Monday, March 31, 2014

Ashes On The Water

Somewhere between short story and flash fiction, this was inspired by a true occurence:

Ashes On The Water

Bob was in a good mood as he drove down the country road on a glorious day. He chatted amiably to his wife, even though he knew she wasn’t listening. The incessant rain and all of the troubles of the past week were finally over. It was the first true summer day of the year and the classic rock station was playing all of his favorite songs back to back. But the real reason for his good mood was that he knew now that he had succeeded. There had been some tense moments in the last few weeks; the plans he had so carefully drawn out had really been put to the test. All the plans in the world cannot prepare one for the way things play out in reality. But he was proud of himself. When the story deviated from the script he had written, he reacted as an actor inspired. He realized flaws in his story when questioned and adapted to the situation. And now he was on the final stretch. He had merely to dispose of the ashes of his victim and the last traces of the murder he committed would be gone forever.

He looked over at his wife, who was on the front seat next to him in a little black plastic box. He missed her company and wished he could share this moment with her. He patted the box gently in remembrance. He didn’t hate her—far from it, he had always been fond of her. It seemed somewhat regrettable that she had to be the victim of his plot. It’s just that the idea had taken hold of him. Surely everyone at one time or another has wondered if they could commit murder and get away with it. Well he was no different, he just took the idea to its conclusion. It’s hard to explain how an idea can grow in the mind until it becomes a compulsion, but sometimes the only way to get rid of a temptation is to give in to it.

“Wish You Were Here” came on the radio, ruining for him the streak of upbeat tunes. He switched stations just in time to catch the weather. Sunny and warm for the next few days, it said. Good. He was driving up to the cabin to dispose of his wife’s ashes. The good weather would give him the opportunity to do a little work on the property they…he had inherited from his wife’s parents.

The radio was still on, and the local news followed the weather. It seemed that a body was discovered floating in the river somewhere outside of town. Bob immediately wondered if there was another murderer in town. “Dumb”, he thought to himself. To leave a body is to leave evidence. He was aware of how clever the police could be once their suspicion was aroused. Pride arose in him again as he started to compare himself to this possible new murderer. He had seen too many criminal investigation shows to make his plan complicated. His scheme rested solely on not leaving any evidence behind. There was no murder weapon; he had poisoned her using chemicals that were in their house, that were in most households. The result was similar to a heart attack. She was in her mid-fifties with a family history of heart disease so there was no real reason for anyone to dig too deeply for explanations for her death. And he had always been both a model citizen and husband. His whole plan rested upon him being able to get rid of the body before anyone could suspect something. As long as they did not have a body on which to perform an autopsy, he would be home free. Fortunatately, the Tri-State Crematory had taken care of that detail for him. All that was left was ashes now. He did not know if modern technology could decipher anything from these, but they would be gone soon too, scattered on the lake he and his wife had so often looked out upon from their cabin. And then he would be free.

It was a three hour trip to their cabin up north, and he continued to listen for further news on the body discovered in the river. After a time, an update was given. Two more bodies had been found and police were reporting body parts of several more. “Wow”, he thought, “I give this guy credit for quantity at least. Good, let him get all the notoriety. This ought to keep the police busy and off of my case.”

This news item held Bob’s attention now. He turned to the all-news station in order to get the latest updates. He felt some kinship with this presumed mass-murderer, felt as they were both members of an elite club. The count was at least six people now, and Bob suspected, half-hoped, that there would be more. It was about two hours into his trip that the newest information was given: a storage shed filled with stacked corpses was found upriver from town. A thrill of vicarious excitement went up Bob’s back as he realized the accomplishment of this imagined murderer. Here was a real killer, a psychopath. He imagined this man in his mind, tried to re-construct his experiences using his own as a blueprint.

As he drove into the town nearest his cabin retreat, the radio revealed the story behind the mystery. The serial killer was a figment of his imagination, no murders had taken place. He pulled the car over and sat in stunned silence as the radio report continued. It was unclear why, but it seems that the Tri-State Crematory had not been doing its job. Bodies had been hidden in the woods, stored in sheds or buried in shallow graves. The recent heavy rains had unearthed some of the bodies, washing several of them into the river. Autopsies would have to be performed on the corpses to determine identity so that loved ones could be alerted. As the radio moved on to other news, Bob sat with his head in his hands, sobbing uncontrollably.



This short story was based upon a real-life occurrence, a crematory that never got around to cremating many of their customers and instead gave concrete dust to the loved ones of the deceased. You can read more about it here:


The Mountain

An Allegory:

I cannot recall a single instance I can point to where I had first decided to climb the mountain. Looking back, there seemed to be no epiphany, no moment of clarity or certainty. It seemed to come upon me bit by bit, something that accumulated slowly until it had built itself into something within me that demanded attention. At some point I acquired a kernel of longing within me that attracted like minded sentiments. Around this kernel, ideas and ambitions began to wrap themselves the way a pearl is built upon a grain of sand. Evidently, there was some romantic notion of the mountain and man’s relation to it that appealed to the imagination of a young child. If you lean towards the metaphysical, then perhaps that seed was always in me and that it was destiny leading me since birth. At any rate, while there is no particular moment that I can say was the defining one, there are memories of moments that moved me in the direction my life has taken.

