Posts Tagged With: Washington DC

Log #55: Free Men

Log

9 September 2011

In Ireland, there was a man, who spent aye his time in the public houses slurping from the bottom of a tankard, named Seamus O’Monaghan. And though Auld Seamus, as he was known (or Old Shame-Us, as some wags referred to him, with a gimlet eye and a curse for his old bones) ne’er stirred himself to set his idle hands to any honest work, still his cup ne’er went dry for long. Auld Seamus, you see, was the finest talker in a country famed for drunkards and poets. Famed to us, at the least: I know not how Ireland has fared over the years. I will ask Brother Bob on the morrow.

Aye, Auld Seamus, he could talk. He would spin a tale that would have left Shakespeare gaping in wonder, or Amergin mac Eccit himself a-dandling on his harp strings, empty of poetry. Auld Seamus could paint a scene with words that would have you not only seeing every leaf and every blade of grass, but smelling it, too. He could make his voice as high as a maiden’s or as gruff as the Devil himself, and his face and his hands would follow the same road, his eyelids fluttering and lips pursing delicately as his maiden hands sought demurely to hide his face – despite the snowy stubble across that chin, mind – or his brow lowering, his wide mouth curled into a sneer and a leer, both at once, his every feature turned infernal. Auld Seamus knew every tale, from books or from villages across the land, and he’d tell any that was asked for, so long as it was asked for with a full mug of ale. And Auld Seamus never went thirsty.

In between tales, while other men would argue over the weather or women or warfare, Auld Seamus would weigh in with his views, of the which he ever had a plenitude, suited for any topic and any occasion; and though his words in conversation never earned him any ale (for every man has an opinion, and no one’s are of value close to my own, in my eyes), those opinions would oft bring the conversation to a close – thus drawing the house down into a lull, which would never last more than a few heartbeats before someone would call out “Give us a tale, then, Seamus!” And he would place his hands on either side of his empty tankard and wait. Aye, there was no dust on Auld Seamus, for all his white hair.

And how would Auld Seamus scuttle a topic? Why, by proffering opinions so absurd, so fantastical – and yet so seemingly logical – that no man could possibly refute them. For the wise would know the argument to be too mad to merit rebuttal, and the fools (of which there are always a majority) would either believe Auld Seamus’s words as he spake them, or be so enchanted by them that they would profess belief merely to amuse themselves in repeating and chuckling over what Auld Seamus had said. Such as the one about rain being the soul’s tears, that was a favored speech, I recall. Some men were arguing over the rain, which was surprisingly sparse that year, and whether or not it would return to its usual pattern in time to increase the crops, or if they would stay dry and thin. Auld Seamus, he broke in with this: “O’ course there has been na’ rain: the English hath gone home, have they na’?” Well, naturally the crowd needed to hear how these two statements related, one to the other, so Auld Seamus explained: it was misery that made rain fall. The more people there were suffering, the more tears, not true? Of course all agreed, in terms of sheer volume of salt water. Ah! And where the men have hearts of lions, and the women, as well, and they turn hard as stones and shed not the tears brought by their suffering, where then, Auld Seamus asked, do those unshed tears go? Why, they travel up into the sky, like mist rising in the morning, and when enough such tears gather in the clouds, they fall as rain. That is why fair Ireland, ever beset by foes and ravaged by feud and turmoil – and where, Auld Seamus said, the people are wise enough to know their misery, and hath long memories for past sufferings, too – Ireland is nigh flooded with precipitation, and Scotland, the same; England, of course, suffers less, and France less still; the Holy Land, where our Lord and Savior walked, will ever be a place of joyful hearts, made so by the memory of the Christ, regardless of what strife may tear at the land; thus it will remain a desert of smiling faces. And, he finished, since the English are now leaving Ireland (’twas when Charles II returned to his throne, after the happy death of Devil Cromwell), the Irish are not suffering sufficiently to bring the rain to our crops.

Aye – it works, does it not? Wherever the people are in the main more blissful and content, the skies are, in the main, more clear. Rain is soul’s tears. Auld Seamus said so.

