Flaming Dragon

There’s a sand dune in the middle of the largest habitable environ of an urban area. A desolate Chinese Junk is stranded on the dune. If you watch it long enough you can tell that the Junk lists and sways. I’ve been watching it for years, and for years I’ve expected that any day now it would tip over and spill its secrets. I like to imagine I’ll bear witness to the secrets as they tumble and roll. Late last century I started making annual pilgrimages to the dune, but I never make headway. It seems to always sit on the horizon no matter how hard I pedal. It constantly remains just out of reach.

The wind, though, sends out bits of treasure from the Junk’s hold. If you’re vigilant and if you train yourself to expect it, you can stumble across strange and fascinating bits of ephemera—rabbit shaped rings, and bits of metal shaped by fire and wind.

I have a friend that takes these odd bits and fashions them into the bowls and ferrules of pipes. My favorite is made from the driftwood that I discovered on one of my pilgrimages. It was late one fall as the weather was cooling down enough to attempt another trip. Somewhere between Oak Cliff and the dune is a dead zone of dry rot and rock. I might not have noticed the pile of driftwood had I not face-planted when a hidden branch lodged between the spokes of my front wheel.

I dug around and found a good-sized piece and jammed it into my pack. I had to turn back, the dune was no closer and with a bent front wheel it would have been impossible. Danny fashioned his Flaming Dragon pipe with the driftwood and the remains of a warrior madden’s bracelet that I had gathered on a previous journey. It’s a hefty oom paul design. The steam makes an elegant s curve into the bowl which suddenly flares out and intersects itself in licks of stylized flame. Diminishing scales are crawl up from the bottom of the bowl. The ferrule is wrapped with the golden bracelet which is inlaid with a black ball bearing.

The wind delivers treasure. If you look.

Betwixt and between: the popularization of the interstitial

The Maintainer’s dad walked out and I hastily explained that I was wrapped up in thought and that I couldn’t parse more than one information stream of the same modality at once. He looks at me suspiciously—I recognize that look, it was that boy, I’m concerned that you’re on drugs look.

I speed up and ask if he doesn’t think in words. It’s like reading two books at the same time. Have you ever tried to read two books at once? What happens?

“You get confused.”

“Exactly, that’s why I can’t tell you how dreadful the weather is.”

“Well…you’re betwixt and between realities, and I just came out here to see if you wanted oatmeal.”

Lonely Night

With a subtle click of a deadbolt lock sliding free, the door swung open into the foyer. A figure silhouetted by a flash of lightning filled the doorframe. Raindrops splashed across the threshold onto to reddish-brown tile. Black thick-soled boots entered the house spreading more water on the floor. In one fluid motion the figure entered and shut the door behind him. He removed his saturated coat and placed it on the rack with practiced ease. For a moment he stood there to perceive the surroundings. Dathan, satisfied that he is alone, ran his right hand through his too damp hair, brushing it away from his forehead.

He stepped left into the darkness of the sitting room. He navigated the darkness past a chair and a table. Several more steps and he reached into the darkness where his fingers found a shelf. His hand found a familiar shape and fumbled upwards until he reached a small knob. A deft twitch of his fingers sparked light and the lamp revealed this small world. A cursory glance of the room and he cut a path across to a small island bar. He moved behind the bar and opened the left cabinet door. Within the cabinet were three short glasses resting upside down. He selected the one furthest right and nearest him. Dathan held it toward the light and inspected the inside. He set the glass atop the bar and opened the right door, simultaneously closing the left door with his knee. From the right cabinet he pulled a greenish bottle filled with scotch. This bottle he did not inspect. He merely removed the cap and with a steady pour filled half the glass. Not through with it, he set the bottle on the bar. Picking up the glass, he downed half it’s contents in one quick drink.

