Work is Work

 

 

“…that the souls of men are demons, and that men become Lares if they are good, Lemures or Larvae if they are bad, and Manes if it is uncertain whether they deserve well or ill… ”

— City of God, Book IX, Chapter 11, Apuleius

 

 

 

 

Serge had spent enough time down in the gutter to know that his number was up. There were no two ways about it; he was gonna bite it and it was going to be awful.

 

 

He’d been assigned a case by the Myskatonic University’s External Survey division. Something about a Lapis Manalis – a gateway to the underworld, so to speak – popping up in a small town just outside of Springfield. He now recalled wondering if there would be an Evergreen Terrace there – unlikely – and chuckling at the thought. The morning had been just peachy; a promising bout of boring with an extra helping of kill yourself tonight, maybe. Oh, how wrong he had been about that particular forecast.

 

 

Fast forward thirteen hours and a few too many wrong turns of conversation and you had Serge in chains, naked, gagged, dehydrated and with a burning case of hemorrhoids the likes of which he’d not experienced since that one time he’d eaten too much Lebanese food. Oh, and the locals just happened to be the hybrid offspring of a chthonic deity bent on world domination through – get this – love. Yeah. That’s right. The ol’ L word baddie. The reason great empires were built and torn down.

 

Serge wasn’t a fan, and much less now that it was the very reason he was there about to meet an untimely death. There was, after all, only so much a man could take of the dreaded chemical on its own. Couple it with actual threats to his physical well-being and, well, you got one dogged aversion to romantic notions.

 

 

Of course, as much as he hated to admit it even to himself, Serge had fallen prey to a woman. Yes, he had swallowed the whole thing, hook and sinker. That very lady was the person responsible for his current predicament.  Oh, he was a fool and he knew it.

 

 

Speak of the devil! There she was, sharp knives and all, and Serge still found her charming. He really did deserve to get offed. He had sold out the world for a sweet smile and the promise of little tender love and care.

 

Here comes the blade! Yup, there it is, on his neck, right on… the slash came, as expected, and he felt his lifeblood deluge out through his neck. Samantha, she’d said her name was. If that could be believed. It took seconds and the noise he made was embarrassing, but it’s not like you get to practice dying, now, is it?

 

A minute later he was a disembodied something, looking at what was the most pathetic thing he had ever seen: his dead, unflatteringly underkept corpse. He had not been kind to himself in life, that was evident.

 

He felt a strange pull, something beckoned him…

 

Ah, there it was, the chthonic deity itself. It was a dark, oddly female shape. Voluptuous, full, and every bit the opposite of what most would consider sexually attractive… and yet she stirred feelings in Serge he didn’t even understand how they could happen without, you know, having an actual body any longer.

 

You are not worthy. Spoke the strange deity. But you are not devoid of value, either.

 

Oh, shit. He was being judged. Weighed. He had the terrible notion that he would not pass muster. As usual. Why should things change just because he was dead?

 

You will remain and help. You will remain and either redeem your soul’s worth, or damn it beyond redemption.

 

This was a far better outlook than Serge had expected. However, he still felt a strange sense of foreboding. Something heavy was just placed upon him.

 

You will remain.

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A Burnt Child Dreads the Fire

You must come, O dread Impaler, confound them to your care.
Split them in two partitions, here the fools, the rascals there;
Shove them into two enclosures from the broad daylight enisle ’em,
Then set fire to the prison and the lunatic asylum.

Mihai Eminescu: The Third Letter

 

The house of the Dragon had seen better days. Much better days, truly. It had now fallen into disrepair and Vlad had no one to blame but himself. Wasn’t that always the case, however? Yes. Yes, that was always the case: the onus of it all was on him alone. That burdensome knowledge, that it all started with him…

How long ago was it? How long, exactly, since Mina had left with her Jonathan Harker? Too long. Entirely too long for him to continue dwelling on the pain of her departure, and yet there he was, pining, longing, wallowing in a mire of misery.

He had so much practice at this that he should have already turned self-pity into an art form. Ah, but for all of his talents, this was not one of them! What ever happened to the strapping, bold warrior who’d once brought the Ottoman empire low? Where was the Impaler, the Wallachian Dragon? Gone to soil, it would seem.

For one so old and experienced, he seemed to be none the wiser on matters of the heart. He knew dawn was fast approaching, so the question, once more, was if he would be able to do it. So many times he had stood on the roof of this god forsaken mansion, contemplating the thought of giving himself up to the morning sun and seeing about testing the feud with a divinity silent save for the curse it brought upon him.

