Storytime – The Dutchman

(another writing exercise)

Prospector

The Dutchman

Jim Hilton – 2016

   Curse these modern contraptions! As I walked along the old trail today, one of those “horseless carriages” almost ran over me and my mule Persephone. I hope I live to continue my hunt for the Dutchman’s mine.  I wish it was still the the 1880’s – things were a lot quieter then, and moved much more slowly.  Now, 20 years later, new inventions and rush, rush, rush!

     As I went higher, the trail narrowed, and I had it pretty much to myself. I found my small cairn from the previous visit, and left the trail there, aiming to reach the face of the butte above me. Mid-morning, and already a scorcher; glad I brought along enough water for us.

     Persephone was pretty well loaded up, and my backpack was bulging, too, but this heavy loading was necessary if I planned to keep going without having to trek back into town for supplies. Both of us were grunting and groaning as the trail became more steep. Cactus arms reached out to snag me at some of the narrow points, and more than once I heard the warning sounds of the rattlers, which were in the shade of the overhanging ledges. Rocks broke loose as we scrambled along, making small landslides as they tumbled down the mountain. Sweat was making rivulets down my face, and I had to wipe it frequently.

     Finally, we made it to the base of the rock palisade that formed the face of the butte, and, after checking for cacti and slithery intruders, I sat down in the shade of a large boulder. After a brief rest, I got up to take care of my trusty companion. Persephone stood, uncomplaining, as I wrestled the water bag loose and poured out some water for her. She drank deeply, and I almost imagined a smile on her face.

     My plan was to explore along the face of the rock outcropping, hoping to find traces of digging, and it was going to make for a very long day. I set out resolutely, taking careful hold of Persephone’s reins – I couldn’t hope to save her if she took a bad spill, but maybe leading her would help prevent that. The sun beat down on us, intensified by its reflection from the rocks, but I kept on, examining the clefts in the rocks as we went.

     My hopes were not high, as you might expect. So many others had gone before me, lured by untold wealth in the Superstition Mountains, but a fair number had not made it out alive – the tales of their tragedies made it into the newspapers back East. Some adventurers had simply disappeared, either to accident or exposure, or maybe there were some small bands of Indians guarding their sacred mountain heights. These thoughts crowded my head as I picked my way along. At least I felt like I was the first to take this route, since there was no discernible trail here, and no footprints to be seen. So, who knows? Press on, and hope for the best!

     As I came to the toughest section, narrow access, dangerous scree, all that, I began to see signs that perhaps someone had indeed been here. A little further along, I came to a place with just enough room for the mule and I to squeeze through, and in the deep shadow of the huge rock, I saw a heavy wooden door set into the rock face, well hidden from the casual viewer. My heart skipped several beats! I secured Persephone to an exposed tree root and moved to examine the door.

     Someone had scratched “Waltz”, “Verboden”, and “Gevaar” into the center of the door. I knew a little Dutch from someone who was in our church, and I figured out that  “verboden” meant “forbidden”, while “gevaar” indicated “danger”. “Waltz” had me puzzled for a bit, but then I remembered the miner’s name that was associated with the mine legend, “Jacob Waltz”. Had I hit the jackpot? Fingers crossed!

     I was in deep, dark shade, but I was sweating profusely now. I seemed to be so close to the end of the quest and I could hardly keep from jumping and dancing. I didn’t want Persephone to think me daft, you know. The door beckoned, and I could not resist.

The wood was still as strong as when the Dutchman had set it in place, and there was a heavy lock and chain keeping it securely closed. I had a few sticks of dynamite with me, but I decided not to risk an explosion, since a rock shard could easily kill me, even a small one, in the right location. I unloaded Persephone, and foraged through my tools. I had a heavy hammer and a sharp chisel, so I went to work on the wood, where the hasp was bolted.

     In a surprisingly short time, I had chiseled out the bolts and dropped the chain to the ground. I cleared away some of the fallen rocks to allow the door to be opened, then gave it a tug.  More rocks fell, just missing my head, and dust rolled out through the door gap I had created. I stepped back in alarm, then allowed the dust to clear. I approached the door again and pulled a little harder. The door offered little resistance now, as if eager to reveal all.

     Now the door was wide open, and all I had to do was step in, then gather up all the piles of gold which surely awaited me. No, not really – I knew it was a mine, and much heavy work was ahead of me before I held the smallest amount of gold in my hands. I watered Persephone again and gave her some oats – I didn’t know how long I’d be inside and she’d be indignant if I didn’t take care of her first.

     I found my oil lantern and crept inside, trying to avoid pitfalls and other unpleasant surprises. The shaft seemed to stretch quite a ways into the mountain, so I started following the dark tunnel, using my pitifully dim lamp to guide my way. I came to a relatively flat part and remember thinking how unusual it was, and ‘un rock-like’. I stepped onto that section and my heart almost stopped as I felt myself falling, falling. Old Waltz had set a trap, and I fell into it.

