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.


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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.

And please explore the chilling delights the rest of the hop has to offer:

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.



Return tomorrow for the horrifying conclusion of the Phantom of the Opera!
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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!"


Stay tuned for the installment tomorrow!
and check out the rest of the hop below:

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

October Frights! The Phantom of the Opera, Part One


WELCOME TO THE OCTOBER FRIGHTS BLOG HOP!

This is a super fun annual event where horror authors gang up to terrify and amuse you. You can 'hop' from blog to blog via the link we all share at the end of our posts. October 10-15 we will be serving up mayhem and madness, so stay tuned.

I have written a retelling of the Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. One of my favorite classic books. I also love all of the movie versions I've seen as well as the musical. I'll be posting this story in installments, somewhat fitting for a classic retelling as many classic novels were published as serial in the newspapers.

The Phantom of the Opera
Part One: The Typewriter
It began, and ended, with a key. Firstly a key of gold. Lastly a key of C.
Serafina Szeman made her debut at the Bamburg Opera on the 13th of November. She was leading lady in a production of Freerenmeck’s Angelicus.
I had been seeing her for several months before the opening, but she had been strangely distant during the weeks of rehearsal. She was something of a last minute casting choice, chosen at a hasty audition to replace the famous soprano Edithe Ridaphelm, who had bowed out for unknown reasons.
So I had rarely been able to call on Serafina since she'd started rehearsing and when I had, she was always in a hurry—late to rehearsal, to voice lessons, to the costumier—or else she was very tired and understandably quiet, even cool towards me, but I put it down to exhaustion.
I hoped she'd be better after the opening. Happier at least. And it was a triumphant opening. She has the voice of an angel. Lucid and soft and when she hits the high notes, my spine tingles.
I took a massive bouquet of roses to her dressing room after the show. When I knocked, however, there was no reply. I waited a moment, then slipped inside, hoping to surprise her when she arrived.
I found she was already in the room, her face rapt as she poured over a letter on aged paper.
"Serafina," I said, "you were marvelous! I don't think anyone has sung Lilliana so well! You had me in tears, congratulations!"
She did not look up from her letter. Her eyes were wide...almost adoring.
"Serafina?"
She tore her eyes away from the letter and jumped a bit, quickly sweeping the letter behind her back.
"Darling," she said, extending her other hand as I crossed the room. I took it to kiss, and noticed she clutched a small gold key.
"What's this?" I asked.
"Nothing," she said, snatching back her hand. Turning away, she stuffed both the letter and the key into an envelope.
"You were wonderful," I repeated.
She smiled vaguely and tucked the envelope under her comb.
"Thank you, Godfrey," she said. Her gaze was still distant, looking past me, as if I were invisible.
She must still be on the stage...her marble cheeks glowing with the applause like noble edifices caught in a sunset. Her perfectly curved lips smiled meekly despite their obvious glory. But...her normally sharp green eyes were misty—like stained glass that was curtained, blocking the internal candlelight.
I was close enough to smell her perfume—thick with rose and honeysuckle. And another odor.
A mustiness. But spiced...like anise wrapped in ancient molding papyrus.
"Will you let me take you out, now?" I asked. "Now the opening is over?"
"I can't," she said, then she seemed to shake herself and looked guiltily into my eyes. I was about to protest. "Of course," she said, and then I noticed the circles under her eyes.
"I think you need rest," I said. "I'll just drive you home."
"No," Serafina said, smiling. "We should celebrate. I promised we could go out when I had time. I won't be able to sleep, anyway."
I went to get my car while she got changed and then drove her to Les Cloches. We had a delicious supper, but she was still vague and distracted, even after champagne.
After I dropped her off at her house, I sat in my car and smoked a cigar. What letter had she been reading? An admirer’s? She couldn't have any yet...unless they had written the note during the performance. Or perhaps a cast member? But surely not? She loved me, didn't she? We hadn't had much time together since the audition.
And the key?
My mind conjured symbolic heart-keys and secret rendezvous...
A flickering light caught my attention and I peered into the dark. The side-door of Serafina's house had opened and emitted Serafina herself, in a thick wrap, bearing a candle of all things. She did not glance around—and thus did not spot me—but headed directly down the alley with purpose.
I stabbed my cigar butt into my gloved palm and leapt out of my car to follow her. I'd perhaps had a bit too much champagne and had half a mind to seize her arm and demand to know where she was going—who she was seeing.
But as I caught up, I slowed, almost in awe. She moved like a shadow. Her hair shone in the candle-light like burnished copper threads. The gathering fog curled its fingers around her, beckoning her into the night, and I got the irrational impression that she did not belong to me, nor to this world. She was already lost.
