Posts Tagged ‘Wier’

Here’s the Author’s Note to Neptune’s Forge, which I will be polishing up in the coming days:

33134434_1920177664659215_8294316850624331776_n

AUTHOR’S NOTE

First of all, this tale is all but impossible. Except for one thing; it’s not. Not really. Despite “history” and despite what a thousand historians might have to say about it, to declaim the possibility that there were, 1) ancient civilizations of which we now know not what of, and 2) an entire continent now covered in ice was once free of it and teeming with both life and real flesh-and-blood people, is to ignore not only the factual evidence, but to ignore the basic nature of Man.

We are, fundamentally, explorers. Now, here in the second decade of the new millennia, we come to discover that the greatest explorers may not have been the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Chinese or even the Phoenicians, but the indigenous peoples of the South Pacific. The evidence is, in fact, mounting that it was they, and not Asiatics coming over the so-called Bering land-bridge who ultimately peopled North and South America. Certainly the South Pacific Islanders peopled South America, where today we find too many parallels between these ancient cultures to turn a completely blind eye. We find ancient ruins that far exceed the height of the most celebrated cultures of the Old World, not only in celestial navigation and in the creation of tremendous edifices of such gargantuan size with cyclopean stone, but also in the precision of their tools. It is almost as if they employed cutting lasers, were you to examine the ruins of Puma Punku.

And then there is Antarctica. Are we to assume that no one, nay, nary a single, solitary soul, has ever stepped foot on the seventh continent prior to Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition in 1907. This is the ultimate in egotism!

I am old enough now to have been taught in schools that it was Christopher Columbus who first discovered the New World. And, we come to find that this was a complete and utter lie. Now we know that before him it was the Norse, who made it at least as far as Newfoundland, if not, as some now believe, to what is modern day Minnesota. The Viking swords uncovered in Minnesota—along with the many skeletons of tall, red-haired “giants”—seem to have a way of disappearing into the deep vaults of The Smithsonian, never to be seen again. And now, just this year, we learn that South Pacific Islanders landed in California perhaps hundreds of years prior to the Norse. Which only makes sense. That a people who found a thousand or more atolls scattered across the Pacific would somehow miss the only thing blocking their way to the east…North America? For crying out loud!
And so it goes.
So we are left with one sobering thought as we are assailed with one doubt after another, and it is this: a man (and a woman, of course, for where would he be without her?) has to climb that next hill. He has to sail over that next horizon, whether or not he be eaten by whole armies of “Here there be beasties!” To ask why he and she must do this is like asking, “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why do people go to Houston when they can go anywhere else?” The short answer to the second question is that they go because they can. They go because no one is stopping them, and for sure and certain if they tried, why, there’d be hell to pay.

I firmly believe that we not only once thrived on the southernmost continent, but we had a vast civilization there. How do I know? Well, I can remember some things. Yes, this author is certain that he is not a one-life animal. He’s been around the Horn, sailed the Seven Seas, and has even explored the stars. And I remember a hell of a lot, even though I’m not supposed to do that. None of us are, in fact. It’s sort of against the rules. So, while I’m not trying to sell you anything—except perhaps this, or better yet, my next book—I’m simply saying what Shakespeare once said with far fewer and better words than I can muster: “There are far more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” That “philosophy,” of course, being accepted science and history. I’d paraphrase it thus, actually: Today’s history is tomorrow’s lies. Also, today’s science is tomorrow’s stone knives and bearskins. But I suppose I’m sort of borrowing from Spock—the Vulcan, not the baby doctor—and twisting it a little. Please forgive.

So, leaving all that lay for now, let’s talk about people, and let’s talk about their demons and their lusts. Eloquent topic, what?

People do all kinds of things to other people. They befriend them and they betray them, they gain their confidence and they cheat them, they run over them, they hang them, knife them, shoot them in the gut, necklace them, bury them alive, drown them, throw them to the fishes, sue them, embezzle them, snipe them from afar, buy votes from them, divorce them, saddle them with debt they can’t possibly repay, bill them, wreck them, frame them, jail them, tranquilize them, tase them, rape them, occasionally eat them…my goodness, the list gets long indeed.

But why do they do these things?

I have a notion about that. I think it’s because there must be something in it. Something that is deemed, rightly or wrongly at the time the thought comes, to aid the perpetrator somehow, in some twisted sort of way.

So, enter twenty-two men fighting a harsh, fierce and unforgiving environment, and each man with a past, a history unique to himself. What monsters might erupt during such a quest?

Thus, the volume you have just read.

That, “Here there be monsters!” on those ancient maps? I think it was always the monsters they brought with them they were talking about, that’s what I think it was, and they were too embarrassed to report the truth. The Karankawa Indians of the Texas coast and the Tonkawa of the interior were rumored to be cannibals. But we discover that it was the Spaniards who were eating their own dead that the Karankawa objected to, and were immediately labeled as being the same thing for which the shipwrecked Spaniards were guilty. Hmph. One wonders if God loves a cannibal? That’s food for thought, I suppose, if you’ll excuse the joke.

Fortunately, you found no cannibalism in these pages. No, instead you found far worse. You found man as he sometimes (and unfortunately) is. I’m sorry. It’s just the way it goes, even though I firmly believe it to be unnecessary in the common run of life. But the story, you see, is necessary. And that’s what I’m all about.

This What If tale has been a labor of love, and through it I managed to discover some things about myself. First, that I can write a great tale in 19th Century prose. Second, that I cannot escape the basic tale of man, from him at his the most base to him at his loftiest heights of heroism, duty and self-sacrifice. And then of course, there’s Third: I can’t not write these stories. These characters speak to me, you see. For me they are as if made of flesh and blood. They are real, they have a past. They hunger, they thirst, they lust and they dream. They live and they die, win and lose, and every now and again, one great among them emerges, head and shoulders above the rest to attain heights I never dreamed for them. And that, of course, is as it should be. A writer can’t ask for any more than that, either of his story or of its inhabitants.

It’s time to leave them now where they lie, where they lounge, where they walk.

This story was never meant to see a sequel, or for that matter, a prequel. I fear it is as I created it: a standalone work, cold and naked before a harsh world.

And there, let us together leave it.

Thank you for coming on this perilous quest along with me, Reader, my good and faithful constant companion. There are other worlds to visit. So, let’s be off!

George Wier
June 22, 2018

Advertisements

I’m back! Back on Neptune’s Forge. Here’s a little smidgen of it for you:

The thought you cannot speak is also the one you should not think.
Therefore, post a sentinel at the portal of your innermost sanctum
where intentions are borne,
and make him to keep his sword sharpened
that no unworthy thing be permitted to pass to or from it.
—The Secret Lamentations

Hastily-scratched entry from the journal of Jonathan Rath:
My friend is dead, and I’m not sure what today is. He was stabbed through his ear and deep into his brain. I don’t know who has done this or why, but this expedition is ended. I must find Peter now, first, and get him where we can talk alone, before we let that madman Gleese know what has happened, although I am almost certain that he is somehow behind this abortion of humanity. Peter Bornik and I will get to the bottom of it. Someone is going to have to pay for killing Parker Dunlevy.

It was on the first day of spring that Jonathan Rath planted the tree, a cherry, outside his kitchen window. He was five years back from the war, still unemployed and seemingly unemployable, due to his irascible nature. He had left as a quiet, unassuming country bumpkin in the first round of Lincoln’s enlistments following the fall of Fort Sumter, hardly more than a boy, and had returned after the South’s defeat an angry, rude, and unforgiving man. Sometimes he awoke in the night, screaming.

During the day he shaped furniture out in his barn, working, sweating, toiling without break in order to keep his attention focused and his thoughts quiet. Often he forgot to eat.

The tree had been left by a neighbor who needed one of his yokes repaired and had no money to pay for the service. Jonathan was known far and wide for his fine furniture, particularly his rocking chairs, bed steads, bookcases, tables and dining chairs, but he was not above taking on other work simply to keep himself busy. The cherry showed up the morning after the neighbor had come to see about the yoke for his ox, and had been both happy and surprised at the repair work. Before the man could apologize for having no money, and began a stumbling proposition for repayment at a later time, Jonathan ceased chewing his tongue and stated, “Pay for it if, when and however you can. It matters not.”

Jonathan Rath sat at his dining room table that evening after receiving his payment—the tree—and stared at the little green thing. Hours, it must have been, that he looked at it, probed it, wondered at it. He started in the complete darkness the instant after the lamp burned itself out. Where had the time gone? What sort of trick was this?

