Friday, August 11, 2017

The Red-Litten Temple

The Red-Litten Temple
by
Bobby Derie

All cities are reflections of the one city, and at some point in their lives all seekers find their feet drawn along strange paths in search of things they cannot name. For cities are finite things, and whatever secret places they hold, they are ultimately mundane secrets; the alley ways end in mountains of trash, or open sewers, or give way at last to empty lots gone back to a sad and stunted nature. The exotic, the precious, the obscene, the glorious and the profane are all tainted by the sundry limits of the world, so that not even a hint of divine madness can long last as more than a flicker of flame in a wind, or the virtue of a new-minted whore.

Yet hunger drives the seekers to where hungers burn bright, and the steps of the pilgrim may yet step into red-litten shadows, and through the little door where the Keeper hands out her faded yellow tickets, the same strange smile on her face...a face that belongs to no one race or no one time. Then the attendant comes and leads them down that long hallway of red lamps, whose light spills out into the street. Beneath each lamp, a door and a statue of a god; each god engrossed in a lascivious benediction.

Here the crooked-spine is bent almost double, lips locked upon the base of his own member; there, dual female divinities, fecund with life, locked together in an endless circle; or two devis are locked together, and a third presses himself between their facing mounds; farther on there are stranger things...gods of whips and chains, or coupled with beasts of the forest, field, and barnyard. As the knees buckle and the tongue burns, there are things that leave behind the dross of physical possibility, where terrible endowments pervert the form, and some of the gods wear inhuman shapes, exquisite in their detail. Always, always, the pilgrim stops at one of those lamps, and turns within to pay homage to the idol by engaging in the rite.

For the only offering acceptable in the red-litten temple is yourself.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Georgia Peaches

Georgia Peaches
by
Bobby Derie


Peaches are a part of the state of Georgia; the firm fruit of its bloody soil, succulent and juicy. The people of Georgia feed on their peaches from the youngest age, and grow new crops of them in turn. It is a cycle as natural as it is somewhat maddening, the crunch and slurp of teeth biting through the thin, fuzzy skin to bite off raw, dripping chunks of the sweet flesh within; the pulped remnants sliding down the gullet to land in the stomach, where it dissolves, the bits of peach breaking down, being carried throughout the body, building blocks of cells, becoming human at some indeterminate point along the way, no longer peach at all.


Many Georgians are peach souls in embodied in blood and bone. You can sense their innate, sickening sweetness seeping through their soft pink flesh. Yet it takes a long time to recognize them as such - the Peachkin. Like farmers and their pigs who have fed off one another so long that they begin to grow alike, and have finally switched roles, so that the men wallow and the oinking master draws the knife across a rough throat. So it is with the Peachkin, who are invariably closely tied to the production of peaches themselves, to their native soil as it were - walking amid the orchards, eyeing the unripe fruit with some instinct that goes beyond mere familiarity and experience, to something closer to communion.


Perhaps it is just nearness that does it. A child is born without a soul, near an orchard, and the wafting spirit of a peach fills the spiritual vacuum. Or perhaps it is the cumulative effect of all those peach lives, consumed generation upon generation, permeating the flesh of mothers and fathers, building blocks of sperm and egg... or maybe there is just a vast spiritual pressure that comes from the calm heart of the peach orchard, that forces out whatever squawking, red-mouthed thing that passes for the human life force, replacing it with something more vegetable. Not quite dryads but something just as elemental, spirits of the peach trees oddly bodied.


Some of them fall. It's not the human nature that fails them, I think, but something innate in the peach nature that finds ready access through human flesh. Perhaps the souls of those come from the old peaches that fall on the ground, the ones in which that terrible natural alchemy takes place. The fallen Peachkin are much like that. The flesh is bruised and soft, the terrible sweetness transmutes to a sickly odour, like a bad wine. They fall into corrupt practices - for while the peach may wish you to eat the flesh of their flesh, the fallen peach wants you to drink of their blood. A heady, straw-colored wine that brings madness and joy.


