September the 8th in the Year 2011
I long for home.
Each and every morn, the sun rises and climbs a ladder of clouds into the azure vault above, and all the Earth glories in the light of that heavenly Eye. Life breathes in that spark, like tinder drawing the flame, and rises up joyfully, filled with new vigor; the trees seem to shake off the night’s shadows in the growing breeze, like sleepers stretching out the knots and bends of sleep; one can almost hear the flowers singing, hymns of thanks to the new day. And the creatures that run and climb, that fly and crawl, all renewed by blessed sleep – sleep without man’s torments of Guilt and Doubt and Dread, sleep that is but a respite and never a challenge – they begin the dance of life, spinning and twirling, stepping and leaping, their eyes bright, their hearts racing, blood flowing with strength and warmth as they bow to their partner, the almighty Sun.
But to me, what is this celestial miracle, but another day of struggle, and toil? What greets me with the dawn, what fills me, but misery, melancholy, malaise?
There are challenges to be overcome here, good works to be accomplished – tasks I would set my hand to, were I fit in my heart, in my spirit, to pit my strength against them. By the saints, there are riches to plunder and debauchery to revel in, aye, that as well! But they are not my challenges, and they are not my good works, and it is not my plunder nor my debauchery. For this is not my home. That one fact makes all else seem askew, as though the world, the heavens, the very air and light and the ground under my feet, had all gone awry about me, leaving me – lost.
And so the sleep does not satisfy and the dawn does not invigorate. I wake to each day more fatigued than when I closed my eyes. I tell myself that the new day will bring purpose, purpose that fits me – that what I do, I do for good, for my own benefit and that of my fellow men, whether it be all of humanity I aid or just my brethren, my kinsmen, my countrymen. And though such innocence may appear foolish, still this has always brought fire to my veins, to know only this: that I do the right thing. I always do the right thing. That has ever been enough.
Now it seems that is not enough. For the right thing is not my right thing. It seems I can do right only if I am in the right place.
Look at what I have done here, since my ship was torn from its rightful world. I have saved the Family Lopez, and wrought the fiery destruction of a nest of villains. I have defended the name of Honor. I have met and befriended people of goodness, kindness, and wisdom. I have served my crew, and my beloved ship, and done for them whatever I knew to be best, no matter the cost.
But what have I done, in truth? Nothing but stirred the dust, which does not disappear but swirls up into the air – perhaps sparkling prettily in a ray of light – before settling again, as thick and dead and dry as ever it was. For I have fought and toiled and struggled for months, months that feel like years, like all the centuries I have somehow passed by – and I have won nothing. I have nothing. I have dust.
Aye – and do I ramble on, maudlin and petty and shrewish? Struth, I do. Enough, man.
I long for home. That is all.
Two bells of the First Watch
I know not whether this day’s events be for good or for ill; I trust not my own judgment, as my eyes are clouded with visions of the past, and of fair Ireland. As I am not there, I do not see what I should, not without especial effort (for which reason I am ever exhausted, and now I must wonder if dreams and aspirations do give us life and strength, or do suck the same from us, by adding weight to our bent and breaking backs – for there is nothing in this life heavier than a dream unfulfilled. Tcha! I cannot but pine and mope, it seems. Methinks the whiskey has not yet bled out of me. I was ever a pathetic drunk, when I am not violent.). So I will simply record what has occurred, and hope (Again, that demon hope! Or is it an angel, in truth?) that in the writing, clarity may come.
We awoke in the inn where my shipmates carried and succored me. We inquired of the clerk at the desk as to where we should break our fast, and were directed to the complimentary continental breakfast, as it was addressed on signs and pamphlets lauding this inn – a place called Motel 6, which seems a particularly lifeless appellation for a guesting-house. The food was lifeless, as well: a collection of overhard pastry and oversoft fruit, and neither tasting as they should. But we filled our bellies, and our pockets, too, as the food was unwatched, and so we found means to sustain ourselves, if not reason to do so.
We departed the Motel 6 and endeavored to return to the train-hall. This was the last place where we had known direction and purpose, and so we presumed to take up the thread once more where we had held it last. This was somewhat effortful, as my own inebriated wanderings had led us far into the deeps of this place, this Alexandria (Which name is but a lie, for this place is not the glory of a great king, nor the home of the knowledge of the ages.), and so it took most of the morning to retrace our steps. Once we had, it required but a brief consultation, and then we ate and then set out, walking along the path of the dragon-train.