And that night he did not dream.

The next morning he planted the tree ten paces from his kitchen window where it would receive the full sun of the day.

And the years passed. Another trick, of sorts.

For some reason Jonathan Rath thought about the cherry tree as he left his tent in search of Bornik.

Find Bornik first, then together they could handle Gleese, and possible Kroones as well—this was the marching order in his mind. If Bornik wouldn’t throw in his hand to help him kill Gleese, well then, he’d do it himself. And if Kroones stood in his way, then Kroones had to fall as well. If Tomaroff likewise posed a barrier, then Tomaroff himself had to die. Rath’s blood was up, this he knew, and there would be no stopping him.

Rath had once slain what had remained of a company of Rebs in this fashion. This was in the Wilderness, May of ‘64, not far from Spotsylvania. After his major had been shot through the eye at a distance of eighty yards as he was mounting his Morgan on the main road through the woods, Jonathan turned, pulled his saber from its scabbard and strode toward the cowards shooting at him from among the trees. His chest had become a hollow tube through which a cool wind blew. When he was ten feet from them, a bullet passed through the sleeve of his left arm and left a narrow furrow there, the only scar he would bring home with him from the war. But at that moment, he didn’t even feel it. He stepped in among them, his saber slashing and singing in the morning sun. Arms, fingers and heads tumbled to the ground, blood ran in freshets, rivulets, and a steam arose. And still he killed. After he killed them, he hacked them, noting how soft the tissue seemed—it felt more like hacking feather pillows than human flesh. When his wits returned and he realized he was covered in blood from head to foot, he turned, replaced his saber in its scabbard and strode back to camp. The men had stared at him as he walked by, but no one said so much as a single word. He walked up to his Captain and said, “Sir, the Major is dead. You’re now in complete command of this outfit.”

It was this single-mindedness of purpose, this intensity of focus that drove him; as if, in the final analysis, his essential fuel was nothing more complicated than mere decision.

There in the makeshift tent two continents and nearly two and-a-half decades from the carnage outside Spotsylvania, Jonathan left Parker Dunlevy’s body where he’d had found it, with his life’s blood pooled and frozen into the ice beneath the sled, and went in search of Peter Bornik. In his left hand he had his hunting knife—the same knife he had once used to carve the filigree on his bedstead back home. He stepped out into a blizzard; the first such they had encountered in the Antarctic. The wind hooted and howled and ice crystals stung his face, but like the bullet carving its own filigree into his left arm all those years ago, he felt nothing. The hollow, windy tube inside him had turned itself outward to encompass the whole world.

Outside he ran into one of the Brazilians—he couldn’t tell which, at first, because of his sealskin coat and the woolen scarf covering all but his eyes, but when the man spoke, he knew him instantly.

“My friend,” Gomez stated. “Another is dead.”

“Yes,” Rath stated, then was thrown into momentary confusion. How does Gomez know about Peter? he thought, and then, on the heels of this, as Gomez pulled the scarf down to reveal a face contorted in anxiety, it dawned upon him that he wasn’t referencing Parker Dunlevey.

“Another? Another Brazile?”

“Sim. Sim. It is my cousin, Juan Tomas. He is…dead.” Gomez genuflected.

“Parker Dunlevy, the Irishman, is also dead. I am going to kill Gleese for this.”

“Gleese,” Gomez said. “Yes. Kill him. Go to house. Wait for the ship. No?”

The magnitude of it dawned upon Rath. Yes, they could kill Gleese, possibly Kroones, and take command of the expedition; turn it around and strike for the house. But to get there, to get to where the ship would pick them up in the Antarctic fall, they would need Tomaroff. Only Tomaroff could get them there. Without Tomaroff, without his compass, sextant, astrolabe and theodolite to not only ascertain longitude, but that most important calculation, latitude, they would all be as dead as Parker Dunlevy, and ultimately as frozen as the naked man in the ice caverns.

“If you will lead us,” Gomez stated, “my people will stand behind you, and I will kill Gleese with my own hands.”

For an instant, there in the bitter, stinging wind, Jonathan Rath was back aboard the launch after Gomez had harpooned the narwhal. Gleese’s rebuke of Gomez for killing the whale during childbirth in front of the men came into his mind. The look on Gomez’s face then had been a mixture of several elements at once: shame and regret, shock and disbelief, rejection for the rebuke, and something else. And in an instant, Rath had it—blame. He blamed Gleese for the whole fiasco, and for the hours following in which he’d spent with his nose figuratively rubbed in it while gutting and cleaning the narwhal and salting and packing its meat and blubber. Rath had come to hate Gleese since then and by degrees, and had likewise come to sympathize with the Gomez by the same factor. He could see how Gomez was the perfect man to dispatch Gleese, if indeed he himself could not.

“I will lead you,” Rath stated. “But first we must speak with Tomaroff. He must take us back to the house, as only he can. In this wilderness, all places are like every other place. But the Russian knows how to navigate celestially—with the stars. I do not. Without him, we are lost.”

“You very smart man, Senor Rath.”

“I don’t feel very smart.”

“Come. We find Russian.” And then his face sagged. “What about…Homem dos cães.?”

“What?”

Gomez spoke carefully. “Man of dogs?”

“Kroones?”

“Ah! Sim. Kroo-nez.”

“I will deal with Kroones,” Rath stated.

fb_img_15163221775651838560623.jpg

ONE

And then there was only Jem.

Of the others, Oldpa had gone first, then Oldma, followed by Ma and then Pa. Of them all, losing Ma had been the worst. Afterward the ceremony, and after Ma had made the drop, Jem’s father, who came home seldom, had heaped on Jem all of his frustrations, as if Jem were the cause of all of the death that surrounded him. Those six weeks of his father’s leave from service to mourn his wife had been the worst days of Jem’s twelve years of life.

When Jem had heard through the Chan that his father had gone down from the sky alongside the rest of his crew during an engagement with the navies of Horn, he had cried his eyes out for a few hours, but this was less from his loss than from the fact that he was all alone in the sky, even though in Cirrus he was surrounded by tens of thousands of Cirrans, though few of whom he actually knew.

Jem had turned thirteen shortly before his father, Olwen, died in a firefight with the murderous Horn. This he knew even though his birthday had come and gone uncelebrated the way Ma used to, with a small party and a special present. He knew his birthday had passed because the Bright Star had come directly above Cirrus in the night sky. The Bright Star, as his mother had always told him, was Jem’s star.

From school, Jem had learned that Cirrus was exactly fifty-two thousand feet above Land, no more and no less. It had always been that distance, and would forever remain so.

Jem waited at the entryway to his home near the southern, poorer edge of Cirrus for the wardens to come and take him away. He was never going back to school because with the death of Olwen the family had no money. It was a rather stupid fact that he was now a family of one, and that one—himself, Jem—was to be taken and integrated in with the Janus: the orphans of Cirrus. But his father had been a Janus, and so it all made sense to him now as he waited, his small pack of clothing beside him in a buoy rig: everything is always the same. Nothing changes.

He had expected a phalanx of wardens to come for him, but instead a lone warden drifted out from between two nearby dwellings, stopped, turned his head left and right, his polished helmet flashing in the fading sunlight, then focused in on Jem in the only open doorway along the street. The warden floated slowly toward him. Everything floated in Cirrus: the buildings, the people, the few scattered outside light sources, and with the exception of the trader ships coming in beneath the city or to the edge, everything in Cirrus floated slowly.

“Hey, kid,” the warden said. His visor was up, and the face was less young than Jem had expected. They warden, in fact, looked familiar. “Are you 355721? Are you Jem? Olwen’s son?”

Jem nodded to the man.

“Hmph. You probably don’t remember me. Your dad, Ollie, used to be in my outfit in Janus together. He ever tell you stories about him and Vic and some of the stunts we used to pull?”

Jem shook his head.

“That’s me. Vic.”

Jem nodded.

“Don’t say much, do you?”

Jem shook his head again.

“Just like your old man. Come on. Get your rig. I’m to take you to Janus and make sure your billeted in. The least I can do for Ollie.”

Jem reached over and tapped the tow button on the rig that contained all of his worldly possession, tapped the stud at the juncture of his breast bone, and floated out the door, the rig in tow behind him.

When he got even with Vic, the man put out his hand and stopped him.

