Emma took in a deep breath before opening the door to Stoddard Hall. Her first time attending a cocktail party, she felt nervous. Other than her boyfriend, Andrew, and perhaps a few professors, she would not know anyone present. Andrew’s university, located in the city, was located on a much larger campus than the one she had attended. Though her university had a laudable reputation it had not yet arrived at the world academic status that his had achieved. Inside Stoddard Hall, her eyes gorged on the multiple plaques and portrait paintings lining the walls of its gothic cathedral-styled interior. Monachopsis began to take hold of her; she felt like a fish out of water. She would have backed out of this place had she not promised Andrew that she would attend. Where is he?! She wondered, peering at her watch. I’m on time! Her search momentarily settled on the full-length mirror on the wall beside her and she took a moment to adjust her hair and dress slightly.
She credited herself with being a keen observer and rightly so since her PhD was in human behaviour. On the outside looking in, it took very little effort on her part to discern that concentration (or lack of) within each group darted here and there oblivious to the usual etiquette of social intercourse. In other words, the room was a chattering mixture of anecdoche pods of deaf-eared conversations where everyone was too preoccupied in their own thoughts.
Her digital watch marked the passage of time painfully slow. She retrieved a vodka martini with three olives lined along a plastic sabre-styled stir stick from a nearby table. Surprised by how thirsty and hungry she was she downed it quickly and went for more. By her third glass, time began to skip along nicely as zenosyne had settled in.
Fixed in place and supported by a pillar, she attempted fruitlessly to focus her thoughts. The lub-dub-lub-dub-lub-dub pounding in her right ear made her aware of her increasing rubatosis. Anxiety? She mused. Probably. A hand gently brushed against hers. Startled she turned. “Andrew?” she slurred. “Where have you been?” She felt like slapping him but the opia effect from the intensity of his blue eyes neutralized that thought and kairosclerosis overwhelmed her. Unable to contain herself, she wrapped her arms tightly around him, her martini glass smashing on the floor.
“Wow! You’ve never greeted me quite like that before.”
Silence like a wet blanket had settled over the hall as all eyes stared in their direction.
“Here, come with me,” he said.
“But the broken glass.”
“Someone will take care of it.”
He took her to the library off the main hall and closed the door. For a moment she paused, closed her eyes, and inhaled the odour of leather studded wingchairs and couches. Her gaze took in the walls of mahogany bookshelves filled tight with old-leather bound titles both prolific and profound. Vellichor enhanced it all at a momentous pace. It felt like home, similar to the old used bookstores she frequented, suitable for a PhD and accomplished author as she. This was where she felt most comfortable.
He kissed her and she him. They stayed long enough for her to caressingly run her fingers along the spine of every book.
Exiting the building, umbrella up, walking as one under its protection, laughing, happy and very much in love, and holding adomania at bay, they leisurely splashed playfully through the puddles into their future
The sky was a thick cloud of grey, not a hint of blue to be found. Conifers poked at the heavens while grasses emerald green and golden-brown shone; barren deciduous trees reached tall, stretching their spindly tentacles to scratch open a window to the azure found beyond. A deep chill had spread its frosty blanket mid-April as the tantalizing spring warmth had turned round to snow predictions that will soon cast frowns. Tulip heads have pushed from the ground, harbingers of hope that spring will soon abound and warp gently into summer’s easy ways. Life in the country is peerless in the quietude of its space. Air is fresh and life’s daily paced sanity is unlike city’s grinding medley of lacked sensibilities and over-wrought expectations.
Pandemic! Pandemic! Ink splashes in my daily rounds. Lockdowns poorly managed and applied ground my very soul into the space beneath my feet. Zombie-ness assails what used to be called norm. Yet, though a year and a bit later since its beginning, I feel strong and whole. Yes, I think all of us would agree that the pandemic has a lot of dark sides, none of which I feel the need to enumerate here. Our awareness has been skewered through personal loss and experiences and the medias’ daily barrage.
You might say I am lucky to be able to exchange the ‘pandemic hot zones’ in the city for the tranquility and relative safety of the countryside. And you would receive no argument from me on that point. I know I am blessed to have that choice. My choices and their effects have nothing to do with where I am, rather they reside with who I am. Years ago, after a lengthy bout with depression, I made a conscious effort and promise to myself to fill my life-basket with the bright side of life. Sure, there have been a few bumps along the way, but for the most part I have stayed the course. Let me give you an example. One might say that life is like a roll of toilet paper because the closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes. Before the pandemic I would have agreed. Now, I have a different perspective. Pre-pandemic, my life was stacked with social gatherings, restaurants, live theatre, musicals, and cinemas. Now all of that has been cancelled or forbidden providing me an abundance of extra time. My mind switched to more creative endeavours and learning opportunities. A new toilet roll, so to speak. Time to spend on other things or nothing or just enjoy the free time. Recently I got into designing and building raised vegetable gardens and an outdoor living space. I am not sure I would have done that otherwise. Most importantly, my wife and I have set aside time most days to play a short word card game called Quiddler. She is also spending more time landscape painting in watercolor. The other day we reflected on how much more laughter has entered our life. We have learned that after fifty plus years together we still enjoy each others company. YAY! All of this shows how easy it is to clear our calendars. I must temper what I just said because I know it does not apply easily to our courageous healthcare workers and other essential sectors, as well as for parents bringing up young children where insomnia has creeped into many parents’ lives. Though, there is a caveat as far as I’m concerned. I’m not sure I would know which day it was if not for my laptop or phone. Hmm…Maybe life is after-all like a roll of toilet paper.
This coronavirus has without doubt disrupted our daily lives. The result: a lot of routines are now topsy-turvy. I see this as an opportunity to rethink old habits and routines and make changes to daily life that might be worth keeping once this pandemic is over. Though life is difficult and tough during these times, I have learned that I can weather this storm. Dammit, I have learned that I am one tough old bird.
