Elevens (2001)

(Excerpt from the novel Fiona’s Guardians by Dan Klefstad)

 

“You count the money. I’ll count the blood.” Daniel pushes the open case of dollars toward Jesús who in turn opens a large cooler releasing a cloud of mist. The cooler is tied to a dolly. Daniel’s gloves lift blocks of dry ice, revealing pint bags labeled O negative, A negative, A positive, B positive, etc. All will be consumed during a single meeting of Fiona’s extended family. The O negative is for her.

“All good.” Daniel replaces the ice and shuts the lid. “Let’s do this again sometime.”

“You got it.” Jesús shakes hands and nods toward the twin-engine plane fronting a skyline of red rock formations. “Baron, huh? What’s it cruise, 200 knots?”

“I’m not a pilot.” Daniel grins. “I just hire them.” He tilts the dolly back while Jesús opens the door. “I need a steady source for O negative. What can you get me every other week?”

Jesús shrugs. “80 or 90 pints. Maybe 100.”

“Get me 100 and I’ll pay 200 bucks a bag.” Daniel pushes his cargo into the morning sun. “See you in two weeks?”

“You got it. I’ll have 100 for you.”

Outside, today’s pilot – Bud — opens the baggage door. When Daniel unstraps the cooler, each grabs a handle and lifts. Bud groans. “This feels heavier than what we agreed.”

“131.5 pounds, like I told you.” Daniel grunts through his teeth.

Bud puts his end into the cabin. “Same as my daughter who flew with me yesterday. Course, she’s at the age where she’d kill me for telling. You got kids?”

“None that I weighed recently.” Daniel looks at his watch. “It’s after six. Let’s go.”

Bud starts the engines. “Sedona traffic, this is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha taking off runway Two-One, left turnout.”

That you, Elevens? It’s Boxcar on your six. Where you headed?

“Goin’ to Chicago with all that money I won last night.” He turns onto the taxiway.

Me too.”

“Uh, I recall you leavin’ more than you came with.”

“I meant Chicago. And I was doin’ all right until you dropped triple Jacks. I’m staying at the downtown Hilton. Sure would love a chance to get my five hundred dollars back.”

“Game on!” A smile creeps across Bud’s face. “Of course, we could bet that five hundred on a race to Chi-Town.”

“Hmm. Where you stopping for fuel?”

“Garden City, Kansas.” Bud enters the runway. “Wanna make it double or nothin’?”

“That’a Texas-sized 10-4.”

Bud opens the throttle and the engines roar in stereo. Seconds later they’re airborne, white wings disappearing into a cerulean panorama. He looks in the mirror at Boxcar’s Mooney lifting off. “So, Mr. Strange, what’re we haulin’ today?”

Daniel is so entranced by the Mars-red surface he almost forgets his “business” name, Robert Strange. “Uh, lab samples. Tissue. Can’t say much beyond that.”

“Long as it ain’t stem cells – or clonin’.” Bud shakes his head. “So sick of people playin’ God when they should be worshipping Him. You a church-goer?”

“It’s been a while. I might come back.”

“Don’t wait too long. Never know when Judgement Day will arrive.”

“So why do they call you Elevens?”

“My lucky number. Born November 11. On my eleventh birthday I went to church for the first time and got moved by the Holy Spirit. At twenty-two, I became a father for the first time. And at the age of thirty-three, after wandering in the desert so to speak, I came back to Jesus. Yessir, born again.” He pauses. “Of course, you heard about my last winning hand.”

“Three Jacks.”

“Which was the eleventh hand of the game.” His right hand goes up. “God as my witness, I kid you not.”

Daniel wrinkles his forehead. “I’m trying to remember the significance of eleven in the Bible. All I remember are twelves.”

“Right, the number of apostles, and the age Jesus was when he questioned scholars in the temple. Plus, twelve sons of Jacob who formed the twelve tribes of Israel. Yep, the good book likes an even dozen. But eleven is connected to the main event for people in my church – hold on.” Bud listens to frequency traffic for several seconds. “Chatter on the east coast. Reports of a plane crashing into a skyscraper.” He shakes his head. “Where were we?”

“Eleven in the Bible.”

“Right. Eleven appears less often in scripture but when it does, it usually signifies judgement. Take the Book of Genesis. In Chapter 11, mind you, mankind rebels against God and builds the tower of Babel. God responds by confusing their language – literally, they start babbling, and the result is chaos.” He pauses to listen again. “The apostle John had eleven visions in connection with the final judgement. And the Gospel of John tells of eleven promises God makes to mankind, beginning with everlasting life if you believe in Christ and ending with a call to obey Jesus. My takeaway: Eleven is a sign to get right with the Lord before Judgement Day.” Listening again. “For the sake of completeness, I’ll note that our savior was 33 when he was crucified.” He presses a headphone tight against his left ear. “Another plane hit the World Trade Center – South Tower this time – and now they’re saying both were airliners. Looks like an attack of some sort.”

“Let me hear.”

