In my opinion, writing is the foundation of human culture. As one of the earliest means human beings created to launch their thoughts into the future, there would be no cultures on this planet today without writing. However, writing is no longer the sole means of spreading stories and knowledge. With the 20th century advent of film and television, the idea of telling stories through writing is perhaps even the most archaic form of writing today. However, there’s a magic that still exists, for me at least, in a written story. I remember as a younger man thinking that I wanted to develop a form of writing that couldn’t translate to film, that had to be read to be understood. I wanted to expose what language alone is capable of being. It’s an internal experience rather than an external experience. That’s what I want to capitalize on in the stories I tell: the fact that they exist solely in the space between my mind and the reader’s. And therein, for me, lies the current cultural value of writing—that space between the writer’s mind and the reader’s and how it allows one person to comprehend another’s unmediated, unadulterated thoughts. There’s no actor to interpret. There’s no vision to see. There’s only one mind reaching out to another.
Well said, Israfel. I love a good film, but nothing beats the connection we get to a book and its author.
The hardest part of writing my books has always been getting the words to form themselves right on the paper. Stories come to me quite often and quite easily and relatively fully-formed. The act of sitting down to write is something I enjoy. I often put on music to keep myself still and simply stare at a blank computer screen or piece of paper until the words come out. However, getting those words shaped into the vision I want others to see, that’s a painstaking process. As I wrote many years ago in my poem “Break Through” published in my collection At the Side of the Road—“Words come too hard to mean nothing.”
Quite. I get a little put off when I read that an author has released seven books in a year. I want to read a craft, not a formula.
What inspires you?
My greatest inspiration over the years has always been my own memories. My muse is an internal one. I look back over my life and wonder if all the twists and turns really lead back to here, to this theme that recurs, that creeps into my head, that plays its twisted chords of gunfights and shootouts, of falling, laughing back into bed with someone I love tight in my arms. That’s from a poem of mine as well, “Saint Annie” in The Tree Outside My Window. I never thought of it as being a simple synopsis of what inspires me, but as I contemplate this question, I’m coming to believe it is.
How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I prefer reading physical books. They’re comforting. They remind me of childhood and running away from my daily cares, hiding in my bedroom from the rain outside. For me, ebooks don’t carry that nostalgia, but I believe they very well could for future generations. I also prefer my books to be read in print form for two reasons. First, I love the new covers coming out for the second editions of my works (and future first editions)—I only have three second editions currently available: The Tree Outside My Window, Indigo Glow and The Adversary’s Good News. I want these books to exist physically for people to hold and see. Second, a physical copy of my book is launched into the world. Who knows where it will land. Who knows who will discover it. As far as alternative vs. conventional publishing. I’ve never gone the conventional route. I’ve always enjoyed the control I exert over my product as a self-publisher. Friends of mine who have entered the traditional publishing world have rapidly lost control of their words. I’m very afraid of that. However, I’m also aware certain avenues are closed to me for marketing as a result. Personally, I feel it’s the writer’s choice how she wishes to proceed. Neither seems to me to be inherently superior to the other.
I agree, Israfel. I think it’s the author’s choice to publish in their preferred format(s). But, I love that I can lend a finished paperback to someone. I can read it in the bath without fear of the financial consequences. I can donate it to a charity shop and wonder where it will end up and who it will influence.
What is your role in the writing community?
That’s an interesting question. As a young man, I would have said my role was to be the greatest writer in the English language of this day and age (laughs). However, today, I believe my role in the writing community is simply to expand genres, to push others to see that there is more we can do as authors. We don’t have to follow existing conventions. We can create new ones, new stories, new languages. To quote myself yet again, from the story “Catatonia” in Psychedelicizations, I want to write stories that a giant can fit in, to challenge artistic barriers and reveal how they can be overcome.
I’m surprised by this answer! I know that Israfel is active in the poetry community and works hard to promote/work with others, so I thought this would be his answer. I’m inspired by his big dreams though.
What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?
I think the most interesting book I’ve ever read is Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. It tells a powerful story in a fascinating manner. It’s thoroughly intriguing to me. I don’t understand it, and I don’t want to. I simply want to experience it again and again. I love the ideas of this book, the tone of this book and the language of this book.
The easiest place to learn more about me is by reading the books I’ve written. It’s the only place I’m truly comfortable revealing myself. And in reality, my books reveal more about me than I ever intended.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
The shortest amount of time I’ve ever worked on a book was a year. The longest was ten years. I don’t know if there’s an average amount of time. Different projects require different investments.
I think this comes across in the author‘s writing. It’s honed, it’s considered. It changes as a person changes over a period of years.
If you didn’t like writing books, what would you do for a living?
Well, since I’ve never made a living as an author, I’ve done a number of things to make money, everything from construction to copywriting. I think if I could choose any one thing to do for a living other than writing, it would be teaching philosophy, which I was setting myself up to do at one point in time. However, life didn’t unfold in that direction for me.
I hope that life allows Israfel to dedicate more time to his writing. The world needs authors like this!
