It is a whirlwind in here


April 2016

The Pope Speaks Of Satan And Evil

This excerpt was written before Karol Józef Wojtyła’s passage to the Otherworld, and certainly before his elevation to sainthood. He had his part to play in my novel, Places of Evil, where my characters confront, and combat, Satan.  I trust he smiles down more than ever upon my endeavours. [DE]


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Excerpt from “Places of Evil”

“Who is friend, and who is foe, Holiness?”

“Do you ask of me a catechism?” The Pope peers at Mr. S. with interest. “Indeed a reversal of roles.”

The two men walk among the crypts of the Sagve Grotto Vaticane, moving in and out of the light, cast from each entrance. The Pope has requested the candles and tapers of every grotto be lit, and this is the only illumination. He has also dismissed his attendants and Swiss Guards.

The crypts line a horseshoe-shaped corridor extending from the Old Basilica to the sarcophagus of St. Peter. The Pope has yet to enter any grotto or chapel they pass. As they slowly walk, Mr. S. keeps close to his frail companion. The Pope’s doctors have given him a pager to summon help, if necessary. Mr. S. assumes the Pope is aware of this, as he seems aware of everything around him.

“Holy Father.” Mr. S speaks softly. “Why have you chosen this location for our discussion?”


“With due respect, Holiness.” Mr. S. indicates their surroundings with a sweep of his hand. “There is secrecy – but this is entombment.”

“I think you come to me with death.” The Pope also points. “What better place?”

“I do not interpret my quest so Spartanly.” Mr. S. contemplates their confines before he continues. “The church assumes we live again after this life ceases.”

“Death of the soul.” The Pope stops moving. “Death after death.” He taps his cane against the toe of Mr. S’s left shoe. “This is the platter you place before me. This is what the boy dreams.”

“I was informed you had not been told his dream.” Mr. S. looks at his foot.

“I see those around me skilfully use evasion.” The Pope leans on his cane, and Mr. S. can feel the pressure. “So I have looked all the harder.” He moves the cane, and turns toward a corridor. “Let us continue our stroll.”

The Pope walks with more purpose, and Mr. S. wonders if their conversation gave him time for some rest.

“There is secrecy of a different sort.”

“Holiness?” Mr. S. takes some hasty steps to catch up.

“Satan arrives by invitation.” The Pope’s voice holds humour. “I believe neither of us has requested the pleasure of his company.”

They reach the glow from an array of flickering candles, and the Pope stops again.

“I come to the Grotto every All Souls Day, and in spirit, visit all the cemeteries of the world.” He lowers his voice. “Even after they have ceased to be, the dead entangle the living with their lives. It is a mistake to forget them.”

“Do the dead need our memories?”

“To them, we are echoes.” He nods toward the tomb behind the flickering candles. “They are in their new lives – they do not think of themselves as dead.”

“But you feel these new lives are threatened?”

“That is ultimately the raven hovering over your back.” The Pope expertly snuffs a candle with two of his fingers. “Satan accomplishes nothing with the death of our body – that comes naturally enough.”

“Why do you mention `ravens’, Holiness?” Mr. S. does not hide his surprise.

“Do they now not have their own restaurant in Berlin.”

“Do your functionaries tell you everything?”

“As they avoid topics they think I can no longer handle, they must fill the gaps.” The Pope closes his fingers over the flame of another candle. “A comforting meal might make Berlin a place of pilgrimage.”

“How serious is the Pontiff?” Mr. S. is stock still.

“How serious should I be?” The Pope watches the spiralling smoke rise above his hand. “Since Berlin – bombed, defiled, and built again – is the lair of the Beast, it must be cleansed.” His fingers move to another candle. “Berlin, where evil seeps into the very ground.”

“They have not kept this from you, Holy Father.” Mr. S. gazes at the trinity of extinguished candles before he looks at the Pope. “For even they do not know.”

“A fortiori.”  The Pope rubs his two fingers together. “Mother Ursula herself would not engage this topic.”

“Then how do you know?” As Mr. S. steps closer to the Pope, he breathes in the smoke from the candles.

“If I ask the same question, you will point at `signs’ and `feelings’.” The Pope indicates the extinguished candles. “We don’t see a light, we notice there is darkness.”

