A Grand Adventure
My friends: I am pleased to announce that just this very afternoon I have received delivery of the Soviet-era iron bathysphere which I had ordered several months ago, a relic of the Cold War left to languish in a warehouse in Aradu, Georgia–the country, not the state. It was surprisingly affordable, ringing in at slightly over 165,000 lari, which is the national currency of Georgia. Indeed, after converting my American dollars to the Ghanaian cedi, and then to the Nigerian naira (a special thanks goes to the Nigerian Prime Minister for his help in facilitating this conversion with a speed not normally awarded to just any foreigner trying to move money in and out of the Nigerian banking system), and then back to the American dollar, before converting it once more to the cedi, and from there to the lari, the final cost to myself was almost ludicrously low. Combine that with my free Amazon Prime shipping rate, and I feel almost like a criminal.
As I write this, the bathysphere is at a secret location in Alameda, California, being outfitted with all of the necessary equipment needed in order to survive a prolonged period submerged at a depth of one hundred feet in the San Francisco Bay. As I am neither a barbarian nor a deep sea explorer from the 1930s, I am also having a rudimentary toilet installed behind a curtain, in an attempt to preserve my modesty should any wandering scuba divers swim past one of my trio of manhole-sized portholes and chance to look in.
Most of my food stores will be of the canned or freeze dried variety, and what cooking I do will be facilitated via the use of a standard hot plate. My personal cook, Gertrude, has produced a small culinary guide, which will allow me to prepare with a minimum of effort nutritious and filling meals designed to keep my body functioning at its highest novel-writing abilities for the months that I shall be submerged. Needless to say, the cuisine will also rely upon a steady supply of Vitamins D and C supplements. I cannot allow a nutrient deficiency to come between me and literary success. Also, there will be an adequate supply of vodka, because if it was good enough for Fyodor Dostoyevsky, it’s good enough for me.
In addition, there will be a small but necessary amount of morphine kept in a small box stored beneath my bunk, in case of emergencies. My support team is under strict instruction to not raise my bathysphere under any but the most dire of circumstances. Should a minor injury surface during the course of my time under water—say, a broken collarbone or a deep but not life-threatening shaving wound to my throat—I will utilize the morphine in a purely medicinal fashion to help manage the pain, or alternately to stave off the madness that always lurks at the edges of the mind when one is locked away beneath the roiling sea water, producing Ongoing Works of Stunning Genius (including: a book for children containing stories of oversized and overzealous man-eating lizards, dangerous submersibles of questionable construction, and flagrant flouting of child labor laws in pirate-supervised relic-mining operations; a novel for adults containing plummeting airships, clockwork treasure maps, fisticuffs atop towering rain-slicked ancient architectures, blood-flecked handkerchiefs held tightly against yellowed flesh, and occasional moments of indiscreet snogging; and my long-demanded memoir, which names many names, reveals many secrets, and may or may not be written by hand on vellum pages pressed between a cover bound in human flesh and rescued from the Bibliotheca Corviniana during its destruction in the 16th century by the Ottoman Empire).
It’s no wonder Hemingway shot himself.
The bathysphere will be attached to my support team’s small Bruckmann yacht by an umbilicus, through which I shall be fed electricity, a small amount of potable water, an internet connection and, of course, oxygen. While I my be amenable to the idea of writing in an airtight box with a limited supply of breathable air for future sequels to my great works, the parameters of this session have already been mapped out, and oxygen deprivation isn’t on the menu this time around.
The Aqua Hermitage (which is the officially registered name of my bathysphere) is also being retrofitted with a retractable floor panel, allowing for access to a moon pool, which will provide egress from the bottom of the submersible and into the Bay. Part of Gertrude’s plan for my nutritional upkeep involves the periodic addition of fresh mussels to my diet, and so once a week I will don a diving suit, complete with a bulbous iron helmet and heavy waterproof canvas suit, and drop to the floor of the Bay in order to gather some tasty delicacies from the bounty of the ocean.
Currently, we are running ahead of schedule, and I expect the Aqua Hermitage to be completely ready for submersion by the twenty-ninth of October. My man Friday, Rudolpho, has volunteered to spend a few days in the bathysphere ahead of me, to ensure that all the equipment is working as planned, and that the oxygen flows properly and there are no minor but catastrophic leaks which will cause my unfortunate, but tragically romantic and premature, demise. While I fully expect this undertaking to become legendary in its telling, I would prefer that the glory be not posthumously awarded.
So please, readers… no, friends… no, family (for that is what you all are to me, those sharing my exciting adventure of underwater literary achievement, where no writer has gone before), please relax, sit back, share a snifter of brandy with me, and let us toast to unexplored worlds of wonder and to the solitary men, who completely alone–with the help of a support team, a registered dietitian, a man Friday, Wikipedia, and black marketeers in the nation of Georgia–forge new roads into the annals of history and American literature, asking nothing in return save for glory, eternal remembrance and financially-rewarding publishing deals. Ad victoriam!
A Mysterious Post
Generally, Rudolpho sorts through the afternoon’s post once he collects it from the box. I have assigned him the duties of paying the household expenses from my domestic account, and have given him several boxes of pre-signed blank checks, which he may use as necessary for handling our basic needs. I prefer not to be bothered with the routine of opening envelopes and sorting correspondence and licking stamps. This is one of the reasons that I have a man Friday, to free me from such time consuming activities.
Today, however, he delivered to me in my study an envelope which he instantly recognized as one that I would want to open myself. Smart fellow, that Rudolpho, for he recognized both the handwriting on the envelope and the perfumed fragrance rising from its surface.
“It’s her,” he said simply.
I nodded. “Yes, most certainly her.”
