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The many faces of the room (sculptures, photographs, paintings, dolls) stared him daring him to create. Clutter, some called it. But as an artist he needed stuff. Some stuff represented people he knew and had known. Some stuff represented ideas. Regardless of where it came from it all gave him inspiration and reminded him of memories from his past.
Jamison Lee sat holding his tablet in the middle of the Bull Room thinking about what he would draw next. He was currently fascinated by contemporary mythological archetypes. His mind processed them as a type of folk hero. Perhaps he would be able to raise them up to kitchen deity status – pictures you would hang on the wall to meditate on he thought. When he created his flight attendant he considered maybe he was creating a patron saint of air travel. He enjoyed creating these solo figures and making up stories about them.
He also enjoyed this new digital medium. The iPad pro and stylus had created space he didn’t think he would have time for until he retired. The only down side was he hated telling people that he created his work digitally. He imagined them thinking he just pushed a button to generate it. In reality each drawing was hand rendered – sometimes taking 10 to 15 hours. What he loved about a digital drawing was: no brushes to clean, no pencils to sharpen, no colors to run out of or remix. The 10 to 15 hours of working on a piece was pure composition and creation.
“So you don’t have any originals?” someone often asked him curios about collect some original work.
“No”, he would reply. “You could consider my work as you would a digital photograph. It’s a copy immediately after you take it as it saves to a drive. There is not even a negative to archive. It becomes a copy of a copy of a copy every time it’s saved – like a memory. The work is only original once.”
He wondered, as he chose the next subject for his drawing, if in a thousand years (or even a hundred), if the work stored on a hard drive would look like an old Xerox copy. He swirled the whiskey surrounding his ice and took a sip. Tyco had made it for him. Jamison Lee noticed something extra in the whiskey, something sweet that brought out all the flavors.
He looked up to see Tyco with a basket in his hand returning from the chicken run. He had heard them crooning their laying song earlier from the bull room where he sat contemplating the next piece. It was the bull room because of the bull horns which presided above the opening to the dining room. Also, it was a place to receive guests and hear their stories. It was the bullshit room. It was the perfect place to create.
“Five eggs today”, Tyco said setting the basket on the counter.
It was a good haul. “Say, what’s in this drink?” responded Jamison Lee.
The fog was wet and thick. It blanketed the university bringing with it – mystery. Things that were once familiar seemed now to have secrets. The world you thought you knew blurred into a world unexplored. Occasionally (as well as mystery) the fog also brought loneliness and solitude isolating you from the ones you love. And, sometimes, it just made you cold and wet and unwilling to venture outside.
Today the fog brought the latter two to Doctor Professor Daniel Charles Bartholomew Asclepius. He was cold and lonely. Specialization took you farther and farther from the mainstream where there were fewer and fewer people to relate to, he pondered. He set about building a fire while he waited for the arrival of his student Gentry. Cold he could solve.
Daniel was a leading professor in the study of Pneumatology. His focus was the spirit world and its interactions and influences (both direct and indirect) on the natural world. However, he was rattled this morning on the subject. He had been to dinner with a dear friend and colleague. They had met in the seminary and then parted professional paths, his friend going on to be a priest and him a scientist. They were catching each other up on their respective lives, when the evening took an unpleasant turn. As Daniel started to explain the details of what his studies were about, he couldn’t help noticing his friends face getting darker and darker.
“The study of Pneumatology, dear professor, is for the exclusive study of the Holy Spirit – not heathen superstitions,” He had said rising and throwing his napkin down. “I am afraid this dinner has left a bad taste in my mouth. I cannot thank you for the company”. And then he left the restaurant.
Daniel was shocked. He paid the bill and left. On his way out he was in time to see his friend preparing to get into a cab.
“Father Esposito, I did not mean to offend you.” Daniel said gently using full formality in honor of the grave situation they found themselves in. “Please accept my apology.”
“Apology accepted. However, I’m afraid our path ends here.” Father Esposito retreated into his cab and unceremoniously left.
The scene had repeated itself in Daniel’s head over and over all morning. He found himself pondering it again in front of the fire as it cast illumination. Had he found himself guilty of “cultural appropriation”? Was this the sole property of the Church? Did he have no right to interpretation and exploration? Was this study not his as well? Did he have no rights to it?
