Brains

"Mozky," by F. P. Dorchak. Published in Ikarie (Index 46 711), July 1992

“Mozky,” by F. P. Dorchak. Published in Ikarie (Index 46 711), July 1992

This story gives new meaning to someone who has a “mind of their own.”

Stories about parts of our bodies taking on lives of their own can be interesting. Is it an obvious story idea for writers…or is it more symptomatic of something else? A lack of trust in ourselves? Our perceived “dueling nature”? I don’t know. All I wonder is how heinous (I use this word a lot) would it be if something inside us…that was so a part of us…was trying to get out…?

This story was actually published in the Czech magazine, Ikarie—and even had a cool “pulp” illustration you can see at the end of the story (the illustration isn’t exactly as it should be, you’ll understand after reading it, but it’s still so dang cool—someone created an interpretation of something I wrote!—which is why I love having cover artists come up with their own ideas about my work)! The illustrator was Renatá Fučíková. It was also translated into Czech, which I also thought was extremely cool, my title translated into “Mozky.” The translator was Jan Kantůrek. And how cool (did I mention?) that I found some links to these two after all these years! I’d also received payment for the story, and no, I no longer remember how much it was, but the thrill of it was priceless! People in another land were reading my words in another language!

This was published in the July 1992 issue of Ikarie : Měsíčník science fiction.

 

Brains

© F. P. Dorchak, 1991

 

Migraines.

What causes them? Why do people get them? What makes them so painful? There are many different trains of thought, but I know what really causes them and why they’re so painful.

Something’s trying to get out.

I get them all the time now and have seen their end results. I will be an end result.

It all started—hell, I don’t even know how long it’s been anymore—these damned headaches—migraines—have begun to distort so much of what we call reality I’m beginning to wonder what is truth and what is reality! God, how it hurts! The pain, here it comes! It knows what I’m saying, of course, so there is little respite in what I do, but I have to get it all down before I, like the others, have my turn at death. Shit, it hurts.

It began, well…when it began.

I was taking a walk down a beach one night, by myself as I usually do anymore since the divorce, and I came upon this body in the darkness. At first I thought it was the usual variety of beach bum that inhabit these shores, but something was different about this one, even in its death as I soon discovered it was. It seemed more than vacated; ravaged. I know that the prime directive of discovering bodies (besides calling the authorities) is to leave things as they are, but I felt there was something I should see, something more than the husk that lay before me, curled up on its side, water just barely lapping beside it. Picking up a stick, I poked around, then brought out the mini flashlight I carry with me on such nightly excursions. It was then that I found that ghastly opening.

In the head.

God, the memory of that still fills me with such unutterable dread!

I should have turned away and gone for the phone immediately, should not have indulged my curiosity and dilly-dallied one second longer! Oh, that god, Hindsight!

But I did and here I am, cursed by that decision that the day holds so many of.

I took my stick—and flashlight riding shotgun—did a most fiendish thing. I stuck it inside.

I felt it tapping the hard edges of the skull…inside…I felt it disturb the violated air…inside…air that shouldn’t have been in there. And I felt yet another blasphemous thing, something I should not have felt, but did.

Nothing.

I felt nothing inside that skull. It was totally devoid of any so-called gray matter. This was probably the most heinous instance of the entire encounter that made my blood run cold. What was such a large opening doing there, inside this poor dead man’s head? What or who had done such a thing?

I didn’t stay any longer at that point, tossing the stick aside and sprinting to the nearest phone booth. Fear added the speed as I am not one prone to the current fitness craze, and it drove me madly indeed! But in my initial haste, my feet nearly fell upon something in the sand not far from the body. I know now what that thing was—but not then. I thought it a jelly fish and just narrowly was able to avoid it. I didn’t see where it went off to, but as it turned out, didn’t have to worry about it. They…would find me soon enough—

Pain, more pain.

God, I think it does this to tease me! It has no intentions of killing me just yet, I think. If it had wanted to, it could surely have a long time ago. It’s playing with me, the bastard. I think it wants me to do this.

Anyway, I finally called the cops and gave them all the information they wanted and, naturally, they kept me away from the scene once they got there. They were just as flabbergasted as I was when they found…that hole. But after grilling me for what seemed like weeks, nothing more came of it. I found the incident reported in the papers sometime later, but, curiously so, there was nothing mentioned of the hole in the head. The lack of a brain….

So my life went on as usual for a while and I continued to take my nightly strolls—ever careful to avoid that one particular spot. Glancing at it occasionally from afar, I wondered if the surf from the sea could ever adequately wash the lingering abomination from those sands.

Well, one night, a moonlit one, I found myself walking behind a fairly amorous couple, up ahead from me some hundred feet. There was lots of the usual hugging and handholding, all of which made me surprisingly angry. My divorce was barely a year old and I didn’t need the memories that now flooded my…my mind.

As the lot of us continued up the beach, I noticed the couple suddenly part, the screams from the woman brutally assaulting my ears. I stopped, initially wondering if they were horseplaying, but soon noticed that wasn’t the case. Then the girl turned in my direction and saw my silhouette. Help, she screamed, it’s attacking him, she cried! That’s when fear again made me sprint. I began wondering if maybe I should have gotten caught up in this fitness thing….

When I got up to them I found the girl kicking at the thing that was on her boyfriend.

I stopped in horror, I couldn’t believe what it was I was seeing!

It looked like a gigantic spider, its spindly legs gripping the guy’s back as he thrashed around in the sand. The thing’s body was about the size of a cantaloupe, or melon, and it seemed dark in color, its legs shooting out like unwieldy sticks. It was most horrendous to look at…to touch…to…grab it was unthinkable.

The girl continued screaming and pleading for me to do something, quickly pulling me out of my daze. So I began kicking at it. A few of my kicks missed their mark and I hit her boyfriend, but I’m sure he didn’t mind all that much. Shortly I was able to loosen it and watched it tumble off and roll along the sand, its legs curled up like a spider’s would, but it quickly rolled around and got back up on its legs—and scurried back for the guy. I intercepted it, but it then tried to get me. It was almost like trying to swat an annoying insect buzzing about your head. And the thing seemed ungainly swift for all its awkwardness. Looking for the couple, I saw the girl desperately pulling her boyfriend to his feet and dragging him away. He appeared hurt. The thing had hurt him. That was a mistake, looking away, and before I knew what was happening, the thing was upon me.

It climbed steadily up my legs…my chest…and I became almost as helpless as the man I had been trying to save was!

I felt its spindly legs grappling my body, felt its sustained movement up my body like nausea—then I felt it.

I was closer to it than I had ever wanted to be—and just moments ago I was so afraid of touching it! Now I was fighting for my life, valiantly trying to push all my repulsion aside. I grabbed for the thing and felt its legs fight me. In the moonlight I finally got a good look at it. A good look.

It was no spider.

This thing had implications a mind as mine couldn’t begin to comprehend, let alone want to. It was something worse than any spider I’d ever seen or heard of—it was…it was

(oh, the pain is so terrible!)

a brain.

I’m no anatomy expert, no spider-ologist or whatever the term is, but this thing looked exactly like a human brain, grooves, ridges and all.

Except for the spider legs which transported it.

I think I vomited at that point, but I don’t remember…all I knew was that I had to get this abomination off me!

The couple had long ago run off, and I was left alone to fend for myself, wrestling with this demon-thing. I grabbed it with both my hands….

The feeling was as one would expect from handling a brain, except for its pulsating movements. It was alive in more than the intellectual sense. I could feel life surging through its form, contracting against my hold, fighting. I gripped tighter and tried to pry it from my chest. It was easier to do then I had thought, especially after having had seen such a large amount of horror movies showing things like this as hard to remove. Holding the slimy thing away from my body I took a moment to inspect what this…brain…was. Its legs curled and continuing to fight, the whole of the brain pulsated, but underneath I saw something else. Where this one part of the brain tapers down and has the connection with the spinal cord—I’m not sure what it’s called, the medulla or something—was a scene so utterly horrid and vile I could stand it no longer. This…medulla…was undulating in a most revolting and sickening fashion. The only thing that came to mind was a man’s actions during copulation…and this I know forced more vomit from me. I cast it away from me…the ocean I thought…I had hoped the salt would have an effect on it, a wholly negative one I prayed….

Collapsed and exhausted on the sand, I tried catching my breath.

What manner of beast was that?

What…what could cause a human brain to transform itself into as such a vile nightmare?

I was numb. I momentarily forgot about the thing as I wallowed in my own contempt and vertigo and disgust…became suddenly hateful of life—of myself, of my brain. That that thing could take such a beautiful act of love-making and make a hideous mockery of it—a travesty beyond all description!

That was when I felt it clamp down on my neck from behind.

It had hopped back up on me and lay straddled there, legs wrapped around my neck!

I could feel the horribleness of its pulpy sponginess—like someone had laid a sloppy internal organ on the back of my neck. I could feel the salt water dripping down around my neck and into my chest.

Then I felt it copulating me!

Oh, God, the repulsion!

I felt the forceful insertion of its medulla into the base of my skull as easily as a man inserts his organ into a woman, then felt with shocked, childlike helplessness as I was raped, brain-semen pumped into me. The violation was far too intense for my conscious mind to bear and my body—my mind—was frozen…locked…in fear. I was utterly unable to move. The only thing I was able to do to combat the rape was to close my eyes and try not to think about it.

It seemed to take forever. I lost consciousness before it was over.

 

I woke up early that next morning with an acute migraine, dry heaves my only breakfast.

Rolling over, I felt a crunching sound and spastically pushed myself away. I saw the brain’s legs smashed, its body desiccated and shrunk. Trying to stand, a pain stabbed me in the base of my neck. Managing to get to my feet I looked around me…the world reeled and spun. Bringing my hand to my neck I felt the hole of insertion now closed…remnants of some God forsaken violation still spent about my neck. Its stickiness and repugnance drove me to the sea where I tried to cleanse myself and again and again I vomited dry heaves….

 

I brought myself in to the doctor’s later that day, under the ruse I had been out swimming and was stung by a jelly fish, but all the doctor could say was that I was indeed having migraines and prescribed me medication—which, by the way didn’t even begin to help—and sent me on my way. As he walked out, I noticed how he clenched his teeth and rubbed his own neck.

God, won’t this pain ever stop?

Right now the pain is a dull, throbbing ache deep within my head—my brain. I can feel it trying to get out—it wants out, damn it! It knows what I know, knows it must rally with the others! It is a squeeze worse than any diver’s squeeze I’ve ever experienced, but in the reverse.