“Look, it’s not so bad. There’s lots of kids where you’re going. And just think—no more school. Not a lot of rules like there are outside Janus. The only thing is you’ll have to learn to fight, to stick up for yourself, or they’ll kill you. You understand that, right? I mean, surely you’ve heard all about Janus.”

Jem looked up at the man. His face was broad and his cheeks were nearly outside of his helmet.

“I understand.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

Jem had only ever twice before been to Centro, the Cirrus city central district. He and Vic moved along the Strofe, the main open thoroughfare, and passed hundreds of small shops and dozens of gargantuan, towering buildings. There were more people than Jem had ever seen before, and they all seemed to be going someplace.

There were parents with their children as well, but a glance told the tale. There were few poor children along the Strofe, if any—their clothes were stylish and clean, their float rigs were of the latest style. None of these kids had ever risked taking the drop because their rigs weren’t right. The drop, of course, being the end. The final and early death. A one-way ticket to the Land, fifty-two thousand feet below.

After maybe twenty minutes, Vic turned off the Strofe to the left and they passed through the industrial district.

The last vestige of day had retreated and night had fallen.

Jem looked up and the Bright Star was there, far off center. The factory walls, in fact, blotted out most of the star-filled night sky.

Another warden passed them by, his rig outlined in light, and Vic and the man exchanged nods.

One day, Jem knew, he would become a warden, and when he did, he would never push people around nor kill them the way he had witnessed so many times in the past. A warden had the power of life and death. He or she could shut off a float rig if they happened to have a Key, and there was nothing for it but to take the drop.

Upon thinking of the drop, Jem looked down and saw a massive trader moving beneath them, several hundred yards distant. If Jem flicked off his rig, he would likely fall down directly on it, and the ship might take his broken body off to one of the other Major Cities he had learned about it school. Perhaps Cloisteros, or Metros, or maybe even Garden or Citadel. Or possibly even Horn. Naval vessels, his father had once told him, never attacked a trader, unless the trader had turned pirate. Then, if a trader had done so, it was their duty to blast them out of the sky and send them down to the Land far below, where the savage demi-humans lived. It was thought that anyone surviving the drop was doomed anyway, because no one could live among the demi-humans. It just wasn’t possible.

They turned again and made their way around a large, drab-looking edifice, and across a yawning space of several hundred yards.

“That’s Janus.” Vic pointed to the large, ugly, multi-storied building set far apart from the rest of Cirrus.

“Don’t like it.”

“Of course you don’t. What’s to like?”

In school there had been pictures of a place called Alcatraz. Janus reminded him of that place. First of all, it was large and blocky, with numbers of seemingly separate buildings attached to the one, grim, main building. Second, there were few windows. Low down in front there was a wide, pillared porch with twin double-doors thrown open. There was, however, not a soul in sight.

“You’ll get along fine in Janus. You just have to watch yourself, Jem. I’ll come around from time to time and check up on you. I made a promise to your dad, you see. He made me swear that if anything ever happened to him, I was to keep watch on you. Make sure you made it to adulthood. I aim to keep that promise.”

Jem felt that the man was looking at him, awaiting a response, but as Jem turned to look at him, Vic, the only friend of his father’s of which he had ever been aware, looked away.

The came to the porch.

“Jem.”

Jem turned around to face the man.

“Your rig.”

“Huh?”

“You can’t have a rig in Janus. It wouldn’t do for anyone to be able to leave whenever they wanted to, now would it?”

“I—”

“I’ll make sure it comes back to you. Go ahead. Take it off now.”

Jem couldn’t recall ever being without a rig. Quite suddenly, he burst into hot tears.

“Now that’s enough of that, my boy-o. You can’t walk in there crying like that. It’d be like walking up to the Horn and turning yourself in for being a sub-Horn, which is the way they think of everybody. What I’m saying is, they’ll tear you to pieces, so it’s best to dry those eyes, square your shoulders and walk in there.”

Jem nodded and wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

“In fact, if I were you, I’d pick the meanest looking kid in the place, walk up to him and punch him right in the face and keep punching him to somebody pulls you off of him. It’s the only way you’ll earn any respect, and for damn sure, it’s the fastest way.”

Jem nodded and Vic touseled his cornsilk blonde hair.

“You look like your dad, Jem, and that’s saying a lot. You’ll do fine.”

Jem unhooked his rig and the harness came free. Before they both could lose it to the sky above, Vic punched the stud and it dropped into his arms.

The tow rig settled down to the steps behind Jem.

Vic floated in space in front of him, and then Jem could see it all quite clearly: the vast space between Janus and the other buildings on the edge of Cirrus made Janus an island unto itself, if one didn’t have a float-rig. Janus, for all intents and purposes, was Alcatraz.

And Jem hadn’t committed any crime, other than losing his parents.

It stung. Jem was trapped. The only direction for him lay through the doorway at his back.

Vic floated off several yards, turned, gave Jem a smile, then floated away across the impassable gulf of sky.

Get your copy here!

Hopping around in the book at the moment, trying to get it polished up and somewhere near finished. Here’s a little teaser scene on the bus (neither guts nor glory here):

“Ms. Althea,” I said, “We have to go back to Umstauzel.”
“Back to—?”
“The first winery.”
“Why do you want to go back there?”
Dickerson Linton, clearly three sheets to the wind, stuck his face in between ours and breathed out alcohol fumes such that it would have been dangerous to strike a match. “If Bill wants to go back to Oompahpah, I shay we…we…we leg him. And Godschpeeeed.”
“Thank you, Linton,” I said.
Ms. Althea looked over at Julie.
“Umstauzel,” she said.
“Mr. and Mrs. Parker chimed in next, in unison, “Oompahpah.”
Somewhat of a chant began at that point, “Oompahpah. Oompahpah. Oompahpah…” with a little more than half of them managing to mangle even the mangulation.
“My God, you are all the worst bunch of…nevermind. I guess it doesn’t matter to me. You all paid for this, and the other wineries are expecting us.”
“Maybe you can call whoever is next on the list and tell them there was a holdup.”
“Yeah, I can tell them the holdup was Bill Travis.”
I nodded. “You might do that.”
“Okay, people. At this point I don’t believe any of you would be able to tell one winery from the other. We’re going back to Oompahpah.”
“Umstauzel,” I corrected her.
“Whatever the hell.” She turned to go back to the front of the bus and called over her shoulder, “Mr. Travis, please give me a head count.”
I turned around to face everyone and began counting silently, stabbing the air with a finger.
Linton Dickerson started throwing random numbers at me to try to break my concentration. “Twenty-one, thirteen, forty-two…”
“Shut up, Linton,” I said.
He laughed. “This reminds me of a song.” He started singing:

Neither a borrower nor lender be
Do not forget, stay out of debt.
Think twice and take this good advice from me.
Keep watch on your sovereignteeee
There is one other thing…you ought to do.
To thine own self be true.

I finished the count, called the total back to Ms. Althea, who grunted an acknowledgment. I said to Linton, “Thank you for that rousing chorus, Mr. Dickerson. You should go on the road with that.”
The bus lurched as Ms. Althea put us in gear.
“Looks like we’re already on the frackin’ road,” he exclaimed.
Elderly Mr. Parker suddenly stood and gave us all a moderately unsober yet poetic rendition of She Walks In Beauty Like The Night, at which not a few clapped and upon which Mr. Jameson remarked “Bo-ring!” Somehow, this prompted Linton Dickerson to stand and boisterously brutalize the theme song to Gilligan’s Island.
And so it went the five miles back to Umstauzel.

Woke up this morning from a dream and started writing. It’s been a long time since I wrote pure horror. I suppose this will be a short story or a novella. It’s temporarily entitled The Navigator. Here’s a taste: (and please forgive any errors–it’s hot off the old press)

In a small desert town along Interstate-40 between Barstow, California and Kingman, Arizona, a woman is brutally raped and left for dead behind a row of dented and sandblasted garbage cans that someone long ago had forgotten to continue filling. But this was forty years ago, and her son, the bastard who was conceived that horrific night, is midst his election campaign for United States Representative. Maybe he will win. Who knows; possibly someday he will become President.

Between St. Louis and Kansas City, up along I-70, a young woman of sixteen is certain that Christ has not only risen, but has returned. She knows this to be so because He came to her as a child and spoke things to her—things that no other living human being has ever heard.

