I want Fantasy

25/09/2013 at 21:41 (Method Writing, Personal, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m in a black-purple mood tonight. My head is a beetle’s back, a monochrome night. Bonelight, moonlight. You can try and follow, but the cats have business of their own, and I follow around corners.

My shadow creep-claws the way.

My eyes are restless as my feet, it’s not something I wonder at too much. Intro to outro, extro to invert and back again. Keep the streets for me.

I was an introvert raised by extroverts. An endless parade of parties and sorority-like gags, dinners and hiding behind floor-length curtains with my nose in a book. Hiding with the cats, down by the mud-gullies and creeks, wading and climbing trees, while they sipped tea and talked Nothing.

Lonely child, now come with me
Into the wood, the dark to find
The light shall fail within your eyes;
The sweep of love is only lies.

I did not fall, nor did I stare
But found the path that we all know
Now tremble, Time, for all is fair
In love and lust, and bonelight glow.

…My darling, the story has yet begun to take hold.
Abide with me, in
Peace (something like it)
Through the mirror, the cracks
Of time, the broken watch
The sentry fallen asleep
His round not yet done, but Time
Is an angular thief
And we are but stickmen in his gaze

A puppet, a clown, a fool
A black rose, blue
A thought, turned to you
A mental shroud, an illness tau(gh)t
With what must be, with all, without.

Come. Walk. With. Me.

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Writing Reality: The Silent Story of Show don’t Tell

15/09/2013 at 23:08 (Reviews, Writing, Writing Reality articles) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

When it comes to writing, Show don’t Tell can be a priceless component for exposing that which needs more audience interaction. It’s all very well for an author to speak at the reader when there are facts in the offing; but it’s only ever a one-sided conversation.

The truth of art is about interaction – bringing together that which the creator offers, and what the audience already holds as experience/applied knowledge. The result is a bond, a unification of source and meaning; the give-and-take of a ball passed across the court, and if the pitch is right, the audience will make the catch. Perhaps they’ll run off with their own ideas; as individuals, we bring personal inflections based upon memory and mindset.

But if the pitch is out of context – if a generalization is made, where more detail was necessary for emotional engagement – then the ball is dropped, the audience left cold.

Tell-Summaries work like a film’s passage-of-time montage or a video game’s Cutscene; a sequence of events that riffle over an extended period, in which not all details are made available or are necessary to the audience. Those which are displayed are compact, delivered as unassailable fact. A canny director / author knows when such editing is required; perhaps for a shorthand narrative that, while informative, doesn’t require high audience interaction. Narrative and plot points wash over, inform, but don’t necessarily engage.

The intro to Bioshock is an example of Tell; an informative Cutscene, in which the player becomes a backseat audience, unable to control the protagonist for any decisions made. This funnels the audience’s attention onto the facts being Told – setting, circumstance, objective characterization, plot progression – for absorption, and referencing at later points in gameplay. There is no immediate distraction from needing to engage, to keep the protagonist alive.

It’s essential to find the balance between what an audience wishes to – or can – engage in, and what reaction/conclusions they are fine with being led towards, for the sake of narrative progression. Too much Show can bog the latter down. Tell-summaries act as the foundations on which audience engagement is layered, in personal inflections such as dialogue and reactions. They may be paragraphs or pages long. The key is to find which technique fits which context.

Sometimes, a summary of events may be a safer stance for a sensitive subject. Audience engagement is drawn upon in terms of imagination – they’re left to close the gaps in the Tell. Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs can be used as a point of reference, with the infamous ear-cutting scene.

The camera moves away at the last moment, but the build-up of tension in the dance-shuffle, upbeat range of Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You”, and close-ups of the victim’s bleeding face, creates a juxtaposition of fact and imagination – infused with empty air and muffled off-screen cries – that’s more emotionally engaging than any actual portrayal of violence. This can be a critical point where film ratings are concerned, or indeed the level of interaction your audience wishes to have.

