Friday, December 30, 2011

ICU Waiting Room

Mack Hall, HSG

ICU Waiting Room at Christmas

Artistic gilded deer repose in peace
Among the store-room-dusty plastic leaves
Of decorator-decorated wreaths;
From thence they gaze serenely down upon
Sneeze-spotted pics in People magazine
And empty coffee cups recyled from
Recycled natural fibers recycled
From green fair trade recycled soy inks.

No ikons grace this dying-place, no cross,
No crucifix to focus farewell prayers;
Christ’s people gather lovingly around,
Their baseball caps thrall-ringed about their heads
In devout remembrance of passing souls.
Their cell-phone aps pass through their vague, weak eyes
As once the ancient biddings and prayer-worn beads
Slipped gently through the lips and hands of men.

The future is unknown, but at last report
‘Tis civilization on life-support.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Begging Season

Begging by healthy people has become fashionable in East Texas, reflecting a decay in demeanor.  On Tuesday morning a couple of large men in orange vests were in and out of traffic along US96 in Buna, holding out large buckets with crosses.  What organization styling itself a church would promote this?  Whether or not this is illegal, this is undignified.  Get a job, fellows.

The intersection at Dowlen & 96 in Beaumont has been free of beggars for several years -- another purported church once had children begging in the streets; can't imagine Jesus being happy with child endangerment -- but the IHOP doorway and parking lot are increasingly infested with healthy looking individuals begging.  On one Saturday two young women driving a Mustang and smoking cigarettes drove around to ask for money. 

In the spring and summer more and more adults will set young people to begging along the highways for sports trips and, ironically, safe-graduation projects without even the metaphorical fig-leaf of a car wash.  What does this teach the next generation?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Light Shines in Jasper

Mack Hall

A Light Shines in Jasper

Last week, nine new Jasper nursing graduates were capped and pinned before their families, friends, instructors, and God in a traditional ceremony that has graced this community each year for some four decades.

Over forty years ago a number of Jasper visionaries considered the needs and possibilities of health care in East Texas, and persuaded the people to vote the creation of a hospital district.

Among the first fruits of this dream were Jasper Memorial Hospital and, shortly after, JMH’s state-sanctioned LVN school taught by my aunt, Rhoda Holmes, RN and definitely old-school. 

Many people agree that the only thing Rhoda, of happy memory, got wrong was the design of the school’s first nursing cap, which looked like a misshaped cold-drink cup with some blue fringe. 

More recently, other far-seeing Jasper folks helped facilitate a satellite campus of Angelina College, to which the Jasper LVN program has since been transferred.  The hospital practicum is as intense as ever, but vocational nursing students now join students from other disciplines in college English, math, and science courses.   The success is demonstrable – Jasper LVN candidates are among Texas’ best in the state board exams.

Upon graduate, Jasper LVN candidates join for one last lesson, and that lesson is in faith and ethics in a traditional pinning and capping ceremony which originated with Florence Nightingale over 150 years ago.

For this dignified ceremony Jasper nursing graduates wear traditional white uniforms and traditional white caps.

And at this point your humble scrivener digresses: what is with the moldy-looking scrubsuits that now infect hospitals?  When, once upon a time, a suffering patient saw the white uniform of an RN or LVN approaching, he knew for a certainty that the (metaphorical) cavalry had arrived, and that all was going to be better.  Nowadays the patient cannot tell whether the slovenly-dressed individual walking the ward is one of the health care professionals -- the nice lady who tidies up, a surgeon, an imaging technician, the charge nurse -- or some Occupy thug who wandered in to relieve himself on the floor.

End of grouchy aside.

Dais dignitaries for the occasion were: Nadia Martindale, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC; Melvin Johnson, MA-English, MA-History; Whitney Craven-Larkin, LVN; Sharon Buffalo, MSN, RN; Charlet Blades, MSN, RN; Amber Murphy, BSN, RN; Elizabeth Powell, M.Ed, RN; Donald R. Samuel, M.D., M. Gilliland, M.D.; Lynn Pearson,M.D.; P. Bidwell, M.D.; Rodney Pearson, Jasper Chief of Police; and Honore Bailey, RN and some other letters after her name, Angelina College nursing instructor, role model, ministering angel, and, yes, of the old school.

This year’s graduates were: Pamela Smith Davis, Rokeshia Nicole Elam, Jana Wise-Horton, Chelsea Nichol Livingston, Candace Cheri Locke, Amanda Michelle Lundquist, Kari Michelle Martin, Denise Lynn O’Neal, and Christie Crawford Williams.

The founders of Jasper’s growing medical community are mostly gone now, but they left a wonderful legacy.  Jasper Memorial Hospital serves more people than ever, health care providers find the area a positive place for establishing their professional practices, Angelina College continues the excellence of the Jasper LVN program, and the Mary Dickerson will perhaps soon enjoy a renaissance in providing medical service.