Bud switches to an AM channel and they listen silently for several minutes. The news gets worse as reports come in about another airliner crashing into the Pentagon. Even the distance of two time zones can’t deaden the reality that the nation is under attack. There’s confusion about a fourth plane which, at first, was headed for the White House but now lies burning on the ground in Pennsylvania. Aboard each plane, the hijackers shouted “Allāhu akbar” – 11 letters spelling “God is greatest” — as they used boxcutters to slit crewmembers’ throats. Now the media is sharing voice messages from those trapped in the burning towers. Daniel keeps swallowing to quell the emotions rising in his throat. Bud just lets his moans, groans, and tears flow unchecked. He improvises a prayer:

“Dear Lord, it’s Elevens here, your perennial sinner. I know we haven’t spoken directly about my little gamblin’ problem, but I’d like to make sure we’re square. If this is your Final Judgement, please have some mercy and take this flawed but well-meaning servant to sit by your side. If, however, this is a trial you’ve set for us, I’m ready to show my devotion by givin’ up cards. Just, please, give me a sign. Show me the way.” He turns to Daniel. “If you need help prayin’ – maybe you forgot some of the words – I can help.”

“I’m sure my fate has already been decided.”

Bud looks forward. “And Lord, let’s not forget our quiet friend here, Mr. Strange. He may be a mystery, but I’m guessin’ his intentions are just as noble as mine. That, I believe, makes him worthy of your protection. Amen.”

Albuquerque Center to all aircraft: All flights are to immediately land at the nearest facility. This is a nationwide order from the FAA. Repeat: Land immediately.

“Ask for a sign, receive one.” Bud clears his throat. “Albuquerque Center, this is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha. Message received. Over.” He spreads a chart across the control wheel. “No long runways in front of us, so we’ll have to turn around.”

“No.” Daniel holds a pistol in his right hand. “Keep going.”

“You out of your mind? I’ll lose my license – and my livelihood.” Bud’s eyes land briefly on the gun. “Careful with that trigger. We’ll both die if you pull it.”

“I’m not pulling anything so long as you keep flying.”

Bud sighs. “Mr. Strange, you’re makin’ a big mistake. And it’s a hell of a thing to do, dragging me into whatever scheme you got going on.” He glances back. “I’m guessin’ that’s not lab samples, is it? What are you into, drugs?”

“The less you know, the safer we both are.”

“Sounds like you’re in deep.” Bud softens his voice. “Look, man, it’s not too late. I’ll testify in your favor if you just give me the gun and let me follow orders.”

“We’re all obeying someone, Bud. Just get us to Garden City.”

“And then what? You can’t take off. All flights are grounded!”

“Let me worry about that.”

Barron One-One Two-Two Alpha, Albuquerque Center. Turn around now and land at Sedona. That is an order.

Daniel pushes the gun closer. “Don’t acknowledge.”

Bud exhales and puts both hands on the wheel. After several seconds, he shakes his head. “The Lord is testing me today. With signs I do not like.”

“When we land,” Daniel adjusts his tone, “I’ll pay your second installment early, and we’ll part ways. The world has no time right now for this little problem between us.”

“Problem? You hijack my plane and call it a ‘little problem’? That is a breach of trust, my friend, and comes at a time when my very identity is shaken to its core.”

“Identity?”

“Eleven has always been my number — whether it’s cards, horses, or life events. Then this morning happened. I woke up and said, ‘It’s the 11th of September, gonna be a good day.’ But clearly, it’s not. It’s a shitty day for everyone – possibly the worst in our nation’s history. That’s one sign.” He points at the gun. “Next, I’m held up by a Colt M1911. And now,” he punches his door, “111 miles from Sedona, we get intercepted.”

“What?”

“LOOK OUT YOUR GODDAMN WINDOW.”

Daniel’s jaw drops when he sees an F-16 with its flaps open and gear down, slowing into formation. Its pilot raises a hand, finger pointed down.

Barron One-One Two-Two Alpha, this is Captain “Spike” Ripley of the United States Air Force. I’m in visual contact and will shoot you down if you fail to comply with the following order: Land immediately. Repeat: Land immediately.

“There’s nowhere.” Bud is sweating. “NOWHERE TO FUCKING LAND!”

Daniel snatches the chart. “There’s a private strip on a mesa up ahead.”

“What’s the heading?”

“25 miles straight ahead.”

“Length?”

“What the mesa?”

“RUNWAY.”

“2,900 feet.”

Bud snatches it back. “Shit, that mesa looks half the size of Sedona. It’ll be like landing on an aircraft carrier – which I’ve never done before.”

Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha, this is your final warning. Land immediately.

Bud’s voice cracks. “Don’t shoot, Captain! Gimme two seconds.” He switches on the landing lights, decelerates, and snaps his fingers at Daniel. “Airport elevation.”

“What?”

“FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL.”

“4,700.”

Bud clears his throat. “This is Baron One-One Two-Two Alpha, descending. God bless you, sir, and God bless the United States of America.” He glances over. “I’m assuming there’s no tower at this little outpost we’re shootin’ for.”

“Correct.”

“Well, brace yourself, because crosswinds are gonna be a problem.” He scowls when he notices the gun again. “Put that away.”

“Are you calm now?”

“Fuck you.”

Daniel complies and settles into his seat as the runway comes into view, sitting atop a block of crimson stone. The approach is fairly calm until a quarter mile out, when a gust knocks them off target. Bud’s knuckles are white as he raises the nose and straightens out against the crosswind. Back on track, he finally lowers the wheels, adjusting for the extra resistance which now appears to come from everywhere. At 500 yards, the plane shakes violently while Bud struggles to stay on target. At 200 yards, he pulls back on the wheel, keeping the nose up, while gunning the engine to stay above the rim. At 50 yards, a giant gust pushes the plane below the runway. Bud yanks back again and accelerates sharply as the rocky face grows bigger. Nearly above the rim, Daniel sees another plane above them.

