Unto Gehenna

Unto Gehenna

I: The Templar’s Oath

I took my oath at once: I knelt at God’s Throne
And chose that path of solemn protection
Of those below me, those of calfen youth.
Honour-bound I was, damnation the threat
If I should fail; the Templar makes his deed
As good as his word. Addrest with long sword
And crest’d shield, fond and boastful with rites,
I travelled anon thither to the Keep
Where I, unsubtle paladin, would take
My place amongst God’s chosen Knights of Law.

Discounselled by none, my quest thus seemed apt;
Friends abound flocked me as I departed,
Yet still I felt in shades that something else
Watched me go: some sprite of evil deceit,
A shivering scent of remaining fear,
As if the Arch-Enemy drest my path.
But idle was I, ignored such portents
And rode further ’pon chestnut steed across
Lands my sight decided rude and wastefull,
Until I reached forested Darkthrone Keep.

At castle walls I adjourned my entrance,
Seeking rest afore I met the Lady
And Lord of Darkthrone; I did not question
What it was that kept me from those cold gates,
And spent hours steadying holy resolve,
Drifting to dreams of penance for sinners
I had known in my younger, darker years,
When I was strangely passioned, and before
I donned steel plate, sought yron resolve,
And took the oath that bore me to these gates.

At dawn, I rattled my blade at the bars,
And then called out my regal intentions:
At once the gates opened, and I crossed ’neath
Gothic architrave bearing cherubim,
Finding myself upon great garden path
Where autumn leaves lay dying in summer.
’Twas not the entertainment I thought of:
No slaves to greet me, only sallow sound,
As if Hell’s hordes sang behind the great doors
I stood before, thinking of my bared oath.

The castle of Darkthrone lingered tall, proud
Of its embyron, increate omens
That trickled through my aching, heben sight.
With sword, shield and armour of embossed steel
I stood, heralded myself to the keep;
And likewise, Darkthrone heralded to me,
So I suffered my doubts and quested on:
Iron doors stood agape, awaiting me.
Nothing swam in the ebon shade beyond,
But with that yron resolve, I stepped forth.

 

II: The Crying Darkness

Beyond the walls of icen jet construct
I walked, seeking Lord and Lady bearing
Noble heritage, whose absence defied
The words of the council who had sent me;
In lieu of advice or royal presence,
I could only but walk griesly shadows
Tentatively, making known my presence
By calling, my armour clanking withall.
Through corridors I crossed, alone if not
For the black-sheened walls and the ghostly wind.

At last, the whispers layd low, and I heard
A cry, youthful and full of aw; whimpers
Of a lost lad, and in my gall rose might
Enough to sally with haste in my step,
To seek the source of my righteous despight.
I weened it to be close, and thus I ran
With all my knightly sleight to yonder source;
Young cries bringing to my thoughts memories
Of shrights of my erstwhile companions, alive
Then but since passed in pain; o, pitteous!

At dusky corner I found the poor lad,
Ensconced from some cruel, invisible foe;
Wareless of my presence, I took his hand
And spoke: “Lad, I am a knight; an errant
With mind to take a vengence on those who
Harm young friends like thee — I am Allister,
Sent from the city to this keep upon
A singular quest, to protect and fight
For the calfen youth who cowers in dark;
With this oath, I shall take thee to safety.”

The boy quelled his cries and in his soft eyes
Came a recognition; desperation
That I shared to now leave this eldritch tomb,
This catacomb I felt was lost to Hell.
He cast his eyes to me, and he thus spoke:
“Sir Knight, I know not where is my cousin;
I cannot leave her here. Those cries were her
Name: but she answers me not, and so I
Fear she is lost below, beneath the ground:
I beg of thee, find her, and take me with.”

I discovered the lad’s name was Titus,
His lost cousin known as Desdemona.
With fury and audible rage, I swore
To uphold his cousin’s life, no matter
How deep she had fallen; I grasped his arm
And we set to embrew ourselves below
In hope of rescuing the fair girl-child.
Through labyrinthine corridors we flew
Until we reached great hall lined with gargoyles:
And at once their foul mouths began to speak.

 

III: The Masked Icons

“We seven Masks dictate thy oath, Sir Knight:
We shall judge thy sleight, thy very honour;
And to prove thyself worthy of thy name,
Thou must perform with true precision.”
Their cruel, foul faces looked down upon me.
“To be a Knight of Law, thou must respect
Those who came before; for they signify
What thou wish to be, thy own quest withall.
Art thou understanding, Sir Allister?”
I gripped my long sword, and Titus’ hand.

“Who art thou, to speak unannounced?” I cried,
“Who art thou to tell me my quest? Thou art
Demons, foul sprites, gargoyles! I should strike thee!”
An infest of laughter barraged my mind,
Unlike any chorus of Heaven born;
Were these allies of Lucifer himself?
“Nay, Templar; thou cannot strike us! Foolish
Young wight, these are but icons of ourselves—
And we shall choose whether thee, young paladin,
Shall be forever damned to Gehenna!”

I could do naught but kneel in sad despight,
And hold my sight upon their carven looks.
“Then let it be so,” uttered I, “For I
Am not the Devil’s friend, but let it known
That I shall not forget thy cruel misdeeds.
What must I do now to fulfil my oath?”
The masked icons whispered as Acheron
Itself might, the disembodied chatter
Of souls bound to an unkind life, dreaded;
And then they spoke of my approaching fate.

“Beneath the body of Darkthrone Keep lies
The Vault of the Eidolon; hereafter
Thou shalt find Desdemona, if thou seek
Her: and if harm comes to her or Titus,
Then thou shalt know nations of pain and shame
In the bowels of dark, lusty Gehenna.
If these lost childs are delivered unmarred,
Thou shalt be known as a Templar Errant
Worthy of the Kingdom of God Himself.
This is thy only quest, Templar. Now stand.”

Upon my own two feet I rose again,
Strapped my shield to my back, long sword in hand,
And ushered Titus away from the fiends.
I crossed the hall with foresight, exclaiming:
“It shall be done, Icons — and then it ends,
For I shall oversee thy destruction!”
As the great doors to the vault slid open,
Again the Arch-Enemy’s chorus sang;
Murky and oblique, it revyled my soul:
Brought to mind my final destination.