In Harrisburg, Virginia, along the I-81 corridor, an almost ancient city councilman goes through the ritual of committing suicide. He has done this every night for the past thirty years, but has never been capable of summoning the nerve to put an end to his existence. Instead, he puts his grandfather’s Navy Colt pistol back into the holster in the closet where it has hung for his entire life. And then he cries himself to sleep.

Along the long, lonely stretch from Clovis, New Mexico to Lubbock, Texas, there exists a town named for a long dead Major in the Civil War. In this town each night a man awakens from a lurid, disturbing nightmare. What awakens him is the sound of his own voice, screaming. It is the same dream, the dream in which the gleaming bus comes to a stop, there is the brief, piercing, teakettle scream of pneumatic brakes being released, the doorway trundles open, and then he emerges.

***

Some believe that interwoven into the cosmic fabric of the universe are fine, spider’s silk threads that form a certain pattern. While it could be so that this pattern is set and held unbreakably in place by the stars and galaxies, there are a few who postulate that it is not the light at all that determines the woof and warp of these myriad skeins of thread, but instead this pattern is set by the night; the hidden and unseen. For them it is the black holes, the dark neutron stars, the postulated dark matter itself and other cosmic censures, unnamed and unnameable, that constitute the influences that marshals fate. To them, it is the cold night that is prevalent in the universe at large. It is the night that reigns supreme over the faint, hot little cinders of light.

For all that he has visited, this is most assuredly so.

His name is Christopher Pettibone. He is a diminutive-appearing man with a disarming smile, rumpled clothes, and a seemingly endless supply of cash. And when the bus comes to a stop and he arises, others wait for him to exit first. They don’t know why they do this, but they wouldn’t bother to question since they are not actually aware of him in the waking sense. Instead, they pause and shiver as he passes, and when he is gone, they shake the weariness and dread off of them as if they are shaking off the many miles behind. Just like on every trip Pettibone has taken, there will be one who is unable to bring themselves to climb back onto the bus before its departure. Pettibone knows this. He expects it, and in fact, cares not an iota. Caring is a human thing, a frailty. And he is much farther from human than other creature living on the Earth.

The first Chapter of Reveille In Red, Bill Travis #16, coming soon. I’m such a tease.
CHAPTER ONE 

 

The one good thing about getting older is that there are far many more opportunities to drink wine and relax—for other people. Things are a little too busy for me to attempt such a passtime. Julie, my wife, likes to have a little wine now and again, usually on a Saturday or a Sunday night, and while I have tasted the stuff, I couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a serious wine-drinker. Or a drinker of any kind of alcohol in any appreciable quantity, for that matter. First of all, I have to have my wits about me at all times. Second, I never particularly liked the way it made me feel.
 So when I got invited on a tour of the Fredericksberg, Texas wine country through the Austin Chamber of Commerce—one of those “reciprocity” deals that is really little more than flagrant promotion—I didn’t exactly snap at the chance. But when I did finally give the nod and accept the invitation—and received two tickets for my troubles and for my modest donation—it was with an eye toward treating my wife to the kind of life she’d wanted to live all along, or at least it was in my estimation. Possibly, I couldn’t have been more wrong about everything.
 The worst disasters typically begin that way: good intention gone awry; an effort to kill two overly vociferous song birds with the same sling bullet, which in this instance included Constance Fielder and her pushy public relations methodology, and the realization during our little talk that it was perfectly true—I rarely treated my wife to anything except a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day, taking her car down to have it washed, waxed and detailed some time in the neighborhood of her birthday every year, and the obligatory Christmas and Anniversary presents. 
 “Bill,” Constance said while standing in front of my desk, as if she belonged there and had real business to conduct, “when was the last time you treated Julie to anything? I mean, aside from taking her to dinner?”
 “Well,” I began, and was fully ready to charge forward with the details of our last trip to South Texas, but then I remembered that Julie had spent most of her time in the hotel room while I was out running around trying to figure out who was killing people and turning their bodies into instant mummies. I thought of our most recent trip to the re-opening of a blues bar in Houston, but then, on the heels of that, came the realization that it had all been for my benefit.
 I regarded Constance’s serious face and steady eyes, then sighed and leaned back in my chair.
 “How much, Constance? How much is my conscience going to cost me?”
 “Three hundred dollars. It’s the best deal you’ll ever get for the sale of your thoroughly used and overly abused conscience.”
 I opened my desk drawer, withdrew my personal checkbook, opened it and started writing.
 “You won’t regret it,” Constance said.
 As I wrote, I realized that it was all my fault to begin with. Constance and Jack had divorced a couple of years back, and Constance had been sitting in my office, quietly sobbing while I went over what Jack had done to their portfolio in the months and years leading to their breakup. I did two things for her that day: I recommended one of the best divorce attorneys in Austin to her, and when she asked me, “What am I going to do with my life?” I told her about the opening that I’d heard about with the Chamber of Commerce. All by way of saying that it always comes home to roost. No good deed…and all that.
 I finished writing the check, tore it out of the book and handed it to her.
 She gave me an envelope in return.
 “What’s this?” I asked.
 “It’s your tickets. Two tickets to paradise.”
 “Paradise,” I said. Full blown in front of me a panorama came into view: Julie and me sitting outside under an awning with half-empty wine glasses in front of us, crickets chirping in the scrub brush nearby, a vast field of grape vines stretching out to the horizon and the sun going down behind the farthest hill. 
 Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the stark beauty of South Central Texas with its rolling hills, stubby trees, and its often dry, sun-baked earth. But I do have a problem with the passage of time, or specifically, with time wasted wherein something that could be accomplished is being frittered away like money flowing through the hands of a wastrel.
 Time. My life was all about time.
 And then Constance, a late middle-aged and diminutive woman given to flowery apparel and almost obnoxious optimism, did something funny with her face. She smiled, got a little giddy-looking, and reached across my desk and put her hand on top of mine and squeezed it. “Oh, I so envy you, Bill Travis. You with your beautiful wife and your wonderful family. And now you get to go romance her all over again.”
 “All it takes to romance her, Constance, is eggs for breakfast and banana pudding for dessert.”
 “Oh, poo,” she said. She turned around, sashayed across my office while doing a little happy dance, then turned and said, “This makes me feel young, Bill, so I’m not going to let you ruin anything for me.”
 “Goodbye, Constance,” I said, but she was already gone out the door—with my three hundred bucks.
 I sat in my chair and looked at the envelope in my hand. It was a plain, white envelope, with no address on it, all clean and pristine. It would be all too easy to pull up the address for one of my clients, write their address on the envelope Constance had handed me, slap a stamp on it and put it by the front door with the outgoing mail. But it felt a little more thick than just a couple of tickets.
 I opened the envelope, since it was unsealed.
 Inside, there was a brochure, and sure enough, it had a photo splash of a couple holding hands, looking out across a field of grapes. Inside the brochure there was a wine bottle posing next to a hogshead of cheese that no family of any size could possibly eat in one sitting, and below this was another, smaller photograph showing the wine label:
REVEILLE
 There was a small bugler inked into the background, forever blowing his bugle.
 This jogged a memory.
 It had been in the paper a few days back. I looked around my desk, but no newspaper.
 I got up, went out into the outer office, but Logan didn’t work on Friday afternoon. I poked my head in Penny’s office. “Hey, where’s my newspaper?”
 “What newspaper?” she asked.
 “I had a newspaper on my desk. Where’d it go?”
 “I have no idea. For what day?”
 “I think Tuesday. No, Wednesday.”
 “The housekeeper comes every Wednesday night. She probably threw it away.”
 “Oh.” Lost. So many things, irretrievably lost.
 “I think I have Wednesday,” Penny said.
 “You’re kidding.”
 “I never kid about the newspaper.” She pushed with her feet and her chair rolled backwards. She opened her buffet bureau and I saw a stack of newspapers there.
 She handed it to me.
 I opened it on her desk and turned the page to the Local and State section, and found it.
WINERY DEATH INVESTIGATION ONGOING
 “This is it!” I said.
 “What?” She got up and looked across her desk at the paper.
 “Hmm. Now why would you be interested in that?” she asked.
 “Oh, I don’t know. Two tickets for a tour of the wine country were just dropped in my lap, and the brochure has this!” I pointed at the picture to the side of the article.
 “A bottle of wine,” Penny said. “Very nice.”
 “No. If you look close, it’s the same name, same logo as on the brochure.”
 “So, you get to tour the winery where somebody died. That sounds…about right.”
 I suppose I had made a spectacle of myself, because I suddenly became self-conscious. It had something to do with the way Penny was looking at me, with her head slightly cocked, as if something had been confirmed. Or worse, as if she thought she understood me.
 “Never mind,” I said, and turned to go.
 “Bye,” she said.
*****
I went home.
 I live in a commune, or so it seems. The garage—converted into a spare bedroom several years back—was where my old friend and client lived. Hank’s old Ford pickup was parked out front, so I knew he was home. Inside, I had two little kids chasing each other around in the squashed circle of hallways and doorways that comprised the path through the kitchen, the front hallway, the living room and the dining room and back again to the kitchen. It was Michelle and Claudia. In the living room, Jessica sat on the couch, rocking the baby in her arms—my new youngest, Bill Jr. My oldest natural daughter, Jennifer, sat at the dining room table doing her homework in an effort to get it out of the way so that she could do anything she wanted with her weekend. Julie was in the kitchen, cooking. I came up behind her, put my arms around her, and kissed her on the cheek.
 “What did you do?” she asked.
 “What? Can’t a guy be affectionate to the love of his life?”
 “He can, if he has ulterior motives. Do you want to chop some onions?”
 “I’d rather walk on broken glass,” I said.
 “That can be arranged.”
 Michelle flew past me, followed quickly by a giggling Claudia.
 “In this house, nothing surprises me.”
 “So,” she said, and put the lid back on the pot she’d been stirring. Whatever it was, it smelled good. “What’d you do?”
 “Oh, nothing. Just, I got a couple of tickets for a tour for two of wine country.”
 “Napa Valley?” she asked, incredulous.
 “No. Not that wine country. Our wine country.”
 “What, exactly, is our wine country?”
 “Oh. Fredericksberg, Trantor’s Crossing, Center Point, Luckenbach.”
 “Hmph.”
 I held the envelope out in front of her, between her and the cook pot. She took it from my hands.
 “What’s the catch?”
 I thought about it. She turned around and kissed me, then looked deeply into my eyes.
 “Tell me,” she said.
 “I…there’s this thing.”
 “What thing?”
 “Somebody was killed—possibly it was murder—at one of the wineries we’ll be touring.”
 “And you have to go and poke around.”
 “I don’t have to do anything. I just thought—”
 “You thought you could do several things at once: one, keep me happy, and two, keep yourself happy by stirring up trouble.”
 “Something like that,” I admitted.
 “When do we go?” she asked.
 At that instant, Claudia slammed into the back of my knee head first. I very nearly went down to the floor, but Julie saved me in time.
 Claudia giggled, pulled herself up and resumed the chase.
 “Not soon enough,” I said.

