Somebody to Drink With: Anacreon’s Epitaph and Some Poems — SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

Greek Anthology 7.26, Antipater of Sidon “Stranger passing by the humble grave of Anakreon, If my books were of any use to you, Pour some wine on my ashes, pour it out in drops So that my bones can smile, refreshed a bit by wine, so I, who loved the shouting raves of Dionysus, so…

Somebody to Drink With: Anacreon’s Epitaph and Some Poems — SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

“Life is the Life” Poetry by Richard H. Fay

Roused from decades of sepulchral slumber
By savage cannonades and rifle fire,
Departing the dark comfort of my tomb,
I roam a mad world ripped apart by war.

Venturing forth like a smoky blue veil
Wafting across this cratered countryside,
Searching for the base essence of being,
I am drawn to fields of lingering death.

Drifting amidst battle-broken bodies,
Ignoring agonizing cries of pain,
Invisible to dimming mortal eyes,
I harvest embers of vitality.

Finding a suitably ravaged vessel,
Sensing sustenance within battered flesh,
I drain lifeblood to feed this hungry soul –
A dying youth becomes my golden cup.

Energies flow from spirit to spirit
Fuelling my ethereal existence.
Leaving behind the soldier’s empty husk
I retreat into deepening shadows
Revitalized.

(Originally published in The Monsters Next Door, Contest Issue 4.5, November 15, 2008.)

“From Within the Earth” Short Story by Richard H. Fay

Now that it has come, our doom hasn’t arrived from outer space, but inner space. No death star pulsing gamma rays or behemoth killer asteroid spells our demise; the Earth itself will see to that. Something stirs within the heart of this abused sphere, making all man-made disasters look like child’s play. Gaea is finally having her revenge.


According to what I gathered watching the news, when there was still news to watch, those drilling deep wells and working mines miles below the surface noticed it first. Black ooze seeped from the pores of the rocks, dripping from the spaces between the grains of this planet’s fabric as if the Earth bled. Once it bubbled up bore holes and well shafts, corrosive sludge ate away steel rigs and derricks. The merest touch meant an agonizing death for any soul unlucky enough to come in contact with it. For us residents of higher elevations, this seemed a distant problem at first.


From what I’ve been told by wayfarers and refugees, that dreadful effluent then spread to subways and cellars. Ever rising, it turned low-lying towns into poisonous mires. Whole cities were abandoned as urbanites fled to higher terrain. Order eroded as governments collapsed. Riots and fires broke out across the globe. New York, London, and other cities burned for days. Billowing clouds of noxious smoke made more toxic by smouldering sludge poisoned tens of thousands. Tucked away in the middle of nowhere, I weathered society’s breakdown the best I could, but now I’m running out of food.

According to what I gleaned from the few sources remaining after things went to hell, scientists brave enough to investigate the malignant material found that the stuff is mineral and yet alive. Strange silica-based cells somehow germinate from the rocks themselves, and concentrate all the worst corrosives and toxins the Earth can muster as they grow and multiply. This was the final bit of information I got before the airwaves went completely silent. It doesn’t matter; the generator used up the last drops of gas two days ago.


From what I see out my window, the valley below my mountainside home now lays beneath a heaving black lake. Dead firs stand naked in a vast expanse of lethal muck. Are those ebony tendrils snaking up the trunks? Do I see swaying appendages rising from the ooze in a bitter mockery of the blasted forest? Has this living nightmare evolved into something even more hideous? Although there is no hope, I sit at my dining room table and pray for deliverance while tears roll down my cheeks.

My heart races; I hear gurgling coming from the basement. Black ooze bubbles up through cracks in the floorboards. Creeping feelers crawl toward my legs. I leap atop the table. Tentacles stretch out, reaching up toward my table-top perch.  

No! One brushed across my left foot. My shoe has already begun to dissolve. My flesh is on fire! The pain! I feel faint…I mustn’t fall…falling…blackness…

(Originally published in MicroHorror, November 1, 2010.)

“Mirror, Mirror in the Closet” Short Story by George Gad Economou

Photo based on “Cooking Heroin” (Heroin Aufkochen) 2006 by Hendrike. Some rights reserved. From Wikimedia Commons; 1/1/2017.

Three in the morning and I had to get up to piss. My body was aching. My head was throbbing. I had been drinking since noon and passed out about one in the morning. I nearly tripped on an empty bourbon bottle on the floor, barely managing to keep my balance by leaning on the closet door.

Business taken care of, I lay on the couch, staring at the spinning ceiling. Sleep was, once more, evading me. I got up, after half an hour of futile attempts to vanish into Morpheus’s realm. I poured a glass of half-scotch and half-water, opened the window, lit a cigarette. The cold wind instantly penetrated the room, dropping the temperature by several degrees. It felt rejuvenating. I lit the sole candle in my apartment and grabbed my notebook, in which I used to write poems during tedious classes.