Dathan surveyed the room while he contemplated the glass in his hand. To his left and furthest from the door in which entered was a desk and chair. Behind the desk was a large picture window from which the street outside could be seen. Over the window were drawn heavy red drapes. The drapes had not been opened in a very long time. The far side of the room was occupied by a modest bookshelf filled with dusty volumes that Dathan might never read. At the right side of the shelf, midway from the floor was a lamp. Dathan couldn’t remember from where it came. A bit to the right and in front of the shelf was a chair and a table where someone, if one were so inclined, might enjoy a cup of tea while doing some light reading. The only other piece of furniture was the cabinet bar behind which Dathan stood. In Dathan’s mind, it was the only functional furniture in the room.

Dathan clenched his left hand into a fist as a memory of what would happen next splashed through his mind. The telephone rang. Dathan set the glass down heavily on the bar. He moved to the desk and stared at the phone. It was a dull pea-green hard plastic rotary phone. At the fourth ring, Dathan stood and wondered if he should even bother answering it as he has done over a hundred times before. He cut the sixth ring short and put the handle to his ear. He said nothing and the phone gave only a faint hum. This happens every time, as it has done over a hundred times before, except this time will be different. This time there is a voice.

“Dathan,” a woman said faintly, “you must,” getting louder, “let me go.” The call ended with a sharp click and then silence. No dial tone nor busy signal, just silence. Dathan moved to replace the hook on the cradle but then simply let it fall from his hand.

A dam had broken in Dathan’s mind. Five words ricocheted through his brain shattering his reason. Those words last spoken by his wife before she died. Annabelle had never lived long enough to see a phone, much less call him on one., but he was certain that was her voice delivering salvation.

Two truths became clear to Dathan: First, he was no longer trapped in this time and place and second, that Phillip Neuman must die.

The Revelation of Eldridge Gent

In my time trapped in limbo aboard that unfavorable Antelope with the duly respected Captain, I grew increasingly disconsolate and listless. Rage built up like steam in an over-stoked boiler until I could no longer sustain my unfocused fury. Off balance and in a spiral of despair, I was consumed in the conflagration of the frenzied firebox. The boiler split open scalding skin and ripping flesh from bone.

There was a time of great hunger, and darkness, and isolation. I searched my inner recesses and scourged the walls of my prison seeking escape or absolution. In my time of most dire dread and—when God was supposed to have appeared with offerings of reassurance and solace—there was no succor to be had.

Pled out and despondent, surrounded by empty bottles—as I was drinking straight from the bottle like an unregenerate sot, I thumbed through the brittle pages of my memory in search of any painless recollection that I could use as an anchor for an excuse to resist the rash act.

In that lonely silence I heard a slight murmuring of familiarity. I caught my breath and the gasp scared away the apparition. There was something beguiling about that forgotten whisper, something needed, or perhaps just curious—whatever the reason, I was intrigued. I had to lure it back. I willed my body to ignore its need for breath. I counted the seconds. By the time I had lost count my face burned and my eyes strained with pressure and tears. I imagined I was possessed by Yanluo.

I scowled and shook and strained. I felt the world give way. And there was the whisper. A rustling of leaves and a crunching of snow. I had to track it without motion or breath, like a desperate hunter hiding in a blind fearful of scaring off the prey.

The muffled whisper grew louder and sharper. I could see it now as gathering smoke. The smoke emanated from every corner of the cell, from the ceiling and the floor. The diffuse darkness flowed together in chaotic knots, it’s filaments weaving around one another until some critical mass was reached and it took on weight and solidity. Enraptured and enraged I clutched at it but its solidness was but illusion and the smoke swirled about taunting me. I lashed out in a furor and was rewarded for my ire; I caught hold of something ineffable but definite. And there, as the sun faded over a darkened wood, stood a snarling nymph—brunette of hair and eyes as dark as the sea.

Standing slack and shocked I recalled that I had never wanted to bare witness to her cold cruelty again, but something kept calling me back. I couldn’t make sense of these phantom memories. Were they real, could I possibly have known this baleful beast? Meanwhile she appeared equally as shocked, as if the prey she pursued was unknown yet familiar. She ignored my commands and pleas for answers. She kept still in silence gazing at me with those haunted eyes. She wiped a tear from her eye and reached it towards me and fled the other way.

I gave chase. In an unfamiliar world I bounded down hills strewn with rocks; pulled my young body up muddy raises; tripped over roots while branches whipped my raw face.

