Canto II: Revelation, Part 5

When Nate turned, he saw a slim, dark haired figure standing on the porch. Diana Fields yawned and stepped down the rickety steps in a pair of flip flops and jeans. Her hair was damp from the shower, and she’d tied her t-shirt in a twist exposing her midriff, as if to make up for the absence of the retched upon negligee.

“That was kinda hot,” she said.

She smirked with her glossy lips and gave Nate a languorous once over with her wide brown eyes. “You’re not in bad shape for your age,” she said.

“Probably old enough to be your father.”

“Just barely.”

“How old are you?”

“Twenty,” she said, leaning against the post, slippage of her jeans making the point she wore nothing underneath.

“You know, your mom talks a lot about how she’d like to see you off at a good college.”

“Does she? How quaint. I’m staying here.”

“Not a lot for a young person to do around here.”

“There are ways to get money.”

“Apparently. Wanna tell me where you met this yachtsman?”

“You mean Grove? He met me. Got an ad online.”

“Right,” said Nate, looking down at a lake of a puddle that held both their reflections in a swirl of gunpowder and blood.

“If I was awake, I’d a’ gone with them,” she said.

“You really oughta think twice about that.”

“Nah, it’s okay. Thanks, though. Puttin’ a little fear in them doesn’t hurt. It’ll keep things polite when I meet Grove at his party.”

At that moment a whimper sounded from the trailer, then a baby’s full on bawl. “Well, there she goes,” she said.

“Di, the baby!” came Maggie’s voice from inside.

“What, you couldn’t tell? Guess the stretch marks aren’t so bad when you have ’em young,” she said. She gave her hips one more swagger as she headed inside.

 * * * * *

 Nate thought it over on the drive back to town. If the Earl Groves was moored off Littleneck Harbor, he’d make a good target for whoever had been taking down the ships. The yacht wasn’t much bigger than the doctor’s sailboat, and the thing had no trouble making a ruin of that. He wondered if they were targeting a certain kind of craft on purpose, or if it was all just plunder.

He parked the car and crossed over to Jeb’s Tavern. The door was locked and the windows were dark. Odd for Jeb to be closed again. He was crossing back over to head to the batter house when he saw Ray Gillings’ lanky figure stumbling down the hillside, carrying a trash bag.

“Hey Ray, can you come here a minute?”

Ray shook his head, changed his stumble to a run. Nate sprinted ahead of him and took him by the elbow outside the library.

“What’s in the bag, Ray?”

“I was gonna show you I swear, just not yet, not ’til I was sure.”

“Open the bag, Ray.”

A gust of cold wind whipped across the wrinkled plastic, as if to reinforce the haggard man’s reluctance. Nate took hold of the twist, and when he released it, the arm hung out to the elbow.

* * * * *

 “I’m not going to arrest you,” said Nate when they were back at his apartment. “But you’re going to tell me everything, and you’re going to stay here while I go out and talk to a few people. Cooperate, and when morning comes, we’ll reassess.”

Gillings was nodding nervously, looking out the window at the harbor, then back at the front door which Nate kept bolted.

“See, it was Harpswell,” he said. “Jeb’s kitchen guy. I used to fall asleep sometimes, up at the cemetery, you know, they got those awnings on some a’ the crypts, keep you dry, you know? I used to fall asleep up there and I began seein’ Harpswell comin’ around a few months ago. Woke me up once, sayin’ he was doin’ a favor for Jeb, and I better skee-daddle if I every wanted back in the tavern. But he kept comin’ and goin’ with these bags. So the other night, know what I did? I snatched one while he was fillin’ a grave.”

“Filling a grave?”

“Well, refilling,” he said, looking at the door again. “You know, like after he dug up the body.”

Nate nodded. He’d kept the arm in the trash bag and put it in the freezer. According to Gillings, it had come from the grave of a man who’d died the spring before in a construction accident. Harpswell had more in his mother’s trailer up the hill.

“Is that where he lives?” Nate asked.

“Far’s I know,” said Ray.

“Indeed, well, listen now, you’re not technically under arrest, but you can’t leave, got it?”

Ray nodded his shaggy head.

“All right,” said Ray. “There’s beer in the fridge. I gotta knock off for an hour before I head out later.”

His gaunt prisoner nodded, popped himself a beer, and went back to looking out the window.

Nate went in his bedroom, left his door cracked open lest her heard Gillings getting up to something he shouldn’t.

But the deepness of his sleep took him by surprise. A heady nap dominated at first by a velvety void. He couldn’t resist letting it envelop him, when all at once he found himself standing at the base of a high hill. The air smelled like fresh rain, and bars of sunlight pierce amber clouds like golden lances.

“Come on now, youngster,” said the old man he’d seen outside the Nazareth Baptist Church. “You’re not still upset I called you a bum, now, are yuh?”

Beside him an old woman lifted an oxygen mask from her face—“Heh, heh, a fuckin’ bum, ya called him a fuckin’ bum,” she cackled.

“Now give him a chance, Mrs. Aikens, we’re here to give him anothah chance.”

