WULF #7

Bad news in that How Not to Kill Yourself won’t come out in paperback this month as expected – the publishing company Microcosm found a load more zines to sell and figured to get through them before it came out. Good news is that gives us more time to get HNTKY shipshape.

Anyway, here’s the seventh lil part to the funny, sexy and bloody sci-fi/fantasy/western/adventure novel WULF.

 

FOUR

 

 

A gush of warm blood soaked his hand. He twisted the blade deeper, felt a sickening snag, and ripped through it with the saw-edge. His hand was almost inside, and the blood, eager in its will to leave the body, ran all the way to his elbow. There was a foul smell: a symptom of a rended stomach.

The woman made a small imitation of a grunt, an echo of surprise. Her lips hung loose and her eyes were bright and looked right into his as she died.

With one aggressive pull his Rathian knife was free, and the woman slipped to the ground. Jay touched his side. He was bleeding himself; her sickle had been . . . provoking.  Unlike her, though, he would certainly live.

He wiped his knife (Ugly was its name, carved into the handle, for ugly was its work) on her breeches, and started to look through her pockets. He found what he was looking for: a drawstring bag of yellow jewels. They shone like bright little suns of piss.

Jay placed the bag in an inside pocket of his jerkin, scanned the horizon, and walked back to his horse. Khyber stood like a shadow under a small stunted alacia. There was a light pink summer blossom in the topmost branches, and it had decorated the ground around him. Some of the petals lay on his back and adrift in his mane, but he made no move to shake them off. His body was sleek black velvet and very warm to the touch, and the hair poured down his shoulders like lava.

‘That’s three down Khy,’ Jay said as he hoisted himself up. He needed no stirrups or saddle. ‘Three down, eight to go.’

Khyber made no noise in reply, but he lifted his head and trotted towards the horizon.

 

He remembered.

He saw faces of all the people he had killed, faces of the people who had tried to kill him. They were mostly the same, but not always.

He saw many women he had lain with, many women he had hunched against, thrust against, pulled forwards, bent over, women whose cheek he had touched and women who he had stripped: all those creatures whose morsels he had tasted. Women who had tried to murder him before, or afterwards. The men who had interrupted, to their shame and anger, and often to their mortal regret.

He remembered why Sal at the bar didn’t like him.

He pictured his laugh: part of him cringed, and part of him didn’t care; only the parts were blending, sipping at each other and spitting back.

He saw perfection, and as he did storm clouds gathered and the lilac in the sky darkened to a bruised magenta, and she became shadowed and lost to him.

Under the Circle’s Shadow . . .

He saw horses rearing in fire and flame as guns cracked around him and cannon fire threw up volcanos of dirt. He remembered scrabbling, coughing, trying to make out the shapes in the smoke and the sprays of blood, and the endless, endless cries.

He heard the kill, kill chant that rumbled through the very soil, rising to bounce back and forth off the high yellow rocks that looked down on them. Kill, kill, kill from hundreds of the lizard like things, the Grey Ark warriors crawling stickily over the stones and splashing in the twin streams that wound towards him.  He remembered a great brick of a man, dark red mottling covering his back in scenes of Hell, standing tall and beating his bare chest, screaming ‘KILL! KILL!’ back at them, raising fat double chambered guns wrapped in leather strips and firing slug after pounding slug at those grey-green fish-people that continued to chant, hurling spears like javelins and some firing their own guns: loathsome squid rifles and sharp anorexic weapons loaded with metal scrap.

He remembered hiding, waiting with a knife in his teeth and two cocked pistols pointing at the slip of daylight that broke the cave wall. Waiting for those filmed yellow eyes to block the light, the first reptilian gaze to be shattered into sunken yolks. Kill, kill, kill. As the others lay dead. Their Red Serant – his name was Babric Twofist, and he had really loved those guns, what had he called them again? That’s it: Bet Fist and Babby Fist. Bet & Babby, the Two Fists – his head was now no longer a part of his body. Not that he’d felt it: he’d already taken three harpoons through one way and out the other.

He saw Savvi, lit under the glow of a blue lamp, the light making her darker, and colder in that beautiful way, like an icicle. They were in a tent, drinking heavily, and it was warm, so warm, they had taken off their shirts . . . He saw himself pawing at her, leering and laughing and making crude come-ons into jokes, and jokes into come-ons. He showed her his new sword; a wicked thing, a saber as yet without a name, and perhaps too nice for one. He showed her his guns and he showed her Ugly. She seemed most interested in the knife, purring in his ear that she liked ugly things.

‘You won’t like me then,’ he’d said. She’d laughed at him and batted his hands away. When he came on too strong, pushing her to the ground, she explained to him, with a smile on her face, how very quickly and easily she could give his penis a snip – well, she added, serrated was a better word, or sliced.

The next day he had woken up with a saber without a name (he never did give it one before it broke, but then again nor did he with any guns; only Ugly carried the honour), two guns, his knife, some ammo, and a furious libido. He was minus all his money (and it had been quite a lot at that point), almost all of his food, the last bottle of vhiskat, and the tent.

At no point did Savvi appear to make him breakfast.

 

He dreamt, and he saw, and he heard, and he remembered. They were not pure memories, only their shades, their fragments – or more correctly their imprints, for they were left behind in the body, ghost copies for the new owner. Something inside was pushing them at him, aggressive but not hostile. He tried to grab at them, but there was so much, and all he could think was heat and sex and of two pistols thick with rust, chambers revolving slower and slower, never stopping. Then his mind saw a stream of gore, and of old friends with sightless black eyes. He thought The Eyes of Rath and he thought Grey Ark and he thought Alexia.

A ring of mountains, a swarm of peaks like the black hunch of crow wings.

Savvi the harlot that never gave.

A tapestry of fucks surrendered.

Cold winds and –

Alexia.

 

Much of what he had dreamt, much of those half-memories that had bubbled up from inside his brain (a brain that had long been used to another mind, and still carried its luggage, still had its pictures hung on the walls), in fact, almost none of it would be remembered the next day. At least not at first.

There was one dream that would keep coming, and it surfed around his other dreams, waiting for its turn.

Eventually it got impatient, and it swooped in.

 

He looked at his alarm clock after he’d put his book down and turned the light out. 3:32. The sheets felt unclean, just like they had felt unclean the night before. There was a faint glow in the corner of his room; he never knew the name of it, only that it didn’t need batteries because it charged itself with daylight. Tucked away as it was, away from the window, it never got much of the solar power it desired – but it was never going to provide enough light to read by, anyway.

Sleep came, as it always did, with excruciating delay. But, thankfully (and perhaps it had been that rare walk to the shops earlier), in an hour he was asleep.

There was a battlefield of broken cars, all used wrecks, all grey and rotting with weeds that cracked and burst like dust when the birds landed.

The birds were diseased ravens with gristly red veins that throbbed over white feathers, and all of them would fly up silently wherever the green eyed man appeared.

