Time Waits for One Man

I have been thinking a great deal about the human concept of time. How warped it is, both to the microcosm of one individual and to the macrocosm of the species.

When a human undertakes a difficult and critical task – like a revolution or exploration, to some degree they are contemplating the entire length of earth’s timeline. They are positioning themselves and their task on an immense continuum of cause-and-effect. They’re seeing a larger picture, as it were.

But then in a few short years, most of the species – which did in fact benefit from that perspective – condenses the timeline back to their own era, their own sphere.

What I mean to suggest this, that one man can consider the world, while ALL men consider only themselves. I suppose to some degree this isn’t universal. Large scale building projects, wars and so forth, could be argued as many men coming together in an image of the future, but also such decisions usually come down to one man. One Pharaoh who wants a tomb. One emperor who fancies and arch. One leader who wants a war.

And yes, we can talk about the tremendous complexity of decisions and survival landscapes and so forth, but I don’t really care about that. The confusion of the universe has a tendency to average out unless a man gets involved.

Back when we were building the Transcontinental, there weren’t that many of us. A few thousand workers total. We would set up advance crews that would go out and speculate, appraise the land to determine the route that the road should take. Usually the path of least resistance. Across the Midwest, the great plains, the land was remarkably flat and even. The advance crews determined that the levelers would have very little to do! It would be easy, this massive construction. That was…until they disappeared. Inspectors and levlers, sometimes even the telegraph line workers would find these advance crews slaughtered, 10 or 20 at a time. The crews shrank in size. The work became a hazard. But not for long. The chief engineer of the UP was a former General, one Grenville M. Dodge.

The man was militaristic and vicious. And very very clever.

At first he posted guards with the advance teams, but that didn’t help when the men were outnumbered. He didn’t bother with discussion. He knew that the road was cutting straight through the Bison migratory path. The natives were just tracking their main food source. They were simply trying to live. And he knew that, but to him, it was a savage lifestyle. To him it was something not worth having. These people had no value, except as pawns.

Dodge got as far as asking who the enemy hated most. The Pawnee? Ah well, lets hire some of them. And so he went to that dwindling people, also trying to eke out an existence in their changing home, and bargained with their young men. Once the road was built, they could have free passage. Once it was built, they’d have a lovely little nest egg, and their people would be spared. Then he gave the railmen a simple command.

Shoot every bison.

I will never forget the sight. The train clicking through the tall grass at speeds I’d never moved before, nothing around us but the sea of nature. Great crowds of seething humps and snorting noses – majestic, enormous creatures that had eyes that were so soft…and the glee, the vengeful, hateful glee and greed on the faces around me as every one of them took aim and fired. Every herd we crossed. Every animal on the tracks. Hundreds. All left to rot on the ground.

It is the only time I have ever witnessed such large scale extinction efforts. And it astounded me. I will venture to say it was thoroughly traumatic. I had been pursuing these amazing tasks, the canal, the rails, and so on…as some kind of achievement! This was meant to be a new world that would perhaps look on me with a kinder eye. This was meant to be a new time, that forgot the old ways. But forgetting is costly.
Every week or so, we would park the train – a kind of rolling work barracks – at the end of the line. We’d make our little camp. Usually the men clumped together and lit fires. Sometimes Towns of canvas tents and lean-to’s would spring up around us with signs offering the customary revels human men enjoy. Sometimes there was a lag, which meant for quieter evenings. I always offered to be on guard. I preferred it, because it gave me the chance to move backward along the track, sometimes for miles, and take what I could from the carcasses. 

So many animals dead, and no way to tell the men who depended upon them to come and fetch what was left, to preserve it, to do it justice or the customary honors. Just a cloud of decomposition and flies.

One man and the few he convinced. One man, with one command, almost annihilated a species, and crushed the Sioux and Cheyenne into a remnant. One man could have done the opposite if he’d cared to. One man could have been flexible.

Impactful things are always done in smaller scale. Significant things (for good or ill) always begin with one man. One man sees a larger time scale, places his own actions in the continuum of humanity’s lifespan. One man seeks greatness. Dodge and the men who hired him, envisioned a land of industry and wealth. He saw a future that…well…largely came to be, because he acted on his vision.

Large groups move in tiny steps. To the tune of three miles of track a day, or five advance scouts, or ten years of marching, or fifty years of law suits, or a hundred years of tyranny.

I find this depressing, even though it can also make for positive results. One slave taking over a Confederate ship, rescuing his fellows, running a blockade in the dead of night, fighting for his freedom…becoming a senator. Even though that happens…it does not happen as often, because it requires that one man to fight the world. Dodge only had to kill. Robert Smalls had to live.

Time dilates for good, and for the good of all; human time opens its mouth and swallows righteousness. The Good Of All takes the longest. The villainy of one man is the easiest thing, the swiftest thing. Takes barely the breath to utter one sentence.

“Shoot them all.”

 

It’s a funny story…

Recently, I was asked to describe the funniest thing I had ever seen. This is a difficult prospect, as I have seen a great deal and it largely depends upon the onlookers sense of humor.

Dark humor, someone has requested.

