Archive for June, 2012


It’s Friday again, and 100-word fiction time.  The link to Madison’s page for her story is here:

http://madison-woods.com/flash-fiction/forbidden-100-words/

All of the other stories can be found by clicking onto the number next to the funny little blue creature at the bottom of this post.

The picture and my story are here:

“Ouch!  Mu-um!”

“Come along, Moira!  Keep up!”

“I can’t!  They keep grabbing me!”

“What keep grabbing you?”

“The brambles!”

Jennifer sighed.  Teenagers!

“Just rip yourself free!  They’re old clothes!”

“I’ve tried!  I’m stuck!  And it hurts!”

“Well, stay there!  If you can’t get out of a bramble bush, you deserve to spend the night in the woods!”

“You’re not going to leave me here?  Mu-um!  Come back!  I swear, it won’t let go!  Mu-um!”

Five minutes, Jennifer thought, picking and eating a ripe raspberry, oblivious to the watching predator.

She died quickly.  Now, he could take his time with the girl.

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The holy phial – part 2

Legend has it that, during Clovis’ baptism, a dove from Heaven brought a phial containing holy oil.

Such a surprising story has obviously met with some scepticism from Historians, and even from people of the Church…  Some Benedictins, like Dom Mabillon, some Jesuits, like Father Jacques Longueval, some Bollandist Fathers, etc., have, over the centuries, delivered severe criticism of Hincmar’s text and have quite simply declared that it is only a legend…

All of these good ecclesiastics refuse to believe in the miraculous apparition of the holy phial.  And their objections have been taken up by the Historian Leber who lived in the XIXth Century.  He very curiously begins by refuting this story, not for “cartesian” reasons, but for material ones.

He doesn’t say:  “I don’t believe it because a dove can’t come from the sky with a phial in its beak.”  He says:  “I don’t believe it because there must certainly have been enough oil to proceed with the baptism…”  Here is his text:

“It is said that at the moment of baptizing Clovis, the holy oil not being there, Heaven deigned to supply it by sending a phial filled with a divine liqueur whose perfume filled the whole church.

“This fact does not have a believable character.  It is difficult to believe that the oil which was supposed to serve for the baptism of a monarch had not been prepared or brought ahead of time into the sanctuary, or that there was not enough of it to accomplish the ceremony.  As no-one was counting on a prodigy, the necessary precautions must have been taken.  The oil must have been prepared, not only for the King, but for six thousand subjects who were baptized with him;  or, according to Gregoire, three thousand soldiers and more, not counting the women and children.  The negligence that is supposed here cannot be conceived.  The fact is not likely in itself.”

***

During the coronation of French Kings (here, Louis XVI), the holy phial was brought in great ceremony to Reims by members of the Order entrusted with its safekeeping.

There is another fact that troubles the Historians quite a lot:  none of the chroniclers who were contemporary to the prodigy mention it:  neither Gregoire de Tours, who recounts the baptism of Clovis however, nor Fredegaire, his continuator, nor Bishop Avitus, nor even Saint Remi in his testament…

Saint Remi only writes:

“Deus…  plurima signa ad salutem praefatae gentis Francorum operari facit!”

That is to say that some prodigies were done by God for the conversion of the Francs…  Some authors have concluded rather hastily that by “prodigy”, we must understand “holy phial”…  Which is known as “soliciting a text”…  In fact, the more rigorous Historians consider that this sentence of Saint Remi is extremely vague and that we do not have the right to see in it any allusion to the holy phial.  On top of which, if this prodigious event happened during Clovis’ baptism, a dazzled Saint Remi would not have just made a vague allusion to “prodigies”;  he would have related the fact in all its details…

***

In fact, the first chronicler to really speak of the holy phial is Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims, who wrote in the IXth Century, that is to say four hundred years after the event…  He claims to have taken his information from ancient chronicles.  Which ones?  He doesn’t say.  Therefore, Hincmar has been accused of completely inventing the story of the dove.  However, a few researchers have discovered that the story of the holy phial was known before Hincmar spoke of it, and that it belonged, in the form of a legend, to Reims folklore.

***

The reconstituted holy phial was used for the last time on 29 May 1825 during the coronation of Charles X. Since then, it is part of the treasure of the Reims Cathedral.