An inferred Tell can be a handy way of filling in the blanks, particularly when the primary instinct of fear of the unknown, is engaged. On the flip side, basic human curiosity is pinged like an elastic band, calling the participants back … just to check. If the audience doesn’t have all the answers on the page, they’re more likely to turn to the next one.
If a memory is invoked in a story’s narrative, they will be curious to see what it’s point was, where it might lead:

“At first I was alarmed. Then, as I lay still, gathering my wits, I reflected on how long Eel Marsh House had stood here, steady as a lighthouse, quite alone and exposed… And then, those memories of childhood began to be stirred again and I dwelt nostalgically… I lay back and slipped into that pleasant, trance-like state somewhere between sleeping and waking, recalling the past and all its emotions and impressions vividly, until I felt I was a small boy again.” – pg 123, The Woman in Black, Susan Hill.

Contrast this abbreviated segue between past and present, which invokes a mood of security and trance, with the needle-sharp dialogue and paralinguistic features exchanged between the narrator, Arthur Kipps, and local countryman Samuel Daily:

“He sighed and shifted about uneasily in his chair avoiding my eye and looking into the fire –
‘For God’s sake, what is it you are holding back, man? What are you so afraid of telling me?’
‘You, Arthur,’ he said, ‘will be away from here tomorrow or the next day. You, if you are lucky, will neither hear nor see nor know of anything to do with that damned place again. The rest of us have to stay. We’re to live with it.’
‘With what? Stories – rumours? With the sight of that woman in black from time to time? With what?’
‘With whatever will surely follow. Sometime or other… It’s changed people. They don’t speak of it, you found that out. Those who have suffered worst say least – Jerome, Keckwick.’
I felt my heart-beat increase, I put a hand to my collar to loosen it a little, drew my chair back from the fire.” – pg 147.

This is an example of Show. Dialogue carries the narrative forward with hinged explanations, a drawing-out of events; not only to hook the audience and lead them on, but to invoke the fearful reluctance inside Daily. He is genuinely disturbed by the knowledge he holds, weary of carrying it; there’s faint envy in his tone – “You, Arthur …” His sentence structure is simplistic and staccato, falling from his mouth like stones.

For the same reason, Kipps’ dialogue and narrative are structured along jagged lines, as of hitched breathing, a tight chest – “hand to my collar to loosen it a little.” There’s no need for him to narrate his fear, as Hill creates this effect through his actions, choice of words and repetition:
God’s sake“, “So afraid“, “With what? Stories – rumours? With the sight of that woman in black from time to time? With what?’

When it comes to characterization, an author would do well to Show the truth of a narrator’s personality through interaction with others. Not just dialogue, but paralinguistic features (body language, tics, tone) and that which they do and say (or do not say); these infuse a character with 3D personality and subtext. More often than not, people do not speak aloud their true thoughts and intentions – based upon social mores, natural reserve, or a reluctance to be pinned down to an actual interpretation of meaning.

Because The Woman in Black travels between past and present, there is some leeway available when older-Kipps refers to his younger self as having a “youthful and priggish way”. Retrospect is his filter in this Tell, and a rueful one at that. In the active past-narrative, this “youthful priggish” nature is made apparent via Show:

“I began to be weary, of journeying and of the cold and of sitting still while being jarred and jolted about, and to look forward to my supper, a fire and a warm bed.”
– The repetition of “and” gives a drawn-out quality to the sentence, as of childish whining en route to a destination that at first held much bearing. Now he’s tired, and peevish with it.

Upon first meeting Sam Daily, his first appraisal is less than positive:
“He was a big man, with a beefy face and huge, raw-looking hands … nearer to sixty than fifty”
– There’s a trapdoor negativity where Daily’s aged, weather-beaten appearance is concerned. Though Kipps reins himself in before becoming outright critical in language, his tone is patronizing:
“His clothes were of good quality, but somewhat brashly cut .. he wore a heavy, prominent seal-ring on his left hand, and that, too, had a newness and a touch of vulgarity about it.”

Hill employs Daily as both protector and foil to unpin Kipps’ character through Show. The countryman’s consistent politeness and willingness to help, effectively send up the young man’s assumptions by subverting them:

“I decided that he was a man who had made, or come into, money late and unexpectedly, and was happy for the world to know it.”
(compare this with Kipps’ reaction to Daily’s questions about his destination):
“I nodded stiffly.
‘You don’t tell me you’re a relative?’
‘I am her solicitor.’ I was rather pleased with the way it sounded.” – pg 36.

