Yesterday the Fall came on my way back from Plomari. In fact, a medium sized yellow dog and I practically brought it back with us, for it was a terrible crisis, and someone needed to do something about it.
Fall is at least my favorite time of year, maybe the only really enjoyable time of year. Everything begins to feel worthwhile in the fall, or at least it seems like it once was worthwhile. I love the energy that everything gives off when it’s dying.
It was a terrible crisis: the second-to-last day of September, and not a fall-ish thing was in sight. No changing leaves, no bustling wind, no change of crispness in the air, no sizzling snare of autumn chanting black cat spells above the phone-lines. None of it. Nothing. Everything lay as still as a woodlot dump in August too bland and indifferent to make a fly get up. Something must be done, I thought, but I didn’t know how to do it.
It was early Thursday morning, about 8:30, far to early to get up or anything, but the summer heat had already the weight and teeth of granite. I groaned a full minute, and rolled over in bed twice, writhing to avoid the breakfast sun scorching through my curtains. I oozed out of bed and onto the marble floor to soak up some residual coolness, but didn’t actually get a lot more than sand and breadcrumbs out of the deal. Attempting to open up some air movement, I opened the window wider than the crack it had been, and swung wide the door.
Sitting perfectly poised and polite as you please, was the ugly yellow dog I’d exchanged greetings with so many times in the street. The first time I’d seen his passionately ugly yellow face, I dubbed him Alfred. Not because Alfred is a particularly ugly name or anything, but because Alfred was the only name that popped itself directly into mind. The dog had the strangest eyes. Not quite as self-possessed as a cat, but nowhere near the open honesty of a proper dog. There was something almost childlike, or deviant in those eyes.
“Hullo Alfred,” I said.
Alfred sneered twice, laughed once, and darted between my legs calling back over his shoulder, “It’s Sir Alfred to you, pedestrian.”
I don’t know how you feel about the slur or adjectival use of pedestrian, but it does no harm to me. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using your own two feet for transportation, and that’s a thesis I am prepared to defend. Only a great big bloated slob would use it disparagingly.
“Only a great big bloated slob would use pedestrian disparagingly,” I told Alfred. “There’s nothing shameful or unhealthy about using your own two leggs for transport. How do you get around, Sir Alfred?”
“What do you think? Does it look like I use two leggs to get around? I’m no pedestrian, I’ve got four leggs, and that makes me a quadruped, Stupid.”
I was about to reach for Merriam Webster to prove being quadrupedal doesn’t mean you don’t walk, but realized that useful individual was on the phone I’d left in a dumpster, and my current piece of electronica didn’t have the memory for anything bigger than Notepad.
“What’s for breakfast?” Alfred said. “We’ve got work today, and I’m going to need some proper nourishment.”
He pawed open the fridge, passed up the milk and orange juice, and got to work right away on my second to last beer. “Beer,” he said, “Is the most caloric beverage. Made of barley juice. Practically food.” I was about to point out that the milk, just under his nose, would have a much higher food value than beer, but changed my mind when I realized that what I wanted for breakfast was cereal, and judging by the way he was drinking that beer, there wouldn’t be enough for the both of us if he started on the milk.
Breaking momentarily with my core values, I reached into the fridge, and poured the milk into my bowel before the cereal to ensure I’d get some. “What are you doing?” Said Alfred, “Everyone knows you pour the cereal in before the juice. Look, I’ll show you.” I whirled around in time to see the entire quarter box of crunchy chocolate muesli pilling up in his bowel.
“That was my breakfast!” I cried.
“Imagine marrying someone just to find out they poured the milk in before the cereal,” said Alfred, cracking my last beer and pouring it over the crunchy muesli.
“Imagine a stray dog coming uninvited into your house and drinking all your beer before breakfast!”
“Imagine insulting a guest in his first ten minutes in your home. Proverbs, Mark Twain, and Socrates all agree you need to wait at least two days to do that. I am going to assist you on a mission of utmost importance today, and I’m going to need some proper nourishment to do it. If you begrudge me that, you can jolly well go down to the south side of the island and bring back the fall yourself. See how that works out for you.”
Go get the fall? If I had ears like Alfred’s, they would have perked up. Thank God I don’t have ears like Alfred. It’s not that I particularly mind a good chewed up ear or anything, but I wouldn’t have wanted him to enjoy my immediate interest.
“What do you mean go get the fall?” I said perhaps a bit too sharply, straining to keep my ears from wiggling. There was no way I was going to show an ugly yellow dog who drank all my beer how interested I was in what he was saying. But I was interested. Very. Especially after the dream I had last night, which I was just now recalling. I dreamed that I and the bluest bird you ever saw were flying below a skyscape vivid in beautiful swirling debris, all the color of New England in late September. Below was the grayest gray of worlds, and we were between, singing a song that matched our flight. It was a haunting dream, now that I remembered it, achingly beautiful with all the flames of Autumn.
Alfred smirked through his beer and granola, “Don’t get so exited. Just because I’ll be with you doesn’t guarantee your success, it only heightens the chances.”
I repeated my question, this time in a tone controlled to border on perturbed.
“Never mind,” he said, in that annoying “you’ll understand when you get older” voice I would come to hate so well. “I tell you too much now, you’ll start overthinking and muff the whole thing up. Nope, discretion is the vibe we’re trying for, and as Abraham Lincoln so wisely said, ‘secrecy is the best policy.’”
I wanted to point out that Abraham Lincoln said no such thing, but decided I would fall for neither distraction nor reverse psychology. Instead, I flexed my mighty muscles of humility, swallowed my pride, and sacrificed my loathing to show interest in anything Alfred said for my need to experience Fall.
“You don’t need to use any baiting or reverse ploys to interest me in this.” I said. “A chance of summoning the Fall? I’m in.”
Genuine shock and disappointment flicked across Alfred’s uncanny face making it a little more childlike than deviant, before he recovered and swung the balance back across the other way. “How’d you know…erhm, I mean what made you think we’d need to summon the fall? It’s really just as simple as bringing it back in a basket.”
“And yet it’s complicated and horrific and if I have any details I’ll be sure to ‘muff the whole thing up’.” I said calmly hurling my bowl of milk at the little mutt.
“Everything in life,” said Alfred, slurping milk up off the floor, “Is a delicate balance between the simple and the complex. Depending on how you want to interact with life, you must concentrate on the one side or the other. The poet and the mystic focus on the union of all things, this is the side of simplicity. The scientist, the mathematician and the skeptic, focus on the disparity of all things, and this is the side of complexity. When you want to do magic however, you need the double vision capable of viewing complexity and simplicity simultaneously. Today we want to do magic.”
Alfred licked his chops sensually, and paused, evidently hoping I’d pounce in with a question. I did not. “Go on,” I said waiting.
“Naturally,” he said naturally, “I am a cynic, a skeptic, a scientist, and a mathematician. I am a cynic of the cynics and a son of a cynic, vastly aware of and comfortable in the stew of complexity. I’m steeply immersed in the tradition, with a pedigree reaching back to my ancestor Skylos the Haggard, who sat at the feet of Diogenes and nourished himself from the great man’s vomit. I believe you, though, are a poet, incoherent, simplistic, and with a parietal lobe entirely undernourished. Together, we will make a team.”
