Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Last European. Chapter One.

Note to the reader: The Last European is a sequel to a novel I wrote a few years back called The Mortal and the Demon, but it is not necessary to have read the first novel in order to understand the sequel.
That Gnome was scarce an earthly man,
If the tales where true that of him ran
I will not presume to take the central part in the drama I intend to relate in these pages, but I hope that I can at least, like Horatio, render an accurate account "to th' yet unknowing world, How these things came about."

Eight years ago at age fourteen, I wrote about something that happened to me between the ages of twelve and thirteen. What happened, in plain English, was that I gave my soul over to the devil through an intermediary, an evil gnome named Rankin. A man named Bulkington placed himself between me and Rankin and the devil. At great risk to himself, Bulkington managed to free me from Rankin and Rankin's superior. I was an atheist prior to my experience with Rankin and a convert to Bulkington's Christian faith after my rescue.

At first I was a member of the Catholic Church because a priest named Father Gordon had attempted to aid me in my struggle with Rankin. But when Father Gordon was removed from his parish for 'disciplinary reasons' which, as far as I could see, amounted to nothing more than a love for Christ and his fellow man, I ceased attending their services. I was seventeen at that time. Since then I have been, for want of a better term, an unchurched Christian. There are a lot of people out there, some well-meaning and some not so well-meaning, who will tell you why you must attend their church. But I prefer having some faith and remaining unchurched to joining a church and losing all of my faith. But I really do not intend to get into a big argument over the pros and cons of church attendance. I just put it out there for those people who don't like to read anything until they know the religious denomination of the author.

Two other people were directly involved in my previous adventure. They were Sean and Mary Fitzgerald. They both are my age and they both suffered for my sake. I consider them my sister and brother just as much as I would if they were blood.

Sean and Mary, like me, were without a father growing up. In Sean and Mary's case, it was because their father died when they were quite young. In my case, my father left my life on the day I was born. My mother handed custody of me over to Mrs. Fitzgerald when I was thirteen, and she now lives in Canada. If you read the first Bulkington narrative, you will know that I was born and raised in Linwood, a town off the coast of Maine, and that my name is James Duncan.

Linwood is a small town with approximately 1,000 people living in it. I moved to Lancaster, a somewhat larger town with a population of 10,000 last year, because I simply couldn't get anything but part-time jobs in Linwood. Lancaster is about 40 miles west of Linwood. I've been a police officer here for the last eight months. The work so far has not been difficult.

Lancaster, although bigger than Linwood, is not a metropolitan area. The police force provides two car coverage, one man per car, twenty-four hours a day. I've made four D.U.I. arrests, six disorderly conduct arrests, and written some fifty plus traffic tickets, but I have yet to handle anything (and I hope I never will) that would get me on one of those reality cop story shows.

Before I explain why, having no interesting cop stories to tell, I've taken pen in hand after a eight year hiatus, I want to say something about the Fitzgeralds and Bulkington.

I did not say a whole lot about Mrs. Fitzgerald in my narrative eight years ago because I didn't know her that well at the time and because I was principally concerned with presenting the true story of Bulkington's encounter with Rankin and the devil. Now, having lived with Mrs. Fitzgerald for seven years, I can see her more clearly. I won't call her a saint because that word has been overused, but I will call her a loving, caring, Christian woman. She married Sean Patrick Fitzgerald, a writer, when he was 50 and she was 30. Six years later, Mr. Fitzgerald died, leaving her with four-year old twins.

She saw the way the world was going and steadfastly refused, despite the constant harassment of school and church, to send her children to school. She educated them at home and kept a roof over her and her children's heads with a home-based arts and craft business and the interest from Mr. Fitzgerald's life insurance policy, which she had invested.

Fidelity and charity are the words that come to my mind when I think of Mrs. Fitzgerald. Fidelity to her dead husband, whom she never regards as dead, fidelity to her children, and fidelity to her Lord. I love the woman. She has shown me an unfathomable charity that I did nothing to merit.

