Demimonde, and a Preface’s Preface

Old habits die hard, some say. I’ve never known it to be said about good habits, though. So here I am, back again, after an unintended hiatus. Months ago, it had been my intention to somehow juggle my job at this cruise and travel company while also finding time to exercise, write and maybe some leisure on the side. Truth be told, that looked more achievable on the first few weeks of the job when the tension wasn’t yet this smelly heap of sleepless nights and a newfound loathing for speaking on the phone. I do believe I managed to keep that balance for a while, but something always ends up giving – and in this horrendous age we live in, you cannot afford that to be your job. Safe to say, I was feeling pretty dissatisfied with both my physical state and my writing.

So I did some saving, and once more took to careful, frugal management. And thus, for sanity’s sake, I resigned from my job and returned to freelancing, to daily writing, and to school – hoorah! As you may imagine, I’m getting a little more sleep now. Looking back on those days, I feel the pressing need to pay hefty, thick amounts of respect to whomever is able to work on any kind of customer service for months going into years – their patience is a saintly thing. But enough about that.

As I may have mentioned sometime in this rusty, little alley of the internet, I wrote a novel a few years ago. I wrote it across the latter half of my life as a University student, and it took me yet another year to give it a second reading, do a little trimming, and some sensible rewriting. I do take some sober pride in it, but I must admit my truest dissatisfaction with it – it doesn’t feel like a story, not nearly as it does a love letter to my major, a crude impressionistic portrait of urban life, and a reflection borne from my somewhat violent adolescence. In practical terms, my biggest dissatisfaction is its lack of a genre proper, which is not such a great problem in itself, but it is telling of competence as a writer.

Neil Gaiman once said it doesn’t matter whether you feel happy, sad, inspired or otherwise. If you’re a writer, you have to write, no matter your emotional state. So that’s what I’ve been doing behind the scenes. Although I haven’t made much progress in starting a grand new narrative, my efforts have consistently gone towards shorter stories, which I’m uniting to become my second book. From a technical point of view, this is of utmost importance to me, as this is a more solid approximation to genre – horror, that is. And from a very personal point of view, it’s a reverie of darkness and uncanny, two fascinations of mine which prowl at the ankles of daily life. It only made sense to acknowledge it as a series of narratives on the shade of strangeness that inhabits the corner of the eye. Since I also started writing about the same time as I watched this delightful series, Penny Dreadful, the name felt like a fateful command.

Demimonde.

I’ve decided to start posting a little of it, one story at a time in their current form. Of course, they will in time be subject to a second (or third) reading, and the suitable modifications. But for now, I’ll take them as portrayal of growth and maturing in my craft. There is no now without a before.

I’m aware this preface is longer than the book’s actual prologue. It happened this time since I was aiming for a slightly more lyrical narration. Spoiler alert: I strive for variety in tone and content as this thing goes on.

 

The Beast and the Evening Star (Prologue)

In my stirring sleep, I dream of lives that are not my own, I dream of nights lifetimes away, never to be forgotten, I dream of grounds hallowed and cursed, locked away in capricious pocketfuls of existence. These restless visions I know to be no less real than my enshrouded destination ahead.
When the thunder shan’t vex my heartbeat ill or rattle my bones into waking, sleep will thrall and convulse me as my skin wears quietly at the wind’s caress.
My skin perishes and my bones decay, yet I walk. My lips, my tongue and my teeth are all but ash, yet I groan for want to plead. Though my frame be large and strong, only my lungs are nimble to sigh and my eyes to blink. The basest of vermin will not gnaw my feet, thirst and hunger will not delay my stride. Death is the midwife at birth that will never deliver me from my breath.
Earthbound by this perennial stride, I live without a purpose or a tear about my eye to show for my pains.
Dream, is your breath upon my brow a kindness, the taste of finality your sibling denies me?
Dream, is your murmur in my ear a taunt, a hope to pursue and never to reach?
Dream, you are a cruel Lord. You are distant and whimsical. You are a father after unspeakable truths and a liesmith through your craft. You give me a charity from your fathomless purse, but you it is only a null coin you can give. In this terrible vexation, you are the only respite I know. I cannot thank nor would I if silence will be your reply. It is useless to praise and to chide, for it is your wayward herald I welcome.
The plains, the forests, the isles and the mountains appear to me tainted under the stark rule of the sun, but only upon dusk do you grace my existence with your light. Lonesome as I, soothing in your momentous presence, you signal the breath at the start of all stories. Everglimmering I come to find you in all skies, imprinted at a whim on a poorly cared for wall or a grain of salt.

For when Morpheus had deemed me undeserving of an answer, you have ever been so kind to keep me company.
At first, at my most timid, it was in obvious fashions that you called for my attention. It was not dissimilar from the gently prying glances cast at an early lover. As time passed, your presence became more subtle, yet knowing and intimate. Gone were the dreams of seeing your light merely reflected upon waves to nameless seas. In time, You taught me to find your wink in the unexpected, you taught me search with a mind unfitting of my accursed flesh, you taught me to yearn for you.
Thus, I do, feeling your master’s unhallowed gift weighing down my eyelids.
Thus, I do, sheltered under a night as barren to me as the day.
Thus, I do, with a grin to a face that can never show mirth.
Thus I do.

 

Dies Irae: Prologue

It seems lately I’ve been of a mind to post stuff I’ve written outside of my current intended project, a short story book Demimonde, which I had intended to finish writing around Winter 2017 – that is, basically a week from now. I must admit my progress on that book hasn’t been nearly as consistent as it should have been (basically little under half a book), and the responsibility falls square on my shoulders. Aiming for actual genre-writing still doesn’t come easy to me. My new job may have something to do with my writing pace, but I’m not going to shift the blame here.

Truth be told, I’m trying to exercise my craft a little everyday. If I don’t find the right idea or phrasing for Demimonde, I’ll just work on something else. Who knows, maybe I’ll start writing the second part to They Call Us Tempest, where shit gets real The Warriors-like. Inspiration, if that is really the word I’m looking for, hasn’t hit very well these days, so I’ve decided to start working on writing that epic fantasy series I always wanted to write. It’s an idea brewing in my head for over 10 years. Now is as good time as any to start on it, especially since the new job is eating away at my heart and puking money into my pocket.

“I was looking for a job, and then I found a job. And Heaven knows I’m miserable now.” Let that line set the tone for this little prologue, the first step into a world of gods, demons and humans unwittingly walking a road into myth. Again, just a work in progress; this thing is pretty brief.

 

Prologue

Thane Farrelly leaned over the counter in the antique shop he worked at. The day was sunny, and he could clearly make out the cream facade of the stationery where his much loathed former brother-in-law used to work across the River Liffey. It has been nearly three months since Gregory was last seen. While it seemed love at first sight for his sister Melanie two years ago, the American tourist elicited the opposite response in Thane just as quickly. Gregory dared the fine line between confidence and arrogance, and his demeanour had always been vaguely condescending towards Thane and his father Stephen. At times, it was almost as if he looked down on the latter for ending a widower. Only the most detestable of men would ridicule another for merely undergoing misfortune, and only Melanie appeared blind to the fact. Still, nobody but Thane objected to the wedding, cementing his status as black sheep to his Catholic family. Yet nobody could feign surprise when Gregory left Melanie, eloping with an English girl he was involved with at the same time he courted Thane’s sister.

At his twenty seven years, Thane had brought himself to forgive only on a handful of occasions, and mostly at the behest of his mother Sian, who died in a traffic accident when he was fifteen, thus taking all his smiles – past and future – with her. Despite the intensity of his feelings, his animosity towards Gregory provided him a peculiar kind of entertainment: a motivation built on anger, a pit of hatred he was content with digging himself in, further and deeper. And now that Gregory was gone, so was this passion. His family was better for it, so he thought it a fair price to pay, even if his days working at The Scorched Tapestry were now duller than usual. He had no particular desire to leave the country but he often felt just as dead as James Joyce’s Dubliners. At these times, he measured his existence by the minutes leading up to Friday night, when he would chance feeling as alive as he could. His band, The Awful Bastards, had a gig to play that week at The King in Mellow.

Their following was modest, but loyal. Most of their fans did not know what to make of them when first hearing the name. It was certainly catching, but not entirely telling of what kind of music they played. Even now, six years since Jon, Dick, Malcolm and Thane first got together, they struggled to decide on one genre. Half their set lists was a selection of covers ranging from early Britpop crowd-pleasers to Swedish power ballads and some Progressive Rock – as uncomplex as they could manage; the other half was a small ensemble of original songs within the same range. Thane would describe it as ‘mostly mellow, occasionally daring, but never too harmless’. Every once in a while, they would cover a song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, which felt right considering they intended to name themselves along those lines; much to their astonishment, Nic Cage and the Not-So-Good Actors was already taken. Malcolm’s girlfriend joined them as guest vocalist a few times. Had she joined permanently, they might have called themselves Kerry and the Canned Tomatoes, an ironically fresher name amidst the sea of Josie and the Pussycats’ colourful heirs: Florence + The Machine, Jess and the Ancient Ones, Violet and the Apocalypse, Marina and the Diamonds. In the end, they agreed on going by The Bastards from Hell, but that turned out to be an obscure iteration of a band a famous Scottish actor had once been part of during his youth. Thus, they decided on The Awful Bastards until circumstances led them to adopt a more ironic or flagrantly vulgar name. In the mean time, they would drink full from those lilac evenings at the stage and hope they would never take themselves too seriously.

Without those liberating moments he mostly found in music, Thane would find himself alone and ripe to the mercy of a thought that plagued him day and night. He had wasted his life. An undisturbed mind would tell him he was still young; he could still find and nurture a passion, something to make it beautiful to live. But when not under the sway of music, of little pleasures and joys like the taste of coffee in a ceramic cup and the Wordsworthian feel of vespertine strolls, a harsh, relentless certainty smacked him stark in the face. Days passed and he was ever more convinced he had little to live for. He never spoke of it with family or friends; he merely went about life with a shadow hanging over his brow. Clenched fists and a curt tongue endeared him little to the people around. So long as he could tolerate his own reflection on the mirror, he minded none however anybody saw him, until the day he saw her passing in front of the store. Pretty birds often flock together. The girls she walked with were no less lovely, but it was she in particular that snatched his attention.

