Not a drop all the way up from the city. The first splash hit the window as the train slowed and cleared the tunnel of trees. Out past the CN station gray drizzle sliced through the water tower lights.
“Won’t be long,” said the porter, looking up.
He was grinning.
I was cutting out on Orientation Week as I'd done each of the past three semesters after working swing shifts all summer at the Fleet Street brewery. This year I was worn out on insomnia and the infantile, conform or be outcast mentality of the brewery workers. I was facing down another year against the conform or fail agenda of tenured academia.
“Yep, she’ll be letting go any minute. Got a ride?”
The picked up the yellow step stool and hopped back aboard.
“No. No ride.”
He even laughed.
My poncho glowed brilliant blue, back-lit by passing cars, waving wraith-like on the back draft. Rivulets snaked over the clear visor and poured down, misting my glasses. The cottage was five minutes away, by car.
Granite outcroppings glistened beneath pines burst ragged by lightning. Furious gray masses of cloud seethed out over the two-lane blacktop. It seemed the night wanted to tear itself apart. In the din, the frog chorus of the marsh was inaudible.
I thought I heard a voice and turned to look.
“Need a ride?”
A car had stopped beside me, right in the eastbound lane. I hadn’t noticed its lights approach.
“Sure,” I yelled and ran across.
“Do you want the trunk?”
“No trunk. You’ll get soaked,” I said. “I’m just a minute up the road.”
You never allow your pack to get locked in out of reach.
I opened the rear door. Some objects were already on the seat.
“Don’t worry about that stuff. It won’t break.”
I stuffed my knapsack down behind the seat. Up front, I set the groceries and typewriter between my feet.
“Thanks a lot. It was getting nasty out there.”
“I couldn’t leave a man out walking on a night like this.”
He started off.
“I appreciate it. My road’s just past the bridge.”
“You point it out.”
“You’re not local?”
“Saskatoon. I’m out here on business.”
For some reason that struck me strange, but we were already on the bridge. The big iron girders were strung with drips.
“Anywhere along here is fine. I can’t see to tell the road from the driveways in all this.”
He slowed the car onto the gravel.
“I’ll pull over while you find it.”
“Hey, you don’t have to take me in.”
“Is it far?”
“Not at all. Just a short loop.”
“Then I can’t let a man off in this.”
On the side road I wiped my glasses and got a better look at the driver. He wore a thick dark beard and his build crowded the steering wheel.
Sunday night, Muskoka, and he’s wearing a suit and tie.
“You doing some camping?”
“Just cottaging. I’m taking a week to myself before starting back at school.”
Why did I infer I’d be alone?
“Your parents’ place?”
“My girlfriends’. Her parents.”
Sheets of rain shimmered in the headlights, shadowing familiar landmarks.
“Take this left?”
“No, that’s just a – Here, this one. And the next left. What kind of business you into?”
“I’m an inventor.”
“You should like it around here. You can just relax and let your mind open onto itself. That’s why I’m here.”
“And what do you do?”
“Sometimes I call myself a writer. I’m a student.”
“Well then, you can write about the night you got picked up by a kook who invented a flying saucer.”
“Will it fly,” I said, without missing a beat.
“Oh, yes. They have before.”
I hit a new level of attention as we closed on the cottage.
“This next driveway’s the place.”
He pulled to the side of the narrow road and shifted into park.
Was that necessary?
"Yes, it will fly. The engine is a simple mechanism of trigonometry and centrifugal force. It is so simple it is beautiful. That made it hard to grasp at first."
He leaned back and turned to face me. My dis-ease threatened to break loose, but his self-assured calm reminded me of my revered hermeneutics professor.
"I kept working at designs and formulations. I'd had a vision of three T's forming a circle within a circle, but could not realize the component parts. It's so brilliant. The machine barely has moving parts. The three T's are chambers, cylinders, formed in a radius, moving in a circular motion that opens and closes the valves centrifugally. It is all enclosed by three rings. Let me show you."
The driver held a small, spiral bound photo album under the dashboard light.
I chuckled, aloud, seeing the classic dish and bubble shape.
"He said it had to look like that."
On a scale model he leaned against the steering wheel I could make out the shape of the T's. I remembered a similar engine some car company had pioneered in the 1970's.
"The chambers spin to create a vacuum to draw air, as coolant, through this central apperature."
"The scientific community is astounded. They reject my flying machine, but cannot refute the engine."
"Look, I'm not mechanically inclined, but, ah, what fuels it?"
"You must understand, I'm just one inventor. I'm corresponding with a scientist from Queen's who has proposed a theory of nuclear magnetism."
He went on about protons and metallurgy, still talking very calmly.
Most people would be out of this car by now.
"Maybe I've mislead you. I have to be clear. I didn't design this engine - God gave it to me."
Fear crept up me like ants on a popsicle.
"I discovered it, but it's all there in Ezekial. It was called a cocktrytch and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel within a wheel. It can move immediately in any direction. Ezekial 10: 'When they went, they went upon their four sides; they turned not as they went.' "
He paused and I spoke.
"Do you think it's wanted?"
"No. It scares men. It defies all established ideas. If only men weren't so afraid. All these people believing in life after death, of going on to heaven unchanged. Ludicrous. It is not what the man said. He spoke of righteousness in all situations. You see, I believe the world was created as a contest between God and Satan. An experiment that proved Satan correct - all things denigrate into disbelief. Yet God forgave to lead men to righteousness. Men have simply forgotten and must destroy all they cannot understand."
The car had steamed up though we had both cracked our windows. I was sweating in my plastic poncho. I feigned a yawn.
"I still have a long way to go. My resources are limited and few men want to help."
The driver looked straight into my eyes.
"Maybe I am a kook?"
Neither of us spoke. I yawned again.
"It's been a long road."
"Yeah, and I should get out of these wet clothes."
The driver looked out, as if far out beyond the confines of this close night.
"Well, thanks for the lift."
"It wouldn't have been right to leave you out in this rain."
I stepped out of the car and took my knapsack from the back.
"Hey, I never got your name?"
"Robert Wayne. Wayne Motors, Limited. And yours?"
"Owen. Owen Gerard."
The driver leaned toward the open door with an intent gaze.
"I was told that Gerard and Wayne are very special names and that they can attract great good, and great evil. So go with good care. And God bless."
I closed the door and watched him drive off. Then his tail lights burst into a blur of red light. He turned in at the next driveway and was coming back.
He was coming back?
I took a step.
The car went on by. I managed a wave. He honked and drove around the bend.
I put my groceries in the Kelvinator. On the screened-in porch I listened to the rain hiss out on the river.
I thought again of the insipid brewery workers. I was holding a large knife. What had this man done to make me doubt him?
Silver and jade swirled on the river. I'd never seen such rain.