My involuntary flush of elation at being correctly recognized as a poet tempered quickly in the second half of his appraisal. Still, something about his line of reasoning made sense, and I was loath to react to either praise or criticism from a medium sized yellow dog probably tortured into perpetual belligerency by his flea bights.
“I’m down!” I said. “What’s the first step?”
“Ah, I knew you weren’t quite so impractical as you first appeared,” Alfred said. “The first step is the ritual cleansing. The Muslims always were right, you need to wash yourself before doing anything important or sacred. I claim the shower first.”
Half an hour later Alfred came steaming out of the bathroom, looking half as bad as he did before and smelling two times better. Eager to get on the road and closer to retrieving the fall, I grabbed my towel, and ran toward the bathroom. The evil fog which greeted me couldn’t dampen my spirits; I plunged on ahead. Choking and slipping I made my way to the shower where one those floating Peruvian islands was wallowing out of the bathtub onto the floor. Only this foul smelling island was made out of dog hair, not and reeds and bulrushes. The entire tub was full of brownish yellow water, with a mass of slime, hair, and bubbles fumbling around on the surface trying to cut its umbilical cord. I wheeled around to grab the clorox bottle, but Alfred met me in the door. “C’mon Peter,” He said, “You look like you had at least one shower this week. Ye are clean but not all; it is enough that one of us be clean.”
I knew there was no point trying to get clean in that bathtub, so I gave up. But was sorely tempted to pour the clorox bottle down Alfred’s cagey little throat.
I went down to the bike rental, and handed over enough money and licensure, to convince the man with beef jowls to rent me a 200 cc mo-ped for the day. As we had agreed he would do, Alfred kept his mouth shut and stayed out of the way to streamline the process. I could see his neck and mouth tensing up once or twice from the strain of wanting to contribute something, but as I told him before, businessmen are not interested much in philosophy, even if you are good enough to make it up as you go.
We wheeled the bike out onto the street amid a heavy flutter of beef jowls and precautions. Alfred doggedly slumped along behind me, looking jarringly dismal until I had puttered around a bend from the rental. I slowed down and he hopped up behind me on the seat, and dug two strong canines through my belt loop. “You should have barked!” I said, “Chased after the bike and looked a little bit convincing.” He may have muttered something about the difficulties of keeping up two acts at once, but the majority was lost in the slipstream.
With or without hope of the Fall, it was a fine idea to rent a bike. I don’t think the temperature seems quite so bad when your scenery is changing. It’s when your cooped up or fall asleep in the sun that heat really becomes unbearable. There still wasn’t any breeze, but on the bike even if the air refused to move, you could move through it. We crossed the mountain over into the Gera basin, drove around the bay, and passed the low flat plains of herbs, olive yards and cypress. As we left the farmland, for the salt plains, the heat once again leaned down with the drone of a hornet. The moped’s speed disappeared sucked into the high-end whine of a low power engine on a straight stretch. Time slithered along, slowed as if by dust. Alfred incessantly panted behind me, and a dust thickened trail of saliva slithered down my pants. My brain melded and gelled into one ambitionless slump, with my eyes fixed on the hills at the near horizon. My mood hardened into an impersonal blob, but peevish and content with peevishness toward everything. There’s nothing worse than a grouchy old summer that refuses to die, but stretches itself obstinately out past natural life for months on into attempted infinity. I hope that I’ll remember this, when comes my turn to die.
Finally though, the road started to lift, and the languors with it. We began to climb up through the hills and olive forests, winding around sharp bends and ancient stone terraces. On the inclines the mo-ped slowed to a whine, but there was a freshness to the air here, and a lot more scenery to work with. Hills and slopes opened again and again into endless new formations of rocks and trees. Only a few kilometers from the half-asleep tourist towns, was wilderness untouched since Greek civilizations more than a thousand years gone. Panaguoida and the whole eastern shore of the island faded from memory like exhaust into the heatwaves behind us.
Sir Alfred began to achieve a little life behind me, sitting up somewhat, and hooking his two fore-paws through my belt loop instead of his left canine. This improvement freed up his mandibles, and in no time saliva, insults, and philosophical fragments were hurling about my ears like shrapnel.
“Now what I don’t like about you poets,” he roared into the wind, “Is your absolute lack of ambition. You’re content to rush about pursuing all sorts of useless ends and call them ‘experiences’, or you slump around hollow eyed like a sack full of socks waiting for the muse to come and grab you by the gunny and shake some aspiration into you. You’re so purposeless. What’s worse, is that people mistake this sham you put on for the honest and purposeful degradation of the cynic. The philosophic cynic knows full well that glass houses, white floors, and fine raiment never brought anyone the satisfaction of one pure breath of thought, and so thrusts himself full-handedly into the throws of life, to spare his mind not from one weight of connection or insight which may be found. But when you poets fall out of repute though in the sight of the rabble, you always make it look as if you strayed through the wrong door by mistake as listless a wandering cloud incapable of rain. No I tell you, the muse is dead, and Pure Reason presided at her funeral. There is no muse, there never was, and never will be, except your own mind, and the powers which it can avail to you. Logic!” he schrieked, “Ration! Mathematics! Statistics! Discipline the mind to complexity!”
He had placed his paws up on my shoulders through the last tirade of obscenities, with his yellow muzzle quivering beside my ear, and I was glad the windstream checked and winnowed at least the majority of the foam spewing out of his mouth. I calmly navigated a hairpin downgrade, flicked an adjective out from where it had lodged behind my ear, and pointed out that I had gathered rather more pure saliva than pure reason from the last paragraph. Alfred though was uninterested in such subtleties of nuance, and apparently considered gold whatever came out of his mouth, whether it was logical, illogical, or biological.
“The real poetry,” he vomited, “The Poesis, the creativity, is what’s done in the mind, the problem solving where untainted abstract reasoning leads to concrete results, and where beauty is beauty by virtue of its usefulness. The sham poetry of polemics and aesthetics is as every bit as bad as Plato made it out to be. It’s good for nothing useful, like waging war, training the mind, or governing a city, fit only to be cast out and trodden under the feet of the rabble. There’s nothing so anemic to good sense and progress as a bunch of weeping adjectives strung together to cast a spell over old maids and boys. I tell you, there is nothing conveyed in the cadences of spoken or written poetry proper, but sheer, arbitrary, defiled, and defiling emotion. When you want to say anything useful, anything that relates to the real world, prose is what you want! Not a mystical arrangement of syllables contrived to drag out a baseless euphoria or sentimentality! There is no such thing as emotion, not for the rational being, there can only be actions. Emotion is a simplistic concept designed by the rabble out of laziness to confuse themselves and distract their consciences from the task at hand. Emotion has no productive correlation to the real world, and so should not be fed, or stroked, or even talked about. It should be allowed to wither away before the blinding sun of Resolution! No! It should be strangled, murdered! Along with all the other weak and pitiful elements of the soul. What we need is volition! Not feeling.”
