AN EVENING AT THE CARNIVAL WITH MISTER CHRISTIAN
the last part of the tale
Jennifer Clemens was walking from the seashore to her family’s farm on a gorgeous autumn afternoon, and the cool-minded girl could not have been happier. The October sky was as clear and crisp as an icy stream, like a glass of cold water from the deepest well, and there was not a cloud in the sky. The air was so different here, the very breeze she took in her lungs seemed free of the discord she’d known in England. The very air seemed alive with promise, and she felt limitless opportunity beckoning down each new path she came upon. Everything she happened upon was so different from the land she had known before, so much so that on some days she felt as if she’d been reborn.
Fresh breezes sailed through blazing leaves on the trees that lined the path she walked, and to her mind this day, it seemed as if all the myriad leaves were turning into the wind to meet the tides of another season, leaving a flurry of red and gold in their passage to winter. On her way home now, walking along the carefree path she knew so well, Jennifer walked past farms and houses that had taken hold with shallow roots in this new land – yet despite their presence a sense of newness remained.
Most of the farms here along Massachusetts Bay and the Charles River were well kept in the manicured form of a God fearing, hardworking people, yet so new was the colony that the presence of these farms still felt tentative, transient. This was indeed a new world – in every way conceivable way, and yet, while she felt promise deep within the rolling, tree-lined hills and soft, undulating meadows, there was as yet little certainty in this life, in her sense of the future. Famine, disease, the truly foul winter weather that was just weeks away, all served to underscore just how fragile was the colony’s existence. And she could never get it out of her mind that day, that afternoon just a few weeks ago it was, when gathering firewood along the beach she had come upon the catamount, the whale, and that strange singer who passed away on the grass – and how he had simply disappeared. And she had felt judged that afternoon, like she’d been judged and found wanting in some inscrutable way, and she’d been on verge of a great despair ever since.
Yet Jennifer Clemens was smiling at Time, parsing through her memory of place, reconciling this impossible new landscape with her former home, the rolling valleys near Exeter; she was tallying the improbable and the immutable, what possible futures might unfold for her along this so-called Massachusetts Bay. Red barns and freshly timbered homes trimmed in blues and grays; she walked across her landscapes in silence, her sun-streaked hair lifting on currents of wind – fresh from their dance across fields of oats and corn – everything around her bursting with the promise of another autumn’s harvest. The stalks and blades seemed to whirl about with careless abandon on gentle breezes born to nourish the people of this fertile land, and it was an easy leap to conclude that all this land had come into being solely as the private garden for the people of the colony. Still, while Jennifer Clemens was aware she was regarded as a trespasser on this shore, she nevertheless regarded all she beheld as Her World. Boston was Her city on a hill, and she knew she’d never leave.
So you see, Jennifer Clemens had not a care in the world, really, as she made her way towards home, towards the Clemens’ farmstead, on this breezy October afternoon. She was as free as a bird, as carefree as sun-drenched leaves on strawberry fields, forever free to dance in the wind with the sun warming her face, and her dreams.
There was a sun-borne, amber hued life within the long brown hair that bloomed in the air as she walked, and with long, slender arms behind her back, she skipped and danced as a lark taking wing, singing the simple song she’d heard not so long ago, in that grassy field by the seashore. His had been a song of pure enchantment, and as her spirit was unfettered, and her gay heart skipped to the beat of the infinite happiness born his music, she sang his song to the sky – his words so fresh and sweet they tasted of tomorrow.
Still, though the path she walked upon this afternoon was well traveled, she remained wary of the shadows. Dangers lurked unseen and unheard, but they were – by and large – as absent from her thoughts as this world allowed.
As she skipped along in the crisp air, feeling the infinite promise of tomorrow, she saw a shimmering broadsheet tacked to a solitary tree beside the path just ahead, and she wondered what magic portents waited for her there – waiting to be discovered. Was it a traveling fair, a late summer carnival? She’d not been to one since leaving Exeter, and the memory thrilled her. What mysteries life held! Who could it be?
She ran up to the broadsheet and her eyes looked at the words floating there, for she saw moving forms within the paper, words she at first thought were recognizable, but the spelling she saw was all wrong in strange, though weirdly compelling ways. She studied the paper, worked to decipher the words as each revealed itself in it’s own way, in it’s own time. It was a puzzle, she saw, and she wished she had a quill and ink and a sheet of parchment to work out the fantastic mysteries she found inside the broadsheet.
This was too fun!
Clues seemed to be hidden within traceries of vines that coiled on the sheet, and bound up within the intricate contours were subtle forms that quietly resolved into a message and as soon faded away into something new. She saw fantastic structures that might have been castles on cloud tops, but that might just as easily been the tortured fragments of some very unhappy dream, yet each new vista seemed to spiral out of mists within the broadsheet and then pause for just a fractured moment – before dissolving back into swirling clouds. She thought once she saw impossible flying machines floating on strangely colored airs, and men made of metal fighting wars on impossible new worlds, but none of these images made sense to her. She stepped back from the broadsheet in shock when these disturbing images dissolved in the fragile mist and resolved into new images, images of ladies and gentlemen dancing within a world lit by wondrous candlelight, and, could it be? Did she hear music? Strange music, to be sure, but music nevertheless?
Then new words resolved and appeared from within the mists:
‘One night only’
Jennifer Clemens could just barely make out these hidden letters among the spiraling textures of leaves that wound up a tree – or was it a building? – that was even now turning into something that looked like a man?
‘You are invited to come with me and visit the future.’
Jennifer looked at the script and felt great hope embedded within the words, and yet there was as well an infinite sorrow floating within the shifting imagery. She was curious, but she grew more hesitant and worried as each new word began to seamlessly reveal itself, almost hurriedly, as if each word was in a desperate race to capture her interest before she changed her mind and stole away into the light of day.
She came to the bottom of the broadsheet and leaned forward to rub away a preternatural haziness that seemed to have settled outside the paper, then she saw the mist was not simply on the paper – it was inside the very essence of the paper. The mist was like a moving, living cloud deep within the broadsheet; it danced inside a light of it’s own creation, teasing her, tempting her, willing her to come closer still, to move deeper, and deeper –
‘You Are Invited to An Evening at The Carnival With Mr Christian’
And again she felt these new words were dancing above the paper, because the words could not possibly have been printed on any material she knew of. Yet even so, how could these words move within mist and fog, on a printed sheet tacked to a tree? How could such unnatural forms reside within such an ordinary material, each moment waiting to reveal fantastic new shapes and words? And the music! The fantastic harmonies that came from within the paper? How…how could this be? What was this she beheld if not the carnival of some impossibly deranged and complicated mind?
She watched more traceries evolve in vine-like, serpentine scrolls – and now she understood that somehow the morphing structures kept time to the music! Whatever she saw, these images were not simply in the paper, they too were somehow of the paper. She understood – without quite knowing how or why – that this Carnival was an idea beyond mortal description, and that it was much more powerful and compelling than the simple carnivals she had been to in Devonshire and the Nether-lands. Impossible, yes, yet at the same time she felt that this Carnival posed mysteries not without risk; indeed, unimaginable hazards seemed to lurk within each lingering shadow she beheld. She stood under the tree in silence, watching each new image come alive, seeing in each shattering new dreamscapes a promise, within each new mystery not only risk, but an uneasy promise of revelation, of a destiny – to be revealed.
Before her eyes an old man’s face resolved within the fantastic mists, and Jennifer leaned closer still, moved close to visit the warmth she felt inside the man’s eyes, and immediately felt comfort roaming throughout her body, almost a sense of resolution, as if the miracle of life held purpose beyond suffering, and that purpose resided within the humanity contained within the misty eyes she beheld.
Jennifer Clemens trembled like a storm-tossed leaf, then jumped back in shock as an autumn gust whipped through the forest. The wind tore the broadsheet from the tree, and before her eyes the paper was carried away on the wind – and yet it seemed to dissolve into grains of sand as it drifted away, on it’s way to memory, perhaps, and before her eyes the dreamlike images contained within were scattered on the wind, and then everything she had seen – was simply…gone. She stood and watched in utter dismay, yet even in the unbearable silence that followed she could still hear the quiet refrains of music that had only moments before come from within the broadsheet. The music was all around her now; the scattered notes enticed her, carried her along within the frenzied promise of so much joy to be had if only she…if only she could see…
“What?” she said aloud. “See what?”
She shook herself from the dream, and from the discordant notes, looked around her world as if waking from a dream, then continued on her way home – if a little more slowly now. Still, she walked with curious purpose in her heart, purpose born of the evolving imagery she’d seen within the broadsheet. Lost within these impossible images, purpose bound to the strange new worlds she had seen inside, images that swirled out of the mist, that swayed to the impossible music playing inside her mind, the discordant sonata that made impossible promises about the future. A sudden melody built in her mind’s eye and sought release – but each new note seemed to lose it’s way, each new chord faded on the wind, only to begin again – anew – in a new key.
Then she saw someone, a man perhaps, though he was still quite far away – a man walking on the path, walking towards her. She couldn’t see him very well from this distance, but she couldn’t recognize his clothing. A stranger? Here? She’d not heard of a new ship arriving…?
As he drew near she saw something that made her stop – out of fear – and she fought to control her breathing. She stood transfixed in time as she looked at the man – because he was the old man from within the broadsheet! Impossible! He lived! So, she hadn’t imagined this man! He was real, and now – he was here!
She looked into the man’s eyes as he approached, and though she knew it was rude to stare she could not help herself, indeed, she felt compelled to look at his eyes. Yet she felt the same comfort in his eyes once again, and though he looked old – ancient, as a matter of fact – she saw something in the man’s eyes possessed by a timeless serenity. His was not a simple calm etched on silent features; no, this was something else entirely. Something at once mighty, trembling with latent knowledge, and yet more at peace with this power than mere serenity might otherwise reveal.
As he approached, Jennifer Clemens watched his face, his eyes, and he smiled at her, said ‘Hello’ as he tipped his brimmed hat when he passed. She stood ever so still in his growing presence – she remembered being careful not to even breathe as he walked by – for the music had grown more insistent as the man approached, and now, with his passing the music drew away, passed on the wind again, drifting away with his passing. She turned and watched him disappear in the forest, listened until the music was gone, then turned to look at her world.
And for a moment she felt like she was being watched – again, and once she thought she saw a fairy darting among the trees, like a mischievous sprite trying to hide. But from what? The wind? Her? Or was there something else hiding in the shadows?
But had the old man scattered on the wind? Had he ever been real? Or could it be that the man was only as real as images within the broadsheet? All of it a preposterous fantasy, her mind lost in a mischievous daydream?
The wind grew insistent and cold in that moment, and Jennifer felt a warning in the sudden chill, for just as the wind now held her in place, just as the mysterious man’s music had swirled through fields and trees, all feeling now gave way to this sudden cold. In that sundered air, in the split second between warmth and coldness, she relived the moment of the old man’s passing and felt the strength in his eyes once again – only now she seemed to turn to ice as memory bit into her, and she looked homeward, started to run. She started to run not because she felt alone, and not simply because she’d suddenly felt cold, or even afraid. She started to run down the path, away from the forest glade, where the old man and the fairy must have gone to hide, because she knew of only one place on earth where real safety could be found.
She ran towards home, to the safety of her oldest brother’s arms.
Jeremiah Clemens was cooking dinner for his family, for his two younger brothers and his little sister, a dinner of venison and freshly picked vegetables. He stood beside the gaping fireplace inside their low-ceilinged cabin, in the very heart of his house, the fireplace being the focal point of their lives. This bare room was itself not much larger than fifteen feet on each of it’s four timber framed sides, but there was a stone cellar beneath the thick – planked floor where the family stored vegetables and supplies for the winter. There were no windows – yet, and there was but a single, heavy door. Overhead was a tiny sleeping loft he had finished the summer before, and this was where little Jennifer slept.
She was the light of Jeremiah’s life – and everyone in the colony knew it. In her room were the last remnants of the family possessions that had crossed the sea with their parents, and that was only right. She reminded him of their mother, strong-willed and inquisitive, always a smile on her face – and in her heart. He paused as he always did when his thoughts turned to their parents – both had passed on the voyage to the colony from some sort of pox, and his missed his father’s steady hand most of all.
He’d lost track of the passage of time, but he was sure his little family had been in Massachusetts seven years now, yet even so he did not yet consider their life here secure, and he wondered what the future held for his family. He missed his father terribly on days like this, however he worked hard to conceal these uncertainties, because more than anything else he didn’t want to let his father down, not ever. That, and seeing to Jennifer’s safety. That had been the last promise he’d given his father.
Jeremiah turned the spit to turn the haunch of venison roasting over glowing embers; from time to time he shuffled the coals atop a thin layer of stony earth that covered freshly picked corn, baking slowly in their dampened husks – just as the natives had shown them. In moments like these, while he cooked in this, the bosom of their home, Jeremiah’s thoughts usually turned to his mother and her gentle strength. But not today.
No, on this day he thought about the broadsheet he had found tacked to a tree in the woods on his walk back from the wharves. He had trouble thinking of anything else, really, even as he shot the deer that would feed his family for the next few weeks, even as he had gutted the animal and washed the meat in a cool stream not far from the house. As he salted some of the meat, as he cut thin strips of the meat to make pemican, his mind drifted to the impossible forms that had swirled within the vexatious paper, to images that revealed themselves in haunting detail, images that taunted him, called out to him, soon filled his every thought with visions of a world filled with opportunity beyond measure, of a faraway time that called out to him. He could see the future so clearly now, but he wanted to know more. He always wanted – more.
He was brought back to the present by his sister; he heard her footsteps, running toward the cabin, and something about what he heard made him think she was running from danger. Jeremiah Clemens grabbed his musket and made for the door, but Jennifer burst into the room before he could get there.
His sister stood in the doorway, gasping for breath…
“What is it! Jennifer? What has done you wrong?”
His sister was wild-eyed, bent over at the waist, breathing hard, but even so he could tell she was growing less frightened as his voice washed over her. There, inside the calm of the cabin, she knew whatever danger had passed, and after a moment she stood and looked out the door to see if anyone had followed her. All she saw was the forest on the far side of their fields, the fields that lay just beyond their cabin door, and the path down which she had just come running. The music too had come and gone, and then come again, and she heard it still – as though it hovered in the air just outside the cabin. It taunted her now, teased her with it’s insistent call to revelry, implored her to come out into the night and share in the hypnotic dance that would unfold.
But in that moment she became aware of an insistent pain in her brother’s voice, a growing sense of alarm hiding within the walls of their home, and she turned to face the danger. When she saw his eyes she understood, she knew that he too had witnessed the summons, for his eyes were filled with the same frenetic apprehension that had filled her own. There was no denying the mist in the air now, for she could see now that the experience clung to them both. The very air they breathed was full of shimmering expectation, excitement that could only have come from the music that hovered just outside their door. There was no denying the truth of this moment, and she saw that Jeremiah had seen the truth in her eyes – and that he, too, understood.
“Did you see him?” she asked her brother. “Did you see the old man on the path?”
He looked at her, not knowing of what she spoke – yet understanding the import of her words.
“The old man within the broadsheet? You saw him, you say?”
“Oh, yes!” Jennifer said. “And I should think he must be a sorcerer. At the very least, a magician, but oh! Jeremiah! I was possessed of a thought as I ran home that I had just been visited by that old wizard, Merlin. You remember, the story that Father used to tell us. What was it, the story about the young King? Ooh, what was his name? Something about Knights and a Round Table?”
“And I am not convinced that it wasn’t Lucifer himself that I saw!” her brother Timothy said as he walked into the room. “Damn him, and damn the vexatious visions he has planted in my mind! Lascivious images of idolatry and debauchery, of demons dancing on our father’s grave, and oh! of our sainted mother now the Devil’s concubine! NO! The man I saw was no ordinary demon! He was the Fallen One, Himself!”
“Oh piffle, Timothy!” she said. “The man I saw was the very essence of peace! He had something important to tell me, and though I was afraid to open my mouth, I could not understand a word he said!”
“And too good for you that you were afraid, Sister! That demon would fill your mind with every kind of perverted image – all to lead you astray. I know, for I have seen the people in the village in the time it took me to walk home. The colony as a whole is alive with talk of this man, this demon, and of this carnival he brings – that comes to ‘entertain’ us. There is talk of little else around the harbor just now, for it seems that everyone has seen this apparition! A carnival it is, indeed! It is Satan come to visit, for he sees opportunity here! He comes for a harvest of souls!”
Langston Clemens stood behind his brother Timothy, and when he was sure that both Jennifer and Jeremiah had seen him he shook his head and made the face he always did when Timothy had taken a bit too much God with his afternoon tea.
“I must say, Timothy, what I saw in the wood would not lead me to think this man and his carnival are evil,” Jeremiah said. “Langston, perhaps you have seen this same broadsheet that your sister and myself chanced upon, and perhaps you have an opinion? It is obvious Timothy has seen something much different from that which the two of us happened upon.”
“Aye, brother, the notice was tacked outside Gallagher’s wharf on the road by the commons; at least the one I had chance to see. I heard from many others who’ve been about that the notices are posted almost everywhere people may easily come upon them. It is odd, no doubts be about the matter, but what I laid eyes on…well, what I saw did not lead me to believe the affair to be of malign purpose. Far from it, I think. It seemed to point the way to riches beyond the dreams of avarice. At first I thought the matter some hoax of humorous intent, but the more I studied the images revealed, the more logic I could see underlying the plan. I believe there are wonders to be found at this carnival, and I intend to go!”
“Not I,” thundered Timothy. “I’ll have no part in Satan’s cravings! No, not with you weaker natured fools. And now, see here! I forbid it! I forbid you all to go!”
Jeremiah looked at his little brother and saw the fear inscribed in the lines of his brother’s face for what it had always been. Too much scripture, too little reason – and absolutely no common sense. The boy never thought of anything save the ‘Good Book,’ and looked to no other voice to help see his way through this life. The sooner the next boat for Britain came, the better. It pained him to speak of his brother this way, but Timothy’s bleak world view was debilitating, and there was no room in this new land for his brand of clinging intolerance.
“Oh Timothy, go blow your nose,” Langston chided. “I think something is blocking the air from reaching your head. Daft you are sometimes, and for no good reason.”
“And see here, Timothy,” Jeremiah said, “I think it best we all go. Father always said it is good to know what your friends are about, but even better to understand your adversaries’ plans. Does it not seem to you that most everyone from the Colony will be at this carnival?”
“Aye, Jeremiah,” Langston said. “It is as I said, and Timothy too. There is talk of little else now. I should be surprised if any failed to come. We must go, for it is as Father said. We should not walk through this life in ignorance, for ignorance will grow strong in us and block our way to understanding.”
“But it is not ignorance, brothers!” cried Timothy. “What we have seen is Satan’s handiwork. The hand of Satan guides us now, and Satan can only guide us to our doom!”
“Oh, brother, how can you speak thus?” Langston said calmly. “You repudiate all you believe with your every word! Every tale in the Book stands clearly to tell us that it is our Free Will and the exercise of choosing good over evil that marks our path to either salvation or damnation. And here you stand, plainly the heretic and afraid to make any choice but to hide, and in so doing you would deny every man the right to chose!”
“I am NOT afraid!” Timothy cried.
“Of course you aren’t!” Langston boomed. “Why else would you try to deny others the right to make their way through this life unfettered by dogma – without first dictating to them how they should live it. You fear for your own choice, Brother, and you seek to strengthen your resolve, and indeed your very choice, by imposing your will on any child foolish enough to stop and listen to you. Yours is the worst kind of hypocrite, for your strength is cowardice!” Jeremiah could see that Langston was getting worked up about this, as he almost always did, and he walked between his brothers before Timothy could summon the courage to strike out at his older brother.
“I do not . . .” Timothy yelled, but he seemed glad for Jeremiah’s intercession.
“Stop it! Both of you now, stop this foolishness!”
But this time it was Jennifer who shouted at her constantly bickering brothers; Jennifer who pushed Jeremiah aside and stood between Timothy and Langston. Now they stood open-mouthed when they felt her presence that – like a wall – forced them to reconsider the consequences of their actions. Would one pull back from the abyss?
Jeremiah looked at his sister, at the change that had come over her. She held everyone’s attention now, but she turned and looked at Timothy and put her hand gently to his cheek.
“Dear brother,” she said. “You must learn to control your passions, and soon.”
Yet it was Langston who broke the current stalemate; he shrugged off the impasse and turned to the stone hearth, then Timothy stormed from the cabin without saying another word.
Status quo ante, as always, Jeremiah thought.
As Langston warmed himself by the fire he stepped back from the brink and smiled at his sister, and while he wanted to laugh at life, he looked at her and thought better of it. The seriousness in her eye only served to make him want to laugh all the more – but he too was taken aback by the sudden purpose he saw in her eyes.
“It’s not funny, Langston,” Jeremiah admonished, but try as he might, Jeremiah began to laugh and it was as if the sudden pressure had run from the cabin like smoke up the chimney. Only Jennifer remained still and unconvinced.
She was lost in thought. Not at Langston’s bravado nor Timothy’s somewhat less than innocent attempt to assert control over the family once again; no, now she was lost within thoughts of the old man and the benign expression on his face. And those eyes! Still she heard his music, still she watched as the old man walked past her and disappeared within the forest. Though it had all happened not so long ago, in this moment his presence felt ephemeral, smoke-like, lingering wraithlike – in this very room.
“Ever-present,” she whispered, “and nowhere.” What had Timothy once called God? “The Unmoved Mover?”
Jeremiah stepped back to the fireplace to tend to their meal; Langston walked over to a wooden chest and opened it. He took out a red shirt and sniffed at it, then took off the faded blue shirt he wore most days when he worked at the shipwright’s workshop by the town wharf. He wanted, after all, to be clean for supper tonight.
Being on the water’s edge, the colony’s leaders understood from the beginning that small boats would be needed to conduct commerce, both with other colonies along the New England coast and with the people native to this land, and the first manufacturing enterprise that flourished was ship building. A Shipwright’s Guild had formed along the same lines as organizations in southwest England, and when young Langston Clemens demonstrated an aptitude to work with both wood and iron he had been taken on as an apprentice. He was now a senior apprentice, and a very good one at that, as many remarked when they examined the young man’s handiwork, and he had been regarded as a very valuable member of the colony’s work force for some time.
But the Guild Master saw a faraway look in young Langston’s eyes, and he knew – in his experience, anyway – what that look meant. It was as if the vessels the young man worked on were but a means to an end, never merely an end in and of themselves. The young boy was, the Master saw, and adventurer, a wanderer, and it was with both sadness and envy that he realized the boy would never be content to simply make boats. He would, in the fullness of time, need to sail them, to take to the sea in search of far horizons, in search of profit and adventure perhaps, but always in search of the future.
There was the sea in the boy’s eyes, and in his blood, a visiting pilot told the Guild Master one summer day, and there was nothing else to do for it. So now there was talk of handing Langston over to one of the colony’s pilots, a rogue that had only recently settled in the colony, so that he could learn navigation and map-making. His training as a shipwright would never come to waste, for the best pilots inevitably learned both numbers and drawing as young shipwrights. There’s was a natural progression, and young Langston might become more valuable still to the colony as a pilot. Destiny was odd in that way, yet how different than his older brother he was!
Jeremiah Clemens, the Guild Master thought wryly, seemed rooted to the very earth he had settled on. The young man had taken to the soil when the colony settled by the bay, and the elder Clemens had been clawing at the earth ever since, planting and building and dreaming as his roots set and spread. And few doubted Jeremiah’s integrity, just as none doubted the boy’s father’s. Samuel Clemens had begun as the son of a freeholder in Devonshire, and a born dairy farmer and cheesemaker he was, too, but after studying law at Oxford he had tended the family farm only when not advising his Lord on delicate legal maneuvers that went along with guarding such a large estate from an ever encroaching monarchy.
Young Jeremiah had grown up on land he knew would one day be under his stewardship, so he was devastated when his father announced the family was moving to the New World, and the boy had wrestled with the idea for weeks. But one day, just a few days before sailing, his father pulled him aside and told him that while he had sold all their holdings, there would be vast monies left after buying shares in the Colony to build on the oceans of land available in Massachusetts, land available for the taking. When Jeremiah had seen the logic in his father’s plan he dedicated himself to its success, and when his father lay dying during their passage to the New World, the son had promised his father that he would honor his name and build a worthy enterprise in the colony, and that the son’s work would be in his father’s honor.
Once Jeremiah Clemens set foot on this new land, he had quickly, and purposefully, set out to find the very best land to farm, and the family – his family now – had followed without question or complaint. They now worked several hundred acres of fine meadowland, had good supplies of clear, running water under their control, but most important of all, Jeremiah had the will to work the land, not to mention his family, for all it was worth. They had a house built within weeks of their arrival, and by the their second summer the first of several barns was complete. Supplies ordered and loaded on the next ship from Exeter included dairy cattle and the tools to build a bigger mill on the waterfalls they controlled, and Jennifer had spoken of putting the water to use to make cloth, too. The Clemens family would be one to reckon with for generations to come, because of his – and their father’s – vision.
And it was in this way, the Guild Master knew, that Jennifer and Jeremiah had cemented their relationship forever. They held a durable love for this new land, land they now called their own, and of more importance, they held a vision of it’s future. Oddly enough, that same vision compelled all the other colonists to never waste one moment of time, to never put off for tomorrow what could be done today. This land presented opportunities that their old British holdings would have never allowed – for those with the Will and stamina to pursue such vast opportunity, and yet both Jeremiah and Jennifer could feel that the future of their family was bound up inextricably within the seemingly infinite horizon that fell beyond the setting sun. Even the apprentice in Langston seemed possessed by this need to succeed, to prove himself, and to push westward.
And, perhaps, this is where the roots of the colony’s destiny lay, the Guild Master thought. Westward – over land and by way of the sea.
