home, the tamelin light

excerpts

A gust shakes the glowing alabaster panes of the odd little church. Heads dressed in turbans, scarves, a helmet even, snap up at the sudden sound like gophers at a costume ball. But one among them, a pale, dark-haired woman, doesn’t flinch. When the blast arrived it played no greater role in her awareness than the chorus of a favorite song on the radio.

She is sitting alone in a crowd that is kneeling all around her. She is largely unregarded, focused as most are on one another and the Mass, and on the peculiar glass cathedral all around them. And, now and then, the hammering weather outside. If they knew who she was, she would be the center of attention just as surely as if her luminous sister had floated in. She knows this, but it is the least of her reasons for remaining anonymous.

People pull their capes and cloaks nearer. She has no jacket and is unique for it in this crowd. Her nude legs under a black leather skirt are muscular from lifestyle, long and pale by heredity. The occasional second glance she draws from many notices too her pallid bare arms. In fact she is the only one in church dressed for a summer’s day on this stormy, barely-spring night: even the teenagers are bundled up. She isn’t cold. Indeed, she has trouble remembering what it was like to be cold.

This little Renaissance town is as home to her as Hamlet’s dead father haunting his castle. She is visiting its church, St. Augustine’s. Named, ironically, in honor of dad though it has nothing to do with him, she thinks. It doesn’t belong to the town either. Like everything else here, it is Annelli’s. Her sister who does not, cannot, ever attend.

This is not the only parish where she has taken in a Mass. She has been in the great Catholic cathedrals across North America and Europe where the words of the Rites echo. She has as well stood in the back of packed services held in gymnasiums and schools, straining to catch the words. She has been in a cloister where Mass was an intimate affair in a tiny wooden room, Rites hushed and private.

She is searching.

But today, she has found only anger. Again.

It was going just fine until the first reading, Moses versus that Biblical scourge—the Egyptians. Her outrage woke with the line: “God has won the victory against the Egyptians!”

She chews on these words and they are bitter to her.

God fought against the Egyptians, she thinks. That’s so stupid. Does anyone believe that? God?

* * *

“God: creator of the strong nuclear force, quarks, neutrons, cells, neurons, immune systems, color, sound, water. That God?”

She was standing in front of the Sonshine Fellowship kiosk at the University of Washington where she was in her senior year. The debate with this iggy was making her wish for her sister’s patience.

“God who stirred all the perfect amounts of exactly the right matter together to create plants and planets and black panthers and black holes, watermelon, jellyfish and marmalade? That God?”

“Yeah,” he was responding. “The infinite Creator, yeah!”

“Who made human beings of every type, not just Israelis and Americans but Palestinians and Iranians too?” He was nodding. “How about the Egyptians from your little story?”

“ ’Course. Why wouldn’t it be?”

“What were God’s first words after mowing down His own people, the Egyptians?”

“God caused the sea to rise up against these, His people so that all, including the Egyptians, would be saved.”

“I see. In your story, God, despite the amount of ground he has to cover on his beat, homes in on one galaxy out of a billion billion, one star out of its three billion neighbors, came to a single planet and ignoring the millions of other clans and families warring across the entire world, went to two of them, both of which He created, chose one group and took ’em out. That’s more effort with less reward, cosmologically speaking, than the President of the United States hopping on an airplane to travel across the world to squirt Windex on a kitchen table in Kazakstan to kill some bacteria.”

The recruiter was shaking his head. “God is ever-present. He had to send a message to His people and to the whole world: ‘I am here always and will never leave.’ The example was laid down because it had to be at that particular point in time.”

“No. I buy that God is all around us, that God is limitless and beyond our ability to comprehend. The trouble is that you don’t. God isn’t small and petty: that’s just people not being able to understand gigantic numbers. These tales were cooked up by folks who not only didn’t know how anything in the world worked but didn’t even understand that they didn’t know anything. And least of all did they get big numbers. So you end up with a god who is personal and talks to every believer because as far as these tall-tale tellers knew, the whole world of people only numbered in the tens of thousands.”

“God is personal exactly because he is infinite,” he returned. “And He does jump in when He’s needed by His creation. Our universe is pretty spacious, as you say, but remember it was put here for us.”

“That’s like saying rain was created to sing Broadway musicals in. It’s too much effort for a grain of sand.”

“We were created by God. We seek the light of His word and His messages are sent like lights from time to time to help us follow the path through the infinite universe. I believe one day we will move off this planet and move to the stars. That’s why they’re out there.”

