Death in Venice

Well, it wasn’t Venice; it was Pordenone. And it wasn’t death; it was a close encounter. But A Close Encounter in Pordenone doesn’t capture the attention like Death in Venice. Plus it’s not the title of a semi well-known German Novella and Italian Art Film, so there’s that.

Now that I have your attention, let me spin you a tale, one of danger, pride, and ambition, but also of nimble mind, courage and, ultimately, salvation.

Many years ago, I found myself at nineteen years of age in Italy. Armed with a two month intensive immersion in Italian, I was serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A day after arriving at the Venice airport (hah! see there is a Venice connection), I was shipped off to Pordenone.

Pordenone is a smallish town located a few miles from Venice.

You can see Pordenone just above the green A28 sign.

I was assigned to work with a more experienced missionary named Kevin Call. Kevin was a great guy (he had the right first name anyway) and the day I arrived at our apartment two days after I had landed in Italy, he took me out to meet people and talk to them. Well, he talked to them; I struggled to identify a word or two and when I attempted to employ my vast knowledge of Italian it sounded like this “I Elder Bates to speak to you if you to want to.” Yes, as you can imagine there were lots of curious looks and requests to Kevin Call to translate.

Anyway, our apartment was located on Via Galileo Galilei in the town of Pordenone.

This is not a contemporary photo from when I was there, but I’m pretty sure these were the apartments.

We didn’t have a car. We traveled on bikes (in bicicletta) as they say. And that fact is important to the story. It is also important to know that when we went out speaking to people we stayed out until 9:00 pm or so. That first night I was out was in mid September. Which means it was dark by the time we were ready to turn in. Remember that: it was dark.

It is also important to know that I wore a dark suit and rode a black bicycle.

That’s me on the right with my trusty early 1900’s era bike. Dark suit. Black bike with no headlight. But a really cool tie.

Not shown in the picture above is one other piece of clothing I had on that first night: a black overcoat.

One more visual is necessary for the story.

This was the road we traveled to arrive at our apartment. From here we had to turn left to get to our street.

You can see above the street we rode on to our apartment. As noted, we had turn left to get to our place. Please observe how many street lights line the road.

Okay, now it’s night. I’m following Kevin Call to our apartment and since it’s my first night in the city I have absolutely no clue where I’m going. Following Kevin Call; that’s what I’m doing. Now picture the above road at night. In my black suit and black overcoat I’m on my black bike (with no headlight) riding along the right side of the road.

I’m tooling along watching Kevin in front of me. Without any warning, Kevin darts off to the left to make the turn to our apartment. Now, I’m in a strange town, in a foreign country. I have no clue where I’m at and if I lose Kevin Call, I am completely lost. I don’t know my address and even if I did no one would understand me if I tried to ask for directions. So, I have to follow him. Fortunately the truck oncoming in the left lane looks like it’s far enough away that I can make it across. I glance back and see another oncoming truck in the right lane, but I can avoid that one as well.

I quickly then dart to the center of the road. I look up. The oncoming truck was travelling much faster than I thought. I couldn’t make it across.

My first thought is to zip back to the other side of the road. But there’s a truck coming up behind me. No time to get back. My best bet is to ride the center line and pray.

The drivers of both trucks lay on their horns. The trucks arrive at the same time. Blinding lights and blaring horns. My overcoat whips around me. The wind of their passing causes me to wobble. Then they’re gone.

Kevin Call later tells me he was sure I was dead. I was sure I was dead. But no, thanks to the drivers’ skill, my luck and divine intervention, I lived another day. Needless to say that is one of my more vivid memories of my time in Italy. I have a few more and Kevin Call is involved in one of them. But that’s a story for another day.

I, Philistine

phil·is·tine/ˈfiləˌstēn/

noun

  1. a person who is hostile or indifferent to culture and the arts, or who has no understanding of them.

Okay, so I’m not really indifferent to culture and the arts and while many question my understanding, I do have some. Understanding, that is. Just don’t try to confirm that with anyone who knows me well.

In any event, I propose to expand the definition a tad, because with my proposed expansion, philistine fits me well. I would add “indifference to wild animals.” So, yeah, I’m a philistine. Which is not to say I feel hostility to animals in the wild or want to do them harm, like say, shoot them (hi Rick!), but neither do their presence make my heart pound with excitement they way they do to some people (again, hi, Rick!). (Yes, yes, Rick falls in both categories. He loves seeing wild animals and he shoots them. Not always the same ones, mind you, but still. It kind of reminds me of a fictitious advertisement for the Navy I ran across many years ago.)

Fake poster recreated from memory. This is what passed for memes in my (very ancient now) day.

So, again I don’t have anything against (or for) animals in the wild, only, as the definition implies, I don’t really care whether I see them. I like to think wild animals and I have a symmetric relationship. They care as much about seeing me as I do about seeing them.

Now, I know you’re asking, Kev (in my head that’s what you all call me) how did you discover this about yourself. Funny you should ask. I was just about to explain.

The Lovely Marianne and I have have visited Yellowstone National Park three times in the last three years. Once in winter once in spring and once in summer. The differences between winter on the one hand and spring and summer on the other are stark.

Marianne in the Park, lovely in spring or winter

But there is a constant in any season. Traffic jams. Ah, I can hear you now,”Traffic jams in the winter? How is that possible? I can almost understand traffic jams in the summer, but winter? I used to enjoy your posts, but now you’re just making stuff up!” Not so, my friends. In the winter I said and in the winter I meant. And summer, winter, spring or fall, the cause is always the same–wildlife.

Picture this: you’re driving along admiring the scenery excited to get to Yellowstone Falls, or Old Faithful, or Norris Basin, when break lights flare up and everyone stops.

There they are, stopped.

Why? Because someone spotted, or think they spotted, or wanted to spot a __________ (fill in the blank with your favorite animal).

Ants?

Well, maybe not ants, but anything else. In the case of the jam pictured above, it was a bear.

Do you see a bear? Yeah, neither did we.

Or at least that was the rumor we heard from others who pulled off the road with us. “Oh, you just missed it!” Right. According to one of the crowd, the bear had disappeared into the brush on the left seconds before we exited our car. I remained dubious.

On occasion, very rare occasion, even I, philistine that I am, concede a traffic jam is unavoidable. When a buffalo ambles down the road in the oncoming traffic lane, okay, everybody has to slow down.

Yeah, that’s an exception.

But otherwise, seriously? Here for example.

See that black lump? That’s a bear. But I only learned that from someone with binoculars.

Okay, I see that is some form of animal, but really, from that distance without magnification, I would have no idea.

Bison are everywhere in the park. We stopped to use the potty at one point and this guy just wandered into my path, grazing away.

I didn’t approach the wildlife, honest. He approached me.

So, I have to ask, why does a line of cars come to a complete halt for this?

Home on the range where the buffalo roam.

And yes, as I said, winter is just as bad. Our snowmobile group halted on numerous occasions because people were so excited to see animals.

The ubiquitous buffalo (or bison if you’re pretentious) and something else eating another something else.
The Lovely Marianne. Oh, and an elk in the background.

My philisitinism gradually surfaced as I examined my reactions to these constant, interminable slow downs. “For cryin’ out loud, it’s just a buffalo!” Or fill in the blank with your own least favorite animal. After a while (say midway through our first day in the park) I realized I didn’t care about the wildlife. I wanted to see a geyser. By the end of the first day, I knew what I was.

This is how ridiculous it gets. On our way back to West Yellowstone one evening cars in front of us slowed then stopped. At the Lovely Marianne’s urging, we pulled over and mingled with the crowd peering in the dusk for wildlife.

I don’t see any. Do you?

