Author Archives: Dusty

About Dusty

I would like to be a famous and influential writer. But I'll live with being a happy one. I've already got that pretty well down. I am married with no children (happily on both counts), I teach high school English by day and read and write and participate in various nerdy pursuits and pop cultural phenomena by night.

Log #48: Cannot

Log

August 31

 

By the gods, what a wonder she is! I know not what great service I provided, what Herculean task I completed, that earned me this magnificent favor, this gift of fortune that allowed me to meet, and – though she knows it not – to love the inestimable, the ineffable, the incomparable Meredith Vance.

I pray none observe me now – I think not; all are abed – for one could not cast his gaze on me and fail to know me for a man in love. I sigh, I pace the floor and pause, my gaze wandering afar through dreams, dreams of her, ever of her. Then I return, to write in this log, of my passions, my inamorata, my joy, my love.

Christ, I am a swooning maiden.

I confess. I find myself hoping that some happenstance might occur which would permit me to woo and win this glorious creature. I know it will not come to pass. I must depart, now, and plunge back into a life of turmoil and travail, where I am beleaguered by enemies implacable, both lawful and malign; where I will, if the gods smile on my once more, return to a world where I would not have her live, even could she accompany me, for my Ireland is no place for a beautiful woman. Not where the English bastards roam the countryside. Like my thrice-damned father.

I have wondered if this, all of this, is but a dream, a phantasm created in my fevered brain by some ailment, by an injury, inflicted on me in my natural time, my natural state; perhaps I am dead, brought down by the Devil’s Lash, and this is – what? Limbo? Elysium? The White Shores of Avalon? Are we on the shores of Styx in Hades’s realm, only waiting for the Boatman to collect us? How could one know if one is in this world, or that world? Or adrift on the mind’s tides?

But here is my hope. Aye: unreal this world seems; in truth, often so. But what mad god would have made this place his Heaven? And surely, if I suffer the fate for which I was named – what infernal mind could comprehend such loveliness as Meredith? Such courage as Margaret? Such kindness as James McNally, or Maid Flora Lopez, or my Lady of Joy? I cannot believe these good souls would share my accursed doom, and I cannot think that Lucifer himself could have imagined them thus merely to torment me.

Nay: this is the world of men, and I merely one such, muddling my poor benighted way through it. I cannot love Meredith Vance, not without dragging that shining beauty down into the quagmire that pulls at me.

Oh, but if I could love her: how I would love her.

Aye: there be reason why I began to record, before my swollen heart overcame me – reason, indeed, why my mind is so whelmed by thoughts of her. ‘Tis she who has proven invaluable in the setting of our course – who has served as the pilot in our lives, illuminating the path through these shoals and to our home – our ship, our friends. Now we must see if we three babes, lost in wilderness, can navigate the course she has set.

I suppose my fevering brain turned such this last night, for I could not rest: my mind raced with questions and fantasies, and scheme after scheme for how we might reach our goal. I was relieved of one fear when I spoke to Vaughn – but then I was filled with new conceits, new fears and hopes, which robbed me of my repose.

Not so my men, thankfully, who need the rest more than I; when the dawn broke, they emerged, looking hale and lusty, color in their cheeks and fire in their eyes. And – of course – they came to me, prepared to hear the plan for how we would reunite with our company. This was the moment I had feared – or at least one such. For I knew not. The night was wasted in idle mindlessness, devoid of purpose, my thoughts a chaos that might meander thus: We must make our way to New York. But we know not the way. This place is so large, so very strange! Would that we were home – but we cannot attempt that trip, not with Nicholas bloody Hobbes straddling the ocean and blocking our path. Gods, keep that bastard from finding my Grace before I can reach her! We must make our way to New York! But we know not the way . . .

And so on, and ever, ever on.

Howbeit, I am no fool to encumber my men with the weight of my own empty pride – for pride has more weight, but less substance, than any other part of man. When Lynch and MacManus came to me and asked after our course, I admitted that I had no idea, and had been unable to see our way. I asked my good shipmates to help me, to give counsel, wisdom, and advice.

And then were we mightily distracted, for Meredith passed through my chamber, where we three sat and talked, in all her beauty, her glorious locks aflame in the morning sun flowing through the windows, her lovely face enlivened by her smile, her womanly charms and immortal grace on display, wrapped in a robe of thinnest silk over the smallclothes she weareth for her Yoga, which fit to her skin like a glove, caressing her supple curves.

Christ! How am I to keep my focus, even now, with such a vision in my poor brain? This is why the Church teaches that women be temptresses, and men be weak; ’tis but the simple truth, shown to us all who have a man’s mind and passions, enflamed and enraptured by a woman’s face and form.

Aye, we stopped our conversation and greeted her politely enough – and then MacManus and I, of one accord, rose and moved to the window whereby we could observe the removal of the robe and her Yoga-dance. We would have stayed there, too, for as long as Meredith’s spell entranced us, but Lynch brought us back. Though perhaps over-snappish he was in doing so: he struck us both on the back of the head, driving our noses into the glass most painfully; when we turned on him, he bared gritted teeth and hissed, “Get your minds on our course, and off of yon gangly trollop! Lucifer’s ballocks, yer pricks are not the compasses we follow now. Let’s find our way to New York, and ye can buy a whore then, if ye have need of such.”

Chastened by a youth – and rightfully so. I am sure the boy has no knowledge of a woman’s embrace, and so has an easier time resisting such wondrous charms as are possessed by Meredith. I did berate him briefly for insulting our good hostess – and my love, though I said naught of that – but I could not fault his naming our foolish distraction away from the vital task ahead. We got back to it then.

And came to naught.

Once Meredith returned from the garden and passed through to her morning bath – and MacManus and I pointedly ignored her passing but for a simple and civil greeting (I already held the image of her dancing in smallclothes burned in my mind; why must I look again with open eyes on her robed form?), we moved to the kitchens, where we prepared our morning refreshment, as has been our wont in our time here. I observed my two men carefully, and saw that my doubts were indeed material.

This was the difficulty. New York lay several hundreds of miles to the north, said Vaughn, and Meredith confirmed. We could not walk the distance. We knew not the management of a beast-wagon. Lynch was for booking passage on a ship, and MacManus opined that we were pirates, and should simply take a ship to sail ourselves – we had seen many a ketch and pinnace that three able seamen could man with little trouble.

But we were not able. My arm ached, my shoulder burned. MacManus could not move without pain, though he endeavored to conceal it; I saw the slowness of his movement, the brief creasing of his brow, the frown on his lips. Lynch was better, the spryness and health of youth serving to speed his recovery, but still he curses when his movements irk his wounded side, and he still cannot move his left shoulder freely – it had been dislocated, his doctor had told him; the arm had been strapped to his trunk for the first several days of our sojourn in the hospital, and has not fully healed. Thus I know we cannot follow MacManus’s advice. We have not the strength to capture nor sail a ship, not even one small enough for three. Lynch’s plan is better – but I fear the Devil’s Lash, should we return to open water. The man has haunted my dreams, and though the ocean is wide, somehow he found us in the midst of it. Perhaps he will find us again, and take us. I do fear this.

‘Twas then that Meredith rejoined us – and though her attire was more modest, still it revealed more than it concealed her ethereal beauty, beauty only increased by the warmth of her smile and her joyful greeting. Surely this woman would be the sun in a cloudy sky, even on a winter’s day in Ireland –

Damn me, and damn my fool’s mind! I cannot keep a straight and simple path even in this log – an hour have I been writing, now, nay, two hours, by the gods! And still I have not recorded what I set out to record. You see? You see the chaos that whirls in my skull? What a desolation is my mind when my heart speaks so loud.

To the point, then. Meredith solved the issue. We laid out our separate plans – I was for purchasing horses, the one land conveyance I know we understand and can manage, though I knew as well that we three had little skill in riding; I hoped to find a wagon of some sort in which we may ride – and she frowned. “Why don’t you get a flight?” she said. “I’d take you myself, but I’m booked up for the next week, and I’m not going anywhere near NYC.”

I misheard her, at first. “A fleet? Is there a fleet headed that way? We could book passage – there may be safety in numbers – ” Lynch and I began to argue this point.

Meredith interrupted us. “No, not a fleet, a flight. You know, a plain flight? What do they call them in Ireland, aren’t they air-plains?”

We looked at her, baffled. I spake first. “A plain in the air? Do you mean plein-air painting? I recall there is a Frenchman who paints thus, methinks.”

Lynch ventured: “Is’t Heaven? The Plains of Elysium, in the air, far above, in those selected – what is’t, Captain?”

“Celestial spheres. Be that your meaning, lass?”

Meredith stared at us as though we were roosters laying eggs. “Come on. You’ve got to know what an air-plain is. You’ve never flown? Haven’t you heard of flying? How did you get here from Ireland, then?”

We exchanged glances. “We sailed on my ship.” I chose not to elaborate further on the journey that had delivered us to these shores. I knew now, though, that this was the cause of the misunderstanding here: Meredith referred to something commonplace in this time, but unimaginable in ours.

These people fly. Through the air, in the sky, miles above Mother Earth, in conveyances like the beast-wagons, but – with – wings.

I cannot conceive of it. But apparently, ’tis the truth. This is what Meredith does, her employment: when she told us she is a pilot, she meant one of those who steer these flying sky-ships; that is what the word means, here and now. I think she has decided that we three are country bumpkins of the most uncivilized sort; I hope that suffices to explain our monumental ignorance. If not, I do not know how to give her the true explanation. She did not ask, any road.

We will have none of this – flight. These America-folk may think themselves immune to the fate of Icarus, but I know better, and my men are not mad enough to seek out such a peril when ’tis not needed, as now. We quickly refused Meredith’s suggestion.

But she gave another. There are large conveyances, like beast-wagons, but far greater and which, she says, ride on rails of iron; they are called “trains.” These trains stay on the ground. We have booked passage on one such which will carry us to New York and to our friends in less than a day’s time. Eight hundred miles! In a day! And yet this transport is not enough for them? They would rather – fly? Fah.

Meredith has made the arrangements for our travel by train. She gave us, as well, an atlas, an entire book of maps more detailed and precise than any I have seen in all my years at sea. She laughed when I exclaimed over its inestimable value, and said it had been hers at school – she has studied! She waved away my protestations, calling it a gift, and a small one at that. Men would have started a war for such a book in my time.

But, one supposes, if you can fly . . . perhaps a map of the land is not so much of a much.

After that, the second book of maps given us was offered with even less ceremony, no more than a hank of cloth given to one who sneezes. We inquired of Meredith as to where we might find shops, so that we could purchase traveling equippage, apparel and supplies; she offered to convey us in her beast-wagon, but then glanced at the clock and cried out that she must go, that she was late; she dashed to a cabinet in the hallway by the front entry, and withdrew a book, called Thomas’s Guide to Charleston, and dropped it in my lap with no more thought than the first princely gift of a book – a book! – of maps. And this Thomas has mapped out every street, every river, every bridge – every alleyway! – in all of this immense city. And Meredith simply – gave it to us. On her way out. After arranging for our passage by train, using the telephone and speaking with someone named Amtrack. Perhaps Anne Track, or Hamtramck, I could not tell.

She is beautiful, beyond the telling of it. She is generous, beyond comprehension. She – flies.

She cannot be mine.

I cannot think, any more.

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Log 47: Beauty, Love, and Grace

Log 30 August 2011

Afternoon Watch, about 7 bells

I grow weary of counting obligations.

This is the reason I captain my own ship, why I am of the Brotherhood of the Coast, a rover, a pirate: because I have no wish to be a tallyman, to count what I owe and what is owed. I owe my shipmates my loyalty, my mother my life, and the English eternal vengeance. That is all. Yet it seems, since my arrival on these far distant shores, that I have found myself again and again in need of some assistance, and thus in another’s debt. Even the difficulty we find ourselves now facing is due to a debt from which we have run away; a usurious and appalling debt, but even if the accountman demands a king’s ransom to fill his coffers, even though I will not pay what he asks, still and all there is a genuine debt: surely St. Vincent’s deserves some recompense for saving our lives, and sheltering us through the storm, as they say.

Today we have made a small start, merely a first step, in balancing the scales. Last night Bucky played host for us following our acquaintance and conversation, offering a supper prepared in his establishment; something he called “frahd catfish an’ hushpuppies,” which at first drove us back from our trenchers in disgust, until Meredith explained that it was a fish named for a cat, and simply a sort of biscuit made of corn – grain, in other words, though it was coarser and sweeter than bread from wheat. Yellow, as well, though perhaps that was somewhat else in the receipt. It was hearty and savory fare, any road.

Then once more, at Meredith’s insistence, we bedded down at Lady Margaret’s domicile. Another debt owed, though practically speaking, an unavoidable one, as Meredith pointed out: the hospital and la policia surely seek us still, and we are too weak to sleep on hard ground without shelter, while keeping watch for our enemies. But though we must needs take shelter, Meredith and Margaret need not offer it us, and thus. once more, we owe.

This morning, though– after a surreptitious and entirely sublime observation, as Echo loved Narcissus from afar, of Meredith at her dawn Yoga – we made good on at least our debt to this house and its kind mistresses for the roof o’er our heads. Meredith departed this day to her employment, leaving us unaccompanied in the home; I was curious as to her occupation, as her hands are too soft for a washerwoman’s work or a maid’s, and she is too untrammeled a spirit, too bold and forward to be a lady’s maid; but I did not wish to pry into her personal matters and did not inquire. She went to work – and then so did we.

The first and most obvious task was Lynch’s: this house, untenanted by its owner for some days, required a good dusting, and as Lynch recovers his strength, he is the most agile and dextrous among we three. The youngest, also, and lowest-ranked, for which reason I also set him to polishing the silver, once I discovered a container labeled as efficacious to that purpose.

MacManus’s task is to hone all the blades in the house – kitchen, gardens, any others we come across. I discovered a whetstone with a handle of wood, much like a marlinspike, a dull-tipped rod about a foot in length and the circumference of a man’s smallest finger, and set MacManus to work: not only does it allow him to remain seated and thus rest his injury, but the task is sorely needed, as well, and MacManus, the former soldier, well-suited to it. If there’s one thing that man is familiar with, it is a sharp edge on a blade.