“You’re not listening. The universe isn’t here for the speck of humanity to discover a zillionth of it, manage to survive one million years which would be long enough to travel the first thousand light years of billions.”

“God will provide. We will find a way across the distance.”

“And why would God get involved with the affairs of unenlightened cretins fighting about whose completely wrong view of the world to push onto one another?”

“The history of Moses and his followers is documented truth. They were chosen. It could have been the Tillamooks or the Peruvians or the Chinese but it wasn’t; it was the tribe of Israel. That is revealed word.”

“Do you know which religions teach that its precepts are righteous, its leaders communicating with the Lord, its sacred words flawless? All of them.”

“But one of them is right.”

“None of them is right!”

“And the one that is correct,” he continued smoothly, “is the one which speaks in the revealed word of God, the Bible. It says in the Bible—”

She made a helpless sound. “Of course the Bible is going to reference itself. No religion has a passage in its holy writs that says, ‘Please consult the other guy’s holy book for this bit’. They all think they’re right but they were all written and compiled and edited by normal unenlightened people picking stories of the day to back up whatever message they were trying to get across. These aren’t books of history, they aren’t about truth: they are about control.”

“The revealed word of the Lord is studied by millions and followed by billions around the world—.”

“The uncritical masses that flock to religion aren’t the same ones who ruin themselves with their own bad habits; who lie to themselves and one another; who abuse and kill one another; and who follow without challenge their leaders into deceit and deficit and death, are they? Or are you talking about billions of other people I haven’t seen?”

She saw that everything she said was bouncing off the iggy’s forehead and suddenly felt overwhelmed by the task of educating him and all of his like followers around the world. “You know, we deserve this,” she said. “We deserve the blind stumbling through life that happens to us every day. We deserve our bad decisions, our wars, our waste, our ignorance. But on behalf of the few of us who are trying to be better than the rest of you sheep, we unhappy few who use reason to govern our lives, when are you people going to die off and leave us in peace?”

He was silent a moment. “You know, you’re intelligent, and you’re confident. Those are good traits to have. But your future is gonna be anger and cynicism. I say this because I was like you once, though not as smart. I didn’t start out an apple-cheeked boy whistlin’ down the streets a' Mayberry. I had to be one’ a them hard drinkers first. I had to be fired from all sorts of jobs and live poor. I had to be broken. But no one needs to visit that pit. There’s no good in it, ’cause God wants us to be happy. The light of God’s grace ain’t gonna grow in you as it does in children. It’ll happen—if it does and I pray that it will—the same way it did for me. Until then, you’re just gonna get colder. Your life’ll be a river of anger with only little erodin’ islands of peace stickin’ out.” His eyes crinkle into smile. “It could be the opposite,” he said handing a flyer to her. “I believe in you; I believe you can save yourself and come to know God’s incredible love. He is wise and vast and loves smart people like you discovering his awesome creation. Come and meet Him.”

To her measureless disgust, she felt her eyes tearing up. What the hell did he say to do this to me? She could not speak, could not keep pounding away on his feeble arguments and silly beliefs. She fled before she started to cry outright.

“I have two recurring dreams. One is like an old Far Side strip,” Talitha is saying as they look over the menus. “There’s a convention of monsters at a performance hall, maybe Benaroya. Up on the stage is a lone podium. I am with the creatures in the audience. I start talking to them.

“I begin to introduce myself to an undead thing sporting a flute-shaped pulsing mouth, but it interrupts me with ‘Ey nu whit you er!’ Everything here knows who I am. I ask what it does for a living, or whatever. ‘Ey im ee brin-eatr,’ it trills back. Yuck, I don’t even like dim sum. ‘Human brains?’ ‘Nu, jellyfish brins,’ it sneers as only a being with a four-centimeter tapered snout can sneer. ‘If curse hyumin brins! Whet eelse? Ey whet net be mooch if ee monster eef ey attacked Chihuahuas. Theer is ee certain minimeem ber, you nu!’

Julian chuckles. So much there, but it is only apparent during these flashes when she lets down her guard.

Talitha is continuing: “It stares at me. I feel awkward; I don’t want to seem rude at a monster convention. I try to keep the conversation alive. ‘So, brains,’ I reply. I have no idea what to say this creature; it’s like talking to a three-year-old. ‘Um, did you always eat brains?’ It tilts it head back and forth – I think it’s a nod. ‘Good?’ It doesn’t react. ‘So how did you know it was brains you wanted and not shredded wheat or muffins?’ It snorts and turns away. At this point it occurs to me to wonder why I’m here.”

