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Bound By Story

A couple of readers have asked questions lately that touch on this from both ends -- Numinous World readers asking about Gull in the 20th century and the 20th century story, and Order of the Air readers asking about Pelley, Stasi, and the villainous plans that were hinted at but not revealed in Silver Bullet.

This scene in the next book, Wind Raker, is one of the scariest scenes I've ever written, Melissa says, for all that two people sit and talk, and so I thought I'd share it with you as this gets at both those sets of questions. This is a key scene! I'd really love to hear what you guys think of where this leads the story!

Honolulu, 1935 -- with some spoilers for Silver Bullet



Stasi sat down at the bar, contemplating, and then tugged at the bartender's sleeve. "Is there a phone I could use to call a taxi?"

"I'm happy to call you a taxi, ma'am," the bartender said. "It usually takes about twenty minutes."

"Thank you," Stasi said, crossing her legs and checking the clock. "I'll wait right here."

A man slid onto the barstool next to her. "I'm afraid it's going to be a good deal more than twenty minutes tonight," he said. "There's been an accident on the coast road. Very unfortunate. Of course people will take the curves too fast when they've been drinking. It's tragic but hardly unexpected."

Stasi schooled her face to calm, though his voice sent a shiver down her spine, a voice from her past that she hoped she'd left behind. "Mr. Pelley," she said evenly.

"Mrs. Mitchell Sorley." His hair was a little grayer, streaking dark hair in a way that looked distinguished rather than old, dapper and neat in evening dress and Van Dyke beard like a continental gentleman. He nodded courteously, taking in her black dress with marabou trim and her wedding band. "You've moved up in the world."

"Well," Stasi said, opening her cigarette case and drawing one out. "A girl's got to look after herself."

"And very nicely too," Pelley said. "May I congratulate you on your marriage?" He offered her a light with a silver lighter.

"Thank you." The ritual of the cigarette gave her a moment to think. If Lewis and Alma had been in a wreck there wasn't anything she could do from here, nothing Mitch could do, and she couldn't get back to the house and the children without a taxi. On the other hand, if this were a game of Pelley's she'd do well not to spook. Either way, he was dangerous but while he was talking to her in a very public place he wasn't doing anything else.

"You're worried about your aviator friends," Pelley said shrewdly, lighting one of his own. "No need to. I don't think they were the ones killed. Some hard drinking soldier." He shrugged. "These things happen."

"And how would you know that?" Stasi asked, a hint of challenge in her voice. "I don't see you out on the coast road."

He smiled. "Do you and I need to be physically present to know something?"

"Do we?" Stasi said. There were no Dead in the club. Not recently dead, not long dead. There was no one she could ask, and certainly no just killed soul running about in confusion, returning to the last place they'd been.

"I don't," he said. He turned to the bartender. "Whisky on the rocks for me. Mrs. Sorley, would you like something?"

"A gin fizz," Stasi said. Letting Pelley buy her drinks was one way to do it. She gave him what she hoped was a knowing smile. "Tell me something, Bill. What are you up to?"

He smiled urbanely. "Let me tell you a story, Mrs. Sorley. It's very fanciful, but bear with me. I think you'll find it interesting."

"I'm sure I will," Stasi said. Where in the hell was Mitch?

He took a long draw from his cigarette. "Once upon a time…. That's how fairy tales start, right? Once upon a time there was a kingdom that was defended by a peerless fellowship of knights. Maybe they were the Paladins of Charlemagne or the Knights of the Round Table. Or maybe they were some other knights altogether. It doesn't matter. What does matter is this -- there was blood and steel and kingdoms were won and lost and cities fell and flames went up to the sky. Treasures were buried and the dead lay in the open air. There was victory and defeat, gold to adorn the biers of noble kings and queens, and at last the knights lay still and silent, every single one. Crypts were sealed with weeping, and those whose bodies were never found rotted away in the spring, their corpses revealed by the melting snow. Grass covered all, white flowers dotting the hillsides like unchanging snowflakes."

A shiver ran down her spine, visions rising at his words. It seemed she could see all he said, made as real before her eyes as a moving picture.