For myself, as the most hale and ambulatory, I took the most physically daunting task: the gardens. The grounds are, once we knew what we saw, quite battered by “that bitch Irene,” as Bucky called it; tree limbs broken, leaves stripped and strewn in piles and damp streaks, debris caught in shaggy, untrimmed hedges. I spent my day in the sunlight, making it ship-shape. By midmorning, I had an audience of two: Lynch and MacManus moved their labors out to the parapet – Meredith names it a porch, as Pompey’s in Rome – as the vapors from Lynch’s silver polish had dizzied them both, enclosed within, and MacManus joined him in chastising and harassing me at my work, pointing out places I had missed and berating me for my sloth and clumsiness, calling my stone-clad arm an “excuse for puling.”

‘Twas a most pleasant day.

Later

Last dog watch

We are still becalmed and alone. Though not hopeless – not yet.

We returned to Bucky’s Bait Shop well before sunset, and dined once more on “cats and dogs,” as MacManus termed it, to much jolly laughter –this time Meredith provided for us all, as thanks for our work at her grand-mother’s home, the which we protested was but fair payment for her kind hospitality; but she expressed outrage that we would so insult her or her grandmother, implying that we were incurring a debt simply by accepting the generous gifts of friendship freely offered. We were chagrined and silent, myself particularly (Glad I am that she has not clapped eyes on this log!), until Meredith calmly thanked us for our own kind and generous gift of friendship, namely our labors on her grand-mother’s behalf.

But apart from filling our bellies, the excursion was for naught; the telephone did not ring.

Gods, let my Grace be well. Let my friends be safe.

August 31

Morning watch

By Danu and the Morrigan hag, by Hera and Aphrodite and Pallas Athene, by Saint Bridget and Mary, the mother of God – what a woman!

At Meredith’s urging, as I was waking and gave her good-morning as she passed through my chamber on her way out of doors for her daily dance of beauty, I did join her in her Yoga this morn. And to my utter amazement, her beauty, already grand and enchanting, did increase with every stance, every pose, ever moment that she instructed me to watch her carefully, and every time – and there were many indeed – when she placed her gentle hands on my limbs, on my shoulders, on my waist (Gods! Mere writing of it further inflames my passion!), to move me into proper position. Ah, what glory, what magnificence! What grace and poise! And what strength – I found I simply could not perform many of the movements, lacking sufficiently flexible joints and strength enough, as well, though my balance is fine and more than adequate to the task. Fortunately, my failures earned me no mockery, while my successes won effusive praise from my lady, as noble as she is beautiful. Beauty-full, in truth. God’s truth.

But even that, perhaps the most enchanting and uplifting time I have ever known, was not the last of my joy in loving this wondrous creature. As we retired within to refresh ourselves with cool water, Meredith spoke of her employment, making some comment to the effect that she was glad she did not have any long flights – the which, I confess, befuddles me still. But when I inquired as to her meaning, she told me – she is a pilot! Aye! She sails! She is Poseidon’s daughter even as I am his son. I know not whether she guides ships into harbor here, or if she navigates aboard a single vessel, the which she may be currently helping to outfit for departure – oh, thank the fates that she was not gone a-voyaging when we came to Charleston, else I would never have met her. But – just think – if I could win her! She could come with me, aboard my beloved Grace – I need not abandon my love, my heart, my family ashore, as I have watched so many men do when ships depart.

My heart is full. My mind races – too far, too far; too fast! One matter at a time is all men can achieve. We must make contact with Vaughn and the Grace, or we must find the means to track them and follow in their wake. We must know the fate of our shipmates.

But oh: I will woo her. As I have never wooed before. My Siren. My Calypso. My Aphrodite.

Later – Last dog watch

SHE LIVES! The Grace of Ireland, by the mercy of the gods and the swift minds and ready hands of her loyal crew – and despite the storm named Irene, called the bitch – is still afloat, and overall well.

She is damaged, though, and trapped in a harbor in this place called New York; she sprung leaks and lost an entire mast, and the rudder was badly cracked and wants replacing. They strapped a sail ’round her middle to slow the leaks, and then received the gift of a tarp, I think he said, which appears an improvement over canvas for the temporary sealing of leaks; thus they are afloat but cannot sail. But she lives, and all my men, as well.

Ah, yes: I write out of joint. Of course, we have made contact with Vaughn, whereby we ascertained the condition and circumstances of the Grace. Our own situation is materially improved thereby, as well. But I should record it proper, if at all.

This day, our second in Lady Margaret’s home without Meredith present, found Lynch and I atop tall ladders, replacing wooden shingles that Irene tore from the house’s walls, as well as a few rotted by wind and rain; MacManus, it obtains, is a dab hand with a needle and thread: thus he has sealed several tears in the screens about the porch and put a stop to the fraying of the curtains in the parlor by adding a new hem. The magnificent Meredith returned from her pilot’s duties – I cannot imagine how she manages to preserve the ivory whiteness of her skin aboard ship; every tar I have ever known has been burned nearly black by the sun’s glare – though alas, too soon, as I had not yet completed the sonnet that I had attempted to compose for her. (I have rhymed “Meredith Vance” with “veriest chance,” but I could not find a word to accompany “dance” in the line about her wondrous morning Yoga. The search continues.) We made our way once more to Bucky’s Bait Shop, where we lingered over a new treat – Bucky acquired what he called ham-burghers for us, which were supremely savory and satisfying, though, strangely, not comprised of ham. Why these people call their fish “cat” and their beef “ham” and their corn “puppies,” I cannot fathom.

But as we lingered over our repast, we were all frozen in surprise when the telephone rang. This momentary tableau lasted but a moment, however, before we leapt up and raced, pell-mell, around the corner of Bucky’s establishment to the telephone. Being more mobile than my fellows, I reached the device first (Methinks Meredith allowed me to best her) and seize it I did, and with such vigor that I nearly detached the handpiece – which would have been a terrible irony, in truth.

But I broke it not: I put it to my ear and my lips and spake, “Llewellyn? Llewellyn, is’t thee?”

I heard a laugh of joy, a familiar laugh, and then my good friend Llewellyn Vaughn said, “Captain! O, my dear friend, it is so very wonderful to hear your voice!” Through the telephone I heard a cheer, as Vaughn told our shipmates that it was I; the cheer was echoed, and reiterated by my companions when I turned to them with a smile and a nod. Even stout Bucky and the lovely Meredith joined in the huzzah.

When Vaughn returned to the telephone, he asked the question I had been expecting. “Captain, since you found your way to this – rendezvous, I suppose it is – I surmise your companions survived. Do you have the word given to them as well?”

“Aye,” I replied, “’tis Clio.” From behind me, I heard Bucky say, “Clio? Like that teevee psychic? What the hell kind of magic word is that?”

“Splendid,” Vaughn said with a sigh. “Forgive me for asking, sir, but I had to be sure. I did not realize I would so readily know your voice. I thought, too, that were you under some duress, you could withhold that word, or give me incorrect answer, as a signal. I suppose now it was somewhat foolish.”

“Nay, man, I know the purpose of the cipher. And we are not under any duress, but are hale and free, in the main. But now I have a question for you.

“Why, by Danu’s alabaster tits, did you give us ‘setting’ and not ‘sunset?’ Or ‘dusk?’ Whatever is wrong with the word ‘dusk?’ ‘Tis a lovely and efficient word, is it not?”

Vaughn spluttered for a moment. “I – but, Captain, that is, I wanted . . . the words needed to be, well, somewhat secret. ‘Dusk’ seemed too simple, and I thought that ‘setting’ would be ambivalent enough, but still could – did – steer you to the proper course.”

I heaved a sigh overboard and shook my head. “Aye, Llewellyn, I thought as much. ‘Twas a fine choice, made no doubt in hot circumstances. ‘Tis only that – fah, ’tis nothing.”

It made me look a fool before the woman I have grown to love. But I cannot blame Vaughn for my folly.

We exchanged information, then, he telling me (and through me Lynch and MacManus, as well as our two friends) of the Grace’s escape from Hobbes, who had not been sighted since the battle that wounded us, and then the terrible storm that so shook and shivered my lovely ship. “Had we not been close to shore, Captain, close to a good harbor such as this, well – we would not be speaking.” They had run up the coast to the north, with Vaughn making landfall each evening to call the telephone he had marked out for our communication; they had had no difficulty – beyond being undermanned and thus reduced in their top speed and challenged in facing adverse seas or winds – until Irene. The last three days had been spent seeking a dock, then halting the leaks (Assistance had been offered to the other ships in need, who had come to the Grace’s aid as well – so those who sail the sea ever guard one another against the assaults of Dame Fortune and Lord Neptune, alike; we know the best hope for a stranded or damaged vessel is the kind intercession of a passing ship; thus we cultivate good will when we can) and then in an attempt to locate a working telephone.

“And now, Captain,” Vaughn concluded, “We await your orders. Should we come retrieve you, once repairs are made? It will take some time, particularly the mast.”

I confess to temptation. Time spent here would allow us to complete our recovery, and would grant me more time with Meredith. Perhaps enough time to win her.

But it was too dangerous to remain. La policia and agents of the accountman sought, and could find us at any time. Too, I could not impose on the kind hospitality of Meredith and Margaret when there was not need.

“Nay,” I said, “we will come to you. Though we lack resources, at present.”

“In truth, Captain, you do not. At the termination of the pier where you now stand, and across the road that lies athwart it, you will find a small garden, with a bench painted white and green. Beside it is a metal barrel, used to collect refuse. Dig beneath that barrel – no more than a foot down.”

I felt a wide grin spread across my face then. “Ah, my dear friend – did ye leave me buried treasure?”

Vaughn laughed. “Aye, Captain. That I did.”

We followed his instructions once more; Bucky accompanied us, to assuage his curiosity, bringing a large metal spoon to serve as digging tool. “Buried treasure, Irishmen and ships, secret meetings and passwords – it’s like I’m in a pirate story!” Bucky exclaimed, and laughed. Lynch, MacManus and I merely exchanged knowing glances.

We found the park, the bench, the barrel; we dug beneath it, and unearthed a small wooden box, which contained five thousand dollar-papers and my trusty wheel-gun. Methinks Bucky was happier to see this revealed than we were, judging by his shout of joy.

Now: we have returned to Lady Margaret’s home, having said a friend’s farewell to the doughty Bucky, to rest and plan. We will need maps, supplies, proper attire, and information.

We are off to New York.

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Log 46: Calling Bucky

Log 

29th of August – Forenoon Watch

 

Aye, of course I am in love: I am a hundred kinds of fool. Lynch’s word, setting – it refers to the setting sun. That is the time of day when we must be hard by the telephone, so that either Vaughn can contact us through same, or use it as a landmark to send a message to us, with the messenger arriving, aye, at sunset.

‘Twas not I who solved this riddle, nor any of my men; for this, too, we required the assistance of the most generous and enchanting Lady Meredith – freely rendered, once more, though I feel our obligations mounting, howsoever our kind-hearted and compassionate hostess tosses them away like chaff. We must do something for her benefit, for our honor’s sake. I know not how to redeem my own unwavering embarassment at showing myself entirely doltish in her eyes: such a simple riddle, this, yet I could do nothing with it but press letters on a telephone, ye Gods!

I confess I could not have solved the riddle this past morn, so distracted was I, so suffused with tender feelings – and aye, with feelings less tender, but they are stronger, ‘struth. I was on my couch once more, supine with my eyelids shut in reverie, remembering the sight of Meredith dancing her Yoga, feeling my heart race and my blood burn through me.

Then her voice – ’tis lovely, as well, have I so said? Melodious and soft, the gentle sibilances and the largo of the local dialect giving her words a generosity similar to that which abides in her breast – did break into my fevered dreaming. “Oh, hey,” quoth she – a phrase I have heard before as greeting and exclamation alike, but still cannot fathom. “I had an idea about your word clews.” I opened my eyes and sat up, right joyed that I could behold her loveliness before me once more, even though its perfect simulacrum lives behind my eyes, and dances to the beat of my heart. She came into the room, and graced me with a smile – even as she proved and explicated my idiocy for me.

“I was doing my Yoga –” Aye, lass, I know it well, I thought – “and facing the sun, because a lot of poses are connected to the sun. And because dawn’s the only time it feels warm but not hot, at least in August. And I was finishing the tree pose and thinking, ‘Next is sun salutation,’ and then it hit me. What if ‘setting’ is for the sun? You know – sunset?”

It is well that I am right-handed, for had I worn my club-bandage on the hand I used to strike myself in the brow, aghast at my own blind stupidity, I would have laid myself out across the floorboards. As it was, I fell back against the back of the couch, eyes wide, staring at the ceiling, mortified that I had not instantly known the meaning of Vaughn’s message – and a thousand times more so, as Meredith had seen my foolishness paraded before her very eyes.

“Do you think that’s it?” she asked, delight in her voice.

I sat up and gave her a smile I pray was not over sickly. “Aye, milady. I have no doubt of it.”

She gave me back a smile as bright as the sun itself. “Oh good! So we’ll go on back over there tonight at sunset, all right? Should be about eight o’clock, this time of year.” Then she turned and retired to her chamber above.

I went to Lynch’s and MacManus’s; Shane I woke, gently, though Lynch was already out of bed and gazing out the window at the beauteous morning sky – though he looked somewhat melancholy, I thought. I summoned him to MacManus’s chamber, where I told them both the sure meaning of our clew – and, I here confess, I berated them both, unnecessarily, for their failure to pierce the paper-thin veil that hid the meaning from us. I did not refer to my own failure in that, nor to Meredith’s success, but let them believe I had solved it. Bad enough that Meredith knows me for a dunce, my men must have confidence in me.

I must do more to deserve it, damn me.

 

Later – First dog watch

We have taken this day to rest; we all three require such after the exertions and exhaustions of the escape. Meredith, after succouring us with the largesse of yet another womanly grace, as she made a large and replenishing meal to break our fast – and by Lucifer, did that taste better than the food of the hospital! – has gone back to St. Vincent’s to pay a visit to her grand-mother, and gather what information she can. Lynch and MacManus and I have been laying on a sort of parapet which encircles Lady Margaret’s home, and allows warm sunlight but has a sort of veil which keeps biting insects away. I think we have recuperated some of our strength, and I am relieved that MacManus has not worsened, shows no signs of fever nor of especial suffering from his wound; I did fear we had forced him to move too much and too soon. But sure and that’s an Irishman, is Shane MacManus: tough as bootleather and twice as salty.

 

Later – First watch

We have met with some success, though we have not yet won the laurel. I have not spoken to nor received word from Vaughn. But we have confirmation that the lovely Meredith did surmise correctly, and correct as well was our navigation of MacManus’s clew: dusk is the hour, and that telephone is the place. This night, howbeit, was not the night, alas.