“Shit, that you Elevens? I’m on top of you.”

“THE FUCK, BOXCAR. ABORT LANDING.”

“Pulling up.”

Too late. The Baron’s wheels catch the rim and collapse, causing them to skid diagonally across the runway. They knock aside a parked helicopter, then hit another plane before smacking into a hangar. As he slowly regains consciousness, Daniel hears a gurgling sound. Turning his head, he sees Bud’s eyes staring down at a long piece of metal in his throat. The gurgling slows to intermittent choking before Bud finally goes silent. Next, Daniel turns to the right and sees his arm hanging out the window, bent the wrong way. A piece of bone sticks out through his bicep.

***

“Daniel.” A familiar voice, but not the one he hoped for. His eyes open to see Søren Fillenius leaning over him, eyes piercing the narcotic haze. He snaps his fingers and waves his hand in front of Daniel’s face.

“Stop it.”

“There he is.” The hand withdraws. “That must be powerful stuff they gave you.”

Daniel looks at the tubes hooked up to his left arm. “Where’s Fiona?”

“Really? I come to your rescue, and she’s all you think about?” He shakes his head. “She’s not coming.”

“Rescue? Bullshit. You’re here for the cargo.”

“I did salvage some A positive. The rest will go to waste because the elders canceled the meeting. I suppose you’ll blame the pilot for our having to reschedule.”

“Waste? Take the O negative to Fiona.”

Søren looks indignant. “I’m not your mule – or hers.”

“You piece of shit. I nearly killed myself to deliver that.”

“Well well, the truth comes out.” Søren’s face comes closer. “I’ve got some truth of my own to share.” Two icy hands grab Daniel’s face and turn it to the right. “Look at what’s left of you and tell me you’re still useful.”

Daniel’s breathing accelerates when he sees the stump wrapped in bandages. “That’s up to Fiona…”

“She and I have already spoken.” Canines appear as Søren’s voice changes to a snarl. “I’m to estimate your value and decide whether you stay employed or remain here. Permanently.”

“I have a new source.” Daniel struggles to speak. “100 bags of O negative every two weeks. That, plus Atlanta and Cleveland, and Fiona is set.”

“Where is this new source?”

“Sedona. All we have to do is hire a new pilot.”

“All the planes are grounded.”

“For just a few days. The economy would collapse.”

“100 bags of O neg, huh?” Søren regards him carefully. “Add 100 of A positive to each flight and I’ll let you live.”

Daniel’s vision fades as the drugs take hold again. A warm, fuzzy feeling spreads throughout his body, and the pain that was rallying begins to recede. At this point, he could care less if Søren brought him home or drained him dry. He wonders if heaven feels this good, and kind of wishes he could slip away forever. Would Elevens be there? His prayer for protection should carry weight, right? With St. Peter or whoever guards the gates? If, however, he must stay here it better be with a steady supply of this shit. The label on the drip bag was hazy but it might’ve said Dilaudid. Maybe Jesús could add a few bags of this, too. Get rid of the bad dreams. Allow him to forget everything.

The shadows gather again. Søren’s voice sounds like it’s coming from an old phonograph. Soon, all Daniel can hear is his own shallow breathing. Sure ain’t hell, that’s for certain…

###

The Dauntless Rook (§.01)

The aristocratic coterie padded the twisting rain-slick cobblestones of Ersentwyer, nattering beneath gaudy paper parasols as disjointed crowds of performers, merchants, day laborers and vagrants moved about them like minnows round the smooth-hewn rocks of a rambunctious stream.

“Now I’ve a proper clarity of thy fresh attire,” Aldwyn Blythe declared, taking in Oeric Adair’s onyx feathered overcoat, “I must remark upon its extraordinary character.”

Oeric nodded, bemused.

“Outlandish, isn’t it?”

“I should say! Never wert thou so coxcombly. Wherefore this downy curiosity?”

He paused and adjusted the curious garb with wry amusement, feet shifting nervously over the scuffed and gamol folde, “It was a gift from Cerelia,” Oeric Adair responded with a sigh, casting his hands up into the air, as if dispensing grim confetti, “Its style wars dreadfully with my own, but how could I decline? Especially when our wedding wends so near? Imagine her reaction were I to pawn it; to say nothing of what the other Wealdmaer’s would think, sour as they are with our union. Merely forgoing its flagrant display might prove sufficient to prompt an unseemly reaction; and so I’m featherbound; fated to foppish plume; gaoled in tufted geomor.”

“Wise it were. Had thou peddled it, she’d have cawed louder than the beasts from which it were fashioned,” All the men laughed boisterously, save for Adair, whose visage grew increasingly glum.

Edlin Boyce continued with a wide, mischevious smile, “Worse, that old codger Grædig would use it as yet another reason to declare thee unfit to agan his fruit.”

“Such churlishness ill-attests thy station.” Adair snapped dourly, crossing his arms and looking off towards the old theatre at the far northern end of the thoroughfare.

