Tag Archives: Gothic

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian by Elizabeth KostovaI’m not really sure how I wound up reading two “vampire” stories in a row.  I guess my only defense is that I had no idea that “The Historian” was a vampire novel.  That said, I am glad that I did read this one as it is an excellent novel.

The Historian is part mystery, part historical, part speculative fiction and part vampire story.  I listened to this book as an audio book and it was read by a number of people.  The story is told mostly through the young historian’s eyes or the eyes of her father.  It begins with her finding a stack of letters and an old book, blank save for a dragon printed on the pages in the center of the book, in her father’s study.  She questions her father on the book and the mystery begins to unfold from that point.

The tale is told predominately from the daughter’s voice and large chunks in her father’s voice, though there are other perspectives and narrations throughout it.  As the story progresses, more characters enter the mystery and it is discovered that there are a number of other “like” books that have wound up in the hands of some of the people they meet in their travels to learn more.

The story is rich and layered taking the main players around the world and visiting libraries and sites referenced in documents surround Vlad and his travels, often going into countries mostly closed off from the rest of the world.

I loved the history in the book.  Learning so much more about the history of Vlad, his upbringing, origins, how his circumstances helped shape him into the cruel ruler that earned him his name in the history books.  His capacity for cruelty was unmatched and none were safe from it, not even his closest advisers.  Yet, he was followed with the devotion of a prophet.

This is a book where the supernatural meets history and the line separating them is blurred at most and at times indistinguishable.  Elizabeth’s command of the language is equal to her command of history and she has woven a fascinating portrayal of possibilities of one of the most curious and enduring figures in history and in fiction.

I read many of the other reviews on the book and noticed that many people had an issue with the lengthy history sections in the book.  I must say that this was one of the things I found the most intriguing with it.  For, it gave a history of a person and time that we only know a cursory surface amount on.  Additionally, the young woman is never named, though many of the people she interacts with are.  I do not share entirely with the feeling that this was a bad thing.  It was an interesting way to write and there is some merit to the theory that you bond more with a “named” character, but I believe her intent was to make the quest for the story of Vlad the main focus.  If so, then she succeeded superbly!

May, 2015

Old Blood is Better than Young Blood

Richard looked around the dimly lit hall, taking in all the figures in groups and huddles milling about.“So, All the people here are vampires?  As is the blood drinking, real honest to God vampires?”  Richard asked his escort Michael.

“Yes, everyone here, save for you my friend.”  Michael answered, his voice soft and low, its tone inviting, though reserved.

“I knew some existed, but I never dreamed there were so many!”  His eyes darting in amazement as he surveyed the numbers littering the room.

“Oh, this is a quiet night.  Sometimes the numbers are three and even four times this.”  A slight tone of amusement beginning to creep into Michael’s voice as he spoke.

“And the old one that we spoke of, will he be here?”  Richard asked.

“No, probably not.  He’s not, how shall we say it, very welcome here.  We have rules.  Rules that have allowed us to live among you for centuries now without drawing the attention that used to send the hunters for us.  He chooses not to live by those rules, so he has left us no choice but to caste him out from us.”

“But, you promised me I would have the story of him if I came with you this night!”  Richard’s voice raised a bit as he spoke, causing many of the eyes in the room to draw to their direction.
“And so you shall, my friend.  But, not from his lips, but from whence he came to be.  And the story will be told complete so that it doesn’t recast the veil of fear that once threatened our kind.  You will have your story, but you must promise to tell the all of it, not just of him.  But, I warn you, none will believe it.  In the eyes of your kind, we are but a myth told to children to keep them in their beds at night.  Should they ever find “him”, they will think him a lunatic and lock him away.  And though immortal blood flows in his veins, he is still young and untaught and there are things that can destroy even us.  He will not survive long without protection and help.”

“And you would let that happen?”

“He made his choice.  He was told that if he chose that path, he would have no help from us.  Without the vow, he is not one of us and has forsaken the privileges that go with belonging to the order.”  Michael replied calmly.

Richard looked around the room at the people again.  All seemed to be between their late 20s and early 40’s.  Some of them were very conservative in their dress, others quite flamboyant.  The only thing all had in common was the pale, almost iridescent complexion.  He wondered how they could all get along so well, all seeming so very different.  He was about to ask when Michael drew his attention to the far end of the room and a group sitting at a table there.
“Ah!  There are the ones I wish you to meet.  The ones that can tell you of the old one.”  Michael scooped his hand under Richard’s arm and guided him across the room to the two men and the woman seated at the table.

Richard looked at the three people as they approached.  One of the men looked to be in his early 40’s, wearing a long coat, a bright purple shirt and a top hat with neon coloured plumes adorning it.  His hand resting on a beautifully carved cane, though his hand covered the top, but enough peeked out between his fingers hinting of an animal head of some kind. The younger man was much more conservative in his dress, simple dark suit with white shirt and neatly cut sandy brown hair that looked like it could tend to wildness if not tamed with dressings.  The woman, now here was one that was hard to describe.  It was like she couldn’t quite make up her mind what look she wanted, so she just took bits and pieces of each and put them all together. She wore a black and red corset over a high-necked white Victorian blouse with a fox wrap around her neck, complete with heads biting the tails.  Around her waist was a skirt that looked to be fashioned from about a thousand strips of fabric, no rhyme or reason to the choices as there were solid colour pieces, chequered one, striped ones, all hanging in various lengths from a single waistband.  And over the waistband dangled on of the wide metal belts full of dangling coins and beads that you would expect to see on a belly dancer.  Raven black hair hung in wild curls and flowed down her back with a single strip of blue at one temple.  And on her head, she wore a pirate’s hat festooned with a live raven.  And lastly, was the necklace, if you could call it that, around her neck.  It was like a catch-all for any trinket that seemed to catch her eye.  Keys and beads, bells and twisted colour bits of twine, and bones, lot of them and even a few small animal skulls.  Oh my!

“This is Richard, the man I told you about.”  Michael offered as we reached the table.  
He pointed to the 40 something man, “This is Gregoire, 12th degree high sire and custodian of records.”

Gregoire stood and extended his hand to Richard and taking a deep bow at the same time.  “Most gracious pleasure, Richard.”  he said as he grasped Richard’s hand, a slight brogue to his speech.  

“And this,”  gesturing to the younger man, “is Raphael, though he prefers Ruffy.  He is the mentor of the newly made and responsible to train them in our ways till they are ready to take the vows.”

Raphael/Ruffy rose, twirled about a couple of times, made a wide sweeping bow and swept Richards hand up in his as he rose.  “A joy it is to welcome a querying outsider into our little den of blood-letting!”  His eyes sparkling mischievously as he spoke.

“And last, but most certainly not least, the most beloved and feared Lady Circe, punisher and bestower, seer and sage to all within the fold.”

Lady Circe remained in her seat and looked up at Richard, starting from the top of his head and travelling till she gazed up the shoes on his feet.  Then she looked him in the face, golden eyes with the longest lashes he thought he had ever seen, the eyes glowing and dimming as her pupils contracted and expanded  while she watched him.  After what seemed an eternal stretch of time, she slowly extended her gloved hand, bracelets dangling from her elbow to her wrist.  “You are welcome.” she toned as he took her hand and softly kissed the back of it.
“Pleasure is mine.  And gratitude at allowing me to be here to answer my questions.”  Richard replied then took the chair that Michael motioned for him to take.

Gregoire leaned across the table and and fixed a stare on him that made Richard feel as if he were slowly becoming naked before him.  Not as in the cloathed sense, but as if the veils to his soul were being shed to flutter away in a breeze.  After what seemed an eternity, Gregoire sat back and issued a deep belly laugh, his eyes twinkling brightly as he slapped his hand down hard on the table top sending all the glasses to rattle violently on the surface.

“So . . . how old are you Richard?  Not so young as I would have expected to be chasing such a. . . how shall we say it, a demon inquiry.”

“I’ll be 58 this year.  Why should curiosity fade with years?”  Richard replied.

“Oh, it shouldn’t!”  Gregoire answered with another long chuckle.  “But alas, it often does.  You humans often become more reserved and cautious with age, choosing the known and comfortable rather than seek out the strange.  The security of the known just seems to naturally follow with ageing among your kind.”

