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Where Two Universes Converge

Letters of Ipu, Jonathan, Bertha Mae, and RETRO STAR SERIES EDITOR


Ipu-pheres to the Boy Jonathan, Greetings!

The mouth of your vase was opened to me.

My enemy tried to destroy it, but it is now hidden safely beside the one wherein I put my letters. I heard the things you have in your heart. My heart is warmed in turn. You have become like a son to me, though perhaps I should call you my son’s son, for I am an aged man. I have been a priest many, many years. I care for the chief priest’s books, you see. You did not mention that you have libraries and archives such as ours, but I think you must have them. Then you have men like me working in them, day and night. And you know what I look like!

But I am not writing to you so that you can see what you see everyday in your own city and time. Is Per-aa Moses still reigning over you? I wonder if he is as great as our per-aa, or better? We have two, at present, each seeking the same throne. It is very unhappy here in my country, as you can understand.

I know you are but a boy. I was a boy once, content to play games in the dusty yard of my home, though you may not believe it. I remember something about it. My father and mother took me to the Temple here in the north and put me under the charge of the priests. I was very small and cried. They said it was for my good because they could not feed me well enough--and I needed to grow. I did not understand then, but later I understood, when I saw many children shrink (though their bellies got very big) and die among the poor people. Not many children grow up, though this country, which we call the Land of the Red and Black, is more fertile than any other because of the quenchless River that waters us day and night.

Are you better favored, Boy Jonathan? Do you still live with your parents? Do they have enough food for you? I especially liked your city. It is so much bigger than mine, and you have such wonderful chariots and other things we do not even know about here in this land. What is it like to ride in one? I have never been permitted in a chariot, you see. I must walk everywhere I go, except on the river, of course, where I can ride any sort of boat or ship we have. Do you like sailing? I do. It is a place to feel free, freer than any place on land. The great River we have is like the sea--only better. It brings much good soil down to our fields, and waters the crops we plant, each year, year after year. It never fails to do this. Do you have a River like ours? That feeds you like ours? We are very fortunate.

Well, I feel you are weary with reading all my words. Boy Jonathan, remember the old man who wrote to you , when you sail on a boat. Remember that he enjoys it too, just like you! In that moment we will be together. Until then, Farewell!

Ipu's Vase


Dear Mr. Ipu Pheres:

Let me see if I have got this straight! You live about 1,600 years after me, and you somehow found the Time Capsule and read my letter and sent a letter back in time to me. I thought it was to be opened later than that. Oh, well, I am glad somebody found the Time Capsule.

I have no idea how you got this in our mail, however. Our post office is not that good. Sometimes it takes a whole week for a letter I write to get to Staten Island where a friend of mine moved. That isn’t the worst that can happen. I heard someone got a letter that was forty years late! It was in the papers. So you see how our mail can get screwed up--lost, I mean. After I wrote my letter to the future, I got another teacher and she really made me work and cleaned up on my spelling. Well, it must of paid off. You can see the difference, can’t you!

Let me see. I wrote my letter in 1967. That was four years ago. A lot has changed. Among other things, my dad got a promotion to supervisor over the janitors, so he’s happy. He doesn’t have to do any real work anymore. He just has to tell the others what to do. That really helps his back. He hardly mentions it now, and before it was everyday we’d hear about the poor thing. I felt real bad for him. Oh, he got the job because of my letter. His boss, Robert Moses, saw it was his kid that wrote the winning letter for the Time Capsule, and though I guess he never read it he still gave my dad a promotion. Robert Moses is the greatest! My dad says so too! He has a picture of his boss up on our wall above the sofa. It shows him smoking a cigar and standing in front of the Unisphere--that really big globe of the world they stuck up to get everybody’s attention at the New York World’s Fair.

