She was the Fata Morgana, Queen Mother of the World, and had built herself
a love slave to assuage the lonely days. A handsome piece of work if she did
say so herself—wide of shoulder, slim of waist, courteous, considerate, quick
to restoke and deferential even when spent, a comely dream of passion fit to
set mortal pulses pounding no less than hers. Not human and yet not of the gods,
his discretion was guaranteed for at night she simply turned him off. But it
was too easy—a household appliance, one would have hoped for more in a lover.
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somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known...
We meet the Fata Morgana, a goddess.
We follow her down illimitable flights of steps cut from the living
rock of her world of exile. There will be a parley with the planet itself.
The pitch of the steady slope is such that she thinks down no matter
whether the passageway rises or falls.
Harry Pease has heard the call of
the Fata Morgana, Lady of the Wild Things—a goddess, ancient and dispossessed.
A late vocation from a religion long forgotten: this Harry decided to
keep to himself. It all began when Marcus Hanrahan called to say there
was beer in the refrigerator and the pigs were waiting. He and the wife
and the Hanrahan kids, whose pets the pigs had been, would be at the
The Queen of Heaven, Orange Virgin,
Fata Morgana, etc., etc. shuddered as the first pig died. On the Other
Side, the strain of the sacred pig was breeding true again. And she
had not known. How and when does a pig know it is holy and dressed in
the raiment of joy? A new pig, a pig of the ancient line, not yet self-aware
until the revelation of the final, fatal flash—the pig and its killer
knotted in their mutual innocence. “One gets out of touch... I am explaining
myself. This is all wrong.”
Biff Bangtree backed out of the buttery,
his pockets full of doughnuts. Biff Bangtree was not yet his name, since
Morgana had neglected to call him anything. That he have a name was
not a vital component of their lovemaking.
At the tip of an eyelash a tear formed,
glistened, and fell to the empty channel far below. The tear caught
Morgana quite by surprise. Tears have their own reasons. She observed
its downward spinning through the mist, the tear’s coiling descent a
path that circled in against itself. The mechanics of its fall changed
it from a tear to a sphere, turning the crystal pearl over and over
in its flight, examining it as if for flaws.
Joyce Gladstone (Mrs.), librarian,
at an age when the obituaries were the first item turned to in the paper,
avoided that page, apprehensive lest her interest precipitate another
vanload of books. Sometimes the thought of Harry Pease and his collection
of Popular Mechanics and Playboy magazines stalked her nights, interrupting
her blameless sleep. She dreaded finding Harry’s name listed among the
“You have an admirable facility
for understatement, goddess. What you have just witnessed and cannot
remember is the end of everything and a new beginning—the Big Bang.
Yearnings, struggles, joys: all the paradigms, apotheoses,
covetousness, sloth, envy, etc., along with dandelions, cabbages,
butterflies—the hotel reservations and weekend painting projects of
a googolplex of individuals are over, caput, finis—sucked through
the eye of Eternity’s needle, pushed out backwards on the other end,
and here you are. Simple, really.”
Home from her cosmic tête-à-tête,
the Fata Morgana addresses Sarabande, Superintendent of plantings and
the Herbarium. “Sarabande, I know this is becoming tedious for all of
us, but you are not the Sarabande to whom I last spoke, are you? I mean
you are truly beautiful and there is that in the curve of your mouth
and the shape of your ear, the very turn of your hair—the way it exposes
the notch, that tiny irregularity at your widow’s peak when you tie
it back like that. You are Sarabande?” Kneeling in the fresh
spring mud of the greensward, Sarabande ruins her gown. “The one to
whom you spoke was my great-great-great-grandmother.”
In the cellars of the Queen three
stone heads grace the capital of a buried pendentive. The heads are
malign at first glance, a dead craftsman’s nightsweats and horrors:
vaguely a Cow, a Goat, and a Manticore. Mineral deposits have whitened
the Goat’s tongue and striped his head so that his tongue appears to
have paused in the fastidious licking of an ice cream cone. The Goat’s
dead eyes are rolled back, hollow stone pupils positioned to stare up
the kilt of any passing visitor. In former times he had been out-of-doors
and his gaze was heavenward, away from the temptations of the earth
and the flesh.
