Ladderback Jack

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Ladderback Jack was as tall as a lamppost,
his spine reticulated, sharp, and longer than most,
his arms apish, hanging lax with lank hands
and fingers overlong from overactive glands,
his legs slender and knotted with knobby knees
while his greasy hair lay limp in any breeze.
He had a pale complexion, Jack did, like boiled tallow,
the whites of his eyes dull, waxen and sallow,
and he walked with his back hunched, bent double over
as if always looking for a rare four-leaf clover—
and Jack needed all of the luck he could get,
being an ungainly, gangly, graceless half-wit;
so much so that people said he was of the fairy folk,
born of a dimwit mother, herself a town-wide joke.
No one knew who Jack’s father could have been,
though they joked that it was Oberon, or some such kin.
As for his nickname, that was easily explained,
and once explained, that nickname remained:
when Jack sat down to relax in a ladderback chair
and then stood up, the chair would hang there,
hooked on his protruding vertebral pegs
as he pulled himself up onto his long legs,
and, so, crook-backed, overstretched, slack-jawed,
he was thought an entertainment as he shambled and hawed,
muttering to himself about finding his father in the sky
where the cloud castles, Fata Morgana, resided nearby.
“Jack, your father’s just a will o’ the wisp,” they’d laugh,
“so go look for him in the black bogs of a Kilt Gaff.”
Yet, though townsfolk laughed at him most days
they grew ever uneasy as he became set in his ways.
And then, one day, Jack asked to take for himself a bride—
the mayor’s daughter, Saoirse, her father’s pride.
Jack asked during the town’s Midsummer Fair
and thus everyone in and out of town was there.
The town laughed and laughed, whereas the mayor meanwhile
took umbrage at Jack’s presumption, commanding exile,
but even as Jack left amidst mean-spirited laughter
he vowed, in his quiet way, to have the last laugh hereafter.
“My father is both the Gate and the Key,” Jack said,
“and he will see that his line is hereby finely bred.”
The town returned to normal after the exile of Jack
and everyone forgot about Jack’s promise to come back
until one night when lights were seen in the midnight sky—
lights above the hills, each swirling like a firefly.
Jack came into town the next day, grinning ear to ear,
and walking, bold as brass, without any fear
up to Saoirse, holding a ring of strange onyx metal
and asking her to give to him, in return, her maiden petal.

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Saoirse was ready to call him an imbecilic cur,
but was suddenly transfixed by the ring held out to her.
Her father interceded, as did many of the local men,
and they beat Jack black, then blue, then black again.
“Go back to the hills, among the inbred Fae,”
the Mayor said. “Or you will hang from the gallows today!”
But Ladderback Jack was not of the fairy race,
nor was his father, that thing beyond Time and Space.
“My father,” Jack muttered, “is the Gate and the Key.
He is beyond the outer darkness, the stars, of all forms that be.”
And so the sky blackened in the middle of the day,
the villagers trembling to see the noonlight fray
as their town was pulled into a pocket of void, a world
unknown to Man, a place where madness unfurled.
Waiting for them there was a nebulous cloud of spheres
to which Jack pointed and declared, in worshipful tears,
“Behold! My father! The Lurker at the Threshold!
Behold what was, what is, and what will be! As foretold!”
The primordial sludge of luminous orbs and oculi
looked upon the people of that town, letting them see
in the fullness of its depths the endless cosmic chasms,
bathing their brains in luminous gulfs, the neural spasms
softening the meat of their minds unto a viscous pudding
and releasing them only after revelation could bring
them to confront the meaninglessness of their being
of which, ever thereafter, there was no unseeing…

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To this day that village still remains, quiet and quaint,
all of the villagers vacant-eyed, imbecilic with its taint—
all serving silently, reverently, the bloodline spawned
from Ladderback Jack, that avatar-son of the Beyond.

