. It didn’t cover much else so I laid aside my art and bought some more pigs. I had to hire a nurse to take care of Jilly whenever I couldn’t – I wanted someone with her all the time. I didn’t want her lonely or unable to help herself. At first, I hired a chilly but competent woman, Miss Andersen. She was expensive, but I figured she was worth it. I had a crazy idea that I’d use my talent to become a tattoo artist and make enough extra cash to pay her. A Superior mobile tattoo set from E-Bay cost me a hundred bucks and got me started. I named my enterprise Magnificent Pigs, in honor of Wilbur. But tattoos aren’t a high demand item in Traversville, and you need to practice a lot to get any good at it. Once I’d run out of old high school friends who were willing to let me work on them in the name of a free tattoo, I turned to the pigs. It’s not as cruel as it sounds, I swear. According to the vet pig skin is tough as nails and has few nerve endings. He sells me cartons of a topical anesthetic lotion that I use beforehand, just in case. And the pigs have never objected. They’re placid beasts – give them a bowl of mash and they don’t care what you do. My dad believed in playing classical music to calm the animals so I crank Beethoven cello suites to hide the buzz of the needle, and go to town. The first time I took a tattooed pig to the slaughterhouse, they gave me odd looks when they saw where I’d inscribed “Mother,” “Semper Fi,” and “Tattooing gets pretty boring after a while” in blue and red and black on the leathery white skin, but as long as it didn’t mark the meat, it was okay. I didn’t achieve my dreams of becoming a brand name tattoo artist, no matter how many
coiling koi and serpents I covered the pigs with. Southern Indiana is a conservative place –the KKK had its second rebirth nearby — and there is no room for much outside the mainstream designs like scorpions, the Confederate flag, and tribal designs from no tribe that ever existed. I liked the business because it made me feel like an artist but few people came out for tattoos. I had to let Miss Andersen go, promising I’d have her back wages for her within six months. She wasn’t happy about it but had a good contract with the nursing home waiting so she let it slide. Jilly was glad to see her depart but didn’t tell me till weeks later about the meanness that had revealed itself when tending a hapless ten year old. “She was just mean,” Jilly said. “She never touched you, did she?” I asked cautiously. “No, not like that. She pinched me a few times but mostly she said mean things. Like what a shame it was that I was an orphan and how you’d probably get rid of me when you got married.” I looked at her but her face was clear and unworried. “That didn’t bother you, Jilly?” I asked. “I knew you’ll always take care of me.” Which was all fine and well but even so, Miss Andersen’s departure made it feel as though things were pressing in on all sides. Nightmares lapped at my sleep all that night. The next day, strung out on caffeine and weariness, I stood in the cramped grocery store aisle looking at jams and sandwich spreads and couldn’t decide between crunchy and smooth peanut butter. I literally couldn’t remember which Jilly or I preferred. I must have stood there for ten minutes. See, one of the side effects of the disease is nausea and loss of appetite. Peanut butter’s one of the few things Jilly will eat, and it’s high in protein. So it’s
important to bring home the right one. There’s a wide variety of peanut butter labels. I stood there, looking at Jif and Skippy and Peter Pan and Kroger brand, going through the same loop in my head over and over: “No I think I like crunchy and Jilly likes smooth, but maybe it’s the other way around, and what other groceries do we need, but first – crunchy or smooth?” While this frenzied loop continued, I became aware that a woman and her cart had been circling me, going back and forth in the aisle, and warding off other shoppers. The Muzak on the store intercom switched from one piano piece to another. Finally, she stopped beside me. “Buy them both,” she advised, and it broke the spell that had held me. I turned. She was an elderly woman dressed in black, a blue and white scarf bound around her hair to hold it in place. She had an enormous beaklike nose and bright black eyes that glittered at me as though daring me to rebuff her. It was Mrs. Huber, whose husband had died a few years before. I don’t know why she stuck in Bedford. She had, and was an object of some curiosity, being the town’s only Jew. Jilly and I are a step outside that, being people whose parents were born elsewhere as well as the family of the town invalid. “Thank you,” I said, and took down two jars. She stood beside me, and it didn’t feel awkward at all. Like we were family who had happened to meet there and would see each other again at dinner. She said, “The little girl needs a nurse, no?” “Yeah, she does.” I gestured at the shelves. “It’s okay, though. I just got a little side-tracked, that’s all.” We stared at each other. My only other encounter with Mrs. Huber had been selling her salt water taffy when I was in sixth grade and trying to win a trip to Washington, D.C. in the school candy drive. I found out later 3
she bought candy from every kid that approached her. With three grades selling, ten to fifteen kids in each class, that must have been a substantial pile of sweets. She didn’t look too much older now. The lines around her eyes were more defined and her lips drooped at a harsher angle. Finally she said, simply, “You need nurse too, maybe?” And after that we came to an arrangement. Jilly loved her like a mother. I got fond of her myself. There was a certain irony to a Jew living on a pig farm, particularly with a tattoo artist. She didn’t keep kosher, so she ate with us each night, although she’d never touch pork. I cooked any pork chops, or sausage, or bacon, or other variants of pig meat. But most of the time, I left it to her to cook. She coaxed Jilly’s tender appetite with blintzes and rugelach, kugel and kreplach. The kitchen took on a simmer of cinnamon that was a pleasant change from TV dinners. After supper, we’d sit in the parlor, Jilly watching TV or reading while I studied up on farming or tattooing methods and Mrs. H. knitted. She turned out shawls, scarves, baby blankets, and a multitude of sweaters for Jilly, with patterns of pigs or flowers. Jilly’s favorite was the one with her name knitted into the front. She’d scold me for working too hard, and when I came in bone weary from a day of fretting about pig vaccines or Jilly’s latest set of tests, she’d say in her harsh accent, “Worries go down better with soup.” Sometimes I thought that God had sent her by way of apology. I don’t want to make it sound like everything was fine. But it wasn’t as bad as it could be, at least for a while. I was practicing on one of the pigs, writing out words, when Jilly came into the barn and leaned on the bench near me. It was early spring warm. By now, we were long past recognizing the smell of pig shit – sometimes I forgot that it clung like an invisible film to
my clothing until I noticed people edging away from me in lines. The other smells weren’t hidden by the omnipresent odor: the sour redolence of corn mash, the fresh tang of the straw underfoot, the distant sweetness of apple blossom coming in through the window. “What are you doing?” Jilly asked. “Practicing writing words,” I said. “What’s that?” she said, pointing to a passage of text on the pig’s rounded back. “It’s the first verse of ‘Stairway to Heaven.’” “Nice.” “It was the only poetry I could remember off the top of my head,” I said. She sat there watching me, so I started tattooing the words that Charlotte uses to describe Wilbur onto the pig’s broad back. When I reached “Magnificent,” she giggled, just as Mrs. H. called us to dinner. She went ahead while I cleaned off my needles. She asked me at dinner, “Don’t we have runts that we could keep? Like Wilbur?” “Jilly, we can’t afford to keep them as pets,” I said. She couldn’t have a cat or dog because of allergies, not to mention my own fears about compromising her immune system. She started to protest and I cut her off. “That’s final.” But that night, after Jilly was asleep, Mrs. H. said to me, “Maybe you should give her pig for a pet.” “We can’t afford it.” She looked at me, her eyes sad. “I think she might be gone before the pig gets sent off.” “She’s getting better,” I said. “Look at how she chattered all through dinner.” But she was right, and we both knew it. “When one must, one can,” she said gently. *** The next morning dawned
hard and bright, and it seemed inevitable that after a long night’s birthing, one of the pregnant sows had six perfect piglets surrounding her in the straw. I took Jilly out to look at them and told her to pick one. “It has to be the runt,” she said. And then, “But they’re all the same size!” I looked at her, leaning on the railing with her gawky bird-like arms, so thin that she could wear rubber bands for bracelets, and felt a hard lump in my throat. “Take them all, Jilly,” I said. “They’ll all be your pigs.” She named them Celeste, Patience, Rutabaga, Bill, Princess Ozma, and (predictably) Wilbur. Mrs. H. professed to hate them. “Trafe!” she said, and spat whenever they were mentioned, but I noticed her assembling
leftovers for Jilly to feed them. Jilly spent hours by the pen, wrapped in a blanket and watching the piglets with an expression of beatific joy. They came to know her and would come when she called. She spent enough time petting them that I got in the habit of spraying them down with a hose in the mornings and evenings, to cut down on the amount of pig smell that ended up clinging to her. The mother pig remained unmoved by Jilly’s appreciation of her young, but when the piglets were napping, piled on each other like puppies, tiny tails swishing like sporadic windshield wipers, she and Jilly beamed down at 4
them with identical expressions. The piglets grew fast, prancing around the yard like models in high heels, stealing bits of food from Jilly’s hand… and all the while my baby sister diminished, curled in on herself as though she were becoming a little old woman, as though each day the cancer claimed another morsel of her frail form, making her lighter and lighter. At some point soon, it would win and take her away. *** Jilly’s pigs were fat and fine, sleek as colts and almost full grown when I came home one day to find her weeping even harder than she had for Charlotte, while Mrs. H. fussed around her. “What happened?” I demanded. “Is she in pain?” “That very bad woman,” Mrs. H. said. “She came by to speak to you, Mr. Aaron, about her money. Such a tongue in her head should rot.” “What did she say?” “It was Miss Andersen. I told her that I was going to school next year,” Jilly said. She clung to me, and hot tears soaked my neck. “Because by then I would be better. And she laughed and said I’d be better when pigs grow wings and fly. Is it true, Aaron? Am I not going to get better? Am I going to die?” “No, no,” I said, clutching her to me. “No, Jilly, you are going to school next year.” Mrs. H regarded me. We’d had this argument before. She thought I should tell Jilly, but I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t let her know she was dying. That would make it too real. “No,” I said, and pressed a kiss onto the top of her head. “It’s all right, Jilly. It will be all right.” She let herself be comforted, but all through that evening, I felt myself angrier and angrier at Miss Andersen’s words. Going outside, I looked at Jilly’s pigs. Fat and happy, while my sister lay inside wasting away. I went inside and fetched my tattoo kit. I was tired, but
too angry to sleep, and I could tell I’d be up for hours. Mrs. H. came out and waved goodbye to me as she revved her tiny Civic and drove away, her headlights cutting swaths in the darkness of the farm road. Overhead, the stars were bright and distinct in the fathomless sky. I opened the door to the pen and Jilly’s tame pigs followed me into the barn. I set up shop in an abandoned stall, and when I was finished with one pig, it would walk out to the others to be inspected proprietarily while another one came in. I gave them wings. It was the finest work I’d ever done. For Celeste, there were a phoenix’s wings, flame bright, coiling red and yellow. Patience’s skin displayed a dove’s wings, muted in color, browns and grays that showed like bruises against the white hide. A blue jay’s wings for Rutabaga, a vivid iridescent blue striped with black. Bill got green plumage like a parrot’s, touched with scarlet and indigo at the tips. Princess Ozma’s were gold and silver, a metallic sheen that reflected light and cast it across the pen. And Wilbur had black wings, black as night. Black as death. It took hours as they stood patiently beneath the buzzing needle, letting me etch the lines into their skin, wiping away the blood that welled up beneath the images. And when I was done, I was so tired I could not stand. Instead, I sat there on my stool, looking at them. One by one, they circled in front of me, like some ritual. The Inspection of the Pigs by the Artist, I thought. I debated going to sleep where I sat or somehow, impossibly, hauling myself up the stairs and into my own bed. The pigs shuffled around each other, and admired my brightinked creations on their backs. And I found myself dreaming. I dreamed that I sat there watching while Wilbur went to the door and nosed it open, the pigs slipping out into the yard and making their
way to the house, where Wilbur repeated his performance and one by one they slipped inside the door. And then I shook myself awake, and stumbled to my feet. The door was wide open and the pigs were gone, so I scrambled out to the yard to see it empty as well. Up on Jilly’s balcony, movement caught my eye and the French doors shuddered open. A shadow lifted from the balcony, an impossible boxy shadow that floated across the sky, blocking out the clouds that outlined it in pearly tones. As the moonlight struck it, I saw what it was. Jilly’s brass bed,
the frame supported on either side by three flying pigs. Their wings beat the air in tandem while she sat upright, her face moonlight bright with wonder as she gazed forward. Did she notice me, did she wave? I’m not sure, because clouds obscured the view as she rose higher and higher into the sky. I’d like to think she didn’t – that she knew Mrs. H. and I would take care of each other, and that she didn’t need to look back. I like to think that every inch of her attention was focused on the journey, on that marvelous moment when we both learned that pigs could fly.
Coming summer 2010 from Toybox Books
All Around the House at Night By Christopher D. York and all around the house at night death happens in silk by vamps in corners by shadows inside and out bats fluttering owls swooping dark dropping all is quiet all is calm and i sleep the sleep of the dead
The Raven’s Tomb By Walter Ramal ‘Build me my tomb,’ the Raven said, ‘Within the dark yew-tree, So in the Autumn yewberries Sad lamps may burn for me. Summon the haunted beetle, From twilight bud and bloom, To drone a gloomy dirge for me At dusk above my tomb.
Beseech ye too the glowworm To bear her cloudy flame, Where the small, flickering bats resort, Whistling in tears my name.
By Leroy F. Jackson Christopher Crump, All in a lump, Sits like a toad on the top of a stump. He stretches and sighs, And blinks with his eyes, Bats at the beetles and fights off the flies.
Let the round dew a whisper make, Welling on twig and thorn; And only the grey cock at night Call through his silver horn. And you, dear sisters, don your black For ever and a day, To show how sweet a raven In his tomb is laid away.’ 7
Ring By Robert William Shmigelsky
To the sages of Palador, the light entrusted a ruby inset ring, which danced within with spiraling bright red flames. From this ruby inset ring, the sages of Palador Were exposed to the existence of the arcane. Thick brows arced in concentration, gazes tilted, sages saw to unlocking the colors of magic. They poured their thoughts into the fabrics, which held the seams of worlds, and perceived the vast lights hemmed within. Their cheeks contorted as they tried drawing them in, formulating inside their heads the shapes they were to take then casting them out. When sages became learned, they pictured tidal waves, monsoons, whirlpools, landslides, tremors, earthquakes, flurries, storms, tornadoes, infernos, eruptions, and comets. At this point, the sages of Palador thought they had unlocked every color. Except one sage. Thick brows arced in concentration he tried to picture the shade of night, but day remained: the color black was locked. With a stubborn look, the sage tried again and again, but day remained. He tried one last time, but this color remained locked. But before he tossed up his hands and admitted defeat, he pictured a spell to unlock. With that key, a light rendered the fabrics and the world darkened. Darkness unlocked. Little did the sage know that day he had also unlocked death and decay. Decadence and sickness oozed into their painted mansions. Something stole the ring. 8
No spell for this, they could only watch. Soon, they had no choice but to leave. But where to go? They were not learned in the sea. They were not learned in tunneling through rock. They were learned in magic. They went to the mountains and split them asunder, poured into the hills that rolled beyond, and closed shut the mountains behind them. The hills were to be their new home. Like them, a name rolled off their tongues: Arcania. But they saw history as a revolving door. So, they threw their red spell books into the fire. Each sage rolled out a recital. Memories drifted. The hard spells went away and sages became mere wizards.
Hello, Mommy By M. Lee Hello, Mommy! You don’t know me yet, but I promise you will! I am so excited. Actually, you don’t even know about me yet. You’re going to be so surprised when you find out. I’ve been practicing to be the perfect baby, just for you! I already know that I’m going to be a baby girl, with big brown eyes and curly red hair. I don’t have any now, but by the time you get to see me I will. I am so excited, but I have to wait. I’ll be in this box for a long time, just waiting for you to unwrap me like a present! I promise I’ll be the perfect daughter, too. I’m going to laugh like you. I already know it. I heard your laugh today. It was the most beautiful sound, and it made the box shake. It was really fun! I have so much fun laughing with you, even though you can’t hear me yet. Mommy, when I get out of the box I want to plant flowers. I’ve heard about flowers. They are beautiful and they smell wonderful, just like you! I want to plant a thousand flowers just for you because you made me.
Mommy, do you have curly red hair? Do you have brown eyes? I can’t wait to see you. I love you so much sometimes I just want to see your face, but I know that I have to wait in the box for the right time. Mommy, have you ever had any other babies? It’s okay if you have, but I still want you to love me! I love you so much. I know that I’ll be able to share my love with brothers or sisters, but you will always be my one and only Mommy! *** Mommy, today you found out that I am here! I am so excited. You were so excited, too! You ran around all day telling EVERYONE that I was your baby and that you couldn’t wait for me to come out of the box! I can’t wait until you see me! I will try really hard to grow big and be the best I can be, just for you. *** Mommy, you must be a princess! Today you sang to me. There was music on in the background and you were singing and stroking the box. I love it when you do that. It is now my 9
favorite time of day, because your voice is the best one in the world! I want you to sing to me forever! When I come out of the box, I will sing a song to you, but I already know that my voice will never sound like yours. Mine isn’t pretty enough, but you won’t care because you are my Mommy! *** Mommy, today you got sick. You rubbed the box and told me that we would get through it all, but I could feel you scared. You get sick a lot of the time? Am I hurting you? I will try hard to be gentle because I love you so much and I don’t want to hurt you anymore. I want you to get better so when I come out of the box we can laugh and sing together. I want to hold you when you are sad, and I want to hug you when you need comfort; I want to be with you always because you are my Mommy and I really love you! *** Today we went to the doctor’s office. You were so excited because you said it was my very first ultrasound. It wasn’t a fun day. The box was prodded and pushed and I felt crammed and
suddenly there were really loud noises! It sounded like the box was going to explode. I got really scared Mommy! But I could hear you talking and laughing and crying the whole time, so it wasn’t so bad. I love you Mommy, but please I don’t want to go get an ultrasound again! *** Today my arms and legs started to grow. I laughed out loud because they look so funny. They look like tiny stubs on the end of my body, but one day I’ll have big girl arms and be able to wrap them around you. I will hug you four billion and one times because you made my arms. *** Today my heart started beating for the first time. It was awesome. One minute I was being still, and the next my body started to beat from the very middle. I was kind of scared at first Mommy, but then I realized that my body was making the same noises that your heart makes. *** Today I moved for the very first time. I kind of twitched my legs. I can’t wait to run and play with you! *** Today I heard another person. I don’t normally hear anyone but you, but I could tell that this man wasn’t happy. He was yelling at you and then he knocked you over. The box shook really bad and I started crying. I could hear you crying, too, and I got really angry. Why was he so mean to you, Mommy! I can’t do anything about the mean man now, but I know that when I get out of the box I will not forgive him! I hope you don’t let him hit you again, Mommy, because you are too beautiful to be treated bad. You told him to leave us alone and I was so proud of you! *** I love the sound of your heart.
There are so many sounds inside of you, Mommy, but your heart is what lulls me to sleep. It’s the best lullaby in the world. When I come out of the box, I want to lull you to sleep with my heart too. I’ll practice making it loud and rhythmic, just like yours, but right now it sounds like angel wings fluttering everywhere. I’ll practice... *** Mommy, today you and I went to the park! You told me about everything you saw today. I am growing really big and you let a lot of people rub the box. Then we met a dog. He barked a lot and at first I was scared and jumped, but you told me it was okay. I love you because when I am with you everything is okay! *** Today my stomach made a funny noise. Your stomach makes that noise, too! I laughed for a long time! We are just alike. *** Mommy! Today I am so excited! The doctor did another ultrasound today (which wasn’t fun) and told you that I was a girl. You cried and laughed and you told me you loved me! I love you, too! You said that I was your beautiful princess. You said that my favorite color would be pink, although it is yellow. You called me your angel, and your teddy bear. You said that you would always protect me! I can’t wait to meet you because I want to tell you that you are my favorite Mommy ever! I love you. *** Today I wiggled a lot. It was a wiggly kind of day. You laughed with me and showed your friends how alive I was. You said that you were so big that I was growing up to be your princess. *** The days are passing really quickly now! My heart beats really fast all the time, I can feel 10
my body move around. I even learned how to dream yesterday. I dreamed about the noises you make and I missed you. I dreamed that I was out of the box, but you were there smiling at me. You have the prettiest smile. I haven’t ever seen it, but I know it will be more radiant than the sun! *** The man was back today. He was really mean this time. I tried to kick him through the box, but I couldn’t reach him. He hit you a lot today. I was crying so hard because I felt so helpless. You were crying, too. Later you didn’t sing to me. You didn’t touch me or the box. You sat still for a very long time and cried. I tried to nudge you, but you ignored me. Why won’t you talk to me, Mommy? I am only trying to love you! I love you Mommy! *** I nudged you all night long mommy, but now I am too tired to move. Why don’t you feel me anymore? *** Today the man came back again. He was still mad, and you still haven’t talked to me. You got into the car with him and went back to the doctor’s office. I squirmed the whole way there because whenever we got to the doctor’s office I have an ultrasound and I hate ultrasounds. The man didn’t talk to you, and you didn’t talk to the man, you only cried. I tried to tell you that it would be okay, but you weren’t listening hard enough, Mommy! *** Something funny is happening, Mommy. This funny taste is in the box. I can feel you being scared, but I don’t know why. I want to hold you, Mommy, and I promise I will. I only have a few weeks left in the box and then I will hold you everyday. Mommy! I know what’s happening! The floor to the box is getting bigger and the walls are
squashing me! I know that what’s happening means that it’s time to come out of the box. I can’t wait! I know that I’m a little early to come out, but I promise that I will always love you. You will love me, too, I hope. Mommy, you talked to me again! I heard you say it was going to be alright. It’s kind of funny, Mommy. You were crying when you said it, but I know that you still meant it. I love you more than the stars and the moon, I love you more that the dog and the grass and the flowers. I love you more than the box. I love you more than myself. You are perfect for me, and I can’t wait to meet you! Something is off though. I know that when the box starts to shrink that my head needs to be on the floor. I know that! I practiced for a REALLY long time. I practiced turning and making myself stay in one place, so that everything will go perfectly. But right now my feet are touching the bottom of the box. I’m trying to turn, Mommy, but I can’t. I can’t move, Mommy! My arms and feet feel really heavy and I can’t move them. I know that I have to turn around, but I can’t. What do I do, Mommy? I want everything to be perfect for you! Will you be mad at me if I can’t turn around? The liquid in the box is gone now. It was there one minute and then it was gone. I got scared because I’ve never done this before, Mommy. Then I remembered that you always tell me that it’ll be alright. You say that we will get through it together, that we’ll see each other soon. I know I’m earlier than planned, but I’ve practiced being perfect and I won’t mess up. I’ll be brave for you, Mommy. OW! Something grabbed onto my foot, Mommy! Can’t you feel that? It’s pulling me out of the box and it really hurts! OOOOWWWW! I’m screaming Mommy! Can’t you hear me? I’ve laughed and cried with you, why aren’t you screaming with me now? Oh and it’s so cold! The box was so warm and now there is
chilly nothingness around my leg. OW! The thing grabbed onto my other foot! Mommy, now both my feet are out in the cold! Please, Mommy! Couldn’t you have told the doctor that I needed to stay in a little longer? I don’t like feeling cold. OH! Mommy. My tummy just got chills. I’ve been pulled out of the box almost all the way. My arms and head are still warm. Never mind. Mommy, I love you, but couldn’t you have taken me out of the box in a warmer spot? Now both of my arms have been pulled out. Okay, Mommy, I know that my head is really big, that’s why it’s supposed to go first, but I promise that I’ll try hard to make it as small as possible. I can scrunch up my face and try to pull my nose and ears in. They’re really small, but it might help a little. My body is just hanging there in the cold. And OH! There’s cold metal on my back coming towards my head! Oh, it’s really cold, Mommy! I don’t understand, Mommy! This isn’t how it’s supposed to go! Did I mess up? Mommy? Are you there? MOMMY! OW! Mommy why does it hurt? I love you Mommy! Don’t you love me? OW!! Mommy please tell the doctor to stop! It hurts. MOMMY! MOMMY IT HURTS!! PLEASE, MOMMY I LOVE— The Woven By Laura J. Sanger The younger policeman was nervous. He seemed uncomfortable with the news he carried. He fidgeted in his uniform, brushing himself off with agitated hands. Rashi approached the house, splashed with rotating flashes of red and blue light. The younger officer intercepted him. “Good morning, Sir.” Uneasy nerves didn’t suit the young man. He moved his mouth in awkward ways when agitated. “Yes?” Rashi asked. “You’re not afraid of anything, are you, Sir?” Rashi paused and raised an 12
eyebrow. “Unemployment,” he replied. That put the young man even more ill at ease. “It’s just that... this is an unusual crime scene. You sure you don’t have any phobias?” Rashi grunted. He was a longterm veteran of the police force. He had seen almost everything. Some images stuck with him, often striking him at unexpected moments, but he had learned various methods of coping over the years. His memories were often triggered by smell. There was a smell here, an olfactory link to a half-forgotten event. The smell reminded him of a theater trip when he was a boy. It had rained ferociously as his mother got him and his brother into the dry car after the evening’s performance. She stood in her high heels, rain water pouring off her, making sure her sons were attended to first. Her faux fur coat, soaked with rainwater, had picked up a musty, grainy smell. Dad was not there. He had been a cop, too. As Rashi approached the crime scene, he saw a young policewoman standing restlessly outside the residence. Yellow tape fenced in the little green lawn around her. Rashi considered the uniformed officer critically. “Aren’t you on body watch?” “Yes, sir,” the young woman replied. “Shouldn’t you be in there? With the body? Unless you have x-ray vision, you can’t keep an eye on it out here.” “I don’t think anybody will mess with it in there,” She hazarded. Rashi shook his head. He wasn’t sure about what they were teaching at the Academy now. He had an old-school mind. “Be speedy to obey a superior; be dignified before the young,” Rashi thought, remembering the words of his namesake. Neither junior officer seemed speedy. They didn’t look dignified either as they shuffled, scratched,
and swatted at themselves. Rashi stepped up to the door. There was the smell again. It smelled like wet bristles. Something moved in the window and caught his attention. He glanced over and saw what made the motion. Jumping spiders. About twodozen of them crawled on the inside of the windowpane. They pivoted about, their little eyes attentively looking out. Rashi looked at them closely, through the glass. They paused, their little furry legs balanced oddly on the dusty glass. It was almost as if they were looking back at him. Rashi had a few vices, and a few fears. Luckily arachnophobia wasn’t among them. He pushed out the tip of the ballpoint pen — pen and paper were still his most valuable tools. “Old school, again,” he thought. He felt his age, watching a nearby technician from the crime lab enter notes on a handheld device. The technician looked up. “You don’t have a palm computer?” he asked. Rashi shook his head. “I don’t know how you can operate without the latest technology,” the young man said, typing away. “I don’t know how people got by before the twentyfirst century. Heck, I can’t imagine how I lived before last week.” Rashi frowned. He had been working homicide for longer than he cared to remember. The tools of the trade changed, mostly for the cops. Sometimes the killers used new weapons, but that was rare. Murder had remained fundamentally unchanged since Cain slew Abel. Rashi took a breath and entered the house. It smelled of old death. Jeremy Houston, Rashi’s partner, was already there. Bits of fluff floated in the bright morning air. “What has the uniformeds spooked?” Rashi asked. “The crime scene,” Houston smiled evilly.
Rashi looked over his shoulder at the young woman who quavered slightly as she stood outside the door. “She’ll have to get over that. Why isn’t she in here with the body?” “I don’t think it’s the body that’s spooking her.” Rashi shrugged. The lingering rotting chicken smell in the air let him know that it had been a while since the crime had been committed. “How long has the vic been dead?” “No definite idea yet. A local busybody called it in. Hadn’t seen the old gal who lives — lived — here for a while. The witness was babbling something about the spiders on the windows alerting her.” He gestured, “We were waiting for you to get the party started.” “There’s a lot of spiders,” Rashi said, as he moved farther into the house. “The Australians call a collective of spiders a ‘venom of spiders,’” Houston returned. “Clutter or cluster also works.” “I don’t remember you being married to an Australian,” Rashi replied. “How did you find that tidbit of information out?” “I don’t get all my information from my exes.” “The last three cases we’ve been on you’ve called Alana or Michelle for trivia.” “Alana and Michelle are smart ladies.” “Doesn’t explain why either of them married you. Might explain the divorces. Do the ladies a favor and get yourself one of those palm computers the rookies have.” They walked into a room marked off with crime scene tape. They were in the living room, fierce light fighting to get in between old velveteen curtains. An end table was upset, and a few things had been thrown around. In the middle of the room, there was the body. Its form was discernable: a small, female figure. It was wrapped in a shroud of silk. The webbed shroud reflected the light as an almost pure white 13
light. Webbed lines wrapped around the feet and head, forming strong bundles; the webbed ropes then formed a woven hammock which was attached to the walls, suspending the body in mid-air. The body was in effect lifted above the floor on a silken burial platform, as if a venerated mummy. “Good Lord,” Rashi said. Little shadows scattered across the floor. The damp hairy smell was very perceptible now. Houston pulled out his own notebook, reading aloud. “Ellen Mation, aged 78. The M.E. says it looks like she was attacked.” “By what?” Rashi asked. It was an eerily legitimate question. “An intruder. Forced entry through the rear door. Some things removed from the mantle. She probably surprised a burglar. Struggle ensued. She was hit with something heavy, from what the M.E. could gather. You know them. They don’t seem to know anything until they’ve spent some quality time with the corpse in the morgue.” “Not everything is what it appears to be on the outside,” Rashi said as he looked at the suspended body. The walls were crawling with spiders now. They crawled out from dark corners, from behind the couch, from the folds of the curtains. They seemed fearless, oblivious to the size difference between them and the humans. Attentive, they focused on Rashi and Houston. “The M.E. could only get a quick look,” Houston explained. “Then the little guys convinced him to back off.” “How poisonous are these things?” Rashi asked. “Individually, not very. Not like your black widow or funnel web. And, in case you’re wondering, there’s no evidence they tried to make the old lady dinner. They just wrapped her up and lifted her body off the floor.” He shrugged. “Sounds crazy, but it’s like they’re protecting her. Or trying to.” A spider bungeed down in
front of Rashi’s face. It stopped, eyes to eyes with Rashi; he brushed it away. It fell the rest of the distance to the floor, scampered off quickly. Rashi looked at the floor around the suspended body. He squatted down, pulled out a flashlight. In the sidewaysdirected light he saw something glistening. “What do you make of that?” he asked his partner. Jeremy Houston maneuvered his girth, observed the glittering fragments in the carpet. “Glass. The back window was broken.” “How did it get in here?” Rashi asked. He moved the light around. The glass had not only been moved, but it had been organized. The fragments made up a perfect circle on the floor, surrounding the body. “How did that happen?” Houston shook his head, mystified, as he straightened up. Devoid of answers, he tried for levity: “I could call Alana or Michelle.” Rashi shot his partner a disapproving glace and pulled out a pair of tweezers. He put a small piece of glass in a tiny clear plastic evidence bag. The spiders moved, in a concerted wave, looking up. They scattered as the police detectives walked around the body of Mrs. Mation. “There are enough of them.” Houston noted, side-stepping out of a spider’s way. “I don’t know how many angels dance on the head of a pin, but I think we’re about to figure out how many spiders can live in a thousand square foot house.” A gentle sawing noise filtered in behind them. “What’s that?” Rashi inquired. “There’s a sealed door down the hall. I have some uniforms trying to pry it open. Want to take a peek? I can go get our one witness.” Rashi nodded and walked towards the sound. There three uniformed police officers were sawing through the perimeter of a
closed door with hacksaws. Rashi inspected the seal around the doorway. It was white and silken. There was a lot of it. “Web?” he asked. One of the uniformed men shuddered. Houston arrived in the hallway, accompanied by a woman. She was about forty-five years old, with long black hair. She wore a black shawl that jingled with little bells every time she moved. “This is Ms. Vogel,” Houston introduced. “She’s the one who called it in.” “Ms. Vogel,” Rashi greeted. “So, you hadn’t seen your neighbor in a while?” “A few months.” “That wasn’t unusual?” “We kept different hours.” Ms. Vogel smiled secretively. “I’m a night person. She was a morning one. Sometimes it would be a while between meetings. But this was too long. I came over, and then I saw them.” She wrapped her finger around a blue glass bead necklace she wore, little eyes painted in black and white on each bead, as she spoke. “By them you mean the spiders.” “The weavers.” Ms. Vogel corrected. There was a little wave of spiders that crawled around the corner. They dropped out of the air vents. They sat on the wall, clung to the ceiling, and crouched at the floorboards. The spiders focused on Rashi and the woman, as if watching the interview intently. The largest spider took the prime position. She sat on the wall and raised her front legs. She was closer than Rashi wanted any spider to be. There was an unnerving penetration to the arachnid’s gaze. Like its miniature brain held more information than how to spin webs, catch flies, and make little spiders. “How did you know Mrs. Mation?” Rashi asked. It was routine and it put the witness at ease at the start of the interview to ask them something simple. “We worshipped together,” 14
Ms. Vogel replied. “We belong to a very small congregation. It helps to have neighbors who understand your ways. She had missed a number of services. That’s what disturbed me.” “And you came over to check on her?” “The spiders were everywhere,” she replied, “the window was almost black with their bodies. They tapped on the glass, like Morse code. They wanted me to come in. They wanted me to find her.” “They wanted you to find Mrs. Mation?” “She was the sweetest woman. A vegetarian. She gave generously to charity. She was always looking for a way to help others and never hurt a soul. She left the spiders alone. She knew they had their place in the world.” “A real saint.” Rashi noted, writing something less exalted in his notebook. Ms. Vogel gave him a scornful look. “Good people still exist.” She said. “The fates know that. They see everything.” “Fates,” Rashi echoed, an interrogation technique, to keep her talking. “Fates,” Ms. Vogel reiterated. The large spider, the intelligently poised one, peered into Ms. Vogel’s face. She smiled. “They weave our lives. Clotho, who spins,” Ms. Vogel made a spinning motion with her hands, the bells on her shawl jingling. “Lachesis, who gives us our destiny, and Atropos, the Inexorable, who cuts the thread.” She snipped the imaginary thread with fingers imitating shears. “The Inexorable,” Rashi wrote down. It wasn’t a word he had ever envisioned himself writing down in his evidence notebook. “You know fate,” Houston piped in, dark humor in his tone. “Keeps me chasing Alanas and Michelles when I should be chasing Joans and Ediths.” He brushed his pants leg, a spider falling off. He swore, and tried to crush it underfoot, but it scurried away with graceful speed. The
other spiders seemed to eye him, their little bodies pointed towards him. There was tension in their little spider legs. Houston didn’t know how to tell if spiders didn’t like you, but he was beginning to suspect he wasn’t their favorite human being. “I’m going to take a break,” Houston said. There was a little single file of spiders lining up on the wall, moving in angry dance, agitated at the big policeman. Rashi could sense their aggravation. He looked at a few of the spiders in the line. Some of them clutched small pieces of glass, and others clutched little golden chips of something he couldn’t identify. The big spider turned to them and wriggled her forelegs in the air. They dispersed at her commands, going in separate directions. The spiders that carried the glass fragments navigated towards the body; the one with the golden chips arched over him, crawling back into an air vent above the sealed door. He could see their little silken trails behind them, catching the sunlight. He redirected his attention to the witness with two eyes and two legs. “Not even the gods could change what the fates decreed,” Ms. Vogel was saying sadly, shaking her head. “Good thing we don’t live in a Greek mythology world,” Rashi summarized. Ms. Vogel smiled, a peculiarly self-satisfied smile. “But the fates still watch us,” she whispered. “They watch everyone, everywhere. They send eyes among us. You never know whose eyes they are looking through. They watch me. They watch you.” Rashi raised both eyebrows. There was a cessation to the sawing. “Sir, we have the door open.” An officer announced. Rashi nodded; at his command
they pushed the door in. The smell of rotten human flesh rushed out in a sickening wave. “I take it we found our burglar,” he assessed grimly. The perpetrator’s hands still gripped a fistful of Mrs. Mation’s jewelry. The criminal has been strapped to the wall with silken web. More webbing crossed him haphazardly, binding him, tying him. His skin had been bruised, as if he had hit things, trying to get out of the room — or trying to crush little bodies. There were hundreds of
little discarded exoskeletons on the floor. They crackled crisply underfoot. The criminal’s flesh bore the marks of a multitude of bites. Tiny pieces of torn flesh bore witness to hundreds of small injections of minute doses of poison. Summed together, the bites had taken their toll. The burglar’s eyes were frozen open, cloudy and horrified. At his feet there was a piece of jewelry that had dropped from his hands, a small golden brooch. Little chips of the gold had been carefully scraped off. On the floor, against the hardwood, the light caught 15
the glitter of the metal. It had been carefully arranged into a pentagram, pointing towards the dead thief. The spiders surged into the room, pressing past Rashi. He could feel them as they crawled over him to get into the room, jumping off his head, struggling though his hair. He jumped back, as they used him to gain access to the room. Their legs felt like little pipe cleaners prickling on his skin. They stopped in the shadow of the dead man, proud in their victory. Their little bodies mingled, forelimbs going up and down. The large spider dropped down from the ceiling, her eyes on her sisters. She stood in the middle of the thinly rendered symbol, and pivoted around. She is the leader, Rashi recognized, admiring the power in the spider’s little body. The uniformed officers behind him reacted very differently. They did not appreciate the arachnid’s perception. One vomited, another ran, and the third gasped in revulsion. Ms. Vogel smiled. “Are they eating him?” Rashi asked, sensing he had found his own Alana and Michelle in Ms. Vogel. “No — spiders keep their food alive.” “These seem to know more than just how to catch dinner.” “They know justice,” Ms. Vogel said, walking slowly away. “Little packets of justice.” The room smelled fiercely of musty fur now, packed with little furry jumping spiders, dancing excitedly. Rashi pulled out his walkietalkie. “I need the medical examiner back here,” he said, happy for the distraction to have something to do. The large spider seemed to rest. Her eyes locked on Rashi.
