Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A More Positive Piece of Personal 'Poetry'

Happiness
Happiness has been made into myth.
We seek it, we yearn for it.
We dream of soft, gold-colored days, foggy with impossibility, and tinted with shimmering desire. Always in the future, future-bound.
We say if I had this, I would be happy. We say, happiness is thus and thus, and since thus and thus are missing, happiness cannot be here. Dreaming is good, dreaming gives us hope when it is dark, gives us the ability to move forward.
But if we are asleep: if we dream too hard at all times, we fill our eyes full of glittering gold so bright we cannot see the gold that shines around us.
With our virtual reality headset we see a great golden chalice, brim-full of Mead. We reach for it, but our hand passes through, unable to grasp this beautiful vision, which is not vain in and of itself, but focusing on it at all times prevents us from seeing the shining cup of joy that sits beside it in the real world erased by the vision of the alternate, virtual reality.
Dream. But be content.
Contentment is the secret to happiness, and it is available at any time. Not just tomorrow.
Remember to drink deep the cider of autumn while its beauties surround you, though you might yearn for the sweetness of spring. Remember to bask in the sun-glow of friends while they surround you.
Remember.
Happiness is now.
Happiness is always there, just like sadness. All you have to do is look.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Fear

Here is another piece of personal 'poetry.' It's about my lifelong struggle. As a kid I was outgoing...fearless maybe...weird. All I am now is weird. As a teenager, I longed to belong. I wanted so much to be outgoing, to have lots of friends. I still want that, but to a degree I've given up the fight. I know where I am and maybe even how to get out, but I'm scared to. And that's what this piece is about. I don't normally get personal on this blog, but here it is. No one will read it anyway ;)

FEAR

I fear being despised above all else.
I will not risk it.
To the point of rejecting others will I avoid the risk of being despised.
To the point of self-destruction.
To the point of no return.
I will hide my true self in a cloak of stolid invisibility. I will cover myself with a camouflage. I will build a wall around myself that cannot be breached. I want to let you in. But I won't.
You might attempt to scale this wall, or find a window to peek through.
I would throw you a rope, I would defenstrate myself.
But I will not.
You are rejected. But not because I do not love you. Not because I do not appreciate your attempt at entering my fortress.
I love you for your bravery. I love you for caring enough to try, even in the littlest way. Even if you only throw stones at my bastions. Even if you only call up to my ramparts with an inquiry: who liveth within?
I wish I could raze this castle to the ground and meet you on the rubble to embrace you. But I do not know how.
I despise this, but will not be despised.
I am too weak.

Monday, October 15, 2018

My Status Quo Keeps Me Sane

This is a little piece I wrote one day...week before last...when I was was going through an emotional thing. I don't normally write this sort of thing, and I normally don't share them, but I thought I could throw it up for the last day of October Frights...since it has a Lovecraft reference and is sort of a look at the real-life horrors in our lives/minds.
So, without further ado:

My status quo keeps me sane.
When my matrix rips and I see through the veil of my unreality, I am faced with cosmic horrors the like of which Lovecraft glimpsed.
I resent these rips. They make me furious and I want utter annihilation. When they are pulled closed again and stitched with blissful obliteration, a haunting fear follows me. I know the matrix will rip again someday. I will glimpse that cold place, the abode of Azathoth. I will know that there are many layers to the world and I am but sandwiched snugly in my fragile blanket between worlds.
Time passes and forgetfulness takes over. Familiar objects and places comfort me. I wrap myself in seemingly solid things. I cling to my reality. My status quo keeps me sane and I weave a comfort from the things I associate with my fragile fantasy. I make a web of ordinary. I weave a tapestry of mundane. I am an artist of deception.
Change is not welcome. Change threatens this web. Threatens to take my protection away, leaving me with but that thin veil between me and the void. Change is the antithesis of the status quo. And the status quo keeps me sane.
I will resist change, but it is inevitable. Change will come and rip my web down casually. It will take my cocoon away and force me to metamorphose.
I will be naked in the void, exposed to the freakishness of all the multicolored threads of reality. I will be ejected from the matrix. I will be extracted with bloody tongs and thrown at the foot of Azathoth's throne.
I will rage against him and denounce his tyranny.
I will be sick with shifting, with transformation, with growth, with death, with transmutation.
But change will become normal, too. Every change, once rooted, becomes a new curtain. A new veil. A new layer between worlds.
Change must inevitably become status quo. And the status quo keeps me sane.
I will weave a new web from from familiarities. I will make a new cocoon and begin the cycle again.


And here's the rest of the hop:

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Pal'agithon of the Peat


For October Frights, here is a story I started last year, hoping to share it for Halloween. It got shelved, unfinished, and I only just finished it last week. It hasn't really been edited... So here it is, the tale of dissatisfaction and supernatural horror.