Pen Harrington has disappeared into
the cellars of overnight radio, a lover of nurses and truck-stop
waitresses. To those up top in the sunshine who might think of him the
consensus is that the best thing about Pen Harrington is Prince—big,
loving, gentle and not too bright. Where Pen goes, Prince goes, and
preferably by car. Prince sits in the passenger’s seat giant and yellow,
and mostly Labrador retriever. Prince sleeps and dreams of a cow stuck
in a wall. The stone head looks down and nods wisely. It has a secret.
“I know who you are,” says the Cow. Prince raises a leg. “I wouldn’t
do that if I were you. I am a sphinx. Cleopatra loved me.”
Wherein Pen Harrington and Prince
meet the Fata Morgana at a bus stop. With none of his master’s inhibitions,
Prince walks up to the goddess and sticks his nose between her legs.
“Prince...” A low, happy glottal rumble as ears are scratched by the
exciting, wonderful woman. More tail-thumping and the nose is firmly
back in place. “...I knew introductions would be in order. Prince and
I are going to be close. Very close. Call me Maggie.”
There is a heterodyning squeal and
Biff looks to the radio receiver. “This is today’s lesson, study it
well. You will do daring things.” The voice of the Fata Morgana is inside
his head. An urgent baritone fills the room—“And now... Dolby Jenks,
Space Ace, brought to you by Chocolate-flavored Ovaltine...”
The stones of the Fata Morgana’s
castle are black basalt, striped with travertine—an outcropping of the
world spirit. The stones get little satisfaction from the flickering,
fluttering life dwelling in the spaces they define. Nor are they particularly
quick-witted even by their own lights, and their thoughts, when they
think at all, are particularly tedious, for not many decisions are required
of them and they take the long view.
Linda Winkelman, priestess-designate
of the Fata Morgana, wants more. More of just what she is not quite
sure, but she is certain there has been a short-changing somewhere along
the line. A chips and nachos conglomerate is introducing Pork-A-Dillos,
a low-cholesterol fried pork rind product, the latest scientific breakthrough.
Linda has been named project manager for the new product’s test marketing;
if it flies she will be in line to direct the national campaign.
Wherein the Manticore, indifferent
to the guises of chopped liver and salmon with herbs, quests through
a spectacle of glittering implements—steel, iron, tin and aluminum,
quarts, gallons, missionary cauldrons, runcible spoons, shirers, boilers,
broilers and basters, colanders, ewers, forcemeat forms, pâté molds,
sieves, lids and ladles. Fluted tin forms braided like the innards of
a mollusk’s abandoned husk await gelatin confections, larding needles
languish for a loin of pork. A shelf of ceramic rabbits awaits their
Wherein a spinach quiche is mentioned
and the Manticore becomes impaled: “I say, are you stuck?” asks Biff
Bangtree. He crouches to behold a creature made up of many other creatures:
porcupine, man, lizard, eagle, scorpion. We likewise meet the Wise Child
and the Destroyer—aspects of the Fata Morgana.
Wherein Biff, Morgana and the Manticore
go prospecting for a priestess in peril. It is Christmas in New York,
a time of tinseled windows and slush coming over the tops of transparent
plastic rain boots. Linda Winkelman carries them in her gym bag all
year long and even sensible one-inch heels are too much for them. A
wide-bodied Checker cab spins into the taxi stand at the corner, trying
to use the parking lane for an illegal turn to catch the light at 33rd
Street. A spray of brown slush stipples Linda’s panty hose all the way
to the knee.
Wherein Linda Winkelman meets El,
the sky-demon: “I got all dressed up for the Visitation. You are the
instrument, the vehicle, if you catch my meaning, of a meeting of vast
teleological implications. At this very moment, even as we speak, so
to speak, the emanations of the demon-queen of Sumer and Babylon are
invading your persona.” Her kidnapper toggles her head back and forth.