The genesis of it has been reconstituted.  Clovis’ baptism having been the most important event in the History of the christianization of Frankish Gaul, it could be thought that fairly early – around the VIth or VIIth Century – the Reims priests must have shown to pilgrims the phial used by Saint Remi.  This phial, authentic or false, it doesn’t matter, was considered a relic.  And we know that sacred objects were frequently conserved in recipients in the form of a dove which were suspended inside the churches, above the altar…  As well as that, on the drawings, the fresques, the mosaics which represent a ceremony of baptism, there is often a dove – the Holy Ghost – which descends onto the head of the new Christian…  It was enough for the good people to see this reliquary in the form of a dove holding a phial in its beak, and a mosaic showing Clovis’ baptism, for the mixture to give birth to a legend…  A legend which the good Hincmar, in good faith, reported to us…

***

And for over one thousand years, he was believed.  He made a mistake, but we must however recognize that it was a great idea.  An idea which was used for the first time in 869, during the Coronation of Charles the Bald, and which consisted in using Clovis’ balm for the unction of the Kings of France…  By this find, not only did he serve the interests of the city of which he was the Pastor (the Archbishops of Reims became in this way the consecrators of their sovereigns), but he made the Kings of France the only monarchs made sacred by the use of an oil from Heaven, which placed them above all of the Kings of Christendom.

This is how a marvellous story, born of a legend, was able to give, for around one thousand years, to forty Kings, the power and the prestige which was necessary for them to make France…

***

The holy phial

Legend has it that, during Clovis’ baptism, a dove from Heaven brought a phial containing holy oil.

The History of France begins with a marvellous story.  On 25 December 496, the streets of Reims are packed with a joyful crowd awaiting an extraordinary procession.  The Franc Chief, Clovis, who has decided to convert to christianism, has to go, in great pomp, surrounded by the principal prelates of Gaul, from the former Palace of the Roman Governor, situated near the Basee Gate – porta Basilica – to the baptistery where Remi, Bishop of the little city, awaits him.

All of the streets are decorated.  Gregoire de Tours tells us that

“the squares were shaded by coloured hangings and the churches hung with white curtains”.

As for the pool where the new Christian was to be, according to the rite, plunged three times, it was splendidly decorated.  The chronicler tells us, as well, that perfumes had been poured around and that odorous candles were burning, in such a way

“that all the people were impregnated with a divine odour and that God was filling the spectators with such grace that they thought that they had been transported amongst the perfumes of Paradise”.

The holy phial was used for over one thousand years for the Coronation of France’s Kings.

Along the streets, while waiting for the procession, well-informed people are saying that this baptism is the consequence of a vow that Clovis had made during a battle.  For a long time, Clotilde – daughter of the Burgond King Chilperic -, whom he had married in 493, had been begging him to abandon the cult of the gods Wotan, Ziu and Freia, to convert to the religion of the Christ;  but the Franc had been hesitating.  However, a few months earlier, while he was fighting against the Alamans, luck seemed to be against him and he had addressed the heavens like this:

“God of Clotilde, You whom my wife affirms to be the son of the living God, if you give me victory over these enemies, I will believe in You and will have myself baptized!”

Immediately after this prayer, the Alamans had fled in great disorder.  A miraculous victory for which Clovis rejoiced because it assured him the whole of northern Gaul with uncontested authority over the Gallo-Romans and the Germanic Francs…

***

For a long time, the holy phial was kept in this reliquary placed inside Saint Remi’s tomb.

The Remois, who are waiting and chatting near the Cathedral built by Saint Nicaise ninety-seven years earlier, are suddenly silent.  A buzzing of religious chants is announcing the arrival of the cortege which soon arrives on the square.  At its head is the Remois clergy preceded by a cross-bearer, then come Remi, who had instructed the King in christian dogmas, and different Bishops whose mitres, croziers and amethyst rings amaze the good people.  Monks and clerics follow, singing hymns of glory.  Finally, Clovis appears, alone, dressed in the white robe of catechumens.  Behind him walk two young women whose ravishing names – Alborflede and Lantechilde – have been circulating through public rumour.  They are his sisters.  They too are to receive baptism, along with the three thousand warriors at the back of the cortege, three thousand Francs with enormous moustaches hanging on their virginal tunics, who are advancing and trying to look meditative.

The ceremony is therefore going to last all day and the little people display intense jubilation about it.  Not that they are particularly fond of religious spectacles, but because they guess that there will be rejoicings attached to this one.  The arrival of this crowd of new converts into the Church’s bosom is, in fact, going to be accompanied by feasts and drunkenness, these excesses being absolved in advance by their pious pretext.

***

The Grand Prior of Reims Abbey wearing the holy phial reliquary around his neck.