This from a man who has already taken mild affront to the “vulgarity” of Daily’s display of financial well-being. He goes further towards making himself less than endearing, by paraphrasing Daily’s description of the local mist and its dangers:

“‘One minute it’s as clear as a June day, the next …’ he gestured to indicate the dramatic suddenness of his frets.” – pg 36.

By deliberately overloading the adjective-fork, Kipps conveys surprise at the other man’s exuberance; the implication is that he believes Daily to be exaggerating. There’s the distancing effect of ‘his frets’. The tone is patronizing, as of an adult hand patting an excitable child’s head.

“‘It’s a far-flung part of the world. We don’t get many visitors.’
‘I suppose because there is nothing much to see.’
‘It all depends what you mean by “nothing.” There’s the drowned churches and the swallowed-up village,’ he chuckled. ‘Those are particularly fine examples of “nothing to see. And we’ve a good wild ruin of an abbey with a handsome graveyard – you can get to it at low tide. It’s all according to what takes your fancy!’ – pg 38.

– Note the repetition of Kipps’ words back on himself, in conjunction with one point of interest after another; the lesson-recitation sentence structure; personification of the graveyard with ‘handsome‘; reference to local knowledge with ‘get to it at low tide”, suggesting authority through Ethos.

In this brief paragraph, Daily undermines Kipps’ first appraisal of him with a teasing that, by its very gentleness, sets him in higher esteem than the protagonist. The latter’s surprise is made interestingly clear with Hill’s use of a symbolic sound-conduit, which effectively ends the conversation’s stand-off mood and sets it on another route entirely:

“‘You are almost making me anxious to get back to that London particular!”
There was a shriek from the train whistle.”

– Another train emerges from the tunnel, reminding them of their shared destination. Perhaps it’s the sight of the “line of empty yellow-lit carriages that disappeared into the darkness” (Show of desolation, cold, the unknown) which appeals to Daily’s kind nature, for he chooses to see past Kipps’ thinly-disguised rudeness, to offer hospitality:
“‘If you care to come with me, I can drop you off at the Gifford Arms – my car will be waiting for me, and it’s on my way.”

Kipps’ disbelief and pragmatism – “exaggeration of the bleakness and strangeness” – have a hollow echo to them, following so soon after his staccato exclamation of wishing to return to London. The inference is that, through a reconsideration of his situation as the foreign element, he’s willing to be mollified:
‘He seemed keen to reassure me and to make up for his teasing exaggeration of the bleakness and strangeness of the area, and I thanked him and accepted his offer.”

– There’s no need for a Tell, nor for an apology. Hill makes Kipps’ feelings clear through Show. He is the alien, on unfamiliar territory and out at night, with its symbolism of the unknown and universal fear. This is imagery that an audience can latch onto.

Using weather to convey the typical mood of a setting (pathetic fallacy) works only for as long as the latter remains objective. For example, the moors of Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, tend towards a naturally wild climate that can be easily set to personification – either as stand-alone imagery, or through the behaviour of characters such as the willful Cathy and dark-souled Heathcliff.

To avoid breaking the fourth wall with steering an audience’s perceptions too much, it’s best to stick with what is a natural progression of weather patterns in your setting. Don’t let a character’s mood influence the weather, or there is a risk of creating an unrealistic standpoint (this holds true across genres; even if used as a trope in fantasy, it should fit the context of a character’s powers.) It can’t be stormy everyday in a horror genre. Far more unsettling, is the upending of audience expectations. Keep things normal as a backdrop to the Unusual. The rickety old house set against a bright blue sky and piercing white sun; the children’s playground, wind-torn and empty of life but for lowering nimbus-clouds. This is using setting and scenery as a Show of mood, on a subversive level.

Setting and circumstance can certainly be employed for subjective Show when it comes to cause and effect. Imagine your character in their normal state of mind; perhaps they’re a stickler for neatness and order. What happens when something upsets their life, throws them out of regular habits and safe patterns? They may become lacklustre at the death of a family member or friend; life may cease to hold meaning. Their clothes, so pristine before, may hang wrinkled and loose as their thought processes, from not bothering to iron anything; weight loss from lack of appetite may also be a contributing. Makeup may be applied haphazardly, or not at all – large black circles may ring their eyes, from insomnia. Their garden may go untended, full of weeds where only prim flowerbeds once lay; the house may fall to rack and ruin, by slow degrees of separation from reality and consequence.