“I suppose that is true of many, okay, most of us.  But, not all of us.”  Richard countered.  “I pray the day never comes when I fail to seek out the curious and the novel.  I believe that should that day ever come, it will be the day I shall start looking for the reaper at my bedside and shall gladly welcome his invite to pass from this journey to the next.”

“Oh!  Simply marvellous!”  Gregoire exclaimed, clapping his hands like a child that has just witnessed an act of magic.

As they spoke on of his travels and experiences, Richard began to notice Circe out of the corner of his eyes.  She seemed to have nothing to add, nothing to question in the exchange, even after Ruffy joined in as well.  she just quietly listened to all that was exchanged and shared between them.  Her silence presence became a distraction that couldn’t be ignored and he found himself glancing in her direction more and more frequently to look for even the slightest change in her expression as they talked.  But, nothing.

Suddenly, Michael appeared off to Richard’s right side and set a wine goblet down in front of him, hand still firmly grasping the rim of it.  Richard tried to think on when Michael had vanished as he didn’t remember him leaving the company.  Ah well! Michael looked over at Circe and for the first time her expression changed.  She nodded just slightly and her lips parted in a partial smile, then she sat back in her chair and crossed her hands over her stomach.

“Well!  Richard, this is for you.”  Michael said and lifted his hand from the goblet.  Its a very special Port reserved for only very special occasions.”  With that, he slid the goblet over till it was right in front of Richard.  “And now, I think it is time we get to the matter Richard is here for, no?”  Then he took a seat at Richard’s left and slapped Richard on the shoulder before continuing.  “So, I suppose we should begin at the beginning, no?  I find its always a good place to start.”

Richard opened up his notebook then and looked up to see who would begin with the story.  Ruffy picked up his glass and motioned to Richard to do the same and all glasses were lifted for his toast.  “Dearly beloved . . . No, that’s not right!”  Ruffy laughed.  “To truths to be told, histories written and prayers that maybe this once they will be written right.”  All heads nodded in agreement just before the glasses were raised to their lips.

As the dark liquid passed Richards lips, he felt its thick rich substance caress his entire mouth, deep, heady, spicy and very unusual.  He pulled the glass slightly away and took a deep inhalation of it.  His eyebrows scrunched together as he tried to make this one out.  He had never smelled anything quite like it before.  It was like . . . antiquity infused into a viscous liquid of spice and flowers and wrapped in the bonds of the wine.  And it was heady!  He could tell he would have to keep that in mind as he took another sip and looked up at his hosts, the surprised look on his face quite obvious in the looks he was receiving back.

“Before you ask, no, there is no place you can obtain the wine you are drinking.  It is a special blend held secret within these walls and rarely offered.  Enjoy though, my friend.”  Grgoire answered the unspoken question, a broad grin on his face.  “Please, do enjoy!”

“And now, I shall begin if you are ready.”  Ruffy stated and sat back in his chair after Richard nodded.  “We, our kind, have been here at least as long as your kind.  It is told that in ancient times, we lived in harmony with each other, sharing int the bounties.  No one is really sure when those times changed.  But, as in all things, the world does change.  Fear and distrust eventually find their way in when two are so very different.  The need to draw lines between the light and the dark, the good and the bad.  The desire to find oneself as superior and in the so doing, requires that the other be found as inferior.  Who started it so many ages ago, it is hard to tell.  But, start, it did.  It is said that there was a time when we did not have the taste for human blood.  But, the truth of that, as well, is past the time of true knowing.  At any rate, the time came when both became the hunter and the hunted.  Ours is a creature of the night, and yours of the day.  Thousands of both of our kind fell to the other.  Many was the time when it was questionable if we both would exterminate the other.  Then, one day, it seemed your kind led the war and our kind fled to hide in the shadows.  It may be that it was then that we first tasted human blood.  Maybe it was before and that is what started the wars.  The records conflict of that time.”

Ruffy paused and drew his fingers along the moisture on his glass, his face cast in deep thought, eyebrows pressing deeply to the center and biting gently on his bottom lip.  A deep sigh escaped his mouth and he sat back and looked at Richard, then continued.  

“We were the more vulnerable.  We were hunted while we slept during the day.  We are defenceless then.  Were.  It is not so much any more for many of us.  But, then we could be slaughtered like lambs.  And we retaliated!  We hunted mercilessly, taking far more down than we needed.  We took all down that we found in our paths.  Women, children, old, young, it didn’t matter.  In all places where we both numbered, we both diminished.  We became monsters in your stories.  You became nothing but blood in ours.  One day, your kind found our main safe hold, one that had remained hidden for decades, possibly centuries.  As I said, the histories are vague at times.  We fled.  We found a sanctuary in what we thought was an abandoned monetary and hid in the cellars, dusty and full of cobwebs and night creatures.  It was obvious it had not had a human visitor in a very long time.”

“We were not alone as we thought though.  One still remained in the halls above.  He found our lair.  But, unlike the others, he made no attempt to destroy us or inform on us.  He began to leave small gifts, offerings if you will.  Never were we able to discover where he lay at night.  If we had, we would have taken him.  If we had, we would not be who we are today.  In time, we began to ease about his presence and agreed to leave him be.  Then, one night as we were awakening, he was there to greet us.  He wanted to see if there was a way to end the bloody war between our kind.  He offered a hand of friendship.  He taught us and brought order to us.  He became the first leader of our order, guided us into initiation, wrote the laws with us.  He even offered up his own blood to a few of us on occasion, teaching us to stop short of taking life.”

“Then, one night, one of ours returned wounded.  He rushed to minister to her.  He didn’t know yet that we heal quickly.  That she would have been fine come the next night.  Her wounds were not lethal.  With us, there is only lethal or temporary.  He tried to breath into her, fearing she could not breath on her own.  Some of her blood entered him when he did that.  And it was that night we learned that your kind can become one of us.”

“He began to slowly change after that.  Curious, we fed him more of our blood and the transformation became more pronounced.  He became one of us from that.  And still, one of you as well.  He was not bound to only the night.  He was still very sensitive to the harshness of the sunlight, but properly clothed, he could move around at any hour.  We also found that those that shared with him, they also became less sensitive.  They couldn’t move about with as much freedom as he could, but they could stay out in the early hours and when the sun was not direct.”

“He taught us how to take blood and still leave life.  In time, we learned ways of the taking where no memory of the event was left in our victim’s minds.  The hunting of our kind slowed, and in time ceased.  We became the stuff of legends, fairy tales.  We were safe.  And we could again live in peace.  He made us into an order and the humans believe that was what we were.  They left us in our walls and believed our seclusion was part of our vows.  Which, in truth it was, though not in the way they thought.  We learned that we needed a few that were older to give us validity.  Your kind seem to confer knowledge and respect on maturity.  That we were often centuries old didn’t change the fact that we looked youthful.  We don’t age, as I am sure you know.  And those we turned, though they lived far longer than they would have as human, we learned would eventually die as your kind do.”

“So, every so often, we would have to find a new leader, master of the order, if you will. We made some mistakes in the early days.  We chose a few old ones that didn’t like our laws.  They had been powerful men and when we “made” them, they would have us return to the days of taking at will.  Of restarting the war that almost destroyed us.  That put is in a bit of a predicament.  We had taken vows not to take lives.  What to do with these rogues we had created?  After much talk and consideration, we simply turned them out.  Eventually, they were caught by the human authorities and believed to be insane.  Oh, they tried to inform on us, who we really were, but we had been here too long without a blemish of suspicion in all those years.  We counselled the authorities that hours in the sun might do their insane minds some good.  Help heal them a bit, so to speak.  Because they were part human, this was not a death sentence.  It simply aged them much faster.  And they died very natural deaths, unless one of the other inmates took their lives first.  And that did happen a couple of times.”

“We began to research our candidates better.  Learning the traits we needed.  Intelligence, learned men, men of character, and yes, powerful as well.  But, powerful in a different sense.  Ones that could command power and yield it so that others would follow, would respect.  They were not easy to find.  Not easy then, not easy now.  Sometimes, we had to travel to find them.  But, never again were we without an “old one”.  And a mistake such as we had made in the early times has not happened in a few hundred years.”

“Until now.”  Richard commented.

