Meanwhile, in the sub-cellars of the Hotel Taft, Linda’s face was turning blue. Quite becoming, actually. El was prepared to be entertained, but took inventory of his better impulses. From the Winkelman body, twitters and whistles were being choked back and becoming a gargling. A musical interlude, then? Definitely not Morgana. His intent must have gone forth, summoning a traverser of the realms—what the more imaginative and impressionable of his parishioners once called demons.
The twitters and whistles became words: “Identify yourself, please. I mean, really!” Definitely testy, with a note of perplexity.
“I will not be patronized!” A voice not Linda’s and yet not the Fata Morgana’s issued from the Winkelman lips. “Explain yourselves if you can. I have been co-opted by your tampering with forces you in all likelihood do not fully understand. I must warn you, whoever you are, that such actions are strictly prohibited by the Comprehensive Code of...” Here more twitters and whistles. An affronted dignity entered the voice. “Oh, Great Filladith, there’s a sentience in here, too! You’ve invaded another being’s persona and suppressed her volition. Release me before I am forced to deal harshly with you.”
“Whomsoever you are, you are not enthusiastic about My exchange program,” declared El, the demiurge. The Orange Virgin, no: a known quantity, she was definitely hostile, but would call him by name. This was not the Fata Morgana. Here was a new force to be reckoned with.
“I am from...” here a series of chirpings and whistlings, “...and the being’s name, this being you have co-opted. What was that again, dear?” More twitterings. “Linda is the closest I can come.”
“Linda. And you are sure she is helpless? This is what My intentions were.”
“She is not happy with your arrangements.”
“Tell her to pack it in for the duration. We require her body, no more. Her opinions are beside the point. Give her something to keep her busy—anagrams, Scrabble, long division, logarithms.”
The twitterings and chirpings slowed to an approximation of articulated speech. “I assure you as a prebendary of the Church of Temporal Affliction, we don’t hold with such goings-on...”
“And I am the Master of Creation; call me El. How do you do?”
“How do I do? Young demiurge, I’ll tell you what I will do...” more twitterings. “But my doings are beside the point here. It is your doings which concern the Consortium.”
“So. You are an eidolon. Ah, yes... The eidolons, busybodies of eternity—unfeelingly meddling with things properly beneath their interest—are putting us all to a great deal of trouble. Time is yet a cenotaph marking a kingless tomb and we have to fix the angle of the gnomen, reset the clock.”
El took Gershon for a stroll about the basement of the Hotel Taft. Behind him the dialogue continued, but now two voices shared one larynx. This new voice sounded not unlike the redoubtable Fata Morgana, Queen of Heaven, Lady of the Wild Things, etc., etc.
The Queen of Heaven’s tones were calming and conciliatory: “On behalf of myself and the snarky individual pretending to meditate in front of an air duct, welcome to the Hotel Taft. We will of course, give all considered assistance to speed you back to where you came from.”
Linda’s face was no longer contorted though sweat glistened on her forehead and stained her collar. Her normal color was returning. She sat stock still, body rigid, her eyes rolled up with pupilless whites staring vacantly while her hands carried on an animated conversation with one another. A medium-sized spotted pig materialized at her feet, curled in a ball.
“Excellent, Lord Eidolon, only too good,” said the pig. “My old adversary in our perpetual tussle—he, the Sky, and I, the Earth.” The pig indicated Gershon Meyrowitz.
El/Gershon prodded the pig with a sandaled toe. “That is you, Morgana, is it not? Well, my stars and garters, we have done it.” He turned to study a carton of rigatoni on a pantry shelf. “Everybody’s got to be somewhere, right? You should feel honored. Even I cannot just manufacture something out of nothing, Lord Eidolon. One loose piggy more or less will mean nothing to a casual observer, but the biota here is teetering at critical mass. I mulch, recycle, try to set a good example...”
“So you snatch a citizen from a probability vector where neither of you have any business, no authority...”
“...thus hatching a whole new supply of extraterrestrial mother-ships sightings in their universe? Fiddle-dee-dee.” El/Gershon shrugged to signify irrelevance. “So we are becoming the space aliens of another universe: legends in the otherwhen, someone else’s time? Big deal. When we’re done, we just give her back her body and send her on her way.”
