After the excitement from “The Saga of Shamus” died down I took a step back and decided to work on my craft. Learn how to smith the words better. To accomplish this, I started writing short stories like a mad man. This was a relatively new field for me. Until then I had mostly written plays and novellas. I had just moved to Albuquerque and me and my friend Brandon would spend our weekend mornings writing. And believe me, I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. I churned out at least one short story a week for a weeks on end. Most of these stories were garbage and will never see the light of day. I collected my favorites and self-published a collection called “Twisted Yarns.” I know what you’re thinking. Why would I self-publish again? What would possess me to want to undertake that exercise in humility again? To be honest, I was getting discouraged. Because even though I was churning out garbage short stories at a record pace, I couldn’t find anyone to publish them. Most of the stories I wrote were too long for the word counts of these publications. Flash fiction was really big at the time and everyone thought that if you couldn’t tell a story in under 1000 words, it wasn’t really a story. I don’t write 1000 word short stories. Hell, I don’t even write 3500 word short stories. My short stories start at 7500 words and usually top out somewhere around 10k. And the few places that did accept lengthy stories gave me nothing but encouraging rejections. If you’re a writer, you know the kind.
“Great story, but not what we’re looking for right now.”
“Really enjoyed the story, but doesn’t fit our issue. What else do you have?”
And so on and so forth. Over and over again. One rejection after another in a constant flow of bad news. After a while the ego takes a hit. After a while you start asking yourself questions and doubting yourself and your talent.
One of the stories to come out of this frenzy of writing was the original short story version of, “The Ruined Man.” The story actually followed the events of the upcoming book 2. I sent a copy to my old creative writing professor and he got back to me the same day with, “Turn this into a book! It NEEDS to be a book!” So that’s what I set out to do.
Turning a short story into a full-length novel is no easy feat. I’ve heard it said they are two separate modes of writing. A short story is like a passionate kiss from a stranger. It is fast, unexpected and leaves you breathless and wanting more. Whereas a novel is like a love affair. It’s slow, develops over time and is chock full of emotional highs and lows. So the trick was how to turn a passionate kiss into a love affair. I decided to start at the beginning, like all good love affairs. I told the story of how Victor Wolf became the Ruined Man—a story that ended up beginning 15 years in the past. The story, which ended up being book one, “The Ruined Man,” flowed out of me as if Wolf was telling it to me over afternoon coffee. Before I knew it, I had completed the Purple Gates story and had to move on to the second half which covered the events in the short story. Turning that into a love affair was difficult and took years. Literally years. The few query letters I did send out about The Ruined Man were met with rejection (surprise, surprise). Even after the discouragement settled in and I quit writing, I would still go back to Wolf and tinker around with the novel. It soon became a monster. A monster that I loved like a child. A beast I wanted to protect from the slings and arrows of all the nasty assholes rejecting my work and chipping away at my self-esteem. So I kept the book locked away in the fortress of my hard drive like the electronic manifestation of the Man in the Iron Mask.
Eventually, I quit looking at it altogether. Because I had finally had enough. Enough rejection. Enough criticism. Enough ridicule. Enough hearing loved ones talk about how I needed to “find a real job” and leave this writing thing behind. Those of you who know me know how huge this decision would be for me. All I ever wanted was to be a storyteller. Period. From the time my imagination started imagining I was making up stories. There is nothing I love to do more than get lost in my imagination and find a story there to share with others. I had spent years of my life not listening to all the naysayers. My high school teachers begged me not to be a writer. My college professors begged me not to be a writer. My parents REALLY begged me not to be a writer.
“There’s no money in it.”
“You’ll be poor your whole life!”
“Nobody respects writers! They are slackers and miscreants!”
I ignored them all and pursued my dream only to find out they were right. As I said in my last blog, I was one voice in a cacophony of thousands trying to get heard. Few people listened. Fewer cared. Everybody wants to be a writer but nobody wants to read. I was discouraged, disgusted and frustrated and I was getting real tired of rejection. So I decided to leave it behind and get a job in IT. There is nothing more soul-crushing than giving up on your dreams. Very little else will take the light from your eyes and the life from your step like losing a piece of who you are. But I had to. I couldn’t take the pain any more. I couldn’t take the feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. I couldn’t take the smoldering disappointment I felt radiating from everyone around me. I had been defeated. So I stepped back and “gave it to God.”
I felt it leave in that moment—the fire I had kept stoked for years just didn’t die, it was snuffed out. As my imagination dimmed, a sharp pang stabbed my heart. It felt exactly like breaking up with someone. The loss was immense.
Franz Kafka said a non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. Franz Kafka knew something about it because I learned the truth in that statement pretty quickly. My whole life I used writing to process the world around me. The stories, poems, plays and essays I’d written were fueled by a myriad of emotions. But that was gone now. I didn’t have an outlet for creative expression. Those were dark days.
