Dane’s vision swam, a sense of anticipation rising within; a quickening. The mushrooms he had eaten were beginning to work. Dane got comfy on the sofa, next to a rubber skeleton for company. He had opted to spend Halloween watching a marathon of uber horror; having scoured the Internet, he’d ordered a film entitled: ‘Catharsis – A phantasmagoria of horror that will blow your mind…’

A shimmering wall of high-definition projections — with the help of the 3D headset he wore — allowed the visions that rose from the depths of the screen, to seemingly manifest around him. A story about a giant octopus began to unravel, Dane settled in, the leviathan apparently suckering to the reverse of the screen. He chuckled. The psychoactive additions to his evening were a risk, with the slight possibility he might seriously disturb himself — but he no-longer cared. Dane had seen a million creep-shows, none of which scared him; he wanted to take his viewing experience to the next level. The new TV room, with its polished black-plaster walls, lit with black fluorescents was something akin to a shrine. There was a wicked glint in the monster’s sunken-gold eyes — Dane let out a cry of exhilaration as the screen shattered, gallons of seawater thundered through — followed by a viscid plume of Stygian ink and scrabbling whip-like tentacles. As the black water rose, and the octopus’s clutch tightened around him he felt fear at last — this Halloween would be a good one.

Dane sat gasping on the sofa; the sensation of choking was frightfully real. His body felt crushed, his mind squeezed. It must be some side effect of the mushrooms, he reasoned, some unforeseen allergic reaction. Had he eaten too many, or eaten the wrong sort? He no-longer felt like watching films; instead he felt grossly anxious with a prescience of unfathomable peril. The TV screen lay obscured behind an inky miasma rising all around; the room had apparently dissolved — as the hallucination deepened — the screen undulated, like the moon’s reflection upon water. Horrified by the sudden strangeness Dane went to get up, but the sofa rocked beneath him, spinning his head and causing his stomach to lurch. Next to him his rubber companion had become animate, and was rowing the sofa towards an unknown shore, where a hulking hound prowled. The headset must be malfunctioning, or this trip is really strong, Dane thought, as the maliferous green dog, inflamed with red and blue auras — a cardboard phantasm hacked from the back of cereal box memories — slunk towards the sofa-boat.

“Thou shalt learn the true meaning of fear.” it sneered. The once rubber skeleton — transformed into a terribly deathlike corpse; and somehow familiar — hissed at Dane with venomous hate — then howled loonishly, as the hound led Dane away between stone totems carven with graven imagery, towards a festering light glowing with the hues of fire beneath the earth. “Welcome to Hell.” said the hound. Dane screamed.

He stood on the cusp of madness — through the gloom he saw a woman, washing something; scrubbing frantically at what she clasped. Dane tried to turn away, but every time he did, the hound was there as before; grim, malevolent. A low keening wind struck up as they approached, its misery chilling. Dane froze as the woman raised her face to him — he saw it was the face of his mother, long dead. She was as he remembered from his youth — when she had still loved him as a son — now her mien was agonised; eye sockets bleak pits, lashes dark thorns that rent open plush cheeks, oozing blood. The wind was the scream of her agony and she gaped blindly at him, lifting the horror of her ruined face to his own; all the while frantically scrubbing what appeared to be blood stained rags. The water foamed around her exertion, her bare arms bloodstained and frenzied. Then Dane realised that what he had thought were scraps of cloth were actually the bludgeoned pulps of her eyes — ragged jellies trailing ruddy stalks; yet still she thrust them furiously against the rocks, into the broil, scrubbing ferociously as the gale warped into a shrieking tempest.

“I’m so ashamed of you!” she screamed; proffering him the quivering pulps. Recoiling in horror, he turned to flee, yet the grim sentinel of the watchdog loomed behind.
“Poor Mother could not believe her eyes.” it said. Dane knew the shame of which she spoke — murder!

This was drug-induced paranoid bullshit. His mind was flipping out on a cocktail of guilt, Psilocybin and the disorientating effects of 3D terror vision. Somewhere beneath, buried below the new extension her life-insurance had paid for, his dead wife was pissing herself laughing. Lost within the grandeur of his trip, Dane had forgotten he still wore the VR headset — surely removing the thing would dispel the self-induced illusions — to his horror it felt like stone; cold, ancient, moss covered stone. Dread festered within the part of him still able to know. Something was very wrong. Again he wrenched at what he knew should be the headset; it was smooth and damp to the touch — a headstone? Blindly he groped for release, yet his fingers probed only soil, creeping vines of ivy or the roots of trees, now slowly winding around his body. Cocooned within his fever dream, he no longer knew what was real; what he felt and what he saw were entirely different. His vision reeled with lurid patterns as the nightmare rewove itself — then seemed to crystallize. Like the roots enclosing him; a network of hairline cracks spread before his eyes, shattering into a kaleidoscope of stained glass. Wafer-thin ghouls, their lead lined corruption back-lit with the glow from a demonic stove, sprouted like haggard rows of wheat where the shards fell — insidiously they crept towards him — to slash at him, and to drag him to the ground with jagged frozen claws.

In that dark place beneath the earth, in some unknown realm beyond his comprehension, Dane felt something enclose his hand within a cold skeletal grip and squeeze with a macabre mockery of affection.

“Hello lover.” said a papery voice; soft and waxy as if someone was crumbling bat wings through their hands like autumn leaves. The words fluttered around him, tormenting him, down in that deep hollow place.

“Laura?” he asked in a voice barely able to crawl from his throat — for it was clogged with dead leaves, soil and things that squirmed amongst the detritus of decay.

“Yes Dane.” said Laura’s corpse, as he realised that he too had now joined his dead wife somehow, somewhere below.
“Is this real?” he asked still not quite believing, hoping that the magic of TV would be undone.
“Who knows?” replied Laura, as Dane felt the coldness and lifelessness of her infuse with what remained of him, creeping up his arm. “What matters is that it is real to us sweetheart.” A wordless eternity seemed to pass in the dark between them, before she spoke again.

“I wonder what’s on the TV?” she said.

I started writing about twelve years ago. In the same way some people start playing guitar, or paint, or pick up a ball and run with it – I picked up a pen and began to write. I began to write about other-worldly places, ‘neath hollow-coffin skies. I wrote about fathomless oceans slave to no-moon, of a land lashed by the flaying tongues of an orphaned wind. I dreamed a place that was forever evenfall, where the evil of the world darkles upon the very streets of the cities as if it were rain upon the stones.I wrote and dreamed, then wrote some more. I filled my world with people and places and things and their dreams. I created. I destroyed. Within my mind’s-eye I spied great terrors and miserable pleasures of all persuasions to inflict and infest this threadbare realm I’d laboured to create. I wrote, sketched, blitzed: then obliterated – returning to scorched earth and blank pages – only to rebuild and invest in a richer darkness. I was both god and ungod. Mountains rose and fell with the stroke of my keys. Oceans spread into infinity where I let them bleed like the punctured bellies of soldier-boys – there, where the fibre of things was slashed and tattered – out of the black deeps unto the haggard light of a bastard realm did dark things beach themselves upon the shores of my grave new world.

In the meantime I was learning the art of story, the craft of words. Writing had restored my faith in life; bestowing me again with the joy of creation — something I had lost whilst studying for a Design degree in the UK. I walked away in my third-year – even when people told me I was a fool — I still walked. I didn’t care. I didn’t listen – I didn’t need to, because I knew what I really wanted to do was write. I was prepared, back in 2002, to suck it up for a few years, to follow my dream. I knew things would be tough, but I told myself it was a price I was willing to pay in order to have the life I wanted – to be truly and freely creative. Fourteen years later I have some of what I wanted back then, but not all. Life is a bloody struggle at the moment, I can’t even get a real a job. I’ve been offered a few writing gigs — but only unpaid work for start-up E-zines and such; which is basically writing mindless, sensationalist articles to generate web-traffic for advertising revenue. That’s not what I want. I need what I do to mean something. I don’t want to feel like I’m robbing myself or anyone else of their time. I don’t want to live a shallow life.

