When Ellen Datlow Summons…

 

Ellen Datlow

We Answer!!

Yesterday we got an email from Dan Alatorre, editor for our new horror anthology  The Box Under The Bed.  Dan informed us that Ellen Datlow had contacted him and was interested in reviewing our book for placement in her publication The Best Horror of the Year And I thought:

Holy haunted houses Batman!!  Could this be true?  THE Ellen Datlow  wants to read OUR  little ole anthology??

Well it turns out — it was true!

Ellen Datlow knows horror.

ellen-datlow-01

In case you are not super familiar with the world of Horror/ Fantasy literature, I should explain that Ms. Datlow is one of the top editors in the business. (Plus I have a ton of her cool anthologies, and I am a BIG fan! 🙂 )  A few of her professional accomplishments include:

  • Fiction editor of Omni magazine 1981 through 1998
  • Current editor of The Best Horror of the Year published by Night Shade Books.
  • Won the Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor in 2002 and 2005
  •  Her editing work has been recognized with five Bram Stoker Awards and ten World Fantasy Awards
  • Two International Horror Guild Awards for Best Anthology
  • Recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre.”
  • Editor of Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (2013)

Beware of Victoria!

book of spells

  • Editor of The Doll Collection (2016) and Mad Hatters and March Hares (2017)
  • Won the Hugo for Best Short Form Editor in 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2017
  • Won three Shirley Jackson Awards
  • In 2011 she was given the Life Achievement Award by the Horror Writers Association.

Yes, all that!  So you see I was clearly having a heart attack when I heard this news.  I immediately contacted all our writers on Facebook and proceeded to to go insane.

 

crazy-cat-smile

Most glorious Monday EVER!!

Don’t forget, you can pre order  a Kindle download of The Box Under The Bed for only 99 cents!  Due for release on Oct. 1, just in time for Halloween.   Click HERE for details.

Happy Reading!

box

 

 

 

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Walpurgisnacht (fiction)

 

Baptism 2

“The gift of flight will come at Walpurgisnacht,” Granny Magda tells me.  “We will  travel airborne upon our besoms to the Brocken.  You will then learn of your blessings, all the goddess has deemed to give you.”

“What will they be, my blessings?” I ask impatiently.  I have waited all of my sixteen years for this nacht, for the firefest of summer. It will be the first time I go to the mountaintop. The first time I, as a daughter of Hekate will become a coven member and know my true and unique power.

“Hush child,” Magda orders. “Speak of them no more! What is yours is already yours.”  She puts a hand to my cheek and smiles through crinkled eyes. “Trust me. The gifts will come.”

The month of April rolls by with its rain and wind, daffodils and tulips blooming in our meadow. On my calendar parchment I count the days, marking them off with a charcoal crayon. The time cannot go quick enough.

Two days before Walpurgis,  Peter the goat boy appears at our door. He brings me a bouquet of wildflowers, colored blooms that float like a sparkled rainbow from his hands. “For you Kathe,” he says, “In honor of your special nacht which is soon to come.”

Peter! He is an annoyance, always milling around me, nosing in my business, cheating me at games and sport!  He has been my chief nemesis for years. And now he brings flowers? An offering of peace, just as I am soon to come into my powers?  Reluctantly I accept, but only out of politeness. “What do you know of it?” I snap.

“Peter knows plenty,” Granny Magda shouts from the kitchen. “You’d be wise to listen to him.”

Never do I have a moment’s privacy in this cottage! Granny Magda is always hovering over me, like a bee to a honeyflower. She now takes Peter’s flowers and places them in a vase.

“Have a seat boy,” she nods to Peter. “I trust you will stay for supper?”

Peter shakes his head. “The invitation is most kind Frau Magda, but I cannot. I am just returning from the mountain, my goat herd outside. I fear they are most cumbersome, and I only stopped to give Kathe the flowers and wish her well.”

“Nonsense!” Magda has already placed a root stew on the table and set a trencher for him.  She glances out the window, waves a hand at the goats who then stand still as statues.

goats

“The animals will keep,” she says. “Kathe, fetch the ale for our guest.”

Taking a ladle to the pail I serve up three helpings of ale. Peter nods. “Most gracious.”

We bless our food, toast good health and begin eating. I sit next to Peter. His clothes are soiled and he smells of his goats. He also smells of the meadow, of earth and something more. What is it?  A sly masculinity, a scent lacking in Magda and myself. Despite my annoyance I scoot closer to him.

“Your comment, Granny,” I say later as we eat dessert, a cake with fresh berries I gathered from our orchard. “You say I must listen to Peter. Why is this?” Peter stops mid bite, red berries making a stain on his lips. His eyes, blue as the river, pop wide.

“Do not ask foolish questions, child.” Magda says. “Now Peter,” she looks out the window and waves her hands at the goats who instantly begin bleating. “I wager your goats need milking. Be off with you afore the late sun sinks on its horizon! Auf Wiedersehen.”

Peter stands and bows before us. “I thank you for the victuals, my lady.” He takes Magda’s old withered hand and kisses it. He then turns to me. “And you Kathe, I trust I will see more of you in the near future.” With awkwardness he grabs my hand and kisses it as well. I catch his eye, nod and curtsey before he exits.

I have known Peter all my life, since I came to live with Granny Magda as a two year old orphan.  We played together, leap frogging in the meadow, tumbling down the rolling hills. It was he who taught me to catch fish in the river, he who taught me to shoot a crossbow. He who, in his boyhood always shot more bullseyes than I.  But Peter is no longer a boy.

Through the window I watch as he rounds his goats, whistles to his collie dog. He has grown tall, his shoulders broad. His lanky frame casts a long shadow across the cobbled road.  As he walks away I notice his swaggering hips, his bowed legs.

“How old do you suppose Peter now is?” I ask.