“In the well ordered soul, in the virtuous psyche, there is no room for the fickle quandaries of feeling. The only real process which results in virtue, is the cold clean movements of cynicism within the intellect, calculating which roads are worthless and which are the right ones to take. Why, you can’t get to Plomari based on intuition, or a by any other groundless feeling within your heart, you’ve got to follow clear evidence! You’ve got to be informed and responsible in the art of reading road signs, not in interpreting the palpitations of the heart. You say you write poetry because somewhat is wrong with the world and your experience of it, but I say all that is wrong with the world is your methods of addressing its problems!”
“Now look here,” I calmly turned around and bellowed at him nearly wrecking, “I’ve never called myself a poet, that’s been your accusation all along. But I’ll let you know for me its about the highest compliment you can give, and if “poet” is an insult to a scientistical cynic like you, that makes it all the more dear to me. I suppose Popular Science is your bible, and David Hume and all the neo-atheists are your canonized saints…”
“Hume!” Alfred eructed, “That heretic deserves to be dug up and bones-burnt! He didn’t believe in so much as cause and effect! No! Democritus is the true mythic God of my religion! He was the father of my Atom and your Adam! Why, good old Democritus, I’m quite sure he founded and propounded Kinetic Molecular Theory even if that bit of information wasn’t passed on to us. Not Hume! Why the imbecile…he came so close to the kingdom, but turned back, that faithless sentimentalist. The sniveling snut! As your Peter put it, ‘It had been better for him not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto him.’ But no, he turned back, and a millstone ought to be tied around that offenders neck. Did you know he said that reason not only is, but ought to be, the slave to passion?”
“No I didn’t,” I said “I thought he was all empiricistic and naturalistic, denying innate knowledge and whatnot. But to heck with Hume, who cares, or at least we can agree on that, but why do you go on bashing poetry without compunction when you said this morning that ‘life takes a delicate balance of the simple and the complex, needing both the poetic and rational perspective’? In all your rationalism you’re not making sense and end up in contradicting yourself. Which do you really believe?”
“Aha!” he barked, actually wagging his tail for the first time since his beer breakfast this morning. “You’re not quite the pitifully illogical wreck I was scared your might be. Your parietal lobe is certainly scrawny and undernourished, but obviously since being around me you’re making rapid progress. Congratulations, you are almost right. You see, there is an apparent contradiction in my balance theory and my antipathy towards poetry. Of course if you wanted to concentrate your life in simplicities, unrealities, and unions you would live the life of the mystic, the poet, or the amoeba. But why on earth would you want to? Wouldn’t this life be the most boring, the most intrusive, the most unproductive? Yes, on it’s own, poetry is certainly a method incapable of producing any functional ends. But when you combine the scope of vision available to poetry, and the scope of vision available to science and skepticism, dual and disparate worlds are drawn together, and you become suddenly capable of Magic! And Magic of course,” he salivated, “is oh so exponentially useful! so wonderful! in producing results! This I think, is what Plato must have dimly seen when even after all his well-justified rhetoric against poetry he did in the end allow it, in certain censured forms of course, into Kalipolis. But Democritus of course was again around the block from Socrates running the establishment he and his student were trying still to find! Democritus is always and everywhere accurately recognized as the father of modern science, but what isn’t remembered is that he also wrote poetry and poetic theory! Now tell me, why would the father of modern science suspend himself from the complexity of reality and concern his time with abject, non-existent simplicity, unless he had expected results! I think he delved into poetry because he knew that if he could marry simplicity to complexity, the children would be absolutely fabulous. He was the true magiterialist.
“Today, if we are going to bring the Fall back to the island,” he said, “we are going to need to do magic, which is I think, the only time immense powers of reason, skepticism, and analysis such as mine are not enough. I am of course, after the manner of Democritus, Diogenes, and all great cynics a materialist. But when you are able to combine the complexity of materialism with a discipline dealing in union, simplicity, and all other unrealities, you are capable of magic.”
Not being very familiar with the magic, balance theories, or magiterialism, I tried to prod him into surrendering more concrete details. “So what your saying then is the magician is a two headed amalgamation? With one mind a cynic and the other a mystic? Is that why the Egyptian magi went around with heads of wolves and crocodiles? I hope your not going to make me walk around with you crouched up on my head leering like a totem pole.”
Alfred though only sneered something about mockery and me taking him for an imitationist. He snappishly re-hooked his left canine in my belt-loop, securing his kinetic balance on the back of the moped and ending the conversation.
Down out of the mountains we coasted. Round curves and curves as the bright Aegean Sea opened up and twinkled out before us. For the first time I sensed the slightest haunting in the air of crispness or static. The trees leaned as if to listen for something, and wind rustled in the ditches. My jaws tightened, and little shivers flicked down across my back in waves. It wasn’t quite so good as fall, but was at least unmistakably the senility of summer. I glanced back to see if Alfred had felt anything, but his eyes were as glassy as the trifocals of a calculus professor.
We passed thin little yards and fences, with rhombus shaped gates to fit the incline of the hill. The distances between the houses got shorter, and the walls between them taller. Macadam road gave away to cobblestone, and low mortar and plaster walls to marble doorsteps. The heat changed again, from the clean heat of the slopes to the dusty and human heat of a city. I thought about feeling self conscious riding down through the mountain slope streets of Plomari with a medium sized yellow dog holding on against my belt loop by his teeth, but assumed these people had seen everything from the smaller of the horses to the larger of the mayors riding on along on the backseat of a motorbike.
The streets leveled out, the right angles straightened, and the steps we had had to bump down flattened into shallow drainage troughs. We dipped out to the sea front, and followed the road along the dock lines. Alfred unclenched his teeth from my belt loop, and sat up far straighter and poised than I had thought him capable. He would cock his head out and toward the side trying to see out below my arm and yell out things like “Stop!” and “Turn left!”.
We carried up over a small hill, and at every split time took the street closest to the sea. The street soon opened up into a highway, as the terrain heightened into cliffs and the sea dropped away below us. Farther and farther it fell, down tumbling mountain sides and sheer rock falls. The huge sea turned assure blue with all the atmosphere, and the horizon slung out so far away the sky really did fall into it so far that you really couldn’t tell which from which. All out ahead you could see the road stretching along the bottom side of the island disappearing behind a mountain jutting its leggs out into the sea. Craggy rock faces climbed above us, and tumbled out below. We were on the side of cliff face, with all the sun and sea shouting after us in laughter.
Then to our right, there was a recess between the road and the cliff-face, and above it, about the height of two men, was an ancient cross of dull red marble cut into the green limestone. Immediately after, the limestone cliff above us fell away into the side of a terraced dirt hill, and up the hill a road a staggered in zig-zags, terraced on either side with ancient stonework. “Up there!” said Alfred, “Is where we’re going.” I gunned the engine and climbed to the first zag before slowing to a crawl around the steep, hard-angled turn. As the engine muttered in its lowest gear, Sir Alfred leaped off, and bounded up ahead, scrabbling around the hair pins. “We’re meeting an old friend of mine,” he shouted over his shoulder, “An old Orthodox hermit who taught me my English.”
