Simple Schema For Fiction Note-Keeping

§.00 I’m very partial to note-keeping and have consequently developed a note-keeping method specifically tailored for fiction.

§.01 Consideration in my schema is first given to character(s), since once one has assembled their principal character or characters, the setting and plot can be developed more naturally. Next, principal setting(s), then theme(s) (since once one has the setting and character the theme will be able to be developed, but not before, unless one is writing story expressed primarily as a internal monologue), plot(s) (as one needs the characters, setting and theme before the plot, of necessity) and finally dialogue(s). The aforementioned entries can be ordered in the way the author finds most desirable but this was the order which works best with my own process.

§.02 Outline of written schema:

  1. CHARACTER(S)—a. character 1. b. character 2. c. character 3. d. etc…
  2. SETTING(S)—a. primary setting. b. secondary setting. c. tertiary setting…
  3. THEME(S)—a. primary theme. b. secondary theme. c. tertiary theme…
  4. PLOT(S)—a. primary plot line. b. side-plots…
  5. DIALOGUE(S)—a. narration and/or character 1: “[dialogue].” b. n/character 2: “[dialogue II].” c. n/character…

§.03 Regardless of the original manner in which the schema is created (word processor, paperback journal, etc) it is important to secure a back up (as one would with a manuscript) via cloud storage services, jump-drives and print-copies/scans.

Nihil Futurum (Part 2)

Another critical theorist with a keen interest in the work of Edelman and the (non?)future of the progressive-feminist project is the social theorist and senior lecturer at Roehampton University, Nina Power. Power’s paper, Motherhood in France: Towards A Queer Maternity?1 Tackles the question of ‘queer motherhood’ that is, critical questioning of the validity and importance and value of motherhood itself, especially if questioned by mother’s themselves. Just like Edelman and Berlant, Power utilizes psychoanalysis rather than more traditional philosophical methodologies to examine both Edelman, society and the concept of “queerness” and contemporary motherhood within various social structures. She begins her task by affirming the obvious fact that, though feminism and queer theory are distinctive philosophical schools, they are “partners” in a wider progressive effort. In Motherhood in France, Power’s wrote, “The relationship between feminism and queer theory has often been remarked upon in recent decades, sometimes with pride, sometimes with resentment. The parallels between anti-essentialist ideas of gender, the exploration of the ways in which oppression and resistance work in theory and in practice [to] make feminism and queer theory close partners, even if feminism sometimes complains that queer theory has stolen the covers and has left it out in the cold.” Oh, the excoriating parturiency of intersectionality! One can already hear the disceptation of the feminists: “You’re not being female-inclusive enough!” and then, the queer theorist’s rebuttal: “Well, you’re not being queer-inclusive enough; queer men require inclusion too!” Ouroborous eats his own tail and Power – to her credit – realizes it.

She then cites Edelman, using his work as a launch-platform for the rest of her article, noting, “A certain strain of queer theory, most notably the work of Lee Edelman, has in recent years pushed hard at reclaiming certain accusations levelled at ‘queers’ in the past, namely that those described as ‘queer’ are guilty of being anti-child, and of not ‘believing’ in the future. Edelman provocatively takes up this image of non-futurity and states defiantly that ‘the queer comes to figure the bar to every realisation of futurity, the resistance internal to the social, to every social structure or form’. Edelman’s project is an attractive one in many ways, even if his argument about non-futurity depends upon a characterization of both left and right political projects that necessarily neglects those aspects of particularly left-wing movements that are also non-futural.”2 Again, Power’s critique proves incisive as she realizes Edelman’s pitfall, namely, that he is a leftist whose philosophy negates left-wingism as such.