I have no memory of seeing the mountain for the first time; it has been there always in my life and in the lives of all those who live or ever have lived in the village of my birth. It towers in the western skyline, defying and denying for much of the day even the mighty sun. It is a boarder to all that lies beyond it, as defining and limiting to our pursuits as is the ground beneath or the sky above. But I can remember moments of seeing the mountain as something other than a backdrop to my existence, as something more than a limiter. I was quite a young child when I heard stories of the mountain and it significance to our world. I remember listening to a group of elders sitting around my parents table telling stories of the mountain. They spoke in reserved tones about the tales that they had heard, many which had been passed down from generations long forgotten. It was then that the idea of reaching the top first came to me as a goal worthy of pursuit. This mountain, as we all knew, was where the gods dwelt, or at least it touched the heavens where they made their home. It was taller than any other peak in all the world. It was jokingly said that even the mighty sun would scratch its hind side when it attempted to climb its peak. From the stories, I became impressed with the greatness of the mountain, and somehow the idea occurred to me what a great quest it would be to conquer it. No, not conquer, that is too foolish a world. Any man who scales a mountain is still but a man, a transient speck compared to the immensity and permanence of a mountain. Nevertheless, the thought of reaching the height of the mountain appeared to me equal to reaching the heights of human accomplishment.

Another moment comes to mind, the time when I heard that there were those who had already made the attempt to reach the summit. Many returned unsuccessful, many never returned at all. The legends also spoke of those who had reached the top and had returned to tell the tale. Some claimed to have seen the gods, others said they received revelation and instruction from the gods themselves.

It was clear that many of those who claimed to have reached the top were either liars or madmen. They preached things that made no sense or, worse yet, their words were meant to enrich their own power, prestige, or wealth. Still others were enigmas who went their own way in silence, or were driven away from their village when what they had to say was too unpopular. So although the legends had much to say on matters concerning the mountain, no one could say with any certainty what one could find there.

As I grew to adulthood, this question still possessed me. While some shared my interest, most among my village seemed quite unconcerned. Their work and family and holidays seemed to fill their time and interest well enough. I, however, gravitated towards people of like mind, and we discussed together what we had heard of the stories and legends relating to the mountain. We devoured whatever source we could find on the subject, and conjectured on the rest. Until, one day, the inevitable occurred; having exhausted all other forms of information, we decided that we would ourselves have to make the climb if we were ever to gain more insight. After long months of careful planning and preparation, we set out to find the answers to our questions, a small group of true believer with only that which we could carry. I can still clearly remember that day as we stood at the foot of the mountain and looked straight up at what we were about to embark upon. We had already lost three of our members before leaving the village, people who had decided they were needed where they were. Two more left us while still at the base, claiming the thunderclouds and lightning that encircled the mountain-top at that moment to be an ill omen. I myself almost went with them, not because of any omen, but because of the fear that clenched at my stomach at the thought of the trials that surely lay ahead.


The first part of the climb was perhaps the purest, for we neither looked toward what lay ahead nor what we left behind us. So dedicated were we with the climb that everything else was blocked from our sight—absolutely everything, including, paradoxically enough, the goal itself. It was too far away and our immediate concerns too pressing. Perhaps it drove us at some deep level, but it did not enter our conscious minds. It was almost as if the end of our journey were a thing we felt pushing at us from behind, if that can make sense. But whatever was working in our hearts, our minds and bodies were intensely focused on the tasks at hand. Any great accomplishment requires this disciplined approach to the task at hand, and we pushed ourselves to limits we did not know existed, which only inspired us to push further. To be young and to experience the feeling of being alive is a sweet feeling. To feel alive and to have a purpose and a goal to that life is better still.

But it is human nature that from time to time we stop to take a look around to assess where we are going, where we have been. We first halted from our labors upon reaching a vast plateau. We had known of its existence all our lives, had seen it from down below, but had no idea how huge it was. My first impulse was to look down rather than up to measure our progress. It is more encouraging to see what one has accomplished that to see what one still has to accomplish.

Looking down, we were amazed at how far we had come, how separated we were from our village that looked so small down below. The village below did not look as we had always thought. The distance seemed to rob it of its distinctions. And looking at last towards each other, we noticed that we too had changed. But it did not matter for us because we had taken so much of what we held dear with: friends, family, dreams, purpose.

Looking around we realized how different the land was around us. The air was so much purer at this height, the birds and animals more innocent of man’s threat to them. The madness and injustice that can exist amongst mankind seemed not to touch us upon this sacred mountain. So beautiful was this plain we had reached that when it was time to continue our journey, many of us wished to stay where they were. “This is good enough for us”, they said. “We have found something beautiful, and need ask for nothing more.” Whether they were right or wrong in their decision was not a question that came into my mind at this time. Had I stopped to think, I may have wondered whether they were daunted by the climb yet to come. For we had as yet only finished a small leg of our journey, and our effort and sacrifice had been great. Or, had I stopped to think, I may have wondered if they were not right in staying in this beautiful place. To be given all this and not be content was perhaps arrogant, and arrogance unto the gods is not a thing to be treated lightly. Perhaps, if I had thought, it was a fear of what they would find if they continued—a fear of failure—that made them decide to stay.

But I did not stop to think. My life I regarded as a small thing compared to my purpose. I was driven by this purpose, and was renewed by my rest in this idyllic place. For if such beauty could be found so low, imagine what awaits us as we ascend to the realm of the gods.