Not able to visit friends and family during these times has really thrown a wrench into things. This was the upside to any given month. But the feeling of “we are in this together,’ has precipitated a plethora of ways to keep those human connections via technology, local initiatives, and any other means that comes to mind to just reach out to your fellow human being. Something as simple as just saying to someone, “You have made my day!” goes a long way to making another person’s day. It is those small daily happenings that can make life so much better, even spectacular, for another human being. What I am saying is “Be kind! To all human-beings!” You have the time. So do it!
Lately in the news, I am hearing more about environmental initiatives for a cleaner environment. Covid-19 has caused significant reductions in greenhouse gases and other pollutants in water, ground, and air. It appears that shutdowns and lockdowns of large parts of our economy are good for the environment, at least in the short term. But can we make a long-term commitment? Can we grasp the opportunity to reconsider our lives and reorganize them in a way to impact less on our environment? I hope so. If the soothsayers are correct, once this crisis is over, we can expect, at least, a mini roaring 20’s. That is when economic recovery will trump environmental initiatives, and the plague of narcissism will take hold again. Watching anti-vaxxers, ant-maskers, crowd jammers, anti-science espousers, disbelievers (and so on and so forth) worldwide, I am not sure the world is up to facing and defeating the most existential threat to our time, climate change. It would not be the first time I have been wrong. And I hope this will be one of them. If large swaths of society can’t/won’t apply four simple rules to daily living (mask, sanitize hands, social distance, don’t gather in large groups) that protects them and fellow humans, then I am not sure the world is capable of saving itself. What a shame if humankind reverts to the old pre- pandemic ways and forgets (excepts for a few) the lessons learned.
Some politicians muddied the water (for whatever reason) during this crisis at the expense of the vulnerable within our society. We know who they are. Does leadership and how a person rises to that height need to be re-examined? The question appears simple, but its many working parts are anything but simple. An existential crisis faces us, environmental disaster. Different kinds of thinking and thinkers will be needed. And a different kind of leadership.
If there is one thing we should have learned during this crisis, it is that we are not in control. In almost every aspect of our life we like to think we have control. But it is an illusion to think that full control is possible. This crisis taught us that hard lesson, though it has been difficult to swallow by many. So where do we go from here? It is up to the individual and community. You! Me! Us! An opportunity to reflect and introspect. An opportunity to actually make meaningful changes to deeply rooted habits and convictions. An opportunity to make fundamental and positive changes to our approach to Gaia, Earth.
As I peer out the window in my office, there is an azure sky. A warm spring breeze dances with the curtains. Deciduous trees have clearly visible buds. Spring heralds renewed life, new beginnings, and possibilities. We are all part of nature’s cycles; it courses through our veins. Being one with nature carries a responsibility to protect it because by doing so it protects us. Our lifestyle for the most part has separated us from that reality. We can change if only we use this time wisely to make that change within us.
Step 3: Now, cast your vote for Angel Maker on the lists I’ve linked to below.
When each list comes up, thousands of books will be displayed. However, you should see two tabs: “All votes” and “Add Books to this List.” Click “Add Books to this List,” and the large list will disappear and you should see Angel Maker. Now, click the “Vote for this Book” button.
You can cast your vote for Angel Maker in any or all of the following lists:
In the poverty-stricken neighborhood where the Gruener family lived, tuberculosis was a well-established part of life. But in the fall of 1918, something new visited their Frankfurt community that remained until 1920. It began as a fever and sore throat. Headaches, body aches, cough and nose bleeds were common. Doctors advised their patients to take up to 30 grams of aspirin per day. For some, this regime appeared to work as their symptoms improved. Days would pass before this mysterious manifestation returned worse than ever. Aspirin could not help them. In that first October of the influenza outbreak, the Gruener family lost seven of their thirteen children. By the end of 1920, the virus had completed its sweep through Germany and 287 000 Germans had lost their lives.
“Schändlich!” the headline from the Frankfurter Zeitungmet Werner’s eyes every morning upon awakening since June 1919. On the wall opposite, tacked there by his father, its coffee-stained appearance bellowed “Shameful!” It was a constant reminder of Article 231, the War Guilt Clause, of the Versailles Treaty. It was deemed a direct attack on Germany. Scrawled on the wall beside it his father had written “November Criminals!” A nickname given to the German politicians who had signed the armistice in 1918. His father’s inebriated screeching voice echoed through his head. “Germany was made to feel inferior, less a country. Why? Because Germany was blamed for the war! I spit on this Weimar Republic.”
Werner glanced around the one-bedroom, shoe-box-size apartment. The room was empty except for him, but he could still hear the screams of his siblings and his father’s stumbled step as he ascended to their lodging after the tavern closed. Beatings spared no one on payday.
He stretched his neck and glanced at the closed bedroom door. Payback had felt good! he mused. He rolled onto to his side and slowly, very carefully, sat up. Thud! The parallel hardware and serpentine springs gave way. “Ouch! Ouch!” A subdued scream was muffled between tightly compressed lips. His makeshift bed, which masqueraded as a couch during the day, had finally succumbed to the rambunctious trampoline antics of his brothers and sisters. He missed them but for no other reason than they deflected his father’s physical abuse occasionally away from him.
Barely breathing, more out of fear than the pain which had become his constant companion, Wernerlistened carefully. Except for the occasional snort, snoring beyond the closed bedroom door continued uninterrupted. He combed his fingers through his thick blonde hair and sighed with relief, then slid his lank frame up the inclined cushions until his feet hit the cold, plank floor. Pushing off the couch frame, he stood. Jagged pain stabbed from waist to shoulders. He gritted his teeth and concentrated on breathing while his tongue marked time digging at the freshly punched gap in his upper mouth. Tentatively, his fingers explored the swollen upper lip and cheek before he pulled away.