     I don’t know how long I’ve been in here, since I don’t have a way to tell time, but my lantern is starting to sputter, indicating that it’ll be pitch dark in here quite soon. I am lying here, back likely broken, legs twisted completely under me, but at least I have a little water left.

I am writing the last of this on some scraps of paper I found in my pocket so you’ll know how I came to be here. I hope your luck turns out better than mine, partner – luck is what you’ll need.

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Catching up (a little)

So much has happened since my last post, and I don’t know quite what to include and what to skip over (my poor memory will take care of some of this problem). According to WordPress, my last post was in April of last year, and it seems so long ago.

Last year we were still living in Indiana, of course, on our pastoral retreat outside Corydon, a quaint historic town in the southern part of the state, about 9 miles north of the Ohio River. We had lived in that part of the world since January 2010, which is exactly when I began this little journal, intending to document our move from Littleton, Colorado, and then see what developed from there.

What developed was….we gained MANY MANY new friends, had MANY great experiences (again, I won’t attempt to list all of them here – most of them showed up here, on these pages). Kate began her new job at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, and our new location gave us much easier access to some of her family, across the river in Kentucky. We got to visit her mother, Frances Seymour, who lived first in Vine Grove, KY, then later in Elizabethtown, KY. Also, her two brothers and their families lived there – Bruce and Joyce, Alan and Janice, all nice folks, good in-laws for me 🙂 We had many nice get-togethers with family, and I learned a few things about the land south of the River.

Kate and I got to participate in some ‘historical re-enactment’ events in Corydon, notably Corydon’s Unsavory Past, where we got to dress up in ‘old timey’ clothes (pretty handy, me being married to a seamstress). IMG_4330We added to our friend list through those activities, and also, through that connection, I wound up as Santa Claus for Corydon, and Kate was Mrs. Claus (again, the seamstress thing – Kate made some wonderful costumes for us!).

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After that, Kate never referred to me as ‘the fellow who dresses up like Santa’ – she always pointed out, “Yes, he IS Santa!”  Whadda gal! 🙂

Kate made an important connection during our lives in Corydon – she volunteered to join the CASA program (Court Appointed Special Advocate), whereby she was assigned cases to become the voice for the children caught up in the court system (parents at odds with the law, etc). She found it to be demanding, time-consuming, and…TOTALLY rewarding. She has a BIG heart, and even though it took up a fair amount of her personal time, she never complained, she just kept smiling, kept helping, kept ‘stepping up to the plate for the children’. I still don’t understand why this great woman said ‘Yes’, back in 2009 when i proposed, but I am honored to be her clumsy, silly husband.

And, to provide some small explanation of how we came to be in Arizona, I have to say that I was the instigator of the whole thing, and Kate acquiesced to make me happy. Now, the story: in April of last year, about the time of my last post here, we were invited to visit and stay in a large RV-Retirement Village in Mesa, Arizona. My daughter Natalie Lewis, and hubby John Lewis, were staying for awhile there, in their 5th wheel, and they asked if we’d like to come experience the ‘over 55 retirement village’ lifestyle, we said, “Hey, sounds like fun!” So, Natalie arranged for us to stay in a Park Model mobile home (a new term for us, but as we learned, that describes a small mobile home, about 400 square feet, just about big enough for 2 people). We went to Mesa (Phoenix suburb), stayed about 3 days, and had a wonderful visit. Nat described the lifestyle in that particular park (2000 spaces) as ‘like being on a cruise ship’, with all the available activities (yes, they had MANY activities!). We had fruit-bearing orange and grapefruit trees nearby, giant saguaro cacti  everywhere in the park, palm trees, and there were ‘over 55’ folks walking, cycling, enjoying life.  The weather was PERFECT, April in Arizona, you know, but, nice as it was, we couldn’t picture living there in the summer heat (115 degrees is very common!).

So, back home in Indiana, I was still taken with the idea, and also I kept returning to the thought that, if there was some way to get Kate nearer to retirement, away from the nursing job in Louisville that kept her running the halls of the hospital 12-14 high-stress, exhausting hours per shift, and maybe if we could do it while not going broke, well…. maybe an affordable Park Model out west would be the way to do it. We had seen some attractive pricing on that type of housing while in Mesa, but….TOO HOT IN SUMMER.

I was entertaining myself at the computer, checking out prices on Park Models, using Craigslist, and a few ads popped up in Show Low, Arizona. Hmmm, good prices on the homes, but…..Show Low?? I started doing a little research, and found that, with the elevation, and the low humidity, it could be a LOT like Colorado, which we both loved! So, one house-hunting trip later (which I had to do alone, due to Kate’s work schedule), here we are. HomeSweetHomeKate is still working, but this time she is a traveling nurse, and gets to do mostly driving, instead of running the halls – much easier on her. It’s not ‘zero stress’, since she has the lives and health of numerous patients on her hands, and it is, oh by the way, a JOB, ya know! 🙂 But, no RUNNING 🙂

We got here in late July, at the tail-end of summer, and the weather was MARVELOUS! And, no TICKS, as we had in Indiana. We’ve seen maybe 3 mosquitoes the whole time we’ve been here, and the low summer humidity has been delightful. We happened to get here in time to enjoy the COLDEST winter they’ve had here in years, but we know from the data that the average winters will be much nicer than back East. Heavy snow is predicted for tonight and tomorrow, so time to bundle up and hope for the best 🙂

We’ve made many new friends here, as you might predict, but we do miss all our friends back in Indiana and Kentucky. I’m trying to be the watchdog of our finances (trying not to buy too many techie toys), and hoping to get some nagging bills paid off so Kate can retire before too much longer. Keep us in your thoughts, ok?