“Two winters past you child.” Granny Magda puts a hand to my head and unwinds my tight braids.  “Come the Yule last he reached his eighteenth name day.”

medieval 2

“He has quick grown to a man.” I glance one last time before he turns into the forest, his goats following in a gray blur.

Ja child, that he has.” She tilts her head.  “And your thoughts of this?”

“I have no thoughts, it is mere curiosity!” I hiss. Granny smiles.

Finally Walpurgisnacht arrives. I stand naked in the meadow with the other women. Magda rubs my body with unctions, a rich combination of oils and nectars that will, coupled with my own magic, give me the ability to fly.

When the sun sets we mount our besoms. Soon the wind begins to blow and we rise, steady in the air, a team of thirteen, Hekate’s witches, gliding through the sky with the skill of crows.  Higher and higher we rise. Soon we are bobbing amongst stars, drifting under the light of the moon.

On the mountaintop we land near the Bergwasser, a crystal stream that flows, now icebroken with the onset of summer.

“Your baptism will be tonight, Kathe,” Granny Magda tells me.

I have never before met the high priestess who now stands before me, clad in robes of black. “I am Lucinda,” she says.  Taking my hand she guides me down the stone steps into the water. She lifts her wand, a branch of heavy oak inlaid with rich jewels, rubies and sapphires.

“Kathe,”  Lucinda begins. “I baptize thee, in the name of the Mother, the Crone and the Holy Maiden. You, a daughter of the line of Hekate, now come full of age,  are on this evening of Walpurgisnacht to enter into our coven.”

The Walpurgis Night Alexandra Nedzvetskaya

With that she pushes me underwater. The stream is cool on my head. Opening my eyes I see an array of fish before me, yellow as lemons in the blue water. I watch as they dart and bolt, thinking of this baptism, this instant I have waited for my whole life. What is to happen? The water is a silent chamber around me.

When I can hold my breath no longer I ascend. Gasping, I lie in the grass. Magda clothes me in a white robe.

“The ability to breathe underwater,” Madga smiles, “was not your gift.”

What will it be? What will it be?

“Time will tell, my girl,” Lucinda says.  “Before rise of the May day sun you shall know it.” Lucinda’s gift is surely the reading of minds. Granny Magda’s is the taming of animals. And mine? The suspense haunts me.

Lucinda reads from the Book of Freya. She lights a great bonfire. Together we chant and dance around it. Holding hands we skip in unison.  Even Granny Magda, now well beyond her dancing years, kicks her heels like a young maiden.

baptism 3

In the distance I hear a drumbeat. Approaching over the hills I see them, the tribe of Pan. They are thirteen men, goatskins over their thighs, naked from the waist up. On their heads they wear crowns of horns and masks of feathers and fur.

The balefire rages and the drums beat.  Magda leans and whispers in my ear, “Granddaughter. You are ready. You will bleed to bless the earth which has blessed you. Only through this can you find your womanhood.”

One of the thirteen men then approaches me, takes my hand and joins in the dance. All is a blur of color and sound, the dance faster and faster. Soon I am on the grass, flat on my back, the tribesman atop me.

I am not the only one. Other women have been taken as well. All around me the couples are a whirl of flesh, thighs upon thighs, breath heavy, hair streaming. Wails, screams and moans fill the night air,  voices desperate and satisfied.

Magda had said I am ready, but am I? My heart pounds, my whole body pulsed to the music. I am frightened but then the tribesman pulls me closer, his face next to mine.  His scent is of goats but also of the earth and our meadow, a musk that lures me like subtle perfume, releasing a passion I did not know I possessed.  Although he wears a mask I recognize his eyes, blue as the river.  His look is the question and I nod my answer: Yes.

baptism 6

His mouth is firm on my lips, his tongue sweet, his thighs braced against me. My secrets are wet as the mountain stream that baptized me and in an instant he is inside me. It hurts but only for a moment until my hips synch in rhythm with his. My body quivers and I hear him breathe my name, feel his spill within me.

Before rise of the sun we anoint ourselves with unction again, then mount our besoms. The men disappear into the mountains as we fly away.

It is finished.

Walpurgisnacht

In the weeks after Walpurgisnacht we live quietly. I am changed but still the same, although Magda no longer hovers over me, no longer calls me ‘child’. All is well until the day the constables come, riding up our path upon their sleek stallions. They dismount and look suspiciously about the cottage.  One knocks on our door, holding a warrant for our arrest.

“Which warrant and how so?” I demand. “Arrested for what?”

“For witchcraft Fraulien,” the constable says. His face is like a hard brick, impenetrable, a moving mouth with two tiny slits of eyes.

“We have done nothing wrong!” I shout.

“You both have been seen cavorting in the meadow, spreading yourselves with evil unctions and potions, then taking flight to the sky on your brooms.”

“And who has been harmed by it?” I scream.  My head is burning.

“All are harmed by it! All good honest folk. You women, by your madness and your lasciviousness, violate the very decency of mankind!”

I attempt to protest but a hand slaps my mouth. Just then another constable grabs Magda and binds her wrists. I charge at him, but the next constable overpowers me, this one tall as a tower and twice as strong. He pulls me away, knotting my arms.

“My Granny is frail,” I scream again. “She does you no harm! What satisfaction do you get to badger an old woman?”

“Hold your tongue Fraulien, lest I gag your foul mouth,” the third constable orders. I fight with all my strength but in the end they win. Granny Magda and I are put onto a rickety old cart and brought south to the village of Stuttgart.

We are thrown in a slimy, rat infested dungeon where we live in squalor for weeks. Our food is gruel and brackish water, the meals so meager I fear Granny Magda will perish.  Others join us, country women and bumpkins, some midwives, some herbalists, all innocent of the crimes they are accused. Yet when we are taken to trial the jury declares us guilty before we are given a chance to speak.

We are sentenced to be burned at the stake. “Consumed by the hell fire from whence ye came,” the judge declares.

