Signs & Portents




Chapter 8

A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness Cries

Miramne O'Leary had never been particularly interested in Nostradamus, he was to her just a name out of the back pages of old magazines: The Mysterious Prophecies of Nostradamus. She thought she remembered once having scanned his writings, probably something picked up off a table at some friend's house briefly examined, and put down. The strange little quatrains had made little sense to her. She'd had a good look around in case some forgotten Nostradamus book had became a dust gatherer among the collection of lexicons, Kabbalistic texts, and other exotic, occasionally precious and hard to find books that adorned the O'Leary living room.

It was by means of television that Nostradamus was about to come into her house in living color. That is, if she got home in time. She had walked to the supermarket, her son, Carl, was still absent with the only car they had between them just when she'd run out of milk for her coffee. As she came to the front door of the apartment house that was home to them, she was stopped in the very act of reaching for the front door plate.

An overwhelming sense of "something" sent an electrifying vibration through her. MESSAGE, insisted the vibration, MESSAGE! She stopped and listened with what she thought of as her psychic antennae rather than her physical ears. No voice spoke aloud, but the "message" reached her conscious mind quite clearly. "The time is much shorter than you think. It is on the way." It, she understood without need for interpretation. It was the cataclysmic event and/or breakdown in the systems on which the world depended. Its arrival meant that those who wanted to survive, should find a safe haven—quickly.

That was all the message had to say, so she clapped her key against the plate and entered the apartment building. Nothing had changed, the older apartment house looked the same. But the psychic atmosphere was charged with energy, what Jung would have termed numinous. The wave that had overtaken her at the door was not her first brush with the same message, it had just been stronger and more forceful than others.

The strange, the unusual, and the unexplained were Miri's favorite recreation. Not that she espoused any odd ball philosophy or guru, who came along to expound, exploit, or interpret the paranormal, she was as an open minded skeptic, willing to be intrigued, or even convinced, but not quick to embrace something without a cautious examination. As she grew older, she observed that she differed more and more from her friends, who were forever signing up for the latest occult cure for physical or emotional pain, or even for the rare and exquisite, she supposed, pleasure of having their auras combed and read. Her restraint, however, she smiled to herself, saved her a lot of money, as the price tags of these sundries kept pace with the inflationary spiral.

For some time, she had been having what she considered a flirtation with the paranormal—it was a nebulous matter, she was unable to precisely define. She preferred to place these "feelings" or intuitions into a Jungian framework and kept a dream diary unless she got lazy. She was an intuitive introvert, and classes of experience sometimes called "psychic" or "clairvoyant" came easily to her personality type, as Jung had defined these. Her personality types were closer to that great sea of instinctual memory, the collective unconscious which was an all knowing mind of kinds.

Her recent dreams, strangely enough, now featured the theme of anachronism itself. She would have a dream that seemed mundane and modern, only to see some image from the ancient past intrude. The explanation that this happened because of her conscious preoccupation with history did not satisfy her and her intuitive function insisted that the apocalypse was somehow at hand.

Between international tensions over betrayed trade commitments, world-wide inflation, and the constantly reiterated warnings about dwindling and polluted resources, very many Bay Area residents took for granted that the four horsemen, were already on the horizon.

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They had, in fact, been on the march for more than, she paused to consider—at least four decades. But this did not appear to be what Miri was sensing. To her, the apprehension took the form that the planet itself was moving toward an awesome upheaval of some kind.

She could supply no exact scenario, only the strongest most poignant sense that inexplicable, but ominous forces were at work in the earth itself. When she focused her attention on the kind of cataclysm she expected, the answer came back confused and multiple, as if not one, but a wide variety of catastrophes were on the way, perhaps just around the corner. And then the strongest feeling would come over her that it had all happened before, and some place, or some when, she had been there, she had known and lived through it before.

Well, she was about to miss her Nostradamus program. She quickly stirred her coffee, and turned on the television set. She had missed the start, but they were explaining his background. He was a real person, apparently, she hadn't been sure. The genuinely historical co-existed uneasily with a nearly inexhaustible array of "ancient wisdoms" in her small corner of the Western culture. If the many inhabitants of the modern world saw a dismal future, no one was going to deny them a radiant past.

