Wednesday, August 22, 2018
You’ve arrived at the end of the line, Shieks and Shebas! This is the final episode for the Jazz Age Wednesdays serial Hullaba Lulu.
Well it’s all right, that we’ve been riding around in the breeze. Maybe somewhere down the road aways, you’ll think of me, wonder where I am these days. Well it’s all right, we’re going to the end of the line.
You can do catch-up reading for most of the past chapters at this post: Real World Tech Review which has links through episode 11.1.
Warning — this is a long chapter, but I didn’t think it suitable to divide it into more than one episode. Save your place and take a break if necessary. However, I think it will be a quick read, despite the length. Enough said. Time to get a wriggle on!
Previously with Hullaba Lulu
The angel-bots stood on one another’s shoulders making a automaton tower to try and take Valentino away from Iset, but with disastrous results. They all fell and… Oh the bot-manity! However, “Papa” Nikola Tesla was repairing them.
Meanwhile, Valentino was near death. With her multicolored wings, Iset carried him away. Lulu, Gramps, Dynamite, and Ginger took Tesla’s electric car and followed Iset to the Great Pyramid. Inside they found a secret chamber and a large alabaster disk. When they steped on the disk it sailed upward!
I think I hear the trumpet’s final call. The conductor shouts–
End of the Line!
The rapidly ascending alabaster disk came to a smooth stop. Gramps, Ginger, Dynamite, and I stepped into a chamber that seemed empty except for a veritable forest of metal columns. There were so many that it made the vast room seem like a labyrinth. A tiny spark caught my eye. I realized that each column was topped with intricately formed wires. Tesla coils. The room was full of Tesla coils!
I stopped in my tracks. I would never get over the fireworks that resulted when I bumped into the one on Valentino’s train.
Outside my line of sight, I heard a woman throwing a tantrum. Crashing sounds overlaid ranted words that I couldn’t understand.
“Why won’t it work?” she yelled. “It’s not enough!”
Gramps hurried toward the voice. I reached for his arm to hold him back, but I wasn’t fast enough. I followed my grandfather in-between the columns and around a corner.
The voice belonged to Iset.
It was probably the least important thing in the world, but I noticed that Iset’s multicolored wings were gone. I supposed that she only had them when she wanted to fly. After all, huge wings would get in the way when you weren’t using them.
Her back was to us. Iset bent over a large, open sarcophagus. She started to chant fervently. Her voice was raw, as if she had been speaking for a long time without a break.
“It’s not enough! Nothing I do is ever enough!” Iset sobbed and banged her fists against the sarcophagus.
I hissed at Gramps to be still, but he went to Iset. To my astonishment, Iset fell against my grandfather’s shoulder, crying her eyes out.
When I moved forward I gasped in horror. Laying in the elaborate casket was Valentino!
“I should have been able to heal him with the sarcophagus,” she wailed. “Just infusing him with my lifeforce should have revived him. With the sarcophagus, healing should have been immediate.”
An intricately carved copper bangle was on Iset’s wrist. I saw that a copper strap ran from the bracelet to a matching cuff on Valentino’s wrist. Another copper bangle-set rested beside him. All the bracelets were carved with hieroglyphics that were inlaid with gemstones. It looked like the gems had been melted into the ancient symbols.
“Maybe it needs all three of you,” Gramps told her in a gentle voice.
Iset looked up at Gramps with surprised eyes. She turned her head to glare contemptuously at me.
“There are enough of those copper cuffs for three siblings,” Gramps continued in a matter of fact tone.
My grandfather reached into the casket and put the second bracelet set on Valentino’s bare wrist. Gramps held out the bangle at the other end of the copper strap toward me.
“Gramps, what are you talking about?” I demanded, utterly befuddled.
“Lulu,” he chided. “Do you mean to tell me that you never noticed the family resemblance?”
I stepped backward. It felt like the rug had been pulled right out from under me. My knees gave way and my fanny bumped one of the metal columns.
Ginger caught me before I hit the marble floor. Dynamite grabbed and righted the Tesla coil post an instant before it would have fallen against the next one. I shuddered thinking of the catastrophic domino effect that almost happened.
“Get ahold of yourself,” Iset snapped. “You’re only our half-sister. Yes, Valentino is our half-brother.”
“But… but,” I tried to interject.
“We three share the same father,” Iset said in an impatient tone.
“How? Gramps, how could you not tell me? Valentino? What if he and I had… I mean,” I stuttered to a stop.