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Mike Russell was born in 1973. As a child, he enjoyed daydreaming, art and writing strange stories. As an adult, he enjoys daydreaming, art and writing strange stories.
Mike Russell’s books have been described as Strange Fiction, Weird Fiction, Weird Lit, Surrealism, Fantasy Fiction, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Metaphysical Fiction… but he just likes to call them Strange Books.
Ordered and mesmeric. This family’s interactions can pause to an extent that almost becomes non existent. Do they exist only if all is involved in the conversation? An eerie language that connects time, memories and moments described to the second. – Amazon review
An episode of “The Twilight Zone” or “The Outer Limits” in book form, ‘Strungballs’ is a must read for all who love the strange and unusual. – Amazon review
This was enjoyable to read. – Amazon review
StrangeBooks.com have kindly agreed to give away one signed copy of Strungballs to a lucky Examining the Odd reader! How do you enter? Simply leave a comment on this blog post and include your email address. Super simple!
Competition closes at midday (GMT) on Friday 7th July 2017. Giveaway is open to anyone, anywhere, as long as you’re over 18. One entry per person. Winner will be chosen using a random number generator. The winner will then be contacted for their address and StrangeBooks.com will send the signed book! Good luck 🙂
Vampire democracy sucks. Literally. When it’s one vamp, one vote, the worst monsters can swing elections by turning random people off the streets into new vampires. Dylan is one of those random people. The power players in the city want his vote, but he just wants to be left the hell alone. Most of all, he wants to stop murdering people. That’s easier than it sounds when some people are seriously asking for it.
Dylan’s life as a vampire is gross, terrifying, disgusting, frustrating, sexy, painful, and that’s all just in the first night out.
Content Warning: This novel has graphic depictions of assault, murder, sex, bodily fluids, and sexual assault.
Author David A. Hill Jr. has very kindly agreed to share the first chapter with Examining the Odd readers!
CHAPTER ONE: GET RICH OR DIE TRYING
You know that story about the kid who put his finger in a hole in a dam to stop the flood? Bullet wounds don’t work that way. A finger, a hand, a shirt, it doesn’t matter—the blood flows hard. When it’s coming from your chest, every second feels like your last. You scramble. You panic. You spout off all the sobbing nonsense your oxygen-deprived brain can come up with. Your friends and family eat it up, and they spout the same bullshit right back at you. How it’s going to be okay. How the dead guy next to you is going to a better place.
I’m bleeding out. I grab at my chest, trying everything I can to stop the flow. Everything hurts—not just the bullet wound. The August pavement burns into my back. My back hurts because of fucking course my back hurts. I scraped my knee when I fell to the ground. I’m hungry. I wish my body could just focus on the gunshot. I wish it was like those stories where the guy gets stabbed but doesn’t know it until someone tells him.
The pain magnifies every sense. Sirens down the street sound like concert speakers pressed against my ear, and look like tie-dyed shirts off in the distance. Every time someone grabs my arms and legs, it feels like a punch in the face. My blood smells like the welding room back at the Honda plant I worked at a few years ago. Guys in blue jumpsuits lift me onto a stretcher. I feel a thousand pounds pushing down on my lungs. I feel like I’m drowning, and I tell them I’m not going to make it. They tell me to stop talking, that I need to try to relax. Save my breath, they say.
The next few minutes bleed together. The ambulance shakes hard. They shove an oxygen mask in my face. The lights blind me. They strap me down. Why do they need to strap me down? I struggle. They jab something in my arm. I tell myself I’m going to make it, and go limp. The breaths stop hurting. The bullet wounds stop burning. My vision blurs just a little more. I forget everything but my hunger. I’d murder for a burrito full of pastrami, mustard, pickles, and french fries. I have no idea how I’d eat it when my hands are covered in blood. But I want it. Then I don’t. My stomach turns over, and I want to throw up all over the EMTs, but I can’t. I can barely even open my eyes.
Minutes later, they’re carrying me they’re saying plenty. But I just hear shitty big budget action movie barking they run away from a CGI explosion. I try to look around, but it’s just white walls and blue jumpsuits as far as my eyes can see. I try asking, but it comes out as groaning and drooling.
They bring me into a room and swarm. Eight, maybe nine faces. They pull lamps like spotlights to beam down on me. It’s blinding. They’re hot as sun on the boardwalk. I feel like carnitas under the grocery store heat lamp. I groan. They spin the same bullshit. “You’re going to be fine.” They all tell me that. “Keep fighting!” That one’s my favorite. Fight. Tied down. Barely conscious. Numb. Bleeding out. But somehow, I’m supposed to fight. Do I tell my arteries to stop pumping? Do I slow my breath to conserve oxygen? I wiggle my toes. I feel like a badass. A fighter.
My eyes close. My eyes open. Every time they open, I see a little more blood on their scrubs and gloves. Every time my eyes close, they stay closed a little longer than the last. I hear the beep, the long beep like on TV. I wonder if they’re going to use those paddle things. They don’t. One of the women says, “We’re losing him.” I try to open my eyes. To tell them they’re not losing me.