The documentary continued with Nostradamus: A Frenchman (of course, Nostradamus, latinized Notre Dame), a converted Jew, a Kabbalist and an astrologer, born at the beginning of the 16th century. The time of the Black Plague, she thought, and one of those historical legends. Film scenes of the French Revolution, Napoleon, and finally Nazi Germany rolled by. She was becoming somewhat intrigued by Nostradamus, having expected to hear contrived generalities, but the prophecies were eerily exact and explicit in many cases. It was certainly straining coincidence for Nostradamus to predict "a ruler of France," born on a small island off the coast of Italy, when he had lived 200 years before the time of Napoleon in a completely different medieval France.

She had to agree that the references to World War II were startlingly accurate, if expressed in an indirect, almost symbolical kind of way. Belatedly, she wished she had taken notes, the action was passing rather fast. She fumbled for pad and pen to start scribbling quatrains. A lot of this could be checked, she resolved to do so for her own amusement if she could find the time. Perhaps the interpreters of these prophecies were choosing quatrains randomly and adroitly applying them whatever historical event they best fit?

As an astrologer, Nostradamus would have had a ready way to identify specific times, at least roughly, if he preferred to use codes and ciphers to conceal the actual calendar dates. She knew this from direct experience, having once helped date a marvelous fragment of history by the astrological references in it. The quatrains were divided into centuries. That would ease the dating problem a great deal. An astrological reference was reeled off suddenly, but the antiquated way of indicating it confused her momentarily and she wasn't quick enough to jot it down. If it had been "Mars and Saturn conjoined Sagittarius," she would need a month, or at least a season to pin it down.

An intermission came and she yielded to a bit of worrying. Her son Carl was almost three hours late from his usual home arrival time. Where was he? Probably, he was only gabbling with his friends in some coffee shop. If he should be involved in some nasty little accident with the car, at this juncture in their lives, it could be disastrous. Why hadn't he called, if all was well? They had an agreement that either one would call the other in cases where delay was an hour or more.

She firmly repressed her anxiety and crossed to the front window to look out. Maybe Carl was even now parking. She pressed her face against the glass and tried to stare down. Well, she would never be able to see from this upstairs window, let alone distinguish the Japanese made car from a multitude of others just like it, not through the rains and drizzles that now afflicted the one time Mediterranean style bay area weather. She turned her gaze on the San Francisco skyline across the bay. It glowed green and orange in the mist, and she heard the forlorn moan of a foghorn. She did love Berkeley.

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In fact, she loved it more than ever with this weather shift to almost constant rain, unlike many despairing sun lovers in the area. It called to the ancestral Celt in her, most of her forebears had roamed the misty emerald isle, justifiably, in those days, called misty. She had been told that even the London fog of many a romantic novel of the past was no more. In the freak world weather patterns of the last years, the misty isles now baked under relentless solar energy in the summer months, and prepared inadequately to dig out from under equally relentless blizzards that dumped ten foot snowdrifts in metropolitan byways.

She had a friend who had been trapped in the United Kingdom during one of the new snow blitzes that closed all airports. Finally, she had given up on getting a plane out of Heathrow, and had ferried across to Ireland. From there, after another fruitless wait, she had given up and taken ship to Iceland, where, due either to the greater daring or expertise of pilots whose ancestors had been Vikings, she had at last been able to wing her way over a turbulent Atlantic. World weather changes and the possible coming of a new ice age had once briefly intrigued Miri. But her son, Carl, had disparaged the idea. He insisted that the recently increased volcanic activity was the cause of the seasons of strange weather, and this was a transient effect, whereas an ice age was a great deal more ponderous and radical a situation. Failing to hear the crunch of approaching glaciers, Miri had also finally abandoned the idea.

It was perhaps, Miri realized, that freak weather was simply the current fashion. Monsoon rains for northern California, freak snow storms in areas that had never known snow, even the Sahara desert had been pelted with tennis ball sized hail, anomalous weather in Africa had seriously undermined the old Aswan dam and the Nile was in flood in ways it had not seen since the time of the pharaohs.