Then there are the few - the perfect. Those who have fallen and passed through, they purify body and spirit. Distilled down to their essence, the overpowering aura of the peach seems to shrine through their frail flesh. To even stand in their presence is enough to be drunk, for the full majesty and power of the peach is upon them, the spirit and weight of the orchard, the red clay of Georgia pulled up through their roots and combined with the summer rays to make a golden ambrosia of distilled sunshine. They bleed amber and golden, and offer themselves to supplicants, who take the peach into themselves more and more, unheeding of the spirits they permit into their vessels, into their very flesh...


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Friday, July 28, 2017

Thog Life

Thog Life
by
Bobby Derie


Before dawn, Thog rose to hunt the mammoth. She left the warm pile of her family in their hut, retrieved her skirt and foot-wraps and spear, and filtered into the silent press of men and women of her tribe who had likewise risen for the hunt.


It was a long day, and when Thog returned in the afternoon, hauling her share of the kill, the village was in siesta. Thog dropped the mammoth haunch off at the family hut; smiled at the children, glowered at the rump of her sister as it bounced up and down atop her mate. Their mother would be with the other old women, bitching about their sons and daughters. Thog hurried off before her mother came back.


Oogla found Thog down by the flint-workers, getting her spear sharpened. Raised a couple of gourds and winked. The two wandered down to a secluded creek spun-off from the river, where the fishing was poor and few bothered to go. They sipped from the gourds through reeds, the alcohol sour and harsh. It made Thog's head giddy after the long day.


"It wasn't supposed to be like this," she confided in Oogla. "Thog was going to grow up to unite the tribes! Now, Thog have to drag herself out of bed every morning, hunt mammoth not to starve. Mother still asking for grandchild. Compare Thog to her sister, Soona. 'Soona have four kids, two survive infancy! Only sixteen summers! You never going to find a mate, settle down!' I tell her 'That not what people do these days. Thog still trying to figure her life out. Not like old days.'"


Oogla burped and nodded, not quite soberly. Talk turned to other things. The cave-boys they had seen last season, with the straight white teeth and firm brown asses. The marsh-folk that lived out on stilt-huts, who wore the skin of the sacred crocodiles they worshipped, and claimed the universe hatched from an egg. The days in the red hut, when they had first become women together, making dolls out of straw. Too soon, Oogla had to go back to her hut. Her own mate was waiting, and there were hides that needed scraping, fires tending. Thog was left alone as the sun began to die.


She steeled herself to return to the hut.


Soona was happy to see her, grinning through a mouthful of mammoth; her belly was already showing with grandkid #5. Her mate nodded; politely. They had talked about the stick-games every now and again, but even after four summers they had never really become friends. Not since she had woken up with his hand on her ass one night, and she'd had to blacken both his eyes. Since then, he always slept with Soona on the far side of the pile.


Thog's mother, Atala, was wiping one of the babies down. In a glance she could tell the old woman was in a snit. But her stomach rumbled, and there was a choice cut of mammoth left, which no-one begrudged her. Near the hearth Soona began telling her story - about the handsome girl of the tribe and the bear-man who carried her off, before the boy came to rescue her - the children listened with rapt attention, but Thog focused on her meat. She was too old for romantic stories. There was no bear-man, and no boy to rescue her.


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Friday, July 21, 2017

Witch's Wood

Witch's Wood
by
Bobby Derie




"Enchanted forests do not just happen," the Head Witch looked down her long and crooked nose at Anya. "They require skill and care. This is the territory you have been assigned."




It was not much of a wood. There were trees, certainly - winnow young oaks standing in the dry yellow remnants of what were once tilled fields, and a few scattered copses of dense thorn that were once hedges.




The younger witch kept a carefully neutral face. The Head Witch gave her a too-friendly pat on the ass.




