Beginnings Chapter 7 – The Acceptance

The Beginnings ProjectGreen note (revised 1/25/15): This chapter 7 portion of the Beginnings collaborative project is a wrap at 3305 words, down from the unedited 3586 words posted on 1/22/15. It’s tightened up a bit and toughened up a lot.

Thanks to Jules Smith and Mark Gardner for their last two inspired chapters that were like a drug.

Cindy Vaskova, fearless sea goddess of The Dorley Cycle fame, has spoken for the next portion, chapter 8, but after that, if you’d like to pick up a chapter, just click on The Beginnings Project badge for all the info.

 

 

PORT OF HAIFA

The day broke with a savage pounding in my head. I fumbled for the switch on the wall above my bunk and flicked on the light. Squinting against it, I swung my feet to the floor. I could hear the old salt working overhead and I shook off the funk, hit the head then grasped after some clothes.

When I stepped up into the galley, the pungent smell of last night’s rum hit me and my stomach lurched. I noticed a bit of the amber liquid still in the bottle and I tilted it back. A little hair of the dog did me right.

I filled a thermos mug to the brim with black coffee and stepped onto the main deck.

Shielding my eyes from the sun, I followed the old salt’s noise-making, found him aloft, messing with one of the massive fish wire pulleys.

“Hell’s fire, Cap’n, let me do that!” I bounded to the raised deck and looked up the mast at him.

James paid me no mind, finished tweaking the pulley and wires then climbed down and slapped me on the back. “Doesn’t look like all that extra beauty sleep did you any good, lad.”

“Sorry about that, Cap,” I said. “What’s left to do?”

“Nothing,” he said. “We’re all paid up here and stocked to the teeth.”

Then his face darkened and he took hold of my shoulders. “Boy, you got to feel one hundred percent up for this journey.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout me, Cap, I—”

“C’mon inside, Steve,” he said.

I followed him into the wheelhouse. He pulled a chart from the rack and smoothed it out on the chart table.

“You’re not using the GPS?” I said.

James’ voice was stern. “We’re going to a place that doesn’t exist on any map, let alone on any navigational channel. See here.” He jabbed a gnarled finger at the map.

From a distance, it had looked like any other nautical chart, but when I moved next to James to study it, it was incredibly intricate with fantastical symbols and names.

James must’ve seen a whit of skepticism in my expression.

He looked me hard in the eyes, said, “Don’t be fooled, Steve. This is more real and serious than anything you’ll ever know. Trust me.”

“I do, Sir.”

“Good. Now, pay close attention.” He made a gigantic circle on the map with his finger. “This is the entire Realm of Caelusia. We’ll approach it via this portal here, the Dialuas. The Gate of Gods is way over here. And we are here.

“We’ll be trackable by the International Maritime Organization until we get to the Dialuas portal, and then we’ll disappear off the world map.

“Depending on the weather, wind and wave conditions, if we don’t make the portal by eighteen hundred hours, we’ll dock here, at the Port of Dar es Salaam and go through the portal tomorrow at fifteen hundred hours or so. If we do make it, we’ll start taking watches through the night.

“Our aim is to sail straight through so we don’t lose momentum, not just in relation to our journey, but to our mental states. The Straight of Caelusia is a gauntlet we must pass through.”

“What do you mean exactly, Sir?” I said.

“Dangers abound, lad. There are some that want none to reach the Gate of Gods lest they gain power for the good.”

James looked deep into my eyes, willing me to understand. “Once through the portal and into the Realm of Caelusia, expect danger and be surprised at nothing, for there are no limits to physical and intellectual strengths and powers there. You must be girded in all ways at all times.”

I frowned.

“Just watch and listen to me closely,” James said. “Now prepare to cut and run. I’ll fire this old girl up and radio Port Control.”

“Aye, Captain,” I said and made ready to untie the dock lines.

 

THE DIALUAS PORTAL

Ideal conditions had held all day long. I stood on the bow exhilarated, feeling a sense of power escalating as we closed in on the portal.

I was divided. I may have died, may not be human any longer, but so far I mostly felt the way I used to. Perhaps it was like an amputee feeling a phantom limb. I realized thinking about anything other than the heart and mechanics of our mission was dangerous, and yet I indulged this egoic sense of power, of importance in being involved in something so immense as to save the world.

Steve!

I looked round and James was leaning out of the wheelhouse motioning like a madman to come.

“What’s wrong, Cap?”

“The air has changed,” he said. “I reckon we have twenty minutes, tops, before all hell breaks loose.”

“It’s a sailor’s dream out there,” I said.

James handed me the spyglass. “Look just barely below the horizon, dead ahead.”

I squinted through the glass. “I can make out a small, flat circular area that looks darker than the rest of the sea, yet there’s not a single cloud over that area.”

“That’s the Dialuas,” James said. “Double check that everything is secured.”

“Yes, Sir,” I said, and moved quickly and methodically about the trawler above and below deck.

By the time I’d returned to the wheelhouse, the sky was a roiling gray stew and the sea’s waves looked like ranges of heaving snow-capped mountains.

The weather intensified rapidly and the waves grew to be fifteen to twenty feet or so. The Zebedee bucked and rolled and water surged onto her deck, nearly submerging her before being sucked back into the sea. The captain was having a beast of a time at the wheel keeping her lined up right to take the waves, playing the throttle full-on to get the bow up to meet them and backing off on the slide down into the troughs.

I was getting a bit green around the gills and shouted to James, “I don’t think I can take much more of this.”

“Hold on, it’s coming up,” James yelled, “See there, that fifty-footer dead ahead.”

It was a massive wave, looked like a glacier coming at us so fast I instinctively squeezed my eyes shut for the impact.

“Here it is!” the captain hollered.

The Zebedee parted the wave like it was a curtain and we were sucked into what looked like an eyeball, a funnel of sea spray swirling from white down to a greenish-yellow color and into a black hole.

I felt the effects of spinning stern to bow and yet we weren’t spinning but watching, as from a window. We saw all manner of things fly by the wheelhouse: sharks, angels, the dead sea scrolls, stars, lions, the magna carta, demons, telescopes, jelly fish, thuribles, the holy grail, a throne, the tower of babel, seven golden candlesticks, satellites…

Then as abruptly as it had started, it stopped. And we were motoring through black, glassy water with occasional swirls of mist rising from it in macabre patterns.

I went down to the aft deck to be able to look all around me, at the expanse of water, and at the whole of the sky to see if there were stars in Caelusia. And then I saw it.

The small door at the stern that had been thick with gray paint was now red. But then, so was the water reddish from the ruby orbs in the sky. And amongst those were orbs of topaz, emerald, lapis lazuli, and more than I could name.

 

THE REALM OF CAELUSIA – THE STRAIGHTS

It was my watch. I sipped my coffee in the wheelhouse and scanned the horizon. The water was still calm but the mist rising from it was thickening. I could see no reason for this, since the air temperature hadn’t changed. I pushed the Zebedee to 15 knots and she cut through the water like Damascus steel slicing a falling silk scarf.

The night had become a glittering black. I could see no bright, multi-colored orbs as before. I turned the mast headlight off, left the running lights on and saw that there were still orbs in the sky, but that they had become like black gemstones: onyx, jet lignite, obsidian, hematite, beautiful black opals…

When I turned the mast headlight back on, I thought I heard a thump on the aft deck.

