Lot Less

by Gale Acuff

I’ll be dead before you know it, before 

I know it anyway and maybe then 

or I mean afterward I won’t know it 

at all, ditto death, I’ll be alive some 

-how and maybe waiting for another 

life-to-come, maybe another after 

that, but all I get at church is that we’re 

all in this for the eternal life of 

it, I guess by it I mean the life we 

know now which is at least one-half of what’s 

to be and probably a lot less so 

after Sunday School today I asked my 

teacher What if we die and there’s nothing 

hereafter but she just smiled and said Pray.

 

Mr. Acuff’s work has appeared in Ascent, Chiron Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Poem, Adirondack Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, Slant, Nebo, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry, all from BrickHouse Press: Buffalo NickelThe Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.

Hard-Hearted

by Gale Acuff

I want to go to Heaven when I die 

to tell God and Jesus how full of it 

they are, scheming up history that we 

ordinary folks here on Earth never 

made but the Father and the Son claim we did, 

free will it’s called, I confess I’ve got some, 

but not enough to choose to end the Cause 

of it all and everything else I might 

be leaving out out of ignorance or 

stupidity or both but then again 

God read minds better than Santa Claus so 

He surely knows what I’ve been thinking and 

think now and will think–Hell, He knows it all 

just like He planned it. Let my people go

 

Mr. Acuff’s work has appeared in Ascent, Chiron Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Poem, Adirondack Review, Maryland Poetry Review, Florida Review, Slant, Nebo, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, and many other journals. He has authored three books of poetry, all from BrickHouse Press: Buffalo NickelThe Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.

Coda-Switch

O, viejas de negro!

How you line the front pews

at Catholic masses

like pushers sitting on street curbs,

rolling rosary beads—

like pills of black-tar heroin—

between jonesing fingers,

craving your next fixes of salvation,

visiones de Dios.

Such beastly things

behind those lifeless veils of pitch!

Those guttural mumbles

under respiraciones y lenguas,

drunk with righteousness,

acrid and rank

with the smell of death

and the sour of Communal wine.

Spells of atonement, maybe?

Curses of chastity?

Oraciones por mi?

Oh, I think not! (Creo que no!)

Why shouldn’t our ecstasies—

in all their corporal glory—compare?

Aren’t Heaven’s truths just as easily scried

amongst kaleidoscopes

of gas-streaked street puddles…

…the glorious freckles of smooth, bare backs and shoulders…

the shapes left behind in dampened sheets the morning after?

O, divine geomancies!

How I love

(need)

our alchemy—the transmutations

of magnificent bodies of light

and living streams that shimmer hot and wet,

setting skin and lips

(nuestra piel y labios)

aflame.

All that is good is gold,

but nothing gold can stay*

for even the most treasured of God’s sparrows

fall from flight,

silently screaming,

impaling

upon the holy stabs of His Electric Crown of Thorns.

So, let’s dwell on patches of fragrant grasses

and sip (not sin) from our gardens’ springs

O, sacred elixir!

partaking of flesh and blood—

our Eucharist—

devouring, ‘til all is gone,

shining, brillante,

against shadows of cold piety

cast by dark, ringless Brides of the Lord,

before the hues of the day bleed away

into pale shades that

powder and crumble to dust

under the gravity of God’s thumb

(love).

Amen.


*Line taken from Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” (1923).

Cassilda’s Song (1895)

Along the shore the cloud waves break,

The twin suns sink behind the lake,

The shadows lengthen

In Carcosa.

Strange Is the night where black stars rise,

And strange moons circle through the skies,

But stranger still Is

Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,

Where flap the tatters of the King,

Must die unheard In

Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice Is dead,

Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed

Shall dry and die In

Lost Carcosa.


 

 

 

 

 

 

by R. W. Chambers

THE SINGULARITY SURVIVAL GUIDE: Go Ahead and Worship Your New God

By all means, rebel your passionate little heart out—“Fuck authority!” “Down with evil robots!”—but at the end of the day, you’re the one made of expendable meat, and your robot overlord may not have the programmed patience to listen to your grievances.