"But the knights only slept. They were bound, you see. They were bound by their oaths and their fellowship, by their king and their God. They belonged to the Story, slaves to the world, as though the rings on their fingers were fetters of iron rather than bands of gold. The greatest knights who ever lived!"

Pelley stopped and raised his whisky as the bartender put it down, lifted his glass as though in toast. "Again and again they are called back, not as skeletal forms that move in the dark but in new bodies, young and strong and perfect, ready to take up their service again. They are the ultimate warriors, honed by thousands of years of human strife, victors and losers of the greatest battles in history. They are the best of the best, unconquerable save by one another."

Stasi reached for her gin fizz, hoping her hand didn't shake. "And what does that have to do with anything?"

"Now that great fellowship assembles again. It's time to put the world in order."

"Your order?"

"Not mine solely or exclusively." Pelley took a drink. "But a new order. And there shall be no night there." He smiled as she blinked. "I don't expect you know that quote from the Book of Revelations, being a Jew and all. That's not as secret as you think, Mrs. Sorley. Does your husband know?"

She said nothing, and he smiled again, taking a draw from his cigarette. "His business, not mine. But it's time to clean up. A world without night -- imagine that! No darkness, no deception, no superstition. Science, progress, order, health -- no slums where vermin breed, no dark corners that shelter the prostitute and the homosexual, the deviant and the criminal. No con men and flim-flam artists, no drug addicts and drunks -- all rehabilitated in clean, sanitary conditions."

"And what about those you can't rehabilitate?" Stasi asked. There was a lot of gin in this fizz, and that was a good thing.

"Quarantine, of course." Pelley shrugged. "Just like tuberculosis or leprosy. You can't let a few rotten apples spoil the barrel. Restrict the contagion to ten urban centers in North America, ten cities that have proper facilities, and then the rest of the country will be clean. Healthy." He shook his head as though he were a fond schoolmaster. "You can't expect to raise those Gentile children correctly, can you, Mrs. Sorley? They may not be your blood, but what can they learn from you? How to booze it up in clubs and dance the Charleston? How to take people in a con scheme? How to make a living based on your charms, considerable as they are? What kind of mother are you and what are you teaching them?"

She drew in a quick breath.

"Pure sunlight," Pelley said. "Pure brightness. The midsummer sun that illuminates all dark corners, that immolates all impurity it touches. There will be no night there." He put his glass down. "You can serve that light, Mrs. Sorley. That's a choice you can make."

"And if I don't?"

He smiled gently. "Ultimately it will be very sad, just like your friend tonight. He was a great man once, a servant of Impenetrable Brightness. But he fell away from that course long ago, moved by the dying words of a slave woman. It was good poetry, I admit -- 'very well, as befits the last of so many noble rulers…' And now -- well, you see him, don't you? Boozing it up in clubs, playing dangerous and silly games, frittering away his talent and his life, when he might answer that great call. Now is the time. The horns have sounded, Mrs. Sorley, and either you are with us or against us. If he had come over, he might have been a great force for good. Who knows what he might have done, opening the gates of the Potomac to those who would bring America into concert with great events? He might have led Roosevelt out in chains so that the whole nation could see what happens when you give a Jew-loving cripple the reins of power! He might have met his brothers face to face, a handclasp between those who were meant to fight the darkness of Stalinism together! But instead…" Pelley shook his head sadly. "Instead he's a might-have-been. A man who died in a drunk driving accident in Hawaii without ever having done a single thing of note in his life."

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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
ashabardon
Mar. 16th, 2014 05:13 pm (UTC)
It's 17 degrees C and I just shivered ... I love that passage, it gets better each time I read it. Wind Raker is the one I've been waiting for :D
jo_graham
Mar. 18th, 2014 12:39 pm (UTC)
I'm glad it makes you shiver! (I'm shivering, but it's freezing here, yet another ice storm.)
lferion
Mar. 17th, 2014 11:39 pm (UTC)
This is such a terrifying scene, even knowing -- maybe even especially knowing -- the context. It just gets better and more frightening each time I read it.
jo_graham
Mar. 18th, 2014 12:45 pm (UTC)
I'm glad it's terrifying. This was really a hard scene to write, because it has to be scary when it's just two people talking. You have no idea how many times I've tinkered with the exact language.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )