Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Glory of a Revolution

(Author's note: This is an excerpt I got from a conversation with an ex-army veteran-turned-merc. Yes, it is a *SPOILERS ABOUND* vampire he was talking about, he was Irish, and he'd been halfway across the world. If you'd seen his eyes like I have, then you'd be reminded of a car running without fuel, empty, running on fumes. He had no life in him left. This is to the memory of the beer he shared with us on one long, empty road when our car broke down.)
Life. So yeah, this was it. So saying, I strolled down memory lane.
Years back we walked this lane, cowboy hats, cigars and beer were our companions. We walked carefree and so nakedly naive. 
And look what came out of it.
Twenty years gives me enough leeway to gripe about it. But it's like watching Clint Eastwood in Gran Turismo; the older you get, the more attached you get to something, that irrational sort of attachment that forms after you clasp your hands around the handles, feel the texture on your skin. 
I shouldered the rifle. I didn't want it, but then, in our teenage, it was what we lived for. We didn't care who the hell wanted a revolution; all we wanted was the glory of battle.
You know the thing about the glory of battle? Once you're shooting, all that's really there is adrenaline, fueled by a desire to live. All you want to do is stay alive, and you really don't care who you shoot, who you kill, to stay that way.
In a fight, there is no time to out-think or outsmart your opponents. That's why the think-tanks arm themselves with beer and binoculars, and stake out a cushy spot in the treeline.
And they stay there. By large that's the advantage of rank. Apart from that, everyone's got to die, sooner or later.
I buried all of my friends, and all of my family. I buried three commanders, and three platoons of recruits. 
Do you know about that story, where a vampire, full of his power, drunk on his strength, goes to travel the world? He enjoys his life, he samples every pleasure from Mexico to Manchester, goes east, north, south and then to Australia, the boot of the world.
When he finally returns, his head full to bursting with experiences, his tongue waiting to wag, all that waits for him at home is death.
His family's dead twice over; two generations of his immediate family who grew up without knowing him, and the third doesn't recognise him or believe him.
And so he is doomed to wander the Earth, and Death laughs at him; "If I cannot have you," Death jeers, "then you can have no one."
And so do I wander. All that's left for me is the fighting. I stopped caring a long time ago who I was fighting for. All I know is that someone pays me enough for a few more days' worth of food and drink. Hell, he even pays for the fucking bullets and the rifle oil. You think I care about the glory of our revolution?
I don't. If you live long enough, you won't, either. 
You want advice? Die young, kid, or live someone else's life. It's not worth living as long as I have in this shithole... and if you think my scars are something to be proud of, then wait until you get some of your own. When you stop screaming, come to my tent, and I'll drink to your health- or at least, to your chances of staying alive tomorrow.
Other than that, all you actually need to know is that if you squeeze the trigger on your rifle, a bullet shatters whatever's in front of it. And when it clicks, then it's time to replace the magazine.
Get going. Dawn's breaking, and I can hear them moving... if you stay alive, come find me, and we'll get drunk and live another night. If you die... then let me raise this glass to you, because I know you'll find more peace in the afterlife.
Get going.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Her final performance

(Author’s note: A short story, built around as much description as was possible in as little a frame as could be built. The premise is, the narrator is Death, come to take a soul; the woman, a dancer, offers a final performance for the deity. Enjoy.)
(P.S. Although a re-post, I did tailor it slightly before putting it in.
The room was dimly lit by the half-a-dozen windows, allowing slivers of light through.
She shone then, a pale figure looking out of the window, silhouetted against the light of the waning moon. Clad in a smooth, flowing gown, I could almost make out the soft promise of warm flesh, almost seeming to glow in the light.
She spun, not quickly, not worriedly, but in the manner of someone waiting for this very moment. She stood, so calmly, seductively, unhurried. A slight smile on those ruby lips; a slight arch to that thin eyebrow...
With a passing glance at the door she gestured arrogantly, defiantly, challenging me, the world, time itself to stop her- but we were powerless. She stood before me, a Lilith in righteous glory. Lilith was right, I thought. Comparing her to Salome did her no justice.
She danced, slow and seductive, hands high in the air to stretch her body. Sleek and lean, her hips gyrated to a tune only she could hear, for me to discern without knowing. I would have to guess, but remain in suspense as to what melody drove those movements.
And I stood there, both harbinger and harvester. Even after witnessing so much, she still stunned me. With but a glance, she told me to wait and enjoy, to listen and admire.
The music changed, abruptly, I could see in her movements. She had moved aloof, afar, a prize out of reach but forever in sight. Now, she turned teasingly, dancing closer and closer, within the reach of my hands...
... but darting out just before my skeletal appendages could close on warmer flesh. A pristine laugh escaped her as I missed once more and she danced away, out of reach again, content to watch me snarl from where she'd bound me.
Then once more she changed. Smooth and direct her movements, her leg extended with a grace only fit for an emperor's ballet, her knee coming up to her belly, then flexing, gently curving back down to the floor, and she jumped back smoothly into reach.. and this time I did not falter and trapped my prize.
With a smile and a pale hand on my cheek, she came into my embrace- and we descended into my domain of darkness and peace. The room stood empty, her scent, wafting away on the gentle breeze, the only trace left of her left to this world.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Last Smoke

