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Bibliotheca Echidna

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London, ca 1860
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[ 1782 copperplate engraving titled A General View of London, the Capital of England - Taken from an eminence near Islington.; from The New and Universal System of Geography...By George Henry Millar...London: Printed for Alex. Hogg, No. 16, Paternoster-Row. ]
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A Lyric by Lear (Nr. 12)
From the whimsical works of the honorable Edward Lear. Taken from the easy to read, fun to peruse and utterly ludicrous:  Book of Nonsense.

There was a Young Lady whose chin,
Resembled the point of a pin:
So she had it made sharp,
And purchased a harp,
And played several tunes with her chin.

To the great-grandchildren, grand-nephews, and grand-nieces of Edward, 13th Earl of Derby, This book of drawings and Verses (The greater part of which were originally made and composed for their parents,) is dedicated by the author, Edward Lear (Source: Gutenberg)
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A Fable by Aesop - The Wolf Turned Shepherd
olf, finding that the sheep were so afraid of him that he could not get near them, disguised himself in the dress of a shepherd, and thus attired approached the flock. As he came near, he found the shepherd fast asleep. As the sheep did not run away, he resolved to imitate the voice of the shepherd. In trying to do so, he only howled, and awoke the shepherd. As he could not run away, he was soon killed. Those who attempt to act in disguise are apt to overdo it. Aesop's Fables, Translated by George Fyler Townsend. Source: Gutenberg

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Stalled
rchins are normally innocent although energetic criminals. They see every piece of food as their future property and and mischief as their personal calling. Urchins are young, ranging from 5 to about 12 years of age. Mostly the adults tolerate them and see them as a source of entertainment. Some of the little ones have parents, some do not. The older ones have been on their own for years even if they still have parents. It is sad to see these children start innocently and end up either bitter, broken or quite simply, dead. When a troupe of urchins invades an area the adults either become vigilant or relax. One or two of the children are leaders, the rest are innocent followers. When the leaders aren't around the adults relax. If however a commanding little tike is spotted the grown ups bar their windows, close and bold their doors and prepare for the worst. One such nightmare we've already seen and is called Julius, the urchin emperor. He looks just like the others, filthy and ready to commit mischief. This one, this tiny spot of bother is different. He peers out into the world from under a torn cap and thinks he looks bigger and bolder with that piece of cloth on his head. A clever one he is and resourceful as well. If there ever was a future Moriarty then Julius would be his original name. Come to think of it we do not know Julius's actual name. Quite a common thing with urchins. They take on names of people they admire or people they meet randomly. One wanted to call himself Nelson,  but was quickly ridiculed by Julius when he told the little boy that Nelson was killed and shipped back to England in a barrel of brandy. Full of disgust the boy chose to use Bob instead and Julius was still the all ruling admiral.

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Pocket Mouse

erhaps it can not be withheld this guilt I carry. I have told you of the terrible fate of our dearly beloved barmaid Sheila who was so terribly mutilated. What I have not told you is that I am guilty of her murder. There, it is said. It is out into the world and can not be taken back. Ironically it did not take much to let the knowledge free, just a couple of simple words on paper, written down at my desk a typical dreary London afternoon. For days, even weeks I have not been able to decipher the events before. Life went on strangely enough. You did not see my name in the Strand or the Times, no arrest was posted. The store became my prison and the building itself my safe haven as well. This will soon change to be sure. Why then my confession? It was because of a mouse, a singular mouse. I will tell you the tale of how I met this mouse.

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Latin Proverb,

* Munit haec et altera vincit.
Translation: "One defends and the other conquers" (motto of Nova Scotia.)
Julius

ven amongst small children you can find sentiments of camaraderie, fierce loyalty, arch enemies and any kind of social interaction you would expect from adults. And then there is Julius. Julius, who's full name is Julius Struthers, is a small kid with large ambitions. He rallies the urchins around him, organizes them in small armies and in general treats them as his personal arsenal of mayhem. The boy is good, he knows how to lead even though he's only 10 years old. True, he operates his improvised army on rations of candy and promises of anything an urchin's little mind can conceive. And more. Fame and fortune means nothing to these scrawny dirty roaches. Food they need, alcohol they prefer and in between they like to cause trouble from one end of Fleet Street to the other. Julius is their trouble master and they trust him to organize the most splendid mischief this side of London has ever seen. And he does. His plans are elaborate. Some of the stunts pulled would make professor Moriarty blush and leave Holmes in total despair at home sucking his pipe. Julius understands the power of a pack of urchins behaving as urchins do. If you were to spot a man leaning against a lamppost head ducked deep in the collar of his coat, staring at a shop window, you would draw the conclusion that this man is up to no good. Seeing an urchin do the same thing you would perhaps draw the same conclusion that the little tike is up to no good, and you would be right. But that's expected from them and that's where Julius came in.