“I will leave you alone.” He turned on his booted heel and clicked away across the tiled marble floor and into the hall.
I held the envelope in both hands and studied the delicate cursive on the envelope, addressed to me, sent seven days ago, without a return address. Not that it needed one, of course, for I knew both from where it had been sent, Nepal, and the woman who had written and addressed it to me.
Dr. Anastasia Valentine. My nemesis. The only woman I have ever truly loved.
She would never be so crude as to include an explosive within her envelope, but I took care with opening it nonetheless. One of her specialties is the cultivation of an extremely rare genus of night blooming flower, the Achebe Lily, the pollen of which could be alchemized into a dangerously potent nerve toxin capable of delivering its victim into a paralyzed state unrecognizable from death itself. Having myself once been interred in the family crypt as a result of this toxin, I was in no way desiring a replay of the incident.
I placed the envelope face down on the blotter of my desk, and used my Fairbairn-Sykes as a letter opener, sliding the blade easily through the paper. When the tell-tale amber powder of the Achebe failed to sift out of the envelope, I used the point of the knife to drag the letter contained within out onto the desktop. Gingerly, I unfolded the paper and began to read:
My dearest Sebastian:
Being certain that you would have anticipated the inclusion of the pollen of the Achebe Lily within this letter to you, I have saved myself the trouble and expense of utilizing that tactic and have instead pre-soaked the stationary with the equally deadly venom of the Peruvian Bitter Nut Serpent. You have approximately one hundred and forty-five seconds before your entire nervous system collapses and you begin to froth at the mouth, undergo violent seizures and have your heart explode within your chest.
My people inform me, Sebastian, that you are undertaking an adventure in the coming months, namely the writing of a novel produced from within a diving bell or a chest wrapped in chains or some such rot. Normally I wouldn’t have much interest in any literary aspirations on your part, death-defying though the creation of such a work might be. However, I am further informed that you are writing a tale which contains scenes involving the flesh-eating undead. As the only experience you have with reanimated creatures of a cannibalistic nature is through your attempt at foiling my own experiments in Malaysia with creating just those very same creatures in my laboratory, I can honestly say that you have no primal claim to being able to utilize them for a novel of your own devising. Although I have no documented ownership of the idea of the living dead eating the flesh of the average man, I believe that you and I can both agree that without my monumental contributions in the field of Anima Corpus Corporis, you would have no story which to tell in the first place.
As such, Sebastian, I must hereby insist that you remove yourself from any proposed endeavor which includes the re-creation, usage or mention of the undead in any form whatsoever. Failure to abide by my wishes will result in my immediate and severe retribution against you and all that you hold dear. We both know that I am not one to explore legal recourse when trifled with, dearest Sebastian. Please do not force my hand.
I remain your humblest,
Anastasia Valentine (Doctor)
P.S. I wasn’t actually joking about the Peruvian Bitter Nut Serpent venom. You might want to find some anti-toxin rather quickly. Good luck with that.
P.P.S. Just kidding.
“Rudolpho!” I shouted. He appeared instantly in the doorway. “Take this letter and dispose of it in the usual fashion.” He came to the desk and lifted the letter and envelope between his thumb and forefinger, as one would when picking up a soiled handkerchief, and carried them at arm’s length out of the room. Within minutes, I knew, he would have burned them both in a small brick oven I had installed just for Anastasia’s letters, near the redwood gazebo by the duck pond. That was an expense I had never once come to regret.
Ah, Malaysia. Specifically, the island of Pulau Telega. What madness that had been. I’m still not sure what her plan was, creating an army of the undead—although to be honest, “army” is a bit of an overstatement. I myself had destroyed four of the creatures, and my compatriot on this adventure, Julian Bloch, had dispatched the remaining three. Hardly, as I said, an army by any definition of the word. Nevertheless, they were tenacious things, and neither bullet nor blade could do more than slow them in their unceasing attacks. Eventually we were forced to lure them into a wooden outbuilding which Anastasia had been utilizing as a chemical repository for her laboratory, where we bolted the creatures in and set fire to the entire structure. The combination of the raging inferno and the corrosive chemistry was enough to reduce the monsters to ash. Anastasia, of course, escaped during the battle in her dirigible, The Dawn Imperial.
Difficult to believe I had loved her once.
But that was before Pavullo nel Fignano.
Before the… incident.
I won’t speak of such things now, my friends. Now is a time of preparation for my upcoming adventure beneath the sea, and not for ruminations on a history that can never be remade. Today I am going to town to take possession of several Aran sweaters which have been custom made for me by a lovely Irish seamstress who still produces the garments in the fashion of her ancestors, by hand and utilizing many complex thread patterns. They are of course frightfully expensive, but should serve me well in keeping me warm once I am holed up inside the Aqua Hermitage. In all honesty, if any of you can afford to purchase such a wonderful article of clothing, I suggest that you do so. A hand-knit Aran never disappoints.
For now, I take my leave, and will provide further updates as time permits.
A Sound at the Window
I woke from a loud thump against my bedroom window this morning. and I was immediately alert, the Luger P08 I keep beneath my pillow already in my hand. Was Anastasia up to something? Was the mansion under attack?
But no, it was nothing so nefarious as that: it was only Rudolpho’s peregrine falcon, Lucious. The poor beast is possessed of questionable eyesight, not at all a prime example of the genetic wonders of his species. Rudolpho is enamored of the bird, faults and all, and will hear no arguments for his replacement.
I slid open the window and leaned out, looking down over the yard for my man Friday. “Rudolpho! Rudolpho! Blast it, man. You should get this bird a guide dog!”
Rudolpho appeared from around the corner of the house. “Apologies, sir. He has an attraction to your window that I am unable to understand.”
“It’s the garlic, I should think.”