The Lady with the Lamp (who is just as likely to be the Gentleman) now carries a high-tech pocket flashlight and a palm computer on her night rounds, and the white uniform has been sacrificed temporarily for (gag) scrubs, but the professionalism, the skill, and the care remain forever.

Those squeaky shoes a wakeful patient might hear walking the quiet hospital corridors at 0-dark-thirty – those aren’t really shoes, those are the wings of an angel.


Christopher Hitchens -- Maybe Not So Bad

Any one who laughs at the Dalai Lama and Princess Diana must contain some divine spark.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Horse - It's what's for Dinner

Mack Hall, HSG

Horse – It’s what’s for Dinner

It hath behooved – hooved, get it? -- our current government to auto-pen an edict permitting once again the sale of horse meat for human consumption.  For all of us who have been whinnying about Washington compromising the economy through oppressive regulations, let us at least be grateful that we will have more to eat this Christmas.

Horse – well, it’s probably tastier than a baked Alaskan.

Will menus soon offer palomino ‘n’ potatoes, or maybe chipped mare on toast?  Pinto beans and real pinto – yum! But the FDA will have to determine if horsemeat is a staple diet or a stable diet.

Whoever thought that Dale Evans’ mare Buttermilk would someday be served with buttermilk, or that Seabiscuit would appear on a plate next to a biscuit!   Trigger is now part of that famous complete, nutritious breakfast, and Gene Autry’s Champion is the breakfast of champions.

With our government’s decision that Tonka may be served as a main course – or mane course -- the remakes of classic horse movies and television shows may not be to our (ahem) taste:

Justin Morgan had a Horse for Lunch.
The Horse Cookerer
The Miracle Whip of the White Stallions
Blackened Beauty
Smoky the Smoked Cowhorse
Fury – the Story of an Horse D’oeuvre, and the Boy Who Ate Him
Hidalgo to Go
The Pony Expresso
My Meal Trigger
Lunchy of Chincoteague
My Food Flicka
The Blackened Stallion
National Velvet Cake
Mr. Ed a la Milanaise
They Died With Their Horseshoes On
The Appaloosa Appetizer
My Little Petit Fours Pony
Brighty of the Grand Cutlet
The Saddle Club Sandwich
The Flame-Broiled of Araby
The Horsemaster Chefs
Fried of Kentucky

No, it just won’t do.  We Americans bond as strongly with our horses we do with our dogs and cats, and we do not bake our beagles or cook our kitties. 

The horse is a noble animal, brave and strong and fiercely loyal, not unlike a dachshund, only much larger.  Since we eat cows and birds and sheep, balking at dining on Dobbin might appear to be somewhat illogical.  Even so, to kill and cook an animal who for thousands of years has served humanity in war and peace, in fields and streets, carrying us and our dreams, seems to be a degradation of civilization.  Our ideals are the Crusader knight and the American cowboy, brave and good, each on his great horse.  We do not admire cannibals, not even the ideological ones.


"One of the Only"

This unfortunate phrase is quite common now, but so are houseflies. "Only" means one; thus, to say "one of the only" is to say "one of the one" or "only of the only." Presumably the writer, in a hurry, was trying to say "one of the few."

Saturday, December 3, 2011 Gets Defensive (and their feedback site is always down)

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Review it? I'm not sure it's even being
 shipped., November 23, 2011
By L. Mack Hall (Kirbyville, Texas USA)
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Cts New Sunday Missal Standard
 Edition (Missal Sunday) (Latin and English Edition)
I ordered five copies last week, but DHL advises
 me that the order was shipped via Israel, New Jersey,
 and Finland, and was signed for by someone named
 Gustaffson in October!

I recommend holding off on ordering until somebody

 somewhere knows something.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Shopping for a Gun on a Snowy Evening

Shouldn't a sporting goods store clerk be just a little nervous about selling weapons to customers who break down doors and stomp on each other?

'Tis the Season to be Feral

Mack Hall, HSG

‘Tis the Season to be Feral

Perhaps the chaos began on election day, when most Texans lined up in the darkness, some camping in tents, eagerly awaiting the opening of the polls so that they could make wise, prayerful choices in the selection of their own laws and leaders.

The real crowd dynamics began with the Annual Holy Buying of Chinese %#@&, just before Advent.  On Envy Friday a woman shopping in an Up-Against-the-Wall Mart in California discharged pepper spray at dozens of her fellow believers.  She was desperate to buy the last in-stock microscope to help her daughter win a science scholarship. 

Screaming hordes of wild-eyed literates bashed down the doors of bookstores in cities everywhere, fighting for the latest translation of St. Augustine’s City of God.  One man was stabbed in the hand while reaching for a copy of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.  “It’s a metaphorical jungle reminiscent of the post-modernist school of deconstructionist theory in there,” he said while being bandaged by the medics in the parking lot.

