FICTION

FICTION

MOIRAE

NovelsPosted by Stevan V. Nikolic Wed, October 07, 2015 10:53:19

By Mehreen Ahmed

Following the stream of consciousness technique and embedded in dream allegory, Moirae depicts human predicament exploring notions of fate and religion. Taken from a fantasy land on a planet with two moons, called the Lost Winds, this story is about human oppression under a tyrannical regime which calls itself democratic. Much like our planet earth, people flee to seek protection in a place called Draviland, a long way away from the Lost Winds. Dramas pertaining to such human conditions often appear in the main character's lucid dreams and knitted in pink honeycomb pattern. This metaphor is used to construe self organized behavior among men, herding as they try to escape from persecution.

Prologue

In the cold grip of death and high alert, stands the silent land of the Lost Winds. Moral degradation has triggered a mass exodus. Those who were at great risk and in imminent danger have fled the atrocities of the regime by a boat called the Blue Moon to seek protection in a new land. Battling over the high seas through many violent tempests, their sea unworthy vessel, Blue Moon sailed for days until one evening it was spotted under the roaming beam of the light house on murky waters. The boat has finally reached the shores of Draviland. In the meantime, unfathomable ponderings rage in Nalia’s head in Lost Winds, as she explores the chaotic, dark fate of her mates. Unpredictable times have created such people, deemed as riders of the howling seas.


Table of contents

1.Red Tempest 4
2.Ash woodlands 14
3.Black streams 22
4.Orange soils 36
5.White Vines 49
6.Purple waves 59
7.Gold Foliage 70
8.Turquoise Roots 83
9.Emerald Luminosities 94
10.Sapphire Skies 104
11.Crimson Fields 110
12.Pink Honey Combs 120

“As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport-”
William Shakespeare: King Lear.

Red Tempests

Rain had already begun. Monsoon was unleashed fiercely that morning over Lost Winds, generally known as the village. Impending storm offered no sign of a let up as torrential rain fell from the ashen sky in every direction. Trees swayed, branches creaked and gusty winds lacerated through the tender leaves. Nalia put her knitting down on the chair, under the pumpkin vines to sheaf a broom. She put it together in a bunch with an adhesive around it at the top. Then she swept the throngs of meddling moths of black and grey pebbles off the front yard. The heavy rain pelted steadily down the tip of the serrated fungi, sprawling under the mossy matted fence. Nalia looked at it tentatively, as she finished her morning chore, gathering her clothes neatly over her young, smooth shoulder. She wore a long, cotton untailored piece of cloth wrapped around her like a large sarong. It was a black and white check garb.

A call out from a neighbour distracted her slightly, as she turned towards the entrance. Her gaze fell on a girl whose name was Pael. Nalia appeared in the open doorway of her thatched house. She saw that Pael was talking to Shinta.

“My brother has left Lost Winds.”
“What? When? Tell me you’re joking?”
“No, no I’m not. At 17, he has nothing, no money. Poor soul. Oh! How poor are we?” Pael sobbed.

Nalia stood there eavesdropping in silence and looked up at them with a lazy eye. Unexpectedly, she rubbed her snub nose with her palm making it appear even flatter than usual. She found her bearings and looked beyond the entrance, which lent a full view of the rain, like translucent paint on nature’s canvas running in rivulets along the gully of the leeches.

Nalia picked it up and resumed knitting. She knitted a sweater in honey-comb pattern. With a ball of pink, downy wool under one arm, she walked up to them, closer to the entrance.
“What’s up?”
“My father needs to borrow money.”
“How much? And why?”
“Why? We need it for my brother,” she said. “He needs 100 thousand to pay his Transporters who took him on a boat called Blue Moon into the island of Mundip.”
“And why did he need to leave?”
“To get away from police,”
“Police? What police? Tell me. Tell me everything.”
“I can tell you only what I know.”
“Then tell. What’s going on?”

Nalia looked straight at the vertical water lines falling through the curled up wet ferns over a wall of Rhododendrons and Frangipanis. She stood there knitting, listening to her neighbours’ ramblings. Her thoughts took her darkly away in a stream of sudden mindlessness.

On the day of her wedding, there were jubilations. Loud music and high-pitched songs were played repeatedly to entertain the wedding guests. Nalia was dressed in cheap silk of sparkly shocking pink. Matching pink slippers looked bright in the afternoon sun, as she stepped out of her father’s house into a new heavenly life of the blissful unknown. Little did she know that the cloth wrapped around her was stolen and so were her slippers; flashy studded multicoloured stones, set unevenly on the foot-ware. As darkness fell, an oddity took place which changed her life forever.

Under a full marmalade moon, she sat with her wedded husband in a small thatched room. Through the portal of the cane latticed window, she heard the ominous crow lapse into terrible wail, as it flew through the stooping, bunched up bamboo bush. No sooner, men dressed in police clothes kicked open her flimsy wooden door. Befuddled and frightened like a caged experimental mouse, she stood shivering in one corner, as police handcuffed her lover. Then they turned her wedding bed over and ripped through the new, custom made bed that the village mattress-maker had given them as a wedding gift.

Gawking, in the candle light, she could not believe her eyes. Police recovered millions of 100s, 50s, and 20s in notes. The money flurried out of the open mattress like the dry leaves of an autumnal maple tree. Accused of robbery, her love was taken and cast away in an ever forbidden hole of a dungeon. Her lazy eye welled up with tears. She wiped them off. Rain poured like a whole heap of tiny white nibbles, straight out of a party bag, in the process of strange metamorphosis.

Her thoughts returned when her neighbours left. She turned around and came back to her room. She felt tired and went to her room for a rest. Unknowingly, as she lay down on her bed, she slipped into slumber.
Night fell and she had the strangest dream; she ran, flew and soared, and then fell straight back down, waking with a scream. She crawled up to get herself a glass of water from the aluminium pitcher in the corner of the room. Sounds of the frolicking birds in the moon light of the early morning woke her up. She tried to hear, if the rains had stopped. In that moment every bit of happiness that she ever felt evaporated as rainfall on a parched land.

It was in shame that she returned to her father’s house, after her husband had been arrested. Each day she hoped for a miracle to happen and went without a meal for days. Hair uncombed, without a shower, she even surpassed banshees in looking her worst. She too had a brother once. Not being able to endure her affliction of separation from her husband any longer, he had hatched a plan in a sudden frenzy to help her. Brother had decided to borrow heavily from a wealthy farmer to bribe the police for her husband’s acquittal. He nearly succeeded. The wealthy man agreed to lend him 50 thousand in cash, but not unconditionally. It was a debt, of a most horrible kind. The brother could not pay it back. The farmer forced him to work on his rice fields without payment. It wasn’t an acceptable proposition. Brother decided to flee. On natural impulse, he desired freedom from this slave labour. Nalia heard a cough coming from the next room; her father lay snoring like a fat old cat. She called him, but didn’t hear a response. She looked out at the morning afterglow streaming in through the matted window.

She rose from her bed creeping quietly on the floor toward her belongings. Opening the lid of a black, battered suitcase, she drew out a beat-up tin of biscuits with a tightly pressed lid. With some effort she wrung it open. In it, there was some money, 500 only in cash, which she had found accidentally on that fate less wedding night after the police had left. It slipped somehow sitting in a shadowy corner to be picked up. Happy in the belief that one day she would be able to buy comfort, she put it in the suitcase tucked under the few clothes that she had, before she left this life behind her. Without anyone to care for, she had not much clothes and no jewellery at all. In all the world she only possessed 500 gold coins. Whatever relationship she had with the man, this husband of hers, was over. Her marriage was now over. The 50, 000 borrowed to free him from police had also gone unaccounted for and was now needed to pay off the farmer, which the brother had owed or else he would be confined to unpaid slavery for life.
Distraught by her sibling borrowing heavily and then trying to buy her life back, she was just as helpless as her parents to save him out of this troubled situation. They could never pay off this debt. Money and poverty was the root of all her worries.

Trepidation filled her up. The next morning, Nalia thought of her ugly life. She walked down the Murma river. The newspapers had said it all. That her husband was caught off the coast of the Panuma Island, selling riders to Transporters, people who agreed to organise illegal passage for a payment into the land of Dravi. Her brother was gone that way too. She sat down on the bank of the Murma River and weeded nettles from an over grown grassy patch. Strange, she could not find any flowers in the lowland of the river bank. Silvery waves dulled under the grey cloud. It was going to rain again. She looked up.

Her brother was gone. Yes, but his boat had capsized near the shores of the Siren peninsula. And that was that. It was one of the lucky stories. Boats always sank in the deep seas near the Underworld. Miraculously, they were rescued by Dolphins; the hapless people of the boat lived. Incredible indeed. The night was cold and so was the water. It was murky too when their boat sank as it proceeded through the Underworld Mountain range. Their legs constantly walked the waters under the sea; fear and panic seized them, as they heard their own shallow breathing. They looked around but encountered fury on every uncompromising lap of the waves. Children never made it back and adults were ready to embrace death just when a few survivors floated up on the bosom of the sea. They were suddenly encircled by Dolphins in the shark infested ocean while predators roamed at large on the outer circle.
Dolphins sheltered them as their own. Stories went a bit further, to say that these Dolphins, their saviours, even guided them to safety. They waded with them to the nearest island spotted within the radius of the beam from the light house where the ocean slapped those very shores in gentle wavering movement. Towards the light house, the Dolphins then swam away afterwards. And that was the tale of survival that seeped slowly into the village. Would fortune be with her neighbour’s brother too? He had also left. What if perchance, his boat also sank, and he was left with the sharks alone?
A shiver went straight up her spine. Since that day, Nalia feared the worst. She feared for Pael’s brother and for all those people who were leaving the village for one reason or the other. She was not on any boat, but was still in the village, safely enveloped within the shrubbery of banana plants and jack fruit trees. Circumstances will pull her toward a unique destiny, percolating beyond control perhaps. Her job was to continue to dream for that day, when she would become self-sufficient. God knows, she was not wealthy, but she was at least free.

Monsoon rain eased off a bit. The last of the rain water, dripped lazily down the tea leaves from the plantation along the river. Distant drizzles were a mass of tiny fluids poised spectacularly on air. Nalia got up and walked home warily; not sure if she would sleep well that night. Extending an arm down, she wrung little yellow flowers off the edge of the dirt path. These looked lovely, ‘blushed many a times to die unseen’, as many a times as the people in the village. Hapless victims ran away for reasons they were not responsible for. Human fate was strange. Stranger still was human dilemma.

Seventeen-year-old boy had escaped. His father’s arch enemy, Miah had framed him for an alleged murder. It had not stopped there. What was his name? Pontu, Pael’s brother. He left home in search of a new life, on a new soil on a journey through Mundip.

