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Upon the Merillat
“To the Merillat!” Lester called. From the lighthouse he ran, Grandfather side-stepping the hill.
“Hoist the sails! Well, what’s the wind? Trim the mainsail, the jib sheets! To the sea, the sea!” Grandfather hollered. “Now,” he said, “all we need in a storm.”
And here it came, the black wind and the rolling clouds upon the sailboat. Rain did not pour over, but engulfed the vessel, and all at once, when Lester thought he might drown---
The sky was a clear blue wash, without clouds or anger. Here the Merillat drew to the port, and Grandfather and Lester stepped into an ancient time. An escort waited on the dock. Though the pair spoke no Latin, his words fell from his mouth swathed in English, and they understood.
“You are the Travelers?”
“Yes, yes! We’ve missed this place, Lester without being here first.” Grandfather gestured toward his grandson.
“Your family?” asked the escort.
‘But we absolutely must see them.” Grandfather followed the escort, Lester trailing behind him.
Through the city they walked, through white-pillared buildings. “My God, those aqueducts!” Grandfather pointed the structures out to Lester.
Into grey-stoned apartments they walked, and saw what they came for: the working hands of the mother, the scattered children, the grandparents, yes! They were all here. The mother looked to the doorway, and fell to embrace Grandfather.
“You’ve been fine, Aelius, children?” he asked.
In Latin-English, they spoke. “Why do you ask when you know?”
“It is a thing of nature.” Grandfather stood in the doorway, absorbing the atmosphere.
“And who are you?” Aelius bent down, holding her face level with Lester’s.
Grandfather was proud. “My next of kin.” He turned toward me. “You’ll come back, Lester?”
Around the table, children bustled. “Come eat with us, Perry.” Their lips formed Grandfather’s name haltingly. “Come, come.”
On the table lay platters of crab and fish and squid. One child spoke slowly to Grandfather. “Tell me about one new thing.”
Grandfather laughed a bellowing laugh. “Well,’ he said, “we’ve got motorcars now. These dead little things that move you around without you doing much. It’s got a wheel to turn, and it goes very fast. Want to go to the town far away? Hop into your motorcar, turn it on, and away you go, right to the town.”
The child laughed with delight. Aelius smiled too, saying, “Stay with us.”
Grandfather looked uneasy. “But no, we must go! Much to see. This is only our first stop.”
Then Aelius pleaded. “You bring us the best times.”
“Lester will come back, I promise you, he promises you!”
She turned in dismay. “We’ll never see you again! Children, come, bid your descendents good-bye.”
“Good-bye, good-bye!” The small faces looked up in question.
Aelius wept as Grandfather left.
“Back to the Merillat! Why, that’s only been our first place! Let us ride on.“ Grandfather grew quiet. “I will show you a time I either love or hate, I am not sure which.”
Again came the rage of a storm upon them, but Lester was not afraid. The dark clouds parted and---
Here was the place of the lighthouse, but the lighthouse was missing.
Grandfather and Lester stepped up the bank into the town, but it was not the same town.
“My time,” whispered Grandfather, in awe.
“There isn’t a lighthouse?”
Grandfather laughed, then looked downcast. “No. Not yet, anyways. A few more years, and I’ll learn what I want.”
They did not need an escort here, but headed directly into house, pale-painted with exposed floor and walls.
“This, my house. Why, I hadn’t even left school yet. Horrible.” Grandfather shuddered. “That life is not for me. No creativity! It was facts and more facts. The people in those places simply do not think.” He paused to look about the room, then turned abruptly. “No use staying here. This’s one empty shell of a house.”
They stepped out into street, and a little ways down, a whiff of warm bread flew from a shop on a sidestreet.
“Mm.” Grandfather sucked in the air. “That,” he told Lester, “is what heaven smells like. Go on, go inside.” He ushered Lester in.
“Ah, Perry! You’re in here already! In the back.” The store owner grinned.
“And Mr. Whipple! I thought I might catch myself.” Grandfather did not wait, but ran to the back shelves. “Perry,” he called. “Perry!”
A small boy emerged hugging two loaves of bread. He was frightened, then seeing himself, shouted, “You’ve come back!”
His younger self struggled for words. “It’s been three years!”
“But you said two!”
“Well, I’m sorry.” Grandfather was displeased. “Why, I travel sixty years back for this. Sixty God-forlorn years for your whining! I shouldn’t’ve come back this far.” He swore. “Immature childhood.”
“Sorry, sorry! God, I didn’t mean it!” Perry was water-eyed.