“Let him perturb thee not; I think it wonderful,” Bullard Kyne responded, moving to stride in tandem with the other men, “Mayhaps, if the other members of our circle had greater familiarity with the fairer sex, they would understand it is not the thing itself that is important in a gift, but the sentiment with which it is selected.”

“Aye. Well said. For my dear Cerelia, I would bare the burden of every feather in the world!”

Even Boyce could not help but smile at that. Shortly thereafter, the four men moved past a series of stalls whose ferverous throng had overflown into the central thoroughfare and there vanished into the crowd.

*

A man watched the aristocrats at a distance, his garb drab, hair long, gray and ill-kept, his manner martial, yet ferine. He looked down at the sketch of his target with cold eyes, and then again to the man in the corvine coat.

An exact match.

The stalker smiled and folded the parchment back up and slid it into his dusty coat pocket.

“Enjoy thy frivolity, Oeric Adair, whilst yet it is afforded thee.”

*


Continued in §.02.

The Fallacy of the Void

In technological society, there have been few ideas more poisonous to the general uplift of Man than the notion that the fundamental materiality of existence is invariably devoid of meaning, when, indeed, precisely the opposite is the case.

A popular view: (Naive) nihilism is the only possible outcome of a materialist, matterological or otherwise ‘naturalistic’ ontology.

Naive nihilism is here utilized to distinguish the position ‘there is no meaning’ from cartographic displacement. Cartographic displacement is used for brevity as a encapsulation of the system-wide phase-out of previously instrumental mental maps key to the generation, development of human behavior; engendering a dearth of epistemological tools, and thus ontological tools, by which to chart out the course of one’s life in a manner concurrent with those essential qualities of the organism that, for sufficient functioning, must be sated, repressed, or exercised.

The proposition (naive nihilism) literally asserted, is self-refuting, for it requires, at the first, the affirmation of meaning to substantiate itself. Meaning subtends the whole of its structure; indeed for the declaration to even be rendered sensible to its generator, it must be inscribed with meaning. To declare that the affirmation of materialism is naive nihilism, is to, at the same time, assert the meaningfulness of the supposedly negative assignation, thus engendering a conceptual paradox.

For meaninglessness to be true, meaninglessness must truly mean something.

This can be substantiated without falling into any kind of lengthy, barbed discussion of the ultimate derivation of meaning itself; it is axiomatic. Either there is meaning (invariant intelligibility given a particular matterological formation), or there is not — in the understanding of this conceptual schema one already demonstrates meanings’ existence and conversely, the nonexistence of non-meaning, for whatever would the shape of non-meaning be? How would it assume a character when its generation requires conception and its expression, linguistic inscription? This we shall call, for the sake of brevity, the fallacy of the void which is: the assertion of a true lack of thingness, or, the assertion of the true presence of nothing. The problem with such an assertion is obvious: In the mere identification of that which is not, one has already lost it, that is to say, one has already posited that which is (that which is not). As such, there can be no that which is not, without a corresponding that which is.

Thus, if nihilism is a description of one who is unable to generate meaning, nihilism, in this naive formation, is impossible, for it is to say that one is generating a nothing, yet, one cannot generate a nothing, only nothing as a conceptual placeholder for a space between some number of things. One cannot grasp a geist. One cannot obtain that which is not. There can no more be nothing in terms of value (for a valuer) than nothing in terms of material composition, as value is itself a function of material configurations. Just as darkness is not a absence of material spatiality, but the appearance of a void due the absence of light, so too are values (conditional functions) present within the organism, regardless of whether or not they are immediately apperceptible thereto. Void is a lack of clarity, not a real presence beyond conception; that is to say: it is real only in the perceptual-conceptual matrix of the observational subject-object.

There is, in short, no nothing. Or rather, every perceptible, conceptual thing is something.

To think of nothing is not to not think. Every act of being is, and is not, not. Thus: Every negation is a positive displacement of another thing-which-is. That is to say, true negation is, in the actualization, true displacement. Thus, it is the displacement of meaning (for some other) which is (or should be) the true referent of the critics of ontological nihilism (which requires no criticism, because it is impossible). Focalism, here, is of key import.

This being said, the circumstance under which one’s milieu’s meanings are insufficiently navigated, excavated, articulated and directed, is a situation well-capable of arising (and indeed, has, is and shall continue to arise); however, the problem, in such a arrangement, is not a void of meaning, but rather, a insufficient ability to mediate meaning, to soften its coarse and perpetually undulating folds. To focus upon it.

Mechanical correctives are here appropriate. That which passes as the differentiation between the mechanical and the organic, and as a consequence, the well-navigated milieu of meaning and the ill-navigated milieu of meaning, is a matter only of degrees of configuration (of both specific type, placement, interconnection and complexity) — of architectural specificity. All are expressions of particular configurations of matter, amenable to the laws of the universe, such as they are understood, all are, at every moment, undergoing change in the movement towards new forms (even if that which subtends the forms under interrogation does not, in the change, displace the form itself), whether by intensification or dissipation, which is merely intensification in a different direction than the viewer-mediated one.

A Dedication To Rust

They ran down the old railroad like children after the ringing of the last school bell, arms wide and smiles broad. The young man twined his arm about the woman’s own, she a month his senior, skin milky neath the ambered summer light. In mirthful exuberance, they passed beside a long line of chainlink fencing, overgrown by ground ivy, brilliant blue like seawater tinged with blood and paused in the thistle to observe a young deer which starred at them, ears straight and haunches primed, transfixed by terror.

