Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dark World: Vanished

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Darren decided not to wait to secure the house, but as the shutters swung into place, Lassiter again said, “It is Shafer. I could see his face plainly in the moonlight.”

Darren reversed the shutters slightly and peeked through a crack. “It is,” he announced, confused.

“I told you so.”

“This isn’t the man I saw before. That man skulked; Shafer doesn’t seem to know how. But in any case, it is Shafer now.”

“Excellent. I’m going to talk to him—try to get him to come inside. If we can get him to talk, he could tell us everything, or at least more than we know now. Do you want to come along?”

“I’m not sure either of us should go. There is the other man at least—maybe more. We don’t know who is out there or why, and I’d rather not do anything without telling…”

A gunshot cut Darren short, and he whirled around. “Victor!”

The next moment they were in the doctor’s bedroom, where they encountered a very belligerent would-be sleeper. His temper melted away as the lights came on, however.

“You’re wounded!” Darren said.

With a somewhat shaky calm, the doctor walked over to a cabinet and removed bandages and dressings. “Not really. I grazed my arm slightly, that’s all.”

“You did it? Why?”

“I had a dream—or something. The witch came for me, and the only way to break loose was to graze myself. I thought the pain and/or noise would rouse me, and it did. Of course, if it had been only a dream, the gunshot might not have worked.”

“We heard the shot; that’s why we came. And your gun has been recently fired. But considering how you would have been lying, the bullet should have hit the wall about here, and there’s no trace of it.”

Dr. Fleming inspected the wall minutely. “So you think it really happened?”

“Yes, though I don’t know how.”

“Shafer might know,” Lassiter interjected. “He is outside. Darren admits it.”

“Then I’ll get answers out of him if I have to drill and blast,” the doctor said. “This is simply too much. I refuse to be accosted in my own room.” With that, he left at high speed.

Darren followed, at first merely walking, but soon the potential danger pressed him to run. The front door was easier to exit than to enter, and the doctor was already out of sight by the time Darren got outside.

Unfortunately he remained out of sight even after Darren and Lassiter had searched the area. They found only three clues: tracks of a small group that had evidently intercepted the doctor, a strange symbol scrawled on a scrap of paper, and an unconscious and annoying enigma.

Next: The Straight Dope

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dark World: What Dreams May Come

As usual, mousing over non-English text will reveal a translation.

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

The first two weeks were the worst. Both Darren and Lassiter had roving habits, while Dr. Fleming preferred to stay at home—alone. But they couldn’t leave Lassiter on his own, and the fact that they lacked a fourth person to make two groups of two effectively confined them to the doctor’s lab regardless. Lassiter claimed to have seen Shafer lurking around, but Dr. Fleming said he was merely being paranoid. Darren thought he saw a short man on one occasion, but he didn’t think it was either Shafer or a member of Mantong’s group. Dr. Fleming suggested settling the matter by putting up a sign inviting any hidden watchers in for tea.

As the third week arrived, the thought of finally resolving the question of the full moon and just getting on with life buoyed them somewhat. Darren considered trying to summon up the priest again, but he didn’t want to risk getting someone else instead. The door was better left as shut as possible.

However, as the moon waxed, Dr. Fleming began watching Lassiter more closely, which was not well received. “Do you feel anything?” he asked one night as the moon looked especially large, just a few days before it would be full.

“No. I never felt anything unusual until the full moon rose.”

The doctor turned away, muttering, but Lassiter casually looked out the window—not up at the moon, but toward the ground, which was already well lighted by the pale, cold orb. “Darren, come quick!” he called stiffly. As Darren approached, followed closely by Dr. Fleming, Lassiter continued, “Just Darren. It’s Shafer again, and I don’t want him to know I’ve seen him.”

“I don’t know why not,” Darren said. “From what I’ve seen of him, Victor’s plan to put out an invitation to tea would probably work.” Still, Darren meandered over to Lassiter and strained his peripheral vision. “I think there is someone out there, but I’m not sure it’s Shafer.”

“Who else could it be? The height and build are right; it’s not stocky enough for Mantong’s people, and I can’t think of anyone else who fits the description.”

“Neither can I, but this man is furtive; Shafer isn’t. You have secured the place, haven’t you, Victor?”

“Not only secured, but defended with some painfully discouraging traps. I hope it is Shafer, and he’s in an inquisitive mood. I am in dormose mood, and I intend to indulge it. Shutter the window when you’re through gawking.”

With that, the doctor retired to his room. He swiftly changed his clothes, but the pajamas he chose, though comfortable, could also take a fair amount of abuse, and his robe and shoes were handy in case he needed to spring out of bed and into action. Then he lay down and shut his eyes.

Unlike many people of that time, Dr. Fleming never wore a sleep mask; he deplored sensory deprivation of any kind. He did have the window shuttered, however, and the only light source was from the door he had left cracked open.

So when a steady light shone in his face, he at first assumed the door had come further open. He could have slept anyway, but a wide-open door implied unacceptable potential noise. He opened his eyes and found the light came not from an open door but a full moon shining down on the ground where he was lying. He knew what or whom he would see when he looked at the hilltop, but he could not help looking anyway.

Yo ha venit por te, amico,” the dark woman said.

“This is a dream,” the doctor stated, trying desperately to believe it.

To ne fa nequo,” she replied. “Tu desir ha advocat me, e tu va sequer me.

Dr. Fleming found himself standing up, and he knew walking toward her was next. He could think of only one chance: by a supreme effort of will, he drew his gun and fired.

Next: Vanished

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dark World: The Calm

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

After an uneventful night, Dr. Fleming proved as good as his word, much to Lassiter’s annoyance. The latter found himself poked, prodded, and wired until he said he wished he could turn werewolf just to make it worth their while. To make himself useful and escape the fulminations inside, Darren decided to service the doctor’s car. He knew the doctor would insist on fine-tuning his work, but after all the driving they had done the last few days, a tune-up was called for.

Unfortunately, the peace of mechanics was short-lived, and Darren eventually had to go back inside, where the patient’s patience had deteriorated and taken the doctor’s with it. Lassiter showed “no discernable sign of significant anomalies,” Dr. Fleming said, and the insignificant anomalies were probably from the silver therapy.

“So am I cured?” Lassiter demanded. From the look on the doctor’s face, it wasn’t the first time, and the query had already worn out its welcome.

“I won’t know until the next full moon. Or until the witch comes looking for you, perhaps. What do you think, Darren?”

“I don’t know. The cases of shape-shifting I’ve heard of were simply demonic. This is more complex. At the very least, his sensitivity to silver when he is called implies something physical. I don’t think silver as such has any spiritual properties.”

“And yet you were quick to try it on the werewolf originally.”

“It was present, and it evidently wasn’t your idea. It seemed worth a try.” He glanced at Lassiter, who was busy stripping the doctor’s handiwork from his person. “Of course, since the call normally changes his body outwardly, perhaps it starts with a less obvious change—something that makes him sensitive to silver.”

“I’ve thought of that,” Dr. Fleming muttered as he tried to rescue his sensors from Lassiter’s irritation. “There’s just no way to prove it without the ‘call’—by which I suppose you mean either the full moon or the witch trying to summon him.”

“At this point I don’t think the moon will affect him. I suspect the moon triggered the demon, and the demon in turn triggered the change that made silver harmful. Absent the demon, the moon cannot effect the change. The witch’s call would, however.”

“I defy you to justify that rationally.”

“I can’t prove it, but it is reasonable. The moon by itself doesn’t change people into werewolves, and you’ve demonstrated that Lassiter is physically normal. There must be a change; the moon by itself cannot produce it; the witch’s call does.”

“If it weren’t for the descent into idiocy, I would invite you to prove that the moon doesn’t turn people into werewolves.”

