The Fiction of Philip Kaveny
Ffaldschaddar Part I by Phil Kaveny
By Philip Kaveny 2016
Ffaldschaddar forged from iron that fell from the sky. Now Ffaldschaddar rested, uneasily and thirstily, in her hand tooled scabbard. The dwarves placed a king’s ransom of jewels in her leather and silver inlay scabbard that held her. The dwarves who forged her then crafted upon her an inlay of sky signs that they alone could read. These signs, if read and spoken correctly, evoked great power. Then they demanded the Norse grant them an even greater king’s ransom for their labor. The Norse refused and rivers of blood spilled that nearly washed the land into the sea. Then an accord was made, payment was received and the Dwarves disappeared back into their hall of the king under the mountain. Some claimed that for a few milli-seconds every day at sunrise, Ffaldschaddar glowed with an unearthly cold, blue light that was visible only to a single person at a time and never to the same person twice. If the correct person spoke the words then a great force to lessen suffering would be released into the world.
As a Creation ex Nihilo Ffaldschaddar became self-aware enough to know that she had been hewn by the dwarves from a blue-white hot chunk of iron that left a blazing trail through the sky as it fell before it terrified a Sheppard and his flock. It then flattened a two hundred-year-old section wide stand fifty-yard-tall pine trees. An ancient pine grove that would, in better times, have made masts for a score of long ships. That is, if any long ships ever dared venture out into the wine dark sea, since now their Northern world was paralyzed in fear of Mara that the great, flying, fire-breathing “Beast from the East” might soar back across the world and demand her tariff in jewels and the blood of a dozen of the of the finest noble youths. Six young men and six young women, all who had just come of age, and were worth more than the Dwarf king’s mountain if it were made sapphires, of rubies and more irreplaceable if lost.
Ffaldschaddar knew she was a tool of destiny. She was not ordained to simply hang from a jarl’s mantle as part of a coat of arms gathering cobwebs. For she was thirsty for the blood of the dragon that turned her last master’s town to ashes, leaving his corpse to rot unburied and unsanctified in the midnight sun for fear of offending Mara, Princess of Worms. She rested at her late master’s side, attached to the former great warrior Bern’s bloated corpse; she hung there until she was rescued. She swore to exact her vengeance someday, for she greatly loved her late master, but she swore in silence for though she could not speak, except with her razor’s edge.
Yet as she hung in enraged silence, how were these louts, who filled the meat hall, too foolish to know that Ffaldschaddar was made from a flaming star with just the right mix of carbon steel, burned on entry that made her proof to the breath of the Princess of Worms? Had they known, they would have killed each other to have her in their possession. Yet none dared pick her up. No one claimed her as his own until Joshua the Helper, the Fixer, the Humble, who sought no glory past serving those who needed him. As far as anyone’s knowledge, Joshua had never held a weapon in his life, which made him so much different from his bellicose Biblical namesake.
The whole hall burst into laughter as Joshua strapped Ffaldschaddar to his shoulder. They laughed as if their lives, their sacred honor, and their fortunes depended on Joshua and Ffaldschaddar, because they did. The deepest secret was their souls, which could be snared by Mara, Princess of Worms and dragged back from whence she came, where hope loses all meaning. Its walls harrowed only once, when the Savior liberated the keys to death. Yet Joshua, the fool who had the face of a beaver and a physique like a bag of doorknobs, would be rushing in where the brave would dare not tread.
Uncle Philip took a breath before launching back into his favorite story; that was enough for four-year-old Anna to steal the limelight from him just like she always did with her eight-year-old brother Eddy III. In any case, he needed a break since he had been storytelling for nearly an hour. He was a natural story teller and his stories made movies inside of people’s heads, their very own, “Once upon a time…” Great Uncle Philip was different than most men of his age, and those that mistook him for an easy mark or tried to mug or rob him found they walked around bow-legged for several days after the fact. Despite his appearance, Great Uncle Philip was master of the ancient oriental art of Bong Dong, or nut kicking, which he was strictly forbidden to teach the children.
Four-year-old Anna stood up and stretched her arms above her head. Her shadow, cast by a kerosene lamp burning with a steady brilliant flame, made it seem as if she was growing, reaching for the stars, perhaps foretelling some extraordinary role she might play in a future world, if her family did not crush her spirt, as she stretched out to pull the ceiling down to her as she spoke.
“Great Uncle Philip, I’m thirsty; get me a glass of milk and some cookies.”
It was not a request but a command, and not to be refused.
Little Edward the III, whose name was first handed down from his grandfather to his father before alighting on him, became impatient and a little jealous. Despite being a very grown up eight-year-old boy and smart for his age, his four-year-old sister could always seem to get what she wanted just with a glance from her turquoise eyes and white gold spun hair, which turned a little girl’s request into a command performance and worked with everybody but her mother.
But this time Eddy III had had it, enough was enough, and he knew what to do thwart his sister Anna’s desire. He knew that Great Uncle Philip loved to give long winded answers to theological questions, especially if it would give a chance to show of how smart he was, and talk about his favorite subject: himself. Of course, Great Uncle Philip always assumed he was the brightest bulb in the room, and if he was going for the milk and cookies, illusions were indulged.