Linda’s body turned to face the Rider on the Storm. “That’s a lot of information,” said the eidolon. “I think I will rest now; I trust I have expressed the Consortium’s concerns. Please call me when it’s all over. Nice meeting you, I’m sure.”
“Lord Eidolon, wait,” said El. “This woman had a husband, it seems. This would be an encumbrance. There could have been uncertainties if he were left to his own devices. I have dealt with him. I am always thinking of you, my responsibilities... the Consortium.” El’s mention of the Consortium was added on after a pause. The air was heavy with rebuke. The sky demon again pursued the evasive piece of lint. “And Myself. I like to feel I am backing a sure thing.”
“You have killed him, Linda’s husband! Oh, El, how could you,” declared the pig.
“Easily enough. Calm yourself; he is well. I slid him through on the back draft of your crossing-over, Morgana. You produce an admirable shock wave at your passage, my dear. He is for now a wandering minstrel in your asylum, an assistant to a poet. He will love it there. Look after him for me. My constituents are finicky about their marriage vows; these, after all, I have ordained. If word were to get about...”
“Afraid. You are afraid of them.”
“Well... yes. They could interpret any lack of action on My part as tribute to the ‘pagan demon-queen.’”
“Which would be me, I suppose. Although I can’t say as I am overjoyed with the characterization. But that, it appears, is that. We can sort him out later, if need be.” The Fata Morgana spoke from the pig on the floor, who stretched—trotters forward, tail in the air—and yawned widely. “For now we have to get busy. Try out your sea legs, my dear.”
Looking perplexed, Linda Winkelman stood and stretched. Then fell to her knees. There was a bone-jarring thump as the world seemed to drop three feet. Linda clutched at walls that were not there, her only reference being a runaway elevator. A flash resonated around Manhattan. A blown fuse. The fluorescents? Nuclear attack?
El probed Linda’s mind for a possible source of mischief. The eidolon had thrown up a static field and gone to sleep.
In the streets outside a welter of voices called alarm. The closely-packed anxieties of a myriad of humanity broke upon the Orange Virgin like a tidal surge, then retreated as the world realized it was all in one piece and with hardly a hair out of place. A small presentation for a portentous phenomenon.
“Holy shit, what was that, the end of the world?” Linda stood and rubbed her eyes. She stared as a shimmering figure materialized beside her. The speaker had become a tall, red-haired beauty, naked. Her kidnapper had regained his feet and was dusting himself off.
“I compliment your self-possession, my dear. Your figure of speech is truer than you dream.” Morgana reached out to comfort her. Something had gone dreadfully wrong. “El, you are despicable, contemptible!” She kicked the demiurge in a rage, hammered on him with her fists. “Marooned! I am stuck here with you in your smarmy world.”
Gershon Meyrowitz ducked his head to avoid her blows. “A bissel earthquake, perhaps. They have them here all the time.”
“Plate tectonics don’t explain this.” She made a sweeping gesture that included herself—a show stopper even in midtown Manhattan. And no longer a black and white spotted pig.
“I said you would be yourself at times unpredictable. This, this, ah... dislocation is one of those times.”
“And you didn’t predict it.”
“That is what unpredictable means, my lovey-dove. Anyhow, My word is incontrovertible. Whatever has just occurred, I have remarked upon it, said its name, and now it is so. Learn to live with it, we’ve got troubles in the here and now.”
Linda decided it was time to speak. “Let me get this straight. You are God, right?” El nodded. “How do you do. There’s this guy who lives in a cardboard box under the 79th Street transverse who says he’s Jesus and I always wanted to meet his family. And you are,” She gestured histrionically toward Morgana, “No, don’t coach me, let me guess: Mary Magdalene, Madonna, Britney Spears. Hey, you really look great naked, you know? But of course you do, otherwise why go around with no clothes. Do you do this a lot? I mean seeing that you both are walking around and not in an institution someplace...” Linda’s voice broke. Morgana made a move to comfort her.
“Linda, you have been through a lot. Give it a rest, relax. You are on the verge of hysteria, and we have enough on our minds at the moment. Trust me. Recognize my voice. Sit down please.”