I’ve since terminated my nightly walks along the beach…the pain too great…the-the implications too great…not to mention the thought of finding others like what I found terrifying. I don’t know what their purpose is…other than to kill and reproduce…but I do know they are multiplying.

It’s like I can feel them…feel their forces growing….

Maybe there is a psychic link or something between them, maybe they already know I’m on to them…why people are getting migraines…why they are so unbearable. I only wish there was more that I could do! The thought of something coming to life inside my head…trying to get out is unbearable…but the thought that countless other demon spawn are doing the same thing all over this country—maybe the world—is much worse. I don’t know if I have the strength to do what needs to be done, but hope I do. How else will others believe me? These things are somehow growing in strength and they need to be stopped. I don’t know how they’re doing it without most people knowing about it—in people’s sleep maybe—but maybe just by pure out-and-out attacks. Maybe…maybe they’re getting bolder. I have pictures in my mind—

Ahhh….it’s…pushing…harder!

I don’t have…much…time!

Oh, dear God, it hurts!

I-I have pictures in my mind of…multitudes…of these things running loose. They’re…getting smarter. More daring….

It’s time…I can last no longer.

I’m going to let it come, let the world see its coming and hopefully somebody—somebody stronger than I—can put an end to this. To them. Good bye, and…and…God bless. I’m so scared…God bless us, everyone….

 

Doctor Filbert hit “pause.”

“Are you sure you want to see the rest of this?” he asked.

Doctor Stevens “He is clearly having a mental breakdown of some kind…,” she said, unconsciously played with the box the video had come in.

“It’s not a very pretty sight,” Filbert said, with a slight grin. “In fact it’s pretty gross…even for me.”

Tina could’ve sworn there was a slight grin at the corners of his mouth. She never did like the man, but he was a decent surgeon.

If this poor man in the video was telling the truth, she hadn’t any idea what was going to happen next. She again looked to the note that he had left beside the video cam: “If anybody finds me, get this video to the medical authorities as if your life depends on it, for in truth it does. And be careful for your brains. You can’t trust them—especially those of you with migraines. Beware migraines! Beware brains!”

“Okay, here it goes.”

Filbert hit “play” and the screen came back to life.

The man was no longer talking, but crying. Huge tears poured out of his eyes as he struggled and pleaded with an unseen something in his seat.

But he’d done a good job of securing himself with Velcro and rope.

Then he screamed, and Filbert quickly lowered the volume. They were screams unlike any Tina had ever heard, the tortured screams of a dying man. Tina couldn’t turn away.

The man’s tears gave way to blood.

Tina watched as the man’s head bulged and swelled…his voice grew so strained she heard it crack…and finally die, as the man finally slumped.

Out from his head legs sprouted.

The legs were followed by a silent explosion of gore from the side of the head, some of which landed on the camera lens—

And out from the head crawled the brain—his brain—just as the man had described. It scampered down his lifeless form and across the floor somewhere…out of camera view. Filbert shut it off. Tina sat stunned.

“What a show, eh?” Filbert said.

“How—how can that be real?”

“What, you think that’s real? C’mon, Tina, it’s the product of a crazed—”

“I don’t believe so. This was too real. Too intense.”

“Well if you believe that, you’re not much better off than the whack job who made it. I’m trashing it—”

“No! Not until we look into it!”

“Right, who’s going to believe you?”

“Me. And that’s where it all starts. This guy gave his life to get…this…to us and I think we owe him, owe ourselves, no matter how outrageous it must sound, to look into it! How did you get this?”

Filbert looked to her. The lights were still off in the x-ray room where Doctor Filbert had dragged her into, to watch this.

“Thomas, let me ask you something. Why did you show it to me if you don’t believe it then?”

Filbert stood silently for a moment, casually placing the video on the patient slab. He paced the room.

“Because.”

“Because why?”

“Because I wanted to get you in here, alone with me. Wanted to share it with someone before I trashed it.”

Tina suddenly realized where the video was and where Filbert was standing. He was by the power panel.

“You wouldn’t.”

He just smiled. “Tell me you wouldn’t—”

“Oops,” he said, smiling, and Tina heard the power switch on just as she got up to snatch the tape. She heard him laughing behind her as the x-rays poured out of the instrument and into the tape.

“Jesus, Tina, it was just a joke I was playing on you, God! I made the whole thing up! It’s a practical joke—you know! I wanted to get you alone so we could go out tonight. What do you say? Date?”

Tina looked up at him from the slab as she leaned over it. Hate filled her eyes.

“Never. In a million years. Would I ever…go out with you.”

Filbert laughed and he continued laughing.

He laughed as she stormed out of the room.

“Oh, I don’t think so, Tina!” he shouted out after her, “I’ll get you, one way or the other, I will get you, Doctor Stevens!”

The door swung in her wake as Filbert went over to the slab and picked up the video.

“Yes, Tina, we will get you,” he said, stuffing an errant leg back into his left ear.

"Mozky" ("Brains"), illustrated by Renatá Fučíková, 1992

“Mozky” (“Brains”), illustrated by Renatá Fučíková, 1992

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Publishing Monopoly?

Get The Right POV. (Image by By Taken by Shmuel Spiegelman using a Canon 10D [CC BY-SA 1.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/1.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

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I’m not as “hooked” into the whole publishing angst like I used to be, and to be frank about it, I’m glad I’m not. I’m tired of the same old arguments…tired of the animosities…and how much of it what is being slung at Amazon seems to come from Traditional Publishing’s ilk (and I’m really not even all that “against” Traditional Publishing like I used to be).

It’s all about degree. Perspective. Point of view. Intent.

I’m just me…trying to make my own dent in the world of books and short stories. But I just read an article (once again) about the Evil Empire Amazon’s “monopoly” on the world of publishing. Good points were made to be sure.

But we seem to forget something here, or maybe I’m just too naive and not plugged in anymore, but we all railed on and on about TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING, too, remember that?

Yeah, how those “Gatekeepers” (we used to call them) were so Ivory Towered and incestuous and so looking for that Quick Buck that all this “crap” was getting published. Or the Same Old Thing. That “They” Talked-the-Talk-but-Didn’t-Walk-the-Walk.

Remember?

How they screwed over authors with crappy covers and even shittier terms.

Remember?

Well…comes along a New Gorilla and—whoa!—the guns are quickly swung over to them as the newly painted target.

Pourquoi?

Because they’re kicking the snot out of traditional publishing.

(my enemy’s enemy…)

And I’m not saying all their business practices are stellar—but neither is traditional publishing’s!

But, oh, how quickly we forget.

Sure, if Amazon’s doing something illegal, they need to be held accountable for it—just like Traditional Publishing should similarly be held accountable (and has been taken so to task). New York—you’re not exactly smelling like a rose bush, either. But I find it so fascinating how articles and the Loudest Shouters are making a new “fact”; how everyone’s dumping on Amazon—but they ARE selling books…oh, and yeah, like Traditional Publishing. But Amazon gives authors a little more for their blood, sweat, and tears and they seems far more innovative than the Traditional world. And even Amazon is adopting similar “traditional practices,” like not publishing everything they get and instituting their own “Gatekeepers.”

Big Businesses are big businesses. They’ll always be doing something illegal or not-quite-moral somewhere. It’s what those entities do and the people who run them do. They’re not authors, they’re not editors. They’re Money People. Period. Sometimes they get caught…especially when spotlights are swung their way. Then they lawyer-up and the best arguments win and they move on.

It’s a business expense.

So don’t blindly be dumping on Amazon while forgetting all that Traditional Publishing also hasn’t done for you.

Nobody’s perfect.

Media needs stories.

Conflict sells.

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The Ballad of fReD BeAn

That's No Way To Get Ahead. (Image by weisserstier from Wien, Austria, 130706_Schrems_A_004; [CC BY 2.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

That’s No Way To Get Ahead. (Image by weisserstier from Wien, Austria, 130706_Schrems_A_004; [CC BY 2.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Where do I come up with this shit?

Who knows…but this humorous little oddity (like “Fear”) just popped into my head one day—pardon the pun!—and I do like to occasionally pen the macabre!

Also reminds me of that comedic sketch where you drop something…bend down to pick it up…and keep kicking it away….

Enjoy my sickness!

This has never been published as far as I could find.

 

The Ballad of fReD BeAn

© F. P. Dorchak, 1988

 

Fred Bean rolled over in his bed

The only problem with that

Being

Fred Bean’s body stopped, ‘cept his head

It rolled ’til stopped

By the intersection

Of

The wall and the floor

Some five feet away, by the door

Police said it really hadn’t been all that messy.

 

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Spirit of Hope

Look But Don't Touch. (Image by Rodrigo Della Fávera from Rio de Janeiro, Brasil [CC BY 2.0; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

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This next story is one of my earliest efforts (1989)…and clearly needs more work. There’s definite purple prose and the like, typical “rookie errors” of a beginning writer, here. Rather than severely rework this story, I just did basic clean-up then left it as-is. It was written by a twenty-something in the early stages of learning to write and is what it is….

“Hope” was based on a time in my life in my mid-twenties, when I’d visited a strip club “more than once,” let’s just say. I’d first been brought there by a friend, then occasionally returned to it…in the course of these visits, I talked to and got to know a little about the girls…providing they’d been honest with me. I became curious about their lives…their stories…and most of them had pretty much the same one to tell. Whether or not they were just milking me for extra dollars, I don’t know, but they’re stories were all similar. I always thought it odd that none of these girls (with one exception who actually left) “could leave.” After all, I thought, how difficult was it to find other work—anywhere else—if you really had a desire to leave….

I suspect there was more to their stories than they let on to.

This story has never been published.

Spirit of Hope

© F. P. Dorchak, 1989

Winter’s early release blanketed the landscape with a hushed glistening, and though it was cold, the night was far from alone. There was a specter-like vitality…a presence…drifting among the hills, flashes of argent following the ardor as it permeated the night; maybe even a hint of accompanying laughter. The animated vitality bordered on childlike mischievousness. It rode the wind…darting in and out of the world’s nooks and crannies…examining everything. It played….

In the distance, the town of Wymer, Colorado rested beneath the spiraling forms of steamy smoke-stack halitosis as the falling snow danced. There was mirthful freedom by that-which-rode-the-wind at the open confines of the dark.

Situated at the town’s edge were decaying lots laying party to rental shops, construction yards and aging used car dealerships. A steady ting, ting! rang through the wind, a loose metal lamp shade hitting against its metal support. Abandoned luminescence chaotically spilled from the lamp.