Had she but slightly turned her eyes to her left, she would surely have caught sight of his expression. His scowl of commonplace quickly turned into curiosity agape. The sunlight that cast tiny golden blades on the leaves, the branches and the railings caressed the edges of her face and hair as she walked: the acute angle of her small pointy nose, the curve of smiling cheekbones, a score wild sunburnt strands in a shoulder-length curly black head. Though little and brief he saw, he still ran out from behind the counter. Outside, he found he could do little but stand in silence and frustration, watching her walk away. He had barely cared to look at himself in a mirror that morning before going to work. For all he knew, he would make a terrible first impression if he were to try catching up. As if to taunt himself for months’ worth of carelessness, he looked at himself in one of the mirrors for sale at the store. The reflection was a slightly narrow rendition of the image proper. He looked presentable enough, and nowhere as unkempt as he thought. Auburn hair, slightly bushy eyebrows, dark brown eyes, his five o’clock shadow had thickened past the awkward stage of rough adolescent-looking patches. He may still try to run after the girls, but desperation – even if only apparent – would spoil what his looks may not have. Returning to his place behind the counter, he punished himself by dwelling on the matter for the rest of the day. Even so, his curiosity about the girl with the curly black hair pressed on his thoughts more persistently than any frustration.

Before long, he realised the sensation was not new to him. He was eight years old back then, she was eleven and much taller than he. Her name was Susannah, and she lived eight houses down the street. Everybody seemed to know everybody in Carnhill, but he was somehow unaware of her until he first saw her reluctant presence in some boy’s birthday party – possibly his. After that day, he found an uneasy reason to walk eight houses east. His breath drew short and his heart beat quick as he approached, and he dared only a rapid look at the house hoping she would see him before going on his way, taking the long way back home. No words were said. His shyness faded after his first two relationships during his teen years. A handful of mindless, uninterested, doomed relationships and fleeting encounters followed. What some would call confidence he knew to be a lack of caring, which he also mistook as part of growing up. But now he was faced with a feeling he could not ignore, something old and silly, which yet forced him into sincerity. Now he could not help but care. And just like that, he wondered if he would see her again.

The sensation carried Thane along during his evening stroll after work. He entertained the possibility of running into the girl somewhere in the park where his feet had taken him, but that was not all: he felt a strange urge to do something, but he did not know what. It was a feeling of no solace, but he embraced it. Within, a torrent of energy without a foreseeable destination dulled him to his tired shoulders and calloused soles. This slow-burning anxiety intoxicated him, like a ghostly reprisal of distant, fond memories or a burst of desire. Perhaps, he thought, it is what poets call inspiration; a gift lost on him, he believed – his role in the making of The Awful Bastards’ modest original repertoire was close to minimal. Nonetheless, he placed his hands around this strange flame and let it warm his temper. The confusion and vulnerability felt natural this day, and he did not stop to question it, though he would have once deemed it a contradiction for a jaded soul like his. The feeling would pass, he knew. As did attraction and most hues of affection. In the end, time would dull all feelings, once enamoured. There is no escaping the erosion, but one could sometimes elude it, and that was enough for a lifetime. It had to be.

Above, the clouds mingled with the endlessly purple vesper sky. Earth boasted some of her favoured colours on these summer days, whether by the myriad things that bloomed below or the fashioned imagining of dreamlike cloud cities above. Perhaps, if Thane squinted the right way, he might see this mysterious young woman come forth from between the clouds, miraging down to the ground to tell him her name, to look on with disgust or indifference. Somehow, the notion made him feel as if he had taken the scenic route home that day, though his steps were the same as the day before, and the day before.

 

Kresnik II: Synthpop and the Blackbird Belle

Years ago, I found myself in a weird place, in the midst of mourning my father and reading the works of James Joyce, Enrique Vila-Matas and James Baldwin, among others. As a way to cope with the ongoing conflicts in my life, I decided to write about important images and moments in my life. These days, as I feel older but not any more mature, I think returning to those times or at least reflecting on them is a pressing necessity. Here is a sample chapter, on my relationship with one of the dearest people in my life.

 

It was Spring but the air said Autumn. A chill shook me from slumber that morning, and though I’d love to poetically address it a momentous foreshadowing, I was well aware a draft had snuck in from one of the missing windowpanes which I’d covered with old discarded boards and broken furniture. The walls and ceiling on my water prison seemed to grow thinner as the semester near its end, and for a time I came to believe that fanciful falsehood that things were arranging themselves to my favour. However, as we know all too well, life is a see-saw. What glad tidings we see, tomorrow they’ll turn ill – but I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual. All in all, it was a fertile season for enthusiasm. I was utterly fascinated with my dissertation draft, and every day I got to delve deeper into, expose, and challenge my ideas. Day in and day out there was something new to behold; an angle, a manner of phrasing, a light which cast immanence of the words. I never did fully develop that idea into a full-fledged thesis. There was just too much noise in my train of thought. But I still think it a stroke of inspiration and creativity, and I’ve still to feel embarrassment about proposing it.

Shared themes of moral and historical decay between T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats’ 1916 poetry and Progressive Metal Operas. The idea didn’t catch on too well among my peers and mentors, but I stuck to it for a good while. There was something of a high to the association of ideas and imagery, and those sessions at the library became more fun that I would have permitted myself to think years back. I could go on and on and on, but well – that’s what a dissertation is for, no? Back to topic, I was inebriated with the awareness that whatever knowledge I possessed was but the tip of something greater than life. It was like finding yourself lost in an endless haven of wonders. And yet, it was still such a sobering experience. Oxymoron, gotta love it. This dynamic also applies to my other obsession of the time: working on what would be my first novel. But that tale is already told, thus we move on.

Among the various factors that lent to this particular worldview and overall state of being was my rediscovery of Depeche Mode via their 2013 album Delta Machine. My love for the band never actually went away, but my attention dwindled sometime after Exciter. Perhaps the chaos and violence of my adolescence dulled my ears to certain beauties – one of the reasons I look back on those days with such disdain. The crispness of the sound in Delta Machine was welcome in my ear like spicy chicken soup and electrolytes to break the fast of a hangover. Furthermore, the dominant sensibility in the lyrics department maintained the fierce sweetness that first endeared me to the band back in the Songs of Faith and Devotion days, to which I returned to with renewed vigour; and Ultra’s melancholic themes. Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but I liked Violator nowhere nearly as much as when Dave and Martin do more than make hard love to your ears.

So when you have a brain addled/seduced/enhanced by excellent music and a ravenous craving of understanding in your field of work, you therefore have a brain ripe to take in little obsessions. Enter a wee bit of comparative literature supplied by one of my dearest professors at Uni, Professor Rocio Saucedo. In her boundless creativity in method, she saw fit to take a peculiar approach when speaking on sensuality as a theme and motif in 19th Century English poetry. She showed us works by William Ely Hill and Edgar Degas to open our perspective on the visual side of sensuality – a dimension we so often take for granted as what can be solely perceived by the eye, but not always contemplate in its immanence, which can translate into literary form and content. This may sound pretentious, but you’d need to hear me actually talk about this to see how jovially wide-eyed I feel about this kind of stuff; I’m virtually a kid in a candy store here.

Next thing you know, I’m utterly obsessed about the image of a woman looking away, about the subtle hints of beauty hidden in an angle that conceals the better part of her factions. Expectations, allure, approach – they all come together in as simple an unmeaning gesture. This fascination will come in handy a bit later. First, I have to address the third ingredient in the formula. Someone who is like air to me.

I probably need not even say it again, but I owe what I am to Neil Gaiman. His work filled me in ways I could have never imagined as I devoured the likes of Neverwhere, American Gods, The Graveyard Book, and, of course, The Sandman. As my hunger to read, write and experience reached a wild zenith, the gratitude that once belonged solely to Mr. Gaiman was now a shared affair to another creator, a man who makes films as if they were paintings: David Lynch. Although Blue Velvet and Lost Highway were both already mainstays in my list of favourites, watching Twin Peaks a second time – with a tighter grasp on life and a greater extrapolating capability – utterly changed the world around me.

Some things take a while to grow on us. Not necessarily because of a change in one’s taste, but maturity can truly open your eyes to things you were blind to as an adolescent or a child. You could argue this applies to just about all things that we don’t get as kids, such as Seinfeld’s humour, good coffee or a medium rare steak, but the particular note on Twin Peaks derives from more than an inability to find entertainment value in something an immature-self deemed weak and dull. I knew the series had heavily seeped into countless aspects of popular culture. The watered-down Lynchean atmosphere on its own always intrigued me, but I simply had little patience to work my way into the thick of it. My teenage brain simply couldn’t grasp that this kind of thing you had to ease into, lest the magic would be lost on you, as it was for me when I vicariously got bits and pieces while my parents watched every other night (whenever X-Files wasn’t on, rather). At 25 years old, I couldn’t permit myself the same impatient, pedestrian perspective. And indeed, on second watching, the magic was not lost on me. A third time submerged me deeper into atmosphere, which I now could conjure in my thoughts at basically every moment. And so forth as I kept exploring the rest of David Lynch’s work.

It wasn’t really just the otherworldly aspect what enthralled me either. Be it Agent Cooper’s inspiring wholesomeness, the soap opera-ish palette, or falling enamoured with Sheryl Lee’s performance of Maddy Ferguson, the whole of it was part of my life now, even the sketchy bits from the second season (the cliffhanger of an ending made it all worth it). The series was particularly fringe, and I found few people in Mexico City to have also partaken of this carnival of souls (props to Professor Saucedo, a fellow Lynch fan), so all I could do to express my fascination was to simply imagine red curtains everywhere. It’s easier than you’d imagine, and hilarious when you do it in the unlikeliest of places, such as the men’s restroom in campus, which is one of the filthiest places I’ve ever seen – you’ll feel in pressing need of a shower on coming out. Anyway…

The compound of these factors and obsessions ended up making me a sunnier individual than two years ago, when all I did was sulk about heartbreak, and one year ago, when I mourned my father and contemplated a few tough decisions concerning my studies. Therefore, I was more keen to the idea of accepting a friend’s invitation to a party one Friday. I was fairly certain it wouldn’t end up like an embarrassing affair the year before in which, addled by grief, I drank the whiskey I brought as a classmate’s birthday present, thus passing out from topping off a disagreeable mixture of several kinds of beer and wine. Tommy Wiseau may or may not be aware of those harrowing odds – not nearly as harrowing as the hangover I had the following day. So, my only hesitation being how relatively far the party’s location was, I said yes. At the moment, I was wholly unaware of the chain of events that would become unleashed that night.

Just another leisurely Friday night. A table stacked with alcohol and soda, bowls filled with the cheap snacks you’ll find in every party regardless of the high wallet size average. Insightful conversations that would be forgotten the day after with people to be dubbed strangers accordingly. Awkward mingling, mindless questions on my novel, dissertation, and so forth. Upon first impression, the two-storey house check-marked all boxes. Nice and minimalistic, trendy rather, featuring a Karaoke machine thing, one restroom on each floor, soft coloured lighting, and a convenience store nearby to stock back up on alcohol should the inevitable happen. My friend introduced me to several of his schoolmates; nice folk all in all, if a bit lacking in imagination and conversation topics as far as I could tell, though I can’t quite speak so flatteringly about myself on the latter either. Despite my relative enthusiasm, I ended up doing what I do on most parties and social events: lose myself in the crowd with a drink in hand, and mingle like a crow dining on chatting scraps. A crude analogy, but it will serve as a contrast to the one gracing this chapter’s title.

