37. Langer in the Air

June 18th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Chapter thirty-seven of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.


“So what the fuck do you suggest?” General Rauchbach shouted, his nose inches from Dr. Moore’s. It had been a long time since he’d found the need to tear someone a new asshole, and he was milking this chance for all it was worth. The blood coursing through his veins and pounding in his skull exhilarated him in a way only a war hawk could understand. “Should we just wait for a fucking train, doctor? Something that doesn’t need a God damn track to run? Or do you suggest we simply set up camp and stay a while and have dust-fucking-pies for dinner every night?”

“I suggest you calm down,” Dr. Moore mumbled, backing away a few steps as he did so. “And I’ll remind you that I never trusted the science that got us here in the first place. I’m only here because you asked me to come.”

“God damn it!” the general shrieked, kicking dust at the doctor and not realizing how well he was impersonating a baseball manager’s tantrum.

“Sir,” a very frightened soldier suddenly cried, running up to them. He glanced at Dr. Moore then stood to attention.

“What is it, private?” the general growled. “And it better be good.”

The soldier gulped and shuffled his feet. “Sir, we were trying to find a way down the cliff, like you said, and Private Langer fell—”

“Jesus Christ!”

“But sir,” he continued, speaking a bit more forcefully. “Sir, he didn’t fall. He floated.”

“What the fuck are you talking about, private? I don’t have time—”

“Sir, he floated. He floated all the way down to forest floor and landed without a scratch. So I threw a rock over the cliff, and the same thing happened. It floated the whole way down. Ask Langer yourself…”

He thrust his walkie-talkie at the general. General Rauchbach snatched it from him and cut Dr. Moore a sour look, his lips trembling in anticipation of another chance to yell.

“You’re going over next,” he snarled at the doctor, then depressed the toggle on the walkie-talkie and got the full report from Private Langer.

But, in fact, Dr. Angelo Moore was not the next person over the cliff. He had plenty of time to reflect on the plummet as he watched all but two of the soldiers and the general go before him. The general would be the last one over, he assumed, or maybe the two soldiers.

At first the other soldiers had taken tentative leaps, but as one after another drifted safely down on a cushion of air, they began to get more and more sure of themselves and began to dive as if into water, effecting somersaults and other daredevil falls.

The small team of scientists, knowing this to be physically impossible (and having the math to prove it), were not impressed by the display, nor the continued reports via walkie-talkie that another soldier had landed safely. They all looked to Dr. Moore with nervous eyes and he knew that he would have to be the first of the civilians to jump.

“Well, doctor,” General Rauchbach growled quietly with glee. “Looks like it’s your turn. We’ll bring up the rear.”

Angelo knew this was no time to be afraid, so he tried instead to sound logical—the same tactic he had unconsciously used time and again when debunking something that he actually believed, deep down, but which frightened him terribly.

“Shouldn’t we make sure we can get back up before we all go down? And what about the tikis? Shouldn’t we drive one or two of those off—?”

“No,” the general cut in simply. “You heard my soldiers—there’s nowhere down there to drive a damn tiki. It’s a grass-covered jungle. As to your other lame excuse, we’re not splitting up. On top of that, I’m not sure we are coming back up.”

A surprised mumble rippled through the scientists. This was a most irrational (which is to say, illogical) decision. They had come in at the top of the cliff, so if a rescue party came looking for them, they should leave someone here to explain what was going on.

“But surely we need someone here?” Dr. Moore spoke for them all. “What if a search party comes looking for us?”

“I’ll leave a note,” General Rauchbach snarled, smiling sweetly. “Now jump over the fucking cliff, unless you’d rather starve up here. Alone. See, we have quietly moved from military reconnaissance to survival, which means you don’t sit around waiting to be saved. You follow the food and water, and the path to that leads over that cliff.”

Angelo shuffled closer to the cliff’s edge and looked down. By his visual estimation, and based on the amount of time it took the soldiers to radio back that they’d landed, he put the distance at a mind-boggling mile, at least, making the trees he looked out upon each a mile high.