There’s little need to Tell an audience that your character is suffering, when it’s plain to see. Dialogue and character interaction can build this further. Last week, after a crazy night of editing, I got into work two hours late after oversleeping the clock.
A co-worker took one look at me and said, “I’ll get the coffee on.”

Were I to put this into a written scene, I’d add a line where, with one hand, I scraped the mass of knots I once called hair out of my eyes, and with the other supported myself in the doorway. Dialogue
(as a direct quote here) would run thus:
“You know me far too well.”

They do at work, when it comes to my caffeine habits – this is through experience, past interaction. But how does this work for the audience? An author has to be careful with how much they let hinge on perceived knowledge. Coffee makes a good caffeine-kick reference; a near-universal fact that can carry a shared joke better than something more specific, such as Red Bull energy drink.
When setting a brand name to your work, check context first – does it belong in this scenario, this genre, this time-frame? Is it an easily-accessible Show, or does it run the risk of dating your work / throwing the audience out of their suspension of disbelief? When making an in-joke about a character’s habit, does it dovetail with the rest of their life, or stick out as an unnecessary plot point?

Sensory language and figurative speech can help Show an audience what is unfolding within a scene, at what pace, and – with the right words – how to find the world immediately surrounding a character. Jeffrey Eugenides is a fine example of an author who has mastered the art of Show/Tell-characterization. The following scene dissembles the projected image of sexual power surrounding the character Lux in The Virgin Suicides, and invokes a very real sense of despair at the futility of her situation:

“Through the bronchioles of leafless elm branches, from the Pitzenbergers’ attic, we finally made out Lux’s face as she sat wrapped in a Hudson’s Bay blanket, smoking a cigarette, impossibly close in the circle of our binoculars because she moved her lips only inches away but without sound.” – pgs 145/146, The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides

– So near yet so far; the girl of their dreams may well be just this, an illusion brought to some kind of reality through the depth sensation of binoculars. What they see, and what they hear and know for certain, are separate quantities. It’s the equivalent of looking at the moon through a telescope and fancying that you know its face, every contour; how it feels to touch. A sense of yearning is invoked. Lux, as perceived by the boys watching her, is a figure of sexual power. Even while under house arrest, she makes the appearance of preferring a casually arrogant role:

“True, it was impossible for Mr and Mrs Lisbon to see their own roof… but there was the unavoidable prior noise of sneaking down to let the men and boys in, of leading them up creaking stairs in a darkness charged with anxious vibrations, night noises humming in their ears, the men sweating, risking statutory rape charges, the loss of their careers, divorce, just to be led up the stairway, through a window, to the roof, where in the midst of their passion they chafed their knees and rolled in stagnant puddles.” – pg 146

Powerfully evocative language – “creaking, charged, vibrations, risking” – spread out over a meandering sentence structure, which draws the tension out to its somewhat brutal climax (for the egos of the men, brought low into puddles and against their better judgement, by a child.) Contrast this with the description of Lux that follows:

“All sixteen mentioned her jutting ribs, the in-substantiality of her thighs, and one who went up to the roof with Lux during a warm winter rain, told us how the basins of her collarbones collected water…They spoke of being pinned to the chimney as if by two great beating wings, and of the slight blond fuzz above her upper lip that felt like plumage.” – pg 148

The juxtaposition of positive connotations/abstract imagery – “carnal angel”, “plumage” – with negative concrete reality, “collarbones collected water, jutting ribs” – creates a scene of pathos, and unreliability where Lux’s personality is concerned. For all her power over these men, she is wasting away in body and soul; apparently taking no pleasure from the “measureless charity” she deals out, falling into cinematic pretense of Self that is in no way true to her circumstances:

“She told Bob McBrearley that she couldn’t live without ‘getting it regular’, though she delivered the phrase with a Brooklyn accent, as though imitating a movie.”

