When consciousness returned, I found that I was quite alone. The two glasses were still on the table (still sitting neatly on their coasters), but added to the questionable burden of a even more questionable piece of furniture was a neatly folded piece of paper. The table, of course, was still sitting next to the chair that I was resting comfortably in, in spite of the circumstances surrounding its appearance. The chair (now singular, which did nothing for my current state of mind) was still on the shore of the lake, the existence of which quite frankly in light of the recent past, I was likewise beginning to have my doubts . The lake was on the edge of the field of grass and flowers. Besides one piece of rather existential furniture however, the most noticeable things missing were the man and the dog.
I once knew a man who said he could run an entire factory with a man and a dog. Actually, the person in question thought that the factory would run itself, with the man required to do little other than monitor the factory's operation and keep up with any required maintenance. The dog in turn, was only there in turn to bite the man if he fell asleep while on the job. It never really worked out the way hoped for by either the man or the owners of the factory however, as the dog fell asleep too. This means nothing to the story, but it’s a cute story and I wanted to throw it in.
Still feeling a little out of sorts, I decided that drinking some of the water was the first order of business. I admit that I had some misgivings as to the contents of a suddenly appearing glass as I lifted it, but was forced to admit that it tasted just like water was supposed to (see coffee flavored coffee). That taste wasn’t anything special like fancy domestic or foreign bottled water, where there just seems to be something missing from it. It also wasn’t that tap water that you sometimes find either just doesn’t taste right or tastes really bad. It didn’t taste anything like water from a well either. It was just that really great water taste that you find every once in a while that refreshes you instantly. Anyway, regardless of the taste, I felt better after drinking it. I was still a little thirsty however, and there was still the mug of beer on the table, so I decided to sample it as well.
OK, so I probably would have taken a drink of the beer whether I was thirsty or not, for the drinking of beer is not always a matter of thirst, but sometimes (and in this case, quite likely) a matter of necessity. I won’t go on about how good it was, in spite of suffering from the dual handicaps of being cold and not being Guinness. Beer is something that's easy to become quite passionate about, and I’m not sure that I am ready to spend the time on it right now, something for which I am sure that many of you are extremely grateful. I will happily admit that it was equally refreshing however, and managed to overcome its handicaps well enough to be worth finishing. Now beyond being refreshed, I now felt down right relaxed. I therefore decided that now was as good a time as any to deal with the only other item on the table ... the note.
I unfolded it carefully. Enough strange things had been happening already today, and accepting a minimum amount of continued risk seemed to be no more than a healthy precaution, even if the only apparent danger was the random chance of a paper cut. The paper had the feel of heavy formal stationary, and as I completed its unfolding, I noticed that at the top there was a coat of arms. I assumed that it was the Macundo coat of arms because of having spoken to someone called Prince Phillip of Macundo. My assumption was confirmed when I saw the word “Macundo” printed very clearly below the coat of arms. I can't say that I know much about coats of arms or heraldry, though I've heard and read things over the years about their symbolic nature that I no longer remember. But even my relative ignorance on the subject could not keep me from feeling that there was something strange about this particular one.
There was a shield in the center, which seemed fairly standard for these sorts of things; with nothing unusual about its lozenge shape, single point at the bottom, or top that had three. The color of the shield was not out of place as far as I could tell, being a deep green that was somehow soothing. And there was a helmet from a suit of armor on the face of the shield with the visor closed and a bright orange plume sticking out of the top of it which likewise didn't see out of place. My misgivings came when what I originally took for crossed spears behind the helmet turned out, in fact, to be crossed matchsticks. There was no discernible motto however, which I had always thought was a major part of heraldry, though as I said, my experience was somewhat limited. I didn’t let the minor strangeness affect me however as I considered it however. (I had already experienced far worse.) Maybe his family were the “Keepers of the King's Fire” or some such nonsense, and this became part of their family crest. I must admit that after a while I found the overall appearance rather appealing in some strange way. At least it wasn't something warlike, obscene, or ridiculous with dragons and griffins designed to intimidate opponents (and normally failing miserably). Enough of the crest however, it only meant something because it was on the note anyway. The note itself was simple, and showed a fine sensibility for my lapse of consciousness.
I hope that you enjoyed your nap. This place is always so calm and peaceful that I often find myself in the same condition. When you are ready, please feel free to join us up at the Manor House. You will find it just over the hill if you follow the lake shore towards the sunset.