“Yes,”  Ruffy replied softly.  “Until now.”

“So, tell me about him.  How did you make a mistake after all this time?”  Richard asked, turning the page in his notebook to ready for the next chapter.

Gregoire inched his chair forward a bit, leaned back in his chair and cleared his throat.  “I guess its my turn.”  He stated with a hesitant, almost displeased tone in his voice.

“The blood is like a fine wine to us.  Each has its own flavour, the spice of experience, hint of laughter, subtle undertones of sorrow and imbued with the essence of the soul.  And as such, we each develop a taste for those certain combinations that are to our liking.  Much like those of your kind that prefer the reds over the whites, the fruitier wines, the flowery wines, the dark mature wines.”  Gregoire paused and glanced over at Circe who for the first time, shifted a bit in her chair, then glared defiantly back at Gregoire before shifting back into her stolid state.
Richard watched the exchange, his curiosity peaked.  

“We have rules . . . laws.  We are all bound to them.  No matter how many centuries we have to us, no matter how high our rank, we are all of us bound by those laws!”   the threat and accusation evident in his voice.  

“Old blood is better than young blood.”  a soft voice issued from Circe’s still figure.  “Is.  I’m just saying.”

“All of that is fine,”  Gregoire continued, his voice quieting to a low vibration “so long as we remember that we can take as our tastes inspire.  It is in the sharing that the forbidden is involved.”

His gaze travelled back up to meet Richard’s eyes, the softness returning to his features as he relaxed back into his chair.  “Our kind is not so different from yours, Richard.  The personalities, the characters, all of them.  We also have our creatures of impulse, and as it so often goes with their kind, they are creatures much adored and often with invaluable gifts to the community.  And unlike those that don’t care about the rules and think they don’t apply, often they sometimes allow their impulses to get a bit . . . . uhmm . . . . carried away with them.  They get caught up in the moment and after it is done, believe that it will all work out in the end.  And sometimes it does.”  He glanced back at Circe again and she tipped her head low, staring back at him with eyes that were equally glowing with anger, remorse and guilt.  “And sometimes it does not.”

He took a deep breath, picked up his goblet and took another deep draught off of it.  “Which brings us to now.  I am sure it is quite apparent that our dear Circe here is the one responsible for the one that brought you to our company.  Our Circe is one of the most revered of our members, she is our seer and the keeper of the secret wisdoms.  But, she forgets that the err is made when emotions are allowed in to cloud what is seen.  That often, our desires replace the true visions.  She additionally made the error of becoming romantically involved with her victim.  This is another thing that is expressly forbidden.  And one of the hardest things for us to do sometimes.  As different as our kind are, they are also very much alike.  So, attractions can be quite common.  But, the differences between us make such a liaison both dangerous and impossible.

“Though, on that count, I put more of the blame on him than our Circe.  He was, is a . . . how do you call them?  Oh, drifter.  A master manipulator.  He thought our Circe a wealthy heiress, though we are not sure where he got such an idea.  He wooed her as a lover and she took her sips of his essence on a more and more frequent basis. He gained her trust over time and she eventually confided in him what she was.  And then he convinced her that if she made him one of us, they could always be together.  Though we already had a recently appointed old one, she saw no harm in bringing in another one as her personal pet.”   
“Her personal pet?!”  Richard sputtered, sending sprays of the thick wine across the table.  

“Yes, her pet!”  Gregoire replied, then laughed heartily.  “Calm down Richard.  Its not so bad as it sounds.  When a mortal is fed only from a single of us, they become bound to us and their need for just another taste of our blood becomes overwhelming.  Its not something that they need to survive.  Its more like those of your kind that develop substance problems.  It seems to be a weakness many of you have.  That forbidden fruit, that taste, that moment of pure euphoria, it drives all common sense from your minds.  And you will do anything, anything, for that one more taste.  And before you think too harshly of us, we didn’t create this weakness in your kind.  And I can assure you that those that have been taken in though such a way, had already succumbed to this need in their nature in your world in one of its many way.  In some ways, we are actually saving them.  The blood does not harm them, does not kill them.  And they lose their taste for the bottle or the needle or whatever their drug was when first they taste it.  They still have their free will.  They just choose to set it aside for another taste.  And I can assure you that it is not allowed for one to abuse their pet.”

Circe looked up at Richard with a slightly cocked head, mischievous smile on her face, then shrugged her shoulders and giggled softly before turning back to her glass to draw circles and patterns in the liquid with her fingertip.

“As I was saying, the bulk of the blame goes on him and how he manipulated our Circe.”  Gregoire continued.  “She has been judged according to her part in it and fulfilled the terms of her punishment.  I doubt she will repeat such an error in judgement again.  Not given the knowledge of what was created by her mistake.”  

Circe’s head dipped at this and Richard thought he saw her eyes begin to glisten a bit with tears at this last comment.

“As I said, he refused to take the vows, abide by the rules.  He saw in his new “blood” a means to achieve power and control that was beyond what his mortal life would allow.  And he became drunk with the knowledge of it.  We warned him he would be cast out.  Even had we not already had an old one, he would not have been acceptable.  He laughed at us as he strode out the door and swore we had not seen the last of him.  Even we were surprised to learn the extent he would take that threat.”  

Gregoire grew silent after that and sat back in his chair, a strained look on his face, weighing on it, adding years in a moment to his features.

Michael leaned forward, crossed his hands on the table before him and cleared his throat.  “He did the unspeakable!”  Michael said, his voice shaking and broken.  “He, whose name is not permitted to be spoken in these walls for what he did.  He sought his revenge at being banned from our presence by hunting and taking the life of our old one.  Left his remains, throat ripped out and drained on our doorstep.  Drained his essence to obtain the knowledge that was in the blood, hoping to drink in the knowledge of power over us.  Thought to take from us the face of the master and reducing our standing in the community.  Thinking we would have to take him back in or lose our status.  When that failed, he tried to accuse one of our members of committing the heinous act.  It proved how much he underestimated us.  The evidence he planted was turned back to him and it wasn’t long till he was charged with the murder.  He has bellowed accusations about what we really are, thinking he would be believed by someone.  And as in the past, one of ours was assigned to him as his therapist and sun therapy has been prescribed for him.  Additionally, he has been put on a meatless diet.  So, he has been denied even the blood of animals to sustain him.  He is withering rapidly, the madness growing each day.  Not only is he newly made, but he is also single fed, which makes him even more vulnerable.  We are certain he will not last too much longer.”

“I didn’t realize he was incarcerated.  I had just heard rumours about such a one.  Seems my information is a bit outdated”  Richard said

“Well, its been in all the papers.  I can’t imagine how you could have missed it.”  Michael fixed him with an intent stare.  “I thought there was little that happens that misses your attention.”

“Oh, wait!  Now I know what you are talking about!  The crazy psycho that left people ripped up like a wild animal had gotten to them!  Yes!  I do remember that.  And also that he attacked a guard at the hospital who only lived for a couple of days.”

“Yes, unfortunate that was.  We found that he had given him some of his blood to create another to bond with.  We stepped in on that one and helped him slip mercifully from life.”

“But, I thought that was against your laws!”  Richard exclaimed.

“Normally, yes.  But, as in all things, one must allow for . . . how shall we say? . . . special circumstances.  By this time, he was truly mad, insane.  And the insanity would have infected his blood.  Which, in turn, would have infected the guard with his insanity.  Not to mention the fact that the wounds he inflicted on his victim were so extensive that even if not for the fear of spreading the insanity, might never have healed completely.  You must understand that wounds prior to being turned are not the same as those after, which can heal overnight.  He would have been scarred to the point of monstrous;  and insane.  So, in mercy, we helped him simply slip away.  And because of that last incident, have moved to see his end come just a bit swifter.  Before any others come to harm.”  

Michael looked up at Richard’s face, probing for some reading on how this was being taken in. Richard furiously scribbled out the last bits of what he had been told, beads of sweat blurring his vision as he wrote.  He chewed on his lower lip as he let all he had heard sink in and begin to process.  Then he looked up at his hosts, all of their faces turned to him.

“And this is the story you want me to carry out in the world and set to print?”  Richard asked, hesitancy weighing on each word.