I kept to the shadows and corners as I trailed her through unfamiliar alleys that sloped ominously downward. Dread crept upon me even as the fog rose, thicker and thicker. A chill settled on me. I stumbled, looking around at leering facades, decrepit and strange. I realized we must be heading towards the river, hence the fog and cold. Guilt slipped through me for following her like this—then anger—then she vanished.
I froze.
Gaping windows smirked at me, black holes in the soft whiteness of mist. I heard a clink, and took a few rapid steps forward.
Serafina had slipped into a deeply recessed doorway and her candle had been lost in the cloaking fog. I tiptoed along the wet cobbles—ancient but perfectly fit—we were in the old quarter of the city, very near the river.
I stopped behind a cracked and mossy lion statue by a nearby gate and watched as Serafina unlocked a heavy door and was swallowed by a rotting, crumbling house.
Her candle did not appear in any of the windows. I realized I was hunkered by the house's main gate. She had gone into the cellar.
The house, with its deformed lion, damp moss crevices, and stench of decay, repulsed me violently. But with a wracking shudder, I charged down the slippery steps to the cellar door and seized the icy handles.
Serafina had not locked it behind her.
The humid doors creaked open and heaved me into moist darkness, where I fell to my knees on slimy stones.
Dark emptiness bulged around me, menacingly soft with a hard metallic odor. I got to my feet, unsure why I was trembling. Trembling not with any understandable adrenaline from secretly following someone, but with an irrational premonition. Something terrible was happening to Serafina and there was a sick, coppery flavor in my mouth. A chilling draft wafted that anise and parchment smell to me and I set off impulsively into the stone hallway.
The passage hooked right and plunged down, into the bowels of the earth, it seemed. I went slowly, afraid of slipping on the slime-coated flagstones.
The incline leveled out and I ran into a cobweb-covered wall.
I felt along it until I found the passage made a sharp turn to the left. I followed it around yet another corner and saw a flicker of light at last.
Two doorways yawned before me.
One the entrance to hell. One heaven. The right door gaped, black and sucking, cold and promising of terrors unimagined. And I fancied the smell issued from that featureless hole; the air was heavy laden with putrid rot, mixed with molding paper...ancient parchment...and a hint of anise.
Through the left door, a candle glowed, illuming the silhouette of my sweet Serafina.
Her back was to me; she was seated, gazing with her candle deeper into the room. I crept closer, careful to avoid the right hand opening. Serafina was speaking to someone I couldn't see.
"When will I get to sing for them?" She asked. "Surely I proved tonight I was good enough?"
I pressed myself to the door frame and peered around into the room, hoping to get a glimpse of whoever she was speaking to.
But no voice answered her. A clacking sound filled the malodorous air, cacophonous and malignant. As I peered into the secret rendezvous, I was sure the champagne must be making its full force know, for there was no earthly reason for the sudden dizziness that seized me. My head swam and the strange but not unholy sight rippled before my eyes. I nearly doubled over with nausea.
The room where Serafina sat on a stool was small. She was not more than ten feet away from me, sitting at an antique desk pushed against the far wall. On the desk sat her candle, and a typewriter. The typewriter was the source of the horrid clacking.
Serafina was at a slight angle to me and I could see her hands were in her lap.
The typewriter was operating itself!
I clutched the doorframe to keep from falling.
"I will do my best, Asmodeii," Serafina said. As if replying to the typewriter. I could not read the candle-lit page from the door.
The typewriter clacked away, like bones rattling in a cemetery. Then silence.
"You flatter me," Serafina said, her voice eerily girlish...a giggle hiding on the edge. "I cannot wait, either."
The typewriter replied and Serafina said, "Thank you, I will. Good night."
She took the page from the typewriter and folded it carefully, tucking it into her bosom. She turned and I retreated into the shadows. There was nowhere to go but back, or into the other horrible doorway.
Inexplicably, I found myself slipping into that foul abyss. The cold sucked at me, metallic and hungry.
Serafina passed from the small room and vanished back up the passage without glancing into my hiding place, taking her candle with her.
I was frozen in place, alone in the dark but with the distinct impression I was not alone...a legion lurked in the chasm behind me.
Suddenly, I remembered my matches. Pulling the book from my pocket, I clumsily fumbled out a match with my gloved fingers and struck it.
I turned around and nearly screamed. A row of skulls leered at me.
My heart hammered, each stroke threatening to be the last. The skulls were mortared into the wall. It must be an ancient crypt, perhaps part of the legendary catacombs that spread labyrinth-like beneath the city.
I shuddered and took my guttering match timidly into the room where Serafina had held her strange communion.
The typewriter gleamed sinisterly in the rank shadows. I dragged my feet reluctantly through the room. The typewriter seemed to wink in the flicker of my dying match. It loomed larger and larger and my feet grew heavier and heavier, but I was determined to seize the hateful thing and throw it upon the flagstones.
I was hardly thinking rationally, but part of me was aware that the thing must be operated by some hidden mechanical means, and if I tore it from the table, the secret would be revealed.
I was so close.
Just a few mores steps.
My match went out.
Darkness swept over me and the typewriter burst into hideous clacking laughter.



