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Drawlloween (in writing) Days 12 – 24

It turns out that doing a challenge that requires you to draw a lot, when drawing isn’t your natural medium, is difficult??? Who could have predicted such a thing!

Instead of catching up properly, I’m going to write little vignettes for each prompt. Undeniably, I’m taking a shortcut. My justification is that, uh… cheating is okay, because… fine, I don’t have a good excuse. But I’d rather complete the challenge in some form than drop it altogether!

To add another dimension of meaning, I added a Tarot card to each prompt. I used Tarot by Seven’s Deck of the Bastard — third edition, Samhain version. That one isn’t available anymore, but the standard version and a 2017 Samhain version are still for sale. The Deck of the Bastard’s aesthetic is appropriately spooky, plus the cards have helpful interpretation hints written on them.

Without any further ado…

Day 12: Vampire

Six of Wands reversed — betrayal, fall from grace

The elders tell you, when you come of age, that seduction is one of our ancient arts. The tell you that humans are unable to resist the wiles of a vampire, that your ineffable scent and eldritch grace are enough to disarm the survival instincts that our prey have honed for millennia.

Well, apparently the elders forgot to remind the humans. Here I am, lightheaded with thirst, while the women at bars stare at those damn portable screens. The veins in their necks throb with blood; I can hear their heartbeats.

And yet I keep striking out. What’s a vampire gotta do to attract a victim these days?

Day 13: Grave or Coffin

Nine of Coins reversed — entrapment, setbacks

Do not call up what you can’t put down. I’ve done it before and honestly, it was a huge hassle. You try explaining to the senior sorcerer that an entire demon horde is wrecking their workshop as you speak! And no, you don’t have time to explain, because the ancient evil needs to be banished right now.

This time around I had a coffin cage prepared. Plus I was in my own workshop — I’d saved up enough gold to rent one. As I spoke the final incantation, the spirits began to rise from my pentagram in a whirlwind of acrid smoke.

“Into the coffin!” I cried, directing the demons with my staff. They surged toward it and slowly settled into the kernels of frankincense that I’d heaped within. (The materials for this spell were nearly as expensive as the workshop space.) Coils of grey smoke hovered above the frankincense.

“I bind you to this substance,” I commanded.

Wait, was the frankincense melting? I felt a pang of concern. Was I seeing that correctly? Was the frankincense now rising in liquid ropes, intertwined with murky demonic ectoplasm?

Yep, it definitely was.

“This could be a problem,” I muttered. But I was so sure that I’d enchanted the coffin cage correctly!

Day 14: Skeleton

Two of Swords — uneasy peace, fence-sitting

The music of the Danse Macabre
calls out to every corpse.
Follow, follow the candelabra,
its eerie light and sparks.

The bones are rising up again.
Soon they’re shedding flesh.
Clacking as they weave and spin,
unable now to rest.

The dead are dancing, dancing on;
respite from hell is brief.
Skeletons, back to the grave by dawn.
We living keep our grief.

Day 15: Owl

Two of Wands reversed — miracles, fear of the unknown

The owl lay still on his porch. The first thing he noticed was the softness of her shape. But when he reached down to touch the body, it was stiff with rigor mortis beneath the feathers.

“Oh no,” he whispered to himself.

What would make an owl die suddenly? Did owls fly into windows? John had never heard of such a thing happening, but he was still new to country living.

The owl’s eyes were tightly closed. Nevertheless, John marveled at her distinctive features. With the pad of his forefinger, he touched the beak, feeling its rigidity.

Beyond the porch, pine trees bowed their tips as they leaned with the wind. John looked up at them, suddenly shivering. The dead owl has been such a surprise that he hadn’t grabbed a coat.

The bird once lived in those trees, so close to his home. And yet John could not recall hearing the melodies of her kind.

Day 16: Goblin

Four of Wands reversed — social flubs, unsanctioned marriage

Goblins don’t excel at etiquette. They hardly try to, although limited manners can be taught if you catch the creature early. Why bother trapping and training a goblin? Well, fashion is fickle. The latest crop of the upper crust has decided that goblins are not horrible little mongrels.

Rather, goblins are amusing companions to show off at dinner parties! Clearly! Supply for yourself the image of me rolling my eyes.