Imitation. Phrase. Through the collective narrative of the boys, their observations, Eugendies layers up the sense of a girl living vicariously through the imaginations and expectations of those around her. She distances herself from the painful reality of being housebound with her sisters, losing weight from malnutrition. To her adoring audience, she is a “succubus of those binocular nights” – but the narrative itself tells the audience a very different story:

“Dan Tyco … stepped in something soft at the top of the landing and picked it up. Only after Lux led him out the window and up to the roof could he see by moonlight what he held: the half-eaten sandwich Father Moody had encountered five months earlier…Mrs Lisbon had stopped cooking for the girls and they lived by foraging.” – pg 147

Emotional investment is crucial at times like this. If an author is not willing to allow their audience more than a back-seat view of what is going on, through a generalization where details were needed, then the latter will be unable to engage. The distance is breached when emotional investment and sensory integration are added; spicing up the dull porridge of “he was thin and tall” with the cinnamon of “his clothes hung from his frame; he was forced to duck under every doorway.”

Notice that this took a good deal more words to convey. This will equate to more time spent writing, more thought applied to intention. There’s a need for deferring to connotation (figurative) as well as denotation (plain facts.) As an author, you’re reaching out to meet the audience halfway; giving them the chance to feel as much a creator, as a participant-witness. In this way, the story becomes relative to their lives and the structure is made sound. The narrative becomes credible, and the characters stand as people.

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Borrowed and Blue

12/09/2013 at 21:15 (Method Writing, Poetry, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

This poem is a play on the marriage rhyme “Four Somethings”, thought to bring luck to a bride if she were to wear the following artifacts. It also works as a ward against infertility caused by the Evil Eye.

“Something old,
Something new,
Something borrowed,
Something blue

It has a direct link to my novel, “End of the Line,” in which a missing girl’s diary turns up more than the dark fairytales she left behind.
No One secret can stay buried forever, and a nightmare may play on a loop for as long as the secret lives.

Something broken
Something true
Something no one
Wore for you

Somehow fallen
By the way
Thriving on
The tide of day

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Rising shadows
Falling sun
Through the wild
We twist and run

Thickly cluster
Bramble snare
Tried and trapped
With wire and hair

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Flowing hem
And bloody thigh
Blue the moon
Within your eye

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Black to white
As red to grey
Silent in
Your heart the grave

Morning swallow
Thick and cold
Torn the hand
You long to hold

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Smallest face
And blindest eye
Blue the moon
The Rose, the Lie.

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Going Home (AKA Last Chance)

11/09/2013 at 19:01 (Opening Line Submissions, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

A collaboration between myself (@raishimi) and @UnhingedinTime, for Opening Line’s eZine. Enjoy its merciless taste 🙂

He’d got the call in past midnight, that hour when the loneliest sound is the striking clock in the distance, and even the local drunks have passed out under their benches.

The radio’s static made a whiteout of his head. Fumbling up the receiver, he pitched his head forward, listening to the stubble of a long shift scraping against the plastic.

“Go ahead.”

“Yeah, it’s a … it’s a job in the north district. Point 24, over.” A silence weighed out in thudding thoughts. “An’ boss wants it done ’cause it’s a chick, and she’s alone. As in, boyfriend’s packed off with some better-looking chick.” Sniggers erupted out of the receiver, which Patrick grimaced at. He laid it delicately back in the holder, gave it the finger-salute and exhaled slowly. Closing his eyes, he summoned the other voice.

This one chimed out in black light, filling his mind with sense-numbing smoke, until the world fell away.

You have another offering?

Held in place, Patrick couldn’t flinch, but his mind reeled like an unhappy drunk. He dialed down on that; plucked up the image of the female, the woman-girl, teeter-tottering on shoes that might double up as weapons. He made sure to zero in on those. The voice nodded inflection, leaning on his mind.

I see her. I don’t see an offering. She’d make an interesting candy apple on a spit for the children of the neighbourhood. She’s no good to us.

Patrick dug deeper, his mind-heels spitting sparks. This was as much as he dared, since the Voice had the unhappy effect of making his mind slippery with an oil-slick of filthy thoughts, grim ideas.

The Voice inverted itself in a shrug.

You know the rules. It’s not my game. The Oldest are getting impatient with you, Azazel.

Hearing the name of his daemon companion still sent shivers through his soul. He’d only known it for the past three years, after the last discharge from hospital. The Voice became clearer once he was free of those sterile walls that rang with voices more agonized than his own.

I’ll have her by the end of the night. The Oldest will find her impressive as an offering. I made my pact, my vows. The Bind still stands.