Boots in hand, he sat at the kitchen table and breathed deeply several times. He glanced around the claustrophobic apartment. Odor of alcohol hung heavy in the air. He laced up his last boot over a stockingless foot and tilted his look toward the bedroom door. A year had passed since his soused mother left with his five surviving siblings. He understood why she left. Why did she not take me? A queried daily ritual that scratched across his mind like a hungry wolf scrapping a tasty morsel from its prey. Neurons flexed their images. He knew his father suspected it was he who had turned him in to police. Jailed fifteen months. That was enough time for his mother to pack up and leave. But why did she not take me?! The crumbled separation order still lay on the floor where his father had discarded it during one of his drunken rages. A thin wedge of sunlight that slithered between unkempt curtains shone its reminder on it. Werner had learned from a local merchant, that his mother had relocated to Düsseldorf. Information kept tighter than a clam shell within him. Degrees of hate separated him from each parent, feelings sharply skewed in one direction more than the other.
His gaze focussed on the pantry; its scarcity punctuated by blue molds checkered on the outer edge of a half loaf of bread. His stomach rumbled as he put on his cap and jacket. He knew better than to check the ice box for food. Anger ate away at him. Once a good student, the extensive physical violence he suffered at the hands of his father forced him to run away many times. But he always returned to this hellish den. His hand touched his swollen lip and cheek. Not this time. And he knew he meant it. The streets had become his school. He had learned through petty crime how to clothe and feed himself. His home was the streets, and he navigated its nooks and crannies with finesse and purpose. Without looking back, he closed the door softly and descended to the street below.
Thick rolling clouds cast a pall over the late February morning rush while winds swept surroundings with a knife edged chill to its bite. Head down slightly, Werner snaked through the throng of people. His focus on shoes and the threads of the approaching gentry. A few carefully placed bumps later netted Werner four purloined wallets fat with Marks. He turned down an alley and after stuffing the money in his pocket discarded the empty wallets to a trashcan before exiting onto a large expansive courtyard with tenement buildings on its perimeter.
“Werner! ” Heimrich Schmid, the local dog catcher, waved him over. “What happened to you? Never mind, let me guess. Your old man again. By the way, happy birthday. Nineteen?” Werner nodded. “Nice gift he gave you,” he said, with a scrutinizing glance.
Reflexively, Werner raised his hand to his face then shrugged it off. “Shut your hole and give me a smoke?”
“Tut! Tut!” Heimrich replied with a smile, passing him a pack of Eckstein cigarettes. “Keep’em . I’ve got more,” he said, patting his jacket.
Werner had befriended Heimrich about six months ago, and often accompanied him on his rounds. The torture and killing of the animals caught was the mainstay of their routine.
Werner lit a cigarette and purged the smoke through his nostrils as he peered at the newspaper under Heimrich’s arm. “Anything of interest?” he asked, nodding toward the paper. He knew it would likely be the nationalist newspaper Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.
Heimrich eyebrows lifted and fell with despair as he held up the paper. The headline read, General Strike in Fourth Week. Below it: Germans outraged by occupation of Ruhr by French and Belgium troops.
He passed it to Werner then came alongside of him and poked his finger at the page. “This here, it says it all.” His words spat out with venom. “Any great nation that has been driven to despair has always found the ways and means for its revenge.” He stared at Werner.
“We were stabbed in the back by those who stayed at home and a passive government.” Pensively, he gazed over Heimrich’s shoulder. “Beware of the dog, the beast has spikes.”
“You really must learn to take in your surroundings, Heimrich,” he chuckled with a hint of distain. On the poster behind you.” He flicked his forefinger to direct his attention. “Boy! Am I famished! Breakfast is on me.”
Heimrich peered at him with a tilt of the head. “Should I be alarmed? Your meagre wage from me and the amount your father steals leaves little to nothing for you.”
“You worry too much,” Werner replied. “Today’s my birthday! I’m celebrating!” Arm across Heimrich’s shoulders, he began to lead him away. His gaze fell on the poster again. “Can I stay the night with you? I’ve got an early start tomorrow.”
“An early start?”
“I’m travelling to Düsseldorf.”
“We’ll talk over breakfast,” Werner replied. “Do you mind if I keep this paper?”
“I’ve read all I needed to. But why?’
He winked. “Curiosity killed the cat, Heimrich. You’ll find out soon enough.”
Numbed by war and its aftermath, many Germans perceived predictability as an ill-wind of illusioned comfort wrapped in a blanket of false security. Only the monied people, the powerful, would have seen it differently. Soon the chaos in the streets would melt into something far worse.
Niflheim, ruled by Hel, next to the Shores of Corpses, where the giant snake Nidhogg resided, was about to cast its long dark shadow across Germany.
Two articles had caught Werner’s attention, one an opportunity, the other a necessity.
This short story came about from a challenge by a former colleague. I think he knew I could not resist. And he was right! After many attempts, here is my humble offering. I expect to follow it up with something more poetic in the near future. It’s the kind of medicine I require to ward off covid fatigue. Take care everyone and stay safe!
Similar to shadows of a dirty shirt, black cumulus clouds, abounding with rain, hangs fat across land and final hours of this train trip. An old match with a long history is playing out.
Don’s thoughts drift to a panorama passing by. “Amazing!”
“Look through our window. Mountains,” Don said, “snow still caps its tops.”
“Hmm…Not bad!” A grin forms. “Downpour too distracting for you? Al slid his rook into position. “Kontrola!”
“Rain sounds similar to buckshot.” Don slips slightly forward to scratch his back. “Do you want to do that with your rook? Think it out.”
Don shrugs. “Okay.” His knight took Al’s rook. “Party going on in adjoining train car, singing, piano, lots of fun by how it sounds. What do you think?”
“I’m a dingbat! That’s what I think. I must watch what I’m doing.” Arms on his lap, his mind thought through what to do. Finally, Al slid his bishop into position.
Don took his comb out to tidy his thick auburn hair and with a sigh, slid his knight into attack. “I win!”