It was tempting, certainly. Was he that weary? Perhaps he should seek the company of mortals once more. Yes. That or a flaming death. Both, in tandem, would be a fitting end to his long reign, would they not?

He almost felt a spark of euphoria at the thought of moving among the mortal flock anew, like a reaper on a golden field of barley. Perhaps there would be time to visit his old castle and scare up a storm in there. Make one last, triumphant appearance for old time’s sake. That should get the old dead heart flaring, for once.

He had let himself be beaten too many times already. It was time to fight and give no quarter. The old Vlad was stirring.

Go out with a bang, old Vlad, he told himself. With. A. Bang.

 

News Report: In a shocking turn of events, Bran Castle, in Romania, better known as Dracula’s Castle, has gone up in flames. Firefighters and emergency responders are at the scene trying to put out the conflagration, but reports indicate that the fire may have already caused irreparable damage.

Bran Castle has been a tourist attraction and Romanian national landmark…

The Last Dance

One more. Just one more. C’mon, old man, you can do it. Just. One. More.

 

His wounds were bad. Real bad. Locke wasn’t going to make it, he knew, but that was fine. That was just fine, as long as he could do this one last hunt. Just one fix, right? Like an addict. This was different, however. This was his last fix, the last one, the ultimate goal… His nemesis was somewhere in the small town and Locke could feel it. He had been hunting him for so long. The vampire that had taken it all away from him one night so far away it may as well have happened to someone else.

 

The crossbow bolt fired from his right hand, it traveled true and found its mark. Another vermin down, pitted to the wooden house’s wall by the bolt through its head. Locke loaded the crossbow again, deftly with his left hand locking the mechanism while still holding a short blade.

 

One more. Almost there. One. More.

 

Another with the bolt striking true and through. Out of bolts. No matter. His right hand went to his left hip and produced and dagger. Time to get even bloodier. His stomach was bleeding, as were his arms, profusely, from the tattered and torn remains of his tanned leather jacket.

 

The chapel, there… There is where he would be, his nemesis. Locke made his way, beginning to limp. His vision was becoming a bit hazy and his head swam. It didn’t matter. Nothing did. He would avenge his son.

 

One. More. Hunt.

 

He kicked down the flimsy doors of the chapel and stormed in. The vermin huddled in the pews and around the altar where his nemesis awaited. They were cowering. They understood that their end was near, and Locke obliged them dutifully.

 

There must have been over thirty of them, until finally he caught up with the greatest vermin of all. He looked the once-man in the eyes, full of tears of rage he, full of fear and doom the vermin. Then he cut its head off.

 

He walked off a few feet and succumbed to blood loss, losing consciousness.

 

He dreamt of his son’s face, beaming, so young and full of life. He dreamt of the sun becoming dark and bleeding, and his son told him that he, Locke, had done that. You did it, father. It was you.

 

He jerked away and saw the bodies all around him. They looked… normal. They looked human. Dawning realization suffused him as he struggled to stand up. His blood was still fresh, and the bleeding hadn’t really stopped. He saw the priest’s body, head lopped off, blood spatter staining the pulpit. He looked off to the left and saw the priest’s head.

 

As darkness encroached on Locke’s vision and he began to fade from this mortal coil, he could only feel a strange sense of regret eat its way out of the elation he had felt before. What had he become?

Magic This Away

They all seemed so… tasteless, did they not? Just so insipid and vapid and boorish. She had only lived a little over a hundred years, but she remembered her past lives, and she remembered every little detail of them, at that. So much memory was not a good thing, contrary to what most people think; there’s an inescapability to it, a sense of being shackled to it, to the past, where every smell, every bit of sensory stimuli set off a concatenation of events and emotions that could go on in a retro-fed loop indeterminately unless she put a conscious stop to it. Stopping it, after all this time, was no longer an easy task. There was no “off” switch to memory and a mind that had become her own worst enemy.

People don’t realize what a luxury it is to be able to forget, to have memories grow fuzzy and distorted with time until they disappear completely, relegated to some archival corner of the mind, never to be brought to the fore of conscious thought again.

Lilith didn’t realize she was now wading into the scrying pool. How long had she been walking aimlessly, ambling like a fool lorn in an opium dream? Time was a funny thing, especially when you were an old witch on the brink of senility. Or was she already well in the throes of it? Was she now in its arms, being carried aloft to some aerie height where the mind need not be in the present any longer?

The bad thing about magic power was that, no matter how useful it was in the most practical matters, in the end it couldn’t save the mind, and it certainly couldn’t fix a life. It couldn’t change the way things were. It couldn’t change the way other people felt, not really, and it couldn’t alter strings of fate. That was truly tragic, she thought wistfully. How many had gone before her, of those she had loved – still loved, because that, for her, simply doesn’t change – and those who had shared with her some of their lives? It was impossible to tell.

Her bargain with the devil, figuratively speaking, had been struck a very long time ago, in a place the sands had now covered and would likely never give up again. She wondered how many more life cycles she would have to endure, how many more forays into the metempsychosis of demi-mortal existence… how many?

She was so tired. She was so confused. She just wanted to rest.

That Old Monster

The years had been unusually kind, in a way, for him. Much had transpired since his inception in the late 1700’s when, during a particularly powerful thunderstorm, his progenitor and creator had placed him on a stone slab and lifted him up through a complex mechanism to the roof of his palatial abode so that a cobbled-together configuration of human organs and extremities might meet lightning directly and from the miraculous phenomenon of naturally-occurring electricity, spawn a spark of life in the ersatz vessel.

Much, indeed! Since the day after his creation, when he ran into the dark wilderness and had his first interactions with humankind. His first brushes with hate and intolerance. His baptism into violence… He had, thankfully, outgrown and shorn the trappings of such an existence long ago. After his initial ire against his creator, his father for lack of a better term, he learned to educate himself, and soon enough became as proficient a surgeon and scientist as his creator – much better, perhaps. He had then set to perfecting the opus left unfinished by his creator; himself.

The toil through the centuries had yielded a perfect specimen of human beauty and performance. He truly had become Prometheus. What he had never entirely managed, however, was getting a reign on the human emotions he experienced. All the time he had spent as both an outsider and as a master socialite had only served to further befuddle him in his pursuit for understanding the human heart. If it were only as simple as transplanting such an organ, he often thought while sitting alone in his study as he sipped on some fine single-malt scotch. For all his intelligence – which may as well be boundless, judging by his development thus far – and all his capabilities – which were countless –, he still had no clear grasp of the multi-dimensionality of breadth of human emotion. Every time he thought he might finally have a working hypothesis that might yield a proper theory, it crumbled into dust and sand in his very hands.

And what of this elusive, ethereal, abstract construction they called love? It was based on chemicals and electric currents within the brain, a staple of evolution and absolutely necessary throughout human history and prehistory for the preservation and proliferation of the species, and yet so strangely mutated and distorted in the past three hundred years or so. Perhaps even longer… The fact of the matter was that there really wasn’t much documentation of any scientific value on it, at least not in the higher thought area of the phenomenon. There was certainly a lot of data on the basic biochemical processes and bioelectrical interactions, how the neural pathways were altered through the presence of this strange and uniquely human abstract – though he suspected that certain apes and simians were well capable of it, as well.

What little he had been able to conclude was that there was a certain hint at madness, at mental disorder and neurological disease that went hand-in-hand with love. Philosophically, this was not the equal of what self-less love should be. Many religious and philosophical writings had been devoted to the notion of true, selfless love, denouncing any other manifestation of love as untrue. He had spent much time pondering this, in contrast with the depth of his own experience in the human condition, and found that the existence of one did not outright preclude the other. No, it was not exclusive that one would exist while the other could not and vice versa. Sometimes, the existence of the features of the less purely perceived permutations of love only meant that there were peculiarities in the features of the sentimental landscape of the person who was feeling it, while being perfectly capable of experiencing and expressing the more self-less aspect and, at some point reaching the pinnacle. However, this pinnacle was never truly sustained; it was only natural to reach it and loses it and reacquire it. Nothing ever remained the same.

He understood that he would likely outlive humanity as a species, and one day become something else entirely. He comprehended, as well, that he might never be able to understand this subject at all.

Patches

“There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” – Linus van Pelt, Peanuts

Tending a pumpkin patch during the autumn months wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Well, Murray thought, there wasn’t much to crack at when you got down to brass tacks. He made the best of it by arranging the plumper fruit in ways that might give the local kids a fun time to play around as they often did in the days leading up to Halloween. It was his favorite holiday of the year, hands down. Christmas was fine, but he wasn’t all that fond of the snow, and there really was something dishonest about how much it had been changed and pilfered from its mishmash of pagan folklore origins. Halloween was still close enough to its dark, raw source. The ugly side of things celebrated even by the children, as it was in the olden days.

Murray had spent his life, since coming to the North American continent and settling in the upper Midwest, as a groundskeeper for the Blackwell Estate. The estate was a sprawling property with plenty of patches of different crops dealing mainly with varieties of squash, as well as watermelons (in one of the green houses), and they all had the same general purpose: just to be there and grow.

Murray understood the reasons behind that; they all dated back to the old country, to European folklore and legend. Whether any of that would fly out here where other myths and legends abound. Through the murk of the ages Murray had lived, he still managed to keep a clear vision of what his role was. So, he waited and tended to the vegetable and fruit vessels of the ancient overlords.

It had been so long since he’d seen a proper, full-fledged vampire watermelon…

Murray was putting down mulch around the pumpkins, making sure there wasn’t any rot or the like since these were humid months, after all, when he heard the rustling. At first, he thought it might be local kids rummaging and running amok through the patch, but a careful minute spent in observation proved that to be an erroneous conclusion.

The rustling came from the squash patch, he deduced, and so made his way there slowly, carefully. He made it to the patch and found that there was a clearing where a very large squash must have been. In the little clearing, he found a baby-blue blanket – the kind a child might use as what is colloquially referred to as a security blanket – and a pair of children’s shoes. He wondered at that, trying to puzzle out what it meant, when he heard the peals of a small child’s laughter ring through the air.

He looked toward the horizon and its fire red and indigo blue hues and he saw… what? It couldn’t be, could it? It was. It was the biggest squash he had ever seen, easily a meter in diameter half again as long judging from its size relative to the diminutive child with a red shirt who rode it as it flew around in the air.

Well, I’ll be damned, Murray spoke aloud to himself. I guess they really are back!

Self Awareness

Lin and Stacey had been together since Lin could recall. In fact, she really had a hard time trying to remember any time in her life when she wasn’t with Stacey! They had grown up together, gone to high school together, even made it through college together. Best fucking friends forever. Damn straight!

Things had gotten a little weird lately, however. Stacey wasn’t doing as much with her, she felt, even though they were together literally all the time. They had decided to move into the apartment together and it had all been fine until Stacey met Tom, India, and Mark. Once they came into the picture, it felt like everything had changed for Lin; no more long talks in the middle of the night while lying in bed looking up at the ceiling or out at the night sky. No more quiet mornings sipping coffee while doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. No more solitary strolls down at the park. It was all them and Lin had no choice but to tag along every time if she wanted to have time with Stacey. It was odd, now that she thought about it, that she seemed compelled to go along as if she was physically unable to refuse.

There they were, finally alone, just Stacey and her. Lin kept trying to start up a conversation, but Stacey just seemed so preoccupied with stuff that it was as if Lin wasn’t even there. It was infuriating! The relationship had become so unilateral it was almost abusive.

Lin had just about enough of it. She was confronting Stacey once and for all, and if things went South, well, fine. Lin would learn to live without her. Anything was better than being stuck in that limbo of uncertainty, apathy and disregard.

Lin was looking at Stacey draw up a design for a new line of clothes and suddenly she noticed that the design was very similar to one Lin had just imagined earlier that day. No. Wait a minute. It was exactly the same design! What the hell!

Lin was about to shout at Stacey when she noticed another strange thing: Stacey’s left hand, it had a scar. Not just any scar, but the same one Lin had on her left hand from when they were kids and she had cut herself with a carving knife. She had needed stitches and the scar became a gnarly, keloid thing. Lin felt dizzy and a little nauseous. She looked down at her own left hand and… there was just empty space. Where her body should have been, there was nothing but air.

Lin really was going to puke… Stacey stopped sketching on her paper pad and threw up onto the floor in a violent retching motion. Lin looked on incredulously, dumbstruck. What was happening? Stacey put one hand on her forehead, her eyes shut tight to the point of wrinkling her lids, and then looked up at Lin. Scratch that; she looked up at where Lin would have been, but it was as though Stacey was seeing through her. Her eyes looked at the same space where she was, but seemed not to focus on Lin at all.

Lin was trying to wrap her head around the situation, whatever it was. She wasn’t having much success. She dared not try to look at her own body again for fear that she wouldn’t see it there, again. It had to be some strange illusion. She was dreaming, she thought, she had to be.

Stacey returned with a mop and some paper towels. Lin was going to offer to help, but Stacey passed by her… or was it through her. She moved toward the front door, meaning to go out and take a walk. She needed fresh air. This was simply too surreal. She looked at the little wooden table where they would put their keys and the mail and looked down at an envelope. It was from her mother. Why hadn’t she seen this earlier? Why hadn’t Stacey told her about it?

She did a double take on the addressee name: Stacey Lin Parker.

It all came rushing in on her at once. She was Stacey, but also Lin. Rather, Lin was a part of Stacey, or had been until… Until what? That part wasn’t clear. All her memories were, in reality, Stacey’s, weren’t they? So, who was Lin, then? Why did she think of herself as a person when… Oh God. Oh God, no! She understood, now. How could she come to be? Why? She wasn’t a ghost; she was – oh God!