Mrs. Fitzgerald's maiden name was Elizabeth Grenville. She came from High Church, English stock. She never converted to her husband's faith but always joined in on the family rosary and often attended mass with her children until the situation in the Church became intolerable. Of course now she no longer attends either the Anglican or the Catholic churches. Her Christianity runs deeper than the Christianity of the various modern churches.

Mary has many of the qualities of her mother. She is fiercely loyal to those she loves and intensely fierce towards the forces aligned against those she loves. One trait that Mary shares with her father and not her mother is an unquenchable thirst for the stories and folklore of old Europe. Her father wrote his own fairy stories based on the old folklore of Europe, and he also did illustrations for some of the classic tales such as the ones found in the Brothers Grimm. In many ways, but particularly in her love for the old folkways and faith of the European people, Mary is a kindred spirit to Bulkington.

Mary has not changed one bit in the last eight years. Yes, she has blossomed into a full-grown woman, but her spiritual makeup has remained the same. She reminds me (Bulkington introduced me to Walter Scott's novels) of Flora MacIvor from Walter Scott's novel, Waverly. In that novel, Flora MacIvor gave her heart and soul to the Stuart cause. When the cause failed, she entered a convent. I think if there were real convents still, Mary would do the same as Flora MacIvor when her cause failed. Only in Mary's case, the cause is not just one royal line, it is the whole of old Europe – the Europe of chivalry, of noblesse oblige, and above all, of Christianity. But the cause, in Mary's eyes, is not yet lost. Not as long as Bulkington lives. That might seem like a ridiculous notion, that the European cause and one American fisherman named Bulkington are synonymous, but it would not seem that farfetched to you if you knew Bulkington.

Is Mary in love with Bulkington the man or with the cause he represents? I'm not an expert on such matters, but I know that what Mary loves about the old Europe is that it was anti-abstraction. Old Europe championed the personal God over the abstract gods and the particular human being over humanity as an aggregate herd. So if one fully absorbs old Europe into one's blood, then such a person can never love in the abstract but only in the particular. Am I raving? I don't think so. And in a few pages, I'll tell you why I'm not raving. In the meantime, how would I answer the question: Is Mary in love with Bulkington the man or with the cause of old Europe? I would say both – for the cause and the man are one.

Whether Bulkington feels anything of a romantic nature for Mary is more than I can gauge. But should they marry, I would be delighted. I love Mary, but as a sister. And I love Bulkington as the heart of my heart and the blood of my blood.

It doesn't mean I look on Sean as Sean the lesser if I give him less space in this introduction than the rest. Sean is Sean. He is the straight-forward, "stout lad" type that every Robin Hood and Scarlett Pimpernel-type band needs if its counterrevolution is to succeed. He would march into hell for my sake, and as a matter of fact he did, some nine years ago.

And now for Bulkington, who was and is the subject of my narrative. I first met Bulkington ten years ago when he saved me from a beating by a local bully. He was thirty then and I was twelve. Today at 40, he seems the same man spiritually and physically that he was at age thirty. He still lives on the outer rim of Linwood, still makes a meager living as an independent fisherman, and still fights battles with the powers of darkness. He was fighting Rankin when I first met him, but Rankin has not been around Linwood for some time now. I think after his failure in the case of James Duncan, he was demoted or something. But I really can't say for sure. Bulkington still does battle with Satan's minions though. He just doesn't fight Rankin any longer.

Why does Bulkington do battle with demons? Because he feels it is his vocation to do so. And why is that, you ask? Well, if you sit back in your easy chair for a few moments, I'll tell you.

I didn't hear all I'm about to relate about Bulkington in one day. He told me bits and pieces of his life story over the course of ten years. What follows is a bare sketch of his life as he related it to me.

