Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. You might find yourself in there but that is a figment of your imagination or just the fact that you have the power to inspire.
Special thanks to the National Geographic Society, Google Earth and Wikipedia without whom, any book or research project would be lost, and without whom any curious seeker of knowledge and wisdom about the world might miss out on it all together.
The Test Of Time
"Coming events cast their shadows before them."
"Que Sera Sera.
Whatever will be, will be.
The future's not ours to see.
Que Sera Sera"
"Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why."
Bannen awoke with the lucrid taste of dust and a tooth fragment pressed into his upper lip. Face down, on cold stone, he slowly pushed his upper body from the floor. His lower back screamed with pain, and he fell forward to the floor that did not want to give him up so readily. His eyes slowly adjusted to the lack of light within the current environment, where shapes like faceless eyes danced and disappeared, only to reappear again. A second attempt at raising himself from the floor’s cold embrace succeeded. This time his back only groaned a little, and then just kept quiet altogether. There were voices, whispers jumped from one end of the space to another. At this point he could make out the faces from which some of the whispers came, illuminated from a crack in the ceiling about four feet from the floor. He could not tell what the source of the light was, he knew only that it was not the sun, though it were just as pronounced through the quarter inch crevasse from which it passed. The whispers stopped, sensing that he could hear. His eyes now fully adjusted, he turned to take in his surroundings.
There appeared to be two or more handful of people, all sitting or laying, or in any peculiar arrangement that offered them some comfort in the cramped surroundings. One of them rocked cross-legged, side-to-side, cradling a vase back with a spindly dried flower back and forth in his arms, as he whispered very quietly to it. A wool toque sat on his head, the word “Biscuit” sown into it. He watched guardedly with one eye, and seemed to draw the vase closer as in defense crossed his. Bannen’s nearest neighbour just watched him carefully, and without expression, as a man who knew a little too much about his own destiny might. A heavy woollen hat covered his head and ears, while a scarf tucked into a heavy coat covered his body. Worry lines covered his forehead, and made his forty years appear like fifty-five. He looked down when Bannen glanced to him. Bannen continued his survey. Another lay curled up on the floor, sides rising and falling to the rhythm his lungs provided, eyes clamped as if they could somehow bare some protection from this predicament. Bannen noticed that the majority of them were dressed for winter, although the temperature was only marginally close to and above freezing. Three more huddled in a corner and had already formed their own clique. They looked over acknowledging Bannen’s conscious presence and then returned to a deck of cards which were sprawled on the floor in front of them, curtained by three piles of coin. One coin pile proudly, like its owner, a bit larger than the others. This player, with his round, well fed face, urged the game on. The other two, only seeming to be aware of each other through the directions of the rotund coordinator. One sporting a handlebar moustache and an accent that fell somewhere between Versailles and Mumbai. The other, a gangly looking man, even through a heavy overcoat. A pair of glasses perched on a thin, pointy nose, with a permanent case of the sniffles, as his coin pile abandon him.
The first lady that Bannen saw in there was love locked in arm with a man, away in one of the corners. Her head tucked just beneath his chin, her bright eyes, heavy lashes and pursed lips pierced even this half darkened dungeon. She glanced in Bannen’s direction briefly if only to take notice of movement. She appeared to be in her late twenties to early thirties. He looked to be about the same age, and kept her in place with one sturdy arm while he gently stroked her forehead with the other, her hair pouring out of her hat and down to her chest. He held a firmly protective and stern expression but his eyes revealed the same unsurity that was written on the face of the others. Resigned to the present and unsure about the future.
Another clique occupying the other corner was composed of three. At first glance Bannen thought they were also engaged in a card game. He stayed his glance upon them and realized that one of the three was fortune telling for a couple. The fortune teller, a refined lady of her early fifties, drew cards from a deck, and placed them each upon an arrangement of other cards on the floor. With each new card, she spoke of the past, present and future to one of the others. Her face held a smile fixed somewhere between optimism and unsurity, similar to the expressions on the faces of the couple. The couple appeared to be in their mid thirties, both the product of an urban center with bookstore lounges, upscale cafes and high priced ice cream. They listened intently as the fortune teller acted as cartographer for their future which was presently very uncertain. The man, portly and hatless, with thinning dark hair, listened, while his spouse asked his questions for him. His spouse, hatless as well, with deep red bob hair, and heavy eyeliner (which appeared to be under two days wear), and intelligent eyes that didn’t seem to miss a thing. She was the driver in their show. They both appeared quite happy, even under the circumstances.
Bannen craned his head back the other way and slowly carried his weight with it, his flexibility coming back. Some of the others nodded in greeting, fully acknowledging his presence. He returned their greetings as best he could. By the time he was facing the other direction, a hand was presented him by the remaining person.
“Davis Bigelow. And your name sir?”
Bannen paused for a moment to take in the monocled face that stared back at him. A large man, of about fifty years, bearing a remarkable resemblance to Orson Welles. Mr. Bigelow wore a similarly heavy long coat as the others, but his clothing seemed…
“…And your name sir?” he inquired a second time, hand still extended.
“Bannen. Bannen Thalis.” Bannen shook his hand firmly. A strong grip, returned the clasp.
“Well met Mr Thalis.” He spoke as if this were a dinner club meeting, unperturbed by the circumstances.
“Yes, we all appear to be guests here. None can recall whenst we came to be here or by what means.” He politely answered anticipating Bannen’s questions. He continued.
“What we have discerned is that none of our time pieces seem to be working. Judging by our apparel, we all appear to have been taken in the winter, and each from a different part of the globe.”
“We do know that we have been in here for three full days, which I estimate we‘ll be rounding out shortly. None of us are injured. Meals are dropped once in a twenty-four hour period. We‘ve had two, so the third should be on its way shortly…” His voice hung on the last word.
“We’ve tried every conceivable means of escape, barring a dig by hand through the stone blocks themselves.” Bannen wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic.
Bannen looked toward the crevasse in the ceiling, lining his eyes up with the light source above. Looking up into the brightness, his eyes began to tear up, still revealing no source above. The crevasse seemed to make up part of what appeared to be a steel door, like the bilge on a cargo ship. He followed the crevasse to its edges, moving around the others as I crossed them. No hinge points apparent anywhere. Some time after a few moments of silence while he pondered the situation further, some of the others began to shift away from the center of the room (crawl space) in a manner expressing the inconvenience of doing so. Bannen watched, understanding why as it started to happen. The opening in the ceiling started to slowly widen, as either side of the portcullis style doors began to slide across an invisible path, and present an opening. Bannen watched as it opened enough to present a means of escape and made his move.
He moved as quick as his slightly groaning body would allow. As he advanced toward the opening, he failed to take notice of the warning gestured and hollered by Davis at the top of his lungs as he approached the point where he could conceivably stand to his height of six feet. Bannen quickly leveraged his balance to project himself upward, toward the opening beyond. As soon as he elevated himself past the height of the opening, he was completely immersed in a volume of solid light. He gasped as the sound of a thousand claxons seemed to permeate his head, making any kind of balance or perception impossible. His one hundred and eighty pounds quickly met the floor a third time, greeting him with a not so gentle stone kiss. The claxons blaring, still crushing his senses, he perceived being pulled across the floor as he slowly lost consciousness. An image of one of the fortune teller’s cards rippled across his mind’s eyes. A cloaked skeleton bearing a scythe reached out from the face of the card. On the bottom of the card, written in an ancient looking script, was “Death”.
The Lady, meticulous in her execution, fed fine linen thread into the device slowly looping through its parts, each a clockwork maze of loops and feeds to the end of the linen, which she tied to a tiny loop next to a piece that resembled a piston. She stood back, revealing the device in its whole, which resembled a harp, laced with pistons, gears and a pair of rollers which housed a roll of parchment, with tiny holes which formed a pattern across the parchment. She picked up a cloth from the beside the device, and wiped her hands which were delicate in the same way that someone whose hands were used for stringed musical instruments may have been. She walked around the table toward the other side of the device, where a hand crank was exposed, perpendicular to the device.
