Orange And Black

An October road, orange on black,
like obsidian beneath falling rain,
so slick and gleaming, forward and back
while wet shadows along the winding lane
wash up like alluvial shores,
the lamplights gentle on the front windows
of bricked-up glass, small-town stores
half-dreaming, half waking in rows.
Boughs detailed with orange flecks of light
or else darkly blank as fat thunderclouds
while they line the sidewalks to the right
like chandeliers partly covered with shrouds;
Hollow-eyed houses, empty of life,
with columned porches aglow with light—
each half-glimpsed raindrop a silver knife
that flashes as it slashes through the night.
See the church with its river-rock face,
dark and wet as if the river still runs
over the stones all set into place
long before the town known for its bourbons.
In the graveyard trees sway with the wind
while their weather-withered branches disrobe,
orange leaves tumbling, end over end,
glanced in the sullen light of a lamp’s globe.
The maple tree has an orange crown
and black branches like charred sorceress bones,
the leaves soot-sided embers come down
among the sprawling, stygian headstones.
Orange and black—all orange and black,
the colors of Halloween all around;
spire to cupola, eave to smokestack,
and splashing in the puddles on the ground.
From afar, now, the town is aglow
in the dark, silent sea spread all about;
a bright river boat drifting below
rain and shadow mingling along a route.
Orange and black—as if a pumpkin
left out at night and gone halfway to rot—
a Jack O’ Lantern with its plump skin
half-burned, its grin’s inner flame just too hot.
Neither asleep or awake: a dark dusk,
this town in October’s darkening eves,
flame and shadow consume the wet husk,
light losing the battle as Summer leaves.

Ghoulish State Of Mind

20190102_014408-1-1

Feel-good poetry makes me gag
like too many cloying sweets
from a child’s Trick or Treat bag,
the sugar snowing along the streets.
These inspirational poets always wear
masks, as if everyday is Halloween,
believing they are laying themselves bare
when their costumes are all that can be seen.
Like Barbie and Ken with painted-on smiles
as they pen a Mattel-stamped phrase,
they go house to house, in various styles,
but without substance— a plastic craze.
I like to get at the meat of the matter
and tell you that, beneath the snazzy outfit
and the feel-good optimist’s chatter
you don’t know much about shit.
You use images that are bland and cliche
like a Jack O Lantern squatting by the door,
and when lit up at the end of the day
your empty head can’t illume much more.
And your downer poetry gags me worse
with its Haunted House melodrama—
Wait, are you joy-riding in a black hearse?
No?  Regardless, I do not believe your trauma.
You wear sadness like an oversized sheet,
moaning like a ghost given to dreary airs,
meanwhile you trip with your feet
as you drag your sheet up the stairs.
And maybe you loiter a while in the cemetery,
using a Ouija board to prompt your muse,
or, looking in a mirror, you say “Bloody Mary”
while hoping she can give you some clues.
But for all that, I can be an optimist too
and I am given to hope, much the same,
because sooner or later they will bury you
and the real monsters will devour your fame.

The Bag Men

20190707_211515-1-1

Run, you little children, go!
Through Halloween’s darksome kingdom
of gnarled trees and gables and each corn row—
but beware, for the Bag Men come.

Laugh and dance and trick or treat
in the maze cut by Farmer Brown,
but the Bag Men also seek sweets to eat,
stumbling along the lanes of your town.

20190707_211415-1

Lumpy, they come, alone or together,
as they sway and totter above the corn,
their mouths wide with the windy weather
to eat you before All Saints morn.

A sickle moon hangs at the ready
for the coming harvest held tonight,
all children too happy and heady
will see the shamblers in the moonlight.

Think yourself safe upon the road?
Or in the neighborhood with its human laws?
They will swallow you whole, like a toad,
stuffing you in their black-hole maws.

20190707_211628-1

Black as night, and blacker still
their gaping gullets that gurgle— Lo!
They can never truly have their fill;
gluttonous gourmands, they grow and grow.

Like bags of candy much overfed,
they wobble and thrash among the crop;
no arms, no necks, not even a head—
only mouths and legs, which never stop.

And in these mouths the many howls
of unwary children all consumed,
forever trapped in their saggy jowls
never escaping, always entombed.

20190707_211734-1

Do you really think you can hide?
No, they will swallow you, too,
and then you will see, from the inside
the victims who will soon join you.

You naive little trick or treaters,
think on what your sweet tooth has wrought,
for they come, those misshapen eaters—
it is too late, you have been caught.

To Spite His Own…

20181015_210859-1

Disclaimer:  This story is written from the perspective of a slave-owner heiress in the 1800’s.  She is unapologetically racist, as they were back then, so if you have difficulties with divorcing what a character says and what a writer intends, do NOT read this.  There is rife irony throughout this story.  I honestly hate to put a disclaimer on it, but my fiancee has warned me that such things are not to be taken lightly, even in historical fiction, and so here is the warning.

Dear Dr. Lichtenstein,

I have entailed, as per your request, all relevant journal entries as provided by the patient’s wife. I thank you for your patience. Please note that any inconvenience endured during this protracted period of procurement was due in large part to Mrs. Rose’s inability to write of the night of the climactic episode. Due to the nature of the incident she has not been forthcoming until recently in recounting the event in detail or divulging her intimate entries. I hope this information serves you well in the patient’s treatment. Additionally, Mrs. Rose wishes to visit her husband in Switzerland whenever you deem it appropriate.