When the cross-bearer arrives in front of the baptistery, the cortege stops.  Remi then gives a sign to Clovis who walks with a firm step towards the pool, his long hair undone.  With no hesitation, he enters the icy water, and the Bishop of Reims pronounces this sentence which would traverse the centuries:

“Bow your head gently, proud Sicambre!  Worship that which you have burnt, burn that which you have worshipped!…”

After which, the King having confessed his faith in God All-Powerful and in the Trinity, Remi plunges his head into the water three times, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Clovis leaves the pool, met by a priest who covers him in a big towel and rubs him down with respect.  Dried, the King goes into a neighbouring room to dress in a new linen tunic.  He re-appears immediately afterwards.

The public, let into the bapistery, then gets ready to watch the second part of the ceremony:  Confirmation.  The ritual is known:  the Bishop is going to anoint the newly baptized man’s forehead with holy oil;  a few psalms will be sung and all will be finished.  The drinking and feasting awaited by the little people could then begin.

This is when a prodigious event takes place, related by Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims, in the IXth Century in his Vie de saint Remi, and which is still being recounted, more than one thousand three hundred years later.

Here are the facts such as he reports them:

“As Remi and Clovis were arriving at the baptistery, the cleric who was carrying the oil was stopped by the crowd, so that he was unable to get to the baptismal font.  Therefore, at this font blessed by divine will, the holy oil was lacking.  And as the crowd of people was preventing anyone from either entering or leaving the church, the holy pontiff, raising his eyes and hands to heaven, tacitly started to pray and shed tears.  And suddenly, a dove whiter than snow brought in its beak a little phial full of holy oil, the suave odour of which, much superior to that of the incense and the candles, struck all who were present.  The holy pontiff having taken this little phial, the dove disappeared.”

Immediately, Remi, completely untroubled by this marvel, proceeds to anoint Clovis with the holy oil that has been miraculously brought, before a crowd that must have been astounded…

***

After the destruction of the holy phial during the Revolution, what was left of the original holy oil was collected and placed in this reliquary, by order of Charles X.

After the ceremony, the holy phial – as its name will be from then on – was piously carried by Remi to a safe place.  Later, it would be placed inside a dove of gold.  Those who saw it tell us that it was in slightly opaque glass or crystal, that its size was that of an average fig, that its neck had a whiteish colour, that its stopper was made of red taffeta, and that the oil that it contained exhaled the most exquisite perfume.  Some chroniclers, like Froissart in his Description of the Coronation of Charles VI, even affirm that the oil came back all on its own after each royal unction, and that its volume consequently never diminished.  The Historian Dom Guillaume, in the XVIIth Century, assures us that a “famous doctor” whose name he unfortunately does not give us, believed that “this celestial balm had been made by the hands of angels”.

So, Clovis’ baptism is marked with a divine sign.  And this sign would be used by the Kings of France for more than a thousand years for political ends.  In fact, the celestial origin of the holy phial would raise France to the rank of eldest daughter of the Church, suggest the idea of a ceremony for the taking of power being integrated into the religious liturgy:  Coronation;  make this Coronation a true initiation capable of transforming the sovereign into a King-Priest and a Healer King – who could cure the King’s Evil, for example – in other words, give a sacred character to the royal function…

A marvellous adventure which would make all the sovereigns of the world jealous and lead the English Kings to “invent” a holy phial – Saint Thomas a Becket’s – so as to found their monarchy on bases just as solid as that of the French…

This holy phial, now a “divine sign”, was used during the Coronation of almost all of France’s Kings up until the Revolution.  But on 16 Vendemiaire year II (7 October 1793), the Conventionnel Ruhl broke it with a hammer on the steps of Louis XV’s statue, in the middle of the Place Royale in Reims.

***

However, the holy phial did not disappear completely.  A few pieces of debris containing a bit of balm were collected by Abbot Seraine, Curate of Saint-Remi.  This balm, mixed with other blessed oils, was locked up in a new reliquary and was used for the Coronation of Charles X.  All that is left of the oil used at Clovis’ baptism is still part of the Reims Cathedral’s treasure today…

***

To be continued.

It’s Friday again, and 100 word fiction time!  All sorts of things have been happening.  Madison has changed her site address but that doesn’t change anything about our Friday meeting of the flash-fiction “club”.  The link to Madison’s story and the links to all of the other 100 word stories can be found on this page:

http://madison-woods.com/flash-fiction/damsel-fly

Here is Madison’s photo prompt and my 100 word story:

I’ve always known that there are fairies.  If they don’t exist, why are there so many of them in our myths and legends?  Why are there stories called fairy tales if there aren’t any fairies?  These days, we tend to swat things and ask questions later.  What if we’re killing fairies?

