~ You calling my name?
~ You blowing that horn at me?
~ Getting your attention while I can.
~ You’re just the elephant in the room.
~ I won’t be much longer.
~ You calling my name?
~ You blowing that horn at me?
~ Getting your attention while I can.
~ You’re just the elephant in the room.
~ I won’t be much longer.
The phone rang too early for decent folk this morning, but that can mean there is a problem, so I tossed off the covers and answered.
[jumbled static, tweeps, gurgle, hollow and distant voices]
Heelooo. Eeeestay. Is there Eeeestay?
What do you want?
Eeeestay [static and hollow voices in the distance] Eeeestay, danger to your computer. I can save.
You are lying through your teeth. You know nothing about my computer.
Wha… Eeeestay. I can save your computer.
You are lying through your teeth.
Idiot! [abrupt hangup]
All of which put me in mind of a blog I wrote a couple of years ago of a conversation I had with – possibly – this fellow’s brother
I have a degree of sympathy for telemarketers. I spent a couple of months training to work in a call centre. I was mainly to deal with customer complaints. It was the least offensive such job I could find. But I could just not remember all the stages I was supposed to go through, or keep track of all the various information tabs on my screen. I did not make it through ‘training’.
My modicum of sympathy, and not being totally sure when I first answered that it was a marketing call, made me embark on the following conversation. No, it is not verbatim (I didn’t record it for quality control). And it is condensed. I admit, a certain fascination of just experiencing it, kept me on the line.
To anyone else without a writer’s perversion, do as I say and don’t do as I do.
T: “Hello there.”
M: “Hello.” [another long pause] “Hello. How can I help you?”
T: “Help me?”
M: “Yes. What do you want?”
T: “Are you the Lord?”
M: “The Lord?”
T: “That you can help me.”
M: “Good Lord. What do you want?”
T: “I have the Lord. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”
M: “You make your Lord annoyed.”
T: “Ha ha ha ha ha lo lo lo lo lo lo moo moo moo.”
M: “You’re speechless.”
T: Moo moo moo moo maa maa maa.”
M: “You sound drunk.”
T: “I’ll put my dick on your ass.”
T: “And show it to your wife.”
M: “It would give her a laugh.”
T: “And I’ll do your dog.”
M: “That’s fine. My dog bites.”
T: “Your wife will have a big smile.”
M: “What about my dog?”
T: “Lick a dick.”
[At this point I begin to feel I am as bad as him. I stop.]
T: “Here is dick. Moo moo moo moo. Hello. Where’s the wife?”
T: “Hello Hello. Got my dick out.”
[Silence – though I still wonder where this might go. Then he starts talking to a voice I can’t hear.]
T: “Sorry, Sir.”
T: “It’s a real call.”
T: “The number is … [my correct phone number]”
T: “He is [the wrong name]”
T: “I am calling [correct city].”
T: “He lives at .”
T: “It is in [correct country]“.
T: “I understand, Sir.”
T: “It is time.”
T: “No, Sir. You don’t have trouble.”
T: “Yes, Sir. I can do that.”
T: “I’ll phone back in fifteen minutes.”
[There are no further phone calls.]
My father, Byron Caleb Estey, served in the Canadian Army for the entirety of the Second World War. He was 31 when he signed up, and was a decade or more older than most of the soldiers he served with. At the end of the war, he was offered an instant promotion from Corporal to Sergeant Major. He declined. He had had enough.
He was with the 90th Anti-Tank Battery. He was the member of the crew who calculated the coordinates to aim the gun and destroy targets. He did this up through Sicily and Italy, except for those times when he grabbed his rifle to shoot at soldiers shooting at him.
I imagine I could write pages repeating the anecdotes he told – and maybe some day I will. He didn’t talk all that much about the war, and when he did, I’d guess 80% of his stories were humorous. The other 20% were not.
I regret not discussing his war experiences more with him, but he did not encourage it. I once asked how close he got to the German soldiers. He said, close enough to kill them.
He hated Germans and Japanese all of his life. I understand that this is not the way of most soldiers. They mellow. They come to understand that soldiers on the other side were doing a job, just as they were. My father was not one of these. Those 20% of his stories explained his attitude to me.
He fought in – arguably – the most horrific and bloodiest battle in the war, the Battle of Ortona over Christmas week of 1943. He marched over piles of bodies, and crawled over piles of bodies. Such were the details he would tell. He didn’t speak of his feelings, or use words like “horror”.
On Remembrance Day he would march in the community parade. He rarely lingered for a meal or beer or camaraderie at The Legion. He did not seem affected by the memorial event, and did not talk any more or less about his experiences just because it was 11 November.
Because his tales were more funny than not, I’ll close on what might have been his last funny story.
