Other Worlds (The Story So Far)

Prelude

ELF

The clue to the origin of the people is in the origin of the word.

Old English aelf. Ultimately from the Indo-European root albho- (white), which is also the source of oaf, albino, album, albumen, and albedo.

Peripheral Vision

They are watching me again.

I see them furtively peering out from the bushes, changing shape and freezing motionless when I look their way. I see them watching me.   Perhaps I am becoming more observant.  My interest in the local fauna makes me so.  In any case, it seems some of them don’t even make a great effort to hide any more.  As if they know I know they are there.   They just slide back into obscurity in some unexplainable way but I see their smiles reluctantly follow them.

Something is going to happen.  I can feel it.  Something always happens when theyincrease their surveillance.  Something always happens if I notice them.  What will it be this time?

I have remembered something.  I have something I must remember.  There is always something I must remember.  But I can’t remember what.  Yet.

Why did I say “always”?

When I was very young, my invisible friend told me something important.  Then he told me to forget it until I needed to remember it.  I remember asking how I could remember something I had forgotten.  He said it was like feeling a marble in your pocket.  You will know exactly what it is, and what to do with it.  ”How will I know when to feel for it in the pocket of my mind?” I asked.   How do I remember that now after all these years?

He gave me a strange smile and said I would know the time was right when I recalled who he was.  And that was when I forgot his name.  I even forgot about him entirely until I heard my mum telling someone about my imagination, and how I held up a bus once until my invisible friend got on.  I had made the conductor hold up the bus until he joined us.  People thought it was just a cute story about a little boy with a big imagination.  I have a vague feeling it was actually something quite serious.  If he had not got on the bus, something would have happened.  Like something is going to happen soon.

Later, when I was older, I used to ask my mother “What was the name of the invisible friend I had when I was small?”  She would tell me, and I would immediately forget it again.

Now it comes to me.

It was Wayland.  I called him Mr Wayland.  And there is something else.  Something he only told me before he went away.  He said he was my great-grandfather.   But how could that be?

I am pretty sure he was one of them.

Recollection

I had a flashback the other night.  Back to when I was commuting by train to the Ministry, just before I bought the Honda.  One morning right on time,  at about 7.25, the Hutt Valley train pulled in to the platform  just as the Paraparaumu train pulled in on the other side.  Both disgorged their passengers and the entire platform was filled with shoulder to shoulder commuters, shuffling slowly toward the bottleneck of the station gates.  As a group around me fell unconsciously in step with each other, I had a sudden image of the scene from Metropolis in which the trudging workers march to their posts at the change of shift.

I worked my way through the station and down to the underpass that goes to Molesworth Street.   Ahead I could hear a busker playing a haunting Irish tune on a tin whistle.  He was very good.  I have a set of whistles that I try to play, and I do not play them well.  I never cease to wonder how some people can coax such beautiful sounds from the instrument.  I just can’t.

The music echoed up the underpass and it seemed to me impossible not to follow.  I wondered why no one else was as joyously affected as I.  As I came up to the player I saw he had positioned himself strategically in front of a tourism poster showing a wild rocky view with a strange – looking erection of stone slabs.  ”A dolmen”, I thought “And something more”…

“Visit Ireland and the Burren” said the poster. At the very bottom, it said “Poule na Brone, Co. Clare, Ireland” and “Irish Tourism Board”.

Such music was worth being a little late for, and I stood to listen.  The crowds shuffled on, pushing past me impatiently.  I wanted to tell them to stop and listen because you don’ t hear this kind of music every day.  It was full of sorrow and joy like old memories. Their faces were blank and their eyes empty.  This music meant nothing to them.  Zombies.

Soon I found myself standing alone listening to this young man play.  He seemed lost in the music and indeed I felt as if it was carrying me away to some old time in the old country depicted in the poster before me. It reminded me of something I could not quite grasp with my mind.  Something like the dreams that fade even as you strive to recall them.

There was a hat on the ground in front of him. I reached into my pocket and felt the handful of change I always carry.  Coffee money.  Normally I would feel for a one dollar coin (or a two if the busker was really good) but this morning, on impulse I took out the entire pocketful and dropped it into the hat.  I immediately felt a slight pang of regret as I saw I had given him nine or ten dollars and a few odd bits of silver.

No coffee today, except the free stuff at work.

The flautist stopped playing with a final flourish and gave a little bow, and very quietly said “Thank ye sir” in a fine Irish brogue.

“You are from the old Country” I said. “Which part?”

He grinned and pointed at the poster. “There” he said. “County Clare”

“Really?” Said I, “Sure , my own Grandmother is from County Clare”.  I realised I was putting on a bit of an accent myself.

He gave me a sly smile, and asked ” And do ye still have the small pouch she gave you?”

I was startled and hesitated for a second.  He stared straight at me.  His eyes were hazel, like my own.  His eyes seemed much older than he appeared to be.  Maybe he was older than I had thought.

“D’ye have it still?”

I remembered the tiny leather sovereign purse my grandmother gave me when we left England to emigrate to New Zealand in  1957.

He waited expectantly. It did not seem at all strange that he knew about it.

” I do” I said.   I had a notion that this was all very important, for some reason that was beyond my grasp.

“And the contents?”

The Gold watch fob ornament I had engraved and gave to my wife”. I said.

A look of concern. “Does she wear it still?”

“She gave it to my daughters.  They share it”.

I could swear it was a pitying look he gave me then.   “And the other contents”?

“There was a piece of paper with some writing on it but it disintegrated years ago and I lost it. I don’t know what it said, I could never read it.”

“That was your Grandma’s blessing, and ye have it still”  he said quietly.  Then, as if reciting:

“Duine éigin a ghrá,
obair a dhéanamh,
ghrian solas
lúcháir
Agus na caomhnóirí in aice i gcónaí.

It means “ Someone to love, work to do, sunlight, joy, and guardians ever near“.

He looked at me expectantly. “And?”

“There was a sixpenny bit.  A silver one, worn so smooth it was just a thin disc of silver.  I have it still, in the pouch”.