Here, behind the supermarket, there’s often perfectly edible fruit.  It’s thrown out when it gets a little spot on it.  Such waste!

I see the fairy in her pointy hat standing on a pebble in the puddle, her wings glistening.  I fumble for my reading-glasses.  I must see this up close!



The Devil’s Footprints

The strange beings who people our folklore could perhaps be inspired by real events, like the one that occurred in Devonshire in 1855.

It is 7 February 1855.  The whole of England’s South-West has been swept since morning by an appalling tempest.  Wind of unheard-of violence is uprooting trees, taking off roofs, blowing down belfries and ripping out gravestones in the cemeteries, leaving tombs open and coffins scattered.

Barricaded inside their houses, the inhabitants of Devonshire are terrified.  Some would later say:

“It was an infernal night, the wind was screaming like a thousand witches…”

Suddenly, around five o’clock in the morning, the wind calms, the noise stops and snow begins to fall heavily.

This silence, after the torment, worries all who have not slept a wink that night.  One of them would say,

“We had the impression that there was some sort of threat hovering…  With my wife who was trembling with fear huddled against me, we were afraid of something supernatural.  Everything was really strange that night.”

It is in Blayford that it all unfolds.

Around six o’clock, a high-pitched, terrifying howl suddenly erupts near the village.  A dog’s howl which is heard for about a kilometre all around.  The good people huddle under their eiderdowns.  Then, once again, there is silence.

Around eight o’clock, Dawn breaks and the inhabitants of Blayford fearfully open their shutters.  Snow is no longer falling, but the countryside is all white.  Many times, the villagers of the little English town have seen this spectacle upon rising and they have always found something marvellous about it.  Today, inexplicably, they feel anguish.  A woman, unable to clearly explain her unease, would say:

“Bad luck seemed to be floating over us…”

Despite this, that same morning, a farm hand goes to have a look around to see the damage caused by the tempest.  He then notices some strange footprints.  Footprints of a kind that he has never seen and which correspond to no known animal in the region.  They look like a little horse-hoof and pierce the snow with mathematical regularity.  The farm hand, very intrigued, follows them across the fields and soon arrives beside the tattered remains of the dog who had howled so atrociously in the early hours of the morning.

He bends over it and notices, stunned,

“that the poor animal had died from wounds which could not have been made by either a man or a beast”…

He runs back to alert the village, saying:

“Come and see!  There are some strange footprints.”

The inhabitants of Blayford rush out and see that the farm hand has not lied.

Further, at that same moment, throughout the whole of Devonshire, peasants are discovering the same footprints in the fresh snow.

They extend over more than 160 kilometres.

The journalists of the County of course write about the phenomenon, remarking that the footprints, which are like dots on rigorously straight lines, each measures ten centimetres in length by seven centimetres in width, and that they are very regularly twenty-five centimetres apart…  One journalist writes:

“These footprints don’t stop anywhere.  Whatever it was, the unknown creature walked on hooves in short, leaping steps, in an inexplicable fashion without stopping nor resting, and it covered here more than thirty kilometres during the tragic night of 7 February, crossing rivers, climbing the walls of several houses and walking on the roofs before finally arriving at the little village cemetery without daring to enter it…”

Zoologists soon come from London to examine these strange prints which remain visible in the frozen snow.  None of them manages to identify the animal who had travelled all over South-East England – always in a straight line.

The mysterious “Devil’s Footprints”, drawn by a witness and published in “The Illustrated London News” on 24 February 1855.

One of them writes a few days later in the Illustrated London News:

“This mysterious visitor generally only passed once down or across each garden or courtyard, and did so in nearly all the houses in many parts of the several towns above mentioned, as also in the farms scattered about;  this regular track passing in some instances over the roofs of houses, and hayricks, and very high walls (one fourteen feet [4.50 metres]), without displacing the snow on either side or altering the distance between the feet, and passing on as if the wall had not been any impediment.  The gardens with high fences or walls, and gates locked, were equally visited as those open and unprotected.”

Another notes that

“two inhabitants of one community followed a line of prints for three and a half hours, passing under rows of redcurrant bushes and fruit trees in espaliers;  losing the prints and finding them again on the roof of houses to which their search had led them”.

