"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Black Easter by James Blish (1968)

Black Easter by James Blish (1968) (available here and here) is a compelling novella of demons, warring black and white magicians, and the end of the world. It should be acknowledged today as a contemporary equal to works like Là-bas (1891) and The Phoenix and the Mirror (1969).

This is the second time I have read Black Easter. Its brevity, scope, and implications are achieved with a prose style of eloquent simplicity. I am tempted to say that in the hands of Dennis Wheatley, whom I have often celebrated, this would be a six hundred page thriller. Blish, a lifelong reader, writer, and critic of  SF and fantasy, has pared all that away. 

The scene I will now quote sums up the conflicting and coinciding interests of armaments maker Baines, black magician Theron Ware, and Roman Catholic white magician Father Domenico nicely:

Of the other three people in the office with Ware – for Ware had said there was no way to prevent Father Domenico from attending – none looked as pleased as Baines felt, but after all he was the only man who counted here, the only one to whose emotions Ware need pay any more than marginal attention. 'And much faster than you had anticipated, too. I'm very well satisfied, and also I'm now quite ready to discuss my major commission with you, Dr Ware, if the planets and so on don't make this a poor time to talk about it.'

     'The planetary influences exert almost no effect upon simple discussion,' Ware said, 'only on specific preparations – and of course on the experiment itself. And I'm quite rested and ready to listen. In fact, I'm in an acute state of curiosity. Please charge right in and tell me about it.'

     'I would like to let all the major demons out of Hell for one night, turn them loose in the world with no orders and no restrictions – except of course that they go back by dawn or some other sensible time – and see just what it is they would do if they were left on their own hooks like that.'

     'Insanity!' Father Domenico cried out, crossing himself. 'Now surely the man is possessed already!'

     'For once, I'm inclined to agree with you, Father,' Ware said, 'though with some reservations about the possession question. For all we can know now, it's entirely in character. Tell me this, Dr Baines, what do you hope to accomplish through an experiment on so colossal a scale?'

     'Experiment!' Father Domenico said, his face as white as the dead.

     'If you can do no more than echo, Father, I think we'd all prefer that you kept silent – at least until we find out what it is we're talking about.'

     'I will say what I need to say, when I think it is needful,' Father Domenico said angrily. This thing that you're minimizing by calling it an 'experiment' might well end in the dawn of Armageddon!'

     'Then you should welcome it, not fear it, since you're convinced your side must win,' Ware said. 'But actually there's no such risk. The results may well be rather Apocalyptic, but Armageddon requires the prior appearance of the Antichrist, and I assure you I am not he … nor do I see anybody else in the world who might qualify. Now, again, Dr Baines, what do you hope to accomplish through this?'

     'Nothing through it,' Baines, now totally caught up in the vision, said dreamily. 'Only the thing itself – for its aesthetic interest alone. A work of art, if you like. A gigantic action painting, with the world for a canvas –'

     'And human blood for pigments,' Father Domenico ground out.

     Ware held up his hand, palm towards the monk. 'I had thought,' he said to Baines, 'that this was the art you practised already, and in effect sold the resulting canvasses, too.'

     The sales kept me able to continue practising it,' Baines said, but he was beginning to find the metaphor awkward, his though it had originally been. 'Look at it this way for a moment, Dr Ware. Very roughly, there are only two general kinds of men who go into the munitions business – those without consciences, who see the business as an avenue to a great fortune, eventually to be used for something else, like Jack here – and of course there's a subclass of those, people who do have consciences but can't resist the money anyhow, or the knowledge, rather like Dr Hess.'

     Both men stirred, but apparently both decided not to dispute their portraits.

     'The second kind is made up of people like me – people who actually take pleasure in the controlled production of chaos and destruction. Not sadists primarily, except in the sense that every dedicated artist is something of a sadist, willing to countenance a little or a lot of suffering – not only his own, but other people's – for the sake of the end product.'

     'A familiar type, to be sure,' Ware said with a lopsided grin. 'I think it was the saintly Robert Frost who said that a painting by Whistler was worth any number of old ladies.'

     'Engineers are like this too,' Baines said, warming rapidly to his demonstration; he had been thinking about almost nothing else since the conjuration he had attended. 'There's a breed I know much better than I do artists, and I can tell you that most of them wouldn't build a thing if it weren't for the kick they get out of the preliminary demolitions involved. A common thief with a gun in his hand isn't half as dangerous as an engineer with a stick of dynamite.