Pal’agithon of the Peat
I should have been terrified. I should have run. But how could I run back into a tomb that was squeezing the life out of me? Every day trickled by, grey and wasted. I hated my job and I felt trapped in it, trapped in the stability of it, and trapped in the colorless town where I didn’t really live, just pretended to.
Sure, I could spice things up with meaningless weekend bursts of color. But they were empty shows of sparkle and shine. I had no purpose and those brief fireworks were dim compared to the great grey wall of my life.
I guess that’s why I didn’t run from the whisper. I didn’t run because it was a ripple in the earth, a soft disturbance in the foundation of reality that threatened to crack the wall of my life.
I first heard the whisper during one of those brief fireworks displays meant to make my life bearable. I was with some friends, out by a little lake near town. It was late, with nascent stars budding in the murky sky and mosquitoes and alcohol were flowing freely.
I was feeling a little tipsy and decided to leave the vodka-sparkling group on the faded towels and walk off into the nearby heather. I knew if I stayed, I’d end up sleeping with Jerry. The fact I feared this showed I hadn’t quite given up hope: Jerry was king of squatters in this town of squatters and ending up with him would be like chaining myself to this place. Not that he was in any way undesirable.
Slurred calls of “Where you goin,’ Siobhan?” followed me but I ignored them, slipping into the night like an escaping princess.
I stumbled onto a trail I didn’t know was there and followed it through the sparse trees. I gazed at the stars, willing them to suck me up into their twinkling clime, or to fall and burn away my mundane hell in apocalyptic transformation. They did nothing but cheerily wave at me from heaven.
The trees thinned out and the ground rose slightly. An acrid scent tingled my nostrils. As I swerved onward through the heather and starlight, a chilly dampness wrapped its viscous arms about me and lapped at my ears.
My flip-flop came off and my bare foot squelched into pungent mud. Acid danced in the odorous air and my fingers found prickly, wet moss as I searched for my flip-flop. I took another step into the chuckling darkness and my foot splashed into a dank puddle. I stopped. Something flickered in the back of my blissfully buzzed brain.
I looked up at the gentle hump of murk outlined against the starry heavens. It seemed to breathe, exhaling bygone centuries and inhaling the present, tugging at my single-buttoned plaid shirt.
Bog. There was a peat bog close to the lake. I remembered hearing about it. One of the last peat bogs that hadn’t been cut up and drained. I looked at it and it looked right back at me, daring me. Daring me to what, I didn’t know. Not yet.
But it was quiet and I rested in the apparent peacefulness, unable to put my finger on the unholy pulse that underlay the mystic night. I breathed in the bitter air, the confounded rot, the frozen death that did not decay.
They had taken perfectly preserved mummies out of bogs like this, I recalled. Sacrifices by ordinary people looking for extraordinary lives. Believing in something beyond them that made the mundane bearable. The grass rustled softly in a tentative breeze and the stars glinted like a thousand eyes, watching me.
I could have stayed there forever, listening to the bog breathe, exhaling the fumy fug of the past.
“Siobhan!”
The perfect mystery shattered. Someone was looking for me. I didn’t want to leave. I was rooted to the spot, roots twining down from my toes and sucking up the acid of the bog.
You do not have to go back
It was just a whisper, and not in English, or any other language I thought I might have recognized. It was an ancient rasp, secret, soft, grating, but utterly private. Somehow, I felt what the words meant in my core. And I understood where they came from. I stared into the bog, heart pounding. The bog. Yet I somehow wasn’t surprised. I knew I should be. I knew I should be terrified. Knew I should run screaming back to Jerry and let him comfort me with vodka-flavored kisses. But I stayed there and listened.
There is no need to surrender to your life
I’m drunk, I thought.
You can be free
I trembled. Maybe it was cold. Maybe I was terrified. Or maybe I was thrilled.
I’m afraid I was thrilled. Here, at last, was something, if not color, it was a different, indescribable shade in my life of grey constricting stone. It wasn’t the hole in my Great Wall. The bright explosion I had hoped for. It was a frightening, undermining tunnel beneath, with a scary hint that maybe the wall was there for a reason.
But there it was. And I stood still and waited. Waited to see if this was real. Shivers ran up and down my arms and legs.
“Siobhan!”
Reluctantly, I turned, looking back at the shadowy bushes and the night-clad trees. I heard crashing foliage. Someone was coming. Suddenly, I was loathe to be found here, in this strange, magic place. This dark place.
Unwillingly, I turned and stumbled back towards the trees and the sweaty arms of Jerry with his drunk breath.
I was hungover the next morning. Not bad. But it made my Monday that much more hellish. There I was at my desk with my retirement plan and my headache, wishing to be anywhere else. I kept thinking about the bog and wondering, was it the vodka? But I’d never felt such a strange sensation from alcohol. That subtle shift in the fabric of reality, that whisper.