During the summer of 2016 I came across Michelkin Publishing’s call for submissions. They were an indie house out of New Mexico and they were seeking local writers with books about New Mexico. Bonus points for magical realism. My thoughts immediately went to The Ruined Man, but I quickly pushed it back. I had quit writing. I didn’t want any more rejection. I gave it to God and He decided to keep it. All my passion for writing was gone. But I kept going back to it for days. Finally I relented.
“It’s no big deal,” I convinced myself. “You haven’t gotten a rejection in years, you can handle at least one. It doesn’t even matter. It’s not like you’re a writer anymore, anyway. Accepted or rejected, it’s all the same now. Besides, it’ll be rejected for sure. No doubt.”
So I went to Michelkin’s site and filled out the submission form and included a summary of my monstrous word-baby. I clicked send and was hit with a brief spike of excitement that was quickly dulled over. Then I waited. Waited for the rejection I was sure would come.
“Dear Mr. DeGray,
Thank you for your submission but we can’t find room for you right now.
Every publisher or agent ever”
The morning I got the email from Michelkin’s publishing department that’s what I expected it to read. But that’s not what it said. They actually said they liked the summary and wanted to see the first 50 pages. I couldn’t believe it. I was shaking as I dove into the electronic dungeon of my hard drive. My heart pumped wildly as I opened the key and let my Monster in the Iron Mask see light for the first time in ages. I spit-shined the manuscript and sent them what they asked for. Then I waited again.
Months later I got another email. Again, I expected this to be the one where they thanked me for my time but they had decided to pass. Again, not what happened. They felt the first 50 were solid and wanted to see the whole manuscript. I almost cried. No joke. I spent the weekend polishing up my beloved brain-child and sent it off to them. And then I waited.
By this time I was getting anxious. It was December now and I hadn’t heard a thing from them since the end of September. I was convinced they hated it and hadn’t gotten around to sending me the rejection yet. I tried not to care, but the fire had been sparked inside me again. It burned with a tiny flame. Like a tea light–a miniature flicker of light in a sea of dark hopelessness. It was fragile and I knew that this rejection would snuff it out for good. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the cosmic plan behind it, the killing blow that would ensure I would never get back up. And then it came.
December 10, 2016 I was at my niece’s birthday party when I got an email from Michelkin Publishing. My throat instantly dried and I was hit with a rush of excitement. I took three deep breaths and returned to the party. Later, after I had gotten home, I paced around for at least an hour terrified to open the email. Finally, I steeled my resolve and read the email.
They said they’d be happy to publish my manuscript. In two books. I cried. No joke. And that tiny flame suddenly grew into a blazing beacon.
And now, six months later, my first published novel is actually out. It feels great, I can’t lie. It’s blissful to no longer be a monster courting insanity. All dreams are worth living. That’s what I took away from this adventure in publishing. No matter who you are, no matter what your secret dream is—live it. Don’t let the wet blanket of hopelessness put out your fire. Don’t let the criticism and disapproval of others guide the direction you take. It is YOUR life, after all. You are the one who has to live it, so live it well.
With my new book, “The Ruined Man,” coming out Friday I got a little nostalgic for my journey as a writer thus far. And though “The Ruined Man” is published by Michelkin Publishing, I started out in the self-publishing world over 10 years ago.
I began my journey into the publishing industry in 2006. I had written a book called, “Absolutely True Retellings: The Saga of Shamus.” It was a YA fantasy adventure heavy on the social satire. A lot like Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. I wrote the entire thing out on legal pads sitting at coffee shops in Lubbock, Texas. I still write like that to this day except I write at coffee shops in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Shamus was the first novel I ever completed and as such, I thought it was one of the best stories ever told and I wanted the entire world to read it and love it as much as I did. I tackled the daunting task of copying everything I’d written into Word and passed it along to an English professor friend to edit it down.
After that I tried tackling the even more daunting task of finding a way to publish my book and get it in the hands of readers the world over. Now keep in mind this was the end of 2006 and the first half of 2007. The publishing industry looked quite different than it does today. Self-publishing was basically unheard of and no one in the legitimate publishing industry took it seriously. I attended seminars where I was told by agents and editors that if I decided to self-publish I would never be taken seriously in the publishing world. In short, I’d ruin any chances I had of becoming a traditionally published author.
Needless to say this terrified me. I immediately began researching how to get an agent, write a query letter and all the other hoops you have to jump through to go the “traditional route.” As I said before, the publishing industry was very different ten years ago. Readership was declining and ebooks hadn’t become popular yet. As a result most of what traditional houses were publishing were novels ghost written for celebrities and books about wizards. To complicate things further, traditional publishing houses weren’t taking on new writers like they had in the past. They tended to view unknown authors as a liability and any money spent on them was wasted. It didn’t take long to realize that even if I were to get the attention of an agent or the Big 5, they weren’t going to pay much, if any, attention to me. Marketing, promotion and getting people reading my book would all fall on me. So I said, “Fuck it.” If I had to do it all myself, I was going to do it all myself. I was done wasting my time trying any of the traditional methods of publishing either mainstream or independent.
