Asphodel the second volu.., p.1
Asphodel: The Second Volume of the Muse Chronicles, page 1
A S P H O D E L
The Second Volume of the Muse Chronicles
David P. Jacobs
The Second Volume of the
Copyright © David P. Jacobs
Published 14 February 2014
The right of David P. Jacobs to be identified as author of this Work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in retrieval system, copied in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise transmitted without written permission from the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Cover design by Anelia Savova
For my dear friend Susan Summers
who, after hearing of my first volume, inquired,
“What happens next?”
“Some people put walls up, not to keep people out,
but to see who cares enough to knock them down.”
“History is a cyclic poem written by time
upon the memories of man.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley
CHAPTER 1: CAULIFLOWER
History is inundated with haunting mysteries and long-forgotten secrets. It is twisted with darkened, shadow-riddled stairwells, catacombs of heroes, villains, unrequited love stories, ancient texts of wicked parables and disillusioned dreams. It is overgrown with the wastelands of wars, of unrealized desires, of precarious first steps and breathtaking quests of character. All one has to do is find the right stray string to tug in order to divulge the grander, more revealing thread which weaves itself deep under the surface like a persistent weed. But if there were ever a more inflexible twine to unknot, it would be that of the afterlife. There, in the outskirts of the waking world, lies even more complicated brambles. It is in these long discarded remnants where we find the commonality between the incongruous turns of the living. It is where we find the glue that ties the stories together. We find the true backbone of the tales, the spine to a fantastically crafted narrative which could only make sense in the make-shift world of midnight imaginings.
It was in the afterlife that our story began, on a day that such an inviting string presented itself, much to the chagrin of its owner. It quickly began to unravel, and would continue to, until all the surreptitious moments of his past would be displayed in their startling entirety. To fully comprehend how the lives of the man named Nathaniel J. Cauliflower had been disentangled, one would have to review the day when, and how, the initial extrication took place. And it happened firstly with these simple instructions:
“‘Musing and You’ brought to you by Management. Narrated by Nathaniel J. Cauliflower,” declared a male’s voice. The instructional video could still be heard despite the sound of falling colored Lite-Brite pegs and distant roaring thunder. “Since the beginning of time, muses have been inspiring the world around them - painters, writers, sculptors, dreamers and lovers: you name it, they have done it. According to Greek mythology, there were nine. Born of Zeus and Mnemosyne, they each had their own private field of expertise: Terpsichore was the muse of dance; Urania, muse of Astronomy; Thalia, muse of Comedy; Melpomene, muse of tragedy; Clio, muse of history; and the four muse poets: Polyhymnia for sacred poetry; Euterpe for music and lyric poetry; Calliope of epic poetry; and Erato of love poetry.
“Each worked tirelessly, for centuries, criss-crossing backwards and forwards throughout time until, one day, they hired replacements and retired. These replacements were randomly chosen, given offices after their deaths, and trained by the very first muses in the universe’s history. As time progressed, these ‘First Generation Muses’ filled their quotas and hired the next generation of replacements, and the Second Generation progressed to the Third. The Third passed it on to the Fourth, and then they passed it on to the Fifth, and so on . . . which means if you are watching this training video, you are now one of the elite. You, dear muse, are one of the Tenth Generation. Now we know what a muse is, so let’s talk about what a muse does and, more specifically, how they do it.
“First introduced in the year 1967 by Hasbro, the Lite-Brite board was devised to allow artists to create pictures by the use of translucent colored pegs when inserted into a grid covered by opaque black paper. A light bulb inside the device, once activated, caused the peg colors to illuminate. A muse in training,” the narrator preached, “is given an empty Lite-Brite board, but for a slightly different purpose. You see, dear muse, envelopes are delivered to a muse’s post box, and inside each envelope is a colored peg. Whether it’s blue, green, yellow, purple, pink, red, white, orange, or cream with bright red polka-dots, the peg is then taken from the envelope and placed into the Lite-Brite board. That’s when things for the muse becomes quite complex. The office folds and unfolds like an elaborate pop-up book. The colored peg transports you into the corresponding life of a specific person, place and time. Once there, it’s up to the muse to decide how to proceed. Your job, as the muse, is to inspire the person in that specific page of his or her very own story. Once the inspiration job is done in the allotted time, the book is closed, and the muse is returned to the office to await the next peg. This process repeats itself until the entire Lite-Brite board is full. Then, and only then, will the muse retire, with a replacement starting a . . .” the message grew obscured by static, finally returning to normal by the word “board.”
The narration sustained in a battle of dialogue between its important memorandum and the rumbling that surrounded it.
“There are several things to think about before venturing forth, dear muse: the first is the water cooler. Water is a conduit, a necessity for traveling from place to place. Drinking the water lubricates the transition of traveling through these passages. Without it, the journey would be excruciating. Second,” the narrator marshaled, “time for the muse is circular, which means that you can travel both forwards and backwards through time. Remember that past, present and future exist both harmoniously and simultaneously. Therefore, don’t be surprised if you’re inspiring a person suffering from vertigo to bungee jump with his friends one moment and then, inspiring the painting of the Sistine Chapel the next.