Farther on, he adds that these prints

“passed through a circular opening of about thirty centimetres in diameter and inside a drain of 15 cm;  finally, they crossed an estuary around 3,500 kilometres wide”…

A third writes:

“These footprints are strange, for the snow is completely removed, as if it has been cut by a diamond or marked by a red-hot iron…”

Naturally, many hypotheses are emitted by both journalists and scholars who study the case.  Some are extravagant.  Someone suggests that these strange marks could have been made

“by a balloon dragging its tethering ring at the end of a rope”.

But this explanation appears absurd.  How could a metal ring tear apart the Blayford dog;  and by what miracle could this ring, attached to a balloon blown by the wind, leave perfect prints, disposed in a straight line and regularly distanced at 25 centimetres?…

A journalist suggests that it could be marks left by a kangaroo who had escaped from a menagerie.  The zoologists reply that it is extremely rare that kangaroos leap on only one leg, and that they haven’t any hooves, anyway…

Other investigators try to explain the presence of these marks by an atmospheric phenomenon.  It is pertinently replied that no-one had ever yet seen an atmospheric phenomenon leave hoof-prints…

Finally, none of the hypotheses emitted having been retained, the newspapers publish the embarrassed words of zoologists, physicists and meteorologists.  One of them, Doctor Williamson, goes as far as writing this:

“These millions of prints constitute an absolute enigma.  Neither a man, nor an animal, nor a machine is capable of leaving such marks.  This phenomenon is inexplicable.  Consequently, the best thing, in my opinion, is to forget it.”

A surprising declaration, coming from a scholar.

But the Devonshire peasants do not forget, and they give a name to these mysterious marks:  they call them The Devil’s Footprints…  A name that is not very scientific of course, but which still remains.  And it is by this name that Historians continue to designate them today…

***

Guy Breton, whose work I have translated, consulted the English Press of the epoch and was able to note that, for two months, February and March 1855, all of the English newspapers published articles, investigations, interviews and sketches on what was called at the time the “mysterious Devonshire holes”.  He adds that a number of authors have studied this case.  Charles Fort, who called himself an “amateur of the unusual and scribe of miracles”, consecrated a chapter of his Book of the Damned to them, as did Jacques Bergier and the Info group in Le Livre de l’Inexplicable

***

They give no explanation and only emit hypotheses.  Some speak of sea birds, hailstones, field-mice.  But there is no bird, nor field-mouse whose feet end in hooves.  As for hailstones, has anyone ever seen any fall in a straight line, twenty-five centimetres apart?…  A modern author had another idea:  he suggested that these marks could have been left by an extra-terrestrial who landed from a space-ship…  Guy Breton says that he is not hostile a priori to this kind of explanation, but that this person would have had a strange way of walking.  On top of which, he must have been very small to have been able to pass through openings of a diameter of thirty centimetres…

***

So, we come back to Charles Fort’s explanation.  He said with humour:

“These prints could only have been made by a thousand one-legged kangaroos wearing a very small horseshoe…”

In other words, we don’t know.

***

There have been some absolutely identical marks left in Scotland in 1839, in the Kerguelen Islands in 1840, in the United States in 1908, in Belgium in 1945 and in Brazil in 1954…  So, you see, the Devil walks around his estates.  After all, he is called the Prince of this World…

***

Friday is here again.  In Australia, at least.  It might still be Thursday where you are.  The idea is to write a story in 100 words, using a picture prompt.  Then, a link to your story is posted in the Comments section of the following page on Madison’s blog:

http://madisonwoods.wordpress.com/flash-fiction/pathways

Here is my 100 word story:

“You can’t go up there!”  Gavin sounded anxious.

“Why?”  Sandra turned to look at him.

“Because …”  What could he say to stop her?  “… an old witch lives up there!”  Why had they come this way?

“A witch?”  Sandra laughed as she continued up the path.  “Witches don’t exist!”

“This one does!” he muttered, as he started after her.  “Stop!  Let me explain!”

Too late!  A woman in a long gown was silhouetted against the sky, white hair flowing around her and arms full of wildflowers.

Gavin sighed.  So much for first impressions!

“It’s my great-aunt.  She writes poetry and paints!”

A man from the past – part 2

This story was found by Jacques Bergier who read about it in an American parapsychology magazine and contacted Captain Rihm.  By this time, the Captain had retired, but he perfectly remembered the essential details of the case, which allowed Jacques Bergier to resume it in his work Le Livre du Mystere.  Later, Guy Breton, whose work I have translated, took up the investigation and was able to obtain, thanks to journalists who gained access to the Police files, some precisions which Bergier did not have.