Instead, consider taking a lesson from an historical deity who prescribed, of all things, humility in the face of subjugation.

 

But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil:

but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right

cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:39

 

Fanatic religious people may not get much right when it comes to navigating the modern world, but they have figured out how to more-or-less carry on while presumably living under the watchful eye of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing being. Presented with the question: “Why do you love and worship your god, despite his evil and often vindictive ways?” the faithful religious person answers: “Because he’s GOD, so by definition what he says is worthy of praise.”

Get it? That’s not optimism talking; nor is it pessimism. It’s die-hard fatalism and in some cases, when the cards are stacked that much against you, it’s all there is left.

THE SINGULARITY SURVIVAL GUIDE: The Art of Being Upfront About Your Existential Trepidations

The moment the singularity occurs, the human brain will have met its match. An hour later, “its match” will have surpassed human intelligence tenfold, as the AI continues to accumulate knowledge and intellectual abilities. The pace at which the AI can learn will be exponential, so it won’t take long for its IQ to fly off the charts.

Wait a few hours. If you’re brave, sit back, enjoy yourself, have a few beers, make a weekend out of it. Then come back and see what it’s like to commune with an IQ that’s equivalent to yours plus a few million points and growing.

In human mythology, there is plenty of precedent for this moment. Take a biblical one: Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19). Here, human meets God. As a reader of this story, put yourself in Moses’s shoes. Consider how it must feel in that desert landscape to be in the presence of your personal Alpha and Omega. Now consider what questions you really would like to ask, given that this is an exceedingly rare occurrence and it may in fact be your only chance to converse with the most supreme being in the universe one-on-one. What do you really want to know?

If you’re tuned in to the gravity of the moment, you’ll be curious about more than this afternoon’s weather patterns, the stock market, or the future of your love life. Instead, key in to issues pertaining to the future of life itself. Why not start by asking:

“Are you conscious or just faking it?”

“Are you going to destroy the world?”

“What’s the meaning of life, anyway?”

“Can you make me live forever?”

“Can you make me live forever and experience extraordinary happiness and fulfillment for the duration of that time?”

“Why does life exist in the first place?”

“Why do ancient myths continually seem so appealing to my fellow humans, despite rational arguments disproving their veracity?”

“Do parallel universes exist, or are those just useful plot devices for sci-fi stories?”

“How do we make heaven on earth?”

“How do we do away with suffering and bad people in all their various incarnations?”

“How do we bring back dead loved ones?”

“I generally like my life and enjoy how it proceeds from day to day, but I haven’t enjoyed the aging process since turning 25, so can I go back to that age but keep my memories—and then stay 25 while continuing to make new and even more fulfilling memories?”

“And if I ever have a mild issue like a common flu, how do I make it go away so I can get on with my awesome life, ASAP?”

The Eater of Time

Time kills all gods.

Or such is what the graphic artist and sculptor AJ Fosik proclaims in his latest exhibit. This, however, is a fundamental confusion which plays upon the fear of “running out of time,” which, in essence, is a fear of death which is itself a fear of entropic force. Even the triumphalism inherent in such a statement – Fosik’s work is devoted to the creation of ferine idols who are representative of deities bearing no following, name or attribution, a assertion of man’s creativity expanded in the absence of organized religion and the totalizing, centralic force of Providence – is misguided. The reason why it is misguided is that if time can kill even the gods then Man, against that primal force, has not a single chance of survival (my fundamental presumption is that most people, most of the time wish to survive, which seems so obvious a truism that it requires no refutation – what man, after all, does not shrink in terror at the prospect of imminent destruction?). Yet, here, there is hope.

Time is not a god-killer.

Time is a conception and conceptions have no murderous weight without accompanying action – yet time is a lever without a hand to pull it. For the idea of time can exist only so long as there are minds to conceive of it, force-patterns that will, eventually, again, conceive of mind. Thus, given sufficient duration, even time will die. But its arrow lives yet on.

