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!

Canto I: Delusion (Part 3)

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.

“Do you understand now, Mr. Brantley?”

It was Frakes speaking, but the voice he knew now to be Grunbeck’s. The figure stepped forward and drew the taser from his belt.

“What exactly do you plan to do with that?” asked Brantley.

Grunbeck aimed the taser as Frakes spoke: “We are making our last offer,” he said. “Take your recording and depart. You will be a messenger among your kind, that the return is imminent, the return is upon thee. Carry out this function and thou shalt be rewarded with a great many balms. During the tribulation, thy suffering shall be eased. Do not refuse, for you have already witnessed the alternative to redemption.”

“What I have witnessed,” said Brantley, standing and facing Grunbeck, “is an employee making some very poor choices. The restraints were bad enough. This piece of theater, this playing along and putting this thing on your head, has earned a direct call to Doctor Johnston, who in turn will call security. You’re lucky we don’t call the police!”

As he spoke, Brantley’s phone was already contacting Johnston’s direct line.

“Mr. Brantley, please,” said Frakes, this time in his own tear-laden voice. “Please don’t do it. Iron rain, Mr. Brantley, iron rain!”

Grunbeck stepped forward again, hands taking hold of the veil. Its material scintillated, as if made of silk stitched with platinum. He lifted it back, revealing a face that had gone pale blue and stretched. His lips looked thin and cold, and his eyes clogged with odd shapes, prisms sketched with a sludge of cruel gears.

“Listen to him, Mr. Brantley. End your call. It is your final chance to do so.”

Grunbeck loomed over him, the taser aimed at his chest.

“I will not be intimidated,” said Brantley.

A voice sounded in his phone’s speaker: “This is Doctor Johnston.”

“Yes, Doctor Johnston,” said Brantley.

Grunbeck fired the taser. Brantley’s body exploded with pain as he collapsed.

“Hello?” said the voice on the phone. “Who is this? Is something wrong?”

“Yes, Doctor… it’s Grunbeck. We have an emergency on the special ward. It’s your student.”

“Oren? Something’s happened to Oren?”

“I’m afraid something’s come over him,” he said. “He’s suffering an attack of some sort.”

Brantley felt Grunbeck roll him over with his boot. His body was all pins and needles, and it took all he had to move his legs.

“I have the situation under control,” said Grunbeck, “but if you could come down here, I’d appreciate it.”

“As soon as I can,” said Johnston, and hung up.

Brantley managed to crawl up onto the chair he’d sat in while he interviewed Frakes. He reached for his computer, but knocked it on the floor.

Grunbeck stepped forward, crushing it with his boot. As he stood over Brantley, he drew the sword from the scabbard that hung across his back. “You chose this,” he said. “For it is written, those who comply not with His bidding shall be cast down, forever.”

Brantley mustered all the strength he could and leapt upward. He launched himself past Grunbeck and made a dash for the door. At first he thought pain was still from the taser, the tearing and burning below his calf. Then he collapsed and saw his severed foot behind him on the floor. Grunbeck stood above it, sword dripping with blood.

Brantley half limped, half crawled into the hallway. He followed brightly lit, immaculate tiles leading to an empty nurse’s station. “Help! Help me,” he rasped.

Grunbeck’s footsteps thudded behind him. He looked over his shoulder and saw a trail of blood pulsing with his heartbeat. The edges of his vision were beginning to blur, but he could see the gruesome nurse standing over him with his reddened blade. He leaned down, leering, his white jacket open, revealing a flak vest imprinted with a white cross. The cross had an eye in its center, and in his dizziness and ailing sight, the eye danced and blinked above him.

“Thou wast once saved,” said Grunbeck. “Commanded to be Our messenger, a harbinger of His return, thou hast instead chosen poorly. He had redeemed thee from sin, and instead, thou hast damned thyself.”

Brantley felt a boot slam into his stomach, cracking his ribs. Grunbeck pushed a door open behind him and delivered a second kick, sending him sprawling down a dingy hallway. Brown stains caked the walls. He breathed the stench of sickened breath and heard the sound of moaning.

When he opened his mouth to plead, instead he only screamed. The sword whirled, its hilt cradled in Grunbeck’s right hand. Brantley felt its sting as his remaining foot separated from his calf. It cut off one of his hands next, then another. He began flailing like an infant in a soup of blood. A coldness descended, then darkness.

* * * * *

Elena Epsen toggled the address to the University’s website, searched for her name, and found her essay on Stockholm Syndrome. It had won the Side-Minder grant in excellence in academic refutation. The department chair’s comment appeared beneath her “E.E.” signature with a simple “Brava!” She smirked—it had been written after the ski weekend where they’d spent most of their time in the hotel room, which spoke well to sincerity. Old Doctor Bentham wasn’t bad in bed, and more importantly generally agreed with her distrust of anything related to 1990’s post-Freudian theory. Literally laughable, they’d proven, giggling over cognac by a roaring fire. “Can you believe Brantley’s comment on transference?” she’d said.

“Lacan is for English majors,” Bentham said, shaking his head and sipping.

So when they’d returned and heard the news about Brantley’s breakdown, it was like arriving at the final act of a tragedy. And yet even in tragedy, there was opportunity.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Bentham had asked her. “I hear he was a perv into the bargain.”

She brushed back Bentham’s gray hair and kissed him, hand on his slacks while she was at it. “Aren’t we all?” she teased. “Besides, it doesn’t get more meta than interviewing the interviewer. What he thought was going to save his rep in the program didn’t only turn into his downfall, but another feather in my cap.”