We’re loving Arizona, and we’re adjusting to our new lives, with new adventures coming our way. We love all of you! 🙂

Jim & Kate

 

Storytime – A Journey to Jamaica

Caribbean Island 2

The months have rolled by, day after day, and I am still alone. I have only my treasured memories of what used to be, as I gaze out to sea. I am in the most beautiful of locations, I am sure, but I am a prisoner, with no way of escape. I watch the waves lapping at the sandy shore, and my eyes fill with tears once again.

It all seemed so simple, as it was explained to me. For the sum of £1000, the sugar plantation was mine, and the sea voyage to Jamaica was only a trifling thing, hardly to be considered at all. I signed my name, my belongings were loaded aboard the Queen of the Isles, and I set sail from Plymouth on a bright, sunny day. After I had made my fortune in that faraway land, I would return triumphant, taking the beautiful Julianna as my bride. Two short years, they said, and I’d be back.

The sea crossing was hardly a trifle, as I felt that I had been lashed to a cork inside a bucket, and the water in the bucket was being vigorously sloshed by a mad giant. I spent many days holding onto the railing, expelling the contents of my outraged stomach. The sails were going slack one moment, then as they caught the wind, they sounded like cannon fire, booming all round me. My misery was complete, as we dropped precipitously down the face of one huge wave, then struggled up the face of the next, endlessly.

The captain and first mate were fighting the wind and the waves, hurling commands at the exhausted crew as the storm worsened. Great volumes of water were coming aboard, and the masts were groaning and complaining at the strain. Men who had to go aloft were taunting death, and two of them met that reaper as they fell from the shrouds, falling with the top foresail, crumpling onto the oaken deck. Their screams as they fell are with me still.

There were few passengers on this small ship, and for the most part they stayed below, in the faint hope that they’d be safe there – warm, dry, protected. At one point a woman came running out onto the deck from below, and we could clearly see that she was mad with fear. She was instantly drenched when she came up, her wild hair was streaming in the wind, and her face was a crazed mask, with large, rolling eyes. She looked across at me, where I was feebly holding to the foot of the mast, then she tottered, danced a bit on the wet, sloping deck, then she was over the side, gone as if by magic. I could hardly believe it – was it a dream?

Just then, a man, perhaps her husband, came running up from below, shouting and wailing, but we could not understand him over the shrieking winds. He was clawing at his face, twisting about, fighting the wind and the water, and hardly a moment later he, too, was over the side.  The door to the lower cabins was banging in the wind, back and forth, perhaps calling the people below, beckoning to them, and urging them on deck. Madness, everywhere.

Then, amazingly, the storm began to intensify. The ship rolled frighteningly from side to side, the tips of the masts barely clearing the wave tops, as we held on tightly. The captain himself was manning the wheel, and the first mate was aloft, trying to reef the mainsail, hoping to gain some control. I looked up, trying to gauge his progress, wondering if I could be of aid, but just then the mainmast snapped in two, with no warning at all, and the remaining men fighting the sails were tossed into the sea. The top of the mast was hanging over the side, held by the remaining lines that had not parted, but soon it was swept away, trailing behind us in the raging water. Some few men holding on to it disappeared in the darkness, lost in the maelstrom.

The captain and a couple of other men ran to the side rail, trying to chop loose the remaining wreckage trailing by the rope ends, trying to prevent them from dragging us into the depths. Just as they were starting to make some headway on that problem, the second mast came down, barely missing them, but causing a new tangle of ropes to be chopped away.  They were still hacking with their axes and hatches, some trying to use their knives, but it was a mighty task, and they seemed to be losing. The ship was tilted toward the stern, and was taking on more and more water, getting more and more sluggish among the giant waves. Many of those huge waves were now crashing entirely across the width of the ship, striking the men, taking them one by one over the side to join their lost shipmates. I gazed in horrified fascination.

There was a new sound now, adding to the cacophony, a booming, crashing sound, somewhat reminiscent of the noise of the sails in the wind, but this had a deeper, stronger bass note. It was rhythmic, pulsing, reverberating in my chest with its power. I struggled, trying to get up, desperate to discover the source of this new assault on my senses. I pulled myself upright against the base of the shattered mast, casting my eyes all about, trying to see through the wind-blown rain, fighting to stay on my feet on the slippery, tilted deck.