He seemed pleased at that.  ”Good.” he said. “Keep it.   Keep it safe.  So long as you have it, t’is not for long you’ll be short of money.”

“That’s what she told me”.

He touched me lightly on the shoulder.  ”And won’t I be seein ye again soon” he said.

I stood there thinking of my Grandmother.  I could smell stewed apple and cloves.

Then  I looked around, wondering where everyone had gone.  I was standing in the underpass at the railway station, in front of a poster of Ireland, daydreaming about my Grandmother.  Why?  Ah! because the poster mentions County Clare, where she was from.

I felt as if something unusual had happened.  I had music running through my head.  What was I doing here?  I looked at my watch.  I should be half way up the hill by now.  What had I been daydreaming about?  I looked again at the poster.  Something about it seemed odd.   I had no idea what a Burren was.  The Dolmen held my attention for a moment, and I felt a shiver run down my spine.  ”The Hole of Sorrows” said a soft voice nearby.  I looked around.  But I was alone.  There was a figure in the poster I had not noticed before; a man carrying something small.  The words across the bottom of the poster almost obscured him as he walked behind them.  ”Visit Ireland and the Burren” he seemed to be saying.

“Someday I shall” said I, and marched off to work.

Later I wondered what the hell I had done with my coffee money.

I never thought of the incident again, until long after.

Some time later I was sent by the Ministry to the International Water Association conference in Vienna .  Since a paid trip to Europe was not something that came my way often, I took the opportunity to enjoy some leave and have a look around Ireland before I returned to New Zealand.  My plan was to visit the old stone cottage near Quinn, close to Ennis, in County Clare, where my Grandmother was raised, after she was born back in 1902.  For some reason I could not quite place at the time I also felt an inexplicable urge to visit the Burren, a landmark further to the north.  It was a place I knew little about, but had heard of once.

The Path

Posted on April 17, 2012
October, 2008

In Ennis, County Clare, Ireland,  I discovered a Faery Path.  It quite was easy to find, or perhaps the term recognise is more appropriate, because it was not lost or hidden.  That which the Faerie hide is not easily found.  Local belief is that it will not do at all to block the paths that the Faerie have walked for millenia.  Bad things tend to happen to those who do.  So when one spots a seemingly random gap in a wall, ten to one says it is there so as not to obstruct a path that is used by the Little People.

In some situations it seems they will be satisfied with a style and I am not sure how one determines this.  One thing is for sure. No one, at least no one of my generation or older, would dare obstruct the Faerie, and would never build a structure such as a house or barn in their way.

It took a while for me to work out where the path led.  It seems the objection to obstruction does not extend to vegetation and at first it appeared that there was nowhere that anyone using this path through the wall could come from or go to.

But they are not called the little people for nothing, even though it is indeed a misnomer.  They are not much smaller than you or I.  Well.  That is to say, they are quite a bit smaller than I am but not much shorter.   I think they are called little people because they can vanish very easily.  Assuming of course that you ever see them in the first place.  I  have already mentioned that I have seen them, so I speak with some authority on the subject.

As I explored, I discovered almost invisible gaps in the hedges in positions that aligned with the wall.  They  were  narrow and suited to someone much slimmer and more lithe, but not impassable even for a tubby chap such I.  Having passed through a few such gaps, and another hole in a wall I began to get a good idea of the general direction in which the path was heading.

After a twenty minute walk I came through a hedge into a small rock strewn field.  Directly opposite was a dry stone wall constructed of the same rocks scattered around the paddock.  Sitting on the style was a young man.  As I approached he stood, a broad smile on his nut -brown face.

Did I not tell ye we’d be meetin’ again?” he said, taking my hand and clasping it warmly.

I remembered a flute playing a stirring tune, and suddenly I recognised this young man.  Not so young he was either, now I looked closer.  His hazel eyes twinkled.

I stared…  ”Mr Wayland?”

“Did yer bring the sixpence lad?”

Around my neck was a black string.  On the string was  a small leather sovereign pouch that contained my wedding ring, which no longer fitted my chubby fingers, and a small disc of smooth polished silver that was an ancient worn sixpenny bit.

“Sure and would I come to the Old Country without it?”  I asked in my best imitation of my Grandmother’s brogue. I took it out and showed him.

“Silver and Gold” he breathed.  He sounded very relieved.  ”Sure and ye have silver and gold!  When you told me you gave away the token I was worried about how we could rectify that.  What is given cannot be taken back, and must be offered unasked for.  But ye solved the problem ye’self!  And with the right kind of gold.  Gold that is given.  Well done lad!”

Thrice Widdershins

Posted on May 18, 2012

Wayland touched me on the elbow in a gesture that I knew meant I should follow him.  He led me through a yet more stony fields until we came to a rocky hill.  It seemed to be a circular  outcrop perhaps a couple of hundred metres in diameter, surrounded by a stone wall about waist high.  There was a small gap in the wall just like the one that had started me on this strange journey.  Once through, we  picked our way through a boulder strewn field overgrown with bushes and briars.  Urging me to stay near, Wayland wound his way through the boulders.  I followed close behind.  At last, as we stood at the very base of the cliff, we turned to walk towards the setting sun, with the cliff at our left, and the fields to the right, still clambering over and around boulders and  brambles.

We walked for what seemed like miles until I was quite sure we had walked all the way around the hill.  In fact I could tell we must have done so by the way the shadows fell.  Yet still we carried on, making what seemed to be another complete circuit, and yet another.  Each time I became certain we had returned to our  starting point I looked around carefully for some landmark or sign but could not recognise a single feature to prove we had already passed that way.  I could not even see the gap in the wall by which we had entered the field.  Finally, on what I was sure by the now lengthening shadows must be our third circuit, Wayland stopped and pointed back to a cave entrance that we just passed.  It looked like a tall door in the rocks.  I was absolutely certain we had not passed it before.  I would have seen it.  It was puzzling.

“We go through there. ” he said. “Through the… thairseach,  what do you call it?  Portal.”

“Portal?  To Where?”

He looked at me as if I was a bit slow.   A half smile crinkled his eyes.    One eyebrow lifted.

