Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Le Royaume de Floraison

Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled by a king who loved.

If on a dismal, sultry night

You enter the kingdom of Florescence on a quiet midnight. The sky above you is dark with the stars spread out and the moon half full, pregnant with anticipation of being full and heavy in the sky.

It is midnight, but all of the buildings have torches lit outside and there is singing and there is dancing. You can hear the music, people playing hammered dulcimers with immense precision. Someone else is playing the violin alongside and together they create a melody that is almost intoxicating.

There is a sign outside of a building, one whose windows are as bright as the moon, and inside you can see men and women clapping and dancing. And the sign says:

Our hearts shall be the torches of the shrine

You enter the building, the strange music calling you, but as you step inside, the music slows and stops and those dancing stop their movements and turn towards you.

"I'm sorry," you are compelled to say, "if I am interrupting. I was drawn to that music." Nobody says a word. "Do you know of an inn where I can stay? Or even a barn perhaps?"

There is a woman in the corner who is holding a violin to her chin. She lowers it and then says, "Welcome to Florescence, young lover who wants only but a bed and warmth. We are but humble players, we can provide nothing, only the King can do that."

"The King?" you ask, slightly bewildered.

"The King of Passion," the woman with the violin says. "Like angels with bright savage eyes, he will come treading phantom-wise."

"I don't understand," you say. "Can none of you give me a place to sleep without consulting your King?"

The woman runs her bow across the strings of her violin, creating a sound that starts as soothing but ends of screeching. "Only he who understands the language of flowers and other silent things can help you."

"Perhaps, I will find another place," you say as you careful step backwards.

"Many a flower regretfully," the woman says, "exhales perfume soft as secrets in a profound solitude."

You step outside and, after a few seconds, the music starts up again. But now, instead of inviting, you realize that the music is a warning, a warning to stay away from this place, these people and their King.

You move slowly to leave Florescence when you see a shadow come up behind you. You turn around, thinking perhaps someone will finally offer you a room or barn at least, and that is when you see him. One glimpse and those eyes

Strange flowers that bloomed beneath diviner skies

You cannot see. There is only darkness and pain, so much pain. Your eyes what happened to your eyes oh god

There is a voice like a soft whisper, like a lover, and he says, "Thy hollow eyes with midnight visions burn."

You can feel the warmth of his hand on your heart. You can hear his breath and the rustle of his clothing and his awful stink, some perfume that pervades your mind. You wish to the heavens that death takes you.

But it doesn't. The night is not over. It is the time of the midnight blooming, the time of flowers, of love.

It is the time of passion.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The City of Dreadful Night

Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled by many kings, kings who were indistinct and tenebrous.

There is a knock on the door and a silhouette behind the glass, curves outlining the black letters of your name and the words "private detective." You had the sign installed...when was it? You don't remember. You don't remember when you moved in here.

But that doesn't matter. There's someone outside the door. A dame, in fact. More importantly, a customer.

"Come in," you say and when she walks through the door, it takes some effort not to wolf whistle. Her body (and those curves) is clad in a black dress, the folds of which you could get lost in, and she's wearing a veil above her face, her eyes obscured, only the dark lipstick of her mouth visible. She says your name in a questioning tone. Her voice is melodious, like warm milk at bedtime.

"That's me," you say, moving from behind your desk and pulling out a chair for her to sit down on. "Can I help you with something?"

"Yes," she says. She crosses her legs and places her purse on her lap, then pulls out a picture from inside. It's of a man, his suit and tie wrinkled, the hair on his head thinning. "This is my husband. He's been missing for two days now."

"You think he's stepping out on you?" you say, thinking that he would be an imbecile of he had. "Taking up with some moll in a motel?"

"I don't know," she says. "He's never done anything like this before...I think. I don't exactly remember." Something hazy appears on the edges of your vision, but you ignore it. "He's never done anything like this," she repeats in desperation. "You've got to find him, mister."

"Okay, okay," you say. You quote your price, expenses and all, and she doesn't hesitate as she pulls out a wad of cash from her purse and hands it over to you.

You pull out your notepad and say, "Tell me everything about him. His habits, what he likes to eat, what picture shows he likes, what bands he listens to. Anything that could be helpful." You sit there, the cash burning a hole in your pocket, your pen scratching against the paper, the ink bleeding through the pages as you write what her warm milk voice tells you about her husband, the sorry sap.

It takes you three days to find him. Three days of footwork, of following leads, and it was simple dumb luck you found him. You took a break from your investigation and went to a diner to get some coffee and there he was, same crumpled suit and tie, same thinning hair. You can't believe your luck and you try not to stare at him as you get a booth and crack open a newspaper. You watch as he patiently eats some bacon and eggs, glancing at his watch every few minutes. Is he waiting for someone? Perhaps or perhaps not. You sip your coffee slowly, until he takes one more glance at his watch and gets up to leave.