Oh, that whisper. What had that been, then, if vodka did not speak? How could a bog? Maybe I was just going crazy. But I couldn’t get the sound out of my head. Or the smell out of my nostrils. I drank another cup of coffee and tried to focus on the meaningless tasks I was being paid to do.
It was like prison. “I want to be free,” I muttered, echoing the unknown words in my head.
I looked up the bog. There wasn’t much information on it. There was a trail to it from the lake. It was protected. It was a peat bog and a small one at that.
I resisted the urge to go back to it immediately after work. I was terrified that if I went there, I would feel nothing. That the grey, impenetrable mundanity of my life would be irrevocably proven after that unfair glimpse of dark depths beyond.
My phone chimed, a fake sparkling noise, an empty promise of unicorns and magic. It was a text from Jerry.
“You feelin ok, babe?”
I scowled. How sweet of him. And observant. He’d been pretty drunk last night to notice how I’d been thrown off-kilter by the whispering bog. I don’t want another reason to like him. Another reason to trap myself with him in this pre-technicolor town. But if I don’t reply, he’ll keep texting me in concern.
“Ya,” I texted, “made it to work on time minimal headache.” Foolishly, I didn’t stop there. “How bout you?” I kicked myself.
“U seemed off glad ur feeling better,” Jerry replied. “I’m fine thanks. Have a good day.”
I sighed, my phone chimed again and I hold my breath.
“You wanna do something tonight?” panic grippped my stuttering heart.  No, I can’t say yes! But what do I say? Can’t, I’m busy. Busy doing what? Researching bogs.
Many of them were depleted in the 1800s, the peat cut and dried to burn for fuel. Not many animals lived in the water scape, besides birds and myriad insects…
And the sacrifices. I skimmed over all that—the supposed history. They couldn’t say for certain. Had it really been such a wide-spread practice?
What would that be like? To be heaved into the bottomless mud by your friends and family? Alive, kicking and screaming. Or would you calmly accept your horrible fate, knowing that your village would have a good crop that year? I shivered, imagining cold mud oozing up my arms to my neck… and I still hadn’t replied to Jerry. Could I ignore him?
If I could keep from going to the bog tonight…even as my fingers hovered over my screen, my phone chimed.
“How about the Stone Circle?”
“Yes,” I replied, not sure if it’s the Druidic connotations of the club’s name that seals the deal or the fear of the pull of the bog drawing me back.
But I found myself at the Stone Circle at eight-thirty in a white dress, Jerry’s arm around my shoulder. In the back of my mind I realized this was a date. The panic was dull at first, but mounted as the club’s door opened. Throbbing electro beats folded around me as I entered, like the drums of an ancient ritual.
Jerry grinned at me, oblivious and happy. His eyes sparkled as he took me in, under the pulsing lights of this thrumming festival.
The smells wrapped me in their arms: cigarette smoke and sweat. The laughing fruity drinks with their alcoholic undertones, sparkling in the flashing lights of a cheap strobe. It was chaos and somehow oppressive. Like I was in a box, being shaken violently. It’s a box full of glitter and sour odors.
I longed for quiet, for open spaces, for the smell of grass…and peat.
Jerry sat me at the bar and ordered us drinks.
“You look grim,” Jerry said. I tried to smile. Just to keep him out. “You’ll feel better in a bit,” he promised, handing me a fluted glass full of twinkling intoxication. I knocked it back and ask for another. I need it, to keep off the gloom of this squalid party palace and its desperate attempts to laugh at the grey life it can barely mask.
This world is living death.
But the sparkle was brighter now, after the third drink. After the fourth, I let Jerry lead me onto the blaring dance floor. Then we’re moving our limbs. Jerry was close and his body brushed mine in these crude movements that were skewed by the very substance that gave them life. Our alcohol fueled dance should've exhausted me, but instead I was dazzled. The lights shone stupidly bright and the music throbbed a ritualistic groove. The kind of drumbeat to drown out the screams of the child sacrifice. And I had another drink in my hand and I was laughing. I couldn’t be sad. I couldn’t be glum. I was so full of life, but the life wasn’t mine. It wasn’t real.
But Jerry was holding me close and I was stroking his arm and we were swaying on the dancefloor again, not gracefully, like in a story, but drunkenly, like in a club. But it was real and was now and I wouldn’t remember it in the morning. I kissed Jerry.
The beat kept thrashing through the floor and up my legs.
Then a whisper softly wound through the chaos and fake-life.
I can set you free.
And I knew, if I let Jerry take me home tonight…I’d never be free. I needed fresh air. But I couldn’t seem to walk. I couldn’t get out of this club.
I stumbled into several people and one of them laughed, but the other snapped at me and I burst into irrational tears. Jerry guided me out of the club. I don’t know how much he’d had to drink, but I passed out in the car anyway. I want to be free.
I can set you free. Come to me.

