I am glad that no other sees these pages, for the weakness described herein must unman me. I started this log with the intention of cataloging the tale of my adventures, but it has become something else. I know not if I will ever have the opportunity to tell my tale to another, for now the narration must show me for a madman; nonetheless, there is good in this log, for the keeping of it, the enscription of my thoughts, my passions, my woes and triumphs, the description of the vagaries and vicissitudes of this life – this world – this brief time upon the grand stage: it brings a respite to the feverish workings of my poor overtaxed brain. It is a balm to my injuries and a salve to my soul. But for every instance when I have poured my awe and wrath onto these pages – ink splashed everywhere like blood on the arena sands – every narration, when revisited, shows me for a lesser man. To read these words is to know, in meticulous detail, each and every time I have felt fear – weakness – befuddlement – aye, even cupidity. My glories, what there are of them, are drowned and sunk, swallowed up by a thousand failures.
Aye: is that not the lot of man? When counted, one to one to one, are there not always an hundred destructions for each single victory?
Perhaps. Perhaps this is but another example of the human condition. Perhaps it is merely that I must ever be thus; perhaps ’tis my fate. Perhaps it is simply that – I live up to my name.
Howbeit: none will ever see these pages but me. (And I must be sure to secure my larger log, the ship’s log, when I reach the Grace.) None will peruse the chronicle of my imperfection. Especially not those who would call me captain and believe me fit to lead them.
I feel a dark cloud hangs over me, dogs my steps and obstructs the light of hope. I do not know when it began to gather, when it became prodigious enough, heavy enough, to be noticed – but now it cannot be missed. Every breath I draw is dark and dank and leaden. Every sight I cast my eyes upon stands in shadow, black with omen. With doom. My heart feels stretched taut, like a thread of spider’s silk that thrums with the breeze and the falling rain; I cannot fill my lungs – ’tis as though a chain enwrapped me, holding me captive, constrained.
I am trammeled by despair. And I cannot break free.
Perhaps I am too long from my ship. Perhaps I am too long from my home, the land of my birth. Perhaps it is because the time is out of joint: the wheels slip, the hours seem to draw out, and then contract, and so one moment passes in but a breath, and the next moment lasts a lifetime. And always, I am unprepared: I wish the hour to draw out when it speeds, and I wish it to fly when it crawls. All that I do is wrong. All that I attempt fails, and in the failing, I do sink deeper and deeper. Perhaps it is not a dark cloud overhead: perhaps I sink into a sea of black hopelessness. Of slow, agonizing death.
Writing this is not helping. Where is my balm, now?
‘Twas sleep that was needful, more than the recording of my sorrows. This last passage I wrote in the dark watches of the night, as I sat wakeful, unable to find my way to rest while I am riding in the belly of this steel dragon. I surmised ‘twould be simple enough; I have a double bench to myself; Lynch and MacManus sit across the aisle – both sleep, now. MacManus snores. The motion, the noise, the closeness and number of strangers – all of this is familiar to me, all circumstances I have known at sea, where I have slept two to a bunk belowdecks, surrounded by strange men, on a ship tossed by storm’s waves and winds.
But there is a strangeness here that I do not know. The motion of this – this enormous serpent that carries us forward, it is nothing like the rolling and rocking of a ship at sea; neither are the noises that rattle and clacket and drive into the ears. They are too cold, too harsh – metal scraping over metal, rather than the gentle, living creak of wood, the splashing of waves and the sighing of wind.
Nonetheless, I did manage a few hours rest. Now it is near dawn, and not so lonely nor cold, for the sunlight will be joining me soon – thank the gods these people put windows into the hide of this beast, to let in the rays of heaven and the comfort they ever bring.
The people who surround me – ye gods! I cannot comprehend them. Their bizarreries, their grotesqueries, they stab my eyes, my mind. I cannot look at them, and yet even when I look away, I hear them, and in my mind I can see them still.
They are so fat. Yet I cannot stomach their food. They are surrounded by wonders, yet their eyes are dead. They stare at their magic windows, their magic mirrors, at their Verizon-stones – they look at nothing else. They seal themselves away from the good Earth that birthed them, raised them, fed them; they lock her out, their mother, with steel and glass and plass-tick. Even when they have windows, they do not look – Look! Just now, I glanced up the rows of benches, mainly filled with people now-waked. The light of a dawning sun brightens the sky to starboard, and would fill the train – but for the curtains which are drawn shut to block it out. I look out my window, and I am granted a view of sublime and surpassing beauty and majesty: we ride through a great forest, trees a hundred paces high, leading down a long and gentle slope to where a wide, tranquil river sparkles like gemstones in the sunlight. It is wondrous, and all it lacks is a breath of open air, so that the clean scent of this land could fill me, release the bands prisoning my heart. But the windows do not open, and the air on this demon-train smells old and stale and dead. Like the beast we ride in, which does not live. Like the people who surround me, who do not seem to wish to.
