Simon Spicer is a lonely, melancholy professor in Maine. A widower, he was once a talented poet, but writes no more. At the age of thirty-five, he simply exists, aged beyond his years by disappointment. Spice is unaware of the physical and mental properties that set him apart from his fellows and fit him for a bizarre mission-but he will soon find out.
In the world of the Keepers, one of their own has gone rogue. Calling himself ShadowCaster, he has taken over the planet Talar and bred an environment of evil and death. The Keepers need a hero, but they are incapable of destroying ShadowCaster on their own. They require an outsider with the proper skills, and Spice is their man-although before he can take on the task, he must first die.
Once he does, his true powers awaken: powers of mind control and non-oral communication. With nothing to lose, Spice accepts his fated mission: to find ShadowCaster and stop him. Once a lonely, hopeless man, Spice is now the hope of the universe, ordered to redeem a fallen world and perhaps also himself.
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THE QUEST FOR SHADOWCASTER
By Frank Sherry
iUniverse LLCCopyright © 2014 Frank Sherry
All rights reserved.
The Keeper known to her kind as FireHeart had long been searching the various universes for one special being. That she had at last found him in the person of a mortal creature called Simon Spicer seemed to her a most satisfactory culmination of her mission.
Spice (as his few friends called him) knew nothing of the Keeper's search. He did not even suspect her presence in his vicinity for she was an entity with no form or substance that human senses could detect. She belonged to an order of beings born in the early light of Creation whose task it was to maintain the motions of the bodies that compose the cosmos.
Because their laws prohibited contact with the worlds they sustained (lest their presence inadvertently disrupt the natural development of the worlds), the Keepers went about their duties unperceived by the other inhabitants of Creation. Unseen, unknown, aloof, immensely powerful, linked to each other by chains of collective thought, the Keepers labored harmoniously as ages of ages unrolled. Then one of their number yielded to a craving for uncertainty and hazard, delights forbidden the Keepers lest they undermine the Order's dedication to its essential task.
Succumbing to temptation, the aberrant Keeper broke the ties of aggregate intellect that bound him to his colleagues. He changed his Keeper name, LightLover, to one of his own choosing: ShadowCaster. Then, in defiance of Keeper law, he descended upon a world called Talar—and claimed it for himself.
The Keepers moved swiftly to regain control of their rebellious comrade. From stations in space they scanned Talar in search of ShadowCaster. If they could find him, they knew they could overwhelm him with their combined will.
But ShadowCaster eluded them. Concealing his authentic self by some means that baffled his former colleagues, he sent forth emanations of his mind to play with his stolen world. He populated Talar with evil spirits and beasts. He made ruins of cities. He taught large segments of the populace to scorn their own gods—and to worship him instead.
The Keepers, unable to locate their brother, and barred from pursuing him, could only watch in anguish as ShadowCaster's net crept over the stricken world. Meanwhile they sent one of their number, FireHeart, to seek among the galaxies for one whom they might send to Talar on their behalf.
The being they sought had to possess certain specific characteristics. Physically he (or she) had to resemble, if not completely duplicate, the denizens of Talar. He, or she, had to possess the potential to grasp quickly the techniques of minding, a species of non-oral communication. The individual sought also had to possess a highly unusual combination of psychological and corporeal traits, even if latent. These included curiosity, imagination, ferocity, a certain amount of rationality, a capacity for fear, rage, love, conceit, skepticism, forethought, and sexual passion, as well as a proclivity for self-preservation—and an efficient digestive system. The one sought also had to be of no significance to his or her own world—and had to volunteer for the mission offered. But above all else the one sought had to be dead. Recently dead, and dead from natural causes.
Thus when Keeper FireHeart, after much frustration, came upon Simon Spicer she knew she had located the object of her chase. Unfortunately, though Spice met every other criterion of her search, he was still alive. But FireHeart, observing his lifestyle and his general health concluded that, one way or another, Spice himself would soon remove this impediment. And so, unperceived, she hung around—and prepared to receive her quarry when the inevitable occurred.