In Daniel’s mind these were ridiculous questions. Of course he had as much right as anyone else to personalize these ideas. He had advanced and influenced the science tremendously. He had taken dusty ideas and breathed new life into them. What did not evolve died.
As equally offended as he found himself, he also knew it was important feedback. Father Esposito was not the only one to feel this way he was sure. He had given an honest and emotionally charged response. Daniel needed to respect that and incorporate it. It shook him because he had never considered this prejudice and he was not sure how to proceed forward or what damage he had exposed his work to. This argument would need to be thoroughly considered. He had important work to do and he did not need the Church to develop undo interest or stand in his way claiming a copy write they did not own.
There was a knock on the door. Gentry had arrived. Daniel gratefully put these thoughts away. He had a brilliant and distressed student to address. This was a real concern with immediate implications.
He had discovered Gentry in a “trap” he often used to discover talent. His was not the sort of curriculum that could welcome just any student. For his use they needed to be gifted. As such the Professor “employed” a nasty spirit that resided near the bell tower on campus. The bell tower was fortunately on a frequently used path connecting many classes. It also had a lovely little park with a bench just across from it. Daniel would sit across and watch the many students of the university pass the bell tower on their way to class.
He was enjoying a cup of tea while sitting on the bench and reading a paper, when a young man walking past with his friends suddenly became very visibly upset and started looking around declaring to his friends “what the hell is that?” And that’s how Daniel discovered Gentry.
His friends of course had felt nothing and supposed a bee sting or some other physical ailment. Before the conversation could get too informative, Professor Asclepius interjected himself reassuring Gentry’s friends that he was a doctor and that they should continue to class without their freind.
“Come sit next to me young man,” invited Daniel taking a seat on the bench and patting the place next to him. “So, you wanted to know “what the hell was that” I believe.” “It is a malevolent spirit” said Daniel casually “But, I suspect you are not surprised by that. I suppose what surprised you are the strength of emotions it imparted to you. Tell me, what did you feel?”
Gentry looked at him with skepticism and relief. There was a pause like he was waiting for permission from himself and then he spoke “I felt horror… Not terror, not grief, not sadness, but absolute horror”.
“Yes, that’s consistent with what people with your gifts feel. I’m Professor Asclepius,” he said offering his had to shake.
“Asclepius? Any relation?” asked Gentry jokingly. “I’m Gentry,” he said taking the professors hand sheepishly. “How funny I never thought of it as a Gift”
How that gift had manifested, thought Daniel remembering that first meeting as he showed Gentry into his study and seated him next to the warm fire. Gentry’s mother had threatened to pull him from the school and the program and had ordered his return home which was why he was here. Daniel provided him some nutrition, they discussed some pleasantries, and then Daniel got right to the point.
“I wish to accompany you and speak with your mother directly. I hate to impose, but the Duchess would never grant me an audience so I mean to ambush her. While this department may be obscure, it is not underfunded. I will offer you a full scholarship, a small stipend, and travel expenses.”
“I’m sorry professor, but I don’t think you understand. My mother means for me to take over the family business. My education is no longer important to her.”
“No, my dear Gentry, I understand completely. I mean to make a business proposition with her of my own – one I feel will be mutually beneficial. Will you agree to let me treat with her?”
And so it was decided. Daniel would accompany Gentry to see his mother.
“Thank you Professor. I’m so relieved. I feared this was the end.” Gentry confessed as Daniel showed him to the door.
“That’s normal for your age,” reassured Daniel repeating a tag line he often used with patients. He patted Gentry’s shoulder, “to expect the end when it’s only the beginning in disguise. Remember that I am old and wise. Trust in that”.
The request for money had left her seething. She had been so mad that she had actually called the school herself for more information. To her horror she had discovered that not only was the school asking for more money for expenses for a “special outside the curriculum opportunity” but that her only son, Gentry, was majoring in a field with no career prospects. Pneumatology, who had ever heard of such a study? She had sent him to school to increase his (and her) prospects in life, not waste away as an academic. To find out that he was foolishly throwing away his money on an education with no practical application was the absolute edge.