“Is that you, Captain?” I shouted.

I looked out the aft windows of the wheelhouse. There was a dark figure on deck, all in black and masked, moving swiftly toward the wheelhouse, and more dark figures were climbing soundlessly up the side of the Zebedee and onto the deck. They were as a swarm of black ants, spider men.

I opened the side door to the wheelhouse and slipped out, and instantly a man forced a gag between my jaws and tied my hands behind me. Another man took the wheel and pulled the throttle back while my captor forced me down to the aft deck near the drum winch.

I heard the Captain bellow and saw three dark figures come out of the galley door manhandling a bound and gagged, yet fiercely fighting, James. One swift move and they had him on his belly on the deck. They pulled his feet up behind him and bound them to his hands.

On impulse I threw my body weight toward James, to do what, I had no idea, and they tackled and bound me the same way. And while we rocked on our bellies craning to see, one of the men sent up a flare.

In seconds, from out of the mist, a massive black and warlike yacht built for speed, cut the roar of her engines and slid by on our port side. I could see what looked like gun mounts along her bulwark. At her stern a black flag flew, and on it was the figure of a sphinx with a skull between its front paws.

Once she’d passed, four cat-suited guards grabbed James and me with hands like steel grips and forced us over the aft bulwark and down into a great, long semi-rigid reconnaissance craft.

They jammed us into seats and strapped us down, and the man at the wheel gunned the quiet engine so that the craft fishtailed around to the starboard side of the Zebedee, then slowed to cut silently toward the massive black yacht.

I could see the remaining team of marauders manning the Zebedee’s deck, black and stone-still, like chessmen, and I wondered what they were going to do to her.

As we got closer to the sleek, black beauty, I strained to see the name on her archboard. It looked like “Jezebel.” I heard James gasp through his gag. Our eyes met and I saw a mix of fear and indignation.

The marauders came alongside the starboard side of the Jezebel and hooked the reconnaissance craft to davit cables.

We were raised to the Jezebel’s rails where two behemoths yanked us onto her deck and jerked us toward an elevator and down to a holding room.

It was a large, windowless room. Its floor, walls and ceiling were stainless steel. The floor sloped subtly toward a huge drain in the center of the room and there was one small, buzzing light on the ceiling.

The behemoths replaced the ropes tying our hands with steel cuffs, removed our gags, shoved us hard toward the center of the room, and left, slamming and bolting the door.

James and I fell in a heap onto the drain. It stank of every undead excretion you could think of, and I wondered who was running this nightmare? Who all have they captured and why, and what did they want with us, and are they going to destroy us completely?

James must’ve read my thoughts. “This is just a blip on the radar screen,” he said. “Baal’s princess is nothing to us.”

His tone wasn’t convincing. He sounded as beat down mentally as he looked physically.

“C’mon, kid, let’s get away from this accursed drain.”

He got up with great trouble and I followed him to one corner of this horrid room that must be a torture chamber. We sat.

“I let you down, didn’t I?” I said.

James hung his head. “It’s as much my fault as yours, Steve. I shouldn’t have tossed one of my kingdom’s coins to you, what is it, three years ago?”

“Four,” I said. “So you regret it.”

James gave me a tired smile. “Not at all,” he said. “I felt a connection to you which is why I did it…”

“And,” I prompted him.

“Well, the connection was the way I’d know who to choose for the kings’ mission, but I allowed it to become more… You became as a son to me and I found myself in the awkward position of wanting to save you from the dying you’d have to do to join us…”

“You’re like a father to me, old man, and I don’t regret any of it.”

James sighed. “I’m afraid you don’t know the whole of it.”

“I know what my role in this is,” I said. “I heard you and Josiah at the pub talking about it. And I felt the coin heat up in my pocket and a power surge through me so intense I knew it must be the Ultimate Invincibility you were referring to.”

James looked at me wearily and said, “Where is that invincibility now, then?”

I thought about the hijacking, how I’d just let the marauders tie me up and take command of the Zebedee, and I hung my head. “I let myself down as well,” I said.

“Steve, what do you think is going to happen at the Gate of Gods?”

“We’re going to petition the Master to reverse his decision to damn the world… I suppose like Abraham negotiated with God on behalf of Sodom: if just ten righteous people could be found within its walls—”

“Not we, lad, you,” James said, his voice shaking. “You are the one Josiah and I and all the kings of the world chose. You’re the sacrificial lamb, the one that will bear the full brunt of the Master’s wrath if He doesn’t find favor with you and your request.”

“And that’s where the Ultimate Invincibility comes in…”

“Aye,” James said. “And that’s where I should have pushed you more, toward the understanding.”

“Explain.”

“First, you tell me what you think it means,” James said.

“Well, being unconquerable to the point even the Master of All can’t overcome or subdue me.”

“But could such a master be the Master of All if some entity lower than Him could possibly conquer Him?

I thought. “No,” I said. “No He wouldn’t…”

“So what does that mean?”

“He would have to allow me that power?” I said.

“What’s the point of that?”

“No point on His end, no victory on my end… I don’t know, James.”

“What’s the only other option an all-powerful being would have besides handing something over?”

“Offering it first?”

“Aye. It’s a gift that few in history have been given and yet you have been offered it.”

“What’s the point if He’s going to lose?”

“It’s not a given, Steve,” James said. “It’s still down to you. You can accept the gift of Ultimate Invincibility or you can believe you have it, two different things. And what you do will determine the outcome at the Gate of Gods.”

The bolt slid and the door burst open. A squad of six, mammoth bouncer-looking goons with six sixes tattooed on their temples entered. They stood in a “V,” their black Kiton suits impeccable, their light blue shirts starched and open at the collar.

The goon at the apex said, “Jezebel would like a word with you, Zedekiah,” and he jerked his head in my direction, “And your worthless sidekick.”

Worthless? I felt a red-hot, molten-like liquid shoot through me from feet to head and out through my eyes and into the goons’ eyes. They closed their eyes and regrouped. When they opened them again, I noticed that they avoided looking at me altogether, just moved toward us with sure, hard footsteps, mechanical.

They snatched us like pall bearers grabbing a coffin and forced us out the door and down the passageway to the elevator. We rode it in silence to the deck and the goons walked us to an elaborate gold door to the Captain’s chambers.

The head goon reached in his shirt for a key that hung on a gold chain and pulled it out. He held it in his hand and pressed his hand to the door which dematerialized revealing the most beautiful woman I have ever seen anytime, anywhere. I was expecting a witch and here was what looked like an angel.

Her hair was jet black and hung to her hips in loose curls. Her eyebrows were flawless and complimented her large, dreamy eyes with irises so dark brown they were as black. She had a duchess nose, straight with a little turn up at the tip. Her cheeks were high and soft, kissed with a golden pink. And her lips, they were so dark a pink as to be called red, but not. And so moist and plump, and I admit, I desired her. I was breathless. She saw her effect on me and instead of mocking me, she blushed and I was flattered.

The goons pushed us forward and chained us to a couple of stone pillars. Then they bowed before this rare beauty and in unison addressed her, “Your Highness, we bring you King Zedekiah and the once Steve, now raised from the dead as Abraham.”

Abraham? I thought they must have been listening to us in the hold.

Jezebel smiled softly and looked upon us tenderly.