You try not to hurry after him. Tailing someone is a fine art, making sure that they don't know they are tailed requires skill. Always stay far enough behind them that they don't get suspicious, but not too far that you lose them in a crowd. This one, the husband, he looks around, very paranoid, but he hasn't spotted you yet. He doesn't appear to be looking at people at all, in fact. You can't tell where he's looking sometimes or why.

Finally, he takes another glance at his watch and stops walking. He's in front of a cinema now. His wife said that he disliked going to the cinema -- something about being afraid of the dark -- but now he goes inside without a problem. You follow and buy a ticket for the next show. You follow him into the theater, down the steps, until he turns around unexpectedly and grabs your wrist. "Hey, pal," you yell, but his grip tightens.

"You have to remember," he says, "you have to remember or it won't matter. I went willingly. I knew it was going to happen, but I went anyway. We're all puppets, you see. We're windup people to them. You have to remember!"

"I don't know what you're on about," you say, trying to pull away from his hand.

"The Chiaroscuro Kings," he says. "They arranged all of this. It's like a play, you see, a film. They want to watch it happen over and over again, changing the details around sometimes. And nobody remembers. Except me! I saw them! I saw them because they wanted me to see them! They told me what will happen! The time of my death!" You pull away finally, but he grabs you by the shoulder. "Don't let them make you forget! The city shouldn't be like this! Don't let me die in black and white!"

There was a crack and suddenly his head was twisted around. His legs bent at extreme angles, his arms twisted backwards.

And out of the corner of my eye, you see them. You see the Chiaroscuro Kings.

You need to remember. Don't forget this, you tell yourself. This is real.

But then they reach their smoky fingers into your head like needles and...

There is a knock on the door and a silhouette behind the glass, curves outlining the black letters of your name and the words "private detective." You had the sign installed...when was it? You don't remember. You don't remember when you moved in here.

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Fire on Dunwich Beach

The boy opened up the tinderbox and tried to start a fire in the pit. The waves lapped the edges of the beach, burrowing into the sand as if trying to erode the continent.

"That's not real flint, you know," the girl said as she watched the boy.

"What?" the boy said. He temporarily stopped striking the rock against the heavy black metal. "Of course it's flint. It's written on the box."

"It's fake flint," the girl said. "Artificial. It's actually called ferrocerium. Real flint works differently."

"Well, this one's not working at all," the boy said. "I can't fucking make it work."

"Here," the girl said and pulled out a box of matches. She struck one and it burst into a small flame.

"Great," the boy said. "So you wanted to watch me try in futility to light this thing like a stone age man."

"Don't be such a baby," the girl said. She tipped the match sideways and then raised up a piece of paper, setting it on fire, then blew out the match. Then she lowered the burning page into the firepit and watches as the fire spread outwards. "You wanted to come here."

The boy rubbed his hands in front of the fire. "Yeah, well, I didn't like sitting around the house. You didn't happen to bring any marshmallows, did you?"

The girl shook her head. "No food. Just the fire."

"Yeah, thanks," the boy said. "Hey, let's tell some scary stories."

The girl smiled. "Really?"

"What? You know of anything better to do?"

The girl shrugged. "I don't know any scary stories. But I do know a fairy tale."

The boy put his hands underneath his armpits and crossed his feet. "I'm not picky. Go on then."

"Once upon a time," the girl said, "there were two kingdoms who were continually at war. One was ruled by a king who boiled with rage. The other was ruled by a queen that simmered with hatred. The war between the kingdoms had lasted for generations beforehand, the reason for the war lost to history itself. The war was all the people knew, all the king and the queen knew.

"But one day, the people decided it was enough. They had fought and killed and fought and killed and it had done nothing. It was time, now, for peace. So it was decided that the King of Flint and the Queen of Flames were to be married."

"The King of Flint and the Queen of Flames?" the boy said. "Really?"

"Shut it," the girl said. "I told you this was a fairy tale and this is how fairy tales go." The boy made an imaginary zipper close across his mouth and gestured for her to continue.

"Their wedding was a historic occasion. Everyone for a thousand miles came to see them wed, for everyone knew that this at last was the end of the endless war. Even though they hated each other, each one would be forced to stay with the other or else the war would go on and on.

"But something strange happened on their wedding night. Something nobody anticipated: they fell in love. When they awoke the next morning, they were glad to be wed because now they had a bond that could never be broken. Now they could merge their kingdoms and be one, be whole.

