The Pulse: Alberta

Prester John

Vulcan

As her body relaxed into the mattress, Beatrice imagined standing in the middle of the road for hours and still not seeing a thing. From the centre of the main intersection, she could see a grain elevator 10 miles to the north, 10 miles to the south, 10 miles to the east, and 10 miles to the west. Not a car in sight. How she longed for a pick-up truck to fly through the intersection at that very moment.

So when Antonio parked his Ferrari 300 GT next to the rickety sidewalk in front of Ovid’s Farmacy, and when Beatrice heard him brag about his twenty-room mansion in the suburbs of Calgarium, she was quick to bat her eyes and tighten the bulges of her camisole. 

Antonio was of course lying: he didn’t live in the suburbs of Calgarium at all. Instead, he lived in the suburbs of the little town of Black Diamond, about ten kilometres southwest of Calgarium.

Downtown Black Diamond, Alberta on Alberta Highway 22. Photo by Royalbroil (Wikimedia Commons)

Downtown Black Diamond, Alberta on Alberta Highway 22. Photo by Royalbroil (Wikimedia Commons)

Nor did he own a mansion — at least, not in the usual sense of the word. Rather, he owned a gothic horror house, with three stories of winding hallways and sunless chambers spiralling downward to a sunless sea. Beneath the sea, a rickety path led thirteen stories further into the stygian gloom. Below these, in almost total darkness, he built a series of bridges over rivers, and a network of tunnels under lakes that bubbled and smoked. He stocked the lakes and rivers with various man-eating reptiles and sodomy drones in anticipation of the visitors he planned to entertain there one day. He called this monstrosity Le Triste Manor.

Hell, Inferno Canto 34, Florence Baptistry, by Coppo di Marcovaldo, installation c. 1301 (Wikimedia Commons - coloured by RYC)


Hell, Inferno Canto 34, Florence Baptistry, by Coppo di Marcovaldo, installation c. 1301 (Wikimedia Commons - coloured by RYC)

Antonio described Black Diamond as if it were a Romantic Paradise — a savage place, yet holy and enchanted. It was a place where the secret seed of life could sprout like a beanstalk and he was free to climb to the margins of Heaven. Once on high, he’d take back what the Cloud Tyrant had taken from the hard working farmers and factory workers of the earth. He’d rip up the Tyrants laws and commandments, and inaugurate a dominion of unfettered freedom where everyone could do whatever the hell they pleased.

The story opened Beatrice’s eyes and made her feel that Antonio’s home in the clouds was the only place she could ever be happy.

Antonio failed to add that while the beanstalk grew quickly at first, climbing it was a bit precarious, since it was continually being hacked down by a jealous and unfair God who couldn't stand the fact that some things grew better in earth than they did in air. Antonio also failed to mention that when he got into the Cloud World he’d find the Magic Goose, and force her to spit out golden eggs for the rest of her productive life. He’d then toss her carcass to Old Rover, who would gnarl at the bones for a week.

Antonio knew that Beatrice was a sucker for stories about giants and magic kisses and chivalric imagery. This was because she’d spent her summers with her grandmother, Güsfreude, who lived a fairytale existence about twenty kilometres southwest of Black Diamond, in a place called Eden Valley. This valley can be found on a map, as can Vulcan and Black Diamond, yet it can also be found simply by opening a wardrobe, inside of which you will be sure to find a cold winter afternoon, a lion with a messianic complex, and a witch who will try to buy your soul in exchange for bright jiggling cubes of Turkish Delight.

Beatrice’s mind had been so badly bent by fairy tales that the only person who could understand her was the town priest, Prester John. For this was a man who had changed his name from Jasper Anderson to Prester John because he had faith that he would one day find the lost Christian kingdom of that legendary presbyter, descendent of the Three Wise Men.

Prester John of the Indies. Close-up from a portolan chart, late 16th century. Unkown author, from Wikimedia Commons.

Prester John of the Indies. Close-up from a portolan chart, late 16th century. Unkown author, from Wikimedia Commons.

Prester John had devoted his life to convincing people that water could be transformed into wine, that the surface tension of water was capable of supporting a grown man, that some human beings are in fact not human beings, that God was beyond human form yet nevertheless had a Son, and that this Son had been dead for two thousand years and yet was expected to come back to life any minute.  

To Beatrice, Prester John’s belief system made quite a bit of sense, although she found his story about the apple and the cross to be a confusing take on the story about the lion, the witch and the wardrobe. 

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