Around a bend of a rocky trail on the side of a mountain with my feet slipping out from under me, and rocks slicing into my knees she let me catch her. And when I did, I pinned her down. I kneeled on her arms and gripped her throat. She was either smiling or sneering, laughing or taunting. I was unaffected by her disjointed and ambivalent emotions. I forced her to tell me her secrets.

“In the beginning,” she gasped, I loosened up my grip, “there was the Word…”

I was shooken and collapsed into a heap of boneless flesh as the words echoed in the void, pierced my ears and cut my flesh.

“and the Word…”

There was a great squall and the world roared away as she stood over my sorrowful body. Through bloody lips she could barely discern me sob “was with God.”

I reached out to her and she vanished. I was back in my torturous isolation, back aboard the menacing Antelope, surrounded by shattered bottles and hate. But, I was now in possession of something comforting. Oh, it was neither salvation nor redemption, but something bleaker. I held with me the echo of a power that can save us all.

A Gentle Tale

My Dear Bel, I wish I could report this is the end of times, but unfortunately it seems to be just the beginning.

I have long meditated on how I got here, and how you there. Alone without hope, without championship, without the specter of escape.

All I can figure is I am the brunt of some cosmic joke, a high conspiracy designed by some sick and tormented soul that draws its only pleasure through my suffering.

If I had the power I would make them pay, I would have them live one day here, in this hell, in my stead. For surely, one day would be all it takes to break the most resolute. One day would be my revenge.

Now, if you will excuse me, and possibly forgive me, I have plans to conjure.

I look forward to seeing you. It will be my one solace in this life. An hour with you, be it asking too much, is all that’s left to hope for.

Yours, 
 
Eldridge

A Look at the Surface

Epigraph

A series of notes from Seth Emery

Main Content

Saturday May, 23 9:13 am

I received a tip from a friend in the bureau about a strange attack on a family in West Texas, about five miles south of Dark Ember, TX. He informed me that the local authorities have been uncooperative and there is not enough details or evidence for the federal authorities to conduct a proper investigation.

Thursday May, 28 1:36 pm

I am in Fort Worth, TX. I just spoke with the mother (Lucy age 35) and daughter (Amber age 16) involved in the attack near Dark Ember. After showing Lucy my credentials as a federal contract investigator, I requested she allow me to speak to Amber and herself, separately. Lucy told me a story about a man that tried to grab Amber from the passenger seat of her car as they pulled away from a gas station off the interstate on the night of May 9. She described the man as dirty, unshaven with light brown hair. About his attitude, she used the word rabid. I then spoke with Amber. Her story is quite different from her mothers and I sensed there was some hard feelings between them because of this. Amber said she saw an animal roaming around behind the gas station while her mother pumped gas. When her mother got back in the car and started the engine, this animal darted straight for the open passenger window and tried to pull Amber out. She described the animal as dog-like, but instead of paws this animal had claws. She said the animal was covered in black fur. Lucy walked me out when I was done speaking with Amber. Lucy informed me that Amber has been in shock since this incident and she is having trouble understanding what really happened. Lucy tried to get me to understand that Amber made up this story about a wild dog creature as a means to cope with what had happened. I told her I understood as I walked to my car.

Monday June, 1 2:09 pm

I just arrived in Dark Ember, TX. It is a little more than five miles North of Interstate 20. I almost missed the turn off about half a mile West of the gas station where Lucy and Amber were attacked. I made a quick pass through town. A sign just outside of town states a population of 735. From the little of the town there was to see I can believe it. Can a town be described as Spartan? I saw one school, one church, a small grocery store and tiny building designated as the Sheriff’s department. The town is so small it doesn’t have a movie theater, a motel, a gas station or even a Wal-Mart. I’ll have to drive east to Odessa to find a decent hotel. Tomorrow I’ll find a library and do some research on Dark Ember.

Tuesday June 2. 3:45 pm

I found some interesting facts about Dark Ember at the library. The town was originally built near a silver mine in 1866. The mine was suddenly closed after a harsh winter in 1867. Records indicate that at the time that the mine closed, the town boasted some 800+ settlers. As far as the reference material at the Odessa Public Library indicates that most if not all of the families of the original settlers have chosen to remain in Dark Ember. That can’t be true, can it?