“Well he bettah get in step,” said the crone, hitching her skirt, grabbing her oxygen tank, and heading up the hill.

Nate looked at the top where he saw a cross standing amid a heap of skulls—except they weren’t skulls, they were heads, he recognized Maggie’s, and Tiny’s, and another, another he didn’t want to look at—they were all heaped at the foot of a dark figure nailed to the cross.

“Reverend Selman,” said Nate, his heart thumping, drumming harder and harder in his chest. “Is Reverend Selman here?”

“Of course he’s not here,” cried the old man. “Yuh bum, yuh goddamn bum, of course he’s not here, ’bout time yuh woke up, yuh bum!”

Nate leapt out of his twisted blankets, gasping for air. He heard Gillings pop another beer, then stumbled out into the other room, groping for his coat.

“You okay?” asked Gillings.

Nate checked the clock—he’d only been out forty-five minutes. Not great, but good enough, if he could shake off the dream. “Yeah, yeah I’m fine. Just remember our deal, I’m headed out, you’re staying here.”

“Yeah, okay man, I’ll be here,” said Ray. “And um, Nate, could you just make sure you lock that door?”

* * * * *

When Nate arrived at the tavern, he found that Jeb had finally reopened for the evening. The regulars hadn’t shown up yet, so he took a seat at the far end of the bar. He pulled a copy of Homer’s Odyssey from his jacket and removed the folded pages of notes from where they marked Book IX. The book was his, and the notes were copied from something he’d found on the evening’s investigation. He’d only been reading a few minutes when Tiny showed up. The burly ex-fisherman was drunker than usual, having trickled some kind of loan out of Maggie and her girl under the pretext that he’d helped the constable protect them.

“Yeah, must say we make a pretty good team,” said Tiny.

Nate grinned, raised his scotch. “To teamwork,” he said.

“Gonna pay your tab there, Deputy?” asked Jeb.

“Pay it when I’m good ’n’ ready,” said Tiny.

“I can get his beers,” said Nate.

“No,” said Tiny, standing up and shoving back his stool. “Get my own damn beers. You and I’s on a par now, Constable. ’Tween the two of us, we’ll have this town back together in a jiffy.” He tried to snap his beer soaked fingers, but only made a sloppy, flatulent sound.

Harpswell chuckled, snatched the empty glass then swabbed the bar with the edge of his grease-stained Darth Vader t-shirt. “You’re a deputy like I’m Jabba the Hut,” he snickered as he walked back to the kitchen, belly jiggling.

“What, you think it’s funny?” said Tiny. “You guys think you’re so tough? You think you rule this town and all the souls in it?”

At this Jeb turned away from the cash register and glared at the old fisherman. “Rule them? Rule them did you say? Why would I rule what I’d rather get rid of?”

* * * * *

Once Tiny had stumbled out, Jeb reached for the bottle to pour Nate another scotch. “No, no more tonight,” he said. “Just a coffee.”

“Why not take one on the house,” said Jeb, pouring him a glass and pushing it toward him.

Nate blinked: had he ever seen Jeb pour anything on the house? “No, really, I have some work to do.”

“What work?” said the dark eyed old man. “What are you doin’ all this work for? You used to edit your pages and drink up, nice and quiet and regular. What you want with all this work for?”

“I’m the constable now.”

“Nevermind that horse manure, I’m tellin’ you to drink up and worry ’bout that nonsense tomorrow.”

Nate had never seen Jeb so involved and insistent. It was unsettling.

“Well, I suppose I’ll be going then,” he said, placing a twenty on the bar. “And count out the change, if you wouldn’t mind.”

* * * * *

 After Jeb counted his change, Nate stepped back into the street. But instead of heading toward his apartment he slipped around the tavern and down an old graying pier. Ropes tied decades before cut into the collapsed pilings. Held together a repair at a time, the rickety contraption made a makeshift stairway of rotted planks that curved around to where the muddy cove met Jeb’s back door.

High tide was coming at two o’clock that night, and it was just after twelve. Nate waited there about an hour before he picked out voices. Dim lights cast from the buildings streetside made nests of shadows along the deepening water. The voices were coming from there, where the kitchen’s back balcony hung over the basement door. Nate stepped off the pier onto a small beach of broken rocks, glass shards, and seaweed.

Tucking himself against the tavern’s damp concrete foundation, Nate listened to the figures talking in the shadows:

“Of course he doesn’t appreciate you,” said the woman’s voice. “But we appreciate you.”

“Exactly how much?” was the Tiny’s answer, followed by a hiccup.

“Come inside with us and find out.”

It was Ariel Van Garing’s voice.

Beside her, a silhouette Nate took to be Harpswell, was nodding.

“That a fact?” said Tiny.

“No, this is,” said Van Garing. She pulled the fisherman toward her and kissed him. Her thin dress was so dampened by fog and drizzle, she was de facto naked.

Everyone knew Tiny was a fool for all of his addictions, but so far he’d at least understood the price. The old salt stumbled inside, kissing and groping as he stepped. Nate had to wonder if he knew this time whether the bait was worth the hook.