Dipping his mind forward, he took in the sparrow-wing limbs of the woman-child, as they scraped along the wall she used to support herself. Hair straggled out facial features in a tide of black and daubed-on green. The glitter of early evening fell away from her in sweaty sparks, to the heat-ping pavement. The night air was pulpy, for late October. Skeins of cloud hung scarlet ribbons over the moon, which winked its lazy eye on them all, a sultry goddess beyond the virgin light.

The Voice rang high for the first time. It blistered between his ears, and Patrick felt his face twist even as he stayed locked in place. Somehow, he knew his nails punctured deep into his palms, although he couldn’t feel it.

That ambition is the credible force, Azazel. See to it.

And he was released. That residual memory of a burnt-out bonfire, flames to embers to ash, to smoke and charred smells on the wind.

Emptiness. The lonely hour, tolled out by the indifferent clock.

Patrick reclined the seat, let the blood run to his head. It always brought feeling back to his body, faster than food or a steady drink. Glancing down, he grinned through shiny-wet eyes, at the warm dark puddles in his palms. The fire lived there still. His nails wore chunks of flesh like small gloves.

Carefully, he dipped his mind forward one last time. The Voice always left him sated and exhausted. Such was the offering, the sacrifice.

She’d stumbled, gone to the ground in a house-of-cards sliver of movement. Curled on the pavement, which was starting to spot up with wide dark patches of rain, she shivered. The needle arms went about her knees, drawing them to her chin.

He blew out a breath, slow and coiling mist, though the air tingled and spat heat still. The way her chin fit to the tops of her knees made his throat raw. But he had to concentrate. He had to draw her in.

Picking around the detritus of years – pale childhood, stucco-wallpaper adolescence, boss who hated him and took his wife, kid never born and under the ground – he tossed away the seeds and litter of thoughts and ideas, long abandoned. Somewhere down in the lower garbage-pail of his mind… some line lifted from an old friend, the lowest commodity and the most precious. The one who’d set up the link to the Voice. He was a computer programmer, after all. Links were his business.

There. His mind dabbed down on it, a kitten’s paw on a scrap of newspaper. He lifted it gingerly, this thought that smoked.

Girls trust guys who smell of toothpaste.

Patrick reached for his glovebox, unlatching it. The door dropped open to reveal grim contents: a small, ornate dagger the color of spent coals, its jagged edge pointing towards a pile of bones and fur. Patrick had spent the last year capturing, torturing, and killing birds, kittens and puppies. Such sacrifices brought the Oldest no pleasure, but they steadied his hand for the grander tasks owed them. He yearned to offer his first human, his first soul. But he was a coward. He delighted in the strangled, gurgling screams of a tortured family pet, but he’d not yet been brave enough to spill the lifeblood of a human. Not outside of his dreams.

Pushing aside his trophies, he searched for an old package of breath mints. As his fingers brushed past each splinter of bone or tangle of matted fur, he felt the elation of each dearly remembered kill. His pulse quickening, he paused a moment to caress the lovely bones. Lifting a skull fragment of a baby terrier.

Turning it over in his hand, he reveled in the memory. Aridus, his dagger, slowly twisting in its soft, fleshy underbelly. Eyes wide as twin full moons, an abnormal screech poured forth from the tiny being as its life was being taken. A swift, killing stroke. Convulsions, the eyes clamping shut. Soft, black fur crowning the death pose of the pup.

Unbidden, memories of Daniel interrupted his nostalgia.

He’d first seen Daniel look much the same. Covered in blood, his black hair slicked down around his forehead, his eyes closed tight. Never to open in life. Stillborn four years prior, the memory still haunted Patrick with a sense of loss. Of what could have been.

He remembered the empty church the day of the requiem. His wife, still hospitalized from complications of the delivery, hadn’t been able to attend. The ritual hardly seemed necessary to her, anyway. But Daniel couldn’t abide to let his stillborn son go without showing him some kind of respect.

The burial was on an unmarked patch of ground in a forgotten corner of Oak Groves Cemetery. Half-finished with school and employed just well enough to keep a leaky roof over their head, Patrick couldn’t afford a memorial for his son. He had failed to provide his wife with a living child, and he had failed to provide his child with a monument marking his existence.

He would continue his string of failures. Failure to keep his wife at his side. Failure to produce anything of worth to society. Failure as a man.