The argent anchored itself around a neon sign boasting topless dancing, boasting “topless” with a darkened “p,” looking more like “To less dancing.” The flashing lady beneath it, ample in breasts and sporting tinseled pasties, left no doubt as to the intentions of the harsh red header. Arms clasped behind her neck, she twisted from side to side against the neon backdrop. A low, lonely hum emitted from the sign.

The neighborhood Committee for Moral Values had a cow when the sign was initially erected (not a word they’d used…), claiming that the nipples of the neon lady were “too” pornographic. When the owner quickly retorted that the town would rather look at his “pornographic nipples” than the lady making the protest (she weighing in at some three-hundred plus pounds, though never verified), the council promptly demanded order and an apology before removing the bar owner. So, to appease all concerned, the breasted display was redecorated with ribboned pasties.

A musical beat, heavy in bass, filtered through the accompanying club’s closed doors, safe from the outside’s elements as girls on raised stages danced inside, performing for whatever earnings could be milked from the predominantly male crowd. The assortment of women varied from the twiggish to the overweight, and, whooping and hollering, most of the uncaring male patrons didn’t bother contributing…fat dumb and happy with their half-downed drinks.

Money.

As with most pursuits, money was the key factor. Most nights the average dancer earned little, having to borrow from acquaintances and “friends,” but on those good nights—what other unskilled job could match what a dancer could pull in? A resourceful, attractive performer could command $200 or more on one night. This, however, was not such a night.

Uno, a huge strapping bouncer at the front door, surveyed the bar, air stale from hours of smoke and failed pickups. A bald roughneck from the early days, Uno knew the importance of maintaining order. His name, actually a nickname, developed from past exploits. As far back as anyone could remember, Uno included, he was always the only one left standing after brawls. No exceptions.

This night was pretty much the same as the other nights, nothing special going on, except for one minor incident. The exception was a surly little bloke who didn’t want to remove his leather jacket. So Uno removed him. The sign clearly stated: “No colors; Have ID ready; Please remove leather jackets while inside. Remove, or be removed.” The latter sentence was scribbled in by a waitress who worked the bar.

Dancing on one of the stages was a lady whose name should have had some bearing on her life. Her name was Hope, and unlike nearly all of the other women here, this was her given name. Hope loved her name, but she wished just a little of her christening would shed upon her life.

Dancing on stage, she did what she normally did while there: she blanked out. More to the point, she blanked out what she was doing while up there. Hope would let her mind wander. Oh yes, she would smile, and say, “thank you,” but it was all done while she was somewhere else…far from the noise and smoke of a lust-filled strip joint. Asking around, she found out some of the other girls were doing the same thing.

Oh, how she had come to hate this place!

But the money…the income…was good….

While dancing, Hope would think of her dreams, the only things that kept her going. She wanted so much to get out of dancing, to do something—anything—else. But what? She had no real background, no college degree, and lately this was something she’d been thinking about more and more, the no-college-degree part.

Hope thought of how she’d like to go to school, but her present financial situation made the prospect look mighty bleak. She had no problem with working while in school, it couldn’t be any worse than what she was doing now, but she just couldn’t afford to take the time off from work to go find a job, having no money to even apply to a school. Hope had no desire to end up like her folks.

Her family life had ended up less than perfect, with her mom dying in a car wreck years ago. Her dad’s disappearance was under somewhat mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter. Hope had long suspected her dad was into drug dealing. People like that often “just disappeared.” Her life with them had never been, well, nice: constantly moving around, parents always fighting, never a steady job between the three of them. It all came to a head one day, and Hope just up and ran. She’d been sixteen.

That was six years ago. Since then, internally, Hope had gone through a lot of changes. Always feeling different from the girls she danced with, but never demeaning to them, she had this feeling she was better than the situation she was currently engrossed in. She had no explanation. Like everyone else she knew, she was a dance-girl, but she felt that she was destined towards a better objective. Sooner or later, unlike most, she would leave this place—forever.

Then there were times when she made good money. And even though those nights were, well, uncommon, she couldn’t quite bring herself to break the mold. Habit was a powerful thing. It was all she could do, working, sleeping and working, always so tired during the day, always so tired during the night. Hope kept telling herself that she would go out tomorrow, or next week, looking for that something better. The strain of her vocation and her ever-increasing bills were constantly eating away at her time, always needing to increase her hours just to make ends meet. Oh well, life goes on…

As Hope continued dancing, a customer began making pelvic thrusting motions while seated in his chair in front of her, his Corona and lime in front of him. Turning her back to him, she threw him a look of disdain. The man in question laughed to his bar-side buddies. As sparse a crowd as it was, it was a good collection of regulars. Hope retreated back into her dreams.

Hearing the heavy front door slam, spoils of white stuff blown inside, Uno turned, getting up from his creaky wooden stool to greet the newcomer.

The stranger was at least six-foot tall, somehow appearing more towering still. Wearing a dark overcoat and a weather-beaten, black fedora, the newcomer slowly raised his head, speckles of loose snow falling, revealing a solemn face hugged by a well-kept beard. As Uno looked at the stranger more carefully, he noticed how his face actually seemed to be on the edge of a grin. The stranger’s eyes were strong and dark—piercing. However able the man appeared, Uno noticed that he didn’t look entirely unapproachable.

“How ya’ doin—” Uno said, planning to ask for the stranger’s ID. Before he could mouth the words, the stranger, in a nonchalant manner, raised a gloved hand…not to be bothered by so trivial a request. The doorman suddenly decided he really didn’t feel it necessary to press the issue and wave him on through.

“Enjoy yourself, man,” Uno said, the stranger bowing in reply and gliding into the club.

Standing for a moment uncertain…Uno felt…dazed. Rapping his shaven pate with callused knuckles to clear his head, he saw the foreboding silver flecks that often precede fainting spells.

The dark figure approached the main stage upon which Hope danced. Her seductive gyrations were quite accomplished. Eyes meeting in no short order, she beamed an inviting smile. Emerging from under the figure’s overcoat, came a gloved-hand-encased fifty-dollar bill. Initially the dancer didn’t notice the denomination, welcoming anything, but as the hand closed in, her eyes belched. Bending over, Hope planted a kiss on the smiling face. The Elvis impersonator, complete with Corona, shot the bearded man a quick look, making gutter comments about the dancer. Backing up, the smiling philanthropist winked, leaving the stage.

Approaching other stages, the stranger relinquished lesser dollar amounts, and Hope following his every move. Motioning to his buddy and collecting his beer, The Pelvic Miracle got up and left.

Tour completed, the dark interloper picked a booth to the rear of the club and ordered a drink. Retaining his garments as he relaxed, and hand merrily tapping at table’s edge, the stranger casually observed the surroundings: women shaking untouchable wares in the faces of eager lust…getting close enough so that each goose pimple could be counted in graphic detail; men sitting around looking meaner than the bikes they rode in on; executives in tight business suits downing expensive drinks. The returning waitress was endowed with a generous tip.

Hope really didn’t like taking money from gonad-grabbing strangers, but her need for it was so great that her repulsions were easily silenced. Twice she was propositioned by men sticking bills into the strings of her panties, twice she told them to get lost.

The end of her set came none to quickly as she collected her things, exiting, the contempt she felt toward her job nothing but growing. Then, remembering the man with the fifty, she diverted and began searching the smoky interior. Spying him in the rear, she weaved her way towards him.

Approaching the fedora-clad stranger, Hope separated the fifty in her hands from the other bills.

“May I have a seat?”

“Sure,” came his warm reply, looking up at her.

“Thank you.”

Pulling out a chair out, Hope situated herself, crossing tanned and shaved legs to reveal succulent thighs.

“This is a mighty big tip coming from someone around here.”

“I’m not exactly from around here,” he said, still quite amused by the surrounding people.

“Oh? Where you from?” she asked, casually feeling for a cigarette. Rearranging her purse to get at the smoke, she suddenly decided against it, tucking everything back into the dark leather pouch. She refocused her attention back on him.

“Oh, I make my way around,” he said, turning his attention to her.

There was something about this stranger that intrigued her. His gaze commanded her with a warmth and softness she hadn’t encountered elsewhere. There was no desire to look away.

“A-a traveler, huh?” she stuttered, slightly unnerved and embarrassed at the fact that she was slightly unnerved.

Cocking his head momentarily to one side, he puckered his mouth slightly, forming his response.

“I guess. I’ve made travel my business. It’s something I really enjoy. And you, what about you, Hope? Do you enjoy this?” he asked, gesticulating around them. There was a moment of silence as he bore into her soul.

“Well, hey—how did you know my name? I never told it to you—” Her eyes narrowed.

“I’m not up to anything, I promise. I just ‘heard’ it around here, that’s all.” Hope could feel that wasn’t exactly right.

“Well,” she began, her eyes beginning to soften back up, “I look at it this way: income is income. This may not be the best, or the worst job around, but it pays the bills—”

“—when there’s money,” he finished.

“Yeah, when there’s money.” She stared into his drink. “It’s pretty stagnant out there tonight.” She looked like a fragile, lost little girl.

“I can see.” Taking a sip from his drink, he kept his eyes on her.

“Would you like a table-dance?” Hope asked, puppy-eyeing. For some reason she didn’t care if she even got paid for it, just wanting to do something for this neat guy who seemed so kind.

“Sure,” he said, setting aside his glass.

Getting up, Hope held onto his mysterious gaze, removing her top for the dance. Never once did the stranger’s attention waver, her eyes his focus. Hope was perplexed that he didn’t look at her breasts, her ass; just her eyes. Finishing up, the stranger extended a helping hand to her, assisting her back to her seat. Removing his hand, there were two hundred-dollar bills left behind. Nearly fainting, Hope swallowed hard, grasping the table’s edge.

“Ho-ly shit! You kidding? For me?” sputtering, she attempted to balance herself. “God, what do you do for a living?”

“Just consider me your friend.”

There was a little more emphasis on the word “your” then Hope wanted to admit. It felt so good to have someone nice say something nice to her that didn’t focus on her looks.

“Great!” she said turning back to him. A smile, gaping and gregarious, ate its way across her face. Looking into his eyes, Hope realized that all she knew about this guy was that he had big bucks, an enticing smile, and a warm manner. He liked giving money, she liked taking it, so why not play the game out? She hoped he was as real as he seemed.

“Look, I don’t even know your name.”

“Max, call me Max; charmed!” He took her hand, kissing it ever so lightly.

“Look, Max, I’ve got to be getting back up now. Will you…be here for a while?”

“If you like.”

“I like. Thanks!” she said, rushing off and tucking the bills into her pink socks.

New performers mounting platforms, Max beckoned another waitress. Getting up on stage, Hope noticed that the waitress walked away with something Max had given her. The waitress, known as Kim, went to each stage depositing Jeffersons. Finally coming to Hope’s platform, Kim left a fifty. Before leaving, Kim called Hope to come closer. Bending over, bare breasts wiggling, Hope lent an ear.

“What is it with you and that guy over there? He just paid me this,” she said, showing her the twenty, “To give these to you all. I’ve been watching him ever since he came in, Mr. Mon-ey Mon-ey!

“I don’t know what’s his trip, but I do plan on finding out,” Hope said. Shaking her head, Kim went back about her rounds.

This time, before Hope could get back to Max, another girl sat down next to him. Stooping down to receive a bill from a grateful customer, Hope felt her ire blackening. How dare another girl muck in on one of hers! Noticing how close she was to him, and all hands, Hope’s anger flared, knocking over a customer’s drink. After much apology and a new drink, Hope continued her glaring. It was about this time that a distraction stole everyone’s attention.

A particularly unruly customer started getting out of hand, shouting obscenities and doing what hands do best. Uno hadn’t yet noticed, his attention diverted by a phone call. The dancer at the center of the conflict slapped the obnoxious individual several times, finally storming off.

Also momentarily distracted, the girl sitting next to Max turned to get a better view. When it abated, she turned back, only to be greeted by empty space.

The abusive individual staggered into the Men’s room about the time Uno was alerted. The abused dancer started rattling on to Uno about what happened.

Colliding with the door, the drunk pushed it open, coming face to face with Max, cutting a terrifying figure even for a sober man. Blearily, the drunk looked up.

“W-what’sup dude?” he blurted, alcohol quick on his breath.

“You.”

The door latched shut.

“Uno,” the manhandled dancer whined, “This guy’s a total jerk, grabbin’ me everywhere. It was embarrassing!”

“Why didn’t you leave earlier,” Uno muttered under his breath, phone to his ear.

“What? Look, I want him outta here!” Hanging up the phone, Uno spun around, going for the gold. “Okay, where is he?” The dancer couldn’t spot her target.

“I don’t see him yet, he must’ve moved. Check the Men’s room,” she said, eyes squinting as she scanned back and forth. Uno stalked through the smoke-filled hall, a dark figure passing him as he finally went to the john.

Pushing open the door, Uno found the man he was looking for. He was strung up inverted over one of the urinals. It was the type of urinal that stuck out from the wall, like the lower jaw of a reptile, and in that jaw was the sputtering head of the drunk, immersed in a flow of running water, hands tied behind his back. The urinal wasn’t exactly clean, but at least there was running water.

Alone when Hope found him, Max smiled, a scurrying going on in the background as bouncer and manager both cut down the drunk, hauling him outside. The drunk was quite sober now.

“So, Max, do you have a habit of dropping twenties and fifties all over the place?”

“Oh, now and then.” Pause. “What’re you doing after work? Need a ride? How about something to eat?”

“Um, well, I’m not sure,” she replied, gazing back into his deep orbs. She was still under his spell as much as she didn’t want to admit it. “How can I say no? Just a minute.” Running over to make a quick phone call, Hope returned shortly, brushing off someone’s groping hand along the way. She straightened out her panties.

“I just called to tell my ride I’d be getting one from here, and that I’d be getting something to eat.”

“You know that friend of yours who sat next to me? She has very inquisitive hands.”

“I know, she tends to be that way around guys. I don’t want to say anything bad about her, but she’s Okay.”

“If you like pickpockets,” Max said, grinning. Hope was caught by surprise at his remark. Pickpocket? The nerve of her! She’d have a talk with that bitch!

As the night rolled on, so did their conversation and Hope’s income, collecting a Grant for each performance. Scarcely believing any of it, Hope certainly wasn’t about to tell anyone, clearing over three-hundred dollars. It wasn’t long before she decided she’d like to leave, telling her manager she didn’t feel well. The manager had, of course, heard it all before, but having the girls to spare, let her go.

Making her way back to the dressing room, Hope was pulled aside by “the bitch.”

“Hope, where does that guy get all his money?”

“Which guy?” she said, playing coy.

“You know, the one you’ve been sitting with all night.”

“Oh him? I don’t know, he doesn’t tell me much. He seems rather evasive about it all. But he did mention one thing to me you’d be interested in,” she said, sneering.

“Yeah, what’s that?”

“He knows you tried rifling his pockets.” She began to leave.

“What? And he just let me—?” Mouth going slack, she continued. “Fuckin’-A, lady, I didn’t try, I did! There was absolutely nothing in them! No change, no keys, no lint—nothing!” Hope spun around.

Hope and Max left the club just after midnight. The roads were bone dry, the air chilly. Wisps of snow still strayed about the airwaves.

“Isn’t this great, Hope?”

“What?”

“This weather! I love it!”

“I think it rather depressing myself.” Max shook his head at her.

A black Porsche 911 turbo, complete with whale tail and spotless, glossy coat, awaited them. Getting into the rocket, the pair scorched a black patch of rubber, leaving the parking lot. Though somewhat light, snow had been falling continuously all night, but there was no dry patch of exposed parking lot beneath where the car had been parked.

The roads were totally devoid of life, even police. Turning to Hope, Max asked her if she was into some excitement.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” was her grinning reply. Nothing quite like breakneck speeds on late-night city streets. For someone who claimed to not be from around here, Max sure knew his way around.

About two a.m., the Duo pulled into a Denny’s. Actually, it was more like they came to a screeching halt at a Denny’s. This man was so full of life, it stimulated Hope’s dreams of exiting dancing even more. He’d done it all, been everywhere, it seemed.

Where did he come from? Once, when asked by her where he was born, he casually brushed it off with as “somewhere in New England,” and she just left it at that. She didn’t mind all the mystery that much, it wasn’t as if he were a weirdo, and the mystery did, in fact, make him just that much more attractive to her. But there was one thing still bugging her, sticking in the back of her mind: where did all the money keep coming from? He seemed to have a never-ending supply of it, in spite of what her pickpocketing friend declared.

Then there were those times when she’d be gazing into his eyes, and swear that he was reading her, synapse for synapse. He was extremely personable, maybe too personable…

Four in the morning came around quite fast, and in spite of all the excitement and wanting him badly, she was feeling the hour. “Where do you live?” she asked they cruising back onto city streets.

“Oh, nowhere in particular.”

“Well, where are you staying?”

“Nowhere in particular.” Glancing over at her with a smile, he raised his eyebrows a few times, gunning the Porsche into the red, forcing their heads back into the whiplash-rests.

Suddenly jolted by the realization of where they were, Hope pulled herself upright, glaring at him. They were driving down her street.

“How did you know where I live? How do you know this? Have you been watching me? H-how—I want some answers—and now!” Grabbing hold of his arm, her scrutiny hit him full face.

“You want answers?” he asked, continuing to play innocent. “Well, I guess it must’ve come out in one of our conversations—”

“—oh right. Then explain to me how it is that you have all this money, when a friend of mine picked your pockets and found nothing! Not even keys for this damned car!”

Easing alongside the curb, her apartments just a few yards away, Max put the car into neutral. The engine emitted a low but powerful purr as he set the brake. The sky began to lighten, casting a red glow across the horizon.

“Look, I can’t. I told you, I travel and enjoy life—”

“—right, and who doesn’t—”

“You don’t.” Too exasperated to deal with that statement, Hope chose to ignore it, continuing on.

“So you’re my friend, that’s no answer! Things have been just a little too weird around here tonight, and I’d like to at least get one solid answer out of all this.” She resorted to giving him that little-girl look that women resort to once everything else has failed.

“Look, I’m sorry if I’ve frightened you, Hope. I just came out for a little fun. I saw you, liked your company, and wanted to share it with you, you looked like you needed it. Needed a friend.”

No longer smiling, his eyes took on a strange new faraway quality. In fact, it seemed as if he were actually shimmering a little. It had to be a trick of the lights and her state of mind, she passively speculated.

“Come out? Come out from where? You’re always so damned evasive when it comes to anything about you!”

“From the night,” he said, turning away. He stared out the windshield.

“Oh, now you’re really getting weird on me.” Her eyes wide with uncertainty, she pressed.

“What do you mean ‘From the night?’ Are you some sort of vampire?” She was beginning to look quite bewildered and vulnerable.

“Oh no, nothing as mundane as that, my dear,” he said, a portion of his former self resurfacing. Looking at him, Hope didn’t know what to think, but began feeling as though she were losing him, forever.

Reaching over, Max gently smoothed her hair, his hand coming to rest against her chin.

“I’m so sorry to have been so secretive,” he said, his tone warm and encompassing, “but you wouldn’t understand or believe me. I am…a wanderer. I don’t stay in one place for too long. I’ve come from…faraway…giving you a little hope, genuine hope…making you smile and take charge of your own life. I know how unhappy you’ve been, how you’ve been looking for that one big break. But it only comes if you make it happen, Hope. You can and will do it, I know it.”

Pausing, Max decided to tell her it all; he always ended up spilling his guts.

“I’m a spirit. A nomad of the night, if you will. I help those few who require a little something extra—a push. I can’t help everyone, but I try. Take a few days off, Hope, and do some looking. Apply to that school you’ve been wanting to—you won’t be disappointed…

“I have to go…this isn’t easy, even for me.”

Looking up at him, she noticed his eyes were filled with compassion and sadness, they seemed to be as endless as eternity itself. But for the first time since they met, Hope seemed to get a glimpse of his soul. Myriads of thoughts and scenes rushed through her mind, causing her to feel momentarily faint. It was too much, she couldn’t believe what was going on, what she was seeing. It blurred.

Finally pulling herself together, Max was outside the car, standing by her door. Noticing her return, he opened it. Climbing out, the morning chill jarred her.

“I’ll always remember you,” she said, feeling a geysering of emotions. Wetness invaded her alert, mascaraed eyes.

“And I too, will always remember you!” Flashing his smile, he pulled her in, gently kissing her. “I must go now.”

Touching her gently on the cheek, Max got back into the car, giving her one last farewell wave from inside. Pulling the car out from the curb, Hope swore he looked transparent.

Watching as the Porsche drove off into the distance, Hope turned towards the apartments. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw the car beginning to fade, and swung back around to look at it. She was too late. There was still the sound of the Porsche’s engines, but she saw no car—it had disappeared—speckles of bright argent flecking the air. There was still a good block and a half left to the street corner before anything would be hid from view.

Hope watched a little longer, until the sound, too, had gone. Max had simply faded away, back into the darkness from which he had come.