You mentioned boats and sailing. Gee, we got rivers and the bay and even some ocean off Long Island but I don’t get to sail much. I go on the ferry to Staten Island ever so often, and I like that. Yes, I will certainly remember you the next time I go! I really appreciate getting your letter. I bet no other kid in New York has got one like it! I told my dad about it and he said, “Scram, I ain’t got time for fairy tales.” He’s like that when he’s watching the World Series. He doesn’t listen to any of us when he’s engroussed in a game! Dad thought I said “Poo the fairy” or something like that. But I think he’d like it that you wrote to me after you read my letter. I sure wish you would have put in it though how you got it in the mail! Now that would be a story I could share with my whole school--maybe even the papers! I can see the headlines now: G.S. 66 KID RECEIVES LETTER FROM DISTANT FUTURE. Then under that you could read how I wrote the letter back in 1967 and it got first place and was put in the Westinghouse Time Capsule by Robert Moses himself, and then four years later here I get a response, right out of the blue! I’m glad I didn’t have to wait thousands of years like they set it up. It sure beats anything I got at last Christmas! So, thanks! Thanks a lot, Ipu!

Your friend in the Big Apple,

Jonathan H. Thompkins


Dear Boy Thompkins:

I shall use your style of writing--if I am able. I have studied your letter’s speech and practiced very hard. You wondered how I could write to you, since I am in your future. Do not trouble your brow. It is no more strange than the truth, that we are all swimming in the same great River, the Stream of Time. That River cannot be broken, it is one thing from beginning to end. Yet we see only the part we are in and say that is all that can be. Now that is strange, don’t you think? I was told I must make my letter shorter. This time I will. I am glad your father is happy with his new tasks. My “boss” was not so good as yours. He was “screwed up,” as you say. I had to run away or he would have killed me. I should never have gone down there during the troubles and worked for him. He tried, but heaven helped me escape from him. They beat me, but they did not kill my spirit. I am better now. I live back in the northern city near my old home where the priests of Nathasta have no power to reach out and smite me.

Our two rulers are no longer fighting like matched cobras up and down the land with their armies. One king died, and the other is per-aa. He has a Grand Taty who is much better than he is. People say good things about him, even if he is not one of our people. We are waiting eagerly to see him when he comes for a visit. He is a dreamer, they say. He dreamed how it will be for our country in the years ahead. We will have seven years of plenty, then seven years of very poor crops or no crops at all. He has told us all this now so that something can be done. I have never heard of such a thing before. Have you? But if the Years of the Hyena come, we will be better prepared. They say he will build many, big granaries throughout the land, and we will all eat out of them when the time comes. So you see why we want to see this man when he comes.

I must go. My health is not so good. But that is to be expected at my age. Again, Farewell!


Dear Ipu:

The mail service is, like I told you, not so hot nowadays. It’s getting worse. I had to wait nine whole to years this time to hear from you! I’m grown-up now, a man. You need not call me “boy” because I am one no longer. Please draw a map and show me your country. I wonder sometimes if we are talking about the same part of the world. And I’m reading those papers you sent that the princess wrote out for you from what she remembered...


Dear Young Man Thompkins:

The Grand Taty came. We were very happy. I never saw the people of my country so happy before. He is young and handsome, but his words are wiser than any wizard’s! We knew when he spoke that he was bearing the good of our land in his heart. Do you have leaders like him? We are very fortunate, after all the evils and wickedness we have suffered in the past. Hard Years of the Hyena may come as he says, but we are not afraid now. If only the other countries had such a man over them! But they do not! And they are sinking to ruin and fighting each other. They do not know we all face one enemy. It is not seen by any man. It comes from the deeps of the stars. Nothing has happened since the second, much brighter Moon appeared in the heavens, but yet we must be on our guard.


Dear Young Man Thompkins:

I have not heard from you, but the Years of the Hyena have come! We have bread-corn and barley, but the nations beyond our land do not. Already, they are coming to buy food from the officials. We have enough for all in our granaries, so we can help them. I am not able to write more. My hand trembles and my heart fails. Please write again. I hope you like my “map” and the other things the princess gave me, written in her hand. I long to hear from you one more time. No, I will not be here to read it. I must tell the truth. I am going to put this in the jar in the desert and cover it with sand as I always do. Then very soon this old one must go to the Lands of the West. I will wait for you in Yaru, by the boats beside the great River! Farewell!