When I woke up, I was relieved to find myself in my own bed. My head hurt, and I’m still wearing my smelly, smoke-scented clothes. But this was my own bed, and Jerry wasn’t in it. I did remember last night…vaguely. I remembered the kiss. And I remembered liking it. I like Jerry. But I just couldn’t….couldn’t do this. Not when the walls press in. I couldn’t tie myself to this place…this fake-life.
I remembered the whisper.
Come to me.
After suffering through work with another hangover—a worse one this time—I drove out to the bog.
I parked by the trail head and paused, glancing through the shrubs at the placid lake, gleaming in the late afternoon sun.
My heart thunked like a ceremonial drum. I knew I was going to be disappointed. This was foolish. I couldn't really believe I was going to hear voices in the marsh, did I? I'd only heard it when I was drunk. It wasn't real.
But I headed down the trail anyway, water bottle in hand.
I was trying to convince myself that it wasn't real...but part of me kept wanting it to be real. Wanting to hear that...voice.
The trail wound through some of the same thickets I'd traversed on that first night. The trail began to lose focus, breaking up into many little routes through the grass and soft earth, which gave way to moss and mud.
I stopped and looked up.
The gentle mound of peat rose before me, mossy and exciting.
I wanted to run up to the top and laugh like a madwoman. The mound tugged at my thumping heart and my bones shook like tambourines.
This was place of death and also of celebration. The sun shone on the moss and marsh grass, lighting up their green membranes as if from within. The water was too dank to shine.
The acrid smells of mud and decaying plants rippled on the breeze with the hum of insect-song.
No whispers in my head though.
I made to step closer, but my feet were heavy, they would barely move. I looked down and my heaet spluttered. My feet were sunk into deep mud.
I yanked on them and with a sucking sound they slurped out of the muck, bringing up fresh odors of ancient rot--of death and also of new life. I slopped over to a drier clump of weeds and sat down, unscrewing my water bottle lid.
Just being here, out in the sun, surrounded by the trilling bird-life and peat-scented air, was refreshing. But my heart still drummed, unsatisfied.
A gleam at the base of the bog's mound made me drop my water bottle. It was as if a bell had chimed, timed to my drum-heart and tambourine-bones.
I stood, and hopped from clump to clump, somehow guessing where the solid patches were, moving in an almost ritualistic manner to the song that pulsed beneath the earth.
I came to the edge of the mound and the gleam danced in my eye, shimmering.
With eager hands I plucked it from the mud and carried it back to my water bottle. A good rinse revealed it to be a solid chunk of gold with weird markings on it.
Some ancient alphabet of jagged lines. But I knew what it said.
'Return tonight, Siobhan.'
The strange music of the day was suddenly gone and I was steeped in eerie silence. My heart still hammered and my limbs still shook, but the song was gone and the birds were quiet.
I slipped the gold chunk into my now-empty water bottle and hugged it to my chest as I made my way back along the trail.
My phone awaited me in my car, blinking with messages from Jerry.
It was too late for Jerry. I had chosen. I would not let myself be backed into something I didn’t want: into the concrete void of this small town cesspool.
I ignored his messages and his calls. I drove home and I waited for night to come.
But what was I choosing?
“What’s the matter?” Jerry asked when I answered the door.
“Nothing,” I lied.
“You didn’t answer my calls,” he said.
So you show up at my door? You come to claim me before I can escape? I tell myself he’s a creep…but is he? I had been afraid of him, afraid of what might happen when we were drunk and how we would end up together…he’d only ever been a gentleman. He’d taken me home when I was wasted. As far as I knew, he’d never behaved inappropriately, even when buzzed…
But did I know?
And were we not in a relationship already? Unofficially. Panic gripped me and his earnest gaze tempted me. Tempted me to give in to life.
“Yeah, my phone died,” I lied.
“Oh,” he said with a sigh. “You, um, you good then?”
He wants me to invite him inside.
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, sorry. You want to come in for a bit?”
“Yeah, sure,” he said.
I had to do something. He’d stay late…we might end up…no. I had a date with the night. What to do with Jerry?
I’ll get him drunk. That’s always the common denominator. Our relationship was built on alcohol. And it will end with it.
“You want a drink?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said.
He tried to follow me into the kitchen but I waylaid him at the couch. “You look tired. You must have worked hard today?” I pushed him gently onto the couch.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“You wait right there, I’ll be back, what do you want?”
“Surprise me.”
Will do.
We drank cocktails and chatted about work and local gossip until the sun hung on the horizon, tinting the entire sky like blood.
Jerry’s eyes were already drooping.
“Just a sec,” I said, rising and setting down my cocktail—the only one I’ve had all evening. “I’ve gotta go get changed.”
“Changed for what?”
“You’ll see,” I said coquettishly and pranced off to my room.
I showered first, and put on a red dress I’d never worn before. And red shoes. I put a fake rose in my hair. When I slipped back into the living room, Jerry was still. His eyelids were closed peacefully.
I left him there and dashed out to the car, grabbing my water bottle with the gold message in it.
It was night!
It was night.
I sped to the lake and only remembered I’d forgotten my flashlight when I faced the dark trail…black and whispery and rank with marsh smells.
But a flicker caught my eye and I held my breath. What was that? Clutching the water bottle, I stepped forward and the flicker blossomed into a white light, sparkling in the night. I took another step and the light seemed to move further away. Another step and the same thing. The light stayed the same distance away…but…I took several more steps…it also seemed to follow what I remembered of the trail.
My heart was beating, drum-like again, ceremonial. This was my night, this was my guiding light. I followed it through the thickets, slowly at first, but faster as we went along, until I was plunging through gorse and heather, ripping my dress and losing one of my red shoes…just like I’d lost my flip flop that first time. We weren’t exactly following the trail.
My heart thrummed faster and ahead, I saw more lights flickering, almost dancing to the beat in my soul. And then I heard real music.
There were drums in the swamp! And tambourines and flutes…I panted, racing faster through the underbrush, chasing that magic light. I lost my water bottle. I lost my other shoe.
And then I was there.
I was really there.
The bog loomed before me, black as night, untouched by the ring of white torch flames that surrounded it. The torches were carried by robed men with white beards who swayed to the music, which was played by dancing, naked flautists. The drums thumped nearby but I couldn’t see who played them. The tambourines were in the left hands of the torch-bearers.
They all turned to me and the music and motion stopped.
No one spoke. I stared about at the strange people. I couldn’t see any of their faces: all of them were cloaked by shadow.
Welcome, Siobhan.
My eyes went to the bog. Black and putrid. But perfect. Preservation. Peat.
Pal’agithon.
Pal’agithon is my name. Pal’agithon of the Peat. Will you join me? I have been alone for so long, the flesh of sacrifice has been absent. Give me succor and I will rescue you from your life. Grey and tasteless.
I hung back. I’d already made up my mind. But sudden fear tingled along my spine.
Come twine with me in the muck.
And what awaited me there? Silty sentience. Magic. I was out of time. My old life was dead. This was life. In the peat that preserved.
The drums began to beat.
Boom…boom…boom. I stepped forward. The drums increased their tempo.
Boom, ba, boom, ba, boom.
The tambourines shook and the flute chirped in ecstasy.
Boom, ba, da, boom, ba, da, boom, ba, da, boom.
I stepped into the mud.
The torches swirled in the dark and the peat remained black…blacker than night…blacker than fear.
Boom bada boom bada boom bada boom.
I waded out into a shallow pool and up on to a tuft of moss before the mound of peat.
Boombadaboombadaboombadaboombadaboom.
Sacrifice.
Come to me.
I jumped.
A flute cried like a lost bird and I fell face first into mud.
The peat folded itself around me and pulled me in, sucking, drinking, pulling, engulfing, muting the drums and my heartbeat.
LIFE!

