Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Tale of the Casual English Intellectuals Who Became the Sussex Wraiths (Episode 1 of 3)

Episode 1: The Pipe-Smoking Casual English Intellectuals Fight for Seven Sinecures
‘The casual English Intellectuals had begun to gather. Each of them had just happened to be strolling on the hills of East Sussex in the dawn hours, and each of them just thought that he might drop by the Evenrood Manor House. Each of them knocked the fire out of his-or-her pipe and then filled it again with aromatic shag. The men and the lady casual English Intellectuals used a slightly different set of gestures in knocking out and refilling their pipes, but that is a job for the sociological-behaviorists, not for ourselves.
‘Myrtle Mobley was a simple woman easily impressed by casual English Intellectuals, so she quickly set forty-two more places at breakfast and said that the people need not wait till seven o’clock to begin their breakfasts, that the seven o’clock rule was a silly one anyhow. She served them all hock, or perhaps some cheaper Rhine wine, and asked them how they wanted their eggs.

‘These casual English Intellectuals came from the Royal Observatory at Edinburgh, Dunsink Observatory in Dublin, the University Observatory at Oxford, the Cambridge University Observatory, the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, from Peterhouse and Corpus Christi and Magdalene of Cambridge, from Balliol and Merton and All Souls and Somerville of Oxford, and from Manchester University of the Arts. They came from all the literary circles and from all the technology circles, and from the all-powerful Futuristic Institute.