Checking the magazine of his .44, Nate noticed Harpswell was carrying a sizable pistol of his own. He dangled it beside his leg as Tiny fumbled with his prize, too drunk to notice. As they stepped inside the basement, Van Garing picked up a hatchet from where it was stuck in a beam. Nate considered a move, but they were on Jeb’s property, and hadn’t done anything yet.

Following them inside, Nate inhaled an overpowering sweet, fishy odor. They were stepping through a kind of workshop lined with peg board and rusty tools. The hallway felt artificial, like the new concrete wall to the right had been put up hastily to cover something up.

By the time they rounded the corner to the second stairway it was too late. Harpswell kicked Tiny’s legs out from under him. Van Garing slipped out of his embrace and bludgeoned his head with the back of the hatchet, knocking him down the stairs.

Canto II: Revelation, Part 4

Nate looked up when he heard the huffing and wheezing. Tiny was running toward him, his hulking body heaving and sweating as he barreled across the street.

“Nate, ya gotta come with me, ya gotta come,” he wheezed.

“What is it?”

“Up at Maggie’s place, they come for ’er daughter, ya gotta hurry.”

“All right, get in the car,” he said, slipping into the driver’s seat and letting Tiny ride shotgun.

The old Pontiac’s engine roared to life, they pulled onto 15 and sped inland to Vick’s Trailer Park. Tiny pointed them up the puddle-pocked dirt road and Nate inserted his sedan between the black Lincoln Town Car that was parked in the driveway and the front door that was hanging open.

When they burst in the kitchen, a tall, black-t-shirted man in expensive jeans was leaning his muscular torso over the diminutive woman.

“You better put that away and let me in there,” he said.

Maggie’s hand shook as it clutched the meat cleaver. “Stay away from her! Get outta here and stay away!”

“You wanna tell me what’s going on here?” Nate asked.

The man pivoted on the heels of his leather boots. He was tall, bald, and tan, had four inches on Nate—but if he was leaner in the middle, they were of a size in the shoulders and arms.

He looked Nate up and down and snickered. “Better head out the way you came, Captain Ahab.”

“That’s Constable Morgan to you.”

Nate stepped forward, inserting himself between the thug and Maggie. “Tiny, take her in the living room,” he said.

The drunken man nodded, still huffing over his sweat-soaked shirt. He coaxed Maggie over the filthy shag carpet to the sagging couch.

“Look pops,” said the thug. “I got no beef with you. Her girl Diana’s a grown woman. She made a deal with my employer and I’m here to pick her up.”

“Who’s her employer?”

“Earl Grove.”

“I’m supposed to know the name?”

“No, but his yacht’s in your harbor, and he’s made an arrangement with the young lady, so if you’ll excuse me…” The thug gave Nate’s shoulder a shove. It was sudden enough to drop him to the linoleum, though he was fast enough with his foot to trip the goon in the living room doorway, bringing him down.

Both men were up in a shot, face to face.

“Maybe we should have a word with Diana,” said Nate. He turned to Maggie: “She here?”

“Yeah, but she can’t talk right now.”

“Why not?”

Maggie pointed down the hall, between slanted walls of the trailer’s warped paneling. Nate saw an open bedroom door, weak lamplight cast across a bed with a slight crescent of a body lying across it. She wore black lace negligee that was enough to make him blush, that is, if it lace wasn’t streaked with vomit.

“Little too much partyin’ last night,” said her mother.

Nate turned back to the thug. “I think you’d better go and tell your employer Diana’s not up for it tonight.”

The thug shrugged. “No big deal,” he said. “We’ll refresh ’er in the car. Now step aside.”

Nate ducked the left hook and spun away from the right that was meant for his kidney. The man was accurate, he gave him that, just slow and too much on the fists like most punks his age. Nate threw his elbow into the man’s throat, cutting off his breath long enough to stomp the side of his knee.

“Learned that one in the Navy while we were in Pusan Harbor. Military’s a career move you might consider. Good for a young man without direction. For now though, I suggest the direction of the door.”

Before the thug had caught his breath, Nate took him in a choke hold, dragged him to the rickety plank of a porch, and dumped him in the puddled gravel.

His partner was already out of the car and pulling his pistol from is gray sharkskin blazer. He aimed at Nate’s stomach and gave him the stone-cold eyes that told him he didn’t give a hell. The feeling was mutual. Nate pulled the .44 from his coat pocket and shot him in the hand.

A splatter of blood and broken pistol landed in the puddle beside t-shirt man, who’d finally caught his breath and was up on his knees.

“I suggest you start driving. Closest hospital’s an hour-and-a-half away. Make a tourniquet first, then get your ass in gear.”

But the thug had already pushed his partner into the passenger seat. He gunned the engine and screeched from the driveway.

Canto II Revelation: Part 3

The detective thought of Morgan’s fact-finding caveat as he loaded the HydraSport with supplies. Prudent, so long as it didn’t lead to indecision. He flipped the switch on the extra spotlight, made sure it was working, and checked that his pistol was loaded and ready in the shoulder holster. If his new deputy knew the kind of ordnance the he was packing, he might not have considered his warnings necessary. He placed the AA-12 automatic shotgun in the gun rack, twenty round drum mag already loaded. The thing wasn’t only a beast, it was waterproof, so he could keep it within easy reach without worrying about it getting soaked. Every shot was a titan of stopping power, and all twenty rounds could be unloaded in seconds.

