An alternate opening to part 2 of Shriek, the part beginning with the war. I think you can see why. Although it provides more information and context, it’s more or less sludge in many ways. Especially in a book that doesn’t rely on a fast-paced plot for its effects.
A fight has broken out in the bar, I think. I listened to the raised voices for a few minutes before the screech of chairs and a heavy sound, like a table overturned, marked the escalation to something more serious. For a moment, I wanted to go out there. I felt insular, removed, I wanted to talk to someone. Anyone. Instead of â€œtalkingâ€ to whoever is reading this account.
I have wondered, more than once, just who will be reading this after I am gone. I am faced with the distinct possibility that the owner of the Spore will read it firstâ€”or at least glance at it. (Wrongâ€”I got here first.) If this is so, thank you for your hospitality. I wonder what youâ€™ll make of these spore-stained pages. (I wonder what heâ€™ll make of my notes.)
There. The bar is silent now. Someone is breathing deeply. Someone is typing and breathing deeply. Weâ€™re getting close to the end. I can see the end. I can see Mary at the bottom of that staircase, waiting for me to destroy her world.
Thereâ€™s a hole behind me, you know. Theyâ€™ve filled it in, but on breaks Iâ€™ve been re-opening it. Iâ€™ve cleared away enough to wriggle into the tunnel behind it. Should I wish to. If that turns out to be my decision.
Our dad loved historians, but he hated journalists. He considered them historians without perspective or wisdom: â€œunfulfilled historiansâ€ was his favorite way of describing them. Yet we were now poised to become journalists. Given our predicament, we should have been happy. Besides, we were never really reporters, just frightened people with notepads who were trying very hard not to get killed. (It was, paradoxically, a boring time, what with all the running around. All we did was skulk and hide, then run somewhere. Record what we saw. Run somewhere else. Hide. Report. Run. Hide. Report. Runhidereport.)
Why did we become journalists during wartime? Because Ambergris, like some sun-drenched, meat-gorged reptile, began one of its random attempts to molt, to shed its skin to become something new. All across the city, from narrow alleys in the ruined Bureaucratic Quarter to the wide bustle of Albumuth Boulevard, you could sense it coming. Strange alliances formed under strange skies. The vertical invasion of telephone poles, for example, once a random dotting, became a concerted march from the docks into the interior. Guns poured in with the telephones, both from the Kalifâ€™s empire. The outdoor cafÃ© life became charged with danger and interruptions; stabbings became all to frequent. Motored vehicles made yet another concerted effort to undo self-extinction. The very air smelled different. (This was not your imaginationâ€”the spore content began to change, evolve.) And these were only the first in a series of transformations that we still havenâ€™t seen the last of. What could one expect? The city, for all its history, its secrets, its allure, had always been dirty, on the verge of crumbling back into itselfâ€”battered, tattered, incoherent. Inevitably, the molt wouldnâ€™tâ€™ take, and the reptile that was the city would sink back into the mud a little, its skin ever more mottled from the experience.
We became journalists; thereâ€™s no avoiding that. We became journalists because while Duncan had been separated from Mary, two other groups had been seeing entirely too much of each other: Frankwrithe & Lewden and Hoegbotton & Sons. Or, rather, I should say House Frankwrithe & Lewden and House Hoegbotton, as they have taken to calling themselves.
The situation has been memorialized in many waysâ€”Lakeâ€™s painting â€œThe Absurdity of Water,â€ Sirinâ€™s series of parodies, and, of course, Duncanâ€™s dry account, heavily excerpted below, from an essay he never finished, possibly because it was too boring for even him to contemplate for long:
To put it plainly, Sirin had anticipated an economic invasion of Ambergris by Frankwrithe & Lewdenâ€”the type of invasion that only coincidentally results in bloodshed. For years, the constant home-front pressure exerted by Hoegbotton & Sons had made it impossible for Frankwrithe & Lewden to infiltrate Ambergris except in the context of Antechamber book bannings or through bookstores, like Borges, large enough to ignore Hoegbotton directives. However, by the same token, Frankwrithe managed to oust, by means of political pressure and violence, all â€œambassadorsâ€ of Hoegbotton from their local sphere of influence in Morrow.
In part, Frankwrithe & Lewden just took advantage of Hoegbottonâ€™s temporary shift of attention to trains and railways, a fixation that emanated from the aged but clever patriarch of the Hoegbotton clan, Henry Hoegbotton. Henry hoped for an era when Hoegbotton & Sons would have economic control over all of the South and most of the North east of the River Moth. After consolidation of these holdings, it was widely speculated that Hoegbotton would wage a â€œholy war of commerceâ€ against the Kalifâ€™s closed markets.