THE NEEDLE! I nearly fell off my chair when I noticed it. It was not supposed to be here. A couple of weeks back I had thrown out all my paraphernalia, because I was to move out and I had decided to come clean, to leave my substance-abuse behind. Yet, the needle was there on the coffee table, between the copies of Ask the Dust and Journey to the End of the Night. A dirty, used needle. It was real. I touched it, grabbed it, examined it closely, my heart racing within my chest.

Where did it come from? The question rang in my hazy mind. I puffed on my cigarette, and then took a long, slow drink of the scotch and water, hoping to pass out once more. It was a dream. I was certain of it. All I had to do was sleep and the needle would vanish. I held it in my hand, feeling its forceful presence between my fingers, I pressed the syringe and it squirted. Like the old days, there was blood in it. It had been used recently. The vibes were all wrong. I felt as if I should somehow recognize the syringe and the needle, but it was impossible. I drank again, praying to pass out right there on the spot. It wouldn’t be the first time I slept on my dirty floor, and it’d be a much more welcome outcome than being confronted by what I was certain was the needle that had taken Emily away from me.

I was alone in the apartment—my last two weeks in it before I moving away, heading back to the streets of my childhood where I’d seek a more prosperous future. I looked about. My heart was sinking. My gaze fell upon the mirror in my closet. I was not alone. Emily stood behind me.

I fell backwards, landing on my back and neck, too drunk to feel the pain, only my drunkenness saving me from serious injury. A chair landed on top of me. I glanced about. I sat up cautiously. My neck ached worse than before. My head throbbed like it never had. I stared into the mirror. Now, instead of standing behind me, Emily was sitting on the couch, her head leaning backwards. She seemed to be staring into the abyss. I reached behind me, touched the fabric of the couch, the worn-out sheet covering it. She was not there. Yet, in the mirror, I was running my hand across her thigh.

She turned her face to me. Her gaze was cold, heartless. She placed her hand on my shoulder. I felt her phantom touch, even though I could not feel her hand with mine when I tried. Still sitting on the floor, the chair over my legs, in the mirror her hands were on my shoulders. I felt her soft breath in my ear. She had been dead for six fucking years; junk had taken her from me.

She bit the lobe of my ear, a gentle jolt of pain and pleasure traversing my body. I jumped up onto my knees and faced the deserted couch. She had overdosed there, the same couch on which I had gotten high next to her lifeless body with the same needle. It killed her, but let me live. I wonder still, six years down the road, why in the hell I was the one to survive.

Throughout the room, the pictures of my masters and heroes, all authors from times gone by, stared at me judgmentally. New additions since her death, she had never seen them.

“When did you put them up?” she whispered softly into my ear.

I stepped back, escaping her embrace. I turned to the mirror. She appeared befuddled. I had another long sip of my drink. I rolled and lit another cigarette. The needle was on my desk now, next to the keyboard, containing the poison that had inspired so many stories and poems and had caused such tremendous heartbreak. It was the only real evidence of my habit. I had to throw it away. My parents were coming soon. I didn’t want them to find a dirty needle among my stuff, but it was the only real reminder, the only thing I possessed, that could remind me Emily had once existed and had been a part of my life.

Without warning, the needle rose into the air. In the mirror, Emily was holding it, as if about to stab me with it. Instead, she threw it. I ducked and it stuck in Poe’s nose. Emily was smiling. I straightened my body. It’s the drink, I told myself. I wanted to lie down, get some rest. I couldn’t. Phantom arms were thrown around my neck, dead lips were being pressed up against mine, and the kiss was more passionate and real than so many I had exchanged with one-night stands and cheap replacements of my Emily. Squinting, I glanced into the mirror. Emily’s body was pressed against mine. She was wearing my John Lennon t-shirt, and her hands were on my head, exploring the balding spots. She broke off the kiss and stared into my eyes.

“Why aren’t you looking at me?” she asked. “what are you afraid of?”

I couldn’t answer. No sound could escape my dry mouth and throat. I stood petrified, wishing I could touch, for one last time, the body that I could only see in a reflection of a wished-for reality. I tried, but there was nothing there.   I was touching my own body, regardless of the lies the mirror told me. I had another sip.

“You drink more than you used to,” she whispered in my ear.

“I know.” My words came out more hoarsely than I had expected. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t,” she said, “it’s alright.”

“You can’t be real,” I caught myself saying.

“Why?” she asked.

I had no reply.