Back in the office, Rashi had written up his notes, and set up his case file. He transcribed written words into the database, filling the template with ordinary looking notations first. Then he began to write about the spiders. It was something he was not ready to do. *** He went home and showered. It was a long shower, and he rinsed himself more times than usual. His skin still writhed, as if he could still feel the spiders crawling on him. It took a while, but eventually he managed to fall asleep. In the night, while he slept, they watched. They came crawling out of the corners, from behind his books, from under his counters. Their little eyes weighing his actions and his inactions, assessing him in the darkness of his room while he slept. They were fulfilling their mission. They considered his fitful breathing and the words he mumbled in his sleep, when no conscious filter operated to disguise the truth of his inner thoughts. And they remained unseen, yet ever present. They were watching, ever watching, as they and all their kind did: Watching with their many eyes. Their eight tiny, little eyes. Titan By Doug Hilton Pierre DeBose, First Class Pierre DeBose, First Class Rocketeer and Captain of Une Petite Vielle, the largest and fastest hydrocarbon harvester in the solar system was in the final stages of stuffing Titan’s treasure into the giant hold of the huge spacecraft when something went horribly wrong. In the unforgiving darkness of outer space, anything that goes wrong quickly turns into a catastrophe.
“My little lady, today is a very bad day for us”, he told the computer. “Oui, mon capitaine,” replied Lille, the master computer. “We are in une grave trouble now.” They both watched as the ramscoop fell towards the surface of Saturn’s big moon Titan. Lille’s ventral-video showed the image of a broken 1000-meter long carbon-composite tether cable, whipping around in slow-motion while the giant ram scoop fell ever so slowly—it was a nightmare scene. It was bone-chilling to Captain DeBose, since he fully understood the consequences. “I will be held accountable for the damage to Titan and to you, my little lady. A frayed cable will be no excuse to the Space Board. You know that they look after the welfare of the objects in the solar system. They will be like savage wolves, waiting to pounce on me and fine me for any destruction caused by my actions.” Lille replied in a subdued voice, “Oui, mon capitaine.” After she quickly accessed the records of recent Space Board decisions, she decided that the Space Board’s reputation was intact as the meanest Super-Governmental agency in history—they were there to protect everything from death and destruction by Earthbased corporations, whom they viewed as evil, exploiting, money-grubbing, and other things that were much worse. When the World United Organization gave the Space Board absolute authority to prosecute “Exploiters”, they meant it. Heaven itself couldn’t help the captain whose ship left so much as 1 microbe on a moon or planet. And if you left as much as a footprint anywhere, well, you’d be put out of business for destruction of “Natural Environment.” All space ships were forced to carry several small “remora” robots, which were like spies of the Space Board. They attached themselves to the hull of the space ship and videoed everything, monitored everything, and 16
snooped on everything—and then sent it all back to the main computer on Luna for analysis. “I don’t like the remora—they are le snoops,” she volunteered to Captain DeBose, who was thinking about that right now— the images of the ram scoop and the frayed cable, swinging and swaying in the hard vacuum above Titan would take only a few seconds to arrive at the giant computer complex back home, and the fines would start right after that. “My little lady, today is a very bad day for us,” he told the computer again. “Look at those monitor feeds.” They both watched the video feeds from the remora cameras. The Captain’s blood turned to ice water and there was no telling what Lille was thinking just then: in space, like on Earth, bad news travels fast but bad luck travels faster. The end of the frayed cable finally completed its predictable parabolic arc; the forces of physics when intersected with mathematics are never easily satisfied. When the giant scoop fell towards Titan, the snapped cable followed an ancient formula that describes what happens when force, mass, and acceleration all are in the same room together, arguing about the result. The cable promptly cut Une Petite Vielle neatly into pieces, then into shreds as Lille uttered her last word (an appropriate French curse word). Captain DeBose was shredded into confetti by that instant in time, so he didn’t reply. Then Mr. Newton’s famous formula woke up and realized that since there were masses and distances involved, that it was time to step in and apply the universal force known as gravity to all of those chunks and shards—and the universal gravitational constant sucked the detritus towards the surface of the larger mass, whose name should make it obvious who would win the tug-of-war with small bits of kibble from a rocket ship previously known as Une Petite Vielle. But the day wasn’t over—not
by a long shot. Titan is a beautiful place to visit, since it is large enough to be considered a dwarf planet had its primary orbit been around the sun. It is the second-largest moon, next to Luna, and has a real atmosphere. If you consider a landscape of hydrocarbon lakes and rivers of ethane to be Earthlike, then you’d like Titan. Back in the 25th century, the first serious explorers landed on Titan (they were all robots, but hey, who’s being picky?) and they took samples of the atmosphere, the lakes, and the rivers. Earth had used up the last of their cheap hydrocarbons, and here was an endless supply—so what’s to wonder about? A fleet of scoopships was built and sent out to harvest the free fuel—and more. The cheap, bulk hydrocarbon was used as chemical feedstock to synthesize hundreds of vital products. Thousands of ships made the trip, in a continuous train from Earth to Titan. Each ship took from 8 to 20 years for the round trip, depending on the position of Earth and Saturn, but that didn’t matter as much as it seems—Earth’s appetite for hydrocarbon-based fuel was going to be filled now and forever, and that’s all that counted. Pierre DeBose, First Class Rocketeer and recently deceased Captain of Une Petite Vielle piloted just one car in a long train of hydrocarbon harvesters. He took great risks and got great rewards. As pieces of the good captain started to rain down on Titan, the last fickle act of physics finally happened. There is sufficient atmosphere on Titan to cause objects that descend at a great rate to incandesce and to burn up. That’s not a very good thing when the object is too dense to completely incinerate. For billions of years, Titan was able to care for itself and burn up the intruding meteors and other junk from the outer realms. Nothing hit the surface in the past, until today. Today, something very durable hit Titan’s atmosphere—
the spaceship formerly known as Une Petite Vielle was designed to survive in the rough and tumble world of the outer planets, so it hit the top of Titan’s atmosphere and screamed. They both screamed. Titan tried its best to tear the ship to shreds. The dense man-made material resisted. Large chunks of Tri-duranium alloy plopped into Titan’s eastern ocean, which is not too cool, since the complete combustion of ethane releases 1561 kilo-Joules per mole, or 51.9 kJ/g, of heat, and produces carbon dioxide and water as a result. When the laws of physics multiplied by the laws of organic chemistry, and divided all those formulas up, the result was a fire—a very large fire—a very, very large fire. Titan was on fire. Ooops. *** Meanwhile, back on Luna, the images from the snoopy remora cameras were being crunched and analyzed to death. Thousands of ships were sending dozens of images every second, as the Space Board’s mighty computer complex, deeply buried in the southern shore of beautiful Fra Mauro crater crunched the data 24-7. Its powerful neural network was looking for any violations of the Space Board’s rules. Ten thousand computer technicians lived in the Space Board complex. They fed and watered the mighty computer, in the hope that it would find a fineable violation. Today, they got their wish—the remora cameras from Une Petite Vielle paid the full price for spying, but as they went down, they gave evidence of the greatest destruction that humans ever caused. The head of the Space Board rubbed his hands together in glee as he called the head of the calculation department and asked him, “Jim, how much is that fine going to be?” “What happened, Mr. Singsou?” “Mr. Prasad, one of InterEthane Corporation’s harvesting ships crashed on Titan 17
and ignited it.” “?” (A cartoon-bubble formed over Mr. Prasad’s head for a moment). “One of InterEthane’s ships crashed on Titan and ignited it. Saturn’s moon Titan is on fire. How much is the fine for that?” “I’ll have to get back to you on that, sir.” Click went the phone. Mr. Sing-sou turned to his secretary: “Ayadala, get me the Chairman of InterEthane.” “Yes, sir.” “Mr. Ramadass Prasadamas, this is Sing-sou from the Space Board. You have a problem.” “Good evening, Mr. Sing. How may I help you?” “One of your ships crashed on Titan, and ignited it.” “?” (A cartoon-bubble formed over Mr. Prasadamas’ head for a moment). “Your ship Une Petite Vielle crashed on Saturn’s moon Titan. It has ignited the ethane ocean there. Titan is on fire. Mr. Prasadamas, your company is now under directive from the Space Board, as follows: First, and foremost, the fines are being calculated now, but the destruction that you have caused is irreparable. Next, you must put out the fire. Finally, you must restore Titan to its previous state. Do you have any questions?” “?” (The cartoon-bubble over Mr. Prasadamas’ head solidified). “Alright, sir. I’ll be getting back to you with the amount you owe us. Have a nice day.” “$” Click. (The cartoonbubble over Mr. Prasadamas’ head morphed into something more appropriate). Earth time didn’t mean much when the crisis was this bad. Mr. Prasadamas called his top guns all over Earth, and told them they had 4 hours to arrive in New-New Delhi, and bring solutions to the problem. Sub-orbital flights were booked and were waiting when the sleeping scientists and executives set down their phones. Three hours later, they were all sitting in the Board Room, watching the videos that were forwarded from
the Space Board. “Okay, gentlemen (and ladies), what do we do? The fines are mounting, minute by minute. Who has an answer?” “?” (A roomful of cartoonbubbles floated like released helium balloons). “Let me go around the room. I pay you people to solve problems. This is a problem—now solve it. Ms. Delaney?” “?” (Her yellow cartoonbubble floated over her head). “Mr. Soon?” “?” (His green cartoon-bubble floated over his head). And so it went—nobody had a clue how to put out the fire on Titan. Suddenly the red cartoonbubble over one of the Korean’s heads burst and he stood up: “Sir, I have an idea. I saw it on computervid when I was young. There was a man named John Wayne. His company put out fires. Maybe we can get him to do it.” “Good idea. Ms.Ayadala, get me Mr. Wayne on the phone.” “Er, Mr. Prasadamas, that was a movie from the 20th century. I’m a history major, remember? That movie was called Hellfighters. It was about a company that fought oil well fires.” “Ms. Ayadala?” “Sir, they exploded nitro glycerine over an oil rig to try to extinguish the fire. They did that for 3 different fires. It seemed to work—the fires were extinguished.” “Mr. Soon, what do you think?” “Sir, that sounds like a good idea, but we have no way to get nitro glycerine to Titan. Right now, based on our orbits, it will take six years to get there at all. No, sir, we need a different idea.” “So we need to do something with the rockets that are near Titan now. Okay, that’s one piece of data. Who has another idea? The clock is ticking.” “Mr. Prasadamas, I’m Susan Vinger. I’m the master scheduler of the scoop-ships. I have an idea, but it will seem pretty far out.” “Go ahead. We’re
brainstorming here. No ideas are bad.” “Sir, one of Titan’s other moons, Enceladus has liquid water under its south pole. We sampled it a few years ago, and it is goodquality, but it has a sulphur-taste to it, so we never imported it to Earth. Maybe we could shuttle water from one moon to the other and fight the fire with water? If that doesn’t work, maybe we could try diverting chunks of ice from Saturn’s rings down onto the fire.” “Susan, those are great ideas! Ms. Ayadala, get me the Captains of the ships that are within three-days flight of Titan and Enceladus. Let’s see if we can use the ram-scoops to move water from Enceladus and drop it on the fire on Titan.” “Yes, sir,” replied the secretary as she headed for the door. Captains were called. Calculations were performed. Rocket ships were re-vectored. Loads of hydrocarbon products were dumped into space. Enceladus was the destination of choice for the armada. Water would be the cargo, and firefighting was the new mission order of the day. The 3D video screens in the conference room sprang to life. Ship locations, moon locations, orbital plots, it was all there. And on the bottom of the screen, a scroll-bar displayed the increasing penalties from the Space Board. As hours and days ground on, Mr. Prasadamas kept pounding: “We need more ideas. Does anyone here have more ideas? I need ideas.” “Mr. Prasadamas, I’m John Stone, your new chemical engineer from Utah, United States. I have a suggestion.” “Yes, Mr. Stone?” “Sir, I don’t think we have to do anything.” “WHAT? ARE YOU CRAZY? Look at the fines! We will go broke in two weeks at this rate.” “Sir, no disrespect, but here’s a chemical equation that I worked 18
out: 2 C2H6 + 7 O2 → 4 CO2 + 6 H2O + 1561 kJ/mol “Combustion occurs by a complex series of free-radical reactions, but look at the output of the reaction.” (The room filled with cartoon “?”s, since organic chemists speak a language that is universally either disregarded or laughed at.) “Okay. I see carbon dioxide and water. I don’t have a chemical engineering degree, but I can read your formula.” “Sir, look more carefully. The ethane reaction produces carbon dioxide and water—just exactly the right things to put out a fire. If we leave it alone, the fire will put itself out.” “?” “?” “?” floated around the room, in loud colors, wondering. “Sir, physics and chemistry just work if you leave them alone. It will be Okay. The fire on Titan will extinguish itself.” He also knew that there was a lot of nitrogen present in the atmosphere there, and that would suppress the fire, too. After a long pause, Mr. Prasadamas turned to Ms. Ayadala: “Cancel the fire-fighting plans. Get me Mr. Sing-sou from the Space Board.” “Mr. Stone, you are now our newest Executive Vice President. Congratulations.” “Thank you, sir.” But of course Mr. Prasadamas didn’t know that John Stone barely graduated from the University, and that the course on organic chemistry was almost his downfall. He never did quite understand the series of reactions involving ethane combustion, which produced oxygen, peroxide, ethoxy and hydroxyl radicals— the perfect stuff for a very, very hot fire. He was more concerned with a lovely gal named Joanne, who wore very short skirts and caused fire wherever she went. John got a “D” in organo-chem that semester, but scored a hot date with the babe who wound up becoming Miss U.S.A.—right before she dumped him in favor
of a macho football player. Finale: Titan has been burning now for over 80 years. InterEthane Corporation is long-gone, crushed and disappeared under massive fines from the Space Board. Scientists (competent ones) estimate that it will take 14,000,000 years for Titan to burn itself out. Physicists (competent ones) have predicted that the orbits of the other 132 moons of Saturn will shift, taking up new orbits that will result from the loss of Titan’s mass. Computers (competent ones) have modeled the damage that will be caused by the orbital shifts, and they predict that 17 moons will be totally lost due to collisions and de-orbiting (crashing into Saturn). The hydrocarbon harvester ships have stopped now and every year the Space Board makes sure we celebrate December 2 as “Titan Day” by telling the story of Pierre DeBose, First Class Rocketeer and Captain of Une Petite Vielle, the largest and fastest hydrocarbon harvester in the solar system, to our children, and hope that we will never do so much damage again. On that special night, in the middle of the night, we point to Saturn and show our children the bright yellow pin-point that outshines the nearby stars, and we weep for Titan, one of the brothers and sisters of Cronos, known as the mythological Greek Saturn of old. And we all sing “Alas, Titan, we barely knew ye,” so that we will never forget what we have done.
Robert the Bruce By Richard H. Fay Alexander III’s fatal fall down a seaside cliff during a stormy night in 1286 plunged the kingdom of Scotland into a cascade of events that eventually led to a series of wars with England. After the untimely death of Alexander’s young granddaughter Margaret, “The Maid of Norway”, in 1290, no fewer than fourteen claimants vied for the throne, including members of the Balliol and Bruce families. Edward I of England, described as a “devious leopard” by a contemporary chronicler, acted as judge and feudal overlord in the succession dispute. In 1292 he decided in favour of John Balliol as the new Scottish king. Forced to resign his regal title in 1296 after unsuccessfully rebelling against Edward’s heavyhanded rule, Balliol suffered the humiliation of having the royal arms ripped from his surcoat, thus acquiring the derogatory epithet of “Toom Tabard.” Balliol’s disgrace led to a revival of the Bruce claim. Robert the Bruce, grandson of the original Bruce competitor, overcame the stain of sacrilegious murder, excommunication, and the hardships of a fugitive existence to become the greatest of Scotland’s warrior kings. Born on July 11, 1274, in Turnberry Castle, an Ayrshire fortress overlooking the Firth of Clyde, Robert was the eldest child of Robert Bruce VI, Lord of Annandale, and Marjorie of Carrick. As a member of the powerful Anglo-Norman elite that held lands on both sides of the Scottish border, Robert learned to speak the Norman-French of his peers as well as the Gaelic and northern English of his future followers. Educated enough to be able to read a French romance to his haggard band of supporters during his darkest days, Robert also gained the typical martial training of a nobleman’s firstborn son. Adept at jousting and swordplay, Robert eventually earned the rank of one of the 19
three greatest knights of his day, a distinction he shared with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry and Sir Giles D’Argentan. Little else is known of his early years except that he appears as a witness on a deed in 1286. His history is again shrouded in darkness until 1292, when he became the effective head of the Bruce family. The choice of John Balliol, a lord connected to the Bruce’s rivals the Comyn’s, as king left the Earl of Carrick with a deep conviction that his family had suffered a great injustice. The Bruce family never recognized Balliol’s sovereignty. They swore homage to Edward I of England in 1292, and reaffirmed their fealty in 1296. They then ignored the call-to-arms issued when King John finally defied his abusive overlord, and both Robert and his father participated in Edward’s campaign to depose his rebellious vassal. The English army sacked the border town of Berwick and then proceeded to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Scots at Dunbar. The elder Bruce thought that Edward would reward his family’s loyalty with the Scottish crown, but the “devious leopard” decided to rule his northern province directly, and appointed the Earl of Surrey as Governor. Thinking that the question of Scottish independence was settled once and for all, Edward commented as he crossed the border that it was good to be rid of a turd. Resentment toward English rule erupted into revolt in 1297. William Wallace, an outlaw turned rebel leader, orchestrated the murder of the Sheriff of Clydesdale at Lanark and the subsequent burning of the town. Common folk flocked to his banner. Along with many of his lordly peers, Robert Bruce switched allegiance, but this “aristocratic” revolt ended with the humiliating capitulation of the nobility at Irvine. However, Robert refused to produce hostages and forfeited his lands. Wallace continued the fight, and
joined forces with a northern army under Andrew de Moray. Together they slaughtered Surrey’s cavalry at Stirling Bridge. Elevated to Guardian of the Realm after this remarkable victory, Wallace lost his lofty position after his defeat at Falkirk in 1298. Robert Bruce and John Comyn “the Red” of Badenoch became joint guardians, but Bruce resigned after he and Comyn quarrelled. Worried that the French, constant enemies of the English, would help reinstate Balliol, Robert made peace with Edward in 1302. This submission was rewarded by a marriage alliance with Elizabeth de Burgh, daughter of the Earl of Ulster (Robert’s first wife Isabella of Mar died in childbirth in 1296). Still holding out hope that he could acquire the crown that had eluded his predecessors, in July 1304 Robert Bruce entered into a secret pact with William Lamberton, Bishop of Saint Andrews and a tireless proponent of Scottish independence. These clandestine negotiations led to a fateful meeting with John Comyn at Greyfriars Church. Tempers flared, daggers were drawn, and Bruce wounded his hotheaded rival. Robert’s companion Sir Roger de Kirkpatrick then entered the sanctuary and finished the bloody deed. After seeking absolution for his sacrilegious crime, Robert made his way to Scone to be crowned six weeks after the murder of John Comyn. Enthroned as King of Scots on March 25, 1306, Bruce faced an uncertain future. An enraged Edward prepared to hammer his one-time favourite, while the Comyn family and its supporters sought to exact their revenge. And to make Bruce’s situation even worse, Edward persuaded Pope Clement V to excommunicate the new Scottish king, a serious matter in an age of
faith. An English force surprised and scattered Bruce’s followers at Methven, his womenfolk were captured, and his brother Nigel was brutally executed by the medieval method of hanging, drawing, and quartering, the same fate suffered by William Wallace. Derisively called “King Hobbe” by the English, Bruce fled to Rathlin Isle off the Ulster coast. Early in 1307, Robert the Bruce landed near Turnberry Castle. His hopes for a twopronged attack heralding his return to the mainland were dashed when his brothers Thomas
and Alexander were ambushed by the Macdowalls of Galloway and executed. Vanishing into the wild glens of his homeland, and according to legend inspired by the patience and perseverance of a determined spider, Robert decided to set aside his chivalric training and adopt the tactics of forest ambush, sudden raid, night attack, and scorched earth. At times pursued by hounds as well as harassed by the English army and the retinues of rival Scottish lords, the fugitive King of Scots 20
eluded capture and began to strike back at his enemies wherever and whenever he could. A successful ambush of an English force along a narrow loch side track at Glen Trool in April and a more significant victory against the Earl of Pembroke at Loudon Hill in May earned Robert a growing number of allies. When Edward I died in July and his son proved less than enthusiastic about prosecuting his father’s northern campaign, Robert turned his attention toward his Macdowall and Comyn enemies. With the aid of brilliant comrades like Sir James Douglas, Robert the Bruce gradually recovered his kingdom. Edward II invaded Scotland in 1310, but Bruce’s Fabian tactics frustrated the English attempts to bring him to battle, and Edward’s domestic problems of frivolous favouritism and displeased barons distracted him from his troubles north of the border. Robert raided the border counties in 1311 and 1312, in part to exact “blackmail” from the English, a pattern he continued for most of his reign. By 1314, Bruce’s campaign against strongholds still in English hands had captured all but Stirling castle. The siege of Stirling led to the battle of Bannockburn. In a two-day struggle on June 23 and 24, Bruce’s schiltrons of spearmen decisively defeated Edward II’s arrogant and illdisciplined knights. It was said that two hundred pairs of red spurs were taken from the bodies of fallen English knights. Secure in his position as King of Scots after Bannockburn, Robert affirmed the Declaration of Arbroath on April 6, 1320. This document, sent to Pope John XXII, asserted the independence of Scotland and the right of its
people to replace their king if he betrayed their freedom. However, fighting with England continued, and Scottish forces launched frequent raids across the border, devastating the countryside and “blackmailing” local populations north of the River Tees. England refused to recognise Scottish independence until the reality of the situation was grudgingly accepted in the treaty of Edinburgh of 1328. Robert I of Scotland died, possibly of leprosy, on June 7, 1329. Scotland remained an independent nation, although one often at war with her stronger southern neighbour, until the union of the crowns in 1603, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. Robert the Bruce’s contribution to Scottish independence has been overshadowed by the resurgent popularity of William Wallace. Thanks in part to the film Braveheart, Wallace is often seen as a “true” Scottish patriot, while Bruce is thought of as something less due to shifting loyalties prior to his coronation in 1306. However, patriotism as a nationalistic concept didn’t exist in its modern form during the first quarter of the fourteenth century. Robert did what was necessary to endure the turbulent and potentially deadly politics of his age, as well as doing what was needed to ensure the protection of his own lands and familial interests. And The Bruce did eventually emerge as a charismatic, courageous, and perseverant leader of the Scottish cause. His survival against almost insurmountable odds, his resounding victory at Bannockburn, and his willingness to take the fight across the border, were proof of Robert’s unwavering fortitude and military prowess. His affirmation of the Declaration of Arbroath bore witness to his magnanimous nature and his desire to see a Scottish nation free of English interference. The Swords of Robert the Bruce
Renowned for his strength and skill in both tournament and battle, Robert the Bruce occasionally wielded either a great sword or a two-handed sword during his struggle for Scottish independence. The fugitive King of Scots may have used just such a weapon during a desperate moonlit battle with a Macdowall force in 1307. Defending a narrow ford behind a fallen horse, the Bruce mowed down all foolish enough to climb over the carcass to confront him. Two relic swords dubiously linked to the great warrior are tangible testaments to the enduring legacy of the King of Scots, if not necessarily weapons the Bruce ever truly raised in anger. One so-called “Sword of Robert the Bruce” is a two-handed claymore currently housed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Previously, this weapon resided at Hawthornden, a Drummond estate. This sword exhibits an interesting and unique configuration of four quillons and an oddly curved, spiralled grip made from narwhal tusk. The
ends of the drooping cross guards terminate in the open quatrefoils typical of Scottish two-handed claymores. The sword’s pommel is globular in form, and is capped with a mushroom-shaped button. Even though local lore claims a link between the “Hawthornden Sword” and The Bruce, the weapon most likely dates to the sixteenth century. The other purported “Sword of Bruce” is a two-handed sword in the possession of the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, Chief of the Bruce Family. The “Elgin Sword” is overall 61 inches long,
with a blade length of 44 and 1/4 21
inches. There is a single, narrow fuller in the upper 12 inches of the blade. The blade’s edges run nearly parallel, with only a slight taper, to a fairly broad point. The sword’s grip, just over 14 inches long, is of wood bound with a criss-crossed leather thong set into helical grooves, all beneath a stitched and tacked leather over wrap. Lacking any trace of gilding or rich decoration, the hilt’s only embellishment consists of some simple vertical lines engraved at intervals along the cross guard and on the edge of its down-turned ends. The centre of the cross guard extends over the blade, forming a pointed langet. The rather plain pommel is of squat “scent stopper” form, circular in plan. There is a small, cylindrical tang button atop the pommel. While some authorities dispute the authenticity of this sword’s link to King Robert I, the Bruce family claim it has been in their care since the fourteenth century, so it may actually be a weapon once wielded by that warrior King of Scots. Further Reading Armstrong, Pete. Bannockburn 1314: Robert Bruce’s Great Victory. Osprey Publishing, Oxford (2002). Armstrong, Pete. Stirling Bridge & Falkirk 1297-98: William Wallace’s Rebellion. Osprey Publishing, Oxford (2003). Caldwell, David H. Scotland’s Wars and Warriors: Winning Against the Odds. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh (1998). Magnusson, Magnus. The Story of Scotland. Grove Press, New Apollo’s Breath By Shaun A. Saunders First published in Cosmos Magazine
In the adition at the temple of Apollo, the Pythia, mouthpiece of the oracle, sat on a tripod and awaited the next inquisitor. From the chasm beneath her, where ancient fault lines crossed,
rose the pneuma: the breath of Apollo. Inhaling the vapour, the Pythia began to sway as she descended into the first trance of the day. Although the gas had the sweet odour of perfume, frequent and prolonged inhalation inevitably led first to headaches, then seizures, and finally, to the appointment of the next candidate from the ranks of eager hopefuls. Still, there was little point in complaining. Unlike the attendant priests and priestesses at the temple, the Pythia did not achieve her position as a result of noble birth or family connections. At the age of sixteen and on the verge of starvation, she had been chosen by the Delphic sisterhood to undergo months of rigorous and often painful mental and physical conditioning. Perhaps today Apollo would be a little kinder to the Pythia.... *** On the winding path leading up to the temple, Pausinias stopped for a moment to catch his breath. The early morning sun was hot and the air heavy for this time of year. A traveller from afar, Pausinias had learned of the oracle from an essay by Plutarch, who had been a priest at the temple a generation before. Even in that time, Plutarch despaired that the oracle’s well of prophecy was drying up. Apollo’s mouthpiece had become more interested in cows, pigs, and the ailments of private citizens than in affairs of state. Pausinias despaired also, in his own way. At fifty, he had yet to make a lasting mark on the world, despite travelling across it and having learned much. Unlike others, he scorned the practice of pawing through animal entrails in search of mystical answers to mundane questions. Only the ignorant wasted their lives and earnings searching for portents in the guts of animals, the tumble of bones, even the sky above. He knew better. He had studied the motion of the planetary spheres as set
down by Plato and Eudoxus, and understood the mathematical treatise of Pythagoras. From the work of Erastothenes, he knew that the circumference of the Earth was some 250,000 stadia, and Hipparchus had demonstrated conclusively that the distance to the Moon was between fifty-nine and sixty-five times the radius of the Earth. Furthermore, from the writings of Aristarchus, he accepted that the Sun was some nineteen times further from the Earth than was the Moon, and that the points of light seen in the sky at night were not merely dots painted on the spheres, but other, far more distant suns. The unpopular Aristarchus, rather than believing that these heavenly objects revolved around the Earth, held that the Earth turned on its axis every 24 hours, and, along with the outer spheres, revolved around the Sun. Thus, the movements of the heavens were subject to celestial mechanics, and thence cared not for the whims of the seers or the feeble hopes of their gullible followers. Such thoughts secretly pleased Pausinias. And so he believed that there was nothing under the Sun that could not eventually be understood by man if only he took the time to make careful observations that could be tested against a given explanation. Reason alone separated man from animals and women. Armed with his knowledge of astronomy, he would put the Pythia to the test and ask for the date of the next eclipse of the Moon. If the Pythia answered correctly, then he would be the first to use mathematics to confirm the veracity of the oracle (after all, a woman could not understand the motions of the spheres). On the other hand, if — as he privately believed — Apollo’s breath reeked of chicken guts, then he still would be remembered by history, however brief his sojourn at Delphi. All in all, given that he could not lose, Pausinias 22
considered that his tiring journey would be a most worthwhile endeavour... *** At the entrance to the temple, a priest relieved Pausinias of some coins and after offering refreshments, politely inquired of his journey, his health, and, more obliquely, the reason for his seeking the oracle. Pausinias, while glad of the cup of wine, was not about to succumb to verbal sleight of hand. Grasping a handful of grapes, he coolly requested that the priest lead him to the antechamber where visitors could address the Pythia directly. He was directed past the eternal sacred fire in the middle of the temple, while the priest took a seat at the rear of the antechamber to the adyton, motioning for Pausinias to address the oracle. Peering into the gloom, Pausinias saw the gently swaying outline of the Pythia as she sat upon her tripod within a depression in the chamber. He addressed her thus: “Oracle of Apollo, I seek knowledge of the celestial spheres. I wish to know when next the Earth will cast the Moon into shadow.” The Pythia chanted her reply in an otherworldly voice: “Ask not when the spheres will cast the Moon into shadow; this has come before, and the Moon will pale again and again. Ask instead when the Moon will no longer hide from the gaze of man….” Pausinias was not impressed with wordplay, and bridled. “You speak in riddles, oracle. If you are truly the instrument of Apollo” — he paused but for a second at the sound of a gasp from the priest — “you will push aside the veil of the present and gaze upon the future.” For long seconds, silence descended in the temple. Finally, the Pythia replied, but without overt inflection. “As man seeks knowledge without enlightenment, the past will repeat itself. Long ages after Rome has fallen, man will still
rise against man. It is his course in nature; just as the spheres must turn, so must man turn in upon himself. He will seek to understand the very workings of the celestial spheres, but will never know himself — ” Indignant, Pausinias interrupted. “It is the pursuit of knowledge that sets man apart from animal. One day, we will know the machinery of the spheres, and then we will be truly gods, with no use for false instruments such as yourself.” The Pythia remained unshaken. “In the end-times,” she went on, “man’s knowledge will burn so brightly that in the cities he will not see the stars at night. Even so blinded, he will look further and further into the heavens for answers, not seeing that his brother starves while his children sit as mute statues in front of false mirrors. When man brings the Sun to Earth, the heavens will hide in despair and the wheel of time will stop. When it starts anew, man will be no longer — ” Nothing but meaningless nonsense. Pausinias interrupted her, snorting in disdain. “I have travelled far, oracle of Apollo, to listen to your gibberish. But my efforts will not be in vain. I find that you can tell me nothing of import, and,” he said triumphantly, “history will record it so — that your prophecy is empty and false.” Undeterred, drawing in the pneuma fumes through her flaring nostrils, chanting again, the Pythia told him, “I see a trip to a far away land, and a new pair of sandals... a cow will give birth again and a pig will ail...” Disgusted, Pausinias turned to leave the chamber. “And a man with dark hair will speak ill of you — ” Halting in mid-step, Pausinias turned back, asked quickly, “A man with dark hair, you say? Would it be Demetrius of Athens?” He seated himself beside the sibyl, eyes intent. “I should never have confided in him my support of Antarchus’s
beliefs….” He reached for coins. “Tell me more. I must know it all. What man?” The priest, in his chair at the back of the antechamber, smirked to himself and rolled his eyes. Illegal Aliens By Grady Yandell My name is Jim Gregg. I’m a fulltime Deputy Sheriff and part-time headhunter. That means I earn good money as a private investigator for the people who can afford my services. In this case I was chasing down some music pirates in a rural section of my county for the National Music and Toilet Paper Industry. That is what brought me to this isolated residential property on the edge of the Senora desert. I hit a dust covered white button near the open front door. The doorbell was like the rest of this dilapidated shack, broken. I looked around to see if anyone was home. The wooden exterior was faded gray and there were boards missing near the roof. I noticed a small satellite dish aimed skyward which suggested that someone may still live here. I moved over to peer through the only window that wasn’t boarded up. The noon sun was bright, but it barely made a dent in the gloomy interior as the daylight battled to cut through the years of grimy build up that covered the window like cheap brown tint. Going back to the open door I grimaced in disgust as a rank odor drifted my way from the dim recesses of the old home. It smelled like road kill. The screen door was ragged and ineffective as a group of flies briefly swarmed around me before passing through it and on into a dimly lit sitting area. I thought, No doubt they are looking for the source of that foul smell. I rapped hard on the flimsy frame, hoping that no one was home and the music company could send another agent to 23
handle this case. That fleeting hope was dashed when I heard loud voices, male and female, arguing in a language I couldn’t understand. A door slammed and an old Mexican man approached me. I asked, “Are you Juan Sanchez?” “Si Señor. What do you want?” I handed him an envelope through the screen door as I flashed my badge and legal identification. “I am Deputy Sherriff Gregg. This is a warrant authorizing me to search the premises.” His eyes grew large when he saw my badge. “Why would you do this thing Señor Gregg?” “I represent the National Music and Toilet Paper Industry or NMTPI. Someone living here illegally downloaded some new songs from Sniff Doggie Doo’s new album “Sir Humps A-lot”. I am here to search your, uh... house and seize any computer equipment, music players, recordable CDs, and anything else that may be related to music pirating.” “Señor Gregg, it is just me and my son Antonio here and he is only seven years old. I will speak to him of this, and discipline him myself if he is guilty.” “Juan, it’s not that simple. Our music sales are down by over a billion dollars because of people sharing their music instead of buying it from us. That is why we have diversified and seized control of the toilet paper industry. People will always need toilet paper. It is a lucrative business that adds to our bottom line, but CDs are cheaper to make than a roll of toilet paper. That is why we need to make examples of everyone we catch sharing songs illegally, so that we can reestablish our music sales.” “Please, Señor Gregg!” “You look like that man in the movie I saw yesterday... ‘Man in Black,’ I think. He was nice to good people and we are good people, but we are poor and my child is very sick. He has so little to entertain
himself with in this place. I will bring you his computer though, and you will not have to come inside.” He turned to walk away as he spoke. That was a tempting offer. I was wearing my best black suit, a pair of dark sunglasses, and Italian leather shoes. I was not anxious to go inside, but it could be a trick. He could hand me a clean computer that didn’t have the illegal music on it and try to escape before I could check it and get back to arrest him. There was something else that was worth checking into. I quietly opened the screen door and stepped inside. He had lied to me. I heard at least two female voices arguing with him before he answered the door. The department was looking for illegal aliens as part of the new national security initiative and to reduce the flow of drugs into the city. If he was harboring illegals, especially during the swine flu epidemic, then this could be a bigger case than I originally thought. A look of shock crossed the old man’s features as he rounded the corner with his son’s computer and saw me walking towards him. “You cannot do this! I have the computer Señor Gregg. Take this and leave now so there will be no more trouble!” “Are you hiding aliens Señor Sanchez?” He dropped the computer and looked at me in fear as he said, “How can you know this?” A door slammed from somewhere in the house and the terrible smell became almost overpowering. My eyes watered, but I saw Juan look around the corner and hold his hand up as if to stop someone from entering the room. “I’m a fulltime cop and parttime strong arm for the mafia... I mean music industry. I have plenty of experience with tracking down wetbacks, and I see all the signs of an illegal alien hideout here, Sanchez.” He paused thoughtfully before saying, “Did you say illegal
aliens?” He reached behind his back. Drawing my gun I shouted, “Keep your hands where I can see them!” He slowly brought his hand around holding his checkbook and an ink pen. The checkbook he opened also served as a wallet and was stuffed with money. “My son is sick, Señor Gregg. We only wish to stay here until he is better and then we will move on. We may even be gone by nightfall.” He looked at me and smiled tentatively. “How much money would it take for you to help us?” I holstered the gun and stepped over to the man. He was a foot shorter than me and appeared very afraid, as he should be. Sanchez was a frail old man. I almost felt sorry for him, but my bosses were pressing charges against anyone guilty of piracy regardless of their income or circumstances. It was the only way to frighten people into paying the ridiculous prices we charge for the music we sell. This wasn’t common knowledge, so I had to make up something for the press that would sound good after I brought his family in. “The swine flu is spreading, Juan, so I can’t just look the other way. Your son could even be a carrier of the disease. If that is the case, then you and anyone else who has come in direct contact with him will have to be quarantined.” The checkbook disappeared into his back pocket, but he kept the pen out, holding it up for me to see. “This fountain pen is a priceless antique made of solid gold and onyx. It has been in our family for over a hundred years.” It was a beautiful gold and black writing instrument. I took off my sunglasses and stared at the etchings carved into the pen’s surface. No doubt this was tooled by a master craftsman. “Did you say gold?” A bright light erupted from the pen, blinding me. I tried to duck away, but my arms and legs felt frozen in place. The blindness was temporary. As my vision returned, I could see Juan polish 24
the pen with a white cloth before returning it to his pocket. “I have told my family that we must keep a low profile here until our transportation arrives to take us home, but our son is fascinated by your country’s rap music.” He stopped talking as he shook his finger at someone I could not see. “This is your fault child of mine. Come and apologize to our detective Gregg. Bring your mother and sister as well.” I heard them move towards us from around the corner, but the noise they made didn’t sound like footsteps. It was more like something was sliding towards me, making a wet slithering sound. I could hear hissing now as well. The smell of death grew stronger as the frightening racket became louder. Then I saw his family as they entered the room, leaving a slimy green trail behind them. My vocal chords were paralyzed, as was my body or I would have screamed at the sight of the malodorous monsters. The old man’s form changed as he morphed into a large serpentlike creature. He towered over me and growled, “You asked if I was hiding aliens Deputy Gregg. Of course I am. And I think that you are just in time for dinner.” Interview with Grady Yandell
You have several items in print. Tell us what they’re about. The Abandoned Towers website has a pulp fiction style story of mine entitled “Two
Hundred Miles the Hard Way” along with some poems I’ve written. Abandoned Towers Magazine, Issue #6, will have a Sci-Fi/Satire entitled “Illegal Aliens.” I’ve also had short stories and poetry published in Freedom Fiction Journal, Einstein’s Pocket Watch, Emerald Tales, and Black Petals. These stories and poems have run the gamut. For example Black Petals used my first horror short story “Jane Doe” and Einstein’s Pocket Watch carried a Christian inspirational story entitled “Birth Pains.” Do you have a favorite character or subject that you write about? The Johnny Gunn character in “With Guns Blazing” is my favorite character right now. He has been through so many traumatic events that he could easily be bitter and withdrawn, but he isn’t. Johnny Gunn is an average man that could be your next door neighbor who wants to believe he is fighting for the right reasons. Johnny also has the depth of a real person. He has to deal with realistic failings (self-doubt, lust, anger) and mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He isn’t a quitter and he will forgive everyone except himself for failing. Regardless of the odds, he keeps on pushing himself to save the day or do the right thing as he sees it. His courage and unfailing faith in God is inspiring. Have you written anything else? I’m working on a short story anthology with my wife and daughter entitled “Dream Weavers.” This is a fun family project I’m using to help my daughter, Hope and my wife, Kate explore their abilities as writers. Kate is working on her BSN in psychology and Hope is an Academic All-American. Both ladies have a wonderful ability to write and (thank God) proofread. I need all of the help with editing I can get.
