Day Eight

The beast continues to elude me. I have tracked it down to a single room.

I can hear it’s ink-maddened screams, but still it hides.

The sunlight shines outside. The rumble of a car reminds me of the freedom almost within my grasp.

They fill me with hope. I will enjoy them soon.

Until it begins to rain. Which it will because this is Washington and this is winter.

The beast roars with the clickety-clack of keyboard keys.

I toss words at it, roping it ever closer into submission.

This hunt is nearly done.

It breaks free with a moment’s distraction by the internet.

The room is filled with my cursing and laughter as I watch a video about hedgehogs.

I hate this hunt, and the necessity for it, but those who hold my fate (for the moment) have decreed its necessity and so hunt away I will.

The beast has slipped away for the moment. Hidden behind a jumble of meaningless pixels and conversations with friends.

But I will find it. I will find it and write it into oblivion.

This I swear.

For Love of Music and Family

Today’s blog post will be short. This is an excerpt from the first commission I was ever given. Fittingly enough it came from my dad and tells a story about my great-great grandfather.

Enjoy.

The strings scratched. A grating, ear-aching sound. The less-than-dulcet tones of a little kid earnestly loving music.

The kitchen, billowy and thick with tobacco smoke, made for a makeshift concert hall. Only two people lingered in the house, the kid with violin in hand and his grandfather. Everyone else fled the house, if only to preserve their ears.

To the grandfather, the scratchy strings, and the little hand that sawed back and forth with bow, were sweeter than anything from Mozart or Vivaldi.

The boy faltered, a hopeful tremble of little lips. The grandfather clapped his hands, ash falling from his cigar.

“Again,” he said, his voice a pleasant rumble, the lightest trace of the Bronx upbringing he never spoke about.

A smile spread across the little one’s face, encouraged as only a grandson can be, flush with the love and appreciation of his father’s father.

Mead in the Rain

It is raining. Cold, wet, damp, my jacket is soaked, my shirt, my shoes, my socks.

A smile scrawls its way across my face. The weather has turned. The sun has retreated behind clouds of iron. The weather has turned and with it my mood.

Not everyone is satisfied with this turn of events. No, some grumble and groan, the water too much for their delicate sensibilities. I scoff. I am a true son of the Pacific Northwest. Rain is my friend, my state of being and my life.

The streets of Edinburgh seem made for rain. The water gurgles between slick cobbles in its march down to the sea. For a time we battle against it, like salmon swimming upstream. We have a goal in mind.

Like the pagan Vikings of old, our search is for mead, the honeyed nectar of the gods. It lies in one place that I know of, and so, through the rain and the wind and the howling ghosts of ages gone by we set off for a marketplace.

Floods of tourists trickle down the hillsides that define this city’s skyline. A dozen languages struggle against the gentle hiss of falling rain.

My companions grumble, voices stridently complaining. They are fast approaching mutiny. They are ignored.

The only consolation I make for the rain is a certain hunch to the shoulders, a dogged refusal to be cowed by the weather.

Before us glint the warm and inviting glow of the marketplace, a thousand thousand lights glinting in the gloom of Edinburgh’s night. Music wails up from below, a clashing mix of inappropriate Eighties love songs and the Christmas crooning of traditional tunes.

We arrive at the steps, bedraggled and soaked. A swift descent, made perilous by the damp, on steps worn into bowls by generations of feet and generations of rain.

We join the crowd and weave through. For a time we are distracted by food and by sights of fireworks gracing the night sky. The castle rumbles as if under siege. Fire flashes on its ramparts, smoke curls from its courtyards. It is Saint Andrew’s Day.

We linger and watch, eyes locked on the heavens, but our true goal is not forgotten.

But that, as they say, is a tale for another time.

So stay tuned for the next thrilling installment.

The Preacher’s Peril

In honour of my recent cessation of papers (for the moment). I have decided to treat you all to a little bit of writing I created during a study break. It’s nice and self-contained. So without further ado, I present “The Preacher’s Peril:”

‘The Inlander is a broken man.’

The words were shouted. They echoed around the tumbled ruins. The topic was old. The man who shouted the words had been shouting similar words for days.

No one, none of the inlanders, paid him much heed. This was Hill. This was their place, their town. The man was an interloper, all garbed in the drab colours of the Union. The unionman looked miserable. His moustache dripped in the perpetual rains that gripped the heights. His glasses fogged with moisture. This did not stop him from shouting.