May 5, 1823
The most wonderful thing happened today. My beloved cousin Allan came to visit me at my little Summer chateau. I fancy it a chateau, even if it happens to be built in the heart of Virginia. Mon amour, how I missed you! Ever since childhood I had this preternatural sense that he and I were destined for matrimony. Mother dismissed my whimsies, of course, but father has always insisted that the family estate pass to “a Rose rather than to a local weed”. And Allan is the preferred candidate in my affections. No other campaign could sway my regards beyond him. He has, with the most effortless modesty, marched through the victory arch of my heart. Or so I fancy in my abundant joy.
Yet, there are deficiencies that darken what would otherwise be an auspicious prospect. I do not mean deficiencies in Allan, of course, for he is impeccable in his character and his upbringing, but rather deficiencies in circumstance. Of course, these deficiencies amount to nothing in my estimations of him. I have no need of bettering circumstances, the family estate being so prosperous in its cotton yields, but Allan perceives deficiencies in his own station which he wishes to improve before our courtship. It is his virtue of humility that is a vice to him, I believe. He would martyr himself to absolve himself of other people’s sins, I think. I do not mean to imply blasphemies, of course, only a saintliness in him that is akin to such a Passion as would render the world better in principle and pretense. It only reinforces my belief in him as my destined partner.
Yet, I do believe his virtue is taken to vice, at times, due to his overwrought Passion in regards to his virtues. Indeed, what a mercurial heart Allan sometimes suffers! Nor does he forswear the most rancorous moods when confronted by various trifles. It is his charm, I should say, but the offending agent in this matter was my house slave Betty whose dusting had unsettled “layers of Time” as Allan was steeped in his studies with a pencil and paper in hand. He nearly threw her to the floor for her thoughtlessness. I thought it all rather overwrought, but Betty escaped fairly unharmed, if a little frightened. But it is a matter of learning, I think. She will habituate to afford Allan’s moods with better jurisprudence in coming days, I think. I sincerely wish for coming days, too, and in plenitude. Having Allan around has markedly bettered my spirits since Daniel died only last year of that wretched disease. It has bettered my own well being, I am certain. Losing a brother is terrible, and while I do not expect Allan to offer himself as a substitute, nor attempt that premise of affection, having a young man in the house is comforting. I utterly adore him!
May 12, 1823
Allan has always been obsessed with details. It must owe to his instincts as an artist. When he saw the misplaced petunias among the Morning Glories— despite their moblike exuberance and abundance— I marveled at his eye, and shortly reprimanded Toby for his lax care in maintaining the garden. The Negro promised to replant them in better affirmation of their aesthetics, but Allan was not persuaded and lingered by, overseeing the Negro’s efforts. It is so good to have an honorable man at my side so willing to stand tall and right the wrongs around me. Father was quite pleased with Allan’s efforts as well. He tells me frequently that being a plantation owner is as much a matter of warfare as homesteading. I do believe it eases his mind to see that Allan will be as diligent in suppressing the more bestial elements always threatening to rebel against Order for the sake of Chaos. This is something those foolish Abolitionists do not understand. The animal must be overmastered lest civilization be trodden by the rabble. But the plantation presses on like a well-trained horse. It eases father’s mind, in his old age, to know that a man like Allan will be at the ready with the reins. And the riding crop, if need be.
I must recount but one image, however, from the whole wonderful day before I close this account. It was evening and we were soon to retire indoors for dinner. Allan and I stood upon the porch, beneath the eaves, watching the evening sun smoulder into dusk. Mother and father were away, preoccupied with other things, and those ebony personages were scattered about the sunlit fields like shadows to earn their keep. The whole world was holding its breath, I fancy to think, as it framed itself in gold, drawing a curtain about our lives together with the silken softness of velvets and blues. Allan then turned to me and took my hand, kissing it upon the cup of my palm. He then pressed it against his heart. So daring! So exhilarating! I could have lain myself down, will in hand, and written away my worldly possessions without a second thought, consigning my life to that moment’s intrepid ecstasy. He then asked me if I was happy in his continued presence, to which I replied without reserve or hesitation, and so he promised to stay as long as I would have him. I told him I would have him forever, if he so permitted me. It was then that our lips touched and the sun flared blindingly across the horizon one final time before settling in to shady peace of night.
We entered the house with our hearts still burning outside, traveling the earth in orbit of the sun like cherubim in attendance to Venus. Even as I sat down to eat I felt my heart racing in the upper spheres of the heavens. Allan sat across from me at the table, and yet the table itself was too great a distance from my beloved cousin. I fain think I should be shut within an acorn with him and still not be near enough. Father spoke of the going rates of cotton, as he was so often inclined to do, and mother pleased him by asking the same indulgent questions she always asked when he was speaking of his cotton, though she was as much an expert in the family business as himself.
I had wished to conclude this account with the triumph of my cousin’s daring act of love, but now that I write I find myself compelled to defend Allan in his behavior at the dinner table. It was not that he was rude or combative, even if his words were not the wisest in choice. He simply tired of hearing about cotton. He spoke tersely of the obsession of cotton in the Rose family line and said, in his direct manner, that he had no love for that occupation and instead desired pursuit in his artistic endeavors. Father was visibly agitated, but patiently spoke to Allan about the necessities for a comfortable life focused on family rather than the desires of a selfish life rooted in individual satisfactions. The two men exchanged subsequently thorny words, which pained me greatly, since they were the two most important men in my life. Mother, however, having a fair touch for pruning thorny flowers, gradually dulled the sharpness of the conversation and reconciled the two men as only a matriarch may. I was so grateful to her that I rose and embraced her as I once did when I was still yet a child. Allan apologized to father, then, and agreed, reluctantly, that tending to the plantation was the primary concern for a family such as theirs, and father, hoping to mend the broken bridge, confirmed his own assertion while also assuring Allan that he would have time to pursue his artistic endeavors if he is wise with his time. After dinner, Allan retired to bed early. Yet, I am certain I heard scratching and muttering from within his room last night as I passed his door. My poor cousin! I hope the later hours of the evening did not spoil its former joys! If only we could dwell within that sweet twilit hour for all time!

May 15, 1823
What else am I to write of today but Allan’s proposal? So sweet! So unexpected! Yet, I have no doubt that he and father had devised such a plan from the start, before his arrival. There were expectations in our family, after all, and so we followed them as we should. But to be so blissfully happy to follow them! We are very fortunate cousins indeed.
The proposal took place, naturally, in the studio upstairs which we have provided for Allan, far from curious eyes or any ear ready to echo in rumor of our binding of souls. He asked that I sit for a portrait. I had certain misgivings concerning this, due to his previous attempts at such portraiture, yet I wished to indulge him. He then painted my face for some time, his brows knitted with utmost concentration. It seemed, too, that he suffered some frustration with the portrait and its progression, expressed as a slightly vexed sneer in the corner of his lips, yet that only further threw my mind off any pretense of a proposal. He proposed most graciously, producing the ring from his box of paints. I accepted, of course, and brimmed with joyful tears. Nor did I mind when he became snappish afterwards as I fidgeted with joy upon the stool while he tried to rectify a perceived error in the portrait. I thought the image a lovely work and refused him the impulse to destroy it, as he did all of the others had ever attempted of me. He took umbrage at my insistence, but I am too happy to be rendered downcast by his sometimes irritable moods. I know he loves me, unconditionally, and will settle well into our domestic arrangements as they proceed with delightfully unfurling measures.

May 16, 1823
Allan was not half so happy today as he should have been. Perhaps it was his pride. Wedding arrangements, regardless of modesty, have always consisted of costly demands, and Allan, having little fortune himself, has had to allow his betrothed to proffer the patronage to meet the expenses. But how can he not comprehend my devotion to him? What is wealth to me when I am possessed of abundance? Man is a creature governed by irrational laws, in my limited understanding of the mold, and grows livid at the frivolities that Woman would rather scoff than pillory herself within. Pride will sink the whole vessel, I fear, if it is allowed to overburden the enterprise. I tried to lift his spirits by speaking to him tenderly of our ensuing life together. I spoke of it in bubbly ambition and childish excitement. Perhaps I thought such enthusiasm would be infectious.
Nonetheless, Allan took to brooding in his studio while Mrs. Tenebaum accompanied me to town to procure the necessary festoons for the festivity and to aid me in writing the invitations. Allan made no list of recommended guests, being dispossessed of his family by the fickle tragedies of sea travel, nor had he friends to suggest, nor even any of his fellow artists to induce into attendance. To the contrary, he expressly forbid their welcome. Always and ever wanting to please him, I submitted myself to his surly demands, though it shaded an otherwise radiant day of hopeful plotting and whimsical planning.
The rest of the day was a whirl of delight. Never do I fail to enjoy perusing lace and flowers, and today I had reason to indulge more so than in mere trifling fancy. Perhaps I should marry Allan every week, if only for the excuse to rifle through the tailor shops and nursery gardens. In time it will be incumbent upon Allan to accompany me into town to we may have his new suit tailored properly. I know he will look so fetching in a new blue suit and white cravat! And myself, of course, shall radiate New England elegance in my lovely veil and gown! Oh, the joys of a wedding in Summer!

2018-10-17 12.05.51

May 17, 1823
Allan was not pleased today. It is woefully and wholly my own fault. Hounding him as I did, however sweetly, threw him into a darker mood. Mother warned me. I only wished to take him to town for measurements. But I pressed my pleasure over his own and interrupted his studies while he had managed great strides in rendering a vase of flowers in perfect verisimilitude. But hence after my unthinking selfishness I had ruined his attentions and spoiled the whole piece. He has been silent and sullen since and I do not know how to make right so much wrong wrought. I despair to think of it, wondering if I have ruined the picturesqueness of our marriage scene alongside his beloved vase. The paint clashes in my mind most garishly and I cannot smooth it into finer form and shades. I shall go to bed at once to cry myself to sleep. Perhaps, come the morrow, he will open his heart again to me.

May 18, 1823
Seeking amends, I went to town today and bought five new paintbrushes and brought them home. They proved needless since Allan greeted me so happily as I entered the house that he seemed to have forgotten all about his former fury from last night. He told me, most excitedly, that he had managed to salvage the vase painting, escorting me eagerly upstairs to testify to his achievement. Coming into his study, it seemed the vase sat next to its identical double, and I was very elated on his behalf. It was a rather very good piece, much better than any other he had heretofore produced.
Yet, my mouth betrayed me at the behest of my eye, observing aloud that in his concentration on form he had mismatched the shadows beneath the vase. Summarily put, the candelabrum’s light struck the vase upon the left side, yet in rendering the shadow he had used natural light from a window to the right, and so the shadow stretched oddly to the left, defying Nature. Seeing the tight line of fury into which his mouth pressed itself, I rushed to assure him everything else was perfectly captured in deft strokes.
“You are right, of course,” he said quietly in such a tone that frightened me more than any outburst. “I must correct it now. Please, Madeline, see to your parents. I will be down when I have finished correcting this foolishness.”
I turned to leave, but then remembered the brushes. I fetched them out of my satchel and presented them to him with the dearest wish to brighten his silent fury. He received them with a softening of his otherwise rigid face.
“Thank you, dear cousin,” he said. “These will help me to tend the task.” He leaned forward and kissed my cheek.
Thrilled as to an effervescence in my heart, I immediately went downstairs to see to supper, lest I should spoil Allan’s newly lifted spirits.
It was not but an hour later, when Betty had nearly finished preparing supper under my dictation that there befell such a clamor from upstairs that I thought a thunderstorm had loosed its abrupt chaos upon the house in the broad light of day. Rushing upstairs, I found Allan raging in his studio like a mad man, smashing the vase and flowers, and his easel, and the painting he had labored over for so many arduous hours. Such curses that escaped his lips I had never heard in my life! He was a beast as he clawed the air and kicked and wrung his hair as if to tear is scalp free from his head. I was retreating, slowly, when he heard my tread and turned his full fury upon me.
“Where did you buy those charlatan brushes?!” he bellowed, his chest heaving with his hellfire passions.
“From Mr. Caple,” I said, clutching my hem in hand to steady my heart. “Is that not whom you normally purchase your brushes from?”
“He is a self-eating, double-dealing swine of a Jew!” Allan roared. Or some such epithet of zealous hatred. I do not entirely recall even part of the curses he heaped upon the quiet, abiding personality of Mr. Caple. “He has outwitted you in his devilish trade, dear cousin. He has sold you swill where was wanted wine!”
I attested my ignorance, wondering at his transformed demeanor.
“I do not understand, Allan,” I said.
He then bent down and stooped among the wreckage, his hand seeking the broken brushes bought new only today.
“See?” he demanded, holding a jagged shaft aloft. “The shafts break so easily! And, a greater devilry indeed, these accursed bristles molt into the paint, polluting the work and ruining the image! A hundred or more of them are strewn ruinously throughout the painting! Like splinters in my own flesh they riddle my work, buried deep in my perfect picture!”
He screamed again, kicked the canvas, and then strode past me, out into the hall.
“I must walk” he declared, “or I will go mad with grief!”
The servants fled at his descent downstairs. Father attempted to intercept him, with a calming word, but Allan evaded him. The front door opened and then slammed shut, shaking the house to its brickwork bones. Betty came upstairs and inquired to my well-being. Shaken as I was, I nonetheless helped Betty clean the mess as it sprawled atop the Indian rug that laid out, as if in Christlike sacrifice, to catch most of the wet paint and turpentine left in evidence of Allan’s tempest.
The easel was yet unharmed, as were the tubes of paint. The canvas was torn asunder, and I looked upon it with a patient, scouring eye, meticulously noting its devastation. I could see no brush hairs, as Allan attested, in the yet wet paint, but the newest strokes had been feverishly applied in violently swiping swathes that worked to undo so many other layers of paint beneath them. The shadow of the vase had been corrected, but the vase itself had been seemingly destroyed by willful stroke. I could not account for it, and it upset me as much as Allan’s unnatural fit. I worried it might be a reaction to his prevalent diet, or perhaps from neglect of a proper diet. Mrs. Tenebaum attests to British doctors and their extensive knowledge on such matters and has told me that a simple “change of spices” can vastly affect one’s mind, either for the better or the worse. Being no expert, I wish I could consult a doctor now and improve Allan’s ailing temperament. If only our American doctors were as advanced as their British peers!
Mother and father sat with me for a while, consoling me. Father said Allan needed more sunshine, and purpose. He proposed taking my cousin under his tutelage in regard to the cotton harvest, but I begged him not to. Mother concurred with my counsel, saying that we had all imposed upon Allan’s nerves overmuch. He was “chilled to his soul upon the precipice of a new life”, mother said, and needed to climb down for a moment and get a good foothold again. A bird must fly when it is ready, or it will fall. I remembered these words of wisdom because they stung me so, affirming in my own heart my apprehensions. I feared I had pushed my dear cousin too quickly into matrimony.
Allan returned late that night, long after my nerves had frayed in concern over him. He was drunk and stumbled in after having drawn a bottle of whiskey he had purchased from God-knows-where. Mother and father had retired to bed— thank God!—so I had Toby and Betty help me direct Allan to the couch. As he lay there, delirious with drink, he asked my forgiveness, which I readily gave. Soon after, however, his blood rose and he commanded me to never again purchase brushes on his behalf, but that we together would visit Mr. Caple on the morrow and he would see that we were not thrifted again. He succumbed to his drink and fell asleep. I fretted over him the rest of the night, sitting in a chair by his side. Occasionally he stirred, and swatted at some unseen thing upon his face. He cursed an “apparition” and I feared he was hag-ridden. In time, however, he settled and was accosted no more.

May 26th 1823
The wedding was beautiful. Allan was handsome. All went as a fairytale. And our wedding night was strange, marvelous, beautiful. There was pain, of course, as my mother warned me, but there was such an awakening, too! My eyes see more clearly than ever before, and all they see is Allan. Gentle, loving, considerate Allan. I would give it to him all over again, whatever pain might come. I am his and he is mine. The world is made upon that promise, and unmade with the breaking of such vows.

May 29th 1823
What can I make of this strange turn in his mood? He seemed as euphoric in our union as I ever did. But now he broods and grumbles. He says he is haunted. I know not how or by whom. I have lived in the chateau for years and never witnessed evil spirits. Perhaps it is a consequence of our union. He has retreated again to his hermitage in his studio. Mother and father have left to return to their house, entrusting Allan and I to honor ourselves and themselves in our solitary habituation. Mother convinced father that perhaps we ought to live without overbearing accompaniment, as it might acclimate us more readily into marriage. But now I wish they had stayed so they might help me discover the answer to this riddle-some mood that has befallen the love of my life.
Occasionally I visit him in his studio, when he willingly opens the door to me. He draws and paints all day, nearly working himself to death for the sake of his aspirations. He does not attend to the Negroes. It is no matter to me, as I can compel them toward their duties on my own, but I long for his presence out of doors. Nor does he join me in bed, as he has since our marriage. I overheard him screaming in the night. He screamed in rage, and when I peered into his studio I found him pointing seemingly to his eyes.
“Can you not leave me be, apparition?! Damned specter! Unsightly intruder! You harry me in my higher calling! You haunt my diviner vision! How I wish to be done with you!”
When I inquired after him, he slowly turned about, looking at me with a most frightful look of apoplectic rage. He did not seem to recognize me, but saw me as an intruder and stranger. He then paled, and swooned. I went to him and steadied him in my arms. His skin was as a cold, wet slab of uncooked meat. I feared for his well being and begged that he come to bed with me. Breathing heavily, he set his paintbrushes aside as I led him to our bedchamber. He sleeps now, uneasily. I fear he has some illness. I will send Toby for the doctor in the morning.

June 2nd, 1823
Allan has made a complete recovery from his illness. Doctor Haycraft and I have attended him for the last few days. I feared the worst. But he gradually overcame the chill, and then the fever, and has grown stronger day by day. He sits up with me occasionally and I read to him. His appetite will return soon, I hope, and then we may once again attempt a child. Though I have slept every night by his side, it has been lonely with this febrile divide between us.
June 8th 1823
Allan surprised me today by not only walking about with vigor, but also asking me to accompany him on a flower hunting expedition. I eagerly acquiesced, aspiring to be of the utmost benefit to him and his recovery. The sun would do him good, I believed. Moreover, I thought of how delightful it would be to roam the wild countryside with my beloved husband. Yet, this great joy soon succumbed to distress as Allan rejected all of the flowers I had collected for him. Each flower was either too short, too wilting, too colorless, or too young in bud for him. But I have always prided myself on my eye for distinguishing flowers among a field! Being something of a proficient gardener, I presumed he would gladly accept each flower my discerning eye favored among the untamed multitude. But I suppose that was the root of my grave mistake, for he desired wild flowers for his vase, due to some clever pretense the work was intended to convey, and I was so much inclined of tastes toward domestication that I could not see the traits inherent in the wild breeds that exemplified his motif. In short, I had not the eye wanted, so the flowers I plucked went unwanted. Yet, I did not squander them. I retained each and every spurned specimen and returned home with them, granting them the salvation of my own choicest vase. They look rather nice in the parlor, next to the window and softening the stern gaze of father’s old cabinet clock.
Nor did I take umbrage at Allan’s fastidiousness. I consoled myself with the observation that he was no less merciless in his rejection of the flowers he had personally plucked from the full-bosomed fields.
“They are all wanting,” he lamented. “None are possessed of that transcendental quality I seek to translate and vivify upon the canvas!”
Having found no flowers worthy of his attention, he asked to use my hand-mirror. It is an heirloom that has been handed down through the centuries since the court of the king, to whom my distant ancestor was a loyal nobleman. Naturally, I let Allan use it, and indeed though it needful, for his appearance needed a good deal of reflection. Handsome though he always has been, he is yet a bit uncouth with his untrimmed beard and eyebrows. His hair, too, has grown overlong and could be advantaged with a scouring by scissors. Yet, he did not use it to groom himself. Rather, he simply stared at himself for a long moment, a contemptuous scowl upon his face. He turned his head to one side, staring balefully into the mirror, and then the other. I knew not why he should be so offended by his own face. I thought it the loveliest face I had ever known, as akin to the sun itself, for it brightened my life when it shone on me. But Allan studied it with scorn as his teacher. Simultaneously, his eyes seemed to be looking at something that was not in the mirror. It was almost as if he was staring at something along the peripheries. It was as if his eyes were staring sideways at his nose.

June 11th 1823
At times I fear I may be suffocating my dear Allan, as the climbing ivy does a young, beautiful oak. Today I interrupted his artistic studies three times to inquire after him, and each time he greeted me with less and less amicability and patience. Upon the third interruption I fret to think I saw a dark cloud descend over his expression, even as that expression concerted itself into a smile of affable mockery.
“My dear Madeline,” he said. “I will accomplish nothing today with your lovesick rendezvous. Give me time and we shall abscond properly. I promise you.”
I am as impulsive as a child sometimes! Yet, if there be any fault of this, it is Love’s, for being with him is as growing young once more. The Fountain of Youth lies not to the South, but inward wherein dwells the heart. Or so I fancy to think. I shall reprimand my inner child accordingly, otherwise I fear I may ruin Allan’s patience further. Love may endure anything, but a Man’s patience is ever whittling with winds, wishes, and worries.

June 15th 1823
I had long postponed confronting Allan with the Tenebaums’ invitation. Since his illness, and his mercurial moods, I feared he might not be of the capacity to attend a social gathering of such renowned personages. Yet, when I spoke to him of it, circumspectly at first and then directly, nudging into it with hesitant half-steps, he conceded to my wishes to attend abruptly, affording me no time to ease myself into joy. I was so overcome with gratitude that I kissed him a hundred times and then beckoned Betty to make ready an early dinner. Indeed, we would sup early and then retire to privacy where I would make my gratitude toward him much more evident in its fullness.

June 18th 1823
How the brightest days cast the darkest shadows, and the happiest balls the most dejected of men. Such was it at the Tenebaums’ gala. Allan was sullen for most of the event, his dark demeanor never changing once, even as we danced to a lovely waltz afforded by Manderly’s deft niece, Clarissa. True, Allan’s foot was light enough to keep pace with the rest of the dancers, but how sincerely I wished him to be lighter of heart! As the night wore on, and dancing bowed out to give the floor to idle gossip and debate, Allan grew restless. Several guests engaged us with the utmost amicability only to be dissuaded from further acquaintanceship by Allan’s gloomy reticence. While I attempted to compensate his recalcitrant aloofness, it proved mostly futile as many of the guests exchanged a few pleasant words and then retired elsewhere to escape Allan’s dreary gaze.
Toward the middle of the night, Mrs. Tenebaum directed the attentions of the guests toward a new acquisition for her parlor— an impeccable painting by the renowned painter, Samuel Cartwright, who happened to be in attendance at the event. She requested that he indulge them in discussion of the piece, which he did to a round of enthusiastic applause. Bowing, he thanked his hostess and began to discuss the methods whereby he was able to accurately capture the extensive detail of a field and forest landscape. As he spoke, smiling pleasantly, there arose an occasional giggle or guffaw from someone to the aft of the gathered audience. This inconsiderate individual interrupted Mr. Cartwright several times, causing the poor young man embarrassment and obvious offense. Yet I did not dare a backward glance in the offender’s direction, or else gratify his rude mischief. “Never pay a jester with laughter,” father always says, “if the joke is at cost to an innocent.” And Mr. Cartwright was an inborn innocent.
Toward the end of Mr. Cartwright’s speech Allan appeared at my side. I had not noticed his absence. When I inquired where he had gone he said to see that the preparations for our imminent departure were undertaken by Toby. We left shortly afterwards, though my heart still lingered in sympathy for Samuel Cartwright. He seemed a fine fellow, and a proficient painter. Allan, despite my best efforts, would not proffer his own opinion at to the young man’s talents.

