Aidan: Through the Mist

Part One

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.

We waited.

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.

“WE?”

In the blink of an eye, my world transformed.

Aidan: The Revelation

Part Two

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.

Sid: Part One

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.

Sid was a cat that cannot be ignored.

T.S. Eliot wrote:

“That Cats are much like you and me

And other people whom we find

Possessed of various types of mind.

For some are sane and some are mad

And some are good and some are bad

And some are better, some are worse

But all may be described in verse.”

Piano Man

By Barry B. Wright

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.”

“For what?”

“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.”

“Grace to Glory”

written by Barry B. Wright

The azure sky and the heat from the blistering sun at his back was a welcome blessing and felt good. He stretched every part of his body that he could while he examined the hull of the Nervana. His schooner was forced out of necessity to dock at this small port of West Bay, Nova Scotia. He feared repairs would be less than the standard he expected, and the time spent longer than he wished.  Five days max, he thought, as he searched the dockyard to negotiate with tradesmen skilled enough to do the job.

“Ye’ve got quite a swagger there, young fella. I ain’t seen someone like ye in these parts in a long time.” He scratched the side of his weather-beaten face with the stem of his corncob pipe. “It looks like ye and yer crew ran into some rough weather.” The front legs of his wooden chair slammed down on the asphalt surface.

“Two weeks out. A living hell. Lucky to be alive.”

“The ordeal’s still written all over yer face. What’s your name?”

“James Stirling.”

“You remind me a bit like me, James Stirling, not now, mind you, but when I was your age. Though, I’ll give ye it, you’re a lot better looking than I was. I’m Jake, Jake Weathersley. Let me guess, twenty-four or there ‘bouts?”

“Actually, thirty-five, old-timer,” he replied with a tetchy chuckle. “But I’m looking for craftsmen, skilled, to repair my boat. And if you know of a place with good grub and where to bunk down, me and my crew would appreciate that too.”

“I can see yer in a hurry. Let me talk to the fellas,” Jake replied, thumbing toward the red-brick garage behind him. “In the meantime, you and your crew can unwind at the Grace to Glory. About half mile that way. Good grub and whiskey. I’ll come git ye when I’ve got wha’ ye need. Tell Bess I sent ye. Tell her I said to take good care of ye and yer crew.”

“How will I know who she is,” he replied, as he watched Jake disappear into the darkness of the garage. He heard him laugh. “Ye’ll know. Trust me,” Jake shouted back.

Not an empty table was in sight. The chatter in the room stopped as the collective gaze of the patrons of the Grace and Glory fell on them. James stared back; a kink began to form in the back of his neck. The server layin’ whiskey down at one of the tables, placed her tray aside and approached him.

“You look like a deer in headlights, sailor,” she chortled. “No one will bite ye here.” She turned round to the men at the tables and with a scolding expression said, “All you leathernecks, get on about yer business and leave these gents to settle in.”

The chatter quickly turned to homes owned and sold and catches when fish once ran plentiful. While at other tables the call came for her to fetch another round.

When she turned her attention to him, James was drawn in by the shining beauty of her face and eyes capable of capturing the very soul of a sailor and plucking him from the sea.

“The lot of ye will be needin’ a table,” she said softly.

“Ye-yes,” James stammered. What he felt in that moment he sensed she felt too, a surreal exchange where the world stood still, and nothing existed except the two of them. Time stretched long and meaty and evaporated with the blink of an eye. “Jake… sent us. He said…you’d take good care of us.”

“Oh, he did, did he?” she said, hands mounted at her waist.

Her smile would brighten the dullest of rooms. No exceptions, James thought. And he felt relief by her reaction.

She cleared a table, and the men who once sat there were vociferous in their reluctance to leave as they staggered passed him with a sneer. But before they went out the door, they took time to wish Bess a fond farewell.

Time was spent easily while he ate, drank, and watched her move from table to table. When he told her his story of the past two weeks, all ears listened in. There was a crescendo of “ayes” from the knowledgeable lot when he described the rise and fall of the ocean in all its raging glory. His gaze never left her as he played out each harrowing plot. 

By the time the evening came to an end, and the glad-handing had stopped, many stories had been shared, some humorous, some not. As James and his crew listened, they learned about the kindness, generosity, and compassion that lied within this isolated community.