“For the vampire bats, man. I hang it around the window, it keeps the bats away.”
“Of course, sir.”
I swatted at Lucious, but he took no notice of me. “Can you get him down? Don’t you have a bell to ring or a clicking noise or something that you can do to get him away from my damned window?”
Rudolpho took a small silver penny whistle from his breast pocket and blew a three-note tune. The falcon lifted his head and instantly took to the air, flying straight for my man, before the bird veered at the last moment and flew directly into a Rhododendron shrubbery. It cawed, or chirped, or whatever sound the damn thing makes, and Rudolpho went to rescue it.
“Rudolpho, we have two errands to undertake today. The first will be stopping at the candy shoppe for a bag of black licorice to take in the bathysphere. The second will be finding that blasted bird of yours a pair of spectacles.”
“He means well, sir.”
“He means to not let me get enough rest,” I said. “Thankfully I shall soon be underwater and safe from him, unless you’ve fashioned him a tiny avian scuba outfit.”
“I think you should be safe, sir.”
“I’ll be going back to bed now, and I would appreciate not being woken until the crack of noon. Please try to keep your bird on a tight leash until then, if you would be so kind.”
“Certainly, sir. And sir? The Ladies Auxiliary will be here today at eleven to view the rose garden. It might be wise of you to not come to the window without… your trousers, sir.”
“It’s my house and I’ll sleep in the nude if I so wish!”
“Besides, they’re widows. Certainly at some point in their lives they’ve seen a man without pants.”
“Perhaps not in the past forty years or so, sir. I’m not sure if their hearts could take it.”
“Hmm. Good point, Rudolpho. I shall keep that in mind. Carry on.”
“Yes, sir. Sleep well, sir.”
Some mornings, I swear upon Hipponax, I would take Anastastia over Lucious in a heartbeat.
Every Breath I Take
A regimen today of breathing exercises, to better my odds of survival should a tragic accident occur in the Aqua Hermitage during the coming month and force me to attempt to escape to the surface under my own energies. I have spent the past two weeks scheduling time in my indoor swimming pool, gradually expanding the maximum volume and efficiency of my lungs, through the following method: five inhalations and exhalations of gradually larger quantities of air, and then on the sixth breath, Rudolpho drops into my waiting arms a twenty-five pound medicine ball, which pulls me to the bottom of the pool without my having to expend any of my own energy to do so. I remain at the bottom of the pool for as long as I can before the burning in my chest forces my return to the surface.
It’s a crude method, to be certain, but since beginning my routine, I have extended my time without need of air from one minute to almost a minute and forty-five seconds. There are certainly no pearl divers in immediate danger of being replaced in their positions of employment, but not too shabby, I feel. I will continue my exercises in order to maximize my lung capacity before undertaking my adventure, but I doubt that I will ever reach a point where I could survive an emergency surfacing under my own ability alone. Hopefully if such a situation were to arise, I would be able to meet any rescuers halfway, and they would have brought a portable source of oxygen with them.
My major concern if there were to be a hull breach necessitating my emergency escape from the Aqua Hermitage would be decompression sickness–the bends. Normally, a diver utilizing a bathysphere would bring canisters of oxygen with him, and gradually release it into the submersible as needed, thereby maintaining the pressure within the bathysphere as equal to the surface from whence it was lowered. However, as I am spending a prolonged period in the Aqua Hermitage and haven’t the space for a great number of tanks, I will be receiving my air via an umbilicus from my ship on the surface, which requires the usage of compressed air in order to prevent my suffocating down below. Not to bore you with the science, but the result of this method is that the pressure inside the submersible becomes much higher than the surface world, and as a result necessitates a gradual ascent when I am at the end of my month-long stay. Failure to rise slowly, in carefully proscribed intervals, would result in bubbles of gas forming within my blood stream, causing all sorts of potentially fatal side effects.
This will not be a problem if all goes as planned, and I am raised up via the steel cable and winch on the conclusion of my undertaking. It will however be a very different story if I am in need of a speedy rescue.
Novel writing is a dangerous task.
Dickens could hold his breath for two minutes and twelve seconds. George Eliot was recorded at a time of two minutes, thirty-seven seconds (I attribute this to Eliot being a female, and having an expanded area in her bosom for oxygen storage, if I make my meaning clear). Hemingway once did a free dive and held his breath for well over three minutes, and rose to the surface with a small shark attached to one hand and a black pearl the size of a cantaloupe in the other.
I am hoping to break the two minute mark on my breathing exercises by Monday.
I regret having smoked so much at university.
Men Will Be Men
Rudolpho seemed quite chipper as we climbed into the bathysphere together for his two-day long test run in the Aqua Hermitage. The submersible is quite a bit larger than classic bathyspheres of history. Whereas the vehicle of pioneer explorers Beebe and Barton was a sphere of steel slightly less than five feet in diameter, the Aqua Hermitage runs nearly fifteen feet across, which is a luxury of space when compared to its forefathers. I believe the Soviets had designed it for a crew of four, in order to explore the Arctic depths, but by retrofitting it for the needs of one man for a prolonged period of time in shallow depths, my team has made it really quite cozy.
Although the submersible was not yet off the deck of the ship, the men above closed and sealed the hatch over our heads. The soft hiss of air being forced through the umbilicus could be heard. Rudolpho checked a few gauges to ensure a proper flow. All appeared as it should be.
“Rudolpho,” I said. “I’ve brought you a few items for your weekend that I thought might be of use to you.” I offered him the wicker picnic basket which I had personally prepared before leaving the manor.
“Very kind of you, sir.” He took the basket, and sat on the cot.
“Tosh,” I said. “You’re my best man. I must ensure that you are well taken care of. Have a look, and I believe you shall be pleased.”