And so those of us who wished to continue our journey left our friends in this place. It was not easy saying goodbye, because we had already shared so much in dreams, work, struggle, and love. Those of us who continued felt no blame or bitterness towards those who stayed, anymore than we did to those down below who never desired to accompany us at all. It was our vision; those who did not share it had their own.

Of those who left the plain, there were those who turned back when the way became too hard, the obstacles seemingly impassable. Some perished in the climb. Some died saving others. Some escorted back down the mountain those who were too injured or ill to continue. We the survivors could do nothing to honor the dead but continue onwards. Our ranks continued to thin, until I alone said farewell to the last of my companions, a dear friend too weak and injured to endure. But my mind was set; for all of us, it was up to me to achieve the dream or perish in the attempt. Although alone, I knew no loneliness, for my vision was my comfort, my hopes were my warmth. Working without looking above or below me, I climbed. And in time I neared the summit, the place of countless stories and legends. For all I knew, I alone of all mortals had ever reached this height. And there above the entire world I found…


At the top of the summit I stood and looked at the heavens from this elevated spot. But to my complete disillusionment, the heavens were no closer than they had ever been. The sun was no larger, its radiance no warmer than it was to any human on the face of the world.

The force of my despair fell upon me. All that I was was pulled out from under me. For all there was of me had become but a surge toward this moment, and all my life had become false. Ah, how much better to be my companions, who did not live to see this moment, or to have stayed with those on the plain who could still aspire to more. Far better to be like those who had never felt the need to climb, who contented themselves with legend and myth and daydreaming. I alone had no hope, because I had killed hope for myself. With all the desire and all of the strength that I had, I had succeeded only in killing hope. I raged against the gods because they did not exist, or else were forever above me, indifferent to my plight. I wept like an abandoned child, feeling my total isolation. Overcome with emptiness I sat down at the edge of this, the top of the world, to look down at a world full of deluded people.

And looking down I saw all that was, stretched out before me. From the height to which I had ascended, the word was quite different from the one I had always known. I saw the world free from myopia, free from my prejudice and the ignorance of those who had taught me from the arrogance of their small beliefs. I saw a world without the borders that I had seen on every map I had ever looked at, a constant flow of forces unbound by the constraints that our tiny minds try to force upon the real. I saw man’s place in the world, so small. I saw lands never before seen by man, awaiting his arrival. I saw below me my friends I had left on the plain, indistinguishable from all the other people who lived on this earth. For the first time in my life I saw it all at once as one who is both distanced from and one with the world. I was the world’s eyes, regarding itself.

I sat and watched the beauty of all that is until the sun’s rays faded and darkness covered everything. And when no rays were left to aid my vision, I began immediately to descend, to share with others the vision I had glimpsed.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Of Beer And Books

As a writer who knows a lot of other writers, I have seen and heard a lot of reviews on books. As a writerit may be damaging to me personally to say this—but I have seen a lot of stupid reviews. I’ve seen the book named The Three Little Kitties That Saved My Life get a 1-star review because the reader didn’t care for cats. I have seen other books get panned because the reviewer’s e-reader broke halfway through it. I have seen many a review that did not like the book they read because they were not fond of the genre it belonged to. Think up any stupid reason for giving a bad review and chances are you will find it mentioned by some reviewer.

I have been told that it will do no good to complain because those are the rules of the game; reviewers can say whatever they want to say. But that is only true because nobody is holding up a higher standard. As well as books, I also like beer. I will often go to Beer Advocate, a site for people who appreciate beer. They have a beer rating section at their website where anybody can give their rating to any beer they have tried. You would think that of the two, beer reviews would be less well done than book reviews, but you would be wrong. Almost to a one, the beer reviews are thoughtfully done, expressing the reviewer’s knowledge of their subject rather than their biases. The reason that beer is rated more fairly and intelligently on Beer Advocate than books are on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, etc. is that Beer Advocate has a system for rating beer and both the site and the community hold reviewers to certain standards. It’s really that simple. With that in mind, let’s try to set some standards for book reviews based upon Beer Advocate’s system for reviewing beer.


Respect brewers
Behind each beer is a person with feelings and pride. Beer might be their passion, livelihood or entire life. Even if you don't like a beer, at the very least have some respect and be constructive with your criticism.

The same should hold true for authors. The vast majority of them are working really hard to create something they are proud of. Respect that.


Keep style in mind
Say you don't like light beers. We suggest that you do one of two things: 1) don't review them if you know you already don't like them - your opinion will be tainted. 2) Review with an open mind and for what the beer is trying to be, not what you think the beer should be or pit it against the kick-ass India Pale Ale that you had earlier.

Same for books. If you like Sci Fi, it’s probably best that you do not review romance novels. If you do review a romance novel, don’t compare it to Asimov or complain about the lack of aliens. I know it seems simple, but apparently it needs saying.


What to look for

Beer reviews are broken down into 5 categories to be evaluated: Appearance, Smell, Taste, Mouthfeel, Overall. Each of these catagories are rated from 1 to 5, with the “Overall” category being an opportunity to award points to those qualities that don’t fall neatly into the other categories.


Books should be rated by the main components of what constitutes a quality read. To simplify matters, let’s deal with novels for now. Let’s come up with some basic categories, borrowing only loosely from Aristotle’s Poetics.

Grammar and Spelling –One or two mistakes are acceptable, much more than that and one has to start thinking about deducting a point. A book would merit a one star if it is demonstrably proven to contain errors on almost every page.