Bulkington does not know precisely where he was born. Nor does he know who his parents were. His earliest childhood memories were of a dock along a waterfront. He later came to know that the dock was in Wooten, Maine, a coastal town north of Linwood, near the Canadian border. He grew up like Magwitch of Great Expectations as a 'varmint.' Magwitch was a streets-of-London varmint and Bulkington was a waterfront varmint. From a woman, quite old, Bulkington knew his birth date and the fact that his mother was an American of Welsh descent and his father was an American of Scottish descent. Their names were either not known by the old women or else she didn't care to divulge them.

The old woman (he never knew her name) took care of him as a child, but at her death, which Bulkington witnessed at age seven, he became a child of the wharf. He picked seaman's pockets, fished, and stole to keep going. Why his parents abandoned him is something Bulkington never discovered. Did they both die at sea or in some other accident? Or did they simply leave him with the old woman and relocate? The second alternative seemed too inhuman for Bulkington to accept. He always believed that his parents had died tragically, and that the old, somewhat addle-headed woman had taken care of him to the best of her limited capacity.

So from age seven on, it was a varmint's life for Bulkington. During the warmer months, he slept out, and during the colder months, which are numerous in Main, he figured out what houses he could sneak into in order to get a warm night's sleep in the basement. It seems incredible that in this day and age when everyone is catalogued and numbered someone could grow up as Bulkington did, uncategorized and unsocialized, and without any ties to the community or nation in which he was born.

Bulkington started going to sea as a cabin boy when he was ten. He went out on predominantly foreign ships or fly-by-night American ones that didn't care about parental permission and didn't ask any questions about him. He didn't even have a definite name at the time. The old woman had alternately called him Bill and Ed.

His cabin boy status changed from cabin boy to seaman as he grew up. And he certainly did grow up. By the time he reached manhood, he was 6'8" tall and weighed 265 pounds. He learned to read and write through a fortunate misfortune. At eleven he fell overboard while working on a fishing schooner doing some illegal fishing off the coast. When Bulkington was fished out of the water it was obvious that his injuries were not slight. The captain, a man who knew what his priorities were, shipped Bulkington off to his sister's house in Linwood rather than to a hospital because he feared "questions."

The sister was a 60-year-old retired maiden librarian. During the six-month convalescence period, the Captain's sister taught Bulkington to read and write. When he went back to sea, he went back with a love for reading and with an undying love and affection for the Captain's sister. He never failed to take two or three books with him on every sea voyage and never failed to stop in and see the maiden librarian when he returned to shore. Linwood became his home base.

Bulkington's taste in reading, which was strongly influenced by the Captain's sister, tended toward the old books. He read all of Scott, Dickens, Shakespeare, and the Brothers Grimm. He also read the King James Bible as well, but I don't think he made any conscious commitment to Christianity during those formative years. He was still very much a varmint (his word) despite all of his reading.

He also read tales of the sea, which is how he came to be called Bulkington. At age 14 he read Herman Melville's Moby Dick. In that book there is a character named Bulkington who Melville used to symbolize the spiritual side of man. Bulkington, the Bulkington of Moby Dick, finishes a long sea voyage and immediately signs up for another voyage.

The Lee Shore.

Some chapters back, one Bulkington was spoken of, a tall, newlanded mariner, encountered in New Bedford at the inn.

When on that shivering winter's night, the Pequod thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves, who should I see standing at her helm but Bulkington! I looked with sympathetic awe and fearfulness upon the man, who in mid-winter just landed from a four years' dangerous voyage, could so unrestingly push off again for still another tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his feet. Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that's kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship's direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights 'gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea's landlessness again; for refuge's sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!

Know ye now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?

But as in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless, indefinite as God--so, better is it to perish in that howling infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land! Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray of thy ocean-perishing--straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!

From the moment he read that passage, the varmint with the two indefinite first names became Bulkington. The sea was his livelihood, but the maiden librarian was his soul. When he wasn't at sea, he was with her. Her full name was Elizabeth Ashley McKenzie. To Bulkington, Miss McKenzie was the mother he had never had. The old woman who raised him till he was seven, he reflected later, had to have had some good traits in order to have taken care of an orphaned child for seven years, but Bulkington's memories of her were tainted with the memory of her drunken, violent rages. With Miss McKenzie there were no such harsh memories. The only loving kindness he had ever experienced came from Elizabeth McKenzie, which is why Bulkington took her death, when he was twenty, so hard.