Still put off by the stigmas of self-publishing, I started looking into vanity publishers and hybrid publishers. For those who may not know the term, a vanity publisher is a book publisher who will turn any manuscript into a book regardless of content or quality. A hybrid publisher combines elements of traditional publishing with vanity publishing. In both cases the services offered carried a hefty price tag that more often than not rose into the $10,000 range after editing fees, formatting fees, layout fees, cover design fees and a marketing package that was tagged on with the promise of helping you “promote your book.” These promotional packages mainly included kitschy bookmarks, flyers, fact sheets and the guarantee that the company would send a press release via spam mail to anyone on your contact list. I waded through countless offers from vanity publishers until I happened across a supposedly legitimate hybrid publisher called, BookPros.
Word on the web was that BookPros would only take on your project if they felt it was high quality and commercially viable. I submitted my manuscript and waited to hear from them. A BookPros representative called me a few weeks later. They told me they loved my manuscript and wanted to get started working on it immediately! I was stoked. I was elated. I was above the moon. The president of the company even got in on the call and told me what a wonderful author I was and that I was brimming with potential. I mean, what artist doesn’t want to hear that? BookPros went on to inform me that they worked closely with a professional marketing firm to promote myself and my book. I would be flown to their offices to undergo media training and the whole bit. At this point I was nearly in tears. This was everything I had been waiting to hear. Every naysayer could suck eggs, all my self deprecation would vanish in the presence of this all-powerful validation I received. My ego, properly inflated by all the flattery, agreed instantly. Then they told me all this could be mine for the low, low, discount price of $12,000. Didn’t take me long to say, “Forget that bullshit,” and resign myself to self-publishing.
Those early days of self-publishing were exciting and filled with promise, like when the bell rings on the last day of school and a summer of endless possibility is just over the horizon. And believe me, the self-publishing sites creeping around at the time were definitely taking advantage of the doe-eyed authors lining up to be the next big thing. Because that’s what they were promising—no “promising” isn’t exactly the word. They never actually told anyone they were guaranteed to be a best seller; they just failed to correct everyone’s false impressions and hopeful delusions.
Back then, we thought that if we published through a self-publishing imprint like Authorhouse or Xlibris that our books were going to end up on the shelves of every bookstore from one coast to another. Our books would be on the shelves next to Stephen King, Clive Barker, James Patterson and Michael Crichton. We thought we were going to be able to proudly tell everyone in our lives, “I published a book. And you can go to Hastings (God rest its soul) and pick up a copy!” We were wrong. Utterly and completely wrong. It came to light much later that few, if any, self-published books actually made it off the publisher’s website. Oh sure it was listed on Ingram and available for bookstores to order, but we didn’t understand what this meant. We didn’t realize that our books were being listed with everyone else’s books and that a floodgate had been opened, flooding an already struggling industry with thousands upon thousands of new books to choose from–most of them unedited, horribly formatted drivel with a terribly designed cover carrying price tags anywhere from $10 to $30. That was another thing we didn’t “get” at first. These self-publishers allowed us to set our own price and determine our own royalty payments. So the higher the cost, the more royalties we would receive. Have you ever seen a horribly designed paperback weighing in at 300 pages with a $30 retail price? I have. I’ve seen hundreds. Guess how many of them are the next big thing?
After the truth about self-publishing came out the industry got an even worse reputation. All the wannabe authors took it personally and believe me, we were furious. Self publishers were likened to charlatans selling snake oil and empty dreams. And in their ivory towers, the Big 5 sat smirking, thinking they had weathered the storm and would once again rule the roost. Turns out they were wrong, too. But hindsight is always 20/20.
During all of this, I chose Lulu as my self-publishing provider. Back then, they didn’t seem as plastic as the other self-publishing sites. They also had rigorous standards for including books on their global distribution lists. Authors could publish anything they wanted on Lulu’s site, but if it was going to Ingram it had to be considered “industry standard.” I had to submit my book for approval and have it evaluated. This added a level of legitimacy I felt the other places lacked. So I began the laborious process of putting together an industry standard book.
At the time I was working as an ISS teacher in Lubbock which afforded me ample time to work on formatting, editing and designing The Saga of Shamus. I worked on it for at least 8 hours a day for six months straight. When I wasn’t working on the book I was researching industry standards and practices trying to figure out how to get seen in the flotsam of self-published garbage that had washed up on literature’s shores in the past few years. I was proud of my book, after all. I still am I believed in it. I thought it was worthy of recognition (and I still do). I wanted to find some way—any way—to get it in the hands of people who would read it. Social media really wasn’t a thing yet so I had to get creative with my promotional opportunities. Naturally, for an author, the first thing that comes to mind is a book signing.
Alas nothing was sacred in the self-publishing industry and seemingly overnight it was awash with authors clamoring to do book signings. You couldn’t walk into any Hastings (God rest its soul), Barnes and Noble, Boarders or even down the hall of a shopping mall without coming across a self-published author peddling his books. So I jumped right in and starting slinging books with the best of them.