Plot –One can refer to Aristotle on this category, but let me give you my thoughts. Is it of interest? Is it plausible? Does the action flow logically from what we know of the characters and the setting rather than involving a deus ex machina? Is it without any obvious flaws? If all of these are strong, there is no reason not to give it a rating of 5.

Characters –Do you care for them? Not every character has to be likeable, but the reader needs someone to connect with. Are they believable? Are their motivations clear? Are they interesting?

Themes and Ideas –Does the author involve you in ideas that relate to your real life and are you better off as a person for having read his work?

Style and Use of Language –Does the use of language and art make you further appreciate the craftsmanship that is writing? Sometimes reading a master of wordsmithing is joy enough.

Overall—Here is your opportunity to rate the intangibles.


Here you have a brief outline that could be used as a standard for everyone who reviews a book. It would be easily enforceable and would lead to a higher overall degree of reviews. There’s nothing wrong with demanding a little bit more from reviewers: if it is good enough for beer, it is good enough for books.


One last bit of advice from Beer Advocate that also applies to book reviewers: DON’T REVIEW WHILE INTOXICATED!


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Shall See The Sun

Here's my take on a vampire story. I wanted to see if I could add something new to a very well explored genre. Having not read too much of vampires I have no idea if this is different or too different. Feedback, again, is appreciated. Note: This is the free version, so expect a typo or two.

I Shall See The Sun

It is still night, but the stars cut through the darkness. Their distant rays sting me like pinpricks of sunlight. I await the dawn, running from it no more.

I shall see the sun again. I shall feel the rays that bring life to the Earth, and it shall put an end to the twisted semblance of life that is my existence. I do not ask the golden beams to cleanse my sullied flesh anymore than I pray for God’s forgiveness—I merely hope for the peace of non-existence.

Too long have I stayed in the shadows, hiding from others and myself the reality of what I am. For all my strength, I have lost the courage to stare the day in the eye. I can no more see God’s illumination than I can see myself in the mirror. Ah, if I could see myself, would I have the nerve to look? Too long have I denied the truth of my actions, unable to consciously live the life I’ve led. The darkness allows me to see only what I wish to see, to ignore that which I cannot. My existence I can only endure with lies. And when those are not enough, I seek to fill the hole with the vain attempt of sating my insatiable emptiness.

Lies have been necessary, for I was once a man and no man could tolerate the reality of the things I’ve done. I have lied to myself and all of humanity. But humanity, like myself, was culpable in believing my lies. Humans, too, wish to ignore the truth, wish to believe their own desires rather than what reason or goodness might have told them. They saw my power and it attracted them through their own selfish motivations. Though it did not matter to me whether I drank the blood of the innocent or of the guilty, those without sin seemed to keep their distance from me, so that I dare think that I have saved society somewhat from its own evil.

Heaven is fleeting, but Hell is an eternity. Hell becomes the more so the longer one lives it. I was once a man, happy in the way that a man can be. I had a wife and two children, with a third one on the way. But when I saw Catherine, none of that mattered. She was beautiful beyond a mortal beauty, and the desire I felt was beyond mortal flesh to resist. Even today I wonder, had I somehow been able to resist her call, had a dozen men held me down to save me from myself, would I have ever been able to forget her and go back to a normal life? Or would the thought of her have haunted me the rest of my mortal life?

She looked at me across the dining hall of that crowded inn, and I saw the desire in her eyes, a desire that instantly alit itself within me as well. That one as beautiful as she could look at me in such a way awoke in me longings that extinguished any ability to think of anything but her. The people and tables in that room were mere obstacles that stood between us. I would have had her then and there were it not that she asked me to follow her outside. In all the world, it was only her desire that could have overcome mine. Had she asked me at that moment to boil my children alive, I would have done it, passionately. But to walk with her, to hold her hand as we made our way out of the building, was itself a feeling indescribable. She led me behind the building and looked me in the eyes with the same sort of longing that burned my entire being. I was incapable of resistance, incapable of anything but desire for her. But it was not my lack of will that her eyes took from me that caused my damnation. Nor was it the draining of my blood from her bite upon my neck. No, it was her kiss that took from me what no mortal should part with. In her kiss, I felt what Faustus felt when kissing Helen of Troy: “Her lips suck forth my soul.” That thought flitted across my mind as my fate was sealed in passion and surrender.

Ah, she was beautiful! More beautiful than any woman I had seen before or since. In my centuries of existence, I still remember her clearly, though I only met her once. In all my life before and after, I have not known such a perfect instance of desire fully satisfied. For the most fleeting of instances, she filled every empty part of me, and in submitting to my desire of her I felt whole. Although I acquiesced in weakness, once I yielded I felt no sin or shame. I was hers entirely and I felt the longing all mortals feel had been consummated. I felt that I had arrived to the place I had been unconsciously seeking my entire life. I was a shipwrecked sailor again setting foot on land. Sin, weakness, sadness, all melted away as I felt her lips expunge all that was mortal. So that when I felt her teeth at my neck, when at last I understood who and what she was, there was nothing left in me to resist. Morality, thoughts of eternal damnation or even imminent mortality held no sway over one as enraptured as I. I gave her my soul in that instant, gave it to her fully and gladly, as though I had finally found a purpose for having one at all. I cannot express to a mere mortal the taste of immortality she gave me, can no longer appreciate it myself. But it was real, real in the way only experience can be real. In my naiveté, I did not realize she was not giving but taking. My blood I gave as a trifle—truly it pleased me that I had something to give her in return. But even as she fed upon me, I could feel that what I gave to her could not satisfy her as I wished to satisfy her. I urged my heart to pump harder that I might empty myself out for her, so that she might be filled. But she was a bottomless well that no love or desire or quantity of blood could ever fill. I could feel her bitterness enter into me in place of my lifeblood. From the height of my ecstasy, I plunged as I realized the gift of my life was insufficient. It was as though I had taken my humanity in that instant and thrown it into a black abyss, where it was lost forever more in the endless nothingness. And in place of my soul I had the eternal longing within me.