Yet, she is a feminist and as a consequence moves into alignment with Edelman’s deracination of The Child by critiquing what she describes as France’s “fetishized national maternity.”3 To circumvent this fetishization, Power posits a “queer maternity,” which she describes as a project which would be, “less a celebration of non-heterosexual reproduction (that is, a celebration of ‘queer mothers’ or ‘queer motherhood’), than an attempt to think about what it might mean to refuse motherhood from the position of already being a mother,and to ask whether, in a context in which motherhood is increasingly dominating the definition of what it means to be a woman, there is any resource for queer theory (and for its link to feminism) in defending the negativity of the mother who refuses to play her role.”4 We would here pause to note that motherhood is part and parcel of “what it means to be a woman” precisely because it is a biologically mediated function which only women can do. To attempt to deconstruct The Image Of The Woman, along the lines of inherent biological functions is, of necessity, to negate feminimity-as-such (in the very same way dispensing with the Child obliterates all futurity) given that all those norms which subtend the image would, of necessity, require obliteration. Power’s first move, then, is akin to promulgating the notion that the concept of The Man must be denatured of all connection to the male-body’s ability to produce sperm. One cannot move freely in the domain of the conceptual (The Woman) when one roots one’s concepts to objective realities (impregnation, pregnancy, childbirth, child-rearing).

Having laid out her (wayward) blueprint, Power then proceeds to chastise Edelman for focusing upon The Child to the neglect of women generally in his book, No Future. She also seeks to dispense with Edelman’s notion of Sinthomosexuality5 and instead look to the force of the mother herself as the subject who would negate the future. We should pause here to note that there is a significant performative difference between taking the position that a woman should be left unmolested to make the decision to resent her children and remove herself from any future participation in their lives, and, affirming it as a desirable thing for women to do. Power, citing the radical feminist, Corinne Maier6, takes up the latter position, stating, “Maier’s starting point —namely that it is better not to have children (or at least, that it may have been better not to have had children, from the standpoint of someone for whom it is too late), that it is possible to resent one’s own children and, indeed, wish that they had never been born, is an unacceptably queer sentiment that opens the gates to a raft of subsequent questions that question the symbolic order as a whole. When Maier writes, ‘[l]isten, your marvellous babies have no future because every child born in a developed country is an ecological disaster for the whole planet’ (No Kids, 1–2), she is breaking with the fantasy that every child is a positive addition to humanity as a totality —indeed, she hints that it is the most privileged children who are precisely those who bear the weight of the destruction of the future even as it is those same children who are most invoked as those for whom contemporary politics should be ‘working’ for.”

Maier’s critique is emblematic of what we can dub envirocracy, that is: a political theology revolving around the worship of the environment itself, by itself. In other words, a contemporary variation of earth-worship, veneration of the mother goddess; this metaphysical framework is appealing to feminists for several reasons, principally, the long-standing history of the anthropomorphic genderfication of the earth itself. The association between The Feminine and The Earth can be traced to Mari7 (also known as Mariamma, Marimman and Mariaai), a South Indian Mother Goddess usually associated with the Hindu deities, Parvati8 and Durga9. A common strain of thought which runs throughout Hinduism is that all of the female deities are manifestations of a singular but many-faceted female mother goddess who was responsible for the creation of the world. The basques also worshiped a goddess named Mari who was transmogrified into Mary after the rise of Christianity to further the efficacy of pagan conversions. Such beliefs can be traced back even further to the widespread emergence of representational art which occurred around 35,000 years ago; the well known ‘venuses’10 of Dolni Vestonice, Willendorf, Lespugue and Laussel also exemplify such early folk beliefs. We might theorize that the prevalence of association between the concept of The Feminine and the earth, or some portion of it (trees, oceans, land, etc.), occurred as a consequence of the social arrangements of hunter-gather society. Males of ancient tribes would sally forth in search of sustenance and then bring forth both discipline and food; they were thus, ‘seasonal’ insofar as they were more transient and distant than the ‘earthen’ females, who would stay behind to tend to their children and their domiciles. The notion of distance then, likely played into early neolithic gender associations wherein those aspects of each gender which most mirrored some aspect of nature were symbolically externalized. The most obvious examples of this thesis include the archetype of the sky-father, distant, powerful and temperamental and the earth-mother, close, nourishing and protective. Regardless of the reasons for the emergence of such beliefs, they continue to permeate even the most secular and rationalist of creeds, as Maier’s commentary well attests. The obvious problem contained with Maier’s eco-essentialist philosophy is that the earth as such can not care about itself. A philosophy which places the environment of humanity above humanity itself can not but help to develop an anti-human tinge, regardless of the intentions of it’s creators and promulgators. Furthermore, the notion that one’s “marvellous babies have no future because every child born in a developed country is an ecological disaster for the whole planet” is, on it’s face, false. A ecological disaster is, by popular definition, a catastrophic event which occurs to the environment because of human activity (such as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster), yet this definition is rather too narrow, given the fact that, though certain forms of human activity can cause massive upsets to ecologic niches, the environment itself naturally generates catastrophes, such as tidal waves, mudslides, volcanoes and forest fires; even something as seemingly innocuous as slightly too much or too little rain for a sufficient period of time can spell the death of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of living organisms and the complete and utter transformation of a given ecology. Indeed, every single time one washes their hands, the individual is committing a microbial genocide! Every swathe of water and soap about the human hand, an ecological erasure. Where then to draw the line? Naturally, at what, itself, can draw lines: humans.

