Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Children of the night

Anton was a pious young man studying to be an Anglican priest, but in seminary he began to develop alarming symptoms. After a battery of tests, he was diagnosed with MS. Anton was devastated by the news. He felt somewhat bitter, as if God betrayed him. Here he was planning to devote his life to God. There was also some fear of premature death. More disconcerting was the apprehension that he'd never have a wife and kids. Indeed, he told his girlfriend to look for someone else. But what really left him distraught was the prospect of losing control of his body and his mind slipping away. It filled him with panic. 

There were rumors of a vampiric serial killer terrorizing the city. Victims were exsanguinated. Authorities figured it was just a psychopath imitating a vampire, but Anton sought out the killer just in case he was a real vampire. Anton was desperately hoping that the vampire, if that's what he was, would cure him of MS by turning him. So he spent many nights pacing dark alleys and deserted sidewalks, hunting for the vampire. Then one night he discovered the vampire–or was it the vampire discovered him? He was terrified to encounter it face-to-face. 

He didn't remember much about the actual transformation. It was like a delirious trance. When he regained full consciousness, like emerging from a coma, the MS was gone. Indeed, his original body was gone. 

Contrary to urban legend, the vampiric body wasn't like a fresh corpse. It wasn't even a human body. It was ectoplasmic rather than protoplasmic–a simulacrum of a human body. 

Although there was a fleeting sense of relief that his plan succeeded, the cost of his solution dawned on him by stages. A darkness entered his soul. A shadow self.  

Becoming a vampire sealed his damnation, but as an immortal, damnation is a long ways off. That was a distant forboding. At first the cost was more immediate. He'd have to break off connections with his parents and siblings. He couldn't very well remain ageless while they aged. And he couldn't very well explain to them what he had become. He had become a monster. 

His body was nearly impervious to harm, but that had a price. His body was impotent and insensate. He had no sense of touch. He couldn't father children. Insensible to cold, immune to pain, but by the same token, insensible to physical or sensual pleasure. His body was just a shell for his darkened soul. He wasn't quite alive or dead. As he discovered, the vampiric body didn't need to feed on blood to survive or remain youthful. The bloodlust was a divine curse. 

Over the decades he moved from town to town. Rather than prey on the innocent, he became an avenger of blood, picking off violent criminals–who were in plentiful supply. Muggers, murderers, rapists. Homicide detectives chalked it up to a vigilante, but because he could materialize or dematerialize at will, it was impossible for them to catch him. 

The only hazard to his body was sunlight, not because it had any natural effect on his body, but a spiritual effect. Another divine curse. 

Yet he missed sunlight. He feared it and craved it. An enticing but fatal emblem of all he lost. 

He used to attend an evensong service to bask in the candlelight. It gave him a sense of connection with the life he put behind him. 

In the daytime he hid in the crypt. He came out at twilight, morning and evening, to gaze at the dim sunlight filtered through the stained-glass windows, before it became to bright or faded. That's as close as he could get to daylight. It filled him with aching regret. He wept each time for the few fleeting moments he could glimpse the sunlight behind the stained-glass windows. 

Even then he had to stay in the shadows to avoid direct contact with beams of light. One time he lingered too long, transfixed by the dawning light. It burned his eyes out. The pain was indescribable, but being a vampire, his eyes regenerated.  

Homilies by progressive theologians amused him. They ridiculed the supernatural as backward superstition while, unbeknownst to them, they were preaching to a dangerous  supernatural being. He toyed with them. He took mordant delight in turning their dreams into nightmares. Appearing in their dreams as the monster he was, hunting them down.  

As his existence became increasingly unbearable, he began to wonder if God might forgive a vampire. Could a child of the night become a child of the light? The thought haunted him with hope and terror. If he renounced his condition, if he died a penitent vampire, what awaited him? Would he go to hell? Or would he slough off the monster, shed the shadow, and become human again? 

Finally, he recited a confession from the prayer book, went outside at night and sat down in the church graveyard, facing east, waiting for the dawn. Would he at least be free–or doomed for eternity? An hour later the horizon began to lighten and brighten. It burned his eyes out. Was this a harbinger of hellfire or refining fire? It was too late to turn back. 

When the groundkeeper came by that afternoon, he saw the scorched outline of a body on the grass. An outline in the shape of a cross. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Idiot

Cædmon was a strange boy. No one knew who his parents were. He wandered into the town one day as a little boy. The townsfolk assumed he was abandoned. He slept in barns and bathed in the creek, eating wild fruit and whatever scraps some townsfolk would share with him. He seemed insensible to cold. 