“So, there is a coin with your likeness, then?” She looked directly at me.

“There is a coin…” My face flushed and my head spun.

“Welcome to the game of gods,” she said.

“How did you…”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” she said, and turned her lovely face toward Zedekiah with a doting look, like for an elderly father.

“And you, Zedekiah, why have you entered my waters knowing what you know?”

“The people are ready enough,” is all he said and he kept his head down.

I thought about this. I was so busy admiring Jezebel that I hadn’t noticed James had not once looked directly at her.

“Maybe,” she said, “But my question was two-pronged, as you are aware.”

“There is no need to address it.”

Really?” she sing-songed.

“Come on, Jezebel… We both know it’s just a little power problem, but it’s all sorted out now”

Is it?”

“Yes.”

Jezebel regarded me critically.

“He looks meek as a newborn lamb” she said, and she threw her head back and laughed.

“Well that’s just your wiles, isn’t it?” James said. “Show the lad your real face.”

I realized then that I’d been an all-out fool, yet again.

“That won’t be necessary now, will it?” Jezebel said. She turned her gaze on me and I looked down immediately. “You see?” she said to James, “He gets the picture.”

Then she looked back at me. I could feel her eyes burning the top of my head. “Anyway,” she said, “I was more powerful than Abraham by far—the Battle of the Vale of Siddim a case in point—and I am infinitely more powerful than this utter cretin.”

Cretin? I felt the lava shoot up in me and my eyes burn with it and I jerked my head up and glared at Jezebel. She took in a breath, sharply. “Oh!” she gasped, but she didn’t look away. And neither did I.

Fin


Sacred Threads and Marigolds

Marigolds3_640x480_marigold_covered_arch_day_of_the_dead
Marigold covered arch from Wikimedia Commons

Green note: This story was composed in slashes of time to the tune of nearly 4000 words. I broke it up for the FridayFlash gang, served it to them in four, single-sitting-size pieces. Not the thing for this sort of story I realized part way in. So here it is for posterity, all in one piece and place, ready to go on the Best of Miss A list.

 

I watched the preacher kill in the dull yellow light of an alley. A young girl, it was, in her teens, looked like. I got there too late. I watched him put a marigold in her mouth and walk away down the street. The mist that rose up from the pavement after the rain hid his feet like the picture I have in my mind of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee.

When the preacher faded away, I went to the girl. She was all mangled but I felt her neck for a pulse anyway. It was a crazy thing to do. It was as if I couldn’t help myself, to touch her still-warm skin, to look into her vacant eyes for an account of her life, to smell death on the marigold stitched in place by gold thread.

I rose, saddened. This was not the first time the preacher had killed a young girl and I’m largely to blame, having that knowledge and turning a blind eye, denying it again and again. But denials hide nothing in the end. The truth lies in the catacombs of the mind and the constant drip, drip, drip of it will eat a person up.

I hurried away, down to the Trinity, and I washed off any associative sins in the rush of its Gulf-bound water. Dirty and wise, the Trinity, and I lay on the bank to dry, glad of her gurgling council. I dozed off for a time and awoke with a clear vision: the preacher would have to die.

I had no energy to leave the river but I needed a drink, so I walked up to Elmer’s on Riverfront for a fifth of whiskey and back down to the river. I sat on the bank and drank from the bottle until the shaking stopped and I could see every detail of the killing plan.

Tomorrow, after the preacher had finished evangelizing, I’d track him down, drag him to the dungeon and torture and kill him like he does his young girls. I would be the New Jesus and kill the False Prophet.

I poured the rest of the whiskey from the bottle into my flask, and I went into the Great Trinity Forest to imbibe the night and its sounds and prepare myself for the task.

The next afternoon I watched the preacher from my usual vantage point. He strode to the corner of North Lamar and San Jacinto wearing his game show face as a mask, swinging his iniquitous hands as if they were clean.

His hat and suit looked respectable, but they were sheep’s clothing. The gray, fresco fabric belied his falsehood, and pride and violence strained at the top button of his single-breasted jacket.

He planted himself in view of the movie house up the street and commenced to preaching a changed life. “Listen to me, peoples of the Earth, I am the New Prophet and I bring to you a chance to redeem the rest of the days of your lives!”

You are the ultimate deceiver, I thought, and I squinted at the unforgiving southern sun, praying for something as true as rain.

All that came was a stream of people from the 1p.m. matinee, the preacher’s daily bread. He beseeched them, “Brother, let me show you the saving light. Sister, do you want more out of life?”

A small crowd gathered quickly, same as yesterday and all the days before that, for this was a city ripe with desire for the infusion of a higher power it could bend to its will.

The preacher plied his crowd, began working them up to desperation for healing like a lynch mob for makeshift justice.

“Your sins are blocks to receiving good things, Brothers and Sisters. God can’t give if you can’t receive. If you’ve confessed your sins and are still blocked, I can unblock you, that’s the gift of the Spirit that I was given.”

When the crowd was at the height of holy frustration, he bellowed, “Now, I can only take one of y’all. It’s all I got in me, one healing per day. Who’s it gonna be?”

The crowd surged forward, a pool of menace suddenly, and amidst the pushing, I could see it was trying to purge itself of a young man in a business suit. He popped out before the preacher bawling for the Midas touch.

The preacher circled round and round him, incantating, and when he’d lulled the young man into complaisance, he clapped his huge hands once behind his head, like a gunshot, and the man dropped to the ground convulsing and blithering.

I waited for the rest of the routine to unfold, for the preacher to act spent, the man to rise anew, the benediction to be spoken, the money to be collected, and the preacher to go off for coffee and fellowship with an admiring young girl.

This time he went off by himself, a suspect deviation. He must be reading my mind, I thought. He knew I would follow him, that I plan to kill him. Fear scraped down the inside of me, left me pallid.

I watched the distance grow between us. I guzzled some whiskey, wiped my shaky mouth. And in that perilous moment, I saw clearly that the preacher had merely parried with his best guess. This was an invitation to take this to the higher realm of mind power, a game the New Jesus would win.

I hightailed it after him down North Lamar and saw the gray tails of his suit jacket disappear onto Elm Street. I ran to take the turn myself just in time to see him jag left down North Market, right on Main, left on Houston, and when I saw him cut onto Jackson Street I knew he was taking me to the dungeon.

I stopped just shy of the corner of Houston and Jackson and took a swig off my flask. So be it, I thought, and I sprang around the corner, saw the preacher disappear through a hole in the boarded-up door of the abandoned housing project where he takes his victims.

Seven seconds later I was through the hole and into the familiar, foul-smelling square space with rows of vandalized mailboxes and an open well staircase directly ahead. I could hear the preacher’s steps on the second flight of stairs.

I started up the first flight and midway heard something soft and rustling drop onto a landing above. I climbed until I saw it, a handful of marigolds secured with waxed tissue paper and mossing twine.

I listened for the preacher. He was still climbing. I stashed the marigolds in my pocket and hurried on.

When I got to the second floor landing something hard dropped onto the landing just above me. It rolled and came to a stop.

I kept climbing and saw that it was a wooden spool of gilt thread. The False Prophet deserves thread as black as the pit of hell, I thought, not this. I stepped over it and at once became aware of silence.

I paused. Still no sound. I braced myself and pushed upward into the eerie quiet.

When I’d got to the fourth floor landing, I stopped again to listen: not a sound.