The curious tendency for earth-mother ideologies to subtend The Image of Man via veneration of all that is outside of it, then, necessitates a conceptual impasse that, when put into practice will always generate performative incontinence. For, when Power takes Maier’s earth-worship as a “useful (non-)partner to Edelman’s sinthomosexualism to combat the reduction of woman to mere reproductive machines she is, whether she realizes it or not, erasing the-woman-as-such. I suspect that Power’s realizes some portion of the truth of this as she chastises Maier for her hyperbolic language and then quotes the French philosopher, Elisabeth Badinter, who, in a interview with Der Spiegel said of the back-to-nature feminist movement, ‘They want women to breastfeed their children, saying this will protect the babies against allergies and asthma and protect the mother herself against breast cancer. . . Two years ago, our environment minister seriously even suggested introducing a tax on disposable diapers. . . This movement is ideologically driven and is leading us back into the 18th century, to Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his model of the ideal mother. It’s a bit like trying to reawaken the slumbering mammal inside women. But we women aren’t chimpanzees.’

Badinter is quite right and, oddly, given the context of the paper, in stark opposition to Maier’s anti-natal, anti-female, pro-ecology position. However, Power then quotes Badinter again, noting that Badinter believes that to tie motherhood to biological instinct is “profoundly ideological.” It is, rather difficult, to claim that motherhood, something which is inherent to every single society in history “profoundly ideological.” Now, one may well make the case that certain forms of motherhood are directed by ideology but the ties which a mother has to her child, the commitment and sacrifice, seem to be “hardwired.” The North American Killdeer11, for instance, after the hatching of its eggs, will pretend it has a wounded wing to entice predator’s away from its nested young. Female giraffes will regularly sacrifice themselves for their younglings whilst female octopi will defend their eggs, even if that means forgoing food. These are but a few examples of mothering instincts in nature; but if it is instinctual, such behaviors should be accessible before or outside of motherhood and, upon further investigation, this is precisely what one will find. Female voles12, who had never had sex, were dosed in a laboratory experiment (which has also been conducted on various other animals) with oxytocin13, what the researchers found was that the dosed voles, within only half-an-hour, were caring for vole-pups, despite the fact that those pups were not their own. A similar experiment was conducted by Marlin, Mitre, D’amour, Chao and Froemke and published in the science journal, Nature14. Other experiments involving rats dosed with oxytocin antagonists showed the precise opposite results; block the oxytocin, block the maternal instinct. One could go on for quite some time with tomes full of such examples; due this fact, it is clear that Badinter’s assertion is foundationally flawed, moreso when one considers the evolutionary implications of a ‘non-hardwired’ maternity impulse, for those species who have low-birth rates (such as humans) typically invest considerably more resources into the prospective young then species who reproduce rapidly and profligately (such as spiders). If humans had never developed a nurturing and protective maternal instinct our chances of survival and propagation as a species would be considerably lowered, given the fragility such a species-wide change in interrelationality would engender. Human young would have been left to their own devices, barring the intervention of male paternality, but even still, the fathers of such children would have to hunt and would not be able to devote as much time to the care-taking of their children as the mothers would be able to provide. Thus, in such a arrangement, human children would be almost invariably malnourished from lack of breastfeeding and also considerably more vulnerable to predators, such as bears, wolves and so forth, given the lack of social unity and protection from their mothers.