When I first heard of the trend, I knew that a man with my skills could milk the opportunity. Now I make too much money in this business to switch markets. Please, ask me who I detest more, the fetid goblin whelps or the simpering socialites who buy them.

Day 17: Werewolf

Death reversed — stagnation, plagued

The fiend lies on the floor, convulsing. The moon has been full and swollen for a week. No werewolf can sustain its madness throughout seven whole days. Seven bright-lit nights — unrelentingly bright and clear nights.

The canine’s body consumes itself. Its flesh degrades minute by minute.

Horribly, the werewolf howls. This howl is not the lusty one emitted by wolves for centuries, for eons. The sound does not evoke fear. Nor does it rouse a listener’s pity. Any human present to witness this creature would be purely revolted.

The blue-white moon shines on, glinting against the werewolf’s wretched fur.

Day 18: Rats

Page of Cups — synchronicity, emotionally naive

The pitter-patter of little feet.
It is no child that passes here.
The teeming rats are driven to eat.
A ballet swarm, it disappears
when confronted by the master.
The thrall of his harnessing charm
melts the thronging masses faster
than rats can squeak their wild alarm.

Day 19: Seance

Eight of Coins — apprentice, diligence

The blind seer gestured abruptly to her servant. He sprang to her shoulder, bearing the stone bowl. Eli surveyed the audience as he moved, and noticed their eyes. Each pair followed the motion of her arm, briefly rested on him, and then jerked back to her face.

The seer’s eyes were closed. Her face was creased in seeming ecstasy.

Eli knew this game. He was familiar with the entire routine, including the dramatic way she beckoned him. Not because their ritual was rehearsed, but because its requirements were deeply ingrained in her. And through her, ingrained in him.

Day 20: Serpent

Eight of Wands — swiftness, falling in love

The snake writhes around your finger,
an ending grace.
The grace that terminates.

Small dragon
of an ancient pattern.
Its body is rough against your skin.

The call of eons past
in your fascination.
Captured by the creature’s own
ability to capture.

Day 21: Alien

Ace of Swords — mental clarity, victory

The humans might have imagined that their conquerors would feel remorse. If the humans remained to do any imagining, that is. But they didn’t, and the emissaries of a foreign civilization rejoiced in their absence.

Feasting. The humans understood that — they understood celebration. They even understood land disputes. They understood zero-sum games and competition for resources.

What did the new lords of the planet see? Possibility. They’d found a wasteland to be rejuvenated, and they had cleared out the resident vermin. Homo sapiens hadn’t done wrong, exactly… not by the species’ own criteria.

The aliens liked their new property, but its previous tenants’ preferences were distasteful. Remodeling proceeded swiftly, and it was glorious.

Day 22: Pumpkin

Wheel of Fortune — turning point, improvement

When a pumpkin rolls down a hill,
bumping against grass tufts and dirt ruts,
it expresses the gravity of God’s will.
The divine has proved to be a klutz.

When a pumpkin crashes to its end,
against a boulder, conveniently placed,
its guts are spilled, thus to send
out seeds and nourishing orange paste.

Day 23: Monster

Four of Swords — sleep, self-observation

Medusa stares into the mirror. She is the only one who can regard herself this way, head-on. Even her sister Gorgons turn away. Is their caution borne of respect? Perhaps fear? Medusa does not recognize the distinction. On her island, solitude is a strength, however excruciating.

Medusa reaches toward the mirror and traces her reflection. Her fingers are long, extensions of fine-boned hands. Everyone turned to see her beauty in years past. No, that is a distortion. She was pretty. Never beautiful.

Fond memories are to be acknowledged and dismissed. Medusa does not allow the bittersweet pangs, which border on regret, to usurp her pride. The queen of serpents must recognize her power… or it will dissipate.

Day 24: Hunter’s Moon

Ten of Coins — inheritance, family

“The sky will fall,” the crowd chants. “The sky will fall. The sky will fall.”

Of course it will. The sky always falls. The sky has fallen, the sky falls, the sky will continue to fall.

It is morning. Hard yellow sunbeams bear down on the people, and heat pulls sweat from them. The crowd is redolent with soup smells and oily perfume.