“You are kidding.” I said.  ”You are taking me to faeryland?”

“We don’t use that term, Alan.  It is too… Disney.  We prefer to call it talamh síochánta – the Peaceful Land.” And yes,  that is where you and I must go this day…”

A History of Si Part 1

Posted on May 31, 2012
October, 2008

Wayland was lecturing.

“Almost every culture in the world has a record of us in their mythology”. he said.

The People, or The Folk – as we tend to call ourselves, or sometimes The Good Folk(though in fact we are neither better nor worse than the rest of humankind), are found almost everywhere around the world.  Or we have been, in the past.

The stories about us have been garbled and exaggerated, mixed with fantastic tall tales, religious mythology and local superstition.  We have been called Aos Sí Aziza, Curupira, Duende, Fée, Fay Fagja Fata Peri Joga, Menehune Mogwai, Teg, Tiune, Xana or Zana,.  Even in New Zealand your Maori people talk of the Patupaiarehe, the vanishing people of the Turehu, Ngati Hotu and the red-headed Urukehu tribes in the mountains.  There is a reason we got all around the world, and are often associated with mountains, caves and barrows.  I will come to that.  And I shall talk more later about words.  It is important you understand the power of them.  It may be vitally important”.

That sounded ominous, I thought.

“We have our own language of course, similar to ancient Irish, for we were Stone Age Celtic in origin, as you may have already guessed.  We have adopted other languages in our intercourse with the rest of humanity.  Yes, the rest of humanity.  We are human.  Do not doubt it.  Human. No more, no less.  But we have followed a different path.  A path that gave us another world.

We were the Sleagh Maith, the Tuatha Dé Danann and in the days of what your culture now call the Early Modern Humans, we were gradually driven across Europe by other tribes. We fought to defend our culture and lands but were defeated by the ancestors of modern mankind.   They vaguely remember us still in their folklore.  We were said to have withdrawn to the sidhe or fairy mounds, which is not too far from the truth”.

He looked at me expectantly.

The portals” I said.  “You discovered the portals.  That is what I want to ask about.  Where exactly are we?  How does the portal work, and how did we get here?”

Wayland looked pleased.  “It doesn’t frighten you?” he asked.

“In a sense it does, and why shouldn’t it?” I replied. “After all you have just taken me through a hole in a rock to a place I know is not Ireland in a world I can tell is not the Earth.  At least not any part of it I have ever seen either in life or on television.  We are sitting outside a house that appears to be carved from the largest living tree I have ever seen or even heard of, under a sky of the strangest most indescribable colour.  I should be terrified.  Here I am, drinking this water that is about the best thing I have ever tasted, talking to my imaginary friend from when I was four. I would be witless except the one thing I still remember well from my very young days was a feeling of security when you were around.  I hardly think you have brought me here to pay your tithe to hell”.

“You have heard that story then?” His hazel eyes twinkled and his quick grin flashed.  “Tam Llyn is another of my names. Which version have you heard I wonder?  Never mind, that is for another time.  We have other matters to discuss.  Such as where we are.”  He paused, then added “And why.”

The Nature of the Universe

Posted on May 31, 2012
October, 2008

“The question I have”, I said, “is whether I can go home, and if I can, whether a hundred years will have passed while I was here; my family all gone and only unknown great-grandchildren to return to. No one to know who I am.”

Wayland looked concerned.  ” I am so sorry”, he said. “It never occurred to me that you might be worrying about that. Of course you have heard the stories.  It is true that it’s quite possible for that to happen if you use the wrong portal.  But I promise you, not this time.  Quite the opposite in fact.  You can spend a good while here and still be home in time for tea, so to speak.   To understand how that can be, you need to understand a bit about the nature of the universe”.

“Oh dear” I thought.

“Imagine the universe as a seven dimensional ball of string”. he said.

I tried to, but all I could envisage was a ball of string.  I told him so.

“Good enough”. said he.  ”Now imagine it glowing, swirling around so that it leaves a trail like a sparkler in the dark. Imagine that as a ball of light composed of a swirling ball of string”.

I began to get the idea, and nodded.  ”I see what you are trying to describe.  I think”.

“Good.  That is the universe.  Or the universes.  Now imagine that sometimes, where the strings touch, there is a portal”.

“Is this the string or the whirl of light we are talking about?”

“Now you are getting it.  It is an analogy after all.  Remember, we are talking about universes, not a single universe, or even a pair.  Many universes that are contiguous, and separate. touching and remote.  He paused, thinking, then shrugged.  Analogies can only go so far.  I could show you the math, but I don’t even understand it myself.  I could introduce you to someone who does, if it helps…”

“No need.  I have read enough science fiction, and Hawkins, to get the concept even if I don’t understand it. I am thinking of Heinlein’s four-dimensional tesseract house now.  I don’t need to understand it anyway.  I can just accept it. After all, the evidence is here before me.”

“Good lad. Moving on then.  Next important point.   The laws that govern the universes – each length of seven dimensional string – are not all the same in each.  The so-called laws of physics that is.  The speed of light, for example, may be different.  E does not always equal emsee squared.  Actions and reactions may appear unequal.  Time does not always behave in the same way.  This world stretches in a different direction and time flows differently.  The only word I can use is ‘different’ to describe this. It means that you can travel a certain distance in space, and find that you have also travelled in time compared to the world we have just left.  Gravity may not be a constant.  Biological and chemical processes can be mutable.

I have here something that may enlighten you.” he proffered me a small book open to a marked page. It appeared to be from my own world and time, approximately.

I read it.

... When the universe grew exponentially in the first tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, some parts of space-time expanded more quickly than others. This created “bubbles” of space-time which developed into other universes. The known universe has its own laws of physics, while other universes have different laws.

Initially the universe was rapidly inflating, and cool, being in an unstable state having what might be described as an ‘energy vacuum’.   It became hot only when this vacuum-like state decayed.  Quantum fluctuations during inflation of the universe were responsible for the formation of the galaxies.  Sometimes these quantum fluctuations were so large that they  produced new, rapidly expanding, zones of the universe.  This process made the universe immortal and transformed it into a multiverse; a huge fractal consisting of many exponentially growing enormous parts, having different laws of low-energy physics in each.