She was thin, her hair long and curly, currently held back in a pony tail. She wore coveralls which concealed her figure. One would have guessed her to be about twenty two years. She was nearly twenty eight. She quite enjoyed her time in the tool house, which was quite often of late as her father was away on an exercise. Her father had protested her interests and hobbies from the moment she could walk. While ladies at her age and status were busy with a care-giver and a tutor, she was busy with toy boats, like the ones in her father’s fleet, and dolls, which she loved with a passion and still maintained a huge collection. As she became older, it became apparent to her tutor that she had an incredibly high aptitude for deduction and for the mechanical. This troubled her tutor, as it pitted the staunch views of the society which supported her house against her abilities. The tutor took her side and helped the girl develop her skills from a young age, while shielding the effort from her father. The girl learnt all of the lady-like behaviour and etiquette required by a lady in the manor of a lordship. She also pursued the areas that her interest and aptitude took her. So while other girls were learning how to curtsy, or how to properly lace a corset, she was learning about simple machines and wood working. She also studied sewing and music and was an accomplished seamstress and cellist at sixteen. She started to notice boys at around age eighteen. Any of the boys who made it by the harsh inspections of her father, were often turned off by her fearless and outgoing approach. It wasn’t until she was twenty two that she met her first serious love. He was the son of a mogul merchant, and commanded a very grounding presence. He was a handsome man of twenty six with an interest in the outdoors and nature, which similarly irritated his father, who had plans to pass on the family mercantile into his hands. He would visit her at the manor in the summers, staying three times over the course for a week at a time. Sometimes they would go horseback riding on the manor grounds, which had acres of paths, fields and forest much to his joy. Other times they would indulge her passions and play in the tool shop, just making things at her mind‘s impromptu. This relationship continued for three years, when in the third year, he was drafted by the Royal Navy, and killed at sea. Even though her father had often boasted about drinking hundred year old single malt with Poseidon himself, his influence couldn’t have saved her lover anymore than it could have saved the crew and war galley that followed him to the depths.
She turned inward for a very long time, spending most of her time in the tool shop, where she would weep for most of the day. She would head back to the manor at night and eat very little, if anything at all. Her father became concerned and sent a letter across Europe to an old friend of hers. Her friend, a lady she had met when she was in tutoring years ago, now an aspiring writer, helped her to climb out of her despair. Obsession and despair were some of the lands which her writing quill had crossed, and was the subject of her current effort. She had been married for a few years now, and while her husband was off gallivanting across the countryside, giving lectures at the various colleges, she had travelled across the channel for a visit with her friend. They bonded and became close friends over the course of two years. Her friend would make visits while taking a break from her writing. It was one such break that brought them together again.
The clanking of the device masked the sound of her friend’s entry. She turned the crank slowly while watching all of the parts of the device, perhaps making sure of their operation, or just admiring her effort. Near the bottom of the device, a strip of cloth emerged, multiple colours woven together and forming a linen. As the last part of the banner emerged from the device, a loud twang was emitted from the device, followed by several smaller twangs, which seized the crank, and a moment of silence. The device stood quiet for a second, and then one of the piston parts shot out at high speed, hitting a spool of linen from a shelf and knocking it down. The device groaned, nearly at the same time as she did.
“Hello Susannia. I thought I’d find you here.” Margaret slowly closed the door to the tool shop, and approached her friend.
They embraced each other, Susannia hesitantly more concerned about dirtying her friend’s clothes.
“What brings you here at this hour? Are you here to spy upon my designs again?” A sly grin crossing her face. It was impossible for her to contain the joy of seeing her friend.
“Of course not, my dear. Only to inspect your new male companionship.” Margaret parried with a coy smile, and a riposte wink.
Susannia paused for a minute to let the pain pass. Margaret cursed herself for her unintended insensitivity.
Susannia broke the tension. “I’ve been far too busy for friends” she countered, “but I’ve plenty of time for you.” disarming Margaret’s inquisitiveness with a wink of her own.
”…You must see this…” continued Susannia, reaching for the strip of cloth, which the device ejected shortly before its untimely demise.
She grabbed a pair of sewing scissors from the table and trimmed the message at the point from which it had emerged. In very rough block text it read Fâta viam inveni the remainder of the message lost in the innards of the device.
Margaret accepted the banner gracefully, examining the text on it, then looking curiously at the device, and finally back to her friend’s smiling eyes.
“‘Fate will find a way’. How on earth did you figure this out?” She asked politely without really wanting the answer.
“I studied Latin under my tutor, silly girl.” replied Susannia, Margaret rolling her eyes.
“And what about you. How is your latest effort coming along?” asked Susannia, while she gathered up the parts from the device’s death throes.
“In bits and pieces… one chapter at a time. Joseph loves the time that I spend on the book. Though he says he feels quite lonely whilst I‘m ‘bookering’ as he calls it. I always find him busy with his research when I turn in for the night.” Answering her friend’s question. She paused a moment, looking down before continuing.
“Its best we get back to the manor, there are some things that I would rather discuss there.” Margaret requested, waiting for a cue from Susannia, which came in the form of a nod.
“Finish up what you have to do and I’ll get the coach bell.” finished Margaret as she turned, already on her way out the door.
Susannia tidied the mess she had made with her latest experiment. She hated leaving a clutter for the tool smith, who was always so polite with her. Gathering up her belongings she closed the tool shop and locked the door, just as the coach arrived to pick them up.
The cube van pulled into the alleyway at noon and stopped lining up perpendicular to the dock, and tucked cleanly beside the door. Too little space for one to back into the dock, in the tight New York alleyway. Beyond the end of the alleyway, Varick St., bustling with art shop enthusiasts and the avant garde street vendors pitching their wares to the passersby. The driver popped the driver’s door open and got out, inspecting a tiny dent on the front left fender. Shaking his head, he walked to the back of the truck, unlocked and unlatched the door and rolled it up. The load, which was the remainder of an estate kept in one of the storage units up on 12th Av and West 34th Street. The unit had not been opened since 1934, roughly one year after it was built and about seventy five years from today. The driver rang the bell on the loading bay door. A latch could be heard on the inside, the door sliding up, revealing a group of people, two of which were busy clearing space and sorting merchandise, the other standing at the edge of the dock, extending a hand to receive the waybill. The driver obliged, passing the waybill up.
“What do ya think?” asked the driver, looking to the contents of the truck.
The receiver eyed the contents, looking back to the waybill, and back to the contents.
“Pretty good. There’s a bit of stuff there. No furniture?” the receiver looked to the driver, raising an eyebrow.
“No, nothing like that. Its all in rolls. Some rugs, paintings, maybe a few tapestries judging by the weight.” the driver replied through a squint.
“Ok. Just pass it up here. We’ve got room. You need someone down there?” asked the receiver.
“Nope. I got it.” The driver reached for the first item and grabbed it and placed it carefully onto the the dock.
By the early afternoon the truck was clear and most of the contents were being examined for an estimation of their value. A very fashionably dressed elderly couple walked together through the receiving area, examining each piece together. Every so often, one of the two would indicate an interesting detail to the other, pointing it out to their partner’s expertise. For her, it was just about any item originating from from Western Europe to East Asia, for him, it was North and South America, Central Africa and Oceania. The love of their task was apparent. A looking glass was drawn from his inside suit jacket. He examined one of the tapestries, then handed the glass to her. She looked carefully at the binding and a very tiny inscription in one of the corners.
“Very good indeed. This is another part of the initial bundle. These are her weaves as well.” she said, nodding approvingly.
“This one as well.” said the man, pointing at the latest find. The shop hand walked over and carefully moved the roll to an area that contained items that the couple had already selected.
The couple had opened the shop twelve years ago, nearly to the day. They had met at a Soho dinner party hosted by a mutual friend, a sculptor of some renown in the art district. After a bitter divorce years prior to the party, she had worked up the courage to ‘get out and be social again’, as her friends put it. It was difficult for her as she was a very meticulous person, and this had scared men out of her life before her marriage and scared more away post divorce.
She had grown up the daughter of a couple that had left Cardiff after the second World War. Her father had been offered the position of Plant Manager in New York for the American division by the company that he had worked for. He had turned their offer down at first, loyal to the plant that he was in charge of now. The company explained that they expected little expansion in their market share in Cardiff for next decade. Still standing on his decision not to go, the company upped their offer, twice before he had little choice but to accept. The third offer had allowed him to keep the house in Cardiff, which he rented to his brother inlaw, and purchase a new home just north of New York City, a forty-five minute commute from the factory.