Alfred turned around at the next corner which had slightly less pitch than a barn roof, and stopped me. “He was born I think in Albania. Greek parents. They named him Hermogenes. He went to school though at Cambridge. After Cambridge he somehow ran afoul of Hermes, the old Greek god of knowledge, while trying to influence the philosophy department at the Academy of Athens. Hermes enlisted the help a few Furries, and an old Arai disguised as a bohemian intellectual to entrap Hermogenes and curse him to know everything there is to be known. Poor Hermogenes’ ambitions and manners practically crumpled under all that weight, and he spent seven years in the Pindus Mountains of Macedonia begging to be able to forget some things and relieve the weight of his curse. Eventually Eleos the goddess of mercy found him and taught him how to make an Absinthe so pure that he when he drinks it he is able to forget nearly everything but what is relevant and near at hand. Though the Absinthe provides only a temporary absolution from knowing everything, Hermogenes can come back from his little oblivion refreshed and clarified enough to carry a nearly normal life. I hope he isn’t drunk when we find him. If so, all hope is lost, because we’ve got to find out from him where the seasons make their beds when they lay down to sleep.”
“Now the plan is this: He’ll want to start drinking the second we get there, he knows all to well the humiliating and terrifying affects of knowing everything. Especially in social situations. If he’s feeling well enough, if he’s not drunk on Absinthe but still carrying the latent clarity with him, he’ll be able to forget that he knows everything about us, and be able to ask polite questions. This is very difficult for him to do though, so he’ll do his best to treat us well as guests and get us all drunk on Absinthe as soon as possible.”
“Wonderful!” I said, struggling to keep my stalled moped from rolling back down the hill, “I’ve always wanted to taste Absinthe. And if Eleos gave it to him, it sounds like this guy has got the right recipe. Why, I don’t even know if you can buy real Absinthe with wormwood in it anymore anywhere on earth!”
Alfred convulsed exultantly and yapped “See! you’ll go and muff the whole thing up! We’ve got to keep him from drinking until we’ve asked him where the Fall sleeps in a normal enough manner that he doesn’t suspect why were asking. We’ll do it like this, I’ll hold him up for a while with a very difficult question dealing with the relationships between particle kinetics, temperature, and pressure. Then you’ll ask him something about writing poetry on the seasons, which he’ll answer probably in a manner of short simplicity which is due such subjects, and from there, you’ll say something offhand and vaguely poetic like ‘say, where does the fall make her bed when at the beginning of winter she lays down to sleep?’, he’ll know of course, if he hasn’t been drinking to recently of the Absinthe, and likely pop it out in the same manner of short simplicity before he has time to think of why we wonder.”
I looked at Alfred, and could not convince myself if what I was hearing was a deeper wisdom than most, or a deeper nonsense. I was though, for the first time convinced there really was something more going on than a long bike ride on a hot Aegean island.
On either side of the road stood gaunt olive trees, clearly as old as any, but rheumatic and undernourished. Eventually the road leveled out, and lead to three round stone huts, one of which was a little smaller than my studio in Panagouida, and two of which were very much smaller. I stopped the moped, kicked out its stand, and switched the engine off. Three goats under the heat-shade of a fuller olive wheezed pitiful puffs of dust and looked up sleepily. “Hermogenes!” barked Alfred, at the door of the studio-sized hut, head up straight, tail tucked against his leggs. From inside the grotto three good loud whacks issued, like a watermelon being punched by a featherweight boxer, followed by the unmistakable sound of a throat clearing. Out the door popped a leather chested old man with a white trailing beard, no shirt, and loose cotton-flax pants the color of sand. He was squinting and massaging his cheeks, but had eyes so bright you felt like it was you who should be the one squinting. He thumped his chest twice, and the watermelon sound came again, only softer this time. “HErmHERm, Ahh. Forgive me.” He said in a voice that sounded about like the color of his pants, “I’ve got to roust my voice out, its been sleeping so long I wouldn’t wonder if it has turned to bone. Hello, Hello! Alfred! It is you isn’t it? My oh my you’ve matured.” The old man stooped far lower than I would have thought possible, and majestically twice kissed Alfred’s ugly yellow face, once on each cheek. Alfred returned the kisses, and throughout the how exchange looked more dignified, more dog-like, and least like himself than I have ever seen him. The goats though, looked shocked, and baahed in an amiably disgruntled kind of way.
“And who is your friend?” Hermogenes turned to me, and looked me in the eye with eyes like starlight tossed on dark ocean. “Ah!” said Alfred, “He is a poet I found wandering around in Panaguoida. I’ve befriended him and am teaching him in the ways that you have taught me.”
“And what might those ways be I wonder?” said Hermogenes.
“Oh, too many ways to count!” said Alfred, “But summed up of course by the paradox which solves the problem in balance. Everything consists and is governed by near-balances and imbalances. And so for the virtuous soul, all of life must be balanced. Yet never in perfect balance, for in a perfect balance nothing can exist for each side is canceled out by the other. The only way then to live a perfectly balanced life, is to hold balance itself balanced with unbalance and allowing the possibility of each. Thus the only life which is really capable of balance is the one in which unbalance exists.”
“Yes too many ways to count! Or sum up. Which are, I suppose two different ways of trying to do the same thing.” Hermogenes shouted a series of rapid claps of laughter. And while he laughed the three goats lost all languor, struggled up to their feet sideways, and capered about doing their best to laugh as well. He hugged me like a mountain lion, and kissed me twice on both cheeks. Unlike Alfred though, I didn’t return the kisses. I would have if I had thought about it, but as it was I was to busy keeping eyes on those goats to make sure they didn’t try to kiss me as well. They didn’t quite, but I think they would have if they had thought about it. The one started nibbling complacently on my pocket, and the other on my shoe, while the third began rubbing the spot between her horns on my kneecap.
“Alfred!” Hermogenes shouted, “It is good of you to come back after all these years! I hope you haven’t lost your taste for Absinthe! I’ve been meaning to open a cask this month that’s been lying in herbs since years before the first time I met you. We shall remember the old times again!”
Alfred immediately looked worried. “Well, uh, herm, its still a little early to be drinking isn’t it?” I gaped at him, and was about to involuntarily revisit my last two beers he had for breakfast, but thankfully Hermogenes beat me to the sentiment.
“Nonsense!” He roared “It was never to early to drink for the Sir Alfred I knew! Why, what do you mean? It’s already a little bit after noon!”
Alfred looked even more uncomfortable, but then gave a show of appearing like he was giving in. There was no dog-honesty in his eyes, only childlike deviance. “Aged on herbs since before you met me?” He said in a wistful sort of voice, and his eyes changed again, holding now the full range of honesty, intelligence and deviance. “Well I would like to try some, for old times sake. And of course, for its own particular merits, but I was hoping we could enjoy your curse a little as well. We have some questions for you. You see, my friend here has been bellyaching to write a few odes to fall, don’t ask me why, but he can’t because so far summer hasn’t even expired yet enough for him to write its epitaph. He needs you to tell him the secret of writing well without ever meeting the external inspiration of a topic. You know, the art of writing love poetry without ever having met your lover. As for myself, I’m having difficulties reconciling the thermodynamic consquenses of the Ideal Gas Law with the consequenses to atomic kinetics. You know I haven’t got any authoritative sources down there in the wasteland of Panaguoida, and have to rely soley on memory for my facts, and solely on thought experiments for my hypotheses. You see, the equations for the kinetic results of the particles of a compressed gas cannot be derived from the results of the net change of the overall temperature of the gas, as predicted by Avagodro’s equations if Boyle’s Law and Charle’s Law really are different results of the same effect noticed by Avagondro. I’m now beginning to wonder…”
“Oh,” Interrupted Hermogenes, “That’s easy, you’ve only been approaching things in the wrong order. You can’t go from the Ideal Gas Law to the actual kinetic activity of particles. You’ve got to instead first make simplifying assumptions about the weight, type, and kinetic activities of the particles, and from there you can work your way to Ideal Gases. It doesn’t always work the other way. You’ve got to remember that simplifying assumptions have already been carried in one direction, and if you want to get back you’ve got to carry the same simplifying assumptions in the opposite direction. It’s simple, really, but I can understand how you arrived at your confusion.”