As you do in those situations when the reason for the gathering was not immediately apparent, I asked one of the crowd what everyone was looking at. “The sunset,” she said. “Isn’t it pretty?”

Yes, it was.

I lifted my eyes to the horizon. Yep, it was gorgeous. My impatience slackened. I had nowhere else to be. So, the Lovely Marianne and I lingered and enjoyed the show. It was spectacular, even without wildlife.

Lincoln in the Bardo

This was our latest book. In order to get this announcement you have to be familiar with the book. This is another attempt at mimicking a book’s style.

Dear all, last night sleep escaped me, so I took a midnight stroll. Crossing Falcon Park, I paused, chilled, at whispers swirling around me. I rushed home and recorded what I recalled.

I hear there will be—
patrick estrada

A meeting.
jane vargas

Would you quit—
patrick estrada

Interrupting you?
jane vargas

She’s yanking your chain, man. I think it’s funny.
jerry owens

I’m aware. It’s not amusing. Yes, a meeting. A book club meeting.
patrick estrada

Aptly named, for us, that book club—Thanatopsis, a contemplation on death.
jane vargas

Hey, speak for yourself. I’m not dead, just not been feeling myself lately.
jerry owens

Not feeling yourself or anything else. I think we should attend.
jane vargas

If you have a mind to, I have it on good authority the meeting will be held at 7:30 on Tuesday, July 28 and—
patrick estrada

They will discuss Lincoln in the Bardo at Nancy’s home.
jane vargas

Heh, there she goes again.
jerry owens

I do not have to put up with this. I am leaving. Do not pursue me Mrs. Vargas.
patrick estrada

The voices faded with the last comment and the air warmed appreciably. I transcribe here only what I heard. Make of it what you will.

Puzzled at the vaugeries and expanse of the universe and all the wonders it contains,
I remain, your humble, befuddled, servant,
The Girl.

A Matter of Time

The kernel of this story has been rattling around in my head for years. A couple of months ago, I started writing it, but was stuck after the first few paragraphs. I’d had an idea, but it wasn’t yet a story. I think I made the transition. What do you think?

A Matter of Time

Isabella said it was a terrible idea, but I went ahead anyway. Her wisdom and foresight became evident at sundown when Chester shied at a rattlesnake, stepped in a hole, and broke his leg. I rose from where I were throwed, slapped dust from my clothes and considered my poor animal. On the ground, eyes rolled up, good legs scrambling in the dirt, he whinnied in pain, muscles on his flank twitching and jumping.

It pained me. He had been an obedient horse, and I had nothing to ease his suffering. I could not bear to hear his torture, so I loosed the tie strap, gathered what little food was in the saddlebags and set off toward home. When Chester’s cries no longer echoed in my ears, I stopped and took stock.

The day had burned down to coals, leaving only an orange-red band on the western horizon. But a half moon rose in a clear sky—plenty of light for walking. Bedding down was an uncomfortable possibility—uncomfortable because even in high summer under the crystal sky the temperature would drop. I had no bedding. Tomorrow would be hard—all day in the sun.

Or I could start walking now. Home by midmorning, Isabella wondering where her fool husband had gotten off to this time. I grimaced, seeing her scolding face.

Walk now or walk later.

I set off. Exertion would keep me warm in the night, and my daytime travel would be in the morning before the proper heat. At a nice, even pace, I fell into a waking dream. A zephyr shushed the low scrub and an occasional owl hooted in search of a meal. Alone beneath the heavenly vault, I imagined myself separated from time and space. This confession will no doubt surprise people of my acquaintance, for I have never been one to philosophize or daydream, but I relate only what happened.

I came to myself as I started up a slight rise, crunching on gravel. At this unexpected sensation, I stopped. Gravel? Was I in a stream bed? A glance revealed me to be on a gravel covered embankment on top of which….

I squinted in the meager light, unsure of what I saw. Black. As black as a moonless night sky, a flat strip of something topped the rise. I had never seen the like. Scrambling to the top, I stood on the edge of that strip. It extended to my right and left, disappearing into the distance. Hesitantly, I touched the substance with the toe of my boot. Hard and unyielding, it didn’t move at my touch. I stepped on the surface.

Down the middle of the strip someone had painted white lines, but the paint was unfamiliar. It glowed in the moonlight, reflecting unlike any other paint I knew of. The lines were straight and even, extending the ribbon’s length, but spaced out like a bunch of dashes. And on each side of the Ribbon an unbroken strip of the same paint stretched to the horizon. The amount of paint on that ribbon even only along the ribbon’s length in my view was enormous.

I was flummoxed. Who had put this flat black ribbon here and how had I never seen it before? What purpose did it serve?

*

I could not keep my eyes open. It occurred to me that Mari had been right—stopping in Page would have been an excellent idea. I glanced at the clock on the dash—1:45 am and Kanab still a half hour away. With stars sprinkled in a night sky, a half moon, and an economics podcast my only companions, my head was heavy, nodding seemingly of its own accord. Ten minutes ago, a truck passing in the other direction had kept me alert for all of thirty seconds.

I reached to rub my eyes, and a man appeared on the roadway ahead. Adrenaline fueled panic drove my foot on the brake, slamming the pedal to the floor. Tires screeching, the car hurtled toward the man.  Time slowed then strobe-flickered.

I.

Wasn’t.

Going.

To.

Stop.

In.

Time.

With a vicious twist, I yanked the steering wheel to avoid him, only to send the car into a spin. Out of control, I spun once, twice. By some miracle I stayed on the road and missed the man ending up in the opposite lane facing back toward him. In my headlights, he raised a flat brimmed black hat, shielding his eyes from my headlights’ glare. He hadn’t budged from where I’d first seen him.

Lean, with a long beard, the man stared open-mouthed at my car. Where it was visible, his face was deeply tanned. He must have wandered away from a reenactment camp. Dressed in straight legged gray trousers that looked like canvas, he wore a black wrinkled coat over a gray rumpled shirt. Boots, suspenders and that old beat up hat completed his outfit.

Furious now, the adrenaline bolus had to go somewhere, I threw open the door, heedless of any oncoming traffic and stormed at the man who remained rooted. “What the hell were you thinking?” I admit to my chagrin that it came out as a scream.

*

A low hum interrupted my wonderings. Off to my left, light glinted along the ribbon. It grew brighter with the increasing noise until I had to squint. It was as bright as the sun at noon, but white and gave off no heat. With a horrible screech, the light wobbled from side to side on the ribbon and then spun. There were two lights now, and they were attached to a box. The box spun on the ribbon and came to a halt with its lights glaring in my face. An acrid, evil cloud enveloped me and set me to coughing. Even shielding my face from the light, I could not ascertain the nature of the box or what it was doing.

A man emerged from the light and screamed an obscenity at me. Pudgy, balding and red-faced, he vented his spleen at my audacity to be alive and standing before him. He wore blue pants of a material I had never seen and a loose, green, collared shirt.  Flummoxed by this whole experience and not yet convinced this was not a nightmare and I was really at home in bed, I laughed out loud at his antics. Oddly, this calmed the man, and he ran a hand across his head then gripped his neck.

“What are you doing in the middle of the road at night?” He asked.

His question anchored me in reality; this was no dream. In an attempt to banish questions swirling in my head, I focused on his words. This was a road. Huh, I thought and looked back along the ribbon the way he had come. It made sense. Flat and rock hard, the material beneath my feet would indeed make a decent road. But it seemed extravagant for the wilderness. At the thought, questions spun back into my head, leaving me dizzy and confused. Nowhere I was familiar with had a road such as I stood upon, but as Isabella never tires of telling me—I am not an educated man. Somewhere on earth was a country with these roads. I would worry about how I traveled here later.  “Where am I?”

