Authors: Gene Doucette
Adam's adventures on the high seas have taken him from the Mediterranean to the Barbary Coast, and if there's one thing he learned, it's that maybe the sea is trying to tell him to stay on dry land.
The year was 1942, there was a war on, and Adam was having a lot of trouble avoiding the attention of some important people. The kind of people with guns, and ways to make a fella disappear. He was caught somewhere between the mob and the government, and the only way out involved a red-haired dame he was pretty sure he couldn't trust.
On a nice quiet trip to the English countryside to cope with the likelihood that he has gone a little insane, Adam meets a man who definitely has. The madman’s name is John Corrigan, and he is convinced he’s going to die soon.
He could be right. Because there’s trouble coming, and unless Adam can get his own head together in time, they may die together.
When he’s in a funk, Adam the immortal man mostly just wants a place to drink and the occasional drinking buddy. When that buddy turns out to be Santa Claus, Adam is forced to face one of the biggest challenges of extremely long life: Christmas cheer. Will Santa break him out of his bad mood? Or will he be responsible for depressing the most positive man on the planet?
Immortal and the Madman
I go mad every now and again.
That’s probably an outmoded way of describing what I’m talking about. I appreciate that there are truly insane people in the world who are suffering greatly because of some version of insanity, and I have never been
kind of mad.
I will explain.
Nowadays there’s a thing called psychoanalysis, and whole sections of the medical world devoted to understanding and treating insanity, and it’s all done rather respectfully and humanely, and that’s fantastic. But for most of history we basically had
and that was about all. There was no shortage of possible causes, from demonic possession—a personal favorite—to a huge range of supposed mental deficiencies that could be summarized as “being an outspoken woman.”
There were different kinds of crazy is my larger point. Some kinds of madness resulted in the sufferer being unable to function within society at all, and other kinds were less obvious, and could even be described as a species of uncontrollable creativity.
Losing control of my mind is a real problem, because I already live in a reality that’s difficult to grasp for humans with ordinary lifespans. (That sentence by itself, written today while I am in full command of my faculties, could be enough to get me committed in the right circles.) Having lived a life that sounds like the rants of a lunatic is a real problem if I start to
rant is what I’m saying. Losing my grip on things puts me in a great deal of danger.
The problem is, lucidity can be an act of will, and sometimes I lack that will.
I’ve always assumed that aside from a few quirks—I don’t age, I don’t get sick—I’m basically as much of an ordinary human as there is, and if that’s true I’m working with the same kind of brain as everyone else. But since I don’t die (or rather, since I haven’t yet) that brain is sometimes working very hard to just keep everything straight.
To give a simple example, let’s talk about pattern recognition. Seeing something and recognizing it as something you’ve seen
is a survival skill. For instance: I see a leopard. Last week, I saw a different leopard kill my friend, so even though this leopard is not the same one, I know not to pet it.
That the mind can compare a new object or animal or person to one from prior experience is a good thing. It jump-starts the fight-or-flight instinct, and it works exceptionally well for people who are drawing from ten or twenty years of experience on the planet. But then there’s me, with the same kind of brain and the same kind of instincts, only I’m pulling from sixty thousand years of information.
If I’m not careful, I’ll overreact to things that aren’t important and miss something I should be paying attention to. I basically have to be on very good terms with that part of my brain, all the time.
There are times when I lose the capacity to do that.
* * *
I usually recognize when it’s about to happen, and thank goodness. I have to self-monitor, because I don’t often surround myself with people I can trust with my life and also with my secrets, so if I start to babble I’m generally on my own.
The first indication that something is amiss is when my heart starts racing, more or less randomly. It’s what the body does in response to an apparent threat, and it’s great when there actually
one, but when you’re in a situation without any apparent danger it’s scary as hell. As my heart rate increases and I start to sweat, I begin looking around for things that I can use as weapons and for weapons that are about to be used on me, in case I’m wrong about the danger thing and my instinct is accurate. Sometimes it is, and this is just worse because it means I can’t ignore every instance.
Here’s an example. I was in this tavern one evening in what I think was probably the mid fifteen-hundreds. It was winter, and there was ale, and a fireplace, and it was probably in the Austro-Germanic region or thereabouts. I’m pretty sure I was alone, but I’m not positive because around that period I traveled with a vampire named Eloise. Her reliability when it came to drinking alcohol and frequenting inns wasn’t all that great, though, so she probably wasn’t there.
Anyway, I was drinking—which is really one of the only two or three good reasons to be in a tavern—and in mid-conversation with someone when my heart rate sped up. It was sudden enough that I wondered if I was having an actual heart attack. I looked around the room expecting to find… something. Anything. A large cat, a python, a small army of Huns maybe. But there were only humans in there with me, and none of them looked particularly antagonistic or tribal or mob-like. And no Huns.
But it kept happening. I’d look around and calm down and get my bearings and remind myself I was among my own tribe in a safe enclosure and whatever instincts were telling me to defend myself were invalid, but I just couldn’t stay relaxed.
After probably an hour of this I realized what was causing it was a combination of sound and shadows. A barmaid on the other side of the room had a high laugh, and there was a large man sitting near the fire casting a shadow on the wall to my right, and whenever the man moved and the maiden laughed in something like unison it brought me back to a time some fifty thousand years earlier, when there was a bird that made the same noise. It flew in from the direction of the sun to attack, and when you saw its shadow and heard its cry you knew to throw yourself onto the ground immediately, as this was the only defense in a time before we had things like arrows.
The bird no longer exists, so this isn’t any kind of useful survival mechanism, but I’m sort of stuck with it now.
That panic attack in the tavern was the first sign I was heading for trouble. And it got worse. A couple of nights later I saw a man I mistook for an old friend. I greeted him as such, and spoke Etruscan to him for about ten minutes before I realized the person I thought I was talking to had been dead for a long time and this stranger was confused and a little terrified.