"I know it doesn't look like much, but there's supposed to be a castle buried in that mess somewhere. Plague hit a little too hard, and the whole region was depopulated. See what you can do with it, and I'll be back in a year."


-



The "castle" was little more than a dry stone keep, a square and boxy thing being slowly covered by winding thorn and bird shit, but it had its own well. Anya took her time desecrating the chapel, and then moved in. 



The Head Witch had, as was tradition, offered her choice of a single tool of Art - most witches chose the athame, but Anya had opted for a hatchet. Moonrise found her in a clearing not far from the keep, scraping a sapling as thick as her wrist, moving in long even strokes so that the bark peeled off in strips, and the yellow heartwood showed. A bundle of grass served as a sweep, and she braided grass and bark together around the base of the staff.



The broom was rough under her hands as she rose into the starry night. The wood - her wood - was not particularly dense; it covered what had been six farmsteads and their adjoining fields around the keep, and formed a rough triangle at the collision of three countries. The southern border was a road that ran between two towns, the north-east and north-west by rumbling creeks. Darkness reigned about the little wood, every neighboring farmhouse nearby locked tight for the night.




Swooping low, Anya began to take inventory.




There were no wolves or bears or great cats; the land had been farmed too recently, the wood too far from wilder dominions. It was a wood of snakes and mice and rabbits, thrushes and owls, worms and beetles. There were no primeval trees, and though she looked hopefully at some of the great grey boulders, Anya ascertained they were more likely glacial remnants than toppled pagan stones. Yet there were corpses, though little more than dry and rattling bones, and in the crypt of the keep a line of petty lords yet slept in their crude stone boxes.




Anya began to plan.




-




Farmers who had let their fields run fallow near the plague-swept region rose some weeks later noted that the forest around the fallen keep looked different than it had before. Green thorns now hedged in along its borders, as though planted by knowing hands, and oak saplings grew thicker together. The birds had taken to nesting in the branches beside the road, and watching the traffic that passed, and once followed a funeral cart all the way to town. Each bird's beak and speckled breast was tinged with red, though before they had known to all be brown.


At night were scenes as would still a weak man's heart. Boney shamblers dressed in rags, a-work by moon and starlight, planting, seeding, tending tree and thorn. Toiling balls of worms wove their way through the undergrowth, and down by the creeks the serpents multiplied. From the four winds her familiar birds came, bearing news and seed, and in her little keep the witch Anya pored over her plans.


Her diet, to this point, had mostly been rabbit, and that fair raw, for it was too soon for her to be discovered by the tell-tale smoke of a fire; and beside that a little garden with such wild vegetables as were left. Sucking a marrow-bone, the young witch meditated on her neighbors.


The milk began to fall off in the cows of the farms nearest the wood; but not all at once and not altogether, so while one canny old peasant might lay up at night waiting for a milk-thief, when spread between four or five farms the loss was attributed to something in the neighborhood - perhaps the water in the creek, which had grown less sweet of late. In town, the miller was pilloried for his count of flour to the baron coming short, and there were few of his friends and customers that would speak for him, who had his thumb on their scales too often.


One morning, the unhallowed graves outside the wall of the church yard were found open, and the excommunicants within left, no one knew where.


-


A darkness entered the wood then. The thorns were thick and long and low, so there was hardly a gap into the forest; and it was a forest now, for the saplings grew thick and green at the edge, and though the oaks were still young the branches seemed to knit together in shadowed canopies. A charcoal-burner, breaking through the bracken where the thorns were thinnest, might wander in shadow along quiet, well-worn paths followed by the eyes and hoots of owls who should not be about during the daytime.