At this the man nodded as if I had confirmed a thought. “Had too much of a good time tonight? You’re just outside of Kanab, Utah. C’mon let’s get you in my car. I didn’t know there were any pioneer reenactments right now. But we’ll get you sobered up and back to your group.” He extended an arm towards the box with the lights.

My mind had blanked at the words Kanab Utah. Where was that? I had never heard tell of any place with those names. “Not an educated man,” Isabella’s voice rang in my head again. Still. I surveyed the landscape yet again, spotting familiar landmarks even in the scant heavenly light. I knew this place. I had traipsed all over this ground in the last two years. I was fifteen miles from home. Behind the man, outside the box’s glaring lights, Johnson’s ridge shouldered into the sky. Around the base of that ridge, home beckoned. The man opened a door in his box. Lights glowed within and a voice droned. With caution, I crept toward the opening. Whoever was within kept up a steady stream of words. I glanced into the interior, a sharp eye out for the other stranger. His voice grew in volume at my approach. Inside, the box was not large—two seats up front and a bench in back. Both were empty. Then it struck me. The voice was coming from the front. A tingle skittered down my back. The box itself was speaking.

I leaped back away from the box, striking the back of my head.  

*

“Oh, for cryin’ out loud.” I’d heard that some of these pioneer reenactors liked to immerse themselves in their parts, but this was ridiculous. We were in the middle of nowhere at two in the morning. Who was he trying to impress with his whole I’m-from-the-past-and-never-seen-a-car act?

“Just get in the car, I growled. Or not. At this point, I don’t care. I’m leaving.”  The man’s head swiveled between me and the open door. “Fine,” I said and moved to shut the door. I didn’t have the time or energy to indulge his fantasy. He was none the worse for our encounter. He could wander off back to where he came from.

Before I could move the door, the man laid a hand on it. “I will accompany you in your box,” he said and slid into the front seat.   

I rolled my eyes. What a dweeb.

Back in the driver’s seat, I started toward home once more. As we accelerated, the man stiffened, white knuckle gripping the seat’s edges, his eyes all whites. The seat belt warning chimed. “You need to put your seat belt on,” I said, sharply. Apparently frozen with fear, the man made no move to comply.

The seat belt warning sounded again and again, becoming more insistent. I clamped my jaw against the annoyance. It would stop eventually, and if this guy didn’t care about his life, I wasn’t going to insist. Eventually, the warning fell silent. I relaxed. Maybe if I could get him talking, he’d break character. “What’s your name?”

The man released one side of his seat and ran his sleeve across his forehead, then grabbed the seat again. “Lemuel,” he said. “Lemuel Parker.”

I puffed out my cheeks in frustration. There was zero chance his actual name was “Lemuel.” He was still deep in character. It was interesting that he chose that name, though. Faintly, hovering in the back of my mind, a bell was ringing. The surname was familiar. I had Parkers from my mom’s side all along my line.  “Where are you from?”

He shifted in his seat, settling in, losing some of his stiffness. Even as frustrated as I was, I had to admire his tenacity. Maybe his troupe or camp or whatever it was had a challenge to see who could stay in character the longest, though how anyone would know he hadn’t cheated was beyond me.

“I was born in Ohio.” He turned his head, looking out the window. “Kirtland, Ohio.”

In my head the bell rang louder. One of mom’s people was from there. Scoffing, I shook my head. Fatigue must be fogging my brain. “Well, Lemuel, when we get to town, where can I drop you?”

At his blank stare, I tried again. “Where do you want me to take you when we get to town?” His puzzlement remained. “Where are you staying while you’re here?”

“I live here.” he said.

“You live in Kanab?” The town wasn’t that large. I didn’t know everyone by any means, but Lemuel was distinctive enough I was certain I hadn’t seen him. Unless he was new. “How long have you lived here?”

He shook his head. “Isabella and I have lived here going on a year, but I do not know this Kanab.”

We topped a rise, and the town’s lights spread, twinkling before us. The man’s eyes widened and he gripped the seat again. “What are those lights?” In awe, he leaned forward blinking rapidly as if the lights were apparitions.

I sighed. At first I’d thought he was drunk, but there was no alcohol on his breath. High on something else then. That’s what I concluded. Mari wouldn’t like it, but we’d put him in a spare bedroom for the night. Everything would be clearer in the morning.

*

I awoke from the strangest dream. Or was I awake? The bed I lay in had none of the feeling of our straw tick mattress. It was soft and firm at the same time, like lying on a cloud. And the bedding was luxurious, fine cotton. My eyes flew open. If this was a dream, it was like none I had ever experienced. I was in a room alone. It contained the bed I was on, a wooden chest of drawers, and next to the bed a table with a metal sculpture on it. Over the bed light shone through a set of curtains. The room was the size of my home. I was in a palace then. I recalled my conversation of the night before. This Kanab place must be a mighty kingdom if a commoner like me could be afforded such luxury.

I swung my feet from the bed into a soft carpet. Morning duty called, but I had no idea where the outbuilding might be. To my right, a door stood open into a small room. Curious, I pushed the door open. In this room tiles made up the floor. At the far end, a tub grew from the tiles. At one end pipes erupted from the wall. A curious china construction sat next to the tub. In form, it resembled the seat in an outhouse. I puzzled over this contraption until it struck me. I had read about these. One or two fancy hotels in the east had installed these water closets. Because I was not certain how to make use of it, I resisted the urge for a time, but in the end succumbed. It was evident where to deposit the waste, but once I had done so, it sat in the water. I recalled reading there was a means to remove the waste. A gleaming metal lever looked likely. I pressed. Water in the bowl disappeared from the bottom carrying the waste with it. With no action on my part, the bowl again filled with water.

I had heard about this. Plumbing. This mansion I had awakened in was plumbed. My attention turned to the basin next to the Water Closet. A pipe arched from the back of the basin, another lever connected to it. I pushed the lever up and water gushed from the pipe. After a moment, it steamed. Could that be hot? With trepidation, I touched the water and snatched my hand back with a yelp. It was scalding.  

The door from the room with the bed opened easily and admitted the smell of sizzling bacon. Turning left into a hallway, I followed my nose and emerged into another enormous room. Covered with a cloth, a table set for a meal occupied the center. More windows opposite me gave a view of more of the same kind of road I had stumbled across last night and more of the boxes in which I had ridden. As I stared, a box glided silently along the road and disappeared.

“Oh, you’re awake,” a woman bustled into the room. Tall, slender with russet hair tied back and dressed in the same type of blue pants the man had sported last night and a flowing red shirt, she had the tanned skin of a day laborer. If he had to guess, she had not yet seen thirty years.  She carried a platter of bacon and pancakes. After setting them on the table, she turned and touched the wall. Lights flared overhead. From what I could make out through slitted eyes, globes of some unknown substance attached to the ceiling glowed.  “Lemuel is it?” I nodded. “I’m Mari. Don, my husband the one who picked you up last night will be out soon. Do you eat pancakes and bacon?”

“Yes, Ma’am, I do, and I thank you kindly for your hospitality.”

At this response, she gave me a curious look. Music sounded. I searched for its source, but it seemed to come from the woman herself. She inserted a hand in a pocket and withdrew a small, thin silver brick from which the music played. After glancing at the brick’s surface, she touched it and lifted it to her ear.

“Hello,” she said. I glanced about the room, supposing that another person had entered, surprising her.

After a moment of silence, she spoke, “It’s been two weeks,” she said, still with the brick to her ear, “and now you’re telling me not until Thursday?”