“I live in Berlin. I feel the accumulation of evil.”

“I look at the world. I travel the world as no one else can.” The Pope raises his cane. “I see the world – far beyond the orchestrated itineraries of those who invite me.” His breath makes the flame of the candles sway. “I know my history; I have lived the history.” He turns to look at Mr. S., the movement of his cassock making the candles dance. “It is two thousand years since our Lord walked this earth, and I have seen the most evil century of them all. How can I not know the power of Satan?”

“With respect, Holy Father, there are others who – ”

“You bring to me the boy.” The Pope’s breath is against Mr. S’s ear. “The twin who dreams of things he can not dream. His sister, who sees what none of us can see.” His voice fills the still grotto. “You lay into our arms a baby in need of protection. A baby named after Mother Ursula, who knew the ways of facing down the devil.” The Pope holds up his cane. “This body may be beyond repair, but I clearly see the many things arrayed before me.”

The two men stand close together, their faces reflecting the red glow cast by the elaborate candles. Through the silence of the corridor of crypts, they hear the hiss and crackle of the many burning wicks. The Pope is again refreshed by his rest, and starts walking with purpose. Mr. S. takes a last look at the illuminated reliquary, and steps quickly to catch up.

“Who was buried in there?”

“No body.”  The Pope stops unexpectedly, and taps Mr. S. on the chest with the handle of his cane. “Only the heart of our revered predecessor, Pius IX.” The Pope chuckles. “It is said they entombed it just to prove he had one.”

They continue with little conversation, the Pope’s cane sounding hard along the corridor. Occasionally the Pope points out a particular crypt or chapel, but does no more than mention who is there. Paul II is given a hearty wave, and Gregory V has the cane pointed at him. Before one entrance the Pope gives a little courtly bow.

“A saint of particular reverence?” Mr. S. is curious.

“No.” The cane jabs toward the entrance. “One of the few ladies to join the ranks of our mausoleum. Queen Christine of Sweden.” He suddenly swings his cane to point along the other side of the corridor. “And there is my immediate predecessor, John Paul I.”

“I did have the pleasure of meeting him, Holiness.”

“Not given a chance.” He shakes his head. “Such is death.”

Mr. S. feels he is being led to more than the end of the corridor, which is not far away. He is less surprised this time when his companion stops.

“Have you noticed these?”

“Holiness?” The cane is not used to point.

“Up.” The Pope shifts his gaze. “Look up.”

Mr. S. does as he is told. He sees a grill in the ceiling, from which diffused light seeps through the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica.

“We refer to them as crypt skylights.” The Pope’s cane thwacks Mr. S. on the leg. “That light is what our lives are, compared to the brightness and warmth surrounding God.”

“I don’t have your conviction.”

“I wonder.” The Pope moves forward. “Would you be doing what you do without the deepest conviction in the world?”

They are now definitely heading for the crypt of St. Peter. When this last and most impressive shine is reached, Mr. S. will chose his questions with care, and then be on his way. He fears he will still be unsure of his destination.

“What do you think of our necropolis?” The Pope’s voice is stronger. “Do you know the Vatican is built upon a city of the dead?”

“Yes.” Mr. S. smiles. “I find it significant as both fact and symbol.”

“A church `built upon this rock’ has become more secure by burrowing into it.” The Pope laughs deeply.

“Your symbol has become real.” Mr. S. taps the side of his head. “I’m not going to try to untangle that. Let’s leave it buried.”

“We humans never leave anything buried, which is perhaps unwise.” The Pope’s voice dips. “Perhaps astute.” He suddenly turns to Mr. S., his hand gesturing grandly. “Have you heard of Flavius Agricola?”

“I don’t believe so, Holiness.”

“A voice from centuries ago.” He lowers his hand. “I like to listen to them.” The Pope leans on his cane, and speaks in a stage whisper. “Flavius Agricola once resided in our city of the dead.”

“I assume he was not a Pope I haven’t heard about.”

“Flavius well pre-dates our humble personages, although he falls under the ire of Urban VIII in 1612.”

“So much for resting in peace.”