So Eddy III asked, “Uncle Philip, what does a Creation ex Nihilo mean?”
Eddy smiled to himself, thinking perhaps he possessed a portion of King Richard III’s skill in getting what he wanted. This is because he knew how much Great Uncle Philip loved to hear his own sonorous voice, even to the point where he would forget about the story he was telling to give a lecture on theology (his next favorite subject after himself), not even knowing that he would put everybody to sleep as certainly as if he sang them a lullaby, in his deep basso profundo voice – which he hated to do because he hated to lose an audience. But it was not to be. Barely was Great Uncle Philip able to get three sentences out about one of the major theological conflicts in the 1st Century before Anna came over to him, fixed her turquoise eyes upon him, and simply said, “Cookies.”
Uncle Philip went to the over to the stairway, put another candle in the holder he carried down the basement stairs to the pantry, and descended the stairs. He returned shortly with a small pitcher of milk, two glasses, and a plate of cookies handing them, in turn, to little Edward III and his sister. Anna, ever the showstopper, again stole the show by planting her feet solidly spread, taking the sizable glass in both hands, and chugging it in one breath with her head pulled back before saying” Argh” like a pirate, or perhaps a junior Viking Shield Maiden who had just downed her first yard of ale.
Great Uncle Philip was so amused he forgot completely about theology and was about to continue the story when Melanie, the children’s mother and his niece by marriage, came in with a candle snuffer and said, “That’s enough storytelling for tonight. Off to bed, kiddos.” This was not taken well by anyone, including Great Uncle Philip, Melanie, arms folded in an unmistakable power stance, declared, “I’m about to count down from three; does anybody want an explosion?” Melanie was about thirty and a much larger, powerful, and graceful woman than she first appeared. This was especially true when she was playing with her children; when they moved together and cooperated they had a kind of acrobatic dexterity and fluidity of movement. Yet there was something sinister, even ruthless about her, which meant nothing stood between her and what she wanted for her children. Nobody dared provide a spark for the exposed powder keg; not a word more was uttered as she took the children off to bed.
Uncle Philip had a special relationship to his nephew Paul and his wife Uncle Philip had no family of his own and always made it a priority to come and stay with his niece by marriage and her young family whenever his nephew Paul was called out on the road to be part of the family business, first started at the dawn of the New World some generations ago by Uncle Philip’s ancestors. The business was profitable, but highly perilous, as few could control the clipper ships as they navigated at high speeds back and forth from silk merchants in the Far East to the burgeoning ports of America, where the silk was loaded onto freighters destined for the high fashion markets of New York. Effortlessly outpacing any steamboat of the day by a factor of four, these clipper ships would send any man without nerves and body of steel to a watery grave.
Melanie came back into the room just as Uncle Philip polished off the last of the cookies the children left behind, and washed them down with a stiff shot from his shoulder flask which he wore on the opposite side of his chest from the holster that his .50 caliber double barrel Derringer. She looked at his derringer disapprovingly and asked, “Philip, what story we’re telling them? Not that horrible one, not that terrible one; not that myth about Ffaldschaddar, Joshua and Mara the Dragon. The Beast from the East, wasn’t that what you called her?”
Great Uncle Philip stared momentarily at his feet as he pondered if sharing the truth with Melanie and her children would ever allow them to sleep again without night terrors and raging nightmares. How can I tell her? How can I get it out or make her believe that everything in this world that she counts on – even her husband and those precious children – is in the gravest danger possible, about to vanished as vapor into thin air? Mara’s eggs have hatched in the silent cave warmed gently by the draft from the god Vulcan’s forge. Now they are back, all five of them seeking revenge on the offspring of the mortal who slew their mother. How can I tell Melanie that the story is real and horrible as death itself?
When Great Uncle Philip finally spoke, the somber gravity in his voice told Melanie she must trust all he had to say. As he began his story anew, and though he spoke in that same deep basso profundo voice, it no longer had any soporific effect; rather, it made the small hairs on the back of Melanie neck stand as if from the hot fetid breath of some invisible, omnipresent creature. Her mood darkened and fear cut through her voice.
Philip you’re hiding something from me Tell me, tell me, tell me! Can there be anything worse than not knowing?”
Philip held on in an ecstasy of silence until neither Melanie nor he could bear it longer. Finally, he spoke.
“Melanie, taste the air with the tip of your tongue. What does it smell and taste like”
Melanie wrinkled her nose as she touched her tongue first to the roof of her mouth, then her lower lips. She thought for a moment, then said, “It smells like the hen house did the time we went away for three days and our farm hand ran off and left the chicken coop unguarded. Foxes broke in, killed all the chickens, and broke all the eggs, leaving a horrible smell of sulfur in the air”
Phillip looked at her and simply said, “That’s the smell of the Dragon, though it’s not here just yet. That sulfurous odor in your nostrils is not yet real, but your racial memory is calling it up because it will be real soon enough. The Dragon is coming to collect its tariffs and tributes which are long overdue.”
Melanie did not become frantic, nor did she tremble as understanding crept into her eyes. She looked intently at Philip and calmly asked, “How does one kill the immoral beast, the Princess of Worms, who now comes to us like a bill collector with a notice that something is a millennium overdue?”