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Hound
In yesterday’s London Times the following ominous message appeared. ** It has come to our attention that numerous citizens of London have observed a large animal resembling a wolf-like hound. Scotland Yard is not officially charged with finding the animal or creature, but we are investigating the links between these sightings and two recent murders. It is suspected that the animal is not in fact a canine but instead of a large cat type. This based on reports of a long tail, longer than any dog would possess. If you have any information that can shed light on the nature of the animal we ask that you report this immediately to one of your local police constables. ** Strangely enough, it was printed on one of the last pages, as if whoever sent this out for publication wasn’t sure about how it would reflect on the Yard. You can not really keep something like this quiet, especially not in a city where even the smallest news snippets fly through the air from street to street. Not that you needed to rely on gossip, the paperboys figured out what was really important within minutes and started shouting: “Murderous monster loose on the streets. Read all about it!”, or “Who will be next? Dangerous animal on the prowl! Get your news here!” When you tell the public that there might be a small chance that perhaps some people have seen something, then you can bet that hundreds more will definitely see something the next day. And indeed, Scotland Yard was flooded with scores of people crowding police headquarters with their alleged sightings of the horrible beast. We had our own little brush with the monster here in Fleet Street. Or I should say with a possible victim. Sheila Banebridge, a local barmaid was found with large lacerations in her neck a couple of days ago. People get murdered in London a lot and we don’t usually notice. Although we all knew Sheila and she didn’t deserve this, nobody does. A bit of a rotund lass she was, always up for a dirty joke or a well place double entendre. She would slap you on the back and return the joke twofold in your direction. All in all she wasn’t the fragile kind and that added to the mystery. Whatever had happened to her was done with such overwhelming force that the medical examiner couldn’t provide a clue as to who or what the attacker was. Sheila could defend herself, in fact that was one of the reasons she was hired at the pub, because she wasn’t shy of maneuvering a difficult customer out the door. And out they went no problem there. What attacked her that night? Inspector Davies wouldn’t comment he wasn’t to sure about the case himself. Not that he knew much, he wasn’t assigned to investigate. All that he was willing to divulge was that someone or something had done such damage in one powerful move that she died instantly. Her trachea was almost completely removed with that blow, or stroke, or whatever it was. We’re all on edge and the news about the hound did not help. The air is tense people can not think of much else. It is dark but no one is sleeping well tonight.

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Have you ever
ave you ever stood on the edge of your doorstep looking back at your home and wondered if you could leave it all behind in a flash? Have you ever? Perhaps there will never be such a situation, perhaps you are blessed. Or perhaps you want this desperately to happen but the occasion hasn’t presented itself. There is finality to this possibility, a chance things might turn out much better. There is a chance, a chance you will never be the same again. Maybe you have done this very thing countless times and you wonder what could possibly be extraordinary about this thought. However. Have you ever entered your home and thought: everything is gone, nothing is the same anymore, this is not mine, and there is nothing here anymore that belongs to me. Today was such a day. One could say: I left; I left all that I knew behind. One could say poppycock and argue nothing changed. Everything is still there. The store, the clocks, the watches, the endless ticking and chiming. The small library crammed full of books, most of which I will never read. Nothing perceivably different can be observed, not even with the most powerful magnifying glass. And yet, and yet everything is different. I look around and can’t connect with a single item I can see, touch, hear and smell. The delicate tools I’ve used for more than a year now are meaningless. They exist in a world that is physical yes, but could have not been further away from my reality. Why these vague and utterly diabolical hints at the grotesque, the unimaginable? Have I been robbed of all my senses? Are the walls now talking to me and do I hear voices around me telling me the world has ended? No, nothing of the sort. I will, with great difficulty recall and retell the events that have passed ever since my old mentor Mr. Hubbard opened the trap door leading down to the phantasmagorical Bibliotheca Echidna. Having only been there once, and only briefly, I was not much impressed other than wonder who and why had created such an elaborate underground palace of private entertainment. For that is what I thought it was then, a manifestation of minds too curious to be satisfied with trivial mechanisms. Perhaps the richly decorated underground lobby was nothing more than an even more exclusive replica of one of the numerous gentlemen’s clubs that were ever so popular these days. Granted, I was curious then, but I did not expect the inhabitants of this underground labyrinth were serious, deadly serious.

