Now you might have some idea of what it was like for me to be pinned inside that car, unable to escape the flames, conscious enough to catalogue the experience until I went into shock. There were a few short and merciful moments in which I could hear and smell and think, still documenting everything but feeling nothing. Why does this no longer hurt? I remember closing my eyes and wishing for complete, beautiful blackness. I remember thinking that I should have lived my life as a vegetarian.
Then the car shifted once more, tipping over into the creek upon whose edge it had been teetering. Like the turtle had regained its feet and scurried into the nearest water source.
This occurrence--the car falling into the creek--saved my life by extinguishing the flames and cooling my newly broiled flesh.
Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love.
I have no idea whether beginning with my accident was the best decision, as Ive never written a book before. Truth be told, I started with the crash because I wanted to catch your interest and drag you into the story. Youre still reading, so it seems to have worked.
The most difficult thing about writing, Im discovering, is not the act of constructing the sentences themselves. Its deciding what to put in, and where, and what to leave out. Im constantly second-guessing myself. I chose the accident, but I could just as easily have started with any point during my thirty-five years of life before that. Why not start with: ìI was born in the year 19----, in the city of----î?
Then again, why should I even confine the beginning to the time frame of my life? Perhaps I should start in Nurnberg in the early thirteenth century, where a woman with the most unfortunate name of Adelheit Rotter retreated from a life that she thought was sinful to become a Beguine--women who, though not officially associated with the Church, were inspired to live an impoverished life in imitation of Christ. Over time Rotter attracted a legion of followers and, in 1240, they moved to a dairy farm at Engelschalksdorf near Swinach, where a benefactor named Ulrich II von Konigstein allowed them to live provided they did chores. They erected a building in 1243 and, the following year, established it as a monastery with the election of their first prioress.
When Ulrich died without a male heir, he bequeathed his entire estate to the Beguines. In return he requested that the monastery provide burial places for his relations and that they pray, in perpetuity, for the Konigstein family. In a show of good sense he directed that the place be named Engelthal, or ìValley of the Angels,î rather than Swinach--ìPlace of the Pigs.î But it was Ulrichs final provision that would have the greatest impact on my life: he mandated that the monastery establish a scriptorium.
Eyes open on a red and blue spin of lightning. A blitzkrieg of voices, noises. A metal rod pierces the side of the car, jaws it apart. Uniforms. Christ, Im in Hell and they wear uniforms. One man shouts. Another says in a soothing voice: "Well get you out. Dont worry." He wears a badge. "Youre gonna be all right," he promises through his mustache. "Whats your name?" Cant remember. Another paramedic yells to someone I cant see. He recoils at the sight of me. Are they supposed to do that? Blackness.
Eyes open. Im strapped to a spine board. A voice, "Three, two, one, lift." The sky rushes towards me and then away from me. "In," says the voice. A metallic clack as the stretcher snaps into place. Coffin, why no lid? Too antiseptic for Hell, and could the roof of Heaven really be made of gray metal? Blackness.
Eyes open. Weightless again. Charon wears a blue polyester-cotton blend. An ambulance siren bounces off a concrete Acheron. An IV has been inserted into my body--everywhere? Im covered with a gel blanket. Wet, wet. Blackness.
Excerpted from The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson Copyright © 2008 by Andrew Davidson. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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