***

The problem can be resumed in two points:

1.  A man mysteriously disappears without a trace in New York on the evening of 14 June 1876.

2.  An individual, having the features and clothes of the missing man appears, no less mysteriously, in a crowd on Broadway on the evening of 14 June 1950.

Did the man from 1876 leap into the future?

We know that the first fact relates indubitably to Rudolf Fentz Senior.  The second, however, does not necessarily imply a “reappearance” of the 1876 person.  There could be other explanations.

A collective hallucination has to be excluded because the body of the man run-over in Times Square was autopsied and buried.

***

Broadway around 1860 was a calm neighbourhood with provincial charm.

There is the possibility that a friend of the Fentz family, knowing of Rudolf Fentz’ disappearance, decided to play a practical joke.

This hypothetical person would have dressed up in similar clothes to the missing man, in 1950, would have mingled with the crowd on Broadway, would have drawn attention to himself by his strange comportment and would have committed suicide exclusively so that the Police, when they find the dollars and papers dating from 1876 in his pockets, would be placed before an insoluble enigma.  That seems a bit far-fetched.

***

For the moment, we have to be content with Jacques Bergier’s explanation:

“We find ourselves before a flagrant, irrefutable example of instantaneous “chronotransfer” or time travelling.”

According to him, this man would have penetrated, without knowing it, “some crack in the spatial-temporal continuum”.  This co-author of the Matin des Magiciens adds:

“Perhaps he is not the only one…”

He is doubtless alluding to the sudden and inexplicable disappearances of some people…

***

Broadway’s aspect in 1950 would have stunned a man from the XIXth Century who was used to the slow rhythm of a big village and hadn’t seen cars, skyscrapers, cinemas, television, or even electricity before.

There are people who run away, mountaineers who fall into crevasses, solo sailors who sink in the middle of the ocean, hikers who perish in forest fires and perfect crimes…

However, there are also the people who literally “disappear” before the eyes of witnesses.  Here is an example.  It is something which took place in the United States in 1880.  On the 23 September to be precise.  On this day, the weather is fine and David Lang, a farmer in the neighbourhood of Gallatin, Tennessee, is walking in a field with his wife and children.  Around six o’clock, as the sun is starting to set, the Langs come back towards the farm.  When they are less than fifty metres from the road, the children see a car belonging to Judge August Peck, a friend of the family, arriving.  They call out:

“Look!.  There’s Mr Peck!”

David Lang immediately raises his hand and calls out:

“Hello, August!”

Mrs Lang waves to him.  Then she turns toward her husband and remains stunned:  he has disappeared.  She searches all around her.  No-one.  Then she calls:

“David, where are you?”

Judge Peck leaps from his car and runs over.  He is white-faced.

“What happened to David?”

“I don’t know.  He was here a minute ago…”

“I know.  I saw him wave to me…  And I was going to respond when, before he had even lowered his arm, he had disappeared.”

Everyone then inspects the ground without finding the slightest hole, the slightest crack where the unfortunate farmer could have fallen.

For days, the terrain is tested without any trace of an excavation being found.   And no-one ever found out what happened to David Lang who had disappeared in a field, in the midst of his family, before the eyes of his friend Judge Peck…

***

It is possible that David Lang also found himself in another time.  Some scientists no longer dismiss this possibility.

***

Guy Breton concludes that eyes are opening, that Science is advancing with giant steps and that one day, it will be announced in the media as a perhaps rare, but perfectly explicable thing, that Mr Rudolf Fentz Senior did not return home one evening in June 1876, because he had been run over by a car, in 1950…

***

In 1876, the only cars that Rudolf Fentz would have seen looked like this. Nothing in these primitive engines announced the sumptuous Cadillacs which were to be seen 74 years later on Broadway.

A man from the past

On Wednesday 14 June 1950, around a quarter past eleven at night, the Broadway theatres and cinemas are slowly emptying, sending waves of spectators onto the sidewalks, when cries are heard.  A man around thirty years old, who had unthinkingly stepped onto the road, has just been hit by a car.  He is now lying in the middle of a pool of blood which is reflecting the lights of Times Square.