She had taken what she had desired—for what it was worth—and left me dead, at least for a time. But I returned to life, or some semblance of it. I was returned to the living with the unending emptiness inside of me. There was but one way to cure the emptiness, and that cure was only for a brief time. Though I was loath to do it, the emptiness soon became more than I could bear. And so I set about in pursuit of my first victim.

I was in no state of mind to seduce a woman, to have her give her life to me of her own free will, as I had given mine. I fell upon my first victim in the same manner as an animal attacks its prey. She was just a girl, perhaps ten years of age, and I savagely tore at her throat with my teeth. And yes, even in that horrible orgy of violence, I could feel to some degree that initial state of rapture I had felt within the embrace of my immortal lover. Even as my mind rebelled at the act, the deep emptiness was being fed. I felt for the first time the full force of my damnation, even as I slaked my thirst. I knew I was damned when I surrendered to my beloved, but the first taste of another’s blood was the sacramental rite of my damnation.

I ran back to what was now my only home, the casket my wife had buried me in. And I lay in my bed, appalled at what I had done and what I had become. My victim’s blood was sticky on my hands and lips, and the part of me that still remembered what it was to be human turned away as I licked the blood from them. And I cried for myself until sleep overcame me.

I awoke to the hunger once again. It was part of me now, ever the larger part. Even when it was not in control, still it was always behind my every thought. Always it sought to creep through my other thoughts and stand alone in front of my consciousness.

When I knew that I would again succumb to the desire—unable to deny any longer what I had become—I sought to keep some control over my actions. When I saw a child walking alone at night, I promised myself that I would not take another child as my victim, even one so foolish as this who walked alone in the dark of night. But as the child noticed me, she walked straight towards me, as though to test my resolve. It was not until she neared, that I realized that she too was seeking a victim. She had been the girl I attacked the other night, infected by me as I had been infected by Catherine. Not recognizing me, she lunged at me with incredible strength and speed. She came at me with an animal intensity, attempting to sink her teeth into my leg even after I smashed her head open with a rock. Her savagery continued until I remembered what lore I knew about vampires, and I was able to drive a tree branch through her heart. I stared her in the eyes as the twisted imitation of life faded from them. And I knew in that moment that that would be my only escape from the existence I was now in possession of. I knew as well by peering into her eyes that there would be no salvation for her. Less still for me, because I was the one who had led her into damnation. And whatever hell this life I now lived was, I was in no hurry to meet her fate, to come at last unto my judgment.

Always I fought the hunger, but it poured like water through any gap in my defenses, even as it threatened to smash through them. It struck at me through any hesitation or doubt that I might have. It was behind my every purpose, gently nudging me towards its own desires. I resisted through long days and nights all alone, fought with everything I had. But it never tired. It almost seemed the hunger enjoyed the game that it played with me, toying with me as I was later to toy with those who would be my victims. It always grew stronger as I grew weaker, until it would topple my defenses, and it would drink its fill of some new innocent.

Thus did I live for months that turned into years. I would fight the desire until it overwhelmed me and forced me into reckless action. In such a manner, I was able to keep myself from killing less often, but I was more brutal and unrestrained when I did. But one can weary of anything, become habituated to any horror if it is repeated often enough. I eventually began to accept the reality of my situation and, in doing so, I began to lose the revulsion I felt at my own actions. Because it was necessary and unavoidable I began to make the best of my situation. If I must kill, then I would do it as a human and not as an animal. I started to plan ahead, accepting the eventuality of what I would do. From the abandoned house that I made my home, I began to construct a life for myself, rejoining to some degree humanity.

From my humble means, I could only prey upon the lowest rung of society, the prostitutes and destitute. But my powers to persuade others were great and my rise up the social ladder swift. I could be charming, and when that failed, I could also be quite threatening. Most who caught a glimpse of my more threatening side were only too happy to pretend that they had not properly appreciated my earlier kindness. The few that opposed both my kindness and my threats simply vanished from society, never to be seen again. Though people feared me, they could not bring themselves to contemplate how completely dark and evil was my soul. They gave me what I required in order that they could continue their small lives with the minimum of trouble or introspection.

So there I was, in the middle of society’s notables. They danced to my tunes as they attempted to better situate themselves amid the crowd. Their thoughts were of self-advancement, and beyond that they did not care. They came to my social events because they knew that was where they would meet the right people. They all wanted to be right in the center of the social world, and they did not care that the center was a rotting vampire who pulled the strings. They spun their little webs, not caring that they were caught in my larger netting.

