A Wild Seed Novel
Chapter 1 – Alexander
He came to the archives to meet me. Of course everyone was surprised to see that I had a visitor of any kind, let alone someone of his reputation and stature. Mr. Pligsley himself escorted Pekoe into my office.
“Alexander Snowden, you have a visitor. Dr Phillip Hanesworthy no less. Never let it be said that there’s a lack of miracles in this world!” he guffawed but Pekoe just fixed him with a cold smile and held the door.
“Thank you Mr. Pligsley. I’d like a word with Snow if you don’t mind,” said Pekoe.
The old Plig’s overgrown eyebrows went up. “Snow? Oh. Right then. Certainly.” He slowly backed out of the doorway, and retreated down the hallway. Pekoe closed the door with a snick and leaned against it.
“How can you stand old Piggly Wiggly?”
I smiled, having come to my feet the moment I saw them. “Well, he’s… I mean…”
“Well, in some ways.” I laughed but the sound came out dry like the panting of an anxious dog.
He came forward and held out his hand to me. I hesitated and then shook it. I dislike being touched and from the look on his face, I wondered if he could tell. His hand was warm and dry and I’m sure that mine was cold and clammy for I was quite taken to see him again.
“How have you been Snow?” he said dragging a chair from the corner and taking a seat in front of my desk. “I’ve missed you.”
I blinked. Missed me? I hadn’t seen him in six months. In truth, I’d never thought to have the occasion to see him again. I’d dreamed of looking him up and inviting him out, but I never would have had the courage to actually try it. We’d shared an odd couple of days after Bridge’s funeral and I doubted that he would want to be reminded of the whole disturbing business. Of course, saying you have missed someone is just a polite turn of phrase.
“I’m fine thank you Dr Hanesworthy. Was there something… I mean, that is, what brings you here?”
He frowned. “Please, call me Pekoe. I can’t get myself to answer to anything else I’m afraid. My father is Dr Hanesworthy. Far too confusing. I’m sorry to interrupt your work, but then I didn’t know where you lived. Do you have any plans for tonight?”
“Plans?” It took me a moment to remember what plans were to ordinary people. Certainly, he would not count staying here working late into the night as ‘plans.’
“Would you mind meeting me for dinner? I know it’s short notice.”
“My treat of course.”
“Oh… but that’s not necessary.”
“Is seven o’clock alright? I was thinking of Bistro Shallaza, do you know it?”
Of course I didn’t and when he confirmed that I didn’t have a automobile, he insisted on picking me up at my apartment. It was an agonizing afternoon of waiting.
He arrived early but I was already waiting outside of the building, having bathed, burned myself ironing and generally driven myself mad with wondering why he wanted to see me.
On the way to the restaurant, the automobile was noisy and he spoke loudly about his work over the rattle and roar. It was frightening to be inside the wild contraption as it tossed us around. It stank of bitter smoke and rank oil but it was wonderful as I only had to add small encouraging noises and the occasional shouted half question to keep him going. It seemed he was involved in some very difficult translations related to an archaeological dig and fitting all the pieces together was proving quite difficult.
I relaxed a bit thinking that this must be what he wanted help with. I never minded combing the archives for a colleague. Indeed the piles on my desk and all around my office were never all my own projects. Although there were many of those as well.
The restaurant was far more expensive than I had anticipated and I resigned myself to argue over the bill with him at the end of the meal despite the fact that I would have to dip into my savings to do so. I ordered the same entree as him as the menu swam before my eyes in a wave of daunting choices, and as luck would have it, there was a wine that he wanted to suggest which saved me having to fumble over what might be appropriate for the occasion, whatever the occasion was. He told me several tales of people from the boarding school we had both attended and then finally came to the point.
“So tell me Snow, have you had any more dreams? You know, of the strange kind?” His eyes were fixed on mine over the rim of his wine glass.
I looked up at him sharply. In fact, I’d hardly been sleeping at all and my dreams which began the moment I dropped off, were not normal in any sense.
“I… well, not like before.” In truth, it wasn’t really a dream that he was referring to but rather more of a visitation. Pekoe had seen me stagger at Bridge’s funeral and been kind to me. He’d met with me several times afterwards and helped me sort it out.
“I’m sorry does it still bother you? Perhaps I shouldn’t have asked.”
“No no. It’s fine.”
“So you haven’t dreamt of Bridge again?”
I shook my head. “Not since I… figured out what he wanted.”
“Huh. You see, the funny thing is, I have been. Dreaming of him that is.”