Confused now, I said, “I do not understand. What is happening Thursday?”

Her face twisted in annoyance, and she waved a hand at me. “Well,” she said, “if that’s the best you can do.”

My head whirled. She was addressing me with meaningless words. At a loss as to how to respond to her observation, I attempted once more to answer her. “I do not know what you expect of me, but be assured I will do my best.”

At this she turned away from me. “I’m sorry someone interrupted me. Would you say that again?”

The custom of facing away from a person with whom one is conversing was unknown to me. I assumed it was not rudeness, but merely a custom in her land, and endeavored to comply with her request. “I do not know what you expect of me,” I repeated, raising my voice in case her need for repetition indicated a loss of hearing, “but be assured—“

I gaped in astonishment as Mari stormed from the room after throwing a glance over her shoulder filled with animosity. I had offended, but was mystified as to how. My attention then turned to the food on the table before me and I endeavored to set aside any guilt for my offense. Don and Mari I decided must be among the wealthiest people in the district. They had water brought into their home from some source heated by unknown means. And they had set for me their finest china, gleaming utensils fashioned of an unknown metal and a sparkling crystal container for beverages. Along with the steaming pancakes and crisp bacon, a carafe of orange liquid was set out together with an oddly shaped translucent container with the word Milk printed on a piece of paper stuck to its side.

Curious, I reached for the carafe and immediately drew my hand back in shock. It was cold, so cold I was afraid I might damage my skin. What sort of miracle was this? Where in mid summer in this desert had they found ice sufficient to keep liquids this cold? My assessment of their wealth increased again.

And yet again when I poured the liquid and tasted it. Oranges! They could afford enough oranges to squeeze this much juice and offer it to a stranger? Oranges were costly and to obtain enough simply for juicing was an outrageous extravagance.

After discovering the miracle of their maple syrup, I ate with gusto, it having been many hours since my last meal.  Mari re entered the room. When she opened the door strange music drifted in with her. My first instinct was to crane my neck to see who was playing, but I was reminded of the voice from the box last night. By some magic, in the absence of any musicians, the music appeared in the air.

“I’m sorry about that,” Mari said. “That was our contractor. We had this house built and only moved in a month ago, but already we’ve had issues with our electrical. It’s 2020. You’d think by now they’d be able to do wiring right the first time.”

Puzzled yet again, I attempted to make sense of her words. Something in her statement raised the hairs on the back of my head. “Excuse me, Ma’am. When you said just now ‘it’s 2020’ what did you mean? What’s 2020?”

She chuckled then when I failed to laugh with her she frowned. “I meant the year of course—two thousand and twenty.”

Hands gripping the table I steadied myself against the whirling room. That was not possible. The year was 1857.

*

Frantically, I rooted through old journals. My mom had tasked me with transcribing these and I had always intended to, but never seemed to find the time. I had only agreed to her assignment after hearing her recount one of the stories. One of our ancestors had recorded a dream he’d had. A dream in which he traveled to the future.

There. Sometime in the past I’d attached a sticky note to it so I could locate it again.  The sticky note marked the story’s beginning. Here in a few pages of spidery handwriting the journal’s author described a dream in which he had traveled to the year…2020. A descendant of his had discovered him in the middle of the night and taken him home. Hand trembling with trepidation, I turned to the front of the book. “The Journal of Lemuel Parker.”

I burst into the dining room. Seated at the table his face drained of blood, Lemuel shook his head in denial. “No,” He said. “No, that cannot be.”

“It is,” I said brandishing the journal. From his demeanor, I guessed what he and Mari had been talking about. “It’s all here in your handwriting.” I gave him the journal. “That’s yours, right? That’s your handwriting and everything?”

Eyes glassy and unseeing, he accepted the journal and paged through it.

“What’s going on, Don?” She gestured at Lemuel. “Who is he and what is this journal?”

I passed a hand across my head. “This is going to sound crazy, but…” I was right it did sound crazy and I didn’t know how Mari would accept it.

“What’s going to sound crazy?” Mari said. “Don, tell me what this is all about.”

“Lemuel here is my great, great grandfather. In 1857 while homesteading in this area he recorded in his journal having a dream in which he traveled into the future to the year 2020 and met his descendant Don Parker and his wife, Mari.” Lemuel had finished reading his story. He sat head bowed over the words.

“Only it wasn’t a dream. Lemuel here really did travel to the future and is now seated at our table.”

With narrowed eyes, Mari considered me. Her eyes flicked to Lemuel and back to me. She grinned. “Okay, that’s pretty funny. A bit elaborate for you, I admit, but still amusing.” She took a seat across from Lemuel. “So who is this guy and what’s he doing in our house?”

Hours later, Mari had come around and our visitor from the past was settling in.

“So how does he return to his own time?” Mari asked. We were seated in the living room while I tried to explain to Lemuel about televisions, mobile phones, computers, the internet and a host of other to him outlandish aspects of the modern world.

“It’s all in the story,” I said. “On August 7th at ten am he’s down the street at Hamblin Park standing at home plate in the ball field. He disappears and wakes up a mile from his house on the day he left. He doesn’t write his experience until a few years after his travel, by which time he has begun to think of it as a dream.“

Mari smiled. “August 7th, two days from now.” She turned to Lemuel. “What do you want to do in the meantime. “

I nodded at the journal lying open on the coffee table in front of Lemuel. “That’s the best part. We have his trip all planned out.”

*

I did not need to wait years. It felt like a dream already. Endless food of a quality and variety I had in fact only dreamed of. Transportation to vast distances at speeds I had never imagined. Comfort and ease that exceeded the mind of anyone from my time. For some unknown reason, Don waxed nostalgic about the world I came from. “Purer,” he called it. “Closer to nature” and “Without the complications of modern life.” I did not understand this last reference. As near as I could tell those complications involved what of the many varieties of food to pluck from their magic boxes, how much and what type of entertainment to consume and how to occupy all their leisure time.

On the morning of my planned departure, Don and Mari sat me down.

“We want to say,” Don began his eyes brimming with tears, “because we won’t have another chance, how grateful we are to you for all the sacrifices you made for us.”

Mari nodded along with him.  “You and Isabella coming out here in the wilderness hacking a living out of unforgiving land so that we could build a better life for ourselves…” she paused and laid a hand on mine. “We can’t thank you enough.”

Outside, beyond their green, well-watered lawn, the sun baked a parched land. Already the temperature was rising, but in this house chilled air flowed over my exposed skin and the remains of a hot breakfast prepared effortlessly in an instant cooled on the table. A world’s knowledge lay in the brick Don toyed with in his hand. “You’re not an educated man,” Isabella’s voice rang in my head.

“Well, Don said as he stood, “time for you to go. We don’t know exactly how this works so you’d better be there early and at the right spot.” He chuckled, “you wouldn’t want to miss that boat.”

I rose while in my mind sorrow struggled with anticipation. Would I not? I took his extended hand.

“You know we’d accompany you, but the journal,” he pointed at the tattered book open on the table, “says you’re alone.”

I nodded. I knew what the book said. In the past two days I had poured over my words, not just the story of my journey here, but of the rest of the life that lay in my future and these peoples’ past—a boy born to Isabella a year from now, Isabella’s death at the birth. A failed farm and a string of failed businesses. Two loveless marriages after Isabella. Then, at the end, a note appended in a different hand “Thrown from a horse and killed.” He’d been fifty. It was interesting that I had already begun thinking of the man from the journal as someone else.

“Thank you for your generous hospitality,” I said. And I meant it. They had been kind to me. Too kind. “You are not an educated man.” These people had educated me. Funny thing about education—once your eyes have been opened, no matter how hard you try, you cannot close them again.  Weighed down with sadness now that the moment had come, I shook Don’s hand and hugged Mari. I supposed it would be painless, but I was not certain.