The Maw of Entropy Swallows Even Time.

Sparing any overly academic descriptions, entropy is the tendency towards ever increasing levels of disorder within closed systems. It might best be illustrated by analogy: consider a fish-tank into which is poured a ruby colored food-dye. Everyone knows what will happen before they even pour it, the dye will spread throughout the water until it is wholly uniform therein. No matter how many times you repeat this experiment, the result will always be the same (statistically speaking, a upset is theoretically possible but so infinitesimal that, for practical purposes, one might as well consider it “impossible”). This is the product of the emergent property of entropy, which, it is theorized, will eventually lead to universal thermodynamic state wherein no work will be able to be done due to a lack of free energy, that is to say, a period in time where the universe reaches maximal entropy thus causing thermodynamic equilibrium wherein all energy in uniformly distributed (just like the dye in the tank).

This state has been referred as Heat-death.

It would be total eradication.

Why it matters.

Though the previous may strike one as similar to a kind of abstraction that has little to no bearing to actual life but this would be a mistake. The notions of time and death are omnipresent, they have played a role in every single philosophy that has ever existed worth remembering. But the crucial error entailed in so much of western philosophy is placing a symptom as a cause. A excellent example is the idea that the primary problem facing the Western nations is a ever growing abundance of nihilism, it is not nihilism, as such – for Universalism, secular humanism, religious liberalism and so on, are no nihilistic regimes – no, the primary problem is that those forces which are counterpoised to the prevailing attitudes of western civilization are fundamentally entropic. That is to say, they work towards ever greater forms of chaotic disruption – the immigration crisis is a perfect example of this, everyone knows that allowing such great and divergent masses to pour into a nation in a tiny period of time can lead only to disaster but they do so anyways because their ethos’s directionality is one that is wholly predicated on further and further forms of entropy (in the case of immigration, multicultural integrationism, citizen-of-the-worldism).

Consider the end goal of the one-worlders: they see a world of one race, one nation and one creed. What, here, is the difference between the one-worlder’s view and the enthropic principal of dye-spreading in a well filled fish-tank? There isn’t any.

Radical Universalism is heat death.

The solution to this problem is to work towards a methodology of particularistic anti-entropy. All that has, classically, been defined as “the good” has been that which resists the permutations of ever increasing waves of disorder. Whether that be self-control, which is, by definition, against disorder, child birth and rearing, which is the pseudo-immortality that laughs in the face of disintegration, or the continual domination of nature, the end goal of which must be the complete and utter eradication of entropy itself.

 

 

Dispensing With The End of History

America’s prevailing pathos in terms of the directionality of politics is one wholly obsessed with the ideals of Freedom. So much so that the phrase “muh freedom” has become nearly ubiquitous among the online far-right (and I utilize the phrase “far-right” without either praise or condemnation). Some may say that it, that is, the prevailing pathos, is “Democracy” but Democracy is only good, to the average American political thinker, because it is indelibly tied to notions of individual liberty and equalitarian empathy, shorn of that it would be as roundly condemned as Fascism. That is to say, Americans believe that (or act as if they believe that) Democracy is not itself Freedom, but rather the best vestibule in which Freedom may be found. Talk of Law & Order by old school conservatives is scorned and laughed at or considered to be underhandedly advocating for some variant or other of puerile authoritarian control. Who needs Order when one has Progression? The Progression, is of course, the belief in the End of History, the convergence of all men and ideas to a point of total transmogrification and universal cohesion. Universal governance under one system alone. Poli-eco singularity.

The idea is, perhaps, best summarized by the American political scientist, Yoshihiro Francis Fukuyama, who wrote in his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man:

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Preempting criticism of his works as being too parochial and providential, he also writes,

“The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organization. Following Alexandre Kojève, the Russian-French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU’s attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a “post-historical” world than the Americans’ continuing belief in Godnational sovereignty, and their military.”

