The Hopeful Wanderer 24 – Cat Curiosity

Upon a stone fence along a country road, a cat rested in the warm sunshine. It was doing that thing cats do where they stare into space at something invisible, perhaps at a lingering spirit, perhaps at a mere dust mote. This cat’s eyes moved back and forth, like the perpetual swinging of a clock’s pendulum. Curious and lulled with the heady scent of lavender and honeysuckle, I paused next to it. Squinting in the direction of its gaze, I expected to perhaps find that the passing of a distant train or something had its attention.

After a moment, the cat said to me, “What do you see?”

Excitement surged through me; at last I could ask a cat why cats did this. I said, “Nothing that I expected.” Certainly, no train or anything else of interest appeared in this direction. “What about you?”

“I see the passage of time,” the cat replied. “Streaming and streaming and streaming by.”

I blinked, at once uneasy. “And… how does time appear?”

“Like a road of stars leading into eternity. But the ones which have passed glow brighter than those still to come.” Now the cat looked at me. I saw its pupils had become ticking hour and minute hands, spinning around the clock faces of its eyes. “Your time is running out, Wanderer.”

The afternoon closed in, the musty scent of rot rising with the wind. I took a cautious step backward. Though my heart tapped against my collarbone at this brush with the future, I kept my voice calm. “Time runs out for all eventually.”

The cat returned its gaze to the horizon. “Small comfort, that. But if you must.”

I hurried on down the path, prickling with the sense that as the cat watched time, it also watched me.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 23 – Concerned Cloud

At the top of the world, I approached a cloud that had come to rest on the tallest mountain peak. Though a rocky path indicated this as a thoroughfare, the cloud had remained for days and days, obscuring passage and worrying the locals, who asked me to climb up and negotiate.

“The people need to pass this way,” I told the cloud. Wind eased around my clothes and tugged chill fingers through my hair. “Please return to the sky.”

Foggy particles of moisture thickened, blocking my vision until I could no longer even see my feet. I had the cloud’s attention.

“If I go, they will come with me.” Its voice was muffled, like someone speaking from beneath a blanket. It sounded big and old. “Whisked away to the clouds yet too heavy to float upon air.”

“Who?” I asked.

“Follow their calls.”

I heard nothing but my own breathing. But then, distantly, thinly, a sound reached me; a damp cry of distress. Following it, I found I had to leave the guiding safety of the path and plunge into the blank depths of the fog.

“Can you not release them?” I asked, hesitating.

“They are enthralled,” the cloud replied, “following wherever I move. You must lead them out.”

I stepped off the path, making scuff marks in the mud as I went, to follow back. Down the mountainside, huddled beneath a bank of rocks, I found people, shivering and miserable. The slack in their bags showed they had used up their supplies.

A hollow-eyed man gazed pleadingly at me. “Help. We’ve been here so long.”

On the way back, my scuff marks had filled with rainwater, as if the cloud wept. It vanished as we passed out of its boundaries, relieved to at last be freed from the ground.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 22 – Living Art

Beneath the tiny bristles of a street artist’s paintbrush, an alien landscape spread across what had once been a blank wall. I caught glimpses of her progress in flashes, around the bodies of people moving up and down the sidewalks between us. Some of these, like me, stopped to watch, mouths open and faces tipped upward as the painting spread, higher and farther outward, seemingly on its own. Those unimpressed jostled us on their way by, cursing our wonder. But even these dwindled as more and more of the crowd stilled, mesmerized.

Soon, no sound broke the quiet but the scrape of paint against brick. All motion had ceased, every face turned toward the mural and its creator. She ignored us, big green hat flopping around, focus zeroed in on her work. At last, the spread of paint began to slow, revealing tufty trees and floating, geometric shapes, sparkling planets, and long-limbed creatures cavorting across unimaginable worlds. Yet the artist had imagined it, and from her work, vitality resonated. People began crowding in, hands outstretched toward the spark of life within the mural.

Before anyone could get too close, the artist’s gaze snapped to the crowd, burning with molten fire deep within her irises. She held her arms out, protecting the painting with her body. “Don’t touch it,” she snarled. Those in the front halted in surprise, faces shamed. Her expression softened some. “Wait until it’s dry. Then,” she gazed up at her creation, “do what you want.”

A breath passed in which we basked in the warmth radiating from the stunning work. Then the artist gathered up her paints. She just managed to squeeze free of the roaring crowd as they surged forward to rest their cheeks against the painted wall. As she walked off, she didn’t look back.


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Book Review: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

When I got the hankering to reread The Rook, I thought I’d give it a review this time. 

The Rook Synopsis

“The body you are wearing used to be mine.” So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

(Via Goodreads)

About Daniel O’Malley

Dan O’Malley graduated from Michigan State University and earned a Master’s Degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He then returned to his childhood home, Australia. He now works for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, writing press releases for government investigations of plane crashes and runaway boats.

(Via Daniel O’Malley’s website)

My Thoughts

I read The Rook by Daniel O’Malley just before its sequel, Stiletto, released back in 2016. I loved it then and when I got the hankering to reread it (or a third book, which doesn’t seem to be in production, unfortunately), I thought I’d give it a review this time around.

What I Liked

Plot

Supernaturals + British secret agents = secret service superheroes. The basic premise of The Rook gives off X-Men vibes but the execution lands more within the realm of humorous and relatable James Bond, just with superpowers that involve licking things or venting toxins or diplomacy. Plus it features so many ladies playing active roles, impacting the narrative, and kicking ass. The playful tone puts me in mind of Artemis, just with even more women for fun and sharp banter. Also, while multiple characters maintain or express a desire for companionship, there’s only the barest hint of possible romance, leaving all the focus on the mysteries of the story.

