Sunday, November 11, 2012

it's the never leaving

“To come back, that’s not really anything,” she told me.
“It’s the never leaving that’s really something.”

Shuffling my big boots through the snow,
I pulled the collar of my plaid coat up to better block the winter wind.

I squeezed her hand a little tighter.

The bulk of the guitar case strapped to her back was gathering snow.

“Why’s the snow white, do you ever wonder?” she asked.

But before I could answer, she was telling me things:
that she’s not so sure about God anymore,
that she’s a Virgo,
that her mother fled her family a long time ago.

Frozen street lights twinkled down the sidewalk,
and a pair of white jackrabbits raced zigzag down the slushy street.

I rubbed my thumb along the warm, soft skin on side of her small hand.

“Writing music is tricky business,” she told me.
“You can’t just go and research what will sell best
because there are too many variables.

“And you can’t simply ask people what they want to hear
because no-one knows what they want to hear until they hear it.”

There are certain things which don’t need to be improved upon:
bathroom tissue, nail clippers, hairbrushes.
Toiletries, mostly.

And lazy walks on a winter’s evening with a fellow musician.

I went to tell her this, but she was still talking.

About the history of treble clefs,
about crystals,
about the difference between crows and ravens.

I squeezed her hand just a little tighter,
thinking of never leaving.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wish You Were Here (1.10)

the tables turn

He was taking it personally.  That's the only excuse for such a mundane choice of approaches to offing me.  A failed mugging, and a club to the head?  Why wouldn't he break out the hellfire right off the bat?  Because he wanted it to be intimate, wanted to get up close and personal, to toy with me.  Well, I showed him the kind of man he was dealing with.

Surprised at the sudden turn of events, he didn't even have the sense to ditch his weapon.  Dumb, dumb, dumb.  Though he may have been unnaturally fleet-footed when possessing the upper hand, he wasn't so quick when caught unawares, and carrying a – what was that?  A crowbar?  Length of steel pipe?  It didn't matter;  it was working to my advantage now, slowing him down.  My head may have been starting to sting, but a bit of pain wasn't about to keep me from tracking this monster down.

Breathing heavily, tearing through moonlit alleyways, my lungs were about to climb out of my goddamned throat.  With each breath, I could feel them clawing their way a little further up the soft flesh of my oesophagus.  But I kept going.  I was thinking about the terror.  It drove me.  His terror.  The terror I would bring when I caught him.

Giving chase, I witnessed him flicker out and back into existence several times, each time triggering an intense wave of nausea and awful muscle cramps in my own mortal shell.  Enough to make me stumble, to lose a bit of ground.  Not enough to force me to give up, however.  I kept on him, refusing to give him opportunity to focus on whatever diabolical machinations he had at his disposal.

Closing in.  Little prick.  I registered a loud clang as he finally thought to ditch his weapon, letting it fly into a brick wall.  But it was too late; he was growing tired and I was right behind him.  There was a desperate shuffle of soft shoes on gravel and the metallic rattle and clatter of chain link.

All at once, my hands were on the back of his light suit coat, pulling him off of that fence and hard onto the ground.  I kicked dirt in his eyes, throwing him further off his game, and my hands were at his throat crushing his Adam's apple.  Causing damage, that was sure.  I could feel his evil heart beating faster and faster in his carotid artery.

“Please—” he pleaded.

But I wasn't hearing him.

With each punch to his face, I was pushed closer to absolute abandon, only planning to stop when he either took his last godless breath or I grew tired.  I had him, I thought.  I really had him.

He went limp, stopped trying to defend himself, and I broke to wipe my bloodied hands on his white slacks.  I rose, standing over the brutalised monster, drawing my Browning to finish him off, and indulged in a moment to fancy the slight glimmer of pale moonlight in the shiny mess of groaning flesh that was his face.  Truly, he'd messed with the wrong guy.

I levelled the Browning and took aim.  Peering down the barrel, across the sight, I saw a slight twitching from the mess of his face where a mouth once was.  Something was growled, long and slow, in a language some primordial part of me immediately recognised as one indefinitely old and equally unholy.

Suddenly weakened, my insides, all of my organs, contracted violently, while my consciousness madly fluttered like a dying flame.  Then there was a deafening blast as the fabric of time and space tore all around me, and just like that, I felt twelve tons of steel, a veritable tractor trailer, slam into me.  Heat on my face, all over me.  A sheen of sweat broke out across the whole of my ravaged flesh.  I smelt sulphur mixed with my own flesh burning.  I heard it sizzle like a steak.