RETURN tomorrow for the next installment!

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

A Hole in the Air Release!

Finally, finally, book three is out on Monday!!!
It's been a long time coming and an incredible journey. This trilogy is very special to me and it was so much fun to finally write some of the scenes in this book; scenes I've dreamed of and had planned since the very beginning! You can read an excerpt below (WARNING may contain spoilers if you haven't read books one and two):



Prologue: Wife
The Duke spat out his tea. Hastily wiping off his newspaper with his napkin, he stared at the page again. It still boldly proclaimed in huge script:
AIRSHIP CRASHES IN BALTIC SEA! IS RUSSIA PLOTTING WAR?
The Duke shook his head and peered at the smudged story below.
Our correspondent has confirmed with Swedish officials that something like an airship washed up on the island of Gotland. Reports of a flying machine seen overhead have been trickling in from Norway, and while there is no way to prove that the remains found on the Gotland coast were ever capable of flight, it seems possible that something of this nature could have been developing behind Russia’s rideau de fer. Russian officials have declined to claim the machine or make any affirmations about the identities of the bodies found aboard the vessel. Sweden has identified one corpse as Czar Ivano, but though the Russians did remove the body to Moscow, they would not confirm that it was the Czar.
Further mystifying the situation, someone set fire to the airship’s remains. Many engineers were eager to examine them, hoping to prise the secret of flight from the Russians’ fingers. A group of Belarian scientists arrived on Gotland soon after the discovery was made. Our correspondent was unable to contact them. Did they ascertain the secret? Did they burn the remains to keep it from the rest of Europe?
Will Russia continue to remain silent, or will they reveal their intentions? And their inventions? Were they in the act of betraying Greater Europe, planning a war that assured them victory? And will the Belarian Alliance soon be equipped with the power to conquer as well?
“Well,” coughed the Duke, “how sensational.” He looked up at the empty breakfast table and sighed, remembering he was alone. He glanced at the cuckoo clock set high on the green and gold striped wall. Ten thirty-eight. Was the Duchess not up yet? Or had she eaten already? He rarely saw her at breakfast; that was quite normal, but today he’d hoped to bump into her sometime before dinner.
He lay down his sodden newspaper and regarded his toast. Perhaps he could find her at her desk in her tower, writing missives or reading letters or making out cheques. She was probably busy and didn’t want to talk to him right now, anyway.
“Your Lordship,” the butler mumbled from the doorway.
“Yes, Haemming?”
“Her Ladyship desired you to know that she has gone out to Norden this morning,” Haemming said, looking fastidiously at the carpet.
“Norden?” the Duke asked, his shoulders slumping. “Why?”
“She did not say,” Haemming said.
No surprise. The Duke nodded and Haemming slipped from the room. The Duke looked out the window into the rain and mist of the garden. He wished he had some secret meeting in Norden or Berlin. Or at least some company. He might have been more eager to go out and hunt or shoot fowl in the rain if he’d had someone to do it with. He looked back at the cold toast on his plate. Perhaps he should go to Paris. That would show his wife: vanish off to some distant city leaving only a note and no details regarding length of absence or business. And why Norden? Usually she was off to Berlin or Paris, sometimes Moscow or London, but lately she’d seemingly become fascinated with Norden, that odd little barren spot in the middle of nowhere on the coast of the North Sea. What kind of business could she have there? It could hardly be a meeting with the heads of Greater Europe. It could hardly be any sort of business trip. It could only be some clandestine meeting of a darker nature.
“Wife,” he said. It could have been a term of endearment. It could have been an insult. It could have been an entreaty. It could have been a threat. Had anyone been listening at the keyhole, his voice would have held them all in one anguished parcel.
“No use thinking about it,” he grumbled to himself. What else was there to think about? “I hate Hannover,” he said. “Nothing going. Nothing coming. Nothing. Nothing.” He slammed his fist into the table. “And I can’t throw a party because she’s not home.”
The Duke rose and glared at the cuckoo clock. Ten forty-three. Time creeped by. He would pass it with a carriage ride through town and a stop at the Größenwahnsinn for a glass of port and possibly a game of cards. Or two.