Forgive me, dear reader; it has not been long since I emerged, physically unscathed yes, but mentally in shambles. You will permit me to rest a while before I commit to paper all that I have seen. Currently I would not be able to describe by any means those things and people I encountered. Those endlessly moving paintings of Dr. Halter, whose understanding of light and dark can not be put into words alone. How will I convey the depths one plunges into after just one brief glance? Light, yes, light, that is the same at least. Down there, light takes on a different form. It is alive and has its own mind and agenda, it wants to reign and attach itself to everything. It fights the dark but can not win. That is what Dr. Halter understood. His paintings only work there, they must be observed in a room with light made for just one painting, for one purpose. Perhaps this is true for all that I saw and lived through down there: it can only exist there. But what does that leave me? I have the light of above, of the real natural sky. The light that is still mine, that thing that has remained the same since I left. Perhaps the inspector can help. Unlike myself, a person who is now allowed below beyond the lobby, the inspector can not go into Echidna beyond the doors. This is most fortunate; perhaps he can help understand why things are different down there. He has not been infected; he has never been that deep. But what am I saying, how can you, dear reader, follow all this. I speak in riddles and riddles not even clear to myself. We will meet again, yes we shall indeed and maybe then I can elaborate. Eternally tired. Must sleep until this mental fever is no longer raging in my brain. For now I bid you a good day.

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Inflammatory Language Syndrome
esterday afternoon, on my way to our faithful supplier of metals, parts and watch oils, I overheard a conversation between two nouveau medicants. Apparently the topic of discussion was the influence of physical ailments on the mind. One of the healers furiously claimed no such thing existed and the other furiously insisted that his college had not read the latest journal articles. Giving his argument more force, the pedant started to cite a number of cases in which unusual and rare afflictions contracted in the tropics, completely changed one's behavior and personality. With confidence the medical man prophesied that parasites of the smallest kind, can take over a grown adult's thought patterns and distort for selfish reasons. I only caught some of their conversation, but one has to ask where our nation's physicians get their medical training.

Continue reading: "Inflammatory Language Syndrome" »
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At Leng's Plateau
s expected, the tiny form of Mr. Leng the peculiar barber stood quietly waiting in Hubbard's shop as we came back from the greenhouse. The blind old man did not move a muscle as we approached and simply stood silently as if waiting for something. Olivia had remained behind and was still watching the underwater wildlife, most likely nose pressed against the glass and talking to the funny little eels. One of these days she would surely fall into the stream in an attempt to get even closer to all those amazing animals. Helen stood behind me and when no immediate action was forthcoming she retreated upstairs. I patiently stood at the base of the spiral staircase, slightly leaning on the metal railing. Leng still did not move and we must have been standing there for minutes. I asked no questions. The old man had a reputation of being very patient and always with good reason. One could not provoke or hasten him, which left me standing rather awkwardly and after a while: painfully. After a few minutes I moved over to the counter and sat down on one of the bar stools we keep behind the sales counter. "Yes I can hear it now", said Mr. Leng suddenly, "It is your back isn't it, it hurts?"
Continue reading: "At Leng's Plateau" »
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An Awkward Awakening
ar from what I thought my surroundings would be like after having traveled for so long, I found myself sitting on the side of my old bed staring out through the small window over the greenhouse and the other backyards with a feeling of separation. Time may heal all wounds, but it also erases experiences faster than we can find ways to commit them to permanent memory. Even in those first few seconds of being back in Fleet Street, I felt myself slipping into the old thought patterns, the familiar small habits and rituals that makes a home a home. My traveling clothes were still on me and on the floor beside me was the leather hat, purchased in Venice not weeks before. Helen must have heard me move around and came knocking on the door. "Jeremy, are you awake?" Helen was not one of the most personable maids and she kept herself to her duties most of the time. Except when Olivia visited, then our maid would turn into a doting mother. "Jeremy, are you up?" Helen asked again. "You can come in if you want to", I said, having not taken off any item of clothing. The door opened and Helen stood in the doorway, shuffling from one foot to another. "Are you quite alright? We were worried about you", she said. "Worried, why on earth would you be worried?" I asked, now paying our maid my fullest attention. "You've been asleep for two days straight. We did not try to wake you but if you had not awoken today we would have called for Doctor Roberts", Helen said.
Continue reading: "An Awkward Awakening" »
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Thought of the moment:
Being brilliant is no great feat if you respect nothing.
-- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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Page 1.
The Critical Times is a work of fiction. Many of the characters are inspired by historical figures; others are entirely imaginary creations of the author's. Apart from the historical figures, any resemblance betgween these fictional characters and actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


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