Arrrr, blast me brain and sink me to the depths, ye scurvy scalawags.
I do not know why I wrote that. I have not the will nor the strength to blot it nor tear it from the page. My reserves are not merely depleted, but entirely exhausted: there is nothing left. All I can do is follow the road, this black, unyielding, iron-shot, soul-searing – this never-ending infernal road! All of my might is focused merely on continuing to breathe this foul air, with its smokes and its stinks. I am grateful that Brother Bob has accompanied us, and what’s more, that he has not only ceased to speak of our sins in taking this wagon and team (By the gods, I do not care to imagine what we would be if but our feet carried us thus far and forward from here: skeletons atop bloody stumps with madness in our eyes, methinks), but he has also most generously volunteered to purchase provisions for the four of us, and thus have we been fed on this journey; I assume he knows that my men would be taking food as we took the wagon, at the end of the pistola, and thus to avoid, he opens his purse-strings for us. ‘Tis well: I do not wish to have la policia know of us this far north; if they should commune with their brethren to the south, they would soon find our names black-marked in Charleston. Best we avoid notice. Aye, aye, the wagon, but – ’twas necessary. And has not yet brought misfortune to us, so we will keep hope, and carry on. On this thrice-damned Hell-burned road.
I find my pen is run dry: not of ink, but of words. I have this day seen yet another – monstrosity – of this age. I know not how to describe it for these pages. How many of these horrors can I find, and then enscribe herein, before they all blur into a single grotesque of metal and smoke and unnatural foulness?
What is this age? Who are these men? How can they live thus?
They cannot even claim to lack examples of a more proper life, for even if they forget their history, the time when I was born and where I should be, they have these Amish men to show them a better way – and yet they eschew the green fields, the woods, the open land; they build cities, and ride in the bellies of beast-wagons and dragon-trains and air-planes. And, now that we have crossed the bounds of this state Brother Bob names New Jersey, we find that they poison the very earth beneath their feet, the very air they breathe.
It began with a stench, a stench I cannot describe – smoke and death, like a midden heap outside a slaughterhouse, doused with tar and set afire and then heaped with damp and rotten straw to increase the smoke. Aye, well, I can describe it, true enough. Fah – ’tis a great frustration to me, to find myself so bone-wearied by my journey and by my fears for my ship and my men and our future path even after we reunite, and then atop that to see terrible, soul-darkening sights, day after day after day. I cannot tell (Aye, again, perhaps I can, but I know not where I find the strength to draw the words, what well sinks deep enough within to fill my pen with a stream of language that may be pure. But I must wonder: do I drink of that purity and goodness within, and am I thus renewed? Or do I draw out and spill forth on these pages, with these words, my last remaining goodness, my last featherweight of beauty? Be there more within, or now less and now less and now less? Aye, and here is another fear to weigh upon me, and perhaps to taint but more of that goodness within.), I cannot say how truly I long for the ocean, and no sight but wind and waves to all horizons.
After the stink, there was the sight: here I know not what to say, truly. It was a construct, a mass of metal and stone rising from the ground, as large as any other I have seen, fortress nor palace nor cathedral. Tall chimneys rose up like towers above a keep, but rather than flying pennons in the air, they flew flags of black smoke, rising for miles into the sky, darkening the blue of heaven with their foulness – and spreading the stench we had been breathing all that morning.
I asked aloud what it was, and Brother Bob – who had paid it no mind, a fact I find as chilling as the fact of this thing’s very existence, for it means that such corruption is common in his life, in this world – said it was an oil refinery. I did shake my head. “There is nothing fine, nor refined, about yon Hell,” I told him. He but shrugged his shoulders. Brother Bob finds us poor company, now. Though why he sees our small crime as a worse offense to the eyes of the gods, or of his One God, than that refinery, I know not.
“That’s industry,” he said. “That’s jobs. If it’s a choice between the environment suffering a little smoke, a little spilled oil, or men starving without work, watching their families go hungry, then it’s no choice at all.”
