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The Lightning-Rod Man

Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by WonderSlug, Aug 14, 2007.

  1. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    "The Lightning-Rod Man"
    by Herman Melville


    What grand irregular thunder, thought I, standing on my hearth-stone among the Acroceraunian hills, as the scattered bolts boomed overhead, and crashed down among the valleys, every bolt followed by zigzag irradiations, and swift slants of sharp rain, which audibly rang, like a charge of spear-points, on my low shingled roof. I suppose, though, that the mountains hereabouts break and churn up the thunder, so that it is far more glorious here than on the plain. Hark!-some one at the door. Who is this that chooses a time of thunder for making calls? And why don't he, man-fashion, use the knocker, instead of making that doleful undertaker's clatter with his fist against the hollow panel? But let him in. Ah, here he comes. "Good day, sir:" an entire stranger. "Pray be seated." What is that strange-looking walking-stick he carries: "A fine thunder-storm, sir."

    "Fine?-Awful!"

    "You are wet. Stand here on the hearth before the fire."

    "Not for worlds!"

    The stranger still stood in the exact middle of the cottage, where he had first planted himself. His singularity impelled a closer scrutiny. A lean, gloomy figure. Hair dark and lank, mattedly streaked over his brow. His sunken pitfalls of eyes were ringed by indigo halos, and played with an innocuous sort of lightning: the gleam without the bolt. The whole man was dripping. He stood in a puddle on the bare oak floor: his strange walking-stick vertically resting at his side.

    It was a polished copper rod, four feet long, lengthwise attached to a neat wooden staff, by insertion into two balls of greenish glass, ringed with copper bands. The metal rod terminated at the top tripodwise, in three keen tines, brightly gilt. He held the thing by the wooden part alone.

    "Sir," said I, bowing politely, "have I the honor of a visit from that illustrious god, Jupiter Tonans? So stood he in the Greek statue of old, grasping the lightning-bolt. If you be he, or his viceroy, I have to thank you for this noble storm you have brewed among our mountains. Listen: that was a glorious peal. Ah, to a lover of the majestic, it is a good thing to have the Thunderer himself in one's cottage. The thunder grows finer for that. But pray be seated. This old rush-bottomed arm-chair, I grant, is a poor substitute for your evergreen throne on Olympus; but, condescend to be seated."

    While I thus pleasantly spoke, the stranger eyed me, half in wonder, and half in a strange sort of horror; but did not move a foot.

    "Do, sir, be seated; you need to be dried ere going forth again."

    I planted the chair invitingly on the broad hearth, where a little fire had been kindled that afternoon to dissipate the dampness, not the cold; for it was early in the month of September.

    But without heeding my solicitation, and still standing in the middle of the floor, the stranger gazed at me portentously and spoke.

    "Sir," said he, "excuse me; but instead of my accepting your invitation to be seated on the hearth there, I solemnly warn you, that you had best accept mine, and stand with me in the middle of the room. Good Heavens!" he cried, starting-"there is another of those awful crashes. I warn you, sir, quit the hearth."

    "Mr. Jupiter Tonans," said I, quietly rolling my body on the stone, "I stand very well here."

    "Are you so horridly ignorant, then," he cried, "as not to know, that by far the most dangerous part of a house, during such a terrific tempest as this, is the fire-place?"

    "Nay, I did not know that," involuntarily stepping upon the first board next to the stone.

    The stranger now assumed such an unpleasant air of successful admonition, that-quite involuntarily again-I stepped back upon the hearth, and threw myself into the erectest, proudest posture I could command. But I said nothing.

    "For Heaven's sake," he cried, with a strange mixture of alarm and intimidation-"for Heaven's sake, get off the hearth! Know you not, that the heated air and soot are conductors;-to say nothing of those immense iron fire-dogs? Quit the spot-I conjure-I command you."

    "Mr. Jupiter Tonans, I am not accustomed to be commanded in my own house."

    "Call me not by that pagan name. You are profane in this time of terror."

    "Sir, will you be so good as to tell me your business? If you seek shelter from the storm, you are welcome, so long as you be civil; but if you come on business, open it forthwith. Who are you?"

    "I am a dealer in lightning-rods," said the stranger, softening his tone; "my special business is-Merciful Heaven! what a crash!-Have you ever been struck-your premises I mean? No? It's best to be provided," significantly rattling his metallic staff on the floor,-"by nature, there are no castles in thunderstorms; yet, say but the word, and of this cottage I can make a Gibraltar by a few waves of this wand. Hark, what Himalayas of concussions!"

    "You interrupted yourself; your special business you were about to speak of."

    "My special business is to travel the country for orders for lightning-rods. This is my specimen rod;" tapping his staff; "I have the best of references"-fumbling in his pockets. "In Criggan last month, I put up three-and-twenty rods on only five buildings."

    "Let me see. Was it not at Criggan last week, about midnight on Saturday, that the steeple, the big elm, and the assemblyroom cupola were struck? Any of your rods there?"

    "Not on the tree and cupola, but the steeple"

    "Of what use is your rod, then?"

    "Of life-and-death use. But my workman was heedless. In fitting the rod at top to the steeple, he allowed a part of the metal to graze the tin sheeting. Hence the accident. Not my fault, but his. Hark!"

    "Never mind. That clap burst quite loud enough to be heard without finger-pointing. Did you hear of the event at Montreal last year? A servant girl struck at her bed-side with a rosary in her hand; the beads being metal. Does your beat extend into the Canadas?"

    "No. And I hear that there, iron rods only are in use. They should have mine, which are copper. Iron is easily fused. Then they draw out the rod so slender, that it has not body enough to conduct the full electric current. The metal melts; the building is destroyed. My copper rods never act so. Those Canadians are fools. Some of them knob the rod at the top, which risks a deadly explosion, instead of imperceptibly carrying down the current into the earth, as this sort of rod does. Mine is the only true rod. Look at it. Only one dollar a foot"

    "This abuse of your own calling in another might make one distrustful with respect to yourself."

    "Hark! The thunder becomes less muttering. It is nearing us, and nearing the earth, too. Hark! One crammed crash! All the vibrations made one by nearness. Another flash. Hold."

    "What do you?" I said, seeing him now instantaneously relinquishing his staff, lean intently forward towards the window, with his right fore and middle fingers on his left wrist.

    But ere the words had well escaped me, another exclamation escaped him.

    "Crash! only three pulses-less than a third of a mile off-yonder, somewhere in that wood. I passed three stricken oaks there, ripped out new and glittering. The oak draws lightning more than other timber, having iron in solution in its sap. Your floor here seems oak.

    "Heart-of-oak. From the peculiar time of your call upon me, I suppose you purposely select stormy weather for your journeys. When the thunder is roaring, you deem it an hour peculiarly favorable for producing impressions favorable to your trade."

    "Hark!-Awful!"

    "For one who would arm others with fearlessness, you seem unbeseemingly timorous yourself. Common men choose fair weather for their travels you choose thunder-storms; and yet---"

    "That I travel in thunder-storms, I grant; but not without particular precautions, such as only a lightning-rod man may know. Hark! Quick-look at my specimen rod. Only one dollar a foot."

    "A very fine rod, I dare say. But what are these particular precautions of yours? Yet first let me close yonder shutters; the slanting rain is beating through the sash. I will bar up."

    "Are you mad? Know you not that yon iron bar is a swift conductor? Desist."

    "I will simply close the shutters, then, and call my boy to bring me a wooden bar. Pray, touch the bell-pull there."

    "Are you frantic? That bell-wire might blast you. Never touch bell-wire in a thunder-storm, nor ring a bell of any sort."

    "Nor those in belfries? Pray, will you tell me where and how one may be safe in a time like this? Is there any part of my house I may touch with hopes of my life?"

    "There is; but not where you now stand. Come away from the wall. The current will sometimes run down a wall, and-a man being a better conductor than a wall-it would leave the wall and run into him. Swoop! That must have fallen very nigh. That must have been globular lightning."

    "Very probably. Tell me at once, which is, in your opinion, the safest part of this house?"

    "This room, and this one spot in it where I stand. Come hither."

    "The reasons first."

    "Hark!-after the flash the gust-the sashes shiver-the house, the house!-Come hither to me!"

    "The reasons, if you please."

    "Come hither to me!"

    "Thank you again, I think I will try my old stand-the hearth. And now, Mr. Lightning-rod man, in the pauses of the thunder, be so good as to tell me your reasons for esteeming this one room of the house the safest, and your own one standpoint there the safest spot in it."

    (continued)
     
  2. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    (continued)


    There was now a little cessation of the storm for a while. The Lightning-rod man seemed relieved, and replied:-

    "Your house is a one-storied house, with an attic and a cellar; this room is between. Hence its comparative safety. Because lightning sometimes passes from the clouds to the earth, and sometimes from the earth to the clouds. Do you comprehend?-and I choose the middle of the room, because, if the lightning should strike the house at all, it would come down the chimney or walls; so, obviously, the further you are from them, the better. Come hither to me, now."

    "Presently. Something you just said, instead of alarming me, has strangely inspired confidence."

    "What have I said?"

    "You said that sometimes lightning flashes from the earth to the clouds."

    "Aye, the returning-stroke, as it is called; when the earth, being overcharged with the fluid, flashes its surplus upward."

    "The returning-stroke; that is, from earth to sky. Better and better. But come here on the hearth and dry yourself."

    "I am better here, and better wet."

    "How?"

    "It is the safest thing you can do-Hark, again!-to get yourself thoroughly drenched in a thunder-storm. Wet clothes are better conductors than the body; and so, if the lightning strike, it might pass down the wet clothes without touching the body. The storm deepens again. Have you a rug in the house? Rugs are non-conductors. Get one, that I may stand on it here, and you, too. The skies blacken-it is dusk at noon. Hark!-the rug, the rug!"

    I gave him one; while the hooded mountains seemed closing and tumbling into the cottage.

    "And now, since our being dumb will not help us," said I, resuming my place, "let me hear your precautions in traveling during thunder-storms."

    "Wait till this one is passed."

    "Nay, proceed with the precautions. You stand in the safest possible place according to your own account. Go on."

    "Briefly, then. I avoid pine-trees, high houses, lonely barns, upland pastures, running water, flocks of cattle and sheep, a crowd of men. If I travel on foot-as to-day-I do not walk fast; if in my buggy, I touch not its back or sides; if on horseback, I dismount and lead the horse. But of all things, I avoid tall men."

    "Do I dream? Man avoid man? and in danger-time, too."

    "Tall men in a thunder-storm I avoid. Are you so grossly ignorant as not to know, that the height of a six-footer is sufficient to discharge an electric cloud upon him? Are not lonely Kentuckians, ploughing, smit in the unfinished furrow? Nay, if the six-footer stand by running water, the cloud will sometimes select him as its conductor to that running water. Hark! Sure, yon black pinnacle is split. Yes, a man is a good conductor. The lightning goes through and through a man, but only peels a tree. But sir, you have kept me so long answering your questions, that I have not yet come to business. Will you order one of my rods? Look at this specimen one? See: it is of the best of copper. Copper's the best conductor. Your house is low; but being upon the mountains, that lowness does not one whit depress it. You mountaineers are most exposed. In mountainous countries the lightning-rod man should have most business. Look at the specimen, sir. One rod will an! swer for a house so small as this. Look over these recommendations. Only one rod, sir; cost, only twenty dollars. Hark! There go all the granite Taconics and Hoosics dashed together like pebbles. By the sound, that must have struck something. An elevation of five feet above the house, will protect twenty feet radius all about the rod. Only twenty dollars, sir-a dollar a foot. Hark!-Dreadful!-Will you order? Will you buy? Shall I put down your name? Think of being a heap of charred offal, like a haltered horse burnt in his stall; and all in one flash!"

    "You pretended envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to and from Jupiter Tonans," laughed I; "you mere man who come here to put you and your pipestem between clay and sky, do you think that because you can strike a bit of green light from the Leyden jar, that you can thoroughly avert the supernal bolt? Your rod rusts, or breaks, and where are you? Who has empowered you, you Tetzel, to peddle round your indulgences from divine ordinations? The hairs of our heads are numbered, and the days of our lives. In thunder as in sunshine, I stand at ease in the hands of my God. False negotiator, away! See, the scroll of the storm is rolled back; the house is unharmed; and in the blue heavens I read in the rainbow, that the Deity will not, of purpose, make war on man's earth."