‘“We have heard that the fabled giant Atrox Fabulinas has died or been murdered during the night,” one of those casual English Intellectuals said, “and that the other six scribbling giants are all weary of the long life and are willing to die if only replacements can be found for them. Now, of course we are not so naïve as to believe that seven scribbling giants are really writing the history of the world and that the world is following that future. But what I want to know is simply: Are there sinecures available, and whom should one see to get in on them? We believe that the future is too important to leave to amateurs.”
‘“We believe that we are the most important group of futurologists who have ever lived,” another of those casual Intellectuals, a lady, said, “and we believe that the future deserves the best that the past and present can give it.”
‘“We would not take a kind view of being passed over,” said a third of them, a person of indeterminate sex. “We are the most gifted people imaginable. Whom should we see about this?”
‘“If you are really the most gifted people imaginable, then you will know intuitively whom you should see about this,” Gorgonius Pantera said. “Gifted people are always long on intuition. But I believe that the whole thing is a fable.”
‘“Exactly,” still another of the casual English Intellectuals said, “and we are the most gifted fabulists ever as well as the most gifted futurologists ever. And we are long on intuition. Our intuition told us that your group had somehow been in contact with the scribbling giants. Well, we will be the new scribbling giants, and you must take special care to be accommodating to us if you wish to be in contact hereafter.”
‘“How did that big cat on the floor get the blood on him,” still another of the English Intellectuals asked sharply. “That is a panthera panthera and they’re dangerous. Where did he get the blood on him?”
‘“Likely Myrtle Mobley the maid of all functions spilled some of the Sussex Blood Pudding on him when she served him,” Denis Lollardy gave the considered opinion. “She doesn’t like the big cat, and she served out the blood pudding very roughly.”
‘“But Sussex Blood Pudding never has real blood in it in these latter years,” the English Intellectual took exception. “If that cat could talk, I bet I’d have the answer from him.”
‘“This cat can talk,” growled Prince Leonardo the Great the Big Cat on the floor, “and the answer is that Myrtle Mobley does use real blood in her Sussex Blood Pudding. Taste yours and see.”
‘“I taste it. I see,” said the English Intellectual. “Yes, it is real blood she uses in it. I’m sorry I mistrusted you, big cat. What are you called?”
‘“Prince Leonardo the Great the Golden Panther and Knight of Malta.”
‘“The same Prince Leonardo the Great who wrote that provoking essay On Hybridizing The Future, And The Pitfalls of It in the spring Futuristic Review?”
‘“The same, Roderick Outreach, the same.”
‘“A well-written piece. Nevertheless, a cat is a cat, and it’s on the floor there that you belong, or else outdoors.”
‘But one should have known, by the way he twitched his ears, that Prince Leonardo was very sulky about this.
‘Violin music swelled over them then. It was the Ancient Fiddlers playing Thursday At East Sussex For Three Fiddles.
‘“By George the Seventh, that’s good!” one of the Britishers admitted.
‘But a discussion at least as important as the pentaglossal (fifty-tongued) breakfast conversation was taking place just outside the Evenrood Manor House on the yew-shaded lawn.
‘“I bet we could bring Atrox back if we tried, Janie,” Audrey Evenrood was saying, “just the way he brought you back after he killed you that first time. I’d have killed you too if I’d been a giant and you’d mocked me or burlesqued me. But he started you to coming back just by describing you, and I bet we could do the same thing with him.”
‘“I’m not real hot on it, Audrey,” Jane said. “I’ve felt awful funny and queasy ever since I’ve come back. I don’t much want to fool with things like that.”
‘“I bet every person who comes back from the dead feels awful funny and queasy about it for a while. But Aunt Drusilla says that you were the best projector in the whole bunch, which was why you were able to project Atrox and make everybody see him, in outline anyhow, even if it was all the wrong outline. But you know what he looks like now so you’ll be able to get him in the right outline. I’ll get a paper and pencil for me and describe him in some those animating words. And I’ll get a canvas and brush and points for you and let you paint him in those animating appearances. And we’ll have him here in pretty good shape in just a little while. I know you are on my side because you slipped away from the breakfast and came out to me when I made monkey faces at you through the window. What will be the name of the picture, Janie?”
‘“It will be Earth and Ocean and the Return of Atrox the Giant From the Dead.”
‘“You can hardly see the ocean from here.”
‘“I’ll make it closer in the picture. And I’ll make Atrox pulling some of those big distal wing-feathers out of a big bird to make quill pens out of them. And at the same time I’ll project for all I’m worth. And I’ll mock him a little bit to make him mad. Getting mad brings more people back to life than anything.”
‘“I’m describing him as perfectly as words can describe him,” Audrey said. “And I’m projecting fit to bust myself. Oh, there’s the outline of him hovering in the air. Talk to us, Atrox, talk to us.”
‘“Giant back from die and dee / Tell us, tell how old you be?Jane Chantal rimed the question.
‘“Back from outer cloud and cold / Day today I’m nine years old,” the Atrox outline rimed.