I leaned into the stairwell and looked up through the tunnel of stairs. Nothing.

And then it hit me. Sweat flooded my pores and froze on my skin, and I slowly turned to look down through the stairs and there he was, standing in the lobby in the center of the stairwell pointing a gun at me.

The adrenaline rush was incredible. I was thrown outside myself, watched in slow motion as I leapt back from the handrail, pressed my back to the stairwell wall, and slid down it like thick oil.

I lay pooled on the floor thinking I was alive, although I had no real idea how I was, but I was aware of an urgency to re-enter slow motion, to go back and alter fate.

“You left the thread untouched,” the preacher bellowed.

A rush of nausea swept through me. I felt clammy and on the verge of shitting or vomiting, I didn’t know which.

“Do you hear it?” the preacher hollered, “Your marigolds are crying for their sacred thread.”

A sick sweat came on fast and my and stomach heaved what little was in it out onto the landing. Strings of slime hung from my lips and I prayed to God to take this cup of suffering from me.

“Come to the rail where I can see you,” the preacher yelled.

I dragged the sleeve of my jacket across my lips and struggled to unscrew the lid from my flask. I took a desperate, long drink and tried to get myself together. Am I not the New Jesus come to kill this Judas preacher?

“Show yourself,” the preacher shouted.

I got my knees under me and crawled to the handrail, pulled myself up. The preacher still had the gun trained on me. I trembled, waiting for the gunshot blackout, or worse, the burning wounding and bleeding-out of life.

“So, Skinner, our paths converge,” he yelled.

“What, not raping and killing today, ‘preacher’?” I yelled back.

“That’s your form of entertainment, not mine.”

“You lie! I saw what you did.”

“Of course you saw. You were the one doing it.”

“Deceiver!” I screamed at him. “You filthy, False Prophet, behold me, the New Jesus come to kill you and rule the New Day.”

The preacher roared with amusement. Nothing could be said or heard above it and I was forced to wait, to listen to what sounded like three or more tracks of the preacher’s laughter playing in my head at once.

“Fool!” the preacher thundered. “Compared to the False Prophet, your New Jesus construct is a pantywaist. The False Prophet is so deeply rooted in your mind that to kill him would be to kill yourself.”

I couldn’t think with the preacher circling round and round me with his sticky words, trying to bind me in a cocoon of confusion. I grasped at the first voice I heard in my head and blurted out, “I will subdue you then, cast you to the dungeon and reign supreme.”

“It makes no difference if I go from clocktower to dungeon,” the preacher countered. “You know I can get at you from wherever I am.”

“No you can’t.”

“Watch me.”

“I am the New Jesus, I will prevail,” I yelled.

“Come down and pick up this thread!”

“What?”

“You heard me! Do it!”

“I don’t need it!”

“You need to hide the evidence.”

“It isn’t mine.”

“You know it is.”

“No! I didn’t do anything.”

“You did, and they know about it.”

“You’re trying to trick me.”

“They know about you.”

“No.”

“They know what you did.”

“No, you did it!”

“They’re coming for you, you know that.”

“You killed them all!”

“That’s a lie, and they’ll know if you lie.”

Suddenly it rose up in me like locusts out of the Abyss: the preacher was one of them!

“They’re coming to get you. And what are you going do about it?”

I wanted to escape my skin, to fly up the stairs, to find a way out, a fire escape, skylight, anything…

“I know what you’re thinking.”

Tapeworms were moving downward inside my legs.

“Are you just going stand there like an idiot and do nothing?

I looked down at my feet. The worms were spilling out my shoes.

“You must pick up this thread and run! Destroy it before they find you with it!”

I half ran, half tripped down the stairs and snatched up the gilt thread. It screamed to be put down but I couldn’t and it burned in my hand until I jammed in into the pocket with the marigolds.

“Good!” the preacher said. “Now go!” And he stepped into the shadows.

I froze. I couldn’t go downstairs, not with him lurking there. He’d jump me, take me to the dungeon… And then I got that fourth floor feeling. Sweating and cringing, I looked up, and I’ll be damned if he wasn’t way high up there on a landing, looking down at me.

He bellowed, “Go in peace!” then laughed hysterically, the echo of the highest notes stabbing down through the tunnel of stairs at me.

I nearly fell the rest of the way down the stairs but when my feet hit solid ground I dug in, just blasted through the door and ran for my life, down the first alley, then over and down entire blocks, zig-zagging willy-nilly like that until I ran out of breath in the back lot of a 7-11.

I bent over, hands on my knees, heaving for air.

“You can’t afford to stop, they’ll catch up with you,” I heard the preacher say.

My body jerked upright like the reflexive movement of a dead person. I spun around. The preacher was nowhere.

“It’s too late, Skinner, I’m in the clocktower.”

“Damn you!” I screamed at him and I ran for the 7-11 dumpster, fumbling inside my jacket for the marigolds and thread. They were burning my hand as I lifted the dumpster lid.

No! Not there, you idiot!” the preacher shrieked.

I lost my grip on the lid and it slammed back down. I froze, shaking like a jackhammer. As if I were being electrocuted, I couldn’t let go of the marigolds and thread and they were melting the skin of my hand. When it stopped, I just threw the whole smoldering mess down on the ground and I ran willy-nilly again.

“You worthless idiot!” the preacher yelled at me. “You’ve just condemned yourself.”

I could feel what was left of my power swirling round, picking up speed like water toward a drain.

“You’ve done it now, you hear those sirens? They’re headed this way.”

I gritted my teeth together and tried to summon some power. I thought of the Trinity River. How could I have forgotten the blessed Trinity? I could wash the preacher’s vileness from me there, get another bottle from Elmer’s and drink him clean away…

“The police are getting out of their cruisers, coming for you, and it’s all your fault.”

I could hear yelling. I changed course for the river.

“You should have used your mind to stop them!”

I was flattened to the ground by a massive force.

“Stop them! You have to take control!”

I fought like a rabid dog, snapping at flying limbs and biting at faces that got too close and I spat and kicked through the yelling and pinning and the steel grips until everything went black.

# # # # #

I woke on a dirty, smooth and stinking floor. I was lying flat out on my stomach, the right side of my face in fresh vomit. I could feel my hands bound behind me. I didn’t move, just rolled my eyes around to check my whereabouts. I saw feet, shins, two guys on a bench with handcuffed wrists resting on their knees.

“Someone get the fuck in here and clean this shit up!” one of the guys yelled.

I heard more than one set of footsteps coming, then a rattling of a lock on a steel cage.

“Stay where you are!” came a booming voice.

A guard came through with a hose, sprayed my head and chased the rest of the vomit down a iron grate in the floor with a stream of water. He backed out and a cop came in and yanked me to my feet. He pulled me out of there and he and another cop dragged me down the hall, pushed me through a gray door and slammed in into a gray metal desk then jammed a chair under me.

I sat there shivering, leaning into the warmth of the blazing light hanging down from the ceiling on a long cord, while the cops banged on about some killings been going on, threatening me with being able to produce fingerprints, trying to get me to admit to things I had no part of. I knew who they wanted, but after the treatment I’d got, I wasn’t exactly in a helpful mood.

But then, I didn’t know how much longer I could last like that with my hair all dripping with cold water, chilling me anew with each drop, and I could feel that feeling I get before the voices start and my muscles grab and jerk me around until I black out.