Almost every writer is inspired by someone else. Does anyone inspire you? Growing up it was Dickens and Poe, but I’ve been more inspired to write by the tragedies we see playing out every day in the news than by any one individual. How many lives are lost to terrorism, war and natural catastrophes each day? We see so many scenes of destruction on news shows that it has desensitized a lot of people to the personal nature of the tragedies they’re witnessing. I hope some of the more realistic stories I write remind readers about the everyday people who need our help. Some of the information in “With Guns Blazing” is based on actual events. I have a friend who works for the F.B.I. and several Federal law enforcement officers that made anonymous contributions to this story. There are a lot of scary things happening behind the scenes that never make the headlines, but enough does happen to remind us we are still under attack. All you have to do is log onto the Internet or watch the evening news to see stories about groups of people that want to destroy our way of life. Terrorists don’t seem to care about how many innocent people have to die for them to accomplish their goals. I live in Moore, Oklahoma. The Murrah Memorial is close to where I live. I was there a few days after the attack and remember the personal devastation I felt knowing how many innocent men, women and children lost their lives because of one man’s anger. That’s something that inspired my wife to work with troubled teens. One person can either lead to us a better way of life or they can drive us towards destruction. What we need to do is help them recognize the difference between right and wrong early in life so that they can find non-violent ways to express their point of view. The terrorist attack in Oklahoma City played a large 25
part in my inspiration for “With Guns Blazing.” We were helpless to stop the attack there and at the World Trade Centers in New York City that killed so many people. I wanted to create a realistic hero that could win most of his fights with the bad guys. Someone that would place themselves between the innocent people and the person or persons who wanted to kill them regardless of the danger. Johnny Gunn will always put himself in harms way to save a life. Just like so many of our law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency relief people, and our troops do every day. “With Guns Blazing” is a fictional story, but Johnny Gunn is alive in every hero that fights for justice or to save someone from dying. How long have you been writing? Not long. I started this novel about two years ago. I only began experimenting with short stories and poetry roughly a year ago and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well received my works have been. I would recommend that every person try their hand at short stories and poetry. As an author it gave me an opportunity to see how far I can stretch my imagination and writing style to reach different audiences and it taught me patience. I’m a better writer for it because short story writing and poetry has allowed me to explore different genres that I might not have considered if I was working strictly on novels. This has also helped me establish some solid professional contacts. Getting to know the editors of the various magazines and e-zines has been a pleasant experience. The people I have worked with are extremely busy and frequently abused by writers who do not understand how long and drawn out the publishing process is. I owe Crystalwizard and Cyberwizard Productions a debt I’ll never be able to repay for their patience and guidance. My novel is better because of their efforts.
What made you want to start writing? A sense of impending doom. I know that sounds funny, but I’m getting older and I always wanted to write. I just never made time for it because I thought there would be plenty of time to do that later. In the past three years my son has tried to commit suicide. I nearly lost my daughter twice, once to a severe allergic reaction to a live Christmas tree that caused her airway to close, and another time to a ruptured appendix. While this was going on I was diagnosed with health problems that could mean I won’t be around to write twenty years from now. All of these things combined to help me realize my time is short. I wanted to complete some things before I’m called home. I guess you could say writing was on the bucket list I’ve started. I’m not prideful and I’m not writing for recognition. Writing has given me an opportunity to express myself in various forms before I die and leave a legacy my children can be proud of. Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? Why, or why not? Yes. I am new to it, like most things involved in writing. Writing started out as a personal passage and I didn’t feel compelled to join writer’s groups or blogs because it was private journey. I’ve changed and I’m opening myself up more to others so that I can grow as a writer and as a person. I’ve met some very nice people that don’t always agree with my point of view, but the dialogue we have is fantastic. Some of the Muslim clerics and Christian spiritual leaders have provided depth to the characters and added technical accuracy to “With Guns Blazing.” Working with people from different faiths allowed for some interesting emails and conversations. Neither Muslims nor Christians are as narrow minded as the mainstream media would like for people to believe.
For example, Ujjwal Dey is the publisher/editor for Freedom Fiction Journal. He practices a different faith than mine and lives in India. He read my manuscript in its unedited form, shared some personal experiences with me related to terrorist attacks in his country, and did a chapter by chapter review of the book. His hard work and insight were invaluable. Anyone working on a book should note this. There are a lot of good people out there from drastically different lifestyles you can connect with and learn from. Stay open-minded and learn to accept creative criticism. It will help you be a better writer. Who drives the story, you or your characters? When it comes to who drives my story, it’s a shared process. Stories are journeys and I’m a reader during the writing process as much as a writer. When the journey starts, I tell the character to take me to a destination. He or she makes a lot of the decisions on what path we follow to get there. Sometimes we explore different paths together to see what would happen “if” and the characters evolve. There are times when a story is almost exclusively character driven. I may not even know when a story is complete. The characters work on your subconscious and the work is never finished until its been published. Most editors are very nice, but patience is a virtue that I’ve had to cultivate as a writer. When you send off a short story or poem to a magazine, it may take two or three months before you find out if it has been accepted. That’s a long time to wait. Writing more stories helps fill in the gaps and keeps me busy until I hear something back. Who proofreads and critiques your work? Big smile on my part here. My daughter is the biggest help in this area. Hope is only 11 years old, but she is sharp. I trust her with the short stories that are 26
age appropriate. My wife, Kate, has read through the manuscript and helped highlight changes she recommends. Writing this story has made me realize how hard it is to find someone to read through a work that is constantly changing. I had to seek out help with my novel because of its length. Three publishers in particular, Crystalwizard, Ujjwal Dey and Rob Crandall filled that gap for me. They took time out of their busy schedules to review the book and offer helpful suggestions. Other professional people, law enforcement and medical mostly, helped with technical aspects of the story. I also have to thank the staff on my unit at the Veteran’s Area Medical Center, 8 North, for their input. They had to be very patient with me as I bounced ideas off them. Where do you get your ideas? That’s hard to say because it is different with each story. Some stories, like “With Guns Blazing” are prayerfully thought out and inspired by true events. Other stories, such as those involving sci-fi or horror storylines are fun, but they’re not spiritually inspired. They are strict exercises in imagination. This happens a lot with themed short stories or poetry. When a publisher asks for a particular style of story, I write to that audience. You need to get your name out there as a writer and short fiction does that in a way that lets people sample your writing style. Where do you write? Fortunately, I’m in the mood to write almost all of the time. I usually type out stories during slow times at work or at home on my laptop, but I’m flexible. If I have an idea I’m excited about, I may take the laptop or some paper with me to write wherever I might be at. I can write anywhere. When do you write – set times or as the mood moves you? My work schedule is crazy. I work 1930 to 0800 and sleep
during the day. I also have a family and house that needs attention, so I can’t just limit myself to writing certain hours. I go with the flow to take advantage of any free time I have to sit down and put the ideas on paper or on a hard drive. There have been times when I log on to my laptop to transcribe ideas I had driving to the store or working outside. I’ve thought of using a digital recorder to make notes, but it doesn’t feel right for some reason. Writing is a complicated process that is different for each author. If you could invite any other writer to dinner who would ask and why? Edgar Allen Poe. He is a distant cousin on my mother’s side of the family tree. Why? He was a talented young man whose writing style inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create the Sherlock Holmes series. Doyle once said that Edgar Allan Poe’s stories were “a model for all time,” but Poe was as selfdestructive, as he was creative. His abuse of drugs and alcohol led to his premature death and I would like to understand what drove him over the edge. By the way, this dinner invitation would only apply if he could appear as a living version of himself. I do not dine with zombies, unless they are characters in a story I’m writing. Do you use the Internet to check facts, or the library? Both. The Internet is fast and convenient, but I like the tangible feel of books. I enjoy reading and there are times when the written word can inspire ideas, but visiting the place I am writing about carries more weight than either Internet or books. For example, when I was writing about the attack on Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, I went to the Memorial to tour the site and buy some informational pamphlets, but I found something unexpected. They had copies of newspapers
from the day of the blast. I sat down on a park bench near the reflecting pond and read every story in it. I absorbed the emotions from those stories, shock and grief mostly, along with some anger and the pictures of the tragedy while sitting in the middle of where the death and destruction took place. Those minutes affected me and the story in a way hours of reading dry facts from a book or the Internet never could have. When you’re not writing, what do you like to do? Work outside, spend time with family, do community service and enjoy each day like it could be my last. You never know, it could be, Who’s your favorite author (other than yourself) and why? That’s too hard for me to narrow down to one and the list changes as I age. Right now I like Kelly Christiansen, Clive and Dirk Cussler, Iris Johansen and Dean Koontz more than most. I have a great deal of respect for storytellers that don’t use cheap sex or violence to move readers. For me a good story involves dependable characters I can care about, like Dirk Pitt or Johnny Gunn. Fictional people with realistic emotions. What’s your favorite book (other than one of your own) and why? “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Remarque, Erich Maria. The author wasn’t an armchair critic of the atrocities of war. Remarque served in World War I, and he was wounded in battle more than once. “All Quiet on the Western Front” is just one of the books he wrote about the horrors of war and it is my favorite because his story opened my eyes to the other side of the battlefield. Remarque told his story from a German soldier’s perspective. He made an effort to see things through the eyes of a man who was his enemy at the time. He did a wonderful job of showing 27
how the average German soldier wasn’t that much different from anyone else he knew. I try to do that in “With Guns Blazing.” Johnny Gunn’s nemesis, Ja’far, is motivated to acts of terrorism after he loses his family during Operation Desert Storm. The path he follows in life is eerily similar to Gunn’s and he is a hero to his cause as much as Gunn is to ours. The problem I try to address is the terrorist’s weapon of choice and their targeting of innocent civilians. Murder is never justified, but Ja’far’s tragedies turned a peace loving man into a terrorist with a warped view. What’s the last book, other than your own, that you read and really enjoyed? “Villenspell: City of Wizards: Book two of the Sojourn Chronicles,” by Crystalwizard. I loved the author’s creative blending of science fiction and sorcery. This is the second book I’ve read by Crystalwizard and can’t wait to read the next. Some writers say that they have to write a certain amount of words every day. Do you do this? Why or why not? I can’t. My hours and family demands are way too unpredictable for me to strictly observe a daily word count. Family obligations always come first. Is there anything else you’d like to add? Yes, buy “With Guns Blazing” and spread the word. Thank you. Grady Yandell is a writer and editor for Abandoned Towers Magazine. He is married and has two children. His work has appeared in Abandoned Towers, Black Petals, Freedom Fiction, Emerald Tales, and Einstein’s Pocket Watch. His first novel, “With Guns Blazing,” is due out spring 2010 and is being published by Cyberwizard Productions.
By Shaun A. Saunders At the end of a long, hard shift, Old John loved to talk. Sitting close to the brazier, the shadows of the compound edging closer as the rubbish burnt down, he spun tales of wonder – “…You could have whatever you wanted. Say I felt like a steak dinner. Well, I would just walk down the street to the butcher and pick out whatever I wanted. On the way home, I’d stop at the grocer and buy the ’trimmins.” “What are ’trimmins’?” asked a youngster, his face smudged with dirt. “Potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, peas…” the list went on. An older boy snorted. The youngster ignored the interruption. “Old John, tell us what you did on the weekends.” Old John smiled. Weekends were the best part of the story. “On our days off” –more snorts – “I’d drive my family down to the beach.” He winced when he said family, but in the half-light of the fire, no one noticed. “First off, I’d pack the ice-box. Lots of ice, of course, to keep the drinks and sandwiches cold. Ice-creams, too. Then I’d load up the trunk with the towels and umbrella, some folding chairs for the missus and me, and we’d be off.” “And what did you do along the way?” The youngster knew the story well. “Well, I’d turn on the stereo and play some of my favourite music. So there we’d be, driving along at our own pace, windows down, waving to folk as we went.” The older boy snorted again. “Oh yeah, just like that – you felt like going somewhere so you just up and left, and with a load of food, too.” The old man became defensive. “Yes, just like that. And we stayed at the beach as long as we wanted, too.” The older boy laughed. “Eating your potatoes, and carrots and pumpins and peas, eh?” Who
could believe this crap? “And tell us about where you lived, Old John.” “My family and I lived in a house. It had three bedrooms, and two bathrooms – one for the kids and visitors, and one for the missus and me. It was what they called an ensuite.” More laughter now, with men nearby joining in. “Oh I bet it was sweet,” one of them said. “A special place for you and the little wife to crap by yourselves.” Old John barked. “You shut your trap, Ben, you’re old enough to know better. You remember how it was.” Serious now, the reply came, “Yes Old John, I do. But you’re not helping anyone now by talking about times gone by that aren’t coming back. We just have to get used to things the way they
ISBN-13 – 978-1-60318-204-1
are.” “That’s how it all started in the first place,” said John. “Everyone was too complacent, believing all they heard, that the government really looked after everything for them, and that the bank manager was your friend. Everything was fine, they told us….” A piercing siren cut him off. Then, over the loudspeakers, “Lockdown in ten minutes. All inmates return to your cells.” On their way to the cells, the youngster, his stomach empty, asked quietly, “Old John, where was that grocer you mentioned?” “Where?” Old John shook his head, tears in his eyes. He pointed across the compound. “It was right over there. Before they declared martial law after the banks folded, this was the local shopping centre…”
A Magic Winter Moment By John William Rice
Snow diamonds In their millions Shimmer, glitter Across the sea Of winterâ€™s White gold wonder My every breath Paints Sky blue perfection With puffs Of frosty dreams
Childrenâ€™s footprints In their hundreds Brush away Scintillating glory But playful laughter Brings its own Perfect beauty To the new born December morning
Wind grows crisp Brisk gusts Rush through Naked branches Nibbling for Brief moments At ear tips And bare noses No word can capture This magic moment I burn the images deep Into the corridors Of my awe filled mind And surrender to the beauty Of this awesome moment.
One Small Mistake By Rod Hamon A sudden feeling of dread enveloped him like a cloak of darkness, nausea in the pit of his stomach. A few of the daily crowd of office workers bumped into him as he paused on the sidewalk, uncertain of this new sensation. Can’t understand it, why do I feel this way? Whilst cold, his face had become clammy and perspiration ran down his cheeks. Is something terrible about to happen to me? He paused, breathed deeply, then wiped his brow with his handkerchief. This is ridiculous. Must pull myself together, probably just the lousy job getting to me. He continued on. Howard fought his way through the crowds of office workers heading home, the train station now in view. “I’ve had it up to here with it, no appreciation,” he muttered as he crossed the road, trying to avoid those coming the other way. Fuss over nothing. That file: it’s got to be there somewhere. Damn customers with nothing more to do in their dismal lives but complain! Howard checked his watch, still plenty of time. Brown: that ambitious loudmouth cretin. Smart comments. Thinks he knows it all, still wet behind the ears. Wants to climb the corporate ladder, does he! What the hell for? Howard was forty-six years old and balding, a yes man, unhappy with his job but too gutless to speak up. He dreamed of something better: adventure, excitement, but nothing like this seemed to come his way. Howard bought the evening paper, read for a while, then looked up at the clock. Better head for the platform, usual stampede, I suppose. With briefcase and newspaper in hand, he struggled through the crowd. Jostled from side to side, everyone intent on being first on the train. A great oaf of a man barged
in front. Annoyance showed on Howard’s face. “Hey, watch it!” he shouted. The man turned and looked back, “You got a problem with that, jerk?” Howard’s eyes bulged and his face turned red, but he said nothing. Although he soon lost sight of the man in the crowd, he remained annoyed for a long time. The carriages had a narrow aisle down the middle with two sets of seats on each side, adjacent seats facing each other. The surging crowds forced Howard forward. Seats filled up quickly. Ah, there’s one! He said, making his way towards it, but then he noticed that the oaf was sitting in the adjoining seat. Their eyes met, Howard scowled, looked around then seeing there were no other vacant seats, sat down. With the smell of sweat, the big oaf’s elbow jutted into his side. Howard, still angry from the earlier encounter, fantasized that he was big and strong. He imagined himself punching the oaf so hard that he dropped to his feet begging for mercy. Then he punched him again. He sighed deeply, feeling a little better now even though the episode had been imaginary. The four people on each side of the compartment attempted to avoid eye contact with those opposite. They were all tired. No one wanted to talk. They looked down or out of the window. They looked anywhere but at each other. The passengers remained silent for a while, then two of the women began a whispered conversation. “When was this?” “Last night: saw it on the News.” “Where did he escape from?” Loud coughing from the oaf prevented Howard from hearing the reply. “They’re the worse kind.” “You’re right. Gives you the creeps, doesn’t it?” A jolt and the train noisily moved off. All the passengers had 30
one thought: they would soon be home. Howard’s feeling of dread had become worse. Am I ill or could this really be an omen of something terrible about to happen? A train crash perhaps? Then he thought about his job again, I hate it, hate everything, my whole life’s a mess. He made pretence of reading the paper but after going over the same paragraph three times looked up. Without turning his head, he tried seeing out the corner of his eye. The oaf’s looking at me, I’m sure of it. So many oddballs in this world, why did I have to sit next to him? I’m sure he’s looking at me. Maybe I can look his way casually as if I’m gazing out the window. He hesitated for a while then turned nonchalantly in the oaf’s direction. Their eyes met: vacant eyes, puzzlement. An up close, large and unshaven face, huge double chin. Howard felt a knot in the pit of his stomach, but turned away casually as if he’d not noticed the man. He leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. The journey was long and there was little to do but read the paper or just gaze around the compartment reading the signs, though nothing much ever changed. “No Smoking.” “Place Items Securely on Luggage Rack.” Posters advertising toothpaste: people with perfectly even gleaming smiles, ads for travel agents — again the grinning faces. Howard felt irritated. Above the window was a sign that read: “Penalty for Unauthorized Use of Emergency Stop—$100.” Then in small print it said: “May be Used to Stop the Train at Unscheduled Stations by Arrangement with Rail Management.” Again, Howard glanced at the ceiling he’d seen a thousand times before. But... something was wrong. Then he realized that the lights in the compartment were not on. Although it was still light
outside he knew they would soon be entering a tunnel and the lights were always on by now. Just then the sound of the train changed as the front carriages entered the echoing confines of the tunnel. Everything went pitch black. Women shrieked. Howard stared into the murky blackness. He imagined he could see shapes: as if someone was standing close. He marvelled at the creativity of the human mind as it added further realism— body heat, even the smell of perspiration. He was still staring straight ahead when the train came out of the tunnel. Howard breathed in sharply as the light returned. He stared in horror at the face of a man just centimetres from his own: a large unshaven ugly face. “Did I scare ya?” said the oaf with a grin. “Was just tryin’ to fix the light.” Howard’s face was crimson. If this was some kind of practical joke, he didn’t think much of it. Although furious, he said nothing. Howard settled back in his seat still breathing deeply. After some minutes, colour slowly returned to his face. He closed his eyes and soon fell asleep as he always did on the way home. So accustomed was he to the journey that he would sleep soundly most of the way and then wake up just a few minutes before reaching his station. *** He was jolted to wakefulness by a gruff voice. That ugly face again, an elbow jabbed into his ribs. The man pointed. “This your station?” Still half asleep, Howard grabbed his briefcase, stumbled down the aisle, fought to open the door then got out. But as he did so his bag dropped, the contents spilling over the platform — papers flying in all directions, his attempts to retrieve them hindered by the wind. He was still collecting the last of his things when he heard the door slam followed by rumbling
as the train moved off. Howard picked up his briefcase, took a few steps, cast his eyes around, then stopped. “This isn’t my station!” he shouted. The departing train had gathered speed. He ran after it shouting: “Wait! Wait!” But it was no good. When it finally disappeared into the distance, it left a deathly silence. The station was deserted. He walked around; the only sound that could be heard was of the leaves being blown by the wind and the squeak of a rusting sign that read ‘Ticket Office.’ It was clear that the station had not been used for a very long time. “Hello! Is there anyone here?” He called again. Nothing. The exterior of the station was just as deserted. He went in again. It was getting dark. The night was becoming cold and the dim lighting of the station added to the bleakness of the place. He sat on a bench, face in hands, trying to figure out how this had happened. Train’s never stopped here before. Why this time? Can’t ever remember seeing this station before, but of course I’m usually asleep. The name of the station, “Hebersham South,” meant nothing to him. He reached into his briefcase for his phone, but it was missing. Damn, probably lost it when I dropped my bag. He got up and looked around the tracks in the twilight but couldn’t find it. The public phone box at the end of the platform had a sign on it. Scrawled roughly on a piece of paper were the words, “Out of Order.” He kept going over things in his mind, then after some minutes an explanation came to him. The oaf! He probably pulled the emergency stop and is having a belly laugh about it right now. Should have ignored him from the start, it’s no good getting on the wrong side of thugs like that, they’ll stick a knife in you without a second thought. *** 31
The night became cooler. A mist descended. Howard got up and sought shelter in the shabby waiting room, reconciled to remaining there till morning. He sat huddled in a corner too cold to sleep, listening for any sound but there was nothing, not even a passing car — just the occasional hoot of an owl and the rustle of trees. He imagined Liz looking at the clock. “Should’ve been home by now,” she would be saying. Liz had been good looking when they married. They had even been in love. How things had changed. Her stuffy circle of socalled friends. Cattiness: always wanting to outdo each other. She’s probably given the credit card another pounding today. Wonder what she’d do if I never came home again? Their argument a few days earlier came to mind. What had she called me? That was it, “Worthless, boring little man.” Just thinking about it made him seethe with anger. An image came to his mind — he was holding Liz by the throat. After all I’ve done for the woman, the risks I’ve taken. He punched his fist into the palm of his hand. She’s just not worth it. Over an hour passed and despite the cold and the discomfort of the bench, he drifted into semisleep. Suddenly his eyes flashed open. He sat upright and listened: a faraway sound. Couldn’t make out what it was, but different. He continued listening. It was clearer now. A rhythmic sound... like a... like a train! He jumped up and rushed out onto the platform. A heavy fog had descended. The station’s dim lighting penetrated only a short distance into the night. The sound was unmistakable and coming from the same direction as his earlier train. But from the regular rumble of the rails it seemed that it was moving unusually slow. Howard peered into the mist, straining his eyes, eager for the
first glimpse of rescue. A few moments later an oblong form emerged from the darkness and slowly entered the station. He waved his arms frantically though the darkness prevented him seeing the driver. To his relief, the train slowed and drew to a halt. He opened a door, chose a seat, and sat down. That’s better: bright lights and warmth at last. Looks like I’m the only passenger. It’s probably the last train for the night. He sat back as the train moved off. Damn it! I left my brief case in the waiting room; too late now. He had no idea where the train was taking him and could see nothing outside. Occasionally it would halt for a few minutes at a deserted station, never gaining another passenger, then trundled off again. *** The train had been stationary at the rail intersection for some time. Howard cupped his hands around his face and peered out. He was just turning away when he noticed what seemed to be a moving light. He again shielded his face with his hands and gazed into the blackness. Could be someone with a torch. He was pressing his face hard against the window when without warning another face appeared: an ugly face, made even more grotesque by the torch that shone up onto it. The man tapped loudly on the window with some metal object, then turned and disappeared into the night. Howard drew back from the window, his heart pounding. He heard a sound, and then a moment later the lights went out. What the hell? Would they come on again? Frozen to his seat, he waited. When they didn’t come on, he got to his feet and struggled to find the door. “No good staying here in the dark; there’s got to be a house or something nearby.” After groping in the darkness
for a while he found the door handle, swung it open and looked out cautiously. He turned around, grabbed the handles on each side of the door and then took one step at a time. He managed the first two steps successfully but misjudged the last and fell awkwardly. Sharp pain from a twisted ankle, soot and grease on his hands and clothes, one shoe missing. He groped around looking for the shoe but without success. Damn! No street lights: nothing but the faint glow of the moon moving rapidly through clouds. What am I going to do now? After his eyes adjusted to the semi-darkness he could just make out the outline of trees. He discovered he was in what appeared to be a rail marshalling yard, his train had been shunted into a siding and the face at the window had been the driver knocking off for the night. Howard was sitting on the steps of the carriage wondering what to do next when he heard the faraway sound of a car. A yellow beam from its headlights shone through the mist as it made its way in his direction in a zigzag path. As the car got closer, the beam of light became brighter. Nearby trees were illuminated as it passed by about twenty metres away. He shouted and hobbled as fast as he could in the direction of the car but was too far away to be heard. The moon broke through the clouds as he reached the road. The night was cold. He thought about Liz again. Just wish things had turned out better. Life had been good at the start. Would have done anything for her. It was when we moved that things got bad. Couldn’t really afford a house like that, but it was her friends that changed everything: all wealthy — expensive tastes. I’ve always been brought up to be honest. Mum and Dad taught me that. But what choice did I have? Had to get the money from somewhere. Damn stupid thing to do — now I’m in a hole so deep I’ll never climb out. 32
He hobbled along the road for some time, then paused to stare. The dim light in the far distance looked like a house. He was tired and his progress slow. As the large house came into view he could see a yellow light flickering in an upper window. He struggled up the steep pathway to the front door and knocked. He waited then knocked again. When there was no response, he walked round to the side below the illuminated window and shouted: “Hello! Is there anyone home?” He called again, but still no reply. Howard returned to the road and continued on, but his progress was even slower now, overcome by exhaustion and the bitter cold. He thought again about his life. If I did go missing, I wonder how long it would take old Crowther to discover the discrepancies in the office accounts? Cousin Jack still has another two years to serve. I’d rather die than be in jail like him. After walking about a kilometre he knew he could go no further; he left the road and entered a wooded area to find shelter from the wind. He dropped to his knees, leaned against the trunk of a tree, and closed his eyes. *** The sun rose and warmed the day. How different things appeared. Just beyond the clearing there was an embankment. He could hear something and, kicking off his remaining shoe, struggled to his feet. From the top, the view of an unfamiliar coastline stretched unhindered in both directions. Just to his right nestled a group of houses and a jetty, but there was no one in sight. He looked out to sea. Anchored a few hundred metres from the shore, an impressive ocean-going yacht gently rolled with the waves. Howard’s stomach churned with an empty gnawing as he headed for the houses. The village consisted of one small shop, a hotel, and about a dozen small cottages.