“Herm, but the question of poetry, now that is much more difficult. I’m not sure I’ve been quite sober long enough to get at something of that complexity the way I’d like to.”
Poor Alfred gaped at him like fish just told the surface of his pond was not the sky. His pride was so delicately wounded that even I could nearly read the entire story of his intents and desires from the contents of his face.
“Why what’s the problem?” said Hermogenes, his face obviously straining the effort of forgetting that he probably actually knew. “If you’d like me to, I could try to stay sober for the night, and maybe in the wee hours of the morning if we stay up in good conversation I’d be sober enough to remember everything I need to address the possibility of conduiting inspiration on topic without experiencing the topic or even including the topic itself.”
I understood Alfred’s problem. If Hermogenes got drunk now on Absinthe, he probably couldn’t tell us where the fall sleeps. If he stayed sober for too long though so that we could enjoy his curse, he would eventually remember what we were really up to despite himself. I wasn’t sure why this would be a problem, but obviously Alfred knew him better than me, so I supposed if he knew he would try to put a stop to us. On my end, I really did want to hear everything Hermogenes had to say about inspiration and poetry, but I also was desperate to bring back the fall. Also after our conversation on the hill, I was beginning to see that for Alfred this trip was not about bringing back the fall at all, but attempting to make use of what he called a simplistic soul to test his theories on the effective and “really fabulous” results of magiterialism.
“Ah, splendid!” cried Alfred in feline mal-ease still clearly at loss of what to do. “Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his sanity for his friends!” He writhed minutely with effort of trying to come up with a revised plan.
Hermogenes saw this, and writhed majestically with the effort to remember to forget why Alfred was writhing. I wasn’t sure who looked the more uncomfortable. Hermogenes clearly was more the visibly distressed, but then and again Alfred always looked so uncomfortable that anything which could make him look this much worse than normal must have been agitation indeed.
Out of a fissure in this tension, somewhere above and over to the left of my eyes there was a quarter instant of simplifying bright green flash like the Muse, and without planning to I blurted, “But couldn’t you just tell me where the Fall lies down at the beginning of winter to sleep? It is about the end of September after all, maybe I could just wake her and write about the Fall herself rather than just some inspiration about her. That would be so much easier, so much more real than just talking about it.”
Alfred looked horrified, but not Hermogenes. “Splendid idea!” he roared. “Why! What a flash of simplicity! That’s what you wanted all along isn’t it!” He looked hard at both Alfred and me with a very disconcerting eye on each. The dark water beneath the starlight in his eyes went from fierce stillness to hilarious rippling. He laughed and laughed at us, with more good humor than all the sun and wind. “You should have just told me in the first place, rather than trying to confuse me with all that complexity, poetry and chemistry. Why that was about has conflicted as I’ve been since before Heleos gave me Absinthe! The place that the Fall sleeps in not far from here at all, in fact, it’s on this same mountain just on different legg, the one that juts out into the sea. There are four caves there in a cliff face where the four Seasons either sleep, or do not sleep. I’ll even go with you to make sure you find the way.”
Sir Alfred’s poor face was so convoluted I could no longer read any of it, but I took courage in that everything seemed to be going alright.
“Wonderful!” I said, “Now that that’s all been taken care of and gotten out of the way, could we uh, partake in the drink of Heleos, Hermogenes, and the Muse?”
“Of course!” Hermogenes grinned delightedly and respectfully, “That is, if you’ve had enough time to enjoy my curse, Alfred?”
Alfred grinned too, almost as amiably as the goats, and muttered something very confusedly about no greater love, but it was blurred by sensuous licking of his chops.
Hermogenes rushed about like a beaver at a dam break and laying down a tired piece of linen on an ancient smooth slabbed table under one of the taller olives, bringing out curious carved stone bowls, fetching a wonderfully large cask out of one of the smaller huts. He set the bowls and cask down ontop the linen, went back in for a dipper and second cask filled with cold water. With a small drill he pushed a hole near the top of the cask, and neatly set in it and corked a small tube. He then inverted the cask, and drilled a new whole in what was now the top. Carefully he held each one of the stone bowls in turn beneath the spout and undid the cork. Instantly the air briskened with the scents of the acids and oils of thousand herbs. A slightly lucent green vapor wafted from each of the bowls. From the second barrel he ladled a dipper of clear water into each bowl of spirits. Hermogenes handed a bowl to Alfred and I, and we three sat down cupping our bowls and staring at one another over the rims, Alfred completely at ease in the gymnastics of sitting upright upon a keg and holding a stone bowl between dog paws. Clearly, he had been here before.
“Drink!” cried Hermogenes, and started sipping his with immense pleasure, like a good tea at the optimum temperature. Alfred lifted his bowl above his upturned nose and did a waterfall, his throat bulging and swallowing hedonistically. I held mine very close to my face, looking down into it and drenching my brain and sinuses in the upturned worlds of scent. “In this Absinthe,” said Hermogenes, “is the distilled essence of every virtuous herb in the western world. I have gone beyond wormwood, fennel and anise, Heleos showed me the way, I have left nothing out.” The verdant color, the lucent vapor, the heady scent, themselves were enough to hold me; I wanted to sit and smell my bowl forever. I let them go and allowed myself to more, setting the bowl to my lips, spilling it into my mouth, swallowing, accepting, letting it trickle down within me to my stomach, the region of the body ancient Greeks believed to be the seat of emotions. It tasted like star spice and earth’s milk, cool, musky, and potent beyond belief. My body rippled with the sensation of taking it in, my senses unfurled like a blossom in fast-forward, and my entire consciousness felt as clear and green as Eden.
“It won’t have the same effect on you as it has on me,” Hermogenes was saying. “For myself, it eases the terrible weight of my curse, and allows me to forget nearly everything but what is immediately at hand and those things relevant to the moment. It’s hard telling what it will do for you. For some people, the Absinthe is no different from another spirit, for some it is no different from water. Others pass into a green haze and speak only in horrible ionic tetrameters, remembering nothing they said when they return. Believe me, they are terrible to listen to.”
I tried to experiment with lining up an ionic tetrameter in my head, but had to give up beaten.
“Now for me,” Hermogenes said, “Like the true hedonists, the greatest pleasures are those of the mind. The surest pleasure is the clarity of partial oblivion, when I can set down my curse and forget the weight of near infinite knowledge. But within that pleasure, I have another great pleasure. The fleeting moments of natural learning that come sometimes when reading. If I have drunk of the Absinthe, and begin reading at a great pace, some times I can pick up enough speed that I am not only able to loose my knowledge of the extraneous, but also my knowledge of what is near at hand. At that moment, I have the immense pleasure of actually being able to learn things again before I know them.”