In Cardiff, her father had been the ‘staple’ at the local pub in the years prior to their migration. He was the rising star at the company and the life of the party at the pub. He was a hands on kind of person and always civil, but often engaged in playful competitions of wit, which intimidated some, although there wasn‘t a malicious bone in his body. It was just his way of measuring a person. Her mother was attending her last year of college while working as a waitress at the pub. She was smart (and sometimes as volatile) as a whip. When she spoke, she was able to say exactly what should be said, with few words. When she had first started working at the pub, he thought that he would test her out with one of his competitions of wit. It was early on a Friday night and the weekend was just beginning. She had just arrived for her shift and was donning her apron and sorting her till when he looked her way. She was a buxom beauty, not slender but not portly. Her face was an exercise in symmetry and curves as much as her figure was. Her strawberry blonde, shoulder length curls and a tiny but plump mouth and piercing blue eyes framed by a pair of glasses were the coup de gras. He couldn‘t have taken his eyes from her if he had wanted to, but knew he had to in order to keep the upper hand. As observant as he was, he wasn’t sure if she knew he was examining her. He had been at a table with some of his work mates, debating how a tool bit heating slowly on a lathe would indicate how sharp it was. She walked down the length of the bar and attended one of the tables, in the smoke filled establishment. He glanced over to her again, half listening to his mates, now clanking tankards. She still gave no indication that she had noticed him. He looked back to his mates, raising his tankard, half smiling, half frowning. After servicing two other tables, she made her way over to theirs casually.
“My name is Linda. I’ll be your bar maid for the evening. What can I get you?” she asked cordially, eyeing each of them in turn.
“My name is Richard. I’ll be both the lead seat and the representative for this table. You can get us all a fresh tankard of your finest on tap. And when you leave the table, be sure to walk twice as slow so I can take you in a little better.” he said, with boyish charm and a wolf’s smile.
“Six tankards then.” She was completely unshaken by the comment and left as casually as she had approached. As she passed the bar, she stopped for a quick chat with a male patron.
Richard was careful not to retreat in this war of wit. He bandaged his ego, now curious about this fellow at the bar, and turned his attention to his mates and his drink, still smiling. Their debate had taken a turn and added the drill press to the sharp bit lathe argument. He gave his input occasionally, but stopped when he noticed Linda on her way back to the table, six tankards balanced expertly on a tray.
“Here we are gentlemen. That will be eighty pence.” she said, handing out each tankard in turn and then turning to Richard, in wait for payment.
“We’re running a tab Linda. I could have sworn you were a sharper bit, but I could be wrong.” he said, looking to his mates for approval. He got his approval but it was short lived.
“You’ll dull the bit if you try and cut too much at once.” she replied, not even batting an eyelash. His mates laughing with her remark. Her smile visible. She was the wolf now.
“I guess I’d better keep mine in my pants then.” he tried to say without sounding crude. He regained the support of his mates, his ego sighed with relief, his smile: coy as he glanced back to her.
She looked him squarely in the eyes and replied:
“You should always keep the little bits in the tool case. They‘re easier to lose you know”. No pause in her onslaught, his ego already out the door and halfway down the street. His mates, and perhaps the whole bar which had grown silent in the exchange, was now laughing in hysterics.
They stared at each other for a moment, before a smile crept onto his face, unable to contain the belly laugh that had been building in him. He bellowed with the rest of the pub. It was at that point that they knew they were a just at the beginning of a lifetime together.
He forced himself to catch his breath, stood and spoke into her ear “Who’s the gentleman you were talking with at the bar, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“That’s my brother.” she replied, leaning to his ear.
In that evening she had earned her reputation as one of the few people in Cardiff that could keep up with his version of the ‘dance’. They were married a year later. Three years later, she gave birth to Laura.
Laura was born in Cardiff, grew up in New York, and returned to Cardiff to attend University where she majored in history and linguistics. While in Cardiff, she stayed in the house where her mother and father had lived before moving to New York. Her uncle had long since moved into his own house in Bournemouth, where he had resettled to start a new life in his second marriage. Fiercely independent, she made it through the five years in school with ease and relatively friendless. Occasionally, she would force herself away from her books, and down to the library or the local pub, but would usually end up leaving early and unsatisfied that she had even given it credence. The rest of her school years were spent in some form of solitude, with the occasional call to her parents. Her grades were impeccable but still left her longing for something that eluded her. After her graduation, she returned with her parents to New York, where she worked as a researcher in the American Museum of Natural History. Her parents became concerned for her lack of social activity and goaded her constantly to go out and enjoy life, and find someone with which to share her time and interests. Occasionally, it would get her thinking about her life and what she really wanted to pursue and experience.
On one such occasion, she sat quietly with her father, while he told her one of the many domestic adventures he had been on with her mother. They had rarely left their familiar surroundings, but every once in a while, they would break pattern as he would refer to it, and just drive somewhere for the weekend. No forethought or planning. They would just up and leave, hours later finding themselves in unfamiliar surroundings.
Two months after hearing one such story from her mother and father, she left her job at the museum to backpack across Europe and Asia. Two years after she had started at the museum, she gave one month’s notice to the director of research, and spent her last two weeks bringing a graduate intern up to speed on the museum’s research effort. On her last day, a small group of the museum staff threw a party for her after the day had ended. The party itself was more of a formality, abeit a friendly one, issued by a group of coworkers who knew little of Laura. Allen Wright, the lead researcher had organized the party during Laura’s last days at the Museum. After the lab had closed, everyone (the seven people from the research lab and an off duty security guard) had settled to the lunch room, where they had a cake and a few presents for Laura. After the last of formalities, four of the staff accompanied Laura to a bar in Soho.
The night went relatively quietly while the group talked and enjoyed a few drinks. Slowly, the group was whittled down to three, lightly tipsy women. Laura, who had been a little more talkative than usual hadn’t noticed the man at the bar, who was keep watch over the trio. He was dressed casually, and nursed a drink while casually reading a newspaper. Laura and her friends were seated at a table a bit of a ways from the bar. Laura went to the bar to buy what would probably be the last round for the night. When she had reached the bar, the man who was keeping watch approached her and offered her a business card.
“You may need my help in Europe. Look me up when you get there.” He said, smiling and winking as he turned and walked toward the exit.
“Wait…” Laura tried to breach the growing noise level in the bar with little success.
She watched the man exit the bar, without giving him chase, and then examined the business card.
GUIDE AND COMPASS
Helping travellers find their way.
The card only begged more questions than it answered, which she supposed was what a business card was supposed to do. She put the card in her purse, gathered the drinks and made her way back to the table with her former coworkers. While they finished their last drinks, Laura kept thinking about the stranger, the Guide. How did he even know she was going to be travelling to Europe? How did she know to find her in this bar? Did he follow her here? She felt a little uneasy about the situation, but kept it well hidden. She made her way home in a taxi after bidding her friends farewell, leaving them at the bar. Her parents were either out, or in bed when she arrived home, which was fine with her as she was a little too tired to service their inquiries. She got cleaned up and made her way to bed, completely unaware that her life was about to change.
The man had been speaking in a barely audible voice. He rocked back and forth in a large rocking chair, a cloak covering his body and face. A book lay propped open between his hands, which he seemed to be browsing through with some interest, perhaps quietly reading aloud in an eerie monotone that sounded like latin. It was nearly impossible to make out any details regarding the book itself, although one could see that the edges of the pages were rough and uneven. I could sense that the book itself was old. Very old. The man’s voice quietly tapered off as he levelled his head, as if pausing to reflect upon what he had just read. He closed the book abruptly and spoke calmly.
“What else are you keeping from us?” The gravelly voice of the cloaked man inquired.
Bannen tried to answer, but found that he couldn’t make a sound. He was confident with the convenience of his soundless plight.
“We have her you know. She already told us everything.” The rocking chair stopped.
Bannen felt more like an observer to his inquest than the subject of his questioning. He tried again to get a closer look at the book without any measure success.
There was a pause for a moment, and then a sound like a stampede rippled through the air. Everything went black.
He woke up, his head cradled on a pile of discarded jackets, with a discarded t-shirt wrapped around a wound on his head. As the room came into focus, he saw Davis and the lady from the couple getting their fortunes read.
“That could have been worse.” Her smile genuine and lacking any hidden concern. Bannen’s head pounding nearly as loud as his stomach, he sat up slowly.
“How long was I out?” he asked.
“About twenty minutes by my time piece.” Answered Davis. “We thought your demise was certain by the way you hit the floor.” He continued.
“One of the others already tried your little stunt. Are you trying to get us killed?” Interjected the portly card player. His bitterness seemed attuned to the fact that it was an interruption to his winning streak.
Bannen glared in his direction, evaluating his intensity. The portly man’s reaction was a false sense of concern geared as a distraction to the fact that he was hiding something, probably from his fellow card players.
“Thanks for your concern.” said Bannen, without facetiousness. He kept his measurement of the man to himself for the time being.
He turned back to the lady and Davis.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.” Bannen looked to the lady.
“I’m Wendy, and this is my husband, Andrew.” She answered, pointing to her partner in fortune receiving.