“Third and most importantly: do not, under any circumstances, leave an envelope unattended. The window of time, or the page of the person’s pop-up book, is only open for a limited interval and can only be opened by you.”
The instructional video skipped on itself, repeating the words “by you” three times before continuing on.
“. . . Butterfly wings and earthquakes, dear muse! Finish one job before moving onto the next. You now play a vital part in humanity, dear muse. No one you inspire is too great or too small. No task is ever out of your control. You, by yourself, hold the reins to inspiration. You can and will inspi-”
The voice was then silenced completely as the ceiling of the conference room, which held the projector that had been playing the video, collapsed under the weight of the storm’s onslaught. All that remained was the overlapping crashes of thunder along with the cacophony of raining colored pegs. The owner of the voice, and the narrator of the instructional video, Nathaniel J. Cauliflower, was currently standing in the Musing Department at the time that his p
He stood in an office space adjacent, and three doors from, the conference room. The specific workplace had been constructed with dark stained wood and nine distinctly different porches. There were four on each side and a ninth vestibule in the far back of the room. Each opened up to dissimilar, but equally impressive, thunderstorms, forever stuck on their approach but never quite making it. The office had recently played host to a Tenth Generation muse who had allowed an individual to go uninspired, causing a chain reaction of colored pegs to fall. It had also, many envelopes prior, been home to a Second Generation Muse, a woman named Evangeline, who had done the same.
Evangeline’s initial neglectfulness had become a renowned account throughout the decades. It told of a muse who had been assigned to put a misdirected letter into the wrong mailbox and, in so doing, further the life of a client. It also told of how Evangeline had failed and of the disaster that unfolded. It warned of how the individuals who had been destined to be inspired by the client never got inspired and, as a catastrophic chain reaction, the resulting client’s pegs had begun to fall. It had been a convoluted web that Nathaniel had worked determinedly for years to regulate. The original story had become so remote, each muse who inspired afterwards merely thought of it as a cautionary tale. But now, because the Tenth Generation muse had intentionally followed in Evangeline’s footsteps, the colored pegs were falling from the ceiling again. The once dormant legend of Evangeline was reawakened. Its astounding reality, and consequently the state of the living world by translation of the outpouring of colored pegs, was nothing short of staggering.
But to Nathaniel, the falling colored pegs did not cause his heart to race. Instead it was the presence of a cabinet at the far end of the “thunderstorm hall” which caused a single tear to trace down his cheek. The cabinet’s top half was constructed by glass, which had been flung open before his arrival. There were several overturned framed photographs of muses past. The only two still standing upright, and staring back at him across the distance, was his own face along with the visage of a centennial-aged Evangeline. Upon looking on her pale remembrance, Nathaniel couldn’t help but to recall how much he loved her, and how his love had inadvertently been her downfall.
He would never forget, after all these years, the last words Evangeline had spoken to him while they both stood before the mailbox in what would have been her final official inspiration.
“I’m sorry,” Evangeline had told him on that day. “I love you, but I’m sorry.”
He still heard those words, daring not to look away from the open cabinet for fear that, in doing so, it might forsake his affections.
The bottom half of the cabinet, which was once secured by a ten-lettered combination lock, also lay open. Atop a desk, beside a Lite-Brite board, sat the exposed contents: a sealed jar with twenty-one dead dandelions, another jar with a single page ripped from an ancient ledger and an opened hand-carved wooden box. The box was decorated with engraved dandelions along the surface and was once secured by a dandelion-shaped lock. Inside the box was a document entitled The Lives and Times of Nathaniel J. Cauliflower; loose-leaf pages that were now scattered in fistfuls by the gales of forthcoming thunderstorms. How Nathaniel hated to see his past displayed like this. Having it occupy his mind was one thing; physically seeing it before him, and mixed with the flood of colored pegs, was another.
There came a comforting hand on his left shoulder. Nathaniel turned to find Fiona, his Head Muse, a seemingly forty year-old woman who wore a baby blue pants suit, matching heels and pearl earrings. Fiona’s hair waved luxuriously in the breeze. Both stood for several seconds respectfully staring into the office and toward the cabinet as the last few colored pegs tumbled down. Though the tinted falls had run dry, the work ahead of them would no doubt be a fatiguing movement.
“We’ve been through this before, Mr. Cauliflower,” Fiona told Nathaniel. “You know what has to be done.” The more words Fiona spoke the more Nathaniel could detect a subtle British accent.
“Yes, I know,” said Nathaniel. He pulled out nine violet envelopes from his left pants pocket and handed them to her. Each envelope was firmly fastened with dried amber-colored wax emblazoned with a dandelion seal. “You’ll find all nine of them there, including the invitation for Annette Slocum.” Nathaniel’s look was full of concern.