We made our way in Meredith’s beast-wagon to the pier where the telephone awaits; we three sailors were attired in manner more fitting the locale and the native semblance that that which we had purloined; Lynch wore a tunic and short breeches that, though they may have belonged either to a younger and shorter Meredith (for the whole woman is nearly of a height with me, and a good hand taller than young Lynch) or even to Lady Margaret herself, were nonetheless suited best to a youth like Lynch: the tunic was black and emblazoned with a skull and crossed bones; over the back were the words “Blackbeard’s Cove – Charleston, S.C.” Meredith had frowned oddly when I inquired as to the identity of this Blackbeard fellow; she said, “You know – the pirate?” I had been forced to nod knowingly and plead befuddlement owing to my injury. MacManus and I were simply attired, in white tunics and the ubiquitous breeches of blue broadcloth, the which Margaret had purchased for us – she called them “Jeans” and “tea-shirts” – on her return from the hospital. Yet another obligation, for yet more kindness.

Lady Margaret is well – her health is improving, too – and the guardians of St. Vincent’s have not tied her to our escape, the which is the talk of the hospital; Meredith described the place as “buzzing like a kicked hornet’s nest.”

Thus incognito, we arrived at the pier, and made our way to the telephone beside Bucky’s Bait Shop; the sun was a handspan above the horizon – by design, as we could not be sure of the precise moment when Vaughn would contact us. And there we waited, for an hour or more; the phone did not ring. The sun set, touched and then vanished behind the tall buildings of the city to the west, but no messenger came seeking we three.

We were discussing how much longer we should wait, when a man’s voice hailed us, his accent thick as molasses and at first difficult to comprehend. “Yew all the ones ‘at ‘air ‘phone’s bin uh-rangin’ four?” (‘Tis as near as I can approximate. I will translate the remaining portions of his speech into proper English.) While we three ancient Irishmen struggled with these words, Meredith leapt to our aid. “Yes, we think so. Has the ‘phone been ringing lately?”

The owner of the voice was a man, white-haired and dark-skinned, large and powerful and solid as a stone tower. He nodded. “Every damn day, just at sunset.” We all exchanged a glance, mine of some chagrin, Lynch and MacManus evincing relief, and Meredith triumphant. “I been answering it, mostly. Nice fellow on the other end, though a mite hoo-doo.” He wiggled his fingers at this last word.

“He means strange, mysterious,” Meredith whispered aside to us in explanation.

“Can you tell us about the man on the other end, friend?” I inquired. We approached closer, and he stood straight. He said, “Well, he talks a little like you do, son. You all both got something of a peculiar accent, you know that?” He grinned, showing his side teeth; he knew, likely from our furrowed brows, that his own speech was none too simple to navigate for we three. The man put out his hand – broad and strong, criss-crossed with more scars than anyone but a sailor would possess – and we clasped and shook. “Name’s Bucky – Abelard Buckminster, for a fact, but folks all call me Bucky, for obvious reasons. This here’s my shop.”

“Fortune smile on you as a friend, Master Bucky. I hope to be such, as well, if we be well-met. I am Damnation Kane.”

He snorted a laugh. “God damn, son, you got a handle as unusual and obscurified as my own. Real pleased to meet you, yes sir.” He released my hand, and I made introductions for my companions.

Then when we all were known, I repeated my query as to the man on the other end of the telephone. “Well,” Bucky said, seating himself atop the table that stood there, his feet, clad in slippers of once-white canvas now more tattered than whole, planted on the bench, “started about – three weeks back, I reckon. That ‘phone started ringing right around seven-thirty, maybe eight o’clock. Now, nobody uses that thing, most days, now that everybody and his granny’s got themselves a mobile ‘phone –” I was forced to ask Meredith later what he had said; I had heard MO-baaahl, and thought our new friend had spoken in some foreign tongue for an instant. Or else was imitating the sounds of an animal, perhaps a goat or a sheep. “But some of my fishing folk leave their ‘phones at home, what with worrying about going in the water instead of on the water, so the ‘phone company keeps it around for them; reckon it makes a few bucks here and there. But nobody don’t never call in to it, not that I heard, not in the thirty years I been sitting in that shack yonder.

“So when it started ringing, and every night, too, around about the same time, I got powerful curious.” He took out a packet of the white tobacco sticks such as O’Flaherty had found when we first came to this land; he placed one between his lips and then offered the packet around; MacManus and I both accepted his kindness. There was some confusion as to which end went betwixt the lips and to which the flame should be applied, but soon enough we three were wreathed in sweet smoke. Then Bucky continued his narrative.

“I got powerful curious, so I answered it. ‘Hello,’ I says. ‘Who is this?’ asks the other side. ‘Bucky,’ I says. ‘You’re ringing my joint. Leastways, you’re ringing one of my walls up something fierce.’ He don’t say nothing for a minute – likely having trouble hearing me with them foreign ears, you know –” We exchanged a grin here, and Meredith laughed – “
and then he says, ‘Were you sent to this location?’ And I says, ‘Only when my wife can’t stand me ’round the house no more.’ Then he says, ‘Do you have the word?” Well, I thought he meant the word of Jesus Christ, and I must admit I got a mite touchous with him. ‘I most certainly do,’ I says, kinda uppity; ‘I am a God-fearing righteous brother and deacon of the First Baptist Church of Salvation In His Name here in Charleston.’ I says to him. Then there’s another longish pause, and then he – he apologized to me! ‘I did not intend to impugn – ‘ I had to look that word up, ‘impugn,’ and dang if it ain’t the rarest word I done heard in ten years, and the high-falutinest. ‘I did not intend to impugn your Christian character, good sir, and I tender my most abject apologies for my error.’ And while I was chewing on that wad, he says, ‘I am attempting to communicate with a dear friend and compatriot who has been lost to us for the nonce. To confirm his identity, and ensure our safety from our enemies, near or far, he was told a certain word to repeat to me. That word was the object of my query, not the Word of the Lord of Hosts.’

“Well, that put something different on it. So I accepted his apologies – told him it was damn near the nicest I ever heard in all my sixty-three years – and then I told him I been here every day, heard that ‘phone ring every day, and ain’t nobody come to pick it up. But I said I’d keep an eye out for people paying special mind to this here ‘phone, and if he kept calling back, I’d answer it and tell him, Naw, ain’t nobody come today. He said he was in my debt, and offered me his friendship in payment, and I took that one, too.”

Bucky shrugged, and dropped the end of his tobacco-stick to the ground, crushing it with his heel. “So he’s been calling every day, and I been answering it. I been trying to guess his magic word, too, just to pass the time. Give him a new guess every day. I hope you all knows it, ’cause I tried everything I can think of – tried Abracadabra, and Shazam; Rumplestiltskin, Open Sesame, Wingardium Leviosa – and it weren’t none of those.”

No, indeed: it would most certainly be Clio. Thus we knew the meaning of the second of Lynch’s clews.

Bucky went on, a frown creasing his brow. “But he ain’t called in three days, now. I missed one a week back, when that screamin’ bitch Irene blew through. I reckon if he’s up north of here, he might be caught up the same way.”

My companions and I were filled with confusion by this; who could this Irene be, that she could hold so much sway over the lives of men? And that he could refer to her, to strangers as foreign as we, and seemingly expect us to share in his knowledge? Which expectation was, apparently, not unreasonable, as Meredith was nodding, in comprehension of and agreement with his words. She caught sight of our puzzled faces and enlightened us.

“It was a hurricane, a really enormous storm. It hit land north of here, about – ten days ago?” Bucky nodded, and murmured agreement. She went on. “It rolled up the coast and flooded the North-East pretty bad. Bucky’s right: if your friend is anywhere up around New York or New Jersey – or even Raleigh, they got hit pretty hard – then he might not even have ‘phone service right now.” Bucky grunted agreement once more, lighting another tobacco-stick as we all stared at the silent telephone.

I pray that this storm has spared my beloved Grace, and all of my shipmates who remain aboard her. Ian, my friend – take care of them, in my stead, I beg you.

I had but one question remaining for Master Bucky, before I offered him my sincerest and humblest gratitude for his good service to us and to Vaughn.

“You name your storms after women?”

He laughed and nodded.

There is, it seems, some true wisdom in the men of this time.

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Log 45: A Fool Before Beauty

Log

Damn me but I hate to look a fool in front of a woman. Having done so twice this night, I cannot decide if it is worse to play the fool before a woman I respect and admire, or before a woman of great beauty, of surpassing loveliness of face and form, and who, too, I admire, though it is admiration of the most penetrative . . . the most – overwhelming. Underwhelming? – Fah! I know not what I say. These women, this night, have me all in a dither and a twist. I curse myself for a fool when ’tis any soul who thus beholds my folly, or indeed if none espy me but the empty sky above and the fallow earth below.

First there was my idiotic escape attempt, wherein I cleverly led my men, who could barely make their way down a flight of stairs, to a garden enclosed by a high wall, a wall the which I had failed to discern in all my wandering there, despite every promenade around the garden paths that I made with my lady Flanagan. She knew of the wall, even with her ancient eyes: she had seen it and recognized how it would foil our plans – plans she had descried in mere moments, just as quick as she pierced our disguises. ‘Twas she who kindly saved us, this past night – and she who, with kindness all the greater, said naught and laughed not, but simply came to our aid.

And then, but an hour later, we feature the second act of this great farce entitled “The Illimitable Folly of Damnation Kane –An Addlepated Ass In Two Eras.”

We waited in kind Margaret’s chambers until her grand-daughter – noble and loyal, she is, albeit not so much as she is lovely – arrived and informed Lady Flanagan by telephone. Then Margaret brought us to the stairs, where we said our farewells with many thanks and a sweet kiss ‘pon her soft cheek; then made we our slow, clumsy way down. Upon opening the door at the bottom, the building awoke in lights and shrieks as if bogeys and ban-sidhe had arisen from the very walls! Thank the gods that Margaret had forewarned us that opening the door would set off the fire alarm, else we might have frozen in panic and been apprehended once more, and aye, e’en more ignominiously! It was a close thing, in truth, as Margaret’s concept of a “fire alarm” differs from ours by – aye, well, by three centuries, isn’t it? I and Lynch and MacManus all bethought that a man’s voice would cry out the alarm, such cry being taken up then by several others, with perhaps a ringing bell to carry the signal: little did we know that directly o’er our heads, close enough to touch with outstretched hand as we passed through the door, would be a light as bright as any lantern and red as a cock’s comb, spinning and flashing fit to dizzy a man who, naturally, looks up at such a thing when it comes to life just above him; and with this light – by Lucifer, what a braying! ‘Tis loud enough to wake the dead, split the ground above ’em, and shake their bones back to life! My ears do ring still even now. I have heard quieter cannons. Perhaps they seek to frighten the fire out.

Still and all: we did escape the onslaught of noise and light, and made our way to our arranged rendezvous with Margaret’s grand-daughter, the beauteous and dauntless Meredith Vance. She hesitated not at all, despite our assuredly wild-eyed desperation, but helped MacManus and Lynch into her beast-wagon – a much larger breed than those we knew from the Glass Palace and the House of Lopez – as she directed me to put MacManus’s wheeled chair into the stern, through a hatch the which she opened with a wave of her hand, from which was emitted a strange and otherworldly chirrup, somewhat like the chirping of my ivy box within the hospital, but now coming in two notes, lower then higher (though both equally shrill) not unlike a bosun’s whistle. Alas, I could not force the chair into the cargo space thus revealed; it remained too bulky. Until the enchanting Meredith, finished with her own tasks with remarkable alacrity, came to assist the Fool Eternal with his own smaller duty, and showed me how the conveyance folded into itself for ease of storage. I was struck dumb by my own incompetence, though the genteel maid forbore from comment. She simply ushered me to my place, took her own at the wheel, and ferried us to freedom.

And then began our second display of folly.

To start, MacManus could not describe the dock where we had made landing. He directed Lady Meredith to the harbor, presuming there to be but one such, but her immediate rejoinder – to wit, “Which harbor?” – quickly put the lie to his presumption. He endeavored to peer out the ports of the beast-wagon, attempting recognition of our surroundings, but failing: it has been a fortnight and more since we passed this way, and then it was daylight but now ’tis the blackest night without moon nor stars; and Lynch and I, fevered and unconscious at the time, were of no use to him. I thought to ask how we had been conveyed, and learned that Vaughn had solicited from a local citizen the site of the nearest doctorage, and we had been carried there on litters made of boarding pikes and sailcloth. It had been a painful trek for him, and he remembered little more than discomfort and the odd stares from the people of this time, the which we have grown accustomed but not inured to.

But this gave Meredith a clew, for her mind is as quick and sharp as her face is lovely: she made for the nearest pier, in relation to the hospital, assuming that the men would not have trekked far with such a burden and such scrutiny. And on the second attempt, we struck it aright; MacManus shouted out that he knew the place.

Aroused and confident now that we would soon rejoin our shipmates, we stepped out and I offered my deepest and most sincere gratitude to our bewitching savior, while Lynch assisted MacManus in disembarking from the beast-wagon. Lady Meredith – though I quiver to state that she blushed, most fetchingly, as I laid a gentle kiss on her graceful hand – frowned (Still most becoming!) and said, “Are you sure this is where you want me to leave you? There’s nothing here, and it’s the middle of the night.”

I waved away her concern. “Ta, milady, the night is our shipmate, sure. A friend and ally, cloaking us in her shadows that we might find our way unseen by our foes. And we do not intend to abide in this place for more than minutes, I assure you.”

Her smooth white brow furrowed at this, her large and luminous eyes narrowing as her delicate lips made a pretty moue. Then her face cleared, like the dawn sky after a storm. “Oh – is someone else coming to get you?”

I bowed. “Such is our belief and our hope, milady.”

One perfectly shaped brow raised. “But – you’re not sure?”

I shrugged. “What is sure in this life?”

A wry smile crossed her generous mouth, showing the perceptiveness belied and camouflaged by such ethereal beauty. “Tell you what – why don’t I just wait here until your friends arrive, okay? Just in case.”

I shook my head. “Nay, milady, there is no need. I assure you that we are prepared to confront and conquer any obstacle, dare any hazard that may arise in our path, as we have done countless times before.”

Gently rounded white arms, dotted with the faerie-kisses of freckles, crossed over shapely bosom. “Do you all have any other clothes?”

“Nay, milady, but these will suit for as long as needed, to cover identities and protect modesty.”

“Mmm-hm,” seemed to be her response. “Any money?”

“Money can always be found and acquired.”

“Of course. Ever been in Charleston before? Know your way around?”

“I have sailed across the ocean! How difficult could a city be?”