Like cattle we are led to the pyres. A hooded executioner binds our bodies to the stakes and the fires are lit.   I hear the crowd around us yell, “Brennen die Hexen! Burn the witches!”

baptism 9

Granny Magda gives me a look, hopeful in her sunken eyes. I nod. Just as the flames begin to creep around us I shout:

 “As the powers within me rise, so this man-made fire now dies!”

The flames sputter and vanish as if drenched by a thousand buckets. I watch as the crowd of people turn pale with horror.  “Relight the flame!” someone yells. “They must be burned! These witches must die!”

“Brennen die Hexen!” the crowd chants again. “Burn the witches!”

The executioner moves to relight the flames, but the embers are cold. He tries again and again, adding more wood, more torches, but the fire only sparkles and dies.  He then stares at me, eyes wide. He crosses himself and moves away as if I am carrying the plague. “Hexe!” he whispers.

“You can relight the flames all you want and they will never grow,” I say calmly.  I then begin to laugh, loud and haughty, my voice echoing on the wind. The crowd stares at me as if I were a madwoman.

“There will be no burnings today,” I say richly.

One by one they turn away in fear. Women lift their skirts, scurrying away and men run fast as their boots will carry them.

Just then I see his body in the crowd, the lanky frame and broad shoulders. Peter approaches, pulls a knife from his pocket and slices the ropes that bind me. He then rescues Magda and the other women.

“You should not have allowed it to go so far,” he says quietly.

“O, but it was well worth it!  Just to see the looks on their faces,” I answer brightly. “You must admit it was a picture.” I run a finger across his cheek.

“That it was, wife.” He smiles.  “As long as no harm comes to the child.” He lays a hand on my belly.

“The child is fine,” I assure my husband.  “Her gift from Hekate will be the same as mine. She too will have the ability to control fire, and she too will never be burned at the stake.”

baptism 8

** NOTE: The real witch persecutions and Burning Times occurred in Europe during  1450-1700.  Historians estimate that over 100,000 accused witches, both men and women were killed during this time. The majority of burnings took place in Germany, in some cases wiping out entire populations of women in small Medieval towns.

The real Brocken is the highest point of the Harz Mountain range in northern Germany. The Brothers Grimm spent a good deal of time in the small villages at the foothills of the mountains collecting tales of local folklore.  From these tales came stories such as Rapunzel,  Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin.

Walpurgisnacht (pronounced :Vol-POOR- gus-nokt)  is celebrated on April 30. Witches then gather in the Brocken and other sacred places to conduct rituals of spring.

 

 

 

Anne Hathaway Speaks

AnneHathawayAndShakespeare

My husband Will was not inattentive to me, though this is what most folk assumed. True he lived in London and I saw him scarce, but when he arrived back to Stratford, O then! Much welcoming and merrymaking there was and I greeted him with open arms.

Will’s true home was the theater, his soul poured forth from his quill and ink pots. When I married him I knew this. How could I not?  He spoke in rhyme when he wooed me. The sonnet sprung from his lips, a stretch of beat and iamb, beautiful words and I trust not a woman in all of Stratford would have resisted young Master Shakespeare. He was tall and handsome, quick witted, dark eyed.  And I?  I was the original summer’s day, Venus to his Adonis.

When he moved to London it was with  that very poem he acquired patronage from the Earl of Southampton.  He had since compromised his words, winking to the the faire youth and dark lady.  Leave gossip for the tongue wagers.  I suspected he had lovers, both women and men.  Of course he did.  After all, his time in London was long. Yet the green monster of envy raised not its head.

One must understand. He was but a boy of eighteen when I married him, and I a woman of twenty six. And though I was with child, I knew his wild oats were not yet sown.  Faithfulness was never expected.  Therefore we lived in harmony.

But I!  Yes I.  Was the mother of his children, the keeper of his hearth. More importantly, not a word of his plays did he scribe, not a scroll did he bring to the King’s Men without my approval.  That was my gift, though none knew of it.

“Anne,” he said to me, “thou art my Juliet, my Beatrice, my Titania in all splendor of the fairies.” His meaning more specific, I was his muse.

merchant of venice pd 2

Consider his play of Juliet. What a botched thing it was,  before I took my hand to it. “The lovers must commit suicide, Will,” quothe I. “Nothing less will do.”

“How so?” he asked.

“By poison of course. And a stabbing, the bloodier the better! In London they crave all means of violence, death, destruction and swordplay. You must give the public what they want, Billie Shakespeare! Else all is lost and the words for naught.”

The same was true of his characters Ophelia, Gertrude and Hamlet. My husband would have written it mildly, trippingly on the tongue as he liked to say. “O no Will,” I corrected. “There must be tragedy. Sweet Ophelia, tormented by madness, will drown herself in a river amongst the heavy flowers and willows that weep.”

“Another suicide?” He shook his head.

“Another, and many more. Trust me.”

Consider Macbeth.  A lame play until I corrected it, making Macbeth a milquetoast to a treacherous and evil woman! She was perhaps the most cunning of my creations.

“The Lady Macbeth must urge the man forward,” I insisted. “It is she who plots killing of King Duncan, she who will bloody her hands most.” His jaw hung and he turned a bit pale at this notion.

“She,” I continued, “will unsex herself, ruthless and scheming. She will drive herself to madness, never eliminating the the damned spots of blood that haunt her like Banquo’s ghost!”

macbeth

He argued with me. “Surely, wife, the gentry will loathe such a vile woman.”

“They will love to hate her,” I assured him. For what better entertainment than an evil femme fatale and what better place to lay blame?

I was correct.

And so it was the box office flourished. “Sell admissions cheap, not more than a penny,” I advised him.

“But Anne,” quothe he, “Baron Hundson will not have it. The Globe itself will be closed should we not turn a profit.”