Author's note: A mild piece on crime fiction. Inspired by detective Classics like The Maltese Falcon, North by Northwest, Hitchcock's own works among others, when double-crossings and triple-crossings were the norm.
Fatty Buster had been fired.
'You can't fire me, I-' that iconic line had not worked on his boss, a wickedly dangerous man who looked like a bomb about to explode. Fatty had taken the chance to run out as soon as possible, but not before breaking a few of his boss's favourite vases.
He climbed morosely down the stairs, not bothering to take the lift as usual. 'Why, oh lord?' He asked. There was no reply. Half an hour back he'd been happy, successful and rich. Now, while he was still rich, there was a mountain of bills left to take care of.
Not to mention a pair of mistresses and a wife.
And two kids.
Life, he thought, is a bitch.
With that eloquent remark, Fatty drew out a cigarette from the depths of a coat pocket. Although he kept telling himself he'd stop, the occasion called for a smoke.
Now, while Fatty Buster was having his last smoke, on the other side of the street, several things happened at once.
A beautiful woman exited a jewelry store.
A pair of punks in goth attire decided to raid her.
Another gang war erupted on the next street, its projectiles hitting windows and breaking glass. Several people ran.
Fatty Buster, however, remained unreachable. His concerns were of the utmost significance- no petty gang war would merit his attention.
But the woman on the other side finally got his attention anyway. Men, thought Fatty, were made by God as a standing joke. No man would resist a woman with her clothes in such disarray, and no man would want to give her up to a pair of punks who couldn't possibly appreciate her.
And thus the testosterone rush. Fatty slammed a backhand into the face of the taller of the two, and introduced the other's face to the concrete.
Both went down for a few minutes, then went away when he lifted a garbage can threateningly.
The woman stopped him, and eyed her torn coat. 'Thank you,' she said, her accent foreign and rich. Fatty placed it and her- she was greek, probably the mistress or trophy wife of some bigwig in town. Olive-skinned, dark-haired and jade-eyed. A stunner. But not really meant for him. He put his own over-coat around her and let her lead him to a nearby convertible.
The woman gave him several directions, most of which he knew but had never entered in his life. Bigwig's wife, or his mistress, Fatty thought again, but this time with less contempt that before as he swung the car into Drive and took it out into the street. The gang war had left the street open; they had little trouble getting to the address, while the woman kept her gaze either on the road, Fatty's coat, or Fatty.
She found his silence disconcerting, he could tell. Most people did.
Fatty didn't relieve her of that qualm, didn't say a word. In most places a word could damn you; and as such, he sincerely regretted taking that last smoke outside the building when the convertible was stopped by a pair of goons at a gate larger than his garage.
The woman spoke quick greek. Imported hired help. Curiouser and curiouser.
Fatty checked his own reflection in the mirror. With a buzz-cut and his poker face, he looked like half a gangster himself. Give him a billiards cue and he could pull off the italian greeting: 'you lookin' for troubbal, mistah, you foun' it.'
The goons let him in, amazingly. What was more amazing was the fact that the woman let him into the house, settled him down and had a maid give him a glass of fine wine. He took a sip while the maid cut a cigarette for him and lit it.
Something's not right, Fatty realized. I should've been out of here a long time ago. Why am I still here? This doesn't make sense.
While Fatty pondered the mysteries of the universe, he also pondered at the man with the two .45's making his way up the ladder. He didn't look like the hired help, so Fatty drew a rifle from fireplace, and hoping against hope it was loaded, shot the man, who, surprised, tumbled down the staircase.
Once again, the greek made her entrance, hands over her lips, shocked. She was even more shocked when she saw Fatty next to the dead man. 'So they are still here!' A stream of expletives in greek followed Fatty's discovery of a letter and the woman's photograph. 'We must go! Christos take my husband.' For the first time, Fatty realized things were out of his control.
'Kyria, I think I should be going, and you should be leaving.' For a moment, the woman stopped waving her hands around and the stream of expletives stopped, and the maid put the phone down.
'You will not come?' Fatty shook his head.
'If we both go, then they will find us easily- two different passports. No, Kyria, you should be going alone. I suspect that this man was waiting for you inside, and that your phone is tapped. I will call the airport and make arrangements.'
An hour passed to find them at the Airport. There were no threats on the way there. 'Thank you, sir,' the woman said again, her leopard-green eyes meeting his for what he suspected was the last time. Fatty nodded, and was surprised by the woman's quick kiss, a final glance of goodbye and then off she went. Fatty did not look back as he left. He didn't need to- he knew the woman felt a prickling in her stomach. The prickling would soon make its way up, and the poison would take its effect.
Sure enough, the airport's denizens began to raise their voices as someone shouted for help. As Fatty had observed, a beautiful woman always commanded the attention of any hapless man- but now, she was beyond saving. A phone call told him the money was in his account, and that her husband, the contractor, was offering him a job in Greece.
Fatty hung up the phone, tossing it into a nearby dustbin as the goons from earlier picked him up in their car. 'He's happy. You did a good job.' Fatty nodded.
'She was worth it. I would've liked to keep her.' The goons grinned their approval of the idea, but reached him home anyway. His wife- she had already left. Not that he'd expected any less. She didn't like what  he did one bit.
Fatty looked at the plane tickets in his hand, and waited.
On the third day, the bell to his door rang, and he rose, putting the glass of rum aside, and picked up his 9mm; the door opened to the same jade-eyed woman, who died three days ago. 'Let me in,' she said in a voice as seductive as her form; 'I've come to haunt you for the rest of your life.'
Smiling for the first time in days, he let her in; in her hands the entire missing fortune of the Greek billionaire. He sat down on his chair, and she on his lap. 'I have a beautiful little villa tucked away in Siena.. far enough from Alessandro that we will not need to hide anymore. Will you come now? Or must I die again at your hands?'
Fatty smiled, his black eyes pinned by her green. From the first, he had been helpless; she had set the whole plan up, all those days ago when he'd met her as a client for his company. Now... she was dead, he was too small to bother, and they had nothing left to fear.
'Let's go. There is nothing keeping us.'
She smiled again, tipping out the tickets onto his hand, the smell of her exotic cigarette washing over him as she put the holder aside.
'I thought you'd stopped smoking,' Fatty said.
'It's the last smoke,' she replied, and somewhere, Fatty knew, it was his last smoke that began this whole plan; God alone knew what hers would begin.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Recurring Nightmare