Her soft lips touched mine. We were locked in yet another phantom kiss.

I stopped caring about what was real and what wasn’t. I sat on the couch, a newly rolled cigarette between my lips. I felt a soft weight on my shoulder. I kept my gaze fixed on the mirror, for there her head was resting on me, she was smiling, her hand on my leg. I lit the cigarette. The needle was still stuck on Poe’s picture. The first cloud of blue smoke that left my mouth lingered on for longer than it should have. I noticed the pair of bright green eyes staring back at me, and I smiled.

“What have you done in your life?”

“What do you mean?” I muttered, astonished at the question, and with a touch of horror.

She—I saw it all taking place in the mirror—angrily pointed at the blank page on my computer screen.

“Where are the masterpieces?” she demanded.

I heard her voice loud and clear, even though I could not see her outside the mirror. I didn’t respond. There was nothing to be said after all, and she punched the screen, and it rattled violently.

“Please, Emily,” I said fearfully and got up.

“Don’t talk,” she ordered me and I obeyed, my heart beating up against my ribcage too hard, trying to escape.

I sat down on the couch, puffing on my cigarette.

“What happened to you?” the soft, gentle, loving whisper in my ear, an affectionate, short-lived kiss on my cheek. “Where have all the grand dreams gone?”

“I don’t know,” was the most real, and only, response I could provide.

“It’s alright,” a chuckle in my ear brought goosebumps while non-existent fingers toyed with the few remaining hairs on the crown of my head. “A lot has changed, huh?” another giggle, another soft kiss. I didn’t want to move a muscle, afraid of somehow ruining whatever was going on.

I was, however, growing dizzier, I had gulped down the scotch and had mechanically poured another, a tall glass of scotch, neat. I drank long and slow. The world was spinning around me faster and faster.

“It’s alright” was the last whisper I heard, a kiss on the lips the final memory of the crazy night.

I passed out on the spot. I woke up several hours later, in dire need to piss. I crawled to the bathroom. I could not have stood up had my life depended on it. I pissed, puked, washed my face vigorously. I returned to the living room and threw myself back on the couch. As I was about to close my eyes and sleep the horrendous hangover away, I caught a glimpse of my closet. The syringe was still stuck on the picture of Poe. Quickly, I rose, adrenaline allowing me to ignore the throbbing head, the aching limbs.

Then, I noticed my computer screen; the blank page was no longer blank.

I’m waiting;

Infernal Beatrice.

asked THE poet, he said yes.

come when you please.

I’ll be waiting in the dark.

I read the lines over and over. I had not typed them. I lit a cigarette. The first puff had me rushing back to the bathroom. I passed out on the toilet seat—for the hundredth time in my short life—and when I finally regained consciousness, I rushed back to the living room. There was nothing: no needle, no lines, only the empty bottles on the floor and the blank page on my screen.

I poured a strong one and again drank long and slow. I felt rejuvenated. I spent the rest of the night staring into the mirror, somehow finding a little hope.

“Spirit of the Chamber” Poetry by FRED

Phantom spirit, ‘neath shroud of green

tangled ivy, wrapped in strangle-hold

around your form unseen.

What lurks hidden until the light

of fading day is by the earth consumed

to welcome spectres of the night?

Can your dark visage be so vile

that you should cower like some clandestine soul

condemned to haunt this vault with artful guile?

Furtive form, reveal yourself so

eyes might see the nature of your being,

or skulk forever with them that passed below.

***

Visit FRED’s website at fredshortstories.wordpress.com.

“H.R. Giger: His Dreams, Our Nightmares” Article by John A. DeLaughter

“You know, it takes profound art and profound insight into Nature to turn out stuff like Pickman’s…only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear- the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with…hereditary memories of fright, and the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness…Doré had it. Sime has it. Angarola of Chicago has it. And Pickman had it as no man ever had it before or- I hope to Heaven- ever will again” (1).

When H. P. Lovecraft penned those words in 1926, little did he know that out of the earth’s primal ooze, another man would arise, one who captured the ancestral memories of fright.

The man was Hans Rudolf Giger. That Pickman-incarnate was born February 5, 1940, in Chur, Switzerland. Giger’s morbid artwork work inspired the Xenomorph extraterrestrial in the movie Alien. The influential director Oliver Stone is not known for delving into existential darkness. Yet, his opinion about Giger’s place in the world of art and culture is noteworthy:

“’I do not know anybody else,’ he said, ‘who has so accurately portrayed the soul of modern humanity. A few decades from now when they will talk about the twentieth century, they will think of Giger’” (2).

And H.R. Giger departed from the earthly spheres on May 12, 2014.