I left the house on my way to the park. At the corner I paused. To my left the park’s grass glowed a vibrant green in the sun. I turned right. Mounting a hill beyond Don and Mari’s home, I settled in the shade of a boulder.

Now that I thought of it, it must be painless. How could there be pain in simply ceasing to be? I considered the possibility that I might be mistaken, that the key was not the location, but something inside me. Shrugging off the concern, I stared at Don and Mari’s home then consulted a time keeping device I had stumbled across and had kept. At precisely ten am their home disappeared. I blinked to ensure I saw aright. Where their home had been was nothing but hard packed desert. I rose into the sun and indulged in a leisurely stretch, working the kinks out from my wait. I was not in a hurry. I had nothing but time.

The Dream

I owe this story to my daughter Diana. We were talking one day and she gave me the outline for it. I asked her permission to write it up. She graciously agreed. Diana this one’s for you.

It came to her at the end of a horrible day, concluding the last miserable week of a wretched month.  Sara Jones was sixteen at the time, and she thought of it for the rest of her life in capital letters: “THE DREAM.” 

During the thirty-day stretch of torment preceding THE DREAM, Sara discovered she had failing grades in three of her six high school classes, and her parents were divorcing.  Her closest friend moved to Australia. In a two-word text (“Wr dn”), her boyfriend broke up with her.  The next day he sent Sara a snap chat video of him and her older sister making out.    

On the morning of the day of THE DREAM, Sara awoke to a warm breeze fluttering the curtains on her window carrying with it the sweet scent of blooming lilacs.  Red-tinted morning sunlight winked through the moving curtains.  The clatter of pans being removed from a cupboard and dishes placed on the dining room table drifted up from downstairs.  Sara luxuriated in the prospect of a perfect late spring Saturday confident that life had dealt her its worst.  From here on out, all the cute boys would flock to her, the queen bees grovel at her feet, especially that bitch Corinne, and all things designer would be on sale.

Sara stretched and shrieked in agony as someone dragged cheese graters across her arms and shoulders.  Two hours later, at the hospital, a surprised ER doctor (“highly unusual in a person your age”) diagnosed the red blotchy welts on her arms and shoulders as shingles.

Home from the hospital, Sara stared at the sandwich on the plate in front of her in an opiate-induced haze that reduced the fire on her arms and shoulders from a 10 to 9.5, as her mom announced they were moving from their home near Boston to Meadow, Utah.

That evening, her pain having subsided somewhat, 6?, 6.5?, Sara insisted on taking her dog Patches on their nightly walk.  Ten minutes into their stroll, Patches darted away after a passing garbage truck, ripping the leash from Sara’s hand. 

Sara hobbled after Patches, her pain inching up the scale.  Patches caught up with the truck just as it hoisted a garbage can upward.  Somehow, Patches’ leash became caught in the truck’s machinery yanking him off the ground.  He sailed high over the truck’s edge and in a million-to-one-no-one-would-ever-believe-it-if-you-wrote-it-in-a-story moment, arced right into its compactor.  Patches’ squeals sounded high over the compactor’s motors crushing the trash, and Patches, into a solid cube of refuse.

 That night, after hours tossing and turning gingerly on her bed, Sara finally rested her head on her tear-soaked pillow and collapsed into oblivion. 

She found herself seated on a park bench beneath a cloudless, robin’s egg sky.  Her pain had vanished.  A breeze caressed her smooth unblemished skin, stirring the trees behind her into whispers.  The breath of wind perfectly balanced the sun’s heat into glowing warmth enveloping her entire body.  Glancing down, she ran her hands across the Gucci Silk Duchesse Dress she’d been admiring just the other day.

A wide, manicured lawn stretched from the bench down to a sparkling lake.  The scent of new mown grass and honeysuckle transported her back to a magical summer she had spent with her aunt and uncle.  This must be a dream, she thought. But it was unlike any dream of Sara’s young life.  This dream lacked the vagueness and indefiniteness of a dream.  Reality pervaded this dream; she was more alive than when she was awake. 

Maybe she had finally achieved her goal and was in a lucid dream, something she had attempted many times before without success.  She turned her head to the sky and imagined herself floating upward from the bench into the heavens.

 “It’s not that sort of dream.”

 The voice startled Sara.  She lowered her head.  “Grandma, what are you doing in my dream?”  She had a horrible thought.  “You’re not…dead are you?”

 “No, I mean, yes…wait just a second.”  Her grandmother lifted her left hand palm upward and using the index finger of her right hand appeared to manipulate something on her palm as if it were a touchscreen.  “That shouldn’t…where is it?  Ah, there’s the problem.  Now I just need to…there that’s got it.” 

Her grandmother disappeared replaced by a tall woman with a kind, familiar face.  Sara was certain she had met her before and affection was associated with the meeting, but she couldn’t place the circumstances.  The woman wore a simply tailored, blindingly white gown.  Her hair, each strand neatly in place, was the color of fresh, untrammeled snow.  Her attractive face was tanned and lined, but not heavily, just enough to project mature wisdom from a well-lived life.  Her age was indeterminate; she could have been thirty or sixty.

 Sara stared at this new apparition with narrowed eyes.  “You’re not my grandmother then?”

 “No,” the woman shook her left hand and frowned at it.  “My appearance generator is supposed to produce an image that is authoritative yet comforting, without being overly familiar.  I’m afraid the familiarity setting was just a little high.”

 “You’re not dead then?”

 “Certainly not, I’m an angel, and I’m here to deliver a message.”

 Sara cocked her head and eyed the woman.  “Where are your wings?”

 The woman waved away her objection.  “Popular misconception based on past abuses of appearance generators by some of my more whimsical compatriots.”

 Sara rolled her eyes.  She was already tiring of this part of the dream and wished she’d move right to the part where she could fly and change things around.  “Fine, whatever, give me the message and leave, so I can get on with my dream.”

 “Sara, I really am an angel.”

 Sara regarded her with skepticism.  “An angel?  I don’t think so.”  Sara again surveyed the surrounding beauty.  “No, you’re part of my dream, a particularly annoying part, at the moment.”  Sara turned her gaze back to the woman.  “But I can’t seem to make you disappear so, if my subconscious has a message for me, I—”

 The woman transformed into a brilliant pulsing ball of light brighter than anything in Sara’s experience.  Sara screwed her eyes closed and averted her head at the change, but the light shone through as if her eyelids were no barrier at all.  Parting her eyelids a fraction, Sara found to her surprise that she could look at the light directly despite its blazing intensity.  Moreover, compassion, acceptance and kindness flowing from the light in great waves, overwhelmed her, filled her with awe, drove her to her knees and bowed her head.  The light winked out.

Sara raised her head.  The woman was back.  She reached down and helped Sara to her feet.

“Sorry about that.  It’s against the rules, but I had to convince you, and I’m really rather busy at the moment.”

Sara shook off her confusion.  “Wow.  Okay, you’re an angel.  But…”  Something the angel had said when it looked like grandma.  “I asked if you were dead and you said yes.”

“Ah, well,” the angel said with chagrin, “about that, I’m afraid there was a slight miscommunication.  I’m not dead as you can see.”

Sara stared at the angel, understanding flooding her mind.  “Grandma’s dead.”

The angel nodded.  “It happened just after you fell asleep.  You’ll receive official word when you wake up.”    

Sara tried to feel bad, grandma had lived with them for several years when she was younger and, during that time, had prepared most of the meals, taken her to dance and cheerleading practice, and tucked her in at night with hauntingly beautiful lullabies.  But, hey, everyone dies, and an immensely powerful being had a message just for her

“So, you have you have something to tell me?”