Neither Power nor those she quotes within her paper grapple with these issues to a sufficient degree. Power then jumps, rather suddenly, to Marxism, quoting (yes, she loves quoting people to make her point) Judith Halberstam, who wrote, “We need to craft a queer agenda that works cooperatively with the many other heads of the monstrous entity that opposes global capitalism, and to define queerness as a mode of crafting alternatives with others, alternatives which are not naively oriented to a liberal notion of progressive entitlement but a queer politics which is also not tied to a nihilism which always lines up against women, domesticity and reproduction. Instead, we turn to a history of alternatives, contemporary moments of alternative political struggle and high and low cultural productions of a funky, nasty, over the top and thoroughly accessible queer negativity.”15

Power then finishes her piece with the following,

Here queer theory can be a useful ally: if we accept the constructed nature of all sexuality, including the most ‘obvious’ forms, we can go further and remark that there is something similarly constructed about the consequences of sexual behaviour and the positions that follow: ‘childless’ (or ‘childfree’ as the revised, more affirmative version would have it), ‘motherhood’, ‘maternal’ and so on. Clearly there is much that is learned about these positions, much that is down to the cultural reception of this behaviour and whether it is valued or punished in a particular culture. Both Badinter and Maier are responding to what they see is an overwhelming celebration of motherhood in the French context, and the lack of jouissance that results when one is unable to ‘feel’ like a ‘good’ mother, or enjoy one’s children. But maybe there is a deeper jouissance to be found in resentment, and a kind of reawakened feminist rage against the order and the culture that would celebrate the importance of children but not that of those that bear them.”16

It is here that Power really goes off the rails in affirming not just what she calls the “constructed nature” of all sexuality (it is hard to ascertain exactly what that means; if taken literally it is a quite useless concept) but also in positing “reawakened feminist rage” (was it ever even slumbering?) as the solution. If one were convinced that a given set of concepts were wholly socially constructed then the optimal solution would be to begin devising new and more positive social concepts to take their place. As we have already stated, Power and the long litany of authors she cites are simply mistaken about the relationship of motherhood and biology and, as a consequence, can not but help form utterly misbegotten notions because of it. Yet, even if one simply does not care about the biological rootedness of maternal instinct (one should) or of the notion of the feminine, it is quite reasonable to raise the very same objection which we previously raised against Edelman, namely, that affirmation of childlessness leads invariably to social dissolution. Furthermore, the Maier’s negative-motherhood (ie. I must act as a mother but I hate it) is bound, if taken up as a profligate social norm, to lead to the same kinds of problems which Maier, Edelman, Berlant and Power collectively argue against, namely, the exclusion of vulnerable groups as their views either explicitly condone or simply do not condemn the marginalization of The Child; that is, a social paradigm that seeks to emancipate itself from the bonds of the ‘fascism of the baby’s face’ can only do so by literally conflating the baby, The Child, and thus, the future, with jack booted oppression. A project rooted in a negation of all that subtends it’s foundation cannot help but fail, however much it might rage.

1Nina Power, Motherhood in France: Towards A Queer Maternity? Edinburgh University Press, 2012

2Nina Power Motherhood In France: Towards A Queer Maternity? p. 1-2

3Nina Power, Motherhood In France: Towards A Queer Maternity? p. 2

4Nina Power, Motherhood in France, p. 2-3

5Sinthomosexuality is a term deployed by Edelman to describe the child-averse, future negation of his project.