She nodded, her fiery tresses curling becomingly around her angel’s face and smooth white shoulders. “I’ll just wait. Don’t worry, I won’t bother you – I’ll just stay in the car.”

She suited deed to word, the grace in each motion not hidden by the darkness nor lessened by her attire – well-fitted britches of blue broadcloth and a sleeveless sort of tunic of pale green that did not quite cling, and did not quite reveal – but I could live my life in that “not quite” and die a happy man. I shook myself from my reverie when Lynch – rather snappishly, I thought – called my name, and I turned and saw that he had MacManus situated, and was prepared to follow our course from here.

And so we did: MacManus identified the pier where the Grace had docked, we made our way to the very spot, and then I paced while MacManus counted aloud, as Lynch propelled his chair a step behind me. As the directions were simple enough, I could look ahead and discern our approximate destination: ’twas an establishment on the docks, though set back from the actual pier, with a sign naming it Bucky’s Bait Shop and Fishing Tours. Was this Bucky, then, our ally and informant? Had Vaughn left a message with the proprietor? What of Clio, the word left with Lynch?: A momentary survey showed me no sign reading Clio, nor anything similar, nor yet Lynch’s second clew, “setting.”

We completed the count, and found we had moved just past Bucky’s place of commerce; thirty paces to port took us into a shadowed alcove where there was – nothing. Naught but a large container for refuse – I was minded of the Latin Lion I had flogged in a similar alley behind another shop, after tying him to a similar container, back in Florida – and a telephone attached to the wall of Bucky’s Bait Shop.

So this, then, is our intended means of contact. Fine, Master Vaughn. Now what? MacManus is napping in his chair – the escape was most difficult for him, who should still be abed. Good man. Lynch is staring at the telephone and brooding over his useless, meaningless clews, and I record this log with near as much use and meaning to it. We had thought, upon Lynch’s discovery that the number-toggles on the telephone had letters inscribed thereupon, that we could spell out his words to reach Vaughn, but it proved to be of no use. Pressing C-L-I-O-S-E-T-T-I-N-G summoned to the earpiece a woman’s voice, who most frustratingly would not respond to any words of mine, but merely repeated the same cursed phrase over and over: “You must press one before the number you have dialed.” When I gave over my attempts to communicate directly with that ice-throated wench and followed her instructions, she demanded eighty-five scents! Damning her to Hades’ blackest fire-pits served no purpose, of course, though it was somewhat satisfying. Nothing we said would impel her to explain what on Danu’s green and verdant Earth she wanted from us: how in the name of all the saints and angels are we to acquire what she asked? How would we give them to her that demanded them? Frustrated at last, we replaced the handset in its holder, which shut the bitch up, at the least; then we tried, one after the other, C-L-I-O, which brought nothing but a pause, and then that same harridan’s mocking tone informed us that our call could not be completed as dialed; and then S-E-T-T-I-N-G, followed by S-E-T-T-I-N-G-C-L-I-O, both of which brought further demands that we deposit scents. Lynch had the rather esoteric idea that the woman was a witch, and wanted to smell us for some arcane and mysterious reason, but even were I willing to rub the telephone under my arms, the hag demanded eighty-five scents, fifty scents, and ninety-five scents for our three completed pressings. I was certainly not going to find near a hundred strangers and cajole or compel them to press the telephone into their oxters; even were I to do so, I would not then willingly put the same to my face.

And so, frustrated and stymied at the last, I sit at a table set out before Bucky’s Bait Shop, and keep my log. And I feel a consummate fool, for here I am, writing these purposeless words in this worthless log, while Lynch stares at that thrice-damned telephone, and MacManus sleeps, fitfully and clearly in pain but too exhausted to care – and a hundred paces away sits an intelligent and genteel and sublimely beautiful woman, watching me, watching us in all our gloriously asinine folly. I cannot bear to look up for shame – even though, by God Almighty, I hear her approach us now. Curse the gods for making beautiful women to be the bane of we dim-witted men.

Later

We have taken advantage of Lady Meredith’s most kind and generous offer of hospitality – and my dear Margaret’s, as well, for it is her domicile where we bide this night, and seek rest, each of my companions granted a bedchamber to sleep in, with a wonderfully cushioned bench for myself – more than adequate to my needs.

The beauteous Meredith spoke to me of the need to stay off of the city streets, as she put it, as we are likely now wanted men; too, she did not need to do more than glance at MacManus, who is in dire need of decent rest, which he could never find in that chair, outside in the damp night’s humors – the atmosphere in this city is most close and pressing! ‘Tis like breathing through damp wool. Though that would smell better, to my nose. Perhaps that telephone-witch sought relief from this city’s stink, with her absurd demand for scents. Did she want perfumes? Bah! The very thought renews my ire, and chases away the rest I need.

I will think of Meredith, and so to sleep.

28th of August – is it still?

As it ever is, all is brighter with the dawn. I am sure we will find the solution to this mystery, and in the meantime, we are free, we are comforted and secure in the house of my good friend – whose generosity I will endeavor to, but fear I cannot, repay – and I am in love. For milady Meredith Vance, I have now discovered, performs a rite called Yoga.

I cannot even describe it. I slept deeply and well, in smallclothes under a thin but soft blanket as Meredith kindly (and ably) laundered Jackson the guardsman’s uniform along with the clothes MacManus wore; Lynch is slight enough to wear some of the attire in this abode – Meredith claims it was her grandfather’s clothing, but I think it likely her own, and I curse the breadth of my shoulders that I cannot let her dress me, as well, in her own apparel. Any road, I awoke to bright sunlight streaming through the many glass windows that pierced the walls of the room – ’tis a parlor, rather than a bedchamber, and thus far more open; though the couch where I lay my head was as soft and restful as any bed I have known. I rose and went to the windows to greet the day – and there, on the lawn behind the house, the which is surrounded by trees and high hedges, there I saw Meredith, wearing little more than her own silken skin, as she – danced.

She is dressed much as the Enchantress was, when I first spied her in her glory as she swum in her pool; but Meredith’s attire, while similarly fitted to her skin, covers somewhat more. She stands on a small rectangular cloth, a thin carpet, perhaps, on the grass; she faces the rising sun. She stands on one leg and raises the other, as she lifts her hands over her head. She is in profile to me, and I can see that her eyes are closed, her face serene. Her hair is drawn back into a tail which spills down her back like a stream of fire. She lowers her arms and her leg, and then – bends over at the waist and touches her toes. Then she leans far to the left, and then the right, just as a swordsman might when he thrusts, but a hundred times slower, with wondrous grace; and to watch the smooth movement of her limbs, the flexion of her taut sinews under such gleaming porcelain skin – my God, I have never seen anything so lovely. I know not how long I watched her slow, lithe movement, but she never opened her eyes, and I never closed mine. Until she finished with her hands folded before her and her head bowed, as though in prayer; I managed to break myself away from the window, then, before she could catch me in my admiration. She came into the house, now covered in a thin robe, and greeted me where I sat on my couch – with the blanket providing modesty to my smallclothes. I inquired as to her health and activity on this fine morning, and she told me she was well, and had been doing her Yoga.

Gods bless that Yoga, and Meredith Vance, as well.

And may the saints preserve me. For I am a pirate, and a fugitive, and a man lost in time, without resources or prospects, or even a shirt I can name my own. And I am in love.

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Log #44: Escape

Log

August 26th

 

Blast our weakness to the darkest depths of Neptune’s realm. I should be writing this as a free man, but I am not. I bide, still, in this accursed hospital. Indeed, my circumstances have worsened: I am now prisoned in this room, with a guard at my door, wearing a pistola.

We were discovered in our attempt this latter night. We got MacManus out of his bed and into the wheeled chair that Lynch had used – the which was a most troublesome endeavor, as it obtained, requiring time and effort and quite a fair piece of forbearance through pain on MacManus’s part, particularly when he himself drew the invading tube from his manhood. Thank the gods I was shot above the waist. But he did draw it out, and bit back the screams; and we did move him into the chair, and then we made our way down the hall and along a second corridor, all without detection. We reached the dressing-rooms, and here we divided, at Lynch’s urging: with his youthful frame, quoth he, he required a more diminutive suit of livery, which he would be unlikely to find among the masculine apparel; and so for him, the distaff chamber.

‘Twas our undoing. For as MacManus and I quickly changed apparel, fitting ourselves into our assumed guises quite readily enough, in my case, and with somewhat greater effort and not a little agony on Shane’s part, Lynch crept into the women’s chamber and there was he discovered, en déshabille, as it were. Some noise of alarm was transmitted to our chamber, and so MacManus and I were largely unsurprised when Lynch came a-gallop from his dressing-room, hissing that he had been seen and that the observer – one of the nurses who had our charge, and they had each recognized the other – had eluded his attempt to capture and subdue her, slowed as he was by his injury. She had made off, back down the hall to the nurses’ station, where reinforcements awaited.

I calculated quickly. Shane was still pale and breathing harshly, clutching at his hip as he slumped over the wheel of his chair; Lynch was pallid, too, and sweating, though he bore two patches of red high on his cheeks – shame at his failure, I thought. But he crouched as well, bent over his wounded gut. And I myself – I favored my right arm, that shoulder made painfully sore by the night’s exertions, particularly the maneuvering of MacManus into his current berth. I made a decision.

“We surrender without fight,” I told them, and overrode Lynch’s outraged cry. “Stay! We surrender, and laugh at this. We wanted a drink, is all. ‘Twas but a lark.”

“But Captain, now they be aware of our intent, ’twill be the harder to find the chance,” Lynch argued.

“Aye, ’twill indeed, thou cursed scrawny pup, and whose fault be it? No matter,” I said vigorously, squelching the boy’s contradiction. “For if we but jest now, the careful watch they put over us will not be wary. That will give us our chance.”

Just as I finished, two lusty stalwarts in blue burst through the door and accosted us, followed by the nurse, hands on hips as was their wont. I threw up my hands and laughed as I gave myself into their custody without struggle; my men following my lead after a trifling pause. Good lads. But a bit unlucky. So now there is another obstacle to be overcome.

This hospital would oppose my will, would captain the course of my life. Very well, says I – Lay on, MacDuff. And damned be he who first cries “Hold, enough!”

 

28th August, after midnight

I must write quickly: we have little time. We are making good our escape – and this time, we may not retreat, for not only will we have made them wary, but full wroth, as well.

We waited a full day and night, and through a new day. MacManus needed the time to recover, and Lynch as well, aye. I spent such time chatting with my guardian – the hospital marked me as the wellspring of our rebellion, and so only I received such accompaniment – an amiable fellow named Jackson. He ushered me to my visit with Margaret in the gardens, and chaperoned our promenade along the white-stone path most politely as I regaled my friend with the tale of our escape attempt. I did try not to let my gaze linger on the trees that bounded that pleasant space, through which we plotted our course to freedom; now I would that I had looked closer!

Any road, Yeoman Jackson sat by and watched our game of draughts, participating in our conversation and relaxing his watchfulness moment by moment.

In the meantime, MacManus was declared fit enough to evacuate his own bladder, and relieved at last of his torturous tether. ‘Twas a relief to me, as it would speed our movements – but ’twas a far greater relief to poor Shane, in truth. Lynch, too, was much recuperated: he is able to move about without his sittable conveyance now, though not too far, and not too long. Long enough and far enough, for the nonce.

That night, my guard changed, and that man was less friendly. So it must be on Jackson’s watch that we made our move, I knew. I had had a visit from the Accountman Sanderson, and he had seemed suspicious of my levity regarding our first attempt, though he had not questioned me too closely over it; he still awaited confirmation of my claimed identity and station – and wealth, of course. Thus, it must be soon, or Sanderson would surely have us locked away, or manacled, or whatever else this place does to its delinquent custom.

Jackson returned this past evening. I took him for a constitutional, and we did pass by the rooms of Lynch and MacManus, where I gave my men the signal. Jackson and I strolled briefly through the gardens – Margaret was not then present – and then returned to my chamber, where we divided, I to my bunk, and Jackson to his post outside my door.

Soon enough, Lynch arrived. As we had discussed, we three all had feigned greater discomfort from our hurts than was true, so as to further lull suspicion; Lynch came in as bent over as an old gaffer with the gout, alist and shuffling like an arthritic badger. I waited as the door eased shut behind him, ere he was halfway to my bunk, and then I sat patiently as he continued to belabor his slow way to me. He arrived at last, looked up from his own feet to meet my gaze – and grinned.

“Art thou a-ready now, Master Cripple?”

He saluted. “Aye, Captain. I stand ready for all.”

I stood, and gathered my meager armament. And my will: I was fond of Jackson, and was not eager for this next task. But we must escape, so – “Then down with ye, O Maudlin Limper.”

Lynch threw himself to the floor, with a crash made largely by the action of unbalancing my supper tray and scattering its contents. He cried out as in pain, and I called for Jackson. The man came in at a rush, and I backed water away to reveal the poor pitiful wretch, who had managed tears for his eyes as he clutched at his ankle with the one hand, and the side where was his true hurt, with the other. Jackson went to him with a kind man’s natural instinct, and knelt, with his back to me. And I, who am no kind man, slipped the loop, fashioned from the ivy tube (which gave slightly when pulled taut, but had the main strength) and hid in my right hand, over Jackson’s head and around his neck. I pulled, bringing him arching back; Lynch was ready, and as Jackson’s hands went naturally to the cord about his throat, my shipmate relieved the man of his pistola. I loosened my strangle, then, and when Jackson slumped forward once more, coughing, I drew back and brought the club which the good doctors had fashioned from my left arm crashing down on his skull.

It worked, aye; Jackson was well and truly a-slumber, but he was breathing well and the blood pulsed in his neck when pressed, as I had hoped. But I was ill-prepared for the agony which coursed through me when I struck; I thought the wrapping was to protect the limb from harm! Hard as stone, it seemed! ‘Tis not. This club-arm is not a weapon I will use again.

But all was as planned, and Lynch helped me raise Jackson into my bunk and remove his uniform. Then Lynch went out, now moving far more easily and quickly, and slipped down the corridor to the dressing room once more – this time he would collect his livery from Eve’s side, once he had determined it to be unoccupied, and then move to Adam’s chamber to effect the change; it had occurred to us that the staff here are far more frequently feminine, and so the traffic through their room subsequently greater, and so too the chance of discovery. I strapped my dreaming friend into the restraints on my bunk, and then, as I had watched the nurses do to me a hundred times, I slid an ivy prong into his vein and set the liquid within on a slow course through his body – ’twas the stuff they set in me anight, to let me traipse off to Dreamland despite the ache in my wounds. So far as I know, good Jackson slumbers still.

