Thursday, November 11, 2010


Chapter III

 "Great talke there is of a glasse that he [Roger Bacon] made in Oxforde, in whiche men myght see thynges that were doon in other places, and that was judged to be done by power of evyll spirites. But I knowe the reason of it to bee good and naturall and to be wrought by geometrie (sythe perspective is a parte of it) and to stand as well with reason as to see your face in common glasse."

-Dr. John Dee

Finalizing preparations for their departure through the liminal concourse between chapters below and above, Cora looked over her shoulder and in a soft voice husky with insurrection, gave edict: "Nightingale, leave Mr. Ace o' Spades a note, tell him... I'm steppin' out."

In her hands the golden bough not only illuminated their way, but carried them forth as if they were riding bare-back an enormous but invisible serpent force.
In due course approaching their destination, the passage narrowed to the merest strip, neither bridge nor parapet; the bottomless vaults of Hades below. They crossed the terrible causeway, surrounded on either side by deep forboding waters and bordered by dense black poplars. The wrath of a sentinel wind disturbed from long uninterrupted slumbers staggered awake and came howling gale-force toward them, only cleaving aside as she held aloft the golden bough; sure as Moses cleft the Red Sea. Ahead, torch-light from two ever-burning braziers swam spectral across a hammered copper door set into the red granite's finality; like an augury in a dragon's eye.

Nightingale, stepping before the door, uttered: "Salammbo".
The door slowly swung open, begrudging admission. The hierokeryx stepped aside, permitting Cora to step forward into a subterraneum antechamber dominated by a wrought iron spiral staircase. They ascended to a workshop occupied by a broad table, upon which files and heaps of geometrical diagrams accumulated with complicated schematics littered amongst logarithmic mechanical apparatus and involved curvigraphical machines, automatons and curious devices of brass and ivory, nickel and mahogany animated by means of steam and multiplying gear.

Extensive volumes of books lined the walls and piled the nooks and crannies with titles such as Rays of Light on Operations with the Universal Instrument by Ala Al-Din Abu'l-Hasan Ali Ibn Ibrahim Ibn al-Shatir, Alchemical Fire in a Flash & Glow from Glow-Worms by John French, Banu Musa's Kitab al-Hiyal, or Book of Ingenious Devices, Archimede's On the Making of Spheres, Ctesibius On pneumatics, John Dee's Inventum Mechanicum, Paradoxum... as well as his Trochilici inventa mea and Simon Studion's Naometria.

Against the western wall there stood a gigantic clock of ebony whose pendulum swung with a heavy monotonous stroke. When the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock the rolling explosion of a gong; a sound which reverberated the skeleton of the entire ediface- so loud and deep and peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, even the dust motes seemed to pause, momentarily, in their trajectories to hearken to the sound and moths waltzing in the attics caught their breaths.

"Our present sanctuary, the once upon a perhaps remote possibility; a long lost appendage of the Otherhood, widely believed disassembled. I'm afraid our presence here reflects a complete disregard for the evidence of its non-existence. One may question the veracity of claims lacking empirical evidence; a practical, epistemological position. Critical rationalism, skeptical inquiry, thrown back ad infinitum festering in Boojum Paradox. I, however am a True Believer and we shall set our conundrums to guess when-wherever we may..."

She looked at him wryly. "Just when-where are we?"

Varifying his own reckoning against the gargantuan clock, he determined: "for the moment we reside under the auspices of the Atelier Gryphon in Tweezerville, Indiana August, 21, 1859 and if we are to arrive in New Orleans to mate our destiny, we must deploy post haste!

Emerging from the romanesque limestone building carved with a female figure bestride a gryphon stretching its wings across the gable, they passed beneath an oroboric dragon encircling the entrance archway, maintaining its vigilance amidst ivy scrollwork.
Looking up past its twin cylindrical towers into the blue unblemished sky, Nightingale was startled to see it free from the vapor trailing raptors of war and industry.

Appraising her traveling apparel of cinched saffron skirt and buckled bodice over her chartreuse blouse, he blurted,
"Well, Cora if you ain't the Canary's Pyjamas!"

"You rude old toad! Better croak a sweeter song or I'll have your guts for garters..."

"Honi soit qui mal y pense, cherie."

"Just gun it, Grampy."

"By your gussets and grommets, I shall!"

"Gadzooks & god's pronouns!" The old curmudgeon winced at the impact as a locust detonated on his cheekbone; the speed on the 8 Hp flash-tube Serpollet modified Micheaux-Perreau steam Velocipede would hit the ceiling at 60 mph with one rider. Queen Cora adjusted her goggles with one hand as she clung to the motorcycle's swearing navigator. Exhilarating way to travel but hell on the bladder and kidneys, she thought. Their long dusters billowed behind in their wake, the boneshaker's constant eldritch shriek tore loose like a bat entombed in Tartarus broke forth smoking from the dark primordial chaos at the Earth's core to reckon with day.
They were boring their way south through the last of the stampeding dog days of summer dust heading for the Ohio River. There they would board the steamboat that would reconnoitre them, in theory, with a couple of Nightingale's shady accomplices; gamblers in possession of an item dubiously won, the utility of which Nightingale maintained they would soon require. Hoping his timetables were still accurate, by their account the ship would pass directly over the necessary temporal vent allowing portage from time wave zero.
"Time and tide..." he muttered.