Forward-facing eyes, the indelible mark of the predator.

The woman took a step forward, silently as possible, and crunched a branch beneath her old and crinkled tennis shoes whereupon the cervidae flew for the treeline as if its life depended upon it and vanished therein. They laughed, filled with the joy of their comraderie and the effortless sway they held over all that skittered and furrowed in the snaking green ambit surrounding.

The pair then turned their attention to the north where stood a small oil refinery, abandoned and covered over with rust and crows that crouched on thrones of steel and turned up in great whorls, cawing unto the clouds as if to prime their fellows of the newcomers arrival. The wayfaring duo skirted the edge of the fence. The woman following the man’s lead. After a pace he ejaculated a “ah-ha!” and found an area of the fence which gave way to his prying and calloused hands.

“Through here, Reggie.”

Reggie tied back her long, red hair, frizzy with the humidity, and adjusted her belted sun-washed jeans and bent neath her companion and slipped through the metallic aperture whereupon the fence-holder deftly followed. They trekked across a lumpy tumulus of patchy brown-green and hard with the clay underneath. The air smelled of iron and decaying vegetal matter. Reggie paused and took in the scene with great curiosity.

“You find the most interesting places, Harmon.”

Harmon nodded skyward – something he did in place of smiling – and arced out to the leftern area of the refinery yard where stood two massive storage tanks, side by side, like massive stovepipes, silent fluting to the blood-orange sky. Both of the tanks were ringed by black, creaking staircases, bolted to the frame. As Reggie looked to the right, at the main facility, Harmon pranced up the stairs and stopped midway, some twenty feet off the ground, paused and turned to his traveling companion.

“Coming?”

“You sure its safe?”

“Not entirely, but its bolted sturdy.”

He slammed his left foot down forcefully upon the stairwell, causing reverberations to clatter throughout. It barely moved.

“See.”

“That isn’t very reassuring.”

“You can only win as much as you wager.”

She shook her head and hesitantly climbed the stair, making muted gasps with every metallic creak and groan. At length they emerged upon the top of the tank where the wind grew in intensity and their footsteps sounded with booming steel echos. Harmon spread his powerful, sinewy arms, his lithe, well-scarred frame braced against the wind, as if he were drawing down some eldritch power from the welkin.

“A beautiful view on a beautiful day.” He said matter-of-factly, taking a seat upon the massive iron drum.

“With a beautiful woman?”

He turned to her, his expression opaque.

“Indeed.”

She frowned briefly and forced a more pleasant expression and moved to stand directly beside the man.

“I’m getting dizzy up here.”

He gestured for her to sit. When she did they listened to the wind singing through the trees and fall to guttural clattering as it passed between the massive, metal structures of the industrial facility. Harmon placed his hand upon the rusted metal surface of the oil tank, palms down, caressing the ruddy gray surface, speaking low as he did so.

“This facility was built over fifty years ago; its older than I am and older than my father lived to be and it may very well stand long after I fall. Such resilience, born of ingenuity, is impressive. It is as much a comfort to me to see this mighty creation as it is vexing to see it so deplorably abandoned, overgrown and ill-kept. Thinking this, I consider my novel, not as it is now, but as it might be in the future. Will it end up like this facility? Mouldering away on some shelf, my after-image shuttered from all the world?”

Reggie listened attentively, not entirely following. It was a rare occurrence to hear him speak at such length, rare indeed to hear him say anything other than “Indeed” or “Yes” or “No,” his three favorite words. She could think of no one more taciturn and aloof than Harmon Kessel. She had known him slight for four years and in that space, every time they’d met it were as though he were exercising great force of will to stay his feet; as if he were but half-listening, ready to elope off with his ideas to some shutter place like as that which they now occupied. Yet here, now, she thought, he seemed fully present. Open. Vulnerable, even.

“I think you’re worrying too much.”

“It isn’t worry. There is some concern in it, but in casting my mind forward in time, I wish to be as descriptive as possible and eschew all should’s and ought’s. Once you know the former, the latter becomes readily apparent.”

Reggie scrunched up her brow, but nodded and pretended she understood his monologue. She wondered half-seriously if he were mad. Her friends said he was. That he’d gone insane after Lyla left him. Even if it were true she could understand it; they had been together since high-school. A decade. Ten years of dedication destroyed in the blink of an eye. And for what?

Harmon turned to the woman, his strange, green eyes searching the pale blue of her own. Forest to sea. There were never any half-measures in his attention; it was either given or withdrawn; always in totality. To some that was off-putting but Reggie only found it endearing.

“Won’t she be angry you and I went out together?” She figured he wouldn’t know that she knew things were over between Lyla and himself.

“You’re smart enough to know there is no point in asking a question when you already know the answer.”

Fear swift-welled in her bosom.

“What do you mean?”

His eyes narrowed slightly but other than that his face remained unexpressive.

“You don’t know? She went to college. Apparently a requirement of continued attendance is to cut all of her ties. Career apparently took precedence to the man who had just bought a house for her.”

“What happened?”

“I’m not entirely sure and I’m reasonably confident she doesn’t really know either. All I know is that she has ceased to love me.”