The Duchess Pricilla of Aggrandizeland had long since come to the end of her fortune. Upon her husband’s death, their only son and heir had inherited his father’s title and a small income that came with it. It had been enough to pay for his education and provide her with a small allowance which provided a modest flat, a maid, a chauffeur, and a cook. The Duke had died defending their remaining plantation in a bloody revolution overseas. It had been the last financial prospect of the estate. The duchy had been sold and absorbed by the city hundreds of years ago. Today it had been reduced to the block they lived on which provided rents they received distributed from a corporation they heard from once a year – a corporation that also managed intangible investments. While the income was stable, it grew by incremental percentages.
It had taken her years to learn to budget. It was not in her nature. The first year she had almost ruined them. She had been living her “life extravagant” as usual when she chanced upon her dear friend, Candace, while at a lecture they were both attending.
Candace was a self-made woman who managed and owned several clever investments and enterprises. They had very quickly become fast friends after an incident involving a flower girl at a wedding they had both attended. Candace had heard Pricilla tell the girl after whispering in her ear (when the child had asked if she had ever been a flower girl) “That’s everything I know”. For some reason this solemn and sage delivery had amused Candace causing her to shoot red wine out of her nose all over her dress. Pricilla had come to her rescue with the loan of a long wrap.
They had run in similar circles for years, but the incident had bonded them. It had been soon after on a night out at the opera that Candace had revealed the source of her capital. She disclosed it over a nightcap as they caught up and discussed the highs and lows of the opera. This opera (like so many) centered around the tragedy of a young woman who had been routinely beaten, raped, and then eventually murdered by her lover after he had impregnated and abandoned her to a career in prostitution. After one to many, Candace had boldly revealed that she too had engaged in a career as a prostitute to wealthy gentlemen while overseas – luckily more profitable and less tragic. Properly invested it had become the source of her independence. Pricilla had been delighted. What a scandal! “of course I was known as Candy then”, she had remarked which had sent Pricilla into peals of laughter. The memories of friendship were bountiful and pleasant.
Pricilla had been lost in reminiscences embrace when Candace had leaned in and whispered before the speaker could start “I’m so pleased to see your husband left you so well cared for.” She pressed her hand quickly before turning their attention to exposing themselves to the great thoughts their clever lecturer would impart.
But it was Candace’s remark that had set Pricilla to thinking and not the speaker she had paid to hear at all. How cared for was she exactly? After a few days of careful looking, she had found her late husband’s office. He had kept it at the flat she would eventually reside in. She supposed it was because it was technically the heart of the original duchy – the last 13 acres to be exact and the land with which the titled depended. Without this parcel of land (too close to downtown to be fashionable) they had no peerage and were just wealthy landowners. She spied a stack of bank paper on his desk, called for a cup of tea and settled in to explore her limits. What she found was her time was nearly up. The bank account showed a mere thousand. That can’t be right she thought. Why she knew she had spent three times that just finding the office in the past few days. Apparently none of the transactions had cleared yet. Then it hit her. When they did arrive the account would be overdrawn – the first time in six-hundred years.
Pricilla had no idea what to do. In desperation she called on her friend whose comment had started her down this path. After exchanging a few pleasantries Pricilla came to the point.
“I don’t suppose you would be in the market to provide a loan would you?” she had asked with harried exasperation turning (she was sure) quite red.
“My dear Pricilla, how much?” Candace asked with shock and concern.
“Ten thousand perhaps?…”
“My darling, is this a joke?” she asked unable to keep the incredulousness from her voice. She began to suspect a prank. What a ridiculously small amount.
“The account is in danger of overdrawing for the first time in six hundred years. I don’t even know what will happen if it does. I dread finding out. We aren’t due for an installment until the end of the month. I’m so humiliated…” she announced with panicked laughter wiping tears from her eyes.
Candace looked at her with genuine relief and suppressed a smile. “Oh, you silly girl. I will write you a check for ten thousand. In exchange, you must let me help you sort yourself out”, she said reaching for Pricilla’s hand to hold it.
Pricilla was relieved to find that they were still rich but with no new income – a situation that left unchecked would drain the estate dry within her lifetime. With Candace’s help, she sold all the properties with the exception of the duchy (a mere thirteen acre city block), released all but three of the servants, and helped her bundle the cash they had generated into a rainy day fund. They also dismissed her accountant who it turns out would have profited a great deal had Pricilla gone under, and Candace showed her the joys of a stable budget and a well-run house as well as how to save a small portion every month for future extravagances.
