Saturday, February 26, 2011

Land to the North -- Chapter Four

(Blogger’s Note: This whole book is being uploaded one chapter at a time and will therefore be in reverse order when completed. For those who have not yet read it, the earlier chapters and the Prologue follows this. I leave it that way so that those loyal readers who have been following the story won’t have to scroll down to find the newest chapter... Yes, it might be a pain, but that’s just the way it is.) 


Ramsey returned two weeks later. He called one morning, claimed that he had want we wanted and set up a meeting for that afternoon. Eric and I drove to the airfield, a tiny dirt strip outside of Kansas City. There was a large building, the hangar, a corrugated tin structure with a dirt floor and a windsock on the roof. To one side of it was a small, wooden building with a rusting pickup truck parked nearby. We walked across the patchy grass, scraped our feet on the cement step, and entered.

Inside there was a large table in the center of the room. Maps of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa dominated one wall. A counter, slanted, ran along one wall and was littered with flight planning aids including maps, charts, rulers, plotters and NOTAMS. A tiny office with large glass windows was stuck in one corner. A bright light burned inside and I could see Ramsey sitting at his desk in there.

Apparently Ramsey heard us and came out to greet us. He was a short, stocky man with black hair and bushy eyebrows. There was stubble on his chin and an unlighted cigar in his mouth, using it as a prop to prove how tough he was. He wore a leather jacket that creaked when he moved. He held out a beefy hand and said, "Welcome, gentlemen. Welcome."

As Eric shook his hand, he asked, "Have you had time to develop the film?"

"Don’t waste time, do you? said Ramsey. "Yes, I’ve developed the film and had blow ups made. According to my calculations, you fellows owe me an additional three hundred, eight dollars and ninety-two cents."

"Show me what you’ve got," said Eric, "and then we’ll talk about money."

Ramsey took his cigar out of his mouth, looked at the end of it as if inspecting its ash, though it was unlit. He leaned on the table, grabbed a packet and dragged it closer. "These are the photographs I made. All were taken from three thousand feet. I’ve only had the ones that show some landmarks blown up."

He smiled and shook his head. "Most of it was just miles and miles of white with nothing there to use to navigate."

As Eric and I examined the aerial photos, Ramsey pulled out a chart and laid it out. "Now, what I’ve done is this. I’ve marked each of your aerial maps with a number and then drawn a square on this map that shows where the photo was taken. Naturally there are some gaps, but it gives you a good idea of how to get from one square to the next."

Eric produced a magnifying glass. He thumbed through the photos quickly, separating them into two piles. When he was finished, he used the magnifying glass to examine each of the charts in the smaller pile. Once he called my attention to the corner of a photo and asked, "What do you make of that?"

I took the glass and leaned closer. There was a dark smudge that might have been an island in the sea, or bare ground in the middle of a snow field. Try as I might, I couldn’t see any detail in it.

While I looked it over, Eric questioned Ramsey. He asked him if he had seen anything strange on any of his flights.

Ramsey rubbed his chin and stared at the ceiling, as if there was the answer written up there. "What’d you mean?" he finally asked.

"Anything that didn’t seem to belong. Something out of the ordinary."

"No, I didn’t," said Ramsey. "Did notice a tree floating in the ocean. That was a little strange because it had leaves on it. This time of year and that far north, I’d have expected it to be bare."

"Where was that?" asked Eric. He pulled the map close and said, "Point it out to me."

Ramsey touched the map and said, "It was somewhere around in here."

Eric looked at the number in the square and lined it up with the photograph of the area. He set it next to the one where we had spotted the brown smudge. The two went together to form a single large chart.

I could see that Eric was excited. It was the first tangible evidence we had found that wasn’t from old texts and second-hand accounts. Granted, it wasn’t much, but then it was more than either of us had expected. A slash of bare ground and the trunk of a fully foliaged tree. Either could be explained by natural occurrences and Occam’s Razor demanded that the simplest explanation that accounted for all the facts was the best. That ruled out the Inner Earth, but Occam’s Razor was a logical argument and logic sometimes flew in the face of reality.

Eric questioned Ramsey further, asking him if he saw anything else that he found strange. When Ramsey came up came up with nothing, Eric to his credit, asked, "Where did you land your airplane?"