    "Impious wretch!" foamed the stranger, blackening in the face as the rainbow beamed, "I will publish your infidel notions."

    "Begone! move quickly! if quickly you can, you that shine forth into sight in moist times like the worm."

    The scowl grew blacker on his face; the indigo-circles enlarged round his eyes as the storm-rings round the midnight moon. He sprang upon me, his tri-forked thing at my heart.

    I seized it; I snapped it; I dashed it; I trod it; and dragging the dark lightning-king out of my door, flung his elbowed, copper sceptre after him.

    But spite of my treatment, and spite of my dissuasive talk of him to my neighbors, the Lightning-rod man still dwells in the land; still travels in storm-time, and drives a brave trade with the fears of man.

    ===========================
     
  3. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    The End of the Party

    by Graham Greene (1904-____ )


    Peter Morton woke with a start to face the first light. Rain tapped against the glass. It was January the fifth.

    He looked across a table on which a night-light had guttered into a pool of water, at the other bed. Francis Morton was still asleep, and Peter lay down again with his eyes on his brother. It amused him to imagine it was himself whom he watched, the same hair, the same eyes, the same lips and line of cheek. But the thought palled, and the mind went back to the fact which lent the day importance. It was the fifth of January. He could hardly believe a year had passed since Mrs Henne-Falcon had given her last children's party.

    Francis turned suddenly upon his back and threw an arm across his face, blocking his mouth. Peter's heart began to beat fast, not with pleasure now but with uneasiness. He sat up and called across the table, "Wake up." Francis's shoulders shook and he waved a clenched fist in the air, but his eyes remained closed. To Peter Morton the whole room seemed to darken, and he had the impression of a great bird swooping. He cried again, "Wake up," and once more there was silver light and the touch of rain on the windows.

    Francis rubbed his eyes. "Did you call out?"' he asked.

    "You are having a bad dream," Peter said. Already experience had taught him how far their minds reflected each other. But he was the elder, by a matter of minutes, and that brief extra interval of light, while his brother still struggled in pain and darkness, had given him self-reliance and an instinct of protection towards the other who was afraid of so many things.

    "I dreamed that I was dead," Francis said.

    "What was it like?"' Peter asked.

    "I can't remember," Francis said.

    "You dreamed of a big bird."

    "Did I?"

    The two lay silent in bed facing each other, the same green eyes, the same nose tilting at the tip, the same firm lips, and the same premature modelling of the chin. The fifth of January, Peter thought again, his mind drifting idly from the image of cakes to the prizes which might be won. Egg-and-spoon races, spearing apples in basins of water, blind man's buff.

    "I don't want to go," Francis said suddenly. "I suppose Joyce will be there ... Mabel Warren." Hateful to him, the thought of a party shared with those two. They were older than he. Joyce was eleven and Mabel Warren thirteen. The long pigtails swung superciliously to a masculine stride. Their sex humiliated him, as they watched him fumble with his egg, from under lowered scornful lids. And last year ... he turned his face away from Peter, his cheeks scarlet.

    "What's the matter?"' Peter asked.

    "Oh, nothing. I don't think I'm well. I've got a cold. I oughtn't to go to the party."

    Peter was puzzled. "But Francis, is it a bad cold?"

    "It will be a bad cold if I go to the party. Perhaps I shall die."

    "Then you mustn't go," Peter said, prepared to solve all difficulties with one plain sentence, and Francis let his nerves relax, ready to leave everything to Peter. But though he was grateful he did not turn his face towards his brother. His cheeks still bore the badge of a shameful memory, of the game of hide and seek last year in the darkened house, and of how he had screamed when Mabel Warren put her hand suddenly upon his arm. He had not heard her coming. Girls were like that. Their shoes never squeaked. No boards whined under the tread. They slunk like cats on padded claws.

    When the nurse came in with hot water Francis lay tranquil leaving everything to Peter. Peter said, "Nurse, Francis has got a cold."

    The tall starched woman laid the towels across the cans and said, without turning, "The washing won't be back till tomorrow. You must lend him some of your handkerchiefs."

    "But, Nurse," Peter asked, "hadn't he better stay in bed?"

    "We'll take him for a good walk this morning," the nurse said. "Wind'll blow away the germs. Get up now, both of you," and she closed the door behind her.

    "I'm sorry," Peter said. "Why don't you just stay in bed? I'll tell mother you felt too ill to get up." But rebellion against destiny was not in Francis's power. If he stayed in bed they would come up and tap his chest and put a thermometer in his mouth and look at his tongue, and they would discover he was malingering. It was true he felt ill, a sick empty sensation in his stomach and a rapidly beating heart, but he knew the cause was only fear, fear of the party, fear of being made to hide by himself in the dark, uncompanioned by Peter and with no night-light to make a blessed breach.

    "No, I'll get up," he said, and then with sudden desperation, "But I won't go to Mrs Henne-Falcon's party. I swear on the Bible I won't." Now surely all would be well, he thought. God would not allow him to break so solemn an oath. He would show him a way. There was all the morning before him and all the afternoon until four o'clock. No need to worry when the grass was still crisp with the early frost. Anything might happen. He might cut himself or break his leg or really catch a bad cold. God would manage somehow.

    He had such confidence in God that when at breakfast his mother said, "I hear you have a cold, Francis," he made light of it. "We should have heard more about it," his mother said with irony, "if there was not a party this evening," and Francis smiled, amazed and daunted by her ignorance of him.

    His happiness would have lasted longer if, out for a walk that morning, he had not met Joyce. He was alone with his nurse, for Peter had leave to finish a rabbit-hutch in the woodshed. If Peter had been there he would have cared less; the nurse was Peter's nurse also, but now it was as though she were employed only for his sake, because he could not be trusted to go for a walk alone. Joyce was only two years older and she was by herself.

    She came striding towards them, pigtails flapping. She glanced scornfully at Francis and spoke with ostentation to the nurse. "Hello, Nurse. Are you bringing Francis to the party this evening? Mabel and I are coming." And she was off again down the street in the direction of Mabel Warren's home, consciously alone and self-sufficient in the long empty road.

    "Such a nice girl," the nurse said. But Francis was silent, feeling again the jump-jump of his heart, realizing how soon the hour of the party would arrive. God had done nothing for him, and the minutes flew.

    They flew too quickly to plan any evasion, or even to prepare his heart for the coming ordeal. Panic nearly overcame him when, all unready, he found himself standing on the doorstep, with coat- collar turned up against a cold wind, and the nurse's electric torch making a short trail through the darkness. Behind him were the lights of the hall and the sound of a servant laying the table for dinner, which his mother and father would eat alone. He was nearly overcome by the desire to run back into the house and call out to his mother that he would not go to the party, that he dared not go. They could not make him go. He could almost hear himself saying those final words, breaking down for ever the barrier of ignorance which saved his mind from his parents' knowledge. "I'm afraid of going. I won't go. I daren't go. They'll make me hide in the dark, and I'm afraid of the dark. I'll scream and scream and scream."

    He could see the expression of amazement on his mother's face, and then the cold confidence of a grown- up's retort. "Don't be silly. You must go. We've accepted Mrs Henne-Falcon's invitation."

    But they couldn't make him go; hesitating on the doorstep while the nurse's feet crunched across the frost-covered grass to the gate, he knew that. He would answer: "You can say I'm ill. I won't go. I'm afraid of the dark." And his mother: "Don't be silly. You know there's nothing to be afraid of in the dark." But he knew the falsity of that reasoning; he knew how they taught also that there was nothing to fear in death, and how fearfully they avoided the idea of it. But they couldn't make him go to the party. "I'll scream. I'll scream."

    "Francis, come along." He heard the nurse's voice across the dimly phosphorescent lawn and saw the yellow circle of her torch wheel from tree to shrub. "I'm coming," he called with despair; he couldn't bring himself to lay bare his last secrets and end reserve between his mother and himself, for there was still in the last resort a further appeal possible to Mrs Henne- Falcon. He comforted himself with that, as he advanced steadily across the hall, very small, towards her enormous bulk. His heart beat unevenly, but he had control now over his voice, as he said with meticulous accent, "Good evening, Mrs Henne-Falcon. It was very good of you to ask me to your party." With his strained face lifted towards the curve of her breasts, and his polite set speech, he was like an old withered man. As a twin he was in many ways an only child. To address Peter was to speak to his own image in a mirror, an image a little altered by a flaw in the glass, so as to throw back less a likeness of what he was than of what he wished to be, what he would be without his unreasoning fear of darkness, footsteps of strangers, the flight of bats in dusk-filled gardens.


    (continued)
     
  4. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    (continued)

    "Sweet child," said Mrs Henne-Falcon absent-mindedly, before, with a wave of her arms, as though the children were a flock of chickens, she whirled them into her set programme of entertainments: egg-and-spoon races, three-legged races, the spearing of apples, games which held for Francis nothing worse than humiliation. And in the frequent intervals when nothing was required of him and he could stand alone in corners as far removed as possible from Mabel Warren's scornful gaze, he was able to plan how he might avoid the approaching terror of the dark. He knew there was nothing to fear until after tea, and not until he was sitting down in a pool of yellow radiance cast by the ten candles on Colin Henne- Falcon's birthday cake did he become fully conscious of the imminence of what he feared. He heard Joyce's high voice down the table, "After tea we are going to play hide and seek in the dark."

    "Oh, no," Peter said, watching Francis's troubled face, "don't let's. We play that every year."

    "But it's in the programme," cried Mabel Warren. "I saw it myself. I looked over Mrs Henne-Falcon's shoulder. Five o'clock tea. A quarter to six to half past, hide and seek in the dark. It's all written down in the programme."

    Peter did not argue, for if hide and seek had been inserted in Mrs Henne- Falcon's programme, nothing which he could say would avert it. He asked for another piece of birthday cake and sipped his tea slowly. Perhaps it might be possible to delay the game for a quarter of an hour, allow Francis at least a few extra minutes to form a plan, but even in that Peter failed, for children were already leaving the table in twos and threes. It was his third failure, and again he saw a great bird darken his brother's face with its wings. But he upbraided himself silently for his folly, and finished his cake encouraged by the memory of that adult refrain, "There's nothing to fear in the dark." The last to leave the table, the brothers came together to the hall to meet the mustering and impatient eyes of Mrs Henne- Falcon.

    "And now," she said, "we will play hide and seek in the dark."

    Peter watched his brother and saw the lips tighten. Francis, he knew, had feared this moment from the beginning of the party, had tried to meet it with courage and had abandoned the attempt. He must have prayed for cunning to evade the game, which was now welcomed with cries of excitement by all the other children. "Oh, do let's." "We must pick sides." "Is any of the house out of bounds?"' "Where shall home be?"'

    "I think," said Francis Morton, approaching Mrs Henne-Falcon, his eyes focused unwaveringly on her exuberant breasts, "it will be no use my playing. My nurse will be calling for me very soon."

    "Oh, but your nurse can wait, Francis," said Mrs Henne-Falcon, while she clapped her hands together to summon to her side a few children who were already straying up the wide staircase to upper floors. "Your mother will never mind."

    That had been the limit of Francis's cunning. He had refused to believe that so well- prepared an excuse could fail. All that he could say now, still in the precise tone which other children hated, thinking it a symbol of conceit, was, "I think I had better not play." He stood motionless, retaining, though afraid, unmoved features. But the knowledge of his terror, or the reflection of the terror itself, reached his brother's brain. For the moment, Peter Morton could have cried aloud with the fear of bright lights going out, leaving him alone in an island of dark surrounded by the gentle lappings of strange footsteps. Then he remembered that the fear was not his own, but his brother's. He said impulsively to Mrs Henne-Falcon, "Please, I don't think Francis should play. The dark makes him jump so." They were the wrong words. Six children began to sing, "Cowardy cowardy custard," turning torturing faces with the vacancy of wide sunflowers towards Francis Morton.