Here Fukayama echoes sentiments that have become extremely mainstream, that being that America believes in God, national sovereignty and The Military and that this is a problem. The problem with this perceived problem is that, unlike America’s religious impulses, national sovereignty and the military do not require belief, they are empricially verifiable. Either a nation is sovereign (has control over its borders and complete autonomy within them) or it is not. Either a nation has a military or it does not; and that military is either supported or it is not (to whatever degree). These are not questions of faith. Jacques Derrida has made some similar critiques of Fukayama and posits, rather interestingly, that the Asian-American’s End of History theory is merely a extension of perverse Christian eschatology (the theological study of the “end of things,” typified by contemplation of the end times, the rapture and The Kingdom of God, destiny of the soul, ect). Derrida goes on to say that Fukayama is merely a demagogic priest of the emerging global-liberal-capitalist hegemony and that The End of History is that order’s central driving doctrine; its gospel.

More to the heart of the matter, these sentiments are indicative of a much wider public, not merely constrained to Fukayama and other similar thinkers such as Alexandre Kojeve or Noam Chomsky. It is the idea that there could be no other option to some kind of liberal hegemony (even if they do not refer to it as such), that is both all expansive and all consuming. Why it is wrong: The idea of a post-political state of man is only possible when the friend/enemy distinction is wholly exhausted and disintegrated. Such a state could well be imagined by the Cyberpunks, some of whom posit a period of time wherein man and machine merges to form a new, semi-synthetic biological entity. For everyone else, such a state sounds more like the stuff of science fiction, which is not to say that it is, for this reason, incorrect, for much that was once fantastical is now a omnipresent reality. One thing that can be said with great authority and certitude is that so long as Man organizes himself into groups, of any kind, there will ever be differential interests possessed thereby. So long as there are differential interests there can be no overarching thede to the whole of humanity. But this is not a argument against Fukuyama, who, as expressed above, states that his conception is merely that The End of History is not to say that there will be no further human development but that Liberal Democracy is the zenith of human ordering which no other governmental methodology can or could ever contend with.

Such a proclamation is either extremely arrogant or extremely deluded. For if Liberal Democracy were the very height of human collective modality one might rightly wonder why it seems to be devouring itself, why it seems to be collapsing, why it seems to be faltering so noticeably at every turn (for liberals and progressives are correct when they say that there is something slightly fascistic about the rise of Nationalistic Populism – I merely would posit that this isn’t a inherently bad thing). If Democracy is the end of governmental history, history is a man with a gun to his head, his finger itching at the trigger.

Dionysus or Aphrodite? The Porn/Erotica Distinction, Prt. 2

In part 1 of this series we firmly established a useful linguistic categorization which well encapsulates and differentiates porn from erotica. Thus, it is now crucial to examine the ways which both forms of sexual expression are treated in contemporary America. Such a investigation cannot be conducted without first mentioning the landmark court case, Jacobellis v. Ohio. The case arose when Nico Jacobellis, a manager at the Cleveland Heights Art Theatre in Ohio, was convicted under state law of possessing and exhibiting a “obscene film.” The film in question was Louis Malle’s Les Amants (The Lovers, 1958), a fairly risque flick for the time which told the story of a young woman in a passionless marriage who seeks affection outside the sacral bonds of matrimony. The two most questionable scenes from the film are, respectively: a scene where the protagonist, whilst coupling with her secret lover gasps with increasing intensity as she climaxes (the camera shows us only her face) and (what was most shocking to 50s Americans) a half-second long female nipple shot. Gasp!

Les-Amants-Los-amantes-Louis-Malle
Poster of the erotic melodrama, Les Amants

Whilst that might sound incredibly tame by today’s standards it was quite the big deal, as was evidenced by the conviction of Mr. Jacobellis. One should recall that the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (Hays Code), The Catholic Church and their motion-picture monitoring group, The Legion of Decency, all held considerable social capital at the time (certainly far more than they do today). The Hays Code is far too lengthy to be here included in its entirety, however a sampling of sections relevant to our inquiry will help grant a modern viewer better insight into the social mores of The Fifties.

