Note – this is now Chapter 13 of the story Of Wind and Wings, a story inspired by these prompts of Sue’s.
I posted two chapters that were not part of Sue’s #writephoto. You can read them at Chapter 11 The Book and Chapter 12 When There is no Book. If you don’t have time or inclination to go back, here is a quick review.
Chapter 11 – The Book: Ed is woken by arguing voices and doors slamming. When he gets up, Lauren is gone. While eating cold cereal, Liza shows him a bound version of his great uncle’s book, but with a couple of added chapters that explain the entire thing, chapters sent to Liza’s mother as “love notes”. The book is the history of his family from the point of view of her family. It ends with them getting together and becoming one. Liza sees this as showing her personal destiny, one she has always felt, and that Ed was the intended mate.
Chapter 12 – When There is no Book: Ed visits the historian, Mr. Brown, to find out more about the moors and his family’s place in the history. Mr. Brown informs him that there is no book about the local moors or village and can never be one. The entire place is a giant living book and Ed must go and open the pages. He does, however, tell Ed that he will help Ed in discovering the written history, but Ed must do the actual research himself. At the end, they leave to have lunch together.
So we continue Of Wind and Wings
Ed slowly spun around, taking in his surroundings. He was amazed at how rapidly the weather had changed. No, not just the weather. The world had changed.
It had been wet and windy all morning. Nasty, really. And then in early afternoon it was the most beautiful day he could imagine. No rain, no wind. Calm.
He was also in a completely different environment. He had tramped through marshes and climbed up rugged hills over the last few days, but he was now exploring along the banks of a little river. The stream was so still and calm, it was almost like a very, very narrow pond that stretched for miles, not a river. Occasionally he could make out some movement, but very little.
What surprised him most about the stream was how solid the banks were. It was amazingly dry. After walking around the entire day before with soaked socks, he expected to have another day of wet feet, yet, despite the torrent of the morning, here he was, by the side of a flat river in the middle of a marsh and yet dry.
He heard a loud laugh and turned to his companion.
The man was still scrutinizing the same leaf he had been studying for the last half of an hour. Ed had taken a similar leaf, but grew bored after about 30 seconds. The man, though, was far more interesting.
Ed figured that Bill was a few years older than his own children, perhaps early or mid-30s. In many ways he seemed far older, almost ancient. On the other hand, he was like a child.
Bill moved the leaf very close to his face and then far away. He frowned. Then he smiled broadly. He laughed again.
Ed had been thinking “Bill” mostly because he couldn’t bring himself to call the man by the name most called him. Mr. Brown and the others at the pub had no problems calling the man “Grubb”, but Ed just couldn’t do it.
Ed was still a bit confused about this man he had met when having lunch with Mr. Brown at the local pub. He thought back on how it had happened.
The door to the pub was a portal back to different time. There had been an establishment in the same room of the same building for time out of mind, though Mr. Brown had the exact dates of everything that had happened there for hundreds of years. The exposed beams, older than the oldest European built structure in the Americas, gave the pub atmosphere. There was a large fire, welcome in the cool rain despite the fact that it wasn’t really very cold. A dog slept in front of the fire. A dog. There was no way a dog would be allowed in an American restaurant unless it was a service dog.
The spell was broken when Ed read through the menu.
“Are you sure we’re still in the English countryside and not San Francisco?” Ed asked. He had been preparing himself for a very traditional meal.
Mr. Brown smiled and pointed out a few choices that weren’t quite as exotic. Ed ended up with a sausage and onion sandwich and chips. The cream of broccoli soup was close to being what Ed considered traditional, but had odd spices. Very odd. Mr. Brown smiled when Ed ordered it. It wasn’t an item he had pointed out.
They had given their orders but hadn’t been served when a man came in and sat down with them. The man never said a word nor even gave Ed a second glance. He immediately buried his head in a notebook so all Ed could see was a mass of brown tangles.
“The Grubb be joining you, then?” the waitress asked.
Mr. Brown nodded.
“You picking up the tab?”
Mr. Brown watched the other man for a moment, then nodded again.
“And the usual, I assume?”
“Yes, that would be great. Thank you.”