 

IV: The Vault

In darkness we descended, quite afeared,
’Tho my face kept stern, to ease the young lad.
As impious thoughts invaded my wits,
I held yron resolve above them all—
And prayed to the Lord Above for His grace.
As the steps waned, shadows arrived aggrieved;
I heard Titus cry out, and I knew why so:
For forms lingered just beyond sight, beyond
The eterne rite of vision; eidolons
Of those who had perished in that cold vault.

I held the lad close to my side, creeping
Through the black maze, with prayers not to be seen
By the ghost-shapes with hollow, mourning eyes,
Following the distant, stricken murmurs
I felt to be of youthful human source.
My sight slowly renewed itself, the walls
Of the vault tangible, Cyclopean,
Hemd with treasure: rubies, gold, and silver;
Runes of origin cryptic and foreign;
They shewed within them secrets yet untold.

With the Good Lord in thought did I view
These heretical patterns; for they bled
Into my mind, spoke of riches, wenches—
Diamonds and lust, liquors, those which I
Had cast aside in the name of great God;
I saw a thousand futures that called me,
Tempted my yron resolve in exchange
For the child under this knight’s protection;
But with the Father in my heart I pushed
Aside such Satanic dreams of evil.

Now in my sight appeared the slim outline
Of girl-child; Titus then spoke her presence
As that of young cousin Desdemona.
In childish dress she sat, singing a plaine
Of soft melancholy that thrild my ears.
Titus lifted her to her feet afore
The ghouls took care to notice us at all;
And, arm in arm, we yfere did return
Through many of the twisted corridors,
The Stygian runes winking at me still.

Afore we reached those rising stairs to light,
A hand did touch my arm; I stood aside
And behind my self the childs I did shield:
But standing there amongst the runes, clad in
Flaggy dress and of auburn curling hair,
Was a girl — her visage that as the child
Behind me. I pointed my sword forward,
And she winced. “Help me,” she cried, “I am lost,
I am no ghost, I seek my cousin, please.”
Titus dropped my grasp; I turned with a cry.

 

V: The Eidolon

Titus was gone; Desdemona also:
Or, who I had thus weened to be the girl—
Before the shadows sunk low, and this child,
The one crying at my sleeve, had appeared.
I screamed for my God — for this trickery
Had confounded me, and now I was lost,
Like the children I had promised to help.
Dreams of Gehenna swept my weakened wits—
Hellfire, Stygian torture for evermore,
My failure designed by Satan himself.

I brought myself round as the shades took form,
Their limbs stretched to pluck the girl back within
The growing mass of shadows she had fled.
My sword still drawn, I swung it towards them;
But only air met the blade, nothing more.
To the girl, I spoke: “I am Allister,
And I will protect thee with my own life.”
With hardiment, the girl and I did flee
The encroaching army of lost spectres,
Searching the shadowy pits for the boy.

Without fire, my waning sight did fail;
My faith was put in Desdemona’s eyes,
Refined from days alone in the darkness.
At our back, the shadows, the eidolons,
Abjured enemies of the light, they crawled
The black corridors in a hungry search.
Still voices did rattle in my frail wits,
Beseeching me to sacrifice the girl.
My hand grasped her tiny hand with resolve,
Until she finally pointed it out:

Two figures did dwell deep in the shadows,
One quite small; as I approached, girl in hand,
I spoke: “Release the boy. I am with God;
I am just. Thou cannot defeat me, beast.”
The second figure materialised:
In shining plate, with solemn eyes, he stood;
His long sword raised, he smiled; for he was me.
My eidolon came forth, and struck out true—
Poinant pain filled my side, where armour lacked;
In wrath, my own sword lunged, but met nothing.

Keeping my footing, I stared myself down
As blood dripped to the floor. I struck again,
But my blade passed through the eidolon’s form.
“Thou will die a mere failure, Allister,
And then all will be mine, as was promised.
Thy God will not receive thee,” spoke the ghost,
And its spectral blade did perce me once again.
I thought of the Lord, of his shining throne—
I saw the calfen youths at vile mercy—
And plunged my blade once more at the spectre.

 

VI: The Mark

As sword-tip struck the wraith’s false plate armour
It glowed with heavenly fever, my blood
Seeping to the ground as the eidolon
Cried out in fiendish dismay, thus surprised
At the power of the Word of the Lord.
“Thou art decayd, thou ruthful entity,”
I declared, my disguiz’d ribs engendered
To seep upon my now-rustie armour;
And thereafter the wraith faded in shock,
Leaving only the children on their feet.

I rose, bringing myself once more to stand,
And spoke: “Thou art in safety now; we must
Leave at once, however, for this tomb
Holds many horrors we could not believe.
The Lord will deliver us; let us go.”
As we crossed back through the ashen hallways,
Young Titus and Desdemona embraced,
Sharing tears that fell alongside my blood.
My spirite, I knew, was draining; I would
Die before the day was done, in honour.

The corridors were silent; the spectre,
The eidolon, exorcised for the time,
Could no longer bring harm to the children.
As we three ascended the stairs, I glimpsed
Upon Titus’ neck a mark. I spoke:
“Lad, what is this?” — and I examined it;
It was small, but bloody; marked by the ghost?
Titus spoke in a soft hush, as in shame:
“It hurt me. It had sharp claws. It hurt me.”
“Well, lad,” I spoke, “it can’t hurt thee any more.”

We crossed the threshold into the great hall,
The stony gargoyles staring down at us.
I fell to my knees, now too weak to walk;
The children turned. I ushered them closer:
“Leave this place, fair youths. Go and live thy lives.”
With tears, they embraced me, and turned and left.
I looked up at the grotesques, my teeth clenched.
“I have given my life so they may live,”
I uttered. “Let me die now, and ascend.”
I heard a grim laughter, and their voices
Began their tormenting, Hellish chatter:

“Thy quest has been vaine, young Sir Allister;
For the boy was harmed, and thou the sole cause.”
“Deceit!” I cried, “Titus walked out alive!”
My vision failed, and I could see naught, nor
Could I speak thereafter, tho how I wished.
“He was marked by the eidolon, fool-knight:
And the clause was that he would be unmarred.
Thus thou hast failed, and soon thou wilt be dead;
Another knave prone to misween’d bruteness—
Another knave borne unto Gehenna!”