There was a momentary lull in the wind and rain, and I could now see what was generating the new symphony of horrible sounds. Our ship was being driven onto the rocks of some unknown shore, inexorably pulled, drawn into the maw of death itself. I stood, transfixed, by this time alone on the deck. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think, didn’t know what to do. I looked into the eyes of the Reaper, as he reeled me in. I closed my eyes and sagged to the deck, accepting my fate.

So, I am gazing out to sea again, hoping for I know not what, but still hoping. I have found abundant food here, and I’ll likely last for years, but… do I want to? I have no companionship, no love, no Julianna. Of what shall I dream?

Storytime – Late Night Diner

This is another short story, derived from a writing prompt.  And, here’s the prompt:

Edward_Hopper-Nighthawks-1942

“Nighthawks” – Edward Hopper 1942

Choose one of the four characters shown in the painting. Why is your character there? What is your character thinking? Are they happy, sad, hurting, suspicious? Tell me a story.

——————–

Late Night Diner

So tired. Walking, walking, my feet are sore, my legs ache. The sun set hours ago, and I’m still walking the streets. I got rained on a while ago, and now my suit is chafing me. My hat kept my hair dry, that’s one good thing.

Poor Marie, I know she’s worried, but I just can’t go home yet, not ‘til I figure this out. It’s not her fault, she didn’t do anything wrong, but she’s the one to suffer now. Why did I do that awful thing? I’m not a playboy, and I wasn’t looking for anything, it just happened. ‘Til death do us part, but now this. Margie just stopped by my desk, and we were talking about this and that, and she seemed to soak up every word, and I felt so important, and then we were walking down the street, still talking, and then… I don’t know how we wound up at her place. After it was too late, I jumped up and ran into the street, trying to escape, trying to make it un-happen, but realizing I could do nothing now, not a thing.

The war over there in Europe is all the news, Hitler and his tanks, overrunning everyone, but now even that seems trivial to me. My wife, my home, our future; that’s what’s important. That’s what needs to be safe and protected, but now I’m like a criminal, and I don’t know what to do. I’ve been unconsciously heading toward the old Benjamin Franklin Bridge, thinking maybe that’s my answer. Yes, I could climb up over the walkway, and with one simple jump, my problems would be over. I can see the lights of the bridge now, at the end of the avenue. I’m walking more quickly now, trying not to think about my decision, just wanting some resolution. That’s it, just step out into nothingness, keep my eyes closed, tightly closed, don’t think about it.

I’m at the pedestrian walkway now, and I look out over the river, then up at the heights of the bridge, and I pause. Is there no way to come back from this? No way to talk to Marie about it? As I mull it over, I’m walking further and further out onto the bridge, jaws tight, fists clenched. Further and further, almost to the halfway point now, just about right. Just then I see a beat cop coming toward me, and it’s like he can read my mind or something. I turn around and walk quickly back off the walkway, glancing back, but I see now he’s not really after me, he’s walking the other direction now.

I glance over toward the city and see this diner over there on the corner. It’s all lit up, but not crowded. Maybe a cup of joe would be good right now, to warm me up, make me feel a little better. The little bell tinkles when I open the door, and the guy behind the counter glances over at me, then away. Nothing to see here, just a ‘nobody’, somebody wandering around the city late at night. He holds up a coffee cup to me, questioningly, and I nod. He brings the steaming cup of coffee over and sets it in front of me.

“Apple pie?” he asks. “Sure,” I say, “why not?”

My eyes sweep the small diner, just verifying what I saw earlier. Just one more guy there, just a lonely guy, just like me. He looks sad, and I’m sure I do, too. While I’m waiting on the pie to show up, I make my decision, and I step into the phone booth in the corner and give the operator the number of my place.

Marie answers right away, “Sam, is that you?” I answer her, “Sure, honey, It’s me. Say, can you come down to the diner at the corner of Eighth and Broadway? I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.”

Right away, she’s wondering, and says, “Hey, what’s going on? You been out all night, and now you want to get pal-sy over a cup of coffee? What gives?”

“Marie, honey, just come on over, ok? Maybe we can talk for a bit, ok?”

“Ok, ok, I’m comin’, but this better be good.”

She shows up after a while and comes over to sit by me, kinda crowded up near the coffee urns. Right away she starts with the questions, but I stall her, “Just sit tight, enjoy your coffee. Want some pie?” This puts a bit of a smile on her kisser, and she nods.

The other guy is still there, on his third or fourth cup, just thinkin’. I wonder what kind of problems this guy has. I don’t see a ring on his finger, so maybe there’s no woman in his life, at least not one he’s married to. He never looks up, just drinks his coffee.

I swivel my diner stool around a bit to face Marie, and she does likewise, wonderin’ what’s up. I’m trying to work up a little smile so I can do this, and it’s not easy, but finally I think I have it, so I start talking, “Marie, have I told you lately what a wonderful wife you are? Have I told you how much I love you and need you?” Marie looks a little stunned, but then seems pleased. She reaches out, puts her hand on mine.

“Well, Sam, you ain’t the most romantic of guys, but a woman knows. I know, and I feel the same about you. Is that what we’re talkin’ about in this here diner?”

