As It Pleaseth Part 1

There was a cottage near icy waters
and in that cottage a family fair
with father, mother, and seven daughters
whose upstairs bedchamber was theirs to share.
The eldest daughter was of such an age
that she looked upon the neighbor lad’s heart
with the favor due, both proper and sage,
of a Christian virtue and reserved art.
All the town spoke of their marriage as though
it had been a prophecy long foretold,
and her preacher father deemed it just-so:
as right and goodly as if writ in gold.
All said the eldest was pureborn as Eve
before she had partaken from the fruit,
and said she was of nature as would leave
all others impoverished, stem to root.
But the eldest daughter dreamt otherwise,
seeing a face midst trees not far from there
and, at night, she flew across starry skies
to meet the man who beckoned her elsewhere.

So, one night, when all had fallen asleep
the eldest lay with her shift set aside,
she opened the window, without a peep,
and looked out upon the auroral tide.
Airclad in night clouds, and boldly leaping
from out of her cottage bedside window,
while nearby her young sisters were sleeping,
shoulder to shoulder, in a restful row,
the witch bore herself up, beyond the home
where her father had sought to teach her fear
so her soul would nest at night, never roam,
admonishing the lass year after year.
Yet, her preacher father could not forbid
the eddies of her heart that rose in gusts,
and she flew free as a soul gone morbid,
yet alive, burning pale and hot with lusts.
Over glen and vale, veiled in stars and shade,
she escaped the lectern’s brimstone bluster,
coming to a man camping in a glade
whose dark eyes gleamed with a goatish luster.
“Where fare you, my fair lithesome lass of night?
Where do you go, lass, mantled in the moon?”
She said, “To swim in the milk of moonlight,”
and into his arms she swept in a swoon.
As a hart in Winter’s rut he set to
and she welcomed the rhythm full and fine
while the winds rose up, the smoke black and blue,
and lips ripened sweet as grapes on the vine.
And, indeed, there was pain in their union,
and there was pleasure to be had betwixt,
much as grapes with stones ate in communion,
and a sweet wine can sicken if not mixed.
Yet, she had chosen him all on her own
and knew her preference better than most,
nor did she flinch, skin to skin, bone to bone,
nor from the coiled horns of her woodland host.
When their congress had swelled unto its end
they laid aside, the one near the other,
cooing like doves in a curious wind;
she said, “I am nothing like my mother.”
Her new lover laughed in sardonic glee
and stood up, stroking his grey satyr’s beard.
He said, “Your mother could oft leap a tree
to enjoin in my company.” He leered.
He then disappeared from the glowing  glade
and the fire went with him, nought but embers,
but he whispered low to her like a shade,
“It is not love, but it warms Decembers.”

Returning home, barefooted in the snow,
the young witch had much too much to regret,
and was surprised by the hearth’s sullen glow
through the pane—her father’s hard features set.
“Jezebel!” he shouted. “Harlot! You whore!”
He yanked her indoors, his fist lifted high
and struck her once, twice, many times the more
until black and blue—she thought she would die.
Crumbled on the floor, the witch could but weep
as her father read to her Bible verse,
meanwhile her sisters pretended to sleep
and her mother lamented her own curse.
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest,”
the patriarch quoted, his voice afire
like the hellmouth hearth as he beat his chest
and denounced daughter to a phantom choir.
“Think you well on your blackened heart,” he said,
“and recall the bruises I have dealt you
when next you dare wickedness out of bed,
for the next sin shall be your last to rue!”

He left his witch-daughter slumped on the floor
and returned to bed a beast beneath yoke,
and though his wife sighed, he would hear no more,
saying, “Speak not. My fists never misspoke.”
And thereby the grapes of his daughter’s lips
bled out to sour as vinegar in haste,
the wine spilling, aging, the bitter pips
expelled like her Bible lessons…a waste.
She rose up, at length, from the floor to stand
and tottered by the hearth, much like the flame
that swayed weakly in the hellmouth hearth, fanned
by the cold wind through the open door’s frame.
“Let only the sinless cast the first stone,”
she muttered to the shadows twisting round,
and then, listening to the cold wind moan,
she read her own blood, trickling on the ground,
and she saw a tooth within that puddle
and she knew it the pip from her own maw,
and she bethought how utter a muddle
her life was to follow any man’s law.