The answer came quickly enough when the cops upped their game. They introduced a new person to the room, a pretty woman who wore T.J. Eckleburg spectacles, and before they even introduced her I knew she was a psychiatrist. I can feel the sickness coming off them. Brinson was her name. She watched me intently with her ice blue eyes while the cops made me watch CCTV footage of the preacher caught in various locations doing untoward things.

“Who is that man, Mr. Skinner?” Brinson asked.

“You know who it is,” I told her.

“It looks like you, Mr. Skinner. Is it?”

“No, it is not,” I said as politely as I could manage.

“Who is it then?” Brinson said.

“Oh for crissakes, that’s the preacher, The New Prophet, everybody knows who he is!”

“Do you know him?”

“I know of him,” I said, and I added, “I know he’s the killer, not me.”

“How do you know that?”

“I saw him kill!” I yelled.

“When?”

“Last night.”

“Where?”

“An alley off South Griffin Street.”

“Why didn’t you do anything?”

“There was nothing I could do. The preacher had already sewn her mouth shut.”

“With what?”

“Gold thread,” I said.

“Like this?” a cop said as he motioned to the 2-mirror and an investigator walked in with a clear plastic bag containing the screaming marigolds and gilt thread.

He shouldn’t have done that. I felt queasy. “Maybe,” I said, and I turned my head far away from the bag but I could still hear them. “You did it,” they screamed.

“I did not!” I yelled.

“What’s that, Mr. Skinner?” Brinson said.

“Nothing. Can I go now?”

A blast of laughter came from one of the cops. “Oh no,” the cop said, “We haven’t even started yet!”

Brinson frowned at the cop and looked back at me.

“Just a few more questions is all it should take, Mr. Skinner. Now going back to the alley, why didn’t you go to the police?”

“Because I went to the girl and felt for a pulse and I knew the cops would think I did it so I ran away.”

“You did it,” the marigolds said.

“You should have used your mind to stop it,” the thread said.

“Shut up!” I yelled.

“Excuse me, Mr. Skinner?”

“Nothing.”

“Why did you touch her, Mr. Skinner?”

“I thought maybe she was still alive.”

“Really? Couldn’t you see that her throat was slashed to the neck bone and that her midsection had been slashed from sternum to crotch and from left to right just under the rib cage and that all her organs lay about on the ground around her?

I squirmed. “Well you never know. Medicine today is amazing.”

“Oh come on!” a cop snapped.

Brinson grimaced. “Yes, it is amazing, Mr. Skinner. Tell me, was she a pretty girl?”

“Stop her from getting in! You have to take control!” the preacher said.

I ignored him.

“Mr. Skinner?”

“Yes, she was very pretty.”

“Oh, that’s nice, Brinson said.”

“What kind of thing is that to say?” I looked very carefully at Brinson. She was up to something…

“It’s so nice to be pretty in this world of ugliness, don’t you think?”

This was blasphemous! “No!” I jumped up from my chair. I looked around and saw the cops had risen, too, poised to put me out of commission. I know I was making a mistake but I couldn’t let it ride. I sat down. “No,” I said calmly. “It’s not nice.”

“Squash her,” the preacher yelled, and the marigolds tittered in the background. “We told you,” the thread said.

“Why don’t you think that?” Brinson asked.

“What?”

“That it’s good to be pretty in this world? Don’t you think it could help balance the ugliness?”

NO!” I couldn’t stand it any longer. “No I don’t! Nothing can balance it! Ugliness is all-pervasive!”

“But if you remove the beauty from the world it for sure doesn’t have a chance.”

“It’s too late, better that beauty leave here and go back to nothingness, to pool with other beauties and make their own world.”

“Traitor!” the preacher yelled at me.

I laughed. “I told you I was the New Jesus!” I yelled.

“The new Jesus?” Brinson said.

“I just want to touch them before they go,” I said.

“Why the marigolds?”

“They are the flower of the dead.”

“Why the gold thread?”

“It’s their sacred initiation to the joyous afterlife.”

“Why are you in a position to usher them out of this world?” Brinson said.

“For the love of God, save us both,” the preacher boomed.

“The task was given to me.”

“By whom?” Brinson asked.

“By the spirit of the one that said,” and I looked about the room, made sure all were seated and reverent, “The one that said, ‘It is not true, it is not true; That we came to live here; We came only to sleep, only to dream.’”

The preacher screamed, “Murderer!” and he raked down through my insides with his unholy claws, gutting me like he does his young girls and while I still could, I sprang to the desktop and bit with all my worth into the long cord of the ghastly blazing light.

# # # # #

I woke to whiteness and screaming. The preacher was duking it out with some well-meaning psychologist sicko. The preacher had him backed against the wall and still the well-meaning sod was giving hand signals to the two white burly guys to stay back and I thought, You should have asked me first about the preacher. And finally, when the preacher, for lack of a knife, had the psychologist in a stranglehold so he couldn’t speak, let alone gesture, the burly white guys tackled him to the ground and stuck a syringe into him.

The trees of the Great Trinity Forest bent down and lifted me up, took me to the blessed river. I could hear the rush of her, and in one of her playful moments and she tickled me with her froth. I laughed and said, Welcome to your new life, preacher.

Fin


The Plight of the Trees 2

plight2_header_640x480_02-10-08_12

Old logging road leading to the shack – 2008

Green note: This winter’s pilgrimage back to the place of my wild and tortured youth brought a shock followed by a deep sadness. Same as the first Plight of the Trees, there was damage marked by the passing of the old year, but this time it was not Mother Nature’s fault.

I knew those boys were up to no good thing when they put a great steel gate up across the old logging road. But I didn’t know what surprise their new “Private Property No Trespassing” sign held rigid within it. I suppose I knew the nature of the surprise, since I knew the general nature of the boys. They had been capitalizing on their inheritance for years, yet I didn’t think they’d decimate it.

plight2_shack_640x480_02-10-08_14

The shack – 2008

When I was a child I used to walk through the strip of woods between our house and the old logging road. Contrary to what it looked like—a couple of dirt and stone tracks on either side of a tall line of grass—it was an adventure highway cutting through a forest kingdom that was either friendly or fierce depending on the way the light and clouds behaved.

Leave the road down long-sloping banks through woods and find coveys of trees with pine needle beds and a little brook with holes deep enough to cool off in and mint leaves on its banks to chew on.

plight2_nova2_640x480_02-10-08_31

Beginning of the old logging road – 2008

Stay on the road and come upon a small shack of a building no longer in use, where shadows and noises are ghosts perturbed by human presence. And inside was stuff people used to use and the feeling they’ll return any moment to catch you touching it.

When I grew up, I ran on that road in the mornings, and over the years it went from dirt tracks to a wide, graded road with great rusty culverts the boys salvaged from somewhere. Then a few driveways began to sprout off it up to thankfully lovely and mostly inconspicuous houses.

plight2_logs_640x480_01-14-08_14

First signs of tree cutting – 2008

After they put up the steel gate that blocked the road to the shack, I took the dog with me on a run down there maybe a few times, until I saw indications the boys were working a small-time operation of splitting logs.

