Winner of Note

House of Bast Rising 




 

She had always lain abreast of the refracted hypotenuse of prism-ed light which made its expected heat and light evident, some eight minutes from its solar source. Luxuriating in its basking, her frame limply, yet intentionally, soaked in the ancient warmth.

Joseph had no hint of what would take place, she being a creature of habitual routines in the art of relaxation and, yet, it did happen, the cause for his growing alarm.

"I was reading, by the pool, as I often do in the morning sun" he paused for breath, despite having been outwardly calm, even passive the moment before.

"Surely you're not frightened…are you?" was the sarcastic rejoinder of Dr. Sandhurst, a psychologist friend and neighbor.

"Yes, I suppose I am a bit spooked, Ok?; Jerry, look at this."

"This looks like a Rorschach reject" joked the friend.

"She must have gotten hold of an inkpad or something and made her way over to me, slinking along softly on her feet, stealthy rascal, and, out of nowhere plops down on my lap, book and all."

"Nothing unusual about that; you are her favorite,,apparently."

"Here's the unusual topper, OK . . .she props herself up with one limb on my chest, looks me right in the eyes…and then plants that ink spot onto my expensive book's cover page, like she knew it was blank, so there'd be no confusion" Joseph looked smugly at his, now, less flippant friend.

Jerry paused reflecting on this latest bit of data. "Look, all I can tell you is that, well, even their domesticators didn't finish the job, couldn't really, according to their myths and so forth; ended up worshipping the fool creatures."

"That the best you have to offer? We're looking at non-simian communication, for crying out loud, and you're blasé about it. I have an idea: what say you to making this an experiment, protocols and all, Hell, might get you a Nobel or even a MacArthur."

"Alright, if it'll calm you down so we can go golfing, fine; we'll begin next week, a vet friend of mine has access to the University labs and such, so we'll 'crack the code', ooooohhhhhhooooohhhhhh!" Jerry was relieved to have diverted his friend's attention from what he deemed twice-told tales about the mysterious feline species, the Oriental's four-legged inscrutable counterpart.

That afternoon was what even a boring golfer would have described as 'a beautiful walk, ruined'. Joseph certainly was in agreement with his subconscious Clemens. The twosome agreed to meet at the vet's offices the following Saturday to lay out the protocols; Joseph was anxious in a way even he hadn't expected. Maybe the old girl was preparing to die, she was rather old, but he wasn't quite sure, having found her in a ditch near his office guarding her litter, a litter she had outlived, come to think of it.

Joseph returned home to his roomy home, it seeming then, for the first time, strangely welcoming, unknown to him since his wife's untimely death of a massive stroke, at age 63. As he meandered through the kitchen to his master bedroom, he noticed the side table lamp was on, at highest brightness; funny, he had installed a 'clap on' device to amuse himself…maybe a passing car horn, or other loud noise had activated it; it certainly came on every time he sneezed.

There she was, Cleo, sprawled upon his oversized pillow, like some reincarnated feline version of her namesake.

The scientifically unexplained purring was loud, so loud, he speculated, that it had turned on the light? In a world where science claimed the ultimate priesthood's spot, its telling silence was, somehow, appropriate. What the Hell did some lab rat dissector know about these creatures that the Egyptians didn't? Better to emulate Poe, master of such arcana, and look upon her as the anima mundi of the sensitive soul…..of the world. He had read that Edgar Allan would often perch just such a creature upon his shoulder for muse-like inspiration, and here she was, where his shoulder met its routine repose.

Three a.m., the clock LED displayed; he reached out reflexively to the other side of the bed, finding nothing, not even Cleo in her usual place.

A chilling roar, much like the MGM lion's rattled the lampshade and a nearby book shelf, but this was no mimetic salvo 'for art's sake'; the textbook dream state of Kansas could be ruled out, the pinch test and cold water to the face had settled that quandary. No, someone, something, was in the house.

As Joseph carefully retrieved his Smith & Wesson from his bureau drawer, she emerged.

"Cleo, you scared the sheiss out of me! How the Hell did you get in there?"

She seemed to comprehend not just his mental state but his very words, as she slinked around the dark corner to reveal, as he followed cautiously, a large crack in the rear of the dresser; slithering up and in, she then leapt from the now open drawer onto the floor, looking back for him to follow.

In the study the television, also equipped with a sonic device, was on, with the volume up, and an old Karloff movie set in a nondescript Egyptian locale was playing.