Therefore I will tell you the very first story I recall — that of my awakening on this earth (obviously it was not the first time, as my books record, but it is the earliest memories I have that provides the beginning of all the contiguous experience of my mind from thence to now. This is the beginning of “Simon” as it were, for I knew nothing else until recently, after some 7 centuries). Please recall, that because this is my first memory, it is jumbled, is pieced together from a great deal of hindsight, and really was quite a conundrum to me until I had experienced another hundred years of that certain mingled human stupidity and cleverness that alternately undermines and composes your condition.

Some of you recollect that I have mentioned awakening on the shore of the Black Sea in a pool of bloody ooze. I haven’t been much more specific than that, because I don’t know how to be. It is simply what happened. I opened my eyes, and there I was, and I was naked, and there was dirt and blood and I was covered in it. I have mentioned stealing clothes from a plague victim, and that is true, but I haven’t exactly said how that came about. So here we are.

How best to tell it? From the vantage of newly awakened me? Or from the all-seeing eye of modernity? I think perhaps, the funniest way to tell it is how it was lived, though at the time, there was nothing humorous about it. In fact, it was utterly confounding.

I stood up. I had a good sniff. After a bit of sussing, I felt I could tell that there were other living things around me. I felt I knew that there was a limit to my movements. I don’t know how else to explain it but as the mental equivalent of standing at the bottom of a steep hill and looking to the summit in that sensation of resignation that yes, you will have to climb the hill (this happens to monsters too. We haven’t any stamina.) As I stood there, looking around with more than just my eyes, I don’t recall thinking in words. I thought in feelings, impressions. I considered the feelings I was encountering- that notion that there were boundaries that had to be obeyed. For example, when I made to follow the coastline- it was obviously impossible in that direction, but what of the other? No? Oh. How nice.

So I did. I picked my way through a very lovely green terrain, until I came closer to the water. From where I was, I had an excellent vantage of what was a harbor. Of course to my eyes at the time, it was simply a busy place bustling with human life. I hid myself away and watched, for a great long while, learning furiously.

There were moving creatures on boats, and moving creatures on the shore. There was a city with high walls, not the highest I have since seen, but at the time quite formidable. A steep rampart made climbing to the foot of the wall a challenge, and several barricades had been constructed to lean against this. Creatures stood on them looking up at the other creatures on the top of the wall, and there was a curious exchange happening. Some shouting, but mostly, a calm conversation. This was my first experience with speech. I don’t rightly know what was being said, but it was clear that the creatures on the barricades wanted something, and the creatures on the wall were telling them to piss off.

On the ground, especially on the water’s edge, there were many creatures simply lying there, unmoved. I decided that I wanted to look at the still ones. So I snuck closer. This was the first time I remember seeing a dead body, and the hunger hit me with such force and sharp need, that I don’t remember much, except that I was on my knees and digging my hands in before I could blink. The body in question was…ripe. It was at least a day or two old, bloated and purplish. Its time in the water had done it no favors, and it had massive blackish splotches on its skin. To me, these seemed odd, but I did not poke at them. I ate what I could. It did not taste all that nice, but it made me less hungry, which was the point. As I ate, I looked back at the city and I watched what was happening. Every so often, a group of creatures would huddle at the wall overlooking the water, and they would toss a dead body over the side.

What an odd thing to do.

I watched the bodies hit the water and slowly sink. Some were wedged between boats. Some rolled in the tide and were knocked about like buoys. It occurred to me then that the creatures on the wall were not eating the meat if they were tossing it over the side. They didn’t eat the dead, and so how odd I was for doing so. Like Adam and Eve having tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge, I looked up from my meal and knew my nakedness. I stole the clothes. But having no understanding of how to put them on, it all happened in a rather comedic fashion. I removed the clothing with tugs that tore the fabric, and found that when I put my own limbs in, the things hung on me like sacks and stank of death. It didn’t bother me, per say. It was simply a little blinding.

I wandered along the harbor area in my ill-fitted, tangled clothes. I found that the people around the city seemed to avoid me, rather pointedly, but there was no malice in it. They simply glanced my way in expressions of wide eyes and open mouths (what of them had blank faces, as most were wearing cloths over their noses and mouths). I had no idea why they were not hostile to me, in fact they seemed as if they didn’t mind me at all, which was somehow comforting. I was nevertheless keen to stay away from them, but none came any closer than about thirty yards.

Then a curious thing happened. I looked on what I can now describe as an encampment of men. Many bodies were lying on the ground moaning. Some of them were dead, but most were either quite obviously alive and suffering, or were comatose and seemingly presumed dead, as they were unceremoniously dumped in piles. I could hear their hearts, mind you. It seemed obvious to me that most of these things were simply lying there, as if they couldn’t be bothered to move. I did not know about sleep really, but knew I had been on the ground but hours before and so they must also find themselves on the ground occasionally. The ones moaning and groaning were seeping all sorts of liquids, and some of them were splotchy. Their still-ambulating counterparts were paying them no heed. No one even came near them, except me. With one eye to the other men in their shiny bits and padded garments and one eye to the bodies beneath me, I picked my way through. Suddenly, several men stomped up to the edge of my little crop of bodies and plucked one. This one was still alive, as will become quite evident.