That experience was…ultimately an exercise in humility. People walked by purposely avoiding eye contact as if I were a bum asking for spare change. The few that did stop did so out of pity or mild interest as if I were a disabled bum asking for spare change. And the rare few who left the table with a copy usually ended up leaving it elsewhere in the store as if I were a Jehovah’s Witness handing out Watchtower pamphlets.
But that’s not to say all of it was bad. Sitting at those folding tables with copies of my book fanned out before me filled me with pride and even a sense of accomplishment. I had done what I set out to do. I self-published an industry standard book. I took control of marketing and promotion, and even if it weren’t some nationally recognized book tour; I got out there. I met people, talked to them, told them my story and did it all with a smile on my face.
My best book signing event took place in Datil, New Mexico of all places. Datil is so small that calling it a town is being dishonest. Most of the people in the area are ranchers and live a much slower paced life than their city dwelling brethren. I had gotten some illustrations done for Shamus by an artist who was from the area. When word got out that she had done illustrations for my book, the library emailed me and asked if I would be available to do a signing during their upcoming library hootenanny. I readily agreed. It was an experience unlike any other. There were more people there and interested in my book than at all my other events combined. I sold all the copies of my book that day while a band played country music in the next room. I even received my first fan gift: a small pink elephant made of glass. The context makes perfect sense if you’ve ever read The Saga of Shamus (hint, hint).
To be able to move a complete stranger with something I’d written made the struggle worth it. In the end, that’s what I took away from my adventures in publishing Shamus. When you really get down to it, we aren’t writing for ourselves. We are writing for the world. For our audience. And when we meet that audience face to face and interact with them–when we see the admiration and appreciation in their eyes a writer can’t help but walk away thinking, “I did something right. Something good. Something other people enjoy and are inspired by.” And that, friends, is what it is really all about.
Hello blogoverse! I’ve been away for a while working on my new collection of short stories, Twisted Yarns! I am pleased and more than a little excited to announce that it is now available for sale on the publisher’s site! That’s right. Now is your opportunity to delve into the warped and whimsical worlds that bounce around my imagination. And while you’re there, check out some of my other titles. Amazon and other retailer availability is coming soon. Cover design credit goes to the ever-talented Chris Deichman.
So what are you waiting for? Open a door to your imagination and get lost in Twisted Yarns!
She met the Old Man when he rescued her from the cult. Well, rescue is such a—what’s the word? Subjective. Yeah. Rescue is a subjective term. She was broke, see? And living on the road like so many were in those days. In those times, right after everybody admitted to themselves that things weren’t going to get better, people finally stopped looking to the governments or corporations to save them and hold civilization intact. Those were dark times. Depressing times. Brutal and terrifying times. Whole cities burned to ash. But they got what was coming to them in the end, I suppose. So it was no big thing for a pretty young girl to be a broke vagrant scamming for a few bucks and a hot meal.
Cults had started popping up in those days like pimples on a fry cook. Something to do with the last cries of the desperate to a deaf and apathetic God, I suppose. Lots of cults offered signing bonuses. $50 dollars and a ham sandwich is what she sold her eternal soul for…or tried to anyway. Before the pen was slapped from her hand and the needle for the blood sample deftly snatched and shoved into the cult nurse’s arm. Howled like a stuck sow, too. This caused the Old Man to chuckle.
The girl wasn’t laughing though. She turned on her would-be savior, eyes blazing like a chemical fire. “What the hellz with you asshole?”
The Old Man shrugged and fished around his patched coat pocket, producing a half-smoked cigarette. “Just saw you about to make a mistake and I couldn’t let you do it. You gotta light?” he begged.
“Fuck off, mister.”
“Ya know what they want your blood for, right?”
“It’s fifty bucks and a ham sandwich! Who cares why they want my blood? I haven’t eaten in two days!”
He shrugged again, his eyes glinting beneath the wide-brimmed hat that shadowed his face, even in the light. “Suit yourself. I’ll tell ya what. I’ll give ya $100 and a free meal, that’s right a whole meal, if you walk with me to the diner across the way there and let me explain a few things to ya.”
She eyed him warily. Rape and murder were daily threats for any vagrant, much less a 21 year old girl. But it was only across the street and it was in a public place.
“I ain’t gonna do nothin to ya. Hellz, you were about to sell yourself over to this kooky band of bullshit artists.” The cultists grumbled. “What have you got to lose?” He pulled a crumpled hundred dollar bill from his ratty jeans pocket and showed it to her. “See? Got the money. Now let me buy ya dinner, girl.”
She looked to the cultists who began protesting and forcefully urging her to sign. The she looked to the Old Man, eyes glinting and flashing a $100. “Sorry,” she told the cultists and broke from their grip.
They started after her, but a look from the Old Man stopped them in their tracks. “That’s right, you bloodsucking bastards. You see me. Now back off and go find some other vagrants to swindle.”
They backed away slowly, hands raised in surrender.