6Corinne Maier is a prominent French psychoanalyst, economist & feminist, well known for her provocative book, No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not To Have Children (2007).

7See, The Hindu Mother Goddess In Indian Sculpture for further reading concerning Mari.

8Parvati or Uma, is a Hindu deity associated with fertility and romance. She is also the wife of Shiva.

9Durga , also known as Adi Parashakti or Devi, is a Hindu deity associated with protection and combat against evil.

10The ancient ‘Venuses’ were small, carved human figurines featuring exaggerated female features (breasts, hips, etc).

11A small brown bird with a white underbelly, native to North and Middle America; so-named because of it’s cry.

12Diminutive rodent, similar to a mouse. The creatures are sometimes referred to as ‘field mice.’

13Oxytocin is a peptide hormone involved in the control pair bonding, parenting and sexual arousal. It is also crucial to female lactation.

14See: Oxytocin enables maternal behavior by balancing cortical inhibition, Nature, Vol. 502, April 23, 2015.

15Power, Motherhood in France, p. 8-9

16Power, Motherhood in France, p. 10

Apostasy (Part 2)

Previous chapter

Dask came to again in blackness but this time he was wrapped in warm blankets and felt snug and safe. He dozed for some time longer, but as he became aware of his body he groped at his hands and found them intact. What strange dreams he was having, nothing made sense. Where was he? Then Dask stopped in shock as his hand discovered the cold, jagged, glassy shard lying right there alongside him. This was not a dream. There was a pale glow suddenly that, though dim, blinded him at first in contrast to the complete lightlessness. Dask covered his eyes for a moment and gradually drew his hand away. He lay on the floor of a stone chamber. As he rose from his blankets he felt a subterranean chill sink into him at once. He could hear dripping somewhere far off.  The whole place smelt of stone, cold, and dampness as old as time.

“Where the hell am I?” he asked himself, or whoever might be there.

“I thought the catacombs would be suitable. The ancient dead are seldom visited.”

Dask shuddered.  “I always heard stories of the living dead down here.”

“Don’t you belong here, then?”

With a start, Dask came fully awake and sprang up from his bedroll.  “Wait! How did I get here? Am I dead? Who are you?” Now that he was looking around the room, he could just see the silhouette of a robed figure in the gloom.

“You know the answers better than you think.”

“The Demon! Am I in hell with you?”

“You were in hell without me, so you invited me.”

“I didn’t invite anyone. All I wanted anymore was to just be left alone with what I had left.”

“It never works like that.”

“If I am on earth and not in hell now, why don’t you just kill me?”

“Are you in some hurry to go to hell?” The Dark Man’s voice turned just a bit ominous and the import of who he was talking to began to dawn on him. He found himself suddenly seized with terror that these were his last moments before eternal flames engulfed him forever.

“Why on earth would I kill you now? You let me into this city and you made a Pact to get out of that cell. Stop cowering.”

Dask tried in vain to stop shaking.

“You can never go back now. Even through death.” added the Dark Man. The finality and truth of these words hit Dask like a physical blow.

“What do you want with me?” he almost shrieked.

“The power of Demons comes from the hearts of men.”

“Why don’t you just destroy this city and be done with us?!”

“They are still far stronger than us.”

Dask was dumbfounded by this and the lapse snapped him out his panic for a moment.

“Then why the hell did you show up in the public square!?”

The dark figure shook with sardonic laughter.

“So she would look for me.”

*

Four sleepless days Suryn had swept through the town with a whole army of the Duke’s soldiers marching behind her. They burst into house after house and accosted people on the streets if Suryn so much as looked at them. All through the night, trails of smoke were visible above the city as any item tainted by darkness, questionable, or heretical, was thrown into great bonfires. Then there came the trials. For a day at a time without so much as taking a break, Suryn gazed through those brought before her and questioned those she sensed were heavy with sin. Many panicked as she could begin to sense details and confronted them with their crimes; they would confess and be hauled weeping and apologizing profusely to a cell for further interrogation. As hysteria engulfed the city, more people began pointing fingers, knowing the accused would be forced in front of the Paladin’s judgment. Finally, a guilty man stood before Suryn. He was gangly and stoop-shouldered his face pudgy and blocky with a patchy beard thickest under his chin. She could immediately see the Demon’s taint in him, yet the pathetic thing tried to defend himself in a nasally voice that only ignited her fury. “Ma’am, I don’t know anything about any Demon.”