Dear Ipu-pheres:

At last I heard you across the gulfs of time and of darkness. You can’t cut out now just when we got going! You can’t fathom how I felt when I picked up your letter, your last testament, blown in my path by the wind (some mail delivery that was!!). You are not dead! You spoke to me. And you have not ceased to speak, since I began to repeat your words to others, that they too might know what has happened, in the hope we ourselves might possibly avoid your fate. Our world, like yours, Ipu my elder brother, may soon be destroyed. I too am writing as much and as quickly I can in the time remaining, that your warnings may not be lost in the blowing wind, as they nearly were.

If we, like you and your world, should lose our footing, we too may find ourselves slipping backwards. From nuclear power to ox and horse, I fear! Having once lost paradise and slowly, painfully built a substitute, we shall sink back in primeval slime and this time find ourselves unable to climb out. This time it will not be slime but tar, just as the tar pits down in a place we call La Brae, California, held fast a Mastodon and the attacking Saber-Toothed Tiger in the same awful big gob of pitch.

With thoughts of those black tars increasingly on my mind, since graduating from college I have returned to the land of Egypt, to “Mizraim,” the “Land of Red and Black” as you call that most ancient country. Of course, the continent I went to is all wrong. I must turn to Africa, though you were born and bred on Atlantis, an island continent few disbelieve even on slight evidence but nevertheless have never seen. Yet, Africa or Atlantis, it is the same land. And despite the tourists it is the one place on earth where I always feel the breath of eternity blowing strong on me in the desert wind. Anyone who has once felt that wind will never be the same man or woman or child. It blows from the pyramids, the ruins of ancient cities, the Great Sphinx, but mostly it blows from mysteries of past ages that still persist among us. It is blowing now, despite our modern ways, and it will blow when the fragile towers of New York City, Mexico City, Tokyo, London and all the others lie level with the ground--and long after. Certainly, it will blow when you Ipu walk the earth, alive like me, writing to me from a city whose mighty towers have not yet risen from beneath the ocean waters.

As you said so well, Time is a great River. I never dreamed that one day our letters would be carried upstream and downstream in that river! The mystery of that journey is blowing in your words, dear friend, and what a torment that is to me! How can you speak to us from a world that is not yet, then say you will be dead before I can respond to your letter?

I read and reread your letters, looking for answers to many such questions. But I find I am no wily and cunning Odysseus of Ithaca and my questions only became impossible riddles, put to me from the mouth of the Sphinx! For one thing, it is now the 20th Century in my world, yet you write to me from the 60th!

How your Pharaoh and your Joseph could live seventeen centuries AFTER Christ, not before as in our frame of events, I have no idea. This is better than science fiction! And how the theologians will deal with such I have no idea. I only know this War the papers you sent described may be coming sooner than we think. Everyone seems to care less that there may be a worse enemy than each other! We are afraid of the Reds, as if there could be no great threat! This enemy you describe, which I see has turned everything upside down and put you and your people in the middle of the ocean when they should be in North Africa has to be much worse. If I understand you, your stars are even different from ours, which means something has happened to move your world or change the sky map radically! What could alter Earth and the Universe so greatly? And what happened to your sun? You simply can’t have two Moons! Please, you can’t die now! You have to tell us! Like Joseph the Second, tell us ahead of time so we can prepare! Tell us! Will we win our part of it? Or have we already lost? If only we could see our hidden enemies!O God!

Perhaps, the worst feature of this conflict is separation. I just got to know you, and now we are torn apart. But I have your letter, Ipu, composed in your far distant future-past. It is proof two worlds and two humanities met, if only for a moment.

Ipu, sir, I keep thinking of the Great Sphinx, whether Greek or Egyptian, Gizan or Theban, male or female, has the last laugh. There is no way for me or any mortal to know how such things can be. My mind spins. I can only surmise that your letter, preserved in the enduring River Time that outlasts anything man has built, survived until Providence rescued it and sent back to my time. Along with accounts of other eras and the findings of the ingenious Doctor Pikkard, your letter passed to me, but how? I can sail no further into Mystery without drowning!