I donned his uniform – a decent fit, for we were much of a size – and made my way, quickly but not furtively, to MacManus’s room, gathering a wheeled chair along the way. I was soon joined there by Nurse Lynch (Which name we enjoyed applying to the boy, for his face reddened each time – especially when MacManus requested a sponge bath.) and we maneuvered MacManus into the chair after dressing him in the shirt and breeches which Lynch had liberated from the tiring room.

That was when Nurse Winslow came into the room, her head bent over a clip-board – ’tis a thing they often carry and refer to its cryptic contents, somewhat akin to a pupil’s slate but covered with papers bearing hieroglyphics instead of words or ciphering – until she looked up and saw the three of us, frozen with surprise, standing in our transparent disguises before she who knew us all in an instant.

Thankfully, I recovered first, and remembered my new-won pistola. I drew same and aimed at her heart; she but looked in my eyes, and then, aye, she saw me, for the first time, as I am: Damnation Kane, scoundrel and captain of scoundrels. She did not struggle nor cry out as Lynch and I restrained her in MacManus’s bunk, after bandaging her mouth shut.

I will say there are abundant resources in this hospital for those who would kidnap, restrain, and confine their fellow men. Most useful.

From there, ’twas an easy jaunt down the corridor with Nurse Lynch pushing Invalid MacManus, flanked by Guardian Kane. Until, that is, we came to our greatest obstacle: the stairs. MacManus was sure he could manage stairs, with the help of a rail to cling to and a shipmate to assist him, and indeed, ’twas just so that we achieved the first flight of steps, with Lynch bringing the chair; but our progress was too slow, as MacManus could not manage more than two steps in a minute, so very painful was the motion on his injury, and, we discovered, my shoulder prevented me from taking his weight over it, as I have done countless times for shipmates injured or inebriate. Too, the chair was almost Lynch’s undoing – he lost his grip upon it when his wound twinged of a sudden, and was only just able to keep his own balance as the device went crashing down with a clatter that must have woken the dead. And we faced a second flight of steps, then.

This time we put MacManus in the chair, gripping the wheels to slow them; Lynch clutched the handles in the stern and tipped him back so he could remain upright, and I crouched on the steps, set my back against his feet and braced him. Then we rolled down, one step at a time, with curses and cries of pain and fatigue from each of us growing louder and more profane with every step, every drop down a stair. That bastard kicked me in the head a dozen times, and Lynch lost his grip twice, leaving MacManus’s entire weight once on my poor back, once falling back onto Lynch, though Shane caught the rail before he slid and shattered himself.

Then, just as we reached the bottom and were panting, sweating, and cursing our way to an upright alignment, lo – the door before us opened. We three froze once more, just as we had when Nurse Winslow interrupted us, and then turned slowly to face our discoverer –

‘Twas Margaret’s buffoon, the worthless devotee of the Verizon-stone – what Margaret had most aptly named a cell.

He did not spare us so much as a glimpse. His head jerked momentarily in our direction, his eyes torn from the face of his beloved for but half an instant – long enough to recognize the shape of us, but no more – and then he turned and pressed his back against the door, and waited. Holding it open for us.

We thanked him kindly as we passed by, and made our way to the passage which led to the gardens. He did not look up, merely nodding and grunting in response to our thanks; the only element of his being in motion, his thumbs, caressing the stone again and again. Aye, a cell of the mind, it be, and that fool be well and truly imprisoned.

We won through to the gardens, after straightening our attire, wiping away as best we could the sweat and dirt of our descent – though the wheel-marks on my back were still visible on Jackson’s blue uniform shirt – and we headed toward freedom! When a voice from the shadows arrested us – and, very nearly, our hearts in our chests, so sudden and unexpected was it.

“You’ll never get out that way,” the voice said.

We must have been quite a sight, as MacManus leapt nearly out of the chair and then subsided back with a groan of pain, and Lynch spun entirely around and then fell to his knees; I reached for my pistola, but unfamiliar with the sheath that held it to the belt, I fumbled the weapon, and it fell to the ground at my feet. A proper mummer’s troupe were we, aye, ‘struth.

‘Twas the laugh I recognized, even before Margaret came out of the shadows. I introduced her to MacManus – after I retrieved my weapon and shared a look of both accusation and shame with my shipmates; some pirates, we, scared out of our wits by a sick granny – and she explained what she had meant. Out for a walk alone, as Morpheus’s kind embrace eluded her, most nights, she had watched us emerge, recognized Lynch and I and then discerned our intent from our demanor and our attire, which she knew to be but paltry disguises not fitting our station; thus must we mean to escape this place, by means of the forest that girded the gardens. But –

“There’s a wall, all around, just beyond the trees. You’ll never make it over with your injuries – especially not your friend in the wheelchair,” Margaret said. At this intelligence, we three were cast down by despair. The front entrance, we knew from MacManus’s recollection of arrival, was well-guarded, and our disguises surely inadequate to slip us past. No patient moved in this place without papers, and no staff without a portrait-card attached to their tunics, and we lacked both. And surely the Accountman had alerted the gate guards to our erstwhile escape attempt.

But then our discoverer proved to be our savior. Margaret (rather shamelessly, I thought – but then, gray hair grants great license) bid us back to her chamber, and would hear no demur. We went, having no alternative, and there that good lady made use of her telephone to contact her granddaughter, the lovely – and tractable, it seems, as she hearkened to her granny’s call after midnight; though perhaps she is simply a good lass who feels proper loyalty to her blood and respect for her elders – and providential Meredith Vance

Now we wait for her arrival, with a beast-wagon to bear us away; Margaret has made known to us that at the bottom of the stairs – alas, more stairs! But a single flight, however, and we be driven forward by the spur of freedom so close – is a door offering egress, which will, upon opening, sound a fire alarm, as Margaret called it; in the ensuing confusion, which Margaret assures us will be prodigious and profound, we will make good our escape. Fortunately, Margaret was not seen in our presence this night, and so will not be held accountable for aught, so long as we are not discovered here, or with the fair Meredith.

We have all offered this wondrous lady our most solemn gratitude, which she waves off; most humble, is she, and most kind. All she will accept in recompense is a game of draughts with each of us – and, now that she has destroyed Lynch as she did MacManus, it is my turn. I think, with my mind sore fatigued from our activities, that my only hope is that Meredith’s call will interrupt my drubbing.

 

Later

It did not. But we are free.

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Log 43: Most Interesting Encounters

Log

August the 24th

Yesterday after noontide, I had a most interesting encounter. I woke from my postprandial slumber and made my way out to the gardens for my evening game of draughts with my dear Margaret – who, like many of nature’s most graceful creatures, is most active about the hours of dawn and dusk. I found her in the gardens already, and accompanied: accompanied by a vision of beauty that set my heart to racing, and dazzled my poor rattled brain.

‘Twas Margaret’s grand-daughter, one Meredith Vance. Tall she is, for a lass, and slender and shapely, by Jove. Locks of deep red, nearly crimson, and skin of ivory, and a smile that would charm a dead man, with a voice so melodious that the birds themselves must hush to listen. I did approach, nowise showing my flusteration, and made my courtesies and obeisances; I flatter myself to think that I did detect a becoming flush in Meredith Vance’s cheek when I smiled and bowed to kiss her soft hand.

Then she crushed me at draughts. While Margaret sat and watched and the two of them laughed and laughed.

A most fetching woman, this Meredith Vance. Alas that she must see me thus, aswaddle in bandages and without my finery, my weaponry, my gold, or my ship. My humble self did seem to her liking, though, so perhaps I can impress her anon.

I hope she will visit Margaret again.

Later

Ah, and here I thought la policia would be the dread and torment of this serene place. But Drucker and Rice have been as mere gadflies to he whom I did encounter this day.

Today, at luncheon’s hour, I was visited by one Tobias Sanderson, hospital accountman. A factor, it seems. A rabbity fellow, of damp eyes and pale flesh; one more at home with books and parchment than wind and rain, or sun and moon and sky.

Master Sanderson made a brief courtesy, and then moved right to the heart of the matter: the bill for my keep. Apparently, the hospital had contacted my mother country, as Ireland now offers her aegis to her sons when they ail; something called the National Health Service pays the doctors’ wergild – the blood price, that is. But neither the consulate, an office I know nothing of, nor the National Health, had heard of an Irish son by the name of Damnation Kane.

Aye, I thought, for such a name surely vanished when I did so, in 1678.

But I smiled my most charming grin, and told Master Sanderson: Nay! Damnation be but a friend’s name for my humble self. My Christian name is Nathaniel, known also as Nate. What kind of mother, I scoffed, would name her child “Damnation?”

As he wrote this new intelligence in his folio (I have my own folio?), my mind was racing. Once he fails to find this Nate Kane, I thought – or, if one such there be, by chance, once the accountman discovers that he is not I – I feared this acquaintance would grow rapidly discomfortable. How does one dissuade and put off a functionary, I wondered. Then it came to me: like a nobleman, of course; the bane of all government.

“My good man,” quoth I, in my haughtiest tones, “There is no need to search me out in this, this – National Health. I am here. I am all that you will ever require. The Kane name is one of the finest in all of Europe; of course we will stand for our obligations. I will make good on whatever is owed; for myself and my companions, as well.”

He looked me askance, then, peering over the top of the folio and the spectacles he wore. “Well, Mister Kane,” he said slowly.

Lord Kane,” I interrupted him. In for a penny, in for a pound, so they do say.

He coughed dryly into his fist. “Excuse me, of course. Lord Kane. You should be aware, er, sir, that the American health care system is quite different from the British system you’re used to. Primarily in the matter of cost.”

I waved my hand impatiently. “Bah! Money is not a concern, I say. It matters not to me – bother me not with your pounds and shillings and pence, I – “

As I preparing to wax rhapsodic on the matter of my supposed immunity to Mammon, he flipped through the papers in the folio, and then put his finger on one and interrupted me (Clearly he has no experience with nobility; lucky to still have his head and whole skin, I should say.), saying, “Your current amount owed is just under 85,000 dollars. Lord Kane.”

Into the dead silence that followed this pronouncement, while my mind reeled – by Lucifer’s ballocks, Master MacNally asked less than a fifth that for freeing all of my men from the Florida gaol! – Sanderson looked at me again and then added a second blow while I reeled: “The balances on your companions’ accounts are considerably higher, as both required the aid of surgical specialists, as I recall.”

Were I but myself at this moment, I would have swallowed my tongue and spat fire at this highway robbery – and this man’s name is Toby, the very word the English use for such iniquity! – but Lord Kane must care nothing for amounts, no matter how exorbitant; he must not haggle like a merchant. And so, to cover my discomfiture, I put my hand to my head as though my wound pained me, and then waved him off again, repeating that money was no matter, that the Kanes ever paid their debts. I dismissed him, peremptorily, and ordered him out so I could rest. Sanderson closed his mouth – as tight as his pursestrings, I wager – bowed over his folio, and left the room, muttering about telephone calls he would make.

By Saint Patrick, what bloody money-grubbing bastard has been allowed to run rampant over the medics here? Who permits this pillaging? Have they no king, no chieftain, no man of honor to defend holy justice? I recall what I was paid for my service as the Enchantress’s maid-man; how would a working man ever earn enough to pay such a debt as this place would load onto my shoulders? Let alone a sick man, in need of such care? It was the sort of thing I might expect in my Ireland, the Ireland held firmly under a conqueror’s bootheel, and pillaged by foreign soldiers every single day; but I had thought that these people were free citizens under a sovereign state. But it seems they are in truth ruled by these avaricious doctors – or else by the functionaries who keep the books, by Sanderson and his High-Toby ilk. ‘Tis madness. Sheer madness.

And so, it seems, we will not be staying in this hospital. My lies may have earned us two days, perhaps three, but before such time passes and Sanderson returns, we must be gone from here.

I must rest, now. I will need my strength later.

25th August

I bid farewell to Margaret this morning – and in a fit of foolishness, bid her give my fond regards to her lovely and charming grand-daughter. To no good purpose, as I do not expect to see them ever again in this life. Still, she has my regard, and it is no ill thing for her to know it. Lynch, MacManus and I had laid out much of our plan, this yesternight, after I rolled Lynch’s chair down to Shane’s room and informed them of the exorbitant wealth I had purported but in fact lacked, and our need, therefore, to flee.

This afternoon, then, Lynch and I must explore these halls. I know the route we must follow to escape the building entirely, but before then, we will need uniforms for myself and for Lynch, and ordinary clothes for MacManus. We will pretend to be in service here, Lynch and I, like that simpleton attending Margaret when first she and I met, and we will claim to any interrogatories that we are taking Master MacManus for some fresh air out of doors. Lynch is sure that he can walk, though not far; he will lean on the chair as he rolls it, for support, and I will help when I can.

We must find, too, some means to disguise this stone sheath on my arm.. I have asked the doctor, and it must not come off for at minimum another fortnight, or my arm will be too weak to be of any use to me. Then, with the quiet confusion of the hours before dawn to conceal our disappearance, we hope to walk right out of St. Vincent’s hospital, and seek out my ship and our shipmates, if they still be free, and if we can find them.

Clio. Setting.

Damn it all.

Later

We have it. The attendants arrive in clothes suitable for wear in the city streets, and then re-dress themselves in hospitallers’ uniforms. There is a chamber, at the end of a hall that crosses ours, where they effect this change and then store their unused clothing. We watched two women enter wearing the blue livery of the staff here, and then depart in ordinary habiliments; at the same time, a man made the reverse transformation. There are two doors to two chambers, it seems, dividing the sexes and preserving propriety; I cannot be sure as I was prevented from entering. We will endeavor to go there undetected this night, and obtain such apparel as we need.

Later

I cannot sleep. I know I must, I need rest so that I might have all of my faculties and all of my strength, as I must not merely captain this journey, but also lend my good right arm to my companions, a shoulder to lean on and a hand to help, perhaps even an arm to shield. But I have no good arm left me.

This reminds me: I must find armament for us. La policia may pursue us, and I feel sure that the accountman Sanderson will have strongarms at his disposal, and will likely set them on our trail, considering the clink they say we owe, the which we will not, of course, be paying. I must be ready. I must be strong. I must sleep.

I cannot.

My mind will not be still. I find myself pondering the possibilities, and dithering. Me! I am Damnation Kane, captain of the Irish rover the Grace of Ireland, and master of the manly and barbarous scalawags what crew her. I am not this indecisive namby-pamby who fears to be caught on the spot without a plan formulated already. I have no need to predict and counterbalance every contingency: I will face what comes when it comes, and confront it, and conquer it! Who is this coward that occupies my mind? Who made my hands tremble when questioned – without a single threat, without one instant of torture either implied or applied – by a pair of fat, aged West English policias? Who keeps me from my rest now?