Mr. Brown then continued to talk about how small English villages were no longer the eccentric places still depicted on the telly, filled with oddball characters, but had become as modern as any city. The pub’s menu was proof, as was the WIFI service. His large eyebrows fluttered like batwings on his forehead as he spoke in agitation at the larger world’s view of his life and home. Ed nodded, but he had a hard time following everything and some of the words Mr. Brown used didn’t make sense, so he entertained himself by watching the eyebrows dance.
They were half way through their meal when the strange man noticed Ed for the first time. He froze. His eyes widened. His jaw dropped. After a few seconds his fork slipped out of his hand.
“Ah, Grubb, are you finally with us?” Mr. Brown asked.
Grubb pointed at Ed and spoke for the first time. “That man is odd, different!”
“Of course he is. He’s an American, you know.” Mr. Brown’s eyebrows leaped up in his humor at Ed’s expense.
“No he isn’t. He’s one of them.”
“Bumblebees. He is too very much an American. Mr. Pulman, please say something American to convince our esteemed Mr. Grubb.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Why, I don’t know, anything, as long as it’s’ American’.”
Ed’s mind went blank. He began to fumble, saying random things out loud. “Uhm, Ford car. Chevy. Apple pie. Baseball. Football. Wait, you have football, don’t you, but yours is really soccer. So, maybe I should say ‘the quarterback threw the football’. Right?” Mr. Brown frowned so deeply that his eyebrows bunched into a giant hairball in the middle of his head. “Uhm, let’s see, four score and seven years ago, our forefathers did something that we are trying to remember from our school classes oh so many years ago. No? What can I say that’s American?”
“What are those potato things on your plate?”
“You mean the fries? What’s so American about fries? I thought they were French? Actually, I once read that they are Belgium, but a French speaking part of the… Oh, OK. Let me think. Freedom? We’re the greatest! Or at least Mohammad Ali was, so he said. That is the boxer, not… Uhm… Where were we?”
“That will do.” Mr. Brown turned to the staring man. “Convinced?”
Seeing that the man wasn’t going to come forward and Mr. Brown wasn’t taking the initiative, Ed had one of those rare flashes of being decisive and stuck out his hand. “Hi! I’m Edward A. Pulman, but you can call me ‘Ed’. It’s nice to meet you. And yes, I am from the US. Jersey, I mean New Jersey, to be exact.”
The man studied Ed’s hand, but after a moment must have decided it wouldn’t burn him and took it. He did one quick shake then dropped Ed’s hand, pulling his own hand close to himself as if he were wrong and did get badly burnt.
“William X Grubb. The ‘X’ is silent, ya know. Most call me ‘Grubb’ or ‘The Grubb’ to distinguish me from my father, who is called ‘Grubb’.”
“Nice to meet you… uhm… do you mind if I call you Bill? “ The man pulled back as if insulted. “Then Will or William? Billy? Fred?”
“If you call me anything else but Grubb, I guess Bill is best, but I mightn’t answer as nobody has ever called me anything by Grubb since I was just a wee little Grubb.”
“I see Mr. Grubb. I was wondering if…”
“No, no ‘mister’, that’s not right, just Grubb.”
“OK, uhm, as I was saying, I was wondering what you were studying so intently?”
Bill glanced around the room as if there were some type of spy trying to steal this piece of vital information. “Well, since you are one of them, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to tell you. You promise not to breathe a word?”
“Sure, not a word.”
“The fine-structure constant.” Bill’s voice was low, but leaned in close to whisper, “You know, ‘Alpha’.” He leaned back in his chair, smiling.
Ed nodded, but he didn’t know. He had no clue. He thought for a minute. He still had no idea. He then shook his head. “The what?”
Bill’s smile evaporated. His arms came uncrossed. He bolted upright, then leaned forward. “Come on, man, you know, the bloody fine-structure constant.” His voice was very loud, spies be damned.
Ed shook his head again. Bill leaned back once more, re-crossed his arms, but his face turned sour.
“I’ll help a little, if I may,” Mr. Brown said. “He is referring to a dimensionless constant in physics. It has to do with elementary particles in an electric field, but is used throughout quantum mechanics and nuclear physics. It is a fraction that is approximately one over 137. There are many ways to derive it, including experimentally, but nobody knows what it means.”