Randall started up the engine and headed out of the harbor. He had at least two hours before dark, and had a hunch the party of doctors from Long Island wouldn’t be taking the warnings about the disappearances seriously enough to stay onshore.

He opened up the throttle and turned east toward Gatlin Island. He picked up the sailboat with his binoculars, its crew on deck enjoying martinis in a moment of clear sky.

A woman he hadn’t seen among their party that morning in the coffee shop was lounging in a deck chair. The bottom half of her bikini looked extra white against her tan. She wore nothing on top of course, and the middle aged man who came out of the cabin and kissed her took a moment to stop and admire his apparent trophy.

Randall did not dwell on speculation. Instead he moved the binoculars over to the boat’s low wake, looking for anything that might be trailing it—a small craft, fast or slow moving, any possible contact in its proximity.

He saw none, only the small whitecaps brought up by the stiff breeze. One of the crew put the sail up, and the craft began to tack its way back to Littleneck. The clouds had moved in front of the sun and the light had grown a shade dimmer when he saw it—a flutter against the surface of the water behind the boat.

He saw a fin next, a large one, but then something else—he recognized the shape, but no, it couldn’t be. The detective wiped his palm over his face and looked again. He saw something following the sailboat, though he could identify neither it nor the strange raindrop-like stipples that danced across the water.

Randall picked up the shotgun and drove the boat closer. He got within vocal range of the boat’s deck, but he no longer saw the thing in the water, only the tan, silver haired doctor holding the bikini-clad woman against him and looking irate.

He considered playing the cop card and coming aboard, but instead rounded the sailboat’s wake and headed toward the island as if he were on a routine patrol. He cut back across the point, was crossing a wind sheltered cove, when he picked up the shape again, moving fast beneath the surface.

The greenish-white form appeared to slither more than swim. Forty-feet long at least, like no whale or shark he’d ever seen. The serpentine tail made giant S’s, fins flaring like blades down its body. By intuition, Randall steered the boat broadside, was standing like a cannoneer about to unleash his battery—

—when between the scales, on a girth thick as an old oak, sprouted human arms. They danced beneath the surface, wriggling among the fins. The fingers extended their jagged nails like claws. He realized then it was the dozens of fingers he’d seen stippling the water behind the sailboat.

The thing’s head was hood shaped, flaring outward like a cobra’s. Paler than the thickly scaled body, it too had arms where its back spread outward. Randall was just picking out what the shape signified when his world flipped over—the entire monstrosity reversed its position in the water. One second it was gliding beneath, the next second dancing across the surface like a giant insect.

The displaced waves splattered over the Hydrasport’s deck. He fired the soaking shotgun on full automatic, aiming for he realized was a human torso attached to the serpent’s body.

From the torso extended a vein laden neck and pale faced head. Its hair hung in a mane of dark spines, and its fanged mouth stretched grotesquely too wide for its skull. Randall realized too late he’d emptied the drum clip into its scales, blowing off one of the arms, tearing a fin, but failing to even slow it down. The thing let out a wheezing, water-choked howl, as if it were mocking his tactics.

Three of the arms took hold of the cabin’s roof. They tore it away along with the steering wheel and throttle. The overwide maw lunged at him before he could reach another clip. Its fangs clamped into his chest, while steel strong hands tore his left arm off his shoulder.

In a last moment of consciousness, he was being dragged through the water as his blood and life fled in a flood of icy pins and needles. He was caught in the spines of the thing’s hair. As his body spun, he glimpsed the horror-struck doctor’s face, his mistress screaming, and the ghoul-green mass of scales ramming through the sailboat’s hull.

 * * * * *

“They don’t want you to officially ID him, but you were his deputy so they want a report from you.”

Nate squinted at the unzipped body bag. Randall’s jacket and flak vest still partialy covered his chest, but his legs had been shredded into strips of red meat. He’d seen the body of a man mauled by a bear once in northern Quebec, and it had the same absence of dignity. The torn legs and missing arms together made him look like some morbid parody of an infant.

“Did he have any keys on him?”

“Yeah, he had a key-ring from his belt.”

“Let me borrow them.”

The Trooper insisted on following him to Randall’s hotel room and shadowing him as he searched through his notes. “I’ll let you copy them for your report, then I’m taking them, and we’re done.”

* * * * *

 

Two hours later, the state police car pulled away from the shipping office where Nate copied the documents. Nate headed over to Jeb’s Tavern where for some reason the door was still locked at two when it normally opened at noon. Nate sat on the sagging, bleached wooden bench, pulled out his flask and the copies of the notebook he’d taken from Randall’s room and began reading:

The inscription on the rocks was a type of charm, a spell, as it were. Professor noted not in true runes. When asked if typical, Prof. K. answered no. When asked why, said not protection. When asked what, said a summoning, a conjuring. When asked what, not sure, something erased, scratched out. Why? Perhaps scratched out afterward, perhaps something taboo to those who understood.