“Who are you?” wondered the girl.
But the Old Man didn’t respond. He grabbed her by the arm, leading her to the diner. “C’mon. Let’s get some food in our bellies. Could be the last cheeseburgers in the whole damn state.”
Can I give…
just so I can breathe in your enchanting voice
cascading sweetly into…
Only for a moment I want to remember
I want to experience
I don’t think it was so long ago
when the only catalyst separating
fantasy from reality
was a hopeful step off the edge of perception.
Back then we could plummet into possibility
I know that somewhere wishes are granted and fairy dust is more
than just glitter adorning the shoulders of those the devil
an incarnation most tangible
flesh and blood
(if it is possible for emotions to manifest themselves into a righteous vessel).
Or WAS SHE
a synaptic misfire?
A ghost in the machine of my neurological nightmare
Like a Freudian slip only
my mother or my dysfunctional psychosexual development.
These can be cured with pills,
but those tiny offerings of escape made her vividly real
-a fallen angel-
burned into my holy memory
a vexing harbinger of shadows to come.
Missy: I wish that life were a fairy tale.
Sigmund: You mean you think it isn’t?
Missy: Of course it isn’t.
Sigmund: Why not?
Missy: There is a line between fantasy and reality, you know.
Sigmund: Oh really?
Missy: Yes. Really.
Sigmund: The only lines are the ones we create in order to construct reality. It’s a collaborative effort on everybody’s part… an unspoken agreement of sorts that a tree is a tree and a glass is a glass and a cigarette burns if you put it to your skin. And those who can’t accept that, well we have special little places for them. But, if everyone were to suddenly decide that they believed without a shadow of a doubt that all humans had huge feathery wings sprouting from their backs and cars weren’t cars at all but were really a species of flightless land dragon then-
Missy: I don’t believe that for a second.
Sigmund: Which is exactly why it isn’t true.
Missy: I don’t believe that either.
Sigmund: Well then I won’t tell you what it’s like to be in two places at once.
Scene from “The Devil and Tom Jones” by Jason DeGray
Everybody has some concrete belief and a measure of faith, which are embedded within the reality in which they exist. They act as a cornerstone on which a person’s entire reality is constructed. To shake such faith or beliefs is to unsettle a person’s very notion of reality. Most people are not mentally or spiritually equipped to handle such a degradation of their world.
Throughout a person’s life, their view of reality is conditioned by external influences and internal perceptions of experiences. People construct realities based on societal, cultural and familial influences. “Reality” is dictated to us and ingrained within us from birth. We are trained to perceive reality in a particular way. We are taught the unspoken rules like “This is a tree” and “This is a dog.” As we get older we are infused with morals and values. “This is right, this is wrong.” And we are all victims of this type of reality conditioning. It is necessary in that it allows us to function on a physical level in which we can communicate with each other and react to the world around us. In essence, it allows us to gain experiences. And brilliantly, just like snowflakes, no two people experience the world in exactly the same way. The “world as you know it” is exactly that.
Everything within the “world as you know it” is real and what you consider to be fictional or unrealistic notions, beliefs or ideas are rejected. The cycle has begun. You begin to only experience what strengthens your already preconceived “truths” or “laws.” Things not known or misunderstood simply cease to exist. And so the rational mind has no room for God and vice versa.
Lucius is a resident of the Realm of Possibility. His exploits are well-chronicled adventures and his most famous can even be found in this Realm in collection of epic plays, “A Hollow Monk’s Dreams”. Get “The Godlife” here. The following is an excerpt from The Book of Absurdity, one of the Realm of Possibility’s holy texts. Enjoy!
Some random string of ambiguous words expels itself from my skull with an ear piercing shriek. Gone now into forever sonnets sung by sirens luring men into oblivion.
This is my first seduction. The sensual play of words across blank parchment. I am Prometheus bringing the infernos of the mind to numb spirits.
I am slain for the messages I bring. Yet unable to condemn my murderers for their ignorance. I am eternally searching, a slave to the Fates, a lover to the Muses. I expunge my destiny to you in this stream of ambiguous words. My eulogy to life.
Epistle of Folly
I, Lucius, pen these words under the light of a failing candle shaped, oddly enough, as a woman’s breasts. I think it was my mother’s candle. She was always brilliant like that. Brilliant in pink and green, not so much in blue though, it never looked good on her. Did you find the wisdom in that? In what I just wrote was a wealth of wisdom. If you discovered it then congratulations, consider yourself a complete idiot. And if there was not truth in my words, then I congratulate your blindness. It takes a true member of the flock to deny himself the release of Unknowing.
All hail the great light! May you stare into it and be blinded to the lie called existence. Life can be explained by explaining things unexplainable to mortal men. God sits on his gaudy ivory throne eating cheese with Vietnamese hookers. He laughs at the human attempts to achieve his state of grace. He also laughs at golf balls because they are humorous to those of a higher idiocy. Not saying God is an Idiot. He is merely thinking above the level of genius. Thus, people view him as absurd because they cannot comprehend his method. In this we find that the methods of men are absurd as well. These methods of men are absurd because we refuse to recognize them as such. The folly of human thought. The folly is thus: “We believe knowledge offers understanding. Oh! You stupid fucks! Understanding comes from staring blankly and boldly into the void of blackness of everything we never knew only to know nothing again.