“I can see the Hate all through you… and smell it. You stink of it! If you aren’t already in his service, you soon will be.”

“Ma’am, I can’t help what I think! I can’t help what I feel! I don’t want to hurt anybody!”

“Every day you think of killing them slowly as they scream. The other boys at your master’s workshop. The girl who sneered at you and ran away when you smiled at her.”

“Ma’aaam!” shrilled the young man. His abject fear and submissiveness only infuriated both Suryn and the crowd. Hardly anything more needed to be said. In a clamor, the young man was dragged into the courtyard where the embers of a bonfire of tainted books and keepsakes still lay. Soon a pole was staked into the ground and the young man lashed firmly to it. His shrill screams of pure terror were audible above even the roaring crowd as bundles of dry twigs were tossed all about him.

Suryn watched from a ledge above the crowd, her face tight with anger, yet rapt with a hypnotized sort of fascination, as she watched the first flames begin to lick at the frantically squirming body of the howling young man. The flames soon began to engulf him but still she stared through the flames into the soul of the deviant. Suddenly, as the unfortunate young man neared the point of death, only the Hate remained and in that moment, she felt something shifting. She was not one to be taken by surprise twice and this time she leapt from the ledge and sprinted through a crowd that trampled itself to get out of her way.

A rift opened in the middle of the blaze and the burnt young man abruptly disappeared through it. Before the the rift could close, Suryn jammed her sword through it and felt it encounter resistance like she had never felt before. A shockwave of darkness threw her back and knocked over the entire crowd. As she looked up, laying on her back, she saw at once that the portal was closed and no trace of the burning man remained.

*

As the Demon pulled someone through his Doorway, there came an explosion of light that must have stunned and blinded Dask for several minutes. As he recovered, he saw the Demon was lying on the ground with labored breaths beside the man he had rescued. “What happened to you?”

The Demon stirred. “Herrr…” He rasped.

Dask was taken aback as he saw there was a white-hot glowing gash in the Dark Man’s chest, steady waves of rippling heat were visible even in the dim chamber. Without thinking he knelt and reached out to help.

“Back!” the Demon hissed. Dask tumbled backwards, startled. “Help him.”

Dask turned his attention to the other figure in the room. It appeared to be a burnt and blackened corpse, but as he stared in disgust and confusion, the figure stirred and moaned. He had no idea how to help. He knew nothing of bandages and medicines and he didn’t have any down here.

“How?” he asked. There was no answer. The Dark Man lay there, his breath a labored heaving. The bright wound pulsed with blinding light as it tried to grow in size only to be contained and shrink down again. There was a struggle going on before him and he somehow knew now there was nothing he could do to interfere. The powers that proved an even match for a Demon would incinerate him in an instant if he got too near. Dask turned again to the burnt man and did the only thing he could think of. He laid his hands on the charred man’s oozing, destroyed flesh and let his mind wander to the thoughts and the rage that had finally led him to making a Pact. He saw the smirking of the guards who had barred him from his own house. He remembered that first night punching the walls of his hastily rented flat in a blind drunken rage. He remembered being tortured and thrown in a cell, alone after being stripped of what little he’d had left. When Dask opened his eyes, he was still trembling with sorrow and pure rage. The burnt man still lay there, somehow still stirring when he should have been dead by now. He could no longer stand the horrible sight and the smell of burnt flesh. He had tried to do something and failed at it.  In disgust, he tried to rub the burnt flesh, blood, the smell of char and death off of his hands. That was it; he decided in that moment, he had to get out of here. He would find a way to go back.