“What I want to know,” Lassiter said, “is what we’re going to do about whoever drops in first. It’ll probably be the Nazis.”

“Perhaps,” Dr. Fleming replied, “but I fully expect Dr. Newman to show up. The Nazis probably know where I live; Dr. Newman definitely does, and he must suspect I’ve returned home.”

“Let’s try this,” Darren proposed. “Stay here until someone shows up or the moon becomes full—whichever comes first. After that, we may as well go hunting. I don’t think Newman or the Nazis know much, but perhaps we can use Neo Patwa to find Mantong’s men who deserted.”

“Rick Shafer knows a lot,” Lassiter said. “The only problem is getting him to talk coherently. And from what he said, he’ll be around.”

“I’d prefer the Nazis,” Dr. Fleming said. “Still, Darren has a point: we may as well rest and prepare. I doubt any of our enemies are particularly violent except for the Nazis, and they will need stealth around here. And once we’ve determined the moon’s effect, we can perhaps range as far afield as we like.”

And thus began their struggle with peace and relaxation.

Next: What Dreams May Come

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dark World: No Place Like Home

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Darren thought Dr. Fleming’s laboratory and residence seemed more forbidding than welcoming, and he was sure Lassiter spoke for them all when he said, “It seems like years since we left here.”

The doctor was driving, and he muttered, “A little over nine months at most.” But his eyes searched the scene for traps. “It will take me a moment to collect my gear. Darren, you have a key; go unlock the door while Lassiter and I begin packing our luggage inside.”

Darren smiled. It was as close as the doctor would probably come to admitting that they might confront a spiritual problem requiring a spiritual solution. For what it was worth, he didn’t sense such a thing though he still prayed as he opened the door.

The hasty cleanup from their recent campaign to civilize and humanize Lassiter definitely needed improvement, but Darren scouted the building first. It didn’t take long, but he had to poke his head out the door with an all clear anyway before his friends joined him. Then he went out for a load, though there wasn’t much left. Dr. Fleming had evidently insisted on carrying most of his gear, and Lassiter, who didn’t have any luggage, could easily pack most of the rest inside.

The doctor surveyed his home critically. “Apart from some untidiness, everything seems in order. Gentlemen, I suggest we turn in early; tomorrow I intend to run more medical tests on Lassiter than either of you have ever heard of.”

“Why?” Lassiter asked. “I haven’t even begun to change since we were on our way to Dvorak’s.”

“True, but the only other time you’ve encountered the witch lately was when she was busy with the Nazis. I want you to be ready for her next visit or the full moon, whichever comes first. And if you’ll recall, the last time you started to change, your failure was quite painful. I’d like to prevent a recurrence almost as much as you would.”

Lassiter nodded unhappily, and Darren said, “Where does that leave me?”

“On a centrally located couch,” the doctor replied. “You’re a light sleeper, and while I believe I trust Lassiter’s intentions, you are more likely to resist any attacks and provide useful assistance.”

“We have other potential enemies as well—whoever tried to kill Dvorak, and perhaps Newman.”

“Annoying but true. We sleep armed. I’ll feel a little better once I’m sure Lassiter’s problem is under control, however. An external menace is easier to defeat.”

With that, the doctor began locking the place down, though sunset was not imminent. Lassiter helped Darren move the couch, and the doctor opened his library for general use. Darren, who was already familiar with its occasionally quite non-utilitarian contents, located a small volume of Donne’s poems and headed back for the couch, while the others made selections and pulled up a couple of chairs for close if silent companionship and awaited the fall of night.

Next: The Calm

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Do-It-Yourself Communion

I encountered something distinctly troubling Sunday: news of a church that, in an attempt to accommodate those whose background involves receiving the Lord's Supper (or Communion or the Eucharist, whatever you want to call it) every week, would soon feature a place where anyone so inclined could take Communion solo without bothering anyone else.

No muss, no fuss.

No concept of sacrilege, either.

Shouldn't this be an obviously bad idea? It's called "Communion" by some at least, and the communion is not just with God but with our brothers and sisters in the Lord, even those not blessed to be in our church or denomination. Yet it is the people next to us in the pew or the line who are the most evident reminders of what it's about. Paul told the Corinthians not to go at their own pace but to wait for the others:

"When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat,
for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else." (1 Cor 11:20-21a)

"So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other." (1 Cor 11:33)

If there are people around you and you have your own private service, so to speak, isn't that wrong? (Sometimes you simply are alone, but that's a different matter.)

Beyond this, there is a great casualness about what is supposed to be a holy thing. This should be a solemn moment, but it's reduced to the convenience of a drive-through window at McDonald's. We have lost such sacredness as remains for non-liturgical Protestants, and even the liturgical set have their frivolous group.

Now, what makes this morbidly hilarious is that the some of the very people promoting this idea have been making a lot of noise about doctrinal purity and the fundamentals of the faith.

About the only upside here is that Satan may be incapacitated with laughter.

So, what to do other than gripe? Pray. I'm afraid these people wouldn't listen to an opposing view, probably even from God, but prayer is the only answer.

For the rest of you, as you receive communion next time--surrounded by your brothers and sisters and connected backwards in time all the way to the upper room where they first heard, "This is my body"; sideways to people receiving communion at the same time, even if elsewhere; and forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb of which this is the foretaste--pray for these people who have sacrificed the inconvenient glory of community for the convenient desolation of isolation, cut off from the Body and dishonoring the Head.

Lord, have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Shadow of the Rope: A Free Book Review

"The marriage that I propose to you," continued Steel, "is simply the most convenient form of friendship of which I can think. I want to be your friend; indeed, that much I mean to be, if necessary, in spite of you. I was interested in your case, so I came up to hear your trial. I was more interested in your trial, but most interested of all in yourself. There, indeed, the word is too weak; but I will not vex your spirit with a stronger. My attraction you know; my determination you know; even the low wiles to which your pride reduced me, even my dodging and dogging, have been quite openly admitted to you on the first reasonable opportunity. ... What I can do, however," and Steel bent further forward, with eyes that held Rachel's in their spell; "what I can do, and will, is to go back with a lady who shall be my wife in name, my daughter in effect. We should, I trust, be the best of friends; but I will give you my word, and not only my word but my bond, that we never need be anything more."

This is the strange proposal that confronts Rachel Minchen, just acquitted by jury of murdering her husband, but considered guilty by practically everyone else in Britain, in The Shadow of the Rope (free audiobook here), by E. W. Hornung. A mysterious stranger—a rich, older man named Steel—watched the trial and offered Mrs. Minchen his assistance, which she spurned until the full horror of her desperate situation drove her to accept.

Who is he, really? Why is he interested in her, and what connection did he have with her husband and perhaps with his murder? And who did kill him, anyway? Steel is polite to Rachel, but there is a gulf between them, and sometimes he seems curiously unconcerned about her even as he has expressed or demonstrated attentiveness.

It isn't until Rachel's secret past (and perhaps Steel's) begins to come out that a friend, a writer, undertakes a proper investigation into the murder, about which Steel is not just uninterested but defiant, daring him to find the truth.

This is quite a good story on the whole. There are two things that bother me, though they are fairly minor.

First, only an idiot would think Rachel guilty. She had quarreled with her husband and was on the brink of returning to Australia when he was killed: why should she kill him, under the circumstances? And if she did kill him, wouldn't she realize how damning her preparations to leave would look? Someone tried (incompetently) to conceal the murder and make it look like the work of thieves; if that was her doing, she should have trusted to the deception and (again) not continued her preparations for departure. And then there's her decision to visit a sick friend when she should have been either fleeing or doing a better job covering up the crime. It's fairly obvious that she didn't know about the murder until well after the fact.