In music stores, the theft of boxed sets of Poulenc, Rautavaara, and Corigliana have caused real safety problems.  “We had mall security escort a woman to her car with her Lyons Opera Chorus and Orchestra CD of Les Dialogues des Carmelites,” reported Tiffany Defarge, a store employee.

Police responded to a 911 call from a religious goods store one minute after midnight with a report that two women were trying to strangle each other with rosary beads and that a flash-mob was stampeding through the aisles stealing bibles.  The situation grew really ugly with an embedded dispute regarding the merits of the Douay-Rheims versus the Precious Moments versions.  The brawl spilled outside with The Spirit of Vatican II-istas and the Traditionalissimos punching each other in a bitter dispute about dynamic equivalence as opposed to closer Latin meanings in the new English translation of the canon of the Mass.

Crowd control was also a problem outside Goodwill and Salvation Army stores because of people camping out in long lines all night long, each fiercely determined to be the first to donate warm winter coats and good used toys to poor children.

Another crowd situation obtained in shoe stores where concerned fathers lined up to buy their children good, sensible, feet-healthy shoes.

Numerous flight delays were reported because in overcrowded airports all over America healthy people were insistent that the disabled and the elderly be allowed to board first.

Finally, a representative of the NBA has announced that the basketball season will not begin on Christmas Day.  “It would be insensitive for any for-profit organization to show disrespect to a minority religion on one of their holy days.  Christians will want to be home with their families after morning worship, opening gifts and playing with their children and enjoying Christmas dinner.  We want to join with America’s leading retailers and the American people who have in the past month led the way in demonstrating respect for 2,000 years of Christian faith.”

Oh, yeah.

Now back to The Hallmark Channel.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Crusader Birdwatcher

A mediaeval knight was an enthusiastic birdwatcher, so enthusiastic that he was more than a little pushy, and intimidated birds.  He was a martlet-haunting Templar.
cf. Macbeth

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In Europe, Water is Not Water

Mack Hall, HSG

In Europe, Water is Not Water

England…is now bound in with shame
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds 

Richard II, II.i.64ff

After a three-year study, government courtiers in Europe – that is, the Belgian Empire -- have concluded – or have been ordered to conclude - that water is not water, and that anyone who observes the scientific and logical fact that water is indeed water can be imprisoned for two years (

Specifically, any claim, such as the label on a bottle, that water can help rehydrate a thirsty human is illegal. 

What would the oligarchs assembled in Brussels prescribe in place of water – dust?

The root word of hydration and dehydration is hydor, Greek for water.  Greece, another colony of the Belgian Empire, might want to bring up a point of order in the matter.  Hydration means the presence of water, and dehydration means a lack of water.  It’s all about the water, except that by Belgian colonial law, it had better not be.

This is the same empire which until 2008 promulgated punitive laws against selling bananas that are bent.  Clearly Belgian imperial scientists are more bananas than the fruit.  Perhaps the Brussels sprouts will someday rule against bananas that taper towards their ends, against tomatoes for being red, or against celery for being crunchy. 

The law that water shall not be water becomes operative next month.

Any authoritative body that can rule that water shall not be water and can require that people be imprisoned for disagreeing with the edict is a monstrosity to which no nation and no individual can be required to obey.  Certainly the people of Britain are up in metaphorical arms – because they are no longer permitted to own real arms – about being bullied by their colonial masters in Brussels. 

Perhaps Britons under Belgian humiliation have read with fresh understanding the second chapter of the American Declaration of Independence.

The Queen, who can speak in defense of her people, is silent in the face of Belgian colonial oppression.

The democratically elected Parliament, which must speak, is as a body equally acquiescent in the matter of “a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations” against the people they purport to represent.

The Prime Minister?  Too busy doing the white-wine-and-cheese thing with the evil little empire.

Individual Britons who speak against being subject to a foreign power are dismissed as racists, which is curious on several levels, the least of which is that the British and their Belgian overlords share much the same DNA.  A more relevant point is this – what has DNA got to do with justice?  A human is a human is a human, whether in Peterborough or in Naples, and needs lots of clean drinking water for survival each day.  All the kept scriveners in all the porphyry halls of power cannot change the truth.

More than one observer has noted another truth, that while the Constitution of the United States begins with “We the People…,” the European Constitution begins with ”HIS MAJESTY, THE KING OF THE BELGIANS…” (, in all capital letters.

And that’s all wet.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Have Yourself a Misplaced Prepositional Christmas

Have Yourself a Misplaced Prepositional Christmas

Christmas on the Main

Christmas in the Park

Christmas on the Strand

Dickens on the Strand

Christmas Around the World

Christmas in the Country

Christmas on the Square

And Advent is not here yet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thanksgiving Week

1.  I am extending the period for earning ten extra points to Wednesday.  If I have your well-written and complete research paper in my hand by 11:10 A.M. on Wednesday, I will award you ten extra points unless your paper is awful.  I will also accept your paper as an email attachment that I actually receive -- good intentions cannot be graded -- and that will print out on the very ordinary electronic gadgets I possess. 