Faces averted as best they could, expressions of disgust in place, the men took hold of this comatose body and heaved it up. They carried it down the shore and came abreast of a large wooden…thing. I had looked at the thing before, but it wasn’t moving. I thought it some other construction, like a piece of the city jutting out. It wasn’t. It was a trebuchet – a catapult.

Up went the slumbering sick man, into a little bucket. Men worked at the wheel as the winder went. There were odd clicking sounds and a soft humming to my ear, deep and low. After a long while, someone shouted a word, and instantly, with astounding percussive compression and force, something triggered, the great arm swiveled, I crouched instinctively, and with movement like the wind, the poor- now awake- dying man was hurtling through the air, screaming like a terrified comet.

What the devil? thought I, though not in so many words.

Why should these creatures build such machines? And why would they throw dead or dying counterparts with them? What sort of madness was this? What is the point of hurling a dead animal at someone else?

Then I decided it was best not to come any closer.

I backed out of the bodies and retreated to a small copse of trees. It had been hacked to bits, it seemed, by the groups of creatures stocking along the ramparts and swarming near the ships- pieces of lumber and splinters of wood were everywhere. I sat down and watched in stunned fascination as body after body was hurtled over the city walls, and body after body was retrieved and tossed over the wall into the water. It was all a terribly amusing recycling process and I remember wondering what it could possibly accomplish except to give flightless things a chance at soaring heavenward in their final moments, before being dashed into the water to rinse off their dust. I wondered if the cycle would repeat, or if it was something they only did to fresh bodies.

Eventually, I left the area, but not before eating a few more times.

Much later, I realized the complete meaning behind what I had seen. What I witnessed was a full scale siege – that of the Genoese city of Kaffa. You see at this time, the Tartars of the Golden Horde had allowed this conquered territory to rule itself through commerce and capitalism. Italians had made many monetary investments and purchases in the region, stimulating growth and lining pockets. In a neighboring town, a scuffle broke out between Italians and Tartars, resulting in a Muslim death. The Italians at fault fled to Kaffa, and to the shock of the Tartars, the Genoese refused to let them in. The military showed up and laid the siege…never realizing they had already been infected with the new dread scourge- the Black Plague. When the army began to die off, the commanders made a shocking decision – to hurl the bodies of the plague victims over the walls of the city. The inhabitants tried to hurl the bodies back out, but the plague caught.

Enter me – wearing a dead man’s clothes, looking every inch the modern zombie, wandering the plague victims in vague, goo-covered ambivalence. Those who saw me were probably accustomed to the sight of staggering half-dead mean (that was then the natural course of many diseases), but I dare to guess that some probably thought me some sort of omen. They avoided me because I probably looked like the pale rider. The men of the day, especially the Tartars, were notoriously superstitious.

image1

This artists’ rendering of the siege of Kaffa is inaccurate in most respects, but I thought you might enjoy it, anyway.


Eventually the siege broke and the scant remaining Tartars buggered off. The Italians ran as fast as they could to escape the plague with which they’d been confined. When their ships left port, I snuck aboard. We stopped at a few places. I got off at one. And by a skipping means, traveled my way across the Italian peninsula, and then on to France.

The year of this arrival to France was 1348. The year the Black Death came…in fact, it likely came from the very ship in which I rode. One of the reasons why my memories of Marseilles  are not so fond.

This is a very horrifying thing, yes? But to me at the time it was completely ridiculous. I have laughed at the feelings I had that day more than once since then. I laughed again when I read an article written by a specialist in communicable disease that said there was no feasible way that a corpse could spread plague by being flung through the air. Dead bodies don’t carry the plague, parasites do, and parasites leave within an hour of death. And so it is more likely that the Golden Horde brought death-carrying rats and fleas with them, and that these somehow found a way into the city, breaking the siege much faster than the catapulted corpses ever would.

I can still hear that poor man’s yelp as he shot through the air. What a rude awakening. One is utterly spent, aching, feverish, bleeding from orifices, resigned to death, and then whoosh! One is shooting through the air as a cursed missile and one’s final moment is as blunt as the side of a building.

To me, at least, this is very funny.

Egg Nog, a history in several recipes

Eggnog is far older than most suspect.  It wasn’t invented recently. It has many forms, and many, many names. Historians and Etymologists bandy back and forth about the name, wondering if it originates from one of about ten different sources from Germany to Scotland, to the colonies. The simple truth is, that it is all and none. “Noggin” or “nugge” is a very old word, and it refers to the glass in which hot drinks were served, a “mug”. You may listen to men of science, debating when the exact word “eggnog” must have come about, but that would be silly, in my opinion, because it came about through constant reintroduction of old memories, old ways, and old languages, then was jumbled up again and again in the slang culture of the early Americas.

Warm eggs and alcohol have been a standard since antiquity. They were drunk in the colder months for obvious reasons. Their types range from drinks made with wine, to biersuppe, a German warm soup made from beer, to very loose custards, to curled concoctions that are strange to the modern eye. Here, I will give you a long history of my favorites. You will see the spices shift as the spice trade with he east died and then was reforged with sea power, you will see the introduction of fine white sugar and rum from the Americas. You may wish to make them all, and watch the progress of time through one single food.

