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The Lost Pen of Percival Lowell
The prize winning entry in the First Pentrace Writing Competition
from the fountain pen of Andy Deering
Inky dark. The moonless sky stretched blue-black over the forested hill, brilliantly pierced with starlight – and in the eastern sky, a larger light glowed red. Inside the faintly silvered dome, Percival Lowell sat on a high stool on the platform in front of the 24 inch Clark telescope, hunched over the eyepiece. In the cavernous observatory the electric lights dimly illuminated the rails upon which the giant telescope swiveled A brighter light cast Lowell’s shadow on the dome as he turned to jot down a note. He picked up his pen and sat in thought for a moment, troubled. He bent again and peered at the red surface of the Warrior Planet. For a moment he thought he saw the canals delineated as clearly as they were on the drawings of Schiaparelli; then they faded as though obscured by the dry dust of Mars-or the clouds of doubt created by his critics. He turned again to his notes, uncapped his pen and wrote a few lines. Although his ideas on the possibility of life on Mars had filled the pages of the popular press and fired the imagination of the public, other scientists had responded harshly to his speculations about the dwindling water supply on Mars and the fantastic civilizations that depended on it. Now he himself was beginning to attribute his ideas to the romantic spirit which flowed strongly in his family and the exotic lands he had experienced on his voyages to Japan and the Middle-east. After another glance through the telescope at the now tranquil God of War, he extinguished the lantern, rose wearily from his stool, and climbed down from the viewing platform.

Percival sat at his desk preparing his remarks for the Astronomical Society meeting where he planned to present his ideas about the unseen planet, "planet X", which expressed its presence in orbital eccentricities. The fine lines of his handwriting grew faint as his pen ran out of ink. He slid open the desk drawer and drew out a bottle of ink. In the drawer were many pens – black with golden bands, silver pens, gold pens and pens with a delicate silver overlay. Most were gifts and were inscribed with his name. There was even one given to him by his sister Amy upon which a snake writhed sinuously up the barrel (he didn’t really approve of his sister and her bohemian way of life). He preferred his own pen, the plain Waterman 12 he had purchased years before at the Babbit Brothers general store. It was smooth and ebony black, and he preferred its clean, spare design to the more elaborate pens he had been given. Perhaps it was the Japanese culture he admired which created the need he felt for the simple, or maybe it was a counterbalance for the increasing complexity he felt as he struggled to comprehend the universe. The rejection of his Martian theories, poor health and his failing eyesight all weighed upon him as he struggled to impose order upon the chaotic cosmos. With shaking hands, he carefully filled his pen and once again began to write.

The two-day outing to Sunset Crater had started well and Lowell had enjoyed himself. On the first day he had explored the ice caves and climbed as far up the steep side of the crater as he had been able to. The August weather was fine and the night pleasantly cool. On the second day though, as the party began the return journey, the monsoon rains had come and the coach was delayed by flooding. Now it was dusk and Percival rested as the journey neared its end. He watched the stars emerge from the dark blue curtain of night. Then he dozed. As he slumbered in cosmic repose, untroubled by the jouncing on the bumpy, rutted road, his pen slipped unnoticed from his pocket and fell onto the road.

And there it stayed for almost fifty years, baked by the summer sun, blanketed with snow in the winter, buried in the spring mud and carried back to the surface by the clumsy churning wheels of a log truck – until one day a young boy, keen-eyed, searching for a snake, or a lizard, or an arrowhead, or a shiny rock sees something with a regular, unnatural shape just breaking the hard-packed surface. A spent cartridge? A buried pipe? Carefully, rampant curiosity held in check by caution, he gently prods the soil with his pocket knife, like a paleontologist unearthing an ancient bone until he holds in his hand the buried treasure, puzzled at first, then excited. As he turns back toward home he feels an unaccountable frisson which does not quite reach his consciousness but leaves him unaware that in his pocket is something which has, in a sense, spoken with the stars.

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