“Marie, I was borderline tempted tonight, but I fought off the demons, and I think I’m gonna be ok, ya know? I hope you know what I mean.”

Marie smiled at me, then said, “Yeah, I know how it can be, with those crowded offices, and all those secretaries runnin’ around, but I never really worried about my Sam. But, if you had a near miss, maybe it’s time to start readin’ those want ads, whaddya think?”

I smiled back, then leaned over and gave her a big hug. “Marie, you’re the best. Tomorrow, I’m lookin’ at want ads!”

Storytime – An Invitation

Shelf life … an independent bookshop.
I’m going to attempt to tell you about Morgana, my latest love interest, or maybe she’s my latest obsession, whichever. We happened to meet at a rare book shop one day, and we came together almost magnetically. I was there to find something about the history of English castles, and, as I started down a back aisle, it was as if I stepped into her sphere of attraction. Her eyes met mine and I was immediately drawn into those flickering pools of liquid fire.She beckoned me, not with a motion of her hands, not with a word, but with her power; it’s the only way I can explain it. She summoned me, she commanded me. I was helpless, but it felt right. I wanted to do her bidding, no matter the cost. I approached, and her body seemed to flow to me, every curve of her clinging to every part of me, and then she kissed me, putting me in thrall.
I snapped out of her spell when I found myself outside the shop, wandering down the street. I wasn’t really free of her, though; there was a lingering feeling of emptiness, now that we were separated. I realized there was a book in my hand, something about castles, but I didn’t remember buying it. I had a vague remembrance of discussing a party with her, but no details came to the surface of my addled mind.
Some days later, I was feeling myself again, and had almost forgotten my encounter at the rare book store. I was looking forward to the weekend, and perhaps going out Saturday night, which was Halloween. Some friends at work had invited me, and I had promised to try to come. I wasn’t totally comfortable with the idea of a costume party, but maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. At the back of my mind there was a nagging thing about the upcoming holiday, and the woman I had encountered at the book store, but still there were no specifics. Were we supposed to meet somewhere? I was unable to recall the answer.
Saturday morning was spent running errands, picking up my laundry, going to the car wash; all that stuff. I came back to my apartment to find a pink envelope stuck to the door. Pink. Hmmm, the color kinda says it’s from a woman, but I just couldn’t make the connection. Who was it?
Inside the envelope was an invitation. A really odd invitation:

Come to the street of the hardest wood
Turn on the road that leads to the wood
Just halfway through; stay in the wood
Wear the costume, as you said you would
Disappoint me, you never should.
Don’t.

And this was supposed to be a party invitation? I know it’s a Halloween theme, but this was really starting to sound ‘over the top’ creepy. I was trying to think of some way to get out of this, but then I re-read the last couple of lines, and I could see Morgana, scowling at me, with that look. I shivered as I realized that there would be no skipping of this party. Discretion demanded that I try to please Morgana, rather than my co-workers. They, at least, had not threatened me.
After consulting the city map, I was able to figure out the somewhat transparent clues used in the invitation. Obviously, I was to go to Oak Street, follow it until I came to Elm, which led towards Dark Woods. After entering the Dark Woods I’d estimate the halfway point, then there should be a sign or something telling me where to go for the party. I put on my pirate shirt, hat and eye patch, grabbed up my sword and put the hokey fake parrot on my shoulder, then took off toward Oak Street.
Dark Woods
I found Oak Street, then Elm, and then found myself driving into the Dark Woods. Approximately a mile into the woods I found the sign:
Take this turn
Or you shall burn.
For you I yearn
M.

This one could certainly project an image. I began to feel some of the strong attraction I had experienced at the book store. I turned as instructed and soon found that the road dead-ended at a quaint old cottage. Oddly, mine was the only car there. Maybe the other guests would be arriving later.
I got out of my car and walked toward the door, feeling somewhat apprehensive. “Or you shall burn.” What’s that all about?
I must admit, I remember very little of what happened at the party, if indeed party was the correct term. I do remember reaching for the door knocker, which was shaped rather like a skull, and as I touched it, something pricked my finger. I didn’t actually fall down, but I was very woozy and weak. I have a vague recollection of faces, warm bodies against mine, hot flashes and bright lights. And, oddly, I have this recurring vision of what seemed to be kisses, but they were somehow piercing kisses. Why were their incisors so prominent?
I regained my senses at last, and found myself parked in front of my apartment building, but with no memory of having driven there. Morgana had again stolen some hours from me, but I don’t know what else she might have taken. Why was I so weak? I stumbled inside.
There was another pink envelope stuck to my door.

Storytime – The Plan

Another Writing Exercise………

The prompt:

In the gathering dusk, you are wandering aimlessly down street after street, trying to get your bearings. Something has happened to you, but you’re not sure what it was.  You have a throbbing headache and there’s blood on your sleeve, likely from your head wound.  You don’t know where you are, or quite where you should be going.  A search of your pockets produces a matchbook from “The Jolly Pirate” club, no address.  You also have a note with instructions, “Don’t forget to tell Andre about the plan – he’ll be at the hotel Olympia in the lobby at 7PM.”  Who’s Andre? Who wrote the note? “The Jolly Pirate”? What’s going on?