And despite this great beauty outside, when I look up through the benches (set on both sides of the train like slaves’ rowing benches in a Moorish galley) I do not see faced bathed in sunlight. I see corpses – animate corpses – gleaming pale in the blue witch-light of their gods-rotted magic windows. I see naught but blue-glowing rectangles, magic mirrors and Verizon-stones, cell-‘phones and – lap-tops, they are called, as I just inquired of the man in the bench behind me. He wears ivy strands with bulbs at the end in his ears, attached to his magic window; he had to remove these to answer my query as to the name of the thing he was hooked to. One after another, bench after bench – and when I turn and look behind me, ’tis the same: naught but cell-‘phones and lap-tops. Not one even glances outside. They will not open the shades to let in the world. They wish to be devoured, digested, dissolved by this cursed – poxy – rattling steel BEHEMOTH!
I must get out.
I am somewhat more at ease now. I have moved up from the bowels of the dragon to its throat – perhaps its mouth. The metaphor fails. There is not even as much life, as much genuine reflection of the glory of nature’s creation, in this whore-spawned, thrice-cursed train as would be in an infernal hell-beast from the deepest abysses of the Underworld.
I have left my galley-bench and the segment of train in which I rode, as doors allow passage between segments of the train, like bulkheads giving entrance to holds and cabins. I moved through three more chambers of grotesque dead-eyed gluttons blocking out the sun so they could stare at their magic windows; with each chamber, the air felt closer, less wholesome, and my lungs grew desperate, I panted like a hound, my heart racing, my whole body crying for freedom – for release – for air. I think these people exude some miasma, some effluvium that doth poison me.
And then, at the ragged edge of despair, I reached a place awash in bright sunlight. ‘Tis the observation car – where I sit now as I write this. the walls and roof are all windows – true windows, not magic, windows that reveal the free and magnificent world outside this train. The sight has soothed my ravaged nerves. Though still I long for fresh air, for one clean breath.
Anon – I can smell food. Perhaps there is somewhat to sustain and replenish me.
BLOODY FOUL FUCKING REEKING WORMS! Gods-damned pox-ridden pig-kissing goat-swiving whoresons, may crows take their useless eyes from their putrid, pustulent faces while DOGS tear out their white and empty livers, the craven, foul-hearted black-blooded mongrels!
Damn me. NO! Damn them. Damn them all. Where is my sword? I need my sword. Good steel in hand, bending to my will – instead of this cursed steel box that ensconces me, entraps me, that is driving me mad! I must get out. I will leave at the next port, at the next stop. I will get off. I will not – NOT – share a train with her.
We are off now. I spat on that devil-spawned beast as I left it – and then for many minutes, I simply breathed. Ah, gods, the air! At last, true air. Lynch, clever lad, thought to ask the liveried attendant aboard that accursed train where we were, and if another train would come by. We are in Alexandria, in Virginia, a name I recognize (and even that small familiarity makes this place seem more comfortable, more real). The man told Lynch (I was too maddened with rage and desperation to hear, though I stood hard by as they spoke – I think MacManus tried to calm me, to gentle me like a frightened horse or a thunderstruck mule, but I do not remember.) that we were near to a place called Washing-town, Lynch thought it was; the man added a French word, what Lynch thought was dici, though he has only a few words of that tongue (I know not this word, myself, but guess at the writing of it.). Regardless, the attendant told him that many trains passed through this place every day – it is one of the great cities of this land, this Washing-town.
The place we wait now is sufficient for me; a hundred or more people departed the train when we did. But, horror of horrors, at least twice that many got on! I cannot imagine. I know I would have lost my solitary bench in the jostling, and I am sure I would have lost my mind, trapped in steel, without air, and with so many of these stinking corpse-men pressing close about me. Why, I could not have survived it.
More likely, that harridan to whom I spoke in the observation car – she would not have survived it, for I would have strangled the hag and then stomped on her lifeless corpse until I ground her bones to powder.
I was seated before a window – a marvelous window, tall as I and wider than my two arms outstretched – and looking out on beauty. I had found the kitchens in the observation car, on the lower level, and though they did not have the whiskey I so sorely needed, they had the sweet golden juice – ’tis called orange juice, which may tickle my memory; do they have such fruit in Spain? – and a pastry that is achingly sweet, almost too much so. But I did enjoy the food, which was returning my strength to me, and my sanity with it, as long as I sat in bright sunshine.