    Without looking at his brother, Francis said, "Of course I'll play. I'm not afraid, I only thought ..." But he was already forgotten by his human tormentors. The children scrambled round Mrs Henne- Falcon, their shrill voices pecking at her with questions and suggestions.

    "Yes, anywhere in the house. We will turn out all the lights. Yes, you can hide in the cupboards. You must stay hidden as long as you can. There will be no home."

    Peter stood apart, ashamed of the clumsy manner in which he had tried to help his brother. Now he could feel, creeping in at the corners of his brain, all Francis's resentment of his championing. Several children ran upstairs, and the lights on the top floor went out. Darkness came down like the wings of a bat and settled on the landing. Others began to put out the lights at the edge of the hall, till the children were all gathered in the central radiance of the chandelier, while the bats squatted round on hooded wings and waited for that, too, to be extinguished.

    "You and Francis are on the hiding side," a tall girl said, and then the light was gone, and the carpet wavered under his feet with the sibilance of footfalls, like small cold draughts, creeping away into corners.

    "Where's Francis?"' he wondered. "If I join him he'll be less frightened of all these sounds." "These sounds" were the casing of silence: the squeak of a loose board, the cautious closing of a cupboard door, the whine of a finger drawn along polished wood.

    Peter stood in the centre of the dark deserted floor, not listening but waiting for the idea of his brother's whereabouts to enter his brain. But Francis crouched with fingers on his ears, eyes uselessly closed, mind numbed against impressions, and only a sense of strain could cross the gap of dark. Then a voice called "Coming", and as though his brother's self- possession had been shattered by the sudden cry, Peter Morton jumped with his fear. But it was not his own fear. What in his brother was a burning panic was in him an altruistic emotion that left the reason unimpaired. "Where, if I were Francis, should I hide?"' And because he was, if not Francis himself, at least a mirror to him, the answer was immediate. "Between the oak bookcase on the left of the study door, and the leather settee." Between the twins there could be no jargon of telepathy. They had been together in the womb, and they could not be parted.

    Peter Morton tiptoed towards Francis's hiding-place. Occasionally a board rattled, and because he feared to be caught by one of the soft questers through the dark, he bent and untied his laces. A tag struck the floor and the metallic sound set a host of cautious feet moving in his direction. But by that time he was in his stockings and would have laughed inwardly at the pursuit had not the noise of someone stumbling on his abandoned shoes made his heart trip. No more boards revealed Peter Morton's progress.

    On stockinged feet he moved silently and unerringly towards his object. Instinct told him he was near the wall, and, extending a hand, he laid the fingers across his brother's face.

    Francis did not cry out, but the leap of his own heart revealed to Peter a proportion of Francis's terror. "It's all right," he whispered, feeling down the squatting figure until he captured a clenched hand. "It's only me. I'll stay with you." And grasping the other tightly, he listened to the cascade of whispers his utterance had caused to fall. A hand touched the book-case close to Peter's head and he was aware of how Francis's fear continued in spite of his presence. It was less intense, more bearable, he hoped, but it remained. He knew that it was his brother's fear and not his own that he experienced. The dark to him was only an absence of light; the groping hand that of a familiar child. Patiently he waited to be found.

    He did not speak again, for between Francis and himself was the most intimate communion. By way of joined hands thought could flow more swiftly than lips could shape themselves round words. He could experience the whole progress of his brother's emotion, from the leap of panic at the unexpected contact to the steady pulse of fear, which now went on and on with the regularity of a heart- beat. Peter Morton thought with intensity, "I am here. You needn't be afraid. The lights will go on again soon. That rustle, that movement is nothing to fear. Only Joyce, only Mabel Warren." He bombarded the drooping form with thoughts of safety, but he was conscious that the fear continued. "They are beginning to whisper together. They are tired of looking for us. The lights will go on soon. We shall have won. Don't be afraid. That was someone on the stairs. I believe it's Mrs Henne- Falcon. Listen. They are feeling for the lights." Feet moving on a carpet, hands brushing a wall, a curtain pulled apart, a clicking handle, the opening of a cupboard door. In the case above their heads a loose book shifted under a touch. "Only Joyce, only Mabel Warren, only Mrs Henne- Falcon," a crescendo of reassuring thought before the chandelier burst, like a fruit-tree, into bloom.

    The voice of the children rose shrilly into the radiance. "Where's Peter?"' "Have you looked upstairs?"' "Where's Francis?"' but they were silenced again by Mrs Henne-Falcon's scream. But she was not the first to notice Francis Morton's stillness, where he had collapsed against the wall at the touch of his brother's hand. Peter continued to hold the clenched fingers in an arid and puzzled grief. It was not merely that his brother was dead. His brain, too young to realize the full paradox, wondered with an obscure self- pity why it was that the pulse of his brother's fear went on and on, when Francis was now where he had always been told there was no more terror and no more--darkness.

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  5. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    A Descent Into the Maelstrom

    by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)



    The ways of God in Nature, as in Providence, are not as our ways ; nor are the models that we frame any way commensurate to the vastness, profundity, and unsearchableness of His works, which have a depth in them greater than the well of Democritus.

    Joseph Glanville.

    WE had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag. For some minutes the old man seemed too much exhausted to speak.

    "Not long ago," said he at length, "and I could have guided you on this route as well as the youngest of my sons ; but, about three years past, there happened to me an event such as never happened to mortal man - or at least such as no man ever survived to tell of - and the six hours of deadly terror which I then endured have broken me up body and soul. You suppose me a very old man - but I am not. It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened at a shadow. Do you know I can scarcely look over this little cliff without getting giddy ?"

    The "little cliff," upon whose edge he had so carelessly thrown himself down to rest that the weightier portion of his body hung over it, while he was only kept from falling by the tenure of his elbow on its extreme and slippery edge - this "little cliff" arose, a sheer unobstructed precipice of black shining rock, some fifteen or sixteen hundred feet from the world of crags beneath us. Nothing would have tempted me to within half a dozen yards of its brink. In truth so deeply was I excited by the perilous position of my companion, that I fell at full length upon the ground, clung to the shrubs around me, and dared not even glance upward at the sky - while I struggled in vain to divest myself of the idea that the very foundations of the mountain were in danger from the fury of the winds. It was long before I could reason myself into sufficient courage to sit up and look out into the distance.

    "You must get over these fancies," said the guide, "for I have brought you here that you might have the best possible view of the scene of that event I mentioned - and to tell you the whole story with the spot just under your eye."

    "We are now," he continued, in that particularizing manner which distinguished him - "we are now close upon the Norwegian coast - in the sixty-eighth degree of latitude - in the great province of Nordland - and in the dreary district of Lofoden. The mountain upon whose top we sit is Helseggen, the Cloudy. Now raise yourself up a little higher - hold on to the grass if you feel giddy - so - and look out, beyond the belt of vapor beneath us, into the sea."

    I looked dizzily, and beheld a wide expanse of ocean, whose waters wore so inky a hue as to bring at once to my mind the Nubian geographer's account of the Mare Tenebrarum . A panorama more deplorably desolate no human imagination can conceive. To the right and left, as far as the eye could reach, there lay outstretched, like ramparts of the world, lines of horridly black and beetling cliff, whose character of gloom was but the more forcibly illustrated by the surf which reared high up against its white and ghastly crest, howling and shrieking forever. Just opposite the promontory upon whose apex we were placed, and at a distance of some five or six miles out at sea, there was visible a small, bleak-looking island ; or, more properly, its position was discernible through the wilderness of surge in which it was enveloped. About two miles nearer the land, arose another of smaller size, hideously craggy and barren, and encompassed at various intervals by a cluster of dark rocks.

    The appearance of the ocean, in the space between the more distant island and the shore, had something very unusual about it. Although, at the time, so strong a gale was blowing landward that a brig in the remote offing lay to under a double-reefed trysail, and constantly plunged her whole hull out of sight, still there was here nothing like a regular swell, but only a short, quick, angry cross dashing of water in every direction - as well in the teeth of the wind as otherwise. Of foam there was little except in the immediate vicinity of the rocks.

    "The island in the distance," resumed the old man, "is called by the Norwegians Vurrgh. The one midway is Moskoe. That a mile to the northward is Ambaaren. Yonder are Islesen, Hotholm, Keildhelm, Suarven, and Buckholm. Farther off - between Moskoe and Vurrgh - are Otterholm, Flimen, Sandflesen, and Stockholm. These are the true names of the places - but why it has been thought necessary to name them at all, is more than either you or I can understand. Do you hear anything ? Do you see any change in the water ?"

    We had now been about ten minutes upon the top of Helseggen, to which we had ascended from the interior of Lofoden, so that we had caught no glimpse of the sea until it had burst upon us from the summit. As the old man spoke, I became aware of a loud and gradually increasing sound, like the moaning of a vast herd of buffaloes upon an American prairie; and at the same moment I perceived that what seamen term the chopping character of the ocean beneath us, was rapidly changing into a current which set to the eastward. Even while I gazed, this current acquired a monstrous velocity. Each moment added to its speed - to its headlong impetuosity. In five minutes the whole sea, as far as Vurrgh, was lashed into ungovernable fury ; but it was between Moskoe and the coast that the main uproar held its sway. Here the vast bed of the waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand conflicting channels, burst suddenly into phrensied convulsion - heaving, boiling, hissing - gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices, and all whirling and plunging on to the eastward with a rapidity which water never elsewhere assumes except in precipitous descents.

    In a few minutes more, there came over the scene another radical alteration. The general surface grew somewhat more smooth, and the whirlpools, one by one, disappeared, while prodigious streaks of foam became apparent where none had been seen before. These streaks, at length, spreading out to a great distance, and entering into combination, took unto themselves the gyratory motion of the subsided vortices, and seemed to form the germ of another more vast. Suddenly - very suddenly - this assumed a distinct and definite existence, in a circle of more than a mile in diameter. The edge of the whirl was represented by a broad belt of gleaming spray ; but no particle of this slipped into the mouth of the terrific funnel, whose interior, as far as the eye could fathom it, was a smooth, shining, and jet-black wall of water, inclined to the horizon at an angle of some forty-five degrees, speeding dizzily round and round with a swaying and sweltering motion, and sending forth to the winds an appalling voice, half shriek, half roar, such as not even the mighty cataract of Niagara ever lifts up in its agony to Heaven.

    The mountain trembled to its very base, and the rock rocked. I threw myself upon my face, and clung to the scant herbage in an excess of nervous agitation.

    "This," said I at length, to the old man - "this can be nothing else than the great whirlpool of the Maelström."

    "So it is sometimes termed," said he. "We Norwegians call it the Moskoe-ström, from the island of Moskoe in the midway."

    The ordinary accounts of this vortex had by no means prepared me for what I saw. That of Jonas Ramus, which is perhaps the most circumstantial of any, cannot impart the faintest conception either of the magnificence, or of the horror of the scene - or of the wild bewildering sense of the novel which confounds the beholder. I am not sure from what point of view the writer in question surveyed it, nor at what time ; but it could neither have been from the summit of Helseggen, nor during a storm. There are some passages of his description, nevertheless, which may be quoted for their details, although their effect is exceedingly feeble in conveying an impression of the spectacle.