Meanwhile, an oblivious Spice continued along the ever-narrowing path he had chosen as his life. Although he was only thirty-five by chronological reckoning, disappointment had aged him beyond his years. His long hair and short beard showed more gray than black. Though a tall man, he tended to slump at the shoulders—and this imparted a defeated aspect to him. He made a meager living as an instructor in history and literature at a community college in Maine. With his faded and melancholy good looks, ragged hair, and streaky beard, many of his uncritical and inexperienced students saw him as a romantic figure. They had heard murky bits and pieces of his life: that his beloved young wife had died in a plane crash years earlier, leaving him unable to love again; that he had—long ago—been a well-regarded poet, but no longer wrote poetry; that he drank heavily; that he lived in isolation, brooding in a decrepit house far off-campus. Possessed of only these few facts, it was little wonder that the impressionable among his young charges thought Spice mysterious, a character from a Gothic novel. This view of him often provided Spice with sardonic amusement.
Although his students might think him picturesque, Spice himself—in the chambers of his soul where self-knowledge resided—recognized that he was really a lonely and skeptical man, afraid of both death and life, and resentful of the happiness that others seemed to enjoy in a world that continually rejected him. In certain dark hours Spice even admitted to himself that he secretly yearned for the things that he professed to scorn: love and the esteem of his fellow beings. But he knew also that he had no talent for achieving those blessings. So he had given up further attempts to do so. Now he tried to protect himself from further hurt by sheltering behind a wall of cynicism. But there was no shelter from the regret that clung to his heart like a nest of stinging wasps.
Of late, Spice had begun to feel the frozen fingers of mortality squeezing his core—so much so that he had taken to daily booze to thaw them away. Thus he was almost, but not quite, drunk one chilly twilight in March when he went out for a walk after a supper of fried hot dogs, canned beans, and rye whisky.
The road he walked along on that chill March evening was a rutted country track that cut through dense woods still mottled with patches of snow left over from the fierce Maine winter. There was no one about. Not even the rustle of a field mouse disturbed the silence. Suddenly Spice became aware of a buzzing in his head. He stopped. His heart began to gallop. He felt weak and light-headed. His eyes blurred. He decided to return to his house. But he found he was unable to move. Then he felt himself topple over backward onto the mud of the lane. Helpless, he stared up at the darkening sky. Unable even to blink his eyes, he beheld the first indifferent stars of the night. With amazement he realized that he was dying. He felt little physical pain, aside from a headache, but the regret in his heart rose into his throat, choking him with a ball of unshed tears. All at once a brilliant light—stark white—appeared in the sky above him. It enveloped him in a cone of radiance. He thought, so the bit about the bright light is true. Abruptly the full meaning of his looming end came to him. He would have no more chances to renew himself. He would never be anything more than the miserable loser he was now, at this last moment of his existence. Suddenly the ball of pain in his throat loosened. He began to cry, grieving over the wasteland of his life. Why hadn't he found some way to become the man he might have been? why had he refused to live?
Cradled within his luminous cocoon, he felt his body begin to rise. Slowly, inexorably, he ascended toward what he now saw was the pulsating source of the light: a sphere of intense whiteness like a beating heart of pure energy. Terror seized him. He thought, Judgment Day, Divine wrath. Dreading what awaited him, he entered that heart of whiteness beating above him—and he passed through it into another realm.
He found himself standing, his paralysis apparently cured, in a silent park of emerald lawns, flowering bushes, and trees gentle with green leaves. Pink and yellow blossoms peeped here and there. The warm air smelled of recent rain. A soft light lay over this exquisite place that Spice assumed was the afterworld. He stared about him, fear now subdued by astonishment.