Remember always to print extra copies of your research paper.  Computers, emails, and friends who swear they will get your paper to me are not reliable.

2. Given our week of come-and-go English buffet, make an effort to meet with me if you are having problems with your research paper or with your persuasive mini-essays; I am here for you and want you to succeed.  I will be available at the usual class times and am almost always on campus an hour or more before class.  If you don't see me, ask someone -- don't be shy! 

3. There are no extra points for turning in your persuasive mini-essays early, but you'll enjoy your holiday more if you do.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Waterboard Texas?

Mack Hall, HSG

Waterboard Texas?

When the crowds in the mall are just a bit too much, the wise shopper knows that for a little solitude you simply pop over to the book store.  After all, most folks own more pairs of shoes than they do books, and avoid book stores as they would the more malodorous sorts of reptiles.  Parents fearfully yank children away from book store windows – “Don’t go in there, son; you might start thinking or something.  Let’s go to Xtreem Outlet Junction Factory Outfitters and get us some tee-shirts with pictures of guitar-playing vampires on ‘em.”

Democracy, sadly, is much the same way – if you want to be alone, just go vote.

On Election Day very few of us flouted the memory of King George III and all tyrants everywhere by marking a ballot.  My assigned poll was not at a church or synagogue of my choice, and certainly not convenient; the Attorney General of the State of Texas apparently feels that exploring the countryside will keep y’r ‘umble scrivener out of trouble.  Perhaps real Texans don’t vote close to home; they make great journeys.  Or maybe the attorney general just doesn’t like me.

As I made my lonely way to the polls I fancied I heard in the distance the ghostly voice of Colonel Rogers calling out “I’ll see you at sundown.”

But at my assigned vote-arena there were no A.C.O.R.N.istas in berets and leather coats and sunglasses wielding baseball bats, and no comrades yelping at loyal Americans, so voting was a pleasant if somewhat isolated experience.  Dust blew silently across the empty parking lot, and lonely election signs fluttered forlornly in the desolate wind. 

But where were The People?

O where were the descendants of those sturdy patriots who braved the winter at Valley Forge?  Where were the scions of the thousands of men who at Gettysburg established forever the noble idea that all Americans shall be free?  Where were the inheritors of all the men and women who first plowed this land, who cleared the forests, who fought diseases, who with work and sweat and blood and faith established this Shining City on a Hill?

Possibly at home nodding agreement to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck on the made-in-China radio.

The most annoying and least informative radio ad this election season featured a very small and inarticulate rent-a-mob chanting something that sounded like “Waterboard Texas!  Phluf-Phluf-Phloo!”  Really.  And after an individual said something about Texas needing more water, the occupy-a-mob again bayed “Waterboard Texas!  Phluf-Phluf-Phloo!  Waterboard Texas!  Phluf-Phluf-Phloo!” 

Upon examining the ballot I opined that the aforegarbled “Phloo” was probably an allusion to Proposition (or “prop,” as we political sophisticates like to say) 2 on the ballot, which did indeed refer to water, but which was unclear as to purpose of the allusion.  Would voting for this amendment causeth the gentle rain to falleth from the empty skyeth?  Since the wording was unhelpful, and the radio ad was both unhelpful and annoying, I voted against the amendment.

What genius thought that four or five Occupy-rejects mumbling a chant would constitute (as it were) a rational argument for a constitutional amendment?

In the event, Proposition (proposition – doesn’t sound quite nice, does it?) 2 won by a few percentage points, suggesting that two or three other folks in Texas also voted.

Given that certain elements in our bureaucracies have on occasion disallowed the ballots of our young men and women serving overseas, our domestic failure to vote is not simply a failure to observe an abstract principle.  A failure to vote lets down the young people protecting our right to vote.  Serving in the military often means loneliness, separation from the soldier’s loved ones; voting should never be a matter of isolation.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

John Steinbeck - "We have only one story"

We have only one story. All novels, all poetry are built on the never-ending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal. Vice has always a new fresh young face, while virtue is venerable as nothing else in the world is.
John Steinbeck, East of Eden
quoted in the website Happy Catholic

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Remembrance Day, 2011

Mack Hall, HSG

Keeping the Faith on Remembrance Day

"I will never stand for a national anthem again. I will turn my back and I will raise a fist."

-      S.E.A.L. / Not-a-S.E.A.L  Viet-Nam-Veteran / Not-a-Viet-Nam-Veteran Jesse Ventura, nee’ James Janos, on having a bad day at an airport

In the spring of 1915 a 45-year-old physician buried a young friend outside a dressing station along a canal in Belgium.  Major McCrae was too old to be serving in the mud of Ypres, he was asthmatic, and this was his second war, but he never broke faith with Canada or with the wounded lads who needed him.