“Yes. And of you.”
“Oh?” I wonder if my voice sounded as shrill to him as it did to me.
“You’re always there, standing in the background.”
“Well, that is what I do best.” I tried to laugh and was saved from his staring eyes by the arrival of our food. We ate in silence for quite a while which was a relief to me, until he leaned back in his chair and regarded me.
“Standing in the background… why would you say such a thing Snow? I think I like this Pigsley of yours even less to hear you speak that way. Surely you realize that your work is highly regarded in the community.”
I had not, in fact, realized any such thing and felt my face heat with a mixture of shock and embarrassment. Who has ever heard of me? “Oh Mr. Pligsley isn’t so bad, really. I have… well, a great deal of freedom at the university. You know how they’ve linked all their collections now… Lots of interesting projects.”
“Oh? What are you working on now?” He went back to his meal and for the first time since I was a child, I actually strung sentences together and spoke to a person that I didn’t work with at length about what consumed my days and usually my nights as well.
“But didn’t you say that you only started this last month?” he asked. “How can you be so far along?”
“Well I have no family and no friends,” I stopped short and looked down at my plate realizing how pathetic I sounded. The flush returned to my face. “But the work, you know, I do love it.”
“Well your enthusiasm shows in your papers.”
“Your findings. They are always most detailed and well presented.”
“But… how did you… I mean… papers?”
“In the Quarterly. I’ve been following them for ages, didn’t I mention that last time? No perhaps there wasn’t the occasion to speak of such things. Here, I have your latest one in my bag.” He fished under the table and came up with a much bedraggled issue of the Antiquities and Archaeological Findings Quarterly Review. He folded it open at the dog eared page and handed it to me. I sat there and read the whole article, my head bent low over the pages.
“Snow? Are you quite alright?”
“I didn’t do this. I mean, it’s my work, but I’ve never… I didn’t submit it.” It was then that I recalled Miss Hennington taking notes on her ever present note pad when she was asking about my latest project. She had taken to doing that whenever my work sparked her interest but I hadn’t caught on to what she was about. “It must be… someone from the university.”
“Well that’s outrageous! Someone posing as you, how presumptuous! Would you like to speak to my lawyer? I’ve got a good one.”
“No no. It’s not like that. She was trying to be… well, I think it was meant as a kindness.”
“Ah, a woman.”
“Oh. Nothing like that of course.”
“So a friend then? I thought you said you didn’t have any.”
“It seems perhaps I was mistaken.”
“You certainly were. I’d say she and I make two.” I must have made a shocked face for he looked somewhat disconcerted. “Well, I don’t mean that you should consider me your friend of course if you don’t want to. But I can’t help but feel close to you after what happened.”
“Oh.” There was an awkward silence in which I blinked perhaps fifty times in rapid succession.
“I’m sorry Snow but there was a favour that I wanted to ask and now it’s going to sound as if I’ve been buttering you up. I should have asked you at the library but I was afraid you wouldn’t come to dinner if I told you. I’ve been meaning to look you up since I got back.”
“Oh didn’t I say? I’ve been away. The dig is abroad and I’ve been more there than here. But the truth is I wasn’t sure that you’d be happy to see me again.”
“Well, I thought you might rather be shed of the whole mess… that I might bring it all back on top of you. You were clearly distressed by the dreams and the visions. I didn’t want to intrude.
“I thought you might feel that way as well.”
“About you?! Of course not. It was fascinating. I don’t want to sound like I was enjoying myself when you so clearly were not, but…”
“You liked it?”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it that way, but well, it was rather exciting. I’m a scholar Snow. Don’t all scholars love something out of the ordinary?”
“Well ‘out of the ordinary’ does tend to follow me around.”
“Things like this have happened before?”
“You could say that,” my laugh came out too loudly and I hunched my shoulders as if that could brace me against the glances of the other people in the restaurant. “I have a streak of the bizarre.”
He looked up at my hair and raised his eyebrows. My hair had turned pure white the night my parents had died and lately I’d let it grow, more out of an aversion to barbers fingers than anything else. Once it had reached my ears, I’d been able to cut the ends even myself in the mirror. Now it fell to my shoulders in waves. I always tied it back, but I’d washed it after rushing home from the library and then had become embarrassed at having made the effort in the middle of the day and so let it loose in hopes that it would dry before he picked me up. I tucked it behind my ear.
“I suppose it shows,” I tried to smile.