‘“He fits the pattern,” Jane said. “When I first came back form the dead I thought I was only nine years old. Now I’ve improved till I think I’m eleven going on twelve. When giants are in trouble like that, Audrey, you have to talk to them in rime.”
‘“Oh I know it. I always do it. Giant, giant, we are friend / Make you well and make you mend. I’m six, Atrox, and Jane is a little bit older. We’re happy to have you back even if you’re only an outline yet.”
* * * *
‘“We at the Futuristic Institute have been monitoring your group, of course,” said Anthony, an especially casual English Intellectual. “We’ve been monitoring you especially for the last three or four days, and to a lesser extent for several years. Your general flamboyance (the talking belly-button there, the talking panther on the floor, I don’t know which is the more garish or goofier) convinced us that you were a group of incurable amateurs. And yet you seemed to have entrée to the Atrox mythos. Our own idea was that extraterrestrial aliens were writing detailed scenarios for a few million earth persons to follow, and were compelling the people to follow them.”
‘“We at the London Poly have devised one-hundred-and-one tests by which we might know the true Atrox from all imitators, just as Atrox devised one-hundred-and-one tests by which one might know whether one was in a dream or in reality. The number one-hundred-and-one is important in the Atrox myth,” said a casual English lady Intellectual named Sandra Ott. “The mythos itself can be traced back to the beginning of the sixth century. At that time, when fallen Rome had become squalid and ruined and overgrown, many of the people believed that the memory of a Grand Rome was not based on any reality, that it was based entirely on a fable that the Giant Atrox wrote in a huge book named The History of Rome the Great. This is one of the great Lost Books of Atrox, but it now seems that very much of the legend of Rome’s greatness stems from that book. Several centuries later, during the palmy days and life of Charlemagne, many of the people of Europe believed that the whole Charlemagne Cycle was only a tall tale written by the Giant Atrox (who was now in some sort of timeless neither-alive-nor-dead state). And now we come onto eerie corroboration that the old people of Europe were right. The Charlemagne Episode fits illy into European history. Its texture is just not the same at all. The supposed contemporaries of Charlemagne never heard of him. Tear the whole Charlemagne Episode out of European history and it leaves no hole at all.”
‘Leo Parisi stared at one of the doorways of the room. He had that do-I-see-it-or-do-I-not look on his face.
‘“Sandra Ott, Dame of the Realm and possessor of other honors and titles,” he said, “would you recognize Atrox the Giant if he walked through that door right now?”
‘“Yes, one-hundred times yes, I would recognize him if he walked through that door right now.”
‘“Well, he did walk through that door right now.”
‘“What, what?” it was Roderick Outreach taking notice. “Do you mean that flimsy outline who just came in with the two little girls? No, no, that is not Atrox. It fails in all of the one hundred-and-one tests, or on the half-a-dozen that I’ve run through my mind in half an instant. That’s just a little bit of grave-reek or wrack that the little girls picked up. It’s no more than some trivial dead walking thing. Little girls, you shouldn’t be playing with such rotting trash out of graves.”
‘“I be the Giant Fabulous.
‘“I be the True Atroculus,” the Atrox outline mumbled.
‘“No, no, little girls shouldn’t throw their voices nor make up gibberish,” Roderick Outreach stated heatedly. “Take the dirty grave-wrack outline outdoors and throw it away, little girls.”
‘Audrey and Jane (really they were one little girl and one big girl) took the Atrox outline outdoors again but they didn’t throw it away. And something about the lowering Atrox outline as it went indicated that it was angry as well as deeply hurt.
‘Then Jane stood in the doorway again.
‘“This house becomes a murder house now,” she said. “All of you people must stay very close together or you will be picked off and killed one by one.”
‘“Oh, this is intolerable!” that casual English Intellectual Roderick Outreach shouted. “Little girls should be neither seen nor heard.”
‘The Group of Twelve came to feel themselves somewhat inferior to the casual English Intellectuals as the day wore on. Well, none of the Group of Twelve smoked, and all of the casual English Intellectuals gave their main intention to their pipes. “Their brains are in their pipes,” Monika said of them, “and they suck their brain thoughts out puff by puff from them.” Did the pipes make the casual English superior? No, it just made them smell funnier. But the English held themselves to be so superior that some of that impression rubbed off on the Group of Twelve. And there was a clash of theories and speculations.
‘The speculations of the English and of the Twelve were so far at variance that one group or the other had to be abysmally wrong in every respect. And their difference in reaction became more manifest when a man came to Drusilla Evenrood.
‘“It is one of those giant geese, you know which ones, the very scarce ones with the long wing feathers. It is dead on the beach. What should we do with it?”
‘“Bury it, of course,” Drusilla said. “Very large birds become smelly when they are left unburied.”
‘But all of the casual English Intellectuals started for the south ocean at a furious run. “Seven Sinecures!” each of them howled. “Seven Sinecures, and I must have one of them. The genuine quills are the genuine scepters of office.” And they disappeared over the south edge of the Earth running towards the ocean shore.
‘“What an odd reaction,” Denis Lollardy cried.
‘“Odd”, “Odd”, “Odd”, all the other members of the Group of Twelve echoed him.