Then I heard a cough from behind me. I did not wish to converse with these people, who had turned my stomach and addled my wits, so I ignored it. Then I felt a finger poke fiercely at my shoulder, and a girl’s voice – with a tone of speech through the nose which grated on my sore nerves – said “Excuse me!” most rudely. Lucky that she was a lass, or else the poke would have earned a wallop from me for such impudence. I turned, slowly and without word, and arched a brow. A young woman, perhaps fourteen or fifteen, stood – too close! – behind me. She might have been a pretty maid, had she clothed or carried herself in anything like a maidenly manner, but her clothing, where it was not diaphanous, was as tight and clinging as Meredith’s Yoga attire, the which, on a lass of tender age, was merely indecent. Too, she wore an excess of cosmetics and paints on her face, and her jewelry – gods! She wore metal rings and rods thrust through her lip, her nose, and her eyebrow as well as her ears. I have seen savages from the Orient with less strange embellishments.
As I stared in horrification, she pointed impertinently, her hand thrusting nearly under my nose. She thrust out her hip and stamped a foot pettishly. I turned – slowly, again; clearly the lass needed to learn patience – and looked, but saw nothing of import. She pointed toward the base of the window, but there was naught there to see – the trees directly outside were small and stunted and flew by too quickly for interest. I turned slowly back, my face studiously blank. ‘Twas difficult – she smelled. She wore a scent stronger than a midden full of rotten fruit, under which I could still detect, this close, the stench of unwashed flesh.
She rolled her eyes and stomped the other foot. “Could you move?” she quoth. “I need the out-let.” She held up a strange object, a black cord – it looked somewhat like the ivy strands from St. Vincent’s – that terminated in a squarish object, the width of two fingers or so, with two flat pieces of metal protruding. I looked at the object and then back at her, and said nothing.
She gave a harsh exhalation, apparently exasperated with me. “Oh my God, are you deaf or just a retard? I need to charge my ‘phone!” She held up a cell-‘phone.
My temper snapped. I stood quickly to my full height, and she stepped back. I pointed at the plaque in her hand. “You do not need that fey thing,” I said, though I think I growled more than is my wont. “You need that!” and I pointed without, at the sun, the sky, the trees beyond the window. “You damned people with your cell-‘phones! They are naught but a prison for your minds – what feeble wits you may have left to you.”
At first, the girl looked somewhat cowed by my height and my fury, but then as I spoke, she smiled, most sardonically. When I finished, though my anger kept me muttering under my breath all the while she spoke, she said, “All right, wavy-gravy, whatever – hater’s gun a-hate. Don’t blame me if you were like, raised in a cave, and I know how to live in the modern world – the real world.” She held up the black glass plaque, her cell-‘phone. “What did you call this? A cell? It’s an eye-phone, dumb-ass. And I bet I’ve seen more of the world with it than you’ll ever see staring out the window of a train.”
“Bah!” I spat, and stepped out into the aisle. “What does that show but illusion? ‘Tis not real – ’tis not the world, but a picture of it, cast by fey means to enchant your eyes and enfeeble your mind. The map is not the country, the image is not the thing itself. We are creatures of life – we belong in the world!”
She laughed, slouching back and crossing her arms. “Tell you what, loser: you go out, like, for a walk in the trees, and I’ll take an on line class, design a new killer ap, make millions, and then buy up the forest and turn it all into fucking chopsticks and like, coffee filters, O’Kay?” She shook her head and turned away from me, flicking her fingers in my face as though brushing away a fly. She stepped into the seat I had vacated, and thrust the metal protrusions into a matching slot in the wall, at the base of the window where she had pointed. Then she turned to face me again. “Do you even know what year it is? It’s 2011, and you can’t do anything without an eye-phone or a lap-top. Nothing worth doing, anyway. We belong in the world? The whole world is in here, dumb-ass – you don’t have a life unless you’re on line. Believe me, sweetie, if you’re not on line, if you’re not jacked in, then you’re just slowing the rest of us down. You’re just getting in the way.” She looked me up and down, shook her head and smirked. Then she sat and set her eye-phone before those same organs. I ceased to exist for her, being outside of her world.
I said nothing. I did nothing. If I had not turned and left the observation car that instant, I would have wrung her neck with my empty hands. All of the hatred I felt – I feel – for this time, this place, these people: it all focused in her wretched form. Even when I returned to my bench, I could not keep from my mind the thoughts – the happy thoughts, pleasant thoughts – of collecting my wheel-gun from Lynch and returning to blow a hole in her skull, to empty her head – though likely of naught but dust and rubbish – onto the window she refused to look through, to take her out of the world she so despises.
That is why we had to leave the train. My nerves are too frayed, my judgment gone, my prudence, my forethought – I have nothing left of will or restraint.