“Very pleased to meet you. I’m Bannen.” he replied extending a hand to each of them in turn.
“I‘m Sherula.” Added the fortune teller. She was somewhat more reserved than she had been with Wendy and Andrew.
“I’m Rolsen. Rolsen Heward.” Said the card player with the handlebar moustache. He extended his hand in a friendly gesture, eager to be a part of the introduction.
“Martin.” Added the other card player, who appeared even thinner since the last twenty minutes. He barely made eye contact and shied back into the darkness.
The card dealer, looked away momentarily, and then sighed as if this was a chore.
“Gil. Gil’s the name.” He smirked as if the introduction was painful.
The man with the wrinkled forehead had moved a bit closer.
“Harlan. Harlan Walker.” He extended a hand, and Bannen offered his. A very strong calloused grip was returned. He was likely a skilled tradesman, probably some form of tool work.
The younger couple had joined the introductions, and the lady with the piercing eyes presented herself to the group.
“I‘m Monique and this is…” She was cut off mid sentence.
“Jeremy. We‘re Monique and Jeremy.” The man interrupted her protectively, perhaps sparked to life by his girlfriend’s initiative, and struggling to keep up with her. It was easy to see that he was trying to be her man in a situation that didn’t present any easy direction to do so.
“What about the other two?” he asked before any intensity in the situation could develop.
“The young gentleman with the dried flower, we just call him ‘Biscuit’ as he is none too talkative. He communicates to us when the need arises.” Davis jumped in on cue.
“The other one, we‘re not quite sure. He‘s been sleeping off a rather steep alcohol sickness. He smelled of whiskey when we first awoke here. He‘s eaten once in that time and regurgitated it shortly there after.” Davis paused with a puzzled look on his face.
“Err… Speaking of such, the meals have arrived in your absence.”
“We should eat, and then we should spend some time trying to piece together our situation. Where are we? Why are we here? Who brought us here? We have to figure these things in order to know where we stand and where we‘re going.” I paused and looked around at each of the faces in turn.
“Agreed?” he inquired.
Everyone nodded in agreement and quickly turned to the food which was prepared upon thirteen deep steel plates with covers over each one. They all contained the same meal in the same quantity, which was substantial. There were also thirteen cups and three large steel decanters decorated in elaborate detail, each containing water enough to last through the meal and longer.
For the next ten minutes, eleven people ate hungrily, one nursed and consoled a dried flower, and the last slept away the remnants of a tremendous hangover. Bannen didn’t feel the newly acquired bruise on his forehead. Nobody spoke, but the silence wasn‘t in the least bit comforting. Although some of them had suspected it, they were each being carefully observed.
The flight from La Guardia to Regensburg, Germany was relatively uneventful and Laura slept for most of it. She had dreamt about her night at the bar with her co-workers and the mysterious stranger. In her dream, she had been sitting at the table with her friends, enjoying her drink. The bar was hazy and densely packed with patrons. She was engaged in a toast with her friends, when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head to see the stranger at the end of the bar. Instead of discretion, he was waving to Laura with both hands, screaming something to her. He gestured to the other side of the crowded room mouthing the words RUN NOW! She turned her head in the direction he gestured looking for the source of the stranger’s alarm. Her friends continued their toast as she turned her head in search. The patrons were all engaged in their cliques, carrying on in an orderly drunkenness. When her glance had reached the far corner from the end of the bar, she had observed that it was visibly darker than the rest of the bar. She looked closer trying to see if she could see anything, and then back to the stranger and mouthed WHAT? He was still in the same spot, somehow unable to move and still waving frantically to her. JUST RUN! He mouthed as he waved frantically. The stranger’s direction only incensed her curiosity even further. She stood and started walk slowly to the dark corner, while the music and commotion blared around her. As she approached, she could barely make out a dark figure, cloaked. Two eyes glared out from the innards of the cloak, and pierced the atmosphere of the bar. Laura sensed something very sinister about the man and realized that she should have heeded the warning. She turned to looking for the stranger with the warning, but he was gone. She scanned the room in a panic, realizing her co-workers were gone as well. Time itself seemed to slow to a crawl as some of the other bar patrons now stepped into view, each wearing cloaks, slowly approaching her. She turned to the emergency exit and walked to door, her footsteps audible over the music. She barely made it through the crowd of cloaked figures to the door. She pushed the door open and was greeted with a darkness too thick for any vision to pierce. She turned to see the cloaked figures approaching and scanned them for a way out. She spotted an opening between a group of them and the front entrance to the bar just beyond. She poised herself for the sprint, when from behind her a pair of hands reached out from the darkness and grabbed her firmly by the shoulders. She screamed as she was dragged into its depths…
“Are you alright Miss?” asked the stewardess, with a hand on her shoulder.
Laura caught her breath, her ears pounding furiously.
“Yes. I’m fine, thank you.” replied Laura, visibly shaken and alert.
“Can I get you something to eat or drink?” asked the flight attendant with a rehearsed professionalism.
“No really, I’m fine.” Laura responded, visibly agitated now.
The flight attendant nodded politely and proceeded down the aisle. Laura sat staring out of the window into the darkness of the country side below.
Three hours later and she was checked into her hotel room, where she lay quietly on top of the bed covers in an attempt to stave off the jet lag. She fell asleep at three thirty ad meridiem Dusseldorf time with the stranger’s business card grasped in her hand.
She woke up promptly at seven ad meridiem, completely refreshed. The hotel room was quaint and located in the north end of Regensburg a short distance from some of the sites that she intended to see. She jumped into the shower and washed the remnants of her jet lag away. A week here would give her ample time to see some of the sites of interest in Regensburg. She thought about the stranger and the business card but in the end she decided against calling him for the time being. She still had her suspicions about the stranger, although inside she knew that his intent was true.
Margaret leafed through the pages of her book, selecting a chapter she'd read aloud before her friend Susannia. Susannia had always been a hands on person though she reveled in the creative endeavor Margaret had pursued in writing and often drew inspiration from it. Both were innovators in a time when women often did not dabble in such things as writing and mechanics and both were adventurous in their pursuits. Susannia sat through the reading of Margaret's chapter, which has seen a young genius scientist seeking to overcome the limits of mortality via experimentation. Susannia could hear Margaret's husband in the work as he was a touring lecturer at various medical facilities around the country and throughout Europe.
Margaret finished the chapter and Susannia asked for another.
"I'd rather save it for next time. You might have the whole finished thing by that time." Margaret responded.
"If you'd rather it that way, I can wait. But only barely." she smiled at Margaret.
"So what has you so interested in mortality, you've been thinking hard about this. It's apparent in your work." Susannia commented.
Margaret couldn't conceal her struggle, and looked down to her lap before continuing.
"I've been having the nightmares again." she continued, again. A tear crept down her face shrinking as its tail grew.
"It starts with the men in cloaks, eerie and dark, slowly pacing towards me. Just like last time. Then there is the man, dressed strangely like he's from another place." she paused.
"He's pleading with me, trying to rouse me. He's asking me 'where is it?'. I try to speak and nothing comes out." the tears flowing freely down her face.
"Then you come in, you hand a paper to someone, who hands it to someone else and yet another person and then to the man in the strange clothing. He unfolds the paper and reads it and gasps covering his mouth with his hand. He drops the paper, and holds his hands to the sky. You all become bones and fall to the floor, and there is blackness." Margaret reached into her blouse and pulled a kerchief and began wiping her eyes and face.
"Not even the drink works anymore to quiet the nightmares." Margaret stopped, her eyes bloodshot and red.
Susannia sat beside her friend on the chesterfield, moving close beside her.
"You need to talk to someone about this. If you keep it bottled up inside, you'll burst. You need to see someone and to talk about it and get it out. You're going to stay here with me for the rest of the month, that's three weeks. You need a break from this. If you want to write, you can use my personal study. If you can't sleep or you have nightmares, you wake up and we'll talk you through it. You're going to cut down on the drink as well. Not quit, just get yourself to a responsible level to yourself and your health." Susannia held her friend and rocked her gently.
"You always were the sensible one." Margaret responded.
"You always were the sensitive one." Susannia returned, pecking her forehead with her lips.
They spent the remainder of the night, sharing memories of times past and times to come and Margaret's stress dissipated into the night. She slept soundly for the first time in many months.
The room was silent momentarily as they each at quietly full. Andrew had gathered and piled the dishes in the center of the room as they were instructed to do during their first encounter with their captors. Once the group had gotten through most of their meal, Biscuit put the dried flower carefully on his lap and picked at his food, eating it in tiny bits with his hands. He continued to rock back back and forth on his haunches as he at, annoying Gil who spoke up.