He was not welcome, but was too ignorant to sense this. He thought the gathering crowd stopped to listen to his words.

‘The Inlander is a lie.’ He thought no one would notice the contradiction. That because these people were ‘savage’ that meant they were not smart nor clever.

He should have left. He should never have come here, to this place, far up in the rocky inlands. He should have stuck to his cities, to his factories, to others like him. Men of Reason and industry.

The inlanders had no use of the Union, nor the Union of them. It had been like this for centuries, since the fall of the old, heathen Confederacy.

The unionman’s voice was hoarse and nasal. He sounded as if he had contracted a cold. He sounded as if he was on the brink of tears.

Metal rasped at the back of the crowd. The unionman’s knees went weak.

The crowd parted. A big man stepped through, his face hidden beneath a black beard. His clothes were red and blue, the colours of the Union. They were a woven mishmash of different fabrics, of different sources. The man glowered with a smile.

He spoke, his words rough and thick with the accents of the upper inlands.

‘Hear you been talking about me,’ he said, the words all threat.

The unionman ignored him. He pointed towards the heavens and then towards a gear around his neck. ‘Blessed Reason watches over us! Even here, even in these benighted and blighted lands!’

‘That so?’ the big man asked. More metal rasped in the crowd. Knives were being brought out, sharp and wicked. The big inlander gave a nod. ‘Let her watch this,’ he growled.

The crowd surged forward, their faces impassive, but with murder in their hearts.

The Library Redux

Hello my friends, I write to you once more after a long absence (for which I wholeheartedly apologise). It is a terrible time of year for me, this end of semester rush. I drown beneath a sea of schoolwork, beneath papers of esotera and ephemera.

To that end, I am ensconced, once hatefully more, within a library.

God have mercy on my soul.

I can feel it sapping at my will, even now. The wood-paneled walls, a favourite, comforting piece of architectural folly of mine, inhale every cheery breath I have. Books glare down from shelves, no longer the happy friends of old. They have become complicit with their resting place. Left too long on shelves, languishing alone in the half-dark. They are now collaborators, akin to the dreadful shushers known to all and sundry as ‘librarians.’

This place is like a prison, a prison where free-time goes to die.

I have upgraded as well, from the university library to the national one. It seemed a fitting choice. The windows at the former hinted too much at freedom, of the world outside. Now I am in a place that lacks windows, that lacks high ceilings. It is a warren for the studious and the productive.

I feel unwelcome, like some jack-come-lately who will be proven to be false at any moment.

I expect the feeling of eyes glaring daggers, of unsheathed pens with which to mark my falseness.

And so I must return to my moral philosophies, to the dull and dreary ramblings of dull and dreary theorists. I must don again the cloak of productivity within which I drone away, slogging and trudging through mires most grueling.

Until next time my friends.

Focus

It is lacking.

My thoughts refuse to settle on any one thing. They dance around subjects, issues, things of importance. Like little primordial tribesmen dancing around bonfires, they worship at the altar of fire but do not linger near it.

They seem to like the things that have little practical importance. Issues of fun reading, debates on nonsense, blog posts.

Like chickens they wander erratic and pecking anything within reach.

My thoughts seek comfort and avoid the vagaries of political theory, of just wars and of global crime.

These quantities are unknown and unknowable and therefore dangerous. They lie off the map with the dragons. My thoughts shy away, drawn to bright, shiny things, the little insect bastards.

I am forced, time and again, to rein them in with a lasso of focus. To force them to pay attention to school, to write these papers, to get this work done and out of the way.

All the while, like a shining beacon on a hill, is the promise of promised land. America’s shores beckon, calling me home, calling me to break, to mental release. A place to relax, a place to celebrate, a place to unwind. My homeland is calling and my focus and thoughts seem to already be there.

I must call them back, must rein them in.

I know where they want to go, where they are running to. I cannot, nay will not, allow this. The time is not yet ripe, the die is not yet cast.

And so, for the moment, focus is needed, required.

The Sun is Shining

Its rays are golden, warm, inviting. It invites frolicking, skipping and all that jazz.

I loathe it. The bright weather brings a frown to my face. I long for the grey gloom of home, of Scotland and of Washington. Rain is my ideal, sun my nemesis.