The green eyed man was –

‘Wait,’ said a voice. The voice of a young woman. ‘How do I do this . . . Oh, it’s on. Well . . . This is weird, but here goes.’

The cars were all gone, so were the birds, so was the man. There was just the sand, and the lilac sky, and the words that were written as she spoke.

 

Under the Circle’s shadow

Inside the happiest hawk

Beds the key that is hidden

The key that unlocks the door

 

The wind took up as she chanted. Something somewhere rattled.

When she was done, there was a pause, broken only by the wind. Then the voice laughed, and said, ‘I expect you want more than that, don’t you? No problem, I’ve been meaning to fix this . . . I mean a whole year, what a waste of time . . .’

There was another pause.

‘Shit,’ said the woman. ‘Sorry, gotta go. Good luck, please don’t hate me.’ There was a click, and then the world exploded.

 

Red, green, black, blue

White, orange, yellow, purple

Faster and further

Distance travelled in colour

Sound as picture

Light as thought

The key that unlocks the door

Red green black blue

White orange yellow

Purple

Over hill and under stars

We’re going on an adventure

RED GREEN BLACK BLUE

This hurts

WHITE

ORANGE

Stop

YELLOW

PURPLE

We’re going on a

 

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How Not to Kill Yourself published soon!

Great news – because my don’t-call-it-self-help zine How Not to Kill Yourself has been selling so well, the publishers Microcosm have decided to bring forth the publication/printing date of the paperback forward – a whole year!

It was originally going to be released next spring (well, originally, next winter!) – and that’s still the official release date for Amazon and bookstores and so forth – but if all things go smoothly it will be advance-released later this month on Microcosm’s own site!

Great for me especially, given how hard it was to wait such a very long time…

Watch this space.

The zine can still be bought here.

 

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The Violet Dark #6

Here is the fifth little part of the hallucinogenic road thriller/horror The Violet Dark, following directly on from Part 5. You can buy the full novella for mere pennies/cents/whatever on Amazon, or as part of the short story collection Faces in the Dark

 

 

He turned, yelling ‘RUN!’ at her, and as he turned like a circus ride the blot in the grass reached up with a scabbed whip and pulled at his ankle. He lurched at the ground like a coffin-body tipped and evicted. It struck his chin and he suddenly, face in grass, felt coddled by a burrow of ant-things, a swarm of nests gathering up the tangles of his facial hair and tying them to posts, them to ensnare him here like some Gulliver.

Pain bruised its way through his chin, carried up the lines of his jaw by a new postal service of ant-things, the old nervous system left hammered and purged. All innocent backs to the wall.

He was spun by a powerful force, and the galaxy of his vision was inflicted by horror, by a famine of good things and a desolation of ugliness laid bare.

He had only come so close to the face – was it their face? Was it one of many? – about seven times. Seven times seen that black grinning, garing maw, that boiled, pustulous sea. Always at night. In the doomy dive-bar depths of the violet dark. Treasury chest of nightmares.

He shoved with all his ancestral might and the stormcloud crouched over him like a lightless wolf alighted, pulled back by the hem of its neck, its soul’s nametag, by a hand from above only ever visible as forceless void.

Its snout vomited some gurlish possessed dribble, then shrunk back into the huddle of features; the draws, cabinets and chairs that sat, circled and silent in the gloom of the gaunt attic-space of the devil. The door open wide, a cold usher to the wordless guests of the dead.

He realised the shadow was crunched, almost doubled. It was hurt.

He looked around, sweeping the treeline over the road with shipdeck vision. He saw her, running off into where his gaze could not follow. The violet dark between the trees.

He followed on foot, as fast as he could. He realised in slow-motion catch-up, an inside runner huffing to the delivery post to give the updated news, that he had left the shotgun.

He turned and saw that right behind him was the shadow, and suddenly the shotgun was in his hand after all, it was part of him all along, and he raised his hand like the fiery finger of God’s wrath and he squeezed the trigger and the head of the thing – was it a head? Was it one of many? – fell off.

 

She loped through the air like a moonwalker, drifting in terror. It was the fastest her body could agree with her on. She could see next to nothing. Clasped in the bosom of the wood. She stopped, a second-guess, a moment’s premeditation. An image of a sawn-off shotgun.

The sound almost raised the graveful bowels of Hell.

 

She crawled through an orchard of thorns. The twisting claws of the undergrowth. She heard thudding all around, and incoherent screams and warcries. Footsteps of the hunter.

The plants bled together, caught up in this passing storm.

Focus

The plants blood blood of the plants my blood

Focus you fucking bitch whore cunt

Your life depends on it. The barrel of thought rolled into her, and things jammered a little clearer.

Quiet now. Remember the cats – move like them.

She stood up and turned right into him.

Him.

 

Her. After a moment of abject panic, the second before the storm, he saw her for who she was. He knew that light in the world.

He gathered her up in his arms.

 

A bear risen out of the swampy darkness and she wrapped in a bear-hug.

Canoes slit through soft, thin bayous on either side of her. In scared, bewildered embrace.

Into the heart of things.

 

‘What was it?’

‘I call them shadows.’

‘You’ve seen one before?!’

‘Oh, yes. All the time.’

 

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India Bones and the Ship of the Dead #4

Sorry for the delay in India Bones and the Ship of the Dead coming out – it’s been long finished, I’m just waiting on a good cover!

In the meantime, here’s the fourth short installment, leading on from Part 3.

 

*

 

India walked the grey planks of the ship, feeling half-dead himself. Around him skull faces eyed him from empty sockets. There was saltspray coming in off the wind, but no part of the deck or rails felt damp; instead, the wood was dry and dusty and pock-marked. He ran his fingers along the side and it crumbled. He felt like a good enough gale would blow the whole lot into the sea. It almost didn’t seem like wood at all, and he blanched when the idea popped in his head that he was walking on grey bones.

‘You know what mate,’ a voice came from behind him, and he turned to see Grimmer.

‘What?’

‘I never asked you your name. And I called you rude. Where were my manners?’

‘It’s India Bones.’

Grimmer gave a short laugh, and this time India, with fixed attention, saw that the sounds seemed to be in slight discord with the movement of his jaw, and he realised they were not coming from a material presence at all. The mouthless jaw merely worked its best to accompany them.

‘Bones aye?’ Grimmer said. ‘Well you’re in the right company, that’s for sure.’

India looked back out at the sea.

‘You hungry, Mr Bones?’

‘Call me India. You eat?’

‘Sure, sure. Well, we eat for nostalgia, at any rate. But I remember what it’s like to be actually hungry. We’ve got plenty of ship biscuits. Look,’ Grimmer reached into the shadows of his coat and fished out a round black thing. ‘Take it.’

India looked at it. ‘Is it edible?’

‘You’re in no position to turn it down, let’s put it that way.’

‘Alright.’ India took it and bit off a corner. It was chewier than he figured, both salted and sugared, and not half-bad. There was a slight touch of death to it, but nothing’s perfect.