There was more, a sketch of that pattern of inscriptions found on an island a few hundred miles down the coastline. Mahannis was one of the furthest out, least populated.

Canto II: Revelation Part 2

This installment of Preludes of the Return, of the Crimes of Heaven and Hell, by Carl R. Moore, is intended for mature audiences only. Reader discretion is advised.

Nate watched as the woman leaned over and spoke in low tones with the tavern’s proprietor. She was smiling in advance of her words and his. That and the way she brushed back her hair told him their connection was about more than paper deeds, as incredulous as it seemed. The old patchy skinned man should have been shaking with nervous luck. Instead he was meeting her with a glassy, trance-eyed look, an infatuation that made Nate conjure the word worship.

As the two of them whispered, Harpswell emerged from the kitchen, pushing a wheeled mop bucket. He managed to steer clear of his boss, but bumped into Van Garing, unleashing a heavy splash of brown water.

“My skirt,” she cried.

“So sorry, Miss. Didn’t mean it, swear I didn’t. Must say Miss, you’re looking quite beautiful today, Miss.”

“Mistake number two,” said Jeb. “Damnit Harpswell, am I gonna have to chain yuh to the basement door?”

“Sorry Mr. Craw, just doin’ my job.”

“Opinions ain’t part a’ your job. Oughta chain yuh by your cheek.”

“Oh please, leave him be,” said Van Garing. “He said I was beautiful. Something wrong with that? Besides, we have other things to talk about.”

Van Garing walked around behind the bar, put her arm around Jeb, and vanished with him into the kitchen. Nate shook the vision off, drank down his whisky, and turned back to the other patrons. Even now, with the fiddle and the television running in a jumble of sound, he saw Ray’s lips moving, talking to himself, describing the dead boys’ wounds, the looks on their mother’s and father’s faces. Crazy Ray had been taking his babblings into odder and odder places, and if Jeb came back, he would likely throw him out.

But Ray didn’t wait, showing himself to the door before the song was over. Nate took the opportunity to settle his tab with Harpswell. He waved to the dancers on his way out and let his tip say all there needed to be said to Jeb Craw.

Outside the fog had grown thick over the streets. Nate followed Ray’s slanted silhouette as he rounded up the hill away from the harbor. He took a side street that dead-ended at three one-story houses wrapped in weathered siding, then moved off onto a path that led into the pines. Nate sipped from his flask as the gaunt man paused, rocking on his lanky legs, muttering gibberish. When he turned down a second path that led to the cemetery, Nate turned back toward town. His actions as a good Samaritan with regard to the disappearances were one thing, trespassing another. He took his last sip of Friday whisky and headed for the efficiency.

* * * * *

The next morning Nate woke to fog so thick it was like seeing a ghost from the inside out. He cursed that he’d run out of coffee as well as cash and would have to walk to the ATM again. He dressed with slow respect for his headache, then headed down to the cobblestones, hoping he was going in the right direction. Once he found the vestibule, he took his cash and hiked another half mile to the gas station with the minimart. He sipped his coffee at the counter, then went outside and lit his pipe.

The fog still hung thick, though at least he could now see enough to cross the street where the road had some shoulder. There the Nazarath Baptist Church traced a faint white outline amid the gray mists, with its pale patrons filing out after the morning service. It being a weekday, they were mostly the elderly along with a few moms and out of work fishermen.

One old man, thick in the middle with wiry limbs, stopped and followed Nate with his eyes. Bald, wispy haired, and glaring, he took heaving breaths like his watching made him winded. “This is private property, ya bum! Get out! Get on outta here.”

Nate puffed on his pipe and kept walking.

“What’d you get dropped off by the bus? I said get outta here! We don’t need your kind! We don’t need no help around here!”

Nate felt a shiver as he noticed the man fall in behind him, wheezing and picking up speed. He was about to turn and confront the geezer, when Reverend Selman, a former captain Nate knew from his business, caught the old man by the arm and stopped him.

“Mr. Aikens, please, come with me. Take it easy. I think there’s a misunderstanding.”

He coaxed the man back to the church parking lot, then waved at Nate. “Sorry about that, Mr. Morgan.”

“Not a problem,” Nate called with a wave.

“Get the hell outta here, ya bastard!” called the old man as he was lifted into the church van.

* * * * *

Detective Randall made it to Little Neck Harbor by noon, parked his car, and walked down the pier to the stone beach. He checked he was on the right side, as specified in the voicemail, then saw Morgan was already there, smoking a pipe beside a block of gray basalt.

“Detective Garrett Randall,” he said as they shook hands.

“Nate Morgan,” said the man in the black pea coat.

“I was hoping we could have a word, if you have time.”

“Wouldn’t have met you if I didn’t. How can I help?”

Randall followed the man as he walked along a line of sopping seaweed. He looked a little hungover as he smoked and sipped his coffee.

“You used to work for customs in Boston?”

“I did,” said Morgan.

