Why I Write Historical Fantasy

A few weeks ago I had an epiphany about why I write historical fantasy.

Historical fantasy is a messy business. Those who lean more toward the historical aspect tend to complain if the story suddenly leans closer to the fantasy aspect, and vice versa.

I don’t watch much TV, Netflix, etc. What I do watch is always in danger of developing into an obsession, to the point that, I become a fanatic (which used to be reserved ONLY for my NFL team, the Oakland Raiders). Somewhere along the line I become “overly involved”.  I think it’s because I started writing historical fantasy in 2005 without realizing the genre I was headed for.

The first sign of my mania manifested itself in 2010 with my discovery of the TV series Supernatural, which was already in its fifth season. Yes, Sam and Dean Winchester are hot brothers, but more importantly, I like the characters.

I stopped watching The Walking Dead in season 3 because I couldn’t stand some of the characters. Several years later, I learned of Negan’s first appearance in the season six finale.  The actor who portrays Negan is Jeffery Dean Morgan. He portrayed John Winchester, the Winchester boys’ father in the first season of Supernatural (2005). Now, suddenly, the world knew who Jeffery Dean Morgan was, while the cultist fans of Supernatural remembered him as the ruggedly handsome, John Winchester! I had people ask me if I watched The Walking Dead, and my thoughts on Jeffery Dean Morgan. My response: “You’re eleven years late.”

Supernatural is renewed for season 13, which will premier in October 2017.

So what does this have to do with my epiphany? This year I lost two of my favorite TV shows.

After 8 seasons, I lost The Vampire Diaries. The series finale aired March 10, 2017. I own every season of this YA type show on DVD, and I’ve watched those collective seasons more than once. I loved the characters, and the show brimmed with vampires, werewolves, witches, hybrids, and doppelgangers.  But there was one other important aspect about this show that I loved. It flashed back often to the mid-1800’s, which was when the Salvatore brothers became vampires. And there were numerous flash backs to the 10th century, when the original vampires were spawned.

Historical Fantasy? Yes!

On Saturday, August 12, 2017, after 4 years, I lost another adored TV series, the historical drama, TURN: Washington Spies. The series was based on the non-fiction book by Alexander Rose, “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring”. Of course, this is referring to the Culper spy ring that was formed in 1778. The producers of TURN (Alexander Rose was among them) and the actors excelled in authenticity, thus, the inaccuracies sometimes necessary to tell a smooth tale, were largely forgiven by the show’s  dedicated audience.

As an aside, the female portion of TURN’s audience found the actor who portrayed Major Ben Tallmadge, Seth Numrich, too hot to handle in his Continental Army uniform of the 2nd Continental Light Dragoons.  turn-S4-cast-ben-numrich-700x1000

Historical Fantasy? Yes!

The final episode of the series induced a sobbing goodbye among the fans. The cast of the show immediately reached out to their grieving fans. It led us to participate in many Tweets and Facebook groups that discuss all things TURN and the Revolutionary War.

TURN’s finale was more than my heart could handle. I’ve spent the past year dedicated to understanding the philosophies (British and American) that led to the American Revolution, the people who played a part, and the military aspect of the first six months of the war, as I wrote the first book in my novel series Angels & Patriots, due to release Fall 2017.

I ordered the first three seasons of TURN: Washington Spies on DVD so I can watch it obsessively and stay in the mood of the time period while I’m writing Angels & Patriots book two.

One last thing about the conclusion of TURN; this beautiful observation was made by General George Washington:

 “Our country owes its life to the heroes whose names it will never know.”

The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 9

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II – The Commencement of Repression

Chapter 9

The First Congregational Church of Ferndale stood silent, draped in the tree-cast shadows of late afternoon. No one was around, but the church was not empty. A soul suffering from an unrequited human life lurked among the pews and in the dark corners of the church. It was only a shadow of what it had once been.

Its life force took shape thousands of years before at a time when few humans walked the earth. Innumerable souls waited for their promised predestination as mankind reproduced in abundance. Each soul elated when their seed was conceived and planted within its mother’s womb.

The years passed and many disparate souls were dispossessed of their consummated destiny. They existed in a state of undesirable despondency that enfeebled their life force, making their seed less seductive and harder to descry.

Some lost their life force altogether, as they no longer remembered why they existed, and imploded like a star under the weight of its own mass. Some strayed from their karma; settling in desperation for a lower order life form.

Others drifted, which left them destitute of the characteristics and emotions needed to sustain a human life. The shadowy life force lurking in the church was one of those souls. And it was delusional.

It believed within its vaporous heart that the characteristics and emotions needed to sustain a human life persisted. This soul imagined it possessed a superior form of love, and a stalwart ability to protect a fragile human body. It learned mankind’s vulnerabilities, and the effortless art of exploitation.

It learned it had the power to take what it lusted for: the body and soul of a transcendent human being. The arrival of that soul would, at long last, set it free. Janek Walesa was that soul.

*****

After leaving Abigail’s house, Janet went to The First Congregational Church. With Evan gone, he had no one to talk to. He hoped that Niklas would be able to help him sort out his confusion.

He was confident when he woke that morning that he had defined a good place to begin by educating himself on development in and around Ferndale. As the day waned, he found himself in a state of emotional confusion because he did things for reasons he couldn’t discern. The worst assumption was accepting Stephen Hartmann’s invitation to an interview, and believing the opportunity would impel him in the right direction.

He felt like a castaway on a deserted island who would die from loneliness long before he had a chance to starve to death. He needed his mother’s advice and comfort; yet his mother’s death was the source of his loneliness and confusion. The irony couldn’t have been crueler.

To his chagrin, Niklas wasn’t in the church. Janek would have to peruse the day’s events on his own. The last time he was at the church, he heard murmuring when he reached to open the vestibule door. The recollection of that incident made him feel uneasy. Nonetheless, he sat on the first pew in front of the pulpit and focused on the crucifix on the wall. He was afraid to let his eyes roam for reasons he couldn’t define.

