Wile, Oliver Thomas

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream,
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream.

~ Common children’s song.

In every story there is a grain of truth, just as in every truth, there is the grain of a story. Of course I do not mean to say that every story is absolutely true, for some stories are more true than others. This is the story of Oliver Thomas Wile, and it is absolutely true. Possibly.

Now, Oliver was born in a tiny little place called the Oaks, near to Sleepy Valley in the great State of California in 1982. Oliver’s Dad was a hard working and important man, and his name was Matthew. Like Oliver would grow up to be, Matthew Wile was of middling height, neither too tall to talk to, nor too short to reach those high shelves. He had wide, honest brown eyes, and his hair was curly and dark.
Oliver had never known his mother, as she had passed away when he was very little, and his memories where very hazy. He was told that she had loved him very much, and he remembered that she used to sing him to sleep at night, cradled in her arms, with the moon gazing down below. He remembered her kind smile, and how the world revolved around her.
What he didn’t remember was how the truck had caught her when crossing the road with her dogs, but that was probably for the best.
Although all stories should be happy, they rarely are. Especially the true ones. Oliver used to lie awake and cry at night, although as time passed, the bitter tears slowly dried, until all that was left was a lingering regret.
School was a happy time for Oliver. He was a popular and precocious student, and truly excelled at the arts. That is not to say there where no obstacles to overcome, for it is in overcoming such that the meat of a story is formed. And yet his childhood was remarkably uneventful, save for one tiny, itsy, little thing. All heroes have a quirk. It separates him from his peers, and helps to provide a driving force to any story, and Oliver’s quirk was particularly quirky. Oliver hated cheating. He hated lies. And he most especially hated secrets. Now, in a certain retrospect this is rather understandable, yet his inexorable indomitability towards the divulgence of the obfuscated baffled everyone. That is to say, they could not understand why he kept sticking his nose where it most certainly did not belong. He rarely lied himself, and never for himself.
So it should come as no surprise to you then, that he came to be the editor of his high school paper. Also causing a lack of surprise was the truly excellent job that he did, reinventing the image of the paper to suit the students, whilst retaining the simple virtue of honesty.
Now, there are many young adults who exceed in life, and many who wish to enter into journalism, yet few who are as suited to the role as our Oliver. On his nineteenth year, he entered, and was accepted at university, where he graduated with honours.
While he was away, time ran it’s inevitable course, and Oliver’s Father, who had once been a strong, healthy young man slowly grew into an old man, and became very ill.
Wishing to stay close to home, and to his beloved Father, he moved back to California, where he found work with the LA Times, a very prominent paper, or so I am told.
It is also during this time that he wrote his first book, a best seller. The book was written for children, and related the truth of the world to those who could understand it best.
Theodore Brown is a little rat. He runs the village, and he is always stealing cheese, as he will tell the other animals that he needs it for official business. Because he steals cheese when he should be working, very little gets done. One day, the other animals, all fed up, stop giving him the cheese that he asks for, and he learns that he has to be responsible for what he does.
The book was an unexpected success, and despite its dark overtones and heavy moral message sold like hotcakes. It just goes to show what you can do if you work hard enough.
But the release of the book was only a bitter joy for Oliver – and here I must warn you again that the story is not very happy at all, although do not despair, for I promise a joy to equal any sorrow yet to come. For you see, Oliver’s Father had died. Oliver’s Father had been quite ill for some time now, and it came as a shock to no-one as he passed away quietly into the night.
The funeral was a grand affair, as there where many lives who had been touched by Matthew Wile, and some of these stories would make Oliver’s second book, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Oliver could not help but notice a tall and regal woman at the funeral. Truth to tell, and the truth should always be told, there would be few that did not notice her, yet there was a touch of familiarity about her that incited curiosity within Oliver. It would not be until the wake (which is a kind of sad party) after the funeral that he would meet her again, for you see, she was his mother…

If no other knowledge deserves to be called useful but that which helps to enlarge our possessions or to raise our station in society, then mythology has no claim to the appellation. But if that which serves to make us happier and better can be called useful then we claim that epithet for our subject. For mythology is the handmaid of literature; and literature is one of the best allies of virtue and promoters of happiness.
- Introduction to Bullfinch’s Mythology