Major McCrae read the Anglican burial service – “in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection” - over Lieutenant Alexis Helmer because the chaplain was elsewhere in the field.

The next day, while taking a break from surgery and rounds, Major McCrae strolled outside the tents (donated by the people of Bhopal) and sat on the tailgate of an ambulance alongside a canal.  He looked out across the wreckage and the mud, and considered the only brightly-colored things in that blighted landscape of disaster.  He took out a notebook, and wrote “In Flanders fields the poppies blow…”

John McCrae’s life was one of purpose, work, learning, and service.  He was born in Ontario in 1872, and joined his home town militia at age 16.  While working his way through college he was commissioned in the Toronto militia, The Queen’s Own Rifles, and at 22 was the commanding officer.

Commanding officer.  At 22.  He was not sitting in a Tim Horton’s or a Starbuck’s wearing knee-pants and a child’s cap while whining into a cell ‘phone about how unfair life was, even though he suffered asthma and had to, well, work.

John McCrae served with an artillery unit in the Boer War in South Africa, and then worked as a physician and professor of medicine in the United States and in Canada.

Long before the Guns of August (cf. Barbara Tuchman), John McCrae, from the little town of Guelph, Ontario lived a life of such adventure that even Teddy Roosevelt might have envied him:

Militia (we would call it the National Guard) as a private soldier, as an officer, and later as commanding officer

High school teacher - mathematics and English Literature


Poet (as in published, not the perpetrator of undisciplined whines on MyBookFaceSpaceMeMeMe)

Physician – surgeon, pathologist, epidemiologist, pediatrician

Professor of medicine

Author of several medical textbooks



In 1914, Dr. John McCrae, a successful physician and author in his mid-forties, a veteran who’d done his bit in South Africa at the turn of the century, a man of uncertain health, didn’t have to go anywhere.  He could have stayed in private practice, written more books, and admired the flowers in his own garden in Canada instead of the blood-poppies in Belgium.

But he went.  And he wrote:

In Flanders fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The words may sound shallow to some who have been poisoned with decades of fashionable cynicism, but they were not to Major McCrae.  He was not a computerized cartoon or a muscled oaf posturing for the television. Indeed, his photograph is of a quite ordinary-looking man in a rather untidy uniform featuring but one modest ribbon.  He was real.  And he was there.

In January of 1916, only eight months later, Lieutenant-Colonel McCrae, suffering from cold, exhaustion, overwork, and the horrors of two wars, died of pneumonia in the hospital he commanded in France.

John McCrae did not break faith with his country.

He did not break faith with his patients – English, Canadian, French, Belgian, and Indian soldiers.  He did not break faith even with the wounded German boys who were brought in to his care.

John McCrae did not break faith.  He did not turn his back.

Something to remember on Remembrance Day.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

For Our Mothers on Christmas

Mack Hall, HSG

For our Mothers on Christmas

Beyond all other nights, on this strange Night,
A strangers’ star, a silent, seeking star,
Helps set the wreckage of our souls aright:
It leads us to a stable door ajar   
And we are not alone in peeking in:
An ox, an ass, a lamb, some shepherds, too -
Bright star without; a brighter Light within
We children see the Truth three Wise Men knew

For we are children there in Bethlehem
Still shivering in that winter long ago
We watch and listened there, in star-light dim,
In cold Judea, in a soft, soft snow

The Stable and the Star, yes, we believe:
Our mothers sing us there each Christmas Eve

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Prisoner of Triskelion. Chapter 3: The Doctors' Plot

A Prisoner of Triskelion

Chapter 3
The Doctors’ Plot

“So you have no university degree?”  asked Doctor Vetula.
“Ma’am…um, doctor, really, I barely graduated from high school.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

“That’s what I’m wondering.  Why are any of us here?”
“I refer to this assembly.  We are six academics forming an ad hoc fellowship to formulate a feasible plan of escape and then executing it.  The problem is a most subtle one.”
“The Cloud isn’t subtle.”
“Who told you of the Cloud?”

“A little rainstorm did.”
“Most amusing.  An now I’m sure you’ll want to excuse yourself and go dig a tunnel or something.”
“Doctors all, have you considered a certain reality of this prison?”

“Yes!  It’s brutal!  And the food – I’m sure some of it’s genetically modified.”

“And tinned.  Now just off campus there was a holistic foods store where only fresh, all-natural grains grown by quaint ethnic women in Guatemala…”

“And the collection in this library – so plebeian.  Romance novels, for God’s sake.”