“Mother, are you here?”

The sound of enormous wings threshed in the nebulous rafters. He was tempted to search for the source of the sound, but he kept his eyes on the cross.

“Mother, answer me!”

A down draft whooshed through the church as Anguish dived from its hidden perch among the rafters. He threw his arms over his head and ducked. It ensnared him in its talons, and its cruel beak crippled his ability to think.

“MOTHER ANSWER ME!”

Anguish was devouring the memory of why he had come to the church.

“MOTHER!”

Freya’s voice resonated. “I’m here son.”

Anguish released him and returned to the dark rafters. Janek waited until his breathing slowed to normal before he said, “Why didn’t you answer me?”

“I’m here now.”

“Can’t you understand what my grief does to me?”

“I understand it frightens you, and you have no defense against it.”

Anguish had succeeded in damaging the memory of why he had come to the church. He groped his mind to retrieve what was forgotten.

“You’re crippled and confused son. You’ll have no defense from your grief unless you heal.”

“I don’t know how to heal.”

“You must stay here. If you leave this place you will die of a broken heart.”

“Why?”

“They must care for you.”

“They?”

“Those around you.”

“I haven’t told them what happened to our family.”

“Why not?”

“They won’t understand how I feel.”

“They don’t need to understand. They need to love and protect you.”

“I won’t ask people I hardly know to do that.”

“There’s no need to ask.”

All in one moment, Janek sensed his mother had gone, and his sobs for her resounded in the church. The darkness enveloped his mind in its celestial arms. It ingested his cognition and suffocated his memories. When his sobbing abated, he saw a harrowing shadow within the darkness.

 *****

Janek sat in a rocking chair on the porch drinking tequila. The parlor windows behind him shimmered with pale yellow candlelight. Drizzle blurred the hedges beyond the fence and suppressed the sounds of the windless night. He relinquished the feeling of isolation nights like this induced. There was something more pressing.

He had decided to stay in Ferndale.

The frightening experience he’d had in the church was placing doubt on his decision. Something or someone other than his mother was in the church. The strange darkness soothed his anguish, but there was something horrifying within that darkness.

If I leave Ferndale because of what happened in the church, I’ll continue to run from grief and fear the rest of my life. The solution seemed simple. Avoid the church.

But he knew that was a lie. It wasn’t that simple.

The latch on the gate clicked open, and the hinges whined. Lise and Niklas walked through the gate. They were returning from Sunday dinner at Lise’s boarding house on Little River Street.

He set his tequila bottle on the floor beside his chair.

“I have dinner for you,” Lise said to Janek. “It’s cold so …”

“Thank you, Lise. Do you and Niklas have a moment to talk with me?” Before I lose my nerve and take the next stagecoach to San Francisco. If I tell someone, it will validate my decision and I’ll have to stay. 

Niklas and Lise raised their eyebrows at one another.

“I’ve decided to stay in Ferndale.”

Lise touched her chest and sighed. Her dead husband, Christer, had come to her in a dream and told her that Janek would stay. She was terrified he was wrong.

Janek glanced at Lise before he said, “I have an interview for an accounting position with the new creamery.”

“I doubt the idea of working for the creamery has inspired you to give up your quest for San Francisco,” Niklas said with mild amusement.

Janek wasn’t sure if he had given up his quest. “I was at city hall a few days ago looking over public records. I noticed Guthrie Sullivan has a lot for sale on Main Street. Do you know anything about it?”

“It’s been for sale for twenty years, and it’s overpriced,” Niklas explained. “I think the old man doesn’t really want to let go of it. The original Palace Saloon was built on that site, but it burned to the ground four months later.”

“Why didn’t he rebuild there?”

“Guthrie doesn’t discuss his personal decisions with anyone except maybe his daughter. He used to own several parcels of land on Main Street.”

“I had no idea he was a man of means.”

“He was successful at gold mining back in ’49. Are you interested in buying that lot?”

“I don’t know.”

“If you’re interested, you’d better brush up on your power of persuasion. Guthrie’s obstinate, to put it mildly.”

Lise said, “I’m going to retire early tonight. Janek, your dinner will be in the kitchen if you want it. Good night.”

“Are you feeling all right, Lise?” Niklas asked as she opened the front door.

She didn’t look at him when she said, “I’m fine.”

Niklas stared through the parlor windows for a few seconds, trying to decide if he should follow her inside. He preserved his dignity and bid Janek good night. On the sidewalk, he stopped and looked back at the porch. Janek was gone.

Niklas suspected there was something between Janek and Lise, and Lise had confirmed it. She wasn’t shy in regard to voicing her opinion. Tonight, she seemed distracted as if she was keeping a secret. Her lack of reaction to Janek’s decision to settle in Ferndale led Niklas to believe she was privy to that decision.

He walked home to the vicarage next door to the church. He got the bottle of whiskey hidden in his desk drawer, and then sat on an old tree stump in the backyard. The cemetery seemed to watch him from the steep hillside behind his house. The full moon illuminated the tombstones and cast sharp shadows through the trees.

He swigged whiskey and focused on his jealousy. Lise would not acknowledge his amorous advances, yet she looked at Janek Walesa as if he were a divine being. She shielded her feelings for Niklas behind claims of mourning her dead husband. He was certain it was an excuse to avoid a romantic relationship with him.

A passing cloud eclipsed the moon, smearing the sharp shadows in the cemetery. A breeze sighed and rustled the trees; their leaves murmured an antiphony. Niklas listened to the peaceful exchange. The latch on the cemetery gate disengaged with a resounding clank. Niklas set his bottle of whiskey on the ground and looked in the direction of the gate.

Something vaporous brushed his cheek. Murmuring words said, “Look past your jealousy and you will see.”

Niklas was neither alarmed nor afraid.

“Love is many things,” the breeze moaned.

A tear escaped the corner of Niklas’ eye. He didn’t expect this, but he realized he should have.