———————————————————————————

The Plan

4176084-Old-City-Streets-0

First things first, always the best start. So, where am I? What city is this – it all looks so strange. I’m wandering, block after block, taking random turns. There are no street signs here, so for now, I have no hints about which country this might be.
The streets have been empty of people and cars, but finally I saw a taxi, and flagged him down. After getting into the back seat I still had a problem; I couldn’t understand the driver. After repeated attempts at communication, I mentioned ‘Hotel Olympia’, his eyes lit up a bit, and off we went.
As we pulled up in front of the hotel, I was relieved to see everything presented in English; the hotel name, the newspapers in the rack, the taxi stand signs. Well, that was a relief – apparently my driver was the one with the language problem, not me. I stepped out of the cab, wondering how I was going to pay the driver, and the doorman said, observing my efforts to magically find money, “Mr Edwards, so nice to see you again. Shall I pay the driver for you, and have the amount added to your bill?” I could have kissed his feet. “Yes, yes,” I replied, and practically bounded into the hotel.
At the desk, I was greeted warmly by name, again, and the desk clerk continued, “We have you down for your usual room, sir. Is your baggage coming later?” I nodded, and he handed me the key to room 724. Maybe 724 was my lucky number or something. Well, things were looking up, somewhat. I now had a name, and a place to stay while I sorted this out. For some reason, I avoided spilling my whole story to the desk clerk, choosing to find out what I could on my own.
Next morning, in my room, I did a little detective work. The first thing I found on my little desk was a small stack of brochures, and the top one read, “Things to do in Charleston.” Bingo! But, I wondered why I was here, and, oh by the way, ‘Who is Mr Edwards?’. I can answer, ‘Me!”, but that’s of little help right now. There is also a phone directory, and I found a ‘Jolly Pirate’ club listed. It’s described as a ‘Fun Place on the Riverfront’. A quick call to the front desk, and I now knew that ‘the riverfront’ was only a few blocks away, an easy stroll.
I proceeded cautiously down to the lobby, and upon entering, I took a seat near the elevator and did some ‘people watching’. I had no idea what Andre looked like, so I was really just putting myself out there so this mystery person could find me. After an hour or so, I gave up and headed toward the revolving door.
Outside, dusk had overtaken the city, and it was a pleasant evening in Charleston. Now there were people everywhere, and this was somehow comforting. Earlier, I felt I was trapped in a dreamworld, devoid of people, but now I was just another tourist, out to enjoy The Riverfront, wrapped in the anonymity of the crowd. It was time find out just how jolly this Pirate might be.
After only a block or so, I got the feeling that I was being followed. It’s hard to say how I knew, but yes, there he was, a fellow in a white suit, and matching white fedora, and he would periodically duck into a convenient doorway to avoid my searching glances. Could it be Peter Lorre, or ‘Our Man in Havana’? Yes, I like old movies. Hey, that’s something at least – I have memories of watching black and white movies. I stepped quickly into a doorway myself, and waited.
He passed within easy reach, so I reached out and grabbed him, rather forcefully, right about where his tie was knotted, and slammed him into the corner of the doorway. Apparently, this sort of thing comes naturally to me, as Mr Edwards. I wonder if I have other names. He was struggling, but since I my right hand was holding his shirt collar in an iron grip, and my left forearm was pressed against his throat, he couldn’t get much done except cough and sputter. He started to flail his arms, but more forearm pressure settled him right down, and he relaxed, somewhat.
Maintaining the right amount of pressure, I let him talk. He was angry, no big surprise, and he said, “It’s Andre, you fool! What are you doing?”
Amiably, I asked, “Well, why didn’t you contact me in the hotel lobby, instead of following me?”
He scowled, and said, “You were supposed to find me in the bar, and when you didn’t do that, I found you and followed to see where you were going. Are you working both sides of the street?”
I leaned in harder and said, “I think maybe I’ll just kill you, and wonder about you later. I’m already tired of your attitude!”
He flailed some more, and I relaxed just a bit. This time, he was less strident when he whispered, “Ok, ok – let’s start over. What are you doing? Have you forgotten this plan entirely? We need to team up and go to the Pirate, then we can get the Maltose Falcon. Why anyone would want a stupid bird made of pressed sugar, I don’t know, but that’s what they are paying us for. Here, this is your part of the money, just like you said, $5000.”
My memory was starting to come back now, and the ‘plan’ was coming back to me, after his prompts. Yes, I was to accompany Andre to the ‘Jolly Pirate’, pick up our two helpers, and then we’d head over to Sullivan’s Island, to a place called ‘Poe’s Tavern’. There we’d find Big Nose Johnny, who apparently was blessed with a king-size proboscis. Big Nose was in the way now, and we were to ease him out of the picture.
One memory I was still missing – my motivation for doing all this. It might have made sense before my mystery injury, but now I just had a bad taste in my mouth, and a foul odor in my nose. This whole thing smelled, and I decided to cut my losses and slip away.
I released Andre, and he slumped against the door. I slapped him twice, quickly, and a cut opened up on his cheek. He winced and shrank back.
I leaned in close and said, “I remember now, you’re the one who clocked me with that baseball bat, and I won’t be forgetting you. Steer clear of me from now on, or you’ll be real sorry!” He drew back even more, nodding and sniveling.
I walked away, waiting for my memories to finish filling in, if indeed they would, but for now, back to room 724 for some rest and reflection. And, time to make a new plan.