I ruled and they allowed themselves to be ruled, though in truth they were ruled by their own desires as much as by me. With no eternal curse cast upon their souls, they were every bit as empty inside as I was. It was all so simple that it would have bored me, were it not for the fact that I needed the game to occupy my time and fill my emptiness. Therefore I plunged my efforts into the games, took for my victims the very cream of society. I slowly seduced those women seeking to transfer their beauty into power. They courted me, could not help but court me, knowing instinctively that I was the force that moved their world. All power came through me, even though my exterior was nothing but friendliness and social graces. When people asked for favors I always said yes, and they never noticed until too late that I was the one taking. My power was subtle and confident enough that they did not see it, did not want to see for themselves what they really were.

Amongst their ranks was a beauty that stood out even among these, the elite of society: Madeleine. Had I been a warm-blooded being, she surely would have stood above me like a goddess. But she was just flesh to me, a ripe peach, a container for nectar. Not only was she in possession of a rare beauty, but it was one that had aged well. The beauty of some fades at the slightest use or misfortune, but she was one almost like unto us, who do not age. Her beauty had followed her into an age where most women were already abandoned of it altogether. But she, with some subtle art it must be admitted, transcended even the beauty of her youth. In her was revealed a remarkable feat of breeding, demonstrating beauty that even great artists could not relate. Indeed, humanity must bow at the feet of such beauty. It must do its best to insure that her limited breeding opportunities were not wasted, that each child she produce be of the highest lineage. She had already had three children, all with her husband if that is to be believed. He was a member of the ascending aristocracy, part of a wave that had not reached its peak. The children looked enough like their father at any rate to avoid wagging tongues. But she was capable of one more child at least, capable of producing the kind of offspring that could be remembered by history, given the right luck, the right father.

She was looking for an affair, and I was the obvious choice. I was the power that lay beneath the world she knew, the force that shaped events.

Humans recite the words to the play they are in without ever bothering to read the script. I have lived long enough to see the same scenarios play out a dozen times, each individual believing themselves in control of their actions when in fact they were acting according to primordial desires etched deep into their nature. So it was with Madeleine: she believed herself to be creating an elaborate plot, but the motivations were entirely predictable. The mating ritual was complex and consuming although the ending was never in any doubt. The very stuff of her life was tapped into and spent in the emotional pas de deux we engaged in. On my part, of course, it was all a charade for my amusement, a way of passing time of which I had no shortage. She ruined herself for me as I slowly picked her passions apart. This, the very peak of human flesh, was as a mouse that I played with. She would have given herself to me earlier, but it suited me to drag out her suffering a while. When I finally allowed her to cede herself to me utterly, she did so with relief, knowing that her agony would soon be over, at least in this life.

And thus it is that she—among the hundreds who have fed me with their blood at the cost of their souls—is no more than a brief memory, another desire only briefly sated. After all, how many meals are remembered a week after they are finished? She was just another to whom I had given eternal life, only to take it from her before she had the opportunity to experience it. I learned early that there was no call for more of my kind in the world: they are of use neither to me nor to humans.

One woman only could still evoke some emotion in me: Catherine. Within my soul or flesh dwelt still a longing for the woman who made me what I am. I remembered the brief moment of being wholly sated, the last instant before the unending emptiness began within me. It was centuries before I saw her again, and yet the memory of our meeting leapt to my mind as I saw her one evening on a crowded street one winter evening. She did not recognize me—I was nothing to her. But she was everything to me, and so I followed her. Quiet as I was, she must have realized someone was behind her, for she walked outwards from the crowded streets until she stood at a ridge of trees that lay beyond the houses and shops. Reaching the tree line, she turned, and I could see in her face the utter lack of fear that centuries of being the predator had instilled in her. An instant of doubt appeared in her gaze as she recognized a similar lack of fear in me. And then she recognized me for what I was if not who I was and I knew her intention. There was to be no reuniting, no last physical communion. There was only going to be the death of one or the other, and I had no desire to meet my maker on this night. She broke a branch from the tree she was standing next to, aimed it like a spear towards my heart as she approached me with a speed that was granted to her by some unholy power. My one chance was to feint a movement in one direction and then move in another. In such matters of combat, luck plays a greater part than any victor cares to admit, and luck was with me in this instant. She stabbed towards where she thought I would be, leaning her entire weight behind it. I stood solidly to her side, was able to grab the branch she intended to stab through my heart. But I was unable to grab it from her grip. Our strength was too great for the wood, which split in pieces, some in her hands, some in mine. I found my hand in possession of a piece of wood with a jagged end aimed straight at her heart. Again, it was mere chance—I am centuries past believing in fate—that I was able to stab her before she stabbed me. And in that instant I saw in her eyes the full awareness of what death meant to one such as us. But despite the horror of the death that was to finally be hers, there was a certain amount of relief that it had finally arrived.

I returned home that evening, too weary even to feed, which had been my intent when I had left. The one thing in my life that had meant anything to me, to see Catherine again, was now behind me. Although it was a foolish desire, it had been my one reason for sustaining my life. But my life is hollow, the emptiness is all. I stand upon the balcony of a mansion built upon lies and sin. The sun is somewhere to the east, its light hidden behind the mountains that stand between.

I cannot express the wrongness of time passing without aging, as though great gears were ill-fitted and grinding into each other. Centuries without change, without hope. Hundreds of victims, whom I have had to kill to slake my thirst, and kill again lest they become like me and perhaps bring mankind to a greater knowledge than I would like of me and my kind. There are those out there too, who I have managed to convert but was unable to kill. There are undoubtedly some of those who seek vengeance. I am weary of it all, too weary even to fear God’s judgment, for what fate can be worse than this unnatural life? I do not ask for forgiveness, I only hope He allows me to cease to be.