Poor Pontu. He was not wealthy, neither was his father. Look, what happened? Born in poverty, he was surrounded by vile people from childhood, who ensnared him in a murder case. A trap. Goodness me. Fleeing from one place to another was what he did all his life. The regime tried to recruit him to do the dirty jobs for them. When he did not want to do it, they beat him up; when he joined them, they played him; tied him to this murder case; an unspeakable crime committed by another.

What other option was left? The police had even arrested Pontu once, but he was able to escape from jail. He would be arrested again, he knew, in Mundip. Courage and optimism led him on, so he would live to the fullness of life. If only the wheel of fortune turned for the better. One lucky break was all that this lad needed. Being illegal, there were great uncertainties, as vast as the ocean itself. Anxiety gripped him like wet hair strand coiled around a finger hard to shake the moisture off. To be happy and to be safe were his basic rights, but he struggled to have even that. A child was always born in innocence until forces of circumstances snatched it away. It happened all too soon for him, happened almost in his infancy, at 17, only 17.

Reminiscence of her own life spoke again to her of how her marriage had ended before it was even consummated. 16 and she had barely put her foot forth into the world. Henna still fresh on her palms seemed to scream out for justice in brick red. Her entire being cried out of ingrown aches of unfulfilled love. She must get away. Get her life back together before it ended. Life would end sooner than people thought.

Up in the sky, clouds continued to manifest in dramatic moody hues. Tinges of crimson glowed momentarily, before masses of ink and grey crowded in. Constable’s sky would not have looked more poetic on its canvas with such a spillage of riotous colours. Vapours crossed broodingly about in emptiness, right before a melt-down. Quick lightening crept through unpredictably in toothed lines, followed by bellows from heavens above. Nalia began to run like a petrified black gazelle.

Funds needed to be raised. She walked past Pontu’s house and saw them eating. 100,000 was a far cry, when even one remained to be seen. Pontu would languish in some hellish hole for being illegal. But the Transporters must be paid in full or else this journey could be a futile one and not end up in Dravi. Dodging from bullets, police pastings and captures lay further ahead for Pontu in Mundip. Oh. How awful. He had only just turned 17. Nalia glimpsed at them briefly. Through the open portal, she saw them packing huge balls of fermented soaked rice in water. Radish and rice on their palms was galvanised straight out of an earthen bowl into their gaping hungry mouths. Hunger gave them insatiable appetite, anyway; fuelled by nervousness today, slowing down of the jumpy finger to mouth motion was impossible. Their son rafted on some remote corner of the Red Seas, and they were in the iron grips of bleak powerlessness.

Nalia slowed down her pace. Something needed to be done about her life too. It was not her desire to end up in the slave market or some big pleasure houses. Options were limited. She was not a defeatist. At 16 she did not want to be one. Perhaps, she could fall in love again. Her friend Tahu, worked in a garment factory in the city. She remarried soon after her first husband perished under the rubbles, when another garment factory collapsed.
Nalia picked up a tune from a movie translated as The Claybird. Forlorn and sleepless, she lay in her bed lamenting next to her parent’s room. These walls held no secrets back, as she heard them talk.

“100,000 is a lot of money.”
“They must sell the milk cow and raise the money,” A women’s voice sounded desperate.
“We could have given them a loan,” her father said,
“But we’re hard-up ourselves.”

Nalia got up from her bed and went to sit on the dirt floor in the front yard. The moon didn’t shine tonight. Sallow light from the hurricane lamp imparted almost a surreal, magical luminescence in the darkness. She heard her mother’s muffled voice.

“I wish Nalia would get married again. That would be one less mouth to feed.”
“Speak softly, I don’t want her to hear this,” warned Nalia’s father.

And then there was silence. Nalia knew what was expected of her. But she loved him, the one that she had married and he loved her so. But he was gone now. Tahu was different, the banal kind; the kind that did not procrastinate. She did what she had to do. Love was never an issue for her.

But Nalia? Would she be able to love again? Her best friend Tahu lived in the city. She left village a while ago, about two years now. She could find her a job in the garment factory in the city. She made up her mind to find work in just such a place, like Tahu and many of those young girls leaving the village. The native’s full innocence beguiled her.

She was going leave a pristine life behind to look for Tahu in the city and embark on a life of the unknown, not having the slightest clue of what awaited her. In one short move, she latched on this new exciting idea of the city full of adventure. Little did she know what she was getting into. The maddening rat race of the city knocked her over. She confronted here the most heinous of crimes.

Reality today would have been different than what it turned out to be. Fate had pushed her towards something she was helpless in resisting. Great expectations turned into unbearable misery, so much so that her plights led to muddled thoughts of an absurdist sporadic mind.

At first she couldn’t find her friend Tahu in the city, not until much later anyway. At her wit’s end, Nalia was engaged in deep monologue one summer’s day knitting her long sweater in the city of Grosnii, as her mind continued to travel randomly nonlinear across space and time; she contemplated on wretched occurrences happening not only in her life, but also in those of her friends. Echoes of the past raced through her head which offered reconnaissance of the time, quite out of joint.



WHITE IS THE COLDEST COLOUR

NovelsPosted by Stevan V. Nikolic Wed, October 07, 2015 10:45:59

Chapter 3

Cynthia Galbraith rose at 5:30 a.m. on Friday 10, January, as she invariably did on days when her husband was working. She showered, dressed in an immaculate white silk dress, carefully styled her caramel-blonde hair and skilfully applied her make-up, taking care to look her best. She suspected that her husband would treat her efforts with utter indifference; nonetheless, she reminded herself, she had to keep trying.

After one last anxious peek in the dressing table mirror, Cynthia hurried downstairs, ensuring not to make even the slightest noise that may prematurely disturb her husband’s slumber… He wouldn’t be ready to get up until seven o’clock, and she’d need every available second to prepare for his eventual appearance.

Cynthia rushed into the kitchen and began preparing breakfast in line with Dr Galbraith’s particular requirements… Every detail mattered.

She placed a choice of two high-fibre cereals on the large stripped oak table, lining up the boxes so that each was exactly parallel with the other. She added an exquisite French Chantilly porcelain plate, a matching cup, saucer and bowl, a solid silver spoon, a jug of full-cream milk, a bowl of dark muscovado sugar, and a silver gilt toast rack, that she would fill with his preferred white toast at the correct time. Next, she poured chilled freshly squeezed orange juice into a nineteenth-century crystal wine glass, placing it precisely one-inch from the right side of the plate. Cynthia used a stainless steel twelve-inch ruler to ensure she got the distance exactly right, and checked the measurements time and time again… He’d be disappointed if she got it wrong. That could mean punishment, and the ruler had a sharp edge.

Cynthia entered the hall and tensed inexorably as she heard the shrill tone of the doctor’s alarm clock permeating the air… He was getting up. It wouldn’t be long until he came downstairs. She had to get a move on.

She raced back into the kitchen and switched on the toaster, double-checking that it was set to her husband’s precise required setting… Too light, or too dark, and at best, he would refuse to eat it.
She checked again to ensure that everything was on the table and in its correct position… It had to be perfect. Nothing less was acceptable. A white linen napkin! How could she be so stupid?

She hurriedly took one from a dresser drawer and held it up in the light of the kitchen window, confirming it was clean and totally crease-free. She took a deep breath, sucking the oxygen deep into her lungs… Thank God, immaculate. Surely it was good enough?

Cynthia switched on the percolator and added her husband’s favourite fine ground Columbian coffee. Finally, she took two free-range eggs, three rashers of unsmoked Danish bacon, organic plum tomatoes and button mushrooms from the larder fridge located next to the range cooker, and laid them on the shiny black granite worktop.

She moved to the centre of the room and turned slowly in a circle, surveying the entire kitchen with keen eyes… There had to be something she hadn’t done correctly. There was always something.
Cynthia checked the clock for the umpteenth time that morning… Time was running out at an alarming rate. She had to start cooking.

Dr Galbraith awoke in unusually good spirits for a man who didn’t particularly like mornings. He threw back his duck-down quilt, leapt out of bed with an easy athleticism that belied his age, and paused for a moment on the landing en route to the bathroom to appreciate the glorious enticing aroma of high quality bacon and coffee wafting up the sweeping stair case… Was it worth heading down for breakfast? Cynthia was, he had to acknowledge, an excellent cook, although of course it would never do to tell her that. He was hungry, that was certainly true, but did he really want to see the obnoxious bitch with all that entailed? Did he need the distraction? He had options, naturally. He could order her out of the kitchen, and eat alone and in silence. That was worth considering. But she’d gone to a great deal of effort to prepare everything in line with his instructions. The bitch always did. It would be amusing to ignore her efforts and grab a sandwich on the way to work.

The doctor grinned at the thought, but rejected the idea almost immediately… What the hell was he thinking? He needed adequate sustenance to sustain him on such an important day.

Dr Galbraith dropped to the bathroom floor and began doing press-ups: one, two, three, four… The bitch’s psychological disintegration had been a glorious triumph.

He grinned, and rubbed the sweat from his eyes with the back of one hand: fifteen, sixteen, seventeen… Where oh where had the happy young law student gone? It had taken a little longer than anticipated to break her spirit completely, but he shouldn’t be too hard on himself. Her abusive childhood had been to his advantage, but there were numerous obstacles that he had perhaps underestimated. By the time of their meeting she’d moved on to achieve an active social life, a wide circle of friends, and hobbies and interests. It posed a formidable challenge. And Cynthia possessed spirit. She’d left more than once in the early years of their relationship, before being persuaded back with unkept promises. Such things were never easy, particularly where a more intelligent subject was concerned. But, difficulties or not, his methods had worked. That’s what mattered. That was something to be proud of.

He glanced sideways, admiring his reflection in the mirrored wall tiles: eighty-four, eighty-five, eighty-six… The constant criticism, the never-ending fault-finding, the denial of pleasures, and the occasional physical punishments had proven an extremely effective strategy.

Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred! He sat bolt upright on the bathroom floor… How would he summarise the demise of her self-worth and its consequences in his thesis? He had to use the right words, the correct phrases, if his peers were to fully appreciate his observations.

The doctor rested his stubbled chin on the palm of one hand, and visualised the words appearing on the page. But then it hit him in the gut like a physical blow… It was important work, certainly, but could he really spare the time at such a crucial juncture? Shouldn’t he be focusing his attention entirely on Anthony Mailer? Of course he should. Of course he should! The thesis could wait. The bitch wasn’t going anywhere.

Dr Galbraith showered, luxuriating in the sensual pleasure of the hot water warming his skin… Come on, man, focus, focus. Time was getting on.

He stepped out of the cubicle and dried quickly with a large, fluffy, pink bath towel, before throwing it to the floor next to the bidet… Right, come on, man. Time to shave.

