Even though my current novel is a picaresque, and *relatively* care-free. it goes to other places, as all life must. So, with Alison Alexandra about to go a round with Old Nick, I resurrect this following segment from There Has Been A Sighting, my first Satan novel.
Mr. S. unexpectedly takes her arm, and begins to lead her along a winding, flagstone path. She has never seen such large pieces of the stone, and they glisten as if polished.
The path skirts a small stand of black spruce before it continues to the river. He stops her at the mouth of a gravel walkway leading through the trees.
“Let’s pop in here.”
“Your little acre of the Black Forest?”
“Hardly an acre.”
“Precision.” Breeze laughs. “Whatever would my father think of you?”
“Does any father think well of any man when his daughter is concerned?”
“No,” agrees Mr. S. “So not to worry.”
“He would think even less of someone leading his daughter down the garden path,” observes Breeze.
“That would be before he saw what I am about to show you.”
Mr. S. holds her arm tightly, and guides her onto the gravel walk. It leads directly to the base of a tree, then makes an abrupt curve between the largest of the spruce.
One of the boughs is so low Breeze ducks her head. She has the sensation of being in the midst of a forest, for the heavy branches obscure the surroundings.
“If I may be permitted a moment of drama.”
Mr. S. covers her eyes and speaks softly.
“Will you turn to your right, and take a few steps?”
Even though he had asked, Breeze is startled as he gently eases her forward, and she feels a slight urge to resist him. Her steps are more cautious than the gravel walkway demands, and the press of his body is noticeable. She counts her footsteps under her breath. She is surprised when they stop at half a dozen, and he quickly removes his hand.
“She’s beautiful.” Breeze stares, open-mouthed.
“Yes.” Mr. S. is pleased. “I think so, too.”
“An angel in the woods.”
“The angel of peace.” Mr. S. walks her around the statue. “Not at all bad for a knockoff.” He pauses behind the wings.
“A reproduction.” He puts his foot on the pedestal, and leans forward. “I don’t really know how old it is. Certainly last century – possibly before.” He points to the blue folds. “I’ve had the paint cleaned and touched up. Is it too garish?”
“It … it stands out.” Breeze hunts for a word. “Let’s call it vibrant.”
“They said it was probably close to the original colour.” Mr. S. walks around the statue and again halts beside Breeze. “Since she stands in so much shade, it’s for the best she stands with lots of colour.”
“Do you believe in angels?”
“I’ve just had a night-long fight with Satan. I have to believe in angels.”
“Does she have a name?” Breeze leans forward to inspect the angel’s outstretched hand.
“I’ve never given her one.”
“That’s one of your suspicious half answers.” Breeze grins.
“When Mother Ursula spoke to her, she called her `Pet’.”
“`How are we today, Pet?’ `You got a soaking last night,
Pet’.” Mr. S. glances at the statue’s face. “That sort of thing.”
“Oh.” Breeze also decides to look at the angel’s face. “It’s not what you’d call a Christian name.”
“Ursula would get a laugh out of that.” Mr. S. smiles slightly. “And so would the angel.” He turns toward Breeze. “And so do I.” He takes her hand. “Which is probably your intent, so I won’t again slip into the past tense when talking about Ursula.”
“She’s not dead yet.”
“Her living will gives the machines seventy-two hours.” Mr. S. looks at the angel. “I suspect it’s a wry Christian reference.”
“So if she rises on the third day, we won’t be surprised.”
“You have more optimism than even the Sisters.” He glances at her. “And they tend the machines.”
“Machines have their place.”
“Yes.” Mr. S. releases her hand. “But so does death.”
The London platform is abustle, though, in reality, she is boarding a train to take her to a train waiting in Calais. Still, it is under the umbrella of the Venice-Simplon-Orient-Express, and she is happy to board and take a very cushy seat.
Two hours and fifteen minutes to Paris. Nice scenery at either end. A glass of Bellini, in a champagne flute, before the actual undersea part. Nothing could be finer.
Alison Alexandra assumes that a quaff of peach infused Prosecco sparkling wine is to ease the anxiety of anyone going not only underground but also undersea. She appreciates the glass of – expectedly – high-toned champagne regardless, but she does not need a drink to assuage any fears, for she has none.
She has always enjoyed the thought of actually moving under streets and buildings and cars and people and parks and dogs and folk in restaurants spooning soup while other folk high up in business towers give power point presentations about the fluidity of market shares or the expert way to niggle a wire into an explicate brain to stop one form of behaviour or to restart another. Thousands of snips of humanity and civilisation wending their way over her head as she wends her way from one underground station to another.