The steamboat Lagniappe was on the last leg of its seven day journey from Cincinnati to New Orleans and Nightingale's mysterious liasons were still not in evidence among the passengers aboard the ship. Were one to check, their names would be absent from the ship's manifest as well. The Queen incognito and her whiskered escort though uneasy about the rendezvous, were content enough with the accomodations and allowed themselves to enjoy the comforts of the floating palace.

Promenading the specious boiler-deck at twilight on the fifth day, they passed a stateroom whose door was propped ajar to let out the surplus tobacco smoke and profanity. The sounds of surreptitious gambling, boasts mingled with sharp exclamations and liquor evaporating drew Nightingale's attention and he cast a quick glance inside.

"Ah gentlemen, at last."

Barton and Maxwell were two orienteering eudaemons, gamblers traveling the circuit along closed timeline curves, fleecing every rube and fondling every fiction; Fortune permitting them the gravest of injuries to fleeting coffers. Two refugees, leaving behind them now a pile of yellow-boys, grumbled past them out the door.
Maxwell was the epitome of lawless glissando: his grin slipping over the edge into the abyss and dragging out the sunrise; his voice a rusted timber saw virtuoso leaving sawdust behind rough-hewn auditory nerve endings. Barton was an elegant behemoth, soft-spoken though entirely audible. Eyes as gentle as doves; well-poached doves when he dipped in the whiskey. Both had extremely well-manicured hands, rascal masters of topping the deck and the center deal. These veteran wool-gatherers both carried horse headed alicorne canes.

Barton spoke up. "Sorry about the schedule, had a busted Lorentzian manifold on the way over."

Nightingale made the requisite introductions .

"Ah... Doyenne of the Ennead nine. Enchante, Madame." Barton brushed her hand with a genteel kiss.

Maxwell doffed his hat and in a Lochinvar drawl that would embarass a magnolia entoned: "It's a real pleasure, Ma'm. How is Zaimph, our Lady Illusionati? And Godiva's little Cricket?"

He sighed. "Zaimph, I'd still like to show her some new manipulations... card maneuvers, you know..."
He got a faraway look on his face that drifted them apace down the river before he began again.

Nightingale roused him from his revery:

"I presume as you have still the Outlandish Watch, transience remains at your disposal? You'll want then to catch up with her then for New Year's day 1990.
She will have Expeditus medallions for you both and Marie Laveau's gris-gris as prescribed: John Conqueror root, grains of paradise, powdered lodestone, eagle eye and shark tooth annointed with essence of three kings and two knaves. And perhaps a surprise... two or three, even. Last I spoke with her, she expressed a regret she hadn't learned the Zarrow shuffle from you."

Maxwell, reflecting; arched an eyebrow.

"Ezra, now about this old speculum you wanted... I've grown kinda attached to the rustic little mirror. Its just the sweetest way to shave. Imagine her a barber - Madimi. Maybe we could get her a cell phone instead for consultations... like the anachronaut female-impersonator used at the premier of Charlie Chaplin's Circus; poorly disguised SS from Cerberus looking for your truly. Lost us in all of Graumann's Ballyhoo: Alice from Dallas, the 503-pound fat girl, and Lady Ruth thirty-two inches tall and fifty-two pounds. Poodles Hanneford, the Ace of Riding Clowns and Pallenberg's Performing Bears on bikes, a lion tamer, and Samaroff and Sona's performing dogs."
"Great garbled embouchure, what are you trying to say man?"

Maxwell, with a sheepish wolf-eating grin, said: "Ezra, we have been travelin' together a while now and well, me and the little lady was thinkin' of gettin' hitched!"

An instant later he was howling and clutching his leg.
"She kicked me in the shin with those crystal winkle-pickin' slippers she wears. I was only larkin', ya tempermental tinkerbell. Well, no more chin-tucky bourbon for you!"

Barton rolled his blood-shot eyes.
"Are you gonna let a little flicker filly rumble you? That mirror's nothing but a closet full of cartoons and you're groaning like an arrow-head's in your bony old back-side."

"She's real as the meat and potatoes of the damned," Maxwell fumed. "Dark heathen glass, anyway. She up and left old Dr. Dee to rot. Here, I guess she's all yours."
He handed the glass gingerly to Nightingale who in turn passed the circular obsidian mirror, seven inches in diameter, to Cora; recollecting: 'The Black Stone into which Dr Dee used to call his spirits ...'.

"Smooth as a panther swathed in gin, my man", Barton ribbed his partner. "If a sweet little haint like her can harm you, maybe that makes you a vapor mechanic yourself?"

"O Madimi, shall I have any more of these grievous pangs?", Maxwell howled.

A child's voice ran through the cabin like a brook:

"Curst gambling devils are sore companions. Be seeing you..."


"He'd read Dee's prefaces before,
The Dev'l and Euclid o'er and o'er;
And all th' intrigues 'twixt him and Kelley,
Lascus and th' Emperor, would tell ye.
Kelley did all his feats upon
The devil's looking-glass, a stone
Where, playing with him at bo-peep
He solved all problems ne'er so deep."
-Samuel Butler: Hudibras, Part II, Canto III, 11, 235-8, and 631-4.