He never spoke a word. The townsfolk assumed he was "slow". Indeed, the boys called him a "retard!" By common consent, he was the village idiot. A few of the townsfolk were protective, taking pity on him and treating him with kindness. But the boys used to beat him up. 

As a teenager, he was amiable but aloof. A handsome lad, girls were curious, but he didn't reciprocate their interest. He seemed to be intently observant. Once he rescued a child from drowning in the creek. Another time he recovered a lost child. He had uncanny tracking skills. He had greater affinity for children than adults–reinforcing the assumption that he had the mind of a child. 

He had a mysterious affinity with wild animals. He could summon birds. They'd perch and sing on his outstretched palm.

One day there was a solar eclipse, followed by a lunar eclipse and a meteor shower. The countryside was convulsed by earthquakes. Sinkholes opened up in town, swallowing homes and cars. Lightning strikes set trees and crops on fire while twisters appeared out of nowhere. The town was plunged into darkness apart from the hearthlike wildfire and flashes of lightning. It seemed like the end of the world was upon them. 

Then Cædmon became luminous, unveiling his hidden identity as one of God's angelic reapers, winnowing the wicked from the righteous, as the town became a threshing floor for Judgment Day. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Heart-to-heart

Tony's teenage son Jeff was diagnosed with congenital heart disease. Jeff desperately needed a heart transplant to survive. He was put on the waiting list, but he might die before a donor heart became available. 

Shortly thereafter, Tony was diagnosed with cancer. An aggressive cancer that's almost uniformly fatal. It seemed like the family was cursed. 

It then occurred to Tony that he could donate his own heart to Jeff. He'd stay on life support until the sedation wore off. That way, father and son could say good bye after surgery. 

Jeff was extremely resistant to the proposal, but Tony was doomed anyway, so this was his chance to give the gift of life to his son. A parting gift. For the rest of his life, Jeff would carry around his father's heart. He'd be living off his father's heart. When he put his hand on his chest, he could feel his father's heart pumping blood through his veins, to keep him alive. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Two guys and a girl

Buck and Brett were best friends. Jasmine was Buck's girlfriend, although he sometimes took other girls out on dates. There was always the unspoken assumption that Buck would marry Jasmine. 

When Buck was drafted, he knew that would be a dilemma for Buck. Both guys were in love with Jasmine. Brett loved her for all the same reasons Buck did. Although Brett would never intentionally betray his best friend by dating her behind his back while Buck was off on the war front, there'd be a powerful, even overpowering temptation. This was his one shot at Jasmine. A once in a lifetime opportunity to win her heart. 

As a matter of fact, that's exactly what Brett was thinking. He was torn between love for Jasmine and loyalty to Buck. He'd feel horribly guilty if he double-crossed his best friend. He'd be afraid to tell him for fear of ruining their friendship. Yet not confessing would be a cloud over the friendship. 

A week before he deployed, Buck had a talk with Brett. He gave Brett permission to date Jasmine if he wanted to. It's not that he liked the idea of Brett dating her, but he didn't want her to feel that she was stuck with him when she'd rather be with Brett. And even though he had a soft spot for Jasmine, all the girls he knew were kind of interchangeable. He could always find another girl, but his best friend was irreplaceable. Some things were unrepeatable. And he didn't want Brett to resent him for refusing him the chance. 

Brett was stunned. When Buck shipped out, Brett took advantage of the offer. He dated Jasmine all summer long. They had lots of fun. But in the end she didn't marry either one. She ran off to college and married another boy.

They were both disappointed. But Brett was grateful that he gave it a shot. At least he didn't have any nagging regrets about what might have been. And the friendship endured. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Lost & Found

The son of middle-class parents, Ralph became a business magnate through a wining combination of mendacious charm and ruthless cunning. His first wife divorced him because of his philandering, but he paid her off to have custody of their son Justin. Outwardly, Justin had everything, yet there was something missing in his life until he discovered the Bible. Or did the Bible discover him?

Ralph was diagnosed with cancer when Justin was 15. Ralph had the best treatment that money could buy, but unlike most things in Ralph's world, cancer couldn't be bought off. It just wasn't impressed by his portfolio. 

Before he died, Ralph bribed a judge–an old acquaintance–to make Justin an emancipated minor, so that his ex-wife wouldn't claim the estate. Ralph was always good at buying people. Only the cancer rebuffed his financial solicitations. 