Second, we are told not to pity a certain character. Rubbish! Not to pity that character is to be a jerk. The character's effective end is in my opinion undeserved, and pity is deserved.

Otherwise, it's a good story that will puzzle and mislead the reader until the end.

Once again, that's

The Shadow of the Rope

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Dark World Recap 2

The first recap is here.

The trip to Darren's old friend and mentor, Dr. FitzHugh, does not turn out well: the doctor went on a private expedition and has not returned. His daughter, Clio, goes to get some notes of his on a strange pidgin, Neo Patwa, and is attacked. In the confusion, Lassiter disappears.

Dr. Fleming believes that Dr. FitzHugh's disappearance was voluntary, and he gives Darren a clue that should lead to the doctor. Lassiter re-appears, saying he has encountered an old friend, Rick Shafer, who appears to be both remarkably well informed and patently insane.

The trio travels to Atlantis, an old haunt of Dr. FitzHugh's, where they are captured by people like the man who attacked Clio. These men seem afraid of Lassiter and connect him with various evil entities. The trio outwit their captors only to be met by Dr. FitzHugh, who is determined to go to the dark world for research. He reveals that he has discovered something extremely significant; it is related to a strange language (‘Est id deusk? Deusker quem temos.’ ‘Is it dark? Darker than darkness.’). He also says the door between the worlds has closed and Lassiter is the key to re-opening it.

They are interrupted by Nazis who want to send an expeditionary force to the dark world; the way indeed opens, and they are claimed by the mysterious Dark Lady and vanish.

Dr. FitzHugh prepares to depart, but Clio shows up at the last moment. She tries to join him, but winds up clutching air as he disappears. She says that Rick Shafer told her where her father was; she has no idea how Shafer gets around so quickly, because he arrived at Atlantis before she did.

In order to prevent Clio from rashly barging into danger, Dr. Fleming makes a bet with her that he can toss her in the lake, which he does by skill and trickery. As he, Darren, and Lassiter make good their escape, he also claims that he did it to distract her from her grief and simply because "she was annoying me."

They decide to return to the doctor's home and laboratory to figure out their next move.

I'll take a very brief break from the story. When we return, Dr. Fleming has an ambiguous and frightening experience that sets the stage for the first actual adventure with Shafer.

Next: No Place Like Home

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dark World: Flip You For It

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“Poetry in motion,” Dr. Fleming quipped, briefly watching Clio transition from floundering to swimming. “Specifically, something by Sir Walter Scott.”

Then he noticed that Darren was fleeing in the direction of the car, with Lassiter close behind. He decided to utilize his scientifically trained running ability, though he didn’t get within hailing distance until they reached the woods.

“What’s the matter?” he called.

“I know Clio,” Darren said. “She’s not only an excellent swimmer but a very fast runner.”

The doctor wisely chose to save his breath for running and his expletive for later. A roar of feminine fury behind him confirmed this decision, and he was only slightly comforted to realize that her soggy clothing should slow her down.

Darren maintained his lead and was starting the car when the doctor arrived. He grabbed the door and braced himself on the running board as Darren rocketed through the brush and onto the path.

“You did know I was here, didn’t you?” the doctor asked.

“Could a scientifically trained runner not be?” Darren replied with a grin. “Are you scientifically trained for riding on a running board?”

“Not exactly,” the doctor muttered as he opened the door and swung inside. Lassiter waved a cheery greeting from the back seat, to his great annoyance.

“Now would you mind telling me what that was all about?”

“The wager? Isn’t it obvious? First, it should give her something to think about instead of her father, at least for a few minutes. That should take the edge off her grief, if I understand her correctly. She will still grieve, of course; but I think I’ve blunted its force. Second, I take her to be an honorable woman, so her pledge not to get involved should keep her from rampaging around in dangerous places while she’s too distraught to think. And third, she was annoying me.”

“So now what?” Darren asked. They had reached an actual road, and the intersection required a choice.

“Home. I see no reason to stay away from there now, and I’d rather have the home ground advantage in whatever else transpires. I’d also like to sleep in my own bed for once. You and Lassiter can argue over the guest room and the couch, and I’ll get another bed and room set up as soon as possible. Like it or not, we’re in this together now.”

Next: No Place Like Home

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dark World: Left Behind

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

For a moment Clio paused, hand closed, gazing at it in shock. Then she fell to her knees and collapsed groaning on the ground. Darren knelt down beside her, but a steel grip arrested his arm.

“If you touch her right now,” Dr. Fleming said, “she’ll rip your hand off.”

Darren glanced from him to her and back again. “Sometimes you’re very perceptive, Victor. But I—”

Clio rolled over and seized his arm. “Send me there!”

“What? I wouldn’t even if I could, and I can’t.”

“You must have seen whatever he did!”

“Saw, yes. I didn’t memorize the ritual, and I couldn’t hear the words.” Darren conveniently omitted that Dr. Fleming probably had memorized the gestures, though he hoped the doctor hadn’t heard the words either. He certainly wasn’t going to mention Lassiter’s importance, if he still had any: with the door now open, perhaps anyone could wander through. But Lassiter probably remained a focal point, and she would definitely haunt the poor man if she knew that.

Just then he saw a welcome diversion. “Rosa! You actually came with Clio?”

“I wasn’t going to stay in that house alone. Though I’m not sure this is any better. What happened to him?”

“To the doctor? He decided to explore a new world—and a dark one. May God have mercy on him.”

Rosa bowed her head and crossed herself.

Meanwhile Clio had had enough. “Darren, you know more about this than you’re telling. I know you won’t lie, but you will be evasive if I let you—and I won’t. Do you know a way to that accursed world?”

“I know a way to probably a different part of it. He used a way of his own, and whether it’s any safer than the one I know is impossible to tell. I believe the one I know is lethal, and anyway I can’t make it happen whenever I want. We may be able to help him eventually, but it will take investigation, planning, and prayers that you would never pray. Just leave it to us.”

“I can conduct my own investigation.”

“And get killed. These are dangerous people—I won’t say dangerous men, because they aren’t all men; they may not all be human.”

“I can take care of myself.”

“Enough of this,” Dr. Fleming interrupted. “We shall settle this now with a wager that you shall lose, and you shall stay out of this whole matter in consequence.”

This earned him a withering look of feminine disdain. “Try your best. And when you lose—I haven’t yet decided on a suitable humiliation, but it shall almost make up for the rest of this infamous day.”

Next: Flip You For It

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dark World: Open and Shut

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“I hoped we were through with that whole business,” Dr. Fleming muttered as he shakily rose to his feet.

“I think we were,” Darren said. “Remember what happened at Better Angel? The door wasn’t opening; it was closing. But apparently all the desire to open it again reversed that.” He turned to Dr. FitzHugh and helped him up. “Now do you see where you would be going? It’s an evil place!”

“The Dark Lady there, Nazis here—I see no great difference. Is this world so good—a world where an innocent woman can die for no reason at all? I would have left here years ago if I could.”

“You leave the country, but you always come back. If you go there, you probably couldn’t come back.”

“Enough of this! Mantong, we must begin while the opening is still fresh.”

The elder, who had been hustled outside with the rest of them, began gesturing rhythmically and muttering words Darren couldn’t quite hear. A few men who had attended him followed him to Dr. FitzHugh’s side, though a couple held back and even began edging toward the woods.

“Pathetic,” Dr. Fleming said. “Your friends were going to kill Lassiter, but now they need him to make their getaway. Have a nice chat with the witch.”

Dr. FitzHugh scowled back. “Mantong would not have—”

But Mantong smiled. “Fire die, start fire.”