“You two aren’t together anymore?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“How could it not?”

“I mean talking about it.”

Reggie was silent a moment. She wasn’t sure how to respond, nor whether it were wise to do so. She did not wish to upset Harmon yet desperately wanted to know more. She was only aware that they were not together anymore. She’d heard as much from her friends who had attended classes with Lyla, but she didn’t know the details. She slowly reached out and caressed his hand and took it in her own whereupon he glanced down at her limb as if it were some alien lifeform and methodically and coldly withdrew.

“Talk to me.”

“Why do you think I brought you here?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did you think I brought you here to put the moves on you?”

“I thought… I don’t know what I thought. I just… I really like you, Harmon.”

“I appreciate that.”

She drew closer, prompting Harmon to tense.

“Don’t you like me.”

“Course I do. Just not that way.”

“Well what way do you like me?”

“Let’s talk about something else.”

Reggie’s fist clench like as her jaw as a rage boiled over within her breast.

“She doesn’t fucking love you, Harmon. You just said so yourself.”

“I know it.”

“So why do you act like I’m a fucking leper?”

Harmon sighed and then turned to the delicate redhead who sat upon the oil drum on the edge of tears and spoke with great deliberation.

“Love is not something which should be dispensed with simply because it is one-sided.”


 

[Excerpted from my forthcoming novella, The Silence & The Howl.]

Tomb of the Father: Chapter One (Excerpt)

Author’s note: The following text is a short chapter excerpt from my forthcoming novel, Tomb Of The Father. More chapter excerpts will be released in the coming weeks.


The sky was dark as the carapace of the beetles which scurried hither and thither beneath the flinty, scattered boughs of the gnarled and dying trees as the man moved over the khaki hillocks of the endless moor; the traveling lamp unshuttered the world in its eastward descent unto oblivion as if following the lonely soul in argent passage from one plane unto the next. Wind-chaffed and weary, that solitary figure trudged over a low slope and descended liken to the effulgent sphere above him as a scattering of sheep ran zig-zag about him, fleeing off down the incline to congregate about the fires of some aged vaquero. The cowherd bivouacked in a stony vale, buttressed all about by a high semi-circle of tors that girded he and his odd-baying wards from the buffets of the world. To the left of a firepit which had been hastily constructed and ringed about with the scarce, ashen sediment of the moor stood a diminutive palfrey, outfitted with naught but a loosely strapped saddle-cloth and whisp’d reigns of hair, amber’d by the bony light of the moon.

The stranger looked on a while and then adjusted his leather belt and heavy pack, from his shoulder, o’er thrown, and looked to the storm-wall building up in the far-flung distance and then back again and made haste to the camp seeking harbourage from the ravishment encroaching.

Small, flickering tongues of flame hacked away the shade from the rocky outcropping and illuminated the faces of the beasts and men alike and for a brief spheres-turning all was silent save for the crackling stutter of burning wood and the muted shuffling of graze-beasts upon the heath.

The vaquero looked the stranger up and down and then bade him to the warmth of his shelter, the invitation, readily accepted.

“What queer business brings thee to this forsaken vale?”

The stranger set himself down beside the fire and warmed his aching bones and then turned to his benefactor with a countenance both dire and faraway, as if he were intensely enveloped in the contemplation of something from a time long past or yet still to come.

“No business. Chance. I long for the barton of Haberale, but upon my way my horse was tokened by ague. So, with a heavy heart, I put sword to spine and ended the sorry beast’s suffering and continued on my way afoot; this barren waste, the last obstacle o’er which I must leap to reach my kinsmen’s warm embrace; they unprimed of my arrival. Ah, to hear the Torian rebeck cry once more, for that there is no maze so vast as to keep me.”

The cowherd nodded as if sense had been made of the thing and some semblance of trust both established and reciprocated.

“Thou mayst call me, Ealdwine.”

As the stranger took the old man’s hand and shook it firmly he spake with something liken to shame frittering about his dulcet tones.

“Well met. I am Gunvald Wegferend.”

“Curious name that, it sounds not of this thede, nor any other.”

“That alone is a story in the retelling.”

“The isolation of the moor doth unfix thy tongue from its rightful wagging – fret not, I shan’t pry. A man’s business is his own.”

“I mind not, old man, but would thank thee for the comfort of thy wild-twinkling foyer, the effulgence of the firmament, for all its dazzling brightness, did little to gird me from frost’s fell grasp. Hark! Hear thee that sound?”

The old man half turned upon the old log on which he sat, cocking an ear in the direction of the wide, outer dark. Then he shook his hoary head and returned his attention to the wayfarer.

“Nay. I hear nothing.”

Ealdwine leaned closer to the stranger, his grizzled visage demon-like in the interplay of dark and flame.

“There are always noises upon the heath. Skittering in the swarthy tendrils of the night. Sounding with great regularity and not all tricks of a frightened mind at that. There are skinks, efts, wild dogs and shrews and grouse and geese, adders and crickets aplenty. Oftimes the big-horned rams from the far mountains loose themselves from that stony prison and, wayward, wander in quizzical vexation about this lonely place. Wild hearts beating with the echoing confusion the land sings aplenty. Upon such happenings, I see them stray into the marsh which stretches like a great and black-blooded gash across the earth at the far southern end of the moor, like a wound from some giant’s own brand. If so they stray, they will invariably fall prey to the silent monster with maw eternal-arced and hunger endless, and strain against the bog-hold, crying out, a bleating, strangely human, into the fire-pitted welkin where nary an ear but mine can hear their sorry plight. At the last, their rangy heads and heaving flanks vanish beneath the sinkhole and with that disappearance, so to do their cries subside and all is at once silent and severe.”