“Yes.”  Michael replied  “Just as it has been told, leave nothing out.”

“Okay then.”  Richard said as he snapped his notebook shut.  “Exactly as it has been told.  Though the world will think I have taken to fantasy writing.  You shall have what you ask.”  He swallowed down the last bit from his goblet and stood up from the table.  “I guess I better get started then.  I have a lot of writing to do.”

“Wait!”  Michael commanded.  “There is still the matter of payment for the story.”

“Ah yes, that.”  Richard’s face paled and he took a deep breath.  “Will it hurt?”

“Just a the tiniest bit at first and then it will be as a dream.”  Michael said, smiling reassuringly.

“Okay, well I guess I’m ready.”  

Circe stood up and walked slowly over to face Richard.  “You’re the one?”  Richard stammered.  His only response was her slow, and so very seductive smile as she wrapped her arms about his neck and slid her body up against his.  A tiny prick and then he was floating, clouds in an azure sky, his body weightless, like all the muscles relaxed, all the strain lifted.  Then slowly, he began to shift back till he felt the hands recede from his neck and he was looking into her eyes.  Slowly, she took a step back, wiped the slight drip of blood from her chin and smiled at him.

“I guess that wasn’t so bad.”  He said, gathering up his things and tucking them under his arm.  “I’d like to say it was a pleasure, but I’m not sure that would be completely accurate, but I do thank you for the evening.  And I hope you will understand if I am fine that we don’t do this again.”  He stammered.

“Oh, but you will, my friend.”  Michael interjected.

“I’m sorry?”

“My friend, this is but the beginning.  You see?  We are in a situation where we are without an old one, as we told you.  You have been chosen.  This, tonight, is just the beginning.”  Michael laughed.

“But, don’t you need me to agree?  I mean, you can’t just make such a decision for me!  It requires that I also drink your blood, which I can assure you, I have no intention of doing.  And I can assure you, you cannot force me to do!”  Richard glowered at them.

“Oh, but my friend, you have.  You have been all this evening!”  Michael replied mirthfully.  “What do you think that so very exotic wine has been that you have been sipping on this night?  You carry within you a bit of all of us.  It takes a little time, but by morning, it will have worked its magic and the transformation will be taking place.  So, may I say Welcome to the fold!”  

Richard’s heart began to race and he made a rush for the door.  About halfway there, his mind started clouding and he felt himself falling.  A few of the others caught him before he hit the floor and carried him to a bed in one of the rooms to sleep off the night.

Gregoire looked questioningly at Michael.  “Oh, calm down.  Once he wakes, the transformation will have begun.  He will join!  We chose well.  He will suit us nicely.”  Then he looked over at Circe and smiled.  “You did well, dear lady!  The last is now forgiven.”

Circe looked at him and smiled in gratitude, then turned and walked slowly away.  Soft though her voice was, it was heard by all in the area.

“Old blood is better than young blood!  Is all I’m saying.  Yes, it most certainly is.”  

copyright 11/26/2011

Ghost Story

Lamia walked quickly down the lane,  Epona at her side, strutting in that cute way she had, tail fanning in the air and ears perked for every sound.  Pulling her cloak tightly about her as a chill wind picked up and etched against her skin. Not very fashionable in this age, but she had never much cared about fashion. It kept her warm, even through the winds, and she felt protected in its heavy folds. She glanced about her as she walked to see if any were marking her journey into this night. She was fairly certain no one would, at this deep hour and on this night of all nights. They would be huddled in their houses summoning prayers and wards against their fears of this night. She watched anyway, for the stray eye peeping from behind a curtain or through a cracked door. As it was, the people thought her wanderings odd and she preferred them to know as little about them as was possible. She saw no need to further stir their superstitions and fears unnecessarily. That, as well as her preference to keep her life as private as possible.

The night was clear save for a few wandering wisps of clouds dancing across the black blanket of the sky. The moon, not yet risen, lay hovering just below the horizon waiting for the proper moment to announce itself. Full, it would be and the closeness of its orbit promised it would light the sky and bathe the earth in silver showers.

She approached the gate just as the first glow illuminated the horizon before her. She paused for a moment to take in the birth shimmer, then reached out and opened the gate. It gave way with a slight moan and she looked again over her shoulder to make sure no one had heard it.  Quietly, she entered onto the narrow pebbled path and made her way along its twists and gentle hills, pausing every now and then to touch a headstone here, whisper a greeting to another off to the side, and listen for the soft replies.

Lamia took her time, breathing in the damp smell of decay mixed with the wild growth. She could feel about her the slow churning of the old and discarded into the new. The sleepy whispers of those who rested here were slowly beginning to awaken, and she listened quietly, a light smile on her lips as she took in their soft murmurs.

The veil was thinning already. She must hurry! She approached the large hill at the center and paused for her first look this night at the majestic tree on its crest. The patriarch, they called it, older than any could remember, older than their grandparents could remember. She called it the Spirit Keeper. Faces seemed to loom from the surface of its massive trunk, ghostly, surreal and changing with each shift of light upon it. It was as if all those who made their rest here had passed through it, leaving just a shade of themselves within it before moving on. At least it was so for those that had found the will to move on. Others tarried, out of confusion, fear, or desperation to cling to what was once theirs, but no longer could be, and some simply because they liked it here. And a small few because there was still something they had to shed before they could move on.

She climbed to the top of the hill, up to the base of the giant oak and placed her hands gingerly upon its surface. A gentle tingling sensation spread into her hands and up her arms. She had lost count of how many times she had stood in this same place, begun this ritual; it never seemed to lose its impact on her. She smiled at the deep lulling sound she heard in her head, that she knew to be a welcome. Then she sat her pack down at its base and began.

The small blanket was laid down first. Her welcome gift into the world, her mother’s as well, stitched with prayers and spells by her great grandmother. Next, came the candles. Six of them this night. The count was always different, but always just the number it should be. She needn’t know why, she would before it was done. She lit them one by one, offering a prayer with each one. Then she sat down on the blanket and removed the bread and cheese, placed them on a napkin, then her thermos. She opened it and poured herself a cup, brought it to her nose and let the warm vapors fill her head with the deep aroma of herbs and spices. She took a small sip, then picked up the bread and cheese and leaned back against her tree to watch the moon’s ascension.

The air seemed to still as the orb grew in its ascent Vaporous forms rose gently from the ground, like smoky tendrils of a cigarette on a lonely night. They hovered quietly just on the edge of her vision, sharing in her watch. Their quiet revelry carried into her and united her with them. She never felt alone when she was with her spirits, unlike how she felt when she was surrounded by the living world.
Lamia knew her kind were few, those that walked between the worlds, never truly belonging to either. But, it was only the living that feared that in her, thought her a witch, or worse, a necromancer. She did her best to fit in on the fringes, immersed just enough to appear acceptably eccentric. She made the obligatory appearances, though it drained her each time. Their chatter, from their minds as well as their mouths, rattled her. They seemed never content, never at home with the life they had, the place they had.

It was only here and away from the workings of the world that Lamia could feel at peace. The spirits, her spirits, were never in a hurry. Each moment took as long as it needed to. Each passage would happen when its time had arrived. And until then, they just existed in what was. Graveyards weren’t haunted as people often thought. She knew that if the spirit travelled here with its earthly body, it was ready to lay that other life aside. It understood that those things that most thought important in the world of the living became trifles when the flesh had become discarded. But, a few things still remained. Love always carried with them between the worlds. It was the thread that most often held them connected to the world before. And it was also the hardest to convince them that they would still have after they cut that thread to travel beyond.

The moon had fully risen now, its massive globe filling most of the sky just before her. She rose to bathe in its glory, then turned her head at the sound of soft laughter at her side. She joined in the laughter as she watched the child spirit chasing the moonflies in the darkness. She hadn’t seen this one before. How curious! Thought she had few dealings with the people, it was a small town and everyone knew of the birthings and passings of all its members. She knew older spirits to lay quietly for many years before coming forth from their earthy slumbers, but a child rarely tarried for long. Especially one as young as this one was! A tingling spread along her spine and Lamia knew this was the one she was sent for this evening. She motioned the young spirit over to her and sat back down to wait.

The child shade made her way slowly over, pausing every now and then to take a close look at something that caught her attention. Lamia smiled in amusement at the realization of how much like living children child spirits were.