“I’m not sure what all that means, exactly, but I’ll take your word for it”.

“From your point of view it means that your electronics won’t work here, time  is not a straight line, some chemical reactions behave differently, and – in a way –  it means that magic exists”.

I considered this revelation. The portal had pretty well already opened me to that possibility.

Wayland continued  ”But our ‘magic’ is just a different technology really.  It has rules, just as any technology does. It’s like… driving a car, or operating a mobile phone.  You can learn it yourself.”

He looked at me for a moment, as if considering what to say next.

“In fact, you must”.

Fragment

Posted on June 29, 2012
Long long ago, and faraway…

The Queen was angry.  Her consort was miserable.  He knew her anger was justified, and he was ashamed at his own weakness.  He was being petulant.  They were of the old tribes and for him to question her decision,- or even to have an opinion of his own on the subject – was unconscionable.

She saw the misery in his eyes, and her own softened in response.

“My love”, she said, “You have given me a wonderful daughter, and you will give me yet another.  But the wise have clearly foretold that you shall not give me a son.  You know I must have a son.  This young man is an upstart.  A vain boastful warrior.  But he is a leader of men, young, strong and vigorous.  Most importantly he will give me a son if we couple. It has been confirmed”.

He winced at the word, and stared at the floor.  He knew full well that a woman of the Folk was her own person, to choose for herself with whom she would… liaise. It was just that they had been faithful to each other, voluntarily, for two dozen decades, and now…

She continued “I am angry because you are behaving as if this liaison was more important than it is.  It’s only meaning is that we shall have a son as a result.  Yet you behave as if you have no trust for me or my feelings for you.  Your feelings are plain, and I love you for them. But think man!.  Consider this as of no more significance than if I should dance with some ambassador at a ball.  For that is all it is.  A strategically negotiated dance for a political purpose.  When the ball is over, you shall have the last dance.  And all the dances thereafter.  I need a son. We need a son.  Our daughter needs a brother of her mother’s blood and her daughter an uncle to stand for her as my own brother and uncle stand for me.  As you stand for your own sister and her children.  That is our way and that is how we shall always be as long as I, or any of my line, rule the Folk.”

He seemed to gather himself together.  “I am sorry”, he said. “Sincerely.  You are right, and I am being foolish as well as selfish.  I should know better after all these years.  But my love, it pains me more than I can say to think of you embracing another like … that”.

She smiled.  “Forgiven.  Forgotten.  Now be nice to this young Deimne, known as Fionn mac CumhaillThe sooner this is over, the sooner I shall be happy again, for it pains me to see you distressed.

Wayland paused from his tale.  “That is how I became uncle to the present Queen”, he said,  “and half brother to Oisin”.

I was dumbstruck.  I tried to work out the timeline.  He saw me thinking.  “Time is a tricky thing between worlds.”  he said. “Don’t try too hard to work out how old I am. The answer is not as old as you are thinking.”

Cúchulainn & Mórrígan

Nine hazel trees grew around the Well of Segais, where the sacred Salmon lived. The hazelnuts were wisdom, and the salmon ate them all as they fell into the pool.

All except one.

I took it.  But that is another story.

It was here long ago, that Fand Fea of the Faery first offered Cúchulainn her love.  He knew her then, and loved her.   But she was a shapeshifter, immortal and busy.  He was a hero.  Their love was intense, but brief, for both were called upon to fulfill their destinies.  Their paths seldom crossed for many months,  and she was always changing.  Nonetheless, she believed that having known her, this hero who had loved her should know her always.

She did not mind that he had other lovers, other wives.  Why should she? She was the Mórrígan.

Yet when she came to him again, in one of her many guises, he knew her not.  She was distressed and angry.  She believed he should have recognised her.  She shifted thrice and each time attacked him while he was in combat with Lóch mac Mofemis.

morrigan.jpg

Three times he wounded her, breaking her arm (some say her ribs), then her leg and finally putting out an eye.  Three times he drove her back until at last she retreated.  Cúchulainn continued the battle with Lóch, and defeated him.

He went on his way, until he encountered an old woman milking a cow.  She was crippled, with a broken arm, a twisted leg and one eye.  She offered him milk which he accepted gratefully.  He drank three cups and with each he thanked her again with his blessing.  Yet even now he did not recognise her as her wounds healed with each blessing.  Despite this she was, for a time at least, appeased.

And so he went forth to do the deeds for which he became famous.

Three times more would he meet her.

She it was, the wise crone Cailleach, who offered him dog stew.  Though he was forbidden by his geis  to eat dog, he also could not deny the hospitality of a woman and thus doomed himself.

Had he recognised her how might it have been different?

Nor did he realise it was she, the Washer at the ford, who wept and mourned his coming death as he rode to combat against Lugaid.

Lastly, even as he was dying, it is said he did not know her.  She it was, the battle-crow Badb, who landed on his shoulder just in time to distract him while the third spear of Lugaid found his fire, and quelled it.

As he leaned against a standing stone, determined to die on his feet, she yet perched by his cheek, caressing it with her cruel beak and whispering in his ear.

Who knows? Perhaps at this very last he knew her, and maybe then she forgave him.

Not the Salmon of Wisdom

October, 2008

Wayland stood as a man entered the room.  Taking the cue, I stood also.

It was clear that Wayland was in awe of this man He showed great respect as he offered a chair, which the man cheerfully accepted.   This must be someone very important indeed.  The newcomer was a strange looking man, very old, with long flowing hair loosely tied back at the nape. he had an enormous forehead and a flattened moon-like face that reminded me just a little of someone with Down’s Syndrome.  But his green eyes belied any possibility of intellectual handicap.  They positively glittered with intelligence and good humour.

Fionntán mac Bóchra, I have the pleasure to introduce my great grandson, on the distaff human side – Alan Waterman.  The old man smiled and held out a hand, which I shook.  ”Sir”, I said, “I am pleased to meet you, Fintan of the Ocean”.   He looked surprised , then pleased.  ”Call me Sam”  he said.  ”it is a name I picked up  a few centuries back, more or less by mistake.  I like it.  ”Sam”, I said, feeling, and no doubt looking, rather puzzled.

