Thursday 19 October 2006

The Long Man, Part Three

The Long Man is a novelette of six chapters, posted over six days -- by me, your boisterous host, Cheeseburger Brown.

I commute. I leave the old schoolhouse in the fog, propelled by gasoline and coffee; the car and I locomote 73.4 kilometers south, through a belt of farms and then into the grey fringes of a megalopolis.

At the beginning and the end I listen to the radio -- CBC 1 or 2 -- but the bulk of the journey is more sacred to me: this is the time when I knit the next chapters I'll post on this weblog. When my brain is ready I twist the radio off.

So now you know the secret soundtrack of these stories: the Dopplering whizz and thrum of high speed traffic, the whine of tires on pavement, the whistle of the wind. I always keep the window down a crack, even when it's cold. I like to hear the world.

And now, today's chapter:


It can be a nuissance being long. Every now and again people get weird ideas in their heads and decide it's time to lynch you for being possessed of unholy powers. To avoid this one has to keep a low profile.

This is, of course, much harder than it used to be.

In the good old days when physicians did as much guesswork as priests having myself treated for minor ailments was a simple affair -- balms, tinctures, knocking dislocated shoulders back into place, that sort of thing. I remember clearly being treated by the great Galen himself one winter in Athens after an overzealous farmer put a sword through my thigh for stealing carrots. "You're a remarkable healer," Galen told me a week later, checking the bandages.

"I'm a big believer in fruits and vegetables," I claimed.

These days everybody wants to image my insides with CAT scans or whip my blood around in a centrifuge. I have to be awfully sly to slip past a triage nurse without her sounding alarm bells about my unusual physiology. I have on more than one occasion faked leukemia in order to explain my elevated white blood cell count, and I'm a fair expert at muffing X-ray photographs by fidgeting.

When that fails I am a master of rapid exits. "Your bones show a very serious density of healed fractures. I'd like to do a little more imaging and get more details about your history."

"Do you mind if I just slip off to the washroom first?"

Presto -- no more Lallo!

Probably the worst time I ever had came about nineteen or twenty centuries after Christ. There I was, minding my own business, sauntering through New Mexico when I ran into a bunch of soldiers in jeeps doing drills. They panicked when I was slow to respond to their orders and somebody shot me.

I woke up in a secure army facility and was poked, prodded, probed and perused by a murder of scientists with grim faces and oiled hair. "He has the skull of a Cro Magnon!" they told each other excitedly. "He must be some kind of an evolutionary throwback."

I'm a pretty easy going man but the truth is that once my temper's engaged it's hard to quell, and eventually the military scientists pushed me too far by trying to extract tissue samples without anaesthesia. I totally freaked out. By the time the red haze faded from my vision I was running, already miles from the base, my hands covered in blood.

Chalk that up as a third reason I tend to stay scarce from the New World. Fucking Roswell.

There does exist a sanctuary for us, though it isn't as peaceful a sanctuary as the forests of the world used to be before there were people everywhere. When I'm feeling harassed I know I can always go to Rome to put my feet up, have a drink, and shoot the breeze with Moses.

Moses lives in the Constantinian Basilica, and before that he lived in the House Templar at Ager Vaticanus with Peter. Nowadays all of that stuff is walled up in Vatican City, but for a long time getting into the basilica was as easy as walking up the steps and introducing your business to the guards. "What affair have you in this church, brute?"

"Just tell the big man it's Lallo knocking."

Moses is a great guy. I think I have a special soft spot in my heart for him because he's nearly as long as I: he's been sallying around for about ten thousand years, which is only a few dozen thousand less than my stint. He's probably been chased out of about as many places as I have, too, so he understands the lonesome mood. He still misses Peter.

"Lallo, my great friend -- welcome!"

"How's by you, Mo? You're looking splendid."

"Thank you, thank you."

The bascilica is usually decorated in a very fancy way. On the occasion I'm thinking about it was all done up with fresh frescoes of the life of Jesus Christ and I was handed my wine in a golden goblet. "So..." I said, after savouring my first sip, "Jesus, huh?"

"Jesus, yes," agreed Moses.

I gave him a little wink. "Was that you? Seriously, you can tell me."

"No, it wasn't me. Jesus died."