14352613_1267033699973618_9071318739991138264_o

 

 

 

Coming soon! Here’s the Author’s Note:

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

I’m a bit of a tea-todler these days. That is to say, actually, that I am now a tea-todler. There was once a time—way back in the way back—when I was a professional drinker. I was never an alcoholic, I just really liked to drink—and it didn’t matter what it was, so much: beer, whiskey, wine, kahlua…anything alcoholic was my favorite drink. Then, one day in my late thirties, I was done with it, having grown abjectly bored with the whole thing. Since that time, I have learned to appreciate fine drinks in very small quantities, because, like our friend Bill—not the other Bill, not the AA Bill—I prefer to have my wits about me at all times.

I simply wanted to dispense with all that from the get-go—I’m no stranger to strong drink, and in quantity. My friends of very long standing can attest to that fact. That, for “drinking.”

Which brings us now to wine. More books have been written about wines and grapes, about the “wine country” (of various nations), about wine and food, about the history of wine, etc, than perhaps any other subject. I mean, wine has been with us since forever. Ancient Egypt, Chaldea, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, Norway, China, and even the Americas all had their wines. All you have do is conduct an online search on the subject and a wealth of information springs forth at your fingertips. But no, I’ve not been interested in any of those things, those elements incidental to the subject of wine and drinking. Instead, I’m fascinated with the culture of wine, or possibly the sub-culture. And no matter your persuasion—pro or con, wine-drinker or not—you have to admit, there is indeed a culture of wine. It’s out there, brothers and sisters. All you have to do is get some books on the subject and litter your coffee table with them, then start appearing at private and semi-public events and bring along a bottle or two (with a cork, as opposed to a twist-off cap) and share it all liberally, and sooner or later you will find yourself in deep in conversation with an adherent. And wine afficionados are adherents, by any definition of the term. I kid you not.

Factually, I was first introduced to wine and wine-drinkers this lifetime at a fairly formative age, when my father took me wild grape-picking with him. My father knew a lot of people in the countryside around our tiny and insular little town, and he would quickly figure out who had wild grapes growing on their place that they couldn’t bother with. Normally he’d strike a deal with them: he would pick a bushel or two of grapes—and I would help him—and give them half or a third of them, whatever the bargain was, or he would take them home and make wine and jelly with them, and give them a portion of the harvest afterwards. What a wonderful trade! Therefore, we had homemade wine at our house, and we had neighbors and “friends” who liked to drink it and get plumb dang sloshed. And that, to these young eyes, was something to behold. Adults, no less, acting like little children. Consequently, I know exactly how to make homemade wine. I don’t have to consult a recipe book. I was rooted to the spot, watching the whole ritual unfold in the deft hands of my father, who while possibly wasn’t a High Priest, he was nonetheless an adherent of a different ilk: he liked to make wine to share with other people. I rarely witnessed him drinking his own vintage.

Thus, my first introduction to the culture. And notice, if you please, the root of that word, culture.

So, wine.

That day, long ago, when I sat down to title out this series, I came up with the title Reveille In Red not having even the vaguest idea that it would be about wine. That’s the confession part of this little author’s note. No sir, it was just the title, the color red (at that time more like an elegant lady’s evening gown red than the color of wine) and a certain amount of tension in my guts.

Here’s another thing: I am probably the world’s “guiltiest” fellow. That is to say that I feel responsible for not only everything I’ve myself done, but everything that goes on around me. Truth be told, I feel somewhat responsible for what’s going on in Southeast Asia, in Washington D.C., and on some random back street in Brooklyn. I mean, after all, if something’s not right, then somebody should have or should be doing something about it. And if somebody else isn’t, then why didn’t I? So while it’s probably easy for the casual reader to pass off statements such as “a certain amount of tension in my guts,” let me tell you that I’ve never known a complete absence of that tension. I’ve never, this lifetime, felt “free and easy.” Oh yes, I’ve had plenty of moments of intense enjoyment, times of laughter, and I do, factually, sleep. But the tension, the irksome stick-poked sore spot in my belly, always returns. I learned to live with it long ago. I suppose it’s a part of me, so don’t worry none for me or my health on that score. The reason that I bring this up is that Bill’s readers are used to seeing the evidence of this in what he thinks, in how he reacts, in what he says and what he doesn’t say. I just wanted you to get the genus of that, straight from the horse’s mouth. It’s not the writer “being literary” and trying to “create tension.” Good God, no. I’d rather write about a peaceful journey through a mountain valley somewhere. No, this is my method of putting the demons at bay. For expiating some of my essential guilt. You see, I’m starting to see that Bill is the guy I should have been had I lived life the way I’ve always known that I “should,” not the way I have or even am. And this is also my way of turning something “bad” into something a little more healthy. On an even more personal level, I try to do that in most situations.

Yes, like Bill I’ve had my share of fist fights. Like Bill, I’ve had people screaming at me, people threatening me, people betraying me, and people running around trying fiercely to do me in one way or another. No matter how I handled each of those situations, I attempted at every turn to learn from them.

What’s the old saying? You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. Sometimes you have to be the bad guy, or at least act it. Sometimes you have to disappoint people. You have to do the right thing, not the expected thing. I’m by no means a Solomon, to say the least. But there’s that guilty feeling again: why aren’t things going well everywhere around me, not just this minute, but every minute? What did I do that I shouldn’t have? Or worse, what the hell didn’t I do that I should? I think you see what I mean.

Just a little insight into old Bill, there. I hope you didn’t mind.