It was the voice from her head. Linda struggled, then sat as calm suffused her body. From habit she reached behind to straighten her skirt. In a panic, she reached into her brassiere. The coin was gone. There was a tingling there, but no chocolate mess. The clerk—God, or whoever-the-hell the madman was—had spoken the truth. She clung to that as an anchor for her sanity and sat once more on her string wrapped carton. The two—the goddess and the god?—were talking; they had completely dismissed her.
“Well, El, nothing up your sleeve, not even a teeny tiny plenary indulgence? The child is right, you are God here and you are helpless. Perhaps we should adjourn to Central Park and check under the 79th Street transverse.”
“For the moment, no. And your sarcasm is not lost on me, I assure you. When Tevye here...” he again checked the name in the clerk’s jacket, “...when Gershon is back to glorifying My name and on the bus to Teaneck remembering nothing of this day, then I’ll believe everything is hunky-dory and not before. You see, I’m as stuck as you are right now. Untangle My holy innocents, Morgana. You are in this continuum for weal or woe since in a fit of melancholy yearning I bonded the body of this young woman with your old moon sign. Will I or nil I, a goodly part of you is here on My side for the duration.”
Morgana eyed him coldly, “Duration of what?”
“Damned if I know,” said Gershon/El.
“I claim seniority. I am older than you by geological ages. Well, hello, there.” A cat had carried in a still-twitching mouse and laid it at her feet. “Someone remembers who I am. Give me some credit, El, to have at least the brains of Gershon’s cat. The Old Ones are yanking our chains.”
El executed a small deferential bow while blanching. “You show an admirable proficiency with the local idiom, my dear, but even between ourselves, there are some names better left unsaid.” Not to be mistaken in his intent, the cat again picked up the mouse, this time dropping it on Morgana’s foot.
“Me again.” It was the eidolon. “It is but a small token, and a promise, for the eidolons have found your constant self-indulgence worthy of recognition. Narcissism has its place and, after all, you are supreme beings. But there has been a slipup. Oh, it had to happen eventually, but ‘why now and why to me,’ I’m sure you are asking. In a like manner, I might ask, why me, and why on my watch? Because it has always been my watch.”The cat looked on, approvingly.
“Lord Eidolon, you are an alarmist. Pardon me, I must share this well-intentioned offering.” Morgana sat cross-legged, facing the cat with the mouse between them.
“The mouse will wait,” said the eidolon. Linda stared empty-eyed as her lips made the words.
“To me it is religion, to the cat it is lunch, and lunch won’t wait.” The Queen of Heaven bit the head off the mouse and handed the remainder to the cat.
“Ah, Morgana, you always were the clever one, and I would rather see you disporting with shepherds in some bosky dell than blown to smithereens. But our destinies are intertwined in this, so hear me out. Assessing blame after the cat is out of the bag will not clean the shit from the fan. That is a metaphor.”
“That is two metaphors, Lord Eidolon, and you become a dreary bore,” said Morgana regaining her feet and slapping the dust from her behind.
A trace of irritation entered the eidolon’s voice. “Bear with me, this gets interesting. When you first began your romp as blushing hegemonists you were rare and beautiful godlings with a promising patch to improve. This you have not done. And although limitless continuity does give one a sense of perspective, not-being we do not yet seek. What the doers have done, the doers must undo. The Old Ones have determined that, by the start of the next Great Year, all this will be no more. That is a promise.”
“All for one little pig? That, the schism, it was but a bump, like jumping off a kitchen table.”
“My dear Lady, at the risk of patronizing you, what does the earth weigh?”
“About six-and-a-half billion trillion tons, I believe. That’s long tons. I believe my figures are accurate.”
“Well, just you drop that off your kitchen table. If there were a place for this reality to impact upon we would have a dandy mess, wouldn’t we? As it is you shall have landed upon yourselves, which is an anomaly, a paradox, and nature doesn’t allow paradoxes. A Great Year, remember, is 25,800 earth years—a full precession of the equinoxes—so better get a hustle on. You have till Thursday.”
The cat burraowed and rubbed along Morgana’s leg.
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