I want the clouds back, the bitter cold bleakness of a northern winter (or is it still fall?). The chill of unremitting cold, the frost and the fog and the misted breath. The sun has chased it all away, relegated to the frosted underhalls of the Winter Kings

Is this strange?

Probably.

It is madness, this sunlight, madness incarnated as life-giving rays of light.

I languish before a computer screen, tip-tapping away, my eyes roaming. I live the troglodytic existence of a student and reminders of nicer days, of carefree life without papers, without academic reading, without the soul-sapping banality of graduate school fill my heart with the bitter-black gall of hatred, of jealousy.

My web browser is a wealth of opened tabs, of Marxist vitriol, of Constructivist ramblings, but one page stands out. One page brings me hope, brings me despair, brings me distraction.

It is the weather page. I keep my eyes glued with the obsessive’s frequent refreshing. I look for a hint of foul weather to come.

“It will not be long,” I croon to myself. Relief is coming, for this is winter (or fall?), this is Scotland, and it cannot stay nice out forever.

Chaos Comes to Edinburgh

Drums pound. Echoing, bouncing from Gothic stone. Screeches and screams fill the chill night air. Torches cast shadows, twisting and turning in dark ripples.

Horned shapes caper, arraigned in four colours.

My heart pounds in time with the drums. Pupils expand, sensations collated, categorised.

I know in my heart of hearts what is at stake here, what this dread ceremony means. The others laugh, oblivious.

The night is Halloween. The festival is Samhuinn. The Celtic New Year. Lies cloaking something darker. The sky loses all light. A ring surrounds the moon. The stars, one by one, wink out.

The flames form shapes, unwholesome and unclean.

Effigies loom above the gibbering masses. They move, weave and dance in time to music from beyond.

This is hell. Hell spilled over from outwards, from some other place, infecting reality with greasy fingers.

All of this could be innocent, the feverish imaginations and insight of someone who reads far too much science fiction.

I try to think that way, try to tell myself that.

For a while that seems to be the case. Rational explanation rules the nerdy shoutings of my hindbrain. The Imperial Truth shows the way.

Then a wall catches fire. Fire in the shape of the Luna Wolves emblem.

I realise that I walk in a benighted place. No longer is the comforting menace of Edinburgh’s Gothic architecture reassuring. No, now the menace is threatening, vile, corrupting.

My very soul feels threatened.

A new year dawns.

Darkness comes with it.

The North is lost.

Chaos comes to Edinburgh.

The Graves of Greater Men

The wind was howling, clawing, biting. The cold was frigid and intense, an enemy to heart and resolve. Breath misted on the air. It flowed and writhed into the myriad shapes of madness.

Hands stuffed in pockets, breath streaming from mouths, we wandered. This was not our place. We were intruders, interlopers. We were not welcome.

But there we were nonetheless. The place was pitch black. Blacker than night. Blacker than despair. There was no starlight. The clouds robbed us of that.

Graves loomed out of the darkness, pale and menacing. By the light of distant city streets names could be read. These were the graves of greater men. The great and good of a city lost to time. Some were recognizable, their names stolen for use in works of fiction. Others were obscure. Their deeds proclaimed loudly in worn down stone. Their memories carved in memento mori. Skulls, silent and gaping, ill-carved, competed with indistinct cherubs for attention in the darkling gloom.

Down gravel paths we walked, the air filled with inane chatter, hoping to dispel the gloom with human voices.

We failed. There was an edge beneath our words, a gap left by the animal hindbrain. The gap screamed out dire warnings of darkness, of doom, of fear and of fright. “Leave the dead to their rest,” it insisted.

Malice, all-encompassing, without focus, dogged our steps. Something was watching. Many somethings were watching.

This was their place. They hissed without voices, without words. We were not wanted. Shadows moved where no light cast them. Pale glows shone where there was nothing.

The trees, old and careworn as the graves they guarded, creaked with voices of wood and murder.

Black gates barred the night. Not to keep people out, but to keep things in. Some posed against the gate, daring, inviting.

Fools, but safe ones. No knives lanced from the darkness. No claws scraped their way through flesh. Just brooding anger, impotent and malignant.

I walked away. The group ambled along in my wake, not following, but moving in the same direction. Headstones yawned to either side of the path as feet crunched along gravel with gunshot sounds.