Here is another of Auld Seamus’s finest oratorical meanderings: Ireland, though plagued by marauders and savage Englishmen, was nevertheless – free. Or at least more free than the homeland of those same Englishmen. “For Ireland hath na’ king, is’t not so?”

“Aye,” the befuddled listeners would answer. “For we are conquered by the damned English, who rule us.”

“Aye, and precisely where my aim lieth, lads!” crowed Auld Seamus. “For a king – a good king, a wise king, just and manly – maketh men loyal. Loyal men follow the laws set down, like stones in a wall, by that just, wise king. That’s what taketh off a man’s freedom: his own choice to loyally follow the laws of his righteous lord.

“But when ’tis a foreign conqueror behind the laws, or an evil king – a man like Devil Cromwell, aye, struth – then no one feeleth the sting o’ conscience when the law be broken nor bent. Then the only matter is, can ye avoid bein’ caught? And any Irishman wi’ a brain in his head and two eyes to see, and two feet to run, will ne’er be caught by those English clods. That’s why we are free!”

And then the men pause, and ponder; then shrug and say, “That’s Auld Seamus!” Then all share a laugh and a round of full mugs. But not a one argues against Auld Seamus’s words. How can you?

Damn me but I miss the old gaffer. Him and all the rest.

It seems to me that if Auld Seamus could have set sail from Ireland (on a ship filled with casks of ale, of course) and settled his own land, where the only history is what Auld Seamus tells them, and the only philosophy what he offers them over a full mug, that land would be America. For surely, this place is madder than any land that has ever reverberated to the tread of man. This day, what I have seen, and what I have heard said, with all sincerity, by Brother Bob, has shown this to be true, and put me in mind of Auld Seamus that was. So now, like then, I will shrug my shoulders and say, “That’s America.” Then call for an ale. There is nothing else that I can do in the face of such lunacy as that of these free men.

We rose early and walked on, after an easy meal of bread and crisp bacon. The woods did not last more than half a mile – surely why Lynch had no luck in hunting – and then opened up to a view of wonder, and horror, both. We looked down from that hill and saw – city. Nothing else but city, from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye could leap: buildings and streets and beast-wagons, followed by more buildings and more streets and more wagons. And then still more.

Brother Bob stood with a smile on his face (As, it seems, he does at most every moment, regardless of circumstance – a fine jolly man, he is.) and said, “Isn’t that amazing? That right there, gentlemen, is Washington, D.C. The capitol city of this magnificent country.” (Brother Bob cleared up my confusion regarding the name, which I had believed to be partly French: the city is called the District of Columbia, and given the initials to differentiate it from another place named Washington. I asked him from whence this term originated, but he knew not.)

We made appropriate noises of awe and amaze, and then began the trek down into that labyrinth of humanity and all their works. And who did we find, once we plunged past the outskirts, behind the veil of buildings? Any man who has been to Dublin, or London, Paris, Lisbon, or Rome, anyone who has walked from without to within one of the world’s great cities knows the answer: we found poverty, misery, corruption, degradation, and suffering. We found humanity, in all the tattered glory that is a city of men.

It was perhaps less apparent to our eyes, I and my two fellow ancients, than it would have been to a native of this land; we did not recognize houses and edifices that are shoddy, shabby, small and lowly – to us they are all incredible giants, filled with sparkling glass and the eldritch light made in glass balls they call electricity. But we knew beggars when we saw them, and good folk wasted by poverty and hunger, and young men turned to surly, hard-hearted toughs – turned by anger that has no target, no release, and no respite. Aye, we knew these people well: they are our people. They are we.

Brother Bob did not show poorly, as we made our way down streets filled with the idle, the inebriated, the insane, and the indigent; I have seen many an American turn away and ignore his fellow – a habit I saw as well in the English these people so resemble. But Brother Bob behaved more like an Irishman among his brothers: he met their gaze, whether the eyes behind were mad or sad or forlorn, and nodded and smiled and murmured greetings and well wishes, raising his hand to the men and giving a slight bow of respect to the ladies he passed: whether granny or child or painted harlot, he spurned none. My shipmates and I exchanged a glance and a smile; we might be in the wrong place (For ye must pity the poor and destitute, but among ’em, remember to watch thy purse) and the wrong time, but we were with the right man.