As he entered the hotel, a group of people sitting at a table looked up. Friendly smile. At the bar he ordered food, gulped it down, then ordered more. The three men and the woman sitting at the table chatted excitedly and occasionally looked in his direction. Then one of them asked: “Wanna come and sit with us?” Howard was in no mood to socialize but was not sure how to graciously refuse, so he got up and joined them. One of the men, weighing up the newcomer’s dishevelled appearance, said, “Things not going too well?” “You could say that,” he replied shaking his head. “You should come with us, shouldn’t he, Captain?” Howard looked up. “What do you mean?” The captain spoke: “We set sail tonight. Heading for the South Pacific.” Howard sighed. A vision leapt to his mind of tropical islands, palm trees swaying in the breeze. He imagined himself relaxing on a golden beach sipping cocktails thrust into his hand by sun tanned native girls. “Sounds good, but haven’t much money... besides... my job. Supposed to be there now... took the wrong train. Got lost.” The Captain spoke again. “We planned to set sail a week ago but were delayed looking for another crew member. If you’re willing to help out with chores, I’d be pleased to have you along.” The young woman joined in and pointing to the man next to her said, “Pete and I used to have office jobs in the city, important jobs. One day we decided we’d had enough, saw the ad for crew, and the rest is history.” Pete added, “Best decision we ever made.” Howard frowned. “Sounds exciting, but...” The barman, who had been busily wiping glasses, interrupted their conversation. “Pretty rough seas last night, Captain.”
“Very rough. Glad we hauled our rowboat well clear.” “Many others wished they’d done the same,” said the barman, “most of their boats have been badly damaged.” A boy in his early teens entered and placed a pile of newspapers on the bar then left. While the others talked about their plans for the voyage, Howard thought about his job. The customers are a pain in the neck, most of them, but it’s all I know. Never done anything else. The young woman interrupted his thoughts, excitement in her voice. “What do you think? It’ll be a real adventure.” Howard sighed. “Oh I don’t know, it’s my job, you see. Been there years.” He remained deep in thought for a long time. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime, no doubt about that, but... what’ll happen if I just walk out on the job? Then there’s the mortgage — why did I get in so deep? Then there’s Liz of course. He felt sick in the stomach again. The captain got to his feet. “Hate to break this up, but it’s about time we got going.” The crew downed the last of their drinks, said their goodbyes, and left. Howard sat alone for a few minutes, then got up and went to the bar to order a drink. As he waited, he looked down at the newspaper. He read the headline: “Man Goes Missing.” Underneath it read: “Initially police suspected foul play, however it seems now that the man, who held a minor clerical position with a city finance company, may have disappeared for other reasons. Irregularities in company records discovered today suggest he has been misappropriating funds for some years. Police are confident of an early arrest.” With a shaky hand, Howard returned the newspaper and swung around. In his haste to get to the door, he knocked over a couple of chairs, raced outside, and ran down to the jetty. The small rowboat containing 33
the party of adventurers was now about fifty metres out. Howard ran to the end of the jetty, shouted and waved his arms. “Changed my mind! I’m coming!” But his words were swept away by the wind. Again he shouted: “I’m coming with you!” Those in the small boat waved back. “Bye!” they shouted excitedly, continuing on. Howard looked around for another rowboat, but there was none. He shouted again but they were out of hearing range. He watched silently as they drew alongside the ocean-going yacht. Howard knew he had to get on that boat. Nothing else mattered: it was his only chance in life now. Howard hesitated, then jumped from the end of the jetty into the dark waters. He tried to swim, but his heavy coat entangled him. Without success he attempted to pull his arms from the sleeves. As he sank deeper into the darkness of the waters, he cursed his stupidity. Why didn’t I think to take this damn coat off first before jumping in the water? The crew members on the yacht happily climbed aboard and with excitement found their way to their quarters, their adventure about to begin at last. Howard struggled again to pull his arms from the sleeves, but the more he panicked the harder it became. Water was entering his lungs, he gasped desperately for air but there was none. He sank to the bottom still struggling with the coat, but his strength was waning. It was useless. He had no more strength left in his body. The events of his life passed before him — one small mistake after another.
Do Distant Sheep Have Gridlocked Dreams? By Norman Ball What sentience is hollering full-blast across the universe --as Lennon wrote-collapsing all wave theories of the past, impervious to clicks of the remote? Perhaps some cosmic knob’s gone on the blink, an errant DJ headed out to lunch. Or is it that a Starman thought to wink before traversing light-years on a hunch? Imagine Morning Zoo’s from Alpha Eight two impish Greys at telepathic pitch imploring UFO’s to navigate a saucer pile-up lodged in quasar ditch. We wish on distant stars our souls to keep not thinking they might warm the same old sheep.
Night Artist By Carl Scharwath Dusk awakens to the impossible palette of an artist’s colors A perishing sun paints the sky in still wet altered hues Crimson reds, fiery opaque orange bursts, entwined with gold Through my glass window a small rectangular block of sky is framed Frozen breathless, confined in a room the evening kaleidoscope unfolds Grey cloud curtains open slowly across the artificial screen of wonder Darkness with desolate, infinite beauty drives the sun from view Feelings of guilt, for I have lived a sinful and ordinary life The artist paints a crescent moon and a new illumination gives birth Two cosmic planets lovingly anchored with threads of broken stars One heavier than the other pulls the moon to a final resting place The crescent unnatural and disproportionate smiles that all is forgiven The brushstroke of God is complete.
The Purple Cow
By Gelett Burgess
By Emily Hayes
I never saw a Purple Cow, I never hope to see one; But I can tell you, anyhow, I’d rather see than be one. Envoi By Gelett Burgess Ah yes, I wrote the Purple Cow, I’m sorry now I wrote it. But I can tell you anyhow, I’ll kill you if you quote it. The Invisible Bridge By Gelett Burgess
The innkeeper in Ashland greets us pantless. 110 degree Kansas summer and sweat swims Down her back and chafes the insides of her thighs. She locks the door, says *4543* will let us back in, And, an outsider, she leaves for Dodge City, down dirt Roads, around wheat fields, while Orion pulses low in the blue-black sky over Clark County. Later, when the dead bolt won’t release, Stephanie Woolfolk leans close and whispers: Rooms aren’t all she’s selling—those Wallingford’s would roll over in their graves. But, we let her cook us breakfast anyway, eggs and biscuits, laugh at her legs spread wide on the parlor couch—we still wonder why she kept us out.
I’d Never Dare to Walk across A Bridge I Could Not See; For Quite afraid of Falling off, I fear that I Should Be!
My Recollectest Thoughts
The Lazy Roof
By Charles E. Carry
By Gelett Burgess
My recollectest thoughts are those Which I remember yet; And bearing on, as you’d suppose, The things I don’t forget.
The Roof it has a Lazy Time A-lying in the Sun; The Walls they have to Hold Him Up; They do Not Have Much Fun!
But my resemblest thoughts are less Alike than they should be; A state of things, as you’ll confess, You very seldom see.
My Feet By Gelett Burgess
And yet the mostest thought I love Is what no one believes-That I’m the sole survivor of The famous Forty Thieves!
My feet, they haul me Round the House, They Hoist me up the Stairs; I only have to Steer them and They Ride me Everywheres.
Zeno’s Paradox By Doug Hilton A gray, blustery Christmas Eve day awaited the planeload of travelers. Each man, woman, and child had a destination, an agenda. Timmy wanted to see gamma— he clutched his ragged teddy bear with one hand and hung onto his mom with the other. Jack Nolens was on his way to the software conference in Las Vegas—he was going to present his newest computer algorithm on calculus and a new application for the number “e.” Sue was nervous that her Twitter account would grow stale while she was in flight—she stood there tweeting and listening to the chirps of her social net. Sister Mary Beth was on the first leg of her journey to Africa, where her Order decided that she could do some real good—she fingered her beads and said Hail Mary’s until the plane boarded. This was her first time alone in a long time, and she felt nervous. One-hundred-thirteen souls were finally onboard when senior flight attendant Julie closed the front door and dogged it. The Captain completed the checklist as the ground crew completed the de-icing process. “Flaps: Down; Fuel check, left-side: OK; rightside: OK”, and on and on. Captain Thomas “Tomcat” Kaschinski was a retired Marine pilot with thousands of hours of flight time. He won the Bronze Star for meritorious service during his tour in Desert Storm. He faced mandatory retirement in February, but this was December, so no worries. His flight officer, Lieutenant Jim Wong, was a graduate of the Air Force Academy, and had hundreds of hours of flight time. Every time Tomcat and Jim flew together they functioned as more than just a team, they were synergy in motion. Tomcat glanced over at Jim and, with a glance, told him that he could do the roll and takeoff. He saw Jim’s eyes light up in gratitude. Getting roughweather flight time looked good
during your next review. “LH two-one-seven-heavy: taxi to runway 27 left and hold.” “Roger, two-one-sevenheavy.” The lightly-loaded jumbo jet’s giant GE engines spun to life, and the plane moved forward to meet its fate. Julie and the flight attendants circulated through the cabin to ensure the safety and comfort of the passengers. “Oh my, that’s such a nice teddy bear. Will you be brave on this flight?” Jimmy looked at her with his big eyes and nodded his head up and down. His mom double-checked Jimmy’s lap belt. “Good morning, sir. It’s time to stow your laptop.” “Sorry, I was just getting a last email. I’m going to Las Vegas for a conference. I’m a speaker tomorrow.” “Well that’s nice, sir. Have a nice flight.” “Sister, are you OK? You look a little nervous. We’ll be fine. The snow is letting up, and when we’re at 40,000 feet, you’ll see a bright sunny day.” “Thank you Miss. I’ll be fine.” The speakers announced: “Flight attendants, please be seated.” The 747 sat facing the north wind, shuddering, holding back the mighty GE90-115B power plants, each of which was certified for 115,000 pounds of thrust. Tomcat was a jet wizard. He actually knew that the Guinness Book of World Records called his engines the worlds’ most powerful. He was one with his aircraft, and sat in a Zen-like mood, sensing every twitch and shudder of the plane in the teeth of the north wind. “LH two-one-seven-heavy: you are cleared for takeoff.” “Roger, two-one-sevenheavy.” Jim Wong spooled up the mighty engines and the plane lumbered, then rolled, then shrieked down the runway. Onehundred-thirteen souls were on the line, and Jim did a mighty fine job that December day. When they passed 10,000 feet, 36
the passengers heard: BONG! “The Captain has informed us that he has passed 10,000 feet. You may now use your laptop computers and other approved devices. The movie will begin in a few minutes. We ask passengers seated by the windows to lower their shades. Thank you for flying with us today.” Jack scrambled to reboot: he hadn’t quite finished keying in his opening remarks for the conference. “LH two-one-seven-heavy, level at 3-9-0.” Jim reached up and enabled the auto-pilot. The sky was that beautiful shade of blue that high-flying pilots love. The sun was behind them. Denver was a few hours away. Jim and Tomcat were comfortable in their throne in the sky. “Roger, two-one-sevenheavy. Turn 210 and squawk niner-niner. Passing control to Denver. Merry Christmas.” *** Somewhere over St. Louis, something happened. Tomcat felt it in the seat of his chair. A few seconds later, Jim Wong felt it in the controls. Flight 217 went from boring to deadly serious in about 1/100th of a second. A piece of space junk the size of a pea had passed through the left wing at 20,000 miles per hour on its way to the planet below. BONG! “The Captain has turned on the seatbelt sign. The aircraft has experienced a problem. Please remain in your seats and await further instructions.” Sister Mary Beth turned her eyes skyward and prayed. Timmy hugged his teddy bear and cried. Sue fished for her cell phone— she was going to send real-time videos of the rest of the flight to her friends, but out of range was all it displayed. Tomcat and Jim were fighting the controls and trying to stabilize the flying brick. They couldn’t’ look back to see the three-foot hole in the left wing, so they didn’t know that fuel was spilling
out—that they should shut off the transfer pump. The gauges weren’t acting normally because the shock of the hypersonic pea-sized missile had sent an instantaneous pulse through the electrical system that was still ringing up and down the length of the jumbo jet’s electrical system. Tomcat and Jim fought physics as best as they could, then Tomcat looked at Jim and said, “I can’t think of a way out of this one pal, how about you?” “No, Tom, this is the end of the line,” replied Jim, who was fighting the yoke and jabbering into the radio at the same time. “MAYDAY. MAYDAY. Flight LH two-one-seven-heavy declaring an emergency. Aircraft is not responding to controls. Engines still operative. Wait. Engines on left-side are offline. Engines on right-side operative. Plane will not descend by rudder. Plane drifting to left. Plane shuddering.” And so it went. Passenger Jack reached up and pressed the CALL button, and Julie came and stood by his side. “How may I help you sir? We’re having some trouble with the aircraft. I will have to ask you to remain seated for the remainder of the flight.” “No, Miss Julie, I need to tell you something important. I need to tell it to the Captain. I need to tell him now. Right Now!” “Sir!” “Ma’am. I have the solution to our problem. I demand to see the Captain!” “Sir!” “Right Now!” shouted Jack as he stood up with his laptop computer and ran towards the front of the plane. Julie called the Captain on the intercom: “Captain, you’re not going to believe this, but a passenger says he can help us. Shall I let him through?” Tomcat and Jim were very, very busy. Tomcat was used to making split-second decisions. Jim was too busy to do any second-guessing. “Yes. If he has something to contribute, we’ll
hear him out.” Jack knocked at the cockpit door and it swung open. He saw the white-faced pilot and firstofficer in the throes of jet-death. Tomcat had a .45 pointed right at Jack’s gut. “Captain, I have a very bad solution, but it is our only chance. I know that you won’t like it, but there is no alternative. Will you listen?” “Son, if this is a joke, I will personally chuck you out the door in 10 seconds flat. Speak!” “Captain, I’m a mathematician and a computer software developer. I have a solution, in theory at least.” “Son, enough biography. What’s your solution?” The plane was in a huge left-hand loop now, and the Rocky Mountains were visible 8 miles below. “Captain, did you ever hear of Zeno’s Paradox? Probably not. It goes like this: An archer shoots an arrow at someone, let’s say a fellow named Zeno. Instead of worrying about it, Zeno thinks about it this way: The arrow has to cover half the distance from the archer to me; then it has to cover half of the remaining distance; then half the remaining distance, and so on. It will finally get to me, but it will take infinitely long, since each time, it can only travel 1/2 the distance from the archer to me. So, mon Capitán, I have a formula for your navigation computer. If you let me plug it in, we’ll see how long we can delay certain death. Remember, Zeno knows that eventually the arrow will pierce his heart—he’s not proposing otherwise. He’s just using a strange quirk of calculus that lets an infinite series work its way through the system. “Son, what did you say your name was?” “Jack Nolens, sir. I’m just trying to give us one last chance. As strange as it sounds, it doesn’t violate any laws of physics; it just twists mathematics into a pretzel is all.” “Mr. Nolens… Jack… upload that program right now!” The Captain unreeled a thin cable, 37
and Jack plugged his laptop computer in. Then he downloaded a FORTRAN program that solved the equation of a convergingseries of numbers. “It’s called a Taylor series, sir. And it looks like this: As the words came tumbling out of Jack’s mouth, the plane changed course. The Nav computer crunched the formula and spit out commands to the flaps, the rudder, and the ailerons. The giant coffin rocked down to about 20,000 feet and then to 10,000 feet, and then to 5,000 feet, but then things started to get a little strange. “Captain, the autopilot is functioning,” Tim said in amazement. “We’ve leveled off at five-zero. No, wait. We’re still descending, but not so fast now.” “Captain,” interrupted Jack. “Mr. Nolens, please call me Tomcat. My friends do.” “OK, Tomcat. Remember, we can’t win. Eventually, we’ll hit the ground. I’ve just prolonged the ride.” “Jack, if we get within spittin’ distance of the ground, I plan to set her down. It may be with a thud, but we’ll walk away from it, by God!” “No, Tomcat, not by God—by Zeno,” replied Jack, very quietly. *** “BADGER-2, this is BADGER-1. I can’t see inside the right-side of the aircraft. All the window shades are pulled down.” “ROGER BADGER-1. Same on this side. There is a 1-meter hole in the wing. I got some video.” “BADGER-2, let’s head for the barn. There’s nothing more to see here. I still can’t say how they’re still flying after 10 years – they ought to be out of fuel by now. “ “ROGER BADGER-1. We’ll be Bingo fuel in 10. Climb to Angels three-zero and turn twoseven-zero on my mark. MARK.” ***
“On Christmas eve, 25 years ago today, American Flight 217 took off from Chicago to Denver. It still hasn’t landed. We’ve been watching it circle the same spot, at 2,000 feet altitude for years. The FAA has been unable to radio the crew. Precision LaserRadar shows that the aircraft has only descended about 1 inch since last Christmas. We don’t know the status of the 113 crew and passengers. The last thing we heard was a radio broadcast for help, and then the plane started flying in mile-wide circles, just east of the Denver airport. We have no way to know when it will land, if it ever will land, or where it will land, if it lands. This is News Channel 8 reporter Stacy Keri, reporting from Denver. Merry Christmas to you back in the studio, Philip.” “B-r-r-r-r, Stacy. We’ve sure
seen a lot of that 747 over the years. It’s the last American Airlines plane still flying. As you know, the company, like the Denver airport has been out of business for many years.” “That’s right Philip. The Air Force sent up chase planes over the years, to try to find out if the people on board were still alive, but the shades are all pulled down, and they couldn’t look inside.” “Stacy, can you tell us about the dead cat on that airplane? Our listeners keep calling the station to find out about the cat.” “Well Philip, there’s no cat for our listeners to worry about. About 15 years ago, a professor from Auburn University compared Flight 217 to a paradox called Schrödinger’s cat. I looked it up on the web, and it tries to explain how a cat can be alive or dead, depending on a random
event. Professor Kahlid compared the piece of space junk that put a hole in the plane’s left wing to the random event, and compared the people on board to the cat. We can’t say if they’re alive or dead because they are hidden behind the window shades, but if we somehow could look into the plane, then they would definitely be dead or alive. In the article, he talked about quantum superposition, and assures us that they can be both dead and alive. So please tell the listeners that no dead cats are aboard Flight 217. Does any of that make sense Philip?” “Stacy, that’s an incredible story about the cat—you always have the latest news for our viewers. Well, now for tonight’s news. First, violence in Palestine today, as suicide bombers strike....”
The Bibliomaniac’s Prayer By Eugene Field
But if, O Lord, it pleaseth Thee To keep me in temptation’s way, I humbly ask that I may be Most notably beset to-day; Let my temptation be a book, Which I shall purchase, hold, and keep, Whereon when other men shall look, They’ll wail to know I got it cheap. Oh, let it such a volume be As in rare copperplates abounds, Large paper, clean, and fair to see, Uncut, unique, unknown to Lowndes.
Keep me, I pray, in wisdom’s way That I may truths eternal seek; I need protecting care to-day,-My purse is light, my flesh is weak. So banish from my erring heart All baleful appetites and hints Of Satan’s fascinating art, Of first editions, and of prints. Direct me in some godly walk Which leads away from bookish strife, That I with pious deed and talk May extra-illustrate my life.
The Bicyclers - a one act play By John Kendrick Bangs CHARACTERS: MR. ROBERT YARDSLEY, an expert. MR. JACK BARLOW, another. MR. THADDEUS PERKINS, a beginner. MR. EDWARD BRADLEY, a scoffer. MRS. THADDEUS PERKINS, a resistant. MRS. EDWARD BRADLEY, an enthusiast. JENNIE, a maid. The scene is laid in the drawingroom of Mr. and Mrs. Thaddeus Perkins, at No. --- Gramercy Square. It is late October; the action begins at 8.30 o’clock on a moonlight evening. The curtain rising discloses Mr. and Mrs. Perkins sitting together. At right is large window facing on square. At rear is entrance to drawingroom. Leaning against doorway is a safety bicycle. Perkins is clad in bicycle garb.
wearing those odious Psyche knots. The time he ran into Emma, if she hadn’t worn her back hair that way she’d have fractured her skull.
Perkins. Well, Bess, I’m in for it now, and no mistake. Bob and Jack are coming to-night to give me my first lesson in biking.
Mrs. Perkins. Nevertheless, Mr. Cheeseborough learned more quickly than any one else in the class.
Mrs. Perkins. I’m very glad of it, Thaddeus. I think it will do you a world of good. You’ve been working too hard of late, and you need relaxation.
Perkins. So Barlow said— because he wasn’t eternally in his own way, as he was in every one else’s. (A ring is heard at the front door.) Ah! I guess that’s Bob and Jack.
Perkins (doubtfully). I know that—but—from what I can gather, learning to ride a wheel isn’t the most restful thing in the world. There’s a good deal of lying down about it; but it comes with too great suddenness; that is, so Charlie Cheeseborough says. He learned up at the Academy, and he told me that he spent most of his time making dents in the floor with his head. Mrs. Perkins. Well, I heard differently. Emma Bradley learned there at the same time he did, and she said he spent most of his time making dents in the floor with other people’s heads. Why, really, he drove all the ladies to
Perkins. Ha, ha! They all tell the same story. Barlow said he always wore a beaver hat while Cheeseborough was on the floor, so that if Charlie ran into him and he took a header his brain wouldn’t suffer.
Enter Jennie. Jennie. Mr. Bradley, ma’am. Perkins. Bradley? Wonder what the deuce he’s come for? He’ll guy the life out of me. (Enter Bradley. He wears a dinner coat.) Ah, Brad, old chap, how are you? Glad to see you. Bradley. Good-evening, Mrs. Perkins. This your eldest? [With a nod at Perkins. Mrs. Perkins. My eldest? Bradley. Yes—judged from his togs it was your boy. What! Can it be? You! Thaddeus? 39
Perkins. That’s who I am. Bradley. When did you go into short trousers? Perkins (with a feeble laugh, glancing at his clothes). Oh, these—ha, ha! I’m taking up the bicycle. Even if it weren’t for the exhilaration of riding, it’s a luxury to wear these clothes. Old flannel shirt, old coat, old pair of trousers shortened to the knee, and golf stockings. I’ve had these golf stockings two years, and never had a chance to wear ’em till now. Bradley. You’ve got it bad, haven’t you? How many lessons have you had? Perkins. None yet. Fact is, just got my wheel—that’s it over there by the door—pneumatic tires, toolchest, cyclometer, lamp—all for a gun. Bradley (with a laugh). How about life-insurance? Do they throw in a policy for that? They ought to. Perkins. No—but they would if I’d insisted. Competition between makers is so great, they’ll give you most anything to induce a bargain. The only thing they really gave me extra is the ki-yi gun. Mrs. Perkins. The what? Perkins. Ki-yi gun—it shoots dogs. Dog comes out, catches sight of your leg— Bradley. Mistakes it for a bone
and grabs—eh? Perkins. Well—I fancy that’s about the size of it. You can’t very well get off, so you get out your ki-yi gun and shoot ammonia into the beast’s face. It doesn’t hurt the dog, but it gives him something to think of. I’ll show you how the thing works. (Gets the gun from tool-box.) This is the deadly weapon, and I’m the rider—see? (Sits on a chair, with face to back, and works imaginary pedals.) You’re the dog. I’m passing the farm-yard. Bow-wow! out you spring—grab me by the bone—I—ah—I mean the leg. Pouf! I shoot you with ammonia. [Suits action to the word.] Bradley (starting back). Hi, hold on! Don’t squirt that infernal stuff at me! My dear boy, get a grip on yourself. I’m not really a ki-yi, and while I don’t like bicyclists, their bones are safe from me. I won’t bite you. Mrs. Perkins. Really—I think that’s a very ingenious arrangement; don’t you, Mr. Bradley? Bradley. I do, indeed. But, as long as we’re talking about it, I must say I think what Thaddeus really needs is a motorman-gun, to squirt ammonia, or even beer, into the faces of these cable-car fellows. They’re more likely to interfere with him than dogs— don’t you think? Perkins. It’s a first-rate idea, Brad. I’ll suggest it to my agent. Bradley. Your what? Perkins (apologetically). Well, I call him my agent, although really I’ve only bought this one wheel from him. He represents the Czar Manufacturing Company. Bradley. They make Czars, do they? Perkins (with dignity). They make wheels. The man who owns the company is named Czar. I refer
to him as my agent, because from the moment he learned I thought of buying a wheel he came and lived with me. I couldn’t get rid of him, and finally in self-defense I bought this wheel. It was the only way I could get rid of him. Bradley. Aha! That’s the milk in the cocoanut. eh? Hadn’t force of mind to get rid of the agent. Couldn’t say no. Humph! I wondered why you, a man of sense, a man of dignity, a gentleman, should take up with this— Perkins (angrily). See here, Brad, I like you very much, but I must say— Mrs. Perkins (foreseeing a quarrel). Thaddeus! ‘Sh! Ah, bythe-way, Mr. Bradley, where is Emma this evening? I never knew you to be separated before. Bradley (sorrowfully). This is the first time, Mrs. Perkins. Fact is, we’d intended calling on you to-night, and I dressed as you see me. Emma was in proper garb too, but when she saw what a beautiful night it was, she told me to go ahead, and she—By Jove! it almost makes me weep! Perkins. She wasn’t taken ill? Bradley. No—worse. She said: “You go down on the ‘L.’ I’ll bike. It’s such a splendid night.” Fine piece of business this! To have a bicycle come between man and wife is a pretty hard fate, I think—for the one who doesn’t ride. Mrs. Perkins. Then Emma is coming here? Bradley. That’s the idea, on her wheel—coming down the Boulevard, across SeventySecond Street, through the Park, down Madison, across Twentythird, down Fourth to Twentyfirst, then here. Perkins. Bully ride that. 40
Mrs. Perkins. Alone? Bradley (sadly). I hope so—but these bicyclists have a way of flocking together. For all I know, my beloved Emma may now be coasting down Murray Hill escorted by some bicycle club from Jersey City. Mrs. Perkins. Oh dear—Mr. Bradley! Bradley. Oh, it’s all right, I assure you, Mrs. Perkins. Perfectly right and proper. It’s merely part of the exercise, don’t you know. There’s a hail-fellow-well-metness about enthusiastic bicyclists, and Emma is intensely enthusiastic. It gives her a chance, you know, and Emma has always wanted a chance. Independence is a thing she’s been after ever since she got her freedom, and now, thanks to the wheel, she’s got it again, and even I must admit it’s harmless. Funny she doesn’t get here though (looking at his watch); she’s had time to come down twice. [Bicycle bells are heard ringing without.] Mrs. Perkins. Maybe that is she now. Go and see, will you, Thaddeus? [Exit Perkins. Perkins (without), That you, Mrs. Bradley? [Mrs. Perkins and Bradley listen intently.] Two Male Voices. No. It’s us, Perk. Got your wheel? Bradley and Mrs. Perkins. Where can she be? Enter Perkins with Barlow and Yardsley. They both greet Mrs. Perkins. Yardsley. Hullo, Brad! You going to have a lesson too? Barlow. Dressed for it, aren’t you, by Jove! Nothing like a dinner coat for a bicycle ride. Your coattails don’t catch in the gear.
Bradley (severely). I haven’t taken it up—fact is, I don’t care for fads. Have you seen my wife?
soon. Wheel all right?
support an elephant?
Perkins. Guess so—I’m ready.
Yardsley. Yes—saw her the other night at the academy. Rides mighty well, too, Brad. Don’t wonder you don’t take it up. Contrast, you know—eh, Perk? Fearful thing for a man to have the world see how much smarter his wife is than he is.
Bradley. I’ll go out to the corner and see if there’s any sign of Mrs. Bradley. [Exit.
Perkins. Guess so—my—I mean, the agent said it was perfect.
Perkins (turning to his wheel). Bradley’s a little worried about the non-arrival of Mrs. Bradley. She was coming here on her wheel, and started about the same time he did. Barlow. Oh, that’s all right, Ned. She knows her wheel as well as you know your business. Can’t come down quite as fast as the ‘L,’ particularly these nights just before election. She may have fallen in with some political parade, and is waiting to get across the street. Bradley (aside). Well, I like that! Mrs. Perkins (aside). Why—it’s awful! Yardsley. Or she may possibly have punctured her tire—that would delay her fifteen or twenty minutes. Don’t worry, my dear boy. I showed her how to fix a punctured tire all right. It’s simple enough—you take the rubber thing they give you and fasten it in that metal thingumbob, glue it up, poke it in, pull it out, pump her up, and there you are.
Mrs. Perkins (who has been gazing out of window for some moments). I do wish Emma would come. I can’t understand how women can do these things. Riding down here all alone at night! It is perfectly ridiculous! Yardsley (rolling Perkins’s wheel into middle of room). Czar wheel, eh? Perkins (meekly). going—they tell me.
Barlow. Can’t compare with the Alberta. Has a way of going to pieces like the “one-hoss shay”— eh, Bob? Yardsley. Exactly—when you least expect it, too—though the Alberta isn’t much better. You get coasting on either of ‘em, and half-way down, bang! the front wheel collapses, hind wheel flies up and hits you in the neck, handle-bar turns just in time to stab you in the chest; and there you are, miles from home, a physical, moral, bicycle wreck. But the Arena wheel is different. In fact, I may say that the only safe wheel is the Arena. That’s the one I ride. However, at fifty dollars this one isn’t extravagant. Perkins. I paid a hundred.
Bradley (scornfully). You told her that, did you?
Yardsley. A wha—a—at?
Yardsley. I did.
Barlow. Well you are a—a— good fellow. It’s a pretty wheel, anyhow. Eh, Bob?
Bradley (with a mock sigh of relief). You don’t know what a load you’ve taken off my mind. Barlow (looking at his watch). H’m! Thaddeus, it’s nine o’clock. I move we go out and have the lesson. Eh? The moon is just right. Yardsley. Yes—we can’t begin too
Yardsley. Simple beauty. Is she pumped up? Perkins. Beg your pardon? Yardsley. Pumped up, tires full and tight—ready for action— 41
Yardsley. Extra nuts? Perkins. What? Yardsley. Extra nuts—nuts extra. Suppose you lose a nut, and your pedal comes off; what you going to do—get a tow? Barlow. Guess Perkins thinks this is like going to sleep. Perkins. I don’t know anything about it. What I’m after is information; only, I give you warning, I will not ride so as to get round shoulders. Yardsley. Then where’s your wrench? Screw up your bar, hoist your handles, elevate your saddle, and you’re O.K. What saddle have you? Perkins (tapping it). This. Barlow. Humph! Not very good—but we’ll try it. Come on. It’s getting late. [They go out. Perkins reluctantly. In a moment he returns alone, and, rushing to Mrs. Perkins, kisses her affectionately.] Perkins. Good-bye, dearest. Mrs. Perkins. Good-bye. Don’t hurt yourself, Thaddeus. [Exit Perkins. Mrs. Perkins (leaving window and looking at clock on mantel). Ten minutes past nine and Emma not here yet. It does seem too bad that she should worry Ed so much just for independence’ sake. I am quite sure I should never want to ride a wheel anyhow, and even if I did— Enter Yardsley hurriedly, with a piece of flannel in his hand. Yardsley. I beg pardon, Mrs. Perkins, but have you a shawlstrap in the house?
Mrs. Perkins (tragically). What is that you have in your hand, Mr. Yardsley? Yardsley (with a glance at the piece of flannel). That? Oh—haha—that—that’s a—ah—a piece of flannel. Mrs. Perkins (snatching the flannel from Yardsley’s hand). But Teddy—isn’t that a piece of Teddy’s—Teddy’s shirt? Yardsley. More than that, Mrs. Perkins. It’s the greater part of Teddy’s shirt. That’s why we want the shawl-strap. When we started him off, you know, he took his coat off. Jack held on to the wheel, and I took Teddy in the fullness of his shirt. One—two—three! Teddy put on steam—Barlow let go— Teddy went off—I held on—this is what remained. It ruined the shirt, but Teddy is safe. (Aside.) Barring about sixty or seventy bruises. Mrs. Perkins (with a faint smile). And the shawl-strap? Yardsley. I want to fasten it around Teddy’s waist, grab hold of the handle, and so hold him up. He’s all right, so don’t you worry. (Exit Mrs. Perkins in search of shawlstrap.) Guess I’d better not say anything about the Pond’s Extract he told me to bring—doesn’t need it, anyhow. Man’s got to get used to leaving pieces of his ankle-bone on the curb-stone if he wants to learn to ride a wheel. Only worry her if I asked her for it—won’t hurt him to suffer a week. Enter Bradley. Bradley. Has she come yet? Yardsley. No—just gone up-stairs for a shawl-strap.
Bradley. Who has gone up-stairs after shawl-strap—my wife? Yardsley. No, no, no. Hasn’t she got here yet? It’s Mrs. Perkins. Perk fell off just now and broke in two. We want to fasten him together. Barlow (outside). Bring out that pump. His wheel’s flabby. Enter Mrs. Perkins with shawlstrap. Mrs. Perkins. Here it is. What did I hear about Pond’s Extract? Didn’t somebody call for it? Yardsley. No—oh no—not a bit of it! What you heard was shawlstrap—sounds like extract—very much like it. In fact— Bradley. But you did say you wanted— Yardsley (aside to Bradley). Shut up! Thaddeus banged his ankle, but he’ll get over it in a minute. She’d only worry. The best bicyclers in the world are all the time falling off, taking headers, and banging their ankles.
[They rush in. Perkins with shawlstrap about his waist—limping. Barlow has large air-pump in his hand. Mrs. Perkins grows faint.]
Bradley. Poor Emma!
Perkins. Great heavens! What’s the matter?
Barlow. Get some water—quick!
Barlow. Where the deuce is that Ex—
[Yardsley runs for water.]
Yardsley (grasping him by the arm and pushing him out). Here it is; this is the ex-strap, just what we wanted. (Aside to Bradley.) Go down to the drug-store and get a bottle of Pond’s, will you? [Exit.] Mrs. Perkins (walking to window). She can’t be long in coming now.
Perkins (outside). Hurry up with that Pond’s Extract, will you?
Bradley. I guess I’ll go out to the corner again. (Aside.) Best bicyclers always smashing ankles, falling off, taking headers! If I ever get hold of Emma again, I’ll see whether she’ll ride that— [Rushes out.]