It is a good path: two iron rails set on wooden blocks, atop stones or earth well-packed and flat as the sea without wind. We have walked this path all the remainder of this day, and have climbed some small hills, but not a one that would daunt an auld granny out for a stroll, should she set her cap to the ascent.
It was as we walked this path that the odd events began, of which I mean to write and thus understand. It began soon after we set out. The path crossed a road, and just as we were coming to it, bells began to ring and lights to flash, and then two wooden gates descended at the crossing-point. ‘Twas a superfluous warning, for we had seen the beast-wagons before us, and had heard from behind us the trumpeting call of a dragon-train, as well as felt its approach through the vibration of the iron rails below our feet. We raised our speed to a trot and made our way to the gates where the beast-wagons waited – thinking perhaps that the barriers would serve as protection against the dragon’s ire, for we trod its path without permission; and for my own self, though Meredith said that not a one of these moving contraptions had life nor thoughts nor passions of its own, not beast-wagon nor dragon-train nor yet the flying monsters above, these air-planes, still I cannot believe that there is no spark there behind those burning eyes on the front of them. Any man who has lived on a sailing ship at sea knows the truth: there is often life where we men see but a dead object.
And perhaps that dragon does not like us very well.
So we reached the road and stood back from the gates as the train passed. Lynch nudged me and nodded to a man who stood astride a contraption that looked to be a crossbreed between a beast-wagon and a bicycle: it had but two wheels and a pair of handles which rotated the bow-wheel, just as the bicycle did, but rather than a bare frame, it had the black-and-silver metal gears and tubes that rumbled and spat blue smoke as much as any beast-wagon. Lynch and I stared, curious, and then I realized that the man astride it was staring back. I nodded and raised a hand in salute, and he did the same – a courtesy I did not, and do not, expect from the common folk of this age and place, and so was happy to receive. I smiled at him, and nodded once more. Then the train was past, and we three set out again in its wake, following the path and thinking nothing more of the man of two wheels.
Until we encountered him again. An hour later or more, and some miles across town – I admit to becoming fatigued whenever I am confronted by the sheer immensity of this place, of these cities, and by the staggering throng of people here, which I find entirely enervating and depressive to my spirits. My god – how can any man stand out and win glory in such a crowd? ‘Tis impossible. And if they all recognize the impossibility of individual achievement in such a morass of humanity, why do they continue to breed so many more? Why curse your children to a life of such undignified mediocrity, one face in a crowd of too many? A war, or a good deathly plague – that’s what this place needs. Bah. Where was I? Oh yes: some miles later we came to another road-crossing where we again had to move aside for a dragon-train – not surprising, that; they came along that path twice for every turn of the glass, four times in an hour at least – and so we made our way to the gates once more. And there, as we stood and waited for the dragon to pass, lo and behold – the same man, on his beast-cycle. We nodded and waved again, smiling this time in recognition – and then we went our way once more.
We made camp but a few hours later, though the sun was still well above the horizon in these summer months; but MacManus needed rest: he still recovers, as do we all, from our injuries and the ill-use our bodies have seen these last few days. We had reached the edge of a wood, escaping civilization at last, and we made a cheery fire near a small stream some hundred paces off the track – far enough to muffle the roar of the passing dragons, but not so far that we should lose sight of the track we followed – and shared out the rest of our continental breakfast. Lynch set out to hunt with his pistola – my two companions being two of the finest marksmen in my crew, I have left the guns in their hands – while I sat with MacManus and chewed.
And then we were hailed, from the direction of the dragon-track, by a human voice. I leapt to my feet and spun about – and promptly stumbled, my legs more fatigued from the walking than I had suspected, and now grown mainly stiff and clumsy. MacManus, more to the main purpose, had drawn and aimed his pistola – but he lowered it when we saw who it was.
‘Twas the man from the beast-cycle.
“Hello!” he called again, coming closer – indifferent or oblivious to MacManus’s weapon and my clumsy movements. “Mind if I join you?”
I looked at Shane, who shrugged the decision onto me. I made it. “Nay, friend – come and set yourself. Our third companion should return anon, with meat, by the grace of the gods of this place.”
He smiled and swung an enormous rucksack with a metal frame from his shoulders. “Oh, I’ve got meat, ham-burger and bacon, too. Happy to share, if you like – unless you’re partial to squirrel or possum, which is about all your friend is going to bag round here.” He stepped close and thrust out his hand to me. “Name’s Bob. Bob Brewer.” I clasped hands with him, and gave him my name, and Shane’s as well. “We would be honored to share your bread – and salt, too, if ye have it.” I proffered him the log I had been using as a seat. He availed himself of same, and setting his rucksack between his knees, began to unload it.