Gunvald, sensing the old herder sought his fear, crossed his thick and iron banded arms about his cuirassed chest with a lusterless clinking and raised a brow in good-humored challenge.

“Canst thou not aid the poorly beasts?”

“Fools errand that twould be, none but a scion of God could navigate that blasted place with sureness of foot. The first false step means death, to man or beast. There is naught living that can escape that fetid pit when once it has thee in its soggy grip.”

“Tis a fine thing then that I am no horny ram.”

“Ye should make not light of such turnings, for there is an ordering beyond our ken and a truth beyond it. Those what scoff at the plight of that whom The Creator hath deigned to snatch away laugh also at Him, for is not such cessation but part and parcel of his plan? What greater sacrilege could there be but to scoff at the very pathing of the world. Take heed, traveler, thou scoffeth at thy own peril, for thee scoffeth at the very face of God.”

Gunvald furrowed his brows and then adjusted his belted scabbard such to bend better towards the heat and, there a moment, refreshed himself and then straightened and addressed the old man directly.

“Thy words well become a man of thy occupation. Tis rightful that men of the earth should, with their deeds as with their tongue, extol it.”

“Aye. But thou sayst naught pertaining to the truth of it.”

“Tis not for men of my station to interpret such eldritch things. I’ve not the brain for it and, lacking the intelligence, lack also the words. My voice is in my sword, for redder conversations than this.”

“A soldier then?”

“Aye. Hark. Again, I hear it.”

Before the old man could speak three vast shadows subsumed the rocky outcropping and footed there, three men, feral eyed and brigandined. There was between them, several swords and daggers, all of which reflected like ghostly fires neath the cool sheen of the shrouded, waning moon.

The cowherd and his compatriot rousted with suddenness, Gunvald’s hand flying instinctively to the leather-bound pommel of his gilded blade, gifted him by his father, late. He drew the blade in the same instant and stepped forth with a fencer’s feline grace, eyes steady as his poise, emotions cold as the brand which glinted orange with the low-crackling flame.

“Who goes?”

“Put that away afore ye hurt yeself,” a pudgy member of that ratty trio mouthed with a wide, sinister grin.

Another, the shortest and ugliest member of that threesome, a hunchback, swiped the air with his weapon, a cudgel as loathsome and twisted as the visage of its wielder, which caused the sheep to bah-bah and retreat civilly to the very edges of the high, stone cliffs.

“Looks as if we’ve a froggy one! Let us see how ‘e jumps without his legs!”

“Silent and still, the both of you,” Thundered the tallest member of that sordid corp, a man some thirty years of age or more, angular of face and form, he wielding a grain scythe in his leather-strapped hands and it full with the luster of the moon-geist.

Gunvald knew not the providence of such beings but their intent was plainly writ; the Narrow War had birthed many such creatures, the ungainly trio being but lesser manifestations of the insurrection’s twisted deviance. Their movements furtive. Eyes more beast than man.

“Excuse my companions, tisn’t oft we chance upon such ill-girded company.”

Gunvald smiled fractionally.

“So you think.”

“So I know.”

“Try me then, brigand, and may Marta bless the better man.”

Malefactorous, the night-stalker advanced hesitantly across the muddy ground, well-slicked with welkin-mourn, farm scythe held awkwardly before him, as if it were some mighty polearm. All the while the thief drew forth Gunvald moved nary an inch, his eyes and bones and blade fractions of a singular whole, still as the stone surrounding. At the last, as the dread-scythe arced through the air with a furious humming, the soldier tore himself from his rooted shade and feinted the blow with the mid-side of his great-brand and delivered a sunderous riposte that severed the brigand’s arm from its socket.

A faint mist of red fluttered through the air like tiny moths from some otherworld of dreams and landed upon the ground as the gory limb flopped down beside them like a huge and malformed fish. A startling howl tore from the rouges’ throat, as if it were his soul that had been rent from his body, the sound rebounding throughout the high, towering outcroppings and fading up into the night as if suffering were, like smoke, drawn unto the dark.

The flock bah’d nervously and stomped their hooves as their Shepard stared on, wide-eyed but resolved.

Gunvald turned to the remaining cretins who paused a moment, looking to the triumphal warrior, clad in moon-glint mail, then to the leaking appendage that still clutched the scythe and then to the man to which the arm formerly belonged, some seven feet away, flat on his back, writhing like a punctured horseshoe crab, his agony so great that nothing now but muted moans escaped his wide-spaced maw, lips flexing like roiling bait-worms fresh off some fisherman’s line.

With a startled cry the felonious duo turned tail and fled off into the night, their lanky shadows odd-angling under the skies auspicious glow, shortly thereafter wholly swallowed up into the hazy outer null. Gunvald made to swiftly follow but was held aback by the vaqueros cry, “No! They fly to the marshlands. Heed my words: Let them fly, no man can traverse that curse’d terrain under the pall of night!”