While Pricilla would no longer be the great lady she once was, she would not be destitute. “Perhaps I could get a job”, she remarked upon learning of her meager allowance. “Don’t be silly”, shushed Candace “you don’t know how to work”.
And so when Gentry came of age, he went to the prestigious schools their title and his allowance still accommodated. With him she sent her hope that he had inherited his father’s gift for making money and that an education would expose him to opportunity. She, who had once toasted the continent, settled into obscurity and modest comfort.
Knowledge of his academic achievements had dashed her hopes and she knew it was up to her to increase their prospects and impart what knowledge of business his father had left her to Gentry directly. The school had informed her of his location and so she had sent a letter to Japan.
In its contents were a simple directive – Gentry was to come home immediately and assume his role as Duke of Aggrandizeland. Candace was going to help them convert the remaining 13 acres to a skyscraper and this would require a great many signatures from the Duke.
Gentry fiddled with his specters wondering how his fellow Pneumatologists were doing. They had been out here on the holy site of Mt. Fuji studying spirit folkology for two days now trying out different technologies. Plebarious was working to understand the smaller disturbances, Raynier was tasked with understanding the nature of the spirit of the mountain, and Gentry was trying to catalogue the hierarchy in between. They all went to the same school and had been recruited by the head of the Pneumatology department – Doctor Asclepius. Gentry’s technology was a special pair of glasses called specters.
Specters allowed you to view devic energy. Unfortunately, they did not work for everyone. You already had to have a gift for sensing spirits. Gentry had tried to explain it to a friend once by describing it like this, “It’s as if the world were blind and I am color blind. Think of these glasses as you would Enchroma Lenses that allow color blind people to see the full spectrum”. In addition to having a gift, Gentry had found that he had to be in the right frame of mind – a frame of mind that was almost trance like. He had discovered snowboarding was a good technique to use.
He wasn’t sure what method he would employ when they got to Saudi Arabia to study the jinn. In Japan they would study the kami, in Ireland the fairy folk, and of course they had all of Christendom to study angles and demons. Most cultures described a spirt world. Some cultures had fleshed their worlds out more than others. It was his professor’s opinion that they were all describing the same presence. He had recruited the three young men to look for this sort of paranormality. They all shared a gift for sensing spirits though manifested in different ways.
Doctor Asclepius was fascinated by the thought of a similar but parallel world where most spirits lived everyday lives entertaining superstitions about humans, but never really believing them. While some spirits (like humans) had a sense of beings in a different dimension and were able to interact with humans to various degrees based on individual gifts. In the world of Pneumatology he had amassed quite a following and had produced a substantial amount of evidence. However, it was evidence that only a gifted few could take for fact while the rest of the world had to rely on faith. Faith a good deal of the world would not impart.
Unfortunately snowboarding and observational research were not always the best of friends. Gentry had hit a rock he wasn’t paying attention to while he was following a tree spirit. It had barely been sticking out of the snow. He supposed the tree spirit must have it in for the poor rock because he could feel the malice pulsing from the stone where he sat from being thrown a good ten feet away. A snow bank that could have done with some fresh fluffier snow had cushioned his fall.
He stood up and patted himself down. He seemed to be intact except for a scraped knee and a throbbing finger with the beginnings of a blood blister forming at the knuckle. He could move it completely although painfully and decided it was more likely a sprain than a break. It would be better in four days he predicted. He looked around to see if he had dislodged anything when he spied the letter he had received from his mother that morning. It was a fancy calligraphic affair in velum sealed with wax and a ribbon as was her custom. She was of the opinion that all of her correspondences were of the utmost importance and delivered them as such.
Gentry picked it up, sat on the mad rock, and tried reading it again. Maybe double vision would give the instructions she had provided more sense. Regardless, the letter seemed destined to complicate things.
He took out a biscuit to nibble on and spied a squirrel eyeing him jealously. The commonness of the squirrel amused him. He was all the way in Japan and yet he could still count on this rodent to try and shake him down for a bit of food. “Would you like some of my breakfast”, he asked? “Of course you do, ” Gentry answered for him.
