9.18.2020

SHORT STORY: UNDEAD NORTH, PART 2 of 3

By Godfrey Blackwell 


    “Are you frigging kidding me?” Alex, one of my fellow parishioners at Our Lady of Sorrows chapel, where we both attended the Latin Mass, screamed at me over the phone. “You know, I told you that you shouldn’t watch that garbage. But this is taking it way too…”

    “Alex, come on,” I said. “You know me. I’m not crazy. I’m telling you what I saw. Tell me you haven’t been hearing weird stuff about this latest pandemic anyway.”

    “Oh who knows man, the mainstream media isn’t saying anything and the internet is the internet. Look, I’m not debating this with you. If my advice to a client to keep his mouth shut was ever important, I’m telling you now to keep your mouth completely shut! Don’t spew any of this zombie nonsense to the police!”

    “Yeah ok, I won’t but —“

    “No buts, keep your mouth shut. This is bad enough. I can already see the headlines: WHITE SUPREMACIST/CATHOLIC EXTREMIST GUNS DOWN SYRIAN IMMIGRANT.  Look, I’ll be down for bail court in the morning. Until then you just keep your mouth shut.”

    “Alright. You talked to Nadejda?”

    “Yes, she’s squared away. Look … I’ve got to go, but I know one of my longtime clients, a guy named Namestnikov got arrested this evening too. You’ll be sharing cells with him. Tell him you know me and he’ll look out for you. I know this isn’t your normal scene.”

    I was a history professor at the Avon campus of Conestoga College. It absolutely was not my normal scene. It all started hitting me for real, as I mumbled a thanks and hung up the phone. The nervous-looking special constable hustled me out of the search room with the phone and down the hall into one of the row of holding cells attached to the Avon Police Service headquarters on the ground floor of the Avon Courthouse.

    He left without a word. There was only one row of cells, all next to each other, so I could not see how many of the others were occupied.

    “Yo, nice to have some company,” a voice with a heavy Ukrainian accent said.

    “Uh … I take it you’re Namestnikov.”

    “Hey, how’d you know?”

    “I guess we both have the same lawyer. Alex Velasquez is actually a pretty good friend.”

    “Yo, respect,” a huge fist came out from the next cell. I reluctantly gave it a fist bump. “You can call me Namest. What you in for, bro?”

    “Uhhh … it’s a long story.”

    “You’re not in here for doing something to a kid are you?”

    “No! Good grief no … I … oh, hell, I shot a guy. At least, I think it was a guy. It was …”

    “You shoot a zombie?”

    “What makes you ...?”

    Namestnikov chuckled. “You Canadians man, if the TV don’t say it real, you don’t believe it. I read the real news online. I know. I seen enough govno.”

    “Well, if zombies are real then that’s what I shot,” I said. “It was my neighbour’s body, but he was walking all weird, just making growling sounds like an animal. And those eyes … I shot him five times before he went down.”

    “Last one in the head, right?”

    “Yeah …”



***




    No one came to take us to bail court the next morning. By about noon on the clock in the hallway outside the cell block, we still hadn’t seen anyone and Namest started banging on the cells and shouting to let us out. At about seven in the evening, we heard what we thought were gunshots, lots of them, in the main area of the police station but we could see nothing as our view was blocked by the concrete walls separating us from the hall that led to the search rooms, let alone the other concrete wall separating that from the main station, all with locked steel doors.

    Through it all, the fluorescent lights hummed and cast the same bluish-white hue commingling night with day. By ten the next morning I admitted to Namest that not only had I been drinking from the toilet bowl in my cell I was getting really concerned.

    “Zombies, bro,” Namest said. “We gotta get out of here. Can you see anything?”

    My cell was the first in the row of holding cells and I could see through the doorway into the hallway that led down into the main police offices.

    “I can see the locker where the guard put the cell key,” I said. “But it’s a good fifteen feet away. No way could I reach that.”

    I looked around my cell for the thousandth time. There was just the concrete floor, the concrete slab that was supposed to be a “bed” and the stainless steel toilet. I had the rough blanket they’d given me, which was maybe six feet long.

    “Namest, you’ve got a blanket, right?”

    Tak.”

    “What about the cell next to you? Is there one in there? Can you reach it?”

    There was, and I was able to tie the three blankets together. I tried flipping them at the locker holding the keys like a long whip. The blankets heavy and it was unweildy, but I kept at it, whipping the long chain up and down repeatedly. It was impossible to have any accuracy. I finally sat down hard, sweating and out of breath.

    After resting a bit, I tried at it again. Then I froze as there was a loud bang from down the hall.

    Kurva!” Namest shouted. “What that, bro?”

    There was another metallic KLANG!

    “It sounds like it’s coming from that door just across from us.”

    There was another crash and this time I saw the door shudder.

    “That goes up to courtrooms,” Namest said.

    Oh man, here it comes, I thought to myself. I retreated as far back in my cell as I could get as visions of Mohhamed’s blank eyes and that iron grip flashed through my mind. I crossed myself and prayed. There was nothing else I could do … when zombies poured through that door we’d have no way to fight them, but they also wouldn’t be able to reach us.

    The door flew open with a boom like a gun shot and I jumped. But instead of a ravenous zombie, my friend Alex Velasquez burst through.

    “Alex!” I gasped with relief. “What are you doing here?”

    “Saving your sorry butt,” he smiled. “Plus I was hoping to find some living cops, or at least some of those AR-15s our benevolent overlords decided 'have no place in civilized society' … since we’re no longer in civilized society!”

    He retrieved the keys from the locker I’d been trying to open with the blankets and as he released us from our cells explained that the night I’d been arrested there were riots and mass panic throughout Southern Ontario. By the morning, no justice of the peace or judge could be found to run court and every officer who actually showed up for work was trying to keep zombies and chaos at bay. By the afternoon it was complete societal collapse.

    “I just decided to hunker down in my office and wait for the worst to die down,” he said. “But darn it if you weren’t right, it really is the zombie apocalypse!”

    “You sound almost cheerful about it,” I said.

    Alex shrugged. “What am I gonna do, be all Eyeore like you about it?” He winked. “I won’t lie, it’s been pretty intense out there. And I’m starved. Let’s see if we can get some guns, then scare up some food.”

    With the fire axe Alex had used to get the first door open, we smashed our way through into the main area of the police station. It was a mess of overturned tables, smashed chairs, and blood. We found no bodies, but we found a couple of C-8 patrol carbines and a few magazines.

    “Well, at least police could be trusted with thirty rounds” I said, checking the load on my weapon. “Although I’d still like another half dozen mags each. We need one more for Namest though.”

    “Nah, I okay with these,” the Ukrainian said, holding his massive fists up in a boxing pose. “I won a bronze for Canada with these in Beijing. And I never touched a popgun.”

    “I don’t know if getting close to those things is a good idea,” I said. “But we’ve wasted enough time in here. We need to hit the road. I need to get home.”

9.11.2020

SHORT STORY: UNDEAD NORTH, PART 1 of 3

 


By Godfrey Blackwell


    The sun had just started to touch the trees along the ridge across from my house in the hamlet of Falstaff just outside Avon, Ontario, giving a slightly subdued hue to the fading light, as I drove up the long drive. I was returning home from my last visit to the range before it closed indefinitely under the latest emergency medical order. I didn’t bother trying to suppress a sigh as I pulled in front of the house.

    After the “COVID-19” lockdowns, I’d just started getting back to the range regularly this summer. As I put the Jeep in park, my phone buzzed. Probably my buddy Mike in Florida; we’d been exchanging texts between magazines while I was at the range. He was convinced that this was something a lot more serious than another COVID pandemic.

