Spring 2017 – You Came Very Well-Recommended: a Series of Secret Letters by Gregory Scheckler

Path:

Received: Sloane

Subject: = URGENT: new discovery

From: G

Message-Id:

Date: Thu, 10 Jun 2016 07:57:36 -0400; encryption protocols

To: Sloane

Attachment: photo.jpg letters.pdf

June 10th, 2016, Boston

Hey Prof. Sloane,

As we discussed on Skype, I’m forwarding copies of the letters for analysis. Found them in my grandpa’s attic, folded up inside antique envelope marked ‘confidential’ with seal of U.S. President, Grover Cleveland.

Clipped to them were early photos of three men on a sleek catamaran. Another odd photo too, a man at harbor, large dark eggs flying above him. You’ll see. Puzzling? Do you know of any more of this history of stockyards in Port Nelson, 1860’s? Or of an American Consulate in Nassau at that time? Any other info? You’re the only one I’ve told this to, but my sister Becca’s on the way over and I expect I might show her, as these notes and photos appear to be family history.

All best, G.

#

Path:

Received: Becca

Subject: = RE: URGENT: new discovery

From: Becca

Message-Id:

Date: Thu, 10 Jun 2016 09:30:36; encryption protocols

To: G

Hey G. Becca here. Yeah I’m still in Boston. And OMG. That’s ridiculous. I can’t believe gramps had those. What the hell are they? And no I don’t recall him ever going to Nassau or anything. I can’t wait to see them in person. I got work so it’ll be a while but let’s have dinner when we can, k? I’m dying to read those letters between this Antony and Helen. Hugs, Becca

#

April 17th, 1866, the Caribbean

Darling Helen,

My soul aches for you, but I am glad you didn’t join us on this venture. Please accept my apologies that this letter is two months overdue. Darling… I dream of your wit and smile.

We sailed the seas, comforted by counter-balancing rhythms of our catamaran. Terrance, Dennis and I earned wages by moving supplies from port to port. And as you know, if all went well it would take us a month to earn enough silver (or gold, preferably) to vindicate my matrimonial promise to you. But events did not then agree with us.

One evening a great bubble of water pushed us out of the ocean. The force toppled and crunched our boat. Poor Ascension, she was a fine ship. She sank without ceremony. We swam. We landed on some island. The thought of you, sweet Helen, was my only saving grace.

We hunted for fish, tubers and greens. Exploring the jungle, I came across an immense object. Busted open along one side, it seemed an odd boat. It was rather too rounded, smooth, and dark. We crawled into its womb. It had tubular hallways, spare rooms, plus a pilot’s deck containing three bodies, desiccated and unpalatable to the tropical insects who’d normally clean flesh to skeleton within days. The corpses, about the size of a tall man, had ten tiny eyes, wide flattened bodies, and six thin angular limbs, spidery without fingers, thumbs or toes. Figuring them dead and gone, we took the empty rooms as shelter.

During our second night inside a soft gurgling noise roused us. Terrance found a thin rivulet of gelatinous water. We followed it to the corpses. The rivulet branched out like varicose veins, and connected to their bodies. At once and with a great shivering one of the corpses hooted! “Hooooo-loooooooo! Hoo! Hoo!”

Scared me to the core. Dennis said I jumped across the room. It gurgled, and then it said, “We accident. Lost one. Another injured. Ship injured. So sorry. We must complete repairs. Please help us?”

Like three of the great Darwin’s monkeys, Terrance, Dennis and I looked at each other and shrugged. Dennis declared, “We can help you!”

Oh Helen… you recall our sailor’s code… It is always best to help a fellow adventurer in need. Whether that means throwing a lifeline to a man overboard, or requiring extra labor on behalf of some unknowable monster of the deep: always help. Doing so makes you trustworthy. And that adds up to more business in the future. Material things are treasure, but so are good creative thinkers, especially if they recommend your honest labors to their associates. And these watery things seem to think. How could we not offer our aid?

We do plan to exchange work for passage to Nassau. I hope to arrive at your door soon. May our reunion be bright and full of kisses and sweet whispers.

With all and most heartfelt adorations, Antony

#

March the 1st, 1886, Nassau

Most handsome Antony,

To know you are well brought true joy to my heart. I grow most impatient. I will have you as my husband. Let us dispense with pleasant party-planning and be wed the moment you return to my embrace! But that is not why I am writing.

Admiral Clemens advised us that you are fortunate indeed during this time of confusion between gold and silver currencies. Given recent and urgent events, the kind Admiral has dispatched a naval ship with explicit orders to convey you here immediately. I have asked its captain to carry this letter to you as proof of our intent and goodwill.