Yet the younger brothers were, he saw, each in their way very unlike their older brother. But in their desire to take root in the land, to prosper within the world they knew, Jeremiah, Jennifer and Langston shared a love for and belief in the idea that life itself was an adventure, that it was meant to be embraced, and above all, to be lived to the fullest. Their love of life was pure, and they held in common with their father a passion for learning all they could, for they embraced the future without fear. So, Langston was the explorer where Jeremiah was root-bound, but what about Jennifer? Well, he said to himself, she is the glue that holds her family together, and she understands the strengths and the weaknesses of both points of view. Indeed, the Guild Master found himself wishing he was a few years younger, for he considered Jennifer the most substantial woman in the colony, someone worthy to build a dynasty by his side.
But Timothy Clemens was of another world, the Master knew. Timothy had been borne to the spirit world, and made no attempt to hide his disdain for worldly pleasures and human needs. Money seemed, apparently, to make no difference to him at all; and after two hard years working the fields neither did his family’s farmstead. It seemed his only desire to return to Exeter now, to resume his theologian’s studies and enter the priesthood. He saw no worldly purpose beyond the confines of this need, and as time passed the Guild Master saw the boy wanted less and less to do with either the farm, or the work such an enterprise demanded. Though he had yet to reach his seventeenth birthday, the Master saw the boy was already growing fat, and he had seen Jennifer react in horror as Timothy went through the colony harvesting souls, busily pontificating and proselytizing his way through other people’s lives like a scythe. To the Guild Master, the tragedy of Timothy’s life was that he would never experience life among the living; he was simply too worried about the next life to ever care about something so mundane. He wanted to save souls, but he would never come to know his own, save what his superiors trained him to experience.
Like many people in Europe and the British Isles, the Clemens family had been rendered into one of two camps by the great schism of the Reformation; the Guild Master’s family was no exception. Timothy and his mother had sided with the conservatism of the Catholic strain that tentatively remained within the remnants Henry’s Church: strict piety defined their puritanical worldview. The other Clemens children had followed their father down a less rigid path, toward reason and enlightenment; in time, Samuel Clemens told his children, this worldview would become the foundation of great new enterprises, perhaps even revolutionary change.
But equally revolutionary was the idea that great wealth could be amassed by people who held no claim to royalty or nobility, or to the church. It was this impulse that guided Samuel Clemens, and this was the guiding strength that held sway over Jeremiah and Jennifer Clemens, and to a lesser degree, over Langston. The old Church and it’s constraining life had become an impediment to progress, and the religious freedoms afforded the new colonies would, Samuel Clemens grasped, become the foundation upon which a new mercantile order might be built. All that was necessary was to break free of the existing order, to break free and set loose the Imagination, and the Will, to create a new world.
And so it came to pass that on an autumn day in 1637 a carnival was borne on delicate threads of hope and imagination. A feast of the mind waiting to feed a hungrily prosperous New England colony, and on the oaken shores of the Charles River the hopes and dreams of all the disparate colonists swirled in mists most surreal. Lives tempered by the warning winds of history, questing lives, reaching for the prize, stood to gain an understanding of the worlds of possibility that lay ahead.
If history is but a prelude to the present, the past held little warning for the children of the colony, if only because curiosity about the future too often came at the expense of a more useable understanding of the past. The pages Samuel Clemens read and understood in the years before his passing were all about to be rewritten, and the past would give no comfort on these distant shores, for alongside the salt marshes and tidal flats that defined the borders of this new colony, forces beyond comprehension were gathering to render anew all that was possible. Whether or not Samuel Clemens’ children knew the future was as yet unwritten, therefore unpredictable and, indeed, incomprehensible, the destiny of this new world would be forged within fires of a bargain that not even time itself would dare challenge. There were forces waiting in the night, watching the fires humanity set to light the way ahead. Forces that, had young Timothy Langston known existed, would have driven his soul mad with despair.
The Guild Master sat on a barrel just outside the lofting shed, lost in thought. Perhaps of all the colonists in Charles Town, he alone possessed a somewhat complete understanding of men and their desires to see the danger when it at last presented itself, but he was, after all, still just a man. A man with his own hopes and dreams, his own driving ambition. And as he sat looking over plans for the guild’s next ship, he was lost in thought about this Mr Christian, wondering who this man was, and who – or what – was bringing such a mysterious carnival to the colony? He gave a passing thought to Marlowe’s Chapbook, the brief fable about poor besotted Faustus, for he had seen images of what he thought was Faust in the swirling mist, but that image had soon slipped from his grasp, superseded by even more potent images of dire consequence – and lustful profits. Yet when he walked away from the mist, right after he saw the old man walking on the trail, the specter of Faust returned – and now he could not rid himself of the image.
For while there were no ‘names’ or other recognizable persons inside the broadsheet, at least none that he could see, for some reason this one fact, that Faust was alive in those swirling mists, disturbed him. But why? Was there a bargain to be struck? Had God and Mephistopheles made a wager – over the people here? Would that bargain be consummated – at this carnival of Mr Christian’s?
He was troubled by these thought if only because he, like Jennifer Clemens and her brothers, and indeed, most of the other colonists, could hardly wait for Saturday, the day the carnival was set to open, and he had thought of little else since he had seen those tantalizing forms in the ether. Now, as he sat in his workshop, he reflected on what he thought he had seen, and the more he thought about those vexatious forms the greater his unease grew, and with evening coming on, with the dancing shadows of torchlight filling his soul with cold dread, he decided to act. He would go and confront those images, for he had to Understand.
Rumors were running wild and rampant throughout the colony.
The carnival must certainly arrive before the weekend, or so the thinking went, for Saturday was the date of the opening glanced by one and all in the swirling mists, and Claus Esterhaus just couldn’t stand the uncertainty of it’s arrival much longer.
Esterhaus found the broadsheet nailed to the side of his lumber mill, fluttering in the breeze like a talisman, before he began his walk home from the mill. He and his men had finished work on the mill just a few weeks before, and though he was a tired and hungry man, when he had seen the notice for the carnival, when he peered inside the mysterious, labyrinthine structures he beheld, he had been taken by evanescent visions of great things to be built in the future, of things he might be fortunate enough to build – in the future. And while he tried to hold those grand designs he saw in his mind, they ran from his memory with an all too capricious fleetness that had, in the end and like a tempestuous dream, simply left him bereft and undone. With each vision’s passing from memory he felt abandoned, isolated, and utterly lost, and as he walked away from the encounter, he thought the visions had come in a dream. Within hours he wasn’t sure what, exactly, he had seen, or even if the encounter had ever really happened.
‘Ah, perhaps what I saw was little more than the remains of a nightmare, intruding on the day!’ he thought as he walked. “What an impossible world! Impossible!” he shouted to the evening’s dying breeze.
Esterhaus had journeyed to the New World with his wife Maria, but she had not survived their first winter here, and now he lived alone, and lived in doubt about ever having desired a life in this wretched place. The winters were too cold, the summers too hot and there was an evil dampness about the place, but he thought the insects were the worst of all – until he had been bitten by one of the many ill-tempered vipers that lurked under every rotting stump or rock. He had been sick for weeks after, and would have died, he felt certain, had it not been for the efforts of Jennifer Clemens.
The Clemens family had come to the colony on the same boat with Claus and Maria Esterhaus, and he had watched with the rest onboard the Emily Rose as Samuel and Rebecca Clemens came down with the pleurisy. Death was inevitable and not long after those two fell ill, the fever came and spirited more away in the night. Esterhaus had been charged with building coffins, for he was a skilled woodworker, and he had earned the trust of the Clemens family when he charged a more than fair price for his work. Even then, Claus Esterhaus remembered, he had liked the looks of Jennifer Clemens, and after she nursed him back from the serpent’s bite he positively doted on the girl, but of more importance to his soul, he was sure the girl loved him equally. Why else would she have helped him so?
And today, playing inside the broadsheet, Esterhaus had seen a woman’s visage in the swirling mists, and he saw, as he had long suspected, this woman was destined to become the very center of his universe. With no doubt in his mind as he walked away from the wuthering broadsheet, he took this creatures presence in the mist as a sign of better days ahead, and now, quite suddenly, he felt in his heart Jennifer was meant to be his wife. That belief had become as bedrock to the man in the hours after his encounter with the mist, yet he had no courage to do anything about these feelings. He was not a man to react to life without regard to future consequence, but there were times, he knew, that an awareness of what one might reasonably call destiny did little more than obscure the way ahead.
But just who had he seen in the mist? Jennifer? Or someone else?
But then the music started playing, and soon it was driving him mad…
Langston Clemens made his way to the harbor the same night the colony learned of the carnival, and he took the small boat he had constructed for the Guild and sailed upriver. The native folk first seen by colonists when they arrived on the bay – now seven long years ago – had been seen traveling just off the shore and along the rivers in slim bark lined skiffs, and Langston Clemens had been charged with designing and building a working replica of these craft as part of his apprenticeship. One of the native men who visited the colony from time to time – an older man who came to trade pelts for metal implements the blacksmiths made – traveled by such a craft, and Langston had befriended the man, taken trips upriver to his village, and he had been able to learn much about these craft on his trips. Soon, however, he began visiting the village for other reasons.
He had first seen the girl in the village on one of those trips, and so smitten was he with her that he made it a point to go upriver as often as he could. Soon introductions were made, and over time Langston and the girl became friends, and despite differences in language and custom, within a year the two became more than fond of one another. Yet as happy as he was with the relationship, the affair soon presented thorny problems to the young colonist and his family.
Langston’s predicament wasn’t all that unusual in this or any other colony in the New World, for single young men in these colonies often outnumbered available women by – on average – a ten-to-one ratio. And more troublesome still, most of the newly arrived colonists were families – so single women were few and far between. And there were other obstacles – some subtle and some most overt – that worked against these relationships, chief among them a festering hostility between natives and colonists that had only grown more heated over time. This lingering hostility had, Langston long ago surmised, been aggravated by poor lines of communication between the two groups, as well as an overt prejudice on the part of both group’s leaders. These elements conspired to prevent a meaningful dialogue between the colonists and the native folk, and of more lasting consequence, limited exchanges between each group to simple, and infrequent, mercantile transactions.
There had been little meaningful exchange of customs and traditions since the earliest years of the relationship, and absent such knowledge suspicions of each group’s motives only deepened over time. Such mutually reinforcing ignorance, Langston feared, could foster only trouble, and he had worked hard ever since to learn the language and customs of these indigenous people. In due time, as a result of this understanding, Langston’s relationship with the native girl took on stronger, more urgent tones.
For, as both Langston and Claus Esterhaus knew, and only too well, the simple biological pressures of enduring isolation was contributing to these hostilities. Simple misunderstandings about one man’s intentions soon grew to full-blown territorial disputes. Violent sexual encounters led to armed reprisals. Hostilities increased with each new misunderstanding and each group’s ignorance of the other’s customs and laws simply aggravated each new wound. Over time, contact between the groups became very limited, and so what contact remained was often of a very violent nature. Yet even so, with so few single women available inside the colony, most single men were more than happy – even if they were reluctant to discuss these activities – to engage in this particular form of human intercourse. Despite risks to the uneasy equilibrium that existed between the increasingly hostile camps, nature had a way of taking its course.
And it was under such simmering circumstance that Langston and Na-taka-ri had come to know one another, come to regard the other first as friend, and in time, as lover. It soon came to pass that on most any day young Langston had spare time on his hands, he made for the woods beyond the town and waited for her, and he was rarely disappointed. He found a happiness in her cool eyes, a loving calmness that had escaped his few previous sexual encounters, and he craved her lean body more than any food or drink he had ever tasted. They made love under summer skies, learned each others most intimate languages, and as each began to care for the other all the cultural barriers between them dissolved, and this did not go unnoticed among their peoples.
The two also shared long walks in forests he regarded as almost primeval, and she showed him how to fish the nearby streams when the salmon were running. In time she helped him construct a small smokehouse by the river, and he began taking smoked fish home to his brothers and sister. Though they had their suspicions, Jeremiah and Jennifer asked few questions, while Timothy smoldered along his righteous course without comment.
Then one day he made the journey to their smokehouse and found that Na-taka-ri had built a small lean-to in a small clearing by the river, and soon he stole away most nights too, for now she was always at hand. But Langston came to understand that she was living in this lean-to out of necessity, for she had been ostracized by her people, and now but for him she was alone in this world. He moved their lean-to closer to his family’s cabin a few days later, then quietly began building her a small cabin of her own, on their land. And as it happened, one day Jeremiah came along and helped.
It hadn’t taken long for Langston to realize that he had very strong feelings for Na-taka-ri. After moving her to his family’s land he formally introduced her to his brothers and sister, and though Jeremiah had his doubts about her in the beginning, the eldest Clemens soon regarded her as part of his family. Soon all but Timothy talked with her, they taught each other the language and customs of their respective people, and after a time all but Timothy grew to trust Na-taka-ri. Jennifer enjoyed the company of the other girl, too, despite their apparent differences, and as the cultural barriers dissolved they soon became fast friends. Timothy remained, predictably, another matter, for when he saw her developing relationships with his brothers, he immediately wanted to teach her to read, and he had the perfect book in mind. Vox clamantis in deserto, in word, if not in deed, became his driving motive.
As time passed, Na-taka-ri walked in the forest with Jeremiah and Langston and she taught them about the land and the water and the people who had been there since the earth had been born. She showed them legends in the night sky, and explained the passages of the seasons. The brothers were soon the colony’s authority on the local people, and while none of the colonists said anything about Langston’s supposed liaisons in the forest, there were many who objected to this woman ‘waiting for him out there in the woods’; even so, none really knew the extent of the Clemens’ deeper involvement with Na-taka-ri and her culture, and this one simple truth hung over Jeremiah’s head like an executioner’s blade, for he felt it oddly treasonous and was sure others might think that way too.
When Langston left the cabin that Wednesday afternoon, the same day the broadsheet appeared, he walked into the forest lost within the visions he’d seen, only to find Na-taka-ri shaking and feverish with illness; she was in fact desperately ill, he saw, and then he soon thought she was ill enough to die. He fetched cool water from the stream then ran home to find Jennifer; they returned to Langston’s little cabin in the forest but she had no idea what was wrong – even so Jennifer feared it was a pox – for Na-taka-ri was burning with fever and small sores had appeared on her belly. Jeremiah came, but he didn’t trust anyone in the colony enough to risk asking for help, so the two brothers left and paddled upriver to the native folk’s village as fast as they could. Na-taka-ri was sick, Langston explained, burning to the touch, but they learned that many in the village had already fallen ill, and some had already died – most agonizingly, he learned, for like what they’d found on Na-taka-ri’s body, a virulent pox had taken hold and was now spreading like wildfire through the village. The elders had never seen anything like it, and he looked on helplessly as an old woman called out the names of her people in violent delirium, called out for help from spirit-names Langston had never heard before, and he had left feeling so helpless as he walked back to the river, and they returned to the colony, to Jennifer and Na-taka-ri. And there they waited for the fever to break – or for darkness to come.
The Clemens’ house was a simple affair, yet not without modest comforts. The one place Jennifer liked to sit and think was on the west-facing porch that Jeremiah and Langston had finished only a months before. She loved her view of the valley beyond the Charles, and the mountains rising in the distance, and while she doubted the colony would ever spread that far, she could hope! Now, with Na-taka-ri’s sickness weighing heavily on her mind, she felt an unnatural sense of gloom in the autumn air. ‘What is this pox?’ she wondered. ‘And why do WE not fall ill?’ She leaned back in her chair lost in such thoughts, until her eyes fell to a perfect joining in the woodwork – and she smiled.
Langston had designed the porch without his brother’s help, yet even so the three brothers had crafted a nice retreat from the sooty confines of their cabin. And even though Jennifer thought the porch felt a little like a boat, she wanted Langston to design more additions to the house.
But best of all, Langston had – out of love for his sister – fashioned a sturdy and elegant rocking chair from local cherry trees. Everything he fashioned, she observed, was executed with the greatest care, crafted with tremendous pride. The chair, this porch, his work for the Guild… all of it so precise, and she thought that with such talent as she had on hand there was little her family couldn’t accomplish! They already had so much to be thankful for…
There were trees for the taking in abundance on the hills that lined the river; how unlike Devonshire this was! No permission was needed to fell a tree, no sheriff patrolled the woods on the lookout for poachers! All was unbridled freedom and she loved the feeling, yet now there was Na-taka-ri and her illness, and that one simple problem threatened to undo all her hard work. She was aware of their tentative standing in the colony; without their father they were still considered a great unknown, and even all his money could not buy power – that kind of lasting power needed to create a dynasty. And without power there was little she could do to counter the fear that would surely sweep the colony if it became known she was hiding a poxed native girl in the colony’s midst.
And so, lost in thought on that gentle Friday afternoon before the Carnival, Jennifer watched the last autumn leaves fly from the trees around their house, she watched them fall and settle on the ground. She rocked silently with an ancient calico cat on her lap; the sturdy creature purred contentedly while watching the leaves as they tumbled along. Jennifer thought of Na-taka-ri and Langston and little else while she ran her fingers through the cat’s fur, and she struck that certain spot behind the cat’s ears and he began to rumble with an infinite – if casual – acceptance of his place in her life. She smiled when she felt the cat roll onto it’s back and hold her hand in his front paws, for she knew he wanted his belly rubbed.
And she longed to feel such ease in this life. To center her life with a man by her side. An equal – not a master. A man who would confront life head on, with her. A man who could, at times, roll over on his back and purr contentedly – for her.
‘Are men really so simple?’ she thought. She could see little difference between men and cats, after all, and she wondered if men were truly so simple-minded. First, there was Claus Esterhaus making noises about wanting to marry her, and now Jebediah Moore letting it be known that he wanted to take her to the carnival. And while these distractions were almost fun, Langston had visited great trouble on their house, and try as she might Jennifer knew of no way to help the girl. How would the colonists react if they were discovered? And how would the native folk react if the girl’s death occurred under her care? Would the troubles begin again? And then on top of everything else that might happen, would the colonists blame the Clemens family for any renewed conflict with the natives?
So her thoughts tumbled like dry leaves across windblown blades of grass, and Jennifer could not help but feel that life was not as simple as the reds and golds of autumn’s journey through time. Had she missed her springtime, she wondered, or was it the music of winter she’d heard in the swirling mist – music slipping from her grasp once and forever?
Yet even now as she sat in Langston’s chair on her porch, she had the unmistakable feeling that this Mr Christian knew the answers to all her questions, and she longed to ask him what to do.
“I am not going! And to you, if you should go – well! I say unto you now that you will be damned for all time!” Jeremiah saw Timothy was on a sore rant this Friday afternoon, and even Jennifer was a little taken aback by his fear-stoked warnings. “Any who go to this heathen celebration will squander what good will the Lord holds in thy name! No! I say again, and hear thee well! Do not go, for He will forsake thee!”
“Heathen celebration? Timothy! What has gotten into you?” Jeremiah asked as he tended another haunch of venison roasting on the iron spit.
“Fool! Haven’t you been listening? Saturday is All Hallow’s Eve! No good can come of this wretched carnival . . . this Carn – Evil,” he sputtered these last words even as he threw heavy emphasis on the last two syllables, drawing out words like a blood-soaked knife from it’s rusty scabbard.
Yet when Jeremiah laughed, Timothy recoiled as if he’d been slapped on the face.
“Oh-in-deed!” Jeremiah stuttered. “I wouldn’t have thought that important enough to warrant mention. Hallow’s Eve, you say?” Jeremiah said as his laughter came again, though he cast a sidelong glance at Jennifer, seeking her support. “I shouldn’t think that would matter in the least. What has the Good Rector to say about all this?”
“The Rector?! Ah, but that is the most hideous thing of all, brother, for he has been seduced by these visions too! He is going! And I tell you both, with God here now as my witness, a great peril awaits. God’s wrath will be visited upon us if we fail to heed His warning!”
“Warning? What warning?!” Jennifer asked, now interested enough to wonder where Timothy was going with this.
“The warnings in the notice! Have I not already told you of this?! Or were you blinded by the Master of Darkness himself?!”
“As I said, I saw no warning. Tell me again, brother,” Jennifer asked, now perplexed, “just what did you see?”
Wide-eyed with troubled fear, Timothy quailed before his memory of the vision: “Great red serpents coiled ‘round buildings, great buildings – higher than the sky. No, they were coiled around the very house of God, choking the life out of God himself! Striking out at those who walk the righteous path, delivering poison to all who heed this evil calling, the Dark Master’s voice! Oh heaven help us, don’t go, Sister! Please don’t go!”
Jennifer looked at Jeremiah and shook her head, for she was genuinely confused and took no comfort when she saw Jeremiah shrug his shoulders. Though they all had talked about the experience of seeing visions inside the notice itself, so consumed with the excitement each felt none had as yet pieced together the differences each saw within. Now, as she listened to Timothy and looked at Jeremiah, a dark hollowness came over her, yet an unknowable fire began to burn in her chest.
“Timothy, you say you saw serpents inside the broadsheet? Jeremiah, what did you see inside the mist?”
“Nothing of the sort, Sister. Again, I saw only a dimly perceived future filled with opportunities and riches beyond measure. Great machines at work, armies of men laboring in this New World, turning it into a land of prosperity without limit! But I saw no serpents, no people devoured in Satan’s flames! If anything at all, I saw the very opposite!”
“Nonsense!” cried Timothy. “Such perverted vision can only result from labors of the Deceiver!”
Jennifer thought back to her own encounter with the notice, and to the haunting images she had seen within. She saw men and women dancing and in that instant she heard the music that had bedeviled her ever since. Something had taken her measure, she was sure of it. But why? And who would do such a thing? But – what else had she forgotten in the hours since?
Because one other feeling about the encounter still troubled her, but what was it – what had she forgotten?
“This is too queer,” she finally said – to no one but herself – her voice trailing off into the smoke. Then it hit her: “Timothy!? Did you hear music? From within the image?”
“Music? No, Sister, not one note! Did you?”
“Jeremiah? What of your vision? Did you hear music, or see couples at dance?”
“Dancing? No, indeed not, and neither did I perchance to hear music. But…what is this?”
“Yes. What could this mean, brothers? This omission is too odd to be mere coincidence!”
“Nothing is too odd for Satan, Sister! No vision is innocent that comes from the Great Tempter!”
“Timothy, you may be right in your thinking in one regard. If by chance this summons is as deceitful as you imply, then all who go to the carnival may yet be deceived again, so I would ask you this: would it not be better for us to go and see these temptations for ourselves, so that we may better understand what may befall us? If the people of the colony have been chosen by the Master of Temptation himself, should we not go to see what forms these temptations might take? How can we resist evil on such a scale if we can not even muster the strength to know what form our enemy takes?”
Timothy looked at her first with suspicion, then he grew thoughtful as the import of her words penetrated.
“I know of not one good reason, Sister, other than that the danger would be most great. Few men can resist Lucifer, or his agents, just as His strength is mightiest in proportion to His audience. With such strength as the deceiver might have at a gathering of this size, I would fear for us all!”
“But not if we stand together, Brother. Not if we go together, and resist that who would befoul our new home.”
“Yes, Sister,” Jeremiah said. “Together we could resist anything. What say you, Timothy? We are a family, are we not? Can we not do this thing, if we stand together?”
Timothy was intimidated by the fear he felt, and looked at his brother and sister feeling now as if he stood at the crumbling edge of a vast precipice. Had they already been deceived? Were they already lost?
Could he yet save them?
Jennifer and Jeremiah were both struck by the look of stark terror they saw in Timothy’s eyes; both could see that he had been drawn to the edge of an abyss; indeed, to Jennifer it seemed as if the very edge of the earth was pulling their brother’s body closer and closer to an unfathomable darkness. A vast power was, she saw, hovering around the edges of his world – waiting to consume him.
And what if Timothy is correct? Was this a power summoned to consume them all? Suddenly she felt his unreasoning fear take hold, and though she knew not why, she was willing to concede there may be some greater truth behind the veiled terror she felt in Timothy’s eyes.
But what could this evil be?
“What have I forgotten?” she half said, half whispered to herself.
Why did music bedevil her so, whenever she tried to think this through? First the man in the field, the field with the cat: Strawberry Fields Forever?…Across the Universe?…what could it possibly mean? As she thought of the man in the grass by the bay, the day she cleansed the lion’s wounds, in a blinding instant she saw the world aflame, huge gouts of smoking evil streaking through the air – and then – walls of molten earth, scouring the land until nothing was left. She fell back from the visions, adrift, cut away from all she’d ever known, and then the music, that other music began again.
She swallowed hard and fell to the floor…
Langston returned from a second hurried journey upriver Friday evening, just as Jennifer was cleaning up after supper. He was exhausted and filthy, covered with mud and insect bites, and there were wads of reeds and twigs embedded in muck that hung from his hair and his beard. This had been a hard trip, he reported, but the few native folk remaining had not appeared angry. Jennifer sighed in relief, and she wanted details of what he had seen and done.
The native folk had not been unsympathetic, Langston reported, but refused to come to Na-taka-ri’s aid. She was an outcast now, beyond their understanding, and the elders implied their medicine would not work on her. The white men would have to care of her, the chief said, make her pure for either this life – or for her journey to the next. Langston said he understood and was walking from the village when a woman came up to him and gave him a small deerskin pouch with dried flowers and leaves in it; she told him to boil the mixture and make sure Na-taka-ri drank it all. So, he thought, word of Na-taka-ri’s illness had spread through the village, and if this had happened how long would it take before everyone in the colony knew?
