And those musings led me to thoughts of my fantasy Titanic tale, RITES OF PASSAGE. The story of the cursed voyage of the transatlantic steamer, Demeter, in 1853. A journey where my hero of FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE first met the one great love of his life, the mysterious Meilori Shinseen, born of stardust and the sea. A passage where McCord fights his first duel with the enemy who is destined to become his life-long foe, DayStar. A being claiming to come from a realm beyond the boundaries of Time itself.
The weather was unseasonably crisp outside my van. Not at all like awakening Spring but more like the brittle chill of Autumn. And that in turn made me think of the scene in RITES OF PASSAGE where a wounded McCord walks through a plane of existence not of this world to discover the identity of a murderer that both friend and foe warn will destroy him. But not to do so would destroy the love of his life. And that means there is no question that he will walk this strange realm until he finds the truth that will save Meilori and destroy him. 'Fair Trade,' he thinks :
I expected to see a good many unpleasant sights when I walked into the darkness that lay beyond The Door of Nasah. After all, I had a Jesuit education of sorts, courtesy of the Soyoko from so many years ago. So I knew that nasah was ancient Hebrew for testing. It had been used to describe those poor wandering Israelites bickering and stewing their way across the desert to the Promised Land.
And you know how well that went for them.
But since this is me we’re talking about. I didn’t get a single one of the things I expected. Story of my life. And undeath.
I was walking in a place forgotten by feet. Or so it felt to me. The darkness slowly bled to a lighter hue of gloom.
I paused, brooding in this twilight world, not knowing where to place my steps. I strained my eyes. I could almost make out the smudged silver of a far horizon.
What had I said to myself earlier? That I figured the folks who entered this realm made their own walls. Maybe that was what I was doing now.
Was I walking through the burned-out ends of the smoky days of my past? A dark forest of memories was lanced through, not with sunlight filtered through thick branches, but with images of pain and struggle. My pain. My struggle. I almost felt the crunch beneath my feet of the withered leaves of others’s masquerades. I did seem to feel, like the lash of snapping branches against my cheek, the tiny thousand misunderstandings of my best efforts and the clumsy gropings of my heart to the life-hardened hearts of others.
I knew then that I was indeed walking through the Autumn world of my past, rising above the dark horizon of my regrets. The yellowed leaves of recollection curled up around me as I walked slowly forward : Sonora, England, France, China, Australia, New Zealand, and even India.
The light of love slipped through the black shutters of my guilt and loneliness. It was warm and emerald. The light I saw in the eyes of Meilori. My torch that I would carry in this darkness.
I kept walking. Images swirled around me. Revolving doors, showing the faces of an ever-growing army of enemies. Refracting light of clues, guesses, fears of the truth I finally realized I did not want to know.
Meilori’s eyes seemed to waver. I remembered her anger, her warnings, her despair. I clung to our bond, our love bruised but enduring, curling about my spirit like perfumed smoke rising from the embers of our hearts. I would endure. I had to endure. For her. For us.
Laughter. Cold. Brittle. Knife sharp.
It swirled all about me. And as fast as fingers become a fist, a chill blackness swallowed me. I slowed but kept moving ahead. I shivered. Not from the cold, but from a growing warmth within me.
I slowed even more. Meilori. Her velvet words spoke within my mind.
‘Beloved, wherever you are know this -- you are a great man.’
I started to protest but her soft words stopped me. ‘Hush, I do not have long before he senses I am talking to you. You are Samuel Durand McCord, beloved, and you are a great man.’
I could have sworn I felt the lingering caress of tender fingers on my cheek. ‘You turned your back on war to save a small boy. You fought cruel laws, usually to no avail. You have written no symphony but that of your deeds. You have written no poems outside words of comfort to those in pain.’
This time I did feel her lips on mine. ‘Yet you are greater than any general, any politician, any composer, or any poet I have ever known. You are great because you are kind when you could have so easily learned to be cruel. You are great because you love when so little has been shown to you. You are great because you are humble when you have the power to be a tyrant.’
I felt my nose tweaked. ‘And finally you are great, not because you never fail but to celebrate life, but because you never quit. Now, do not make me a liar!’
And suddenly the blackness was colder because my sense of her was gone. Snatched away like life by a pistol shot. DayStar must have sensed her talking to me. She could be in serious trouble. I ground my teeth. I had to get back to her.
But I figured turning back would only lead me to a deeper darkness. If there was one ugly lesson I had learned in all my wanderings and mistakes, it was that with life in general, and with DayStar in particular, there was no going back. None at all. No, I had to bull this one through to the end. Through to my end if everyone’s warnings were right.
But there was another lesson I had learned. The majority was usually wrong. Usually.
I took a firm step forward, and the ink shroud around me lifted. I was back in the Autumn world. But it no longer held any restrains of regret for me. How could there be any? Meilori’s love was here with me. And besides I had always liked Autumn despite its warnings of the white death of winter biding its time impatiently.
Autumn’s crisp breath stirred the unseen leaves with whispery lamentations. Their graves provided a crackle and rustle as my feet stepped upon them while I made my way through Autumn’s colors more than landscape. The very air filled my nose and lungs with the tang and wrinkling of leaf bonfires, of ripened apples making the heavy branches hang their heads as if in mourning for ice storms to come.
My ears prickled as I could have sworn I heard the leathery flutter of pheasant wings, the still happy liquid singing of a meandering stream, and the sad lament of a sparrow facing hunger. The red and gold of this world murmured to me of happier times as I had tramped lonely hills and haunted forests. And a peace filled me. The peace which is the reward of completing the long gauntlet of summer. The quiet dark that precedes the winter of the soul which lurks just around the next bend. A time for binding recent wounds and old -- and forgeting them, along with the misfortunes that had brought them.
I took another step. I stopped. Autumn had ended. My winter of the soul lay before me.
I lay before me.
I had gone into the past. Stepped right past the boundaries of time’s firm grasp. The evening of Rachel’s murder was bidding me a dark welcome.
An instinct born of this cruise told me that DayStar had not expected me to make it even this far. I stiffened. Cornered in fungus, his voice mocked me in the confines of my mind.
‘No matter, McCord. Now you end.’
I whispered, “Maybe si. Maybe no.”
I am of three minds like a winter tree in whose branches sit three blackbirds. Or of three novels actually : FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, RITES OF PASSAGE, and THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS. I wrote all three concurrently. Trust me on this, bloggers. If ever you are tempted to do such a thing, take two aspirins, go to bed, and pull the covers over your head. But it was instructive to do such a thing. When I wrote on one, a plot snarl from another would smooth out in my mind. And it helped me place in perspective the epic scope of my undead hero's long life.
Since at heart I am a romantic, I'm listening to Celine Dion singing -- you guessed it -- "My Heart Will Go On." In case you might want to listen, too --