“Sandwiches,” he said, rooting through the basket.
“Yes, of course. Peanut butter and strawberry jam. I made them myself this morning.”
“I’m allergic to peanuts, sir.”
“What? Nonsense. Since when?”
“Since always, sir.”
“Blast. My mistake, certainly. I’ll have those out then, fear not. I’m sure some of the men above will be pleased to have them. Well, there’s plenty of supplies here for you to survive the weekend on, no worries. Anyway, there’s more than sandwiches in there, Rudolpho, keep digging.”
“Can’t have you using mine. Poor hygiene there, you know.”
“Floss… condoms… condoms, sir? In a bathysphere?”
“Hygiene, Rudolpho, hygiene.”
“Of course, sir. Very handy if any mermaids stop by.”
“Never can tell.”
He pulled a book from the basket and held it up. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This is a series, sir. I’ve not read any of the other books yet, actually.”
“Doesn’t matter. Open it,” I said, which he did. “Hollowed out, you see. Had to leave you something and it was the only book in the house large enough to hold it.”
“Your Luger, sir?”
“Yes. If things should go a bit… spotty… down here, I wanted to give you the chance to take the man’s way out. One bullet, right in the brain. Quick and certain, much better than drowning.”
“You’re too kind, sir.”
“Nothing’s too good for my man Friday,” I said. I took the pistol from him and banged the butt of it against the submersible’s hatch. The men above opened it, and I handed the Luger back to Rudolpho. “There will be nothing to worry about. Everything down here seems ship shape. This will be like a holiday for you, I’m certain.”
“I’ve never had a holiday, sir.”
“Well you will now.” I started climbing the ladder out of the bathysphere, and shouted up at the men above, “Look sharp, everyone! Time to get this death trap into the water!” Once out, I peered down at Rudolpho and said, “Good luck, son. I’ll see you tomorrow night or in heaven, one or the other.” He made to reply to me, but suddenly I remembered something of great importance and shouted, just as the men were shutting the four hundred pound hatch, “Rudolpho! I almost forgot! Stay out of the third bin beneath the hot plate! It’s full of peanut brittle!”
The hatch closed with a reverberating clang, like a great bell.
“Or was it the second bin? Oh well, no matter. I’m sure he’ll figure it out.”
The manor is quiet tonight, almost disturbingly so. No sounds of pins falling from the basement bowling lane. No noise from the kitchen of late-night popcorn being popped. No music—if that’s what that noise can be called—from beyond closed doors.
It’s just not the same without Rudolpho here.
His absence is made all the more noticeable as I am no longer distracted by preparing the things that I will need to take with me into the Aqua Hermitage come Saturday morning. True, the submersible itself has already been stocked with the supplies which I will require to keep my body alive for my months long adventure beneath the sea. The care of my mind, however, is something that only I myself can properly prepare for.
As my time underwater is supposed to be spent productively on the creation of novels and stories, items for my own distraction will be very scant indeed: several sketch pads, as well as pencils and charcoal, for recording any interesting aquatic life forms that swim past my portholes; copies of both Euclid’s Elements and Milne’s The House On Pooh Corner; twelve small boxes of modeling clay, of various colors; one of those quaint top-hatted glass birds that endlessly bob up and down into a glass of water; and a small jade tortoise, a gift from a dear lady friend, whom I haven’t seen in well over a year, but whose heart I keep in my own no matter the time that passes.
My personal electronics specialist, Otto von Schöenknecht, has provided me with a computer of his own construction, optimized for literary efforts exclusively. It plays no movies, has no speakers for music playback, and although I have an internet connection in the bathysphere via the umbilicus, I can only access Wikipedia, my email account and a small selection of writing reference and community sites, should I have need of communication with other writers during this period. Otto has supplied me with a selection of replacement tubes and bellows for the computer, in case something should break and needs replacing. I’m not completely hopeless when it comes to mechanical devices, and so I should be able to keep the computer in good working order until my adventure is over. I also have two blank leatherbound notebooks, should the computer overheat or the oil in it runs low, with which I can complete my task. I am not afraid of writing in longhand, and my handwriting is clear enough that my secretary will have no trouble transcribing my novel to the typewritten word upon my return to the surface.
I wonder what Rudolpho is doing right now? Is he thinking of me?
The house is so hollow without him.
I must have a snifter of brandy now, or I shall never get to sleep this evening. My mind is preoccupied.
Tomorrow is, as has been said, another day.
The Only Woman I Have Ever Truly Loved
I took Lucious for a walk this afternoon, which is to say that I walked while he traveled in a large iron cage, which I carried with me. The bird isn’t fond of anyone attempting to touch him but Rudolpho, and as Rudolpho is at the bottom of the San Francisco Bay at the moment, that certainly won’t be happening today. I’ve seen what the falcon can do to a piece of raw chicken, and I have no interest in discovering if he can do similar things to my fingers. Rudolpho offered to have one of his falconer friends watch the bird, but I wouldn’t hear of it. If my man is putting his life in danger for me, then the least I can do is care for his falcon over a two-day span of time. I beat with my bare knuckles Barlowe “The Potato” Porotowski, I’m sure I can handle one little bird without much trouble.
In my pocket, I carried the small jade tortoise I would be taking into the Aqua Hermitage along with me. Since taking it from the drawer in my desk, I’ve been unable to stop thinking of Kameko Takeshita, and I have made a promise to myself to get in touch with her once this month’s adventure is completed, as I will have some time before any further obligations require my attention. There was much left unsaid when we parted, but when you’ve just decapitated a woman’s father, robbed her of an ancient and unfathomably valuable Masamune katana, and set fire to her ancestral home, sometimes words simply don’t need to be spoken.