And then – to add the volume of the sea – well, what now floats overhead? How many fish and how much plankton and seaweed and eels and lobsters and oysters and snails and perhaps even whales swimming and eating and probably eating each other in the liquid beauty which is the water which is the ocean which is the sea that slaps against the cliffs that she watches from her prow-of-a-ship windows when she is on the other side.
And the ocean that slaps the rocks at the base of her cliff is full of fish gurgle and whale song and lobster clatter and crab scuttle and perhaps even the mermaids singing. And then there is the screw screw screw of all the propellers of all the ships carrying crew and passengers and cargo of all sorts and conditions, from cases of the champagne she is drinking to the host of automobiles like the Black Ghost that Gabriella drove when she shared some champagne delivered by ship and not aged on the delivery truck two cities over.
And other cargo, floating and steaming over her head, food and drink and oil and bourbon and stiletto-heeled shoes and prayer books and cotton and smart phones and insulin and jet engines and books and railway ties and sheep dip and textiles and spices from the Far east and tongue dispensers and sugar and steel beams for steel bridges and fishhooks and guided missiles and holy missals and buttons and bows and those tiny umbrellas for fruit punch cocktails and things that Alison Alexandra doesn’t even know exists but she has her suspicions.
All over her head and moving the waves and making whales sing their cautionary songs to warn other whales to get the hell out of the way or they will get bumped on their noggin. And they do. Get out of the way.
Alison Alexandra finishes her underwater pilgrimage and pops above ground in France. And although Alison Alexandra has been somewhat offended by having to take an actual bus shuttle under the actual English Channel, she still shouts “Alors!”
In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I gave Kafka a dream about a husky. Kafka’s dream, however, was based upon the very real event that happened to me many years ago as I took a country walk.
In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote.
24 December 1916
Dreamed I was in Amerika last night – playing with a Husky.
The dog was all white, and possessed an intelligent face. The shape of the muzzle made it look as if it were smiling – even laughing – and having a good time. It was free, and could do such things.
It did not speak, but that does not mean I thought it incapable of speech. I played with him, and because of his gentle persistence, we went running through the snow together. I chased him as he wanted, along a winding trail and through young woods.
I hid from him once, and he was much confused, his breath hard, and his feet scratching across the snow as he came back to look for me. I jumped out of my snow cover with a shout. He smiled at me, and he nearly spoke.
I looked for him, this morning, on the way to work. And then again, tonight, as I came up to the castle. Before I leave, I shall gaze into the Stag Moat from my darkened window. The snow there must be the purest in the city. If I see him, will I give chase?
I have been thinking of lighthouses, as I am very fond of them. I came across new information about some local ones, and even found a web site (courtesy of some lighthouse articles) which is excellent for all of North America. https://www.lighthousefriends.com/index.html
So, I will share a lighthouse story which is part of one of my novels. It is a fictitious lighthouse, but the story has roots (as so many tales do) in reality.
Excerpt from: He Lives In The City / He Drives To The Country
“Well, Blaine, the place is as sturdy as the rock it’s on. Government inspected every spring. We even sat pretty through the Great Groundhog Day Gale in 1976, the worst storm in over a hundred years.”
Fred Gannet nudged Blaine to the huge windows. He pointed into the distance, although neither could see through the fog.
“Waves forty feet smashed up against us. We clocked winds at one hundred and thirty-seven miles an hour. We had the warning, so we got most of this battened down. Turned over my van, but I had it far from the cliff. Smashed out a window in the living room. I had a bitch of a time getting plywood over it. Lost power and phone of course, but everything here can run on emergency generator. And part of the roof lifted, but it didn’t do that much damage.” He jabbed his finger at the rain spattered windows. “This is a baby compared to that whore.”
He gave a whoop of a laugh, and took off his cap.
“Old George Crenshaw, he’s the keep on Goat Island, a mile square drop of nothing about eight miles further out to sea. Well, he took the brunt of that bitch, and we were all sure he was a goner. For hours after it passed, there was no boats could get through the waves, or helicopters through the wind. Even the radios were gone, and no one had talked to the old bugger for twelve hours.
“We kept trying and trying, and finally I heard his call letters, but real faint like. I turn my juice ’til the needle’s in the red, and I’m yelling, to find out how he is. You know the first thing any of us hear that old son of a bitch say?”
The large man’s body was actually shaking with laughter, something Blaine had rarely seen in anyone.
