Friday, February 9, 2018

Another Whiskey Please

Another Whiskey Please
by
Bobby Derie


"Ah, Friend Trowbidge, I swear I will die of thirst in the next five minutes if I do not get a drink!"


The petite Frenchman had laid his slippers by the fire, and I indulged him, breaking out a bottle of Canadian rye and filling two snifters on the small table between us. He reached out for the glass absently while staring into the fire, and picked up mine by mistake. The little fellow realized his error immediately, and set it down closer to my side, then took up his own drink.


"A thousand apologies, my friend! I would leave you parched while I down all of your fleeting store of ambrosia!" So saying he drank deeply from his glass, and smacked his lips in satisfaction. My own hand trembled a little as I followed suit—and drank perhaps more quickly than is my usual wont, for it seemed to go to my head almost immediately.


"Ah, mon ami." His permanent guest said. "It was a difficult case. Long will the horror of this night stay with me—though I am glad that the monster was vanquished at last, like the others, the human price of such things does weigh upon me."


"The others?" I said, feeling delightfully warm and drowsy as the fire and alcohol did their work.


"But of course, the others. This is not the first vampire we have vanquished together, my friend. Non! We are veritable fiends to the undead who plague us here... I oft wonder if it is not I that attract them; some sympathetic vibration from my soul. Certainly, wherever I have traveled there has been evil to fight. So I settled here, and now I need not seek it out, for it soon finds me! Yes there may be something in that..." he let the sentence trail off, then placed his empty glass next to mine. "Another whisky please. This so-fine Canadian red, it is not brandy or champagne, but it warms the blood which has been chilled."


I shuddered, involuntarily. The memories of the night were still too fresh, the young boy's broken body, what mercy he had given the girl before he had done what was necessary with knife and wooden stake...yet already a the images of only a few hours before had a kind of dreamlike quality. I shook my head as to clear it, and poured a few more fingers of ruddy liquid into the glasses. My friend held his glass up for a toast, and the crystal clinked before we took our next sips together.


"The one thing that troubles me," I said after a while. "You say this is not the first vampire we have faced together...and I know you have traveled around the world and had all sorts of adventures, delved deep into the dark underbelly of life, the supernatural and all that, and I know we've had a few queer cases here in Harrisonville, yet...yet..." I found I could not finish the thought.


"Yet you do not recall the specifics." The Frenchman finished. "Though you wrack your brains. Yes. It is the hypnotic I secreted in your drink. Combined with the alcohol, it will induce a state of retrograde amnesia. You will sleep deep tonight, and remember nothing in the morning. As always."


He must have seen the look I shot him, and his pale blue eyes met mine steadily, despite the alcohol he had consumed. "It is better this way, mon ami. You are a creature of science, logic, reason; for you are the horrors of the birthing-chamber and the death-certificate. Such mundanity, such skepticism, I need it, yes. Indeed. Nom d'un porc! I could not function otherwise, if you became a mere acolyte in occultism. Many times have I thought to leave, if only to spare you further horrors—but failing that, I say to myself 'What can I do?' and I say: 'I can spare him at least the memory of such things. To seal over the scars of the mind, while they are yet fresh, and let them heal. Yes.' and so that is what I have done...and will do again."


A flash of anger sparked inside me, and I half-rose from my chair. "Now see here..."


"No, my friend." The Frenchman said, and laid his small hand on my wrist. "Do not be angry. What I have done, it is not just for you, but for myself also. It is selfish of me, yes, but when I think of all those innocent ones that I could not save...I would save you, at least."


The sincerity in his voice defeated me, and I collapsed back down. Languor already seemed to settle into my limbs, a bone-weariness that spoke of physical exertions that were already growing hazy in my mind. "How often?" I asked, after a long while. "How many times?"


"Fifteen or sixteen times, I think. It is not always necessary. I preserve it for cases of...lasting horror." The Frenchman flicked an eyebrow. "You remember only four or five such cases, yes? Frauds, fakes, murderers, certainment, but no vampires, werewolves, ghosts, or anything like that. No," he sighed, and his eyes looked far away. "You do not remember the great serpent I cleaved in the Château de Broussac, or the noxious count whose century of horror I ended with my sword-stick, or the victims of the blood-flower and that terrible business with the white lady of the orphanage...no, it were better this way."