Please assume that for all the following recipes, you will need the following:

  • a mixer (hand held works fine in this case)
  • a saucepan
  • egg separator
  • fine grater
  • a whisk

Caudell, a recipe

Very few cook books have survived the eras to mark the existence of the great variety of dishes and their countless preparations, and so no source exists for this recipe. You will have to take my word that it was a drink of choice, particularly for the ill. Saffron was seen to have mystical qualities to the Medieval mind, and it was used in almost everything. Keep in mind that this saffron was not the sort you see today in your grocer’s spice aisle. This was the saffron that now costs hundreds of dollar per ounce — true saffron— and we worked it by the handful.

I recommend eating this with the notion that it is a semi-savory soup. It might assist the modern palette to adjust.

Ingredients:

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 2 cups of ale or sack (white wine) I recommend ale for authenticity. The poor could
  • often not afford sack
  • 1 tsp saffron
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • i leaf of mace
  • several tablespoons of sugar to taste

Instructions

  1. Beat the yolks into the ale, and then put the pot over medium heat, whisking constantly. The mixture will thicken and become frothy.
  2. Once this comes to a boil immediately drop the heat to low and beat in the other ingredients, adjusting to taste

Serve in an open, bowl-like mug

Posset, a recipe

Possets were a kind of custard, sometimes loose enough to be drunk in a mug. In my day they were used primarily as medicine for the sick, or as fortifying drinks for travelers or for the clergy.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • cinnamon
  • several blades of mace
  • Fresh nutmeg
  • 18 egg yolks, plus 8 egg whites
  • 1 pint of sack (white wine)
  • 1 1/2 c sugar

Instructions

  1. Put the milk into a pot and add some cinnamon and mace, and bring to a simmer
  2. While the milk is heating through, in another pot beat the eggs thoroughly. add the wine, a grated nutmeg, more fresh cinnamon, and the sugar
  3. Heat the eggs through and then incorporate the cream once that comes to a boil
  4. Cover and allow to simmer for a time on the lowest heat, stirring occasionally

Serve in a mug with a little sugar on top

Eierpunsch, a recipe

This was a holiday favorite all through the Holy Roman Empire, when I was living in Strasburg

Ingredients:

  • 1 bottle of white wine (keep in mind that Germany has an excellent tradition of sweet white wines like reisling)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 5 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 c strongly brewed tea
  • 1 lemon

Instructions

  1. Brew the tea and let it cool
  2. Whisk the eggs and add in the sugar and some of the white wine until it begins to get frothy
  3. Add the rest of the wine, cinnamon, cloves, and lemon juice
  4. Put in a pot and allow to heat through, but remove immediately before boiling
  5. Fish out the cloves

Serve in a mug with a little fresh whipped cream

Milk Punch, a recipe

From the early 1700’s the British and French had forged a somewhat calm trade relationship, despite all their bickering, making sherry and brandy fairly common and accessible. This recipe serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 8 oz. brandy
  • 4 tsp cream
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg
  • Ground clove

Instructions

  1. Whisk the ingredients together until foamy
  2. Spice to taste, while whisking

Serve at room temperature, or turn it into something of a cocktail in these modern times by shaking over ice.

American Nog, a recipe

Trade between the colonies was largely one way for a very long time, that is to say, it was largely a circular endeavor. The British shipped goods to the entire western world, stole slaves from Africa, brought them to the Americas, and then took products from us for sale in Britain and the rest of Europe. This system was entirely focused on the wealth and excesses of England, and cared very little about the colonists. As such, it was tedious getting any items directly from Europe, which meant there was hardly ever brandy to be had. And so, the egg beverages commenced to be cut with rum from the Caribbean.

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. brandy
  • 1/2 c. dark spiced rum
  • 1/2 c. sherry
  • 1/2 c. whiskey
  • 3/4 c. sugar
  • 1 qt heavy cream
  • 1 qt milk
  • a dozen eggs
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Mix the alcohols. Separate your eggs, setting the whites aside
  2. Put the yolks into your mixer and beat until the the yolks are foamy. Slowly incorporate the sugar and spices.
  3. Add the alcohol slowly
  4. Add the milk and cream
  5. Pour this mixture into a separate bowl. With a clean bowl and whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold into the alcohol mixture

You may serve immediately at room temperature, or warm it through as needed and top with a little whipped cream. If storing it in the refrigerator, be sure to mix it regularly so that it doesn’t separate.

Modern Eggnog, a recipe

Modern humans are terrified of raw eggs, even when pasteurized. Now they buy rubbish in a carton and microwave it, throw in a shot of bourbon and call it finished, but to me this is a crime. So, allow me to help you out a bit. Here is a modern eggnog cocktail.

Ingredients:

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 4 c. whole milk
  • 2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp fresh cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. baker’s sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 c. Amaretto or Grand Marnier (I prefer Grand Marnier, as it gives a nice sweetness)
  • 1 1/2 c. brandy (I use Remy Martin VSOP as it is inexpensive, but meshes well)

Instructions

  1. Whip the egg yolks in the standing mixer, then incorporate the sugar. Then the milk and cream until the mixture is frothy and pale.
  2. Slowly incorporate the alcohol

Serve warm or shaken over ice. I would top the warm version with whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg, and the cold version with a twist of candied lemon rind.