A tear forming in her eye, Hope suddenly realized she was holding something. Looking down, there was a black, weather-beaten fedora in her hands. Bringing it up to her chest, she clutched at it, a tear loose down her cheek. Spasms of cries ripped out from her swollen chest.

In spite of her sadness, Hope felt a renewed hope, a new resolve. It was something she had not had before this night—a renewed vigor, one which would stay with her for the rest of her life.

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What NOT To Do in Publishing

Oh, Grow Up. (image by Crimfants, http://flickr.com/photos/crimfants/327861820/ [CC BY-SA 2.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Oh, Grow Up. (image by Crimfants, http://flickr.com/photos/crimfants/327861820/ [CC BY-SA 2.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Okay, so I’ve been seriously writing since I was six…and since 1987 as an actual business…and I’ve heard a lot of what to do to get published. Heard all kinds of advice. Which I’m going to share with you, now. Kinda.

Yes, I’m going to tell you what not to do to get published.

And it will look strangely like what to do to get published.

It will.

But don’t let that fool you, because everything I’m going to mention here I’ve tried and am doing…and none of it has led to publishing riches. So, in the interests of informing my readership, I feel it my writerly duty to burst everyone’s bubble and tell you all that writing advice? All those “helpful” “friends” of yours?

They’ve been lying to you.

Yes. Lying.

And why are they lying (or is that “laying”) to you?

Because they can.

Because they’re already successful and they have to provide sound bytes. Publish or perish. I mean, really, how stupid would they otherwise appear if you came to them and you asked for advice and this was their reply:

Unpublished Person (UP): “Hey, F. P.!”

F. P.: “Hey!”

UP: “Um, do you have any sage advice for an unpublished writer such as I?”

<awkward silence>

F. P. : “Ummm, no. I got nuthin’, sorry.”

UP: “Really?”

F. P. “Really. Got nuthin’, kid.”

UP: “Not a @#*!$& thing?”

F.P.: “I’m at a loss for words.”

UP: !@$&+!

So, yes, they’re lying/laying to you because they want you to buy their books (aka “products”). They want you…to look up to them…feel them to be knowledgeable and pithy. Mostly pithy. They want you to continue about your day quoting them…talking about them to your friends—and even, yea, verily, blogging and tweeting about them.

You think they’re being nice to you?

Lending you a helping hand?

It’s all about promotion, my friend.

And that brings up another thing—“friending.”

They’re not your friend, no matter how many “likes” you both exchange over the Interweb.

But none of them can tell you that.

You see, they’re all part of a Secret Society that meets for a certain amount of time during a certain time. And they are in cahoots with their publishers and agents.

And they talk.

About you.

Cause it’s all about YOU buying THEIR books.

And obfuscating the truth to other Wanna Be’s. Because, if you’re a WANNA BE you’re not a WRITER. And to be a writer you become a threat to them and their income. There’s just that much less they’ll make if you join them…and they limit who may join their ranks. For each who enters…one of them must die…or join the Postal Service.

So, just like fitness magazines that need to publish articles to fill their magazines (BTW the real secret to getting huge, ripped muscles? Working out like a monster and taking lotsa steroids; forget about diets—none of them work), writers give out platitudes.

Okay, so now that I’ve warmed you over, here are the platitudes they will all tell you with their saccharine smiles and faux-concerend tilted heads…and none of this is true, because I’ve done-or-am-doing all of these things and none of it has led to any definition of the term “Publishing Riches”:

  1. Write every day
  2. Attend critique groups
  3. Learn the craft
  4. Attend Writer’s Conferences
  5. Network with other writers and publishing professionals
  6. Give stuff away for free
  7. Blog
  8. Tweet
  9. Go Indie
  10. Publish your short stories for free every week
  11. Allow pirating of your work because it’s all about promotion and you WILL GAIN other readers who WILL SPREAD the word about your work
  12. Do book signings
  13. Get an agent

There are many more things-to-NOT-do to get richly published, but I think 13 is an appropriate place to stop. 13 loops in a noose, 13 at the Last Supper, Friday the 13th (the ones with “Jason” in it). And now 13 things to NOT do to get published.

Don’t listen to anyone who throws “advice” your way on your quest for publishing riches. Nothing you do will get you richly published. Not even going Indie. It doesn’t matter if you ever learn your craft or start blogging three years in advance of your publishing goal. It matters not if your words sing…or sink. It’s all a conspiracy perpetuated at the highest levels of government—I mean publishing—and is completely out of your hands and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s all in the hands of the publishers. Or in the annoying fact that there are only twelve Friday the 13th movies.

12?

Really?

So, the Hell-bent-determined-of-you might well force…”C’mon, maaaan…is there any true, sage advice you can offer one-who-wants-to-get-handsomely-richly-published? You been around. You got great reviews. You know people.

“You’re.

“Published.”

Yes, by my own hand (like some other things…). Not another’s. I fell into the same trap as many of you, but I am breaking out and exposing the conspiracy and its conspirators for what they are—

Writers.

The rest of us are Wanna Be’s.

I, like many of you, followed their advice, but have seen it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter a flying fig if the writing is stellar or trash…you know your nominative case from a hole in the ground…or you “have” an agent…I’m telling you there is no spoon.

Advice?

Sorry. I got nuthin.

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Kirschner Cover Art: In Pinelight, by Thomas Rayfiel

In Pinelight, by Thomas Rayfiel, Triquarterly (Publisher), 2013

In Pinelight, by Thomas Rayfiel, Triquarterly (Publisher), 2013

When I first saw this cover, I was stunned—stopped in my tracks, much like The Grievers.

I loved this cover!

Much like my discussion of Grace, this cover also brings me back to my life in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. The North Country. If you haven’t guessed it yet, I had a great upbringing. I loved where and when I grew up. Love the wild lands…the brooding mysteries of the dark waters and woods. I spent so much time roaming the woods on my own…hanging out at the lake across the road from our house. Soaking in this cover really brought it all back. Now, the story itself…it’s method of delivery…did not work for me. I wanted it to…because of the cover…because of the subject matter (an upstate NY town that was flooded out)…but simply couldn’t. It simply didn’t work for me.

But…back to the cover…I love the feeling of foreboding…the mystery…the darkness. I love the trees and all their shadows…how trees and shadows and mist-over-water lends toward an implied deep, dark mystery…implied goings-on that are hidden in either-or-both the water and the woods. Again, since I had not finished reading this novel, I can only guess…but it all implies some dark dealings going on in some dark woods…and/or water. Back country secrets….

I can feel the crisp coldness of the water…the resilient bounce of the humus-carpeted forest floor…inhale the heavy scent of the pines. Feel myself weaving in and out between the trees…moving deeper into the mystery forest and snapping off dead branches as I go. Holding the stiff, dead branches in my hands as I trek ever farther into the woods…listening to the distant woodpeckers and the wind….

Yet above it all is the sky with rising ground fog.

Whatever darkness lies below…there is “a light at the end of the tunnel”—or, in this case, “above the trees.”

But in the woods there be secrets.

Book covers are visceral,” Lon says it best on his book-cover-dedicated website, lonkirschner.com. “A good cover grabs you in an unexpected way,” he goes on to say, and In Pinelight had done just that…much like Grace had also done for me. Some covers you “just like”…they’re eye candy, they’re cute, they’re whatever (in a good way)…and some just immediately get under your skin and into your marrow. And that’s what’s happened in In Pinelight. Lon’s work has a “heart” to it…and maybe it’s because he reads every manuscript for which he creates a cover. Maybe he’s just good.

No “maybe’s” about it!

So, yes, I think In Pinelight has become one of my favorite covers.

What went through Lon’s mind as he worked this cover?

Here are his words:

“Yes, you are correct. This was a difficult book to read because it uses no punctuation or paragraphs. It is the ramblings of a thought process put to words. As you know, I make a commitment to read every book so I can (hopefully) get it right. The author gave me a warning about the quirky style of this book so I was prepared. It was a slow start, you had to get into the rhythm of it. I found myself enjoying it because it was like I was uncovering a mystery. Sometimes you had no clear idea what was going on but then out of nowhere you made a connection. You are the listener to this man’s oral history of his life. It was a strange life with many twists and turns but the constant was the lake and the trees. You would feel their presence on almost every page, it was the natural way to go. The problem was to find an image that had the right sense of place and mystery. I came across an image that felt good but there were things that just were not right. Fortunately we are able to make corrections with the tools we have available to us. The shape of the tree line wasn’t quite right. There were a few disturbing branches and several tall trees sticking too far up above the rest. The trees had to look a little other worldly. This was fixed by pushing the color toward the almost unnatural green. The final element was to enhance the mist coming off the water. These were all relatively simple to do but combined to change a rather ordinary photo into the type of image that can stir up all sorts of emotions and memories as it did with you.

“The final element was the font choice for the title and author. I felt strongly that this had to be extremely simple so it would not compete with the image, the real star of the show. A clean sans serif font solved that problem.

“This publisher had requested to see several concepts. When I did this one I knew the job was done but did the others and submitted all together. To say I was not surprised when the Art Director emailed me with the news that this was the choice is an understatement. One, it made me feel like I really did know what I was doing and two, I knew the Art Director was smart!

“It is actually harder to do a book like this because it is really a mood piece. So much of the work I do is compositing and creating original art that piece together a book in a visual way. This type of cover is much more visceral and relies on pure emotion to get the concept across. Another interesting fact is that you were drawn to the book and wanted to read it but in the end, your enjoyment of it came from the cover and not the text.”

Ha—I like how Lon points out that my enjoyment of the book came from the cover and not the text! This is quite ironic for a writer, because so many authors complain about their covers because they feel the traditional publishing houses have “slapped on” some trite, awful cover to their manuscripts…covers (these authors lament) that have little to do with actual story…or are just plain heinous, with little thought or effort having gone into them….

Thank you, Lon, for your insight! Maybe some later day I’ll again attempt to complete reading this novel…and I’ll definitely check out his other, Time Among The Dead.

Thomas Rayfiel doesn’t appear to have his own website, but here’s his Amazon page.

*******************************************

Lon Kirschner may be contacted at:

Phone: 518/392-3823

E-mail: info@kirschnercaroff.com

Site: http://www.kirschnercaroff.com

Book Cover Site: http://www.lonkirschner.com/

 

Related Articles:

Kirschner Cover Art: Grace, by Howard Owen (fpdorchak.wordpress.com)

Cover Artist Lon Kirschner Interview (fpdorchak.wordpress.com)

Fear

Never Look Behind You!

Never Look Behind You! (Image by “COS 09,” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:COS_09.JPG#/media/File:COS_09.JPG)

From whence comes fear?

Darkness?

Evil?

Ourselves?

I suppose there must be all sorts of “papers” written about the subject, but this image came to me one fine day, years and years ago, so I wrote it up.

This is my second publicly published work of fiction. It was published in Tyro #16, on January 6, 1989.

 

Fear

© F. P. Dorchak, 1989

 

It was the Devil’s own pitch

A darkness utterly corrupt and vile.

 

I couldn’t see a thing, couldn’t hear a thing

The silence absolute—except of that internal ringing sound.

 

I turned, slowly.

The only way I could know this

Was by the steps my feet made over each other.

 

That’s when I came face to face with it—

Teeth ripping my face apart.

 

Related Posts

 

The 3 Types of Editorial Corrections You Need To Know!

You Are A Writing Ninja! (image byGrywnn [CC BY-SA 4.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

You Are A Writing Ninja! (image byGrywnn [CC BY-SA 4.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

As I writer there are 7 things I need to know that will get me published.

There are also 13 things I need to know about publishing that will make me more successful than any other writer who reads about them.

4.5 steps that will forever banish writer’s block!

There are all these things…steps…that if I do them, the clouds will part and rays of blindingly glorious Heavenly Light will rain down upon me and I will be The Most Special Person in All of Publishing History.

All I have to do is follow them.

Right.

Well, in an effort to join the quantifiable fray of “enumerated success,” let me tell you all about the epiphany I’ve discovered that will lead to your success in the editing process. Because “knowledge is power” (and in three short weeks I’ll list 17 ways that knowledge IS power!).

With these 3 editorial techniques…you will become…A Writing Ninja.

The 3 Types of Editorial Corrections You Need To Know!

In editing there are three types of corrections every writer needs to be aware of. Sure there are other types of editorial corrections, and in a future post I’ll show you why, in 22 steps that can also make you godlike in your efforts. But for now making up 22 steps is too much, I’m not gonna do it…but three is easy.

So, if you want to be The World’s Greatest Writer, you need to master these 3 editorial corrections:

The Bad Dog

The “Bad Dog” is the correction you make by inserting new text into your original text in an effort to make things better. But as you work it, you find well, you’re not as good as you thought you were, and return to what you originally had, thereby proving, wait-a-minute—yes, YES!—I really am better than I thought I was! and keep what you’d already had. But what’s key, here, is that you did not delete the original text you meant to correct. All your original words are still there. So you simply “back over” all the newly inserted text, returning everything to the way it was.

“The Bad Dog” gets it terminology because when you scold a dog, the dog will usually come back to you, ears and body lowered in an attempt to “cute” its way back into your good graces. Here, in your editing process, you’ve essentially “cuted” yourself back into your own good graces in that you’ve proven to yourself that you knew what to do the first time around and should have realized you couldn’t improve upon your own work or words, because they were perfect to begin with. Bad dog, you!

But…in the style of Plighter’s Digest…and in the interests of blatant, “shameless self-promotion” (as we like to say in the writing biz) to further “drive home” the point that smart people already got three paragraphs ago, here is an example…using an overly huge example of my own writing, taken from my imminently successful short story, “The World’s Greatest Writer”:

“Then how do you know he’s such a great writer?” pressed the young one, who held the older writer’s gaze firmly, her manuscript cradled loosely in her arms between them. The young one had not meant to pin the learned author to the wall, but was merely genuinely curious. “How can you say so much about him, when you haven’t ever read his work—or met him?” She furrowed her brow, patiently awaiting an esoteric, scholarly, response.

“I know it’s hard to believe, my dear, but it’s his reputation, you see. Did you know he doesn’t even use a computer? He uses a mechanical typewriter! The gentleman is simply… extraordinary. Exceptional. Have you ever personally met God? The Pope? No…you know of each through faith, through reputation. But that’s what this banquet is all about, my dear young one! He’s coming out, as it were! Don’t let your youth and impetuousness get the best of you! You are yet young—learn! Tonight, here, it is said that he will debut the opening pages to his Great American Novel! I mean, can you fathom this opportunity before you? The miraculous, metaphysical encounter we are all about to be granted? We are going to be the first to experience his words, his energy, his soul. His raw, unfiltered emotional fervor before they are all unleashed upon our common, illiterate, public—we…we are the privileged few. Savor this moment, my dear writer, for you clearly do not comprehend the enormity of greatness upon which you are about to witness. Mark my words: this…will never happen again. In any life time. My God, how I wish I were in your shoes, a lifetime ago, to start over my profession at a much higher place, indeed!”

So, if I were to correct a sentence, say: “He’s coming out, as it were!” and wanted to change it (note I didn’t say “correct” it, because, as we all know, my words are Golden so attempting to change anything is a meaningless and wasted effort…but since I am promoting myself, I have to give an example…), then back it out, this is what is would look like:

He’s coming out, as it were! ==> He’s making an appearance coming out, as it were! ==> He’s making an appearance coming out, as it were!  ==> He’s coming out, as it were!

The Revenant

The second editorial correction is a blatant effort to piggy back onto a successful movie by incorporating it into my blog post in the hopes (fingers crossed!!!) that all who search on The Revenant will find my blog post, follow it, then buy all my books. Boom. I’m (again) #TheWorldsGreatestWriter.

The Revenant is when you make a correction to a part of your (excuse me…I can’t stop laughing…because we all know my—I mean YOUR—Words are Golden…so no corrections are ever, really necessary…) text, realize the folly of your ways (and that you haven’t yet had enough caffeine to clearly realize this…)…then pull of a zippy “Ctrl-Z.”

Boom.

That just happened.

Your original words are back.

But though they are your original words…they’re not really the original words, because you erased them.

Killed them.

They are (like Star Trek’s transporter-beamed people) re-created facsimiles of the original.

They are…resurrected facsimiles of the words you killed.

But…you did the next best thing and brought them back.

The Revenant.

If you still don’t get it, here’s another swollen, self-serving example taken from my short, “The World’s Greatest Writer”:

“Yet he remained ever gracious as he shook hands and took a genuine interest in all whom he greeted—asking how their children and relatives were doing, did they have jobs, and if not, please, do give him a call, and he’d see what he could do about it, and would they promise him that they would get enough sleep before going back to work on the morrow?

“Then one, without warning, wildfire-swift whisper erupted throughout the banquet:

Where was the manuscript?!

“Had he come without his words?!

“Were they all to be so-callously jilted?

“Teased so hotly, only to be summarily slapped without so much as a kiss or a hug? Good God, what had happened? Was it…Writer’s Block?

“The crowd again held its collective breath.

“He somberly approached the podium, his smile evaporated.

“Removing a handkerchief, Mssr. Authier paused, wiped tears from his eyes, then grasped both sides of the podium, stained hanky still clutched in one of his trembling hands. He voice wavered and cracked as he addressed the audience in his wonderfully accented, melodic French-Canadian dialect.”

So, lifting from the above, here’s what The Revenant wold look like:

Where was the manuscript?! ==> Where was the burrito?! ==> Where was the manuscript?!

The Revenant is also known as “The Ctrl-Z.”

Going Rogue

The third and final editorial correction is a jump into the uncharted waters of Your Greatness. It is, simply stated, adding more words to your Already Golden Pulitzer Prize Winning Creation.

Again, to cite still yet another utterly self-serving example from “The World’s Greatest Writer”:

“And with that, Mssr. Authier III launched into the most heartrending speech anyone in that room (or their progeny) had ever, or would ever, participate in. For two-and-one-half hours Mssr. Authier held the room in rapt captivation. Random House, foreseeing this, had trucked in boxes of Kleenex (TM)-brand tissues—unfortunately for Mssr. Authier’s attendees (and further adding to their emotional turmoil) his likeness was on the sides of each box, promoting his yet-to-be-written novel. People gave up their writing careers following his speech, devoting their lives to the Peace Corps or Green Peace. Half of the counselors working the banquet took early retirement (including those wearing the most-advanced-technology ear protection devices; though they couldn’t hear a single utterance, they didn’t have to…each felt and experienced the emotion that had taken complete hold of that audience that magical evening), and entered therapy themselves. Those with outstanding traffic warrants turned themselves in the next day and insisted upon a minimum of one year of community service for evading the law in paying those fines. So overcome with exhaustion was Mssr. Authier himself at the conclusion of addressing his audience that he had to be assisted from the stage and escorted directly to his awaiting motorcade, where a saline IV drip awaited. Mssr. Authier was submitted for the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes for his oration.”

To employ Going Rogue, the above changes to:

“And with that, Mssr. Authier III launched into the most heartrending speech anyone in that room (or their progeny) had ever, or would ever, participate in. For two-and-one-half hours Mssr. Authier held the room in rapt captivation. Random House, foreseeing this, had trucked in boxes of Kleenex (TM)-brand tissues—unfortunately for Mssr. Authier’s attendees (and further adding to their emotional turmoil) his likeness was on the sides of each box, promoting his yet-to-be-written novel. People gave up their writing careers following his speech, devoting their lives to the Peace Corps or Green Peace. Half of the counselors working the banquet took early retirement (including those wearing the most-advanced-technology ear protection devices; though they couldn’t hear a single utterance, they didn’t have to…each felt and experienced the emotion that had taken complete hold of that audience that magical evening), and entered therapy themselves. Those with outstanding traffic warrants turned themselves in the next day and insisted upon a minimum of one year of community service for evading the law in paying those fines. So overcome with exhaustion was Mssr. Authier himself at the conclusion of addressing his audience that he had to be assisted from the stage and escorted directly to his awaiting motorcade, where a saline IV drip awaited. Mssr. Authier was submitted for the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes for his oration. OMG.”

Did you catch that? What was added?

OMG” was added at the very end. That is “Going Rogue.”

A stroke of genius, if I do say so myself.

Be Brave!

So, in conclusion, the 3 types of editorial corrections are:

  1. The Bad Dog
  2. The Revenant
  3. Going Rogue

Now that you know this heavily guarded editorial “secret,” you, too, can reap the benefits of “professional expertise” in your own writing…and (hopefully) rush out and buy all my books—even those I haven’t yet written.

If you have not grasped all that I’ve written, catch my next piece, which will be “The 11.6 Ways You Can Better Understand What Others Are [Trying To] Tell[ing] You.”

My work here is done.

***********************

F. P. Dorchak is an award-winning author in his own mind and the bestselling author of nothing. But he talks a good game and is quite full of himself. His latest books are full of the above editorial corrections, which shows he actually knows very little about the craft of writing, but this gig is sure to correct that in a “Going Rogue” kinda way. Go buy his stuff. Now.