Storytime – Time Enough

Time Enough

Old_clock

It was the most unusual of shops. I had passed it literally thousands of times, because it was right on my way as I walked to work. Each day, as I made my usual turn from 49th Street, “Time Enough” was there on my right, windows full of old clocks and unique timepieces. I could never seem to work shopping into my schedule, so I typically just gave it a glance and moved on.  Until that Monday.

That was the morning when I misread my bedside clock and found myself with an extra ninety minutes, so I decided to stop in and indulge my curiosity.  The little bell over the door jingled as I went in, but there was no one yet behind the counter. The red velvet-lined shelves were mirrors of the display windows, with clocks of every kind, from all parts of Europe, but mostly from Germany and Switzerland. Large clocks, small clocks, miniature pocket timepieces, they were all there.

I heard a man’s soft voice, from the direction of the rear counter, “May I help you? Is there something special you require?”. It was a cultured voice, deep and resonant, with something of a Germanic accent.  I turned and walked to his counter.

He was older, perhaps seventy, with a face weathered by a life of sun exposure. His silver hair was perfectly combed, and his full beard was well-groomed.  His twinkling eyes completed the Santa Claus look, and his face was creased with a warm smile. I couldn’t help but like this man.

I replied, “No, I had nothing in mind.  I just wanted to browse your shop since I had some extra time this morning. Would you mind showing me some of your more interesting pieces? But, if you’re busy….”

His smile got even bigger, as he rose, saying, “Tut tut, my boy, come with me and be amazed. You’ll soon have to buy something, I bet.” I smiled in return, with my secret knowledge that my tight budget would hardly allow me to buy an antique clock.

The old man huffed and puffed a little, perhaps evidence of too much love of the pipe he carried. I followed him over to the wall aisle, which apparently was his ‘aisle of treasures’, because he fairly beamed as I paused to examine the marvels before me. Many of these timepieces were crafted to look like alpine chateaus, and some reminded me of pictures I had seen of old city clocks, high above the square, mechanical figures tolling out the hours. If I spent more than a minute or two on a particular mechanical device, he’d reach across and activate the spring-driven works, and little people, dressed in lederhosen or other classic costumes would emerge from the tiny doors and dance while the clock chimed the hours and beguiled the observer. I was so glad I had stopped in this morning, but my visit had consumed all my time, so it was time to make my apologies and be on my way.

I turned to him and said, “My name is Peter Jacobsen, and you are…..Mr…?” I had already formed something of a bond with this kindly man, so I wanted to part on good terms.

His voice, somewhat louder than when I first heard him behind me, was full of good cheer as he shook my hand vigorously, saying, “And I am Otto Weidl, son of a Cherman clockmaker!” His pride in his heritage and craft came through strongly, and I smiled broadly as I pumped his hand.

I left the store, still smiling with my memories of an interesting experience, and a good friend gained. I decided to change the setting of my alarm clock to allow for future visits.

Thus it was that I came to be in this mess, and I really have only myself to blame. “Curiosity killed the early worm”, or whatever that saying was.

I became a regular at the “Time Enough” shop, and I did find room in my tight budget for the occasional small purchase. Otto and I became good friends, and I looked forward to each visit, the discovery of each new timekeeping gem.

I finally remembered to ask him about the large ormolu clock located high on the wall aisle. I couldn’t see much of it, and he had never offered to bring it down for my perusal. So, I was again curious – was it broken, or was it being kept back for sentimental reasons?

I pointed to it, and asked to examine it. As my words were spoken, his usual smile dropped away, and a sadness came into his eyes.

For a long time he was silent, with his eyes downcast, but then he looked at me, a tear in his eye, and finally spoke, “My new friend, you don’t want to see that one, trust me.”

Of course, he was speaking directly to my ‘curiosity center’, and I couldn’t help blurting out, “But of course I do. Why do you say it’s not for me to look at?” He was shaking his head as I spoke.

I was almost pleading now, “What is wrong with it? Will you tell me that, at least?”

He didn’t reply, but locked the door, flipped the sign to ‘Closed’, poured each of us another demitasse of espresso and indicated that I should follow him to the little room behind the counter. We sat at the tiny table and sipped the strong brew, each with our own thoughts. Several times he cleared his throat as if to speak, but each time he stopped and sat back. I waited for him to decide.

Otto cleared his throat once more, then spoke, with a huskiness to his voice, his struggle apparent, “I will tell you the story of the clock, but I am greatly reluctant to do this thing. I think you will understand, after. It is not a long tale, but please take it as a warning.”