Again Ramsey referred to a map. "There’s a small town here, about a hundred miles from the major search area. I could refuel there and buy supplies. It was inconvenient and reduced the amount of search time, but it was the only town anywhere close where I could find the supplies I needed."

"Yes," said Eric. "You talk to the locals?"

Now Ramsey grinned, looking almost sheepish. "Found a small pub and did some time in it."

"Good. Good. Now in your conversations with the locals, did they mention anything to you that you found odd? Maybe talk about a valley nearby that is uncommonly warm? Or maybe people and animals disappearing? Or maybe strange looking and sounding people around?"

Ramsey took a new cigar from the pocket of his leather jacket, bit the end off it and spit that to the floor. He dug in his pocket for a match, didn’t find one and didn’t light the cigar. Instead he propped a foot up on the edge of a wastebasket, leaned an elbow on his knee and thought. After a few moments, he said, "Now, you have to understand that you didn’t ask me to look around on the ground or to talk to the locals. You didn’t say anything about any of that."

"Yes," said Eric agreeing, "I didn’t want to color your thinking and I didn’t want to divert you from your main mission which was the photography. Now, think back. Did anyone say anything that you thought strange?"

"I’m afraid not," said Ramsey shaking his head. "Our talk didn’t get around to that. Mostly, I told them about flying airplanes and about the Great War." He chuckled and said, "Didn’t have to buy too many drinks either. They kept them flowing as their reward to a war veteran."

"Well," I said, gathering the aerial photographs, maps and other charts into a single, large pile. "I think we have about everything we need."

Eric pulled his wallet from the inside pocket of his jacket. He opened it and counted out the additional fee. He handed the money over and said, "I’ll need a receipt, of course."

"Of course," agreed Ramsey, chomping on the unlighted cigar. He pulled a sheet of paper toward him and scribbled, "Received $308.92, payment in full for services rendered. He handed over the paper took eight cents from his pocket, grinning.

We thanked him and he told us to come back anytime. He’d be right there and he’d love to work for us again.

Outside the door, almost before he had closed it completely, Eric spun on me and nearly yelled, "What do you think about that? We have something?"

His excitement was contagious. I stopped walking and said, "I think we have something. What do we do first?"

Eric hurried toward our truck and opened the driver’s side. He said, "We get back to town, pack our clothes and throw them into the truck. We then head north."

I looked at my watch. "First thing in the morning would be better. A good night’s sleep, a big breakfast and we’ll be on our way. It’s too late today to make much of a dent in the trip."

I didn’t say that I wanted to talk to Sara one last time. I just couldn’t leave it the way it was now. I hadn’t talked to her since she had walked out of the restaurant several days earlier.

Eric looked as if he was going to protest the delay and then nodded. "You’re right. I’ve waited this long, spent years dreaming of this moment and I suppose one night, either way, won’t matter all that much."

We climbed into the cab of the truck and Eric started it. He slammed it into gear and backed up. He turned onto the muddy road and we rattled our way back toward Kansas City.

"Damn!" he said. "I know we’ve got something now." He glanced at me and added, "It’s the tree you know. Currents are flowing in the opposite direction. There is no way for a tree with leaves to get into the arctic ocean unless it originated farther to the north. Not to the south."

I didn’t say anything to him, but I knew he was right. I could feel something and knew that we were about to embark on a great adventure.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Land to the North - Chapter Three

(Blogger’s Note: This whole book is being uploaded one chapter at a time and will therefore be in reverse order when completed. For those who have not yet read it, the earlier chapters and the Prologue follows this. I leave it that way so that those loyal readers who have been following the story won’t have to scroll down to find the newest chapter... Yes, it might be a pain, but that’s just the way it is.)

Finding a pilot and a plane to rent turned out to be an easy task. After the war ended there were many men who still desired to fly and who had bought surplus aircraft from the American government. Any excuse to get into the sky for hire was good enough for them.

It was a little more difficult to find one who would fly toward the north pole. Aerodromes were few in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, but there were some. Our pilot, Randall J. Ramsey, who had shot down German airplanes and strafed German lines for the British was more than happy to take our five hundred dollar fee, plus expenses, our maps and camera, and fly over the frozen wastes and icy seas looking for the island that I sometimes thought of as mythical.