O cruel failure! O wicked ridicule—
Pared down, wounded, but the boy did escape;
My body’s journey was done—
Thus my sight did wane, and yron resolve
Fled my form; at end of all life—
I heard (in broken rattles)
Arcane, hideous, cackling gargoyles,
As, in death at last, I collapsed: bent forth
As life-water drained through
Cuirass, and at—
Once, blind and mute and—
Out of God’s own time:
Felt my good ghost desert me at once,
And knew myself cursèd to a vile fate:
Quite gnawed I would be, gnashing and weeping,
Destined to burn eternal in the realm
Of wicked Moloch and Master Satan,
The churning, stenching pit of God’s design:
And such was I borne by braying shadows—
A failed knight and no more than a sinner—
Unto the Stygian pain of cruel Gehenna.

 

The Groop

The-Groop-Cover-Banner03

The Groop

The Debut Novel by A. J. Sahnow

People are going missing on a world-changing scale, and only one man seems to care. Lydia Dove has been missing for four months. Sean Mallory, stuck in a dead-end job and afflicted by invasive dreams, believes that if he can find her, then maybe he can find others. Taunted by anonymous emails and troubled by his past, even he doubts his ability to see it through – but the ever-growing mystery of the missing is too alluring to resist.

Through his trips to the nearby city, explorations of the surrounding small towns, and interactions with individuals who seem to know more than they let on, his grip on reality is starting to falter. Perhaps trying to find Lydia is the last thing that he should do.

The first novel by A. J. Sahnow, a London-based writer and musician, The Groop is a mystery/thriller influenced by horror and weird fiction.

Groop Kindle Art 07

Available at:

Amazon.com
Paperback | Kindle

Amazon.co.uk
Paperback | Kindle

Author’s Word:

This is a project that has taken a long time to come to fruition: I wrote The Groop originally between Feb 2014 — Feb 2015. It was, in fact, the first major writing project that I ever undertook, and it predates all of my short stories and poetry. To have it finally out there is strange, and somewhat terrifying. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers and horror, or weird fiction in the vein of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, I believe you will like The Groop.

If you read it, and enjoy it, please consider leaving me a review on Amazon! Reviews can go a long way in helping to establish new self-published authors, so I’d really appreciate it if possible. Either way, I’d be interested in hearing what you think of it — drop me an email at aj.sahnow92@gmail.com, or find me on twitter @SahnowScribbles.

If you want to support me further, I also have released eclectic rock music on Bandcamp as Noun Verb Noun: https://nounverbnoun.bandcamp.com/

Thank you again for your support.

— A. J. Sahnow

Ice Jesters of the Anti-Moon

Ice Jesters of the Anti-Moon

 

I

As I walked through a pallid grove at night,
   Past trees the chalken moon did spread its glow;
   ’Tween fulvous cedars something seemed to shew:
   Intruder moon crawled from our own moon’s light.
Now miles apart in my own view it shook:
   This second moon ’came coloured as the grave
   And birthed new sky ’round sable architrave;
   Shadows grew gaunt upon the woodland brook.
Had mirage or daydream entranced my mind—
   No hashish daze could bring such sights abound,
   To create a twinnèd mantle of rays
One half stars, the other colours that bind.
      I could not fathom that unearthly sound;
      The colours changed ’fore my confounded gaze.

 

II

Then, from behind the cursèd satellite
   A sheen of zymotic shades did gather;
   In their wake came forms of lunar lather:
   Born of anti-moon, they grinned in cruel might—
White, skel’tal ice-clowns hung from above
   And stared down at the earth in base hunger:
   Their crude claws of basalt were no younger
   Than the earth that upon we lived and loved;
I saw our fate was clear, an ancient feast
   For grinning idiot monstrosities—
   Aberrant jesters of the anti-moon,
Primal gods insane as daemonic beasts.
      I kneeled before solar atrocity,
      Doomed under the glare of imposter lune.

 

III

What fate was this — to die alone in fright,
   Whilst all my loved ones gathered together
   Staring high at stars, not knowing whether
   They were prey to dreams, or to die that night.
These wicked comics knew not what they took—
   Without absolution, resolution,
   At beast-jesters I screamed retribution;
   But still with rude, rabid hunger they shook;
Still their stretchèd masques stared down, reveling
   In pungent fear our species did exude:
   Their cosmic cackles then filled the night air,
Echoing through atmosphere, levelling
      All man’s cities; so numb was my mind’s mood—
      In death, I could only think it unfair.

 

A Common Evil

A Common Evil


Who’s there?

 

I

Old walls, old cycles.

Old walls—
                 a common evil,
                 divining a daemon.

The castle of a dead empire.
        Lost, for a second.
               Reminded.

Safety in solitude.
               A seventh chance.
               A hidden glimpse.
               An honest smile.

A greeting — old friends,
                        old walls.

Sequestered in liturgy,
        but focus wanders;
        and we return to—

 

II

A building site
            disguised
                      as a temple.

            False history—
          but truth lies
                down the way.

Home
           to the human heart,
religion.                   The self
            cannot survive
without                    your kind glance.

See me, or—
                                 be me,
as I wish that I could be you.

    And then cut away,
    close-up of sweet smirk,
    shadow of hooked hand on wall.

And such small portions

 

III

Shot through ochre—
Brighter than the sun.

Leaning towards restraint,
We cough up mounds of
Grey paste,
That we trudge through
Day by day.

Then,
Under it all—
What is there?

I can tell you:

Several spheres, marked by curious lines,
Connected — and grand eyes,
Watching — soft — lingering—
Obscured and denied.

Alabaster mask,
Connected — and staring out,
Carven features — soft — lingering—

Do you understand?

 

IV

Survival.

               Climbing
            Higher
                  Than the last end,
            The false start.

Survival, day by day.

Trying
Not to repeat
Again, again again—

Survival: this time we move inside old walls,
                Sketchy signal,
                TV flickers.
                Fair features.
                Nobility, eternal history—
                How to engage damage
                And yet still wake up.

And then, morning:

For lo! the wishèd day is come at last

 

V

Differing wavelengths, changed masks.

I have no god—
           but I know He watches.

Silence matters.

Tracks lead to streets aglow,
Great Creator knows my moves:
But approval is ’fuscated.

       Never mind.
       You must find the path—

Chaos differs, but time stays the same.
Shadows again, on the windows shut.

Almighty! what gift—
What look thy give—
Lord! what have I done?

 

VI

Adages can lie—
You cannot simply deconstruct.