The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 8

II – The Commencement of Repression

Chapter 8

Liv told Janek to board a train bound for Salem, Oregon. When he arrived at the train station it was deserted. A thick layer of dust covered the rotting wood floor. Janek’s boots stirred the dust as he walked to the crumbling ticket counter. The dim brown light seeping through the tarnished windows was suddenly extinguished. He was plunged into darkness.

Liv said, “RUN JANEK! FOR THE LOVE GOD, RUN NOW!”

His orientation was skewed in the black train station, but he turned and ran anyway. The unseen monster that dwelled within the darkness panted and scraped the floor as it pursued him. It exhaled putrid breath on the back of his neck. He was shoved to the floor with violent force. Somewhere in the darkness, a bleating voice said, “The train stopped running the day you were born! You can never go home!”

Janek sat up in bed with a start. He got up and washed his face and hands in the basin on the washstand. The mirror over the washstand reflected a healthy face. His blue eyes were bright. Whatever had been ailing him was gone. The nightmare he awakened from was the remaining residue, and it left behind an innuendo. He had to make a decision: stay in Ferndale or go to San Francisco.

He was surprised to see Niklas and Evan sitting at the table when he entered the kitchen. Their presence early in the morning gave him the impression he was being guarded.

Lise dropped the pot she was washing in the sink and frowned at Janek. “Are you sure you should be out of bed? How do you feel?”

“I feel fine,” Janek said. “I apologize for being a burden in Eureka. Thank you for your care.”

Evan dismissed it. “Abby was your nurse.”

Janek sat at the table, poured a cup of coffee, and filled his plate with eggs and toast. As he picked up his fork, two new boarders appeared in the kitchen.

Lise made the introductions. “This is Emily and Stephen Hartmann.”

Stephen Hartmann and his wife were tall, and they painted a somewhat imposing picture standing side by side. They sat at the table and helped themselves to breakfast. Stephen was a brunette with graying hair at his temples and in his mustache, which he stroked on occasion, as he explained his participation in building a new creamery. He talked on and on while his wife looked bored.

Emily Hartmann was attractive with abundant auburn hair and eyes to match. Her forty-five-year old husband was eleven years her senior. He often neglected her in favor of his many business ventures, therefore Emily sought attention elsewhere. She insinuated her intentions by wearing her necklines low and sweeping her skirts high. Many men had been lured to her bed by the enticing manner of her behavior and appearance.

Emily poured herself a cup of coffee, and then appraised the faces gathered around the table. When her eyes fell on Janek, she favored him with a lascivious stare. She licked her lips, and the corners of her mouth rose to form a vague smirk.

Evan interrupted Stephen’s monologue. “Mr. Hartmann, your stories have been fascinating. Unfortunately, I have a schooner to catch. See you all in a month.”

Much to Janek’s relief, he now had an excuse to escape Emily Hartmann’s promiscuous sneer. He walked outside with Evan. “I’ll be here when you get back.”

Evan smiled and slapped him on the shoulder. “I didn’t think you’d sneak off to San Francisco without letting me know.”

“I’ve been thinking about what you said before we went to Eureka. Maybe I have run far enough. I need to decide. I can’t go on like this.”

“A man has to have peace of mind no matter how he finds it,” Evan said.

Janek hated to see Evan leave.

*****

Janek walked to city hall to investigate the plans for the creamery and the new port on the Salt River. City hall was a small two story building that housed the sheriff’s office, the jail, and the political comings and goings of Ferndale. He saw a clerk’s window to his right as he entered. Janek described what he wanted, and the clerk brought him two large leather bound books.

“Are you one of them investors?” the clerk said. “We get quite a few coming in asking to see public records.”

Janek shook his head. The truth was he didn’t know what he was doing or the motivation behind it. He took the books to a small table in a corner of the room.

He read that a man named J.B. Kinyon was driving the enterprise for the new port.  Stephen Hartmann was one of several investors backing the new creamery. Local farmers and other investors from Sacramento were pledging funds. As he read on, an item caught his attention. There was a spacious lot for sale on Main Street. The seller was Guthrie Sullivan.

He left city hall and stopped for lunch at the Gingerbread Café. Stephen Hartmann entered the café before Janek ordered his meal. He asked Stephen to join him.

“I appreciate your hospitality Mr. Walesa,” Stephen said when he was seated.

While they waited to be served, Stephen leaned back in his chair and began his well-rehearsed rhetoric concerning his business ventures. He described The Brothers, Inc., the corporation he and his partners had formed, and their investment endeavors in Humboldt County and Northern California. Following a lengthy dissertation on his quest for wealth, he asked Janek what he did for a living.

“I’m an accountant.”

Stephen leaned forward in his chair. “Do you have experience in corporate accounting?”

“Yes. I worked for a corporate accounting firm in Salem, Oregon for two years.”

“Are you degreed?”

“In fact I have an advanced degree.”

“You don’t say? What are you doing in this one-horse town?”

Janek thought, what am I doing in this town? He said, “I provide accounting services for some of the local businesses.”

“We could use a local man to manage our accounting needs at the creamery. If you have proof of your degree and a letter of recommendation from that accounting firm in Salem, I could arrange an interview with The Brothers. Would you be interested?”

Janek was uncertain if he wanted to work for this self-absorbed and avaricious man. However,… he considered, perhaps this opportunity will move me out of the mire I find myself stuck in… He agreed to the interview.

“Good. I’ll be in touch,” Stephen said.

Janek left the café and went to Clara’s Boutique. The shopkeeper assisted him with his purchase. Then, he walked to the Sullivan house.

Abigail was sweeping leaves from the front porch when he walked up the cobblestone path to her house. The sight of him brought joy to her heart. She dropped the broom and hurried to meet him.

“Good day, Abby. I want to thank you for your care in Eureka. This is for you.”