June 20th 1823
The day was hot, and so I have excused Allan’s behavior on account of the weather. After all, it is said that while Woman cannot abide the cold, the reverse is true of Men. The heat seems to impart upon them an arid fury that does not abate except in seamless shadows and cooler winds.
I came upon him in his studio, pacing and raving in a restless state of agitation. When I inquired as to his affliction, he spoke indignantly of an apparition intruding upon his concentration, beggaring his attentions to the subject matter at hand.
“How it overlays haughtily upon the still life!” he roared. “Unwelcome scourge upon vision! Superimposition most conceited and vain, blighting clarity of detail and translation! To impede and impugn! It mocks me! Do not doubt it mocks me! Profligate ornament!”
I knew not what he meant. True, my ancestral home was old, and had overseen the deaths of many among my ancestral line, but I had never reason nor rumor to believe it haunted.
Before I could detain him to ease his rage, he stormed downstairs, raving wildly and making his hands as palsied talons that rent the air impotently. When I implored him to tell what aggrieved, he rancorously decried “involuntary interruptions” upon his vision, which he claimed ardently to be impeding his studies. I knew not what he meant and despaired to think my ignorance was somehow the cause, yet he refused to enlighten me when I pleaded that he inform me so I might remedy the interruptions. He stated, upon a tone so pitched it might have been a lunatic’s, that there was nothing to be done to cure it except the most radical of procedures. He would not unburden himself of more detail, and went for one of his late night walks while I wept, thinking myself the encumbering interruption, as I always feared I might be.
Later, when he returned from his walk, he was still rancorous and seething. I attempted to soothe him, but he in turn rounded upon me, wroth and relentless in his admonishments, accusing me of being a hysterical harpy perched upon his unmarked tombstone, waiting gleefully for his death in obscurity.
I was so overwhelmed that I nearly fainted. Betty helped me to the couch while Allan disappeared once again upstairs, locking himself in his studio.

June 27nd 1823
As a hermit he has become! He entertains no guests and often upbraids anyone who so much as sets foot upon the landing. He requires absolute silence and stillness of the whole household whenever he paints. Often I venture upon walks lest I upset him, taking Betty and Toby to escort me. How often I hear him cursing his own appetite and the need for sleep! He says that such needs distract him from his aspirations. Father has attempted to coax him down, but he nearly threw father to the floor the previous time this happened. It was an accident, of course. Allan became overly passionate and tripped over a rug, falling into father. That is what happened, of course.
The only times I have succeeded in drawing Allan away from his studio are with some other diversion of an aesthete’s predilection. An art exhibition in Richmond, for instance, piqued his interest briefly. He then dismissed the idea that any of the art would be worthy of such a long trip. He said only Europe possessed art worthy of recognition and no American artist had achieved imminence yet. He then swore that he would be the first. He then laughed, and his laughter frightened me. I had never heard him laugh so strangely before. He then set himself to disparage European artists, also.
“To think such masters squandered their hard-earned genius upon rendering fallen women as the Madonna and the Greek heroines of Beauty! Fallen women and mercenary hearts for hire! But I will pay homage to tales of yore with an adequate vestal embodiment. You, my love, shall be my Aphrodite and my Diana. I need only skills mastered, at last, to render eye to hand the visions of you that I would taunt the world with. Method and medium mastered…”
He then became quiet and would not talk until we lunched later that day.

July 3rd 1823
I told him this evening that I had arranged for a trip to Rome. This elicited fervent praise and he kissed me as he once did of old, before his melancholia gripped him in its vulture’s clutches. I have made my mind on the matter and wish for nothing but Allan’s happiness. Therefore, the trip to Europe is a fine thing in my valuation. The change of scenery— particularly, to be apart from that stifling studio of his—will be conducive to his recovery from this wild ailment of the spirits. Money is no obstacle, so I will see to it that it is a fine trip; one of which we shall think fondly long into our old age together. Mother and Father volunteered to accompany us, and I gladly accepted them along. This dark cloud will be obliterated by the bright torch of European civilization.

July 7th 1823
Allan suffered another fit today. He screamed at an unseen assailant, vowing to rid himself of the offender once and for all. I knew not what to do and sent Toby for Doctor Haycraft once again. Betty and I restrained Allan, for he attempted to harm himself with his hands, wrenching at his face. I am so frightened. I know not what affliction holds him—whether it is a disease or a demon—but I vow I will help him however I can. He is my one true love. His well-being is all that matters to me.

July 10th 1823
Doctor Haycraft has diagnosed Allan with a severe reaction to a bee sting. I did not know bee stings could cause such great harm to a man so as to overturn his mind. And to think we view them so gratefully for the honey they make for us! Doctor Haycraft reassured me that Allan will recover from the sting with all of his faculties intact. I pray that is true. My husband has been recovering since the return of his ailment, and the Doctor has seen him through the sickness twice now. I am eternally grateful to him. He assures me, also, that Allan should recover well before our trip to Europe, so long as we shield him from further bee assaults. Despite this wonderful diagnosis, Betty had to prove herself an uppity ignoramus by questioning the Doctor in front of us all.  The audacity! The cheek! I was so furious I beat her myself, which is never a thing a woman ought to do. Yet, she apologized, as she should, and the Doctor assured me he took no offense from the stupidity of a Negro. “Might as well take offense from an animal,” he said. So true, I think. What do they know, being so uneducated and bestial as they are?

20181031_102031-1

July 16th 1823
I was overjoyed today when Allan announced to me the need of a jaunt into town to purchase a new razor for the trip to Europe. I thought it only natural that he should want to shave, particularly since he had neglected his grooming for well over a month and looked utterly a wild man with his unruly whiskers and beard. I proposed we make a day of it and go visit the Tenebaums while in town. I was doubly overjoyed when he acquiesced, and seemed to do so in genuine earnest. Thus we took the carriage to town, the day being bright and generous with its summery warmth. Birdsong accompanied our lover’s chatter and it seemed a lovely life to live. Nor did town upset Allan’s normally sensitive sensibilities. Often he is aloof and reclusive, acutely suffering agitation in social settings. Yet, he seemed convivial as we were hailed by our various neighbors in town. Furthering my delight with his new turn of mood, Allan spoke quite amiably with Manderly Tenebaum whose acquaintanceship he so oftentimes resisted, and even resented. How transformed Allan was in his manner and tone! The whole of life was richer for it. It is as mother always says: “Heaven smiles upon those who smile upon it”, and Allan was smiling affably throughout this eventful day. How could the angels not smile in return?
That being said, he has yet to use his new razor. His smile shall be even more pleasing to Heaven once he has shorn his uncouth excess. So given to high spirits was he that night that he toiled in his studio well into the night. It seems I shall retire to bed long before he condescends to join me. But a productive man is a happy man, and a happy man makes a happy woman. And I am so, so happy!