“Old George’s thin voice comes out of the radio, like a fart out of a ghost, and he says: `Well, boys, that was quite a breeze’.”
Blaine started to laugh as hard as the other man, who was now wiping his eyes with the cap he had in his hands.
“His place was a wreck. He had no heat, no power, there was three feet of water in his bedroom, and they even found a crack at the base of the tower. That crazy old guy had hand-cranked the generator on and off for ten hours to keep some light going. Jeez, Blaine, they don’t make them like that anymore.”
My crew in my novel The Rags Of Time are coming back to Earth. But then – things happen.
It is a navigator’s moon.
That is how Eric the Red thinks of it, as his space craft enters Earth’s solar system. He is called Eric the Red for his facial hair, and his ancestry. But behind his back, his romantic notions of the ancient ways is more the reason for his name.
Even when they fly past it, Earth’s moon generates little influence upon their return. A minor compensation of the thrusters, and its only effect on the ship, is the ritualistic kiss which crew members bestow against the aft window for the man in the moon. However, as soon as his gravity sensors register the distant presence of Pluto, Eric the Red enhances their output to catch the faintest twinge of the Earth’s moon.
His navigator’s moon.
Tomorrow, Eric will alter course to sweep past Pluto’s satellite, Charon. He plans to use the combined gravity as a sling to amplify his own trajectory, although he will lose some directional control to achieve speed.
Opportunities to observe this unknown planet are still scarce, and he makes adjustments to confront the dual gravity. He decides to attempt the `Film Technique’, which met with success among the moons of Jupiter. The Technique is named after the way film had been threaded in the antique movie projectors of the Twentieth Century.
He plans to wind through the gravities of the various moons, in such a manner that each helps accelerate his ship around the next. There are many factors to consider which affect the interplay of gravities between solar bodies. And they will, in turn, exert their control over his vessel. At times like this Eric wonders how much really has been learned since the existence of gravity was acknowledged.
He adjusts the coordinates of his radioscope to compensate for the approaching planet. He is about to tell his crew to do the same at their consoles, when his hand stops in mid-movement.
He sniffs the air. He looks quizzically to the left, then glances behind him. There is a sudden and pervading odour of seaweed.
The voice comes from the speakers beside his view screen, but he is not distracted.
It is the seaweed smell of low tide.
As a child, he would play upon the furthest rocks in the heat of the sun. There was danger staying extra minutes, for the ocean could return in a rush. He and his brother had once had to scramble through fast-moving water as it came past their chests. They had floundered over the seaweed-slippery rocks until they managed to reach shore. It had been one of the most frightening moments of his life.
“Captain.” This time it is his second officer’s voice. “We have to adjust the radioscope.”
“There is – ”
Eric the Red still remembers the terror. The awful moment when he had slipped, and his head went under the foaming water. His startled surprise as his brother pulled him upright. “There’s a possible malfunction with the hydroponic transfer system. I seem to be receiving a strong odour of … vegetation.” He takes an audible breath.
“As soon as the radioscopes are altered, have the connections of the oxygen extractors, and the leads to the ventilation system, checked.”
“We’ve had no other report about this, sir.”
“Swamp gas.” Eric feels he can make a joke, for the smell is starting to dissipate.
“Perhaps there’s some sort of build-up in your section, Captain.”
“Maybe there’s a part of Pluto fermenting we know nothing about.” He looks at the distant planet on his view screen. “I’ve never had the desire to visit.” He chuckles for the benefit of his second officer. “Perhaps that awaits you, Malcolm.”
An Excerpt from my Kafka In The Castle, where I fill in all of his missing diary entries. Kafka never avoided life – if anything, he perhaps plunged too deeply into it. But I think he never felt he was a part of what went on around him. He understood reality too well.
01 June 1917
I have been on the outside, looking in – the darkness of the night behind me, the fog resting close upon the harbour.
I’ve watched diners at their ease, the fire colourful through the grate, the rich hue of the glass raised to the lips. And my own face, peering back at me as I look in, reflecting like a ghost’s shadow from the window.
And the very next night, I have been on the inside, looking out – seated at the very table I had previously observed.
The fireplace at my back, its warmth more than welcome. And I glanced out at the harbour, its fog higher than the previous evening, but not yet obscuring the lights of the ships. Their portholes wavering.
And, as I brought the red liquid to my lips, I saw my own face dimly doing the same in the window, imposed and distant between me and the fog. And I felt as alone as I did the night before.
Whether I was sitting or standing; whether in the warmth, or in the fog – I was still me.