James watched the comical efforts as each member of his crew was helped to their feet and draped across a shoulder or two. He knew their path home would be wobbly and long, but at least each would have lodging for the duration of their stay. He peered at Bess who was cleaning up at the bar. “Seein’ the time, I don’t think Jake is coming,” he said, scratching the side of his head.

“There’s no need,” she replied, counting the receipts. “I won’t be long, and you can walk me home.”

Except for the click and scuff of their shoes, the town was silent. His hand deliberately brushed against hers.

“If yer thinkin’ you want to hold my hand, I’m okay with that,” she said. A stiff breeze wound up and filled out her red hair.

Hand in hand they walked without saying a word, each comfortable in their state of quietude.

At the end of town, they came to a 2-storey home fronted by a white picket fence.

“This is where I live and where you will stay until your boat is seaworthy again,” she said.

“Is that wise?” James replied, feeling awkward. “I mean, the town’s people…”

“Shush! This is what me father had planned for ye.”

“Your father?!”

“Jake. I’m his daughter.”

Five days turned into ten, then twenty. The trope ‘love at first sight’ held as much truth for James as it did for Bess. But he had become restless and knew he could not stay.

One evening, after a long embrace, they sat on the porch swing, like many nights before.

“Ye appear troubled?” she said, grasping his hand tightly.

He sighed. And reaching into his jacket pocket he handed her a blue box with gold scroll on it.

“What is this?” she asked unable to hide her excitement.

“Open and see.”

Inside was a locket at the end of a braided chain made of the finest silver.”

“I bought that in Spain,” he said. “On the back I had it engraved right here in town.”

She turned the locket over and read what it said, From James with Love. “Oh, I must put it on. Help me.” When it hung off her neck, she hugged and kissed him. “I must show da.”

“Wait!” Her alarmed expression froze his next words.

“What’s wrong, James!”

“We must talk but I don’t know how to start,” he replied. She sat patiently facing him squeezing his hands. “No harbor was ever my home until…I can’t stay Bess. It would not be fair to you. The sea runs through my veins…its been my life, my lover, my lady too long. Its who I am.” He could see tears forming at the corner of her eyes.

“I think I understand,” she replied. She snuggled into him. “I lost two brothers to the sea. And they spoke much the same as ye. Must you go now?”

“Soon. A couple of days at most.” He stroked her long red hair. “Oh Bess, what a good wife you would be. But not to the likes of me.”

Bess never married. She bore a child nine months after James left. She called her daughter Jamie. Bess tended bar at the Grace and Glory until she was too old to complete the walk from the home she had shared with her father. Jamie studied medicine and returned to the community to set up her practice. Bess died in Jamie’s arms while holding the locket. The last name Bess said was “James.”

Part Twenty-One of Angel Maker: The Handkerchief by Barry B. Wright

1930 England OneThe room was warm, almost too warm. The heightened adrenaline which had fed the Collier’s late night picnic had long since given way to a slumbering peacefulness. Through the split in the living room curtains Lynn’s bleary eyes deciphered a reddish hue scratched across the horizon as night’s deep blanket lifted. Partially cross legged on the floor, she reluctantly drifted off to a restless sleep.

Images of the explosion and Klaus’s death flooded her mind; she did not know how or why that should be since she had not been present. Then, there was nothing. It was as if one channel had been turned off and another turned on. A familiar voice rippled through her consciousness. “He who has concealed himself is about to be detected. Don’t go to the morgue? The explosion and fire took all of significance. Think. Think hard. Don’t you remember? When you last met. He gave you something: a handkerchief. You thought it strange at the time. You told him so. What was his reply? Think. “Truths are easy to understand… once discovered; the point is… to discover them.”  This is the other half of your puzzle. Put the two halves together.”

Lynn awoke. “Queenie?”

Tick-tock, tick-tock, the clock on the mantel above the white coal fire marched off time. Her tea cup and saucer lay askew at the head of an unintended watery brown stain.

Inspector Collier’s head had fallen back against the couch, his mouth agape. A diabolical suction tone accompanied each of his inhalations. Lila, snuggled against his shoulder, emanated a low frequency fluttering or rumbling sound.