Dr. FitzHugh turned to him, aghast. “You mean you would have mortally wounded him and then opened the door even as he lay dying? This is…”

His voice died away as his hair moved in a breeze Darren couldn’t feel.

“I suppose I can’t simply drag you away,” Darren said.

“You could try. I believe you would come too. The process has already begun.”

A woman cried, “Father!” They turned and saw Clio running toward them.

“Clio—Daughter—I am sorry to leave you, but—”

“Take me with you!”

“Clio! No!” Darren shouted, reaching for her.

“Then take my hand, Daughter! Come with me!”

She shoved Darren aside with all her might and rushed past him, reaching out her hand to her father’s hand, closing hers over his—but clasping air.

Next: Left Behind

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dark World: Dark and Darker

As usual, mousing over strange text will reveal a gloss, not counting the fragmentary German.

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“Where are—” Dr. FitzHugh began.

“We have dealt with your apes according to our usual efficiency. You may have a better fate. You could be useful to us, Doctor. As for you, Herr Lassiter, you shall come with us. We have assembled an expeditionary force to explore this new world; we just require you to open the way for us.”

“You murdered them!” Dr. FitzHugh gasped as he and the others were shepherded from the cabin.

“One murders human beings,” the newcomer said in an accent clearly obtained at an English university. “Subhuman races may be slaughtered like any other animal—useless evolutionary by-products. If you wish, you may join them in the lake.”

Darren glanced at Dr. Fleming, but there were too many guns in too large an area for a simple solution. “I’ll tell you what I told Dr. FitzHugh,” he said. “If you go in, you can’t come back. This door works only one way.”

“For inferior races, perhaps. Some have returned, and what a subhuman can do, the Master Race shall surely do even more easily. But you need not worry about returning. We shall take Herr Lassiter, Dr. FitzHugh, and perhaps the other doctor, this Fleming, with us. You are dead weight, so to speak.”

“Even though I’m not from an inferior race?”

“You have spent so much time with them that you have become like them.”

Darren started to reply when he noticed something that froze the words in his mouth: despite the calm of the clearing, Lassiter’s hair was stirring as if in a breeze Darren could not feel.

The sky grew dark, and there was now a hill where a moment before there had been only trees. A familiar voice called, “Benevenit, amicos! Veni a vor nov hem!

“Gnädige Frau, wir—” the man in black began, but the dark lady took no notice.

Veni! Seque vor desires e intra! Li tenebres comanda vos!”

The man in black struggled against an unseen force. “Nein,” he growled. Slowly he raised his gun and fired at the woman, but with no effect.

Darren looked around. The black-clad forces were beginning to shamble toward the woman, but at least for the moment, the rest were hanging back, eyes shut against the sight. Darren suspected they saw it anyway.

The flock of would-be wolves reached the foot of the hill, and Darren and the others fell on the ground gasping as the darkness gave way to the normal afternoon light.

Next: Open and Shut

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dark World: Deusker Quem Temos

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Darren gawked at the new arrival. “Dr. FitzHugh! So you aren’t a prisoner!”

The balding, ruddy-faced man laughed. “Of course not. My friends are too civilized for such things, though they are sometimes a bit hasty. I hope the bowmen will suffer no permanent harm?”

“The chemical disperses swiftly and does no lasting damage,” Dr. Fleming replied. “Have them go outside and wash their faces in the lake.”

Dr. FitzHugh did so, but Darren had other business to attend to. “Clio is worried about you, Doctor. You should have left her a note.”

Dr. FitzHugh took a seat near the center of the room. “I originally did—or a clue, anyway. But there have been unexpected developments and delays, and I did not want her barging in here at the wrong moment. You could take her a message, but neither she nor you shall interfere. If it had not been for an unexplained obstacle, I should already have left.”

“Where are you going?”

“To a new frontier—a new world with languages and cultures our world either never knew or forgot long ago.”

“I have it on good authority that those who go there can’t return—at least in general. There have apparently been a few exceptions, but as Victor, here, would say, it’s not the way to bet.”

“It matters little. I know communication remains possible. In time, Clio may follow me; perhaps you as well.”

“No. It is an evil world—a dark world with few enclaves of light. We’ve experienced that fact.”

“Ah, yes: ‘Est id deusk? Deusker quem temos.’ ‘Is it dark? Darker than darkness.’ That is a proverb among those I hope to find.”

Dr. Fleming nudged Darren. “Those words weren’t on the list.”

“Different language,” Darren muttered.

“Yes, a very different language,” Dr. FitzHugh said. “The language I hope to find, along with its speakers, though both are lost even in the new world. It amuses me that those superstitious Germans have a thread of the truth, though they are blind to its reality. They knew you were coming, and they want you—especially the one called Lassiter. But they do not know what to do with him, and I do.”

“Nothing harmful, of course.”

“Yesterday, shortly before we were going to cross over, the connection between the worlds vanished—the door closed. Lassiter has been to the outskirts of the other world and returned. He is the key to a door now locked.”

“Of course!” Darren whispered. Then he continued aloud, “You shall not take him there.”

“There is no need to do so. His very presence shall re-open the door, and his coming saves us the bother of bringing him here.”

“It has been rather convenient for us as well,” announced a man in a black suit as similar men with guns filed past him through the doorway.

Next: Dark and Darker

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dark World: Lassiter at Bay

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

The newcomers were archers, and all but one had an arrow nocked and ready to release. The exception came forward. “You give gun.” His gesture included them all, and if his English was primitive, it was quite intelligible.

Darren began to respond in Neo Patwa, but Dr. Fleming gave him a warning glance, and he reconsidered. It might be better to play dumb for a while, just in case the men said something interesting.

The three gave up their guns, and the guards escorted them in annoying silence. In only a few moments they entered a clearing with a lake and a cabin, and shortly afterward they entered the cabin itself. As they passed through the door, Darren confirmed a curious observation from the forest trip: the men gave Lassiter a wide berth. Lassiter glanced at him and grinned with evil satisfaction.

An elderly man awaited them—not Dr. FitzHugh, Darren noted with disappointment. The recently acquired guns were placed almost at his feet, not quite a yard away.

“You not welcome here,” the man said. “You bring evil one—friend of evil one.” With this he brandished a dagger with a familiar symbol on it.

“They’re no friends of mine,” Lassiter said.

“You friend of dark woman,” the elder charged, and the men again brought their weapons up.

“No,” Lassiter stated.

“You bring dark woman.”

The bowstrings were taut.

Dr. Fleming gestured for attention, and the arrows wavered slightly as he stepped toward the elder. “Otice-nay ere-whay our-ay uns-gay are-ay,” he commanded in a cheerful tone. The elder looked puzzled, and the doctor turned to Lassiter. “Istract-day em-thay.”

The arrows were now pointed uncertainly at the doctor, but Lassiter grinned, threw back his head and howled like a wolf. The archers were re-targeting him when a cloud of smoke enveloped him and his friends, followed by muffled explosions.

When the smoke began to clear, Lassiter, Darren, and the doctor were back to back in the center of the room, guns ready, but the archers were gasping and clawing at their eyes.

“No charge for the gas grenades,” the doctor muttered.

“We’re getting good,” Lassiter crowed.

“We’re getting overconfident,” Darren warned. “Pig Latin, Victor?”

“They might know German, at least the word for gun. And using German might have antagonized them anyway. But small distortions fool non-native speakers: even a fluent student of French may be stymied by verlan.”

Just then a gust of wind from the open door dispersed the remaining wisps of smoke, and a new voice called, “Darren! Put that gun away!”

Next: Deusker Quem Temos

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dark World: Attack From Atlantis

Sorry about the late post. Fridays are especially hectic.

