Sky Parlor

Sky Parlor

by Stephen Perkins

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Overview

From the dawn of mankind...

Through America's Civil War and into the distant future...

Two ancient gods have made romance and waged war...

After the Great Rapture...

Will Sky Parlor become their final battlefield?

Do we ever really die? Or, do we return to live again with those we knew before? In the future, will man and machine learn to procreate?

For generations, the population of Sky Parlor has believed that, long ago, the lands beyond their domed city were made uninhabitable during the ""Great Rapture"".

When young Desmond Starr is appointed Alderman for Sky Parlor's borough of Columbia, he is guided by a benevolent spirit during a dream's strange vision and learns a hidden truth, exposing a shocking lie that has persisted for centuries. As rumors of a vast deception spread among Sky Parlor's population, the president proposes what appears to be the perfect solution: an inspiring journey to a mysterious and distant world!

But does this grand proposal mask an ulterior agenda?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781684540150
Publisher: Lulu.com
Publication date: 06/05/2019
Pages: 312
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

BEGINNING OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR

(FEBRUARY 20, 1862)

THOUGH SHE WISHED the aromatic hints of spring's renewal swept in more swiftly to soften cruel winter's arctic gusts, the snow sprinkled banks of the Potomac River and indeed perhaps the entire earth, Sarah observed, remained bitten with cold breaths of frost. Another brisk wind rippled the Potomac's still carpet and rustled the curtains of the horse-drawn carriage. Sarah Grigsby, while considering how conflict's bestial nature might tarnish the idealism of her younger brother, felt a shiver and drew tighter the knitted green shawl draped over her thin shoulders. While ruminating, she feared the thudding drum beat of war had begun to drown out even the hopeful songs of morning's birds perched high upon the limbs of the sullen oaks dotting the picturesque landscape. Perhaps the words of her dear brother, written in his last letter, telling of the worsening condition of his seven-year old son, Willie, from the onslaught of typhoid had been correct: that god had seen fit 'to deliver his curse of the biblical apocalypse prophesied in the book of Revelation'.

Her keen hazel eyes drew upon her eldest nephew, Robert, who, while squirming upon the stiff textured maple-wood seat of the coach, leaned forward to warm his hands over the small coal fired brazier placed between them.

"I can't help but thinking," she began, almost in sotto voce.

Then, her eyes darted to the frozen sweep of the enormous river running parallel to the winding road leading to the White House. The cacophony of swift hooves galloping upon the half-frozen mud of the road began to pound with greater volume than the volleys of battle cannons.

"Though I fear for the life of Willie, I also fear for the life of my younger brother, the president. There are some – General Grant and even his own Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton – who say openly he is not fit to be a wartime president, that he is prone to appeasement rather than meeting the rebellious Confederacy with fire and steel. Well I dare say, perhaps if women were given the right to vote, or perhaps even the right to hold public office, the nation would not find itself in a state quite so precarious."

Robert Todd Lincoln straightened the folds of his dark cotton coat and fixed his grim-faced aunt with a curious glance.

"My father always said you had been gifted with a progressive mind, Sarah," he replied. "But there are those who would say only men, who by nature are guided by logical faculties rather than emotional impulses so common to the fairer sex, are capable of guiding the ship of state amid stormy waters. War after all, is never the province of gentle creatures."

"Then I shall tell you plainly, nephew," Sarah claimed, "that perhaps with gentle creatures in charge, rather than that monster General Grant, the follies of war would become less probable and," she proclaimed as her bright eyes flecked with darkened hints of scorn, "may god preserve us – less profitable."

Frowning, Sarah tugged the shawl even tighter around the helmet of fiery red hair spilling from beneath her angelic white bonnet.

A reassuring smile broke across Robert's stern face. He removed his black top hat and with his leather gloved hand smoothed out his neatly trimmed tuft of fair complexioned hair.

"That is why my father shall be happy to see you," he replied, his clear blue eyes reflecting comforting reassurance. "For everyone in the family knows he loves you best. You were the one who encouraged him into his profitable legal profession and inspired him to take up his political calling. Surely, if he is to negotiate a settlement between the factions to eventually end this war, he will need that empathetic spirit which you instilled in him during his formative years. And only you, during this time of great suffering, can help fortify his challenged spirit."

The coach driver's throaty yelp crackled like a whip in the crisp air. He snapped the reins and the carriage speedily churned around a sharp bend leading to the grand portico of the war-torn nation's most prestigious address.

The driver's harsh voice barked again and the snorting team of horses' fierce gallop ground to an abrupt halt.

"I shall escort you upstairs to the president's bed chambers," Clarence, the president's chief steward said while waiting beneath the enormous portico of the White House to receive Abraham Lincoln's distinguished pair of guests.

"How is dear Willie?" Sarah enquired. "Has there been any improvement in his condition?"

"I'm afraid Madame Sarah," Clarence regretted, "the Union army doctor, the major from General Grant's unit, says the poor child's condition has worsened and," Sarah flinched expecting the worst as Clarence hinted with a futile gesture of his hands, "he may die – but that is why the president has summoned both you and Master Robert."