Who is this woman? Who is the weird stories, the unnatural history, the tragedies and that odd old mansion? That shining mind. Those eyes. Am I in love with this unpleasant, dangerous thing? Or is this just the fascination of the unencountered?

“On my other side is some kind of vampire, I think. It has the largest mouth I have ever seen, hundreds of teeth, with one in the middle much longer than the others. It is hideous; I don’t know why I’m not unconscious with fright. ‘You drink blood?’ ‘Gallons of it,’ it replies, its rasping voice bypasses my ears to emerge directly in my head, which is probably good because his is not a mouth made for dialectics. ‘Do you ever drink anything else? Water? Grapefruit juice?’ It grins. I wonder if it wants my blood. ‘No,’ I get from it. ‘Why not?’ I hazard. ‘Tamelin,’ it replies. I give it a ‘Yes? And?’ expression. It replies, ‘Not prey, not meat.’ In my dream, I don’t pursue this any further, and anyway something is happening at the podium. The power speaker is coming out. It is, of course, my mother.”

Julian raises an eyebrow.

“We didn’t get along well.”

He nods. Be bold. These two seem to like that. “Did you really have that dream?” he asks.

“Or was it a story I made up to impress you?”

“To be funny,” he suggests.

“No, I dream it all right, though the dialogue changes. Sometimes it isn't witty banter.”

“What do you think it means?”

“I think the vampire made it pretty clear.”

A florescent-nosed waiter who looks as if he his surfboard was parked by the door saunters over to their table and takes their orders.

“Five stars?” Julian asks her after he leaves. “You like spicy food.”

“And sour, and very sweet. I never developed a delicate palate.”

“So, the, uh, waiter – . You’re sure this is in the Best Places guide?”

“You’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

“He called me dude.”

“He likes you. He is one of the few people who likes me.”

“Have you ever even tried dim sum?” he asks.

“Once, at China Gate in the ID. Five Chinese restaurants on the same block all bedecked garishly alike to these Caucasian eyes. But only one of them is in the guide, so I went there.”

“And?”

“We Tamelins have an aversion to the sea, or so I’m told, despite living next to one for generations. Annelli would tell you that it is the enemy, so maybe I should like seafood – what better way to conquer your opponent than by eating it? But at China Gate, I found that the enemy can still make war once inside.” She shudders. “Tray after tray wheeled to me and I looking in vain for something convincingly dead. I didn’t find anything I wanted to recognize, so I ate what I couldn’t identify. No one spoke English there, so they couldn’t tell me anything. This was a blessing, it turned out.”

“Back to this dream of yours . . .” he starts again.

“There was a ghost there, too, sitting in front of me. The exchange went like this:

‘I am a ghost,’ and certainly I could see right through him.

‘You’re the incorporeal manifestation of a deceased human being?’ I asked.

‘Yes, my name is Arthur.’

‘I don’t believe you.’

‘Yes, my mother named me Arthur when I was – .’

‘No, I don’t believe you’re a ghost.’”

Julian breaks in. “So what is going on with you and this family of yours?”

“Whatever do you mean?”

He sighs. “How about this other dream?”

“Oh. It has to do with Annelli. I'm not, I shouldn't have mentioned it.”

“Sure.” I wonder if she knows she's blushing. He sips his water to cover the moment. “Your mother's side, you've said, has always been at the mansion. Where are your father's relatives? Do you still see them?”

She sighs. “That is also complicated.”

“Your Gift.”

“Yes, you're right. Generations of Tamelin baggage. And now assault and FBI interest. I am not the black sheep of the family so much as the Black Goat.”

“What are you going to say to the FBI?” His forehead crinkles. “What am I going to say to the FBI?”

“The Feds. The doctors. Even you, Julian.” Talitha sighs. “The world. The meddling outside world, though I'm glad you're here,” she quickly adds. “I need to deal with it.” She produces the papers she nabbed from the hospital room. “Can we start with whatever I am? Here are my medical records.” She spreads the documents on the table. “Are you able to interpret them? I can do it myself eventually but I don’t know if I can accomplish all the research before being pestered by,” she waves her hand towards the window to the night, “everyone who seems to feel they are required to annoy my sister and me.”

“Does that include me?”

“Obviously not.” She sees his expression and thinks a moment. “We're not easy, Julian. But I am grateful for you and your friendship. Mystified, but grateful.”