Thorn-choked farmhouses still stood in the wood, and there were carefully-orchestrated horrors there where liches lay in scenes in mockery of life. In odd turns along the paths were stones raised and painted red with blood, offerings of bone twined together in strange sculptures, or let to dangle from low branches to clank and ring with the wind. At its heart, if the woodsman had not yet turned back, was the keep - the stones now held together by twining vines of wild rose more than ought else. On the desecrated altar in the chapel lay a figure in black armor, pierced together from the graves of nobility; carved and painted now with runes. Serpents twined through rents in the mail, adder-heads stared out from the visor, and a pale yellow trickle of venom ran down the length of the great blade when it was drawn.


Then, of course, the charcoal-burner would never be heard from again.


At Beltane, on the roof the keep, Anya lit the great fire which shown its witch-light over the wood. The Head Witch's shadow crossed the moon, and the young witch, riding side-saddle, rose to meet her. Silent they wafted over the witch's wood, past the macabre gardeners and bloody shrines, the pits where the serpents bred and the dark holes where the worms dug deep, the poison-tinged creeks and the stout thorn hedges, and finally the keep with its dark chapel and guardian.


"Well, that's a pass." The Head Witch grunted.










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Friday, July 14, 2017

What More Do You Want?

What More Do You Want?
by
Bobby Derie

The body was cold. The jewels were missing. No sign of forced entry. Her son was hiding in a ditch, pockets full of bloody pearls. It happens that way sometimes. Detective Ericsson closed the murder book and decided to go out for a drink.


There are cop bars, and there are cop bars. The ones the badge bunnies don't hang out at, where the ghosts of dead cops don't stare at you from the wall accusingly. Where detectives go to pick around the edges of memories that have scabbed over, and don't have to bump into fresh meat from the academies, in for their initiation after the first week on patrol.


Detective Bastard was already propping up the edge of the bar.


"Catch one?" he asked.


"Caught and wrapped," Ericsson ordered with two fingers. The bartender poured her drink and left.


"Good." The bastard sipped his cranberry-and-soda, looking mournfully at a glass of Japanese whiskey.


"You gonna drink that?"


"Can't." The bastard smiled. "School night. Gotta pick my daughter up in a bit. What's eating you, Chanelle?"


Half the glass disappeared in a long slow sip.


"What's the worst you've ever seen, Jack?" Ericsson asked.


The bastard blinked, twice. "That's a hard question. Depends on your stomach. What brought this on?"


"I thought I had one tonight, is all. One of the weird cases, like yours."


"Yeah? Lucky, then." He sipped his cranberry-and-soda. "You don't want one of mine."


"It's just..." Ericsson flailed for words. "So fucking petty. Uncreative. Boring. They argued over money, her pushed her, hit her head. All the blood comes out, he runs. He doesn't even run far. Greedy, stupid, and scared."


"What more do you want?" the bastard asked. "Evil?"


"Sometimes, yeah." she finished off the last of her drink, held up another finger. The bartender came over and poured. Ericsson drank it down in a slurp.


"Evil's a hard one." the bastard slid the whiskey over in front of her. "I've seen cold bodies leak warm. Seen a dad barbecue his son's dog and make him fucking eat it. A guy that carried his girlfriend's head around in a bowling bag, her throat replaced with soft silicone. Cocaine smuggled over the border in diapers. Beat a priest half to death for trying to exorcise a woman with epilepsy, and I only stopped because she bit her tongue and was bleeding to death. You've heard the horror stories. It's only ever just people. Stupid, greedy, scared, crazy, petty people. Isn't that enough?"


Ericsson drank the whiskey. Her eyes watered.


"Jesus. How do you drink this stuff?"


"I don't. Not anymore." The bastard got up. Laid some bills down on the bar. "You did good tonight, Chanelle. Caught your guy. We don't always get that. Open case, shut case. What more do you want?"


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Friday, July 7, 2017

Bedtime Queries

Bedtime Queries
by
Bobby Derie

"We never burned witches," the old woman said. "Because that would be wasteful."

The fever had not yet come into its own, but the bed had been drawn closer to the fire, and Grandmother Worm sat up with her late into the night, smoking her pipe and answering her questions.

"Did you love grandpa?" the girl asked.