You must create,
        and whether it real or not,
        you must foster care.

It is but we who hurt each other.
It is only we who make us bitter.
Jove’s litter, Man—
And we live here, for now.

Verona shewed us light;
            but for now, the Tusks
            dig deep in our ribs,
            and our dying eyes see
            sweet sunlight, borne history, and innocence.

Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d

 

VII

Seven simple statements.
Seven forms of fate.
           Seven muses lie by my bed,
           and dictate solemn the date.

Four sisters of order;
Four days that are shewn.
           Four rules to channel your luck,
           and plead we notice too late.

One kindness is given,
One kindness received.
           Hold breath in reverie silent,
           Before thy great silver gate.

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name;
Please hear these words:
We did not choose this—
We did not—

 

VIII

Surrounded now
                                            by angels,
                           another gift.
Lifted by iron wings
                       you know better than I.

Did you see us waiting for you?

Exhumed fluids
                      never
                               never

Insalubrious
                      never
                               never

You entwine two worlds:
All those yet to be
                (and)
             Those who have left.

 

IX

Voices whisper ’round ruins
Tongues never remain, yet
We hear them.

Almost silent—
Catch them, bottle them,
Seal them in writing—

And never speak them again,
For words are stronger
And crueller than you or I.

Let them be,
Or else expect
To hear them — murmuring
Jealousy in your ear at night.

Can you see the face—
It lives in the curtains.
It sinks low on the yellow lace.

 

X

Something has made its way in.

Distorted now, pitched lower,
Childish din, sallow face. Crawling.

Do         you       understand

Lord—release me.
I can’t stop it.
I think it—

             The sun, equidistant, a million miles.
             Reach out — now, green grass, children frolick,
             Water never seemed so fresh.

Silence.

             Everything adds up. Food never tasted so good.
             This is the life. Good wine. Red. Like the old days.
             Serenity.

Something crawls up the back of your neck

 

XI

There are ghosts in this town.
There are soft sighs on the breeze.
Summer’s sweet vengeance.
I turn, and cover my eyes.
I am a sundial.

We create beings we can’t control,
Left at the mercy of faceless hives:

But — there are those
Who carry the light.

I have met one,
                          two—
                                     three.

The corrupted corrupt,
Tainted needlessly.

But still live those
Free of the Dark Mother’s grin:
I have seen the beauty inherent in the soul.

 

XII

Barbed claw-blades.
A night gaunt’s tickling talon—
I cannot run, these
              old walls have me
                    paralysed.

I lie vulnerable
As teeth enclose
     around my wrist:

No escape.

 

XIII

         Not every
         offering
         completes
         a ritual.

We are young,
But pain is ever pain.

         Nothing
         is ever
         easy.

What can we do, but try again,
Ad nauseam.

Not every sacrifice calls a god.
Ancient city,             so distant.

Waiting for the rain,
             to drink deep and catch
             a glimpse of the lonely spirit
             as it wanders by.

We were strangers

 

XIV

Such a strange face
            that frames those spheres.
Many decades will pass,
            and lines shall appear
On my face, as well
            as your strange face.

Yes, lines will grow,
            but keep your strange spirit,
Keep it clear and soft,
            like your strange face.

Did I see you?
Did you see me?
Do you underst—

I know what I see.

 

XV

Room umbrageous.
Blackout.
Voices — weal or woe?

Frozen in darkness.
No knock.
Footsteps — by your bed.

Eyes light up.
Seeping.
Laughter — unkind.

Cadence discords.
And so it unravels.

Then, crushing what he chanced to mould in play,
The idiot Chaos blew Earth’s dust away

 

XVI

The serene song of Cherubim,
Strained descant.
Lilting.

Wait for the walls,
Barriers between sight and vacuity.
A never-ending white
Like static in the synapses.

To guide the hand
Like a tutor,
Like a sibling.

You—
But, leave it.
We make our own way.

There is much time
To fret and strut,
To observe the whistle
Of the wind.

We lift each other up,
Words at play.

 

XVII

In the boughs of yellow trees.
Hiding in plain sight.
Conviction.
A simple dedication.
Dedicated eyes,
Cracked alabaster mask,
Trapped outside dichotomy.
Unwavering mark.
Bane.
Wych-hazel,
Sprinkle ingredients
For invocation to
Summon a yellow sprite
From boughs of
Yellow trees.
A subtle mistake—
Now, catastrophe.
And in a foreign town,
In a foreign land,
Many years on:
Something has found you—
Something from which
You hoped to hide.

 

XVIII

Finnegan erupts, and realises
                            he cannot go back
                            this time.
An unmarried mother concocts
                            a tale, and creates
                            himself again.
The half-conscious desire
                            to embrace, to shy
                            away, to care, to
                            shake in dismay.

       To see oneself in a mirror
       and realise:
                            You are the
       voice in your head.
       To see your hair
       grow long,
                            grey, and fall out.

       To begin again, for what it’s worth.

 

XIX

Mist sinks low on hilltop,
Ensconced in coddling cloud.
Move behind glass.

City walls of craggy brick,
Music sets the scene.
Heartbeats, fast and irregular.
Like a foolish boy.

Capture short moment to laugh,
Dancing invisible together.
Just interrupted.

Kind heart sets other aflame,
Simple tongues,
Native,
Missed.

 

XX

A call from beyond,
Fathomless notes
             between
                           notes between—

       The peace
       of repetition.
       Sand calls

       Creep between shadows
                  between

                  soft

                  lingering

Cast aside sickness
        (soft)
Get on your goddamn knees
        (lingering)

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams

Spit out blood,
        hemorrhage,
                Tusks split bone,
                        return to your death,
It ends here,
        flatline,
                Tusks pierce organs,
                        see your own ghost,

In death’s dream kingdom

Life flashes now,
        annihilation,
                Tusks spear heart,
                        premonition,
Wish you spoke,
        honesty,
                Tusks remind you,
                        better to have loved—

For lo! the wishèd day is come at last—

                and lost—
                speak in your own ear—

And such small portions—

                soft spit, those eyes, I love—

Be all my sins remember’d—

                dead between sheets surrounded
                by old walls—

We did not choose this—

                soft

We did not—

                lingering

My God!—

                spit.

 

Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

 

The Gorgon

The Gorgon

 

I

I had been out at last, walking
   without a fear, stalking
      the city of my heart’s mirth:
Begging forgiveness and innocence to dirt,
Shattered, soldered and aching,
As my waking dreams smouldered.