The police report on Siobhan Ryan’s disappearance didn’t contain much. She had vanished, presumably near the old peat bog. Her shoes were found in the bushes between the lake and the bog. And a water bottle that inexplicably held a chunk of gold with old ogham hieroglyphs that we're translated as ‘Return tonight, Siobhan.’ The artifact was carbon dated to the second century A.D.
Her boyfriend, Gerald Harker, was found in her house, dead from drinking a poisoned cocktail. The lake was dredged, but no body found. The bog will be investigated, but carefully, as it is still protected as one of the last surviving peat bogs.


Check out more horror on the blog hop:

Saturday, October 13, 2018

October Frights! The Phantom of the Opera, Part Four

Welcome back!
Are you ready to delve back into Godfrey and Serafina's nightmare? If you've just joined us, you may want to read the previous posts, which have parts one-three of my Phantom of the Opera retelling.


Part Four: The Angel’s Voice in Hell
Scrambling down the steps on hands and knees, I felt everywhere for the candle. I reached the bottom and felt about in the ancient dirt for that lifesaving cylinder of wax.
I found instead, a precipice. I could sense the void yawning before me, and I knew not how deep, nor how wide this chasm was.
I gave up on the candle and fumbled with my matches.
The light flared up and I immediately dropped the match. There was someone with me!
I was smothered again in darkness. I barely dared to breathe. There was no sound, just the rasp of my ill-concealed breathing. What leering countenance had I seen?
Cautiously, I lit another match.  A demonic statue bulged its eyes at me and sneered with fangs and multiple tongues.
I sighed in relief and looked about. The stairs ended on a ledge that ran along a massive chamber, whose bottom I could not see. The far side was raw cave wall. The precipice was dotted by demons of stone, leering and gesticulating obscenely. And there was another tunnel that ran on into musty depths of hell.
I stood and staggered deeper into the nightmare, my heart still cold with dread, blood on my lips. I knew something terrible was happening to Serafina and my mouth was thick with the copper of my own blood, from biting my tongue when I fell down the stairs. My premonition from my first night following Serafina had become reality.
The tunnel went on and on. My match burnt out. And another, and another, until I had one left.
And there was a sliver of icy light ahead.
In the dancing light of my last match, I made out a metal door with a large combination lock…but instead of numbers, it had demonic symbols…and I knew the opening rune.
The door creaked open and my match burnt out.
I was greeted by a heavy sour smell. Ancient metal. Acid. Anise. Mold. A bright white light flared from a lamp hanging in the middle of an octagonal white room with two other doors of corroded metal. One door stood open, leading into a perfectly normal-looking sitting room, lit by candles.
The second was unlatched…open just a crack, emitting more blinding light…and Serafina’s angelic voice. I froze in fear and delight.
She was going through a vocal warm-up, rising through the scale, each note dancing through unknown spaces, echoing eerily. I marched across the room, dropping my burnt-out match, and pushed open the door. A long corridor stretched before me; it was dark but light blazed through the door at the far end.
Serafina’s voice rose higher and higher as I made my down the corridor. Closer and higher. Closer and higher. I squinted into the light.
“Serafina?” I called tremulously.
I reached the door. Serafina cut off.
I emerged into light and silence. An amphitheater-like room spread before me. Great stage lights burned overhead, casting their light down onto the center of the room where—
I staggered and fell to my knees.
“Serafina…”
In the bowl of the amphitheater, surrounded by more mirror-focused flames and metal tables of surgical instruments, a gurney bore a white-draped form. Blood stained the drape and dripped down onto the white-washed floor. Anise and copper mingled in my choking tears.
“Serafina…”
It was she.
Her head protruded above the white drape, her eyes closed, her skin white, her hair a copper fan on the metal bed. And her throat.
God.
Her throat.
No.
NO.
NO!
I staggered, retching and sobbing, down past the tiered seats. Not my Serafina. I could go no closer. I collapsed halfway down into the amphitheater and just stared at the blood. Tears trembled on my lids and horror wracked my stuttering heart.
But I’d heard her voice! This was a nightmare. It wasn’t real.
A footstep sounded and I raised my eyes from the despoiled form of my love to a door across the amphitheater that I had not noticed.
In its shadows stood a tall man, pale and bald. His black eyes gleamed with a strange delight. His throat was bandaged and bloody, but the rivets were still in his jaw. And he spoke. IN SERAFINA’S VOICE!
“Godfrey, I warned you, didn’t I?” and then he sang. “You have fallen to the depths of Hell, but I have risen above the mountains, the clouds, and the stars.” And the last note rose up to an earsplitting C.

A note from Asmodeii:
Asmodeii! That is not my name. No one need ever know my true name. Let them call me phantom, ghost…Perhaps I will be the ghost of Serafina Szeman, singing in the opera at midnight, on every anniversary of her disappearance. The police will have found the suicide pact notes I forged for her and Godfrey.
She was a strange girl. Her fanatic obsession with Satanic lore and deamons allowed me to seduce her. She believed I was a messenger from beyond…come to offer her the thing she wanted most: to revel with the devils. Perhaps she got what she wanted. I certainly got what I wanted.
From the moment I heard her sing at the audition after Ridaphelm bowed out—she’d been my first option, but the surgery had failed—I knew I needed her voice. I had been robbed of my voice long ago…my invention was not enough to restore it. I needed human vocal chords.
And I would not settle for second best.
I wanted Serafina’s.
You cannot fathom the violence of my jealousy when I heard her voice. It surpassed any covetousness I had hitherto experienced, though my soul burned with agony whenever I heard anyone sing with skill. That I could no longer sing as they did! That I should be robbed of my purest joy—no. It was not acceptable. Was not. Now…
Now, though I remain in shadow, I have the angel’s voice.

I have risen above mountains, the clouds, and the stars!


This concludes our serial, I hope you enjoyed the Phantom of the Opera.

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Friday, October 12, 2018

October Frights! The Phantom of the Opera, Part Three

Welcome back!
Are you ready to delve back into Godfrey and Serafina's nightmare? If you've just joined us, you may want to read the previous posts, which have parts one and two of my Phantom of the Opera retelling.