Lynn’s good leg, curled under the other, had given way to numbness.  Glancing at the clock, she estimated that she had been asleep for at least half an hour. After setting the cup and saucer aside, she stretched out her leg and vigorously massaged it.

Outside the closed living room door she briefly listened to them sleeping. A soft smile curled up at the corner of her lips.

Ascending the stairs to her bedroom, she tried to imagine what would have filled their dreams. It was obvious to her that Lila and Sandy were deeply in love with each other. But they were also friends, best friends. At the top of the stairs she hesitated and thought about it. Yes, she thought, their love is a friendship set to music, Handel’s finest, Giulio Cesare. What would it be like to be in love like that?

Sadness swept over her as her reality seeped in. She had forgotten how to give love out. More importantly, she had to learn how to let love come in.

Tears blurred her vision as she rummaged through her luggage searching for the handkerchief. Inside the pocket of a blouse and layered between two sweaters she almost missed it. She dabbed her eyes free of tears with it before spreading out the square, white cambric hanky under the light on the night table.  At one corner was a diamond shape filled with tiny embroidered leaves and scrolls. Reaching for her purse, she pulled out a small magnifying glass and scrupulously examined the embroidery. Several minutes passed until, frustrated, she concluded it was a fruitless search. Holding the handkerchief against the lampshade she inspected it through the light.  It was then that she noticed the border along one side was thicker than the others. She became distracted by a light knock at her door.

“Yes? Who is it?” The interruption could not have been more untimely and her frustration flowed through in her voice.

The door opened slowly and Sandy Collier popped his head into the room. “Um…Is it safe to enter?” Receiving a nod, he tentatively stepped across the threshold and closed the door behind him. “Sergeant Snowden should be here within the half hour.”  Her unexpected puzzled appearance and his interest in what she was doing drew him further into the room. “The morgue? You wanted to go to the morgue?”

With a shrug and a smile she waved him over as she returned her attention to the hanky. “I’ve rethought that, Inspector. I think my answer may lie right here.” She began to pull on a piece of thread hanging out at the end of the border. A series of double overlapped knots and smaller single knots emerged. Assuming it to be Morse Code where the larger knots were dots and the smaller ones dashes, she ran her fingers along the fully exposed thread. Flummoxed, she shook her head and sighed. “Mumbo-jumbo. I would have sworn…”

Captivated by what he saw, Collier proffered his hand and asked: “May I?”

Engrossed, Lynn continued to study the taut thread between her hands. A large smile finally filled her face as she turned to Collier. “Silly me, I was reading it backwards.”

Collier had already deciphered the code and with a reassuring nod waited for her translation.

“The package is somewhere on Edgestone Road,” she said reflectively. “The problem is: Where on Edgestone Road?”

Collier continued to stare at the hanky. “Here, hold it up and let me step back a few paces.”

“I don’t know what you hope to find, Inspector, I’ve gone over every square inch of it.”

“Maybe nothing, maybe something,” he shrugged, “but…let me try to see if I can separate the trees from the forest.”  He focused his attention on the contents of the diamond shaped area.

Perturbed by what she thought was a useless exercise, she was about to let her arms drop when Collier sternly commanded her to stay still.

Biting her lower lip, she held her position. “This is kind’a tough on the arms after awhile, you know.”

“Relax then, I’ve already found the trees in the forest I was looking for.”

She gave him a long cold stare before asking: “Well, are you going to keep me in the dark?”

“Klaus hid it well within the leaves and scrolls of the design. Here…notice.” He traced each digit with his forefinger. “Now, can you see it?”

“Why…yes…I can. It’s twenty-nine.”

“Twenty-nine Edgestone Road,” he said, absently.

Turning, he walked toward the door.

“Inspector?”

He stopped without turning round.

“Is there something I’m missing I should know about?” she queried, alarmed.

He sighed deeply and opened the door. “The past, Captain Hall, is like a hungry old lion. You can ride its back only so long before it may decide to eat you. Twenty-nine Edgestone Road may likely be my bellwether. Enough said.” He sniffed the air. “If I’m not mistaken, Lila has some freshly brewed coffee awaiting you in the kitchen. You still have some time before the Sergeant arrives but not a lot.”

Without looking back, he exited the room, softly closing the door behind him.