The world does not turn the way I wished it did – it doesn’t for the majority of us — I understand that. I can accept that. But surely by being proactive, by choosing a path, by falling in love with a vocation, by truly committing to something can we not tweak the turn of the earth slightly in our favour? I hoped so, I thought so — once. I’ve written short stories and such-like whilst working on my Magnum-Opus. I’ve worked all kinds of naff, monotonous jobs in construction and manufacturing while doing so; yet still nothing changes for me except me. I get more frustrated. I get more obsessed. I try harder, aye; I write harder – but is it worth it? The Internet is currently swamped with people calling themselves ‘writers’ – the bloody things are everywhere – but we can’t all be Stephen King, can we? I’m one of those people who is an all or nothing kinda-guy though. I want to be the best at what I do, you know? If I played football I’d want to play for Arsenal or Barcelona. If I was a soldier I’d want to be in the SAS. If I were a cook I’d want to be Keith Floyd. If I played guitar I’d want to be Hendrix, Slash or Jimmy Paige. Instead I write, yet no one is reading. What good is that? What good is it to sell your soul when no-one is buying? Because writing is a soul-sapping experience; I need my words to mean something when I write them; for those words to mean something to you – so I invest in them – but nothing pays back. When no-one reads my work, I’m left feeling empty, drained and fucking bitter.

It creeps in, festers; a sense of loathing harboured for the wider-world. For those who pass me by; for the advice I ask for that is not given, for the feedback I want that is never served-up — for the joy, anger, surprise or even ridicule that is never expressed because of something I’ve written — only a vacant space in the comments section, silently mocking me with its nothingness. Its like punching a pillow. A gnawing darkness grows where my heart used to be, as faith in myself; my ability and my vision begin to dwindle. Chasing dreams is a young man’s game – I’m still young, relatively speaking – I’m still writing, but I can’t keep playing in empty concert halls forever. Sooner or later I have to say: that’s enough – at least for a while. No agent, nothing published, not even any blog hits these days. Each time I post a piece, tweet or send an email I’m fishing in the possible seas of the virtuality with something I created and crafted as if it were a fly for a salmon. The deflating courtesies of dismissive editors are my only haul – nothing that can sustain a hungry journeyman for long. Thus, does my crusade for arts-sake leave me bereft of vigour and cursing my devotion. With each day that passes without even a sniff of a fish, I begin to doubt that there are any fish left to catch.

I seek the quickening of mind and spirit.

 
I am but one soul, adrift now for 130 days. Lank thought and turgid intentions befoul my aspiration; the fulfillment of a dream seems naught now but a strange unknown land – with each day that passes without glimpse or hearsay – it sinks further into the silent fathoms of the mind that entomb all that is unfulfilled or unrealized. Thus, I do sit, and think of things that spurred me into the great unknown before. Before I lost the threads of sentences to weave, and before the words that would build an unformed world passed through my hands like sand and time; I spied great terrors and miserable pleasures of all persuasions to inflict and infest the threadbare realm I laboured to create. I wrote, I sketched, I blitzed: then obliterated; returning to scorched earth and blank pages – only to rebuild and invest in a richer darkness. I was both god and ungod. Mountains rose and fell with the stroke of my keys. Seas spread into infinity where I let them bleed like the punctured bellies of soldier-boys – there the fibre of things was slashed and tattered – and so, out of the black deeps unto the haggard light of a bastard realm did dark things beach themselves upon the shores of my grave new world.

 
Amongst the chaos and the sorcery something went astray. Life got in the way of writing. The self-imposed exile I had sequestered myself within ended; I moved in with a beautiful woman who seems to adore me, and got on with a real-life instead of making one up. These are all good things – I feel at peace and understood by her, which makes me very happy, but my rather self-involved pursuit of writing and publishing a punk-fantasy took a bit of a back seat. I moved from the South to the North East and have been without a job since I left Norfolk in March. The move, the ensuing adjustments to a new life and the scouring away of several grimy layers of ego have meant that any serious attempts at finishing The Wizard’s Eye have been postponed – until now. This time of year always finds me feeling restless, hungry and forward-thinking – this year even more-so than usual; with so many new possibilities emerging like mushrooms out of the umbra of a forest floor – I’m constantly electrified by what might happen. As summer wanes though, I feel the need to settle more into a creative routine, and establish discipline. I’ve burnt out on blog rolls and news feeds recently – bagging twitterers like a Royal on a pheasant shoot – googling and such, when I should and could have been writing. The Internet provides countless tracks to quick and easy satisfaction; yet it is often a sleazy, soul-less and pedestrian way to slide through the ocean of stimulus that resides within its infinite vaults. Though there are many places to occupy the mind during creative lulls, turning to it for sustenance too readily can be the mental equivalent of eating take-away seven days a week. There are no true custodians or guides to the Web, and for a spaced-headed fantasist like myself it can so easily lead to one’s doom. Yet we need not fear to tread where we fear to tread – the Internet is a wondrous tool; its realisation a boon – I only caution distractible wayfarers like myself – we who ought to endeavour to separate ‘research’, ‘sight-seeing’ and ‘working’ from a bundled marathon of caffeine/nicotine infused scrutiny – it’s too easy to click and play the day away, creating nothing yourself other than an erratic trail winding through the virtuality.

I think that’s the root of my buckleless swashing. When times have gotten harder; when I’ve been distracted orpreoccupied with the mundane or banal, I’ve let my hand slip from the tiller. I’ve realised now, that whenever I have produced a solid body of words that they have come from enforcement of the adage ‘write everyday’. The quality might not be Shakespearean; the vision of a Moorcockian-redux might not be fully realised in one foul stroke, but by being dedicated and diligent a stygian brew begins to darkle on the page one word at a time. As I psych myself up for another assault on The Wizard’s Eye I return – momentarily – to reflect upon the visions of the virtuosos who inspired my predilection to the dark path. My mind is plastered with a melange of imagery drawn from a pool of astounding imagineers: John Blanche and Ian Miller. They are the cream that tops this pool of talent I draw inspiration from, and their work has always been able to re-ignite the cold flames that fuel my more industrious periods. Thus, I give thanks for their superior dedication and the dark and wondrous imaginations they have distilled with an enviable prolificacy for those who struggle in their shadows.
You can view some of their awesome work here:

http://gothicpunk.tumblr.com/

http://www.ian-miller.org/

It is a love as old as light from a galaxy far, far away…

 It first blossomed with A New Hope, in the mists of my infantile memory. A love that was forged in those halcyon days of the late seventies, then wrought into something eternal and sacred with the arrival of The Empire Strikes Back. Nothing much else mattered for me after that, after Star Wars. It had given me faith. There were other mistresses: Highlander, Dune, Blade Runner, Conan, Mad Max – more recently Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones – yet Star Wars was the benchmark all other pretenders were judged by. Empire spawned my love for the dark side of things, the fantastic, the mythic and the unimaginable. It helped unfetter my fledgling imagination like a sail before a gale – usurping everything else that had once basked like grazing Brontosauruses amongst the swampy idylls of my mind. Lord Vader and his armada steam-rolled over it, whilst playing their Nazi-space-stomp – The Imperial March as a herald to their onslaught. It could have only been any cooler had they underslung Marshall amps beneath their Star Destroyers – Apocalypse Now style, whilst belting out Dazed & Confused by Led Zeppelin, as they set about annihilating rebel scum and obliterating their secret base.

Once we had fled the smoking ruins, and after promising to rendezvous with the remnants of the resistance to galactic tyranny elsewhere, we found solace in the teachings of the mystical hermit Yoda. He showed us the true meaning of the Force, and warned us of its anathema – the dark side.

 These things; these words and thoughts, in many ways became my own beliefs. They showed me ‘the way’, far more directly than any textbook or map could have, or indeed did. They have remained bound within me ever since, as if the impart of sacred knowledge had not been bestowed upon Luke Skywalker, but unto me, instead. I have upheld those ideals; the flavour of those films: a childhood tincture of sorcery, mystery and wondrous awe – and carried them with me – whether that be smuggling them, or crusading for them. Thus, the holy spirit of ‘77 has burned always, with a sempiternal ardour within.