“You know what it could mean by bringing Mrs. Slocum back here, yes?” Fiona inquired. “What it could cost us?”
“Even so . . .” Nathaniel responded, deep in thought.
“I can stay and organize the colored pegs if you would like to fetch our muses,” which was Fiona’s way of telling Nathaniel she would secure his personal history within the cabinet for him.
Nathaniel, taking Fiona’s hint, said “No. It’s my mess now just as it was my mess then. I’ll attend to the colored pegs and regain a sense of organization. Gather the others. Tell them a warm meal will be here to greet them.”
“Don’t go to too much trouble, Mr. Cauliflower,” Fiona told her dear friend.
“I prepared it shortly before the colored pegs descended,” Nathaniel reassured Fiona. “It would be a shame to have it go to waste.”
Nathaniel had worn many hats over the past generations: colored-peg aficionado, post-master and chef, nevertheless all of those roles seemed quite insignificant now due to the conditions.
“I’m sure they will look forward to sharing a meal together, after all this time.” Before leaving, she asked him “Will you be all right here on your own, Mr. Cauliflower? Honestly and truly?”
He turned to Fiona and said “Aren’t I always?”
Fiona smiled and nodded but hesitated all the same. Eventually she turned and exited the office to the hallway. Nathaniel faced his personal reliquaries with careful courage as he had quietly managed to do throughout the preceding centuries.
In the interim between Fiona’s departure and when the Nine Greatest Muses arrived, Nathaniel’s obsessive mind worked industriously. The heart of the department was a long, plain rectangular hallway which connected the other rooms to the agency: a conference room to the north, a door leading to a waiting room to the south, five doorless offices to the west, and four doorless offices to the east along with a fifth bathroom door. The corridor, like the offices that surrounded it, was coated in a thick film of excess colored pegs. Nathaniel took a broom to the entire passage, exposing the tiled floors underneath. He buffed and waxed the ground until it sparkled under the newly installed energy-efficient bulbs of the ceiling. Even the post boxes, which varied in shape and size depending on which country it had come from, were now repositioned by the doorless offices awaiting envelopes. Nathaniel gave himself personal accolades for his work but knew there was still much more to do before the guests arrived.
Nathaniel swept each associated workplace of the colored pegs. He draped offices with their own brilliant displays in the same fashion that a designer would consult layers of multi-patterned upholstery fabric for a proper color scheme. He started with the office of thunderstorms. When he first entered the office it was a grievous pit with a flood of colored pegs almost waist high, but after locking the fragments of his histories back into the cabinet, taking a horizontal sweeping broom to the layer of colored pegs and taking wood polish to the banisters and floors, he left the office in the same pristine condition it had been. He decorated one office as a living Grecian beach with waves rolling upon rocky, sandy shores during a sunny mid-afternoon. In another office Nathaniel supplied a Russian cityscape and an expansive ballet studio complete with a barre, a wall of elegant mirrors and hardwood floors. Another office was decorated as the Titanic in its gleaming majesty days before the iceberg. He even took it upon himself to d
Nathaniel stood in the conference room looking at the mural of the nine naked beautifully dancing muses with laurel leaves on their heads. He allowed himself to remember the outlying details of Evangeline’s soul, the sound of her voice, her soft touch, and the smell of her lavender perfume. An additional memory of her had then crossed his mind.
“That’s it,” Nathaniel told her in the memory. “That’s right. Inside the mailbox.”
In his mind’s eye, Evangeline looked into the darkness of the space of the open mailbox. Raindrops chased the wrinkles of her face, cascading down the contours of her chin. And as she stood there, she considered what was to follow once the envelope was delivered. Eventually Evangeline, with envelope still in hand, closed the lid. She turned to Nathaniel.
“I’m sorry,” Evangeline told him. “I love you, but I’m sorry.” She surrendered the envelope, dropping it to the wet ground.
He stopped remembering her there for the time being. The memories of her were beautiful, yes, but the underlying, poisoned current of tragedy and intrigue ran too deep for him to remember further.
Nathaniel bowed his eyes to the rest of the conference room. The table in the middle was perfectly round with a diameter of polished cedar. Its center was topped by a glass vase of freshly picked lavender and hyacinth, nine kerosene lamps glowing humbly and a lone, empty Lite-Brite. Nathaniel took time to set out the finest china, polished silver and sparkling goblets for the occasion. He put the finishing touches on an antipasto of fried fava beans drenched in olive oil, covered with flakes of mouthwatering Pecorino Romano cheese. He set out soup bowls filled with steaming minestrone speckled with chopped vegetables, potatoes, beans and flavorful spices. Each setting was adorned with unique and various pasta dishes: some mixed with salty veal, others of tender pork, some of sumptuous lamb, coated in ground tomato, basil and dots of parmesan. Nathaniel even positioned loaves of crunchy artisan bread, which sprang out ornamentally from various white fabric draped baskets.
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