“Great, “ I mumbled to myself, “Now I have not only to try and figure out how a dog can speak but I probably won't be able to sleep for days trying to figure out how he manages to hold a pen in his paw, let alone write; and whether he's right-pawed or left-pawed. On top of that, I have to swallow the shame of having to admit that a dog has penmanship (penmuttship?) that's quite a bit better than mine.”
My minor dilemmas aside, I was greatly refreshed from the beverages, and well rested from what had so graciously been called “my nap”. There was nothing else that I could see to do other than to accept this kind invitation (or face a night out in a field by a lake alone). I took the final swallow of the beer, slowly got to my feet, and made my way down to the shoreline before turning towards the sunset. I was determined to follow the shore all of the way around, both because I love the water, and because I was not in any hurry to pursue this already astonishing situation.
Some people say that there is no point in delaying the inevitable. However, these are usually people who lead such boring lives that they wouldn’t know the inevitable if it wore a sign around its neck, jumped out, and bit them on the ass. Having faced the inevitable far more times than I would have cared to, I always say that there is no point in putting off until tomorrow what you can put off indefinitely. Then again, I seem to be one of those people who leads a life that's far too interesting for my own good.
I was tempted to turn and look back at where I'd been, but I knew somehow that the chair, the table, and the glasses would all be gone. (The note I had in my pocket, so it couldn't get away from me. Or so I thought, reaching in ... no, it was still there.) Since seeing another of these all too frequent transformations would probably cause me to faint again, and since discretion was the better part of something or other, I took hold of myself (figuratively of course) and locked my gaze on the shoreline ahead. The shoreline soon joined with a narrow path, so I assumed, based on the directions that I had been given, that I was to follow this path to my ultimate destination.
It was an easy walk, and one that I was thoroughly enjoying. I like walking when I have the time, though I don’t do it for exercise. Any such artificial regimens are usually ways for people who want you to believe that they are too busy to have a life; and kill some of the inevitable excess time trying to convince you of it, while they waste even more of it simultaneously. At least that is what I tell myself as a way to cover my inherent laziness. I walk because when I do, it allows me to take a little extra time to gaze at the world going on around me, enjoy it for what it is, and process random thoughts while doing so (while occasionally enjoying a cigar of course).
This felt like one of those walks, and I found myself enjoying the sun, the breeze, and the smell of the fields around me. Again, there was no wildlife in sight, but maybe my approach scared anything that lived there away. Since I have always felt that this is a better situation than having the local wildlife take any serious interest me, as a meal or otherwise, I was content with the situation. I was mildly curious as to what kind of creatures might call this place home, but not so much as to tempt the Fates. Besides, the landscape itself was rather soothing and the walk was stimulating. I was setting my typically brisk pace, unconcerned and not really paying attention to the time or distance that was passing. In spite of my rather unusual situation, getting my feet moving left me surprisingly unconcerned with what might they might be leading me to.
The path began to separate itself from the lake, and rise from the shore. The slope of what could only be termed a hill, as it passed up from the shoreline, was gentle enough that the effort required to move up the grade was no real effort at all. The change in elevation, though gradual, must have been significant however. It would have had to be to be to keep from view the magnificent structure that was now becoming visible in the distance. How can I describe what they called the Manor House? If I said that it had all of the grandness and style of one of the great halls of Europe or the British Isles, would you understand the magnitude of the structure? If I said that it had aspects of the architecture that were Gothic in some places and more Tudor in others, would that be too confusing or just allow you to see how such contrasts can be joined into harmony? If I told you that the worst parts of the front lawn and gardens of the place would cause a greens keeper at the grandest country club in the world to die of terminal envy, would you understand the beauty and grandeur that this place contained? If I told that in spite of all the size and sweep of this place, that it really gave out an intense and unmistakeable sense of home and security, would you understand? It was so much of all of this and more, that even now I find it difficult to put into words. When I think back on it, so many remarkable details of it are called to mind ... each memory bringing back its own special smile.