 Now the winds of change begin to stir amongst the stars, and to fan these flames again. I find myself looking back across the lake of time that has pooled between the expanding shores of my life, to my own Avalon – the place within and behind, which has nurtured and nourished my imagination these long years since.

 I find the current glut of fantasy and sci-fi to be mostly ten-a-penny squirts in the dark – I say most, not all. And I find most too derivative, or worse, unimaginative. I also find many of the ‘superhero’ franchises to be no-more palatable than ‘supersize’ franchise-bought burgers; the X-Men films being the stand-out X-ception to the rule. Star Wars was such a love, such a truth for me, that it resounded throughout my childhood, and those of my friends – binding us together, as if we were ourselves exponents of the Force – to the outer-reaches of where I find myself presently in life. The legacy of the original three was, for many, desecrated in the wake of the vulgar and vapid ‘prequels’. Their shallow characters, overblown effects, and trite storylines with as much entertainment value as a party-political broadcast by the Labour Party, served only to polarize the Star Wars community as readily as the Jedi and Sith. Very little has ever come close to emulating the affinity I have for those original films – Lucas’ own subsequent servings being as cold and dead as the stygian depths between the stars. I have searched high and low for the elixir that fuels my thirst. Only Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings films have weighed in and walked the talk in recent times. The Hobbit groans under its own weight, as the corporate whores guilty of pimping out Bilbo and Gandalf on a Unexpectedly Bloody Long Journey suckle at this cash cow with a smugness akin to Smaug himself; hording Tolkien’s treasure beneath themselves without thought for the of the magic of this classic tale they so readily squander. I imagine Peter Jackson squatting atop this ill-gotten plunder, sketched in the wicked, scratchy strokes of political satyr – a Jabberwocky with Jackson’s hairy-biker’s head as its crowning, gluttonous glory. I turned away from this feeding frenzy in disgust; thus the seats of the cinema are as dead and lost to me as the hallowed halls of Khazad-dûm are to the dwarves, for now even Peter has “delved too greedily and too deep.”


“That boy was our last hope.”
“No, there is another.”


What riddles are these? It is
time to shine, my young Padawans. I’m not here to cast aspersions like AD&D players chuck dice. I loved the first three Star Wars films. Truly loved. I adore Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy; just as with Lucas, what came after, I liked decidedly less than what had come before. DSAS? Mayhaps. I am also quite sure Peter Jackson is a lovely man, as passionate about his craft as any other. It is my drive and desire I proclaim here (not the perceived failings of men who have already done greater things than perhaps I ever shall); that the sense of wonder and joy I got from Star Wars, and how utterly lost in this imaginary mythos I became, is something I have tried to reclaim – so far, in vain – ever since. I have never really experienced its thrill again, until I started reading George R. R. Martin’s A song of Ice and Fire saga. Much else has been harvested and consumed in the bleak and frugal years since something ephemeral stole my boyish heart; most of it regurgitated in a state of plaintive ambivalence or outright repulse. These few shining lights in my sky (see other mistresses) exist in an otherwise banal sea of dreadful mediocrity, and confounding compromise which only served to spur my quest for what it is these lesser offerings lack, and in doing so shaping the course of my life like the ushering hands of some primordial god – a god with seven swan-necked dog-heads, raggedy bat wings and a penchant for bodaciously-sculpted virgin supplicants liberally scattered beneath its talons. My own myth – as I venture forth to claim the unknown that lurks between the trees, below the mountains and beyond the stars – is one that has led me here; a place where the writing of stories has become my truth, and has given me the tools to create my own universes in my own image. Mwah ha ha – as they say. Whatever happens now after Lucas has lain down his sword, and as another young hopeful – JJ Abrams – steps into the breach he leaves, I find myself grateful, regardless of recent releases and irrespective of future ones – for this one thing George instilled in me with the magic of his storytelling all those years ago; albeit something unattainable and intangible. It is something that calls to me like a goddess from behind the veil of myth, and who must be followed to what e’er end she has decreed awaits me – be it death or glory; most likely a pauper’s grave – it’s why I write. And it is a case of my life imitating my art.

 May the Force be with me.

 Always…

 When I started this blog, I was at one stage, posting to it nearly twice weekly – now I’m lucky if I manage a post once a month. I was posting short pieces of fiction and also using it as a place to process the melange of ideas and inspiration floating about in my head. Currently though, I detest blogging. The very word ‘blog’ sounds like something unpleasant; like vomiting out one’s own brain, or wiping your arse with your own tongue. I came to it with some preconceptions, I admit, but I was willing enough to dismiss these and open my mind to a point where something unexpected might happen. I thought (and hoped) it would all be one big word-party, with happy-campers everywhere; basically like Woodstock with words and coffee instead of music and pot. Well my summer of literary love didn’t happen.

I wrote, yes. I was part of a community of sorts, yes – but I never got the sort of feed-back and cross-pollination of ideas and commentary I was hoping for. In the end I’ve just found blogging and social-media as a whole to be a drain on limited resources (time and inspiration), and a paddle in the shallow end of human interaction; mostly name-dropping, self-aggrandising behaviour, and blow-your-own horn-blowing; where most people seem to want to suck up to John Scalzi, or associate themselves in whatever convoluted way they can to Neil Gaiman. If everyone wrote instead of telling everyone what they were going to write – there would be a library on every street corner – not a bloody Starbucks.

I’m still writing though, not that anyone cares in this day and age where stories are dealt with as callously as an X-Factor flop. I’m just not repeatedly whoring myself out every five minutes via twitter. I’m not telling you I’m going to write this or that. I’m just sitting in a pokey attic room with an aging computer tapping out a 1000 words a day – if I’m lucky – and getting on with it. Old-skool stylee. (OK I might be telling you about my writing right now – but that’s only for the purpose of this post). I’m not claiming as yet un-materialised success on-par with my favourite authour (my crystal ball is cloudy on that front), or how my fantasy epic will be released as a trilogy to best suit a format for film distribution that maximises it’s money-making potential. I’m just me, doing my thing, ‘cause it’s what I want to do, and hopefully one day, when it’s finished, I’ll be happy with it, and some people might say: ‘that’s not a bad book that – dark, imaginative, bit left field, but thankfully no vampires.

That’ll do me – that and a few quid to keep me in beer and pay for the missus to get her hair done once a month. If I only ever finish writing three books in my life I’ll be happy. That’s three more than I currently have under my belt. As long as they count for something, are about something, mean something to someone, and say something to someone who ‘never thought about that before’, I’ll be happy.

If it means Mum and Dad look on me in a more favourable light in the grand scheme of things then I’ll be well pleased. If someone with a bigger brain and more talent than me gives me a nod, then I’ll be ecstatic!

There’s a way to go yet though. Best get on with it.

Don’t expect me back anytime soon.

This post was written in response to:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/writing-challenge-history/

I live in England, not America, but we are not so very different; you and I. We are not so very different to all the other people in this world, we are just better-off. That is nothing to be ashamed of, as long as we are aware, as long as we give something back; as long as we are grateful. Regardless of how young or old we are, short or tall, we are all imbued with a sense of right and wrong, good and evil. We are raised into a civilization that is supposedly underpinned with a sense of justice that exists as guardian and gateway, allowing us to step out into the wider world and live without fear or want under the great fatherly wing of democracy. Why is it then that when I switch on the TV that everything I see is so very much the opposite? That fear and greed seem rife in society, and humanity seems, as a whole, to be in a dog-fight for survival with itself? I understand I might be bending the rules slightly with regards to my response for this Weekly Writing Challenge — perhaps even subverting them — but listen to me brothers and sisters, please; the time for revolution is at hand!

Consider if you will, that as a human in this day and age it is feasibly possible for you to remain in your chair, and click or dial for delivery anything that you wish for or need. We don’t need to go out into the world to experience it, to be part of it: to comment, deride, appraise, embellish or harass it. Everything can be done virtually; whether that is ordering food or even sex. We can do it all from the comfort of our reclining chairs — even fight our wars — plugged in, hooked-up and on-line 24-7 Matrix style, to a world we are supposedly connected to, but in (reality), virtually are completely detached from. Everything these days is skewed. And it’s getting worse.

We are on the cusp, are we not? Religion vies with religion and against the modern world, like two opposing tides battering against the same rocky shore. Technology has become the new religion in the West, as the god of our forefathers has his Word revised each time it strikes at odds with the society he supposedly spawned. This new religion is what drives the world; a bloated monster that wants everything now. That wants the power to change and create his or her own reality as if they were gods themselves. It won’t be so very long when we won’t even need to create life in the traditional sense; when a life can be selected with its characteristics specified, and its attributes pre-determined. If you are hell-bent on having an athletic child, then that’s exactly what you will get, depending on your credit rating, of-course.

Like a gaggle of flesh-starved zombie-children dragging Uncle-Al out of his ice-cream truck, we are emptying the world of its resources with barley anymore thought or consideration for what we are doing — let alone expressing any guilt; as we chow-down at the trough with the rest of the swine, fighting tooth and nail for our piece of the pie. The oceans are nearly barren, the forests are still being stripped of trees, the earth scarred in the quest for dwindling mineral deposits, whilst the atmosphere swells with toxicity as the seas rise; yet we wallow in the bliss of our ignorance, within these tailored bubbles we create for ourselves, these designer dream-lives; plumped up like silicon peacocks, dripping with jewels, plastic money and expensive clothes; while half the world is dressed in rags and starving. And our governments offer no new solutions, only failure-to-order leaders and more wars, because our democracies are slaves to the $ and the £.

Where is the balance? When will it return? Is it tipped too far already? When Greenpeace activists protested against Russian drilling in the Arctic recently, they were shot at, then arrested for piracy! Piracy? Are you serious? Something is seriously wrong, seriously skewed with the whole world, when we would rather lock up those who fight for a better tomorrow; for the sake of our race and our planet, than consider our own inconvenient truths. It is our cultures who are the pirates; our governments, but we are too ignorant to realise; until the satellite news we’re linked-up to all day tells us so. Or the pirate-ship begins to sink.

By the way… it’s supposed to be women and children first…

I am reminded of Kipling’s poem Puck’s Song:

http://www.kipling.org.uk/poems_puck.htm

and wonder…

…When did we give up fighting and go back to suckling?

I fear for the Shire… for all our Shires.

I couldn’t resist a Rolling Stones themed prompt:

http://www.trifectawritingchallenge.com/2013/10/trifextra-week-eighty-nine.html

Dante’s words torture my thoughts like a brand:

‘There is no greater sorrow than to recall happiness in times of misery.’

You forgiveth their sins Father, yet never mine.

Why?

Paradise is lost…

JAWS did it for me.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/daily-prompt-frightening/

And it’s been JAWS ever since. The first time I was really scared by something other than a spider or the dark.

I think partly because I watched it at an impressionable age. And because it was also the first horror film I ever saw. When I was a kid we used to go next door to swim in their pool during the summer holidays, (our neighbours at the time lived in London and we looked after their house) the pool had lights in – but I couldn’t swim in the pool after dark because of JAWS. I was scared in the bath for a while after watching it and couldn’t even put my foot outside the bed for a long time because of JAWS. Because of JAWS, I generally stay in the shallow end at the beach. I had a panic attack when snorkeling once in Portugal because of JAWS. I was in maybe thirty or forty feet of water, when I just got an incredible sense of dread looking away from shore to where the seabed dropped away into the gloom; somewhere beyond it was a shark. I swam like fuck back to shore. I recently found out that the Mediterranean has a resident Great White population! Eek! Everyone knows what a Great White looks like and what they are capable of, but it’s not so much the shark more the thought of one lurking somewhere out of sight, or perhaps that fin above the water; heralding a submerged shadowy death, silently stalking you, with all the unpleasant embellishments my imagination adds.

The Great White Shark personifies fear for me. The thought of it out there, somewhere in the blue-grey deeps, held beyond your senses in an environment where it is master and you are a hopeless, helpless, defenseless impostor. Once that thought has formed it doesn’t go away until you are out of the water; it’s circling, slowly at first, but rising all the while towards you out of the fathoms and as you struggle to get away it’s coming closer and closer; getting larger and larger. It’s maw opening into a yawning crescent of ragged death that will shred and rip and savage you. Leaving gaping holes the colour of wine in your body as the sea drinks your life away and you flail and thrash helplessly, dragged down, down under the dark waters churned with terror and the teeth of a grim tyrant.

It’s always the last few moments when reaching the steps at the edge of the pool and climbing out, or wading up the beach out of the water when it’s too shallow to swim and too deep to walk that that fear is at it’s most powerful. I know it’s completely irrational. I’ve never even seen a shark – which is partly the problem.

JAWS…

“One night back in 1972; in old New York. That’s when I met him. OK, maybe it wasn’t just any night, it was Christmas Eve. After that one though, I never felt no warmth it my fuckin’ heart ever again.”

Donny hadn’t even sat down before Grandpy had started. He was getting worse. Donny smiled and handed him the box. “Cannolis?” Grandpy said, rolling his eyes and turning away to stare out the window. Donny sat, hoping whatever story he was launching into would be over quick. It was Carla’s afternoon off. Resigned to his fate, for the next half-hour at least, Donny lit a smoke and prepared himself to do his bit. It was family after all and Grandpy was already misty-eyed and faraway.

“By the time he showed I was already kinda drunk.” Grandpy began. “It was too damn cold outside to leave, but if the weather outside hadn’t been so shitty I would have left a hell of a lot earlier. At least in the bar I didn’t have to be alone in an empty apartment, where only a hangover and a cold calzone was waiting for me. I was as happy sitting there as I was going to be that Christmas, listening to the jukebox; Elvis was singing I’ll Remember You and the guys at the bar where telling dirty jokes and drinking like it was New Year’s, so maybe I didn’t mind the wait so much. I barely noticed the battered Mustang as it pulled up across the street; piece-of-shit car. Once it would have been white; it was a faded dirty shade of grey. It never even occurred to me till many years later.

“I remember that night as if the memory of it crowded out every other single one I had gathered during my entire life, burning through them like a cigarette through a photograph. Like a fuckin’ cancer. Waitin’ in some shitty bar, at quarter to midnight — it didn’t feel like fuckin’ Christmas. In the days runnin’ up to it, the news had been full of depressin’ shit. Apollo 17 had returned from space, no more Americans on the Moon and Nixon was dropping more and more bombs on Vietnam.” He detached himself from whatever memories were preferable to the present and shot Donny a strange quizzical glance.

“Shit ain’t changed much since then, has it? Bomb the fuck out of people who don’t agree with us; or because they’re too yellow or red. Or for their fuckin’ oil. You ever think about that Donny — course you fuckin’ don’t!” They sat for a moment in silence. Grandpy shuffling his slippers on the carpet. Donny wondering what the hell was up with him. Maybe he should go talk to a nurse about Grandpy’s meds? He helped himself to a cannoli instead. They were good. Grandpy was off in the past again. Donny listened while he licked cream from his fingers.

“Back then, New York seemed to be at the very center of this shitstorm. The city’s got many names: The Big Apple, The Capital of the World, The Empire City. In 72’ the big fuckin’ apple was a bad fuckin’ apple. It was just slidin’ down the sewer. Junkies and rapists everywhere. Junky fuckin’ rapists everywhere. Even on Times fuckin’ Square — you believe that shit? What the fuck we doin’ on the Moon and making war in the jungle on the other side of the world when New York is a goddam cess-pool?” He shook his head in the resigned dis-belief of one who had seen it all before. “Anyway, so I’m waiting in this bar, a guy walked in, I’m thinking is this him? He’s frozen to the bone. I mean really fuckin’ cold. New York is cold right, you ever been there in the winter you know. New York is fuckin’ evil in the winter; frozen and empty like the eyes of a killer. All the shops with their pretty lights and the smell of hot coffee and doughnuts wafting out into the street don’t mean shit. Out there on the real streets, back then, something old and primal stalked the sidewalk, past the blocks as empty as graveyards where even the junkies feared to tread; hidden in the howling wind and snow, like a wolf on the prowl or some shit.

“I remember the glass in the door rattlin’ as he came in; rattlin’ like my fuckin’ bones did every day since. By the time he shut that door that wolf had come in, huffin’ and puffin’ and blown all the heat out of the room, all the fuckin’ cheer. A couple of guys at the bar grumbled through their beers at him and I saw him drop his eyes. Ha! Imagine that! Him! The lights dimmed, someone says; ‘as long as the whiskey don’t run out no-one cares about the lights! The guys gathered round the bar start laughin’ like they’re the three fuckin’ wise men; guided by a string of flashing fuckin’ fairy lights and a two-for-one offer on doubles. Pricks!

“I’d done this thing a hundred times before. It’s what I did. A guy comes to me, he says I know this guy, a friend of a friend, he wants a meet, a sit down. He wants to talk to someone. He wants to trade something — whatever. I arrange something; nine times outta ten I speak to him and then something will happen, the guy disappears, end of fuckin’ story. He’s never seen again. This guy, this meet was different: it put the fear of God into me. The first time I ever really felt it. The first time I ever really believed it.

“He sits down. He’s nervous — fuckin’ nervous. Shit — I seen that before though, the fear, in the eyes of a hundred different guys. But there was something about his eyes, his fear and what I saw there, like nothing else. Fuckin’ believe me! This guy was different. At first I thought he was a fuckin’ junky — Jesus Christ he looked like Jesus fuckin’ Christ doped-up, his hair all over the fuckin’ place, long and scruffy. He was shaky and sweatin’ up the place; he looked like a fuckin’ bum. He was scared. I swear to God! Ha! So I offered to buy him a drink, maybe calm him the fuck down — nervous guys make me nervous — it fucks up business. But he said he didn’t drink. Never touched the stuff. He had a fuckin’ coke instead. But Jesus Christ did he smoke. By the time we’d finished talkin’ that night he’d filled the ashtray. After what he told me that night — that’s when I fuckin’ started smokin’ too.

“I remember a dull light in his eyes, his pupils were softened with dope. I used to wonder why kids did that, fukin’ up their bodies and minds with that shit, pumping it into their veins, flushing away their souls. Maybe now I know; it’s like comin’ in from the cold for a while, to sit next to a three-bar heater and fallin’ asleep. You forget yourself and your troubles in this world; its emptiness. Because it’s fuckin’ empty I tell ya. Remember this Donny; gather up your family, your children, and their families. Hold them fuckin’ tight and don’t let ‘em go. Shield yourself from the rest of the world, Donny, bury your heads in the fuckin’ sand somewhere warm — maybe California or down in Florida and live a quiet life and don’t get the fuck involved. Take a little piece of the pie and go hide under the fuckin’ table somewhere and don’t share none, not even a fuckin’ crumb. You know why?

“’Cause that’s the only way you get to keep it. You take it and run Donny. Ain’t nobody lookin’ down that’s gonna even things up for you and yours when you get fucked over. Who’s that fuckin’ guy, with the hair and marijuana and shit? The one the niggers are always listening to. Bob the fuck. Do what he said: ‘If you know what life is worth – you will look for yours on earth.

“Those motherfuckers in the White House, all that Skull and Bones shit, they fuckin’ sold our souls already. And they’ve fuckin’ stalled on the foreclosure.”

Donny looked at his Grandpy Joe, he had the best seat in the house; literally. A nice big comfy chair that the sun fell on all day long until it set. He could watch TV or look out the big window onto the park across the street. Sometimes, he’d cross over to buy a coffee and a paper at the shop on the other side when his legs were OK. Sometimes, guys would talk to him about the old days, drink their coffee with him, maybe smoke a cigarette and then help him back across the street; his chair would always be empty still. And no-one had ever changed the TV. What was he still griping about? He’s had it all, all his life. Everything stacked in his favour. Now he acted like he’d had nothing, like he’d missed out. And worse he was talkin’ crazy.

“I knew what I was doing, Donny, back then, I knew I was a bad guy. That was my choice — I didn’t fuckin’ care back then. But I was happy, I was content ‘cause I knew there where good guys too. Good people. Shit was balanced. The world was the way it was and I played my part in the great fuckin’ American fairytale. I was the wolf then. I was cool with that. But I still believed in America Donny. I still fuckin’ believed. The guy I met that night — the things he said — after that I no-longer believed. We can’t all be fuckin’ wise guys; you know why Donny? Because everyone ends up gettin’ whacked in the end. Pretty soon Donny, the whole world is gonna get whacked.”

Donny sat down and sighed. Grandpy Joe was in one of his moods.

“You been drinkin’ coffee all morning Grandpy? I told you, you gotta drink the decaf.”

“Decaf? Fuck that shit. If I asked you for a kick up the arse, would I cut your foot off first?”

Donny hid a smirk and tried to placate him. Though he talked a lot of shit, he still respected his Grandpy. He liked the stories of the old days; Grandpy made the world seem sweeter back then, purer; even for guys like Donny. This particular story however, was a little odd to say the least.

“So what’d this guy tell ya? Huh? What’d he say?”

“I remember he sat there, sunk into his chair, sucked down into it. He smoked constantly, holding the cigarette in his hand like a kid with crayons, scratching the air in the bar with his little glowing crayon; then he’d take a drag and carry on spilling out his shit as if there wasn’t enough time in the world to tell me everything he had to say and he only had them few minutes he was with me to say it.

“What did he say? Grandpy, who was he?

Who was he? It was him, Donny. It was fuckin’ him!

Once, when he was a kid, Donny remembered his Grandpy telling him about the time he’d met Mickey Mantle. Donny couldn’t remember all that much about it because he had been so young himself. But he remembered how impressed his Grandpy had been. The way his eyes still lit up when he mentioned Mickey years after, the way talkin’ about him seemed to make his Grandpy more alive. The impression he had made left an indelible mark upon his Grandpy; a man he had briefly met and shook hands with somewhere, sometime long ago when the world was sweeter — a man he would never remember but who had never forgotten him, whose life had seemingly been graced by that chance meet as if Mickey Mantle had bestowed him with a magic fuckin’ bat made of silver. The way he spoke now, it was kinda like that, but reversed. Like if Micky Mantle had played for a team that Grandpy didn’t like. Like the Dodgers. Grandpy had changed. Everyone knew who he was, what he was capable of; but the rest of the time he had just been a fun guy who had kept the family together. Something had changed all that a long time ago. Apparently something that had happened to him on Christmas Eve 1972.

Donny sat quietly, Grandpy seemed vague, troubled somehow; as if he was pacing to and fro in his mind, trying to find a way past something that blocked his thoughts and refused to budge. Like a dump-truck parked across three lanes of traffic.

“He asked me if I believed in fate?” Grandpy Joe blurted, his panicky voice struggling into the air like a startled game bird. He reached for a cigarette. Lit it. Drew hard. Relaxed. Somewhat.

“I said I wasn’t sure. Maybe? Maybe not?” Exhaled.

“He said it didn’t matter what I believed, I was about as fated as a sheep. Any other guy had said something like that to me I woulda bust his nose there and then, or worse. Not this guy, when he spoke I believed him. There was something about him, in his voice and eyes. Sometimes you meet guys, famous guys or made guys who the other guys really respect — or maybe the President — whatever. Some guys have a weight about them, an assuredness. A confidence that is more than normal. Well this guy had it and then some. But he didn’t make me fear him, or talk down to me or boast or whatever normal guys do when they’re talking to you. He didn’t even try, Donny, yet I feared him more than any other man I have ever met. His fear became mine.”

Donny was becoming uneasy and also a little confused.

“I don’t understand Grandpy?” Donny struggled to gain a handle on the conversation. He wasn’t the brightest in the family. “Did he have a gun?” he asked feebly.

“No you fuckin’ schmuck!” Grandpy snapped, more like his old self. “It was what he said; how he said it. Like he knew things, things I didn’t want to know. That no guy ever wants to know because they are the truth. That’s what fuckin’ scared me Donny. The truth. And everything that’s happened in this country since that night I see the truth behind it. Behind what the say in the newspapers or on FOX or CNN. It’s there Donny, as plain as day and bold as brass, while we’re munching on pizza and sucking down Budweisers.

“What is Grandpy?” Donny was keen to wrap the visit up. He was going out tonight and had planned on seeing Carla before he showed up to meet the other guys. She always had good blow and she always gave him a great blow. Carla was his sweet little secret and time was ticking when she should be licking.

“You got a girl Donny?” Donny felt his heart sink, Carla’s voice sighed unlucky honey in his ear. The promise of his hard-on for her faded.

“Yeah, sure.” he said resigned and bored. He picked up the remote and started flicking through the channels. Maybe there was a ball game on.

“Sure you do, you probably got a different one each night of the week you little pussy magnet!” Grandpy smacked him round the head, splashing his hair into disarray as he did so.

“Ow!” said Donny, genuinely shocked. He was glad there was no-one else in the TV room with them to see.

“Turn the fuckin’ TV off!” snapped Grandpy. “Listen to me, for once in your fuckin’ life!” Grandpy Joe’s eyes were fire, his mean mouth slashed hard and flat like a knife across his face. Donny knew it would be best to listen.

“Your wasting your fuckin’ life Donny; like the rest of this country. Wasting the best of yourselves on things that don’t mean shit and at the same time your getting fucked in the arse and ya don’t even know it! That guy. He said he knew I knew people. He said he knew I knew people in the old country.” Donny started listening now. The old country meant Italy. That meant serious. Grandpy Joe shook his head at some memory as if he still could not believe it after all these years. Donny could see he was no-longer in his chair next to him, he had drifted back to that night in ‘72, was reliving it, describing it to Donny like a sports commentator from back in time…

Joe couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Was this guy for real?

“You really think I can set that up? You really think that can happen?”

“Oh I know it can.” Something about the way the kid said it unsettled Joe. The kid had been in on things before. He had sat in those circles, Joe could see it. Then Joe asked the one thing he wished he had never asked for the rest of his life. The answer he got was the thing he could not change. It would not go away. Ever.

“I want to ask him to forgive me.” The kids eyes were flat, dead-calm, Joe could see he meant it. He wanted it, fuck — the kid needed it. Joe’s hands shook. He’d lit his first cigarette ever and smoked it before he had even realised what he was doing. Just then Mikey Bordino walked in with two other guys. Joe watched the smile on his fat face vanish like paper in the wind when he saw Joe.

“Joey, what’s wrong? Your white as a fuckin’ sheet man. Did someone die?”

The kid turned and said something to Mikey, quietly, so only Mikey could hear. Mikey left without a second thought. Mikey never left for no-one. Then the kid turned back to Joe, his face changed, his eyes full of pleading again — hollowed out with fear.

“Please!” he whispered. “I want to come back in. I need him to forgive me; but he won’t.”

“This is over my head kid.” said Joe. “Jesus! I can’t set that up. Yeah — there’s maybe people who can speak to…”

The kid eyeballed him.

“The Pope?” said Joe again, hissing under his breath, each time it sounded more absurd. He could still not believe what he was being asked. And just exactly who was asking.

“Even if I can get someone to speak to him, which I’m not saying I can; he’s never going agree to it. He’d never talk to you. Even if he did, do you honestly think he will forgive you? What doing that would mean?”

The kid sank back into his seat again. As if he was expecting it all along.

“There’s worse guys down there than me.” he said, voice straining with deep rooted regret as if invisible hands were slowly choking his voice away. Joe felt his heart go out to him. It was one of the strangest moments of his life; because after that he could never get his head round the world again. It just seemed too fucked up. He could no longer believe in the things he was supposed to.

“Sorry kid, I don’t know about this shit. Hell – you know more about it than I do.” The kid had smiled at that; a smile that had spread over his face like butter on a hot plate. Then, was gone. That haunted look returned. Joe had a vision of a face looking up from the bottom of a dark lonely place of misery with no hope of release. Forgotten and abandoned, the face turned away back into the dark, for comfort. That image stayed with him forever.

“It was worth a try.” said the kid, shrugging as if he’d only been stood-up by a date or something and lit another cigarette. “Maybe I’ll have that drink before I go after all. Doesn’t seem that it’ll change much in the long run, does it? Whether I do or I don’t?” Joe relaxed a little. He needed a drink again too. They talked for a while. About baseball, about rock ‘n’ roll, about cars and women. The kid just seemed like he wanted to hang, glad of the company but Joe was getting tired. Also he wanted to leave and to forget. The kid looked at him and began to speak again.

“There will come a time.” he said. “When things happen in the world, that you cannot understand. Things that twist your gut like a knife, make you think: that’s wrong, that can’t be. And the people who run things in America will tell you: that is how things are now; this is the way of the world. Those things, they are lies Joe. And it is not me that whispers them. It is men, Joe. Men who sit in darkened rooms, in expensive suits, smoking big cigars through wide white smiles. And they laugh Joe, they laugh at America, because you all get fucked by them everyday. I’m old school Joe, like you. Those guys laughing at you, I got no time for those fucks. They are neither side of the coin and yet at the same time — they’re both. They fuckin’ sicken me. And he does nothing about it, until it’s their time. I don’t want to do this anymore Joe. Not any more. Some other mug can take care of that shit.” Joe looked at the kid, suddenly very afraid again. The facade of small talk trailing off into the night like a wisp of smoke from a candle.

“I’m gonna tell you something Joe and it’s not because he won’t forgive me. I can understand why he won’t though, I suppose. Maybe. I just hate hypocrisy Joe. I fuckin’ hate it. America is hypocrisy. America forgot it’s own stripy-starred fuckin’ arse!” He paused, grinding his jaw, chewing words and swallowing them instead of spitting out whatever bitter taste still fouled his mouth. “The game is rigged Joe, I just want to even things up a bit again.” He scratched three numbers in the air with his cigarette, burning them onto the back of Joe’s mind. “Promise me Joe, you’ll tell someone, before you die. After it happens, tell someone, they lied about it. You’ve got to get people to wake up Joe. America will have to wake up…”

Donny shook Grandpy Joe.

“Grandpy, wake-up.” he had fallen asleep telling the story, Donny had been only half listening anyway, half watching the ball game. If he left now he could still make Carla’s. He stood up and left the box of pastries he’d bought with him on the seat where he had been sitting.

“Donny, I got to tell someone what he told me. I’m gonna meet him again soon; the kid is expecting me!”

“Sure Grandpa, it was ‘72. Kid’s probably dead now. You ain’t going nowhere except to bed, when the nurse comes.” Donny had had enough for one day, enough of his Grandpy’s cuckoo bullshit, he just wanted to get to round Carla’s as soon as he could. Now his Grandpy was trying to get up, becoming agitated.

“Listen Donny, it’s important, I’ve been on the internet, I’ve been reading about it. I think it’s true, Donny! What he said, it wasn’t like they said. They made it happen. Or let it.”

“Sure Grandpy, sure. Listen, I gotta go.” Donny tried to push Joe back into his seat, but the old bastard still had some fight, he clearly didn’t want to sit down. “Grandpy you gotta sit, what’s got into you? Sit down Grandpy, I’m going; here — eat your cannoli. I bought ‘em special for you.” The old man strained, his eyes bulging, a flailing arm knocking the box of cakes to the floor where it landed with a damp squidge. One shrivelled hand grasped at his chest — the other clawed deep into the fabric of his chair. Donny shouted for the nurse, trying to hold Grandpy Joe still. He was muttering something, Donny couldn’t be sure of what he said though. It sounded like; ‘No heaven, no heaven.’ Then again it might have been; Nine eleven, nine eleven’.

An hour later than he planned Donny eventually blew his wad down the back of Carla’s throat. She went to the bathroom to clean up. Donny lay back in bed and flicked the TV on.  A film with Nicolas Cage in called World Trade Center was on. He used to be one of Grandpy’s favourite actors, he thought sadly. Then Donny realised the film was nearly over. Shit, I missed it.

Somewhere in a darkened room, some old white guys in expensive suits are sitting around smoking big cigars; they smile a little wider these days than they used to, their perfect teeth shine a little whiter. Somewhere in another place, Grandpy Joe waits for the men in suits with the kid he met on Christmas Eve back in 1972; for when it is their time.

Also, someone had lent Grandpy Mickey Mantle’s bat.

~ 4222 ~

The spaces between posts are getting longer, partly because I’m writing more in general, rather than talking about writing and partly because I’m spending more time crafting things of significance than I so far have been.

The above piece is written around an idea that had been kicking around in my head for a while. I’ve used it in a setting I’m not familiar with and in a style I’m not familiar with, as such. I’d really, seriously love any con-crit I can get. This was under-taken with serious intent so please feel to respond in kind. I will say something on it’s themes though. It’s the most provocative piece I’ve yet written, though it’s also purely fiction. The identity of the unnamed character should (hopefully) establish that. So please don’t be offended by the politics or the language. (There’s only a few ‘F’s) I’ve always been a big fan of all things Mob-themed but I have never attempted to write anything based around that.

I’m normally tapping out something involving dark-magic and womanising swordsmen. So, please let me know what you think…

 

The domes of Camelot administered a pale column of light, falling unwanted upon him in the darkness — he wondered if it was so very different to a crown? A dusting of snow and ice fell also, glittering down through eternity. Outside the night swirled thick and sheer; clutching the castle and his heart within the talons of its misery.

He gazed down at his deep-lined hands; the warped fingers of an old craftsman and a cruel joke of time’s design. Peering between the furrows of his wizened palms, he followed each line wrought there like letters upon the parchment of his life, to where the seeds of his story had long ago sprouted from beneath the scars and welts of age.
Time had passed, it seemed to him; in the blink of an eye. Emptying his hands of that which he had once possessed more of than any man; like the rich are prone to do — he had squandered all his wealth. So swiftly do such sands fall, he reflected bitterly.

Merlin trembled in the dark, but not with cold, or fear but with a need. Greasy sweat slid from his skin; his body wracked with the deep-ache of his waning sorcery. The last essence of his craft still lingering in his hands was draining away. Like a desert he heaved; exhausted with an ancient thirst. For he was arid of his once potent magic.

It started with bloody fall of Camelot; which he could not forget even if he tried. He’d spent many long years in self-imposed incarceration since, in the shadows of its ruins, sifting through the sands he’d spilled, searching for some answer, for reasons – though he blamed only himself – he’d been here so long he had become a relic himself. Closing his eyes he let the emptiness of time fill his mind, his being; it buoyed him up and carried him away on it’s rolling swell, to where the darkness fell away and he fell with it; dragged under by the tide that waits for no-man, or wizard.

Lancelot had led his rebel knight’s against their young King, when Merlin had refused Lancelot the use of his sorcery; demanding Merlin disguise him with Arthur’s glamour, so that he might have Guinevere for a mere night of carnal pleasure. The champion had ranted at him when Merlin denied him; consumed with his lust and longing – maddened by it.
“You did it for Uther!” he had wailed — more like a woman much less a knight — on his knees beseeching Merlin to enchant his form. He shook the wizard like a rag-doll, mad with fury, grasping his hands around the sages throat.

“You crowned Uther’s spawn King! I do not crave the crown, Merlin. I want the Queen!”
Merlin had struck him across the face; disgusted — as one would a feral child.
“He is your King — you confuse Queen and whore too easily!” the wizard rumbled, glowering over him, the thunder in his voice rolling across the sky.
“I’ll see you burn for this, warlock!” Lancelot had threatened, with no more venom than a worm. Foolishly, Merlin had spared him, leaving him snivelling on the ground shying his face away, whimpering. Believing the mercy he’d shown would shame Lancelot beyond further folly, Merlin had set about orchestrating the fallen knight’s banishment. Lancelot’s shame, however, was bottomless.

“Better to rule in the wilderness, than serve him in Camelot,” Lancelot spat, as he departed. ‘So be it’, thought Merlin.

Lancelot returned to Camelot from exile with an army raised from the remnants of Uther’s enemies. They lay siege in the knowledge Arthur quested for the Grail — and with the weapon that could destroy them all at his side; those who remained were no match for the rebel host. Lancelot took Queen Guinevere as his prize; ravishing her upon the table where they had once held court. Again and again he violated her, as his rebel-knights looked on.

Word had reached Arthur of Lancelot’s vile betrayal and the search for the Grail was abandoned. With the help of Excalibur he retook the city and in revenge, Arthur slew him with it; but he had never forgiven Merlin’s failure to protect the kingdom or his Queen.
Woe upon woe had fallen. Arthur burned the Round Table, declaring it desecrated. Heartbroken and hollow, Guinevere had drowned herself in the lake surrounding Avalon. She had taken Excalibur with her too, down with her to lay in its murky depths. Truly, then did Albion grow sick; Camelot became a gaunt bastion where only the crows and wolves strayed as the young King’s rule faltered. He turned away from Merlin’s council and drowned his sorrows with wine and women whose hearts were closed, but whose legs where open; who suckled men at their breasts like sows in their sties.

Merlin’s hands, he realised, were blackened — with the filth of so much spent time.

A presence lurked in the shadows strung thereabouts like webs around him; a low cunning that hissed in a familiar yet threatening tone; it’s voice thick with gloating. A cold wicked thing that crawled out from its throat and died on the air.
“Merlin?” it growled, coyly. “Merlin! The boy you would have crowned; Arthur, he is dead!

“A lie!” the wizard roared, rallying defiance.

“The Wolves of Albion crack the marrow from his still-warm bones amongst red snow.” rasped the voice from the dark.

“Truth curdles in your maw long before you speak it!”

Something rolled across the floor towards him, heavy; pulped, grim and clotted. It was Arthur’s head. It was not a lie. But now the truth was truly dead.

The man who was once a wizard bellowed at the whisperer, at the dark; overcome with despair, sinking to the floor to cradle his old friends head, weeping tears that froze as they fell. The thing in the dark laughed softly at him — for a long time, before it finally crawled away and left him, utterly alone.
A whisper broke from Merlin’s lips, a flake of memory — Excalibur. Once a prayer, perhaps a dream, now a mockery. Yet that thought dulled by the silent pillage of time, now began to thaw. ‘Who will wield you now Excalibur?’ he wondered.

In the deep bleak dark of eternal winter, he fled from Camelot’s ruin. Snows were driven high against the land, the woods he had know when they were young, were now as stark as the Christian cross against the sky. When dawn came it rose out of night like an old leper, its light haggard and cold. The orphaned wind blew through him, slicing down to his bones; as merry as a sallow tune whistled by Death himself; a sound that whittled on the soul.
Excalibur had been forged to unite Albion; now it was his only chance of avenging Arthur; an impossible chance – the blade had been lost along with Guinevere and the sorcery that once aided him now lay as frozen in his hands as the blood in his veins. Excalibur was no more attainable to him than the Grail; though to find it, he must try.

Merlin scoured the bones of Albion for Avalon and Arthur’s fabled weapon. But he saw no sign of either; only the shadow of the Wolves which lay hard upon the land, having scoured its green heart ashen. The tides were swollen with poison and death; ebbing at the land, casting up the dead upon the shore. The wind howled — mad with hunger, snarling around him, snapping its cold jaws and shaking at his thread-bare cloaks when it snatched them up. Above, the sun was a sallow wen in the sky and envious of the moon; for its light guttered like a candle scraped-up from pauper’s tallow. The air was thick with the misery of a dying land, as if misery were a tangible thing like the heaps of frozen dead.