Part Three: Into Gehenna
I did not run this time.
"Wh-who..." I began. But my voice was reedy and cracked. I swallowed.
"Who are you?" I demanded more firmly.
"Not who, Godfrey," said the sound. "What." I located the source: it seemed to come from the wall behind the dressing screen.
"What are you, then?" I asked, forcing myself to take a step towards the wall.
"I am in a transitional state," said the sound as it impossibly moved along the wall toward the corner. "I am not man, I am not quite deamon, I am the opera ghost!" The sound seemed to recede deeper into the wall, becoming fainter. "Soon, I will be fully manifested!"
Dropping the book, I raced out of Serafina's dressing room and followed the sound as it hummed through the wall, down the hall, deeper into the opera house.
"What do you want with Serafina?" I demanded.
The sound just strummed humorously. I was running now, down stairs, along dark passages, following a phantom noise.
The sound led me into a dusty storage room filled with old set-pieces. An Egyptian god loomed over the shadowy space, his bird-face faded. I dove between papier maché rocks and cardboard walls of varying colors and themes. As I passed between two Greek pillars a trip wire shot up and I staggered, collapsing beside a bust of some philosopher. The bust tipped, and I rolled out of the way—just as a trapdoor opened in the floor. The bust fell into a black hole and splashed into unseen water. The trapdoor creaked shut again, its seals so perfect that it was invisible.
I hunkered in the shadows, trembling. I dared not cough, though the dust tickled at my throat. I waited, but the sound did not return.
I made it out of the opera house without further incident and paced my flat all night, unable to sleep or cease imagining that the sound was back...
In the morning, I called on Serafina. Her maid said she was not to be disturbed, but I refused to leave and at last, Serafina agreed to see me in her parlor. She was wan, her eyes sunken and her lower lip under constant attack from restless teeth.
"There's no use pretending," I said, seizing her hand. "I heard that—that sound last night. It tried to kill me!"
She snatched her hand back. "You SAW HIM?"
"No, he led me to a trapdoor, I almost fell in...you can't do whatever it is he wants. You can't sing for—for whatever it is!"
Serafina hid behind her hands. They were skeletal and white. Her abjectness struck me with horrible pity.
"I don't care if you've dabbled in the occult," I said softly. "I love you. Please stay away from that THING."
She lowered her hands but would still not look at me.
"I didn't realize what it truly was I was getting into," she said, her voice trembling. "Not until I heard that voice..."
"It doesn't matter," I insisted. "You don't have to go through with it!"
"He's always watching, always listening," Serafina said, tears in her eyes. "He'll kill you."
"He almost did, but listen! We can leave Bamberg, go far away. To England, maybe."
"I can't leave before tonight's performance," Serafina said. "I have an obligation to the production."
"Right afterwards, then," I said. "I'll have a cab waiting outside, in case he knows my car. Slip out after the show and we'll escape. I'll just lay low until then. I think he thinks he succeeded in killing me."
Serafina contemplated this, her brow furrowed.
"Yes," she said. "I think that would work." She beamed at me through tears. "I'll come to you directly after the show. Take me away. I love you, Godfrey. Thank you."
I kissed her hand and smiled.
"Thank you, Serafina."
"One never realizes the horror until the reality strikes," she said softly.
"Say no more about those things," I begged. "They need never trouble us again."
I left her house, but not my worries behind. Did the owner of that sound really think me dead? What if it discovered our plot? She said it was always watching.
I returned to the opera house and snuck in through the stable to explore it in the daylight. I searched Serafina's dressing room more thoroughly, but could find nothing. The deamonology book was gone, too. The room where I had nearly fallen to my death was just as unyielding. I could not find the trap door and the trip wire had vanished.
Defeat hung heavy on my shoulders as I returned to my car, parked several streets away. The evening was fast approaching. I drove home and called for a cab.
I had him park by the side entrance of the opera, where many performers came and went. And I settled in to wait, restlessly tapping my watch. I could see the operagoers arriving out on the main Street.
I watched late performers hurry past into the side-door.
A tall, hatted gentlemen I had never seen passed by, pausing at the door. He wore a wool cape with a high collar drawn around his lower face. He turned toward the cab and I caught the gleam of his black eyes, glittering in his white brow—staring straight at me. He lowered the collar and grinned at me with gold teeth.