He stood at the sink, stared at his reflected image in the illuminated magnifying mirror, and used a Victorian mother-of-pearl cut-throat razor to precisely shape the slightly greying sideburns that framed his well-proportioned face. Next, he used a silver-mounted mock turtleshell comb to coax his fashionably styled short hair into place, and to create a perfect side parting with copious amounts of shiny white Brylcreem hair wax. He stood there, staring into the shaving mirror for almost three minutes and admired his reflection… Come on, man, get on with it, get on with it. He’d wasted enough time already.

The doctor returned to his opulent bedroom to get dressed. He put on dark blue boxer shorts, black knee-length socks, and chose a white Italian cotton shirt from a choice of six perfectly ironed by Cynthia the previous evening. The shirt was followed by a dark grey single-breasted suit comprising a forty-four-inch chest jacket, and trousers tailored to fit his trim thirty-three-inch waist. There were large holes cut in both trouser pockets, big enough for a hand to fit through. The suit was one of several high-end Savile Row business suits hanging in his spacious fitted wardrobes… Off the peg items just didn’t meet his required standards.

Next came highly polished black leather-soled slip-on shoes festooned with bright silver buckles, and a pair of solid 18 CT gold cufflinks in the form of handcuffs, that never failed to amuse him. The final touch was a silk tie with a brightly coloured cartoon logo on the front. He adjusted the Windsor knot repeatedly until it was perfect… The tie was a stroke of absolute genius. He was a genius. What other explanation was there?

He made one final superfluous adjustment to the knot… Anything that helped engage the little bastards and gain their trust, however seemingly insignificant, was an undoubted bonus.

Dr Galbraith descended the stairs and approached the kitchen, where Cynthia was standing at the AGA putting the finishing flourishes to his meal. She turned, met his accusing gaze, and forced a brittle smile as he entered the room.
‘Good morning, dear!’

‘Is it? Are you sure, Cynthia? Are you really sure?’
‘Sorry, dear!’
He took a pristine white cotton glove from a drawer next to the Belfast sink, and strolled casually around the kitchen, running a forefinger across various surfaces… Spotless. She was learning. The bitch was learning.
‘Is everything all right, dear?’
‘Why the hell isn’t my breakfast ready?’
‘Take a seat, dear. I’ll pour your coffee and serve your full English in a second.’
‘Why do you assume I want coffee?’
‘You always have coffee, dear.’
‘Do I?’
‘Well, I thought…?’
‘You thought? Is that really such a good idea?’
Cynthia opened her mouth as if to speak, but then closed it again, unable to find the words.
Dr Galbraith glared at her with a sardonic expression that withered her fragile soul. ‘Just serve my bacon and eggs, girl. Perhaps you can get that right.’
She took a step backwards on unsteady legs, and looked down as the yellow urine pooled on the tiles around her feet.

Chapter 4

Dr Galbraith unlocked the doors of his metallic black Daimler sedan, and jumped into the driver’s seat with a self-satisfied expression on his angular face. He took a moment or two to appreciate the car’s lavish interior and smiled broadly before starting the engine… He’d earned it. It was nothing less than he deserved: a warm, sumptuous haven of supple grey leather and polished walnut. A man of his accomplishments and elevated status deserved such luxuries.

The doctor turned the ignition key and the 4.5-litre V12 engine roared into life… It was a good sound, a reassuring sound that pleased him.

As he drove the eighteen miles from his home to the South Wales Department of Child, Adolescent and Family Psychiatry where he was employed as a consultant child psychiatrist, he happily anticipated arranging Anthony’s initial appointment… Anticipation was a part of the pleasure. Not as pleasurable as it had once been, possibly, but still agreeable. The waiting had become more difficult; he had to acknowledge that. But things shouldn’t be rushed this time, whatever the temptation. He’d made that mistake once before.
He shook his head aggressively and tapped two fingers repeatedly on the steering wheel… Maybe he wouldn’t be so lucky the next time.

The doctor’s head was instantaneously filled with violent vibrating sound that made him wince. He closed his eyes for a fleeting moment, trying to ignore the pain, and then quickly reopened them, suddenly aware of the morning traffic… Come on, man. Get a grip.

He punched the windscreen hard with a clenched fist and felt slightly better… Focus, man, focus, stick to the plan. Stick to the fucking plan. He’d get his hands on the little bastard. He just had to be patient.

Dr Galbraith exhaled slowly with an audible hiss… If he wasn’t going to blow this he had to act on his experience, remember what he’d learnt over the years, and put those skills to good use. He’d come a long way since his first impulsive hurried offences and the inevitable anxiety that followed. Every knock on his door, every passing car, every phone that rang, had left him close to panic in those early days, all those years ago. The fear of arrest had been all-consuming at times. He’d fought against his base impulses, and actually considered stopping for a time. What was he thinking? What the hell was that about?

He flinched, and vigorously massaged his throbbing scalp with one hand whilst manoeuvring with the other… And why did he bother pondering the evolution of his inclinations? All that research and nothing significant to show for it. All those books. What a waste of time and money! As a child psychiatrist he theoretically understood the often insurmountable harm that men of his ilk inflicted on their victims. Of course he did. But what did it matter? He no longer felt any concern for their suffering. That was the crux of it. If he’d become an immoral creature, devoid of conscience empathy and virtue, so fucking what? He enjoyed his pastime, and the subject was worthy of scientific study. That’s what counted. There was no room for sentimental angst. What more did he need to know? All that mattered was silencing the victims, effectively concealing any evidence, and not getting caught.

The doctor squealed like an over-enthusiastic cheer leader as the discordant din in his head gradually subsided… And, hadn’t he done his job well? He’d avoided detection for almost thirty years, and nothing needed to change. Not if he reverted to his tried and tested modus operandi and slavishly stuck to it. Not a fucking thing!

Dr Galbraith parked in the clinic’s quiet car park next to his secretary’s aged red Mini Clubman and turned off the Daimler’s powerful engine… Right. The moronic bitch had arrived early.

His entire body tensed and twitched… Fucking typical. The bitch had an irritating habit of doing that. What was it with the woman?

He stilled himself, met his steel-blue eyes in the rear-view mirror, and addressed himself in the style of an alpha male sports coach or military drill instructor, ‘Game face. Mask on. Come on, man, mask on.’

Dr Galbraith tried desperately to ignore the resurgent pressure and deafening din inside his skull as he locked the doors, and strolled across the car park as casually as possible in case she was watching. He stopped at the entrance briefly before entering the clinic, and drew repeated urgent gulps of cold Welsh morning air deep into his lungs… His anger was building. It wouldn’t be easy, but he had to control it. The vile bitch would be there: sitting at her desk, flabby and sweating, stinking of stale body odour, doused in cheap pound shop perfume, and spouting some mindless crap as soon as he opened the door. How the hell was he going to cope with it this time? It would be therapeutic to ram her repugnant yellow teeth down her damn throat.

He smiled sardonically… How good would that feel? One day he’d make the bitch suffer. But, like it or not, now was not that time.

He grimaced as a sudden stabbing pain jolted his brain on entering the small reception, which also served as his young secretary’s office… He’d been successfully conning people for years. Why the hell should that change now?
‘Good morning, Doctor!’

‘And a good morning to you, Sharon!’ He paused, cocked his head to one side at an approximate forty-five-degree angle and studied her for a second or two. ‘Have you done something different with your hair, my dear girl?’
She looked down at her desktop, avoiding his gaze. ‘Oh, nothing special, Doctor, I just washed it before work and put a few curlers in.’

‘Well, whatever you did, my dear girl, you look marvellous.’
She smiled warmly and self-consciously adjusted her fringe with chubby fingers.
Dr Galbraith looked her up and down… The moronic bitch was as malleable as warm putty. ‘Now then, Sharon, first things first, there’s no clinic this morning as I recall; no patients for us to worry about. Why not make us both some coffee?’

She nodded. ‘One heaped spoonful of Nescafé, a splash of semi-skimmed, and one sugar?’
‘Exactly right as always, my dear. I’ll be in my office.’
She called after him as he walked away. ‘How about a biscuit?’

He snorted disdainfully… The greedy bitch was looking for any excuse to fill her repugnant face again. Maybe a trough would be a suitable birthday gift. ‘Not for me thank you, my dear. I enjoyed an excellent breakfast. But why don’t you have one?’

Sharon switched on the kettle and frowned: sullen, dejected… Had he forgotten her birthday? It wasn’t like him.
She spooned coffee granules into two mugs, added milk and finally sugar: one level spoonful for the doctor as per usual, and three heaped for herself, whilst waiting for the water to come to the boil.

Dr Galbraith entered his seemingly unremarkable magnolia office, adjusted his recently acquired black leather swivel chair, and sat at the modern veneered desk he’d located directly against the rear wall, avoiding any barrier between himself and prospective victims. He moved a flowering Christmas cactus aside, and picked up the silver-framed black-and-white photo of his wife and two young daughters. He held it out in front of him in both hands, stared at it for several seconds and smiled contentedly… He must ensure he referred to the portrait when first meeting the little bastard and his needful family.

Dr Galbraith placed the photograph back on his desk and slowly scanned the room with eager eyes… Was everything in its place? Was everything as it should be? The poster covering the glass panel in his office door could do with some additional Sellotape. That was a job for Sharon. Surely the incompetent bitch could manage that much.
He shook his head vigorously… It beggared belief. Why the hell were all the women in his life such a burden?

Dr Galbraith manoeuvred himself to the centre of the room in his chair and examined the room’s only window… That pleb at the garden centre had been surprisingly knowledgeable despite his youth and obvious limitations. The elaeagnus bush had grown significantly faster than he could have hoped, and the thorns formed an excellent barrier. He really couldn’t have made a better choice.

The doctor rose from his seat, pushed the chair back in the direction of his desk with a flick of his right foot, approached the window, adjusted the blinds and peered out… He still had a reasonable view of the car park without the fear of potentially interfering external onlookers. He’d need to strategically trim the bush at some stage, but that could almost certainly wait until spring.

He turned away from the window, surveyed the room for one final time, and smiled… It was an undoubted triumph. One more thing to be proud of.

Dr Galbraith opened Anthony Mailer’s file and read slowly, taking his time, and carefully considering each word… The little bastard had blamed himself for his parents’ break up and had developed various behavioural problems as a result. His mother had accepted the family doctor’s offer of specialist help.

He sat back in his chair and stretched his arms high above his head before lowering them slowly and deliberately… It wasn’t a complex scenario. Far from it, in fact; if he were of a mind to help, he could. Of course he could. If the little bastard had been a girl, he would have provided an excellent therapeutic service. If he was a little older he would have done likewise. That was entirely reasonable, wasn’t it? Of course it was. What the hell did it matter if he used a few boys for his own purposes?

The resurgent pressure began to build again… Why the hell was he forced to keep his true nature secret from the world at large? He helped the vast majority of children he saw. That was to his credit. People should be grateful for that.

The doctor’s thoughts were suddenly interrupted by his young secretary tapping on the door with the point of her scarlet court shoe, and entering his office with his mug of coffee in one hand and the clinic’s appointments diary in the other.