"He was a keeper," Grandmother Worm's knitting needles clicked. "I knew that when didn't even flinch when it was time to hide the body." Click click. "Shared secrets can bind some people together, and break others apart. Remember that, child." Click click. "Never make someone an accessory unless you can trust them. Otherwise, they're just witnesses. And you remember what I said about witnesses?"
"Dig another grave."
"That's right, darling." Click click. "That's exactly right. Your grandpa understood that. And understanding is the basis of all relationships."

"You met on the farm, right?"

"Yes," the needles stopped, and the old woman laid a cold hand on the girl's brow. "Ye're going to the farm, when you're well. It's time for ye to learn about the rams and the ewes." Grandmother Worm knocked her pipe into the fireplace.

"You mean the birds and the bees?" The girl asked.

"Never had to castrate a bee or clean up a bird's abortion storm." The old woman said. "So I'm thinkin' no." 

There were no more questions, after that. Only the crackle of the fire.

The old woman's eyes got hazy as she stared into the fire. "I've known women that cried over the pigs they raised," Grandmother Worm held the sick girl's hand in her own. "An' sheep, and rabbits, chicken and ducks...it's hard not to love a livin' thing, raised by your own hand. You git to know it. Love it." The feverish girl murmured in her dreams. "An' yet the time came, I never knew a one that didn't sharpen the knife and do what must be done. A body's got to eat."

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Monday, July 3, 2017

The Exham Chronicle

The Exham Chronicle
by
Bobby Derie


A.D. 418. This year the Romans collected all the hoards of gold that were in Britain; and some they hid in the earth, so that no man afterwards might find them
- The Exham Chronicle


Among the manuscripts archived in the Bibliothèque nationale de France is a strange survival from Cluny Abbey: fifty-two leaves of vellum, much the worse for wear by the fire, composed in Latin and written in an insular black letter script, rebound in the 18th century. The work was identified as a recension of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, probably made in the 12th century, and appears primarily to be a copy of a Latin sections of the Canterbury Bilingual Epitome, with the addition of certain (possibly deliberate) copyist errors and a few additional and expanded entries relating to the priory at Exham; it is this latter material which has led bibliographers to refer to it as "The Exham Chronicle," and it is the source (occasionally erroneous) of much of the early history of that site.


The earliest deviation from the Canterbury Bilingual Epitome in the extant text claims that the nearby village of "Anchester" ("Ania Castra") was occupied by the 3rd Augustan Legion in C.E. 73; a distinct archaeological problem, since no village of that name currently exists and the 3rd Augustan Legion was never stationed in Britannia - however, the 2nd Augustan Legion was stationed in Britannia, and had connections with the camp at Alchester ("Ælia Castra")  in Oxfordshire, not far from the former site of the priory, and it seems likely that these represent errors on the part of the scribe who was adding these amendments to the chronicle. Regrettably, several sources have perpetuated these errors.


In the Chronicle, the future site of priory itself is first mentioned simply as a "heathen temple" (paganus templum), whence came a Phrygian priest (galli) who raised an altar to the Great Mother there in C.E. 96. The legions left Britain in 383, leaving the Romano-British to fend for themselves. Without Roman troops, they turned to Anglo-Saxon mercenaries (foederati) for aid, ceding them territory in exchange - one such troop settled near Alchester, and was given the territory surrounding the Phyrigian temple, which they fortified into a manor. This temple survived as part of the pagan kingdom of Mercia, but in the 7th century the kingdom was becoming Christianized, and it is recorded in the entry for 685: "This year there was in Britain a bloody rain, and milk and butter were turned to blood. And in this same year, the Phyrgian temple at Exham was broken, and the galli were baptized."