All right, so we’re coming down to the last of the planned titles, aren’t we? Let’s see, what’s up next? I see only two remaining titles in the original lineup, prior to the prequels. Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook—and hey, if you aren’t, why aren’t you? Huh?—know that I have been slinging new titles around recently. So here’s the tentative lineup going into the future, starting from this one:

#16 Reveille In Red
#17 Bexar County Line
#18 The Long Goodnight
#19 Amarillo Waltz
#20 Double Ought Buck
#21 Murder On the Llano Estacado
#22 Wolf Country (prequel)
#23 Manhunt (prequel)
#24 Borderline (prequel)
#25 Leaving Extreme (short story anthology)

So, for right now, that’s pretty much it. It gives me a little more runway down there for this big, slow, lumbering airfoil to get off the ground. I always told myself that if I could complete this series, why, then I’d know something about writing. Here’s the last confession, then: I’m nowhere close to where I should be. And that, my friends, is all on me. Just like Southeast Asia and D.C. and Brooklyn.

As a final word, I want say something to you, personally. Not anyone else, just you. So you bought my book—either you downloaded it on a kindle or some other device, or you’ve bought a paperback copy somewhere, and now you’ve got it in your hands. That’s a one-way flow. It’s me outflowing to you. My words are going into your universe, like old radio skips coming in a clear night. It’s not a two-way flow (although I’ll never for a minute discount that fact that you’ve spent your hard-earned dough buying my book. No sirree, ma’am!) Apart from your initial downlay to purchase it, there’s little coming back. Now don’t worry, this is not a plea for a review, because frankly, I’ve never asked for those. In fact, I regularly admonish my writer friends when I find them doing so. This is, however, a request that you (you, personally) try, somehow, to balance that flow. My experiences are rich enough to write about for only one reason—I’ve met tens of thousands of people in my lifetime, and I consider almost all of those beneficial experiences. That is to say that what I’m missing in my life is you. So please, email me (email me at texaswier at gmail dot com) or friend me on Facebook (anyone can look at the George Wier–Author page without friending me, but it requires you requesting my friendship directly on my personal FB page. Before you do, message me and say, “Bill sent me.” I’ll understand). At the very least, if you have a membership, follow me on Twitter. And say something. I’m practically begging here. I happen to know for a fact that there are hundreds of you die-hard fans out there, if not thousands. It’s time for you to come in from the rain. The place is warm, the table is set, and there’s a chair, waiting for you.

Continuing this thought, and by way of illustration, in The Lone Star Express there’s this point where a funeral director is called out to open a casket and examine a body. Anybody remember his name? Maybe not, but I do. His name is Bob Thomas. Bob is, in fact, a real person. He’s the Funeral Director at Hammon’s Funeral Home in Littlefield, Texas. He’s a huge Bill Travis fan, and now he’s one of my best friends. He was thrilled that I name him in the book. Point of fact, I do know that most of you won’t want your name in one of my books. But a few of you? Ha ha! I can’t wait to put you here.

All this by way of saying that I do read your emails, I do respond. And I do want to hear from you. Some folks have trouble articulating what they want to say to someone like me, but let me assure you, once you get to know me you’ll find that I’m easy to be around. I’m, in fact, safe. You and I have something in common, and it’s not just Bill. It’s a way of looking at things. And that’s what’s important; important enough for me to remind you.

Okay, that’s pretty much it.

Y’all take care, now.

And all the best to you and yours.

George Wier
August 1, 2017

As part of the overall book, I will be including several stories in Appendix form, from the history of the Isherwood. This one I previously posted, but in unfinished form. Here it is, mostly finished now. There will be at least five shorts like this, of varying length, dealing with some of the legends touched upon in this fantasy epic (because it has begun taking on epic proportions, as I knew it would). Therefore, here’s the full “Craypipe and Stovelilly”, along with an “Editor’s Note” at the end. I hope you like it.

CRAYPIPE AND STOVELILLY

Of all the tales of great adventure that come down to us from the old days and the older ways, nary a one is any more moving, any more adventurous, nor more affecting than that of Craypipe and Stovelilly. As you all know, Craypipe lived in the Wide Valley and Stovelilly kept her abode up in the Laurel Range of the Saw Teeth, and only upon great peril would Craypipe adventure forth from his shack among the stands of paper reeds; but the weather was fine and Craypipe was still young and less set in his ways, and he wondered what sort of land lay beyond those far, high and jagged peaks, and as you well know, there is no stronger motivation than simple curiosity. So one clear and bright morning, after all the chores had been done, Craypipe cursed to himself, threw up his hands—those hard hands of his, already gnarled with great strength and abrasive with harsh toil, even then—and put a paper note on his door saying, Gone Explorin’, put a blanket and one of his old belts around the mule, put some crackers, cheese and jars of honey wine in his burlap sack, grabbed his stick and set to walking.

Now, as you also know, Stovelilly got her name on account of her odd birth—her mother, Pratelin, was cooking that day for the Savior Man’s Feast and all the extended family in the hills, and the babe chose that precise moment when two or three things were ready to come off the stove or out of the oven all at once to come into this screaming world. Pratelin felt Stovelilly start to drop and reached down in a flash and caught her by the foot, lifted her up and set her in the cooking pot on the back of the stove—there was no fire under that burner, don’t you know, because it was nothing there but water for cooling things down with—and the new babe settled into the cool water, looked up at her mother and smiled. In the next instant, Old Ames came into the kitchen, took one look and stated, “Now Ma, what you cooking over there on that corner? Because I don’t think the folks will want any of that!”

“Oh shoo!” Pratelin said, damping down the fire under the taters. “That’s nothin’ but my little stove lilly.” And as you know, the name stuck.

But that was a long time ago, close on to thirty years, and Stovelilly lived in the cabin perched on the saddle of land between the two valleys all alone. Old Ames had died of the white rot and Pratelin got herself struck by lightning—and that is a whole other story, let me tell you—and it’s a hard world when you’re living on your lonesome. The family didn’t bother to come and state when they were moving off to the valley. They had forgotten about Stovelilly, as people sometimes do when they are deeply involved in their own affairs.

Now there was still magic in the Earth in those days. Some believe that it originally came from the great volcanic vents in the ocean, mixed with the water, was skimmed from the waves by the great winds that blow unceasing, and was dropped upon the mountains in great rain deluges, and ran down across the land and found its way into the very crops and the animals that we eat. It didn’t, then, take a lot of magic to manifest itself in ordinary ways, so no one thought of the lesser miracles as being quite…magical. They will see a tree growing from a little nut and think nothing of it, or a water spring up from a rock and pass it off as simply the way of the world. But it takes magic to move things, to cause them be when they weren’t before, and to generally bring forth life and living.

However it was that the magic came to be there, it so happened that Stovelilly was particularly sensitive to the ways of magic. She saw it everywhere around her, and was quite versed in pushing it along, of spreading it around such that little things throve and grew in profusion near her. Consequently, the saddle of land between Laurel Mountain and Forrestal Peak became ringed with a great forest of birch and pine, black walnut and maple, and fruit trees were everywhere such that there was no need to plant any crops nor slaughter any animals—for it wasn’t in Stovelilly’s nature to kill anything that could gaze upon a sunset or grow tired or thirsty. Thus, she walked alone in the forest, singing songs to herself to bide her time, and wondered as she walked if she would ever hear the voice of another human being ever again.

She had no way of knowing that a human being would be coming to visit her, and very soon. The magic didn’t speak of it, and her Dream Spirit kept the secret of his coming, for if she had any inkling of what would thereafter occur, she might have blanched at the aspect of it, and hidden herself, and not answered when the call came, borne of the wind that blows about the misty peaks in the morning.

It was seven days for Craypipe from the morning he left the shack until he came to the foothills beneath Laurel Mountain. He spent much of his time talking to his mule. The mule listened, but to his credit didn’t talk back. Nor had Craypipe ever named the beast, other than to call him, properly, Mule.

When Craypipe laid his head down that last evening before attempting the peak, he looked up at the stars and saw that they had not changed one iota from where they were back home, and he wondered at this. He had always heard that the stars were different in the southern climes. This, from the tales of old explorers, handed down through the years. But those old explorers had great boats, and all he had was an old mule who couldn’t talk or even curse back at him. Maybe it was all foolishness. How could the stars change?

Now the Great Old Bear also ranged the Saw Teeth, from Darkfell in the far south all the way to Northern Cross and the Castle ruins, and his wanderings took him past Laurel Peak, where the Mountain Magic was strongest. The Mountain Magic always made the Great Old Bear feel young, and when he slept in one of the dry caves beneath the saddle between the mountains, he awoke hungry, and hunger always made him angry, if not a little crazy.