Author's note: This is from my Autobiography Assignment. No, I'm seriously not writing one, it's what I submitted as an assignment, and yes, this is real, it did happen.
Times were that I used to be this wee little lad in shorts.                                    
I had an eccentric family, and they often took pains to prove it. An uncle of mine was a crime and horror movie buff. For no good reason, I spent hours watching movies with him.
I remember watching the Godfather, Dick Tracy, or Evil Dead and Predator among others. They really affected my imagination, and deprived me of several nights' sleep.
When I did start sleeping properly, I had a nightmare.
If you've seen those interrogation scenes in detective movies, then you'll relate to what I saw: a table in a dark room, lit by an overhead bulb. There were two chairs, and one was occupied by a huge man. He thumped the table with a fist when I sat down on the chair opposite him.
The man held a meat cleaver. I didn't like it. No one who's seen Friday the 13th would. As he did, the very flesh seemed to melt off his skin into a puddle. Not burning, not melting, but dripping off his fist onto the table.
It was bad enough that I didn't want to sleep for several days after I woke- we stared at each other for what seemed like hours.
Several years went by and I found myself in my first year of graduation. In a different time, a different city. I never really thought about that nightmare anymore- horror movies had become so passé. I stumbled into my bed particularly intoxicated one night.
And although I didn't recognise the scene immediately, it was still familiar. I sat down at a chair, wondering why the 90's interrogation set had been erected. I had a sense of someone else in the room, who sat on the chair opposite mine.
That was when it all came back. But what sat in front of me was not a man. It was... a three-foot humanoid shape, eyeless. Its mouth stretched from ear to ear. Its sharp teeth glinting.
If this was a trick, it was a bad one. I thumped my fist on the table. In my hand was a meat cleaver.
I remembered that too- but why the role reversal, after so long? And was that how I'd looked, to myself?
My flesh was dripping off my bones, and it felt... like water after a bath.
I woke up not soon after, rattled by the experience.
It got me thinking - it couldn't have been coincidence. Coincidence would be having the same dream twice. Not the same dream from a different angle.
After that, I began a downward spiral into the occult. Cynicism aside, it was a fascinating study. It brought up more questions than answers; but I found the reason why bad dreams happen - supernaturally speaking.
But that is a story for another time.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Untitled Ghost Story 1