“Tut tut.” The Pope’s stage whisper becomes more aggressive. “You interrupt our tale.”

“Ab ovo usque ad mala.” Mr. S. spreads his hands. “Pray continue.”

“Paucis verbis.” The Bishop of Rome pauses a long moment, staring at Mr. S. “Flavius Agricola left his fellow mortals some final words of advice, which he had chiseled into the stones of his mausoleum. `Mix the wine, drink deep, and do not refuse the pretty girls the sweets of love/for when death comes, earth and fire devour everything.’

“I must say, Holy Father – at the risk of being offensive – it sounds like good advice.”

“I am not offended.” The Pope nods his head. “The gifts of God are meant to be accepted.” He lifts his cane and shrugs his shoulders. “But my esteemed predecessor, Urban VIII of happy memory, was of a different opinion. He had the sarcophagus of Flavius Agricola broken up and thrown into the Tiber.”

“Exitus Flavius.” Mr. S. reverts to a stage whisper of his own.

“Bone and stone.” The Pope’s voice lowers. “The lesson remains.”

“Forgive me, Holy Father.” Mr. S. looks closely at the other man. “What am I to do with this knowledge?”

“Teach it to the boy.”

“To Janus?”

“Preach it, if you have to. He is being consumed by doom and death.” The Pope’s voice raises to the level of a sermon. “This is why he dreams of Satan. Death is important – but it comes at the end of life, not in its midst.”

“Janus leads us somewhere, Holy Father. That has to be played out.”

“Of course.” The Pope twists his cane in his hands. “But after this is done, do not just give the twins a vacation. Add more living to their lives.”

The Pope resumes walking. Soon they approach the halo of light cast into the corridor by the candles of St. Peter’s crypt. When they stop at its entrance, the Pope nudges Mr. S. playfully.

“Two altars – no waiting.”

“Are we to pray?”

“There is always a place for prayer.” He stands without the use of his cane. “My advice about the boy – it is also for you.” He slowly turns his head to gaze across the crypt. “Come.”

Mr. S. follows down the steps, and over the polished floor to the sarcophagus of St. Peter.

“Do you know what they found with the blessed bones?”

“No, Holy Father.”

“Mixed together were the remains of two younger men, an elderly woman, a pig, and a horse.” The Pope rests on his cane. “To know such things helps keep one humble.”

“We are all God’s children,” suggests Mr. S.

“And some of us are chosen.” The Pope smiles. “Indeed, some of us are anointed.” He turns his back to the spectacular chamber. “But few of us seek out Satan to end his ways.”

“Do you believe in Satan, Holy Father?”

“Ah – the catechism again.” He stares at Mr. S.  “The question, I suspect, which you do not want to ask.”

“I sometimes feel I am on a fool’s errand.”

“And I sometimes feel I pray to the emptiness of space.” The Pope touches Mr. S. on the face with his fingers. “Such is the residue of despair.”

“Do we stop evil?” Mr. S. looks unflinchingly into the other man’s eyes. “Does evil come from Satan, or is it woven into Man himself?”

“Neither Satan nor God are restricted to the absolutes of human reason.” The Pope lowers his hand.

“Do you mean it’s both?”

“Take any child.” The Pope counts on his fingers. “Two years, four years, six years old. They already know right from wrong. Such awareness is innate.” He grips his cane tightly. “They must ask Satan into their lives – but Satan will never refuse them.”

“Satan makes them evil?”

“Satan offers them opportunities.” The Pope leans forward on his cane. “Satan may even make them chose. But the choice is theirs alone.”

The Pope takes a couple of steps toward the nearest candle holder. His movements are both careful and exact. Before Mr. S. is aware of what is happening, the cane flashes through the air. It decapitates the thick candle a handsbreadth below the flame. The segment of sputtering wax and wick tumbles across the floor.

“However, when one’s belief returns, that is what one does to Satan.”

List Of Countries And Their Colourful Flags That Have Visited Me Today

I am a geographical slut – I may as well confess it right up front.  I have been since I was a virginal youth who was excited by geography. Just say Mesopotamia, Mississippi or Morocco to me and I would swoon. Dead away. And many an other sultry country – some of which no longer exist.