At his death, the Royal Canadian Legion wanted to conduct a small ceremony at the funeral parlour. They requested that his medals be pinned to his chest. But, the medals could not be found. This was odd, because they were important to him, and he always wore them for the Remembrance Day parade.
It is excessive to say that the whole house was searched – but not by much. Drawers, shelves, boxes, closets, clothes, were repeatedly searched. Nothing. The Last Post was played over a Veteran with no medals.
Months later, when the house was being sold and possessions were being removed, his clothes were searched before being given away. In the side pocket of a jacket he never wore were the medals, all spiff and shiny.
He would have smiled at that.
I am so sorry to have missed the event, not just for the book launch, but because it was a part of Evensong. My interest in this service is explained in the following blog, that I posted last year, around the time of Remembrance Day.
Trusty Google helped me find one last Sunday. Not only an Evensong, but a Choral Evensong. And not only choral, but it was dedicated as a Remembrance Evensong. I was coming in, out of the cold, in style.
It was held in St. George’s Church – also know as the Round Church for its shape. www.roundchurch.ca
I had been in the church as a tourist, but not for years. A 5pm service in November got me there at dusk. It is a large church, complete with upper balconies. It is close in proximity to the Halifax naval yard, and I wondered if there would be some military presence. As it was, an officer in uniform read a lesson, while a military chaplain gave the sermon.
Not having been to an Evensong for decades, I don’t know if it was a large or small congregation. My guess is there were thirty or so people present, plus 10 in the choir, plus 2 ministers, 1 verger and the organist/choir director.
I would say that Evensong is a modified Morning service, perhaps more fitting for the time of day. In addition to a choral choir singing selections on their own, there were hymns that are favourites of mine. “Oh God, Our Help In Ages Past” “Abide With Me” and three (3) stanzas of “God Save The Queen”. How close to heaven can one monarchist get?
As an added surprise (which would have made my father ecstatic) it was a High Church Anglican church, and even had incense. Perhaps that explained the choral choir.
At the end, after the procession had left, the large and booming organ belted out a selection by César Franck – Pièce Héroïque“. Members of the choir returned and sat in pews to listen.
When it was completed and people started to leave, I had a tiny ageist and sexist lapse. Two little, white-haired ladies got out of their pew to leave. Walking slowly before me, they talked of the music. I thought they were going to complain about the (admittedly) lengthy organ recital.
“Oh, that music,” said one.
“Yes,” said the other, nodding.
“It’s one of my favourite pieces.”
“I know what you mean.”
[Kafka’s Alchemist Lane “Burrow” with open door]
A burrow offers security and comfort. Kafka found both in his sister’s tiny house on the Golden Lane.
The Golden Lane is a narrow, dead-end yet massively historic lane, hugging an interior wall of the huge Prague Castle. Centuries ago the small buildings along the lane housed workers of the Castle, including some resident alchemists. Thus the name.
Ottla – Kafka’s sister – had rented it so she could spend time with her lover, and not be bothered by parents and comments. Her lover was not only a Christian, but he was soon going to leave to fight in World War I. Time was precious. However, she rarely had opportunities to use it other than the weekends, so she offered Franz the use of the tiny house for most of the time. And use it he did, though he never stayed the night.
Through fall, winter and spring Kafka wrote a whole book of short stories there. For a single block of time, it was one of his most creative periods.
When I visited, under the Communist rule of the time, it had been converted to a book store. Of course (which he would have appreciated) there were no books by Kafka for sale. Today he is displayed in the windows.
It was only when I went thorough the small rooms, and looked out the window into The Stag Moat, that I realized how important the house would become in Kafka In The Castle, my novel about Kafka. It was cozy – even with the space cramped by tourists. It had been little altered. I could easily imagine Kafka looking through the same glass and walking through the same doorways. No doubt stooping because he was tall. Research met reality.
One of the last stories Kafka wrote, during his final year in Berlin, was called The Burrow. A version exists and is published, though a longer version is supposed to be among his ‘missing’ papers. In it a tiny animal keeps incessantly burrowing to keep away from an enemy. A vague noise convinces the animal to burrow deeper.
Yes – that’s Kafka.
In my manuscript, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in his missing diary entries. One hundred years ago, to the day, he re-visited (in real life) the small house where he had been happy and productive.
01 November 1917
The claws of Prague make fierce sounds when they tear into your flesh.
02 November 1917
I walked to Alchemist Lane this afternoon. It is not really a part of Prague – high and removed by its ninety-eight steps. A cold, clear day – much like the day a year ago when I accompanied Ottla on her mad little quest to see it. But not (as I had thought) for the first time. In fact, she had already rented it – something I’ve only learned these past few weeks. She had wished my approval, but she didn’t need my approval. I am glad of that.
