a tale in weekly parts
This story is open for suggested continuations. I will publish here, with links to your own blog, all I receive. The one I like best will become (or form the basis for) the next episode of this collaborative tale.
You can see the full story so far at this link.
“It’s been a rum old day, and no mistake,” Mr Grahamson said to his wife over a ‘proper’ dinner of pan-fried pork sausages, pig’s liver and bacon, with a generous dollop of her signature potato and parsnip mash made with double cream, and a thick onion and mushroom gravy, “but you’ve done us proud with this dinner, love, wouldn’t you say, lad?”
“Sorry, Dad, I was miles away,” Xander replied.
“I said,” his father said with great emphasis, “your mother has done us proud with this fine dinner; wouldn’t you agree?”
“Oh yeah. Smashing,” he said, shovelling another forkful of what they called supermash into his mouth.
“So,” his father continued, “at least we know what we’re dealing with. We know that Alice, or Kris as she likes to be called now – what’s with you young’uns wanting to change your names, anyway? What’s wrong with the names the good Lord gave you at your baptism?”
“I thought we weren’t baptised, Dad. That’s what you’ve always told me, anyway.”
“Stop splitting hairs; it was changing names I were alluding to, not whether you went through some church ritual.”
“Don’t argue with your father, Xander,” Mum intervened, “you know how he hates to be proven wrong.”
“Quite right, too,” Dad continued. “Anyway, your sister is alive and well… well, I suppose. You are the same as she was, but she says we won’t lose you the way we lost her. Your Uncle Albert isn’t even human, the shepherd’s hut is a what’d he call it? Sentient being?”
“Bitek, Dad and technically, your father.”
“I were just coming to that. And I’m only half bloody human. How’m I supposed to face my mates at the pub, knowing that? You are three-quarters human but a site smarter than I can ever hope to be… I just hope you end up with something your mother and I can be proud of, like a Nobel prize or some such. That’d be something to tell ‘em at the pub, wouldn’t it?”
“Your father is right, Xander, and I think he’s dealing with it very well, considering.”
“Considering bloody what?” her husband bellowed.
“Considering this has all come as a shock to you, completely out of the blue, and turned your view of the world upside down. I know how you hate change and instability, and I’m amazed and proud at the way you’re dealing with it.”
“Thank you for that, my love. Did you hear that, son? That was what I call support; the kind of support a man expects from his wife. It would be nice if a man could expect that sort of support from his children, too—”
Xander had heard as much of this as he thought he should be expected to take, and phased himself to meet Albert.
“I wondered how much of that you’d be able to take,” Albert said, “but you’ll have to train yourself to accept a lot of it without needing to get away. Your father’s not about to change a great deal, and your mother’s right, he is coping quite well with major upheavals to his world.”
“I know,” Xander replied, “but it’s not easy for me, either. A lot of what I thought I knew was wrong, and… I’m confused, and a bit scared.”
Jarvis piped up. “I think an old friend of ours, Henry the Pious, might be able to help.”
“Henry the Pious?” Xander asked, “Should I have heard of him?”
“Probably not,” Albert said, “Henry was one of the spiritual advisors (not that they were called that in those days) who accompanied Simon de Montfort on the crusades, early in the 13th century. He remained in Rocamadour, in south-western France, after the rest of de Montfort’s people left in 1212. That was in the golden Age of Pilgrimages, when thousands of devout folk (some under judicial sentence of forced pilgrimage and some just curious) made their long, arduous, and often dangerous journeys from the far corners of Europe to pay homage to the Virgin of Rocamadour. Nice bloke, Henry.”
“And he will help me how?”
“Let’s go talk to him, shall we?”
“Okay, Jarvis,” Albert said, “Rocamadour, 1215. Let’s go to the banks of the Alzou at the bottom of the city. It’s a trip back eight centuries, Xander, and will take about four days. Esterkha’a”.
Xander found a bed and slept.
For days later, he awoke to whatever the waking-up word was – he had no idea as he’d never consciously heard it. He jumped up from his bed, fully refreshed, and said, “Now what, Unkie?”
“Now we have a choice, Xander,” Albert explained. “We can either take the proper pilgrim route, and climb the 216-step Great Stairway on our knees, carrying chains to signify the weight of our sins, or we do it our way.”
“My vote is for clicking our heels three times and thinking of Kansas,” Xander joked.
“Indeed,” Albert said, as they blinked out of existence by the riverside, and appeared inside the small Saint Michel chapel, where they found Henry the Pious on his knees, facing the fresco of the Visitation.
“Hail, good priest, the Lord bless thee. How goeth the day?”
“Hey, Albert, dude,” was the confusing reply.
“I’m afraid Kr’veth’neq’is taught him some twenty-first century jargon on a previous visit,” Albert said (but not out loud).
Henry the Pious continued, “This day the Lord hath given us goeth well, I thank thee. The Lord is again looking kindly on my endeavours and blessing me with yet more of His wisdom. Who, pray, is this young pilgrim with thee?”
“Henry the Pious, allow me to introduce my young friend, my Padawan. His name is Alexander; Alexander the Unprepared.”
“A fine name indeed,” Henry replied, “before ye speak of the reason for your visit, regard the fresco with me, friends, and ponder on its deeper meaning.”
Xander looked at the fresco, but it meant nothing to him. Not at first anyway. As the seconds passed, he became aware of the arrival of information; images, concepts and thoughts; that opened his mind and brought the fresco to life. In response to his unasked question, he sensed Albert explaining to him that he was receiving from Jarvis the full history and background of the fresco, and of the scene it represents.
At last Henry turned to Albert and said, “Speak to me of the nature of the pilgrimage that thou and thy friend make this day. Tell me what is it that you want of my office, for it cannot be my person that you seek.”
“My young friend has experienced a revelation of life-changing importance,” Albert explained, “a revelation as extreme as that experienced by St Paul on the road to Damascus. His is in a different realm, not the realm of the spirit, but as fundamental to his perception of the world. He needs help to comprehend the changes that this knowledge will bring, and to rebuild his understanding of life.”
“Come with me, my son,” Henry said, and led Xander into a small alcove, where they remained for several hours; hours during which Henry the Pious did a lot of talking, and Xander the Unprepared did a great deal of listening and head-nodding.
Finally, the pair walked out, and Henry announced to Albert, “No longer shall your young friend be called Alexander the Unprepared. From this day on, he shall be Alexander the Comprehender. Pray spend the night with us in our humble surroundings. Enjoy the limited hospitality we have to offer, and regale me with yet more fantastical tales of your journeys.”
So they spent the night in the monks’ quarters, where they enjoyed good food, good wine and good conversation. In response to constant prompting from Henry the Pious and some of the other monks, Albert gave accurate descriptions of many of their exploits, all of which drew raucous laughter from the incredulous clerics. The heartiest laughter of all was reserved for the tale of the half-bloods; Xander and his father; and stories of a man being sired by a shepherd’s hut.
The following morning, they returned to Jarvis and thence to their place behind the leylandii. Xander phased back to the dining table.
“Did he shimmer then, Mother?” Mr Grahamson asked, “Did he bloody shimmer then?”
Is this the end of the saga, or just the end of the beginning? Do more adventures await the Grahamson children? Will any of these involve either or both of their parents? And what of Chav, their Jack Russell Terrier? Let me have your thoughts. This story remains open for suggested continuations. All I receive will be published here, with links to your own blog. The one I like best will become (or form the basis for) episode 26 of this collaborative tale; if, indeed, there is an episode 26…
This story was started in response to Kreative Kue 18, issued on this site on 30 March 2015.