“Hotsy-totsy, Morgana. You in there? We’ve been expecting you.”
Wherein Harry Profitt Pease browses
the refreshments table. This evening is the regular illustrated lecture—a
slide show—at the Valiant Trust Memorial Institute Free Library. Harry
turns to see a pig hop up on the window seat next to Alma Nightingale,
claiming a warm depression vacated by Joyce Gladstone, the librarian.
Harry stares. The pig is a spotted china with a tight brushy tip to
her tail that hinted at purebred bloodlines. “You wouldn’t have a cabbage
left in your truck, would you?” the pig asks.
Wherein Harry and the Fata Morgana
introduce themselves: “You are a pig,” Harry observes. “And you are
a dirty old man. Don’t belabor the obvious.” The pig rummages in the
truck’s glove box and, coming up with an archival Mars bar, settles
herself comfortably in the passenger’s seat.
Wherein the Orange Virgin and El
the sky demon are in attendance in the sub-cellars of the Hotel Taft.
A cat carries in a still-twitching mouse and lays it at Morgana’s feet.
“Someone at least remembers who I am. Pardon me, I must share this well-intentioned
offering.” Morgana sits cross-legged, facing the cat with the mouse
between them. “To you it is religion, to the cat it is lunch, and religion
will wait.” The Queen of Heaven bites the head off the mouse and hands
the remains to the cat.
Wherein the Queen of Heaven checks
her rear end to discover a curly pink tail at the base of her spine,
while the Manticore meets Linda Winkelman: “You will have to pardon
me, but I’m not used to impromptus. Ta-Dah!” There is a smell of ozone,
the flickering of blue and pink letters. WELCOME TO THE NEW JERSEY TURNPIKE.
REDUCE SPEED APPROACHING TOLL PLAZA says a neon sign. “A regular touch
of home,” says Linda.
Wherein we meet Libby Pease, Harry’s
sister, and discover why lime jello with embedded chicken parts and
an aerosol whipped topping is a favorite bring-along for covered dish
suppers. Likewise Cousteau McClonaghy, proprietor of a flashing blue
neon sign, EAT. Respect for his namesake has him keep fish frys Fridays
at the diner long after Vatican II.
Wherein we learn that Harry Pease
entertains visitors from other planets. Whether Harry has actually seen
and talked with them is hard to pin down, but on one thing he is adamant:
sojourners from the astral planes make his place a regular stopover
on their passage from wheresis to whatever. He has seen their spoor:
strange messages on the uninhabited channels of his TV, usually in the
early morning hours when the decent, Christian stations are turned off.
Wherein Harry Pease discovers all
is not as it seems: “Your voice. It reminds me of Lauren Bacall,” he
tells the spotted pig. And the Orange Virgin speaks to Harry’s health
and welfare: “Your death, immediate and terrible, is no longer on the
menu. I forget people have feelings, too. I had planned something modern
and deliciously psychopathic for you; you should be flattered. Like
chopping you into little bits and flushing you out to sea. Pardon me
for being brusque—these are my little ways.”
Wherein molecules rush in to fill
the space so recently occupied by Tom Winkelman, one third of a kitchen
table, and a laptop computer. The Poet offers sustenance: “Corn whiskey—make
it myself. God only knows what the proof is.” Tom has jumped into the
clear air of a Europe untouched by Huns, plague or industrial revolution
to land in a haystack, a guest of the Queen of Heaven.
The house has a storybook air to
it—a short ground floor and a steeply thatched roof—whitewashed animal
dung and straw with an occasional fieldstone for accent. Tom Winkelman
remembers seeing something like it in brochures for picturesque vacations.
“It’s like dying but with regular mail service,” remarks Valerie Hatt.
“There’s a village five kilometers upstream and through the woods. Or
leagues, versts, miles. Depends on who’s walking. Weights and measures
are pretty unpredictable here.”