 

Another Children’s Book Chapter Sample

Kitten

 

CROSSROADS AND REVELATIONS

After my oath, and the passing of night into morning, they took me as far from the farm as I had ever been. We followed the road that the Man used for his Truck, and I was surprised to find that it led to yet more roads. Bigger roads. Longer roads. Roads that were so broad that they were marked to split them in two. There were more Trucks and Cars here than I had ever seen. They drove by at speeds that no Cat could outrun, nor any Dog or Bird. The Trucks screamed in fury as they passed.
“Look upon this road,” Claw told me. “What do you see?”
“I see Cars,” I said. “And Trucks. And bigger Trucks.” A gigantic Truck rushed by, slamming its winds against us as it pulled a rectangle nearly as large as a barn.
“What else do you see?” Claw asked.
The morning light was bright as the sun rose over the distant hills, spilling its golden broth into the valley. I saw dark heaps of shadow here and there upon the road. They looked like clumps of mud and grass at first, and then they looked like something else; something horrible. I looked away. Haggard, crimson-stained hair rustled in the wind.
“This is what the world of Man promises us,” Claw said. “This is what happens to us as Man conquers the earth, cutting down the woods and taming the fields and the animals and the plants. Man would make a lap-pet of all of us, pretending to be our ally, even as he slaughters us upon the bedrock of his civilization. Look at them,” he commanded me. “Bear witness to their sacrifice. Bear witness to their murders. They rot upon the roadside of Man’s kingdom! Do not misunderstand: Cats are at war with Man. Whether you wish to believe it or not, this is what Man’s truth entails. Even as he pets your head he plots your destruction.”
I trembled in horror. I could not bear the sights of the road, nor even the sounds. The hissing swoosh of the Cars and Trucks passing along that shadow-stained road were all threats against my life. The wind from their passage smacked at me, promising me death even as their wheels cut through the heaps of shadows that littered that path like a careless graveyard. They were indifferent about who they had ran over. They did not feel any sorrow for what they had done.
But the Man and the Woman I knew…they were not the same. Were they? I remembered that Jack had been ran over with the Tractor. It almost killed him, but he survived. That was why the Chickens called him the “Miracle Dog”. But the Man had not meant to do it. Jack had been overeager. He had ran out in front of the Tractor. That was all.
But these hopeful thoughts were blown away by the hissing wind that struck my face as each Car and Truck dashed along the road.
There were other animals besides Cats and Dogs.
“I see…I see Opossums, too,” I said. “And Deer…”
“There are many animals left in ruin here,” Zoe said, standing beside me. “Animals like opossums, raccoons, birds, rabbits, deer— nothing a Cat would not kill and eat. But here the humans waste blood and hearts. They let the sun and air eat of them, and flies and vultures and other lesser creatures.”
“Profligacy,” Pug-Nose said, snootily. “Unclean deaths. No grace. No skill. Only a wasteful mess.”
“And some not even dead,” Calico said, smirking, “but rolling about, tortured by an inexact death. Tactless and crude and thoughtless.”
“Whereas Cats are nothing but intent,” Zoe said. “When we kill we honor the dead with our full attention. When we spot prey we honor our prey with all of our heart and mind and whiskers and claws and teeth. Humans kill with their eyes on nothing but their own lives. Cats kill while seeing their prey’s lives. We see you. We acknowledge you in your death. Humans do not. Do you understand?”
“I understand,” I said.
“Good,” Zoe said.
I remembered the Truck that obeyed the Man and the Woman; the Truck very much like these Trucks and Cars that drove by. I thought of my conversation with Marion and Duke; of the thought that the Man created Dogs and Foxes and bid them fight for the world. Was it, then, the Man’s fault that Jack died? Was that why the Man said he had a mean heart and chose not to have children of his own? Perhaps moonshine revealed the truth of the Man, too, just like moonlight revealed the truth of Cats.
I looked upon the road one final time. So many animals whose bellies were pregnant with rotten shadows. I could not help but think of Claw’s shadowy eye as I looked upon the dead. When Claw spoke again, I thought I could see his shadowy eye peering at me from all of the shadowy dead.
“Man looks upon the other beasts and, in his hateful envy, he builds fences to contain them, pens to enslave them, caves to imprison them, and he thinks himself the ruler of the earth. But he is the worst beast of all. Sooner or later I will overthrow him. Cats are the superior beasts. We do not cage our prey— we catch them and we kill them, allowing our prey to die with honor. Man kills beasts slowly over a lifetime of years, their lap-pets dying as they live, and never truly living at all. It is a living-death. This is the greatest wrong, and it must be corrected.”

Author’s Note: Another sample chapter from “Stormy Within The Strawberry Patch”, my upcoming children’s novel for both children and adults which, honestly, is more akin to Watership Down than Charlotte’s Web.  Progress has been fast, so far, but that is because I did so much work on it before my long hiatus that I am merely coming in to lacquer the wood, so to speak, right now.

Children’s Novel Chapter Sample

Stormy

Fog Of War

The rains departed and a mist rose up from the warm grass, rolling out from the Big Water like a herd of Sheep in a quiet stampede. The clouds above cleared and the moon shone brightly. It was nearing midnight. I was in a mood for hunting. I wanted my blood to race and my mind to stop thinking. My nerves were anxious and my instincts were itchy. I needed to scratch something to stop that itch. I needed to kill something soon or my thoughts would kill me. I needed to kill the thoughts spiraling around inside me like bothersome flies with their sharp bites.
Out to the wheatfield I ran, slipping into that strange mix of thin stalks and thickly overlapping crowd. The full moon was covered in the paw prints of a giant beast prowling nearby, lurking in the shadow beyond its glow and ready to pounce upon the unsuspecting earth below. I heard tittering from the hill. My need to kill was replaced by curiosity. I followed the laughter until I came to the top of the hill, where the concrete foundation protruded from the grass like a gray scar through green fur.
Two foes faced off in front of the Fox den. A large male Fox was bounding around in the fog, leaping here and there while, between him and his den, there stood Claw; still and unmoving as an icy statue never to thaw. Even his tail lay still around him, like fallen snow on a frozen frond.
“I will give you the opportunity to leave,” the Fox said. “Go now and never return.”
Calico and Pug-Nose tittered. They sat at the edge of the foundation, below the oak tree that grew up between the concrete’s cracks. Zoe was in the tree, watching from a branch. All three of them watched Claw. Claw said nothing. He stood as still as before. His one good eye did not follow the Fox as the Fox continued leaping around in the fog. The Fox spoke in a reasonable, courteous tone. Claw stared straight ahead, as if disinterested in the Fox’s antics.
“I know you think you can linger outside a family’s doorway and intrude on their quiet evening,” the Fox said, “but just think of how you would feel if someone did the same to you.”
“Our home has no doorway,” Calico jeered. “The world is our home. The open sky and the broad earth is ours and ours alone.”
“That’s right,” said Pug-Nose, wheezing through his flat-faced nose. “Doorways are for people who fear the world. We do not fear it. The world fears us.”
The Fox spoke a lot, and I would have thought him confident except for a slightly nervous twitch in his poofy tail. He was as large as Claw, but he seemed to be more concerned with making a spectacle of himself than actually fighting. If anything, he fought with Foxy truth. He leapt all around Claw, his tail bouncing after him. He changed direction so much that it was hard to keep track of him as he spun through the fog and shadow. His tail misled the eye, just like a Fox’s word misled the mind. The fog swirled with him, trailing him like his tail. Claw remained still, however, the mist bedewing his whiskers. He was a statue of hoarfrost.
“All this time spent here,” the Fox said, “and you could have been hunting something better. Chickens, for instance. Or mice, if you prefer.”
The Fox bounded round and round, his speech and tail baffling to me. If I had been caught in that whirlwind I would not have known when to attack, nor which direction. The Fox was disorienting.
“You think you are rooted in your spot,” the Fox said. “But the Wind Fox would pull you up into the sky and eat you. And you never know when he will show himself.”
The Fox hastened, moving faster and faster as if he might become the Wind Fox. I began to step back, wondering if the Wind Fox would appear.
And yet Claw seemed unfazed. The Fox’s confidence grew, mistaking Claw’s silent stillness for confusion. He suddenly sprang forward, his teeth gnashing toward Claw’s throat. Quick as lightning, Claw’s paw struck the Fox across the face, sending him tumbling back into the wheat. Claw had not used his claws. Why, I did not know. The Fox stood up slowly, and shook off his hard tumble. He looked at Claw again. The Fox’s grin, and the gleam in his eyes, were gone. I felt a thrill, and the hateful glee of revenge. I knew, then, that the Fox could not defeat Claw, and I could see that the Fox knew this also. He looked toward his den, behind Claw; a black hole in the earth. I thought he would flee. I triumphed in the thought of his flight—his cowardice.
Claw finally spoke.
“Your words will change nothing,” he said. “You are all meat and blood for my morning meal. Nothing more. The wind does not hear the shivering of the leaves it blows. It does not care.”
The Fox bared his teeth again.
“The Wind Fox will take you!” the Fox cried. “He will eat you! You will be his morning meal!”
He charged at Claw. He charged without Foxy truth in his tail. He charged without strategy or deceit. He simply leapt at Claw, head-on, and for a moment it appeared that Claw would do nothing. Yet, as before, Claw struck out at his foe at the last moment. The Fox tumbled again. This time Claw had drawn blood. The Fox’s face was ragged with cuts. I felt my own cuts burn anew as I watched the Fox’s cheek bleed. But it was a sweet pain between us. The Fox’s pain resonated in my own wounds, and I reveled in that pain. I savored every burning ache and agony. If I could have sliced off my tail so he could have felt that pain, I would have. I hated him and his kind more than I could ever love myself.
The Fox stood again, and again he looked toward his den. Again he charged at Claw. This time he landed upon the large Cat, and for a moment it appeared as though the Fox had finally tackled and overcome Claw, the two of them rolling over.
But it was a feint— just more of Claw playing with the Fox. Claw flipped the Fox, in an instant, and latched onto his neck and pinned his fiery body to the ground. The Fox became still as stone.
And then, just as suddenly as he had pinned the Fox, Claw released him and stepped away. The Fox, looking as bewildered as I felt, shakily pushed himself up from the earth. Claw stepped away from the den, as if he was inviting the Fox to return to his family. I saw the female Fox look out from within the shadowy mouth of the den. I thought I could see Candice, too.
Trembling, the Fox walked toward the den. A smirk passed across his snout, for the briefest moment, and that was when Claw tore the Fox’s white throat open with a swipe of his paw, spraying the wheat and grass with blood. The Fox flipped and floundered about—much like the fish from the overturned bowl—and then, gradually, he lay still upon the earth, moving no more.
The hush of the wheatfield was haunting. The fog gathered close like ghosts creeping all around. And then, out from that silence, I heard quiet sobbing beneath the concrete foundation.
I did not know what I felt in that moment. Satisfaction? Regret? Pity? Maybe I only felt envy toward Claw, for he knew what he was with absolute certainty. He was a Cat.
“Where are your witty words now?” Claw said. “What is a word to the power of a sharp tooth or a talon? What good is a word from a throat easily torn? Better to use your mouth for biting rather than speaking in this blood-steeped world.”
Calico and Pug-Nose leapt down from the concrete, smirking at the body of the Fox.
“He was no match for you, Claw,” Calico said.
“No match at all,” Pug-Nose said, wheezing through his nose. “Like a little mouse.”
Claw said nothing. He began to eat the Fox. I watched him eat the Fox. I watched him eat Candice’s father while the full moon shone pale among the silent stars.
When Claw had finished eating, he approached me. His white mouth was crimson, and his one eye an icy blue. His missing eye was black with shadows, and it almost seemed as if the sobs from the den came from his dark socket.
“Why are you here, little one?” he asked me.
“I…I wanted to learn,” I said.
He stared at me as much with the black hollowness of his skull as he did his blue eye. “And what did you learn?”
“I…I don’t know,” I said. My thoughts fumbled over one another, and none of them seemed satisfactory for the question.
“By killing, we become stronger,” he said. “We gain strength from every foe we defeat and devour. I began with insects and mice. Then came moles and chipmunks and squirrels, chickens and geese and whatever bird I could claim with my teeth. And then came the larger prey. The fox cubs, and then foxes themselves, as you have seen. In time I will devour men and women, too, and more.”
“The Man has the THUNDERSTICK,” I said, fearful that what he said was true. “He has the power of the thunder and lightning. I have seen it blast a Snapping Turtle’s shell to pieces in the Big Water. I have seen it explode a Hawk into a cloud of feathers in the sky. He uses it against the Coyotes, and Jack told me he had killed a Bear with it once, too.”
“He has a trifling bit of power,” Claw said, indifferenty. “When I kill the Wind Fox I will have true power over the storm. No man will be able to destroy me. I will wipe their ilk off the face of the earth. Their shelters will not save them. Their buildings and their roads and their machines will not save them. I will run riot over the earth and devour them all.”
I looked past Claw, watching Calico, Pug-Nose, and Zoe gather around Candice’s father. They gnawed at his bones.
“He was no wolf,” Claw said, “but at least he was no dog, either, tamed by man.” He did not take his eye off of me, or the dark hollowness of his empty eye socket. There came into his expression something of wry appraisal.
“Dogs were once wolves,” he said. “Did you know that? Powerful, fierce wolves. But Man enslaved the wolves, and took power away from them, one generation after the next, until some have become as weak and puny as that dog that foolishly died chasing foxes in the field. Think on that, and know who your true enemy is.”
He turned his back toward me and walked to the Fox’s den. He stared into that darkness where Candice and her family huddled together. I felt that Jack had been avenged, even if I had not been the one to avenge him. I watched Claw in wonder and admiration. I did not feel sorry for Candice or her family. I did not feel sorrow for her father. No, I thrilled at the thought of being strong like Claw. I wanted Foxes to fear me. I wanted everything to fear me. I wanted to fear nothing. I would be like Claw, I told myself. I would be as ice-cold as Claw seemed to be. No topsy-turvy feelings. No warring emotions to spin me around and around in a tornado. I wanted to stand as still and solid and cold and unfeeling as he did—as if made of ice and hoarfrost.

Author’s Note: The above is a sample chapter from a children’s novel I had started to write as a sequel to my first children’s novel “Chloe Among The Clover”.  I had set it aside while finishing my other novels/short stories and had recently had time to pursue its conclusion while recovering from an automobile accident (that was not my fault).  My nephew has been urging me to finish it since he loved the first one so much.  The sequel is titled “Stormy Within The Strawberry Patch” and is nearly finished.  I have been finalizing the first half of the novel and now will finalize the second half in the oncoming days.

Some More Poems

Deicide
With an envenomed tooth I write this
as in biting spitefulness of the hydra fang
with which the conceit of all gods die
as their devotees carry their crude idols,
(carved in likeness unto themselves),
stumbling gleefully toward the temples
whereupon to perform
their own grandstanding
apotheosis.
Know that you blaspheme
the sacred earth
from whose heart comes this
marble
into whose purity you deface
with the vain mask you wear
during your sermons of selfhood—
know that your vanity
corrodes beneath its own rigors
the fragilities of feature
carved in such godly visages,
thus fracturing that which is written
with a vainglorious chisel.
But take comfort, crumbling stone,
in knowing your vengeance, in turn,
against this fang
that melts all that you hold sacred,
for it shall succumb to its own venom
in due time, surrendering itself sweetly
to the acid of its own
nihilism.

Fall Scene
Fireflies flickering
in the wheatfield, the
stalk filaments below them
bronzed by
shadow and moonlight.

Anxiety
Anxiety like a single shrill
screech from a violin savaged
by a sadist’s razor-edged bow.

Poseur
Pity-party poetry
proffered from a power-point podium,
as dead in delivery
as a mummy in its sarcophagus
waiting for its gender reveal.
A lot of glass heart merchants
in the ponzi scheme of this
new century
always accruing interest
as people vacation on beaches
of shattered crystal shards,
cutting themselves
not to feel something, but to
post something to faux-feel
for fleeting instagram click-chicks
with shallow selfie-styled emotions.
Catullus never condescended
in the first-world forums of
Ancient Rome
to wail for attention,
nor sank so low to overcompensate a
lack of emotion
with a flailing pantomime of feelings.
And as much as Walt Whitman was a
self-obsessed narcissist
tone-deaf to his out-of-tune
Song of I,
he never but felt his own words,
however poorly expressed with
maudlin mediocrity
and shameless shades of adolescence.
I only spit spite to precipitate
rain
over the
hash-tagged mass graves
into which so many have
deliberately swooned to fall
with such self-satisfied melodrama,
gleefully delirious with their own
bandwagon sorrows.
Grow flowers over them, I say,
or, better yet, let thorns
grow like barbed wire
in trench warfare
and let the earth swallow them up
unto silence.
The sound and the fury
signifies nothing
and then a thousand other
wails rally to answer it
until the world echoes with
woeful dirges
and falling bodies.
So many wails and falling bodies,
all overlapping upon one another—
it is not unlike a
silence,
no one taking prominence
and everyone lost in the tangle of
each other’s self-interest.

Bland Bones

An unapologetic rebuttal to the praise of Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones” and, generally speaking, the poetry publishing world at large.

Life is too short for
flavorless poems
a dime a thousand, ill-advised
and to be kept from children
lest they prematurely age into
cynics, or worse,
instagram poets.
The published poetry world is at least
fifty percent terrible,
and that is not a
culture-vulture’s estimate.
For every such Aryan-Carrion bird
there is a
hundred bones to be picked at
by the more modern among us.
For every adored confessional poem, I confess
another mediocre poem
too many, sunken into its own
bland language, collapsing as it is
eaten up with terminal
osteoporosis. Life is short and
the poetic world is at least half
blandness, and for every trite poem
deified
in the collective consciousness,
there is a thousand that would
benefit from
humbling sobriety and
iconoclastic terrorists.
A kind stranger might do well to
break you
from your banal habit of beautification.
Nor can subversion save unremarkable
imagery or diction. It is not that
decay
is not beautiful,
such as any fragrant flower
wilting and dissolving into
perfume,
but that your perfume is nothing more than
vanilla extract
being celebrated by Lotus Eaters
who have forgotten, in this time of
accessibility excess,
the stress-test standards of
yesteryears,
and so deprive their children
of a world not sold to
cookie-cutter
suburban planning and
the lowest common denominator.
The poetic world is a real
shithole
and nothing about its
bland bones
could ever redeem the
dead pledge of its
mortgage rates,
even as pretentious publishing elites
lounge arrogantly alongside
Motel 6 swimming pools.
Just like in the realty market,
anyone can be a poet,
but that does not mean that
any of them know what they are
blathering about
while touring the downtown neighborhood,
nor does it prevent the next
market bubble
when all such propped-up poems
collapse under their own
oversold listing price.
Even if you can talk up
good bones
it does not mean that you
have a good foundation to start with.
It is, at best,
affordable housing
with a vista into your neighbor’s
backyard, which happens to be
identical to your own.
You could make this poem beautiful,
right?
No,
you would only make it
bland.