Thursday, October 30, 2008

On a Halloween Night

Harley Lever's "Haunted Moon" with a "twirl" effect

This is not my hand holding yours,
my darling, my scared one,
these are fear’s fingers,
this is fog’s hand, maybe,
just maybe...

These cold lips touching your temple
they are not mine,
my sweetheart, my scared one,
they are the wind’s, maybe,
just maybe...

These deep whispers are not
my words of love,
my beloved, my scared one,
only murmurs of grass,
or owls fluttering, maybe,
just maybe...

These flickers, these embers,
they are not my loving eyes
watching over you,
my dearest, my scared one
they are Moon’s or the stars’ maybe,
just maybe...

Hurry home,
my lover, my scared one,
hurry home,
this forest of darkness
will close upon you,
these leaves of night,
this touch of ices,
will freeze your living soul...

Hurry home,
only there
I can still be,
I still am...

In the dead window
of our dead house,
I await you...

That spectre of shadows,
that semblance of light,
those are my loving face,
my lost body...

Hurry home,
my darling, my scared one,
outrun the phantoms,
the ghosts,
the revenants,
come home,
only here I can try
to protect you,
to save you,
just maybe...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


“Come back, Tommy!”

from the seer’s house...

“Don’t go, Tommy!”

to the haunted mansion...

“Tooooommy, cooome baaack!”

she’ll suck your life...


come back...

That new voice, a crystal’s song, he carried in his dreams. When had she arrived? He longed to return as much as he longed to prove himself, now even more.

A bet was a bet. Onward he trudged, his robe suddenly too long, every step a cliff overcome.

He stopped to draw air in, to peek back over his shoulder. They seemed far behind already and awfully tiny as seen at the bottom of that narrow flight of stone steps, and Tom wasn’t even halfway through the stairway. He looked up in the foaming darkness at which bony branches slashed to the rhythm of the unseen wind. The house stood darker than the night, its stones like tar, only its high windows inflamed with dancing shadows, as if huge fires licked the glass. He looked down again at his friends, twelve-year olds Ghost, Elf, and Death, standing with their jack-o’-lanterns and their bags for candy on the orange-lit pavement as if they were on a far-off stage and he was watching them from the gallery, right under the theatre’s roof. A Witch had joined them and Tom could’ve told who she was even from that distance, even if he hadn’t heard her voice calling him – she had a witch’s hair, no need for wigs, copper curls flowing to her waist.

He pulled at his costume, a silver skeleton painted on black velvet. The wind flapped the robe against his legs, furiously. His white mask felt too tight. There was no going back, especially now.

He turned and climbed again. Soon their shouts were eaten by the wind’s, their silhouettes erased by swaying branches.

He almost bumped into a black oak door, his nose one inch away from an iron gargoyle, perched on an iron ring. For a second, the gargoyle seemed to twitch its tiny nose, winked at him with evil glaring eyes. Just a reflection of the Moon’s, finding its way through the battered trees. Nothing else. Tom swallowed hard, then grabbed the gargoyle and knocked.

The door opened.

As if someone had been waiting for him right behind the door. That someone stood in front of him, but he couldn’t tell if it was a real person or just a trick of the shadows. He blinked at the cold sweat coating now his mask.

Behind him, the winds barked, mewed, moaned.

“Trick or treat?” he managed in a shaky voice, not his own at all.

A pale face, featureless, floated in the doorway, in a hypnotic pattern of afterimages.

“This is something for you to decide...”

He strained to see if it was the woman who sat in the fortune-teller’s booth when the carnival came to town; the boys said it was her, that she only left her house for that, that she didn’t follow the carnival, but the carnival returned to her, but how could she be, how could she be. The soothsayer was an ancient midget, a dried Incan mummy, so tiny that it could fit inside the small glass booth bathed in an orange light, and never spoke, only somehow made a note to appear with the answer to your question.

“I’ll show you...”

He was compelled to follow the invitation in the cold voice. He took a step.

Behind him, the trees weaved an ever unravelling canvas.

In front of him, a corridor receded towards a pale radiance. He followed a rustling, a darkness, a crackling, to a stone room, to a table.

In the heights of the towering vault, giant flames danced an angry saraband. He found himself seated, staring at a globe in which milky forms undulated. On the other side of it, a white skull mask, much like his own, as if he was looking at himself in a mirror.

“Do you have a wish?” the mask spoke.

