All posts by Set Sytes

Author of all things dark and weird. "I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited." - Sylvia Plath. "When you've fallen on the highway and you're lying in the rain, and they ask you how you're doing, of course you'll say you can't complain. If you're squeezed for information, that's when you've got to play it dumb: You just say you're out there waiting for the miracle, for the miracle to come." - Leonard Cohen

Marilyn Manson – Heaven Upside Down review

Okay, more just some informal thoughts on the album rather than a professional review. Manson is my favourite artist and has been pretty much since I first truly got into music, the soundtrack to my later teenage years and a great and lasting creative inspiration to me, so it’d be remiss of me not to post my thoughts on his new work.

As a friend of mine has said, there are three tiers of Mansons’ works. Top tier – the triptych, second – GAOG and POAAF, and third tier everything after. Which while good, maybe even great in parts, has never matched up to the previous tiers, but that’s okay. This new work has naturally not transcended third tier, but it is still great.

After the Pale Emperor I said, with some hesitance, that it was his best work since GAOG. Now I say that it has been replaced by this album, and with a bit more confidence.

You’d be forgiven for having doubts. My first spin of the first single We Know Where You Fucking Live did not impress me. Thankfully it’s a definite grower (and the music video, while not great, does somehow make the song better), and is definitely better when listened to as part of the fuller album. That said, it is most assuredly one of the weakest songs of the album.

The first song of the album, Revelation 12, I find the weakest (read: least catchy), but it isn’t *bad*. There are no stinkers on the album (although I’m biased – however I’ll admit to never liking Heart Shaped Glasses). Once you’ve gotten past Revelation 12 you’re immediately in for some treats.

None of the songs released yet – WKWYFL, Kill4Me, snippet of Say10 – are the best the album can offer, and they shouldn’t have been offered up as representative (just like the single Heart Shaped Glasses was the worst song of EMDM and maybe on any of his LPs). I had a feeling from what I’d heard that the record was going to be closest to Born Villain meets The Pale Emperor. The truth is it’s a lot harder to pin down – there’s definite elements of these, but also of Holy Wood, EMDM/HEOL, GAOG and possibly even a little Mechanical Animals. Or maybe I’m just trying to work out where these sounds are coming from, rather than someplace new. You see, for a number of songs, this is the most goth-electronica Manson’s ever been. Really, the style is all over the place, and yet still feels cohesive.

In my opinion, after the few spins I’ve given it, there are three main highlights. The second track, Tattooed in Reverse is possibly the biggest surprise of the lot. I’m not sure I can define it. It’s weird, sparse and filthy industrial rock put to sort-of modern pop vocal hooks (and I mean actual mainstream pop of today, the sort that confuses me). And yet it’s also odder than that sounds – not something that sounds like it’d fit on the radio. It’s as peculiar as it is confusingly-catchy. I instantly loved it but I can see that some really won’t.

Another highlight is Jesus Crisis. For much of the album the verses, prechoruses and bridges are better than the choruses – this has been true of him for the majority of songs on the last few albums. And another complaint I’ve had for last couple of albums is Manson shying away from rhyming even more than normal. There’s a REASON people rhyme on songs, Mazza.

Thankfully on this song the opposite is true. The chorus is the catchiest thing Manson has done in AGES, maybe even since GAOG, and that’s probably because it rhymes. It’d be perfect in a rock club and I hope it comes to them rather than them still playing his hits from over a decade ago.

The song, however does have a bridge that, while good, just seems to come out of nowhere. It’s the song’s namesake, and yet it doesn’t fit with the rest of the song, especially not lyrically. The rest of the song has nothing to do with ‘JESUS CRI$I$’. There’s also this ‘ah-ah-ah’ bit that comes after the chorus that lets the song down and I’d rather it wasn’t there. Still, the chorus is irresistible enough to make up for it. It’s full of the kind of dumb bravado and swagger that has been missing from Manson’s work since GAOG.

A third highlight and maybe the best song on the album is Saturnalia. So – did you ever want Manson to be more goth again? Here you are. This song sounds like somebody asked Manson to make a song that’d play well on a goth night. And then some. It’s the most industrial, electronica, and processed song on the album, and all the better for it. If there’s a flaw at all to be found it’s that it doesn’t sound completely like Manson – it’s SO club-goth-band-you-can’t-remember-the-name-of. Still, it’s a great track, dense and atmospheric and interesting as it is danceable (and pleasingly long). I guess it can’t be more of a surprise and ‘this doesn’t sound like Manson’ than Mechanical Animals was at the time it came out.

In general, the album is really Tyler Bates’s success. It was clear from watching a recent interview with Zane Lowe that Manson knows how much he owes Tyler. This is the most carefully constructed, densest, layered album since Holy Wood. There is so much texture and it always seems like there’s new bits of sound to listen to each time you play it – something I’ve sorely missed. This album needs good speakers.

Manson is sporadically a weak link – sometimes he sounds almost as bad as he did on Born Villain, whereas other times he sounds great. And honestly, that’s probably when his voice is processed or doing something different, and not so great when it’s his raw unfiltered wail he’s been doing last couple albums that I’d rather he stopped. Thankfully that’s less of a problem this album than before.

The album isn’t perfect. A number of the choruses don’t live up to the strength of the verses, but then there’s a usually a good bridge to look forward to. Some of the songs – like Revelation 12, WKWYFL, and Say10, fall a little flat.

But it’s the most interestingly instrumentally since GAOG and arguably Holy Wood. The lyrics are better, and less repetitive. It’s got some great catchy moments. It’s got songs like Tattooed in Reverse and Saturnalia that make you realise Manson still can surprise you with direction. And it’s got a mixture of filthy and bordering on gorgeous guitar licks (such as on the EMDM/HEOL-but-better closer of Threats of Romance that only lacks for a better chorus).

In short, if you like Manson, get this album. It’s not a masterpiece but it pleasingly has surpassed my expectations, and it is one more step up for him since his fall.

Heaven Upside Down2

How Not to Kill Yourself Kickstarter launch!

Howdy.

In advance of the official Microcosm release of How Not to Kill Yourself: A Survival Guide for Imaginative Pessimists, it’s just been launched on Kickstarter, for anyone who wants to get preorders in and any of the other goodies that come with it.