Wherein a heavily-armed woman strolls
in through the shredded remains of Cousteau’s Salada Tea screen door;
her introductory burst of automatic weaponry showing no respect for
cooperative advertising. She is packing more firepower than the National
Guard and looks very much like a wronged woman on a tear. “The absent
wife,” says Pen, referring to Valerie Hatt, somehow transported from
Morgana’s Languedoc village.
Wherein the Fata Morgana decides
Linda Winkelman, priestess, is an unnecessary clutter. Tonight is
the night Tom thaws Szechwan dumplings, too, thinks Linda. Please
don’t be angry dear reader, for we have reached that time in Linda’s
story arc where we have to bump her off. Anyway, the idea of missing
out on Tom’s dumplings makes Linda disproportionately cheery about her
impending death. She drops her gym tote and rummages through its pockets.
Doesn’t she have a bottle of Midol somewhere?
Wherein a patrician beauty dances
open-mouthed, taking short frequent breaths—more, surely, than are demanded
by the exertions of the dance—her eyes rolled back to the whites in
a stylized gesture of sexual anticipation which her escort must notice.
The escort notices, but he is busy covering his back. Both preoccupied,
they spin on woodenly, dancing around an object of which they must never
speak, whose existence must never be acknowledged. There is power in
a glance, the power that if your eyes linger overlong on another dancer’s
partner this will require him to forget his timing, drop rhythm, break
the truce. They have pretended they are here for the dance.
Wherein The Fata Morgana, Queen of
Heaven, etc., etc. ponders the past: “Times and places change,
not faces. Here I have accomplished something so stupendous, touching
the unborn for millennia to come, and there is nobody left on stage
but me who knows just what the hell happened. Some congratulations are
in order. The child, Biff Bangtree, will be well.” The Fata Morgana
smiles a secret smile. “I have things, ahh... arranged.”
Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known...
The Return of the Orange Virgin, an Armageddon-lite
tale of the exiled Fata Morgana (Lady of the Wild Things, Queen of Heaven,
etc., etc.) and her Ex, the Rider on the Storm, was first published online
as a serial novel—monthly chapters lofted over three years (2006, 2007 and
2008). Audio files (MP3, Ogg Vorbis, M4b audiobook) of the individual chapters are yours for a click on appropriate
link above. Basically, the same stuff you snoozed through in Sunday school
except the Other Side wins. And for you audacious broadband downloaders,
get the entire book in one gigundous package—compressed (.zip) files are:
The m4b Audiobook (335 mb)
here, and the mp3 Audiobook (514 mb)
Dr. Carl Sagan is responsible for the
Somewhere, something quote above.
The m4b compilation
(in three parts to be e-reader friendly)
Part 1Part 2Part 3 (9½ hours
total runtime) Why m4b? It will keep your place for you when you pause
for a few hours, days, weeks. And you may access a list of chapters and
you to hop around inside to browse. This book may be played in iTunes, Apple QuickTime,
VideoLand VLC Mediaplayer, QuickTime, Mediaplayer Classic and your iPod
player among others. And now at the
Internet Archive—streamable, downloadable m4b Audiobook (the Advanced
Audio Coding option), MP3 (the Variable Bit Rate option), and Ogg Vorbis
Who wouldn’t prefer a compression technology inspired by Terry Pratchett’s
Discworld? Ogg is the enclosure, Vorbis the codec—more bounce to the ounce
and at a potentially lower bit weight than MP3s. There is a panoply of Ogg
Vorbis players out there—I use the VLC player; you can download it
But then, I am a Windows 7 holdout. The Windows 7 operating system comes
with the Ogg-friendly Windows Media Player 12. Windows 10? Before you backup
everything and yank the big red lever there is reading to do. I am putting
this one off for as long as possible; there is no Media Player packed with
Win10. There are add-ons for older and newer devices, too. Mac? Yep. For
OS X follow the bread crumbs at
The author is indebted to the composers and performers for the music
that ornaments the audiobook version of The Return of the Orange Virgin.
All selections are licensed under the Creative Commons and remain the property
of their creators.