The same effect occurred over their flags. All those different colours and images. Even some different shapes. In fact, in my own country of Canada, the flag has changed in my lifetime. Swoon again.
So, I am as chipper as a purple banner, and happy as a fringe-lined standard, that my WordPress page shows the places from which come visitors, and images of their countries flags.
My heart flutters in the breeze.


  • ViewsCountry
  • 11United States
  • 5Canada
  • 2Australia
  • 2Macedonia
  • 2Japan
  • 1Belgium
  • 1United Kingdom
  • 1Netherlands
  • 1Slovenia
  • 1Philippines

What do agents really want? — Peggy Riley

I don’t know if this is the eternal question of authors (maybe that question is ‘what do editors want?’) but there  is a lot of worthwhile information here. And I’m guessing agents in America want what their British counterparts want. More or less.


Last weekend’s first Kent Festival of Writing, organised with WhitLit, offered a full day of workshops about different aspects of writing, from Julie Cohen’s on plotting with Pixar and building a character from a coin toss, to mine on the perils of editing. (I’ll blog more about that soon.) The day culminated in a panel with […]

via What do agents really want? — Peggy Riley

This weeks best {Maybe} photos under #Canada (24 Photos) — theCHIVE

From country to city. Not my personal choices, but there is still much that is interesting and evocative.


via This weeks best photos under #Canada (24 Photos) — theCHIVE

Picture Of An Early Bird Special


I saw a sight that I believe I have actually never seen, though it is fabled the world over.

Standing on the front stoop to test the air  I saw a robin on the grass. Robins are rather skittish and usually, when a human presence is so close, it will make them hop (and they truly do *hop*) away. But this one stayed put.

My understanding is that birds ‘hear’ the worms under the earth – that is how they detect them. I assume that is why they so often have their head in a cocked position. However, for this robin, the listening part of the chase was over.

As I watched the robin made a strike into the earth with its beak. It was then that an almost cartoon-like image occurred. The bird had a portion of the worm in its beak and began to pull. It pulled and pulled and the worm stretched and stretched. It made me think of someone pulling a threaded needle from the fabric they were sewing. The length of the worm became even longer than the robin’s body. With this constant and slow tug, the worm finally popped out of the earth.

Then the robin had a go at it.

The bird took at the long, brown earthworm and began to snip off pieces with its beak. It could not have been more effective if it had a pair of scissors. Substantial, beak-sized pieces which it swallowed quickly. The long earthworm became shorter and shorter, giving the robin less to hold on to. In under two minutes the worm became one remaining morsel hanging from the robin’s beak. It was only then that the robin began to hop across the grass. The last piece of worm disappeared inside the robin and the robin quickly took off.

One satisfied predator.

One less worm.




Wild Beavers Play An Age-Old Game In Nature



I was walking along the river and heard the strangest noise.

It was one of those noises which, when I found out what It was, sounded exactly as it should. A beaver was chewing at a branch on the bank of the river. First there were small rolling noises, as the branch went through its hands. Then the ‘gnaw gnaw gnaw’. And then the turning noise and the cycles were repeated.

This went on fifteen minutes or so, until the beaver and I both heard noises in the water.

We both saw another beaver approaching. The beaver-at-gnaw quickly went in her direction (though I can only guess which sex was which). They swam toward each other then rubbed faces. The approaching beaver made small bawling noises like a young calf. They rubbed bodies and seemed to sniff each other. They then swam in different directions.

This performance – the swimming away, the languid circling, the approaches – went on for twenty minutes. A couple of times the ‘gnawing’ beaver clambered over the over beaver’s back, but this lasted just a few seconds. The beaver that had first approached rubbed noses once again, then made the bawling sounds one more time.

I never appreciated how large beavers are until one of them came up on the bank. The water was clear enough to see their feet and tail move underwater (I wonder if the portion out of the water might have the 1/10 proportion of an iceberg). The sun was setting and they became difficult to see. However they decided to part anyway. One began to go down river toward the harbour and one headed to the other shore. For me an experience of a lifetime.