     'But in my case, just as in the case of the engineer, the key word is 'controlled' – and, in the munitions business, it's rapidly becoming an obsolete word, thanks to nuclear weapons.'

     He went on quickly to sketch his dissatisfactions, very much as they had first come to a head in Rome while Governor Rogan was being sent for. 'So now you can see what appeals to me about the commission I propose. It won't be a series of mass obliterations under nobody's control, but a whole set of individual actions, each in itself on a comparatively small scale – and each one, I'm sure, interesting in itself because of all the different varieties of ingenuity and surprise to be involved. And it won't be total because it will also be self-limiting to some small period of time, presumably twelve hours or less.'

     Father Domenico leaned forward earnestly. 'Surely,' he said to Ware, 'even you can see that no human being, no matter how sinful and self-indulgent, could have elaborated anything so monstrous without the direct intervention of Hell!'

     'On the contrary,' Ware said, 'Dr Baines is quite right, most dedicated secularists think exactly as he does – only on a somewhat smallerscale. For your further comfort, Father, I am somewhat privy to the affairs of Hell, and I investigate all my major clients thoroughly. I can tell you that Dr Baines is not possessed. But all the same there are still a few mysteries here. Dr Baines, I still think you may be resorting to too big a brush for the intended canvas, and might get the effects you want entirely without my help. For example, why won't the forthcoming Sino-Russian War be enough for you?'

     Baines swallowed hard. 'So that's really going to happen?'

     'It's written down to happen. It still might not, but I wouldn't bet against it. Very likely it won't be a major nuclear war – three fusion bombs, one Chinese, two Soviet, plus about twenty fission explosions, and then about a year of conventional land war. No other powers are at all likely to become involved. You know this, Dr Baines, and I should think it would please you. After all, it's almost exactly the way your firm has been trying to pre-set it.'

     'You're full of consolations today,' Father Domenico muttered.

     'Well, in fact, I am damn pleased to hear it,' Baines said. 'It isn't often that you plan something that big and have it come off almost as planned. But no, Dr Ware, it won't be enough for me, because it's still too general and difficult to follow – or will be. I'm having a little trouble with my tenses. For one thing, it won't be sufficiently attributable to me – many people have been working to bring that war about. This experiment will be on my initiative alone.'

     'Not an insuperable objection,' Ware said. 'A good many Renaissance artists didn't object to collaborators – even journeymen.'

     'Well, the spirit of the times has changed, if you want an abstract answer. The real answer is that I do object. Furthermore, Dr Ware, I want to choose my own medium. War doesn't satisfy me any more. It's too sloppy, too subject to accident. It excuses too much.'

     '?' Ware said with an eyebrow.

     'I mean that in time of war, especially in Asia, people expect the worst and try to ride with the punches, no matter how terrible they are, In peacetime, on the other hand, even a small misfortune comes as a total surprise. People complain, "Why did this have to happen to me?" – as though they'd never heard of Job.'

     'Rewriting Job is the humanist's favourite pastime,' Ware agreed. 'And his favourite political platform too. So in fact, Dr Baines, you do want to afflict people, just where they're most sensitive to being afflicted, and just when they least expect it, right or wrong. Do I understand you correctly?'

     Baines had the sinking feeling that he had explained too much, but there was no help for that now; and, in any event, Ware was hardly himself a saint.

     'You do,' he said shortly.

     Thank you. That clears the air enormously. One more question. How do you propose to pay for all this?'

     Father Domenico surged to his feet with a strangled gasp of horror, like the death throes of an asthmatic.

     'You – you mean to do this!'

     'Hush. I haven't said so. Dr Baines, the question?'

     'I know I couldn't pay for it in cash,' Baines said. 'But I've got other assets. This experiment – if it works – is going to satisfy something for me that Consolidated Warfare Service hasn't satisfied in years, and probably never will again except marginally. I'm willing to make over most of my CWS stock to you. Not all of it, but – well – just short of being a controlling interest. You ought to be able to do a lot with that.'

     'It's hardly enough, considering the risks involved,' Ware said slowly. 'On the other hand, I've no particular desire to bankrupt you –'

     'Dr Ware,' Father Domenico said in an iron voice. 'Am I to conclude that you are going to undertake this fearful insanity?'

     'I haven't said so,' Ware replied mildly. 'If I do, I shall certainly need your help –'

     'Never. Never!'