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  6. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    "Between Lofoden and Moskoe," he says, "the depth of the water is between thirty-six and forty fathoms ; but on the other side, toward Ver (Vurrgh) this depth decreases so as not to afford a convenient passage for a vessel, without the risk of splitting on the rocks, which happens even in the calmest weather. When it is flood, the stream runs up the country between Lofoden and Moskoe with a boisterous rapidity ; but the roar of its impetuous ebb to the sea is scarce equalled by the loudest and most dreadful cataracts ; the noise being heard several leagues off, and the vortices or pits are of such an extent and depth, that if a ship comes within its attraction, it is inevitably absorbed and carried down to the bottom, and there beat to pieces against the rocks ; and when the water relaxes, the fragments thereof are thrown up again. But these intervals of tranquility are only at the turn of the ebb and flood, and in calm weather, and last but a quarter of an hour, its violence gradually returning. When the stream is most boisterous, and its fury heightened by a storm, it is dangerous to come within a Norway mile of it. Boats, yachts, and ships have been carried away by not guarding against it before they were within its reach. It likewise happens frequently, that whales come too near the stream, and are overpowered by its violence; and then it is impossible to describe their howlings and bellowings in their fruitless struggles to disengage themselves. A bear once, attempting to swim from Lofoden to Moskoe, was caught by the stream and borne down, while he roared terribly, so as to be heard on shore. Large stocks of firs and pine trees, after being absorbed by the current, rise again broken and torn to such a degree as if bristles grew upon them. This plainly shows the bottom to consist of craggy rocks, among which they are whirled to and fro. This stream is regulated by the flux and reflux of the sea - it being constantly high and low water every six hours. In the year 1645, early in the morning of Sexagesima Sunday, it raged with such noise and impetuosity that the very stones of the houses on the coast fell to the ground."

    In regard to the depth of the water, I could not see how this could have been ascertained at all in the immediate vicinity of the vortex. The "forty fathoms" must have reference only to portions of the channel close upon the shore either of Moskoe or Lofoden. The depth in the centre of the Moskoe-ström must be immeasurably greater ; and no better proof of this fact is necessary than can be obtained from even the sidelong glance into the abyss of the whirl which may be had from the highest crag of Helseggen. Looking down from this pinnacle upon the howling Phlegethon below, I could not help smiling at the simplicity with which the honest Jonas Ramus records, as a matter difficult of belief, the anecdotes of the whales and the bears; for it appeared to me, in fact, a self-evident thing, that the largest ship of the line in existence, coming within the influence of that deadly attraction, could resist it as little as a feather the hurricane, and must disappear bodily and at once.

    The attempts to account for the phenomenon - some of which, I remember, seemed to me sufficiently plausible in perusal - now wore a very different and unsatisfactory aspect. The idea generally received is that this, as well as three smaller vortices among the Ferroe islands, "have no other cause than the collision of waves rising and falling, at flux and reflux, against a ridge of rocks and shelves, which confines the water so that it precipitates itself like a cataract ; and thus the higher the flood rises, the deeper must the fall be, and the natural result of all is a whirlpool or vortex, the prodigious suction of which is sufficiently known by lesser experiments." - These are the words of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Kircher and others imagine that in the centre of the channel of the Maelström is an abyss penetrating the globe, and issuing in some very remote part - the Gulf of Bothnia being somewhat decidedly named in one instance. This opinion, idle in itself, was the one to which, as I gazed, my imagination most readily assented ; and, mentioning it to the guide, I was rather surprised to hear him say that, although it was the view almost universally entertained of the subject by the Norwegians, it nevertheless was not his own. As to the former notion he confessed his inability to comprehend it ; and here I agreed with him - for, however conclusive on paper, it becomes altogether unintelligible, and even absurd, amid the thunder of the abyss.

    "You have had a good look at the whirl now," said the old man, "and if you will creep round this crag, so as to get in its lee, and deaden the roar of the water, I will tell you a story that will convince you I ought to know something of the Moskoe-ström."

    I placed myself as desired, and he proceeded.

    "Myself and my two brothers once owned a schooner-rigged smack of about seventy tons burthen, with which we were in the habit of fishing among the islands beyond Moskoe, nearly to Vurrgh. In all violent eddies at sea there is good fishing, at proper opportunities, if one has only the courage to attempt it ; but among the whole of the Lofoden coastmen, we three were the only ones who made a regular business of going out to the islands, as I tell you. The usual grounds are a great way lower down to the southward. There fish can be got at all hours, without much risk, and therefore these places are preferred. The choice spots over here among the rocks, however, not only yield the finest variety, but in far greater abundance ; so that we often got in a single day, what the more timid of the craft could not scrape together in a week. In fact, we made it a matter of desperate speculation - the risk of life standing instead of labor, and courage answering for capital.

    "We kept the smack in a cove about five miles higher up the coast than this ; and it was our practice, in fine weather, to take advantage of the fifteen minutes' slack to push across the main channel of the Moskoe-ström, far above the pool, and then drop down upon anchorage somewhere near Otterholm, or Sandflesen, where the eddies are not so violent as elsewhere. Here we used to remain until nearly time for slack-water again, when we weighed and made for home. We never set out upon this expedition without a steady side wind for going and coming - one that we felt sure would not fail us before our return - and we seldom made a mis-calculation upon this point. Twice, during six years, we were forced to stay all night at anchor on account of a dead calm, which is a rare thing indeed just about here ; and once we had to remain on the grounds nearly a week, starving to death, owing to a gale which blew up shortly after our arrival, and made the channel too boisterous to be thought of. Upon this occasion we should have been driven out to sea in spite of everything, (for the whirlpools threw us round and round so violently, that, at length, we fouled our anchor and dragged it) if it had not been that we drifted into one of the innumerable cross currents - here to-day and gone to-morrow - which drove us under the lee of Flimen, where, by good luck, we brought up.

    "I could not tell you the twentieth part of the difficulties we encountered 'on the grounds' - it is a bad spot to be in, even in good weather - but we made shift always to run the gauntlet of the Moskoe-ström itself without accident ; although at times my heart has been in my mouth when we happened to be a minute or so behind or before the slack. The wind sometimes was not as strong as we thought it at starting, and then we made rather less way than we could wish, while the current rendered the smack unmanageable. My eldest brother had a son eighteen years old, and I had two stout boys of my own. These would have been of great assistance at such times, in using the sweeps, as well as afterward in fishing - but, somehow, although we ran the risk ourselves, we had not the heart to let the young ones get into the danger - for, after all is said and done, it was a horrible danger, and that is the truth.

    "It is now within a few days of three years since what I am going to tell you occurred. It was on the tenth day of July, 18-, a day which the people of this part of the world will never forget - for it was one in which blew the most terrible hurricane that ever came out of the heavens. And yet all the morning, and indeed until late in the afternoon, there was a gentle and steady breeze from the south-west, while the sun shone brightly, so that the oldest seaman among us could not have foreseen what was to follow.

    "The three of us - my two brothers and myself - had crossed over to the islands about two o'clock P. M., and had soon nearly loaded the smack with fine fish, which, we all remarked, were more plenty that day than we had ever known them. It was just seven, by my watch , when we weighed and started for home, so as to make the worst of the Ström at slack water, which we knew would be at eight.

    "We set out with a fresh wind on our starboard quarter, and for some time spanked along at a great rate, never dreaming of danger, for indeed we saw not the slightest reason to apprehend it. All at once we were taken aback by a breeze from over Helseggen. This was most unusual - something that had never happened to us before - and I began to feel a little uneasy, without exactly knowing why. We put the boat on the wind, but could make no headway at all for the eddies, and I was upon the point of proposing to return to the anchorage, when, looking astern, we saw the whole horizon covered with a singular copper-colored cloud that rose with the most amazing velocity.



    (continued)
     
  7. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    "In the meantime the breeze that had headed us off fell away, and we were dead becalmed, drifting about in every direction. This state of things, however, did not last long enough to give us time to think about it. In less than a minute the storm was upon us - in less than two the sky was entirely overcast - and what with this and the driving spray, it became suddenly so dark that we could not see each other in the smack.

    "Such a hurricane as then blew it is folly to attempt describing. The oldest seaman in Norway never experienced any thing like it. We had let our sails go by the run before it cleverly took us ; but, at the first puff, both our masts went by the board as if they had been sawed off - the mainmast taking with it my youngest brother, who had lashed himself to it for safety.

    "Our boat was the lightest feather of a thing that ever sat upon water. It had a complete flush deck, with only a small hatch near the bow, and this hatch it had always been our custom to batten down when about to cross the Ström, by way of precaution against the chopping seas. But for this circumstance we should have foundered at once - for we lay entirely buried for some moments. How my elder brother escaped destruction I cannot say, for I never had an opportunity of ascertaining. For my part, as soon as I had let the foresail run, I threw myself flat on deck, with my feet against the narrow gunwale of the bow, and with my hands grasping a ring-bolt near the foot of the fore-mast. It was mere instinct that prompted me to do this - which was undoubtedly the very best thing I could have done - for I was too much flurried to think.

    "For some moments we were completely deluged, as I say, and all this time I held my breath, and clung to the bolt. When I could stand it no longer I raised myself upon my knees, still keeping hold with my hands, and thus got my head clear. Presently our little boat gave herself a shake, just as a dog does in coming out of the water, and thus rid herself, in some measure, of the seas. I was now trying to get the better of the stupor that had come over me, and to collect my senses so as to see what was to be done, when I felt somebody grasp my arm. It was my elder brother, and my heart leaped for joy, for I had made sure that he was overboard - but the next moment all this joy was turned into horror - for he put his mouth close to my ear, and screamed out the word ' Moskoe-ström! '

    "No one ever will know what my feelings were at that moment. I shook from head to foot as if I had had the most violent fit of the ague. I knew what he meant by that one word well enough - I knew what he wished to make me understand. With the wind that now drove us on, we were bound for the whirl of the Ström, and nothing could save us !

    "You perceive that in crossing the Ström channel, we always went a long way up above the whirl, even in the calmest weather, and then had to wait and watch carefully for the slack - but now we were driving right upon the pool itself, and in such a hurricane as this! 'To be sure,' I thought, 'we shall get there just about the slack - there is some little hope in that' - but in the next moment I cursed myself for being so great a fool as to dream of hope at all. I knew very well that we were doomed, had we been ten times a ninety-gun ship.

    "By this time the first fury of the tempest had spent itself, or perhaps we did not feel it so much, as we scudded before it, but at all events the seas, which at first had been kept down by the wind, and lay flat and frothing, now got up into absolute mountains. A singular change, too, had come over the heavens. Around in every direction it was still as black as pitch, but nearly overhead there burst out, all at once, a circular rift of clear sky - as clear as I ever saw - and of a deep bright blue - and through it there blazed forth the full moon with a lustre that I never before knew her to wear. She lit up every thing about us with the greatest distinctness - but, oh God, what a scene it was to light up!

    "I now made one or two attempts to speak to my brother - but, in some manner which I could not understand, the din had so increased that I could not make him hear a single word, although I screamed at the top of my voice in his ear. Presently he shook his head, looking as pale as death, and held up one of his finger, as if to say 'listen! '

    "At first I could not make out what he meant - but soon a hideous thought flashed upon me. I dragged my watch from its fob. It was not going. I glanced at its face by the moonlight, and then burst into tears as I flung it far away into the ocean. It had run down at seven o'clock! We were behind the time of the slack, and the whirl of the Ström was in full fury!

    "When a boat is well built, properly trimmed, and not deep laden, the waves in a strong gale, when she is going large, seem always to slip from beneath her - which appears very strange to a landsman - and this is what is called riding, in sea phrase. Well, so far we had ridden the swells very cleverly ; but presently a gigantic sea happened to take us right under the counter, and bore us with it as it rose - up - up - as if into the sky. I would not have believed that any wave could rise so high. And then down we came with a sweep, a slide, and a plunge, that made me feel sick and dizzy, as if I was falling from some lofty mountain-top in a dream. But while we were up I had thrown a quick glance around - and that one glance was all sufficient. I saw our exact position in an instant. The Moskoe-Ström whirlpool was about a quarter of a mile dead ahead - but no more like the every-day Moskoe-Ström, than the whirl as you now see it is like a mill-race. If I had not known where we were, and what we had to expect, I should not have recognised the place at all. As it was, I involuntarily closed my eyes in horror. The lids clenched themselves together as if in a spasm.

    "It could not have been more than two minutes afterward until we suddenly felt the waves subside, and were enveloped in foam. The boat made a sharp half turn to larboard, and then shot off in its new direction like a thunderbolt. At the same moment the roaring noise of the water was completely drowned in a kind of shrill shriek - such a sound as you might imagine given out by the waste-pipes of many thousand steam-vessels, letting off their steam all together. We were now in the belt of surf that always surrounds the whirl ; and I thought, of course, that another moment would plunge us into the abyss - down which we could only see indistinctly on account of the amazing velocity with which we wore borne along. The boat did not seem to sink into the water at all, but to skim like an air-bubble upon the surface of the surge. Her starboard side was next the whirl, and on the larboard arose the world of ocean we had left. It stood like a huge writhing wall between us and the horizon.

