Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

Babylon saga–Skirmish with the Atheists

Captain Lanyard bent over a yellowed chart: “There’s death at every bend of this blasted river. There are treacherous sandbanks that can sink this tin-pot vessel in seconds and bandits that will slit your throat for a song. Here,” he pointed a bony finger at the chart, “is the passage of Is Geria. Winds can funnel between those rocks like the fiends of hell.”

“Aye, on top of that, the very guards appointed by the museum trustees who sponsor these excavations deal in the illicit trade of artifacts. Their collusion with Turkish authorities can land innocent shippers like us in jail. Are ye ready to ship out on such a mission, lad?”

“What exactly is our mission, Captain?”dream ziggurat

He turned again to the window and said:

“The illicit trade in antiquities is nearly as old as civilization itself. These sites had already been plundered in ancient times by nomad treasure seekers who sold to dealers in Bagdad. Babylon was already a ruin when Alexander the Great tried, unsuccessfully, to restore the glories of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign.”

“Now the plunder is conducted on an industrial scale by the Levant Company. The stones of Ishtar’s Temple are looted to build the brutal towers of Tomorrowland and the stolen images of the Holy Immortals now entice consumers, like sheep, into endless malls of mediocrity.  This must be stopped.”

The Samamaris steamed past the tents of goat herds and armed horsemen whose dark eyes followed her wake with unconcealed contempt.

At last, we came the to archeological site led by the Reverend Cornelius Pritchard who, under the auspices of the Philadelphia Academy, had undertaken excavations to find physical verification of Biblical scripture. The sensational finds of British archeologists had awakened an American interest in antiquity, and this, along with a fervor to prove the superiority of the Christian faith, had led these august bodies to sponsor digs in Mesopotamia.

Captain Lanyard yelled out the wheelhouse door: “Man the docklines! Ya swab!”

He then hailed the engine room:

“Slowly now, Mister Budge…”

I threw the docklines to a stout man on the dock who I took to be Reverend Pritchard.

“Welcome Brethren,” he called.

We made fast, and walked up the bank toward the encampment while the Reverend held forth with pious, stentorian eloquence:

“Yes pilgrims, We’ve found potsherds in an alluvial deposit at 60 feet. Below that, with God’s blessing, we are certain to find the lost city of the Nephilim– those whose evil ways brought down God’s wrath with a devastating flood!”

Just then, there was the loud report of a gunshot.  A bullet whizzed overhead.

“Hit the deck!” yelled Captain Lanyard. We dove behind a low dune.

The Reverend said: “It’s the blasted French atheists!”

He grabbed a carbine and returned fire, all the while expostulating in fine preacherly style:

“The nihilist heretics are encamped yonder. Thy want to reach the pre-deluvial city in a missguided effort to prove that the Good Book is fiction–that the site proves the layers below the silt deposits are merely evidence of a recurrent, natural phenomenon. They will soon regret the errors of their blasphemous ways when they are consigned to eternal hellfire!”

With that, he fired a volley into the mud brick of a distant mound.

There was silence. Then a loud oath was heard from the opposite camp:

“Sacre Bleu!”

Posted in Saturnius McWhirr stories

The McWhirr stories-An Afterword?

Cormorants are huddled like a conclave of robed mystics brooding over lost fish. The wind blows from all directions in Port Madison.

I write windy dialogue that transpires between two contrary characters.  I suppose the I of the story refers to myself, but even this first-person identity gets pretty tenuous at times.  I am obtuse foil to McWhirr’s exacting command, and he is confounded by my poetic flights.  This tension, this ever tipping dynamic, propels the leaky vessel of my prose.

In the voyage of this yarn to it’s “conclusion”, fact and fiction are interwoven to create a tapestry of associative episodes in order to express some ineffable truth about man’s impulse toward adventure.

But to what degree can I actually claim these adventures mine? Where was the line crossed between inspiration and plagiarism? All my powers of expression are called upon to render a fictional account of  vaguely recalled events in the transient world of sensations and ideas.

craig at helm 014
Me sneezing

I’ve come close to foundering in a fog of  fantasy, relevant only to myself or to those souls fortunate enough (or unlucky enough) to be conversant with sailing lore, and experienced in the sea’s fickle ways.

Where has McWhirr gone? While his vanishing act seems a natural outcome of the narrative flow, it has left me without bearings-without a meaningful waypoint.  He’s left me becalmed at slack water, transfixed by sunlight on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with only an obscure missive from Virgil’s heroic verse:  From me learn courage and patience, from others the meaning of fortune.  Then again, maybe this is all the bearing I need.

Though the dream of finding a copy of the Aeneid happened some 20 years ago, it’s true import remains enigmatic.  But I feel it has to do with carrying on a lineage, the bearing of the household gods to establish a new homeland or  mode of awareness.  It’s also about a mutual need, a pact made with the dead to honor them.  My dad’s ghost comes and goes in the story, and recalls me to some forgotten bond.  He says I should heed McWhirr.

The View from the Wheelhouse is a fluid one, and successful navigation depends on an ability to tolerate a constantly shifting perspective. The conclusion of this tale is as elusive as a Micronesian landfall.

So I trust this isn’t the last we’ve heard from McWhirr. The wily old coot’s vanishing act may be prologue to his reinstatement on a more believable level of fictional existence.

Wars are started by mistaking the thing in itself for the metaphor, and the inability to see through the symbol, as through a veil, to the symbolized. Scientists have recently discovered that the north wind doesn’t really have a beard and puffy cheeks. We’ve evolved beyond such nonsense.  But this knowledge is of little use to the sailor driven on a rocky lee shore by a fierce northerly gale.  For myself and everyone, I pray to the household gods.