Jennifer thought about actions and consequences as she walked with Langston through the woods, walked to the cabin he’d built for Na-taka-ri, and she felt the inescapable pallor of death as they made their way along the forest trail. Jennifer set about making the old woman’s “tea” when they arrived, then brother and sister huddled over the deathly ill girl while they helped her drink the liquid. Na-taka-ri seemed to rally a bit later, but became deliriously feverish in the middle of the night – and death did not appear far off when rosy fingered dawn came next.
Roger Foster had been the colony’s Rector for six years. He was, outwardly at least, a pious and impractical man, given to finding persecutory conspiracies in every dark corner he happened upon. Tall and thin, his gaunt face and fierce eyes exuded a peculiar moral authority; regardless, most colonists trusted him – almost as much as they feared him. Foster was, too, always meddling in the political affairs of the colony, always trying to assert divine authority over the their dealings with the natives, yet over the past few years his bold assertions had more often than not been proven to render peculiar insights, and were now regarded as having questionable value. He had, in other words, been proven downright wrong time and time again – yet as he and his faithful flock were not easily swayed by facts Foster’s fallibility mattered not at all – to him, anyway, or to his chosen few. He was a man of faith, a man of conviction in an age when belief was increasingly at odds with perceived fact, and he hated these shifting moral sands… perhaps because he saw his loss of moral authority as civilization’s failing – at least in God’s eyes – failing a series of divine tests.
Yet when Foster came upon the broadsheet he had been mesmerized by images of men and women in sexual congress, and for days – and nights – since, he had been haunted by the pulsing music that accompanied these images of deeply aroused couplings. Far from outraged, the Rector was looking forward to the Carnival’s opening later that day, for he was convinced some great sexual experience was in the offing and so great was his need he could at times hardly contain himself – and echoes of that pulsing beat only served to stir his cravings to a fever pitch. He grew hungry as bacchanalian thoughts washed over and through his body, and he trembled not in shame, but in pure, unadulterated lust.
But he faced sudden conflict now, what with that youngest Clemens boy spewing assertions that the Carnival was the work of Satan, and in church this morning Foster had found himself on the defensive. His worried brow creased the day, for earlier that very morning he had been informed there were rumors floating amongst the colonists to the effect that Satan had already lured the Rector into some sort of unholy union. A cloud had passed over his church, casting deep shadows of doubt, and in the dim light the Rector was certain Timothy Clemens was the source of these accusations – and he was livid now, plotting his revenge.
Would might he do to counter these claims, to reclaim the high ground?
But what about the persistent rumor that one of the Clemens boys had taken a native woman to bed? He couldn’t allow that! He would not allow the purity of his church to be sullied by this heathen carpenter. Oh no, not in his new world – not again! And the eldest Clemens boy – what was his name? – was clearly getting too powerful amongst the colonists, for with his free thinking ways the boy was emerging as a threat to the power of the church. No, most certainly the boy wasn’t of pure heart, but now the loquacious Timothy had earned the Rector’s wrath – and he warranted repudiation, as well.
He smiled again as he thought of the evening ahead, he smiled because he relished the thought of putting these upstarts back in their rightful place. But most of all, he smiled because he was certain his carnal cravings might at long last be indulged.
Claus Esterhaus’ thatched-roof cottage was nestled protectively in the shadow of the colony’s innermost wall. He had chosen the site with due care, once he had determined the natives were not too big a threat, because of its proximity to the wharves and markets that were only now beginning to thrive. He was, after all, a respected Hanseatic timber merchant, honor bound to his company in Lübeck to help establish a trading presence in the New World. He stepped out of his house as evening shadows began to lengthen, and began walking inland along the river.
Word was the carnival had set up in a meadow not quite two miles inland, on the north bank of the river – by the college John Harvard proposed to build. There was a path of sorts along the river, but it turned north to avoid a boggy area and really went nowhere near the carnival’s supposed site. Claus wondered why the man in the broadsheet was staging the affair in such a remote and inaccessible part of the colony, so now he grew concerned with how he might get there – and not show up covered in mud and wattle – because he wanted to make a grand impression…
He decided to leave his house, therefore, late in the afternoon, because he wanted to allow plenty of time to skirt the boggy area – yet he soon found he needn’t have bothered. Already there were large groups walking west, beating a new path along the water’s edge, and he could even see an ox-drawn cart far ahead. He turned, looked back to the gates that protected Charles Town and saw dozens more colonists streaming out, and despite the odds he craned his head, hoping to see Jennifer Clemens on her brown and white horse.
Yet he wasn’t surprised when he didn’t see her. The Clemens’ place was, after all, on the peninsula across the river, near the road to Plymouth, but oh, how he hoped she’d be there! Tonight, of all nights! There was magic in the air…
And then he spied a skiff on the far side of the river, just putting in across the water and his heart skipped a beat. All of the Clemens boys were aboard; two of them were rowing while the third – Langston, was it? – stood to the tiller – but where was Jennifer? Had she decided not to come? A sudden blackness fell over his heart when he thought of life without Jennifer, and his longing only grew more sharp with each beat of his heart. This couldn’t be! Hadn’t he seen her in the images! She had to come, for what would become of the future without her…
He followed the line their boat was taking and saw it would land near the proposed college, and he admired the boys’ forethought: they would arrive fresh and clean – while he would present himself as a muddy mess – along with all the rest. He followed the boat’s progress, watched it land then – astounding! – Langston stepped a slender mast, hoisted a lateen and sailed back across the river! Claus stood in open mouthed awe as he watched the skiff dart back across the green water, then he noticed that dozens of people along the bank were similarly amazed and he shook his head at the boy’s audacity. He’d never seen such a rig before, not even in Lübeck, and certainly never in Britain. Where had the boy learned such things?
He watched as the boat landed again on the south shore and his heart leapt when he saw Jennifer step aboard. He could hear her laughter on the wind as boat skimmed across the river once again, and Claus renewed his pace. He had wanted to get to the carnival ahead of her and find her as soon as possible; that would be impossible now and he was vexed! Now, as he slogged along the muddy path his mind worked out the possibilities…
Who would she be with? Her brothers, no doubt, but what of the others who saw her as a prize to be won? He would have to separate her from these potential suitors as soon as possible. Would her brothers object? Would he seem too obvious?
“Guten abend, Herr Esterhaus,” he heard a spectral voice say, and he turned toward the source half expecting to see…? What? Mr Christian?
But no, it was the Right Reverend Roger Foster – and what a sight he made!
His normally pallid features were suffused in deepest crimson, but it was the man’s lips that stood out most vividly. They were puffed up and blue, and Esterhaus wondered if the reverend had perhaps been having a rather unholy dalliance recently…?
He smiled at the man, doffed his cap: “Grus Got, Father. I had not expected to see you this evening.”
“Ahem, well, I must forever be the shepherd to my flock.”
“Ah, yes. Just so. There seems to be some, well, some mystery about this carnival, father, don’t you think?”
“Aye. And many tales of disrepute already. Or so I’ve heard.”
They continued walking along the river and, mercifully, as the air grew cooler the flies and other insects settled down. They skirted the large boggy area and made their way through barren oaks and maples until at last they came upon the meadow; they looked across the field at the same time and the two men stopped dead in their tracks.
Neither man knew what to say. In fact, most of the hundred or so people who had so far gained the meadow were gaping open-mouthed at the spectacle before them.
A golden sun hung above the violet horizon, the blistering orb now barely visible through the tree-lined hills that defined the ends of their world, but the barren meadow was alive now, dancing in amber torchlight. In the evening’s dying breeze, hundreds of torches cast flickering, oblong shadows in the deepening gloom, and a sudden fog was settling on the banks of the river.
“Dear God in Heaven,” Foster said as he made the sign of the cross over his chest.
“Ja, Father, but what could this mean?”
“How could such a creation spring up – overnight?”
The Rector shook his head and now, for the first time since he’d seen those stirring images in the broadsheet, he grew fearful. Then he heard more people emerge from the trees behind them, heard the sharp intakes of breath and astonished cries of each new arrival, and he understood their astonishment. He turned and looked at these new arrivals, looked at faces frozen in place, and he noticed few dared to venture into the meadow. As if shadows could protect them…
But what could this mean, indeed?
Esterhaus too stood still, for he had some knowledge of great buildings. He had, after all, been to Aachen and Brugge and Canterbury. He had seen the vast spire of the cathedral rising above the Salisbury plain, as well as the brooding mass of the cathedral in Exeter. He wasn’t a stonemason but nevertheless understood wood, and above all else knew what could be fashioned from it – and he knew that what his eye beheld now was simply an impossibility.
Across the meadow a vast wall of billowing orange tapestry stretched hundreds of feet on either side of a massive stone entryway; torches behind the tapestry revealed shadowy figures already nearing the entrance. But what struck Esterhaus was the sheer scale of the massive stone buildings within the carnival, and that they had seemingly been wrought overnight!
Esterhaus could see a castle’s stone ramparts and a vast colosseum just visible above the silken wall; indeed, there seemed to have sprung-up overnight a small city as ancient as any in Europe!
He stood fast beside Foster in stunned awe – until his eyes found Jennifer Clemens; when he saw the girl with her three brothers he made his way decisively past the somnambulant horde until he stood beside her in front of the gated entrance. The gate, solid oak and at least thirty feet tall, was still closed tight, but as the last light from the amber orb fell behind the western horizon a deep gong was heard – and the gate parted just enough to allow one man through.
Jennifer Clemens looked at the magician – for she was sure now that this was what he was – as he walked clear of the entry. He looked exactly what she had imagined Merlin the Magician looked like when her father recounted the tales of Arthur and Lancelot. And she recognized the man’s eyes, the eyes she had seen last Wednesday after she’d come upon the broadsheet on the forest trail. Yes, the eyes were the same, but – the man? The man was somehow different!
This man was much taller than she remembered, and very thin. Willowy. Yes. Like a weeping willow in a freshening breeze – his orange robes drifted on the evening air in concert with the billowing tapestries that surrounded the entire carnival, yet even so she could make out the bony structure of the man beneath. This man’s skin was as white as snow, too, yet almost translucent blue, as was his long, flowing hair. Still, her eyes went back to his: they were huge, silver-gray orbs that spoke a language she was sure she had never heard before…if only she could remember why! And why had the music suddenly grown loud again, that familiar, haunting music? Music so soft she thought of moonlight, and while this music surrounded the colonists, she saw no musicians. Despite this new serenade, she kept hearing strawberry fields in her mind’s eye, and images of the man with the strange instrument played in her mind again and again…
Then the magician stepped away from the gate, lifting his arms high in greeting as he approached:
“Welcome,” his wizened voice proclaimed. “Welcome, all of you. Welcome back!”
– Welcome back? – and she thought that an odd greeting…
Then he called to those transfixed, lost in the darkness, those who remained in fields beyond the shadows:
“Come, all of you! Step forward, step into the light. You are welcome here, and no harm will come for you.”
Jennifer turned, watched a handful of people come forward. Still, many seemed fearful and remained in the shadows, but now she found Claus Esterhaus standing just behind her, and the Reverend Foster a few steps away, but that was all. Of the hundreds she had seen on the sail across the river – had only a few stepped forward? So, would only a handful of people venture inside the carnival?
How could this be? There was magic in the air, and great mystery, so why should that cause people to grow fearful? Weren’t these the experiences people went to carnivals to revel in?
Then she saw the Guild Master trudging through the meadow, a knowing smile on his face, but the magician steepled his fingers before his gaunt frame as he looked at Jennifer – and those standing near her. The old man looked at each in their turn – as if he was taking stock of the seven people who had gathered by the gate. He paused when he came to the reverend and his eyes were suddenly possessed by a fierceness that took Jennifer’s breath away. She watched the man, this wizard, as he paused, then stepped forward, closer to the Rector, and she felt a chill run down her spine when he spoke next, in a gentle, almost mocking voice:
“Oh, True Believer, Man of God! Why have you come to me this night?”
Unable to restrain himself, the quivering man looked away before he spoke: “I have seen a vision, and I must find the truth of it. Can you help me?”
“Ah,” the magician said quietly. “But you are Lust, and of course I can help you. You are welcome among us, and no harm will come to you.”
Foster took a tentative step forward, then hesitated. “Lust?” Foster asked. “Did you call me by that name?”
“Come now, True Believer,” Mr Christian said. “We know you well. Step inside, step inside with me. Vast pleasure awaits – and more.”
Still, Foster hesitated.
Then the Magician held out his hand: “Take my hand, Man of God. You must have Faith in yourself too, if you entertain to understand this need of yours.”
Jennifer could not quite tell if the wizard’s last words were a statement or a question, but they seemed to penetrate the Reverend’s fog.
Foster reached for the Magician’s hand and took it, then followed meekly as the old man turned and led him to the doorway – and into the carnival beyond.
Once inside, the rector stumbled before the vast city within, then they walked for some time, until they came to a black door set in a blood red wall. They stopped under a flickering lantern, and the magician watched the rector, waiting for Lust’s choice.
“Everything you’ve ever dreamed of, waited for all your life, stands behind this door, Man of God. All you need do now is take the door in hand. No harm will come to you, and tomorrow you will only know thyself better.”
Foster reached for the door, hesitated, but now the magician remained quiet – though he appeared to be waiting, patiently, for the inevitable.
Foster reached for the door, touched the grimy metal knob and was in an instant inside a small room. There was but a single chair in the space, and a small opening in the wall opposite.
He walked to the opening and looked through…
…and very nearly fell back onto the floor…
For he looked on an ocean of men and women, all naked, or very nearly so, a single writhing mass on a sea suffused in deep purple light, then the forms shifted, the light changed to a deep amber, and Foster saw a man being whipped by a woman who had a monstrous phallus attached to her waist. He stared at the scene, his blood pounding in his temples, then the scene shifted again, to a room with honey colored light, and he saw an old man standing in a room very much like this one, with a young boy on his knees doing something to the old man. Time stopped and the rector looked at the old man, saw the contours of his own need in the other man’s face, and in his own tortured soul knew within this heart of darkness he was looking at himself. He cried out in anguish, shame coursing through his veins – before lust overcame inhibition.
“Isn’t this what you wished for, Man of God?”
“Oh, yes! Oh, God forgive me, but yes, it is!”
“Then go, for you have passed Lust’s Gate, and this is your choice,” the magician said as a doorway into the room appeared. “Go, know thyself truly – and what waits beyond.”
There was no hesitation in the Rector’s eyes now, and he hurried into the room.
And as suddenly as the Rector disappeared behind the door, another old man stepped into the torchlight – and Jennifer gasped, for this was the very man she had seen that first day! The very one!
Those eyes! She’d never forget those eyes. They held her inside a precious warmth that soothed and calmed her soul, and she felt a contentment that had eluded her for years, ever since her parents passed on the voyage. But now, here in this night was the way to soul’s ease. She was not yet sure what form this release would take, but here was the gate and the path – she had only to step forward and make the journey. She was not surprised when the wizard walked up to her and stopped, or when he looked at her and spoke:
“Ah, Greed. Will you ever be sated? Have you come now for more?”
The words rocked her and she wilted before the malevolence she felt beating the air over her head, beating like a vulture’s wings, yet she reached out to the proffered hand, felt almost powerless to resist.
“No! Stop!” It was Timothy’s voice she heard, and as if in a daze she turned and looked for this voice in the darkness. “Sister! We promised to go together, do you remember?”
She saw him, recognized him, but found she could not speak. She turned back to the old man and took his hand.
“Sister, please! Stay with us! Do not go!”
But she felt her body move now, of it’s own volition, and felt detached from her earthly form and she drifted behind the old man through the gate. Then there was a stone passageway ahead, and the way was lit by a lantern in the old man’s trembling hand. As they walked into the darkness she looked at the ancient stones in the flickering light, then –
“How… can this be?” she said to the darkness. “These stones? Wait!”
The old man stopped and turned. “Yes?” His eyes were fixed on hers, all warmth gone from them, and now only a vast, insinuating emptiness remained.
“The carnival, was put up – when? Yesterday? Last night?”
The old man smiled and turned back to the passageway and began walking again. Jennifer felt herself flowing behind him as questions pressed inward from every direction…
“When, tell me when!”
“Time has no meaning here, Greed. Do not ponder those things from which you will find little gain…”
“Greed? Why do you call me that?”
“That is who you are.”
“What? No! My name is Jennifer, Jennifer Clemens!”
“Oh. As you wish.”
“And who are you? Do you have a name?”
“I was Diogenes. Diogenes, of Sinope.”
“Diogenes? That’s a preposterous name!”
“Yes, I suppose it is. But come, we must not wait here. The first gate beckons, Greed, and you have so far to travel.”
“Far? What do you mean far? How long will I be gone?”
There was a wall ahead, this time of solid stone, yet another oaken door was set inside this living stone. Diogenes ignored her questions as walked up to the door and stopped, and then he let go of her hand.
“I can not open this door. Only Greed can move forward through this gate.”
She looked at the old man, truly wounded. “Greed? I don’t understand! Why do you call me by such a hateful name?”
His eyes empty now, the wizard looked for her as a blind man might – groping about the passageway with searching hands – until he found her. “No other shall pass this way, for this is Greed’s Gate. Go back now, while you may, or enter, enter and see the meaning of your time.”
There was no choice to make, not really, so she reached for the iron latch and pulled on it. The door opened, stiffly at first – like it hadn’t been opened in ages. Iron grating on stone, the stones of years, tears without end, yet it was as if the door had been waiting for her – and she knew it. Hot air blasted her face as the way ahead appeared, but blinding light washed through the opening before she could shield her eyes. She cried as heat enveloped her, as she stepped through the gate and staggered under the weight of all that she saw.
Everywhere around her vast metal machines rumbled and coughed, and a roaring silver bird leapt into the sky across the bay. Wide-eyed, she followed the bird as it banked and turned over a sprawling city, yet against all odds the place seemed familiar to her. Those hills, the river! The bay itself! – it all seemed so familiar!
She was looking at Charles Town from the site of John Harvard’s college! She was home! But where was this place, really?” She turned to ask Diogenes but found nothing: no gate, no doorway, and as suddenly she was in a dim canyon, surrounded by hordes of these hideous belching beasts. One of the filthy machines pulled up alongside and she saw a man inside; she leaned over, looked inside, gasped when she saw the old man, for it was – Diogenes.
“Where ya goin’, lady?” the old man asked impatiently, impertinently.
“I beg your pardon?” she replied.
“Oh. You gotta be Beacon Hill. Figures, dressed like that and all. Well, come on. Get in, get in!”
“Get in?” Jennifer asked “In what? That?”
The old man looked at her, shook his head then got out and came around to her side of the machine, then opened a door that led inside the strange yellow beast. “Right, then. I’ll play the gentleman this time, if that’s what it takes. Now come on, get in!”
She moved inside, recoiled as her hand touched the slimy surface of the bench, and then she pinched off her nose from the vile stench that assailed her every sense.
“Alright, lady,” the man said as he returned to the belly of the beast, “where to?”
“What? What language is this you speak?”
“Come on, lady; give me a break, would ya? Where you wanna go?”
“You wanna ride back into town, or what?”
She thought about that for a moment, then said: “Can you take me to the Commons?”
“Sure thing,” Diogenes said as he flipped a lever, then the beast leapt like a wild horse and began charging through the narrow canyons of this vast, hellish landscape, the old man dodging other beasts and yelling strange curses at each one he passed. Then sunlight, huge buildings everywhere, more of the beasts but now in every color imaginable, all lined up to cross a bridge of some sort. Another burst of speed, then they were careening down little narrow lanes, and now she noted a strange yellow pall in the air. They turned into more colossal canyons of glass and stone, people – millions of people – everywhere walking with grim, determined faces – past buildings of unimaginable size – huge, tall palaces standing, soaring to the clouds – and beyond.
Then, in the midst of all this chaos a rolling green lawn, hundreds of people laying about on blankets, some couples locked in passionate embrace – and she wanted to turn away from these obscenities and hide her eyes, but she couldn’t.
‘This has to be a dream. It has to be a dream. I’m sure of it now.’
The beast slid to a halt. “Twenty two fifty, lady,” this Diogenes said.
“Da fare, lady,” he said, pointing a strange, numbered device. “Twenty two bucks and some change. Thirty would be nice.”
“Do you mean money?”
“Do I mean money? Watda fuck does ya think I mean?”
She fumbled in her little coin purse and pulled out a gold florint and gave it to the man.
“Wat da fuck is dis?” he asked, outraged now and preparing to get out of the beast.
“That’s a gold florint, sir. From Rotterdam.”
“Gold? Geez, ya shittin’ me, lady?”
“Geez, Ma’am. I didn’t mean no offense. Tanks. I mean it. Tanks – a lot.”
The beast screeched away, leaving her in the shadow of – what? More vast buildings? Some smaller, made of red brick but in the main huge monoliths of black glass disgorging thousands of people by the minute – and everywhere she looked she saw more and more of the same.
“So, if this is the commons then the house must be up this road. This looks to lead up my little hill…”
She started up a broad roadway lined with silent beasts – and promptly lost her way. She turned, looked downhill, saw the commons and adjusted her course, turned right and made her way up the hill into a quiet neighborhood. She walked along this street until she came to a house and stopped, looked at the porch off the right side of a much newer part of the house.
“Langston’s porch!” she cried. “My God!”
“Yeah, they don’t build ‘em like that anymore, that’s for sure.”
She turned, saw Jeremiah standing just a few feet away and flew into his arms, her anguished tears staining his impossibly white shirt.
Langston had furled sail and squared-away the boat, then dashed through the grassy meadow towards the the torchlight just in time to see the Rector, the right honorable Roger Foster, being led into the carnival, and when Jennifer was summoned he wanted to object – until little Timothy made their anxiety known. Now he stood in mute silence, powerless to move as Jennifer disappeared behind another door – but even then a third man appeared, and when Langston felt the man’s eyes on him he feared this was to be his own summons.
This third wizard was almost identical to the first two – at least the few people gathered by the meadow’s edge thought that the case. His eyes possessed the same budding warmth, his gaunt, willowy frame was as translucent – and yet those gathered noticed each had been different, too, and in not so very subtle ways. This third one was neat in a way the first and second had not been, and somehow Langston felt that this third wizard was not as kind.
“Here, what’s your name?” someone called from the shadows.
“My name is of no concern to you,” this third Mr Christian said.
“And who have you come for?” Langston asked as quickly.
“Yes, boy, I have come for you.”
“Me?” Langston said, now truly wounded. “Sloth?”
“Take my hand, for we have a long way to go before this sun rises once again.”
“Don’t do it, brother, I beg you – in Christ’s name!” he heard Timothy’s pleading cry through the creeping fog that was enveloping this shore.
Langston turned to Timothy and met his fierce eyes with the hushed tones of his own quiet voice: “Quiet, brother,” he whispered through the encroaching mist. “I’ve got to go, go and find Jennifer.” He looked at Jeremiah, bade them both to come close. “We’ll meet up inside the gate,” he continued in alarmed, whispered tones, “and if somehow that doesn’t happen, if we can’t find one another, then we make our way out and back to the house as fast as we can.”
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Jeremiah interrupted.
“It is as I feared,” Timothy whispered fiercely. “We are in company with the Great Deceiver Himself.” He made the sign of the cross over his breast as he looked heavenward. “We are surely doomed!”
“Not if we keep our wits about us, we’re not. Now see here, Tim, when it’s your turn just step inside the gate, or door, or whatever that is, and wait for me. I’ll be with you in no time.”
“But if something happens,” Jeremiah interrupted, again, “then we make for the farm, is that correct?”
“Yes. From here, just follow Orion’s belt down to the horizon. You can’t miss!”
“Sloth! I have come for you! We cannot wait long.” the third talisman boomed.
“Right – o, mate. Hold on to your knickers!”
The old man glowered and took a step forward.
“Alright, alright… let’s have at it, mate! Lead on.”
“Take my hand.”
“Oh, come on now. We’re a bit old for hand holdin’, ain’t we?”
“Take my hand, Idiot!”
“Right, well, see you soon Tim. Be strong, brothers!” When Langston touched the man’s hand he grew still inside and drifted as if sailing on the lightest of breezes towards the door – then he was through and drifting on the gentle currents of an unseen river. He heard water and could smell sea air all around – even waves breaking on an unseen shore – yet it was so dark inside the carnival he could not make out any features within. None. He drifted for some time, hours he guessed – but it might have minutes, before he realized the man was still with him. He felt uneasy thereafter, unsure of the man’s motives.
“Aye, mate, where are we?” Langston finally asked.
“We have not left the place we were.”
“Right. Well, pardon me, but let’s try that again. Where are we?”
“We are almost there.”
“Right. My thanks to ye. You’ve cleared everything up.”
“Think nothing of it.”
The raft bumped up against something hard, and in the gloom Langston could just make out the finite contours of a rocky shore receding into an ever deepening darkness. A gently flooding tide pushed the raft insistently onto the rocks, then it recoiled and drifted back within the sloshing stillness – until the next wavelet pushed them onto the rocks again.
“I hate to bring this up, but are we there yet?”
“See ‘ere, mate, where are we?” Langston stood in the rocking skiff, peered into the gloom trying to see anything…but all he could feel was his own beating heart – indeed, he could hear his heart above all things now, but then he felt a freshening breeze coursing through his hair…
And he saw the old man was – gone! He had simply vanished, if he’d ever really been here at all…but where was here? Here, there and everywhere?
On the next wave he timed his jump as best he could and hopped ashore. He was normally sure-footed but landed badly on the rocky beach, and after brushing himself off he carefully made his way around rocks and boulders before he felt the reassuring comfort of tall grass. But the air! It was cold! Bitterly cold, and the wind was more insistent now!
He felt the coming of dawn and turned, looked at the eastern horizon and saw the sun just rising, but there was something off-putting about the bronze color of this sun, and the oddly iridescent haze of purple-gold mist that lined the far horizon. Still, looking closely now, the sun seemed almost alive, pulsing to the rhythm of a strange, beating heart. Then he looked towards the heavens and almost fell over.