While Ramsey was in the north, having flown out a couple of days after we made our requests, Eric and I roamed downtown Kansas City searching for the equipment we would need for the expedition. Eric had arrived with a list of what he thought we would need and we spent a day in the library reading about the expeditions outfitted during the exploration of Africa. It gave us plenty of ideas.

Once that list was completed, we inventoried everything that Eric had brought. He had thought of rope, great coils of it, backpacks, knives and machetes, a high powered hunting rifle with plenty of ammunition, a Mauser broom handle pistol taken off a dead German officer, cartons of canned food, hand-held electric torches, shovels and axes. He was a little light on medical supplies but we remedied that easily. There was so much that forty men couldn’t have carried it all.

"Doesn’t matter," said Eric, crouching in the rear of the truck. "That’s what this vehicle is for. We drive as far as we can and then establish a base camp. We range out from there."

"Sounds good," I said. "We should add to the food supplies, we’ll need canteens and another weapon or two and ammo for me. Oh, and how about a short wave radio?"

"How would we power it?" asked Eric.

"Batteries. We wouldn’t have to us it all that much. Just in an emergency." 

"Yes," said Eric. "That’s something we should have."

He dropped from the rear of the truck and secured the flap. We hurried into the foyer of the nearest building, listening to the wind howl.

"I think we should delay our departure by two or three weeks," he said. "Let the weather have it’s last good blow."

I thought about that and nodded my agreement. I didn’t tell him that the more I thought about it, the less I liked it. We were heading into practically virgin territory. The map that Eric had given the pilot was marked with large white squares that warned "Topographical data incomplete or unavailable."

That was something that I just didn’t like and I imagined Ramsey liked it even less. When we went in, we’d have a better idea of what was there than Ramsey did, but then he was flying over it and could get out quickly if he had to. It made me think of the great expeditions to the Himalaya Mountains and the guides who led the parties up the slopes of the mountains. It seemed that someone always preceded the explorers.

Sara didn’t take the news with a great deal of aplomb. At first, she sat across from me, in one of the finest restaurants in Kansas City while a small band played quietly in the background. There was the clink of knives and forks against the fine china and muted conversation. There were white cloths on the table, a cut glass vase with a greenhouse flower as the center piece.

After we ordered, Sara waited, a half smile on her face. I knew that she was anticipating something and it wasn’t until later that I realized what it was. She thought I was going to ask her to marry me and I had been so caught up in planning the expedition that I hadn’t even thought about that.

When the wine came and the waiter left, having gone through the ritual of opening the bottle, allowing me to taste and accept the wine and then filling our glasses, I said, "I would like to propose a toast." I lifted my glass and said, with great enthusiasm, "To the North Pole!"

The fire went out of her eyes and her face paled. She set her glass on the table without drinking from it. She looked directly at me and asked, "What are you talking about?"

I felt a sudden panic. I thought that Sara would be supportive of the expedition, though sitting there I began to wonder why I thought that. Maybe I had believed that she would see the scientific contribution we would make. Maybe she would understand that this was something that would transcend our time and put me up there with Magellan and Columbus.

And suddenly I know that she wasn’t thinking in terms of scientific contributions. She was seeing her life collapse around her and she didn’t like it. The little things that she had ignored as I tried to talk to her about them were suddenly more important than she had thought.

Quietly, her voice icy and her words quite sharp and distinct, she said, "The North Pole." It was almost as if she had never heard the words before and that I had spoken a foreign language.

Feebly, I said, "Eric Jansen arrived here a few days ago. I introduced him to you, remember. We’ve been working up a plan to find the entrance to the Inner Earth. An entrance his father had seen."

"To the Inner Earth? The Inner Earth?" she said. "I told you that’s a myth and I thought we had finished with that nonsense weeks ago."

"Jansen has maps and descriptions from his father and grandfather. They’ve both seen it," I said, realizing that I didn’t sound convincing even to me.

"How much money is this going to cost you?" she asked, her voice still low but now dripping with sarcasm.

"Very little..."

"So an old Army buddy shows up and asks for money and you feel obligated to give it to him."

I was now on the defensive and unsure of how I’d gotten there. I didn’t like the feeling but said, "It’s not like that at all. I didn’t give him money and he didn’t ask. I contributed to the expedition. Money to hire a pilot and some for the supplies I’ll need when we push north, but I’ve given no money to Eric."