He held a small box wrapped in pink flowered paper in the palm of his hand. Her eyes fell upon it, and she recalled his open palm awaiting the medicine for his fever. Her eyes moved to his boots then slid up his body. She beheld the physical flawlessness she saw when he was sick. All the breath left her lungs. Transcending her experiences, she saw an obscurity…an elegance. Elegance lived in the books she read not in real life, yet here it was standing in front of her. Everything about him was elegant from his dress and grooming, to the way he pronounced his words. She was spellbound.

“Abby?”

She blinked and breathed. Janek took her hand and wrapped it around the box. His gentle hands were enchanting, and they persuaded her to take the gift. She regarded his resplendent face. His hands dropped to his side, and the spell was broken.

She opened the gift and lifted a delicate tortoise shell hair comb from the box as if it were gossamer. “It’s beautiful!”

“My mother always said that a job well done should be rewarded.”

“Thank you! I’m glad you’re feeling well.”

“Please tell Mr. Sullivan I appreciate his help. I must be going. I hope we meet again soon.”

Abigail watched Janek’s tall figure recede. She recalled her father’s words, “He’s brought something with him that’s gonna change things…” She knew the change had begun.

The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 7

II – The Commencement of Repression

Chapter 7

September 1872     

The schooner arrived in Eureka on Monday afternoon. The harbor pulsed with life; its heart beat to the ebb and flow of Humboldt Bay’s sacrificial offerings and weary travelers.

Janek was walking through a hive of people disembarking from a nearby clipper ship when Niklas found him and led him to the hotel.

As they entered the hotel lobby, Niklas said, “Since Evan has to stand duty on the schooner tonight, would you like to join me and my friend for dinner? The hotel restaurant has decent food and good service. I’m sure my friend won’t mind.”

Niklas’ friend was a seventy-two-year old reverend named Otto Young. He and Niklas grew up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania generations apart. Reverend Young was a fascinating man who spoke of his travels as a missionary and his search for spiritual guidance in the cathedrals of Europe.

Niklas and Reverend Young declined Janek’s invitation to join him for after-dinner drinks, so he sat in the hotel bar alone and drank tequila. He considered returning to Salem to face his demons in his own environment. At least people there will remember my family, and I can talk about them. On the other hand, people will expect me to behave in accordance with social mores during the bereavement period. That prospect, above all, kept him from going home.

Janek awoke the next morning with a nauseating headache, which he blamed on the tequila. He pulled himself out of bed and got dressed.

His health deteriorated during the two-hour interview at the accounting firm. When the interview concluded, he went back to the hotel and fell into a feverish sleep. It was almost evening when the banging on his door woke him up.

“Janek are you in there?” Evan said from the other side of the door. “I’m off duty. Open up!”

Janek dragged himself out of bed, shuffled to the door, and opened it.

“You look terrible! What’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure. I have a headache and my stomach is queasy.” Janek sat on the edge of the bed to ward off the dizziness.

“Do you want me to find Abby? She probably has something to make you feel better.”

“I just need sleep. I know you were looking forward to showing me around tonight, but I don’t feel well enough.”

“We can do that another time. I promised I’d look after you.”

“Who did you promise?”

Evan’s forehead wrinkled in thought as he tried to remember whom he had promised.

Janek got back in bed. “Never mind, it’s not important.”

Evan’s forehead relaxed. “Aye, well I’m going to find Abby.”

As he got to the bottom of the stairs, he saw her entering the hotel lobby. She was returning from shopping carrying bundles of fabric and a bag of sewing notions.

“Give me all that, and I’ll take it to your room. Can you look in on Janek? He’s sick.”

“Of course., what room is he in?”

“220”

Abigail shifted her load onto Evan. She went to Janek’s room and knocked on the door. “It’s Abby. Evan said you’re sick. May I come in?”

Janek sat up in bed in an attempt to look less pathetic. “Come in.”

Abigail entered the room and lit the gas lamp on the bedside table.

“Evan is behaving like a fussy old woman. I’m fine,” he said.

“I’ll make that decision,” she replied. She placed the palm of her hand on his forehead. “You have a fever. Do you feel nauseated?”

“Please, don’t make a fuss.”

“It’s not a fuss. Answer me.”

“Yes, and I’m dizzy when I stand up.”

“I’m going down the street to the druggist,” she said. “When I get back, I’ll make you a cup of tea.”

“I’m fine. Please don’t …”

She was gone. Janek slid beneath the sheet and closed his eyes.

Abigail encountered Evan in the lobby.

“He has a fever and with his other symptoms, I can’t tell if it’s a serious ailment so I’m going to the druggist. There’s no need for you to stay. I’ll tend to him.”

“If you’re shooing me away, I won’t be back.”

“I’m aware,” Abigail said. She knew he would get too drunk to return to the hotel. Some woman would have him in her bed by the end of the night.

Abigail returned from the druggist and went to the kitchen to make tea. She put the capsules with the medicine in her pocket and climbed the stairs to Janek’s room. When she entered his room, she saw he was shivering within the confines of a feverish sleep.

Janek’s dream was a continuous loop. Liv’s sweet voice was ominous with dire potent: go home if you want to get well.  But he didn’t know where home was let alone how to get there.

Abigail set the cup of tea on the bedside table and sat on the edge of the bed. His beautiful face, ruddy from fever, glistened with sweat. She gently stroked his sweltering forehead.

“Janek, wake up.”

Amidst his dream, he sighed.

As she stroked his forehead, Abigail perceived his physical flawlessness. It distracted her to the point that she forgot why she was touching his face. If he had not awakened, her hypnotic revelation would have continued without end.

Janek didn’t recognize her at first. He blinked his eyes and said, “Abby?”

She snatched her hand from his forehead.

“I was trying to wake you so I could give you a dose of medicine for your fever.”

He struggled to sit up. The smell of the tea made him gag.

“I can’t drink that,” he said and nodded his head toward the cup.

He offered the palm of his hand. She dropped two pills into his open palm and watched as he swallowed them dry. He slid beneath the sheet and closed his eyes. Although she wished it, there was no valid reason for her to stay there after he fell asleep. She turned off the gas lamp and quietly left his room.