She is the only woman I have truly ever loved.
Which reminds me, I must remember to send Katya Grogov two dozen red roses tomorrow, before seeing to Rudolpho’s removal from the bathysphere. Her birthday is on Halloween, and ever since the unfortunate events of her twenty-fourth birthday of three years ago, I send her an equal number of roses to the number of years she lived before I came into her life, crushed her mother beneath a marble boulder in Karelia, Russia, removed a stunning and priceless Boucheron engraved diamond necklace from her vault, and set fire to her ancestral home.
She is the only woman I have truly ever loved.
Also, Anastasia Valentine.
The only women I have truly ever loved.
Oh, and Julianne Chaubrotte. Brother shot through eye, Rembrandt recovered for museum, and fire set to her ancestral home.
Such fine, wonderful women.
Such highly flammable homes.
When last I saw Felicia Lafayette, she was knee-deep in the autumn surf off the coast of Kodiak, Alaska, the hem of her dress pulled up high around her waist, the pale skin of her legs speckled with goosebumps and a spattering of dark sand. We had heard rumors circulating amongst the members of the Scientia Simiae that there had been a sighting made of the rare Hemigrapsus Mathusala, the Methuselah crab, and so of course an expedition had to be undertaken. As any first year alchemist knows, the blue blood of the Methuselah crab can be distilled and combined with various other reagents to form an elixir, which when swallowed will extend the life of the imbiber by anywhere between fifty and two hundred years. I can of course not reveal any of the reagents to you, dear reader, for I have signed the Black Covenant with my own red blood, and am therefore sworn to secrecy, a bond I may have just broken by mentioning the Hemigrapsus Mathusala in the first place. I shall have to consult counsel on the matter, and get back to you.
At any rate, Felicia and I did not find any evidence of that particular crab along the shore, although there had been a strange die off of various other local species in the week that we were researching. The sad and numerous corpses kept washing ashore with the waves, a veritable feast for the native birds. However, as vast and pungent a seafood buffet it was, the gulls and pelicans would have nothing to do with the dead crabs, and remained at a distance from their bodies, which lay rotting in heaps along the beach.
“I don’t understand this, Sebastian,” Felicia said loudly over the sound of the surf. A lock of her red hair hung like silk across her face, and for not the first time, I was struck by her beauty. The fact that, due to the height at which her dress was raised, I could see her short tantō dagger strapped to her left thigh, only added to her allure. “A die off of this magnitude isn’t all that rare, but those birds will have nothing to do with them. There’s something not right about this.”
“Come ashore,” I said. “I doubt there’s anything wrong with the water, but it’s better not to take chances.”
At that moment, there came a great commotion from the birds at our perimeter, and I turned my eyes away from Felicia and to the shore behind us. The gulls had begun flapping about, as though participants in some crazed modern dance, hearing music which only they could hear, and were crashing forcefully into one another without ever leaving the ground. Then, as though the song had reached its end, the birds all fell to the sand as one, a marvelous display of avian choreography, with points only detracted from the final score due to the fact that all the participants in the dance were dead before they hit they ground.
“I say,” I in fact said, “that was most unexpected. What’s your opinion of that, Felicia?” I turned to hear her response to my question.
There was no sign of Felicia. Where she had only moments before stood in the sea, not more than ten feet from me, there was now nothing but empty water. Her tantō lay in the sand at my feet. I bent to take it, and slipped the blade into my belt.
Three years before, while mapping the miles of dusty catacombs below the abandoned city of Yaxha in Guatemala, my companion, Harford Moreau, had fallen into a bottomless pit… never to be seen again.
Two years before, while bringing much-needed medical supplies to a British team camped at the base of Mount Erebus on the Antarctic continent, my companion, Hercules Floret, had slipped our tether and wandered off into a blinding snowstorm… never to be seen again.
One year before, while translating an ancient book of the dead from the First Age, my companion, Colette Rothstein, had opened an inter-dimensional portal and been sucked through a pinpoint singularity into an alternate world, where the seas are made of children’s dreams, the bearded Abraham Lincoln murdered smooth-chinned President John Wilkes Booth, and the internet was only a passing fad… never to be seen again.
“Not this time,” I swore to myself. “This time, I will search the earth and the heavens until I find you, Felicia Lafayette. There will be no stone left unturned, no shipping crate unopened, no expensive Italian restaurant uneaten in, until I find you. On the eyes of my mother, whomever she may be, I will find you.”
It was a Tuesday.
Three days later, mermaids were nibbling on my toes in the sunken city of Llys Helig.
But that, my friends, is a story to be continued…
Villainy has struck.
We have just now raised the bathysphere from the Bay, to release Rudolpho from the watery depths, and when the hatch was opened…
Empty. The Aqua Hermitage was empty.
No, not completely empty. There was a note:
I did ask you to call an end to this ridiculous plan of yours, did I not? Yes, I most certainly did, and since you have chosen to disregard my warning to you, I have gone ahead and taken matters into my own hands.
It’s a shame we couldn’t have settled this little disagreement in a more mature manner.
As always, I remain,
All the supplies. My computer. My peanut brittle. My man Friday.
I took a moment, and then drew myself to my full height and addressed the crew. “Men! We have suffered a great loss here today, of this there is no question. Our work has been compromised, and our brother taken from us, alive or dead, I do not know which. I do know one thing, however, and that is that we shall not falter. We have been wounded, but we are not lost. Rudolpho would not want us to lose faith in ourselves or in our mission. He would want us to go on, to avenge his fate by completing the best novel written in a Soviet bathysphere in the history of literature. He would demand this of us. You there,” I said, pointing at one of my men (I don’t know which; I can’t remember everyone’s name, and besides, all of these graduate students look the same to me, unless they are beautiful women, which none of these were). “Hurry into town, and bring back all of the canned tuna and mayonnaise which you can find. And you! Find me a stationary store and purchase ten black ballpoint pens, any brand will do, and five reams of lined college ruled paper. You! Basic assorted toiletries, including something for jock itch, which is not for me, but rather for a friend, only I shall be holding on to it until I return to the surface world. You! A laptop computer, any brand will do, and send my apologies to Otto for the loss of his fine piece of electronics which was stolen from me. And you! Fetch me more peanut brittle, man.”