Characters

The main character of The Rook, Mifanwy Thomas, cracks me up. Her internal monologue as she struggles to cope with the weird world of the Checquy she’s landed in entertains from start to finish, manifesting even more so in her dialogue and interactions with other characters. I like that she gets to have and wield power and authority as she fights for the respect she never earned pre-amnesia.

Mifanwy also builds and maintains friendships with another powerful woman in her organization, her very capable secretary, and a new friend outside of work. Beyond these, she displays pettiness and flaws, weaknesses and fears, criticisms and thoughts, awkwardness and a propensity to make mistakes. Well-rounded and badass.

Themes

The main aspect of interest here is the exploration of personality sans emotional trauma. With Mifanwy’s memories, and therefore all past traumatic events that would have shaped her into the timid, mousy woman she had become before her amnesia, wiped away through nefarious events, the narrative poses a question: who are we meant to be? How does PTSD alter that? How actively do traumatic events shape an individual? The narrative of The Rook implies that the answer is very as it presents the same woman as two totally different people.

Ending

Twist on twist on twist makes the climax of The Rook. While all kinds of other mini- and sub-plots get sprinkled throughout the narrative, the main plot itself gets so many loose ends tied up altogether at the same time. The intricacies of all the moving parts weaving together at once like that makes for a satisfying ending.

What I Disliked

Nothing. I love The Rook.

Recommendations

I’d recommend The Rook to fans of James Bond, the X-Men, and dry British humor.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.12


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The Hopeful Wanderer 21 – A Way Marker

There was a light shining from beneath the sand. I spied it while walking along the seashore late on a moonless night, chilly surf chuckling around my bare toes. Just a steady glow ringing a patch of emptiness. I guess I already knew what it was when I started digging there, because this had happened a few times now. Not the sand part or the buried part, but the light. I wondered what object would contain it this time, which direction it would seek to send me.

Cold, wet sand scraped against my fingertips and packed beneath my nails as I shoveled mounds aside. Soon my fingers struck a metal handle and, tugging it, I dragged up a lantern caked in muck. When I washed it off in the nearby sea, it turned out to be new and red as blood.

The lantern was full of stardust. Bright, glittering shards, fine as powder, rolled around within the glass globe as I set it upon the sand. The light of ancient stars cast outward from the hearts of these, shining across the waves as far as the horizon and reflecting bright as day off nearby dunes. But its most intense light shot off in one direction. A beam, pointing north and just slightly west, angling away from the sea, bending maybe a little more than the last one had. I consulted the time and the constellations above to verify. Then I shrugged. Now I knew the course, I would get around to following the way marker’s direction eventually.

Gaze following the beam, I wondered where these markers were meant to lead. Yet, somehow, I felt no inclination to follow. Disquiet settled over me. Nothing like sensing danger and everything like being lost.

Who kept leaving these behind?


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The Hopeful Wanderer 20 – Catching Strays

Pure white light blazed in my eyes. A moment before, it had been the kind of vast, empty night that only farmland can offer. Corn rows marching away into the distance. Stars blazing overhead, etched sharply against the shapes of distant trees and a cluster of silos on the horizon. No artificial light for miles around, save for my own flashlight. Now I couldn’t see anything.

Throwing a hand up, I shielded my eyes, squinting against the intense glow from down the dirt road. Beyond it, I could just make out a hulk of green metal, dark rubber wheels rising higher than my head. Light reflected from cab windows above like the eyes of a wild animal. A row of long, sharp teeth glinted across the front.

A growl. Loud and rumbling, shaking the earth beneath my feet. Diesel smoke drifted to me on the still air, thick and sooty. The light grew brighter, nearer. Then those teeth started up, crashing together.

I stood right in the way, there on the road.

My boots sank into mud as I stepped off into the irrigation ditch. The combine rolled past me and I snagged a metal rung, swinging myself up the side, my mucky boots clanging mutely as I clambered toward the cab. The combine paused to examine a nearby irrigation system, ignoring me.

The cab door popped open. I plopped down into the patched driver’s seat, giving the dashboard an affectionate pat. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you,” I said, or rather, yelled over the engine roar. There was a reason why farm gates had to stay shut: combines would test any escape opportunity. Even worse than tractors. “Let’s get you back home.”

Catching the wheel, I angled us toward the barn, radioing the farmer to meet us there.


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The Hopeful Wanderer 19 – Butterfly Breaths

I drew in several deep breaths and blew them out, preparing to hold as long as I could. By my count, the constant practice while traversing this twilit forest had me up to a solid two minutes, though I still struggled. I had a feeling two minutes wouldn’t be long enough for what I wanted to see.

Gloom saturated a grassy glade where I sat with my back against a tree trunk, damp earth soaking my pants. A faint path passed through this, the very heart of the forest, on my left, ambling around a massive fallen oak tree. The log itself was ancient, mossy, rotten. Yet locals had detailed strange sightings here, even traded me the trick for getting a glimpse myself. I had to try.

Deep breaths. In and out. It would be worth the price I paid to see this even for just two minutes. Right as dusk changed to night, I sucked in as much air as I could and held. Instantly my heart rate jack-rabbited but I ignored its rapid beat, eyes trained on the log before me, straining in the dark.

A moment passed, two. Faint tinkling jingled through the air. Then a tiny golden glow flared on the log, emanating from a pale mushroom, cap glittering. Scores more followed, dotting the log, shining upon the glade like sunrise. Bejeweled blue butterflies appeared in the air, floating languidly above the glinting mushrooms, each carrying their own sparkling glimmer. Several flapped over to me, alighting in my hair, one on my nose. It smelled like sugar.

Lungs burning, I gasped. The glade went dark, butterflies vanished, the tinkling replaced with mere forest noises, punctuated by my rapid breaths.

I grinned and pumped my fist. That time, I had made it two and half minutes.


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