Hopping among the jolly islands in the party archipelago, I eventually found myself stranded in a hollow, fresh out of ‘be right backs’, and only slightly tipsy. Part of me would like to claim I was entirely aware of the random, unforeseen nature of circumstance that saw me turning around at the right moment and the right direction. But a younger me rather likes to believe it not solely fortuitous, thought it was. Who could have anticipated that the atmospheric light would dye the room mauve while a Birdy song played in the background? And top it off, that the first thing to catch my eye was a girl who seemed somewhat unbelonging in the scene, as foreign as myself, I’d dare say. Shallow and pretentious as this sounds, had I seen her face directly, I may have disregarded her as just another very pretty young woman whom I would never see ever again.

At that moment, it was not solely her I saw. My eyes perceived a slender, vaguely goth-like girl, engaged in lively conversation with two girlfriends, each as different to her as my friend to me. But rather than seeing her as an otherworldly creature amidst a crowd of mundaneness, I saw “My Wife and My Mother-In-Law”. No, I don’t mean an eerie Freudian Slip, but the image of a famous optical illusion by the aforementioned William Ely Hill, construed entirely from an angle. What is not always said about this image is the implying of a coy sensuality when distinguishing the young woman in the illusion. Indeed, I did not quite see her at that precise moment when time slowed to a halt. But what I saw on that peculiar angle, how the light reflected on her pale skin and her shoulder-length dark hair brushed her collarbones, and then… a hint of laughter in her cheeks. I knew I wanted to see more – I wanted to know her, and I don’t necessarily mean ‘know’ in the Biblical sense. That would come later.

With no hesitation in mind or body, I firmly took one step and then another, and yet another. But not in her direction. I suppose you could call me shy or downright insecure, but I never did like the idea of approaching somebody I wanted to introduce myself to while engaging in as singular an interaction as a girl chatting with her girls. I’m enough of an intruder, I don’t want to feel like such. Instead, I headed to a corner where a drinking game was taking place and indulged fully as I tried to ignore Jasmine Van Den Bogaerde’s beautiful voice; her second album was considerably livelier than her debut, which is kind of fitting for this sort of party, and more so for somebody on the verge of enamourment contemplating simply walking in and saying ‘Hi, I think you’re pretty and I’d like to get to know you better’. I think the mental self-lashing I was subjecting myself to was the most excited I had been up to that point in the evening. So I drank, oh my God, I drank. Everybody in sight was drinking as well, generously and unabashedly. We were all on the road of getting properly hammered, and loving it.

Somewhere, in a small, narrow recess in the alleyways of the mind, a peculiar thought cast a weak echo. I wondered if this dark-haired beauty was also drinking, and enjoying herself like we were. Only then it dawned on me, a ghastly thought traditionally visiting me earlier than this: She was too pretty to not have a boyfriend or girlfriend, too lovely to look on my rugged, brutish brand of good looks as something other than a curiosity. Methinks my dating experiences of the past three years did me no favours in regards to how I view myself. Even if our eyes met at one particular moment, when everyone knocked one back at the wild, incomprehensible, festive urging of some charisma bomb in the bunch, I thought nothing of it. Yes, I thought nothing, but my mind wasn’t hollow at all. Attraction, curiosity; those things cynicism cannot weather away. Quietly, I revelled in the sublime of this unbridgeable distance between us. There were words in the gaze I threw her way. I looked away before it went one second longer. Convinced she would be oblivious to it, my eyes basically said “you are the loveliest woman I’ve ever seen, and I will never see you again.”

I’m not sure if being an English major made me a corny guy or if I got into it because I was already a corny guy. All the same, I ‘said’ my peace. Whatever the next gulp brings, I’d be there. The night went on and I found myself liberated from my melancholy. Not seeing this pale beauty anywhere probably helped. Thinking she may have gone home allowed me to drink undisturbed, but what comes in must also eventually come out. And here is where my train of thought so far became utterly and brutally derailed. I wasn’t aware it at the time. Two minutes to midnight and not once had I considered the inevitable, let alone done anything about it, so the need was dire enough. I only needed to know the bathroom downstairs was occupied and locked before I hurried upstairs. This one was unlocked, and I didn’t think much of the light being on as I entered. All I saw was a white open space a few meters ahead, pretty vacant-looking. I don’t ordinarily do this. Even when exceedingly drunk, I’m fairly aware of my surroundings. This should serve a disclaimer to imply just how drunk I was that night. To be frank, I haven’t been nowhere nearly so since then. I zipped down, and let go. Half way through, my first realisation was that I wasn’t alone. My second realisation was that I did something nasty by urinating in the shower, however unwittingly. Indeed, this chain of enlightenment followed that precise order, leaving the best (or worst) for last.

Third realisation was: that very girl was in the bowl, also relieving her bladder. To this day, I wonder how is it I survived the embarrassment – and more importantly, how is it she deigned me worthy of even talking to afterwards. That moment deconstructed basically everything that had been on my mind that evening, and I’m still not sure which bit of me was all the more foolish. The only constant to that bathroom break was her expression. She was amused, barely holding her laughter in at that. With my stupid, leaking cock in hand, I turned to look at her, meaning to apologise, but the words were stuck in my throat. Our eyes locked and then, I didn’t quite feel like I was just an alien curiosity to her. This is how I met her, a girl who two months later would become my girlfriend and the dearest significant other in my life. We’ll call her Lorelei, my Blackbird Belle.

At the moment of writing, we are no longer together. We parted on good terms, considerably more peaceful than most of my past relationships. Addressing this clean cut may put a damper on the narrative, but I would rather not brook saccharine delusions about this episode in particular. It is what it is. Perhaps there may have been a future for us – there wasn’t, and it ached to acknowledge it, and I accept it. Now back to the good part.

We came out of the restroom together, no doubt noted by one of her girls but she hardly seemed to mind. Neither of us remember our conversation at great detail, but we both shared a dread of the hangover that awaited come dawn, and there was much to fear since we were still in the mood for a drink or two. I probably talked shit about anime, which would explain her peculiar intent to get me into it at greater depth than personal favourites such as Cowboy Bebop and Cromartie High. Nobody likes hearing people talk badly about things you like, so I’ll acknowledge the failing in my manners. Either too patient, or too drunk, or both, she somehow found our differences appealing early on. But even then, you always risk becoming the memory of a nice conversation in the middle of the drunken after hours. The whimsical nature of the urban casual socialising dictates that nobody is truly guaranteed to stick with you when you’re sober, and all those fascinating conversations become mindless nods, a sheer formality. To think that night’s chat would suffer the fate of many others before and ahead is an unforgivable notion. But I digress. We left the party together at around two. Things were still pretty lively, but we were sure we wouldn’t miss out of anything.

Before anyone gets to sniff the murk of a mind dwelling in the gutter, nothing happened that night. I did accompany her home, or rather halfway through. After about twenty minutes, we found our cause out into Insurgentes, an avenue Steven Wilson named an album after. Insurgentes transverses a big part of Mexico City, no different than a cored apple, which lends to the local belief that no matter where you are in the city, you’ll always easily find your way out into Insurgentes. The truth of it is debatable, though accurate in this case. The bus riding along the avenue was closed at that time of the night, so we have time aplenty to walk, to talk, and get some air in our skulls. Here we actually learned each other’s names. The matter of my name has always been a problem to me, and the only thing about the matter that felt right that moment was to tell her my birth name. Dmitry – she repeated with a strange flavour in the tongue, like she was savouring an unfamiliar word. Lorelei’s actual name I’ll keep to myself, but the word still summons life and music into my thoughts, now as back then. We bid each other goodnight at a stop called Francia. She assured me she’d be fine walking the rest of the way on her own. Somewhat unconvinced, I urged her to text message me when she made it home. I gave her my number and made for home. I took me quite a bit, but somewhere in the middle of that long walk home, Lorelei made good on her promise. I replied at nine in the morning. One message led to another, and next thing you know, we’re meeting for lunch next Saturday. And the rest is history.

Things progressed more or less as how you’d expect. There was plenty of mutual affinity and a definite attraction between us two. Our differences encouraged giving a couple of things a first try. She got me into Neon Genesis Evangelion; I got her into The Maxx. She got me into The Birthday Massacre; I got her into Ayreon. She kicked my ass at Mario Kart, I did hers at Tekken. We each enjoyed things like Kill La Kill and The Room in our own peculiar ways. All in all, I had in my hands something entirely new to me: somebody eager to know me, to touch my world with their fingertips, an impulse I reciprocated at full heart. Quoting my much beloved favourite film, The Crow, nothing was trivial between us; every moment was a chance to discover something new. I suppose, if we had stayed together for a month or two more, I would have inevitably gone down on one knee and asked her to marry me. And even then, the familiarity of marriage would mean nothing next to the infinite possibilities. At the very time of writing this, many song lyrics come into my head like a beautiful, unabashed mess of wonder and wide-eyed affection. Safe to say, I didn’t afford to indulge the same way in any relationship since. But that’s a chapter yet to be written.

In spite of the lovely common ground we found in mutual affinities, one of our bonding axis was the compound of our respective ways to deal with damage. I’ll probably never be able to fully cope with the fact that nearly all of the women in my life have suffered one kind of abuse or another throughout their lives. Lorelei was no exception. Perhaps there were still things she wouldn’t tell me, but from what did let me see, it seemed like she had reached a sort of acceptance about what her two past relations did to her. Thusly, the trust she risked by opening herself to me must have been a perilous wager to brave at the beginning. The fact that we’re still close friends to this day hints me that we did right by each other for as long as we lasted, but that only came at the cost of daring to trust one another. Truly, the first steps into that world of each other, having crossed the easy hurdles, spelled a darker image than either of us would have imagined. But she was on board, and so was I. And those were the first steps we took together as we strolled into the Emerald Labyrinth.