They found her the next morning slumped against the tree, the hood of her cloak blown away from her face and her hair making streamers in the wind. The burnt out candles in a half circle in front of her. And in the center of them, a pile of flowers, all of them different, as if each had been brought from a different place and offered by a different hand. A couple of the women crossed themselves at the scene, but all lent a hand in carrying her body and gathering her remains to take back to town.

They buried her at the base of the great tree. They placed her on the bare side where nothing had ever been known to grow, away from the other graves. Unsure, they had to bury her in hallowed ground, but fear made them keep her away from the others. They placed a small headstone on her grave that read, “Lamia of our town. Born, we know not when. Died on this spot on, her body laid where its spirit left it.”
The next spring in the bare place where they had laid her, a blanket of flowers had sprung up, though all swore they had not planted a single seed. And every year thereafter, the flowers came back.

It is said that if you visit her grave at the right time of day and look up into the great tree and turn your head just right, you can see what looks like the hood of a cloak lifting up between the higher branches and the soft features of a woman’s face peering out from underneath, a taproot cascading down like a wayward tendril of hair. And on a night when the veils grow thin, when there is just the slightest of breezes in the air, if you find a place to sit under that great tree in the center, you might catch a stirring of low voices caught in the wind. And if you listen quietly, you might chance to hear a gentle woman’s voice beckoning to those that can’t find the way.

copyright 09/08/2011

The Whispers on the Stairs

Whispers on the Stairs

“I’m telling you I heard voices!” Calliope spoke softly into the phone, her fingers fidgeting with the cord, twirling it onto and then back off her fingers. There was a charm to these old phones, the cord giving her a feeling of connection that seemed to be missing with the new cell phones and headsets. She was drawn back to the handpiece as she heard her friend asking if she was still there. “Yes, I’m still here! Where else would I be?”

“Well, what did the voices say?” Dorothy asked.

“It was hard to tell. It was very soft. A whisper. But, it sounded like it was saying ‘here’. And another time I think I heard it say ‘they’re waiting for you’.” Calliope replied.

“They? What do you think ‘they’ means?” Dorothy queried.

“I have no idea!” Calliope answered. But, I have heard it the last couple of days when I go up the stairs. During the day, it is more like a quiet murmur, too low to make out. But at night, I can hear the words. The first time, I thought it was my imagination. But, I’ve heard it every time I go up the stairs, always the same thing. Oh, and something more that I can’t quite make out.”

“That would scare the shit out of me!” Dorothy exclaimed. “I think I would be grabbing my stuff and not stopping till I was out the door and as far away as I could get!”

“Well, this has always been an odd old house. I used to think it was a magical place when I was a child. I think I would believe just about anything where this place is concerned. The truth is, there is nothing about the voice or voices that sounds threatening in any way. Its more like the house is trying to tell me something. I’ve looked all around the area where I hear it and I don’t see anything unusual anywhere on those stairs. I suppose its just one of the mysteries of this house that I may or may not figure out.”

“Well, you’ve never been known to be afraid of things any sane person would. I don’t know why I should expect that to change now.” Dorothy sighed, a slight amused tone in her voice. “Other than the voices, how are things going there? Any idea how much longer you are going to be there?”

“I have no idea!” Calliope replied. “This place is like a Wonderland! I start to go through things and then I find something that makes me stop and I lose time as my mind wanders. So many things stir all these memories of my time here as a child. Its almost like time just stops during the day. I pull a book down from the shelf and open it and find I have to take it over to the chair and sit with it for a while. Then before I know it, hours have passed. I tried to go work in the kitchen yesterday, and go through the jars of herbs on the shelves and I swear the smell of something wonderful simmering on the stove fills the air. The more jars I opened to examine, the stronger the smell was. I found myself sitting down at the table with my coffee cup and my mind drifting back. I could hear the sound of the spoon stirring the contents of the pot, the warmth of the stove cooking, the murmur of voices chattering over the rising vapors.”

“Are you sure you want to sell that place Calli? You don’t have to, you know. You can work from anywhere and it just seems to me that place has a hold on you that maybe you shouldn’t discard.”

“What am I going to do with a place like this?” Calliope exclaimed. “Do you know how big this place is? This is a place made for a family. A large family! And it needs so many things done to it to even make it ready for that! Do you know there are rooms in this house that she never even wired for electricity? I have had to wait until daytime to clean some of them because of that! And after dusk, I need to carry a lantern with me or a flashlight if I want to look into them. The truth is, this place is going to cost me a fortune just to even try and put it on the market. And that’s just the house! I think I will need a team of gardeners to clear up the yards here so they are even somewhat presentable. I couldn’t imagine what it would mean to think of trying to care for something like this on a daily basis!”

“Well, was just expressing my feelings dear. It just seems sad to me that you would let go of all the memories that place has for you. I think the stories you have told me of your times there are among the few that I have heard true happiness in your voice. But, I do understand. It would be a huge responsibility and easy to see why you wouldn’t want the burden of it. Enough of that! So, how’s the new project going? Have you been making any headway on it?”

The two of them chatted most of the morning away and by the time Calliope hung up the phone, she realized she wouldn’t get much of anything she had planned done this day. So, she snatched her wide brim hat off the hook and headed out the door and into the sunlight.

She strolled slowly through the garden, letting the scents of the budding flowers fill her senses. As unkempt as this garden was, it was still one of the most beautiful gardens she had ever seen. Even without tending, the plants continued to thrive. Though, the lack of tending had sent them into wildness. The small, carefully groomed plants and herbs she remembered having grown into a lush, near jungle state, its scents almost overpowering as she made her way through.

She came to the other end of the garden and noticed a gate she didn’t recall having seen before off in the corner. Curious, she wove her way through the tangles of branches towards it. The gate almost fell in her hand as she pulled on it. “Well, that’s yet another thing that needs tending!” The branches of low bushes completely covered the path and it took all her efforts to push her way through them to the other side. When she emerged, she froze at the sight before her.

It was an old graveyard. But, what was so surprising was that the entire area was beautifully kept and manicured. All the stones were clean and upright, the grass and flowers tended and cut. She had been at this house a thousand times and she was sure she had never seen this place! She thought she had explored every inch of it. How had she missed this? And who has been keeping it up, she wondered.

She wandered slowly through the gravestones, reading the names and dates. They all seemed rather close together, she thought. And the names! She didn’t recognize any of them. Oh wait! That one over there has a familiar sound to it! She searched her memories to try and pull up why it had a familiar taste to it. But, it was just out of her reach. Ah well. She thought. I guess it really isn’t that important.

She sat down on a small hill at the edge and pulled her notebook out of her pocket and let her mind wander. It was a very peaceful place. But then, she had always been fond of graveyards. She found that if you could still your mind, you could almost hear the voices of the spirits gossiping among themselves. It was a most relaxing way to spend the afternoon. She took a deep breath of the early afternoon air, opened her pen and let the place put its touch on her.

It was almost dusk by the time she headed back. She would have to hurry to get back before it got too dark and she had not thought to bring a lantern with her. She was startled as she reached the gate to the garden when she heard what she thought was the sound of laughter behind her. Straining, she thought she heard words coming from the area. “Soon. It’s almost time.” She shook her head briskly to clear the words from her head and rushed through the garden to get back inside before the last rays died.

It was late by the time she pulled herself from her place in the big chair and the book that had swept hours of the evening away. She set the book down on the table gently, stretched her stiff limbs and grabbed the lantern to head upstairs for the night.

They were louder this time when she reached that place on the stairwell. “Here!” the voice insisted. “Right here. Look! They’re waiting!” She brushed the hair from her forehead and stopped, a long sigh escaping from her chest. Then she set the lantern down and turned up the flame.

“Okay, you win! What’s here? And who’s waiting?” She asked the steps. She allowed her eyes to scan the steps. As usual, she found nothing different here than the rest of the stairs. She allowed her fingers to run across the smooth wood of the stairs, but everything she touched was smooth, no hidden crevices, no marks that might give rise to further inspection. “There’s nothing here!” she shouted at the stairs. Exasperated, she reached for the lantern and then out of the corner of her eye, she spied a discoloration on the wall at the edge of the step she was on. She moved the lantern closer and made out a small rectangular section of wood. “How odd!” she muttered to herself and reached out to touch it. There was a small indentation on the edge of it and when she pushed on it, it made a clicking sound and a tiny door opened.