Nothing much happened after that.  But then I don’t always go as far as the crossroad.  So this year when I did, not only was the gate gone, so were the all the trees big enough to bother cutting down.

plight2_xroad2_640x480_01-25-08_02

Just before the crossroad leading to the shack – 2008


Plight2_sign_640x480_300dpi

Right at the crossroad leading to the shack – 2014

My brain swam in a mix of loss and disorder with nothing to hold onto until it manufactured something tears could spring from, and I walked away with them clouding the road back to the house.

Anger brought me back with a camera.  And later on, I got another angle of the damage when we drove to the dump, and the guy there said, “Say, what do you think about what those boys have done?” and he pointed back toward the mountain above our house and the extent of it, the great white swatch of an absent wood.

Way out in the country, damage is experienced more on a blank canvas as opposed to heavily populated cities full of manmade structures. And because of that, it speaks more starkly to humankind’s beginnings, its very existence, and the land that grows what’s needed to subsist on.

Now at the crossroad that leads down to the shack there’s a less assuming “Private Property No Trespassing” sign. And now there’s only to look at it, a plastic sign mounted to a post made from a tree on acres of land now stripped of trees, and its meaning is clear.

Fin

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Click here for more on prompt “SS2 #52 – the old year passes” from other Sunday Scribblings participants.

Other posts to do with the old logging road:
The Plight of the Trees
The One That Got Away
The Last Mile
The Same Wind (mention of the road is in CREDITS)


Go ahead, jump

“I found myself on the other side of the door and at the top of a precipice.

Now I find myself at the beginning of the story. The destruction is all I can see. The destruction would be the end of the story, but in reality, it’s just the beginning.

Here’s the rest of my story…”

Mark Gardner, September 26, 2014

The Beginnings ProjectHow the story started

The Beginnings Project came about from Mark Gardner’s desire to try his hand at stream of consciousness writing, not with ink on paper as Laurence Sterne did in the 1700’s, but with an old typewriter, as James Joyce and other modernist novelists have done using that narrative mode.

Using an old typewriter can mean everything from simply connecting with a writing device of old—and any number of connotations that may accompany—to attributing mystical properties to it that allow for the release of stories pent up within it.

Yes, Gardner’s got a great voice and style but what if it was the typing of “Beginnings” on an old 1949 Remington Quiet-Riter that made it everything from merely special to something akin to Aladdin’s lamp?

What it is

A collaborative writing project that began fortuitously and is perpetuated haphazardly.

How it works, currently

It’s a baton-passing event: if you read Gardner’s “Beginnings” and it moves you to want to participate, just leave a comment on the last chapter posted that you’d like to write the next chapter.

Give all existing chapters a read and see what they say to you collectively, then write your chapter to advance the plot however you see fit.

With a view toward the end goal of this project, use a typewriter to generate your chapter if you can. But really, the only essential thing is getting your vision down and having a ball doing it.

Post it, link it to the previous chapter post and also to the original “Beginnings” post.  Advertise it, and whoever wants to pick it up next, has only to leave a comment with you, saying so, and around it goes again…

The end goal

A novella eBook with the story first and the typewritten pages as an appendix.

(And this would mean splitting the proceeds quarterly or something to be determined.)

So you might as well grab the badge and jump…

 


Sacred Threads and Marigolds (4 of 4)

WHITE_640x426_mirror photo WHITE_640x426about-last-night_images.jpg

Click to read Part 3 of 4

In Part 1, our narrator, Skinner, witnesses the killing of a young girl by a serial-killing street preacher. Skinner runs off to the Trinity River to receive her gurgling council and emerges with a plan to kill the preacher. The preacher outsmarts Skinner and in Part 2 Skinner runs for his life, changes course for the safety of the Trinity but is arrested by the police. In Part 3, the police call in a psychiatrist part way through their interrogation of Skinner and he spills the beans then attempts suicide. Here’s a long lead-in starting from the introduction of the psychiatrist followed by Part 4 of 4:

They introduced a new person to the room, a pretty woman who wore T.J. Eckleburg spectacles, and before they even introduced her I knew she was a psychiatrist. I can feel the sickness coming off them. Brinson was her name. She watched me intently with her ice blue eyes while the cops made me watch CCTV footage of the preacher caught in various locations doing untoward things.

“Who is that man, Mr. Skinner?” Brinson asked.

“You know who it is,” I told her.

“It looks like you, Mr. Skinner. Is it?”

“No, it is not,” I said as politely as I could manage.

“Who is it then?” Brinson said.

“Oh for crissakes, that’s the preacher, The New Prophet, everybody knows who he is!”

“Do you know him?”

“I know of him,” I said, and I added, “I know he’s the killer, not me.”

“How do you know that?”

“I saw him kill!” I yelled.

“When?”

“Last night.”

“Where?”

“An alley off South Griffin Street.”

“Why didn’t you do anything?”

“There was nothing I could do. The preacher had already sewn her mouth shut.”

“With what?”

“Gold thread.”

“Like this?” a cop said as he motioned to the 2-mirror and an investigator walked in with a clear plastic bag containing the screaming marigolds and gilt thread.

He shouldn’t have done that. I felt queasy. “Maybe,” I said, and I turned my head far away from the bag but I could still hear them. “You did it,” they screamed.

“I did not!” I yelled.

“What’s that, Mr. Skinner?” Brinson said.

“Nothing. Can I go now?”

A blast of laughter came from one of the cops. “Oh no,” the cop said, “We haven’t even started yet!”

Brinson frowned at the cop and looked back at me.

“Just a few more questions is all it should take, Mr. Skinner. Now going back to the alley, why didn’t you go to the police?”

“Because I went to the girl and felt for a pulse and I knew the cops would think I did it so I ran away.”

“You did it,” the marigolds said.

“You should have used your mind to stop it,” the thread said.

“Shut up!” I yelled.

“Excuse me, Mr. Skinner?”

“Nothing.”

“Why did you touch her, Mr. Skinner?”

“I thought maybe she was still alive.”

“Really? Couldn’t you see that her throat was slashed to the neck bone and that her midsection had been slashed from sternum to crotch and from left to right just under the rib cage and that all her organs lay about on the ground around her?

I squirmed. “Well you never know. Medicine today is amazing.”

“Yes, it is. Tell me, Mr. Skinner, was she a pretty girl?”

“Stop her from getting in! You have to take control!” the preacher said.

I ignored him.

“Mr. Skinner?”

“Yes, she was very pretty.”

“Oh, that’s nice, Brinson said.”

“What kind of thing is that to say?” I looked very carefully at Brinson. She was up to something…

“It’s so nice to be pretty in this world of ugliness, don’t you think?”

This was blasphemous! “No!” I jumped up from my chair. I looked around and saw the cops had risen, too, poised to put me out of commission. I know I was making a mistake but I couldn’t let it ride. I sat down. “No,” I said calmly. “It’s not nice.”

“Squash her,” the preacher yelled, and the marigolds tittered in the background. “We told you,” the thread said.

“Why don’t you think that?”

“What?”

“That it’s good to be pretty in this world? Don’t you think it could help balance the ugliness?”

“NO!” I couldn’t stand it any longer. “No I don’t! Nothing can balance it! Ugliness is all-pervasive!”

“But if you remove the beauty from the world it for sure doesn’t have a chance.”

“It’s too late, better that beauty leave here and go back to nothingness, to pool with other beauties and make their own world.”

“Traitor!” the preacher yelled at me.

I laughed. “I told you I was the New Jesus!” I yelled.

