The horses whinnied within the stables as the tall, dark stranger trudged along the wet grounds of the manorhouse. He walked with a high-bounding step that assured every step caused the puddles of rainwater to splash all over his riding boots and his long riding coat. The rain had made a premature night of the October evening, falling heavily from a black sky. The stranger seemed composed of black, like a shadow made manifest in flesh, his long riding-coat reminiscent of a bat with folded wings. His tricorne hat drooped, slightly aslant of his head, drenched with the downpour that was currently making a mire of Cornwall.
He halted a few feet from the door of the manorhouse. Gazing up at the windows on the second storey, he saw that there were no candles or fireplaces lit in the bedrooms. Only a faint candle glimmered within the dark recesses of one of the first storey windows. Wet gloom otherwise held dominion over the looming stone facade. As large as the manorhouse was, it seemed as an old Scottish castle in the foggy highlands. Even so, it seemed more like a seaside bluff in the rainy murk. It reminded him of his usual haunts, what with its carven stone, its half-drowned grounds, and its fleeting light. Yes, this was the place whereby progress might be made.

A sudden knock at the door down the hall made the lady gasp. She had been sitting in a chair, nodding off after a large meal, and listening to the distant drone of the rain. Now there was the sharp staccato that had cut through the relative silence of the airy house. It seemed implausible that she would have any visitors out here, in the countryside, and at this late of an hour. Feeling rather apprehensive, she rose to her feet and slowly, cautiously, walked down the hall from the library, illuminating her path with a single candle, careful to navigate the clutter with her bare feet. She grabbed an overcoat from a rack and worked one arm through its sleeve, switched the candle, and worked the other arm through. It was a little overlarge for her, but modesty dictated the pretense of it. She went to the door.

A light grew in the window nearest to the door. It was like a luminous ghost approaching from within an abandoned house, or a will o’ the wisp in a deep, dark bog. The door opened with the slightest creak. Leaning out from the door appeared a lovely young lady whose face was as pale as the lacy linen shift she wore. She had golden hair tied tightly in braids beneath a white bonnet. Her expression was one of misapprehension.
“Forgive me, my lady,” he said. “I am lost and it is an inhospitable night. Could you afford me lodgings for a night? I would not trouble for the comfort of your beautiful home. Indeed, the stable would serve well enough for my purposes.”
“You are a gentleman?” she asked, eyeing his sodden vestments up and down.
“Yes, my lady,” he said.
“I am not a lady,” she said. “I am a simple servant girl.”
“As you say, my lady,” he said. “Your accent is lovely. It is difficult to discern. It is not Irish, Scottish, or Welsh. Are you from elsewhere?”
She nodded. “As are you, I should think.”
“No, I am local,” he said. “I am only too far from home by foot.”
She eyed him quietly for a long moment, then opened the door wider. “Then you shall know the warmth of the fire. It is the least I may do for a gentleman.”
She ushered him in, then showed him to the parlour. There was a fire burning in the fireplace. He took the liberty of adding a log to the fire from a pile of logs near to the hearth. He then doffed his riding coat and took the liberty of sitting in a high-backed chair, its soft, comfortable upholstery making him sigh in satisfaction.
She watched him warily for a moment. “There is tea in the kettle,” she said. “Would you like a cup to warm your bones?”
“And to warm my blood,” he said. “Thank you.”
She left him in the parlour, going to the kitchen. The kettle was still hot from when the servant girl of the house had heated it not too long ago. She searched a moment in the kitchen for cups, and found them in a sideboard. She poured the remainder of the kettle’s tea into the two cups, then took the two cups down the hall and into the parlour, the steam drifting behind her like a spectral tail through the cold house.
“Here we are,” she said, handing him his cup of tea. She sat down in a chair across from his own, both facing the fireplace at an angle. She held her cup in her pale hands, but did not sip from it.
“My bones and my blood thank you,” he said. He sipped at the dark, hot liquid, then sighed in great satisfaction. “An excellent brew, I must say. Nothing quite like how the Irish make their tea. Quite malty, it seems to me, which makes a man hale and hearty. Of course, I rather enjoy Indian tea as well. Very spicy, you know. I would rather have spicy than sweet if I have my will in the way of things. Often I take my tea with only a splash of milk. Sometimes even a gentleman cannot buy the amenities of a leaf of tea or a spit of water. Circumstances dictate all, you know.”
“What family do you hail from?” she asked.
“My eldest brother is Lord Blackholme,” he said. “Of the Blackholme estate, naturally.”
“And you are?” she asked.
“An explorer.” He smiled uneasily. “Indeed, in my own manner, and among other trades I venture to undertake.”
Her porcelain brow broke with faint quizzicality. “And what do you explore?”
“An exhausting variety of places. Seaside caves. Old pagan barrows. Medieval catacombs. Whatever strikes my fancy.”
She stirred her tea with a spoon, but did not sip from it. “I was always curious as to what a gentleman of means did with his idle time. Commonfolk do not have such a luxury, I assure you.”
“You are not so common, my lady,” he observed. He looked from his hostess over to the hall. He appeared to strain his ear, also, evidently listening for something. After a moment, he shook his head. He smiled again at the young woman. “Rather, you are the fairest woman I have ever beheld. Nor do I say that lightly. I have been to London often enough—and to ever the more exotic cities—and I have seen many a lady of varying recommendation. Yet, you outshine them all, even in your…modest raiments.”
She grew uncomfortable, unconsciously covering her bosom with an arm while her other arm held her cup of tea in the air. She still did not touch her tea. He, on the other hand, sipped at his tea, but now kept his eyes fixed upon her. His gaze cut through the phantasmal steam like the eyes of a wolf aglow while on the hunt. He suddenly turned and looked up at a large portrait hung above the heavy stone shelf of the hearth.
“And who,” he asked, “is that gentleman? He appears a rather resplendent fellow. Your great-great-grandfather, belike?”
Again she was startled. She blinked rapidly, perturbed by his question and his eyes. His eyes were pale blue, almost like ice. “Yes,” she managed to say. “My great-great-grandfather.”
He stared at the ruddy-faced old man with his powdered wig and his white ruff collar. He chuckled lightly.
“My house—excuse me, my brother’s house—brims with portraits of similar fashion and fellows. It is a clutter, to be frank. Had I the choice I would bury all of the portraits and keep only the landscapes and seascapes. I cannot tolerate the eyes of my ancestors following me about in judgment. It is yet another reason I go gallivanting about seashores and graveyards.” He met her eyes again, unblinkingly. “And bordellos, if you do not mind my saying.”
A sudden tremble shook her and she spilled her tea. She leapt to her feet with a start.
“My word!” he exclaimed, rising to his own feet. “You’ve scalded yourself!”
He set his tea down and attempted to inspect her. She flinched from him and wrapped the overcoat more tightly around her body, hugging herself about the waist.
“I am unhurt!” she protested. “See to yourself, sir!”
His frown seemed one more of amusement than rebuff.
“It will be a stain,” he said. “And a shame, too. It will ruin what I presume to be a historied bit of lace. Antiquated lace, I should say. You should have one of your serving girls see to it, lest the tea make a lasting impression. Scarcely do I think you can afford more stains upon it. Indeed, no.”
She stared at him in mute confusion, and increasing perturbation, then stepped farther away from him, toward the door of the parlour.
“No,” she said, her voice nearly a whisper. “It will be quite fine. Truly. Now, if you will excuse me, I am tired and must be off to bed.”
“As must I,” he said.
She quivered. “There are no spare bedrooms.”
“In a house as big as this?” he said, grinning. “Truly?” He chuckled. “I mean it only in jest, of course. I need no bedroom. I can retire to the stables, though I doubt the horses will welcome me. They were strangely affrighted when I first arrived, if their restless screams should be trusted. I can hear them even now, through the rain, albeit distantly. Perhaps they will trust me better if I put a horseshoe around my neck. Demonstrate that I am of similar proclivities.”
“No, you may rest in this house,” she said. “But not in any of the bedrooms.”
“Splendid,” he said. “Then I shall rest here. This chair shall suffice. The fire is burning well, too, and I need no blankets. Do not trouble yourself with fumbling in the dark for my comfort. Nor have I need for these vestments. They shall cling most unwantedly while I attempt sleep. Like a clumsy lover.” He chuckled again. “I have had my fill of clumsy lovers. They will just as soon claw you as caress, whether unwitting or not.”
To her great agitation he loosened his collar, doffed his vest, and began to unbutton his undershirt. She stared at the darkly tanned contour of his neck—just below his ear, where the long black curls of his hair parted away from his skin. There was a white scar near the collarbone, such as would be left by an eagle’s talon.
He smiled meaningfully at her.
“Having the fire’s warmth—unimpeded—upon one’s bare skin is not unlike having the sun’s warmth upon the skin after a long day of swimming. It dries one’s damp, wrinkled skin most pleasantly. Do you not agree?”
Her preoccupation gave way to irritation. “I would not know,” she said sharply.
“Indeed?” he said, having unbuttoned his undershirt to the navel. He suddenly laughed, and she flinched again. Everything he did was sudden and seemingly unprompted, like a wild unreasoning beast. “Ah, but I certainly feel as if I have been swimming for a spell. So much of a downpour today! A shame, too! The day had been so lovely until the clouds came swooping over Cornwall. It was alike a raven come to roost. Or an owl. Have you heard about black owls? They are rare. Rarer than black dogs, I’ll wager, and just as ominous.”
She quivered. His chest seemed to burn in the orange glow from the fireplace. He had the touch of the sun in his skin, and merely looking at his skin seemed to make her eyelashes burn. She licked her lips.
“I must be off to bed,” she said, hurriedly.
Without further ado, she hastened to the library. So much was she in haste that she nearly tripped over the clutter in the hallway.


