The Last Stoic by Morgan Wade is a story of appetite and fear, both modern and ancient. Half of the story’s narrative occurs in the time and place of the ancient Roman Empire; the other half occurs in the present-day United States. The parallels between the two eras are so strong that the narrative continues uninterrupted as the setting shifts from historic Rome to modern America, alternating from chapter to chapter. This second excerpt is taken from a chapter set in modern times. The protagonist, Marcus, has gone missing from the border town in which he worked. His family arrive from the North to look for him. Their search leads to the angry and disillusioned Patrick, a young man who has information about Marcus and who may have been instrumental in his disappearance.
The Last Stoic: Extract Two
“What is that?” Patrick asked, gesturing toward Vincent’s book.
“It is a copy of The Meditations.”
Patrick looked back blankly.
“The writings of Marcus Aurelius. I gave it to my grandson as a goodbye gift, but in his haste he forgot it. I brought it down with me to give to him when we meet again. I thought I might lend it to you, his friend, until he gets back.”
Vincent handed him the book. Patrick chose not to remind the old man again that he and Mark were just acquaintances.
“It’s a book of observances. Almost two thousand years old. It has been indispensable to me. I like to open it at random, let the pages fall where they may, and read the first paragraph I see. It never disappoints.”
Patrick held the book, appraising it with his hands.
“Go ahead,” Vincent said, “Try it!”
Patrick looked at Vincent for a moment and then let the book fall open. He read the first sentence of the first paragraph that met his eyes. In all you do or say or think, recollect that at any time the power of withdrawal from life is in your own hands.
“Let me try again,” he said.
He closed the book and let it fall open again. Once more he started reading from the paragraph where his gaze landed.
“Read it out loud,” Vincent urged.
“Very soon you will be dead,” Patrick said. He considered closing the book and handing it back immediately, but Vincent looked on with expectation and interest. He felt compelled to continue. “But even yet you are not single-minded, nor above disquiet; not yet unapprehensive of harm from without; not yet charitable to all men, nor persuaded that to do justly is the only wisdom.”
“Ah!” Vincent exclaimed. “Marvellous. I tell you, that book has a way of summing it all up and wrapping it in a bow. It’s funny how it always seems so pertinent.”
Patrick closed the book again and sat staring at the old man a few feet away in the confined sitting room of his tiny living space. Vincent looked frail and weathered, but there was resilience underneath, like heartwood behind the bark. The man has lost his grandson, who obviously means a good deal to him, and yet he is still able to be friendly and generous to someone he has never met.
“I suppose I should go,” Vincent said suddenly, rising from his chair. “Please, borrow it until Mark returns. I think you will find it most useful. ”
“Don’t go,” Patrick said suddenly, surprising both himself and his guest. Vincent, already halfway to the door, stopped and turned.
“I’m sorry son,” he said, “I need to rejoin my daughter-in-law, she is probably worried by my absence and, given everything, she is already beside herself. We need to continue the search. Perhaps we’ll meet again soon.”
Vincent moved toward the door.
“Stop,” Patrick said, this time with more force. “I know something about Mark’s disappearance.”
Vincent dropped his hand from the door knob.
“Come back in,” Patrick said, “stay a while. Tell me more about your uncle in New Ravenna. My great-uncle. I could make you some lunch.”
“Please Patrick,” he said, “tell me what you know.”
The two men stared hard at each other.
“He was taken away,” Patrick said at last, “by some men. CIA.”
Vincent’s face darkened. “Where?”
“From the rally, the president’s public address. They arrested Mark and one of his friends.”
“I don’t know.”
Vincent was motionless. He held Patrick’s gaze.
“I think they suspected an assassination attempt,” Patrick continued, “at least that’s what I thought I heard one of them say. I happened to be nearby.”
Vincent swiveled and strode toward the door.
“Where are you going?” Patrick asked.
“I need to make some phone calls.”
Vincent looked back to see Patrick standing in the kitchen holding a pistol at his side.
“Stay,” he said, waving the gun.
“He who fears death either fears to lose all sensation,” he said, pleasantly, “or fears new sensations. In reality, you will either feel nothing at all and therefore nothing evil, or else, if you can feel any new sensations, you will be a new creature, and so will not have ceased to have life.”
There was no hint of anger or exasperation in his face.
“I’d prefer if you didn’t shoot me Patrick. I have many things to do. But I’m not afraid and I must leave now.”
Patrick raised the gun.
“Stay,” he said.
Vincent turned the knob and opened the door.
The report from the pistol echoed throughout the dormitory halls of the Super Shepherd Ministries.
About the author:
Morgan Wade’s first novel, The Last Stoic, was edited by award-winning novelist Helen Humphreys (author of best-selling works such as The Reinvention of Love and Coventry). The Last Stoic made the 2012 ReLit Awards long list. Morgan’s short stories and poems have been published in Canadian literary journals and anthologies, including, The New Quarterly and The Nashwaak Review. He attended the Humber School of Writing where he worked and studied under novelist Michael Helm. Morgan lives in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
The Last Stoic is a story of appetite and fear, both modern and ancient. Half of the story’s narrative occurs in the time and place of the ancient Roman Empire; the other half occurs in the present-day United States. The parallels between the two eras are so strong that the narrative continues uninterrupted as the setting shifts from historic Rome to modern America, alternating from chapter to chapter.
Marcus, a young man from a northern provincial border town, journeys deep into the heart of the empire and witnesses first-hand the excesses that can lead to ruin, both personal and political. His story offers an ancient commentary on the preoccupations of our own turbulent times. Shortly after his arrival, the empire is thrown into a panic by an unprecedented barbarian attack on the capital. Suspicion and paranoia abound. A young Roman/American runaway named Patrick, disillusioned with his own life and the state of his country, becomes convinced that Marcus is a dangerous traitor. Culminating in a public accusation made by Patrick, Marcus is wrongfully imprisoned, exiled and tortured as an enemy of the state. In prison, he confronts the many contradictions he has found in his adopted home, and in himself.
Throughout the story, in both eras, the writings of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius (The Meditations) insinuate themselves unexpectedly into Marcus’ life. In prison, he is saved by a chance meeting with Sextus Condianus, the “last Stoic” of the title, a cell-mate who is able to fully recite Aurelius’ words and impart their wisdom. Ultimately, it is this unanticipated and unbidden instruction that gives the young man the strength he requires to survive. It becomes evident that the words of the venerable Stoic emperor have as much relevance to our own era as they did to his.
Not ticking the boxes for me!