"Well, that makes it better. The mark doesn’t understand how the con works, but can tell me he’s given away no money."

I was surprised by her suggestion of a con. But I also knew that money wasn’t really the issue here.

She looked down at the table and fingered the silverware next to her plate. "So. When are you leaving and how long will you be gone?"

"Not long at all. A couple of weeks. We’re going to wait for the weather to warm up some more and I’ll be back by fall."

"A couple of weeks. Fall isn’t for months."

"I’ll be here until we leave. It’s not like I’m going off tomorrow."

"And what am I supposed to do all this time?"

"It’s really only a few weeks," I said. "It’s not as if we had anything planned."

"You’ve made that abundantly clear."

I realized what I had said and tried to recover. "I mean we haven’t planned..." But that wasn’t any better.

She stood up suddenly, tossed her napkin onto the center plate. She looked as if she was going to say something to me, but then just turned and fled.

I caught her at the front door where she was demanding a taxi. I touched her shoulder but she jerked away from me, refusing to turn around. The maitre ‘d was behind me, mumbling into a telephone while Sara stood facing the frosted windows, staring at the darkening street.

The one time I hoped the taxi would be slow was the one time that the driver broke the current land speed record. The maitre ‘d approached, glanced at me and said, "You cab is here, madam."

Without looking at me, she said, "Thank you." she slipped along the wall, keeping her back to me until she reached the door. With one hand on the knob, she hesitated. Without looking back, she said, "If you ever get over these childish adventures, you let me know. Until then, I don’t want to see you again."

She opened the door, letting in an icy blast of late winter air. She ran to the cab, climbed in and I saw her face at the rear window momentarily and then she was gone.

I went back into the main room, waved off the waiter and slowly drank what was left of the wine. When I finished the bottle, I staggered to the door and asked that someone find me a cab. Naturally, I had to wait thirty minutes.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Land to the North -- Chapter Two

(Blogger’s Note: This whole book is being uploaded one chapter at a time and will therefore be in reverse order when completed. For those who have not yet read it, the earlier chapters and the Prologue follows this. I leave it that way so that those loyal readers who have been following the story won’t have to scroll down to find the newest chapter... Yes, it might be a pain, but that’s just the way it is.)
I spent weeks trying to find Eric Jansen. I wrote letters to the War Department but they were buried under requests from families of men lost during the Great War. I wrote letters to the newspapers in all the major cities from the east coast to the west. I tried to find Emerson, the man who wrote about Olaf Jansen and then I tried to locate Olaf. It seemed that Eric, along with everyone who knew anything about Olaf and his Smokey God had dropped from the face of the Earth.

Sara was beside herself. She tried to interest me in the theatre or vaudeville and even suggested that we spend some time watching the movies in the local movie house. They were interesting diversions, but couldn’t take my mind off the haunting stories told by Eric.

Then, out of the blue, the situation changed. There was a knock at my door one night and when I opened it, there stood Eric Jansen. He looked tired, pale, haggard. His blond hair was now quite long and he had grown a beard. His blue eyes had taken on a wild look. He had always been a tall man, but now he was thin as well. He didn’t look well, almost insane with the intensity of the fires that burned within him.

For a moment I stood there gaping at him, sure that he was an apparition conjured by my desire to find him.

"May I enter?" he asked, his voice low, quiet and a little raspy.

"Of course," I sputtered, stepping back and gesturing at the interior.

Jansen crossed the threshold, glancing around, and then fell into the only chair in my room. A thread bare, overstuffed chair next to a small table that held an electric lamp and one of the volumes I had been reading.

I shut the door and sat on the edge of the bed. I noticed that Eric’s clothes were old, patched and frayed, but they were clean. Although his boots were scuffed, there was no mud or snow on them. He carried an old satchel that he placed carefully at his feet, as if it held a great but fragile treasure.

"Did you mean it? He asked without preamble.

The question seemed to have nothing to do with the current situation, but I knew what he meant. After his stories on the ship and the books, magazines and the articles I had read, I was prepared for the question.

"Yes," I told him. "Yes. I meant it."

"Good!" he said, nodding. He gestured at the satchel and added, "I have had almost no luck. With Admiral Perry’s reports and the races to various poles, the scientific community laughed at my information. They claimed it was the delusions of a rather unstable mind."

I started to speak but he waved me to silence.