Knowing of your existence, at least I am assured that people will survive whatever lies ahead! My heart breaks as I look about--but, perhaps, what you sought to tell me across uncountable leagues of time will be heard and taken to heart by others, for I have tried to write it down. Myself, I think I see a door opening where there was a wall of impenetrable stone. No doubt we might have found it before except that it's so covered with vines and thorny brambles...


Dear Ipu:

I haven’t heard from you--how long? It’s been years since I retired from teaching, it seems a dream now! But I haven’t forgotten you! Like you once said once, old fella, I am now very tired, old, and not so well--bushed! Now that the chronicles are over and I found the right publisher, I am only good for going out to pick up whatever stray things I find on Long Island’s Jamaica Beach. Soon I won’t be good enough to even do that. It’s been too long, Ipu. But soon, I think we’ll be together, sailing Old Man River!


Deer Thompkins :

I ain’t had much schoolin, but I can xpress myself, so I want you to know I ben mailin your letters to you. I doun no who this man calls himself Ipu is, but no matter who hee is hees ben writin and ive ben takin doun the words God gives me jist as he spells em. You may not beleeve this Mr Thompkins, but I jist want to tell you how it is. Its september 10 1980 on my wall and ive ben writin sense 1971 now. So its time to tell you how come you get these letters. I doun make up a thing. Not one wurd. I am a biblewoman and work hard evry day and keep up a family and my husband and I doun have no time to be meddlin or making up things. Well one time I was prayin and I hears plain “My daughter writ doun what I tell you in a letter and send it to the boy.” “No I aint less I git a fleese. I got to have a fleese four I do that” I replies. “How does I no this aint the prince of the air wastin my valubal time?” The next day I got it.

Mother Charles in church up and told me out of the blue, “God has a message you are going to write soon.” Then latter I read a verse in the bible that done says the same thing Mother Charles sad. And wen I got three more fleeses I got a pen and papper and started doin wat the Lord sad. I might be sleepin and all those wurds wood come to me brite an cleer so I had no troble with the writin. The wurds came other plases too. So I started! Now it must be a hole ten year sense I started writin and high time you hurd from me...


Deer Mr Thompkins:

You aint writin but I will writ you one more time. Did you get the letters I sent? Some doun seem like letters to me but I sended them on anyway. I can make no since of alot of that but I hope you can. Seemed scythintific to me, alot of it. That old man is much eazier goin. Also I wunder if you got a letter I writ four you a whil back. I go to the box down on the street outside the towah cause its picked up reglar an dont the wind pluk it rite outta my hand! Rite away I rebuked thee Devil. An you no? That letter was sailin tword the bay wen it up and turned rite around and flew strait uptown tword where you live!

Now if that aint airmale what is? I sure was praisin the Lord wen I went back up to work in the towah condo. I ben there some years now. Mr and Mrs Tucciaroni emploid me cause of my good reffrances. We git along alright from the first. I told them strait I doun mix any kind of wrong drinks so doun ask me to do it. They respekt that and we have no troble. They doun respekt that and we sure will have troble. I doun keer. all their friends want me to work for them if I ever leeve this job.

My cookin is the best of the tipe they say in town. Its plain cookin--collards, blackeye peas, chicken like my mother bless her made it, cornpone, and such--and I clean deep--no runnin the rag over the top of the dirt on the counter like some does and callin it clean! Den those girls take the same rag and moved it a littel around on the worst spots on the floor with their foot and back on the counter goes that rag soes it can be handy for doin more of their kind of cleanin!

The Tucciaronees doun work. nossir! There artysts. Lots of pitchurs on the walls. They sez beatutees in da eye ub de beholdar, wel ah sez to dat ah knows wat is in mah eye an it shore is uglee! An I have to dust all kinds of statyous and things. One thing I dont tech is that coffee table they got. Its a nekkid woman with the glass on top of her back! Shes only got boots on so I cover the thing over with a nice cloth when there not around cause I cant stand seein it in my vacinitee. Also I got to scrub the tile around the pool they got.