‘How many are on this ship?’ India asked.

‘Thirteen,’ Grimmer said. ‘Can’t make it up, can you? I always wonder if we’re going to get anymore, but it’s been years and no more, so maybe that’s that.’

‘Fourteen, now.’

‘For now. Can’t be having with you ruining our unlucky number,’ Grimmer said.

‘The others keep looking at me.’

‘Of course they do, what do you expect? The living stare at the dead, can’t expect the dead not to stare at the living. But look, none of us jolly rogers means you any harm. See him?’ Grimmer pointed. ‘That’s Sockets. He’s alright, he just stares a lot. And him?’ Grimmer gestured at a large skeleton with a big chest by the mainsail. ‘That’s Big Cage. Wouldn’t hurt a fly. Unless the fly hurt him first, of course. There, she’s Hairless – and ain’t she pleased she can wear a corset now without it being hard to breathe? No more breathing for her, except out of habit.’ Grimmer turned. ‘Over there, looking rightfully sheepish, that’s Spares. Recognise him?’

‘Y-es,’ India said. ‘Yes.’ And he did. Now he saw them one by one, he realised it wasn’t that hard to tell them apart at all. It wasn’t just their clothes and adornments, or their bone structure. There was something about each of them that made them as different individuals as he and Mr Bassard.

India looked further along the ship, and saw a skeleton standing near the helm. He was taller than the others, bar Big Cage, and wore a black tricorne hat and long black coat. Belts glinting with metal were twisted and tied about his bones, and each strap holstered a pistol – three, maybe four in all. But it was the bones themselves that took India’s eyes. Alone amongst the others, his skeleton was as black as his clothes.

‘Ah,’ Grimmer said, seeing where India’s gaze lay. ‘That’s Blackbone. No, we don’t know why he looks like that. Maybe he fell deeper and darker than any of the rest of us, afore he was pulled out of the brine and onto these decks. He doesn’t speak much, and I doubt he wants you here, so best not try and make friends too hard. He’s the least jolly of all of us jolly rogers.’

‘Is he the captain?’

‘No, no. There’s no captain on this ship. But if there was, I reckon it’d be Blackbone.’

‘Can I be captain?’

‘Ha! Bit presumptuous, aren’t you? Bit quick on the draw? No, you can’t be captain. See the ship’s wheel? I told you nobody can touch it, not even Blackbone. The ship is its own master.’

‘I see,’ India said, not really seeing. Grimmer, sensing he wanted to be alone, nodded and strode slowly off.

India leaned over the side and stared at the swell of the sea. A thrill of excitement was beginning to dance around within him, marshalling troops to its cause. An excitement of having truly left Mexico Island for the first time in over thirteen years. On being on board a real ship – a grey, mouldering ship, but a ship no less – and sailing the seas with creatures of dark magic, with the dead, perhaps the only living person to have ever done so.

Well, he always did know he was special.

There was another pang of homesickness, for the alleys of Rug, the Mohawk markets, the comfort and security of Mrs Wayles and the inebriated friendship of Mr Bassard. The palms trees that swayed on the southern beach, the jungles and cliffs in the centre of the island, the Aztec Tomb . . .

But the pang was getting blown away by the sea breeze; wisp by wisp it was being replaced with salt and wood and bones.

He wondered what kind of ship it was. A brig, a frigate? It didn’t quite have the shape of anything he’d seen previously. There was less of a crew than you’d expect for a ship of this size, so a lot of space for him to cast his eyes about, filling his gaze with the huge white sails billowing in the breeze, with the forestry of the masts and the ropes and the netting. He looked at the helm, at the wheel, and imagined commanding the whole ship, turning it to his course, yelling orders to the crew, stuck to his post in sun and storm.

He drank it in, and then he returned his eyes to the sea, and drank that in too.

This wasn’t the same sea he saw from the beaches. There was no shoreline to lap against. Here, the waves moved like beasts, rolling long and fat and huge. No doubt under the surface dark leviathans with unknowable minds and purpose pushed the waves along, guiding them back and forth to each other.

An orange sun beat against his eyes and flashed off the water.

The water that was everywhere and the water that was forever.

India squinted into the sun and looked away. Had that much time passed already? How long had he been out?

He had a funny feeling inside him, a very funny feeling –

The ship plunged into another beast-wave, and the prow soared up over the crest, and India was suddenly, violently sick.

 

*

 

India was laid up in the hammock he’d woken in, belly finally settling and closing eyes witnessing the night through the porthole. The moon flashed over him as the great gloom of sleep folded in.

His thoughts, not yet fully dreaming, drifted like the ocean current back towards Eyeless and Rug, Mohawk and Maiden, back towards the jungles and the cliffs and, finally, deliberately, the Aztec Tomb.

A long time ago, the Caribbean had been ruled by the fabulously rich, and now very dead, Aztec Empire. Nobody were quite sure how it had ended; there were many theories, and maybe all of them were true, maybe none of them. All India knew was that the Aztecs weren’t around anymore. But that didn’t mean they hadn’t left things. There were still ruins, he knew. And where there were ruins there must, inevitably, be treasure.

India would go looking for Aztec Gold. People would laugh at him, tell him he was wasting his time. Everything here was dug up, ransacked, stolen and sold a long time ago. Same the world over. The only thing left was the lost treasure of Bucklemeir Horn, and the search for that had long been abandoned, and its existence become a mere legend.

In time India would agree that Mexico Island was barren as far as riches were concerned. But the world was much bigger; there was West and East Indigo, there was San Dillinger and Tortugal, there was India, the City of Gold on the island of Indiana, that had to have something, of course it did, and these ladies and gents who had spent their whole lives locked in their own houses had never seen any of it. They just assumed. You couldn’t just assume.

There was only one tomb he’d found on Mexico Island, a few miles east of Rug and into the jungles at the top of the cliffs there. He’d scrambled and climbed for an hour, scratched by branches, twisted by vines and cut on rocks, and when he’d got there he’d found a path that had led all the long way back to Rug itself. The tomb had been empty, of course, and not just that, it was also dusted and smoothed and there were fences up and even a sign. There were a few Ratboys and a couple of older Mohawkians lounging around the entrance and inside, drinking and guffawing. They’d given him the eye and he’d given them it back. He’d slouched over to the side of the tomb walls and put his back against it. Eventually he’d gone home.

He’d visited again, many times. He’d soon learned when nobody else would be there and would always come at these times, pacing the tomb and searching for imaginary treasure and cutting down imaginary pirates. He always took the cliff climb up to the tomb. He tried to pretend the path wasn’t there, except on the way back, when he was tired and dirty and often bruised and bleeding, and the moon was out and lit the cliff as the quick route to death. The path lay half gleaming in stops and starts, as though draped silver had itself been clad in shifting, filtered shadows.