“Mother of God!”
The sky was alive with pulsing light, the aurorae he had so often heard about from sea captains who ventured into far northern seas from time to time – yet what he saw now was simply overwhelming. The vast dome of the sky was all pulsing greens and pinks and purples, each color static for a time – before yielding fluidly to another, more outlandish display. And – the sky was not silent, either!
He could hear a crackling in the air, a sparkling tension that defied words – and he could feel the hair on the back of his neck standing on end – just like the chill warning that started down his spine. Something wasn’t right…no…something was…dangerously wrong.
Was it the trees?
‘They’re all wrong,’ he said to himself. He looked at the low, stunted trees around this beach…and nothing was recognizable. No maples, no hickory or oak. Not one tree looked like anything he had ever seen before, and then it hit him. It was simply too cold here. Nothing he knew could grow in this climate, and then he heard another crackling in the air, but this noise was not of the sky.
He looked to the north and in the low light he could just make out a wall of solid white ice, and he shook his head as he tried to make out how far away it was. He gave up after a minute; there was simply no way to judge such distance without walking towards the wall, as the ice might have been a hundred feet high and a few miles distant, or a thousand feet tall and dozens of miles away.
Then, another sound, something infinitely more dangerous. Something in the grass…
He instinctively crouched down, as low as he could, because suddenly he felt like he was being watched –
A cracking twig, slow, deep breaths low in the grass – a rumbling, menacing, growl – drawing near.
Without thinking he dashed back to the water’s edge and looked for the skiff – but it was gone – so he jumped into the icy blackness and waded away from shore; when he was as far out as he dared he stopped and turned, looked back at the beach – and gasped yet again.
The cat was huge, and out of it’s mouth drooped two fierce looking saber-like teeth. The animal was looking directly at him, following him now as he waded parallel to the shoreline. Still, the water was icy cold and Langston began to shiver; he knew if he remained in the water he would die soon – he’d heard stories of what happened when sailors fall overboard in a cold sea – so he decided to move closer to shore, perhaps get more of his body out of the water. Then he felt the cold breeze on his face and groaned.
Even as he watched the cat, he knew he had no other choice now, really, but to get out of the water.
As he trudged back towards shore the huge cat watched attentively, and Langston could tell the animal was getting ready to attack as soon as he was close enough. His foot touched rock and he edged in a bit more – until his head and chest were well clear of the water. The cat stood tall and roared, and Langston had never heard anything so soul-crushingly fearsome in his life. He felt warmth around his groin and cursed when he realized he’d just pissed into his pants.
He sensed more than saw something hissing through the air, and when the arrow struck the cat in a rear leg it spun around violently and lashed out – at – nothing. It roared again, almost howled in anguish and tried to walk back to the safety of tall grass but something was seriously wrong with the animal. Both it’s rear legs were dragging on the rocky beach, and it looked confused, began licking at it’s wounds frantically, trying to understand what was happening – and failing.
Then two men walked out of the tall grass with bows drawn, and they both let slip arrows that flew straight and hit the cat in the neck and chest. The cat wheeled around again and roared, tried to flee, but two more arrows bore in and hit the cat in the chest. Dying now, the cat fell on it’s side, began panting heavily, and a moment later it was over.
Langston walked from the water, sure he wanted to thank these two men – when they heard him, and they turned to face this new threat coming from the water. Then they strung their bows with fresh arrows and took aim at Langston’s chest…
“Aunt Jennie? Is something wrong?”
Aunt Jennie? “What? What did you call me?”
“Aunt Jennie. It’s awfully hot out, for you to be out here. Let’s get you out of this sun.”
“What?” Jennifer stepped back and looked at Jeremiah – only this boy wasn’t quite Jeremiah, was he? In some ways he looked younger – but his skin was unnaturally clear and his teeth blazing white – and there were traces of gray in this boy’s hair, wrinkles around his eyes.
“It’s Hot. We need to get you inside.”
“Yes. By the fire, I think.”
This strange man, for she was sure now he was not Jeremiah, took her hand and led her up the walk to Langston’s porch, then into the house. She almost fell over from the force of her own dismay when she saw the inside of their house, for it was – gone. Something new and hideously vulgar had replaced it, a huge home with pale, salmon colored walls and cream colored carpets and fantastic works of art on all the walls. And the furniture! She had never seen nor heard of such things as she saw now. And on the wall, a black panel full of moving images, almost like those she had seen within the broadsheet.
“What is this place?” Jennifer Clemens asked. “Where are we?”
“Come on, Aunt Jennie, we’d better get you upstairs. What were you doing out there today? Did you have a doctor’s appointment?”
“What?” she asked the stranger, now clearly afraid.
“Upstairs Jennie, let me help you upstairs.”
“I’ll call Sumner.”
He helped her up stairs and down a long hall to an impossibly large room, and when she had settled on the bed, when the man had covered her legs with an old quilt, she seemed to let go and drift within the moment, lost in time. She looked down at her hands, wanted to scream when she saw the stranger’s skin that had suddenly become her own, because the skin she saw was vast with illness, splotchy and yellow with unnatural age. There was a patch of cloth stuck to the top of her hand, covering a large bruise, and she wondered what it all meant.
“What is this?” she asked the man.
“A BandAid. Were you at the doctor’s today?”
“Oh, crap,” the man said as he pulled a strange looking box from his jacket pocket. He did things to it, then starting talking into it. “Sumner, it’s Pete. Yeah, hi. Look, I was walking by and saw Jennie out front… Yes, I know. Anyway, I think she’s been to the docs today, but something’s not right. She doesn’t know who I am, or who you are, and seems really confused…”
This man, this ‘Pete’ or whoever he was, listened to the box for a moment, clearly as upset as she was…
“Okay, I’ll make the call, and I’ll let you know when they get here.”
He did something to the box again, then began talking.
“Yes, I’m at 21 Louisburg Square, and I think my Aunt is having a stroke. She’s an oncology patient at Mass Gen, a Dr Charles German, I think, and she saw him today. She’s very confused. Yes, I’ll be out front. About five minutes? Okay.”
He put the box away, came to her and sat on the bed.
“Aunt Jennie, I’m going downstairs to wait for the ambulance, and I’ll be right back. Sumner will meet us at the hospital.”
Jennifer Clemens didn’t understand half of what the man said, and she stared at him mutely as he ran from the room. She stood, felt unsteady on her feet and braced herself against a piece of furniture by the bed. She looked up, saw a huge mirror on the wall and screamed when she saw the reflection waiting in the glass, looking back at her.
The woman in there was impossibly frail, and most of the hair on her head was gone. There were a few patches of wretched looking gray hair scattered about, but that wasn’t the worst of it. She looked at the skin, and the eyes, and instinctively knew that this poor soul wasn’t long for this world. She reached out, tried to comfort the poor thing, and when her hand touched the mirror’s smooth surface she brought it back to her own face, felt her skin as she watched in the glass and cold dread filled her to the depths of her soul.
“Who is this thing?” she asked the reflection. “Who am I? What has become of me?”
Jeremiah Clemens watched Langston disappear within the carnival’s stone walls and wanted to scream. Now his sister and his favorite brother were gone from this night, disappeared within the strange stone citadel – which by any reasoning he possessed simply could not exist. He turned, looked at his brother Timothy and the abject fear in his eyes was all he needed to see.
Behind Timothy stood the Guild Master, and the concern Jeremiah saw on the Master’s face was evident, as well. When their eyes met the older man came and stood beside Timothy, and he put his arms protectively around the younger boy’s shoulders.
“This is perhaps the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,” the Guild Master said. “I was on horseback riding through these fields not two days ago, and there was nothing here, beyond a few men from the college clearing brush. Yet here we are, in front of a city that appears most ancient.”
“This is Satan’s work,” Timothy whispered.
The Guild Master nodded his head. “I’m inclined to think as you do, young Master Clemens.”
Both Jeremiah and Timothy turned to look at the Guild Master, for he was considered the most learned, indeed, the most worldly member of the colony.
“You do?” Timothy said in hoarse surprise.
“Yes, but my concern now is a simple, more immediate one,” the Guild Master said. “We must get our people out of there, from inside, if we must, but we must act now, while we may.”
“Yes,” the brothers said – voices in clear agreement.
“Well, I’ve got twenty men moving ‘round to the back of this castle, or whatever this may be. They’re going to scale the walls, start searching once they get inside, then bring our people out – while we prohibit further inquiry from here.”
“So,” Jeremiah interrupted, “we should wait here? Distract this Mr Christian, from where we stand?”
“Distract? No, I fear that is not a wise choice, boy. Should my men be discovered, more people would be in even greater danger. I feel we must enter together, try to find our people and get them back to the entrance…”
“Ah, Moderation, you speak wisely.”
The three turned in shocked silence to face this new voice, apparently coming from deep inside the castle – yet now they came face to face with a fourth magician. He was standing just inches behind Jeremiah, and the beaming smile they took-in was the least disconcerting thing about this wizard. Because he easily stood half again as tall as the Guild Master, who was himself a very tall man, yet it was his other features that the three fell upon. Hard and gray, he seemed chiseled from living granite, and the man’s bunched muscles were impossibly large.
But he was looking at the Guild Master just now – and the giant seemed to be enjoying this moment immensely, and apparently wanted to draw it out. “How many men, did you say? Twenty?” Then the giant laughed, an impossible, booming laugh that echoed across the valley – and Timothy was half sure he’d let go and wet himself. “Oh well,” he said as he wiped tears of mirth from his gleaming, amethyst colored eyes, “this will be a fun evening, Moderation. There’s no telling what you’ll find in these shadows. Are you ready to go?”
“Me?” the Guild Master said. “Are you speaking to me?”
“Oh, you poor, simple-minded wretch!” the giant said between gales of laughter. “You might as well come along, while we yet have some life left in our bodies.”
“Yes, of course you. Now come, for time is not our friend!”
“Do you want me to take your hand, as well?”
“It will make no difference, Envy.”
“Envy? But you called me Moderation?”
“Each virtue has it’s opposite, just as night has it’s day. I thought this self-evident, as all living things seek balance?”
“No, it’s not, not at all evident.”
“Ah, well, perhaps this night holds many lessons for you. Best keep your eyes open, Envy.”
“I’ll do my best.”
The giant laughed his booming laugh again. “Ah, Envy, you will never see anything with eyes closed so tightly.”
The Guild Master followed the giant inside the carnival, and they made their way under torchlight through a labyrinth of polished stone. The giant was quiet now but seemed to know his way through the maze, and though the way ahead seemed to go on forever, the giant stopped by a sudden outcropping in the rock and pulled aside a tattered curtain.
The giant held the curtain aside and motioned to the Guild Master. “Come, Envy, and see with open eyes,” and he stepped forward, saw battered light beyond the curtain and heard a loud buzzing as he peered inside…
…and the Guild Master jumped back from the flickering shadows. His men, the twenty he had sent to penetrate the carnival, were naked and grouped in a far corner of the room, held in check by hundreds of angry serpents coiled on the floor, writhing, waiting to strike.
He turned to the giant, began to speak but was cut off.
“No harm will come to them, Envy, with but one word from you. Tell me this nonsense will be at an end, and I will free them. Do you agree?”
“Yes, of course.”
The giant let go the curtain and began walking back towards the middle of the castle, then turned in admonishment on the Guild Master. “That was foolish. Not at all what was expected of you.”
“They’ll be alright?”
“When the new day comes, yes, but you will see them soon enough.” He turned, started walking again…
“I see,” said the Guild Master, still concerned for his men
“I doubt that, but who knows what this night holds.”
“Who are you? Do you have a name?”
That question seemed to confuse the giant – and he stopped, looked at the Guild Master, his eyes puzzled, full of wonder. “A name? Why yes, I had a name – once.”
“I can’t remember,” the giant laughed – apparently thinking all this uproariously funny – as he resumed walking into the bowels of the castle.
“And you are a liar,” the Guild Master said after he considered that evasion.
“And you are correct.”
“So, why won’t you tell me?”
“My name would mean nothing to you.”
“Oh? So, who are you besides one who presumes to know so much about me? You, you who dares call me Envy, or by any other name? What manner of fool are you?”
“Evagrius Ponticus. That was my name.”
“Truly? Well then, so Vanity presumes to lead Envy on his way? Or do you forget your own sordid dreams?”
“I do not forget,” the giant said softly. “Why do you think I am here in this form? Do you think this form a prank, a matter on which you might jest?”
“No, I would say the creature I see before me is a just creation.”
The giant paused, as if the Guild Master’s words had hit with some grave effect, but then the chiseled form of the giant wavered, grew indistinct in the torchlight, and just as the broadsheet had vanished in the air by his lofting shed those few days ago, so too now did the giant. The shimmering form of the creature swirled in amber mists, broke down into leafy particles that hung in the passage, slowly drifting on errant currents. While the dust of this creature’s absolution hovered in the air, the Guild Master walked forward, tried to reach into the swirling mist, but soon another form took shape in the dim stone passage, and within moments the form resolved into yet another permutation of Mr Christian.
“Come,” the magician said, as he resumed his walk back to the front of the castle.
The Guild Master tucked in behind the magician and followed him, and soon they reached the heavy gate that led out of the castle.
“Have you seen enough, Hilarion? Need we tempt you further?”
The Guild Master staggered under the weight of that name, under the weight of unknown memory.
“By what did you call me?”
“By any other name. One you used, many years ago.”
“I know of that name, but why would you think…”
“And why would I not?”
“You speak in riddles, like the Deceiver.”
“I speak the truth, like a friend.”
“Oh? You are my friend?”
“You are curious, but full of doubt even now. As you have always been.”
“Always? You know me from where, my erstwhile friend?”
“Not from where, Hilarion. It is of the ‘when’ that I speak.”
“My apologies, but of ‘when do you speak’?”
“Of Time. The Riddle of Time. Do you know of this?”
“No, and I have not seen you before, so there is nothing I need learn from you.”
“Then go now, and fear not what will happen in time.” The magician pointed to the door. “Go ahead. Leave, now, and be content to leave your ignorance unsullied.”
“Or?” the Guild Master said to the implied choice hanging in the air.
“Or follow me. Let me reacquaint you with what was.”
“What was? Are you mad?”
“Perhaps. Would you rather return to your friends?”
The Guild Mater stared at the magician, unsure of the stranger’s intent, or his trustworthiness, but he knew he teetered on the brink of a great decision. “I will follow you,” he said at last, “but do not leave me.”
“As you wish. Take my hand.”
As Claus Esterhaus watched the Guild Master walk into the castle he felt ill, sick to his stomach, and regretted his decision to indulge in a large midday meal, but he had wanted to keep the evening free, free to talk with Jennifer.
But she too was gone, had simply vanished into the castle and not been seen since.
Next Langston had disappeared, leaving both her remaining brothers beside themselves with anxiety. Just now, when the Guild Master walked in the heavy gate, Esterhaus felt nauseous as his own anxiety built to a fever pitch, then a fifth magician walked out into the torchlight and walked straight to where he stood.
‘Are you ready?’ the creatures sepulchral eyes seemed to say, for this one was eerily silent.
“Me?” Esterhaus said.
Whatever it was, it held it’s hand out and pointed at the wall, and without further comment he walked beside the creature to the gate. Not one soul then gathered under the torchlight said a word as he walked away, though Timothy crossed himself and appeared deep in prayer.
Once inside he was confronted with a huge groaning board loaded with fresh roasted turkey and venison and all manner of freshly baked bread, so he grabbed a huge turkey leg and a slab of bread, which he dipped in a savory brown gravy and ate. And all the while the silent magician looked on.
When Esterhaus was finished they continued walking through the castle, then they came to another gate, but the magician put his hand on Esterhaus’ shoulder.
He felt like he was vibrating, shaking uncontrollably, then his eyes closed and he knew he was falling inside the darkest, coldest well in the colony.
He fell, landed so hard the wind was knocked out of his chest and his hands hurt terribly.
He opened his eyes, saw he was on top of a tall, conical mountain, and wherever he was – it was brutally hot out. Hot, and dry too, he noted. He shielded his eyes from the sun, looked around and saw low, stunted trees, and not far away he thought he saw what looked to be a small Doric temple. He turned around, found the magician standing in the shade of a larger tree and walked to stand beside the man in the shadow.
“What the devil has happened? Where is this place?”
The magician pointed at the temple, and spoke at last. “Go there, Gluttony.”
“What, there? That building down there?”
“What did you call me? Gluttony?”
“I could as easily call you Humility. Which do you think best suits you?”
“How the devil should I know?”
“Ah. Humility it is.”
“Not what. Who. Who you seek is in that temple?”
“There,” the magician repeated, pointing down the hill.
“Will you come with me?”
“Very well. Lead, and I will follow.”
They walked down the narrow, well trodden path for some time, until they came to a woman sitting on a rock outside the temple.
“Who is this?” Esterhaus said.
“Who you seek,” the magician replied.
“That’s very helpful. Does she, perhaps, have a name?”
“She is an oracle, and will not see you, or hear you. But she will tell you the truth, if that is indeed what you seek.”
“An oracle? You mean…?”
“Yes. She is the Pythia of Delphi. Listen well, for she cannot lie.”
The woman, an older soul who appeared quite worn by time and sorrow, looked around the hillside, and her gaze settled on a lamb grazing in tall, amber grass.
Esterhaus stood silently watching her, then looking at the lamb in the grass for what felt like ages, and all he saw her do was lift her hands to the sky once, as if waving at a passing cloud. She almost appeared, the more Esterhaus thought about it, to be arranging ideas in front of her face, invisible fragments of thought floating in the ether, and from time to time she mumbled something to each of them. She hesitated once, shook her head, then looked over her shoulder with downcast eyes, and began speaking:
“Love of money, and nothing else, will ruin you, poor man. Do not sacrifice your ideals on this altar,” the woman said, then she turned around, facing Esterhaus. Now she looked straight into the banked fires of Esterhaus’ soul before she continued. “There are two paths ahead of you, ways most distant each from the other. The first, and some would the say the more honorable path, leads to unfettered inquiry, and the glow of enlightenment. The other way leads to the house of slavery, to the frigid unquestioning gaze of the lamb, and this way most mortals take. It is possible to travel the first through the search for humility and the easy embrace of compassion – so lead your people along this path, and follow the few who have gone before. The other path you will gain through hateful ignorance and an unquestioning will for destruction; you might shun this path most of all. Hear this and tell your people, and you may yet redeem yourself. Ignore these words and your people will find their way back into darkness. Go now. Go and think about what you have heard.”
The magician seemed most deferential when he motioned to Esterhaus and bade him to leave the woman alone. They walked away from the temple and the rock upon which she sat, but stopped after a while by the shade of another large tree. Esterhaus thought he might sit, but recoiled when he recognized a huge snake coiled up around the base of the tree, and he started to run.
“Stop, Gluttony, for this creature means you no harm!”
“Why must you always embrace fear? With humility comes the grace to watch and listen, and to learn. Did you not hear what the oracles had to say?”
“But that’s a damned snake!”
“Damned? Truly?” The magician rolled his eyes, crossed his arms.
“Well, I’m not going to pick up the thing, if that’s what…”
“Have I asked you to? Has this creature? Perhaps all it wants is to enjoy the shade, as you do.”
Esterhaus shivered despite the intense heat, and the magician seemed to lose interest for a moment, but then he leaned forward a bit and spoke again, softly.
“Ah, Gluttony, you want everything to come your way, and always with such ease. I fear for you, and your children. You must choose your path well.”
Esterhaus heard something nearby and turned, watched as the lamb by the oracle made it’s way up the hill. He thought at once the little creature must have followed them up the hill, but it walked past him and stopped beside the sleeping serpent, then yawned, and lay down. The two creatures were soon fast asleep, and Esterhaus turned back to the old magician but was surprised to find they were both now atop a mountain of clouds, looking down on faraway islands from a vast height.
Jennifer Clemens lay on a peculiar moving bed – some sort of hideously sharp lance in her arm. She was being pushed into the gaping maw of some sort of close, noisome tunnel; then a woman in another room kept telling her to lay still, to hold her breath, and then – breathe! After what felt like hours she was put on a canted bed and rolled to a room high up in this strange building, and she had no idea where she was now, or at this point even who she was, and so not wanting to appear imbecilic she kept her mouth shut and her eyes open. As she lay in the strange room looking at the sun set over this impossible city, the door to her room opened and a man came into the room.
“Jennie?” the man asked. “Are you awake?”
She looked at the man, she tried to think where she had seen him before – because he did look familiar, vexingly so – yet even so, no name came to her…
“I think so,” she said.
“Oh, my love! You’ve given us such a start.” He seemed on the verge of tears, shaking and alone. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine, I think. And you?”
“Me? Oh, Jennie!”
“It’s the morphine,” the other man with him said. The one she’d heard called Pete.
The man pulled up a chair and sat by the bed; the younger man excused himself, said he was ‘off to Starbucks’ and would be ‘back in a minute.’
“He found you outside, in the square. What were you doing out there, darling?”
“Walking, but I felt lost, didn’t know where I was until I saw the old porch.”
“Oh my God. Jennie, if someone had taken you…”
“Taken me? Why would anyone do that?”
The man stared at her for a moment, then looked away.
“I’ve forgotten your name,” she said after a few minutes silence.
“Sumner. Don’t you remember me?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m sorry, everything feels confused right now.”
“Well, there’s been no stroke, and the cancer hasn’t metastasized anywhere near your brain, but Dr German and the neurologists can’t find anything that might have caused this. Did you fall today? Anything strange happen?”
She looked away, knew if she mentioned the carnival he would know she was a lunatic.
“I just remember feeling very cold, and then…Pete was with me.”
“Thank God for that!”
“Yes, I’m very grateful for his kindness.”
“He’s not a bad boy, Jennie. Certainly not as bad as you’ve made him out to be.”
She nodded her head. “Yes, perhaps that’s so. Where…how is Charley?”
“You remember her?”
“Yes, yes I do. Isn’t that strange?”
“Not at all. You two have been close, closer than you and that sister of yours…the best of friends. I’m so glad you insisted we get her.”
Jennifer Collins smiled, could remember the day they had driven up to New Hampshire, how they’d run across the ‘puppies for sale’ sign and come home with that gorgeous, oh so affectionate – and impossibly tiny Springer Spaniel puppy. The breeder had already named the little pup Charley, and the name stuck. When she first felt ill the little girl seemed to understand, and had burrowed in close that night. These days Charley never slept unless she and Jennifer were touching, and that hadn’t changed in the months since her diagnosis, and now Jennifer truly loved the pup, almost as much as she loved Sumner…
And it hit her then, all of it. All of Jennifer Collin’s memory came flooding in, pouring in on top of Jennifer Clemens’ – and all of a sudden two sets of memory lay on one another, and she was consumed within clouds of a new confusion.
“Are you alright; you look as if…”
“Yes, Sumner, yes. I’m alright. I was just thinking of the day we brought Charley home from New Hampshire. You remember? Going to Quechee with her?”
“Yup, Simon Pearce. Still my favorite place in Vermont.”
“Cheddar cheese soup and crispy duck!” they said in unison, and then they laughed – together.
He leaned forward, ran his fingers through the remnants of her hair. “Thank God you’re here,” he said, the tears in his eyes running free now.
“I’ve told you a hundred times, Sumner, I’m not leaving you behind.”
“I know, my love. I know.”
Jeremiah and Timothy stood together outside the carnival, stood in torchlight, bathed in anxiety.
“They will not be inside the gate, brother,” Timothy said. “Indeed, I fear they have left this land, forever.”
“Perhaps you are right, Tim. Still, what choice do we have? Abandon Jennifer, and Langston as well? Abandon them to an unknown fate?”
“I am afraid…”
“And we must tame our fear, brother. We must stand up to it, not let fear cloud our way…”
A sixth magician stood by the gate and pointed at Timothy, his meaning clear.
“I cannot help it, brother. I am afraid,” and Jeremiah saw that his brother was visibly crying now, shaking uncontrollably. “I can not bear to do this.”
“Man of God, True Believer!” the spectral magician called. “Come now, and meet your maker.”
“What?!” Timothy cried “Meet God? Are you mad?!”
The magician laughed gently as he walked up to Timothy and his brother. “Do you not know God?”
“In my heart, yes, I do?”
“Then you have nothing to fear, do you?”
“You say I am to meet God? May I speak to him?”
“If that is thee wish.”
“Where is my brother, and Jennifer, my sister? And all that have gone before?”
“Yes, where are they – now?”
The magician pointed at the gate, and to the carnival beyond. “In there, Wrath.”
“Wrath?” Timothy cried. “Wrath, you say? So then, it is of the seven sins you speak, is it not?”
“And seven virtues, Man of God.”
“Charity, then? I am Wrath – and Charity?”
“These are the choices that may define the path you walk, yes.”
“And what is the purpose of this evening, Magician,” Jeremiah asked, interrupting the old man.
“Magician? Me? Oh, hardly that.”
“Well then, what of our purpose here? What are we to see inside this carnival?”
“The purpose?” the old man said with a dry, sardonic grin spreading on his face.
“Yes. Purpose. Is there a purpose to this evening?”
“Only to show you the way ahead.”
“The future, you mean? You mean to show us the future?”
“For some, Pride, the future may be the key. For others, the past alone carries the weight of the future.”
“So, I am a proud man,” Jeremiah replied. “And you enjoy riddles? Is that it?”
“Is not your life a riddle, Pride?”
“No! Mine is not, Magician. My life is to care for my family, to protect them and see to their welfare.”
“Yes, all can see that you are a Patient man, and your love is self-evident. Your struggle is perhaps the most difficult of all, but I will be back to join you after I have seen your brother on his way. I must ask you to put this on, first.” The magician tossed green garments to Jeremiah. “It is not difficult to put on, Pride, at least if you are Patient.” He smiled at Jeremiah, then turned to Timothy. “It is your time, Wrath. You must decide, now.”