    I pulled the key out of the ignition and took my phone out of the cup holder.



Paul, things are getting real sporty, real fast down here.

My buddy Chris who works at Memorial Hospital in Tampa just texted me. There’s riots there that make the BLM stuff look like nothing.

I’m heading home early. This is bad.

Stay safe and God bless.


    By brow creased. Mike tended to be a bit pessimistic, but this really did sound bad. I started punching in a reply wishing him well when a scream tore the air, making my head snap up. I jumped out of the Jeep with my head on a swivel trying to locate the sound. It was so quiet in our village this time of day that with the trees and the ridge, sounds tended to echo.

    I heard the scream again — definitely a woman’s voice. Down the hill that led up to our house and across the road, I saw movement in the large garden beside our neighbour’s house one down from us. Khatol, easily recognizable from a couple hundred yards away in her black burqa (she was the only person in our rural village of 100 who wore the traditional Muslim garb) all but flew from around the back of the place she shared with her husband Mohammed. In her panicked sprint, she tripped on the hem of her burqa and sprawled face-first into a bed of petunias.

    I glanced back at my own place and saw Nadejda peering out of the living room window. I gestured for her to stay inside. I started down the driveway then stopped midstride as another shape emerged from behind the brown house across from us. It looked like Mohammed, at least his size, but the guy moved with a slow shuffling gait that looked nothing like Mohammed. Khatol shrieked again and scrabbled up out of the petunias and half crawled, half ran deeper into the garden.
    
    I’m still not sure why, but something deep inside told me — no, screamed at me — to arm myself. Something primal told me that there was something very very wrong with this situation and not only Khatol, but I, was in grave danger. I reached into the open back of my jeep and with a quick turn of another key on the keychain still in my hand, opened my gun case and pulled out my Bushmaster ACR and a magazine. I slung the rifle, and as I trotted down my dirt drive I loaded the magazine. It was a legal mag, of course, so five rounds in it was “full” and I left the remaining bullets in the cardboard box in my coat pocket.

    The saliva in my mouth dried up and I could feel my hackles rise and I closed the distance. Khatol tripped over a raised flower bed and again thrashed around as the inexorable shape pursuing her moved silently along. Khatol was now jabbering in Arabic.

    “Hey, what’s going on?” I shouted, not sure whether I was addressing Khatol or her pursuer.

    When I was within twenty yards, I recognized that, despite the bizarre gait, it was indeed Mohammed. He was beyond pail; his skin had a grey hue, and his eyes stared with a vacancy that chilled me to my soul. Unwittingly, I crossed myself.

    “Mohammed, what on earth?”

    I was within five yards when Mohammed lunged forward and grabbed Khatol, who shrieked louder than ever. I rushed the last distance and shoved Mohammed back. He staggered and fell over another of the raised planters. Khatol took the opportunity to regain her feet and sprint down the slope to the road.

    I stayed between her and Mohammed, who slowly got up and uttered a low, inhuman growl. I noticed for the first time that the white undershirt he wore was stained red on the left side around the kidney area.

    “Mohammed?” I asked, yet I felt I was not talking to my neighbour.

    He came at me with sudden and surprising speed, and tried to grab me and snapped at me like an animal. I was barely able to step back quick enough to avoid the grab and the bite but now it was my turn to stumble over one of the flower beds. I rolled back and kicked at Mohammed as he continued to grab at me. He got a hold of one ankle and his grip was like iron far beyond what a man on permanent O.D.S.P. should be capable of. I kicked again and again but he wouldn’t let go. I kicked him in the face a good three or four times, and even though blood poured down from his nose and mouth and broken teeth bounced into the foliage he continued his attack, growling and muttering.

    My heart was pounding, and in desperation I chambered a round.

    “Mohammed for God’s sake, stop!” I shouted. “What are you doing?”

    He grabbed me with another hand and I gasped in pain as the fingers bit onto my calf. With both legs now in his terrible grip, I had no choice.

    The rifle roared impossibly loud. I thought that, despite the point-blank range, I had somehow missed as he didn’t so much as flinch. I fired again. The second shot tore out part of his shoulder and his grip faltered and he tumbled off down the hill.

    There were more screams now — Khatol yelling in rapid-fire Arabic, and other voices as neighbours had been drawn by the commotion and the gun fire. I got to my feet and rapidly backed away from Mohammed who was again getting up. Khatol had apparently stopped her retreat as I saw she was just a dozen paces or so off behind me. Mohammed lurched forward.

    “Khatol, get out of here!” I shouted.

    I backed off until I bumped into her. She was crying and talking — to Mohammed maybe, or maybe she was trying to tell me not to shoot her husband again. But he kept coming. I pushed her and told her to run, but now she would not.

    Mohammed raised his arms and opened his mouth with a savage rasp. The ACR roared twice more. He staggered slightly at the impact of the rounds. His torso was covered in blood, yet still he came. I had only one round left. I adjusted my aim up and fired. I had the briefest image of the round striking him between the eyes then he fell backwards and crashed to the ground, and moved no more.

    Khatol shrieked and ran forward to kneel beside her dead husband. I looked up and saw another neighbour, Mandy, starting at me wish shock and rage.

    “You murdered him! What’s wrong with you?”

    By that point, I had decided that whatever I had killed, it wasn’t Mohammed. That wasn’t just a bad drug trip or psychiatric episode. Drugs don’t let a man keep walking after he’s received four mortal wounds from a rifle chambered in 5.56 NATO.

    All the same, I felt sick. I ran not from Mandy’s accusations, but so I could vomit on my own property and not near the grieving Khatol. By the time I was done retching, Nadejda had made it to the end of the driveway.

    I remembered Mike’s texts. Disease, lockdown, riots … a real pandemic this time. Good grief I thought, you can’t be serious. Zombie apocalypse? I’d watched the TV series and movies, I always enjoyed the genre. But this couldn’t seriously be what I just saw, could it? But if there was even a small chance …

    “Najedja,” I grabbed my wife by the shoulders. “This might be even worse than it looks.”

    “What, how could it be worse?” She said.

    “Just … call Alex, and you get the kids inside and lock all the doors. Don’t open the door for anyone. You make them come with a warrant and a cutting torch but do not give up any of the guns if they want them. We’re going to need them.”

    As it turned out, it took the police almost three hours to show up. When they charged at me, guns raised, I was already on my knees with my hands behind my head, and the ACR unloaded with the chamber locked open on the grass in front of me.

9.09.2020

Was Galileo Wrong?


Now here's a topic that gets very little attention and is considered "proven" even moreso than evolution and a billions of years old earth. We have the Protestants to thank for keeping the candle burning on Creationism and for giving it a certain credibility, after Catholics totally abandoned the defence of Creationism over the last 40 years. But since the Protestants have ignored Geocentrism, there's been really no one to defend it, and hence no real discussion.

We freely admit we've not studied this question in any detail at all and therefore are not writing this to contradict the heliocentric model of the solar system. It's the accepted model and until convinced otherwise, we accept it. However, the possibility of Geocentrism does offer fascinating possibilities for the science fiction writer.