"Another whiskey please, Friend Trowbridge. Then we must to bed. You to your dreamless sleep, and I to my nightmares—the only respite from which I have is that I have spared you the same."


###

Friday, February 2, 2018

Lovecraft and the Tiger

Lovecraft and the Tiger
by
Bobby Derie


"Howard Phillips Lovecraft did not believe in reincarnation." The tone was irritable, but Price let that pass. Augie, he knew, had many worries - his business, his house, his children. It was why he had suggested the circus as a diversion. They wandered among the gaudy striped tents as April and William ran ahead, clutching cones of cotton candy.


"E'ch-Pi-El did not believe in many things," Price agreed. "A confirmed materialist, utterly refused to acknowledge the supernatural. Not even astrology or telepathy."


"Natural telepathy is possible," Augie grunted, and shelled a peanut.


"But that does not mean the universe is restricted to what Lovecraft believed!" Price said. "And I ask you...if Howard did come back...what would he come back as?"


"Allowing your argument - just for the sake of fun! - I would say he would reincarnate as a man. Certainly, Lovecraft was a high-grade human being, and would not have come back as a lower form."


"I wonder..." Price said, and then they stopped.


The bars of the cage were about as thick as a man's thumb. The stripes that moved back and forth behind them created a strange, contrasting pattern. Price could well imagine the creature in a canebrake, the flash of black stripes against the tall grasses giving just such an effect. Muscles rolled beneath the fur, and the creature stopped and fixed its great yellow eyes on the pair. Even Augie was fixed by that stare.


"Do you suppose..." Price began, but his voice failed.


Augie had paused, a peanut crushed in his hand. "No." he said. "Not possible."


"But it makes perfect sense!" Price hissed. "You know how much he loved and admired cats. Just look at him!"


There was something regal in the tiger as it cooly surveyed them. Circus animals can be mangy beasts, but not this one - not yet. It relaxed into the attitude of the Sphinx, the patterns of stripes around its face seemed to draw them.


"We have to get him out of there," Price said, quietly.


"What?" Augie broke the tiger's stare. "Ed, we can't do that."


"But he's in prison!"


Augie opened his mouth, but whatever argument he was about to make was halted by a sudden, soft meow.


Both men stared at their feet. A piece of the night lay there, in an attitude of solemn attention. It's ears forward and attentive, it stared up at them with green eyes. The black fur was, just visible, crossed with sable stripes, blue-black when the light struck them just right. As they watched, it sat up on its haunches, and held up its right paw, the left forelimb held against its chest, so that the right forelimb seemed to wrest on the paw of the left.


"That's...that's..." Price started.


"Dunsany." Augie confirmed, voice hollow. "Time and the Gods." Then he began to quote, in a soft Wisconsin accent: "For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see. He is the soul of antique Aegyptus, and bearer of tales from forgotten cities in Meroë and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle’s lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten."


The tiger in its cage bowed its head, and the night-black tom cat resumed the attitude of its species, fled off into the circus.


###





Friday, January 26, 2018

To She Who Shall Come After

To She That Shall Come After
by
Bobby Derie

To She That Shall Come After,


If she reads these words, then she is born of the seed of old, and having looked back has found me, though she knows not what she sought. Greetings, daughter, for so I fancy I shall call you, though many generations have no doubt passed since my own firstborn girl-child has died, perhaps even in her own travail as so many of us have done - yet if she had not borne, then you yourself would not be here, and the thing will not have bred in the Outside Spheres, and all my efforts have been for naught.


Yet I err, for I wished to make these things plain where they had been cryptic for me, and yet lapse straight away into mysteries.