20181010_211811-1

September 21, 1825
The doctor wishes that I write what happened, in detail, so I might help the others better their understanding of Allan’s affliction. But to relive that day again is to die once more. For what was revelation but a death to my former self and the happiness therein inspirited? To have been so blinded by love for Allan so as to not intercede for love of him; to help him when the alarms sounded all around, everyday, as watchmen in throes of panic, and yet to be so deaf. It is a shame and guilt I shall harbor deep within me, unto the grave and perhaps ever after.
I woke upon the night of the incident to Allan’s shout. So drowsy was I that I cannot say with certainty that it was a shout of triumph or a shriek, for there seemed to have followed a laughter that serrated the edge of that bladed cry. I bethought him to have finally achieved the success he so desperately desired in his studies. Perhaps, I was fain to believe, he had completed a masterpiece at last and could reconcile himself with his previous failings.
I blame my naivete for what I presumed to be the Summer of our mutual bliss. I deceived myself into thinking it a chrysalis opening to a season of warmth everlasting, little seeing that the emergent butterfly was to unfurl its wings to the bitter winds of a cruel, icy season.

2018-10-31 11.11.06
Taking up a candle, I walked out into the hall and down the corridor, toward his studio. The door was ajar, and candlelight split open the shadows of the hall with a sharp, yet wavering, blade. I opened the door further to peer in upon him. His back was to me, and he was holding my family’s heirloom mirror in one hand, and something else in the other. I interpreted him as if in preparation for a self-portrait. The canvas in front of him was barren of paint or graphite sketch and leaned baldly against the easel, its clean whiteness unsettling. His paint palette, in contrast, was a mess of what I presumed to be spilled paint. As I neared him I saw the paint glisten dully to the dim light of a candelabrum, the wicks of which were mostly extinguished as it stood upon a stool. In this fluttering illumination he seemed to study his features in the looking-glass. I saw his face in the mirror, partially marred by obscuring shadows. His eye caught mine and I think he smiled. But it was all wrong.
“To bleed for one’s mastery of Art is a needful thing,” he said.
In the mirror he looked so much like a…(illegible)…memento mori. Only, it was his face. I hoped it was a trick of shadow and light and glass, but then he turned toward me and…(the account ends in blotches of ink)

 

Tricked

He walked with his eyes toward the moon
and his hand upon the knife in his pocket,
thinking of his wife, who left him much too soon,
now embosomed in his heart, like a photo in a locket.

Out beyond the farmhouse and barn,
where the cows had laid in their straw bed
and the crows nestled among stolen strands of yarn,
in the field, she lay, three weeks dead.

He struck a flint to light a putrid candle
made of boiled fat from a black hound
and held his knife by its deer antler handle,
and slit one wrist above her unsettled mound.

The wind died and a silence befell the field
while the black earth blackened darker to soot
and stars and the moon and the clouds reeled
with the mania of such a diabolic ritual afoot.

He stayed in the candle’s light as the voices rose
all around him, in the dark of the isolated field;
groans and moans, shrieks, screams, and bellows,
but among them one cut clean through, shrilled.

She spoke to him: “You will lose your soul.”
Her voice tolled sharply like a funeral bell,
and he spoke: “Without you there’s nothin’ but a hole
worse than anything waiting for me in Hell.”

The many voices spoke as a choir together:
“If you wish to save her from the inferno
then you must willingly cut your final tether
and open your heart completely—then she may go.”

He heard the swelling of those bestial voices
like goats and cows, pigs and donkeys that brayed,
and he thought of his life, and all of his bad choices,
and with a simple slash he welcomed the trade.

She laughed, then, caterwauling into the night,
and the earth quaked, the grass burned,
a portal opened that eclipsed his tear-blurred sight
while a great fire rose in a pillar that gyred and churned.

The moon and the stars flickered and faded,
leaving all as tomblike darkness—all except
the blazing gate, like hellish flames braided
and toward which he was irresistibly swept.

His father found him at sunrise the next day,
limp and pale upon the scorched grave site.
Stooping, he picked his son up, looking with dismay
at the hoofprints, still burning bright.

Lesser Known Horror Classics

Halloween is approaching and there are lots of horror classics that people read for the sake of indulging the season.  As for myself, while I often revisit horror stories that have pleased me in the past, I really enjoy discovering horror stories that I have not read, particularly older stories that are largely neglected in this era of Stephen Kings and Clive Barkers (thought there is nothing wrong with either of those gentlemen).  For the sake of alleviating my own guilt at long neglecting the writers below, I have compiled a short list of short stories that are, for my tastes, in equal merit to the more celebrated icons of Horror. Many of these are in public domain, so you can read them online for free.  That said, there is nothing better than holding an actual book in your hand in the Witching Hours and reading by candlelight (or lamplight, if you must).

“The Phantom Rickshaw”, By Rudyard Kipling

A horror story and simultaneously a black comedy, this tale concerns a man who abused a young woman’s affections for ungentlemanly ends, after which he abandons her— rather callously— so that she dies of a broken heart. Just when the narrator believes his life is changing for the better (with a new fiancee), he becomes haunted by a rickshaw and the young woman who had only recently pined away. The story is at turns funny and tragic. While Kipling has become more well known for The Jungle Book, I am of a mind that he should be equally regarded for his other works, including his horror stories. He was, in terms of skill and imagination, equal to Poe, utilizing his understanding of human psychology and society to concoct excellent stories to please the most jaded reader.