Chapter One: His Wickedness Alive
The sunset flashed green.
The Sea erupted.
Vroanen was freed.
A huge wave struck Parsifal, drowning him in sorrow and remorse and shellfish. Parsifal struggled in the water, kicking out for something, anything to hold onto. There was nothing, and he was sinking towards the sparkling lights of Aquatamunicipalir in the depths of the Sea.
The Compass tumbled from his fingers into darkness, pulsing with eldritch light, gleaming back at Parsifal from the green eyes of Oaktree, the purple eyes of Vassilissa, the brown eyes of Balder, the grey eyes of Dioktes, the wild eyes of Fou, the black eyes of a mermaid.
Parsifal jerked awake.
The early morning sun beat down on his face and chest. The hard, wet boards of the wrecked Scylla’s deck dug into his back. The smell of rot rose from Balder’s wounds. Parsifal rolled onto his side and looked at his friend. Balder’s chest rose and fell, but his eyes were motionless beneath their fevered lids. Parsifal looked around for Dioktes, his hand reaching into his pocket and clutching The Compass. Dioktes, the grey-bearded captain who’d betrayed them, stood near the prow. The ship sat low in the water after the tidal wave from the collapse of Vroanen’s underwater prison. Parsifal thought it seemed even lower than it had last night and wondered if the entire ship might slowly sink away beneath them, leaving them thrashing in the endless expanse of water…
Parsifal closed his eyes and tried to beat back the panic rising in his chest. The image of the crazy woman, Fou, lingered there behind his eyelids and he had to open them again to escape her wide gaze and last gurgle. His eyes stung. Fou. He glanced at Dioktes. He’d tried to kill Parsifal and slain Fou instead. Why hadn’t Dioktes tried to kill him again? Why shouldn’t Parsifal go push him off the prow right this instant?
Parsifal sat up with a groan and put his head in his hands. He didn’t want to remember anything, but it wouldn’t go away. Fou…He had to stop thinking about the past. He had to find a way to save Balder. Balder was all now. Not even The Compass, not even preventing Vroanen and Vassilissa from conquering the Weather Casters, not even revenge must get in the way of saving Balder. Dioktes could still be useful.
“Dioktes,” Parsifal called from the cradle of his palms. “Is the ship sinking?”
“Stupid,” muttered Dioktes, nearly inaudibly, “the mast’s broken. Where do you see trees to replace it?”
“We could prop it up with bits of railing and deck and bind it with rope,” Parsifal suggested, looking up. He glanced about at the wreckage. The mast was floating alongside them, still connected by the odd rope and scrap of sail. He looked back at Dioktes. The old man was still staring out to Sea. His beard, patchy from Fou’s mad attack, fluttered in a light breeze.
Parsifal took a deep breath of the vibrant air. It was a hopeful seeming breeze, laden with sweet, fresh, nameless aromas. “What are you looking at?” he asked Dioktes. “Is Vroanen out there somewhere?”
Dioktes didn’t answer. Parsifal staggered to his feet and clambered to the stern where he jumped up on the rail and balanced precariously, scanning the horizon. He didn’t see anything but glittering water.
“Will he drown out there?” Parsifal asked hopefully.
“Immortal,” Dioktes replied. “Kept at the bottom of the Sea for a thousand years. Not dead yet.”
“Yes, but that was a supernatural prison, wasn’t it? He can’t actually breathe water, can he? He’ll have to keep swimming. He’ll die of exhaustion.”
“Maybe,” said Dioktes.
Parsifal scowled and returned to Balder. He unwrapped the putrid bandages from Balder’s arm and wrinkled his nose. Parsifal couldn’t even see where the original cut had been made by the Tan Noz’s claw, it was just a nauseating mass of puffy, contorted flesh colored red and green.
