The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - XXI

Written by: Alex Crumb | Follow on: Twitter, Facebook

Published: Dec 2, 2020 5:00:00 PM



I woke. My mind had been elsewhere. I recognized later that while I had been wide awake and functioning, holding conversation, and going about the morning, that memory eventually went missing. I know for some time, I was asleep—unconscious, perhaps—and at other times, I was wide awake. Neither formed memories. It all went missing, corrupted like a drop of poison into pure water.

The last events I can recall for you, reader, was an anachronistic conversation in the infirmary. I was once again locked in one of the witches cages. Piece by piece, I remembered the students gone missing, the illusive women’s dormitories, and the names I’d heard, but never had the opportunity to meet.

“Hello, Keziah,” I heard a voice say.

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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - XX

Written by: Alex Crumb | Follow on: Twitter, Facebook

Published: Dec 1, 2020 5:00:00 PM



What would you ask of me?

Under threat of immediately-familiar pain, under threat of the gong that rings for us when the world falls down, I thrash like a gasping fish in a longshoreman’s deck-rough fingers. What is this? Destruction. In the name of atomic continuation, so, too, must we consider the prospect of our own elemental annihilation. As an inevitability. Yet, in too many catatonic instants, we cannot muster an affirmative or negative response to this repeated, cosmological suggestion.

What is this? Are you here?

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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - XIX

Written by: Alex Crumb | Follow on: Twitter, Facebook

Published: Nov 30, 2020 5:00:00 PM



Onward. Each broken stride an aching attack for my own existence—an army of thoughtlessness in the form of footsteps. I gave no credence to the confusion. The impossibility. My body still yearned to continue onward. Clarity was absent within and without. I was walking on water, upside-down, backward, on my hands, yet there remained compulsion, and obliged. I could not believe the sight before me, of a storm reaching out like a god hand, attacking the Earth itself, and there, defenses were raised. Lightning struck back at the assault. The statuary deflected the blows from this sinister attacker. But how could this be? What treasured science did I then behold? A gathered spirit? An unspoken will? A life more total than you or I might ever gather in one journey from womb to tomb?

Francesca leaned on Jordan. I felt Jordan against me. I summoned the will to carry on further from their unerring guile—to walk into the ungodly hurricane descending on any good sense. The archive was there. Horseshoe-shaped and stone. Old, like the Fort and the Clock Tower. I understood then that the archive rested within the statuary, as a mausoleum rests within a cemetery. They were a pair.

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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - XVIII

Written by: Alex Crumb | Follow on: Twitter, Facebook

Published: Nov 25, 2020 1:00:00 PM



Someday, years later, I might have possessed the proper vocabulary to present what occurred next. I do not mean this as a boast. I mean this for my own selfish reasons. I hope, in time, I might find the proper words in a desperate attempt to expel the memory of moments past. I care little for the audience at the crux of our story here, and I am sorry for this reader, but for my own continued life, I must shelter my immortal soul first before I consider an outsider’s capacity for comprehension. I want to define what it was I felt. I want the words of man to meet with the sights I beheld and combat the insults inflicted against my other senses.

This, I believe, is how mankind invented God. Faced with phenomena so much larger than a primitive mind, humanity’s brightest minds walk to the line of what is possible, what is knowable, and anything that cannot be given shape by words then available, becomes the realm of the divine. We could not call a thunderstorm anything but the realm of Zeus. We could not call the tempestuous and moody seas anything but the jealousy of mighty Poseidon. Death itself remains definitely beyond our reach, even with every scrap of science we today possess. What we lack in words, and in definition, we compensate for with rhythm and song, so that we might somehow hold a higher sensory posture. We wish to brush against the intriguing possibilities that there are monumental instances beyond our comprehension and beyond the reductive magical powers of an almighty, Himself impossible for a man to capture in His glory.

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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - XVII

Written by: Alex Crumb | Follow on: Twitter, Facebook

Published: Nov 24, 2020 5:00:00 PM



“How did you feel?” I asked. I was forward in my chair, doing my best to recognize the expanse of Lorna’s story. The Five Old Men, before they were old, before there were five, seemed to be a sloppy cabal of letter-writing overgrown boys in shock from the Civil War’s treacherous bloodshed. Hardly men at all. Hardly capable of the metaphysical thinking required for the holistic assemblage of a university as unique as Shackleburg. Gustave Tatum was a half-doctor hatchet man testing the limits of good taste in regard to human physiology. Dirk Soames was an abusive tinkerer experimenting on his own wife. And Lorna—this Lorna Rodan, a woman the school’s limited history had not accounted for, ghost-directed the Electrochemistry department at Professor Loomis’ pleasure.

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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - XVI

Written by: Alex Crumb | Follow on: Twitter, Facebook

Published: Nov 23, 2020 5:00:00 PM



Lorna’s self-awareness and honesty inspired a thought. She did not use the word, annihilate, accidentally. She sat before me, intact, but confessed without pause she had planned to unmake her entirety of being.

And rebuild. To bring yourself to nothing, and rebuild. She never verbally stated she meant to harm herself or mentioned suicide by name. Metaphysically speaking, ontologically speaking, she would cease being one thing and become a different sort of energy. For a woman in her field of study, this was a pointed choice.