I very much hope this brief history of eggnog has pleased you. I hope you can track the similarities, and admire the variety. Perhaps you even have ideas of how to craft a new recipe that borrows from history.

If you do try any of them, please do send me a picture. I post all images of my recipes sent in by readers, as a general rule.

Monstrous Myths: The Boogeyman

When I began this series of website entries, it was to demonstrate something of a “unified field theory” of monstrosity, if you will. My reasoning was simple: I am a monster, and if there were other species of hideous man-eaters shuffling over the earth, I would have seen them. For the sake of this experiment, it falls to me to demonstrate that your own mythology, as varied and complex as it is, supports my hypothesis. No monster does better in this capacity than the Boogeyman, and so, in the spirit of this Halloween season, and in celebration of the arrival of my second book, I have decided to pursue that infamous figure shrouded in darkness. My mission takes me from the rooftops to the bowels of the earth.

The Boogeyman is largely undefinable with androgynous leanings and an amorphous appearance, but notable for several key commonalities: he is ubiquitous, terrifying, and born of the shadows. In almost every culture, every country, there is a boogeyman. Spiralling away from Europe into Russia and south to Africa, these divergent stories diverge hardly at all — even their names are closely related linguistically. Variously described as dark, clothed in black, able to blend into the night seamlessly, this monster has one purpose: to torment children.

All the world over, you may goad your little ones with the horrors that could befall them for not eating their vegetables, but you also bless them to protect from such hazards.

There were cases of children vanishing. There were instances of abduction. Long before there were understandings of psychology or criminal analysis, these things were attributed to monsters. And every parent knew that the monster must be invisible to have gotten past their protections.

Every child knows that the monster will find them no matter where they cower and there is no blanket on the planet thick enough to protect them. Sometimes lurking beneath the bed, in the recesses of a closet, or in the corners of rooms by night, this devil invades their dreams. He is just waiting for a moment to gobble them up or spirit them away. The poor dears, heads full of nightmares, go to their beds certain that they have reached the end of their lives.

I think you can see why descriptions of the Boogeyman are never precise. The fear is less tangible now, but in the days of my first memories, death was everywhere, and most children did not live into puberty. The Boogeyman only takes the wicked children, but it is the wicked ones who are most likely to wilfully disregard their parents, or run away into the night to be overcome by the elements or some other horrible calamity. And as you know from reading my short stories, there absolutely were child-predators. The threat was mind-numbingly real, and thus, extremely effective.

But was it all a perfect storm of imagination? Was there ever a real Boogeyman to whom the first instances can be attributed, or is this merely the product of the universality of bad parenting, unseen criminal mischief, and the fear of chaotic reality?

I think not.

In a data set packed with noises beneath beds, knocking on walls, disembodied shadows that shift ominously — all easily explained by heightened awareness and fear — there are a few encounters that speak to me, and some of them come from you, my gentle readers.

Once in a great while, you find a child staring out a window at the man with the sharp smile in their favourite tree. Once in a while, there is the hooded figure on the rooftop next door, looking in as if waiting for something. Once in a great while, a child is saved from drowning by a dark hand. Once in a while, the forest herds a lost little one from its treacherous grasp. Once in a while, the monster with whom they live, turns up dead of a broken neck. Once in a while, the man tracking them vanishes into an orchard and is never seen again.

Once in a great while.

We are dangerous. We are killers, each of us unique. I have never willingly harmed a child outside of war, but I have eaten them. I have my ethics, my feelings, but they are mine alone. I am certain that many of my brethren have spirited your babies away. I am sure that there are many shadowy figures who wait to hear that some little one is nothing but a pain. Perhaps they are salivating in the wings, all too happy to make the baseless threat a reality.

Once in a while, however, a wild child is found.

In the twelfth century, only a few decades after the Norman Conquest of Britain, in the town of Woolpit, two children turned up in a field. They spoke a language no one had ever heard, and were entirely green from head to toe. The young boy was reportedly sickly and died, but the girl acquired English and told her benefactor of a land of eternal twilight. Called St. Martin’s land, its inhabitants were all a fine shade of green. According to this young lady, she and her brother were tending to a flock of animals, when they found a cave and wandered toward the sounds of bells, as if traversing a corridor between worlds.

The accounts that survive are extremely suspect for their vagueness, and modern historians would love to say that whether or not the events actually happened is irrelevant. Some discount it altogether as nothing but folklore, but yet again, they base this assumption only upon the few references to survive the ravages of time. Others believe it must have happened, and that the twilight realm was merely a larger cave, and they wandered out into the sun.

Before you ask, I cannot tell you if these events actually transpired, as this was before my time in England; Indeed it is before the time I remember as my awakening. I can tell you, however, that the story was extremely well-known in my day, and most everyone believed the siblings had been stolen from their beds by a vindictive witch, the fairies, or our friend, the Boogeyman. Compare the tale to Hansel and Gretel, first transcribed by the Brothers Grimm, but predating them. The abandoned little siblings fed a terrible diet of sweets by their cannibalistic captor, kept in the woods until the time was right to make a tasty pie. Everyone knew the Babes in the Wood, and everyone knew that they were lucky to escape.