Thinking of the U.K. caused her to wonder again about what had become of Robert Harrold, who was a Londoner. They had planned to start a small publishing company together. Her son, Carl had urged them to do it, now that his job at the airport was over, he was anxious to try to enter the small business world. The three of them had even picked out a name, they were going to call it the Undiscovered Worlds Press.

Inexplicably, she had lost contact with Robert Harrold. He had written that he must go abroad on urgent business, and would have to give up his flat as well, so his address would no longer be viable. Not hearing from him, she had written to his previous address, hoping it would be forwarded on, but after about three months, the letter had finally come back undelivered. Reluctantly, she had begun to give up hope of hearing from him again.

The TV called her back and she found herself in a deja vu shock. The documentary had reached the current time prophecies and the film scenes had taken on a strange science fictional quality. Obviously, her own vaguely formed visions matched rather closely those of Nostradamus, who saw a panorama of catastrophes quite like her own visualizations. When the comet runs...that seemed to be one of the signs, were there any major comets due? She didn't know.

Her speculations were interrupted by a light tapping sound at the door. Carl? Or was some neighbor trying to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar? She glanced at the clock on her desk, it was 11:20, a little late for a night caller, it must be Carl at long last. She experienced a twinge of anxiety at his unusual approach, had he forgotten his keys? She quickly crossed the living room to the front hall and door, opening it quietly.

A tall, extremely lean dark haired man stood nervously on threshold. His face was lined with extreme fatigue and his clothes more than a little damp and rumpled, a battered brown suitcase rested beside him. She looked at him dumbfounded, recognizing him immediately—Robert Harrold, her English friend with whom she had shared the dream of the Undiscovered World Press. She stepped back speechless.

Robert picked up his battered luggage and passed into the apartment also in silence. He headed quickly for the sofa and slumped down, leaving the brown suitcase at his feet.

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"Robert," she finally got out. "What happened?"

He did not reply, but peered at her through befogged glasses, seemingly to be at a loss for words. Her question was perhaps a bit inane in the circumstances, he looked like he had been through quite an ordeal to get here, she knew international travel especially, was not an easy thing anymore. He must have also had a long walk in the rain.

"Let me get you some coffee," she said quickly, "or would you rather have tea?"

"Coffee," Robert managed, his voice hoarse.

Robert stirred from his reverie when Miri returned with a brimming cup of coffee. Catwood leapt into his lap nearly causing him to nearly drop the coffee. Miri looked at him, but restrained the flood of questions that rose up in her.

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Robert drank and recovered his voice. "Things are very bad in the UK, Miri," he said solemnly. "Very, very bad indeed. I'm here, if it's all right, of course, for the duration, I guess. That could be quite a long while."

"Of course it's all right, Robert," she said. "It will give us a chance to start the publishing company."

He sank lower on the couch and she watched him struggle to keep alert. It looked like a losing battle. The cup in his hand wavered several times before it reached the coffee table.

"Robert," she said quickly. "You're exhausted. We can talk in the morning."

Robert had often slept on the couch when he had visited before but, she thought, in view of his condition, perhaps she should steer him into her own room for the night. She'd wait up for Carl and doze on the sofa herself if she needed to. Robert's sudden appearance somehow fit quite well into the pattern of things. If only Carl would come back, she could relax. Tomorrow, they could fix up a bed for Robert in the room Carl used for an office. She turned to speak to Robert, but he had slumped over onto the sofa.

"Robert?" she called softly.

He mumbled something incomprehensible, pulled off his gold rimmed glasses, aimed for but missing the coffee table, he let them drop to the floor. He managed to draw his feet onto the sofa before falling asleep with an arm thrown across his face.

Miri went quickly for a blanket and began to cover his long lanky frame with it. He woke and grabbed at it, muttering, "jus' a minute, jus' a minute," as he pulled it under his chin and subsided into a deep sleep.

Alike for those who for today prepare,
And those that after a tomorrow stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries,
"Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There"

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam



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Copyright© 2007, Undiscovered Worlds Press