Who am I become? Am I not me? Am I not Damnation Kane, dread pirate of the Irish seas?

I know not what to do. And that, too, is not me.

Perhaps the blow to my head has addled my wits. Perhaps the long time abed and away from my ship has stolen the strength from me, has cooled the fires of my blood. Perhaps the medicaments, the potions and infusions and tinctures, and perhaps the limp and tasteless food, have all served to weaken my heart and mind.

Bah. Perhaps I just need a drink.

It matters not. Whatever fear I feel, however I may lack rest – on the morrow, I depart. Then we will see if I am who I should be, and if I can do what must be done.

Then we will see if I am still Damnation Kane.

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Log 42: Draughts

Log

The Twentieth of August in the Year 2011

My exploration met with success! Today I did find gardens, which I am permitted – though it sore chafes me to admit I am liable to be permitted anything, rather than taking whatever I want; but still I am not hale – to wander. The heat of the noon sun is oppressive, but the light falling on my flesh is most welcome, most invigorating. At last, I have cast off this feeling of entrapment, of entombment, in this place with its ever-white walls, unpierced by sight of azure sky, its air that whispers through grates rather than singing through open windows with Nature’s breath.

It has also greatly advantaged me that at last the good doctors have removed my ivies; the visit to MacManus had been made doubly awkward, and vexatious, by the necessity of hauling along my chirping fluid-filled ivy box, which at the least is on a wheeled stand and thus can be rolled (and used as some manner of support, should one be struck by a wave of weakness and wish to avoid shaming one’s self by falling to the floor like an inveterate drunkard) as one walks. But still and all, I am most cheered thus to be rid of its aid and its incessant chirruping and tugging at my limbs, tethered to it by ivy strands rooted in my flesh. Extricating these from mine extremities in a fit of pique was entirely inadvisable; and made of me a most compliant and complacent patient thereafter.

I had, as well, an amusing encounter. These gardens without the hospital are reached through a pair of heavy glass doors, which took some strength to open; I surmise it to be some form of test of one’s recovery, that if one is incapable of passing through this portal, then one should remain abed. But just without, a reward: a wooden bench, most comfortous, and which affords a splendidly pleasing view; it is flanked by large and vigorous flowering plants, the blossoms of which flood the air with a perfume as lovely as ever met my senses.

As I sat, enjoying my time in the sun (and I did vow that I would roll Lynch’s chair out here on the morrow; on this day, he slept), I heard a rattle-scratch at the door, which was astern of my left shoulder. I turned to look, and beheld two figures at the portal, visible through the glass. One was a youth in the livery of the hospital and apparently in its employ – though I question his actual capacity for such employment – who stood idle before one of the heavy doors, his hands drawn up before his face like a nearly-blind deacon holding his Scriptures, and in the boy’s hands was one of the Verizon-stones that I have seen frequently since our arrival here. This was obviously one of the god Verizon’s most devout worshipers, as he did not look away for an instant, so enraptured was he by the face of his god.

The other personage, clearly a fellow sufferer come here for succour, was an elder woman, her hair white as thistle-down, her face a map of the passage of many and many a year, but her back straight and her eyes clear. She pushed lightly at the heavy door as I watched, the which did make the rattle-scratch sound I had heard; then she turned and stared at the youth, clearly waiting for him to break the chains of inhuman stupidity that kept him from realizing: not only was she a lady of some dignity, not only was she a grandmother and deserving of great respect, but she was a weak and injured patient of his employer, and obviously he had been assigned to see to her needs. Yet there he stood, unmoving but for his thumbs, which caressed the Verizon-stone as obsessively as a friar with his rosary.

I made to rise and carry out the fool’s proper duty, but ere I could do more than stand, the lady threw up her hands and shoved her way through the portal – showing an impressive vigor for her age and condition. The lad, still without looking up – his hair, which fell foolishly before his eyes, may have served as a second barrier to observation of the world, just after his ape-like imbecility – stepped to the side and then quickly through the door which the lady had opened.

Shaking my head and gritting my teeth, still I must first offer the lady some courtesy, as it was so sorely lacking from other quarters. I bowed to her, and gestured to the bench beside me.

The boy sat down. “Let me know if you need anything, okay, Mrs. F.,” he mumbled.

The cast on my left wrist, it obtains, is a fair club: it made a most satisfying thump on the back of the imbecile’s head. He cried out and at last – for a wonder – looked up. I struck down at his god, then, and sent it rattling across the ground – broken into pieces, I saw with no small satisfaction. “Hey!” he yelled, stretching his hands out toward his broken stone, like a child deprived of its sugar-sop.

“Aye, the lady doth need something, in truth,” I growled at him. “She needs to be treated with due reverence, and some semblance of manners. But not nearly so much as you need a drubbing for manners’ lack.”

He opened his mouth to protest, surely, but then a toss of his head cleared the hair from his vision – and perhaps the shaking of his rattling-dry walnut of a head cleared some of the cobwebs from his brain, what little there be of that organ – and he saw my expression. His mouth closed and he slunk off to retrieve his broken stone, which he proceeded to manipulate mournfully, clearly unable to return it to its proper shape. I shook my head once more, muttering a Gaelic imprecation, but I wished to help the lady more than I wished to beat the lad. Though ’twas a slim margin, in truth.

“Please, Madame, I beg thee to join me. This pleasant garden lacks but gentle company – a dearth I vow thou canst most ably fill.” With a flourish, I bowed the lady to the bench, where she sat after placing her dainty, wizened hand in mine and murmuring a delicate thanks for my humble assistance.

“Nay, milady, thou hast my gratitude for thy fair presence, which doth make this good garden all the more lovely.”

The lady arched a brow at me and then laughed. “Well, aren’t you the honey-tongued devil,” she said.

I bowed my head at the compliment. “‘Tis only meet to whisper sweet words into this well-perfumed air, and only a gentle manner should greet such a rare and beauteous lady as yourself.”

She snorted (in a most unladylike manner, though to say true, it made me glad, for though I can don a semblance of manners, ’tis not to my comfort, who am happiest with my salty brethren and the buxom tavern-wenches who keep us company) and said, “Too bad I have to be followed around by Justin Beeber over there, then. Though his manners are about what I expect from his generation, in this country, at least.” She shook her head at him – I would swear she spat! – and then turned to me. “You’re from Ireland, unless my ears have finally gone on me. I thought I heard you use a touch of the Gaelic to that hairy dullard.”

I bowed my head once more. “Aye, milady. I find my mother tongue to be unmatched in the application of vigorous insult. And if I may, I am Damnation Kane, of the Ireland of old.”

She held out her hand, and I took it and brushed a kiss across her knuckles – gnarled they were, but her grip was strong. “Margaret Boyle Flanagan, born in Dublin but raised on these barbaric shores. A pleasure, Mister Kane.”

“Nay, the pleasure is mine, milady, especially knowing thou to be of the right and proper blood.” I winked and placed another kiss on her hand, and she laughed. A proper laugh, too, full-throated and honest. A tavern-wench’s laugh.

“Tell me, Mister Kane. Do you play draughts?”

This was a good day.

 

Log August 22nd

This place, this hospital, has at last become hospitable. Though the food remains questionable – ample in quality but sorely lacking in savor – all else is grown most comfortable. La policia did return to question me once more, but the same application of hand to head and furrowing of heavy brow did foist them off once more. I feigned to remember a detail or two, selecting the most apt of MacManus’s tale; ’tis to be hoped they will be satisfied with this narrative, and be off to find an imagined ship and imagined enemies, and leave us in peace. The medicaments given me by the doctors have greatly eased the pain of my wounds, and my strength returns rapidly; the bedchamber and washroom adjacent are small, but adequate to my needs, and clean and well-maintained by the staff, who are numerous and generally quite solicitous. Now that I am ambulatory and can visit my companions at will, and with access to the gardens and my newfound and most delightful friend Margaret Flanagan – I find these accommodations most satisfactory. We will stay here, I think, until our hurts are well healed.

Margaret (as she insists I call her) is a woman of grace and gentility – though not, I must hasten to add, in the manner of one of those insufferable noblewomen, haughty and priggish. We have spent much of the last two days in company in the gardens; we found the means to play draughts, and with this and with conversation were thus occupied for many hours, though the time seemed far shorter, in our tranquil and enchanting amusement. Between games we walk through the gardens, her hand on my arm for support, and talk endlessly. I had her cackling like a hencoop over the exploits of my young self; particularly the occasion when my cousin Colin and I determined to set a trap for a giant, an endeavor that ended with a sheep bleating piteously, a-dangle from a tree limb with a rope about its middle, and Colin’s Da flat on his back in a mudpuddle, as Colin and I hied for the hills. Margaret, in turn, sang me a ribald song about a Scotsman which I must learn to heart so I may sing it for O’Gallows, that half-Scotch bastard.

Aye: with Margaret and the gardens to fill my days, and restful sleep o’nights, I find myself – happy.

 

August the 23rd

Today I met with Lynch and MacManus. I had woken in the night from a dream of the Grace, and bethought myself to read again the letter I have from Vaughn. This sparked my curiosity, when I read of how my companions held clues to the whereabouts of our beloved ship – or rather, the means to ascertain such knowledge. I called Lynch to come to MacManus’s room, and we discussed the matter.

They had clues, indeed, but none of us knows the meaning of them. Lynch had been told two words, which had been repeated often enough to root them well in his fevered memory, though the lad knew but the syllables and not the sense: the word “setting,” and the name Clio. I wonder if my educated friend Llewellyn meant to refer to the Muse of history. Or perhaps it is the name of a person, or an establishment hereabouts; I recall seeing taverns and eateries with similar names in Florida, while we sojourned there.

MacManus, who had maintained control of his faculties despite his wounds, had been given directions. He had been told, by Vaughn, to return to the point where they had docked the Grace – an old and unused pier in a quiet harbor not far from here – and then proceed, with his back to the ocean, for 100 paces, there to turn left and walk 30 more. Simple enough, but as these instructions had been withheld until after arrival at this hospital of St. Vincent, MacManus had no idea where they would lead. I hope then when we stand at that spot as directed, the words given Lynch will reveal their meaning, as well.

But this can all wait for another time. I must eat, and then sleep, and then – draughts!

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Log #41: Meetings

 

When I woke once more, it was to the feel of tears on my hand, and warm fingers clasping mine tightly. I opened my eyes and saw, to my joy and surprise, a pale and drawn Balthazar Lynch seated in a strange wheeled metal chair by my bedside, weeping softly over my hand. Even as I watched, still somewhat befuddled by sleep, I saw him place a gentle kiss on my palm. Poor lad! I have been his only father since his parents’ death in a fire, the which drove him to life on the sea.

I moved my fingers then, gripping his (though without any strength), and he started and straightened, releasing my hand as though burnt by it. He winced, pressing a heavily-bandaged arm against his side, and dashed away tears with the other hand before he met my gaze. Then, as he saw my smile, his face burst into dazzling joy, and he caught my hand once more in his.

“Oh, Captain,” he said, “thank God you’re alive, sir. Thank God in Heaven.”

“I’m glad to see you, too, lad. Are you well?” I asked him.

“Aye, sir, well enough. I cannot yet walk far, but this chair gives me the run of the floor.”

“There is another of us here?”

He nodded. “Aye, sir – ’tis MacManus. He were shot in the leg, and splinters went into his gut. He cannot get out of bed yet, and it chafes him sorely.” He squeezed my hand. “But he’ll be joyed to hear that ye are awakened, Captain. We’ve been most fearful for ye, sir. Most fearful.”

I thought of the kiss, and looked at the lad – so young, he was. “Aye. Howbeit, I’m awake now, young Lynch.” I pulled my hand from his, touched at the place the doctor had shown me, and raised my bunk into a chair, so I could look at Lynch properly.

“Now we must plan our escape from here.”

 

Log August 18

 

Unfortunately, our escape must needs wait. We are very weak and in pain that, while not so great as experience tells me it should be, is still more than can be easily borne, especially if we must live the life of the pursued, with the hounds baying at our trail, as we might: Vaughn did not know the fate of Hobbes and the Sea-Cat, nor his devilish Shadow, but the foreboding of my dreams prevents me from thinking them vanished or purged from my world.

But despite pain, and worry of impending doom, I am grateful to our fates. Surely our wounds would have been fatal, had we remained in our natural time, or had my crew not found their way here and known to deposit us three at this place, where we recover our strength – albeit slowly – instead of mouldering in a grave.

It has taken much of yesterday and this day to be able to stand and walk once more; my legs were unhurt, but rising to stand on them sent such roils and twists of dizziness through my poor broken head that I could not remain upright for more than a few breaths at first. But with time and custom, the dizziness has lessened; I have regained my sea-legs. My shoulder requires that I wear my (elsewise healthy) right arm bound to my chest; the good doctor tells me the bullet broke a rib and then grazed and chipped my scapula – the shoulder blade, that is. My left arm, fortunately, is functional in the main; I have the use of all of my fingers, though I cannot bend the wrist, as the bandage encasing it is a hard as concrete. ‘Tis called a cast, as a plaster sculpture before the bronze – but ’tis a singularly ugly sculpture, as such. I am able to brace this logbook – the which was brought to me through the kindness of Miss Winslow, who has been most accommodating, her brusque manner notwithstanding, as I dreamed delirious and, apparently, called out for pen and paper  – with my cast left arm, and write in it with my weak, but dextrous, right hand. It will serve.

I will rest now. Tomorrow I will visit MacManus, who cannot yet leave his bunk.

Later:

Had a refreshing and exhilarating visit this afternoon. (To say true, I do not know the time, nor the day, but for the testimony of my caretakers; without window I have no inkling of the sun’s place, nor the moon’s color, and I am not allowed to rise and perambulate. More, I am not yet capable.) Aye, if I am to say true, ’twas not a visit, but an invasion, and ’twas not refreshing, but rather – terrifying. Perhaps it is my hurts which make me vulnerable, which makes me so womanish; I have never played the coward ere now. I admit, here in this log (which may never meet another’s gaze but mine), that I did fear that they might take me and abscond, and none might ever know of it, nor come to my aid. Lynch would know something had chanced, aye – but the boy’s gut-shot. These doctors may have worked miracles, with their white rooms and their ivies, but that? They can repair him, in truth? Or have they merely stretched out what few days remain to him? I bethought myself, while they stood there and looked down on me with eyes as cold and lifeless as those of a fish – or of a dead man – that perhaps Lynch would flag and fail, and MacManus might be quick to follow him to the grave, and then, as the Grace could be lost to storm or taken by Hobbes, there would be none to know of my fate, or to care. I thought that, and I trembled.