“And you’ve retired since, and lived in this town the last ten years?”

“I have.”

“You must know it pretty well.”

“Well enough, when it’s not too foggy.”

“Right, well, listen, although I can’t fill you in on all the details, I wanted to let you know that I’m in need of a deputy. I’m investigating the possibility of, well, let’s call it foul play with regard to the disappearances, and my superiors can’t spare me backup right now.”

“I’ll do it,” said Morgan. “You don’t have to explain. Just one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“No fool’s errands. We find our facts first. We find out who it is, we get our information in order. If we act, we act on that.”

“Fair enough,” said Randall. “So long as you agree that I’m in charge, unequivocally.”

Morgan nodded. “That’s a given.”

“Then we’re in business,” said Randall. “Now, raise your right hand.”

He swore-in Morgan there on the stone beach as salt water rolled in shallow swirls around their feet. After, they made their way back to the pier, where Morgan turned off toward the tavern, and Randall to his car, having agreed to meet the next morning.

A Clean and Edgy Light–On Reading Hemingway Before Writing Prose

Today before posting my ‘crackaccino and prose’ banner and having at it, I decided to re-read Hemingway’s A Clean, Well Lighted Place. I’ve been pondering Hemingway lately; I’ve been pondering him as a life-long and beloved antipode. I am a bit of a medievalist, though a highly atypical medievalist in my thinking and it shows in my prose. I say atypical because what I share with my antipode is a stark anti-mysticism. Unlike Tolkien and Lewis, I cannot romanticize chivalry, but rather see it as the first brainwashing the weak succeeded in throwing upon the strong. Do not make assumptions about who I deem weak and who strong. I am talking about the kind of strength Dickens gives Molly in Great Expectations, when the young men are foolishly flexing their muscles, when Jaggers talks about her hands, the scarred hands of a maid. It is not only that she killed, but the tedium of her work, that gives her strength.

Hemingway puts this at stake in A Clean Well Lighted Place. The young working waiter grows frustrated with the old man because of his work, impatience, and need for sleep (here I digress again—I take shots at Hemingway because he can take it. Were he alive and taking this to his face I am sure he would be giving it back and making it painful. That’s fine. I’ve tangled with bigger bouncers than him, taken the heat, given as much as I got, and come away on my feet. A gristly hippy is something to be). But I do not dismiss Hemingway—friends close, enemies closer, I take his point—the young waiter who wants to go home is not in the end faulted over his work, but his inability to value reflection. Hemingway is writing about someone who experienced war, but it is not this alone which defines what is heroic in the story.

Instead, it is a circumstance that Hemingway is calling heroic—a situation. For a “clean, well lighted place”, a place that is “bright” within the story’s symbolism does not mean an antiseptic place. It does not mean one needs a fluorescent light and a white table, a trim lawn and a bright sun. The shadows the leaves cast across the café matter supremely, and the café lamp gathers its brightness not from wattage, but contrast.

Hemingway is calling heroic that which glows in despite and does not necessarily condemn the darkness. This can only happen under the right conditions. The older waiter, also a worker, but not hurrying to bed, understands this. The prayer to nada/nothing toward the end of the story is significant certainly, but subordinate to the theme of ‘right conditions for reflection’. It is an individual’s conclusion (and, incidentally, it is the type of Hemingwayesque conclusion from which I diverge. A certain type of medievalist diverges at the satire of the church and Lord’s Prayer, because said medievalist looks at a time when that artifice was in its infancy along with its horror, and looks to a material something that may have existed before, that ironically, Hemingway appears to generally efface).

But for the accurate outline of the right situation for a certain type of reflection, that clean, well lighted place, that set of possibilities and conditions—as say, the way an overcast sky and the smell of rain drifts across a kitchen table—for that I thank my antipode, toast him with a black coffee, and get to work.

Canto II: Revelation Part 1

The following work of fiction is intended for mature audiences only. Reader discretion is advised.

Canto II: Revelation, Part 1

Nate Morgan gazed out over the Atlantic’s gray-blue expanse. The wind was riling the waves, an irritant on an angry beast’s leathery skin. He marveled a moment at its immensity, how it flooded the horizon as if it would challenge the limitlessness of the sky. When the clouds began to dim, he closed the blinds, pushed in his desk drawer, and slipped his pen in the jar. He checked to make sure his file was sent, then shut down his computer, headed downstairs, and outside.

The salt air tasted clean and cold and he felt a coil in his mind loosen as he made his way down Littleneck Harbor’s cobblestone streets. He was one of the few year-round residents renting an apartment downtown, if one could call it that—a rickety strip of old wooden buildings that curled out from the working waterfront. A pair of stone and steel piers ran along it, serving fishing boats and cargo ships. A few sailboats were moored within the cove itself, and it was here that the older docks stretched like bony fingers from the abandoned shops and warehouses, and the few restaurants that remained open.