Denuded of all of his vestments save his breeches, he sat in the chair, waiting. It was not an hour later that she returned, standing at the corner of the hall and the parlour. He knew she was there, even if he could not yet see her. Her dainty feet had not made the old floor creak beneath their cautious tread. They were as quiet as a deer’s hooves in Spring.
He watched the flames billow and sashay in the fireplace.
“Fire is lovely,” he remarked aloud. “It reminds me of the bedangled dancers of Egypt. Egypt may be the land of the dead, but those Egyptian dancers were much more alive in their gyrations than I have ever seen women alive in England. It was enough to make me feel quite alive, too. I long for a return to Egypt.”
“Egypt?” she said, absently.
She stepped closer to his chair. He did not look at her, but kept his eyes on the fire.
“I have seen much of the known world,” he said, pensively, “and more than most people would wish to see of the unknown world. I have even witnessed the demimonde. It is a place that will forever change you…if you manage to escape.”
“That so?” she said, heavy of breath.
“From standing stone to standing stone I have wandered. I have seen burial mounds of dirt and wood, and tombs of stacked limestone so tall that they seemed as stairways to the sun. I have been blinded tenfold by the wonders of this world. By sand, by tide, by flowers, by gold, by faith, by fools, by sages, by kings, by lust, and by love. And, so, I could never be blinded by you. I see you clearly. And you are not a common lady.”
He did not look at her, but kept his eyes upon the fireplace. She stepped further into the parlour, bathed in the glow of the fire. She stood in front of him, looming tall over him as he sat in his chair.
“I am not?” she said.
He stared up at her with an insouciant frown.
“Utterly not,” he said.
She no longer wore the overcoat—only the lacy shift. She reached down and took hold of her shift, lifting it up and over her head. She discarded the lacy skin into the fire, her bare body as pale as snow. Denuded, now, she seemed taller.
“You are a handsome man,” she said, her voice husky. “You are no common man, nor a common gentleman.”
“I am unique,” he agreed. “We both are.”
The gold-strewn valley of her womanhood was level with his face and her long fingers clasped his black mane, pulling him toward the juncture of her smooth, alabaster thighs. She leaned over him, arching her spine impossibly while her ponderous breasts rested atop his head with their firm weight.
“Love me,” she said, her voice throaty. “Feed me.”
“To surfeit,” he answered. His words were muffled as she pressed him against her. She crooned and sighed in rapid succession, then groaned, moaned, and shuddered wildly, cackling with delight.
She then shrieked.
She wailed.
She pulled away from him, tripping and falling down upon the carpeted floor, her long pale limbs writhing, knocking over the log pile and a shelf of books in the corner. Her wan breast was encrimsoned with the blood that spilled forth from the iron blade. She tore at her breast with her long talons, yet could not dislodge the iron blade. As a stuck pig she bled, and as she bled she became more and more emaciated until her pale body was all bones with skin stretched taut between their sharp edges and grooves. Her spine was like the ridge of a castle turret, castellated with notches and ridges. He stood and loomed over her, another iron blade in his hand.
“What are you doing here, Baobhan Sith?” he asked. “You are far from Scotland.”
She clambered to try to stand, but he plunged another iron blade into her thigh. She collapsed onto her back, snarling up at him. Her formerly beautiful face was now transformed. She was no vampire or werewolf, and had no need of fangs, but the fair features snapped like a wolf’s even so. Her feet were no longer a woman’s, but hoofed like a deer’s. Her long pale legs were shaggy with sandy brown doe fur.
She lunged at him, rising from the floor to slash at him with her long claws. He leaned back, then caught her wrist. With yet another iron blade he pierced her wrist, then drove the iron blade into the floor, pinning her down. He then withdrew the iron blade from her chest.
“Had I the inclination, Baobhan Sith, you would be dead now,” he said. “My aim is keen and I never miss. But I am offering you a chance…more of a chance than the poor souls you undoubtedly slew in this house. Tell me why you are so far from home. Why are you not in your forest, alighting only where you are invoked by lonely fools?”
Gone was the innocent mellifluousness of her former voice. Her voice was as coarse as a raven’s. “The woods are no longer my home!” she squawked. “Something terrible comes from the North. It devoured my sisters! Devoured them as easily as a trout a worm! Only I escaped. I have fled South ever since, seeking safety. But there is no safety! There is only doom!”
The creature wailed once again, then began to weep. The man frowned, considering her crumpled form as she lay upon the floor. He then donned his undershirt, his vest, and fetched up his riding-coat. He said nothing. After a while the creature’s weeping ceased. She struggled to look at him from over her restrained arm.
“What will you do now, sir?” she asked. “Will you slay me?”
He rummaged through the interior pockets of his riding-coat.
“No,” he said.
“Oh, bless you, sir!” she said, sobbing. “I am so sorry I lied to you. You are a true gentleman.”
His hands alighted on a pouch, which he retrieved from the coat. “I must apologize to you, too,” he said. “For I lied to you as well.”
“Oh?” she said, blinking through her tears.
He righted himself up. There were nails and a hammer in one hand, and horsehoes in the other hand. But they were not horseshoes. They were too small and sharply angled to be used on horses. There were runes etched into the iron bands.
“I am not a gentleman. Nor have I ever been, even if my brother is Lord Blackholme. No, I am—as my half-brother will attest—a right bastard.”


Thomas Blackholme, or Black Tom, explored the house the following morning. He retrieved the bodies of the children from the bedrooms upstairs, and retrieved the parents from the bedroom downstairs. He fetched the servant girl’s body from where it sprawled in a clutter of laundry in the hall leading to the library. The rain stopped and the clouds thinned. Glints of sunlight pierced here and there to the soggy earth, raising up a mist. Black Tom tied two of the horses from the stables to a wagon and piled the dead bodies upon the wagon. He then guided the horses out to a bog. Into the bog he committed the family and their servant. He did not say any prayers or perform any rites. He let the birdsong be the hymns of that Sunday morning.
When finished, Black Tom guided the horses back to the manorhouse. He opened the stables and let the horses roam as they pleased. He then returned inside the house and, moments later, he guided a figure from out of the house, covered with a heavy green cloak. The figure quivered and flinched repeatedly, but followed the black-clad man irresistibly out into the wan sunlight.
Together they walked Northward.

(The preceding is the opening prologue to a horror novel I may or may not continue writing.  Currently I am preoccupied with finishing a fantasy novel and am still awaiting judgement on a horror novel I have sent to several publishers  in the the hope that someone might take the bait.  I have written so much in the past year—while crippled from a car wreck—that I do not know what project to pursue single-mindedly until headwinds simplify my choice for me.  Having several concurrent projects can complicate and confuse one’s muse.)

Gaslight Essence: Flesh And Blood

Through the drifting gray fog off the Thames the figure strode idly.  He was a few bold strokes of charcoal with a couple of white notches of white chalk at the end of his sleeves and a patch of white chalk between collar and stovepipe hat.  The face was pleasant enough, with its crooked, but well-meaning smile, and perhaps handsome, if a little anemic in its complexion.  Pale blue eyes and pale blue lips and an easy how-do-you-do-this-chill-evening bearing.  He was what might be best described as lackadaisically stoic, and of an indeterminate age.  What was more, he was on his way to a murder investigation.

“Evening, constable,” the tall, anemic man said as he approached the other man upon the street corner.  “Chilly night, isn’t it?”

“Always chilly where murder’s bloody as this is, sir,” the constable rejoined, his flaring mustache a pale white bird beneath his long, red nose.  “Too chill for these old bones, I dare say.”

The constable held his arms tight to his large body, as if huddling around himself for warmth.  The lamppost’s gaslight carved in harsh light the cobbled sidewalk and the brick facades, impressing upon any passerby the oppressive reality of their countenance, which was as stern as the constable’s grim expression.  Yet, the gaslight rendered the other gentleman almost translucent as the fog itself; as if the light would burn him away utterly were it just a little starker on the monotone block of moonlight and shadows.  A ghost made flesh, he followed the constable to the nearby edifice.

“This way, detective,” the constable said, opening the door for him.

