Despite her earlier insistence on discussion, Ella found herself keeping quiet through dinner. Her father and Christopher did the same, the scrape of fork and knife on plate the only sound in the kitchen until Christopher put down his utensils, left the kitchen, and returned followed by the strains of King Crimson from the living room stereo.
You must login to vote
When they were finished, George busied himself with the cleaning, depositing plates into the sink and moving about the kitchen. Christopher refilled his wine glass.
Finally, Ella said: "All right. I feel like there's something I'm missing here."
Christopher and George exchanged glances again.
"And stop doing that! Jesus, Dad. You think I don't see you guys doing that? How do you think that makes me feel?"
"Sorry," Christopher said. "Sorry."
"Indulge an old man," George said. "Fine, yes. We're putting our little club back together. Want to be in it?"
"Good. Hold on." George left the kitchen. Ella threw a look at Christopher, who shrugged.
A moment later, George was back, three glasses of dark liquid in his hands. He passed them around. "All right," he said. "Ceremony goes like this. You want to join the House of Secrets?"
"Yes," Ella said.
"Do you swear to seek out and uphold the truth whenever possible?"
"Do you swear to respect and promote the good whenever possible?"
"I suppose so, yes."
"Do you swear to honor and preserve the beautiful whenever possible?"
"Good." George held up his glass. "We are the House of Secrets. We don't fiddle around with bullshit. We follow the call of the mystery. We kick the tires of the truth and open the unfound doors. Can you do that?"
He grinned. "Then I formally pronounce you a member of our little group. Welcome, and welcome, and welcome." He tilted his head back and drank off his glass at one draught. Christopher tilted his glass toward Ella, then did the same. Ella followed suit. The liquid was cold and sweet, but burned in her throat like whiskey. She swallowed, coughed, and set her glass down. "What was that?"
"Irish Mist." Christopher smiled. "If it's good enough for the Reformed Non-Aristotelian Druids of North America, it's good enough for us."
"That's about as much ritual as we've got," George said. "But I really do believe in it. Ella, I'm sorry I didn't tell you about all this, but there was never really a need when you were growing up. It was kind of by the wayside."
"All right." She could feel the liqueur working within her. "I'm not going to bite your head off about it, Dad. It's not the weirdest thing I've had to deal with in the last week or so." She cut her eyes toward Christopher. "But I still feel like I'm missing something. Why get back together now? It's not just because I met Christopher, is it?"
"No," George said. "It's not. Although that's got a creepy synchronicity. I was going to start things up again anyway- had to, I think- but you and Christopher just pushed my plans forward. Hold on. Should've just brought it with." He disappeared again and returned with a wide, heavy-bottomed bottle. He refilled each of their glasses, then set the bottle down on the table. "Okay," he said. "Here's the spiel. Christopher's heard this already. As you know, we track weird incidents, inexplicable happenings, stuff like that. The question is, what constitutes a weird happening, and what makes it to our attention? If someone spontaneously explodes in Los Angeles, we'll probably hear about it. But what about the woman who took her clothes off for no reason in the middle of Times Square? Does one represent a higher amount of some quality- strangeness?- than the other? I've talked this over with a lot of Forteans and other people, both online and in person, and they've come up with some interesting ideas." He paused to sip from his glass. "More to the point, I've come to agree with what a lot of them are saying now, and it's an unnerving thought. Christopher, you're still with me on this?
"I've been somewhat out of the game, of late," Christopher said. "But yes, the theory fits with my own personal experiences, especially recently."
"Imagine," George said, turning back to his daughter. "That there was an actual driving force, or quality, behind incidents of high strangeness. An inexplicable something, as measurable in its own way as voltage or decibels. Call it novelty, or chaos, or whatever. The intrusion of anomalous incidents into the world, right?"
"You're telling me this is something that's real," Ella said.
George sighed. "Yes," he said. "Or at least, it's really measuring something."
"Okay. Okay, I guess I can accept that. So what, then?"
"Everything I've seen, and everything most of the other people I've collaborated with, everything they've seen, it all suggests the same thing. Also, I just..." He frowned. "I hate imprecision of this sort, but I can't put it any other way. I feel this in my gut. The way you can feel rain coming."
"As do I," Christopher said. "As does Manuel."
"Whatever the factor is, call it novelty or chaos or whatever..." He turned to look at her. "Ella, it's speeding up. Exponentially."
There was more; hours of discussion, explanations by her father and counter-explanations by Christopher, all of it fading gradually into a haze of bewilderment and Irish Mist. They snacked on cheese and crackers, shared a clutch of grapes. Christopher filled and lit an intricately carved briar pipe, and the room filled with the scent of black cavendish tobacco. Ella contributed very little to the conversation. She felt, in some vague way, as if the floor had fallen out from beneath her.
At last, George excused himself. "I'm for bed," he said. "You two stay up as long as you want. I'll make breakfast in the morning." He kissed Ella goodnight, and shared a hug with Christopher before heading, only slightly unsteadily, for his bedroom.
Christopher regarded the decanter. A few fingers of liquid remained in the bottom. He turned to Ella.
"Halfsies?" Ella suggested.
Later. How much later, she was unsure. She lay on the couch, head on Christopher's lap, enjoying the slow tidal motion of the room. Above her, Christopher was dozing, head rocked back on the couch.
"You dozing?" she said.
His head came up. "Hmm? No, no."
"Sure." She snuggled against him. "You're warm."
"Oh, lovely. Warmth thief." He said this with careful precision, trying not to slur.
"Uh-huh." She tilted back her head again. "Christopher? Can I ask a stupid question?"
"All of this...um, novelty. Is this good or bad?"
He appeared to consider. "You know, I have no idea. Don't know what it means."
"You've lived a long time. What do you think?"
"Depends upon whom you're asking. Novelty brought us space travel and instant communication. It also brought us the atomic bomb and pollution. From the point of view of the Earth, might be a bad thing." He yawned.
"What about you? What do-" She yawned. "What do you think of novelty?"
"Don't know. Never really looked at my life that way. It's not like...not like something you do, really."
"What is it like, then?"
"It's like...like a landscape. Or something superimposed on a landscape. All these impressions. Places. Images. Smells and emotions, drifting over the background of some larger thing..." He yawned again, jaws stretching wide. "Not making much sense, am I?"
"Don't know." She felt her own eyes wanting to close. "Not sure."
"I remember so much...but it's all disconnected...floating out there..."
"I remember," Christopher said, twining a hand in her hair. "Once, in...oh, must have been the 1950's somewhere. I was in England, riding the bus home. Late afternoon sunlight, slanting through the trees." He paused. "I remember watching the light through the trees, falling on the bus, dappling the road, my face, everything...with light and shadow. I remember closing my eyes...and the sunlight falling over my closed eyes, rapid flashes, stuttering. Motion of the bus. And behind my eyes, these baroque images began to form. Nothing specific, just...images. Shapes and forms, rising and falling in the space behind my eyelids. And half-awake, I thought: I wonder if this is how everything is formed? All matter, all thought. Not complex equations. Not some slow evolution from a cosmic singularity. Just light and shadow. Light and shadow. Dancing together..."
Ella's eyes slipped shut.
END OF PART ONE
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.