*****

At eight o’clock the next morning, Abigail sent a messenger to Reverend Young’s house to fetch Niklas. She needed help with Janek, as Evan was preparing to get the schooner underway. It took Guthrie, Niklas, and Abigail to get Janek’s coat and boots on, pack his bag, check him out of the hotel, and help him into a carriage.

When they arrived at the dock, Evan and Niklas dragged him on board the schooner and put him in the captain’s cabin. Abigail stayed with him during the trip home. The schooner rocked and swayed. Janek threw up until there was nothing left in his stomach.

They arrived at the mouth of the Eel River late in the day. When the schooner docked, Evan sent a deckhand to tell Lise they had returned. They used the waiting mail wagon to take Janek to the boarding house. Lise met them at the gate. She was shocked by his condition. Niklas and Evan helped him to his room and into bed.

Abigail was reluctant to leave her patient, but she was obligated to go home with her father. The Sullivans gathered their belongings from the mail wagon and walked home.

“Daddy, it was kind of you to help Janek even though you don’t like him.”

“I like him fine Abby.”

“No you don’t! You blatantly ignore him.”

“What difference does it make? He’s just passing through. In a month or so he’ll be gone and that’ll be that. Are you sweet on him?”

“Don’t try to change the subject.”

“If you promise not to keep nagging me I’ll tell you. I get this feeling he’s brought something with him that’s gonna change things around here, and I’m not sure if I like that. It’s something I can’t quite put my finger on. I’m not ignoring him. I’m sizing him up.”

Abigail shared her father’s suspicious nature, but she didn’t sense anything dishonest about Janek, but she had to admit, they weren’t well acquainted.

“Are you saying he’s a criminal?”

“I don’t reckon it’s anything like that. I told you, it’s something I can’t quite identify. Can we stop talking about this?”

“No.”

“I’m just saying there are times when we meet people who’ll have a lasting impact on our lives. I think Janek Walesa may be one of them people. It’s nothin’ more so don’t go getting all in a dither.”

“Daddy, I still don’t understand what you’re trying to say, but I’ll take your word that it’s nothing to worry about. You know I love you.”

Guthrie patted her on the back and said, “I love you too. Now, let’s get on home. It looks like it’s gonna rain.”

The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 6

I – The Catalyst

Chapter 6

The Palace Saloon was crowded every Saturday night. Guthrie Sullivan stood behind the bar wiping beer glasses.

Rules and self-righteousness didn’t sit well with Guthrie, but these days he didn’t fight it much. At sixty-two, he was stocky and strong, but his lined face told the story of the harsh adult life he had chosen to live. He grew up in Yorktown, Virginia in the shadow of old world traditions, strict paternal rules, and Methodist dogma. He joined the army in 1830, much to his proper English mother’s dismay.

Guthrie left the army in 1848 and settled in San Diego, where he met a Mexican woman named Liliana. She became his companion and traveled with him when he tried his hand at gold mining. He was successful and managed to keep his fortune out of the hands of thieves.

Liliana became pregnant and died giving birth to Guthrie’s only child on January 1, 1850, in Sacramento, California. The child was a girl, and he named her Abigail. He wrote his mother to tell her he had a new daughter, and to ask for advice on the matter of babies. His mother wrote back, instructing him to have the infant baptized within the Methodist community and find either a nanny or a wife.

When she was three months old, Guthrie moved to Ferndale, California with his baby daughter. He hoped the young community would be more forgiving of a half-Mexican child than those in Sacramento. He built a modest house and found a nanny for Abigail. Guthrie was one of the first businessmen in Ferndale. Twenty-two years later, he was an old man whose life had stalled.

Abigail Sullivan walked behind the bar and poured two glasses of beer. She worked at the Palace on the weekends, and when Guthrie needed extra help. “Daddy, will you take these beers to those men at the end of the bar?”

Guthrie dropped the bar towel and delivered the beers.

In a back room, Evan and Lucas sat at a poker table with Matt O’Neill and Josef Paullo, two men with whom they had grown up and attended school. Like Evan, Matt was from an Irish Catholic family. Josef’s family was a blend of maternal Danish and paternal Portuguese Catholic. They were tall strapping men; each worked their respective family dairy farm alongside their parents and many siblings.

The men were struggling to keep a straight face. This was obviously Janek’s first poker game. If Evan didn’t do something, Janek was going to lose his shirt.

“Janek, let’s go get a couple of tequila shots.”

“If you leave the table, you’re out of the game,” Matt said. “We aren’t sitting around here waiting for you to come back. I know you Evan. You’ll get drunk and forget about poker.”

Evan was drunk. If he didn’t get Janek away from the table, he would be too drunk to do it later. He motioned for Janek to follow him. They shouldered their way through the crowd to the bar. Abigail knew Evan well. She brought two beers and set them on the bar in front of him without looking at Janek.

“Abby, have you met Janek Walesa?”

Abigail regarded all strangers in the saloon with suspicion, but she would be cordial for Evan’s sake. The person standing beside Evan made her forget about suspicion. He was beautiful.

Evan said, “Janek, this is Abigail Sullivan.”

“You’re Guthrie Sullivan’s daughter. Evan has mentioned you. I’m pleased to meet you.”

“I’m pleased to meet you too,” Abigail said, hoping she wasn’t staring or worse, blushing.

“Abby, can you bring us a couple of shots?”

She forced her eyes to shift from Janek’s face to Evan’s face. “Do you want whiskey?”

“Janek prefers tequila,” Evan interjected.

When Abigail was out of ear shot Evan said, “She’s pretty and petite with all that long dark hair. Her mom was Mexican. Most of the women in town shun her because of that, including my mother. If I married somebody it would be her. I love a woman with mystique.”

“She’s very attractive. However, I believe you would marry any woman your mother disapproved of.”

Guthrie brought the shots. He ignored Janek and said to Evan, “Me and Abby are taking the schooner to Eureka on Monday. Are you sure you can bring us back on Wednesday?”

