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Saturday, 29 August 2015

A Splash in the Pond

by Frank Raymond
(Editor's Note: This is the first chapter of the fictional political thriller Sweet Dreams and Terror Cells, now available on from locations in Canada, and on from locations in the US. This is the most politically correct fiction book of the decade.)

Sweet Dreams and Terror Cells

The shadows were growing longer, and late afternoon was fading, touched by the first darker tints of the evening gloom to come. He quickened his pace. The Messenger was a desperately tired man. He had worked a full day, yesterday, for pitifully low wages, and had immediately set out on his journey, with not so much as a half-hour's rest. It really was unfortunate, but he had not anticipated having to work the day before. He was a long way from his tiny apartment in Seattle, and he could not stop, not yet. "Miles to go before I sleep," he muttered. Yes, he was a widely read, cultured man, yet he worked at minimum wage "changing dubiously stained sheets at the Hotel Sleazy," as he put it.

He had not wanted this mission, but he was the one most trusted by the leader, and he had an advantage over the others: he had grown up in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. But that youth had been misspent a long time ago, he reflected ruefully, as he scanned the landscape, now so unfamiliar to his older eyes. He had aged, and the country had changed. Certainly the town of Abbotsford had changed, for it was now a sprawling city.

As he scanned, his weary eyes darted about for anything or anyone untoward. The Enemy had stool-pigeons, informants and 'plants' everywhere, and a leak — either in his own organization or the one he was traveling to — was always a possibility.

The Messenger trudged on steadily. The western sky was a glorious, ominous mass of grey-black cloud fretted with glowing orange-red bars, lowering over the horizon. The first cold whisper of an air current ruffled his hair and rustled the few trees in the vicinity. He felt the weight and burden of the responsibility that he had undertaken. He did not know what he was bearing, but he had been told that the information he carried would lead to significant resources, valuable to the comrades on the other side, and promised from an overseas country. That in itself was rare as diamonds for a cause pursued — so far at least — by only the poor and the poorer, a cause that never had a dime to work with. His own organization was pitifully small in relation to its lofty goals and perspectives, which were global and historic. Still, we're keeping the flame alive, even in the darkest of times, he consoled himself. We few, we happy few.

The Messenger was a computer-happy person, and he did not like to carry a message in this laborious and time-devouring physical way, but he understood. The Enemy over-watched every web site and every email of every person in the Western world, and had mechanisms for spotting 'content of interest' even in that vast jungle of bits and bytes. Letters sent by mail were often intercepted. The last thing his chief wanted was to alert the Enemy of contacts between his organization and its partner in the true North brave and free.

So far so good. He had crossed the border without incident, between two large farmsteads, with not a border guard in sight on either side. Then, he had hitched a ride and finally caught a bus. He had asked for the first contact to take place in this part of Abbotsford, for it had been his neighborhood way back when, in his childhood, and he felt more confident on familiar ground.

Not far to go. He turned a corner and he was in his old neighborhood, on the very street where his first home had been. He stopped cold. The wide grassy verges had been built over, and the spacious lawns of his youth had vanished as completely as the backyard barbecues, the popcorn aromas, the amiable seniors and the laughing cheerleaders, smooth and firm of waist and thigh, that once strode down this lane while he and his friends had ogled and made wishful boasts of kisses and conquests. Suburbia had morphed into inner city, it appeared. This cramped, crowded street was now entirely asphalt and grimy concrete, and the trees were almost completely gone. Here was the corner where had lived the wistful blonde who had said to him, at ten years of age, with a direct sincerity that boys would never have, "Shane, when you smile like that with your nose creasing cute, it makes me go all crinkly inside." That had been a large house with an ample swimming pool. It was now four lots with near-identical small houses. Instinctively, he turned towards Harper's Wood, but that was now a drab mess of apartment blocks with peeling paint and laundry hung out. Pity, he thought, the council had been very keen to preserve this wood and Ash Glade for the children. So he had heard from his parents at the dinner table, as his dad carved the joint of mutton and his mom passed the vegetables, insisting that they eat their full portion of greens.

And this was where his old home should have been, but there was nothing familiar left in the small lots and cubical three-storey structures that had displaced it. The pressure of population, Shane lamented. And this was where his old home should have been, but there was nothing familiar left in the small lots and cubical three-storey structures that had displaced it. The pressure of population, Shane lamented. The Enemy had subverted the nation, changed the laws and opened the borders. The world had come to North America and re-made North America in its image. The New World Order. He advanced a few steps. Here had been next-door, where Mrs. Tate had mowed the lawn and offered him iced lemonade in summertime. Trim and pert in her white shorts, with wavy brown hair falling over gentle blue eyes, she had been a part of his teenage dreams and confusions.