The people who crowd around the body then notice that the unknown man is dressed in a very old-fashioned way.  He is wearing a grey jacket with a row of buttons at the back, tight black and white checked pants, with no crease nor turned-up cuffs, and high-mounting shoes with buckles.  Not far from him, his top hat has rolled onto the asphalt…

At the morgue, a police officer empties this strange person’s pockets.  What he finds there rather surprises him.  There are:

– an obsolete bronze coin,

– a bill from a stable in Lexington Avenue with the mention:

“For the feed and stabling of one horse and for the storing of one carriage:  3 dollars”,

– seventy dollars in old money,

– a few visiting cards engraved with the name of Rudolf Fentz, and an address:  372 Fifth Avenue,

– a letter addressed to Mr R. Fentz bearing the postal stamp of June 1876.

The public servant transmits these objects to his superior who remains perplexed.

“And you say that he was wearing a jacket, checked pants, ankle boots and a top hat.  He was therefore in fancy dress.  But, when you put on fancy dress, you don’t go as far as having money corresponding to the period on you…  There is something funny here.”

“You don’t bother making fake papers either,”

says the other policeman, pointing to the bill and the letter, both perfectly new-looking with barely marked creases, which prove that they are of recent date.

“Do you think that it’s one of those crazy people who refuse our modern civilization and imagine that they are living in another age?”

“Unless he’s just an actor in a play where the action takes place in 1876 and has on him the money and the different documents of this time for use in the play…”

“He would have gone out into the street in costume?”

“With actors, anything’s possible!…”

This last hypothesis, by far the most plausible, is finally retained and the police officer sends two inspectors into the Broadway theatres with a photo of the victim, while a third goes to the address indicated on the visiting cards, the telephone directories are consulted, and the fingerprints of the mysterious person are sent to the records kept in New York and Washington.

All the witnesses thought that the mysterious person who was hit by a car on 14 June 1950 was terrified by the luminous signs on Broadway, and that was why he rushed onto the road.

That evening, the policemen come back with nothing.  No actor recognized the man in Times Square, the name of Rudolf Fentz is totally unknown at 372 Fifth Avenue, the telephone directories list no Fentz and the records do not contain the dead man’s fingerprints…

The affair is then handed over to Captain Hubert V. Rihm who is in charge of Missing Persons.  This officer immediately declares:

“We have to know where this person was coming from when he so stupidly got himself run over.  Was he leaving a shop, a show, a restaurant?  Publish a drawing of him in his extravagant outfit in the Press.  Perhaps the public will give us a clue.”

The portrait appears the following day in the New York Press and a few people who were in the crowd at Times Square on 14 June, at a quarter past eleven at night, present themselves at Captain Rihm’s office.  Alas, their testimonies, far from shedding any light on the case, cloud it even more.

A certain Mrs Kinners declares:

“I was coming out of the cinema with some friends.  There were a lot of people on the sidewalk.  Suddenly, this man appeared amongst us  I remember saying to myself:  ‘Where did he come from?’  Then, I thought that it might be someone doing some publicity for a show.  I thought that he was going to distribute some flyers.  But he was looking at all the signs in lights with a frightened air which struck me.  He asked me:  ‘What’s happening?  Is there a fire?”  And without waiting for my reply, he pushed into the crowd towards the road…”

Another witness, Mr Barnett, a friend of Mrs Kinners, came to say:

“We were coming out of the cinema and I was going to take a step towards the friend in front of me when, suddenly, this person was in between us.  How did he get there?  I don’t know.  All that I can say, is that he wasn’t there the second before.  I would have seen him because of his outfit and his big cigar.  The funniest thing was his expression.  He seemed astonished when he looked at me, as if I was a phenomenon.  Then he turned his head in all directions and seemed panicked to find himself in this crowd.  Finally, he looked up at the skyscrapers and murmured:  ‘My God!’  After which, he said something about a fire and, suddenly, went towards the road, as if he wanted to flee…”

Other witnesses came to testify to Captain Rihm.  Most of them repeated almost word for word what Mr Barnett and Mrs Kinners had said about the person’s sudden apparition.  But one of them, who was at the edge of the sidewalk at the moment of the accident, brought a supplementary detail:

“When the individual arrived near the road, I noticed that he was looking at the traffic lights with a frightened air, as if he had never seen any before.  Then he seemed to discover the traffic, turned to me and said, pointing to the cars that were passing by:  ‘But what’s that?’  …He looked terrified.  Suddenly, he rushed towards the street.  I called out to him:  ‘Watch out!’  But he mustn’t have heard me.  The car had already hit him…”

So who is this strange person dressed like an 1870s dandy, who appears not to know of the existence of skyscrapers, luminous signs, traffic lights and cars?

The astonishment of 1950 New Yorkers can easily be imagined when they see a man dressed in clothes from the XIXth Century suddenly appear amongst them.