In my century and in my country, I was as women often are - a bargaining-chip in the lives of men, the womb-that-walks. Yet I was also the daughter of a ship captain, and raised with such erudition as those of my sex may be afforded, if they dared to press their fathers - and I did so dare. Yet there were things I did not learn until I had been married, and I do not mean the gross mysteries of procreation. My husband was not so unpleasant in these manners as he might have been, though I was not to him an equal, we shared a desire for books - and I became engrossed of his library, even to the works of Albertus Magnus, Geber, Paracelsus, Roger Bacon - the Qanoon-e-Islam, which is in truth the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdullah al-Azrd, and and what may prove to be my salvation or my doom, the Kitāb al-‘Uzzá.


Much did my husband conceal from me, and much did he ignore me; for he was obsessed with generation by his own hand, and to him my womb was little more than a vessel, and alembic for some homoculus crafted by ancient formula. Yet we were wealthy after our fashion, and his curiosity brought him many things which he did not all take into great account, blinded as he was by his own focus. So it came that though the book of Aisha bint Suleiman ibn Qaroon al-Azrd came into his possession, he considered it but lightly, as a derivative of Abdullah al-Azrd, and at that focused on those things of the Mad Arab he had scant interest in. So I spent many hours with the book, and pondered deeply the forbidden sura:


“From the darkling daughter he is reborn / Iä! In her house dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”


The word 'panic' comes to us from Pan, the goat-footed god of ancient Greece, and described those sounds in the wood that frighten and inspire; so too did al-Azrd say that the al-Azif which filled parts of the Empty Quarter at night was the chitter of nocturnal insects, the chatter of demons that frightened the poor Bedouins in their cold deserts, who hunched over fires of cattle-dung. The sounds are of a piece, of a whole; the noise of humanity drowns out the voices from the Outside Spheres, but in the wilderness when the winds die and the animals halt their song, there may come at times a silence so profound that one almost hears the blood rush through their veins, the crackle of invisible fires along their nerves... and something may speak to you, at those times.


There was a wood on our property, where I was wont to go to be away. My husband was concerned with his own affairs, and cared not how I fared by day, so long as I stayed from his work. It was of wild growth, and had never been touched by axe, not even since the Indians came. I waited there, long hours over many days, and by candlelight at night I would read of the Kitab, and think much on what was said there, and took it together with that which was written in other books. I do not think I learned the truth from any of them - for there was much in error, and much that disagreed with the proof of my own senses - and there were matters of which even the intellect of my husband but dimly grasped as he begat his unholy experiments, and waited for my womb to quicken.


One day I heard it...in a moment of perfect peace and calm, the sun bright overhead, the mould of the earth in my nostrils...those sounds. It was not speech, as we know speech; yet there was a rising and a falling of tones, a pausing between segments, and certain reptitions of sounds. Some of this I recognized from the Kitab, and following the instructions I answered - for there was only one answer to give, a kind of surrender. Already my husband wished to use my body for his purposes, but I had conceived in myself a plan that borrowed on his own. To fulfill and subvert his sorcery at once: for even as he worked on sweaty summer nights to plant his seed within me, voice choked through incantations, face drawn in concentration as he held himself back from the pleasure of his furrowing to focus his thoughts, his spirit, to that one goal... so too did I do more than mere wifely duty, to direct my own spirit inward toward my waiting womb. When he released himself within me, and collapsed from his exertions, he had no thought that we were partners in a great necromantic enterprise. And when my belly swole with the fruit of our sorcerous union, he congratulated himself on his efforts, unaware of what I myself had opened myself up to in those dark woods.


To pledge myself by that which is called Pan, Ishnigarrab, Shub-Nikkurat... and in so doing, follow the parable of Cthylla, as laid down in the Kitab. To be reborn from my darkling daughter's womb, when the thing that I become had in time bred in the the Outer Spheres. Time is but one dimension, and we ourselves are but vibrations on the skin of the world...voices in the darkness. And when the stars are right, those voices can make themselves heard again...not loudly, no, not for us small things. Yet it can be felt in the blood, in the cells within the blood, in the tiny pieces of ourselves within each cell, that multiply forever unto each other. The echo of my climax that night in bed has moved across the surface of time, to affect that which is to come. Not much, for we are small things and our calls are soft, but if there is something there that is much alike, it can be made more alike... so daughter, when your mother drummed her heels on your father's backside, my cry found that union where her blood and your father's mixed...and made it me. Once more myself, in flesh at least. So you were born, my own image of myself.