Much time had passed over the land since it was young. Merlin journeyed North to speak with the eagles but found it full of wild Picts and Celts, brooding with malcontent. They knew nothing of the sword, nor cared for Albion’s plight – or Merlin’s; they were blood drinkers, with hearts as cold and bleak as the mountains they dwelt amongst. To the West he journeyed in fear, in the shadow of dark hills and deep valleys pooled with mist where the Old Red One was said to slumber: Wǣrmag, last of the great wyrms. She who had devoured the knight-errant, the Christian warrior — George; who’d come seeking glory for his charlatan god, yet found only death.

Merlin came at last to the edge of the land where waters lay wide and deep and had grown treacherous and cruel; grown fat upon those who had gone down into her cold dark belly. Merlin knew he must cross despite his great fear; somehow he knew that Avalon lay on its distant shore, though how he could not say, only that he felt compelled. Across the grey water he hoped he would find Excalibur, though it was too far to swim and the dead cried to him from out of the depths to join them – there was no sorcery left within him powerful enough to carry him over. A horn sounded from out of the gloom, again; then presently again. A mournful sound, yet one that he could not ignore, it heralded a boat, that drifted towards the shore where he stood as if it had strayed from an empty dream.

It took him across the waters to a wild place. Where the shore was choked with the bones of men and watchful shadows moved between the trees. Merlin did not stray from the path; fearful of the woods and the eyes that watched him from within. The air was foul with the stench of death and something else unwholesome that brooded there.
As night drew over the strange land, he found himself seeking shelter. Spying a fire burning through the trees and mindful of what haunted his wake he stepped into the circle of firelight.

Merlin!” she said, in a welcoming voice and bid him seat himself. He would have fled then, but it seemed his way was barred. Yellow eyes gleamed at him from the trees, resigned, he faced her.
Morgana!” he sighed.
“You have grown old Merlin, slow.”
He considered her: Sable hair fell down about her shoulders and beneath the furs and skins she wrapped herself within, he saw glimpses of lithe limbs and flesh that was smooth and firm. Her eyes shimmered with a rainbow of snakes and the soft, deceptive hook of her smile lured him and terrified him both.
“You look as you did, last I saw you Morgana — so many years ago.”
“Come now!” she laughed; a sound like the jangling of knives.
“For two as old as we, I look not a day older than a score and one!”
Merlin had seen this too and it was troubling him. She had been no-more than a peddler of potions back then, who muttered foul words to the dark. Her power should not be so great.
“What trickery, Morgana?”
“Do you not believe your eyes Merlin? Do you doubt your own desire – the quickening of your paltry, old-man’s milk?” Her furs fell to one side and he gasped at the sight of her and the sudden memory she raised from his loins. He dropped his eyes, though the pull of her flesh and the tow of her gaze was powerful; heavy, like a chain. She covered herself – a storm blown across the moon – and laughed a sharp, high laugh.
“You can have me Merlin. You are all that is left of the old world, the old ways – of Albion. Ally yourself to me, Merlin and you shall be rejuvenated.”
She picked up a cup and drank from it, savouring its contents.
We are all that is left Morgana; I am simply all that is left of the old way to oppose you.”
Her gaze hardened slightly, she placed the cup down, though not far from her reach.
“Do you not find me desirable Merlin? This body I will grant you to use. I crave a man’s embrace Merlin, I have been so lonely since…”
Merlin’s eyes filled with thunder, dawn was breaking under his slow-wit.
“Lancelot!” He realised. “You bewitched him!”
Me?” she replied with feigned offense, one hand splayed between her breasts.
“He was so eager to please me, so hungry for this body of mine. I didn’t have the heart to reject him – like you did.”
“I did not reject him, Morgana. I exiled him!”
“I know Merlin, I found him wandering lost and alone. He was beside himself with what he had asked of you. I gave him love, then I gave him purpose.” Morgana raised the cup to her lips and drank again, the pools of her eyes mocking him with their silent sirens-call. “To Lancelot!” she cooed. At last Merlin understood.
“The Grail! You drink from the Holy Grail! But…”
“My sweet and eager Lancelot, he found it for me Merlin. Do keep up,” she glanced to his loins; pretending to stifle a smirk, “if you can?”
“Lancelot bought you the Grail?” Merlin asked, ignoring her.
“Yes, once he had tasted me, he was mine to use. So virile, so lusty,” she mocked him with her eyes again, “he reminded me of you in some way – but bigger. He was so terribly vain, though and dull, puffed up like a cockerel. One soon tires of their crowing.”
“Lancelot was lost in his obsession for the Queen, Morgana; he would not have bought you the Grail, he would have taken it to Arthur for the Queen.”
“But he did! I am a very talented lover Merlin, so very attentive. Do you not remember? I can be whatever a man desires. Whatever Lancelot desired. Much like you did for Uther so he could have Igraine.”
That shame still haunted him. Though it had been necessary; to mix those bloodlines. Morgana’s insight into such things was always twisted, she had used the Grail’s power to ensnare one of its holiest of warriors.
“You seduced the greatest knight in the land and set him loose – after you had warped his mind – to destroy the kingdom and make carrion of its King!”
“I am very grateful to Lance, he bought me the Grail; thus denying Arthur of its use, whilst fathering me twelve daughters; they who roam the land, free in the dark – they who hunted Arthur down.”
Merlin shuddered, those unholy Wolves should not have been the end for Arthur, with Excalibur he would have stood a chance. “Why, Morgana?”
“Because of him, because of you. You spurned me Merlin, all those years ago. And so I vowed that I would take the boy from you. To take your joy as you crushed mine. You would not grant me the happiness I sought with you, so I would deny you yours. Then something happened I did not expect. I fell in love with him.”
For a moment her eyes glistened wistfully and her gaze faltered – but only momentarily. “He only had eyes for Guinevere. He was the only one I did not try to enchant, Merlin. The only one I was true for. He never even noticed me.”
“You have lain waste to a whole country and bartered away its destiny to those who bid for such things in the dark, because Arthur spurned you? You are mad Morgana! Drunk on the power of the Grail.”
She turned then; to venom and fire, spit and claw.
“Hell hath no fury, Merlin. Hell hath none like mine.”
“So you coupled with the black goat of the pit to make the dark powers of the underworld your allies?”
“I ally myself against your rotting god; against the coming of this bastard messiah you think will save your land. I ally myself against any who would deem only men holy! Arthur’s blessed knights of the round table – a fools dream! They are drunken brigands who butcher and rape in the name of this Christ! Why are my daughters any less worthy than any man who follows him?”
You have slaughtered far more than Arthur’s crusade ever did, Morgana. Did you ever think of the innocent? Of Guinevere?”
“Ha! She knew what she was doing – quaffing Arthur’s royal seed like the poor would a bowl of porridge! Would you like to see where she died?” She led him to a high cliff above the wrathful ocean. Avalon was an island now, as real as any – her Ireland. Her daughters followed, snapping and snarling at Merlin’s heels.
“There!” she said, pointing down to where the sea was calmed with the quiet of the grave, silver glinted there in the deep, sparkling like a sunken star.
Excalibur!” Merlin knew.
Morgana still held the Grail in her hand and raised it to drink a toast to Albion’s dead queen.
“She came here to slay me, with that cursed weapon! The foolish girl. She could not match my power, though, so she dived to her death with that fucking sword instead; rather than surrender my bane.”
“To Guinevere.” she hissed, raising the Grail to drink from it again and Merlin echoed Morgana’s words.
“To Guinevere!” he muttered, snatching the Grail from her grasp. He tumbled down through eternity; the sword below the water glittering in the deep; beckoning, welcoming him below the churn of the thirsty waves. Down he went to lie with the Queen and her King’s old sword.

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