"Stop that! You're making me sea sick!" he yelled.
Biscuit stopped his rocking abruptly, looking down at his dried flower quietly mumbling something to himself.
Sherula and Monique glared at Gil.
"What? I was just saying. He's making me dizzy. Its hard enough to eat as it is." Gil looked back to Monique and then to Sherula.
"You remember what happened the last time. He saved you. Don't you treat him that way." Sherula scolded Gil.
"They're going to take him soon. He knows something they want. They know too." Biscuit spoke quietly, still looking at his dried flower as he did.
"What do you mean, they're going to take who?" Gil demanded.
"Speak up you little grub! Who? Who are they going to take?" he continued, a crude combination of agitation and panic on his face.
Biscuit sat quiet for a moment and then continued to rock back and forth, his legs crossed on the floor.
Gil moved towards Biscuit aggressively and Jeremy slid into his path cutting him off.
"You're not going to touch him. Now that's enough. We need to keep our energy in staying alive and working together." Jeremy said firmly but thoughtfully.
"Look punk, where I'm from I eat punks like you for breakfast." Gil said, imposing his heavy frame towards Jeremy.
"You just leave Biscuit alone and start thinking about the rest of us, and we'll do fine." Jeremy said thoughtfully, holding his ground.
Biscuit turned his head and a little smile crept onto his face. It was easy to see no malice or ill intent written in his eyes or smile. He'd not been used to others standing up for him where he'd come from.
Gil looked at him, shrinking a little bit realizing that he was directing his energy in the wrong direction. He crawled back to his place near the Rolson and Martin.
Jeremy held his position momentarily then receded back to his place with Monique, who rubbed his back tenderly.
Sherula smiled at Jeremy.
"You have a good heart." she said to him.
"We all need to, if we're going to get through this." he said, regaining a bit of his confidence with Monique.
"You were saying that something happened the last time? What did you mean exactly?" Bannen asked Sherula.
She looked to Biscuit and then to Bannen.
"Gil and Biscuit were among the first here. Gil had a plan to ambush our captors much like you did. There was another with us at that time. He was like Gil, full of aggression. Biscuit warned them not to do it. He warned the missing one, Dren. He didn't listen and tried to go up through the ceiling when they fed us. At that time they didn't use anything like the magic they used against you. He made it up into the level above and we heard a scuffle and a scream, but we've not seen or heard him since. From that point they've been using the magic to keep us from climbing up. Bad magic." she explained to Bannen carefully.
"That's the impression that I got." Bannen said, the corner of his mouth creeping a little.
The room once again grew silent and the group waited while Biscuit finished his meal. When he was done, Monique gathered the plate and lid from him, wiping his mouth with a kerchief she'd had in her pocket.
"There, all clean." Monique said in a motherly fashion.
Biscuit shortly thereafter moved his vigil on the cold stone floor closer to Monique, Sherula and Jeremy. He'd found friends for the first time in a long time and didn't want to lose them.
Besides, he knew that they were going to come in to get him. The big man.
The museum was arranged in a similar fashion to the one she'd left behind to travel, though the architecture and the atmosphere was much different. A variety of popular pieces displayed in the main foyer and greeted visitors as they entered. One of three entry ways lead to different pavilions each covering a different combination of continents. One innovative addition were several corridors that connected each pavilion to another, and upon whose walls and floors were displayed pieces that bridged the continental divide between those locations. In the corridor connecting North and South America to Africa was reconstruction of the Kon Tiki, the famous papyrus boat that once sailed the span between North West Africa and South America some two thousand years ago. The contents of those displays then carried on to speculate about the common design elements between the architecture of pyramids and temples of the indigenous cultures of each of those continents.
She had been perusing the historic wing of the Renaissance Europe and the United Kingdom examining their collection with admiration when she came across something that caught her eye. It was a display celebrating the efforts of Lady Susannia Elmond Ross and her invention of the first weaving machines, which were capable of producing simple textiles and much later as she modified them, complex patterns and weaves, with border and trim thanks to a multipass process. Laura examined one such loom produced by her weaving machine that was the second last that she had produced. The loom itself was composed of a tiny complex pattern of threads and coloured yarn with different densities of each colour combining to produce a new shade. From a distance it looked astounding and as one got closer, a pattern began to emerge. Much the same as she had found recently by putting her face close to the black and white television that her parents had purchased a few years earlier. The picture was composed of little points where there were different brightnesses (or darknesses if you'd prefer) of dots.
Upon examining the loom closer she noticed a patch that looked familiar though she could not remember where she'd seen it. It was different from the rest of the loom but did not repeat itself in symbol or pattern. Upon closer examination it appeared to be a signature of some form, though it was composed of block symbols composed of a character set that she did not recognize despite her vast knowledge of language and symbology. She pulled a notepad from her pocket and began sketching the symbols she'd found and then examined the rest of the loom for any other such symbols. When she examined the other side of the loom, she came across another set, though there were few new symbols and it was much longer than the first. She copied this as best as she could into her notepad and quickly put it in her pocket, looking around for a museum patron in the vicinity. When she spotted an elderly gentleman she knew that she was in luck. She approached him and put on a charming smile and spoke.
"Nein speak deutch." she said first, pointing to herself.
"That's ok. I can't speak latin, so please don't hold it against me." he replied with slight German accent.
She laughed sincerely.
"I'm from the American Museum Of Natural History. Would it be possible for me to make use of your archives for a short time. I won't damage or take anything." she asked him, showing her employee identity card which had her picture and the official emblem of the museum.
"Are you here officially or unofficially?" he asked with curiousity.
"I am here unofficially. It's for personal research." she replied in all honesty.
"So you'll keep my liquor stash in the archive room a secret I take it?" he asked her, his eyebrows lifted clearing the height of the rims of his bifocals.
"I'm sorry, what stash are you referring to?" she responded, a coy smile stretched cheek to cheek.
"You're in. Let me take you there." he winked at her charmingly.
They ventured to the service elevator behind a locked door, which took them down a few levels into the basement. They stepped out of the elevator and he took her down the hall a paces and opened the door to a large room. It was filled with rows of cabinets, tall and short. Along the back wall were a row of what appeared to be freezer doors which obviously lead to climate controlled rooms for the preservation of antiquities which were sensitive to temperature and the chemistry of a normal sea level atmosphere. Laura looked around thoughtfully before speaking.
"Is this your indexing system here. Is it OK for me to look over the receiving logs too?" she asked trying not to sound too invasive.
"Here's the indexes. Here's the rec logs. Here's the liquor. Glasses are in the cupboard. Help yourself and don't leave with anything. Make sure the door is closed when you leave." and with that and another wink he left the way they came in.
She grabbed the index book containing the United Kingdom under the R section for Ross. She leafed through several pages until she found Ross, Susannia Elmond. The log entry listed several looms with identification numbers for tracking. She wrote down the numbers one at a time in her notepad and then pulled the receiving log binder, which was itemized by the identification numbers. After a moment of searching, she found the log binder with the identification numbers for the looms. Each page entry had a short description of the item, its condition, where it was being transferred from and where it was being transferred to. She scanned the pages one at a time, looking for anything indicating the presence of the symbols or that they had been recognized by the museum staff. When she failed to find any such indication, she went through them once again but this time looking for where they had come from.
"The Denabir Tea Company?" she said out loud to herself as she examined the log for the first of them.
She flipped the pages, finding that they all came from the same location and were likely part of the same shipment. She looked again through the log books trying to find entries for the shippers. When she was about to give up on the search, she came across a large binder labeled: Shippers And Estates.
"Here we go." she said aloud again.
She opened the binder and went backwards through the pages to the "D" tab and flipped forward through the pages until she arrived at the page she wanted.
"Denabir Tea Company of Southeast Asia. Bhiwandi, India." she contemplated this for a moment going over her current finances in her head and calculating whether she could make it there.
"I can do it, but I might need a little help." she said aloud, pulling the stranger's card from her pocket.
"We'll see if you're really a Guide and Compass." she pocketed the card and copied down all of the information that she'd need before cleaning up and putting everything back in order and then she poured herself a stiff drink.
"Here's to museum life." she said, sitting back in her chair taking a pull from her glass.