When he told me about it he made no attempt to excuse what he became. "I was a wild, enraged man, actually more beast than man, who wanted to strike back at God for killing Miss McKenzie. And since I couldn't hit back at God directly, I decided to strike back at Him by striking His creatures."

For two years Bulkington carried out his "program of vengeance." He chopped up stones from Fisherman's Point and loaded them into an old army surplus backpack. Then he would run with the pack on his back up and down the rocky hill leading to Fisherman's Point. He did pushups at the top of the hill and pushups at the bottom of the hill. And he ran up and down that half-mile hill at least 25 times a day.

At night Bulkington went into the bars to start fights. He didn't care how many men he fought or how hard he got hit, so long as he got a chance to hit back. And hit back he did. But it started to get too easy. Right from the start he had the size and power to make a formidable fighting man, but as he gained experience he became virtually unconquerable in any type of 'no holds barred' brawl. It didn't matter after awhile whether there were two men, three men, or a small mob; Bulkington after two years experience found that he could defeat his opponents with ridiculous ease. He needed a bigger challenge.

So at age twenty-two, he decided to stop venting his rage on God's creatures and to go after God instead. He signed on to a ship scheduled to be at sea for six weeks. On the second night out, Bulkington slipped overboard and issued a challenge to God. "Take whatever form you will, be it shark or whale or worse, just let me have at you."

Now, I know this all sounds quite absurd to the enlightened 21st century mind, but you must remember that Bulkington was not really a man of the 21st or the 20th century. He certainly knew what we call the facts of life, but he had only a rudimentary knowledge of science. He knew Walter Scott and the fairy stories of Europe, but he knew nothing of the Western philosophical or scientific heritage. And because of his lack of "scientific" knowledge, Bulkington believed, much more firmly than anyone else born in the 20th century, in a personal God. But because of Miss McKenzie's death, he believed in a personal, malevolent God. And he believed that such a malevolent God would accept his challenge and meet him in hand-to-hand combat in the middle of the ocean.

He swam for hours without feeling any fatigue and without encountering any creature of the sea with whom he could do battle. But during the 12th hour of his swim, he had what he described to me as a "Road to Damascus experience."

Bulkington has only told a few people about his experience that night (I was the first person he told), and it's funny – no one is more apt to deride the type of spirituality that needs a daily dose of private revelations to sustain it than Bulkington – but it was Bulkington who was granted a private revelation. He doesn't expect anyone to believe in his private revelation, nor is he offended if they don't, but he has quietly related to a few of his close friends that it was indeed Him he heard and saw that night and not the fantasies of an exhausted swimmer.

As he said, "I was not exhausted; in fact I felt quite fresh. All of my senses were functioning. I was still hoping to encounter Him in the form of some deadly sea creature. Then, from some part of the ocean which seemed miles away, I heard a voice calling my name. It was a gentle but at the same time insistent voice. I strained my eyes trying to find the source of the voice. I found it. It was Him. He was walking toward me. I kept swimming toward Him. When I came to within a yard of him, I stopped swimming and merely treaded water. He was not a shadowy, ghostly figure. He was a man of flesh and blood. And the eyes… I shall never forget the eyes. He didn't speak once I was near Him. He didn't have to. I knew what He was saying. And I knew who He was. I stood up on top of the water and then immediately dropped to my knees before Him. I felt so ashamed. This was the man I had hated? This was the man I had blamed for Miss Mackenzie's death? Oh, No! I knew Him now. I had always known Him. Every line Shakespeare ever wrote pointed to Him; every Walter Scott hero pointed to Him. The great destroyer? No! He was the greater preserver. Miss McKenzie, my parents, and every soul ever born, lived and breathed because of Him. And yet there was an incredible loneliness surrounding Him. He needed my love. Incredible as it might seem, I knew he needed me. My existence depended on Him, and His existence did not depend on me, but He needed me. All of this and more, more than I can describe, I saw in His eyes.