It so happened that morning that the Great Old Bear and Craypipe awoke in the same instant, and while Bear was moving downhill to one of the streams with its treasure trove of brightfish, Craypipe moved steadily upward, pulling on Mule’s halter rope and cursing the beast at every misstep.

When Craypipe saw Bear coming, he said the bad word—the word no one can write under pain of death or imprisonment—and Bear, upon seeing Craypipe and hearing the word, let forth a fierce roar. Mule jerked the halter rope from Craypipe’s hand, turned his tail and ran, leaving Craypipe all alone on the mountainside.

Craypipe had naught but his walking stick, a shaman’s crook given him by his great grandpappy, and although it was chock full of both wonderment and power, the words and gestures that could summon the dark magic failed his mind upon the charge of Bear and imminent death.

Thus it was that Craypipe took the full force of Bear’s charge and was bowled over. Both man and beast tumbled down the mountain in a death embrace, and both would have perished were it not for the fact that one word escaped Craypipe’s lips during the mad descent, and this word was the only Power Word that Craypipe new. The Power Word set the shaman’s crook ablaze with the Hidden Fire, and the Fire enveloped Craypipe and turned the Bear’s great claws away from his all too tender skin. Additionally, it slowed their descent until they were aloft, suspended in the air with no ground beneath them. There, in the air, Bear became enraged and Craypipe became even more terrified. He was already bleeding from several deep slashes, and while the claws of Bear could not penetrate the fire, the concussive blows of Bear’s powerful forearms pummeled at Craypipe and very nearly knocked him senseless.

Stovelilly heard this great scuffle, distinctly heard Craypipe’s screams and Bear’s tremendous roar, and like a moth drawn to the flame, flew down the mountain toward them, gathering all the force of magic within her perimeter and channeling it into her arms and face.

Thus it was that in the last instant when she could have ceased her flight, instead she leapt outward from the face of the mountain and struck Bear with the concentrated force of her magic. The Hidden Fire of the shaman’s staff in Craypipe’s death clutch was snuffed out in a twinkling, and the three of them fell. Bear, however, was struck senseless by the Stovelilly’s magic, and thus it was that Bear alone—or rather, Bear’s ponderously huge form—that saved them, for the fell atop him and lay dazed upon his inert form on a high cleft in the mountainside.

Stovelilly awoke first, and found the bleeding man, still clutching his staff. Far away she heard the neigh of a horse or mule, and wondered if it was the man’s beast. There was nothing for that, however. She took hold of the man and pulled her to him. Her hands quickly became wet with his blood. She listened for his breath and felt for his heartbeat, but both were faint and fading, all too quickly. Instead of being repelled by the prospect of the strange yet handsome man dying in her arms, even as they lay atop the sleeping form of the Great Old Bear, Stovelilly began the song of Binding, first in a hushed whisper so as not to awaken the Bear, then, as the magic poured upon her from the earth around her and then through her, she was emboldened to sing all the more loudly and clearly. And those of you who know the Song of Binding, may sing it with me now, for here are the words as they were in the time that Stovelilly sang them:

Were it for me
I would not sing
Were it for death
I would not cry.
This is for life and
For healing
I sing.
Hear me Savior Man
And bring to me
The power to save
This lost soul
From the shadow
That comes.
To fight the shadow
Bring light.
To fight the death
Bring life.
To fight the wound
Bring healing.
And in healing
Bring Victory.
Thus I bind.
Thus.
Thus.
Thus I bind.
Thus.
Thus.

And as she sang “Thus” again and again, the magic multiplied and shimmered in her hair. Her old dress with the little daisies became a garment of light so bright that no thing could gaze upon it lest it be blinded.

And thus Craypipe’s gaping wounds were both cleansed by the Light Fire and closed, and the torn skin was sealed, even as the rent blood vessels were re-connected and blood once more flowed where before it flowed only outward through the breaks in the dam that was his body. For that is all a body is, a reservoir.

When Craypipe’s body was healed, he awakened to her beautiful visage and was struck dumb with admiration and wonder. He took her by the hand and bade her to rise. From the stomach of the Great Bear, the pair ascended the mountain, where they found Craypipe’s mule, standing and regarding them in a copse of mountain wildflowers. Stovelilly laid her hand on the beast’s head, and he too was struck as by a woven spell of love. Therefore both man and beast followed her to her little house on the saddle between the peaks, and there bided for a time in bliss and wonder.

There came a day when Craypipe’s tobacco had run low, and there was nothing for it but to venture forth in search of other people. Stovelilly would not travel so far, either on foot, or upon the back of an animal, and therefore she pled with him to stay.

Craypipe would not do so, even though he loved her more than he did his own hide.

She asked of him, “If thy mind is settled, would not thou instead then travel no more than a short time with me along the Ways, and there see other worlds?”

“I know not the Ways,” Craypipe stated, “though I have heard tell of them.”

“It is a simple matter, for a Byway Gate lieth not far from where thy sleepth next to me. For I know the ways, and would travel there before I would walk down the mountain, for the day that I go down will be the last day I shall ever see my home, and I shall never return.”

“Why speakest thou so seriously?” he asked her.

“When thou depart this place, I shall indeed go with thee, even though my heart be shorn in twain, for I love thee, silly Craypipe, and would live beside thee and also die, as thy wife.”

“I never had a wife,” he said, and spun his pipe on his fingertip. “But if thou would be my wife and have no other husband, I will forego a traipse down the slope, and instead travel with thee the Byway Gate, and gaze upon these other worlds of which thee speak.”

“Oh Cray,” she cried, and her tears came, and she kissed him.

They left the mule in the pasturage upon the mountainside, where all was green and lush, and would remain so throughout the seasons, and Craypipe followed Stovelilly to a secret cave.

Therein she lead him to a narrow passage hewn within the rock.

“Walk with me,” she said, “but lay aside the torch, hold my hand, and walk backwards, with nothing but hope and trust in my direction.”

“I would follow thee even into the Great Pit,” said he, and setting aside his torch, took her hand.

The walk through the Ways was a brief one, and they emerged amid a great battle, ongoing, in which men in shining armor hacked with swords at their enemies and fell from their mouths when the rains of arrows penetrated their armor, and there died.

An arrow passed through Stovelilly, and at first Craypipe cried out, but seeing she was unharmed, he gazed at her ethereal form in wonder and said, “Is this place not real? Are we not real to this place?”

“It is as real as the Great Bear, and fifty times more dangerous, but we are not yet wholly real. We must walk onward a ways, but continuing backwards, until we shall be restored to full flesh, for as now, we are mere shades.”

“Wonder of wonders,” Craypipe said.

One of the fallen knights gazed at them, even as he was slowly overcome by his wounds.

“A vision,” said he. “Art thou angels? I must be already dead.”

“She may be,” Craypipe said, “but I assure you, I am not.”

Then dismissing Craypipe, the knight turned his head to Stovelilly and cried. “Wilt thou not bless me? For my wound is mortal.”

Stovelilly knelt and placed her hands upon the brave knight’s brow and said, “I bless then in the name of the Savior Man, and of all that is good and blissful.”

The brave knight smiled. His eyes glazed over and he perished.

“Come,” Stovelilly said to her husband. “Let us walk further and away from this place, for I should not like to fully emerge amid so much death and carnage.”

“Aye, Lassie,” he said. “That we shall.”
[Editor’s Note: The story of Craypipe and Stovelilly ends here, as it did in the Book of Laird Merrick. It was likely collected by Merrick because of its references to the Ways, which were apparently an obsession for him. Although by decree, all references to Merrick have been stricken from the royal records, the tales of Laird Merrick have been passed as folk tales of the people of the Harrows from mouth to ear. Those tales follow.]

 

18740405_1541194662557519_7511167327731714254_n

11952791_1034834936526830_8006187753696176768_o

 

 

A little sneak preview here of Isherwood:

Riding alongside Trey in the deepening night, with no thought to where they were or where they were headed or how or if they might get there, Farrin felt something warm spreading inside her, a strange sensation she had never felt before. It was like drinking a cup of mead for the first time and feeling the liquid begin to kindle a small blaze inside her, and it was like standing too close to good fire and feeling the heat soaking in through your clothes but not wanting to move away because of the strangeness of it. And also it was like thirst.