The much the subsequent leaves are missing, but it is evident that in 983 "The lord of the manor at Exham died without issue, and the property was gifted by the to the Abbey of Cluny, who granted a charter to a contingent of monks, ordering them to go forth. Odo of Lyon was named prior there." This was one of the "alien priories" in England, staffed by French Benedictine monks and answerable to the Abbot of Cluny, rather than the local diocese, but was only one of a number of small monastaeries that operated in Mercia, and the text shows a major focus on the adoration of the Virgin Mary (often as "the Blessed Mother" or "Queen of Virgins"). After its founding, the entries for the priory grow more frequent and detailed, noting even the creation of several castrati (whose reason for mention becomes more obvious when the same individuals are named as having acceded to the office of prior), and it is this as much as any reason that historians suspect that this chronicle was copied by a monk of the priory, as a copy to be sent to the mother-house at Cluny.


Details, however, are scant; there is an entry in 996 that "The earth gave up its ancient treasures at Exham, to the glory of the Blessed Mother," which has often been interpreted as the uncovering of a Roman or Anglo-Saxon hoard that had been buried on the property; and in 1005 "This year was the great famine in England so severe that no man ere remembered such. Yet the monks at Exham feasted well." A curious amendation to the entry for 1010 reads:

Thurkytel Myrehead first began the flight; and the Danes remained masters of the field of slaughter. There were they horsed; and afterwards took possession of East-Anglia, where they plundered and burned three months; and then proceeded further into the wild fens, slaying both men and cattle, and burning throughout the fens. Thetford also they burned, and Cambridge; and afterwards went back southward into the Thames; and the horsemen rode towards the ships. Then went they west-ward into Oxfordshire, and thence to Buckinghamshire, and so along the Ouse till they came to Bedford, and so forth to Temsford, always burning as they went. The rich priory at Exham, though it had no walls, they did not approach, but gave it a wide berth, so afraid were they of the Blessed Mother.


The remaining leaves run out, almost poetically although certainly by chance, with the invasion of England by William the Conquerer ("Bishop Odo and Earl William lived here afterwards, and wrought castles widely through this country, and harassed the miserable people; and ever since has evil increased very much. May the end be soon, when the Blessed Mother will!") Whatever wealth and power the priory had in the days before the Norman Conquest, its fortunes appear to have declined in the immediate aftermath. Details are lacking, though likely not from any deliberate erasure, but only the working of time and bookworm on records.


From local folklore we know the priory had an evil reputation, and it was not uncommon during this period for monks to grow worldly and disobey their rule, or to use their wealth as a lever against local worthies. If some scandal did erupt, it would seem likely that the priory was disbanded, its brothers recalled and distributed to new houses - not an unknown phenomena, when the Benedictine rule is broken in some flagrant manner. Whatever the case, the property was vacant except for certain tenant farmers when Henry the Third appointed it to one of his followers, Gilbert de la Poer, who was created the first Baron of Exham in 1261.


The enigma of the Exham Chronicle is, simply, how much of it to believe. Aside from the early confusion in names ("Ania Castra" for "Ælia Castra," and "Legio III Augusta" for "Legio II Augusta") and similar errors, some of the amendations vary from the plausible (the founding of the priory in 983) to the unsupportable ("999. A pilgrim returned with an image of the Blessed Mother that fell from Heaven." - an obvious reference to Acts 19:23-36); what is more, entries for the priory never mention calumnies, only emphasize its great wealth and prosperity, seemingly untouched by war or famine, and with no mention of the body of medieval legends that surrounded the priory and exist now only as oral folklore. The emphasis that several - indeed, all of the named priors - were castrati seems to suggest an effort to disabuse notions of carnal abuse. It seems likely then that the chronicle was in part meant as propaganda, perhaps to dissuade the mother-abbey of any rumors of error or scandal that might reach them.


Lacking any other contemporary source that mentions Exham Priory at all, however, historians are faced with little choice but to sift through the scanty entries here, and weigh each statement against whatever other facts we have, keeping in mind always that we are at the mercy of some medieval monk, or worse, a copyist unable to recognize their own errors.


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