     'And everybody else's. It isn't really the money that attracts me, primarily. But without the money I should never be able to undertake an experiment like this in the first place, and I'm certain the opportunity will never come up again. If the whole thing doesn't blow up in my face, there'd be an enormous amount to learn from a trial like this.'

     'I think that's right,' Hess's voice said. Baines looked towards him in surprise, but Hess seemed quite serious. 'I'd be greatly interested in it myself.'

     'You'll learn nothing,' Father Domenico said, 'but the shortest of all shortcuts to. Hell, probably in the body!'

     'A negative Assumption?' Ware said, raising both eyebrows this time. 'But now you're tempting my pride, Father. There've been only two previous ones in Western history – Johannes Faustus and Don Juan Tenorio. And neither one was properly safeguarded or otherwise prepared. Well, now certainly I must undertake so great a work – provided that Dr Baines is satisfied that he'll get what he'll be paying for.'

     'Of course I'm satisfied,' Baines said, quivering with joy.

     'Not so fast. You've asked me to let all the major demons out of Hell. I can't even begin to do that. I can call up only those with whom I have pacts, and their subordinates. No matter what you have read in Romantic novels and plays, the three superior spirits cannot be invoked at all, and never sign pacts, those being SATHANAS, BEELZEBUTH and SATANACHA. Under each of these are two ministers, with one of the six of which it is possible to make pacts – one per magician, that is. I control LUCIFUGE ROFOCALE, and he me. Under him in turn, I have pacts with some eighty-nine other spirits, not all of which would be of any use to us here – VAS SAGO, for instance, who has a mild nature and no powers except in crystallomancy, or PHOENIX, a poet and teacher. With the utmost in careful preparations, we might involve as many as fifty of the rest, certainly no more. Frankly, I think that will prove to be more than enough.'

     'I'll cheerfully take your word for it,' Baines said promptly. 'You're the expert. Will you take it on?'


     Father Domenico, who was still standing, swung away towards the door, but Ware's hand shot out towards him above the desk as if to grasp the monk by the nape of the neck. 'Hold!' the magician said. 'Your commission is not discharged, Father Domenico, as you know very well in your heart. You must observe this sending. Even more important, you have already said yourself that it is going to be difficult to keep under control. To that end I demand your unstinting advice in the preparation, your presence in the conjurations, and, should they be needed, your utmost offices in helping me and my other Tanists to abort it. This you cannot refuse – it is all in your mission by stipulation, and in the Covenant by implication. I do not force you to it. I do but remind you of your positive duty to your Lord.'

     That … is … true …' Father Domenico said in a sick whisper. His face as grey as an untinted new blotter, he groped for the chair and sat down again.

     'Nobly faced. I'll have to instruct everyone here, but I'll start with you, in deference to your obvious distress –'

     'One question,' Father Domenico said. 'Once you've instructed us all, you'll be out of touch with us for perhaps as much as a month to come. I demand the time to visit my colleagues, and perhaps call together a convocation of all white magicians –'

     'To prevent me?' Ware said between his teeth. 'You can demand no such thing. The Convenant forbids the slightest interference.'

     'I'm all too horribly aware of that. No, not to interfere, but to stand by, in case of disaster. It would be too late to call for them once you knew you were losing control.'

     'Hmm . . probably a wise precaution, and one I couldn't justly prevent. Very well. Just be sure you're back when the time comes. About the day, what would you suggest? May Eve is an obvious choice, and we may well need that much time in preparation.'

     'It's too good a time for any sort of control,' Father Domenico said grimly. 'I definitely do not recommend piling a real Walpurgis Night on top of the formal one. It would be wiser to choose an unfavourable night, the more unfavourable the better.'

     'Excellent good sense,' Ware said. 'Very well, then. Inform your friends. The experiment is hereby scheduled for Easter.'

     With a scream, Father Domenico bolted from the room. Had Baines not been taught all his life long that such a thing was impossible in a man of God, Baines would have identified it without a second thought as a scream of hatred.

Blish has done a magnificent job in Black Easter, thickening and complicating material driven down into cliché since the 1890s.

Reading Black Easter's sequel The Day After Judgment (1971) a few days ago, I realized I must have previously read at least halfway through the book, as I knew the transvection scene nearly word for word. Memory is a very tricky opponent when it wants to be: for nearly twenty years, I recalled very clearly that the transvection scene was in Black Easter

Blish biographer David Ketterer, in his useful essay "Imprisoned in a Tesseract: Black Easter and The Day After Judgement' by James Blish" [ The Missouri Review vol. 7 no. 2 (1984). p. 254.]  gives the scene short shrift:

....the episode where Ware flies a broomstick is more ridiculous than sublime.