Now stand you to make a choice, daughter. For as you have my form, you may yet have my wisdom, which dwells yet in the Outer Spheres, and waits to be called back. It will cling to you, like to like, if you but call it. Or ignore this, if you wish, but preserve it. For the echo of my call shall return in future ages, and another shall be borne of our line in our image...and another, and another, 'til the line has been severed. 


- Eliza Tillinghast


###

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Prison in Vein

Prison in Vein
by
Bobby Derie


"Kim's parole came through," the word came through. "They moved him to rehab this morning."


Gunther absorbed the news slowly, as he did most things. The guards gave you the first hit of the day at roll-call; they'd finally cancelled breakfast because the bliss negated anything like an appetite, except for a handful of prisoners who had to take their meds with food. You could always pick them out because of the edgy, irritable way they rushed through their meal, the quicker to get at their government-mandated fix.


Chemo-prisons were statistically safer than any other form of incarceration. Prisoners that were high for most of the day didn't pick fights, couldn't really fuck so there was no rape, and were still functional enough to attend the mandatory classes. Chemo-prison wasn't measured in years, it was about credits earned. A lot like high school, or community college, except you were forced to stay on campus and wear the prison uniform. The guards didn't need violence to enforce their rules: anybody that didn't play ball didn't get their fix.


Kim had gotten twelve hundred hours for killing his wife. The cancer was terminal - had spread from the pancreas into the blood - and the doctors gave her six to eight months, the last part of it in hospice. The overdose had been a mutually-agreed upon affair - death with dignity, at home - but the judge had to hand down the mandatory sentence. Your average prisoner could manage about twelve credits a year, sitting through tedious lectures and multiple-choice exams, half-baked out of their skulls. Kim had done better than that - he had been a doctor, on the outside - and helped tutor prisoners to get them through their exams.


People like Gunther.


Now Kim was in rehab - the half-way program where they weaned you off the government drugs, re-acclimated you to society. Parolees weren't allowed to associate with those still "in the system." Too high of a chance of relapse. Except now Gunther was facing an exam, and Kim was supposed to be the one to get him through it. Fail the exam, and Gunther would fail the course. No credits. Try again next semester.


Gunther stared blankly at the wall of the exercise yard, the big flat screen displaying a brightly colored cartoon doing pilates. About thirty people were following along, lacking much else better to do. The serious exercises would wait for physical education classes - sports, yoga, physical therapy - always a long waiting list for those classes. Easy credits.


There were people that spent ten years in chemo-prison on a sixty credit sentence, unwilling or unable to finish enough classes to graduate. The idea made him sweat. He had a sixty credit sentence. The prospect of chemo-prison hadn't been a major deterrent when he was boosting cars...but he never thought he'd spend three years of his life back in high school. No, worse than high school. The guards had the authority of elementary school teachers. The first couple weeks, when they were getting you addicted, they called it orientation. Lots of drill. Learning the schedule. Standing in line, moving in groups. Somebody said they'd borrowed it from ROTC, but it reminded Gunther far too much of second grade.


Now Kim's parole had come through. Gunther wondered if he could arrange a cram session during study hall. Find somebody, anybody that had taken the test before to take them through the material. He knew there were people that dealt in old test banks, that sort of thing, but he didn't want to deal with them...if you got caught, they could add credits to your sentence. And that was the last thing Gunther wanted.


###

Friday, January 12, 2018

'Twas Not A Hero

'Twas Not A Hero
by Bobby Derie


'Twas not a hero that forged the sword, that mined the iron and smelted it, alloyed the steel and worked the billows. Not with hard labor did he labor as an apprentice for seven years, and journeyman for seven more, to present his master-piece to the guild. Nor was he the master's wife and helpmeet, who saw her husband sicken and die and be buried, to take up the hammer in her own hands.


'Twas not a hero that tracked the beast to its lair. Woodsman, hunter, suspected poacher. He dined on stags and rabbits, pheasants and grouse; moved through the wood like he was a thing of them. He had hunted bear and boar in his time, but this was a new thing. Yet there was a trail, and a stinking hole where it lay, strewn about with the bones of its victims.


'Twas not a hero who brushed his horse every morning, who fed and watered it, scooped the shit of it out of the stables, and stood up at night when it was taken with the sweats. To clear the rocks from its hooves and rub ointments into its muscles. The boy slept on straw more often than a bed, and of the two of them the horse had the better blanket.


'Twas not a hero who took a raw young prince, son of privilege, and cuffed and worked him. To scar that pride and insolence, to drill in the play of sword and lance. To build hard muscle where there had been softness, speed where there had been sloth. Veteran, grey-beard, bachelor knight, with no sons to carry on his name. Yet he trained him well.


All those that fed them, clothed them, served them; their parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. The merchant and cleric, the miller and baker, falconer and soldier. Did they not have part, in that great and terrible dead? Perhaps it was not their hand on the sword, but there was nary a soul within 30 miles that did not have a hand in the deed.


It takes a village to kill a dragon.


###

Friday, January 5, 2018

Retirement

Retirement
by
Bobby Derie


Silver-flake hollow points, carved with a cross, blessed and sealed in smooth brass cases. Shit for accuracy at range. Too much air resistance. No good for hard targets. Not enough penetration. They tended to splatter when they hit anything like bone. So they were strictly short range, aim for something vital - an eye, for preference; or the base of the skull if you could get behind them and that close. Biters, when the jaws gaped wide, could give you a nice shot, let you punch through the thin bone toward the brain. For soft tissue hits - jugulars, genitals, all the sort of thing - I preferred buckshot, silver filings and kosher salt. Wouldn't scrape the paint off a golem, but did the trick against anything that was still basically meat wrapped skeletons.


I considered my options, then loaded the hollow-points into my back-up piece. Too many questions if I have to turn in my service weapon and there are bits of silver stuck in the barrel. You had to think about those kind of things.


Devils have a shelf life. Vicious cycle. They get hard in hell. Scrappers, survivors. It takes intelligence and resourcefulness to fight your way up the hierarchy of the organization. Only the strong and ruthless make it up here. To this cold, soft world. Not many blaze out - at least, not as many as you'd think. These are the ones that made it to the top of the ladder. Patient and nasty. They know had to lie low, hide their kills, build their powerbase. It's sweet and easy, up here, if you're careful. A whole world to bleed.


Then the life gets them. Gets to all of them, eventually. Humanity. Too much soft living. Easy deals, souls for the plucking. They lose the edge. Get whimsical, develop personalities, quirks. Maybe they foul up a deal here or there, but they're having fun. Win some or lose some, what does it matter when you have eternity?


A lot, to the boys downstairs. The number-crunchers. Tallymen of the Damned. They notice, and they know the signs. Then they give someone like me a call. A name and a number. Who and how much. Yes or no. I've never yet turned them down, and something tells me I'll be damned for that some day.


They don't call it a hit. They call it retirement.


###

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Chains Forged In Life

The Chains Forged In Life
by
Bobby Derie

So for a term I walked
Amid the grey lands
The noise of life and light
Were as poison to me.

My form was a semblance of life
A memory of what I was
These lean limbs, wracked with age
These brittle bones, worm-gnawed.

About me I dragged the detritus
Of life long and unfulfilled
Loves and friendships lost
Regrets troubled me brow.

More than this
Bright memories I clung to
Happy times, warm days
Quiet hours and familiar smells.

Years I wandered alone
'til the shackle of dismal thoughts
Fell from my mind
Yet my spirit remained fettered.

I wander on
Those bright thoughts
My shackles of adamant
On a long journey without purpose.

How long will I cling
To the memory of her hair
The small of grandmother's bread
To my stubborn name.

I burn to lose myself
These links weigh on me
Harsher than that black chain
I cast off before.