Uncle Philip furrowed his brow, looking more pensive and concerned than Melanie could ever remember before seeing him. He was holding back and Melanie knew it. She ground her nails into Philips wrist, and said, “You’re hiding something from me. I know it. And I know that it could be very bad, but not knowing and not being able to do anything is the worst of all.
Great Uncle Philip thought of a hack writer he knew some decades before when he was working as a newspaperman in New York City. H.P. Lovecraft was his name, and he once told him, “The most merciful thing in the world… is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” And so, he thought I cannot be merciful and save these ones I love, so I must tell them. I must tell them that it is just as it is in the myth, only real. Some dolt forgets to look the back exit to hell and now the blood starved beasts are soon to be upon on us. But he did not have to say it because Melanie seemed from her facial expression to know it as soon as he thought it. There was no hiding it from her as she persisted in her demand.
“Tell me about the myth,” she pressed. “Tell me the story of how Joshua the Unlikely, who never held sword in his life, vanquished Mara Princess of Worms with Ffaldschaddar.”
Philip sighed, and then told Melanie in detail the tale of Joshua the Unlikely with the desperate hope that the secret of their salvation might be embodied in the account. As he spoke, Melanie’s mind was filled with images as if she was taken to another time and place – images that were both unknown to her, yet as familiar as her own heartbeat. The images that he made in the theatre of her mind, as he crafted them with his voice.
Joshua the Unlikely tried to walk out of the hall carrying the great sword Ffaldschaddar resting thirstily in her scabbard, jonesing for dragon’s blood. However, he could not get the straps that should’ve held her to his back properly fastened. Instead, it was almost as if he half-carried, half-dragged her like she was a garden implement rather than a mighty sword. To the astonishment of those laughing at Joshua, the beautiful Princess Leya stood up and came to him.
Joshua loved Leya, like the flowers love the sun ever since he first caught sight of her as she filled her jug with water at the well, but since she was royalty and he was not, he had relegated himself to watching her in secret for years, hoping she might one day take notice of him, and yet terrified at the same time.
He watched her every day as she drew her ceramic water jug from the well with her beautifully long, strong, yet delicate arms. Once Joshua the Unlikely had caught a glimpse of her beautiful ivory breast and pert nipple as she stretched forward to pull on the rope and pulley to raise the ceramic jar from the well. It made him feel both elated, yet at the same time he felt a bit like a crab scuttling along the ocean floor, thinking that somehow, he had violated her beauty with his eyes and deserved to be torn to shreds by weasels.
Still, every day that followed both Joshua and Leya came to the well at the same time, but never spoke to each other. And Joshua’s heart ached with the hope that someday all her celestial beauty would be for his eyes only, though he knew in his heart he had as much chance with their as a crab scuttling across the ocean floor might have with the sacred dolphin. And yet their eyes met and she did not turn away, nor did she scorn him.
Leya was from one of the greatest families in the city, yet she was not too proud get her own family’s water, which she carried on her shoulder in a fine stone jar. When the rainfall was not enough to fill her family’s great barrels, she would make as many as six trips a day to provide the water for her frequent baths. This which earned her the nickname Bathsheba from her mean little eight-year-old brother Isaac, who decided to play a dirty trick on his beautiful seventeen-year-old sister the next time she ordered him to fetch and then dump a pail of fresh rinse water into the make shower system that she had devised to wash her hair, while she was nude but safely behind the screen to keep her modestly out of his sight. Isaac was like a clever little demon, and had devised a plan involving his six little friends: John, Paul, James, Philip, Peter, and Thomas. After receiving instructions, they waited quietly near the bathhouse until the next time Isaac was on rinse water duty, which was a brief time since Leya always seemed to be washing her hair, called out for her little brother the water boy Isaac.
Being a quick study of the Bible, Isaac chose to add a plague of frogs to sister Leya’s ice cold rinse water. The consequences were instantaneous, innocent, and not at all what Isaac expected. Instead of desperately trying to cover herself with pretentious false modesty, she simply swept up all the six little boys (who covered their eyes the instant they saw her in a desperate attempt to assuage her wrath) and washed out all their mouths with the same pumice stone soap she used to wear down the calluses on her feet. Nothing was ever said about it again, and secretly of all boys felt they had gotten their shekels’ worth. As far as her father was concerned it was a no harm, no foul situation; Leya was still as innocent as the apocryphal Susanna:
Joshua the Unlikely, on the other hand came from a family of scribes and actuaries who would ensure shipments would be paid for and losses made good if trade was disrupted and caravan routes were closed. Only once did Leya speak to him and instead of answering her, he muttered something in infernal incoherent gibberish, later hitting himself forcefully on the forehead his for his own inarticulation. He wanted to tell her that there was a dark and dangerous part of his job, where he had to make certain that losses were real, bills were genuine, and once…. Oh, forget it! What does she care about any of that? She is a princess and I am a Dweeb. (Which in the original Hebrew translates to Dweeb.)
Despite his inability to communicate with her, Leya’s suitors took notice of Joshua the Unlikely, bullying him and playing practical jokes at his expense. Once they placed it a purse of gold coins on the ground with a thin almost invisible cord attached to it, and when Joshua the Unlikely bent over to pick it up one of the bullies kicked him very hard in the butt, and then asked him if he was going to do anything about it. But Leya got wind of their harassment and confronted their ring leader with a simple truism:
“It takes more than a strong back and broad shoulders to make a man.”
