Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hungry Mountain (From Birdman*)


“Over here, Bert,” he heard Ed yell.

Ed had climbed down from the wall and cut across the ditch where a path led between a thicket of hazel, their bare branches spreading shadows across his portly figure. Kagan followed. Once out past the trees, they came onto the grounds of what had been a mansion, a walled garden grown over with weeds, stables, a muddy path where there must have been once a wide road leading to the main house. Kagan was not sure, but thought he saw a light on in a lower window of the house.

“Do you think anyone still lives there?” he asked Ed.

“Yeah. Maybe the house servants. Haven’t heard they’ve been liberated.”

“Or maybe the masters themselves.”

Holed up in an Alamo of memory. Days of cultivated magnificence and summer glory. The long ago heroic gyre gives way to a counterfeit age. Barring the barbarian hordes such as himself and Ed, descendants of the native horsemen that had called this home and wished it to last forever, now on foot and still tracking an impossible dream.

He let Ed get ahead and took out a quart bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label he had in his inside coat pocket and unscrewed the top, holding it up and letting the fire water run down his throat. He took a deep breath and looked at the stars, sighting them in the blackness of infinity. He picked up the pace and caught up to Ed, climbing seriously. The path had turned steeper and rutted, a trickle of water running down between the stones. Kagan walked behind Ed, noting where his feet fell, picking his way among the boulders.

“You want a drink?” he asked Ed. 

Ed stopped ahead of him. They turned and looked at where they’d come from. The river snaked silver in the moonlight and they knew the road was down there also. In the distance was a brown glow of light that might have been Kilgooley. The mountains of the interior rose and fell, the undulations of the land like a lover’s secret face. The whiskey reminded Ed of his father.

“The old guy used to contraband cigarettes. Drive up to Canada in an empty Peterbilt eighteen wheeler. He’s probably still in jail, doing twenty years for assault, illegal possession of a firearm in the commitment of a felony.”

“Where is he?”

“I don’t know. Last I heard he was in Arizona. They move him around all the time. He’s considered a dangerous and hardened criminal. He’s tried a couple of breaks. Close to seventy by now.”

The path disappeared. They made their way over clumps of reed, climbing the boggy side of the hill. A herd of sheep, startled, spread out around them, took off in retreat. Kagan thought of his father, seeing his face, wondering also where he was, wishing he had not died ignorant of his son’s love. His aspirations for respectability, seriousness, standing in the community, never forgiving Kagan his wild streak, his hunger for raw life. In old-age he grew weak-eyed and more distant, studying the US News and World Report, his stock options in the utilities plummeting. Yet he’d retained the outward appearance of duty to Christ dead, risen and coming again, which was as good as the real thing perhaps, and a stubborn, almost perverse allegiance to the Horatio Alger dream of an America where everyone could theoretically be President, and he despaired of his son’s path leading through what seemed thickets of wilderness and futility. And Kagan at the end ashamed to level and admit he’d been wrong, admit he admired his old man’s tenacity and loyalty, even if to a nothing, to a mirage. He never remarried, still had the photograph of her on the dresser when he died, the bonsai and cacti on the windowsill just unpacked from the Walmart. He had been ever hopeful, even though she’d bolted for a better life and left him holding the veritable bag.

“Even though he was a criminal he was the most honest man I ever knew,” said Ed.

“Yeah?”

“He gave away all his money. Generous to a fault. His friends saw more of it than we did. He was not what you call a homebody. He stopped writing about five years ago. Always thought I’d come spring him. He had hopes in me. I wish I knew where he was.”

“Yeah.”

“I’d spring him now if I knew. But he could be anywhere. Sing Sing. Angola. You name it. The minute you make any inquiry you generate about a thousand files and the lights go off in the FBI. The only way I’m going to get my old man out is when that bitch of a federal government goes under the waves.”

“Hence the Remus.”

“You got it right, Bert. This is the perfect site for it. Atmospheric conditions seventy eighty percent of the year completely untrammelled. You get a constant charge of ions generated by the activity of the Gulf Stream. In terms of Gaian physics we’re sitting on the fuel pump here, Bert.”

Ed was clarifying as they climbed. He could see the point of the Remus now in bringing about the demise of the government of the United States, the jailers of Ed’s father and the gatekeepers of the world’s fuel supply, even if it did not truly solve any environmental ills, perhaps even made them worse. But one thing he did not understand was how the Remus squared with Ed’s apocalyptic brand of religion. He did not have long to wonder.

“Know one thing. Atlantis will rise again. The knowledge cannot be held back forever.”

“What knowledge?”

“Never mind what knowledge. It’s not yours to know. The conditions set out in Patmos. That’s what knowledge. Then the four thousand will rise to execute the judgement and the government of the righteous will be set up, with a seat in Bermuda.”

 “A seat in Bermuda. You slay me, Ed.” 

“Well, there’s no question you got the mark of the beast on you.”

*Look for the soon to be released anniversary edition of Birdman with NEW COVER - Formatted for Kindle


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