“Impossible as it sounds, I was pretty sure,” Gramps began. “Seeing all three of you close together just now, I was certain. Lauren, your mother, always did play the field. Your father probably wasn’t that mobster after all.”
“Then who?” I whispered.
“This is not the time for that,” Iset stated bluntly.
She took a step toward me, snatched the other bangle from Gramps, and slapped it onto my wrist.
“Take his hand to make the connection stronger,” Iset ordered as she grasped Valentino’s hand.
The bangle slid down my wrist as I took Valentino’s other hand. His hand was very cold.
Iset began chanting again. Her voice was hypnotic, like a song that pulled me into a story. I didn’t understand the language she spoke, yet I found I was able to say the words. It was as if part of me knew the language even though my conscious mind didn’t recognize it. I chanted along with Iset.
The gemstone hieroglyphics in the bracelets started to glow. The copper against my wrist felt pleasantly warm. Valentino’s hand was still cold.
Iset sobbed and shook her head.
“I don’t think he’s fully here,” Gramps muttered as he looked closely at Valentino. “Part of his spirit is elsewhere.”
“Back at the Cotton Club he said that he couldn’t be far from the train,” I reminded Gramps. “Then he said the Rolls Royce and the trumpet were aspects of his train, which allowed him to leave it for short distances.”
“That’s right, Miss. The automatons are also aspects of the train. Although to a lesser degree. However, all of us together represent a complete circuit,” Dynamite explained.
A rapid series of clicks and shifting gears came from the rose-gold automaton. Abruptly Ginger blinked and then ran to a window. The angle-bot started climbing out the window.
I called for her to come back. We were nearly 500 feet off the ground!
“Ginger, be careful,” Dynamite drawled even as he climbed out the window with her.
It wasn’t a long distance from the uppermost chamber of the pyramid to its tip, but it was utterly treacherous. The rose-gold automaton found hand and footholds to climb up to the pyramidion. Dynamite was right behind her.
I hung halfway out the window watching them. Tiny bits of stone showered down as Dynamite’s foot slipped. Ginger reached one hand down to steady her beau. A pebble hit my cheek and I drew back with an exclamation. However, I couldn’t stop myself form leaning back out again to watch the clockwork duo.
As the two reached the zenith, the sun reflected from their gold bodies like a beacon. I put up a hand to shield my eyes. It was blinding.
Ginger started to hum. She didn’t hum the way a human would. It was more like the humming sound that comes from a finely tuned motor. The sound she made grew louder. Dynamite started humming at a lower pitch, but it was in harmony with Ginger.
Gramps came to the window beside me. He looked up at the angel-bots, puzzled. Then his expression changed. The expression on his face told me he had a hunch.
“Something’s missing,” Gramps said, meaning the sounds the angel-bots made.
Gramps brought the slide-trombone to his lips. I could tell he was listening intently to the humming. Onstage at his speakeasy, I had seen him figure out songs that he’d never heard before. That’s what he seemed to be doing.
My grandfather started playing the trombone. After a few notes he played an intricate flourish that escalated in volume, blending in harmony with the hums of the automatons. All the sounds came to a crescendo.
He squinted as he checked his compass. Gramps shielded his sunglasses and stared down at the desert, looking in the direction from which we came. A moment later I heard his sharp intake of breath.
I leaned out further to see past him and gasped in astonishment.
In the distance I could make out Woo standing on the hood of Tesla’s electric automobile. The diminutive angel-bot leaned forward with arms extended as if she was flying. The car was flanked by dozens of automatons. Their golden bodies glinted in the sun as they ran at full-speed across the desert sands. Clouds of dust churned up by their feet billowed behind their rapidly moving formation.
The automatons gathered en masse at the foot of the pyramid. They all began to hum. The harmony was intricate. The vibration of their combined intonations was so strong I could feel it hundreds of feet above. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end.
I rushed back to Valentino and reattached the bracelet I wore.
The expression on my grandfather’s face told me he had gone to that place inside ― the place from which his music came. Gramps put the slide-trombone to his lips again.
I held Valentino’s cold hand tightly. Iset had never let go of his other hand. She looked at me and took my free hand and nodded.
“As the automaton said, a complete circuit,” she said, meaning the three of us holding hands.
Gramps played a wildly free jazz melody that I had never heard before. I knew that no one had ever played it, at least not on this earth. The uninhibited notes swam and rushed in a torrent. Then the music leveled off to a steady flow.