The forms in the globe stirred, darkened, took the shape of the Witch, with her red hair, with her floating cape.

Tom gasped.


“Do you have a wish?” the skull spoke.

In the glass globe, the Witch swirled, waltzed, her eyes closed, her lips in a timid smile.

To see those cherub lips form the words, to hear her voice.

“Is it really going to happen?”

I love you, Tommy, I love you, Tommy

“Every wish fulfilled comes with a price. How much do you want it?”

He was sure now. He had never been so sure.

“I’d give anything to hear her say that,” he said boldly.
He closed his eyes, dreaming. When he opened them, he saw the street lights, he saw the Elf, the Ghost, Death, he roared with laughter as he felt them throwing mock punches at him, as he heard them laughing, shouting.

“You did it, man!”

“What did you see?”

“What happened there?”

He felt drunk with a tingling happiness. Nora watched him, smiled to him.

They went to all the doorsteps, the four of them, till their bags of candy and their feet grew too heavy. It was time to go home.

What happened to my wish, seer?

He didn’t see the telltale headlights of the car taking the tight corner, didn’t hear the virulent spitting of the mad engine. Only the Witch, the Ghost, the Elf, and Death waving frantically, shouting, screaming. Only the wind howling its howl of rabid wolf.

“Tommy, watch out!”

“Tommy! Tommy!”

“Watch out, Tommy!”


How beautiful the Witch was. How much he was in love with her. At what were they playing?

The hit threw him high in the air, made him tumble like an acrobat, like a bag of old clothes.

Harsh concrete came to meet him, offering a hard bed. He was tired. He had to rest. Somebody took off his mask. The wind kissed his face.

The sky had cleared, revealing a tapestry of stars.

In the general confusion, Nora held him, spoke to him. He longed to hear her, strained to hear her. At last he understood.

“I love you,” she was saying, rivulets of tears from her green eyes eroding her green make-up. “I love you, Tommy.”

Darling Witch... Yes, he would’ve given anything for that…

I love you Tommy I love you Tommy I love you Tommy I love you Tommy I love you Tommy I love you Tommy

Until he heard no more.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Last Rose of Summer

among the sweet, pitiful decay of my garden,
after a day drowned in the sky's tears,
this is what I found,
with the morning sun,

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Harvest of the Deep (part two)

Without warning, he handed me the parcel.

“I think they know I have this,” he said.

I took it with trembling hands, unwrapped it with reverence. I probably held my breath in awe as I opened it, although I ached to inspire its longed for, much aged aroma. I had no doubt it was the secret edition of the fourth volume, Der Fischbuch, The Book of Fish, of Konrad Gessner’s great zoological work “History of Animals.” Not the Latin folio that had appeared at Zürich between 1551 and 1558, nor the German translation of 1563. This had been printed at the same time as the Latin original and it had remained well hidden for many centuries, for the information it contained had been considered subversive by both the Catholic Church (Gessner had been a Protestant) and the scientific community of the time.

I flicked through it almost irreverently to reach the last chapters more quickly. I was familiar with the Old German and the Gothic alphabet in which it was written. I was familiar with the grotesque images of the sea-monk, and the sea-maiden, and the sea-swine, and the hydra. But what I saw further was beyond my hopeful expectations. This is only what I could take in a frantic glimpse, before he snapped the book closed and reclaimed his possession of it. There were maps of the northern lands, of the cold seas that bathed the Scandinavian countries, all the way up to the frigid Arctic Circle. On these maps there were marks indicating spots in the seas. There were drawings of bulbous submarine towers, suspended spheres with myriad windows, foul beings floating among them. A glimpse I had – and nothing more.

“Please!” I gasped. “What is this?”

“You knew what to look for,” he said quietly.

“Gessner knew where they were… are…”

“Yes, they’ve been there for centuries, maybe millennia, the truth of their existence dismissed by mainstream science. A world parallel to our own…”

His eyes drifted into a distant dream. I waited.

“I’ve seen these cities in the sea,” he said, while his features seemed to loose consistency through the thick smoke. “I know in what chasms they hide, where they keep their servants, their sea-devils, their sea-men. We often navigate above them, oblivious to the swarming in the depths. Sometimes, they’re simply invisible, as if they had hidden onto another plane of reality. But they leave the boats alone. They let us take our fare from the sea…”

“Surely you could punish them easily,” I said, allowing for a moment resentment to overcome my scientific spirit.

“And what will happen then? The lives of these islanders are their boats and the fishing. If we harm them, they will turn against us, they will sink our boats, take away our livelihood. The kraken is with them, one with a horse’s head and a red mane.”

“This is sick,” I whispered.

"It is madness,” he echoed.

“Why don’t you leave?”

“I can’t,” he said. “Nobody can.”

What did he mean by that? Surely, something could be done for this tiny forlorn island. His strange heavy-lidded eyes on mine, he pulled down slightly his coat at the neck. Almost against my will, I looked. His skin was sagging, but where he pulled it with his fingers I noticed two boils. My heart stopped, my lungs collapsed in a maddening terror. I looked around me at those I didn’t dare to look before, discovered the deformed faces of the patrons. A tacit, unofficial quarantine, this is how the unexplainable isolation of the island was explained.

“You didn’t know,” he whispered, and I thought I could distinguish genuine compassion in his eyes. “Leprosy… Well, this is what it’s believed it is, although it’s hard to explain it in such a northern climate. I didn’t know either when I… we came here… Nobody leaves.”

I was shaking, trying to think of all the things I had touched unknowingly. There was no point.

“It comes from them?” I mumbled.

“Maybe… It’s been like that for centuries. From Gessner’s times… He mentioned it, though vaguely, but I was too eager, too impatient to ponder the hints. And now, you see, even if I could, I wouldn’t leave, my son is there, with them. I can’t leave him. I’m still too cowardly to join him, to plunge in the dark abyss, there where their cities are, but I will only leave him when I die. Soon… Not soon enough…”

My heart tightened.

“Your son… is among them?”

A distant memory brightened his face, if only for just a moment.

"We came here together, to find them… Christian was just like you, maybe a year or two older… He was daring… he… They took him.”

His voice faltered, broke miserably.

I wondered if or how many times he’d encountered his lost son, and if he’d tried to seize him from their clutches. I didn’t ask. We both knew there was no more to be said that evening.

He stood and left the tavern, walking slowly, the precious book under his arm. I followed him into the fog.

The End

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Harvest of the Deep (part one)

“Do you want to hear of what I’ve seen tonight, young one?” the man said, gazing at me with black octopus eyes. “I’ll tell you for a pint of whisky or whatever else your heart and your purse can agree upon ... What say you?”

I hesitated, sensing that wasn’t something he offered or asked for easily. Knowing that he wasn’t just an old drunk earning his booze with storytelling.

A clumsy elbow in my spine – without intention, no doubt - pushed me against him and, as I heard a muttering of excuses in my back, I cringed at the repulsive contact. The old man reeked of decomposing fish, of harsh tobacco and even cheaper alcohol. The smell of the sea – heavy and deep - was imprinted on him like his own, repugnant to me yet strangely enticing.

“Of what walks out there... in the mist,” he croaked.

He watched me with a mix of anticipation and wariness, a half smile wrinkling his parchment like cheeks.

I had nowhere else to go. And he was right. That’s what I was there for. That’s why I had cut my hair, and sold my books, and lied; why I’d left my studies, and robbed sweet Mrs. Cliff, and sailed this far north. There was no going back for me. Maybe only death awaited me in this savage place this close to the Arctic Circle but I had to find out. About what he’s seen in the mist.

My eyes slipped to what he was holding tucked tightly under his left arm. It was a package wrapped in dirty fabric and tied with hemp string. My heart fluttered frenziedly. A book, I hoped.

He must’ve noticed the hunger in my look for he smiled, a gap opening on his face in guise of a toothless smile, a black crevice rebounding of a dubious goodwill, of a perverse acknowledgement of our newly acquired familiarity.

“Konrad Gessner,” he croaked. “He knew about them, about all of them.”

“Is it the Historiae Animalium?” I stammered. “Is it? The true one?”

He silenced me with a sharp gesture, a passing spark of anger in his eyes.

What did he fear in here? No one would’ve known. This was a sailors’ tavern, the only place that was open on a fog night, crammed by those who had no place of their own, the outcast, the transient, the careless. All the good people, all the God-fearing men and women, huddled behind their doors and shutters, praying for the fog to go away. To take with it whatever it was bringing from the sea.

“You’re a stranger,” he said. “Moreover, a young girl disguised as boy. No one would have taken you willingly to this forgotten island, therefore you must’ve cheated your way here.”

I signalled to the barkeeper and ordered his best whisky for the two of us. I had never drunk whisky before but that seemed like a better time than most. The old man grabbed his glass with arthritic hands and took a careful gulp. I swallowed down half of mine, only by mistake. It descended with a fiery fist deep into my stomach.

“How did you know of me?”

I pursed my lips. I was feverish with curiosity, half-drunk already, and eager to drink more. Anything to remove the slimy chilliness the fog had left on my skin. The putridness that lingered in my nostrils. But that was not the only reason the room had acquired the peculiar smell of which I was sure it wasn’t only the mix of stale and fresh tobacco smoke. I was certain the fog insinuated its wispy fingers at the windows’ corners. Still I waited for him to talk.

“Ah, my brother…,” the man mumbled. “You were one of his students. One who listened. One who could grasp the true meaning behind his words. Too bad, I pity you my child.”

It was curious how despite his decrepit state he bore a deep resemblance with his brother, the elegant scholar, the pedantic cryptozoology professor, my doctoral advisor.

“He put all this in your head, young lady. People have gone mad for knowing this…”

“Have you seen them?” I begged. “Would you tell me?”

He had his glass refilled, then spoke.

“They’re all out there, all the ones described by Olaus Magnus, by Sebastian Münster, by the master, the great Konrad Gessner. In the past, everybody believed in them, not anymore… But they are real.”

“Have you seen them?”

He frowned.

“The fog brings them out of their watery lairs. I don’t know why. It is the air saturated with humidity, maybe, that allows them to breathe on land for a short while. I saw them coming out at the old fishermen’s dock not an hour ago, their bulky shorn heads bobbling on their deformed bodies.”

I shuddered. That was only one street away from where I’d taken a room in old Mrs. Krag’s boarding house. We could’ve crossed paths too easily, and then what? My firsthand experience would have also been the last.

“What are they?” My eagerness was too apparent, but I didn’t care. I had no time to waste. His white eyebrows formed a bushy V of resentment, maybe at the image he was conjuring in his mind.

“Sea monks!” he scoffed. “Sea bishops! A whole, obscene clergy of the deep! Surely just like the creature caught in the Øresund and brought to the court of King Christian of Denmark five centuries ago. They wear the black clothes of a monk, all tangled with seaweed, and torn scales, and rotten ship wood. Their skin is white, with a dark circle on top of the head, like a monk who’s been recently tonsured. But they have the mouth and the jaw of a fish.”

He stopped, looking fixedly at his drink, which I took as a sign to have it refilled. “The worst,” he continued with a heavier voice, “is when I recognise one of them. Tonight, tonight even, I saw, I think I saw Connor McAuley, the one we thought had drowned last Michaelmas…”

“They took him with them? And he’s not dead?”

The old man snorted, half contemptuously. The other half was a sigh of ugly sadness, which he quickly hid in his glass of whisky.

“By some ghastly miracle, he’s not, although I’m sure he wishes he were. He was much like them, very much… I could barely recognise him. His eyes, his eyes were still his, and that’s most of what was left of that brave handsome man.”

His voice faltered, as if the burden of his words was too heavy for his heart. “They take a few people every time, those who were unfortunate enough or foolish enough to cross their path in the fog.”

I felt a bitter indignation swell up in my throat.


“Human flesh is what they like the most…”

Without warning, nausea came to reinforce the indignation.

“Then, they need to reinforce their ranks…”

“Why are you hiding in here?” I said. “It seems they don’t harm you…”

He shook his head, then spat somewhere over his right shoulder, surely a gesture of disgust not of superstition.

“You might as well ask why I drink. I can’t take it anymore. They’ve harmed me enough. They have nothing else to take from me. My flesh they don’t want. I can walk at their shoulder, and curiosity will be their only intrusion upon me. But they want to touch me – God knows why - and their touch has become insufferable to my skin, their stench a gangrene to my soul…”

He stopped abruptly. The fear that he would not continue climbed into my heart.