I wake up in a dark, tight space. Something is on my face. I reach up and out. I am in a bag. I scream. I panic. I punch. I fight. Nobody answers, and after a few minutes I realize nobody’s going to answer. So I feel around the bag, and grab the zipper. It takes a moment of struggling since the zipper wasn’t made to open from the inside. It was still dark outside the bag. I kick out, and opened a door. Light cracks in.
I slide out on a metal shelf. Naked. Like a filing cabinet for corpses, just like on TV. What isn’t like TV is the bag. White, with blue trim. I expected a heavy black bag. Why wasn’t I dead? Don’t they embalm people down here? Do they do that before filing them away, or after?
San Jenaro does a lot of things well. Street cleaning? Great. Feeding the homeless? We’re better than average. But the hospitals are the pits. Filthy. Smelly. Disorganized. Underfunded. I poke around in the morgue. There’s no hint of life. This is fortunate, since my cock decided to raise full mast. This is the kind of bulging, bordering on painful erection I’d usually stop to do something about, but, morgue. I have a brief flashback to being on the ER table. I pat my chest, feeling for the bullet wounds. They’re gone. Replaced by the erection of a lifetime. Great.
Worse? Everything’s still bloody, caked with dry, filthy blood. Old blood and motor oil and cigarette ash and dust and whatever else was on the streets. I smell like a 7-Eleven dumpster. Without even thinking about it, I hit the nearest sink, and scrub my hands and arms until the skin hurts. But I still stink. My skin is caked with filth, and it’s so deep I feel like a boiling bath is my only answer.
I follow the signs to the stairs. As I round the last corner, the old steel door out of here, a security guard walks through. I I scramble back. I run tip-toed back to the morgue. I tuck behind support pillar. I close my eyes, hoping like hell he doesn’t come through. Then my mind focuses on him. He’s got fifty pounds on me, but I can probably take him. He’s healthy. Alive. Vibrant. As he walks toward the morgue, I hear every step. He opens the door, and I hear his breathing. Heavy. Maybe asthmatic. Then I hear his heart. It beats fast. Once and a half a second. About as fast as Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love”. The sound both soothes and exhilarates. I smile. I bob like I’m in a drum circle trance. I forget all the stress. I forget all the worry. I forget that minutes ago, I was dead on a slab. Everything in my universe existed for that sound. That beat. I wanted to take it within me. I wanted to move with his heart and get lost in it. And then the stomach growled. I growled. He heard me. “Is anybody flashlight across the morgue.
Wait. I growled?
“Fuck. I’m a vampire.” He definitely heard that.
“What? Who is that?” The guard says, and rapidly to every corner.
hunger kicked in. My in here?” He shone a
pans his flashlight
I hold my breath. I think about vampire things. I push my tongue to my teeth. Fangs? Check. They feel shorter than I expect. But I cut my tongue on them, so they can do the job. The job? Why am I thinking of biting this security guard? That’s sick. Are vampires immune to Hepatitis? And he’s a big guy. If he struggles, it’s going to make a hell of a mess. Or maybe my bite’s like in that game I played in high school, and he’ll get all orgasmic while I’m drinking his blood. Do I really want that big sweaty guy orgasmic in my arms? Not into bears. But it’s not a sex thing. Is it?
Fuck it. As the guard passes by my pillar, I turn on heel, grab him, and bite. The motion is way too comfortable, like I’ve been doing it all my life. Once I bite, I feel my fangs push up into my jaw, and I just start drinking like I’ve never drank before. It’s great. It’s like every terrible metaphor you can think of for good things. It’s like running into the bathroom on a cold day and pissing after you’ve been holding it in for an hour. It’s like you’ve just came inside someone, and you’re not quite ready to pull it out, so you just kinda sit there and everything tickles and you wonder if you can go again, and they clench up and squeeze your cock a little and life is perfect. It’s like that. And more. He didn’t seem orgasmic, but he also didn’t fight. He just kinda clenched up. He waved his arms a little bit and knocked over a tray table. But when I finally pull my face off his collar, everything in his face says scared. If that’s his orgasm face, I feel bad for anyone he takes home.
The heartbeat sound dies down, and I lower the guard to the ground. I see his little name badge. It says Tom Jones. Like the old actor. Or was he a musician? I don’t know. Tom Jones gasps. Whimpers a little. He’s alive, but his eyes keep drooping like I imagine mine did in that emergency room. I pick up his radio, and put my thumb on the button. I consider calling it in. But then I remember that I’ve still got to make it out. Besides, we’re in a hospital, right? If you’re going to get attacked by a vampire, a hospital’s the best place for that to happen. If he’s gonna live, he’s in the best place to do it.
In a fit, I grab Tom Jones’s pants, put them on, and pull the belt extra tight. I grab his shoes. On the wall near the door, I spot a hoodie, and toss it on. It’s all way too big. Like a kid in daddy’s work clothes. It smells terrible. But at least my erection’s gone.