India’s breathing slowed, and the shadows of that jungle path danced about him, taking on black, grinning shapes, and then they were sails, whipping at him from all sides with the wind that seemed to suck itself from the very earth, and the trees were gone, the path was gone, there was only water and salt, salt as far as the eye could see . . .

 

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Awesome Batman Art #1

And now for something completely different…

To break up this blog from writing and writing about writing, I thought, being a massive Batman fan, as well as loving cool and interesting art as much as anyone, I’d start including posts showcasing some great art of Batman and his family and rogues gallery that I’ve collected (of which there is an infinite amount out there).

Giving artists their credit is important of course, so I’ll only include ones where I know the artist.

(If anyone wants any of these pictures taken down, just ask)

 

Happy-Mutt

by Happy-Mutt

Francis001

macrotus_by_francis001 2

Blule

Batman by Blule

Daniel Scott Gabriel Murray

Mr. Freeze by Daniel Scott Gabriel Murray

Alex Garner

Batgirl-26

Vvernacatola

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madness_is_the_emergency_exit_by_vvernacatola-d6a292k

Tyskas

mr__scarecrow_by_tyskas

Vartan Garnikyan

Vartan Garnikyan

Ben6835

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Nox-dl

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SLADE extract #1

I’ve been working on the sequel to WULF, called SLADE. It’s been hard to find a suitable extract for this site that won’t spoil anything, especially for those who haven’t read any of WULF (but might do one day), but I think this will be fine…

 

He leaned closer, his back permanently hunched as his fingers skittered across the holographic keyboard, for all the world looking as though he was dancing puppets or playing the piano beyond mastery.

One of his hands reached down and plucked a piece of nojo from the desk, deftly peeling it between two fingers and sticking it to the side of his bald head at the same time as another hand did the same with another piece. His round amber eyes flickered for a moment, as he felt the rush. The drug kept his mind working as fast as his fingers.

Nobody could type as fast as a spider. Not with six long spindle-fingers for each thin and hairy arm. Six arms in full, sprouting from a fat, sunken body as black as pitch. Thirty-six fingers to dance across the huge array of holo-keys of every known alphanumeric character and symbol, thrice replicated. Thirty-six fingers to play with people’s lives.

There was a knock at the door and he paused, his hands arching in mid-air. ‘Come in,’ he said, his high voice like the screech of a child.

A woman walked in, her own hands stiff behind her back. ‘Spider, two of our men have been killed. The culprits are a man and a woman unknown to us. Their dress is strange and barbaric, and the man is covered in extensive tattooing.’

He did not turn from his screens. There was a camera in the room and he looked at the woman on the respective monitor. His vibrant orange eyes blinked slowly inwards from the sides like closing elevator doors.

‘Interesting,’ he said. He paused, letting the silence reign through the room, drinking in the woman’s tension.

‘Get eyes on them,’ he said. ‘And patch me in.’

‘Yes, Spider. Will that be all?’

‘Yes.’

The woman nodded her head sharply and left. Her relief was palpable in her step.

The Spider turned his attention to the rest of the screens that covered every inch of the wall. Zoomed out it might look like a compound eye, like that of a giant fly. In front of him were reams of scrolling data, data that would never pause, never stop.

He leaned in.

 

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Tales of Black Pine Falls: The Preacher and the Goat

There is a place called Black Pine Falls.

A place where everything looks like a shadow of something else. The trees like tall, stiff men in the dark. A forest of people, hiding in mist. Huge caves like open mouths. Somewhere the rush of water.

You might go looking for it.

It’ll let you get close. Maybe you’ll hear the faint cries of children. The soft thump of an axe into wood. The smells of life and death and the swampblood. And just when you’re almost on top of it all it’ll be gone in smoke, leaving you with nothing but echoes.

The people in the town wipe holes on fogged windowpanes and stare out, at the distant lights of your torches and lanterns. Eventually the lights retreat and go out.

You can look as hard as you like. It’ll let you get as close as a whisper in your ear, before there’s nothing, nothing but fog and the clustering trees.

It simply isn’t there.

 

TALES OF BLACK PINE FALLS

The Preacher and the Goat

 

Zebediah Williams, Preacher Williams to the folk of Black Pine Falls, walked out of the town booze store holding the bottle up and his head high. He knew they were looking at him. All of them, judging him. They always were. He could hear the whispers. Screw them. He’d see them at church. He knew their secrets. Why add one more? The town had enough already.

Let them see. He was their preacher and he was drinking. He’d been drinking for a while. He knew it was getting worse. So what? They’d still come. If the goddamn crows didn’t keep them away.

He’d started when Rosie left him in the summer. He wasn’t sure of the day. She left him after the thing with the goat. Now she probably had eyes for all the men. Oh, he knew the score. Nobody ever thought he was right for her. There were lots of tough men in Black Pine Falls; Zebediah was not one of them. Big gal Rosie could beat him in an arm wrestle without trying; he’d always act like he let her win but they both knew.

He was smart though, and god-fearing. That should have been enough. He used to be level-headed too; he used to be as down to earth as Rosie herself. Scorning the superstitions of the townsfolk and their wild stories about trees and phantoms and creatures of the forest. Never a week would go by where you wouldn’t hear somebody tell about some strange thing that happened to them, big or small. Zebediah would call them out for their pagan blasphemies and command them to go to church. And most of them did. Not as many now, but enough.

The weirdness hadn’t come all at once; it’d crept up on him. Just little things, hardly worth mentioning to anyone, confusing, almost inexplicable things that quietly addled his mind. A missing thing here, a strange sound there. Often it was just a peculiar feeling inside. Zebediah blamed it all on lack of sleep and stress put upon him by Rosie. Until that one event that everything changed.

It was the end of the first week of October today. Everyone who lived in stone’s throw of the black pines had breathed their usual sigh of relief after September had passed, just like they always did. Not too relieved, though. Winter wasn’t long off, and Hallows Eve was right around the corner.

Caleb and his family lived in a bad spot, perhaps the worst. The man wasn’t talkative though; Zebediah wondered if Caleb had seen anything like he had. If he had, he seemed to be keeping sane enough. On the outside, at least.

Well, Caleb wasn’t as smart as Zebediah and so had less to lose.

Caleb. Zebediah spat, then took a swig from his bottle as he continued up the hill out of town towards the church. He’d never liked the man. He knew he made eyes at Rosie, even when they were together.

Well, he was welcome to her. They all were. All the logging crews. Fuck her. Why should he care? Caleb was welcome to take her just like he was welcome to be taken by the bogeymen that lived among the pines, any day now.

The thing that shook his grounded world views forever happened last November. It’d been cold, deathly cold for the month. He was blowing out candles at the altar, his back to the pews. The congregation had long left, but he’d kept the candles lit for a while, just kneeled in front of them. Praying, he told himself, but in truth just eager for the warmth.

He kept the last candle to see himself out through the side door and into his small home that adjoined the church. Ready to cover himself in blankets and shiver away the night. Rosie had been out that night, drinking with her friends.