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

When Darren pulled off the country road and practically into some bushes, there was no sign of the site he had already described briefly in English and at greater length in Neo Patwa: no lake, no cabin, nothing but trees.

“How long a hike will it be?” Dr. Fleming asked.

“Directly, ten minutes or less,” Darren replied. “But we’ll take thirty just to be safe.”

They proceeded cautiously, frequently stopping to listen and always inspecting their surroundings minutely. Darren was relieved that the doctor hadn’t brought his backpack arsenal; it might have proved handy, but it was too bulky. The doctor had removed some items from it and stowed them inconspicuously about his person. He had also made a point of issuing them all guns. Darren’s mind went back over the brief dialog that followed.

“We won’t fire needlessly, I trust,” he had said.

“The idea is more to threaten than to harm,” the doctor promised. “I think the intruder was not supposed to resort to violence and did so out of frustration and anger; I hope to avoid a repeat of that.” He paused and studied Darren carefully. “You don’t really expect to sneak in there, do you?”

“I hope to, but I certainly don’t expect to. It depends how large a force is here. If it’s small, we may get through; otherwise not. But I think it’s better to try reasonable stealth than simply to drive up to the camp. This way, we may keep our vehicle a secret for a while, which might make escape possible later.”

“So we rescue Dr. FitzHugh against his will?”

“I hope not. I would like a proper talk with him, though.”

It all hinged on whether Victor was right: if Dr. FitzHugh was relatively free, the desired interview and their general safety would be no problem. But if he wasn’t…

Darren could sense a movement in the trees, and he glanced at Lassiter, who was looking at him. Even without the lycanthropy, his senses seemed sharper than normal. Darren whispered to Dr. Fleming, “We’ve been spotted.”

“How many?”

“Two or three at most. But they’re raising the alarm. We should have the full force here within a minute.”

“How far is the camp?”

“Too far.”

“Then we surrender graciously and bide our time.”

As if in answer, several short, stocky men appeared out of the woods on every side, their weapons at the ready.

Next: Lassiter at Bay

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dark World: The Shafer Mystery

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“The screams stopped as I rounded the side of the house,” Lassiter continued. “I would have kept going anyway, but then I noticed someone hiding in the woods away from the house. Looking back, I realize he couldn’t have been the attacker: he was too far away too soon after the screams. But at the time I just assumed he was my man, so I headed after him.

“He saw me coming and ran. The wall around the estate slowed him down more than me, and I jumped him from the top of the wall before he could get away. When I turned him over, he looked familiar, and when he begged me not to hit him in the head this time, I recognized the voice: it was Rick Shafer.

“Rick and I were engineering students together, and we also had jobs working on an assembly line. He was always a little odd, and not in a good way. I’m not that picky, but even I thought he was a bit of a pervert. And one day while we were working on the assembly line, he claimed that an item he was working on gave him telepathic powers. He could hear thoughts, and not all of them seemed human.

“It was pretty weird even for Rick. I made some noncommittal remarks, and he got angry and just quit then and there. I’m pretty sure he left with the electrical gadget he’d been working on. That was practically my last day too: the factory was about to close anyway, and I had a chance at working my way to Europe on a steamer. A friend said the Europeans were trying to improve their economies and technology at the same time, kind of like our rural electrification projects here. I wish now that I had stayed here for some of the work programs.

“So when I recognized Rick, I stopped mid-violence, and he yelled again, ‘Okay, okay! Just don’t hit me in the head again, even though it does improve my telepathy.’ Then he recognized me, and I promised not to hit him if he explained himself. Unfortunately for my sanity, he did—or tried to.

“He’s changed, and lunacy aside, it’s mostly an improvement. He’s no longer a pervert, just a lunatic, and he’s a lot easier to talk to, apart from the assault on your sanity. He put on a foil cap and gave me another, so we could talk privately. We soon had to move to avoid the police, but he seemed to know a number of hiding places.

“He said that he was watching the intruder, though he couldn’t explain why. I suspect he just finds it entertaining. He follows various groups around, apparently, and I think he knew where the intruder came from. It’s a pity I couldn’t get a coherent explanation of that detail.”

“Do you think he could lead us to the intruder?” Darren asked.

“Maybe. You’d have to make a game of it, though. He’s very childlike these days.”

“I’m almost certain we’re on the right track now, but it could help to have an alternative solution. If we can find him again, that is.”

“He said he’d see me again, so we probably will, though it might mean returning to Boston. From what you say of the police there, I’d rather not try it.”

“If he is monitoring the same groups we’re interested in,” Dr. Fleming said, “we shall likely meet up eventually anyway. Let him find us; then perhaps I’ll believe he’s worth my time.”

Lassiter just grunted softly, and they might have continued the trip in silence if Darren hadn’t suggested practicing the new language they would probably be encountering again soon. “It’s easy to learn the words of a small language, but hard to get used to working in such cramped quarters. We have a few hours; let’s make good use of them.”

[My personal schedule will be weird for a week or so, but I'll try to keep this regular.]

Next: Attack From Atlantis

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Dark World: The Madman and Atlantis

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

[Since it's been a week, a brief recap: Lassiter has suddenly reappeared, fresh from an interview with someone he calls a madman with potentially useful information, and Darren thinks the missing Dr. FitzHugh is likely in a place called Atlantis.]

“Is your madman available now?” Dr. Fleming asked.

Lassiter shook his head. “No, he’s gone again. He’s almost as hard to keep track of as the werewolf people.”

“Then Atlantis wins. Darren, I assume that you’re driving.”

“It would be quicker,” Darren said. “Since Clio probably has no more idea of where Atlantis proper is than I do, the clue must be to the place we called Atlantis, and it’s only a few hours away if you know the roads.”

Darren took the wheel, and Dr. Fleming relegated Lassiter to the back seat and a low profile.

“Don’t sulk; I’m sure there are still some policemen around who would like a talk with you. And we can trade stories while we drive. I can tell you what happened inside the house, you can tell us what happened outside, and Darren can tell us about Atlantis. With any luck, we shall not have to resort to singing to while away the hours.”

“How do you know there aren’t policemen watching us now?”

“Because either you or Darren would have noticed. You aren’t idiots, but I have no such lofty opinion of the local constabulary.” The car started, and the doctor continued, “I think summaries are in order. Darren, tell us briefly what this Atlantis of yours is.”

“There’s a small valley in the foothills near here, and someone built a hut in it. Somehow—probably a natural dam gave way—the valley became flooded, covering the hut. Clio and her father had found it long before I met them, and she called it Atlantis. I saw it on my first visit to the area—to America—a few years ago. There’s a more recent cabin that the doctor uses for a camp. I think he honeymooned there, from something he said.”

“He’s a widower?” the doctor asked.

“Yes. His wife died not long before I met them—he travels sometimes as much to forget as to study. But inevitably he wants to remember again, and then he comes home. He often spends a day or two at Atlantis.”

Dr. Fleming followed this up with a swift yet reasonably detailed presentation of the adventure of the locked room. “I’m mildly surprised and mightily relieved that Officer Hancock forgot to tell us to remain in the area,” he concluded. “He and his fellow lackwits will spend years trying to find the attacker. They seem convinced he was a local hood, but I am equally certain he was no such thing. He probably wasn’t in the same group as that enchantress, but there is a general similarity.”

“Are we going back?” Lassiter asked.

“To Boston? I hope not. But it depends on what we find at this Atlantis. If we can interview Dr. FitzHugh, perhaps we can get a lead on this whole business. Or are you depending on your lunatic friend for that?”

Lassiter smiled. “It’s such a mad affair, it would be only fitting for a madman to explain it. But even ‘madman’ hardly sums up Rick Shafer.”