“Emerald Labyrinth,” that’s really just a fancy way of calling her neighbourhood, a place filled with parks and gardens. It came to me around the fourth or fifth time I visited on a Friday. Every preceding time had this peculiar, old-fashioned way to it. I knew I hadn’t picked up my significant other to go on a date together on most of my past relationships; they had mostly been a matter of meeting somewhere, enjoying ourselves and seeing each other home at the end, whether it was dark or light. Dropping my girlfriend at her doorstep was something I could never not do, but I had the vague sensation knocking at someone’s door, greeting the parents and siblings, and promising to be back before midnight was something nobody had done in decades – which is asinine, I know. Nonetheless, getting off the bus at the right station, walking to her place while revelling on what the day has in store felt just right. I never did meet her parents, though; they were never around. She was also an only child. Their jolly fifty-year old maid did know me on several of those occasions. She liked me in a way I felt her parents wouldn’t. I’m kind of a mutt and I don’t precisely give off the sunniest vibe. I probably wouldn’t like one such specimen to breach the formaldehyde veil I’d built with a business management-amassed wealth if I was them either. I never did know if this cool old lady ever let them know I was dating their daughter. Sometimes I would call Lorelei at her phone at around nine in the evening, and the maid would answer instead to tell me ‘the girl had gone to sleep’. It took me a little while, but it dawned on me soon enough. Lorelei was also a student like me, thus as busy and prone to exhaustion as me. More often than not, it fell to this diligent lady to see that Lorelei was well and healthy. Often times I got the impression she had been with the family for a long time. God knows what this lady did for Lorelei during those bleak days. An unsung hero that woman, if there ever was one.

The name Blackbird Belle, though. That’s something I kept to myself. Of course, she’ll know if she reads this – in which case, I acknowledge this was merely an image that came into my mind, a curiosity, a conceit not too private, a mere fancy that stuck with me since the night she talked me into sleeping over at my place, my horrendous, ruinous place. The embarrassment at letting her peer into the private Waste Land I inhabited was a kind of experience I was simply not prepared to endure before I met her. But I digress. We slept on a mattress on the floor, with only our jackets and a thick blanket to warm us during that chilly night. It rained when we fucked earlier, and it lasted through the cuddling afterwards. Though my problems sleeping persisted, I did manage to doze off into dream for a few hours. I woke up to what I thought was the crash of hail against the patched-up window. And all I saw in that room was a tangle of black hair highlighted by the lights outside. Looking at Lorelei’s sleepy bedhead like that, it rather seemed to me like a flock of ravens nested in her head. I confess that messy hair became a feature of that nimble stranger than sometimes showed up in my dreaming ever since. Truly, so much about Lorelei added to that imaginarium I constantly seek to convey through writing. I feel it’s rather vulgar to call my ex-girlfriend a muse. She’s so much more than that to me. Even now.

Well, all good things do come to an end, I suppose. Things between us never went sour, and we rarely argued at all – a blessing of not living together, methinks. But ultimately, the happiness I experienced from the days and the nights together, the music, the museum visits, the drinks and the karaoke outings, the sex and the impromptu toying with each other in unlikely places and scenarios, and the overall feeling of plenitude – it was all a compound extracted too far off my comfort zone, which is the most pathetic and loathsome thing to say. I was not used to happiness and eventually, after two months shy of a year, I became frightened, convinced I was somehow going to fuck it up… which I did, on a moment that replays itself over and over in my head every time I think of who we were. I broke up with her, out of cowardice. Now, this didn’t quite end things between us. We actually continued to see each other, and do the things we did before. But something had changed, or at least so I thought. A flavour of melancholy had started to seep into us, a distance I could best describe through Depeche Mode’s “Ice Machine” (I highly recommend the Röyksopp and Susanne Sundfør’s cover. Way better than the original, I think.) Now, I was all too aware that I had betrayed us, and betrayed her, which is worse. However, she refused to let go – not out of clinginess or need, but will.

Yet again, we were on borrowed time one way or another. Lorelei had to leave with her mother for Cancun, a short stay because of some family drama, which featured money, and Lorelei as something of a bargaining chip, from what I could piece together. That short stay turned out to be a month and a half, a time I spent quite listless for a variety of reasons. When she returned, something in her had changed. Some of her shine had gone opaque, and I instantly regretted ever letting her go. She never told me what went down in Cancun; she said that didn’t matter. Something else did. She was moving away for good. To this day, I don’t know what happened, but we still keep in touch. I think her shine is back, and she was pretty happy about her new boyfriend. She moved on. And so did I.

It’s just as well. I had a considerable deal of hurt waiting ahead anyway. I would have truly hated myself if she ever partook in the least of it. It’s just like I said. I’ve been a loner for much of my life, and I don’t think that’s going to change much. The way I see it, solitude is a double-edged blade, risky to wield, but really sharp and efficient if you know how to swing it. I don’t feel lonely, probably. Every once in a while, I visit that neighbourhood to have a coffee somewhere. But truth be told, if there is some storm in the wind and I’ve some hours to kill, I do walk deeper till I reach those gardens. Yet without her, I inevitably become lost in the Emerald Labyrinth.

On Hallowed Ground: A Silent Hill Story – Chapter 2: Hannah

Hannah Georges rose early as usual. Some days it was easier than others, but she consciously tried to make it a habit. She knew she was at a threshold in her life. There was some room for leniency, but in time, that would be over. Several months ago, she began her internship at the Martin Duchovny Institute of History in the small town of Silent Hill, at the advise of her father. She wanted to write for a living, so she took the quickest route she could think of by studying journalism in a college outside of town. Her father, a wary and laconic man, felt that she would increase her chances of obtaining better employment if she had something on her resume nobody could overlook. And he was in just the position to afford her that. He had seen many others going down that path, and he knew where it all led most of the time: an indefinite impasse. Therefore, he put in a word for his daughter at his job, and nobody spoke against it. Hannah was grateful for it, but she mostly wished it ended soon. Having lived in the same town for most of her life, she yearned to travel. In her heart of hearts, she knew she could practice her craft wherever she pleased; she’d only need some credibility and a couple more lines on her resume.

Her father, Dr. Archer Georges, got her an internship, but that was all she would get from him. The rest would come from her very own skill and labour. Everything, from the footnotes she wrote to her personal assessments needed be deserving of her position and the career she aimed for. Industriousness pays, she thought to herself as she looked through some of the papers one of the specialists had her revise on an early weekend of the semester. It was mostly to see if the syllabus for a seasonal study program could be fully supplied by the local libraries. It was such a simple process on paper, but it soon turned dull and laborious once she looked through the inventories. Nonetheless, she did as she was required. And as a consequence, she somewhat became part of the study program without actually being in it. The surface of the topic already looked highly academical, but a peculiar tint of otherness appealed to her curiosity. Every now and then, she eyed one title in particular, which appeared as no more but a side-reference, a minor read in the syllabus.

Goodbye, Horses by Anne Swain. The title alone already stuck out from the rest. Hannah thought it must have been a much deliberate reference to The Silence of the Lambs; such a thing could not be gratuitous. The day after first seeing the title on the syllabus, she researched the book online and found it to be a grim historiographic account on certain instances of captivity of a small portion of the populace across several territories within the Atlantic Northeast. Both to her frustration and growing curiosity, she could not find any further information on the book itself, other than a few comments from readers praising the book for several different reasons; some on the actual content, others on the poetic, almost morbid way it was written. Since then, she made a mental note to ask whomever was in charge of the study program to lend her the book for a quick read at least. While she would not stray from the topics of her very own interest, she could afford herself some room for something new, even if it might prove only a nice read.

Fortune smiled on her the following day, as chance had her meet a member of the study group in the cafeteria, a young man called Justin. The two became friends over the semester, and their conversations at lunch were rich with banter and their favourite topics, as well as some mindless flirting that never got anywhere. It was only a matter of time until Hannah’s new interest came up. He agreed to have his paperback photocopied so she could read it as well, which she greatly appreciated. She felt there was something off when lacking a book proper, as if some of mystique surrounding the author’s work had lost some of its shine whenever it was read as a bundle of photocopied sheets or digitally. Nonetheless, she had now her very own chance to satisfy her curiosity. The book’s preface enchanted her at first read, but she could only get through the first pages of the first essay before work started heaping up. By the midterm, she no longer wanted to know anything about academical papers, databases or books on obscure subjects at lunch. The talks became more trivial, and her Goodbye Horses lay buried beneath other heaps of paper which she wished she could discard but couldn’t yet. A variety of paraphrases of Anne Swain’s opening words still accompanied her thoughts every now and then, nonetheless.

“It is commonly accepted by historians of all currents of thought that any study on the past is never without a period; that is, a point where we could regard the researched knowledge as a fixed, static paradigm. History is ever-changing as our understanding of the past becomes more nuanced and capable. Past events are never truly dead. In fact, the act of memory itself is a constant re-opening of an old wound, of which we may or may not experience the effects, whether socially or linguistically. Without this perennial revival of the past through study and debate, ‘History’ becomes a mass of chaos, wherein all manner of coherence becomes dissociated through a sloppy mess of incidents, conflicted dispositions and errors in judgement and deed that would otherwise prove shameful and embarrassing. History must remain alive if it is to deserve the status of cornerstone to human civilisation.” Everything after that became more specific, more oriented to the book’s topic. She found no particular comfort in knowing that the past lived every time it was remembered and retold, but some days, the notion simply happened upon her thoughts. At some point, she judged a career as historian might have suited her just as well. Perhaps she could tell her mother over breakfast, or lunch if she arrived late that day.

Most weekends, Hannah visited her mother Clara, who she rarely saw as often as she did her father. That day, she had a special urge to visit, as she deeply missed her during her two-month trip to her native Côte d’Ivoire. Both of her parents were from Côte d’Ivoire; they married there and they conceived her there, but she was born on the United States. Except for the things her parents tell and show her, she has never felt too significant a sense of belonging to her parents’ country. Hannah did not think kinship to land was something one could nurture while in the womb, but Clara always told her daughter she had the country inside, and that it showed, even if she was not aware of it. Regardless, that her mother would tell her such a thing always made her smile. And a smile she needed on that cold dreary morning in Silent Hill. She was sure, before even getting dressed, that the walk towards Riverside Drive would be the lowest point of the day by far.

Her room-mate still slept. Surely she would forgive her for not leaving some breakfast made if she brought something for lunch. Although Hannah often struggled with her duties, she knew it was better than working night shift at a convenience store. Dressed for the cold outside, Hannah made for her parents’ house. It was an easy walk two blocks down Cielo Avenue and then South past the hotel. She particularly enjoyed the stroll on summer, when the rains brought out the fullest green on the grass and trees alike. Whenever she looked up to feel the rain on her face, all she would see was a steely grey titan of clouds. The moment would always conjure images of sylvan Ireland and shadowy Scotland, places she wanted to visit, to live in; and if she closed her eyes, the world was reduced to the smell of earth, water, and thriving, rich vegetation. That morning, the townscape before her denied all such musings. The sky was permeated a light, dead grey. Thick, dry fog. The drafts that made her huddle up in her jacket carried no lively scent. But at the end of this temporary waste land, she would find the warmth of a household that rarely left her thoughts. Many people she knows have come from, broken homes, hostile families, histories of abuse. She counts herself fortunate.