    "It may appear strange, but now, when we were in the very jaws of the gulf, I felt more composed than when we were only approaching it. Having made up my mind to hope no more, I got rid of a great deal of that terror which unmanned me at first. I suppose it was despair that strung my nerves.

    "It may look like boasting - but what I tell you is truth - I began to reflect how magnificent a thing it was to die in such a manner, and how foolish it was in me to think of so paltry a consideration as my own individual life, in view of so wonderful a manifestation of God's power. I do believe that I blushed with shame when this idea crossed my mind. After a little while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make ; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see. These, no doubt, were singular fancies to occupy a man's mind in such extremity - and I have often thought since, that the revolutions of the boat around the pool might have rendered me a little light-headed.

    "There was another circumstance which tended to restore my self-possession ; and this was the cessation of the wind, which could not reach us in our present situation - for, as you saw yourself, the belt of surf is considerably lower than the general bed of the ocean, and this latter now towered above us, a high, black, mountainous ridge. If you have never been at sea in a heavy gale, you can form no idea of the confusion of mind occasioned by the wind and spray together. They blind, deafen, and strangle you, and take away all power of action or reflection. But we were now, in a great measure, rid of these annoyances - just us death-condemned felons in prison are allowed petty indulgences, forbidden them while their doom is yet uncertain.


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  8. sdbound

    sdbound Well-Known Member

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    Can I have my 5 minutes back?
     
  9. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    "How often we made the circuit of the belt it is impossible to say. We careered round and round for perhaps an hour, flying rather than floating, getting gradually more and more into the middle of the surge, and then nearer and nearer to its horrible inner edge. All this time I had never let go of the ring-bolt. My brother was at the stern, holding on to a small empty water-cask which had been securely lashed under the coop of the counter, and was the only thing on deck that had not been swept overboard when the gale first took us. As we approached the brink of the pit he let go his hold upon this, and made for the ring, from which, in the agony of his terror, he endeavored to force my hands, as it was not large enough to afford us both a secure grasp. I never felt deeper grief than when I saw him attempt this act - although I knew he was a madman when he did it - a raving maniac through sheer fright. I did not care, however, to contest the point with him. I knew it could make no difference whether either of us held on at all ; so I let him have the bolt, and went astern to the cask. This there was no great difficulty in doing ; for the smack flew round steadily enough, and upon an even keel - only swaying to and fro, with the immense sweeps and swelters of the whirl. Scarcely had I secured myself in my new position, when we gave a wild lurch to starboard, and rushed headlong into the abyss. I muttered a hurried prayer to God, and thought all was over.

    "As I felt the sickening sweep of the descent, I had instinctively tightened my hold upon the barrel, and closed my eyes. For some seconds I dared not open them - while I expected instant destruction, and wondered that I was not already in my death-struggles with the water. But moment after moment elapsed. I still lived. The sense of falling had ceased ; and the motion of the vessel seemed much as it had been before, while in the belt of foam, with the exception that she now lay more along. I took courage, and looked once again upon the scene.

    "Never shall I forget the sensations of awe, horror, and admiration with which I gazed about me. The boat appeared to be hanging, as if by magic, midway down, upon the interior surface of a funnel vast in circumference, prodigious in depth, and whose perfectly smooth sides might have been mistaken for ebony, but for the bewildering rapidity with which they spun around, and for the gleaming and ghastly radiance they shot forth, as the rays of the full moon, from that circular rift amid the clouds which I have already described, streamed in a flood of golden glory along the black walls, and far away down into the inmost recesses of the abyss.

    "At first I was too much confused to observe anything accurately. The general burst of terrific grandeur was all that I beheld. When I recovered myself a little, however, my gaze fell instinctively downward. In this direction I was able to obtain an unobstructed view, from the manner in which the smack hung on the inclined surface of the pool. She was quite upon an even keel - that is to say, her deck lay in a plane parallel with that of the water - but this latter sloped at an angle of more than forty-five degrees, so that we seemed to be lying upon our beam-ends. I could not help observing, nevertheless, that I had scarcely more difficulty in maintaining my hold and footing in this situation, than if we had been upon a dead level ; and this, I suppose, was owing to the speed at which we revolved.

    "The rays of the moon seemed to search the very bottom of the profound gulf ; but still I could make out nothing distinctly, on account of a thick mist in which everything there was enveloped, and over which there hung a magnificent rainbow, like that narrow and tottering bridge which Mussulmen say is the only pathway between Time and Eternity. This mist, or spray, was no doubt occasioned by the clashing of the great walls of the funnel, as they all met together at the bottom - but the yell that went up to the Heavens from out of that mist, I dare not attempt to describe.

    "Our first slide into the abyss itself, from the belt of foam above, had carried us a great distance down the slope ; but our farther descent was by no means proportionate. Round and round we swept - not with any uniform movement - but in dizzying swings and jerks, that sent us sometimes only a few hundred yards - sometimes nearly the complete circuit of the whirl. Our progress downward, at each revolution, was slow, but very perceptible.

    "Looking about me upon the wide waste of liquid ebony on which we were thus borne, I perceived that our boat was not the only object in the embrace of the whirl. Both above and below us were visible fragments of vessels, large masses of building timber and trunks of trees, with many smaller articles, such as pieces of house furniture, broken boxes, barrels and staves. I have already described the unnatural curiosity which had taken the place of my original terrors. It appeared to grow upon me as I drew nearer and nearer to my dreadful doom. I now began to watch, with a strange interest, the numerous things that floated in our company. I must have been delirious - for I even sought amusement in speculating upon the relative velocities of their several descents toward the foam below. 'This fir tree,' I found myself at one time saying, 'will certainly be the next thing that takes the awful plunge and disappears,' - and then I was disappointed to find that the wreck of a Dutch merchant ship overtook it and went down before. At length, after making several guesses of this nature, and being deceived in all - this fact - the fact of my invariable miscalculation - set me upon a train of reflection that made my limbs again tremble, and my heart beat heavily once more.



    (continued)
     
  10. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    "It was not a new terror that thus affected me, but the dawn of a more exciting hope. This hope arose partly from memory, and partly from present observation. I called to mind the great variety of buoyant matter that strewed the coast of Lofoden, having been absorbed and then thrown forth by the Moskoe-ström. By far the greater number of the articles were shattered in the most extraordinary way - so chafed and roughened as to have the appearance of being stuck full of splinters - but then I distinctly recollected that there were some of them which were not disfigured at all. Now I could not account for this difference except by supposing that the roughened fragments were the only ones which had been completely absorbed - that the others had entered the whirl at so late a period of the tide, or, for some reason, had descended so slowly after entering, that they did not reach the bottom before the turn of the flood came, or of the ebb, as the case might be. I conceived it possible, in either instance, that they might thus be whirled up again to the level of the ocean, without undergoing the fate of those which had been drawn in more early, or absorbed more rapidly. I made, also, three important observations. The first was, that, as a general rule, the larger the bodies were, the more rapid their descent - the second, that, between two masses of equal extent, the one spherical, and the other of any other shape , the superiority in speed of descent was with the sphere - the third, that, between two masses of equal size, the one cylindrical, and the other of any other shape, the cylinder was absorbed the more slowly. Since my escape, I have had several conversations on this subject with an old school-master of the district ; and it was from him that I learned the use of the words 'cylinder' and 'sphere.' He explained to me - although I have forgotten the explanation - how what I observed was, in fact, the natural consequence of the forms of the floating fragments - and showed me how it happened that a cylinder, swimming in a vortex, offered more resistance to its suction, and was drawn in with greater difficulty than an equally bulky body, of any form whatever.

    "There was one startling circumstance which went a great way in enforcing these observations, and rendering me anxious to turn them to account, and this was that, at every revolution, we passed something like a barrel, or else the yard or the mast of a vessel, while many of these things, which had been on our level when I first opened my eyes upon the wonders of the whirlpool, were now high up above us, and seemed to have moved but little from their original station.

    "I no longer hesitated what to do. I resolved to lash myself securely to the water cask upon which I now held, to cut it loose from the counter, and to throw myself with it into the water. I attracted my brother's attention by signs, pointed to the floating barrels that came near us, and did everything in my power to make him understand what I was about to do. I thought at length that he comprehended my design - but, whether this was the case or not, he shook his head despairingly, and refused to move from his station by the ring-bolt. It was impossible to reach him; the emergency admitted of no delay ; and so, with a bitter struggle, I resigned him to his fate, fastened myself to the cask by means of the lashings which secured it to the counter, and precipitated myself with it into the sea, without another moment's hesitation.

    "The result was precisely what I had hoped it might be. As it is myself who now tell you this tale - as you see that I did escape - and as you are already in possession of the mode in which this escape was effected, and must therefore anticipate all that I have farther to say - I will bring my story quickly to conclusion. It might have been an hour, or thereabout, after my quitting the smack, when, having descended to a vast distance beneath me, it made three or four wild gyrations in rapid succession, and, bearing my loved brother with it, plunged headlong, at once and forever, into the chaos of foam below. The barrel to which I was attached sunk very little farther than half the distance between the bottom of the gulf and the spot at which I leaped overboard, before a great change took place in the character of the whirlpool. The slope of the sides of the vast funnel became momently less and less steep. The gyrations of the whirl grew, gradually, less and less violent. By degrees, the froth and the rainbow disappeared, and the bottom of the gulf seemed slowly to uprise. The sky was clear, the winds had gone down, and the full moon was setting radiantly in the west, when I found myself on the surface of the ocean, in full view of the shores of Lofoden, and above the spot where the pool of the Moskoe-ström had been . It was the hour of the slack - but the sea still heaved in mountainous waves from the effects of the hurricane. I was borne violently into the channel of the Ström, and in a few minutes was hurried down the coast into the 'grounds' of the fishermen. A boat picked me up - exhausted from fatigue - and (now that the danger was removed) speechless from the memory of its horror. Those who drew me on board were my old mates and daily companions - but they knew me no more than they would have known a traveller from the spirit-land. My hair which had been raven-black the day before, was as white as you see it now. They say too that the whole expression of my countenance had changed. I told them my story - they did not believe it. I now tell it to you - and I can scarcely expect you to put more faith in it than did the merry fishermen of Lofoden."

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  11. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    AMERICAN DREAM

    by Joseph Straub


    The American Dream has meant a great deal over the past years. It has been a dream made by people who, at one time or another, lived outside of America. It says that America is a wonderful place where anyone can go to be free. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of thought all really meant something to those people. Those people that had to have those freedoms came to America because it was the only place that really thrived on and supported freedom. One example of people who came to America is the pilgrims. The pilgrims came to America to avoid religious prosecution and believe in what they wanted to. Even today many of the people who live in other nations would give anything to come to America just to be free.

    But many of the 'Americans' who have lived in the USA their whole life have lost sight of the American Dream. Who is at fault here is not really the point nor is it at all important, so don't turn around and place the blame on someone else.

    Many US citizens have fallen into the 'rut' of a follower's life and the only thing they chose to do about it is nothing. This is the problem today. Too many so called Americans rely on things being given to them; they expect life to be easy and carefree. They expect life to be easy and carefree, and therefore, they choose to be a follower and do nothing for themselves. They believe that if something is not easy or simple, then it just can't be done. This is seen a lot in public schools across America. Students will often say, "How does [the teacher] expect us to do this! [The teacher] never gave us that equation!" This quote from a PSHS student illustrates how much students depend on the answers being given to them. Some of them just don't want to think, while others don't know how.

    They also believe that if life does not roll the way they'd like it to then they are somehow different. Therefore, because they don't have the easy life they deserve special attention and must have someone to help them live this egregious life of theirs. The people being explained here are the ones who were born into a difficult life and simply don't want to make their lives better. They don't want to make their lives better because they are afraid of work. But this person is not a noble American, and many of you who say, "That's not me," and "I'm not like that," are definitely like that. You say this because you don't want to analyze your life and find something that isn't just fine and dandy. Well, I have news for you simple minded selfish fools who think you can call yourselves Americans.