Thursday June, 4. 7:51 pm

I’ve been doing some legwork and so far I’ve discovered that Dark Ember has no exports and very little imports. Aside from food and other necessities shipped to the local grocery store and gas lines throughout the area, the town seems largely self sufficient. The town produces it’s own electricity and they have a water reservoir. What I haven’t been able to find out is why anyone chooses to live there or what caused them to close the silver mine a hundred and forty years ago. Why does this town even exist?

Friday June, 5. 6:03 pm

I decided to take a look around Dark Ember and see what impressions I can get from it. I didn’t notice it the first time I went thru, but the town starts out wide and then narrows as you get to the other side. The town is shaped like an arrow head with the church as the point. I think the church may be the oldest existing structure in Dark Ember. Is it possible that the town was built this way on purpose? Is the church what holds this town together?

Saturday June, 6. 2:36 pm

I was trying to find the location of the silver mine in the area surrounding Dark Ember when I met the local sheriff, Daniel Warner. I told him I was a land surveyor and that I worked for a company in Dallas that was looking for a place to build a factory to make super small microprocessors or some such. 1.) I don’t think he believed me, and 2.) He strongly suggested I inform my company to look elsewhere.

Sunday June, 7. 1:18 pm

Just got back to the hotel. I wanted to take another look around town during the church services, but my earlier thoughts about the church being the fulcrum of the town didn’t pan out. No one attended church this morning.

Sunday June, 7. 6:15 pm

I came back to Dark Ember in time to see the townspeople going into the church! At approximately 5:30 they started going into the church. I think by 6:00 the whole town must have been inside. They seem to be a spirited bunch. I can hear singing and chanting from half a mile away. I’m going to see if I can get a look around while everyone seems to be in one place. I should have at least 30 minutes before the service is over.

Sunday June, 7. 6:28 pm

I just saw the biggest dog I’ve ever seen!

The preceding was received in the form of emails from a phone belonging to Seth Emery. There have been no further emails.

The Engines of the World

My Dearest Beltran,

How deeply I miss you. I have been stranded on the seemingly unmovable Leroux for what I estimate to be nearly an eternity. Being forsaken on this bulk, more-or-less alone, has gotten the better of me. The only other living soul aboard is the Illustrious Captain whom I am having to avoid due to a subtle miscalculation and miscommunication on my behalf. Therefore, having little else to occupy my mind durning this ever extending stay I have taken to exploring the labyrinthine corridors and halls—which, for good or ill, have come to encompass the entirety of my existence.

My most recent adventure left me adrift in a sea of memories of you—your curious passion for the inexplicable, the chaotic, and the magical. All of which I had the great misfortune of discovering on my latest expedition when I stumbled upon the most disagreeable—I suspect you would find charming—spectacle within living memory.

How I longed to have you at my side, me Dear Bel, to help me make sense of the mysteries that, while well lit and autoptically revealed, made no rational sense. I recall watching the wonders of your city as you explained the sublime inner-workings of all manner of technological wonder. I am lost without you my Dear Friend.

At some point as I wandered along the abandoned and never-ending corridors I ventured down an unspecified section between the unending and never-was where I came upon a perfectly ordinary and unadorned doorway that gave no hints, whatsoever, as to what was to lie beyond its threshold. You well know how I feel about doors.

In keeping with that most basic and fundamental philosophical outlook—that nothing is as it seems—my curiosity was piqued and unfortunately got the better of me. I had to know what this seemingly unimportant doorway’s function was—why it was there, what it concealed, why there wasn’t so much as a sign or a warning. I promptly secured access and scurried inside where I beheld the startling sights in question—and, as I have mentioned, promptly longed for your counsel.