“Yes, I have frequently been mistaken for the legendary Salmon of Wisdom.   So I told everyone to call me Sam N Ovnolic.  A joke.  It pleases me anyway”.  He laughed, and looked at me intently.

“I am very fond of puns myself, though I seem to be the only one amongst my friends who appreciates them”.  I said.

He laughed again.  ”The pun is the finest form of humour.  We shall get on fine”, he said to Wayland.

Wayland told me that Sam was the one who could answer some of my cosmological questions, and would also explain to me some of the things I needed to know.  After a moment’s hesitation, and a glance at the old man, who gravely nodded, he added “and there is one more service he might do for you – if you wish”.

Before I could ask, he hurried on.  ”Fionntán mac Bóchra is what might be medically described as a high-functioning hydrocephalic.  He is a polymath, polyglot and all round genius yet has only 20% of the brain matter of a normal person.  Most of his head is filled with water in his cerebral ventricles.

“Stop talkin’ of me as if I am not here”, said the old man.  He turned to me. “Do ye know the cure for water on the brain lad?”

“A schoolboy chestnut.” I said, liking this old chap who could  joke about his condition.  ” A tap on the head”.

“Exactly”, said he, turning slightly and lifting his tangled pony tail to reveal a small silver valve protruding from his skull just above the nape of his neck.

Wayland interjected. “I have told you how we came here, and how time works differently for us and as a result we live longer than the so called allotted span of humankind.  But there is more to it than that.  We have an infection. A beneficial infection, one that affects our immune system, positively affects our rate of healing and alters the rate at which we age.  The mages – our scientists – have identified the cause of this infection as a tiny self-replicating protein known as a prion.  Something very similar to the one discovered a few years ago that causes so-called mad cows disease in your world.  Except this is different.   It is passed on from generation to generation, probably through mother’s milk.  Very few of the folk do not have it naturally by the time they are weaned.  If they do not, we have now found a way to inoculate them.  Fionntán mac Bóchra  (he seemed unable to refer to the old man as ‘Sam’)  has a reservoir of the prion in his cerebrospinal fluid.  On tap.  A few drops in your eyes, and you will see the world as we do, and possibly gain some of the other benefits too.

I did not ask what other benefits.  ”In my eyes?”

“Yes the quickest path to the brain, though you could inhale into your sinuses if you prefer”.   He looked concerned.  I guessed that his plans depended to some extent on how I took this offer.

“No it is not that, I am not squeamish.  I was just thinking of the old tales of people able to see the folk after one spat in their eyes”.

Wayland looked relieved and pleased.  ”I told you he was quick, this one.” he said to the old man.  To me he replied “Spit works, like any body fluid, a bit haphazardly.  There may or may not be a sufficient dose of prions.  Cerebrospinal fluid is a dead certainty”.

“Prions.  Who would have thought of that?”

The old man grinned.  He reached down into his robe and extricated a tiny silver cup which he handed to Wayland, and bowed his head in readiness.

Tithe To Hell

Posted on July 15, 2012
October, 2008

“One of the side effects, it seems, of the prion activating the longevity gene in our DNA, ” said Wayland, “is that after a few generations there is a tendency among the folk to be unable to reproduce.  Over the millennia we have countered this by adopting outsiders into the tribes.  People from your world.  All over.  Also we would expand the gene pool by intermarrying – or perhaps just inter-mating.  In the very early days we stole children, sometimes leaving a sterile child in exchange.  Thus began the stories of changelings.  Quite frankly there was a time when young men and women of your world were happy to be seduced by our young men and women,  and it was not until the advent of Christianity that it became shameful and then evil.  The ways of the old tribes were hard to kill and in some parts of the world, particularly Ireland, there were still those who understood and obeyed the old ways alongside their faith.  Ireland was the last country to adopt that foolish concept of celibacy amongst the priesthood.  Many a good Catholic priest fathered a faery child in the old days, and felt no shame of it.  Many acceded to the celibacy law only under pain of excommunication.  Many only pretended to.   Even amongst the laity there was no shortage of women who were willing to bear a faery child, even until recently.  I have fathered my share upon them”.

Fintan added “And what young man since the dawn of time has ever turned away an inviting beauty who is willing for a romp?  Most times he did not even have to know where she was from.

The practice of adopting from across the portals somehow became known as “paying our tithe to hell”.  The saying may have originated b on either side of the portal. Who knows?  it became a joke to us. But was a joke in poor taste, and an unfortunate one.  Because in your world, it helped nail down the superstitious fears of the uneducated. The new Catholic church loved to keep its congregations ignorant.  As the old wiser priests were replaced, the ancient knowledge was twisted and darkened, until it became an evil travesty of the truth.

“In some cases”, Wayland continued, ” the child was left with the mother.  Thus was the case with your own Grandmother, whose mother was a willing lover of mine, knowing full well who, and what, I was”.  He paused, looking wistfully reminiscent.  Then he looked in the eye, and said “I have never lain with a woman I did not love”.  He looked down for a moment, reflecting. Then continued.

“There are politics here just as anywhere that people exist.  Lines of succession become tangled and subject to argument.  Sometimes it pays to have a card up ones sleeve”.  Your Grandmother was one such.  Now one of her great grandchildren is”.

Said the old man: “Remember ours is a matrilineal society”.  Women have proven to be strong, sensible and empathic.  Natural and wise leaders. Because women are also mothers, who have the intimate relationship with their children that comes only from giving birth, they have a vested interest in seeing a peaceful and cooperative world – Mostly”.

He patted my shoulder.  As he touched me I felt another strange surge of energy as I had when I had accepted the eye drops.  His hand rested on my shoulder for a moment, as if to lend power to his words.  “It is very pleasing to see so many young women of the blood in your family.  One of them is now second in line to the throne.  The Queen has already chosen her to be first.  But there is a problem, and you, as her uncle, must be part of the solution”.