Yardsley. All right—coming. Who? Who what?
Mrs. Perkins. It seems to have made these men crazy. I never
Bradley. Shawl-strap? Who?
saw such strange behavior in all my life. (The telephone-bell rings.) What can that be? (Goes to ’phone, which stands just outside parlor door.) Hello! What? Yes, this is 1181—yes. Who are you? What? Emma? Oh dear, I’m so glad! Are you alive? Where are you? What? Where? The policestation! (Turning from telephone.) Thaddeus, Mr. Barlow, Mr. Yardsley. (Into telephone.) Hello! What for? What? Riding without a lamp! Arrested at Forty-Second Street! Want to be bailed out? (Drops receiver. Rushes into parlor and throws herself on sofa.) To think of it—Emma Bradley! (Telephone-bell rings violently again; Mrs. Perkins goes to it.) Hello! Yes. Tell Ed what? To ask for Mrs. Willoughby Hawkins. Who’s she? What, you! (Drops the receiver; runs to window.) Thaddeus! Mr. Yardsley! Mr. Barlow!—all of you come here, quick.
Mrs. Perkins. Air! Give me air! Perkins (grabbing pump from Barlow’s hand). Don’t stand there like an idiot! Act! She wants air! [Places pump on floor and begins to pump air at her.] Barlow. Who’s the idiot now? Wheel her over to the window. She’s not a bicycle. They do so. Mrs. Perkins revives. Perkins. What is the matter? Mrs. Perkins. Mrs. Willoughby Hawkins—arrested—FortySecond Street—no lamp—bailed out. Oh, dear me, dear me! It’ll all be in the papers!
Perkins. What’s that got to do with us? Who’s Mrs. Willoughby Hawkins? Mrs. Perkins. Emma! Assumed name. Barlow. Good Lord! Mrs. Bradley in jail? Perkins. This is a nice piece of— ow—my ankle, my ankle! [Enter Bradley and Yardsley at same time, Bradley with bottle of Pond’s Extract, Yardsley with glass of water.] Bradley. Where the deuce did you fellows go to? I’ve been wandering all over the square looking for you. Perkins. Your wife— Bradley (dropping bottle). What? What about her—hurt? Mrs. Perkins. Worse! [Sobs.] Bradley. Killed? Mrs. Perkins. Worse—l-lollocked up—in jail—no bail— wants to be lamped out. Bradley. Great heavens! Where?—when? What next? Where’s my hat?—what’ll the baby say? I must go to her at once. Yardsley. Hold on, old man. Let me go up. You’re too excited. I know the police captain. You stay here, and I’ll run up and fix it with him. If you go, he’ll find out who Mrs. Hawkins is; you’ll get mad, and things will be worse than ever. Bradley. But— Barlow. No buts, my dear boy. You just stay where you are. Yardsley’s right. It would be an awful grind on you if this ever became known. Bob can fix it up in two minutes with the captain, and Mrs. Bradley can come right back with him. Besides, he can get there in five minutes on his wheel. It will take you twenty on
the cars. Yardsley. Precisely. Meanwhile, Brad, you’d better learn to ride the wheel, so that Mrs. B. won’t have to ride alone. This ought to be a lesson to you. Perkins. Bully idea (rubbing his ankle). You can use my wheel to-night—I—I think I’ve had enough for the present. (Aside.) The pavements aren’t soft enough for me; and, O Lord! what a stony curb that was! Bradley. I never thought I’d get so low. Yardsley. Well, it seems to me that a man with a wife in jail needn’t be too stuck up to ride a bicycle. But—by-by—I’m off. [Exit.] Mrs. Perkins. Poor Emma—out for freedom, and lands in jail. What horrid things policemen are, to arrest a woman! Bradley (indignantly). Served her right! If women won’t obey the law they ought to be arrested, the same as men. If she wasn’t my wife, I’d like to see her sent up for ten years or even twenty years. Women have got no business— Barlow. Don’t get mad, Brad. If you knew the fascination of the wheel, you wouldn’t blame her a bit. Bradley (calming down). Well—I suppose it has some fascination. Perkins (anxious to escape further lessons). Oh, indeed, it’s a most exhilarating sensation: you seem to be flying like a bird over the high-ways. Try it, Ned. Go on, right away. You don’t know how that little ride I had braced me up. Barlow (wish a laugh). There! Hear that! There’s a man who’s ridden only eight inches in all his life—and he says he felt like a bird! Perkins (aside). Yes—like a spring chicken split open for broiling. Next time I ride a wheel 44
it’ll be four wheels, with a horse fastened in front. Oh my! Oh my! I believe I’ve broken my back too. [Lies down.] Bradley. You seem exhilarated, Thaddeus.
Perkins (bracing up). Oh, I am, I am. Never felt worse—that is, better. Barlow. Come on, Brad. I’ll show you the trick in two jiffies—it’ll relieve your worry about madam, too. Bradley. Very well—I suppose there’s no way out of it. Only let me know as soon as Emma arrives, will you? Mrs. Perkins. Yes—we will. [They go out. As they disappear through the door Thaddeus groans aloud. Mrs. Perkins. Why—what is the matter, dear? Are you hurt? Perkins. Oh no—not at all, my love. I was only thinking of Mr. Jarley’s indignation to-morrow when he sees the hole I made in his curb-stone with my ankle— oh!—ow!—and as for my back, while I don’t think the whole spine is gone, I shouldn’t be surprised if it had come through in sections. Mrs. Perkins. Why, you poor thing—why didn’t you say— Perkins (savagely). Why didn’t I say? My heavens, Bess, what did you think I wanted the Pond’s Extract for—to drink, or to water the street with? O Lord! (holding up his arm). There aren’t any ribs sticking out, are there? Barlow (outside). way—there—that’s got it.
The other it—you’ve
Bradley (outside). Why, it is easy, isn’t it? Perkins (scornfully). Easy! That fellow’d find comfort in—
Barlow (outside). Now you’re off—not too fast. Mrs. Perkins (walking to window). Why, Thaddeus, he’s going like the wind down the street! Perkins. Heaven help him when he comes to the river! Barlow (rushing in). Here we are in trouble again. Brad’s gone off on my wheel. Bob’s taken his, and your tire’s punctured. He doesn’t know the first thing about turning or stopping, and I can’t run fast enough to catch him. One member of the family is in jail—the other on a runaway wheel! [Yardsley appears at door. Assumes attitude of butler announcing guest.] Yardsley. ’Awkins!
Perkins. Yes, on a bike. Yardsley, take me by the shawl-strap, will you, and help me over to that chair; my back hurts so I can’t lie down. Mrs. Bradley. Ned—on a wheel? Why, he can’t ride! Barlow. Oh yes, he can. What I’m afraid of is that he can’t stop riding. Bradley (outside). Hi—Barlow— help! Mrs. Bradley. That’s his voice— he called for help. Yardsley (rushing to window). Hi—Brad—stop! Your wife’s here. Bradley (in distance). stop—don’t know how—
Yardsley. Put on the brake. Barlow. Fall off. It hasn’t got a brake. Bradley (despairingly, distance). Can’t.
Mrs. Perkins. This is frightful. Perkins (with a grimace at his ankle). Yes; but there are other fearful things in this world. Mrs. Bradley. I shall go crazy if he isn’t stopped. He’ll kill himself. Yardsley (leaving window hurriedly). I have it. Got a length of clothes-line, Mrs. Perkins? Barlow. What the dickens— Mrs. Perkins. Yes. [She rushes from the room.] Mrs. Bradley. What for?
Mrs. Bradley. Oh, Edward!
Barlow (leaning out of window). By Jove! he’s turned the corner all right. If he keeps on around, we can catch him next time he passes.
[Throws herself into Barlow’s arms.]
Mrs. Bradley. Oh, do, do stop him. I’m so afraid he’ll be hurt.
Barlow (quietly). Excuse me— ah—Mrs. Hawkins—ah— Bradley—but I’m not—I’m not your husband.
Mrs. Perkins (looking out). I can just see him on the other side of the square—and, oh dear me!— his lamp is out.
Perkins (with a grin). There’ll be two of us! We can start a hospital on the top floor.
Mrs. Bradley (looking up, tragically). Where’s Edward?
Mrs. Bradley. Oh, Mr. Yardsley— Mr. Barlow—Mr. Perkins—do stop him!
Enter Mrs. Bradley, hysterical.
Mrs. Perkins. Sit down, dear— you must be completely worn out. Mrs. Bradley (in alarm). Where is he? Perkins (rising and standing on one leg). Fact is, Mrs. Bradley— we don’t know. He disappeared ten minutes ago. Yardsley. What do you mean? Mrs. Bradley. Disappeared? Barlow. Yes. He went east—at the rate of about a mile a minute. Mrs. Bradley. My husband—went east? Mile a minute?
[By this time, all are gazing out of window, except Perkins, who is nursing his ankle.] Perkins. I guess not. I’m not going to lie down in the road, or sit in the road, or stand in the road to stop him or anybody else. I don’t believe I’ve got a sound bone left; but if I have, I’m going to save it, if Bradley kills himself. If his lamp’s out the police will stop him. Why not be satisfied with that? Bradley (passing the window). For Heaven’s sake! One of you fellows stop me. 45
Yardsley. I’ll lasso him, next time he comes around.
Mrs. Perkins (returning). Here— here’s the line. [Yardsley takes it hurriedly, and, tying it into a noose, hastens out.] Perkins (rising). If I never walk again, I must see this. [Limps to window.] Mrs. Bradley. He’s coming, Mr. Yardsley; don’t miss him. Barlow. Steady, Bob; get in the light. Mrs. Perkins. Suppose it catches his neck? Perkins. This beats the Wild West Show. [A crash.] All. He’s got him. [All rush out, except Perkins.]
Perkins. Oh yes; he learned in a minute, he did. Easy! Ha, ha! Gad! it almost makes me forget my pain.
for—er—I—I rather like it while it’s going on, and when I learn to get off—
Enter all, asking. “Is he hurt? How do you feel?” etc. Yardsley has rope-end in right hand; noose is tied about Bradley’s body, his coat and clothing are much the worse for wear.
Barlow. You bet! He’s a dandy. I taught him.
Mrs. Bradley. Poor, dear Edward! Bradley (weakly kissing her). Don’t m-mind me. I—I’m all right—only a little exhilarated— and somewhat—er—somewhat breathless. Feel like a bird—on toast. Yardsley, you’re a brick. But that pavement—that was a pile of ’em, and the hardest I ever encountered. I always thought asphalt was soft—who said asphalt was soft? Perkins. Easy to learn, though, eh? Bradley. Too easy. I’d have gone on—er—forever—er—if it hadn’t been for Bob. Mrs. Bradley. I’ll give it up, Ned dear, if you say so. Mrs. Perkins (affectionately). That’s sweet of you, Emma. Bradley. No, indeed, you won’t,
Yardsley. Which you will very shortly.
Bradley. I think I’ll adore it. Perkins. Buy a Czar wheel, Brad. Best in the market; weighs only twenty pounds. I’ve got one with a ki-yi pump and a pneumatic gun you can have for ten dollars. Jennie (at the door). Supper is served ma’am. [Exit. Mrs. Perkins. Let us go out and restore our nerves. Come, Emma. [She and Mrs. Bradley walk out.] Yardsley (aside). I say, Brad, you owe me five. Yardsley. Bail. Barlow. Cheap too. Yardsley. Very. I think he ought to open a bottle besides. Perkins. I’ll attend to the bottles. We’ll have three.
He has ears, and two eyes, and ten fingers, Leastways if you reckon two thumbs; Long ago he was one of the singers, But now he is one of the dumbs. He sits in a beautiful parlor, With hundreds of books on the wall; He drinks a great deal of Marsala, But never gets tipsy at all.
HOW PLEASANT TO KNOW MR. LEAR!
Perkins. Three—two of fizz for you and Bob and the ladies, and if Bradley will agree, I’ll split a quart of Pond’s Extract with him. Bradley. I’ll go you. I think I could take care of the whole quart myself. Perkins. Then we’ll make it four bottles. Mrs. Perkins (appearing at door with her arm about Mrs. Bradley). Aren’t you coming? Perkins (rising with difficulty). As fast as we can, my dear. We’ve been taking lessons, you know, and can’t move as rapidly as the rest of you. We’re a trifle—ah—a trifle tired. Yardsley, you tow Bradley into the dining room; and, Barlow, kindly pretend I’m a shawl, will you, and carry me in. Bradley. I’ll buy a wheel tomorrow.
Bradley. What for?
"How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!" Who has written such volumes of stuff! Some think him ill-tempered and queer, But a few think him pleasant enough. His mind is concrete and fastidious, His nose is remarkably big; His visage is more or less hideous, His beard it resembles a wig.
Barlow. Two will be enough.
Perkins. Don’t, Brad. I—I’ll give you mine. Fact is, old man, I don’t exactly like feeling like a bird. [They go out, and as the last, Perkins and Bradley, disappear stiffly through the portières, the curtain falls.]
He has many friends, lay men and clerical, Old Foss is the name of his cat; His body is perfectly spherical, He weareth a runcible hat. When he walks in waterproof white, The children run after him so! Calling out, "He's come out in his nightGown, that crazy old Englishman, oh!" He weeps by the side of the ocean, He weeps on the top of the hill; He purchases pancakes and lotion, And chocolate shrimps from the mill. He reads, but he cannot speak, Spanish, He cannot abide ginger beer: Ere the days of his pilgrimage vanish, How pleasant to know Mr. Lear!
Cold Comfort By Jason Kahn Melindria watched her apprentice with pursed lips, holding her tongue as Kiera attempted the summoning chant. Candles flared around the circle, causing shadows that flowed across the floor and walls. A crystal in the center slowly changed color from dark grey to blue as Kiera’s voice rose to a crescendo. A rising intensity caused the spellweavers’ skin to prickle. When Kiera reached the final note of the chant, however, it was clear something had gone wrong. The crystal exploded, sending a hundred shards flying outward. Kiera cried out, throwing her arm over her face. Melindria uttered a single word and all the sharp pieces froze in the air, suspended. Kiera looked down. “I’m sorry, Auntie Lindra.” Melindria waved her hand, allowing the crystal pieces to fall to the floor with a delicate sound that was almost musical. She lit the hanging lanterns, driving away the shadows. “We were supposed to have summoned an air spirit. It is just as well that nothing answered. There were so many errors in the spell, I cannot begin to imagine what would have appeared.” “I know. My concentration has been a little off lately,” Kiera admitted. Melindria needed no confirmation on that score. It had been the same since she had taken Kiera in as a child. Though she possessed great power, the girl’s head could go in a hundred directions at once. But it was only after she had blossomed into a young woman that her lessons had begun to suffer. From her own youth, Melindria well remembered the attraction a spellweaver-girl held for the young village men who all congregated around the town fountain, vying for the attentions of the local girls.
“I believe we both know the source of your distraction,” she said disapprovingly. Kiera grimaced. “Please, Auntie Lindra, we’ve been over this.” “Yes, we have.” The elder spellweaver frowned. “And it still hasn’t gotten through. You must push away all other distractions if you are to master your craft, child.” Kiera pouted, winding a strand of her long, dark hair around a finger. “I can’t shut myself away and study craft every second. I need to have some fun, too.” “Fun is one thing, entanglements with the local boys are something else entirely,” Melindria admonished. Kiera looked down, blushing. “There’s nothing serious going on.” Melindria looked at the young woman she regarded as her daughter. She knew the dangers romance held for a young spellweaver newly come into her womanhood. Even more dangerous were the feelings that occurred when young love went awry: jealousy, hate. Melindria knew those all too well. “Just see that it stays that way.” Melindria’s voice was stern. Kiera bobbed her head. “I will, Auntie Lindra.” “Alright, child.” Melindria sighed. “That will be all for today. We’ll start fresh in the morning, when you’re a bit more clearheaded.” Kiera looked up and beamed at the woman she regarded as her mother. “Thank you, Auntie.” She was up in a rush of motion, bounding out into the warm summer day. Melindria watched her apprentice go. More and more Kiera reminded her of herself when she was young. Thinking back, she barely recognized the young Melindria, so undisciplined, without a single thought of the consequences of her actions. But there had been consequences, dreadful ones. 48
That was before Kiera had turned up at her door, with a mother who had died young and a father who didn’t know what to do with a little girl with power. Melindria shook her head, breaking from her reverie. She didn’t like to dwell on the past. *** Coldred dodged as the vase flew past him, crashing into shards against the wall. “Get out!” The scantily clad woman half-rose from her bed, reaching for a crystal pitcher to throw. Coldred grabbed his clothing and made a swift exit from the woman’s room and her father’s villa, hustling back to the tavern where he worked. Instead of helping his employer prepare for the day’s customers, Coldred informed him he would no longer be working at the tavern, then took what wages were still owed him, his few belongings, and was soon riding his horse at a gentle walk out of town. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back, letting the justrisen sun warm his face. The girl’s father might have caused trouble. It had happened before. Many times in fact. He took a deep breath, ignoring the inviting looks from the women he passed. It was time he was going anyway. His restlessness always urged him to the next town or city before long. As he had done a thousand times, Coldred called to mind those fragments of memory that kept him wandering, searching. A feather-soft kiss, a breathy murmur in his ear, whispering his name. A face with emerald eyes that called to him. Coldred wiped the sweat from his brow that appeared whenever he dwelt on such thoughts. The face and the voice, the feel of those lips, filled his dreams, awakening some deep buried part of himself that he did not understand. And so Coldred wandered, seeking the woman, seeking to ease the strangeness her memory raised within him. In between
his travels there were other women, countless, nameless, as far back as he could remember. They constantly sought his companionship, and he was nice enough to them, always polite, courtly, doing nothing they did not ask of him. But they always changed, talking of “love,” acting differently and expecting him to act differently, as if invoking the word could magically alter him on some basic level. How could he explain that such words and abstractions were hollow to him, devoid of meaning or truth? He tried not to offend, but inevitably did, and they invariably became angry. He shook his head, at a loss to explain such behavior and rode on, hoping the next town would provide some answer to ease the gnawing, yearning that plagued him. *** Coldred rode into the village as the sun gently dipped its lower half below the horizon, bringing on the first gentle shades of dusk. He glanced about, the surroundings seemed no different than the many other towns and villages he had come upon. There was the local market, a blacksmith, and, ah yes, the tavern. He tied up his horse outside the Queen’s Demesne. A rather gaudy name for the place, he thought as he entered. It was the usual establishment, tables in a wide room, opposite a bar, rooms upstairs. Coldred walked up to the middle-aged man behind the bar, and offered his services as a hired hand and wandering minstrel, which was true enough. He had discovered many years before that he had a fair singing voice, after which he learned to play numerous instruments. This allowed him to earn his keep at the various cities and townships he visited. The owner, named Callum, raised an eyebrow, giving him an appraising look. “You say you can sing?” He considered. “Well, maybe you can bring in a few more payin’ customers.” Coldred
showed him the finely tuned lute he carried and the two agreed on a nightly rate for his services. The next night, he played. Word had already spread, for the tavern was unusually crowded. The men looked on with casual interest while the serving girls and even the tavern wenches who charged for their company had their eyes glued to the beautiful minstrel. Coldred sang a tune he had learned in the cities of the south, about a prince who won his princess by defeating an evil wizard. The names changed depending on what region he was in, but the heroic love song always found a welcome audience. And indeed, the tavern’s patrons applauded at its conclusion. He happily accepted a cold ale from the bar after he finished. The serving girls crowded around him and the tavern wenches craned their necks to stare, causing a few grumbles from the men who were paying for their attention. Coldred paid little mind, however, as he noticed a young woman with dark hair speaking with the tavern’s owner at the other end of the bar. Something about the way she moved, gestured with her hands, the tone of her voice. It was hauntingly familiar, but he could not make the connection. He knew he had never seen her before. Nevertheless, when she turned and left, he found himself following her. He caught her just outside. It was a warm summer evening, with a slight breeze that cooled and set the nearby trees to a constant low murmur of rustling leaves. Coldred touched her on the shoulder and the lady turned, surprised and wide-eyed. “I did not mean to startle.” he apologized, bowing his head. “But it seems you barely had a chance to hear my singing before you fled. Would you stay for one more? Perhaps it will be more to your liking.” She smiled, her dark eyes flashing. “Not at all. The performance was exemplary. I was 49
merely on an errand delivering some herbs for Callum’s wife who has been feeling a bit poorly. I had not intended to stay.” “Ah, you are a healer then?” She hid a smile. “Not exactly.” “Well, if you do not mind some company, may I walk with you? I have only just arrived, and would consider it a service should you agree to show me your fair town.” Her eyes never left his as she gently took the arm he extended. Completely at ease, she asked, “By what name are you known, stranger?” Something about her seemed so familiar. It teased at his mind, tantalizing, but slipped away. “My name is Coldred, and now that you know my name, you can no longer call me a stranger, can you?” She laughed, her eyes dancing as she gazed at the impossibly handsome man whose arm she adorned. “I suppose I can’t.” Exchanging pleasantries, the two walked off into the evening. *** Melindria and Kiera sat crosslegged in the elder spellweaver’s cottage. Another spell had gone awry, this time a simple animation spell meant to bring a small figure of clay and straw to life for a few short minutes. Student and teacher stared at the messy pile that quivered weakly inside the circle. Kiera bit her lip. “Oh, dear. That didn’t go well at all.” Melindria pursed her lips. “No, it didn’t.” Weeks had passed, and it was clear that instead of heeding her advice, Kiera had progressed far beyond innocent flirtations at the village fountain. Indeed, Melindria had heard all about the new minstrel at the Queen’s Demesne, and it was quite clear how smitten Kiera was with him. “I believe we have spoken previously about keeping your mind clear of distractions,” Melindria said. “Especially romantic ones.”
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“He is not a distraction.” Kiera’s tone became more defiant. “He makes me happy. I think I… love him.” She looked down. It was the first time she admitted what was in her heart. When Melindria spoke, her voice was tinged with sadness at a half-forgotten memory. “Love has many consequences, not all of them good, especially for our kind,” she said softly. Kiera looked at Melindria, her jaw set, her eyes determined. She had hoped for something more from her Auntie, approval perhaps, acknowledgment at least. She realized that none was forthcoming, and that it did not matter. “I’m sorry for my lapses, I promise to do better,” Kiera said. “But I will not cast him aside. I can’t. I hoped you would understand, but I can’t be…” Like you. Kiera’s voice trailed off, but Melindria heard her unspoken words. As far as Kiera knew, her Auntie had always been alone, solitary, never needing any man. She frowned, knowing her apprentice could not be dissuaded. “Very well, we shall see, child. In the meantime, I expect you to pay more attention to your lessons, and to be on time.” She gave Kiera her sternest look, at which point her dark-haired apprentice flashed a grateful smile, glad the conversation was over. “I will, Auntie, I promise.” Kiera rose swiftly, an eager light in her eyes. “I suppose we’re done for today, then,” Melindria groused. She knew where Kiera’s thoughts were, and where she was headed. She called out sharply, “Child!” Kiera halted before she could flee. “The Stonedale boy, the one with velvet fever. He will need a new poultice. Use the herbs and brew you made and apply it tomorrow morning, before you come here.” “Yes, Auntie Lindra.” Relief flooded Kiera’s features when Melindria nodded her dismissal. The young woman swiftly exited the cottage, leaving her teacher in a foul mood and with a dour
expression on her face that lasted late into the evening. *** Still cross with her apprentice, Melindria’s sleep was troubled, and when her breaths at last came deep and slow, her dreams took her to a place she did not like to visit often: her past. She saw her younger self, immediately recognizing the rage, the jealousy, the humiliation that twisted her beautiful features. Because regardless of her power or her skill, there was nothing in her magical arsenal to sway a man’s heart. And so, despite falling utterly for a man in her village, she had watched, helpless, while another woman stole him away. She knew the type well, a girl of sly looks and seeming innocence, who treated men as a child plays with its toys. Melindria was just as powerless when her rival moved to another village and the man followed her like a lost puppy, leaving the young spellweaver with nothing but her smoldering anger. The dream fast forwarded and now she was bent in concentration, her eyes blazing with fire and intensity as she cast the last of her spells and stood back, admiring her handiwork. She had shaped him out of a solid block of ice, a man of incomparable beauty, whose frozen heart would never know love, who would be a plague on all women like the one who had stolen the man meant for her. They would fall swooning for this one, but he would never warm to their touch, would never truly care for them. She smiled, her eyes glinting with malice. He would leave them as broken as she herself was. Now only one thing remained. Melindria stepped forward and looked into the unseeing eyes of her creation, kissing him once on his cold, cold lips, bestowing upon him the spark that would bring him to life, then she leaned into his ear and gently breathed his name. He stirred, and she opened the door to her small cottage, 51
sending him all unknowing out into the world, an arrow dipped in the poison of her spite. Again the dream shifted and she watched as the tide of anger and jealousy ebbed, saw herself become ashamed of what she had done. But there was no taking back the magic she had invoked, nor a way of finding her shaping at large in the world. In her shame, she shut herself away in her small cottage, barely ever venturing outside. As the years went by, fewer and fewer villagers came to her for help with a sick child, or to bless their crops. She never loved another man, nor did she bear any children. She grew older, knowing no joy, until the day she gained an apprentice. *** In the half-light that filtered through the window shortly before dawn, Kiera ran her hand lazily across Coldred’s chest as they lay in bed together in his room above the Queen’s Demesne. “I have been spending almost every night here, you know,” Kiera said sleepily. “My house is so cold and drafty, and it’s so warm and cozy here. Perhaps I should simply sleep here as a matter of course.” She watched him, gauging his response to her not-so-subtle suggestion that she begin taking up residence with him. Coldred affected a nonchalant expression. “If it would be more convenient for you, that would seem to make good sense.” She smiled broadly and kissed him soundly on the mouth. “You are so sweet,” she murmured. “I have been told that,” he said lightly. “What are you doing later today?” Kiera asked. “I have a number of chores to do around the tavern.” “Can we meet for lunch?” Coldred considered for a moment. “I think I can rearrange some of my duties.” “I thought we might eat together in the meadow over by the giant oak. It’s so pleasant this time of year.” In truth, she meant
to tell Coldred that she loved him then. “Very well. I usually share my lunch with the serving girls of the tavern, should I ask them to join us?” Kiera looked at him. Coldred appeared completely serious and sincere. She burst out laughing. “Oh, Coldred, sometimes you are so funny.” She nuzzled into his neck and slowly drifted back to sleep, failing to notice the quizzical look on Coldred’s face before he joined her in slumber. A few hours later when the two roused, Kiera noticed the position of the midmorning sun. “Demon dung!” She jumped out of bed, startling Coldred. “What’s the matter?” “I promised Auntie Lindra I’d go tend to Forn Stonedale’s boy. He’s ill.” She raced about the room, furiously putting her dress and apron on. “Now I’m going to be late for my lessons!” She was ready to go in seconds. She quickly bent down to kiss Coldred, who was leaning back in bed, barely risen. “I’ll see you at lunch,” she breathed, and then flew out the door. Coldred watched her exit with mild concern that lasted only a few moments before he rose to start his day. *** Melindria bustled about her cottage as morning slowly lengthened toward the noon hour. She busied herself checking her stock of crystals and gemstones for flaws, which could cause a spell to go awry. She sat crosslegged, closing her eyes and contemplating the small amethyst she held, letting its cool violet wash over her. All was calm, soothing smoothness, no “hiccups” as she liked to call the mental skips that signified a crack. The gemstone was whole. She continued for several hours, communing with each stone, separating out the flawed ones. When she was finished there were two small, multicolored piles in front of her.
Melindria took a deep, relaxed breath, centered and calm after the meditative work. Then she noticed the hour, and felt her peaceful state give way to fuming irritation. Kiera was very late. Perhaps if this had been the first time, or even the second or third, it would not have exasperated her so. As she sat there, her annoyance gave way to anger. This simply would not do. If her apprentice would not come for her lesson, then Melindria would go to her. And she had a pretty good idea where she could be found. She rose and strode briskly out of her cottage, fully intending to surprise her young student at the tavern she frequented and pry her from the man she was so fond of. She tromped down the path toward the center of the village. It was time for a good scolding. *** At the Queen’s Demesne, Coldred finished up his morning chores at the tavern, mopping the floor, wiping down the tables, tapping the fresh kegs of ale and other odds and ends. When he was done, he thought he would take his horse out for a ride before lunchtime. The mare needed to stretch her legs a bit, and a brisk ride through the surrounding countryside would do them both good. He stepped out of the dimly lit tavern and stretched, letting the bright summer sun warm his body, then walked toward the stables, politely nodding to the passersby and the various women who went out of their way to greet him. Then he stopped dead in his tracks, seeing his deepest memories come to life before him. It was her. The face was older, a few more lines here and there, but she was unmistakable, same lips, same hair, same eyes. And she was walking toward him, like a vision pulled from desires and fears he scarcely admitted even to himself. He felt a strange wild thumping in his chest as the old yearning magnified a 52
hundredfold, squeezing his throat so he could barely breathe. He wiped sweat from his brow, moving slowly toward her, as if in a dream. *** Melindria walked quickly, her every muscle twitching with irritation. She ignored the looks from the other townsfolk who had not seen her outside her home in years. But they all knew who she was, and wondered what could have caused her to emerge now. She paced straight toward the tavern, only to be brought up short by a figure standing there. She stopped as surely as if she had been struck. In a lightning flash, memory flooded through her, the face of the girl who had stolen her love long ago, the reckless act of magic. Eyes wide in shock, she moved with leaden feet toward him. To Coldred, it was as if he moved against the tide of a river. He saw the recognition in her eyes, and his whole body began to sweat profusely as his breathing came out in gasps. Melindria stopped a few feet from him, almost unable to believe what she saw. It must have been some thirty years since she had created him, with his frozen heart that would never know love. And he was unchanged. Coldred was near to her now, she was waiting for him. He felt as if he was upon the verge of some great revelation, the object of his endless search now finally before him in the flesh. He felt feverish, and he could no longer feel his feet. Neither of them saw Kiera approaching from across the village. She had spent most of the morning tending to the Stonedale boy, and now that he slept peacefully, she hurried to the tavern to check in on Coldred before going to Auntie Lindra’s. But she came to an abrupt halt a few buildings away, stunned at seeing her aunt and her love transfixed as if they were under some spell. She watched, rooted
to the ground by some fear she could not name. With a trembling hand, Melindria reached out to touch her creation on the cheek, seeking tactile reassurance that this was, indeed, the shaping from so many years ago. Her voice thick with emotion, she whispered the name she had given when she breathed life into him. “Coldred.” Upon hearing his name from those lips, with that voice, Coldred was overcome with a wave of heat as something melted deep inside him. He closed his eyes, luxuriating in her touch upon his skin. He felt as if he were swimming in boiling waters while something inexplicable welled up deep within him, coursing through his body in a way he had never experienced. He looked at her through a haze. Melindria stood there, tears streaming down her face as the creation she had spelled to life melted in front of her. Water pooled on the ground as Coldred dissolved like a sandcastle in the tide. Comprehension dawning at last, he managed to utter plaintively, “Is this love?” before his voice was lost in soft whisperings and the rest of his form completely disbanded. Kiera ran toward them as the last of her love turned to water before her eyes. She knelt down, horrified, loss transfiguring her beautiful face into a mask of pain then turned eyes like hot coals upon her teacher. “What did you do to him?” she accused. Mired in her own private sorrow, Melindria turned to her student, realizing to her horror what it must have looked like. “No… child, you don’t understand….” she stuttered, still recovering her wits. “I understand perfectly, Melindria!” Kiera yelled. “I loved him, and you couldn’t stand to share me with him, so you destroyed him! So I would be alone, like you!” “No, please,” Melindria pleaded. “He wasn’t—” “Wasn’t what? Wasn’t right
for me? How would you know? You who have never loved anyone!” A small crowd had gathered around the two women. Whispers raced nervously among them about the minstrel who had melted in front of their eyes. Kiera stood, unmindful of the onlookers. “How could you do this to him, to me, how could you!” she screamed. “You evil witch!” For once, she was completely focused. Without hesitation, she raised her arm, her hand crackling with blue fire, her rage channeling her mind and power with perfect clarity. Melindria looked into her eyes, at once recognizing the fury that had driven her own thoughtless act so long ago. The elder spellweaver bowed her head. She would not fight her erstwhile apprentice. Power ill-used had a price, if this was hers, so be it. She only hoped Kiera would be strong enough when one day her actions came back to haunt her. But of one thing she was certain: Kiera was an apprentice no longer. Oaths By Bradley H. Sinor First appeared in The Time of The Vampires – DAW Books
“So you were the ones,” Ryan DuLane said. “Not entirely, but I suppose I did my share. It was more a matter of what had to be done at that moment than anything else,” said Brother Ellis. “Isn’t that always the way, Brother?” DuLane hoped the distaste that he had for most religious types echoed in his voice. Normally he would have barely even spoken to the monk, not to be deliberately uncivil, but simply out of preference. Over the years, DuLane had come to be highly selective about whom he spent time with, and church men were not high among his preferred company. There were exceptions, 53
but this man was not one of them. Tonight, however, DuLane seemed to have little choice in the matter if he wanted company of any sort, which at the moment he really did not, but the monk would not leave. The few other patrons of the Inn of the Crossed Scabbards had long since sought their beds, leaving DuLane and Brother Ellis alone in the large common room. Located at the intersection of two growing trade routes, the Crossed Scabbards did a brisk business most of the year. But spring wasn’t due for another four weeks, at least, and six days of freezing rain had kept away all but the most hardy of travelers. An hour’s ride west of the inn, DuLane had come across the remains of a bandit ambush. Three ragged bodies, bandits from the look of them, covered with blood and mud, lay where they had fallen. But they had not been the only casualties. Nearby there had been two quickly-made cairns and crude crosses, the last resting places, he learned later, for some of Brother Ellis’s companions. In spite of the roaring fire, the cold and dismal atmosphere that had settled over the countryside seemed to have penetrated even inside the tavern. They could hear the wind howling outside and the rolling crash of thunder. “However I may have performed with my sword, the bandits took two of our number with them,” said the monk. “But you did survive, Brother Ellis, much to your credit. From the looks of those wretches, that would have been no easy task. Besides, I learned a long time ago, it is survival that matters. I’m just surprised you didn’t bury them. It would have been the Christian thing to do.” “Survival, yes, a good thing. But even so, we did not come through unscathed. Given our own wounds, myself and the others felt it best that we see to our own dead and ourselves. “The one of our guards who lived required a dozen stitches to
close up the wound in his leg. If it escapes infection he will need at least a month to recuperate.” DuLane caught himself studying the monk; his tonsured hair streaked with gray only added to the lean and wolf-like appearance of his face. “Still, you don’t often associate a religious man with a sword,” DuLane said lightly. “Before God called me to the church, I found I had a small talent with the blade. It has been our Lord’s will, as well as my superior’s in the Order, that I keep that talent sharp; in the service of God, of course, rather than temporal princes. God needs many skills in his service, Captain DuLane. Yes, your name was not unfamiliar to me,” said Brother Ellis. “Indeed? To you personally, or to the Inquisition?” DuLane didn’t know what the monk was looking for, but all he would find would be a man who had lived through too many battles, lost too many comrades and could barely remember what having a home and family were like. The monk arched an eyebrow, the barest hint of a smile touching his face. “Both. I serve the church as God would have me, protecting it against heretics and those who would work against His Holy will.” “And which am I?” “As are all men, a little bit of both. There have been incidents regarding you that have come to the Church’s attention, it is true, but nothing to make the Holy Inquisition consider you a heretic... yet.” “I’m so very glad to hear that.” DuLane ran his finger around the edge of his cup, collecting a few drops of wine. “You are traveling early in the season, Captain. It must be a matter of the gravest import for you to risk the weather,” he said. Trying to be diplomatic, but still find out things, are we? observed DuLane to himself. “Indeed. I must reach Sicily by the end of March or this whole
journey, as inconvenient and painful as it has been, will have been for nothing.” “Then I wish you well.” The monk wanted to know more; that much was obvious. It was a minor victory to leave him hanging, but one that pleased DuLane. If asked directly, perhaps DuLane would explain, but then again, perhaps not. In his saddlebags was a letter from his old friend Karl Lysroni in Palermo. DuLane had served with him in a half-dozen campaigns, and, though Karl didn’t know it, with his father and grandfather. Now, Karl was to be married and wanted DuLane to be his best man. “Besides, who better deserves to stand with me?” DuLane had laughed when he had read the letter. Brother Ellis leaned back in his chair. Just then, a young woman emerged from the kitchen. She balanced a tray with two bowls and a large pitcher on it that she set in front of the two men. DuLane had barely noticed her earlier, a glimpse or two through the kitchen door. This time, however, she was standing only a few inches from him and he found himself hard pressed to believe his own eyes. She was no more than sixteen. Her dirty blonde hair tied in a single braid and then wrapped to hug her head. The face, the figure, the mannerisms, even the voice were all as he remembered them. It was a memory as fresh as a spring breeze and oh, so very old, at the same time. “Ginnie?” he finally managed to say. “Sir?” “Ginnie?” he asked again. “No, m’lord, my name is Emma.” A blanket of sadness fell across DuLane. It was the response that he would have expected, should have expected, if he had not let his heart speak. “Have you been employed here long?” he asked. 54
“Near three years, sir. I was born in the village just down the road. Is there anything I can get for either of you?” “No.” DuLane waved her away. But his eyes followed her out of sight. “You know her?” asked Brother Ellis. “No. She just resembled someone that I knew a very long time ago. Of course it couldn’t be her; she’s been dead a very long time.” “If I were a minstrel, I would imagine that I could make a great deal of what just went on,” laughed the monk. “I imagine it would make a fine ballad of lost love, heroic deeds, and valor uncounted.” DuLane said nothing, knowing just how close to the truth the annoying monk was. *** DuLane waited in a shadowed corner in the inn’s upstairs hall, where he could see but not be seen. Not that long later the monk had gone to the room where the injured guard slept, paused long enough to look in the room, then went to a separate one further down the hall. Not a few minutes later she came, candle in hand as she went to a doorway at the far end of the hall. It led to an attic area, where he suspected she slept. Ginnie. Guinevere. No! He reminded himself that her name was Emma. Ten minutes went by before DuLane could bring himself to follow her. He paused at the door. The sound the ancient hinges made echoed loudly in his memory. In between two breaths, he shifted form, becoming mist and slipping beneath the door. A long time before, when he had discovered the ability, it had been painful, but that had passed. Even now, he did not know just how he could do what he did, only that he could. The first time he had shown Arthur, the king had stood slacke-jawed as a peasant at
a traveling carnival. The wind outside of the attic room was enough to mask the sound from the wood taking his weight as he assumed solid form again. There were no windows. Emma’s candle had been carefully extinguished, so it was pitch dark. That was no problem for DuLane. He had been born with good night vision; since the change, that had only grown better and better. There were few things to mark it as anyone’s home. A small curtained alcove protected her few bits of clothing, a broken piece of mirror hung carefully in a niche on the wall, and a small wooden ring held a section of cloth from which needles protruded. The girl lay beneath a blanket, snuggled down into a pile of straw for warmth. It would have made more sense for her to sleep in the kitchen, near the fire, but this worked well for DuLane. She stirred as he came closer, murmuring in a dream. DuLane knelt next to Emma. He had not fed for nearly a week, since leaving Bordeaux. The Hunger was something that was never completely gone from him, just muted. It was something he accepted, an annoyance that he had long since learned to control. He knew he should not have needed to feed again for another few days, but as he knelt there, DuLane felt it begin to grow. And with the Hunger, the need for blood. There were also memories: Sunlight playing over yellow hair. Laughter. Silk sliding across satin. Water flowing. The subtle movement of a smile that reached into the depths of his heart. “Guinevere,” he whispered. Outside he could hear the wind rushing around the eaves of the tavern. Darkness. Light being washed away in blood. Pain. Green eyes swept away in a flood of red.