Flash Fictions

Naive
“There was once a man who believed ardently in Humanism,” her father said. “He believed so utterly in Humanism that he ventured forth into the wild jungle, where it was said man-eating tigers stalked the shadows. He brought with him no protection except several books on Humanism. Once there, he preached to the jungle on the value of a human life, reading from his many books of all the merits of letting humans live and thrive. Many of the tigers passed him by, indifferently. But a few tigers began to gather around him, watching him very intently as he lectured them. He even preached to their cubs, thinking the next generation of tigers would know better than eating human beings, if only they were taught to be Humanists.
“An expedition discovered what remained of him a few weeks later, his bones surrounded by books and his skull’s sockets gaping wide, as if in abject surprise.”
“He was naive,” his daughter said. “He should have known better. Predators don’t care about that stuff when they’re hungry.”
“True,” her father said. “But you, too, should know that you are living in a jungle. That is why I want you to bring more than just books with you to ward off the tigers.”

Zen Breath
It began so simply, as many things do, and it grew unto complexity, like a sheet of paper, blankly white and smooth and flat, now folded into an origami animal. Miyazaki’s anger burgeoned from workaday irritation to blinding rage as he waited in the subway station at Shinjuku. And the irony of the situation was that as he stood waiting, steeped in his own aggravation, he attempted to take a deep, Zen-centering breath and release the rage in dissipation— he really had tried— only for the nearby commuter to breathe out a cloud of cigarette smoke which Miyazaki inadvertently breathed in, coughing uncontrollably while the other commuters stepped away from him; stepped away from him as if he had some fatal airborne illness for which he needed to be quarantined. It was then, as he coughed and cursed and chewed the grudge of that terrible year spent as a twelve-hour-a-day cubicle jockey— it was then that the yokai possessed him, at long last, and drove his fist through the smoker’s heart, tearing its vermilion core out while bystanders screamed and scrambled to flee from the horrific carnage wrought by the long-horned demon that suddenly stood amongst them, glaring with red eyes as he rushed about, in gorilla-fisted fashion, rampaging throughout silver-edged, neon-lit Shinjuku until later that afternoon, killing many people in his wake until finally finding himself at Hanazono Shrine and, by entering it, expelling the demon so Miyazaki could sit down and empty himself of his negative emotions. Indeed, he emptied himself so completely of negative emotions after that terrible indulgence that he transcended the mortal plane and passed on to a higher plane of Enlightenment. Many people, consequently, have since concluded that Enlightenment could be achieved as much through devastating debauchery, excess, and sin as much as through years of abstinence, purification, and meditation. Zen Buddhists and Shinto Priests cannot reconcile themselves either way and, it is feared, many such esteemed personages were denied Enlightenment because of this troublesome anecdote.