Most write-off the question as irrelevant if they are not castigating proponents of Geocentrism as "retards" (this generally unacceptable-in-polite-company words seems to make a resurgence in these debates). But if we try to cut through all that garbage, it seems that there is a theological relevance. We also don't think it's completely cracked, since the observation of motion is always relative (think of how the moon appears to follow you as you drive, or how when on a train the landscape appears to move). Also, in something as massive as the universe, how can anyone say what is, or isn't "the centre" (if we take Geocentrism to mean simply that the earth is centre of the universe, not necessarily that the Ptolemaic model of the solar system is accurate). Until recently the Church seems to have used its teaching authority to hold to Geocentrism -- and no Catholic (and even non-Catholic) can easily ignore the teaching authority of the Church. Not even in science, for the Church has never been some backwards luddite/anti-science institution, but rather quite the opposite (see chapter 5 of How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Dr. Thomas E. Woods, Jr. for a good exposition on this; although we don't endorse the entire work and believe  chapter 8 -- on economics -- is totally off-base)

On a more practical level, look up into the clear night sky (you may have to get out of the city to do this) and consider the Earth fixed and unmoving at the centre of creation with the universe in rotation around it.  Then, with your eyes still on the sky, imagine we are on a small rock hurtling through space in some backwater galaxy in an infinitely expanding void. You may soon realise why this is no longer an insignificant question.

But as writers,  it makes for some interesting ideas. Perhaps given the universal acceptance of heliocentrism one would have to do it in a steampunk  or alternate history/space fantasy setting. It seems  that all the celestial bodies would have to be a lot closer to earth than we thought, making it a lot easier/faster to get to at least the other planets in the solar system. We don't know enough about Geocentric theory to know whether extrasolar planets are possible under that model. But if they are, then certainly they'd be much closer as well -- making interstellar travel a whole lot cheaper and easier even without faster-than-light technology.

9.04.2020

SHORT STORY: LAST STAND AT PATRICIA BEACH

By Albert Blackwell (August 2020, age 14)

    Colonel (Ret'd) Shawn Anchor scanned the area before him. It didn’t take him long to spot them, the Barbarians known as The Sons of Chaos.

    It was only a month ago when the EMP had gone off over Canada, as well as USA, and parts of Alaska. In only a few days anarchy had taken hold of the country and a few weeks later barbarians, like the sons of Chaos, were going around the country, burning, looting, and murdering as they went.

       Colonel Anchor was at his cottage in Patricia beach when the EMP had went off. Since he had served in the Canadian army the people in the area had made him their leader. As if finding food and trying to survive wasn’t hard enough, now he had defend the area from the Sons of Chaos.

    Luckily the Colonel wasn’t alone in organising a defence. In the area lived a man named James Wiener who was a huge firearms person. Over the years several firearms in Canada were outlawed, but that didn’t stop him from keeping his rifles. When Anchor found out about Wiener’s stash of illegally owned firearms he would have reported it, but there is no government in this scenario, so instead of scolding Wiener was grateful he had them, and as The Sons of Chaos came Wiener agreed to distribute the weapons he had to the people. As an extra benefit chemist named Alfred Fox, who’s main interest was in explosives, was able to make several grenades out of tin cans, as well as a homemade Bazooka.

    Patricia beach was quit defensible itself as there was a bottle neck right at the entrance, and dense forest on both sides and on most of the roads leading to the cottages making flank attacks difficult. At the bottle neck cars were moved into place to stop anyone from getting through, and armed people on both sides.

    Colonel Anchor had his HQ set at a distance so he could watch the battle better while Wiener was at the front.

    The Sons of Chaos began their attack with a large charge spearheaded by a few old trucks. The Sons of Chaos smashed into the car barricades halting their charge while on both sides civilians opened up on them with AR-15s. The Sons of Chaos fought back with firearms they had taken from police they’ve killed, however being in the open and suffering heavy casualties the Sons of Chaos withdrew, but quickly regrouped and charged again. This time they had men move through the forest and had an old snowplow at the head of the charge witch started to push the cars out of the way. However it was destroyed by the custom bazooka. Unfortunately this was only a minor setback for the Sons of Chaos who continued to attack with doubled ferocity and superior numbers and pushed Anchor’s men back.

    As the Sons of Chaos came pouring in, they started to run into ambushes hidden in the forest and the custom mines. The fight continued for an hour like this before the Sons of Chaos started to reach their assailants positions, vicious had to hand combat ensued in which the Sons of Chaos seemed to gain the upper hand.

    Once again Colonel Anchor ordered a retreat to their final line of defence. However the Sons of Chaos were almost spent and were massacred by the booby traps laid by Fox and retreated and were never seen again leaving behind dozens of dead and many weapons.

    Despite their own losses the people led by Colonel Anchor claimed the victory, and Patricia beach was saved.

9.02.2020

Book Review: A Knight of the White Cross

Review by Godfrey Blackwell


Title: A Knight of the White Cross : A tale of the siege of Rhodes 
Author: G.A. Henty
Publisher: Lost Classic Books
Godfrey's Rating: 3.5 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: An excellent book for young boys which follows the exploits of Gervaise Tresham, a fine role-model and young knight of the Order of St. John at the time of the First Siege of Rhodes (1480); available for free in Amazon Kindle

G.A. Henty wrote a whole slew of books for young boys starting in 1868. I read this book (a) because the Kindle version is free, (b) because my grandfather, a man of good character, grew up with these books, and (c) they are part of Angelicum Academy's Good Books programme which I intend to "indoctrinate" my children with. I found it, on the whole, to be a very good adventure book for young boys (Angelicum has it in the Grade 4 curriculum).

It tells the tale of Gervaise Tresham, son of an honourable knight on the losing side of the War of the Roses. Gervaise's father had promised the Lord God that if he had a son he would pledge him to the Order of St. John, and when his father is beheaded after the Battle of Tewskbury, Gervaise follows his father's wishes and joins the Knights and travels to Rhodes (as an aside, Sir Thomas Tresham was a real historical figure, but his son Gervaise is fictional -- Sir Thomas' real son was John and he did not join the Hospitallers). Once at Rhodes, in true Henty fashion, Gervaise embarks on a series of fantastic adventures, all of which he weathers with courage, humility, and grace.

The best part about this and the other Henty books I've read, is the most excellent example set by the main protagonist. One might argue that the protagonists are too perfect, and too similar (indeed, Gervaise Tresham is basically the same character as Rupert Holiday from The Cornet of Horse) -- but, I think for young boys' fiction this is a good thing. And Gervaise is possessed of, in good measure, all the major virtues: fortitude, temperence, chastity, prudence, justice (and his adventures give him opportunity to rely on these virtues in equal measure). The adventures Gervaise takes part in are fast-paced, varied, and sure to capture the imagination of young readers. I recommend this work almost without reservation to parents with sons.

I say almost without reservation, because some of Henty's Protestantism does show through. Although he's no anti-Catholic bigot like Sir Walter Scott, some conversations during the book between the knights about their vow of chastity belies a complete lack of understanding of the virtue of continence or of such vows. In the end, Sir Gervaise is released from his vows by the pope so that he may marry a wealthy heiress. But it is not egregious and a little bit of discussion will easily nullify this shortcoming of the work.



8.26.2020

The First Christians in Mecca

Musings from Godfrey ...



While refreshing myself on the life of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, I re-read The Leper King and His Heirs and was reminded of the interesting little tale concerning the first Christians to visit Mecca. Italian traveller and writer Ludovico di Varthema (c. 1470-1517) is generally recognized as the first European non-Muslim known to have entered Mecca. Nearly three hundred years earlier, a pair of crusader knights visited Mecca in far less pleasant circumstances ...