That my first impression of the place remains in my memory as a collage of fear, wonder, and sheer amazement is no surprise to me. Neither is the fact that the closer that I approached and the more detail that I could pick out, the more fascinated I became. Stained glass windows abounded, giving it in some ways, a spiritual but illusory aura of a cathedral. Gargoyles! There must have been at least six visible from the front. They were each subtly different from each other, but my overall impression of them was that they were particularly horrible and magnificent. I found myself staring at the one of them closest to the nearest door in particular, when much to my horror; it stood up from its crouched position and stretched. The damn things were alive! Close to fainting again, I stared at the figure as it competed its movement, seemed to yawn, and finally resumed its seated position. I wondered how such creatures could exist. I wondered how they came to be and what their lives might be like. I wondered how they could crouch on a roof all day without cramping up. I wondered if the Prince or Arturo had bothered to let someone know that I was an invited guest and not something to be killed, or killed and eaten. (Somehow the latter seemed far worse, in spite of not knowing whether they ate at all, let alone whether they ate people; since it implied I would end my material existence on some place that I knew nothing about, and as a decaying Gargoyle turd). I wondered if I had clean underwear on.
My mother always worried that I would be killed in an accident, and I wouldn’t have clean underwear on. I wondered how she might feel about the whole Gargoyle turd thing. I also wondered why, as a dead person, I should be embarrassed or even care about the state of my underwear, but I was. After all, my mother loved me and would have never had such a concern, were it unwarranted.
While I was thinking these deep (and rather bizarre) thoughts, my eyes locked on the stone guardians on the roof, waiting for them to pounce; I of course tripped on on the first thing at my feet that I wasn’t paying attention to and barely kept myself from falling flat on the ground (you know, like a Gargoyle turd). For a change that day, there was nothing terribly unusual about the object that I had tripped over. It was in fact, just a rock, and there seemed to be a number of them stretched out in either direction from where I stood. They seemed to me at the time to form some kind of line, at least around this side of the property. As it turned out, they formed a border that went all the way around. This was the border inside of which the gargoyle guards operated; but I didn’t know that at the time.
Soon there were other stones at my feet, but these ones flat. They began as what seemed a random scattering just inside the line of border rocks, but began to form a more coherent pattern as they approached the front of the house. The pattern soon coalesced into a formal walkway about two hundred feet from the building, and finished as a couple of stone steps leading up to what I now took to be the main entrance of the house. This entrance was in fact, a set of double doors, and they were magnificent in both scale and design. At what seemed a little over ten feet high, and at about five feet across each, they appeared to be made of thick planks wood, held together and reinforced with a metal banding. I have no idea what kind of wood it was, but was struck by the grain of the wood, which stood out in sharp contrast from the rest, almost like the stripes of a zebra. The metal banding was of a dull black color, but there was some type of inner sheen to the material that looked like no metal I had ever seen before. Huge bolts or rivets of the same material attached the metal to the wood. There were huge door knockers (also made of this black metal) on the center of each of the doors, and since there was no guard or other person waiting out front to greet or announce me, I determined to use them to get someone’s attention. I didn’t however. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did attempt to use them, but before I could take firm hold of one of them, a tiny voice to my right called out.
“Hey dummy, over here,” the voice said.
I looked over, and saw no one. There was however, just at the right side of the doorway, a pull chain with a “Pull Me & Enter” sign attached to the bottom of it. I couldn’t tell if the voice had come from the sign or the pull chain. I can say that based on my earlier experience of the day, neither would have surprised me at this point. I didn’t take the time to find out however. I just pulled the chain.
“Thanks,” squeaked a voice from that same general direction (and whose source I pointedly ignored), and the doors opened silently opened. There appeared to be no one and nothing that caused the doors to open, but the way things had been going, I was pretty much prepared for that. I was equally prepared when after entering, they closed behind me by themselves, doing so with a satisfying and rather solid thump that left no doubt as to just how truly massive they were.
The entry hall I was now in was on a scale similar to the doors, and was sufficiently large enough to be quite imposing; but in spite of the scale there was again a subtle air of comfort about it. Maybe it was the wall hangings, which were landscapes instead of the martial scenes that you would have expected in a royal castle or great house. Maybe it was the cheerful flowers set out in crystal bowls on the small tables against the walls around me. Maybe it was the sunlight falling through a stained glass skylight above me, or the smell of the freshly cleaned and oiled wood floors below me. Maybe it was just all of these things combined; but whatever the reason, I felt as relaxed as I had since I had first discovered the lake. In other words, I felt like I was probably being set up for a big fall.