The Choice

20180208_203406-1

The Choice

The room was comfortable to the point of discomfort. There were children’s drawings all over the back wall, behind the mahogany desk, and a leather couch against the adjoining wall, and the air conditioning was not too cold for Karen, nor too hot; its neutrality perfectly matched the late Spring weather. There was a large poster of a kitten hanging from a branch, with the words “Hang On” beneath it. The kitten did not look inspirational. It looked desperate. On the opposite wall was a poster of a sunrise over the ocean where pillars of rock jutted up from the waves. The wallpaper within the office was light green with tendrils of flowers racing around one another in arabesques.
Karen did not like the room. It unnerved her, though she did not know why. The smiling face of the older woman behind the desk disturbed her even more. The woman’s voluminous blonde hair and endless smile reminded Karen of a televangelist. The woman wore no crucifix, but the gleam of her eyes ratified a religious conviction that equaled her words.
“We aren’t meant to understand life,” she said, “or God’s plan. Sometimes we just have to be humble and accept our lot with grace.”
“I want an abortion,” Karen said, frankly. “I was raped.”
Most people had the decency to blink their eyes in shock when Karen told them this, or to drop their eyes in deference; especially when they were trying to convince her not to have an abortion. It had been difficult enough to find an abortion clinic in Mississippi, everyone directing her on a wild goose chase, and it seemed like this clinic wasn’t an abortion clinic at all. It was a scam. But the scam was as enigmatic as the woman’s perpetual smile.
“Oh Karen, that is a horrible thing to live through,” the older woman said. “I am so sorry.”
“He was not human,” Karen said, her voice tremulous. No matter how many times she told people this, she could not steady her voice. “He was a monster.”
“I do not doubt it,” the older woman said. “But you cannot blame the child for the sins of the father. The child is an innocent. The father is to blame.”
“Don’t call it a ‘child’,” Karen said. “And don’t call that monster its ‘father’. They’re both monsters. I know it.”
The woman had no badge on her blouse; no name plaque on her door or her impressive desk. Was she an actual doctor? The nurse at the sign-in desk had said that she was, but was she a nurse? No one gave Karen any names, though they gladly took hers, and that bothered her, too. She felt like she had been ambushed, even though she had walked in through the door. She was too conflicted right now to challenge the woman on her credentials, even as the woman said everything that Karen thought an abortion doctor would not say. The woman’s manner, and the whole room, seemed to be arranged to put her at ease, and that made Karen all the more paranoid and uneasy.
“I have dealt with many young women in a similar situation, Karen,” the woman said. “Girls who were given what they thought they did not want. And do you know what all of them did? They kept their babies. It was hard for them…at first. I will not sugarcoat it for you. It is hard having a baby, especially in circumstances as…unfortunate as yours. But they all learned how precious their baby’s life was, and how birthing that baby also birthed a new world alongside that new life. The mothers experienced a rebirth themselves as well. Their selfish youth was transformed into the dazzling selflessness of maternity. Their babies made them stronger. Their babies made them happier. And they did not have to live the rest of their lives regretting that decision.”
“I will regret not having the abortion for the rest of my life,” Karen said, becoming angry and defensive. She felt like the woman was attacking her. She felt like the woman thought she should be grateful for the attack as well. It was like being assaulted all over again, her back on the wet, dirty pavement and a horrible presence pressing down upon her, imbuing her with its malevolent seed. “I don’t want this thing!”
The woman behind the desk kept smiling, but she also drew in a deep, irritated breath through her nose. Karen could hear it in the ensuing silence. She could also hear the ocean, or something like the ocean; the lapping of waves and the splashing of water. But the ocean was over a hundred miles away. Perhaps, she thought, it was just the throbbing of her own blood in her ears. Karen did not feel well.
When the woman spoke again, it was with a steady voice so tightly lipped and exact that it could have chiseled words into stone, or scars into a human heart.
“You can have an abortion well into the third trimester,” the woman said. “So you have plenty of time to make up your mind on this decision. And you should take all of the time you need. A single birth can change the world. This is not a decision to make in haste.”
“But it is my decision,” Karen said meekly, feeling as if she somehow lost an argument.
“It is, Karen,” the woman said, in a tone not unlike her mother’s. “Which is why we want you to make the best decision possible. It may seem like the end of the world for you, but it could be the beginning of a new life for you…and for everyone.”
The woman stood up from her chair and walked around her desk, her hand raised toward Karen. Karen rose, reluctantly, and followed the woman. The woman escorted Karen out of the office and down a soothingly lit hallway lined with more drawings scrawled by children. The two women stopped at a door that opened into a room where a tall nurse waited. An ultra sound machine was against the wall—intimidating with its prophetic powers—and a bed was spread beside it. The nurse directed Karen to lay down, speaking in soft-throated grunts. Whether the nurse was male or female, Karen could not discern. The nurse was barrel-bodied and wore scrubs that masked gender. The nurse was large. Its hair was capped and its mouth was masked.
With some effort, Karen laid down on the bed. This room, too, was covered with drawings done by children. There was a single poster on the wall next to the door. It displayed a mother cradling a baby against her chest, the baby’s forehead nestled into the mother’s neck and her chin. Both were smiling brightly. The room’s one and only window opened onto a playground. She did not recall seeing an elementary school next door; but she had been so focused on this building, as her only hope, that her tunnel vision had ignored everything else. Maybe it was a private elementary school— Catholic perhaps. There wasa statue of a shrouded figure looming near the merry-go-round. The face was obscured, and the hands were open-palmed in a gesture of welcome. There were no children there, but she could see ruts in the sandpit where children had been playing.