Aye, I grasp that. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of my countrymen starved after Devil Cromwell conquered us, and his Puritan men prevented the Irish from growing food for themselves, slaughtering our livestock and burning our fields. But I do not see men hard at work in this age. I have seen no man tilling a field, not in the hundreds of miles we have traveled: I have seen more metal engines, which Bob named combines and tractors and threshers. I have seen no man bringing his goods from one place to another on these roads: I have seen beast-wagons. I have seen no men at work manufacturing products for market: I have seen this oil refinery, and many another place Bob has called “industry.” But how can a man be industrious when his own hands are idle, when his own feet move not nor bear his weight, when he but rides in a machine and commands other machines to do the work?
I think the devil has found here a whole nation of men ready to listen to his whispers, and their hands are thus made idle. Aye, and their souls, too, and their minds, and their hearts, as well.
I must go home.
Tomorrow I think we will arrive. Bob says we are close. I endeavored to find a telephone that could reach out to my friend Vaughn, but we passed none. No matter: tomorrow I will speak to him with my own mouth, to his own ears. Tomorrow, I will stand aboard my ship. Tomorrow.
Today, we met a fool. Two, in truth.
We made for the ocean, this morning, to let its salty winds blow from our noses the stench of this age’s industry, to let the sight of those mighty waves ease the turmoil in our hearts. The road offered us a choice, and when Bob told us where those ways led, we made our choice with no thought and no hesitation: to the Jersey Shore, we said, and thus went we.
Many and many a man had made the same choice, it seems; alas, but they have built too many houses, too many shops, too many piers: they block the ocean’s beauty. Aye, this is not new to this age; every coastal city I have seen, and many a small village, too, builds as near to atop the waves as they can. Merely evidence that men know their need for the sea, and wish to be within it, held in the bosom of the water, like the embrace of Gaia herself – or of Danu, to hear my mother tell it in the language of the Druids.
Two of these men saw us, and pointed and laughed, long and loud. MacManus and Lynch were atop the wagon’s bench at the time, with Lynch at the reins; as the day was sunny and warm, they wore the wide-brimmed black hats we had found tucked beneath the bench when first we took this wagon – hats that belonged to the Amish boys who had ridden here before. They had left other baggage, which included well-made shirts of white cloth, soft as fine wool, and short coats of black cloth; as our own clothing had grown ragged, we had made use of this wardrobe thus offered (all of us but Bob, of course, who would touch nothing that he deemed “stolen”). Thus we three ancient Irishmen were dressed to resemble Amish men. This, in combination with our mode of transport – so rare that we have seen not one other such in all our days on this road – seemed to be the source of their hilarity. I could not but assume they had never seen a mirror, nor their reflection in a pond of still water: for they had dyed their skin, it seemed, as our Celtic ancestors once did with woad before they marched to war, but these men had chosen – dirt. Reddish brown, or orange, dirt; Spanish clay has a similar hue, I think. They wore loose pantaloons and tight tunics, and hats that did not fit, but merely rested atop their heads, with strange abbreviated brims that they wore away from their faces, and so clearly served no purpose in keeping the sun from one’s eyes; too they had these tinted eye-pieces we have seen on so many Americalish, but again, these fools did not wear them before their eyes: they wore them at their necks, where they served no clear purpose whatsoever. They shielded their eyes from the burning sun with their hands. I cannot understand why a man would do this.
Like their dress and actions, their speech was too hard for me to understand, at first; but their laughter needed no translation. We were at a stop, at Brother Bob’s request; he required a place of relief, and had stepped into an inn by the road to answer nature’s call. Many people had seen us and pointed and whispered, but in the main, they waved and greeted us in amicable fashion, greetings we gladly returned. Until these two, with their loud laughter and wild gesticulations, slapping each other on the back and holding their hands before their mouths as though they would sneeze or cough, but naught emerged but howls of mirth.
They approached us close. Lynch paid mind to the horses, clucking at them to keep calm despite the mass of people crowding close around them; MacManus was seated closest, and he held his gaze on them: for Shane is no fool, and he knew that such men often try to play up strangers for amusement – to the strangers’ sorrow. And just so, with these two.