I gripped my watch so hard the glass cracked.
The man's neck!
His throat was missing, replaced by some obscene metal gadgetry. Gears and rods protruded around the edges. Long copper strips and wires tangled like tendons in place of his larynx. Rivets lined his jaw.
In a moment, the neck was covered again and the man as gone.
Not a man. But not a deamon, either. The opera ghost!
I leapt out of my cab and raced to the door.
The door slammed in my face and when I tried to open it, I found it locked. I beat on it frantically and yelled for someone to open it, but no one came. I raced around to the main entrance and dashed up the steps, shoving aside several fur-garbed dames.
They squawked in protest but I didn't slow down, hurling an elderly gentleman to the side as I charged up the last steps to the door.
"Sir, where is your ticket?" demanded the concierge.
"I'm a friend of Serafina Szeman," I growled, trying to skim past him.
"I'm afraid you must have a ticket or pay now," the concierge insisted, blocking me with a firm hand. I dug furiously for my wallet and handed him the whole thing.
"Sir!" Protested the concierge, but I was already gone, racing along to the backstage entrance.
I burst into her dressing room and found it empty. Except for the deamonology book, lying on the vanity, open to the hieroglyphics page.
I nearly lost it and went racing off to search the entire opera house, then I saw a note beside the book.
It had been hastily written in pencil.
I'm sorry, Godfrey. You don't understand. I need to sing this concert. I need to see the wonders of Gehenna and the Convocation. This is an honor beyond anything you would ever understand. When I come back, I will be all yours.
Love,
Serafina
I stared.
She must be mad. Or this was fake. It was her handwriting...but the man had a machine that spoke for him and a typewriter that worked on its own. He could surely replicate handwriting.
But where had she gone? Gehenna? What was that? Where was that?
My eye fell upon the symbol that was circled in the book. Opening rune.
Opening...I looked again at the walls. The man had been inside the walls. He'd spoken to me from within. There had to be secret passageways. I began probing the walls' unyielding surfaces.
I frantically went over every inch of the bored green wallpaper. And then again. And again.
A knock sounded and a stagehand called, "five minutes, Miss Szeman." I sank to the floor in despair. So much time had already passed. I would be too late!
The carpet stared back at me, intricately patterned, unlike the wallpaper. And there!
In the corner, nearly hidden by the wardrobe, the Opening Rune peered up from between the twining curlicues.
Breathlessly, I crawled over to it and placed my hand on it. It felt no different from any other part of the floor. I pressed on it and felt something click beneath the carpet. Before my very eyes, the wall beside the wardrobe slid away, revealing a sliver of ultimate darkness.
I stood and took a candle from the vanity.
There was no time to be frightened of the foul wind that blew from that chasm. I stepped into darkness and the secret opening slid shut behind me. I was horrified to find various miniscule peep-holes into Serafina's dressing room. He HAD seen me, and presumably saw Serafina whenever she changed behind her screen!
A passage led off, narrow and low. I had to duck and go sideways to proceed. I came to a fork and was unsure which way to go...until I saw Serafina's gold key lying several feet down the left hand branch. The tunnel suddenly stopped and I found a hole in the floor, with a ladder leading down. This must be the direction that the man-deamon-ghost had led me before.
The passage went on and I found the lever that must control the trap door. Down another ladder, and I found myself on a stone embankment high above the water into which I was meant to have plunged. It appeared to be an underground river...or a sewer, though it was only mildly rank...and rank with a strange sour-metal smell. Chemicals, maybe.
The embankment ended and I found a tiny arch. My candle was guttering and I was forced to stop to trim the wick clumsily with my knife against the stone wall.
On I went, breath shallow and limbs quivering. The new tunnel dripped with slime and sloped steeply downward. The anise wrapped in mustiness stole into my nostrils and my lungs pumped faster.
That smell. And I thought I smelled old copper, too. And decay. The tunnel leveled off and I faced three entrances, all trimmed with archways built from human skulls.
Which way?
In the trembling light of my candle, I saw words written above the arches, carved into the stone.
Tartarus, Abaddon, and ...Gehenna.
I took a nervous breath and plunged into the arch named Gehenna—too fast.
I sprawled down a flight of slippery steps. My candle bounced into the darkness and went out.



