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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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - XI

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

Published: Nov 16, 2020 5:00:00 PM

oil-lamp (2)


“I’ve never heard of the Oral History students practicing—activities such as these,” Jasper whispered to Francesca. The hall was dim and the only notable noise was the touch of thin glass against itself. And soft mumbles. We moved among the students, all seated with their legs crossed like Turks, some exercising straight-backed posture, while others were leaned against each other, sedated or altogether incapacitated by this mysterious action.

We were nearly to the corridor’s lone lit lamp. There, Francesca halted without warning, startling Jasper, and then my own heart thumped in surprise as he recoiled. Francesca put her hand toward the lit flame to sense the heat. She touched toward it with her fingers as if she were spinning a spider’s web. I examined the dank hall further. There were doors every few yards and I noticed then that each lamp was unique in shape, size, or style. They were unlit, save for the one beside us, but the doors were unmarked and identical, save for the map beside each one.

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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - X

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

Published: Nov 13, 2020 5:00:00 PM



It believed it was late morning by the time Jasper and I departed the Orrery, though it was difficult to estimate the time at all. While I had witnessed night in Shackleburg, and I was certain it existed, the sunshine delivered such a virtuoso performance, I struggled to accurately guess how long we’d stood beneath that dome, staring at the wave. Professor Rakosi stayed behind to monitor and study the intruding presence. This was a somewhat righteous course of action. He would do us little good explaining who he was to every inquiring mind. There was simply no space for repetition, and Jasper and I were already weary of the idea.

We resolved we required greater knowledge of the Orrery and the school itself. Rakosi, bless him, was too fixated on his task, and also somewhat emotionally compromised on these subjects. Not to discredit him, but I doubted he knew the answers we sought, even under pressured questioning. Rakosi remaining in the Orrery for the time being was a mercy to all involved.

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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - IX

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

Published: Nov 12, 2020 5:27:00 PM



“What is this? What are these worlds and worlds beyond worlds?” I wondered aloud, still transfixed by the silver ribbon dwelling angelic over the Orrery.

“Is this projection accurate?” Jasper asked Professor Rakosi. “Do we trust the Orrery hasn’t been damaged somehow?”

“That is what I have come to inspect,” Professor Rakosi answered. “And the root of the collective disagreement at the heart of the New Chapel.”

I remained pinned in place by the accumulated glory overhead. This was no simple mechanical model of our solar system, nor a hallucination, as I’d rid myself of the possibility with a good night’s rest. I felt as though I was walking on air, and in the same instant, understood that it was not air at all beneath my feet, but a foreign compound that defied my narrow comprehension. I was ten steps behind. All that I had come to believe, and my capabilities, had gone absent in an instant. I was not secured, untethered, tossed to the merciless ocean of rippling stuff I could not name.

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The Sea Comes to Shackleburg - VIII

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

Published: Nov 11, 2020 5:00:00 PM



The students were stricken still in their chairs. Only a few mustered the will to head for the exit, the bell repeating its singular, low roar, again and again, over and over, as I took to my feet and navigated that tomb of thought. The others’ lips drifted apart, mouths gaping slightly like fish, eyes all wide and paralyzed. More, the bell thundered, as if its simple song could fill the hall, inch by inch, and drown us all.

“K.K., here,” Jasper mouthed to me from the door where he stood with some others I didn’t recognize. Blazing morning light collided with us once more at the exit and I was forced to wear the dark glasses. Here, the bell was not as loud, yet it was altogether more present. It shook the skin on my flesh. I felt it contract and hum, as if it breathed separately from me. Each crash of sound set my teeth trembling against each other and I could taste the texture of it searing along my tongue.

We encircled the pathway along the Fort’s edge, taking a light jog at the lead of another boy at the front. At last, the New Chapel and its belltower drew into view. It was a steady structure of stone and mortar dotted with tiny rectangular windows. Inelegant in its architecture, the thing reminded me more of a barn than a chapel, but it was large and mighty. In spite of its squat footprint just below the mountain peak, it loomed, powerful, unerring in its utilitarianism. A wall of the same gray stone surrounded the chapel with a pair of hefty doors seeming the only entryway to the grounds.

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