Here’s the Kickstarter link. Have a looksee before time runs out (October 26th end date)!

HNTKY cover

The School of Necromancy #3

Third part to my short story The School of Necromancy. It follows on from this part.

It can be found in full here.

——————————————–

 

The Grandmaster is the head of the School of Necromancy, and until you are taking a degree you will probably never see him up close and personal, and even then perhaps not, unless you are of exceptional merit or simply lucky. You can, however, observe him from afar addressing assemblies in the Great Hall, chairing dinners and welcoming each new year. On one wall here is a huge portrait of him: mysterious, cold and elegant, and his personage reflects that. Only absolute fools do not regard him with the utmost respect.

Meet him and you will be forgiven for thinking him a vampire. Rumours get around, too, and first years are often led to believe that he is one. Some impressionable students take to drinking blood and even sharpening their teeth in order to draw his attention. I’ve tasted one of his red drinks. Cranberry juice. I poisoned it anyway, and he drank it: no effects. I saw him looking at me with a small smile on his face . . . I’d never thought much of my chances, but I think I’d have let him down if I hadn’t at least tried. No doubt he’s survived hundreds of assassination attempts without even a scar.

Vampire? Not quite, but the truth isn’t far off. He definitely has vampiric blood, I think perhaps on his mother’s side. You see, these days it’s never a matter of ‘is he a vampire or isn’t he’, more a matter of percentage. I have spoken at length with the Master of Vampire Studies, Edwin Cowl, and he is definite that no pure bloods exist anymore in Britain. There were a couple of them, perhaps, a decade ago, visiting London from their home somewhere in Northern Europe, but they were swallowed up and snuffed out like that city does to so many strange folk.

The modern world does not suit their ancient ways. They are an endangered species. I would not be surprised to learn that there were no true vampires in Europe anymore, merely their diluted descendants. Master Cowl told me that there are a few inbreeding vampire families in the backwoods of southern USA, keeping hidden, a few in Russia, and some in the least developed parts of Africa. Apparently China has a vampire family who are actually quite important and powerful. I wonder how long they will last in the spotlight, before their ways are discovered and understood for what they are.

I am digressing, I apologise. You will, perhaps, fully understand when I say that by writing this I am procrastinating on my latest research paper. But all this should give you a flavour of the environment we surround ourselves in, that is so utterly foreign and mythical to you. We are not wizards and witches – at least, we do not think of ourselves as such, despite the occultism – but are scientists, eagerly involving ourselves with the things of the grave, and beyond the grave.

An outsider would think many of us mad, if not all, but you must understand once you have spent time within these walls, so deep below the surface, you too will become infected by the mania that surrounds you, the frenetic drive that propels us to complete our work, pushing us to do more and more, ever greater scientific feats against nature.

We tell time, if needed, by our many clocks, and by the colour of the lights, that shift from white to yellow, to green, then the blue of dawn, then back to white. Not a cycle goes by where you will not hear somewhere an exultant shouting, a frenzied screaming, desperate rages, pleading, or a cry of ‘It’s ALIVE! – Oh, wait . . . fuck.’

Just remember, whatever you hear and whatever you see, that we’re all insomniacs, we’re all exhausted, and, disregarding some of our creations, we all are at least mostly human.

 

There are three main players to my tale, and each of them are third year students. Third years are usually the ones you have the most trouble with. First years are too awed by everything, too meek, and certainly too ignorant of anything remotely necromantic or necro-scientific. Second years are, by and large, eager for knowledge, grasping at anything that give them a foot up, and getting the most out of the classes that are more interesting than those available to first years. It’s third year, when most of the students are seventeen, that they get cocky, and think they know enough to tackle their ambitious and naïve ideas.

There is Henry Graves. A quiet, pleasant lad, with a mess of dusky hair that falls about his face. He studies with moderate effort, gets average grades, and is tolerable enough that he hasn’t had a single attempt made on his health by another student. He would not, I’m sure he won’t mind me saying, be particularly notable if not for his acquaintance with Arthur Pale, and his subsequent involvement in the events to come.

Arthur is, or should I say was, slightly obnoxious. He was small and reedy-voiced, with a pinched face and short mousy hair, and he was also a know-it-all, who, as is often the case, didn’t actually know as much as he thought he did. Events have certainly demonstrated he lacked wisdom. He was ambitious to a fault, one of those in the School who forewent both sleep and their assignments in order to pursue their own private research. The lack of rest never seemed to exhaust him, although he was a jittery, quick-talking sort, and he put most other students slightly on edge being around him for any length of time. He’d put his hand up in class over and over, or plain interrupt the master, to the point that even a couple of the masters had tried to poison or entrap him, to teach him a lesson if nothing else.

Nevertheless, he had emerged from every attempt by student or master unscathed and unbothered, and he would not deign to even remark on them, annoying people further. He sat by himself in classes until a particular day, mid-year, that he was found lab-partnered with another, and without comment the two stayed at each other’s side every single day.

This man, for it is a grown man, was called Shade. A strong name, if I do say so, although nobody knew his first name, not even the masters, and I expect not even himself. Neither did anyone, except possibly the Grandmaster, know his age, for while he was clearly an older student, he had that kind of face that almost defies age, and he could well be anywhere from twenty to forty.

Shade was an enigma, principally so because he almost never spoke, except possibly in private. He would certainly not speak up in front of a group, and if asked a question in class, as I once did (taking the class when the master was indisposed), he would stare right at you and say nothing until you moved to somebody else. Not that mutes were rare in the School, but there was something singular about Shade. He was very tall, and always wore a dark brown buttoned-up jacket with a wide-knot tie, a bowler hat that hid a bald head, and wire silver spectacles that were tinted a deep, cloudy purple. On the occasions he removed his glasses, such as to put on required goggles, his eyes were large and a piercing light blue.

There was something slightly wolfish about his face, giving rise to ridiculous rumours about him being a werewolf (students in this place can get carried away with it all). But, oddly enough, he was actually rather handsome. I say oddly, because Shade became a permanent laboratory assistant and dogsbody to Arthur Pale, never seeming to want anything more, and while it may be rather stereotypical of me to say, most dyed-in-the-wool lab assistants are ugly, often deformed in some way. Whether they are or not, they are always the less gifted of students, and Mr Shade’s bright blue eyes always did betray to me a calm, yet sharp intelligence that was never spoken.