But this day was different. Leya stopped Joshua the Unlikely as he thumped and stumbled his way out of the hall. All eyes in the hall were turned upon her, including those of her myriad suitors, all of whom had been so willing to ridicule Joshua the Unlikely but lacked the mettle to pick up the great sword Ffaldschaddar in her beautiful scabbard. As she slowly, deliberately addressed each of the straps on the scabbard, wrapping them around his chest and shoulders, she noticed his body betrayed challenging work contrary to his rather soft appearance. He was muscled, like a Boulder. This was because when he was not performing actuarial work for his family, checking out claims of allegedly disappeared camels or some other such drivel, he oversaw the great dock where the ships of the desert were loaded and unloaded. Dirty, back-breaking work was his true trade, and made him smell as if his favorite male cologne scent was camel dung.
After she had done all that she could for the straps Leya walked Joshua the Unlikely to the door of the great hall. It was only the power of and privilege of Leya’s family which allowed her to do what she did next. Any ordinary woman would have been stoned to death in the marketplace, but not Leya. For a brief time, she held Joshua and Unlikely tight in her arms; to him it seemed an eternity, especially with the entire world watching. And then she kissed him deep and hard on the mouth before placing his hand on her breast and saying, “As you go out on the icy sea, take with you some of the warmth of me.” I know you go from whence there is no return.”
Then Joshua the Unlikely spoke the first words anyone could ever remember him saying in public. “I will return,” he proclaimed. “I will walk across the floor of hell and breathe its sulfur; then I will drive this horrible thing back to hell from whence it came.”
Where the hell did those boastful words come from? Joshua the Unlikely thought. I don’t talk like that. I have never touched a beautiful woman’s breast in my life; what in God’s name is happening to me. And most of all what in hell made me pick it up that sword? I don’t know anything about swordplay; I can barely tell the difference between the pummel and the blade.
What Joshua the Unlikely did not know was that Ffaldschaddar, forged by Irish Dwarves on a tuned chorus of multiple anvils, had the power to bestow on her master the gift of eloquence as a tool for standing in the face of evil. For four generations Ffaldschaddar sat motionless on the mantle, only being removed from that spot to be polished and oiled once each season. But even that wasn’t necessary, as the Irish dwarves who forged her added just enough chromium oxide to her own ore to make her permanently stainless. And yes, in fact she did sometimes glow with that terrible cold pale blue light, which functions as a kind of Dragon repellent.
After four generations of near motionlessness and an ever-growing bloodlust for her master’s executioner, Ffaldschaddar finally had a student. She knew that she had to teach him who seemed UN-teachable. Yet there was something about Joshua the Unlikely which made him unique among all the students of the world. He accepted the fact that he knew nothing, and that placed in infinitely ahead of almost every other student who thought they knew everything. And in Joshua’s case it was clearly a case of the necessity of learning; learning to live or he and all he loved would die brutally.
But Mara the Beast from the East, the Princess of Worms, had her own tools and deceptions and amusements, even to the point that somehow, she knew what the great German writer Goethe had said after his conversation with her in another dimension.
“Ich bin nicht zu Hause, wenn Leichen mein Haus suchen; Ich fühle mich darüber, wie eine Katze mit einer Maus tut.”
“I am not at home when corpses seek my house; I feel about it as a cat does with a mouse.”
Mara the Beast from the East had taken notice of Joshua the Unlikely; he had disturbed the Asther the moment Ffaldschaddar was strapped on his shoulder. As far as Mara the Beast from the East, the Princess of Worms was concerned, Joshua the Unlikely was about to become her new chew toy. Her only concern was Ffaldschaddar, her sister in some strange way, having fallen from that same terrible dying star. During entry into our atmosphere, Mara the Beast from the East should have burned up or exploded at a height of 40,000 feet, nearly 8 miles in the air. But they did not, as she was not a carbon-based life form. Rather, she was silicone-based (the same stuff that is common as sand on the beach) and her body was tempered far stronger than steel during that fiery landing.
No one knew the speed of dragon flight, since no one had seen a dragon for generations yet it was said by someone before he was burned as a heretic the dragons can fly faster than the earth moves around the sun. Everyone at the heretic Galileo’s trial wondered why anyone would be so stupid as write a book which claimed that the earth moved around something; they all knew the earth was the center of the universe. Anyone who wasn’t anthropocentric couldn’t be right, could they?
Yet all who were there at what was to be the heretic Galileo’s burning at the stake as the faggots where about to burst into flesh eating flames. An instant after the executioner ignited them a great hot huge deluge seemed to fall from the sky, turning the kindling wood into a soaking mass that was impossible to ignite. Galileo the heretic was pardoned in an official Church position was that it was an act of God’s mercy. Suddenly the heretic Galileo decided to reconsider his theories, removing himself from public life so he could live quietly up in the mountains.
Yet late at night he sometimes heard near the windows his monastic cell something that sounded like the steady beat of giant wings, along with some strange language seemingly spoken by two voices in the form of a raucous discordant stage whisper.