Mrs. Clause sat at her desk surveying the enormity of her empire from the top turret of the their castle as she replaced a button on her husbands suit. She was distracting herself from her real chore today. How was she going to break the news to Kai? How would dear Santa respond?
The elves would be coming home soon – home to the Clause’s Winter Castle. It was a beautiful place designed by intricate math. It had once belonged to the Snow Queen. But, elves knew nothing of this history and so there were no thoughts of it as they made their way from the secular world soon after thanksgiving for their pilgrimage back home to the North Pole. Over the course of the month Santa would give them their assignments for the New Year. Hundreds of them would be home for the holidays. At the end of the month long reunion, Santa would get in his sleigh pulled by the infamous reindeer and would deliver them on Christmas day to their posts around the world.
Elves did make toys, but not in the way most people thought. Elves spent the whole year being the spirit that inspired humans to make things – toys for kids, toys for adults, and even toys for animals. Through the years they had inspired great innovation and imparted much frivolity. Their spirit of Christmas motivated everything from cell phones to video games to chew toys – anything that allowed creatures to play. Elves were good at play. While they hadn’t invented it, they had certainly reinvented it.
All this activity was necessary in their work in reversing the effects of the Snow Queen. The industrial activity needed to create these many toys had increased the temperature of the earth and had brought them several degrees from the Queens long winter – or the mini-ice age as educated people now called it. After Kai and she had conquered the Queen they had created this mythology of Christmas to facilitate their work.
Their defeat of the queen had brought them together in a union of marriage. While they were developing their plan, their love became manifest and Mrs. Clause gave birth to several children; elves, elves that were always born on Christmas day. After a long night of tirelessly delivering Christmas all around the world, Santa would come home to witness the miracle of mother with child.
As elementals themselves, the first time she became pregnant, they weren’t sure what they would give birth to. They had been delighted to have created such clever creatures born to bless others with creativity and play. These creatures, elves, could inspire with just their presence. The gifts of their children had turned the stress of their work into play. Elves had invented the Christmas Spirit. They will be the saviors of the world they had joked. It had seemed appropriate to tie their myth to the birth of The Savior.
It was several hundred years into their work now and the earth had warmed. Some would say too much. Where the bitter cold of the Snow Queen had once claimed lives of entire villages, the reverse was becoming true and heat now seemed to threaten.
When Kai and Gerda had claimed their victory over the Snow Queen, they had taken her castle and contained her in it. A spell had been placed on the Queen diminishing her power allowing her limited access to the world. She was an immortal like themselves so there was no way to destroy her for ever. Gerda Clause now looked hesitantly towards the part of the castle she was contained in. Was it time to free her? Could she be contained if given more power? Was their work for naught?
Gerda rubbed her tummy feeling the presence of the new elf to be born in less than a month when Santa found her in her tower.
“What is it my dear? You look troubled.”
Mrs. Clause took Santa’s hand gently into her own. “I fear I will never have flowers in my garden.” She said sadly. “Summer must never reach us.”
She was on the run. Traveling as fast as she could, she had taken a job on the other side of the country. Two weeks from now (at forty-seven years old) she would start her new position as the VP of Science at a Biotech start up and planned to be busy forgetting everyone she used to know. Not that she had much choice. Six months earlier she had diagnosed herself with frontotemporal dementia. Dr. Claudette Deering was on the run from herself.
Two years ago she had started to notice changes in her mood. At first it seemed a euphoric second youth had taken her. Everything was more intense. Food had more flavor. Music moved her like a school girl. Even colors had more depth – like poetry. However, the science part of her had started to calculate the changes and was busy translating the behavior in to symptoms – symptoms that were familiar to her as a doctor. A small part of her brain had quietly started documenting her behavior flagging them for her conscience mind. She started keeping a journal of her days, her interactions, and behaviors.
When she felt she had enough evidence, she had her suspicions confirmed by a colleague under the pretense of seeking advice for a patient. FTD, her friend, colleague, and fellow neurologist had confirmed. “The last item you shared confirmed it for me. I would have to see the patient for myself to make a formal diagnosis, but this clearly shows the patient’s lack of empathy and loss of interpersonal skills.” The last item had also confirmed it for Claudette. It was the recounting of a moment she had experienced with an employee of hers. She had been talking to the employee and while they were speaking she had picked up a picture on the employees desk to examine it and then had started to poke holes in the faces with a pin she had freed the photograph from that had kept the picture attached to the employees pin board.