"I'll be damned…." Mumbled Joseph. "You shall be…" came Karloff's too perfect rejoinder, and Joseph, and Boris, issued simultaneously eerie laughs, the close contest going to Karloff's, for its echo effect.

"I'm not waiting up to see the lion, hearing it was enough, thank you" Joseph riposted in the direction of the dead actor, whose eyes seemed to meet his; "this is too spooky…, Cleo, don't you agree?"

It was then that Joseph became truly dumbfounded: she applied her left paw, the one with the seven toes, to the remote control and clicked off the set.

Making a mental note to tell Jerry Sandhurst about this in every detail, he, led by Cleo, set off for bed.

Little is known about dreaming; arbitrarily named wave patterns with Greek letters for names do not a science make. And dreaming was that night's tour de force for Joseph. The Jungian notion of a collective cosmic unconscious was not, to Joseph's knowledge, meant to encompass cats', but there it was…..he was a four legger, jaunting about the tall grasses, but not in the savannahs of Africa, but somewhere far to the North….in Egypt! He approached an empty temple, through an open courtyard….seeing a desert rat, he was upon it's throat so quickly he soon tasted its blood, warm and throbbing from the gaping hole he had blasted through its jugular vein from a lightning fast jaw motion; and then, fast forward into the adjoining crypt. There, on the brightly painted hieroglyphic wall his night-visioning eyesight spied it, the symbol!

"Ahhhhhh!" and he was again awake; Cleo, next to him this time, had not stirred, save for her limbs, which moved as though running, as he had done, away from the crypt before awakening. He sprang out of bed, went into the study and found it: the image Cleo had stamped onto his book flyleaf; stranger still, and until now, not collated by his linear brain's functional worldview, the book's title, 'Hereafter', a fictional work based on Poe's writings, many unpublished, from his 'Marginalia'.

Alright, he had the symbol, but what did it mean? He quickly sketched his recollections of the tomb and its grounds before doubt could issue from that rational seat which he still assumed, as did we all, contained our being-----more and more his heart/brain was persuading him that the brain was a mere slave organ of easily fooled physical senses, victim of the greatest of conflicts of interest whenever called upon to analyze its own conclusions.

A passage from the book came to mind, not just his increasingly suspect brain, but his ephemeral consciousness: 'unmasking which also tears away the face'…what was the essence of this, these experiences?

Opening the book, he intuitively landed on a page whose footnotes held a clue: 'Corvinus or Corvus, the prophetic messenger bird of Phoebus Apollo, served a prophetic function, also a notable constellation in the Hydra region of the sky (the largest and longest of all constellations), for its 'ring tail' appearance, actually two interacting galaxies; the bird's wings were originally silver, but were turned to black when he delivered bad news to that god of wisdom, the arts and science. Poe was undoubtedly aware of this, avid scientist that he was and surely he had this one among those he 'pondered over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore'.

Yes, and the Ptolemies had Hellenized Egypt, believing it to be to the good, he recalled from his readings of history….the Raven, 'nevermore', his peculiar message of lost love. Cleopatra had been the last of them, the epitome of aphroditic love…and, and Cleo's tail had the weird ring-like markings, her coat was silver! Rest, his thoughts counseled, rest and sleep on it. It was now 6 am and he obeyed.

Exhausted, Joseph had had no dreams that early morning, and awakened at noon on Sunday. While he took no particular note of it, Cleo was no where to be found; as this was not uncommon for her, he gave it little thought and spent the day and evening gardening. After returning from his evening run, he had decided to get to bed early, as he had a busy week ahead.

"Strange, she hasn't touched her food" he muttered to himself, mildly concerned. As he searched the house, he grew ever more anxious, she was simply gone or hiding for some unprecedented cause of her own. Sitting in his study, doing some light reading for an upcoming business meeting, he heard a knocking sound at the study door.

"Who the….." he mouthed as he slowly approached the little used side door. Knocking had become scratching and as he slowly cracked the door, in came Cleo, with a bird in her mouth, a black bird; she bolted from the study and bounded up onto a cabinet's top, placing her prey at her feet, out of sight of Joseph.

"Just what are you up to, young lady?" Joseph scolded. "Where have you been, hmmm?" He stood there, staring at her, the stare returned plaintively, he felt. Joseph was a sober sort, open-minded, compassionate and kind, but this was too much for him.