To be continued...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Summer's Farewell

I don’t know if one can call Indian summer the few perfect days we’ve just had, for to call it that we should’ve had ground frost first, which we didn’t, but whatever it was, it was glorious. The sweet balmy air and the gentle light, with just the right tinge of melancholy, were heartbreakingly perfect. Nature seemed to have a worry free quietude that could only come from a sentiment of eternity. Yet, inevitably, it’s farewell, until next year…

Thursday, October 09, 2008

About a Werewolf

‘Tis the season to huddle close to the fire with a mug of hot red wine, with sugar and spices, and let our hearts sing with the lively crackle of the lugs, and quiver with the distant howling that could be the wind’s… And while we’re there we can spin a yarn or two, some fantastic tale stirred by a play of shadows under the ghostly moon, by a vague rustle of the leaves in the dead garden… We can indulge into a sweet fear that confers an eerie otherworldly quality to the cry of the owl or to that uncertain pattering on the window…

I often wish I could step, if only for a short while, into such a romantic moment. Descend into a time of permanent wonders and primitive fears, of magic and mystery. Would I do it if I didn’t know that I could return to a safe, “aseptic” world of technological comforts? Maybe… We have other fears, new ones, though sometimes surprisingly similar to the old ones… Human nature hasn’t changed…

The belief in shape-shifters, such as werewolves, goes back to the most remote times, probably even to the prehistoric hunters of Cro-Magnon. An early account is from the Greek mythology, where Lycaon, the mythical first king of Arcadia, was turned into a wolf by Zeus as punishment for having set before him a dish of human flesh (the king’s own son, or maybe Zeus’s). This is his metamorphosis as described by the Roman poet Ovid:

In vain he attempted to speak; from that very instant
His jaws were bespluttered with foam, and only he thirsted
For blood, as he raged among flocks and panted for slaughter.
His vesture was changed into hair, his limbs became crooked;
A wolf-he retains yet large trace of his ancient expression,
Hoary he is afore, his countenance rabid,
His eyes glitter savagely still, the picture of fury

The Bible recounts the story of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 BC) who imagined himself to be a werewolf for some years. And ancient Greek and Roman historians recorded many accounts of lycanthropy.

But I do not intend to repeat here what can be easily found even with a quick search on the net.

Instead, I have a true story of a werewolf. One my grandmother told me. She believed it was true, although she took it with a grain of salt, for my grandmother was a very smart woman. She told me this story when I was a child and I liked it so much I had her repeat it many times over the years.

It happened sometime at the end of the nineteenth century or the beginning of the twentieth. A woman and her husband, who lived in the same village as my grandmother, once set out to the fair in the nearby town. Because they had quite a long way to travel, they left home at night, in their carriage. The countryside was dark and quiet, the air chilly, and the road took them by a forest. Soon after they reached the forest, the man stopped the carriage, climbed down, and went among the trees to relieve himself. His wife waited for him. A few moments had passed, maybe, when a wolf came out of the forest and attacked the woman. She had no weapon to protect herself but a red wool blanket, which she had used to protect her legs against the chill of the night. With that blanket, she hit the wolf over its terrifying maw, over and over again, with a superhuman strength she could have drawn only from desperation, all the while calling to her husband to come to her rescue. He didn’t come and, as she fought for her life, she also feared that the wolf had killed him first. We don’t know by what miracle she escaped, or how long this terrible struggle lasted. Finally, the wolf gave up and ran back into the woods. A grey dawn broke. To the woman’s great surprise and immense relief, her husband appeared from the forest, unharmed. But when he opened his mouth to speak to her, she could see red strands of wool between his teeth…

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Walk in the Ma(i)ze

On this first day of October, rather than acknowledging the gloomy sky that carries the promise of a cool afternoon rain and speaks of impending autumn, I choose to recall a Saturday, a week and a half ago, when we went apple-picking and had fun in a huge corn-and-sunflower maze.

It was still summer then, even officially so, and we relished the wonderful sunshine, and the greenery, and the round, steady feeling of nature’s bounty, which at this time of the year always pours forth in the orchards or in the farmers’ markets.

We crunched the fresh crispy apples picked directly from the tree and allowed ourselves to get lost for an hour or so in a green labyrinth, which this year – we were told – had a Peruvian theme. A bird’s-eye image would’ve been perfect to reveal which of the Nazca lines they reproduced.

Too heavy to follow the sun anymore…

Bravely through 9 feet tall corn…

Hmmm… what awaits just around that turn?...

If it were dark and if black helicopters were madly searching overhead, I would’ve thought even more of Mulder’s and Scully’s mad run through the corn field, from the “Fight the Future” movie…

A bow to Mother Nature…

Two thousand trees with crunchy apples…

The farm dog, an old girl, quiet and good, with whom we shared our roasted chicken (no bones for her, just juicy meat…)…