“The new Jesus?” Brinson said.

“I just want to touch them before they go,” I said.

“Why the marigolds?”

“They are the flower of the dead.”

“Why the gold thread?”

“It’s their sacred initiation to the joyous afterlife.”

“Why are you in a position to usher them out of this world?”

“For the love of God, save us both,” the preacher boomed.

“The task was given to me.”

“By whom?”

“By the spirit of the one that said…,” and I looked about the room, made sure all were seated and reverent, “‘It is not true, it is not true; That we came to live here; We came only to sleep, only to dream.’”

The preacher screamed, “Murderer!” and he raked down through my insides with his unholy claws, gutting me like he cleans out his young girls and while I still could, I sprang to the desktop and bit with all my worth into the long cord of the ghastly blazing light and went out in full glory.

# # # # #

I woke to whiteness and screaming. The preacher was duking it out with some well-meaning psychologist sicko. The preacher had him backed against the wall and still the well-meaning sod was giving hand signals to the two white burly guys to stay back and I thought, “You should have asked me first about the preacher.” And finally, when the preacher, for lack of a knife, had the psychologist in a stranglehold so he couldn’t speak, let alone gesture, the burly white guys tackled him to the ground and stuck a syringe into him.

The trees of the Great Trinity Forest bent down and lifted me up, took me to the blessed river. I could hear the rush of her, and in one of her playful moments she tickled me with her froth. I laughed and said, “Welcome to your new life, preacher.”

Fini

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Sacred Threads and Marigolds (3 of 4)

INTERROGATION_640x427

Click to read Part 2 of 4

In a nutshell, in Part 1, our narrator, Skinner, has witnessed the killing of a young girl by a serial killing street preacher. He’s vowed to kill the preacher so he won’t kill again, but the preacher outsmarts him and in Part 2, Skinner ends up running for his life only to be downed by a massive, unidentified force. Here’s a lead-in followed by Part 3 of 4:

“You’ve done it now,” the preacher said. “You hear those sirens? They’re headed this way.”

I gritted my teeth and tried to summon some power. I thought of the Trinity River. How could I have forgotten the blessed Trinity? I could wash the preacher’s vileness from me there, get another bottle from Elmer’s and drink him clean away…

“The police are getting out of their cruisers, coming for you, and it’s all your fault,” the preacher said.

I could hear yelling. I changed course for the river.

“You should have used your mind to stop them,” the preacher said.

I was flattened to the ground by a massive force.

“Stop them! You have to take control,” the preacher yelled.

I fought like a rabid dog, snapping at flying limbs and biting at faces that got too close and I spat and kicked through the yelling and pinning and the steel grips until everything went black.

# # # # #

I woke on a dirty, smooth and stinking floor. I was lying flat out on my stomach, the right side of my face in fresh vomit. I could feel my hands bound behind me. I didn’t move, just rolled my eyes around to check my whereabouts. I saw feet, shins, two guys on a bench with handcuffed wrists resting on their knees.

“Someone get the fuck in here and clean this shit up!” one of the guys yelled.

I heard more than one set of footsteps coming, then a rattling of a lock on a steel cage.

“Stay where you are!” came a booming voice.

A guard came through with a hose, sprayed my head and chased the rest of the vomit down a iron grate in the floor with a stream of water. He backed out and a cop came in and yanked me to my feet. He pulled me out of there and he and another cop dragged me down the hall, pushed me through a gray door and slammed me into a gray metal desk then jammed a chair under me.

I sat there shivering, leaning into the warmth of the blazing light hanging down from the ceiling on a long cord, while the cops banged on about some killings been going on, threatening me with being able to produce fingerprints, trying to get me to admit to things I had no part of. I knew who they wanted, but after the treatment I’d got, I wasn’t exactly in a helpful mood.

But then, I didn’t know how much longer I could last like that with my hair all dripping with cold water, chilling me anew with each drop, and I could feel that feeling I get before the voices start and my muscles grab and jerk me around until I black out.

The answer came quickly enough when the cops upped their game. They introduced a new person to the room, a pretty woman who wore T.J. Eckleburg spectacles, and before they even introduced her I knew she was a psychiatrist. I can feel the sickness coming off them. Brinson was her name. She watched me intently with her ice blue eyes while the cops made me watch CCTV footage of the preacher caught in various locations doing untoward things.

“Who is that man, Mr. Skinner?” Brinson asked.

“You know who it is,” I told her.

“It looks like you, Mr. Skinner. Is it?”

“No, it is not,” I said as politely as I could manage.

“Who is it then?” Brinson said.

“Oh for crissakes, that’s the preacher, The New Prophet, everybody knows who he is!”

“Do you know him?”

“I know of him,” I said, and I added, “I know he’s the killer, not me.”

“How do you know that?”

“I saw him kill!” I yelled.

“When?”

“Last night.”

“Where?”

“An alley off South Griffin Street.”

“Why didn’t you do anything?” Brinson asked.

“There was nothing I could do. The preacher had already sewn her mouth shut.”

“With what?”

“Gold thread,” I said.

“Like this?” a cop said as he motioned to the 2-way mirror and an investigator walked in with a clear plastic bag containing the screaming marigolds and gilt thread.

He shouldn’t have done that. I felt queasy. “Maybe,” I said, and I turned my head far away from the bag but I could still hear them. “You did it,” they screamed.

“I did not!” I yelled.

“What’s that, Mr. Skinner?” Brinson said.

“Nothing. Can I go now?”

A blast of laughter came from the cops. “Oh no,” one cop said, “We haven’t even started yet!”

Brinson frowned at the cop and looked back at me.

“Just a few more questions is all it should take, Mr. Skinner. Now going back to the alley, why didn’t you go to the police?”

“Because I went to the girl and felt for a pulse and I knew the cops would think I did it so I ran away.”

“You did it,” the marigolds said.

“You should have used your mind to stop it,” the thread said.

“Shut up!” I yelled.

“Excuse me, Mr. Skinner?” Brinson said.

“Nothing.”

“Why did you touch her, Mr. Skinner?”

“I thought maybe she was still alive.”

“Really?” Brinson said. “Couldn’t you see that her throat was slashed to the neck bone and that her midsection had been slashed from sternum to crotch and from left to right just under the rib cage and that all her organs lay about on the ground around her?”

I squirmed. “Well you never know. Medicine today is amazing.”

“Yes, it is. Tell me, Mr. Skinner, was she a pretty girl?”

“Stop her from getting in! You have to take control!” the preacher said.

I ignored him.

“Mr. Skinner?”

“Yes, she was very pretty.”

“Oh, that’s nice, Brinson said.”

“What kind of thing is that to say?” I looked very carefully at Brinson. She was up to something…

“It’s so nice to be pretty in this world of ugliness, don’t you think?”

This was blasphemous! “No!” I jumped up from my chair. I looked around and saw the cops had risen, too, poised to put me out of commission. I know I was making a mistake but I couldn’t let it ride. I sat down. “No,” I said calmly. “It’s not nice.”

“Squash her,” the preacher yelled, and the marigolds tittered in the background. “We told you,” the thread said.

“Why don’t you think that?” Brinson asked.

“What?”

“That it’s good to be pretty in this world? Don’t you think it could help balance the ugliness?”

No!” I couldn’t stand it any longer. “No I don’t. Nothing can balance it. Ugliness is all-pervasive!”