Here in this corner, I noted as we passed, had men died for their faith, their political beliefs. The two twinned in the fires of fanaticism. There were buried the men who had persecuted them, men of crowns, men of faith, men of death.

In another corner, so said the legends, waited a little dog for its master to resume his watch. Between them lay the graves of greater men, of lesser men, of all in between. All united in death. All made equal.

In the end we left the graves to their greater men, to their ghosts, memories, statues and shadows. We searched for warmer climes, for friendly light, from the realm of the dead into the realm of the living.

Man Dies in Shack

“Fourteen people dead in as many days!” The shout was followed through with the sound of a newspaper slammed into the hardwood desk. “We look like idiots!”

The department stared at the red-faced chief, his dark blue uniform in disarray, his face apoplectic with rage. Elaborate mustaches quivered. Nervous coughing sounded from the gathered police.

“You are idiots,” a new voice announced from the back of the room. The crowd parted as the chief inspector’s head almost burst. One detective stifled a laugh, expecting this to be some joke in bad taste.

The man who stepped into the room, was clearly not joking. Dressed in a sober black suit, with a sober black overcoat and topped with a sober black hat, he brandished a sober black wallet. A gold device glinted within for just a second.

The chief inspector went pale.

One word squeaked from between the chief inspector’s lips, “Out.”

His shoulders slumped as the black-clad figure approached.

The department, Shack’s Central Police Force, milled about in confusion. Steel lodged in the chief inspector’s voice again. He barked, “Out!”

They jumped and ran, looking for something outside the room.

The black-clad man allowed a flicker of a smile to cross his deathly pale face. The gesture was meant to put the Chief Inspector at ease, to relieve the tension.

It failed utterly, so he switched directions. He tutted. “You know who I am?”

The Chief Inspector shook his head.

“Ah, but you know what I represent?”

The Chief Inspector nodded.

“Good, then I’ll spare the introductions,” the black-clad man smiled again, brief and fleeting. “The case is going cold, Chief Inspector. My superiors aren’t pleased.”

He paused, allowing the Chief Inspector to soak that up. The police officer shrank into his desk, his moustaches drooping. He looked for all the world like a scolded child.

The other man, who had yet to remove his hat and overcoat, stared down at the Chief Inspector’s desk with eyes of glacial blue. Fourteen dossiers, each inscribed with a dead man’s name, were spread across it. A black gloved hand darted out and grabbed one, seemingly at random.

The name, scrawled across the folio read: Winslo Spoons.

“The latest?” the black-clad man asked.

“Yes,” the Chief Inspector stammered.

Blue eyes perused the contents of the folio, darting back and forth. He snapped it closed. The Chief Inspector jumped.

“I’ll need a detective.”

He didn’t ask because it wasn’t a question, merely a statement. One that betrayed no emotion and brooked no response.

A black leather shoe tapped impatiently as the black-clad man stared at the Chief Inspector. “The detective? The one I mentioned I needed?” he asked.

The Chief Inspector started, and fairly sprinted out of the room. A moment later he brought a poorly garbed detective into the room who nervously made his way forward. He wore a mustache that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a walrus’ snout.

The detective tried a smile and extended his hand in greeting. The Chief Inspector stared at the proffered hand in horror.

“Your name?” asked the man in black.

“Reginald, sir,” the man quickly stammered. “Reginald Danfrith. I’m the… uh…”

“The?” the black one said impatiently.

“The lead detective for the lower wards, sir,” Reginald finally got out.

Another slight smile slipped across the black-clad man’s face. “Perfect,” he said, “I’m sure we’ll get along famously.”

The man in black didn’t wait, he just turned and stalked out of the room. Danfrith stared at his back for a moment before the Chief Inspector shoved him.

“Uhm sir, I didn’t quite catch your name,” Danfrith called as he stumped forward.

“That’s because I didn’t offer it, Detective Danfrith.”

“I just think it would be a bit easier to work together if I knew your name sir.”

The black-clad man paused. He turned and faced Danfrith. His blue eyes searched Danfrith’s brown ones for a moment. He seemed astonished at the lack of guile there. A thousand details stood out there, a veritable map for those with the ability to see, and comprehend. The black-clad man’s decision flashed.

“Drowns,” was all he said.

“I’m sorry sir?”

“My name is Drowns, Branthony Drowns.”