“It was after a series of sessions with Gustave, the results of which he recited back to Dirk, that I became aware of Kendrick’s presence,” Lorna said. “In the same way that I sensed blood in the room when I spoke with Gustave, a scent gone unspoken, it became apparent Kendrick was haunting Gustave himself. Invisible at first to me, of course. I soon realized it was often Kendrick’s voice, his words, coming from Gustave’s mouth, perhaps by accident, or perhaps as an homage to his colleague. In most academic fields, men will mimic the most confident or flamboyant when they themselves lack sufficient soul to go forth unshielded. They might, in time, gather enough points of influence—to study under enough teachers with a diversity of viewpoints—that a courageous individual might form. Others find it warm beneath the dragon’s wing and become zealots.

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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - XV

Written by: Alex Crumb | Follow on: Twitter, Facebook

Published: Nov 20, 2020 5:00:00 PM



Lorna settled back into her desk chair and I found a seat for myself, oddly happy to dwell in the simple familiarity of academic attentiveness.

“I didn’t meet Kendrick Loomis personally for some time,” Lorna began. “He was spoken of, naturally, within academic circles. Raving, always, the men couldn’t get enough of this fellow. He summoned a romanticism to critical thinking. It was usually the territory of monks and dreary librarians—archivists slumbering upon mountains of Plato and Newton, hardly worth the spit in their mouths, and they would die as such. Worthless and forgotten. Academics could barely keep their shoes. As the Confederacy had seceded, none could give a wit for the finer points of book learning.

“The first time I recall hearing Kendrick’s name was in 1869. This was the year before we came to Shackleburg. Dirk and I had been married four years earlier. Somehow, he had survived the rebs without a bullet in his gut and all his fingers and toes remained in place. He examined the war as a man does, the blood, the senselessness, and the machinery of it all. The conflict was filthy. I didn’t think too terribly much of it at the time. I hardly knew a thing about how men were meant to behave. I had been educated in reading, writing, and grammar at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The school was new and exciting, and I was so young.

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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - XIV

Written by: Alex Crumb | Follow on: Twitter, Facebook

Published: Nov 19, 2020 5:00:00 PM



I thumbed at the patches of scored skin above my brow, and eased the cellar door open. The Electrochemistry building’s ground floor was bright with sunshine. Its floors were rough slate tiles, yet they still were cleaned enough to give back the light. I exhaled and crawled up the last few stairs like an animal and remained crouched while closing the door behind me.

I couldn’t recall if Jordan said anything regarding the other students in the building. It was a safe assumption if Lorna could not attract loyalty from what appeared to be her dearest friend and student, no others would likely remain, either. Still, I cautioned. I regretted not agreeing upon a plan with the others to open a side door for them, if and when I made it through the crack in the foundation. The shame in my lack of preparation was sudden, but fleeting. My heart was beating too quickly and there was a deep, desperate need to survive until the next minute, and then the next after that. What a coincidence, recognizing my own body chemistry while creeping among the hallways of this laboratory dedicated to that exact subject.

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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - XIII

Written by: Alex Crumb | Follow on: Twitter, Facebook

Published: Nov 18, 2020 5:00:00 PM



Jordan guided us through the narrow gap between the Electrochemistry building and the slope’s natural rock formation. I touched my hand against the building’s cold foundation, liberated untold years ago from the mountainside. It was a beautiful thing. A place—a palace for human learning was relieved from the unforgiving planet. Built atop, from, and through the resistant nonsense we coincidentally occupied and battled. Such was life’s cruel displeasure. Chilly and unfit for these climes, we students foraged deeper into the gap between purpose and chaos, feeling the space narrow, until at last I turned my shoulders sideways, lest I feel a tomb’s ghostly stillness while I still lived.

“Why has it come to this?” Jasper wondered aloud as we wriggled forward. Jordan managed a look back from her place in the lead. “We were enjoying the day’s morning. A normal one. And then fate aims a pistol at the head of our place in all this. Except we aren’t certain if it’s a pistol, if it’s a head it’s aimed toward, or if the one doing the aiming is kind or cruel. To discover answers, to even ask these questions, means to enrage the senses and systems we’ve come to trust. You’re correct to be angry, Jordan.”

“I’m not angry,” Jordan answered. “I am simply correct.”

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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - XII

Written by: Alex Crumb | Follow on: Twitter, Facebook

Published: Nov 17, 2020 5:00:00 PM



Was my soul vain and contemptible, so enthralled in excitement, so eager to discover truths, whether they deadly or kind? Was my eagerness a personal thrill? Did I long more to simply know, and understand, than to imagine the burden of combating a potential evil I could not yet identify? To know my enemy, as Jasper had spoken aloud at the sight of the encroaching ribbon of uncertain silver, was a recognizable task. I had overcome clear obstacles before, but to lust after simply knowing that which I assumed wicked and evil, this was a sin in countless ways. It implied I would only sit in the company of my attacker. It meant a prejudice against an opponent I pursued, prepared to damn this unknown otherness with malicious taint before ever I knew it. And most important of all—if the worst was realized, and we revealed a truth, and the thing was an invader, could we, would we fight the monster?

If fate or circumstance asked we set fire to our lives’ precious darlings in order to defeat this monster, could we live with such a sacrifice? Could we vivisect our prior notions and institutions, and autopsy the weaknesses that allowed a threat to manifest?

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