    This country was built by thinkers and doers, not by watchers and waiters, as a haven for those who are thinkers and doers. So if you are not one of these people then you should not be calling yourself a true American, and if you are not a thinker or a doer, then you should just get out of the way. You say this is harsh, but what good is it to sit in a free country and not be free? So, go sit in a corner while you reevaluate your life, and watch the real Americans shape their lives with the only tool needed, freedom, the freedom that can only be used by someone who really wants to use it. And if you do not want to, then perhaps you should switch places with someone living in another country who can not have this freedom. These are the ones who truly understand what the American Dream is all about.

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  12. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    The Four Wives



    There was a rich merchant who had 4 wives. He loved the 4th wife the most and adorned her with rich robes and treated her to delicacies. He took great care of her and gave her nothing but the best.

    He also loved the 3rd wife very much. He's very proud of her and always wanted to show off her to his friends. However, the merchant is always in great fear that she might run away with some other men.

    He too, loved his 2nd wife. She is a very considerate person, always patient and in fact is the merchant's confidante. Whenever the merchant faced some problems, he always turned to his 2nd wife and she would always help him out and tide him through difficult times.

    Now, the merchant's 1st wife is a very loyal partner and has made great contributions in maintaining his wealth and business as well as taking care of the household. However, the merchant did not love the first wife and although she loved him deeply, he hardly took notice of her.

    One day, the merchant fell ill. Before long, he knew that he was going to die soon. He thought of his luxurious life and told himself, "Now I have 4 wives with me. But when I die, I'll be alone. How lonely I'll be!"

    Thus, he asked the 4th wife, "I loved you most, endowed you with the finest clothing and showered great care over you. Now that I'm dying, will you follow me and keep me company?" "No way!" replied the 4th wife and she walked away without another word.

    The answer cut like a sharp knife right into the merchant's heart. The sad merchant then asked the 3rd wife, "I have loved you so much for all my life. Now that I'm dying, will you follow me and keep me company?" "No!" replied the 3rd wife. "Life is so good over here! I'm going to remarry when you die!" The merchant's heart sank and turned cold.

    He then asked the 2nd wife, "I always turned to you for help and you've always helped me out. Now I need your help again. When I die, will you follow me and keep me company?" "I'm sorry, I can't help you out this time!" replied the 2nd wife. "At the very most, I can only send you to your grave." The answer came like a bolt of thunder and the merchant was devastated.

    Then a voice called out : "I'll leave with you. I'll follow you no matter where you go." The merchant looked up and there was his first wife. She was so skinny, almost like she suffered from malnutrition. Greatly grieved, the merchant said, "I should have taken much better care of you while I could have !"

    Actually, we all have 4 wives in our lives

    a. The 4th wife is our body. No matter how much time and effort we lavish in making it look good, it'll leave us when we die.

    b. Our 3rd wife ? Our possessions, status and wealth. When we die, they all go to others.

    c. The 2nd wife is our family and friends. No matter how close they had been there for us when we're alive, the furthest they can stay by us is up to the grave.

    d. The 1st wife is in fact our soul, often neglected in our pursuit of material, wealth and sensual pleasure.

    Guess what? It is actually the only thing that follows us wherever we go. Perhaps it's a good idea to cultivate and strengthen it now rather than to wait until we're on our deathbed to lament.

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  13. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    ATTACK OF THE MILE-HIGH MENACE

    by Aaron R. Steinmetz



    After my twin brother and I parted ways, he went to one of his high school senior drinking parties, and left me alone so I could hang out at the apartment and wallow in my own little depression. Friday nights really suck when you're single.

    I was still out of breath when I deposited my jacket on my bed, but by the time I reached the kitchen I was glad when I saw that I was alone in the apartment. Only, I wasn't alone. In fact, I was outnumbered a thousand to one. From the empty box of donuts in the trash can, up the counter wall, across the counter and up the kitchen wall to an imaginary hole behind the glassware cabinet ran a thick line of serpentine ants.

    I shook my head and closed my eyes. "And the blows just keep on coming."

    Exploring the kitchen I found them spreading around the sink, zigzagging in and around the silverware, and my skin began to crawl at the thought of them invading my stash of cheap macaroni and cheese. I checked. Fortunately for me there are some things even ants won't touch. I picked up the phone.

    "Hey, Mom."

    "Hi honey!" Mom sounds perky whenever I call her at work. I guess cutting people's hair gives her some kind of thrill or something. "How did things go with Sandy?"

    There weren't any on me but I still felt the need to scratch imaginary ants. "I'll tell you about it tonight."

    "Ah. Okay." Moms have a way of understanding you better from the sound of your voice than from anything you actually say.

    I scanned the counter watching an ant blindly follow the ant in front of him. "We have a bit of a problem, Mom."

    "What's that, kiddo?"

    "Well first off, my car broke down again, but Dad and I'll work on that. I called you 'cause we've got ants all over the kitchen." Remembering that ants find their way by following the scent of the ants in front of it, I licked my finger and slid it through a gap in the line, and then smiled when the ant before the gap began to search around, lost without his guiding line.

    She groaned, and after the groan I heard the sound of scissors snipping away. It always amazes me that Mom can talk on the phone and cut hair at the same time. "I saw a few this morning. I knew they were coming."

    "What should I do?"

    Basically, Mom told me to spray down any ants I see with Windex and then head down to the store and pick up something called Grant's Ant Control System. So I picked up the bottle from the hallway closet, switched it to "mist," and I headed back into the kitchen to meet the enemy on my own terrain. Staring through squinted eyelids over the line of ants, I let out one spray dead center. They began to writhe and wiggle in the acidic ammonia, and then, individually, they slowly stopped moving. I smiled. I let out another spray. They scattered. I smiled wider. Switching the nozzle to "stream," I started picking off individual ants one at a time. My lips formed a menacing, toothy grin. They fell, one by one.

    As I was walking back from the store with Grant's Ant Control System, I passed my car, dead on the side of the road. Running my hand across her as I strolled by, I muttered, "Don't worry, honey. We'll figure out what's wrong with you. And we'll get you home."

    My mind wandered as I thought about the ants I had killed earlier. I pictured them exploring the battlefield in sullen silence hoping to find their fallen comrades. But those creatures' corpses were all wadded up inside a paper towel at the bottom of the empty trash can, and I smiled as I imagined them sending out a scouting party to the bottom of the trash can, not only to find that their ample food supply was gone, but also to see the ant graveyard, to look upon the twisted bodies strewn about the bottom of the wastebasket, and run home screaming.

    So when I arrived at home, I was actually pleased to find that more ants had wandered out onto the counter. . .

    "It was awful, sir! It was horrible! It was the most gruesome thing I've ever seen!"

    "Calm down, soldier." The sergeant ant patted down the young ant cadet with his twig-like arm. All around them, wounded ants were nursing their pill bodies, each recounting the day's battle.

    "They're all dead, sir! Every one of them! Some of them were so mangled and torn to shreds, I could barely tell them apart!"

    "Come on, soldier, we're ants! We can barely tell ourselves apart when we are alive! Now I need you firing on all cylinders, soldier! We may have lost this battle, but we will win this war!" The sergeant addressed his whole platoon. "We are going to fight! We are going to win! We are going to drive out the Mile-High Menace or die trying!" The troops cheered and whistled. "Now, who's with me?!"

    The cadet pointed four of his arms to the sky with a look of sheer terror. "HE'S BACK!!!"

    The ants scattered.

    I pulled out the little ant hotels and began setting them up strategically around the kitchen. "Come on little boogers. I've got a snack for ya!"

    After I finished putting them all around the kitchen, I picked up my Windex bottle, put the nozzle to my lips and blew across it. "Judgement Day is upon you, my little insect vermin. Pre-pare. to. DIE!" I danced around the kitchen, waving my Windex bottle back and forth, letting fire streams of liquid death, raining down acid on my enemy.

    Turning around and holding the bottle against my belt, I cracked open the dishwasher just in time to hear one ant telling another he had found the perfect hiding place.

    "We're all hiding in here." The minute voice snarled and snickered. "The Mile-High Menace won't find us in here!"

    In the scant lighting I could barely see inside. So I flung open the door and heard the tinny screams of hundreds of ants, and I saw them crawling all about the dirty dishes. I laughed menacingly and slammed shut the door. Switching the dishwasher to hot wash and heat dry, I started the dishwasher going. I pictured hundreds of ants being thrown and tossed about in the thunderstorm of water, and eventually falling, falling, falling down into the whirlpool where, screaming in agony, they hit the scalding hot water being sucked down the drain to their mutual demises.

    Glancing over my shoulder, away from the dishwasher, I saw the stove, and cruel smile formed on my face. I switched one of the burners to high and waited until the circular burners were glowing red. Using tweezers, I picked up individual ants and began dropping them onto the burners, and each time their little bodies burst into flames, I laughed and laughed.

    Scouring the kitchen for anymore hiding places, I pulled away the breadbasket and saw three ants congregating together, hiding out of sight. A larger ant was facing the smaller ants.

    "Sir, sir, he's back! And he's on a rampage! What are we gonna do?!" The young cadet looked around for any other survivors who could use their hiding place. Another ant stood next to him, breathless, suffering from ammonia burns.

    "All right, cadet, I have an idea. This vicious monster must be stopped and I know how. Listen carefully, cadet, because this plan will work only if you follow my instruction to the letter."


    (continued)
     
  14. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    I picked up a butter knife from the drawer and lowered it onto the sergeant's body, splitting him in two.

    The cadet screamed, falling backward. He frantically began scurrying away from his mutilated commanding officer. Turning away from the gore, he faced his ammonia-burned comrade just in time to see me crush him with my index finger.

    He looked up at me in desperation. "Please." There were tears in the ant's eyes. "Please, I have a new wife waiting for me back at the mound. I just want to get back to her."

    I began to take sympathy on this poor ant. "What's her name?"

    "Sandy."

    I looked at him. I saw something familiar in his eyes, and then I realized he was just a good ant who got mixed up in the wrong crowd. He deserved better than this. I told him to go back to his mound and convince them not to battle against the Mile-High Menace. He scurried off.

    Once the ant was safely away, I pushed the breadbox back against the wall and turned back to the battle.

    A group of ants were piled on themselves, slowly dying in a pool of ammonia. "The pain! The pain!" One ant shook his head, wailing. "We were wrong to battle the Mile-High Menace! Only now at this dreadful hour do I realize our mistake! And it's too late to save us now!" They all simultaneously collapsed on each other.

    Satisfied with my work, I pulled down a box of macaroni and cheese and plunked it down on the counter. Pulling out my mac and cheese pot, I filled it with water and set it to boil on the counter. I stared at the water, waiting for it to boil.

    The cadet ant scurried hurriedly across the dirt, anxious to get home. He soon returned to the mound, entering through his little dirt hole to his own little dirt bungalow where Sandy was staying, waiting patiently for his return the battlefields.

    But the young cadet was sorely mistaken. Sandy wasn't waiting for him. The young cadet arrived home to find that Sandy had occupied it with her new husband. She had gone out and fallen in love with some ant from college. A stronger ant. A better looking ant. An ant who could give her all the things he couldn't because he was just a scrawny little ant nerd with little ant-sized glasses whose ant nose was always stuck in little ant-sized books. Never mind that he was an ant who actually cared about the girl-ants in the mound and that he would always take care of his mates and never smack them around like the jock ants do. No, that poor young cadet was a "nice" ant. None of the female ants want nice ants. That poor young cadet left his little dirt bungalow lower than he had ever been in his pitiful little life.

    The noodles were done, so I pulled it off the burner and grabbed my strainer. As I strained the noodles, I was sure to let the boiling hot water land on every ant I could see in the sink. I watched them twitch to death in the water. I watched them slip down the drain. I wasn't laughing anymore. Abandoning the pot of noodles on the counter, I crossed the kitchen and sat at the dining room table, and I lowered my head into my hands. The table was fortunately devoid of ants. Well, except one.