As the music took on a slow, even pulse, the gemstones in the bracelets glowed brighter. I heard Iset gasp.
Valentino’s eyes fluttered open.
The sound of tiny chimes rang from a device that looked like a large brass compact. It was about the size of a dinner plate. It was Valentino’s video phone.
“It’s fine, Lulu. Go ahead and answer it. I gave one to Nikola Tesla. It should be him calling,” Valentino assured me.
However, when I opened the big compact, I saw Pearl. In the background I saw palm trees and the luxurious accommodations of the Winter Palace hotel in Luxor. I wondered what Egyptians would think about New York winters.
I could hear a man happily cooing beyond Pearl. She looked over her shoulder with an exasperated glare.
“I thought Tesla was taking you home,” I told Pearl.
“That was the idea,” Pearl began. “Now he’s in the middle of making some kind of business deal and he’s not ready to leave yet. Lulu, I can’t take another minute of this!” Pearl wailed amid all the cooing.
“Pearl, what’s going on? I know he’s and odd bird, but I thought he was basically okay. He’s not trying to do something weird to you is he?” I wanted to know.
Even though Pearl had been saying hurtful things and showing herself to be a self-important brat, before that we had been friends for a long time. I wouldn’t stand by and let someone mistreat her, even if I didn’t want to have anything else to do with her.
“Ha! Odd bird! Lulu, you got that right. It’s the damned pigeons! He’s constantly playing with the blasted birds, feeding them, making silly noises to them. Nerts! He’s more interested in the pigeons than me!” Pearl said frantically.
I didn’t know what to say. While I searched for words she continued.
“He said he’d send me home any time I wanted. He said he’d pay your way too,” Pearl said in a different tone.
“I don’t want to go home,” I told her, puzzled that she would even suggest such a thing.
“Come on, Lulu. You know it’s not respectable for a lady to travel alone,” Pearl pleaded, but I still declined. “Fine then! I can’t cope with this! I’m going home. Now!”
Pearl was in a lather. She pulled off her turban exposing fluffy platinum blond hair. Long dangle earrings tumbled down to graze her shoulders.
The cooing noises stopped. Tesla stepped into view behind Pearl. She whirled around to face him and her long earrings swung out nearly touching him. Tesla screamed and ran from the room.
Night fell. Stars glittered the deep cobalt sky. A full moon illuminated the Great Pyramid. The train was repaired and it waited beside the ancient structure. I had stopped wondering how they managed to get it there without railroad tracks. Some things were beyond my grasp.
The angel-bots had transformed the uppermost chamber of the pyramid to a beautifully appointed dining room. Crystal glasses and champagne bubbles shimmered in candlelight as we celebrated Valentino’s return to health.
With her half-brother healed, Iset had become… not exactly nice, but less frightening anyway. I kind of admired her fierceness. I looked from her to Valentino and shook my head wonderingly.
I had lost my best friends. Rose left us to stay with a better version of Tom Driberg in that alternative “upside down” Egypt. It felt like I lost Pearl too, but it was because she was never the person she pretended to be. I had been alone most of my life, and I was alone again.
Yet while I lost my friends, I had found family — a brother and a sister. So what if we were only half-siblings. I wanted to know about our mutual father, but they weren’t ready to discuss that yet.
“And you’re sure we aren’t related,” I heard Gramps say.
He took out the pocket watch my late grandmother had given him. I knew he read the inscription several times a day. However, that time he stroked his thumb across the case without opening it. He tucked the watch back inside his vest and patted the pocket.
I choked on my champagne. Dynamite’s metal hand gently patted my back. I told him that I was okay, and asked for a stronger drink.
Gramps and Iset were looking into one another’s eyes like a couple of teenagers. They whispered and giggled. Gramps giggled! I had never seen my grandfather act that way. And with a woman so young? I was shocked.
“Dynamite, make that a double!” I pleaded.
Abruptly I wondered how young Iset actually was ― or was not. Tesla said she was a goddess. For all I knew, she was twice the age of my grandfather.
Neither Iset nor Valentino were ordinary humans. What did that make me if I was their half-sister?
“Let me show you Luxor from high above,” Iset told Gramps and motioned toward the window.
To my astonishment an airship floated beside the window.
“Iset!” Valentino exclaimed. “Isn’t that Ra’s sun ship? Have you lost your mind?”