You may wonder that I have not told you anything about our selection process, how students ever come here when our organisation and practices are so secretive, and when we are not being secretive we are being misunderstood. This is one thing I will not divulge; merely I will tell you that our students are chosen, and those that reject our offer do not end up speaking of it to others.

And now you have some idea to the background, and the principal players at hand, I will not delay you further, and I will begin this story, as has come to my knowledge piece by piece. I hope my penchant for storytelling does not get in the way of the facts.

 

TSON cover smaller

Quetzacthulhu (Part Two)

I came to clarity an indeterminable amount of time later. The priests had convened several times during my convalescence, deeply troubled by my rantings. If only they had been troubled more. They had not seen what I had seen.

Nobody had made it back with me, and the priests feared we were set upon by Tlaxcalans bearing dark witchery of the gods. They listened to my trembling words of the mountain that had come from under the earth – the living mountain that was only a head – and as I attempted to explain and failed miserably, they tossed aside my words as a continuation of my delirium.

Yes, the threat was taken seriously, but not seriously enough. Still, what could I have done? What could any of us have done? It happened that way. It was always going to happen that way.

There was only one thing spoken in my trance that they had listened to. I had chanted a name – a name that would go on to become legend, a name that sent a chill into the hearts of the bravest and wisest. Quetzacthulhu. I did not know then how the priests could have identified that word among all the others, and assumed it the name of the monster. Now I realise they knew the word all along, for by our torchlight I see it scratched all around me on these walls. These grim and ancient catacombs and primordial caves that lie underneath our ruined Great Temple. These are the recorded myths of this land that they tried to forget.

Moctezuma sent out hundreds of our elite cuauhtlocelotl and cuauhchicqueh warriors, our eagle-jaguars and Shorn Ones, blessed by the priests and given the finest swords and spears, adorned with the finest feathers. Many of our people gathered to look at them as they organised, and were full of pride and triumph. They saw Aztec warriors equal to none, a dread force fit to hunt down our enemies and leave none standing. They saw hope in its entirety, and an end to doubt and fear.

I saw only the walking dead.

Against all my pleading they forced me to come with them. They still thought me mad, but I was the only one who had survived the encounter. If I did not have enough grasp of my senses to know what we would be facing, I at least knew where it had occurred. This was their reasoning. I was threatened with immediate sacrifice if I should not comply. I know now I should have thrown myself at those knives with gladness and joy.

 

On their first sighting – which was long before we drew close – the warriors did not understand what they were seeing. To them, it was as though a gargantuan pillar of earth had thrust itself into the sky. Many believed it was an incredible event of the natural world, perhaps the rising of a new world tree, forming some indecipherable omen. Many others believed it was divine intervention, and we were witnessing the work of a god – that, at least, could be said to be true.

It was only upon drawing closer, upon staring up at the indescribable bulk far above our heads, its various titanic parts half-glimpsed through the trees, that they came to accept what I was trying to tell them.

The pillar was not of the earth. It was the leg of Quetzacthulhu.

He had continued his ascent after I had escaped. After the head had freed itself from the ground – perhaps from the underworld itself – the body had followed. Arms, legs. If the head alone had frightened and disturbed me to my very core, and shaken all belief I had in reason and life and the good will of the gods, then the full colossal scale of the thing was enough to make one die right there on the spot. This is no hyperbole – I saw a cuauhtlocelotl warrior beside me draw out his knife as though in a trance and cut his throat there and then. Few of us even gave him a glance; my thought of him would later be one of jealousy. He may have angered the gods by his cowardly action, and perhaps he would pay for it in the Mictlan underworld, but in all honesty, how could it possibly have gotten any worse than it did? I wonder many times why I did not follow him in such a course. Well, there is still time. Even though the worst is over . . . now we must live with ourselves, live in this new world wrought for us.

It speaks volumes of the bravery and steadfast of our best warriors that bar all but a wretched few – those once proud and fierce and revered – we collected ourselves as much as we could and continued on towards that primeval dread. We were still many in number, after all, and even gods can bleed. I admit to even a thin vein of hope myself – soon dashed beyond measure.

 

Quetzacthulhu can be found in full as part of the fantasy/horror short story collection ‘Born to be Weird‘.

Quetzacthulhu

WULF #8

Following on from Part 7. You can find it in full on Amazon.

 

FIVE

 

 

He woke up to the sound of melodious squawking and bright rays of white-lilac light. He’d left the window open, and a bird had pushed the curtains aside, letting in a stream of morning glare.

It hopped on the sill and continued to squawk, chirrup and yap to some kind of half-tune. The bird was about a hand high, purple-feathered with a hook beak and a tall, jagged white crest. It shifted feet constantly, cocking its head at him.

A trill, Jay’s mind remembered. Native to Appalia . . . Is that where I am?

He got up, stretched, and shooed the trill away. It yapped again, and then took off, the curtains left flapping behind. He opened them wider, letting in the expanse of the day. There were not many people walking the thoroughfare, and those that did blinked and squinted in the sun. He had slept early and he had woken early, and Nohaven was not a morning town.

A new day, a new world.

A big grin came to his face, and then turned into a grimace as he caught the smell of what could only be himself. He had slept in his clothes and he stank of sweat. He resolved to find a way to wash himself as soon as possible. For now, he removed his shirt and ran the tap, splashing water on his face, neck and pits.

A glint in the corner stole his attention. It was a mirror laid on the floor. He saw the hooks above the basin and realised it had been taken down for some reason. Perhaps the last occupant did not like their own reflection. He picked it up and put it back in place, then he stood and stared.

Whether he felt a chill or a shuddering warmth he could not say, perhaps both. A shiver certainly passed along his spine, but he would not say he felt unpleasant. Looking at a completely different reflection to what you have been used to your entire life is an experience some would call disturbing, others mesmerising, and they’d both be right.

He’d seen bits of him before, of course. He’d seen his arms, looked down at his torso, and been aware of his face in that vague, shadowy way people perceive themselves without a reflection, the blur of the nose and the cheeks and mouth with a presence so permanent to our vision that we forget they are there. He’d almost seen his face reflected in Sav’s eyes.