Women were weeping within the building.  They sat together upon faux-posh couches of red satin, their mascara running down their pockmarked faces.  What they wore would have been scandalous in any other sphere of London, but suited the alluring interior of the establishment itself.  The anemic fellow tipped his hat to the madame—a lady in her forties, likely, with a weave too fair for her dark eyebrows—but the constable shooed her away before she could address the former gentleman.  The constable led his guest up the stairs, with their wobbly bannister and dank carpet, and down the hall.  Several doors were closed along this hall, on either side, and were silent, their trade postponed for that evening.  Candelabrum lit the way, presuming more prestige for the purpose of that place than what would have been allowed by the estimation of higher social circles.  Touches of feminine grace adorned the hallway here and there, however, despite the pretense of that establishment: potted flowers of hale vibrancy, watercolour paintings undertaken by a keen eye, and even needlework wherein sharp steel rendered delicate conceits of colour and form.  The anemic gentleman noted all such things with the same phantasmal smile as he followed the constable.  There was a pretense of taste at the establishment, despite the aim of that establishment.

At length, they came to an open door.  The constable stroked his mustache once, as if to calm it lest it should fly away in fright.

“This way, sir,” he said.

The pale gentleman entered the bedroom.

The woman’s neck had been cut, ear to ear, her bodice and gown and blonde hair all soaked through with her own blood.  Her eyes stared vacantly as she sprawled upon the bed in parody of a model to some Bohemian artist in want of scandal.  Her face was drained of colour, excepting her lips, which were blue, and yet she was not so pale as the pale gentleman who surveyed her leisurely at a glance.  His crooked smile was immutable.

The room itself was lit well enough with candles, though shadows still clung here and there to the walls like spiders, devouring flowery wallpaper with their black gossamers.  Strangely, despite the body of the prostitute, the room was rather tidy.  The bed was tidy.  The prostitute herself was tidy, except for her blood.  It was as if the room had not been used at all that night.

A watchman wobbled to attention beside the bed as the constable and the gentleman entered.  He looked groggy and irritable, squinting sternly.  He snorted once, then spoke.

“The Magdalens raised a right fuss all over the street,” he said.  “So I came runnin’ and found this here whore laid out just as you see here.  I told the rest of ‘em to stop botherin’ the fine folks round here, but they been cryin’ evah since and won’t quiet themsel’es ah tall.  How can a man piece together the puzzle when he can’t ‘ear ‘imself think?”

“Did you happen upon anyone in flight hereabouts?” the pale gentleman asked, patiently.

“No sir,” the watchman said.  He wobbled a bit in his long coat, either from sleepiness or drink or both.  “When I come up ‘ere the lady of the house— if you can call ‘er that—shown me up ‘ere directly.  And here I stayed, sir, exceptin’ to send someone to fetch the constable.”

“And so I, in turn, requested you, sir,” the constable said.  “For it bears all the signs of our industrious Jack.”

“Indeed?” the pale gentleman said, dubiously.  “I wonder…”

The pale gentleman looked upon the bloodied corpse of the prostitute with his pale blue eyes.  His smile never wavered, but was pleasant as ever, though it still remained crooked and pale.

“Such a waste of warm blood,” he said.  “The chill London air has squandered it all.”

The constable cleared his throat.  “We have a witness, sir,” he said.

“Then let them testify to their truth,” the pale gentleman said.

The constable frowned in confusion, then nodded to the watchman.  The watchman left the room, venturing down the hall.  A door opened, then the watchman’s rough voice said, “C’mon, then.”

A young woman— too young by many standards— entered the room.  Her hair was light brown and loose about her shoulders, the natural curls like ripples on the brown surface of the Thames.  She wore only a white shift and had a countryside tint of sun to her skin.

“Hello, young lady,” the pale gentleman said.

“Hello, sir,” she said tremulously, not looking at the corpse upon the bed.

“And what is your name?”

“Emma, sir,” she said.

“Emma,” he said courteously.  “A lovely name.  And what do you do here?”

“I am…an apprentice, sir,” she said.

The constable was agog with disbelief.  “An apprentice?  Is that what you would call it?”

“I’m not of age yet, sir, to be of…purpose,” she said.  “Madame says I have not yet bloomed to it, sir.”

The constable shook his head pityingly.  “Such sins would shame Babylon.”

The pale man ignored the constable and addressed the young woman.  “What did you see, young lady?”

She stammered.  “A man…a big man…hairy…thin.  But strong.  Tall.  But not too tall.  Everyone is tall to me, sir.  I am so short, you see?”

“Do you happen to know the reasoning for this…barbarism?”

“He did not like how Madeline…how Madeline looked,” she said uncertainly.  “And how she spoke.  He took a knife and…and…”

She burst into tears.

The pale man waited patiently, his crooked smile unmoving; his pale blue eyes unblinking.

“And where did he go?” he asked after a moment.

“Out…the window…” the young lady said, sobbing.

The constable and the watchman exchanged uneasy looks.

“A man might go out the window,” the constable said, “but not run away at a sprint.  He’d be hobbling, if he could walk at all.”

The pale man went to the window.  The curtains were drawn aside, but the window was not open.  After a moment’s thought, he about-faced with a smooth motion, as if a wooden figurine in a Dutch clock.

“I should like to speak to the young lady alone,” the pale gentleman said.  “Please, Emma, show me to your quarters.”

He followed the young lady down the hall.  She led him to a room with three beds laying nearly side to side to side.  Colorful dresses hung within an open wardrobe, alongside more mundane clothing, and the window was covered with a curtain.

“Ah,” he said, entering the room.  “Quite…cozy.”

“I share it with Lacy and Madeline,” Emma said.

“And where were they?”

“Seeing to…business, sir.”

“Ah,” he said again, nodding once.

The pale gentleman walked toward the window and the young lady became deathly silent.  He drew back the curtain to reveal the view of a brick wall belonging to the neighboring building.  The window’s frame was peeling, scabrous, and a few red streaks were the only paint it would ever see for years to come.  The pale man noted these red streaks, then covered the window once again with the curtain.  He turned back to the young lady.  She was sitting on the bed, her feet dangling laxly while she wept into her hands and trembled.  The pale man’s smile faltered for but a moment, replaced with something akin to pity.

“And I suppose he fled out the window?”

The young lady only nodded, but did not look up.

“As I thought,” he said.

Emma said something, but he left the room as if had not heard her.


The madame of that house was quite unnerved as she stood before the constable and the pale gentleman.  They were upon the street now, in the garish glow of the gaslight lamps.

“Not one among your other employees saw the culprit in question?” the pale gentleman asked her.

“No, sir,” she said.  “Most of my girls were…entertaining customers.  Those that were not were in their rooms, seeing to other arrangements.”

“And they did not hear anything afore the incident?  No sounds of struggle?  Of a scuffle?  Did the victim scream before her death?”

“No, sir,” she said, her lips aquiver with a dread as she looked into the pale blue eyes of the gentleman.

“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” the pale gentleman remarked lightly.  “And when did Emma make known the murder had been committed?”

“Well, sir, she wasn’t the one who made it known,” the madame said.  “Angela was walking by and saw it.  She screamed, and then we all came runnin’ in haste.”

“And where was Emma at this time?”

“In her room, sir, useless as a knife without a blade.  She was crying awfully hard and rocking to and fro like one of them lunatics in the asylums.  I had to slap her good to wake her to.”

The pale gentleman had not blinked once that entire evening, and did not blink now.  “And her roommates?”

“Lacy was entertaining,” she said.  “The dead girl…Madeline…was her other one.”

“And she, of course, was predisposed,” the pale gentleman said.  He said it as a matter of fact, neutrally, and yet it slipped into the air with a sense of morbid flippancy.

The constable rose on his toes and shook his head in consternation, coming back on his heels.  This seemed quite a feat for a man as portly as he.  “Her roommate dead and Emma could only tend to her own feelings?  What is it with this generation nowadays?  Soppy-minded and with waxen spines, I think.”

“Perhaps she has more sense than we realize,” the pale gentleman said.  “She is an ‘apprentice’, after all.”

“Emma lacks sense,” the madam said hurriedly.  “Emma’s naught but a servant in the house.  Truly.  For cleaning and cooking and such.  Everybody knows whores don’t have ‘apprentices’.”

“Indeed,” the pale gentleman said, his smile still pleasant, and crooked.  “And why, my lady, did you not see the culprit in question?  Before he ventured upstairs with Madeline?  ”

“I do not attend to every…transaction,” she said, defensively.  She swayed a bit, her eyes bloodshot in the gaslight.  “I have other things to do, it just so happens.  The girls are grown enough to see to the business themselves.  So long as they don’t allow thrift, I won’t complain of it too much.”

“Indeed,” the pale gentleman said again.  He said no more, but narrowed his eyes at the fumes of alcohol he smelled on her breath.  He still did not blink.

“And so no one knows the man’s name?” the constable almost exclaimed with anger.  His mustache seemed ready to fly about with fury.