We are not defeated.
We are merely inconvenienced.
Also, one of us may be dead.
So… well… yes.
At the Stroke of Midnight
And down I go…
At exactly midnight, the eleventh of October, in the Year of Our Lord 2014, I was lowered alone in my Soviet-made bathysphere beneath the San Francisco Bay, somewhere between Alcatraz and Angel Island State Park, for the purpose of seclusion while writing a novel. Why?
Because I never refuse a challenge.
Here is what I have with me in the submersible: forty-two cans of StarKist tuna; six jars of mayonnaise; ten black ballpoint pens; two thousand five hundred sheets of college ruled paper; a MacBook Pro; a toothbrush (Rudolpho’s, not mine–poor hygiene to use it, but better than nothing); the pants, shirts and socks from four graduate students (all from my team, all of similar body size to myself, but not their underwear–I shall be going “commando,” I believe is the term); and four packs of cigarettes (I do not smoke, but the students from my team seemed so pleased to give them to me that I couldn’t refuse their gift).
I have no can opener.
I will cross that bridge when I come to it.
But for now…
… I write.
The first day’s writing is going extremely well. My spelling is impeccable, my grammar unshakably sound, my narrative absolutely stellar. Everything is proceeding brilliantly. So why am I feeling so discouraged this evening? Rudolpho, obviously. I am concerned about Rudolpho.
Certainly, Anastasia would not have murdered the poor man. To do so would have brought my full wrath down upon her, and even she wouldn’t be so bold as to think that I wouldn’t seek vengeance for such a terrible act of evil.
And yet… could she have? I’ve always known that she danced along the edge of madness. Could she finally have slipped her ropes completely? The signs have always been there. The paranoia. The unpredictable anger. The things she likes to do in bed. The refusal to invest in a 401k. The insistence that Dick Sargent was the superior Darrin Stephens.
Anything is possible.
I can’t obsess, however. I am committed to this project, and no matter what has happened to Rudolpho, terminal or otherwise, there’s nothing I can do until December. I will have to trust that Anastasia still maintains at least a tenuous grasp on sanity, and carry on with my writing.
There will be time for vengeance later, if that is what will be required of me.
For now, I have another chapter to get down.
The adventure continues.
Eight Arms to Hold You
This cephalopod is over eighty years old, although as it is pickled in a jar in my library, perhaps I am being over-generous to say anything other than it is perhaps more accurately roughly seventy-eight years dead.
When I die (or should I say “if”), I should like to be placed into a large glass jar, and to be put on display for those of sharp scientific minds to contemplate. A final gift to the world, which has gifted so much of itself to me.
The day’s writing on the novel is complete, and yet here I sit, writing still, although now I write for my own purpose, and not for the adventure. The computer is for the novel, but the ink and paper are for my own thoughts and notes on life. I find the slower and more deliberate pace of handwriting appealing to me when reflecting on my own past. Not all of it will I transfer here, but the things that I think will be use or helpful in understanding the larger picture I will endeavor to make available for your reading.
It’s colder in the bathysphere than I thought it would be. My team had installed a heater when retrofitting the submersible, but of course it was taken when Anastasia ransacked it. I do have a few blankets, and they will suffice until the end of the month comes around. I have survived with far less, and this cold is merely an annoyance, and not a threat.
It’s difficult to know where to begin when talking about her. She has been such a part of my life over the years, and not always an unwelcome one, either. In the beginning, things were quite the opposite of where they are today. In the beginning, we were… more than I wish to write here. Suffice it to say that if there is one person in the world who is the complimentary soul to your own, then Anastasia was mine.
I can remember the day I first saw her, beautiful in her black velvet top hat and taffeta traveling suit and button-down leather boots. We were both in the same shop, I picking up the walking stick that I still have today, the one with the silver blade hidden within, and she there to collect a parasol which had been similarly equipped. We fell into a discussion of knives, which led to dinner and drinks, which further led to several consecutive evenings in her bedchamber.
These were stupendous times.
I made my living then as I do now, adventuring, and Anastasia found fortune in the sciences. We undertook many an exploration together—plundering the sunken galleon of the ghost pirate Black Eye Gladwell, surveying the Planalto da Morte in South America and escaping its population of still-living thunder lizards, locating the Irish cavern called Cruachan and battling the Tuatha Dé Danann who reside within—and always through a combination of my brawn and manliness and Anastasia’s intellect and scientific acumen, we would emerge triumphant and frequently financially better off than before we had begun. As a partner, there was no one better than Anastasia.
Everything fell apart, of course. Everything always does. At least I know what caused our collapse as partners, friends, and lovers.
I blame Hitler.
I have noticed that the interior of the hull, in the areas that were once hidden by dials and gauges and equipment, all taken by Anastasia, is covered in a most hypnotic pattern of ridges and whorls, perhaps a defect in the casting of the bathysphere. I have begun allowing myself a fifteen minute break every hour from writing for the purpose of making rubbings (or the best approximation of, as I am limited to the use of ballpoint pens in lieu of charcoal), and then affixing these pieces of paper to the walls with a combination of earwax and tuna juice (the tuna cans open easily enough when placed beneath the edge of the panel covering the moon pool, which I then jump upon with my full weight). It’s starting to look almost homey in here.