Blinking, he realized the bone was covered in fresh blood. His hands were still leaking dark, rusty syrup from gouges he’d made in his palms. Replacing the treasured bauble, he grabbed an old rag, wiping his hands and his toys clean. Tossing the cloth to the floor, he retrieved a pair of black leather gloves and pulled them on, concealing his wounds.

Finally finding the package, placed the last mint upon his tongue, waiting for the mixture to dissolve in saliva. He swept his tongue around the interior of his mouth, covering up his repugnant nature with a sweet facade.

The doe was still curled in a ball, having made no move toward the taxi. Was she so drunk that she hadn’t noticed his arrival?

Pushing the glovebox closed, Patrick exited the vehicle and walked towards the shivering ball of prey. He would need to talk to her. To talk to her, he’d need to remember what it was like to be human. Or at least convincingly play the part.

“Excuse me, miss? Did you call for a cab?”

The words came from somewhere else. He was bemused at how easily they tumbled from his lips.

Her eyes lifted and met his for the first time. Mascara streaked in the rain. Loud lipstick framed by blush painted on like a clown. Obviously a whore.

“Yes… yes, I did. I don’t think I can make it up though. Could you give me a hand?”

Not waiting for an answer, she again dropped her gaze. Lifting her left hand, Patrick caught the flash of a solitaire diamond mounted upon a slim, silver band wrapped around her ring finger. Grasping her outstretched hand, he settled her in the cab, soothing her already still body as he might hypnotize a frightened bunny. They were always calm right up until he unleashed his sadistic pleasure upon them. She would be no different.

“217 North Glenwall. Number 4C,” she sputtered, falling upon her side.

Patrick started the drive towards her home. He daydreamed of Aridus burrowing into her naked side when he was interrupted by a violent heaving. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he saw her retch all over his backseat.

Eyes flaring open, registering what she’d done, his prey tensed.

“Oh… oh my God. I’m so sorry.”

Her futile efforts to clean the mess with her clothing only heightened her anxiety. This wouldn’t do. He needed to calm her.

“Oh, no worries miss,” the words came. “I’ve seen plenty worse than that. It’ll clean right up.”

Her breathing slowed, and she ceased her struggle to soak up the vomit. Sitting up, her eyes shifted to meet his in the mirror.

“Thanks. Oh, you don’t know how difficult this evening has been.”

He frowned. The whore wanted to open up to him. Still a few minutes from her flat though, so he might as well indulge.

“You don’t say? Seeing you out there in the rain like that, I figured you’d just had the time of your life.”

His attempt at humor seemed to connect. She gave a faint smile, her cheek resting against foggy window by her seat.

“Not quite,” she said. “Met the fiancée for a talk. He’d been growing distant; I figured it was me. Tried my best to look pretty for him.”

She absently played with her puke-stained mini skirt, shifting her gaze to the eternity beyond the window.

“Turns out it wasn’t me after all. It was him. And… her.”

Patrick concentrated on driving, doing his best to ignore his prattling prey.

“He was nice about it. Said I could join in with the two of them. But that’s not what I wanted. Not what I ever wanted. So I… and he…”

Her speech slurred out, eyes closing. She breathed easy as she slept.

“Dad, what are we doing?”

Patrick turned to the voice next to him. A boy of about four or five sat in the passenger seat, bathed in bright light. Clad in loose-fitting white garments, legs barely long enough to let his feet kick at the glove box, he wore a wide smile underneath large, open eyes the color of dawn. His mop of hair begged for a comb as its brown waves hung by his eyes and around his ears.

“We’re taking her home, Daniel.”

The child’s eyes gleamed.

“You’re always helping people, Dad.”

“Well, that’s why Dad became a cabbie, Daniel. People are always trying to get home. So I get to help them.”

“Just like you helped me get home, right Dad?”

Tears stung Patrick’s eyes as he relived their farewell at Oak Groves.

“Yes, son. Just like that.”

Daniel’s eyes glowed with the warmth of a child held and protected against ever knowing the world contained so much darkness.

“I love you, Dad.”

Patrick squeezed his eyes shut, forcing the tears to stream down his cheeks. He stopped the cab, not knowing where he was, but certain he couldn’t continue. Exhaling, he opened his eyes. Daniel was gone, the light vanished. His prey’s apartment loomed outside the window. Behind him, she lay asleep.