But I have pulled at a skein, and lost the pattern of the weave. I was visited, not half an hour gone, by la policia. They were polite at first, and as long as pleasantries were exchanged, so was I too. But then they began to inquire as to my injuries, and the events and causes and culprits thereof – as though I would forego mine own vengeance to them! Then I did recognize them as threat: then they became to me West English, as Ian O’Gallows has well-named the people of this place and time. The same sort of poxy bastards as those I had encountered in Florida, set in the same mold as the English soldiers who oppressed myself and my countrymen, who tortured us and beat us and cheated us; then did I know them for untrustworthy rogues, and then did I stop answering their questions, schooling my face to stone.

As it obtained, however, I had a rescuer: my new friend Doctor Kelashnikskaya. He had come in with la policia – there were two, named Drucker and Rice – and as they asked their questions, standing at the foot of my bunk, the Doctor stood by my right side, and examined me. Needlessly, methinks, as he had done a more cursory check not an hour before, but while he there stood and twiddled at my ivies and dithered at my bandages, it kept la policia mindful of my ailing condition, and kept them courteous. And then, as soon as they started in on who shot me, and where was I, and what was the name of the ship and where was she now (They obviously had some intelligence from Lynch or MacManus or both, which I dared not contradict but did not know what had been said, and so I said nothing at all.), Doctor Kelashnikskaya interjected with this pearl: “Gentlemen, Mister Kane’s head injury will very likely have caused some memory loss, and confusion, particularly about the time when the incident occurred.”

Aye: I grabbed at that lifeline, I did. For the rest of that encounter, I frowned and looked befuddled; I put my hand to my head as though it pained me, and I remembered nothing. Nothing at all. At long last, they departed, unsatisfied.

As he ushered the West English out of the room, I caught at Master Kelashnikskaya’s sleeve, and when he paused and looked back at me, I said, most sincerely, “Thank you, Doctor.” He nodded, and flashed just enough of a smile that I wot he knew the boon he had given me. A good man, he is.

I do not doubt la policia will be back, but perhaps it will not be soon: perhaps we will have sufficient time to do what is needful, ere they return.

 

August the Nineteenth

I have been humbled, this day.

I gathered all my strength and fortitude, screwed up my courage ‘gainst agony and travails, and made my slow and clumsy way down the hall to the room where lies my shipmate, Shane MacManus.

And there he lay, his leg wounded, his pelvis damaged by the bullet’s passing and the surgeon’s cutting. He may not rise from the bed – not even to relieve himself. I will not speak of the vile contraption with which these people invade a man’s body in order to evacuate it; suffice it to say that its discovery, upon waking from a long sleep, is horrifying in the extreme (most particularly when one has been told that there are ivy strands attempting to take root in one – and for one such strand to take root there, oh, gods and devils forbid it!), and its removal a torture which shames the cruellest gaolers of the English king. I cannot imagine how Shane survives its continued emplacement. Of course I did not ask, but only clapped his shoulder and gave him my deepest sympathy, in very truth.

Lynch had said he chafes at his state, and ’tis true. I have this log to occupy my time, and I have been spared many hours of inaction by my broken crown, for which I am now oddly grateful; the concomitant dizzy spells necessitate many hours of rest, which do nicely to fill the time – and defy the questioning of la policia, of course. Lynch has survived with some of the same medicine: the surgeons did invade his core to repair the bullet’s invasion and the terrible havoc it wreaked on the lad’s innards, and thus did he spend some days entirely in slumber. Then, when he woke, he had permission to move about, cautiously, and so was able to explore and exercise, to increase his strength and decrease his time as invalid abed. Too, ever since Vaughn taught Lynch his letters, the boy has spent hours reading all he can; he tells me that this place has something of a library, which he has availed himself of. Though for myself, I confess I wish that my companions, or indeed anyone, would let me prevail on them for a game of draughts; I have been so used to enjoying a game in the evening, even when all else had gone askew, these past months, but have lacked a fair match since losing Vaughn’s company to Monsieur Navarre, and now again to the vicissitudes of injury and pursuit.

But MacManus, though capable, does not enjoy reading nor writing (nor draughts, more’s the pity), and so rather than pass the time, such pursuits do stretch the time out. He is a man of action, one who would hunt throughout the day, and then spend the night carousing in taverns, be it drinking, brawling, dancing, or availing himself of a harlot’s generosities, it would matter not. Just so long as he was not as he is: trapped, immobile, damaged in such wise as worries him deeply regarding his future capabilities. He was too afraid and ashamed to inquire of the physician as to the subject of his possible gelding, but he was able to hint at his fears to me, and I did so inquire – and was able to reassure him fully, which I think did bring him some peace. Seeing that strong, good man so trapped, so enfeebled, and yet still and all a man of courage and tenacity, I know that I cannot complain of my wounds nor my discomfort. Not in the face of his so much greater suffering.

Lynch arrived in his wheeled chair as I sat with MacManus, and we did have a jolly time of it for a short while, ere the nurses chased us all back to our rest; I for one was glad of the excuse to return to my bunk, as weakness had crept up on me rather faster than I would fain show the lads, if I can so hinder their knowledge of my incapacity. Perhaps I worry overmuch, but I wish to have their confidence, and not their pity.

We did find a chance to discuss our tales for la policia: apparently their earlier visits had focused on MacManus, the only one of us to be cognizant when we arrived and remain so for those first hours and days. Even when Lynch had awoken, he said that they had been merciful and delicate, even solicitous with him; perhaps his youth and the severity of his injuries softened their hearts. Any road, Lynch was allowed to give little response, and so MacManus’s account has stood as the official record, thus far. We had been sailing on our pleasure boat, the Courser, when we had been attacked by pirates; our captain – one Hugh Moran – had sailed on to Jamaica, our original destination out of Dover, England (MacManus had rightly surmised that these strange-speaking West English would not be able to place the sources of our accents, though MacManus is as plainly Northern Irish as Lynch and I are southrons). We could not contact him aboard ship, but he would return for us on the way back to England. So shall we all say.

Now: to regain my vigor, I will now eat – though the food here, while largely satisfying, is most bizarre: the meat is both limp and burnt, the accompaniments are over-sauced and strange to the tongue, and the dinner and supper have both been companioned by a strange substance, of a violently brilliant hue, carved into cubes like dice, slick and taut to the touch, like the skinned flesh of an animal, and which wiggles most disturbingly when provoked. The nurses call it Gee-Yellow, and seem surprised that I will not consume it. It appears too much like jellied blood, which somehow still clings to life, and I am nauseated by the thought of it wriggling in my gullet. But apart from the gelatinous cubes, I will eat all I can, and sleep all I can.

Tomorrow I will explore.

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Log #40: Hospital

Log August 17

 

I will not say my situation has improved over what I found when first I awoke in this place, but at the least, I do understand it, now. Howbeit, I understand this place just so well as I understand any place in this world of 2011; that is to say, not so very well at all.

I drifted rudderless, in and out of my dreams, for many days. I remember seeing this place, the white ceiling and walls, the strange pipping of a tiny bird, slow and stately and regular as a funeral march, as if a sparrow were singing me to my grave, myself flat on my back and unable to move; I had some recollection of waking and choking on a thing which passed through my mouth and down my throat into my gullet as it was being removed, but the memory was strange and befuddling. I felt no pain, but I could not grasp and hold a thought, not a single one; and often I heard a quiet susurration, a whisper as of words spoke just beyond my hearing.

Aye: in my dreams, I did think this place to be Heaven, or Avalon, or Elysium, I know not what awaits us in that far-off country. But I bethought myself there, aye.

And then I woke, truly woke, and felt my mind catching hold; like an ox pulling a cart through spring mud, the great hooves slipping and sinking, and slipping and sinking, and then, at last, the hooves strike ground just firm enough beneath the muck to press back, and the cart begins to move: thus did I arise to the waking world. I knew myself alive, then, and in pain. My arms were strapped down, and my legs, as well. I had strands of clear stuff attached to my arms and my face, below my nose, and thin strands of white like spider’s webs or thread ran to my chest and brow; following them back led my eye to a tall white box, on a metal stand, with a quantity of depressions and obtrusions and dark places, numbers and letters and strange words written around and about, here and there. Above it on metal hooks hung two sacs of fluid, like wineskins made of glass; from these ran the clear strands to my arm. I felt a terrible thirst.

I attempted to call out, but could do no more than croak weakly. I fain would struggle against my bonds, but my strength had fled. Then the tall box gave a louder chirp, and then – cool, soft peace stole over me, starting with my right arm, spreading quickly across my chest and shoulders, my neck, my jaw, my head – and then again I slept.

When next I woke, the mud enmiring my brain was drier, easier to pull through and then out of. My pain was back, and the thirst; I bit at my tongue until I made enough spittle to swallow and ease my aching throat, and then I called out, “Hallloooo!” Soft at first, bare more than a whisper, but then a bit louder and stronger, and then a bit more with the third repetition.

After my fourth call, a door opened behind me, and soft footsteps padded in. A woman appeared at my right side, and smiled down on me. Neither young nor old, her golden hair tied back from her face, she wore a strange tunic and loose trousers, brightly colored and bearing images of – were those kittens?

Her cool fingers touched my arm, then my brow. “Are you awake?” she asked. “More than a quick breath before you go back under, I mean?” I frowned at her and tried to speak, but coughed through my dry throat. “Thirsty? Here, let me get you some ice chips.” She vanished. I croaked after her and struggled weakly, feeling like a toad tied to a board by a cruel boy. Did they plan the same sorts of childishly evil tortures for me as that toad would suffer of a heartless lad? I strained, but I could barely make a fist, let alone loosen my bonds.

The woman returned, a small cup in her hand. She touched something on the side of the bed near my hand, and suddenly the bed moved beneath me, lifting my head and trunk until I sat nigh upright. She held the cup to my lips, and when I opened, tipped it so that many small fragments of ice fell into my mouth; ’twas not unlike eating snow. They melted on the instant, and brought blessed relief to my raging thirst. The lady gave me a second and a third mouthful ere I pulled my lips from the cup.

She placed the cup on a tray and turned to the chirping box whereto my strands were tied.

“Where am I?” I asked in my toad’s croak.

“In St. Vincent’s Hospital,” she replied.

“And where be that?”

She looked somewhat strangely at me, and thus became familiar; now I knew myself to be, still, in the world of 2011, in the land of America, where all my questions are met with that same look. I could not suppress the sigh which escaped me at this revelation.

The woman returned to my side, placing cool fingers on my wrist. “It’s in Charleston.”

I said nothing.

She looked to my eyes and saw my befuddlement. “In South Carolina? In America? The United States?” When I showed no particular response, she put a hand on her hip, tipped her head to the side, and asked, “Say, where are you from?”

“Ireland,” quoth I.

She shook her head. “First time I ever met a white illegal,” she murmured. She had a pleasant accent, somewhat English, but softened in a way that seemed French to my ear.

My initial query answered so well as it could be, I moved to my next most pressing ignorance. “Wherefore am I bound?” I strained lightly against the strap crossing my forearms in illustration.

“You were struggling, flailing your arms all over. You kept pulling out the ivies.”

I looked wide-eyed at the strands attached to my arms, and I saw now that they pierced my skin – as if they were taking root in me. “Ivies? Why are there ivies planted in me? What hell is this, woman?” I began to struggle against my bonds, but I had not strength; the slight woman took hold of my shoulders and pressed me back against the bed-chair, restraining me with shameful ease.

“Calm down now, you just calm down. You need the ivies to get well again. They’ll come right out when you don’t need them any more.” I fell limp once more, already exhausted, and she released me. She arched one brow, hands once more placed on her hips. “And my name is not ‘Woman,’ it is Julie Winslow, RN.” She tapped at a card pinned to the breast of her tunic, which bore a tiny portrait of her. “You may call me Miss Winslow, for now.”

I turned my head away, shamed by my weakness and dulled by despair.

“I’m going to get the doctor now, all right? He can answer any of your questions.”

My innards growled then. “Will I be fed with more than mouthfuls of snow?”

“That’s up to the doctor. Just a moment.”

She departed, and then my throat informed me that it would appreciate another mouthful of cold relief. I looked down at the cup, placed on a tray that was easy to hand – or would have been, were my arms unbound and uninvaded. I looked more closely at my hands and saw that I was held only by wide leathern thongs, without locks; perhaps I could get my fingers to the clasp . . .

The door opened, and a manly voice said, “Well now, I hear someone’s finally had enough napping.” A man appeared at my bedside then, with white hair and beard. He wore a white coat over a blue shirt and a brightly colored neck-scarf; I had seen similar attire on Master McNally, and so took this man to be a gentleman of breeding, as well – as befit a medic.

“Aye,” I spake, my voice coarse. “How long did I sleep?” There was no window, no way to read the hour – or season, for that matter. By my dreams, it had been days, but what truth is there in dreams?

The medic repeated many of Miss Winslow’s motions, examining the ivy-box, placing fingers on my wrist while staring at an ornate golden torc on his own wrist, which resembled a compass. “What do you remember?” he asked me.

The shuddering blast of cannon. The stench of smoke, and salt spray – and blood, the corrupt stink of death. Hobbes, grinning like a skull, with a shadow-man at his back. Men rising from behind the rail of the Sea-Cat, thunderguns bursting, and screaming – my men – I fired and –

“I was – shot?”

The man nodded, his bright, intelligent eyes meeting my own. “Twice, once in the right shoulder and once in the left forearm. Both bullets passed through, but left you some fairly severe damage. You also suffered a fractured skull and a serious concussion, so I would expect your memory to be a bit fuzzy.” He drew a metal tube from his pocket, and with it, beamed a searingly bright light directly into my eye. I cried out, partly with shock at the brightness of the tube-torch, and partly with outrage at this imposition, and drew away. He frowned at me and at his tube, and then placed a gentle but firm hand on my brow, holding me like a fractious child, and moving more carefully, shone the light into my eyes for but an instant before releasing me, murmuring comfortingly all the while, to wit: “Don’t worry, I just need to examine you, only take a second, that’s it,” and so forth.

“Unhand me, sir!” I said then, and he did. When he was finished gentling me and prodding at my very sight.

He stepped back and put his hands in his pockets. “Do you know where you are?”