“It is better that we not know our clients’ names,” the madame said, simply.  “Could lead to more trouble than it is worth, sir.”

“I’ve no doubt,” the pale gentleman said, “that the victim knew the murderer’s name.  But what good is that now?  Poor little Emma cannot tell who the murderer was.  And, so, we have yet another clue hinting at nothing but what we already know.”  He waved away the madame.  “Good night, madam.  See to your girls with greater care in the future, please.”

The madame merely laughed shortly, humorlessly, and returned inside the brothel.

“We shall never catch him!” the constable growled.  “‘Jack’, indeed.  He is a jackdaw, more like.  Cheeky as he taunts us as stupid countryfolk lost in the barley!”

“Jack is not difficult to discern,” the pale gentleman said quietly.

The constable’s bushy eyebrows leapt in surprise.  “How do you mean, sir?”

“Our mutual friend, Jack,” he said, “is London itself.”

“I don’t understand, sir,” the constable said, incredulous.  “Do you mean to say he is the run-of-the-mill sort?  I cannot fathom it.  He is an animal.  A beast.  Even our worst criminals do not commit themselves to such a frenzy of sin.  He is absolutely diabolical.  Nothing in it, if you pardon my boldness, sir, is so common in Jack’s wicked exploits.”

“I must disagree, my dear constable,” the pale gentleman said.  “Such brutality is quite common here.  It is definitive.  Essential.  And why should it not be?  We do not propose that a lion is wicked in its nature to hunger for flesh and blood, nor should we condemn it as it satisfies such hungers.  It is his habit.  So why, pray tell, should we expect a city such as London to live as a lamb when it, like all such large cities, grew upon a surfeit of flesh and blood?  Show me a lion who became the lamb and I will show you a corpse feeding the grass.  London thrives as a beast ever on the prowl.”

“We are not lions, sir,” the constable said.  “We are Christians.”

The pale man’s smile never left off at all, but lounged crookedly upon his face.  “As you say,” he said.  “But the notion of a Christian seems to me a more fabulous notion than a lion becoming a lamb.  Even in the notion, too, the blood is the life.”

The two gentlemen agreed to resume the case in the morning.  They bid each other adieu and a good night.

Yet, the pale gentleman did not leave.  Rather, he ventured into the alley between the brothel and its neighboring building.  There he found a knife amidst the rubbish and the secretive shadows.  A little farther way off he found a dress streaked with blood.  These things he found easily, though the alley was pitch black.  His eyes could see easily in the dark.  Conversely, the gaslight haloes that punctuated nocturnal London that made it difficult to see sometimes, garishly rebuffing the darkness with an inventiveness and arrogance only the pride of Man could conjure; like little artifices of suns luridly lit, obliviously unaware of their folly.  London thought such lights the haloes of a saintly city, whereas the garish glow was a whore’s suggestive leer as she would fain entice a king with her debased bed.  So proud, she was, and so obliviously imbecilic.  So grotesque in her gaslight essence.  Yet, innocent too.  As innocent as Eve within Eden.

Or perhaps as Lilith in exile.

Looking up, he saw the window belonging to the room where Emma resided.  The pale man went to her window, as easily as anyone might walk down the street.  Easier, in fact, for it required no locomotion at all as he floated above the pitted darkness of the alley.  Coming to the window, he peered within.  Lacy was asleep.  Emma pretended to be so, but the pale gentleman knew she was not.  Gently, he tapped on the window.  Lacy did not stir.  Emma did.  She sat up in the dark, blind to the figure at the window.  He tapped again.  Slowly, Emma walked to the window.  She squinted through the glass, but could not see him, so dark was it.  She turned, as if to go to bed, and the pale gentleman raised the window.  Before she could turn again, he grasped her, gently but firmly, his hand over her mouth.  In one silent motion, he spirited her away from that room, that brothel, that street corner, taking her atop a building where no eyes could see them.

Setting her down, but keeping a hand upon her mouth, he spoke to her.

“Emma,” he said, “it is time for the truth.  Do not scream, or it will go badly for you.  Tell me what happened.  Do not shrink from the facts, however bloody they may be…or iniquitous your own dealing in them.”

He removed his hand.  It was a cold hand, and long-fingered.  She moaned.

“Are you the Devil, sir, come to take me away?” she asked.

“The facts, Emma,” he said sternly.  “Or you will know something of the Devil tonight.”

“God Almighty!” she exclaimed in her girlish voice.  “I did not want to do it!  I truly didn’t!  But the madame said I would be entertaining soon!  And I dreaded that!  My apprenticeship was almost up and I did not want to do it!”

“So you killed Madeline to avoid your…progression?” he said.

“I thought it might put it off for a time!” she cried, weeping and clutching at herself in the chill, misty dark.  “And Madeline was so cruel to me…so hateful in what she was teaching me.  I loathed her, and feared becoming like her, and she liked that I feared it, and so taunted me, and so made my life a Hell.  And now I am off to Hell, aren’t I?  I am going to Hell for taking a life!”

She fell to her knees and wept in fright and guilt and anguish.

The pale gentleman was unmoved, at least insomuch as her feelings were of importance.

“And there was no man at all in the room?” he asked.

Emma was too taken away with her tears to answer him.  His crooked smile never vacating his face, he snatched her up with a hand by the arm.

“Was there no man in the room?” he demanded, his voice transformed.  It was no longer soft and amiable, but edged as hoarfrost upon Westminster Bridge.

“There had been,” she said, sobered at once.  Her eyes were agog in the dark, and twinkled with tears, the moonlight through the parting clouds making stars of them.  “Madeline had made me sit and watch as she…entertained him.  All the time she would do something she would say, ‘You’re a right one for this soon!’ or ‘She’ll be a keen learner of that!’ and then she would laugh, and the man would grin, and they were like a witch come to Sabbath afore the Devil!  I couldn’t take it, sir!  When she had finished, and the man had left, she continued to taunt me!  I told myself I would endure anything for the debts of my family, but the closer I came to the true work of that Godless house the more frightened I became.  The more I told myself I wouldn’t do it.  Whenever I was frightened by it, I would take my mind off it with stitchin’.  So I started stitchin’, making pretty flowers as I used to in the countryside, before my family moved to London and lost it all to our debts.  But Madeline resented me my stitchin’.  ‘You think you’re so clever with that needlework, do you?’ she said.  And then she stole it away from me.  And so…I took the knife I use for my stitchin’ thread and I…I unspooled, her!”

The tears had stopped.  She looked vacant, but also vindicated.  The guilt ebbed away from her eyes as her lifeblood ebbed away from her throat and into the mouth of the pale gentleman.  He drank deeply of her warm, young blood, draining her slender neck until she swooned and fell into his arms.  Her eyes fluttered and then the lids hung heavy, as if she were to fall asleep forever.  Before she did, he took the knife with which she had slain Madeline and he cut his own pale wrist, forcing it to Emma’s lips.

“Drink,” he commanded in his beastly voice.

The blood dribbled at her lax mouth for a moment, but then the lips awakened tautly and she sucked at the wrist proffered.  The sinews of her neck tightened with hunger, with Life, and she clenched upon him with her arms, not unlike a cat upon its prey.  After a time, she released and swooned, her head lolling with a surfeited ecstacy.  He held her until her willowy body grew rigid with newfound strength.  She stood now, steeped in a new life.  She could see all of the London through the dark and the moonlight.  She saw the gaslight glow of the lamps, and she hated them.

“Master,” she said in a voice that was girlish, but also bestial.

The pale gentleman’s crooked smile was lined in crimson stitchery.

“Now, Emma,” he said, “your true apprenticeship begins.”


My Bride Down Below


When I tire of the hassle
of the business world I know,
I retreat to my Prussian castle
to visit my bride down below.

Raven-haired, lithe of limb,
her skin is like purest snow,
and her eyes glow like the lunar rim;
she loves me, my bride down below.

No sun has touched her pale face,
nor the feelings of mankind,
and the sickle of Time leaves no trace
upon her body or her mind.

Sleeping amongst cobwebbed dust
where the cold winds do not blow,
she only feeds whenever she must,
my beloved bride down below.

Cold though her broad, deep breast be,
and no heart to pump blood’s flow,
she lives nonetheless, immortally,
undying, my bride down below.

Dancing with her at midnight
we cross the courtyard in twirls,
and though she is so sharp of bite,
she only feeds on peasant girls.

Lovers, partners, and soulmates,
we were made for each other;
I may have family in the States,
but she is wife, sister, mother.

And though one day I shall die,
it is a comfort to know
she will go on, like all succubi,
till we meet again down below.

Funeral Crasher

The young man flew like Shakespeare’s Ariel
from woman to woman, with great flair,
himself more center-stage at the burial
than the man for whom they had gathered there.

He wore his tears like badges of honor
as he reminisced vaguely about the dead,
talking to each woman, and prevailing upon her
to embrace him, support him, bosom to head.

The coup de gras was the dirge that he sang
as if to conjure from air a chorus of sylphs
in accompaniment, yet his lovely voice rang
not for sorrow or pain, but for the MILF’s.

For he knew the flow of sorrow’s tears
was as good a lubricant for the ruse of Love
as any seduction by charms or beers
and so he sang smoothly, sweet as a dove.

Alas, while he sang without any shame
and with a talent that was duly silver-voiced,
he also sang proudly the wrong man’s name
and immediately dried up all that was moist.

Realizing his deceit, the mourners rebelled,
cutting short his golden-throated verses
and taking him by his arms, whereby held,
he was tied up and put into one of the hearses.

The funeral director said he would see justice done
and so drove the funeral crasher far away
until the hours flew by, and down came the sun
at the coffin-like darkening of the day.

The director was a pale man with a narrow face,
neither young or old, but seemingly ageless,
and he had an accent which nobody could place,
his hair slicked back and his eyes sagacious.

At length they came to a graveyard on a hill
far from the city, in the moonlit countryside
where many people had gathered until
the hilltop was crowded, all around a bride.

The nary-do-well was untied and brought out
and taken to the bride that awaited him there—
a paper-pale woman with her lips in a pout
of fangs, her eyes unblinking with an undead stare.

The funeral director grinned, his fangs agleam,
and he said, “You celebrate Death as we all do—
as an occasion for Love, an advantageous scheme
whereby joy is had while others only rue.

“Thus you will join us in our blood-linked clan
and live eternally, wed to my niece, Natalia,
thriving in shadows, feeding upon Man,
from now and forever a vampire, nox fatalia.”

The young man was brought before the bride,
and she pulled him close to her fetid face,
and no matter how much the young man tried
he could not free himself from her embrace.

As her lips parted, however, and her fangs flashed,
there arose a warcry as men flanked the hill,
their guns firing while their silver swords slashed
at the guests that had gathered in the dewy chill.

The young man was agog with confusion and fright
as a stake entered the bride that held him to her,
Natalia withering unto dust beneath the moonlight—
he ran as fast as he could, slipping in cow manure.

A vampire hunter approached, looming while astride
a horse as pale as Death, the moon at his back.
“I’m not a vampire!” the young man cried and cried,
but the hunter granted the rake no slack.

The young man tried to flee, but slipped once again,
falling as the hunter dismounted his ominous horse
and raised a hammer and stake, aiming to pin
him to the darksome earth without remorse.

Awaking as the stake struck his heart,
the young man found himself at the black gate
to the graveyard where he had plied his art
to women in mourning— the hour now late.

It had been a dream, but his neck still ached
where the mourners had tossed him out on his head;
standing up, he realized it was not good to be staked
out at funerals— a dating app might work better instead.

Broken Upon The Wheel (Part 1)


A Bloodborne Tale


“I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Thee hath in thrall!’”

—John Keats, La Belle Dame Sans Merci: A Ballad

Feverish I have been; feverish near unto frenzy, for the blessed blood taints me, as it has done so many among us who Hunted upon the sprawling snowfields and spiraled spires of Cainhurst’s haunts. Too much spillage. How were we to avoid the Vileblood corruption when it rained down all around us in our bladed symphony and wheel-broken mayhem? Were I a stronger man I would not have feared beasthood. Yet, though thrust among the Healing Church’s ranks, I have always known myself to be more a failed scholar of Byrgenworth than an Executioner imbued with strength equal to my faith. Indeed, I had learned too much from the gaping-mouthed ghouls and dull-eyed scholars to have faith in the insidious Church, even whilst beneath the tutelage of Master Logarius, the purported paragon of faith. If I were to fault anything, it would have to be having been in such company as so many revered men. For my heroes have been revealed to me in all of their deficiencies, from Willem to Logarius, and even my most admired confidant, Nicolae.
But how had I come to this land of Vilebloods and its tantalizing heresies? Even now my mind is mingled with pasts and futures not my own— with lives belonging to the sanguine dregs of others and all the temptations that inhabited such individuals. Some things are more clearly branded in my mind than others. The rationale for my restless resettlement has always remained fairly pellucid. Even then I suspected that my addition to the Executioners was Willem’s scheme to rid himself of a scholar too flawed to be of use and too strong-willed to be obedient. After all, I was arrogant, naturally, and increasingly so as my sojourn at Byrgenworth proved my own insufficiencies as a scholar. I had been a feeble practitioner of the arcane arts. Laughably so, I must confess. I had no more eyes on the inside than the common Yharnamite. And the smirks and sneers of my fellow scholars further incensed me, tempting my transgressions. When I had stolen the Chalice and entered the Pthumerian tombs, Willem had no doubt been inclined to let me wander there until my death. But when I returned— my sword broken and my body on the verge of death— I held within my possession a valuable relic hitherto undiscovered. Willem ordered that I be treated well, so I might recover, and then he sent me to the Church, saying I needed to atone for my sins by becoming an Executioner. Knowing that to refuse was to forfeit my life, I obeyed him. I had seen the experiments conducted at Byrgenworth and had no desire to be likewise mutilated.
What an unsuspecting imbecile I was! A naif and fool. I wandered into Yharnam as a lamb unto a slaughterhouse. That is not to say that I was unaware of Willem’s intentions. As I have said, I was a disobedient young man disinclined to conformity. To send me to the Church, it seemed, was as to send an unruly charge from an overwrought governess to a military general. Either I should be disciplined or destroyed, and no additional course was to be considered. I suppose it helped in my “reformation” that Yharnam struck me so overwhelmingly when I first beheld it. It overawed me in a way that not even Byrgenworth and its many secrets could. Indeed, to see it was as to see a grim, black-hearted wastrel lurching out of an alleyway and looming large, his shadow dark and fetid and wholly encompassing you. It intimidated me, in short, and inspired in me a festering resentment.
Yharnam—what can be said of that dizzying edifice of vertiginous hypocrisy? One can see how the edifices and gables and spires of Yharnam rear upward toward the heavens like desperate supplicants to their lofty gods overtopping them. Thus city and citizenry are unified in their desperate conceit for deliverance. It was built upon Old Yharnam, as upon a fuming crypt of cremation. So, too, Byrgenworth was built upon the dead; that venerated seat of learning but a lectern whereat fools in dunce caps preach atop the bones of more learned sages of the Eldritch Truth. There are secrets in Oedon’s Chapel that would drive mad the Yharnamites huddled below it like stupid, blood-glutted farrows at a sow’s teats. I do not embellish when I say that Oedon’s Chapel is a cannibal mother to those of us clear-eyed enough to see it.
Yet, I had little time to accustom myself to that dizzying array of compounding architectural complexities. It was not long after I arrived in Yharnam and was introduced to my compatriots that Master Logarius led us upon the proverbial warpath. I was not yet settled into my quarters in Yharnam when I was rushed along Hemwick Lane with the others, ill-fitted with my clothing and my ridiculous golden helm. It was upon that road that I acquainted myself with my brethren. I had no formal introduction, nor even sufficient time to habituate myself to our cumbersome wheels. Hoisting the weapon upon my back, I wondered if it was merely a contrivance born of absurdity whereby to mock me as the newest recruit. But soon enough I saw that all of my brethren strapped the unwieldy weapon upon their back.
It was, in my opinion, no small amount of tomfoolery that we walked the entirety of the way to the threshold of our enemy’s domain. How ironic that we should walk while bearing upon our bowed backs the wheels wherewith we could outfit enough carriages to carry us. But it was as much a walk of Faith as it was a bonding exercise among our ranks. Master Logarius was, if anything, a man of certain principles. Adversity was his tempering stone. A hard man, he nonetheless inspired faith within the Executioners; perhaps because of his difficult temperament.
There were many of strong faith among the Executioners’ ranks. I felt misplaced among them, and unworthy. They welcomed me happily, and yet despite their camaraderie, I knew I was placed among them too late to be counted brotherly. I was, as a nuisance to Willem, expendable and likely soon discarded. For what was the reason for my swift induction into such venerated ranks except as a sacrificial goat? True, I had proven myself of some worth in the Pthumerian tombs, but much of my survival impinged upon wise retreat and selective killing. But this was war. The Vilebloods were warrior nobles of renowned prowess. They had imbibed forbidden blood and had gained horrendous strength from its occult legacy. How could an unseasoned scholar such as myself fare against such bloodlusting monsters as what enumerated within Cainhurst Castle?
The march was long and hard. I felt half-dead as we approached. Blood was made available upon the journey, to enliven us, and it helped to invigorate me, though it seemed to me to be lacking of essential vigors to compensate for my innate apprehension. My prevalent sense of dread only increased within me as we passed through the woods. It was truly odd, considering I had braved the Pthumerian tombs with nothing but my sword to accompany me. Yet, I would later discover in such apprehension the latency of a conflicted nature and inclination that would, inevitably, elucidate such fears as mere ambivalence arising from divided allegiances. Given time, of course. In the meantime, however, I was as a blind man groping in a hallway, confused as to which direction to go.
Thus, I turned to Nicolae, in whom I believed a trait of amicability presided and whom therein I might confide my apprehensions without derision or flippancy.
“I do not know if I am of merit or mettle to be among you,” I confessed.
He gave the most good-natured smile and patted my shoulder in a familiar way unknown to those cold-hearted minds of Byrgenworth.
“No one knows the worth of any untested tool,” he said. “It must be measured, as they say, when blade bites bone. Only then do we know if any of us are worthy of our call to serve.”
We came, at length, to the sleepy village of Hemwick. Here, in this backwater village, and on any misty morning, the fog rolls up from the sea and mingles with the ashen smoke of those charnel houses and mills, inseparably, as if a great fugue over the land; a forgetful dream rising up from the unplumbed depths. What a dilapidated sprawl of cottages and windmills! They were derelict not unlike the corpses they stripped and burned to fuel the Vileblood’s ambitions.
Women and men both worked united in this purpose. Yet, when they saw our arrival through the woods, they ceased immediately in their efforts. Initially I feared an altercation between our small army and that gaunt peasantry. But this fear did not manifest to form. Though its citizenry were enslaved to their masters, they did not contend our passage. Rather, they fled indoors, among their macabre labors, and did not emerge until we were well beyond their smoky village. Master Logarius commented that such an enterprise would benefit the Healing Church greatly. Ash marrow bullets were much coveted in the Church’s arsenal. Such an arsenal, he vowed, would help pave the road to the Church’s true ascension. Even now I cannot help but see a road cobbled in skulls and pooled with blood when I recall his words.
When I first saw Cainhurst Castle I was mesmerized by its forbidden beauty. Its ancient legacy was attested in every old stone upon which the towering edifice exulted itself. Its spires rose upward from the mountainous island, surrounded by the briny depths of the sea. A pale moon glossed the icy pinnacles and I felt a strange familiarity with such a forlorn image. Nor could I remember such a familiarity in my life. Byrgenworth’s insights had stripped me of my previous life. What memories I had were shattered glass shards. The attempt to summon to mind my past was, and even now is, as futile an endeavor as to draw out the blood from one’s own veins. It cycles, and determines who I am, yet I cannot harness it as upon a spool for closer reflection. What I knew, without one whit of doubt, was that Cainhurst meant more to me than either Byrgenworth or Yharnam could. At the time, however, I did not know if it meant my death or, perhaps, a new awakening.

When we arrived at the Cainhurst Castle’s bridge we were met by silence. There were no forces awaiting us on that long stone bridge. Nor were there forces hailing us from the castle’s many windows. The wind skirled sibilantly against its tottering beauty, but apart from the elements we heard nothing. Snow fell, as if patting down the silence with its own immaculate hush. My unease grew in such silence. Yet, I was not certain what I was truly uneasy about: my own life and its potential loss, or our imminent disturbance into that silent, stony mistress that lorded over this land. It seemed sacrilegious to intrude there. This excited in me dread and euphoria, as one would feel in taking pleasure from one of Yharnam’s many whores— whether from her gaping thighs or her gaping veins.
The Castle was silent. The moon reigned above it like a skull-crowned monarch, glowing pallidly with its endless life.
“Have they alighted?” an Executioner asked, voicing what we all thought at that moment.
Master Logarius said nothing. He instead pointed wordlessly toward the portcullis. There was an audible gasp from someone among the Executioners. Perhaps it was from myself. Regardless of its origin, the gasp was justified, for the portcullis mocked us with its Pthumerian gawp, it being lifted— as if in betrayal—to invite us in to ravage the castle it was intended to protect. Perhaps, I thought, the Vilebloods had indeed alighted from the castle, seeking sanctuary in a distant land, or some distant sea. I hoped so, for I was in no mood for bloodshed upon such alluring grounds. We followed Master Logarius beneath the portcullis and into the moonyard of the inner walls. There was a water fountain there, frozen in the wintry wastes, and statues allotted here and there in intermittent clusters. To one side I saw the land fall away into a descending hollow that appeared to have been a cave once upon an age. The crush of rocks at the bottom indicated a concerted effort to close that passage. It begged the question as to what had been discovered there, and why it was feared.
The silence was unsettling. Indeed, it reminded me of still waters wherein a predator lurked, circling a fool oblivious to the teeth at his ankles. Instinctively, I drifted toward the center of our army, sheltering myself within our ranks. I feel no shame in admitting myself in want of advantage by their insulating numbers. They were, so far as my untested mettle was concerned, a mobile bulwark within which I might protect myself.
It was as we passed halfway between the portcullis and the Castle’s large, imposing doors that the sinister silence erupted into a clashing cacophony. Two large bodies of Cainhurst knights rushed us from afore and behind. It was a trap! To one flank gaped the hollow of crushed rock and to the other were the sheer walls of the Castle itself. Master Logarius was in front, and met the knights with his scythe, cutting them down like harvest-ready wheat. I had never seen such a terrible bloodletting before. His soldiers did no less in their efforts, crashing into, and smashing, the Cainhurst knights with their heavy Wheels. The Cainhurst knights were fast with their swords, but the Wheels overpowered their thrusts and slashes, turning them aside. Those whom were mounted upon horseback advantaged themselves of their height, slashing down at the Executioners below them. However, the Executioners were trained well— discounting myself—and soon overcame these knights by forming a phalanx with their wheels. Like a carapace of spokes and rims and hubs, they moved together, protecting each other while Executioners beneath them used their swords to cut the horses to stumps, thus throwing the knights for efficient dispatch. My brethren were coordinated and calm, even while surrounded in ambush. I had neither the collection of mind, nor the training of arms, to be of use in such a chaotic fray. I cowered among the Executioners, as a worm among armored beetles. Their power was matched only by their ferocious animosity toward the Vilebloods they smashed and mangled and mutilated. And their hatred was fostered by their faith in the Church. I was not possessed of such faith. I was an apostate.