“He won’t care as long as I have it back by sunrise,” Iset dismissed her brother’s worry with a wave of her hand.
Gramps and Iset moved to the window. The angel-bots helped them onto the airship. I stood gaping.
“Don’t wait up,” Gramps told us as he stepped aboard the ship.
I got the hiccups.
It was well after midnight. Valentino and I were in the control room of the train. He sat in a chair that had wheels. He spun it around, turning his back to do something with the Ouija board that was part of the train’s navigation system.
“I have a brother,” I murmured in awe.
The tall gold control angel statue tilted her head down and winked at me.
“Where do you want to go next, Lulu?” Valentino asked. “I can plot the course. We’ll be ready to leave first thing in the morning. Gramps and Iset will be back by then,” he added. “Anywhere you want to go. It’s up to you, Lulu.”
Suddenly confronted with endless choices, I couldn’t pick a destination.
I had wanted so badly to visit exotic places and we ended up first in a sideways Atlantic City, and then back to New York for a sideways Cotton Club. It would have been swell when we got to Egypt — that was about as faraway and mysterious a place as I could imagine. But when we got there so many bad things happened.
I was pos-i-lutely blotto, but I was happy. I started doing the Charleston and pulled my newfound brother up from his “wheeley” chair and into the dance.
As I flung out my arm doing the Charleston, I knocked something over. Then my heel broke and I fell against the Ouija board, tilting it. The angel-bot, Moon, rushed into the control room, leaving the door open.
Moon had been working on something outside. I could see the night beyond the open exit hatch. I tripped over the automaton’s foot and landed in the wheeley chair.
Valentino reached for me and fell into the control angel. The statue’s eyes popped open wide. The trumpet levitated off its table and blared out a note. The train lurched forward.
The sudden motion caused my chair to roll out of the room. I screamed as it continued to roll out the exit hatch. With a thud the chair toppled into the sand. It, and I, rolled end over end several times.
My head spun as I staggered to my feet, still fighting with the chair.
The train was gone.
Horsefeathers! It’s so hot! I’ve really gotten myself into trouble this time.
I plopped down and leaned against the huge statue, zozzled. I watched the sun peep over the horizon.
As I blinked at the sun, looking up I realized the statue had a man’s face. That was confusing, especially in my splificated state, because I was leaning against a gigantic paw. Well, if it had a face, I’d drink with it — paws or not.
I took out my garter flask. It barely had a jorum of skee left.
Pearl managed to get Tesla to take her back to New York. Gramps left for a well-deserved romantic tryst with Iset. My latest bout of clumsiness caused me to fall out the door and sent Valentino and his train careening off to who knew where. Worse, I was down to my last drop of hooch!
I held up the flask and squinted up at the stone face. Was it wearing a Star of David for an earring? I knew I was tipsy, but I hadn’t noticed that earring a moment earlier.
“Now what do I do? I’m stranded in the desert with no giggle water,” I complained to the statue, not caring that it couldn’t answer. “How am I going to get out of this mess?”
“What is the meaning of life?” a deep voice mumbled.
“Huh?” I muttered.
I burped and looked around. I didn’t see anybody. Maybe I was more than a little tipsy.
“The meaning of life,” I muttered and looked at the flask.
The bottle contained some of the 42-proof whiskey that Gramps got for his speakeasy. A rumrunner from Canada brought it. It wasn’t as strong as the usual hooch, but it sure was smooth.
I raised the flask toward the statue in a toast.
“42-proof! Here’s to you, bub,” I said and then took a swig.
The bottle had a few drops left. On impulse, I sprinkled them on the gigantic stone paw.
“There ya go,” I told it with a hiccup.
A sound like a rock-slide preceded a heavy thud. I didn’t remember the big mound of sand on the other side of the statue’s paw. Neither did I remember seeing its tail. Then the big stone tail swept back to the other side, making another mound of sand.
“Huh?” I raised my eyebrows and murmured worriedly.
There was no way I was drunk enough to hallucinate. Or at least I didn’t remember drinking that much…
The earth shook, causing me to stumble away from the statue.
I backed away and watched in awe as the stone head moved down to lick the paw where I sprinkled the whiskey.
“Smooth,” the deep voice rumbled, louder than before.
My eyes bulged.
“Yes, Lulu. You answered my riddle,” the Sphinx told me.