We are up fifty or sixty stories in the towah. I heard from the girl they got rid of that Mrs walked in with the archytick wen the place was all finished and said No Way! An Lestah--Mr Tucciaroni--couldnt beleeve it. She said it sets no record and she doun like it. She said her friend over in Trump towah called and told her they got the same type condo and pool on the same storie as they does. So Lestah had to raise the condo up six inches and then she was satisfied sense they have the worlds highest condo with pool.

Party party party! Thats all that woman kares bout! No kids. They mess up a good party she says. No relegion. None. But they know my stand here and know bedder than to give me a hard time bout it. Actualie they respeskt me for it. Mrs said onetime she wouldnt fire me for nothin cause shes expectin to go to heaven on my apron strings. Sugar, listen now ah sez. its the grace of God that gits your soul there. Nuthin else! I done told you that a thousand times. But she says she can feel it in her gut an I says woman! where is your gut to feel anything wit? Datt sinner cant keep nuthin doun and dont want to. Then she says Bertha Mae where is her emportad cigarrets and I said I got work to do bedder than to find some folks their smokes and I can talk to her that way cause there diffrant from my people and respekt me more if I doun yes mame them every time they open their mouths. No I seen too many times how they act to do that and their friends too.

When I come to clean up after their parties I find some awful messes let me tell you so I know what Im dealin with and my job isnt going to stop me from gittin respeckt as I deserve. I tells them how simple it is to no God, so they no, but they want those sinner friends and parties instead I guess. I told Mrs once if she repent shed be something real happy inside instead of how she is acting happy but aint. Why I sad God would raise them up to a new life an then some. No I had to take that an them some back quick like. I thot these qualitee white folk got the monee and can towah over me in the phisical--I can deal with that--but they sure aint goin to towah over Bertha Mae in the spirichul too. Lord knows I done worked too hard for that...

Dear Reader:

Since readers of the RETRO STAR Chronicles have expressed so much interest, it may be well worth the effort to explain in this Twenty-third Edition how Mr. Thompkins and our publishing firm, Mill on the Floss Presses of London and New York, were first acquainted.

Our first meeting took place in this way. I had just stepped out of the offices of my department, Acquisitions, on some trifling errand I cannot now recall, when I saw a strange-looking old black man in the hall. Among other things he had a white beard and looked as if he had just wandered out of the hold of Samuel Coleridge's ghost ship in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

With a faded mackinaw patched at the elbows, mismatched rubber boots, and droopy yellow oilskin cap, his appearance was so unusual I forgot what I was after and stood looking at him, my mouth no doubt agape. He seemed not to mind me at all, he was so taken by the various oils hanging in the hall--some American romantics such as Ryder and Burchfield and a Venetian fellow, Tiepolo. Since neither American nor Venetian art is to my taste (I prefer Croatian Neo-Abstract), I never so much as glanced at the pictures, but here was a perfect stranger gazing at them as if he had never seen such marvels in his life. After a minute of this the old man grew aware I was still staring at him, as he glanced my way. I could not help staring at his strange footwear, you see. As if he fancied himself Hermes, or Icarus, mankind's first aeronaut, he had attached actual bird wings to his boots with highly colored nylon cord.

"Ha!" he cried, lifting a winged foot with surprising dexterity for his age. "I see you like them. Would you like to order a couple from me? I got a whole box of good boots that have been broken in by experts! Who says they have to match?" Too shocked to respond, I was about to go for security when he proceeded with his explanation. "Well, you can make up your mind some other time, young man. They're mighty fine things, you'll find, for getting about!"

He left me and shambled away to look closely at a picture--the Tiepolo which was undergoing restoration at the time. It depicted the young prime minister receiving Pharaoh's signet ring. The old man seemed particularly interested in this picture and began muttering and peering through the scaffolding to get a better look. That was no reason for alarm, I thought, but he went farther and began to put his hands on the scaffolding. Indeed, this was too much. I was afraid he would disturb the restorer at work, but there was little I could do before security arrived, and I had yet to go and press a button I had in the office for such emergencies.