"But the war had also twisted something inside them. They felt love for one another, but the anger and the hatred still seethed inside them, seeking release. When their subjects came forward with requests, they would laugh and make them walk across burning embers. And if someone displeased them, they would open them up and stuff them with burning coals. Their proclivities grew monstrous.

"Finally, the people had enough of it. They stormed the palace and chained the king and shut the queen in the highest tower. The next night, they took out her out and made her watch as they burned him."

"I thought this was a fairy tale and not a scary story?" the boy said.

"It is," the girl said, "you just aren't listening." The boy shrugged and rubbed his hands in front of the fire again.

"The Queen was now left with nothing but her hatred and her anger. It rose from her skin like steam and one day, still locked up in the tower, she put on her wedding dress and burst into flames.

"The people thought that was the end of it. No more King, no more Queen. But the fires continued. Houses burnt for no reason. People would find burns on their arms and faces, as if touched by fire. The kingdom was soon deserted, the people scattered, thought cursed by all those around them.

"But if you were to find this kingdom and walk through the blackened husk of a palace, you might see the King of Flint, still in chains, and the Queen of Flames, still in her wedding dress, as they dance around one another."

"Sounds like a ghost story, not a fairy tale," the boy said.

The girl picked up a stick and poked the fire. "Every story is a ghost story if you wait long enough."

They stayed on the beach until the sun rose and the fire was only a memory.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Skin and Sorrow

Once upon a time there was a kingdom ruled by a child queen.

Before I tell this tale, I must explain that this tale has been told many times in many ways. Sometimes it is called "Donkeyskin" and sometimes it is called "Thousandfurs" and sometimes it is called "The King Who Wanted to Marry His Daughter." In these tales, the Queen dies and the King declares that he shall only marry someone as beautiful as she was...and the only one who fits that description is the King's Daughter.

In these stories, the King's Daughter first demands impossible items -- dresses the color of the sky, the moon, the sun -- and then a skin to hide in. In some tales, it is the skin of a magical donkey, in some it is the skin of a cat, and in some it is the fur of many animals stitched together. Hiding in these skins, the King's Daughter then escapes her incestuous father and finds happiness somewhere else.

In the Sorrowlands, however, the tale ends differently. In the Sorrowlands, the King's Daughter marries the King. She stays a child in this tale. She becomes the Child Queen and her tears turn her into the Child Queen of Sorrows. But the King is protective of her, so fiercely protective, that he will allow none to see her except himself.

And when he dies, of course, there is always someone else that finds her and protects her.

This tale has been told many times and in many ways.

"The King is dead," the town crier calls as you wander through town. "The King is dead and now all must hear the proclamation of the Child Queen of Sorrows." The town crier looks like he has been taking his job a bit too literally, all things told: his face is wet with tears. "Hear this proclamation: the King is dead and the Child Queen asks us to choose another King for her."

"This must be a sad occasion," you say to someone standing nearby. Their cheeks are red and wet as well. "I'm sorry for your loss."

"'Tis not the King I'm sad for," the man says, "but the Child Queen. Her protector has gone and no one is left to help her." He steps forward to the town crier. "Here, I shall sign up to be her protector, to be the new King."

You watch as more and more people sign up to be the new King. But there can only be one King at a time, so now there must be a contest. The next King, like the one before, must find and bring forth an impossible item, something that can "change the world with one stroke."

The contest will last until sundown and then the new King shall be chosen.

You find this process interesting, so you go to the palace at the center of the Sorrowlands at the day's end to see if someone has brought forth the impossible item and you bring your pen and paper to record what it is. The palace is cold and even with everyone inside, it still seems empty. You wonder about the servants -- are there any? And what, exactly, did the King die from? You start to ask someone standing next to you, but then the Child Queen appears.

She is the most beautiful child you have ever seen. Her eyes are...her hair is...her skin is...you cannot describe it. Just looking at her is making your eyes tear up. Through the tears, her face distorts and you can see something wrong with it, but then you wipe your eyes and it's gone.

Without even saying a thing, those who want to be the next King (which is basically the whole town) bring forth what they believe is the impossible item. With every shake of her head, you hear sobbing. No, he won't be her protector. Next. Next.

You hardly realize you are the next in line until you are right in front of her. All you are carrying is your pen and paper, but it appears that this is, in fact, the answer to her riddle. These items can change the world with a stroke.

She beckons you to lean down and she touches your face, feeling your skin. Her hands are cold like marble. The more you look into her eyes, the more you realize that this is what you wanted. She is the only thing you need in your life. The King is dead. You are the King. And you must protect her.

This tale has been told in many times and in many ways. In the Sorrowlands, however, the King's Daughter doesn't disguise herself with donkeyskin or catskin or fur. Instead, she uses a different disguise. She wraps herself in your skin.

Long live the Child Queen of Sorrows.