The same loom she had examined that day at the museum thirty years ago sat in front of her now, along with several others they had been seeking. She reminisced back to that point in time and her first meeting with Dennard before returning to the task of sorting the shipment. When they had finished the separated the items they required for their own research while sending the rest into the showroom. The shop hands loaded the looms and weaves into the back seat and trunk of their car and after confirming all of the paperwork they were en route together. It took an hour to get through the late evening traffic and once they'd gotten out of the city the roads were empty and quiet as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon.
"I can't believe that we made it this far. This could be the one." Laura said barely able to contain her excitement.
"We'll see when we get back. Do we need to stop for anything?" He asked her.
"Our seafood tray is prepared already. The champagne is on ice. Our slippers and house coats are ready. What else could there be?" Laura looked at him longingly.
"What about that nice oil that you like. You know, the scented one. Do you remember that night?" He asked her, smiling from behind his years.
"Oh yesss. I remember that night. How could I forget, you scoundrel." She responded to his devious question.
Dennard laughed in spite of himself.
"What? You didn't like that evening?" He asked her, the slightest presence of slyness well concealed.
"I didn't say that. I just said that you were a scoundrel. I didn't expect that you'd..." her response was interrupted by the impact of bullets on the side windows of their car.
Laura quickly ducked her head down as the glass punctured but didn't break. Several more shots impacted the side of their car, but did not pierce its shell to the interior.
Dennard glanced over and caught sight of a sedan quickly accelerating and lining up for another pass. He quickly stomped his foot on the brake, bypassing the antilock system. The car skidded to a near stop before he jammed his foot on the accelerator, bypassing the fuel injection regulator and opening up the throttle. The car roared as it accelerated aggressively after the sedan.
"I take it you'll need this?" Laura popped the glove box and a 9mm handgun presented itself.
"Honey, I'm driving. Could you please, just this once. I'll get behind him in the eight o'clock position. You can take it from there." Dennard asked her carefully.
"You know I hate these things." she responded excitedly.
"Um, honey. This isn't the time to argue about this. I had no idea this was going to happen otherwise I would have planned for it." Dennard replied steering the car into the eight o'clock position behind the sedan.
The two cars momentarily impacted and Dennard struggled for a moment to keep the car on the road.
"Honey?" he asked.
"Oh alright! Dammit. I just wanted a nice evening, you and I and..." she flicked the thumb switch safety and pulled the slide mechanism chambering a round before leveling the hand gun out the window at the car.
"Is that good?" Dennard asked her, struggling to keep his position with the sedan which was weaving trying to find a way to reverse the situation.
"A bit further back." Laura exclaimed keeping her aim true.
Dennard lightly touched the brake, and the car drifted further behind the sedan.
"That's perfect!" Laura yelled.
She pulled the trigger several times, the hand gun jumped each time but she held her place and the sites on the back tires of the sedan. The tire blew, exploding sending it careening back and forth and the driver struggled to keep control of it.
"Good shot honey. Uhhh, could you get the other one too?" Dennard asked her diplomatically.
"Back off a little bit more and I might be able too..." She responded maintaining her aim.
Dennard slowed the car a little and Laura quickly levelled the gun at the other tire and squeezed the trigger. The reports rang out and the rounds struck true, the rear right tire too exploding.
"Got it! I got it!" she said laughing.
She looked down at the hand gun, quickly losing her smile and throwing it in the glove box in disgust as they flew past the sedan which had careened off the road coming safely to a halt.
"Never again." Laura stated, her voice filled with disgust.
Dennard checked his shoulder and saw that the vehicle and driver were intact but unable to pursue them.
Laura pulled her cellular phone from her jacket and dialled, eyeing the GPS unit on the dash.
"Yes, I'd like to report an accident. There's a car stranded at the side of the road and a driver that needs medical attention. He was definitely drunk and waving a gun out of his window." Laura stated into the phone.
She gave the emergency operator the location of the accident and thanked the operator, hanging up.
"Are you ok honey. No scratches or bruises?" Dennard asked her knowing that she was alright.
"Yes, I'm alright. What are we going to do about the window?" she asked.
"I'll take it into the shop tomorrow and get us a rental." Dennard replied.
"And the pursuer, what about him? Or was it a her?" Laura asked.
"I didn't see for certain. I'll check with my contacts. Not many places for them to go out here. They'll likely be picked up. I'll know for sure tomorrow." Dennard replied to her articulately.
"Now, where were we before we were interrupted?" Laura asked him slyly.
"I believe that you were telling me that I was a scoundrel for that night with the scented oil." His eyebrows see sawing visibly.
"That was just like it was when we met." Laura slowly turned her head lying back in the seat gently seizing one of his hands from the steering wheel.
"What, the scented oil? Oh you mean the chase back there... Yes it was, wasn't it?" Dennard looked to her and smiled lovingly at her.
"We haven't passed that specialty store at the mall in town yet, lets make a stop over and pick up some of that oil, scoundrel." Laura tickled the underside of his palm.
Susannia had made her way down to the tool shop early that morning and was busy crafting her machine. She had tooled some parts she'd come up with in her sleep and was now in the process of exchanging them for existing ones in order to fix the tension problem she'd encountered demonstrating the machine to Margaret. The newly fashioned parts went in easily enough and after she'd cleaned the twine tangled in the spindle, it seemed to be ready for another test. With the parts she'd constructed and the new feeding system, the tension problem had been averted leaving her to concentrate on the accuracy of the interpretive heads. The interpretive heads operated much like the needle on a turn table (or the laser in a compact disk player) and rested on the vellum paper pattern as it was scrolled by a feed mechanism. Each interpretive head had its own lane and if the head encountered a hole in the vellum paper pattern as it was fed, the head would drop through, momentarily opening a switch in another part of the mechanism and adding or removing a new colour of yarn into the weave. She had developed a system whereby the number of pits encountered would yield a different weave pattern as the weaving head would be directed by a different gear which contained the weave pattern itself by the height, angle and spacing of its teeth. She currently had the machine operating on four different possible pattern gears, though her final design would include nine. By the standards of her time, this device had grown into a complex automaton capable of much more than she'd anticipated.
Susannia loaded a few spools of yarn into the machine and fed it through to the weaving heads carefully, turning the crank a few times to ensure it was once again feeding correctly. When she was satisfied that the yarn was feeding through the machine and not bunching up or getting tangled, she sat down at her work table and begin to design a pattern from a roll of vellum paper. This was the most meticulous part of what she needed to do to create a weave as it required her to puncture the paper accurately and in even spacings. The length of the paper represented the time a particular weaving head was applied or not applied as it passed. The width of the paper represented each lane and its associated weaving head, which of course could be changed by the pattern. The closer the pits were together in the length of the vellum paper meant the more activity there was in terms of the weaving heads. Large spaces between pits usually represented the application or absence of a weaving head in the current operation. She had even designed a tool for creating patterns, one which allowed for up to nine lanes and fed the vellum in quarter inch increments. She could then press one of nine levers (one for each lane) that would puncture the paper and produce a pit on it. Since each spoke on the weave gear represented one stitch, as long as she could envision this in her head, she could design complex patterns using this system. She considered all of this as she designed the pattern for her next test of the machine. Patterns could only be used a few times at most until she was able to procure a more durable stock of vellum.
She sat at the table waiting for an idea to come and when one didn't, she strode to the door.
"Oh rubbish." she said in frustration and left the shop not bothering to call for the coach.
It was then that she saw Margaret approaching on horse back, with her favourite steed in tow behind her.
"What an unexpected surprise this is, and the time just perfect." Susannia yelled to her friend.
"I brought some food and wine and thought you might like a picnic." Margaret reached over and handed Susannia the other steed's reigns.
She got on the horse's left side and mounted it, brushing its neck softly.
"Come on, I'll race you!" Margaret shouted as she coaxed her horse into a gallop across the fields and into the brush.
"Do you hear that? They think they have a chance against us?" she brushed the horse again and prodded its sides, leaning forward with both reigns in one hand like the expert rider that she was.
Horse and rider leapt forth and quickly closed the distance with little effort, though Margaret just enjoyed the chase.
They rode for a length until they found a soft grassy break in the brush that offered shade from the midday sun. They setup their lunch blanket and lunch as their horses happily grazed and settled back to relax when they had their fill of food, filling in the quiet moments with small talk.
When they had finished they stretched out on the blanket for a bit of talk and relaxation. Susannia had always a fascination for trees and their complex yet majestic form in the out of doors and she some time admiring the closest one.
"Do you think that they can hear us?" Susannia asked aloud, though her question could have been more rhetoric than otherwise.
"Who? The horses?" Margaret responded as one of them cleared its gullet shaking its head side to side as if on cue.