Related Articles

(Mr. Dorchak would like you to think that his work is so ubiquitous that it would be utter folly to even attempt to list them, here.)

Rainy Nights and Christmas Lights

Know Exactly Where I am. (Image by By Juliancolton [CC BY-SA 4.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

Know Exactly Where I am. (Image by By Juliancolton [CC BY-SA 4.0, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

There is a restaurant in Manitou Springs, Colorado, called The Stagecoach Inn. It was an actual stagecoach inn in the 1800s. On the outside of the building are strings of lights. One beautiful rainy night my wife, me, and some of her family had gone to eat here, and as my wife and I held each other outside, she said “…rainy nights…and Christmas lights….”

You don’t say something like that within earshot of a writer and expect to get off lightly…especially by one who trucks in death, dreams, and the hereafter.

As I read it for the first time in years for this posting, it brought tears to my eyes. It is another of my favorites.

This story has never been published.

 

Rainy Nights and Christmas Lights

© F. P. Dorchak, 1993

 

Rainy nights and Christmas lights. That’s all I can think of. All I want to think of.

I only just stumbled into this…inn…moments ago, seeking relief from the bitter cold of an angry blizzard. It’s dark, but I don’t know the time because I no longer have my watch and it’s very desolate—not just for my own heart, but for the souls outside as well.

No one wanted to be out on a night like this and God only knew how long I stumbled about out there, dazed and disoriented. The weather, frigid and snowy for most of the day had turned more brutal, forcing all life in from the streets. I, too, searched for a place to take me in, but nobody would have me, everyone hurrying home for their own families. Was I a leper? It was only this inn that took me, and I had to barter my soul just to gain entrance.

Her name is Laura, and I love her like no other. I love her more than life itself.

Sure, we had our differences like everyone else, but nothing, nothing changed my deep unfaltering devotion for her. Not even the times she said she was leaving….

But now I sit before a raging fireplace in a darkened room, utterly alone. It’s cold, and the chill I feel cuts to my marrow. Just now I think I see a waiter or waitress behind me, but turning find no one.

I look about the room and see that it is small, by some standards, large by others…and has not quite a dozen tables, including those in the alcove to the far end. Each table has unlit candles and neatly placed silverware atop it. The shadows I see are disturbing and gnaw at me. It is all so vaguely familiar, this place, and I feel I should know it, but I…I feel disoriented.

Deep memories stir within, but nothing surfaces.

I am just as helpless as when—

Death.

I love her, oh dear God, how I love her!

Why is it that I alone survive?

Why should I have this cursed privilege! What I would gladly give to have her back! Why did not both of us perish—it is so much better that way, you know, to be together in death than alone in life!

Oh, how I curse God and all that is life! I curse the devil for the torture! I curse everything, except—

Rainy nights and Christmas lights.

That’s what she said, my Laura, the one with the beautiful hair and loving smile.

The one I was to marry…to begin a new life with.

Suddenly I rush to the front door and pull it open.

The wind, she wails and batters me back and I hear glass shatter as the door slams behind me into the wall. It is hideously cold, yet I don’t feel it. All I feel is the pain in my heart.

I do recognize the inn.

Rainy nights and Christmas lights.

Christmas lights….

There are Christmas lights strung out across this building, and as I stand there I know where I am. Know exactly where I am. This is the inn my love and I frequented when…when we were whole…but, worse than that, it is the place where my beloved Laura was so brutally ripped away from me!

I scream into the wind, to the innkeeper who admitted me. Here—you have my soul, why not also take my heart!—oh, why even to be created, only to die! Why is life nothing but torment! Why are we to love, only to lose?

Again I look to the lights.

Still, strangely, they are lit; out of place. I peer through the blinding, heavy snow, but see no others; no movement.

I am all there is.

There is nothing beyond the snow-covered flagstone steps I know are before me. Nothing exists beyond myself and this haunted inn. The lights. I remember

 

Standing out on this porch one rainy, summer night…my Laura wrapped around me…her breath warm against my neck. We gaze lovingly at each other stretching out the moment to eternity.

“Rainy nights,” she bubbles.

“What?” I ask.

“Rainy nights…and Christmas lights!” she blurts triumphantly, radiantly.

I adore her smile and know, right there, why it is I love her.

“Rainy nights, and Christmas lights,” she says again, still beaming.

“That is so beautiful!” I proclaim, and hug her tightly.

Hold me,” she whispers sweetly into my ears and mine alone, “hold me and don’t ever let me go.”

I knew I’d marry her someday.

 

But the tears now freeze to my face and the wind rips me apart.

Take this too, Devil, take all there is I have left!

My voice is nearly gone and I tear into my clothes to get at my heart—that eternally pumping and vile thing! Fingers unfeeling, I cut into my skin and bring forth blood, but it, too, freezes, and I realize I am truly—truly—doomed—unable to even take my own life!

I slump forward to the snowy porch and bury my hands and face. Rainy nights.

And Christmas lights.

 

So I am resigned to the fate of this dispossessed inn. It seems fitting that I should be held here, a place my love and I so enjoyed. It is so fitting to be forced to relive those moments, those memories…the moment…of her death.

Her death.

 

We had finished dining, leaving the building for a stroll. Ever the adventurous soul, she had leapt upon the ledge of a stone which guarded the creek below. I remember how the water was still visible, unfrozen.

And…the rocks.

I had hoped she wouldn’t fall and rushed to her—

 

“May I take your order, sir?”

Startled, I spill my coffee and send the porcelain cup skittering across the room to shatter somewhere. I look up and see, in the dark and standing entirely motionless, a waitress of ageless beauty. I could barely breathe, yet spare a word.

“W-what? Who-who are you?”

“Your order, sir, do you care to order?”

She placed a menu before me. I stared at it for an eternity…then lifted my head to look out the windows. All I see is the storm, which has increased its intensity, if that be possible. I also notice that I have gripped the edges of my table in a mighty hold, knuckles most assuredly bone-white.

The fire crackles.

“I-I already ate,” I said.

“As you wish,” she says, most politely, and withdraws the menu.

“B-but I could use some more coffee,” I continue. All she did was turn…and smile. I could have sworn she spoke, but I did not, for the life of me, see her lips move.

I’m sure you could, she said.

I know it was dark, and I know I am not in the most stable of minds, but I know what I experienced. She spoke…but did not move her lips.

I blink. She is gone.

I need my woman and I need her now! Forever! I cannot and will not live this way!

The pain is unendurable!

How does one survive?

How can others live through what I continue to grieve over? Nothing means anything to me anymore! As much as I don’t want to dwell on my beloved’s death, I feel compelled—it was our last few moments together…the last time we kissed, held each other…gazed into each other’s eyes or felt the warmth of each other’s touch.

I so desperately want to die and be among the dead with her!

I attempt yet again to get at my heart, my wrists, with knives…forks…broken glasses…but am without strength. Instead, I collapse upon my table and heave great tears into the wood….

I remember my arms reaching out to her.

One moment she stood atop the wall…pirouetting beautifully and telling me how much she loved me and would never, ever leave me—and the next—the next moment I reach out for her and clutch only air…huge fists full of it…and watch helplessly as she tumbles over the side like newly falling snow…drifting down, down…ever downward…

(Christmas lights…)

in her grasp. I watch until I can bear it no longer….

 

“Your coffee, sir.”

I bolt upright. A busboy is pouring fresh coffee into a new cup. His back is to the fire and he seems aglow. His smile is genuine, but he, like the shadows, scares me.

“Where—”

“Nowhere, sir,” he says, and fades from view back into the shadows, his Cheshire smile the last to go. I look to the coffee poured and it remains, small curls of ghostly white steam disappearing into the dark. I touch the cup and find it warm. Solid.

“I don’t want coffee! I want Laura!

I pound the table. Again.

And again.

I drift off.

 

Time has again passed, and, as I have already told you, I know not how much, but it is still evil and blinding without, dark and foreboding within. I watch the spoils of snow as it batters against the windows of the alcove, and there are times I feel the building shudder, or think so.

Maybe it is just me.

The fire is still alight, though I have yet to touch it.

Where did that gentleman who admitted me go off to?

The shadows close in on me. Something is different.

Rainy nights, and Christmas Lights.

She had grabbed Christmas lights….

That’s all I want back. I want that summer night again, I want her back! I will gladly mortgage my soul again to have her! Anything, I just want that moment to remain, to never change. I want to spend that moment in eternity with my Laura. She is all I live for…all I want to die for….

Yet cannot die.

This I know for some strange reason, but I shall try one more time. I look to the fire and spy a poker. Going to it, I raise it and touch it to my chest; feel its dull accusation. Stoking my emotions, I raise the weapon with mighty intent—but alas, it misses its mark and strikes the wall above the hearth instead. I anchor the handle end into a wall, the point placed firmly over my heart…and ram myself forward…but it slides harmlessly off. I attempt yet one more blow, but it is again deflected, this time pulled from my hands as if by some unseen force.

I pound my fists into the wall.

Laura! Why has this happened?

I want so much to die and join you—I no longer wish to bear this tragedy!

I collapse at my table and once more try to dream

Of rainy nights and Christmas lights.

But hear a door open.

Something is different….

I hear footsteps and look up.

A figure is in the doorway. Stands still.

Who…are you?” I ask. “I can take this no longer! Please, take me, I am yours!”

I cry, my blood long since cold, my senses frayed. I hope the figure to be Death’s messenger, finally come for me.

I know,” the figure says, and it is a soft, pleasant voice.

I rocket to my feet, chair spilling out behind me.

I know that voice!

Laura?

Unstable, I grip the table for support. Again, I ask, “Laura—i-is that…you?

“Yes,” she answers, moving out from the shadows. “I am here, my dear.”

It is her, there is no mistake! As sure as I live, it is her!

“But—but you had died!

She smiles ever so lovingly as she approaches.

“No, my love, it was not me who died. I had grabbed a string of the Christmas lights…and when you saved me from falling by diving for me…you fell yourself. Don’t you remember?”

My throat is suddenly dry. I collapse to my knees.

“But—that would make you—”

“—dead? Yes, I am indeed.”

Still she smiles, unaffected by her words.

My heart pounds, rises to my throat.

I choke.

I love her so much!

I touch her and find her as cold as I am.

“H-how?”

“Does it really matter?” she asks casually, “I am here.”

Standing before me, she reaches down and I grasp her hand. She pulls me to my feet and I notice she places an empty prescription bottle on the table.

I say nothing.

Tell me how much you love me,” she says, drawing in close to me.