Here, though, was the full article, and minus the cracks in the mirror it was as clear and defined as it could ever be. He felt like he was looking through a window into another world, seeing another person mimicking his movements.

Then both of you are in another world, for this side of the mirror sure ain’t Kansas.

His face stared back at him, mockingly. A smirk lined his face, carrying up to the dark, glittering eyes. Stop laughing at yourself, he told himself sternly, but he couldn’t help it. His mouth opened in a rogue’s grin, and he shook his head. The man in the reflection did the same.

The same red markings, the tribal wine stains that careened over his body were present on his face. They lined his cheeks and brow like war paint, and yet the effect was more, well, wild, wild and mystical, than savage.

At least I don’t have a red nose.

He spent long minutes inspecting himself, dividing between marvelling at his skin design – the patterns made him want to call them extensive tattooing, but they were all-natural (just look at those hands), and miraculous for it – and his new face: a tough, dark-eyed and somewhat Middle-Eastern looking face, an on-the-dark-and-dirty-side-of-handsome face. He pleased himself thinking it possessed a kind of heroic villainy.

He resolved to let his hair, a stallion black mane on top, grow at the shaved sides, before he would untie the knot that held it back. Facial hair, too. A face like this needed some thick stubble. That’s razors off the shopping list, and good thing too, for a man with no money.

He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out four tiny coins. Scratch that, I have four jackals. Something tells me they’re not worth a loaf of bread.

The coins were replaced, but the hand was found moving inward. One last thing to check.

Jay glanced at the door. There was no lock, but it was at least firmly shut. It wasn’t entirely reassuring, but he couldn’t see why someone would barge in on someone else’s rented room. Unless it’s Savvi? But then again – the voice continued, in a sleazy kind of way – maybe her catchin you pants down is exactly the kind of

‘Shut up,’ Jay said out loud. But he pulled down his pants anyway. He was, after all, still a man in a man’s body. And there are some things a man’s gotta know.

He stood there, no shirt and his pants around his ankles, a stupid smile plastered to his face (but it’s not so stupid, is it? It’s better than the last guy’s smile, remember that? . . . No) as he looked at and touched himself with investigative measure, inflicted with the kind of small amazement that beds well with amusement.

Fronting this amusement, however, there came first relief. Jay was relieved to see that his package didn’t look vastly different to what he was used to. The thing that struck him most, quite aside from the size (his grin increased, although his only comparison beyond the hints of Jay’s memories were those of Earth men), and the single (much larger) nut, was the bendiness; it was quite pliable even when hard, he noticed, and almost stayed in the positions you left it, like plasticine. It had that rubbery quality, both look and touch. The head was tapered slightly. Apart from that, though, it was both recognisable and appreciable as a cock and balls. Thank god for evolutionary similarities, and not giving me tentacles. The only immediate sense of alien was that the whole area was a dark, streaky red.

He enjoyed himself for a while manipulating himself into vague turns, revelling like a child with a toy snake or one of those bendable figurines. He had only meant to check himself out, but found himself quickly carried away.

There was a pressure, an insistence in his lower body that he hadn’t really noticed until its sudden absence. He felt clearer, and he did some stretches as he washed out the sink, wondering at how he could take the time to masturbate, given his utterly incredible situation, and all the things around to discover. But there’d been that urge. His body seemed to belong to that of a wild man turned teenager.

I’m glad red genitals don’t give rise to scarlet semen, or I’d be continuously paranoid I’d ruptured myself.

The stretching felt good. He’d always hated exercise before. But now his muscles were strong, and he felt powerful.

He put his clothes back on, gave one final, eager glance in the mirror – a glance that turned into a searching look – and left the room.

The clerk audibly sighed as Jay walked down the stairs. He was tight-lipped as Jay smiled at him in an attempt to be friendly.

‘Yes?’ the clerk said, raising his bushy eyebrows.

‘Good morning. I was hoping for a shower. Well, to wash myself.’

The clerk sniffed. ‘I am sure you need it. Well. The washroom is out that door.’

‘Oh, good. Is there hot water?’

‘Do we look like a Sturm chamberhouse?’

‘Um, no. I guess not. Thanks.’ Jay pushed through the door. Behind a curtain there was a series of bronze pipes that twisted in wheels before joining up to a spout that hung overhead. Jay found a valve and turned it. A crank increased the pressure until a steady light rainfall of water pattered down into a drain below. It wasn’t cold, more a lukewarm temperature that, if not exactly enjoyable, didn’t make his teeth chatter.

After his shower, he replaced his baggy brown pants (there had been no undergarments) and his boots (sockless, but something about the make of the boots made his feet feel just fine without them; even on his journey to Nohaven his feet had not sweated. In the shower he’d noticed a rubbery hardness to his feet. They were as red as his hands, making his only socks skin-deep). He gave his shirt a cautious smell, but it seemed okay; it had been only him carrying the scent. Perhaps in this world they actually made shirts that resisted odours, or just sweat. Not that the shirt smelled like a rose garden; it spoke to his nostrils of horse, and sand, and a slight spice that he couldn’t place, but felt oddly comforting in the same way home does.

The clerk was gone when he returned, and Jay left the rest house and emerged into the light. He was surprised at how quickly he was becoming accustomed to the colour, although the purple-ringed sun still sent a shiver through his body whenever he looked up. Everybody looked slightly different outside than inside – but then he supposed that was true on Earth, too. There was a transformative quality about it – something that lent a faintly mystical, secretive, almost furtive air to everything – although he had as yet little comparison, for he had not seen this outside world in Earth’s pale light.

He made to go over to the bar, but found himself wandering. After all, he reasoned, she might not even be up yet. He walked along the thoroughfare, and then aimlessly through the town, along dusty streets, turning corners, turning heel and walking back on himself. He drifted in a daze, entranced with no small measure of wonder. People stared at him strangely, for he looked at things like a man born anew.

As he walked his usurped memory offered up morsels, shadows of remembrance. There was the Bone Bin, a windowless establishment – if establishment would ever fit such a jumble of timber. It had been made with boards and bits of boards, stakes and sticks – all made from some kind of – the white gumba tree – and affixed all over with thousands of bent nails. The wood lay crooked off each other, broken planks attached more by spirit than strength to mere shards. It was a ribcage of a house, and seemed to come in layers: for there were many gaps between the bones, but inside he could make out a second shell, one that seemed just as pale and hapless. Inside, he knew, they smoked every kind of smoke there was, and the air within seemed to float with ghosts.