Parsifal washed it with cold salt water. There was no dry fuel and the stove was underwater, below decks, so he couldn’t boil any. Balder twitched a bit, but otherwise remained still. Parsifal didn’t have anything clean to wrap the wound in, so he left it. Perhaps the fresh air would help? It could hardly get any more infected than it already was. Parsifal squeezed Balder’s good hand.
“Stay with me, please,” he whispered. “Just a bit longer until…” until what? There was nowhere they could go, nothing they could do to help Balder. Parsifal closed his eyes and squeezed Balder’s hand harder. There had to be something.
Balder’s lips were dry, but the rain barrel had been smashed in the violence of the collapsing waterspout. Parsifal took a portion of shredded sail and draped it over the rail so that it shaded Balder from the fierce sun.
Parsifal pulled The Compass out of his pocket and opened the lid. For the first time since he’d found It on the bathroom floor of his uncle’s country house, Its soft pulse did not comfort him. What could It possibly show him that would save Balder? He flipped up the magnifier and peered through It anyway.
The lapping and rustle of waves vanished and the only sound was his own heartbeat, ticking like a clock in an empty room. His vision swarmed with a breathless, rushing whirl of colors. Slowly, the visions solidified into flickering images, thoughts, emotions, and indescribable things. He saw himself and Balder, having their lighthearted snowball fight in Romania. Parsifal’s heart ached at the image. Blissfully, it was quickly replaced by a strange red-plumed bird with blazing eyes, then a train. He saw a storm-tossed airship and a whirl of masked dancers.
Suddenly The Compass slowed and Parsifal was looking down upon a mass of broken boards and masts. The Port? No…The Weather Casters’ ship, surrounded by towers of wreckage. There were tiny figures swarming everywhere, and fire and smoke and cries of agony and flashes of green light. The air rippled above the ship’s stern with a shivery peal. With a roar, the air was rent open and blackness swallowed Parsifal’s view. A two-headed snake slithered out of the dark and wound itself around a silver and purple shield with a seven-pointed star in its center. Seven silver knives flashed in the sunlight. A small black bookcase with glass doors nestled in the shadows of towering bookshelves beneath a glass ceiling. The lights of the mermaid city twinkled in the deeps and their strange music sparkled through his mind. He saw Fou — his mother — holding him as a baby.
Parsifal snapped The Compass shut and rubbed away the tears with his wrist. He’d thought he was drained of all his rage and grief. He was so exhausted after sailing around the Sea, finding his long-lost mother, losing her, trying to kill Dioktes and freeing Vroanen in the process. He should be broken, empty. He was, but even that was a sensation — and it hurt. Every time he breathed, it stabbed at his chest. Fou…Balder…lost at Sea…he was crying again and sobs shook his shoulders, which were reddening in the sun, despite their thorough burning weeks before. This time he didn’t care if Dioktes heard or saw him cry.
But Dioktes wasn’t watching Parsifal.
Parsifal looked up and saw the old man standing rigid in the prow, pointing with a shaking finger. Parsifal squinted through his tears and the glaring sun. The water splayed bright stars on the waves and Parsifal could see nothing in the water.
“What?” he asked.
“It is His Wickedness,” Dioktes rasped.
Parsifal stood, his heart beating unevenly, loudly. His head pounded as he stood and wiped snot from his nose. He peered again at the shining water. This time he saw an arm break the water and stroke, pushing a pale human shape through the Sea.
“Quick!” Parsifal gasped. “Grab a board, keep him off the boat!”
Dioktes did not move.
Parsifal scrambled about their wreck, looking for something. He picked up a broken bit of the yardarm and pushed Dioktes away from the prow.