What is it about human nature that when we reach such a calm and positive emotional state, most of us begin looking for the dark cloud on the horizon? Why do we all start looking around for the man behind the curtain like in the Wizard of Oz? My gut feeling is that it's a combination of the fact that we have all had more than one of those pleasant situations blow up in our face in the past when we let our guard down; and because we are all of us, more than a little paranoid. Well just to set the record straight, I can tell each and every one of you from personal experience that I need not get into here that regardless of what you think, the world is not in fact out to get you. Quite frankly it couldn’t for the most part care less about you and your little problems. I know this in fact, because the world is out to get me; and if this story doesn’t help to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, I don’t know what it would take to do so to your satisfaction.
I wasn’t relaxed enough therefore, that I was going to be stupid enough to just start wondering around the place. After all, if there were living gargoyles guarding the outside of the place, lord only knows what might be performing the same function inside. I was therefore planning on standing right where I was and waiting patiently for something or someone to happen until I became rooted to the floor. It was a good plan, well thought out and with every reasonable expectation of success. Inevitably therefore, I never got the chance to execute it. By the time I had taken in everything around me and formulated my plan, someone approaching from a hallway to my left.
Someone indeed! Saying that she was someone is like saying that the Mona Lisa is a nice picture, or that the Sistine Chapel is OK for a church, that … well you get the idea. She stood about 5’10”, but surprisingly didn’t seem to be tall. Reddish brown hair surrounded what art and song had long since given up trying to describe as a perfect face; and with the most startlingly green eyes that I had ever seen. She was dressed in a long loose green jacket-like dress that perfectly complimented the color of her hair and eyes and her figure, and stretched down to within inches of the floor, where a pair of low heeled boots were barely visible. Then she smiled at me, and every whatever thought or reservation that I might have had faded. I know that I was standing there with a foolish look on my face (which is not an expression in fact, but simply the way I look), not that I noticed or cared. If she happened to notice, she was much too nice to mention it.
I think that smiling women have that effect on most men, and beautiful smiling women even more so. I can’t say for sure of course, because of the rather limited experience that I have with smiling women, beautiful or not. This is not to say that I haven't met a few in my lifetime and been amazed each time at such encounters. Strangely enough, I have found that they are the same as any other women under that sometimes all too perfect exterior. Some have great charm to go with the beauty. Some are as flawed inside as they are perfect outside. First meetings with such women however, tend to test the metal of even the best and most confident of men (let alone poor schmucks like me). Perhaps that’s why you hear about this type of woman having a difficult time finding men to date. Most men are intimidated beyond the point of rational thought, speech, and behavior; and simply find it easier to fade away when confronted by such situations and women. As for me, I have long lived by the concept: “I understand that there are better things in life than the sight and company of a beautiful woman, but when one is around, I forget what they are.”
“You must be Sean,” she said as she reached me, and that seemed to shake me out of the seeming trance that I was in. It was not just her voice, melodic though its tones were. I think perhaps that I was brought round by a touch of anger as well. Perhaps the frustration of seemingly everyone knowing who I was, while I knew no one and nothing about what was going on around me was finally getting to me. I was in fact able to stay angry with her for almost a full two seconds (a new personal best for me, by the way) It is almost impossible after all, to remain mad at a woman that beautiful longer than that unless she's telling you to get lost. She wasn't.
“How do you do. My name is Lorelei,” she said extending her hand. “If you would like to freshen up a bit I would be happy to show you to the rooms already set aside for you. Then perhaps you might like to wait in the library, where you can sit quietly for a bit before dinner. If you will follow me...”
It is of course needless to say that I probably would have followed almost anywhere (hormones will out in the end), but her suggestions also seemed logical to me. I think that there was little doubt that I could stand a bit of cleaning up before I met anyone else around here who probably knew who I was (or any thing for that matter). I also admit to a good deal of curiosity where this particular woman was concerned. She obviously wasn’t some member of the staff, yet she took the time to greet me in person and see to my comfort; which both flattered and intrigued me. Understand, I was not panting after this woman, though only a fool or a blind man could overlook her charms or pass on any invitations extended. I would be lying however if I didn’t admit to you that there was some inner quality and presence about this woman that contributed to my acquiescence. Analysis was not really required however. Like many before me I'm sure, it was enough to be in her presence and accept was she was willing to give her company.
Now I should also freely admit here that much of my lack of understanding stems from the fact that I am not a wise man when it comes to the ways of women (nor most anything else, come to think of it). Any man who claims such wisdom is a liar, a fool, or trying to sell you something. My own case might simply stem from the fact that my experience with women is much more limited than I would like to admit to. I think that this is true of most men, but few would own up to it. What this means is that while I like women a great deal, I long since gave up pretending to understand them.