Which was, in a word, impossible.

At those distances, it was no surprise that he couldn’t see any people below, waving at him. He turned and looked at his peers, all nervously shuffling their feet in the dust and trying to look away, while the general and his last two soldiers stood grinning, with arms crossed. In a flash, Angelo felt his pride swell and he wanted nothing more than to wipe the grin off the general’s face. So he took another step, winked, and jumped.

He had closed his eyes tight at first, but as he gently descended—so smoothly he was hardly aware of anything more than a slight breeze—he found the will to open his eyes irresistible.

The world was now green, a dark twilit green that seemed full of moisture. The air was still and lush; he felt cleaner just by breathing it, and his mind cleared. He smiled as the sun glinted off dewdrops on the leaves, splashing the canopy with tiny sparkles of light like fireworks. And even when he thought he saw dark, winged shapes moving through the trees, he felt no fear. He felt comfort and joy and peace. He felt only the things a four-year-old child knows, snuggled warmly in bed between its parents, only now he was aware of its value. And he realized his whole life since then—since he’d last felt such childish comfort—had been a series of little disappointments, each one chipping away at the facade of childhood innocence, leaving him a bitter man intent on proving that such emotional wholeness was not possible; was nothing more than imagination or drug-induced euphoria.

But during the descent he came to understand that the mystics were right: Each tiny disappointment could be recaptured by these moments of clarity, until time had been turned back to a point of sublime completeness. The anger, the shame, the remorse—all could be washed away by embracing the wonders of the universe and curling up, safe and warm, in the bosom of infinity.

His feet came to rest on the grassy floor of the forest with no more pressure than standing up out of bed. He was smiling ear to ear, but the soldiers had their guns drawn and they kept glancing around with purposeful eyes.

“Did you feel the mystery?” he asked them in a whisper.

The soldier nearest him gave him a disgusted look.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

And he knew they had not.

But instead of feeling anger at their mocking glares, he felt pity for them, and he understood the pity he had seen on the faces of those he had spent a lifetime debunking, and that pity gave him peace. They were now the skeptics—the soldiers—because they lacked the ability to even consider the reality of something they couldn’t kill, just as he had once lacked the ability to believe in the reality of something he couldn’t prove with instruments and mathematics.

Dr. Angelo Moore smiled at them even as he knew they were lost.

He smiled because it meant that there was hope for him, because for him the wonder had been reopened.


36. Wood and Stone | 38. The Way the Light Bends and the Darkness Falls  ⇒

36. Wood and Stone

June 4th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Chapter thirty-six of Unknown North, a novel that will be published chapter-by-chapter until it’s done. All chapters so far: Unknown North.


Hiram sat on the moss-covered rock, hunched over with his head on his arms. He had done this hundreds of times before, always following the same trail of crescent moons he had carved into the trees, placed in a manner and way he had created so he was sure he fully understood. But the portal wasn’t there.

“Should we try a crystal prism?” Howard offered meekly, sharing a sympathetic look with Admiral Thomas. Howard now fully believed the military man when he said he’d had an epiphany: His demeanor had indeed changed; his face had softened; his voice held more emotion.

“It’s not your fault, Hiram,” the admiral said, crouching before the hunched man. “There has to be a way…”

He trailed off, his eyes trained on something over Hiram’s right shoulder. As he stood, his eyes never leaving the spot, Howard moved closer to see if he could see what had taken his attention. The change in the air stirred Hiram. He looked up to learn what was going on, turning around to see for himself what the admiral was watching.

“There’s a girl waving at me over there,” the admiral whispered. “But she doesn’t look real. She looks like a … ghost.”

Hiram leapt to his feet and stood in front of the admiral so he could match his angle and sight lines through the bushes and trees. Almost instantly, his face broke into a wide smile.

“Sophie!” he exclaimed and dashed straight ahead, his robe flapping around his feet. “It’s Sophie!” he called again, to no one in particular.