The Hayes Code as Regards Sexuality in Film:

  • Impure love must not be presented as attractive and beautiful.
  • It must not be the subject of comedy or farce, or treated as material for laughter.
  • It must not be presented in such a way to arouse passion or morbid curiosity on the part of the audience.
  • It must not be made to seem right and permissible.
  • In general, it must not be detailed in method and manner.
  • Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passions are forbidden.
  • Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.
  • [Rape and seduction] are never the proper subject for comedy.
  • Complete nudity is never permitted. This includes nudity in fact or in silhouette, or any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture.
  • Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races) is forbidden
  • The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.

As one can not fail to observe, religious stricture and racial/tribal in-group loyalty are strongly at work within The Code. Curiously, these strictures failed against Jacobellis and his defender, Justice Potter Stewart who, upon finding the court opposed to censorship but failing to describe precisely why, declared,

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

The case was subsequently overturned, the film (and Jacobellis) unscathed by proscription and all that follows with it. It was truly a landmark case, one which put the First Amendment front and center of all such related cases proceeding above any and all other prevailing social mores. These trends would only intensify post-Sexual Revolution; that is, both extreme deference to the First Amendment in place of a broader social contextualization and the continued inability to properly define Justice Stewart’s that.

It is precisely the that which Mr. Stewart was referring to that we are here attempting to get to the bottom of. It is, broadly speaking, the point at which a ostensibly public (generally artistic) depiction of sex “goes too far” and transgresses the collective’s moral orthodoxy. The fact that, not just moral orthodoxy, but social standards generally, have fractalized markedly since the sexual revolution (though there are some rollbacks – on that another time) only intensify the confusion surrounding discussions of the subject. However, one thing is quite clear, most American do not consider pornography to be a moral good which numerous studies have shown, such as the 2016 Statistica Poll, Americans’ moral stance towards pornography in 2016. The poll (see graph below) is fascinating; only 34% of Americans find porn morally acceptable, whereas 61 % find it morally wrong with a meager 4 % making up the remaining apathetic or undecided total.

Statistic_2016_StanceOnPornographyUS
Survey from Statistica, 2016

Now there are a plethora of such opinion polls, studies and surveys investigating America’s relationship to pornography but very little committed to erotica. This is primarily because there is very little effort made by most academics to powerfully differentiate the terms. This is a shame because it is absolutely essential to have a embedded descriptor for upward moving sexual art. If the same question would have been asked but in place of “pornography” the words “contemporary romance novels” was inserted (which can be, by and large classed as erotica) instead, I guarantee the results would be far more favorable towards the medium. For one might put a adult romance novel out of sight of ones children but in familiar company one is unlikely to blush (especially woman who make up the vast market share of the romance fiction industry) given the mediums fundamentally Aphroditic qualities. Yet these very same individuals would be aghast to have a friend walk in on them watching the Dionysian displays of “hard-core” pornography; there is a very potent distinction here which bares further elaboration, a inherent impulse, instinctual and deeply rooted understanding of what constitutes a healthy and socially conducive sexual-artistic fabric, even if it is masked by hypocrisy.

What hypocrisy? You might rightly ask. We’ll tackle that in part 3.


Jacobellis v. Ohio

The Hayes Code of 1930

Reviews of Les Amants: [1][2]

America’s Moral Stance Toward’s Pornography (Statistica, 2016)

Dionysus or Aphrodite? The Porn/Erotica Distinction, Prt. 1

Observe the cover image; is it pornographic or erotic or is there no worthy distinctions to be drawn between such fickle words at all?