His majestic face slumped almost imperceptibly, and he looked down and then back up at me in the face. “But I’ve lived so long with the pleasures of the mind. I need something again to remind me of the pleasures of Life. If the strongest things are the unities that allow separate things to come together to one within them, like fibers to rope, chords to music, rules to chess, and members to a body, then it would follow that the greatest pleasures are not those of the mind or the body, and neither even of the soul. The strongest pleasures would be only those that interact with all three. The greatest pleasure would be that of life. If this life is the context for proving one way or another what a human is, then surely playing the drama out will reveal to us more about ourselves than will discussing our beliefs on the subject around a fire-side. If we are the stage writers and actors proving to a watching cosmos what it is that humanity is and does, we’d better watch out we don’t spend all our time arguing about the script. I’m going to throw the heart into the mix to, and go so far as to say the greatest pleasures are those of the body and mind together when they have accomplished in reality a belief of the heart about nature of the soul. Or when the soul, the heart, the mind, the body have all communicated and agreed together as the result of a metaphysical and nonabstract conjunction. That’s why, of course, the greatest of these is love. Love is one thing that does not leave any realm of reality untouched. It arises as either a call or a response withing the soul, gains intensity from the heart, direction from the mind, and physical reciprocation in the body. Love is binding yourself together in the only way which makes sense of a cup of cold water, every preceding impulse which delivered it, and the entire dialectical history of cause and effect that resulted in the water, the cup, and a thirsty person.”
“I’m skeptical”, Sir Alfred said, in a blasé tone of voice that made both me and Hermogenes shout with laughter. “You had me lost until the dialectical history of cause and effect. Thanks for tossing me in that little life-saver, I’ll do my best to cling to it and get safely through without drowning in your sea of unions and simplicities. I’m a fan of love too of course,” Alfred held out his bowl like a thirsty person, “But you can skip the water.”
“A great point! The greatest pleasures are not only unions but simplicities,” cried Hermogenes, “Or least they must be remembered and counted upon only as simplicities. Even on the greatest pleasures and especially on them we cannot hinge the weight of complexity. Take this Absinthe,” Hermogenes uncorked a green stream of Absinthe into Sir Alfred’s bowl, and handed it back to him straight, “It is an immense pleasure because in interacts with not only your body, but also your soul and your mind. Yet it cannot deliver to you anything that is not already within in you, and should not be counted on to do so. It may take some things away, like your constraint of nearly infinite knowledge or your ability to speak in anything but ionic tetrameter, but it will not bare the weight any final absolution. The great pleasures of simplicity and union must be respected, and not violated, for they are squandered if not entered into rightly or if they are allowed to interact only with one part of the human. Everything must be included.
“And that is why,” he said leaping up and knocking both his knees on the edge of the table, “Adventure also is so intoxicating. It appeals to every part of you, your heart, your soul, your mind, and your body. Not one of those is an adequate instrument with which to understand reality. But all together? We can maybe get close!” He dodged back and forth between us and the hut, ladling us all another bowl of Absinthe, re-corking it, and carrying everything back within the grotto. He strode about very animated and bustling, bringing out and putting on shoes, locating a walking stick, and instructing the goats on what they should do when he was gone. I thought that beyond gestalts, simplicities and true hedonism, or well, perhaps because of them, he was clearly very excited to have something to go out and do. I’m sure it had been just him, his goats, his books and his Absinthe for far too long.
Thinking about gestalts, I again remembered that dream I had the night before. Its emotions haunted me, and I realized they were the same emotions I had heard in what Hermogenes said about unities. I felt the dream again, myself and somehow also a bird more blue than the deepest skies flying below endlessly layered skyscapes of vivid September, swirling up and up in heights of color. Below us was the grayest gray of worlds, that we knew was there, and somehow flew in and above at the same time but without ever seeing it. For our eyes were somehow only upwards, and we flew between, singing with everything our flight. Maybe everything around was dying, but if so, then the death itself was only a shout of life. I ached with the memory.
I saw then with wakefulness, how primitive I was, how spiritually unevolved and soulishly primevial. If for Alfred going to wake the Fall meant only a chance test his theories of magiterialism and do magic by merging his complexity with simplicity, then for me it meant only an attempt to find emotional completion by hinging the weight of meaning and complexity upon experience. For both of us, the trip was an attempt to make our dreams come true. Both a wonderful and dangerous thing if either we should fail or succeed. After you’ve thought of everything, or thought of nothing, and located your dream, to truly succeed, you must then delocate it, and carry on anyway, without thought of whether or not it can come true. Everything that is sought for itself will turn to dust, and everything must be sought in the context of something greater. Love is a faith that is kept through the cycle of mystery, reason, and mystery again.
I wanted to say all this to Alfred, but he and Hermogenes were in an absolute frolic of setting about a departure. They had nothing left to do for themselves but leave, so of course they joyfully prodded me into motion, Hermogenes jerking me up by the hand, and Alfred exuberantly biting at my ankles. I was glad the goats were busy closing up the little stone huts, or I’m sure they would have been charging me too.
The three of us set off capering out the lane and down the zig zag trail. Alfred doing hilarious acrobatics and Hermogenes sliding sideways on a long spill of loose gravel, trailing his walking stick down behind him as a ballast. We reached the road, and lit into a dead sprint for as many yards as we could take. I was surprised to find I had less breath than either Alfred or Hermogenes, and lagged out early into a walk, wracked with breath, and dust, and life.
We reached the place where the road turned in against the mountain, and its great leg jutted down into the sea. We clambered down off the road, and into a ravine that should have been damp with a vague trickle of water, but was only hard burnt stone and dust. We lowered ourselves down the incline, sometimes having to balance in the narrow places between rocks. Alfred had the hardest time, since he was the shortest, and sometimes had to go far out on the ridge to our left and pick his way through the brush and hillside to climb back down and meet us. To our right the ravine reared up steeply into cliff, and the rock gave way from granites and sand stones completely to a black ingenious rock formation, worn and ancient. Weird crystal formations wove tight patterns through fissures in the rock. In a near-chimney between two formations were worn bracing holds, embedded into the rock.
“Herm, here we are,” Grunted Hermogenes. “I’d better go first in case of any surprises.” He tied the leather thong on his walking stick to his belt, and started climbing. Alfred was picking his way toward us around fir trees and hard fire-loving vegetation. I just reaching up my hands and feet for the first holds, when Hermogenes turned and looked back down on me from about ten or fifteen feet. “You better give Sir Alfred a ride up, he won’t be wide enough to span the foot holds.” Remembering our ride on the moped, the dryer parts of my heart blanched a little, but I crouched down and said. “Up you get!” I had expected Alfred to somehow cling on like a back pack, but no such luck. In a bound he lurched up on top of my shoulders and sat on his haunches, wrapping his fore-paws around my fore-head, his chin looking out over my face and his body draped down the back of my head. I saw an image of what we must look like, and collapsed against the side of the wall groaning in laughter. “You know what we look like?” I said, “An Egyptian magi in an ugly yellow dog mask.”
Alfred yelped and twisted to keep from being crushed against the wall. “Who cares! I told you, I’m not an imitationist! I’m a pragmatist! Quit trying to laugh me off your head and get me higher!”