*

“You are a true hero of the city.” said the Duke to Suryn. Her heart raced as his hands came down on either side of her neck holding the ribbon attached to a gleaming medal. All the courtiers in the throne room clapped politely.

“I accept.” she said. “But I don’t know if I killed him.”

“You said this will give us a time of peace in which we can prepare if he ever returns.”

“Yes.”

“Whatever happens, you deserve our—my utmost gratitude in perpetuity.  If you had not helped me crush those treasonous rebels when you first appeared, I may not have been able to give you this decoration today for your victory over the Demon.” Suryn’s hand strayed to the other medals adorning her armor for the ceremony. She lightly touched them and recalled how she had been given them as she had turned the tide of the war and then as she had brought back the heads of the rebel leaders, one by one. “You can’t compare a Demon to mortal men who just want to usurp your rule and take your treasure. He will want more than that.”

“We will work together and defeat him for good all the same.”

The Duke looked her right in the eyes and she felt engulfed by his friendly, yet mysterious gaze. He ascended to his throne and the crowd closed around her with their prettily-worded congratulations. But none of them dared look her in the eye as the Duke had done. No one ever did. The life of sacred duty was a life without connection and she had accepted that.

*

Dask spent days finding his way out of the depths of the catacombs, yet somehow he was only slightly hungry, thirsty, and tired. Ever since he had awakened down there, he couldn’t remember eating anything. He had never seen the Dark Man eat or drink, but he had never expected him to. His heart had leapt for joy for the first time in weeks when he found himself on the surface again. Though it was night, the glowing lamps of the city were like daylight compared to the dim glow he had lived in. The warm night air was like a cascade of kisses on his cheeks after the relentless bone-leaching chill of the caverns. He had escaped; now a new life lay before him. He began to weep with joy. He would be happy from now on if he could have the slightest corner for himself in this beautiful world of the living.

*

He came to the house of his parents who had turned on him with suspicion the night he had been expelled from his house. He would try again to reach out now and make them understand! He pounded on their door and a couple minutes passed as a lantern was lit. “Father!” cried Dask. He no longer cared about the fight they’d had. He was back from the dead.

“My son!” His father hugged him, the first time anyone had touched him benevolently since his life had abruptly fallen apart. “You shouldn’t have come back, Dask! We love you!”

Suddenly there was a clamor as guards surrounded him. “Get down! You’re under arrest!”

Dask knew there was no way he’d ever willingly go back to that cell and his life was already over. As they began to draw their weapons, he charged right into them. To his surprise they went flying. Two men jumped onto him trying to restrain his arms. He tore free and slugged one in the face and elbowed the other. With audible snapping sounds, both of them dropped to the ground. The other guards immediately abandoned all thought of capturing him alive and advanced with their swords drawn. To Dask’s dismay, one of them had a crossbow aimed right at him. He registered the thudding of the crossbow and chills raced through his body as he looked down and expected to see his torso impaled by a heavy bolt at close range. Nothing. He looked up. A shadow had passed between him and the guards who now stood dumbstruck. There was a sound of oozing flesh and the grinding of shifting bones and joints. An object tumbled from the the shadow’s body to the ground. It was the crossbow bolt. The figure let out a roar of hideous rasping, screeching, inhuman rage and lunged at the guards. They fled at once but the dark figure grabbed one of them from behind by the neck. The furious creature shook the life out of the guard like a terrier finishing off a rat, and then, with a backhand motion, flung the man’s body against a wall five feet off the ground with enough force to crack the plaster exterior. The creature flung back its head and gave out a sandpapery, screeching howl of pain and fury.

Finally, Dask got a better look. It was the charred, barely human body he had left behind in the catacombs, somehow animated with an inhuman force. The whole city was already coming awake and the yelling and stamping of hundreds of guards came from nearby.