It looked at them momentarily perhaps waiting to hear its name, then returned to the soft tips of foliage, delicately consuming them.
"No, I mean the trees. Do you think that they can hear us?" Susannia asked again.
"I don't think they have ears. Do they?" Margaret returned the question to Susannia who was unsure if she was joking.
"You mean that with all of that research that you've done for your book and your husband's vocation that you never tried to find out?" Susannia, lying on her back looked across the quilt to her friend.
"They don't have ears, so I presume that they don't hear us. And if they did then we'd all be in trouble for sure." Margaret snickered looking back to her friend.
"I think that they can feel us when we're near them." proposed Susannia.
"They don't have a nerves so they can't feel." Margaret rationalized it but in the end sounded more like she was convincing herself than Susannia.
"Maybe they can feel but without nerves. Like how we tell when we're being watched." Susannia offered for Margaret's consideration.
"Maybe they can. And if they can, then what?" Margaret returned a glance.
"If they can feel us, then they can feel each other. Right?" Susannia looked out of the sides of her eyes at her friend.
"What an wonderful possibility that would be." Margaret took pause with her friend's conjecture before continuing.
Margaret thought of her nightmares once again. Of the passing of the parchment between Susannia and the denizens of her dreamworld and the parchment arriving to one who subsequently collapsed, screaming and in tears before falling to bones. Perhaps pleading with life itself. It was then that Margaret had an epiphany of understanding.
"What if the trees themselves were a message?" Margaret elicited to Susannia.
"Where did that come from?" Susannia replied caught off guard by her friend's question.
"I'm serious. I'm just using trees as an example. What if the trees themselves were a message that someone could send to someone else at a later time just by planting a seed." Margaret responded excitedly glancing in Susannia's direction.
"So you're saying that someone could send a message just by putting the message inside of a seed? How?" Susannia immediately grasped the concept eager to hear her friend's answer.
"Maybe seeds are a message, of how to make a tree, or a plant. If one could somehow put the message alongside the recipe for the tree." Margaret posed the thought.
"What if someone did the same with people?" Susannia returned Margaret's glance, a smile wide across her face.
"We aren't made with seeds. Wait a minute. You mean if the Mother or Father of a child had the message in them, and then passed it on to their child and so on?" Margaret paused thinking again about her dream.
"May I ask you what brought this line of thought about?" Susannia considered her friend's theory.
"The dream. There is some meaning in it. Of that I'm sure." Margaret looked to the quilt and it's intricate pattern, sewn by the skilled hand of a favourite seamstress of Susannia.
"Are you saying that you want to send a message to someone at a later date?" Susannia sat up as she asked Margaret this question.
"Yes. Oh, but not really. It's not a message. It's a reply." Margaret examined the complexity of the quilt and Susannia instantly knew what she was thinking.
"Guide and compass. How can I help you?" Dennard answered the phone.
"Hi. It's me. The one that you gave your card to. Do you remember?" Laura asked him, still excited about her find at the museum.
"We have many customers. Could you refresh my memory." he said to her.
She paused a moment thinking that he sounded a little too pragmatic to be serious. Alright. I'll play your game she thought to herself.
"I was at a bar. My work companions were holding a send off for me. You gave me your card at the bar." Laura told him, carefully pausing between each sentence.
"Where are you now?" he asked her.
"I'm in Brussels." he replied.
"You're a long way from your hotel then, aren't you?" Dennard asked her.
"Not at all. It's just around the corner. The Warm Night. Perhaps you've heard of it?" she asked him somewhat playfully enticed by the reversal of his mystery.
"I can't say that I have. Well, if you're interested in a meeting to discuss what services we can offer, I suggest you meet me just outside of the Regensburg Museum. My car's the black four door. I'm parked just west of the main entrance." Dennard said with calculated earnest.
"I hope you can wait." She told him.
"I've been waiting my whole life. I can wait a little longer." Dennard smiled and she knew it.
With that she hung up the phone and closed up the indexes and returned them back to their place on the desk. She poured another glass of whiskey drinking it down quickly, feeling her heart jumping in her chest excitedly.
"I guess I'd better go start this adventure." She spoke aloud quietly, looking at the catalog number of the tapestry and address of the Denabir Tea Company.
She tossed a few Deutsch marks beside the bottle of liquor and then headed out the door, closing it behind her. She followed the path back to the main foyer of the Museum and stepped outside of its doors. After a short hike west of the entrance she came upon a black four door sedan which was parked passenger side to the curb. She noted this observing the direction of the traffic opening the door.
"You don't miss a thing." She told him.
"I miss what I can't take with me." Dennard replied without missing a beat.
"Then where are you taking me?" Laura sat fastening her seatbelt.
"All of the above, though I sure hope that you're a gentleman" she finished.
"That makes the two of us." he looked for his break in traffic before pulling out into the quickly approaching night.
The room had fallen to a silence as the residents one by one they fell to the call of sleep. They had been in these dire and cramped conditions for long enough that their circadian rhythm had started to take on a life of its own. Biscuit lay on his side, curled up beside Jeremy and Monique as they pulled tight to one another sharing their warmth.
Sherula lay on her back, her fortune telling cards hung slightly outside of her breast pocket. Just aside of her were Wendy and Andrew intricately wrapped amongst one another looking comfortable despite the conditions.
Gil, Martin and Rolsen sat backs against the wall each apparently in the land of nod. Their heads teetered forward only to be lifted reflexively by the muscles in their neck though none seemed to be aware of their awkward cadence. Bannen curled up slightly off of the opening in the ceiling snoozing uneasily. Davis lay still and silent, chest rising and falling to some silent tempo.
Biscuit's eyes opened and he knew at that moment that they were coming. He had seen them in his dream. His nightmare. His daymare or whatever mare it was for the time they slept. He lay still watching the opening in the ceiling for any signs of movement, though carefull not to shift the air or disturb the silence.
He twitched when he saw but did not hear the opening expanding and where there had been light before, there was now the blackest of blackness that led up and into the unknown. Then the shadows themselves crept down and into their abode in dark tendrils each searching and seeking their prey. They probed Bannen, slowly sliding over his face and abdomen before moving on to Davis. They slowly slithered over Moniques exposed ankle and on to Jeremy's arm which was wrapped around her protectively. Biscuit wanted to scream but he knew that he shouldn't. It would only make things worse. For him but most of all for them. We watched as the tendril slid up his arm and around his neck then creeping up his face. It paused over his eyes perhaps noting that they were open, the windows to his cognition not sealed like the others. He dare not breath or blink as it sat above his face inquisitively. It proceeded just as he lost his command over his breath, his eyes stinging from dryness blinked profusely.
Another set of tendrils had already examined Rolsen and Martin while another arrived at Gil. They all of them stopped instantly when the man who'd presumably been sleeping for hours with hang over sat up suddenly.
"Is that you Jinx? I swore I never knew it was yer dollas. They was just sittin' there on the bah lookin thirsty as I." He exclaimed looking off into nowhere perhaps reliving a conversation etched into his memory and played back as a dream.
The tendrils sat still appearing as shadows and keeping their presence from the man. Biscuit watched them carefully knowing them for their deceit though they'd not lost their elusiveness. The man with the three day hangover looked around again not entirely there.
"I knew ye'd cash in far me. Wees gots ta stick tagethah. Just keep 'em coming. Ahhhh." the man fell backwards onto his back and biscuit felt the floor jump when his head hit.
He looked over to see if the man's body moved in rhythm with his breath and returned his vision to the tendrils when he saw the man shudder. Upon his vision returning to the place that the tendrils had been they'd disappeared altogether. Biscuit panicked searching for them and spotted them all surrounding Gil. They writhed in unison building up their tension for their vile deed. Biscuit had known that Gil had done them wrong in some profound way that he'd not understand for a long time. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe never.
Gil eyes slowly opened to see the horror perched before him. There the shadows crept to life and danced before his face, hissing and spewing blackness. He gasped a moment, clasping his chest attempting to inhale. When his attempt failed, he pounded his chest where his heart had stopped in attempt to start it. Finally it thumped once then again and his air came in a deep gasp. The tendrils took the opportunity and jumped into his nostrils, mouth and eyes all at once filling him and devouring him from the inside.
Biscuit tried to look away as he had the last time but found that he couldn't. Gil's expression spoke volumes of his terror though no sound came from him other than the occasional sound of escaping air. His form slowly dissipated until it too became as shadow much like the tendrils moments ago. Gil's shadow then split into a multitude of tendrils perhaps twice as many as had come looking for him and with that Gil was devoured.