The front yard was always unadorned, and her family had no pets to speak of. Even so, approaching her parents’ home that morning along the drive felt as if she was walking towards somewhere entirely different. Hannah gazed down at her shoes as she walked and quickly noticed the strange dark hue to the concrete on the sidewalk. The longer the distance, the dirtier it looked, as every step met a formless stain on the ground. It did not look like common filth, but as if some foul organic matter were deeply rooted inside the concrete, slowly coming up through the cracks. Uneasy, she hastened the pace to reach her parents’ house, but upon catching first sight of the house, she regretted her decision. Gone was the sober warmth of the house’s dark blue facade. The colour filtered dour through the fog that appeared having grown thicker. Fumbling with the keys in her jeans’ pocket, her urge to open the door no longer obeyed mere fondness for her family, but sheer instinctive anxiety.

It must be all in her mind, she thought to herself. The street was not completely silent or vacant. Somewhere, she could hear a low groan, and could not tell if came from an animal or a person. There was an unpleasantly salival sound beneath that low vibration that somehow made Hannah think of disease and crooked teeth. She would not turn around to see if whatever roamed nearby matched her mental image. All of her attention was on the keys in her hands, and how none appeared to be the right one as her pulse grew quicker. The passing of each second felt unnaturally long until the key finally turned. While on no occasion did she hear the sound any closer, she still felt relief alleviating her mind when the lock’s mechanism finally worked. In matter of an instant she rushed past the door and slammed it shut. She would apologise for the noise later. For now, all she truly wanted was to see her parents. Familiarity would always bring comfort in face of the uncanny.

“Mum? I’m here!” Hannah called, trying to sound as if nothing had even been out of the ordinary. She heard no response. “Dad?”

Silence.

She often found them in the living room or in the kitchen whenever she visited, but either place was empty. Anxiety began to build up at the bottom of her stomach as she imagined other possibilities. With the thought of the strange presence outside still fresh in her mind, she would be thankful if she found them engaged in a compromising situation elsewhere in the house. Her footfalls sounded hollow and lonesome inside of the house. She found nobody in her parents’ bedroom, nor in her old room or any of the bathrooms. The basement and the attic were no different. She looked twice, thrice, but there was no sign of life anywhere. Tired, she slumped down on a couch in the living room, with nothing but restless quiet in her head. A few minutes later, she reasoned that her parents must have gone out, and the most logical thing to do was to simply call either of them on their cellphones. But no matter how many times she tried, she heard nothing on the other side but silence.

With some hesitation, Hannah picked the receiver on the house’s phone. But before she even put her ear to it, she already knew she would hear nothing at all. From there, she checked if the light switches worked, but neither light bulbs, nor electronics or appliances turned on. A blackout, she thought to herself, in the most inconvenient of times, when the day is cold and dreary, and her parents choose to go out for some reason or another. Nevertheless, that still did not account for what she heard earlier. She started to wonder if it was still outside, if perhaps her parents would run into it, if it even was there to begin with it. She had been tense as of lately, she thought to herself. Even after Justin talked her into attending a small get together at the Institute the night before, the pressure of work weight heavy on her. As a distraction from her unease, she thought of him and his puppy-like expression after a few drinks. While pleasant, the image did nothing to appease her, as something had changed in her parents’ house.

It took her a few seconds to notice it. She figured the groan she heard had unsettled her so that she failed to see it when she crossed the doorway almost half an hour ago. Every wall was coloured a pale shade of grey, almost the same as the fog outside. Her mother had always been enthusiastic about decorating, and Hannah was convinced she would never discard the vivid, strong colours in favour of such a depressing hue. Then, as she looked down, her eyes fixed on the carpet and the floorboards. Almost without a breath, she gasped back a scream of terror. First one long, thick and serpentine blotch, then another and another, all creeping flat across the floor, up the walls and the ceiling. Feeling itch and shivers all over, she pulled her legs up to the couch and braced her knees close to avoid touching the living stains.

The grotesque spectacle of the house morphing was beyond belief. Hannah could almost hear her own heartbeat increasing. Suddenly, a loud metallic sounded ground somewhere. She could not tell if it were near of far, but she was beyond thinking then. Her body moved on its own, swift but clumsy by fear, towards the door. She bared felt her feet touch the floor, but before she knew, she was already out the door. There was nothing but noise in her head, and beyond, the road stretched north and south, but a thick grey fog impeded viewing any further. Behind her, the sounds heaped into a cacophony, the groans, the grinding. Without thinking it twice, she ran by muscular memory and habit, north towards some other familiar place.

Token Late Autumn Seasonal Entry

I’m not saying I don’t enjoy Halloween, Day of the Dead, Koleda, and the like – I really quite do. It’s just that my enthusiasm doesn’t always show.  Ever. Of course, by the time I post this, Halloween will be several days past. Such is life.

Once again, we’ve reached that lovely stage of the year when the ghouls and festive souls come out to play and make merry under the fuzzy shroud of the macabre. It’s probably the one festivity I can think of when young and old partake of with equal, though unique manners of enthusiasm. Oh my, there’s that word again: enthusiasm. That’s something I hadn’t felt in my life for a while. Sure, there’s the constant of my passion for writing to consider, but that craft has become such a deep-rooted component of who I am that it’s now something of a self-sustainint impulse, regardless of my emotional state. But I digress. All in all, certain factors in my life have come together in a very particular fashion, and a very particular timing: soon enough to foster interest in enjoying Halloween, but too late to actually make some adequate preparations. There’s always next year, but I did reap some nice perks from this change in perspective.

This is why, in spite of being costume-less, I went out Saturday evening to watch the Halloween parade downtown and catch a few drinks at some parties in the vicinity. However, perhaps through the caprice of the calendar which had the date proper occur after the festive weekend, some events felt somewhat duller than others. Or rather, everything but the yearly parade fell short of the occasion, and even the actual parade came off stunted by a collective lack of creativity. To my surprise, I didn’t even see that many Pennywise Clowns – a most alarming sight considering the success of IT‘s remake. It’s perhaps a cruel irony that my head buzzed with ideas while unable to procure cool ingredients for the costume I had planned: English pro-wrestler Marty Scurrl’s latest iteration of The Villain (this entry’s featured image) as member of the Bullet Club. There’s a lot of prestige going into that persona through his skill and accolades, but overall, you simply can’t go wrong with bird motifs, an umbrella and a villainous-looking coat.

There’s always next year, probably.

So instead of dressing up, I simply went out under the guise of me, a style trailing the boundary between dapper and dour, lots of pockets for cigarettes and condoms, as you like. As mentioned above, I didn’t get to see much in comparison to previous years. The ultimate exception are the kids – they always find how to express themselves, but everybody else exhibited an embarassing lack of imagination. As possible solace to my disappointment, I did see someone whose getup remarkably resembled one of the Woodsmen from Twin Peaks: The Return: terrifying soot-skinned, menacing entities who bring a horrendous brand on demise, and incidentally speak wonders about one’s taste in films and television. Attempting to confirm it, I asked him what he was supposed to be, and he replied only ‘a demon’. I wondered then if he indeed only meant to incarnate some generic-ass demon, or if he thought describing the notion of a Woodsman to be too time-consuming and complex, which it is, especially for the unacquainted with Lynch and Frost’s ouevre.

Of course I’m aware of how pretentious I sound. I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t both pretentious and self aware, would I? I’ll take the benefit of the doubt here. The costume itself looked really well. So, who cares if he was dressed as a demon or a Woodsman? Moving on. As I walked, I wondered if I could somehow sell my everyday casual-ish getup as an actual costume. If so, what could it be? Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe? Hungover loner? English major? Bearded Dave Gahan wannabe? All of the above apply to some extent, but each also rang with a dash of irony that I found suitable for all occasions, but not tonight.

So I thought ‘Aspect of Death’. Yeah, that’s what I am portraying on this joyous occasion. And I’m not actually trying to oversell my lack of an effort as brilliance (that much). But at the time, it seemed like a good idea to think of my style as the foundation and my demeanour and mannerisms as the nuances to this ‘costume’ in particular. For starters, I’m kind of grim, which sets us off on the right foot. Plus, I got scary good looks, so all the better. All jokes aside, a few of my habits as a dweller of this particular cityscape (Mexico City) could be somewhat construed as ‘deathly’ habits, if one were so inclined to read such character in them. Let me elaborate on this by referring to two peculiar habits. Number one: I jaywalk – not out of mere whim, I just hate slowing down and halting my pace. On a good day, I simply cannot be stopped – and Death also cannot be stopped. Number two: I maintain eye contact ALWAYS. It’s a habit I can’t quite rationalise. But Death also maintains eye contact forever; it doesn’t blink and its gaze constitutes the awareness of mortality we cannot elude. We merely choose to look down.

There. I bet I’ll read back a few years (weeks) from now and cringe about how corny this is. And I do hate being corny. Stay tuned for more corny shit, useless thoughts, and thoughts about my competence/grit ratio at work. It’s the last week of training, meaning I’m starting to take calls. It’s a challange.

New On Hallowed Ground chapter coming this Friday also. In the meantime, here’s a little verse I came up with during the tedious ride home from work.

Autumn in these parts is a thing peculiar, you see,
Afternoon, you’ll watch the leaves fall, wither and die,
A score shadows stray, paying the Waste Land’s fee,
And decades’ rust, tainting the skirts on the sky.

Ha, taint. 

A Kick for a Boon

I have to say, it’s been a busy two weeks. Simply put, I came upon a fancy new job with a beautifully hefty pay, which comes at the expense of massive responsibility. Naturally, any company with a sense of commitment and competence will make sure you’re up to the task – so, I got enlisted into a five-week-long training, of which there are only three more to go. And from where I’m standing right now, it’s barely just for the amount of info and practice we’ll need. When you get down to it, it’s really just a ten hour, five days a week gig at a call centre, but it’s far from simple.

So, in spite of the nice pay, this naturally leaves me with a problem to address and think over every day. Time constraints. The one benefit to going freelance was the time availability to work on other stuff, such as my writing and artwork… and job searching, eventually ate up the most of my time, because I was just not making any money, which – as you may know – is necessary for the purchase of goods, services, and travel. I may love the freedom to go to a café for a cup of Joe anytime I want, but that is not going to get me any closer to accomplishing one of my primary goals: moving to Canada, Norway, or some place nice and windy. So, the compromise of yielding that freedom was rather necessary.

But still doesn’t answer the question: how do I find the time to work on the stuff that truly drives me? When do I write, when do I get some exercise, do I get to sleep? If I stop doing these things, especially writing, I’ll inevitably turn into a sour, fatshit loser. I may have money, but what good will that do for me, if I am without the things that actually constitute me as a person? The answer is none – it won’t do shit for me, and I’ll have lost myself in the process. So the solution becomes clear: find balance, practice time management. I compromise some. Perhaps when training is over, I’ll get some more leniency on time management, but for now – whatever little or much I can get done at the end of every day will have to see me through to the next day and so on.

There is little leniency in this job (or at least in these training sessions) for other non-work related activities. They’re also very particular about cellphones, which is understandable – we were told early on that a careless selfie revealed credit information in the background. So, I’ll have to get used to working a notepad, with pencil and all, which will prove quite the challenge for I can hardly understand my own handwriting. Ain’t that some shit? We’re doing that, nonetheless – tested the method this week and I can say that, at the very least, I have the outline for the fifth chapter in On Hallowed Ground, and the first for a new story I decided to start writing called Dies Irae. I’ll probably end up doing this for Destination Apocalypse, which I’ve frankly neglected.

I’ll upload the second chapter to On Hallowed Ground this week, probably Friday. Things may get a little slow from that point onwards, but I’m not stopping, EVER.

This transition is a little tricky, but it’s probably long time I relearned the value of weekends. I just hope my days off end up on weekends when I do start taking them calls.

On Hallowed Ground: A Silent Hill Story – Chapter 1: Mikael

A headache. That was often the indication that everything was as it was supposed to be. There was aspirin on his improvised cardboard box nightstand and half a plastic bottle of water by his shoes. His desk was littered with papers, books, notepads, napkins with hastily.made blurred notes on them, his trusty laptop and an ashtray full with a month’s ashes. Again, he had missed the dawn, which he had meant to watch for several weeks now. The greyish blue of seven in the morning dyed the inside of his room dourly, and he could barely stand the sight of it without experiencing a pang of disappointment. He had woken up early on a chilly Sunday morning in October, but not early enough. His one consolation for the moment was that he could easily attribute his headache to the events of last night. He thought it a miracle that he had found his way back to the apartment sometime in the dark hours of the morning. Even before sunset at campus, he knew well enough that he would end up drinking his fill and then some; he was not a particularly heavy drinker, but the end of the semester called for a respite.

Mikael Bergfalk was a 25 year old history major from Sweden. He had flown a long way from his home in Uppsala to pursue his dream. For as long as he had a chance to work with Dr. Luke McBrennan, world authority on American history and social studies from the 19th Century, he would gladly make do. It did not matter if his scholarship could only afford him a modest lodging in a small, dingy apartment on West Paleville. It did not matter if he slept less than thirty hours a week. And it did not matter if he sometimes opted to feed the white kitten he adopted a fortnight ago over feeding himself with whatever money he had allowed himself for the week. It was all worth it, but he could not say the same about his hangover. Rum did not agree with him after the fun was over.

He mustered enough strength and will to keep the nausea down as he sat up. Falkor slept easy, curled into a small ball of snow-like fur between his feet. In his current state, he would inevitably wake the kitten if he got up, which he had no desire to do. Mikael checked himself with a clearer head than when he had gotten back from the party at campus. It took him but a moment to realise that he did not have his jacket on him. He cursed to himself, convinced that he would not have had the mind to remove it and hang it on the perch by the bathroom last night. He must have left it somewhere back on campus. If he was lucky, one of his friends may have taken it. Otherwise, he would probably never see his mobile phone or his cigarettes again. If his luck held out as it had, he probably also left his bicycle over at campus. All at once, he started to regret even leaving the apartment the previous day, and missing the sunrise was now the least of his inconveniences. From where he lay, with a parched throat and lingering nausea, he had the rest of the day cut out for him.

Much to the kitten’s annoyance, Mikael fumbled his way out of bed, nearly stumbling twice on what little room he had to walk. Priorities were clear, so he relieved a few necessities in the bathroom. A few minutes later, he walked out feeling slightly better, but he still needed water and something solid in his stomach. He had his jeans from last night still on, auspiciously clean. His four year-old silver lighter was in his right pocket, as well as a few small bills and a handful of change. This would be enough for a juice box and a sandwich, and that would need to suffice to see him through the day before an equally austere lunch and dinner. He still had plenty of his scholarship money available, but Mikael sometimes felt anxious about expenses. After he put on shoes and a cleaner shirt, he took a glance at the mirror. He looked thinner, quite unlike how he used to look.

Seven years ago, he was part of an ice hockey team back in Sweden. Mikael was good enough to play on Hockeyettan, but he shone nowhere as bright as several of his team mates. These naturally were promoted to either of the Allettan groups. He himself never had a chance to know if he too would be promoted, since a knee injury put an end to his budding career. His treatment and recovery led to a new passion when his older sister, Sabine, brought him a book on archaeology at the hospital bed. He had always been an avid reader, but only then he felt truly enthralled by something: by knowledge laying in the obscurity of ages past. It was as if a strange new world had opened its old. rickety maw to him. That had only been the start, and now he was working on his dissertation on colonised tribes in the north-east of the United States. Both Dr. Luke McBrennan’s presence and the link the town had with his field of study were reason enough to enlist in a study program at the Martin Duchovny Institute of History in the town of Silent Hill. His parents were at first wary, but supportive enough about their son’s decision to temporarily live in the United States.

He had made considerable progress on his dissertation so far. And it only hit him once he was at the bottom of the stairs inside the apartment building that he had potentially made a huge mistake in just leaving his research materials plain on his desk while he had a kitten in the loose. It was a miracle of sorts that the small animal had been too occupied chasing a napkin rolled into a ball for the past two days to notice he could make a shredding mess out of the papers on the desk. Mikael swore to himself that he would put everything away right after his walk to the store. He did not want to risk an unpleasant surprise after another absence, and he knew he could be engaged for most of the day, as he intended to go to campus to try and find his belongings. Perhaps, amidst the discarded remainders of last night, his jacket and bicycle may still be found.

The convenience store faced him stark as he turned right on coming out the apartment building’s entrance. Mikael looked at the extent of Finney Street, and the sight was all too familiar by now. This street was quite alive on weekdays, with people coming and going across the commerce district of Old Silent Hill, but on the weekends, Finney Street looked almost entirely vacant; most businesses were closed, and there was little in the way of residence across its length. Silent Hill always got a little misty and humid on the late side of October, especially in the vicinity of the river to the East; nonetheless, withstanding rain and snow, the convenience store was always open, much to the delight of Mikael and whatever kindred spirits had the tendency to party on Saturday nights. Mikael bought a juice box and a sandwich, and tried not to look too sick in the process, but he was sure the natural pallor of his eyes always made him look a little sick. As he walked back to his apartment, he debated whether to eat on the walk home and risk hurling, or hurl later anyway.

Once at the apartment, he took to storing away all of his research material in a drawer on his desk before Falkor decided to sniff it out. All done, he looked at his breakfast for a moment, hesitating as his very breath tasted foul in his mouth. He finally conceded, taking one bite at a time, but his stomach turned at the very first sip of juice. Deciding he could do safely with just the small sandwich in his stomach, he lay on his bed for a moment, gathering himself before going out once more, convinced this would take him the better part of the day. He rubbed his eyes for a moment and yawned at length, still tired from last night. He felt the weight of the kitten as he pounced onto his chest. Mikael caressed the small animal for the last little comfort he may have that day. He opened his eyes, ready to go seek out his belongings, when he saw a long mouldy dark blotch on his ceiling.

He certainly did not recall it being there before. He was sure a spot like that would have appeared gradually, like slow decay. But never once, in all the nights he lay awake on his bed, unable to sleep, had he seen the slightest incipience. The stain cut diagonally, wide across the grey ceiling on his room. And for the slightest moment, he no longer felt the weight of the kitten on him. The blotch had no confined shape in its edges; its outline looked like it blurred on the edges. Mikael’s eyes were fixed, not blinking once, and before his very eyes, the spot disappeared. At the end, all he had left was the impression of that fleeting instant. With the exception for a few cobwebs on the corners, the ceiling was mostly clean. Falkor was still on top of him, looking around him with big, unassuming eyes and a fluffy white tail swinging slowly.

But Mikael remained there, perplexed at what he just saw, waiting for it to appear once more. Two minutes passed, and no such strange image returned. By now, he felt that if he did not get up at that moment, he would not at all for the rest of the day. With some reluctance, he stood up and grabbed his keys, hanging from a nail by the door. He threw a glance at Falkor, wondering if it was safe to leave him there while he went to campus. It was only a stain of sorts, and nothing else, he thought to himself. Only a stain, which he thought he had seen, surely because of rubbing his eyes for so long. Nothing more than a figment of his exhaustion-addled imagination. There was nothing he could do. He knew nobody in the area he could leave his kitten with. But there would be no need to, he thought, because it was all in his imagination. Mikael put his hand in his pocket, fumbling with the money he had, and decided that he could afford a bus ride to save time. If he was lucky, he may find his jacket quickly enough. And if he failed to recover his bicycle, he could always get up an hour earlier every day to walk to school.

“I’ll be back, Falkor. Be a good kitten.” He said to the small animal, who looked back at him with a tilted head.

Mikael locked the apartment door, climbed down the stairs and walked back out into the narrow street that led to Bachman. The bus stop was on Ellroy Street, a brief walk away. When turning the corner, he cursed under his breath, as the morning had grown colder and he did not think to even look for a sweater in the heap of dirty clothes on a basket in his bathroom. Nonetheless, he walked on, seeing this as an incentive to find his jacket. The streets were as empty as they were a while ago, but there still was transportation. The next bus would pass by within four minutes. In the meantime, Mikael thought he had a fairly good idea of where his jacket might be. Perhaps somewhere on the small courtyard outside the library. When the bus finally arrived, he rubbed his hands together as he climbed. He paid the fare and took a seat on the back row. There was nobody else on the bus or on the near surroundings but the driver and he, so the former did not bother to wait at the stop for any further passengers. Mikael reasoned that the man simply wanted to get to the end of his shift.

The bus went two blocks down Ellroy and took a left on the Shell Gas Station. The bridge across the river to Central Silent Hill lay ahead. Mikael looked out the windows, and saw few people going about, mostly people going to the morning service at the church nearby. The fog then started to look a little denser. By the time they reached the bridge’s control booth, he found that he could hardly see the waters of the river. It was all a thick grey to his left and his right. He thought it somewhat uncommon, but he mostly dreaded getting out in the cold. He had best hurry to find his jacket, or some sweater a fellow student had left behind in a drunken haze like he had. On the other end of the bridge, the bus went south on Crichton Street. The Martin Duchovny Institute of History was on this street, past the hospital, but the bus route did not go that far. Mikael got off before the bus took another left. As he climbed down the stairs of the vehicle, he felt tempted to ask the driver if he could take him a little further along Crichton, but he knew better.