Educated to doubt, Spice had always shrunk from any contemplation of life after death. To him this was a subject that no amount of rational thinking could resolve. Thus he had always avoided the matter or (more often) ridiculed it as a manifestation of primitive yearning after immortality. But here he stood, surely dead, and just as surely in some place after his death. This was not a state of affairs that he could ignore or scoff at, even had he felt like doing so. In fact, as he gazed about the remarkable garden, he felt decidedly humble—and disagreeably open, raw, and vulnerable to whatever might come his way. Moreover he was struck by a physical incongruity: although he was dead, his consciousness and his body apparently remained connected to each other—or was this impression due to the fact that he could not imagine himself in any other way? In any case he continued to perceive himself as a corporeal being although his body—still clad in the jeans and leather jacket he had donned for his fatal walk that evening—seemed to him somewhat less cumbersome than it had in life. Unsure of what might lie ahead or how to conduct himself, Spice began to make his way cautiously through the seemingly empty park. Was this place heaven? This was a question that he would have regarded as preposterous only a few minutes earlier—counting in Earth time. Given his changed situation, however, it was now anything but preposterous. He suspected he would soon have to deal with many ideas and conceptions that he would formerly have dismissed as inane. So the question remained: had he arrived in heaven? If so, would he be re-united with Karen, the wife of his youth whose memory remained as vivid as ever in his heart? would she still love him? was it possible? happiness again? Did he dare to hope? Then a very different question surfaced in his mind, one that carried with it a load of primitive dread: Could it be that this lovely garden was not heaven after all, but hell? would this account for the ostensible lack of life? Surely, if this was heaven, these garden paths should be teeming with the blessed departed. But here there was only empty silence. The more Spice considered his situation, the more likely it seemed that he had been condemned to a hell of eternal loneliness in mocking beauty. After all, he had done little in his life to deserve paradise. Before he could absorb the import of this realization, however, he beheld a woman. His heart leaped. Karen? Then he saw that it was not she, but another, a creature of unearthly beauty. She was seated on a wooden bench beneath a blooming cherry tree.
Pink petals from the tree lay about her sandaled feet and festooned her black hair. She wore a simple ankle-length white gown, belted at the waist with a thin sash of gold. She seemed neither young nor old. Spice stood watching her, enchanted by her serene loveliness. She lifted her head and observed Spice with dark eyes that seemed to recognize him, to know all that he had been and might have been. Spice sensed in her what he could only describe as goodness—a synthesis of patience, concern, intelligence, forgiveness, and gentleness. She was he was sure, holy. This was a word he would have spurned heretofore, but no other seemed to fit. Was she an angel? It occurred to him that if she was an angel—and what else could she be?—then he was not in hell, for no creature of such perfect sanctity could ever exist in hell. And so, he told himself with relief, somehow he must have found his way to heaven.
Now Spice seemed to hear this seraphic being speak to him: "Greetings, Simon Spicer." her voice was clear and melodic in his ear. Of course it could be nothing less; she was an angel after all. Cautiously he approached. He halted before her. Yes, she was certainly an angel—another conception that he would have scorned only a short time earlier but now felt constrained to embrace. He bowed his head. For some reason he seemed unable to find his voice to reply to her greeting. He was unsure how to behave. Should he kneel and pray? Confess his sins? The angel said, "I understand your perplexity. Come, rest here near me and I will explain what has happened." She gestured toward another bench at right angles to her own. Spice took the seat, keeping his eyes fixed on her gently smiling face. The angel said, "you are dead in your world." he nodded. He had surmised as much. But this business of still feeling connected to his body was disconcerting. He wanted to ask her about it but found himself incapable of uttering the question, as if the angel's splendid presence had rendered him boyishly tongue-tied. His speechlessness proved no hindrance, however, for when she spoke again, it seemed as if she had been able to plumb what was in his mind without any words from him. She said, "you are still in your body, and you are in a place I have prepared for you. I brought you here bodily at the moment your life ceased on your Earth." her explanation only bewildered him further. Dead and still in his body? In a place prepared for him? had he been resurrected then?