Both shook hands and put Don’s dad’s wood carvings into its carton.
“You shouldn’t box your king in,” Don said. “Anyway, not important. Good playing you. You know, my dad would jump up and down with joy to know I was still using his wood carvings.”
“I miss him. Good man. How long ago?”
Don thought. “Six…”
“Sand runs out fast in… hourglass.” Looking away, Al said nothing.
“Unhappy?” Don said. “Don’t. Think only happy thoughts. That is what my dad would say…Sounds raucous in that adjoining car. Want to go?”
Swish! Door shut tight at Al’s and Don’s back; room’s air was thick with carbon smog. Piano-rag had this party hopping, party animals all.
“Join us!” A salutation from a burly barman who pours two scotch at his bar.
“I’m Virginia. And you?” Passing scotch to Al and Don. “This is Sara, my sis.”
Words that got lost in a soup of booming honky-tonk and hoots from partying all around. But it was not important. Swirling to music, two pairs joyfully laughing ring out, oblivious to all in train’s car as hours fly past smoothly.
With a nod, and an invitation and drinks in hand, Al, Sara, Don and Virginia sought tranquility, privacy in a dissimilar car without a hitch.
Talking is what all four sought away from that cacophonous ‘jam.’ Soon it was known, all four want it to last.
Storytelling for me represents an act of gratitude to the books and people who have shaped my life. As a writer I feel more akin to a ‘test pilot’ who is never quite sure whether the plane will either get off the ground or return safely, but would never give up that moment to do anything else. “Success” according to Winston Churchill, “is stumbling from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I heartily agree.
My first venture into publication was as co-author for the first mathematics series for Prentice-Hall Canada. My degrees in mathematics and education were leading me down a different path until a friend encouraged me to try out for an acting role in a local theatre group. I think my interest in writing really took hold while learning how to transform to a character and interact with other characters within a play. The tools I learned during the thespian stage of my life I continue to apply in my writing now.
When ‘the rubber met the road’ was when I published my first novel, Betrayal of Trust, in 2012. It was shortly after that I turned my attention to short story writing.
Short story writing affords me an opportunity to experiment with my literary voice, different ideas, styles, and approaches to writing. The stories come from a variety of sources: life experiences, photos, a variety of articles, songs, on-line courses. In other words, anything that captures my interest usually ends up in one of my short stories. They are a depository for future novels.
One five-part, short story series I wrote, entitled, The Murder of Arthur Brodley, became the seed for my new novel, Angel Maker. The idea for the opening chapter came from an article I read of the murder of a young child in northern England in 1948.
My decision to begin my first chapter with the graphic murder of Rebecca Grynberg was not taken lightly. I wanted the evil of the man, and the Nazi regime he represented, to be seared into the mind of the reader. The ‘no holds barred’ first chapter went through several drafts and many consultations before I finally agreed to the final version.
Inspector Alexander Collier’s investigation into the gruesome murder of Rebecca Grynberg soon places his family in jeopardy. Several seemingly unconnected murders propel him into a world of espionage and spies as he seeks the psychopathic killer responsible for her death. To help him, Inspector Collier joins forces with an unlikely group of people that includes a psychic medium, a NKVD Soviet agent, and a British agent with a prosthetic leg she calls “Cuthbert.”
You will meet Collier’s son, Richard, and learn about the strained relationship between them; his son’s fiancée, Elsa, and her Jewish family and their attempt to escape the clutches of Nazi Germany. You will also meet the inspector’s wife, Lila, and experience the deep love and affection between them.
A historical spy thriller, Angel Maker will take you into the murderous mind of a psychopathic child killer. And if, as a writer, I have done my job correctly, the reader will meet evil, impossible to forget. So, hold on to your pages, things will go bump in the dark.
A lot of research has gone into creating a sense of the period for the reader. Many of the events did happen, but some timelines were adjusted to fit in with the story. Angel Maker is a page turner, difficult to put down. And I should know, because I read it through several times before handing it over for publication. I hope, after the final page is read, the reader will step out of their time bubble, and reflect on the present times we live in. As an educator, I could not resist an attempt to teach. What was taught only the reader can decide.
One of my goals is for Angel Maker to be part of a series. Presently, I am working on the next book in that series as well as a novel entitled, Sunnyvale, and my book of short stories, Welcome to My Garden. Anything beyond that will be icing on the cake.
The key is to keep challenging myself; to continue to push the envelope. An example of what I mean is Aidan, the early draft of a fantasy novel. The first drafts of anything I am working on may be found at www.wrightba.com, just tap on the CB app.
I will end with one of my favorite quotes from the ‘Four Quartets’ by T.S. Eliot:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
Poetry is an essential resource in any writer’s toolbox. In my youth I would never have said that. Maturity has opened my mind and made me, dare I say, sage in my viewpoint. I sure hope so.
Angel Maker is suitable for youth to adult, and may be bought at:
It is I who is to blame. AYOH, the land of my ancestors, burns. Screams of my subjects still assail my ears. Their ghosts continue to ride the late night air. I am haunted by their unyielding reach.
I can see the fear in Ennea’s face through my tear-filled eyes. She cradles Alyakim, our daughter. Between us, wrapped in the hide of the Great Olaffub are the few possessions we had time to gather. My spear and knife lie easily within reach.
Since the moon first awoke, Eoz, my faithful servant, and I have paddled. Its yellow globe travels to its resting place under the sky. Our journey is guided by THRON, the brightest star in the heavens. Behind us, the night is clear and crisp, the water still. Ahead, a strange mist rises like a wall; I can hear its energy within.
I have travelled in this direction because of stories my father, Suesdama, related to me in my youth and also from the teachings of the Wise Men. The survival of our bloodline depends on me. It may be our only hope.
The spirit of my father lies strong within me. I wear his ring.