On his left now came the red doors of the brothel, The Drain (his nose wrinkled at the sign). Opposite was a throng of small black children arguing over a furry ball that rolled about on its own volition – a bracker-ball, livin games to some. The leader was taller than the rest, with a gap where his nose should have been. His sunburst eyes flared as he caught sight of Jay, and waved to him. Jay waved back. That’s Jonner, a ragman. He’s alright. He don’t wanna kill you.

There were Appalian mountain men, with their curly hair and square-cropped beards, and silver-haired wardancers with their long locks and naked, studded bellies. He was passed by a couple of cowpokes he knew only by name – Jag and Burl – and reputation as bad news to all sizeable women. There were stalls selling produce of all colours, some that smelled sweet, some like the soil, and some that stank like rotting fish (fasher beans). There was a pink, hairless creature like a bony mole rat the size of a greyhound – erm, somethin, a sab, saber, no, cather-, catmol, no, I’ll get back to you – that skulked past him with arched shoulders, led on a leash by a high-hatted woman with dangling earlobes. He was reminded of that dog from yesterday, that six-legged dog, except it was called a – a dog – oh, okay.

More than not, he simply felt déjà vu, and Jay’s catacombs of memory obstinately turned its back on his questions. If he remembered, it came naturally, in slices, pages so torn they might as well be shreds. He could not force it. Even when he knew a name, or a purpose to something, it was not a real understanding, not a memory he could connect to as though it was his own. It was as though reading about something in a book a long time ago – except the book was in him, and the long time ago only ended yesterday.

 

wulfcover-2-medium

India Bones and the Ship of the Dead #5

Following on from Part 4.

 

THREE

 

 

Over the next few days India got to know the crew fairly well. At first many of them had avoided him, and he’d seen the wariness in others’ eyes when he talked to them. A few were grouchy, and one skeleton by the name of Liver told him to shank off as soon as he approached. But a few were nice, like Big Cage who was as friendly as he was big, or Hairless, who helped him through finding his sea-legs and found him a nautical coat in the hold that was only a little oversized. Spares was always amusing company, especially when he was drunk. Sockets was a bit odd, but India got used to him. And Dessica, another female jolly roger (how they usually seemed to refer to themselves), had spoken to him at length on the movements of whales, the names of all the sails and masts, and even shown him how to tie different kinds of knot. And as the days passed, and India made himself known, rarely staying put for more than the length of a conversation, and helping out when he could, those who avoided him showed their faces, and those who were grouchy softened. It was only Liver who remained unpleasant more often than not, and India had barely exchanged more than a handful of words with Blackbone. Blackbone usually stayed in his cabin, anyway (the only one bar India with his own private cabin), and when they passed each other India would walk fast, for his near-silent presence sent a chill down India’s spine.

It was Grimmer though, who was the surest tether between India and his sanity. From the first day he’d been good to India, helped him help himself and help others whenever he was around, showed him all the parts of the ship, the hold and the forecastle, the gallery and the gun deck where cannons were cobwebbed from disuse. He even took India up to the crow’s nest – thankfully India had always been a good tree climber, but climbing the rigging up so high, and looking down at the long fall to the decks below – well, at least Grimmer had been there for encouragement, and India sure wasn’t going to let himself appear weak in front of a bunch of skeletons. The final few feet had been the worst, but at last he’d toppled into the crow’s nest, breathing hard with the adrenaline, and then spent a good three or four hours reddening with the sun and feeling on top of the world, almost drunk with the sight around him, perched on a swaying wooden spire that rose up like a needle out of the great, eternal ocean. A lonely minaret in a blue desert where he was king.

Eventually though, the seasickness had come on even stronger, not to mention a light-headedness close to fainting, and he’d forced himself to descend. He’d spent a while recovering, and decided to go up there again only rarely.

On the early evening of the fourth day India saw a far-off shape; he borrowed a spyglass off Sockets and saw a red-boarded ship travelling in the other direction. He squinted but in the darkening light couldn’t make out the crew.

‘Are they pirates?’ he asked, feeling excited.

Sockets snatched the spyglass back and looked through. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Merchant ship, probably from East Indigo.’

‘Can they see us?’

Grimmer came up behind him and gripped the rail. ‘Honestly, we don’t rightly know,’ he said. ‘There was another ship yesterday, too. Truth is a number of us don’t care to look anymore, or at least we don’t shout about it if we do see something. We’ve never been boarded, we’ve never even been hailed. We don’t know if it’s just mist they see, or the illusion of a ship of no consequence or interest to anyone, or if they see nothing at all but empty sea. Or maybe they see us just as we are, but then something in them just wipes it from their minds, tells them just to pass on by. A thought that never gets to go anywhere, like it’s been chased off. All we know is the Ship of the Dead ain’t disturbed, and never has been. We’re a ghost on the ocean, mate.’

On the fifth day Grimmer came to him carrying a cutlass, with the golden hilt of another held in the thick sashes that tied around his pelvis. He flipped the sword in his hand deftly and offered it to India hilt first. ‘Here you go mate,’ he said. A few of the others on the deck gathered round, interested.

A one-armed skeleton named Cold Shoulder put his one remaining hand up. ‘Here, he’s a bit young ain’t he?’

Grimmer didn’t turn. ‘He’s got to be able to defend himself, doesn’t he?’

India looked at the blade, at its edge and its wicked point. It caught the light and flashed meanly. ‘I’ll manage without. For now,’ he said.

‘You sure?’ Grimmer said.

‘For now.’

Grimmer shrugged and tossed the sword back on the deck with a clatter. India turned away, but not before stealing one, two more glances at it lying there on the grey wood at his feet.

India remembered when he had last used a blade. He’d grown up fighting with sticks with other kids in the streets and slums of Rug and Mohawk. The orphan gang that called themselves Ratboys infested the alleyways of the poor side of Mohawk, and India had once been well acquainted with them, often fighting with and against them in confrontations ranging from friendly scuffles and stick fencing to scrapping tooth and nail. It was about the time that an increase in girls in the gang led to arguments about a change of name that Skiv became leader. He was a bad-tempered kid, bigger than India and prone to using his fists to get his own way.