He’d turned, and past the glow of the candle that blurred the centre of his vision, he saw a man sat down on the front pew, bent forward slightly with his arms over his knees and his hands clasped, as though thinking, or praying.

A lesser man than he would have dropped the candle. Then again, his first assumption was that it was one of the townsfolk come back to see him.

And, in a way, it was.

Zebediah moved closer, lowering the candle. That’s when his heart pulled a frozen one. The man was dead. He was a corpse.

The face was deeply wrinkled and stretched thin; the skin must have been sallow away from the candlelight. The eyes were not there, only black, sunken pits, less like someone had gouged out the man’s eyes and more like two small fists had been thrust all the way into his head. Meteor blasts in his face into which no light penetrated.

Zebediah knew him. It was Old Thomas, and he’d died the previous winter. Lost to the snow.

Zebediah was still a statue, unspeaking, unblinking, when Old Thomas turned his head towards him. The sound was something he’d never forget. It was like the uprooting of a sapling, all knots twisting and popping. Zebediah found himself face to face with that sightless dead man, dead man moving, dead man –

‘Don’t mind me Preacher,’ Old Thomas said, in the most terrible death’s rattle. Oh, it was him. It was him alright. ‘I’m just cleaning my sins away. Getting right with the lord.’

Preacher Zebediah Williams’s heart had kicked into furious overdrive at that point, and he’d run yelling out the church and to the town. He barely remembered anything of that night after the point when Old Thomas had spoken, but he knew the aftermath. Sure, he knew how it would have looked.

If only that had been all.

If that had been all, maybe Zebediah could have recovered. Not enough sleep wasn’t a good enough excuse anymore. It had happened, he knew that, even if nobody else did. But it was just one thing. One big thing. But crazy things had happened to a lot of people here. He was allowed one, right?

The distance from Rosie grew over the following months, as Zebediah lost his scepticism towards all things weird and unnatural. He began listening to other people’s stories. Really listening, quiet and nodding. He started to accept some things, such that there was something deathly wrong with the black pines. That there were many things happening that oughtn’t have happened.

He couldn’t remember when in the summer the goat had showed up. June was it, or early July? He knew it was the final straw, the moment when he lost Rosie for good, but that time was so blurry – he measured it in weirdness, not in days and dates.

Summer was a time when the stranger things of Black Pine Falls weren’t supposed to happen. Summer was a warm, peaceful time when you could walk away from the Timbersea and amongst the black pines without any unease. Providing you stayed out of the forest’s dark hearts of course, where the earth itself was black and cold and strewn with bogs that sucked you down. Swampblood, they called it. There must be gasses underneath, for the mud bubbled and burped at you. Even when Zebediah was at his most rational, there was nothing comforting in those places.

So, the goat had come. Nobody knew from where. It didn’t belong to anybody. Fact was nobody could remember there being goats in Black Pine Falls, but he guessed there must have been. Far as he knew the goat just stepped out from the woods and next thing you knew was grazing around the church, ready to meet Rosie.

When they were sure nobody owned it (and they hadn’t reckoned so; everyone knew everyone pretty much, and nobody could keep something like a goat secret for long) Rosie had quickly decided to keep it as a pet. Against Zebediah’s wishes, of course.

He’d lasted longer than he should have – three or four weeks – before he’d made up his mind. Finding goat shit in the aisles was when Zebediah knew the farce had to end. He’d taken the goat out into the woods. Holding the string in one hand, shotgun in the other.

He took him away from the Timbersea and stopped only when they met the stream. Zebediah didn’t know the place; he wasn’t sure he’d ever gone this far out. But a shotgun blast could carry a long way sometimes, and he wanted to be absolutely sure he wouldn’t be heard. He’d tell Rosie the goat escaped.

There’d been something strange about the water this far upstream. There was a silvery quality to it. A kind of dancing light. The sun, of course. Just the sun.

He’d raised the gun and the goat had looked at him. Everything seemed to fall silent. The birds, the breeze, even the sound of the stream.

His finger paused on the trigger.

The goat kept on looking, right in his eyes.

The world had stopped. It was just the two of them, him and the bastard goat, alone in the blackness, with nothing but the silver glint from the stream. Nothing but the –

The goat opened its mouth. ‘What is it you think you’re doing Preacher?’ it said.

Well, yeah, that was it. He’d run back raving, right into Rosie’s bewildered arms. In his madness he let slip his intent. He could have lied if he’d been in his right mind; after all, he’d dropped the shotgun back at the stream.

Rosie had packed her stuff the same day. It made no sense, it was just a goat! Just a fucking goat. At least that’s what he used to think. Didn’t she owe him any loyalty? She got so attached to things. All but him.

You can let a man be as mad as a jackrabbit, but you can’t ever let him kill your pet.

He should have shot the goat. Why didn’t he shoot it? He knew it was still out there, deep in the forest. Or maybe close by, watching him. He’d lost count of the number of nights he’d wake up sweating, the low croak of the goat’s words still ringing in his ears. What is it you think you’re doing Preacher?

What in the hell is it you think you’re doing.

Zebediah took another drink of his bottle, closing in on the church. He could already see the cluster of crows, and he grimaced. One day he’d get another shotgun and blow the whole lot up, bad luck or not. What more bad luck could he have?

His feet struck a rock and he winced, almost tripping over. Truth was that Rosie would have left him anyway. Everyone knew it.

Well, good luck to her. She’d chewed him out too many times. She’d never respected him. Far as he was concerned the bitch could have them all. All at the same time, why the fuck not?

Zebediah wiped his eyes and gripped the bottle tight. He shoved the church door open.

Old Thomas was in his regular spot, sitting hunched forward in the first pew, his pitted sockets staring into Zebediah.

‘What is it you think you’re doing, Preacher?’ he said.

Zebediah threw the bottle, smashing it a foot away from the corpse. What was left dripped down into the floorboards.

‘You shut the hell up Thomas! I ain’t got time for your shit!’

 

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The Self-Loathing Left and the Blame for the Alt-Right

I’ve flip flopped a lot on this whole idea in the wake of Brexit and Trump. At first it seemed all too easy to blame the left’s poor communication and reliance on identity politics. That “they” (all of them, apparently, if reactionaries are any judge) took too much time calling others who disagreed with them racist and privileged.  Maybe you’ve already seen the post-election Jonathan Pie video that went viral. But is there really enough evidence to say that this is a prime causal factor, and not just one dredged up by Captain Hindsight as a retroactive self-justifying attack tool of the right, and clasped to like a lifebelt by the drowning, self-loathing left?

What about the idea that these attitudes and people were always there, but that they were less galvanised to make themselves truly heard until now; the time has come when they can freely speak out, safe with their brethren at their backs, now that they have a platform with apparent political viability, and are too strong and numerous to be shut down. Or perhaps they were always shouting about it, but now we’ve given them the spotlight and chased away the shadows. Now they (once more) have figureheads in prominent political positions. They have emerged from the cracks in the world and are standing up. Events like the election of Trump, and the alt-right movements following or running in tandem elsewhere, are taken as a complete validation of their opinions, both those previously declared and those previously hidden deep down in obscurity.