I stop writing for an instant to gaze lovingly at the fire blazing from wick nipples. It’s like mother’s milk only hot. Hot mother’s milk. I have a prophetic vision of myself as a babe suckling my mother’s teat and savoring her nectar. It means nothing now, but at the time it was my only desire. Sometimes, I wish I were a babe again.
Never forget, it is the Way that we seek, dear friends. The way to the paradise of Blah. The way that leads us into the open embrace of He That is Not a Pronoun.
Dream yourself through the Oblivion.
Let your life reflect the fantasies that possess you.
Breathe an atmosphere of beauty and hope.
Love the fact that you aren’t real.
Love the fact that this is all that matters.
They never saw the raiders coming, nor did they expect the plague that came in their wake.
The skull-faced marauders fell on the village, striking them from the mountain that had nestled and protected it for centuries. The villagers had looked upon the mountain with reverence and now death fell upon them like an avalanche from the very mountain that had given them sustenance.
The wild men came, their skulls gleaming whitely where their faces should be, adorned with parts and pieces of their victims. A necklace of ears here, jerkins sewn from human flesh there. Everywhere trophies of slaughter and gore that the raiders only added to as they tore through the village, hacking and slashing anything that shrieked or moved. The reavers left the village smoldering in its own ashes and returned to the mountain, great plumes of smoke rising high above the mountain peak.
The survivors (those not killed or taken as slaves) dug themselves from the rubble and looked upon the devastation with tear-streaked faces. But their reason for tears was only beginning. Three days after they buried their dead, the plague came.
It claimed the dead first. Eating away at their flesh until only a hideous skeletal visage remained. Possessed with a sinister new life and an insatiable hunger for bloodshed, they dug their way to freedom and forced the survivors to barricade themselves in the town hall. The next to fall were the sick and wounded. Whatever condition they suffered from worsened exponentially, killing them within a week and transforming them in the process. Having no other recourse, the healthy villagers that survived threw out the remaining sick and injured and cowered in corners, awaiting starvation.
“I’m telling you, it’s the perfect getaway spot,” Infinity Jones insisted to his companions. “Hot springs. Mountain air. Pristine surroundings. Exactly what an over-stressed, newly-wedded couple needs.”
“If I want to get away, I set sail from the harbor,” grumbled the Pirate Prince Perfidious. “All this stable earth beneath my feet makes me nauseous.”
Jones laughed. “Spoken like a true scourge of the seas! But seriously. It’s awesome. And it’s home to the famous Haunted Vino Basement. You’ve heard of it, I’m sure. Supposedly the poltergeist activity makes the vino better.”
“I’d rather not have vino tainted by spirits,” snapped the Pirate Prince.
“Come on, husband,” cooed Mistress G to Perfidious. “Infinity speaks truth. I’ve been there myself. It’s beautiful. Serene. Very Zen. And the vino is simply otherworldly.”
“As you like it. How much farther?”
“It’s just over those hills. Nestled against the mountain. Near that giant plume of smoke.” Infinity pointed. “See?”
“Steam from your hot springs?” asked Perfidious sarcastically.
“Most probably. It is the steamy season after all,” said Infinity cheerily, but his face was clouded with worry.
They rode into town the next day. Infinity wept at the sight. The pristine village had been reduced to ashes and cinders. Smoke filled the air, thick enough to choke the life from the living.
“Charming,” sneered Perfidious between coughs.
“Is anyone alive?” called Infinity.
Somewhere in the cloud of smoke, rocks slid and tumbled.
“Careful,” warned the Pirate Prince, drawing his blade, “Could be scavengers.”
“Human or animal?” asked Mistress G.
“It doesn’t matter. They are scavengers. One in the same.”
Humanoid shapes appeared in the smoke moving toward the trio with a deliberate but jerky gait.
“Why are they walking like that?” asked Mistress G.
“I’ve walked like that a few times,” admitted Jones, “Usually after a long night at the pub.”
“Well they would have something to drink about,” joked Perfidious, “What with their village being naught but smoke and cinders.”
“Hullo, good folk,” called Jones. “Can you tell us what happened here?”
“Rooooo….” Answered the shambling form in the forefront that was almost in sight.
“I said, ‘Ho there!’” Infinity reasserted. “What’s the deal?”
“Ruuuhhhhh,” answered the villager then stepped into view. His head was devoid of flesh, his eyes replaced with pitch black orbs, swirling with a sinuous and sinister motion. Flesh hung from the rest of his body, most of it looking to flee the horror it was attached to.
The sight caused the horses to rear up, spilling their riders on the ground before they broke and fled into the mountains.