‘Come in, my dear girl. Come in, and make yourself comfortable. I neglected to wish you a happy birthday earlier, and so I will do it now. Is it eighteen or nineteen this year?’

She giggled bashfully. ‘Oh, you know I’m older than that.’
He grinned… The repulsive bitch looked nearer to forty than twenty. ‘Well, you don’t look it, my dear. Now then, to business; when’s the next free appointment?’
Sharon sat at his side, opened the diary, flicked through the pages, stopped, continued, and then stopped again. ‘Not until the twenty-seventh, I’m afraid, Doctor.’

He stared at the floor fleetingly, and then slowly raised his eyes, fixing her with an intense look that she struggled to decipher. ‘There’s nothing sooner?’
Was there a degree of anxiety in his voice?

She urgently reopened the book and frowned. ‘I’ll take another look, Doctor, but you really mustn’t overdo it. You’ve been looking tired recently, and you’ve been getting those terrible headaches of yours. Didn’t you say you were planning a holiday?’

Keep control, man, keep control, indulge the interfering bitch. ‘That is not your concern, young lady. The children have to come first. You know that. If I don’t help them, who’s going to do it?’ He tapped the desktop repeatedly with his right index finger. ‘Now, come on, diary.’

Sharon sighed… He was such a caring man. If only there were more like him.

‘There is one cancellation on Friday the seventeenth, Doctor. That’s half past ten a week today, but I’m sure you mentioned a dental appointment.’

Dr Galbraith visibly relaxed… A week was too long. But it seemed there was no viable alternative. ‘No, no, Sharon, that will have to do. It will have to do. Please ensure the appointment letter is sent out first class this morning. This particular child is in crisis. The Mailers need my urgent help.’ He stood, pointed towards the door, and smiled engagingly. ‘Do you hear me, girl? Get it done please.’

She left the office promptly, her body quivering like a pink blancmange with each step… If the doctor could be so very dedicated, then so could she.

Dr Galbraith opened Anthony’s file for the second time that morning, and reread the general practitioner’s letter repeatedly before pushing it aside a few minutes later… How could the stupid bitch take so long to type a few miserable lines of script?

He cleared his throat and shouted, ‘Is the Mailer letter ready, Sharon?’
‘It’s nearly done, Doctor. Do you want the entire family to attend?’
Oh for fuck’s sake, it was the little bastard’s first appointment. Why the hell did she always need to ask? ‘Yes, please, Sharon, a standard initial appointment letter: the mother, the father and the two children.’
‘I’ll have it done in five minutes, Doctor.’

He rubbed a hand over his chin… A damn chimp could type faster. ‘Thank you, my dear.’
She shook her head as she started typing… What was the hurry this time? Sometimes, he was too dedicated for his own good.

Dr Galbraith sighed loudly and screwed up his face. ‘Where the hell is it, Sharon?’
‘I’m typing as fast as I can, Doctor.’

Focus, man, focus. Too harsh, far too harsh, placate the bitch.
He actively calmed himself before entering her office. ‘I apologise if I appear somewhat irate this morning, my dear. But it really couldn’t be more urgent.’
Sharon finished typing a second or two later, her fleshy bust heaving with the effort of it all. ‘That’s it, done!’
‘Thank you, my dear. I’ll check the contents in my office.’

Dr Galbraith sat at his desk and held the letter out in front of him, accommodating his long-sightedness, rather than making use of his reading glasses. He began reading but struggled to concentrate despite the contents’ usual captivation… He was doing the right thing, wasn’t he? It was a fair question in the circumstances. He usually made a point of avoiding children who enjoyed close family ties. Why the hell was this time any different?

He clawed at his scalp and desperately tried to ignore the invasive crashing symbols in his mind… Was it really a wise move? The risks were high. What if the little bastard said something to the wrong person? What if that someone actually listened to him and acted on his allegations? It just didn’t bear thinking about.

He blinked and twitched and sweated and paced the floor, as the escalating racket threatened to overwhelm him completely… He’d made exceptions in the past. Of course he had. When it had suited him. He’d taken risks, but they were considered risks. That was the essential caveat. A man of his intelligence and expertise could handle such complications. Of course he could. And the little bastard was well worth the additional effort.

Dr Galbraith felt suddenly calmer… All he had to do was think things through and stick to a plan. Manipulating the little bastard would be easy enough. He was good at it, and had to remember that. It was just a matter of how. The father was an obvious vulnerability. And if that failed, which seemed highly unlikely, there were other viable options. Of course there were. He’d undertaken the task on numerous occasions without any significant issues arising. How many boys was it at the last count? Was it ninety-seven, or ninety-eight? Either way it was something to be proud of. What the hell was he worrying about? His methods had worked before and they would again.

He returned to his seat just as Sharon knocked on the door and entered without waiting to be asked. ‘Would you like me to post the Mailer letter at lunchtime, Doctor?’

Dr Galbraith beamed. ‘That will not be necessary, Sharon. You’ve done an excellent job. Thank you, my dear girl.’
She blushed crimson. ‘Are you sure, Doctor? You did say earlier…’

‘I’m grateful, my dear. Extremely grateful, but I’m about to leave for a meeting. I’ll post this one myself on the way.’
She smiled contentedly as he took a faux crocodile-leather wallet from the inside pocket of his suit jacket, opened it theatrically, and handed her a crisp ten-pound note. ‘Happy birthday, my dear girl, please treat yourself to something nice for lunch. And don’t rush back. You deserve it.’
She gushed, and decided to ignore the fact that there was nothing marked in his diary… He really was a wonderful boss, and unbelievably generous. His wife really was a lucky woman. ‘Will I see you after the meeting, Doctor?’
She was hoping the answer was yes, but she didn’t receive a response. Dr Galbraith waved exuberantly as he rushed from the clinic and headed towards his car. His mind was focused on other things.

O DESFILADEIRO DE AMO

NovelsPosted by Stevan V. Nikolic Wed, October 07, 2015 10:32:33

A história do último unicórnio
( Fim de semana em Faro / Capítulo Dezanove / Stevan V. Nikolic)

Traduzido do Inglês por
Adelaide Franco Nikolic


O unicórnio é um animal lendário, que tem sido descrito desde a antiguidade como um animal semelhante a um cavalo, com um corno grande, afiado e em espiral a sair-lhe da testa. Era geralmente descrito como uma criatura muito selvagem, que vivia na floresta, símbolo de pureza, graça e independência, que só podia ser capturado por uma virgem. Nos tempos antigos, acreditava-se que o seu chifre tinha o poder de transformar água envenenada em água potável e de curar maleitas. De acordo com a lenda, havia muitos unicórnios na terra há alguns séculos, mas, lentamente, com o avanço e a pressão da civilização humana, acabaram por desaparecer.

Nas montanhas do Sul de Portugal, algures na região do Alentejo, há uma ravina que se chama “Desfiladeiro de Amo”. Há algum tempo estive lá e ouvi os habitantes locais contarem a história do último unicórnio chamado Amo. De acordo com a história, havia dois unicórnios: o macho Amo e a fêmea Ama, mas ninguém sabia dizer o que tinha acontecido a Ama. Alguns acreditavam que ela ainda estava algures, a correr pelas florestas e pelos prados. Pelo menos, era o que dizia a lenda.

É assim que a história se passa. Há cerca de trezentos anos, já só havia dois unicórnios no mundo. Um macho chamado Amo e uma fêmea chamada Ama. Eles não se conheciam um ao outro, porque viviam em terras diferentes, mas sentiam a existência um do outro. Com regularidade, sonhavam um com o outro e sentiam uma estranha saudade, como se pertencessem um ao outro, mas a vida continuava e eles viviam as suas vidas separadamente, nunca esperando que se encontrassem algum dia.

Ama era uma jovem unicórnio, feliz com o seu ser, orgulhosa da sua independência e liberdade. Olhava muitas vezes para os outros animais, questionando-se por que é que deixavam os humanos domá-los e usá-los. Não conseguia compreendê-los. Ela apreciava cada pedacinho de natureza que a rodeava. Adorava as flores selvagens, os ribeiros de águas geladas, as florestas profundas e misteriosas, os sons do vento nas árvores e a música dos pássaros. Só se sentia completa quando sentia a terra, correndo sobre montanhas e vales. Sentia, então, a plenitude da criação. Sabia que era uma das criaturas vivas mais majestosas e estava orgulhosa desse facto.

Ocasionalmente, os humanos viam-na correr pelas terras e admiravam a sua beleza e a sua graça. Naturalmente, queriam apanhá-la e domesticá-la, mas ela nunca o permitiria. Gostava de sentir a sua admiração e de brincar com eles. Apreciava mesmo a atenção que lhe devotavam. Por vezes, Ama deixava os humanos aproximar-se e tocar-lhe, manipulando os seus sentidos, para que sentissem que ela era real e não um sonho. Em seguida, fugia, deixando-os a pensar o que teria acontecido e, muitas vezes, tristes por terem perdido a oportunidade de apanhar um animal tão precioso.

Não tinha a certeza sobre aquilo que sentia pelas pessoas, mas sabia que não estava disposta a abdicar da sua liberdade e da plenitude e felicidade que sentia quando corria sem rumo pela natureza. Era assim que ela era e ela não queria ter de mudar, por nada no mundo.

Por outro lado, numa parte completamente oposta do mundo, vivia Amo. Assim como Ama, sendo um unicórnio, apreciava as mesmas coisas e estava orgulhoso da sua independência e liberdade.

Era bastante mais velho do que Ama, mas ainda era um unicórnio macho bastante forte. No entanto, sendo macho, sempre tinha tido a necessidade de mostrar a sua força e superioridade em relação aos outros animais. Ele sempre tinha precisado de reconhecimento. Especialmente da parte dos humanos.

Ocasionalmente, deixava-os apanhá-lo e fazia-os acreditar que o tinham domado. Durante algum tempo, trabalhava nos seus campos, puxava as suas carruagens, corria nas corridas de cavalos e fazia tudo aquilo que esperavam dele, apenas para mostrar a sua superioridade e força e para apreciar a admiração dos humanos. No entanto, acabava sempre por se aborrecer e fugir, deixando o caos atrás dele. Mandava celeiros abaixo, partia cercas, pisava as colheitas em que estava a trabalhar, arranca as vinhas, tudo para mostrar aos humanos que não podia ser usado e querendo que pagassem pela crença de que podiam domá-lo. Em seguida, corria livremente pelos campos até à vez seguinte em que se deixava apanhar pelos humanos.

Com o tempo, foram-se espalhando rumores sobre Amo entre os humanos e havia muitos que, zangados, queriam apanhá-lo e puni-lo pelo rasto de destruição que deixava sempre atrás dele. Alguns diziam até que ele não era um verdadeiro unicórnio, mas um cavalo selvagem que merecia ser abatido. Para eles, os unicórnios eram criaturas graciosas, que nunca agiriam daquela maneira. Amo, no entanto, não queria saber da opinião deles. Sabia quem era e continuava a viver a vida da mesma maneira.