As with many of your tall tales, your missive was quite entertaining. You are always so imaginative which I view as one of your many fine and alluring qualities. A month ago I would have never believed a word of it and would have simply rested happy in knowing you are well and in good humor.

It seems that word of your excellent repair work spread far and wide. Last night a dozen great dark eggs descended from the sky here in Nassau, and from them emerged six-limbed creatures, oh dear I do not know how to describe them.

It was as you said a shell containing an intellectualizing water. This being, this creature, requested that you, Terrance, and Dennis help with repairs to their flying craft. It was quite polite. It said you cam very well-recommended, that you are easy to work with. To be more precise, its word for you was ‘malleable.’

I told it that this was not a description I agree with, nor a compliment that would charm you into being more agreeable.

Nevertheless it claims it will pay you quite handsomely, in gold. Thus it appears there is a good measure of employment for you. Strange employment. But why not? Gold is gold, and as you implied, creativity has its own merits.

In response to the oddity of this situation, the Admiral is very concerned. The ramifications boggle the imagination: where did these creatures originate? How do their flying ships propel themselves? How did they learn to speak our language? Why do they need you to do their repairs? I think it is because they have no hands. I jest! We have no answers.

Clemens suggests you ought to come here, if for no other reason than to allow us to study these creatures. He promises a reliable commission if you agree to act as a liaison for the navy.

Many of the locals are quite afraid. I am not. As odd as their ten beady eyes can be, these creatures seem friendly if not a bit helpless. And as you said, the sailor’s code applies. They seem an intelligent and cooperative species, if you ask me, and they need and want our help.

My dear sweet man, I am so very heartsick in your absence. Please go with the Admiral’s captain, and arrive here as soon as possible! I intend to grab hold of you and kiss you many times.

All love, yours forever,

Helen

#

TELEPRINT: U.S. Government Official Business Only

Mark: CONFIDENTIAL

Date: March 15, 1887, Nassau

To: President Grover Cleveland

From: Admiral Clemens

Grover: Caribbean patrols remain ineffective. The old boys do not progress against the pirates, whose ships are very fast. Rarely we overtake them with wits and strategy, because speed is not our big ships’ ally.

Urgent: three local sailor-merchants started a stockyards in Port Nelson. Business is booming. They’ve hired a team of miraculous craftsmen. They make outstanding repairs and most puzzling. They even recommended design changes to our vessels, using new materials that will enable our large navy vessels to outrun any foe. We need this help. They work at a fever’s pace. I’d swear if I didn’t know better that their souls are on fire. Grover, I must insist that you visit.

No doubt our lads’ excellent Caribbean innovations may be put to military use in Boston or Providence. But as word gets out there’s bound to be a certain foreign influence of lucrative contracts. I have already arranged for a contingent of additional and well-trained security personnel. You’d best visit.

If nothing else, it is lovely here. Sun and beach would do you some good. Smoke an old stogie for us… I’ve sent by post a box of cigars for you. My very best regards to Frances (dare I ask? When are you two frisky young’uns going to have children?)

Signed, your old friend,

Sam

#

TELEPRINT: U.S. Government Official Business Only

Mark: CONFIDENTIAL

Date: March 25, 1887 Washington

To: Admiral Clemens

From: Office of the President of the United States of America

Dear Sam,

Thank you. Message understood. I’ve arranged to visit in late May. Best I can do while wrasslin’ with legislators. I expect, of course, that you are spinning a tall tale as always, a ruse to get me on vacation, which is precisely what we are calling this trip.

Frances sends her greetings. She is being very well-received by the murmurers and cognoscenti.

Best regards,

Grover

#

March 31st, Port Nelson

Dearest Helen,

Please write when you can. We get so lonely here, except for our work. I am unable to travel to Nassau, but please convey to the creatures that they could come to Port Nelson to our new stockyards. I believe we can repair any vessel no matter how strange.

The voice-thing taught us a magic called carbon-welding, a way of putting fibrous walls together without seams. I cannot understand how it worked. Yet we fabricated new walls and rebuilt its ship.

And believe me I was astonished when it helped us. Its boat did not sail, but flew, like a great albatross egg floating through the air. It let us ride inside the flying machine… a specialized, hardened hot air balloon? Hidden by the dark of night, we flew over Port Nelson and its orange campfires. It ejected us onto the beach. Dennis says the entire affair makes me look ‘forever shock-a-feared’ and I do worry my countenance might concern you.

Stranger still, the voice also showed us how it is made of sea-water, and can put itself in in the ship’s pipes like some kind of intelligent water. What we thought were corpses were like our diving suits, it said, “a protective armor.” It talked us through every step of repairs, an ocean of thought. It was odd to work with it. Too often I felt as if I were roused from a deep slumber, and a bit feverish.