Ffaldschaddar Part III
As Uncle Philip continued, Melanie became progressively more impatient and irritable. She felt like she was trapped inside of the story of Joshua the Unlikely and she had to get out. She was feeling as if she were walled in a room with no exit, and now the windows were being boarded up. Yet she knew she had to listen because her fate, and that of her children and her husband Paul, whose six-thousand-ton steel hulled clipper ship, laden with the first and best of this year’s imperial Chinese silk harvest, was missing somewhere in the stretch of ocean between the North Pacific and Arctic, known as the Bering Sea. Recently, other ships had gone missing and reports were filed of kraken large enough to hold a ship in one tentacle then devour her crew like a can of peanuts, with a cruel beak at the center of its horrible maw that could turn a sperm whale into a bloody mass of festering blubber in the space of a minute’s racing heart beats.
Melanie was about to tell Uncle Philip to get on with the story when she noticed that little Eddy III and Anna had gotten up and were standing in their bed clothes holding little candles that made their eyes as big as saucers. Melanie had not told them that their father’s clipper, the St. Georgiana, was out of wireless telegraph contact ever since she had entered the Diablo Straits, which was nearly choked with icebergs as tall as her main masts two days ago, but somehow Uncle Philip knew and she knew, too, without talking to each other, because there are a million diverse ways of knowing, besides being told thing.
“What happened to Ffaldschaddar after Joshua the unlikely got fried? “Yes, Uncle Philip thought, someone who gets just what the hell I am trying to tell them. Yes, there is still hope, where we thought there was none.
“What happened was Leya’s brother Isaac was a clever little demon, and his six little friends, John, Paul, James, Philip, Peter, and Thomas, went out to the site of Joshua’s incineration and found Ffaldschaddar all covered with burned-on residue, and in their little hands they took some of that same pumice that Leya had washed their mouths out with, and they lovingly cleaned her of all her burned residue till she no longer looked like a burned bar of rusty iron, but rather like the great white blue hot iron that fell from the sky and was forged by the dwarves, and covered with sky signs.”. ****
Just at that time, five thousand nautical miles to the North and West, Paul, Melanie’s husband and Anna and Little Eddy III’s father, was loading a harpoon nearly as thick as a telephone pole into the steam cannon, knowing he would have only this single shot to drive the steam cannon’s harpoon into the ten-meter-wide beaked maw of the monster kraken who was kin to Mara, Beast from the East and Princess of Worms. But Konjacs the Kraken shared no affinity or amusement with humans, only seeking to crush their bones and feast on their souls. Perhaps Konjacs the Kraken was mother Gaih’s revenge for what had been done to her fair sister the Earth, and the mother of Titans was going to make humanity pay.
Ffaldschaddar End of Part III
Perhaps the writer who said all 1myth is silver and the one true myth is golden was right.
Ffaldschaddar, Part IV
The steam cannon erupted in a gusher of super-heated 100 psi steam, driving the seven-meter-long, 100-millimeter-thick, and fifty-kilogram harpoon at 300 fps, twice the velocity of the fastest Major League fastball. The harpoon’s name was Erma and she was capped with 2 pounds of armor piercing explosives, molded in the form of harpoon barbs, which would explode as the shaft drove into the horrific, gaping, drooling, maw of the giant Krakken. The recoil seemed to lift the 6000 ton, steel hulled, clipper ship, the St. Georgina, several inches out of the water, exposing the ugly, oozing, formless creatures that live just below the waterline of all great ships, and reminiscent of unseen horrors seldom brought to the surface.
The recoil stopped the St. Georgina for an instant. The harpoon had done its work and the barbs exploded showering the main deck of the St. Georgina making appear as if it were the floor of a charnel house exclusively for monsters, a chop shop for Victor Frankenstein’s team of street illegal monsters.
Paul Rathbone should have been elated with his work with the harpoon but he was not. He knew he had done two things no mortal had ever done and lived. First, he had seen the giant Kracken up close and dirty and lived to tell about it. But even more terrifying, he had killed an immortal. He had killed that which could not be killed. Worse yet he had not killed the Kracken, its own in the realm of scared. He had killed it in the profane and modern material modern world. The place where it had strayed using a technology that in a parallel and proximate universe, which they were connected through, iconographic portals represented by multi- dimensional Venn diagrams, which represented multi-verse permeability that connected the worlds of the possible.
He had done something very much like what was done in a parallel and proximate universe in the Battle of Berlin to take out Russian T-34 tanks. He had used his harpoon just like a weapon called a Panzerfaust, which, if not deadly real, would have appeared to be the product of a dwarf’s demented imagination, a weapon so horrible that all creatures including inhabitations of Pandemonium where required by the chief consul of deities to have a complete background check before they could own one. Further, any winged demons were required to place themselves on the “no fly list” if they sought purchase approval. Very few did.
This was a weapon which would allow children to stand fast against forty-ton mechanical monsters, and allow grown men or women to make the gods tremble lest they storm heaven and liberate Hades.
Yet, though he knew all his with a deadly certainty, all that Paul Rathbone wanted to think about was home. But he was five thousand nautical miles away from home. And his extended, globally integrated, livelihood demanded that the St. Georgiana sail to the port of Seattle, where her precious cargo would be loaded onto the silk train for New York. The 19th Limited’ which made the cross- continental trip in less than 36 hours, sat with engines already waiting at full steam to not lose a second of time getting to the high fashion markets of New York.