“Run!” Dask said to the creature. He sprinted down the streets towards the entrance to the catacombs his whole being focused only on survival. Some citizens coming out of their houses pointed and shouted at him. Some even tried to chase him, but he left them behind almost immediately. Sooner than he could have expected, he was near the opening, but in a flash of survival instinct he thought to look around him. No one appeared to be near – except for the charred figure which had somehow followed him with ease. No time to think about it. He went into the ancient graveyard with the charred man right behind him and they went down into the dark crypt they had come from. At first everything was pitch black, but then he saw a pale glow spread around him as it had before. He was not about to think too hard about it and fled down the maze of tight tunnels picking up the markers he had left behind as we went. With his heart still racing, he finally reached the center of the maze from which he had come. The Dark Man still lay there motionless, the bright gash still striving to consume him. “Master!” said Dask. There was no answer.

*

Dask did not know how long he stayed down there not knowing what to do. Startled, he felt a tugging on his wrist, the most repulsive sort of sensation that left behind sticky tiles of reeking, blackened skin. With a cry of fear, Dask recoiled backward. In the dim light he began to suspect was some kind of Demonic vision in complete darkness, he saw the burnt man standing over him. It raised its head and sniffed. A harsh, plaintive yowl came from its throat. It was restless. It turned to leave the chamber then and Dask, knowing nothing better to do, followed. The tortured creature wound through the tunnels, at times stopping as if to sniff the air and changing course. They moved beneath the city in forgotten passageways and finally, the charred creature began to claw at the earth above them. Dask enthusiastically joined the strange beast in its efforts. They forced their way through bricks and even concrete with what he now realized must be strange new abilities. He had to take breaks and nurse his torn knuckles and fingertips, but the burnt up beast was indefatigable. No matter how many oozing scales fell away, there always seemed to be more. Finally, a dim flicker of lamplight that shone through a tiny hole almost blinded him. The charred beast knew what it was doing! Dask redoubled his efforts to assist even though it felt as though his bleeding fingers would fall off. Soon, the two intruders climbed through the floor into a house. There, a bearded man about a decade older than Dask sobbed and heaved on the floor. He was so distraught, he was only just beginning to realize a couple of men had just clawed their way through his floor. Startled, he began to beg them for his life on the ground. It was more than Dask could endure. “It’s alright!” he said.

Nothing happened for awhile. Dask looked at the burnt man but no direction was forthcoming. It was up to him!

“Relax,” Dask muttered. It was all he could think of.

“Go ahead and kill me!” said the man on his knees. “I have nothing left! Take my life. I’ve lost my job. They took my wife and children!”

“What happened?”

“The Paladin! She denounced me as a sinner! The Duke’s judges took my family from me!”

Dask suddenly felt his blood pressure rise and his fears and the pain of his torn-up hands were forgotten. He felt the blood swelling into his forearms and he punched the wall. The last time he tried that, his fists had bounced off in his impotent, drunken rage. This time, he left a gaping hole in the plaster even as blood streamed out of his torn hands. “We have been sent,” he gasped. “To help.”

In that moment, all thoughts of returning to his past life as it had been left Dask forever. It was one thing to suffer misfortune himself, it was another to witness what had befallen the burnt man and now another poor fool who had committed Thoughtcrime.

“Pledge yourself to him!”

“What do you mean? Who?”

“You know who. There on your knees now, pray to him. Do it every day.”

“How could I do—”

“How do you like the way things are? What do you think of how you’ve been treated? This is your chance to do something about it. Pledge yourself to our master. If you know any others, tell them to join.”

“But how!?”

“You’ll know when you’ve done it.”

Dask and the burnt man turned away and casually went back down through the gaping hole in the floor, leaving the distraught gentleman with his thoughts. There was a shuffling from above as a rug was abruptly placed over the hole. Dask had no idea where he had gotten the idea to say those things. It had just seemed right as he began again to recall the moment he had turned away from the Light. As heavily intoxicated as he had been, there had been then a deep change in his soul, at once the snapping of a twig and the rumbling of a rockslide.

They returned to their lair at the heart of the catacombs and there in the center of the floor, the Dark Man’s form was weakly sitting up. He spoke to them with a sharp laugh.

“Well done.”

Next chapter