I think, in fact, that women are the most wonderful things that God ever created. They come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and temperaments; and (with rare exception) they all have some rare and wonderful gift to give to the world. Being with a woman in any situation is one of the best things about being alive. (No I don’t mean that way. Put your dirty mind away.) I also think that women are without a doubt the most frustrating things that God has ever created, though honesty demands I admit that this frustration is probably due to that same lack of understanding.
So when I say that I am not wise in regards to this subject, it means simply that. This is not to say that I am entirely foolish around women either. My parents took great pains with me in my youth to make sure that I understood at least some the social graces where the fairer sex is concerned. Polite behavior is an absolutely expected minimum, and gentlemanly behavior was the desired and achievable goal that was set before me in all such situations. That being said, I am force to comment on life in general and part of my particular problem with women these days in particular, the concept of equal rights for the gender. It saddens me that the fight for womens' equality became so misguided (in my opinion of course) that to some extent, it missed its message entirely.
There is no doubt that women should have equal opportunities in this world. There is also no doubt that equal pay for equal work is an absolute necessity. Anyone who thinks that they can effectively argue against these two premises is a non-evolved primate who with any luck, will not be allowed to reproduce by the very gender that he holds in disdain. The misguided part of the message however, came when women gave up their superior position in the social world in an attempt to achieve these basic rights. This single act has confused the hell out of men ever since. Should we offer an arm to a lady when walking together? Should we open doors for them? Should we let a lady enter a room first? Should we stand when a lady rises from a table or approaches it? Should we hold a chair out? Should we pick up the check?
As a consequence to this confusion, a very serious topic of discussion moved from the legitimate search for equality, to a redress of Victorian attitudes and discrimination. While there are truly valid points to be made and many are worthy of discussion when considering the historical record of society as a whole, they contribute nothing to finding future solutions or in any way effecting changes in that society. In the end, modern man is left with these issues to prey upon a mind already unable to cope with the subtle enigma that is woman. It should also be noted that the consideration of such quandaries by the modern man when confronted by dealing with these dilemmas significantly contributes to the often vague and confused look on his face. There are a number of other things that contribute to that look, some of them related to the relationships between men and women, but enough said. (Wow! That was a digression inside of a digression. Come on, you've got to be pretty impressed with that.)
None of this was running through my head as I followed her however. Quite frankly, I have no idea what, if anything, was going through my head. I simply walked quietly beside her down a hallway, attempting to focus on her words as she was telling me something about the paintings on the walls as we passed, though I must admit that caught up as I was in the spell of her presence, I can’t say that I remember any of the specifics of the conversation (and I probably should have been). The scenes were of famous scenes of battle from days long past (proof of what I said earlier about martial scenes being the standard decoration for such buildings). They were supposed to be filled with loyalty, honor, and glory. To me however, it always seemed that they were filled with dead and dying people, most of them far too young to be experiencing the end of their lives. At least I thought so until …
“That’s not entirely correct, my dear,” said the voice. “This battle was, in fact, fought some one hundred and sixty years ago. This issue, as you well know, was whether Phillip’s great-grandfather father John or his brother should ascend to the throne. John's cause was upheld in battle that day, and he ruled Macundo well and justly until his death. This was in fact, the last election decided in formal battle, and it was John who amended the process of election thereafter.”
“Thank you very much General,” Lorelei replied. “I’m sure that such accurate information will be essential to Sean if he is to resolve our current dilemma.”
Of course, by now you will have figured out that the painting was talking to Lorelei, and she was speaking to it. Well, at least one guy in the painting anyway, a little guy on a white horse holding a saber in what appeared to be their version of the ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’. You would be proud to note that I hadn’t even blinked during this short lecture and the courtesies exchanged, taking all of this in stride from my prior experiences with dogs and pull chains. As strange as everything else had been up to that point, this was the one that finally struck me as a bit bizarre. I couldn’t help but wonder how the artist felt while painting the picture, when one or more of the figures in the painting began to speak. Were they critical of his style? Were they in a hurry to have the canvas completed? Did they and could they help with the historical accuracy of the work? Was their thought independent, or were they limited by the knowledge of the painter? At least it seemed to me that all of this flashed through my head in the moments after the voice spoke. Then I was jarred back to reality by the phrase, “resolve our dilemma” that Lorelei had used when replying. I was about to ask a number of rather pointed questions as to what in the heck was meant by that phrase when we reached a door at the end of the hall.