"Look, you've been acting strangely ever since….." he stopped himself as he was about to invoke his late wife's name, when he…..knew he heard a raspy voice whisper 'Evermore'. Just that one word. The TV, or the radio? He hadn't turned them on…and a quick check of both proved him sane, at least on that score.

'A little less Poe, and a lot more know's what we need around here' he mused; he determined that the veterinarian visit needed to be moved up, at least for the more mundane purpose of securing Cleo's physical health, and, his peace of mind.

"Sorry to call so late, Jer, but, well, that vet friend of yours, any chance we, I mean, Cleo could get in to see him sooner than next weekend?"

"Joe, you sound positively panicked, what's up?"

"Maybe it's just me, but Cleo's been not herself since you know what" Joseph conceded.

"You I can treat, the cat can wait, huh?"

"I honestly don't know…you free for breakfast?" Joseph inquired.

"For you, sure, but early….how about Pallas', that new Greek place, corner of…."

"I know it, yeah, sure" Joseph agreed, hanging up the phone feeling largely ignored. 'Maybe I'll take you to your usual vet when I'm through getting blown off officially by Jerry. Cleo had curled up, now asleep, as though bored or, he thought, simply worn out from her outdoor expedition. He headed for the bedroom, again checking to see if the appliances he had already checked were still not communicating; double bolting the side door, he wandered preoccupied, with what he scarcely knew, to the bathroom, popped a sleep tablet and went to bed.


Jerry was waiting for him as he entered the corner café, busy even at 7 am.

"Thanks, Jerry" was his best terse salutation, it failing miserably to hide his angst.


"Tell you what, let's order, time's short, then we'll chat, Ok?" said Jerry Sandhurst.

"Sure, sure" said Joseph, as he opened the busy menu.

"NO!" Joseph shouted, somewhat reflexively.

What had triggered that reflex was an ad printed boldly at the bottom of the two-leaf menu: 'EVERMORE Funeral Services…when your needs are of the eternal variety'.

"Joe, what is it!" Jerry grabbed for his arm across the small table, causing its contents to crash to the floor. The waitress came over to insure that there was no trouble, but Joseph was unresponsive. After Jerry had reassured her and the mess had been cleared away, Joseph finally snapped out of it, whatever, wherever 'it' was.

"The voice…that's what I heard after the bird was brought…in…."

"You're not making sense, what bird?" Jerry insisted.

"Cleo, the black bird she brought in…..there was a knocking sound against he study door…" Joseph replied, still in a seeming daze.

"Jesus, this Cleo has taken over your life and your house" Jerry was as surprised as angered by these new variations on what he saw as a disturbing theme---that Joseph was perhaps deeply disturbed and well beyond bereavement's charted bounds.

Joseph blinked his eyes rapidly, his face flushing with blood overflow: "Christ, you're the one who wanted to 'treat' me first…..and shabbily, at that!"

Jerry was now, finally, aware just how off-putting had been his banishment of the unexplained to some cosmic ostrich head's sandy burial.

"Look, Joe, I'm so damned sorry; I've done the one thing I bash patients for----closing down of the mind, when its liberation it needs. I'm reaching out to my guy the vet for tonight, ok?"

Joseph sat there, staring at his old friend, and, after his lower lip managed to cease from quivering, whispered loudly: "I don't know what's happening, but I know it's got to do with Eleanor; Cleo was very much her cat, you know."

"We're going to handle this, Joe, thoroughly and I mean from all angles, OK----count on me."

That night, Jerry had sprung into action---he had told Joseph that he hadn't felt so energized since graduate school days working with Dr. at Duke.

"She's resting comfortably" Dr. Sobel spoke to both men about Cleo, putting Joseph in mind that Eleanor's own doctors hadn't been as gentling. Sobel suggested that Joseph and Jerry should do the same, as his test results would take a day or two and it was best that Cleo remain at the University lab for observation.

As she was heavily sedated, Joseph reluctantly acceded, returning home late, and heading straight for bed; even the absence of Cleo would not keep him from his inevitable trip to Theta's dreamy realm.


"EVER-MORE . . . …..e-v-e-r-m-o-r-eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" . . . . . . .

Joseph wasn't sure if he was in a waking dream; but the voice, it was the same as when he was most definitely not dreaming, at least in the horizontal posture. A seeming gallon of cold water to the face later, he was as awake as he would ever be….."EVER-MORE", again, coming from the high-ceilinged vestibule between the study and the….