“You’ll turn a profit and you’ll turn it handsomely,” I insisted.  When the groundlings poured in, seatless in the mud and mire, but not lacking to pay their penny, Will saw that I was correct. I was always correct.

The money pots scattered and we quickly made a fortune. “To tell and sell a story,” I told him, “is the noblest of professions. None will tire of it, for they seek desperately to escape the boredom of their mundane lives.”

And so it was, back home in Stratford, by our fortune I acquired land and houses. New Place was mine, a brace of animals and horses, thriving farms and plenty of servants to do my bidding. When we accumulated enough wealth I urged Will to purchase a Coat of Arms. The motto ‘Not Without Right’ were my own words, because indeed we were not without rights to our own status of Gentle.

shakesepare coat of arms

One day I waited for the clomp of horse hooves upon our pavement. ‘Twas the twenty third day of April, the day of his birth and Will returned home to celebrate. My cooks had prepared a great feast. There would be games and diversions. I smiled as I saw him ride up the road, clothed in boots and britches. He pulled a scribbled parchment from his doublet.

“What’s this?” I kissed him on both cheeks, then took the parchment.

“My latest,” he answered. “It is called Othello.”

“And what story?”

“A marriage between a Moor and a Venetian. Their love will be the purest and they shall live happily ever after.”

I shook my head and tore the parchment to pieces.

“Their love,” I said defiantly, “shall be fraught with tension. The Moor black as jet and the Venetian white as pearl. She a young seductress, he a skilled soldier.   There will be coupling, the mounting of the beast with two backs, they insatiable in their lust!  There will be jealousy and betrayal, one named Cassio who will claim her…”

I narrowed my eyes, thinking of what would enhance this plot. “Add a handkerchief, the most intimate of objects.”

Will popped his eyes. “Surely not a handkerchief!”

“Yes, husband. And ‘twill end in a murder.  Othello driven to savage madness, kills his wife in her very own bed! Then he, driven to suicide, slays himself and falls next to her. Give the people blood and lust and lovers and yet more blood.”

“My dear, are you sure? Such a thing shall be most controversial.” He cocked his head.

“Trust me.” I answered. I then took his hand. “Let the birthday celebrations begin.”

That night we finished revisions. I predicted the story of the Moor named Othello and his wife Desdemona would be among the greatest of my husband’s many tragedies. I predicted the plays would last on into posterity, for hundred of years, maybe thousands, created anew by each generation, constantly revealing human truths, constantly entertaining each audience.

And I was always correct.

“She hath a way,  so to control

and rapture the imprisoned soul

and sweetest heaven on earth display

that to be heaven, Anne hath a way

She hath a way, Anne Hathaway,

To breathe delight, Anne hath a way.”

                                                          — William Shakespeare

Born April 23, 1564, Died April 23, 1616

Birthday-Shakespeare

 

 

Lazarus and the Pink Moon

 

Lazarus 2

My body was rife with boils and scabs, the pain constant, like blue fire to an open wound. My own hands were clamshells, too stiff and weak to aid myself.  My sisters, Martha and Mary, dressed my inflamed skin in cool gauze and oils, yet it did no good. I wished only for death.

“He, Yeshua, the healer,” Martha told me, her young face riddled with lines of worry. “He shall be back. It was his promise to us.”

“You speak of the Rabboni?” I could barely gasp the words. My breath was fast vanishing.

“The Rabboni, Emmanuel, Hosanna,” Mary answered. “Know you, Lazarus, that he has healed many, causing the lame to walk and the blind to see. He will come back to Bethany and heal you as well.”

I moved my stiff body, a near corpse, against the straw mattress. It cut like a blade. No miracle worker could help me, that I knew.  The pox gripped and I was well beyond healing. Yet I had not the heart nor the strength to say this aloud, knowing it would crush my sisters’ hopes.

“It is told the Rabboni has walked on waves in the sea of Galilee,” Mary continued. “He calms the ocean’s storms. In Canaan they talk of the man who has changed water into wine. In Tiberias they talk of the man who fed a multitude with only seven loaves and two fishes.  Such are the miracles of Yeshua bin Joseph, and he has stated his undying love for us.”

Drivel and nonsense! My mind screamed but my voice could not utter it. I was thirsty, very thirsty and my head burned with fever. Martha pressed a wineskin to my lips but its taste was bitter as gall. The liquid burned in my swollen throat. “You must drink brother,” Martha said. “So as to stay quick till the Rabboni arrives. It is then he will cure you and you shall be whole once more.”

I let out a sigh in as much as my breath would permit it.  Whole. Did I want to be whole ever again?

Illness is a mad thing. It steals one’s will. I was a young man, younger than the Rabboni, who was three and thirty years. These miracles my sisters spoke of meant little to me. I followed no god, paid Caesar no tithes, was beholden to no man. Death was inevitable. When my time came I had always known I’d accept it.

Not so with my sisters. Their faith was constant as rise of the sun. They’d not give up hope. Mary sat at the edge of my mat, her hands folded in prayer. “When I am gone,” I began, but could not continue as I saw the tears trickle like silent rain from the corners of her eyes.

“You will not be gone brother,” Martha called. She brought bread from the village and begged me to eat but its taste was dust, my ulcered mouth too weak to chew.

lazarus 1

Night fell. Finally my sisters ceased their fussing and took to bed. I was relieved.

Through the bare windows of our hut I saw the moon rise. The first full moon since change of the season. Desert winds were now calmer and pink phlox grew like spun silk across the land. The heat of summer would not be far behind, yet I knew I’d not live to see it.

I closed my eyes. Sleep enveloped me like a womb.

When I awoke it was yet night, the moon outside the window full and pink as the phlox that grew beneath it.

pink moon 2

Stars twinkled all around. I could feel the breeze, balmy against my bandages. Oh, to breathe that air once again! To stand beneath that full moon. If I had but one last request, that would be it. Yet I had such little strength.