“Of course I’ll go,” Timothy said, though he felt light-headed and unsteady on his feet.
“Then follow me.”
They set off through the grass towards the billowing orange tapestries, and when the two got to the wall Timothy paused, then the gate opened and he walked through…
…and stepped into a meadow, a world of amber grain dancing under a fierce, midday sun.
It was very hot here, wherever ‘here’ was, and the sun shone with breathtaking intensity, yet even so a cooling sea-borne breeze drifted across these fields of grass from time to time. Timothy felt good, even exhilarated by the suddenness of this passage, but then he became seriously disoriented. He put his hands out, seemed to sway in the breeze, then he saw the old magician by his side.
“Are you unwell?”
“I don’t know. I feel…strange.” Timothy looked at the old man, and as this wizard seemed in good spirits Timothy felt almost optimistic about what lay ahead.
Then the old man pointed at a nearby stream and walked to the water’s edge. “The water here is cool, and refreshing. Drink now, for we have a long walk ahead.”
Timothy went to the stream, knelt and cupped his hands. The water was cold, the taste clear and exquisitely refreshing. He felt sweat on his brow and dipped his hands again, rinsed his face; when he looked up again he saw a boy across the way walking towards the stream. The boy had a container to carry water in, and he knelt when he reached the stream and filled the vessel, then turned and walked back across the field towards a hill perhaps a mile off.
“You should follow him,” the magician said, “for he will lead you to your need.”
Timothy shrugged his shoulders as he looked after the boy. “My need? Could you possibly be more obscure?”
“Ah, it is clarity you seek?” the magician said. “That too may you find, on this path, at least.”
“Who do you keep speaking of a path? Do you know of what you speak?”
“Why yes, I do,” the magician said as he began walking. “Your life is the life of the land your father chose. The choices you and your family make now will define the course of generations yet to be, so perhaps you should walk here with that firmly in mind. A mind open to such possibilities as your father may have only dreamed.”
“Here? Just where is ‘here’?”
“Near the village of Bethlehem. You have heard of this place?”
“You mean…in King David’s land?”
“Yes. Israel. Palestine. This is a holy land that has known many names, a place of conflict without end, hate without resolution.”
“And who is that boy?”
“In your time, you will know him as The Christ, the Son of your God.”
Timothy’s eyes opened wide. “What are you doing? Why do you deceive me so?”
“I offer no deception, Wrath. The only deceptions you will find here are deceptions of the self, and I am but a means to an end.”
“Self deception? You offer self deception?”
The magician paused to laugh, then he looked at Timothy with knowing eyes. “Do you tire? You are falling behind.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“How far off is this place? Where we are going?”
“We are near, I think. See the boy?”
The boy had been walking up a grassy hillside but had stopped near a tree, and now he was kneeling in the shade. When Timothy and the magician drew near, the boy was washing open sores on a leper’s legs, comforting an old man lying there – and apparently near death – in the shady embrace of a windblown olive tree. A lioness circled in the grass nearby, Timothy saw, waiting for the boy to leave.
The boy stood, looked at the lioness, then at Timothy.
“We must move him. Will you help me?”
“But why? He’s near death, what difference will this make.” Timothy replied, looking at the oozing wounds on the old man’s legs, and then at the lioness. She had stopped pacing and was now staring directly into his eyes.
“Because his suffering is as great as his need,” the boy said as he kneeled, turning his attention again to the old man. The boy then took the dying man by a shoulder and began to lift him up. “Will you help me?” the boy asked again.
Timothy recoiled from the blood and the sores that erupted into view on the old man’s arms, and he stepped back, looked from the boy back to the lioness. “No. No, we should leave him where he sits, he is too ill to be moved…”
The lioness stepped forward and Timothy quailed before the menace, then tried to step away from the animal’s lingering gaze. His mouth was dry, he noticed, his body trembling, then he saw the boy walking silently up the hill, the leper by his side.
“Well, Charity,” Mr Christian whispered, “You have met your God. What did you think of him?”
The Guild Master walked behind Mr Christian once again, only this time deeper into the castle. He studied the man ahead as he walked, and from time to time he received the impression that this magician was somehow not quite real, that he was as a shadow projected by flames on a wall inside a cave, a kind of dream within a dream.
“You said I knew you once,” the Guild Master said at last, speaking to the shadows by his side.
“The air was different the last time we met. Do you not remember?”
“No, and I don’t understand the things you speak of.”
“I had hoped,” the magician intoned softly. “Now I must caution you, Envy. What you find next will unsettle you, but you must not run from that which you seek.”
“Seek?” the Guild Master asked, now confused. “Do you say that I am here to find something?”
“Two souls beckon, Odysseus. Can you not yet hear them calling?”
“And just what do you think I am?” Timothy cried to the magician as he turned and walked away. “My brother’s keeper?”
“Aptly spoken, young Cain. Wrath suits you well.” The old man continued walking towards the cool, clear waters of the stream.
“And you are nothing but hate and deceit, old man.”
“Come, Wrath, we may have more to see this day.”
“And suppose I don’t want to come? Then what?”
The old man stopped and turned to face Timothy, and with soft pity in his voice he said: “In that case, here you will stay.”
“Where? Right here?” Timothy cried, pointing at the ground beneath his feet.
“Yes, on this hillside. For all eternity.”
“I want you to take me back right now,” Timothy said in a petulant huff, crossing his arms and stamping a foot. “I want you to take me to my farm, right now!”
“Then come with me, Timothy. I will show you to your family.”
The old man turned and began walking, and Timothy followed – but at a distance. They walked and walked, for hours – or so it seemed – until they came to field. Timothy shuddered to a stop, for he recognized this place, this field. He was home! The home of his brothers, and Jennifer, yet something wan’t quite right. He found himself running blindly, searching and searching for their house, for Na-Taka-Ri’s cabin in the forest, but every hint that he or his family had ever lived on the hillside overlooking the Charles had been silently, and most efficiently swept away.
Langston remained in the frigid water with his hands visible, while the two men on the rocky beach stood their ground, arrows drawn and ready to fly. His teeth chattering, his legs and feet burning from the cold water, he took one step towards the shore, then another. When he stood in chest deep water he saw the men on the shore point and retreat into the tall grass beyond. In his dulled state of mind he wondered what might have caused them to flee…until he felt a presence in the water behind. He turned, and half expecting to see the magician he was shocked to find a large gray fish hovering silently in the water, a grin on it long snout, and a frank expression of compassion in it’s ancient eyes.
He saw a wound under it’s eye and instinctively reached out to touch it; the fish – if it was indeed a fish – rolled onto it’s side and swam away a few feet, then returned. The fish rolled again, and as if offering a hand, a fin emerged from the water and Langston took it. He slipped through the water towards the beach with astonishing speed, and a moment later he stood in ankle deep water. He turned towards this fish and saw it breathing through a blow-hole like a whale, and he recalled knowing the name of this beast once but he simply couldn’t think of it now. They looked at one another for a long time, then the beast slipped under the inky surface of the icy water and was gone.
A freshening breeze held Langston in it’s icy grip, and he knew that with his wet clothing still on he would soon freeze to death – unless he made a fire, and quickly. He turned to the shore and once again the two men were standing there now not five feet away, and this was the last thing he saw before his world turned black, and pain came for him with all it’s urgent need.
Dreams came first. Dreams of tumbling through the sky, of fire peeling away the skin over his heart and legions of dark beasts poring forth to devour this land. Dreams of people, hundreds – if not thousands of people falling under the onslaught of vast, snarling beasts. Huge armies filled his dreams, slaughter without end unfolded in lurid detail as men fought for hundreds of years to secure a tiny hill, and a village by the sea.
He felt something damp on his forehead, a hand lifting his head from behind, something bitter like tea passing into his mouth.
And he opened his eyes.
Na-Taka-Ri was there beside him, and he fell before an overwhelming warmth, a flooding tide of relief coursing through his body. He felt his breath come in ragged sobs, and he tried to speak but no words came, and he wondered why.
His neck burned, and he brought his hands up to feel the skin there and he instinctively knew his throat had been cut – yet not too deeply. No, he was alive, so not too deeply.
Na-Taka-Ri held a stone out for him to see, a sharp stone, and she pantomimed a body falling, falling and striking the stone – and he understood. He nodded, tried to smile, then noticed he was inside some sort low-ceilinged hut. The lodge was not unlike those he had seen in Na-Taka-Ri’s village, yet this one was subtly different. The walls were thicker, the fireplace larger, like his family’s own house. Like people who had to struggle to stay warm.
Of course! He remembered the wall of ice he had seen earlier, and the bitter cold water. He thought he must be far, far to the north, but then he remembered the hills around the beach had reminded him of home and all his thoughts fell before a mountain of doubt.
And this girl, this native girl was not Na-Taka-Ri. She appeared smaller in every way, much smaller, though she appeared older than he. Her skin was different too, much darker, and her eyelids were peculiar.
“Chinoni-wa?” she asked, then pantomimed bringing food to her mouth.
“No. No, I’m not hungry.” He shook his head and smiled.
She nodded understanding.
Bringing his hands to his chest, he said: “My name is Langston.”
“Langston?” she said, though with difficulty.
“Yes,” he smiled as he pointed at himself. “Langston!” Then he pointed at her: “Your name is?”
She had been watching him point at himself and simply couldn’t make sense of his actions or his words, so she stood and walked out of the lodge. Langston watched the woman leave and was stunned when he saw the woman wasn’t much more than four feet tall. He sat up and his head began throbbing, and soon he fell back into a deep sleep.
When he next awoke he was immediately aware that the people in the village were facing some fresh crisis; he heard anguished cries, frantic activity outside the lodge where he had been kept since his arrival. He heard a trumpeting cry, a vast thundering shook the earth and the woman who had been caring for him ran into the lodge and pulled him up from the ground, motioned him to follow.
His head pounding, the searing pain in his neck almost overwhelming, he followed the woman out into the open. A small herd of wooly, elephantine creatures was pillaging the village, using their huge tusks to overturn any and everything in their path, and the woman pulled him from the beasts’ advance moments before several came and demolished the lodge he had just left. Seeing the danger they were in, Langston grabbed the woman and tossed her over his shoulder, then sprinted from the village to the protection of a thicket of scrubby trees. Several villagers were already hiding there, and they appeared quite afraid.
He looked back down into the village, saw a group of men throwing spears, another isolated group using bow and arrow to counter-attack, but the beasts were simply too huge, their matted wooly covering affording a kind of dense, protective armor. The men made to retreat but soon found themselves surrounded by the beasts, who then advanced into the two groups of men – knocking them down with their huge tusks and trampling the survivors. Fires broke out within crumbling lodges, and the beast reacted to the fire by turning and fleeing towards the coastal plain, saving several men from certain death.
And during all this, Langston sat and analyzed the massacre.
First, he noted, the village was sited in such a way that any enemy could easily overrun it; there were simply no natural defenses incorporated into it’s design, and he wondered how these people could have survived so long in such a competitive environment. The next thing he noted was the villager’s crude weaponry: their bows were little more than simple branches, their spears too were inadequate to the need. The bows they used simply could not deliver an arrow on target with enough force to damage so large a foe, and their spears were not strong enough to hurt one of the beasts.
When the villagers assembled to begin the hard work of reconstructing their homes, Langston sought a more protected spot to place the woman’s lodge, and quickly found one amongst a series of rocky outcroppings. He pointed to the ledge and the woman seemed to understand, and he began hauling materials to the new site. Villagers stopped and watched him, and only then did they appear to take note of his thinking; over there within the sheltering rocky outcroppings, their lodges would not be so exposed. How interesting! Two days later the entire village was nestled within the protective warrens of the ledge, and Langston pantomimed how to place sentries – concealed near top of the ledge to help provide more warning time.
Next, he found sharp edged scree and fashioned a sort of plane, and began smoothing and shaping a proper bow, just as Na-Taka-Ri’s villagers had shown him. He used steam to bend the bow into a proper curve, and then he braided sinew to make a much stronger bow string. Using the villagers stock of arrows, he demonstrated the new bows strength and accuracy, and the men regarded him with new admiration, if not awe. He spent the next few weeks teaching all the villagers how to use slate and steam to manipulate wood into all sorts of formidable new shapes, and made a primitive lathe to fashion cups to drink from.
The woman who cared for him had apparently been chosen for the task by the village’s elders and was, Langston assumed, a widow. As he gained status in the village, so too did the woman, and she now watched over him protectively, keeping all the other women away – all the time. He regarded her from time to time himself, and despite her tiny size he found her most attractive, sometimes wondering what she made of him.
For he was a good two feet taller than any of the villagers, man or woman, and his skin was blazing white compared to their deep, mahogany-toned skin. Now, even after several weeks in the village they sat up from their tasks and regarded him carefully when he walked among the new lodges, yet he realized there was no way he would ever completely fit in this new environment.
The villagers cooked in a communal area and shared everything that was gathered for their meals, and when one night, after she brought a dinner of corn and venison and was beginning to clean up before sleeping, he regarded her anew, as a man regards a woman he wants to bed. And she noticed too.
She undressed and stood before him, then came and began to remove his 17th-century garments. He helped her when he could, but he felt himself growing and growing as her hands approached his nether regions, and when at last he was exposed he watched as she reacted in almost abject awe at the size of the monster she had released. Langston had simply never considered the matter important before, but now the size differential between the villagers and himself made the issue embarrassingly obvious. His rod was as long as her forearm and as big around as her ankles, and he could see now that the woman was caught between the urge to flee and an overwhelming curiosity.
Curiosity easily overcame reticence. She started with her hands, then used her mouth, and as it had been weeks since Langston had exercised his staff he startled the woman with an eruption of epic volume. She took all he had to offer and kept at her labor until he was ready again, and when it was time she hovered over him, trying to decide on the wisdom of this course of action, but he rubbed the tip of his spear over her opening a few times – and the matter was settled. He held his staff while she lowered herself, and he watched her face for…
Her screams kept the village awake all through the night.
Jeremiah sat on the damp grass, struggling to put on the green garments the magician had left him with, and in a blinding flash found himself inside a tent…
He heard cannon fire, then muskets before the charge, and knew the carnage was getting underway – yet again.
Soon litter-bearers were carrying the wounded to the tent, and as the division surgeon he had to decide who to save, and whom to let slip away.
Hours later he was examining yet another shattered leg, trying to decide the best place to make his cut. He picked up the knife, and the saw he’d used all day and began his work, using a hot, glowing poker to seal off broken vessels before his patient succumbed to the pain, and when he had finished he turned to the next…
And he was in the captain’s cabin, looking out slanted windows as the French man o’war closed the range. The captain was on deck, readying the next broadside when the turn to post came… A volley of grapeshot tore through the sails and he heard a fresh round of screams…
And he looked out over the wall, at the seething hordes coming at the gates under torchlight, the men by his side readying huge vats of boiling oil. He’d best head to the infirmary now, ready his tools…
He woke from the dream when he heard his name on the PA, looked at his phone and wondered how long he’d been out…
Esterhaus sat at a piano, wondering how he’d arrived in this crazy looking room. He’d never played an instrument of any kind, not ever, though he sang in church – when the spirit moved him…but anyway, this place! Hideous!
High ceilings, everything shades of gray. A vast mural on the ceiling, a woman singing in the distance, a dog curled at his feet – sleeping.
He turned back to the piano, played a progression of chords then picked up a quill and scratched notes on lined paper resting atop of the piano.
“Is that the new piece? Moonlight?”
“Yes,” Esterhaus said, but no, that wasn’t quite right, was it? “No…but, what did you say?”
“Are you working on ‘Moonlight’ again?”
“Ah, no, something that’s been rattling around in my mind for a while. That tone poem, about a faun waking from a nap.”
“Have you been reading Wagner again!?”
He laughed. “No, but there was something in that piece…”
“Yes. Too much Wagner!”
“You seem to imply there was something wicked about the man. I enjoyed his company very much, you know. As did you, I seem to recall.”
“And I’ll never let you live that down!” Marian walked into the room, came to him and put her hands on his shoulders. “You’ve been at it for hours on end…won’t you take a rest?” she said as she rubbed the muscles in his neck.
He shook his head. “I need to write. Something is calling me, you know. I think, perhaps, it is death.”
“I think it is the Germans…”
“They grow near?”
“They will enter the city within the week, I hear.”
“I think perhaps you should take Emma and ChouChou to the coast, away from all this madness.”
“That will never happen, my friend. I will remain by your side, always.”
He reached around, took her hand in his and held it to his face. “You’ve always been there, haven’t you?”
“And I will be with you, always. Forever, my dear Claude.”
“I am having trouble with this phrasing…”
“Here, let’s see if we can work it out…”
There was a young man behind them, standing in the shadowlands, listening intently as new music came to the man and woman at the piano. “We can work it out…?” he sighed. “I like the ring of that.”
He stood on the bow, by the stem, with sword in hand, the battered shield he had carried for twenty years in the other. Seven years on that island, in the clutches of the wretched woman, seven more years from his wife and boy, ten years since he left Troy. He raised the shield and looked at the image – the dolphin with the scars under it’s eye – and he looked at the animal in the water.
“Could it be?”
She seemed to think so, and with Ithaca now ahead, just visible through this morning’s haze, she seemed insistent, almost agitated.
When he could stand it no more, when thoughts of Penelope’s warm embrace overwhelmed all control, he dove into the water…and she was there beside him, as she had been so many times – in his dreams. He took her fin and rode through the wind and the waves, closing rapidly on the rocky shore…
And there, on the rocks, a dog…
But not Argos, surely not Argos, but the dog jumped into the surf and began swimming out to meet him…
Langston woke the morning after his first all night ‘sextathalon’ with the giddy sensation of having done something seriously wrong – but enjoying the night very much nonetheless, and when the woman woke later that morning, sore all over and barely able to walk, he was concerned – until he saw her infectious smile. He watched her talking later that day, with other women from the village, saw them react with shock and awe when she – apparently – described their encounter, and he didn’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed by his over-endowed performance. Even the men in the village regarded him anew after that, and wherever he went all eyes seemed to linger on his groin – for much longer than was polite.
Langston and the woman enjoyed their newfound friendship, and as he’d not once considered any social or moral repercussions to this flowering relationship, he’d enjoyed the most guilt free sex of his life. No one in the village seemed to judge him, either, not even the men who’d found him in the water. With no one to castigate him for having a relationship with this native woman, this non-Christian woman, or for being with a woman outside the colony’s sphere of influence, he felt the shackles of moral ambiguity slip from his soul. There’s became a life of simple routines – of work during the day followed by an evening meal with the village, and then pure unadulterated sex for hours on end. She was a fierce, possessive lover, and he knew he was lucky to grab even a few hours of sleep each night, yet one night another woman joined them, and more even more screams pierced the night, and still there were no judgmental airs the next day, just a simple acceptance of what had come to be. He felt shocked at first, then he asked himself why… Why feel shame for something that was so natural?
And life passed simply, idyllically: winter gave way to the warmth of summer, green leaves on trees gave way to the looming chill of autumn, to turning leaves as the seasons of life pressed on. He began to talk with his friend, for that was what she had become, and learning each other’s language only brought them closer together. They worked together, cooked and planted crops with the villagers, and all the while he grew closer to her – until one day he realized he loved her, that he well and truly cared for her.
They hiked for days once, in the middle of summer, until he came to the walls of ice he had seen in the distance from the sea, and what struck him most was that the towering structure could be heard from miles away – shrieking as slabs of blue ice calved and crashed to the scrubbed earth below. They climbed a small, rocky mountain once, and when he looked out at the massive wall he guessed the ice was several hundred feet high, perhaps even a thousand, and as they walked home they stood over great rivers that sprang from beneath the ice, digging canyons to the sea.
He learned to hunt with the men from the village, and to sing their songs to the heavens, then one morning he woke and saw the woman had a fever, a blistering, hot fever, and by that afternoon he saw the small pustules forming under her arms that could only mean one thing.
The Pox! But how could it be?
By evening she was covered in erupting pustules, and he found them inside her mouth and eyelids. He soaked tanned deer hides in cool water and covered her until the fever broke, only to see the fire return more virulently within an hour. He tried to feed her, but she could not hold down anything she ate, and on the third day she slipped from his life and was gone.
He carried her from the lodge they’d rebuilt to the shade of a tree they had loved to sit under and he buried her, then walked back to the village as the sun slipped beneath the trees. What he found there left him feeling bereft of all emotion, save one.
Every villager lay on the ground outside their lodge, all now consumed by the pox. A few still lived, but Langston knew that wouldn’t last. He began digging graves, carrying the dead to their rest, waiting for the next soul to pass from this life to the next.
And when Langston Clemens knew what it was to feel total despair, the old man appeared again. He consoled the boy, helped him carry the last few bodies to their rest, and when they were finished they stood and surveyed the helplessness ruin all around them.
The old man watched Clemens brush tears from cheek and eyes, mindful of the boy’s distress, then he spoke gently, indeed, kindly. “We must leave soon. Tell me when you are ready.”
Clemens nodded his head and walked up to the tree above the village and looked at the first grave he had dug, and he knelt there for a while – until he noticed the old man standing there behind him.
“Alright, I’m ready. What are you going to do to me now?” He turned and looked up at the old man, this wizard, and saw great empathy in those startling, clear blue eyes, and then he understood his sarcasm was not simply unwarranted. He stood, looked away for a moment then back into the old man’s eyes. “I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that.”
The old man shrugged, though there were the beginnings of a smile in his eyes now. “Your heart is true, boy, and that’s all that matters.” He turned and looked across this valley, so pure in it’s untouched, primeval heart, then he turned and looked up to the sun and held out his hands.
A moment later Clemens was in a small gray room – looking out over the sea, then he saw he was inside a ship – a huge, gray ship. A warship.
Three impossibly huge cannon let go on the deck just ahead, and the concussive blast knocked him off his feet. He scrambled up, regained his balance as another set of cannon roared, these just ahead of the first.
“Captain! Lookouts port report a periscope off the port quarter, two thousand yards…”
Clemens looked for the captain, but saw the man was speaking to – him! “Come to two-seven-zero, Mister Taylor, and signal the escort to commence their sonar search,” Clemens said without thinking.
“Enemy aircraft approaching, Captain. From the south…”
“Very well. Relay our situation to Spruance, see if we can get some air cover.”
Cannons aft roared now, and he brought binoculars to his eyes, looked at the Japanese battlewagons now in a line, closing broadsides to port, now two miles away and closing rapidly. Water erupted in vast columns short of his ship, while he saw explosions on the lead Japanese battleship…
“That’s a hit! We have their range, Captain.”
“All batteries, fire at will,” he said, and his ship’s big guns fired continuously now.
“Torpedoes in the water, Captain. Sonar reports two, no, three screws.”
“Rudder amidships, Mister Taylor. And where are those aircraft?”
Timothy stood where his house had been, or might have been, and he looked at the magician with cold fury in his eyes. “I thought you said you’d take me back to my family.”
“No, that is not what you asked. You said you wanted to go back, right now. So we are home, as it was 1600 years before you arrived. Is this not what you wished?”
“You are the deceiver, that much is now plain to see.”
“You flatter me, boy, for I have no such power.”
“Flatter – you?”
“Ah, sorry, but I speak lightly. Well, regardless, you might consider one more item before we leave.”
“And that is?”
“You have met your God. Would you not like to see the consequences of this meeting?”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Perhaps something to do with your coming here tonight?”
“Here? Where’s here?”
“The carnival, of course.”
“You speak of the carnival, yet here we stand, first in the Palestine – and now here. And Jesus was walking the land not a few hours ago.”
“Were we not just in the Palestine, under the noonday sun? During the height of the Roman Empire, if I’m not mistaken? Yet you say I’m now standing inside your carnival, not far from where John Harvard’s college is to – but no, I’m on the hillside where my family will live – centuries from now? So here I am standing in the light of day, while in the dead of night we wander through time? Do I understand you well enough?”
“The well of the past is deep, Wrath, so deep you might think it bottomless.”
“Oh, I’ve fallen – into some sort of well?”
The old magician simply looked at Timothy, then gently, slowly, shrugged his shoulders. “There are no easy answers down the way you seek, but there is another path waiting for you, and we must hurry. There is someone waiting for you.”
“Someone? Who, exactly, are we talking about now?”
“A writer of broadsheets,” the magician replied, a voracious smile spreading through in his eyes.
“Broadsheets? You mean Mr Christian?”
“Mr Christian…? – oh no, not at all,” the wizard sighed, his eyes laughing gently now.
“Will I get to meet him, this Mr Christian, tonight?”
“Perhaps,” the companion sighed, “but he is, I assure you, of no lasting consequence.”
“Lasting consequence…? The broadsheet I saw…that we saw, all of us, before this day arrived? Every person to whom I’ve spoken says they saw things that…well…everyone saw something different, but of they describe things of immeasurable consequence.”
“People see what they want to see.”
“Want to see? What do you mean…?”