"Well, maybe," I admitted. "I still think maybe it was just Aum trying to yank our chains."

"Aum never leaves India."

I shrugged. "Maybe it was somebody else, then. Maybe Peter?"

"Why are you so sure it was one of the long?"

"I became suspicious when I heard how he walked away from his own tomb. I mean, who does that? Me, you, Judith -- our kind."

"Could you not fathom that his body was subliminated directly to Heaven by the Divine Host?"

"Fathom? Sure. Believe it? Not really. It was probably just somebody we don't know about yet."

Moses smiled indulgently. A gentle rap came at the study door and he called out to enter. A little boy in white robes walked in with a tray of bread and olives. "Lallo, I'd like you to meet John. John, this is Lallo."

"It is an honour to make your acquaintance, my liege," said young John.

"Nice to meet you too, John," I said, shaking his small hand.

Moses popped an olive into his mouth, chewing around the pit artfully. "John is long, Lallo."

"Is he now?"

"His parents thought he was a miracle, so they brought him before the officers of the church. They, in turn, brought him to me. I am raising him, molding him from the ground up to act for the long peace."

I patted John on the head. "Good luck to you, young man! It is so very important to keep busy."

"I do the work of God, sir," said John primly.

"That's super."

Moses stroked his white beard pensively and flashed me a little smile. "I had a visit from a young longwoman who calls herself Ella," he said, gaze cast off into the hearth. "She said you two had a bit of an encounter in Patagonia a while back."

I rubbed my head ruefully. "Did you know she raised the Scythian armies?"

"She mentioned it, yes. Um, she's rather upset with you, you understand. She explained to me that you raped her."

"Oh," I scoffed dismissively, "we were just playing around."

"She feels differently."

"Women are weird."

"It's a fairly serious business, Lallo. I know your temper and appetites routinely get you into trouble with the short, but this is about someone long. It's different."

"Different how?"

"Consequences," said Moses heavily. "The consequences are different."

"Is she going to hunt me down and kill me?"

"No. She is determined to hide herself and the child from you forever."

That gave me pause. In fact, I spent a moment choking on my wine. Moses clapped me on the back helpfully. John stared at me with wide eyes, lips trembling. I wiped away my tears and forced my raw throat to form my next words, hoarsely, desperately. "Is the child long?"

Moses nodded. "As you well know, Lallo, the question of reproduction has always weighed on us. Our kind is perpetuated directly by the grace of God, and nothing we have ever managed to do has resulted in the creation of a long child. Judith is infertile, of course, but Lilith consented to several experiments with Peter before she was killed. None of these experiments bore fruit, however."

I swallowed. "She was very old. Ella's just a kid. Barely over two thousand."

Moses nodded again, stroking his beard. "Because of our lack of success in this regard we have never had to seriously contemplate racial displacement, but now I'm afraid it is a subject that deserves our strict attention."

I frowned. "What do you mean? What's racial displacement?"

"Racial displacement is the inevitable consequence of long breeding, where over time the long population comes to outnumber the short population, eventually bringing us into a direct competition for resources. In any such contest the inescapable conclusion is a loss for the short and supremacy for the long."

I shrugged theatrically. "Whatever will be, will be."

Moses shook his head. "Lallo my friend, it behooves us to consider that if God had intended us to inherit the Earth He would have made it easier for us to be fruitful. We must wonder whether we subvert His plan by reproducing."

"I'll leave the philosophizing to you, Mo. I'm just a man."

He slammed his fist down upon the silver food tray, bread and olives flying in every direction. "No, Lallo, you are not just a man. You are a long man, and you cannot ignore the burden of responsibility you carry."

"Why not?"

His eyes widened. "I have been patient with your godlessness as long as we have known one another, but I have to draw the line here. Yours is not to spend all time giving in to your craven appetites."

"Your God gave me the appetites. Who are you to subvert that work?"

"My God?" he echoed, incredulous.

I sneered and stood up from my chair. "Let's not start this again, Mo. Do we have to go over it afresh every millennium? For the last time: leave me out of your phoney-baloney superstitious hookum. I'm just not interested. Maybe if you'd started messing with my head fifteen thousand years ago I'd have been naive enough to swallow it, but not now. I've seen too many sunsets. I'm not a kid anymore, and no god is my parent."