But by Misty Hammersmith, she looked like me:
Through Ravenscourt, and to the tube,
Shot through and through,
A distant stare:

My flesh tingled with slate,
Marble pores at the sight:
I could not move, as if to sate
Her sunken eyes: I felt
   petrified.
Like soured stone.

Harbouring seraphim,
I rooted around in my pocket
   for my keys.
I heard their rattle, but could not find them.
Only scraps of leaf tobacco
   and empty filter strips.

Steps, behind me: quicker, lest
I were caught by the identical
   clatter of our shoes.
A silly game. A childish jest.
Playing tricks on myself
   far too literally.

Those words of pallid truth,
A broken beam of circled light;
In those frames I found such sooth
   reflected many times:

Returned gazes that stare bright as the Star,
Serpentine image bears down on the role;
Lead actor encased in pillar of salt,
Love interest flees in conspicuous car;
Audience soaked in layers of green light,
Flesh crawling with marble architecture;
Seated between a lustful onlooker,
And a bold talent scout of certain sight;
Wooed were I, so sure of blight, I watched it,
Entranced by willing, aching desire;
All dreams I had were in moving pictures,
And the Gorgon spun the tale, as I sat;
      Now in my house, the walls hang bare to see:
      That ritual of thy sweet, darker thee.

My door now locked,
That was sure — but once
   the images started swimming,
There was not a lock on earth
   that could halt the presence dimming
      palpably from the roof.

Down the wallpaper.
Across the carpet.
Like the tapping of drizzle.
Like the foal that kneels
   at the feet of its predator,
A vampire-yellow vapour.

At the basement stair
   I found myself
      as if spellbound,
Enchanted.
Wisps of light and Stygian sound
   gaining ground
      in what was once my home.

Then I looked upon her truth:
I saw her audience, frozen,
Like the foal.
A travertine display
   of erstwhile lives;
Given over to those brass hands.

Her fallen children,
Nothing but marble statues
   travelling down the District Line.
Her greatest admirers, halted in time.

She pushed me aside,
Then pulled my arm,
And led me to my bed:
She tucked me in,
And sat beside.
A small smile hidden.

She released her hair from its tied knot
   and it slithered down her shoulders,
Down her back, across the sheets.
I heard it hiss, and flicker,
Venomous.

She turned around and removed her eyes.
The glassy cyan discarded,
She bowed her head,
So I could not see what was left.

She spoke her part,
And explained in plain English
   the suffering of my heart:

I, Narcissus:
The demiurge of my own downfall.

I, Oedipus:
My very own gynosphinx
   to tear my mind apart.

I, Hamlet:
But my father’s ghost speaks not to me.

I, Perseus:
But no bag of holding
   to store that
      which I could not sever
         even with an adamantine sickle.

No cloak of justice—
No silver bullets—
No helm of darkness—
Divine intervention, too,
Was off the cards.

With her words shared,
Her hair encompassed my bed-ridden form.
I saw her smile again
   as she turned to face me.
Her face morphed,
And yes, I was a fool,
To ever believe she and I were the same.

Teeth of razor-kind,
Claws of brass well-formed,
Rapacious tongue so fork’d.
The serpentine locks that fell all around
   the brace of gold that graced her neck.

Starting from the tips of my toes,
I stiffened.
Trapped in the headlights of my own mythology.

And with Persephone at hand,
The chthonic mouth opened up.
O, Glory.
O, Sweet Queen:
That mezzanine ’twixt gold and dust.
That estuary of Styx, forged by my lust.

I took my final journey,
Gazing through the black eyes
   of the Gorgon.

 

II

When the smell begins,
And the neighbours pry,
And the authorities informed;
When the door cracks,
And the lock shatters,
And the friendly steps set foot
   into this bedroom:
They will find nothing
   but soured stone.

 

The Throne of Elias

The Throne of Elias

I had to find myself: that, I knew, but I had only the slightest, mistiest and most oblique inkling of how to do it. I had only just started to realise how lost in it all I truly was, and how time was catching up with me in a manner that could be considered hostile. My grandfather’s voice in my ears: explore, excavate, delve deep – when you have done that, you will know that you have found yourself. They were solemn words that I tried to live by, in at least a social sense. However, I had found that my modes of speech often put people off; most people do not like to be so prodded and jostled with requests for deep truths. Thus, I never felt comfortable, and I never felt like myself, which must have meant that I wasn’t living life as myself, as my best possible self, the Self that can be quantified in psychological examination and cross-examination, form after form, check after check; no, it was no wonder that time was crossing the street with dagger in hand, seeking to cut me down: I was losing, I was a loser.

I had to do something, fast. I had been living in the city since birth, quickly approaching my twenty-third birthday, and I had no job and scant qualifications to my name. My parents’ earnings were wearing thin: I had been hanging off of the back of their lives for too long now, and my debt was piling up. Before I moved into the alien territory of employment, I had to open myself to life itself, in all of its glory.

But I saw no glory in life’s pickings: small talk at the coffee table at some distant or nearby office workspace taunted me like a lingering sickness, absent for a day, but here to stay tomorrow. I was the reigning faux-pas laureate, christened, crowned and celebrated in countless pubs and lecture halls; sharp, nervous titters followed my step in lessons and family gatherings alike, and eyes followed me unblinking, awaiting my next drink spillage or drugs-tray disassembly. Many bearded men had beaten me to the punch, and even those with weaker facial hair than I had laughed victorious over my own paltry efforts. Even those fatter and uglier than I seemed to achieve a semblance of success in their own individual groups, whilst I sat alone, drinking too fast and perhaps even blacking out and finding myself drifting to and fro upon a railway system far from home.

There was but one choice: to know myself, I had to know my country. If I felt so aberrant to these people, then it must have been due to my own misconceptions and presuppositions about the direction that encounters should take you: it could not be them – a phrase close achieving cliché says that if everybody you meet is boring, then it is you who is boring; as such, if everybody I met seemed darkly aberrant and appearing to belie through their smiles a deep, endless mood of isolation and cynicism then it was actually I who was the arduous, anomalous and offensive spirit, not those who I attempted to speak to day by day.