Giger dredged the hereditary memories of immemorial fear. Like the Grecian god Charon, he poled the haggard ferryboat to the dark underworld. Upon Giger’s return, he captured hints of the demons and dreamscapes that vibrate with life beyond the prosaic world.

In this essay, we will try to gain a sense of the cosmic grandeur in Giger’s art that excites in us.

Seven Ways H.R. Giger touched Our Instinctual Fears:

1) Giger’s art stirs up desires for the forbidden and taboo. Once, Giger’s paintings would have been declared blasphemous. Zealots would have burned him at the stake as Warlock. As one whom interviewed Giger, surrounding the making of Alien wrote:

“…The hint of witchcraft was surely confirmed when the chief warlock – Giger – ordered crates of freshly boiled animal bones directly from the slaughterhouse. They were used to create molds for the derelict’s cadaverous walls: horizontal ribs crossed with vertical spines cords. If you want an egg to appear fleshy, use real flesh. If you want an alien spaceship to feature a carapace of bones, use real bones…” (3).

Normally, when one wishes to summons a demon, they inscribe the pentagram, sit in the resulting symbol and protective circle, and recite the necessary invocation. Giger’s art bypassed the Ouija board or the Scything Crystal, to contact the darkness in each of us.

2) Giger’s art titillates us with Necromantic Puzzles. When one lovingly fondles the bones of another, strange thing happen. Occult visions are invoked.

Giger was an artist of the ossuary, mimicking the bone chapels of the world in his cosmic pyramids and cyclopean temples. He took old dead bones from our primeval past, and like a modern Joseph Curwen, revived them into living, breathing, slavering nightmares.

As Giger aficionados tattooed themselves with the artist’s otherworldly images, they mystically enter one of those off-world temples, and join the pageant of weird adherents in worshiping the Old Ones:

“…The…tattooing process, which involved complex ritual and taboos…was associated with beliefs which were secrets known only to members of the priestly caste…historically tattooing had originated in connection with ancient rites of scarification and bloodletting which were associated with religious practices intended to put the human soul in harmony with supernatural forces and ensure continuity between this life and the next.” (4).

3) Giger’s art captivates the morbid curiosity that causes us to gaze on car wrecks.

Giger’s work imitates descriptions of Pickman’s art:

“God, how that man could paint! There was a study called ‘Subway Accident,’ in which a flock of the vile things were clambering up from some unknown catacomb through a crack in the floor of the Boston Street subway and attacking a crowd of people on the platform” (5).

Giger’s work was the art of the train wreck, where twisted bodies, fused with metal and glass, recombine in all matter of surrealistic forms – art as mutation, art as mutilation. Giger captured in art, the prose of Clive Barker’s, Midnight Meat Train – with subways cars filled with butchered human bodies, suspended as if in a slaughterhouse, awaiting their consumption by Manhattan’s Old Ones.

Was it any reason why Clive Barker said of Giger:

“…Like all great visionaries, Giger…plunges his hands into the raw stuff of our subconscious, and using methodologies that are unique to him creates a state that is rigorous, hierarchical and, for all its abysmal depths, inviting. ‘ In mapping the tribal lands of our psyches, Giger gives us fresh access to them. He frees us, in essence, to wander there, encouraged by the fact that others have gone before. He makes us brave, and I can think of few higher ambitions for any art. Following where he’s gone, we discover that this new country, which we came into fearful of our sanity, about our lives in countless places. We are not, after all, strangers here. It’s the world we must return into the world of the mortgage payment and the tax return; of the domestic tiff and the public slight that seems chilling, repulsive, alien…” (6).

4) Giger’s art illuminates the primal worlds of the Witchdoctor. Giger traffics in the unwashed, undefined realms of the Shaman.

Where others fled, Giger made his home. What others dread, he made his habitat. What others fight to suppress, he drug back to the surface. Giger brought to a canvas near you the hidden world that ancient shamans saw beyond our own, as they sat in mescaline-induced stupors, with shining streams of drool, driveling down their chins, and onto their heaving chests.

The sum of other worlds remained largely unexplored in either man’s lifetimes. Life beyond the electron microscope, beneath the ocean depths, behind the three dimensions, and beyond the twinkling stars remains unknown and untouched.

Entire libraries of DNA remain unread and untapped.

Giger’s images bore inside you, like the insidious Brown Jerkins, or Giger’s own immature alien chest-buster. The fear it happens upon eats away at your insides. The raw things of the world that cultivated and civilized Homo sapiens avoid are, with little warning, thrust upon our screaming senses. His Xenomorph mimics the dark that slithers out of our collective darkness.

Will they enrich or eviscerate us, as we begin to explore their domains?