It’s the dead of night. I check my pockets. Tom Jones graciously left me $65 and some change. Who carries that much cash? People who can’t get bank accounts, that’s who. Did I just murder someone who couldn’t even get a bank account? Fuck.
No. I didn’t murder him. I have no reason to think he’s dead. He’s in a hospital. That’s where people go to not die.
Unless they’re me.
I hop on a bus, and start home. My senses flare, and as the bus starts moving, everything becomes too much. The engine. The lights. The voices. The blonde girl closest to me talks into an iPhone. Last year’s model, with some Japanese cartoon girl on the case. From the phone, I hear some guy laughing. I know, just know, that he’s laughing at me. I want to kill him. I want to show him that nobody laughs at me. I grit my teeth. My fangs extend. This reassures me. Those fangs? They’re a gun in my hand. They’re power. I could grab and kill any single person on this bus, and nobody could do shit about it.
Holy shit, why am I thinking this? What in the fuck did these people even do? Calm down, Dylan. Besides, what are you going to do? Bite the iPhone? Crush it while hissing menacingly? You’d look like a jackass alpha male baboon, and she’d have to go argue about her phone insurance policy tomorrow. Does AppleCare cover bite damage?
The blonde’s conversation goes darker. She keeps trying to talk. He keeps cutting her off. She rolls her eyes, and pulls the phone a couple of inches from her ear. Whatever he’s saying, he’s pissed. I can hear every word, but I can’t understand them. He’s rambling. He’s guilty. He’s lying. But I don’t know the words he’s saying. He calls her Lyndsay. I can’t help but to watch her.
She’s had a long day; her makeup’s cracking around the corners of her eyes. Her eyeshadow’s a soft shimmering gunmetal over a black base, and it’s creasing bad. She looks at me and raises an eyebrow; I realize I’m creeping out on her so I turn my head. I can’t help it, and my eyes wander back over. The magenta on her lips is fading away. The dark liner is a little too obvious; I picture her clubbing or bartending or something in the dark.
Then my mind wanders. I imagine myself walking up to her in a bar, saying something clever. That magenta lipstick rubs off on a drink I bought her. We laugh, and I take her to a hallway. We start fucking, standing up, the way it happens in the movies but totally doesn’t work in real life. She’s wet, and warm, and perfect. I’m nailing her hard, lifting her up every time, and she throws her head back and tells me not to stop. I run my fingers through her hair and tug her back a little more. I bite down on her neck and keep on fucking her, and god damn it the erection’s back. I cross my legs.
Lindsay hangs the phone up and puts it in a purple faux snakeskin purse. I notice her shirt. A white, button-down blouse that’s been bleached a few too many times. It smells like dish water. Her hands are dry, and the red on her short fingernails is chipped all to hell. Black slacks. Definitely service work.
“Boyfriend troubles?” I say to her. God damn it, Dylan, you sound like an asshole. You look like a creep, in your stolen pants and XXXL hoodie.
“Yeah? I mean, kinda? Maybe?” She shakes her head. “I don’t know.” She sighs and looks across the bus, not at me.
“Sorry to hear it. Had a hard day myself. I’m Dylan.” Had a hard day myself? Dork. I hope I get vampire hypnotism or something, because I am so not smooth.
Wait. Hypnotism? That is not helping with the creepy factor.
“It happens.” She says with a shrug. “Look. My stop’s coming up.” She stands and forces the same smile I’m sure she forces a hundred times a night in whatever bar she works at.
“That’s cool. I just… I don’t want to sound like an ass, but since I stepped on the bus, I kept telling myself I had to try to talk to you. So…” Instinctively, I stand too. I look her in the eyes, like they do in the movies. Not trying to hypnotize her or whatever, I just can’t help but to look at her. “I just wondered if I could get your number? If not, that’s totally cool and I respect that choice.”
She looks either way. Away from my eyes. Then sighs, and pulls up her purse and takes out her phone. “You know, why not? Give me yours instead. I’ll text you.”
It worked all natural. Just Dylan smooth. Or did I accidentally hypnotize her? Maybe she would have given it to me anyway. Except there’s no fucking way, because I look like the Unabomber and I smell like… he used fertilizer bombs, right? I guess I smell as bad as him, too. But I don’t have my phone! It must be back at the hospital. I pat my pants, remembering I have Tom Jones’s phone. I pull it out, an old Nokia flip phone, hand shaking, and begin looking for the number in the settings. I notice the phone says it’s Thursday; it was Tuesday when I ate that bullet.
“I’ve got to get off here.” Lindsay says, sighing and edging toward the door. “What’s your number?”
“Sorry. I don’t call myself.” I find the settings. “It’s 555-555-5555.”
She dials and steps off the bus. “I’m Lindsay.” She says as the door’s closing.
“I know.” I say back, waving. I know? Oh my god I sound like a cretin. Worse off, I missed my stop. Lindsay’s stop was my stop. Maybe it’s for the best. I’ve filled my creep quota for this year already. Tom Jones’s phone buzzes. I look. “It’s Lindsay :)”
I take a deep breath and step off at the next stop.