‘An Englishman will lounge about and stare and smoke his pipe for a thousand years with apparently no thought in his mind at all. Then he will get an idea in his mind and he will strike in an instant, and the whole world will reel form the force of his blow. And the idea that galvanized him to sudden action will always be a mistaken idea.’

‘It was just about sundown of that day that the casual English Intellectuals returned to Evenrood Manor. All of them were rumpled up for they had been fighting with each other. They were bruised and bloody, but all still had their pipes in their mouths. Seven of them (four ladies and three gentlemen) carried nine-foot-long distal wing feathers from the dead giant goose on the beach. And the others of them who had been defeated in the battles, they had nothing.
‘“We are the Seven Giants who will henceforth write the world!” Roderick Outreach proclaimed, and he seemed to be making himself First Giant, the New Atrox. “Atrox is dead, and the other six giants are tired and wishing for death. Well, we write them dead now. The world turns over, and this becomes the Era of the Seven New Giants who are ourselves.”
‘“I don’t think it’ll work,” Hilary Ardri grumbled.
‘“The Feathers are no good no use / Unless they come from living Goose,” rimed the outline of the nine-year-old Atrox as he drifted in and out again.
‘It’s going to be pretty unhandy for anybody to write with one of those nine-foot-long feathers unless he’s a giant,” Mary Brandy said.
‘“We are giants,” Roderick Outreach edicted. “We are the Seven New Giants of the New World Era. If somebody doesn’t like it, we will write that somebody clear out of the living world. I will take this biggest room. Let six large rooms be provided for the other six giants. And all you lesser persons around here, whether Britons or Twelvers, you had better be quiet and stay out of the way. There is nothing easier for us than to write you out of the world.”
‘“The world may now move again,” said the English lady Intellectual Sandra Ott, one of the new giantesses. “It has been napping for a few hours, but now we will move it ahead. Whatever we write will be fulfilled. We will, of course, write wealth and power unlimited for ourselves, and then we will loose our creative abilities upon the earth. Stay out of our way, lesser people.”
‘Penelope Evenrood, the sister of Drusilla, came and got Audrey and took her back to her cottage. “I do not like some of the things that are happening at your manor, Drusilla,” she said.
‘“Let us all stay very close together, people,” Jane Whatever was cautioning again. “This is a murder house, though I’m sure that Drusilla doesn’t intend it to be one. We must all stay together or we will be picked off and killed one by one.”
‘Most of the ungianted English persons did drift off one by one, ambling out into the dark, still smoking their dottle pipes. They had missed it, they had missed it. Each of them had missed it by a feather. But when there are only seven prizes, not everybody can get one.’
‘“There really is the smell of murder about the house, the smell of murder waiting to happen,” said Hilary Ardri. “Atrox is dead in all except his giant outline, but the strange man named Murder still lives. Everybody be looking for the strange man.”
‘“We must all stay together,” Jane What-is-her-name began again.
‘“Oh, be quiet, Jane,” Drusilla told her. “We are all together… We are all alert and aware as the murder hour comes… There is no way either the Strange Man nor the ambushing hour may slip up on us.”
‘Then they heard the screaming and the midnight bell of the Manor at the same time. The screaming was plainly that of the First New Giant, Roderick Outreach, which scream was cut off in much less than two seconds.
Hilary Ardri was the first of them into the room of New Giant Roderick… Roderick Outreach, the New Giant (but he had not lived long enough to become physically very giantlike) was speared to death with his nine-foot-long spear-quill driven into his mouth and emerging from the left lumbar region of his lower back. He was quite dead, and his bright red blood was everywhere.
‘And the other six New Giants arrived into the room.
‘“Call the Constabulary, call the Police, call the Yard,” Sandra Ott, New Giantess, howled.
‘“Oh, write in your journal that they are already called and already here,” Drusilla Evenrood said crossly.
‘“Oh yes, I will have to get used to my new powers,” Sandra said. In nine steps she was into her room. Then she scribbled three lines (she had to use two hands to hold that big feather-quill); and the Constabulary, Police, and Yard were all there in great numbers.
‘“Let us all stay very close together,” Janie said.’

-R. A. Lafferty, East of Laughter (1988), pp. 98-106

Episode 2: The Night of the Strangulation Nightmares and the Infestation of the Sussex Wraiths

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'It was all strong talk with the horns and hooves still on it.'
(R. A. Lafferty, The Devil is Dead)