Grandfather grumbled. “I’m here to give you a last bit of help. No maxims, just help. There’s no better help than from yourself, but from your older self is a treasure and unnatural as possible. Listen to me, Perry.’ He paused. “Every time I’ve come, I’ve helped you so you won’t be like me. In every intentional way, better, but no doubt there’ll be some downfalls. Don’t get scared, now. My last piece of advice: do what you want! That’s right! But then again, you’ll be responsible for whatever that is. It’s long and hard now, but I promise, I swear, it’ll get better!”
“This is the last time, isn’t it?” asked Perry
They did not hug, but pressed palms together, Perry’s little fingers to Grandfather’s wrinkled skin.
As Lester and Grandfather left the store---
“What’s it like, then, in your time?” Mr. Whipple looked dismal. “Is is bad?”
“No, no, a thousand times no!” Grandfather grimaced. “We all try to kill each other, but after that’s through it’s a blessing.”
“One last time!” called Grandfather from across the Merillat.
There reigned no storm this time, but a flash of brilliant light. Lester felt he was blinded, blinded not by light but by swords in the light---
And here was the lighthouse.
A mechanical clicking of nuts and bolts and screws fell into their ears as they approached it’s frame, no longer white, but metal-plated. At once, Grandfather ran to the stairs, and up them to the lighthouse top. The Fresnel lens was gone, in its place the red core of the clicking, electrical light. Knobs and controllers graced panels circling the room.
“There is nothing for us here,” said Grandfather. He turned and left.
At the shore, the sea was not the sea, but too much like the sea, painted with a blue dye. Grandfather stood, looking over it. His eyes flickered. “I dare not go to the town.”
“But I will.” Lester ascended the bank. He then stood, in its presence, a small boy gone from a simple town to one like this.
The town was in bleak emptiness, shattered and left for dead in an existence so hollow it might have been deserted. The buildings lay in ruin charred like the old lighthouse wicks, mocking Lester.
“Ey, boy! What’re you doin’? Kids aren’t ‘lowed on ‘a streets!” A stooped-over man waved a beer bottle at Lester. “Get back ‘a the plant!” He staggered a few more feet, then fell to his knees. “’An’t you see there’s been a fire, uh?”
Lester said, “Yes. What’s the year?”
The man stared at him. “The year! He’s gone askin’ fer the year! Naw one knows the bloody year!”
“Where’s the cemetery, then?”
The man cackled. “Gawd, you’re a slow kid. Torn up decades ago. Not sure why. I think we ran out ‘a space ‘r somethin’. I don’t know why anyone’d want ‘a go there anyway. Makes you sad, an’ if you don’t know your name you wouldn’t ‘a---”
“What’s your name?”
He seemed happy to talk, his head cocked to the left and his lips parted. “Cottonfield. I ain’t got a clue why, though. No cotton, ‘r fields. There was another part ‘a it too, but I forgot it.” Cottonfield laughed, then grew silent. “Ey, why aren’t you in the plant? You’re older ‘an seven, no doubt, you ought ‘a be workin’.”
Lester tried to explain. “I’m from here, in a way. Not from now. I’m from then. But you wouldn’t know what I mean if I said I’m from the 20th century.”
“Naw. We’ve got no dates now.”
“Why, there isn’t anything here!” Lester cried. “No trees to climb! No shops to buy bread from! No lighthouse, even, not a real one, anyway! It’s got all these buttons and knobs in it now. I’m leaving!”
Cottonfield was lugubrious. “Leavin’? Why. . ,” he trailed off, “is it nice back then? I bet it’s real nice.” He stood with his mouth hanging open.
Lester asked, “You’ll come back with us?”
“Aw, I ‘on’t know. ‘S not right for me to leave.”
And Lester walked from the desolate street back to the mechanical lighthouse, back to Grandfather.
Neither spoke on the Merillat.
There stood the lighthouse, unknowing, uncaring of the world and its past and its future. Grandfather, moving slowly, ascended its stairs to the Fresnel lens. He ran his fingers over the cool glass.
“Lester,” he said, “today is my last day. This is the last time I will touch this lens. That was the last time I will travel on the Merillat. But not you, if you want. Please, Lester, go back and visit them! Perhaps you’ll go back and visit yourself, or yourself will visit you. When I’m gone, know that I’m not- there will always be Aelius, there will always be little Perry in the bread shop.”
Lester nodded obediently, and he would. “And Cottonfield,” he whispered.