Twenty minutes walking, and I’m home. I look at the old white house and march up the steps like I have a million times before. I put my hand to the doorknob. Mom’s car is in the driveway. I freeze. I can’t go back— I’m dead. Two days ago, the doctors or cops or whomever told her that she lost her baby. She’s probably not stopped crying once.
Then again, maybe it’ll help her if she knows I’m alive. Maybe I’ll walk in and she’ll hug me and everything will be all better. No fucking way. They file paperwork. I have a death certificate. How am I supposed to argue that? I don’t even know if vampires can go out in the sun, and government offices aren’t open at night. I shake my head and turn around.
But, it’s 4am. I stop. She’s asleep. Least I can do is get some of my stuff. Get out of these bags and into something that fits and doesn’t stink like formaldehyde. I pull the spare key out of the potted plant next to the door. The same key I’ve told mom to hide somewhere better a million times. I slip in and upstairs to my room. As I suspect, everyone’s in bed.
It’s silent in here. Sometimes a car passes by outside. But, it’s quiet enough that I hear every heart. Every breath. Mom’s in her room. Geena’s in hers. They’re through thick walls, but it still distracts me for a moment. Usually I can barely hear if Geena’s fucking her stupid boyfriend, let alone her breathing. I shake it off, and grab some clothes, and stuff them in my backpack. I look around, taking inventory. What else should I take? I grab my iPod; that might help distract me from all the fucking heartbeats. That’s it. Nothing worth taking. I worked my ass off to fill this room with shit, and now none of it means anything. The only thing I want—my bank card—is probably sitting in the morgue or in an evidence locker somewhere. And don’t they close your accounts when you die?
The room explodes with sound. Blaring. I jump and look around. A voice breaks out. “Lord knows, I can’t chayayayayaynge!” Fucking Freebird? Seriously? Then I realize; it’s coming from my pocket. I pull Tom Jones’s phone. The screen says “Mercy Medical”. Guess they haven’t found him yet. I hang up on them.
Freebird? Really? At least I don’t have to feel bad about killing
Damn it, Dylan. No, no, no. Killing people is wrong, even if they have a Freebird ringtone. And you don’t get to play that cool if that ringtone’s coming from the phone you just stole from the guy you just murdered.
I return to the moment, to my house, to Freebird, to my mourning family. I run. I hear movement in the other rooms. Mom. Geena. Both waking up. Coming to see who the hell is blasting Freebird in their dead son or brother’s room. I bump a lamp in the hall. That god-awful woodcarving of a giraffe that mom thinks is so “real” despite being made in China. I catch it as it falls, and I just fucking throw it. The cord rips out and it splits in half right next to mom’s door. I keep running, and I go out the back because knowing my luck, cops are already out front ready to take me to vampire jail.
“Dylan?” Geena shouts out her bedroom window. I look back. She sees me. “Dylan?!” She shouts again. I shake my head, and I run. I tell myself I’m not Dylan. I’m not the guy she’s looking for. I’m the guy who broke in and stole some clothes and an iPod.
Blood Flow is a modern gothic, a weird take on a vampire novel by David A Hill Jr. It’s an examination of democracy, modern culture, consent issues in vampire fiction, and what it takes to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
I thank you, friend, but I am no drinker of wine, not even if it be the rarest Canary or the oldest Amontillado. Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging . . . and more than others, I have reason to know the truth that was writ by Solomon the Jewish king. Give ear, if ye will, and I shall tell you a story such as would halt the half-drained cup on the lips of the hardiest bibber.
We were seven-and-thirty buccaneers, who raked the Spanish Main under Barnaby Dwale, he that was called Red Barnaby for the spilling of blood that attended him everywhere. Our ship, the Black Falcon, could outfly and outstrike all other craft that flew the Jolly Roger. Full often, Captain Dwale was wont to seek a remote isle on the eastward verge of the West Indies, and lighten the vessel of its weight of ingots and doubloons.
The isle was far from the common course of maritime traffic, and was not known to maps or other mariners; so it suited our purpose well. It was a place of palms and sand and cuffs, with a small harbor sheltered by the curving outstretched arms of rugged reefs, on which the dark ocean climbed and gnashed its fangs of white foam without troubling the tranquil waters beyond. I know not how many times we had visited the isle; but the soil beneath many a coco tree was heavy with our hidden trove. There we had stored the loot of bullion-laden ships, the massy plate and jewels of cathedral towns.
Even as to all mortal things, an ending came at last to our visits. We had gathered a goodly cargo, but might have stayed longer on the open main where the Spaniards passed, if a tempest had not impended. We were near the secret isle, as it chanced, when the skies began to blacken; and wallowing heavily in the rising seas we fled to our placid harbor, reaching it by night-fall. Before dawn the hurricane had blown by; and the sun came up in cloudless amber and blue. We proceeded with the landing and burying of our chests of coin and gems and ingots, which was a task of some length; and afterward we refilled our water-casks at a cool sweet spring that ran from beneath the palmy hill not far inland.