She sat down on the step, her breathing coming in quick gasps. Would this house never finish with new secrets? She took a deep breath and slipped her hand inside the opening. Her fingertips landing on a small oddly shaped metal object. Slowly, she drew it out and took it in her hand. It was a key! And a lovely one at that. One of those old ornate skeleton keys like the ones they sell in the antique stores. Not like the rusty old ones that came with the house. She turned it over in her hand, admiring it, its giltwork scrolling on the top, let the weight of it cradle in her hand. As she closed her hand tightly around it, she was certain she heard the house sigh and the whisper on the staircase exclaiming “Yes!” and a peal of giggles. Chills ran up her spine at the sound and for some reason, she was suddenly alert as if she had slept the whole night and filled with the energy of a child.

She knew what the key would open! There was no doubt in her mind and she jumped to her feet and bounded up the rest of the stairs and down the hallway.

She stopped before the old door and looked at the carvings on its surface that had always held her fascination. She took a deep breath, opened her hand and slid the key into the keyhole. As she opened the door, closed for so many years, she could hear it breath “Welcome!” as she pushed it open. Slowly, holding the lantern before her, she took her first step across the threshhold, let the light begin to fill the darkness of the room and as the sight of what was before her, her heart filled with wonder and she stepped all the way in and closed the door behind her.

copyright June 24, 2011

Spare Parts

Spare Parts

“What’s in there?”

“Just spare parts.” I replied.

“Spare parts?”

“Yeah, you know? Just bits and pieces and remnants that people discard as unneeded.”

“Okay, and what do you want with other people’s discarded junk?”

“Oh, you would be amazed at what can be done with spare parts. It really is quite fascinating some of the things one can acquire because someone sees no use for it. They say that one man’s trash is another’s treasure. Those words could not be more true. I can spend hours in that room studying and tinkering with the things I have collected through the years.”

“Well, can I have a look at your ‘treasure room’ then?”

“Sorry, no one goes in there but me. It’s kind of my private little sanctuary.”

“You can be an odd one sometimes! Fine. Have it your way. Are you ready for dinner?”

“Just let me grab my coat.” I said as I headed toward the door.

We sat in the quaint little restaurant down the street and chatted over the hearty meal. He had been depressed for some time now and needed someone to talk to. I listened intently as my friend spoke of all the unrequited dreams and desires of his life. I reached in my pocket and pulled out the small box and set it on the table. He glanced at it for only a second, a fleeting moment of curiosity passing across his face before continuing.

On and on we talked into the evening. He poured his heart and soul out to me through the meal, on through dessert, then coffee and a few drinks after. The tension slowly slipping from his shoulders and lines beginning to smooth across his brow. By the end of the evening, he was smiling gently, his heart feeling eased, as if a weight had been lifted from him.

“Thank you, my friend” he said as we stood at my door. “I can’t tell you what this evening has done for me.”

“My pleasure.” I replied. “It was just as beneficial to me and I thank you.”

He gave me a questioning look and shrugged his shoulders before turning to head to his car. As I walked through the front door, I reached in my pocket and drew out the box, a shimmer of excitement passing through me as I made my way to the door to the room and opened it. Gently, I lifted the lid of the box and the whisps floated out.

I sat in my overstuffed chair and watched as my friend’s lost dreams joined the play with the others. Such joy to watch dreams freed to expand and create and weave themselves into the dreampestry in this room. Yes, this room was mine, private. There was no guilt to feel for what I had made here. I took only what was resented, not wanted. How sad for them, how lucky for me that they felt their dreams were only spare parts.

copyright 05/27/2011

Kiss of Death


She didn’t mean to kill him, never wanted him to die. She wanted only what everyone wanted, to be touched, to be loved, to be part of something beyond just her.

Eris looked down on his lifeless form and wiped the tears from her cheeks just as the fear began to creep in. How would she explain this? She couldn’t tell them the truth. Even if they believed her, they would still condemn her and find her a monster. She had to get him out of here, remove any trace that he had ever been here. It would be night soon. She could secret him out then, take him home where when they found him, they would think he died of natural causes. Yes, that is what she must do! So, she gathered his things and put his clothes back on him, placed his keys back in his pocket and waited.

The first faint rays of the predawn were softly illuminating the sky as she pulled back in her driveway. The black skeletal branches of the trees reaching up to the sky as if to grab the last morsel of darkness before it was swept away. Their bare fingers strike deep within her, sister spirits to the barrenness of her soul. She took a deep breath, then got out of the car and went inside.

Eris looked about the room as she entered and took in what must be done. She turned on the stereo. Dark Gothic music fills the air, the instruments throwing Cathedral waves through the room pierced by the ethereal voice of the singer. She allowed it to enter her and spur her into action. She walked across the room and picked up the glasses and plates from the table, took them into the kitchen to wash out the evidence of the shared evening.

The sun was well up by the time Eris finished and all memory of the night before wiped clean. No scent of him lingered, no trace of anything beyond her remained. She drew the heavy curtains, lit the candles in the room and took a seat on the cushion in the center, a glass of liqueur in her hand and lets the music begin to carry her away. She gazed at the flames curling and licking the air in the fireplace. She loved the dance of the flames, the feel of the warm heat touching her face, the soft tendrils of smoke reaching up. As she watched the flames, her mind began to still, a quietness entering her soul and her thoughts began to slowly drift.

Images and memories began to float through her mind The faces of the past began to stream by, the scents, the feel of their fingertips upon her arm. Each tale unwinding, opening itself, recounting in her mind, taking her back to each moment, each touch, each final embrace.

There was John. The first, with his eyes as blue as a spring sky and a smile that could make you forget everything bad in the world. He could make her laugh as no one ever could, either before or since. It wasn’t hard to be swept away by this gentle giant of a man and he wasted no time in sweeping her to his side. Those were easier times then, girls were expected to keep their distance. Keep it or lose respect. That was when she was still naive, when she thought they were just stories told told to frighten her into good behaviour They tasted of the stuff that fairy tales were weaved from. Not things that were of this world. And such cruelty couldn’t be true. She couldn’t be so cursed. And the more time she spent with John, the easier it was to push it from her mind and believe she could have what she had been made to believe had been denied.

It went on for months, the days riding the pastures, talking in the little cafes, strolling through the parks and going to the theater. The countless hours they spent talking and laughing and sharing their worlds. She began to relax and forget. And they talked of their futures together, of the life they would share. Then came that fateful day when he bent to his knee, took her hand in his, then slipped the ring on her finger. A moment later it was all gone, in the blink of an eye, his body slumped at her feet.

She put him on his horse and sent it flying with her whip. Then she ran. Ran until the tears had ceased to flow. Till she no longer knew where she was. Or who she was. Only that the words spoken to her when she was a child were echoing, pounding through her mind. The stories wrapped around her and she could no longer deny that she was them.

How many more were there after John? There was Claire, the beautiful artist that painted the dreams of angels. Her desire, so fierce, she couldn’t resist. She was a force of nature that carried all it came across with it. She never dreamed that Claire could be a danger, for such a thought was unnatural. Even for one such as her. But, from Claire, she learned that such bounds do not exist in love. The wicked cherub cares not where he shoots his arrow, nor finds fault where it lands. She learned that the night of the showing as they stood out on the balcony of her home and Claire reached to touch her face. Then leaned and she felt the warmth of her breath almost touching. Her loss, thought a suicide by everyone, sending her work into fame after.

Dear, sweet Charles. So like a child in many ways, trusting, innocent and patient. She held him at bay for the longest. It wasn’t hard as he never pressured her on anything. That is, until the day of the accident. He was so afraid she couldn’t love him anymore and wouldn’t believe her until she proved it. He never left the hospital and they believed his heart just wasn’t strong enough to recover from the injuries.

So many more through so many years. So many times she tried to seclude herself from others, from temptation. She even tried secreting herself in a convent once away from temptation, away from tempting. But, the young priest with the haunted eyes spirited his way into her heart. She was not the first he sought to seduce, so when they found his broken form at the base of the tower, they assumed his guilt had driven him there.

