Saturday, January 19, 2013

Fabula Custos or, A Footnoted Nation

    Hollow halls, lined with packed shelves, made the room. Everything was rich, dark wood. Layers of dust covered almost all the books. The main body of the room, in the midst of the rows of shelves, had a vaulted ceiling of gilt panels.
    Shadows flickered here and there, antagonized by the light from candles and the fire. At one of the long, oak tables that was covered in books, positioned across from the fireplace, sat a boy. He was typing away steadily at a typewriter. It was the only noise, echoing around the hall of forgotten wisdom.
    His eyes kept flickering back and forth from an open tome to the paper projecting from the machine. His fingers never once misstepped. His face was unreadable, sharp, with green-blue eyes. The hair on his head seemed almost silver, though it might have been the light.
    On and on he typed, only stopping twice in the course of forty minutes; once to feed the fire and another time to fetch a different book from the upper reaches of a shelf. This he scanned through tirelessly until he found what he wanted, then got back to typing.
    Every time a page was finished he'd slide it free and lay it face down in a chest on the seat next to him. The chest was graying wood, a brass plaque on the front. It was faded, but two words were still readable, fabula custos.
    There came a rustling at the back of the room. The youth barely glanced up. Nothing could be seen in the shadows beyond the fireplace, but he already knew who had come. He recognized the clicking of the talons and the brush of the wings.
    “Come for respite by my fire?” he called. “Or a word from a fellow soul?”
    Something, black as the shadows behind it, rocked into view. The head came up, then snapped suddenly sideways, looking at him with one crimson eye. “A little of one,” a trilling whisper came, “maybe a little of the other. It seems such a time since I spoke to you, Observer.”
    The boy looked up at the eagle. A hint of a smile crossed his lips. “Have you come to make sure I didn't miss anything, then?”
    The big raptor bobbed his head humbly. “Never! That would be so presumptuous. It's a cold world out there, boy… One almost forgets the warmth a fire can give when one is using them to always destroy.”
    The boy pushed back his chair and stood. “Sit then,” he said amiably, snatching up a dish of tarts, “and preen your feathers by my fire, Lord Liberty. Have a tart while you're at it. Baked them this morning. Strawberry.”
    The eagle was giant, dwarfing the boy. It's feathers gleamed black in the amber light. The head was a sooty gray instead of the usual white. “Delicious!” he crowed, gobbling up a few tarts. “Where did you get such a recipe.”
    “Funny that you haven't run across it before, it's as old as you. Something Queen Charlotte fancied. I've made a few adjustments of my own, but on the whole it's the same.”
    “She had very good taste. It really is too bad about her husband.”
    The boy laughed. “Don't pretend to care. Personally, I think you were the one that pushed him over the edge! A revolution is never good for the mental health of royalty.”
    “And the mental health of royalty is never good for the people,” the bird countered. “Either they're sane enough to schemingly pursue ultimate power, or insane enough to think they've already got it.”
    “Oh? Into which category does David fall?”
    “A myth and legend.”
    “I saw him.”
    “Then you would know, surely.”
    The boy said nothing, only walked slowly back to his seat. The eagle gobbled down another tart. “A funny thing for you to say…” the boy replied finely. “Considering what your people believed.”
    “Believed,” the other hissed. “is the right word. I've come through for them far more.”
    “Some might say that's because they abandoned their other belief for you.”
    “I dwarfed their silly religious convictions! I showed them what true freedom is and they bowed to me. They are my people, and I'm their god.”
    “God forces no man to believe and none to love, not like you.”
    The eagle shook his head. “Please. Those countries begged me to come to their aid. They asked for me to lead them.”
    The boy laughed. “After you whispered your delicate promises! Who would have said no?”
    “And I have fulfilled! Like no one else.”
    “Not like God.”
    The eagle turned away. But the boy persisted, coming closer again. “You turned them away. You were envious.”
    “And why shouldn't I have been? I was the one promising ultimate freedom.”
    “But that has its cost.”
    “You still don't have them completely…”
    “I will!”
    “You will. You're doing a marvelous job. Your dividing of the youth from their elders was admirably done.”
    The eagle clicked his beak with pleasure. “Liked that, did you? Yes… It was. It was fun too. When they lost I was there to tell them they couldn't win. When they fell I was there to tell them they'd never get up. I was their constant companion. It was I that informed them that their fathers didn't love them, it was I that pointed out how little time their mothers spent with them.
    “I consoled them with cravings that they will never satisfy. I awakened their hearts in the dark hours of the night, long before they were supposed to be awakened. I told them of the secrets behind locked bedroom doors.