Vroanen was swimming closer. His head broke the surface and stared at them, black hair streaming over his face. The head ducked back beneath the water and the body shot forward, swimming below the surface. Parsifal and Dioktes had helped this wicked being escape his ancient prison and now Parsifal had to do something to rectify his mistake.
Parsifal’s heart sped up, his lungs heaving to keep up and he gripped the shattered wood, driving splinters into his hands. Vroanen’s white limbs flashed in the Sea like blades, one hand clenched in a fist. Parsifal raised the rail overhead. Waves of blood roared against his brain. Vraonen surged closer. Parsifal’s hands shook.
Vroanen’s fist lit up, blinding green, and Parsifal dropped the piece of yard. It would do no good here. He fumbled with his pocket. Vroanen’s white hand lashed out and caught at the Scyllas prow. Parsifal scrabbled inside his pocket, trying to pull out The Compass.
The Wicked One’s head burst from the water with a gasp.
Parsifal yanked out The Compass and flipped the lid open.
A hand flew up from the water, green light shining out between his fingers, droplets of glinting Sea water streaming down beneath it. Parsifal raised The Compass.
Vroanen heaved himself up, sliding onto the prow like a lithe white mollusk, clad only in a loincloth of silvery white. He lashed out at Parsifal with his Compass. Both Compasses flashed. Parsifal was thrown back by the power of Vroanen’s Compass and crashed into the deck. Vroanen dashed across the deck while Parsifal was still trying to blink the afterimage from his eyes. Vroanen struck down at Parsifal’s head w’s’ith his glaring Compass. Parsifal brought up his own Compass and the two met in a clash of green lightning, their thunder rolling away across the calm Sea.
Just in time, Parsifal rolled out of the way as Vroanen struck again. Vroanen’s Compass smashed into the deck with a flare of light that set the boards on fire. Parsifal scrambled to his feet, striking out blindly with his own Compass.
Vroanen spun towards him, arm outstretched. Pulses of light surged from his hand, pushing Parsifal back, blinding him, scattering his vision, his balance —
Drunkenly, Parsifal charged forward, swinging The Compass at the Wicked One. Vroanen raised his glowing fist. Parsifal caught the flashing blow with his Compass. Thunder and lightning. Crack. Boom. Like the ice in Siberia when Vassilissa had opened the portal.
The Wicked One was close, towering over him in the afterimages of the green flashes. Parsifal jumped closer still, into the chilly air that surrounded Vroanen and smacked him in the head with The Compass. Its light shimmered back from Vroanen’s dark, vengeful eyes. A strange electric saltiness filled Parsifal’s nostrils, a dankness that rolled from Vroanen’s clammy, pearlescent skin.
Vroanen grabbed Parsifal by the throat in his free hand and squeezed. Parsifal choked. Vroanen lifted him off the deck. Parsifal kicked at him desperately, but nothing would break the immortal’s unnatural hold. Black stars clouded his eyes. Green light burned them away as Vroanen’s Compass flashed down at his head. Parsifal’s Compass flashed back, protecting him from the light. Vroanen snarled and hurled Parsifal against the deck.
Parsifal smacked down and skidded through the flames, large splinters digging into his skin. He howled and struggled to his knees. Burning tar stung his nostrils as he lifted his head to see Vroanen’s figure through the flames, tall and half-naked, striding towards him, glowing Compass in hand.
Parsifal staggered to his feet and backed away. Vroanen stepped through the flames without flinching and thrust his Compass forward. Parsifal parried with his, and the flashes shattered into thousands of green stars. Parsifal stepped back again – and tripped on an outstretched foot.