Pictures Of Kafka’s Young Holiday Love


frantzkafka_vKafka liked the ladies and he had many relationships. While in the first year of his ‘love-of-a-lifetime’ affair with Felice Bauer (they were engaged twice but – indeed – never married) he met “The Swiss Girl”. In his diaries she was only referred to as W. or G. W. They were together for ten days in a spa on Lake Garda. She was a Christian. He was thirty and she was eighteen. However the relationship (apparently sexually consummated) made a great impression on him for the rest of his life.

Research over the years has finally revealed who she is, and Google search even provides photos. However, very little else (as far as I can find) is known about her. Where did her life lead after an encounter with Kafka?

In my own tale about Kafka, I have him making a few poignant comments about “The Swiss Girl”. As with Kafka, they are as sad as they are sweet. But they *are* sweet.

Below is her image and name. Also some of Kafka’s actual diary entries about the incident.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

15 October 1913. Perhaps I have caught hold of myself again, perhaps I secretly took the shorter way again, and now I, who already despair in loneliness, have pulled myself up again. But the headaches, the sleeplessness! Well, it is worth the struggle, or rather, I have no choice. The stay in Riva was very important to me. For the first time I understood a Christian girl and lived almost entirely within the sphere of her influence. I am incapable of writing down the important things that I need to remember. This weakness of mine makes my dull head clear and empty only in order to preserve itself, but only insofar as the confusion lets itself be crowded off to the periphery. But I almost prefer this condition to the merely dull and indefinite pressure the uncertain release from which first would require a hammer to crush me.


20 October 1913 I would gladly write fairy tales (why do I hate the word so?) that could please W. and that she might sometimes keep under  the table at meals, read between courses, and blush fearfully when she noticed that the sanatorium doctor has been standing behind her for a little while now and watching her. Her excitement sometimes—or really all of the time—when she hears stories. I notice that I am afraid of the almost physical strain of the effort to remember, afraid of the pain beneath which the floor of the thoughtless vacuum of the mind slowly opens up, or even merely heaves up a little in preparation. All things resist being written down. If I knew that her commandment not to mention her were at work here (I have kept it faithfully, almost without effort), then I should be satisfied, but it is nothing but inability. Besides, what am I to think of the fact that this evening, for a long while, I was pondering what the acquaintance with W. had cost me in pleasures with the Russian woman, who at night perhaps (this is by no means impossible) might have let me into her room, which was diagonally across from mine. While my evening’s intercourse with W. was carried on in a language of knocks whose meaning we never definitely agreed upon. I knocked on the ceiling of my room below hers, received her answer, leaned out of the window, greeted her, once let myself be blessed by her, once snatched at a ribbon she let down, sat on the window sill for hours, heard every one of her steps above, mistakenly regarded every chance knock to be the sign of an understanding, heard her coughing, her singing before she fell asleep.


22 October 1913. Too late. The sweetness of sorrow and of love. To be smiled at by her in the boat. That was most beautiful of all. Always only the desire to die and the not-yet-yielding; this alone is love.


Translated by Joseph Kresh


Gerti Wasner
Gerti Wasner

Amazing Elephant Stories Please The Nun



A number of years ago I received a phone call from a rather panicked Government Administrator. There was a huge weekend Arts Conference being held, for all disciplines in the province. A reader who was to present – well, entertainment – at lunch was unable to attend. Could I fill in for him. It was two days away.

Yes, said I.

My Elephant stories are all under five minutes, and they are all amusing. They read themselves. Why not.

What I did not realize was the extent of this conference. Nor did I fully appreciate that the readings were to be held during the luncheon. Something like an after dinner speech. In the middle of the day.

There was one other English reader, the late Bill Bauer. Bill is a genius, a wit, a funny fellow, and an excellent reader. A tough act to follow so I was glad to be a co-participant. The other two readers were reading in French (New Brunswick is a bi-lingual province). They were to go first, Bill and I second.

The venue – for a reader – was a hell-hole (if I may be blunt). Two large rooms filled with tables and post-meal listeners. There was no way to face them all at the same time. Bill seemed fazed by nothing but I was uncomfortable. I was glad enough the French readers went first.

They were both poets (as was Bill). My French is far from the best but, by their reading method and the reaction of the audience, it appeared that they read the most dour and angst-filled poems imaginable. Sadness and despair crept through the room(s). At least Bill and I would be a contrast.