And the left sits down and whines and licks itself and looks up with sad, protesting eyes and blames itself.

Do we really think that most of these small town people were – before the initial rise of Trump – really that up do date and widespread on Tumblr and Twitter and the various online frontline progressive echo chambers? Sure, the left called them racist a lot – and upset their precious, fragile pride at the very idea that they might *gasp* hold racist atttidues – but to take such umbrage surely meant that they already held the views they had, before they were called out on them. It was not that the these views did not exist, and were wormed into being by the faults of the left, but simply that they might have been exaggerated and galvanised under the toxic, populist breath of Trump and Brexit and so forth.

It’s like with the movie Borat. People will open up about the nastier things they think when they’re with someone they think agrees with them. Maybe that’s the unpleasant prime reason – that white nationalism and a desperate need for ‘Othering’ was there all along, fermenting just under the public eye (unless you were looking in the right places and didn’t have your head in the clouds/echo chambers). It just needed a spearhead, a public, visible sense of unity with the likeminded.

The Tumblrism and occasional much-derided liberal arts college campus culture isn’t all there is to the left, just like bigotry isn’t all there is to the right, but that’s how the media (on both sides) has framed it, as though it really plays a significant part. Sure, it helped to incite the alt-right counterculture – but I’d argue that counterculture was looking to be incited, and that giving them their fodder was just an unfortunate price of progress (not progress in all respects, but in the sense of sidelining the white male in order to support underprivileged minority groups – yes).

But while the alt-right helped Trump win, and he wouldn’t have existed as a candidate at all without them at the beginning – that didn’t mean he won the election from them. America is too vast and varied, and most voters I really doubt would have a clue about most of the things alt-righters meme about and circle jerk to in their own online safe spaces. An America where Trump succeeded entirely or almost entirely on the alt-reich vote is not one where Obama could ever have won two terms.

You want to know the biggest reason Trump won? Not his beginning, not his rise, but why he won? I wouldn’t say the left’s identity politics or its poor communication, I wouldn’t say safe spaces or “SJW agendas”, or any of that. I think if you wanted a single core cause, it could be summed up in one easy word.

Hillary.

(Bernie would have won!)

Enough said on that score, it’s been done to death and I’m sure I don’t need to go into it. Suffice to say, I’m certainly not “With Her”, nor ever was.

I agree that the left need better communication – but so does every side. The left is more varied than the right, and certainly far more at war with itself. The infighting is constant. But it’s still just a vast group of individuals after all (this might be hard for some to believe but the left isn’t a hive mind), and as individuals, as common, deeply flawed human beings, they are just as susceptible to easy insults online rather than calm debate, and to anger, trolling, arrogance, patronisation and frustration just as right-wingers are. They’re still just people; they don’t suddenly have a different fundamental way of acting and responding because they’re left-wing.

The left and right are, after all, both entirely reactionary. If people among the left try to debate and discuss pleasantly, rationally and logically (and even empathetically) online, and it does miraculously still happen, do you really think they will continue with that ad finitum when responded to with constant disparagement, verbal shutdowns, all the fallacies in the book, and the same buzzword insults used over and over (‘triggered’, ‘cuck’, ‘snowflake’, ‘libtard’, ‘typical tolerant leftie’, ‘liberal tears’, ‘safe space’ etc.)?  Sometimes it seems immediately responding with these aforementioned buzzwords are literally all that’s required of the alt-right when engaging in any capacity – even worse than the left’s reliance on words like “racist”.

Yes, it does indeed go both ways. Neither side should ever pretend a great deal of its supporters don’t shut down arguments and turn to insults as a first resort. Everything is reactionary. I have deep respect for those who continue to engage in as polite and reasoned discourse as they can, but can you truly blame those who fall to frustration and cynicism, and just plain give up on ever trying to take the high road?

The left wing has its hypocrisies of course – we all do – but in my opinion nothing compares to the alt-right. It annoys me that people expect the left wing to be weak, pacifist and to bow down under pressure, and yet when they are confrontational and fight suddenly it’s “ooh, see the so-called tolerance of the left! They’re the real thugs.” Non-violence only works because it is the velvet glove covering the iron fist.

Or people on the right will accuse the left of being the real racists (because of a fear-mongering and pride-sensitive concept of an anti-white agenda that is almost farcical if it wasn’t clung to by so many), or of being foul mouthed (witness the irony of all those comments attacking Madonna’s “degenerate” and “disgusting” speech at the Women’s March, whilst lauding the “straight-talking” of Trump).

The ultimate double standards come to communication. That the left wing actually accuses ITSELF, agreeing with the right, of not talking nicely and politely and limply enough, whilst giving the alt-right a free reign to be as horrible as they like, because hey, it’s the right, they don’t know any better right? They can be as nasty as they like to whoever they like (well, apart from good white Christian men of course), whereas it’s the left who has to bend the knee and not hurt the alt-right’s fragile snowflake super-easily-offended feelings (yep, there’s the final irony). Apparently a leftie showing some fight in them is more objectionable than a neo-nazi whose belief system is based on state violence and ethnic cleansing (“soft” or otherwise).

The most important quality for every member of every political persuasion is self-awareness. I feel members of every side supremely lack that. As I’ve already stated, everything is reactionary, and people need to recognise that more. Someone will take one particularly aggressive left/rightwinger and use that to then fuel their own future verbal assaults, because all left/rightwingers are the same, right? And because it’s easier to rise to anger and insults than to discuss and debate, it just creates a shitstorm that never, ever dies down. And when someone does offer an olive branch and try and debate rationally (which I do happen to see much more often on the left, but then again I am biased) it’s too late, the waters are already thoroughly muddied – all I see in reply to those honest posters are endless insults and ad hominems.

It’s fascinating (in a profoundly irritating way) to see the left painted as a weak target (both by its opponents and by itself). The right is so, so, SO easy to attack. Especially the alt-right. They fail on so many counts – science being one of them (the left has it’s science problems too, but not as many). And yet the right keep winning. That’s because the majority of people are naturally, innately drawn to right-wing concepts like the xenophobia of Othering, traditional values, deep faith and national identity/pride. The alt-right just exaggerates them all, and plays up to the idea of the wounded and victimised white man left behind.

It’s up to the left to pry people away from these tendencies, and that’s why they have the much harder fight. The alt-right could literally just sit there and trot out buzzwords and make a million offensive gaffes and piss off whoever they like, and lie and lie and lie more than any other, and act like total fools, absurdist caricatures, and they’d still have a good chance of winning, simply because they play on age-old fears and miseries and bitterness of a changing new world, simply because they tell people what they want to hear. Really, just about all you need to do is shout “BAH, IMMIGRATION!” and you’ll be applauded. The bar is set very low for right-wing populists.