It was mid-afternoon that I had received the call. Not that that was a problem. Nowadays I do most of my work from home. Its not like I have an office, or anything, although it does amuse my to imagine some large underground factory, where authors -hundreds of them, all wearing uniform grey boiler-suits- toil daily to mass produce children’s books.
I had been receiving the weird calls for a while now. An echo, my mother had called her. You don’t need to call her to hear her. You can hear her voice in the dialling tone, or that beep you get when the other line is busy. Something has to make that noise, and its her, I think. At least, it often seems to be. That’s when she usually talks to me. It sounds crazy, but pick up the phone and listen. Or maybe it only works for me. Either way, this voice, this echo had been calling me now for a while. She would give me advice, tell me to stick up for myself. She would offer information, and occasionally tell me of my mother. This time the phone rang, and there was no dialling tone, or any other noise, just her voice.
“Listen, can you meet me in an hour? There’s a coffee shop on the end of your street. See you in an hour!” She hung up before I had a chance to reply, or even acknowledge that I had answered the phone. I’m sure you can appreciate my apprehension at this point. She had talked to me over the phone, and even through a journal that my mother had given to me when I last saw her, but we had never met in person. Face to face. I didn’t even know her name. She was just an echo. Feeling the butterflies in my stomach I gathered my coat and keys, left some seed for Haemus (who disdainfully ignored me) and headed out.

… had been detained by Echo, with an endless flow of chatter while the nymphs had a chance to escape. When Hera realised what Echo was doing, she turned on her in a rage and took from her the ability to say anything of her own volition: she could now only repeat the last words spoken by others.
The Penguin Book of Classical Myths – Jenny March

I entered the coffee shop only a few minutes late and looked around. Only one girl was seated by herself, although she was younger than her voice had led me to expect, late teens, early twenties perhaps. Nonetheless she smiled and waved me over when I entered. She was dressed fairly fashionably, not that I am any judge, bleached jeans, and a dark tee shirt advertising some band. Looked like Avril Lavinge, but I was probably mistaken. She wore a few bands on her arms, and her hair had been bleached, I could make out darker roots.
“Ah, you made it! Want anything to drink?” Her voice sounded exactly the same as over the phone.
“Uh, latte thanks” As the adult, I somehow felt that I should be buying, especially as it didn’t seem very gallant to let the girl buy, but I harboured a sneaking suspicion that not only was she older than she looked, but could probably afford it. Things aren’t always as they appear. She returned to her seat, sliding me over my drink. Her own was a mocha, in one of those ridiculously huge mugs, with enough cream to make it a real challenge to drink. She idly played with the teaspoon, and frowned, as if considering the best approach to tackle her drink.
“Look, I’m not quite sure how to go about this. When a child reaches… a certain stage, they normally get a visit from their parent. Gifts, presents advise, a really good scare, whatever. Well, your mother, she’s a bit… busy right now. Can’t make it along. You do know who your mother is right?”
Mutely I answered with a nod.
“Well, you’ve been doing an okay job. But you can’t stay here forever. Gotta get out there, do things, make something of yourself right? Besides, things aren’t going to be very safe for a while. Things got… awkward. Give this number a call some time.” At this point she took a small business card from her jeans pocket, and slid it across the table. “She’s not one of ours, but she’s reliable. Keep you safe anyway.” I did not recognise the name on the card; but the address was for the LA times. I had done a little work for them before, but nothing big.
“How do you fancy being a journalist?”

And, oh, who am I?
Just an ordinary guy
Trying hard to win me first prize

Candida – Dawn (1970)