That was when I decided to go away for a while.
* * *
Fleeing for the countryside is my favorite solution. I mostly mean that literally, as in I would exit civilization and disappear into the nearest forest or mountainous region to hang out alone until I was pretty sure my head was okay enough not to endanger myself or other people. This was obviously a better solution back when there were forests. We don’t really have those any more.
I know you’re thinking we do, because you can see trees in satellite pictures and all, but you don’t really know what you’re talking about. When I say
I mean the point at which the portion of the natural world that is in abeyance due to civilized man stops. The early American settlers called it Indian country and the Greeks called it the satyr woods, and while both are inaccurate—Indians had a civilization of their own, and so did satyrs after a fashion—it meant the same thing: wilderness. If you knew how to hunt and forage and build a shelter you could walk into these woods and live off the land for as long as you wanted, as long as you didn’t mind being alone and not bathing very often. (That’s all civilization—tribal, communal, national—really ever was: the opportunity to rely on someone else to keep you safe and find you food when you needed those things, in exchange for which you had to bathe more often.) There may be one or two places like that on the planet still, but I’m not sure where, and I
sure I would need a plane or two to get to them.
There is another version of
, though, and it’s the kind that wealthy people talk about.
This was always sort of true everywhere but I’m going to focus on England specifically, and the turn of the nineteenth century even more specifically, because that’s where and when this story took place.
Back then if you and your family had enough wealth you could keep a place in the city and another place in the countryside, and that was all reasonable and normal. Residence in one estate or the other was mostly dictated by social and seasonal concerns, but that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes the wealthy retired to their country estates because the strain of being civil was too much, and they had to get away to keep from acting too publicly crazy.
I think in a lot of ways this was similar to my problem. There were so many social rules and proprieties that frankly, if you didn’t want to offend anyone important you had to pay constant attention, and it was exhausting. Or maybe I was the only one who saw it that way. I was, after all, an outsider. The
polite vs. not polite
rules of a society were always the hardest thing for me to internalize.
I had two or three close friends in this time, friends who were both reliable and pretty rich. Those are the sorts of people one should always strive to cultivate, especially if you yourself don’t happen to be rich.
I was not rich then. I was well-to-do, but not rich. I was mostly living off the wealth I had personally acquired as a merchant some fifty years prior, which I attributed to my father and called my inheritance. There wasn’t a whole lot of it left, but what there was of it took care of my nominal requirement of having coin on-hand to purchase things like food and drink and a roof. And those were the only things I concerned myself with right up until the day I started seeing dragons and dead people.
I’m not really clear on
what happened. I was at a ball, unless it was a dinner party or someone’s birthday, or maybe a wedding. It was, at any rate, an excuse for wealthy people and people who knew wealthy people to get dressed up in whatever clothes were fashionable at the time and drink, dance, and act scandalous in ways that would sound immensely tame and boring to anyone not of that era.
I’d been having little problems here and there over the course of the month leading up to the evening in question, but nothing I couldn’t handle. A racing heart here, an imaginary demon there, and sure, I mistook a carriage man for a Bantu tribesman and ended up speaking the wrong language for a little while, but I was sure I had it under control.
You tell yourself these things.
The night of the ball I was chatting up an old friend named Cornelius, and we were on the subject of hunting, and the guests were dancing in that annoyingly coordinated way they used to, when somehow I became convinced there was a dragon at the other end of the hall and my friend Cornelius was in fact my much, much older friend Gilgamesh (yes, that Gilgamesh) and we had to defend the room. So I charged right down the middle of the dancing line with my friend’s decorative sword, and would likely have completely destroyed the three-tiered cake at the far end of the hall with it had I not been intercepted and tackled by two of Cornelius’s men.
Later that evening I discovered myself resting comfortably in a leather chair in a lovely English study attached to the men’s club not far from the scene of my social
. I don’t recall how I got there, how long it took, how many people were involved, or when the brandy ended up in my hand. What I do remember—probably the moment I became lucid again—was noticing Cornelius in a chair opposite me, sipping from his own glass and taking his time with a cigar. I couldn’t tell you how long we’d been sitting there.
“How do you feel?” he asked once it was clear my senses had been regained. I don’t know what indicators he used; perhaps my eyes just stopped wandering around the room.
“This is good brandy,” I said. “Can I have some more?”
He made a gesture and a man came over from the other side of the room with the bottle, and refilled my snifter. Having people around to do that is why one strives to be rich.
how do you feel?” he asked.
“I feel very well, thank you. Why?”
“Do you know who I am?”
“Of course, Cornelius.”
“You called me by another name earlier this evening. I couldn’t tell you what that name was. Nobody could understand what you were even speaking, but you became highly agitated as regards the baked confections.”
He continued in this way to describe my actions, and only then did I recall what I
had been going on. The gibberish he described me using was actually Akkadian. It’s just as well nobody there understood it, insofar as a man in a formal suit waving a dull short sword and screaming about dragons would have only been worse, somehow, than one who was evidently speaking in tongues.
“I feel much better now,” I said.
My friend was an aging patriarch of a decently well-off family. He had the physique of a man who had once been very active, which explained his tendency to attend formal events with a sword. Unless that was a symbol of some sort of military service. It was difficult for me to tell the difference, because I remember when people walked around with swords all the time, and that was still a true thing in certain parts of the world in this period. We had not yet reached the stage where guns were commonplace.
Cornelius wasn’t a man to be trifled with, so when he fell into a long silence, sipping and smoking and watching me—perhaps to see if I was only pretending to be sane—I sat quietly and enjoyed my brandy and waited to hear what else he had to say. Clearly, there was more to be expected from him.