The moment nears. The sun’s rays creep about the earth on either side of me, begin to clear the mountain top. I lean my face forward, as though awaiting a kiss of benediction upon my brow. But I feel myself unwittingly creeping backwards with the shadows as if I too was a shadow, as though the sun could no more touch me as it could them. I try to will myself to stay where I am, but will is a gift from God, desire from the devil. I who design society’s movements am powerless over myself, a coward that everyone fears. There is no will, hence no “me”. Forsaken even by death, I retreat to my sanctuary to await another night, another hunt.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Amazing Morse is on sale

I just wanted to alert faithful readers of my blog that my first book, The Amazing Morse, will be on sale for most of the rest of the week on Amazon (e-book format). More information can be found here:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

China Hearts

A short story that it took me nearly 30 years to get around to finishing:

Most anyone who was familiar with this street would have recognized the weathered man standing outside the little shop of curios, though it was doubtful any of them knew his name. He could often be seen standing uncomfortably in front of a little curio shop, gazing at the items displayed in the window when he thought nobody was paying any attention to him. He appeared somewhat old but sturdy, as though the demanding work he had done his whole life had both aged him yet kept him healthy and free from the vices that idleness often attracts. His clothing was of the coarse and sturdy variety, typical of a man who earns his living by the sweat of his brow and the toil of his body. His face was weathered like a tree trunk, adding texture and lines to a face that had already been good at hiding whatever thoughts or emotions were occurring behind it. But it was perhaps in his hands that the tale of his life could best be read. They were thick tools for heavy work, looking almost more like work gloves than hands. So much did they bear the mark of his toils that they almost looked like root vegetable fresh-dug from the earth. He appeared out of place in this neighborhood of sophisticated city dwellers, but not enough so to call attention to himself. Although rough, there was nothing threatening about him; indeed, he emanated a gentleness that belied his tough exterior. There was a meekness in the way he kept to himself, a self-consciousness in the way he avoided bumping into any of the constant flow of people who walked past this busy street.

His existence had been one of hard work, struggling with nature for his meager wages. The work was brutish, leaving his body covered in dirt and dust and his mind numb from drudgery. But when he had a day off, he would often walk into town to drive the numbness from his mind, making sure that he was well washed and wearing his finest clothes, which really weren’t very fine. He had contemplated buying the type of clothes he saw those in the city wear, but he had no idea how to go about choosing such items. And besides, he knew that such clothing would only accentuate his other differences, the browned skin, the calloused hands and the dirt under his nails and in the grooves of his skin that could never be completely removed.

Here in the city, people lived differently than the others who shared his life. There words were fairer, flowed more smoothly. Their clothing was more for show than for work, and their manners more refined. He would often be content to sit on a bench and watch the people in their day to day business, moving effortlessly and knowingly through complicated social interactions. They possessed an understanding of society and how to gracefully move within it that he had never had a way of learning. But for him the heart of the city was the little shop that displayed intricate and delicate items for purchase. They spoke to him of lives lived without hardship, where things were made not merely for their usefulness but because they were beautiful. Most of the items there were made to be displayed, to be placed upon a mantel or in a curio cabinet, only to be looked at. Things made of crystal and intricately crafted fine metals, gold gilded porcelain and statuettes made of marble, jade, pearl and rarer material still from all parts of the globe. These items represented to him places that he could never hope to visit, experiences he would never have, people he would never be or even know. Such things would be quite out of place in his humble little cabin. Everything he possessed had been made of rough-hewn wood, blackened iron and unadorned pottery.

And yet. To own just one of these items, to possess something that stood apart from the base tools and utensils of his existence. Such a thing would be worth coming home to at night, worth the effort and struggle that was his life. He needed something in his life that could be adored, that spoke to him of something beyond need, something that existed without regard for mere function.

So he stared through the window, with each visit seeing something new displayed along with items he had wondered at before. When someone appeared to be walking towards the shop, he would start slowly in motion, walking a short while only to stop and stare again from a distance. He was afraid of what people might think of him if they caught him staring into the window, afraid they would mock the unsophisticated man who thought he was something he was not.

He would watch those who strolled so un-self-consciously into the store as if they were born for such things, as if it never occurred to them that such things might be too lofty or unobtainable for them. It must be admitted that the man felt a trace of jealousy when watching such people enter the shop and make purchases so casually, leaving the store with precious items that he had gazed at so lovingly through the shop’s window.

And then on one of his trips to the little shop he beheld an item more beautiful than any he had seen before: a heart-shaped crystal hung from a fine lace in the upper corner of the window. Though unadorned with gold or silver, its simple radiance caught the light of the noon-day sun and sparkled it back at him from its many finely cut facets. As it twirled ever so slowly upon the lace that held it, its myriad details would throw off various colors of the spectra, eclipsing the beauty of the other items around it. Upon seeing this crystal heart, he came to cherish it more than anything he had ever seen.  His trips into town became more frequent, his time spent gazing in the window of the little shop less spent concerned with what passerby might think. The idea came into his mind like a flash, that this precious item would be his. It horrified him to think that he might one day come to stare into this window only to find that some other person had taken it for their own. He had little money on him that day, but walked back that evening to the little shack he called home with the intent of returning the next day.