Later that day, while she was updating her journal, she had recalled the incident. While she was not upset by her behavior, she did understand that this was proof she had been looking for.
There was no use seeking a second opinion formally and having herself subjected to a battery of tests. The doctor was sure to revoke her license immediately and start the process towards putting her on long term disability. She would then be pressured to give power of attorney to her closest relative – in this case her daughter. Her life as she knew it would be over. As a neurologist she was well aware of the changes she was going to face and the loss of freedom that would come with them. She was determined to make the most of the small time she had to still be her.
She had found a new job in a field unrelated to her expertise and had promptly moved across the country. No one would be able to track her decline. No one would be able to call her out on loss of knowledge. No one would be able to observe a dramatic change in behavior; because… no one would know her.
Tonight she was still free. She sat under the starry sky on the tailgate of her Chevrolet Suburban watching the fire she had made at her camp near Bodega Bay in California. The beach was about 20 miles from Santa Rosa – the city of her new job. Her condo didn’t close escrow until a week from now and her new career would start a week after. For seven days she would enjoy the anonymousness of being a suburban beach gypsy. For the first time in her life, she was unconcerned about what would happen next. She did not have a daughter to raise, she did not have patients to attend to, she did not have a board to answer to. Ironically, with everything going for her, she didn’t have much of a future. She was living in the moment. She spun around in glorious abandonment.
“Nice moves”, she heard from a voice in the dark. A young man entered the perimeter of her light with a banjo in hand. “There is a drum circle tonight at the beach in celebration of Mistress Luna”, he said pointing at the full moon gracing the sky. “Care to join me?”
Claudette briefly wondered how much of the night cover had disguised her age. But she felt young, impulsive, and carefree – all symptoms of her disease her mind amusedly reminded her. “I would love to” she replied.
A light was on in the living room which was why Dr. Zain Uddin Khan found himself peering in through the pocket doors that separated it from the dining room on his way to a fancy dress party. He and two friends were going as a sort of Italian three musketeers in fancy dress Carabinieri uniforms. He had worn this costume once before and had been delighted to find out that it offended people as at first glance it was mistaken for a Nazi uniform. Not that he was sympathetic to the detestable Nazi dogma but he occasionally enjoyed putting people on edge. It was satisfying to sporadically turn the tables.
As a Muslim doctor who worked tirelessly for the community, there was a constant expectation that he take the higher ground in the face of relentless insensitivity and sometimes downright discrimination. The costume represented a sort of social rebellion. It called people out on their ignorance and highlighted the ultimate outcome of ignorance.
As he peered into the unusually illuminated room, he saw the culprit curled up on the couch. It was his son home from his adventures as a street urchin. The fog had swept in to chill the evening and so Zain tucked his son Kyle in with the luxurious sitting room throw – placed neatly in the room for just such an occasion. He stopped to admire his son in that warm paternal way known only to fathers which starts with a tingle in the head and scalp and moves slowly down the spine.
He wished he would stop this street performing nonsense and go back to school, but he understood why he did not. In his last year of high school a hysterical girl had overheard a chance statement by a momentarily frustrated Kyle said with the drama and exaggeration of youth. “I’m going to blow this place up”.
Apparently this had been enough to activate the powers of Home Land Security and as Kyle had recently turned 18 they had apprehended him and incarcerated him and then proceeded to raid Dr. Khan’s house. Thank God years of being detained at customs for hours on end when returning to his country from foreign lands was a routine experience he had accustomed himself to. It had trained him to remain calm through the whole humiliating crisis. While the best lawyers that money could provide had sorted the authorities out within the week, the damage had been done.
In interviews from now on, how was he to honestly answer the question “have you ever been arrested”? Was he to tell the truth and say “Yes, I was mistakenly taken for a terrorist once but the charges were dropped and my record expunged”. While this statement was certainly a conversation starter, it wasn’t the sort of thing that put you at the top of any desirable list. Was his son to learn to lie? What was his moral obligation?
Zain still hoped that his son would find himself. His mother might have found a way to fix it, he thought assuredly. While her death had allowed him to live a life and explore a part of himself he probably wouldn’t have, he missed her acutely right now.