Paul Rathbone yearned for his family thought about was his family. Melanie, little Eddy III, Anna and Great Uncle Philip. He wondered if the gods who he had made as enemies would be also be his family’s enemies. Gaia, mother of Titans, was a harsh mistress when angered, but she is the goddess of the earth, and she did not own the wind and weather. They were forces even beyond her kin. They were the elements. One of them, Susanoo-no-Mikoto, the Japanese god of storms, and no subaltern, was sent kamikaze to drive the St. Georgiana to her home port in Seattle at the unheard speed of five hundred nautical miles per day for over a week.
Paul’s newly acquired family was the morning and the evening star in his miserable life. (He had only met Melanie as a widow, and the mother of Little Eddy 3rd and Anna, six months earlier at a speech that Melanie was making demanding women’s suffrage, and a ban on the imperial silk made with slave labor, under subhuman working conditions). Paul was a hard-worldly man. However, he almost immediately fell in love with the lot of them, though he was not certain why, maybe he had thing for smart articulate women, something more men do than one might think. Melanie agreed to marry after Paul spent nearly 168 consecutive almost sleepless hours arguing, wearing the down the entire family, until they all agreed but with certain reservations which were to be stipulated later, probably after Anna had figured out what the phrase “to be stipulated later,” meant.
Just the then, at that instant, the entire Rathbone family snapped back into what the philosophers called the razor-sharp edge of the specious present, that infinitesimally small point on the temporal spacial continuum between that past and future where consciousness dances on the 10th razor’s edge They knew that for now the danger had passed and Paul Rathbone would survive, even in this frozen hell. So, the family went back to Uncle Philip’s unfolding of the story as little Eddy III wanted desperately to hear what happened next to Isaac, the other little boys, and the magic sword. Anna was understanding much more than she seemed to and even Melanie wanted Uncle Philip to get on with the story, almost as if you she could not help herself. Uncle Philip continued as he looked Little Eddy 3rd straight in the eye as he said to his three listeners.
“Little Eddy the 3rd asked me a very important question and he deserves and answer. Do remember your question Eddy?”
If nothing else Uncle Philip knew people and most of all kids though he never spoke of having his own. Still he knew that Little Eddy really wanted a chance to be recognized for being smart so he said:
“Yes I asked you what ‘Creation ex Nihilo’ meant.”
It was one of those teachable movements that light up a lifetime when generations of knowledge are transferred from one human mind to another usually in not more than a couple of sentences which act as a Shibboleth, opening into another reality of time and space. Like nested Russian dolls becoming ever smaller and smaller until they meet the point of zero area that equals infinity, where they burst full blown back into existence. All that Little Eddy the 3rd knew was that Creation Ex Nihilo meant existence out of nothingness, or stories becoming real. And as he said that they all felt the rushing of air from the flapping of great wings. Then Little Eddy the 3rd got that Mara the Beast form the East, The Princess of Worms was not a monster. She was a messenger, and their lives, really everybody’s depended upon her message being decoded. Further what Isaac and his six little friends did a hundred generations before was deathly important now. Just then the pressure from the giant wings ebbed away and it was just another July night, and Great Uncle Philip, Anna Melanie, Little Eddy the 3rd and Anna, all retired safe at least for this night.
Meanwhile it was suggested very emphatically five days later when the Saint Georgina set the speed record from the Imperial Russian Port of Port Arthur, besting the previous record by five entire days that nothing would be mentioned about a Kracken sighting in any of the Seattle or San Francisco Newspapers. Further Paul Rathbone decided that he could not say for sure what he saw, and maybe in fact the harpoon cannon had gone off by accident, yet there still was the case of the hundred-meter tentacle which seemed welded to the hull of the St Georgina.
Paul Rathbone thought about his family in St: Louis, but business was still business and he trusted no-one but himself to guard his family’s interests and to make certain that this year’s imperial silk crop made it to New York Garment district. Because this year New York was going to scoop London, Paris, and Berlin with its theme of The Empire of Good taste.
As Paul Rathbone sat riding caboose shotgun turret on a train of seven twelve-ton, solid rubber-tired, electric street lorries, his finger rested on the safety catch of a 37-caliber duel barrel hand held Gatling gun, which only a man of great strength and concentration like himself could hold, as if it was one of his children.
Up until the present, this posting was more of a formality than a necessity, but the world was changing, and that which was certain was becoming ungrounded and might vanish into thin air, as necessities morphed into luxuries and that which was common became costlier than rubies. The safety of the trolley that transferred this year’s precious imperial silk harvest from the holds of The St. Georgiana (where it was the last cargo in and first cargo out), dominated Paul’s conscious mind. The transfer of the cargo to the pride of The Black Ram Intercontinental Railroad, the late 19th Century Limited, should have been a no-brainer. The great train was expected to stand waiting at full steam to race javelin-like to the high fashion center of New York City.
` But something was forcing its way into his thoughts as he kept in intercom contact with his five-other loss-prevention agents, in their electric Gatling gun turrets, spread about the cars of the electric trolley train as it made its way to the rail head and transfer point.
