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12/14/2013 10:14:58 AM
I am not certain I believe a word of it, Satan said, and his lack of a smile convinced me he was begrudgingly, with some effort, telling me the truth.
I asked, Was I talking out loud, Durchlausch?
I would be lying if I honestly said I do not know, the Demon replied.
Satan’s eyes glared at me with what I must call a devilish twinkle, and I was about to make some smart-ass comment, perhaps that I was being playfully distracted, when he went on to say, You your distrustfulness with humor —
I would be more professional if you labeled it simply satire, I inserted, but he pretended like he did not hear me.
— that is supposed to amuse me, which, frankly, it does not. But I have to admit, I enjoy your stories and the way you tell them. Would you like to go for a walk with me?
Leaving the room and walking anywhere along the Liffey River, this time of night with Satan or anyone else, for that matter, would have seemed the most foolish and least desirable of pastimes, especially with Satan, for I would be certain never to return.
Besides, if we ran into someone I knew — an unrepentant drunkard or, worse yet, a wanton gal of the night — how, in God’s name, would I introduce him?
Oh, hello, Phil — or Phenomena — what a surprise running into you at this awful hour! Such a chill in the air! By the way, this is my good friend, Mr. Beelzebub, just on shore from the River Styx. Do not shake his hand, however; he has a burning fever! . . .
No, I must not leave the room and the comfort of my grand stove with this recent acquaintance. Well, not recent, exactly, if I was truthful.
You are quite right, Satan said, a slight sigh broken in halves by the phlegm of a mild cough. No sense both of us prowling about the streets catching our, uh, death. . . Do you plan to live much past 2014?
I thought this to be an odd question, coming from the one person who might have as much to gain should I refuse to shuffle off this mortal coil as long as possible, perhaps into at least into the first decade of the twenty-second century.
I still had much to explore, much to ponder, much to write about — I really had not been as thorough, or as kind and insightful as I might have been to many of man’s idiosyncrasies.
I was yet uncertain if my anti-imperialist attitude went, for example, as far as out-and-out, plain socialism, notwithstanding I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle.
I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive, intolerable or unfair condition against which I might revolt . . . or the extent of my interest in Christianity and its pillars of the church against, which so many clerics leaned . . .
For that matter, the delights of cigarettes, a major passion . . . writing and traveling, while I remain unconvinced about which I treasure the most.
Then as well, there are my friends such as Roberts and his son, – not to mention Susan and of course her miracle-worker sister, Christine, — David S., his wife Karen, my dentist Dr, L., my long-lost Betty, and what’s-her-name . . . Why would I hasten to deprive them of my many pleasures?
Why would you ask such a depressingly silly question? I asked Satan, as he sat on what was the most uncomfortable chair in my suite at the Gresham.
Satan pursed his full lips beneath his moustache and said nothing for a minute. Then he sighed again that staccato half-cough and said, his voice displaying what I considered as a minor tone.
Just wondering, he sighed. As I recall, you came in with a comet in 1931. It is coming again in 2010, and I had heard rumors you might expect to go out with it. You have even written it will be the greatest disappointment of your life if you do not go out with a comet, as did your peer, Mark-What’s-His-Face.
According to you, the Almighty has said: now here are these two unspeakable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together. Rubbish as far as predictions go, but well within the realm of possibility.
You are ripe for the pickin, as they say, at eighty-two or so, he muttered. Even these coals in grand stoves, as you call them, burn out after a time. Besides, I have an ulterior motive, which is the real purpose of my visit.
This peaked my concern, and I am sure my expression revealed a lack of doubt, as did a suddenly rumbling in my belly caused by that lurking monster known as anticipation.
Pray, tell me, I said instead.
Praying, alas, said Satan, with a slight scowl, will, as always, get you nothing more than arthritic knees. But stop me before I go on and waste both our times. I am here on a mission. I need your help, and he added, more an oath than a plea, so help me.
I was nervous but all ears; so much so the tips of my lobes were aquiver.
Satan took a deep breath, unhappily stirring up another brief cough.
There is a young boy, he stated, an American born in 1902, a peculiar year at that. I was reading his destiny the other day — someone had carelessly left a copy on my desk — and when he is just twenty-five, he is going to do a most miraculous thing: he is going to fly solo in a small, single engine aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean from America to France.
A totally foolhardy and impossible undertaking. But — and here is the rub, as you scribes are wont to say — he is going to successfully complete the mission — against all odds!
I brightened up. And, I inserted, you want me to accompany him. Let me see: if he is born in 1902, he will make his landmark journey in, let’s see, 1927, when he is twenty-five — good heavens, that would make me . . . ninety-two! Are you mad, Durchlausch?
My face, like what remained of my reason, vanished as the decibels of my voice rose increased.
Satan unquestionably was toying with me and dangling my emotions like a wet greatcoat in front of my gorgeous grand stove. What pilot, what adventurer, what — dreamer — would want the dawdling millstone of an ancient relic about his neck, while bent on fame and immortality crossing the formidable, daunting Atlantic in a single engine airplane?
No, Mills-Twain, you are wrong — dead wrong. No question, you will have long discarded your fading mantel of mortality— in fact, we have you down for a preliminary examination in April 2017 . . . Satan was momentarily silent as he watched intently for my reaction, and satisfied I was not astride the outside edges of hysteria, he chose his words carefully and continued his narrative.