    I saw the young cadet slowly amble up to me. He looked up at me. "Please squish me. I have nothing left now."

    I sighed and leaned back against my chair. And looking down at the dejected little ant I shook my head. "No. You're not going to give up now. There are more ants in the mound. You'll find the right one soon enough."

    The young cadet rolled his beady little eyes. "Right. Sure. The right girl could be just around the tunnel."

    I waved my hand slowly at the ant in much the same way my father does when he's talking to me. "Now, now, you're just upset. It'll wear off."

    "Look, I've been alive for days. There are more days behind me than I've got before me. I don't have much time left. I'd rather just end it now on the battlefields in honor than die alone in the mound."

    I snorted. "Honor. It's not worth dying for." Turning back to the ant, I raised my eyebrows in much the same way as my mother does. "Go home. Sleep on it. I promise things will look better for you when you wake up."

    "All right." The sad, little ant turned and crawled away from me. Rolling my head back, I stared at the ceiling, letting out a long, slow sigh.

    So I guess I should take my own advice. I don't want to. I just want to curl up and let the life drain out of me. I wish I could get lost on some massive counter where my own mile-high menace could drown me in Windex. But that's not gonna happen. And I'm not just going to curl up and die. I've got more years before me than behind me and it would be too much of a waste to end it all now. Especially over a girl. So I'll just try to sleep it off. Yeah. I could really use a nap right about now. That'll help. I guess.

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  15. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    ECLIPSE

    BY

    JAMES FENIMORE COOPER




    THE eclipse of the sun, which you have requested me to describe, occurred in the summer of 1806, on Monday, the 16th of June. Its greatest depth of shadow fell upon the American continent, somewhere about the latitude of 42 deg. I was then on a visit to my parents, at the home of my family, among the Highlands of Otsego, in that part of the country where the eclipse was most impressive. My recollections of the great event, and the incidents of the day, are as vivid as if they had occurred but yesterday.

    Lake Otsego, the headwaters of the Susquehanna, lies as nearly as possible in latitude 42 deg. The village, which is the home of my family, is beautifully situated at the foot of the lake, in a valley lying between two nearly parallel ranges of heights, quite mountainous in character. The Susquehanna, a clear and rapid stream, flowing from the southeastern shore of the lake, is crossed by a high wooden bridge, which divides the main street of the little town from the lawns and meadows on the eastern bank of the river. Here were all the materials that could be desired, lake, river, mountain, wood, and the dwellings of man, to give full effect to the varied movement of light and shadow through that impressive day.

    Throughout the belt of country to be darkened by the eclipse, the whole population were in a state of almost anxious expectation for weeks before the event. On the eve of the 16th of June, our family circle could think or talk of little else. I had then a father and four brothers living, and as we paced the broad hall of the house, or sat about the family board, our conversation turned almost entirely upon the movements of planets and comets, occultations and eclipses. We were all exulting in the feeling that a grand and extraordinary spectacle awaited us -- a spectacle which millions then living could never behold. There may have been a tinge of selfishness in the feeling that we were thus favored beyond others, and yet, I think, the emotion was too intellectual in its character to have been altogether unworthy.

    Many were the prophecies regarding the weather, the hopes and fears expressed by different individuals, on this important point, as evening drew near. A passing cloud might veil the grand vision from our sight; rain or mist would sadly impair the sublimity of the hour. I was not myself among the desponding. The great barometer in the hall -- one of the very few then found in the State, west of Albany -- was carefully consulted. It was propitious. It gave promise of dry weather. Our last looks that night, before sleep fell on us, were turned toward the starlit heavens.

    And the first movement in the morning was to the open window -- again to examine the sky. When I rose from my bed, in the early morning, I found the heavens serene, and cloudless. Day had dawned, but the shadows of night were still lingering over the valley. For a moment, my eye rested on the familiar view -- the limpid lake, with its setting of luxuriant woods and farms, its graceful bay and varied points, the hills where every cliff and cave and glen had been trodden a thousand times by my boyish feet -- all this was dear to me as the face of a friend. And it appeared as if the landscape, then lovely in summer beauty, were about to assume something of dignity hitherto unknown -- were not the shadows of a grand eclipse to fall upon every wave and branch within a few hours! There was one object in the landscape which a stranger would probably have overlooked, or might perhaps have called unsightly, but it was familiar to every eye in the village, and endowed by our people with the honors of an ancient landmark -- the tall gray trunk of a dead and branchless pine, which had been standing on the crest of the eastern hill, at the time of the foundation of the village, and which was still erect, though rocked since then by a thousand storms. To my childish fancy, it had seemed an imaginary flag-staff, or, in rustic parlance, the "liberty pole" of some former generation; but now, as I traced the familiar line of the tall trunk, in its peculiar shade of silvery gray, it became to the eye of the young sailor the mast of some phantom ship. I remember greeting it with a smile, as this was the first glance of recognition given to the old ruin of the forest since my return.

    But an object of far higher interest suddenly attracted my eye. I discovered a star -- a solitary star -- twinkling dimly in a sky which had now changed its hue to a pale grayish twilight, while vivid touches of coloring were beginning to flush the eastern sky. There was absolutely no other object visible in the heavens -- cloud there was none, not even the lightest vapor. That lonely star excited a vivid interest in my mind. I continued at the window gazing, and losing myself in a sort of day-dream. That star was a heavenly body, it was known to be a planet, and my mind was filling itself with images of planets and suns. My brain was confusing itself with vague ideas of magnitude and distance, and of the time required by light to pierce the apparently illimitable void that lay between us -- of the beings who might inhabit an orb like that, with life, feeling, spirit, and aspirations like my own.

    Soon the sun himself rose into view. I caught a glimpse of fiery light glowing among the branches of the forest, on the eastern mountain. I watched, as I had done a hundred times before, the flushing of the skies, the gradual illuminations of the different hills, crowned with an undulating and ragged outline of pines, nearly two hundred feet in height, the golden light gliding silently down the breast of the western mountains, and opening clearer views of grove and field, until lake, valley, and village lay smiling in one cheerful glow of warm sunshine.

    Our family party assembled early. We were soon joined by friends and connections, all eager and excited, and each provided with a colored glass for the occasion. By nine o'clock the cool air, which is peculiar to the summer nights in the Highlands, had left us, and the heat of midsummer filled the valley. The heavens were still absolutely cloudless, and a more brilliant day never shone in our own bright climate. There was not a breath of air, and we could see the rays of heat quivering here and there on the smooth surface of the lake. There was every appearance of a hot and sultry noontide.

    We left the house, and passed beyond the grounds into the broad and grassy street which lay between the gates and the lake. Here there were no overhanging branches to obstruct the view; the heavens, the wooded mountains, and the limpid sheet of water before us, were all distinctly seen. As the hour for the eclipse drew near, our eagerness and excitement increased to an almost boyish impatience. The elders of the party were discussing the details of some previous eclipse: leaving them to revive their recollections, I strolled away, glass in hand, through the principal streets of the village. Scarce a dwelling, or a face, in the little town, that was not familiar to me, and it gave additional zest to the pleasure of a holiday at home, to meet one's townsfolk under the excitement of an approaching eclipse. As yet there was no great agitation, although things wore a rather unusual aspect for the busy hours of a summer's day. Many were busy with their usual tasks, women and children were coming and going with pails of water, the broom and the needle were not yet laid aside, the blacksmith's hammer and the carpenter's plane were heard in passing their shops. Loaded teams, and travellers in waggons, were moving through the streets; the usual quiet traffic at the village counters had not yet ceased. A farm-waggon, heavily laden with hay, was just crossing the bridge, coming in from the fields, the driver looking drowsy with sleep, wholly unconscious of the movement in the heavens. The good people in general, however, were on the alert; at every house some one seemed to be watching, and many groups were passed, whose eager up-turned faces and excited conversation spoke the liveliest interest. It was said, that there were not wanting one or two philosophers of the skeptical school, among our people, who did not choose to commit themselves to the belief in a total eclipse of the sun -- simply because they had never seen one. Seeing is believing, we are told, though the axiom admits of dispute. But what these worthy neighbors of ours had not seen, no powers of reasoning, or fulness of evidence, could induce them to credit. Here was the dignity of human reason! Here was private judgment taking a high stand! Anxious to witness the conversion of one of these worthies, with boyish love of fun I went in quest of him. He had left the village, however, on business. But, true to his principles, before mounting his horse that morning, he had declared to his wife that "he was not running away from that eclipse;" nay, more, with noble candor, he averred that if the eclipse did overtake him, in the course of his day's journey, "he would not be above acknowledging it!" This was highly encouraging.



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  16. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    I had scarcely returned to the family party, left on the watch, when one of my brothers, more vigilant, or with clearer sight than his companions, exclaimed that he clearly saw a dark line, drawn on the western margin of the sun's disc! All faces were instantly turned upwards, and through the glasses we could indeed now see a dusky, but distinct object, darkening the sun's light. An exclamation of delight, almost triumphant, burst involuntarily from the lips of all. We were not to be disappointed, no cloud was there to veil the grand spectacle; the vision, almost unearthly in its sublime dignity, was about to be revealed to us. In an incredibly short time, the oval formation of the moon was discerned. Another joyous burst of delight followed, as one after another declared that he beheld with distinctness the dark oval outline, drawn against the flood of golden light. Gradually, and at first quite imperceptibly to our sight, that dark and mysterious sphere gained upon the light, while a feeling of watchful stillness, verging upon reverence, fell upon our excited spirits.

    As yet there was no change perceptible in the sunlight falling upon lake and mountain; the familiar scene wore its usual smiling aspect, bright and glowing as on other days of June. The people, however, were now crowding into the streets -- their usual labors were abandoned -- forgotten for the moment -- and all faces were turned upward. So little, however, was the change in the power of the light, that to a careless observer it seemed more the gaze of faith, than positive perception, which turned the faces of all upward. Gradually a fifth, and even a fourth, of the sun's disc became obscured, and still the unguarded eye could not endure the flood of light -- it was only with the colored glass that we could note the progress of the phenomenon. The noon-day heat, however, began to lessen, and something of the coolness of early morning returned to the valley.

    I was looking upward, intently watching for the first moment where the dark outline of the moon should be visible to the naked eye, when an acquaintance passed. "Come with me!" he said quietly, at the same moment drawing his arm within my own, and leading me away. He was a man of few words, and there was an expression in his face which induced me to accompany him without hesitation. He led me to the Court House, and from thence into an adjoining building, and into a room then occupied by two persons. At a window, looking upward at the heavens, stood a figure which instantly riveted my attention. It was a man with haggard face, and fettered arms, a prisoner under sentence of death. By his side was the jailor.

    A painful tragedy had been recently enacted in our little town. The schoolmaster of a small hamlet in the county had beaten a child under his charge very severely -- and for a very trifling error. The sufferer was a little girl, his own niece, and it was said that natural infirmity had prevented the child from clearly pronouncing certain words which her teacher required her to utter distinctly. To conquer what he considered the obstinacy of the child, this man continued to beat her so severely that she never recovered from the effects of the blows, and died some days after. The wretched man was arrested, tried for murder, condemned, and sentenced to the gallows. This was the first capital offence in Otsego County. It produced a very deep impression. The general character of the schoolmaster had been, until that evil hour, very good, in every way. He was deeply, and beyond all doubt unfeignedly, penitent for the crime into which he had been led, more, apparently, from false ideas of duty, than from natural severity of temper. He had been entirely unaware of the great physical injury he was doing the child. So great was his contrition, that public sympathy had been awakened in his behalf, and powerful petitions had been sent to the Governor of the State, in order to obtain a respite, if not a pardon. But the day named by the judge arrived without a return of the courier. The Governor was at his country-house, at least eighty miles beyond Albany. The petition had been kept to the last moment, for additional signatures, and the eighty miles to be travelled by the courier, after reaching Albany, had not been included in the calculation. No despatch was received, and there was every appearance that there would be no reprieve. The day arrived -- throngs of people from Chenango, and Unadilla, and from the valley of the Mohawk, poured into the village, to witness the painful, and as yet unknown, spectacle of a public execution. In looking down, from an elevated position, upon the principal street of the village that day, it had seemed to me paved with human faces. The hour struck, the prisoner was taken from the jail, and, seated, as is usual, on his coffin, was carried to the place of execution, placed between two ministers of the gospel. His look of utter misery was beyond description. I have seen other offenders expiate for their crimes with life, but never have I beheld such agony, such a clinging to life, such mental horror at the nearness of death, as was betrayed by this miserable man. When he approached the gallows, he rose from his seat, and wringing his fettered hands, turned his back upon the fearful object, as if the view were too frightful for endurance. The ministers of the gospel succeeded at length in restoring him to a decent degree of composure. The last prayer was offered, and his own fervent "Amen!" was still sounding, hoarse, beseeching, and almost despairing, in the ears of the crowd, when the respite made its tardy appearance. A short reprieve was granted, and the prisoner was carried back to the miserable cell from which he had been drawn in the morning.