“No, no, no – I’m talking about how un-prison-y this place is.  Look, I’ve never been in prison; only in jail after the Dragon Boat Festival when…but that’s not important.  What’s important is that this is not like a prison at all.  We dress how we want, we haven’t been beaten up, the other prisoners don’t look as if they know a shiv from Shiva from Shinola, and we’ve got more freedom to move around than in a high school.”

“I’m sure your concepts of freedom and mine would seldom intersect.”
“Stop intruding personalities.  The question is this: why are we here?  If we answer that, we might have a clue or a cue about how not to be here.”

“Mr. O’Cannan, I hope you will not take this amiss when I suggest to you that this is not an Agatha Christie novel.  If it would amuse you, you might want to go dig a tunnel or search for clues.”
“Most amusing – and I will.”
And he did.

“I trust your interview with the doctors’ escape committee went satisfactorily, sir?”
“Father Travers, I detect a certain sense of humor in you.  You knew I was about to entangle with some princesses of both sexes.  You’re enjoying this, aren’t you.”
“Immensely, Mr. O’Cannan.”

“Please call me Brendan; Mr. O’Cannan was my father.”

“And you may call me Travers or Father Travers, but I prefer that you address me as Your Worship.”

“Your Worship it is.  And now I’m off for a walk outside.  I want to smell fresh air and to feel the sun.”

“Fresh air obtains in abundance; the sun, I regret to say, often absents himself from these Viking skies.  Perhaps he’s holidaying in Italy.”

“I’m reminded to ask – just where are we, Your Worship?”

“The answer lies not in scripture, my son, nor in your heart nor in the words of the wise among us; it lies outside.  Actually it flies outside,” replied Father Travers with a smile.”

O’Cannan, by well-marked passages and doors, old and new, found his way outside.  A few feet of grey-green gravel just outside a huge, mediaeval – or at least mediaeval-ish – door yielded to a margin of cold-green grass and then to a glacis – for some of it appeared to have been worked - or scree to the dark blue water.

The very air was Viking, cold and clean and salt-wet, almost soul-healing.  Sea-fowl flew and cried, like “The Seafarer’s” icy-feathered terns.  Although to the eponymous Anglo-Saxon sailor the cries of the feathered travelers of the ocean’s roof were like harbingers of death, to O’Cannan, on this day, they sang of freedom and life.

Among the larger rocks other prisoners were nurturing plots of garden by hoarding and composting seaweed, dead fish, and whatever other biologicals they could access.

O’Cannan hoped that no part of the accessed biologicals included the body parts of dead humans.  He was reminded of an often-repeated wheeze from an old teacher: “I like young people; they go so well with a nice salad, potatoes, and a nice Quidi Vidi ale.”

Other prisoners – or, rather, guests; Triskelion employed many evasive euphemisms – were fishing, reading, smoking, idling, or forlornly scanning the mist-hidden horizon for a now lost world.

In their bright sweaters and coats and knit wool caps and innocent recreations they made the island of Triskelion appear to be a Baltic holiday camp.

The snapping of fabric in a wind gust caused O’Cannan to look up.  And in that cold, cloud-blown grey sky he observed the flag of a small nation with a glorious history, a nation now known mostly for the export of Christmas cookies and the domestic consumption of hashish.


So what was the connection among Cuba, Triskelion, and Christmas Cookie Country?  Was the Guestmaster truthful in this matter?

But that was all probably irrelevant.  Employing Hercule Poirot’s concept of order and method, O’Cannan set out for himself the conditions of his present life, and proposals for amending it:

1.   He, Brendan O’Cannan, was in a place where he wished not to be.
2.   Thus, he should remove himself to a different place, preferably God’s holy island of Newfoundland.
3.    Item #2 is compromised by:
A.   A firm promise of death if he were attempt to leave Triskelion.
B.   The Cloud of Electronic Unknowing was death to any form of communication, even the footer scores.  Of course the good thing about the Cloud’s obdurate behavior was that he was spared the agony of having to listen to the cricket results.
4.   At least one of the Dotty Doctors had once built a wireless receiver.  If all the scientists were to work together instead of comparing the magnificent magnitudes of their academic dimensions, not unlike naughty adolescents behind the vocational laboratory at school, could construct a powerful wireless transmitter for calling for help.
5.   IF The Cloud could be disabled.
6.   Thus (a second thus), he must urge the Monstrous Regiment of Perfidious Princess (of both sexes, or two, or three) Professors to assemble, from whatever bits and pieces he and they could find, not one but several transmitters of different types to conceal in different locations.

7.   Further, he and they must find the source of The Cloud of Electronic Unknowing and determine a way of unplugging the thing.

8.   However, being shot and then ground into fish flakes would be an unfortunate game-ender.

O’Cannan lay on a warm rock, looked out to sea, and thought and thought until a bell rang for lunch.