Karen saw all of this briefly, then stared resolutely at the ceiling.
“Lift your shirt, Karen,” the older woman said.
Karen’s pregnancy was strongly pronounced beneath her shirt and it took some effort to roll her shirt up and over the swell. Her belly reminded her of an apricot, swollen and round and colored darkly peach-and-red, but it felt like it was rotten within with ruin in its pulp. There were nights when she dreamed of terrible things and, when she awoke, she went downstairs, into her mother’s kitchen, and held a fillet knife, tempted to thrust it into her belly. Her mother told her that pregnancy did strange things to women’s minds, both during and after delivery. She reassured her that the hormones could make a madwoman out of the most austerely prim and proper lady. But Karen doubted her mother ever wanted to take a knife to her while she was in her womb. Then again, Karen was not conceived from rape, either. Neither of her parents ever mentioned that abominable aspect of Karen’s pregnancy.
Sometimes Karen wondered if her parents believed her story. Karen had always been a choir girl, though her saintly behavior was never enough for her father. Most of her friends had lost their virginity in their early teens, whereas Karen had waited and saved herself for her future husband. The ugly irony of her situation made it infinitely worse. And the fact that her parents did not believe her, after so many years of strict celibacy, made her want to scream obscenities at them until her throat bled. But she was still the choir daughter they had wanted, even if they no longer believed she was, and so she kept to that straight and narrow path of silence and obedience.
Except in this: she wanted an abortion. They told her they would disown her if she had the creature in her womb aborted, saying it was a sin against God, but she knew she could not take care of it. She knew it was a monster, just like its disseminator.
The police never caught her rapist. They said they were trying, but they didn’t have many leads. Karen could not help much either, giving scant details. She did not remember much, except inescapable horror. She could not remember anything about him except violation. She remembered walking home from her community college. She was exhausted from working morning shifts at McDonald’s and then going to night classes. She did not see the shadow lurch out of the corner until it was too late. It was as if her mind had gone far away when he grabbed her and dragged her into an alley in the middle of the night. When she thought of it at all, she could only remember something crawling all over her; a terrifying chaos of impressions that clambered over her mind and body and soul, ravaging her unto desolation, bereft of her own humanity.
The nurse rubbed the warm jelly over Karen’s stomach. For some reason, the slime made her panic, briefly, as if it reminded her of something she did not want to remember. But this passed. The nurse pressed the transducer against Karen’s belly, and the ultra sound screen bloomed with an image.
“There’s your baby, Karen!” the older woman said excitedly. She smiled widely, her teeth bright white and gleaming as fulgurously as her eyes. She leaned over, then, and spoke to Karen’s stomach while pointing at the ultra sound screen. “Say hello to mommy! Say, ‘I love you, mommy!’”
As disturbed as Karen felt about the woman’s words and behavior, she was more disturbed by the image on the ultra sound screen. It was not what she could see that disturbed her, but what she could not see. She saw the white and black pixels all churned together in the basic outline of her womb, but she could not see the baby.
Fetus, she told herself. Not baby.
She stared at it for some time, unable to make heads or tails of it. Literally, she could not discern in its anatomy what was the tail and what was the head. The fetus looked wrong. It did not register in human shape, but was an amorphous thing resistant to a prominent morphological totality.
“It is going to be a beautiful child!” the woman exclaimed, still grinning like a holy roller having seen the face of God.
“It doesn’t look like a fetus at all,” Karen said. She tried to sit up, but the sexless nurse kept the transducer pressed hard into her belly.
“I don’t want to look at it!” Karen said, feeling highly alarmed. “It…it’s not a child! It’s a monster! Just like…just like the monster that forced it inside me!”
Karen pushed the nurse’s hand away—and the painfully probing phallic transducer. She stood up from the bed as quickly, almost tottering over with the unwieldy weight of her womb, and then hurried out of the room, down the hallway. She stopped halfway down the hall, her eye alighting on something her brain had ignored before. The children’s drawings on the wall. She stared at them for several seconds, and realized she could not see any of the drawings. She knew they were all drawings drawn by children, but their details were formless in her head; erased upon sight. Recognition of what they were— their essential meaning—succeeded, but recognition of the particular features failed. It was all crawling chaos in her mind. She told herself that the stress was upsetting her faculties. She told herself she was having a mental breakdown. Sobbing, she fled out of the clinic and went home, wanting to lay down and sleep the day, and the world, away.

The woman returned to her office. A man waited there, wearing unremarkable clothes that moved at unnatural places, even as he stood perfectly still. His outline looked human, but there was something amiss in his features. His face was as a mask in its eyes and mouth and nose, and his bearing was unnaturally stiff, as if his limbs were not made to maintain an upright position.
“She is too far along for an abortion,” the woman said. “The child will be brought to full term, just like the others.”
The man said something with his tongue, but it was not intelligible English, or any other language. It sounded more like the splashing of ropey things dragging along a shoreline’s tides.
“Yes, Master,” she said. “Your children will be glorious to behold before the end. How sad that these ungrateful vessels should be granted the honor of bearing them for you.”
The creature’s voice rolled and splashed like the waves.
The woman’s smile finally ceased, and her whole body shuddered. She was glad she was beyond her prime; beyond her breeding years. She was glad she was infertile and would never have to make that choice herself. She was glad that she had the religious conviction to hate the women that came in here, week after week, otherwise she might have felt sorry for them. And how would that have pleased her lord, Nyarlathotep?