I see the concern on her face…feel the tears on mine and cry, “I love you with all my heart and soul and will always—ever—be there for you!

“And I, you, my darling. I love you more than life itself!”

And so I know.

 

We sit at our table…together at last…and gaze into the fire. Our hands are tight and true, our hearts one. The blizzard still rages, but I no longer care. As we look to each other, we are no longer cold.

Related Posts

The Ice Gods

There Is No Turning Back. (Image by Ernest Frederic Neve, 1861 [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons)

The Ice Gods, They Call Me…. (Image by Ernest Frederic Neve, 1861 [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons)

I am fascinated by desolation. Don’t know why.

Throw in ice and snow and I’m fascinated by that desolation even more.

H. P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness is one of my favorite stories of his, so I’m sure there’s some influence there…though, as I remember it, there is little similarity between the two….

I grew up in snow and cold. Maybe I’m still trying to thaw out those harsh Adirondack winters from my marrow, but snowscaped desolation utterly fascinates me.

Are we really alone in all that desolation?

This story has never been published.

The Ice Gods

© F. P. Dorchak, 1992

 

Alone.

Cold.

I am surrounded by white.

Where am I?

It’s so cold….

I remember pain. I remember…I don’t quite know what I remember…but I can’t move. My arms, they hurt. White hurt. I hear howlinga lonely, empty howling. The wind.

I’m so alone.

Eyes. I must try to open my eyes…I have to get to the top.

I move…hear crunching….

 

I’ve opened my eyes, and wished I hadn’t.

I’m lying on the side of a wind-swept and snow-covered mountain. All I can see is blinding white. I move my hands about meand feel the snow crunch. It sounds like wicked Styrofoam. It’s so cold.

How did I get here? What am I doing here (besides hurting)?

I feel like I’ve been thrown thousands of feet. Craning my neck (and gasping at the snow that hungrily rushes down my back) I see cliffs of white and silver above. I look off to my right, my up-and-behind-me-right, and see a bundle jutting out from the snow. It’s covered in the hellish stuff. I cannot make out what it is.

How I hate white.

 

It’s getting late, or so I fathom from the setting sun as it ducks behind the jagged peaks above. I have to get there…the peaks, I mean…don’t know why, just that I must.

The bundle behind me is a pack…mine I assume, considering I’m the only one I see. I’m scared…but know I can survive. I seem to remember doing this before….

The pack has everything I needfood, flashlights, toolsa fire-starting kit, ice saws, and a tent. As I root around my body I find an ice pick and one snowshoe. I struggle to all fours. A few yards above me I find the other one. But still, not another soul. No explanations. Barely…I get to my feet.

I head upward.

 

It’s grown dark, and…like I’ve said before…I’m scared. But as I sit in my tent against this ice outcropping and watch the fading sun, I look at the deep, lonely blues that eerily crawl across the deserted snowscape. I’m overcome by emotion as I enjoy its unparalleled magnificence. If only I had some way to catch these wondrous images forever! Such raw being. Such intense desolation. I listen to the ice crack and thunder, and it echoes deep within me. Cries out to me….

No, I really mean it—it actually cries out my name….

 

Okay…you think me crazy…ice boulders crying out my namethen you surely won’t believe this.

I left camp at first light and traveled for what seemed a lifetime. I came upon another boulder…and as I did, thought I spied the image of a man upon it…frozen, disfigured. The form lay with its back against the boulder, and what would be its left arm, outstretched…its head twisted sideways. As I came closer I grew fascinated by the image. I could not take my eyes from it. Then other images, mental ones, began to crowd my mind. At first they screamed past too fast to graspnot unlike the lonely and hollow wind that is my constant companion (for the wind has never let up since I regained consciousness and neither has the blowing snow). I worried about snow blindness, but found—much to my disbelief—goggles. I had kicked them up during my passage through the snowfields. There truly must be ice gods watching o’er me, for surely nothing else here survives….

Save me.

But the images. They are cold and monstrous….I remember something about others…a terrible and brutal accident of some enormity. We were…we were ascending this mountain and something ghastly occurred….

Where is everyone?

Why is it I alone survive?

So I approached this image and found it was more than just light and snowit was a man—or had been. He was obviously dead. I couldn’t recognize his face for his features were brutally deformed and frozen. Into the rock.

I passed the man and continued upward.

 

I awaken the following morning to find myself in a cold sweat. Not a good thing for one in my position. I recall hatred from my fellow climbers. I’m not sure why just yet. It hadn’t always been like that, the hatred, but had come about suddenly. I think…I think it was something I—I—did.

I feel dread.

It rips through me like this infernal wind.

 

The cracking sounds from the mountain top were much closer last night. Banging at my back door. I recalled images of pain. Faces of torment. And screams. Of a fight with my fellows.

My fingers look funny.

 

Nothing much to tell today, except that I seem to have traveled in circles.

I know this because I again found the frozen man. Only this time he was more frozen. I-I mean to say that—y-you must bear with me, now, for I feel my mind beginning to seize—but I could swear that he had gone into the boulder he was frozen against. Into it, I say! When I first saw him he was against the rock. This time h-he was as if sunken into it, a-at the waist.

I’m not crazy.

Am I?

Then why am I talking to myself?

 

Oh, the d-deep, frigid-b-blue of the snow and ice is s-s-so grand! The thunder of the ice boulders d-deafening!

 

The Ice Gods came to me in my dreams last night.

They told me not to w-worry about my images. They told me I’m lonely and confused in my s-snowbound s-s-solitude. They also told me not to be afraid.

They would g-guide me.

 

I recall…f-fighting with my companions.

One of them had fallen into a crevasse. We were arguing over whether to go after him, because he had gone silent and hadn’t answered our calls. They wanted me to g-go, but I was…afraid. I might not have made it b-back, I reasoned. They didn’t listen.

I have come upon a snowshoe. There’s a foot in it.

The Ice Gods told me to take the foot.

 

I’m near the mountain top.

I still do not know why it is I f-feel I have to make this trek…but I’m driven. No

P-pulled.

I feel it is the Ice Gods who beckon…and I’m not all that f-frightened anymore. The Ice Gods protect me. They told me my f-fingers were against me, that I should do something about them or I might not make it.

So I took my ice pick to them.

 

The g-ground shudders from the thunder of the splitting ice above. I have trouble s-sleeping. I miss my f-fingers…though I keep them wrapped with me…like the f-foot.

The Ice Gods t-told me

 

That I’m almost there.

I’m out of f-food, so I used the f-f-foot. At first I hadn’t removed the toenails and h-had a hard time chewing. I learn quickly.

I don’t like t-toenails.

 

A funny thing happened to me tonight, I went to crack my knuckles, and—

 

The crevasse.

The men had wanted me rescue that g-guy…but I refused. He’s probably dead, I reasoned, so why waste the energy? They cursed me. One struck me and threw down a rope, then began to go down himself. He wouldn’t listen to r-reason. Said I had gone snow-blind in the head. I said he’d gone snow-blind in the h-head. We’d only been out there…I don’t know how long, I don’t remember. All I remember is the white.

White pain.

I rub my arms…the pain is all but gone.

It feels g-good to be here. V-very, very g-good.

My toes feel funny now, too, but I’m not going to look at them. I know what the Ice Gods will say and I don’t want to m-miss my t-toes.

 

A terrible thing happened t-today. I came across another body.

Where do they come from?

I didn’t recognize it, either. Its clothing didn’t look familiar. Must not have c-come from my p-party

Mine?

Was I the leader? Leading an ascent? But I seem to remember already being t-thereand seeing something.

S-something that sent us back.

What s-something?

I feel it has to do with the crevasse. With that man. In it. And the man who had g-gone down for him. The one who’d h-hit me.

I didn’t like that. He wouldn’t listen to reason. He had to stay down there. Had to, I t-told him. But he wouldn’t listen…so I c-cut his rope. The others around me went crazy.

I remember now.

They went crazy and tried to k-kill me. But the Ice Gods, they were my f-friends. They didn’t let the others k-kill me.

Only I saw reason.

 

It all comes back to me, n-now.

I know my reason for the climb. I have to get there.

I don’t have much time.

I n-no longer f-feel my toes and my other fingers are st-st-stiff. The Ice Gods are anxious to see me and I mustn’t d-dis-a-p-p-point them. They’ve helped me so f-f-far.

Tonight I eat my f-fingers. Tomorrow

Tomorrow I meet the Ice Gods.

The white Ice Gods of thunder.

 

I left my tent, pack, and s-snowshoes behind. They’d only slow me down.

All I need are my c-crampons. It’s all ice now. I have my Ice Gods to g-guide me. T-that’s what t-they d-do….

The going was more d-difficult without my other fingers, and the loss of f-feeling in my t-toes…but I p-pushed. A little p-pain is a good thing, even if n-numb. I’m so high now there’s little o-oxygen. My lungs b-burn.

I recall the f-fight.

The remaining two men’d looked at me in amazement as I c-cut the one loose. We’d heard him scream all the way d-down. Heard him scream at the b-bottom. He hadn’t been alone down there. There was something with him. The others had attacked me with their picks. I blocked some of the swings, and remember the hurt in my arms. I managed to throw one down, but had to fight off the other with my own p-pick. My back to the downed man, I heard a scream, and my opponent dropped his attack, his face b-blank and white as the snow. I took the opportunity to bury my pick deep into his n-neck. He clutched at it as he collapsed. I must have pierced his vocal cords, because he made no n-noise as he went down, except for that f-funny, hissing…g-gurgle. After I saw him to the ground (and put my foot on his shoulder to rip free my pick), I turned around. That was when I s-s-saw them.

You-know-who-them.

 

I’m really n-numb now, but it’s okay….

I’m t-there.

The sight is f-f-fantastic.

Gorgeous.

I thought the frigid b-blue of where I’d been was b-beautiful…but it holds n-nothing to what is before me. The Ice Gods are p-pleased, and so am I.

I have c-come h-h-home.

The others wanted to f-flee. They’d been up here with me and had fled in t-terror. That was why the one fell into the crevasse. Been c-careless. Ran without c-checking his s-steps. S-stupid man. And the others? They’d had to d-die because they had seen what I now s-see. They should have wanted to come b-back…l-like m-me.

This is so unbelievably b-beautiful. Jagged ice c-crystals everywhere, and each one with a body f-frozen within it. All sorts of bodies…from different t-times…d-different p-places. All frozen into ice boulders and c-crystals. All asleep and p-peaceful. All waiting for me to join them.

And I will.

Just as s-soon as I see the setting sun and hear the c-crack of t-thunder….

 

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