The girl supposedly lived a normal life above ground, and she never exhibited any magical talents. She married well and was employed. She seemingly never tried to rediscover her colony of green people. And the green people never came looking for their lost children. If it is folklore, I fail to see the point. It could be the delusions of sickly children, but there are entirely too many details for which there is no account. I find it more likely, as odd as it sounds, that it did happen and that there is an explanation for a cloister of people living underground, suffering from chlorosis.

Anyone who has studied feral children knows that they, by definition, lack language. Yet these two spoke a tongue no one, not even their gentleman host, knew— and in those days, England was a cesspit of languages; Anglo-Saxon, Flemish, Briton, Gaelic, Dutch, Norman French. Someone had to have taught them this language. In an era when traveling was fraught with dangers and very expensive, it is doubtful that their ancestors migrated from a prohibitively distant foreign land to start a colony in a subterranean vault.

It is difficult to imagine what sort of person keeps animals in a cave, herds sheep underground. It must needs be someone who never wants to be seen, but eats meat by the pound.

And then again, there is the name of their idyllic sanctuary: St. Martin’s Land. Saint Martin of Tours is the patron saint of alcoholics. If the savage children had no knowledge of faith or English, I wonder how they know to call it that.

There are many explanations for these events, no doubt. It could be a simple story carrying on the ancient trope of the mystical “other” who reveals itself to align with the tainted world of man. It could be that there was a kindly hermit hoarding orphans who had nowhere else to go. It could be that the Boogeyman meant to gobble them up, and had himself quite the collection.

Hell, it could be all three.

Or it could be something else entirely. What that is, I leave to you. Is the Boogeyman real? Who took all the lost children? What peeks out from the treetops as you sleep? Why is it, over all the world, the creature is the same? Is he bad, good, or just terribly complicated?

Reflections

Here it is, or rather, here I am, in all my “glory”. In the late seventies I took one single polaroid photo, and kept it in my box. To avoid the meta data and photo recognition software (as well as other problems associated with displaying my image on the internet), I sent the photograph to an artist somewhere in Europe. He took some liberties, in an effort to make it more “artistic”, but I think the finished product is rather good. I do worry that it has not captured the eyes quite right, but then again, artists seldom do manage the distant stare of a malign intellect.

And before you scoff at me, I am malignant. If you knew how many times a day I peel the skin off of passers-by with my thoughts, you would never wish to come face-to-face with me, I assure you. Unless, of course, you fancy looking like an anatomical model of yourself.

Simonportrait.jpg

If you find me unsettling…good. It is as it should be. If not…see how easily you are fooled? The image will remain up for some time. I may at some point lock it. If I do, I will put the password somewhere or other, and you may hunt around for it. I apologize, but this may become necessary.

Combustion

“I hate it.”

I stare at him. How can he hate it? It is my face. I can understand not liking my face, certainly, but he has never said that he does not like my face, in fact quite the opposite.

“Don’t put it up.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want you to.”

“Again, I say why?”

He stomps away and before I can turn from this latest recording of my reflection, he is up the stairs and on the roof, forming an alliance.

“Did he show you that shit?”

Rebecca is caught mid-mouthful and mumbles incoherently. I join them, still caught in a tangle of confuse emotions. I have never found myself completely human, that is true, but my face is as balanced as any other: two eyes, nose, mouth – all slightly odd, but all in place. It meant a great deal to me to take that photo out into the light of day, to digitize and disseminate it to an artist so far away there would never be a risk of discovery. But here he is, hands on hips, glaring down at Rebecca as if he is my father, she my mother, and I have been caught smoking cannabis behind the Seven Eleven.

She dabs the corners of her mouth. “Um…You mean the picture?”

“Yeah, duh! I mean the fucking picture.”

Her gaze swivels to mine as if to imply one of her usually onomatopoetic rejoinders, like “Whhhhaaaaaaa?”

“It’s his book, his face, his life.”

The muscles in his neck tug as he scowls. “You’re okay with this?”

Jimmy, silent at the barbecue, flipping his hamburgers with purposefully stooped shoulders, finally glances backward. “Yo! Wanna relax?”

“No! No I do not want to relax!” He looks around him at every face, young or old, until finally, he realizes that no one feels nearly so strong as he does. In that instant, his ire is redirected to me. “What the fuck are you thinking?”

“Language!” Porter grumbles. The children look up from their table in the open greenhouse. Katherine’s face peeps above the window sill. He turns abruptly and latches onto me with an iron grip. I am dragged bodily from the roof, and down the stairs, following behind him in a shocked silence.

You know me, friends — if I may be permitted to call you that — and you know how much I dislike being given ultimatums. Quite possibly, you also understand that while I am willing to make enormous allowances for the sake of those in my care, I respond to anger in kind.

However, Chef is different. When he is upset with me, something happens to my organs, that results in a complete and utter shutdown of my nerves, tongue, or capacity for greater reason. I wither, in an entirely embarrassing fashion.