Why had I not listened to the Wise Men of my kingdom? Their tubes with glass at either end had seen IT coming. But, IT’s Ambassador, Ikkin, had already spun his sorcery. I began to see conspiracies where there were none. Ikkin’s tongue and mind, well oiled in deceit, had blinded me and I did not seek counsel, where I always have, with the Wise Men of my realm.
The army of IT arrived without mercy. Their machinery of war was like nothing ever seen before. And, like a scythe through a wheat field, their armies laid waste to the land.
The suns Gorbut and Siotra passed over head 30 times before the city walls fell. Traitors within our ranks betrayed us.
Pleas from the living and the dying torment me. They have become nightmares haunting my existence, tearing my heart and soul apart.
I must save what I can.
The boat cleaves the low lying thick curtain of mist.
To ward off the chill, I wrapped myself in a blanket my wife, Eanne, had made for me. I cannot help but feel a growing foreboding as the icy coldness of the mist digs its tentacles in deeper. And I dare myself to confront the shadow-ghosts in its midst.
Above, THRON remained visible to reassuringly point the way.
My troubled thoughts consume me; I am unaware that time has slipped into another dimension.
The water became angry. I fell back in the canoe as its speed picked up. “Eanne!” I shouted, alarmed for her safety. But she had already prepared. Noticing the increased energy of the water, she had secured herself and Alyakim and our meager belongings in the boat.
Like a mother bear protecting her cubs, the water’s fury pounced upon us. It scooped in, clawing at us, trying to rip us from the bowels of our boat. Eoz and I struggled to keep our boat afloat and away from smashing against the menacing rocky shoreline. The roar was deafening. Focused, we did not feel the pain our efforts must have inflicted. I have no idea how long this lasted. For us, time had become immeasurable.
Without warning, our canoe shot out of the mist and into surreal tranquility. Nothing moved but us. We floated upon an oasis of quietude.
Once Eanne assured me that all was well, Eoz and I laid our paddles across the canoe and rested.
The water gently lapped against our hull. Its regularity was soothing and hypnotizing. Unaware that we had fallen asleep, our boat drifted.
When we awoke, night’s curtain was beginning to draw open to the day. In one horizon the brow of the sun, Gorbut, painted the sky in rainbow while in the other, Siotra had not yet awakened.
I was troubled.
“Is there something wrong, Neas?” my wife, Ennea, asked. She held our child closer to her bosum.
“THORN should be there,” I replied, pointing to its region in the sky. “It has gone…disappeared.”
“Master! Land!” Eoz yelled. His voice echoed many times before it fell into an eerie silence.
Dipping our paddles into the water, we moved tentatively forward.
Gold colored pebbles below the water’s surface scratched against our hull as we slid into shore. Eoz and I immediately jumped into the water and pulled the canoe onto higher ground.
Eoz deposited Ennea and Alyakim onto the sandy portion of the shore and watched as Neas and his family advanced to the edge of the jewel-toned arboretum that stretched full up the slope in front of them. Ensuring that our boat was secured, Eoz lingered awhile, attracted by the gold colored stone. Crouching down, he scooped some into his hand to examine them. It was then he realized they were shells not stones. An odor of putrefied flesh simmered above his collection. The longer he held them the more offensive the smell. He tried to wash them off. Some shells fell away while the others closest to his skin resisted, fixed in place by fleshy extrusions. Their size expanded as they began to crawl up his arm.
“MASTER! HELP ME!” he screamed.
Knife drawn, I turned back. Reaching across the divide that separated sand from stone, I pulled Eoz across to me. The flesh eating shells fell away and became rocks at his feet. Magically, Eoz’s bloodied arm transitioned to normal.
“What is this place?” Eoz whispered, examining his arm and hand in disbelief.
Considering what had just occurred, I could find nothing reassuring to say to Eoz. I too was thunderstruck. My teachings had not prepared me for this.
“Listen,” I said.
“I wish I could. My heart is still pounding heavily in my ears.” replied Eoz.
“There is no sound. It’s as if nature has been swallowed up.” I grasped my spear tightly and moved in front of my child and wife. Turning to Eanne, I said: “Stay behind me. Eoz will protect you. We must move carefully forward.”
I had barely begun my upward climb when an arrow slammed into the tree beside me. Then another arrow implanted itself at the very edge of my toe.
“I have come in peace. I am the son of Suedama. I seek Aidan.” My voice echoed and repeated several times before diminishing to the silence of infinity.
The air was sweet and refreshing.
Silence hung like a heavy wet blanket upon the forest.
When the voice spoke, it carried wisdom and strength.
“I know who you are. And why you have come. Our Teachers told us of your coming long before you were born. Our past, present and future are now joined as one. Turn and observe the mist on the lake. You have not come alone.”
Warriors of IT emerged in three strange, long craft. They hovered above the water’s surface. Suddenly, the water below them bubbled to frenzy then rose and separated. When the water began to settle the craft were gone. Only frothy burps marked their grave-site until its surface shone like glass again.
“More will arrive soon. You must follow me.”
“But, where are you?” I asked.
Giggling erupted around us. But I saw nothing. It sounded like mischievous children at play.
“WE encircle you but, I am here.”
A figure wrapped in a hooded skin stepped out several paces ahead of me and waved us forward. “You must hurry. Time is of the essence.”
Could it be? I thought
Cautiously, our spears at the ready, Eoz and I moved forward. Eanne with Alyakim remained at my back.
When the hood dropped back, the large hazel eyes that met us were warm, inviting and filled with strength and determination. I detected not a hint of malice from her. At her midriff she wore a wide black leather belt; its buckle was the largest and strangest looking buckle I had ever seen.
She pointed to two slots on the buckle. “Neas insert your father’s ring into this slot and turn to the right.”
“How do you know my name?” To say I was astonished that she knew my name did not do justice to my present state of mind especially when I noticed she wore a ring similar to mine. “Who are you?”