“Perhaps ‘need’ is the better word, Wrath. Now, we must take leave of this place, or you risk much. Take my hand…please…while you may…”
Timothy hesitated, but then saw the cold impatience in the companion’s eyes. There was danger in those eyes, imminent danger, and yet he saw fear too, so with trepidation in his soul he reached for the cool, smooth, alabaster skin once again…
…and found himself standing on a vast wooden platform…
…surrounded by crowds of people…strangely dressed people…
Brown skinned people in white gowns, their heads wrapped in white cloth, herding black-skinned men and women like cattle, whipping them, forcing them into a primitive square of some sort, and he saw a line of wharves not far away. Ships at anchor in a roadstead, flags fluttering in heavy sea sea-breeze atop towering masts. These were slaves, he feared, and he wanted to turn away from the sight…
In an instant he heard an auctioneer’s voice working the crowd, now in English, and turned around to face a sea of excited buyers – but something had changed again – he was here, in the colony now. One of the men was being sold, a black-skinned man, his back and arms scarred from being whipped time and again, and behind this man many more slaves waited to go before the crowd and be sold. Then looked around at the people gathered on the wooden platform beside him – for they were ignoring the sale, ignoring all this human misery. Indeed, all the people – save his companion – were looking at a bright light far off in the distance, and as Timothy’s eyes followed the crowds’ he saw great clouds of black smoke belching out of some vast beast crawling their way. Soon he heard rumbling down the valley, and it was apparent the beast was hissing and clacking towards them at a great pace. He stood close to the edge of the platform and saw two great rails of iron falling away into the distance – in both directions – and saw the beast riding these rails…
The contraption slowly made it’s way to the platform and people stood back a bit as it slowed, then crowded near a doorway as the vast assembly stopped beside them. People disgorged from carriages behind the smoking beast, and more people from the platform stepped aboard to take their place.
“Follow them, quickly,” the old man said, and when they were aboard he pointed to a vacant seat away from the entrance. “Sit by that man, there, and introduce yourself.”
Timothy pushed through the crowd and sat, looked at the man seated by the window, then noticed that his companion had disappeared. The crowd pressed around him in that panicked moment, then the beast was belching choking black smoke, and the conveyance jerked harshly, began huffing away from the platform.
“This must be your first rail journey?” the man by the window said after a while. “There, there, you’ll enjoy the journey more if you just sit back and watch as time drifts by!”
Timothy leaned forward, saw the word “Providence” painted in black on a white sign as the beast passed the end of the platform, and he looked out in open-mouthed wonder as the city beyond the station rolled into view. Huge, the city was enormous – bigger than any he had ever seen before, then he saw the reflection of the man by his side in the glass, and the man was looking at him.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said at last. “My name is Tim. Timothy Clemens, from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, sir.”
“Ah! Boston! I might have guessed! You have that look about you, that firm streak of willful independence in your eyes! Well, young Timothy, my name is John. John Louis O’Sullivan, and I’m on my way to your fair city this fine day, going to give a speech at Mr Harvard’s college, as a matter of fact.”
“Indeed, sir. Might I ask, what will you speak about?”
“Divine Providence, master Timothy, and the opportunity set before us to establish democracy across this great land of ours. Indeed, it is the manifest destiny of our citizenry, the very purpose of our people’s coming to this land, to bring the blessings of political liberty to all the peoples of this land, and indeed, to all the peoples of the earth! But today, I speak of that most vexing problem, the problem of slavery! That vile institution must be wiped from the face of the earth, only then must we convert the heathen on our vast oceans of prairie. Only then can we get on with God’s business!”
‘God’s business?’ Timothy thought, then he said to the man, “Oh, you see – I’m studying for the clergy.”
“Are you indeed, young Timothy! Well, good for you! You of all people must appreciate my position, then!”
“Well sir, I’ve never heard it expressed so succinctly, nor so eloquently, but yes, I can see the beauty of His design come to life in your words. Truly, sir, an inspiring way of looking at our place in His order!”
The man leaned conspiratorially close, and with one finger pointed to the heavens he said: “The very heart of the matter, Timothy, lies in the Word. The Word of God you clergy spread to the people. You of the cloth must stand firm on this idea, you must condemn slavery with all your might. You must champion his Word in the lives of the people, always. You must resist compromise when others look to debase the power of His Word; only then will our country prove worthy of His plan. Ah! But look, there’s Boston now! Well, it’s been a delight to talk with you today, Timothy. Keep to your studies, and faire thee well!
“You too, Kind Sir.” He followed O’Sullivan out of the car and stepped onto a vast plain of dry grass; the old man was there again, his arms outstretched – facing yet another fierce, undiluted sun. When Timothy appeared, he turned as if coming out of a trance.
“Ah, Wrath. I see you found your way.”
“And I see you, Wizard.”
The old man smiled. “Why do you flatter me, boy?”
“I meant no respect.”
With this, the old man’s smile deepened again, then began laughing – and great gales of laughter swept over the empty plain. In time, the echoes of his laughter fell away, leaving Timothy confused and unsure of himself, unsure who – or what – this companion of his was. He looked at the barren, windswept landscape and wanted to turn inward again – but there was nothing here to hide from. Not a soul stirred, only a herd of large animals – filthy brown hump-backed creatures grazed nearby, he he swatted absently at a passing fly, then wiped sweat from his brow.
“Where are we, Wizard?”
“Over there,” the old man pointed to a distant ridge-line and began walking, “in those trees, there is a wickiup, and a man is preparing dinner. We must listen to what he has to say.”
“Who is he?”
“His name is Wovoka, and among the Paiute he is considered a prophet.”
“The people native to this land,” the old man sighed. “But Timothy, it is now the year 1889, and his people have been beaten into submission, forced to live on a small parcel of land. They are a dying people, for they know death is coming for them – soon.”
“Dying? What do you mean? What’s killing them?”
The old man stopped, then looked at him. “Do you really want to know?”
“Yes, of course…”
“Then we shall find the truth of the matter. Perhaps you’ll have eyes open enough to see.”
It took hours, but they gained the wickiup as evening’s shadows crossed the prairie, as the winds lay down for their rest. They wound their way through short, scrubby looking pine, and he saw more than a few deer stopping to look at them as they approached a small, hide-covered tent.
“It is time now, Timothy. Go in, see what you can see, and take care…”
“But, we’re strangers, he doesn’t know we’re coming…?”
“Ah, Timothy, this man has been waiting for you – all his life.”
“What? How could…that’s absurd!”
A flap parted, and an ancient looking man stood aside and beckoned Tim and the old man to enter.
“We must not waste time now, Timothy. Please enter, and listen with your heart.”
They went inside, sat on deep hides Wovoka provided, then the wizened old man began placing bits of plant in a gourd. “You must have this,” the old prophet seemed to say, holding out the container to Timothy and pointing to it’s contents.
“What is it?” Timothy asked, looking into the hollowed gourd.
“The way ahead,” the companion said. “Eat just a few or a great illness will find you.”
Timothy looked to his companion, who only nodded his head slowly.
“Alright, then…” Tim said, then he took a few mottled lumps from the gourd and placed them in his mouth. Within moments he felt as though he was falling asleep – and his eyes seemed to close of their own accord. He felt light-headed as the universe rushed by in pulsing waves of light, and when he opened his eyes next he found himself in the middle of another vast plain, now in deepest night, and under the light of an unnaturally bright moon. Wokova now stood as the old man had earlier; his arms spread wide – but facing the moon – singing in a language Timothy had never heard before.
There was a great shaking within the earth, then howling winds and lightning filled the air and Timothy fell to the earth, held on as the shaking grew worse, and then –
Nothing. All was quiet again, yet not a whisper of a breeze crossed the land. Wokova was on his knees now, his back bowed backwards, his face still directed at the moon…
And then before their eyes a cruciform tree appeared, slowly springing forth, as if from an awakening.
The boy, the boy he’d seen earlier, the boy tending the leper while the lion looked on, was with them now, standing at the base of the tree, regarding the glowing wood with his hands. The boy seemed to be admiring the tree, right down to the grain within the wood as Wokova stood and wearily walked to the boy’s side. He stood there, waiting, until the boy turned to face him.
“You have come to lead my people?” Timothy heard the prophet ask.
“Yes,” the boy said. “The time has come.”
“Come. We must see to them while we may.”
Wokova walked ahead of the boy, while Timothy and the companion followed through stunted cedars and low, wind-swept pine, only now there was snow underfoot. They walked through the stunted forest until they came to a narrow, steep-walled creek bed, the way ahead full of deep, wind-packed snow.
“Are we in the same place?” Timothy whispered. “It looks the same, but…”
“We are near the same place, but it is now a year later. This place will be known as Wounded Knee, and the last of Wokova’s people are camped just ahead. Take care and say no more, boy. Be silent, and watch as your God’s Will unfolds.”
They slipped up the steep walls of the creek-bed and Timothy could see a small native village through the scrub just ahead. Two, maybe three hundred natives, a ragged, tired looking lot, stood in the snow – surrounded by almost twice that number of men – soldiers, apparently, dressed in blue and gold. A scuffle broke out between an old man and a trooper, and then gunfire broke out.
Timothy looked on, aghast, as the slaughter unfolded – men, women, children…it did not matter. By the time the smoke and dust cleared most of the native folk lay dead or dying, and Timothy could hear cries in the blue smoke, a single shot here and there as troops walked among the bodies, but it was all over soon enough. Only the silence of a light snowfall remained.
The young boy looked on impassively as the scene played out, though for a moment the burdens of this world seemed heavy on his shoulders. “Why is it that such vast death is always committed in my father’s name…” Timothy heard the boy whisper, and he heard echoes of O’Sullivan as the writer talked about the destiny of the colonists to evangelize this New World.
Then Timothy saw spectral forms rising in snow-filled mists, as if ghosts of all the natives just killed were rising from the earth, then a most peculiar roar filled the air. The roaring grew more shrill, the noise accentuated with whistles and pops, until strange music, distant and metallic, filled the air…
“Father, father, come quick,” Timothy heard the boy saying, anticipation clear in his excited voice. “It’s Father Coughlin’s show – coming on now!”
Timothy and the old man were standing in a huge house, standing in the corner of a large room. The boy was turning a round knob on a wooden box, and soon Timothy heard a man’s booming voice coming from the box…
“This is the CBS Radio Hour,” the voice in the box said, “and we now bring you Father Charles Coughlin, live, from Royal Oak, Michigan.”
Another man’s voice, smooth and sonorous, filled the room, and Timothy had a hard time following what this priest, this Father Coughlin said, for the man talked about the dangers of something called communism, and about how Jews in places called Washington and New York had taken control of the nation’s banks, and that the new German chancellor, Adolph Hitler, had just introduced new policies to handle what he angrily called the Jewish Problem. Coughlin said these new policies seemed more and more appropriate with each passing day, but even so, what struck Timothy was how skillfully the man used Biblical teachings to justify all the points he made, and he was thunderstruck when he considered how he might use religious doctrine to shape political discourse in the colony.
Charley and Sumner by her side, Jennifer stood by the water’s edge – completely mesmerized by the animal – and yet…she remembered a day long ago…
‘Too far away,’ she told herself, trying to grasp memories out of time – as fragments flew out of reach on the wind. ‘That wasn’t me, my life…’
But the eyes held her – now as then – and she stepped into the water.
“Jenn? What are you doing?”
But Charley was by her side now, in the water with her, and together they went ahead, walked into the water until wavelets brushed her chin, and the animal came to them.
“Why are you smiling?” she asked the dolphin, but the animal only turned on it’s back and looked into the sky – so she did too – and his music came back to her. ‘Strawberry Fields Forever? Why? Why am I hearing that song now? Why am I thinking of John Lennon – now?’
But she was, and she remembered seeing him sitting on the grass…singing…in a field not far from here…and there had been a lion, too. She’d helped the lion. Injured? ‘No, that’s not it. It had been wounded, by an arrow. And a whale…? Something about a whale?’
And then the dolphin was in her mind, speaking to her, telling her everything would soon be as it was supposed to be, that she was going ahead, and that she had to be patient.
She felt Sumner’s hands on her shoulder, then she was floating in darkness, warmth enveloping her entire being. Sumner standing there by the bed, his eyes soft with tears, nothing now but pure black everywhere she looked, just Sumner in a pool of light.
An organ? Do I hear an organ? What is that? Bach? One of the Brandenburg Concertos? The Third? And – is that a star? It’s so bright…but it’s moving? Coming closer… “Oh my God…”
As the star came for her, as incredible lightness flooded her senses, she felt herself falling…falling…then tumbling…the sense of motion suddenly violent. She opened her eyes and sensed she was inside a cloud…cool and brilliant white…and she was in an airplane. An old bi-plane, and a huge city was laid out below the clouds. She heard someone yelling now, emotions like euphoria coming from behind and she turned, saw the wizard at the controls, segmented glass goggles over his eyes and a long red scarf trailing in the slipstream. They were in a dive now, inverted, and she looked ‘up’ at the earth below as it came rushing up for them…
Suddenly the aircraft snapped level for a moment, then they were climbing again, a gut-slamming climb, her eyes feeling like they were being pushed into the back of her skull, and the wizard was screaming now, berserk with mad, wild abandon. She looked at the airplane, it’s wings vibrating – almost alive – and she tried to turn her face, but her head was being pushed into the headrest with so much force she was afraid her neck would snap if she moved it even the slightest…
Then another jarring roll-over, hanging upside down with only a seatbelt keeping her in the airplane, and she looked at the city below in it’s almost infinite sprawl, pulsing with life, life everywhere bursting free pushing forward moving always moving…like moths to a flame…
“Where are we? Is that Boston?” she shouted, trying to make herself heard over the thundering engine, then the wizard pointed at something far below…
“Look,” he said, “and see what you may…”
He pushed the stick hard over and the airplane nosed into a perilously steep dive, their speed building at an impossible rate. She reached out for something, anything to hold on to, fearing this was indeed now the end – but he leveled out again just a few feet over a vast body of water and they hurtled towards a vibrant shoreline just ahead.
She saw lights, bright, gayly colored lights coming for them, and as they approached the beach she saw an amusement park…huge…like a city unto itself packed with teeming crowds. He flipped the wings and, inverted again, she she looked down at the crowds as they streaked by just overhead, then, still inverted, he pushed over into a climb and they were in cloud again. Now completely disoriented a wave of vertigo hit and she felt her stomach lurch…
The airplane seemed to be tumbling now – but it was impossible to tell in this infinitely spinning cloud – and then it turned dark and cold, foul bitterness filled the air. In an instant the purity of only a moment before was replaced with choking, sulfuric fumes, and when they burst free of the cloud she saw streaking gouts of flame slamming into the earth, still far below beneath a blackening layer of cloud.
The wizard rolled over into another dive, this time slowly, cautiously, feeling his way down between banks of smoldering cloud, and the air turned into a choking miasma of putrid dust the lower they flew. The drifted down into a layer of bronze, the air heavy and warm now, and he lined up and flew over the vast amusement park again…
The world was silent now, dark and gray, and pockets of burning wreckage could just be seen in the distance…
“What’s happened to this place?” she cried as she turned and looked out over the smoking remains – then she looked at the wizard. Only the wizard was gone, and she was adrift in space. Cold, dark space, surrounded by an inky black void, the only visible thing a receding orb, impossibly bright but fading rapidly.
Feeling left her hands and feet first, then a tightness gripped her heart as the emptiness pushed in from everywhere. It was getting hard to breathe now, impossible to move, and suddenly, as she drew her last breath, she knew this was it, the end of things, of life. She wanted to cry now, but feelings ebbed away in the suffocating stillness, and then even darkness fled.
He watched the first torpedo slip by a hundred feet off the port bow, the second two heading just to starboard, and anti-aircraft fire erupted from ships throughout the fleet. He walked out onto the bridge-deck and saw one battlewagon dead in the water, fires out of control visible all over her deck, and the other Japanese ship retreating under cover of smokescreens her escorts laid.
A horrendous barrage of anti-aircraft fire began and he looked up, saw three Japanese aircraft boring in – diving under full power, aiming for…
“Me,” Langston Clemens said.
“Kamikaze!” lookouts shouted.
One incoming aircraft was shredded by fire, disappeared inside a ball of flame, but he saw the final two would make it…
The first hit just aft of the stacks, near number three turret, and the five hundred pound bomb inside the aircraft went off – to devastating effect. He looked on helplessly as the aft gunnery tower collapsed, and as the deck buckled, then he saw the third – just moments before it slammed into…
He yawned, rubbed his eyes and tried to concentrate…
…for Mahan himself was lecturing today – about Jomini’s theories of strategic chokepoints and forward operating bases, and Nelson’s tactics off the Nile. The corollary implied? It was America’s manifest destiny to control the seas, for only through military engagement – when diplomatic and mercantile engagement inevitably failed – would she be able to secure her rightful place as leader of a world free of aristocratic whims.
But today, everyone was talking about revolts in Cuba and the coming war with Spain. He looked over the snow-covered drill fields to the capitol dome that brooded over the hill, and the town of Annapolis below, in it’s shadow.
A midshipman entered the lecture hall and handed a note to the admiral, and Mahan stopped and read the message, then put his pointer down and addressed the class.
“Men, we’ve just received word that the Maine has been lost, in Havana harbor. Spanish forces are involved, and I dare say we shall have a little war now. You’ll excuse me, but I’ve been summoned to the White House and must leave you now. I’ll collect your reports on Mahan’s treatise next week, so get on with it!
‘The Influence of Sea Power Upon History…’ Clemens opened to the final chapter of the book and began rereading the text, and was jotting down notes for his report when he looked up, saw an old man standing beside him. “Yes,” Langston asked, “do I know you?”
“Are you ready?”
“What?” Clemens said, but he was already drifting through time, struggling to recall his name, just who he was. A carnival? Something about a carnival, but he struggled to cast aside his years in Annapolis…and what about that native woman? He remembered Jennifer and his brothers – and wondered what had happened to them…
‘Snakes in a ball,’ Foster thought. ‘I feel surrounded by snakes in a ball, eels in wet mud…all is contact, perpetual motion, endless orgasm, senseless now, lust with no meaning…’
The music was hypnotic, a driving, pulsing beat, like the mouth working his cock just now. He opened his eyes to a world awash in undulating indigo, the boy sucking his cock an anonymous blur, the head moving faster and faster – then he was coming again. So many times he’d lost count, then a woman was straddling his face, but she had a cock in her hand and was feeding it past his lips, down his throat – then she was fucking his face, holding his face in her hands – talon-like fingernails digging into his scalp as her cock drove in and out of his mouth. Gagging, hard to breathe, impossible to stop, lust all consuming now, an all consuming frenzy of emotion…
Another one, another woman with cock and balls, lifting his legs over her shoulders now, driving her cock into him…
‘I’m impaled…being impaled…’ and the room was ablaze, visions of Hell danced in his mind’s eye, the he felt the cock in his mouth stiffening, twitching before an enormous wave of semen washing over his tongue. He gagged, was struggling to swallow…
When in that moment he thought of…his soul.
He closed his eyes, grief closing in from every direction, wondering what was to become of his soul.
“What’s your name?”
“What?” He looked around the room. A bar, wasn’t it? He shook his head, tried to remember where he was. Who he was…
“You have a name, don’t you?”
He looked at the man sitting next to him, the Armani suit, the Hermes tie, perfect hair, perfect manicure, and he remembered now. He was at the Ritz, in Laguna Beach, and he looked down at his dress, at his perfect legs. Sheer silk stockings, six inch Louboutins, and his cock was twitching already. Ready to suck this man off…his third tonight…
“Tonio, but call me Toni.”
“Toni? Are you what I think you are? You have a little something extra for me tonight?” He felt the man’s hand on his leg, sliding up under his dress then massaging the head of his cock.
“So,” Foster sighed, “is that what you’re looking for?”
“Yes. As a matter of fact, you are.”
“Your room? Or would you like me to do you right here?”
“Why don’t you come with me…?”
And they’re outside, walking in the fog, then the man pushes him to the ground and frees his cock, shoves it in his mouth and starts fucking his face…
He’s working it over with his tongue, coaxing the cock in his mouth to cum once again when the first blow hits – on the side of his face – then he is down on the ground, trying to protect his face as a group of boys, teenagers, kick and beat him with their fists and heavy boots. He covers his face, tries to get up and run but they have him now and one of the boys pulls out a knife – a huge knife – and reaches out for his neck.
He feels the blade against his skin and tries to scream…
…and winces as the IV punctures his arm.
He looks up, sees a nurse and notices she winces too.
“Sorry…missed that one…but your veins are really deep, and they roll. Hard, I guess.”
He felt himself nodding. “Too many IVs. Doc told me they’re scarring up.”
“They can’t put in a shunt, can they?”
“No,” he said. “It’d be infected in a few days.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, how long have you been positive?”
Foster shrugged, shook his head as another wave of nausea came for him. “I can’t really seem to remember now…everything seems so jumbled up.”
“You live in The City?”
“Used to, near the park. I was evicted a few weeks ago.”
“Why? Because of the HIV thing?”
He nodded his head.
“Where are you living now?”
He sighed, then smiled a little smile. “Oh, I have a nice spot in mind, under an overpass, I think.”
“I think it takes courage. The whole sex-change thing. You know, be true to who you are.”
“Courage?” he sighed, then he laughed. “Oh, the stories I could tell you – about courage.”
“Yeah? I’d like to here one someday.”
He nodded his head again. “Sure.”
When she finished the draw she gathered her vials and put them on her cart and left, and he smiled at the silence that came for him – that had been waiting for him – and he turned on the television and watched it come to life, found an old station that played classic movies all day, every day, and he settled in – wishing he had some popcorn, maybe even a hot dog. “A chili-dog would be even better,” he said aloud.
The Toho logo came onscreen and he sat up in bed, wanting to see the Seven Samurai again and glad he’d turned on the TV, but no, it was a Kurosawa film he’d never seen before. The word Ikiru drifted into consciousness, then ‘to live,’ and he spent the next two hours enraptured by Kanji Watanabe’s choices. He watched the end, the man on a swing-set as snow falls, surrounded by his creation as death comes – and he began to cry. He cried for his soul, for the choices he’d made. True to himself…wasn’t that what the nurse said?
“But what have I done with my life?” he sighed as he watched snow falling outside the window. “Who will remember me? And for what?”
“I ask myself that all the time,” the girl said, coming back in the room – now carrying a tray. She pulled the rolling table into place and set it down in front of him and he burst out laughing…
“I heard you, from out in the corridor. You sounded like you could use a chili-dog, so…”
He muted the television and patted the bed. “Can you stay a while?”
“I got off an hour ago,” she smiled, sitting on the edge of the bed. “What were you watching?”
“Oh, a Kurosawa, one I’d never seen before. Ikiru…”
“Oh, God, I loved that one,” she said. “Watched it in nursing school…changed my life – in a way.”
She was so easy to talk to…accepting, nonjudgmental…and when she yawned, when she said she had to go home he felt awkward. It’d been so long since he’d felt this sort of connection…too long.
“It says on your chart you’re going to be released in the morning…”
“Where will you go?”
He shrugged. “I have no idea, but not too far, I hope.”
“I have a spare bedroom,” the girl said brightly. “You’re welcome to stay with me, if you like…”
“What’s your name?”
“Emily. Gee, I thought you knew.”
And he went home with her the next day, and he stayed. Days turned to weeks, but his illness did not dare turn him loose, set him free, and one day an ambulance crew came. Hospice, Emily said. It was time. He cried, not least of all because he knew he would be leaving her soon – and-he-did-not-want-this-to-end. He cried out, asked for God’s help – but God was silent that day, and next.
But on the last day of his life he saw the wizard – standing in the corner of the room – and the old man was looking at the girl, Emily, his eyes impassive…and then he knew who he was again, where he had been, and that all this had been little more than a dream.
Then she was by his side, telling him that she loved him and that she would miss him forever. Holding his hand, tethered to life in a hospital bed one moment, cast free of worldly concerns the next, adrift in swirling mist, darkness pressing in all from everywhere…gasping, clawing for life…
Then sound. Like a million cats crying in hunger, and then that smell, like sulphur – and sensations he had never experienced before, revulsion at the very idea of life, the sadness of existence – all pushing inward now. Suffocating him. A feeling something like fear – yet mixed with curiosity – pushed him into the light and he was awash in a sea of humanity – more people than he had ever thought possible crowding past on their way to nowhere, all in a terrible hurry.
“You’d better come with me,” he heard someone say, and he turned to the voice. A woman, very small, skin very dark – colors of teak and mahogany. Green eyes, strange – too large, an odd counterpoint to her lips – like thin slits, too dark, everything out of balance.
The woman took off through the crowd – and not knowing what else to do Foster turned and hurried after her.
The vast, inrushing crowd was a seething, tumbling mass, all jostling elbows and senseless rushing onward, and he caught up with the woman, turned and followed her down a narrow alley, the way ahead lined with beggars and, he assumed, thieves. She turned down an even darker path, the smell of feces and stale urine closing in from every direction, and people here lay in the shadows, waiting. Some moaned quietly, others lay waiting in stillness – but they were too still.
She came to a door, a very small, very short door – and she knocked six times. The door opened from within and the woman spoke to someone beyond, in the shadows, then the door opened further – to let them in.
“Prostitutes, mainly,” the woman said, and Foster peered into the fetid gloom.
“Aids?” he asked, thinking of the hospital, and the girl, Emily, he would love forever.
“For the most part, about ninety percent anyway, though we have our fair share of tuberculosis, and a few garden variety STDs, too.”
“How many of them do you have here?” he asked, trying to guess the number of beds in this one room, but he could just barely make out a few dozen in the gathering closeness,
“Here, at this facility? Not quite a hundred, though it seems most of the gays and transsexuals in Calcutta will pass through these doors – sooner or later.”
“Jesus? Really? The feeling among most people now is that Jesus left India years ago, right after He turned his back on Africa.”
“And yet you fight on, Mother. Why?”
“Because those people are wrong.”
He wasn’t sure what kind of conveyance this was, but whatever else it might be – this thing was fast…
Timothy held on as the contraption raced around a sharp turn in the road, and he looked at the man operating the thing: black skin, very muscular, a hint of premature gray in his close-cropped hair. Blue uniform, the patch on his sleeve read ‘Jackson Mississippi Police Department.’
There is a voice in the air, and the man pics up something and talks into it…
“113, go ahead.”
“113, further information. Neighbor reports suspect has shot wife; she’s in the front yard, trying to get to cover. Reporting person advises suspect has three children in the house.”
“110 received. Could you notify State Police – we may need backup out here.”
“Received at 1930 hours,” the dispatcher said.