 Cheiliúradh Deich Mbliana

December 2011

The invisible cat leapt into my lap.  I was startled.  It has been quite a while – many years – since he last visited.

I had never figured out how he gets into my house.  Yet, curiously, I had never asked.

I reached down, found his shoulders, and moved my hand up to his head.  I rubbed him behind the ears.  He buzzed, and pushed his head against my hand.  I scratched harder.   I felt the scar behind his left ear.  Same old cat.  Once he felt me scratch the scar, he relaxed and slumped into my lap in his totally feline way. He knew I would not speak until I recognised him.

“Hey Cat”.

“Hey Man” he replied.

“I haven’t seen you for a while.” I said, and laughed.  His purr modulated.  He was laughing too.  Most cats don’t have the same sense of humour as people – or, at least, as I do.  It seems that invisible cats may be different in more ways than one – apart from talking that is.

“I have been busy.  Elsewhere.” He said.  He sounded pleased with himself.

“And how are things, elsewhere?”

“Much improved.  Your niece is doing well.  Well indeed. ”

“That is good to hear, though it still does my head in.  She is thirteen years old and still at home with her mum and dad.  Yet last I saw her she was a young woman in her late twenties.  The portals… “

“She is forty two and has been ruling an talamh na síochána for nearly ten years.     That is why I am here.  She is planning a ten year celebration.  Cheiliúradh deich mbliana.  Is mian sí leat a thabhairt ar ais – She wants you to return.  Aoi speisialta onóir.

I was taken aback.  “Return?  Me?  An honoured guest? ” Then I surprised myself with the vehemence of my response.  “No!”

“Why not?” asked the invisible cat.  Though I could not see him, I could hear the puzzlement in his voice.

“I am too old.”

“You are but sixty years of age, and look even younger!”

“You know better than that.   I have lived through a hundred and eighty years.  Sixty of them here.  I go away for a few weeks, come back years older without having aged, physically.  But I am old and I feel it.  I am not my great grandfather. I have only a quarter of the blood of the Sidhe and my stretched mortality weighs on me.  I age normally here.  I just want to live quietly into retirement.” And I want to die before my children grow old.  No one should outlive their children.

I sighed.  “Am I already old and getting senile.  Imagining faery stories and invisible cats.”

He leapt from my lap to my shoulder in one fluid movement, evading my hands.  Landing lightly, he bit my ear lobe and leapt away again.  I put my hand to my ear then looked at the blood on my fingers.

“Imaginary?”

“No.   Of course not.  Don’t be offended.  I didn’t mean it.  I could not have imagined you.   I could not have imagined half of what I have seen.   It is just that I am feeling old, and tired.  I have seen too much that I cannot talk about in normal conversations, with normal people and so I don’t know how to be normal any more.  I am just writing a story. I hope it will help me make sense of everything.

“Come and stay then.  Write it there.  The years will go easier on you under different stars.”  And it will make it easier for you.”  He hesitated then, and I had a skincrawling premonition that this was not an invitation after all, but a summons.

“Easier for what?”

“To give up writing this story of yours.  You cannot tell it.  Not here.  Not in this world.  In just a few years  time your niece is to become the queen she already is in the land thanks to you and your past efforts.  By writing this story, even in the piecemeal way you have been doing it may put everything at risk”.   You are giving away too much.     We cannot have more people looking for the portals.  You have already described with far too great detail the one near Quinn and you have mentioned the hole of the sorrows.  No doubt you will, in telling the tale, refer to the others you have passed through.  If you provide the same sort of detail, it is just a matter of time before someone else tries to use them.  But over there you can write it down.  It is a tale well known.  Yet everyone would want a copy”.

“I will finish the story.  It is mine to tell.  I shall finish it here.  There is no need to worry about anyone believing it.  Hell, even I don’t believe it half the time, and I was there.  It will be regarded as fiction by everyone except those who know me well.  Those who know I don’t have an ounce of imagination…

I won’t come back there, because if I do I fear I shall never return.  This is my home.  Here”.

“And besides, motorcycles don’t work over there.”

October, 2008

The Hole of Sorrows

Poll na Bron02811Poll na Bron02804PollnaBron02801poll na Bron AF

Those photographs are of Poulnabrone portal tomb, on the Burren, in County Clare, Ireland.  That is me, standing before the portal.  What I have not mentioned before to anyone, is the truth about who it was that took this photograph of me.

I was there because Wayland sent me there. “Take your rental car  and have a good look around the Burren. ” he said. “But you must be at Poule Na Brone by 2 pm on Thursday”. He showed me on a map how to find it.  ”To fill time until then, there are a few other portals  you need to see”.  You may need to find them again should you need the use of them”.  He pointed at the map, and I made a mental note.  ”One is at Ailwee,  two are nearby to  Lios Dúin Bhearna (Lisdoonvarna).  I looked intensly at the map, while Wayland paused to let the information sink in. “By the way”, he added, “there will be a match-making festival at Lios Dúin Bhearna that week.  You may like to shop around. ”  He smiled  in his disarming way as he said it, but there was an odd look in his eye.  He looked down, and continued quickly. “The very name Lios Dúin Bhearna  means ‘the fort of the gap’  and refers, as you might guess, to a defence erected around a portal on a nearby hill now known as  Liss a teeaun – fairy hill fort.  People think it refers to the Norman ruins that stand there  but they have nothing to do with the origin of the name.  The original fort was built about four thousand years ago, when the Sidhe were still retreating.  Nothing much left now, but a mound.  If you would like to see what it looked like then, and you should do so while you have the opportunity, visit Caither Connaill.” again he pointed at the map. ” Very similar.  It is just down the road from Poule Na Brone, so you could have lunch there before your… appointment.”

“Appointment?” I asked. “Who am I meeting?”

He looked at me steadily and the twinkle was back.  ”That is a surprise. ” He gave me his disarming grin again. “You will like him to be sure.  I do believe you may have met him before.”  He gave me another grin and returned his attention back to the map.  “The last place to visit is called Poule na gColm or Gollum’s Cave”.

Poll na gColm  is pronounced  ’pole na gollum’ and means rock dove cave.