“These will be your quarters here in the Manor House,” Lorelei said, as though my visit was nothing other than normal under the rules of this place. “Clothes for dinner in your size have been laid out for you on the bed. The library is at the other end of the hall, around the corner, and can be distinguished by the fact that like the main entrance, it's a double door. I will join you there in plenty of time to take you to the dinner.”
With that, she left me, and returned up the hall the way that she had come. I was naturally disappointed at her departure, as the period of sharing her company had seemed all too brief as far as I was concerned. I was consoled however, that our paths would be crossing again soon when she returned for me before dinner, and with luck I would be able to find ample excuses to be in her company later that evening. I turned, expecting the door to open for me (and proving how quickly the unusual can become commonplace). It did not however, and I banged my nose in proving that it wouldn't. My only inference from this was that perhaps doors to private quarters would need to be opened manually to maintain at least some sense of privacy. When I finished rubbing my bruised nose (and ego, though fortunately none were there to witness it), I finally managed to open the door to a simple suite of rooms with a bedroom and bath. They were well lit with natural light from a couple of large windows, and what appeared to be French doors that led to a small outside patio.
I cleaned up quickly, needing only to wash from the day’s short exercise (and the stink of fear of course), and returned to the bedroom. Having done so, I changed into a simple white shirt and dark suit that had been provided for me. A simple black tie of something that seemed to closely resemble silk was provided as well, in a design that I had become intimately familiar with over the years. I tied it with ease and no sense of pain or regret, having long ago become comfortable with such things. That all of this clothing fit perfectly neither surprised, nor disturbed me. I think that the only thing that would have surprised me at that point is if they hadn’t. Having made myself presentable in all respects, I made my way back up the hall and around the corner to the double doors that I had been directed to by the lovely Lorelei. I did not know when she intended to return and collect me, but I did not intend to be late for her appearance. As it turned out, I need not have been concerned.
While a number of things up until this point had surprised me, the library did not. I stopped just inside the doorway to drink in the entire atmosphere of the room before fully entering it, and was not disappointed. I love these kinds of rooms more than almost anything in the world. There is something magical about books, the rooms that they belong in, and that belong to them. I don’t know whether it is the knowledge contained in the reference tomes in such rooms, or just the magic of possibility in getting lost in the fantasies of fictional novels. Maybe it's both and more.
I have always loved to read and loved the written word in all of its forms. Libraries when done properly are like shrines or cathedrals to me. They are monuments to the accumulated knowledge and imagination of mankind. This one was, in fact, exactly what you would hope and expect of the library of a great home. It had shelves from floor to ceiling filled with what I assumed were leather bound books. (No I didn't assume that there were cows here, but leather can be made out of any animal skin, even that of talking animals.)
Why is it that you never see paperback books in private collections? I know that paperbacks don’t have the snob appeal of the traditional hard cover tome, but who can afford to purchase them in the quantity necessary to fill the proper library. I put it to you in fact, that without paperbacks not only would the written word not be spread nearly as far as it is today, but without them most of the authors in the world would be broke. Besides, even the Bible has been printed in a paperback edition, so you can’t say that there is any shame in it. Sorry, this is just one of those things that makes me both curious and annoyed.
There were rolling ladders attached to a rail top and bottom at the bookcases, so that the top shelves could be reached. There was that wonderful subdued lighting that all the best libraries have, that seems to come from everywhere and nowhere, and perfectly illuminates the room with a warm glow. A warm glow as well, could be felt from the circular fireplace that was to be found in the center of the room. The furniture filling the room was all massively built, without overwhelming the room itself. The seeming leather covered chairs matched the spines of the books, and each seat had its own small table and lamp. There was as well, a raised area in one corner with a massive desk and chair. The desk seemed to be made of the same marvelous wood that made up the front doors, and showed the same fineness of grain. The working surface of the desk was free of all paper and clutter. If this was used as the office of the king, prince, or prime minister, there was no untidiness or exposed state secrets to be found. The chair behind matched the scale and beauty of the desk, and it was only now that I noticed that it was not empty. Having been distracted by the nature of the room, I realized that I was not alone in the room, though I couldn't have wished more to be. There before me seated as if he were intimately familiar with the room, was my little British gentleman. I looked around quickly, hoping for an escape route, or at least a sight of Lorelei to save and protect me from this creature, but it was not to be.