Because they did win. They won because of establishment politicians like Hillary, who left them behind in the ensuing march of globalisation. They won because everybody confused the modern strain of liberal with the left wing, and they needed a real alternative. They won because the left was weak and divided, and because the siren calls of the right were attractive. A desire to be Great Again (when were they great exactly? Nobody seems to be pointing out exact time periods here).

They won. For now.

The real question for those lefties blaming themselves is: do we then open up leftleaning doors and deliberately give greater free reign and tolerance to attitudes that we were trying to stamp out or block, just so we get their vote? Which attitudes? A great many people want validation and acceptance of white pride and for Christianity to be free of persecution (i.e. keep privilege), for groups like BLM to be shut down, for the feminist movement to end, and for transexualism and other LGBT issues to be laughed out the room.  Others want state-sanctioned violence against minorities and protesters, and worse besides. And they want the freedom to discuss these things as viable alternatives-certain-to-become-mainstream-once-more. What lines are drawn? How much lenience do you give regression? How wide do you open the door to fascism? And that’s not even getting started on climate change denialism, which affects us all and is the single biggest issue of them all.

Space to debate is good, of course it is, but it is also surely naive if you don’t realise that confronting certain deeply held (perhaps crossing generations) issues and trying to get these people to acknowledge them as deeply problematic is to them the very same as being victimised and having their free speech infringed upon. Go on, try and debate a staunch white nationalist. See where it gets you. See where validating these attitudes in the name of fairness get you. I don’t know, maybe you’d like things to return to a 1930s Germany state of… expectation.

The biggest priority of a racist is that nobody should be allowed to call them racist. Apparently not honouring this will always be something the left has to answer for.

Certainly, the left (that cyclopean hive mind…) needs to do better at appealing to what people “do” like, rather than simply what is wrong with them. Not that that should be entirely left out the picture, but it should be tempered with “yes, I understand where you’re coming from, but [here’s something you like and is good for you]”.  Oh, and people on the left should strive to be more self-aware and careful before throwing out complicated, layered terms like ‘privilege’ (especially when white middle-class students do it), and to better explain accusations of racism.

That said, they’re all just individuals, barking at each other online.

It’s good to be self-critical, of course (it is after all a necessary effect and component of good self-awareness), but not if you only do that at the expense of combatting your opponents, especially when your opponents have zero interest in their own self-criticism. It’s simply become popular, both individually and in a wider narrative, to hate the left, because they’re perpetually seen as the victim (even when they’re winning), probably because they victimise themselves. They need to start standing up. They need to be careful that using certain words too much could trivialise them in the eyes of others, and they need to focus on pushing a stronger, more unifying narrative. They need to stop giving so much attention to its most farcical and sensationalist fringe elements and individuals. They need to start representing the people and stop relying on corporate establishment politicians to provide ugly echoes of what the left is really about. They need to offer hope.

And in particular, we need to settle down with this perverse pleasure in identifying the left as left’s worst enemy. We’re like some abused domestic partner with Stockholm syndrome at times – “oh, it must be my fault” – it’s no wonder we get identified as handwringers. Less pacifistic conciliation and infighting, more fighting the right (but in a more effective manner), for god’s sake!

Rise the Alt-Left!

 

P.S. As a finisher, here’s a quote from a friend-of-a-friend, lifted from a Facebook discussion that inspired this piece:

“What I do know is that our failure doesn’t come from our echo chambers or our sneering. If echo chambers and sneering were enough to lose a referendum/election, the right wouldn’t stand a chance. The difference between the left and the right is that the right seems able to create numerous smaller, independent echo chambers. The right manages to play the middle class, working class and unemployed off against each other. Meanwhile, the left seems obsessed with making sure everyone is on the same page, so you wind up with intersectionality, identity politics, third-wave feminism and so forth.

This also ties in with sneering. The right is able to create closed communities and conversations so that it can sneer at whatever person or group it wants to, create strawmen and bogeymen alike. This doesn’t work so well on the left. The reason the left is prone to squabbling and in-fighting is that our echo chambers aren’t soundproofed. If someone on the left starts acting like an idiot, we draw battle lines to attack or defend them. If someone on the right starts acting like an idiot, they elect him to the highest office in the land.

That’s not to say the left doesn’t have problems with self-righteous arseholes. But it just feels weird that we’re so quick to blame ourselves for a fascist demagogue getting into power when we weren’t the ones supporting him. We seem to want to twist the facts to paint ourselves as the problem. We don’t listen to the right? Must be our fault for sequestering ourselves away in our echo chambers. The right doesn’t listen to us? Must be our fault for coming across as sneering tossers. I’m just saying the reasoning seems a little suspect.

All that said, I will agree with you that key influential elements of the left have no interest in dialogue or debate. What you miss out, however, is that their lack of interest in debate is exactly why they’re influential. Left or right, people seem drawn to those who are loud, obnoxious and uncompromising. For some time now, I’ve felt that the most controversial thing you can say about an issue is that it’s complicated or multifaceted.

Speaking of things being more complicated than they appear, the rise of the alt-right and everything associated with it. Yeah, some of it was the left acting like pricks. But another, not insignificant part of it, was caused by the right being fearmongering cunts. Painting these politically correct, gay agenda-pushing, feminazi SJWs as a large, faceless, all-controlling, sinister force. Getting people to close their hearts and minds to anything that seems a bit too progressive; to lash out at anything too left wing.

And you might say that this reaction (along with people voting for Trump or Brexit) is understandable, given what divisive bastards the left have been acting like. But then couldn’t you say the way the left has been behaving is understandable, given the way the right has behaved? I’m sure I’ve spoken at length about the cyclical nature of political hostility before, so I guess I’ll cut this short by saying that paying dismissiveness unto dismissiveness is not the answer. Although, I guess it is understandable.”

 

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Favourite quotations #7

“An artist who in all he undertakes exceeds his powers will nonetheless at last draw the crowd along with him through the spectacle of a mighty struggle he affords: for success is accorded not only to victory but sometimes to the desire for victory too.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“Active, successful natures act, not according to the dictum ‘know thyself’, but as if there hovered before them the commandment: WILL a self and thou shalt BECOME a self. – Fate seems to have left the choice still up to them; whereas the inactive and contemplative cogitate on what they have already chosen, on one occasion, when they entered into life.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

“It’s a fiction, not a moral treatise.” – Marquis de Sade, Quills

“I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.”  – Edgar Allan Poe

“Depression presents itself as a realism regarding the rottenness of the world in general and the rottenness of your life in particular. But the realism is merely a mask for depression’s actual essence, which is an overwhelming estrangement from humanity. The more persuaded you are of your unique access to the rottenness, the more afraid you become of engaging with the world; and the less you engage with the world, the more perfidiously happy-faced the rest of humanity seems for continuing to engage with it.”
― Jonathan Franzen