Captain Rihm pursues his investigations and finally discovers, in a telephone directory of 1939, a Rudolf Fentz Junior living at 112 East 21st Street.  He goes there and learns that this Fentz, at the time that he was living in the building, was a man around sixty who worked in a bank nearby.  One of the lodgers gives the precision:

“In 1940, he retired and left the neighbourhood.  Since then, we’ve never had any news of him.”

The policeman enquires at the bank where he is told that Rudolf Fentz died in 1945, but that his widow was still alive and living in California.

Rihm takes an aeroplane and goes to question her.  Mrs Fentz’ answers can be resumed like this:

“No, she didn’t have a son, or a nephew, or even a cousin bearing the name of Rudolf Fentz.  No, her husband had not been married before marrying her.  No, no-one in her family had a taste for fancy dress.  No, she had never lived in Fifth Avenue, but her husband, yes, when he was a child.  He had even often shown her the building in which his parents had lived.  No, she didn’t recognize the visiting cards that the Captain was showing her, but the address could well be that of her father-in-law.  1876?  Yes, that year reminds her of something:  it was the year of her husband’s birth.  Yes, she has a family photo album…”

And she shows it to him.

The Captain wants to know if there is, among Rudolf Fentz Junior’s relatives, someone who resembles his mysterious person.

After having turned several pages, he stops suddenly, as if petrified, before a photograph representing a man dressed in a jacket and black and white checked pants, with buckled ankle boots, wearing a top hat…

Underneath this old-fashioned hat, a face is smiling, and although the document has yellowed, Captain Rihm immediately recognizes it:  it is the unknown man from Times Square.

“Who is this?”

“My father-in-law;  and the baby he is holding in his arms is my husband…  I mean, my future husband…”

“Have you any other portraits of your father-in-law?”

“No, that’s the only one that I have.  The unfortunate man mysteriously disappeared shortly after the photo was taken.”

“Disappeared?”

“Yes.  His wife couldn’t stand the smell of tobacco.  So he had the habit of going for a little walk after dinner to smoke a cigar.  And one evening, he didn’t come home.  His family had a search made for him by the Police, but it was never known what happened to him…”

“Do you know the date of this disappearance?”

“My mother-in-law often told me about it:  my husband was three months old.  He was born in March.  My father-in-law therefore disappeared in June 1876…”

Very impressed, Captain Rihm returns to New York where he finds in the Police archives the list of Missing Persons in 1876.  On 14 June, the name of Rudolf Fentz, aged twenty-nine, is listed “wearing a gray jacket, black and white checked trousers, high shoes with buckles and a top hat”

***

To be continued.

It’s Friday Fictioneers time again.  I’m in Australia, so it might still be Thursday where you are.

The story should be 100 words if possible – mine is – and a link to it should be posted in the Comments Section on the following page:  http://madisonwoods.wordpress.com/flash-fiction/vertigo so there will be plenty of other 100 word stories only a click away.

Here is the photo prompt and my story:

He lies on a heavy bough, surveying the waving grass.  His sable coat makes him more efficient at night, but hunger has drawn him from his den in full daylight.  Age has been hampering him more and more lately.  This time, he has killed, and his half-eaten prey hangs beside him.  It should be safe here.

It is time to return to the darkness of his den.  As he rises to his feet, something strange in the sky catches his eye.  He backs away from it along the branch, then drops to the ground, where a startled serpent suddenly strikes…

I don’t know whether it was the Moon, the transit of Venus across the Sun, or that enormous block of chocolate that I ate before going to bed but, in the early hours of the morning, I was harassed by four haiku.  This meant that I had to climb out of bed in the freezing cold, find a notebook, hurry back to bed, try to remember them all, write them down, turn off the light again and wait to warm up before going back to sleep.

With the aim of spreading the joy around a bit, I’ve posted two of them here:

http://mkdennis.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/haiku-and-the-great-barrier-reef

That blog had been sleeping for around eighteen months, so it was rather surprised to be woken.

Well, I don’t see why I should be the only one to be deprived of sleep.

Here are the other two:

***

Tornado winds shake

The house, billow the curtains

And rattle the glass.

***

Haiku in the night

Shuffle and weave captured words

While wind prevents sleep.

***

As you can see, things were rough.  Everything’s calmed down now.  Thank Heaven!

There is just one thing that I don’t understand:  the night in question was the one before last, so why did the haiku strike twenty-four hours later?

My mind works in mysterious ways.  Or is that God?  Sleep deprivation tends to muddle me.

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