     But it is surely not without point that this "transvection" (p. 163) experience is notable for being the first exterior scene and for being Blish's wildest flight of invention in the diptych. This correlation is, of course, indicative of the containment/flight opposition (and the transcendence of same) which is so dominant in Blish's work. 

Ketterer seems deaf to the scene's power and aesthetic authority.

The chapter takes place halfway through The Day After Judgment. Black magician Theron Ware tries to figure out how to travel from his Italian estate to Death Valley in the U.S., where the city of Dis has suddenly appeared (thanks entirely to his handiwork in Black Easter).

….the war was not yet over, and Ware might indeed find some way to make himself useful; Baines had been right about that, too. But in what way remained unclear. 

     Very probably, he would have to go to Dis to find out. It was a terrifying thought, but Ware could see no way around it. That was where the centre of power was now, where the war would henceforth be directed; and there, if Baines actually succeeded in reaching the SAC in Denver, Ware conceivably might succeed in arranging some sort of a detente. Certainly he would be of no use squatting here in ruined Italy, with all the superior spirits half a world away. 

     But how to get there? He did not have Baines's power to commandeer an aircraft, and though he was fully as wealthy as the industrialist – in fact most of the money had once been Baines's – it seemed wholly unlikely that any airline was selling tickets these days. A sea and overland journey would be too slow. 

     Would it be possible to compel ASTAROTH to provide him with some kind of an apport? This too was a terrifying thought. To the best of Ware's knowledge; the last magician to have ridden astride a devil had been Gerbert, back in the tenth century. He had resorted to it only to save his life from a predecessor of the Inquisition, whose attention he had amply earned; and, moreover, had lived through the ordeal to become Pope Sylvester II. 

     Gerbert had been a great man, and though Ware rather doubted that he had been any better a magician than Ware was, he did not feel prepared to try that conclusion just now. In any event, the process was probably unnecessarily drastic; transvection might serve the purpose just as well, or better. Though he had never been to a sabbat, he knew the theory and the particulars well enough. Included in the steel cabinets which held his magical pharmacopoeia were all the ingredients necessary for the flying ointment, and the compounding of it required no special time or ritual. As for piloting and navigation, that was to be sure a little alarming to anticipate, but if thousands upon thousands of ignorant old women had been able to fly a cleft stick, a distaff, a besom or even a shovel upon the first try, then so could Theron Ware. 

     First, however, he drew from the cabinet a flat slab of synthetic ruby, about the size and shape of an opened match folder; and from his cabinet of instruments, a burin. Upon the ruby, on the day of Mars, which is Tuesday, and in the hour of Mars, which is 0600. 1300, 2000 or 0300 on hat day, he would engrave the following seal and characters: 


     This he would henceforth carry in his right shirt pocket, like a reliquary. Though he would accept no help from ASTAROTH if he could possibly avoid it, it would be well since he was going to be travelling in that fiend's domains, to be wearing his colours. As a purist, it bothered him a little that the ruby was synthetic, but his disturbance, he knew, was only an aesthetic one. ASTAROTH was a solar spirit, and the ancients, all the way through Albertus Magnus, had believed that rubies were engendered in the Earth by the influence of the Sun – but since they were not in fact formed that way, the persistence of the ruby in the ritual was only another example of one of the primary processes of magic, superstiiion, the gradual supremacy of the sign over the thing, so that so far as efficacy was concerned it did not matter a bit whether the ruby was synthetic or natural. Nature, too, obstinately refused to form rubies the size and shape of opened match folders. 

     For a magician, Ware reflected, there were indeed distinct advantages in being able to practise ten centuries after Gerbert had ridden upon his demon eagle. 


     Transvection, too, has its hazards, Ware discovered. He crossed the Atlantic without incident in well under three hours – indeed, he suspected that in some aspect beyond the reach of his senses, the flight was taking place only partially in real time – and it began to look as though he would easily reach his goal before dawn. The candle affixed by its own tallow to the bundle of twigs and rushes before him (for only the foolhardy fly a broomstick with the brush trailing, no matter what is shown to the contrary in conventional Halloween cartoons) burned as steadily as though he were not in motion at all, casting a brilliant light ahead along his path; any ships at sea that might have seen him might have taken him to be an unusually brilliant meteor. As he approached the eastern United States, he wondered how he would show up on radar; the dropping of the bomb two days ago suggested that there might still be a number of functioning radomes there. In quieter times, he though, he might perhaps have touched off another flying saucer scare. Or was he visible at all? He discovered that he did not know, but he began to doubt it; the seaboard was hidden in an immense pall of smoke. 