The backdrop is Saladin's war with the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem which began in early 1182. After victories by the Royal Army led by King Baldwin IV (who was by this time suffering terribly from advanced lepromatous leprosy) at Le Forbelet and at Beirut Saladin had withdrawn to Syria to campaign against the Aleppan Muslims who were not subject to him. During this "break" in active combat in the Kingdom of Jerusalem itself in early 1183, Raynald of Châtillon (a man unjustly villainized by many histories and by that abomination, Kingdom of Heaven), outfitted a flotilla of five galleys which were launched into the Red Sea where they were able to wreak much havoc behind Saladin's lines. Saladin's governor of Egypt, al-Adil, was able to get ships transported by land from Alexandria to the Red Sea and eventually routed this Christian force. After abandoning their ships, they surrendered, being trapped on the sourthern part of the Arabian Peninsula with no way of marching back home. When al-Adil asked Saladin what to do with these prisoners of war, he ordered that they all be executed, and reserved an especially grisly fate for two knights.

It is noteworthy that this episode does not come from European or Christian sources; in fact, the Frankish sources of the time make no mention of this particular expedition. Rather, this comes from Islamic sources, which can hardly be accused of being "Islamophobic" or prejudiced (if anything, they could be accused of being biased in favour of their fellow Muslims). Back to the story: the "special fate" of these two knights I mentioned, was described in a letter written by al-Imad, contained in Abu Shama's (1203 - 1267) The Book of the Two Gardens[1]:
They were taken to Mecca where, during the great annual pilgrimage, they were led outside the city to Medina. This is a stage in the pilgrimage at which the faithful offer animals for slaughter and give their flesh to feed the poor. There, among a zealous and hostile crowd of thousands of pilgrims, the two Christians were slaughtered 'like animals for sacrifice', presumably by having their throats cut.[2]
So, some three hundred years before Varthema these two Christian knights had visited Mecca and were then given the crown of martyrdom in Medina shortly thereafter by members of that great "religion of peace". As to the "honourable", "just", "tolerant" Saladin (who is especially lionised in Kingdom of Heaven)'s part in ordering all of this:
al-Adil had misgivings about executing all these prisoners, for in accordance with Islamic law, their lives should have been spared because they had surrendered voluntarily, but Saladin had no scruples of this kind.[3]
And speaking of martyrdom, this same book (The Leper King) also mentions in the same chapter the treatment of Latin Christians by the Byzantines, a group who, like the Muslems, are made out to be innocent, peace-loving victims of the vicious Franks (cf. the sack of Constantinople) by most popular historians. When Emperor Manuel Comnenus died in 1182, his widow Mary of Antioch (a Latin) was overthrown by Manuel's cousin Andronicus Comnenus. His coup was bloody:
When Andronicus advanced on Constantinople, there was a spontaneous uprising of the mob, who massacred all the Latins in the city, regardless of age and sex, and cut off the head of the papal legate. Even the hospital of St John was sacked and its inmates murdered.[4]
The Franks were certainly guilty of some brutalities of their own, we can't deny that. But on the whole, they were far less barbaric than those around them. Other than the sack of Jerusalem (which is generally exaggerated) their rule of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was quite benign: see Chapter 3: The Kingdom of The Leper King. In fact, read the whole book; it is an excellent account based on primary sources of a very important and misunderstood period of a misunderstood era, that of the Crusades.



[1] An account of the dynasties of Nur ad-Din (Saladin's predecessor) and Saladin, which makes careful use of contemporary sources including letters and a history written during Saladin's life by a Shi'ite scholar from Aleppo named Yahya Ibn Abi Tayy. (Cf. Hilmy, M. and M. Ahmad. "Some notes on Arab Historiography during the Zengid and Ayyubid Periods (521/1127-648/1250)". Historians of the Middle East. Ed. Bernard Lewis and P.M. Holt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962. pp. 90-4)

[2] Hamilton, Bernard. The Leper King and His Heirs: Baldwin IV and the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. p. 183

[3] Ibid., p. 184

[4] Ibid., p. 173

8.21.2020

SHORT STORY: BEASTS IN THE SKY

 By Anna Blackwell (August 2020, age 12)


    Covid 19 pandemic had just ended and things were starting to finally beginning to come back to normal after all the look downs and riots. When something strange happened on September 1, 2022.

    Karen Bosher was driving her car from work. It had been a long day at the office and she was ready for a cup of hot cocoa and a nice cozy bed.

    She was driving through Stone View. Tall Stone walls were on both sides of the road, onto of them grew tall pine trees. Karen admitted, she rather liked the look of the rock walls, it made her feel secure. She had mainly moved there for the scenery.
    
    The sun was just sinking behind the dark clouds when it happened. Karen stirred her car around the bend when something caught her eye, a large bat like shape had just flew over the car. Karen had her eyes on the road so she didn’t get a clear picture of what it was.

    Suddenly the car in front of Karen’s car, went flying backwards like if a huge baseball bat had hit a home run on it.

    Karen pushed hard on the brakes too late! The car sent her car flipping over, Karen felt like she was on a rollercoaster as she was thrown from side to side. Pieces of broken glass where sent flying every where. As soon as her car land on it’s side and stopped flipping, Karen immediately wanted to get out her squished front seat. Carefully, Karen despite her uneasiness managed to crawl out through the destroyed from windshield of her car.

    “Hey, are you alright?” Asked a heavy voice.

    “Uh..I-I think so.”

    Screams come from the other cars which have been hit. Karen breathed a sigh of relief, she had survived a very strange accident but a few others haven’t.

    “My name is Cogsley.” The man with the heavy voice said. ”What the heck was your car flying all over the place for?”

    “I ... I well, the car in front of me just went flying into the air all of the sudden and it hit my car.”

    “Hmph, probably some one put mines on the road,” Cogsley mumbled.

    “What? Mines? You joking or something? What kind of joker would even get his or her hands on those? They are illegal!”

    Suddenly a cry came from a turned over car.

    “Help me! Help me!!” A woman’s voice cried.

    Cogsley and Karen ran over to the car. Looking inside they saw a lady lying on the roof of the upturned car.

    “Help me!” The lady cried. “I think a broke my leg, and my right arm is cut by glass!”

    Cogsley looked over to Karen. “Alright, miss ...”

    “Karen.”

    “Alright, Miss Karen you are small enough, try and squeeze in there and help her get out, I’ll be out her to pull her out.”

    After a bit of squeezing and careful procedures, they got the lady, Polly was her name, out of the car.

    “Thank you so much!” She said.

    Just then, Karen heard a deep rumbling sound. She looked over and shrieked in horror.

    A huge monstrous creature with bat wings, yellow eyes, electric blue scales that lit in the pale moon light and large saber-tooth teeth.

    Karen shriek gave Cogsley just enough time to pick ups Polly and get out of the way before the monster left onto the crushed car.

    “It’s the aliens alright!” Cogsley shouted. “We got to get to my truck!”

    Without further instructions Karen ran as fast as she could to the green truck Cogsley was referring too.

    The monster took notice of Cogsley running with Polly over to the truck and began to pursue them.

    “Get in! In!” Cogsley hollered shoving Polly into the front seat with Karen. The jumping himself in, he thrust a silver key into the ignition.

    “Go! Go! Go!” Karen shouted as the truck took off just in time to escape the hideous teeth of the monster, which chased after them.

    “Can you go any faster!” Karen shouted at Cogsley.

    “I am going 180 kilometres per hour!”

    Karen looked through the back window at the creature as it ran after them, but then she noticed something, something else was moving off to the side of the monster unlike the one following them, it was white, it looked like it had scales but white fur seemed to flow down its spine.

    Then Karen spotted another thing but it was flying in the air, this one reminded her the dragon she had seen from the Hobbit. But just then she realised something. There was more than one of these creatures.

    “Man, we really have to get out of here!” Karen said panic right on the tip of her tongue.

    “Why? What is wrong!?” Cogsley asked.

    “There's more than one of them.”

    Cogsley almost swore in frustration, before saying “You all might want to hold onto something.” And with that the truck drove of road int to the surrounding woods.