"Oh, they all said to come back if I found evidence. If I had real proof, but I knew they were laughing behind my back."

"Then the expedition is off," I guessed.

"No," he said tiredly. He closed his eyes as if resting, as I gathering strength. "No, I’m going north to look for the entrance. I’m going to make them eat those words."

"Then you have financing."

"I have," he told me, "a thousand dollars and no scientific backing. I have a truck, a camera, and a pistol. That is all that I have."

The disappointment I felt was overwhelming. I stood and moved to my window. Outside, on the street below me, I saw a few people. A horse drawn carriage rocked by. I turned and asked, "Then why are you here?"

"We don’t need much to get the expedition going. My thousand and my truck might be enough, but I can’t do it alone. There is too much, and when I succeed, I’m going to be in the same boat I’m in now. No one is going to believe one man."

"Two men might not be believed either."

"You are correct, of course," he said. "But two men, with different backgrounds who have documented their trip with photographs and artifacts, will have a better chance of convincing our learned friends. We’ll be able to gather enough raw data, I think, to convince them to finance a real expedition."

I turned from him and wandered around my room. I touched the low bookcase holding the volumes that I had yet to read. Books on a variety of subjects ranging from astronomy and anthropology to zoology. I had the layman’s interest in all the sciences and followed the latest discoveries. I knew that astronomers were searching for a mysterious ninth planet in our Solar System, that a few scientists were suggesting what was to be had on an atomic level, and that a theory suggesting that life evolved from lower orders into the higher were all the rage. But I wasn’t a scientist. I was a dabbler in science with no formal training. I said as much to Eric.

"Neither am I," he said. "But much of science has been explored by men such as ourselves. Men with vision. Men with a little information, who have the courage to follow their theories. You claimed to be such a man."

His statement was flattering. Me, a man of vision with the courage to follow that vision.

"If we have no backing," I said, "then how do you propose that we proceed?"

He grinned, but didn’t question my use of "we." Instead, he said, "It’s simple enough. I have mapped a route for us. Much of it is easy. We use the truck to drive north, into Canada, winding our way to the upper reaches of the continent. A small boat to take us to the icecap, and then we hike toward the opening that my father saw there."

"Your father said that he sailed into the opening."

"Ah," said Eric smiling, "you have been doing research yourself."

"Some," I said noncommittal.

"No matter," said Eric. "My father maintained there were land entrances as well. Caves that lead down and that one of them is in the arctic."

"It is my understanding," I said, "that the arctic icecap is just that, ice. There is no land under it. That it floats on the ocean."

"A theory," said Eric. "Who’s to say what lies under those tons of ice? I suggest that there is a volcanic island under a portion of the ice. A dead volcano with a shaft that will take us into the land that my father first explored."

That made sense, I had to admit. I nodded then and asked, "Do you have any idea where your island is?"

"A very good idea." He leaned forward, opened his satchel and pulled out a map. He opened it slowly, carefully, as if it was quite brittle, glanced at the table next to him and then stood but walked toward my bed. As he spread the map on the bed, he said, "My father gave me a few clues, and then researching the available literature, I picked up others. I believe that we can reach one of the caves. I have marked the search area on the map."

He had circled an area that was quite large. Parts of Alaska, Canada and the arctic ice cap were within the boundaries. It was literally hundreds of square miles.

"This is the best place," he said. "I think there may be an entrance in the mountains of Peru or Equador, but it would be disguised, hidden in the jungles and guarded by the Indians. If we managed to get close, I think the Indians would attack and prevent us from entering any of the caves."

"Just a very general idea," he responded. "But the jungle and the Indians make it a very undesirable portal."

"I’m not that keen on the arctic one," I said. "Especially in the winter."

"But it’s late February now. By the time we could get the expedition ready and travel north, it would be May. The best time of an arctic expedition to begin. We’ll have the whole summer in front of us."

I had to admit that it seemed that Eric had thought his way through the whole thing. He had arrived with his truck, his map, a little money, and his itinerary. I was reluctant to join him, only because I had become used to the luxuries of Kansas City. I liked the warmth of the steam heat, the convenience of the electricity, and the ease of restaurant meals.

"We’d want to be back by autumn," he said. "If we haven’t found anything by then, the weather would turn against us."

