Monday, August 4, 2008

Chapter One: Prima luce

I had known my friend for so long, and we had shared so many great adventures, I could hardly say, now, how it was that we met. Had we not always shared our rooms together, and did not most mornings begin as simply as this, over a good breakfast in this great city, with my friend having finished his dream-journal and turning now to that other record gathered all the day previous, but printed just before waking, the morning paper?

“Heh!” chirped my friend. It was not unusual for my friend to warble and otherwise audibly punctuate and annotate the morning paper with little sounds of interest, doubt, curiosity, annoyance, irony, sadness, and quite often, contempt, not unlike the peculiar mewlings of a certain breed of cat. It was my place in our little domestic to listen with highly concealed pleasure and await the inevitable actual oral rewrite of the paper’s principals, which was highly educational and formed a very solid session until lunch.

He invariably held the paper at odd angles like he had never seen one before and thought it was some novel garment now to try on and was looking for a place to poke his head through. My friend’s actual reading poked about like caterpillar on a leaf, which is to say, according to some associative but unpredictable pattern that it somehow intimated to him, turning it this way and that. The way my friend read things, you would suppose that nothing was ever printed in the right order. Today he seemed rankled and transfixed by a simple notice, while, (rather ostentatiously, I thought, as though afraid to touch any of the broad band of lettering, as though the volume of ink used might not have dried yet) totally eliding the ineluctable black bold prison stripes of the headline:

DREAM-STRANGLER CAPTURED! Inspector Tam “Fetch” Gets His Man!

With I highly uxorial grin not at all well hidden behind my marmalade and muffin, I asked: “So, Aislyn, is there anything in the paper To-day?”

“Heh. Listen carefully and remember well: this is the most central and portentous fact given here: Notalis has canceled his much anticipated Lectures on Idealism.”

“Other than again depriving your poor peers at University from your light and the salutary effects of your word and your rod, what else is portended by this?”

“You realize that he’d only just arrived? That’s how hostile our city is to true philosophers; they don’t even have to make it up from the Piraeus to realize that we are totally corrupt, incorrigible and not worth teaching. Mind you, ‘Notalis’ is one mind I would have looked forward to meeting and disagreeing with in person under the attribute of extension. ‘Misha,’ I would have said, familiarly, (once we had become familiar) ‘of course our great Baruch is correct. But the real problem with anthropomorphism is that we continue to apply it to human beings.’ I swear, if I had any real stamina, any real fortitude, I would face these questions, the question of what is ultimately real, and investigate that. Stick with that. But the questions are intolerable, the answers, unbearable. Only lunatics try and answer. And answer they do. I can’t teach or investigate virtue. I can only punish the wicked. So instead I solve the crude puzzles sent to us daily in the paper like a crossword and that occupies me, useless prodigy that I am.”

“My good Aislyn, you’ve helped very many and hindered the very worst.”

“I’ve never convinced a wicked man that he was wicked. Only pointed out this all-too deplorable obvious fact to others. By then it is too late to help anyone, anyway.”

“Like the ‘Dream-Strangler’s’ victims?”

“‘The Dream-Strangler’ is not even a puzzle. Yet. You need at least one actual fact to make a puzzle. This fact is sometimes referred to as ‘a clew.’ Notabene to your readers, Hansom. Otherwise it’s just a guessing game in a dream and crossword in a nonsense language.”

“You don’t think our Tam Fetch has indeed got his man?”

“Oh he’s got his man and that’s why it’s all so elusive for Inspector Slainy. Tom Slainy is a child who has made up many different names for the boogeyman and so thinks he now has a decent canvas of suspects. First, it’s not even clear, mein Arzt, that the cause of death is clearly strangulation and not just asphyxia in every case attributed to ‘The Dream-Strangler.’ Second, it is not at all clear that all the actual victims of strangulation are all victims of the same, singular agent, viz. the aforementioned, ostensible ‘Dream-Strangler’ and thanks to Slainy’s usual subtle handling, what pertinent criminal details there are, are in all the papers, and we may indeed, now, never know if indeed such a criminal existed to have strangled anybody. All this fodorol disguises the guilty and distracts the virtuous from more pertinent data like Schopenhauer lectures”

“Finally, even given all that, Tom Slainy still hasn’t actually solved anything. There is no explanation. All that our good "Fetch" has done is give us a string of proper names that he now says are all the same name. Who is strangling people in their sleep? ‘The Dream-Strangler’ Who is the ‘The Dream-Strangler’? Let us see, a completely unintelligible apparently insane foreigner named ‘Tamas Nihilos’ about whom nothing is known and nothing is forthcoming because he is insane, unintelligible and foreign. And now the case is solved! The people who were strangled in their sleep were strangled by ‘The Dream-Strangler’ who strangled them because ‘The Dream-Strangler’ strangles people who are sleeping, only now we can put him on the roster by his surname “Nihilos” and more intimately, ‘Tamas.’ There is absolutely no “why,” there is barely a “how” and the “who” is really just a portmanteau of the “how” and the one thing we do really know, “where.” Where? In their sleep. The answer to “who” is just “where-how”: dream-strangler.”

“You think this man, Nihilos might be innocent?”

“Innocent of what? All men are guilty of something, considered under one attribute or another. Nihilos has not confessed or denied anything because no one understands a word he says. He could have a perfect alibi. Or when the constables approached him he could have just thought he was answering a riddle, as though we were a land of Sphinxes and this our custom to ask of travelers. Well, now I’ve wasted a good minute I could have spent thinking about something worthwhile, or better, nothing at all. And I wish you would stop nibbling around breakfast because Mrs. Turner will now not be able to clear everything before our unannounced noble guest requires quiet announcing.”

My friend was in no way preternatural in noticing this. He had a better view. Mrs. Turner entrance was, indeed, quite distributed between announcing, clearing, explaining, deploring and apologizing. My friend thought it better, since the interview was apparently so urgent and from so significant a person, to proceed immediate.

No sooner has he resolved upon this, than our guest was upon us, unannounced. Her eyes, however, presented the keenest of intelligences, and her regal manner made her introduction instantly. It was indeed the very notable Baroness _________, wrapped very neatly and trimly in the unmistakable signification of mourning.


Jordan said...

You never did say if you were ever going to finish this story or not. You left it at a crucial moment, and I'm curious what happens to your brave investigative dreamer.

Van Choojitarom said...

Remind me when your birthday is and I'll finish it up for you.

Jordan said...

My birthday has already past. Does that mean I have to wait until next May 21st? How about my due date? I was supposed to be born July 10th, but I was in such a hurry to get out and experience the world that I came out at the earliest possible moment when I was fully formed. Either that, or I just couldn't stand my mom eating another sardine. Even to this day I don't like seafood :b

Jordan said...

I guess I will be waiting until next May. Or perhaps next July since you may not be done with school for the summer by then.