“The sky will fall. The sky will fall.”

Their refrain grows, it multiplies, it becomes louder and larger. Fluffy mounds of clouds that were once calm are twisting and dissipating.

Above the human clamor, expanses of blue turn toward grey. Then indigo. Soon true darkness begins to spread and subsume the daylight.

A red, angry moon fades into view, first rising gradually. Its ascent accelerates. The crowd becomes frenzied as the moon crests the horizon and its bloody color intensifies.

“The sky has fallen. The sky has fallen!”

Book(s) Review: Five Novels I Read On Vacation

Shakespeare and Company bookshop
Photo by Alexandre Duret-Lutz.

Last week my family vacationed near Fallen Leaf Lake. During that time, I astounded myself by plowing through five novels. Here are quick ‘n’ dirty reviews of the five books, in chronological order…

Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov

Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov wrote my favorite book — yes, the one he’s famous for — but until last week I had never read any of his other works. My boyfriend bought three of them for my birthday in June, which I saved to read on this vacation. Incidentally, I only packed Laughter in the Dark, because I severely underestimated how quickly I would read it. Lolita took me ages to finish — it’s such a beautifully dense and detailed book — so I expected this one to be the same. Happily, Laughter in the Dark is much breezier.

The focus on an age-gap relationship makes the story evoke Lolita, but the resemblance is curiously inverted. First the male protagonist treats his paramour manipulatively, but quickly his disingenuous-ingénue mistress overtakes his abilities with the help of a former lover, flipping the power imbalance. Laughter in the Dark is rollicking good fun, assuming you’re tolerant of sordid shenanigans.

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Master's Son, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction

Adam Johnson recounts brutality and corruption in North Korea — who woulda thunk, right? — with an odd, generous spoonful of magical realism. The book is reminiscent of absurd action-movie capers, especially the second half, which comprises events after the main character ends up in a prison camp. (It was inevitable — goddam North Korea.) Surprisingly, Johnson’s eccentric treatment works.

The New York Times has a good plot preview, though I disagree with Christopher Beha’s charge that Johnson addresses his subject matter too lightly. Alas, someone always insists on taking excellent satire at face value. Wyatt Mason’s New Yorker review seemed more astute when I skimmed it.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

Sea Dreams
Sea Dreams by Renee.

What can I say about The Old Man and the Sea that hasn’t already been noted? I’ll refrain from trying. Suffice it to say that Hemingway deserves his reputation.

“Fish […] I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”

Sharpe’s Escape by Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell’s series of novels about English soldier extraordinaire Richard Sharpe is set during the Napoleonic Wars. Sharpe’s Escape is just as excellent as the rest of them — well-researched, exciting, even thrilling! My only complaint is the lack of multifaceted female characters, but I’ve learned to put up with that. Any lady reader who likes books by male authors must resign herself to this deficit. Anyway, I stayed up until 4am finishing Sharpe’s Escape, which is a certain type of recommendation.

Bernard Cornwell (back) acting in And Then They Were None
Bernard Cornwell (center) acting in a theatrical production of Agatha Christie’s And Then They Were None, bizarrely. Photo by SarahSierszyn [sic].

Gallows Thief by Bernard Cornwell

We had no internet at the house by the lake, but Gallows Thief was already downloaded on my phone, so after finishing Sharpe’s Escape I jumped right into Cornwell’s story of a Regency-era investigator who strives to save a man from being hanged. See also: my comments regarding the enjoyability of Sharpe’s Escape.

That’s it! I hope your summer reading is going well too.

Young girl reading a book, Central Circulating Library at College and St. George Streets, Toronto, Ontario / Une jeune fille lit un livre. Bibliothèque centrale de prêt à l'intersection des rues College et Saint-George, Toronto (Ontario)
Photo via Library and Archives Canada.

Review: HP Lovecraft Tropes

I rewrote an HP Lovecraft quote to be simpler to read:

“It’s easy to imagine an occult force that sustains itself by sucking the life out of normal living beings — a parasite, possibly one without physical presence. This parasite may even commandeer the host’s body. It might be malevolent or it might be more like the tick I found on my dog yesterday: just hungry. Regardless, any entity of this kind is unnatural. We all have a responsibility to get rid of it.”