“You may be interested to learn that they say Tolkien named the character  in his book after it.  I think he may well have heard some stories about that cave.  He visited the area on occasion. Anyway that is speculation.  Be warned, though, there is a maze of caverns down there. In fact local cavers actually call it ‘the maze’.  The portal in Poule na gColm is the hardest to find.  Don’t go in alone. I shall arrange for someone to meet you there and guide you. But that will be after you vist Poule Na Brone.”

So it was I found myself a few days later, after a tasty but rather expensive sandwich lunch at Caither Connaill, walking widdershins around Poule Na Brone.  No one else was around, and all was silent.  The day was cool and the sky overcast,  just great for photography.  No harsh shadows.  As I observed that to myself with some satisfaction,   I also noticed the dolmen seemed to be shimmering in the air.  I rubbed my eyes and took another look. Even through the camera viewfinder I could see the outline of the stones seemed slightly distorted, wavering in my vision.  I wondered what it could be, since the air was cool and still.  I was most perplexed, though in another sense extremely pleased,  when later – much later – when viewing the photographs on a laptop screen I could see no sign of the phenomenon.  As you too can see, the pictures are in focus. At the time I just wondered what the cause might be.

On the third circuit I saw someone standing just inside the rope placed to keep tourists away from the ancient relic. I thought the rope was somewhat ironic.  The ancient structure was four and a half thousand years old and had been raised by a long-gone Neolithic people probably just after the glaciers retreated across Europe, but now it needed protection.   I took a closer look at the figure standing there, looking at me with a familiar and slightly sardonic smile.  Wayland had been quite correct.  I was very surprised indeed to see him again.  I took a photograph of this person I had been sent to meet.

That is it above.

The oddest feeling. To be in one’s own physical presence.  I was obviously more used to the idea than I was.  I gave me a cheerful grin.    ”That really went well.” I said to me. “A bit shaky at first, but I did it.  Now go do it!”

I held my hand out towards me.  ”Before you go in, better give me the car keys. I have a journey to complete. I still need to visit Gollum’s Cave and go back to Aillwee before I head back to Dublin and fly back to New Zealand.  Oh, and you may as well hand me that camera.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it won’t work there.” I produced the very same camera and showed it to me. ” It is fried” I said. “Look.”   I tapped the camera on the top of the pole holding the ropes. It crumbled to dust as if it had been made of black sugar. “So best leave it here”.

“But you took it with you” I protested. “Won’t that cause some dreadful change in the course of events?” “No”, I answered nonchalantly.  ”I did the math.  A tiny change like that is damped.  Like tossing a pebble into the sea.  It won’t cause a tsunami on the other side.  There is no butterfly effect.”

One of the good things about talking to oneself, is that one understands the references, and can tell when one is telling the truth.  I handed me the camera and reached into my pocket for the keys to the rental.  I handed them over with just a little hesitation, feeling somewhat lost and confused,  for a moment wondering how I would get back to the boarding house. Then I realised.  I would drive the rental. Indeed I was about to do so, having completed the task that I was about to embark upon.  My head struggled to grasp my own thoughts.

“It is over there”.   I pointed.

“I know”, I responded with a grin. “I parked it there just a short while ago”.

I grinned the same grin back at myself.  A short while ago.  For me definitely.  But for the other me?

“How long is this going to take?” I asked me.

I did not respond immediately.  I just looked at me as if wondering what to say.

As I waited for an answer I noticed that though we were  both wearing the same clothes, those on the me to whom I was speaking were looking worn and a little shabbier than those on the me that was looking at me.  Hardly noticeable, but now that I looked…

I noticed the direction of my gaze.  It was as if I had anticipated the question, as indeed I must have, having asked it already.  “I don’t think I can answer that” I replied.  “We need to be sure we don’t have any preconceptions that may affect our judgement”  The first time I used the ‘Royal We’.  I hesitated a moment, looking at me with a lowered glance.  Slowly, almost reluctantly, I added ” One thing.  Should you come to a point at which you have to make a serious choice…  a… decision… Choose left.  It is the right choice that I nearly did not make at the time.  I did not tell me this when I arrived”.

“But…”

“I did the math on that too, I believe that it is safe to tell you, so I did. But that is all. Now go.  You…  I have an appointment.  We have appointments.”  I shook my hand, the most unusual and frightening sensation I have ever felt in my life.  I stood a moment and watched me walking toward the car park without a backward glance at myself.

Idly, I wondered what might have happened had I thought to try and convince myself to turn round and go back to do once more whatever it was that I had done once already, and was  now about to go and do for the first time.   I could have headed off home, leaving myself to endlessly do the task at hand.  Or could I?  The notion made my head spin.

I watched my retreating figure, still resolutely not turning to wave.   I knew I would not look back.   I sighed and faced the dolmen, now quite plainly shimmering as if it were baking in hot sun.

I stepped into the portal.

A Road That Leads to You

If you want to learn what it was I did in the other worlds, you must wait until I publish the full story. If I can find a publisher. Surely you don’t expect me to give you the whole tale for free on the Internet?  I brought back neither gold nor anything saleable except knowledge.   Unless I decide to retire in the land through the portal, which I do not intend at all, even though I know they would make a place for me and life might be easier in some ways.  No.  I intend to end my days here.  I shall need to make a living here.  My days are limited as a health inspector. Soon people may start asking questions.

October, 2008

I stepped from the portal and approached the rope barrier placed to keep tourists away from the dolmen. I was relieved and so very pleased to be back in Ireland.  As I leaned on the post I realised I was shaking.  I was really glad to be here,  to be alive.  I gathered myself together and waited for the solitary figure, walking anticlockwise around the dolmen, to notice me.

I was taking photographs.  When I saw me I stared openmouthed for a moment, looking quite startled indeed.   Then I lifted the camera and took a photograph of me .  I remembered how odd I had felt when I did that.   I tried to describe it to myself, to memorise it,  so I might write it down accurately later when – if – I completed  my tasks and had time to record the story for posterity.   It was difficult, because my feelings were tempered with a smug sense that I now knew something that the other I did not know.