Depois de muitos anos, cansou-se de jogar o mesmo jogo e decidiu estabelecer-se num local onde ninguém o conhecesse, numa parte diferente do mundo, de modo a evitar os humanos para sempre. Veio para as montanhas do Alentejo, sem saber que se tinha mudado para a terra que era habituada por Ama.

Uma manhã, estava no alto de uma cumeeira, a apreciar o calor do sol matinal, quando, repentinamente, à distância, viu Ama a correr nos campos. Não podia acreditar nos seus olhos. Ela era a criatura mais bela que ele já tinha visto. Era aquela com quem ele tinha sonhado. O seu coração começou a bater com força. Ela também o viu. Ama estava igualmente excitada, mas cautelosa. Por um lado, estava contente por ver outro unicórnio. Era um pouco mais velho, mas parecia ser forte e bonito. Perguntava-se a si própria se seria possível que ele fosse aquele cuja existência ela tinha pressentido toda a vida. Não tinha a certeza se devia aproximar-se dele, pois tinha sempre receio de se desiludir.

Amo correu na direção dela. Corria velozmente, tentando impressioná-la e mostrando a sua força. Durante algum tempo, correram lado a lado, mas ao mesmo tempo iam-se examinando. A cada quilómetro, Amo aproximava-se um pouco mais. Ama continuava receosa, mas deixava-o encurtar a distância entre eles. Quando a noite chegou, encontravam-se ambos no mesmo pasto. Enquanto bebiam do mesmo ribeiro, observavam-se um ao outro com cautela.

Finalmente, Amo chegou-se a Ama. Ela estava imóvel, olhando para ele. Podiam ouvir o bater do coração um do outro. Ele tocou-lhe e deitaram-se ao lado um do outro, com os corpos a tocarem-se. Foi uma sensação gloriosa para ambos, uma sensação de realização. Uma sensação de sonhos que se tornavam realidade.

De manhã, acordaram e continuaram a correr e a andar pelos bosques, apreciando o que os rodeava, mas, acima de tudo, apreciando-se um ao outro. Ama estava verdadeiramente feliz. Finalmente, havia um unicórnio verdadeiro a seu lado, alguém que pudesse entendê-la e que não ia tentar domá-la, alguém com quem partilhar a alegria da liberdade e da criação sem limites e sem condições, alguém da mesma espécie. Ela não queria acreditar que finalmente acontecera, mas estava mesmo ali, à frente dos seus olhos. Tinha algumas dúvidas, pois tinha passado toda a vida sozinha, sendo ela o único unicórnio, mas ele estava mesmo ali, forte e real.

Amo também estava feliz. Prometeu que nunca sairia do seu lado. Pensava que estaria sempre lá para quando ela precisasse, mas Ama não queria que ele estivesse ali para ela, mas sim com ela. Nunca tinha sentido que precisasse de alguma proteção ou ajuda. Era forte o suficiente e inteligente o suficiente para tomar conta de si própria. Por tudo isto, queria estar com Amo como dois seres iguais e independentes, capazes de respeitar e apreciar a liberdade do outro. Queria partilhar com ele a grandeza do seu amor puro, assim como as experiências da natureza. Queria enriquecer-se com a presença de uma alma tão parecida com a sua e não ser restringida ou retardada por ela. Queria partilhar o afeto pelas coisas que ambos estimavam.

Bom, Amo sabia o que Ama queria e queria a mesma coisa, mas o tempo que ele tinha passado junto dos humanos tinha mudado um pouco a sua natureza. Por um lado, queria fugir com Ama até ao fim dos tempos e desfrutar da sua união na liberdade dos campos, florestas e montanhas. Por outro lado, também queria ter um sítio a que ambos pudessem chamar casa. Algures onde pudessem instalar-se e sentir o calor da sua união.

A casa que ele tinha em mente inseria-se na categoria humana. Para os unicórnios, casa era o universo no seu todo, o espaço sem fronteiras. Era a isso que Ama chamava casa. De qualquer modo, Amo era persistente. Levou-a à cumeeira que tinha descoberto. Queria construir-lhe um jardim, cheio de plantas e frutas diferentes. Ela olhou para ele, pensando que ele estava a brincar um qualquer jogo infantil. Por que haveria um unicórnio de querer um pequeno jardim no qual teria de trabalhar, quando o mundo inteiro era um jardim enorme pronto a ser explorado? Ainda assim, durante algum tempo, ela divertiu-se a planear e, até, a ajudá-lo a construir o jardim.

Sim, pensava ela, talvez, ocasionalmente, pudessem parar ali para descansar, mas assentar num único sítio era impossível – algo que ela pensava que nunca iria apreciar. Amo não percebeu que ela queria um unicórnio igualmente livre e independente, alguém que ela pudesse admirar pela sua liberdade. Ela queria dar-lhe o seu amor, mas não queria ter de sacrificar a sua liberdade. Era algo que não estava na natureza dos unicórnios. Ela seria infeliz para sempre, mas também não queria que ele sacrificasse nada pelo amor e pela união deles.

Amo pensava de maneira diferente. Pensava que se se estabelecesse num local e aí construísse uma casa, ela quereria juntar-se a ele. Demasiados anos entre os humanos tinham-lhe turvado o pensamento. Agora pensava como eles. Por isso, sacrificou a sua liberdade e estabeleceu-se na cumeeira. Queria mostrar a Ama que sacrificaria tudo pelo amor dela, até a liberdade de unicórnio, e que esperaria por ela pacientemente.

Ama aparecia ocasionalmente para passar algum tempo com Amo. Ela amava-o verdadeiramente e tinha esperança que ele percebesse a sua verdadeira natureza e que voltasse a correr livremente com ela como os unicórnios faziam, esquecendo-se definitivamente dessas ideias de casa.

No entanto, Amo era persistente e continuava na cumeeira. Ela estava cada vez menos excitada por ir ter com ele. Era só uma cumeeira, mais uma entre as muitas montanhas alentejanas. Ela começava a perder a paciência com Amo. Não percebia como é que um verdadeiro unicórnio podia comportar-se como um humano. Um verdadeiro unicórnio nunca sacrificaria a sua liberdade, nem mesmo por amor, pois a liberdade é parte do amor verdadeiro. Para os unicórnios, o amor era uma categoria incondicional. Na verdade, ela via o seu sacrifício como uma fraqueza, algo que a fazia perder o respeito por ele e não ganhar-lhe mais afeto. Tinha ouvido algumas das histórias que os humanos andavam a espalhar sobre Amo e, por vezes, perguntava-se a si própria, Que tipo de unicórnio alguma vez agiria deste modo? Talvez ele seja mesmo um cavalo selvagem a fingir que é um unicórnio. Seria possível que ela se tivesse enganado a respeito dele? Um dia, ela já não suportava mais olhar para ele dessa maneira. Ele simplesmente não parecia o unicórnio dos seus sonhos. Quase sentiu pena dele. Aquele não era o Amo que ela tinha conhecido – o unicórnio rápido e forte a correr a seu lado. Ela disse-lhe que nunca mais voltaria à cumeeira, que tinha tudo sido um erro e partiu. Estava desapontada e magoada, mas sabia que se sentiria melhor uma vez que voltasse a correr pelos campos abertos e através das florestas densas. Era o ar livre das montanhas altas que a faziam sentir-se livre. Para ela, era melhor que Amo permanecesse onde sempre tinha estado, nos seus sonhos.
Amo ficou na cumeeira, a sentir pena de si próprio e do amor perdido de Ama. Não acreditava que ela o tinha mesmo deixado. Negligenciou o seu jardim e em pouco tempo não tinha comida para comer. Durante dias não comeu, não queria comer, não queria viver. Já não se preocupava com mais nada. Só pensava no quanto precisava de Ama. Finalmente, percebeu que tinha cometido um grande erro. Tudo o que ela queria dele era que fosse aquilo que era, um verdadeiro unicórnio. Estava zangado consigo próprio por ter agido como um humano. Como podia ter sido tão estúpido?

Enquanto ele passava dias deitado na cumeeira, os humanos do vale, que andavam à sua procura para o castigar, deram pela sua presença. Começaram a subir a colina, cada vez mais ansiosos por fazê-lo pagar pelas suas más ações. Ele viu-os a aproximarem-se. Não tinha a certeza se devia fugir ou ficar e enfrentar o seu destino, até algo dentro dele lhe dizer para saltar e correr, para tentar ser um verdadeiro unicórnio. Talvez um dia, não interessava quando, voltasse a encontrar Ama e, então, poderia mostrar-lhe que ele era o tal: um verdadeiro unicórnio, o unicórnio dos seus sonhos.

Levantou-se devagar. Não podia descer a colina, porque seria encurralado pelos humanos. A sua única hipótese era saltar daquela cumeeira para outra cumeeira, por cima da ravina funda. Calculou a distância. Costumava fazer saltos muito maiores no passado. Ia conseguir, pensou ele, e saltou. Os seus músculos estavam fracos e o seu corpo já não era aquilo que costumava ser. Além disso, os dias passados deitado, sem água nem comida, tinham cobrado o seu preço. Ele não conseguiu alcançar a outra cumeeira, caiu no fundo da ravina e acabou por morrer aí.

Quando os humanos chegaram à beira da ravina, viram o seu corpo inerte e ensanguentado no fundo. Um deles disse, ”Bom, estavam certos. No fim de contas, ele não era um unicórnio, apenas um cavalo selvagem que teve o destino merecido. Um verdadeiro unicórnio teria conseguido saltar esta distância.”

Anos mais tarde, no sítio onde ele tinha caído, surgiu uma nascente na rocha com uma abundância de água extremamente pura e fresca. Os habitantes locais falavam das propriedades mágicas da água, que curava muitas doenças. Alguns habitantes lembravam-se que o unicórnio tinha caído e morrido naquele local e ligando as duas coisas, deram à nascente o nome de “Nascente de Amo” e ao desfiladeiro o nome de “Desfiladeiro de Amo”. Alguns dizem que era assim que ele quereria, que sempre tinha almejado pelo reconhecimento humano. Agora, tinha-o finalmente, para sempre.

Ocasionalmente, as pessoas juravam que viam Ama a descer o desfiladeiro para ir beber água à nascente de Amo. Mas eram apenas histórias. As pessoas gostavam de contos de fadas.

CHRIS CORLEONE's SECRET

NovelsPosted by Stevan V. Nikolic Wed, October 07, 2015 10:29:22

(Weekend In Faro, Chapter Eight)
By Stevan V. Nikolic


Michael jumped. It was 5:15 p.m. The train was arriving in Faro at 5:35 p.m. He had to take down his luggage from the overhead compartment and prepare to get off the train. The last three hours passed so quickly. The conversation he had with Carlos made him think about their mutual friend Chris who died ten years ago. He hadn’t thought about him for many years, but he spent the whole train ride thinking about Chris. It upset him that Carlos compared him to Chris.