The Enemy had subverted the nation, changed the laws and opened the borders. The world had come to North America and re-made North America in its image. No lawn there now. An ancient wrinkled Sikh man leaned over the low wall, drooping listlessly, scratching under his turban and uncertainly stroking his sad grey beard. His kurta, or upper blouse, hung loosely over his lean bent frame. Shane had spent time in India, and he recognized the type. This man might have been a part of the scene in a crowded slum in any Indian city, the sort of man you saw shuffling to the open-air urinal on the baked mud wall opposite the tea-stalls and other stalls that did their business on the pavement, amid the dust and din, oppressed by the overpowering heat and the eye-searing sunlight, hawking their chai, peanuts, chewing-leaves and what-not in intermittent high-pitched chants.

Shane addressed him but he spoke no English and if he had, could have offered no clue as to when the house had been built over. No doubt he had been brought over from India in his old age by his children to look after their children, to preserve their ties with the mother-culture, and to benefit from First World health care. This had been a disappointment, thought Shane, this stroll down memory lane.

Not far to go. The light was fading. One more hour or so, he told himself, promised himself. He plodded on, no longer looking around, except for any sign of a 'shadow.' The few people on the street, East Indians, glanced at him with mild surprise. He was a stranger in a strange land. Next time, would he need a passport? Instinctively he patted his pocket, to reassure himself that he had not lost his two passports, US and Canadian.

He was flagging, and his mind was fraying at the edges. "Well I'm a stranger here, in this place called Earth." The old pop song from the 60's or 70's hummed through his mind. He made his legs continue walking. This should not be happening. Should not, could not, but but. Two legs better, four legs bad. It's a brand new world, I'm not a brand new guy.

He was minded of his cousin's old school in southern California, now fully peopled with mestizo children and teachers from every quarter of Latin America. He and his cousin brother had paused before the great brass nameplate. George Washington High School?

"Gentlemen of the Continental Congress, this school is not exactly what I had in mind when I crossed the Delaware at the head of the army of the Revolution. "To ourselves and our Posterity," as we enshrined in the Constitution that we framed sitting around that broad oaken table. Eleven score and ten years hereafter our posterity, our descendants, our heritage..."

Our posterity, our children, our people, our culture, our present, our future...

His mind was clouding over again, yet ideas and ghosts of ideas floated in and wandered about like strands of fog and melted away like will o' the wisps. Above him the clouds and skies seemed to have thickened and blackened. "To be roaming in the gloaming."

He was muttering again. He had a cultivated mind and had listened to the thinkers and brains of the movement, as they debated fine points with the talkers of the other side. They should have appealed to the people to listen to their bodies, their instincts. Instinct. That was it. When a deer felt the earth tremble, it ran for its life, it did not waste time looking for a scholarly foundation for its actions and reactions. If it did, it was swallowed by the earthquake. It is the herd's instinct to follow the melting snow, the horse's instinct to sneeze at mouldy hay. His tired mind groped for tangibles and simplicities. Instincts were grounded in good sense. Time for more of healthy instinct and less of fallible smart talk. But if I still need an intellectual basis for my commitment, I can talk to 'Prof' John, John the Baptist, man of the cerebrum, helpless plaything of social forces, infinitely smart, totally useless. Aren't we all?

With an abrupt shake of the head, he drew himself up mentally, summoning will and resolution. I should hope not; we're not useless, and this mission is worthwhile.

He crossed a small park, and emerged on the other side. He did not like the feel of this neighborhood. Everything had a dull end-of-the-world aura. On the other side of the road, by the pavement, the trees stood stark and rigid, knives stabbing upward mutely. The houses looked empty, devoid of life, and their windows stared blankly back at him, saying "Go away" and "We're watching you, but we're indifferent to you." That long chocolate-brown van in front of him, there were two figures in it, and he could see their heads and a hand moving in the darkness of the van interior. Two East Indian husbands out for gulp of beer or whiskey, being bad boys while the wives prepared the children for bed? Or … He gave the van a wide berth.