It was now midafternoon. Captain Dwale was planning to weigh anchor shortly and follow the westering sun toward the Caribbees. There were nine of us, loading the last barrels into the boats, with Red Barnaby looking on and cursing us for being slower than mud-turtles; and we were bending knee-deep in the tepid, lazy water, when suddenly the captain ceased to swear, and we saw that he was no longer watching us. He had turned his back and was stooping over a strange object that must have drifted in with the tide, after the storm: a huge and barnacle-laden thing that lay on the sand, half in and half out of the shoaling water. Somehow, none of us had perceived it hereto-fore.
Red Barnaby was not silent long.
“Come here, ye chancre-eaten coistrels,” he called to us. We obeyed willingly enough, and gathered around the beached object, which our captain was examining with much perplexity. We too were greatly bewondered when we saw the thing more closely; and none of us could name it offhand or with certainty.
The object had the form of a great jar, with a tapering neck and a deep, round, abdomens body. It was wholly encrusted with shells and corals that had gathered upon it as if through many ages in the ocean deeps, and was festooned with weeds and sea-flowers such as we had never before beheld; so that we could not determine the substance of which it was made.
At the order of Captain Dwale, we rolled it out of the water and beyond reach of the tide, into the shade of nearby palms; though it required the efforts of four men to move the unwieldy thing, which was strangely ponderous. We found that it would stand easily on end, with its top reaching almost to the shoulders of a tall man. While we were handling the great jar, we heard a swishing noise from within, as if it were filled with some sort of liquor.
Our captain, as it chanced, was a learned man.
“By the communion cup of Satan!” he swore. “If this thing is not an antique wine-jar, then I am a Bed-lamite. Such vessels-though mayhap they were not so huge-were employed by the Romans to store the goodly vintages of Falernus and Cecuba. Indeed, there is today a Spanish wine-that of Valdepenas – which is kept in earthen jars. But this, if I mistake not, is neither from Spain nor olden Rome. It is ancient enough, by its look, to have come from that long-sunken isle, the Atlantis whereof Plato speaks. Truly, there should be a rare vintage within, a wine that was mellowed in the youth of the world, before the founding of Rome and Athens; and which, perchance, has gathered fire and strength with the centuries. Ho! my rascal sea-bullies! We sail not from this harbor till the jar is broached. And if the liquor within be sound and potable, we shall make holiday this evening on the sands.”
“Belike, ’tis a funeral urn, full of plaguey cinders and ashes,” said the mate, Roger Aglone, who had a gloomy turn of thought.
Red Barnaby had drawn his cutlas and was busily prying away the crust of barnacles and quaint fantastic coral-growths from the top of the jar. Layer on layer of them he removed, and swore mightily at this increment of forgotten years. At last a great stopper of earthen-ware, sealed with a clear wax that bad grown harder than amber, was revealed by his prying. The stopper was graven with queer letters of an unknown language, plainly to be seen; but the wax refused the cutlas—point. So, losing all patience, the captain seized a mighty fragment of stone, which a lesser man could scarce have lifted, and broke therewith the neck of the jar.
Now even in those days, I, Stephen Magbane, the one Puritan amid that Christless crew, was no bibber of wine or spirituous liquors, but a staunch Rechabite on all occasions. Therefore I held back-, feeling little concern other than that of reprobation, while the others pressed about the jar and sniffed greedily at the con-tents. But, almost immediately with its opening, my nostrils were assailed by an odor of heathen spices, heavy and strange; and the very inhalation thereof caused me to feel a sort of giddiness, so that I thought it well to retreat still further. But the others were eager as midges around a fermenting-vat in autumn.
” ‘Sblood! ‘Tis a royal vintage!” roared the captain, after he had dipped a forefinger in the jar and sucked the purple drops that dripped from it. “Avast, ye slumgullions! Stow the water-casks on board, and summon all hands ashore, leaving only a watch there to ward the vessel. We’ll have a gala night before we sack any more Spaniards.”
We obeyed his order; and there was much rejoicing amid the crew of the Black Falcon at the news of our find and the postponement of the voyage. Three men, grumbling sorely at their absence from the revels, were left on board; though, in that tranquil harbor, such vigilance was virtually needless. We others returned to the shore, bringing a supply of pannikins in which to serve the wine, and provisions for a feast. Then we gathered pieces of drift with which to build a great fire, and caught several huge tortoises along the sands, and unearthed their hidden eggs, so that we might have an abundance and variety of victuals.
In these preparations I took part with no special ardor. Knowing my habit of abstention, and being of a somewhat malicious and tormenting humor, Captain Dwale had expressly commanded my presence at the feast. However, I anticipated nothing more than a little ribaldry at my expense, as was customary at such times; and being partial to fresh tortoise-meat, I was not wholly unresigned to my lot as a witness of the Babylonian inebrieties of the others.