“Aye, we’re scheduled to bring the mail back that day.”

Guthrie eyed Janek then walked away.

“Are you going to Eureka?” Evan said. “I still think you should go to the interview.”

Janek thought about his metaphoric carcinoma. He wondered if he could find a metaphoric elixir in Eureka. He said, “I’ll go.”

Abigail returned with a bottle of tequila and set it on the bar.

“This should hold you boys for a while. That boatload of prospectors who came into town today will keep me busy all night. We need a hotel in town. A lot of these men had to pay for beds on porches and in barns. It’s going to get worse when they build the new port on the Salt River.”

Evan filled the shot glasses.

“That explains why Lise is offering beds on her boarding house porches for ten cents a night,” Janek said. “Did you know about the new port?”

“Aye, they’re going to start construction in a week or so. It’s for sea-going vessels. The schooners will continue to use the docks on the Eel River.”

Janek considered what Abigail said in regard to needing a hotel in town. It sounded as if Ferndale was on the brink of becoming an important port of call.

“Janek, what are you doing? Get to drinking man!”

“I’m sorry, I was thinking.”

“Well, if you’re thinking about those two women hanging on the bar over there, forget it. You don’t want to wake up with something crawling on you that you can’t get rid of. Now, that little thing sitting at the table in the back, she’s new in town. Maybe you should introduce yourself.”

“No. You go if you want.”

“Nope not me, I tend to my personal business out of town. I don’t want some local woman thinking I’m beholden to her just because I spent time with her. I made that mistake once and I won’t do it again.”

Janek supposed if he had stayed in Salem, Sarah Williams would have expected a marriage proposal after they had sex the night of his graduation party. He was grateful for his absolution from the responsibility of marriage.

It was past midnight when Evan said, “I’m gonna go take a piss. If I don’t return in a few minutes, you may want to look for me.”

Evan made it to the back door but was unable to walk to the outhouse, so he did his business where he stood. As he buttoned the last button on his trousers, the leaves at his feet fluttered like baby birds preparing to fly. A cold vortex formed among the leaves, rising upward and spiraling around Evan’s body pulling him closer and closer to the center of its life force. With each rapid rotation it whispered, “Janek is vulnerable and weak. You must take care of him and keep him near.”

The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 5

I – The Catalyst

Chapter 5

 On Monday morning, Janek and Lise met in the boarding house parlor. She read his diploma and letter of recommendation.

“Mr. Doyle was taken by you and your work,” she said, handing him back his letter of recommendation. “I’m not a bit surprised.”

She tried not to stare at him. His physical beauty coupled with his gentle and educated way of speaking was intoxicating, but the attraction she was developing for him wasn’t sexual. It was something she couldn’t explain. Her heart yearned for Christer, but that feeling faded when she was near Janek.

“Why did you leave Oregon? It seems you had every opportunity there.”

Janek had not formed a credible allegory, which to him represented an acceptable lie. He had to suppress his pensive avoidance and melancholy behavior, which served to encourage intrusiveness. He feigned cheerfulness. “I needed a new start. Mr. Doyle suggested San Francisco.”

Lise nodded, but looked unconvinced.

“I know nothing about you,” Janek said, steering the topic away from his life.

She saw through his charade. “I promise not to pry into your life any further.”

Janek mentally sighed.

“My parents emigrated from Denmark over forty years ago,” Lise said. “I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. They had just died when I met Christer. We married a few years later. Christer believed we could have a better life in the West with all the land to be had for free. We had nothing keeping us in Richmond, so, thirteen years ago, we boarded a ship bound for Los Angeles and ended up here. He died two years ago. He was a wonderful man, and I miss him terribly.”

“I’m sorry. No one should be alone.”

“I have been alone and lonely, but your arrival in Ferndale has begun to mend my spirit.”

“What do you mean?”

Lise wondered what had encouraged that vagary.

Janek was looking at her, but not in an expectant manner. He looked apprehensive.

“Do you hear that?” Lise stood up. Her eyes widened a little as she cocked her head and listened. She took several small steps, stopped, and then walked to the kitchen. Janek followed her. The kitchen was deserted. The other boarders were gone for the day. There was no sound except crackling embers in the firebox.

Lise walked onto the back porch then into the backyard. Janek trailed behind her.

“There’s no one here except you and me,” Janek said. He grabbed Lise’s arm and turned her around to face him. “What did you hear?”

“I thought I heard murmuring.”

Janek thought this was an intimation of what had happened to him in the church. He looked around the yard, and then back to Lise. The last thing he wanted to do was arouse unfounded fear by mentioning his experience in the church.

They contemplated one another for a few seconds before Janek followed Lise back into the house.

*****

Three weeks later, Janek was still staying at Lise’s boarding house. He had taken on more accounting work and was meeting with Lucas Dodd, the owner of the general mercantile store, at the kitchen table when Evan appeared at the kitchen door.

“Good morning. I don’t mean to interrupt, but I’ve letters for Janek,” Evan said.

“Good morning,” Janek said.

“I’m surprised to see you, Evan,” Lucas said. “I thought you’d be gone by now.”

Evan went to the stove and poured a cup of coffee. “The schooner’s coming to pick me up on Monday morning. I’m planning on spending this weekend drunk and unruly. Would the two of you care to join me?”

“You know I will,” Lucas said.

Lucas Dodd was twenty-six and single. He inherited the general store and the apartment above it after his father died. With no surviving family, his life revolved around the store and a few friends. He worked hard all week and spent his Saturday nights drinking and playing poker at the Palace Saloon. He was sandy-haired and tall with a slim build and had the innocent face of a boy. While he had an even temperament, if provoked, he revealed the heart of a lion. Lucas was one of the few men in Ferndale whom Evan liked and trusted.

“I’ll be on the porch,” Evan said.

“There’s no need. We’re done,” Lucas said. He stood up, gathered his papers from the table, shoved them into his satchel, and said, “I’ll see you both tonight.”

“You said you had letters for me?” Janek said when Lucas had gone.