Rising on my blistered feet, I grabbed the wineskin, tried to drink but still the taste was bitter. Martha’s loaf of bread sat upon the table, now covered with locusts. The sight of it turned my stomach.

My breath was heavy.  I longed for the night air. I stood on shaky legs. Although I had been bedridden for weeks I now walked outside, compelled by some force, a force as powerful as the moon’s diamond tides.

It was there in the rich darkness that the woman met me.

She was naked, illuminated in the moon’s glow, her skin and lips pink, with streams of red hair hair that fell to her hips.

lillith

“Lazarus,” she said. “Your time is not yet come. Though your body is diseased and imperfect, you are still a young man. The years ahead are many. Your sisters need you. If you will show but a tiny seedling of faith you shall be healed.”

Such perfection I had never seen in a woman before. “Who are you?” I asked.

“Come nearer,” she answered.

I approached her and when I was cheek press close she whispered in my ear, “Lillith.”

I backed away.  Lillith!  It was she who had cursed the earth, she who had left her husband Adam, she who brought death to one hundred babies each day.  This Lillith, a demon! A vixen!  So said all the holy books. My instincts were to flee. Yet when she spoke again, her voice like rich bells beckoning me, I could not refuse.

She placed her hand upon my forehead. Her touch was cool and soft, like moonbeams themselves. “You’d do well not to believe the legends of men!” she quipped.

She then took me into her bosom, placed her teat to my mouth. “Drink, Lazarus,” she commanded. “This is the milk of life, stronger than any wine.”

Her taste was sweet and as I drank I felt my strength restored.  The boils healed on my skin, the ulcers vanished from my mouth. My fever broke and my head cooled.  My muscles, which had begun to atrophy, now took on a new suppleness and flexibility. I stood to my full height. My vision was sharp and clear.

I looked around me. All the ground seemed brighter, the plants green as pine, the flowers grown to the size of wheat fields.  The colors were dazzling. Silver rivers flowed, sheep grazed, trees were ripe with apples. Far in the distance the landscape sprung with all manner of vegetation, the lavender fields a sea of purple before us.  We were no longer in Bethany.

lavendar england public domain

“What is the place, my lady?” I asked. My voice was now deep, restored of its full volume and masculinity.

“This is but a fragment of Eden,” she answered. “And you are here for but a fragment of time. Answer when Yeshua calls. He weeps for you. There is so much more of your life to live.”

The next I knew I was in a tomb, rock walls encompassing like a prison around me.  I was clothed in linen, my head wrapped and eyes covered.  This seemed quite absurd as I had never felt fitter in my life.  They had buried me? Buried me alive, no less!  I unraveled the gauze from my eyes.

Just then the tomb’s boulder was moved. A path opened and yellow sunlight poured in.  I heard his voice, sturdy and pleading. “Lazarus, come out.”

lazarus

Slowly I stepped from the tomb, earth warm on my bare feet. Mary and Martha ran to my side and embraced me. “Brother,” Mary said. “Never did we lose our faith. Though we buried you four days ago, it is as he promised. You live!” Her face was wet with tears of joy.

Four days? Surely she was wrong, for I had been with Lillith but a moment!  Only long enough to drink the milk from her breasts and glimpse paradise.

“Remove those burial linens and let him go,” Yeshua instructed.

Later, as we dined together at our table he leaned in to me and whispered in my ear, “Tell no one of Lillith.”

“But why, Rabboni?” I asked. The woman Lillith had been a vision, a hope and a miracle. I longed to share my story.

“They will crucify me for this,” Yeshua answered. “If they learn the source from which my power comes it will be even worse. You’ll endanger your sisters. You’ll endanger all of womankind. This world is not yet prepared for the Truth.”

I heeded his words and told none of my visit with Lillith.

My sister Mary then took an alabaster jar filled with our finest perfumed oil. She anointed Yeshua’s feet and dried them with her own hair.

annointing feet

The men criticized her. The one called Judas Iscariot rose and gestured wildly.  “This fine perfume could have been sold and its money given to the poor!” he bellowed. “Yet Mary has wasted it on the Rabboni’s feet! She is sinful.”

My sister, unperturbed, continued her anointing.

“Leave the woman alone,” Yeshua commanded. “She is preparing me for my burial. The poor will be with you always, but I am destined to leave you soon.”

All were silent at this. He was correct. When the Sanhedrin heard of my resurrection, they became even more suspicious of him. A bounty was put on his head and the one called Iscariot betrayed him for thirty pieces of silver. He was arrested the following Thursday  at the garden of Gethsemane.

The very next day Yeshua bin Joseph was crucified, nailed to a cross with a crown of thorns on his head.  He died at Golgatha and was buried in a nearby tomb.

Like me, he arose from that tomb. Like me, he never told anyone of his encounter with Lillith.

As time went on many were persecuted. Women were burned at the stake, hung and murdered for their gifts of healing , elemental powers and necromancy.  It was not until millennia had passed that the Enlightenment came.

The world was then ready for the Truth.

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Jack the Ripper

 

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Jack: They called it murder but I called it art.

I lurked in the shadows, waiting  for the perfect moment to pounce.  The bevy of beautiful women I selected as specimens were perhaps unsuspecting of my talents.  The good people of London were unsuspecting as well. Yet as that month of September, 1888 passed, after I had skillfully managed to dissect and disembowel four women, leaving their remains to decorate Whitechapel  like human canvasses, it occurred to me; the locals now had great expectations of my work.  I had become a skilled artist in the medium of human flesh.

Why did I do it? Ah, I am quite sure the gentlemen at Scotland Yard would love to know the answer to that. Why indeed? I did it with purpose!  It was sublime and beautiful, this sight of torn flesh.  The rushing scarlet that trickled from their necks as I first pricked my knife. The red river that flowed across their clavicles.  Once the blood began to pour I was insatiable in my creation.  Like a painter’s brush I wielded my dagger, deeper and deeper until I hit solid bone. I could not stop till I’d sliced their torsos clean open.