Nate climbed the stairs to his efficiency, dropped off his markups, and headed to the credit union’s ATM machine. Business done, he moved on to Jeb’s Tavern. With a pocket full of crisp twenties, Nate was one of the establishment’s more well-to-do patrons. The last decades of the Twentieth Century had not been kind to Littleneck’s economy, and the beginning of the Twenty First downright cruel. Factory trawlers had depleted the fish population, and even the independently owned shellfish boats were getting beaten out by far off industrial platforms. Even worse, the tourism and real estate markets had plunged, bankrupting all but a few of the knick-knack shops, restaurants, and higher-end resorts.

Nate was lucky to be a rare bird among these spoils. His job editing shipping documents for an import-export consulting service gave him a solid twenty hours a week at just over forty dollars an hour. Not so much money in the grand scheme of things, but when combined with his small pension from his stint in Massachusetts as a customs inspector, he enjoyed a relatively prosperous existence.

The contrast was underscored when he pushed through the tavern’s paint-peeled door and took in the shambled figures sitting along the bar. One gray face turned and gave him a warped smile. Tiny Hobart, former stern man and methamphetamine addict, was now a full time alcoholic who on occasion slept in the ATM vestibule.

“Well if it ain’t Nate Morgan come down ta celebrate anothah pay day,” he said. The twinkle in his eye said he knew Nate would buy him a beer. The assumption never grated him too much, Nate being a man who didn’t like to keep his good luck to himself, within reasonable limits.

Next to Tiny sat Ray Gillings, a tall schizophrenic man with long black hair and a goatee. He didn’t talk much, just sipped and stared until his monthly check ran out. He only half sat on his stool, never quite looking like he was arriving or leaving. Ray gave Nate a nod, then went back to his sipping and staring.

The third figure was Maggie Fields, a lean, fifty-something widow with a carefree, drunken smile and swath of pretty white hair. The small stack of money she earned from her piece work at the on-its-last legs seafood processing plant sat beside her beer as it did each night, dwindling dollar by dollar until it was time to go home.

“Hi Nate,” she said, eyes widening above her smile. “You don’t always have to shell out ya know. Heck I’ll buy you a round right now.”

That’s when Jeb, the proprietor, pulled a five off her already small stack. “You ain’t paid for the last one yet,” he said. “Which means you ain’t got enough.”

Old Jeb Crawford slipped the bill in the cash register, one of the few working machines in the otherwise cobwebbed lounge. In the same motion he plucked the ten year scotch from a doorless wooden cabinet, poured Nate a dram of whisky a left the bottle beside the glass. “Be ten,” he said, holding out his mottled hand.

Nate paid and Jeb nodded thanks. The older man had hair nearly as long as Crazy Ray’s. Most of it had gone gray, though there remained a few streaks of black. He wore an old, unbuttoned dress shirt from which wiry chest hairs stuck out. His body was all bone and gnarled muscle, with skin gray like his hair, though dotted with patches of whitish discoloration that Nate guessed was some sort of psoriasis.

Nate laid out another twenty. “And back our three friends up, if you would.”

Jeb shrugged. “Suits me. Drunker they are, more they spend.”

“Like you don’t get my grocery money anyway,” said Maggie. She cackled and sipped her fresh beer.

A long flat screen television stretched behind the bar, one of the few pieces of recent technology in the tavern. Maritime news was going on about a new wave of piracy off the Somalian coast.

“Don’t know why they go on about that when we got problems enough right here,” said Maggie.

“That right?” asked Nate.

“Another one yesterday. Those boys in the fishing boat.”

“They found them?”

“Yeah, they found them. They boys. Not the boat.”

The way she said them, Nate knew it must have been bad. He imagined a pair of drowned corpses being zipped into body bags as he swallowed a sip of his drink. There had been a string of missing crafts that fall, drownings, and even a shark attack. But it was too much, even the state troopers who’d paid too many reluctant visits shook their heads like the common explanations weren’t cutting it this time.

“You go ahead and tell ’im. He’d wanna know,” said Tiny, nudging Maggie’s arm.

“Don’t wanna talk ’bout that,” said Maggie.

“Come on Tiny,” said Nate. “You heard her.” He moved down to the end of the bar and stood close by Tiny.

The broadbacked fisherman whose shoulders belied his name swiveled on his stool, thick fingers clamped on his pint glass. “All right, I’ll tell ya myself then,” he said. “The boys were missing their arms. Just like that swimmer who’d gotten attacked by the shark. Taken off at the shoulders. But what kinda shark injures someone the same way twice? Exact same way?”

Ray shook his head beside them. “They did it on purpose, you know it,” he said. His nose stuck out of his greasy strands of hair and he didn’t look at them when he spoke.

“Who’s they?” asked Nate.

“Dunno, but them’s a they, you can bet on it, cuz a they means they got a brain, cuz a they means they’re smart enough to know what they want, and go cut it off.”

“Dunno ’bout that,” said Tiny. “Brain never helped you none.”

“Hey guys, come on,” said Nate. “Let’s get one more round. Jeb, can you get us another round?”

But Maggie’s smile had already faded. Her eyes narrowed beneath her curl of gray hair. “Those boys belonged to tourists, some a’ the last fall types. Come up for the colors. Now the batter house is gonna close for sure, I ain’t never gonna get my dishwashing job back.”