The solution was simple: I would borrow one last sum of money from my ailing parents, and make three journeys across England, in an effort to drive this possessive abomination of spirit from my Self. After this, I would spend a week alone in my room, reflecting upon the joys and revelations I had encountered; finally, I would return to the world, finally at one with myself, my Self, and my fellow people. I would finally wipe out the remaining traces of racial prejudice and colonial guilt, learn the mathematic divines of beats within social discourse, love thy goddamn neighbour and love goddamn God him or herself, saunter to the coffee table at work in some faceless call centre and finally feel at home, not prominent but certainly achieving a final sense of loose, soothing belonging.

My grandfather spoke to me of such matters a great deal when I was younger. Through our many holidays to my ancestral home in Derby, where my grandparents lived, I would be delivered sacred, sage advice from my mother’s father; information passed down from generation to generation, lessons that any sane person should heed, else expect nothing but desolation. I welcomed these lectures, temporarily taking the place of the fantastical bedtime stories of my mother’s conjurations; my grandfather’s warm, slightly shaky baritone lulling me to sleep; they were some of the few nights a year that I didn’t experience night terrors, and as such were some of the few nights a year that my parents didn’t have to take turns falling asleep in the chair next to my bed. Even at age sixteen, the unremembered nightmares would rise up, sending me into frenzies that took the lives of countless duvets, pillows and blankets. But even after the night terrors stopped, I still missed the many lectures that my grandfather had stored away in his soul.

My first journey started simply enough: I opened an arbitrary page of a road map of England, and pointed at a random location with a pencil. It turned out not to be too far from the city, just a few trains away, and perhaps a couple of buses, too. My pencil technically struck an unmarked piece of map, so I did move it a few miles to the nearest town: Yuggeshall, north of Dunwich Forest. And so it was to be, my first flying of the coop: a smiling farewell from my steadfast father, not a tear shed by my proud mother, and the family cat, Wermret, almost seeming to nod a blink my way as a parting gift. I would leave a novice of the world, and return a novice of the world; but return one with the first, slightest and mistiest inkling of how to change his position in life.

I packed very little – just three nights’ change of clothes, my toothbrush and toothpaste, my journal to note in and my music playing device to soundtrack my development into a nascent form of Individual Self. I took an overground early in the morning, the train so packed with humans to bring to mind an overstuffed pig-truck headed for the Death House; panting dogs longed for water, and kids restlessly worked their ways through a plethora of lollypops and ice-cream cones. Young adults looked down at their shoes, never meeting my gaze.

A change at a particularly busy stop, and then I was travelling on a type of train I had never been on before. Not to say that it was out of the ordinary; it was just a different type to the one that took my parents and I to Derby, so it naturally felt somewhat foreign to my senses. I chose apt music and scrawled descriptive notes of the landscapes sweeping around me; however, these written descriptions were too fanciful to relay to any critical and discerning audience, and of a form of prose too regally purple to stand beside my more constant, minimalistic and, in my opinion, pertinent literature. After an hour and a half, I arrived in the sea port town of Low Croft.

This town – city? barely – smelt like nowhere else I had visited; it was a stink too distinct to call home to anywhere but Low Croft. I had experienced and grown to subversively love the country smell, that of fermenting manure; but Low Croft smelt like a sewage pipe’s rear end, filled with scum-drowned otter corpses and rusty syringes. I took a quick toilet break before moving on; inside, the floor was wet and dirty, muddy boot prints trailing indistinctly. I noticed around the sink hole a substance that could have been blood; whatever it was, I avoided washing my hands near it, and opted to dry my hands instead in the pockets of my jeans, lest the electric hand-dryer spread some bubonic-originating plague upon my pure, un-pocked skin.

This toilet escapade resulted in my missing the bus by seconds. I looked around to find a bus timetable, but not one was present. A blinking electronic sign told me that the next bus heading my way wasn’t due for another forty minutes. Unencumbered by my usual travelling weight, I felt a spring beneath my soles lift me up and into the main square of the town: although quite small, I found Low Croft to be abundant in specific types of shops: hair salons, nail parlours, and pubs. There was a large Wetherspoon opposite the station, but I quickly struck it from my immediate list and took the main street up as far as it would go; I found a pub signed as the Heart of Darkness, its low-hanging sign emblazoned with a ghostly ship in a storm.

The lights inside were dim, and few patrons stood at the bar; I realised that it was still early, and that most of the regulars were probably still at work. I drank a half-pint silently to myself in the corner, and scrawled confused, scared and immature prose in my journal. A cowering animal, returning to a falsified mental habitat when presented with the truth; how ridiculous I must have looked. I know, now, that this fear was just from lack of understanding; lack of knowledge. But it angers me still, to think of myself as so blind to the world going on around me, the world that had always been there, hidden.

I abandoned the Heart of Darkness and took the main street back down, taking a right that would eventually lead me back around to the bus stop. On the way, I passed a closed newsagents; on the news billboard outside, it read: Second Low Croft Murder, Suspect Not Charged. Steps later, I saw an estate agents by the name of Savege. This struck me for one and only one reason: other than the surname of a once-popular television presenter, it was also my own family name. I had never seen it anywhere else, and had not anticipated seeing it in Low Croft of all places. I felt an urge to go inside and ask for Savege him or herself, but I eventually decided against it.

A creeping sense of intense loneliness was falling over me. I could barely stand it. I had to think again on the words of my grandfather, that stalwart figure he was, that soothsayer and truth-sayer. It was not so much specific phrases that I remembered, but feelings and tones; the man could mull over vast, dark corners of human history and human behaviour in just a few short sentences, leaving unanswered questions thoroughly debunked and unfortunate truths laid bare for only his audience, that being me, to alone understand and benefit from. These unsurfaced realities brought me through the darkness of my sweeping loneliness, and put me back into survival mode: explore, excavate, dig deep. Enact these truths, these realities, upon the world, and upon your own mind: find that desperate, confused notion known as maturity and climb yourself up on high, above all of the Sad Egg Men and pitiful wretches.

But some of my Old Thoughts, those Dark Thoughts, resurfaced once I got back to the bus stop; for at the bus stop, waited three Sad Egg Men. These Egg Men, bulbous and round, grossly plump – why, I thought, if only someone were to crack them open and shed their yolk onto the ground; then we would see, then we would see. And more arrived, all waiting for the bus I meant to take: dumbbells, wingnuts, the ill-bred, the insane and the degenerate…

But I waited all the same, and boarded that bus with a smile for the driver, although he did not have one for me. The bus took speed, and floated across those Low Croft streets, taking me past the sea front and through a series of streets that teased at me the ocean beyond the glass; somewhere out there was a ship sailing, a real, an old ship, a sailboat, a galleon! Its purpose I never discerned, but its form I was so taken with that I exclaimed aloud about how wonderful a vessel she was. An Egg Man replied to me, in a lilting and uncoarse country timbre, that she was indeed a fine lady, and that she sails just beyond these shores often.