There is a statue of Orpheus on Mount Helikon, or at least there was, many years ago. It was raised as a shrine to his passing. Margolies and I had climbed up, past the shady tourist walks, out into the hot sun and refreshing springs found higher up the mountain, where men rarely walked. It was…inspirational. The waters where calm and clear, perfectly reflecting the sky. I could see why the muses where reputed to live here. I offered them a quiet prayer under my breath. Margolies looked around, and enquired if we where ready to go.
“Not quite yet.” I crouched down overlooking the springs.
“For Orpheus’ Lute was strung with poets’ sinews,
Whose golden touch could soften steel and stones,
Make tigers tame, and huge Leviathans
Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands”
Margolies cocked an eyebrow at this.
“Shakespeare” I explained.
A cool ripple moved across the glade, and I could feel that someone, somewhere seemed to approve.
I gestured that I was ready, and Margolies formed the gate. Water rushed up from the springs to frame it. It was slightly shorter than I was, and not much wider.
“Hurry – I cannot hold this long” and the truth of these words was evident in the strain in Margolies voice. I sketched a quick bow of thanks in his direction, and ducked through. Almost as soon as I had, I heard a strangled noise, and turned to see Margolies slump, blood streaming from his eyes and nose. The gate snapped shut. I shuddered suddenly, knowing with a certainty that something awful had happened, and I was trapped.

The desert road stretched onwards, as far as I could see. It was full of people moving slowly, a queue that defied imagination. As I made my way along, I noticed the guards. They lined the road, both sides, and where unusual to say the least. The uniforms where a startling variety. Whilst most appeared to be Norse, or maybe Russian, there where also large numbers wearing fairly modern Greek Army fatigues. One waved me over. “You seem to be looking for someone. Its chaos down here, but maybe we can be of help”
I noticed there was a hole in his chest, as if he had been run through the heart.
“Well…yeh. My friend Hope. Hope McKenzie. I… we… she died in Washington.”
“Yes, I had heard about Washington. Crazy stuff” He replied with a grimace. “Lots of new arrivals. As if things weren’t hectic enough down here.” He opened a small notebook and started to thumb through. “We’ve had a few Hopes recently. Most have been processed, and a few are being ‘decontaminated’. You’d best go talk to the Captain. He’ll get you through to the checkpoint, and you can enquire further from there.”
And so I headed down the road to infinity. Although it wasn’t long before the Captain appeared in sight. He was a large man, rough looking. Norse. He also had a wound in his heart. As I approached he frowned. “You’re not dead. What are you doing here?”
I flashed him my best smile. “Look, there is a problem here. You know. The connections have been cut.”
He nodded sagely. “The Axis Mundi” he interrupted.
“Yes. The Axis. Things are difficult here. They are difficult everywhere and it is in all our best interests to repair things. That is why I am here - I need to repair the connections between the worlds.”
I could tell he looked sceptical. “Alone? Hold on.” He moved along the road to help an old woman that had stumbled.
I aided as best I could, taking the woman’s other shoulder. “No, not alone. I need help. There is a woman here. Hope McKenzie. I need to find her.”
He chuckled, as if he had heard this story before. “Sure, head up to the Checkpoint. You’ll need my mark to skip the queue.” So saying, he dipped his fingers to the wound in his chest and drew a line across my forehead with the blood. “That direction. Don’t stray off the road. Oh, and one other thing. We don’t get much contact from above any more. Wouldn’t mind sharing a few details would you?”
I shook my head, and he produced a photograph. To my surprise, I recognised Michael Ravencroft. He looked over at me. “Know him?”
“Sure. That’s Ravencroft. One of the Norse.”
“Any idea where we could find him?”
I shrugged. “Suppose. He was in some hospital when it… vanished? Theodore – he’s a child of the Baron – claimed it had fallen to hell or some such thing. I don’t really know much I’m afraid I’m not exactly an expert in that sort of thing.”
He nodded, folding up the photograph, and replaced it in his pocket. “Just do one thing right? If you see him again could you tell him this? There will be a reckoning.”

I moved along the line, helping out where I could. I could sympathise with these people. Besides, it doesn’t hurt to maintain an image.
It happened suddenly. In storybooks they write “without warning”. Maybe ‘cos I have that touch of the divine I always have a sense of what is happening. Whatever it was, I was the first to react.
It ‘materialised’ next to an older lady. It looked… scary. And very, very dead. An impression of hunger radiated from its sharp toothed grin, and it raised a claw to strike. Before I realised it, I moved myself between the lady and it, shielding her. Apparently I was a tougher meal than it had expected, and its claws had little effect. I just managed to catch it a punch, channelling my divine wrath across the connection, flooring it. Soldiers rushed over, and cut the thing to pieces, burning it. People where shaking my hand, and slapping me on the back. A chance to play the hero never hurts, and I wanted to have a positive image here – I may need to rely on people like these some day. I smiled and gave them an embarrassed shrug. That phrase “I’m sure each and every one of you would do the same for me” always sounded hollow to my ears, but these people ate it up. I proceeded to the checkpoint in higher spirits. Perhaps things wouldn’t be so bad down here.