Definitely still the oddest feeling to be in one’s own physical presence. Even having been here before it was  difficult still,  getting used to the idea.   I was feeling very relieved and still in wonderment that I had actually returned safely.  Best not show how shaken I really am.

I gave me a cheerful grin, and told me ”That really went well.  A bit dodgy at first, but I did it.  Now go do it!”

I was still looking at me as if I could not believe I was actually there.  Well, that made two of us.  I held my hand out towards me.  ”I shall need the car keys. I have a journey to complete. I still need to visit Gollum’s Cave and go back to Aillwee before I head back to Dublin and fly back to New Zealand.  Oh, and you had better hand me that camera.”

“Why?” I asked me.

“Because it won’t work there.  You can’t use electronics there.  You will get no photographs and if you take the camera, it will never function again.  Best leave it here. I gave it to me when I arrived. Trust me.  If one cannot trust oneself, who can?

One of the good things about talking to oneself, is that one can tell when one is telling the truth.  I clearly  accepted my own statement because without protest, in fact without even a word, I handed me the camera. I hung it round my kneck and waited while I reached into my pocket and brought out the keys to the rental car.  After a brief hesitation, I handed them over also.  I knew from memory that I was for a just moment wondering how I would get back to the boarding house, until I had realised that – obviously – I would be driving the rental.

I pointed at it.  ”It is over there”.

“I know”, I responded with a grin. “I parked it there”.

I grinned my own grin back at myself, and asked “How long is this going to take?”

I considered what to tell me.

I saw that as I waited for an answer I was examining my appearance, and making an estimate of  the time I had been away.  Just as well, I thought, that I had had the clothes laundered and stored when I did.  Should have thought of it earlier.  I had worn other garments most of the time I had  been away.   “I don’t think I can answer that.” I told me. “We need to be sure we don’t have any preconceptions that may affect our judgement.”  I let that sink in, then added “Look.  One thing I probably should tell you.  Should…”  I stopped and corrected myself.   “There will come a time at which you have to make a serious choice…  A… decision.   Choose left.  I told me this when I arrived.  It helped”.

“But…”

“It is OK to tell you that.  I did the math, It is safe to tell you. It is just one choice that might affect the outcome of this endeavour. Nothing is predestined and we need to do what must be done.  I can tell you this and no more.   That is all, now.  Go.  You…  I … We … have appointments to keep.”

I shook my hand, recalling how it made me feel the first time.  Then I turned away from me and walked toward the car park without a backward glance at myself.

Again, I wondered what might have happened had I tried to talk myself into turning round and returning to repeat the journey I had just made, armed with the knowledge gained from having already achieved it.  I wondered how it might end if  I turned around now and volunteered to do it again, sending me on my way without ever having gone through the portal at all.     The notion made my head spin.

I knew I was standing by the dolmen, watching  my retreating figure.  I was not going to turn and wave to myself.  I felt sorry for me, knowing what I must face.  The fact of the matter is that even though I knew now that I had successfully completed the first task I had been set, and somehow had managed to  live through the experience, there was no way I would volunteer to go back and do it again.  I could not face it once more.  Not even if I was given an iron clad guarantee that things would work out as they did.  And what if this time I did fail?   What if…  No, I could not even go back to volunteer more information.  I would not look back.  I had to trust myself.   I unlocked the car, climbed in, and started the motor.   Without even a glance across at the dolmen, which I knew now had no one nearby, I drove out of the car park turned right down the R480  and headed back towards Aillwee.  I needed to speak again to the little red-haired girl before we went to  Poule na gColm.

Small Things

It has puzzled me for quite a while that things I remember from when I was a lad do not seem to be part of the common consciousness of the rest of the world around me. Mostly small things; a phrase, adage, or some fact that has become a cliché and part of the common cultural experience, they seem to slip in under the radar of my awareness, or if I do notice them, I account for them as some quirk of local dialect. For example I would use the term “at the moment” when describing what I am doing right now. Just lately I hear everyone saying “at the minute”. I thought perhaps it was an Australian thing at first, until I heard the expression being used on TV shows from other countries. Then I saw a British show I first watched in the 1980s that used that expression. If I had heard it then, I’d have noticed. Something has changed.

Another example is “railway station”. Now everyone says “train station”. When did this change?

If I comment on these, or other examples, to anyone, even of my own age, they tell me they have always said it that way.

It isn’t just language. These are all small things, possibly to be explained by my own inattention to my cultural milieu. But it got worse. The historical facts I was taught as a boy seem subtly different now. The Scottish King, Arthur, has slipped from history to legend, and from Scotland to Wales.  Shakespeare never wrote that marvellous play about him that I enjoyed so much. Instead his Scottish play is about someone called Macbeth. Worse, I was stunned the other day when I casually mentioned the Nixon assassination and no one knew what I was talking about. Yet I knew a lot about him due to family connections. Nixon was stationed at Barrakoma airfield in Solomon Islands during WWII. My in-laws knew him well. People said I meant John F Kennedy, but the only story about him I remember is  a movie about his adventures in the war and how he  received a posthumous medal of honour for his courage in trying to save his crew after his PT boat was sunk by a Japanese destroyer, also in Solomon Islands.  Now I look him up I see a very different story. The one everyone else seems to know.

Last week I watched Gravity on TV. It starred George Clooney and Sandra Bullock.  Yet the Blu- Ray I bought had Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.  Except when I checked, it didn’t.  I thought Bullock and Clooney did a better job, all in all. A disappointment was the removal of the scene referencing Barbarella’s famous  zero-gravity undressing scene and that the movie no longer contained the scene in which Kowalski burns up as he falls to earth. Looking up at it, a small child says “look mommy, a shooting star”. It was a touching moment.  Then the scene switches to  the shooting star again as the mother says “make a wish”.  That, I had recognised at the time, was a scene  borrowed from Harlan Ellison’s short story Shooting Star.  I thought it a shame they left it out.

I realise now that at some time, or possibly several times, I have slipped into the wrong bifurcation of my timeline through all the possible alternate universes. I am in the wrong world. I don’t belong here. I suspect the portals of the Sidhe did not bring me home after all.

Where do I belong?

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