An excerpt from Anugyan’s recently published book, The God of New York.
“Attention all passengers, this is your captain speaking. At least I think it is. Apologies to those who boarded in Boston. It has taken me a while to reorient myself, but I am now informed by our new co-pilot Hafiz that this is the TWA800 flight from Anchorage. It is also four o’clock in the morning of the next day. The good news is we are still headed to New York. We expect to be arriving about 0700 hours Eastern Standard Time. If anyone knows where to locate the missing hours, I would be grateful if you could let me know. Those of you coming from north of the Canadian wilderness, you neglected to bring the majority of your fellow passengers plus any cabin crew whatsoever, and so we still have only Nicolette and her willing assistants. I ask that you be patient, and kind, with her. Also, if anyone is missing any animals, they appear to be on the upper deck. Please ensure they are taken care of properly Thank you, everyone.”
The request for patience was hardly necessary: it is fairly ubiquitous and essential these days, we have all learnt that.
Lulled by the deep drone of the craft, I mused further on the task before me, informed by our immediate shift: What had happened to our original route? Had it become a ghost of itself, with consequent phantom vessel and conflicting witnesses’ reports? Was this the nature of my ongoing investigations, or at least part of it?
The lights were dimming, a soporific atmosphere taking hold, befitting a nocturnal flight. Feeling the toll of the past week, I decided to take advantage and catch some shut-eye. When retrieving a blanket from the overhead locker, I noticed Busty – who appeared to be highly alert to my movements and identity – looking in my direction, and tapping her ornate wristwatch meaningfully. I sat down and it didn’t take me long to fall asleep after finishing the bourbon.
There were elves lost in caves becoming tunnels deep underground. One elf shone a flashlight in my direction. It wasn’t just the light of a device, it was redolent of the light of eternity, briefly. A glimpse, nothing else. The elves sit down, temporarily defeated, lost.
“Tough dream, dude? Been there.”
I woke to find the world pretty much as I’d left it. The unhelpful cowboy didn’t look up from his book. I had no watch – what would be the point when I’d be forever setting and resetting it – but it didn’t seem as if much time had passed.
There was no sign of the lone trolley nor were there any other distractions, the plane’s occupants mostly sound asleep or reading. A few screens flickered here and there like the warm vestiges of a lost civilisation.
I decided to do some work, my usual default. Retrieving case files from the briefcase, as on countless previous occasions I perused the contents randomly yet kept returning to the index on the top page. This was a presentation of a grim two lists. Some items had been crossed out in each column and rewritten in the other. The traffic was mostly from right to left, but not entirely. Currently the left column went like this:
Piper – PA22
and so on for about twenty more.
Meaningless assignations to most, each and every item had poignancy for me.
It was the right-hand list that kept me awake at night though. It was short now. It was my job to make it shorter:
Both lists were tragic if not epic, the first more benign only by degree. These were airliners whose disappearance may have seemed mysterious at the time, but were no longer.
The second list was the unsolved disappearances. Truth and Reconciliation was determined to bring transparency to our past, when we had one. Esmeralda in Boston had intimated it’s our story, which needed a proper ending. A lot of people agreed with her. Me, I found it ironic that at a time of limitless mysteries being presented to us moment by moment, we were still trying to solve old ones. But nobody listens to me. I guess people still prefer labels over mystery, and Americans are still learning about all kinds of irony. So I continue, whilst questioning the nature of the inquiry itself. They say it’s not whodunnit that is important, it is whydunnit; but even that’s not the interesting question. So what is? As far as I was concerned, the NSA and their affiliated deluded clowns had all the visible stuff sewn up. The really interesting material was in the unseen, the dispossessed, and nobody will ever find out about them. All the control – through science, through politics, through bullying, emotional blackmail of the masses – all that control has become redundant, insubstantial. Witchcraft and science – like many aspects of knowledge – were both initially about controlling the universe, balm for the oppressed. All approaches were equally valid or otherwise now. Yet I have a job to do, one for which I signed up. So I will do it.
Truth and Reconciliation. What conspiracies were ever true? Moon landing hoax? No, we were there. Good luck with getting there now, there were far too many factors and interferences allowed to sway attempts. Flat earth cover-up? No, not even now, oddly enough – if the world wanted to be flat this would be its chance, but it’s not. It remains defiantly spheroid, which makes navigation a lot simpler than it could be. 9/11? Yes, sort of. Try making sense of it, particularly as no one cares any longer about that particular nightmare of children. Except for Flight 77. My investigation, of vanishing airliners, remains with us.