“Yes. I suppose it does.” He smiled back but there was nothing critical or displeased about the look on his face. He seemed to find me… interesting. I couldn’t quite credit it. I was used to people looking past me at someone else, or glancing at me either warily or with impatience.
“Now, I’m sorry, I’m keeping you in suspense. The favour.” He laced his hands together and bit the dry skin of his bottom lip avoiding my gaze. “Well, there’s been a spot of trouble at the dig. People falling sick. Others having strange accidents. Most people think it’s just an unlucky chain of events but there are many who’ve quit the project entirely, some making excuses and some coming out and saying it.”
“That the site is cursed.”
“Yes. Rather. I’d like to say that it’s all poppycock, but having been down there, well… I can’t bring myself to brush it off entirely. We found human remains, very old but that’s never bothered me before. There’s a feeling down there, like an oppressive cloud hovering in the air. It reminded me of the feeling around you at the funeral. I’ve often felt that there are things that we just don’t know that much about yet, for all man’s arrogance in the scientific arts.”
“So what do you say? Will you come and have a look at the site? I know it’s time away from your work, but I’m betting that old Piggly will pay for the trip. I can’t believe he didn’t tell you about the publications. Surely he must read them.”
“Right. Well perhaps… no… he would have known it wasn’t me. I think… perhaps he knew I wouldn’t like the attention.”
“But it’s good for the university and so he wouldn’t want you to put a stop to it. I’d go in there mad as hell if I were you. Threaten to leave him. You’ll have him eating out of your hand in ten minutes. I wonder if you know how lucky they are to have you.”
“It’s not like that, I assure you. I’m just… the one who knows the archives best.
“Well, certainly that’s a great asset but you’ve got far more to offer than that Snow. Your articles are very well regarded.”
“But I didn’t even write those!” Part of me was shocked to hear the sound of my own voice and as eager to escape as a moth in a jar. Yet, another part dreaded the end of the meal when I would have to say goodnight to him.
“You think any of the people in there have written the article themselves? Of course not! They all have private secretaries or interns that interviewed them just like your friend did. Why they probably don’t even do their own research. The difference is they have bigger offices than you and, I dare say, earn more and are treated better.”
“Well I can’t vouch for what she wrote. I haven’t even read them.”
“I’ll tell you what; I have the whole collection in my flat. After dinner, I’ll take you up there and you can borrow the lot of them. Don’t you have your own subscriptions with your office?”
“Well you should ask for that too, on top of a new office and a raise in salary.”
“I don’t need that. I’m fine with things as they are.”
“Well, you’d be in a better position to help out your friend if you had a better standing there. You could take her on as your assistant.”
“Oh she wouldn’t like that.”
“Your colleague then. It can’t be easy for a woman in that place. So what do you say?”
“Will you come?” All I could think about was his apartment.
“Wonderful! I’ll check in with you tomorrow about dates and passage and such.”
Passage?! And then it struck me that he was talking about going abroad and I didn’t see any way that I could correct my clear affirmative without mentioning coming up to his apartment which sounded horribly over-eager to my own ears. Finally, I interrupted.
“That is, I’ll ask Mr. Pligsley, but I can’t say for certain if he will agree to it. He may not want to fund such a trip. The library’s budget might not allow for such extravagances.” In fact, I knew for certain that having declined to pay for a subscription to the Quarterly, Mr. Pligsley was certainly not going to fund a trip to anywhere.
“Well don’t worry about that. Are you done with your dinner? I must say I don’t have room for dessert after all that, do you?” He sipped the last of his wine.
“No no, I’m fine.” I sipped my own glass and realized that the bottle stood empty on the table. He had topped up my drink several times and I had drunk more than I’d intended to. He excused himself and I had a moment alone to review what I’d said. I couldn’t think of anything too terrible that had escaped my lips, but surely that would happen later when I was lying awake in bed as I would surely do for the entire night. Perhaps I should just go back to the library. But of course he had driven me and I couldn’t very well ask to be dropped off there so late in the evening.
I was considering if it would be worth the walk from my flat to the university at this hour when he put his hand on my shoulder. I flinched away before I could help it. I hadn’t heard him approach from behind me and looked up to see a dismayed look flit across his face. He quickly pasted on a smile.
“Shall we go? I’ve paid the bill,” he said.
“Oh! I’d hoped to pay it myself.” I stood up too quickly and felt the room bobble around me.
“Nonsense. I’ll expense it. We did talk about work didn’t we?” He smiled wickedly. “Come on, I just live around the corner. I confess I always eat here. I never tire of excellent food.” He held open the door and I slipped past him into the cool of the night.