The checkpoint was a small concrete checkpoint, vaguely reminiscent of a boarder crossing between two countries. It appeared to be deserted. I could see Hope’s fate strand now, and it disappeared into an administration building. There was a buzzer. I pressed it, and entered. Inside was seated a suited man. A circumspect glance revealed no hole in his chest.
“Hello Child of…Hera. Now what brings you here?”
“I’m looking for someone. Someone to help fix things here. I need to find Hope.”
“Ah.” A slow smile spread across his face. “Her. Or it. I’m not quite sure what to call an embodiment of an idea. Anyway. Perhaps you have heard of me. I am Sisyphus.”
I feigned ignorance. Let him think I was slow, stupid. Hold a card up my sleeve. “I know the name. A poet or a playwright? We have plenty of those.”
I felt him doing something. I was able to resist, and not fall under his charm. Guessing what he was attempting, and wanting to lull him into a sense of security, I immediately adopted a more fawning expression.
“Hope is… for sale. I have some others who are interested in her, but I am inclined to give her to you. If you can get me some items. The first breath of a baby, the last of a dying man. The tears of a king. Or a head of state, that one is negotiable. Blood of a princess, and that one is not negotiable. The pride of a tyrant, and the hope of a saint. Get me these and she’s yours.” His demands where unusual to say the best. I wrote them in my book, the one Echo reads. I hoped he didn’t look too closely at it. I decided to try a ploy. He would be expecting something, and would be suspicious if I didn’t. Besides, if it worked, it would help more than a bit. Nothing to lose.
“And how would our bleeding heart of a Captain out there feel to know an official was asking for bribes?” I cut the fawning expression. “Those Norse, they get real angry fast. I know who you are, Sisyphus. And I have a recording of this entire conversation. Now, give me Hope, or you’ll wish you where still pushing your stone up that hill.”
For the first time since I entered, Sisyphus seemed surprised.
“Hand over the tape!” when nothing happened, his smile returned. “I’ll forgive you this one time. Now, you had better get me my list. You need me to repeat it?” he smirked.
I shook my head. “I’ll need something to collect these things. I’m afraid I don’t usually carry insubstantial things around.”
Sisyphus placed a small wooden box on the table. “Its yours. For extra. All you need to do is… hold something for me. Keep it safe.” He pushed it over. I nodded and took it.
“One last thing. May I enquire who else was after Hope? Who your other buyers where?”
He laughed. “I think that would be very unprofessional Mr…?”
“Wile. And think of it this way. This is a valuable piece of information. And I have promised to get many things for you. Think of it as bartering.”
He looked thoughtful. “Yes. Why not? It could prove most interesting. There was a Titan. A shattered Kami, who I believe, is going by the title of “The Poisoned Sun”. And an Atlantean. His name was…lets see…Leibowitz”
Movement caught my eye. I saw a face appear in the window, looking in. I pointed surreptitiously to Sisyphus, who looked round.
“What? There’s nothing there!”
It was my turn to act smug. “You can’t see him? Interesting.”
Sisyphus mouthed the words of a spell quickly and everything shimmered. He frowned at the face, which suddenly disappeared. “Some new creature no doubt. I’ll notify the captain to kill it on sight.”
So saying he ushered me out. Standing a short way off the road was, what looked for all the world like a hobo. He muttered something unintelligible about salsa, satellites and trees. I walked over, but was careful not to step of the road. He muttered something about planting trees, and offered me an acorn. I carefully accepted it, and buried it a short way in the ground. He seemed delighted, and made more mutterings about satellites, trees and home. He offered some question about home, and grabbed me by the hand, leading me from the road. I followed, and was surprised when we emerged in a public park in Washington. I fumbled in my pockets for loose change, and handed it over, which pleased him, and headed off. I had work to do.