5) Giger’s art dissects Lovecraft’s living cosmos. He performed an autopsy on the universe, while it still vibrated with life, aware of its violation.

The maniacal chaos of the demon-sultan Azathoth who inspired lines like:

“…Outside the ordered universe [is] that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes…” (7).

That same Azathoth lies butchered by Giger’s palette knife like a common lab frog.

The archaeology of the cosmos is a study in anatomy versus a study in architecture: veins and sinews appear instead of electrical conduits. Ligaments and ribs show up where you expect potable water lines and sewers. Bridges and scaffolds have mouths and faces.

Giger, as Lovecraft before him, turned the cosmos is some kind of an enormous, incomprehensible entity:

“…Lovecraft’s…focus on the cosmic horrific theme of existence-as-nightmare was balanced and complemented by a deep craving for liberation into transcendent realms of beauty and bliss…The stories of H.P. Lovecraft are…about incursions from the cosmic beyond that open up vistas of wonder and awe. They’re…about dislocations in time and space that offer a paradoxically fearsome and exhilarating experience of liberation from natural law. They’re…about the longing for a transcendent experience of absolute beauty. This duality…is a part of the age-old tradition of fantastic storytelling…Should incursions from beyond the cosmic order, breakdowns in natural law, and the destruction of the physical body be viewed as joyful or terrifying, exhilarating or horrifying, dreadful or liberating? The answer has long emerged from the collective unconscious, often in the form of fantastic stories…as an unqualified, ‘Yes…’” (8).

Each of Giger’s paintings represents a sensuous invitation to join oneself with Azathoth, to lose oneself in the immense, corporeal conflagration.

6) Giger art embraces the aesthetics of death rather than life. Giger fell madly in love with death, long before his brief infatuation with life. His tryst with the Grim Reaper became a driving passion that formed the core of his life.

Giger’s biomechanical orgies capture the necrophiliac thrills of the tomb given breath in The Loved Dead:

“…I haunted the death-chamber where the body of my mother lay, my soul a thirst for the devilish nectar that seemed to saturate the air of the darkened room. Every breath strengthened me, lifted me to towering heights of seraphic satisfaction…” (9).

Giger brought his homicidal photo-realism to everything he touched. And his disturbing photographic memory emptied the undigested contents of the bowels of the heavens and the earth onto his canvases; the things we could not stomach were the curtain of normalcy to be pulled aside, and we saw the darkness that lay just beyond our five senses.

7) Giger’s biomechanoid visions of humanity bother us. Our lives are now governed by machines, from the smartphones we constantly pore over to the computers many of us serve before each day.

The fine line between being served by our machines to having to serve them blurs with each new jump in technology. The borging of humanity will not come at the hands of an all-powerful race that invades out space in enormous technological Rubik’s cubes.

Since most of the enslavement will be done invisibly, by future enhancements of Wi-Fi connections, the horror of assimilation portrayed in Star Trek will become an accepted rite-of-passage.

Giger’s art X-rays the reality of man/machine interface. That art reveals how far we are separated and alienated from nature, the environment for which we were bred.

Ultimately, Giger’s art threatens to release the dark jinn that resides in each of us, one who is willing to do our darkest bidding – yet we fear the unintended consequences if those primal urges are fulfilled.

Conclusion:

Hans Rudolph Giger touched on the existential tensions that confront and confound current generations.

Giger employed the tools of today’s alienated youth. His use of the airbrush allowed HRG to crystallize in paints, the personal estrangement and loss of a sense of self that Graffiti and Tattoo artists strive to express.

In a cosmos, where we have become machines, where we have become functions, in a world where the marks of individuality become fewer and stereotypical – Giger has captured the ultimate mechanization of man. He depicted on canvas a future when we become cogs in the machines. The day many modern philosophers once warned us about – one where man serves machines when man becomes machine – has arrived.

——-

End Notes:

(1) Pickman’s Model, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.

(2) “H. R. Giger and the Zeitgeist of the Twentieth Century,” by Stanislav Grof, The Primal Psychotherapy Page, 2005.

(3) “How H.R. Giger’s Brilliant Madness Helped Make Alien ‘Erotic’,” by Charlie Jane Anders, IO9, October 20, 2011.

(4) Tattoo History: A Source Book, by Steve Gilbert, December 1, 2000, p. 158.

(5) Pickman’s Model, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.

(6) “Introduction,” by Clive Barker, Giger’s Necronomicon 2, English Edition, 1992.

(7) The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1927.

(8) “Lovecraft’s Longing,” by Matt Cardin, http://www.teemingbrain.com, November 1, 2009.

(9) The Loved Dead, by H.P. Lovecraft and C. M. Eddy, Jr., 1919.

