The HGW Express: A Fantasy in Time [Herbert Trilogy I]
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by I.M. Tillerman
Category: Science Fiction
Description: When two children, Butzy and Jude, decipher the intricate cryptogram on the back of their middle-aged father's recently inherited grandfather clock, they discover that the magnificent, Nineteenth Century antique--called "Herbert" by the sisters--is, in reality, a time machine. After the siblings' naive and ill-advised trip to alter the past proves destructive, Butzy, the narrator and the more precocious of the two, must then decide whether or not an excursion into the future in order to prevent a tragic accident is a wise gamble.
eBook Publisher: SynergEbooks, 2006 SynergEbooks
eBookwise Release Date: January 2007
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [480 KB]
Reading time: 256-358 min.
Chapter One Homage to Ishmael " ... and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago."
When I was a freshman in college and first read Melville's haunting conclusive line of Moby Dick, I loved the way the words tripped off the tip of my tongue, especially the alliterative "s" in "shroud of the sea"; it seemed--to me, at least--to simulate the hissing sound of the waves and the caps as they rolled and tumbled, illustrating since time immemorial the concept of perpetual motion, yet simultaneously masking the great menace lurking beneath the sea's soothing, mesmerizing surface.
And when, ten years ago, I went to sea for the first time at the age of thirteen, even then, as a whimsical, pampered, suburban teenager, I witnessed firsthand the grandeur and sheer, breathtaking beauty of the Atlantic Ocean. I also sensed, however, what Melville called its "inscrutable" mystery and, more relevant to the tale I'm about to tell, the sea's inherently terrifying essence.
"Always be aware of where you are standing, Joyce," Papa had cautioned me when I, the naï¿½ve junior high girl, had leaned over the port railing of the good ship Disney Wonder; "Always keep your feet planted firmly on the deck. Keep an ever mindful eye on what other people are doing around you."
I shook my head "yes."
"And, Starbuck," he continued, "never, ever allow the sea to hypnotize you, lest you topple from the crow's nest and wind up shark snacks."
"Yes, sir," I had said, as a dutiful teenage daughter, more out of respect for this middle-aged, ex-Marine's time a sea--many years prior to that first Disney cruise--than out of any urgent need to heed his advice and caveat.
"The ocean's an immense, desolate, lonely place, Starbuck," he observed, melancholia in his voice, scanning the waves four decks below us and easing his arm around me in that special way that always made be feel loved and safe. "And once you're in it, and once Poseidon sucks you under, well, let's just say that Davy Jones doesn't like to pop you back up from his locker willingly."
"Yes, sir," I agreed, now feeling a little spooked.
The evening sun, nearly touching the water, yet tucked behind long, white and gray strings of horizontal clouds, cast a silver streak across the water, ever widening as it approached the ship.
"It is pretty, though, isn't it, Papa?"
"Aye, Starbuck ... indeed it is ... indeed it is ... especially from the secure vantage point of a smooth-sailing, 964 foot long cruise ship with tall, sturdy railings"; he vigorously pounded the round, wooden rail in front of us, as if to demonstrate its sturdiness.
I laughed uncomfortably.
"Do people really fall over the sides, Papa?" I asked a short time later, as two wild, unsupervised children behind us attacked the shuffleboard court, oblivious to the comfort and security of fellow travelers around them.
"I'm afraid so, Joyce," he answered, his voice tinged with sorrowful formality; "They do."
I believed him, of course; what purpose could be served by his lying about something so horrifying? But his ominous tone, his Melvillean sense of "loomings," seemed grossly out of place on a family-oriented cruise to Nassau, Castaway Cay, and back to Port Canaveral. Because, during his life, my father had experienced his requisite share of Conrad's "the horror," at first meeting he sometimes struck people as a "Gloomy Gus," as Mama had dubbed him, this despite his longstanding, ardent struggle to retain his basic optimism in life. In fact, he told me once, in strictest confidence, after downing a couple of glasses of Merlot, that every year as Halloween grew nearer, he secretly hoped against hope that the Great Pumpkin would indeed show up, thereby vindicating Linus in the eyes of his peers and proving to the world that hope truly does spring eternal.
Now, as a twenty-three year old adult, I stood at the very same railing on the Promenade Deck, where Papa, Ishmael-like, ten years earlier, had instructed me on the practical necessities of shipboard safety, as well as on the philosophical dimensions of that enigma, the sea. The cruise ship Wonder, now having spent fourteen years sailing the Caribbean, seemed at first glance as majestic and pristine as it had been on my maiden voyage. However, upon closer scrutiny, my prying eyes detected many more telltale ripples under the fresh coat of white paint that covered the bulkheads, rust being the inevitable consequence of the union of the good ship's metal exterior and the sea's incessant, unrelenting damp air. "Nothing stops the march of time, Starbuck," Papa had pronounced when he, my sister Jude, and I had discovered traces of rust on that first cruise in 2003. But perhaps he was mistaken, for the sea itself had not changed one iota in those ten years; it looked, felt, tasted, and smelled precisely the same. Only we who were on this commemorative cruise had changed--inexorably, irreversibly, sadly.
I learned the hard way at age thirteen that, like the ancient harbinger, Cassandra, Father's dire musings and fateful warnings would fall on deaf ears, mine being just as stopped up as those of Odysseus, lashed to the mast, navigating the precarious straits of the Sirens.