The angel squared her shoulders and seemed to increase in height.  Her voice rang out reverberating through the immensity of the landscape of Sara’s dream.  “Sara Jones, you have been weighed and found worthy.  Your exemplary responses to the extreme challenges of your young life have garnered you the blessings of heaven on earth.  In two years on May 18 you will purchase a lottery ticket at the convenience store on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and 58th Street.  It will be the sole, winning ticket for a prize of Eight Hundred Fifty Eight Million Five Hundred Ninety Thousand Three Hundred Twenty-Six Dollars and Four Cents.  You will use your wealth to alleviate the suffering of millions of your fellow beings and at the end of a long and blessed life in others’ service will be received into the Divine Presence to dwell eternally in everlasting glory.”

Sara was stunned.  Sure, she’d had a difficult month, but she couldn’t bring to mind any way in which she’d been particularly noble and, in fact, now that she considered it, some might view sabotaging her boyfriend’s chance to make the varsity basketball team so he could spend more time with her or kicking Patches when she found out about her grades to be less than exemplary.  Ah well, gifts and horses and all that. 

“Okay,” she said, drawing the word out.  “I just have a few questions.”

The angel huffed, glanced at her right wrist and actually tapped her foot with impatience.

 “So, you said something about al..al—”

“Alleviating the suffering of millions of your fellow beings,” the angel finished quickly, clearly anxious to be about some other business. 

“Yeah, that.  But I can use this money for myself too, right?  I mean, since I’ve been so good and all.”

The angel stopped tapping her foot and narrowed her eyes fractionally. “Yes, certainly, as long as you don’t go overboard.”

“Meaning…?”

“Meaning your compassionate heart should warn you of excessive selfishness and act as a natural brake on any self-centered impulses you might encounter.  Look, is that it?  Because I really have to go.”

Sara knew she should have a million questions, but her mind blanked.  She shook her head.

“Wonderful.  I look forward to meeting you at your life’s end.” 

Sara opened her eyes to sun streaming through her window.

The next two years dragged.  Sara quit high school because what, after all, was the point?  She refused to move with her mother to Utah, instead passing the time living with friends and distant relatives–the length of her stay determined by the time it took her host to stop recognizing Sara’s superiority and fulfilling her basic needs, which admittedly from a certain cramped perspective could be seen as substantial, but which Sara more realistically understood as barely adequate to her divine position. 

In the end, having run out of friends and family willing to take her in without compensation, Sara resorted to promises of extravagant wealth which she delivered with such sincerity and conviction that she managed to remain housed and fed until two years had passed.

On March 18 two years after THE DREAM, Sara stood across the street from the convenience store on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and 58th Street.  She was poised to collect her reward and begin living a fabulous life.  She’d already planned her first purchases; she had her eye on several exquisite Louis Vuitton dresses, Prada handbags and shoes and, of course, homes in New York and Los Angeles and probably a private jet for the commute.  Sure, she probably should help people too, but there was plenty of time and money for that later.

Sara waited for the light to change.  Across the street, a young woman her age walked towards the convenience store.  She looked familiar.  Just before entering the store, the girl paused and turned toward Sara.  Their eyes locked.  It was like looking in a mirror–if you fixed the hair disaster and gave her decent clothes and some makeup.  

The girl smiled and turned away.  Sara frowned.  Just as the light turned green for her to cross, Sara’s phone text alert sounded.  She pulled the phone from her pocket.  Ugh, it was from her mother and long.  She didn’t have time for this–destiny awaited.  She crammed her phone back into her pocket. 

Distracted by the riches across the street and angry at her mother for annoying her on the cusp of greatness, Sara stepped out into the street without seeing the car on her left whipping around the corner in a right turn and catapulting her thirty feet in the air.

Sara opened her eyes.  She was on the bench from THE DREAM, but on the lawn before her a woman sat behind a desk glancing through a folder.  Sara rose from the bench and marched up to the desk.  “Where am I?”  Sara said.

The woman closed the file and regarded Sara coolly.  “You’re dead.”

Sara laughed.  “That’s not possible.  I can’t be dead.  I’m supposed to win the lottery and live a long life and go to heaven.  There must be some mistake.”

The woman smiled with indulgence.  “You are,” the woman glanced down at the folder, “Sara Jones correct?”  Sara nodded.  “Then there’s been no mistake.  Where did you get this idea you’d win the lottery, live a long life and go to heaven?”

 Sara gaped in astonishment which quickly turned into indignation. “The angel, she told me.  Two years ago in a dream in a place just like this.  She promised me.”

The woman frowned and opened the file again studying the contents carefully.  She glanced up at Sara.  “An angel you say, in this place?”

Sara nodded vigorously.  “Damn straight,” she said her voice rising, “an angel in this place.” They’d better straighten this out fast so she could get back to her plans. 

The woman pursed her lips in disapproval then looked straight ahead.  Her eyes lost focus.  Moments later the angel from THE DREAM appeared next to the desk adjusting her dress. 

“Finally,” Sara said.  “Tell her what you promised me about the lottery and get me back to earth.”

The angel held up her left hand forestalling Sara and turned to the woman at the desk.  “What are we looking at?”

The woman held up the folder and pointed to its contents.  The angel studied the folder glanced at Sara and at the folder again and shook her head.  The angel walked to Sara, took her gently by the elbow, and led her to the desk.  “I think we can clear this up.  Please place your hand on the desk, Sara.”

Sara laid her hand on the desk.  The angel and the woman behind the desk leaned forward and studied her hand.  They sighed in unison.  The woman leaned back in her chair; the angel straightened up.  Sara looked from one to the other.  The woman looked away; the angel fidgeted with her hands.

“There’s no easy way to say this,” the angel said finally.  “Sara, there’s been a mistake.”

“Mistake?” Her voice squeaked despite her attempt to sound calm.

“Yes, about the lottery ticket.  It seems you are the wrong Sara Jones.  It’s a common name and you both look so much alike. I assumed you were the one.”  The angel glanced at the seated woman. “I mean, what are the odds really?”

The woman nodded in sympathy.  “Even for humans the resemblance was remarkable,” the woman said.

Turning to Sara, the angel said, “I should have sequenced your DNA before discussing the lottery ticket with you.”

Sara collapsed to the ground along with her shattered dreams.  She wasn’t going back to earth to live in luxury; she wasn’t going back at all.  She was dead–before all the good stuff.  It wasn’t fair.  She thought she should cry, she wanted to cry, but in whatever form she was, that was denied her. 

After a time, she again noticed her surroundings–the perfect weather, the impeccable vibrant landscape–and remembered the second part of the angel’s promise.  She levered herself to her feet and stood tall.  She was strong.  This reversal wouldn’t defeat her.  She looked the angel squarely in the eye.

“Fine,” she said, “I forgive you.  Let’s just skip to the part about eternal happiness in the Divine Presence.”

“Ah, well,” the Angel said, “about that….”

The End

The title does not refer to anything sinister, but rather to a joyous moment, at least for some. Yesterday I wrote those words upon completing the first draft of Prospector’s Choice, the working title of the third and final book in the Artifact series. Excitement all around!

The City On The Plain

View from my house. Well, not quite, but it’s really close I promise.

Okay, rant time. (If you ask The Lovely Marianne it’s always rant time with me. That’s unfair and in another post I’ll mount my soap box and deliver a vigorous harangue in my defense. )

The City of this blog post’s title is Denver and these words triggered my rant: “The lure to Denver comes from the desire to reach its majestic peaks…” The writer was moving across the country and gave the above as one of the reasons for his move: Denver’s “majestic peaks.” Over the course of my life, I have heard countless talk about moving to Denver to be in the mountains and it drives me nuts because while if you squint real hard from Denver you can kind of make out what are possibly mountains on the distant horizon, being in Denver is no where close to being in the mountains.