***

John A. DeLaughter M.Div., M.S., is a Data Security Analyst and Lovecraft essayist, horror, and fantasy author. He lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi. His work has appeared in The Lovecraft eZineSamsara: The Magazine of SufferingTigershark eZineTurn To Ash, and The Eldritch Literary Review Journal. John is presently editing his original epic fantasy work, Dark Union Rising.

Mr. DeLaughter says about this article:  “The essay “H.R. Giger: His Dreams, Our Nightmares” is a distillation of two articles I wrote about H.P. Lovecraft and H.R. Giger (September 21, 2014 & July 10, 2015) on the Lovecraft eZine website.”

Most Anticipated Adult Books of 2021 —

I have talked about my most anticipated adult romances of 2021, but now I want to highlight all the other adult novels releasing in 2021 that I am excited for. There are so many and I could break them into more categories, but that would be too many posts! I realize that there is a […]

Most Anticipated Adult Books of 2021 —

10 of the Best Monsters in Literature — Interesting Literature

From Greek mythology to modern horror and fantasy, literature is full of fantastic beasts and terrifying monsters. What makes a great fictional monster? Terror, unpredictability, and perhaps an unsettling commingling of the familiar with the unfamiliar? These qualities can all help to create a truly scary monster which haunts our dreams, even though we know […]

10 of the Best Monsters in Literature — Interesting Literature

#SpookyPlannerParty Week-Long Event — HorrorAddicts.net

**DON’T FORGET** Only 3 more days to join us as we celebrate the release of the Spooky Writer’s Planner In honor of the release of our Spooky Writer’s Planner, we’ll be having a fun event in our group from Dec 20th-December 25th. Join the group and answer questions to be entered into prize drawings!

#SpookyPlannerParty Week-Long Event — HorrorAddicts.net

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers — Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Paris, 1925: To enter the Secret Circus is to enter a world of wonder—a world where women weave illusions of magnificent beasts, carousels take you back in time, and trapeze artists float across the sky. Bound to her family’s circus, it’s the only world Cecile Cabot knows until she meets a charismatic young painter and embarks […]

The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers — Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub

Question: Do these two women resemble each other?

I put the two images below in my previous post about vampires. As I was looking at it just now, it seemed to me that they resemble each other. Is it just my imagination? Do you see it too?

One is Elizabeth, Countess Bathory in a portrait made circa 1585. The other is a public domain image of a vampire by darksouls1 that is available on Pixabay.com. I don’t know if darksouls1 intended this, but to me the lower image looks like what the “blood countess” might if she wore modern make-up, modern clothing, and a modern hairstyle. What do you think?

Elizabeth, Countess Bathory, circa 1585.

A Few Thoughts on Vampires

As with lycanthropy, vampirism has a corresponding psychiatric disorder, clinical vampirism, in which a person has an erotic obsession with drinking blood. It is related to Renfield’s Syndrome or Renfield Syndrome, which is an obsession with eating living creatures such as insects. Renfield’s syndrome is named after the character Renfield in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, who had an obsession with eating insects. However, neitherclinical vampirism nor Renfield’s syndrome is a valid medical diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disordersproduced by the American Psychiatric Association.

That said, in legend and mythology and not including those found in literature or in cinema, there are probably thousands of species (for lack of a better term) of vampire. Each culture seems to have had its own variant. In the X-files episode “Bad Blood”, Mulder gives a quick rundown of the many types of vampires in legend and mythology.

Vampires in traditional folklore are much different from the modern conception of a vampire as an immortal, erotic figure that can come out into the open only at night and that feeds on the blood of the living. In bygone days, a vampire was most likely someone cursed, or who had committed a grave sin or crime, who rose from the grave to plague the living, most likely the vampire’s relatives or someone who knew the vampire in life. To keep someone someone with the potential to be a vampire from returning from the dead, various peoples used various preventive measures. One of the most common was to drive a stake through the vampire and into his/her coffin, theoretically pinning them down. Sometimes the body was decapitated or its legs cut off. I don’t recall offhand the use of garlic and crucifixes to repel vampires in legend, but it’s not impossible. To my mind, they are most likely inventions of Hollywood, just as werewolves transforming under a full moon or a silver bullet being necessary to kill them are inventions of Hollywood.

John William Polidori (1795-1821) Date of portrait unknown.

The modern concept of a vampire as a cultured, sexually attractive individual became most popular with Dracula. However, before Dracula (1897) was Carmilla (1872) , by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and The Vampyre (1819) by John William Polidori. These models probably led to vampires being imagined as attractive, seductive aristocrats in the films of the 1970’s and 1980’s. From there the titillating sexual aspect gained greater importance over time to where it is today, probably more as a way to attract a larger audience or readership than for any other reason.