I apologize. This is again one of those times when I am acutely aware of the divide I traverse by discussing events out of chronological order. You see, since the publication process began, I have had to develop a system with my editor. I send all my diary entries to her on an almost daily basis. She reads them and tells me whether or not they are “plot”. I have no idea what “plot” she is referencing. Usually I do not have the slightest concept of what any one volume of my life will be “about”, until she has curated the entries. She scrubs detail, alters names, transforms the events so that they do not match any newspaper articles or news programs, and then arranges the entire thing so that it at least has some adherence to the standard publishing models of the industry. For this, I pay her a substantial salary and my literary agent sings her praises, but there are unfortunate side effects, such that when I receive Kristina’s emails (some half dozen a day), I am often told what I can and cannot discuss with my readers directly, as those details may arise in further sequels.

Why am I telling you this? So that you understand that the relationship I now have with Chef is a very different one than is detailed in my first novel, and do not think that in some way, I have misled you about my character. Believe me, I do not enjoy having multiple personality disorder, or frankly disorder of any kind, but this is the only way I am allowed to keep my dear website intact, concurrent with the published works.

When Chef pulls me to the car and steals the keys, I am surprised by the violence of his feelings. While he drives, I sit quietly, staring at myself in the wing mirror, wondering what I have done to earn his distemper. He does not ferry us very far; we end up at the river docks, parked facing the bridges.

“You can’t put it up.”

“Why?”

He closes his eyes and covers his face with his hands. “You know what they told you. They said no pictures. No evidence of any kind.”

They are not in control of my life. Nor does one commissioned portrait constitute a declaration of war. It is a drawn image, based upon a photograph. It is not documentation.”

“Simon, please…”

I cross my arms stubbornly. He makes a series of sounds and throws himself out of the car, pacing up and down its flank like a puma. I slowly unfold and emerge, barricading myself behind my door, arms draped over the roof.

“Explain to me what is really at issue here! You have never once seemed to care about them. Why all of a sudden?”

The metallic gaze slices up the bridge of my nose, and runs me through. “Really? With all the times I’ve had to stuff food down your throat and stitch you up with cooking twine to make sure the skin closes properly? Really?”

“You exaggerate.”

“I am not exaggerating and you damn well know it!”

“Chef—”

“I won’t allow it! I’m telling you not to.”

The air thickens around us as the full weight of what he has said settles. Never in all our acquaintance, not even since discovering all the many facets and implications of our partnership, has he ever seen fit to leverage my actions with that old magic. It is a betrayal, of all that we are, and as I look him in the face I see that he knows it. He knows I will not forgive him, and is willing to pay that price, if only to rescue me from a fate he believes I am ignoring.

“Is this a command?” My voice is a hiss, and comes out more sharply than I intend, but I cannot hide the disgust that I feel at the very notion of being anyone’s slave.

“Please, Simon. Do not post that picture.”

“And if I do?”

“I can’t watch you get hurt again.”

“Nothing will happen to me.”

“How can you possibly know that?”

I close my eyes, and think that if something did happen, it would merely be one in a long line of new things, new adventures that have made the last five years bearable.

“I just do. Far be it from me to once again cite my age and experience—”

He snorts. “Yeah, but here we go.”

“I am older and more knowledgeable than you. They will not bother me, and if they do, I will handle it. Stop manufacturing ancient clandestine cults out of a few stragglers who communicate by smoke signals.”

“Now you’re exaggerating.”

I slip around the car. Somewhere nearby a fishing boat trades its grateful use of the first month since the fisheries reopened, for the more lucrative task of tugging civilians out onto the water for the festivities. As I wrap my arms around his neck, the brine and anxiety mingle. He tastes of Hemingway burgers. Gunpowder wafts on the breeze as the fireworks displays are arranged.

“Nothing will happen to me,” I soothe. “Please stop worrying.”

“I can’t.”

“I know.”

He tugs on my hair and smashes his face to mine. “You can put it up, but please take it down if they ask you to.”

“I will,” I say, but in all honestly, I am disgusted at the thought of being at anyone’s behest. They know this. They know I will not bow out so easily, and they are right to fear my reply should they argue.

“Let’s stay here. This is a good place.”

The lot has begun to fill with other onlookers carrying lawn chairs and children. The sun has dipped below the water and the sky has darkened. Soon there will be sounds that put the canon fire of my youth to shame.

Strange that humans should celebrate their unions by blowing something to pieces.

Fossil Record

You know from reading my book, gentle reader, that I often discuss history — and in, quite possibly, and unexpected way — from the standpoint of someone who not only lived through it, but continues to find it fascinating. Humans tend to think of history as something that no longer has any function except as a standard, but that is not how I see it. I have a much more metaphysical perspective.

Let us craft a metaphor: I assume you know about gravity and the rules that govern the tug between very large objects, the complex and inextricable patterns that weave when many such bodies interact — for example, the solar system. These planets tug at one another, like dancers with hands clasped. History is not dead. It is not something that ceases to matter, no matter how long ago it transpired. History is, in fact, a large orb, ever-increasing in volume, dwarfing the tiny instantaneous present, rolling over the possible future. Everything you do swivels around that massive sun, though you perhaps, do not recognize it.