Parsifal fell flat on his back and Dioktes leaped out of the way. Parsifal tried to lift his Compass but Vroanen was already upon him.
A green blaze filled his head. His hand fell limp at his side, The Compass rolling from his fingers with a loud thump. The green faded slowly and Parsifal could see the sky…so beautiful and blue, striped by gossamer clouds like a parade of ghostly figures drifting across the empyrean. He couldn’t feel his body. Something tingled somewhere at his core, but otherwise he could just as easily have been floating among the clouds as lying on the deck of a wrecked boat. He could be sailing to Heaven.
The silhouette of Vroanen blacked out the sun, a faintly luminescent Compass in each hand. The Wicked One crouched over him and Parsifal saw his blue lips moving. Slowly, the sound rippled into Parsifal’s head, lapping gently at the shores of his mind until he could understand the words.
“Who are you?”
Parsifal couldn’t move his lips to reply. Nor did he know how to answer that question. Who was he?
It didn’t matter anymore; he’d lost. Vroanen examined The Compass that had once been Parsifal’s, peering through the magnifier, shaking It. Its light had slowly faded and It did not relight. Vroanen narrowed his glistening eyes at Parsifal.
“What’s wrong with It?” Vroanen asked. Parsifal still couldn’t move his lips. He couldn’t even move his eyes to follow Vroanen as he stood and stepped back.
“Your Wickedness.” Parsifal heard Dioktes’ voice.
“Who are you?” hissed Vroanen.
“Vassilissa sent me; she has set you free,” Dioktes said.
“You lie!” Vroanen snarled. Parsifal heard Dioktes yelp.
“I do not! Vassilissa sent me here with the Lone Sailor and The Compass to free you! The time has come to destroy the Weather Casters!”
Slime, thought Parsifal bitterly.
“Think I would not recognize you, Dioktes? You serve the Selure Tartania!” Vroanen roared. His voice was shiny and did not crack even when laden with so much rage.
“Your Wickedness,” begged Dioktes. “She has cast me aside, mortal that I am, no longer of use to her.”
“Quiet!” snapped Vroanen. There was a flash of green on the edge of Parsifal’s vision and a thump. No more sound from Dioktes. Just the shivery panting of Vroanen.
Parsifal’s eyes were starting to tingle and water but he still couldn’t move them. His vision swam in unshed tears. Vroanen leaned over him again.
“Was the mortal lying about you, too?” he asked. “Are you the Lone Sailor? You can’t be a mere mortal. Speak!”
Spit landed on Parsifal’s cheek. It was icy cold. His feet tingled now, as though they’d been asleep. He blinked and tears poured down his cheeks. The glare of the sun beat on his eyeballs and he managed to drag his eyelids shut.
Parsifal heard the creaking as Vroanen paced the burning deck. Slowly, he was starting to process all that had just happened. He’d been stunned by Vroanen’s Compass. Now Vroanen had both of The Compasses and Parsifal was helpless. Even once he got back his powers of locomotion, there would be nothing he could do. He licked his lips.
Suddenly Vroanen grabbed him by the hair and dragged him across the deck and slammed him against the stern, beside the shattered door that led below.
“Where did you get The Compass? Who are you?” Vroanen demanded in his silky voice. Parsifal imagined it would have made many singers jealous. He frowned. His brain was still addled from the flash.
“Long story,” he choked out.
Vroanen laughed. “We’re stranded, aren’t we?” he said, squeezing Parsifal’s neck in his icicle fingers. “We have all the time in the world. You may as well start with your name.”
“I’m Parsifal.”
Vroanen’s fingers relaxed a little.
“How nice,” Vroanen said, “a regular name. No title. You’re like me — a nobody. A nobody who wants to be somebody.”
“I guess so,” Parsifal said, looking down. They were silent a moment. Parsifal glanced at the limp forms of Balder and Dioktes lying on the deck.
“Go on,” Vroanen said quietly. “I haven’t heard another being’s voice in a thousand years. Speak to me.”