    “I never lied to them!”
    “But you never failed to point out when their parents did.”
    “Yes, and even when they didn't tell them the whole truth. I hid nothing from them. I nurtured them and fed them succulent morsels. It was I that fed their lust and envy. I was there for them! I was a father to the fatherless, and mothered the neglected…
    “And when each divide is set, riven beyond repair, I tell them of it. I cry with them and moan with them. I hug them, and whisper to them in the night. 'Your parents will never understand. They're gown-ups.'”
    The youth shook his head. “Such an ambiguous statement… Yet they buy it again and again, never asking for a further explanation.”
    “'And why should they?' I ask them,” the eagle continued triumphantly. “If their parents don't even try to understand them why should they fill in the gap?”
    “But the parents never will. They're another of your conquests that really deserves praise. A cycle of pain and soothing numbness! And of killing the conscience to relieve the soul.”
   His fellow couldn't hold back flapping his wings with delight. “Too true! Too true. But you know I couldn't have them even trying to save their young. After all, they might succeed!”
   “So, you taught them that their young were burdens, and then gave them a way to free themselves… Then you disguised the murders behind a 'right'. You called their babies its and things so that they could ignore the guilt.”
    “A beautiful conquest.”
    “Your people are bathed in blood.”
    “It is not as far reaching as some of my other deeds.”
    “Ah, yes. Your distractions are your crowning achievement. You've filled their heads with business, and made them slaves to what they own. Their watches crack the whip, their loans take their share, their bosses never give, while the TVs pretend to care…”
    “Eloquently put, as always. But don't forget the food! I shove it down their gobs after torturing them with it through their eyes. I tell them that this will be enough, that it will assuage their need. But then, of course, the bile rises, and I'm there with a brand new pill. Or if they find they're tired, 'Come try this harmless swill.'”
    “Now I got you doing it.”
    “But it is a poetic irony. They're so free that it's choking them. Pretty soon I will have them shedding blood to be enslaved.
    The boy shuddered, drawing his jacket tight about him. “But what if God stops you?”
    “It is as you said, Observer. These people have left Him behind. They love me!”
    “At your behest they did. And they don't know who you truly are.”
    “Oh, what am I? Do tell.”
    “A lie. People can be as free as you promise, just as they can be free of oxygen.”
    “But then they'd die. And they will be mine to gather under my wings…”
    “A frightful image indeed.”
    “It will be mine!” the bird snapped. “I don't care what I have to do!”
    “Careful though. The facade might slip. Even now, with that puppet you picked for a head, people are starting to see. They smell a fake. They are starting to see the blood on their hands.”
    “So some of them will. People can never really be as free as I promise. They need something to bow down to.”
    “They are meant to bow down to their Creator…”
    “They will bow down to me!”
    “But in doing so they'd see the lie.”
    “The majority don't care, as long as they're happy. As long as I feed them, and give them their pills. As long as I entertain them and nurse them and whisper to them that they will never die. As long as I remind them that they are not responsible for anything.”
    “So you are a liar.”
    “I do what I must. For their good.”
    “Do you even lie to yourself?”
    The bird smiled, his red eyes glittering. It was a terrifying sight. “No. I want them dead. I want ever soul for my collection. I will have them to comfort me. I will suck on their bones to feed my desire.”
    “But the unborn will never be yours.”
    “A small price to pay,” his fellow sneered, “if I can damn their parents with their death.”
    “Jesus can still save them.”
    The bird ducked his head. “A lie!”
    “Believe what you will. I never lie, though.”
    The eagle glared at him. The boy stared him down. “…In a way, then, you are nothing more than they are.”
    “A lost soul? Observer, how old fashioned you sound. I am a god!”
    “Say it,” the boy laughed, turning away once again. “Call it! Chirp it loud, Lord Liberty. The real God has no need to proclaim it Himself. For the Heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.”
    The eagle puffed out his feathers violently. He hopped off the table. “You have seen too much, boy. It has addled your brain.”
   “Are you going?”
   “I have much to do.”
   “Be careful out there, with you fires and your lies. You wouldn't want to end up like Sodom. Or Rome…”
    The bird cackled as he shuffled out. The boy sighed, sat down again, and got back to typing. “If he thinks he's so great he's more of a fool than I knew. They'll be just another footnote, that nation of his. A passing fancy that led back to dust.”


  1. Brilliant! I love reading your writing. This is well crafted, beautifully worded and chillingly true. Thought provoking and yet a delight to read. Another triumph!

  2. I love it for many the same reasons I loved the Hunger Games. Thank you for writing truth, Gabe. Always keep it up.