What we would like, he amplified, is for you to go along on this journey with about a dozen other eidolons — phantoms, if you will — to help keep the young hero awake during his, uh, trial by flight. Safe and somewhat alert. Encouraged and in a pleasant frame of mind during what I am certain will take thirty to fifty hours. We would —
I held up my hand. You keep saying we. Who — to whom — do you specifically refer as we?
I am sorry, Satan uttered, in abject apology, bending his reddish head forward and staring briefly at the sharp tips of his boots. I was, he then claimed, utilizing the editorial we, referring to none other than yours truly.
To suggest this concern of mine reflected another area would be an unjust usurpation of my inherent role, and I would not be worthy of the region I have so long cultivated.
No, please reside in the delicate knowledge that I want you to join my merry band of ghosts to inhabit the cabin of our courageous aviator-man at the precise moment over the Atlantic he will most sorely need the defiance hurlers.
I rolled the phrase about the interior of my cheeks, but found there was nothing either sinister or amusing in it. Defiance hurlers. Defiance hurlers . . . Nothing.
What are defiance hurlers? 1 asked at length.
Satan looked at me and then looked around as if there were others in the room. Then his gaze, through narrowed lids, came back to me.
Oh, them. Lawsy, dozens — a lot of people from a lot of times. They are with you. They are always with you, but you never pay any attention to them. But do fret not. Most people ignore them. But then, why should you? They are the defiance hurlers. They are the important ones. They are not like me — or anyone else with whom you might accuse me of associating.
They, the defiance hurlers, they mean something. They are the ones you should pay attention to. They are the ones that make the difference. Like I said, they are the defiance hurlers. Without them, man, we are dead oysters
I was insistent. Yes, but — what are defiance hurlers?
They are the ones we need to pay attention to. They are important...
Yes — but what do they do?
What do you think they do? They are defiance hurlers — they hurl defiance.
I don’t understand.
Satan was silent for a moment, but his silence betrayed no aggravation. Then: They are the ones who make up the difference, he explained. They are the ones who know exactly what we should do and when we should do it. They are the ones who know the subtle differences between a metaphor and an allegory. You know what I mean?
They are the ones, I said, understanding at last, who tell you to go ahead when everybody else says hold your horses, do not be hasty, think it through, and do not steal the hay if the barn is locked.
Exactly! If it was not for them, most of you would spend your lives doing the things you do because you are afraid to do anything else, and you would wind up like ninety-nine and forty-four one hundred percent of the rest: floating — floating along like bars of soap in the bathtub of life, doing nothing but dreaming about what you want to do, instead of what you are doing or could be doing.
They are the ones who tell you to be doing something else — anything, usually — and of course; you pay no attention to them. But you are pure, by cracky! Ninety-nine and forty-four one hundred percent pure — and you float!
And most of you never listen to the defiance hurlers, and eventually they stop trying.
Were it not for them, my flyboy will spend his whole life in flying circuses or delivering the mail or piloting a transport. You would probably have stayed single and bounced around from one town to the next and worked for any radio station that would hire you — and you would have been dead from God-knows-what long before now.
You would have shrugged it off the first time you had an inkling that you might ever write a coherent paragraph someone might want to read — which, by the way, nobody, except me, thinks you, to date, have.
But the defiance hurlers (the fata morganas of everyone’s conscience) got to you. Hah! Conscience doth make cowards of us all! Yes! One of them, maybe all of them, got inside you and said, Hey, fella, maybe you could write a decent tale or two. Maybe you should get off your ass and try to make something of yourself, make a pile of money, marry Christine and be a husband to her and a father to all your grand children.
If it were not for the defiance hurlers, no one would ever try to do anything to get out of the rut or, as they say, break out of the mold. And you know what mold is: mold is what happens when nothing else does. You would all be just — people. Like billions of others, sloshing molasses all over the planet so the spinning is out of kilter. Live, work, die — forgotten, like most, in a fortnight.
It is not fate or kismet or chance, no matter what you think, that makes one-man stand out while the rest just get along. And it is not opportunity, either.
Opportunity is always there, the hyper-intense cousin of the status quo, sitting in the corner waiting to be noticed and gesturing; Try me! Try me! It is always right there waiting for you to make your move when one of the defiance hurlers kicks you in the derriere.
You, especially, should thank your defiance hurlers.
I looked around. Which one, in particular?
All of them. May I count on you to be there?
When? I wanted to know.
Late May, 1927. I will let you know precisely. Will you be available?
Daylight crawled across Liffey River, slithered up the hotel’s outer wall, and entered my rooms below the shutters that had remained open.
There was something sinister the way day began in Ireland, the way it came out and pushed night aside, as if saying this is my world, you dark beast; let me cast my brilliance on all the mean spirits you conjure up when I am not looking. You have proven it once again: Night is evil and hides its perfidy beneath your cloak of sanity, with praise for the superiority of defiance hurlers.
I glanced about the room, seeing that I was alone. No. 44 had taken his leave. The coals in the stove were cold and ashen. The two cigarette stubs in the dish before me had passed over into the world of crisp bitterness. I was alone and no longer concerned with April 2014 — or beyond.
The faint and pungent aroma of sulfur hung mysteriously in the air about the room. I set about to write a new book, a book about a young aviator who, in the spring of l927, would fly from Long Island to France.
I will call the book WELL!
Robert A. Mills
Copyright .2013, all rights reserve
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