Yes, he thought, the place where Cleo had placed the bird….but, it was dead . . . he rushed to the spot and hearing nothing further, relaxed, only to have his eyes engaged by a shadow grossly engorged by a night light whose geometric location provided the necessary ambience for ghostliness.

Fluttering, then a crash sent Joseph's unsteady legs into dual avalanche, and his head strongly embraced the stiff Persian carpet. What's this, his jangled central nervous system managed to associate from adrenal chaos….two black feathers now dangled from his mop of grey hair. And then they drifted away, as if in mock of their immediate prior occupation, imbedded for that purpose in that aviary phantom.

The shattered glass was neatly piled below the sill of the small window of stained glass; the former image of a bird of peace, olive branch in beaked tow, had now been transformed to depict the headless seeming flowing robe of a winged angel, a neatly carved corvine hole now the halo.


He conjured many thoughts, among them that conjuring was certainly the proper verb to describe his recent existence, but who, what was the conjurer? All that reading derivative of Poe must hold the clue…he had it!


'….vainly I had tried to borrow from my books surcease of sorrow---sorrow for the lost Lenore….' Joseph vainly gasped for oxygen on reading those words from the very book from which he had sought such merciful loan, as whatever breath he gained was held, held suspended as he completed the stanza: 'for the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore----nameless here for evermore'!!!

He had been right…a message about, perhaps from Eleanor! She had also loved Poe, especially this one work which gave him the universal fame he deserved; 'universal', Joseph puzzled at his use of the term; wasn't it Poe who also loved science, detection of the unknown? 'Nameless here'----the 'here' had to mean the world, as only supernatural beings, angels we misnamed them, called her 'Lenore'.

Phone, ringing…..Joseph was jolted from his reverie.

"Mr. Bast, I'm afraid I have some bad news" were the proverbial words of doom he had heard from Dr. Sobel, knowing in his super-rational brains of heart and gut that Cleo was no more.

No consolation abided in the details, one having to do with the apparent ring-tail markings on her tail, the other with her advanced age. The lab would continue its analyses at Dr. Sandhurst's request and Joseph would be kept informed of their now purely academic findings.

Her sign had caught his passive attention countless times before, but as he drove home from the University and Jerry's futile consolations, Madame Selenka's antique 'Palmist, Tarot & Etc.' signage read like Lazarus' beacon-like poem to the emigrant soul, and his was badly in need of its eerie yet warming implications of resurrection in all its forms, for all his loves.


"Always a reader" confessed Madame Selenka, the jangling curtain of beads behind her a second-rate symbol of reassurance. She had developed a sort of litany of assurances usually triggered by the same inquiry she had only just half-listened to so many times.
This customer reading would be like most others' who, for years uncounted, had found their way to her dimly-lit parlor seeking knowledge of the unknown; this one seemed especially anxious, needy.

"I imagine you've heard this before, but science is just another religion, and….." Joseph began, cut off by the simple raising of her right hand.

"This is good . . . .." she uttered; Joseph was puzzled.

"Your use of the word 'imagine', very good; this not man made, only borrowed, yes?" she purred, with a familiar rasp in her delivery.

Joseph was caught between his rational stereotyping mechanism and his heart-brain; he had 'reasoned' that since the heart was precursor to the brain, all the latter's assumptions were now out the window, he was ready to embrace what now presented itself in the opposite direction, from wherever, through that same portal.


"Please to give me right hand" she suggested in her best commanding voice, still rasping pleasantly. He complied.

"Goood, heart is in agreement…heart not some pump, has neurons, you know this?" she teased.

"Has what?" Joseph's brain, seemingly offended by this presumptuous offering, made its last stand, its finger-like frontal lobes whitely clinging to the window sill now being frequented by Joseph's psyche, in both directions.

"Check on internet, have websites for you , show pictures, whole ball of wax" she responded almost casually, sorting through her Tarot deck.

And then she was entranced…no longer with him so much as through Joseph, his unbounded mindscape, her territory for years uncounted, uncountable.

"Your love, she is…..beyond this place" she mused, not waiting for affirmations.

"Names, have lost essence, pale echoes of what once were, meant…..yours Bast" and this stirred Joseph's heart and gut in primordial ways that were no echoes of something as artificial as human reckoning of time's 'passage'; he was instantly taken by the mere enunciation of that ancient nomination of a goddess he would now hear of for the first time, reader that he thought he was notwithstanding.