It says it is mostly water, and that you and I are made of mostly water too. This I think is utter nonsense. I daresay it is quite odd, a watery thing, it often speaks about the stars. We do not, I think, have the same frame of reference.

Please convey my very best to your mother and sisters. Terrance would like to meet your sisters and hopes one is as wise as you.

Most adoringly,

Antony

#

TELEPRINT: U.S. Government Official Business Only

Mark: CONFIDENTIAL

Date: April 3, 1887 Nassau

To: Antony

From: Helen

Dearest Antony: Now that wiring for the Admiral’s astonishing teleprinter is stretched to Port Nelson, I’m sending you my first telegram. I will come to Port Nelson as soon as I can. I am not sure if I conveyed this correctly to these creatures. But I think they understand our intent and that you may help them. But first I must help my mother adapt to her new home. She has come down with a bit of a fever. But then I shall come to you and we shall be together. I expect to arrive in less than one week.

All love, yours forever, Helen

#

TELEPRINT: U.S. Government Official Business Only

Mark: CONFIDENTIAL

Date: April 12, 1887, Nassau

To: Grover

From: Admiral Clemens

Grover, please disregard my report of March 15th. I have been under the spell of a fever and was unable to write you last week. A wretched and unexpected illness, many of us here grew sick. Thank goodness for our fine surgeon, who nursed me and all of us through this terrible bout of haze. He remarked it may have been something in the water.

I’m delighted you made plans to visit. Unfortunately the matter is no longer urgent.

In fact we have a mystery on our hands. Just as we were crippled by fever and eight nights ago the entire stockyards, its owners and many hands and their families summarily disappeared. Damned shame. These were upstanding men and women, most industrious and inventive.

The stockyards operation is over and we must return to conventional repair practices.

Despite my fever I appointed a crack team of investigators. But there are few clues. Lacking evidence I cannot conclude any play whether foul or fair. I do fear they relocated to a foreign influence. It is very odd.

We managed to create a few top-secret photographs of their operation some weeks ago. Indeed if it were not for such imagery I would assume all of these events some kind of fever dream. Who would guess that strangers would visit us in flying orbs?

So, when you come for a visit please make it a vacation. We shall eat seafood, make a fine fire and smoke cigars like the old days. Please convey my very best to Frances. It was such a delight to attend your wedding of last year, a fine memory and celebration for everyone, not least of whom was your dear sister who seemed relieved no longer to be charged with the White House. Frances is a fine and warm individual. It does not surprise me that the Washingtonians would appreciate her contributions.

So do visit. For a vacation, of course.

Signed, your old friend,

Sam

#

Path:

Received: from [xxxxxx]

Subject: = RE: URGENT: new discovery

From: Sloane

Message-Id:

Date: Thu, 12 Jun 2016 08:51:13; encryption protocols

To: xxxxxxx

Hey G — Received the copies. And then promptly contacted by govt. They want the letters. Suggest you hand them over and live to fight another day. So far as I know President Cleveland never made a trip to the Caribbean. No chance this ever gets published. The letters must be a fraud. That has to be my official position.

Intelligent water? Our new motto shall have to be “I’ll drink to that!” ha-hah!

– Prof. Sloane

#

Path:

Received: from [xxxxxx]

Subject: = RE: RE: URGENT: new discovery

From: G

CC: Becca <xxxxxxx.xxxx@xxxxx.xxx

Message-Id:

Date: Thu, 11 Nov 2016 09:31:10; encryption protocols

To: Sloane

Sloane. This is Becca, G.’s older sister. I’m sorry I’m only just going through his things and emails now. Did you hear? G.’s gone. Following his disappearance six months ago, I’m finally cleaning up his office and came across your correspondence. I wanted to let you know he always spoke highly of your friendship. Last he and I met, he sold everything and became obsessed with all things boating. He bought a catamaran. The only witness report is that the harbor master says he set out and never came back. It’s been six months. He’s been declared lost at sea. He left a little note for you taped to an old glass bottle full of water. It says, “Drinks on me! To old and new friends!” Please call me or email if you ever hear anything from G. Please. We hope he may still be alive, somewhere. – Becca

***

Gregory Scheckler is Professor of Visual Art at MCLA.

Massachusetts author-artist Gregory Scheckler crafts visual art and science fiction. Recent books include Water Taxi in a River of Vampire Fish and Moon Dust Infinity. The novels StarFold and Biomimic will be available soon. He and his wife can often be found skiing, hiking and biking the Berkshires.”

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