Always eager for something greater than pickpocketing, something more dangerous and more impressive, it was India who had come up with the idea of raiding Jack Rush’s house.

Jack Rush was a mean, surly merchant, and he had beaten India severely when he’d caught his pockets being picked just outside his home. India hadn’t been able to walk properly for days, and the bruises had taken much longer to disappear. In the years past he sometimes looked at his reflection in the coastal Mexican seawaters and figured that his face had lost its childishness, had been beaten tougher and rougher and stripped of some measure of innocence.

In retaliation India had come up with the plan, and roped the Ratboys in on it. He’d always been an outsider to them, some days seemingly on their side, some days not. He’d never wanted to answer to somebody else, and certainly not a dumb brutish boy like Skiv.

They entered the house as the moon hung full and watching, breaking the windows and dropping like cats over the sills. The children in the streets knew everything there was worth knowing. They knew that Rush was on an overseas business trip, selling sugar to East Indigo, and would not be back for some time.

They took everything, greedily filling their pockets and pouches with jewellery and silverware and bottles of rum. India had found a necklace. Black stringed, with a pendant of tarnished silver melded to what looked like bone, gold in the very centre and frayed around the edges, like the rays of a moribund sun. He pocketed it. He pocketed something else, too.

He didn’t know who’d started the fire. Somebody knocked over something, playing around with torches and bottles of rum; it could have been anyone. The Ratboys yelled to each other as what seemed a bright, exciting flicker quickly spread and smoke rushed through the air like a punishing phantasm, as though a residing spirit of Jack Rush was left behind as guard.

They’d escaped, all of them thank shank, tumbling from the windows and bursting out the door. As soon as they were clear and most of them had scattered down various alleys, India had turned to receive a blow from Skiv. It connected with an already existing bruise from Rush, and hurt twice as much.

They pounced on each other, fists flying, knees punching into stomachs and feet lashing out. They fought dirty, like wild dogs, breaking apart every few minutes to snarl and spit and curse. Watched hungrily by the others.

‘Give it to me,’ said Skiv.

‘Give you what.’ India wiped the sweat from his face and pulled the straggled hair from his eyes.

‘The necklace. I saw you take it. You owe it to me for what happened back there.’

‘That wasn’t my fault.’

‘It was your idea to raid the place. Give it to me.’

‘You ain’t getting it.’

They met again, and India found his back hurled against the stony ground and pinned. He twisted and kicked and Skiv grabbed his throat and squeezed.

India punched Skiv’s head and his midriff, again and again, but he couldn’t get the angles or the momentum and the blows couldn’t dissuade the hands choking him, robbing him of his energy.

Black and purple motes dotted before his vision and with a sudden, almost instinctive remembrance he pulled out the shining dagger he had taken at the house. It slipped into Skiv’s side as though it was moving through butter. It met no bones.

Skiv fell aside with a yelp, and the dagger sucked itself out, still in India’s hand. India scrambled up, and without looking backwards, at Skiv or the audience of Ratboys, he ran.

India never knew what became of Skiv. He didn’t visit Mohawk again for a year, and when he did he stuck to other districts, and carefully avoided the Ratboys. If Skiv was still alive, then he would want his revenge. And if he wasn’t . . . if he wasn’t, then those loyal to him, or those who counted him among their friends might want their own revenge.

He never knew whether Skiv had lived or died, and he didn’t want to know. He’d thrown the blade away, and he’d never thrown away something valuable before. He remembered crouching outside the Aztec Tomb and shivering in the rain, his hair plastering itself to his face.

He’d never wanted to touch a blade again. He remembered the sound Skiv had made and his eyes. His eyes.

On the deck of the Ship of the Dead, India kicked the cutlass away from him without looking. And fingered the sun pendant that hung from his neck.

 

d239ee75bf7fac21633ed6eb59713e5d

Quetzacthulhu (Part One)

QUETZACTHULHU

By Set Sytes

 

 

There are stories, but stories are always forgotten.

It would have been better if we had only laughed at them. I am sure we once did, for ridicule is what lies in-between remembering and forgetting. We bury the horror, pushing it under centuries of soil. And, eventually, it was nothing to us.

The priests must have known. Before me, they were the only ones who had been down here in these violent depths, where the slaughter seeps through from above and paints the walls forever red. The walls littered with engravings that told us of what was to come.

They must have known, but they never told. What was it to them? A children’s tale? Or some mythic secret, the secret to end all secrets, that only they must be privy to? Either way, they hold responsibility for what happened to us, to our empire. Those countless deaths are because of their folly and pride.

No matter. They are all dead now.

I crouch here, with only you as company. You who I took captive, you who I whip and beat in the darkness.

I will tell you the tale now. I will tell it all as best I can, and hope at least some of it gets through to you. It matters more than anything that it does.

Listen, greedy wretch! Or I will show you true brutality. You may have the beetle when I am done. Listen with every part of you, carve it into your very soul, for generations hence depend on it.

I will begin.

 

*

 

I wish I could tell you that it began with dark omens and portends.

The priests, they were gathering frequently, taking themselves off into the depths of the temples with their muttering – but this was not anything unusual. Our sacrifices seemed to be particularly numerous, the blood on the altar given no time to dry, but this too was not a rare thing. We had recently defeated a band of Tlaxcalans, and the torn flesh of our captives was providing a merry feast for the gods.

Even if there had been an omen, I know that we could not have interpreted it. How could one interpret the coming of such a thing? And even if we had interpreted it, still it could not have helped us prepare ourselves. But it would have been something.

I wish I could tell you that it all started with a great pyramid of flame, or a burning temple, or strokes of lightning from the gods. Boiling lakes, shooting stars, ghostly wails, strange visions and monstrous deformities – these are all dire things that could have warned of the apocalyptic end to our people.

But I can only tell you that it started with nothing. Nothing but the shake and shiver of the earth.

 

I was out with a hunting party the day it came. We were talking, laughing, clutching spears in our hands – and then everything became preternaturally quiet around us. We stopped speaking, and looked around us, expecting ambush. The ground then began to tremble.

I had not experienced such a thing before, but I had heard stories. We staggered back but it seemed like there was nowhere to run to. The trembling became a rumble, and at once all around us the silence burst as great flocks of birds rose screeching into the sky.