I must say that the computer I have been provided is a wonderful contraption, but I do miss the one Otto fabricated for me. The soothing sound of its steamworks hissing quietly as it worked was one of its best features, really. This one is very sleek and modern, but there are too many bells and whistles for my taste. I wasted too much time this afternoon playing with something called “YouTube,” which is apparently a repository for every home movie which anyone has ever filmed. Also, did you know that dogs are riding skateboards these days? Evolution at its best!
And now I must return to the novel. I’ve a good pace going for myself, and I don’t want to lose the light, so to speak.
Further updates to follow.
The Infinity Clock
I remember, many year ago, watching a film about an archeologist who fights Nazis in the desert, and discovers a powerful ancient artifact with the ability to destroy anything that crosses the path of the one who carries it.
Funny story about that.
It’s fairly common knowledge at this point in history that Adolf Hitler had, shall we say, more than a slight interest in paranormal objects and rituals. He was, to be blunt, a bit potty. However, a mild case of total and absolute insanity does not preclude the actual existence of such fanciful things. There are more things in heaven and earth and whatever the rest of that blasted line says, I’ve forgotten what, but I’m sure you catch my meaning.
Anastasia had discovered in the library of a particularly evil man, who shall remain nameless for the purpose of avoiding a libel lawsuit, a certain book written by a certain author regarding a certain artifact which, one could be certain, was certainly of interest to a certain dictator who was certainly certifiable. This artifact?
Die Uhr der Unendlichkeit.
The Infinity Clock.
According to what Anastasia had discovered in the book, the Clock had the power to move whoever possessed it through time, either forwards or backwards, or to merely stop the moment he was in, and to hold it frozen until the wielder of the clock allowed the rest of the universe to continue on. Apparently, the book indicated, Hitler had an interest in possessing this clock, for all sorts of nefarious ruling the world sorts of things. Dream big, I suppose.
Now, feel free to laugh about this entire thing, because God knows that I did. “You must be joking,” I said to Anastasia. “A magic time-stopping clock? We don’t have time for such ridiculous nonsense. We’ve got to be on the next plane for South America to go document the last living dinosaurs in the world, and we shouldn’t be wasting our time chasing Hitler’s imaginary Mickey Mouse watch.”
“You don’t understand, Sebastian,” she said. “Finding that clock would allow me to go back in time, back before…”
“Before what?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said, after a long pause. “Never mind.”
She would speak no more of it, and to be honest I didn’t seriously try to pull it out of her, either. I was far too caught up in preparation for the dinosaur expedition, and I had no time to invest in thinking of a time clock. Porters don’t hire themselves, you know, and the ones that will go on an expedition into dinosaur country certainly don’t come cheap.
Two weeks later, after a narrow escape from a crazed mother Allosaurus who was trying to protect her nest from our pilfering for science’s sake, and the loss of two of our porters—the slowest and most rotund, I should say—, was the only other time Anastasia spoke to me of the Clock.
“I’m going to look for it,” she said, the campfire light sparkling in her dark eyes. “When we get back, whether you help me or not.”
“Look for what?” I asked, wiping the grease from my chin (if you ever have the opportunity to dine on freshly killed Sinosauropteryx, I highly suggest you do so; oddly enough, it doesn’t taste at all like chicken, even though the thing is feathered; if anything, it tastes more like the corpse of a best friend, a friend you would have died for, except that he died first, and when you’re stranded in the middle of the Indian Ocean without food or water and only the barest hope for survival, you’ll do what you have to in order to survive, and there’s not a maritime court in the world that would say otherwise).
“Sebastian? Sebastian, are you listening to me?”
“What? Yes, of course. Sorry. Drifted off there a moment. What were you saying?”
“The Clock,” she said. “Die Uhr der Unendlichkeit. When we get back I’m going to find it.”
“Darling, there is no such thing,” I said, taking another leg from the Sinosauropteryx and having a bite. “If Hitler had had such a device, we’d all be speaking German right now.”
“Entschuldigung, koennten Sie bitte den Schnaps herueber reichen?” asked one of the porters
“Ja, den haette ich auch gerne,” said another.
“What?” I asked. “I don’t speak bloody German.”
“The Schnapps, Sebastian,” Anastasia said. “They want the Schnapps.”
“What? Oh yes, of course.” I handed the bottle to the first porter (making a mental note to avoid hiring internationally when in need of porters in the future, or at least those who didn’t speak the Queen’s English).
“According to the book,” Anastasia went on, “I should begin looking in Switzerland.”
“Switzerland?” I exclaimed. “Who in their right mind would look for a clock in Switzerland?”
“I’m going,” she said. “Whether you like it or not.”
“Do what you think best,” I said. “You’re headstrong and impulsive. It’s one of the things that first drew me to you.”
“Those are two things, Sebastian.”
“Math was never my strongest suit,” I said. “Adventuring is.”
She sighed. “Goodnight, Sebastian,” she said, and then turned away from the fire and feigned sleep, a tactic she frequently used to convince herself that she had won an argument, when all it did was make me want to drink everything in sight until I passed out.
“You there, bratwurst,” I said to the first porter. “Give me back my Schnapps. This is going to be an unpleasant evening.”
Boone Novak’s Dream Journal 10-14-14
For some reason, I am riding a sheep through the middle of some big city someplace, I think on the east coast. New York maybe, or at least a dream version of it. There is garbage stacked up all along the curb, bags and bags of it, spilling over into the street. A garbage strike? People walk along the sidewalk, throwing more and more trash onto the piles, handfuls of paper, bags of rotten fruit. The smell is incredible.