The other men quickly followed him. When they reached him, he was talking to her, only she looked, as the admiral had said, unreal. Her image wavered slightly, as if rippling in a breeze, and she seemed to be more light than body.

“It’s here,” she was saying as they joined Hiram. “You’ll have to meet us at a place called Lithari.”

“Then will the doorway reopen?” Hiram asked.

She shrugged. “I don’t know—but she said we have to go there before they can open the doorway again.”

“I understand,” Hiram replied.

“Is she real?” the admiral whispered to Hiram, eying the girl suspiciously.

“Yes, but what you’re seeing is her astral body,” Hiram said, his voice full of pride and joy. Though he hadn’t said so, he’d expected it to be the children who saved them.

“Come on!” Sophie said with urgency, waving into the shadows between two large boulders. “I have to get back.”

Her image quivered like a mirage, then faded altogether. The boulders, which stood three times as high as a man, rested against each other at the top, like a pair of conspirators standing forehead to forehead. Hiram wasted no time and stepped toward the arch the boulders formed. They seemed to exuded a sense of intelligence. Hiram knew that feeling; he knew that Sophie was right.

“Come on,” he ordered softly, glancing at the men behind him.

Both of them looked equally unsure, as they, like anyone, could clearly see through to the other side of the rocks, and could see that it was nothing but a continuation of the forest they were in, with Green Lake sparkling softly in the distance. Hiram stepped through. As his black robes merged with the shadows, he appeared to disappear.

So in the end, it was not a lack of belief that held the two men back, it was fear.

“Well, we have to go now,” Howard said, as if a sense of obligation was all that could get him to step through the portal.

Admiral Thomas nodded and sighed heavily, then stepped firmly between the boulders.

* * *

“I like Hiram,” Sophie said with uncertainty. She glanced over at Henry and watched him scribe designs in the dust with his finger. “Dr. Fobell’s sort of an idiot, but I don’t think it’s his fault.”

Henry shrugged. “They moved the portals for a reason, Soph.”

“But Axlow told me where it was, didn’t he?”

Henry looked around quickly, then glowered at Sophie. “Keep your voice down! Do you want them to hear?”

He motioned with his head toward the rest of the PISA team, who were having their own conference. The thing that offended Henry most was that they’d been told to “play over there,” as if they didn’t have anything important to add. So if they didn’t want to hear what he and Sophie had learned, Henry decided he could very easily go along with that.

“What about Carlos?” Sophie asked. “I think he’s the one who really caused this, because he helped them in.”

“Who?”

“The soldiers.”

Henry sighed and looked up at a tree stump behind Sophie. It looked to have fallen at some point, though the rest of the tree wasn’t anywhere nearby. It had been weather worn into a vaguely human shape.

“What do you think?” he said, and the tree stump moved in response.

“The soldiers won’t understand,” a high voice said, like wind through chimes gurgling over rocks in a stream. “But Hiram and his friends will, and Hiram can help you, that’s why Axlow allowed it. This illusion belongs to the light.”

“What do we look like to you?” Sophie asked.

“The Golgantry see things in our way,” the creature replied. “The light sees things in theirs. And you—you can see both. So you already know the answer to that question.”

The sentry suddenly froze again, back into the twisted and malformed shape of a fallen tree, and Luci appeared before the children, smiling warmly.

“They’ve agreed to go through the waterfall or lightfall or whatever it is,” she said, crouching down. She glanced nervously at the tree stump behind Sophie, but thought nothing more of it. “What do you guys think of that idea?”

Sophie looked to Henry to let him answer, but as he opened his mouth to protest, Sophie interrupted him: “I think that’s fine. I think that’s what they want.”

Luci smiled and stood up. “Come on, then.”

Sophie didn’t look at Henry as they walked off. She didn’t want to know if his face showed betrayal or anger—or both.


35. Light Conversation | 37. Langer in the Air  ⇒