Neither was sheer strength my forte. I was not an Executioner imbued with brute force, nor were the arcane powers mine at easy beck and call, as I had learned alongside my peers in Byrgenworth. Something else was my acuity, though it would be some time before I learned of my latent talents.
The ungaily Wheels we used by the Executioners were cumbersome for me, and so I carried mine only as an observance of my newly acquired duty, preferring my blade in such butcher’s work, as I had during my exhumation of the Pthumerian Catacombs. Speed was an endowment advantaging me, and clever, furtive hands. While I could never wield the Wheels as my brethren did, I made use of the blade in an efficient manner when I could not longer cower behind my brethren. I was surprised at my own bloody work. The Pthumerian Catacombs had not been an ordeal like that of war, and here, in the moonyard of Cainhurst Castle, I discovered that when confronted with annihilation I had, at my disposal, a natural deftness for swordplay. I suppose this should not have astounded me so greatly. Though a thorough skeptic concerning the legacies of the Church, and the first Ministrations of the Old Blood, I still claimed for myself a certain pantheon of figures whom I admired. Ludwig, the Holy Blade, and his strange sword, had always intrigued and inspired me, even when I was an inept scholar at Byrgenworth. My admiration for Ludwig was why I allowed myself the use of the Holy Blade, despite it being a pale imitation of that great glowing moonlight sword of legend. To my shame, however, I must admit my inability to wield the imitation’s secondary form with any aptness or dexterity of hand, my strength being inadequate. Rather, the sheathe remained exactly that: a sheathe. I did not partake in such cumbersome additions when my natural disposition toward speed would have been disadvantaged for no particular betterment.
My inadequacies were mirrored, fortunately, in Cainhurst’s forces as we destroyed the ambushing forces and entered the Castle’s great hall. They had neither strength of numbers nor quality of strength in their warriors to hold the tide. As we ascended the central staircase, and killed whosoever was unwary enough to intercede our path, it became increasingly apparent how minimal their forces truly were. Indeed, they had supplemented their forces with the many stone statues that adorned that gigantic complex, arranging them like farcical imitations of the forces they lacked. It would have been laughable had the circumstances not been so serious. Perhaps they were desperate. Perhaps the were mocking us with their stolid-faced statues. Perhaps it was both.
There were more knights within the castle, and upon every level of its tottering heights, but they fell before us as do sand idols before the thrashing tides. Their armor, forged of thin silver in pompous fashion, offered little protection against the blunt impacts of the Executioners’ Wheels. Rather, the refined finery of those silver plates collapsed inward alongside ribs and skulls, inlaying the crimson pulp with smeared silver wrapping— nothing more.
I was not unaware of the stories concerning the servants of Cainhurst. The nobility had quaffed much of the forbidden blood, and, consequently, were given to inhuman transformations should the blood have provoked their more bestial natures. It was not unlike the Beast Plague in Yharnam, and, as such, these unfortunate circumstances necessitated the employment of Hunters. Only, here in Cainhurst the servants of the nobility were often trained to cull the nobility of the affected among its ranks. The knights, too, engaged in these culling efforts, but I found it endlessly fascinating that such duties should fall to inferiors and subordinates among what I presumed to be an arrogant aristocracy. Perhaps, I thought, they were not so arrogant after all. Perhaps there was a bond between them quite to the contrary as that of the Healing Church and its legion of unsuspecting naifs. Here, the nobility inspired fealty by laying their napes beneath the blades of their servants. The Healing Church, on the other hand, promised salvation with their ministrations, all the while opening veins to greater, more terrible infections than mere Ashen blood.
The Cainhurst servants engaged us as heartily as the Cainhurst knights had. They were formidable with their rapiers and unassuming, slinking ways. Ultimately, they were smashed like the many scores of other bodies left in our wake. Yet, I felt a keen sorrow for them as they ran to meet us on behalf of their masters. The small, withered men and women were half the height and stature of their betters, and still managed a certain nobility in their brave, foolish deaths. Apparent as their mistreatment was at the behest of the nobility, the servants nonetheless were— or wherefore became— dedicated to that ancient bloodline.
I have oft wondered what went through the minds of our victims that night. I would have thought it strange to see a siege led by men in golden helmets and carrying those impractical Wheels about. But I did not doubt that, once the battle had been engaged, whatever mirth might have assumed itself in their minds at such a ridiculous sight rapidly transformed to horror. Having never seen a Wheel utilized in such a barbarous fashion, I was myself quite shocked to see the butchery that followed. Broken bones, smashed guts, caved-in heads— for being such an absurd weapon, the Wheel manifested shockingly gory proceedings. Vileblood blades were either turned away by the cumbersome rims or arms were snapped by the ensnaring spokes. The small, hunkering servants were pulverized to steaming heaps of meat and bone within moments. It was horrifying.
But I noticed a more horrifying phenomenon beyond the mere spectacle of slaughter. Following behind my brethren, like a gosling in the currents of its parents, I could see much what they, in their murderous frenzy, could not see. And I am grateful that I had enough sense, at first, to fear for my well-being. Moreover, I was appalled by so much rampant carnage and delayed enjoining my own blade in service to the Church except in instances where my own life would be forfeit. Yet, among the visceral nausea, there came, parallel and intensifying the former, an Eldritch abhorrence. At first I merely dismissed it as the fanciful notion of an overwrought mind. Yet, thinking back on it now I know it to have been no mere fancy born from the violence arrayed around me. What I saw had indeed transpired: as the Vilebloods perished, their blood circumscribed those abominable Church weapons, girdling them like a torrential stream upon a waterwheel. I do not claim to know if it was a crimson curse of the Vilebloods in the throes of their deaths, or some diabolical upon the Executioners’ Wheels imbued by the Church. But what I saw, as my brethren smashed knights and servants alike, was a literal cyclical curse.
That is not to say that the scholar in me was not intrigued by the apparent phenomenon. My mind subsequently rifled through its admittedly limited tomes of knowledge, seeking a corresponding phenomenon or similar account. The nearest similitude readily recalled was a brief overview of Pthumerian sanguinomancy and an anecdote concerning an incident in a fishing hamlet. Regardless of the unfamiliarity of the phenomenon, I understood it for what it was: a bloody curse. Nor was it superstition that deemed it so in my recognition. The more my brethren killed, the more blood-drunk they became, and consequently the more blind they were to the vengefulness of the spirits harnessed about the rims of their Wheels. Even mild-tempered Nicolae was besot with the crimson lunacy. His countenance was disquieting to behold.
The resistance within Cainhurst diminished by degrees of quality and quantity. Soon the knights were all destroyed, and the servants rapidly fell in succession. We came to a dining hall, and there within it were noblewomen armed with daggers. Attired in flowery dresses, beautiful and damned and damning a man with their winsome beauty and false frailty, they gave me pause. Even the blood-crazed Executioners looked upon them with some hesitation. Yet, Master Logarius had iron in his soul sharper and stronger than any manmade blade and, so, bade us bind and blind those that did not immediately fall in the ensuing violence of disarming them. This, I knew, was to spare his own flock the temptations of their beauty. Indeed, the noblewomen tempted the cloistered scholar in me with their seductive eyes. I felt pity for them, and knew it to be a failure in my human flesh, or perhaps a foible of my beast’s blood, and therefore a vermin of soul to be silenced with a merciless boot. When my brethren slit their throats I felt a great pang crying out to those wretched beauties, even as I abhorred their power over me.
We ascended the Castle, coming to a vast library that would have shamed Byrgenworth with its collection. The scholar in me bemoaned so many unread works. Who knew what arcana inhabited that vast, many-storied library with its labyrinth walkways and oaken staircases and tiers upon tiers of shelves? And yet, even here great butcheries were perpetrated in the name of the Healing Church. Master Logarius was like the Wheels with which the Church armed his followers: ever grinding inexorably onward in his bloody path.
‘Twas easier to gain entry into the depths of the Pthumerian labyrinths than the upper reaches of Cainhurst castle. Battle was bloody up its heights, with both knights and maidens raising arms against us. They all fell, however, as we wound our way upwards, led by Logarius and undauntable Nicolae. The castle was as a puzzlebox, demanding due vigilance and keenness of mind. Many times we found ourselves confronted by dead ends, and barbarous traps, but Master Logarius and Nicolae both persevered, leading us upwards, never once stonewalled for long. I marveled at our progress, for I felt quite heady and troubled by the entire foray, my mind bucking me like an obstinate stallion. The castle itself held some sway over me, it seemed, though I dared not voice such misgivings to my brethren.
One thing was certain, though: the Vilebloods were ill-prepared for our assault. They had not expected the Church to be so bold, or perhaps their pride assumed themselves too strong to be overthrown. We slaughtered their horses and laid waste to their servants long before they could muster a defense.
Logically, I thought of it as no massacre, but merely as an impersonal culling of the beastly herd. It was no secret that the Vilebloods had partaken of filthy blood and in so doing doomed themselves toward the plague of beasts. The ashen plague was of their making as well, and would undo them in time without the Church’s machinations.
Or so I had been told.
We ascended to the very heights of the castle, finding ourselves upon its windy roofs and snowy turrets. The frosted crown of the castle was as treacherous as its inhabitants. A chance misstep and I nearly lost my foothold as we scoured the rooftops for the remaining beasts and royalty. Master Logarius must have had a keener eye than myself, for he led us along the precarious catwalks and spires toward some unseen . I almost thought him mad, for a time, and wondered if he was chasing cold phantoms from the foggy sea.
We were met by the Vileblood King upon the rampart of the remaining expanse of the castle. When he arrived, with his heretical Chikage, we thought our revenge near its end. He was unaccompanied, standing solitary against a score of us. His last stand was hopeless and vain.
Foolhardy as I was, I was caught unawares when the King thrust his sword into his own body. I mistook his actions as a final act of defiance, and aristocratic arrogance to deny us the killing blow, and so I dropped my guard, struck thereupon by his blazing blood as he withdrew the blasphemously steeped blade. I fell and did not rise until after the King had been slaughtered by my brethren. Nicolae knelt over me, surveying the damage. I could see only with one eye, the other benighted by the vileblood fire.
I attempted to stand, but Nicolae ordered me to rest, and so I rested. When I awoke later, I felt delusional, for I saw my brethren manifesting from thin air upon the battlements of the castle. Their demeanors were grave, despite our victory. I rose unsteadily to my feet and asked them what was the matter. They informed me that Master Logarius had been slain during the execution of Queen Annalise. I felt a great pang of guilt, thinking that my absence might have forfeited our Master’s life in the final confrontation. Yet, my remaining eye alighted upon the bloody head of the fallen Vileblood King, and I wondered at his missing crown. It was curiously strange, but I said nothing of it, knowing that discretion in Church matters was holy in its own way.
And yet I recalled it vividly, intimately, as if I had known that crown my entire life. It had been embedded in its long, slender turrets with jewels of jade, amber, ruby, sapphire, and amethyst. It was a garish piece of ornamentation, and yet I had sensed within it a jewel beyond equal; a jewel yet unseen, except perhaps in dreams, and a jewel to which access was granted solely through such a strange crown.
We left that forsaken castle and returned to Hemwick Lane, greeted by its residents as heroes. They were all of them now liberated from their ancient bondage to Cainhurst and its Vileblood dynasty. Nicolae assured us, with his naive smile, that the residents would find salvation in the teachings, and the ministrations, of the Healing Church. Yet, even then I could discern the ravages of the Ashen Blood in their gaunt faces. They were dying slowly, painfully, and cheered us with agonized grimaces. What would the Church do if Hemwick should succumb as Old Yharnam had? Its weaponry against evil was maintained through the blessed work of Hemwick. Without bone ash the Church would lose power, despite having just conquered its greatest enemy.