Biscuit stared intensely as the tendrils withdrew into the opening in the ceiling. As the last tendril disappeared the opening returned to it's stone form with a steady wash of air coming forth from it. He watched it for a moment and then looked back to where Gil had been moments ago. There was nothing. Not even a sigh that he had been there at all. Biscuit stared in amazement but felt a sense of relief in the midst of his terror. They had take their prey and they were all safe until they had digested their meal of Gil and gotten to his thoughts. His memories. To what it was that he knew that they wanted from him. Then they might seek the next piece of their puzzle in one of the other residents.
Biscuit's muscles lost their tension and he fell back to a slumberous dungeon-mare of tendrils and Gil.
"Why kid? Why didn't you save me?" Gil asked Biscuit from his nightmare.
"You were already dead big man." Biscuit answered him.
Biscuit had seen death before and Gil's was not unique to him though Biscuit had tried tried to shelter himself from the memories.
Biscuit had been used to silencing the sounds of death his whole life. That was life after all was it not? The silencing of that which was dead. Dead and gone. Even if it was in his head and even more so for if he could hear the dead, then surely they could find way to him and then draw him upon their world. He'd seen it before and he'd see it again for his vision was not so blind as that of the others. He'd seen death and seen it from so many directions that he'd not known what he was seeing. That was his thin veil of safety between this world and theirs.
The trip to Das Nacht Licht was quiet though Dennard tried his best to put Laura at ease. Laura felt no tension but more curiosity about the man sitting beside her and ultimately it was she who spoke first.
"Oh yes. Let me see. Well I'd really started to notice this symbolism from a young age, say about ten years old. My Mother used to get me books with the old photo prints taken of ancient pottery, marble tile work or the relief work you'd often find on columns especially in Greek or Roman architecture. I think that I noticed it examining some of the symbols contained there upon while comparing them to ancient totems found in places like Australia, North and South America, then finally in Asia architecture as well." Laura explained as the bread sticks and vegetables arrived.
"I bet. That was a guarded service for certain. Especially before Gutenberg happened along." Dennard smiled to Laura and they thanked the waitress and clinked glasses before returning to their conversation.
"Him and Louis Aldus. Before them job security in mixing inks and dyes for use in written works was pretty much guaranteed. The printing press most certainly changed that. The symbolism of colours were present when expressing ideas related to different things, objects per se especially living things seeing as they were the first and greatest source of a variety of colours especially near ocean dwelling tribes and near reefs or the avians further inland." Laura explained.
"Seasonal changes in foliage colours must have factored in too?" Dennard asked her as she toyed with an ice cube floating in her drink.
"We're talking about equatorial regions at this point. Generally composed of a rainy season and a dry season. Foliage colors are generally consistent through their respective seasons. Fish and birds on the other hand take on a variety of colours in the palette in such environments. Inland such colour would once again come from the land. The sky. The foliage. Flowers and plant life. In birds who are the most abundant in terms of colour variation and in the sky itself, especially at dusk and dawn. In times when no such dyes, paints or inks were available, colour symbolism was present in iconic symbolism, which preceded glyph based symbols. For instance if an icon depicted a particular type of fish, and the people viewing the iconic language knew that fish to be the colour green, then that would be part of its symbolism and another channel of information that could be conveyed through symbolism. Of course migrations added to this as the common colours someone might encounter in nature in one geographic location can vary widely in another location. I hope I'm not boring you by monopolizing the conversation?" Laura asked him feeling good about having the chance to speak about her
"I hope I'm not boring you by listening too closely." he smiled back to her and she paused a moment considering the cue before continuing.
"A profound discovery in such times must have been when entire people`s through migration discovered new colours in different locations to which they had migrated. Obviously the colours you'd be privy to would be much different in a tropical climate than they were in an arctic climate. So migrations actually changed the human understanding of colour as we migrated to different places around the globe. The Aurora Borealis of course is another great example of a natural colour source that is regional. Many cultures believed them to be the work of the Gods, etching their designs upon the land at night while we slept. Some even seek to conceive their children under it coinciding with one of the two equinoxes. So back to the use of inks and dyes. As dye, ink and paint became easier to produce, colour symbolism spread as more people could actually afford inks, paints and dyes, rather than having to get them from someone skilled enough to produce them. This overwhelmed those trying to control the use of colour much like the invention of the quill, brush and papyrus overwhelmed those trying to curb knowledge of and prevent people from writing. Colour symbolism really came to life in the pre-Renaissance eras as more people grasped the concept and could create freely with it as well. No the symbolic message I discuss in my paper supersedes even colours and their use in communication." Laura answered taking breath and holding it for a moment before laughing giving him a seductive smile.
"Yes. But there's a point that you get to when you have to consider that the night sky is just the night sky. If the Gods or the heavens are trying to tell us something, its most likely to appreciate it. Sometimes the nature of beauty is to conceal its pattern while revealing no reason for it." Dennard answered her with a bit of a smile.
She blushed and struggled to keep a shy smile at bay before she responded.
"You'll be accompanying me to find the last piece of the first message we actually decipher." She told him playfully.
[Update: Thursday March 19, 2015 10:10 AM]
"I guess this means that we aren't going dancing upstairs after dinner?" she looked at him feigning disappointment with a pout in her smile.
"Not on their lives." Dennard replied as he sampled the wine before approving it.
"Good. Because I'm not the kind of girl that you want to disappoint." Laura said as the waitress poured her wine.
"You aren't disappointed now?" Dennard asked her.
"I'll tell you after our dance." she picked up her glass by the stem.
They toasted before enjoying the their entree despite the eyes upon them.
"I'd never let a few prying eyes ruin a good evening." Dennard said pouring on the charm.
"A good evening? And we haven't even hit the dance floor yet. You have no idea." she smiled at him coyly as she channeled her mother's confidence and sense of humour.
They finished their meals and made their way upstairs to the club and lounge. The smoky room was filled and the dance floor was packed. As they had in the restaurant, they lucked upon a cosy table hidden in the corner where the occupants had just been leaving. They immediately grabbed the table and made themselves comfortable as the waitress took their order. A moment later she returned with their drinks, though Dennard refrained from alcohol beyond the glass of wine he'd had with dinner.
"You aren't trying to get me drunk so you can take advantage of me are you?" Laura joked with him.
"You aren't trying to get drunk to find the courage to enjoy yourself are you?" he replied with a question.
"I've been caught. I guess I'm just going to have to show you a good time then..." she said playfully as they started their dinner.
As they ate she felt the eyes upon them and the interest from those watching them. At first it bothered her. By the time they moved to the club and dance floor she barely notice them at all leaving Dennard to fend for them both.
Margaret sat awake considering what Susannia had said to her. She sat in her quarters with a quart of brandy drinking herself into a stupor. She was at that haphazard point in between. When she still had all of her faculties and her wit while the alcohol pressed her off into absurdity. She held the quill in her hand expertly considering what Susannia had suggested.
She scrawled a paragraph in her best cursive giving life to the obsession of her protagonist and his quest to find life amongst death. The dead. He'd struggled deep into the newly understood technology of electricity and its secrets of life giving. What he'd wanted was insane. A blasphemy. He'd wanted to give life to the dead. To steal it back from the Gods themselves and return it to the deceased. From dead parts.
"How?" she said aloud losing her stride.
"How could one reply? That would mean that someone from tomorrow or next week, or even a year from now had sent her a message today. Or yesterday. That's absurd!" she said thinking of what Susannia had said as she took a haul from her brandy jug.
She returned to her writing dabbing her quill into the well and drawing forth enough to continue her protagonist's experiment. He laughed in sheer madness as the dead and lifeless body had begun to move. To gain life from the dead though the motion was one of tension. A deep hurt the dead had felt by violation of their peace. Their sanctity. Their slumber broken by the crackle of super heated plasma that arced from solenoid to conductor and through the once dead body.
"If... If she's not mad. If she's not taken the carriage off the trail. That could mean that if she sends a message to them they might reply again... Here and now... That's so... Susannia!" Margaret returned to her writing scrawling one final phrase from the mouth of her protagonist before falling dead asleep at the desk her face pressed to her manuscript.
"Alive! She's alive!" said the doctor in exclamation and the thrill of discovery.
As one might speak of seeing the dead return to their bodies from the aether.
Her words lay beside her mouth as if they'd spilled out onto the page as she snored.
To be continued...
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“…Events within time and space leave an impression in causality and are perceivable in every direction of time… and space.”
Any likeness to the events of any person living or dead (or undead) is purely coincidental.
Testament Of Time © Copyright 2011-2015 Brian Joseph Johns