 

 

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Ryder and the Wolf

 

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As I stepped to the forest path the moon was platinum full, bathing its pale light over the changing leaves of October. The Native tribes called this moon Hunter, and sure as I gazed at it, I knew Diana’s strength embraced me.

In my basket I carried victuals, all manner of  which would aid my ailing Granny. There were sweet cakes spilling with honey. Wine pressed from dandelion and elderberry. Ginger root to be brewed in a strong tea and garlic bulbs to be steeped in milk. All of it was surely enough to cure any grippe or fever. My poor Granny suffered. Her health and well being were the most important things to me in all the world.

The night was gray, a thick fog rising, air soft as early autumn’s gauze.  There was a stillness to the wind, an eeriness like the calm before a storm.  This night was odd, I felt it in my bones. Strange things were portended, and if it weren’t for my ailing Granny I would scarce have left from my cottage.

Yet the Hunter moon beckoned.

Halfway through the lupine pass I spotted the wolf. A coat black as ebony and blue eyes that gleamed bright as sapphire.

 

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No doubt the animal had sniffed out my victuals, or even, I daresay, my own blood. I was not a-feared. Humankind surely has dominion over the beasts of this planet. Still, I knew I’d best keep my distance.  I made myself scarce among the heather and pine. I even scattered a few cake crumbs so as to throw the beast off my trail. I then proceeded in another direction entirely, forgoing the shortcut yet proceeding to Granny’s cottage all the same.

My dodging was to no avail, for some three leagues down the road I encountered the wolf again. This time the most wondrous of things happened, so much so that you gentle reader, may doubt my words. I assure you it all is true, sure as my name is Ryder Redd and I dwell in the forest of Galbraithe.

The wolf spoke to me, in a voice clear and stern as any man. “Ryder Redd,”  quothe he. “What brings thee to the forest?”   I was, of course, taken aback.  And yet, in the pale light of the moon, where all manner of wondrous things  happened, and in the still of the fog where metamorphosis morphed, a talking wolf seemed, in that instant, not so very strange at all.

“I bring remedies to my Granny, black wolf,” said I. “For she ails in fever and such victuals are sure to cure it.”

The wolf then sniffed, stuck his snout in the flannel napkin of my sack.  “Have you no meat, woman?” he asked, a rise of tension in his voice.

“Nay sir,” said I. “So sorry to disappoint, but it is medicine I bring. Honey cakes, ginger, strong wine, and garlic, noxious enough to clear any head.”

“Bah, what good are you?” said the wolf. With that he bounded up the path. I silently thanked Diana, for she had no doubt protected me. As the Huntress keeps her animals at bay, so humans are free to wander the earth.

By and by I came to Granny’s cottage. I knocked upon the door. No answer. The house was still as rock, no sign of stirring within.   Granny was, no doubt, in slumber.  I opened the door. The house was dark and I fumbled for some candles.  Having lit them I checked the bedroom, looked beneath the sheets, lifted the dust ruffle and even peeked under the bed. “Granny?”  I called. She was nowhere to be found.

Just then through the window I heard an earth shattering howl. Then more howls joined in unison. My heart quickened, for, confronted with one wolf I was able and competent, but this – a whole pack outside my Gran’s door? For this I was not equipped.

Still, curiosity got the better of me and I went to the window.  What I viewed, gentle reader, you will surely not believe. Yet I saw it with the eyes in my head, a steady gaze not tempered by imagination nor spirits. I even pinched myself to make sure it was so.

There, under the light of the moon I saw the pack of black wolves.  Nay wolves!  I say wolves – but not these! These were some strange form of animal, heads and bodies like wolves but with spans of feathered wings that fluttered from their backs.  They were like Pegasus, if such a creature existed.  Like Gryphon, were such a creature true!

 

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By my wits and my troth I should have been frightened. Frightened white as Diana’s moon. But no.  The winged wolves stared at me with eyes of interest. Something was so enticing, so inviting about them.  And so I opened the door, left the safety of the cottage and joined them in the field.

The one whom I had seen in the woods came forward. He  now had sprouted wings but when he spoke, the voice was exactly the same as I had heard it before. “Ryder Red,” quothe he, “we are pleased to see you.”

The wolves then swarmed in their circle. I moved closer.  And then! Such a hideous sight I have never before beheld.  Between them they shared a large carcass of meat, marbled  with gristle and tendon.  Upon closer look I recognized it as the torso of a human chest. The flesh was bloody, severed at the waist, spiky bones of a rib cage protruding. The air smelled of iron and meat.

I watched mesmerized as the gryphon-wolves, with dagger sharp teeth, ripped at their prey.  They growled and squabbled, slithered their tongues to lap up the pouring red blood. Finally one beast, the leader of the pack, dug his snout deep into the torso, gnawing until he pulled out a heart. Greedily  he chewed at it, a stew of scarlet veins, aorta bursting and even more blood that splattered on his fur like liquid roses.  The others consumed all  the leftover bits, licking remnants from the grass. I took a step back.

Pleased to see me? My ears burned.  Had the wolf  actually said ‘pleased to see you’?  And where o where was my Granny?

The wolf I’d made acquaintance with moved away for the circle and approached me.  He studied me and inasmuch as an animal can smile, he smiled at me.

“What name sir?” I asked nervously, for it seemed the beast must have a name and I should use that name to address him. “And what know you of my Granny?” I added. She was the most important!

“I am called Lycan,” he answered. “As for your Granny, she is changed. Never to be the same again.”

“Changed how?”

“She ails not.”

“Not how so?”

“She is well.”

“Well how so?”

“She is different.”

“Different how?”

“She is changed.”

“Aye sir!” I screeched. “Bring an end to this riddle! I am to tend to my Granny.”

