Notre Dame, Big Ben, the Sistene chapel. These are known marvels. But what of those that crumbled into dust?
Centuries of soil at times wild with trees at times green with pasture shroud their memory. Alternating patchworks of increase and decline are the lily’s placed beside their tomb.
And the minds of men?
Do they dwell where their fathers tread?
Does the electricity in that pound of flesh called brain produce the sublime spires of Amthlynam?
Or does dull gain drive both the laborer and the sage to be unalloyed merchants?
How long I’ve waited! How many cold cramped hours have I spent beneath Paviljoensgracht!
Minutes from where Spinoza’s neat black leather shoes tapped their familiar rhythms. Past the musty smell of weathered books lived old Harris.
This medelander was neither Dutch nor old.
He spoke rarely and in accents that did not give up the English name that was apparent only to those who asked. For the first name, Peter, could well be Dutch.
While he possessed the rough hands of a sailor he had none of their mannerisms.
Neither old nor young but altogether indeterminate in every way he’d have drawn much speculation. That is if he appeared long enough to arouse speculation in those few lonely souls that haunted the alehouse.
Those that spoke to him were soon put off by his terse answers. It was not pleasant to talk to the medelander who never grew drunk, smiled only as a begrudged gesture of goodwill, and seemed to be perpetually interested by something in the middle distance.
If any of the bustling shopkeeps, fishers, or millers had cared they could easily have learned all of his habits. Habits by which they could have set their watches. So regular was he in his comings and goings that those who had a financial interest in them would prepare the port, paper, or herring that he required before he arrived.
One would think that the merchants of that great city would talk and wonder. But they did not. Neither fraternity nor curiosity could dare to break the fog around Peter Harris. A London mist so reticent and reserved that one stepped round it as reverently as if it were a grave.
He was so close. He could feel it. Could sense it wafting through the earthen walls. Three flights of stair within the flooded soil were Peter’s quarters. There was his business.
Here where the smell was symphony. Here he’d sit and listen. For in its myriad and unending notes there was a subtle voice. A voice that took a special ear. The perception of it nearly broke him.
Approaching the chemist’s table that had seen so many fits and starts he let out a chuckle. It was so strange a sound to hear. For its prolonged absence from his lips made it as clumsy and unnatural as all his strivings.
He picked up a scalpel and approached the eastern wall. There he scraped the fungi onto a silver tray. Placing this curiosity beside the brown wrapping that his writing-table bore he unfolded the latter. A sphere rolled across the oak and came to rest against a leatherbound copy of Blanquerna.
Having sterilized the scalpel in alcohol he sliced into the skin of the sphere. The rich clean aroma of citrus juxtaposed oddly with his subterranean surroundings. He consumed the grapefruit as circumspectly as he lived.
He took the silver tray and placed it beside an Ottoman. Here he reclined and took a few short contemplative puffs of hash. The first trick lay in silencing the critic. Then he could converse with the God that littered his tray.
He ate the soft pulpy flesh of this God.
And in moments the effects of communion were felt.
For before him was the heather field and the Sycamore tree.
“Shoo Ozzy.” Peter chided the now invisible cat that nuzzled at his ankles.
He heard the soft paws land softly in some other world.
“Bout time ya got here.” Said the small grim man sitting on the lowest branch.
A bit miffed at the lack of fanfare for his accomplishment Peter bit his lip and shrugged.
“Ooo the poor darling. Whaddya suppose… should I give ya medal for a bit of lemon n lime. Ain’t the way round here.”
“Right. That’s better then. So, what do you seek?”
“Well we got plenty o that here. But first ye have to tell me the name o her chapel.”
Peter paused making sure to recall the proper pronunciation.
With a smirk, the small grim man and the heather field gave way to a vast arcade brooding in the moonlight. In the midst of which stood a grace so sublime, whose suggestions were so perfect, that weaker men would have instantly gone mad.
Peter approached the gate of Amthlynam and found it open. He marveled at the spires, the stained glass, and the expressions of the gargoyles.
As the heavy oaken door squealed open Ozzy hissed.
“Do be quiet Ozzy!” Peter again chided.
To his great surprise, the beast responded. “Omnis homo est non recordabar.”
Peter shook his head and marched through baroque enchantments till he reached the book upon the pulpit.
On its leather surface were the tarnished silver letters that spelled out the common English word: Memory.
Peter read, and read, and read. He read until he was so full that he awoke screaming in tongues that hadn’t shook the air for aeons.
Ozzy had bitten his finger. Rousing him from his gluttony. But not soon enough.
If before he was obscure he now became infamous. He was the madman who the best sanitoriums the Hague had to offer could not cure. Weeping constantly and speaking with authority of the futures and histories of people he had never met.
His days as a triune pity, fortune teller, and sideshow came to an abrupt end on a cool September evening. No one had ever been able to locate Harris’ family so Doctor De Vries was ecstatic at the presence of a small grim old man who claimed to be Peter’s uncle.
Some now consider De Vries to be mad or worse a murderer. The aristocracy did not like a return to unpredictable destinies anymore than they liked infallibly dire predictions.
So very few believed the physician when he claimed that Peter died when the small grim man entered the room and spoke a simple English phrase.
“You didn’t think yad actually enjoy bein’ a knowitall didja?”
Upon whose utterance the very same uncle collapsed into a soft pulpy mushroom-like rubbish.
This tale is dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft.* A man whose diligent pursuit of preserving wonder and sensitivity in the face of callous empiricism is more important now than ever. A pursuit I attempt to ape with varied results.
And also to Ozzy Osbourne. Because he’s a mad lad. And the world would suck without Sabbath.
Please donate because I don’t fancy dying from eating from too many tins. Not all aspects of one’s heroes lives are savory darlings.
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