Free Kindle Book Weekend

Presently, and for a couple of days, two of my ebooks are free on Amazon.  “Strange Hours” is a collection of short stories and novellas that I have written over the last five years.  They range from Fairy Tales to Dark Fantasy to Weird fiction and Horror (the latter being primarily Lovecraftian cosmic horror).


The second book freely available for the weekend is a novel written under my pseudonym SC Foster.  It is a Horror Romance based primarily upon Ojibwe mythology.  There are erotic elements, but they are not particularly gratuitous.  If you enjoy werewolves, wendigos, shapeshifters, primordial serpents, and Native American mythology, or you are simply looking for escapist literature in the vein of Angela Carter’s “Bloody Chamber” motifs, then give it a try.

Bride And Malevolence

Currently writing a short story from the perspective of Mr. Wickham from Jane Austen’s “Pride And Prejudice”, the gimmick being that Wickham, while a cur in his own right, is a victim of Georgiana who happens to be a vampire.  There have been lots of “Pride And Prejudice” riffs (including those such as “Death Comes To Pemberley” and even “Pride And Prejudice And Zombies”), but I am in love with Austen’s prose and aspired to write this in the ambition of doing justice to Miss Austen without being overly flowery and maintaining a certain lyricism throughout.  It is more of a Gothic Horror story, admittedly, in premise and tone, and I know Miss Austen frowned upon Gothic pretenses, but sometimes you just have to indulge yourself and your inner Poe, or Bronte, even while in honor of Miss Austen.  It is a rough draft and not at all wholly realized or revised:

How fairy fair she appears, and yet how like marble her touch— cold, firm, inhuman. A passion burned in me for her embrace, but no such flame stirred that icy blood to flow.
Sometimes I prefer the ebullient prattle and senseless chatter of Lydia to that of the crypt-like silence of Georgiana’s lips as she held me, ensorcelled, in the wicked arbor of her arms, my forehead cold against the still, breathless bosom of that swell wherein her heart resided; a lifeless organ of shrunken meat. The marble statues of Pemberley were warmer to the touch than her porcelain-flecked flesh. From an early age I had come to know that Georgiana was forbidden fruit. Her father, being the loving man that he was, sought to spare himself and my own father the tragedy of my seduction to Miss Darcy. She was dangerous to any man that might fall prey to her devilish wiles. Yet, when her father died, Georgiana assumed full reign of the manor, gleefully emerging from her cloistered isolation. Many servants were lost on the night of her ascendance, nor did her brother intercede. She went from one to the next like a debutante at a ball, and drank herself into Dionysian foolishness. When she had surfeited, she entered my bedchamber and took liberties with me. I will not defend myself with the pretense of disavowing my own complicity. I was quite complicit. Ardently so. Yet, I had not learned of the “midnight culling”, as it came to be known, until many days later. Fitzwilliam had mustered the remaining staff and, with severe admonishments, induced their diligence in the expurgation of all traces of the wretched souls so brutally taken that night.
Yet, I cannot claim complete ignorance. I must confess that I wondered at the metallic taste of Georgiana’s mouth. In my passion, I discounted it as a mere contrivance of my imagination, or perhaps a consequence of her ardent kisses which also bled my own lips. Later I confirmed the suspicion which I dared to deny, and later still regretted that I had not been among those who had been so quickly dispatched.
After our first night together she lay in my arms until just before sunrise, at which time she slipped away into her own bedchamber for her daylight slumber. In time, the doors of Pemberley were closed seemingly forever. The curtains were drawn and it became a place of perpetual shadows. I knew not when the doors opened, for Fitzwilliam plotted, in accordance to his sister’s wishes, that I should remain in her company, locked away with her as she had been locked away, out of love and fear, by her father.
At first, I delighted in indulging her. She drank but rarely, having cloyed herself upon the first night, and so she needed little from me. The first week passed, as things do, and with it her reservoir of plenitude. Then came a night unlike the others, and which would be mirrored in all proceeding nights. She invited me into her embrace, at sundown, and while in the throes of our congress she nearly drained me of my essence. I had no doubt that she regretted it afterwards, screaming for her brother and the servants who, subsequently, carried me away to recover. I lost consciousness and woke later. I knew not how long I was unconscious, for Pemberley was as dark as ever, and I was given bread to eat, fruit, and milk to drink. Gradually I recovered, feeling my strength return to me while attended by Fitzwilliam himself. He repeatedly proclaimed that Georgiana felt appalled about the “incident” and that she promised future restraint . Having been raised alongside Fitzwilliam, I was acutely sensitive to his deceptions, and what he said was a falsity to be sure. I vowed not to return to Georgiana that night, and, indeed, to escape Pemberley as soon as my strength returned. What a facile fool to think it would be so easy!
When I had recovered enough to stand and walk, I took a stroll around the manor, hoping to find a means of egress whereby my freedom might be obtained. Every door, however, was locked by key, and moreover, guarded by a member of the household. I could only imagine that Fitzwilliam had paid them handsomely to assume the additional role of gaoler, particularly after Georgiana’s recent liberties. Then again, I suppose they had always been acting in accordance to such a role insomuch as Georgiana was concerned. And now what concerned Georgiana was myself.
To my great consternation I found myself roaming without hope of escape. And to my greater consternation, I found myself walking, inexorably, toward Georgiana’s bedchamber.
What a strange ensorcellment which had me as its thrall! Compelled by some vague inclination, I opened her bedchamber and walked toward her as she lay, like a Siren in the foam of the sea, among her white sheets. She wore little but her fair hair spilling down her bosom, and invited me wordlessly into her lithe arms. Spenser himself— that foolish poet of virtue so spiteful of libertines and hedonists— would have surrendered to this pallid Acrasia. Her exultations provoked my own, and I lost myself in the frothy sea of our passions.
And yet, at the zenith of our passions, she once again drained me like a lusty Lilith. I remember little after that from my stay at Pemberlely. All is fractured looking glass. A shard depicts Georgiana here, in bestial congress, and a shard here depicts the stygian shades of Pemberley waiting upon me, as they did upon the river Styx, nursing me once again into steady health. I was adrift in my own mind, floating from flotsam to flotsam. Yet, she was the craggy coral island around which the wreckage of my mind endlessly returned. What was she but my Circe? My fair-haired Calypso? I was as Ulysses lost to the world in an eternal night within Pemberley manor, the curtains all drawn and the infrequent candles flickering scornfully at the penumbral decadence they faintly illumined from within that pall.
True! I was not unclean in my heart, having thence arrayed many scandalous affairs in my orbit like a peacock his eyed feathers. I admit I was a blackguard in many ways. Indeed, I had been freely availed of lowborn women while in pursuit of my ecclesiastical education, and even more during my years at Pemberley. Yet, my redoubled promiscuity was rather to spite my primary lust, hoping (in vain, forsooth) that a flock of women might dissuade my lesser nature from the lingering yearning of Georgiana’s diabolic embrace. Her lust had awakened in me a lust unmatched, unmet, and unwanted in most mortal women. What good is a cobblestone road made for slow-paced pack-mules when one’s passions are hammer-hoofed Clydesdales? All of them were most insufficient measures poorly meted out for that needful god, Amor.
Darcy knew what his sister was. His insistence on my residence in Pemberley was not in any kind originating in benevolence, but rather to spare himself the abomination of her temptations. For she lusted regardless of blood, and, of course, for blood.
I am still of a mind that Darcy interfered with my courtship of Miss Elizabeth Bennett due to spite. Personal spite, I should say, and not merely spite on behalf of his sister. He had witnessed how naturally Lizbeth and I acquainted ourselves and endeared our associations. While I was ingratiating myself with Lizbeth, he was often away at Pemberley, seeing to his sister’s needs. I had hoped he would remain away forever. Lizbeth seemed a young girl with the potential of a nymph’s amorous appetite, and I had aspired to provoke that nymph from out of her wild woods, for I am man like any other, and thus given to my own gamesome whims.
Silence was my salvation. To speak of Georgiana to anyone would have been to besmirch my own name and to condemn myself as a lunatic.
There existed in that succubus a contradictory sort of coquettish aloofness and I sensed in her perfection a betraying flaw in and of itself, for in such a tarnished world as our own any delight of such immeasurable exquisiteness must be forged by deceit for some malign purpose. What wise fox never stayed to the forest when a hen was bound in place, seemingly unguarded near the edge of protective shade and treacherous sunlight? The explosion of the blunderbuss was never needed to signal to a vigilant mind its own foolhardiness.
And yet it seems I am nonetheless ensnared, nor can I hope for freedom, however desperate my teeth upon my vulpine leg.
But all the while, and through every fitful night, I dreamt of Georgiana summoning me through the misty vale of sleep, calling unto me and my more bestial nature, the lapses of my character indulging in these somnolent ardors of vision and ecstacy. How, it must be asked, might a man contend his own nature when the compulsions of the Natural world sway season and star alike? How might a man contend his nature when the Supernatural world defies all virtue allotted in that scarcity of virtue known to the Natural world?

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?