Briefly, her gaze cut through me. I sensed her power. She was examining my soul. Our minds were locked in battle until she let go.
Finally, she said: “Patience is a virtue. All will be known in its proper time.” Then she continued in earnest. “We must leave this location immediately.”
I became convinced she had a window into the future.
She inserted her ring into the slot on her buckle and waited for me to do the same in the other slot. “Neas, it is time. Trust your instincts.”
I inserted my ring and turned it to the right as she had instructed and watched as she turned hers to the left.
“Hold hands tightly and breathe in unison with me,” she instructed.
“Where are we going?” I asked
“To the Land of WE,” she replied.
In the blink of an eye, my world transformed.
Aidan: The Revelation
Lightheaded and confused, I steadied myself. My hand was wet against the mountain’s surface. I refreshed my palate from the cool rivulets of sweetly welcomed tears that flowed down the craggy mountain face and encouraged Ennea and Eoz to quench their thirst too. The watery courses formed numerous ephemeral shallow pools along the base of the cliff before stretching out along self-imposed, predetermined tentacular channels. Like miniature waterfalls the assorted sizes of clear fluid cascaded into the valley to nourish its terraced slopes. The deeply eroded and what would have been impassable crevices that scarred our pathway were spanned by wooden bridges. Several young women led the way while the one who transported us to this location attended to Ennea and my crying daughter, Alyakim. “Who are you?” I asked. But she did not answer.
“Alyakim is hungry,” Ennea said. “I must feed her.”
“We must keep moving,” the young woman said.
“Surely, we can make time for my wife to bare her breast to feed my daughter,” I replied.
Her hazel eyes fixed on me then gazed at the sky. In a language I had never heard before, she shouted, “Bub coola alaki, nowa, et swata.” And the others in her group stopped in their place and sat. “It can only be for a few minutes,” she said to me. Then she pointed to the sky. “We must be in Hanidam la Maalas before the smaller, second sun reaches its zenith.”
She must have noticed my puzzled expression because she said, “In your language it means City of Peace.”
I did not ask her why we had to be in Hanidam la Maalas before the appointed time because I could see that she had entered a pensive state. I glanced at Eoz. His face reflected the dubiety I felt within me. When Alyakim became quiet with sleep our journey proceeded apace. Ennea had trouble keeping pace. I, alongside Eoz, fell back to support her. Eoz lifted the Great Olaffub hide from her shoulders while I carried Alyakim. Our spears were now the only items Ennea needed to carry.
The air grew warmer and more humid as we descended. Then I stopped in awe. Spread out below me was the site of their grand metropolis. Constructed in a series of nested concentric circles, each was ringed with bricked walls. The city was teaming with people.
Again, I asked the young women who led us, “Who are you? What is your name.”
She motioned to her team to continue and strode back to me. Her gaze like piercing arrows. “I am Htebazile, daughter of Aidan, son of your father, Suedama.” Her arm swept across the spectacular city of Hanidam la Maalas from north to south as she continued to speak. “Your great-grandfather, Disabba, envisioned the idea while your grandfather, Cibara, brought it to fruition.” She peered up at the sky. “Hurray. We have little time left.”
Dumbstruck, I was unable to move. I watched Htebazile disappear into the thicket ahead. I barely heard Eoz’s plea. My mind had taken flight to another time and place when as a child I sat at my father’s feet and had listened to stories I did not understand. “Explorers we all are,” he had said, “who return to see where they had started for the first time.” A voice, earnest in its intent, reached in and pulled me out and into the present by its exhortations.
“Master, we must go,” Eoz pleaded, extending his hand.
Alyakim moved restlessly in my arms and I held her tighter, while I followed Eoz and Ennea. Htebazile had waited beyond the thicket to escort us into the grand city. Not without anxiety, I followed her lead and wondered what the future had in store for us.
He showed up at my back door looking for food about eight years ago. His demeanour was quite pleasant, and his eyes had a magnetic playfulness about them. Briefly, I listened to his woeful account of tough times, though I must admit, I did not understand a word that he said. Not wanting to encourage such a beggar-like theme on my property nor be swayed by his gentle persuasive nature, I mustered up my best empathetic smile, shook my head, and gently closed the door and returned to reading the local paper. But the rascal would not leave. He had settled his rump down on the top step and appeared to be settling in for a sustained vigilance. That is when a pang of guilt slowly edged its way into my conscience. I have plenty of food to share, I thought. He is young and without. Surely, I can give him something. Against my wife’s better judgement, I went to the fridge and assembled what I thought would be a great meal. When I opened the door and offered him this treat, he graciously took it and inhaled the contents of the bowl in a heartbeat. Ten minutes later, to my great relief, he was gone.
Two weeks later, my son and his family arrived from Edmonton on their way to their new home in Ottawa. Unfortunately, because of the demands of his job and the necessity of overseeing house renovations, my son could only stay a few days. This left my wife and I with the pleasant task of taking care of his family. Since the government agency my daughter-in-law worked for allowed her to perform her responsibilities remotely, I had set up an office for that express purpose on the second floor. That left the fun part for us, namely taking care of the grandchildren. Our granddaughter was three and her brother was five. An integral part of our responsibility, other than finding distractions to entertain them, was to ensure that they did not make too many demands on their mom during the time she worked between nine to five each day, Monday to Friday.
It was during the morning of the first Monday that I got a surprise. Maybe a better word is shock. Weeks before their arrival I had built a sandbox and the kids were all excited to put their engineering skills to practice. So, my wife and I gathered the plastic shovels, buckets and other paraphernalia and headed outside trailing closely behind them. Though there was an occasional outburst of sibling discontent with the other, for the most part, they played well. Mind you, an imaginary line had been drawn in the sand by us. On one side I occupied my grandson’s attention while on the other grandma kept the granddaughter suitably engaged. When I glanced at the little tyke, I noticed that the cheerful smile pasted on her face moments before had turned to fear. I followed her line of sight to a point behind and slightly to my left. “Geeze!!” The stranger whom I thought I would never see again was boldly gracing us with his presence. He must have recognized my displeasure because he immediately backed off a discrete distance. My granddaughter at that moment threw her shovel and pail down, rose and tore off to the house screaming while grandma followed in hot pursuit. I took a quick glance at the stranger and was unable to decipher anything that might have been deemed menacing in his demeanor. Still, the echoing crescendo of shrill fear from my granddaughter told a different story.