I sat on the edge of the bed and studied the map. As I looked at it, I realized that I had decided to go. I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment that I had made the decision, but I knew that there was no longer a question about it. I was going to go. I might have decided at the moment I opened the door and saw who it was, or it might have been when he pulled out the map. All I knew now was that I was in. I was going.

"An aerial search would help us eliminate a great deal of barren territory and open ocean."

"I thought of that, but I can’t afford to buy an airplane. Besides, I don’t know how to fly one."

"Neither can I, but I would imagine that we could find someone with both a plane and the experience who would help us with the search."

"We don’t have unlimited funds and there is a great deal of equipment and supplies that we still need."

The potential of the find was so great that a small investment could pay gigantic dividends. If nothing else, the story of the expedition would be worth something. An article, with suitable pictures for a scientific journal, the Saturday Evening Post or National Geographics certainly wasn’t impossible.

Eric looked at me and asked, quietly, "Then you’ll go?"

"Of course," I said. "Was there ever any doubt?"

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Land to the North -- Chapter One

(Blogger’s Note: This whole book is being uploaded one chapter at a time and will therefore be in reverse order when completed. For those who have not yet read it, the Prologue follows this. I leave it that way so that those loyal readers who have been following the story won’t have to scroll down to find the newest chapter... Yes, it might be a pain, but that’s just the way it is.)
My name is David Morgan Stone and until recently, I was an officer in the United States Army Expeditionary Force to France. A German artillery shell, directed at the trenches behind my command post fell short and the shrapnel killed both my aide and my first sergeant. I was wounded and by the time I was healed, the Great War was over and I wasn’t needed in Europe.

On the ship coming home, I met a man named Eric Jansen who claimed that his father had once visited a strange land that no one living on the Earth had ever seen. Now, traveling on a steamship loaded with soldiers returning from war is a fairly boring proposition. The government didn’t waste money on frills and the library of the ship, such as it was, consisted mainly of navigation texts and seafaring stories. In other words, Jansen’s stories were about the only form of entertainment available and he wasn’t shy about spinning these wonderful, if unbelievable tales. I found myself looking forward to our long afternoon chats.

There was a wardroom on the ship, used for the meals for the officers, but normally vacant during the middle of the afternoon. Jansen and I took to meeting there after the noon meal, sipping coffee from heavy mugs provided by the ship’s steward. I found myself drawn into the stories that Jansen claimed were all true.

"After we get home," he told me one day, "I would like to prove to you that my father was right and certainly wasn’t crazy."
I really cared, at that point, but there was, literally, nothing else to do.

"If I can get a university... or anyone else... to finance an expedition, I’m going to look for that underground land."

It was at that moment I realized that Jansen had shared his stories with me because he was looking for someone to go with him. I was the first step of the journey and if I ignored his invitation, then he would probably never have the courage to pursue it. At least that’s what I thought then. I had no way of knowing that his motivation for searching for this unknown land went further than a desire to prove his father right.

But, having spent several months in the trenches on the front lines and then more months in the hospital recovering, I knew how important dreams could become. They were a way of bridging the time between the arrival at the front and the time for going home. It was a way to keep sane in an insane place and a way to stay alive when there were so many ways to get killed. Many of the dreams became obsessions and once the man returned to his real world and normal life, the obsession faded away and was forgotten. Or so I thought.

I smiled and leaned back. I said, "Well, if you get your expedition together, give me a call. I’d like to go along with you."

"You mean that?" asked Jansen, his eyes sparkling.

"Of course," I said, believing it at the moment, but I also thought that once we reached port, he would forget about it and that would be it.

Two days later we left the ship to a cheering crowd on the pier. A band played and flags flapped in the stiff, cold breeze. As I came down the gangplank, I saw Sara standing behind a makeshift barricade, waving a white handkerchief and shouting my name.

As I started toward her, my heart filled with pleasure at seeing her again, I glanced to the rear. Eric Jansen was slipping off the ship, his duffel bag over his shoulder. No one rushed forward to meet him and a second later, Sara had wrapped her arms around me, kissing me with a passion that drove all thoughts of Jansen and his stories from my mind.

We pushed our way through the cheering throng on the dock, the band playing Sousa marches with great enthusiasm and little else and found a taxi. We leaped into the rear and told the driver to take us to the nearest hotel where we spent a week learning about each other all over again.