Gunvald nodded and watched them fade off into the wide sea of black and then exhaled heavily, as the old man looked mournfully towards the dying thief.

Then all was sheep-call and bird-caw and fire-hiss and the hideous bleating of a lost and dying soul.

At length, Gunvald turned to his fallen foe who instantly began, once more, to shriek unto the vaulted sphere of night. His eyes bugging into enormous disks, strange-lit by the dancing flames of the softly crackling fire. Just as swiftly, the man’s howling was silenced by the point of Gunvald’s blade piecing his armor and heart, there pinning him to the ground like some great and misshapen insect. His eyes rolled up in his head and a final gasp of breath escaped his mouth, as an arcane epithet, issuing high up into the moist and roiling air. Then nothing but the clacking of hooves and the whistling of clay-scented wind, ranging out over the great and scoured ambit of the rain-washed plane.

At length, Gunvald put his boot to the silent brigand’s chest and pulled free his bloody brand and bent to the dead man and from his head cut a thick and charcoal lock of hair. He moved from the site of execution to the firepit and knelt before the red, closing his eyes and uttering a strange mantra unto the dancing embers, as if they’d ears to hear it.

“What has gone, is what is come. And from my hands, I give to yours. That which is rightfully owed. This life to your light, now and forever, unending. Give us both your pardon. Let him keep his rest. May thy light engulf the world and guide us to thy breast.”

When the soldier had finished his prayer and tossed the lock of hair into the fire, he watched it burn with keen intensity, as if revelations would speak in shocking tongues from beneath those puffs of thin, gray smoke. When they did not, he rose from the ground and set himself down upon one of the flat stones which the vaquero had hauled to the pit to keep himself well clear of the ground as he warmed his old bones. The vaquero looked to the knight a moment, then the fire, then the knight and spoke, his voice uneven with fright.

“Such recklessness displays no leadership yet their accountrements announce the converse. Its like as not their master were not among them.”

Gunvald nodded vaguely and gestured towards the old man for something to drink for which he was rewarded with a flask of sour, salty rice-wine. The soldier grimaced but downed it all the same, feeling a hot sensation in the pit of his stomach. It could use some spice, he thought idly. He leaned over the flames, cradling the flask between his heavy-gloved hands and addressed the cattle-herder with deadpan seriousness.

“I agree with thy summation. Likely to me it seems that those that fled were but part of some larger band. Raiders. From the hill-lands. Long have they warred with Tor. The nature of the conflict lost to the annals of history and the sands of time. As rooted in religion as in the blood. T’would be unwise of thee to tarry.”

“Aye, they were at that. Though lonesome it may appear to thee, across the bogland there is greener grass than this. It is there I’d graze my woolly friends were there space to do it. Alas, the land is owned and off I’d be run in not half a minute. Avaricious land owners to the south and bloody thirsty raiders to the north, such is my plight, traveler, so much as it might behoove me to fly, I’ve nowhere to go.”

The vaquero fell silent a good long while, his eyes cast to the flames, as Gunvald took the information in solemnly and stroked his burgeoning beard as if in meditation. When at last the old man raised his face from the fire there was great sadness in his eyes.

“Ye didn’t have to kill him.”

Gunvald paused a moment and then met his elder’s gaze with dark amusement shinning in his own.

“So even thee questions the order of the world. Thee, thyself said it twas paramount to a mocking query of God. Is this thy project, vaquero?”

The old man, shocked by his own unrealized hypocrisy, fell silent and did not respond. The soldier continued on, heedless.

“Of course it is, what else could it be. It is the project of any and all sane and questioning men. It was this very project that led me to reject such notions, for such a presence, that which is eternal, all powerful and everywhere at all times and places, is said to lack in nothing – a fatal error, for such a being lacks in but one fundamental quality: Limitation. As such, there is none to bear witness to He, none to say that He is this and they are that. A being beyond witnessing is thus a being beyond our ken. Tis Sagian religion and sits ill at ease with my Torian blood.”

“Yet thou cleaveth to Marta.”

“The Sagians say that their deity is ineffable, He cannot ever be known. Marta guides us in all things, if we are of right worth and if we ask. Or so my mother told me.”

“And what of thy father?”

“I never knew him.”

With that, silence fell once more over the stony outcropping as a chill wind swept in from the northern mountains, bringing in its wake a dreadful downpour that washed the blood from the body of the arm-less brigand and carried it out and down the trough of the encampment to puddle in the sodden moor. In that fetid broth’s reflection were the wings of a dozen crows who cawed madly and scrapped the sky with their metallic talons and torn off in wide-wheeling circulations through the closing storm-wall as thunder and lightening fell upon the plain and redressed the world in the garments of the mad.

Their cries like lamentations.

For the dead.

The dying.

And all those still to die


 

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Dactyl’s Lullaby

You’ll see him at night, when the moon shines its beam

Tall, gaunt, inviting, his face so serene

Oh, he’ll whisper so sweetly, kindly words shall inspire

The fickle, black beating of hearts grim desire

No eyes to his face, all the better to see

The wretched behavings of those such as thee

Burnoose’s fell strides, his hands shall embrace

The wicked, then dragged to a most fearful place

So listen up all; whores, brigands and rakes

Tread not in night when the eyeless man wakes

So tuck up to bed and shutter the moon

And pray that He leaves you to rest in your gloom