‘What life you must have here,’ I said; the Egg Man seemed unsure of my tone, perhaps there was unresolved but unintended pretention in my voice – but he smiled back nonetheless, and I felt a twang of guilt rise up. Of course, I had been judging these Egg Men, these dumbbells and wingnuts by such specific and cruel standards – they were good folk, simple, but honest, and above all, they were people, goddamn it. I did not continue to speak with the man, and instead took my time observing the world beyond the glass; we strode down forested lanes and stopped at quiet country waysides, crested small hills and passed through many villages and hamlets so picturesque they could not have been real. On one of the signs we passed, one signalling the imminence of Yuggeshall, I saw a smaller wooden sign, much smaller than the metal sign to which it was connected: it read Crake’s Hideway.

With my specifically-curated music dancing in my ears, a nostalgia shook me. That name: Crake’s Hideway. It meant something…I could hear it being said in my mind, and the name softly insinuated itself into the rhythm of my music.

I turned to the bus of well-meaning and likely hardworking wingnuts and dumbbells and said, somewhat quieter than I had anticipated, ‘What of Crake’s Hideway?’

Their faces barely met mine. A few moments of short connection, but it was nothing of value. Then, the last Egg Man on the bus said:

‘There’s nothing there. You can’t get there.’

I looked out of the window for another sign, but one did not appear.

‘Very well,’ I said.

The bus soon pulled into Yuggeshall, a town much less threatening than its bizarre name; some bunting hung loose between the houses, and the occupants seemed lively enough to be populating the streets in welcoming numbers. This was it: the first destination in my plan, my plan to evolve, to find myself and my Self. A simple town, but one with a purpose; although I did not know that purpose, I felt safe thinking that this place, so alien to me, so alien to me, was just another place where life happened. People had jobs; people toiled; people met, and spoke, and did their bit, and drank, and got up on Mondays like the rest of the civilised world, and got on with it, no matter what. I thought of these people: each one of them could be suffering, and I wouldn’t know it. And, frankly, that was a good thing: because life went on. Day after day. Life is all around us: it may seem alien to us, alien to us, but it is actually the least alien thing of all; it is, to use a phrase so quickly decaying to cliché, what it is.

I approached somebody on the street, a woman of forty, somewhat round, but who I assumed to be a good person.

‘How do I get to Crake’s Hideway?’ I said.

Her face read little, and her voice betrayed even less:

‘A walk around a few miles, I reckon. Maybe two hours, thinking about it. You just follow…that road.’

And she pointed at a street that swiftly left the town, out into wooded rises and falls led by loose cobbles of yesteryear and the entropy of the centuries; and I followed this path, as if by magnetic impulse, my loose possessions on my back. The day was just beginning to sign its farewell; there were still hours left, but only scant few.

During this walk, I thought more of those stories that my mother used to tell, bedtime stories: of the village of Crake’s Hideway, where the dalliances of romantic nature merge with human strife; where the ants crawl beneath, moving the settlement ever further south; where the blistered and tattered Black Shuck stands by the Throne of Elias, waiting for its former master; where Odin’s deformed bastard son Sigorre dwells and plots in the secret tunnels of the River Rat; a town where Tryth has no sway, no hand in setting things right, no matter how hard she try; and, of course, the impossible and fractal harmonies of the pained gulps of the landrails themselves. Crake’s Hideway may have been a fantasy, but to visit a town of its name seemed such a beautiful coincidence that it had to be the perfect end to this first day, a day already full of learning and examination.

My grandfather had always given me the inspiration to seek my path, and although I had done it wrong all of the years that he was alive, I now had this chance to prove that could fulfil the potential he had always seen in me. It was just weeks after the funeral that I first envisioned my spiritual journey to the three locations, the effort to discover myself, by exploring, excavating and digging deep; and but weeks later still, I was here, walking, talking, exploring, excavating, and digging deep, deep. This was just the first step, but soon, I would know myself; I would know my Self.

Terror twilight settled in, soon followed by daemon’s dusk. It was in this stage of evening that the road finally gave way to Crake’s Hideway: a town out of time, wooden structures standing crooked in the failing light. The winding streets were lined with old gas lamps, every one lighted. Yet, not a single light played behind the curtains of the houses: they slept, I believed; it was a strangely certain feeling. I could hear the corncrakes rasping in the fields, like a sign from God: they buzzed alongside the crickets, a grand toneless melody croaking out from beyond, into the night. I espied not one rail, but I needn’t’ve to have ensured my knowledge of their distinct presence.

I careened through the mystical town, the dusk mist sinking from heaven and wreathing the ancient wooden structures in scarves of silver. How could it be that I felt at home, so far from home? The birdsong in my ears drove me on through the streets, searching for my kin. But for all of my searching, there was nobody: not a soul stirred in Crake’s Hideway.

So many times I heard my grandfather’s tales, lectures and parables that it is no surprise that I frequently dreamed of him, speaking to me; yet, I only remember two instances: the first happened when I was young, just after my parents lost all of their money and our bi-monthly trips to Derby were cancelled; as I lay sleeping, or almost sleeping, I envisioned my grandfather by my side: he said to me some words. Although my memory grows hazy, I feel that I remember most, if not all, of them: Exploring is not the only route. You must also wait. Waiting is our lord’s grandest virtue: it is what defines mankind. Find the Throne: when you have done that, you will know that you have found yourself.

The second dream came just those couple of weeks ago, just days after we said goodbye to him for the last time. He put his hand on my shoulder and said: Young Savege, this is not the end. That was, technically, the last time that I saw my grandfather. It is what spurred me onto this mission of self-discovery, and what I will live by, no matter what. This is not the end.

Regarding the truth behind my mother’s tales, Crake’s Hideway did not reveal too much of itself too soon; as I walked through that croaking town, I heard not the growl behind the barbed knives of the Black Shuck’s dripping teeth; nor the deranged, hysterical whisperings of Bastard Sigorre – but I could feel the town moving with the ants, and I could feel the flirtations of nature’s spirits, and so I railed on, into the dying light.