Infinity and Mistress G leapt up at the ready, but Perfidious was too slow.
The skeleton-headed monster fell on him, gnashing at the frantic prince with his terrible teeth. Perfidious held the monster back, throwing it off and sustaining only minor scratches.
Jones rushed over and ran the abomination through, but to his horror, it didn’t die.
“Look!” yelled Mistress G and pointed.
A whole crowd of shambling monsters was limping toward the prone travelers. Nobody needed to be told to run. They did it instinctively. Fleeing the monstrosities without direction, only trying to find safety. They checked every door along their path. All were locked or filled with more of the walking dead. The crowd’s numbers swelled and they closed in on the adventurers with deliberate determination.
“How are we to kill these things if they refused to die?” wondered Perfidious. His face was flushed and beads of sweat collected on his brow like a crown.
“We don’t kill them,” said Infinity, pulling a barble (a glass marble) from his pouch and setting it at his feet. Closing his eyes he chanted,
“Now that I find myself in trouble, secure me and mine in this hamster bubble.”
Energy flashed and the orb grew to do just that. The trio was encased in a large glass bubble just as the horde broke through the smoke.
“How long with this hold?” asked Mistress G above the din of the frustrated and howling skull-faces flailing futiley against the glass barrier.
Jones shrugged. “Until they get tired and leave or we run out of air. Whichever comes first.”
“The dead don’t tire,” wheezed Perfidious. He looked feverish, his scratches and cuts oozing green puss.
“My love! Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” he reassured his wife. “Just…a…scratch,” he wheezed and collapsed against the bubble.
“Jones! Help him,” pleaded Mistress G. “I think he’s dying.”
“I can’t help him here. We have to move and find safety.” Jones nodded in the direction of the town hall. “That’ll be the most fortified place in the whole village. We can hole up in there.”
Mistress G reluctantly agreed and together they began the slow journey, rolling the glass ball toward safety. The horde stayed on them the entire time, never relenting. Some of the abominations were caught beneath the orb and having their skulls crushed, didn’t rise again.
As they approached the town hall, the door opened and six pairs of eyes peeked out.
“Survivors!” cheered Infinity and redoubled his efforts.
They rolled the glass ball to a stop at the door. Gore streaked down the sphere in thick rivulets.
“How do we get out?” snapped Mistress G. “I don’t want to get any skeleton in my hair.”
“Watch and be amazed,” said Jones theatrically. He traced a person-sized rectangle on the glass facing the door, finishing with a small circle, acting as a crude doorknob. He opened the glass door and knocked politely on the door. “Excuse me, good folk. Would you please let us in? As you may know, the village is beset with ruffians.”
The door opened swiftly and the three amigos were rushed inside. Once secure, Jones let his magic slip and there was an audible pop followed by the sound of numerous thumps and splatters—like obese rain falling.
The Orb of Power has been discovered. I happened upon its secret location while battling the Flying Ants of Black Doom. ‘Twas hidden deep below the earth in a natural labyrinth of jagged rock. I traversed the lair dodging spirits and slaying minions of the Non-Mortal. I was beaten and exhausted upon reaching the Platinum Doors of The Chamber of the Orb. And since I had used the last of my All Natural Healing Salve with no additives or preservatives, after being set upon by a number of animate corpses and bone piles, I was already at a disadvantage. But I had to continue.
After mumbling a quick prayer for strength and protection to Coitus and The Jolly Man, I opened the doors and entered the Chamber. Instantly I was surrounded by a blue glow so thick you could cut it with a dagger. Under a state of confusion, I was unable to see the huge and deadly fist of the Guardian as it connected with my flimsy leather breastplate. However, Thank Coitus the stone wall was there to impede my backward flight. I recovered and drew my blade. Being somewhat adjusted to the blue fog, I could make out shadows, and the one that I saw flying towards me was most terrifying indeed. I heard the distinct whir of a chain flail as it is slicing through the air and I ducked just as the spiked ball flew over my head. The Guardian, sensing my vulnerable position kicked and a massive foot connected with my fragile shell and again I owe the wall thanks for its part in stopping my backward progression. I couldn’t move, the world swam, blue became me and I was about to give in when the Most Boisterous and Beautiful laughter ever to reach the ears of this surreal Populace began to fill the room.
The laughter was mixed with the dulce sounds of the Most Perfect Woman in the throes of satin ecstasy. A bright light filled the room as the laughter and lust increased to a maddening peak. When it dissipated, I found myself above ground clasping, with a violent determination, a small blue orb. And Gaia came to sooth me with her beautiful presence. Before long I was restored to health and plotting my next excursion.
“Do you even miss me?” A hollow voice over crackling wires. “Yes. Do you miss me?” “Only when I breathe.”
Her plush lips cradled my timid offerings in rosebud wine. That’s how I felt then—there—only a moment to be aware. It was too late for me then. Sometimes (not the Baron but the indicator of time) one delights in entrapment. It does make for an interesting evening no matter how your universe shifts to it.