Much as he tried, he could not ignore it. The sensation was like the sound of the flashing howling color red. It was Paul’s underwear, which he had not got around to changing since they hosed him down with ice cold fresh water he after he harpoon-cannoned the giant kraken nearly a week ago.
He had not been out of his clothes since then, and now his underwear was sandpapering his butt crack. But, ripping his skivvies off and going commando was no solution, since he was wearing Oshkoshbygosh rivet-reinforced, all-purpose overalls, which had the softness index of the frozen corn cobs in Grandpa Bill’s winter outhouse.
In the past, Paul had always consoled himself with the thought that he would have the personal use of the private car of the president of the Black Ram Intercontinental Railroad, where he could soak in a hot tub and feel the soothing hands of Lien yi-sheng, who had worked nearly eighty years to become the first Oriental woman in memory to have the title of hand healer bestowed on her. But this release was not to be, it seemed, because the 19th Century Limited was not waiting for the seven-ton electric lorries. Instead, there was in its place an armored engine, looking like an ironclad battle ship with three cars all with 37mm Dual Dutch Bofors pom pom guns bristling from side turrets, each with twin 7.7mm Lewis Guns mounted in transparent fiber glass turrets, bullet-proof to standard ball ammunition
Even though the loading went quickly and smoothly and Paul would be transferring his men to the train, he knew he would have to break the ice with the Engineer Colonel Woody Wilson, his fireman Captain George S. Patton, and the conductor 1st Lieutenant Teddy Roosevelt, who Woody and George always called Four Eyes. All three of these officers were assigned to an armored train called the Black Mariah, based on having taken and passed engineering courses at the U.S. Military Academy at Erie, Pennsylvania, or, in Roosevelt’s case, not flunking out of Harvard, because his family built a one hundred thousand square-foot addition to the Harvard Library, and endowed Charles Saunders Pierce for life to head the Center for the Study of American Pragmatism, much to the consternation of the James Brothers. William and Henry, who were fired and forced to go west to seek their fortune, got only as far as Harvard Square, where they became chess bums who really only wished to join their distant relative Jesse James’ band of bank robbers, but which was impossible since they both could only ride side saddle.
Paul, remembering that you only got one chance to make your best first impression, said to Colonel Woody Wilson and the other two train crew members, “So, who did you guys piss off to get this sort of shitty duty?”
Captain Patton put his hands on his pearl handled .45s and said, “That’s pretty lose talk coming from you, Rathbone, the guy who killed the kraken and now has Gaia, Mother of Titans so pissed off she’s going to chew off all our asses.”First Lieutenant Teddy Roosevelt chimed in, “George, get your artsy fartsy art history myth-studying ass over here. It’s your turn to shovel this magnificent Pennsylvania anthracite clean coal into the Mariah’s firebox.”
Woody Wilson added, “Teddy, stop talking like you’re still running for president. Your family underestimated Bryan, and your family disowned you when Hearst ran the New York World newspaper headline, and published the photographs of you leading the retreat down San Juan Hill. Now you are on undercover duty shoveling shit like the rest of us.”
This was Paul Rathbone’s finest hour and he offered the three officers a deal they could not refuse. It went like this:
“I can hire six more loss prevention agents and shovel men, so you guys won’t have to shovel coal for the rest of the trip. What I need are five clean privates’ uniforms complete with skivvies, T-shirts and socks, four towels, and two extra pairs of shoes, size 14EEE.”
Woody said, “Is that all?”
“Not quite. I need a bar of lava soap and somebody to pull down the spout of the water tower so that I can wash off this God damn kraken smell! “It was done and done, and before long the Mariah was heading for the Big Apple, with nothing in its way but Winston Churchill hat pins, and a Sioux Warrior with the battery-powered, ATV-equipped, short-ranged Congreve armor-piercing rockets that limey bastard had promised they could use to drive every white person into the sea.
What he really wanted, of course was a desolated, war torn, impassable North American Continent, which would then allow Her Majesty and the Last Empress to replace the American silk for silver bullion trade, with their Majesty’s opium-for-silk exchange, so then Britannia would not only rule the waves, but rule the world, through an opiate cloud where every conscious mind was subordinated. It was just as that great architect exploiter of alienated consciousness had observed: Don’t give the masses religion; give them the real thing. It kills them by the time they are thirty-five and too old to work. Besides, opium dens are a lot more profitable than churches, with much less overhead.
The bracing shower and fresh clothes had cleared Paul’s mind so he could calculate the distance between Seattle and Grand Central Station, New York, New York, which was 2400 miles as the crow files. Yet the armored train Mariah’s top speed was forty miles per hour, and it was lucky if it could average 25 mph, which realistically meant nearly a week’s trip – plenty of time for the price of imperial first silk crop to drop from fifty-one one-ounce gold pieces per ounce to the standard year-round price of one gold piece per ounce, even if the Black Mariah fought its way through.