Upon entering I took only the time to ease the door shut while making sure the lock was intact and secured. Upon turning around I was immediately struck by the absurdity of the sight that lie beyond the vestibule. I will attempt to describe what I beheld, but I fear that even my words will bring no justice to the outrageous scene I found. There was a series of skewed catwalks and twisted scaffolds which surrounded a tangled maze of delirious ductwork that appeared to be more of a crazed patch randomly planted by a deranged committee of mad gardeners than it did an orderly apparatus dutifully planned and manufactured by a rational team of engineers.

My Brilliant Bel, imagine a mass of impossible joints and connections bursting through one another at impossible angles. I was ready to believe that is was some form of outrageous New World vegetation until I discovered the occasional rent in the ductwork that revealed the series of planetary gears and multi-segmented rods contained within the stalks. These clearly mechanically impossible contraptions somehow managed to keep their shape and continued to churn away despite being twisted and folded into senseless positions.

I was compelled to force my eyes away to continue exploring the baffling tangle. I fought my way through that tormented maze and stumbled into the main compartment. It was a room of preposterous dimensions that I lack the confidence to describe in any meaningful way. The best I can come is to say it was easily as large as the central transept of the Crystal Palace—but of that I cannot be sure, by this point my senses were rebelling against my rational mind. I certainly could not tell which side was winning.

Along the walls and continuing into the main space itself were a series of trellises securing to themselves strangely distorted platonic-solids that appeared to function as gears. They were connected by a series of control rods, pumps, and various shafts and levers arranged in such a manner as to only make sense to the deranged and the damned. The gears seemed to collapse into themselves as they whirled merrily along in and across all possible dimensions.

Eventually this demented assemblage connected to impossibly large swash plates—which were driving which I could not tell. These many disks were centered in the impossibly high ceiling at unbecoming angles to one another. They were, as far as I could tell being at such a great distance, the size of small elephants.

Notions of perspective and scale were rendered meaningless. I was at once looking at and through the mad assemblage of misaligned and maladjusted parts. The machinery closest to me—breaking out through the rents in the stalks, or simply encased in transparent connectors—appeared to be a replica of the entirety. I felt as if I was being spun in various directions as were the gears themselves.

What was I witnessing my Mad Bel. What strange technological marvels or magics could you have revealed to me. I felt as if I had entered a purgatory that spanned the chasm between the mystical past and the rational present. A netherworld of tormented and broken spells that could only be contained through ingenious, or utterly deranged, engineering. Was this a prison for ill-fitted and criminal charms?

At any given moment I expected to be scourged by angelic-demons which would no doubt emanate screaming from the hallows of the menacing shadows which surrounded me. I made my way as quickly as I could out of that lunacy—which, I am sure, you would have found delightfully engaging. It wasn’t for me!

On uncertain feet I scraped over the catwalks—flimsy under me, and down the scaffolds—twisting within my grasp. I scuttled back along the same path on which I ventured into this arcane den. My retreat was barely more than a series of stumbles across uneven flooring and collisions into warped walls—an eternal ricochet of paranoia and fright.

I was overwhelmed with grief and panic as I fought to gain composure and relief by finding the familiar, the solid, and—above all, the rational. I needed only to return to the safe-haven of my cabin; a measured composition of wood and brass, and kind angles gently complementary to one another.

That is my story, my Kind Confidant, of my misadventure into the strange automatous mechanizations that plot against my sanity and my freedom. It is my forlorn hope that one day you will receive this letter and decipher the madness.

Until then I shall pour our favorite drink and fancifully recall the good times.

 

Salut!
 

Eldridge

En Route

I have stopped rubbing my palms free from of the Dust of the ancient tomes that are still so dear to me but gone. My hands they have an odor of pickle to them that is all that sustains me in this vacuous holding pattern I now find myself in. For a man to lose his Library is something very akin to the Fall of Adam and it stings the pride like the discovery of adultery. You must trust that my intentions have always been to continue on with this mission I hold myself to of keeping you against the day, of sharing with you my vertiginous descent into the Maelstrom of my soul’s shipwreck! But my own Salvation rests with recovering my precious Collection—torn from me in my absence as all things Magical tend to be when not given a Witch’s vigil. Oh, if you must—come along then. Perhaps it is best for you to learn first hand what Fool’s Errands occupy the Damned!