    “We are going to Pine Dale Campsite.” Cogsley said.

    Karen looked back through the car’s back window. The monster was no longer following them, but as she looked into the sky, there she saw them.

    Dragons. Dozens of them, they were now rulers of the sky and land. Karen didn’t know why but she knew they were and she was going to have to do every thing she could to survive this.



  The end 

8.19.2020

"Reprehensible Stories"

Musings from Godfrey Blackwell

"Much like fairy tales, there are two facets of horror. One is pro-institution, which is the most reprehensible type of fairy tale: Don't wander into the woods, and always obey your parents. The other type of fairy tale is completely anarchic and antiestablishment."
Cruz, Gilbert. "10 Questions: Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro on the politics of horror movies, living in self-imposed exile and owning a man cave". Time magazine. September 5, 2011. page 80
This isn't the craziest thing I've ever heard, but I still think it's pretty darn foolish and especially coming from a man who's experienced, personally, a taste of what anarchy is like (the banditos who kidnapped Mr. del Toro's his father were not exactly docile pro-establishment drones).

It's also rather odd coming from a man who, like myself, is a big fan of science fiction and fantasy (similarities between myself an Mr. del Toro end there) -- because the genres to be almost exclusively "reprehensible" because they are "pro-institution". Certainly all the best of these genres is heavily pro-institution and the grandfather of them all, The Lord of the Rings series is not only pro-institution through-and-through, but practically a catechism of that institution that Mr. del Toro hates the most, Catholicism.

The theme common to fantasy fiction especially, that makes almost all of it "reprehensible" and "pro-institution", features a sort of "conservative" past social order that has been corrupted and is restored (or sought to be restored) by the heroes. This is certainly true of Lord of the Rings where there is much talk of the glories of the past, the decadence of modern Gondor and Rohan, the emergence of the evil power, and at the end a sort of "Counter Reformation" that restores the old order. Even Star Wars follows this arc, despite superficial appearances to the contrary, with the Rebellion seeking to re-establish the Old Republic and a resurgence of the Jedi Knights who had a long tradition (another "conservative/establishment" thing) of guarding peace and justice. This has lead hacks gentlemen like Michael Moorcock to whine that fantasy is inherently politically conservative.

The inherent "conservativism" (I mislike the word, but continue to use it here for convenience) of fantasy and sci-fi is a reason why children, the most inherently conservative people in the world, tend to enjoy these stories. I say children are inherently conservative because they thrive on order, routine, and stability. It is chaos and anarchy that they find fearful and why the whole "Dr. Spock" liberal methods have been disastrous (but that debate is for another column).

Perhaps Mr. del Toro misinterprets "libertarian" and "back-to-the-land" trends in works like Lord of the Rings (or maybe he despises LOTR and agreed to help write the screenplay for The Hobbit out of a malicious desire to twist it into his own image? I'll give the benefit of a doubt and assume he likes it) as "anti-establishment". Well, it may be anti- the current liberal, French Revolution inspired institutions that people of Mr. del Toro's persuasion centuries ago foisted upon the world through torrents of blood. But that doesn't make it "anti-establishment", it makes it "reactionary" or "counter-revolutionary" which is ultimately the epitome of "pro-institution" since it supports the ancient institutions. I think that this is why I often am able to get along so well with really liberal-types, like a lawyer colleague of mine who has run for the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada; we agree that there are problems with the current system but we disagree strongly on the solution usually because such people (though well intentioned) are ignorant of history and what stuff like communism really stands for.

So it's just plain odd to be a big fantasy fan, but claim to hate it's inherent nature. As to why it is so wrong-headed to consider "pro-establishment" fiction "reprehensible" ... that could be the subject of a multipage rant. But let's just look quickly at Mr. del Toro's quote above, wherein he says that a story that teaches children "always obey your parents" is "reprehensible" is plain lunacy. Certainly, as a parent himself, he does not believe his children should not listen to him. It's just so plainly obvious that parents know more than children and the very purpose of parents is to teach and protect their children. So he's saying a story that reinforces the duty of parents is evil? The great irony is, that it is liberals ( Mr. del Toro acknowledges that he is one) who are the most "pro-establishment" because they tend to be statists who think "the establishment" should control nearly every aspect of our lives and "protect" us from ourselves with myriad regulations and Big Brotherly watchers. The "evil regime" of Generalissimo Francisco Franco that Mr. del Toro hates so much didn't have Child and Family Services who abduct peoples' children for drawing a picture of a gun! To be blunt, it's not just irony, but rather hypocrisy and liberal endeavours are ripe with it.

8.14.2020

LOUISE'S BAD BIRTHDAY! and the Next 1 Hr Fiction Challenge

 By Barbara Blackwell (August 2020, age 10)



We really enjoyed the last 1-hour fiction challenge, and found it to be a great inspiration for sitting down and getting writing (or drawing). So for our second challenge, we chose the theme of "#2 Hits the Fan" or "2HTF" stories about a collapse scenario. Barbara chose a "zombie apocalypse" collapse!

8.12.2020

Clothing - A Juxtaposition

  
A film enjoyed by all members of the Blackwell family is the adaptation of Micheal Chricthton's novel Timeline, featuring historians sent back to 1357 France. What strikes us everytime we watch the film is how much better the characters all look in their mediaeval garb versus modern. After watching them for most of the film dressed as mediaeval peasants, they look rather like "bums" in the final scene where we see them back on their archaelogical dig.

Here is another good shot of their mediaeval garb:



Versus modern:


The change (for the worse) in women's clothing over the centuries is the most striking. Another example snapped by Godfrey at the Tower of London offering further proof of our thesis that even the most basic peasant clothing of the mediaeval period was more gracious, dignified, and even functional than what we must wear today:


Now someone's sure to ask me what solutions we have to offer. Our answer: the tag on this post is "musings", not "answers"! In seriousness though, while we may have a certain affinity for the past, we cannot relive it. But maybe we can get some ideas. 

8.07.2020

SHORT STORY: WAR IN THE ALPS

By Albert Blackwell (July 2020, Age 13)

    A large heavily armoured shoe box shaped machine with three short sturdy legs on each side slowly made its way up the mountainous terrain. Steam billowed out the two chimneys at its rear ,armed with a Tesla coil mounted behind the commander’s cupola.

    A company of Austrian soldiers ,all of them wearing gas masks and heavily sealed suits to avoid the radiation in the air, advanced behind the machine. They were on a mission to investigate a space craft which had landed only a few miles away.

    Captain Fredrick Schmidt gazed out the narrow slit in his cupola, observing the rocky terrain before him. Like the rest of the crew of the steam tank, he wore similar clothing as the rest of the Austrian troops. Because of the nuclear war between France, England, and Germany, most Europe was laid waste and all of it in a state of a nuclear winter. Most people were leaving and moving to Africa, Fredrick and his men were preparing to evacuate with several dozen refugees when a Star Ship landed in the alps very close to the evacuation point. Whatever it was it was the soldiers job to make sure it wasn’t anything dangerous.

    Fredrick’s thoughts were interrupted by a loud explosion which rocked the tank. This was followed by another and then another!

    “We’re under attack!” Yelled Fredrick.

    Stones and other debris were flying in all directions. The tank’s armour protected Fredrick and his crew from the Shrapnel but not the soldiers behind, who were ducking for cover.

    Fredrick stared hard at the terrain before him to identify the attackers. After a few moments he saw them, two four-legged walkers, steam billowing out of their chimneys, each armed with a 67mm canon on each side were slowly advancing toward them.

    “Martians.” Muttered Fredrick, recognising the design. “Gunner! 40 degrees to the Left!” Fredrick yelled.

    Two engineers began turning their cranks rapidly to power the deadly Tesla coils. Using a pyramid shaped outline of 2ft metal rods the Gunner directed the bolts of electricity toward one of the Martian walkers.
    
    The bolts of surging electricity struck the walker, electric pulses flying all around it! A second strike hit the walker! Several seconds later it’s engine exploded, unable to handle the shock.

    The second walker quickened it’ s pace and in minutes was only a few yards away from the Austrian tank. Firing both its canons the walker continued to advance.

    The shells slammed into the tank creating a rupture it’s armour.

    “Full ahead!” Ordered Fredrick. “Gunner prepare to fire into it’ s under belly!”

    Fredrick realised the dangerous situation he was, in if the tank was hit again it would be destroyed.

    The walker spun its guns downward, trying to get at the tank. But it was to slow the electric charges smashing into its under belly destroying it’s engines. The walker crumbled to the ground on top of the Austrian tank.


* * * 


    Fredrick gazed at the destruction before him. His tank was wrecked but his crew escaped through the rupture in it’s armour. The remaining soldiers were able to capture the Martian ship Which would be useful for the evacuation. But why the Martians were there Fredrick would never know.

8.05.2020

Puerto Rico (Board Game Review)

Name: Puerto Rico
Game Designer: Andreas Seyfarth
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Summary: A unique, and surprisingly enjoyable game of economic management and strategic thought.

Puerto Rico is an "Age of Discovery" game, where the players take the roles of plantation owners in the newly-founded colony of Puerto Rico, competing to amass the most victory points by the game's end. These can be accumulated by shipping goods back to the Old World and through constructing special buildings. The manner of play is very unique; it seems a little complicated at first, but it doesn't take long to get a firm grasp of the rules. Each turn, the players select a "role" such as mayor, builder, craftsman, among others, which guides what they can do. The person to select the role gets a special benefit, then everyone else plays the role normally. Then the next person selects a role, and so on. In the picture below, you can see an example of the board each player has, with a few crops and buildings already in play and some money and victory points in the top right corner; the available roles are laid out above. Crops can be sold for money to purchase buildings with as well as shipped back to Spain for points.

Below: croplands and buildings must be "worked" by colonists, signified by the little brown puck-like tokens.

It sounds a little strange, I know -- this whole "role" thing was what stopped be from buying the game myself for many years (despite rave reviews from other board game geeks of my acquaintance), but my sister bought it for me for Christmas a few years ago and I am very glad she did. Don't let the unique and exotic-sounding rules turn you away -- overall this is an excellent and enjoyable game that anyone can play. I am a huge fan of strategy games myself, However, my wife and sister-in-law, who are not strategy gamers at all, were able to quickly grasp and enjoy Puerto Rico. I think this is a key to games of this type, as you want everyone to have fun. Be warned, though, that this game isn't exactly light -- it does requires concentration and thought! This only makes it more stimulating, in my view, which is what we should be striving for otherwise we might as well rot our brains in front of the TV.
Below: the main game board that houses all the buildings available to be built, and the bank.


Puerto Rico doesn't have as much interaction as The Settlers of Catan does, but it still makes for a very fun evening or rainy-day entertainment. People will have fun trying to out-smart each other with the proper selection of roles, and trying to get their goods aboard ships before the others can, to reap the victory point rewards. The game involves no warfare, or anything objectionable (perhaps some P.C.-types would be offended by the colonial theme -- which makes it even better in my view). In the games we played there was lots of laughter. Luck is a very limited factor in this game, making it more strategy-oriented.

A game of Puerto Rico takes between 1 and 2 hours, depending on how many players you have and whether you're having to explain the rules to others as you go. It seems to average for around $25 USD, which in my view is a bargain for all the stuff that you get in this game, and the replayability. Every game will be different and there are many paths to winning based on the mechanics of the game, and therefore as a strategy game I think this has more replayability than some. In fact, Puerto Rico really demands to be played numerous times because successful strategies are not self-evident.
Overall, I still like The Settlers of Catan better, but Puerto Rico seems to have wider appeal as boardgamegeek.com rates it nearly 10% points higher than Catan. It is definitely an enjoyable game and I highly recommend it to anyone that wants a fun game that doesn't take too long to play and is intellectually challenging. For some more reviews of the game, you can go here.



7.31.2020

SHORT STORY: WELLINGHALL

By Anna Blackwell (July 2020, age 12)

    Glen Alken walked down the cracked concrete roads of the crumbling city of WellingHall. Beside him his faithful dog, a Doberman Pinscher with the simple name of Tucker, walked beside him.

    It was the year 2007, only a year ago the Great War ended. In the year 1712 scientists began using steam to power machines. Later on in time, scientist tried using internal combustion but it ended up in complete failure and disaster.

    For centuries later people used steam for most of the worlds technology, but in the year 1992 Muslim terrorists got their hands on the secret American blue prints of combat wolves (large steam powered walkers) with these blue prints they made millions of these death machines and used it against America.

    The Americans called the British, Canadians, French , and Germany for backup. While the terrorist called their backup from places like China and the Korea.

    And so World war I occurred.

    Glen Alken had been a war recruit in the American army making him a seasoned warrior in the art of combat. But by the time the war had ended America was a disaster. Glen had found Tucker among the ruins of New York City. Since then the two have been together after Glen quit the army and entered the torn world as a mercenary.

    He and Tucker had found their way to WellingHall which used to be a tall proud city but was now mostly ruins, only a few buildings were in one piece.

    Slinging his rucksack over his back, he continued on down the road, Tucker following . A thick mist was high in the air, blocking most of Glen’s vision of what was ahead.

    A lady, holding a girl's hand stepped out of the mist . Glen smiled a little to himself as the girl politely waved to him. Tucker wagged his tail at the two. Farther up ahead the city seemed more populated than at the beginning of the city, many of the men standing around stepped protectively closer to their families when they noticed on Glens belt was a weapon, a clockwork gearsword .

    “They have a good right to be scared.” Glen thought to himself. “Someone with a gearsword is not to be messed with.

    A gearsword is not dissimilar to a chainsaw, though gearswords are clockwork and lighter and less clunky, making them easy to use. To use one was simple. All you had to do was wind it up like a clock and place the brake on, then once you have to do a bit of action just release the brake.

    A lady wearing a pretty red dress stepped away from Glen in slight fear. Glen gave her a warm smile to tell he wasn’t going to hurt her. She only stepped more away.

    “Maybe Tucker is frightening her.” Glen thought to himself.

    Just then a loud racket came from ahead. Tucker began to growl, Glen put his hand on the hilt of his GearSword. “That’s no steam carriage.” He said. Suddenly a with a noise louder than 50 fireworks together, a large machine came out of the mist like a bullet. It had the appearance of a pirate ship, but it had giant tank treads to move it and two hideously large spinning blades were at its’ front.

    Glen and Tucker jumped out of the way just in time before the giant ship could have crushed them. Just then it stopped right in its tracks. Glen noticed a man standing on the prow of the vehicle.

    “No one move or you're as good as dead.” He shouted at the frightened citizens. Then with a wave of his hand a horde of men leaped out of the ship onto the ground, the man followed after them.

    “I am Black Eye the Mighty and I will have to ask all of you to hand over your valuables.”he said a evil glint in his eye. “How about you pretty girl.” He said pointing at the lady with the red dress, her face turned pale and she backed off.

    “Come now prettiness, I am not gonna hurt you.” He wickedly said walking toward her.”Just give me your valuables, like that ruby necklace you have there.”

    Glen advance over to Black Eye shouting”she is not doing that swine!”

    Black Eye turned around to face Glen”Who do you think you're talking to blonde?”Anger deep in his voice.

    “Nothing but a scoundrel,” Glen said.

    “Oh really!” Black Eye shouted drawing his ray gun and fired at Glen. It was a near miss, Glen felt the heat of the ray zip past his neck. He drew his gearsword. “Away to me, Tucker.” He ordered at Tucker who launched himself at the nearest thug. Releasing the brake Glen jumped at Black Eye who drew his own sword.

    The two had a rough struggle until Glen was finally on the ground but just before the strike fell the lady who Glen tried to save, hit Black Eye on the head hard with her hat.

    “ You clam faced…” Black Eyed shouted turning towards the lady pushing her backwards but it was just the distraction Glen needed with a swipe he cut Black Eye’s left eye. He roared in pain.

    “Mercy I implore you !” Black howled. “Don’t slay me Please!”

    “If I don’t will you never come here again?” Glen asked angrily.

    “Yes, yes, yes! I won’t come back!” Black Eye whined.

    “Then leave.” Glen said” and order your men to let my dog go.” Tucker was at the moment too at the mercy of Black Eye’s thugs.


“Alright I will.” Black Eye said still clutching his left eye waving with his right hand at his men to drop Tucker.

    Letting Black Eye get up, Glen patted Tucker as he ran up to Glen. Black Eye walked over to his ship but once he looked back at Glen a tricksters glint was in his right eye.

    “You have made a enemy for life.” he said a chuckle at the back of his throat.

    Glen didn’t take his eyes of the ship until it totally disappeared. He helped the lady up.

    “Thank you stranger.” She said.

    “Please call me Glen.”

 

The End

7.29.2020

Book Review: Lord of the World

Review by Godfrey Blackwell



Title: Lord of the World
Author: Msgr Robert Hugh Benson
Publisher: Novelbooks
Godfrey's Rating: 5 stars our of 5
Summary in a Sentence: A dystopian near-future novel about the rise of socialism, atheism, and ultimately the Antichrist; 1984 and Brave New World combined from a Catholic perspective and more accurate/prophetic than either work.

This is a novel that's been recommended to me many times and after finally reading it, I can't believe I didn't read it sooner. This work is a MUST READ for everyone, even moreso than the classics 1984 and Brave New World (which I think are very important) for its Catholic perspective which allows for a deeper understanding of all that is happening in our world.

As suggested above, where 1984 is a cautionary tale that depicts a world that "might have been", Lord of the World presents a prophetic description of what is happening to a certain extent in our current times. It is powerful because of its accuracy -- indeed Msgr Benson's nighmare world is daily becoming more reality before our eyes -- helps one understand the modern world, be forearmed against its blandishments, and is also encouraging to the Christian reader worn down by the events of our time.

The novel follows two main storylines, one that follows Father Percy Franklin, an English Catholic priest (for the Catholic perspective on things going on) and a parallel story following Oliver Brand an influential Labour MP and his wife Mabel (for the atheist/socialist perspective). At the beginning of the novel the world is on the brink of world war and catastrophe, when the enigmatic Julian Felsenburgh enters the world stage, saves the world from disaster and is ultimately elevated to a sort of ruler of a one-world government.

Having been written by a Catholic priest, Lord of the World describes a world where secularism and godless humanism have triumphed over traditional morality, yet without any graphic or salacious portions (as found in Orwell's and Huxley's works) to disturb the reader. The only barrier to younger readers is that the text is rather dense and it is serious reading.

The characters are very balanced and real, there are no caricatures and Msgr. Benson deals fairly with the anti-Catholic characters. The work does an amazing job of explaining theological truths and portraying Catholic worship and mental prayer without seeming to be too preachy. The work does tend to drag in a few sections of lengthy exposition (as was the style in the early 1900s) but on the whole, despite not having a lot of "action" is still a very engaging work. I cannot recommend it enough.

For those like me who don't have a lot of time to read, but can listen while commuting, Audible has a version read by Simon Vance which is excellent aside from Mr. Vance's pronunciation of Ecclesiastical Latin.

7.24.2020

SHORT STORY: COLONEL BLACKDOWNE'S CARGO

By Godfrey Blackwell

     Colonel John Blackdowne was an interesting character. Father Percy Grey watched the massive retired army officer over his glass of port as the officers of the CSS Pembroke, a packet air steamer out of Hamilton, lingered over cigars in the officer’s mess. Colonel Blackdowne was muscular and almost brutish in appearance, with heavy brows, a rugged angular jaw, and rough hands like a miner’s. Yet he was dressed impeccably in the latest style with a yellow waistcoat, silk cravat, and frock coat nearly the shade of Father Grey’s port. Colonel Blackdowne spoke in a subdued manner between puffs of his cigar and Percy knew that he greatly understated such exploits as the officers could pry form him — for Percy knew well this retired officer’s career.

     Colonel Blackdowne had most famously commanded the miraculous victory at Paardeberg where British and Canadian troops, outnumbered and outgunned with only infantry faced a force accompanied by a pair of steam walkers with volor air support. Against all odds, the Imperial troops had won the day and turned the tide of the Great African War.

     Many had thought he’d go on to great heights in the service of His Brittanic Majesty, yet at the age of forty-five he’d suddenly retired. And now here he was on a packet steamer headed back to the Dominion of Canada as the fellow passenger of the Catholic priest who’d taken the cheapest and fastest way over the Atlantic to report to the Archbishop of Québec on the news he’d received about the rumblings of renewed anti-Catholic republican sentiment in Napoleon IV’s French Empire.

     “Colonel Blackdowne,” Father Grey said. “You’re far too humble, good sir. In fact, I can’t help but wonder at a war hero of your esteem travelling on a packet air steamer.”

     Blackdowne took a puff on his cigar before responding. “And you father? The secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury not on a private volor?”

     The retired colonel was very well informed, another surprise. It was Percy’s turn to delay by taking a sip of port. In fact, the Catholic Church’s finances were in dire straits and even more so in the British Empire. This was not public knowledge; it was, in fact, a closely guarded secret.

     “I try to be responsible with the faithful’s contributions.”

     “Most admirable,” Colonel Blackdowne said.

     “A frugal priest, that’d make a stuffed bird laugh!” Captain Cavendish, the air steamer’s skipper laughed loudly and the company moved on to other topics.


***


     In fact, Fr. Grey knew that the colonel was aboard on some sort of mission of his own, not merely sightseeing in his retirement. Percy had overheard — well, if he was honest about it, he *had* been listening in on a conversation that wasn’t wholly his business — when Colonel Blackdowne’s passage was arranged. ‘Was arranged’ was accurate, for Blackdowne hadn’t booked it himself; there had been a soft-spoken lady making the arrangements with the first mate.

     Blackdowne had seemed very protective of the lady and unhappy that she was making the arrangements herself, but aside from a brief comment in that regard held his tongue. It seemed that there was some very important cargo that the colonel was accompanying.

     As Father Grey took in the frigid night air, wrapped in his furs out on the gondola’s viewing gallery, he couldn’t help but wonder greatly at what the cargo might me. He finished the last of his cigar and threw it overboard to fall into the Atlantic far below and with a sigh reached for his breviary.

     He had just stepped inside to pray his office when he saw Jones, J. the second engineer’s mate, clattering up the staircase from the hold. Such was his mad rush that he nearly bowled the priest over.

     “Mr. Jones, what’s the matter?” Father Grey said, grabbing a handrail to steady them both.

     “Begging your pardon, Father,” the engineer’s mate puffed in his heavy Welsh accent. “But it’s that colonel, he’s gone orf his chump!”

