I am hard at work on the sequel, having just completed Chapter 45. As a way to give you some information and tease you along the way, I present the newest member of the Band of Adventurers, H.W.L. – a fellow you may already be acquainted with in the real world. They meet him in Portland, where one young survivor has been caring for him. More to come, but until then…
The door handle slowly twisted and the pair moved back so the angry ghost could emerge onto the landing. As slowly as a minute hand on a watch moves, the man stepped out from the shadows.
Though he was wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt and brown cowboy boots, but the face was unmistakable. The man stepped out and offered them his hand in friendship, but it was clear that he was frightened. Kaileigh looked at a framed portrait on the wall opposite the man and sure enough, it was him. The madman in the attic was none other than the famous American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His shock of white hair, his sharp nose and deep-set eyes peered out over a snow white beard and mustache. Strangely enough, his face was old and wizened but his body was younger than his face and in good physical shape. She could envision him riding a Harley-Davidson with a red dew rag tied on his head and tear-shaped mirrored sunglasses on his face.
“Kinda looks like Willie Nelson on a good day,” Brady said under his breath to Kaileigh.
“Or Gandalf on a bad one,” Brady mused.
“My name is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and this is my home,” he said majestically. “Please, enlighten me as to the state of the world. Though this is my house, the city outside my window is only vaguely familiar and worse than that, it is empty, devoid of human life. What bedeviled world have I entered to be so punished? What is this place?”
“I know. It is frightening, but you’re not alone anymore,” Kaileigh said.
The white-haired poet gravely met her gaze and said quietly, “I apologize for my language and actions but a moment ago. Pray, do not judge me too harshly. I am, as you can see, on the edge of being lost.”
“Don’t mention it, sir,” she said. Already, she was being drawn into the man’s spell.
“The world you see is the world as it stands. A sickness, a worldwide epidemic, has destroyed most of us. Mr. Longfellow, can you tell me, what year you think this is?” asked Brady.
The poet went to the window and pulled the curtain aside, peering into the city. “That is a question I have asked myself a thousand times. I simply cannot say. I found myself awake in this house and can remember very little before that. This is my childhood home, where I lived before my studies at Bowdoin and the publication of my work. It is strangely lifeless, like a museum. Then I see strange things outside, evidence that this is some grotesque, perverted future and that I have been thrust here. I am dead, am I not? You must tell me the truth.”
Kaileigh answered simply, “Yes, you are dead and no, you’re not.”
The poet was perplexed at her answer and showed his frustration. “Whatever can that mean – yes and no?”
“She means that the poet named Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who wrote The Song of Hiawatha and Paul Revere’s Ride, not to mention The Wreck of the Hesperus, died in the 1880s, I think.”
The poet settled down upon a captain’s chair and looked dejectedly at the floor, saying “So it is true. I have died and Hell is an actual place. Strange, for I do not reckon what I did in life to deserve such a punishment as this.”
“Well, that’s because you are alive, as well. You think you are Longfellow, the poet, but in fact, you are another person. But you are the poet, as well,” Brady explained.
Kaileigh shot him a concerned look.
“Brady, what are you doing?” she asked before realizing that she had spoken.
“It’s okay, Kaileigh. Sir, I think I know what happened and I think I can set everything right, if you will accompany me. There’s something you have to see.”
The wizened young man in the guise of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow stepped out into the clear light of day and saw Elspeth Arrow standing at the end of the garden path.
“You!” he said under his breath, obviously frightened.
“Hello, mister. I’m the one who brought you food. See, you’re alive. Only living people eat food. Oh, and they poop! You still poop, don’t you? Get it? You’re alive.”
He froze in his steps and would move no further and that was when the forms of Beorn and Gregoire stepped out from the side of the entrance and into his view. Brady put his hand on the man’s back and said reassuringly, “Mr. Longfellow, these are fellow travelers who also have questions, just as you do. I promise – no one will hurt you.”