"Hers was greatest festival in the old river land, her temple surrounded by grove of tall trees, where many sacred creatures of the air perched" Selenka's eyes were now rolling back in their mortal houses, her lids fluttering wildly.

"Twin sister, Sekhmet, head of lioness, darker side of All created, the Tearer she was called…..but sister of light, Bast-et, head of cat" and with this revelation, Joseph audibly gasped, as though hungry for its life-giving knowledge, not at all from that place of vacancy, fear.

"Cult it was, centered at city Pwr-Bast, alive in its cat worship for hundreds of years after the one called Christ; symbol, very strange symbol, was mark of this practice, like how you say today, 'cat's eye', in elegant palm of goddess" she continued to the climactic point at which Joseph reached into his breast pocket, next to his perceptive heart, producing the folded flyleaf he had, for some reason, now carried with him for days: as he showed it to Selenka, she 'saw' it, eyelessly, in her mind's envisioning.

"Yes, you know of this….." she seemed to purr; "My cat, my wife's cat, Cleo, made this…with her paw" he whispered.

"With her….palm, hmmm? Clever girl; she is…..also gone, yes" she knew.

As he drew his hand away in a reflexive pause, he saw, where he hadn't before, or so he thought, there, in her palm, was the eye, the cat's eye symbol.

"Cleo….she was my, our special cat" Joseph stated longingly.

"Is very strong cat name, Cleo…..was powerful Greek woman; had favorite legend about Corvus, errand boy for Apollo, flung into sky, in Virgo I think, when piss off God" she jibed.

Joseph was stunned at her incisive commentary about something she couldn't, or so his now eclipsed brain offered up, have known, the bird, the black bird Cleo had dragged into the house, his messenger of Evermore.

It was a week since he had departed the boundless world of Selenka, who had given him a silver ankh, having refused his payment with a burning smile of knowing.

The brochure had just arrived in the mail, 'Archeological Ventures, Ltd. Offers A Unique window into the world of Egypt's Little Known Treasures' having caught his eye as if the sepia tone background were the glistening desert.

Everything was sold or stored, Jerry Sandhurst having been given Power of Attorney plenary for Joseph's absence, of unlimited duration as far as either man knew.

Jerry pondered Joseph's predicament, his now obsession for what the old woman had imparted to him; while he bemoaned his good friend's entrancement by what he still regarded as junk science at best.

The phone: "Mr. Sandhurst, this is James' grad assistant at the lab…he ran out asking me to get hold of Mr. Bast, thought maybe you could help me find him".

"I wish I could; no, he's off abroad, no phone by design, that sort of get away" Jerry replied, envisioning his version of Joseph of Arabia astride a mangy camel.

"Damn, well, maybe you could pass it along…..I'm still studying, but looks like the tests came back with some whack data….." the assistant was cut off abruptly.

"What sort of data?" Jerry was anxious.

"OK, get this, the markings on the tail of his cat, Cleo, well, the lab guys say there are strong traces of mummy unguents and fragments of linen like material" the student related.

"What does it mean…uh, are they sure?"

"Never sure, but these tests are pretty controlled, conservative, but, still, the results say . . . 3000 yrs" ….there, he had cut to the endless chase.

Jerry dropped the phone, recollecting that Joseph had summed up what the palmist had told him, that his name was that old, and….how the cat and the crow had known each other, in the heavens…..

The telegram came as a shock; not just because it was only a month since Joseph's departure.

"BAST DECEASED STOP MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS IN CAIRO IN NEED OF BODY DISPOSAL WISHES STOP"

Jerry arose the next day, is custom it was to leave the TV on as white noise.

What he heard sent chills to his now thoroughly horripilating flesh, accompanied by high alert adrenal messengers dispatched from his now overloading central nervous system.

"A new star, hugely bright, found for the first time by astronomers…..in Virgo, the constellation little known called Corvus….." Jerry mouthed the words, somehow calmly.

As dusk came, Jerry was in his storage room, broadly smiling, eyes amist, preparing to set up his boyhood window to the universe; the telescope was now carefully aimed at Virgo, the Virgin.

A black bird suddenly perched itself atop the instrument; it cawed; glistening like two kaleidoscopic refractions, its eyes a frenzy of stained glass in the dying light of the Sun star. Had it said, 'Evermore', Jerry wondered.


The End

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