The Pirate Prince returns from his quest a new man! He had ventured off on a short holiday visiting the Count Constantinople who was lodging in his summer palace in The Place where Angels Die. Be not misled by the name, tis truly beautiful country, I assure you. While up there, the recently freed Prince was immersed in a culture of Sin and Pleasure (the Finer Folk call this “debauchery”, we, however, call it everyday life.) He danced and consorted with the finest maidens and had a merry time to rival the Great Ball of the Palace of Windows. And late at night as the moon shone her naked light over the entire world he would hunt those Mighty Beasts that children cling to for protection. Sometimes (not the baron) we cannot forget the security of our Innocence Days. We long for it still, so why not hunt it down and make a rug out of it? “Tis a wonderful rug, milord. Tell me, what is the pelt?” “Mostly Dead Innocence mixed with a Touch of Wonder and Joy. I like the bastard breeds better. Get more for your buck that way.” What a wonderful conversation piece.
This the Brave Prince made this life on his holiday. We discussed it all over a bottle of fine champagne as we lounged in the Great Hall of Castle Mallard. “Nopil was wrong.” The Pirate Prince confides in me. “About what?” “He’s not a monkey, he’s a goat. ‘Twas a grand epiphany on his part.” “Indeed,” I reply. “That’s not all,” Perfidious continues. “What else?” “I’ve discovered I am a Courageous Cock. I would die for anyone or anything.” This raised my skepticism. “Anyone or anything?” I inquire. “Aye. And the Count is a Mysterious Goat.” “Fascinating.” “He would make a good jiggalo, I would make a good mercenary” (little did he realize that our professions made us just that—Mercenary Jiggalos. Sexy, no?). Then he related to me the sad tale of the termination of Courtship with the Queen of Wands. “We’re just on different paths right now.” How I hate those wicked paths and their different differences. Differentiation is futile while walking a path together. There is nothing more depressing than a fork in the road or a tearful ultimatum.
She doesn’t fucking care…she doesn’t fucking care. This I tell myself to keep her voice from resounding off the broken walls of my Coronary. I think our dysfunction has attained new heights. She was none too pleased at this proclamation; I was none to thrilled at its declaration.
Once upon a time we would turn the small window box of room cooling all the way up and close the door. We did this right before we went to bed. Working graveyards in a place of dead dreams forced us to adopt this lifestyle. When we got in bed, the room was so cold we had to use all of our coverings and skins and even this wasn’t enough. We would still have to practice that ancient art of the Way of the Cuddle. That, dear readers, is a lost art indeed. You and your Passion are as close as physically possible, entwined in each other, becoming a part of the tangled limbs that have created a new being. This is what makes Passion holy. Tis one of the Secrets of The Dance (we all know them. Those whispered longings in the hallways of your desire. Those tiny fires fueled by lust and sometimes even love). This I didn’t mind. This I remember now. This is one of my Holy Recollections. I love how she felt then. I loved the way her scent tasted like a honeysuckle breeze.
I can’t get it off my mind. The thought the image—the scenarios. Like a bad B movie flutter through my brain in an all day matinee Mann’s Chinese type of way. Fuck the Queen!! God save me!
Fortune: A visit from a burnt out warrior yields interesting conversation.
He was Sir Cork the Noradic. An old warrior from younger days whose battles have left him somewhat off-kilter. “I’m gonna go visit my relatives.” He tells the Baron and I with a slightly wild look in his eye. “Better watch out,” I tell him, “You’ll find yourself a pretty little girl and never come back.” “Fuck that!” He proclaims loudly, his patriotism shining forth, “I’d have to come back. I’m a countryman. And Those Bastards out there hate us. “Fuck you Americano!” He yells in a Spanish accent while waving an angry fist of defiance in the air. “Isn’t that Spanish?” Inquires the Baron. “Same language.” Is Sir Cork’s matter-of-fact reply. The Baron and I exchange amused glances. Sir Cork continues, “Wait. Americano…Americana…o..a…a…o (at this point he is thinking very hard and his head gears are spinning at dangerous speeds) Right! The Spanish say Americano, they say Americana. See? It’s close. O and A. “ We nod sagely at this grand proclamation as we disguise our amusement as good hosts should. “The Irish used to have their own language, did you know that? A beautiful dialect, but it’s forgotten. Nobody remembered but the elves and Vikings and they’re all dead now.” He trails off, shaking his head sadly, a solemn tribute to the times he helped destroy.
Yes mother, there are worlds out there your orbs will never gaze upon. But don’t hate them because they elude you.
This is a place of gently falling rain and Pale flame. No myths and legends here only lively tales told around smoking candles and heartfelt smiles.
Under the vigilant gaze of the Chipmunk, I ponder the turmoil in the Sea of My Fish. Tis a raging tempest. Life is short enough already without having to weather its storms. I realize all I am doing is wasting precious moments I can never have back. Moments that could turn into new life altering experiences. Moments that could be more beautiful than anything this shoddy viewfinder can picture. Yet I cannot help myself.