Denver: the City on the Plains. Look real hard in the distance. Would you call those Denver’s “majestic peaks”?

Now, contrast that with the view from my home. I live in Sandy, Utah a suburb of Salt Lake City. I took the photo at the head of this post a five minute walk from my home. Don’t believe me? Here’s another one.

Mountains above Falcon Park.

That park in the foreground is a five minute walk from our house. A twenty minute drive takes us into the mountains.

Silver Lake.

And with an hour and a half hike from such a drive we can be here:

Now that’s in the mountains! That’s the LM and yours truly in the mountains above Alta.

From Denver, you’d have to drive hours, just to find a trail head for a hike like this. Grrrr.

Look, I wouldn’t describe my house as being in view of “Sandy’s majestic peaks.” Other places in the country can more credibly claim to have majestic peaks than my home. I’m just saying that Denver’s marketing department has gotten away with some serious misdirection here.

Okay, end of rant. The Lovely Marianne had threatened to take my keyboard away so I’d best stop. Just remember when you hear the name Denver think of plains not mountains.

Stranded on an Island Part 2

I guess if you have to be stranded somewhere, it might as well be gorgeous.

Last time on Stranded on an Island, we made it to Amesbury. At this point you really should revisit Part 1 to remind yourself of the adventure thus far because this next bit followed hot on the heels of that first (mis)adventure and contains a recurring theme. This is a long post. Settle in, grab your favourite drink and join the adventure in jolly old England.

At Amesbury, we stayed the night at the Mandalay.

Here it is: the Mandalay

I know, it’s not much to look at from the front, but it has a beautiful garden behind and at the time we really didn’t care what it looked like, we just wanted a bed.

The Lovely Marianne in the Mandalay’s gardens. See, much prettier.

After rising and enjoying a full cooked English breakfast

Not the most flattering picture of Catherine. Sorry, Cat.

we were on our way to Stonehenge.

That’s Stonehenge in the background.

From Stonehenge we made our way to the Eden Project in Cornwall. It should have been relatively easy to travel from Stonehenge to the Eden Project–they are both well known destinations after all. But our GPS decided that as pampered American tourists, our vacation would not be complete without a runaround. Ignorant of our machine’s malicious intent I blithely followed its direction when it told me to turn left on this road.

Well, it may not have been this exact road, but it was one that looked just like it.

Now, heaven knows I’m not Sherlock nor even Watson, but I sensed something amiss. This did not look like the approach to a tourist attraction that sees more than a million visitors a year. It looked instead like an accident waiting to happen because that road was as narrow as it looks and I expected death (or at least serious injury) around every bend. But in my naive innocence I trusted the infernal device. We followed this track for about ten minutes then were instructed to make a couple of turns and finally another left turn to

Not this again!

Yeah, it was the same road. To the consternation and furious honking of the car following, I slammed on the brakes before entering the lane and after backing up managed to squeeze my way past the entrance to this “road”. With great reluctance, seeing that I wasn’t falling for its trap, the GPS gave us appropriate directions and we ended up at the Project.

The Eden Project–very large greenhouses.

Our daughter Catherine picked this destination. The project is a series of lovely greenhouses (I think they call them Biomes, but they look like greenhouses to me) hosting different ecosystems.

The Lovely Marianne and yours truly inside a greenhouse.

As I mentioned, the Eden Project is located in Cornwall. You know what else is in Cornwall? That’s right Doc Martin!

That’s the Doc (on the right) in front of his home in Port Wenn (really Port Isaac).

In the year before our trip I had consumed all the Doc Martin episodes available and loved them. The show is set in the mythical town of Port Wenn and was filmed on location in the actual town of Port Isaac on the Cornish Coast close to the Eden Project. Well that was enough for me. Totally fanboying it, I booked a room in Port Isaac and that was our next destination. But we had to get there first.

On our way out from the Eden Project I was driving on a road that merged into another at an angle from the right. I had a yield sign for which I duly slowed down while checking over my right shoulder for oncoming traffic and seeing none proceeded on my way only to have a car appear from nowhere whipping past me, the driver laying on the horn. A hundred yards down the road he pulled up at a stop light with me right behind. His door opens and out steps scarecrow. His limbs were sticks and his hair was wild–Christopher-Loyd-Back-to-the-Future wild.

Yeah, that head on a scarecrow.

And he was pissed, screaming at me like I’d killed his dog. It didn’t help that I couldn’t stop laughing–that just provoked increased intensity. He wanted me to get out of the car and take him on. At least, that seemed to be the gist of his spittle flecked rant. I didn’t think he really meant it though. How could he? He looked older than I, was five ten and must have weighed a hundred and twenty soaking wet as they say. I let him rage until he got it out of his system and got back in his car after flinging one last gesture in my direction.

Okay, off we went glad that the drama was behind us–next stop Port Isaac.

As we approached Port Isaac, our GPS instructed us to make a left turn down a road that would lead us to town. Still not aware of the electronic devil’s plans, I obeyed its command. A few minutes later we approached two sets of poles set in the roadside. A sign set next to the poles announced that if your care wouldn’t fit through the poles, it was too wide and you couldn’t proceed. I inched forward with a sharp eye on the side mirrors. We had a good two inches to spare.

The road into town, only the posts were straight when we were there and they must have taken down the sign.

On we drove not appreciating what lay ahead. In a few minutes we discovered the reason for the posts.

This was a bit concerning.
Now I was definitely worried.
This was more than I had bargained for.
Then we were in the middle of town.

Now, the truth was we did not have lodging in Port Isaac itself, but about a mile further down the road in Port Gaverne. Getting there was a trip as well.

Making our way through a not terribly vehicle friendly town.

Fine, easing our way along the strait and narrow, we made it through town. But that wasn’t the end of our worries.

What’s around that bend?

Yeah, it was that narrow and the question in the caption wasn’t rhetorical because

Really that did happen.

I’m not making this up. I don’t have an actual photograph but an actual photograph would have looked worse. We rounded that bend and faced two cars coming up the hill. Hill, you say? That doesn’t look like a hill. Okay,

See? There was a hill.

It’s easier to see from this angle and the two cars we faced were at the bottom of the hill. Fortunately, they decided that we had the right of way (maybe because they knew a crazy American was driving the other car and if he’d had to back up on that hill would have driven clean over the cliff killing the car’s passengers and driver) and backed down, as in drove in reverse to the bottom of the hill.

So, we made it to the bottom and our hotel. I was prepared to heave a great sigh of relief, but the English Road Gods had not finished with us yet. We had to find some place to put our car.

That’s our hotel. See the car park? You can’t because there isn’t one.

So, yeah. A sign promised that a short way past the hotel we would find a car park. The lovely Marianne agreed to investigate while I waited clutching and releasing the steering wheel, sweat pouring down my back, fearing the need to move my car through another dimension to get out of some mad Englishman’s way because there was no way I would be able to maneuver it in this one.

The Lovely Marianne returned forlorn because the car park was full. I was pretty much at the end of my rope by that point, ready to abandon the entire adventure and catch the next plane home.

It truly was.

Yes, you see down at the bottom of the hill right across the street to the west from our hotel was a little car park.

That’s the car park. Our hotel is behind us in this picture.

And right where that blue car is on the left, that car (well, not that car, but the car that was parked in that spot when I was in the depths of despair) left. Shouts of joy and thanksgiving rose to the heavens as soon as our car was firmly ensconced in that spot.