At nightfall, the feasting and drinking began; and the fire of driftwood, with eery witch-colors of blue and green and white amid the flame, leapt high in the dusk while the sunset died to a handful of red embers far on purpling seas.
It was a strange wine that the crew and captain swilled from their pannikins. I saw that the stuff was thick and dark, as if it had been mingled with blood; and the air was filled with the reek of those pagan spices, hot and rich and unholy, that might have poured from a broken tomb of antique emperors. And stranger still was the intoxication of that wine; for those who drank it became still and thoughtful and sullen; and there was no singing of lewd songs, no playing of apish antics.
Red Barnaby had been drinking longer than the others, having begun to sample the vintage while the crew were making ready for their revel. To our wonderment, he ceased to swear at us after the first cupful, and no longer ordered us about or paid us any heed, but sat peering into the sunset with eyes that held the dazzlement of unknown dreams. And one by one, as they began to drink, the others were likewise affected, so that I marvelled much at the unwonted power of the wine. I had never before beheld an intoxication of such nature; for they spoke not nor ate, and moved only to refill their cups from the mighty jar.
The night had grown dark as indigo beyond the flickering fire, and there was no moon; and the firelight blinded the stars. But one by one, after an interval, the drinkers rose from their places and stood staring into the darkness toward the sea. Unquietly they stood, and strained forward, peering intently as men who behold some marvelous thing; and queerly they muttered to one another, with unintelligible words. I knew not why they stared and muttered thus, unless it were because of some madness that had come upon them from the wine; for naught was visible in the dark, and I heard nothing, save the low murmur of wavelets lapping on the sand.
Louder grew the muttering; and some raised their bands and pointed seaward, babbling wildly as if in delirium. Noting their demeanor, and doubtful as to what further turn their madness might take, I bethought me to withdraw along the shore. But when I began to move away, those who were nearest me appeared to waken from their dream, and restrained me with rough hands. Then, with drunken, gibbering words, of which I could make no sense, they held me helpless while one of their number forced me to drink from a pannikin filled with the purple wine.
I fought against them, doubly unwilling to quaff that nameless vintage, and much of it was spilled. The stuff was sweet as liquid honey to the taste, but burned like hell-fire in my throat. I turned giddy; and a sort of dark confusion possessed my senses by degrees; and I seemed to hear and see and feel as in the, mounting fever of calenture.
The air about me seemed to brighten, with a redness of ghostly blood that was everywhere; a light that came not from the fire nor from the nocturnal heavens. I be-held the faces and forms of the drinkers, standing with-out shadow, as if mantled with a rosy phosphorescence. And beyond them, where they stared in troubled and restless wonder, the darkness was illumed with the strange light.
Mad and unholy was the vision that I saw: for the harbor waves no longer lapped on the sand, and the sea had wholly vanished. The Black Falcon was gone, and where the reefs had been, great marble walls ascended, flushed as if with the ruby of lost sunsets. Above them were haughty domes of heathen temples, and spires of pagan palaces; and beneath were mighty streets and causeys where people passed in a never—ending throng. I thought that I gazed upon some immemorial city, such as had flourished in Earth’s prime; and I saw the trees of its terraced gardens, fairer than the palms of Eden. Listening, I heard the sound of dulcimers that were sweet as the moaning of women; and the cry of horns that told forgotten glorious things; and the wild sweet singing of people who passed to some hidden, sacred festival within the walls.
I saw that the light poured upward from the city, and was born of its streets and buildings. It blinded the heavens above; and the horizon beyond was lost in a shining mist. One building there was, a high fane above the rest, from which the light streamed in a muddier flood; and from its open portals music came, sorcerous and beguiling as the far voices of bygone years. And the revellers passed gayly into its portals, but none came forth. The weird music seemed to call me and entice me; and I longed to tread the streets of the alien city, and a deep desire was upon me to mingle with its people and pass into the glowing fane.
Verily I knew why the drinkers had stared at the darkness and had muttered among themselves in wonder. I knew that they also longed to descend into the city. And I saw that a great causey, built of marble and gleaming with the red luster, ran downward from their very feet over meadows of unknown blossoms to the foremost buildings.
Then, as I watched and listened, the singing grew sweeter, the music stranger, and the rosy luster brightened. Then, with no backward glance, no word or gesture of injunction to his men, Captain Dwale went slowly forward, treading the marble causey like a dreamer who walks in his dream. And after him, one by one, Roger Aglone and the crew followed in the same manner, going toward the city.
Haply I too should have followed, drawn by the witching music. For truly it seemed that I had trod the ways of that city in former time, and had known the things whereof the music told and the voices sang. Well did I remember why the people passed eternally into the fane, and why they came not forth; and there, it seemed, I should meet familiar and beloved faces, and take part in mysteries recalled from the foundered years.