“Did you see what you have done?” I yelled, pointing to the house. “Where did you come from anyway? Certainly, you must know that you are not welcome.” His reply was unintelligible to me, yet I was sure I discerned a hint of sadness in his intelligent eyes, and from his tone and mien.
“He came from the barn, grandpa,” my grandson said, and gestured with his hand for the visitor to approach. “He’s cool. What’s his name?
“I don’t know. He arrived on my doorstep two weeks back hungry and speaking gibberish.”
“What does gib…gibber…What does it mean?” my grandson asked.
“Let’s just say I didn’t understand a thing he said.” It was quite evident to me that the two had taken to each other. “Maybe we should go in and see how your sister is doing. Hmm?” I figuratively crossed my fingers.
“Naw, she’ll be alright. She’s just strange, scaredy-cat about most things.”
My granddaughter never came near the sandbox during the rest of her stay while Sid was nearby.
Other than the days when we took day trips, my grandson and the interloper were inseparable. One morning while playing with him in the sandbox, he peered up at me and said, “I’ve decided to call him Sid.”
“Call who?” I replied, knowing full well whom he meant.
He cocked his head and stared at me. “Oh, grandpa, silly grandpa, you know who…don’t you?”
“I do. And yes, grandpa was just being silly.” I dumped the damp sand from the pail and began to construct one wall of the sandcastle. “Has he taken to his name?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” my grandson asked, joining his portion of the sandcastle to mine.
“Well…when you call me, you get my immediate attention. Do you get the same from him?”
He scratched his head and appeared to be thinking about it. “Not at first.” He shoveled sand into his bucket and leveled it before turning it over to form a corner tower.
“And now?” I asked
“I…think…so. Hey Sid! Yipe! He does, grandpa. He knows his name.”
I turned and saw Sid leaving the barn at top speed and making a beeline for my grandson. “Huh! That’s cool.”
“It sure is. You know grandpa, maybe we should call him McCool. Sid McCool. It makes him sound Scottish just like our family.”
“I guess it does. Then that’s what we’ll call him.”
Over the ensuing weeks I, too, got to like Sid. An occasional invite to the farm door for supper quickly graduated to a daily occurrence. Strange though it may sound, when we accompanied the grandchildren and their mother to Ottawa to support them in the final stages of moving into to their new home, I missed him. Sid had been promoted from an unwelcome to a welcome guest on the property.
When my wife and I returned to the farm two weeks later, Sid had gone. I must admit I felt a deep pitted loneliness with that realisation. There was no doubt in my mind that he had weaseled his way into my heart. On the Thursday of that week my wife drove to the city to attend a two-day conference. After I waved goodbye, I headed to my office to write and take care of some general farm business. Work did not go easily, thoughts of Sid darted in and out of my mind throughout the process. I lost count of the number of times I must have gone to the door or peered out the living-room window searching for him.
Friday morning was a sunny and warm September day. I had had breakfast early, watched the news, and settled into my office for what I thought would be a productive day. At eleven I ventured out of my self-imposed exile to stretch and obtain a snack. Soon my partner in life would be home. On the back deck, lounging in a large splash of sun, was Sid. I felt like a child rippling with excitement who was about to open the largest gift-wrapped box under the Christmas tree. When I opened the door and called his name the quickness in his step made me think that he was pleased to see me too. That was the first day I invited him.
Sid strode about the farmhouse and peered into each room. Then, without so much as a please and thankyou, he headed upstairs to the bedrooms. A few minutes later he came downstairs and sat on the floor opposite me.
“Well? What do you think? Do you want to stay?” These words dropped out of my mouth with nary a thought. I had not discussed it with my wife. But I will leave that part of the story for another day.
James W. Howell glanced up at the tall building. At one time he had occupied one of the corner offices at the top. He pulled up the collar of his well-worn overcoat to ward off the chill in the air. People brushed by him as if he did not exist. For the twenty years he had walked Wall Street there had been much fanfare. Now nothing. He had risen to the top of the corporate ladder. Once his word had been gold. Lots of money had been invested and exchanged when he spoke. The reflection in the glass window looking back at him caused him to wither. Youthfulness now spent, he appeared haggard and much older than his years. When did the hair at my temples turn white? He thought. Clothes once top of the town and envied by many, now just well-worn threads hanging loosely from his waist where once they were tight. The fall from his success on Wall Street had been swift and hard when the crash of ’29 humbled a nation and the world at large. Three years had passed since that black Tuesday day and he reminisced of a time when he had lived in a grand home with his family. Now he slept under a bridge, alone, and in a cardboard box. Hunger constantly stabbed him, a daily routine, though not two hours before he had stood in a soap kitchen line to get his first feed. He rifled his pockets for change. What little money he had he earned playing piano at a local speakeasy, behind a restaurant called Toby’s, three days a week.
James placed his last dime on the counter to pay for his gravied pot-roast dinner with potatoes and beets. Toby Carmichael slid the money into his chubby palm. A few minutes later he returned with a stein of his best suds, his forehead glistening with sweat. Sparse, greasy spaghetti strands of hair covered the lid over the friendly glow on his moon-shaped face.
Toby asked, beginning to frown, “How are you my friend? In all the years that you have come here I’ve never asked where you sleep.”
James gulped down halfway the golden liquid in the stein and placed it on the table. “Ah…good ale as usual.”
“Only the best for you,” replied Toby.