Parsifal didn’t know what to say. The waves lapped at their doomed vessel. The sun beat down silently. Vroanen’s fingers tightened again on Parsifal’s throat.
“Speak to me!” Vroanen hissed, a tear sprouting from one of his glossy dark eyes. “Please!”
“I – c – can’t!” Parsifal gasped. Vroanen’s fingers loosened.
“Tell me your story,” Vroanen said.
Parsifal paused, staring into the depths of Vroanen’s shimmering blue eyes. It seemed that brightness lurked somewhere in their darkness, sparkling like lights in the night. Where to begin?
“I found The Compass in my uncle’s water closet, one of his guests left it there by accident: Sir Oaktree,” Parsifal said.
“Water closet?” Vroanen said, looking confused.
“Yes, a — a sort of fancy waste disposal chamber back on Land.”
“So you are a mortal? How’d you come here?”
“My uncle’s expedition. He said he was exploring Siberia, but it was all Lady Vasille’s plot to get back to the Sea.”
“Lady who?”
“Vassilissa.”
Vroanen’s eyes widened. “Vassilissa…” he whispered. “They banished her to Land … she swore she’d rescue me. She sent you to do it?”
Parsifal looked down, his cheeks burning. “I guess so,” he said quietly. His head could move…and he didn’t have to look into those icy, dark eyes anymore.
“And Dioktes?”
“She made a deal with him, to trick me.”
Vroanen chuckled. “How like her. What about you? Are you in truth the Lone Sailor? Did she trick you into freeing me when you’re supposed to rule the Weather Casters?”
“I’m mortal,” Parsifal said hopefully, twitching his fingers experimentally. He did not look back up at His Wickedness.
“Mortal is transmutable, my friend,” Vroanen said. “Take Dioktes, for instance. He’s still dragging his miserable carcass around.” Vraonen’s face was uncomfortably close to Parsifal’s. Parsifal supposed he might converse in a similar fashion if he’d been trapped underwater for a thousand years. It certainly made it easier to punch His Wickedness in the jaw.
Parsifal struck.
Vroanen howled, reeling back. Parsifal tried to push himself to his feet. Vroanen recovered and lunged with a snarl. He punched Parsifal in the chest, knocking him back to the deck.
“Feels good,” Vroanen said, licking blood off his lip. “Haven’t felt anything but cold, wet, ice, water…Pain, fire, heat. I feel alive!” Vroanen threw back his head, mouth open wide. Parsifal expected a howl or insane laugh to come out. Instead a high-pitched wail of joy soared into the sky. It was that strange dolphin sound he’d heard Vroanen make as he swam out of the hole in the sea.
It sent chills through every nerve in Parsifal’s body. He shook and curled up on the deck, pressing his hands over his ears. The pealing sound echoed into silence.
“If I use this on you enough,” Vroanen said, waving The Compass in the air, “I can kill you. I know. I killed Themetho with It. I struck again and again and again. At last he lay still and never moved again. If you are the Lone Sailor, you will never supersede the Casters.”
Parsifal uncurled and looked up at Vroanen, looming above him, blotting out the sun. Green gleamed from his fist.
“I’m not,” Parsifal said quietly. “I could never do it. I’ve failed already. I’ve done so much wrong. I’ve lost too much. Kill me, then. It’ll be easier.”
“For both of us,” Vroanen agreed, raising The Compass. “Not that you could stop me.”
“Wait,” Parsifal said, looking at Balder. “Save him. He’s been poisoned by Tan Noz. Heal him.”
“I’m not granting last requests,” Vroanen said coldly. The Compass flared angrily in his hand.
“Please,” Parsifal begged, tears springing to his eyes. “He doesn’t deserve anything that’s happened to him. Give him a second chance.”

“Don’t speak to me of unjust punishments,” Vroanen snarled. He was about to swing The Compass down when the sound of roaring water made them both look to the East.

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