“Oh, sure, I got salt. Ketchup and mustard, too, if you don’t mind the little packets. I take them from MacDonald’s whenever I go there – I figure they owe me something extra for doing them the favor of ignoring how bad the food is. And the service. I’ve got some hand-wipes too, if you like.” He also revealed an iron pan for cooking, and a metal tripod to hold it, the which he set over our little fire, and soon had delicious smells wafting into the air. Lynch returned about then, drawn perhaps by the smell, but more likely by the lack of game – he had spied nothing worth the bullet. Introductions were made, and friendship won by the food sizzling over the fire.
Over the course of the next two hours, this amiable fellow – he is oldish, white-haired and creased about the face and hands, but still hale enough to carry fifty pounds in that rucksack – shared with us his food, including the bizarre sauce called ketchup, which he apparently stole completely shamelessly from this MacDonald (surely not the same one who employed the Lopez brothers?), and his story.
“They call me Brother Bob, most of the time. It’s because I used to be a priest – Episcopalian. After I was a chaplain in the war. Veeyetnom, that is. Shows you how old I am, if the snow on top didn’t give it away already. But I gave that up after I lost my Janet. Retired, and now I still help out when I can, drive the van on Sundays, or pick up food at cost coe.” (I know not if this be a place or a method.) “But I do it now only when, and because, I want to. For love, not duty. So most folks who know me call me Brother Bob.
“When I’m not at the church, or helping out my replacement, I like to ride my Harley” (Surely the name of his beast-cycle, which he treats as a steed – is it alive, this Harley? Perhaps.) “around town and just – see what I see. And you know what I saw today?
“I saw three guys following the train tracks. Casual, calm, not looking for anything missing, not running away from anything they’d rather miss. Just – riding the rails, or at least walking ’em. It made me think. It made me remember how, when I was a kid, I read a book called On the Road, and another one called Travels With Charley. And these books made me want to – to do this, I guess. Drop everything, go out my front door, pick a direction, and start traveling. Be a hoe-bow, for a while.
“You fellows looked like you were doing just exactly that. And having a good time about it, too. So how about it? Can I walk with you?”
We looked at each other, at our weak bodies, fast fatigued and recovering but slowly – walking this far, without any burden, had worn us to the bone. We looked at this man, who had walked nigh as far, in less time, and carrying a third of his weight again on his back. We looked at the food he had so kindly and openly shared. Perhaps (though I doubt it) I was the only one who had seen into the rucksack, which he had left gaping wide open, and seen no weapons; perhaps I was the only one (though I doubt this, as well) who thought that a priest, even an unfrocked one, would be helpful in gaining the trust of others we might come across, yet would himself stand no threat to we three.
I had but one question. “Why do you seek to leave your home? You have not even asked where we go, nor how long we will be traveling.”
Brother Bob sighed and thought over his answer for a moment. Then he took a sip of water, held in a tin cup dipped in the stream (and more delicious than fine wine, that water was), and spoke. “Each and every morning, the sun rises up and shines down on the Earth, on the plants, on the animals, on men. And it is beautiful, the way life comes to everything in that light, in that warmth. Everything just seems to sparkle, to sing and dance and shout for joy, even.
“But when you’ve been in the same place for twenty years, when you’ve seen the same plants and the same animals, the same streets and the same buildings and the same people, each and every morning for two decades, then the sparkle doesn’t seem so bright. It starts to seem tired. It starts to look drab, as though there’s a coating of dust on it. And when that happens, the only thing you can do is get up and get moving: the wind of the road will blow that dust right off, and bring that shine back. I love my home – but sometimes you have to pull up your roots and move around some, see the world and the wonders in it. See something new. You know?”
I nodded then. I was startled to hear him echo my thoughts from the morning, and to hear that he felt some of the same melancholy – but for reasons entirely opposite, and with the opposite solution, therefore. I tried to understand why a man would want to leave his home. I looked around me, and I think I saw some of what he saw, some of the world he spoke of, in words so close to my own, but with meaning entirely different. I felt weight lifting from my shoulders. Perhaps it will be back, but for now – it may be that scales have fallen from my eyes. Priest, indeed.
“Welcome aboard, mate,” said I.
Now we are four.