She left before Bentham could answer. Probably crossing his mind that the twenty-four year old PhD candidate might be moving faster than even he wanted. But it didn’t matter. There was too much mutual gain in her success, and ego was ageless.

Elena took the folder from her knapsack and removed Johnston’s attachment to the police report. …at which point the subject severed his left foot in protest of the interviewee being in restraints. When the nurse attempted to intervene, he severed his right foot. By the time the psychotic episode had run its course, he had severed both feet and both hands. In the turmoil, the blade was lost and never recovered.

If fear was the simple root of Stockholm Syndrome, it had to be self-pity at the root of over-identifying with victims. The Twentieth Century had it backwards—the subconscious was simple—it was behavior that was complicated. Behavior resulted from a complex interplay of limited choices and existing skills. But Brantley’s motives were no multi-layered lotus. He felt bad for psychotics because he was one. He was too old to be ABD, broke, and bleak in prospects.

Elena left the coffee shop and hopped in her car. She didn’t share Brantley’s affliction. Instead, her self respect and self confidence were an antidote she wished to promote in her career. In putting the nail in the coffin of theories like Brantley’s, she’d be doing the history of the human mind a great favor.

By the time she arrived at the Melkor Institute, the clouds had cleared, revealing a pale, cold spring sun. She shivered inadvertently as she approached the building. Unwelcome thoughts began to appear—Bentham’s comment when she’d read him the police report—“How in the hell does a man sever both of his hands?”

A good question, admittedly. Johnston hadn’t expanded on that point, but there had to be an explanation. The police report was legit, so that had to have been taken into account in their investigation.

Melkor loomed before her, corrugated marble walls like great gray curtains. The small black door at the end of the walkway looked downright microscopic. She fought against the feeling she was some English waif in pigtails walking into a giant’s castle. Before she opened the door, she patted the pocket of her messenger bag. The fabric hatch made for a tablet instead contained a five inch Sig Sauer handgun.

* * * * *

“Mr. Grunbeck will take you from here,” said the guard when the elevator doors opened.

The tall, muscular nurse guided her down the hall. He wore a white jacket and black leather boots. His forearms were thick as sledgehammers and his smile reminded her of a military movie marine.

“Mr. Brantley is waiting for you,” he said as he opened the door.

She nodded and entered a cold, shadowy room barely lit by one high window. The part of her that had gloated over Brantley’s demise crashed completely when she saw him. He sat on the edge of a wheeled gurney, the nubs of his limbs wrapped in white bandages. His hair looked gray and greasy, his face purplish white.

“Oren,” she managed. “I’m… I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be,” he said. “At least they don’t have me in restraints.”

He waggled his handless limbs as he spoke, let them collapsed on his footless legs.

“I appreciate you being willing to talk to me,” she said.

“I believe you,” he said. “I will tell you of the veiled man, where he takes me. You will be my scribe. When we are finished, you will bring our message to the people.”

“The veiled man? I don’t understand. I remember Johnston’s notes on Frakes, wasn’t that something Frakes said?”

“Frakes is in his room,” said Brantley. “He is dreaming.”

Elena watched his face wince with pain with his last words. She wanted to reach out and take his hand. She cringed, remembering he had none.

“Are you good with that pistol?” Brantley asked.

“What? What do you mean?”

“He can reveal things,” he said. “He knows you are ambitious. He knows you are different than I was. Pride is the cloak of fear, in his case. You might have a chance at fighting your way out. Probably not. Your best course is obedience, to Him.”

At the word obedience, Elena’s sympathy withered. “You know me better than that.”

“I do,” said Brantley. “And I see now that you were right. I should never have envied you as a better student, for having better potential for future success.”

Elena tensed. His mania should have sounded like Hamlet; instead it was like Cassandra. Some small part of her was still pleasantly surprised, but it was overshadowed by a dread.

“I know,” said Brantley, tears forming in his dark-socketed eyes. “My coming around is little consolation, for neither of us will succeed, for that world is vanishing now. He returns soon, a great glory, the Lord Jarwhal. Let us praise Him now, and invite him into the bosom of the Earth. Art thou prepared to inscribe these dreams of which I shall tell you? The dagger of His servant waits outside the door. The dagger of His servant is at thy neck, scribe. Do not resist Him, rather, listen well, for I shall tell you of my dreams. Listen well, and I shall tell you of the iron rain.”

Book Release Update

I wanted to write an update on the release of Slash of Crimson and Other Stories chiefly to announce that the book will be released in late summer. This is due to the publisher and myself simply having a better idea of how long interim tasks are going to take to complete. I am working closely with Charon Coin Press on the final edits, and am quite happy with how everything is going. For those who have read the original novella, I’d like to emphasize how much more this collection will offer. Slash of Crimson itself has been expanded to include the history and points of view of several characters besides Drew Aldrin. The new material extends the book by nearly a third. What’s more, there will be a second novelette totalling 30K+ words, along with another 20K words in short stories. The shorts are some of the most intense Crimes and Heaven and Hell material written to date. All of this will flesh out details that will serve to offer intriguing foreshadowing for the full length novels to follow (yes, there will be news of those as well following the S.O.C. release; it has been a long time coming, but arrive it shall).

So stay tuned for more news on the Crimes and Heaven and Hell series. In the meantime enjoy the new material being posted here on the website, including the stories embodied in the Cantos (Part III of Canto I will be posted next Friday), as well as more book reviews, interviews, and more.

Heave oars for the starlit abyss—

C.R.M.

Links:

 

Canto I: Part I

Canto I: Part II

Charon Coin Press