It was strange entering the courtyards, and passing beneath the spires of the cathedral. But stranger still was to stand at the mouth of the Lane itself, and look along its length. I could have been away for years, or returning to resume yesterday’s thoughts. I felt both. It was if I were at the station, but not knowing if I were arriving on one train, or departing upon another.
The narrow lane was deserted, so I walked along its length slowly. There were new curtains on the windows of my little house. When I returned, I did pause before my old door, and glanced between the curtains to see that all of my furniture had been removed. Much as their owner.
They have learned every celebration has its risks. The Druids have taught them this, and the Druids are correct.
Samhain is a festival of the harvest; the end of summer; the preparation for the winter to come. Samhain is a juncture. As they all know, junctures lead to sundry places. There is both the leaving and the coming. A time of disquiet. A time of danger to those unprepared.
It holds the magic and the power of midnight. Midnight is a powerful time because it is the juncture of two days. Midnight of Samhain thus holds double the power. It can not be avoided. It must be met with all the power that mortal man can muster. It must not be met alone.On the Eve of Samhain, the border between Life and the Otherworld is breached. A door swings invitingly open, but it is not inviting to those who live. It is inviting to those who have died.
The Dead who still miss their lives. The long Dead who still are curious.The distant Dead who get a whiff of fresh air and have their memories stirred. So the Dead approach.The Dead approach. The living must prepare to meet them, just as they prepare for the vicissitudes of winter. The same threatened cold holds sway over both.
The living assemble the treats and threats that will assuage the longings of the Dead. Because the living have a healthy fear of death, they equally wish to avoid the Dead. The Dead can prove to be envious and attempt to relieve the living of their lives.Lanterns from the earth are hollowed out of turnips. Their light will guide the dead to safer places (safer for the living). Candles will shine through carved faces. Some faces are friendly and welcoming; some are ugly and fierce to give aggressive Dead a pause.
There will also be treats to entice the Dead – apples and pastries and savouries and some roasted game fresh from the bonfires. There will be ale and other spirits to keep the Spirits at bay.The living will wear costumes and masks to disguise themselves from those Dead who might wish their company to be more permanent.
They will remove the masks if the Spirits are friendly.
They will dance and sing and raise a right ruckus to entertain the Dead.The boneyard is on the outskirts of town. The revellers approach with noise and caution. The bonfire is set. The moon hangs from the trees. The gated fence stands closed and latched. The living pause and watch. And listen. Is it the wind, or do the hinges scrape the stone?
In my novel, “There Has Been A Sighting”, sightings of Satan are tracked and confronted. An antechamber to such an encounter occurs in the crypt of the St. Marien church, in Berlin.
Excerpt from: “There Has Been A Sighting”
“Mother Ursula certainly expects me to go down into the gloom.” Dorkas is harsh. “Otherwise, why am I here?”
“I don’t deny that’s the way it is now.” Breeze stands beside her, peering into the dark. “I just wonder if it is what we would find tomorrow.”
“I may as well take their kind illumination.”
“Agnes only had a candle.” Breeze gives her the flashlight.
“Agnes could not fear half the terror I feel.” Dorkas shines the light down the stairs. “She expected to come back.”
“I’ll be waiting.”
“If I’m not forever, then I won’t be long.”
As Dorkas descends, the stone walls absorb the light, pockmarking the surface with rough shadows. She pauses before entering the room, perturbed by the dimness. Her light had shone brightly minutes ago, but now its beam seems submerged in water.
She slaps the flashlight against her open palm.
“I’d do better with – ”
She stumbles on the bottom step, twisting her right foot as she is thrown against the wall.
The flashlight falls and rolls across the floor. She hears its metal casing scratch over the stones, and watches the beam of light spiral like a demented beacon, until it turns around to shine back into her face.
“I won’t stay if that goes out.”
Dorkas deliberately speaks aloud.
“Whether I’m in Berlin for a night or a year.”
She tests her foot and finds her ankle is slightly injured. “If I break my leg, what will they do? Leave me down here?” She bends over to get the flashlight.
“A permanent fixture.”
As she takes the light, she points it away from herself.
The feet are bare, and dirty, and raising dust as they dance. A cloud of dust rises up their emaciated legs to their knees. Although Dorkas is in a crouched position, she jerks away from the figures, and sprawls on her back.
She starts to cough in the dust, and the ragged, whirling band begins to encircle her. The light gripped in her hand strays across their bodies, and catches the glint of bleached, protruding teeth as they grin down at her.
“A tomb.” Dorkas shouts.
She can not count the number of hands reaching toward her, their flesh mottled from the iridescence of putrefaction. The frayed cuffs of their funeral finery trail strands of unravelling cloth, and she cringes from the touch.