Through so many alternating paths I wandered, the night finally calling its due and taking control. In this final breath of incandescence, there opened up the last stretch of my journey: the house, so longing on the hillside, breathing in time with my own mortal lungs. I crossed the threshold of darkness, and up the path of my ancestral home; how mighty it stood, such grand architecture! Through the doors I swept, dust billowing as cold wind touched the stale air for the first time in what must have been centuries, the floorboards creaking, finally finding human feet again.

In the upstairs suites I found the paintings: the ones of my ancestors. Elias, Jeremiah, Helen, Barin, Chass, Gerald, Mikeen, Selah: then my grandfather, followed by my mother; both of them captured in perfect oils, their eyes following mine, not seeking to find any missteps, nor judging any of my past failures; then was my own portrait: much older, greyer – my own eyes meeting my own eyes, a distinct sense of belonging…and yet, still…some sense of disconnection, as if I could not quite keep my own gaze. I traced the wrinkles down this vision of myself, of what could be my Self – and without hesitation I moved on, to the pictures of my children, my grandchildren, so beautiful they were, but they, too, were old, and yet somehow could not keep my eyes, as if they could not bear to look at me, their own Godly ancestor! – what terrors swept inside me, and I turned away, away from their judging eyes, my own eyes passed down through endless generations: each gallery led to another, another set of portraits of my own spawn, each one staring me down, the dread passing through me – and finally, I found my way out, and I descended the stairs, leaving the unexplored ground floor, too – and, choking in the dust, I collapsed down the stairs into the darkness and solitude of the basement level of the mansion.

The last story my mother told me of Crake’s Hideway was that of Prince Dunston: it is his purity of soul and his understanding of evil that finalises the Three Moon Prophecy; once he takes the throne, the Black Shuck grieves no more for its lost cubs, and Bastard Sigorre repents his treasonous ways. From out of the Darklands, dancing figures appear, grey flags held in their six-fingered claws; these beings share the stage with the Amber-Eyed Parade, who are the true signal of change, and their appearance is the emotional climax of the story; there was much feasting after the Amber-Eyed Parade had dispersed, but their tricks, their dances, their songs, their chants, they all remain, for they are the Truth at the End, the signal.

In the basement room, a candle flickered below. There was no wind, and yet the candle flickered, drawing shapes in shadow: portents, harbingers of things unspeakable; acts too cruel to look away from. I moved over to it and wet my thumb, ready to extinguish its sadistic shadowplay. But I could not bring myself to do it. Instead, I turned to the darkest corner, and walked.

I soon found myself traversing limestone corridors, the distant candle still offering its dim, shuddering glow to aid my step. Slowly, the limestone broke out into red brick, the path leading deeper into the frozen earth. I inspected the red brick, hidden so far beyond the cyclopean architecture of the limestone: it was of perfect modern design, cemented as if by a three-dimensional printer; not a lick of cement was out of place, and I could discern not a single flaw or mottle in any of the bricks.

I scraped my fingernails along the walls as I crept further, deeper, into this labyrinthine basement. Even if I wanted to turn back now, there was no way I could find the right path; even the candle light seemed to come from nowhere, everywhere; just like me, it had lost its way.

At last, the tunnels broke out into something more definite: this room, a perfect cube of red brick masonry, pulsed somehow; I felt that if I were to cut the walls, they would certainly start bleeding. More definite still, standing so lonely in the centre of the cube, was the throne.

I walked to it, moving around it, inspecting its improbable facets: not one part of the throne spoke to another – a grotesque detritus on first inspection, but an endless gift to the patient of mind and spirit. The brutal patchwork sections also contained their own smaller patchwork sections, revealing a level of fractal detail too intricate for the feeble human eye. I knew that if inspected by one worthy, the Throne of Elias would surely divulge any and all secrets of the universe amongst its tapestries of love and war, life and death, corruption and purity; it was a library for only the divinely enraptured, the worthy, and decisive: things that I could possibly never be.

And I felt a deep anger at the throne, as if it was telling me that although I was descended of Elias, I could not handle the truths of my ancestral lineage; it was as if the throne was mocking me, laughing, telling me that I was not allowed to pass the threshold any further, that this was the end of my journey, my story. I had explored, excavated, dug deep! Did I not deserve the fruits of my personal development, the ones I had planned to reap so thoroughly in the wake of my grandfather’s passing? Yet, somehow, I felt the throne welcoming me; perhaps in a mocking tone, I could not be sure; because the throne’s eyes – which I knew it had, hidden under that upholstery – would not meet mine.

So be it, I thought, and I dared to challenge it: whether or not I truly was Prince Dunston Savege of ancestral legend, this throne was mine, it belonged to me! I alone inherited the name, and so I would be the one to take the rightful place upon its patchwork cushions; the Amber-Eyed Parade would come for me, and the dancing figures would appear from the darkness and twirl endlessly in my honour. I alone would control Shuck the Dog-fiend, and deliver those who wished to do Crake’s Hideway harm into the Shuck’s salivating, starved maw, its razor teeth ready to tear the flesh from the naysayers brittle bones; I alone had the right to pardon or request the execution of Bastard Sigorre, the bitter and hopeless traitor whose mutterings I imagined deep beneath the earth, echoing through the subterranean caverns of the River Rat; and I alone would conduct the Crake’s Orchestra, bringing the cadence to its final crescendo, the croaks and crackles of the landrails finally silenced by the coming of their King, King Savege!

I am here still, waiting in the Throne of Elias, a great deal of time after my ascension to this position of isolated royalty. I am growing weak. My stomach roars in starved dysphoria; silent atrophy is spreading from limb to limb. I can hear not the crakes nor the crickets; but still I wait, for waiting is our lord’s greatest virtue; I am no closer to meeting the lumbering canine form of the Black Shuck, but still I wait, for I have found the throne, I have found my purpose; scarred, twisted Bastard Sigorre whispers not to me, but still I wait…I wait for the Amber-Eyed Parade to sing my glory, to bring me a crown worthy of my name, for waiting is a virtue, God’s greatest gift; and good things – to chance once more upon a phrase teetering on the edge of cliché – come to those who wait. This is not the end. I will have my parade. I will have my feast. I must just wait a little longer…