Next: The Shafer Mystery

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Everybody's Lonesome: A Free Book Review

I'm not entirely sure why I like Everybody's Lonesome (audiobook here) by Clara E. Laughlin. Technically, it makes some points that any relatively thoughtful person already knows, and it is a bit of a shaggy dog story. But some things bear repetition, and especially these days when there's so much demonizing of differences--anyone who disagrees with you is therefore evil and stupid--it's good to stress commonality.

The story involves the development of Mary Alice, a small-town girl who feels unpopular and uninteresting, who nonetheless finds romance and importance (chatting with the King of England!) by learning some basic secrets of life from her godmother.

Success is possible for anyone, according to this story, though not necessarily wealth or fame, simply by understanding people. (Indeed, a wealthy man seeks out the godmother and eventually Mary Alice herself purely because they are restful and invigorating companions.)

This is a short work--the audiobook is under an hour and a half--but it manages to be inspirational in the general sense and a good story. It's worth a look, and the audiobook is well above average and thus worth a listen.

Everybody's Lonesome

I know this is a short review; I'm not yet sure what I'll do next. I should probably get back to Dark World and probably will. But Wednesday will be busy, and I'm not sure what my schedule will be. Also, I'd like to do generalized reviews of certain authors.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Frozen Pirate: A Free Book Review

The Frozen Pirate (audiobook here) by W. Clark Russell is an odd item. Written in 1887, it has a sci-fi element rather unusual for the time and even for the author, though Russell did write horror stories.

The story begins with a terrible storm and a kamikaze iceberg wiping out a ship and leaving the narrator adrift in a lifeboat in antarctic waters. He encounters a massive island of ice and goes ashore, where he eventually discovers a pirate ship run aground some distance from the water. The ship includes a generous helping of Frozen Pirate (tm)--heat 'em and serve!

Mostly by accident, our hero manages to revive one of the pirates--they've been in deep freeze for just under fifty years, so they're still good.

Sort of good.

Kind of amoral to evil, really. This is a realistic pirate, you see, and while he's willing to help the narrator get the ship back in the water, if possible, there's treasure aboard, and he finds the math of splitting it all in half a little too daunting and has an idea for avoiding the trouble.

So the narrator's early problems of loneliness and surviving the elements unassisted become the problems of obnoxious companionship and surviving its dangers. And then there's the task of getting the ship safely launched before the northward-bound island breaks up and takes the ship with it.

There are two negatives that I should mention. Writers were completists at this point, and the narrative continues well beyond the point where a modern writer would stop. I myself would simply relegate the closing chapters to a brief epilog. Also, while it is worth explaining how he gets the ship to England and disposed of the treasure, it's rather annoying that he goes from being fairly moral and ethical to wanting to dodge the standard procedures that would have left him with little of the treasure. He turns a bit pirate himself, and I'm not sure the irony is intentional.

Still, the idea is a good one, and if you're used to the period, you'll find the book worth reading. The twist in the pirate's fate is fairly ingenious, if not altogether original today.

A note about the audiobook: there are several readers, which is usually a bad thing. What's worse, there are a number of frequent mispronunciations that I at least found painful. In case you don't know it, the Thames, the river that passes through London, is pronounced "Tim's"; it rhymes with "gyms," not "James." So I don't really recommend the audiobook, though it's otherwise a good way of getting through a rather long story.

The Frozen Pirate

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Middle Temple Murder: A Free Book Review

The Middle Temple Murder (audiobook here) by J.S. Fletcher is a classic mystery wherein journalist Frank Spargo attempts to solve the murder of an initially unknown elderly man in the Middle Temple Lane, where lawyers hung out back then.

This isn't the sort of mystery where you can match wits with the detective and generally have all the relevant details at your disposal. These are deep waters, Watson, and you get to follow Spargo as he delves ever deeper. You can can try to figure things out as quickly as Spargo, but that's about it. You'll be quite far in before you can even make a guess at who committed the murder, and actual certainty probably won't hit you any earlier than it does Spargo. It does all make sense--even the surprise bits are reasonable in retrospect. The last chapter seems a bit rushed, but I can understand not wanting to linger over the ending, and he does tie up the loose ends, for the most part, though I would have like to see what happened with a kind of secondary villain near the end. I doubt his position was quite as impregnable as he claimed: at least here in the US, some of his actions would have been felonies, and a few others might have been as well.

In any case you'll mostly be along for the ride. It is an engaging ride, however, and you can learn a bit about England nearly a century ago.

A note on the audiobook: the quality is average, better than some I've encountered lately, so it's a good way to get acquainted with J. S. Fletcher, a largely forgotten author whose work deserves better. I'll definitely check out some of his other books and report back; if you're curious, you can find e-books here and audiobooks here.

And again, that's

The Middle Temple Murder

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Cinder Pond: A Free Book Review

The Cinder Pond (audiobook here) by Carroll Watson Rankin, differs considerably from Dandelion Cottage, though both involve (at least initially) architectural oddities.

The story opens with a splash as a boy accidentally plumbs the depths of Lake Michigan and is rescued by a girl who lives in a ramshackle building on a disused bit of pier. Humiliated, he trudges home and at least some of the truth comes out. But that story element soon goes into cold storage, and the reader will likely forget about it.

It does introduce our main character, Jeanne, the girl who lives on the pier. Her father is of French (ultimately Huguenot) origins, now eking out a living as a fisherman. Her mother is conveniently dead--conveniently for the story, I mean; it doesn't help Jeanne at all. Mom died of some illness, and Dad thought he was going to check out too, so when a small family took him and baby Jeanne in, he decided to marry the daughter of the clan to give Jeanne a mother. Unfortunately, everyone was taken in: Dad was not rich, as his new family supposed, and the new family was more obnoxious than he had realized. So Jeanne gets a friendly but utterly lazy step-mother and eventually a bunch of half-siblings.

Finally her father decides she is in a dead-end position, and he takes her to her rich grandfather, who disapproved of her parents' marriage. Is the grandfather a stern sort who can't help unbending and taking an interest in his granddaughter? Does she have to cope with obnoxious relatives?

What do you think?

Anyway, revelations are revealed and Stuff Happens, some of it rather sad.

Overall, I found The Cinder Pond weaker than Dandelion Cottage, which has a stronger focus. It builds better; events and people here are sometimes rushed on and off stage, and certain loose ends should have been tidied up, in my view. Also, the set-up for the ending is telegraphed a bit too much. It would have been better to share in Jeanne's surprise.

Still, there are some good characters here--Jeanne herself, for the most part, and her friend the Captain, who's actually the best part of the story, in my opinion. It's not a classic, but it is a good read in general.

The Cinder Pond:

Dandelion Cottage: A Free Audiobook Review

This is one of those annoying instances where I can't find a text to go with an audiobook. The good news is that the audiobook is well done, so at least you can hear it read.

Dandelion Cottage by Carroll Watson Rankin, gets little recognition online: no Wikipedia entry (I'm thinking about fixing that), no e-text that I can find, just an audiobook.

That link I keep giving has the best summary so far, though I hope to improve on it.

The cottage that has served as the parsonage for a local church has fallen into disrepair, and when a new minister comes with too large a family to fit, it is retired. The minister's daughter and three of her friends ask Mr. Black, a church official in charge of the cottage, for permission to use it as a playhouse during the summer. Since the yard is overrun with weeds, especially dandelions, he offers to let them use the cottage in return for weeding the place.

The girls not only weed the yard but do what they can to fix the place up, and they promise to invite Mr. Black to a dinner at the cottage once they have everything ready. But he has to leave town, and all manner of events transpire, some good, some bad. In particular, they pick up some odious neighbors who team up with a naive know-it-all to cause incredible trouble. There are some good lessons here concerning how to deal with jerks and the consequences of losing your temper.