Illustration from Carmilla
Illustration from Joseph Sheridan leFanu’s 1872 novella, Carmilla

Vampires have mostly been one-dimensional characters until the last few decades when writers like Anne Rice gave them considerable depth.

I have no real impulse to write anything about vampires. Though I will occasionally watch a movie or read a story involving vampires, they (or at least the modern stereotype) haven’t yet interested me enough to take the time and effort to write about one. If I were to write about one, it would most likely be to resurrect (no pun intended) the original concept of a vampire as a cursed person, most likely a peasant, who rises from the grave to plague the living. There would be a lot of psychological angles to use in forming the backstory of the characters and revealing their depth, the inner workings of their minds and emotions.

Assume the father of a family dies and they, for whatever reason, believe he might rise again as a vampire., but they poo-poo the idea only to have neighbors report than they saw the father walking about the village or killing someone. How would each member of the family feel? Would the mother, who used to quarrel frequently with her husband, readily believe the reports? Would the children be in denial? Maybe vice versa. Who goes out to see if the reports are true? What do they feel? What do they feel on seeing the father? Is it actually him or someone who looks like him? How can they be sure? Does the father attack one of them? How do the rest feel about that? Do they feel the killing or any killing is justified or at random? Maybe the children who are abused by the mother set her up to be killed. Maybe the mother sets up the children or uses them as bait to trap the father. Taking another tack, maybe the mother was so passionately in love with the father that she decides to join him in death. Does she try to bring the children along against their wishes? There is a lot that can be done without resorting to clichés of the supernatural and the erotic to make the story interesting. Everyone these days is writing about super sexy vampires with super powers. It’s take to approach this subject from another angle.

Writing about a serial killer who revels in blood, a realistic vampire rooted in reality, fascinates me considerably. Then I would b able to explore vicariously through a fictional character the psychology of someone like Bela Kiss, the Hungarian serial killer of the early twentieth century; Peter Kuerten, the “Vampire of Duesseldorf”, who terrorized Duesseldorf, Germany in 1929; or Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who is said to have killed hundreds of young girls in central Europe in the early seventeenth century. Some say that Countess Bathory killed the girls to bathe in their blood and thereby remain youthful, but others say that element of the legend wasn’t concocted until decades after her death. In any event, that does make for an interesting psychological aspect in a work of fiction.

Peter Kuerten, April 1931
Mugshot of Peter Kuerten, April 1931

In fact, I started a story involving Countess Bathory some years ago. I have yet to finish yet, but only because my imagination for magic and the supernatural was weak and hit a bout of writer’s block crossing the cerebral highway. If I sit down and focus, I may be able to come up with some interesting ideas. In fact, this article is helping spur some ideas.

My recommendation to my readers is to find some reliable sources and read up on Bathory (what I am writing here are just notes off the top of my head based on research I did several years ago). The countess becomes more fascinating the more you find out about her actual life. Describing her simply as a psychotic, bloodthirsty villainess is specious. The historical Elizabeth is exceptionally complex. The accepted story is that she bathed in the blood of young girls to preserve her beauty. This facet of Elizabeth’s story is quite likely false. However, if we were to assume it was true, then we have to ask ourselves, why was maintaining her beauty of such importance? Vanity would be the obvious explanation, but why was she vain? Was it a matter of insecurity? Why?

Elizabeth_Bathory_Portrait 1585
Elizabeth, Countess Bathory (1560-1614) Portrait 1585. a late sixteenth century copy of the only portrait (now lost) known to have been painted of her in her lifetime.

From what I have read, my theory is that she loved her husband passionately and wanted to always be attractive to him. This is not a streak of closet chauvinism in yours truly. In my admittedly spurious readings, history supports this theory.

Alternately, if we decide to avoid this angle of a search for eternal beauty, then why did she torture all those girls? Accounts state that she killed at least eighty and maybe as many as 650. Was it a twisted power trip as with modern serial killers or was it something else? One source I read said that her husband taught her how to torture people. So was this like a hobby they shared? From what I have read, Elizabeth’s rampage against young girls increased after her husband’s death. Apparently, her husband exerted enough control over her (or maybe he had a calming influence) that she was able to control her urges toward violence. That would explain why she threw herself into her macabre pastime after his death.

Maybe her violence was rooted in jealousy. When Elizabeth married her husband, she was about the same age as the girls she would later torture.

Maybe Elizabeth had Intermittent Explosive Disorder, a mental disorder in which a person is susceptible to sporadic urges to violence.

Maybe the sight or taste of blood was erotic to her, for reasons that can only be speculated. This would be clinical vampirism and would put an interesting spin on the currently prevalent image of vampires in pop culture.