After a time – a longish time, and a good distance: four or five miles, methinks, though these buildings so close and so looming-tall do make it hard to judge distance over land – we passed out of the outer city and into the inner city, the home of the prosperous and the noble. A spring came into Brother Bob’s step again, and he began to point out sights for our amazement and edification. He asked if we had ever seen the White House, and when we confirmed our innocence of such, he clapped his hands with glee and turned us down a street crying, “This way!” and setting off with vigor.

Indeed, we were amazed again. This White House was a palace beyond any we had ever seen – perhaps rivaling St. Peter’s in Rome, or that place Louis of France was rumored to be building, in Versailles, if I remember aright, though I have never seen either, to compare. ‘Tis a mighty colonnaded manor, as white as new-fallen snow, seen at a fair distance across perfectly kept grounds behind a tall black iron fence with guards posted at the entry gate, kept busy by swarms of courtiers and audience-seekers, as any palace must be.

I inquired of Brother Bob the name of the sovereign who ruled there – curious I was, whether these once-English colonies were now under a Tudor, or a Stuart, or perhaps a Bourbon. But he scoffed at this. “We don’t have kings here! This is a free country!”

I set my gaze on that White House, this lavish prodigy built for one man’s vanity and comfort, and I scoffed in return. “I have seen palaces ere this, my brother – and that is a palace. With palaces come kings.” He shook his head, saying I did not understand, and I let it pass.

He led us to more magnificence then – more great buildings, all of them pure white and colonnaded (clearly meant to flatter the king by imitating the style of his palace), which he called the Capitol, and the Supreme Court, and other such; this Capitol, quoth Bob, housed what he called the Senate – as in Rome of old – and a House that he compared to Parliament, a term that we three ancient Irishmen, who had lived through the rule of Devil Cromwell and his Parliamentarians, started at and exchanged glances over. Perhaps it is true that they have no kings here, I thought and whispered to my compatriots: if their Parliament has beheaded them as Cromwell did to Charles of England. Then Brother Bob showed us the monuments – built in one of the loveliest places I have seen, in this land or any other, in a park with a pool of water that reflected the clear blue sky above, and pavilions, graceful and clean, all about.

There were monuments to the glorious dead, fallen in battle – one, Bob said, for an unknown soldier, which befuddled me: why would you cast shame on the dead, being forgotten, or on yourselves for forgetting him? Another, where Brother Bob took some time to visit and say prayers, was a vast wall of black stone, with thousands of names carved into it – the names of all the men torn from this world by fire and by sword in that war. I must say, ’twas a magnificent tribute, a fine way to honor lost heroes. ‘Twas most affecting to us all. Especially when we realized the sheer extent of it, and the number of the fallen – a terrible weight of names, in truth, and of lives lost.

Then Brother Bob showed us the memorials for past kings. And these showed once more that my surmise regarding the White House was correct – a point I made to Brother Bob. This Lincoln, this Jefferson, and most particularly this Washington for whom the city is named – who raised himself a pagan obelisk taller than any spire I have ever seen, taller by far than the great cathedrals of Europe, as if this man would set his glory above that of God himself – clearly, these men, though they wore no crowns, were kings of old.

“You don’t understand,” said Brother Bob. “This is a free country. It’s a democracy. We choose our leaders.”

“Aye, so did the Romans,” I rejoined. “‘The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.’ Is that it? You have chosen to set these men so far above you that they ‘bestride the narrow world like a Colossus, and we petty men walk under his huge legs and peep about to find ourselves dishonourable graves.’ Aye? ‘I know he would not be a wolf but that he sees the Romans are but sheep.’ Be that your meaning?”

He shook his head. “No! We cast votes, and select our leaders of our own free will. They only rule by the consent of the governed, by the will of the people, and according to the laws of the country.”