All this, which the wine had remembered through its sleep in the ocean depths, was mine to behold and conceive for a moment. And well it was that I had drunk less of that evil and pagan vintage than the others, and was less besotted than they with its luring vision. For, even as Captain Dwale and his crew went toward the city, it appeared to me that the rosy glow began to fade a little. The walls took on a wavering thinness, and the domes grew insubstantial. The rose departed, the light was pale as a phosphor of the tomb; and the people went to and fro like phantoms, with a thin crying of ghostly horns and a ghostly singing. Dimly above the sunken causey the harbor waves returned; and Red Barnaby and his men walked down beneath them. Slowly the waters darkened above the fading spires and walls; and the midnight blackened upon the sea; and the city was lost like the vanished bubbles of wine.
A terror came upon me, knowing the fate of those others. I fled swiftly, stumbling in darkness toward the palmy hill that crowned the isle. No vestige remained of the rosy fight; and the sky was filled with returning stars. And looking oceanward as I climbed the hill, I saw a lantern that burned on the Black Falcon in the harbor, and discerned the embers of our fire that smoldered on the sands. Then, praying with a fearful fervor, I waited for dawn.
The Satanic Bridegroom is a horror-adventure novel written in the Weird Fiction tradition of H.P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen. Along the way we encounter mysterious undersea caverns, cursed jungle valleys, drug-addled decadents, arias without underpants, mystics, bullfighters, salubrious new exercise regimens for young ladies of the Modern age and secrets man was not meant to know. Spookiness and wit abound in this unhallowed tale of lust, madness and submarines. – Taken from the book.
What I particularly loved about this book is the way in which the style and mood changes so flawlessly to reflect the changes in the protagonist. I don’t think I even noticed it happening until after I had finished the book.
To begin with, The Satanic Bridegroom is really funny, almost in an immature way. The author (or main character) seems unable to write a sentence about a woman without using the word “bounce”. It reminded me of Magnificent Vibration by Rick Springfield, in which the main character has regular conversations with his penis. I should point out that I’m saying all this in a 100% positive fashion – I found both books hilarious.
Thanks Joe Gola for making each evening after work this week fun and exciting. The Satanic Bridegroom is the sort of book one could easily devour in one sitting, but I enjoyed settling down for ten-fifteen minutes at a time to see what the book’s unbalanced libertine would get up to next.
Joe Gola was born in Brooklyn and raised in Connecticut. His hobbies include brooding silently upon the moors and board games. The Satanic Bridegroom is his first novel. He currently resides in a haunted ice cream truck in Connecticut, USA. – Goodreads
Neil Gaiman – Fragile Things. I’m not really sure what to say, as I would imagine most people who visit Examining the Odd have read some or all of Gaiman’s work! Since this book is a collection of short stories (and wonders!), I decided to randomly choose one of the pieces too. The chosen piece was The Fairy Reel, one of the “wonders”, since it is a poem rather than a short story. I’ve heard people liken this poem to a Keats ballad.
So plaintive and so wild and strange that all who heard it danced along
And sang and whirled and sank and trod and skipped and slipped and reeled and rolled
Until, with eyes as bright as coals, they’d crumble into wheels of gold…
I’d love to know which Gaiman piece is your favourite, from Fragile Things or elsewhere. People often say he’s hit or miss for them, but he’s all hit for me.
1984 is set in Oceania, which includes the United Kingdom, where the story is set, known as Airstrip One. Winston Smith is a middle-aged, unhealthy character, based loosely on Orwell’s own frail body, an underling of the ruling oligarchy, The Party. The Party has taken early 20th century totalitarianism to new depths, with each person subjected to 24 hour surveillance, where people’s very thoughts are controlled to ensure purity of the oligarchical system in place… But Winston believes there is another way… “He who controls the past, controls the future” is a Party slogan to live by and it gives Winston his job, but Winston cannot see it like that. – Online Literature
It made me laugh that this book was randomly chosen right now (I live in the UK).
The conditions of government repression, censorship, and mass surveillance Orwell foresaw have seemed imminent, if not fully realized, in the decades following the novel’s 1948 publication, though the adjective “Orwellian” and many of the novel’s coinages have suffered a good deal through overuse and misapplication. Just as the first radio play of 1984 warned of a “disturbing broadcast,” this 1965 version begins, “The following play is not suitable for those of a nervous disposition.” – Open Culture (hear the play in full)
Behind Winston’s back the voice from the telescreen was still babbling away about pig-iron and the overfulfilment of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously.
3. Ann Leckie – Ancillary Justice.
A space opera that skillfully handles both choruses and arias, Ancillary Justice is an absorbing thousand-year history, a poignant personal journey, and a welcome addition to the genre. – NPR
Justice of Toren is one being who gets caught up in political crossfire and finds herself reduced to a fragment of what she was: a lone human body, limited and alone. The first part of the book alternates between present and past, plunging the reader into the story and slowly providing the background. This is not a book you should try to skim. – Jim C. Hines
Here it was, the moment I had worked toward for twenty years. Waited for. Feared would never come.
This book is actually from my to read pile, so I can’t give you my own opinion yet! I’m really looking forward to it though – I love books that span a huge amount of time.