Much as he had dreaded, it was indeed colder. Mikael had to brace himself for whatever heat his body could afford him as the fog appeared even thicker. It was a fairly long walk along the street before he reached the Institute. In a matter of moments, he could only tell he was going the right way by the familiar sights of the stores on his right. Further ahead, he could hardly see a thing. His hangover nausea had eased down on the bus ride, but it returned with a vengeance. It was too late to change his mind and turn back, but Mikael started to regret coming this way. He stopped for a moment outside of the General Store as he wanted to heave the sensation out of his stomach but he decided against it, as he spotted a silhouette far out in the fog. At first glance, it looked like a medium sized dog, but its stance was strange. It appeared to have very thin legs, stretched outwards. He could not see a tail from the distance, but its head certainly did not look or moved like a dog’s; rather, it was somewhat human-looking, and it swung up and down incessantly like a pendulum as the creature walked awkwardly and with no apparent direction.

It did not notice him, but Mikael would rather not see it up close. His nausea pressed further on him, demanding some release, but he resisted. Trying to make as little sound as possible, he walked quicker along Crichton Street, intensely alert to his surroundings. He saw and heard nothing around him. The minutes felt longer than they had any right to, but he finally arrived at the Institute. The terracotta colour of the building’s facade and the big plaque sign on the grass filled him with a warm sensation of relief. He knew he could not ask for entrance at the main door, since the place was closed on Sundays. However, the groundskeeper lived on the yards, and he might do him the favour of allowing him in to find his jacket. Perhaps he would even lend a hand. Mikael went around the back, towards the small building by the green lattice gate.

Pressing Thoughts

I will leave the first chapter of On Hallowed Ground: A Silent Hill Story for another occasion, hopefully around Wednesday or Thursday this week. Due to recent, and still ongoing ordeals, I feel there is something in far greater need to be addressed than my own means of artistic expression.

As you may or not have heard, times have been trying in Mexico lately. Several states in the country have suffered casualties and considerable infrastructural damages mainly by two earthquakes occurring respectively on September 7 and 19. High seismic activity is an inherent element of the country, insofar as becoming something of a local quirk. Countless times in the past have we carelessly wondered if we had just stuttered or downright slept through a tremor, or if we had otherwise suffered from a dizzy spell. Brief, even gentle – if you will – these mild quakes were ever the preferable alternative to live through over the massive earthquake taken place (quite peculiarly) on September 19, 1985, when- recounting my mother’s words – the city had virtually disappeared beneath the dust clouds from all the fallen buildings across Mexico City. The scars of that infamous day live alongside the humour and the moxy of the Mexican folk. Much like the Russian inheritage of my mother, Mexicans inhabit a delicate crux of coherence between contradictions. But the latest phenomena have thrown such equilibrium into dire imbalance.

Fear is the air, that was my first thought on that September 7 night, when the ground shook like no time I could personally recall. It was far from the kind of thing you could sleep through, but what drew my attention was not its intensity, but its duration. All throughout, I watched the faces of my neighbours, mostly people I care little for, far removed from their usual demeanour of arrogance and disregard; their low swagger stripped, we stood on the common ground of naked fear. Safe to say, the earthquake itself ‘did me a real spook’, and it had my family and I set for a restless night. Life went on since with a sense of detachment, nonetheless. Though I received word of damaged occurred elsewhere in the country, my personal reception was a calm, but admittedly uninvolved, acknowledgement – and little else. And that changed twelve days later, at noon.

If you were to ask me now, I couldn’t possibly emulate or describe the sound of the seismic alarm. It’s loud, and that’s about as much as I can say on it. Yet, when the silence draws on, I find myself anxiously waiting for the sound to fill the airwaves. And then I’ll hope whatever comes next won’t be anything like that second earthquake. When next the ground shook, I ran down the stairs, convinced this old building I inhabit would crumble to pieces shortly after, perhaps even before I made it out to the street. A pang of guilt and remorse burned at the pit of my stomach for I had left my housecats behind, in my apartment on the second floor. There is a long hallway leading to the street from the stairs, and I saw my neighbours running for their lives, some screaming, others wailing. Terror was now in the air, through it all. It had not been a harsher earthquake per se; the epicentre was considerably closer, however – and that made all the difference.

As for me, I can only say I constantly feel the ground is shaking, even though the alarm is quiet. There have been many aftershocks since, mostly imperceptible, but my mental state remains under the shadow of that moment. It’s normal to feel this way; it will pass, this I know. But the reason to this entry is that which may not pass, or at least I keep hoping it won’t.

Every hour, every minute since that moment has felt like a daze, like dense mist. Even now, I am not entirely sure how I feel, about myself, my life plans or my relation to this city. The 24/7 news coverage says a lot but it doesn’t dash away the uncertainty. Alas, throughout the days, there is definitely one thing I can vouch for as indisputable. The grit and resillience of the Mexican people goes both ways. I’ve lived in this city most of my life. I feel as strong a connection to my Mexican nationality as I do to my Ukrainian one: hardly at all. Nevertheless, Mexico City has been the most solid notion of a home I’ve ever felt, though I desperately want to move elsewhere. Throughout that time, I’ve seen the kinds of things the people can bring themselves to put up with, to tolerate, especially when it comes to politics and economics. A recurring, a demonstration here and there, a couple dozen marches that achieve little but clogging the city’s arteries. The collective outrage in face of corruption, incompetence and impunity tends to burn out, and then it’s a return to the enduring, to accept with gritting teeth. The cycle goes on, and we learn to do without.

This is the wrong side of resillience; the one I’ve come to know. And as I walked restless through the streets, anxious to find some place in need of an extra set of arms, I saw none of it. What I saw instead were tireless efforts that dwindled none, though buildings continued to crumble and casualties rose. I’d never seen these streets like this, alive with the active, deliberate impulse to breathe, to heal and thrive, no matter how long it would take. And by the look of it, the process will certainly take its time. I can only speak for the city I inhabit, but Mexico City was certainly not the only place affected.

 

 

On Hallowed Ground: A Silent Hill Story (Preface)

Horror is one of the most delightful and engaging things ever conceived in our collective human experience. Throughout the strange, though colourful path that has been my life so far (28 years at the time I’ve written this), I’ve never met a single individual who has looked on [horror] with the slightest indifference, be it as a genre or a real-life event. Curiously, the wide range of views on horror as a genre – going as far as extremes, from repugnance to obsession – is a mirror to the very duality at its core: a conveyance operating through both aversion and fascination, simultaneously.

Whether it be the slasher villain killing annoying teenagers left and right, a master manipulator subjecting his victims to sadistic games, or a series of scientifically inexplicable phenomena violently contorting the coherence of our world, all scenarios virtually follow the same dynamic: we know it’s wrong, one way or another, alas we cannot look away; our eyes, our dreams, even our breathing and our pulses become enraptured to the pervading sense of wrongness. And at the end, the best we can really hope is for some delivery of Tolkien’s “Eucatasrophe“. The innocent and vulnerable escape adversity, while their world lies in ruins. Otherwise, we can take the bloody hopelessness and revel in it as if it were King Lear. It’s also no wonder that Horror can seep to varying degrees into just about any other genre without compromising the narrative or style. It’s what TV Tropes has coined as “Nightmare Fuel“, which goes to show that all things can benefit from a tinge of fear and disturbance.

However, this is still quite rough an approach to Horror. The understanding only becomes refined when you observe its range of possibilities through sub-genres, each a reply to the question of just what kind of wrong do you like. Is it a starkly visual kind, a brutal exposure of our inner workings and things we know to be biologically incorrect? Is it something less personal, like a grand menace to the world as we know it? How about something less material, like the inescapable presence of entities and paradigms we cannot fully apprehend with our senses and our measuring systems? Or could it be something far more subtle, like the darkness festering in the heart of potentially all humans? Then again, it could also be the idea of the aforementioned, executed with a twist of irony or absurdity. Genre is never a static division.

And that is what draws me to my favourite execution of Horror, ever. David Lynch and Mark Frost’s masterpiece Twin Peaks (of which I write reviews every Sunday here)Although one would be hard pressed to pin a precise genre for this show, nobody can deny its peculiar handle on horror. When talking about the first two seasons from the early nineties, for every amusing quirk there is an ominous force at play, foreshadowing its dominion on the town by the cold wind that blows from the forest. If we talk about this new season, The Return, we find otherworldly, unabashed horror nearly everywhere; both the evil that men do, and the distorted, dark reality scoffing at the ‘normalcy’ that outlines our world. Really, both expressions can be used to describe David Lynch’s ouevre in its entirety.

By late 1999, I had only a strange, though lasting impression of this show, which my parents watched along with X-Files (I was still a kid then and my love for many things that now enthall me was, at best, at an embryonic stage). Add this to a growing dread and fascination for long, narrow and lonely corridors, and a PS ONE, and you probably won’t be surprised to know that one game captured my imagination at first play. Silent Hill. All in all, the plot was a transparent mixture of several films I had watched as a kid: Phantoms and Pet Sematary immediately come to mind, with on-hindsight plentiful allusions to many other expressions of Western Horror: otherworldly, alien, claustrophobic even. And of course, there was a definite Twin Peaks flavour to it all, a peculiar atmosphere of unreachableness through images, scenery and music. I was simply hooked. The developers, a Japanese team called Team Silent thus became a provider to my hunger for horror, growing more intense (and selective) as the years went by.

Then along came Silent Hill 2, and 3, and 4. While these games were mechanically better, I cannot place them in a relation of quality with the first one, because they gave me – not better or worse – but different approaches to the strange horror of Silent Hill. Furthermore, they expanded on one thing that set it apart of other expressions of the genre: humaneness and humanity (Watch this, and this, for my words cannot do justice to Team Silent’s members speaking of the nuances of their doing). The essential wrongness of horror had a heart now, made to beat and not to bleed out. In some way, this turned out to be my first approach to Tragedy, which in turn led me to literature; I became an English major, and the rest is history. But the takeaway is that I sought to find these particular flavours in many things, not necessarily horror. Team Silent’s work had enhanced my life so that I didn’t particularly grieve when they disbanded.

Team Silent was no more, but the games kept coming. And therein lies the plunge. As new games came out, the detail and the nuance shone through their absence, with but a few lovely exceptions. The release of two movies made it clear that the franchise would continue as an udder to be milked, even if the product had less and less of a taste every time. I speak my mind elsewhere on what I think of Downpour (Downpoor, or Downpoo if we want to get frisky) and Book of Memories, so you need not read this here. The ultimate takeaway is, the way I saw it, the franchise’s heart could be maintained on life support for long as any suit pleased, but the organ itself had stopped beating long ago. However, if the compounding of themes and motifs Team Silent comprehended for the creation of their masterpiece has taught us anything, is what once was dead can live once more.

