Dark the curtains when dark the night

‘Gainst shards of fire from moonside skies

Fear turning upon the flick of a light

The whisper of water

A child’s cries

Soldier, I will be

On October 27th, —-, a civilian appeared out on the —— dunes where she had no business to be.That day drones tore at the air overhead, with payloads in the dozens of tonnes, and along the ever-shifting frontier mortars reshaped the desert. I sit still and learn this from the forums where people piece together obscure headlines, and surreptitiously hint at what they should not reveal.

The first sign of her in the footage, presumably from a surveillance rover, shows her getting to her feet atop one of the dunes. She brushes herself off meticulously, with her motions slowing until she is merely standing there with her arms at her sides, the wind pulling out her hair. The video is ill-focused and low-quality, but it suddenly conveys a sharp sense of how alone she is, framed against smoke billowing on the horizon. For a moment she is the most beautiful, ordinary thing you could imagine in the midst of such destruction. A girl in a plain white sundress.

Frames click by and clumsily convey her looking upward for a moment, and a tension that had been in her frame all along becomes more obvious. People like to talk of what she might have been looking at, or thinking of, but when I think of the likely truth I can’t bear to listen to speculation.

She looks, and then she lowers her chin again. She is a screen and numberless miles and minutes away, yet you can tell that she has relaxed. Her hands rise from her sides and the video starts to go shaky. The white of her dress seems to glow, or grow, climbing up her arms and blurring, even as the video shudders and cuts out.

Like a white light burnt into my eyes she lingers, and at first I couldn’t believe that that was the end of the clip. The army has stayed silent through the media storm – if they have more footage we don’t know.

Operations in —— were abruptly halted, causing a furor in congress, with stiff statements made on television citing “classified information”. We pulled out. And things had almost died down when the leak happened, releasing documents related to the aborted mission, and the video clip that has now been seen around the world.

What we found out from the leak is that drones fell from the sky on October 27th. They fell in swathes, like flocks of monstrous black birds, without a single detonation. Mortars landed already dead, to be swallowed by the sand. Communications on all sides went dead. The few fighters that had been on the ground, crouched in sand bulwarks and caves, were found dead, bearing signs of blunt force trauma, their guns nothing but slag.

Rumor has it that ———- were immediately scrambled, but no matter who it was, the girl was certainly “recovered” to be locked down and buried deep. Personal logs among the leaked documents note, again and again, the remarkable expression of peace on her face.

The girl in the white dress has become a sensation everywhere, and it is impossible to escape the fascination, the incessant noise that torments me. We’d been looking for her for two long months – two months between her disappearance and the video. That dress was what she was wearing the last time I saw her. How is it that I had no idea of what she intended?

The least that we can do now is get her back.

China, Transylvania, and Rome

It does not take much strength to lift a hair, it does not take sharp eyes to see the sun and moon, it does not take sharp ears to hear a thunderclap.

~ Sun Tzu

Two nights ago I read 9 of the 13 sections of The Art of War, and wrote 13 pages of notes. I need hardly explain why my dreams were medieval and confusing. I could explain why I am doing this during exams, with my undergraduate seminar paper hanging over my head, but only if I knew.

Perhaps some of you are also perverse in timing things. I read Sun Tzu’s carefully framed quotations and the commentary offered by those such as Li Quan, Mei Yaochen, and Zhang Yu, and simply didn’t find a stopping place. Reading their reflections on terrain called to mind the varied landscapes of China, and I found myself Googling images of mountain jungles and rice fields.

I did not read the remaining four sections because I thought I should do some math instead. It turns out this was an excuse to pick up another book.

Today I finished Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I discovered a “Reader” app on my super-high-tech-complicated Android phone, and lo and behold, there were classic book inside. Free.

How could I not read a free copy of Dracula, which I had never read before?

So I exchanged the “ground of life and death” for the wilds of Transylvania, and the Count’s great ruined castle on its promontory. Continue reading “China, Transylvania, and Rome”

Memoirs of a Historian

This is an exerpt from a larger story. © 2012, Elizabeth Cook

At the times when I forget to come to a meal, to answer the telephone, or to clean up the clutter that is my office, my wife often calls me a useless nostalgic, a helpless romantic for the histories! In her heated voice these are insults, but to my ear, the truth was never so simple nor so pleasant. I reside within a construction of antiquated facts, dates, and recordings, all lifted up from the pages of history. A happy existence, from which the mist of the old, old past rarely clears, is my perfect study.

When those mists do clear, in the figurative sense I must blink and adjust to the present, whose flat sounds and uninteresting aspect does discourage me frequently. My wife’s hustle and bustle, her complaints and her frustrations, come from an immeasurable distance. There are no kings or mighty dynasties, no heroic battles or fascinating exploits. Plato, Augustus Caesar, Genghis Khan, Continue reading “Memoirs of a Historian”