When it was too dark to see with safety they walked their horses for awhile until they found a quiet place on a saddle between two low hills where a large oak tree had fallen and caught in the crook between two other trees. They staked the horses and made camp, Trey deciding to risk a small fire despite Geoffrey’s warning against it. Neither of them were really hungry, and when Trey mentioned food—no doubt for her sake—she demurred, but with a brief, kind smile. When the fire was going good Trey went off to find water. Soon, the horses taken care of, Farrin waited until Trey sat down so that she could sit beside him. Her thighs and her rump were indeed sore and there was a stitch in her back, but she promised to herself that she wouldn’t complain about it even once.

When she sat down beside Trey he started at her closeness, but only a little.

Crickets chirped in the wilderness around them and once Farrin was sure she saw the reflection of the fire in the eyes of some animal twenty or so paces away. Above them spread a cloak of blueblack velvet with diamonds for stars.

Farrin laid her hand gently on Trey’s forearm, feeling the rough bristles of his hair. She heard Trey breathe a long, low sigh.

In the small blaze before them she saw reds and blues and greens as the larger branches were consumed and broke into orange, square pieces to join a growing bed of coals.

“I love thee, Farrin,” Trey said, softly.

She laid her head against his shoulder. “I know,” she said.

Trey let loose all of his pent up breath, perhaps letting go of some small portion of a long season of torment. They were both fifteen seasons in age, which was the beginning of marriagable age for them both.

“How long have you known?” he asked.

“Long enough.”

The kindled, meadlike warmth at her center suddenly blazed alight. She felt swollen and sore, but no longer the same soreness from the ride.

“Trey. Look at me,” she whispered.

“I…I can’t.”

She reached for his face and touched his chin, pulling his face around where she could look at it with as much gentleness as she could muster. When she could see him looking at her in the firelight, eyes distant as if to keep his thoughts secluded, sheltered far away in some safe harbor of the soul, the fires banked inside her were loosed, spreading upward into her breasts and her lips, and then downward. And her question, that darkest of all questions as to what she might do for Trey, for herself, was answered for her now.

The moment blurred when they began to kiss. Maybe it had nothing to do with time at all.

14352613_1267033699973618_9071318739991138264_o

 

 

Okay, so Reveille In Red is off and running. Here are the opening bars of the song:

CHAPTER ONE

The one good thing about getting older is that there are far many more opportunities to drink wine and relax—for other people. Things are a little too busy for me to attempt such a passtime. Julie, my wife, likes to have a little wine now and again, usually on a Saturday or a Sunday night, and while I have tasted the stuff, I couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered a serious wine-drinker. Or a drinker of any kind of alcohol in any appreciable quantity, for that matter. First of all, I have to have my wits about me at all times. Second, I never particularly liked the way it made me feel.

So when I got invited on a tour of the Fredericksberg, Texas wine country through the Austin Chamber of Commerce—one of those “reciprocity” deals that is really little more than flagrant promotion—I didn’t exactly snap at the chance. But when I did give finally give the nod and accept the invitation—and received two tickets for my troubles and for my modest donation—it was with an eye toward treating my wife to the kind of life she’d wanted to live all along, or at least it was in my estimation. Possibly, I couldn’t have been more wrong about everything.

The worst disasters typically begin that way: good intention gone awry; an effort to kill two overly vociferous song birds with the same sling bullet, which in this instance included Constance Fielder and her pushy public relations methodology, and the realization during our little talk that it was perfects true—I rarely treated my wife to anything except a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day, taking her car down to have it washed, waxed and detailed some time in the neighborhood of her birthday, and the obligatory Christmas and Anniversary presents.

“Bill,” Constance said while standing in front of my desk, as if she belonged there and had real business to conduct, “when was the last time you treated Julie to anything? I mean, aside from taking her to dinner?”

“Well,” I began, and was fully ready to charge forward with the details of our last trip to South Texas, but then I remembered that Julie had spent most of her time in the hotel room while I was out running around trying to figure out who was killing people and turning their bodies into instant mummies. I thought of our most recent trip to the re-opening of a blues bar in Houston, but then, on the heels of that, came the realization that it had all been for my benefit.

I regarded Constance’s serious face and steady eyes, then sighed and leaned back in my chair.

“How much, Constance? How much is my conscience going to cost me?”

“Three hundred dollars. It’s the best deal you’ll ever get your thoroughly used and overly abused conscience.”

I opened my desk drawer, withdrew my personal checkbook, opened it and started writing.

“You won’t regret it,” Constance said.

As I wrote, I realized that it was all my fault to begin with. Constance and Jack had divorced a couple of years back, and Constance had been sitting in my office, quietly sobbing while I went over what Jack had done to their portfolio in the months and years leading to their breakup. I did two things for her that day: I recommended one of the best divorce attorneys in Austin to her, and when she asked me, “What am I going to do with my life?” I told her about the opening that I’d heard about with the Chamber of Commerce. All by way of saying that it always comes home to roost. No good deed…and all that.

I finished writing the check, tore it out of the book and handed it to her.

She gave me an envelope in return.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“It’s your tickets. Two tickets to paradise.”

“Paradise,” I said. Full blown in front of me a panorama came into view: Julie and me sitting outside under an awning with half-empty wine glasses in front of us, crickets chirping in the scrub brush nearby, a vast field of grape vines stretching out to the horizon and the sun going down behind the farthest hill.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the stark beauty of South Central Texas with its rolling hills, stubby trees, and its often dry, sun-baked earth. But I do have a problem with the passage of time, or specifically, with time wasted wherein something that could be accomplished is being frittered away like money flowing through the hands of a wastrel.

Time. My life was all about time.

And then Constance, a late middle-aged and diminutive woman given to flowery apparel and almost obnoxious optimism, did something funny with her face. She smiled, got a little giddy-looking, and reached across my desk and put her hand on top of mine and squeezed it. “Oh, I so envy you, Bill Travis. You with your beautiful wife and your wonderful family. And now you get to go romance her all over again.”

“All it takes to romance her, Constance, is eggs for breakfast and banana pudding for dessert.”

“Oh, poo,” she said. She turned around, sashayed across my office while doing a little happy dance, then turned and said, “This makes me feel young, Bill, so I’m not going to let you ruin anything for me.”

“Goodbye, Constance,” I said, but she was already gone out the door—with my three hundred bucks.

I sat in my chair and looked at the envelope in my hand. It was a plain, white envelope, with no address on it, all clean and pristine. It would be all too easy to pull up the address for one of my clients, write their address on it, slap a stamp on it and put it by the front door with the outgoing mail. But it felt a little more thick than just a couple of tickets.

I opened the envelope, since it was unsealed.

Inside, there was a brochure, and sure enough, it had a photo splash of a couple holding hands, looking out across a field of grapes. Inside the brochure there was a wine bottle posing next to a hogshead of cheese that no family of any size could possibly eat in one sitting, and below this was another, smaller photograph showing the wine label:

REVEILLE

There was a small bugler inked into the background, forever blowing his bugle.

This jogged a memory.

It had been in the paper a few days back. I looked around my desk, but no newspaper.

I got up, went out into the outer office, but Logan didn’t work on Friday afternoon. I poked my head in Penny’s office. “Hey, where’s my newspaper?”

“What newspaper?” she asked.

“I had a newspaper on my desk. Where’d it go?”

“I have no idea. For what day?”

“I think Tuesday. No, Wednesday.”

“The housekeeper comes every Wednesday night. She probably threw it away.”

“Oh.” Lost. So many things, irretrievably lost.

“I think I have Wednesday,” Penny said.

“You’re kidding.”

“I never kid about the newspaper.” She pushed with her feet and her chair rolled backwards. She opened a buffet bureau and I saw a stack of newspapers there.

She handed it to me.

I opened it on her desk and turned the page to the Local and State section, and found it.

WINERY DEATH INVESTIGATION ONGOING

“This is it!” I said.

“What?” She got up and looked across her desk at the paper.

“Hmm. Now why would you be interested in that?” she asked.

“Oh, I don’t know. Two tickets for a tour of the wine country were just dropped in my lap, and the brochure has this!” I pointed at the picture to the side of the article.

“A bottle of wine,” Penny said. “Very nice.”

“No. If you look close, it’s the same name, same logo as on the brochure.”

“So, you get to tour the winery where somebody died. That sounds…about right.”

I suppose I had made a spectacle of myself, because I suddenly became self-conscious. It had something to do with the way Penny was looking at me, with her head slightly cocked, as if something had been confirmed. Or worse, as if she thought she understood me.

“Never mind,” I said, and turned to go.

“Bye,” she said.