At 16, Justin became the sole heir when his father succumbed. Rummaging through his late father's private and legal correspondence, Justin discovered that he had a younger half-brother named Jason, age 14. Turns out his father had a mistresses. When she became pregnant, he tried to coerce her into having an abortion, but she refused. She was holding out for a settlement. The child was a bargaining chip. She understood the value of leverage as well as Ralph. So he bought her silence with a princely onetime lump sum payment. That's what he did best. Buying and selling people in his life. 

Justin was eager to track down his long-lost brother. Partly out of duty. It wasn't fair that his brother was banished. But also out of genuine curiosity to meet the brother he never knew he had. 

Yet Ralph was good at covering his tracks. So Justin had to hire a private eye to locate Jason. His mom had a very comfortable existence at first. The hush money was considerable. But she had poor judgment in boyfriends, squandering the settlement. So they moved to a small town without a horizon. The definition of nowhere. Surrounded on all sides by the windswept flatlands, indented by a few mangy trees and oil rigs. Infinity has no center or somewhere. 

He was beat up everyday at school. He literally kept his head down. Eye contact was an invitation to get beat up. When she died of cervical cancer, he worked as a gas jockey. 

To confirm his identity, Justin arranged for Jason to take a DNA test. Jason was also shown pictures of Ralph and his mistress, as well as handwritten correspondence, to see if he recognized the handwriting and the woman in the pictures. He never knew his father. But the rest was familiar. 

Jason was intensely curious. The physician Justin retained to collect the sample didn't wish to get his hopes up in case the results came back negative, but he had to provide some explanation. 

Jason was astonished to find out that he might have real family. The existence of a brother he never suspected. A brother who was looking for him! 

The suspense was all-consuming. Two sleepless nights. In the daytime he wandered up and down the dusty sidewalks in a daze. Oscillating between elation if true and desolation if not. It seemed too good to be true. 

Finally the physician who collected the sample phoned him to confirm that the results were positive. An hour later, Justin phoned him to see if Jason wanted to meet him. Jason could barely wait. 

Justin flew in by private jet. Jason was so exhausted from nervous insomnia that he fell asleep on the porch, waiting for Justin's arrival. Justin pulled into the driveway. Sitting in the rental car with the top down, he heard the din of crickets sizzling in the tall dry grass. He walked up to the porch, knelt down and laid his hand on Jason's head. 

Jason opened his tired eyes and saw his brother for the first time. Bigger and stronger, Just lifted him right out of the bench and held him in his arms. 

Jason had nothing to pack, so they drove back to the private airport and flew home. He had a real home! It only took him 14 years to get there. Like he was left behind...abandoned…until his brother came back for him. 

Because Jason was technically a runaway, he had to maintain a low profile until he turned 18. Justin arranged for fake ID. Ironically, the fake ID was his true identity, using his father's surname. Justin also arranged for false records to be input in official databases, to maintain his brother's cover–until he reached majority age. A flawless fictional backstory. From Ralph, Justin had mastered the art of paying people off to get what he wanted, but unlike his father, Justin did it for a good cause. 

Over the following months and years they had to make up for lost time. It took a while for Jason to shake the habit of keeping his head down. Perhaps, had they grown up together, they'd take each other for granted–but because of the separation, they made the most of their newfound opportunity, due to the lost years. It didn't take long to learn out how much they had in common. The bond of blood transcended time and space. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The girl of his dreams

After his parents died, Andras was apprenticed to a mason. The mason was a harsh taskmaster. For Andras, life was a joyless grind with no hope in sight.

Then one night he had a dream. He found himself in a meadow with blooming wildflowers. And there he met a pretty girl his age, in a chiffon dress and lustrous hair that blew in the breeze. 

He never had a dream this vivid or breathtaking. They walked hand-in-hand in the piquant scent of the hyacinths. And then he awoke.

Willow was an orphan girl, slaving for a seamstress. Life was a joyless grind with no hope in sight–until she dreamt about a meadow with blooming wildflowers. 

Willow and Andras never met in real life, yet they discovered each other in their sleep, as they lay in separate beds, however many miles apart. They somehow wandered into each other's dreams. Night after night they found themselves together in strange, scenic, secluded places. Sunset in the real world was sunrise in the dreamworld. Sunset in the dreamworld was sunrise in the real world. They were living double lives. 

Willow contracted smallpox. As she lay dying, Andras vainly searched for her in his dreams. But after she died, she returned to him in their dreamworld. 