“Things are seldom as simple as they seem,” the wizard whispered in Timothy’s ear. “There are connections everywhere, never quite evident, and events ripple through time such as a stone might cause when tossed upon the water.”
“Where are we?”
“In one of the southern colonies, almost four hundred years past your time. The issue of slavery still sits heavily on these people.”
“I’m not sure I can explain all the ways a human heart can hold hate so closely.”
“Hate? Is it as simple as that?
“Nothing is as simple as that, Wrath.”
The vehicle accelerated around another corner, the policeman apparently very concerned.
“Who is he? This man?”
“His name is Jim Hughes. He was a kind man, a good husband and father. Educated, he wanted to teach literature but, because of the color of his skin, found it impossible to get a job. He grew up on a nearby farm, refused to leave. You see, his family was from here…”
“Was…? You mean…?”
“You must keep your eyes open, Wrath, and not look away when you happen across things you dislike. You must see connections as they come and go, opportunities that pass on winds of time. Some will take hold, yet others are soon forgotten. Watch. With open eyes.”
The vehicle stopped and Timothy got out with the wizard, and he watched the confrontation as it unfolded – as a spectator might – but with foreknowledge of the outcome. The suspect, still in the house when they arrived, came out of his house and shot his wife twice, in the back. Hughes stepped out of the vehicle and drew his weapon; he fired once, missing the suspect, who in turn aimed and shot at shot Hughes, hitting the policeman once, in the head. Hughes fell to the ground as more police arrived, and the suspect surrendered with no further loss of life. People gathered around Hughes and tried to help, but it was soon apparent he was beyond all mortal intervention – and with downcast eyes people turned and slipped away into the night.
Timothy walked over and looked down at the fallen officer, at the shock etched in the man’s misting eyes – and he saw sorrow there, too. Yes, sorrow, and he wondered why.
He turned away, saw his hands on a podium, and he was standing in the glare of countless lights, and beyond walls of television cameras and photographer’s strobing cameras he saw an immense crowd gathered at his feet, looking up at him expectantly, adoringly.
‘Why are these people here?’ Timothy asked the wizard, and he squinted into the light, saw a sea of red and white signs rolling over the crowd…
‘Carpenter For President – Building a Future Together’
And the crowd was chanting now, slowly, forcefully…
“Four More Years! Four More Years!”
The chorus was thunderous, deafening, and he turned to the wizard and smiled.
“They love you, Wrath,” the wizard said, but he wasn’t looking at the him now – the wizard was watching the crowd as one might an ominous cloud. Tim saw the wizard was wearing a black suit, his red necktie blazing atop a starched white shirt, and there was a tiny flag on the wizard’s lapel…
…and when he saw the flag words came to him freely now, in a blind fury…
“You can’t drive through a city like Chicago these days, can you? Have you tried? Have you? Awful – just awful. They’re like cockroaches, they crawl out from under their rocks after the sun goes down and the murder of the innocents begins anew. We can’t build prisons fast enough, can we? Can we? Awful…just awful…”
The crowd was delirious now, chants of “Ship ‘em Back to Africa!” filled the air…
“And my opponent? He wants to build schools, not prisons! Instead of making our Africans and Mexicans work for a living, he wants to give them free medical care!”
Screams for “Four More Years!” and “Ship ‘em Back to Africa!” washed away the growing applause…
…then he saw a woman pushing through the crowd, running for the stage…and he thought he saw something in her hands…
…a blinding flash of light, searing pain – his shoulder on fire – and then men by his side, pulling him down, covering his body – followed by more gunfire. Several people falling on the stage, gunfire from the audience, then from behind the stage…
“We have several active shooters in the audience!” he heard Ted, his chief of detail shout into his radio, then “Eagle One is hit, I repeat, the President has been hit, we’re heading for the north exit.”
Men carried him by the arms, he felt more encircle his waste, then pick him up as his phalanx pushed through the chaos, and he reached up, felt the spreading warmth under his shirt, his heartbeat growing weak and thready. He tried to breathe and found he couldn’t, and he might have panicked – had he remained conscious…
Esterhaus looked at the temple down the hill, the lamb curled up by the snake, and he thought of home. The Old World, as people had taken to calling it, memory’s temple on the hill, ideas he had looked to all his life.
“Why did you bring me here,” he asked the wizard, “if not to question my beliefs?”
“Aren’t all beliefs worth questioning from time to time? Or is it wrong to challenge assumptions?”
“But it is belief, or shared belief, that bind us – one to the other…? Beliefs make civilization possible!”
“Of course they do…”
“What do you mean – ‘Ah?!’
“I think it’s about to start…we must be on our way…”
“What? What’s about to start…?”
“Oh, a school – of sorts…” the wizard said as he turned and faced the sun – and in an instant Esterhaus was inside an unimaginable structure. Forests of wooden wall, an ocean of black and white marble tile. Hundreds of older men in formal attire gathered outside sets of double doors, and he hears French being spoken, English too, as well as his native German, and he wandered over to a notice posted on the wall beside one of the entryways.
‘Sigmund Freud discussing his latest work, ‘Civilization and It’s Discontents.’ Presented by the Psychoanalytic Society of Vienna…’
“And what is this?” Esterhaus said to the wizard when he saw the old man was now by his side.
“A closer look at some cherished assumptions.”
The doors opened, a vast lecture hall beckoned and the seats within filled rapidly. Several minutes after they were seated, Esterhaus looked at the wizard once again and whispered: “So, what is this psychoanalysis?”
“It was the study of how people think, and why. The forces, external to our selves, that shape the way we react to the world, and how we deal with the conflicting realities of existence.”
“Yes, certainly. How do you reconcile the need to live your life within existing norms when instinct compels you to fuck every woman you see, and to kill anyone who gets in your way?”
“I’m sorry, I could not help myself…” the wizard sighed, but lights were dimming, a curtain parting…
And an old man walked on stage and came to a dais under a single bright light. The man was old, very old, his silver hair thin and well kept, the color of his skin like whitest sand under a noonday sun, yet even from this distance it was the man’s eyes that held Esterhaus. An eagle’s eyes, sharp and penetrating, looking out over the gathered medical luminaries like a grandfather assaying his clan around a fireplace.
He spoke about the ‘oceanic feeling’ of religious imperatives – the limitlessness of eternity, and the instinctive quest for both freedom and civilization. How the resulting contradictory impositions – conformity and reward versus non-conformity and punishment – distorted instinct and this basic conflict led to cycles of repressive forces within the psyche. Humans had been, he said, inclined towards unrestrained sexual activity and the resolution of interpersonal conflict through violence, and had done so for millennia, and so, over time Human Will had been, in effect, rewired. The anxiety humans felt, the inherent contradictions of their lives could, he said, be explored through dreams…as if sifting through time – for the truth.
Then he spoke of death, something he called a wish for death, and how coming to terms with our very finite existence had, he said, consumed man for eons, yet now, with unfettered freedom the order of the day, mankind had had to come to terms with something new and completely unexpected: the utter disgust men held for their fellow human beings…and the misery they yearned to visit on those who embodied anguish.
She was sitting on his face, grinding her lips on his, lost in waves of orgasmic bliss, and he could feel at least two woman below now, working on his cock…
“Oh, I’m so close…so close…don’t stop…”
“Dr Rosenberg? Eli?”
“Go the fuck away.”
“Dr Rosenberg, it’s the president. He’s been shot and they’re on the way here right now, five minutes out.”
Jeremiah Clemens sat up, shook his head and looked around the room. Vending machines along one wall, a sink and microwave on a long counter across the room. He rubbed his eyes, tried to shake off the dream but he could still taste the woman’s juices on his tongue, his orgasm almost to the point of release.
“What did you say? Who?”
“President Carpenter, doctor. He’s been shot at the coliseum, the secret service are with him in the ambulance. They say he’s been shot in the chest, and he’s bleeding badly.”
Wide awake now, he stood and went to the sink, splashed water on his face. “Is Underwood still here? Who’ve we got to pass gas?”
“Doctor Underwood is on his way to London. Dr Beauchamp is the resident on call for anesthesia, and he’s scrubbing in right now. Mitchell is the thoracic surgeon on call, and he’s on his way in…ETA thirty minutes.”
“Didn’t you say five minutes out,” Rosenberg asked, his ears already picking up the wail of a siren in the distance, and he went to the window, watched red strobes pulsing in the distance. “Fuck. Who’s down there right now?”
“Those two new interns, Schmidt and Perkins, and Anderson is finishing up sutures on that kid’s foot.”
Fuck-fuck-fuck…” he said, bolting for the door…all dreams just a memory now, far away and fading fast…
He got to the ambulance entrance off the ER just as the ambulance backed in, and he jumped in the box as it stopped – and saw – a – police officer?
“Gunshot wound to the head, doc. We had to run code…he still has a normal rhythm…”
Rosenberg nodded. “Take him to Trauma Two; we’ll have to see what his family wants to do.” He heard another siren and climbed out of the box, stood waiting for the inevitable rush. The nurses on tonight would be ready for him, and he wanted to be ‘hands-on’ as soon as the ambulance arrived.
The pressure was unbearable, the fire…it had to be fire…the skin on his chest felt like it was on fire, yet the pressure inside was a million times worse. He tried to turn his head but the pressure moved up behind his eyes and he wanted to scream – but his mouth wouldn’t move – so he tried to open his eyes.
Flickering light, then haze, like his eyes were coated with Vaseline. Someone by his side, wiping his eyes with something cool – a moistened cloth? Shaking his head slowly, trying to take soundings of this place. Trying to make his eyes focus…
Green tile. Everywhere he looked – green tile, and…? What are those…banks of instruments? Traces of his life, playing out in real time on walls of screens. Vital signs, he felt sure, indicating he was still alive – if that’s what you could call this…
Yet there was something different. Something new. Someone else.
He felt split, like two people inhabited this body now, like there was someone else inside looking out – through his eyes, experiencing – what he experienced, seeing the same things – he saw. Joined – in death, perhaps?
He tried to speak again, but no. His mouth still wouldn’t open.
“It’s alright, Mr President. Your mouth is taped now, and there’s a machine helping you breathe. That’s why your throat is sore, but maybe those will come out tonight. My name is Emma, and you’re in the CICU at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.”
He moved his eyes, looked to his left and he saw a black woman standing there. Pretty, he thought. Kind eyes, but faraway, like pain had visited recently. But no, he hadn’t thought that, couldn’t have thought a negro was pretty. There had to be someone else in here, inside his mind, and they had to be sharing thoughts as they happened…
‘But no…that’s impossible. Something to do with what happened, maybe brain damage? Maybe my brain was deprived of oxygen for too long?’
But no, he told himself, that couldn’t be right, either. He was thinking clearly, at least he thought he was thinking clearly…
“Don’t worry, Mr President. Dr Rosenberg is the best transplant surgeon there is, and he was here, happened to be on duty when you arrived. The operation went fine, just fine, and you should be on your way back to Washington early next week. The Vice President was here this afternoon and he said to tell you everything is fine, but he might sneak upstairs while you’re away and play with the dogs.”
He smiled, nodded his head.
“You just rest now, Mr President. Is the pain bad? Just point with a finger if it feels too bad right now…”
“Okay, just close your eyes now. You’ll feel a little warmth for a second…then…”
He felt himself falling away again, and he wondered who she was, and just when had he fallen in love those eyes…?
He was dreaming again – he knew it. There had been women again, an endless parade of women, and sex…infinite sex…
Then an old man was there, standing over him, yet still inside his dream. A familiar face. Warm eyes. And he knew things, didn’t he?
He knows everything there is to know about me…
“You did well,” the old man said. “Very impressive work.”
“Where did I learn those things?”
The old man laughed. “You haven’t. Not yet, anyway.”
“Think of time. Time, think of time as an infinite set of layers. Like peeling an onion, layer upon layer, one layer over another.” He sighed, looked around the mist. “People have discovered there are multiple universes, each a layer – one over the other other…” But the old man could tell the boy was confused, lost and alone, and he coughed once, then sighed again. “Anyway. The hard part is learning to move from layer to layer.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I don’t know how to explain this, but when I looked into Carpenter’s eyes…well, I felt I was looking into my brother Timothy’s. Is that possible?”
“If that’s what you felt, it is indeed.”
“Who am I? And how could I possibly know him?”
“A descendant of yours, a great-great grand-daughter married his father. He is, well, a grandchild of sorts, so the connection you feel is strong.”
“What? So, does that mean…this Carpenter? You’re saying he’s related to my Tim?”
The old man nodded his head, smiled a grim little smile. “Funny, isn’t it?”
“Why funny? What’s funny about that?”
“Oh, the connections that form – we’re so often unaware. Endless, I suppose, yet how rooted in the past they are.”
“For a time, I felt like I was adrift, in a sea of stars…”
“Because you were.”
“What? But how…?”
“Something to do with the layers of an onion, Jeremiah.”
“What? You’re not going to call me ‘Pride’ anymore?”
“No, Jere, not just now.”
“What…why did you call me that? That’s what my father used to call me…”
But the old man simply smiled as he looked the boy in the eye. “Because I’m proud of you,” the old man said – with a twinkle in his eye, and then another man ran fingers through a little boy’s hair, and for a moment – for just the briefest flash of time a window opened, then the other man said “Goodbye” – and was as suddenly gone.
His mouth dry, his tongue thick and sticky. The room dark, too dark, but he saw banks of monitors and watched their steady beat as echoes of his life marched across the screens. He lifted his head, looked for her but she wasn’t there now and he felt sad, adrift, cast aside. His head fell back to the pillow and he looked at the glow of instruments on the ceiling, how patterns of his life shifted from blue to green and back again – all movement, always – no time to make sense of things.
He hated himself for being attracted to her, this negro woman, but he couldn’t help himself. It was like he was drawn to her, then that feeling again, like someone – something foreign – was inside, impelling this attraction. Yet hers was such a gentle soul, so unlike his forceful wife.
He tried to remember her, their years together, the son they had. The boy he neglected. Ruth was always the stalwart campaigner, always by his side, and she had turned into a fine First Lady, a much loved figure – where he was not. Then cancer, the rapid descent and drawn-out death that played out on the news channels, the attention consuming his second year in office. The bounce in the polls, the early re-election campaign – now eighteen months with two months yet to go – until the election. Such a fierce battle this time, how unpopular his rolling back the oppositions’ agenda had become nationally. The media against him now – he was the bigot, the dark, ugly face of America – or so they called him.
And maybe he was, but he represented millions of angry voters, voters who’d been disenfranchised by ‘experts’ and other hangers-on, who Rand called ‘second handers’ – when Atlas Shrugged, once upon a time. They’d called him the last best chance to save the country – and he’d believed them, too – then the country turned on him when he acted on his promises. There had been calls for his impeachment, riots in several cities on the west coast…then Ruth and her cancer consumed all of them as the nation rallied to her side – and for a while, to his as well.
Her funeral? What a spectacle – the press loved him! How his re-election team used those images to rebuild his base, and how they’d been so skillfully used to draw the evangelicals back into the fold – once again…
A light came on – no, something brighter than that – impossibly bright…then the pain was on him again, incredible, searing pain, in the middle of his chest…pressure…but – the light?!
The light is causing the pressure! How can that be…?
And then the light was overhead, fierce white light, like a star, the biggest star he has ever seen… Ten times bigger than the sun, and he stared at flares and coronal loops as they leapt into space. One flare burst from the surface and he saw it coming, coming straight at him, but something was wrong…
He reached for the star – took it in hand, held the light to his face. “It’s a gentle heat,” he said, and he seemed to understand it wasn’t painful at all, yet the object was so very bright – then there was a man by his side. Not tall, and he was quite fat. A powdered wig on his head, and he recognized the man from somewhere, from some other time.
The man smiled. “Yes, Wrath?”
“You were with me, in the cathedral.”
“Where are we?”
“Where? The carnival, of course, where you have always been. Why? Where do you think you are?”
“I’m not sure…?”
And in the next instant Timothy was in the sea, adrift on vast rolling swells, carried along helplessly as the earth rumbled far below, deep within unseen layers rock, deep inside the earth. He turned, watched his father trying to run, staggering to his mother’s side, covering her with his shield – and he thought this must be an earthquake… Then, of course – that fast breaking flow, after the giant, inrushing wave plucked him from shore and carried him out to sea. But why was he was so far from land now – so far out to sea? How had that happened?
Then he saw his father, Odysseus, calling to him from the cliffs. Running now, down through cascades of falling rock, running for the shore – and Telemachus felt something, or someone – pulling on his clothing…from below…
‘A shark? It must be a shark…’
Cold panic gripped his heart and he jerked around, saw shadows of shadows passing just below, down there in the infinite darkness, but what was it? What did he see…?
There was a commotion in the water and he turned again, found the dolphin’s smiling face next to his, the two scars under it’s eye like an echo – and he smiled as, like autumn’s tides, floods of memory came rushing in…washing over him…again.
And just as suddenly he was back in darkness, the pulsing star still in hand – and he looked at it with wonder in his eyes. Another coronal loop broke free of the surface and streaked for his eyes…
And Carpenter could feel he is in the room again, looking at the fluxing glow of instruments marching on the ceiling when another light appeared, and he could see that Jew doctor – Rosenberg, Rosenstein, something like that – and that negress, the one with the faraway eyes… And Lewis too, from his Secret Service detail…he’s with them now…and only then does he feel truly safe…
“How are you feeling this evening, Mr President?” the Jew asked.
“Fine…much better, I think. They tell me you performed a heart transplant? Is that about the size of it?”
“It is, sir. It was, really, something of a miracle we were able to locate a donor here in the city, but I guess sometime these things happen for a reason.”
He looked at the negress, the way she turned away as the doctor spoke and he looked at Ted Lewis, his chief of detail. “Ted? Anything going on back at The House I need to know about?”
“No sir, Mr President, although Didi seems to have taken a shine to Vice President Smithfield, sir.”
He grumbled about the perfidy of female dogs. “Grover? Really? Well, we’ll have to see about that.”
“Mr President,” the physician began again, “we’ll have a coordinator from our post-op care team talk to you…”
“Doctor? Ted will give you the names of the people they need to speak to. When can I get the hell out of this shithole? I’ve got work to do…”
After they left he turned on the television, watched CNN for a while, then he flipped over to an old movie channel. A Kurosawa film was just starting…Ikiru, one he’d heard was worth a look…so he settled in to watch – but was soon yawning and fell asleep.
He dreamed of Ruth, of her cancer and the way she fought, the hope in her eyes shining bright right up to the end, and somewhere in the dream he felt someone wiping his arm with alcohol, drawing blood, and he thought of illness, the miracle of medicine – and the scourge of superstition. How many centuries had it taken to push aside those curtains of darkness? And yet, why was he working so hard to roll back the clock…? And – hadn’t he been doing just that all his political life?
He woke in time to see a man on a swing-set, snow falling gently on the scene, and he listened, listened to the power and the glory of the human heart in the song the withered man sang. Something about the symmetry in the scene, the gentle, slowing motion of the man, the words of the song that pulled him inward, that pulled at his humanity. Then he saw Ted Lewis still standing faithfully by the door, watching the last of the film, wiping a tear from his eye – and he wondered about this man who had sworn to protect him – at all cost.
“How was it, Ted? Worth watching?”
“Mr President! I didn’t know you were awake!”
“I’ve wanted to watch that one, been meaning to for years. Did you like it?”
“Very much so, Mr President.”
“Think you could have someone rustle up a laptop, maybe download it for me. I’d like to make it through at least once while I’m cooped up in this place…” He switched channels again, to a local station, and there was a blurb about him on just now – about the investigation and how well his recovery was going – then the story changed, to a grim looking funeral that’d been held earlier that afternoon.
A local police officer, killed in the line of duty, then pictures of a black man on-screen – ‘ah yes, of course, it had to be one of our coddled African-Americans! Another cop killed by a…’ – then he saw that nurse, the negress with the faraway eyes, standing in the rain while she looked at a coffin being lowered into the earth.
“What’s this about, Ted?”
“Oh, that, Mr President – a local police officer, he was killed responding to a family disturbance.”
“That woman there, standing? Isn’t she one of my nurses…?”
“Yes, Mr President. Emma Hughes, she’s the officer’s mother. And apparently she’s the best CICU nurse in the world, at least she is – according to her supervisors. She got you through the first couple of nights, wouldn’t leave your side. He was killed, by the way, the same day you were injured…”
“Injured? You mean shot, don’t you. An assassination attempt, in other words?”
“What’s the status of that? Who’s leading the investigation?”
“Fletcher, at FBI, is nominally in charge, but we’re on it too, sir.”
“What do we know so far?”
“An Islamist group, sir, a splinter cell, out of Atlanta, apparently. Black Lives Matter denied responsibility – they’re sticking to their whole ‘non-violence’ thing, by the way – when this new group issued a communique claiming responsibility.”
“And we believe that?”
“Not at all, sir. You know the score better than anyone else.”
He nodded his head. “Sure I do…?” he said to himself – quietly, then he looked at his head of detail again. “Well, see if you can get somebody working on that laptop.”
“Yes, Mr President.”
He was finishing the film a few hours later – openly weeping now – when she came in at eleven for her shift, and Lewis quickly slipped him a box of tissues. She was in the little monitoring room off the main suite, the ‘palace’ he was in, and he hoped she hadn’t seen him…
But no such luck – of course she had – and she came into the room straight away, just as Lewis’s relief came in.
“Oh, swell,” Carpenter said, his humiliation now total.
“Are you alright, Mr President?” the woman – this Emma Hughes – asked.
He turned his face, finished wiping his cheeks and tossed tissues at the basket on the floor. “Yeah, fine. Just finished a real tear-jerker. Wasn’t expecting that ending…”
In fact, Watanabe’s haunting song was still playing in his mind, drowning out almost everything else in the world, and he turned and looked at the negress – and visions of her standing graveside earlier that day filled his mind’s eye. He started crying again, this time almost uncontrollably, and she came to him, put her hand on his head and ran her fingers through his hair…
Lewis took the other agent in hand and they left the room, stood in the ante-room with their backs to the president while he lost it completely…
“I don’t know what’s the matter with me,” he sobbed.
“Sh-h, sh-h,” the woman whispered, “you’re going to be right as rain little Timothy, don’t you worry now…”
The words slammed into him, that voice he hadn’t heard in so long, and his vision reeled…
“Mother? Is that you?”
“Now, now, don’t you worry about all that,” Emma Hughes said, “that’s my boy’s heart you got beatin’ under your skin. He had a good heart, strong and pure…”
And then he heard music in the room, not the music from the film, and he looked up, saw – John Lennon? – sitting in the recliner near the foot of his bed, singing while he tapped his foot on the floor…
Love is real, real is love – Love is feeling, feeling love – Love is wanting, to be loved…
The impossibility of those words washed over his soul, then his Secret Service detail was storming in the room, their weapons drawn, yelling at Lennon…but Carpenter heard ‘drop the gun,’ and ‘put down the weapon, now!’ – and time seemed to slow incrementally, then stop.
He saw the men now, two of them coming through the window, automatic weapons at their shoulders – and then all was lost in fearsome noise…and blinding light.
He was still in the water, the dog limp with exhaustion by his side.
“Argos, can it be you? Have you waited for me, all these twenty years?”
The pup was failing fast now, and he took his friend in arm, held his head out of the water. Then he felt the dolphin circling, watching, honoring the moment of his friend’s passage into darkness, and when at last Argos was gone he cried. He cried because all contact with that other life had passed from this life, and only the unknown remained.
And he felt her in the water beside them, felt her body against his, and he turned, looked into her eyes. She moved away from him for a moment, disappeared beneath the surface of the sea, then she was beside him again – yet little Argos was gone. He looked at her, into her cool eyes and the offered fin, and she pulled him through the water until he was beside the boat again.
But no, this boat was small, too small to be the boat that carried him from Calypso’s grasp. Not made of wood, indeed, not of anything he could recognize, something slippery-hard and impossibly smooth. His practiced eye took in the lines of the hull, then the sails, and while these shapes were familiar – in their function, perhaps – everything about this little ship was wrong…
He climbed up the stern and over the rail and stepped into the cockpit…
Was that a voice? Speaking to him?
A woman’s voice, calm and sure…
“Enter Waypoint,” the voice said, “and press execute to begin navigation.”
“By the Gods! What manner of foul creature is this!?”
“Enter Waypoint and press execute to begin navigation.”
He shook water from his ears and felt dizzy for a moment, then went to the chartplotter and reviewed his options…
He could turn back and head home, go back to Boston and try to put the pieces of his shattered life together again…
Or, he could move on…
On to the next chapter of his life.
The choice was simple, really. West – to the sea buoy off Gloucester, Massachusetts, or east – to the inlet at Crosshaven, and on into Cork.
He chose east, then turned and looked back one last time. Back into the sea…to where Charley had gone. To where she lay waiting for better days.
He looked down at his hands – chalk dust all over them, and up his sleeves too. And now, today of all days, with a faculty luncheon in just an hour he’d have to make a mad dash for… Still, it was the end of term, final exams loomed and this class was nervous. He’d challenged them time and time again throughout the semester – yet few had met the challenge. He’d never run across a more intellectually lazy group in his life, yet – there were a few who cared, who “got it” – and as always, those precious few made all to fuss worth the effort…
A hand shot up.
“Professor Lake, all that ‘Romantic Impulse’ stuff you covered last week? That wasn’t in our reading, so I was wondering how much of that will be on the Final?”
He sighed, almost wanted to laugh. And he’d once thought she was one of the bright ones…
“Well, if you’ll recall, that material was my way of summing up the class, the themes and concepts we’ve covered this semester. Romanticism, as we’ve seen, lies hidden behind vast masks…the intellectual framework appears in painting and sculpture, more recently in music but most especially in literature. And politics, too, as I’m sure you recall; we looked at that aspect of Romanticism a month ago…from Spain in the age of Bonaparte to the Paris Communes of the 1870s, and onward to Berkeley in the 60s. And recall, Christ the man was a romantic revolutionary, a single man at odds with unjust tyranny, a man concerned with social injustice, and with pursuing his own intellectual agenda, a salmon fighting his way upstream, trying to spawn a new understanding of God.”