He found the galley by following other prisoners, with whom he exchanged relaxed greetings.  They sat at long tables in a barn-like hall which perhaps really had been a barn at one time in the island’s history.  At the end of the hall a large, gilded Triskelion was painted on the wall.  Lunch was beef over pasta of some sort, with two very English vegetables and a pudding, served, perhaps to keep portions controlled, by other prisoners taking their monthly turn as would O’Cannan.  That he had not yet been assigned to work details was simply an oversight or perhaps a delay in process, but the assigned labors seemed to take only a part of each prisoner’s day and appeared mostly to be of the light housekeeping and maintenance sort.  Father Travers, for instance, kept the intake dormitory tidy, and another prisoner was the librarian.

O’Cannan thought he would try to wangle a job in maintenance so that he could score some tools and perhaps enjoy freer access to parts unknown.

After lunch O’Cannan returned to the library to place his proposals before the Insipid Sedentary Soviet of Six.  They were in stately conclave met, appearing not to have moved since that morning although he had seen them hull-defilade in a defensive position at an apartheid table at lunch.

O’Cannan was tempted to genuflect or curtsey, but wisely chose to suppress his I’s d’ b’ys pub humor; he really did respect the very real scientific and mathematical knowledge of the Perfectly Pouty Pedants and knew that their effective work was essential to escape.  He was worried that their very real abilities would be dissipated in common-room contention.

“Excuse me, everyone.”

Most of the klaven looked at him as if he were wearing bells and crying out “Unclean!  Unclean!”

“May we help you?” asked Doctor Vetula in that superior senior clerk’s voice that suggested that the pitiful object of the question really might feel more comfortable somewhere else among his own kind.
“I’ve been thinking…” began O’Cannan.
“Well, goodie for you,” interrupted Doctor Mulier.
“Now, please, hear me out.  You all are brilliant, freaking brilliant.  You have explored the heights and depths of arcane maths and sciences in ways most people could never begin to understand.  I certainly don’t.”

Oh, yeah, the flatteries of the serpent were working their old charms yet again.

“We all want to escape,” O’Cannan continued.  “And without your superior intellects that’s impossible.  Escape is impossible unless The Cloud can be disabled, and disabling The Cloud is impossible to anyone (brief but suspense-sodden pause) except you.

“Look, I deliver stuff.  I possess few higher order thinking skills, and the nuances even of the concept of the Hegelian dialectic elude me.  But I can do things, find out things.  Triskelion isn’t going to pay much attention to me because I’m a nobody.  I can wander around in ways you can’t because Triskelion will want to know what you’re doing, not me.

Self-satisfied nods scudded around the table like a PBS announcer’s yacht in calm seas off Cape Cod.

“So – I ask you please to consider these possibilities: if you can somehow unplug The Cloud, and if you can build not one but several radio transmitters that you can power up and call for help, then you will liberate the people.”

“I think the idea of…harrumph…unplugging The Cloud is somewhat simplistic,” said Doctor Vertex.  “Now what you don’t know…”

“He doesn’t need to know,” said Doctor Mulier.  “The fewer people who know, the safer we are.  Remember that the penalty for attempting to escape is death.”

“I don’t know,” mused Doctor Vercelli, exhibited his bandaged hands.  “I constructed a primitive but workable AM receiver from my electric shaver, and if Triskelion noticed they didn’t intervene.”

“They blew the thing up in your hands when you switched it on.  They were laughing at you.”

“I don’t think so,” replied Doctor Vercelli.  “The Cloud responded to the first interaction of the long waves.  Only The Cloud was watching.  I don’t say that Triskelion is making a hollow threat, only that they perhaps depend too much on The Cloud.”

“Mr. O’Cannan is quite right,” ruled Doctor Vertex.  “While we, indeed, might be more circumspect in our deliberations and demeanor, Triskelion surely considers us academics to be the threat, not a – excuse me if I seem to be somewhat patronizing, Mr. O’Cannan; I’m not; I’ve always felt at one with the working people – not a deliveryman.  But please continue.”

“Right, then, eh.  But that’s about it.  I find you stuff, you build radios, and we somehow find a way to cut off The Cloud at the knees.  Not that it has knees.  But perhaps it does.”

“I think we can do better than that,” sniffed Doctor Saltator.  “Even a gulag personed by kulaks would not allow prisoners to access a power plant or other high-security installation.  Triskelion is sure to be watching the source of The Cloud especially carefully.”
“But think of this, Doctor,” replied O’Cannan, “we’re already inside.  We are inside a high-security installation now.”

“You are speculating quite above your pay scale,” said Doctor Vertex.  Lowering his voice he continued: “And, anyway, we are already working on a jamming device which will employ multiple layers of multiple waves along the communications spectrum.”

“And the radio transmitters?”