HP Lovecraft: Fear of the Unkown
Lovecraft: very suspicious of the unknown. Shirt for $19.99 on Sigh Co.

The original:

“One might easily imagine an alien nucleus of substance or energy, formless or otherwise, kept alive by imperceptible or immaterial subtractions from the life-force or bodily tissue and fluids of other and more palpably living things into which it penetrates and with whose fabric it sometimes completely merges itself. It might be actively hostile, or it might be dictated merely by blind motives of self-preservation. In any case such a monster must of necessity be in our scheme of things an anomaly and an intruder, whose extirpation forms a primary duty with every man not an enemy to the world’s life, health, and sanity.” — “The Shunned House” by HP Lovecraft

creepy old abandoned house
Photo by Diego Torres Silvestre.

Lovecraft’s style is exhaustingly baroque — to be honest, I’m mainly reading his short stories because my boyfriend likes them — but his ideas are fun. They complement The X-Files well. Like Agent Fox Mulder’s investigations, Lovecraft’s plots end in sinister mysteries unsolved — sometimes even unseen.

The Road to Madness by HP Lovecraft
The Road to Madness, a compilation of Lovecraft stories. Cover illustration by John Jude Palencar.

It’s ironic that the paperback I’m reading has Dali-esque tortures on the front cover, because Lovecraft’s specialty is obliquely describing horrors that his characters claim are beyond comprehension. The author is happy to depict the action, but only up to a point. There are certainly never spikes in anyone’s eye sockets.

For example, in a story that he ghostwrote for Harry Houdini, Lovecraft’s protagonist encounters reanimated mummies with animal heads spliced on top of their bodies. Relatively tame stuff, right? It probably felt scarier to his contemporary readers in the 1920s and 1930s. Anyway, later the poor fellow sees a creature whose attributes he feels completely unable to verbalize.

Many Lovecraft heros can’t communicate what they’ve endured, only the events that preceded the tautologically unspeakable occurrence. Or they go mad after witnessing it. The protagonist is rarely physically injured, although side characters die sometimes, as in “The Shunned House” (which I quoted at the beginning).

floating HP Lovecraft with tentacles
Illustration by Christine E, via Redbubble and DeviantArt.

The word “abyss” is the sort of vocabulary that characterizes Lovecraft’s prose. Deep dark eldritch depths, etc. To his credit, Lovecraft established some of the cliches — he was hugely influential; watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it’s obvious. I object to his roundabout wordiness but I like his obsessions. The aesthetic is enjoyable, and although Lovecraft usually can’t frighten me, he scratches a particular creepy itch. All the best horror writers know, what is not revealed is much more interesting than what’s laid out in clear photographic detail.

So, how does rehashing well-known Lovecraft themes relate to the quote at the beginning? His moral assumptions are so… antiquated. (Let’s not even talk about the racism. Zoe Quinn and The Awl can handle that.) In “The Shunned House”, he — well, his character, but every Lovecraft protagonist is a front for the author — asserts that the occult parasite is evil, acting contrary to the rules of the regular world.

But predation is the most normal of all normalcies. Organisms devour other organisms. Noxious spirits leach energy away from nearby humans. Whatever.

creepy hyenas surrounding a kitty
Get ’em, kitty! Photo by Alan.

Life varies. But nature is nasty, brutish, and perpetual in its cycles. Lovecraft clutches an idea of biological order not based in history or simple reality. I suspect that Lovecraft is worried by what he can’t control… which is relatable. He doesn’t tap into my specific id when extolling his fears, but he must be sourcing from someone’s. I do wonder if Lovecraft genuinely feared the phenomena he wrote about, or if he was conjuring plotlines based on subconscious impulses.

That’s it. I don’t have a grand conclusion.

NSFW Femme Zine

I compiled a zine for the SideQuest Gallery show Femme 4ever. Originally it was going to be printed in glorious color, but then I made a hasty ink-purchasing decision and screwed that up completely. ($45, down the drain. Four and a half hours of my life. ARGH.) Luckily, color is cheap on the internet, so here’s a digital version:

femme zine

Continue reading “NSFW Femme Zine”

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