"I know what people would say if they heard that story, James. They wouldn't believe it, or they would say I had been hallucinating. And I don't blame them. But I'm telling you James, because you were there when He came to me a second time, and because you're my friend. But I've got to tell you, James, that our Faith can't be based on divine revelations. First comes belief, a belief that He planted in our hearts, and then, if He so chooses, comes the private revelations. But the private revelations are useless without that divine presence, His divine presence, in our hearts. He's there. Come hell or high water, He is always there."

Swimming to shore was a feat beyond even Bulkington's capacity, but it was not beyond his capacity that night. He swam back to shore without fatigue. And he walked back to his house in Linwood with the determination similar to that of Saul of Tarsus after he became St. Paul.

There was still the question of "How should I then live?" Bulkington had the zeal to serve His Lord, but what skills did he have? He was twenty-two and he knew how to fish and how to fight. Could the Lord use such a man? Six months later he got his answer. A friend came to him with a problem that involved a devilish gnome named Rankin.[1] Bulkington had his vocation.

It's a funny thing about Rankin. He stayed on the devil's staff for about a year after his failure in the case of, well, in the case of me, James Duncan. But after that he disappeared. For the last eight years, Bulkington had not seen Rankin, nor had I. Bulkington thought the devil had kept him on for a year until he found a suitable replacement. For awhile I was haunted by the thought of seeing Rankin again, but he had long ceased to haunt my dreams when there he was standing right in front of me in the bedroom of my apartment.

"Hello, James. Long time no see."

"Yeah, it has been a long time and I want you to make it a longer time. Get out."

"Now, James, that's no way to talk to an old friend."

"Won't you ever cut out the garbage talk? We are not old friends and you know it. Get out!"

"You're right, that good ol' pal stuff is my traditional palaver, but we're past that. And I'll get out if you say so. But I just thought you'd like to hear about what's coming your way."

I wasn't sure what to do. I wanted him to get out of my sight, but I also wanted to know what he was doing back here again. I decided I had to know.

"What is coming my way?"

"More than you can handle, Mr. James Duncan."

"Don't pull that superior and mysterious nonsense on me, Rankin. The last time I saw you, you were foaming at the mouth and kicking beer cans in impotent rage. And your boss ended up lying flat on his face."

For one instant I saw anger flash in Rankin's eyes, but he quickly got control of himself. And that got me worried. The old Rankin would have indulged his anger and tipped his hand regarding his intentions.

"It's true, James, I suffered a little setback in your case. But let's be honest. You didn't do much. It was Bulkington, not you, who set me back."

"I don't deny that. And it was our Lord who put your master on his face."

"Well, that's true, too. But you must realize, James, that one skirmish does not constitute a war. Your God is not all powerful. He is not holding a winning hand."

"Do you seriously believe that Rankin?"

"Yes, I do, James, and you are going to believe it yourself someday. I'm going to help you believe it. And in order to start you on the road to a new belief, I'm going to be completely candid with you.

"Now, don't get that look on your face. I know exactly what you are thinking. It's that old Shakespeare stuff, isn't it? 'But 'tis strange; And oftentimes to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray's In deepest consequence.' But that's not how it works in real life. Shakespeare presupposes that the devil is the bad guy, and that is not so. Look, I'm going to level with you, James."

"I don't trust you for one second, Rankin, but go ahead and level with me."

"Well, it was like this, James. The devil was forced to intervene in your case in a way that was not advantageous to him. So he was boiling mad, if you'll pardon the pun, at me. He replaced me about a year after the incident. I was shipped out for retraining. At first I didn't like it. I was in class with a lot of young devils, little upstarts. And the instructor himself was also younger than I was. But he started to make sense and I started listening.