“You know, I have a better idea,” said Nate. “Hey Jeb, why don’t ya hire these three to clean this place up. Bring some of that tip money back into the community.”

Jeb Crawford sauntered up to the bar from where he’d crouched by in the shadow of the cash register. “Community,” he rasped. “Round here, community’s like buybacks. There ain’t none.” He glared with his stony eyes as he snatched a twenty. “Besides, I got Harpswell.”

At the sound of his name the kitchen boy emerged from behind Jeb. He swabbed the bar with a rag dark with mold spots and sniffled. His whitish blond hair hung over his waxy face in unkempt ringlets. Between that and the Empire Strikes Back t-shirt under his faded overalls, he had a look of fanboy meets Mr. Fixit. A protruding stomach that smelled of sweat, fried cheese, and grease, topped it off. “The hell’s the problem?” he asked.

“Usual bull,” said Jeb.

“Take it easy old snapper,” said Nate. “It was just a suggestion.”

Maggie broke her gloom and giggled. “Old snapper, hee, hee, that’s what he is.”

She threw her arms around Nate in a quick and dizzy hug. Tiny and Harpswell gave her breasts a blatant ogle as a bit of cleavage leaked from her red checkered button down. When she let go, the kitchen boy wandered back into the shadows, and Tiny and Maggie stepped over to the ancient vinyl jukebox and put on a fiddle tune to which they began to sloppily stomp the floorboards.

Despite the return of their good spirits, Nate couldn’t get his mind off the two boys. Gillings had been right, there wasn’t any way it was a shark. Shark attacks were rare in these waters. None of the locals believed it the first time around when the police closed the case and put it in their final report.

His thoughts were interrupted when tavern’s creaky door let in a new patron. The woman’s shock of red hair showed in bright contrast to her black dress. It was low cut, with the black pearl necklace bringing attention to her ample offer of flesh. As she sashayed to the bar, they saw that it was backless like a ballroom dancer’s. The shock of red hair not quite concealing her finely freckled musculature. Tiny was stumbling as he danced, not sure who to ogle anymore.

Nate sipped his drink and moved over beside Crazy Ray.

“Second time I’ve seen her in here,” he said.

“What’s a lady like that doin’ droppin’ in on the old creep?”

Nate shrugged. “That’s Van Garing’s widow, right? Probably real estate stuff.”

“It’s not his widow, man, it’s his daughter.”

On Dying Laptops, New Publications, and Wist for World Horror

Laptop.Portrait

I’ll begin this update by saying that my laptop is dying. Seven years ago I bought this Gateway Netbook, and it has been like a companion ever since. Because I travel each week for my “day job”, which consists technically of three twelve hour night shifts, I do a fair amount of writing on the road. I keep odd hours and my body’s circadian rhythm functions more on a weekly than daily basis. And so I say neither as complaint nor boast, but rather a fact, that I therefore write constantly. Any chance I get when my mind is awake and clear enough, I’m at it. Many writers I know are like this, most knowing the value of the daily practice necessary to develop the skill. For me it means often writing in odd locations and odd times. I don’t have a special room or desk in my house. I’m often at the kitchen table, in a café, on a Greyhound, in the woods, wherever I can carve out an isolated spot and a few isolated hours. Therefore, the Netbook has been essential.

I didn’t take to laptops when they first became popular. The large ones were too bulky, the small ones too difficult to type on. But though the Netbook is less than the length of a ruler, it has the beautiful deformity of full sized keys. It was love at first type, and I’ve kept it within reach all these years.

I’ve read anecdotes by Stephen King about the beauty of old typewriters, and by William Gibson about how he wrote on an “old fashioned” word processor. Alas, I will not be able to participate in such nostalgia. My laptop will be dying this year, the year my first true full length book will be published. Like Moses who could only glimpse the promised land but never enter, the Netbook, upon which I’ve written about a dozen novels and countless short stories, will not live to see the yield of its labors. I’ve already started backing up the files for when, one day soon, the broken power switch, which I have to press by sliding my guitar playing fingernail into a plastic crevice, ceases to function.

Well, in much better news, SLASH OF CRIMSON AND OTHER STORIES will soon be complete. Editor Margie Colton of Charon Coin Press has sent me the first round of edits on the short stories. An insightful, accurate editor means everything to a book’s success, and that’s why I am quite lucky to be working Margie and Charon Coin on this project.

I will also be posting more of the CANTOS on the blog soon, the companion pieces that go with the stories that will be coming out in the book. As I hope to make this a trilogy in the future, anyone who reads them will find they flesh out the world where the stories take place, as well as further developing the mythology.

Well, I am off to the woods with the kids this afternoon. It will be some small solace for not being at World Horror Convention 2015, which is taking place in Atlanta, Georgia, this weekend. I am especially bereft to be missing the absinthe party hosted by Daniel Knauf, and seeing my good friend Sydney Leigh and so many other talented and awesome people of the Horror Writers Association. Hopefully I will make it next time around, and hey, with a published book to promote.

For now, it’s time to get writing—heave oars for the starlit abyss!