“But if you remove the beauty from the world it for sure doesn’t have a chance.”

“It’s too late,” I said. “Better that beauty leave here and go back to nothingness, to pool with other beauties and make their own world.”

“Traitor!” the preacher yelled at me.

I laughed. “I told you I was the New Jesus,” I yelled.

“The new Jesus?” Brinson said.

“I just want to touch them before they go,” I said.

“Why the marigolds?”

“They are the flower of the dead.”

“Why the gold thread?”

“It’s their sacred initiation to the joyous afterlife.”

“Why are you in a position to usher them out of this world?” Brinson said.

“For the love of God, save us both,” the preacher boomed.

“The task was given to me,” I said.

“By whom?” Brinson asked.

“By the spirit of the one that said…,” and I looked about the room, made sure all were seated and reverent, “‘It is not true, it is not true; That we came to live here; We came only to sleep, only to dream.’”

The preacher screamed, “Murderer!” and he raked down through my insides with his unholy claws, gutting me like he does his young girls and while I still could, I sprang to the desktop and bit with all my worth into the long cord of the ghastly blazing light.

Click to read Part Four of Four →

 

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Beginnings Chapter 3 – The Transference

Zebedee_640x409Green note: Mark Gardner started it on a 1949 Remington quiet-riter, D. Paul Angel picked it up and ran with it, and now that I’ve added my bit, the next chapter’s up for grabs. Any takers? Just leave a comment.

 

Gardner-Beginnings-3 photo Gardner-Beginnings-3.pngThe old man James was at the helm of the Zebedee, a scowl of command on his face. He squinted across the sea reading the water.

I kept my eyes on him.

He didn’t look like much, leathery and shrunken, one suspender keeping his oilskin pants up. But he was half predator, half fish, as old as the ocean, and as fierce.

Suddenly he stiffened, his eyes locked on a far off patch of water and he changed the trawler’s course for it.

I waited at the drum winch.

Down went the old man’s hand and I let the giant trawl net unreel from the stern, guided it out, and placed the doors in the water.

The old salt cut the power to 2 knots.

I had forty minutes to prep for the second haul of the day.

It’d been three years since I fell into the drink that first year, and all of this was clockwork now.

I looked at the old man, the sun glinting off beads of sea spray in his mess of white hair, an unlit cigar clenched between his teeth. He turned and gave me a quick nod of approval then away again to light up.

By now I didn’t need more than that. I knew how much I’d gained and grown, didn’t need anyone patting me on the back for it.

My muscles are adapted to moving heavy loads on a heaving deck as fast as possible, keeping the rhythm of the operation tight, and my mind is geared to tapping into reserves of strength I didn’t know I had.

It’s a primitive sense of survival that drives me, being at the mercy of the sea, knowing Death lurks at the elbow of every fisherman.

I fingered the coin in my pocket, the one the old salt had tossed me when I first signed on to this fateful tour of duty. He needed me for more than just my youth. What that was exactly, I couldn’t tell you, but I could feel it.

# # #

We cruised into Haifa Bay and docked at Joint Acre. I hauled our iced crates from the fish hold onto the deck and the cranes lifted them onto the dock.

Once paid and the Zebedee serviced and refueled, we headed to Marine Services to replenish our supplies.

Amidst the the noise of the dockyard, a man bellowed, “Zedekiah!”

I looked in the direction of the voice, saw another ancient soul like the old man James waving majestically from a table outside a pub on the promenade.

The old man shouted back, “Josiah!” and he ran to the man and hugged him like a long lost friend.

Zedekiah? I followed, confused as hell, stood a ways back from them like a third wheel.

Finally, the old man came to himself.

“Sorry,” he said. “Josiah, this strapping lad is my first mate, Steve.”

I cocked an eyebrow and shook hands with him.

“’James’ and I go way, way back, lad,” Josiah said.

I looked at the old man. He nodded.

“Pleased to meet you,” I said, still confused, defensive.

“Will you join me for a pint?” Josiah said.

“That would be splendid,” the old man said.

Splendid? What is with the old geezer I wondered.

The old man took me aside, said, “Lad, you go on to the marine supply and order everything we need to set sail tomorrow.”

This didn’t feel right, but I couldn’t begrudge my captain a good catching up with an old friend.

“Alright,” I said.

“Meet me back here when you’re done,” the old man said.

“Will do,” I said, and I took off.

I walked a ways and looked back. The two old men were on fire, talking back and forth, jovial at points, but mostly serious.

I walked on and stopped short of Marine Services and turned back, went up the hill off the path and down to the pub, and I found a place in the shadows where I could listen to their conversation.

“It’s the age-old quest, isn’t it?” the old man said. “To avert the destruction of a mindless people who couldn’t possibly make a right choice if it was written in the sky for all to see.”

“I suppose you could put it like that,” Josiah said.

“In our day,” the old man said, “The stakes were mere nations, the Master having three times destroyed the depraved generations of his peoples, and here we are, round four, seemingly the final round, the stakes being an entire world.

“True enough,” Josiah said. “But the prophets are spread thickly across the world and surely have found fertile ground among the needy and thinking peoples alike.”

“Ah but it won’t be enough, will it, Josiah? It never has been. The peoples are ever as whales that beach themselves, their radar has gone kaput. They were doomed then, they are doomed now.”

“It appears so, Zedekiah, but have you not received good reports from the other kings?”

“I wouldn’t call them good,” the old man said.

“Not even from Augustus?”

“No.”

“Cyrus?”

“Listen, Josiah, I fish the world’s seas, I’ve been to every viable port, communed with every king and prophet, and I’ve come away from it all with only an ounce of hope.”

“Even that is something, Zedekiah,” Josiah said. “We must keep our minds open to the possibility that the Master ultimately seeks to reverse his decision to damn the world.”

“The Master will not change his mind,” the old man said, heatedly. “It would be against his nature which has held true since the beginning of time.”

“Aye, but what of the lad?” Josiah said. “Is he not the chosen one?”

The old man looked away to the sea. “The kid?” he said.

“Yes, the lad Steve,” Josiah said impatiently. “Is he not being made ready to sacrifice?”

I drew a sharp breath. I wanted to bolt but made the wiser choice to stay put, hear them out, then do whatever might be called for.

“Aye,” the old man said. “But he is as a son to me…” He took a shaky breath in and sighed, long and labored. “I knew it would be that way when I first laid eyes on him…”

Josiah put a hand on the old man’s shoulder. He had a twinkle in his eyes. “Which is why you tossed him one of your kingdom’s coins, am I right, Zedekiah?”

The old man’s face flushed.

Josiah gave way to a hearty belly laugh.

“So, you sly fox,” Josiah said, “What your ‘ounce of hope’ for humanity really amounts to is all the hope in the world!”

Josiah shook with laughter again and the old man patiently endured it.

“Presumably the lad recognized your likeness on the coin?” Josiah said.

“Aye, he saw it right away.”

“Then he has but to receive the Ultimate Invincibility.”

“He is making quick progress.”

“But will he be ready in time?”

“He’ll be ready,” the old man said.

The coin began to get warm in my pocket of its own accord.  I touched it and felt tenfold the pull I’d felt the day the old man tossed it to me.  And now I knew why, knew what I had to do.

To be continued by the next destiny-writer…

 

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