Evan handed him two envelopes. “One of them is from Eureka, and the other is from Salem. I hope its good news.”

Janek opened the letter from Eureka.

“This letter is from an accounting firm. They want me to interview for a position. I’m not looking for something permanent.”

Evan set his coffee cup on the table. “Aye, well I think you should go anyway. I’ll be there for a few days before we start our lumber runs up and down the coast. I can show you around.”

“I’m supposed to make enough money to move on to San Francisco. I’ll be wasting someone’s time if I go for the interview. It’s not ethical.”

“To hell with that, you have to look after yourself! I don’t understand how a smart guy like you found himself near penniless. Do you think you got robbed?”

“I wish I knew.”

Evan’s voice took on a serious tone. “You know, sometimes things happen for a reason. Maybe losing your money was fate. I know you’re running away from what happened to your family, but maybe you’ve run far enough.”

Janek’s heart quickened and he felt his chest tighten. “I told you about my family?”

“Aye, the day we went to the church. You don’t remember?”

Janek rubbed his chest without thinking. He didn’t understand why he couldn’t remember telling Evan something so important.

“I won’t breathe a word to anyone,” Evan said. “I know you’ve been carrying this burden with you all along. Some days it seems worse than others.”

“Do you think I’m going crazy?”

“I wouldn’t be here if I thought you were a lunatic. In fact, I’d like to see you stay for a while.”

Janek exhaled a soft laugh of relief. “I appreciate your honesty and discretion. This is not your problem, therefore, there’s no need for you to keep secrets for me.”

“I’m your friend, that’s all. I have to get back to the house. I’ll see you tonight at the Palace.”

Janek went to his room and opened the letter from Salem. It was from the law office handling the probate on his father’s will. The letter read:

 

 

September 12, 1872

Dear Mr. Walesa,

We have received your request for probate concerning your father, Aron Walesa and mother, Freya Walesa’s last will and testament. This office will be happy to represent you at the hearing that is scheduled for October 15, 1872. At the time of the settlement, we will act as your agent for the sale of the property in Albany, Oregon.

Enclosed, you will find the documents authorizing us to act in your behalf. Please sign and return them without delay. You will receive notification of the outcome of the probate hearing. If all is in order, the property will be put up for sale in accordance with the terms stated in the enclosed documents.

Regards,

Patrick Bright, Attorney at Law

Janek tossed the documents to the floor and ran his hands through his blond hair. He needed to rid himself of his constant companions: guilt, grief, shame, and loneliness. He was inundated by a state of mind foreign to his nature. It was like a malignant tumor, and he had no idea how to cure it.

There was no one he could talk to apart from Evan. The church was the only place he could hide from his constant companions. Despite his unsettling experience in the church, he decided to spend the afternoon sitting in the pew in front of the pulpit.

He walked to the church and entered the courtyard. When he touched the knob on the vestibule door, he heard murmuring. He took three steps backward and scowled at the door. The murmuring amplified into the voices of a thousand lost souls begging for a human life.

Janek rubbed his face to clear the imploration from his mind. The murmuring stopped. He contemplated the door and thought, I am going crazy.

He went back to the boarding house.

 

The Transcendent: A Novel – Chapter 4

I – The Catalyst

Chapter 4

Reverend Niklas Arnold’s wavy light brown hair was brushed back from his strong handsome face. At six feet four inches tall, he towered over Lise Anders as he walked her home from the church. He was in love with her. Fear of rejection paralyzed his daily resolve to speak the words. He was thirty-five, and it was time to marry and have children. If he couldn’t gather the courage to tell Lise he loved her, he would have neither.

Niklas was from a large family whose ancestors emigrated from Germany to Pennsylvania in 1757. He grew up on a rural iron plantation near Carlisle, Pennsylvania where his father was the ironmaster of a large iron furnace and forge complex.

The youngest of eight children, he was a spoiled child who viewed religion as self-serving. After graduating from seminary school, he left Pennsylvania and traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to join a wagon train heading west. Six months later, in October 1868, he arrived in Ferndale.

When Niklas and Lise reached the boarding house gate he said, “What do you think of Janek Walesa?”

“I think he’s handsome.”

“He’s too young for you. You’re thirty-two, and he must be Evan’s age. I don’t think that comment is appropriate.”

“Don’t be stuffy.”

“You think I’m stuffy?”

“You can be,” Lise said. “Don’t misconstrue what I said about Mr. Walesa. He appears to be a nice young man, intelligent and polite.”

“He didn’t say why he was going to San Francisco. I wonder if he’s in some kind of trouble.”

“I don’t think so. I do think it’s strange that he has no money. Maybe he was robbed, and he’s too ashamed to admit it.”

“He said he was an accountant. I hired him to look over the church ledgers.”

“That explains why he looked embarrassed.”

“Do you think I was hasty in hiring him?”

“Are you having second thoughts?”

“No.”

Lise unlatched the gate. “Good.”

Niklas followed her through the gate to the porch. His daily effort to rally the courage to say I love you, Lise failed. Like a faithful puppy, he waited for her next move.

She turned and smiled and touched his hand. Love was written on his face, but as long as she grieved for her dead husband Christer, there would be no vacancy in her heart.

Lise opened the door. She hesitated before going in the house and looked at Niklas. “It’s baffling, but I can’t shake the feeling that Mr. Walesa needs looking after.”

This time she saw jealousy on his face. She went into the house and shut the door, leaving him to brood alone.

*****

Janek sat in the church thirty minutes before he realized he was daydreaming. For a short while, his burden of loneliness was lifted. His acute grief was softened. The after effects hung on him like delicate threads of silk.

He went back to the courtyard, took a shovel and a pickaxe from the shed, and climbed the stone steps to the cemetery. He avoided looking at the tombstones for fear he would see the wretched epitaphs of broken hearts.

He wandered among the graves until he found chalk lines around the burial site. Janek didn’t think he could dig the grave while the dead watched. Think about nothing, he thought, but that task was impossible.

A cool breeze ruffled his blond hair and tousled the leaves on the trees. The afternoon sun blinked and dimmed as clouds scurried across the sky like mischievous mice.

A sweeping view of the town of Ferndale, the Eel River Valley and the Pacific Ocean was visible from the cemetery hill. His eyes roamed the vista, watching the mice clouds leave giant mouse shadows on the landscape. How different this place was from the broad Willamette Valley where his parents and sister would sleep forever.

There would be no grave digging. He would lose his mind. He walked back to the church and encountered Reverend Arnold in the courtyard.

The reverend said, “Did you start digging that grave?”

“No, I changed by mind.”

Niklas took the shovel and pickax from Janek’s hands. “You aren’t the first man to say that. Are you up to painting the front stoop?”

“Yes.”

“Good. The painting supplies are in the shed. Mr. Walesa…”

“Please call me Janek.”

“Janek, may I ask why you’re going to San Francisco?”

“Does it matter?”

He searched Janek’s face. The only thing he saw was despair.

“You’re right. It doesn’t matter.”

*****

Janek was exhausted when he returned to the boarding house that evening. He went to bed without dinner. He had overestimated his stamina for manual labor after spending the last six months as a student at the university with no time spent working on the farm.

In the morning, he woke to the smell of coffee and bacon. He dressed and went downstairs. Lise was pouring coffee for the other boarders when he entered the kitchen.

She smiled at him. “Good morning, Mr. Walesa.”

Janek glanced at his paint-ruined shirt and stained hands. Lise set the coffee pot on the stove and walked into the hall. He followed her.

“The tub is on the back porch in the alcove,” she said in a lowered voice. “You’ll have to fill and drain it yourself. Pull the curtains for privacy. I’ll save you some breakfast.”

The other boarders were done with breakfast by the time Janek entered the kitchen. He sat at the table. Lise brought two cups of coffee, and a plate of bacon and toast. She sat across from him.

“How was your work at the church yesterday?”

“The work was satisfactory, Mrs. Anders.”

“Please, call me Lise.”

They sat in silence while he ate. She stared at him, and for the first time, she clearly saw his radiant blue eyes and refined facial features. He was the most beautiful man she had ever beheld.

Janek caught her staring. She shifted her gaze and busied herself with pouring cream into her coffee. Awkward silence hung between them. He finished his breakfast and got up to leave.

“Please, stay a moment,” Lise said, fearing he would shun her after the discomforting breakfast. “Niklas told me that you’re an accountant. I’d like to give you free room and board for the next week in exchange for going over my ledgers. If you’re interested, I may be able to get you more accounting work. My husband…I…have business connections in Eureka and Mendocino.”

Lise’s altruistic behavior was unsettling. It wasn’t only Lise. Everyone he met in Ferndale lavished him with offers of benefaction…except Guthrie, the bartender.

For lack of choices, Janek swallowed his apprehension and said, “I appreciate your offer. I can get my papers now if you like.”

“I’ll look them over tomorrow. I need to get ready for church. Are you coming to the service?”

“No. I’m Episcopalian…and…I have some matters…”

“You aren’t obligated to tell me anything.”

Their blue eyes met, and like Niklas, all Lise saw was despair in Janek’s eyes. She felt his despondency, and he recoiled from her by looking at the table. Lise wanted to say she was sorry for making him feel uncomfortable, but an apology would make matters worse.

She said, “I’ll be out all day. Sunday dinner for all my boarders is served at my other boarding house on Little River Street. My woman who oversees that location, Mary Kellen, does most of the cooking, so I have a little free time. If you want to join us, dinner is at five o’clock.”

After Lise left for church, Janek sat in a rocking chair on the front porch. He wrote the letters needed to start the process of settling his parent’s estate. The first letter was to his friend Patrick Bright in Salem. He asked him to begin the necessary paperwork and gave him the address to Lise’s boarding house. The second letter was to his former employer, Thomas Doyle. He wanted Mr. Doyle to know where he was, and that he may be using his letters of recommendation in Ferndale, Eureka, and Mendocino. He informed Mr. Doyle that he was preparing to settle the deed on the farm so he could sell it.

With his correspondence completed, Janek leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. He thought about the experience he had in the church yesterday. The sharp edges of his grief were softened as he sat in the pew. He was uncertain if it was a daydream or something more spiritual, but without an explanation, the idea was disturbing.

The hinges on the gate squeaked. Janek opened his eyes and saw Evan O’Malley walk through the gate. Janek’s troubling thoughts disintegrated. Evan was a welcome sight—a tonic to keep his mind sane and in a grounded place.

“Janek! Good Sabbath to you!”

“Good Sabbath to you! Why aren’t you at church?”

Evan sat in the rocking chair across from Janek. “My family is Catholic. I got tired of asking the priest to forgive me for all my many sins so I stopped going to church. My father had a blow-up! He said I’m going to burn in hell forever.”

Janek laughed. “Burning in hell doesn’t sound promising. Eternity is a long time.”

Evan pulled a whiskey flask from his jacket pocket and took a swig from it. “I’m not worried. Want a drink?”

“I didn’t dig the grave for the reverend, but he had a lot of other work for me,” Janek said. He took the flask from Evan’s outstretched hand.

“Aye, was the pay fair?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never been paid for work like that before.”

“Niklas claims the church council controls the purse strings, but I think he’s just cheap. He would’ve been digging that grave himself if he didn’t have more important things to do.”

“What do you mean?” Janek said as he passed the flask back to Evan.

“He has a crush on Lise. He thinks no one knows, but it’s obvious. If she’s there, he’s completely focused on her and what she’s doing. Digging that grave would’ve taken time he could’ve been spending with her.”

Evan passed the flask back to Janek. “Don’t get me wrong, the reverend is a good man. It’s just that I find it entertaining to watch any man fawn all over a woman who ignores his advances.”

They talked and drank whiskey for hours. Something watched them. The bond they were forming pleased the watcher.

Continued…..