Chris was a peculiar character. He was in his late forties, with strong, but already completely gray hair and he was always unshaven. He looked much older than he really was. He was of medium height and build, with a belly sticking over his waist line, and a strong eastern European accent. He always wore a black worn-out suit and white shirt without a tie. Upon first sight, everybody would think that he was an Orthodox Jew who came to New York from Russia, but he was Polish, from Gdansk. At least, that’s what he was telling people. His full name was Christopher Antonio Corleone; nothing Polish about his name. But he never bothered explaining the origin of his name. For him, there was nothing unusual about being Polish with an Italian name.

He lived in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It was, at the time, predominantly a poor working class Polish neighborhood. His wife worked at the counter in a local Polish butcher shop. Chris never worked, or at least, nobody knew if he ever worked. Nobody knew his occupation or if he ever had one. Nobody knew what schools he finished or if he ever finished any.

But in the world of antique and rare book collectors in New York, everybody knew Chris. That is where Michael met him. He was one of the most passionate rare book collectors Michael had ever met. Of course, like all rare book collectors he had his special field of interest. Chris was obsessed with antique and rare books on occult subjects.
Being a rare books collector is a very expensive hobby. Very few people have enough money for it. But somehow Chris was able to come into possession of some of the most rare and most expensive titles on the subject. In his collection he had over five hundred books. Many of them were the only remaining copies of books and that is another thing about him that nobody knew; how was he able to do that?

However, for Michael personally, the most fascinating thing about Chris was that he never read any of his books. How did Michael know that? Well, he was the one reading them. Chris would often call him to examine books that he wanted. Michael’s job was to read through the book and tell him in short what it was about and why it was significant. Then, Chris would take the book, hold it in his hands, turn it around, and look at it from all sides, like it was a rare piece of jewelry. It seemed like he was trying to feel the book. Then he would open it slowly, running his fingers softly over the pages, examining illustrations, sometimes, even smelling the paper, and only then would he decide if he was going to buy it. It was a ritual. Michael’s reward was to read books and copy those that he was interested in. So, it worked well for both of them.

There were a few times, Chris gave books to Michael that he didn’t want or he would just buy books that Michael wanted for himself. Once, there was this book dealer offering the rare 1881 edition of Three Books of Occult Philosophy by Cornelius Agrippa. They went together to meet the dealer. The book in itself was insignificant, if not for the notes in it. Originally, Aleister Crowley owned it and he wrote his notes on the margins of the pages. The dealer was offering this book for a very reasonably price of two thousand dollars. Michael was really excited about the notes that Crowley made in the book. Chris took the book, looked at it for a while and then he said, “I don’t want it.” Michael was furious. He told him, “Chris, these are notes by Crowley. Do you know how valuable this is?”

“I don’t care about Crowley,” Chris said. He was ready to leave. Michael was holding that book in his hands and he couldn’t believe what Chris had just said. Then, Chris looked at Michael and asked, “Do you like it?” He answered, “Yes, of course I like it.” Chris put his hand in his pocket, took out a roll of hundred dollar bills bound together with a rubber band, counted two thousand and gave it to the dealer.

“It is sold,” he said. He looked at Michael saying, “It is yours. Are you happy now?”

Michael couldn’t believe what Chris just did, but he didn’t refuse it. He really liked that book.

Everybody in the society of bibliophiles in New York knew about the way Chris was examining books. They all believed that he had some special ability to sense the authenticity of the books. Once in a while some really good copies or fake books would be offered on the market, and dealers, knowing his ability, would call Chris to give an opinion. Of course, he would always use Michael to assist him. Chris would take a book in his hands and hold it for a while. If it was fake, he would tremble with his hands and sometimes with his whole body until he dropped the book. It was a good enough sign. Regardless how many times experts would try to prove the opposite, his feeling was always right. And nobody knew how he did it.

His unique ability to recognize counterfeits didn’t stop people from the bibliophilic community in New York to make fun of Chris. He was, as they used to say, “rough around the edges.” At the regular meetings in the Grolier club, they were usually discussing rare books and the art of bookmaking. Chris was always there, but he would never say anything. He would just sit in the corner of the room. After a few hours, he would look at Michael and say out loud so everybody could hear, “Michael, how can you listen to these idiots. Let’s go to a bar in East Village and find some pussy to fuck. We’ll learn more from them than from these mummies.”

Michael didn’t know why he liked Chris, but he did. Chris was nothing like him. Michael had been researching metaphysics and esoteric teachings for many years. Books that Chris collected were a great source of knowledge for Michael. For Chris it was different. Michael didn’t see that as unusual. People collect all kinds of things. There are stamp collectors, coin collectors, and they don’t spend that much time thinking about what is behind the things they collect. They just like it. So, for Michael, it was the same with Chris—it was just that he collected books. A few times he asked Chris about what it meant for him to have those books. He knew that Chris wasn’t reading them. Chris would just look at him and say, “Michael, these books have their own integrity, their own identity. It is not about the words in there. You don’t need to read these books. Words are there to confuse you. They are just messing around with your mind. You have to look beyond words. There is a big secret somewhere in these books and I am going to find it. And you know that, but you are afraid to admit it. It is dangerous.”

Well, Michael heard many times this statement from people interested in esoteric teachings, so he didn’t pay much attention to these words. In the world of those searching for a deeper meaning of life, there is always a secret that they are after, and it always seems within their reach. He thought Chris is just one of those lost souls trying to find himself. That is to say, he thought that until one October night nearly ten years ago.

It was just past midnight when Michael’s phone rang. It was Chris. He was very excited. “Michael, I found it,” he said. “I know the secret.”

“What are you talking about?” Michael asked.

“Michael, it is all here. It is clear. And you are here. You know that you are at the top, don’t you? You are the King, man. The King! Ha, ha, I knew there was a reason I was hanging out with you.” He was laughing.

“Chris, I don’t understand a word you are saying,” Michael said.

“Oh, you know, you know. Listen, I am calling you to tell you I have to go home now. It is time for me.”

“Where are you going? Are you going to Poland?” Michael asked.

“No, man, no. I am going home, my true home. Listen, I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry I won’t be with you when you go through. But remember, the trick is in the eighth door. It is glass door, the one before the last. You will get out on seventh door tired and you will see the ninth door through the glass of the eight. You will think it was an easy step. But the eighth door is a revolving door. If you get there and think about words, you will get caught, and roll around forever until your mind gets completely lost. Just close your eyes and go straight through. Don’t think about words. Remember!”

Michael was holding the phone thinking, What just happened? Too much polish vodka, he thought. But he never saw Chris drunk before. He thought about calling him back, but he didn’t. Then he went to sleep.
Next morning, Michael was in his office already having his second cup of coffee when the phone rang. It was John Robinson from the Grolier Club.

“Michael, did you hear about Chris?” he asked.

“No. What about Chris?”

“Chris was on the news. He jumped off the roof of his building early this morning.”

“Chris? You mean Chris Corleone?” Michael asked.

“Yes, man. Your buddy, he killed himself,” John said.

Michael couldn’t say anything for a minute. He was thinking about that phone call the night before.

“Michael, are you there?” John asked.

“Yes, I am just shocked. I spoke to him late last night. He was excited about something, but he didn’t sound depressed.”

“Well, whatever happened, happened. It was unfortunate. He always seemed strange and unstable to me. God knows what brought him to the edge.” John kept talking. “But he had a valuable collection. Dealers are going to rush there to get whatever they can. He was your friend. Maybe you should help his wife handle it.”

“Yes, yes, of course.” Michael said. But he was still thinking of his words from last night. He just didn’t know what it was that Chris was talking about. “Yes, I will go to his home today. I have his address. Thank you for calling, John.” Then he hung up.

Michael took a cab to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He knew where Chris lived, but he had never been in Chris’s house. When the cab arrived there, Michael looked at the building with surprise. It was not a house, it was a rundown four-story brownstone. In front of the building on the left side of the entrance there was still yellow police tape around the spot where Chris fell. That part of the sidewalk was covered with blue plastic. Michael walked to the entrance and looked at the buzzers. It was supposed to be apartment 2A, but the name on it wasn’t Corleone. The name was polish: Wojchek. He pressed the buzzer anyway. The doors sounded and he pushed them open just enough to find himself in the dark hallway with just one light bulb working. It was the kind of building that he would never walk into if he didn’t have to. As he was walking up the stairs to the second floor he was thinking how ironic life was. Chris’s book collection was probably worth much more than the whole building Chris lived in. He walked to the door of the apartment. It was wide open and he could hear voices.

He walked in. The living room was full of Polish people whispering. The room was very simple and poorly furnished. The only piece of furniture that was sticking out was a huge wooden book cabinet with tight glass doors and the cooling unit next to it that was maintaining the temperature and humidity of the cabinet. Chris’s collection was there.
At the far end of the room four women were seated on the sofa. The woman seated in the middle was crying while trembling and talking in Polish to herself. She must be his wife, Michael thought. He felt confused. He couldn’t say good morning. There was nothing good about the morning. He didn’t know how to start.

“I am a friend of Christopher’s.” Everybody stopped talking. The woman raised her head and looked at him. He will never forget that look. It was full of hate.

Then, she screamed at Michael with a broken voice, “I know who you are. You are a devil! You came to get my Andrushka’s books! Take them! I don’t want them in my house! They killed him! They killed my Andrushka! You killed him! Get out! Get out!”

Michael was standing there not knowing what to say. He didn’t know why she was calling Chris, “Andrushka.” He didn’t know why she was referring to him as a devil. Then, an older man in his sixties approached Michael.
“You are Michael Nicolau, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Yes, I am,” Michael answered.

“Chris was telling me about you. Come with me into the next room.” He pulled Michael to a bedroom. It was the only other room in the apartment. A queen size bed, wardrobe closet, two night tables and a chair were the only furniture in the bedroom. A big crucifix hung on the wall over the bed and a wedding picture on the opposite wall. The bed was still not made and there was an open book on one side of the bed.

“Mister Nicolau, please forgive my sister. Lena is still in shock. We all are. We are all trying to understand,” the man said.

“But what happened? Can you tell me, please?” Michael asked.

“Well, he was sitting all night in the bed with this book that is still here.” He pointed at the open book on the bed. “And this morning, around six, when Lena woke up to get ready for work, he was still in the same position, siting with the book. She went to the bathroom and when she came back, he wasn’t here. Then she heard screams from the street. She looked through the window and she saw him lying on the sidewalk in his pajamas in a pool of blood. Witnesses who saw him told police that he just walked off the roof. He didn’t jump. He just walked off. Nobody knows why.”