Sputtering and complaining, I made my way up the chimney, finding it surprisingly easy to climb, even with 35 five pounds of ugly medium sized yellow dog on my neck. We caught up with Hermogenes on a ledge that was accessible from the chimney, and followed him out along it till it terminated in a knobby boulder above which another chimney rose, but steeper and spiral cased. Hermogenes lept with the agility of a goat, and landed on the boulder, his hands in the first holds of the chimney. I braced myself at the edge of the ledge, and tried think how I would get both Alfred and myself across onto the boulder. With the extra weight on my head, it would certainly take some sort of at least strategic if not philosophical balancing. “Alfred, I’m going to crouch down to jump, but a second before I jump you need to, and convert your potential energy to kinetic energy so your inertia doesn’t way me down. I’ll complete my crouch as you jump and spring back from your recoil and we’ll both make it across.” I swallowed hard, and felt Alfred swallowing hard to, deep with his diaphragm all the way down the back of my head.
“I see what your saying,” He said, “Every one of us must be his own leader. Even if we can help eachother out. Ok, I’m jumping, one, two, three. Crouch. Juh”
“Jump!” Alfred jumped. I jumped up in behind and overtaking his jump. We reeled onto the boulder, as I caught us in controlled fall against one of the hand holds of the chimney. Hermogenes was again far above us, and I climbed up the spiral as quickly as I could, wheezing with exertion, sweat, and dog hair. This climb was much more difficult than the last one, and Alfred began to smell faintly like fear as my muscles strained and pulled. Finally the chimney opened up into the shallow knob of a hill, and just over it a plateau where Hermogenes waited for us, radiant with joy and sweat. “You see through those fir trees where the cliff begins to rise again? In there are the four caves in which the four Seasons sleep.” I looked where he was pointing, and through the trees made out the opening of cave. All my skin crawled at the sight of it, and I thought the back of my neck was actually crawling off until I realized it was just Alfred. I shivered involuntarily three times, each one feeling almost like it was a sneeze.
We crept forward through the trees, all three of us unnecessarily hushed and careful. Four caves lay ahead of us, spaced out along the cliff wall. “Which cave is the Fall’s?” Alfred asked Hermogenes.
Hermogenes inched closer, “Herm, it’s the second I think. Yes, it goes backwards from here, Winter, Fall, Summer, and Spring all the way down where the cliff falls into the sea. I’ll go on and poke my nose in and do some reconnaissance. You two better wait here.”
Hermogenes stopped at the mouth of a the first cave, and listened. We couldn’t help ourselves, but crept along behind him and listened as well. From inside there came the sound of a vast snoring. Hermogenes winked back at us, and mouthed something about Winter snoring and hibernation. He paused listening at the second cave, peering in for only a moment, before walking around it and going up to the third.
Alfred opened his mouth, and shut it again, looking very foolish and important. “Now here’s the plan,” he confided to me, “We won’t need Hermogenes from here. I’ll join the side of simplicity by quoting an ancient and cryptic ode to the Fall, while you join yourself to the side of complexity by reciting the formulas for atmospheric pressure and temperature changes on the first meteorological day of Fall. So you don’t mess up, I’ll write the formulas in that patch of loose sand at the mouth of the cave, and you speak them as I write. We’ll take turns, I’ll write a formula, then as you spout it out and erase it while I spout out a stanza and write you another formula. We’ll be sure to wake the Fall with that delicately complete balance of complexity and simplicity. Why, with such magic, we may even conjure the Muse!”
Rows of objections lined up in my mind. “But you don’t even believe in the Muse! And even if you wrote out the formulas I still would never be able to read the math parts of them, even if I could the Greek and English!” Horrified at trying to conjure the Muse with ancient verse and barometric pressures, and remembering the flash I had seen at Hermogenes’ house, “You’ll never conjure the Muse like that,” I blurted, “For all you know the Muse is conjuring us!”
“Then pay the Muse no mind!” Barked Alfred, paying me no mind. “I’ll just start us off with a little incantation of initiation, explaining to ourselves and the Universe why we are here, and warming up the side of my simplicity with a little poetic exercise. I’d suggest you do a little exercise to, why not go through the times tables?” He said his voice dripping horridly with everything I’d know better when I was older.
His face contorted, and his eyes rolled back in an expression that might have been ecstatic if it hadn’t been so ghastly. With an impossibly forced enunciation of meter, he stilted out,
“Today we join duality
a dog and man, best company.
Complex and simple
the firmament wrinkle
and bend apart normality
To find a…..
He was interrupted by a terrible eruption from the third cave. A huge gaunt wraith of an old man, clearly senile and see-through, was beating at Hermogenes at the mouth of the cave, trying to take away his staff in a flutter of flapping skin and swirling dust.
“Compose yourself Summer!” shouted Hermogenes desperately, “Its just me! Hermogenes! You used to come by my place sometimes at the end of spring when you had just woken up disguised as a goat buyer to find out from me the news of the world that had happened while you slept!”
Alfred and I rushed up on the pair, one of us bearing his teeth, and the other going into a boxing stance. We held our poses right up the edge of the whirlwind of old men, where we stopped and looked at eachother awkwardly. Alfred dropping out of his boxing stance onto all fours, and me unbearing my teeth.
Before we could take up our rightful and effective positions of attack, the Summer let go of Hermogenes, slumped into ash-grey folds through which you could see the rock behind him, and squinted at him. “Hermogenes? Why I thought you were another pesky geologist come poking around in the caves looking for crystals.” He stopped, “Well now I know who you are, but how did do you know who I was?”
“Hermogenes knows everything!” Snarled Alfred.
“Except when I’ve had Absinthe,” Laughed Hermogenes, “Then I’m blessed to forget most things but what are at hand.”
“You know everything?” Said the Summer looking closely at Hermogenes. “Would you know how to fix the Fall’s alarm clock? She can’t wake up without it, and I can’t wake her! I must be asleep when she wakes up, or she’ll be frightfully angry.”
“Of course!” Said Hermogenes, “I still know everything that is near at hand, and without the terrible weight of all the rest of my knowledge, I can actually put my knowledge at hand to use! But what’s wrong with the Fall’s alarm clock?”
The Summer looked decrepitly embarrassed, and turned into the cave so we couldn’t see his face. “Right this way,” he said, “It’s all in my front room, I’ve just about gotten it back together. You see, I disabled it a week or two ago because I wasn’t quite ready to go to bed yet, and I haven’t been able to quite get it running again properly.”
We rounded the corner, and all across the floor was strewn heaps of crystals and cut rocks, levers and shafts and cogs. Basins of distilled herbs bubbling vaguely, and pots of mastic resin I assumed were to hold the whole thing together. In the center of the floor, stood a gaunt skeleton of thin rock pillars and trellis work of smooth wood, oozing resin and crystals.
Hermogenes gaped at the wreckage, horrified. I pushed at a crystal shaft the width of my wrist with my foot, and sighed. Even with Hermogenes’ complete knowledge of things near at hand, the Summer had made such a mess of the alarm clock, I was sure it would take days to set the thing aright. The summer squatting down and creaking and fidgeting, picking things up and setting them back down again and muttering to himself.