     But once over land, he slowed himself down and lost altitude in order to get his bearings, and within what seemed to him, to be only a very few minutes, he was grounded head over heels by the sound of a church bell forlornly calling what faithful might remain to midnight Mass. He remembered belatedly, when he got his wind back, that in some parts of Germany during the seventeenth-century flowering of the popular Goetic cults, it had been the custom to toll church bells all night long as a protection against witches who might be passing overhead on the way to the Brocken; but the memory did him no good now – the besom had gone lifeless. 

     He had fallen in a rather mountainous, heavily timbered area, quite like the Harz Mountain section of Germany, but which he guessed to be somewhere in western Pennsylvania. Though it was now late April, which was doubtless warm in Positano, the night here was decidedly cold, especially for a thin man clad in nothing more than a light smear of unguent. He was instantly and violently all ashiver, for the sound of the bell had destroyed the protective as well as the transvective power of the flying ointment. He hastily undid the bundle of clothes, which was tied to the broomstick, but there were not going to be enough of them; after all, he had assembled them with Death Valley in mind. Also, he was beginning to feel drowzy and dizzy, and his pulse was blurred and banging with tachycardia. Among other things, the flying ointment contained both mandragora and belladonna, and now that the magic was gone out of it, these were exerting their inevitable side effects. He would have to wash the stuff off the minute he could find a stream, cold or no cold. 

     And not only because it was drugging him. Still other ingredients of the ointment were rather specifically organic in nature, and these gave it a characteristic smell which the heat of his body would gradually ripen. The chances were all too good that there would be some people in this country of the Amish – and not all of them old ones – who would know what that odour meant. Until he had had some kind of a bath, it would be dangerous even to ask for help. 

     Before dressing, he wiped off as much of it as he could with the towel in which the clothing had been tied. This he buried, together with the taper and the brush from the besom; and after making sure that the ruby talisman was still safely in his pocket, he set out, using the denuded broomstick as a staff. 

     The night-black, hilly, forested countryside would have made difficult going even for an experienced walker. Ware's life, on the other hand, had been nearly inactive except intellectually, and he was on the very near side of his fiftieth birthday. To his advantage, on the other hand, stood the fact that he had always been small and wiry, and the combination of a slightly hyperthyroid metabolism and an ascetic calling – he did not even smoke – had kept him that way, so that he made fair progress; and an equally lifelong love of descriptive astronomy, plus the necessity of astrology to his art, helped to keep him going in the right direction, whenever he could see a few stars through the smoke. 

     Just before dawn, he stumbled upon a small, rocky-bedded stream, and through the gloom heard the sound of a nearby waterfall. He moved against the current and shortly found this to be a spillway of a small log dam. Promptly he stripped and bathed under it, pronouncing in a whisper as he did so all three of the accompanying prayers from the rite of lustration as prescribed for the preparatory triduum in the Grimorium Verum – though the water was neither warm nor exorcized, it was obviously pure, and that would have to do. 

     The ablution was every bit as cold as he had expected it to be, and even colder was the process of air-drying himself; but he endured it stoically, for he had to get rid of what remained of the ointment, and moreover he knew that to put on damp clothes would be almost as dangerous. While he waited, his teeth chattering, faint traces of light began to appear through the trees from the east. 

     In answer, massive grey rectangular shapes began to sketch themselves against the darkness downstream, and before long he was able to see that to the west – which was the way the stream was momentarily running – the aisle it cut through the trees opened out on to a substantial farm. As if in confirmation of help to come, a cock crowed in the distance, a traditionl ending for a night of magic. 

     But as the dawn continued to brighten, he saw that there would be no help for him here. Under the angle of the roof of the large barn nearest to him a circular diagram had been painted, like a formalized flower with an eye in it. 

     As Jack Ginsberg had taken the pains to find out long before he and his boss had even met the magician, Ware had been born and raised in the States and was still a citizen. As his name showed, his background was Methodist, but nevertheless he knew a hex sign when he saw one. And it gave him an idea. 

     He was not a witch, and he certainly had had no intention of laying a curse on this prosperous-looking farm ten seconds ago, but the opportunity to gather new data should not be missed. 