Answering his unvoiced questions, the angel said, "I have not resurrected you Simon Spicer but I have removed you to another time and space. Here you have not died, and thus your physical being—free of the laws of your world—continues as before. Should you return to your world, you must return to lifelessness as well. Here, however, you may live on, and for all anyone knows on your world, you have simply vanished."
His old skepticism stirring, Spice wondered if he was hallucinating all this: his death, the cone of light, the garden, the angel, all of it. And yet she seemed as real as his own body.
Again apparently reading his mind, the angel assured him that he was neither hallucinating nor dreaming, but in a kind of parallel world. Intuitively Spice knew she was telling the truth, that she was incapable of falsity. All right, he was in a parallel world. But exactly what was a parallel world? what did all this mean?
In her melodic human voice, the angel once again responded to his unspoken query. "you will soon know all you need to know. Begin with this: I am one of those whose task it is to sustain the worlds, to see to their motions, and to keep open the portals of what you call Space. How we do this is beyond your comprehension. Suffice it to say that the worlds depend on us. But we are forbidden to make contact with them lest unanticipated evil ensue. Thus we sustain the worlds from afar. You may think of us as angels, but we are known to ourselves as the Order of the Keepers, the Firstborn of Creation."
With this the angel-woman became a column of pale fire twenty meters high. Spice recoiled in terror. Immediately the blaze evaporated and once again he beheld the angel-woman's smile. He understood that he had just been granted a glimpse of the Keeper in her true form. The sight would burn in his memory forever. Gravely the Keeper said, "I have searched long for you, Simon Spicer, for we need you to carry out a task for us, a thing that only you can accomplish."
Spice reeled in amazement. Surely there was some mistake here. What could these Keepers of worlds and parallel universes possibly require of an alcoholic, failed poet?
The Keeper said, "Don't debase yourself. You are more than you know. we have chosen you to serve Creation." Spice thought, Creation? what have I to do with Creation, or its Keepers?
"Creation is the mystery that requires all of us to trust it. Thus you must trust that it demands of you only what you are capable of accomplishing. You may terminate your presence among us at any time simply by expressing a wish to return to your own world." Spice thought, where I will be dead on a dirt road in Maine.
She took his hand in her soft human-but-not-human hand. She began to tell him more of the Keepers.
Like all the beings of Creation, they possessed free will and therefore knew temptation. "For a Keeper the great temptation is to seize a world and play with it by setting in motion events whose outcome cannot be foreseen but which are contrary to the natural inclinations of that world and its people. For a Keeper, whose powers are only circumscribed by responsibility, there is an addictive excitement in letting loose those powers to create uncertainty." her words evoked in Spice an image of a gambler's fascination with the next roll of the dice or turn of a card.
Ignoring his thought this time, the angel-Keeper told of her fallen brother who now called himself ShadowCaster, told how he had seized the world known as Talar, how he had spread fear and strife there, all the while concealing his essence from the probing, if distant, eyes of the Keepers. Concluding, the angel-Keeper said, "we cannot permit our aberrant brother to lay waste this small and primitive world. Therefore, we have decided to use an agent from outside, one that the aberrant will not immediately recognize as such, one who will be able—thanks to certain physical and mental attributes—to insinuate himself into this world, locate the aberrant ShadowCaster, and render him helpless. We need you, Simon Spicer, to act as our agent."
Excerpted from Talar by Frank Sherry. Copyright © 2014 Frank Sherry. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPart 1 Life after Death, 1,
Part 2 The Plain of the Tal, 59,
Part 3 Destiny's Captive, 133,
Part 4 Warrior and Lover, 207,
Part 5 Betrayal, Despair, Revelation, Resurrection, 293,
Part 6 Commander of the Clans, 363,
Part 7 Lord of Talar, 435,
Part 8 Journeys In The Dreaming, 493,
Part 9 A God's Game, 545,
Part 10 Call of the Eye, 571,