My mustering out pay that included a couple of bonuses, not to mention some savings, was more than enough to keep me happy for a year or more. Without the pressure of having to find employment immediately, Sara and I took a leisurely trip across the eastern United States. We stopped in Niagra but the falls didn’t inspire us to marry then and there. We planned to wait, and stuck to that plan.

We ended our journey in Kansas City where Sara had a job as a typist. I found a room where I planned to write my memoirs about the war. I had kept a diary but it had vanished in the explosion that had killed my friends and wounded me.

I spent much of my time in the library, reading the newspaper accounts of the war, surprised at how they differed from my memories. Mostly it was a description of the mud and the cold and the wet of the trenches that smelled like freshly dug graves. Water that stood in permanent pools in the bottom, rotting boots off the feet before attacking the flesh. It was a miserable existence that had to be chronicled because the people who sent their boys off to fight should know what it was like. Not a glorious adventure by any means.

During those tours in the library, I came across the story of Marshall Gardner, a fellow Midwesterner who claimed that the Earth was hollow. It was a fascinating account of life in the center of the planet. He talked about openings at the poles that led to a tropical paradise inside the Earth. Admiral Perry had found evidence of this during his attempts to reach the poles but had never tried to explore it.

I found myself swept up in the accounts of the Inner Earth. Garner described the trunks of unknown trees found drifting in the Arctic Oceans. He wrote about the flora and fauna that obviously belonged to a warmer climate, but which had been found in the frozen snows of the arctic tundra. Facts that seemed to contradict each other.

But Garner wasn’t the only man who believed that there was something hidden in the center of the Earth. Jules Verne wrote about an imagined trip through the caves of Iceland that took the explorers deep into the bowels of our planet. I began to suspect that Verne’s story wasn’t the fiction so many believed.

Sara found my intense fascination with the Hollow Earth annoying. She refused to listen to me when I came from the library loaded down with fresh facts. She forbid me to speak about it in her presence, even when she saw I was bursting to tell her of some new discovery.

On a bleak day, the sky a gun metal gray that threatened snow at any moment, I uncovered the account of Captain David Robson who claimed to have found a cloud enshrouded island where there should have been no land. Robson dropped anchor and a landing party rowed to the steaming, shell-studded beach. Fish, some of them still alive, were strewn across the muddy flats. Others, rotting in the steaming heat of the island, were beginning to turn.

Robson’s men worked their way inland, through a misty forest that was dripping salt water and draped with Spanish moss. They found a city of broken buildings, the stone walls slimed with moss. Scattered around them were the artifacts of a lost civilization. Bronze swords, iron-tipped arrows, metal pots, jeweled goblets and dozens of things that the sailors didn’t recognize.

They spent the morning exploring the island. They found no animals, other than the fish, living on it. There were no bones of the people who had built the city. No evidence that anyone still lived there until they discovered a large stone box. Several of them dragged it to the beach and wrestled it into a long boat to be taken to their ship.

On the deck of the HMS Jesmond, they opened it expecting treasure but found, instead, the mummified body of a large man. Captain Robson suggested that the man might have been an Egyptian. Others thought he might have once been a resident of Atlantis.

All this interested me greatly. Each article or book I found made me search harder for more information. I was rewarded daily. And then I came across the story of the Smokey God and I felt my stomach turn over and the blood drain from my face.

An old Norwegian, Olaf Jansen, told of sailing north until he came to a warm land of tropical plants, sandy beaches kissed by the sun, and plentiful fruits. He was captured by the kindly men who lived there and was taken to their city. The tall, statuesque people showed him their country, their cities and their farms. He toured their powerplants and schools. After several months in the Inner Earth, Olaf Jansen was allowed to board his ship and sail for home.

I sat for a long time, staring at the people hurrying along the sidewalk outside the library. The women held their hats on with their gloved hands as the cold wind whipped at the hems of their skirts. The men, bundled in long coats and bent forward, rushed about their business.

Around me I heard almost nothing. A cough that was quickly stifled. A feminine laugh. A book dropped to the hardwood floor. I ignored it all, glancing occasionally at the story of Olaf Jansen and thought about the stories told to me by Eric Jansen. Maybe Eric did have something to go on. I wished that I had paid more attention to him, or had written some of it down because I found myself wishing that I could get in touch with him.