It wasn’t long before she began to realize that she didn’t seem to age as others did. It would not be safe to stay in one place too long. It was only a matter of time before others took note of it as well. So, she became a wanderer, a gypsy, moving from city to city and eventually across the continents. She watched societies rise and crumble, was witness to the intense goodness in the hearts of men as well as the unspeakable evil. It was this intrigue with the complexity of them that held her locked to them. No matter how many times or ways she tried, she couldn’t keep her distance for long: ever and always drawn back to them. And always there would be another one that would reach out to her and touch her heart.

The curse of her kind was told her when she was but a young girl. Her kind, it was said, had been around for as long as humans had. It may be that they came from the same seed. Always they were drawn to each other by a need that wrapped them in a net and bound them, one to the other. Their desire, a calling that could not be dismissed or ignored. She was told of the cautions she must take in life. That she must harden her heart to their calling. Or at the very least, not take them into her heart. She listened to all the tales, all the cautions, all the histories. But, they made her feel alive as nothing else did. And even when the tales proved true, still she hoped that maybe there was one who could rise after the kiss. One that didn’t grow cold after.

The flames had died to glowing embers as she began to return to the now. She set her glass down and rose to begin putting out the candles She heard voices approaching from outside. She peeked out the curtains and saw the car out front. Panic seized her and she began to go over everything in her mind of what could have been forgotten. She was always so careful! She heard their footsteps coming up the walk to the door and felt a wave of panic setting in. Did she forget something? Did she leave something? Was she seen?

She opened the door to them and invited them in. There were three of them, so official in their crisply pressed blue uniforms. They begged admittance and the door seemed to open to them of its own accord. His sister had found him there, they told her, when she went to pick him up early that morning. A stunned look swept over Eris’ face. She hadn’t known about any plans he had. She felt a small sense of relief when she looked up at the officers and it was obvious they registered it as shock over the news and offered up condolences.

She took each one of them in as her mind began to whirl over what to say, to do next. The older, heavy set one with the ruddy cheeks and playful eyes. He was no worry to her. The gentleness in his gaze told her all he felt was compassion. The young slim one as well was not a concern. He hadn’t been on the force long, still nervous, eyes darting about the room and wiping his palms on the tops of his legs frequently. He was here to watch and learn. That’s why there were three of them and not just two.

But, the one with the grey eyes, so intent, so serious, she knew she couldn’t lie to him. He watched every breath she took, every move she made, listened far beyond the words, making note of the inflections and every movement that accompanied them. No, this one would spot a lie in an instant. The tale must be told in truth. That she could do. There were ways to tell the truth that could turn the story in many different directions.

So, she told them of her night with Mike, of their time together and how they had met. Answered everything they wished to know of their relationship. How they had spent the day together, then had dinner and wine. Except she said they had dined at his place. And that the hour had grown late, so she had begged his leave. And she had left after kissing him goodbye.

The grey eyed one watched her for a few moments, then closed his notepad. “I think we’re done here.” He told the others. But, his gaze never left her as they walked to the door. She could feel her heart racing as she watched them walk to their car and closed the door slowly, leaning against its weight for support.

She jumped and almost screamed when the rapping came to the door. She looked through the peephole and her breath caught in her breast and pressed against her heart when she saw him standing there.

Carefully, she opened the door to him and he peered in at her. “Sorry to bother you again and I do realize its been a difficult night for you and this is probably not a good time, but when you are feeling better, I was hoping you might have a cup of coffee or some lunch with me sometime.” Eris couldn’t find any words as she stood before him, a flash of heat spreading across her face, her throat so tight she could barely breath. She took his card, nodding slowly and then closed the door behind him.

She took a few deep breaths as she walked away from the door. Then a gentle smile spread across her face as she thought of those deep grey eyes, his smile and the nervousness in his voice when he asked her. Maybe it would be okay this time. Maybe they could just be friends and the kiss need never happen. Maybe.

copyright 10/30/10

The Beauty in the Beast

The Beauty in the Beast
The liquid amber rays of the afternoon sun bathed the small clearing, dancing lightly upon the surface of the ripples in the stream below and showered the fringes of the clouds above. A kaleidoscope of wildflowers swayed gently in response to the touch of the breeze’s beckoning. And behind, the sharp, stark faces of the mountains tore their way through the earth to try and touch the sky, the shock white of their tips branching rivulets downward to form an inverse crown marking their majesty.
A lone figure sat at the top of the hill looking out over the symphony of nature at play below, sketchbook on his knee and easel before him. He let rest the tip of his paintbrush to his lip, closed his eyes and slowly inhaled the scent of life and allowed it to fill his soul. Slowly, his eyes opened and his gaze returned just as the figure moved from behind the shadows of the crop of trees.
He watched as the figure moved over to the stream, let slip the cloak from about its shoulders and as the light fell upon the figure, he drew in his breath. The misshapen figure sat down on a boulder by the side of the stream, sunlight catching upon the small shocks of sparse hair upon its head, almost translucent with lack of color. Its body deformed and twisted in such an unnatural way that it evinced pain to just look upon. He could not imagine what it must feel like to be trapped in such a body.
Its gaze turned upward to a hawk crying out in joy as it played in the waves of the air currents, soaring gracefully among them and swooping down to survey the ground for movements proclaiming dinner. The light caught the side of its face and the artist got his first full look at the creature’s face. Creature, because he did not know how else to refer to it, so far removed from human countenance that he had ever seen. The head and skull misshapen, the skin scarred and marred by lesions and disease. The horror at the monstrosity before him was almost too much to bear, he who worshipped beauty, embraced it and drank it like ambrosia. And ill though it made him to look upon the monster before him, he could not take his eyes from it.
Dusk began to slowly settle in and the painting that was the sunset began to draw its brush across the sky in a swirling movement of colors and bath the clouds in their haunting iridescent glow. As the sun began to slip from view, the shadows began their descent upon the land, looming ever downward and casting a half light through the branches and whispering the first summons to the conjuring of the night. The brilliant orb of the full moon kissed the earth in her ascent, her swollen form overflowing and radiating soft light, bathing all it touched in its blue-gray shimmers.
The monster rose and raised its arms out toward the rising beacon, stretching out its fingers as if to touch the glowing orb. And the darkness that was night closed further in, filling in the light voids and spreading darkness like a storm sweeping the land. As the last of the golden rays vanished and the silver glow of night was all that was left, the creatures of the night began to awaken and emerge. As is the case, the ones that crawled were the first to come forth, ravenous and devouring in their very existence. Then began the calls and songs of the night as the creatures of the air and land awakened as well to prepare to begin the night hunt.
And still the monster stood, arms outstretched and bathed in moonlight. And still the artist watched, unable to tear his eyes from the scene.
Dark wings cut through the air before it as shadows swept across the ground below. Then it raised its head and opened its mouth in a song that rang out and pierced the blanket of the night. A song of such beauty, he thought his heart would burst from its touch and he would melt within the flow of its waves and his mind was swept to another place that was both no place and all. When the moment passed and he looked again, its clothing had been shed and discarded and it was taking gentle steps to the center of the clearing. When it reached it, it began to spin slowly, lowly and then began to dance.
He still could not tell whether the creature was male or female as he watched its lithe movements in the soft glow of the moon. Movements which grew in energy and intensity till they became a dervish swirl that held him mesmerized and feeling faint. The deformities lost in the swirling movements, the ugliness transformed to grace and beauty in the undulations of the movement. He watched with the creatures of the night as they danced with it and worshipped with it till the moon crossed beyond the place of light and he feel asleep on the ground before it.
When he awoke, the sun was bringing the first taste of day to the sky and the creature was picking up its cloak from the boulder. Just before it entered back into the forest, it looked up at him and their eyes met, then it melted into the trees and was gone.
No one understood the painting in the gallery or what might have inspired such a thing. It was unlike anything to ever emerge from his hand. The elegance of the scene so vivid, you could feel the textures of the land, smell the scents in the air. So stunning was the sheer beauty of it, so intoxicating, it took your breath away. And at the edge of the woods where the trees met the land, a creature. A creature so vile, so damnable in appearance that it pierced one’s heart with its horror, and yet so riveting, you could not tear your eyes from it. No explanation was ever given as to its inspiration, or what was meant by it no matter how many times he was asked. All that was given it was a name; The Beauty in the Beast.
copyright  August 28, 2009