“He: What’s the matter with you?
Me: Nothing.
Nothing was slowly clotting my arteries. Nothing slowly numbing my soul. Caught by nothing, saying nothing, nothingness becomes me. When I am nothing they will say surprised in the way that they are forever surprised, “but there was nothing the matter with her.”
– Jeanette Winterson – Gut Symmetries

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”  – Ray Bradbury

“One should absorb the colour of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar.” – Oscar Wilde

“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” – Stephen King

“Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.” – Neil Gaiman

“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.” – Terry Pratchett

“I am an excitable person who only understands life lyrically, musically, in whom feelings are much stronger as reason. I am so thirsty for the marvelous that only the marvelous has power over me. Anything I can not transform into something marvelous, I let go. Reality doesn’t impress me. I only believe in intoxication, in ecstasy, and when ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another. No more walls.” – Anais Nin

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.” – William Butler Yeats

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” – William G.T. Shedd

“True rebels hate their own rebellion. They know by experience that it is not a cool and glamorous lifestyle; it takes a courageous fool to say things that have not been said and to do things that have not been done.” – Criss Jami

“And thus I clothe my naked villany
With odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ,
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.” – Shakespeare, King Richard III

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” – Anne Lamott

“A man writes because he is tormented, because he doubts. He needs to constantly prove to himself and the others that he’s worth something. And if I know for sure that I’m a genius? Why write then? What the hell for?” – Stalker

“We’re lost in a cloud
With too much rain
We’re trapped in a world
That’s troubled with pain
But as long as a man
Has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly

Deep in my heart there’s a trembling question
Still I am sure that the answer gonna come somehow
Out there in the dark, there’s a beckoning candle
And while I can think, while I can talk
While I can stand, while I can walk
While I can dream, please let my dream
Come true, right now
Let it come true right now” – Elvis, ‘If I Can Dream’

 

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Tales of Black Pine Falls: The Timbersea

There is a place called Black Pine Falls.

A place where everything looks like a shadow of something else. The trees like tall, stiff men in the dark. A forest of people, hiding in mist. Huge caves like open mouths. Somewhere the rush of water.

You might go looking for it.

It’ll let you get close. Maybe you’ll hear the faint cries of children. The soft thump of an axe into wood. The smells of life and death and the swampblood. And just when you’re almost on top of it all it’ll be gone in smoke, leaving you with nothing but echoes.

The people in the town wipe holes on fogged windowpanes and stare out, at the distant lights of your torches and lanterns. Eventually the lights retreat and go out.

You can look as hard as you like. It’ll let you get as close as a whisper in your ear, before there’s nothing, nothing but fog and the clustering trees.

It simply isn’t there.

 

TALES OF BLACK PINE FALLS

The Timbersea

 

They called it the Timbersea. They talked of it like it was a single, definitive place, and not the sprawling, stretched out and patchwork area of woods that curved like a horseshoe around the town. It was home to half a dozen logging camps, but they were always sprouting up and dissolving. Sometimes, as the black pines crept in, the Timbersea was connected only by threads. In winter the black could cut it up entirely, turning it into mere pockets, islands of dark green and brown fighting the darkness. Last November workers swore that they were marooned in a single day. Few believed them; tree-blindness, they called it. Caleb was one of those that believed.

The Timbersea was the only place the forest would let them cut.

They’d fell an area, and the trunks and roots would loosen and come up, as though eager for their own annihilation, happy to be done with it and cleanse the land of their gelded forms. Two of the men would turn the grinder and chew the roots and the branches and all that detritus into chips. When they’d moved on to a new area, they’d replant the previous. The trees grew fast, unnaturally fast. Nowhere stayed clear here for long, nowhere but the White Circle.

Caleb crunched his way to the logging camp. He crested a rise, and stopped to take a breath at the usual spot. Through the trees and at a little distance you could see the church, standing on its own in the light morning fog. It was small and old, and short of visitors. It was partly the season; Preacher Williams held the services earlier, so everybody had time to get back long before sundown, but that wasn’t always good enough. Williams had taken a fancy to blaming the large red-eyed crows that perched above the doorway and around the spire. They were there now; their number seemed to grow every day. Was that a raven leading them?

Truth was the biggest reason for the church’s emptiness wasn’t the crows or the season. It was the holes in the roof that Williams never got around to mending. The mists poured through them and drifted around the aisles, making the seats damp. Nobody wanted a wet ass.

Caleb hefted his axe back on his shoulder and continued. It was just him and Foreman Miller Jones for a spell, sharpening and moving things about; the others arrived soon after. There were nine men in all on their shift, and one woman, Rosie. Rosie was too tough to take shit from any of them. She’d been married to Preacher Williams before the thing with the goat. Ever since (and maybe before), Caleb reckoned that she had a thing for him. Sometimes he wondered if the others reckoned the same thing for themselves.

They began to cut.

You always cut in the Timbersea. You never strayed further, no matter how much the black pines beckoned you. And beckon you they did. There was a siren call, whispers carried on the wind. If you didn’t keep your head strong and focused on your work, they could talk to you, in their wordless way. They wanted to lure you, tempt you into cutting into their oil-dark wood and hear them moan.

Caleb had heard them moan, sure enough. He’d been there. He’d seen it.

He’d nearly been there. He’d almost seen it. Almost in time.

The legend of the Man of the Woods was birthed twenty-one years ago. The name was Paul Bunyan. Caleb and Foreman Miller Jones were the only ones still logging who remembered him (Jones remembered others lost to the black too, men before Caleb’s time). Paul was a big feller, bigger than Caleb, a seven-footer with a chest like a barrel. One day he’d gone for a piss and not returned.

Caleb had gone looking for him, and he’d heard the moan. It came from the invisible, ever-shifting line where the Timbersea met the black. The black pines. The sound was like a great woman in cold pained ecstasy, a ten-layered breath that trembled through the ground under his boots.

Caleb had hesitated, then stormed forward, roaring Paul’s name. He found the man’s hat, strewn with black needles at the foot of a tree. It held a fresh cut in its trunk, and the sap that was pouring out was thick and bubbling and congealing fast. Soon the cut would disappear.

Of the axe and of Paul Bunyan there was no sign.

The hat blew with the wind as Caleb stooped to grab it. It danced further and further away, always just out of reach, and like a fool he chased it. He’d wised up in time enough, thank god, letting it go and racing back to the safety of the Timbersea.

To this day, whenever they stopped for their lunch break or there was a lull in the work, you might think you hear the far-off sound of one man walking through the woods. A large man, a huge man by the sounds of it. Or a faint noise on the wind of an axe thudding, sinking into oil-dark wood.

The day’s work as done as it could be, Miller Jones let them go with enough time to get back before dark. Caleb stomped his tired way back through the forest. There was a knot of black pines that separated him from his cabin, and he would always grit his teeth and stop himself from quickening his pace.

Something that sounded like a whippoorwill called from behind him, but it could have been anything at all. The kids better be shut in tight, he thought, not looking round.

After all, it was September. And the dark belonged to them.

 

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Author and purveyor of all things dark and weird