     Reaching into his shin pocket, he turned the ruby around so that the seal and characters on it faced outward. In a low voice, he said, THOMATOS. BENESSER, FLEANTER.' 

     Under proper circumstances these words of the Comte de Gabalis encompassed the operator with thirty-three several Intelligences, but since the circumstances were not proper, Ware was not surprised when nothing happened. For one thing, his lustration had been imperfect; for another, he was using the wrong talisman – the infernal spirits of the ceremony were not devils but salamanders or fire elements. Nevertheless he now added: 'LITAN, ISER, OSNAS.' 

     A morning breeze sprang up, and a leaflike whispering ran around him, which might or might not have been the voices of many beings, individually saying, 'NANTHER, NANTHERR NANTHER, NANTHER …' Touching the talisman, Ware said. 'GITAU, HURANDOS, RIDAS, TALIMOL.' and then, pointing to the barn, 'UUSUR, ITAR.' 

     The result should have been a highly localized but destructive earthquake, but there was not even a minor tremor, though he was pretty sure that he really heard the responsive voices of the fire spirits. The spell simply would not work under the eye of the hex sign – one more piece of evidence that the powers of evil were still under some kind of restraint. That was good to know, but in a way, too, Ware was quite disappointed; for had he gotten his earthquake, the further words SOUTRAM, UBARSINENS would have compelled the intelligences to carry him across the rest of his journey. He uttered them anyhow, but without result. 

     Neither in the Comte de Gabalis or its very late successor. The Black Pullet, did this ritual offer any word of dismissal, but nevertheless for safety's sake he now added; 'RABIAM.' Had this worked, he would have found himself carried home again, where at least he could have started over again with more ointment and another broomstick; but it did not. There was no recourse now but to seek out the farmhouse and try to persuade the farmer to give him something to eat and drive him to the nearest railhead. It was too bad that the man could not be told that he had just been protected by Ware from a demonic onslaught but unfortunately the Amish did not believe that there was any such thing as white magic – and in the ultimate analysis they were quite right not to do so, whatever delusions about the point might be harboured by Father Domenico and his fellows. 

     Ware identified the farmhouse proper without any trouble. It looked every bit as clean, fat and prosperous as the rest, but it was suspiciously quiet; by this hour, everyone should be up and beginning the day's chores. He approached with caution, alert for guns or dogs, but the silence continued. 

     The caution had been needless. Inside, the place was an outright slaughterhouse, resembling nothing so much as the last act of Webster's The White Devil. Ware inspected it with clinical fascination. The family had been a large one – the parents, one grandparent, four daughters, three sons and the inevitable dog – and at some time during the preceding night they had suddenly fallen upon each other with teeth nails, pokers, a buggy whip, a bicycle chain, a cleaver, a pig knife and the butt end of a smoothbore musket, old enough to have been a relic of the Boer War. It was an obvious case of simultaneous mass possession, probably worked through the women, as these things almost always were. Doubtless they would infinitely have preferred a simple localized earthquake, but from an attack like this no conceivable peasant hex sign could have protected them. 

     Probably nothing could have, for as it had turned out, in their simple traditional religiosity they had chosen the wrong side. Like most of humankind, they had been bom victims; even a beginning study of the Problem of Evil would have suggested to them that their God had never played fair with them, as indeed He had caused to be written out in Job for all to read; and their primitive backwoods demonology had never honestly admitted that there really were two sides to the Great Game, let alone allowing them any inkling of who the players were. 

     While he considered what to do next he prowled around the kitchen and the woodshed, where the larder was, trying not to Slip or step on anybody. There were only two eggs – today's had obviously not been harvested – but he found smoked, streaky rashers of bacon, a day-old loaf of bread just ripe for cutting, nearly a pound of country butter and a stone jug of cold milk. All in all it was a good deal more than he could eat, but he built a fire in the old wood-burning stove, cooked the eggs and the bacon, and did his best to put it all down. After all he had no idea when he would meet his next meal. He had already decided that he was not yet desperate enough to risk calling for an apport, but instead would keep walking generally westward until he met an opportunity to steal a car. (He would find none on the farm; the Amish still restricted themselves to horses.) 

     As he came out of the farmhouse into the bright morning, a sandwich in both hip pockets, he heard from the undestroyed barn a demanding lowing of cattle. Sorry, friends, he though; nobody's going to milk you this morning. 


22 August 2021

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