“I am so sorry,” Michael said. “I never thought that Chris would do anything like that. He always seemed very stable and full of life.”

“Mister Nicolau, it is kind of you to say that, but there is no need. Chris was a troubled man. It is tragic to say this, but maybe Lena will have some peace now.”

Michael didn’t expect a comment like this. He didn’t know how to answer. Then he looked at the book. He recognized it. He was with Chris when he bought it. It was a good buy. It was Gabriel Rolenhagen’s, Selectorum Emblematum Centuria Secunda from 1613. Original edition, very rare. It was open on the page with one of Michael’s favorite emblems, called “In se sue per vestigia volvitur.”

“And you say he was reading this book all night?” Michael asked.

“Reading?” Man asked, surprised. “No, Sir. He was staring at this picture all night. Chris didn’t know how to read or write. He was illiterate. He and Lena came from the small village near Gdansk thirty years ago. He never went to school. Chris signed his citizenship papers with the print of his palm. But he never wanted anybody to know that, especially not your rich friends. He always wanted to be different. He came here as Andrey Wojchek. At the beginning, things were ok. But then he started with these books. Nobody knew why. Then he legally changed his name. When I asked him why, he yelled at me that it was his true name. He tried to work different jobs, but he could never hold to them for more than a month or two. Most of the time they were living off of Lena’s paycheck from week to week. Any money that he would get, he was spending on books. When he had no money, he was borrowing around until he couldn’t borrow anymore. Then he would sell some of the books, repay a little bit of debt and buy more books and then he would borrow again. It was a nightmare. If I could only tell you how many times they were evicted from apartments from not paying rent, or how many times the electricity or phone was cut off, you wouldn’t believe it, Sir. And now, Lena doesn’t have money even for a funeral and he left her with so much debt.”

Michael looked at him trying to understand if they were talking about the same man. But again, many things about Chris were becoming clearer to him, many details that he didn’t pay attention to before. But the fact that one of the most passionate rare book collectors in New York was actually illiterate was mindboggling to him. How could he not see that in all those years he spent with Chris?

In the following days, Michael helped Lena’s brother sell Chris’s book collection to a Madison Avenue Rare Book Dealer. He even included books that Chris gave to him—even the one with Crowley’s notes.

Lena got enough money to pay for the funeral and pay back all of Chris’s debts. There was enough money left for her to put her life together.

A year later, Michael stopped by the butcher shop she was working in to say hello, but she didn’t want to talk to him. She just turned her face. Michael walked out. He never saw her again.

Soon after, Michael got divorced. To settle with his ex-wife he sold his own book collection to a book collector in Iceland. In turn, the buyer donated his collection to the local library under the condition that all of the books always stay together catalogued under the name “Michael Nicolau Library.” The buyer was a man who respected Michael’s work in the field of esoteric sciences and he wanted to honor Michael with this gesture. On other hand, Michael was pleased that his work would be remembered and preserved somewhere. That was the end of Michael’s antique book collecting career. He never went back to the Grolier Club.

He forgot about Chris almost all together. Life went on. He worked in publishing with ups and downs, but at least, he was working with books.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

NovelsPosted by Stevan V. Nikolic Sat, September 12, 2015 23:42:01

A Story of the French Revolution By Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is a novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. With well over 200 million copies sold, it ranks amongst the most famous works in the history of literary fiction. The novel depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralised by the French aristocracy in the years leading up to the revolution, the corresponding brutality demonstrated by the revolutionaries toward the former aristocrats in the early years of the revolution, and many unflattering social parallels with life in London during the same time period. It follows the lives of several characters through these events. The 45-chapter novel was published in 31 weekly instalments in Dickens's new literary periodical titled All the Year Round. From April 1859 to November 1859, Dickens also republished the chapters as eight monthly sections in green covers. All but three of Dickens's previous novels had appeared only as monthly instalments. The first weekly instalment of A Tale of Two Cities ran in the first issue of All the Year Round on 30 April 1859. The last ran thirty weeks later, on 26 November.

It was the time of the French Revolution — a time of great change and great danger. Against this tumultuous historical backdrop, Dickens' great story of unsurpassed adventure and courage unfolds.

Unjustly imprisoned for 18 years in the Bastille, Dr. Alexandre Manette is reunited with his daughter, Lucie, and safely transported from France to England. It would seem that they could take up the threads of their lives in peace. As fate would have it though, the pair are summoned to the Old Bailey to testify against a young Frenchman — Charles Darnay — falsely accused of treason. Strangely enough, Darnay bears an uncanny resemblance to another man in the courtroom, the dissolute lawyer's clerk Sydney Carton. It is a coincidence that saves Darnay from certain doom more than once. Brilliantly plotted, the novel is rich in drama, romance, and heroics that culminate in a daring prison escape in the shadow of the guillotine.

Here you can read the first three chapters of the book I – Recalled to Life. To read more click here. To read this book as ePub or Kindle book, please visit Project Gutenberg.

Book the First - Recalled to Life

I. The Period

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us,
we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven,
we were all going direct the other way--

in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.

It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Spiritual revelations were conceded to England at that favoured period, as at this. Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed birthday, of whom a prophetic private in the Life Guards had heralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for the swallowing up of London and Westminster. Even the Cock-lane ghost had been laid only a round dozen of years, after rapping out its messages, as the spirits of this very year last past (supernaturally deficient in originality) rapped out theirs. Mere messages in the earthly order of events had lately come to the English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects in America: which, strange to relate, have proved more important to the human race than any communications yet received through any of the chickens of the Cock-lane brood.

France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness downhill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch as to entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was to be atheistical and traitorous.

In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers' warehouses for security; the highwayman in the dark was a City tradesman in the light, and, being recognized and challenged by his fellow-tradesman whom he stopped in his character of "the Captain," gallantly shot him through the head and rode away; the mail was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard shot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, "in consequence of the failure of his ammunition:" after which the mail was robbed in peace; that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor of London, was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green, by one highwayman, who despoiled the illustrious creature in sight of all his retinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battles with their turnkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in among them, loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamond crosses from the necks of noble lords at Court drawing-rooms; musketeers went into St. Giles's, to search for contraband goods, and the mob fired on the musketeers, and the musketeers fired on the mob, and nobody thought any of these occurrences much out of the common way. In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and ever worse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker on Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in the hand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door of Westminster Hall; to-day, taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and to-morrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer's boy of sixpence.

All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Environed by them, while the Woodman and the Farmer worked unheeded, those two of the large jaws, and those other two of the plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads of small creatures--the creatures of this chronicle among the rest--along the roads that lay before them.

II. The Mail

It was the Dover road that lay, on a Friday night late in November, before the first of the persons with whom this history has business. The Dover road lay, as to him, beyond the Dover mail, as it lumbered up Shooter's Hill. He walked up hill in the mire by the side of the mail, as the rest of the passengers did; not because they had the least relish for walking exercise, under the circumstances, but because the hill, and the harness, and the mud, and the mail, were all so heavy, that the horses had three times already come to a stop, besides once drawing the coach across the road, with the mutinous intent of taking it back to Blackheath. Reins and whip and coachman and guard, however, in combination, had read that article of war which forbade a purpose otherwise strongly in favour of the argument, that some brute animals are endued with Reason; and the team had capitulated and returned to their duty.

With drooping heads and tremulous tails, they mashed their way through the thick mud, floundering and stumbling between whiles, as if they were falling to pieces at the larger joints. As often as the driver rested them and brought them to a stand, with a wary "Wo-ho! so-ho-then!" the near leader violently shook his head and everything upon it--like an unusually emphatic horse, denying that the coach could be got up the hill. Whenever the leader made this rattle, the passenger started, as a nervous passenger might, and was disturbed in mind.

There was a steaming mist in all the hollows, and it had roamed in its forlornness up the hill, like an evil spirit, seeking rest and finding none. A clammy and intensely cold mist, it made its slow way through the air in ripples that visibly followed and overspread one another, as the waves of an unwholesome sea might do. It was dense enough to shut out everything from the light of the coach-lamps but these its own workings, and a few yards of road; and the reek of the labouring horses steamed into it, as if they had made it all.

Two other passengers, besides the one, were plodding up the hill by the side of the mail. All three were wrapped to the cheekbones and over the years, and wore jack-boots. Not one of the three could have said, from anything he saw, what either of the other two was like; and each was hidden under almost as many wrappers from the eyes of the mind, as from the eyes of the body, of his two companions. In those days, travelers were very shy of being confidential on a short notice, for anybody on the road might be a robber or in league with robbers. As to the latter, when every posting-house and ale-house could produce somebody in "the Captain's" pay, ranging from the landlord to the lowest stable non-descript, it was the likeliest thing upon the cards. So the guard of the Dover mail thought to himself, that Friday night in November, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, lumbering up Shooter's Hill, as he stood on his own particular perch behind the mail, beating his feet, and keeping an eye and a hand on the arm-chest before him, where a loaded blunderbuss lay at the top of six or eight loaded horse-pistols, deposited on a substratum of cutlass.

The Dover mail was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they were not fit for the journey.

"Wo-ho!" said the coachman. "So, then! One more pull and you're at the top and be damned to you, for I have had trouble enough to get you to it!--Joe!"

"Halloa!" the guard replied.

"What o'clock do you make it, Joe?"

"Ten minutes, good, past eleven."

"My blood!" ejaculated the vexed coachman, "and not atop of Shooter's yet! Tst! Yah! Get on with you!"

The emphatic horse, cut short by the whip in a most decided negative, made a decided scramble for it, and the three other horses followed suit. Once more, the Dover mail struggled on, with the jack-boots of its passengers squashing along by its side. They had stopped when the coach stopped, and they kept close company with it. If any one of the three had had the hardihood to propose to another to walk on a little ahead into the mist and darkness, he would have put himself in a fair way of getting shot instantly as a highwayman.

The last burst carried the mail to the summit of the hill. The horses stopped to breathe again, and the guard got down to skid the wheel for the descent, and open the coach-door to let the passengers in.

"Tst! Joe!" cried the coachman in a warning voice, looking down from his box.

"What do you say, Tom?"

They both listened.

"I say a horse at a canter coming up, Joe."

"I say a horse at a gallop, Tom," returned the guard, leaving his hold of the door, and mounting nimbly to his place. "Gentlemen! In the king's name, all of you!"

With this hurried adjuration, he cocked his blunderbuss, and stood on the offensive. The passenger booked by this history, was on the coach-step, getting in; the two other passengers were close behind him, and about to follow. He remained on the step, half in the coach and half out of; they remained in the road below him. They all looked from the coachman to the guard, and from the guard to the coachman, and listened. The coachman looked back and the guard looked back, and even the emphatic leader pricked up his ears and looked back, without contradicting. The stillness consequent on the cessation of the rumbling and laboring of the coach, added to the stillness of the night, made it very quiet indeed. The panting of the horses communicated a tremulous motion to the coach, as if it were in a state of agitation. The hearts of the passengers beat loud enough perhaps to be heard; but at any rate, the quiet pause was audibly expressive of people out of breath, and holding the breath, and having the pulses quickened by expectation.