“Strange Event In The Life Of Schalken The Painter”, By Sheridan Le Fanu

While many people are aware of Sheridan Le Fanu’s seminal work “Carmilla” because of its themes of lesbian eroticism and vampirism, Le Fanu wrote several works of equally interesting topics, as well as macabre atmosphere. The abovementioned story is perhaps my favorite horror story that Le Fanu wrote. It is masterfully told, of course, with all of its lyrical writing, but what is most impressive about this morbid story is what it implies throughout the tale. Le Fanu was an expert of exactitude and could write so as to provide the reader with the scantiest clues to circumscribe what is happening within the story without forthrightly stating it. And the story is all the more powerful for what it withholds as much as for what it explicitly reveals.

“Toby Squire’s Will”, By Sheridan Le Fanu

A moral tale that is neither ham-fisted or tedious, “Toby Squire’s Will” is a story about morality (or the lack thereof) among several unpleasant characters. The cast of people are so unlikeable that the reader finds it difficult to favor any one side over the other among the contentious factions. The story is told very skillfully and with proper pacing that is never sluggish or bogged down in its own prose. As with all of Le Fanu’s works, it excels as an experience when read in silent solitude or spoken aloud.

 
“A Madman’s Manuscript”, By Charles Dickens

Perhaps the most well-known horror story penned by Charles Dickens (besides A Christmas Carol) is “The Signal Man”. Yet, “A Madman’s Manuscript” deserves more attention than it currently receives among the laudable literature of Dickens. It is written from the perspective of a man obsessed with a woman. Any reader with even a little bit of familiarity with the double-life that Dickens lived will wonder immediately if the narrator is not some wry caricature of Dickens’s own darker desires and latent madman. Even if it is not a fantastic story, it is interesting for its insights into Dickens’s brilliant, and neurotic, mind.

“The Ash Tree”, By M.R. James

While M.R. James is still read today by a large audience— more so than most other classic Horror writers except Lovecraft, Poe, and Stoker—the mention of his timeless stories is nonetheless justified. This is by far my favorite among his many excellent yarns, for it weaves together a story born of supernatural conceit and scientific rationalization. It is for the reader to decide which explanation best suits the misadventure of the subject in this story. Perfectly written with an excellent eye for detail, an ear for rhythm, and a discernment of diction, this story is both brief and bountiful in its atmosphere. It is a masterwork and deserves credit not only as a flight of fancy, but, contrarily, a pointed tale compelling with its plausibility.

 
“The Mezzotint”, By M.R. James

Although “Whistle And I’ll Come To You, My Lad” is James’s most often celebrated story (or, at least, the most remarked upon), “The Mezzotint” is one deserving more recognition as well. Without saying too much, it is hard to believe the memorable Night Gallery episode “The Cemetery” would exist without this tale, for it is likely the inspiration of that excellent television episode. While not an actual page-to-screen adaptation, it is undoubtedly the thematic basis for that episode, at least in conceit.

“Twilight”, By Marjorie Bowen

I only recently discovered this lush, disturbing story by Marjorie Bowen. It is a beautifully written short story that is as decadent as Lucrecia Borgia herself (insomuch as the story is concerned). And like Borgia, the story takes a very eerie, nightmarish turn toward its final act, hinting at all of the debauchery which Borgia was accused of in her life (whether deservedly so or not). Bowen’s command of language and imagery has motivated me to seek her other stories wherever I might find them. Why she is not celebrated more, I do not understand.

“The House Of The Nightmare”, By Edward Lucas White

Despite its admittedly generic title, this horror story is memorable for many reasons. Oddly, while it is explicitly a ghost story, its truly horrific implications could categorize it loosely as Body Horror, much like his other, more famous story “Lukundoo”. A fear of pigs has never been more justified.

“The Kennel”, By Maurice Level

Written in a more Modern vein, and with a wry Black Humor slant on extramarital affairs that only a Frenchman could conceive and achieve without coming off as Melodrama, this story is full of sound and fury, but without signifying nothing. Atmospheric, briskly paced, and sly, there is no supernatural element in its design: only basic human nature and all of its darkening complications.

“Gavon’s Eve”, By E.F. Benson
An adroitly painted vista of Scotland folklore mixed with horror, this tale combines old mythical motifs with modern sensibilities for storytelling. Excellent descriptive passages. Excellent atmosphere. Benson is another unsung hero of literature.

“The Case of Lady Sannot”, by Arthur Conan Doyle

Widely known for his Sherlock Holmes stories, Doyle also dabbled in other genres. This story combines his love of the macabre with his love of human trickery and crime. A revenge story without a whiff of the supernatural, it excels on the merits of its narrative and its devilish ending. Like Maurice Level’s story, this one is concerned with human nature and the demons inside our hearts. Simultaneously, it is a case that would have pleased Holmes, if only in its criminal machinations.

“The Giant Wisteria”, By Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Gilman is best known for her psychological allegory “The Yellow Wallpaper”, which concerned itself with injustice toward Women. I must be in the minority because although I acknowledge “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a superior work, her story “The Giant Wisteria” is, in my estimation, a superior story. It is, of course, well-written, but not only well-written in its sense of craft, but its sense of restraint. Gilman does not reveal overmuch, nor wallow in melodrama. If anything, there is a sense of detached condemnation in the story rather than an explicitly vociferous pursuit of a message. Like the characters in the story, the writer pieces together the past events to reveal an act of terror as if a historian recounting a period of history. It certainly reflects on the suffering of Women throughout history, but does so subtly, without impairing the narrative.

Additionally, I would recommend anything by Lafcadio Hearn. The traditional Japanese tales he recorded for the sake of posterity are all excellent stories in and of themselves, but are also keen portals into the culture of Japan (if you happen to enjoy Japanese culture, as I do).

True Fear

Vampires swathed in eternal night,
zombies with an infectious bite,
ghouls squatting over midnight graves,
mummies with their undead slaves,
masked killers hunting teens with machetes,
Big Foot, Sasquatches, wendigos, and yetis,
werewolves with their slobbering jaws,
cannibals in Texas, brandishing chainsaws,
tentacled horrors rising from the deep,
alien abductions while you sleep,
devils dancing in flames, and in hearts,
witches conjuring with their black magic arts,
Death himself in my shortened shadow
readying his sickle to cut me low—
why would I fear any among these tropes and cliches
when the factory awaits me for the rest of my days?