    Such was the wretched man who had been brought from his dungeon that morning, to behold the grand phenomenon of the eclipse. During the twelve-month previous, he had seen the sun but once. The prisons of those days were literally dungeons, cut off from the light of day. That striking figure, the very picture of utter misery, his emotion, his wretchedness, I can never forget. I can see him now, standing at the window, pallid and emaciated by a year's confinement, stricken with grief, his cheeks furrowed with constant weeping, his whole frame attesting the deep and ravaging influences of conscious guilt and remorse. Here was a man drawn from the depths of human misery, to be immediately confronted with the grandest natural exhibition in which the Creator deigns to reveal his Omnipotence to our race. The wretched criminal, a murderer in fact, though not in intention, seemed to gaze upward at the awful spectacle, with an intentness and a distinctness of mental vision far beyond our own, and purchased by an agony scarcely less bitter than death. It seemed as if, for him, the curtain which veils the world beyond the grave, had been lifted. He stood immovable as a statue, with uplifted and manacled arms and clasped hands, the very image of impotent misery and wretchedness. Perhaps human invention could not have conceived of a more powerful moral accessory, to heighten the effect of the sublime movement of the heavenly bodies, than this spectacle of penitent human guilt afforded. It was an incident to stamp on the memory for life. It was a lesson not lost on me.

    When I left the Court House, a sombre, yellowish, unnatural coloring was shed over the country. A great change had taken place. The trees on the distant heights had lost their verdure and their airy character; they were taking the outline of dark pictures graven upon an unfamiliar sky. The lake wore a lurid aspect, very unusual. All living creatures seemed thrown into a state of agitation. The birds were fluttering to and fro, in great excitement; they seemed to mistrust that this was not the gradual approach of evening, and were undecided in their movements. Even the dogs -- honest creatures -- became uneasy, and drew closer to their masters. The eager, joyous look of interest and curiosity, which earlier in the morning had appeared in almost every countenance, was now changed to an expression of wonder or anxiety or thoughtfulness, according to the individual character.

    Every house now gave up its tenants. As the light failed more and more with every passing second, the children came flocking about their mothers in terror. The women themselves were looking about uneasily for their husbands. The American wife is more apt than any other to turn with affectionate confidence to the stronger arm for support. The men were very generally silent and grave. Many a laborer left his employment to be near his wife and children, as the dimness and darkness increased.

    I once more took my position beside my father and my brothers, before the gates of our own grounds. The sun lay a little obliquely to the south and east, in the most favorable position possible for observation. I remember to have examined, in vain, the whole dusky canopy in search of a single cloud. It was one of those entirely unclouded days, less rare in America than in Europe. The steadily waning light, the gradual approach of darkness, became the more impressive as we observed this absolutely transparent state of the heavens. The birds, which a quarter of an hour earlier had been fluttering about in great agitation, seemed now convinced that night was at hand. Swallows were dimly seen dropping into the chimneys, the martins returned to their little boxes, the pigeons flew home to their dove-cots, and through the open door of a small barn we saw the fowls going to roost.



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  17. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    The usual flood of sunlight had now become so much weakened, that we could look upward long, and steadily, without the least pain. The sun appeared like a young moon of three or four days old, though of course with a larger and more brilliant crescent. Looking westward a moment, a spark appeared to glitter before my eye. For a second I believed it to be an optical illusion, but in another instant I saw it plainly to be a star. One after another they came into view, more rapidly than in the evening twilight, until perhaps fifty stars appeared to us, in a broad, dark zone of the heavens, crowning the pines on the western mountain. This wonderful vision of the stars, during the noontide hours of day, filled the spirit with singular sensations.

    Suddenly one of my brothers shouted aloud, "The moon!" Quicker than thought, my eye turned eastward again, and there floated the moon, distinctly apparent, to a degree that was almost fearful. The spherical form, the character, the dignity, the substance of the planet, were clearly revealed as I have never beheld them before, or since. It looked grand, dark, majestic, and mighty, as it thus proved its power to rob us entirely of the sun's rays. We are all but larger children. In daily life we judge of objects by their outward aspect. We are accustomed to think of the sun, and also of the moon, as sources of light, as etherial, almost spiritual, in their essence. But the positive material nature of the moon was now revealed to our senses, with a force of conviction, a clearness of perception, that changed all our usual ideas in connection with the planet. This was no interposition of vapor, no deceptive play of shadow; but a vast mass of obvious matter had interposed between the sun above us and the earth on which we stood. The passage of two ships at sea, sailing on opposite courses, is scarcely more obvious than this movement of one world before another. Darkness like that of early night now fell upon the village.

    My thoughts turned to the sea. A sailor at heart, already familiar with the face of the ocean, I seemed, in mental vision, to behold the grandeur of that vast pall of supernatural shadow falling suddenly upon the sea, during the brightest hour of the day. The play of light and shade upon the billows, always full of interest, must at that hour have been indeed sublime. And my fancy was busy with pictures of white-sailed schooners, and brigs, and ships, gliding like winged spirits over the darkened waves.

    I was recalled by a familiar and insignificant incident, the dull tramp of hoofs on the village bridge. A few cows, believing that night had overtaken them, were coming homeward from the wild open pastures about the village. And no wonder the kindly creatures were deceived, the darkness was now much deeper than the twilight which usually turns their faces homeward; the dew was falling perceptibly, as much so as at any hour of the previous night, and the coolness was so great that the thermometer must have fallen many degrees from the great heat of the morning. The lake, the hills, and the buildings of the little town were swallowed up in the darkness. The absence of the usual lights in the dwellings rendered the obscurity still more impressive. All labor had ceased, and the hushed voices of the people only broke the absolute stillness by subdued whispering tones.

    "Hist! The whippoorwill!" whispered a friend near me; and at the same moment, as we listened in profound silence, we distinctly heard from the eastern bank of the river the wild, plaintive note of that solitary bird of night, slowly repeated at intervals. The song of the summer birds, so full in June, had entirely ceased for the last half hour. A bat came flitting about our heads. Many stars were now visible, though not in sufficient number to lessen the darkness. At one point only in the far distant northern horizon, something of the brightness of dawn appeared to linger.

    At twelve minutes past eleven, the moon stood revealed in its greatest distinctness -- a vast black orb, so nearly obscuring the sun that the face of the great luminary was entirely and absolutely darkened, though a corona of rays of light appeared beyond. The gloom of night was upon us. A breathless intensity of interest was felt by all. There would appear to be something instinctive in the feeling with which man gazes at all phenomena in the heavens. The peaceful rainbow, the heavy clouds of a great storm, the vivid flash of electricity, the falling meteor, the beautiful lights of the aurora borealis, fickle as the play of fancy, -- these never fail to fix the attention with something of a peculiar feeling, different in character from that with which we observe any spectacle on the earth. Connected with all grand movements in the skies there seems an instinctive sense of inquiry, of anxious expectation; akin to awe, which may possibly be traced to the echoes of grand Christian prophecies, whispering to our spirits, and endowing the physical sight with some mysterious mental prescience. In looking back to that impressive hour, such now seem to me the feelings of the youth making one of that family group, all apparently impressed with a sensation of the deepest awe -- I speak with certainty -- a clearer view than I had ever yet had of the majesty of the Almighty, accompanied with a humiliating, and, I trust, a profitable sense of my own utter insignificance. That movement of the moon, that sublime voyage of the worlds, often recurs to my imagination, and even at this distant day, as distinctly, as majestically, and nearly as fearfully, as it was then beheld.

    A group of silent, dusky forms stood near me; one emotion appeared to govern all. My father stood immovable, some fifteen feet from me, but I could not discern his features. Three minutes of darkness, all but absolute, elapsed. They appeared strangely lengthened by the intensity of feeling and the flood of overpowering thought which filled the mind.

    Thus far the sensation created by this majestic spectacle had been one of humiliation and awe. It seemed as if the great Father of the Universe had visibly, and almost palpably, veiled his face in wrath. But, appalling as the withdrawal of light had been, most glorious, most sublime, was its restoration! The corona of light above the moon became suddenly brighter, the heavens beyond were illuminated, the stars retired, and light began to play along the ridges of the distant mountains. And then a flood of grateful, cheering, consoling brightness fell into the valley, with a sweetness and a power inconceivable to the mind, unless the eye has actually beheld it. I can liken this sudden, joyous return of light, after the eclipse, to nothing of the kind that is familiarly known. It was certainly nearest to the change produced by the swift passage of the shadow of a very dark cloud, but it was the effect of this instantaneous transition, multiplied more than a thousand fold. It seemed to speak directly to our spirits, with full assurance of protection, of gracious mercy, and of that Divine love which has produced all the glorious combinations of matter for our enjoyment. It was not in the least like the gradual dawning of day, or the actual rising of the sun. There was no gradation in the change. It was sudden, amazing, like what the imagination would teach us to expect of the advent of a heavenly vision. I know that philosophically I am wrong; but, to me, it seemed that the rays might actually be seen flowing through the darkness in torrents, till they had again illuminated the forest, the mountains, the valley, and the lake with their glowing, genial touch.

    There was another grand movement, as the crescent of the sun reappeared, and the moon was actually seen steering her course through the void. Venus was still shining brilliantly.

    This second passage of the moon lasted but a moment, to the naked eye. As it ceased, my eye fell again on the scene around me. The street, now as distinctly seen as ever, was filled with the population of the village. Along the line of road stretching for a mile from the valley, against the side of the mountain, were twenty waggons bearing travellers, or teams from among the hills. All had stopped on their course, impelled, apparently, by unconscious reverence, as much as by curiosity, while every face was turned toward heaven, and every eye drank in the majesty of the sight. Women stood in the open street, near me, with streaming eyes and clasped hands, and sobs were audible in different directions. Even the educated and reflecting men at my side continued silent in thought. Several minutes passed, before the profound impressions of the spectacle allowed of speech. At such a moment the spirit of man bows in humility before his Maker.

    The changes of the unwonted light, through whose gradations the full brilliancy of the day was restored, must have been very similar to those by which it had been lost, but they were little noted. I remember, however, marking the instant when I could first distinguish the blades of grass at my feet -- and later again watching the shadows of the leaves on the gravel walk. The white lilies in my mother's flower-garden were observed by others among the first objects of the vegetation which could be distinguished from the windows of the house. Every living creature was soon rejoicing again in the blessed restoration of light after that frightful moment of a night at noon-day.


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  18. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    Men who witness any extraordinary spectacle together, are apt, in after-times, to find a pleasure in conversing on its impressions. But I do not remember to have ever heard a single being freely communicative on the subject of his individual feelings at the most solemn moment of the eclipse. It would seem as if sensations were aroused too closely connected with the constitution of the spirit to be irreverently and familiarly discussed. I shall only say that I have passed a varied and eventful life, that it has been my fortune to see earth, heavens, ocean, and man in most of their aspects; but never have I beheld any spectacle which so plainly manifested the majesty of the Creator, or so forcibly taught the lesson of humility to man as a total eclipse of the sun.


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  19. Kev

    Kev BoltTalker

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    :)

    Man, and I thought Trumpet Man was shameless...:lol:
     
  20. WonderSlug

    WonderSlug Well-Known Member

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    It's a short story post padding thread.
    :icon_tease:
     

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