Patricia’s hand shot up again…
“What was the stuff about The Doors?”
He tried not to laugh – but it was always the same. There’d been a movie about the group so that idea had, for a moment, piqued her interest…
“Ah yes, The Doors. Anyone remember the song I mentioned?”
One of the jocks sat up, raised his hand while he squirmed in his seat. “Yo!” he said…
…who then started singing “Oh show me the way – to the next whiskey bar!”
“Exactly! Yet, remember? That song wasn’t written by Morrison, or The Doors. It was their cover of The Alabama Song, by Brecht and Weil, from their operetta The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany. Which, as we read, was a critique of capitalism and the inherent slavery that results. But then, what was so relevant about that? Why was a song from the 60s relevant to our exploration of Romanticism?”
“Something about Germany, wasn’t it?” one of the bright girls, Susan Zimmermann, said.
“Yes, but what, exactly?”
He saw blank expressions all around the room and he sighed again.
“Weil’s music,” he sighed as he looked at Zimmermann, “was grounded thematically in chromatic forms pioneered by Wagner. And Wagner? Who was HIS inspiration? Anyone? Yes, Susan?”
“Exactly so! Old Ludwig van, himself. And, recall, those two are the bookends of German Romanticism. So we have a turned-on, tuned out Jim Morrison in love with the writings of another old German, Friedrich Nietzsche, yet another Romantic – even if he was just a philosopher – who while finding this song about getting drunk, about getting lost in alcohol to avoid the miseries of existence in late 19th-century capitalist society, looks to Weil – and beyond – for inspiration. Weil who, like Morrison, by the way, read Nietzsche like people in Iowa read the Bible. Yet Weil was channeling Wagner, who, oh, was an ardent admirer of Nietzsche himself, as we discovered, and yet Wagner was channeling Beethoven. So you find the roots of an anti-war protest song, a song rooted in our understanding of the 1960s, roots that lay deep in German soil. The human spirit rebelling against unjust tyranny imposed from…”
“Napoleon Bonaparte!” Zimmermann shouted.
“Exactly!” Lake exclaimed, sharing her elation with the class. “And yet Napoleon arose from the tyranny of Revolution, the Reign of Terror in ‘92 and the guillotine. Romanticism is a human force, an impulse that travels through time and space. It’s rationalism masquerading as irrationalism, the human will trying to impose order out of chaos, a hymn to freedom or, if you will, an Ode to Joy. Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, C Wright Mills, even Ayn Rand – in her own peculiar way – responding to unjust tyranny in the only way their spirit knew how. Attack the edifice of the offending principle, yet not by direct assault. They chipped away at the foundations of tyranny…”
Zimmermann’s hand shot up again.
“What did you say about Freud?”
Esterhaus reached out, steadied himself on the lectern as he drifted through the lecture hall in Vienna once again, as he tried to reach for Freud’s words – drifting through the close, smoke-filled air.
“Yes, Susan, of course, Freud tied it all together, didn’t he, and quite neatly too. He got at the root of the matter, the innate conflicts within the human psyche that manifest as psychopathologies. Our need to reconcile the primitive, the primeval desires within each of us, with the conflicting hierarchies imposed by civilization… The need to look out at the stars and feel some measure of peace…”
But Esterhaus was drifting, again, floating through time and space, looking over a string of lives that stretched to infinity – in every direction – back in time, forward, an infinite set of connections forming, branching out like bundles of nerves – all striving impulse, yearning to fire, to reach out and feel. One soul reaching out to another and another, onward, outward to infinity. He felt comforted, then looked on, terrified, as great gouts of flame streaked through earth’s atmosphere. Earthquakes and starships, walls of lava engulfing cities – then all was moving upward, and he found himself adrift in fields of stars. Stars in birth, flickering sparks of coalescence within clouds of hydrogen, stars collapsing in on themselves, naked singularities bursting free, pulling everything inward…the universe spiraling ever outward, then collapsing in on itself – only to explode again and again and again, time without end, time so vast…all connection limitless and yet, Esterhaus sees now…so limiting.
She is frozen. To the core. Dead. She can feel it, everywhere she reaches with her mind.
Everywhere, and nowhere.
Like she’s in a bubble…
In a bubble, floating free of existence. She sees the farm stretched out below; Langston’s porch, trees recently felled and new stacks of firewood. The colony by the river, along the bay, trees now bare everywhere she looks, scattered leaves running before the wind, soon stopping to rest in forests beyond their fields.
Lower now, through clouds full of rain and she thinks of him again, the wizard flying the machine over the carnival, the bright lights and the terrible darkness that came…
And then she is sitting on Langston’s porch, in the chair he made for her only weeks before, though now she hears music. A piano, such beautiful music, coming from inside the house and she thinks how strange that is – because they don’t own a piano. There isn’t even room for a piano…
She turns, sees a bearded man playing the piano, intently, contentedly, and she stands, walks inside until she is standing beside him, watching his fingers as they move along the keyboard – above them one moment, and in the next – seemingly of them…
It is the merchant, she sees. What is his name? Esterhaus? The man who made coffins for her mother and father?
“That’s beautiful,” Jennifer Clemens said. “What is it?”
“Something I think…I heard once. It’s called Moonlight, the Clair de lune. Do you like it, really?”
“It’s…I’ve never heard anything quite like it. It is, you know, like moonlight. Moonlight on water, I think.”
He stopped playing, seemed startled by the thought, then he looked around the room. ‘Such a big house,’ he thought as he turned and looked at her. “This came on today’s boat, for you. We carried it up and I thought I’d see if it’s still in tune.”
“You play beautifully. Could you teach me?”
The thought struck him as absurd…he’d never touched a piano before and he stood, stepped away from the instrument as if it was a thing possessed, then he looked at the wood and the ivory. It was a thing of perfection, beauty in and of itself – and yet – the things he’d brought to life with such an instrument over the years…
He shook his head, wondered where Marian was – then turned and looked around this house again. “This seems bigger than the last time I was here.”
Jennifer turned, looked around the house – and she suddenly felt light-headed, like reality had twisted over on itself – leaving mirror images of things she’d seen in that acursed dream imposed on the things of memory. ‘This is wrong,’ she thought, ‘all wrong.’
The house was huge. Stairways led to an upper floor – and to a basement, and even the paintings on the wall remained. “Louisburg Square?” she sighed. ‘Is this not the house from Boston, that other Boston?’
“I was in Paris,” Esterhaus said, “only yesterday. Or was it Vienna?” He reached out for the piano, and it’s presence seemed to steady him – for a moment. “But – Marian…? I wonder where…?”
But they turned to the door, and saw Timothy sitting on the ground off the porch, clutching his chest one moment, then holding his hands up as if to ward off a blow. He stopped, looked around at the porch and the fields and he pushed himself up, brushed dirt off his britches as he turned and turned, looking at the porch as if it was the only thing in the world that mattered…
Then his eye fell on Jennifer.
He ran to her, fell into her arms – crying hysterically, still grabbing at his chest…
“Is it you?” he asked. “Really, really you?”
She looked at him, at the wounds in his eyes. “I think so, brother, but I am not sure where we are yet.”
He nodded his head. “Where does one place end, and the other begin?”
“Just so,” Esterhaus said, walking out onto the porch, “but even so, I’d kill for a decent glass of port.”
“A what…?” Jennifer asked, but they heard a great commotion overhead, a crashing through limbs and thrashing shouts of consternation – and they looked up, saw Langston in the tree – dangling upside-down from a limb high above the ground.
“Goddamn it to fucking Hell!” her brother growled as he picked his way down through the branches. “Somebody has a fucking evil sense of humor!”
“Langston!” Jennifer shouted, hands now over her ears. “Your language! You speak with such a foul humor…what is wrong with you…and where have you been?”
He jumped the last few feet down to the ground and shook little bits of branches and dead leaves from his hair, then looked at the house. “What the fuck happened here?”
“What crawled up your ass and died, Jenn?” Langston said, ignoring the pained look in his little sister’s eyes, then he walked up to the porch and disappeared into the house.
Jennifer looked at Timothy – who only shrugged – then shook his head. “It looks like Langston,” Tim said hopefully, “but perhaps it’s not…?” But Tim was still drifting in and out of that accursed hospital room, thinking of the old man on the swing-set and two men crawling in the window…then as their guns erupted again he jerked back to the present…
“Oh, it’s me alright,” Langston said, striding back out onto the porch, now looking up at the sky. “Looks like rain,” he said, eyeing the solid cloud cover, “but I feel there’s something wrong…”
“But Langston?! What’s wrong with you?” Jennifer asked yet again.
“What’s wrong with…? Are you fucking kidding me?” He shook his head, as if trying to clear the cobwebs of a long nap from his mind, then he seemed startled, almost afraid. “Has anyone been to see Na-taka-ri?”
“No,” Jennifer said. “We only just arrived.”
“Fuck,” Langston said as he jumped from the porch, taking off at a dead run for her cabin in the woods.
Then Jennifer heard barking – coming from somewhere along the trail that led up from the river, then she heard two dogs barking – and she ran too, ran to the sound she’d dared not hope…
She saw the Guild Master emerging from the wood, walking up from the village with two dogs quartering ahead through the grass and she stopped, looked at him, then at the pups. Little brown and white pups, their legs covered in mud – and she noticed it had started to rain. Gently now, a familiar, cool rain…and she drifted…back to the beach off Cape Cod, to that day when she’d only just learned her fate, when she waded into the water…
“Charley?” she said slowly, softly, then she looked the pup in the eye: “Charley? Is that you?”
The lead pup stopped and went into a point, the pups eyes boring into her own, then Charley burst into a sprint – running with all it’s heart for the woman on the hill…to that voice – so familiar…the heart knows…and two soul respond in kind…
But the pup stopped short, looked confused, eying Jennifer first then looking back at the Guild Master.
“Go ahead, girl,” Jennifer heard him say, and Charley looked at her again, closed the remaining distance slowly, carefully.
“Charley, it’s me,” Jennifer said as slowly, as awkwardly – but now she was looking at him, at the Guild Master, and the woman walking by his side. “Sumner?” she asked. “Sumner…”
He nodded as he came close. “Yes, it’s me,” he smiled – and she ran to him, fell into his arms.
“Thank God,” Jennifer sighed. “I thought I’d lost you…”
“Where’s Claude?” the woman by his side said. “Is he here? We didn’t see him in the village…”
“Marian! Marian, is that you…?” Esterhaus said, jumping from the porch…
Sumner held onto Jennifer, held her so tight it hurt – but he couldn’t let go, not again, not ever again…and the two pups by their side circled between legs, endlessly rubbed against them, melding past to present. He held her face to his and kissed her lips over and over, finally feeling alive again with her in his arms.
At last she pulled away and knelt down – and Charley, the first Charley, was all over her and they fell to ground in laughing embrace – then Timothy was standing by the Guild Master, looking at him most strangely.
“I take it you knew my sister once?” Tim said, and Sumner, the Guild Master, could see that all the boy’s self-righteous piety had been drained from his soul.
“You could say that.” But now he heard another dog barking and he turned, looked seaward to the village, saw two women walking up from the village, a large tan dog walking along faithfully by their side.
“I’ll be damned,” Sumner whispered, ignoring Debussy and Orgeron as they fell and rolled around in the grass, and Jennifer turned to look at the women.
“Who are they?”
“A shrink, and an owl,” Sumner said, now wondering where the hell Ted was. “Where’re your other brothers, Jenn?”
Jennifer looked at the Guild Master – yet she heard Sumner’s voice as if still faraway, down, perhaps, forgotten halls of memory. “Langston? He has gone to see after Na-taka-ri…”
“The native girl? Why, is something wrong?”
“She was ill – the pox, I think.”
“The pox? You mean…smallpox? Jesus H Christ, we can’t let him…” He turned, looked at Jennifer, then at Timothy. “Where is she? Do you know?”
“Yes,” Tim said. “A clearing in the woods – it’s not far.” Yet Tim was looking at Esterhaus and the strange woman, suddenly quite annoyed. “Herr Esterhaus? Should you not go back to your house, do such things in private…?” – then he saw snowflakes falling, just in silence, and Watanabe’s song washed over the moment, leaving him bereft of judgement.
“Isn’t that another dog,” Jennifer asked as she looked at the two women, and Odysseus turned to see Argos looking at him – then the pup was streaking to his side, barely a year old again and he was furious with himself for leaving the pup alone so long. From miles away the pup leapt into his arms and he drifted through time for a moment, back to Ithaca – but Jenn was looking at him now, pulling him back into the moment.
“Argos?” she said.
“It’s a long story,” Odysseus said to Penelope. “One for another day. Now, we must find Langston, and this sick girl…”
They found him on the floor, inside the small cabin he’d built for Na-taka-ri, and he was beside himself, weeping a trail of tears down his own hall of mirrors.
“I can’t lose her, not again…” He was lost in another village, lost in time, for his was a transcendent grief born of love and guilt, carried by memory through eons of time to the present.
The Guild Master walked inside, keeping the others out with an outstretched arm, and he walked over to the girl; he saw the angry alligator hide of the poxed – even her eyelids and mouth were completely covered and he wanted to turn away, but he had to get the boy out of this place, get him away from this infernal disease…then burn this fouled space to the ground.
There came a deafening crash – and they jumped as a burst of light filled the cabin.
“What was that? Lightning?” Langston said, and then he saw Jeremiah walking into the cabin, and he made his way unsteadily to his feet then dove into his brother’s arms. “Oh Brother, I have missed you so!”
Yet Jeremiah was all business now, and though he held his little brother for a moment, he soon stepped aside…and saw the Guild Master… “Sumner?”
And Sumner smiled. “Good of you to come, Spud. I was beginning to wonder…?”
Ted smiled and, still dressed in scrubs, he leaned over Na-taka-ri while he pulled latex gloves from a case and put them on. He gently opened the girls eyelids and shone a light in each, then examined her mouth and nostrils. He nodded once, took an IV kit from his case and swabbed the girl’s arm, then started a line.
“Langston, I need you to tie this up, hang this bag from the timbers, this end down.”
“Yes, brother,” the boy said, the joy in his eyes replaced by a hundred unanswered questions.
When the line was dripping freely Jeremiah took out a syringe and filled it with a powerful steroid, then he stopped and looked into the shadows. “This one?” he asked – and only then did Langston see the small blue creature standing just out of sight.
“Yes, directly into the femoral artery,” the miniature version of Jeremiah said. “Then you must leave. I will look after the girl while she remains infectious.”
“Jeremiah?” Langston said, clearly perplexed and not at all sure what he’d just seen. “What manner of creature is this?”
“It’s alright, boy,” the Guild Master said. “Call this fella Ted. His people are our friends.”
Jeremiah nodded his head and almost smiled. “Now, did you touch the girl?”
“You mean Na-taka-ri? Yes, of course…”
“Take off your shirt,” Jeremiah commanded, and he stood back while his little brother stripped down to his waist. “Arms up,” he added, “real high,” then he poked around Langston’s armpits, shone his light in each of his brother’s eyes – then up the nostrils and down his throat, and when he was finished he turned to the blue creature, this urTed, and said: “Looks good. I don’t see a thing, no nodes involved.”
“20cc of the attenuated virus should suffice, for now,” the creature said, “but we should begin vaccinations throughout the colony – before the day is out.”
Jeremiah drew up the syringe then looked at his brother. “You’ll have to trust me on this, Langston. Give me your arm…”
“You’re going to stick me in the arm? With that lance?”
“The hell you say,” and he began backing out of the cabin – and ran into the Guild Master…
…who began clucking like a barnyard hen…then: “Why don’t you do me first?”
“Okeedoke,” Ted said, and he felt himself drifting through layers of personality, struggling to settle on one…to settle somewhere in time…
Yet he swapped Sumner’s arm with an alcohol pad, then pinched the skin and slipped the needle under the skin.
“See?” the Guild Master said, “Doesn’t hurt at all.”
Langston looked dubious, looked from the Guild Master to his brother and back again. “What does this thing do?” he asked, his voice dripping with suspicious anxiety.
“It’ll keep you from getting the pox,” Jeremiah said. “And a few other things, too.”
The Guild Master leaned over and whispered something in Ted’s ear as he gave the injection to Langston…
“She’s here already? Outstanding!”
“The house, on the porch,” Sumner added. “With your sister who, by the way – is not in a wheelchair.”
Ted smiled, still fighting off the disorientation as best he could, but this phasing from Ted to Jeremiah to Ely Rosenberg and back again was taking more than an emotional toll. Then he recalled how the ‘Vulcans’ had considered Carol’s and Jeannie Curry’s knowledge crucial, so along with his ‘Rosenberg’s layer’ of surgical skills, there’d be enough medical knowledge on hand – for a while, anyway – to keep the colony going.
They left the urTed with Na-taka-ri and walked out into the freshening autumn afternoon, and Ted walked through the forest to the Clemens’ house, then saw Carol sitting on Langston’s porch, beside Hopie and Jennifer. His smiled deepened when he thought of Jennifer, the way things had worked out. That crazy dolphin…she’d thought of everything. And what she hadn’t – Hopie had.
Another wave of disorientation struck and he staggered under the weight of so much conflicting information. So many connections, so much contradiction. Everywhere – hell…everywhen. An infinity of connection struggling for attention.
He watched Sumner and Jennifer fold themselves into one another and he considered them for a moment, the miracle of this reunion, then he sat between Carol and Hopie, the two women central to his life now, here, forever.
The clouds were thinning, light was breaking through – and Jennifer gasped, began to shake uncontrollably.
“I don’t think I’ll ever tire of looking at that,” Carol sighed, looking up through parting clouds at Perelandra. A ringed gas giant ten times larger than Saturn, and with more than twenty moons visible in the daylight. And of which one – Ithaca, their new home – was but one of many being colonized even now.
They settled on a day and called it Sunday, and all the colonists streamed to the church on the little hill that looked out over the harbor. Many walked uncertainly, their eyes fixed on the sky, and beyond, on Perelandra. Once a gas giant, now a water world – and home to the most irrational force in the universe – the planet dominated the sky like nothing any human had ever known. Smokey gray in daylight, an oddly iridescent blue in the night sky, the huge planet simply could not be ignored. And because Ithaca was but a moon in her orbit, Perelandra was always in view. In orbit around a binary system, Perelandra’s path through the system was stable, but her many dancing moons produced an exotic pattern of tides, and Ithaca’s wildly fluctuating – if somewhat predictable – weather patterns were another interesting result.
The Clemens clan walked inside and sat in their family’s pew, yet Timothy held back when he saw a girl sitting alone on the far side of the chapel. She was young and her skin black as night, and as he approached he saw she was holding a baby in her lap. She looked up at him when he stopped by her pew and he saw it in her eyes. That faraway place…
“Yes? But have we met?”
He smiled inside, smiled as he drifted in Watanabe’s song, then he looked at the boy in her arms, and listened to echoes of another beating heart.
“May I sit here?” he asked, and she slid over a little to make room.
The Rector, the Right Reverend Roger Foster, walked in – a young woman by his side. “Her name is Emily,” Jennifer said to Carol and Jeannie. “They found one another a few days ago, yet I hear they’re already fast friends and quite inseparable.”
Claude and Marian played their piano, a gift from the Clemens, a duet of course, and the assembled colonists sat in raptured silence while the new composition unfolded
The Rector spoke about the meaning of love and tolerance, and the virtue of temperance, yet he lingered on the path ahead, the choices each colonist would have to make in the years ahead if life on Ithaca was to have any lasting meaning, then the service was at an end and the congregation walked out onto the lawn, to the food Jeremiah and the Guild Master were preparing, and soon everyone was seated, eating smoked venison and roasted corn.
“That was such a beautiful piece, Claude,” Jennifer said as Claude and Marian sat next to her. “What do you call it?”
“Ode to a Nagging Housewife,” Debussy shared, and Deborah leaned over, bit the tip of his nose – gently – then looked at Sumner, something tugging at her heart…
But his eyes were fixed on two people coming up from the harbor, and she followed his eyes.
Dr Mann, and Phoebe, Sumner’s twin sister? ‘And just how did I know that?’
She watched as they walked up to Sumner and Ted, and Deborah watched this reunion unfold with bittersweet memory lapping at the far shores of her own memory…
Then Phoebe was pointing, pointing to rocks in the distance, and Sumner nodded his head and left, began the long walk out to the rocky point beyond the harbor, and Marian wondered what that was all about…
Then Dr Mann was beside her, smacking his lips as recognition set in…
“And how are you…? Marian, isn’t it?” the old psychiatrist asked – and then he recognized Debussy sitting by her side and smiled – but then the old man looked up at the sky – and he began to tremble as consciousness began to register what the eyes could not quite accept.
“Perelandra,” Marian said, following his thoughts skyward.
“And what, do tell, is Perelandra?”
“That,” she said, pointing to the ringed planet, “is Perelandra.”
Mann was nodding his head, his hands still atremble when a girl leaned over and said: “Toto…you ain’t in Kansas anymore.”
Mann’s lip’s smacked away as he struggled for words, then he turned and looked for Phoebe…
Tom Goodwin sat on the rocks, motionless now, though he’d been fidgeting for hours and was quite exhausted after yet another sleepless night. He hadn’t seen them, not one of them, since their arrival – and he felt at a loss to explain why this was a surprised. Hadn’t the little blue ones made things clear enough? This world was for us, not them – and they had to remain away from humans or trouble would ensue.
Perelandra alone belonged to them, and he had to learn to live with that.
Yet he missed her, the one with the scars under her eye, almost as much as he missed Margherita and the Muppet. There was hardly ever a moment he didn’t think of them, of their choice to stay, and he hoped they had found peace…
He heard someone coming down through the rocks, turned and saw Sumner Collins skipping down the hill, and he sighed, turned back to the sea.
Sumner bounced to a stop and sat, and looked out to sea – waiting for Goodwin to say something, anything.
“I wonder where they are…” Goodwin finally said.
“Up there, I reckon…” Collins said, pointing at Perelandra.
Goodwin scowled. “I can’t accept that, you know. Can’t accept that they’re gone…that she’s gone from my life. From all our lives.”
“Because she became so much a part of who I am, what I care about.”
“Change is inevitable, don’t you think?”
“Of course, but she was my one constant in a dissolving life; she had been for years, then Margherita…”
“Okay, I get that, but…”
“The thing is, Sumner, I know she’s out there. She’s waiting for me. I can feel it.”
“Did I get a chance to tell you about John Lennon?”
“Who…? You mean the Beatle…?”
“Yeah, the very same. So, let me tell you a story…
“I was with him, well, very close when he was killed and, I don’t know, maybe I was the last person he got a chance to connect with…”
“Well, the point here…he started visiting me a few years ago, after Jennifer passed away…”
“I know…but these weren’t simple hallucinations, Tom. Other people saw him to, and more often than not he was singing, and playing the guitar…”
“Look, Sumner, this is making me a little…”
But Goodwin was looking at Sumner, and he hadn’t opened his mouth, had not spoken those words. He jerked around, saw Lennon sitting on a rock, his feet dangling over the edge of the cliff, with only the sea below, then he began singing: “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,” then he stopped, shook his head and began again: “I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in, and stops my mind from wandering, where it will go…” then he stopped again, and turned to Goodwin.
“You know, when we recorded that one Jesus Christ was sitting in a corner of the studio. Paulie brought him, ya know. Strangest thing I ever saw.” Then he put his guitar down and stood, looked out to sea – as he began taking off his clothes. When he was finished, when he was ready, Lennon turned and faced Collins and Goodwin.
The skin on his torso and legs was a mottled, translucent blue now, smooth and free of genitalia, and he held out his hand to Goodwin.
“Ready?” Lennon said.
“Ready? For what?”
“No, not really,” Goodwin said, but Collins helped him up, walked with him to the edge.
“Can I come too,” Sumner asked…
…but Lennon shook his head. “Not this time, Mate.” And when John had Goodwin in hand he leapt from the edge – pulling Goodwin along…
Slicing into the sea, they arced deep, trailing a comet’s tail of hope and desire. Goodwin was surprised the water was almost warm and oh so very clear, so he cleared his ears as he looked about…
…but he saw he was alone and a great despair slipped past his lips…then, when something caught his eye he swam for the bottom, found a piece of driftwood half-buried in sand. Short of breath now, he pulled it free, gasped when he recognized the image, the two scars under the eye, then he kicked for the surface, burst into air and breathed the sweetness. He settled in the water and saw Lennon by his side, waiting for him, a sly smile in his carefree face.
“Hey, boyo…I think you’ve got a ticket to ride,” Lennon said while he looked up – at Perelandra – and for a moment Goodwin was half convinced the man had become a dolphin –
and then she was there, with them
Her face appeared next to Lennon’s and he flew to her, put his arms around her and leaned his face against hers. He listened to her breathe, felt her heart beating against his and knew then that he loved this creature as much as he’d ever loved anyone – and that he could not live without her, somehow, in his life. Then he saw another dolphin swimming in the distance – much smaller, a little girl, perhaps – and a moment later this one circled-in slowly, her eye on his – as if seeking forgiveness.
Then they were swimming around him, slowly at first, then ever faster…and it came in a moment of transfiguration, in a split second of showering bliss. He woke in fields of strawberry dreams, drifted on seas of cellophane flowers yellow and green, and he smiled when he remembered Portofino, and her singing to the stars about tangerine trees and marmalade skies. He felt free as a bird as he swam between them, and he wondered what yesterday might bring, because tomorrow never knows.
(C)2005-2016 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com