. Another voice rang in his mind as well, the voice of the man, the man who had been his best and truest friend. “Swear by all that you hold sacred that you will stand for the right. That your sword will defend women, children, and all who cannot stand for themselves.” “This I do swear.” “Then stand forth and join us at the table as our brother. Rise Sir Lancelot.” Over the years he had answered to many names, worn many faces, and now it was DuLane who opened his eyes, staring at the girl. “Ginnie,” he said. His voice a hollow echo within the storm. It might be Ginnie’s face, but it wasn’t her. That much the man who had been Lancelot du Lac knew in his heart. She probably had never heard of Guinevere the Queen, except as a sad ballad at harvest time. DuLane forced himself to stand; turning away from the girl’s sleeping form. He could feel her blood, still, pulsing just below the skin, a sweet wine that could bring him strength and touch places in him nothing else had ever touched. He remembered the oath he had sworn that long ago day in Camlin, or, as it was remembered now, Camelot. On his knees before the throne, feeling the steel of Excaliber as it touched each of his shoulders in turn. The words burning into his very soul. “Swear by all that you hold sacred that you will stand for the right. That your sword will defend women, children, and all who cannot stand for themselves.” He had broken that vow many times over the years, as the centuries had rolled by; he knew he would again. Only not this time. He would not touch her. *** Emma came awake with a start. She had to struggle for every breath of icy air. The feeling that she wasn’t 55
alone filled her. For a long time, she lay unmoving, waiting. But all she could be certain of was that a slight mist seemed to hang in the still air near her. It faded slowly away. *** The wind whipped through DuLane, cutting beneath his cape to his heavy fleece vest and jacket. If there was a warm spot on him, he didn’t know where it was. At the moment, he really didn’t care. DuLane bent forward as he slid through the barn’s side door. Inside he could hear the sounds of the animals murmuring. His own horse, along with its tack, was in the stall at the far end. He cursed a small cat that brushed against his leg. The feline hissed, and then vanished into the shadows. None of the horses or cattle took even the slightest notice of him. The sound of the wind faded to a distant drone as DuLane moved among the animals. He selected a small shaggy pony, one belonging to the innkeeper, and then touched the animal between the eyes. The strength of the animal echoed in its blood. DuLane could feel his fangs sliding into place as he drank deeply from the animal. A few minutes later, the Hunger had once more faded into the background. DuLane wished that the memories of Ginnie, Arthur, and all the others were so easily put away. From the other side of the barn came a voice. His hand dropped to his sword as he listened. Singing? The barn was divided into three sections. The largest was given over to the animals, as it should have been; the other two were for storage. DuLane recognized the words as being Latin. Some sort of hymn? That there were plenty of empty rooms in the inn made this all the more curious, not to mention the weather being a good argument for remaining indoors. He crept close to the far wall,
peering through a crack in the wood. It was a monk, but not Brother Ellis. No, this one was younger, a teenager at best, his arms wrapped tight around himself for warmth, the singing obviously an attempt to keep himself awake. Brother Ellis had mentioned a companion, Brother Francis. Obviously this had to be him. Perhaps he was serving some sort of penance and barred from the company of others. Prudence no doubt would have dictated that DuLane not involve himself in the monks’ business. But curiosity had been his downfall on more than one occasion in the past. Shifting again to mist, he drifted into the room, coming back into human form so that he was standing just behind the monk. DuLane grabbed the man by the shoulders, his fingers grinding into hard taut muscle, as he pulled the young man to his feet in a single motion. The two men’s faces were only inches apart. DuLane reached out with his mind and seized the monk’s will, freezing it before the young man was even sure what had happened to him. “You cannot move,” he commanded. The young monks face went slack-jawed, his lips hanging open as if waiting for the sounds of the next verse of the hymn to come forth. “Now then, Brother,” he said, stepping away from him. “I have a few questions for you.” Before DuLane could say anything else he realized that they were not alone. Hunched up in the far corner of the room was a man, bound hand and foot, not even with a blanket covering him against the cold. “So, now I see it. You’re a guard,” said DuLane. “That looks like a truly dangerous fellow.” The prisoner was gray and bent, his hair matted and covered with blood and dirt. One of the man’s eyes began to open, slowly, unfocussed in the dark, turning toward DuLane. “Why have you
come?” The prisoner’s voice was a cracked whisper. “Haven’t they tormented me enough?” “Who can say what is enough,” asked DuLane. “You ask who I am. Tell me who you are.” The prisoner did not speak. DuLane repeated himself. He was reluctant to try to influence the man’s mind; it seemed to be on the edge of becoming unhinged. “If you don’t know me, then it is best that I be forgotten. I only wish I had been. I don’t even know me anymore.” There was something about the raspy voice that sounded like one DuLane had known, once a long time ago. “I’m not here to hurt you,” DuLane said. “Then you are a dream, a nightmare, given to torture me. If you’re not here to hurt me, then help me,” he pleaded. “If nothing else, kill me.” DuLane found a water skin hanging from the guard’s chair. He squeezed a palmfull of liquid into his hand. Lifting the prisoner’s head, he offered a few drops to him. “Help me,” the man said. DuLane stared at him. “Why do I let myself get into things like this?” he asked no one but himself. Turning back to Brother Francis, DuLane shook his head as he stared at the young man. On occasion, DuLane had wondered if people he controlled this way were aware of what went on around them. Not that it mattered. A few words, a gentle push with his voice and the entire encounter would become at best a fleeting memory. “All right, monk, it’s time that we talked,” he said. “What do you know of this man?” The young friar seemed to have trouble finding his voice. “He is a heretic. Arrested at the order of the Bishop of Marseilles, to be handed over to the Inquisition.” “What has he done?” “I don’t know, beyond the fact that he stands accused of heresy. 56
Brother Ellis ordered me to accompany him and the other brothers. He didn’t tell me why. I didn’t ask.” “I don’t believe you, Brother. Even monks have their gossips and I refuse to believe that the Inquisition does not have theirs. You may not have been told it officially, but I’m sure you’ve overheard a thing or two.” DuLane reached out and pushed with his mind, into the thoughts of the young monk. “Y-y-y-yes... I overheard about him. He is a member of a dissolved outlaw order... monks... warrior monks. Brother Ellis thinks that he can lead us to some of their supporters here in France.” An outlaw order? Now that was interesting, thought DuLane. “I’ve heard nothing of any recent dissolvings of any of the martial orders.” “It was a long time ago. I heard them mention the papal bull that dissolved them, the Vox in Excedo. I had never heard of it either. Brother Ellis told me to mind my prayers and do as I was told.” DuLane arched an eyebrow at those words. He knew that document all too well. The Vox in Excedo had been issued by Pope Clement V to formally dissolve the Pauperes Commilitones Christi Templique Salomonis, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon. The Knights Templar. The thing was, that had been more than eighty years ago. “Are you saying he’s a Templar?” “Y-y-y-y-es. That’s what Brother Ellis thinks.” Even though they had been extinguished in France, chapters of the Templars had found homes in Portugal and Scotland, many of them prospering. Mayhap this unwary fellow was Templar after all. “So who is he? Does he have a name?” “I heard someone called him Penne. Oliver de Penne.”
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Penne! A chill went through DuLane. He looked over at the figure on the floor. It couldn’t be! Oliver de Penne had been one of the prime instruments in the betrayal of the Templars during that dark October so many decades before. He had traded his own life and safety for those of hundreds of his brothers in the order. “If that is who he really is, then he deserves everything that you and yours can do to him, and more.” *** The engraving on the medallion was worn, but DuLane didn’t have to see it to know that it showed two figures, a pair of knights seated on a single horse. Around the edge were the words, written in Latin “Non nobis domine non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam.” Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory. It had been in Jerusalem, in a place that some said had been built on the remains of Solomon’s Temple, that DuLane, and then called Karl Ramirez, had first heard those words. There, on the hot sands of the Holy Land, in a place given over by Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem, he’d sworn the vows that made him a Templar. The others who stood there that night had little known that one of their number had stood once in Camelot and now walked the world as a vampire. DuLane turned the medallion over and over in his hands, remembering faces, voices, comrades, all fallen into dust, just as the order had a hundred a and fifty years after its founding. Not because there was no longer a need, but, thanks to the cruel betrayal and greed of King Philip of France, the Pope and one of the Templars, himself a betrayer whose name, for DuLane and the surviving brothers, stood with that of Judas Iscariot--Oliver de Penne. DuLane had barely escaped arrest himself that 13th of October
in 1307. Only chance had allowed him to escape Paris. Countless others had been arrested, many tortured and many of them sent to a fiery death at the stake. Reverently he wrapped the medallion once again in what had once been a blood red piece of silk. The colors of the cloth were faded with the passing years, another memory struggling to hold. Then he carefully placed it deep inside his saddle bag. With a practiced eye, he checked the room one more time for anything, any trace of himself he might have left behind. As so many other rooms had been when he had left, the place was empty. He thought once more of the man in the barn. Was it not such a far stretching miracle that Oliver de Penne might still be alive? Lancelot du Lac still walked the earth. Though the man was not a vampire; DuLane knew would know one of his own when he saw them.. If this was Oliver de Penne, the betrayer, then better to let the Inquisition have him; they would stretch out the pain far longer than DuLane might, though he was certain that none of them could enjoy it as much as he would. Swear by all that you hold sacred that you will stand for the right. That your sword will defend women, children, and all who cannot stand for themselves. This I do swear. Then stand forth and join us as our brother. Rise, Sir Lancelot. For a long moment, DuLane heard his own voice and he also heard Oliver de Penne’s plea. “Help me.” It would be far better to take himself away from here. Now. DuLane had no sooner stepped into the hallway than he heard the creaking of hinges just behind him. Wrapping himself in shadows, he watched a single candle pass, held by the serving girl, Emma. She moved slowly, careful to make as little noise as possible. Once she was out of sight, DuLane found himself at a 58
crossroads. He could leave, as had been his plan, but there was gnawing inside him. He wanted to look one more time into the face of the woman that he had loved and hated so many years ago. Again, he reminded himself that she was not Guinivere. But that did not matter. The girl had gone straight away to the kitchen. The small candle she had carried was shrouded behind several large boxes. “Emma?” DuLane said. The girl turned with a start, her face white with fear. In her hand was a piece of bread and a small sliver of cheese. “M’lord?” “It seems we both couldn’t sleep.” He stepped close enough for her to see him. “Can I get you something, m’lord?” “No. I couldn’t sleep. I was considering leaving. I have a long road ahead of me.” “Leave? In this weather? It would be hard traveling and dangerous, even for you.” He reached over to touch her cheek. The throbbing of blood, her blood, echoed like thunder to DuLane. Only, the Hunger wasn’t there. He had feasted too well. For now, it was just a lonely echo. An echo of a love lost that he would never find again. Ginnie! Ginnie! She had been the center that both he and Arthur had found themselves jointly moving around. It had been Morganna’s curse that had wrapped that golden vision that was Guinivere in blood. She then, in turn, had dragged him into the darkness making him into a vampire, as was she. Together the two men that had loved her, along with Merlin, had tracked her, who had once been the Queen of Camelot, to a lonely castle in Scotland. There they had freed her from the curse the only way they could. DuLane could still remember the silent look of peace on her face after it was over. It had been Arthur who had denied Lancelot the same
freedom, for reasons of his own, ones that DuLane had long suspected were a mixture of vengeance and pain and love. The command of his king and the arts of Merlin, imbedded in the wire wrapped ring Lancelot wore, had allowed him to walk in the sun as a normal human, even if he were no longer one. The girl pulled back slightly at DuLane’s touch. No doubt other patrons had approached her, with fairly obvious intentions. No doubt that with the proper persuasion, she had and could be most accommodating. “Don’t worry,” he told her. “I have no amorous plans for you, little Emma.” “You don’t?” She sounded both puzzled and hurt, cocking her head slightly in the same way that Guinevere had the first summer he had met her. “No,” he said gently. “You loved her? And she hurt you? Now you don’t know what to do?” This time it was DuLane who was surprised. “That’s right.” “And I reminded you of her?” She smiled with the faintest bit of seduction on her face. It occurred to DuLane that he had become something of a challenge for this village girl. “You seem much wiser than I expected.” “Me?” chuckled Emma. “I’m so stupid that the local priest couldn’t even properly teach me my letters. Not that he should have been trying, anyway. He had other plans for me.” DuLane laughed. The sound seemed alien here in the darkness. “Even so, Emma, let me pose you a question. If you had once, a long time ago, sworn a mighty oath that bound your very heart and soul, would you stand by it? Even if you were the only one who remembered it? Even if it involved doing something for someone that you hated with every fiber of your being?” It was Emma’s turn to laugh. “Oaths, binding your heart and soul? M’lord, you’re talking
words that are too much for my head. I don’t know if I can tell you the things that you want to hear. Just do what is right. Perhaps we can talk about it later, upstairs where it is warmer, together.” “Perhaps, but not right now.” *** Midnight. Brother Francis had taken to pacing about the room. He occasionally stopped and warmed his hands in front of the brazier, though his breath still hung in the air. “Doesn’t this man ever sleep?” DuLane muttered. He’d implanted the idea, not only to forget his earlier visit, but that the young monk should sleep. The latter idea seemed to be something Brother Francis was unable to do. No time like the present, he muttered, and transformed into mist. He was in the room in a matter of seconds, but before he could resume solid form, the outside door flew open, wind and rain rushing in with two people in its wake. “Brother Ellis?” asked the younger monk. “What are you doing here at this hour?” The older man had a tight grip around the arm of Emma. She followed him, struggling with every step. “Is there a problem?” the young monk asked. Brother Ellis looked grimly around the room, face wrinkled in disapproval, as he sniffed the air. “We may have trouble tonight,” Ellis said. “This little lost lamb was consorting with a man who was acting a bit too strange to suit me.” “You think he’s a Templar, sent here to free de Penne?” “I don’t know what he is. I overheard a part of a conversation between him and this wench in the kitchen. It made me expect a visit from the man tonight, so I brought her, maybe as a bargaining point, maybe not. It never hurts to be prepared,” Ellis said. All the while de Penne hadn’t 59
stirred; he lay a huddled mass in the corner. Asleep, unconscious, or dead, observed DuLane. The last would solve a number of problems. Leaving Emma in the hands of his young cohort, Brother Ellis walked over to de Penne. “You are in a great deal of trouble, my friend. You will speak, have no doubt about that.” DuLane found himself wondering if Ellis was addressing de Penne or him. “You cannot escape God’s justice. Like your grandfather, you will help us to exterminate this vile plague of the Temple.” Grandfather? Now that was interesting. It would explain a few things. It was far easier to believe than this was the same de Penne that DuLane had known. But it didn’t really matter who he was; it had never really mattered. DuLane had simply forgotten that. In his mind he saw the Templar medallion that he had hung around his neck. “Non nobis domine non nobis sed nomini tuo da gloriam.” — Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory — and heard his oath as a knight of Camelot echo in his ears: “to defend those who asked for his help.” Shifting his insubstantial self as close as possible to Brother Francis, DuLane took solid form again. This time his hand was knotted into a fist and hurling toward the monk. It connected with the man’s chin, the impact staggering the monk. That was long enough for DuLane to hit him again. The monk went down with a most satisfying thud. Brother Ellis turned, rising as he moved; a sword that DuLane hadn’t noticed leaped from the sheath around the man’s robes. Ellis was fast, far faster than DuLane might have expected, moving with a speed that he did not hesitate to use to his own advantage. DuLane’s own sword came free, he moved to one side at the same time, feeling rather
than seeing his opponent’s blade pass within inches of his body. There was a not a lot of area for maneuvering in this part of the barn. Shadows mixed with what little light there was as metal clanked against metal in the darkness. Whatever advantage DuLane gained, the monk countered quickly, as did DuLane on the monk. It seemed a contest of endurance. Then, as quickly as it had begun, something unexpected happened. A cat, perhaps the same that had confronted DuLane earlier, leaped out of the rafters, screeching, to strike against his face and chest. Claws dug into flesh, hissing filled the air. DuLane twisted and tried to push the animal away. That was enough of an opening for the monk. His sword slid through leather, cloth and fleece to drive itself hard into DuLane’s flesh. Pain. DuLane managed to shove the cat off as he went down to his knees, sword falling from weakened fingers. A curse in guttural French managed to escape his lips. “I don’t know who you are, Templar, bandit or hired assassin, and frankly, I don’t care,” the monk said. Ellis pulled his sword free. DuLane watched his blood follow it, leaving a dark stain on his tunic vest and a trail of dots across his clothing and onto the floor. At least he had the style not to rub the thing in and clean it with my own clothes, DuLane observed. The pain in his chest had already begun to fade. DuLane knew that deep within him torn muscles, broken veins, and ripped cartilage had begun a tedious route to mending themselves. “Aren’t you going to give me Last Rites?” whispered DuLane. “I’m a monk, not a priest. Sometimes I think you heretics would have trouble telling your right hand from your left,” said the monk.
“I have not been declared a heretic, yet. So brother, hear my confession while there is still time,” he said. “Very well,” Brother Ellis knelt beside DuLane. “Are you prepared to confess your sins, renounce your heresy and free yourself of sin in the sight of God?” “I am.” DuLane’s voice was a raspy whisper. “Then I will hear your confession, my son.” DuLane managed a faint smile. “Thank you, brother. My confession is... I don’t like you.” His hand shot up and grabbed the monk’s robe. DuLane’s leg trembled under him as he struggled to his feet. Holding the other man at arm’s length, DuLane felt battle rage filling him. “I could prolong this,” he said. “At another time I might have, but not now.” With that, he slammed the monk hard against his knee. The sound of bones breaking filled the barn. From the cross beams above them came the satisfied sound of an owl’s hoot. Brother Ellis tried to say something, but blood filled his lips and then he went limp. Through the whole scene, Emma had stood quietly against the wall. Her face was a mask of confusion, looking from DuLane to the unconscious form of Oliver de Penne “What are you? A demon?” she asked. “Just a man,” DuLane answered. “A man who has had to do things that you might not understand because he was a man and had pledged himself and his honor.” She stepped closer, looking at his chest. The dark patch of blood had grown bigger. “We’ve got to get a doctor to stitch that together or you’ll die.” “I hardly think that is what I need.” Emma held her hand out to him. DuLane took it, his fingers gently wrapping around her wrist. As his lips touched her skin, it was the sweetest wine that Lancelot 60
had tasted in nearly eight centuries Incident at Riverbend Pass By Gabriel Guerrero So it had come to this: threeday’s stay here in Riverbend was to end in a circle of glowing steel. The light from the swords flew about the Gueryin like swirling leaves. A horde of men blocked his path just before he could reach the bend in the river, and an even greater mass from behind to block his escape. And standing in the circle with him—against him— was my teacher, Master Sorenson, thirteenth master in the Hurran School of Swordsmanship. The moon shone through the darkness onto the wide stone path where the shadows of the trees muted his green skin. Those eyes, golden and bright in the shadows, and his cool row of teeth, quietly highlighting the curve of his grin, broke through the gloom. And his white hair rested on his shoulders like frost on a sloping mountain. “Gueryin,” my master growled, “if you kneel to me and apologize, I will let you pass. As a swordsman, I am willing to forgive your offense.” Unaffected in the indomitable stillness of his character by the number of his enemies, the lone warrior stroked the forks of his chin. A weapon set against him was no reason for him to draw his own. Instead he waited for the moment to tell him when to draw and fight. Without even looking at my master he said slowly, deliberately, “You don’t own this road or that bridge…. You never even had the right to teach the sword.” Master Sorenson looked around at his students as if to gather support from their faces, the pale hand of timidity guiding his movements. He returned his gaze to his enemy. “If you will not apologize,” he said, drawing his sword from his scabbard. His words hung in the air, unfinished and impotent. With a roar from his
chest he commanded us to attack while he stood by and watched. And this is why I hated him. *** Three days ago I was with my classmates to cheer our teacher to his tenth victory in a row at the Cities of the Mountains Sword Competition, an important, personal accomplishment that would win him renown from around the area. There had been talk that the Gueryin who had come into town the day before would be attending the competition to watch and, some had said, to compete. Seeing my friend Samuel passing through the crowd confirmed the rumors for me, and I made my way over to greet him. “Yes, he’s here,” he groaned before I could say anything. “I’ve been asked six times already, so don’t even ask.” “So it’s true then?” I asked “What? That my life’s been hell having to translate every sign in this town for him? Yes, it’s true. It’s also true I’ve met horses with a sweeter stench than his.” I brushed his comment aside. “Someone told Master Sorenson that he was going to fight today. He’s been unusually silent, and I think that has something to do with it. Has he mentioned anything?” “No! He only gripes and gripes—even then it’s all about the, and I quote, ‘atrocious sword schools’ in the city. Thinks they’re all arrogant and don’t know anything. He won’t do a thing. I think once he sees the whole crowd he’ll back down from trying to rattle his steel.” The amount of confidence he put into his voice threw any credibility in his statement out of the conversation and only made me chuckle. “What?” “I don’t think you realize how proud his kind are about their abilities. In a city full of humans, especially armed humans, I think he just might try to prove himself.” “Well I don’t think you realize
what hell I’ll go through if he does. I’ll do everything I can to keep him out.” He picked up the folds of his garment to leave. “Wait, before you go, what’s his name?” “I call him ‘idiot’. That’s what I told him his name translates to anyways.” “Really, Samuel!” “His name’s Doryo. There!” He floated through the crowd until he reached the door. If he hadn’t been so antagonistic, I would have kept questioning him about Doryo. It must be strange for him to be the first of his kind among humans in over fifty years, to see a different way of living, of teaching and practicing swordsmanship. No doubt he wouldn’t approve of things, but what would bother him enough to cause rumors that he would fight the winner today? The assistant teacher came over and said that Master Sorenson wanted to talk to me. He sat proudly on his stool, his chin resting on the tips of his fingers, with his assistants kneeling at his sides. Already he wore a heavy frown that demanded answers I wasn’t sure I was willing to give. I knelt and bowed before him. “What did your friend tell you?” he said, reaching down for a voice too deep to be real. “We talked about the competition today, master.” “Do not be vague with me,” he rumbled, looking at me with darkening eyes. “I know the city has put him in charge of taking care of the Gueryin’s…linguistic difficulties. What did your friend say about him?” I thought for a moment. “That he smelled, sir?” “Smelled what?” “That he smelled, sir,” I emphasized, “like a horse.” “Are you joking with me?” His eyes were bloodshot, but not with anger. They were wet, shiny, red-streaked pearls. “Never in my life, sir!” I said, straightening up in all honesty. “Samuel told me he smelled like a horse. He also told me how much 61
he hated being around him and thinks that he’ll back down from any fighting.” I threw that last line out for a bite. He leaned in, his hands now planted on his knees, and brought his shoulders up as if to hide his question. “Why did he say that?” “On account that he’ll shame his people with his stench.” He slapped me. It stung now as it had in the past when my actions warranted discipline, but now the lingering heat from the blow burned wildly from the fear that had sparked it; as if the absolute calm with which he so often tried to compose himself now raged like a forest fire, and a sharp tongue from that inferno had lashed out to spread his misery. Now I knew he was coward, and his own action had toppled him from my heart. Then he reached down again, slowly, for that voice he didn’t have. “What did he say that?” “Master…” I said quietly. Rebellion would not cool my anger. But to submit to him until I could see his cowardice exposed would be a fine enough meal for the growing hunger in me. I bowed my head. “He says the Gueryin hates the swordsmen in this city. He thinks they’re all fake, cowards not deserving of the weapons they have. That’s what he told me, at least what I remember.” His feet shifted nervously, his toes like writhing worms pressing against his boots. “Go back to your place,” he mumbled, leaning back in his chair. I clasped a fist into my hand in salutation. “I wish you victory, master.” My master went on to squelch the competition with his form of swordsmanship, dazzling the audience with the twists he executed around darting swords and the brave twirling of his weapon he risked all for the sake of showing the audience that he deserved to be Master of the Cities of the Mountains. I found Doryo during the
competition close to the arena, watching and judging everything he saw. He never laughed at the competitors’ mistakes when the audience did, nor was he impressed by any feats of showmanship most of the warriors performed in the arena. He only smiled once, when one of the competitors, who would later be disqualified for shaming his opponent, took another out in three moves and then laughed about it. What little I heard of what Doryo said about the city’s teachers had begun to make me identify with his thinking. All of their moves were useless. A simple counter-thrust instead of a parry would have ended any fight up there. The only need for this tournament was for these men to show the world how deadly they could be without ever engaging in a real fight. It was all a show, and I was being trained to perform. To my disappointment, Doryo did not interrupt the crowning ceremony for my master. I looked for him, as did my teacher, but he was gone, along with Samuel. He was only talking, then, and never meant to do anything. And so the show continued uninterrupted. After the conclusion of the ceremonies I gathered my master’s things and we all headed back to the school where we would kneel before him and tell him how wonderful it was to be his student. Doryo was sitting in my master’s seat when we arrived. One leg rested over the armrest, and his body was draped like a towel over the chair. He meant what he said after all. “No one invited you in,” Master said sharply. Doryo said nothing. He yawned and kept a lazy hand near his hilt. “What are you doing here?” He moved towards Doryo, but stopped suddenly, held back by some thought. Doryo gathered himself from the chair and gestured with his hand. “Send your students away.” “I take no orders from you!
You have no right to be here. Or the right to order me around.” “It’s your business, then, if you want to be humiliated. I would’ve spared you at least that.” “I will send for the guards if you do not leave.” “Do it.” He grinned and stroked the forks of his chin. “Even they will glory in defeating the gueryin that Riverbend’s champion is too much of a dog to fight.” “You go too far,” I shouted, hoping to incite my master to fight so that I could then see what he was made of. But as I went for my sword, his arm held me back. In the brewing silence, everyone seemed to realize by the glances we gave one another that there would be no camaraderie, no rest until Doryo had his fight. Now our murmurings augmented the weight of obligation on our teacher until it would crush him. He had to fight. He had no choice. His hand curled around his hilt softly, the faintest shade of red not even coloring any passion or confidence on his skin. It took all the strength he had to slide his weapon out. The sound of steel rattling against his scabbard punctuated the end of this battle before it ever began. No: it never began. We backed away. Master Sorenson took his stance, his body a rigid testament of elegant perfection. Doryo moved forward, up until the sword hovered before his face. He stared at the blade. It wavered, trembled before his motionless figure. Master could not even bear his weapon. Our silence, our eyes, all waited on him to strike. By waiting we could cheer; by waiting we could see our champion’s renowned speed defeat this cur who had insulted the thirteenth master in the Hurran School of Swordsmanship. Despite the trembling tip of his blade, and despite his shifty eyes and gnashing teeth, we waited. But nothing—nothing! Moments passed, and the thick wall of silence melted 62
under Doryo’s sigh. Gently, with his fingers, he moved the sword away from his face. He looked at us, and then walked out of the school in silence, leaving my master to fall on his knees in front of us. The heavy breath of failure passed from us into the air. We crowded around our fallen hero and lifted him up and carried him to his chair and placed him in it. His face was exhausted, sober, sweating. “When he leaves,” he said, now vainly grasping for that voice, “we will ambush him. He has not insulted me, you understand, but our whole school. We must all fight him. No one can tarnish the Hurran Sword.” *** So instead of settling this himself, he sent us to die fighting. From behind, one the students ran at Doryo. Doryo caught the sword and slammed his fist into his opponent, throwing the student to his feet and wrenching the sword out of his hand. “Their blood,” he said, bearing the sword for all to see, “will not stain my weapon. The swords that you’ve taught them to use will make them bleed.” Nothing hindered him. His ears caught every shifting foot, every slice a blade made in the wind. Two more charged. Ducking beneath their attacks, he cut them down at their thighs and slit their backs. Their cries sent a cold wind out to the others as they tried to reach back and stop their pain, making the others huddle closer together in fear. His eyes jumping from face to face, the gueryin showed them the red coating on his acquired weapon. “Leave, and I will spare you,” he said. He wiped the blood on the dead students and looked up again, his mouth a flat line scratched into his face. “If you choose to stay, then I’ll take it as an attack on me.” He waited briefly to give them an opportunity to leave. Yet everyone looked to their teacher, who with his sword violently
urged them to attack. They looked at him. Then at Doryo. “Fine,” Doryo said. He sprang towards the wall of men blocking the bridge. They all ran and fell over one another like bricks blown by tempest winds. He stopped and chuckled. They were at his mercy. A shuffle of feet. He turned. A small but wild group had been brave enough to challenge him, zealous in their fight. Their eyes glistening with anger and courage, they quickly launched into battle. Neither their weapons nor their yelling meant anything as Doryo wheeled, growled, and plunged his sword around him, cutting opponents down at their bellies like stalks of grain. As they fell to ground, yelling, groaning, smeared in sweat and blood, a thin scarlet blanket began to grow over the ground, spun out of the guts of the novice warriors. The fighting had stopped. He looked at all the dying students, his lips curling in a snarl. “You cowards,” he growled. “Has your master taught you to attack from behind? Fight me, all of you, to my face!” No one moved. Only the reflecting light from the swords hurried across his face. One of them looked around and dragged the remaining four with him. Ducking and avoiding the novice execution of their weapons, his sword plunged into one of them before the other had a chance to bring his blade down. The poor student groaned weakly and, paralyzed, looked out into nothing. Doryo withdrew his blade and in the same stroke slashed another approaching student behind him at his waist, his blood adding to the quilt that covered the stone path. The others retreated back into the crowds. Only my old teacher and those one the bridge were left. Doryo set his face against Sorenson. The master stepped back cautiously with his sword guarding him as if backing away from a rabid dog. Already half his students were dead, and still he brandished his weapon as if to use it.