Dr. Helena Lloyd Parrington-Gutch, painstakingly restoring the Tiepolo, did not seem aware of the disturbance below. As the old fellow continued to make dangerous motions that indicated he might even climb up the scaffolding to get a better look, I grew so horrified I just stood there and watched the terrible event unfold. I could just see the whole apparatus of Gutch and scaffold come tumbling down on the old tramp.

Dr. Parrington-Gutch still did not cry out so she must have been unaware of the grim possibilities. Her long day drawing to a close, she held up a brush to a vivid patch of paint that gleamed in stark contrast to the painting's old varnished surface.

The gleam was the size of the postage stamp you see in museum's and represented at least a fortnight's strenuous efforts. That much I knew about art restoration. With a tiny brush and cleaning agents, she removed centuries of accumulated dirt, glue, and mold, as well as heavy overlays of wrong colors and paint from previous attempts at restoration.

With so much at stake, I thought she would be highly incensed when she saw the old man and the considerable jeopardy his efforts to get closer to the painting had placed her in. But I was mistaken! By this time he had climbed five or six feet up toward the painting and had stopped to rest. It was then she looked down and began conversing with him. "You have to think like the original artist," she explained to him, as the old fellow nodded.

I was absolutely amazed by her familiarity. I knew her reputation and character quite well. Before this she had never been known to speak to common spectators. She regarded her profession as something of a holy order in the service of divine art. Yet here she was baring her professional thoughts to a total stranger, dressed like some totally uneducated, simple-minded mariner straight off the docks!

Since they continued chatting, I was in a quandary. Should I run and buzz security? But as I wondered what to do, she was gathering up her tools. Obviously, she was through work for the day, and I saw with relief that the situation might just take care of itself without any interference from me. The doctor took her leather case and she and the old salt got down from the scaffold. She pressed a button and the entire scaffold moved away from the work in progress. A spotlight was turned on and lighted the painting so they might view it from below at their leisure. The ancient mariner gasped as reddish orange blazed from the painting at the exact spot where the Pharaoh was holding forth his signet ring to his young p.m.

"It's really Imhotep’s signet!" he heard him cry. “A ring of pure deviltry, if I have to say so myself!” "Yes, of course, it is a signet, the royal signature device sometimes given the young vizier or prime minister by the Pharaoh," replied Dr. Parrington-Gutch. "But how did you know it was Imhotep’s and not the Pharaoh’s? No one but me in the art world knows that secret! Close up you can even see that it is a scarab, the sacred beetle, which was employed as a talisman for insuring immortality to the bearer and, so tiny I have been hard put to make it out as Imhotep’s own cartouche! As for Tiepolo putting in that detail, I have no explanation for it, unless--"

But he was not listening to her any longer, and the restorer smiled and left him to enjoy the painting--or at least that part of it that so excited him. We two were quite alone, and it was then I noticed he had brought with him a most voluminous manuscript. After submitting the thing to me, the old fellow shuffled off the premises. I went home, fed my tropical fish, watered my bonzai Fiddleleaf figs in the arboretum, ate dinner, worked my usual chessgame on Internet, then retired early since it had been a rattling day, thanks to the ancient mariner in mismatched boots. But I couldn’t sleep. I kept remembering him.

In the morning I dressed, breakfasted on my usual black toast and coffee, and returned to the firm. I found a crowd of strange people in the hall next to my section. There were signs of a disturbance of some kind. It put me in a state of considerable shock immediately. Such a thing had never, never happened before in our firm. Evidently frustrated in his search, the burglar vented his frustration on a particular painting and strewn the shreds everywhere. In putting portions together I realized it was my prize Croatian abstract--”Hypothesis 9a. in Orange, Puce, and Green: Retrospect on Spinoza” I was absolutely bewildered by such violence and maliciousness. If he had attacked any of the hall paintings, nothing of genuine value would have been lost!

After the people and investigators cleared out, I looked for a sign of the strange old man’s opus that he had left with me on parting. It was a good thing I had buried it as deep as I had in the slush pile. The vandal had destroyed everything he could get his hands on, I found, but the position of Retro Star at the bottom saved it from discovery and destruction. The rest, as they say, is for you to decide.

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