As you can see, a historical vampire can be a considerably more intriguing character than someone who is all superpowers and sex.

Anyway, that is my post for now. I have to attend to other matters.

Thoughts? Comments?

Thoughts on Werewolves and Lycanthropy

As two of my published stories, “Shapeshifter” and “Wolfsheim”, concern werewolves, I thought I would write a post expressing my thoughts on werewolves and lycanthropy. This is not a scholarly article. It is just a summary of the conclusions I have reached over the years having researched the topic to a small degree as the basis for a novel (not yet written) involving a werewolf.

First and most importantly: I do not believe actual werewolves exist nor have they ever existed. It is simply impossible for person to change into an animal or into some sort of human-animal hybrid.

However, to paraphrase Nietzsche, what people believe is more important than fact.

I do believe there are people who believe they can become a wolf or another animal. The scientific name for this is lycanthropy.

Wikipedia, for better or worse, defines lycanthropy thus:

Clinical lycanthropy is defined as a rare psychiatric syndrome that involves a delusion that the affected person can transform into, has transformed into, or is, an animal. Its name is associated with the mythical condition of lycanthropy, a supernatural affliction in which humans are said to physically shapeshift into wolves. It is purported to be a rare disorder.” [“https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinical_lycanthropy” accessed December 15, 2020]

I feel that is a simple and straightforward summary based on everything else I have read. I am not familiar with the source, which Wikipedia states as “Degroot, J.J.M. (2003). Religious System of China. Kessinger Publishing. p. 484.”

An internet search for “clinical lycanthropy” will find many well-researched articles on lycanthropy as a psychiatric disorder.

Undoubtedly, it was the occasional case of clinical lycanthropy that gave rise to werewolf stories throughout history, before the science of psychiatry (or any science for that matter) arose, when people were more likely to take rumor as proverbial gospel and legends and myths as history. That people with this disorder confessed (often under torture) to being a wolf ingrained a belief in shapeshifting into an uneducated populace.

Someone who believes his/herself to be a wolf will act on those beliefs, which could, and I feel certain often did, result in crimes of extreme violence according to what that individual believes a wolf would do. Whether that belief is an accurate portrayal of what a wolf would actually do does not matter. The individual will act in accordance with his/her beliefs, whatever those beliefs are. This would, of course, have been the reason behind at least some of the infamous werewolves who were executed during the infamous werewolf trials of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Another reason is that, for whatever reason, a person wanted to become a werewolf and therefore found a way to chemically induce that hallucination. Quite often in the historical record one will find that several people who wanted to change into a werewolf wore a belt that had a mixture of herbs and fat smeared on it. Some of these herbs, like nightshade, are quite poisonous. I believe that applying some of these poisonous herbs to the skin in a salve would allow a minute portion to soak through the skin and induce hallucinations. If a person wanted to become a wolf, for whatever reason, then he/she could actually induce the hallucination of being a wolf. Two of the most infamous cases of werewolfery involved use of a belt to become a wolf: Peter Stumpp and Gilles Garnier.

It is possible that someone might commit one or more brutal murders and then try to avoid responsibility for his/her actions by claiming to have been a wolf at the time and therefore not in his/her right mind. I sincerely doubt the likelihood of this defense succeeding in past centuries. In 2020, claiming not to be responsible for a murder because you were a wolf at the time would probably get you several years in a mental facility. However, in 1620, you would probably have been burned at the stake.

From a literary perspective, what fascinates me the most is the use of a werewolf as a symbol of human versus the most primitive animal nature, the superego/ego versus the id. Similar symbolism crops up in mythology, legends, and history repeatedly in one form or another. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is one example in literature. One example from Greek/Roman mythology is the centaur, half human and half horse, educated, intelligent, and refined but susceptible to animalistic drives and impulses.

That’s all the time I have for this today. I have errands calling me. Perhaps I can pick this up at a later date in more detail and with my sources cited.

Thoughts? Comments?

2021 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction Shortlist — At the BookShelf

The link below is to an article reporting on the 2021 shortlist for the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction. For more visit:https://lithub.com/heres-the-shortlist-for-the-2021-andrew-carnegie-medals-for-excellence-in-fiction-and-nonfiction/

2021 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction Shortlist — At the BookShelf

Book Review: The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark — FELIX THE FOX MYSTERIES

I love the mix of historical fantasy and am fascinated by Middle Eastern cultures, so jumped on this as soon as I heard about it. What to Expect A Steampunk-ish world, where in the early 20th century Egypt – after releasing magic in the mid 19th century – has risen to a world power and […]

Book Review: The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark — FELIX THE FOX MYSTERIES