“Aye, the lass told me where I am. A hospital of the order of St. Vincent, though I do not know those monks.”

He frowned at me. “Do you know who you are?”

I stared for a moment. “Aye – I am Damnation Kane, captain of the good ship the Grace of Ireland.

Christ! I had not thought of her afore now; my brain still wallowed half in the mud of sleep. “Where is my ship? My crew?” I had a new thought, then, an explanation for my bonds. “Are you holding me captive? Are ye in league with the Devil’s Lash?”

He held up his hands placatingly. “Hold on, hold on, simmer down, now. You’re not captive, you’re not under arrest, and I’m certainly not in league with the Devil. We’re here to help you. The restraints are only so you don’t hurt yourself, and if you’ll promise me you won’t struggle or try to get out of the bed, I’ll take them off right now.”

I relaxed my limbs. “I am not held for Nicholas Hobbes? Nor for la policia?”

He shook his head. “The police will have some questions for you; we had to report your wounds, as they were gunshots, and the whole story isn’t yet clear. But you are not under arrest, or any suspicion, and you are free to go as soon as you are physically healthy enough.”

“I have your word on that?”

He paused, frowning slightly. Then he nodded. “You do.”

“Then ye have mine. I’ll not struggle nor fight you.”

He nodded again, and then he released the leather thongs that held my arms and legs. I tried to stretch my limbs, but was hampered by the strands of ivy. “Will ye take these out of me, as well?”

Now he shook his head. “I’m afraid you still need those. We are giving you fluids and antibiotics. You lost quite a bit of blood, there, and there was a fairly serious infection in the shoulder wound. Your friends bound it, but their materials were none too sterile, it seems.”

“What of my friends? Where are my shipmates?” I coughed at the last word, and the doctor took up the cup of snow and placed it in my hand; I emptied it gratefully.

“I’m afraid I don’t know anything about a ship. You were brought to the hospital, along with two others, who were also shot. They’re still here, and you can visit them when you’re feeling up to it. The men who brought all of you here left as soon as we took custody of you. The police have spoken to your two friends about them, but I don’t know any more than that.”

I returned to an earlier question. “How long have I been here?”

He paused, then said, “You’ve been here for seven days.”

Gods! I’d been shot twice, broken my head, and been feverish and delirious for a full week – and now I felt nearly hale, though weak and in pain. Not nearly so much pain as I would expect, howbeit. I nodded to the medic. “Thank you for your good care for myself and my compatriots.” I attempted to place the cup on the tray, but could not reach; the man took the cup from my hand.

“I want you to rest now,” he said. “In a little while I’ll have Miss Winslow bring you some soup to eat – and maybe a little surprise, if you’re feeling up to it.” He touched the side of the bed as had Miss Winslow, and I found myself reclining again. “Now you should try to sleep. It will help you get better.”

If he said more, I did not hear it. I fell into a deep and thankfully dreamless slumber.

I woke but slowly; as I lay dozing, the door opened and another woman came in, this one younger and darker-hued than Miss Winslow. I wakened further as she came to my ivy-box and examined its lineaments – why did they all stare at that box? And where was that damned cheeping bird, or the whisperers behind my head? – and gave her greeting. She smiled at me most prettily, and soon enough I had been brought upright once more – and the means of so adjusting my position shown to me – and she brought me a bowl of broth and a glass of golden juice, most delicious both, and surprisingly filling, though my gut did rumble ominously as I ate.

The doctor returned as I broke my long fast, and introduced himself as Albert Kelashnikskaya, a name I had to see writ on his portrait card ere I could repeat it. After a cursory examination and some idle questions regarding my mental state, he drew a folded paper from his pocket and gave it me. Then he politely withdrew – a man of quality, indeed.

It was a letter, from my good friend Llewellyn Vaughn, and reading it gave me more peace than even that good soup.

***

Captain Kane,

It is my fondest wish that this letter will soon find you hale and well, once more. My deepest regret is that I could neither return you to health myself, nor be present when these kind folk do so; but my own skills are far too meager for the first task, and our situation too dire for the second.

As of this morning, we are free of the Devil’s Lash. The Grace sustained but minor damage, apart from our casualties, and we had soon sailed out of sight of the Sea-Cat. O’Gallows has command, and after we are assured that you will be safe, we will sail elsewhere, to escape and perhaps draw Captain Hobbes away from you. I will not say where, as I cannot be sure Hobbes will not retrieve this letter. If you wake (and God will it so!), inquire of your companions, who will have the means to guide you to us.

God keep and preserve you, Captain, and us as well.

Llewellyn Vaughn

***

My ship was safe. My crew were safe, but for the casualties – and those were not so many that my dear friend Ian could not sail my ship to safety. Satisfied for the nonce, I held the letter to my breast, and thus slept.

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Book II: Chapter 1, of The Adventures of Damnation Kane — Log 39

Captain’s Log

But am I still captain? I am not on my ship. Where is my ship? Am I even myself?

I have slept long and dreamt – strangely. How long? How strange!

I dreamt that I was home, in my mother’s house. I awoke in her bower, the carved oak bench she was wont to recline on, the which I would steal for slumber whenever opportunity arose. And the dawn sun shone through the flowers that grew there, up trellises and down walls so that within the bower, all seemed a fairyland, without hint of human corruption in the sweet breath of nature. The perfume of the flowers drifted to me, and the birds gently chirruped, weet, weet, weet.

My mother came to me, moving slow as the tides, the sun shining on her face, her golden hair. She wore a gown of blue, and with gold shining at her wrists and her pale throat, she seemed the very sky itself, the heavens come down to bless me and ease away my cares.

“Are you home?” she asked with a warm smile.

“Aye, mother, I have returned to thee,” I said. I tried to arise, but – could not.

“Are you home?” she said again, and her smile faded. The bright dawn did as well, and a shadow crept into the bower. Again I tried to rise, but could not. Something held me to the bench, flat on my back. Helpless.

Then my mother raised her hands from her sides, and I saw she held an athame, the druid’s dagger, the weapon used for rituals. For sacrifices. “Are you home?” she hissed, and now her lovely face twisted with anger. Of a sudden her slow, tranquil movements flowed as quick as thought. And my mother stabbed me, and stabbed again. Behind her, in the leaves and vines and blooms, the birds chirruped on.

***

I dreamt I walked a road in the night, the moon bright above and a thousand thousand stars that danced musingly across the sky. From a thicket nearby came the slow sound of an owl hoo-hoo-hoo in the darkness. And as I walked, I felt a hand slip into mine, a hand soft and cool. I turned to look, and beheld – Genevra. My Genevra, alive again, in the perfect blossom of youth and health, as she had been once, but was not, that last time I looked on her. She smiled at me and said, “Hello, my darling devil. Give us a kiss, and then dash us away to your fiery pit.” ‘Twas such she ever said to me. I caught her up in my arms, laughing with her, her voice ringing like bells, like bird’s song, and I kissed her, aye, I did.

And as I drew back, her face looked as it had when last I looked on her: pallid and drawn, her eyes shrunk into her skull, her sweet lips drawn back from her teeth by the pain, her soft white throat swelled up like a frog’s by the buboes, her flesh blackened by that bloody English plague. They brought it to us after their city burned (When God wreaked his vengeance on them, aye, did he.) and they took my Genevra from me, and drove me thus to a life at sea.

That dying, agonized face looked back at me from my embrace, and now her grimace seemed a smile, and she licked her lips with blackened tongue and said, “Welcome to Hell, my devil, my Damnation.

“Give us a kiss.”

And she laughed like bells.

***

I dreamt I stood on the deck of my ship, my Grace, and the wind filled the sails and carried us over the waves. From somewhere far off, gulls cried, their harsh voices softened by distance into a gentle, regular note, repeating every second or two, Ha! Ha! Ha! As always, I looked to the sails, the lines, the coursing of the sea: all was as it should be, and I smiled as my heart swelled with joy, to be where I was. Where I belonged.

“Steady as she goes, Captain?” called a voice, and I turned to see my friend and shipmate Balthazar Lynch at the wheel. Gladly I climbed to the poop deck to stand beside him, clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Aye, we sail fine and true, and naught is ill in all this wide world.” The boy smiled at that, and I noticed the gleam of his white teeth, hale and straight and true, and the blush of health in his smooth cheeks – still too young to shave? – and the sparkle of his green eyes. He’ll reap through the lasses like a very scythe, I thought, as I have many times before, they’ll fall before him and aye, beneath him, too.

Then I noted a tear, bright and full, trickling down from the corner of his wide eye. “Why weepest thou, my lad?” I asked him.

He smiled bravely, though his eyes were full of suffering. “Because it hurts, Captain.” He looked down, and I followed his gaze to where a blade was sunk deep into his chest, and on the hilt were curled my own fingers. Blood burst forth from the wound then, hot and wet on my hand. I tried to release the dagger, but could not. I looked into Lynch’s eyes once more, and I tried to speak, but my tongue cleaved to my teeth, and my lips would not open.

“Please stop killing me, Nate. Please stop killing me.” And his face became Genevra’s face, and then my mother’s, and still the blade in my hand, in her heart, ran red with blood, and I could not let go.

***

I dreamt that I sat in a tavern, in a dark corner by the fire. I looked around the room – ’twas a fine place, a proper Irish pub, with smoking torches in sconces and warm smells thickening the air, though a cool breeze from the open door cut through the room and freshened a man’s breath. In the corner, on a raised platform, three musicians stood, tuning their instruments, fiddle and flute and drum, and the fiddle and the flute played a single note back and forth, back and forth, while the drummer tapped gently at the skin, a slow beat like a heart’s.

I looked to the bar, and behind it stood a man I knew, though he was dressed as an innkeeper, in an apron and shirtsleeves stained with food and ale: ’twas Sean O’Flaherty, my Quartermaster that was. At the bar sat Edmund Burke, who raised his mug to me, and I saw a long chain dangling from his wrist, and blood dripping down its length. Beside him was Donal Carter, sawing at a hunk of meat with a great, curved blade, and Elliott Shluxer, who had a barmaid pinned against the bar, hemmed in by his arms, though she laughed and tickled his cheeks. She glanced back over her shoulder, and I saw ’twas the Enchantress. She winked at me most saucily.

And on top of the bar, laid out like a roast goose at Christmas, was my cousin, Hugh Moran. And all of them sliced and tore at Hugh’s flesh, thrusting dripping chunks into their gaping, bloody mouths, and laughing as they swallowed. Hugh struggled, and tried to scream, but he had an apple in his mouth, and O’Flaherty held him down. Hugh looked at me, his eyes pleading.

I turned away.

“Would you care for a plate, Master Kane?”

The voice, mellifluous of tone and refined of accent, came from my table companion: Captain Nicholas Hobbes of the Sea-Cat, known as the Devil’s Lash. He sat in deep shadow, though I could make out the outline of his thin features, and the shine of his white teeth, the gleam of his eyes. He smoked a pipe, the white plumes curling idly between us.

I shook my head. “‘Tis not to my taste, sir.”

“Then perhaps a draught, to quench thy thirst?” From the shadows that enwrapped his side of the table, he pushed a goblet brimming with a red fluid. Wine? Blood?

I demurred once more. “I do not thirst,” I spake, but I lied – my throat was a fire, my voice cracking like a pine log on the hearth. I strained my eyes, peering through the smoke and darkness, and I saw that there was not only one smile, or one man’s eyes agleam in the dimness, but two: behind Hobbes lurked another, lost in the shadows but for the white of his smile and his gaze, the which gleamed hungrily.

“Then mayhap this is what you seek,” Hobbes said and across the table he thrust a pistola. As he leaned forward, he came into the light, and I saw that his face bore the waxy yellow pallor of the dead, and around his throat I saw two hands wrapped tight and squeezing, the fingers dark and scarred.

“Aye, I thank thee kindly, sir,” I heard myself saying. And I took up the pistol from the tabletop, pressed the barrel against my head, and pulled the trigger.

***

***

I am thankful that I have never been press-ganged. I’ve known men who have, and I have spoken with them about the experience. Some were pressed into a better life than that they left, for all that it was the British navy they now must needs serve; still, a British seaman gets food and clothing, a berth and companions, and if he serve loyally, mayhap even the gratitude of the Crown. And some, of course, were stolen away from happiness, from hearth and home, companions and kin, to be flogged like brutes and treated like beasts. These latter had escaped, while the former were generally released from service after some years before the mast.

But for all, that first waking was a memory that haunted. That first moment of awareness, when the last thing you recalled was a walk through dark streets, or perhaps a drink of ale or wine in a tavern by the docks, and now you find yourself with aching head in a hammock, or sprawled across the rough planks of a deck, on a ship at sea, moving with the waves when last you stood on solid land; in your nose the smells of salt air and a ship and men, and in your ears the sounds of wind and waves, sails and shrouds, and chanteys and shouted orders to rise and work – perhaps punctuated with a kick, or a blow from a belaying pin or marlinspike: every man to whom I spoke of it said that the confusion, the bewilderment of such a change, from landsman’s life to the world of a ship at sea, all of the world altered in the single closing and opening of an eye, had filled them with a terror and a despair that none had otherwise known. Their lives had gone, and they had no memory of the going. The sensation did not last long, but those moments were sheer and absolute Hell.

And now I know what they meant.

I am in a room with white walls, without window, with one door. I am in a bed, clothed but in a thin wrap like a robe made of parchment or threadbare linen. My arms are tied by leather thongs lined with some soft material, bound to the rails that run on both sides of this bed, and thin tubes are – attached to me, somehow. The tubes lead to a contraption of metal and white-lacquered stuff, with clear sacs like wineskins made of glass, filled with variously colored fluids. The thing chirps like a bird, though more regular-like. My left forearm is well-bandaged, as is my right shoulder, and both pain me severely. My head seems awash in porridge: somewhat thick and warm and impossible to grip are my thoughts. I have slept and woke and slept again, sometimes dreaming, sometimes aware, even as I have written this. I write these words on a bound sheaf of paper which rests on my hip, with a pen I found alongside the sheaf when I woke.

I do not know where I am. I do not know the fate of my ship, or my men, or even myself. I do not know how much time has passed, or what has befallen us since – I do recall the battle, though I know not how it has ended.

Aye, this confusion is terrible, in truth. I am adrift, and alone. It would, like those press-ganged men I have known, be the worst sensation I have ever felt in this life; except for that I have felt it before. When my ship sailed through time, stranding my crew and I three centuries lost from home.

Has it happened again? I do not know.

Sleep pulls me down. I fear my dreams.

Gods and saints preserve me.

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