Cracks appeared around our feet, thickening and lengthening faster than we could move. The earth was opening up. A warrior slipped, and before we could get to him he was swallowed by soil. One moment there, wailing, the next moment gone – spasming fingertips were the last we saw of him.

We continued to run as breaches of earth raced in our wake. Eventually we seemed to reach a point when the cracks were thinner, the ground sustaining us without collapse, and we paused and looked back, just at the moment it rose.

I thought it a mountain at first, a mossy mountain thrusting upwards with a sickening roar from the bowels of the earth. That was the last moment I considered it to have some strange but natural origin.

For as I stared, the fungal hide of the thing began to seem fleshy and pustulous, and it swelled outwards as it continued its ascent. A dreadful bile rose within me.

The vomit died in my throat, not out of relief but pure shock, as the foul skin opened up, and a blazing yellow sun near blinded me. I reflexively shaded my face with my hands, and as my pupils shrank I saw through my fingers that in the centre of this giant sun was a hole, a black hole. It was then that I realised with palpitating horror what it was.

It was an eye.

And that was when the second opened up, beyond cyclopean in its enormity, and as it rose upwards far above me, tentacles like huge snakes writhed and ululated from underneath, each as big as a house.

A giant maw opened, a dripping cavern of night to engulf the world. I would say if I could go the rest of my life without seeing such a sight again I could be happy, but it is not true, for that image and many others are burned within my brain forever.

I do not know how I found my feet. I remember little about that first confrontation. I only remember vague images of my brothers falling to their knees, gibbering in hysterical lunacy and tearing at their eyes. And yet, somehow, I must have made it back to Tenochtitlan.

They tell me I was gabbling in a monstrous language not known to man, not even to the priests. I do not remember this, but I believe them, for I have since heard others speaking in this nameless tongue. It is hideous to listen to, and to watch the speaker’s mouth try to contort around such abhorrence; it spreads madness and despair like it was a contagion.

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh . . . That is all I can remember, and much as I try I cannot pronounce it right – perhaps that is a small mercy. I see you shudder at it – good. Now imagine hearing such words and more in their true fell tongue, chanted maniacally at you by family and friends, their eyes rolling back in their heads, their twisting mouths drooling spit to the floor. Then you might have a fraction of the nightmares I will suffer till the day I am released from this world.

 

Quetzacthulhu

The UK General Election 2017: Voting for Corbyn

18157658_289505651497933_4857664200522052152_n

 

On the 8th of June I’ll be voting Labour. I’ve never voted Labour in my life nor really considered it. While this may be a bit of an echo chamber I wanted to say why I will be this time, despite the fact that I do not have full confidence in a Labour victory, and wonder if they will in fact sadly suffer a large defeat.

I am not voting them simply ‘to win’, and then consider my vote wasted if/when they don’t. I am voting for them because I believe the more support shown for a left alternative the better.

When I was in school I was somewhat vaguely a nationalist, fiercely individualist and proud of our country. Iraq War aside, I was running more or less entirely off my own steam. John Major was in power and then Tony Blair, and politics to me then was simply choosing between two sides both of whom may have been the same lots of people. I found UK politics tremendously dull and stagnant, and it’s no wonder my grasp of things was all over the place or entirely missing, with nobody in charge to instil in me a sense of fairness and empathy for others on a political scale. Instead I turned for a while to anarcho-capitalism and it’s values of inherent self-interest.

My politics have drifted and fluctuated and changed a lot over the years, turning from right to left and lefter still (with brief stray moments far away from the trend), but I know that Corbyn’s attitude and policies are far more in line with my own current and developing principles and sense of fairness and justice than any other politician I have come across.

I am voting for Corbyn because he is the underdog, unfairly hounded by the media who for some reason have virtually given a free pass to the toxic, self-serving, sneering harridan May. I simply do not understand how people can support her in any way. Whether this election runs on politics or personalities, in both senses I find May horrible. I’m not sure I could stand to see her smug victory face.

18402660_295829164198915_8306160264411387493_n

I am voting for Labour because the Tories act like they can get away with absolutely anything, say anything, or not say anything at all, and still win by a landslide. The media narrative pushes this as well, and it’d be naive to believe a great amount of people don’t believe this. May could rip a fox apart on live TV and the people would chant strong and stable. Or ‘better of two evils’. I am aghast that this is the case, that after everything people will still vote Tory, and I am determined to stand up against these prevailing winds, even if my voice is lost.

I am voting for Labour because whether this election is or isn’t about Brexit, I consider the Tories to be the worst by far in both regards, and Labour the best chance at standing up to them and diminishing their overall strength. I have zero faith in May and the Tories handling either the country or the Brexit negotiations with anything less than arrogant Trump bluster, incompetence and savage self-interest, and letting the common people bear the harsh brunt of the decisions.

I am voting for Corbyn because I stand up firmly against the ideas that having a beard, not wearing a tie, protesting, not standing up to the national anthem, having peace talks with those we are fighting, and wishing for nuclear disarmament are contrary to being a good leader, or even simply bad qualities to have as a person. I stand up entirely against the nationalistic, jingoistic and xenophobic view of what a leader should be in this day and age – frankly, I stand up against my past self.

To reiterate, Labour may well lose, and it may be by a lot. If I believe in the values I do, if I am opposed to the things I am, then I must do my small part in making them lose by as little as possible. I must do my small part in demonstrating that there will remain support for a true left in the UK. I must lend my voice to the argument that we cannot go on with two almost mirror image parties, go on with the status quo, or with no real lasting change.

I am voting for Labour because I must do my bit, even against all odds, against the prospect of the left dividing and disintegrating for a long time. If I can do anything to stop or slow this happening, even something miniscule or seemingly negligible, then I should.

I am voting for Labour because I see this more and more as a battleground, one where I see clearly which side I should be on. I do not see it as a party divide – I have never been one for party politics – but as something more fundamental, based on attitudes. I understand the right wing. The right believe their money is theirs alone, they worked for it, it’s theirs. That makes sense. They believe in family and work and country, and often faith. The left believe that we should all do what we can to help those less fortunate and make the world a more equal place than it was before. The right believes in conservatism – looking to the past, for traditional values – and the left believes in progressivism – looking at the past but heading to the future and trying to improve our lot, even if that upsets the apple cart. I am not interested in stability and security. I am interested in change.