Of them all, it was the Globemaster that sent chills up my spine for some reason. On 23rd March 1951 it was the first, but not the last, to disappear inexplicably off the coast of Ireland. Its descendant in mystery, Aer Lingus Flight 712 on 24th March 1968 (was there something about that date?) did the same, but it was only the Globemaster that creeped me out. Wreckage was claimed to have been found of both the Globemaster and the Viscount, but the note found on an Irish beach in April 1951 shed an eerie light on both: ‘Cullen is worried when 300 miles west of Ireland, Globemaster alters course for no apparent reason…’
I knew the rest of it by heart. The fate of General Cullen and the other passengers was never far from my consciousness, reflecting as it did on so much more, such as the later disappearances, or alleged disappearances. Some of them could be attributed to Operation Northwood, whereby an airliner was replaced by a missile. The name – connected to a Royal Air Force base in Middlesex, England – was one of many leads that took me to that country. A pioneer in aviation, Geoffrey de Havilland, did the same. There was much about the man that added to the intrigue, as indicated by the names of his spawn: Vampire, Dragon, Ghost, Goblin, Gnome and Sprite. His ‘ordinary’ (at least then) critters from the night side of nature like Moth, Mosquito and Hyena also outnumbered the day-creatures like Flamingo and Heron. I would argue that the Dolphin also belonged to the depths.
All roads led to England. At least mine did.
My English counterparts were dealing with a revelation that challenged their superior grasp of the past, that their Conservative party had not actually won an election since 1974 despite being in power for most of the time since that date. The exception was 2019, where it appeared they had been using hypnosis techniques on the masses. None of this was quite cricket, but only affected me academically, as I pondered an alternative timeline with a different power structure, one where Britons never became slaves.
Americans on their part had never been comfortable with history, with what it said about them, so would become inventive with their stories.
Arriving here, confronted by such vast beauty, whites were so dismayed with this glimpse of infinity, they created the car to traverse what they could, and inexorable movies with themselves as heroes in order to distract from genocide: impenetrable eyes masked by sunglasses, flocking to witness the demise of the world’s most beautiful places. That was not America.
Reality to us had to be defined like the states with their arbitrary straight lines; despite the fact that within each state everything could be unique, insular and often at odds with others; plastic had to be invented as we were too childish to handle glass; and still, still, after the Great Awakening, the daemons talk in kindergarten language in order to be understood.
I shouldn’t be so hard on my country, this is all of us.
My inner ramblings had taken me to dawn. Early shafts of light were permeating the cabin on the port side, no less brilliant than the golden radiance that had taken us into Space, nor the white light of eternity from the elves in my dream. There is much in this world with which to be in love. I moved to an empty row on the other side in order to appreciate our turning towards the sun and imminent descent all the more. As I did so, I was haunted by the sense that my melancholy tendencies often seemed due to other people’s misery, to past atrocities and holocausts. Perhaps true happiness was the one valid statement of individuality. Did that mean, to be myself, to be happy, I was to become a writer? I did not yet know.
Under the fiercely beautiful light of the rising sun as we descended, I could see yachts abandoned in the Hamptons – past indicators of just how much people couldn’t handle the vagaries of the land, in much the same way as love of musicals could denote how miserable one felt deep inside. The bigger boats, those of tax evaders, once upon a time would be raided, only to change their flags and hence jurisdictions. We were onto such shape changes now.
Empty gap where once the United Nations building stood. It is now in Cape Town where behind is Table Mountain and in front the sea. Hard to believe that anyone once thought it could work effectively where it once was, unsupported by the landscape.
And the famous gap from a previous administration, two teeth missing from a venal jaw. The divine right of kings, once an intelligent strategy to prevent internecine warfare between rival factions, was corrupted; democracy became manipulation; the internet, mobile phones, surveillance… it appeared that all attempts to better our world were doomed. The European diseased values could be seen as a hidden expression of the soul, the powerful becoming weak, and alert to more than control. We were powerful once, we were kings. I couldn’t help feeling resentful against the recent – as in Before – ruling of American hawks all with the same looks and opinions, barking at anyone who disagreed. They reminded me of crocodiles. It is thought they were incarnations of alien clones, but that was as far as it went. It was a proper menagerie.
Great civilisations can be destroyed. Not in dreams. We used to sell dreams, I guess everyone did. Now the dreams live with us.
There was an announcement from the captain that we were circling the city because of a mastodon on the runway, but we would be landing soon and please could we fasten our seatbelts.
Relaxing into my seat, I was deeply calmed by the purring of the engines, and by the light on my face even as we banked away from it.
I have no idea how long it was before I saw the god. Probably only a New York minute.
I was looking down on the cityscape, could see Central Park and Manhattan at the centre.
There, spanning much of the city, was the head of the god.
It was composed of buildings, green spaces, streets, and the people. It looked like a harlequin’s face, cheerful, with a disconcerting detachment, each eye the size of several blocks. I could see it clearly. It was made of the city, it was the city. It had been there as long. The cheerfulness, the humour, and also the cynical aloofness were all pure New York.
There was a timelessness to the vision, as if I were seeing further than through my ordinary eyes.
The god blinked and swathes of the population died in explosions or other disasters. The god laughed and a wonderful event took place in Madison Square Gardens or elsewhere. Everything that happened was a manifestation of its consciousness, its dreaming.
There have been so many wonders. This was the only one that literally took my breath away, not least because of the sense that the revelation was personal, solely for me. Remembering to breathe eventually, I glanced around the cabin. No one else seemed aware. When I looked back, the plane had turned too far for me to see anything more. We had landed before I recovered myself.
The god of the city had seen fit to introduce itself to me.
Presentation of the book by the author
- The God of New York – Anugyan writes about the creation of his first Novella of a series of seven