Clarence led them up the winding stairs to the presidential bed chambers, where they found the president and the first lady kneeling at the bedside of a small and deathly pale child, swaddled in a virtual ocean of dark blankets. Grotesque shadows thrown from the crackling roar of a brick-laden fireplace reflected upon the child's ghostly features, like the sinister fingers of a demon's strangulating hands reaching forth from purgatorial depths.

Sarah frowned as she heard their soft entreaties for divine Providence to intervene. How peculiar, she thought, that the human race – especially out of fear when faced with a threat to mortal survival - was the only animal gifted with a talent for the veneration of monuments to heroes and gods borne from imagination's mysterious mists and built into monuments of brick, mortar and marble, monuments no matter how firm their foundations, were yet still, with the touch of time's inevitable decay – like a single life – so fragile, and so easily toppled, crumbled back into the pitiless dust from which they came.

She saw the uniformed army major who stood on the opposite side of the bed. His sure-handed grip grasped around the child's emaciated wrist, and with a studious expression, his calm fingers felt for some indication of a reviving pulse.

"I can't help but wonder," Sarah whispered to Robert as he handed his tall black top hat to Clarence and began to unbutton his long-tailed cotton coat. "What kind of god could allow such travesties to occur – this abominable war tearing apart an entire nation, and now the mortal mis- fortune of such an innocent child?"

"Surely you've read the scriptures, Sarah," Robert counseled, "for God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform."

"Considering the mysterious nature with which your god chooses to perform, I wonder if the only hope that exists, is that one day, we shall all reappear or as Mary believes, reincarnate, and have yet another chance to redeem ourselves before the whimsical eyes of such a fickle creator."

Unable to detect a pulse, the major gently eased the child's arm back beneath the covering blankets. His sorrowful eyes fixed upon the president and the first lady who were just finishing their prayers.

"Mister President," the medic's dire tone sounded, "I'm afraid I've done all I can, but your son, William, though he fought mightily, has succumbed to the effects of typhoid, and he has just drawn his last breath."

Robert hastily stepped forward to comfort Mary, the First Lady, as she rose from her knees and covered her tearful face.

"Oh, Willie, my sweet boy." Mary's muffled lament moaned like a distant wind enclosed within Robert's comforting embrace. "He bore his suffering with more nobility as a child than most men. And you are correct, Sarah," the first lady said, "Though the flesh may be mortal, the human spirit is eternal, and we shall all return in another life," she declared through her jag of streaming tears.

As death's contemplation bore upon the president's senses like an unbearable leviathan, the fireplace flames roared with greater intensity, and he became engulfed by their hideous shadows.

The President turned from the doctor's grave expression. Observing Sarah, his dear elder sister, an oasis from turmoil's bottomless gulf, and perhaps the only saving grace from certain demise, he reached out to firmly embrace her prim hands. While his gaze reflected desperation's darkness, he looked upon her thoughtful emerald eyes, and silently, he considered she had grown comelier than he had ever recalled.

"I'm so sorry about poor Willie," Sarah said, offering her sincere condolences. "We came as soon as I received your letter, Abraham."

"I suppose, despite our vain appeals, God has seen fit to call him back to heaven, and to remind us of our own mortality," the president said, bussing his sister's soft, pastel cheek. "Seeing you once again, and my son Robert is indeed a great consolation considering the circumstances. I have missed you both, but especially you, my dear Sarah."

"And I have missed you terribly, Abraham." Her crimson lips spread with a sweet smile. "But I worry concerning your welfare. And I think, you mean the circumstances of this damnable war that monstrous Grant has begun to bloodthirstily prosecute," she scoffed. "I tell you to beware of him, Abraham. He is a butcher."

A faint smile slowly animated the president's melancholy face as traces of fond remembrance from his childhood transformed to vivid spectacles, of the times when Sarah served as not just his elder sibling, but oftentimes the matron of the house, rationing out discipline and encouragement in equal and wise measure. It had been her after all, who had encouraged him to enter the profession of the law and to enter politics, which had led to his first, and rather well-publicized debate with his early political rival, Stephan Douglas. It was she too, he supposed, with her strangely intuitive and empathetic nature, who was the first to see there existed the potential for greatness, even though perhaps seemingly no one else, including he, could not detect that quality, considering the reticent and even awkward nature he often exhibited in his youth.

"That is what I have always appreciated about you, my dear Sarah," the president complimented, once again bussing her rose petalled cheek that still felt stung with the cold winds of the Potomac. "You've always been so forthright in your opinions, a rare trait that has always brought me such delight."

"General Ulysses S. Grant, to whom Sarah sees fit to refer as a 'butcher'," Robert said while still comforting the tearful first lady, "Has just offered me an officer's commission to join his staff, an opportunity that with careful deliberation," he added with prideful verve, "I've decided to accept, Mister President."