The leaking of this new expansionist vision to F&L operators caused considerable consternation within the upper ranks at Frankwrithe & Lewden. They had their histories, passed down from their days as a political arm of the Saphant Empire, and they probably grasped the implications sooner than Henry Hoegbotton himself. Frankwrithe thus sought to counter Hoegbotton aggressively, by bringing trade downriver and involving H&S in trade skirmishes closer to their own turf; if H&S was tied down in local politics, they could hardly implement a wider plan. F&L banked on its diversification, but also on its development of a superior brand of typewriterâ€”the Lewden Model II, a version of which I am typing up this excerpt of Duncanâ€™s on right nowâ€”and long distance telephone services, making a deal with the Kalif that must have infuriated Henry Hoegbotton. F&L also began to funnel more and more money into Ambergris banksâ€”a risky scheme, since Hoegbotton might have been able to use his influence to close or freeze those accounts.
â€¦skipping aheadâ€”my fingers are getting tired of typing, especially since this typewriter, good as it is, continues to decompose before my eyesâ€¦ (Janiceâ€”they donâ€™t necessarily know all of this; it wasnâ€™t well-reported before the conflict, and certainly not after. No harm in repeating it, anyway.)
None of this would have led to war if not for the situation on Sophiaâ€™s Island. Sophiaâ€™s Island, named after Cappan Manzikert Iâ€™s wife because she often used it as a summer retreat, lies some ten miles upriver of Ambergris, close to the east bank of the River Moth. A channel of deep water approximately 300 feet wide separated it from shore. H&S had bought the island and the land along the river bank from the last Cappan of Ambergrisâ€”the Cappan needed the money and Samuel Hoegbotton, H&Lâ€™s leader at the time, needed to evade the high tariffs charged to his ships when they docked at Ambergris proper. H&S held the island for 200 years, refurbishing Sophiaâ€™s ruined summer house and using the island as a convenient storage space for goods.
However, over time, H&S gained control of Ambergrisâ€™ docks and Sophiaâ€™s Island no longer served its former strategic purpose. It fell out of use and was practically abandoned. Meanwhile, F&L became a powerful political entity in Morrow, often as powerful as the kings that still ruled it. H&S, under the terms of a treaty signed 50 years before I was born, ceded the island to F&L in return for trading rights in Morrow. F&L planned to use it to store books and conduct trade with southern cities.
Even this might not have led to conflict, despite putting H&S and F&L in close proximity over a long period of time: F&L operatives on the island could look to the east and see members of Hoegbottonâ€™s paramilitary forces guarding the shore.
A clause in the contract stated that although F&L controlled the island, their control â€œended where the waters of the Moth form a natural boundary between the island and the east bank of the Moth.â€ Alas, the changing weather patterns in Ambergris coincided with a natural period of belligerence on the part of Frankwrithe & Lewden. After an extreme winter, Ambergris returned to normal for three seasons. Many were the so-called experts who speculated on what the next winter would bring. Some predicted another frozen Moth. Others believed the previous winter had been a fluke, never to be repeated. However, come the winter months, neither group was proven entirely correct. Instead, the water level in the River Moth fell dramaticallyâ€”to the point that Sophia Island extended almost to the eastern shoreâ€”and extended far enough, through sand bars, on the western side to leave a narrow but deep channel. In effect, F&L now controlled all passage to and from the north of Ambergris.
F&L immediately built a series of floating pontoons on the western side, hired mercenaries, and set up a toll situation for merchants going north and south. Hoegbotton immediately challenged the situationâ€”claiming that all land to the east and west of the original boundaries of Sophia Island constituted â€œnew property, not covered by the original agreement, and therefore subject to Hoegbotton & Sons control.â€ F&Lâ€™s response was to send an additional thousand armed operatives to the island. Hoegbotton beefed up its security on the eastern shore.
And so it stood for several months, until the combined tensions and the loss to Hoegbotton profits sparked armed conflict on the island: Henry Hoegbotton ordered his paramilitary units to take the island. Thus ensued a series of bloody clashes, largely unreported in the press. These clashes eventually spilled over into the city of Ambergris, spurred on by a horrible collusion between the gray caps and F&L. Seeking to overcome the gap in men and materials, F&L somehow managed to enter into negotiations with the gray caps to buy fungal weaponsâ€”something that had never happened before in the history of the cityâ€¦
And on and on. Please forgive himâ€”he is my brother, after all.