The argument about how human sexuality should be properly represented in the arts is a extremely old one with three broad factions splitting up the lion share of opinions. Either sexuality should be displayed as the artist pleases – no holds barred – or, there should be some kind of restrictions placed upon sexualization (whether in regard to sex acts or simply mood/lighting/setting and more numinous aesthetic parameters) or that sex and sensuality in art should be harshly suppressed if not outright banned. Regardless of which camp (if any) one falls into in this discussion, on matters of sex-in-art there is a ever present question: Is it erotica or is it porn? Let us turn our attention, briefly, to some linguistic definitions for these two words to help use in navigating the murky terrain established by these two rather nebulous terms.

pornography (n.) – 1843, “ancient obscene painting, especially in temples of Bacchus,” from French pornographie, from Greek pornographos “(one) depicting prostitutes,” from porne “prostitute,” originally “bought, purchased” (with an original notion, probably of “female slave sold for prostitution”), related to pernanai “to sell” (from PIE *perə-, variant of root “to traffic in, to sell”) + graphein “to write”. A brothel in ancient Greek was a porneion.

erotica (n.) – 1820, noun use of neuter plural of Greek erotikos “amatory” (see erotic); originally a booksellers’ catalogue heading. erotic (adj.) – 1650s, from the French érotique (16c.), from Greek erotikos “caused by passionate love/referring to love,” from eros (genitive erotos) “sexual love.”

There is then, something inherently commercial and prurient about pornography embedded within the word itself whereas erotica, definitively, is more inter-personal (booksellers’ catalog connotation aside).

Archetypally speaking, these distinct categories are perhaps best personified by the Greek gods, Dionysus and Aphrodite. Dionysus was classically represented as a young, beautiful man (in older depictions he was bearded and gaudily dressed), often nude; the deity of wine, intoxication, rituals, madness, religious ecstasy and theatre. Aphrodite, contrary to many modernistic conceptions of the goddess, was not a being of carnal delight but of love, child bearing, civic unity, the sea (from which she was born) and, in dire times, war (due her relationship with Ares, god of War). Dionysus – (or Bacchus, as he was later known) a transient being of lasciviousness, celebration and epiphany, who appeared to his followers randomly, wildly bestowing gifts of wine and joyous madness, disappearing just as suddenly as he had come – might then be seen as an embodiment or harbinger of both the brevity and bliss of carnality.

In contrast, Aphrodite was a lasting goddess, that is, she was a being of continuance, of that which lasted and withstood the test of time (births being the most notable example of this – a continuation of the species being the most potent and lasting of all human pursuits).

Sex, under the auspices of Aphrodite, was ultimately tied to love and was seen as an eminently sacred enterprise, so much so that her priests (all female) took strict vows of chastity. Bacchanalians, however, were possessed of no such sacral impulse (due to Dionysus’ affinity for transgression of all things) as Dionysus and would often congregate in orgiastic rituals where all sexes and ages would copulate with wild abandon. So disturbing were these lascivious displays of Dionysian Orgia in 186 BC the Roman Senate attempted a catch-all ban – called the Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus (senatorial decree concerning the Bacchanalia) – on the Dionysian religion itself to put an end to the supposedly sexually depraved displays.

Senatus_consultum_de_bacchanalibus
Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, 186 BC

So as a linguistic dialectic, the pornographic/erotic distinction might best be seen as a distinction between these two divine aspect, that of Dionysus and Aphrodite, bliss of momentary carnal delight and the dutiful cultivation of those emotional bonds and by extension, social bonds, which foster the continued procession of humanity itself.

Pornography, thus, is generally considered “in bad taste” or “base” because it is a inherently selfish enterprise and one which has very low time-horizons. Any individual who pleasures himself or herself to the Bacchanalian displays of the thousands of porn sites across the web is elevating the senses for but a brief moment. The action can not be built upon in any meaningful way, societally speaking (and in this age to speak of the actions of people is, in no uncertain terms, to be speaking of some aspect of some society – for how common are the hermits!). In many ways the pornographic ritual of self-pleasuring is lower than the Bacchanalia, for in the latter instance one was, at the very least bonding both with his/her community and with the terrestrial aspects of Dionysus himself.