The pay he received for his labor was meager, but his needs had been more meager still. With little needed to satisfy his wants, he had managed to save what he believed to be a considerable amount over the many years. He would take it, all of it, and go back into town tomorrow. It would be enough, he was sure. Pretty sure, at least. All that evening his mind vacillated between thoughts of the crystal heart, of how happy he would be to bring it back home with him, how horrible it would be if someone else had bought it in the meantime. Perhaps they would not sell it to him, perhaps his life savings would not be enough for such an embodiment of beauty. And so one moment he would be thinking of where he would put the crystal heart in his small home, and the next moment he would be contemplating life if he should never see it again. He slept little that night.

He was up early the next morning, even for him. It was far too early to wander into town, far earlier than the little store opened. But he spent the time preparing  himself, wanting to make himself as presentable as he knew how to be. He scrubbed his fingernails with an old brush until his fingers nearly bled, trying to get the last of the darkness out from under them.

When he could stand it no longer, he made his way into town, trying to walk slowly so that he would not be there too early. But when he arrived, the store was not yet open. He rushed to the window as quickly as he could without appearing obvious to the few people that were on the street at such an early hour. The heart was still there. The knowledge lifted his heart even as it did nothing to calm him. He stood staring into the window until he became aware of the shopkeeper who walked to the door and opened it, glancing at him as she passed. The sudden recognition that he had been caught looking in the window made him flush with embarrassment that bordered on terror. He had been caught looking in the window of the shop, caught believing that he was worthy of such items. He walked away, his desire for the heart frustrated by his fear of not being worthy. He walked on, cursing himself, cursing life, cursing the fact that he was not one of those who could effortlessly walk into such a place of beauty.  He walked on until he realized the shop would soon be opening, and that the heart may reach the attentions of others who might also wish to have it for their own. He forced himself to walk around the block so that he would not call undue attention to himself, but he walked so quickly that people looked at him wonderingly. He reached the shop window and stared in the upper corner, thrilled at the sight of the crystal heart once again. And once again, he felt the utter inability to force himself into the shop, felt the complete lack of knowledge regarding how to go about such a transaction. He glanced about him in his practiced manner, making sure he was not standing out. As he did so, he noticed someone walk into the shop. Dread filled him again, at the thought that he had waited too long and might forever miss his opportunity. But if he had been afraid to walk into the store before, he was terrified at the idea of going in there when others were inside. He waited for the person who had entered to come back out, only to see two more people enter. The two exited shortly, but in the meantime, still another person had entered to look at what lay inside. It seemed an eternity of people walking in and out of the store until he was sure that it was now empty. And the heart was still there.

He could delay no longer. It was a greater act of courage than any he had performed in his life, but he forced himself to walk to the door and pull it open. He had never experienced such agony in his life, terrified that he would not have enough, or that they would simply refuse to sell it to such as him.

Inside the store, he found the shelving to be entirely too close together, the aisles insufficiently  wide. He walked slowly, cautiously, terrified that he might knock one of the items off the shelves. His shoulders seemed to him to be impossibly wide, his gait unsteady like a drunk’s. The shopkeeper stood at the counter near the door, but he avoided looking at her. She was a shape at the edge of his vision upon which he placed an imagined look of scorn. He concentrated on navigating the too-small aisle, ignoring whatever finery lay on them except to make sure not to knock into any of them.

Turning left, he now walked back up another aisle, approached the window. There was the crystal heart, slowly, barely, turning on the delicate lace that held it suspended. He looked at it and through his fear it lured him on. The sun shone through it, the first rays of the morning sun as mere playthings that it tossed about playfully.  He approached it as though it were a holy relic, hardly daring to raise his eyes to gaze upon it.

He knew he must now claim it as his own, knew that if he backed away in fear today that he would never have the courage, it would be lost to him forever. Rather than ask the shopkeeper to take it down for him, he decided to do it himself. His self consciousness around people had only intensified now that he carried within him his secret desire. Reaching up, he slid the lace from the hook it was suspended by with more care than he had ever given to any task he had ever done. He felt the weight of the crystal heart hanging from the lace now, discovered it to be lighter than he could have imagined.  Feeling its lightness, he imagined that it must also be more fragile than he had believed. He became terrified of the idea of it hanging loosely from the lace lest it sway and smash into something as he walked his way towards the counter. Holding the lace with one hand, he cupped the heart with the other. Feeling it to be reasonably secure, he released the lace and with that hand also protected the delicate ornament from any conceivable harm. Holding it now in both hands, he gazed at the heart that was now all but his. So great was his fear of letting it fall from his hands, he began to imagine that the sweat that now appeared upon his palms would cause it to slide from his grasp. With an involuntary reaction to an imagined movement of the heart, he gripped it more tightly than he intended. In that moment, he could feel the heart shatter from the pressure he applied on it. He looked in agony as the precious object of his affection broke apart into tiny splinters that sunk like teeth deep into his skin. Tears of pain welled up in his eyes, but it was not the cuts in his hands that were to blame. He let loose an uncontrollable sob, which caused the shopkeeper to become aware of him, which in turn led him to remember her presence. He managed to put aside his grief, set the pieces of crystal down as delicately as he could upon the shelving that stood behind the window. He walked as quickly as he could toward the exit without causing further damage. He stuffed his bleeding hand deep into the front pocket of his work pants, pulled out his money, his life savings. Without daring to look at the shopkeeper, he placed the money on the counter, left the shop, and never came near the little store again.