The only lingering fly in the day’s ointment revealed itself when the Lovely Marianne opened her door to a loud crack. Upon inspection, I discovered that during one of our mad dashes around the Eden Project, I had grazed an obstacle and put a crease in the door right by the joint where it connected to the body. Not great news, but we were safe in a beautiful place.

So, once settled, the Lovely Marianne and I walked back the way we had come to Port Isaac. I had the LM take a snap of me opposite Doc Martin’s surgery (upon which a prominent sign was posted declaring the place to be PRIVATE PROPERTY upon which NO TRESPASSING was permitted.

Me geeking (or nerding, or fan-boying, I’ve never been quite sure of the proper term) out over visiting a place I had seen on TV. It sounds pathetic when described like that, doesn’t it?

And we returned to our hotel at sunset.

We stopped along the way for a picture.

In my memory, the night we spent in that hotel has a magical, otherworldly feel to it. Our room was just above the little out door seating area you can see in the picture. It was a warm night. We propped our window to enjoy a little breeze. Along with the breeze subdued conversation murmured from diners below, occasionally punctuated with gentle laughter. I drifted off to convivial sounds of good friends enjoying a pint.

The next day dawned clear and bright. Before we departed we took a walk to a little headland and drank in a sweeping view of the Cornish coast.

Magnificent. The Coast, not the people. Except for the LM, she’s magnificent.

Upon returning from our morning constitutional we were off again. Being in Cornwall, Catherine wanted to experience a cream tea for which Cornwall is famous. Our hosts at the hotel had pointed us to a tea house in Tintagel only a few miles up the coast. Our destination that day was Liverpool where we had reservations on a ferry for an overnight crossing of the Irish Channel to Belfast. The LM had relatives in Belfast and our itinerary called for us to spend a few days there.

Our ferry reservation required us to be at the terminal in Liverpool at 9:00 pm. Our trusty GPS told us it was a four hour trip–plenty of time to stop by Tintagel, grab a cream tea and visit King Arthur’s birthplace. I was not and am not an Arthur buff, but I’d read the Crystal Cave and Once and Future King and The Dark is Rising series, so Tintagel sounded cool (even if I still have not mastered its pronunciation. Every time I say the name the person I’m talking to says “You mean Tintagel?”)

Being a slow learner, I input Tintagel as our destination into the demonic machine and away we went. Winding our way along a narrow coastal road from Port Garverne, we soon came to a larger roadway. Relieved at not having to repeat our Port Isaac experience, I calmly turned onto a road that was a boulevard by comparison. Little did I know what fate had in store.

A few miles down the road, the unholy device demanded a left turn onto a narrow track. Truly, I cannot say what came over me. Had I been in its thrall the entire time? Or had I pledged my soul to it only in that moment. Whatever the case, I obeyed the fiendish voice and made the turn.

As with all such mistakes, at first the going was easy and my confidence rose. Then

Does this look familiar?

Yep back on the one track roads. Only this time the two cars coming in the other direction decided they had the right of way and I needed to back the car to a suitable turn out spot which it happened was a few hundred yards away.

I crumbled under the pressure of backing while operating the car from in what God intended to be the passenger seat. Catherine had to get out of the car to guide me. Even then I wandered into the verge before straightening out. After a few moments of terror, we let the others pass and were on our way.

To this day, I’m not quite sure what happened next. We arrived at an intersection. I recall the blasted machine telling us to turn left, but after we had done so, it wanted us to go back the way we had come. I couldn’t turn around so we continued on until we came to a car park.

The Car Park

I pulled in to try to get our bearings. When I got out of the car, Catherine had already exited and stood with her face screwed up as if she were fighting tears.

“Catherine what’s wrong?”

She lost the fight. Tears flooded down her cheeks and she sobbed unable to speak. I gave her a hug and she blurted out between sobs, “We have a flat tire.”

Sure enough on the passenger side where I’d run the car into the verge the rear tire was flat. I reassured her that I could change the tyre. The Lovely Marianne suggested that she and Catherine try to find someone who could direct us where we needed to be while I changed the tyre.

As I finished they returned. The woman they spoke with said that GPS mis-directions were legendary around there. Last year, she told them, a bus driver transporting German tourists foolishly heeding his GPS had taken the route we followed. The bus had wedged into one of the narrow bits. It took three days and heavy equipment to free it.

Well, tire changed we loaded back up. Catherine declared at that point her desire for a cream tea had escaped along with the air from our tyre. She wanted no more English back roads but insisted (fortunately for us) on proceeding straight to Liverpool. It was 11:30 or so and our GPS told us we’d arrive at the dock at 4:30. I wondered out loud how we were going to occupy our time between then and 9:00 pm, but figured we’d find something to do.

Hah.

Our route to Liverpool took us on steadily more roomy roads until we arrived at the M6. M for motorway–the equivalent of an Interstate Highway in the US. Ah, the freeway. Yeah, that lasted about fifteen minutes.

At the fifteen minute mark we slowed down and slowed down and stopped. Okay, traffic slow down. I can deal with this. We will still arrive at 4:45. Time passed. Our arrival time ticked forward. 5:00. 5:30.

We moved again things opened up. We were on… Nope another slow down. 6:00, 6:30, 7:00. Moving agai….7:30, 8:00. By this time we were seriously panicked. We had moved and made some progress, but when our arrival time hit 8, well. We had booked accommodations in Belfast and spent four or five hundred dollars on the ferry ride. We had no idea whether we could catch another ferry the next day or if everything was booked.

8:15, 8:30. They had told us if we hadn’t checked in by 9, we’d lose our spot.

Finally, the traffic thinned and at 8:55 we were at the dock.

Catherine with our car. The picture was taken at 9:23.

We made it! Those were an exhausting three days (Parts 1 & 2). But there we were on the ferry and ready for a good night’s sleep. The rest of the trip was incredible and beautiful and thankfully calm.

As a post script. You will recall from Part 1 I paid $300 per tyre at the rental car place for the Mercedes tyres. Maybe it was the Mercedes tyres and maybe the rental place ripped me off. You will also recall that I had creased the passenger side door where it joined the body resulting in a huge cracking sound whenever it was opened. So, when we got to Ireland, I found a tyre shop and a body shop. I bought my own replacement tyre and got the body guys to do what they could for the door. It almost looked okay, but at least it didn’t crack when we opened it. The rental car place didn’t charge me for any damages.

We were supposed to return to England and Ireland this year, but you know that story. Maybe it was providence and we were spared even more harrowing adventures. I suppose we’ll never know.

Artifact Book 2

That there is one amazing cover.

That’s right! Dawn’s Reach (Artifact Book 2) is now available from Amazon.

This thrilling follow on novel from Prospector’s Run is certain to delight and amaze. Grab your copy today!

More Flash Fiction

Now this image is related to the post, so pay attention.

A number of years ago (five, to be precise) I was perusing the internet and ran across a blog with a post titled Friday Fiction: 100 Word Challenge. The post included the image above and the challenge was to write a one hundred word story inspired by the image. I accepted the thrown gauntlet and penned (well, keyboarded) the following.

She had brought the money.  Raggedy girl like that, I didn’t think she’d pay. It was just like one of them dime novels.  Sneak into the room at night nab the doll and leave a note. Andy told me it would work; I didn’t believe him.  It was his idea really, “done it lots,” he’d said.  “They pay every time.  They sure love them dolls.” But where had Andy gone now? 

The girl raised her eyes with a smug half smile.

I heard gravel crunch and the snick of a shell pumped into a shotgun. 

“That’s him Daddy,” she said.