A Quiet Disturbed

A Quiet Disturbed
Swirls of mist rose up from the ground, hovering gently above it, caressing it and checking its substance. A stir breathed into it and moved it in swirls and undulations, soft glows emanating within its depths like bodies swimming and riding the currents. Diffused faces looked around, disoriented, seemingly lost and confused. The glows shifted in varied hues and shades of colors within the deepening churning mists, soft muted colors from gentle pastels to demure shades so dim as to be barely perceptible. Occasionally, small sparks of light emerged as if a few tiny stars were trapped within and trying to escape.
The soft curtain of silence that was night became slightly severed with low unsettled whispers. At first, it was but a couple, then it began to multiply, urgent, confused, questioning. It sent ripples through the night air, awakening more spirits to join and bringing disquiet into this place of quiet sleep.
A small voice cleared the murmurs of the others, a soft voice, but clear as a crystal bell. “What has happened? I slept, I dreamt, all was complete, I was divine. I was alone and now there are many. It was quiet, now it is disturbed. There are so many! How came I to be in not the place I should?”
The shimmer behind the voice looked about. Their voices underlying the silence like the hum of a far off machine that is just within the hearing range and can’t be dismissed. They permeated the air and sent ripples through it that made nerves ache.
The sky began to lighten as the morning sun slowly crept upward. The unease grew within the voices, their movements quickening and the disturbance in the air rising. Their glows began to fade as the light grew till all that remained was the mist and the murmurs of the disturbed air.
Day crested and the gates were opened. Soon, a group of people made a slow, ritual way inward, their eyes downcast, their purpose focused. They found the assigned spot and began to take their places, waiting patiently for the last stragglers. Some shifted uncomfortably for a time while others looked around them and still others simply stood in contemplative silence.
They began. And the disturbed mists felt them and made their way over. They watched as the mists slipped in and about their feet as they began to speak. The mist rose and thickened, and as it rose, they felt a weight that was beyond the weight of this day, a weight that was beyond theirs, and yet felt like it should be, descend upon them and envelop them. As each took their turns to speak what they had come to say, they found other words issuing forth in the midst of their own, words that came from their mouths that were not theirs. Their sorrows made more bare, amplified, as they felt the anguish of the displaced.
A small girl stood off at the end of the group, holding tightly to her mother’s hand. She smiled as she looked to her side and saw the shimmer that was the small voice and they reached out to each other. The girl looked up at her mother and tugged gently on her arm to tell her. The mother leaned down and the girl told her of the shimmer that could no longer dream and the mists that had been forced out and had no home any more. And the mother heard it and believed that the weight of the day had been too much for the girl and tried to console her and tell her it was but her imagination playing tricks upon her. The girl sobbed and nodded, but never let go of the shimmer that held her hand.
As the last words were being spoken, the shimmer began to quiver and tightened her grip on the girl’s hand. She tugged gently, imploring the girl to follow and wrapped the girl in the urgency and desperation that had become her. Gently, the girl let her hand slip from her mother’s grip and let the shimmer wrap around her, cloaking her from the watchful eyes about. They went to a quiet hill with an ancient tree upon it, stretching its limbs to protect the whole hill. They sat under the tree as the shimmer told her story of her dreams disturbed and how she woke to find her place had become no place and of the others who once had a home and a place to rest and now had nowhere and were lost.
The voices of the party echoed across the area, frantic and imploring. They watched as they wandered around the area under the hill and sat silent, the great limbs of the tree hiding them from their seekers. The shimmer held tight to the girl, begging her to stay there so she would not be alone in this strange open place. The girl nodded and sobbed, for the shimmer’s sorrows as much as the fear of what the party would do to her once she was found.
As the party searched, the mists followed, circling the members of the group and wailing out at them. Their wails sparked fears in the party and they looked to the sky for the storm they believed to be approaching. The search grew more frantic and harried and the people darted in every direction, fear gripping at them like a stalker.
The mother came up around the back of the hill and that’s where she found them. The mists converged on her as she fell to her knees at what was before her and wept. The others came rushing and looked with horror with her at the jumbled wreckage of the discarded. It was like peering into a dragon’s cave. The remains were tossed in piles and strewn across the ground like discarded refuse. Remnants and shards dotted solitary areas. Eyeless holes peered out at them and skeletal hands reached out as if for help. They shouted and made calls and soon there were very many more. Many needed to untangle and make sense of the chaotic tangle of all these remains. Many needed to help piece each back together and make whole again, many to find answers and demand a reckoning.
A small lone form was the first to be put back in its place, gently lifted and given a new warm place to lie with soft cushions all around. As she was laid reverently onto the cushions, the young one with the laughter of a thousand bells and stars shining in her eyes, the girl felt the shimmer begin to release its grip and felt a gentle brush against her cheek. The shimmer settled in and once again dreamt and once again was divine.
copyright  July 25, 2009

The Promise


The Promise

They arrived late in the night, at a time when even the moon had wearied of casting a glow. They knocked sharply at the back door, their feet making rough scraping sounds in the dirt and gravel outside. She opened the door quietly and they handed her the coarse-hewn wooden box without ceremony. She took it with trembling hands and set it down just inside the door, closing them outside without a word of farewell. Her knees began to buckle under her and she slipped to the ground, a weight descending all around her like a leaden cloak. She wrapped her arms about the box and the tears flowed, swiftly moving to wracking sobs that convulsed through her body. She slowly pulled herself up and forced herself to breath in some calm and will herself to open the box and pay witness to what lay there.

The shreds of what was once a dress met her fingers first. She remembered this dress, remembered the time she had stitched it together so many years ago. Its color now faded and stained, its form beaten and shredded, in pieces many too small to even yield a proper cleaning rag. Within the folds of the fabric, a couple of articles of jewelry met her fingertips. A ring that had been in the family for as long as could be remembered. She closed her hand about it and summoned the image of the first time she had seen this ring, on her grandmother’s hand when she was but a small child. How it had sparkled in the sun, dazzling her eyes and drawing her close to her grandmother’s sleeping side. And when she saw that the ring had slipped from her grandmother’s hand in her passing and onto her mother’s, she began to yearn that one day it might pass to her. She remembered the anger she felt the day it finally slipped from her mother’s hand and was not hers. She covered her face with her hands, the ring making a deep indent in her forehead from how hard she pressed it against her skin as she cried. It was hers now, with a passing as weighty as the loss.

She picked up the other item, a simple gold cross on a leather cord. She remembered the day it was hung around her neck, in front of the whole town. She remembered her form laid out in her long white gown, her arms outstretched and it felt as if she would never move. She had become a bride that day, a bride with no husband who would keep her bed warm at night or plant in her children to love. But, she glowed when she turned to look at them after rising and the cross was placed about her neck. Her mother had let the ring slip from her hand that day and given it to her even though it was against the rules and unlike what the others wore. But they allowed her it, or at least chose not to say nay. Both of these tokens, she pocketed to later put in her treasure box.
Gently, she lifted the shreds of the dress from the box and buried her face in them, breathing in her smell, her fears, her courage, her memory. Then slowly, she set it down at her side, tucking stray edges and softly patting it down.

She looked again into the box. There was a smaller box in the corner and she lifted it out. A deep wash of fear hit her as she held it before her. She didn’t want to learn what was inside, but she had made a promise and a promise must be kept. So, she took a deep breath and lifted the top. A bloodied kerchief lay folded inside. She touched the edges with shaking fingers, parting it open. A small nest of scorched human hair lay within. The sobs began again and she dropped the box, sending its contents tumbling into the larger box. Underneath, as the last of the contents fell, a small pile of papers cascaded down. She gasped softly as she recognized the hand that had penned the writing on them. Carefully she gathered them up and looked at them and knew the entire tale was there. She folded them gently and placed them in her waistband and closed everything else back in the box.

Tomorrow, she would give the remains the burial they had refused her. Tomorrow, she would be ready to speak what must be said.

She pulled herself wearily to her feet and headed to her room. Tonight though, she must read the rest of the tale.

copyright 2009