The climax of the story is the long-awaited dinner, which in one way works out predictably and in another doesn't--though in retrospect it all makes perfect sense.

On the whole, this is a good book for children (except that it might give them ideas about trying the same thing...); just remember that the girls are just beginning their teens, and this was a different century. They're more childlike than modern kids in some ways and more mature in others. But kids can learn from that: it's good for all of us to know that there have been other times and ways.

So once again, this is the link for the audiobook.

Lookin' Like a Fool With a Balloon Up Your Nose

I am Locutus of Borg. (The people around here didn't get it. I also considered calling it a 3D tat.)

Well, anyway, it was better than a ferret.

I've already said the balloon didn't hurt. It did itch, though. A lot. I sneezed more in a few days than I normally do in a week, perhaps more than I normally do in a month. And I kept thinking I might sneeze the thing out, or at least dislodge it and restart the bleeding, so I made a point of sneezing with my mouth wide open just to let the force go out that way instead.

It wasn't fun.

It also interfered with my sleep, so I was even goofier than usual. I couldn't wear sunglasses at all comfortably, either, because they pressed down on the wrong part of my nose. This is usually a sunny place this time of year, but we had some clouds that let me go without glasses much of the time.

And then there were the special effects. Oozing was a bit scary, though it was mostly serum after the first day or so, and I could feel fluid movement around the balloon, which I pumped up as much as I dared. (This wasn't much, since pumping always pushed something unpleasant out the back of my nose and down my throat.)

When the time came (Tuesday, Aug. 3) to have the thing removed, I had a terrible suspicion that the bleeding would start all over again. It didn't help that when I got there, the blood-pressure monitor gave a higher reading than when I showed up Friday evening. Mechanical error, I think: it took three tries to get a reading it liked, all in close succession, which is bound to produce some observer effects: compressing the flesh and blood vessels a couple times before taking the official reading (to say nothing of the patient stress produced) probably throws off the result. (Later readings were much lower.)

Be that as it may, I got a surprise: the balloon does hurt coming out, and the doctor I had this time didn't mention that. Probably a good thing, too: I didn't worry in advance. It wasn't scream-out-loud painful, but it definitely brought tears to my eyes. The nostril just vacated also felt raw and hollowed-out, which wasn't a surprise.

And now? No bleeding, and I'm shooting a saline solution up my nose a few times a day as a doctor-prescribed hobby. Could have been worse.

For my next amazing feat, I'll probably try a review or so, since I'm way behind. I'll get back to Dark World next week, God willing.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

ER: A Cautionary Tale With Life Lessons

I hate to admit that I can't find a picture of the thing on Wikipedia, but they decided to stick a closed, inflatable tube up my nose to provide uniform pressure on the nasal walls.

Okay, fine.

The problem was the presentation, so to speak. When you torture someone, it's helpful to paint a gruesome picture of the procedure first, because anticipation is worse than what you actually do, and the fear produced enhances the pain.

So the doctor showed me a curious object probably on loan from some probe-happy aliens. He informed me that he was going to stick the whole thing all the way up my nose, it would hurt, and I would yell and scream and generally act aggressively peevish, but he would stuff it up there anyway.

My response (no machismo required, I was just tired of the whole business) was to wish he'd just get on with it. I didn't verbalize my feelings, because it's a bad idea to annoy someone who's about to stick something up your nose.

For what it's worth, if I had to do the same thing to someone else, I wouldn't show him the thing; I'd just say, "I need to stick something up your nose, and it'll be unpleasant but quick." And then I'd do it. This is Lesson One.

It didn't hurt. Seriously, it was really uncomfortable, but it didn't actually hurt. I never had plans to take up a hobby along those lines ("Let's see what I can stick up my nose today!"), but I'm dead-set against the idea now.

Then they talked about how I'd get pain meds (Hello! Not hurting, thank you!), and I mentioned that I don't even use aspirin.

I don't know how long he'd been up, but he wasn't paying attention. "Oh, don't use aspirin. It'll make the bleeding worse."

If you're a doctor, always listen to the patient. He may be an idiot, but even so he's an idiot with useful inside information. If you're the patient, try getting the doctor to repeat what you've just said. It will be either entertaining or exasperating, depending on your mindset. This is Lesson Two.

The good news is that I'd arrived at about 8:30 pm (perhaps slightly before) and didn't leave until nearly 11, but my boss (and ride back to work) was still in the waiting room and in a reasonably good mood. Lesson Three: work for someone who doesn't mind taking you into ER and waiting for a few hours. They're hard to find, but it's worth it. He was even a congenial companion on the way back.

Anyway, next time: living with a balloon up your nose.

Adventures in ER

You see, I happen to work for my veterinarian: I'm good with animals, and I do kennel work. (I have no idea why animals so seldom figure in my stories. Few of my characters have pets.) Since I was about to leave a little early--and with blood on the floor, yet--I thought I should explain what was going on. He said he would be over in a few minutes and could give me a ride to the emergency room if necessary.

It's hard being a vet sometimes: you can't give people medical advice, not legally, anyway. So I asked him what he would do in my situation--I had the flow down to a trickle at the moment, and I hoped I could get it stopped and just go home. He said he would go to ER because (1) two major nosebleeds in less than a week would worry him and (2) it might be hypertension related, and that should be checked anyway.

Well, that's what he would do, and it seemed reasonable to me. I still almost tried to make it home on my own, but by then I had agreed to the ride and was too ashamed to back out.

It was a good thing, too: about a minute or two into the trip, the bleeding started up again in earnest, and I had my hands full containing it with some paper towels brought from work. We were making good progress until we found ourselves behind three other vehicles and a slow-moving tractor, whose driver was slow to grasp the concept of pulling over to let others pass.

It was a relatively slow night in ER, I'm pleased to say. We had the place pretty much to ourselves initially, so I got right in. The sight of all the blood helped.

They tried clamping my nose shut, but no luck. They asked a bunch of questions I had already answered: what was going on when the bleeding started? Nothing. I had taken a bite out of a cookie when the trickle began. I wasn't hitting myself in the face with a bat or anything. Someone commented that all the fingers on my right hand were bloody (the same was true of those on my left hand--thanks for noticing) and asked whether I had been picking my nose. By great good fortune (which also had me in clean underwear, as it happened), no. My boss, the vet, found this reasoning amusing afterward: did they think I was pioneering a four-fingered nose-picking technique? It's actually just what happens when you spend nearly an hour holding paper towels under your bleeding nose.

No blunt trauma, either. I think I would've noticed.

For that matter, I wasn't using or being subjected to psychic powers at the time, either--so far as I know.

But my blood pressure was high, and not all of that could be explained by the bleeding and the ER experience. The last doctor I dealt with (not Friday night but the following Tuesday) seemed to think dryness was an issue as well.

But in the meantime, they needed to stop the bleeding, and they opted for a special method beyond the Vulcan Nose Clamp.

It wasn't Cardinal Fang and the Comfy Hanky.

Tune in next time to see what it was.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

If it bleeds...

The journalistic saying is, "If it bleeds, it leads": gore sells, and I'm not just talking about Al.

Which brings us to my nose. As I've said before, I'm humble about my nose--I tend not to give it much thought. But when it starts spurting blood and won't stop, that does get my attention.

So I'm going to do something unusual: I seldom post about what I'm doing at the moment or how my day went, but this time I will take up a few posts with a true story of nosebleed. How riveting!

I had a bad nosebleed July 27, but anyone can have a nosebleed now and then. I had no further problem until that Friday, when I had a minor nosebleed in the early afternoon, but it stopped pretty quickly, and I thought no more of it. But that evening, it started up again and just wouldn't stop.