The child, John, was weeping. I reached out to pet his head but mistook my own strength and knocked him to the floor. "Whoops."

"Govern yourself!" shouted Moses. "For Christ's sake, you must learn to govern yourself."

He knelt beside the white-robed child and hugged him tenderly. I shuffled around awkwardly. "Or what?" I asked quietly.

Moses looked up. "Or else for the sake of Christendom now and in the future we will declare you our enemy, and end you. It pains me to say this, my friend, but you leave no alternative."

"I am from the land. I answer only to the mud I am made of. If you and your cohort interfere with my freedoms I warn you to be prepared for my ruthless defense."

We stared at each other for a long moment. Moses blinked first. He was blinking away tears. "I love you, my brother. Can you not open your mind to heed my counsel?"

I thought about it a bit. "No," I concluded. "I will grant none dominion over me. My life is between myself and the world. I do not recognize the authority your club of sheep awards itself, and I never will."

"Then we will do what we must."

That was the last time I stood in the Constantinian Basilica, and the last time for a long while I even dared visit sweet Rome. Within a few centuries I would be pursued out of Christendom by the armies of Moses, chased ever eastward until I took my stand in Jerusalem and, surrounded by my own legions of Islamic troops, let loose a rage of unspeakable dimensions. Hundreds died in a day.

Like I said, once my temper's lost it's a shitstorm for everybody.

But I'm no strategist. I lost Jerusalem and fled further east, only to run into John, a child no more, the king of a mighty country whose fierce knights captured and bound me for delivery to Avignon and the puppet of Moses, Pope Paschal II. I did manage to escape, but not without razing John's capital city -- which I apologized for and, to his credit, John accepted this graciously. "Every setback makes us stronger," he told me, turning the other cheek as he stood on a mound of rubble. "Send me to God if you must."

"Aw," I groaned, frowning. "You know I hate striking down the defenseless."

"Indeed," agreed Prester John. "It is because we know of the good in your soul that we cannot give up our quest to save you."

I pulled an arrow out of my thigh with a grunt. "Is that what you're doing? Saving me?"

"With your last breath, if need be."

"Moses told you to end me."

Prester John smiled serenely. "I take my commands from a higher authority."

So that's how it's been for this whole last millennium -- lynched by the short whenever I get too comfortable, pursued by the long whenever I become too visible. The thing is, that kind of crap becomes little more than a nuissance -- a trifling distraction -- when you're dedicated to a larger mission.

I admit that it has been refreshing to have a purpose this last while, to have something to strive for.

And I shall never give up until I find my child.


Mark said...

Before I read today's entry, I wanted to ask everybody a question.

How do you read CBB?

Personally, I copy it, paste it into Word (hey, it's what we have here at work), then print it front-and-back and go read it in the only place folks can't see me.

Anonymous said...

I read it at my desk, in my office.

CBB: I agree with everything good that's been said about your story.

One little question: The age difference between Moses (10,000 ish) and Ella (2,000ish) is actually much less than between Moses and our "hero" (Moses + a few dozen thousand-ish), yet Lallo considers Moses to be closer to a peer.

I suppose a 50 year old and a 70 year old have more in common at 20 years distance than a 5 and 35, so I can see it making sense, but it was a tiny speedbump in the flow of my reading to ponder it.

In any event, I love the story, and the first person narrative. I also wish you were not stopping at 6 chapters. What a great mode of arriving at science fiction, by starting in the distant past.

Thanks for entertaining us,

Moksha Gren said...

Yet another great chapter. I'm very curious about Lallo and Ella's child. And I'm also curious now how far into the future this story will go, since he refers to the Roswell incident as happening "about ninteen or twenty centuries after Christ." Seems he's estimating from a pretty removed vantage point.

Can't say I need such planning. I have this blog set to my Google Homepage so I can click on the newest release as soon as it's posted. Then I just read off my work computer screen.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Luke,

I figure that Lallo and Moses have a special kinship because before meeting one another they each believed they were unique and alone, as Ella did when Lallo saw her in Patagonia.

Similarly, both have a special affection for Aum because he is a unique source of constancy in an ever-changing world.

Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Simon,

...Moses' diatribe there at the basilica reminded me of the responsibility espoused by the Executives in SoS.