He checks himself reaching out his hand to her as he would any other friend on the planet. You're right. You aren't easy. He smiles over what that sounded like inside his head. You're even less easy that way. And it occurs to him to wonder if she is a virgin.

“What am I likely to find in there?” he asks, nodding to the folder.

“Hopefully nothing you can’t handle.”

She can taste the terrible Katabatic. Massive from deep freeze, dry as a desert, the beast gallops across the ice sheet. Today it is visible: the frozen gale has picked up a few tons of ice crystals along the way to flay her with.

The woman's bivy clings to the side of a mountain: a magnet on a freezer in a blizzard. Inside she is spreading a homemade melange of honey, cinnamon, rosemary and Dave's Insanity on a bagel. She was humming to herself until she stopped to listen to something she knew she had been hearing for some time now.

She detects the individual notes of the flutes just as she taking that first excruciating bite.

She sighs. The bagel is carefully set down. The tiny tent opens and her head pops out enough to expose her ears to the emptiest place on Earth.

No flutists in site, not that she had expected a trio of Ariloulaleelay, their xenon-powered flux capacitor piccolos perfectly parallel to the ground above which they hovered, blinking at her. She'd noticed them all her outlandish life. Not those aliens specifically, though little pale togaed men zipping through the ionosphere in their tiny flying saucers is what they looked like in her imagination. They piped up when she composed music or practiced it, when she strolled the grounds of her ancestral home, the Tamelin Mansion, and always before something weird was going to happen.

I'm not at the Mansion and I'm not writing; I'm stuffing ghost peppers into my mouth on the TransAntarctic Range.

“So that leaves answer C, doesn't it?” she yells into the Katabatic's roar. “Fuck with the last remaining Tamelin, right?”

A movement underneath ten thousand years of desiccated snow. Dispersed but huge, its macro motion is –

. . . is like a sand worm passing through, she thinks.

But it feels even bigger than Herbert's famous spice makers. It is immense beyond all reckoning, and steady, and rotating.

During three slow heartbeats as isolated as drops of water plopping into a cavern's pool, she realizes what she is sensing. The vast weight of the tectonic plate laden with this mountain, this range, this continent riding across the bottom of the planet, its billion years journey to nowhere.

She feels the turning of the Earth itself.

Her body, supported no longer by consciousness, topples forward, but instead of falling she tumbles up: above the mountain, above the clouds, the Earth, the plane of the solar system until this, too, streaks away from her. She is left peering down on the Sagittarius Arm, an uncontrollable part of her new brain calculating its density, tabulating visible and dark matter, sensing with her new sense but unable to comprehend unfathomable formulas. Mass, gravity, energy emerge as innumerable streamers dancing through space, each one roiling with numbers.

She is loosed from flesh, her identity smothered, until the shape of an oared black ship detaches itself from the background of the Milky Way and pulls up alongside her. The onyx head of the captain, Nyarlathotep the Creeping Chaos, is perched atop a column of oily black goo. It rotates to regard her.

I had been warned.

When Annelli was born, whole, beautiful, alive, I was amazed. I had not expected it. She was supposed to be deformed or dead or at the very least, be the very least. The Cattle. But she never cried. She merely blinked at me, her wondering otherworldly blue eyes seeking out my own. For the second time I suffered that chemical weakness marking me Defective under the cool gaze of the Family.

But there was a third act yet in my play; she would storm onto the stage and never relinquish it.

I had been warned again and again through what seemed like daily transgressions against Tradition, Duty, and of course, Obedience. I set every face of my defiance against the certain knowledge of endless death – the sort that the inventive watcher over our House pursued with patience – ever described to me in animated detail. I do not know what it was in me that so mocked three thousand years of careful breeding. Mine would be a life of loss. Mine has been a life of loss.

But at least I had something of value to lose.

When the day came to give birth that unholy, unprecedented second time, my little one did die there on the operating table, as did I. For forty seconds, they tell me, we were biological decay, organic matter prepared to return to the dirt. I do not know what she experienced, what she felt, but it was not forty ticks of the clock for me, and my death on that table brought nothing like oblivion. Technology returned us, and I knew I would spend the remainder of my days catching glimpses of where some part of me went, a desolate place unburdened with morality or mercy or mirth.

I awoke to poor Philip who looked so aged that I thought to ask what day, and then what year it was. All was well, though. All was well.

Her name was to be Kathryn like the kitten she would later kill. In the years to come no doubt she would have changed it to Kate, possibly even Betsy or Wilbur, so long as it was in defiance of me. But on that day, her birthday, our time of resurrection, I changed her name to Talitha.

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