     “What nonsense is this?”

     “I think he’s going to blow up the ship!” Jones rushed to an intercom station and grabbed the handset. As he began cranking, Father Grey grabbed his arm.

     “Where is he?”

     “In the hold, Father.” Then Jones began jabbering into the intercom.

     Father Grey rushed down the stairs, nearly tripping on first his cassock and then his furs, which he cast aside. As he neared the main hold, a trio of sailors had already taken up positions to either side of the entry hatch, armed with spanners.

     “What’s the meaning of all this?” Father Grey demanded.

     “‘e’s holed up in there,” Jones, D., another Welshman said. “Jones — the other Jones, said he’s got a bomb.”

     “Yes, he did say he thought the ship would blow up.”

     “Said he heard it ticking,” Jones, D. said.

     “Hmmmm, now what …?” Ticking; that reminded the priest of something. Something from that meeting he overheard.

     By now, several other ratings were coming clattering down the passageway from either direction, these ones armed with pistols and one with a scatter gun.

     “Is he armed?” Percy asked.

     “Pretty, sure,” Jones, D. said.

     Percy took a deep breath. “I’m going to go speak to him. There’s got to be more to this. Colonel Blackdowne isn’t some lunatic; I know enough of the man to be sure of that.”

     “Father, I can’t let you do that,” the officer leading the reinforcements said. “I’ve seen plenty of blokes crack up after the wars.”

     “Nonsense,” Percy said and leapt through the portal before the sailors could stop him.

     “Don’t come any nearer!” Came a voice from behind a stack of crates.

     “Colonel Blackdowne, it’s me, Fr. Grey,” he said, moving cautiously forward.

     “Father, what are you doing here? You really ought to mind your prayerbook.”

     “And let those sailors poke you full of holes?” Percy continued forward but stopped at the corner of the boxes as he heard the click of a hammer being pulled back.

     “I mean it Father. I can’t let anyone, not even a priest …”

     “You know it would be an excommunication to shoot me?”

     There was a long pause. In the silence, Percy could hear the quiet whirring of gears and a very soft tick-tock; surely the sounds Jones, J. had heard.

     “You did convert to Catholicism, didn’t you? That wasn’t mere rumour? And … ah yes, you know Lady Acton, don’t know?”

     He could hear Blackdowne stiffen. “What do you know about her?”

     “John, enough of this foolishness,” came a quiet, muffled voice from the same crate wherein the clockwork sounds originated. “And let me out of here. This is all so ridiculous, going to Canada to die and letting you risk your life.”

     Father Grey stepped around the corner and Colonel Blackdowne lowered his multibarreled hand cannon. Percy looked at the crate.

     “Are you going to open it?”

     With a sigh and a shrug of his massive shoulders, the retired officer took up a crowbar and wrested off one side of the crate. As it was moved aside, the padded interior was revealed with a sturdy chair in the centre holding what at first appeared to be a life-sized doll of exceptional craftsmanship and beauty. She had real human hair the colour of wheat that could be seen below a miniature top hat of black silk with its heavy veil pulled back above an exquisite mask that might have been the finest pearl or porcelain.

     But it was not a mannequin for the whirring and ticking came from within her torso and as Father Grey approached and knelt next to the chair a hand came up to the lips in an unmistakable gesture of embarrassment.

     “Oh father, please don’t do that,” came a soft female voice with a tinny tone from the unmoving mouth.

     “Mary Frances Acton,” Fr. Grey whispered, involuntarily crossing himself.

     The gloved hand moved from the perfect lips of the mask up towards the eyes. Percy could see bright blue and very human eyes from those sockets.

     “I know, I’ve become a monster, trapped in this —“

     “Oh no, my child,” he said softly, quickly standing. “No, that’s not why I crossed myself at all. I simply couldn’t help but marvel at the breathtaking feat … I am sorry. There had been rumours, but I had no idea.”

     It had been well known in Recusant circles that Lord Acton’s eldest daughter, Mary Frances, had been born with the hideously painful and debilitating Ehrenfrucht’s Syndrome. She had been bedridden and hidden from the public eye for years, only the family chaplain allowed to see her. Then she had completely disappeared and though Fr. McIsaac had clearly been sworn to secrecy, rumours began to circulate when a Japanese, rumoured to be a Karakuri puppet master was spotted on the family estate along with the legendary surgeons Livingstone and Charcot.

     Karakuri were very lifelike clockwork marvels that could perform basic tasks like serving tea, and Percy had heard some stories of newer creations that could walk and talk. But this was something else — a new clockwork body had been constructed for the youngest Acton daughter. But …

     “You said you were going to Canada to die, my child,” Fr. Grey said.

     “I can’t go on like this. I was meant to die, God wanted me to die.”

     “God wills not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live.”

     “Then why did He give me Ehrenfrucht’s Syndrome?”

     “Why did He give you a family that could afford and acquire the magnificent expertise to give you a new body?” Father Grey asked.

     “A new and beautiful body,” Colonel Blackdowne added softly.

     “This isn’t a body, it’s a coffin,” she said. “Must I continue like this?”

     “It is not required to take extraordinary steps to preserve life. I take it that your plan was to wait for your gears to wind down, hidden in Canada, and have Colonel Blackdowne prevent anyone from winding the life-giving mechanisms?”

     He looked to Colonel Blackdowne, who nodded. His eyes glistened with tears.

     “It would not be a sin to let nature take its course. But it would cause your parents great grief. Look at what lengths they’ve gone to for you. And I believe there is more for you to do.”

     “And to suffer?” She asked.

     “Yes. We all must suffer.”

There was a very long pause.

     “Will you hear my confession, Father?”

     Father Grey took his small travel stole from his pocket, kissed it, and with the violet side facing out draped it over his neck. Colonel Blackdowne strode quickly out of the cargo hold and the priest pulled a small crate over so that he could sit next to Mary Frances.

     “Bless me Father, for I have sinned, I confess to Almighty God and to you Father …”


***

     A little over two hours later, Father Percy Grey was again back out on the viewing gallery in his furs, now with Colonel Blackdowne next to him, puffing on a cigar. All had been explained to the crew and the furor had finally died down. Mary Frances Acton had been installed in the Captain’s cabin and the crew was abuzz with excitement. The giant screws propelling the great brass airship pushed her onwards through the night.

     “Do you think she’ll choose to live, Father?” Colonel Blackdowne asked.

     “Time will tell, Colonel, but I have a good feeling about it.”

7.22.2020

Steampunk!


As a way of getting the creative juices flowing, and getting some more content onto this blog, we did a little "flash fiction challenge" to each write a short story in one hour. Anna suggested that we make the theme of the challenge "steampunk stories". Godfrey, Albert, and Anna all participated and we'll be posting the stories each Friday for the next three weeks.

Anna's suggestion was a great one and really got us going. It was great to finally write a completed work after quite some time away for all of us. Steampunk was the perfect subgenre -- it is very quirky, and romantic, with low demands for scientific realism but high potential for adventure.

Wikipedia accurately and succinctly defines the genre: 

Steampunk is a retrofuturistic subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Although its literary origins are sometimes associated with the cyberpunk genre, steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century British Victorian era or the American "Wild West", in a future during which steam power has maintained mainstream usage, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power.
You simply can't go far wrong with a setting like that. Not only do we love the Victorian aesthetics, but writing of a more innocent, optimistic, and idealistic setting than our own age is very refreshing. Fun adventures and weird contraptions are the order of the day and we hope you'll enjoy our stories as much as we enjoyed writing them!

It's certainly a subgenre that deserves more attention from us in the future.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...