I was just finishing one of my part-time jobs--around here, you pretty much have to do a few part-time jobs; full-time ones are hard come by--when it just started trickling down. It didn't take long to realize that it wasn't minor this time.

I won't take long on the proper treatment for nosebleed; I did the nose pinch, which might have worked better if I'd been a Vulcan, but it didn't solve the problem. I could get the flow to decrease briefly now and then, and during such lulls I made some phone calls. One was to my veterinarian.

I'll explain that next time.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Dark World: Fool's Errand

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

Dr. Fleming made no comment; he simply followed as Darren left the driveway and headed toward some trees. “Lassiter is still wearing shoes he probably bought in Germany,” Darren said. “Their tracks are rather distinctive if you look at them. He evidently saw something more interesting than anything at the back of the house—the screams and other noises would have ended by the time he got here anyway.”

He stopped suddenly, and Dr. Fleming almost ran into him. “I assumed you would continue your explanation, Victor. What did you find that reveals Dr. FitzHugh’s location?”

“A word—part of a word—scrawled on the back of one page. I think he meant to leave a clue in case something happened, but then he changed his mind. From what I’ve seen of your friend, she would not honor a signed request to stay away.”

“Certainly not now. She is rather headstrong.” Darren resumed his trailing, and Dr. Fleming followed in expository mode.

“So the clue had to be removed by stealth. I suspect the intruder was holding the papers because he was looking for the right one to tear: the word was written in one corner, and he may well have meant only to tear it off and leave the papers themselves behind. The change probably would have gone unnoticed or at least been considered unimportant. But when he was interrupted, he had to act as though he wanted the notes as a whole.”

“And the magic word is?”

“Look for yourself.” The doctor handed him a tiny scrap of paper that read LANTIS.

“‘Atlantis’?” Darren asked.

“I think so. See the faint hint of a crossbar to the left—the top of the T?”

“Yes. And that leads to the question of whether it’s the legendary Atlantis, which might be hard to find, or our Atlantis, which is relatively close by.”

Dr. Fleming began to reply, but just then Lassiter burst upon them. “It is you! You wouldn’t believe…” A glance at their faces deflated his elation, and he asked, “Is she all right?”

“Yes,” Dr. Fleming muttered, “and the fact you didn’t need much prompting to ask keeps me from trying to beat you into a semblance of a gentleman. Where did you go?”

“After a madman—and I think he’d have a lot to tell us if I could get him to talk coherently for a few moments.”

Next: The Madman and Atlantis

[I'll break off here for a few days; the next arc will probably be a bit disturbing, and I thought I'd relate a personal adventure from the last week or so. Also, I do need to get in a few more reviews. I suppose I ought to intersperse reviews and stories.]

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dark World: Lassiter's Trail

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“So what is your theory about how the attacker entered the study?” Darren asked as soon as they were a safe distance from the house.

“Haven’t you thought of it?” Dr. Fleming countered with evident surprise. “It’s obvious: he got in by using the password.”

“You mean whoever is holding Dr. FitzHugh made him talk?”

“I mean that Dr. FitzHugh willingly gave the man the information.”

They had arrived at the rear of the house below the shuttered window, but the remark distracted Darren. “It was his idea? Why do you think so?”

“Look at the sequence of events: the so-called attacker never really harmed Miss FitzHugh; even the blow to the head will certainly prove trivial. I only suggested a further medical examination to keep her out of our way. Whatever doctor she picks will certainly think me a cretin for sending her on. The wound looks bad initially, but a reasonably close inspection will prove otherwise.

“This demonstrates that the attacker concentrated on trying to escape with the papers, and he tried to frighten Miss FitzHugh away. Think about it: he must have been very competent to get in there so stealthily, yet a competent assassin could have killed her at various points. If he had killed her, he would now have the papers. So not killing her was more important than the apparent primary objective, getting the papers. Doesn’t that, together with his ability to enter the room in the first place, suggest something?”

“Only that someone wants her kept alive, though I admit the opposition we’ve encountered and heard about doesn’t seem to mind killing.” Darren paused as he examined the tracks. “Just a muddle. I don’t see Lassiter’s prints here.”

“If her father is behind the attempted theft, it tells us some other things—one of which I’ve already confirmed,” Dr. Fleming continued doggedly.

“Which way would you have gone to reach the back of the house—deasil or withershins?”

“Kindly do not gibber.”

“Right or left?”

The doctor pondered briefly. “Approaching from the right would give better cover, but the left gives a better view.”

“Which is why I came left. I should’ve gone right: Lassiter likes cover.”

“Splendid. Anyway, if her father’s behind the incident, why did he want his notes taken?”

“Of course, the driveway continues to the garage and some other outbuildings on the right, so there would be no tracks,” Darren muttered absently. Then he shifted topics before his friend could be tempted too far. “She already knows the information, and so does he. I don’t see the point.”

“He didn’t want her involved, and the notes give a clue to his whereabouts.”

Darren glanced at him almost skeptically; then he looked back at the ground and smiled. “I now have a clue to Lassiter’s whereabouts. He never went near the back of the house.”

Next: Fool's Errand

[I meant to give links for the Neo Patwa material before, and I have now done so. It is going to be a bit of a running gag.]

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dark World: Comparing Notes

(The story begins here.)
(The last recap is here.)

“At least Hancock was fair about it,” Clio said a few minutes later, “especially to a mere slip of a girl. He didn’t even complain about being thrown into the hall. Still, I doubt they will find the real attacker.”

“I doubt he’s given up looking for Lassiter,” Darren commented as he hurried through copying another page of the notes.

Dr. Fleming, who had long before scientifically trained his memory to be photographic, merely studied a page of the vocabulary. “Neither should we,” he said without looking up.

“You think he’s been kidnapped?”

“He hasn’t returned, though the police have left. There is no reason for him to remain in hiding.”

“Unless he sees a threat we cannot, such as a few leftover policemen waiting in ambush.”

“He would have signaled us somehow. I would have; you would have. He isn’t that inferior.”

“What about Father?” Clio asked, clearly a bit annoyed. “We know he’s missing.”

“If Lassiter has been kidnapped, it’s quite likely connected to your father’s disappearance,” Dr. Fleming replied. “And Lassiter’s case being more recent, he should be easier to find. As for you, despite your splendid constitution, you really should be examined more thoroughly. I didn’t bring a fluoroscope with me. By the time you have been properly diagnosed, we should know what has happened to Lassiter.”

“Darren?” Her tone was simultaneously icy and seething.

“He’s the doctor, Clio. And he’s probably right about Lassiter: if he has been kidnapped, finding him could lead to your father. If Lassiter hasn’t been snatched, finding him won’t delay us. Then we can head south, if need be, to track your father down.”

“And where would I be?”

“You can follow us in your own machine, if you wish. I suppose Rosa would rather stay here.” A quick glance told him he was wrong. “You can work that out between you. There will be danger either way, but it should be safer here.”

“They won’t return for the notes?”

“I doubt it. Now that they know that we know the notes are important, it should be obvious that we would copy them.”

Clio pondered this briefly, but it was Rosa who answered. “How did they get in here in the first place?”

“We have experience with people appearing out of nowhere.”

“And always outside,” Dr. Fleming added.

“So far, yes. We don’t know they can’t turn up inside a building.”

The doctor’s only response was a look that Darren recognized: he had an alternative explanation that he wasn’t about to air in mixed company.

“That sounds dangerous,” Clio commented.

“It isn’t,” the doctor replied. “I can think of quite boring explanations for what happened here, and we haven’t had any such manifestations for a while. I don’t believe you will be in any danger here.”

Darren nodded, and they took their leave as quickly and quietly as possible over the fulminations and protests of the two women.

Next: Lassiter's Trail
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