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Thursday, October 11, 2018

October Frights! The Phantom of the Opera, Part Two

Welcome back!
Are you ready to delve back into Godfrey and Serafina's nightmare? If you've just joined us, you may want to read the previous post, which has part one of my Phantom of the Opera retelling.

The Phantom of the Opera
Part Two: The Blasphemous Sound

I fled that hellish chamber, madly racing through the dark and somehow emerged into the street—after breaking through the rotten door that Serafina had locked behind her.
I emerged into the night, tattered, scuffed, wet, and bleeding.
I got lost in the winding streets and fog and didn't make it back to my car until nearly dawn.
I called on Serafina later that afternoon. She was still distracted and the circles under her eyes were deeper. Yet she seemed to almost glow with a weird excitement. I did not ask her about the mysterious cellar or the ghoulish typewriter.
The impression that she was not of this world anymore haunted me.
Serafina did not protest when I suggested dinner that night and I watched in sickly fascination as her excitement grew with the night.
After I took her home, I waited again and sure enough, Serafina emerged from the side door, cloaked and candle-bearing.
I was not fortified by champagne. My legs were shaky as I stepped out of my car and made to follow her. The vague horrors of that nightmare flickered through my mind, like Serafina's candle in the mist.
It slowed me just enough and I lost Serafina in the fog. I had to return to that place. I had to know the truth. How much had the alcohol colored my first visit? I almost ran down the alley, my footsteps slapping on the wet cobbles. She was nowhere to be seen. Twice, the muted glow of a lamppost fooled me.
"Serafina!" I called, but the fog robbed my cry of volume.
I kept going, trying to follow my hazy memory, but it was useless. I got lost again and finally returned to my car, wet and dejected. I sat and waited for Serafina's return. I wondered if I should confront her.
Her reappearance from the mist, almost an hour later, robbed me of breath and I sat limply in my fog shrouded automobile as she drifted ghost-like from the night and vanished again into her house.
When I called on her in the morning, her maid told me she was feeling ill and was still in bed. She had another performance that night. I told the maid to tell her I would see her at the show.
The evening came, deliberately, and I knocked on her dressing room door before the show began.
"I'm fine!" She called. "Really. Tell Peroll he did an amazing job adjusting the bodice. I can breathe without being stabbed by the seam."
"Serafina," I said. "It's me. May I come in?"
"Godfrey?" Her voice took on an edge of anxiety. "Yes. Yes, come in."
I caught her in the act of recomposing her features. Fear and guilt vanished under a veneer of tired happiness.
The room was full of her perfume, sweet and Rosy. But again that weird spice odor whispered underneath...anise, metal, and mold.
"Are you all right?" I asked raggedly.
"Yes, I think I just needed more rest," she said. I can't go out tonight; I have a meeting with the director, discussing future projects, then I must get to bed."
"Yes," I said. "Yes." I was nearly taken in by the reality she offered me with word and tone. The nightmare of the night before last seemed distant: unreal and champagne-inspired. But...
I had seen her vanish into the fog.
I had seen the guilt on her face. Or had I?
"You look tired, too," she said, concern in her tone but something else in her eyes...almost accusation.
"Yes," I said. "I should get to bed early tonight, too."
"Perhaps I'll see you in the morning?" She suggested.
"Absolutely," I said. "I look forward to tonight's show." She smiled and I turned to leave.
I glanced back before I closed the door and saw that her face had returned to conflicted anxiety.
Whatever was bothering her, she used it to great effect that night, pouring her emotions into her role. Her voice sparked with angst and her high notes were more chill-inducing than ever before.
After the show, I returned to her dressing room to congratulate her for another stunning performance. As I approached, however, I heard her talking to someone. I stopped with my hand on the knob.
"He acts like he didn't see anything," Serafina said. "Are you sure he was the one who broke the door?"
Words answered her. My stomach leapt up against the back of my rib cage and I leaned against the he door to keep from falling. To call it a voice would be borderline blasphemy. God did not create such a mode of expression. It twanged and hummed, metallically—jarring—buzzing—non-musical, but with infernally musical tones sparkling amidst the grinding chaos.
Somehow...words tumbled out of that—that sound.
"I saw him, Serafina. I saw him. He must have followed you. You must get rid of him."
"He'd had quite a bit of champagne that night," Serafina said hopefully. "Maybe he doesn't remember. Besides, I took your transcript. He can't really know anything."
"We can't risk him finding out," insisted the horrible sound. "He'll interfere. Do you not want to sing for the Convocation?"
"Of course I do!" Serafina protested. "I told you I want nothing more. I don't know how to get rid of Godfrey. He already suspects I'm not well. If he heard or saw anything, he might worry about me. If I try to push him away, he'll likely pry into things more."
"You must want to sing more than you want any human affection. If the deamons hear any love in your voice, they will not be pleased. Do you wish to displease the Convocation?"
"No! I'll...I'll get him to leave me alone...I'll tell him I'm too busy to see him until after the last performance of the show."
"See that he believes you," warned the sound. "He must stay out of the way. Music is all."
"Asmodeii?"
"Yes?"
"It is you, isn't it? Why can't I see you?"
"You don't even know what I look like. Is it my voice? Did you not expect it to sound like this? It is horrible, isn't it? Now you see why the convocation wants you to sing for them. We cannot make the sounds you can. That's why I prefer to communicate via machine. But your GODFREY HAS RUINED THAT. I will speak to you again. In this voice, my Serafina. I hope it does not frighten you too much."
I gripped the door handle. My Serafina...spoken by such a hellish sound! No, no, it was wrong. My hand trembled and the doorknob rattled.
I looked down at my white knuckles in horror.
"What was that?" demanded the sound.
"The door!" gasped Serafina. I let go of that handle as if it were molten and leapt back.
"Who's there?" twanged the sound. I looked about, but there was nowhere to hide. Footsteps.
A gaggle of ballet girls rounded the corner and I dashed into their midst. They giggled and hooted in protest. Serafina's door flew open. I ducked around the corner, hoping the ballet girls would shield me from sight.
"Prima Donna!" The girls trilled.
"What are you doing here?" Serafina demanded.
"The night is young!" replied one and several other answers joined: "Why are you still in costume?" "What are you doing?" "Leading lady has nerves, eh?"
It seemed the girls were all a bit drunk.
"Oh never mind," Serafina said. "But you should all get some sleep. We have another show tomorrow night."
The girls moved off with a chorus of "Humbug!" and Serafina closed her door. I waited at the corner, shaking like a struck cymbal. I was too afraid to approach the room again.
That sound...and what? The source of that sound was invisible? Serafina could not see it. Had it mentioned deamons? I clutched my head. I was dead sober. But this...
I shook in silent agony for what seemed hours, but must have been only twenty minutes.
The door creaked open and I went rigid.
I listened to Serafina's footsteps fade off down the hall and slowly relaxed. Strange calm stole over me and I squared my shoulders. I marched around the corner and threw open the dressing room door. If the source of that sound were still here, I would kill it.
The room was empty. It was not lavishly furnished. After checking the wardrobe and behind it, as well as the vanity and dressing screen, I had to give up. The thing was not here. Its smell was, though...that clean spice, immured in decay.
The room felt empty, tomb-like in its vacancy. I did not believe in invisible things. But then I remembered the entrance to that crypt near the typewriter. I had been drunk then.
But I hadn't been drunk earlier, when that sound had called Serafina 'my Serafina.'
My eye fell upon the floor beside the chair.
A book lay on the carpet, partially open.
A surge of white hot horror passed through me and I seized the book off the floor. It was very old and musty, leather bound and cracked. The title was The Ways of the Fallen Angels: Secrets, Summonings, and Symbols.
Two ribbons protruded from the damp pages, marking separate places. I flipped it open to the first.
A sort of alphabet was depicted. Unnatural shapes, mostly intricate geometrical diagrams, triangles, stars, and interlacing circles. One was circled in red pencil: an upside down triangle with a cross hanging from the tip and a curved line intersecting the top side. It had a caption: Opening Rune.
I frowned. With a careful flick of the mildewed pages, I turned to the second ribbon and was faced with an illustration of creatures—horned and hooved—gathering about a huge pentagram of fire.
The chapter title was printed in gothic letters: The Great Convocation of Devills.
Absurd! But...why was I trembling? I was no longer alone!
The sound filled the room, soft and mechanical.

"I SEE YOU, GODFREY!"


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