“She needs not tending,” quothe he.

Then, with all the grace and ease of the moon and all the obscurity and blur of the fog, one magnificent gryphon-wolf flew forward. “I am she,” said the voice and I knew it was the voice of my Granny.

“To what form have they brought you?” I gasped. Yet as I watched her I was not frightened nor disgusted. Inasmuch as an animal can smile, she smiled at me.

 

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“My eyes child,” she said, “are all the better to see with. And my teeth all the better to eat with. My ears hear as never before. Sharp as an animal’s.”

In that moment I heard a scurry of feathers, the loud beating of wings.  A glitter of silver like so many falling stars scattered across the sky. All the gryphon-wolves, save for Lycan, disappeared quick as cats, vanishing into the fog.

“My Granny is no more?” I cried desperately.

“She is no more for you to see as such,” answered Lycan.

My heart fell although Lycan assured me it was for the best. He then guided me back to the cottage. Once inside, he bid me open my basket. “The honey cakes need not go to waste,” he insisted.

By then I had grown quite hungry, and so I devoured the cakes.  I had also grown quite thirsty and so I drank the wine. I felt my head go light. I became very sleepy and stupid, still unable to grasp what had happened. My world was a prism, a split of fog and moon, a mixture of fear and compassion. The fire blazed in its hearth, surreal in its ever changing facets.

 

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“Time for bed Ryder Redd,” said Lycan. With that he pressed his paws to my chest and unbuttoned the stays of my red cloak. Yet in that unbuttoning, his hands somehow changed. They were no longer the paws of a beast. The fingers that pulled at my stays were graceful fingers, with well manicured nails. The hands of a human and a wealthy one at that, the hands of fine breeding.

He pulled the cloak from my shoulders and pressed his face close to mine. It was not the face of a wolf, but a man with a mane of black hair, a face chiseled, cheekbones that glowed bronze and healthy.  His sapphire eyes glided over me. His touch was gentle upon my shoulder, gentle upon my waist.  He unlaced my camisole, slid my pantaloons off my buttocks and I, docile and sleepy with elderberry, complied to him.  I fell into the sheets of Granny’s bed and Lycan climbed beside me.

“You have not eaten, my lord,”  I said, for in that moment it occurred to me; I had been most inhospitable, gobbling all the tarts and chugging all the wine. “Of the honey cakes, I fear none are left,” I added sleepily.

“Ryder,” said he, “I am a carnivore, consuming only blood and meat.” His kiss was warm on my breast.

 

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Needless to say, he did not devour me, for if so I would not live to tell this tale. Yet suffice it to say he did not go hungry. That night, and every night thereafter I spent with my wolf- man.  He was an agreeable sort and a perfect gentleman toward me, save for once a month at Diana’s full moon when he transformed.

It was then that a pack of black wings fluttered over the forest. It was then that the gryphon-wolves feasted, the poor body of some disease-ridden human finally rescued from its illness. It was then that the flesh became silver stardust, spread across the sky like a flurry of crystalline diamonds.

The saved one would speak of new eyes, all the better to see with. And new ears, all the better to hear with. And of course, new teeth. All the better to bite with.

 

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Halloween Jack

 

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I first met the Devil in a pub called the Boar’s Head on Old Cork road.  The night, as I recall, was all hallows eve.  Having spent my last farthing on ale I tried to barter the barkeep for  one last drink.  My mouth watered but he refused me.  “Go on home boy,” he ordered. “Get you a good night’s sleep. Come the morrow all the world will be brighter.”

He was wrong. My world was darkness. I had no intention of retreating home to my bare and filthy hovel where paint peeled off the walls, rats basked in the waste bins and I had drained every ounce of my whiskey bottles dry. I knew not where I’d wander, yet the barkeep bid me leave.  And so it was to my great fortune that before exiting through the pub’s swinging door I encountered Lucifer himself.

 

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There he stood, hands crossed at his chest, a blithe smile on his face. He was oddly graceful, a strange dignity about him.

“Your days are numbered Jack,” he told me. “A life of thieving, gambling, drinking and whoring. What have you to show for yourself?  Well now. It seems time has expired and I’ve come to take you to the iron gates.”

The Devil. He may think himself wise, but I, Sneaky Jack Skrumpington, was much wiser!

“You don’t look like the Devil to me,” I challenged. “If you are true, then prove it. Change yourself into a shilling!”   One shilling, I reasoned, would buy me a fresh pitcher of ale.

Lucifer scowled. He laughed at my challenge, and yet, he could not resist a good dare. In an instant he transformed himself into a shiny silver coin which I did not hesitate to snatch. I quickly hid it in my pocket, right next to my rosary’s shiny cross.

 

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Everyone knows the Devil cannot abide a cross. He was thus under my spell. Yet I was not entirely unmerciful. I  made a bargain with him. In exchange for his freedom he would give me the sum of one million ducats and another ten  years to live upon this earth.  He agreed. After all, he had no choice.

During my next ten years I lived a life of decadence.  I dined at the finest of inns, drank wine under crystal chandeliers. I slept in silk sheets upon feathered beds, beautiful women accompanying me at every turn.  I spent much of my time gaming, cheating and winning, caring not a fig for those I left in debt.  I steadily increased my ever growing fortune.

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Finally it all came to an end.

It was upon all hallows eve, ten years later when the Devil returned to claim my soul. He found me sprawled beneath an apple tree, sleeping off a long drunk.

“Skrumpington!” he barked. “Your time has expired.”  His lips formed a wide smile, green teeth reflecting the light of the moon. Although he attempted his best of horrifying theatrics, commanding streaks of lightning across the sky and claps of thunder, he did not scare me. I knew better.

“Lucifer,” I pleaded, kneeling before him. “Can you not give a damned man one last request? Do it!  Do it, so you prove yourself a creature of mercy, not the evil demon they paint you!  Do it, so you prove yourself a being of justice, not the slithering snake they claim.  Forget not, Lucifer,  you were once a son of light!”