Given a sufficiently large sample of stories you begin to notice, as a reader, what the overarching obsessions of the writer are. This cannot be avoided.

John Irving spent years denying vehemently that his stories were remotely autobiographical, and then last year admitted that great swaths of his personal psychology revolved around having had an affair with a much older woman as a teenager -- highlighting a theme of sexual power harped on in many, many of his novels. Denial ain't just a river, baby.

Similarly, it shouldn't surprise anyone to find me returning to certain set of themes in my stories.

What ties together the human executives or SOS, the long people of this current story, and the vigilante protagonist of Sandy is a Spider? They are all explorations of the use of power.

Both the human executives and the long people have to consider their actions in a context of responsibility much wider and far reaching than ordinary people do, because their power elevates them and therefore, to an extent, removes them from what we usually consider to be the normal human condition.

Similarly, Justine (Sandy) elevates herself to her best approximation of a superhero -- not entirely unlike Mike Zhang Cuthbertson in Night Flight Mike, who inserted himself into a situation which should have, all things being equal, been totally inaccessible to him.

Perhaps the motif here is a desire for the freedom to act and live in a way that is not ordinary, and the consequences of such freedoms.

Another theme I tend to be magnetized toward is unconventional forms of innocence -- Mike's innocense lending him the power to avoid corruption at Coriander's while more experienced adults surrender to it; Simon Fell's pseudo-innocence he awakes into to escape from his past as an evil man; Lallo's groundedness and earthiness in the face of a very complex life situation; Yves LeRoche's willing blindness to the larger part he plays within the American economy...

No doubt, more persistent motifs will make themselves apparent as we delve further into this storytelling experiment. I'm sure some of the results will surprise me.

After all, Victor's Mom's Car surprised the crap of me when I wrote it. I had no idea I was capable or even interested in taking such a dark journey.

...Time will tell.

As for the historical references: suffice it to say I've done a fair shake of research to colour Lallo's Earth. You're quite right that his casual mentions do reference actual events and people. For some reason I find this obfuscated form of hinting much more fun than spelling it out. Colour me a tease.

Cheeseburger Brown

Mark said...

The historical references are great. Iffin' Simon wants to read up on them, I reckon he can. Otherwise, let us gloss over them to hear more of Lallo's journey through time.

CBB, you can make this longer. Just start numbering 3b, 3c, etc. and you have a very long way to get to the sixth and final chapter.

Victor's Mom's Car was dark, but very good, CBB.

Okay, did I really admit where I usually read this? Pardon me. I obviously haven't had enough sleep lately.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I have quite grabed this story yet...
I am very intrigued by the story, but don't think I have sunk into it
as much as the others.


Mark- I put the site up when I get in work 8am. I read the chapter by popping in and out so that a co-worker wont see me. Takes me till about noon to finish.
Your way maybe a little more work but atleast I wont get in trouble.
I use to cut and paste the chapters of SOS onto a new memo page for my e-mail. that way it looked like I was working.....

I have gotten close to getting caught 4 times since i started this...... make that 5... 6

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty boring in that I read it as presented on the page. Though I do have it as one of my live bookmarks so I can find the latest chapter easily.

Eric said...

I paste mine into a little Notepad window in the corner of my screen, and then I sit in front of my monitor in such a way that people walking by can't see it.

This has been a great story so far. I agree that it's unfortunate that you only plan 6 entries for this. I can picture Lallo's tale stretching into an entire novel and still being quite engaging.

josh said...

I can't help but make the freshman mistake of equating the beliefs of the protagonist with the beliefs of the author. Especially given your comment on Irving, I wonder if there isn't something else that you need to work out.

If I might be so bold I would say it's an unusual view of humanity, especially with respect to death and sex. You seem to be searching for the right narrative "zing" that can be obtained through implicitly expressing apparently contradictory views on important subjects.

You have that wonderful combination of gifts: an enduring confidence in a set of probably inarticulatable ideas, and the urge and ability to communicate very well.

It is not just entertaining watching great ability struggle toward great insight, it is exciting.

gl. said...

i read it on the laptop when i should be doing other things. but when the rss feed calls, it takes a tremendous amount of will not to look. i hate it when i get behind and have to gulp down several chapters at once, in part because i don't get to comment in a timely fashion.