Nothing could keep me from hearing about this clock of mystery, now. He gestured toward a small shelf behind me, and I swiveled to see what was there. Somehow, the ormolu clock, in its somewhat dusty glory, was now upon the small shelf. The clock was, as so many others, a model of a chateau, but it had a darkness to it, almost a sinister look. If there was such a thing as a sad window, then there were sad windows repeated across the top of the tiny chateau, and it had an oddly twisted front door. There were hints of strange beasts in the shrubbery that surrounded, and the shrubbery was close against the door, as if guarding it. There was no happiness in that gold-clad repository of time.

I turned back to Otto, and was surprised to see his eyes, shining with tears. I waited, not wanting to force him, but still hungering to hear the story. I waited, the clock waited, and its ticking filled the little room, the small sounds canceling out the intruding noises of the street outside. The sounds continued, but time seemed to stop, holding its breath, waiting.

At long last he spoke, and his voice pushed aside the veil of the past, revealing the dark past of the now-sinister object.

Even now, I can clearly recall his words, as they etched a space in the near silence, his words hanging in the air. The story had a presence, and it came to life and pushed at the limits of the room. I was immobilized, frozen, almost fearing to breathe, as if that would break the spell, the enchantment, of this chronicle of the manmade thing that had assumed a life of its own.

He finally began, “This cursed thing was built in the Black Forest, deep among the giant trees, far from the eyes of other men, imbued with powers few of us can comprehend. The master clockmaker of Karlsruhe created this at the behest of some strange bidding, some calling from another world, and he could not help himself. His hands, his mind, every bit of him danced to the tug of a strange puppeteer, helpless, hurting, wanting nothing but escape. Each night he collapsed into his small bed as if he had been switched off. His few hours of sleep were restless, and not satisfying. There were hints of dreams, almost nightmares, but nothing lingered into the day, other than a dark mood memory.

“Slowly the thing took shape as he carved and shaped the wood. Faces peered at him from the grains of the ancient wood, and he heard growls and whispers from the hidden beasts. His soul suffered with the work, but he was unable to stop. Months passed, almost a year, and at last, it was done. The master clockmaker of Karlsruhe pushed back from his table and stood, drained, and made his way to the bed of no rest and collapsed, again.”

I couldn’t hold my tongue, and I risked an interruption, “What happened then? Was he released from this strange power, from this work of evil?”

Otto was slumped in his chair, eyes closed, his shoulders sagging, weighed down with an unseen burden. I might have rushed to his side, but his breathing was regular, and his color seemed normal. I waited.

He opened his eyes and gazed at me through bloodshot eyes. This story was draining him, and I began to regret asking to hear it. I almost made him stop, but something inside me could not rest until the story was complete.

Otto resumed, “Everything will be told, Peter. Everything. Give me time to get it organized, and I shall slake your thirst. I hope you don’t regret this decision, because the story cannot be un-heard, I hope you know. It has a power, and it may exert this power over you. Please forgive me, for I am weak.”

This was somewhat unsettling, but in my eagerness to hear, I quelled my misgivings, and begged him to continue. This would soon be a source of regret.

Otto picked up the thread of the story, and continued. A sadness was building in his voice, but he was able to go on, saying, “In the old house in the Black Forest, the finished clock rested in the center of his rough table. It somehow seemed to radiate force, and there was a low thrumming that sometimes emanated from within its secret works. He stayed in the corner of the room, sitting on the edge of his bed, eyeing it warily. Then he rose, intending to make his way to the door, assuming hopefully that he would no longer be in thrall to this unseen master, but it was not to be. He tried several times to go past the table, desirous of leaving the clock and getting away, but he could not make it. Something in the back of his mind was compelling him to gather up the clock and he would be released, but leaving without it was not an option. Resignedly, the master clockmaker took it up, then left the old house, forever.” Otto sagged back in the chair, again. His eyes were closed, as before.

I sat, transfixed. What was the strange power of this mechanism? Should I leave the shop, forgo any further visits with Otto, stay clear of this malevolent thing? Oddly, I felt as if I no longer had this option. It was as if I had put out roots, and was anchored in the chair. Just my imagination, I know, but I felt a strange tingling, all up my spine.

Otto rose from his chair, displaying new strength. He strode purposefully to the shelf, then picked up the golden clock. He turned back to me and placed it on the center of our small table. I gazed at it, unable to tear my eyes away, unable to move. There was a low thrumming in the room, and my body resonated to it, holding me there with new power.

I heard Ottos’s voice, as if from a distance, “I am sorry, my friend, but I must do as I am bid, as it was when I was in Karlsruhe. Please go through the door on your left.”

How odd. The door which led to the shop was on my right, but he had clearly said ‘left’. I slowly turned my head, saw that a new door was now open, to the left of me. I rose, stiffly, then walked slowly to the door. There were dark clouds roiling in there, and I was afraid, but I kept walking, into the darkness.

As I passed Otto, he said, in an apologetic voice, “Meet your new master, my unfortunate friend.”