18198442_291740214607810_7211163805477428885_n

I am voting to stand my ground against those who would use ‘do-gooder’ as an insult. Against those who believe nationalist values, security and stability and military strength and isolationism and homogeneity are the most important things for a country rather than addressing the plight of the disadvantaged and vulnerable. That it is better to wave a flag and bow to the Queen than help the homeless off our streets, or to fund the NHS, or to stamp out fox hunting, or educate people.

I am of the opinion altruism, unity and looking forward are essential to the world and its necessary progression and enlightenment, and that looking backwards is only a good thing when it comes to learning from our history and our mistakes. I do not want to stagnate and I do not want to regress. The world has so much further to go and this snail crawl there is not good enough. As a technocrat I believe the left is the way most likely to lead to a New Enlightenment. Invention and scientific breakthroughs owe little to traditionalism.

I am voting for socialist values – despite once seeing socialism as a dirty word, like many still do – because I now believe self-interest is wrong, that it is wrong to not look beyond your own doorstep. Everybody is different, some of us more empathetic than others (and it takes all sorts… almost all sorts…), but while I am no bleeding heart (and often a misanthrope) I decide to lay my hat with those who consider helping others a positive thing.

I argued with a friend during Labour’s leadership election over Corbyn. He believed, as many core Labour voters do, that voting Corbyn in would spell the end of the Labour party. He argued that the most important thing was getting the Tories out of power, and that I was in a privileged position to talk about principles when people were starving and dying out there. He was right, I am in a relatively privileged position. But you can’t simply call for empathy and alleviation for those suffering most right now and decide that that clearly far outweighs support for those countless millions of the future, all those later generations living under the yoke and suffering from the fact nobody ever took a stand against the system because of self-defeating prophecies.

I do not vote on party lines, I am not, except in the present terms, a ‘Labour voter’. I believe that as long as those proposing real change are crushed or ignored or voted against, we will always flip flop back and forth, that people will continuously suffer as they have been doing throughout our political history. It should NOT simply be about who gets into power at one moment to the next. Labour, Tories, Labour, Tories. It’s about exacting change that will last, and not condemning future generations for more of the same, more blame game, more ‘look what your lot did, let’s try our lot now even though we did the same too but worse’. I find looking back at our incredibly long and gruelling two-sides-of-the-same-coin political history frankly shameful, especially that we call ourselves a democracy.

It is not simply the case that people’s lives and livelihoods are at stake now. It is the case that they have always been at stake, and that they always will, unless we show our support for what we think is right and fair in the grand scheme of things. Regardless if it will win or not.

No apathy. Accept cynicism and pessimism and move on, do it anyway. Tell people what you want. You must, or you are not just robbing yourself of a voice, you are letting down those most vulnerable in our society – those now and those that will exist in the future – who need your vote.

I was once young and confused and drawn towards an obsession with the Union Jack and our imperialist history. I was “British and proud”. Now I can quite honestly say I am not proud to be British, and see little to no reason to be.

But I would like to be.

 

Change

 

Awesome Batman Art #2

More great pictures of Batman, his family and his rogues!

 

Nathan Szerdy

Cards by Nathan Szerdy

kidnotorious

arkham_riot_by_kidnotorious

Tom Kelly

bat_storm___by_artist_tom_kelly_by_tomkellyart-d4szs8x

jaytablante

by jaytablante

Brandon Holt

Brandon Holt

Dan Hipp

by Dan Hipp

Godmachine

by Godmachine

Alex Rodway

by alexrodway

Dave Seguin

Dave Seguin

chasingartwork

hit_me__by_chasingartwork-d7urta4

Weary Road

WEARY ROAD

By Set Sytes

 

 

We used to call it Weary Road. We never knew its real name. I went back there, I couldn’t tell you just why, and here I am now, driving down its grey lane, and it seems so very long.

We used to go there whenever there seemed too much chaos for one world to hold. We used to go and sleep together – just sleep. Side by side under the trees on the side of the road. I never liked waking up and leaving that place, and neither did you. We liked leaving the road even less than we liked leaving each other.

The engine is purring, a soft rumble lulling my mind. Music is playing on the stereo, but it seems so quiet, drowned out by a thickness in the air. The soft melody playing in my head is louder.

Trees pass on either side. Their leaves so red in the dropping sun.

It is warm in the car. I look in the mirror and see my own eyes looking back at me. They seem so sad and endless. I force my eyes back down to the road.

I wish you are here with me. We used to fight monsters together, but the monsters outgrew us. They grew and grew and we never did.

You said you’d meet me here, back on Weary Road. I keep thinking I’ll see you standing there, waiting. Some vain hope, for you never appear. You’re something lost, something gone.

I haven’t passed a single car. It’s just the road, and now the light is all gone except that of my headlights, lying soft and white on the tarmac. The trees are all dark but as I approach they turn briefly pale and spectral like tall ghosts.

I’m so tired. My eyes are blinking slower and slower. I feel like I’m wading through the world. The clarity of everything is turned down, like the dial on the stereo. Fading away, replaced by a heavy blanket.

I don’t know how long I’ve been driving. Hours, maybe days now. The road goes on a lot longer than I ever remember. But I think I’ll stay. Sometimes I think I like being tired.

When I close my eyes there’s a slow yawning rush of blood to my head, like water filling a tank. Whenever I open my eyes the world seems different, but I can’t tell you how. Only that it’s winding down.

My speed might have slowed to a crawl. I don’t know. I’m not looking at anything but what’s straight in front of me. That black line prefaced with white, dragged out to the horizon and beyond.

Maybe I never reached the end before. It’s hard to see too far ahead, with the dark cluster of forest and these long, languid bends.

I know you found it hard. I think you wanted to come back here, but maybe you stopped believing it could do anything for you. I think all you really wanted to do was sleep. That’s all I want, anyway.

The car drives on. I am just its passenger. My hands on the wheel are only a pretence; I’m not moving it.

In the back of the car are my father’s gun and a rope to tie with. I can feel them there behind me, like patient devils.

I’ll find you, maybe. I miss you.

When I reach the end of the road, I’ll know.

I’ll see you again, I know. We’ll meet again, down at the end of Weary Road.

I close my eyes and let the car drive.

 

Weary Road