“You remember where I used to live?” Toby nodded. “I’m not far from there. As for my family, my wife and two kids are living with her aunt.”
“And where would that be?” Toby replied.
James scooped up a forkful of mashed potato and dipped it in the gravy before putting it in his mouth. “West coast…outside of L.A. Damn good supper!”
Toby raised an eyebrow then two. “You know James I never thanked you.”
“I wouldn’t have this place without you.”
James glanced at the clock on the wall. “It’s not far off eight. And I will soon be descending to your back room with haste.” The legitimate clientele ate front room while others tapped a code on the door off the alley. “I can’t play piano on an empty stomach and I’m sure you’ve got better things to do with your time than sit here with me.”
“I expect it will be sparse this evening.”
“Isn’t it normally on a Thursday evening?” James replied. “As long as I make my usual tips, I’ll be okay. Why such a sombre expression?”
“Have you looked outside? The rain is coming down cats and dogs.” Toby stood up and with a deep sigh said, “Per usual, I told Jake to serve you only the best.”
“I appreciate that,” James replied, returning his attention to finishing his meal. He peered up long enough to watch Toby disappear behind the swinging doors to the kitchen. How long have I known him? Maybe twenty years. Yes! That’s just about right. We were young men back then; each at the start of a dream that stretched out for miles and full of much might. His clothes have filled out while mine, he mused with silent laughter, are far from tight.
Ten minutes later, he descended the stairs. At the end of a long silver chain, he held his key tightly in hand. The dank winding corridor was barely with light, at its end was the door through which he would begin his night. Only he and Toby entered and left by this means while others tapped code in the alley and were seen.
A thick padded cushion had been strategically placed on the piano bench and James nodded his appreciation to Jake. Before opening the lid to reveal the keys, he placed a bright rose-colored jar for tips on the piano for all to see. Once he was comfortably ensconced on the cushion, he slid back the lid and his fingers began to dance along the ebony and white keys. By the time he had struck up the third in a series of tunes, a two-fingered whiskey had been placed where he pleased.
At nine the regular crowd shuffled in. The weather had cleared, and the tempo picked up. As the evening marched on and the rose jar grew green and silver petals, James knew he had set the melodies right and everyone was feelin’ alright. Near him sat a man who appeared familiar, making love to his gin-tonic and occasionally flashing a gold toothed grin.
“Do you remember me, James,” the man said leaning in. “I’m Timothy O’Rourke. Our houses were side by side when we were boys.”
James finished his tune and caught Jake’s attention and held up two fingers for another whiskey and rye. “I do remember. You had a sister, Liz, and a brother, Tom. How are they?”
“They are well.”
James sipped his whiskey, feeling good to see an old friend. “And your parents, how are they?”
“My father died five years ago. But my mum’s okay. Just as cantankerous and high-spirited as when you knew her back then.” He glanced at his wristwatch. “The O’Rourke’s never forgot your generosity. Without it we would have lost our home, who knows where we would have been.” He reached into his pocket and gave him a crisp, new, five-dollar bill. “When does your break end?”
“Jake, over there, signals when it begins and ends. What time is it?
“It’s a quarter to ten. Tuck the bill I just gave you deep in the jar and close it off.”
“Ten is when I start again.”
Timothy drew him closer and surreptitiously flipped to the back of his lapel.
“You’re a cop!” James whispered, recoiling away at the sight of the badge. His eyes frantically scanning the room as the panic inside him surged to bloom. “Gees Tim. These folks are only here to forget about life for awhile. They’re good people. You must know that. This piano…when I tinkle the ivory, it brings them joy because I make it sound like a carnival for them.”
“You do James. That you do. But you must get hold of yourself. You’ll do nobody any good in the back of a paddywagon on your way to jail. Grab your rose-colored jar and leave right away. At ten the door onto the alley will come down. Wait for me at the park where we used to play.”
“But what about them?” His eyes searched the room. For a moment, his gaze lingered on the waitress practicing politics between tables.
Tim followed his gaze. “By morning most will be out on bail. And some will get away. Now go! We’ll meet once I have finished here.”
James wrapped his overcoat tightly round him to ward off the damply cold. He was in the park alone. The clock tower chimed once to herald one in the morn. Eye lids heavy, he curled fetal-like on the park bench, rubied flesh peeked through the swiss cheese soles at his feet, and drifted off to a restless sleep full of forlorn mourn. He had no idea how long he had slept when he felt a push and a shove, then again and again. The face that peered down was a friendly one, it was Timothy O’Rourke and he had brought someone along. “Judith?” With questioning eyes, tears bubbling at their rims, he sat up and glanced at Tim again.
“As I told you earlier, the O’Rourke’s never forgot your kindness. Though you no longer lived in the neighborhood, I followed your progress.” He sat beside James and with an encouraging pat of the space beside him, Judith, the speakeasy waitress, sat down. “I was heartbroken when I heard that your wife, son, and aunt perished in that fire. It was a blessing from above or shear luck, call it what you may, that your daughter was in hospital when it all happened. But why did you put her up for adoption?”
“I didn’t think I was worthy enough.” James sighed as he stared at Judith. He struggled with the knot in his throat that attempted to strangle what little words he felt. “I blamed myself. I should have been home. Instead, I chose to be on a business trip. I chose!”
“But you couldn’t’ve known, James!” Tim adamantly replied.
“You don’t understand,” James cried, glancing away, speaking in waves of sombrely sobs. “I knew about the gas leak. I thought it small and inconsequential. I should have had someone attend to it. But thought it could wait until my return.” He turned to face Judith. “I played piano to be near you. I have never been far away. I watched you grow to the woman you are now and hope you will stay.” Her hands caressed his, not a word did she say, but he could see her compassion and forgiveness and the hopes that they shared.
She stared at her father and with great earnest she asked, “How did you know where to find me?”
“In a word, and thankful I am,” he replied, “Friends.”