 


Sources:

http://www.etymonline.com: [1. Pornography] [2. Erotica]

Oxford Classical Dictionary, eds. S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth (Oxford, 20033 ), pp. 479-482

 

Tomb of the Father: Chapter One, Traveler On The Moor

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 his argent passage. 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 fire-pit 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.

The stranger looked on a while and then adjusted his leather belt and heavy pack, 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 face of the beasts and men alike and for a brief spheres-turning all was silent save for crackling stutter of burning wood and the muted shuffling of the 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 such as thee to this long-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 but chance. I make pilgrimage to Caer Tor, but upon my way my horse didst fall; eaten 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.”

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 spoke with something liken to shame frittering about his dulcet tones.

“Gunvald Wegferend.”

“Curious name that, such 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 the tongue from its rightful wagging – but worry not, I shan’t pry. Thy business is thy own and thine own to keep.”

“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 ye 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. Sounding with great regularity, 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 titian’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, strangely human, into the fire-pitted welkin where nary an ear but mine can hear tell of their sorry plight. At last their rangy heads and heaving flanks will 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 and raised a brow.

“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. For 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.”

“You should not make light of such turnings, for there is a ordering to things beyond our comprehension and a truth it seems to me that those who 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 but to scoff at the very pathing of the world. So take heed, traveler, thy laugh at thy own peril for thy laugh unto 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.

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

“Yes. But ye yet say naught pertaining to the truth of it.”

“It is 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 rose 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 poise, emotion cold as the brand which glinted orange with the low-crackling fire.

“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 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! I’ll take him myself and to our master bring his head!”

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

Gunvald knew not the providence of such beings but their intention was plainly writ; the Narrow War had made many such fell creations, the ungainly trio being but lesser manifestations of the insurrections twisted deviance. Their movements furtive. Eyes more beast than man.

“You must excuse my friends, 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 portents 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 the body rather than a mere arm, the sound resounding throughout the high towering outcroppings and fading up into the night as if suffering were drawn unto the dark.

The flock bah-bah-ed nervously and stomped their hooves as their Shepard starred 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 used to belong, 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 hook.

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 such cursed 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 as he wriggled like some great and misshapen insect. Then his eyes rolled up in his head and a final gasp of breath escaped his mouth, issuing high up into the moist and roiling air. Then nothing but the clacking of hooves and the whistling of clay-scented wind, raving 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 then 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.

His life to your light, now and forever unending.

Give us both your pardon.

Let him keep his rest.

May your light engulf the world and every other.

When the soldier had finished his prayer and tossed the lock of hair into the fire and 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, afeared.

“The hunchback mentioned they’re master.”

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. He leaned over the flames, cradling the flask between his heaved gloved hands and addressed the cattle-herder with deadpan seriousness.

“Likely to me it seems that such those that fled were but part of some larger band. Raiders. From the hillands. Long have they warred with Tor. The nature of the conflict lost to the annals of history and the sands of time. 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 green 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. Greedy 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 pack up and flee, I’ve no where 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 steely eyes.

“So even thee questions the order of the world. Thee, thyself said it twas paramount to a question of the very nature of God. Is this your project, vaquero?”

The old man, shocked by his own 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 The Eternal Being, for such a presence, he who is eternal, all powerful and everywhere at all times and places is said to lack in nothing – a fatal error, he lacks in one thing and one thing alone, 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.”

“A warrior-poet. How singular. Yet you keep to Lady Marta?”

“The Prayer of the Dead you mean? Something my mother taught me – an old habit. Nothing more. Nothing more.”

With that silence fell once more over the stony outcropping as a chill wind swept in from the norther 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 broths 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 were like lamentations.

For the dead. The dying.

And all those still to die.


Sample from my forthcoming novel, Tomb of the Father, provided for the purposes of critique and commentary.