I realize that the sheep I am riding is suddenly the size of a city bus. The ground shakes when it takes a step, and small avalanches of empty milk cartons and fast food bags tumble from the garbage heaps and to the pavement. I am so high up that I find I can see into the windows of the apartments on the second floors of the buildings around me.
Behind one window is a bathtub, and there is a nude woman in it, completely under the water. I know with a certainty that only comes from dream logic that she is sleeping, like a fish under the sea (I have been on the bay myself for twelve hours watching the air pump for the bathysphere, maybe that’s why I’m dreaming of water now).
Through another window, instead of an apartment, there is a field of green grass, and a cloudy sky hovering over the field’s (apartment’s) horizon. Another woman is sitting on the grass, her arms outstretched to either side, and although she is facing me, she has her head tipped back so that all I can see is the underside of her chin and dark hair, which spills over her chest. Even though it’s a different apartment I’m looking into, I know that this woman is the same woman who is asleep in the bathtub next door.
The sheep lumbers past one more window, and inside this one is the boat I am on, the yacht, on the bay now. I sleep below decks in the ship’s very comfortable sleeping quarters, but in my dream I am asleep on the moonlit deck, and not alone: the woman from the other two apartments is sitting cross-legged with me, and I am on my back with my head in her lap. She has her hands in my hair, and her face is again turned away from my dreaming eyes.
The sheep suddenly opens his mouth and releases a deafening bleat, loud enough to send ripples across the surface of the water. While my sleeping self does not respond to the noise, my dreaming self on the back of the sheep does, putting my hands over my ears, trying to block the sounds like a sailor against an ancient siren’s call. The sheep bleats again, and the yacht begins to spin slowly in the water, moving against the pressure of the sound. Once more the sheep blasts its call, and this time I wake in the cabin I rotate through with the other members of Sebastian’s team, knowing where I am but not, for a moment, who I am. I still hear the sound of the sheep blaring through the room, only quieter now than it was, and I realize that the noise was the alarm beside the bed, absorbed and transformed in my dream into the bleating of the animal. It’s five in the morning, and time for me to go and relieve Lewis topside.
I don’t know why I’m supposed to keep this record of my dreams.
This is the weirdest internship I’ve ever had.
Neptune Babbage’s Texts 10-16-14
Neptune: I am bored off my ass out here. I didn’t really think this job out very well.
Neptune: Plus I’m seasick.
Ginny: You’re a delicate flower. Everyone says so.
Neptune: It’s true. I should be in a hothouse.
Ginny: Like one of those nasty flowers that only bloom every hundred years and smell like decomposing bodies.
Neptune: Yeah, just like that.
Neptune: My high school guidance counselor told me that was what I was best suited for.
Ginny: I bet you didn’t even have to study for that. You’re naturally fragrant.
Neptune: You must approve of my scent. You are dating me after all.
Ginny: I’m only into you for your money.
Ginny: How much are you being paid for this gig again?
Neptune: Well-paid. Like serious internship money. Definitely going to get rich.
Neptune: Thurston Howell the Third rich.
Neptune: Which is why I’m fishing off the side of the boat while we speak.
Neptune: Hoping to catch dinner.
Neptune: No. They’re providing us with groceries. Mostly things in cans and boxes, but it’s still better than what I usually eat.
Ginny: You eat like a fifteen year old boy.
Ginny: Raised by wolves.
Ginny: Wolves with eating disorders.
Neptune: You love me.
Neptune: Gotta go check the equipment. Miss me while I’m gone.
Ginny: I miss your stink already.
Neptune: True love.
The Infinity Clock – Part Two
When we returned from the Planalto da Morte, Anastasia wasted no time in preparing for her search for Die Uhr der Unendlichkeit. We had barely even entered the manor before she was in the basement storeroom, pulling supplies out of every cranny.
“We haven’t even showered yet,” I said. “We both still reek of velociraptor. Can’t we discuss this?”
“There’s nothing to discuss,” she said. “If you won’t come with me then I will have to go it alone.”
“You won’t even tell me why it’s so important to find this clock.”
She turned to face me. “For the adventure, Sebastian. Always for the adventure.”
I crossed my arms. “It didn’t sound much like you were interested in it for the adventure when you spoke of it back in the jungle.”
She sighed and passed a kerosene lamp from one hand to the other. “I can’t tell you my reasons.”
“Can’t, or won’t?”
“Alright then. Won’t.”
“Do you even have any proof of the clock’s existence?”
“I have the book,” Anastasia said.
“One book. Written by a madman, about another madman’s obsession. That hardly qualifies as scientific proof, you know.”
She put the lamp into a small crate. “Sometimes proof isn’t in your hands,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just in your gut.”
“Anastasia,” I said. She didn’t reply. I put my hands on her shoulders and turned her to face me. She regarded me haughtily, and I well knew that determined look in her eyes. She was my match in all things, stubbornness included. “I’ll go,” I said. Her gaze softened, and I repeated, “I’ll go.”
“You will?” she asked. “Sebastian, will you?”
I nodded. “Of course I will. You took a bullet for me once. I think I rather owe you for that.”
“It got stuck in Ponce de Leon’s journal. Never even made it halfway through, thank God for his verbosity.”
“Fine then,” I said. “I’ll do it for love.”
“Oh, that’s a much better reason to give in to my demands.” She draped her arms around my neck and kissed me on the mouth. “You always were an idiot for a beautiful woman.”
“My darling Anastasia,” I said. “You are the only woman I have truly ever loved.”
“I bet you say that to all the girls.”
“Not all,” I said. “There is one thing I must demand before we undertake this adventure of yours.”
“You have to let me pack.” I waved my hand at the six crates of supplies she’d put together already. “You always overdress for every occasion.”