“You care nothing for them, do you?” Doryo growled, a growing fury under his breath. The disgraced teacher looked up all of a sudden, eyes peeled, and stuttered. He shifted back and forth on his feet, worked his fingers on his hilt, but made no sound. All of sudden the unjust death of all the students exploded out of Doryo in a horrid roar, his eyes becoming a rich, blazing gold. He went for Sorenson. The others ran to fight, propelled by their own yelling. The only teaching they had left was to protect their master before themselves, and they fulfilled it. His sword tore its way through the crowd of men, ripping flesh from bone, limbs from bodies. Some swords he severed. Others he avoided, cutting instead the warrior who clutched it. One by one the blades fells to the ground in severed hands And all their blood crept over the ground onto Master’s feet. He shook his head and covered his ears, as if the cries from their blood assaulted him all at once with the truth of his actions. He was a coward. Even they, as passionate as they were about the teachings they treasured in their heart, had more courage than him. The glory of men never ruined them. When it was over, and all the students lay in a warm bloody heap, Doryo hurled the blade at my master, yelling: “My sword is clean of their blood. These men died to save you, but you—coward!—will only shame them and bury their memory to fill more students with your poison.” Sorenson stood there among his dead students, scanning their bodies for something, for some semblance of a dream from which he could wake. His hope broke into a well of wretched pain that clawed its way out of him. He fell to his knees weeping and vomited. Doryo walked past him and onto the bridge. I approached the fallen warrior hesitantly. When he looked at me, it took all the strength I had to subdue the bitter desire to beat 63
him. For six years on my knees before him I abandoned myself to his teaching and to every word he said. I trusted him. Now he on his knees pleaded with me, his face clenched in wretched sorrow: “Go, and kill him! Do this for me!” “I will not go for you!” I cried. “I watched every friend of mine die while I shared in your complacency. I should have fought Doryo and died for their sakes.” Then I fell silent, my head bowed. I turned and left him for good. My hand on my hilt, I caught up with Doryo just before the road could head into the mountains. He turned around. His face was tired, but calm and curious. He saw my hand. “So you’ve come out from your hiding place to defend your teacher.” “No,” I said, unsheathing my blade. “I have nothing to do with him anymore. I’ve come to avenge my brothers.” “Don’t be foolish,” he warned. Now honor would bury me as it had my brothers. Every part of me and everything I believed in yelled and hurled me forward like a blazing comet. I swung my sword. He caught my arm and broke it. The blade fell out of my trembling hand, and I like an infant fell weeping, the fracturing shock gnawing my flesh away. Everything swirled around me as I rolled on the ground clutching my arm. I had no sense of time, but only the duration of suffering. Neither my panting nor my gasping nor my yelling kept him from gripping my jaw and jerking my attention back on him. His voice was sharp, and his words tore their way into my memory more than any pain ever did. “Keep your life, fool,” he said furiously over my gasping. “There is no shame in living. You’ve seen the cost of your master’s lies, now abandon them! Learn true swordsmanship and teach it to others. Your friends all died for his lies, but you can live for truth now. Don’t waste it.”
He sheathed my sword, wrapped my good hand around it and helped me up. With a shred of his cloak he made a sling and wrapped it around my arm and into a knot behind my neck. I couldn’t look at him. All the honor and courage I had lost was buried in his face. I knew that if I looked at him, they would rise like phantoms and fade away between my aching fingers. I fixed my eyes
on the ground where I wouldn’t have to deal with the sword or with any more teachings—just rocks and dirt. He studied me for a moment as I stroked my broken arm, grumbling to myself. “Look at me,” he said. No, he wouldn’t let me out of his hand until I learned to go on despite the shame. I looked at him, and the longer I did, the more the shame began to subside
like a fading wave in whose ebb is left a new skin. “Take this time,” he said after a long pause, “to think about what you’ll do with your arm when it’s healed…. I have nothing more to offer you.” The shadows of the trees cloaked him in the distance as he headed out of Riverbend and into the mountains.
The Owl By Alfred Lord Tennyson When cats run home and light is come, And dew is cold upon the ground, And the far-off stream is dumb, And the whirring sail goes round, And the whirring sail goes round; Alone and warming his five wits, The white owl in the belfry sits.
When merry milkmaids click the latch, And rarely smells the new-mown hay, And the cock hath sung beneath the thatch Twice or thrice his roundelay, Twice or thrice his roundelay; Alone and warming his five wits, The white owl in the belfry sits.
Pirates of Innsmouth By Scott E. Green The pirates of Innsmouth sail under the darkest star and without banners. They prowl known and unknown seas, hunting all other craft. Their letters of marque are signed by Dagon himself. The treasure they seek are souls, their value to be weighed in the prize courts of the Elder Gods.
Excalibur Coloring Page By Richard H. Fay
The Real Enemy By Doug Hilton Johnny woke up from the dream in a cold sweat and with a dread that was pounding his heart like a jackhammer. The recurring dream had started in August, and every day it was worse, with one more episode pounding into his brain. “I’m losing my mind. I need to get help,” he finally decided. His medical policy covered counseling, so at work he called and made an appointment. He was s-o-o-o tired that he didn’t get anything accomplished. He looked around the office and saw that his co-workers were all bloodshot and ragged, too. “Maybe it’s something in the water, ha.” As the day wore on, he walked into the cafeteria for coffee and a roll, where he saw that everyone was ragged and onedge. Something fishy was going on, for sure. He sat down with one of the programmers and tried to start a conversation about the latest project, but they wound up snapping at each other, which was unusual. “Sorry, Tim. I haven’t been sleeping very well lately.” “Yeah, me too. I keep having a horrible dream about elephants. It’s very bizarre,” Tim said as he chugged the hot black coffee. “Did you ever have a kind of repeating dream that you can’t escape from? That’s what this is like. Every day it’s worse. I haven’t slept since August.” Johnny freaked out: “Tim, I’m having a dream just like that!” “You can’t be serious. This thing is horrible. Tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine.” Johnny breathed deeply and began. “I wake up in a large glass bowl. I’ve had the dream so many times; I know that it’s a huge cereal bowl. I’m one of about 100 people in the bowl. We can’t get out because the sides of the bowl are slippery, they’re glass, and there’s a pool of milky stuff in the bottom of the bowl. People
keep sliding into the pool, and I see a couple of them drown. Some of the people try to climb on each other’s shoulders to crawl out of the bowl, but it requires a lot of cooperation, and after three people are on top of each other, they all fall down. There is screaming and crying. It is like a movie from hell, except that I’m in it. Then, a huge elephant comes up to the bowl. She is holding a spoon in her trunk. She scoops up a spoonful of people and lifts it up. I see her feed the screaming people to a small elephant. Now, let me tell you that the small elephant is about 50 feet tall, and its mom is 100 feet tall. The baby lifts its trunk as mom scoops in the spoonful of people. Some of them try to escape, but the mother elephant spoons them off the baby’s mouth and shoves them back in, where I can see her crunching them up. The mother elephant scoops some more people and milk from the bowl and feeds the shrieking people to the hungry baby elephant. I see some of the people fall to the floor, but the drop is too great, and they’re dead when they hit with a thud. The baby reaches down and scoops them up and tosses them into his mouth, and then with a crunch, they’re gone. The final few people are in the bowl, running around, screaming. There’s no place to hide from the mother’s spoon. I’m scared to death. I’m paddling in the milk. The spoon descends from the mother elephant’s trunk—and then I wake up. I’m covered with cold sweat. My blood pressure is so high that my head is ready to explode. My pulse is 120—I timed it. It takes me 30 minutes to calm down enough to be able to get out of bed. That’s my dream. What’s yours?” “That’s my dream exactly, Johnny.” Tim and Johnny stared at each other quietly. Tim is the analytical one of the pair, and he finally states matterof-factly: “Something fishy is going on here. It is impossible for 66
us to both dream that. Something else is going on. We need to find out what.” “I have an appointment with a counselor. I’ll ask him for a professional opinion on how to stop the dream. It scares the begeebers out of me. Every day, there’s a little more. At first, it was about an elephant, but now, it is a terror-filled dream that I can’t stand anymore.” “Johnny, I remember it all started a few months ago: August, I think.” “You’re right. What happened then?” “I don’t know. We need to find out. Look at the zombies in the lunch room. Everyone is being affected. Somehow we’re being manipulated, I’m sure of that.” “I just want to be able to sleep without thinking about elephants,” replied beat-up, tiredas-a-dog Johnny. *** “Are you sure this stuff is legal, Joseph?” asked Sam Stone, the head of the Democratic Party’s Committee to Re-elect the President. Wasn’t this kind of stuff banned back in the ‘50s?” “Naw, subliminal messages aren’t illegal, but the FCC has a policy that subliminal advertising is ‘contrary to the public interest’ and ‘intended to be deceptive’. In Canada it’s been banned, but not here. Look, Sam, heavy metal music has had backmasking in it for a long time. The messages are there, but they’re subaudible and backwards. People have used tricks for the past 100 years to get their advertising message across. We’re maybe a little over-the-line here, but it’s not illegal.” “So you think that showing subliminal messages that show elephants in a negative light will help convince people that they shouldn’t vote Republican this November?” “You wanted creative, you got creative. The ad agency has been embedding these elephant images for months now. They mask them into commercials of sports and
sex. Every 100 frames, an ultrashort frame is added—that frame goes into the subliminal part of memory, because the mind just has to figure it out later. Every night, there’s a new set of images that the mind works on, and tries to figure out. We’re just on the cutting edge, here. It’s new advertising, that’s all.” “Well, I don’t want the President to know that we’re doing this, remember.” “Sure Sam. This is just between us,” replied Joseph. But he knew that when the President got re-elected in November, the bill would come due, and he’d be appointed to the position of Media Czar. “It’s OK, Sam. You’re worried about nothing.” *** Joseph envisioned the power that he would hand to his hero, the President of the US. He could literally program any idea into people’s heads, either positive or negative. He’d spent 40 years working out the glitches in his system. It was foolproof now. His mind wandered into the nearfuture, when he was going to be invited to the White House to spend quality-time with his hero: “Mr. President, I can absolutely guarantee that you’ll be able to get your programs through the next Congress. In fact, the people will be demanding them,” he said to himself quietly. “Let me show you this video, and you’ll see.” Joseph was putting the final touches onto the video that would play for the re-elected President. In it were images of the US being subjugated by Russia, China, Indonesia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and a dozen other countries that he personally hated. Joseph’s subliminal message to the President was going to keep him up nights, until he pushed “the Button” and stopped the foreign dominance. America was supposed to be the World Leader, not the whipping boy of the Commies and the Socialists, and the gays. This video was going to
fix it all. “I’m the Patriot who’s going to lead America back to a position of undisputed leadership in the world!” *** Scientist Teng-sao spoke quietly to the Dear Great Leader in a weekly conference. “Our unknowing assistant, Mr. Joseph Walup of Virginia, USA is ready with the video for the US President. Our subliminal research program is about to bear fruit. He is totally unaware that he has been programmed to follow our orders. When the President is re-elected this November, he will be completely under our control within 30 days. This is a great success for our scientists and for the Democratic Peoples Republic,” as he bowed low. The Dear Great Leader sat quietly and spoke not a word. A year from now, he would speak plenty, as a subjugated world would come crawling to him. He watched as Teng-sao backed out of the room, bending low. The Dear Great Leader sat quietly for an hour, contemplating, tapping his fingers on his ornate chair. He spent only $1 million on the PSY-OPS program, and it was a total success. He would reward Teng-sao and the scientists next year. Teng-sao had said: “Control the media, and you control the US,” and he was right. A year from now, it would all be quite different: the US would declare war on Russia, China, Indonesia, and a slew of other countries. Of course, they would retaliate, and the US would finally be destroyed as a power base. The US would inflict enough serious damage on the rest of the world that they would fade as real powers, too. Finally, the Democratic Peoples Republic would be the dominant force of the new world, as all of its enemies would take each other out. All thanks to subliminal advertising. An inscrutable smile formed on the Dear Great Leader’s face. They would never even know who the real enemy was. 67
*** Johnny woke up from the dream with a cold sweat and a dread that was pounding his heart like a jackhammer. So did 90 other people in the town of Fredrick, Maryland. *** In a sound-proof basement room in the White House, CIA analyst Salem Winston was briefing the President. His boss, Mr. Jack Moore, Director, National Intelligence was seated to his right as the PowerPoint presentation concluded. The CIA Director was on his left. The President considered it all for a minute. “Mr. Winston, let’s see if I understand: you know about Mr. Joseph Smith and his right-wing plan; you know that the Mr. Sam Stone and the Committee to Re-elect the President, me, is using subliminal advertising to get people to vote against the Republican candidates by making them fearful of the elephant as a symbol, so they won’t vote for a Republican; you know that North Korean leader Dim-son-Wan thinks that he organized all of this so that he could gain control of me after the next election; and yet none of it is true! Is that what you’re saying? This is all a covert plan run by the CIA? And you organized it?” Salem looked down at the top of the 18-foot long mahogany desk and replied quietly. “Yes, Mr. President. We’ve known for 50 years that subliminal advertising doesn’t work, or barely works. We added a few drops of LSD to the local water supply of a small Maryland community where Mr. Sam Stone lives. That made him and a handful of residents that live within a block or so of him susceptible to that form of mental influence. Then we produced a few commercials on their local cable channel and inserted subliminal messages about scary elephants. We hoped that the drug-induced messages would affect Mr. Sam Stone, and
thus bring him under our control and influence. You see, he knows that his local area is having bad dreams, so he believes that his subliminal advertising works. He believes that you’ll give him a key role in your next administration, which he craves—he wants to advance his right-wing agenda. The Korean leader thinks that he will wind up controlling you through Mr. Stone. Now that you know the facts, you can decide what action to take. The President pondered for a minute. The CIA Director interjected: “Obviously we were very lucky that we tapped into Mr. Stone’s plan and took control of it before he realized what was going on. Now we can use him against the Koreans, and convince them that you’re under his, and therefore, their control. This will finally bring down that corrupt leadership, especially when the Chinese hear about how the Dear Great Leader was going to use them in his game of power. We think they’ll have him secretly executed, at least. In any case, the entire plot has been spoiled, and you have an opportunity to reach out to China and Russia with this new covert intelligence, and that might lead to new bridges with their current leadership. That’s what we think in McLean.” “OK, Mr. Winston, you may be seated. Director Jacobi and Director Moore: thanks for your hard work putting this together. I’ll get back to you when I’ve had time to think about it all. Right-wing and left-wing plots like this are all destructive to America. It shouldn’t always be about Democrats or Republicans, should it? I don’t want to be reelected by any group that thinks that they can buy my influence—I won’t put up with it. I’m going to have a long talk with Mr. Stone. He’s a nice guy, and I understand why he wants me to be re-elected, but he’s way over the ethical line on this one. This is all about political terror and influence, isn’t it? Well, forewarned is forearmed, they say. By the way, how did you
stumble onto this plot? You didn’t say.” “Salem, go ahead, please tell the President,” said Director Jacobi. “Sir, you know that we monitor international phone calls, but we also watch the internet search-engines. When Mr. Sam Stone Googled ‘subliminal advertising’, we had a trigger on that phrase, and we back-tracked it to the searcher. Then we followed his other internet activities and phone calls for a year, until we were sure about his motives. In that way, we found that he is a real enemy to America, and we formulated the plan to bring him down. Do you want us to bring in Mr. Sam Stone? His crime could be considered treasonous.” The President sat quietly for two minutes, pondering what he had just heard. “What about the other citizens of Fredrick? Will they be alright? Didn’t you say they got a dose of LSD?” Director Moore spoke up: “Yes, sir. But there will be no long-lasting effects. In a few days, they’ll just forget that it all happened. LSD works that way. We experimented with it in the ‘50s, so we know.” “Oh, right—I heard of Timothy Leary. Mr. Winston, just out of curiosity, what other phrases do you look for? Obviously, you didn’t just get lucky. There must be a method to your plan, else you wouldn’t have discovered and unwound this plot so efficiently.” “Salem, go ahead, you can tell him,” stated the CIA Director. “After all, he’s the Boss.” “Well, Mr. President, let me show you...” The quiet projector hummed back to life. The classified PowerPoint presentation switched to an image of a list of phrases marked “Top Secret. Special Compartmented Intelligence.” The President watched and learned more about the absolute power that he controlled. At midnight, Wednesday, he was on the Red Phone to his 68
counterparts in Russia and China. “My good friends, I have some very strange news to tell you,” he began. “I hope you’re sitting down. I want to talk to you about the enemy—the real enemy. This will take a few minutes of your time.” The SCRAMBLED light on top of the Red Phone was on for 2 hours. “November and December will be very interesting, my friends—very interesting indeed.” Then the 3-parties disconnected, after cordial farewells. It turned out that the President was correct. Uphill or Down? By Shane Joseph The old man watched the fourwheel drive heading up the hill in a trail of dust, just like it had come to him in his dream. This was an off-schedule transport; not the one that brought weekly groceries to the monastery and then continued on to him, nor one of the farm vehicles belonging to the cloister. The vehicle would arrive in ten minutes. It had to pass the Benedictine monastery at the peak overlooking the valley and wind down over two smaller hills to end at his residence. Time to get ready. He pulled his sweater tighter around him and headed indoors, passing the roses, the hydrangea and the anthuriams; he would miss them the most. When he was not writing or healing, he had spent his days pruning, fertilizing, and watering — infusing love into the plants, a love that had outlived family and friends and sent him home after the final goodbye to his dear wife Gwen at the hospice last year. Today, the flowers looked like they needed water, but he did not have time. Perhaps later, if this is a false alarm. He entered the house. It had been an estate manor originally, converted to a guest house in the ‘70s, then abandoned when the tourists stopped coming in the aftermath of the civil war. He had
One man. One motorcycle. One horrendous war he must win. Alone.
ISBN 978-1935458432 Available now from Living Dead Press Hidden from the world we live in lies a world populated by creatures of the night who want to feed on our very souls. Jack Primus accidentally pierces the veil, and finds himself on the run. But if his enemys think that he is going to just lie down and accept his fate, they were sorely mistaken. He didn’t ask for the battle, but he’ll fight it with everything he’s got, and he will win... because to lose is a fate worse than death! 69
rented it cheap; the owner was relieved to have at least one longstay guest paying in valued US dollars. He walked through the cavernous entrance hall, past the wide mahogany staircase that led to the upstairs rooms, now closed and filling with dust. He entered the study to the left. Just this room, and his en-suite bedroom at the other end of the hall, was in use. A woman from the village used the outdoor kitchen when she came in three times a week to cook and clean for him. The study, lined with bookcases, contained withered volumes of imperial war history featuring personages from the now-defunct British, Dutch, and Portuguese empires, captured in all their privilege, inscrutability, and obnoxiousness. Their legacy of selfishness still flows in the veins of this country. He had read the fragile tomes on solitary evenings by the fireplace, looking for clues in the past that would explain the present. He kept the fire lit despite the tropical latitude, as nights in this mountain retreat were cold and clammy. He switched on his laptop computer, the only sign of modernity around; even the telephone was a rotary device, more ornamental than functional. He rarely used the telephone. His lawyer and custodian of his estate sent him occasional e-mails from New York, until the Internet service cut off two weeks ago and no-one at the local service provider seemed to know to restore it. Eight minutes to go. The vehicle had passed the monastery. It wasn’t stopping, but continuing towards the guest house. It went around the first bend and grew ominous with its temporary absence. He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach and his palms began to sweat. Even Christ sweated blood in the garden of Gethsemane. Then he saw another vehicle start up the hill, regurgitating the dust raised by the four-wheel drive. This vehicle
had not been in his dream. *** “You’ll incur everyone’s wrath,” Father Michael had told him two months ago. They had been having a quiet meal at the monastery on a rare evening when Fr. Michael had the free time to entertain. A newspaper was spread out before them. “Do you believe in taking sides, then?” the old man asked. “This is not about taking sides, Ben. It is about survival. We run the farm, employ the local people, do not get involved in politics — and survive.” The old man looked out across acres of fruit trees running downhill from the monastery: neat rows of orange, wood apple, peaches. In the abattoir, a pig squealed an unearthly yell that faded into life-ebbing grunts. “I came back to be unbiased,” he replied. “I’ve spent my whole life taking sides of the rich and powerful, because it was safe.” “They will have you killed.” The old man nodded gravely. “I have considered that possibility. After Gwen died last year, I wonder if death will be a release.” “Is that why you came back?” “There was nothing more for me in America, except dodder into old age, alone, end up in a nursing home and be kept ridiculously alive with a multitude of drugs that my estate could well afford. Returning to the land of my birth, the place I left unresolved in youthful anger, was a better proposition.” “And now you get everyone angry with your writing.” “‘If the suit matches, put it on’ — isn’t that the saying?” The man-servant cleared the table and Fr. Michael took out his pipe, puffing clouds of smoke out the open window, counteracting the mist creeping indoors. The old man shivered. The thought of death bothered him, despite seeing much of it in his profession. “You were an important man in America,” Fr. Michael continued. “Don’t tell me you did 70
not exercise discretion?” “I did, until it hurt me to look in the mirror.” “Very well, if anything... untoward... were to happen,” Fr. Michael’s face remained impassive, “we will request that you have a Christian burial in our cemetery.” Amid fruit trees, deceased laborers and animal carcasses. The old man looked downhill towards the boundary of the monastery where the graveyard lay. He slid a sealed envelope towards Fr. Michael. “These are instructions for the disposal of my body. Promise to read them only when you have to.” The priest looked at the white rectangle, reluctant to touch it, sensing the challenge it must contain. “Even Christ picked up his cross when asked,” the old man said. “Humph...” Fr. Michael tucked the envelope inside the folds of his cassock. The old man rose to leave. Fr. Michael placed his pipe on a saucer; it tipped and spilled smoldering ashes onto the porcelain. “I envy you, Ben. If it happens, I hope there is no ‘three hours agony’ involved.” “I think their technology has improved.” *** He reviewed the documents quickly — they had taken a long time to compose, percolating in his mind for months, finally spilling out in a frenzy of words these last two weeks. The loss of access to the outside world had prompted him to hurry. He saved them on a memory stick — how small these things are these days, and yet how much more data they store. He lingered over the first file — the letter to the editor of the independent newspaper across the border that had started the riot in the local media which had, to that point, loved him for bashing the rebels and their terror
tactics. This letter began a shift in position: hinting of complicity by the ruling government to keep the war going; many were making fat commissions on arms sales — who cared if a few village youth got killed in the north? That letter had prompted Fr. Michael’s urgent invitation to dinner. That letter had caused the curtain of military surveillance around him to be withdrawn. That letter had led to the cutting of his Internet service, he believed. Two minutes. He pulled the memory stick out of the laptop and covered it with its smooth cylindrical cap. It looked like a harmless container of Blistick. It may not stop the war but it had enough incriminating material to embarrass both sides internationally; even to cut off foreign aid for awhile — aid that went for the procurement of arms, not for rehabilitating innocent victims of the conflict. My contribution to the war effort. Now for the messy part. He pulled out a tube of hemorrhoid crème and squeezed a liberal coating onto his fingers. He dropped his pants and applied the crème into his anus, fingers reaching deep. He had practised this routine frequently and was used to the sloppiness, discomfort and soiling that ensued. He tossed the remnant tube out of the window into the dense flower bed. Squatting, he inserted the memory stick into his rectum and pushed until it could go no further. He pulled up his pants and took a few steps to maneuver the device into a comfortable position. He now understood how women walked around naturally with various things stuffed inside them during their periods. He hoped Fr. Michael would not be squeamish when he followed the letter of instructions, if he did. He returned to his laptop, deleted all its documents and powered the machine down just as the four-wheel drive pulled into his driveway. On the hill, the second vehicle, a nondescript truck, passed the monastery —
another unscheduled transport. He walked out of the front door. Four wiry men in civilian clothes lounged around the vehicle; two carried automatic rifles. The leader, wearing sunglasses, a baseball cap, and a thick chain around his neck with the undisguised cyanide capsule dangling from it, spoke. “You are Ben Alfonso?” “Yes,” the old man replied. “Show us your files.” Northern accented English, the voice of an educated man, one who seemed to have been left on the margins of society. The old man knew this type; he was one himself. “You don’t waste time,” he said, trying to sound casual. “Normally, we just shoot. Come.” The leader followed him as he turned back towards the house. Out of the corner of his eye he looked up towards the monastery. A white cassocked figure walked its sloping grounds — Fr. Michael. The priest would be at vespers at this hour; even he suspected something unnatural taking place. The old man looked for signs of the second vehicle, but it must have gone behind one of the smaller hills. The sound of its engine would be audible only by the last turn in the road. He saw the leader pause and follow his gaze. Then a solid piece of metal nudged his back and the man said, “Hurry up.” They entered the hall and the leader paused opposite a row of faded colonial paintings depicting the country when it was just a collection of trading posts for foreign conquerors. “Is this your house?” the man asked. “No, I just rent here. This house reflects the decline of our country.” “You call yourself a countryman? Then why do you attack us so much in your writing?” “Because I don’t subscribe to your methods. Strapping bombs around orphans to kill innocent people, or using kids as human 71
shields is not my idea of a just war. Remember, I volunteered in the military hospital up north until recently.” “Do you know what the other side has done to us?” “I saw that, too. That is why I have not spared them in my writing either.” They reached the study. The old man pointed towards the laptop. “All I have is in there.” The old man turned towards the leader and saw the pistol in the man’s hand. The leader scanned the rows of books. “Foreign literature. Nothing about our own country.” “The colonizers were not interested in us.” “Neither is the present government,” the leader said. “True.” The leader opened and closed drawers, rifled through papers, not finding what he was looking for. Finally, he grabbed a newspaper file press, hanging on a leather strap from a nail in the wall. “Your writings?” he asked, thumbing the loose sheets trapped between the hinged wooden bars of the file. “Guilty.” The leader ripped the newspapers into pieces, arranged them in a pile on the floor and held a match to it. “You will set the house on fire,” the old man said, the sinking feeling taking hold again. “Why do you care? You are just renting, no?” The leader ripped the laptop off its connections. “Let’s go outside, before it gets too hot in here.” They walked outdoors, the smell of smoke following them. The other men had not moved from their positions around the vehicle; they stood indolent in the peaceful sunny surroundings. The old man looked at his flowers — he would miss them — if he’d only watered them today. Across the way, Fr. Michael was standing by the fence, staring. There was an implied plea in his posture. Was he pleading silently with the
rebels, or with God? “Is your cyanide pill quicker than a bullet?” the old man asked. The leader grinned. “It depends where the bullet is applied.” “I am old enough to be your grandfather. I hope you will be kind.” The leader laughed again. “You are not as strong as the writer of those articles.” “We are all cowards in the face of death.” “Why did you come back here?” “I was a doctor in a private hospital in America. I cared for people who had never known what real conflict was. The well heeled ones — people who would complain if they suffered a heart attack and had to cut down on caviar. People who alternated between diets and gorging, or overdosed on drugs and alcohol because they were bored. They were their own enemy and I couldn’t do much for them. Still, they did not hurt others.” “So you came here to die?” “I came here to expose the greed in people’s hearts that causes innocents to die. You are all greedy, you know. Your big chief is hungry for power. He knows how to wage a guerrilla war, but he does not know how to run a country.” The leaders’ brows furrowed. The old man looked around. There was still no sign of that second vehicle. “Did you bring reinforcements with you?” he asked the leader. “What do you mean?” “There was a truck following you, about a mile down the road.” The leader leaped into life and yelled a command to his men who started to stir. Just then the air erupted in a cacophony of gun fire. The old man dove on his face and felt sand in his mouth as his world filled with the sounds of dying men. Why did I open my big mouth? He saw the three rebels surrounding the four-wheel drive rupture into minor explosions
of blood and body parts. The vehicle’s windows shattered instantly and its chassis shook with pinging bullets. Almost as soon as it started, the firing stopped; echoes of gunshots ricocheted across the valley like the diminishing strains of a grandfather clock that had lost its spring. He rose painfully and remained kneeling until his legs regained strength. The rebel leader lay bullet-riddled, inches away, his face contorted. The laptop, bent out of shape, was in the dirt beside the dead man. Flames leaped out of the open windows of the house. A hand reached out and he took it gratefully. Uniformed soldiers ran into the yard. The truck made its appearance around the bend, a soldier at the wheel. The old man looked at the owner of the extended hand: dark complexion, brush moustache, beret, combat gear and the insignia of a captain, and eyes like diamonds in luster. “Thank you,” the old man said, glad his sphincter had not given way in the excitement — it would have been hard to explain his stools. “I didn’t think I warranted rescuing. Not after I insulted your president.” The captain nodded. “We got here just in time.” He pointed at the dead rebel leader. “This guy is pretty high up in their hierarchy. You must be important.” “I’m grateful that you came,” the old man said, dusting himself. The captain shouted orders. The shattered bodies of the three subordinate rebels were tossed into the rear of the truck. The four-wheel drive was secured to the military vehicle with a tow rope. The captain picked up the twisted laptop and tossed it into the truck. “Where does that road lead?” The captain pointed to the roadway leading down from the monastery along which everyone had arrived. “It dead-ends in a grove of trees behind the house. We pile 72
our garbage there for burning.” The captain issued more commands; two soldiers picked up the rebel leader’s body and took him downhill towards the garbage heap. The old man could not understand this. “Can you save the house?” he asked, knowing the futility of his question even as he asked it. Flames were licking at the roof. The captain shook his head. “I am afraid not.” “Then I’d better get to the monastery. Can you give me a ride up there?” The truck started and moved slowly, tugging the battered fourwheel drive behind it. The soldiers walked alongside the departing vehicles. The captain’s flinty eyes were back on the old man. “We have to take a little walk you and I.” That’s when it all became clear to him. The sinking feeling returned, and stayed this time. Ah, yes. I really cannot shit in my pants now. “And you don’t have a choice of cyanide vis-a-vis a bullet do you?” The flinty look sharpened. “No.” The old man looked up the hill. Fr. Michael was walking back towards the monastery. The priest was probably reassured now that he had seen the troops arrive and watched the gunfight. Not so fast, Father; turn around, a witness may deter them. Fr. Michael continued his walk. The old man wanted to scream — Fr. Michael, will you truly pick up your cross? The one I have given you? The aging priest stepped inside and closed the large wooden doors of the sacristy. The old man walked to the road with the captain. On his left, the vehicles clattered along, raising dust in his face; the soldiers, their backs turned, followed wearily up the hill. Further up, lay the monastery: a safe haven just out of reach. To his right, the path zigzagged around a bend, where he visualized the dirt heap with its putrefying vegetables, fruit, and
the leftovers of the cook’s meal from two days ago, a magnet for stray dogs and scavengers. The dump will add a new flavor into its mix today — the dead rebel leader, and who else? All dressed up to point the finger at the rebels. The old man sighed. He had not imagined it ending this way.
His life’s achievements, the ones he could be proud of, were in those smoldering newspapers in the study of the burning house, and nestling in a layer of shit and hemorrhoid crème between his legs. Still, his situation beat the vacant faces of patients he had cared for in distant America,
people who had lived and died and found no purpose for their suffering. He thought he heard Gwen calling to him. He turned towards his captor. “Well, Captain, in which direction shall we walk — uphill, or down?”
Rub Out by Jean Lauzier “Sorry, doll. You’re in dutch with the boss. He wants his ice back.” Marcello stood in Lola’s living room, bean shooter pointed at her. He gave her one last up and down. Nice gams, decent keister. Boss sure knew how to pick a dish. Too bad she had an appointment with the big one. “Tell Tommy I hope he fries.” Lola struggled with the ring on her finger forcing it over her knuckle and finally handing it to him. “Now take a powder before I drop a dime and sing to the coppers.” Marcello dropped the ring in his jacket pocket and shook his head. “Sorry doll, I only deliver messages for the boss.” He brushed a strand of hair from her eyes and caressed her cheek. “We had some fun, you
and me.” He placed a kiss on her forehead, the tip of her nose and paused looking down at her waiting for him to continue. Her eyes closed, lips slightly parted. Yeah, the boss sure knew how to pick ‘em. Marcello placed the gun to her temple, squeezed the trigger and watched Lola bounce off the ottoman and land in the floor in front of the settee. Capping a dame always gave him nightmares and this one would probably give him plenty, but when the boss said to fill a body full of lead, that’s what he did. He shrugged and strolled across the room. At the front door, he turned back and gave the body one last look. “Night, Lola”. Flipping off the light, he locked the door and pulled it shut behind him.