Not far to go. He ploughed on through the gathering dark. Guided by old, faded memories and a vague sense of direction, he turned rightward and almost tottered to a stop, for the world had dramatically opened up to reveal a large open expanse stretching far and flanked by tree lines on three sides. In the glare of arc lights, bulldozers and other earth-moving machines growled and crawled like monstrous beetles in the huge pit, some six feet below ground level, that they had excavated. To the right, a bulldozer was mowing over a graveyard that he recalled but dimly, the coffins stacked to one side. For relocation, as a fifty-storey high-rise went up on this spot? Must make way for more people, the dead must make way for the living. When they run out of space, put them in the fields, under the roads. Grey columns of smoky matter trailed down his field of vision. Like Victoria Falls, he mused, or maybe a cataract. He blinked, and stumbled a little. What was that he had read in his socials class? Pontiac was a genius who had strived to rally the disparate tribes of the Red Indian family of nations. He was buried in Wisconsin, or was it Illinois? He was forgotten, and a road was built over his grave. Over him every day walked the white people that he had struggled to keep from overrunning his country. Who will walk over my children's graves, goosey goosey gander?

He was back amid the streets of the living, hemmed in by walls of monster houses and their bleak tomb-like facades. This was a long street, a long stretch to traverse with his tired legs. He pushed forward. A slight movement caught his eye. Ahead of him, on the corner, some distance away in the gloom, the black silhouette of a man stood stationary, waving to someone Shane could not see, someone to the left, invisible behind the block of houses on his left flank. Shane hesitated, slowed, and slowed even more as he fumbled at his right pocket. Then he moved on cautiously, but he was reeling with exhaustion and almost tripped over. He winced as fingers of steel gripped his shoulder from behind and steadied him.

The black-haired man who now appeared in front of him had a shrewd, somewhat knowing face, that of a man of many parts: a canny bazaar merchant with greed in his heart, and a consummate liar who affected the pose of a thoughtful educator. Shane had the strangest impression that the man's features were permanently set in a mask of injured piety and tragic victimhood, nobly borne. His face and skin had an unhealthy pallor that minded Shane of the underbelly of a snake or octopus. A near-at-hand streetlamp shed its light upon his features as he grinned into Shane's eyes, flashing yellowing wolf-like teeth, incongruous and surprising in that citified face.

"The Doctor asked me to look after you, make sure you make it to the Tim Horton's all right."

What Doctor? Shane was nonplussed, and it added to his momentary paralysis. As he spoke the stranger gripped Shane's hand in a firm handshake, and Shane experienced a pinprick, sharp but short, not really painful.

Lassitude flowed lazily through his body, then something in his veins sped, braked, chemically changed, and turned. The stranger's lips were moving. He's saying something. The words came to Shane from over the vast distance of a dark desert, and were strangely muffled.

"Many sink down to the underworld." Shane floated slowly downwards, searching a skyscape of clouds and confusion, and caught the phrase he was trying to recall, just as it fell over into a glorious red-gold chasm far away.

"Few return to the sunlit lands," he countered, mouthing the words, striving, emitting only the failing gasp of a punctured, collapsing balloon. C.S. Lewis novels provided the signs and countersigns for this mission. Incurable romantics, that's what we are.

His will drained out. An emptiness seeped into his body and occupied the space that it outlined. He was sliding, gliding, down, backwards. Cheryl and Patrick, so young and full of promise. He had hoped to see them when he got to Vancouver … At the memory one corner of his mind rose to fight off the blanket of sleep, darkness and warm glow that was descending, suffocating him. They had not told him anything about someone meeting him before the rendezvous. Something was wrong; it didn't seem right; I have to fight this. Warmth and pleasant drift. Eons passed. He smiled happily and fell forward into the stranger's arms.

The date was 15 June 2012. A pebble had dropped into the great pond of time-space, into the eternity and infinity of the universe. Like all pebbles, this one would start concentric circles of ripples that would spread far into the outer reaches beyond, and mingle and interact with other ripples from other stones. Some of those ripples from Shane Douglas, this encounter and his later life, would touch the lives of many whom he did not know, sometimes in faint and imperceptible ways. Just as those individuals would be affected and moved by other pebbles, large and small. Some of those people were lords of destiny who walked the corridors of real power, far from the White House and the mansion of the Prime Minister of Canada. In their view Shane amounted to no more than a bug on the windshield. Splat. Some of those people were very ordinary individuals who would be doing normal, everyday things in Burnaby, British Columbia, and in other places on the vast continent of North America in the following days, with not the slightest notion — as yet — that a Shane Douglas existed. Some did know him. And a few were related to Shane, and these included his ex-wife Elizabeth and his daughter Cheryl.

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