“Well, we have one almost finished.  Your suggestion that we construct several is excellent.  We will provide you with a list of necessities, but perhaps you’d better locate and identify them for now, since we have no place to store anything.  We need a secure work space.”
“I assembled a radio in the bathroom,” said Doctor Vercelli.
“I think we can do better than that,” sniffed Doctor Saltator.
“And I think we can adjourn for today to pursue innocent recreations to entertain and deceive Triskelion’s watchers.  In the meantime, observe and think.  Shall we meet again after breakfast in the morning.

“In thunder, lightning, or in rain,” said O’Cannan.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Doctor Mulier.

“Just something from Macbeth.”

“I think we can do better than that,” sniffed Doctor Saltator.  And with that the meeting broke up.
O’Cannan made a quick tour of the library, checked out an Agatha Christie omnibus, and with it under his arm took another walk, a more purposeful one, both inside and out.  The island, the castle, and the accumulation of outbuildings were such a miscellaney of structures and ruins of different centuries and different purposes that any mental map was impossible, and a collection of paper maps would be as confusing at one of those multiple-level chessboards, only with many more levels, all oddly shaped and sized, and with chessmen of many styles.

He studiously passed by doors and gates marked NO ADMITTANCE, but began the tedious process of firming their locations in his mind and trying to sort out from context clues what might lie behind each one.  He looked at doors and wires and pipes and walkways and where the drainage went.  And he thought.

The dark came on and O’Cannan returned to the dormitory for a wash before supper.

“Still sweeping, Father Travers?”

“Oh, yes, Brendan.  ‘Tis my limited service, but ‘tis one.’  And I’m quite fond of this broom; it’s the one Doctor Mulier flew in on.”

“I keep wondering what Triskelion is all about, why you’re here and why I’m here.”

“And the mathematicians?”

“Oh, not so much, mathematicians belong in prison.”

“I heard that,” growled a voice from a bunk in the back.

“Ah, well, there’s the bell; let’s all to supper,” said Father Travers.

O’Cannan observed that, like lunch, supper was pleasant enough – salad, soup, rolls – but with minimal portions and no seconds.  Either Triskelion was very, very slowly starving its guests by a few calories a day, or perhaps the small portions were a matter of something far less sinister: perhaps Triskelion’s functionaries were as subject to corruption as those in any any other institution.  An audit of the accounts of even the Vatican kitchens might reveal a few discrepancies.

After supper O’Cannan sat at a table in the library, reading a little and making notes on Triskelion’s flimsy paper with a Triskelion gel pen.  A puddle of comforting light fell upon his books and papers, and the night-sea lulled him.

A chime sang, and a voice from above said: “Attention, everyone.  Lights out in thirty minutes.  All day stations and day watches close for the night; all night stations and night watches stand to.  Again, thirty minutes, everyone.”

“Closing time,” yawned the librarian, taking off his glasses and putting down his own read.  “Anything to check out before I secure the area?”
Papers folded and in his pocket; O’Cannan returned to the transient dormitory.  The passages were busy with other prisoners quietly, almost submissively, making their ways to their own sleeping spaces.

The transient dorm was thinly populated – the Six Silly Sorcerers occupied a corner they set aside as their Olympus of metal bunks, Father Travers lived beside the door, and two or three patients O’Cannan hadn’t met were occupied, as were they all, with wash-ups and changing into night clothes. Storage was a matter of a few pegs and showing one’s gear underneath the bunks.  O’Cannan thanked Father Travers for having made up his rack.
“And now, if anyone wishes to join me for a brief Compline…”

An audible academic snort issued from Olympus.

O’Cannan and a man in dungarees somewhat self-consciously joined Father Travers.  O’Cannan wasn’t much of a pew-jumper, but his death sentence seemed to focus him.  Father Travers read Compline from a quite worn old Missal, the minuscule congregation crossed themselves, and they found their racks.

“Mass in the morning,” said Father Travers.  “Reveille is at 0600, so why don’t we meet at the door when they unlock us for the day, and we’ll find a quiet place for Mass before we’re off to breakfast.”

“I’m up for it,” said O’Cannan, “but someone better wake me up.”

O’Cannan tried to read a little before lights out, but the overheads were glaring and he put the book away.  He was glad that the room was well-vented by blowers far away somewhere; he wasn’t sure that mathematicians weren’t somewhat malodorous.

And then he saw Doctor Mulier leaving the head in a gauzy nightie.  A mathematician in a nightie is a horror to make even the most devout man despair of salvation.  “Dear God,” prayed O’Cannan, “please get me out of this.”
A chime sang, and except for a dim bulb in the head the lights winked out.

O’Cannan lay under some nation’s military surplus blanket – a blanket which perhaps had seen service in the Crimea – and stared wide-eyed into the darkness above him.  He was in prison under a temporarily suspended sentence of death, and did not know if tomorrow or perhaps tonight might see his last breath.  He was hungry.  He was frightened.  And worse than all that, he had seen Doctor Mulier in a nightie.