All who followed the affair, from its first hints of existence, its brief development and its rueful perishing, may feel a tug of the heartstrings at hearing two letters that signified a :grand promise turned betrayal on the latter half of the year 2014: P.T. Never before has such a mundane combination of words meant so much, by what it was and more so, by what it could have been – given the names involved (Hideo Kojima, Guillermo del Toro, Norman Reedus, Junji Ito). When the Playable Teaser was released for what would have eventually become the franchise’s revival: Silent Hills, we found ourselves at the threshold of a reckoning comparable to the anticipation preceding The Phantom Menace. Of course, the Silent Hill following is considerably smaller and more fringe than that of Star Wars, but we met disappointment all the same when the publishing company pulled the plug on the project, and when it pulled the game from future downloads on May 2015. The public outrage was understandably venomous, especially in light of events that followed, which may essentially make the epitome of bad PR. I’ll be addressing both rockstar-ish developer Hideo Kojima’s schism with Konami and P.T. proper in a future entry, lest I risk derailing from the intent.

What may have been the soulful revival of our beloved series, and a mighty palate cleanser for the aftertaste of the strongly divisive latest entries, had crumbled to dust, and in spite of a widely-spread petition (4,467 signatures shy of 200,000 – no small number there), the fact glared at us without blinking in doubt or shame. There would be no Silent Hills. The possibilities of further games was not great either – though that may be for the best, depending on who you ask. Like other classic games in the lines of Contra and Castlevania, Silent Hill had now also died famished, bled out and neglected. But times change, and so has the role of audiences and consumers. The creation of the amazing is no longer only reserved for the monolithical gods of the big publishers. Now, everybody has potentially a chance at casting an input with a thunder of a voice, or downright create a world of their own.

Simply put, it’s a kinder age to meritocracy, independent work, and wide-reaching expression. Means such as approachable platforms of development and crowd sourcing can make basically dreams come true. Jules Verne’s adage: “what one dreams, another may realise” proves wondrously true as people with talent and sheer artistry can now actually materialise their vision, often times with the aid of a collective enthusiasm to see these projects finalised and running. These factors have all allowed a particular collective outburst of creativity to be more than mere castles in the clouds. A promising entry in the Silent Hill mythos was cut down before it had a chance to grow. In its stead, a variety of spiritual successors to what could have been are now (at the time of this being written) in process of conception and development, Allison Road and Layers of Fear are notable examples of this phenomenon.

And that brings me to this moment, to my chipping in to the great nightmarish imaginarium.

Silent Hill, as a franchise, is more than a compound of tropes from Western horror and surrealism. It’s an exercise of human experience, of the real-life horrors of grief, loss, fear of the unknown and the very evil that man does, all seeping contorted into the trials and tribulations of unlucky few who have come to this town. At the threshold, in the midst, and long afterwards, when our nerves have taken calm and the cold sweat has dried, the sounds, the images and sensation of incomprehensible madness remain in the dark recesses of our psyche, inevitably drawing us back in where the spirits dwell. Do we find a rapturous manifestation of escathological desires, our own torments given flesh, or a world conjured by unholy means? Call it fate, call it chance; it matters none. Having set foot in the town, the fog will follow, as will the sound of the sirens foreshadowing the nightmare’s beginning.

 

Destination Apocalypse: Prologue

A scream. It was said that a scream held creation spellbound as Malneos fell down to the earth, wrapped in a blaze of cosmic white fire. Millennia upon millennia ago, it had been an entity without a form, a slumbering body composed of galaxies and crystallised time. Free from its celestial bulk after centuries of shedding insurmountable mass, it found itself drawn towards this world during the times of the Slabern Wars. None can say whether it was fateful desire or mere chance what called Malneos forth. Some believe it had been summoned by the First Man, Kadmund the Industrious. Countless stories had been told and written on the means he had used for this end, but most agreed that he intended it as a distress call, as a desperate effort to end the war.

Thus came Malneos, calling forth the eyes of all living things to witness its arrival. Once a being immaterial of fathomless ebon, obtaining a shape apprehensible to human kind required passage through pain and suffering. So inhumane, so otherworldly was its cry that all fire came to a cease. But it was not to last, for in spite of the deafening thunderclap and the howling of the earth, the laws of human kind were unforgiving, and they bended to no outside force. The fire that rained upon Malneos was but the gentlest spray of sand against its unbreakable Blackstone skin. Sylvan the Wise, among others, sang that Malneos had come to this soil in search of things warm and loveable. Against the cold indifference of the void from which it came, the flames of war were too stark a contrast. Malneos believed then that war was human kind’s love. Joyfully, it chose to spread fire and thunder upon all, killing countless, bringing an end to the war.

This was Kadmund’s Woe. The story had survived across the generations through oral tradition. Countless variations came to be on the fates that befell Malneos and Kadmund, many of which attributed landscapes, phenomena, sciences, arts and rites. Scribes and scholars, such as Galban of the Ghostflower Isles, believed that many of these foundational stories were documented in the Milos Tomes, named after the finder, discovered a decade ago in a dilapidated boat on the shores of the Garskat Lake. An unidentifiable language was found within the four tomes, bound in peculiar dyed green leather. The stain of ink persisted on the pages, which facilitated the work of the copyists charged with preserving the content they found. For years, linguists across the world did honour to their craft on the books, but only two words have been deciphered: Kadmund and Diana.

On that night, Galban was tasked by the Master Scribe Tyrun to receive a volume of annotations on findings concerning the Milos Tomes by the hand of Sifa the Prodigy. The original Fourth Tome and an impeccable copy were still at the disposition of the scholars on the White Dens to the East, so even greater findings were expected in the following seasons. Nevertheless, all progress made thus far was submitted to the Library of Lanmast, where the Milos Tomes and most relics of the past were housed. The clock on the stooping, elderly scribe indicated Midnight. He grumbled in annoyance at the messenger’s delay. Galban had been waiting for hours on the gate at the edge of the forest, and he had stood there three too long.

“You, come.” He said to one of the wardens at the gate while he snatched the lantern from the other’s hand. Although his work lived in obscurity, the man himself was known beyond his circle, and not for his personable demeanour. The tall pale warden, then appointed to accompany the scribe, suppressed a groan as the Galban began walking towards the slope, about twenty meters forward into the green. It may be that the old scribe would have rather seen the messenger arriving sooner, or he simply wanted to make use of his legs, for whatever precious time he still could. Whichever the reason, he walked quicker than he appeared capable of, and never bothered to look behind to see if the Warden was keeping up.

In truth, it seemed almost as if the old man knew precisely which direction to take. Even under the moonless cover of the night, his steps proved true as he came upon a lone grand black tree nearly a hundred metres from the forest’s entrance. Going further north past the tree, the ground became steeper, fractured into improvised steps, climbable for deft and strong limbs. This proved to be the use the scribe had for the warden, as he was no longer as physically capable as back when he first found this vantage point. With curses, slips and awkward grunts, the scribe and the warden had both finally managed to climb atop the rise. Galban’s old face was a permanent scowl, yet he felt particularly displeased at the night’s struggles.

“Sit.” The scribe said to the warden. He said nothing in response, not even a groan of protest. He had tolerated the insubordination of lancers, aegismen and even that of unruly citizens; yet the brusque tone of the old man came from an authority beyond that of all whomever carried a weapon. It was something he could not contest or rebuke: age, experience and the repute that came with the sum of works and days. With little desire to oust himself as an upstart undeserving of his position, he followed the old scribe’s command, sitting on the dry, spiky grasses next to the old man. He quickly realised the value of their position, as the green plain extended in clear sight before them. Lacking for moonlight above, the constant swing of the Lanmast lighthouse reached most of their view, which was better than considerably higher places due to the rise’s location. Whoever travelled to or from Lanmast would be seen crossing this plain.

For such a certainty, there was little to show for it, as nobody crossed the plain for the remainder of the night. This was not something the warden could vouch for himself, since he gave in to sleep one hour after sitting on top of the rise. But the old scribe barely even blinked, his eyes lay unmoving on the wide grassy green below. Had he heard the slightest rustle, he would have turned like an owl and cast his gaze in such a manner, but the night had been silent, with not the slightest whistle in the wind. The only stir in the scenery came with the first hues of dawn, orange and purple. The crow of a bird upon landing shook the warden awake, who quickly complained of a sting on his lower back. Galban scoffed in mockery at the kind of men and women that were allowed to become wardens these days. All men of knowledge had served in arms during their youth, for it was seen as a manner to weed out the weak and the lame. Their training and conditioning was such that it would maintain their bodies capable in spite of time and injury, as if to ensure that not even decades of inactivity would dull their edge. Though he struggled to climb, he still had a greater command of his own physicality than the warden himself, a far younger man.

With little thought to the warden’s ache, the scribe took his gaze to the bird, a wild and dark silhouette roosting on a discarded sack or some dead animal further in the distance. Yet the longer he looked, the less it appeared to be the case. At his age, he needed squint to make out the shapes that lay further ahead, but the darker shade of doubt beckoned regardless.

“Come.” The man said to the warden. He did not wait for the younger one to regain his composure before making towards the edge of the incline. His hearing as deft as ever, he could hear the sound of thick, excited wings flapping on the feast, he could hear hunger about to be quenched, he could hear the piercing of skin and soft entrails pouring out. In spite of a leg wounded twenty years ago, Galban pushed himself to descend the hill with increasing urgency. He barely started to hear the warden climbing down after him when a sharp pain jolted through the narrow of his right thigh. The scribe slipped from the rock surface of the incline and fell two metres to the flat grassy ground, landing on his right arm. The crackling pain blinded him for a moment, yet he still attempted to stand on his own and make towards the bird feeding.

The warden hurried to assist him, but the old man refused his arm, uttering a growl thick with spittle. The young soldier did not release him, steadily holding the scribe’s left arm until he were firm on his feet. Galban did not look at him, feeling his pride wounded.

“What’s your name, boy?” The scribe demanded.

“Douleh,” The warden’s voice broke, not having expected the question.

“Douleh, not a word more from you. Help me get to whatever that bird is eating from, and then fetch a medic. Run and don’t look back.”

“Yes, Scribe.”

The walk towards the bird’s feast took longer than either scribe or warden would have liked. After a few metres, they heard another landing, and then another. By the time they were clear on sight, they counted four blackbirds, quarrelling as they devoured the body of a man. The warden let go of the scribe’s arm and scared the feeders away. As expected from the time they spent breaking fast, the man’s entrails were scattered about, and his eyes and cheeks hollowed out in dark red. Nonetheless, there was a very noticeable round hole in the middle of his forehead, something that appeared to be an entry wound, although too wide for an arrow and too small for a lance. The man did not appear to have been dead for long. At his side lay a satchel with the silvery owl effigy of the White Dens, tattered and tarnished with the messenger’s blood.