Bill is an excellent reader – a performer, in fact. He knows when to show them and knows when to hold them. He is insightful, philosophical, inovative and just damned funny. I will laugh at a poem of his which I have read a dozen times. Few can successfully end a poem with the main character screaming the immortal words: “Aphids, aphids, aphids.” Bill does.

It may be that we were both assisted by the dour poets, for Bill’s applause was enthusiastic. I was admittedly disconcerted by attempting to read to these hundreds of people scatted upon two sides of me. But – let’s face it – ya gotta laugh at The Elephant as he takes his concerns to God. And (I hope) appreciate God’s thoughtful and kindly replies. If Bill left them laughing (and he did) then The Elephant left them laughing more.

At the end it was time for all the participants to bustle back to their conferences. But some did come up to make comments to the readers. And then occurred an event which I will cherish to my grave. An elderly French nun (in real nun garb) came up to me. She was assisted by a younger nun. The old sister put her hand on my arm. She looked up at me, and in a conspiratorial voice, thick with her French accent, said: “Ah, that Elephant.” And she smiled.

Ship Voyage, Crew and Chickens in the 14th Century


From China Lily

{A 14th Century sea voyage}

More than once he had brought chickens on board ship for the voyage. He had been totally unprepared the first time to find the crew (and even the officers) were far more interested in having fresh meat than fresh eggs. They had barely been out of the site of land when some crewmen brought Matzerath two dead chickens. They said that they found the birds fighting and that they were so badly injured there was nothing to do but to wring their necks.

            The next time it was just one chicken. Matzerath was told that it had escaped and bashed its brains out trying to get out of the galley. Then there were four chickens, somewhat bloodied, and he was told the chip’s cat had got to them. By now he was down to just a few chickens, and was only mildly surprised when they turned up, in ones and twos, broken-necked near the crude coop he had built.

            He toyed with the idea of cooking them in some manner that would repel the crew, but the fact of the matter was that he enjoyed the feast himself.

            On a couple of other voyages Matzerath had constructed secure hen coops. He put two  layers of wire over the frame and put a lock from his own house on the door. He wore the key, along with others, around his neck. There would be no cats intruding and no chickens getting free to ‘kill themselves’ against the sides of the ship. And things went well – for a week.

            Matzerath began to find, one chicken at a time, the members of his flock at the entrance of his galley. The galley was meagre, with barely room for a fire, a preparation space, and some provisions. He was allowed to make hot meal only on Sunday and Wednesday. The ship could not carry much fuel and the crew was (rightfully) terrified of a fire breaking out. Matzerath always had to have an officer present to cook a meal. The flame was always dowsed with copious buckets of sea water when the cooking was done.

            The chickens appeared the days he was going to prepare a hot meal. As there was no pretense that the birds had escaped and died, they were plucked and cleaned. Since no one could abide waste on the shop, and because he took a generous portion of breast for himself, Matzerath cooked them without complaint. The carcasses guaranteed a soup for those who didn’t get much of the actual bird, and all went on as before. He eventually found out that some member of the crew, adept with tools as so many seamen were, had untwined and cut the wire in one corner of the coop. he effectively made a flap that he could undo and secure without it being noticeable.

            When Matzerath finally found this entrance, his supply of hens was so low that he did nothing. He had managed to have two months of eggs (which did not seem overly appreciated), and some meals of chicken that he himself enjoyed. He also realized that the contest between himself and the chicken thieves eased some of the boredom of the long voyage.

            His next time out at sea he also had chickens and a coop. He took pains to make it more secure, and his chickens lasted longer. However, the owners complained about the waste of the chicken feed at the end of the voyage.

            On the trip after that, his whole flock caught some disease within the first week.

The birds became bloated and stank within the same day they died. Their feathers were moist and puss formed where they were attached to the skin. There was no space in the coop to separate the ill birds from the others. The captain was swift in his judgement about getting rid of the corpses. He feared the disease might spread to his crew. He had seen ships overcome by a rapid wave of sickness.  Had it been further into the voyage, the crew might have eaten them but, as it was, Matzerath had to dump them over the side.



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