It was morning. A good, pleasant morning. I was going along with some friends through Tuscany when we stopped at a bar.
It was a typically Italian bar, and we had a lot of wine there, and a hanger-on, an old man who thought he could fleece us out of some glasses. He did, but in exchange for a story. He told us of the Lonely Madonna. Madonna here meant a beautiful woman. The Lonely Madonna who waited for her love.
Most of us wanted to back out right then and there; we thought it was some grandiose epic.
But three of my friends wanted to listen, so I sat with them; this is his story.
Do you know, my friends, in a long time past, when the good Lord's son had set his followers on our soil, there lived a tailor. He was as you or I; he lived because he enjoyed life, good friends, fine wine.
The tailor was well-known for his fine stitching; and one day the lord summoned him to make for his daughter a dress that would bring her to life.
Now the tailor was surprised; why to life, good lord, he asked. Does she not live, the apple of your eye. 
The lord replied, no, she lives, but it is a living death. She shows no interest in whatever I bring her, and you, if you succeed, I will reward you in gold. 
The tailor was crafty, and did not ask what would happen if he failed; he knew.
So for ten days and ten nights he worked to sew such a garment, and on the eleventh day, he presented it to the lord. It shone like an angel's wing, that one; of cloth so white and pure that would draw every eye to the wearer. The lord took it to his daughter, much impressed, and the tailor, exhausted, waited for the opinion.
In due time, the daughter came out; and if the dress shone white, she shone brighter, by far, but still, here eyes were blank and far away. The lord did not reprimand him; but the tailor had failed.
This tailor had pride and took it amiss that she had not yet shown signs of life.
So each night he tried to create something better than before, and each day, she came with the same life.

One day, the tailor, his hands shaking climbed up again to court.
For some reason, he realized, the steps took longer to climb, his breath shorter than before.
But the daughter! Ah, she was still as young, although her father, had mysteriously grown a beard.
And as he waited he saw himself in a mirror;
He had aged, fifty years since that first dress. The full weight of his life crashed on him then and he realized how much time had been spent in his dressmaking.
And yet the daughter came, lifeless as ever, lovely as ever.
Finally, tearfully he gave up, and as he left the court, he saw no one.
That night, he sat without laying a finger to his needle, and saw the castle, reflecting the light of the moon; so beautiful. 
And on that turret of a lonely tower, a woman stood; her beauty as the sun.
She fell.
The scream was that of release.

The tailor rushed to court, and found the father butchered, every servant done to death, lying in pools of blood.
And there, on the lord's chair, sat a woman.
How he knew she was a woman he did not understand; save that something told him it was so.
The tailor fell, shaking; and the woman, dressed in a hood, came to him, and her eyes were as lifeless as the daughter.
I have loved your devotion; she told him. You must make me more dresses.
And full of despair at this supernatural being; for it was the daughter- the tailor fled.

They say, even today, if one cares to visit the house of that tailor, at two-thirty of the night, one can hear the loom spinning.
And if one will sit outside, one can see a figure, falling from the highest tower, screaming release.
And every morning, a new set of tracks in the soil, as though someone dragged their feet through, climbing a staircase not meant for an old foot.
We went to that castle afterwards, and it was beautiful. But we didn't believe the old man, who we thought had cheated us out of a bottle; so we found that hut and waited.
It didn't start at 2.30, but nearly 3 in the morning; and the room was empty, although the sounds of someone walking in the darkness were there; and a noise- slllick- like a needle being drawn through a handloom, the grunts of someone pulling and pushing in time to the threads being woven.
Outside, a faint noise that built- and we went to see the tower. It was easily seen from the garden of that house; something too white to be a stone, moving down, and falling with a splash. 
And the sounds of the soil being crushed as someone moved through it, stood where we did, as though watching.
There is that feeling you get when someone stands behind you, and we all got it. 
There was no one there; but in a few moments the sounds of the loom began again, with mutterings in italian.
We didn't wait longer, while this was supposed to be a benevolent ghost, it's better not to meddle.