As they approached closer, they nonetheless spoke loudly, as though we were too far to hear, or as though they played to an audience, though none stopped to watch their antics. This made it simpler to understand their speech, though I can but render some of their words as I heard them, knowing not the meaning. “Nah, bro, Amish don’t fight back! For real, check me out, bro!” The nearer fool stepped up to MacManus and fondled himself obscenely. “Suck this, bro!” he shouted, and the two fell over laughing. MacManus looked back at me and raised one brow. I shrugged. “We do not want a brouhaha,” I said. “But I’ll not tell ye to surrender honor.” He nodded understanding, and turned back to face the two.
“Nice swag, bro – where’d you get that shit, like the dark ages?” This was their next sally, which brought forth more peals of laughter, and still naught but indifference from MacManus. I did see his hand tighten into a fist, though, as the gesticulations of the two seemed to be disturbing our horses, still calmed by Lynch’s soothing, but nonetheless growing more nervous the louder and more rambunctious grew our pair of jesters.
It was their third act that brought a response from MacManus: one of them held a cup of some frothy white drink, and he threw this at Shane, soaking the leg of his breeches. What was more, the horse attempted to rear, feeling the liquid splash against its flank, and only a quick leap to its side by Lynch, who held his hands over the beast’s eyes and whispered softly into its ears to soothe it once more, prevented serious trouble.
MacManus stepped down from the bench and stood before the two. Their laughter but grew the louder. One said, “Come at me, bro!” which brought shouts of delight. The other then reached out and pushed at Shane’s shoulder; the first leaned forward and knocked Shane’s wide black hat from his head, and then drew back his fist as if to throw a blow, the two of them laughing all the while.
So Shane shot him.
It was but a glancing shot, as Shane intended; fools should be thrust away when they grow bothersome, but it is never their fault if the gods made their brains as thin as gruel, and as incapable of sense. A crease in the lower leg, drawing blood but doing no permanent harm – though Shane did raise the pistola and place his aim on their foolish faces, faces no longer amused but rather dumb with shock; for the time had come and passed for these two to abandon their game and depart. Shane said nothing, merely raised one eyebrow, his weapon more eloquent than any words. The two fell over each other running away, the one with the scratched leg screaming and crying, “He shot me, bro! He shot me!”
Now, that was an amusing sight.
The crowd had gone entirely silent as the scene unfolded; after the two ran away, MacManus tucked his pistola back into his sash and climbed into the wagon seat once more, as did Lynch, the horse now calmed and still. Brother Bob returned at that moment, and perceiving naught amiss, climbed in back and said, “Let’s go.” Thus we went.
And for our final farewell to the Jersey Shore, we heard a voice from behind us speak softly into the silence these words: “Those are the baddest mother-fucking Amish I ever heard of.”
We have reached New York. Taller than mountains, is this place: the sun does not fall to the street, blocked by the buildings of men. We have crossed bridges that would dwarf the mighty span of London, seen more beast-wagons than a man could count.
And every step, every passing moment, my heart has grown colder and darker in my chest. somewhat is wrong, I know it.
We have found a guide, however, and I am most gladdened that someone in this stone Hell has a warm and welcoming heart. He is of the City Watch – aye, of la policia, of the New York house by his badges, worn proudly over his heart and on his brow – but he is mounted properly atop a steed, a living, breathing horse, and he approached us as a friend, greeting our horses with a smile, and saluting us kindly and with deep respect. Though he, as did the fools of Jersey, thinks us Amish; perhaps his friendship would be colder if he knew us for what we are. But perhaps not, for there is a warm heart, indeed, beneath that silver badge. He is guiding us through the streets to the proper place, once we had named the harbor where our ship is located; he said he couldn’t just leave a fellow horseman to wander the stone streets of this city. A good man: a welcome treasure, no matter where ’tis found.
We will be there soon, he says. Ah! My eyes strain to see her, my heart races to be near my Grace.
Yet I am afraid. I know not why. I wish I had spoken to Vaughn.
Bah! We will be there soon. And all will be well. Aye, all will be well. It must be.
We have found the place, we are sure: this is, our mounted policia guide tells us, Pier Eighty-Three in Brooklyn. We have spoken to a lad, from a craft named The Emperor Grable, who knows my ship, and his father knows Vaughn, and O’Gallows. This is the proper place, our destination on this endless, evil journey, where we would find our friends, and our way home.
But the Grace of Ireland is gone. My ship, and my friends, are gone. My home, my way, is gone.
All is lost.