“Exactly!” Bill said, jerking up to lean forward. “It’s a mystery, see? When we solve it, we solve everything. Everything!”
“So, are you a physicist?” Ed asked. Bill shook his head. “A mathematician? Scientist of any sort?”
Mr. Brown calmly finished the last bite of his lunch and then turned to Ed. “There is a popular show on the idiot box called ‘Weird Science’. It is on a level most 10-years-olds could follow and would bore the average 11-year-old to tears. Grubb here is often astounded and confused by it. They once mentioned our friend ‘alpha’, the fine-structure constant. The Grubb has been obsessed with it ever since.” Mr. Brown took his napkin and wiped his lips. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back. It’s been a pleasure. No, no sit down and finish. And don’t worry, lunch was on me today.”
Ed was brought back to the present by the river by Bill’s voice. “Hey-ho, Mr. Edwardo, come look at this.”
Ed took the leaf which Bill had been staring at for so long. He turned it over a few times, then started to hand it back. “Yes, that’s a nice leaf you have there.”
Bill crossed his arms. “No. You know what I mean. You are one of them. Don’t look with your eyes. Look!”
Ed sighed and started to inspect the leaf even closer. He followed each line, each tiny vein. He could see the large and small structures. But it was still just a leaf, like any of the thousands of others around them.
He glanced at the man staring at him, Bill. His eyes suddenly caught something. The tangled hair. The dirty face. The eyes that read and saw at the level of an eight-year-old or even less, but understood the universe like an ancient man. It wasn’t ‘Bill’. ‘Bill’ did not even begin to describe the man-child. It was Grubb. The Grubb.
The name unlocked the world around them, opening it up like a treasure chest.
A serenity descended on Ed. He felt the landscape, the trees, the weeds, the thin soil. He felt the small taste of breeze on an otherwise calm day. He felt the life-giving sunshine. He felt the breath of nature. There was an inhale and he inhaled with it. An exhale and he exhaled.
His mind emptied with the air of his breath. For one brief second he thought, “A Zen moment’, but then even that was gone.
He brought the leaf up again.
It was just a leaf, as he saw before. But it was also a metaphor.
Ed’s eyebrows furrowed. Metaphor? A physical object?
But then his mind cleared again.
The leaf was the valley with the slow-flowing river sparkling in the sunlight. It edged on the marsh and boggy land, which was surrounded by the bones of the country. But the leaf only knew about the bones by rumor. Water trickled in, often filtered by those bogs, and entered the stream. The stream meandered and twisted and tasted the soil. The soil and the water grew the trees and the trees grew the leaves.
And Ed held the single leaf, the end product of water and mineral that had taken centuries to go from the crags and bluffs and rocks and hills to the little stream to be taken up by the tree.
For a brief moment History unwound itself and was revealed to Ed’s eyes. A woman, a voice called out to him in a strange tongue. And then it was gone.
“See, I told you that you were one of them. I’m not, but I can recognize you when I see you.”
The Grubb was smiling at Ed. What had he seen? How did he know what Ed had experienced?
The Grubb nodded, as if treading Ed’s thoughts. “I was but a baby Grubb, maybe five, when I found you folk. I got lost on the moor. But you folk brought me in. You saved me. Taught me to see and all. When the searchers found me, they said that it was a miracle. Gone for three days and as healthy as the minute I wandered away. But I knew. They saved me. You saved me.”
Ed just stared at the man-child.
Grubb smiled. “Come! There’s more out here.”
Ed followed The Grubb, but his only thought was, “My folk? Who are my folk?”
And yet, despite the words flowing through his mind, he felt a strange calm, unlike anything he ever felt before.
And so it continues, now up to chapter ten (10) of the newly named Of Wind and Wings. Chapter 12 is here. Chapter 11 is here. Chapter 10 is here. Chapter 9 is here. Chapter 8 is here. Chapter 7 is here. Chapter 6 is here. Chapter 5 is here. Chapter 4 is here. Chapter 3 is here. Chapter 2 is here and Chapter 1 here.