“Erm, what riddle? Oh, was it you who asked what the meaning of life was? I knew I could hold my liquor better than that!” I said and tried to stop my voice from slurring. “You mean that was a riddle? I never was any good at riddles. You aren’t going to ask me a riddle are you? Because I’m no…” I started, but paused to burp. “Scuse me.”
Hot air blew the fringe on my dress as the statue snorted.
“I already asked you the riddle — the meaning of life,” it told me with another blast of hot air and a rumbling sound. “You answered correctly. 42.”
Was it laughing?
“Oh, but I was talking about…” I decided it was better if I didn’t finish that sentence if the Sphinx thought I had gotten something right.”
The earth shook again, harder. I fell down. A broad hand reached out to me. I took the strong hand, but eyed its owner skeptically. I was still unsteady from the tremor and grabbed his arm to keep from falling again. His enormous bicep was rock-hard. I gazed up and up, because he had to be nearly seven feet tall.
I patted his huge bicep. Hard as sto— I only got half the thought finished.
I looked up at a very tall, powerfully built man who effortlessly lifted me to my feet. He was wearing one of those cloth bandana-like hats I had seen in the Egyptian paintings. He also wore a caftan, sunglasses, and one Star of David earring.
“Hello, Lulu — Giver of Names,” he greeted me.
He took off the sunglasses and grinned at me. He had big green, slit-pupiled eyes. A tufted tail twitched out from under his caftan.
“Holy Hannah!” I exclaimed despite myself and stepped backward. “I um, I have to find the train,” I apologized, turning to leave.
“Valentino’s train is long gone. You know that. You sent it away yourself,” he said amid deep chuckles.
I started to speak but then I noticed the Sphinx statue was gone. My mouth moved but nothing came out.
“Don’t worry,” he said and led me around a mound of sand. “You aren’t stranded. Your chariot awaits.”
He pointed to the longest, reddest, shiniest automobile I had ever seen. It looked like something from the Amazing Stories magazine.
“Oh, that’s right. You don’t exactly know how to drive, and this vehicle is as far removed from an automobile as Valentino’s is from an ordinary train,” he told me.
“Who are you?” I asked, trying hard to make my mind focus. “Are you real? Or am I drunker than I’ve ever been before?”
“Just call me Sphinx,” he told me and winked one of those slit-pupiled green eyes. “Maybe later I’ll tell you my name. But try not to ask questions. That compels me to ask you riddles, and that could end badly,” he warned but laughed deeply and loudly.
Sphinx opened the passenger door of the vehicle.
“Don’t touch anything,” he cautioned as he helped me into the automobile.
When he walked around to the driver’s door, the floorboard shifted to accommodate the length of his legs.
I looked at the automobile’s dashboard. It had as many blinking lights and strange levers as Valentino’s train. Just under the dash I spotted a small Ouija board. The planchette started to vibrate. I reached out and placed a single finger on the teardrop shaped device.
The engine roared to life.
Wildly moving shapes like the sine-waves Moon showed me when he opened a door to the “upside down Egypt” surrounded the vehicle. It shot forward and upward, faster than anything could possibly move. The brightly colored waves surrounded the vehicle like a tunnel. It looked like it could go on forever.
“I told you not to touch anything!” Sphinx cried in shock.
His voice echoed into the distance behind us.
Real World Notes
42 — Douglas Adams. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a comic science fiction series created by Douglas Adams that has become popular among fans of the genre(s) and members of the scientific community. The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is requested from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42.
Old Winter Palace Hotel Luxor. A historic British colonial-era 5-star luxury resort hotel located in Luxor, Egypt, just south of Luxor Temple, with 86 rooms and 6 suites. Founded in 1905 it is perched on the Nile River amid luxuriant tropical gardens.
Thanks again to Rob Goldstein for generously sharing the beautiful illustrations, that brought my words to life for everyone. If you missed it, Rob talks about how making these images was important for him on a personal level in a podcast you can reach via his blog.
Thank you — each and every one of you — from the bottom of my heart for being on this train! It’s been a fun, wild ride, and it would never have happened without you. Many of you have been with this train from the introduction all the way through the end of the line. I appreciate you more than you could know. You’re pos-i-lutely the cat’s pajamas.
Now some shameless self-promotion for my other 1920s books — the original “three things” stories about Paisley Idelle Peabody, aka Pip, and her friends.
This is a work of fiction. Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.
Artwork Copyright © 2018 by Rob Goldstein
Copyright © 2018 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene
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