I frowned at him. “So then the people – those people, living in squalor and deprivation out there, miles of misery surrounding this opulence, this splendid vainglory – they choose this? They cast a vote for men who live thus, and who allow them to continue to live like that – and each within a stone’s throw of the other?” I laughed. “No, my friend, it is but a child’s story, meant to placate.” (It was here, indeed, that I thought of Auld Seamus.) “There is no freedom here. This is despotism, whatever they may tell you to the contrary.”

We stood beneath the prodigious Washington Monument, and Brother Bob – somewhat exercised now, and spluttering – pointed up at it and said, “No. They wanted to make him a king, wanted him to lead for the rest of his life. He refused. He gave up his power after only eight years. And every president” (This is the term they apply to themselves, these American kings, and most clever are they to refer to their rule as “presiding,” rather than ruling. Somewhat like Julius Caesar choosing the title of dictator – speaker, commander – rather than Imperator or Rex. And just as truthful as Caesar, methinks.) “– every president since then – well, almost every one – has stuck to that. Now it’s in the laws: no one can be in charge for more than eight years, and that’s only if they win two national elections.”

“Eight years?” quoth I. “Caesar himself ruled for less. As did Caligula. And Bloody Mary. Devil Cromwell himself held sway for not more than twice that span. Surely a tyrant may cause untold harm in eight years. I fail to see how that makes you free.”

“Because the President doesn’t have absolute power!”

“This President of yours: does he demand show of obeisance? Does he walk into a room with a fanfare, and must others stand, or bow?”

“Well, yes, but –”

“Does he have a personal guard, loyal to the death, who will kill any who threaten him?”

“The Secret Service, yes, but –”

“Does he take all of the laurels for good fortune unto himself, and push all blame onto his subordinates and rivals?”

“Okay, yes, but still –”

“Then he’s a king.”

“But we elect them,” Brother Bob said. “We have free choice!”

“Can ye choose to elect none of them, to rule yourselves?” He shook his head. “Well then,” I went on, “can any man become king? Any man may choose any name to cast a vote for?”

“Well, no,” he said, hedging and retreating, as he must. “There are two major parties, and we pick from those.”

I had to laugh. “Aye – like the War of the Roses, is’t not? This House or that House, White or Red, and not a hair’s difference between the two. All of them leave your people in poverty. All of them put good men in gaol. All of them send young men to die in wars, fought for the ruler’s glory and at his command.

“No, my friend. Take it from me: I know what it is to be ruled by a tyrant who uses noble and lofty speech to describe the ravaging of a land and her people. This is a kingdom, under the feet of despots, whether they be one single man or one of a faction. You are not free.”

Brother Bob had naught to say. So, pitying him – for it is most painful when the scales fall from one’s eyes (if indeed they did fall – Auld Seamus never surrendered his opinions, even if someone did argue, as happened once or twice) – we set out on our northward journey once more, and left politics behind. Within a mile, Brother Bob had cast off his melancholy and was back to his cheerful self. He took us then to a house of comfort, where the poor were given food and shelter; he spoke with the proprietor, a kind soul by the name of Beatrice Everstone, and then proposed to we three that we should spend the remainder of that day there, offering what assistance we could in exchange for a meal and a bed for the night.

Such generous terms were well to our liking, and we swiftly agreed. We were able to offer ourselves as carpenters, making various repairs, as well as maidservants and serving wenches, cleaning the sprawling hall and doling out victuals to the paupers. MacManus and I even kept the peace, stepping into an argument that was fast turning to fisticuffs, but for our timely intervention and stern correction.

The labor made the simple fare delicious, and the beds into sumptuous bowers. I put a hand on Brother Bob’s shoulder as we readied ourselves for sleep, smiled and said, “Here is where men are free. Tyrants hold no sway in generous hearts.” He smiled and nodded in return.

And so, after keeping this log, to bed.

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Log 50: Madness

Log

September 2

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.

God forbid.

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?

 

Later

‘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.

 

Later

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.

I must

 

 

I dont no wat haz hapind. Captin Cain is gon. This iz hiz log it sez so. He is gon. I fown this on the grown in the train-hal but he iz gon. Thair iz blood on the grown. Me and Macmanis ull go look for Captin.

Pleez God maik him saif.

– B. Lynch

Categories: Book II, Captain's Log, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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