Just then, Big Jack Kaveny, President of The Black Ram Railroad, pulled up in a two-passenger sports racing lorry, and Jack Kaveny motioned Rathbone into the lorry as the Mariah steamed eastward. Paul Rathbone felt the soothing hands of Lien yi-sheng, who was agile enough to fit herself into the boot behind seat as she said, “The silk must make it to New York if we are to ally ourselves with the sky gods. Paul Rathbone’s double jumped on the armored train and Paul Jack Kaveny and Lien yi-sheng sped into the open country at 120 mph, leaving a trail of exploding gravel behind them. The thirty-six hours to New York plus another four hours for unloading the silk was running, and every hour after that, the fifty twenty-dollar-per-ounce U.S. double Eagles, the Market price for the first fifty tons of Imperial silk of the year, dropped by half.
If this were a poker game you would say that Paul Rathbone’s family had bet the farm, and if they lost they would not even own the outhouse. It was 34 hours until the New York Imperial silk delivery deadline and the fate of empires hung in the balance as they pulled into the parking lot of the biggest man-made thing Paul Rathbone had ever seen in his life. It was a shed a quarter of a mile long, two hundred feet wide, and large enough to hold the two largest ocean liners of human kind. The Titanic, about to complete her one hundredth voyage from the French Atlantic coast city of Brest to New York, and the Lusitania, just reaching her shake-down voyage and ready to go after the Titanic’s one-hundred-hour Atlantic crossing record. But as the hanger door opened with clamshell-like effortless power, by a two hundred horsepower direct current electric motor, Paul saw a ten million cubic-foot gas envelope attached to something called a lifting body, which, with its million cubic feet of helium, contained within its almost Gossamer web carbon lifting body frame (just like the shaft on the harpoon that killed the kraken) the fifty tons of silk destined for New York, already loaded, as the armored train was only loaded with fifty tons of frozen cow manure. The Blackbird was ready to launch for New York, and Paul was hoping that Professor Bernoulli’s conjecture and observations about 200 mph atmospheric jet streams would make the lifting body – even loaded with fifty tons of silk – generate the proper lift-to-drag ratio to get the silk to church on time. Also, the pressure seal system on the cabin and the oxygen capture devices had never been tested with human subjects. If they failed, Paul Rathbone, Lien yi-sheng, and Big Jack Kaveny would find their blood boiling in less than twelve seconds at one hundred and twenty thousand feet above sea level. Just at the point at which the gas bag was lifting the Black Bird, its cargo, and the three of them off the ground, Paul Rathbone looked at Big Jack Kaveny and asked,
“Where are we going to land this thing in New York? The garment district?”
Big Jack looked at the respected Lien yi-sheng, the venerable eighty-three-year-old head of R&D for Black Enterprises, and she said with her inscrutable oriental wisdom, “How the fuck am I suppose to know? I thought we would all be killed on takeoff.”
The gas bag carried the Black Bird the necessary twenty-four miles into the atmosphere and separated from the lifting body, which caught the jet stream as its one hundred-meter translucent caught the lift like a great sea bird and seemed to dive towards the rising sun. All Big jack Kaveny could say was, “Thank gods this is a pressurized cabin”
“Are you sure we are going in the right direction?”
Lien yi-sheng, always noted for her sense of humor, punched him in the nuts so hard he doubled up and then asked Paul Rathbone if he had any smart-ass remarks.
Meanwhile back in St. Louis, the day was unfolding as Anna and Little Eddy III Were finishing their schooldays. Little Eddy III got another nasty note from his teacher for continuing to prove him wrong by sneaking into the senior school reference library and finding the right answer, just so he could contradict his teacher and rub his nose in it. Anna came home with another gold star on her forehead, because it made people so happy to give them to her. And Melanie got another note from another one of Eddy’s teachers, who had washed Little Eddy’s mouth with soap when he said that life for him was nothing but a shit sandwich that you take one bite at a time.
Melanie said out loud, “I wonder where he gets that language.”
Just at that instant, Great Uncle Philip seemed to find the chess problem in today’s New York Times Midwest Edition fascinating as he shrank into a chair. Melanie said, “Maybe somebody else needs their mouth washed out with soap.”
Little Eddy III did not want to lose the ally he saw in Uncle Philip, so he did what men have done since they came down from the trees: he covered for him. “It was not Uncle Philip who said that to me. I happened to be walking by the teachers’ lounge and someone, I think it was Mr. Wanker, our religion teacher, who made the joke, and the whole room laughed as somebody said, ‘I think you are a real Wanker, Mr. Wanker.’ I think that was Mr. Bates, who the other teachers call ‘Master Bates’ when he’s not around.”
Melanie seemed really angry that she had been out smarted by her eight-year-old, and just as the tension became so thick you would need a chain saw to cut it, Anna stood up, clapped her hands and said, “I want a story! More of the story you were telling yesterday.” Uncle Philip seemed to have avoided having his mouth washed out with soap.
He decided to start by clearing up a few things, like where the sheep came from that was provided for in place of Joshua The Unlikely. It was from Paradise Kosher Catering, whose motto is, “We were in business before Abraham.” Or to state it another way, “Before Abraham, we am.”
Uncle Philip Cleary had his own sense of humor. Melanie had once referred to him as the past master of the extraneous detail, which sadly launched into his relating a conversation he had had with his writer friend H.P. Lovecraft about whether knowledge was a source of power or terror. Uncle Philip had a distinct way of making people mad that Little Eddy III really admired.