“You want me with you?” Dorkas struggles to her knees. “To end on your wall?”
Bejewelled rings and bracelets rattle against bony fingers and wrists. The sound fills her ears as the hands, extending to grab her, are jostled by the tempo of the dance. They can not stop their own feet, and they can not stop their partners who hurry them ever on.
“I won’t.” Dorkas holds the light in both hands. “Alive or dead.”
Der Totentanz becomes smaller as the figures tighten the circle around Dorkas. A whiff of their decay permeates the dust, and she turns her head, coughing even more. But she can’t avoid their movement, their grasping hands, their stench. Victory is etched upon their faces.
She barely hears her name as she huddles more closely to the floor. She is afraid to stand in case the frenzied dancers graze against her. She fears that the slightest brush – whether from their knees, their fingers, or even their rotting clothes – will lift her to her feet and make her a part of this final procession.
“Dorkas! I can’t turn on the electric lights.”
“You wouldn’t want to see.” Dorkas tries to shout, but her throat is clamped by hysteria. “This is worse than buried alive. I’d rather be in the dark.”
The dust of the dead is filling her mouth as she switches off the flashlight.
“Dorkas! For God’s sake.”
Breeze comes plunging down the stairs, scraping her hands as she steadies herself against the wall.
When she reaches the bottom, she stops in the blackness. Her hesitation is brief, and she starts forward at her usual pace, hands outstretched. She strains to hear the slightest sound.
“Dorkas? Did you drop the flashlight?”
“Are you alive?”
“Dorkas?” Breeze turns abruptly, for the voice is behind her. “Of course I’m alive.”
“Then I guess we both are.”
Dorkas gets to her knees, and slowly stands.
“Berlin proves to be as wonderful as I anticipated.” She brushes dust off her shirt. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Did you lose the flashlight?” Breeze starts to move toward the other woman’s voice.
Dorkas is momentarily puzzled, then realizes it is still gripped fiercely in her hand. She switches it on, casting a beam over Breeze’s legs.
“I thought you were it.” Breeze looks down at her legs, then follows the light back to Dorkas. “When you didn’t answer, I thought something had gone wrong.”
“I’m in Berlin.” Dorkas laughs harshly. “Everything goes wrong.”
She approaches the younger woman slowly.
“I don’t know where I would be if you hadn’t come to me.” Dorkas strokes Breeze’s arm. “Your intervention won’t make the others happy.”
“I’ll handle himself if you take care of the old girl.”
“Let’s take a look.” Breeze reaches for the flashlight.
“At the bloody painting.” Breeze is turning the light toward the wall. “I know it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but maybe we can figure how its now in a different place.”
“No.” Dorkas swats the flashlight with her hand. “If you accept that there is God and Satan, then you accept there are things beyond your power.”
She stands close to Breeze, the light between them.
“You do not invite what can destroy you – that is dangerous folly.”
“But you came here.”
“Yes.” Dorkas takes back the flashlight. “I came here. And that courage – and you – enables me to walk out of here.”
She looks Breeze in the eyes.
“I have light, and I have a friend, and I’m not going to be buried alive. Not tonight, at any rate.”
She shakes the flashlight.
“Not here, at any rate.”
Dorkas sighs deeply.
“But I’ve done my part.”
“These are distinctions I don’t understand.” Breeze begins to feel uncomfortable. “Here we are – standing right here. Haven’t you won?”
“If you tempt fate?” Dorkas speaks softly. “No – fate will always win. Fate has all the cards.”
“That sounds fatalistic.”
“Life is fatal.”
“Perhaps I’ll come back tomorrow and be a tourist.” Breeze wants to hear her own voice. “Will a bunch of loud Italians and pushy Americans keep the dancers in the painting?”
“It might make it easier for them to mingle.”
“I’m not going to see them step from the wall,” insists Breeze.
“I suggest you look closely at the mustiest Italian, or the most hysterical American.” Dorkas shines the light toward the exit. “And then keep your distance.”
Dorkas is impatient as she watches the young woman walk through the beam of light, and quickly begins to follow.
“Did you say something?”
“No.” Dorkas answers curtly, but she has heard it too.
It is a sound which stays in her ears, until the door is firmly closed and locked behind them.
The sounds of an interrupted dance, where she knows partners are still being sought.
EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures has acquired screen rights to Dracul, the first prequel authorized by the estate of Bram Stoker. The film will be developed as potential directing vehicle down the line for Andy Muschietti, reteamed with It producers Barbara Muschietti and Roy Lee. Written by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker, the tale is set in 1868, where a 21-year old Bram Stoker meets with an ungodly evil that he traps in an ancient tower all the while scribbling the events…