A year later, Andras succumbed to TB. After he died, they walked along a moonlit beach–beside the shimmering waves, beneath the glowing gossamer clouds. Having left the real world behind, the dream no longer ended when a new day began in the real world. Now they were in the dreamworld forever. Or maybe the "real" world was a nightmare from which they finally awoke. 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Magus

The bastard son of a magus, Logan MacGaraidh was born in Aberdeenshire in the seventeenth century. He never knew his actual birthdate. The Old Religion maintained an underground presence despite the Christian overlay.

Logan was raised Catholic, which sublimated the witchcraft of his Pictish ancestors under the pious veer of sacramental priestcraft. Yet the underlying affinity was clear: both were religions of magic potions, incantations, and enchantments. A magus in Catholic vestments. Although Logan was not a devil-worshiper, he inherited the powers of his shadowy father, whom he barely knew. 

Logan adored the wild misty landscape: the lochs, bluffs, rivers, and coastlines. He hiked the length and breadth of Aberdeenshire.

It was a hazardous time to be alive, for Catholic and Covenanter alike. The balance of power shifted shifted, with fatal results for the losing side–and each side lost. 

Raised by his mother's kinfolk, they were massacred while Logan was hiking. When he returned to his hamlet, bodies and burning buildings were left. 

Always something of an outsider, life in his beloved Aberdeenshire became unbearable with all his youthful friends and relatives dead. So he crossed the sea to Connecticut. 

While not exactly tolerant, religious life in Colonial Connecticut wasn't a life-and-death affair. For the first time he was able to consider the Protestant faith with a certain detachment. In seventeenth-century Aberdeenshire, conversion would betray your kith and kin. Religious affiliation was as much more or a statement of clan solidarity and loyalty than doctrinal conviction. But with all his relatives dead, and living in a new land, he no longer had that duty to uphold. 

He never took Catholicism seriously. A camouflaged version of his heathen ancestors. But Colonial Puritans presented a dramatic point of contrast. Reactionary, perhaps, but bracing. 

For the first time he could see more clearly how sorcery fit into a larger narrative. His father represented a mutinous band of fallen men and fallen angels while Christ and his saints represent the winning side. 

He didn't see the need to renounce his powers. All power ultimately derives from God, and he figured that he could use it for good. 

Owi to his natural affinity with the aboriginal heathens, he became a missionary to the Mohegan, Pequot, Nipmuck, and Narragansett tribes. At his first encounter he was attacked by Pequot braves, but he extended a finger to draw a ring of fire around the charging braves. Encircled by the wall of fire, glowing in the twilight, the assailants were subdued, and escorted him to their village. Rumor made him an instant legend among the tribes. 

Yet he was still an outsider. Colonial Connecticut never felt like home. His alienation was less about place than time. He left Scotland because it was too late to feel at home there, after the loss of his kinfolk. And he was now a stranger in a strange land. 

Rather than moving in space, he began to move in time–traveling into the future. He could always make a living as a history teacher, drawing on his firsthand knowledge of the past–although he had to disguise his source of knowledge.

Finally, out of curiosity, he returned to Connecticut in 2020. Apart from a few historic buildings, the populated areas were unrecognizable. He went back to a historic cemetery. 

There he met an archeologist and historian. As luck would have it, Effie had Celtic coloring–emerald eyes and flaming hair–which reminded him of pretty girls he knew from his long-lost homeland. 

She never felt at home in her own century, which is why she became a historian with a personal interest in Colonial America. Which is why she was poking around this cemetery. 

Many of the original graves were covered over, but from the remaining graves Logan could tell where to find the hidden graves. He pointed to a spot of ground, gave names and dates.

Scraping away the layers revealed the forgotten graves and flattened tombstones. She was puzzled by his uncanny knowledge. He also explained how one family was related to another. At first she was incredulous, but as she followed up on his leads in historic records, she received confirmation. 

Eventually he let her in on his secret, which would be unbelievable were it not for his inexplicable knowledge of the past. Not the past in general, but pockets of the past. Deep rather than wide. Provincial but detailed. 

A romance blossomed. Effie asked him if he was homesick for the Aberdeenshire of his youth. Did he ever hanker to return?

He said he no longer felt at home there after all his kinfolk were massacred. It was a ghost town. 

She asked him if he could take her back into the past. Back to the Aberdeenshire, but during a more peaceful time. There they could both start afresh. Make a life together. 

And so they did. They led a quiet life, so as not to unweave the future from whence she came. And when they died, they were buried unto a Celtic cross, to await the resurrection of the body.