The sound of a horse at a gallop came fast and furiously up the hill.
"So-ho!" the guard sang out, as loud as he could roar. "Yo there! Stand! I shall fire!"

The pace was suddenly checked, and, with much splashing and floundering, a man's voice called from the mist, "Is that the Dover mail?"

"Never you mind what it is!" the guard retorted. "What are you?"

"Is that the Dover mail?"

"Why do you want to know?"

"I want a passenger, if it is."

"What passenger?"

"Mr. Jarvis Lorry."

Our booked passenger showed in a moment that it was his name. The guard, the coachman, and the two other passengers eyed him distrustfully.

"Keep where you are," the guard called to the voice in the mist, "because, if I should make a mistake, it could never be set right in your lifetime. Gentleman of the name of Lorry answer straight."

"What is the matter?" asked the passenger, then, with mildly quavering speech. "Who wants me? Is it Jerry?"

("I don't like Jerry's voice, if it is Jerry," growled the guard to himself. "He's hoarser than suits me, is Jerry.")

"Yes, Mr. Lorry."

"What is the matter?"

"A despatch sent after you from over yonder. T. and Co."

"I know this messenger, guard," said Mr. Lorry, getting down into the road--assisted from behind more swiftly than politely by the other two passengers, who immediately scrambled into the coach, shut the door, and pulled up the window. "He may come close; there's nothing wrong."

"I hope there ain't, but I can't make so 'Nation sure of that," said the guard, in gruff soliloquy. "Hallo you!"

"Well! And hallo you!" said Jerry, more hoarsely than before.

"Come on at a footpace! d'ye mind me? And if you've got holsters to that saddle o' yourn, don't let me see your hand go nigh 'em. For I'm a devil at a quick mistake, and when I make one it takes the form of Lead. So now let's look at you."

The figures of a horse and rider came slowly through the eddying mist, and came to the side of the mail, where the passenger stood. The rider stooped, and, casting up his eyes at the guard, handed the passenger a small folded paper. The rider's horse was blown, and both horse and rider were covered with mud, from the hoofs of the horse to the hat of the man.

"Guard!" said the passenger, in a tone of quiet business confidence.

The watchful guard, with his right hand at the stock of his raised blunderbuss, his left at the barrel, and his eye on the horseman, answered curtly, "Sir."

"There is nothing to apprehend. I belong to Tellson's Bank. You must know Tellson's Bank in London. I am going to Paris on business. A crown to drink. I may read this?"

"If so be as you're quick, sir."

He opened it in the light of the coach-lamp on that side, and read--first to himself and then aloud: "'Wait at Dover for Mam'selle.' It's not long, you see, guard. Jerry, say that my answer was, RECALLED TO LIFE."

Jerry started in his saddle. "That's a Blazing strange answer, too," said he, at his hoarsest.

"Take that message back, and they will know that I received this, as well as if I wrote. Make the best of your way. Good night."

With those words the passenger opened the coach-door and got in; not at all assisted by his fellow-passengers, who had expeditiously secreted their watches and purses in their boots, and were now making a general pretence of being asleep. With no more definite purpose than to escape the hazard of originating any other kind of action.

The coach lumbered on again, with heavier wreaths of mist closing round it as it began the descent. The guard soon replaced his blunderbuss in his arm-chest, and, having looked to the rest of its contents, and having looked to the supplementary pistols that he wore in his belt, looked to a smaller chest beneath his seat, in which there were a few smith's tools, a couple of torches, and a tinder-box. For he was furnished with that completeness that if the coach-lamps had been blown and stormed out, which did occasionally happen, he had only to shut himself up inside, keep the flint and steel sparks well off the straw, and get a light with tolerable safety and ease (if he were lucky) in five minutes.

"Tom!" softly over the coach roof.
"Hallo, Joe."

"Did you hear the message?"

"I did, Joe."

"What did you make of it, Tom?"

"Nothing at all, Joe."

"That's a coincidence, too," the guard mused, "for I made the same of it myself."

Jerry, left alone in the mist and darkness, dismounted meanwhile, not only to ease his spent horse, but to wipe the mud from his face, and shake the wet out of his hat-brim, which might be capable of holding about half a gallon. After standing with the bridle over his heavily-splashed arm, until the wheels of the mail were no longer within hearing and the night was quite still again, he turned to walk down the hill.

"After that there gallop from Temple Bar, old lady, I won't trust your fore-legs till I get you on the level," said this hoarse messenger, glancing at his mare. "'Recalled to life.' That's a Blazing strange message. Much of that wouldn't do for you, Jerry! I say, Jerry! You'd be in a Blazing bad way, if recalling to life was to come into fashion, Jerry!"

III. The Night Shadows

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life's end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?

As to this, his natural and not to be alienated inheritance, the messenger on horseback had exactly the same possessions as the King, the first Minister of State, or the richest merchant in London. So with the three passengers shut up in the narrow compass of one lumbering old mail coach; they were mysteries to one another, as complete as if each had been in his own coach and six, or his own coach and sixty, with the breadth of a county between him and the next.

The messenger rode back at an easy trot, stopping pretty often at ale-houses by the way to drink, but evincing a tendency to keep his own counsel, and to keep his hat cocked over his eyes. He had eyes that assorted very well with that decoration, being of a surface black, with no depth in the colour or form, and much too near together--as if they were afraid of being found out in something, singly, if they kept too far apart. They had a sinister expression, under an old cocked-hat like a three-cornered spittoon, and over a great muffler for the chin and throat, which descended nearly to the wearer's knees. When he stopped for drink, he moved this muffler with his left hand, only while he poured his liquor in with his right; as soon as that was done, he muffled again.

"No, Jerry, no!" said the messenger, harping on one theme as he rode.

"It wouldn't do for you, Jerry. Jerry, you honest tradesman, it wouldn't suit your line of business! Recalled--! Bust me if I don't think he'd been a drinking!"

His message perplexed his mind to that degree that he was fain, several times, to take off his hat to scratch his head. Except on the crown, which was raggedly bald, he had stiff, black hair, standing jaggedly all over it, and growing down hill almost to his broad, blunt nose. It was so like Smith's work, so much more like the top of a strongly spiked wall than a head of hair, that the best of players at leap-frog might have declined him, as the most dangerous man in the world to go over.

While he trotted back with the message he was to deliver to the night watchman in his box at the door of Tellson's Bank, by Temple Bar, who was to deliver it to greater authorities within, the shadows of the night took such shapes to him as arose out of the message, and took such shapes to the mare as arose out of _her_ private topics of uneasiness. They seemed to be numerous, for she shied at every shadow on the road.

What time, the mail-coach lumbered, jolted, rattled, and bumped upon its tedious way, with its three fellow-inscrutables inside. To whom, likewise, the shadows of the night revealed themselves, in the forms their dozing eyes and wandering thoughts suggested. Tellson's Bank had a run upon it in the mail. As the bank passenger--with an arm drawn through the leathern strap, which did what lay in it to keep him from pounding against the next passenger, and driving him into his corner, whenever the coach got a special jolt--nodded in his place, with half-shut eyes, the little coach-windows, and the coach-lamp dimly gleaming through them, and the bulky bundle of opposite passenger, became the bank, and did a great stroke of business. The rattle of the harness was the chink of money, and more drafts were honoured in five minutes than even Tellson's, with all its foreign and home connection, ever paid in thrice the time. Then the strong-rooms underground, at Tellson's, with such of their valuable stores and secrets as were known to the passenger (and it was not a little that he knew about them), opened before him, and he went in among them with the great keys and the feebly-burning candle, and found them safe, and strong, and sound, and still, just as he had last seen them.

But, though the bank was almost always with him, and though the coach (in a confused way, like the presence of pain under an opiate) was always with him, there was another current of impression that never ceased to run, all through the night. He was on his way to dig some one out of a grave.

Now, which of the multitude of faces that showed themselves before him was the true face of the buried person, the shadows of the night did not indicate; but they were all the faces of a man of five-and-forty by years, and they differed principally in the passions they expressed, and in the ghastliness of their worn and wasted state. Pride, contempt, defiance, stubbornness, submission, lamentation, succeeded one another; so did varieties of sunken cheek, cadaverous colour, emaciated hands and figures. But the face was in the main one face, and every head was prematurely white. A hundred times the dozing passenger inquired of this spectre:

"Buried how long?"

The answer was always the same: "Almost eighteen years."

"You had abandoned all hope of being dug out?"

"Long ago."

"You know that you are recalled to life?"

"They tell me so."

"I hope you care to live?"

"I can't say."

"Shall I show her to you? Will you come and see her?"

The answers to this question were various and contradictory. Sometimes the broken reply was, "Wait! It would kill me if I saw her too soon." Sometimes, it was given in a tender rain of tears, and then it was, "Take me to her." Sometimes it was staring and bewildered, and then it was, "I don't know her. I don't understand."

After such imaginary discourse, the passenger in his fancy would dig, and dig, dig--now with a spade, now with a great key, now with his hands--to dig this wretched creature out. Got out at last, with earth hanging about his face and hair, he would suddenly fan away to dust. The passenger would then start to himself, and lower the window, to get the reality of mist and rain on his cheek.

Yet even when his eyes were opened on the mist and rain, on the moving patch of light from the lamps, and the hedge at the roadside retreating by jerks, the night shadows outside the coach would fall into the train of the night shadows within. The real Banking-house by Temple Bar, the real business of the past day, the real strong rooms, the real express sent after him, and the real message returned, would all be there. Out of the midst of them, the ghostly face would rise, and he would accost it again.

"Buried how long?"

"Almost eighteen years."

"I hope you care to live?"

"I can't say."

Dig--dig--dig--until an impatient movement from one of the two passengers would admonish him to pull up the window, draw his arm securely through the leathern strap, and speculate upon the two slumbering forms, until his mind lost its hold of them, and they again slid away into the bank and the grave.

"Buried how long?"

"Almost eighteen years."

"You had abandoned all hope of being dug out?"

"Long ago."

The words were still in his hearing as just spoken--distinctly in his hearing as ever spoken words had been in his life--when the weary passenger started to the consciousness of daylight, and found that the shadows of the night were gone.

He lowered the window, and looked out at the rising sun. There was a ridge of ploughed land, with a plough upon it where it had been left last night when the horses were unyoked; beyond, a quiet coppice-wood, in which many leaves of burning red and golden yellow still remained upon the trees. Though the earth was cold and wet, the sky was clear, and the sun rose bright, placid, and beautiful.

"Eighteen years!" said the passenger, looking at the sun. "Gracious Creator of day! To be buried alive for eighteen years!"

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