"I learned that my methods were too old-fashioned. It wasn't necessary for me to get people to deny Christ or to get them to refuse to invoke His aid. All I had to do was to get people to think of him in a new way. A new way that isn't that new any more, but I was not aware of that."

"I don't follow you."

"Well, James, the truth of the matter is that the old Roman way, with some slight modifications, is the new way. Whenever a new god came along, the Romans just included him in the pantheon. So long as the new god was subordinate to the Roman State, he was welcome in the pantheon."

"But the Christians wouldn't accept that."

"No, they wouldn't. Not at that time. But what I didn't realize is that now the Christians are willing to keep their God subordinate."

"Not to the old Rome?"

"No, James, not to the old Rome, but to the only real God there is, to nature. I never really lied to you, James. We do belong to the universe, to the natural universe. Your God is dependent on nature just as much as my God, only my God is willing to submit to nature and use its power while your God tries to defy nature. And He is losing big time. You think you saw something nine years ago. You think Satan is weak. But he isn't. He's growing stronger and stronger while your God is getting weaker and weaker. Soon he will be powerless."

"How can you spout such nonsense? Satan has already lost; he's just playing out the hand. You know that. Everybody knows that."

"Do I? Do you?"


"And who, may I ask, told you that fact?"

"It's traditional Christian teaching. Christ conquered death when He rose from the dead and freed us from the effects of original sin…"

"Stop right there, James. I know the story. But if you take the time to look around you, you'll find that the story has been changing. As that old song says, 'These times, they are a changing.' Even your Christian churches don't put out the old story anymore."

"I don't have much to do with the Christian churches."

"Well, there you are, James. If the Christian churches can't say what Christianity is, why should you be so sure you know what it is."

I was becoming increasingly frustrated with my inability to form a coherent argument to defend what I knew in my heart was true. It was then that I realized the truth of something Bulkington once told me: "You can't debate with the devil, James. He will always win. You either beat a hasty retreat or invoke the aid of our Lord and punch him in the nose." I didn't want to retreat from my own apartment, so I punched the devil's gnome in the nose.

Physically, I'm not the pushover I once was. I stand 6'4" tall and weigh 215 pounds. Sean and I have been following the Bulkington fitness program for the last six years: up and down the rocky hill at Fisherman's point, with pushups in between. But still I was no match for Rankin. After I hit him, he delivered a counterpunch to my belly that dropped me to my knees. He then worked his way behind me and clamped a full Nelson on me, while shoving my face into the floor.

"Don't ever try that rough stuff on me, Duncan. Now here's the rest of the story – Satan owns this earth like he has never owned it before. The churches are his and the schools are his. It's not necessary, as I thought, to bring out dragons and giants. I'm going to send out quite ordinary earthlings against you, your friends, and Mr. Bulkington. But when I'm through with you, you'll be begging me to let you worship at Satan's Shrine."

At this point in his monologue, he let me up.

"Why, Rankin? Why all this bother about me?"

"It's not about you, Duncan. You're nothing. It's about Bulkington. He's the last one. From some stupid string of circumstances, he has grown up with a mind and heart that is straight out of Grimm's Fairy Tales. He is truly the last European. And when old Europe dies, Christianity dies. But it's not enough, they tell me, to just kill him. And that's where the modern training comes in. In order to fight modernity, he'll be forced to adapt to modernity. And then we'll have him. I'm telling you this because you can't do anything to stop it. It's inevitable. It's mathematical. Through you, and Sean, and Mary, the people he loves, we'll get him. Good-bye, Duncan."

He slammed the door.

Well, what was I to make of Rankin's visit? He certainly didn't visit me to renew our fine and beautiful friendship. His visit was obviously an opening gambit in a new assault on Bulkington. But what did he hope would be the result? I was afraid. How does that Psalm go? "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." Well, I feared it. There is no use denying it. I prayed, but let me tell you, it's awful hard to believe in the efficacy of prayer when you feel alone against all the forces of hell.


[1] See The Mortal and the Demon

Continue to Chapter Two