As if sensing my thoughts, my diminutive companion smiled and said, “Don’t worry, she will coming to get you as she promised. I just wanted a word with you before dinner.”
“Fine,” I replied. “Let’s try this one ... Bullshit! One minute I’m trying to board an airplane for a job that just might pay the bills of my humble way of existence for the next couple of months, and the next thing that I know I’m hanging around in mansions and talking to dogs, paintings, and pull chains. Does any of this beg the question: What’s wrong with this picture? On top of all of this, a beautiful woman is telling what I would normally consider an inanimate object that I am here to resolve a dilemma that I know nothing about. What part of any or all of this would you like to talk about?”
“None of it, if the truth were known,” came the reply.
“None!” I repeated. “Isn’t that typical. You never want to talk about anything useful. All I ever get in conversation with you is mindless trivia, esoteric nonsense, and completely baffling bullshit. In all the time that I've known you, I am not sure that you have ever uttered one bit of useful information in my presence. At least not in a fashion that wasn’t completely unfathomable to a rational human being.”
I was really starting to warm to the subject, as you might have guessed. This type of thing had happened to me before and I was more than a little fed up. Oh, the stories I could tell you about… never mind.
At any rate, I was pacing back and forth across the room, waving my arms at everything and nothing as I held forth on my companion's failings as a conversationalist (as if this would help me make any of the points that I was trying to make). I was angry, confused, afraid, and totally helpless in my ability to deal with the situation around me.
“Have you ever noticed,” he returned calmly, “that things always look darkest, just before they go completely black?”
That stopped both the pacing and the waving, and laughter burst from me with all of the frustration that I had been holding back for years. Somehow, with just that ridiculous question and the innocuous tone in which he had spoken it, the storm was passed and the sun was returning. He had gotten me into something again I will admit, but I was still myself and come what may that would have to be enough.
“Yeah,” I said, “and no matter where you go, there you are.” I know that I said this earlier, but it just proves how useful such quotes can be at just the right time.
“You are exactly correct, but we don’t have a lot of time to discuss geography here,” he said missing all of my practiced irony. “There is a lot that you will need to know in order to resolve this impending crisis, most of which you will have to learn for yourself. This is a very complicated and important situation, and I don’t want you to take it lightly. The fate and happiness of a great many people for many years to come will be decided by what you do in this place. I can’t tell you a lot, but what I can say is to pay attention to everything around you. Even the smallest detail may be critical to your decisions. Your patience, courage, and fortitude will be put to the test before this is over to be sure. Most importantly, you must keep your wits about you. Not everyone here will have your best interests at heart, as I have always had my boy; even if it seems they are motivated by good intentions. I can’t and won’t be staying around here much longer, but I trust to your judgment in this affair completely. You are undoubtedly the right man for the job, my boy.”
“Great,” I sighed. “Do you think that you could be a little more vague about all of this? Did it ever occur to you that I might be in over my head on this one? Did you ever…? Damn it!”
I had looked away for just an instant, exasperated by the platitudes and nonsense that he was spouting, and now he was gone. Secretly, I think that what really galled me was that I wished I knew how he did that. It certainly would come in handy from time to time. I walked over to the desk, but the chair was now neatly tucked behind it. I pulled the chair out again and dropped into it behind the desk. There was another piece of Prince Phillip’s stationary placed well within my view. ‘Good Luck’ was all that was written. I folded this piece of paper as well, and cursed the ancestry of my erstwhile companion to the tenth generation, but I didn’t see anywhere to dispose of my aggravating refuse so I simply stuffed it into my pocket. The immediate prospects for my life did not appear appealing, but so what. The eternal optimist in me refused to concede defeat.
Did you ever hear the old saying about the glass of water, the optimist, the pessimist, and the efficiency expert? The optimist looked at the glass and said, “It’s half full.” The pessimist looked at the glass and said, “It’s half empty.” The efficiency expert looked at glass and said, “Why do we have twice as much glass as we need for the job?” I know it’s only mildly amusing, but it brings a smile to my face every time. It also proves to me why I am an optimist. I’m not entirely sure you can understand this, based on what you have already seen of the situation or heard from me, but my guess is that I simply don’t have the intelligence or the temperament for looking at the situation any other way. Of course it might also have something to do with having enough of an ego that felt that I could succeed where no real expectation of success was or could be had. Indomitable of spirit, I would yet triumph, no matter what the task or the odds. (You know when you think about it, this kind of attitude is really quite nauseating.)