It has taken centuries to recognize that all humans possess certain unalienable rights. There will come a time when we have to consider whether others deserve those rights as well. That time will come on July 4th, 1864
SECTION ONE The Visitation (March 20, 1849) The passengers boarding the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad coaches struggled to drag their luggage through the narrow passageways, puffing clouds of white breath in the chilly air. Screams of excitement came from a gaggle of children chasing one another around the piles of chests and satchels. The chill in Washington City was unexpected, since it was, in fact, the exact day of the vernal equinox. Winter was supposed to be finished, yet it lingered. Edwin Blair, however, anticipated the chill. Having done the research, he gave it little notice. Aside from surveying the antics of the overly rambunctious children, Blair also carefully
observed a tall, gangly man with unruly black hair who looked to be about his age, signaling for help. No sooner had the man arched his brow, accompanied by a sweeping gesture toward several well-worn bags, than two of the non-company black men scattered about the platform leapt into action. How am I going to refer to them? Blair tried not to panic. I’m not going to use the slavers’ term! ‘African-American’ won’t work. He tried to reorient his thinking and adjust his speech patterns to the time. There was that 1844 newspaper article about a “colored” man stopping the runaway carriage of President Tyler. And eventually the War Department’s going to create the Bureau of Colored Troops. He shook his head in resignation. 74
‘Colored’s’ going to have to do. Edwin Blair, sporting a newly grown blonde, well-trimmed beard, and carrying nothing but a shiny metallic valise that he held closely by his right side, boarded several moments after the tall traveler, catching the eye of virtually everyone he passed. The perfectly polished surface of the valise seemed more like mirrored glass than metal, and his black leather jacket flapped opened in the cool breeze, revealing a black cable-knit pullover sweater. This, together with his dark blue denim trousers, his shoes made of indeterminate material, and his gleaming valise, were the source of near universal curiosity. Several of the young children skipping along beside him pointed and laughed. Their parents offered
barely-hushed admonitions: “Behave yourselves! You know you mustn’t stare at strangers. It simply is not polite.” Yet they, to a person, failed to follow their own advice. Blair held nothing in his left hand, yet he clenched it so tight that his nails dug into his flesh, his teeth clenched every bit as tight as his hand. No one mentioned the word “LEVI’S” burnt into a small leather patch on the back of his trousers, but several men did wonder aloud about the word “NIKE” on the side of his black and white shoes. “What ho?” one heavily bewhiskered person asked while pointing at Blair’s feet with his lit cigar, spilling its ash over his lap in the process. Edwin Blair acknowledged him with a brief but empty glance. Egads, he thought, trying to ignore his pounding heart. It’s not going to be a cakewalk to maintain the balance. I’ve got to reveal enough, but not so much that it disrupts the necessary chain of events. Otherwise, this enterprise is doomed from the start. The recently manufactured New Castle locomotive built up a head of steam and began to pull slowly out of the Baltimore & Ohio depot. Still clutching his shiny metallic valise, Blair lurched back and forth as he made his way toward a pair of bench seats facing each other at the front of the coach. One seat had but a single occupant, the tall, gangly traveler, while the other was vacant. My God, he thought as he swayed from side to side, that really is he! If my students could only see me now. The traveler was glaring out of one window, oblivious to all else. His curiosity aroused, Blair tossed a quick glance out of the window and caught sight of the station’s bulletin board. Posters nailed to it, some new, some faded, offered various rewards for runaways. One large, relatively pristine placard offered $600 for the return of three slaves. “Henry Morsell, Jim Parker and Bill
Hutton,” Blair whispered, then winced. “Leaving the service of their subscriber.” He shivered, and then pulled his attention back inside the coach. Moving toward the empty seat, he noticed that the aisle-side armrest was broken, split down the middle with several shards of wood protruding upward. He made a quick mental note of it then cleared his throat and asked with a small tremor in his voice, “May I join you?” The gangly traveler turned his gaze to Blair, looked him up and down, and then, arching his brow ever so slightly, offered a wry smile while nodding his assent. “I suppose. Maybe then, you might be willing to inform me as to why the name of the Greek goddess of victory is emblazoned on your rather odd footwear?” Blair began to perspire and forced out a nervous laugh. No frenetic reviewing of the history and language of the time had fully prepared him for the actual encounter. Placing his valise on the seat, he sat down between it and the damaged armrest. “I suspected you might know the appellation’s reference, although I wasn’t positive. I am pleased that my suspicion was correct.” The traveler raised both eyebrows. “That reminds me of the simpleton farm boy who knew just one fact, and spent his whole lifetime waiting for someone to ask him the right question. When someone finally presented him with the opportunity, and he answered it correctly, he felt extremely proud of his accomplishment.” He smiled before nodding toward the metallic valise. “I may know a bit about the goddess, but I don’t have the slightest idea what that might be. More than that, I wonder why you had any suspicions about me at all. Have we met?” “No, sir, I have not had the honor.” “Well, since we seem to be traveling together, my name — ” “Oh, I know your name, sir. You are a well-known public figure.” 75
“Then, my wondering increases, Mr... . “Blair. Edwin Blair.” Blair extended his hand, which the traveler accepted with a firm grip. *** As the train neared full speed, clattering over rails in need of repair, it passed through neatly cultivated Maryland farmlands emptied of their crops in the previous fall harvest. Spring was on the way, however, and they would soon be made ready for planting. They’ll probably plant corn, Blair thought as he stared out the window at the passing scenery. He couldn’t help making a comparison between the bucolic setting and the fields from whence he had come. They, too, stood empty, but not from harvesting. They had been ravaged by a pestilence that the people with whom he shared the train could not possibly imagine. Empty fields are normal here, even healthy. Those at home are anything but. These people may worry about locusts, but they know nothing about the horrors that real Pests can bring. And if I’m successful, they never will. I’ve got a lot of work to do. The farmlands gradually succumbed to thick green forests. A farm trail broke through the trees and intersected the rails with several bare-footed children wearing straw hats, which they quickly doffed to wave the passengers on their journey, waiting at the intersection for passing trains. The traveler raised his hand in response, to the immediate and ecstatic delight of his minuscule and fleeting audience. Blair watched the scene through the window with detached interest. I wonder if those children even own shoes. Probably not, since they would no doubt be wearing them. None of the other passengers took time to engage in this brief courtesy with the world passing by outside, but every now and then, some snuck a careful a
glance at the two men conversing in the front seats. “Well, then,” the traveler asked once the children were left behind. “How does Mr. Edwin Blair come to suspect things about me? My service in Washington City these past two years was rather unremarkable.” Blair stared into the traveler’s eyes with more intensity than politeness warranted. “Actually, Mr. Lincoln, I know a great deal about you.” “Should that cause me some concern?” “Oh no, sir! Not at all. In fact, everything that I have learned — know — about you causes me to have great admiration for you.” Lincoln laughed. “Well, Mr. Blair, I do believe you’ve been had. The folks who know me might question whether or not you’ve lost possession of your senses. A simple country lawyer such as I am has not had the opportunity to attract many admirers. I do believe, however, that I may have acquired more than a few detractors.” “That may be so, sir. But during your two years as a Congressman, you have caught the attention of more than a few souls. You are not an unknown person.” Lincoln nodded again, a wry smile tugging at his lips. “I’m afraid I caught the attention of some of them much like the fox caught the attention of the farmer and his shotgun instead of the chicken he was after.” Blair‘s own lips formed a cautious smile. Lincoln’s expression grew serious once again and he leaned back against the seat. “On what is your admiration based, Mister Blair?” Blair stiffened, then took a deep breath and chose his words carefully. “On three things, sir. Three items, I daresay, of considerable noteworthiness.” A twinkle sparked in Lincoln’s eyes and his voice rose in volume. “You ‘daresay,’ Mr. Blair?” He chuckled. “I take
it you enjoy reading the Bronte sisters on occasion? But don’t let me interrupt you.” Blair was again unnerved. This is going to be even harder than I thought. He cleared his throat and tried to focus on his mission, raising his voice as the wheels of the train clattered across several switches. “As I was saying, the first item concerns your proposed bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. The second are your ‘Spot’ Resolutions, demanding that President Polk prove that Mexico’s incursion into the United States in truth occurred and was unjust. And the third is your vote in opposition to the Mexican War itself.” Lincoln edged forward in his seat as Blair went through the list. “As I recall, none of those won me many friends, nor were any of them were on the winning side of a single vote.” He raised his brow and produced a faint smile. “A lot of my colleagues even took to calling me ‘Spotty Lincoln.’” Yes they did, Blair thought, as several historians noted. Doris Kerns Goodwin being among them. “True, but they amply demonstrate your courage in the face of the popular will — acting against it when you believe the majority to be wrong.” Lincoln allowed a sad smile to settle briefly across his face. “So here I am, making my way back home with my tail between my legs. There’s no danger of me taking on an unfriendly majority ever again. I just may fare better back in the courtroom.” Edwin Blair offered an empty smile of his own. Lincoln sat forward, his gaze traveling down to Blair’s shoes again. “Now, Mister Blair, you haven’t told me of your interest in the goddess Nike.” He shifted his gaze back to Blair’s face. “None whatsoever, sir. I wore the shoes to elicit your interest, and,” Blair paused for emphasis, “to help create a memory.” He took a deep breath. “You see, I have a request.” Lincoln raised his eyebrows, 76
but said nothing. “It’s a simple request which will require only a brief portion of your time.” Lincoln shifted his body to gain a more comfortable position, pursed his lips, and still said nothing. A beat of cold sweat trickled down Blair’s back. “Of course, I would not expect you to do this as a mere favor. You are, after all, a lawyer, and your time is valuable. For this commitment, I am prepared to offer you a direct compensation. A retainer, as it were.” Still no response. “Let me add, sir,” Blair hushed his voice and tried to sound mysterious, “that I am aware that you are returning to Springfield to resume your law practice with your friend William Herndon, and you are currently without paying clients. I also know that you have recently contracted for some extensive remodeling of your home in Springfield. The addition of a few stoves and extensive brickwork, I believe.” Still nothing. Blair was growing desperate. “Furthermore, sir, I know that your previous remodeling, a new bedroom and pantry, is still not completely paid for.” Lincoln nodded slowly in stoic contemplation. The engine’s steam trumpet chose that moment to scream three quick bursts as they crossed yet another intersection. This time there were no children waiting, and Lincoln’s gaze remained unbroken. When the noise subsided, he calmly queried, “Mr. Blair?” “Yes?” “This is a passel of personal information you have compiled.” Blair’s heart raced. Did I reveal too much? He slowly inhaled to calm himself. “Yes. However, I assure you, sir, I have engaged in no skullduggery of any kind. Merely research.” “And you have done so, why?” “To provide a good reason for you to accept my retainer.”
“Hmmm….” Lincoln mussed the hair about on his head. “You didn’t think just asking me would do the trick?” “Would it have worked?” “Mr. Blair, if you know my financial situation, why would you doubt that I would accept a retainer?” Lincoln shook his head and chuckled. “Now I know what the turkey felt like when he was invited to dinner and foolishly accepted the invitation.” “I assure you,” Blair said while trying to hide his nervousness, “that this commitment will not entail you being ‘served’ for dinner. I only need your advice. Although I may desire a particular outcome, there is no way I can ensure it. I would be relying on your honest counsel and insight.” Lincoln said nothing for a long moment. “Before I accept your invitation, let me ask you this. In the portion of time you refer to, wherein I would be giving you my ‘honest counsel,’ would I be acting as your legal representative?” “No sir. I would only be seeking your thoughtful advice.” “Well then, sir, I must ask that you elaborate a tad about the unnamed problem about which you wish me to advise you, so that I might be a little bit prepared.” Blair gave a short little nod. “Yes, sir. You do need information from me, but the time is not right.” A thoughtful expression crossed Lincoln’s face, and he brought his right hand up to scratch his clean-shaven chin. “I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me why the time is not right.” “I can’t, sir.” Blair reached into his jacket and withdrew a black leather billfold. “But if you accept my retainer, I can give you a date when I will be able to clarify matters.” He withdrew a single banknote and displayed it so that its printed face was plainly evident. “As you can see, sir, it was issued by the Globe Bank of New York on April 20th, 1840. I am assured that it is a trustworthy institution and that their notes are good.”
“A one-hundred dollar note! You must regard this problem as a hard one.” “I most certainly do.” “Well,” Lincoln sighed, “I suppose I can give it some thought and, as you request, honestly advise you about what to do.” He picked the note up and turned it around, studying it. A sincere smile crossed Blair’s face. “Thank you. You have greatly relieved me of considerable anxiety and stress.” “Now, when is it that you would like to see me about your problem?’After living two years in the capital, going home to Illinois is a welcome prospect, but it’s going to be a twelve day journey on three railroads, a stagecoach, and two carriage rides, as well as a river steamer through St. Louis.” Lincoln resettled himself in the seat, as if in preparation for the trek. “In the coming weeks, I have to settle back into Springfield and become a lawyer again. My wife and children have preceded me home, and I do miss them, so I’m afraid all that comes first. Also, I’ve promised to meet with several gentlemen about the future and direction of the Whig Party, of which I am still a somewhat dissatisfied member.” Blair pulled two cards out of his wallet. “My name is printed on both of these as well as the date that I am requesting to see you. One is for you, to assist in your recollection, and the other is for me. I hope you will be gracious enough to sign both so as to lend a certain degree of authenticity to our meeting.” As Lincoln received the two cards from Blair and read the one on top, he gave a sudden start. “There is no mistake here, Mr. Blair?” “No, sir.” “You are requesting a meeting at ten o’clock in the morning on June 27th, 1863?” “Yes, sir.” Lincoln furrowed his brow deeply and directed a quizzical gaze at Edwin Blair. “You do realize that this date is fourteen 77
years from now?” Blair smiled without evincing even a trace of pleasure. “Yes, sir. And I do intend, with all possible seriousness, to meet with you on that particular day at that particular time. And to that end, I have offered, and you have accepted, my retainer.” Lincoln shook his head while gazing at the bank note. “I certainly hope you’ll get your money’s worth of advice, Mr. Blair. And I hope that I’m still around to give it.” He signed one card and returned it, then signed the other and placed it in the breast pocket of his suit. *** “Baltimore!” As the train began to slow, an aging conductor moved from the rear of the coach toward the front, swaying back and forth, and grasping every seatback for stability. “All out for Baltimore!” Edwin Blair started to rise. The train jerked, knocking him off balance, and he plunged his hand down onto the damaged armrest, skewering his palm on one of the protruding shards in the process. Suppressing an outcry, he gave a strangled grunt and then rapidly extracted the splinter. Removing a handkerchief from his hip pocket, he fashioned a makeshift bandage. Lincoln lurched to his feet. “I am surprised, Mr. Blair. You did notice the armrest when you seated yourself. I saw you rather carefully look it over so as to avoid a mishap — or so I assumed.” “Yes. A stupid mistake.” Blair clenched his hand into a fist to stem the bleeding and extended his other hand in farewell. “It has truly been an honor to meet you, sir.” Pain shot up his arm from the wound, causing him to wince. He gulped and then continued, “I fear I must leave you at this station.” Lincoln accepted Blair’s undamaged hand, small in comparison to his own, with a firm grip. “I have to admit that this has been very interesting. After speaking with you, Mr. Blair, I do believe I know less about
you now than I did before I even met you.” He glanced at Blair’s bandaged hand, and then gave a slight incline to his head, barely lifting an eyebrow. “Do take care of that wound.” Blair reached for his metallic
valise while nodding. “Thank you. I shall. And… I shall see you again. In fourteen years. It will be a Saturday.” Lincoln studied Blair as he readied for departure at the station in Baltimore. “You were quite
successful, you know.” “How so?” “You have created a memory.”
What if you could change history? “Mr. Hay,” Lincoln pointed to the enclosed message still in Pinkerton’s hands, “you received this message from Mr. Blair an hour before General Hooker actually wrote it.”
What if the battle at Gettysburg didn’t happen? “Well, Mr. Blair? What about the rebels?” Lincoln looked squarely at him. “Blair took a deep breath. “I will need their cannons sufficiently concentrated as well.” “Oh come now, Mr Blair. Ye be insane!” Pinkerton jumped up and raised his arms to Lincoln. “Gentlemen, you all were convinced by my demonstration, were you not?” “We’re not on a battlefield.” Stanton protested, his head shaking. “There’s no blank wall out there for you to use to show them your maps. And may I remind you that we are in a war? With the very man you want to assist you!” Lincoln raised his hand. “A rebellion, Mars…a rebellion!” “Yes, yes.” Stanton grumbled. “However, that doesn’t answer the question about Lee. Even if we were to convince Meade, what of Lee? ” Lincoln’s eyes bore into Blair. Blair locked gazes with Lincoln. “If I can talk with Lee, I will convince him to cooperate.”
A New Birth of Freedom by Robert G. Pielke Publisher: Altered Dimensions Press ISBN: 978-1-036021-23-9 Only $16.95 plus shipping Available at bookstores or from the publisher at http://bit.ly/pielke Get yours today, before it is too late!
Fifty Years By Troy D. Young In honor of my sister and brother-in-law’s anniversary.
As the years fall away and time takes it toll We sometimes wonder how we arrived at this point in our lives From two young sweethearts full of dreams and plans Building a home, raising children, not always easy We progressed through years that sometimes seemed to melt away So quickly we barely seemed to notice their passing Loving, laughing, sometimes crying, but not often A lovely young lady and a fresh faced young man, in love We traveled life’s road, taking each bump and turn And somehow managed not to lose our faith Hard times, good times, they blend together in our memories Until we realize they were all good times in their own way Our children are grown, our lives settled and secure Friends, family and faith in God now fill our days A few wrinkles, some gray hair, fifty years and still we see The lovely young lady and the fresh faced young man in love
A dream of life and afterlife By Harry Calhoun from birth to now, maybe 15 or 20 years from the other end the dream covers it all like a newscast like life flashing before your eyes Â and then the dream fast forwards to those last years and suddenly you are bursting like a sylph freed from a shroud into a sky murky black yet glittering with dazzling stars that seem so much closer and miraculously you go from flying Â and you become something like vapor something not breathing but breath itself and with a satisfied sigh you meld and you are one with that star-strewn sky you are a part of it will always be
Othan, Leader By Kurt Magnuski “Come on, come on, come on!” Othan yelled as he pulled the rod backward, blood pounding in his skull. Beside him Stet pushed with his foot braced against temple wall while Hamel hammered in a wooden wedge. After an agonizing journey, they found the temple sealed shut by a solid disk of stone the size of a pack horse. As Othan’s thigh and arms burned with the last of his strength, the stone slab shifted with a grinding moan. The three jumped back as the slab toppled to the sand with a dull thud. Behind it was a narrow corridor choked with swirling dust. Impatiently they watched the cloud churn on and on like boiling broth, wishing the dust would recover its long held peace. “This had better be the place,” Stet remarked with his usual toothy smile. He was taller than Othan, and more powerfully built, with skin so dark it looked purple. The temple certainly didn’t look like much. Just the broken base of a massive pillar and a low rectangle of unmortared granite blocks, half buried in drifts of fine sand. But Othan was sure it was the lost Fane of the Swallowed God. Back home in the city of Dix, the Swallowed God was one of the multitude of insignificant Cults Minor. But when this desolate wasteland was green with irrigation and bustling with the works of man, so the story went, the cult was supreme. The lost temple was off the edge of every map that Othan could find except one. The last real town, with lodging and provisions, was in the nomad kingdoms of the Doldrums, a full three days behind them. The final leg of the journey brought them through a stony desert of crumbling sandstone and salt pans. Daytime heat, midnight chill, and the ever present dust had frayed their nerves.
“We should have just robbed some East Bank merchant or something.” Hamel whined, squinting against the orange sun. He had light, limp hair and freckles, and was short, with a slight build. As the youngest of the three, he showed impatience at every stage of the journey. Othan was grated, too, and Hamel’s tone made it worse. He clenched his jaw. “If you want to fight a dozen charged-up goons for a handful of dnarls, you go ahead. I’ll rob this place. It’s guarded by a rock.” Hamel looked down like a scolded child, but Stet let loose a laugh. Othan burned a little hotter. He unstrapped his water skin from his camel and took a long pull, but the water was hot and sour. “What’s so damn funny?” “You.” Stet looked over to Hamel but pointed at Othan. “Too long in the sun, this one.” He laughed again. Othan grimaced. “Sometime before I leave the Land of Night and Day, I want to see you cry.” But Stet’s mirth had already taken his edge away, and even Hamel managed a chuckle. “Let’s just get this over with,” Othan said. By the time they gathered their supplies, the dust had settled to a brownish gray mat. With Stet holding a torch high behind him, Othan went in first, crouched, his shield before him. The corridor was unadorned tan stone. Othan was encouraged, as he saw no signs of looting. The first chamber was round, with a domed ceiling. Tattered ropes hung down from above. Four chest-high, phallic pedestals formed a square. Along the wall were niches, each filled with a plaster relief. There was a twoheaded giant, a raptor, a bull with four horns, and a woman with fish scales. In the maw of each creature sprouted the head and hands of a man. Hamel said, “Now I see why they called him the Swallowed God.” “Is he climbing in or out?” Othan asked. 81
“Don’t care. They are dreams of a madman.” Stet whispered. “Let’s move along.” They both agreed. To the right was a doorless corridor, and along the opposite wall was the broken remains of a wooden door or screen. Othan led them through the latter, which turned right into a rough hewn, downward sloping passage. After ten or so paces their progress was interrupted by a jagged, armlength crevasse, as if the hallway was pulled from each end until it snapped. Rocky debris hung from the top of the crack and poured in from the gaps in the wall. Othan felt cool air; he peered down into the crack. There was no sign of the bottom. Hamel picked up a thumb-sized stone, but before he could toss it in, Othan held out his hand. He didn’t want to know how far down it went. The three took a moment to toss their packs and weapons over. As usual, Othan was the first to cross. It was an easy, but eerie leap over. From the far side the gap was even more menacing. After they retooled and put it behind them, Othan’s spine shivered. The corridor curved gently to the right and ended in a large, wedge-shaped room. The entire floor and ceiling of the chamber were etched with narrow, sinuous lines. If it was writing, no one could recognize the script. On either side was a low, stone bench on which tall, unadorned clay urns were haphazardly stacked. At the far, narrow end of the room was the temple’s massive idol. Othan’s spirits sank. It was a sixlegged, froggish creature, the size of a draft ox. It looked like it was carved of a solid block of slate. Slowly, they approached the idol. At its base were dry, bony corpses, one seated, one prone, and a few collapsed into a dusty pile. If they had been clothed at all, the bugs had stripped them clean in some distant age. Beside one corpse was a tarnished metal dagger. Beside another was a stone axe-head. Like the statues in the first
chamber, the Swallowed God occupied the creature’s toothy maw. Its face was clean-shaven but masculine, with raccoon-like eyes and slender fangs. His sunken cheeks were tattooed with creases filled with lead or tarnished silver. The earplugs were egg-sized opals, and the eyes were larger, multi-faceted purple gems. Each reflected the torchlight a thousand fold. Othan licked his lips. “I told you it was worth it.” Hamel came up beside him. “I believed you all along.” He swallowed hard. “Honest.” Opposite the idol were two other gaping corridors. “Let’s clear the rest of it first,” Stet said. Othan agreed, but Hamel was already unloading his hammer, chisels, and files. “I’ll just, um, stay here and get started on this handsome fellow.” He leaned in for a closer look at the swallowed god’s eyes. “Looks like they’re set in there pretty good.” Othan wanted him to come with, but Stet said, “Leave him. This place cannot possibly be that big.” They chose the center corridor, which after a few low, cramped chambers led to a lofty room with low stone tables. One wall was studded with pegs, from which hung an array of dusty barber-like tools. He noticed then that the tables were the size of a coffin. Along the edge of the stone table was a finger-width groove. Othan imagined it flowing red. “We should have taken the other hall,” he remarked. “I agree,” Stet said, and pressed on. The next chamber had shelves on either side like bunks, burdened by lumps of what Othan could only imagine as the dead. Stet set his torch in a wall sconce and lit another. “Why do you always take me into tombs? I thought we were friends. You know I hate tombs.” He was sweating despite the relative cool. For fear of breathing in a nosefull of powdered dead, he stayed in the center of the room. From behind came a clear
crisp ticking sound. Both were at attention instantly, eyes wide and swords in hand. Again came the ticking sound, and both relaxed, as they realized it was Hamel, chiseling at the idol. “Nothing’s sneaking up on us today, huh?” Othan said. As if in answer the torch flickered and the room grew chill. “Oh no,” Othan muttered. One of the lumps of resinous flesh and linen twitched. As they backed out there was a ripping sound and a deep moan. The shambling, crusty corpse sat up. Othan and Stet nearly tripped over each other as they turned to flee. Without looking back they retreated all the way to the altar room, kicking up a trail of dust. There they found Hamel lying prone. “Hamel! Get up!” Othan slapped his face and shook him about his shoulders. “What happened to him?” Stet asked, without taking his eyes off of the corridor. Othan put his cheek to Hamel’s lips and felt a slight puff of breath. “He’s breathing. Is it coming?” “All I see is dust!” Othan tried to rouse him again, then felt about his person for wounds. He found nothing. The room and idol showed no signs of a disturbance. Everything looked just like how they left it, except for the file jutting out of the Swallowed God’s right eye socket. Suddenly Othan felt a low pitched rumble, as if the temple itself shivered. The room disappeared behind a blur of pinkish red. His knees wobbled and he almost dropped his sword. It lasted only a moment, but Othan was left breathless, his feet and fingers tingling. “What was that?” Stet said with half a breath. Othan’s chest felt hollow. He looked into the pouting, fanged face of the Swallowed God and mouthed a curse. “Grab him.” Stet said. Othan draped Hamel’s arm about his 82
shoulder and carried him into the severed hallway from which they came. With torch in one hand and sword in the other, Stet followed. Othan roared in anger when he came to the crack in the floor. He let Hamel slide off his sore shoulder and slump into the dust. “We have to try the other way.” His stomach twisted at the thought of facing the walking dead. But the thought of limp Hamel dragging him down into the abyss was worse. “Jump it!” Stet said over his shoulder, still braced for the attacking dead. “What about Hamel?” They took another look at the crack. At the edge where the torchlight met the darkness below, slapped a grayish hand, then another. Othan and Stet jumped back. Then in uneven, twitchy bounds, came an impossibly thin, grayish bald head. It was eyeless, with a circular mouth like a leech. Othan felt like a hook pulled his guts toward the ground. Nothing could make him stand up to that. He shrieked and left Stet and his limp burden behind. He ran, shouting, with his sword out before him. When he reached the idol room it was silent and empty. Right behind him bounded Stet, who dumped Hamel back onto the dusty, etched floor. With his friend beside him, Othan regained a thread of courage. Together they stood battle-ready, eyes flicking to each corridor in turn. But nothing came. Othan had eased his stance just a moment when the rumbling overtook them again. His vision failed and his knees completely gave out. He came to on his back, staring up at the darkly etched ceiling. The torch burned low where it was dropped in the dust. Stet was on his hands and knees, and looked as bad as Othan felt. He picked up the faltering torch and stoked it, then hastily examined the corridors. There was still no sign of approaching foes. Othan scratched his head and looked about the idol chamber. It
was the only room with the strange writing above and below. And the corpses too, were found in the far corner near the Swallowed God, as far as possible from the corridors. He grabbed Stet’s shoulder. “We have to get out of this room.” “And go where?” Stet protested. “It’s trying to keep us in here.” Stet looked puzzled. “So it can suck us dry! Stet, listen. The ghoul, the lich... they’re not real!” “My father’s ass they’re not real!” “The Swallowed God. He’s trying to keep us in here, where he can drain us!” “I can’t believe it.” “Look at the bodies in here, all drained. They only appear when we try to leave this room!” “This is not possible!” Othan ignored him. He scabbarded his sword. “I won’t be needing this,” Stet shook his head with eyes wide. “You are mad.” “We have to go before the Swallowed God hits us again! Get Hamel and follow me.” Stet breathed hard, but nodded his head. With a torch in one hand and a handful of Stet’s linen shirt in the other, Othan pressed forward down the unexplored, left most path. After a quick right turn it opened into a wider, ascending hallway with a double row of square pillars. From the far end drifted a plume of acrid smoke. He felt Stet dragging his feet. “Something’s coming. Stay with me Stet!” Though he braced for what he knew would be a terrifying scene, when it came it shook him to his very toes. They heard a spine-numbing hiss and a loud, reverberating clank, like metal hitting stones. “Here we go!” Along the ceiling rolled a billowing cloud of midnightblack smoke, then a thunderous ball of flame. Through the smoke they saw the outline of something long and mawed and clawed. Even knowing what he knew, Othan shrunk away. Another booming blast of flame made
his legs go numb. Stet hollered. Othan shouted, too, as he yanked Stet two more labored steps toward the scaly, flaming beast. It rushed toward them, but Othan’s grip held true. Suddenly they were alone, shouting in a long, empty corridor. Stet collapsed to one knee under the weight of Hamel. Othan’s ears popped. His arm and eyelid twitched as he leaned against the cool stone. Though he knew the beast wasn’t real, he still feared its return. Stet coughed and spit. “You carry him.” “Uh huh.” He said weakly. The long hall led back to the statue room, from which they departed the Swallowed God’s Fane. The sun was near the horizon, the air crisp and cool. They checked on Hamel, who murmured like a sleeping child. When Othan finally sat down, his legs burned and his throat and lips were dry. Stet sat with his hands on the back of his head. Eventually he passed his water skin. Othan took it, but never took his eyes from the dark hole. Stet asked him, “What are you looking at?” “I’m going back in there.” Stet shook his head vigorously. “No. Now you are truly crazy.” “No, I’m greedy.” “I’m not going in with you.” “I didn’t ask.” “If you do not return, I will not come looking for you.” “I’d prefer you didn’t.” Othan slowly hobbled over to his camel, and found his small
phial of Stromini Brandy. He meant to save it as a celebration for finally plundering the Swallowed God’s treasures. He drank it all in one long quaff. The sun had set by the time Othan emerged. All about the temple door were sandstone blocks. Stet approached from the open sand, carrying another. He looked relieved. “How’s Hamel?” Othan asked. “Awake, but weak. He took some water. How was it in there?” “Tough at first. It threw some interesting things at me.” “Like what?” Othan’s smile was crooked. “If I told you, you’d go mad with terror.” Stet laughed. “Braggart. Find anything?” Othan held up one of the eyes of the Swallowed God. “Ho ho! Brave man!” “I just couldn’t leave emptyhanded.” “But you couldn’t stay long enough to get me one?” Othan looked at Hamel. “No. It sapped me once, and I had enough. I wouldn’t go through another for a sapphire the size of your head. I’d rather be stretched on the rack.” “I know it.” Othan waved at the pile of rocks. “What’s all this?” “What if some child goes in there?” “Right, right.” Together they clogged up the entrance tight.
From the Norwegian of BJÖRNSTJERNE BJÖRNSON. Translation of NATHAN HASKELL DOLE.
By Sidney Lanier Superb and sole, upon a plumed spray That o’er the general leafage boldly grew, He summ’d the woods in song; or typic drew The watch of hungry hawks, the lone dismay
The Princess sat lone in her maiden bower, The lad blew his horn at the foot of the tower. “Why playest thou alway? Be silent, I pray, It fetters my thoughts that would flee far away. As the sun goes down.”
Of languid doves when long their lovers stray, And all birds’ passion-plays that sprinkle dew At morn in brake or bosky avenue. Whate’er birds did or dreamed, this bird could say.
In her maiden bower sat the Princess forlorn, The lad had ceased to play on his horn. “Oh, why art thou silent? I beg thee to play! It gives wings to my thought that would flee far away, As the sun goes down.”
Then down he shot, bounced airily along The sward, twitched in a grasshopper, made song Midflight, perched, prinked, and to his art again. Sweet Science, this large riddle read me plain:
In her maiden bower sat the Princess forlorn, Once more with delight played the lad on his horn. She wept as the shadows grew long, and she sighed: “Oh, tell me, my God, what my heart doth betide, Now the sun has gone down.”
How may the death of that dull insect be The life of yon trim Shakespeare on the tree?
Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler’s Meal Onna Stick Fit for a Patrician
cut me own throat if it tain’t!
(for 8 normal people or 3 Night Watch guards) By Jaleta Clegg This issue, I pay tribute to one of my favorite authors: Terry Pratchett and his Discworld. One of the most unforgettable minor characters of all time is Cut-Me-Own-Throat-Dibbler and his sausages-of-unknownorigins; he shows up regularly throughout the series always hawking his sausages on the street corners of Ankh-Morpork. If you haven’t read any of Sir Terry’s books (yes, he is British and was knighted by the queen), pick one up and spend some time exploring Discworld. You won’t regret it.
Them Fancy Bits of Things and Pickles with Little Cheese Curds
1 small jar pickled onions 1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts 1 can hearts of palm 1 small jar pimento stuffed green olives
1 can baby corn 8 oz. sharp cheddar, cut into cubes 8 oz. swiss cheese, cut into cubes 1 small jar baby dill pickles
Cut all ingredients into bite-size pieces. Using fancy toothpicks, skewer 3 - 4 bits per toothpick. Arrange all fancy-like on shiny platters before serving with your favorite crackers.
Cut-me-own-throat Dibbler’s Special Recipe: Sausage with Fancy Grilled Vegetables, Especially Special Sauce, and Peppered Rice
1.5 lb. Kielbasa sausage, sliced thick 1 small eggplant, sliced thick, then quartered 1 red onion, peeled and cut into eighths 8 oz. small mushrooms 2 small zucchini, sliced thick 1 c. Italian salad dressing 1 gold bell pepper, seeded, cut into large squares Soak bamboo skewers in water for at least 2 hours before using. Thread alternating bits of sausage and vegetables on skewers. Brush with Italian dressing. Broil under high heat for 3 - 5 minutes, just until tops brown. Rotate skewers 180° and brush with more dressing, return to broiler for 2 -3 more minutes until vegetables are crisp-tender and lightly browned. Serve with Special Sauce and Peppered Rice. Especially Special Sauce 2 T. butter 3 cloves garlic, crushed 1 small onion, chopped very fine 2 c. V8 juice 1 small can tomato paste 1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 t. rosemary 1 t. dried oregano 1/2 t. dry mustard 1 t. paprika 1 T. brown sugar 85
Saute onion and garlic in butter over low heat until soft and transparent. Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir well. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve warm. Peppered Rice 2 c. white rice 2 T. butter 2 t. salt
1 t. coarse ground black pepper 4 c. boiling water 1 t. paprika
Place all ingredients, except paprika, in 2 qt saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20 - 22 minutes, until water is absorbed. Fluff with fork and sprinkle with paprika before serving.
Sweets Onna Stick with Hot Dipping Sauce
2 lbs. strawberries, washed and hulled 2 apples, cut in chunks 4 banananas, cut in chunks 4 kiwi, peeled and cut in chunks 8 oz. large mallowcremes (marshmallows) 1 can pineapple chunks, drained 1 1 lb. pound cake, cut into cubes (do NOT use dwarf cake or youâ€™ll be very sorry when your teeth fall out.) Place all the chunks on serving platters with a supply of skewers. Let guests thread their own selections of desserts. Dip in Hot Dipping Sauce before eating. Hot Dipping Sauce 1 c. whole milk 1 T. butter
8 oz. dark chocolate, chopped 1/2 t. orange extract
Heat milk in medium saucepan over low heat just until bubbles begin to form around the edges (do not boil!). Remove from heat. Stir in butter and chocolate, continue stirring until sauce is smooth. Stir in orange extract. Sauce can be made several days ahead. Chill thoroughly and refrigerate. Reheat over low heat just until sauce is warmed.
Published on Jul 1, 2010
This issue features a heartwarming story of a little girl and her brother by Cat Rambo called Magnificent Pigs. It's also jam packed full of...