Alfred though, was the only one unperturbed. “Ah!” He cried ecstatically, vastly comfortable in the stew of complexity and barely capable of keeping himself from getting down and rolling in the pile of loose springs and crystals. “Timekeeping!” He yipped, “That wonderful past time of the orderly Universe! I tell you gentlemen, here lies true beauty, asleep at our feet, waiting for us to awaken her! Oh the complexity! The disparity! Order! Discipline! Function!” He shrieked, and began picking up pieces too, muttering, growling gently, organizing things into neat piles and rows.
Hermogenes attacked the squat little monster in the center of the floor directly, dismantling and rearranging. “Herm, this won’t work. That’s not going to do. Better take this off and save it to put over there.”
At first the Summer tried to help, but his fingers were arthritic and so vaguely material that things would keep slipping through them and he couldn’t get a grip on anything. I thought it looked like Sir Alfred and Hermogenes we’re making good progress on their own, and I new I wouldn’t be of any help, so I walked outside and sat down in the sun at the mouth of the cave. The scrub firs and cypress were stirring indefinitely in the near-stillness of the air off the sea. I looked out at the Aegean, seeing the faint outline of the mountains of Turkey off in the east, the expanses of blue, the vast blocks of gold that had fallen off the afternoon sun and into the sea. I looked back over the day, and it seemed to stretched out for miles and miles farther even the horizon. I was pleasantly horrified by how far away was the morning, and how much life had happened in between.
Over the next half hour, I kept going back in to see how Alfred and Hermogenes were getting along with the alarm clock. They were making progress, as far as I could tell, but still to busy and excited to pay any attention to me, which I thought was a good thing. The Summer hovered over them, fluttering and drooping, utterly exhausted from having guests in his home cleaning things up and putting things to rights.
In another half hour, I dozing blissfully in the sun, when I woke up with Hermogenes leaning over and shaking me, saying “Hurry up! Hurry up!” bobbing around and flapping his wispy white beard. “We finished the alarm clock, and set it to go off in fifteen minutes! Come help me carry it into the cave of the Fall!”
I leaped up and rushed inside where Sir Alfred and the Summer were scrabbling with the alarm clock, trying to push it toward the door of the cave. It was set on a thick round base of dark ancient wood, with thin stone columns and a second circle of wood on top. Its basic outline reminded me of an hourglass, but between the columns was a riot of kaleidoscopic carnival that made my eyes hurt. Canisters of ferment bubbled, crystals twinkled and twitched, cambers pulsed feebly. The thing looked fine enough, but was brutishly heavy. Hermogenes and I carried it out into the sunshine, squinting in the minute glares of a hundred crystals, and over to the mouth of the second cave. We crept into the mouth of the Fall’s cave, weirdly quite and self-aware, trying to breath quietly and avoid looking eachother in the eye. “Here, here,” Said the Summer pointing to a corner in a front room of the cave very much like his own. Grunting gently, Hermogenes and I set down the massive clock, and backed away toward the entrance. I looked back into the gloom of the cave, and the back of my neck really did crawl off and went scuttling away across the floor crab-like, trying to get back outside of the cave.
In the rear of the cave there was a hum of static and electricity, particles accelerating and bouncing off one another, free electrons sizzling about in the air. Waves of chills came over me with more life than the hottest day in July, I knew in the back of the cave, lay the Fall, poised in her sleep, wound down like spring and gathering strength like a dawn held back by a dam of climbing mountains. With all the spare energy in the room, with and the edgeness, with all that was about to happen, the clock began to pick up speed. The fermentations bubbled faster and faster, the crystals creaked and ricocheted against their casings, the cogs ticked and the cambers whirred. I fled out of the cave, where the poor old Summer was torn between effusively thanking Hermogenes and Alfred and darting back to his cave. He looked up at me with blank terror, rushing out of the cave with my face crawling and hair sizzling on end. “The Fall’s coming!” He and I shouted together. The Summer made a dash for his cave, with little bits of ash and skin blowing off him in the sudden wind that had gathered, fierce and bright. He turned at the mouth of his cave, quavering, terrified. “Goodnight!” he screeched, and plunged headlong into his long-due rest and peace and darkness.
“That clocks about to go.” I yelled tripping over Alfred and catching myself on Hermogenes. “Nonsense,” said Alfred, picking up the back of my neck quivering behind a rock, brushing it off and handing it to me. “I calibrated the alarm mechanisms myself, and they aren’t due to go off for another seven minutes. My count.”
“You’re right,” said Hermogenes peering into the cave, there is Something waking up in there. Why I think the Fall was so overdue that she is nearly awake already, more awake, in fact that her Alarm clock, since it is so far behind. I think she is waking it up, and the two will go off together. She’s so late now that she will wake up at the earliest possible moment, and is even now exerting her energy on that clock, moving it as well to go off at the earliest possible moment so that she can awake.”
“Poor old Summer when she does,” snickered Alfred, “I do hope he’s aslee…”
There was a green explosion. Crystals and bits of the alarm clock whistled passed us out of the cave. Thin smoke spewed from the cave like steam, drab grey, and vivid orange. The Fall burst from the tomb, endlessly old with all the years of her turning, yet endlessly young in her birth, and with all the edge of her waiting. Her hair was as black as the dress on death’s grandmother at his funeral, and liquid lithe with a keen dying life of its own. Her aura filled the air like the wings of a phoenix arising from the ashes of a five-hundred year pyre. Her mantel was thin wool, a flight of migrant birds. Her dress was sweeping linen, all the leaves of Autumn. Her very skin bristled with the crackling life of changing colors, of dying embers, of conversations far to full to be remembered.
All this was a blur of motion, upward, outward, seeming to fill the earth. For a moment, a sacred second, the Fall paused and cast her radiance of glorious face and rising eye upon us. And everything within me rose up, fell down, cried out, was silent. But she was gone, in a flight of brilliance, swirling the sky into a collage of wind and color above us.
In silence, we three adventures numbly left the edge of the cave, and in silence climbed back down the way we had came. Alfred once again rode down on my head, and this time I barely noticed him. Still not speaking, we hiked out of the ravine, and up to the road, where we only flicked little glances at one another’s eyes, to see again if the others really understood, if they to had seen the Fall, and were ensconced as well in wonder. We trudged to the east, and back up the hill toward Hermogenes’ dwelling, every atom electrified, and our souls in the ache of world-weariness. And above us, weird wings of migrant birds chanted the haunting trail of their spells.
Outside Hermogenes’ stone huts we parted. Hermogenes bent long, wrapping his leathery arms around Alfred’s scraggly yellow neck. He kissed Alfred on both cheeks, then stood up and kissed me. We looked long into eachother’s faces, our eyes remembering everything between us, everything that we had seen and said.
I turned away, and walked the moped out the lane and down the hill, hands on both brakes. Alfred walked beside me, slow, knightlike, dignified. At the last slope of the hill, I let go the brakes, and kickstarted on the downgrade, waiting at the bottom for Alfred to climb on behind me and batten his canines into my beltloop. He hopped up, and we wobbled out onto the road heading north-east, all the air and sky above us sizzling with the color and spell of Autumn, in front of us Plomari and the mountains, and behind us the dear old sun, dying naked in the West.