He stared at me. This remark had struck a chord.  I moved my face close to his. “Aye,” I whispered in his hairy ear. “Once, dear Lucifer, you sat at the right hand of the Father. You were his favorite, were you not?  The brightest star of the heavens, Luz the light. Oh, but  that was long before your great sin of pride, wasn’t it? You banished yourself from the heavens, fell from grace into your own lonely cavern of hell. Surely you remember?”

I stroked his neck, moved my hand across the small of his back.  He quivered at my touch.  “Show me now you have not lost all your goodness,” I urged.  “Grant  me but one last request.” I moved my lips to his cheek, kissed him gently and tasted the salt of a single tear that fell from his eye.

He nodded, for even the Devil had some shred of decency.  Besides, he knew a pacified soul would be more useful to him. He clutched my hand.  “What then would you have from me Jack Skrumpington?” he asked.

“Only a simple apple,” I answered. “Ripe and sweet, picked from this very tree.” I pointed to the top bough, heavy with fruit.

 

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Lucifer nodded and like a lizard he shimmied up the bark, entrenching himself between the branches. He reached up to pick the largest, reddest apple the tree bore.

I wasted no time! In one instant I pulled my knife from its scabbard. Quickly I carved a cross in the trunk of the tree. Lucifer’s eyes widened in terror. He was now stuck on the branch of the tree, unable to descend, for everyone knows the Devil can never approach a cross.

I grinned up at him. He spat down on me. “Skrumpington,” he hissed. “You have deceived me again!”

“I will release you,” I said. “If you make me but one single promise.”

His body writhed and wrinkled, now blending into the wood of the tree. He wheezed, struggling to breathe as the tree’s tentacles closed in around him. His eyes were frightened and white. A knot in the bark swallowed him whole, then spit him out again and he hung like a folded fish on the branch.

“Very well Skrumpington!” he gasped. “What bid you this time?”

“This time…” I sighed a sigh of deep satisfaction, strolled grandly in a circle, watching him the whole time.  “This time you shall agree to never take my immortal soul, regardless of whatsoever evil deeds I may perform.”

He nodded slowly.

“Swear it!” I commanded.

“I swear it, Jack Skrumpington. I will never take your immortal soul.”

He was a defeated thing, weak and gray, his body now sliding like a stretched lump of clay . I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.

 

For what remained of my life I continued my ways of debauchery, drinking and whoring myself  into an inevitable grave.  I was a liar, a user and a sycophant. I frequented gambling dens and houses of ill repute.  I lived only for myself and my own gain. It would later be said of me “Jack Scrumpington  never once performed a selfless act nor did any kindness toward his fellow man.”

Yet time waits for no one and even I was not immune. My body grew old.  My back bent, my bones ached with arthritis. Finally my unbridled whoring caught up with me and the syphilis pox set in.  My hands shook.  My walk became a staggered, struggling gait.  My penis withered like a crumpled twig.  My liver became diseased, bloated with cirrhosis, swollen from years of hard liquor. Yellow jaundice enmeshed my flesh.  Death, when it finally came, was a mercy.

I then found myself at the gates of Saint Peter.

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The Saint shuffled his feet, looked at me and  shook his head. “Can’t take you Jack,” he said sadly, “for never in your life have you performed a single selfless act. Not once have you done any kindness toward your fellow man.” Peter leafed through his book of souls, double checking as if there might be a chance he would still find my name.  But no. He closed the book.  “Sorry Jack.” He shrugged.  “Not once.” He caught my eye with a look of genuine sympathy as he locked the white pearl of the deadbolt.

 

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The wind gusted. I felt a chill up my spine. Winter was coming and it would be a long, merciless one.  Ice formed on the pavement beneath me.  I wore only the sack cloth I had been buried in.  My teeth chattered.

What to do?  What to do?  I’d go to the Devil! Of course I would!  At the very least, it should be warm in hell. Yes, it would be an eternity of misery, the lake of fire, but I’d embrace it, punishment for the damage I’d done in my waking life.

Lucifer peered through the gray mist that surrounded his iron gate. Upon recognizing me, he furrowed his brow and shook his head. “Oh no,” he said. “I’ve no want for you here, Jack Scrumpington.  I promised I’d never take your immortal soul and I’ll not take it. A promise is a promise.” He clasped his hands together and bowed his head.  “I may be a lot of – er – unsavory things.  But Lucifer Luz is a man of his word!” He stomped a foot and pounded his own chest.

Not fit for heaven, not welcome in hell.  I was the lowest of souls, left to wander on the brink of nothingness. I turned away from Lucifer’s gate. The thick mist clouded my eyes. I stumbled like a blind man. The night was black as pitch. I could see not one outline, not one shadow.

Just then I felt Lucifer’s warm touch upon my shoulder.

 

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“You’ll need something to light your way,” he said, not unkindly.  He then handed me a hollowed out pumpkin.  A lone candle burned at its base, blackening the inside rind.

“Take this lantern, Jack,” the Devil said. “May it guide you through the darkness.” He then handed me a knife.  “You may want to carve some designs in it. Allow extra light.”

It was an act of unmerited kindness, considering what I’d done to him.

In that moment I felt guilt for the first time. I was sorry I had treated him so badly.  I realized my skewed values.   But alas, it was by then, too late.

With Lucifer’s knife I carved a face in the pumpkin, triangle eyes and nose, even a smiling toothless mouth.

From that day on I was left to wander through the land of spirit. I am usually unseen but sometimes, upon all hallows eve you might find me. It is then the veils are lifted and humankind may enter our realms. Look for me in the alleyways, in your dark streets of trick-or-treaters.  I am the ghostly figure who carries a lone pumpkin of candle light to brighten my sad path.

They call me Jack of the Lantern.

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