Patrick sighed.

He’d carried his prey up several flights of stairs, no nosy neighbors spying at this late and lonely hour. Fishing the keys out of her purse, they were in her flat in moments.

Still unconscious, she lay splayed across her meager dining room table. Her flat was mostly bare, minus the occasional framed picture of a girl resembling the mess before him in happier, younger days. In some, the girl clutched pompoms. In others, she posed with a clarinet. No photographer was on hand to immortalize her portrait of death. That scene would only be watched by Patrick and Azazel. Instead of photos, he would select bodily mementos to remember the occasion.

Patrick exposed the bare skin of the doe’s side, careful not to reveal her breasts. He was after one thing: her soul. He’d been distracted enough from his purpose, and he wouldn’t let the whore temp him away from his task any longer.

Turning Aridus about in his hand, his heart raced. He knew little of edged weaponry, but Aridus felt perfectly weighted and balanced in his layman’s hand. The blood from his earlier wounds stained the surface of the soot-shaded blade, but the lines that extended from the shaft to the tip remained clear. They would fill with the blood of his victim. The thirst of Aridus knew no bounds, but never before had it been filled with such potent nectar. The anticipation of the strike, of the screams and writhing as Aridus drank from his prey, was overbearing. He felt like a schoolboy leaning forward for that first kiss with his childhood crush.

“You did it, Dad! You brought her home!”

Squinted he saw Daniel standing on the other side of his victim. Again bathed in light his son looked down upon her, dawn shining from his eyes. He raised his gaze to his father crushing him with joy.

But Patrick was unmoved.

“Not yet, son. She’s almost home. But there’s still more to do.”

And then, for the first time since Daniel had started appearing to him in the hospital all those years ago, Patrick saw his son’s expression falter. A shadow crossed his face, the dawn dimming from his eyes.

“More to do? What do you mean?”

And then Daniel looked down from his father’s eyes to see the dagger clutched in his gloved hand.

“Aridus,” the boy said. “Why did you bring him here? Is this how you’ll take her home?”

Before he could answer, the boy vanished. Darkness engulfed him.

Patrick froze, Aridus held as one restrains a dog ready for the hunt. As his vision returned, he looked upon the helpless creature spread out in front of him. He had felt pity for this woman. Pity at her sorry situation, at her betrayal. Pity at her fallen dreams, her meager existence. Perhaps she wasn’t the whore she first appeared. But it didn’t matter. He was caught up in the Bind. And so he’d bottled up his pity and tossed it in with his lost wife, his failures, the computer programmer and his toothpaste line. He would serve the Oldest this morsel and go on to claim many more lost souls. This one was already gone, consumed by despair. But some day, when the Oldest recognized his true worth, they would send him to hunt the hopeful, the kind, and the good. Souls that fell from such heights were the sweetest of them all, and he would bring them to the Oldest in droves.

Patrick was done with failure. He’d made his pledge, and he intended to fulfill it.

But the pledge to his dark masters was not his first. Once, long ago, he’d made another promise. Ear to the womb, the racehorse thump of dual heartbeats reverberating in his ear, he’d promised to care for his son. To show him how a man ought to live.

He stared at Aridus, its blade screaming a silent plea for blood.

Daniel deserved better. Patrick had failed everyone in his life, including himself. But he would not fail his son.

He hurled Aridus towards the window, its hilt shattering the glass before dropping to the linoleum beneath. Patrick immediately seized up in agony, eyes fixed in terror as the Voice summoned him.

You’re a weakling. A failure. Azazel, deliver this piece of meat to the Oldest. He was unworthy.

Patrick felt his consciousness slipping away. His daemon companion, now named aloud, wrapped its tentacles around his soul and began to drag it to the Nether. Just before blacking out, he felt the daemon, unable to sever the soul from its mortal anchor.

…You? What right have you to interfere?

The woman lifted herself from the table, smoothing out her shirt and skirt. The man who lay before her breathed evenly, his expression one of depthless peace. Kicking off her heels, she walked over to the discarded blade, picking it up and bringing it to him. Slipping it underneath his belt, she pressed on his chest.

“It’s not over for this one, Azazel. Not yet. Your move.”

In a blinding flash of light, she was gone.

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