"I shall never understand men's haste – if all recorded history is to be believed – in rushing into the frightful horrors of war," Sarah scoffed. "Has there not been enough death and destruction already?"

"My congratulations Robert; for General Grant needs men of high quality to serve as his officers," Abraham said, laying a firm hand upon his proud son's shoulder. "But I'm afraid such is the duality of man, Sarah," the president replied, turning to his sister and addressing her with gentle reason. "As a leader of men, sometimes in order to preserve the honor of god's good and worthwhile works – in this case the democratic integrity of the nation's union and the traditions of its republic – one must take their allies in the cause of peace or in war as they find them, and even sometimes, one must consort with the treachery and folly of devils."

"I regret sounding so moribund, my gallant nephew and dear brother," Sarah replied, "but have you both never considered that is the very sort of moral compromise could mean your ultimate undoing by those very same devils – devils such as General Ulysses Grant?"

* * *

Battle of Gettysburg (July 3, 1863)

The battlefield – a horse trampled, mud riddled meadow near the environs of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania's tiny and remote hamlet – sat under a thick blanket of summer's sizzling haze. Lines of battle-hardened troops, Lee's gray coated and invading Confederate's on a defensive grassy hillock marked with moat and stockade to the north, and General Grant's field units commanded by his subordinate, Major General Meade, consisting of cavalry and infantry, were entrenched and readied for attack from the muddy meadow to the southwest. Now assembled in a grand tent placed among a forested grotto surrounded by white oaks, tall hemlocks and beaches, General Grant addressed his officer's staff for what he felt represented a decisive campaign.

"We will not allow General Lee's forces to continue their unlawful incursion into Union territory," General Grant thundered at his war council.

His subordinate, Major General Meade, seated closest to his commanding officer, winced at the hurricane force of Grant's oration.

"We must repulse these yellow-bellied rebels back across the Potomac, or better yet, attack their defensive position directly, and with bayonets and hand-to-hand combat if necessary, tear them to tatters and leave them all in bloody pieces where they fall."

While the ursine general leaned on the edge of the table with his balled fists serving as ballast, a smoking cigar's pillar of aromatic smoke hovered over his subordinate's heads and the taint of ash began to choke in their throats. Stepping back from the table, Grant stood ramrod straight, and his raised rock-textured fist struck the table with the resonance of thunder's fury.

"And I tell you frankly officers and gentlemen," he thundered, "If there is any mercy in heaven, I shall reward a satchel of gold to the first man among our brave ranks who removes Lee's head with his drawn cutlass and brings it fresh to me, bleeding on a plate."

Grant's carnivorous jaws clamped down on his flaming cigar. Great gusts of gray mist flung from his flared dragon's nostrils like flames from Hell's seething maw. His Delphic eyes transformed to nebulous cracks. Agog, Captain Robert began to ponder: is this a madman to which I've pledged my allegiance, even unto death?

Grant rammed a hairy paw within the folds of his half-opened officer's jacket, and it reemerged grasping a silver flask of whiskey labeled in black with skull and bones. Robert's furtive gaze saw Major General Meade tense in his chair as Grant ripped the cork away and greedily quenched his thirst, draining the contents of the flask in nearly one gulp. Robert secretly began to also wonder if Aunt Sarah hadn't been correct in her sharp estimation of his commanding officer.

Then, much to the relief of the newly commissioned captain, a disarming smile brightened Grant's contorted countenance.

"Don't worry boys, and take heart," he burped, grunting forth a guttural chuckle, "For there is consolation in that, if any of you should die on this momentous day, you should know that Heaven is reserved for only heroes, and all those honorable souls dressed in the blue of the Union will be greeted at the golden gates by a fanfare of angels. As for the rebels," and Grant once again tipped the flask to his hungering lips, "There shall be nothing but Hell's fire and brimstone, and the hot iron of the devil's trident."

The morning dwindled into an overcast afternoon as Grant's ranks – each having been given and understood their stern orders – took their assigned places upon the battlefield. While the scores of weary-eyed and grey coated Confederates huddled in their mosquito infested bunkers, white knuckling their muskets, were able to peer out over the hill's entrenched ramparts and onto the wide meadow filled with seemingly endless lines of blue shirted union troops scowling back at them. Well behind the lines of their own assembled infantry and cavalry, Grant and his staff, ensconced on horseback, gazed over the immense gathering.

"I swear this is the quintessence of beauty," Grant declared under his breath. "Are the assembled cannon in the correct position, Major General Meade?" Grant's voice boomed, enquiring of his immediate subordinate.

"They are, as ordered General," Major General Meade's reply snapped.

"Very well, my good man," Grant said, shoving a fresh cigar between

his churning jaws. "Let's give these rebels their first taste of fire and brimstone, shall we?" Then, after that bastard Lee's cowardly minions are well softened up, whatever remains we'll mow down like grass with a gallant charge. Let the boys gorge their bayonets into the bowels of the enemy. What fun they shall have, eh?"

(Continues…)


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