I do, but that is not because of any innate superiority. I merely have the benefit of perfect hindsight.

Given this, I have noticed something over the last, oh…perhaps three hundred years or so. It began with exploration— not the sort you did in the 1200’s for the sake of trade, but the sort done with science, immediately after the great enlightenment. Men began to wander around, picking up rocks and dusting them off. Men began to hypothesize incredibly simple (and therefore obviously true) things like evolution. Men began to wonder whence they came, and how long ago.

Their efforts, however, were greatly hampered, by the slow momentum of technology and one other thing — the mysterious vanishing of knowledge.

This is when I saw it: the eerie emotional state that slowly, creeping along like a fog, overtook the human mind. Psychology began to shift, and the focus of horror and revulsion became, not “the other”, but “the other within”. There is a profound gap in your mind. I compare it to walking into a room, and forgetting why you have gone. Standing around, looking at the place, wondering what it was you meant to do — Douglas Adams coined the term “woking” for this, and it is a lovely phrase I intend to utilize. So, deep in the subconscious dungeons of the human mind, a lost soul is woking…wondering what in the hell happened before the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria, wondering what was lost with war and the Dark Ages, wondering just when humanity began to be “human”, wondering if everything it knows…

Is wrong.

You maintain many misconceptions about antiquity. You look back upon tiny tablets and instruments you uncover and propose frankly insulting notions. For example: you look at the pyramids and an increasing number of you shrug and say, “Well, they could not possibly have done that, and so they must have had help from aliens.”

Aliens.

Superior beings from interminable distances away, came to this rock in craft we know not how to classify, and decided to cut up massive rocks and arrange them in clever stacks. Of course. How could I be so stupid to suppose that in fact, it is highly likely that there is a vast lack of information and that humans probably did it themselves. It is probably impossible that they moved these monoliths by encasing their ends in wooden wheels, thus turning the entire stone into an axel, and then slowly, via ropes, leverage, and sheer focus, rolled the things into place as was done in my lifetime. I suppose it is improbable that the evidence of canal and diamond saw usage found recently in the Valley of the Kings is ridiculous — I mean, they’d only been mining diamonds for… what? Ever.

Yes, this is all rhetorical sarcasm.

You have mysteries behind you, and I suppose it is not unreasonable that you will fill in those blanks with whatever thing seems to pack the space best — aliens can do anything (because they are imaginary in this context) and so they explain everything quite nicely. Until there are contradictions, until no one can agree with which aliens, how, when, and for what purpose. Rather like you did with gods, demons, and yes, my species, you can now use aliens to self-medicate your psychological defect.

But why are we discussing this?

Because I know, and have always known, that there is a disparity in the timeline of man. Nearsided men who look backward imperfectly always speak with such absolute certainty, whether or not it is warranted. They declare that civilized man is only 10,000 years old.

I defy them.

When they find things they cannot explain, like copper-lined clay jars that hold a modest charge when filled with vinegar, they shrug. When they unearth — or in this case pull from the deep — something like the Antikythera Mechanism, they make faces and say “I didn’t know men could do that! They must not have been common, the product of one single genius who died in obscurity, because we have only found one, you see.” When they look at the Roman aqueducts, their holding tanks that use properties of physics to move water uphill, their lines so straight that they deviate over vast distances by less than an inch, they often are awed.

They should not be awed. I tell you there is an enormous pocket of information folded into your blood, that no one will ever open. It is lost. But every now and again, men discover tiny hints, develop new ways of looking. First it was genetics, and you discovered that there were many races mingled together, that your entire race was actually composed of a multitude. This is marvelous enough, especially when it can be used to track your migration across the world.

Now that you know how to seek, you find.

Simon, you say, please come to the point. Why are we enduring this drawn out discourse upon the idea that already makes us cringe?

Something happened recently, and I find it fascinating. That is why.

It was recently discovered that Neanderthal, that long lost, red-headed, step-cousin of current man, built some of the oldest structures ever found, the earliest of any hominid. And they did it underground. Deep in Bruniquel cave in France, about 300 meters from the entrance, these “primitives” shaped and arranged natural mineral stalactites into little rooms. You are not the first masons. You are their descendants.

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Homo sapiens is not the dawn of civilization, a race of superior entities that resulted when the best of nature got together and “humped”. In fact, the more you look, the more you find that it is more likely that these groups of hominids had very evolved and complicated ways of existing, ways that may have been passed to you. Ways that perhaps, even now, tug at you. It is possible that the desire to build is not yours, but belongs instead, to your Neanderthal lineage. And maybe buried in sands deeper than those which surround Ur, there are other Berbebez, Gobekli Tepe, or Bimini Roads.

It is not aliens, unless you consider those ancient parts of your firmament to be wholly alien to you. I advise you to look into that dark mirror. I advise you to embrace these shadows of your ancestry, and smile.

There are pieces missing, and I know that they pull at you in nearly imperceptible ways, but this unquantifiable force is dangerous. It gives rise to the most heinous of fictions.

These fictions are what bury humanity, better than any desert or jungle.