When I opened my eyes he was gone.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wish You Were Here (1.9)

briefing room

The place was a small, hot, dimly lit back room of a nondescript dry cleaner's in Manama with clean white walls; the only adornment was a white clock, ticking, displaying the wrong time.  There were no windows, but there was a simple door with white-frosted glass filling the top half.  I could barely make out the shadows of some backward lettering: CUSTODIAL.

I was bored.

“You sure you wanna do this?” Agent Conrad asked at last, with practised bravado, arching a dark manicured eyebrow.

I smirked.  “As sure as I've ever been, boss.”

At a small table in the middle of the concrete floor, the agent and I sat across from one another, a flowery lamp drooping impotently between us, and an empty tin ashtray sitting unused, new, off to the side.  Agent Conrad, a hotshot up-and-comer: his suit was too new, his tie likely making its first outing.  His obvious greenness aside, I knew it could only be a lack of seniority which would see a man heading up such a remote branch office.  My eyes flitted from this manboy to the corner of the room where a stylized fan's blades rotated lazily.

I had already briefed Agent Conrad about my impromptu visit to Bahrain, and had nothing left to say.  I took a sip of lukewarm coffee, and we traded a few idle remarks about the heat.

“Love to be a fly on the wall back at headquarters right about now,” Agent Conrad clucked, shaking his head.  “So close to breaking this case, and we've got one agent hellbent on going maverick.”

I folded my arms across my chest, leant back in my chair, and measured the man before me.

“You happy here, boss, doing everything by the book, playing by their rules?”  I surveyed the tiny, stiff room.  My eyes met his.  “You've one life,” I continued, “and if you're not doing exactly what you want, then what's it all for anyway?”  I stood up, readying to leave, returning my hat to my head.  “If you found out today that your time was up, would you be happy with the life you lived on this tiny ball of mud?  I know I would be.”

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wish You Were Here (1.8)

airport dreams

Dear god.  I had drifted off, only to awake still curled into the tiny, unforgiving, plastic chair of an airport waiting area.  Same insipid song playing.  Muzak.  Same faceless waitees beside me.  Same ache in my back.

What is there to say about airports?  Nothing that hasn't been said before.  Cold and utilitarian.  The careful illusion of sterility.  Everything built with functionality in mind  leaving creativity by the wayside.  Shrines to the uninventive.  More a sepulchre, perhaps, for an architect's deceased imagination.

I took a sip of substandard coffee from a cheap paper cup.  Leafed through some pages of notes.  I was beyond anxious.  Would Lagan still be waiting for me in Bahrain when I arrived?

Two hours more, and I had explored every explorable deplorable inch of that colourless structure.  Spelunked through the yawning caverns of souvenir shops.  Reconnoitred the vast stretches of duty-free stores.  Traversed the wilds of the food courts.

I was ready to board, and ready to be bored on a whole new level, for the wan surroundings of an airport can't even compete with the totally bland interior of an airplane.  There, once past the invasive searches, the accusing eyes of security, I would be subjected to a higher plane of boredom.  Films of yesteryear, screened for appropriateness.  Tasteless gin.  Even more tasteless company.

On the plane, hunched into that polyester-clad, stain-resistant seat, I immediately closed my eyes to troubling images of cursors blinking and untyped pages, thoughts of unwritten reports and things not yet checked off of my growing bucket list.  Seat up, buckled in, passed out, I was ultimately subjected to horrifying nightmares of demonic robots giving chase, all glowing, red eyes and sooty, black breath.  Forever running and getting caught.

Lagan was there, around every corner, provoking, ridiculing, luring, always careful to remain one step ahead.  Images of that awful mouth, unhinged and open wide, laughing and laughing and laughing.  Then there were flies.  Swarms of them.  Hard to breath as they enveloped me in one diseased mass, tasting, nipping, consuming, slowly rendering flesh from bone.

Thirty-five thousand feet above nowhere, I awoke in a panic.  No leg room.  Numb limbs.  Screaming babies.  Hell.  Hell.  Hell.  My eyes opened to a headache inducing yellow light, panicked lungs filled with fake, opaque air, and the grotesquery of a stewardess's counterfeit smile.

“Another gin, sir?”

I smiled, shook my head, and shut my eyes, my ears locating the manufactured melody of a piece of soft piped-in Muzak.  On the wings of these artificial notes, I tried to relax, still packed into a steel tube hurtling through the blue, blue sky.  Going elsewhere.  Always elsewhere.  Hoping beyond hope that hell would, indeed, wait.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wish You Were Here (1.7)

wish you were here

Back in New York City, I was at my desk contemplating my next move, absently watching a fly buzzing madly, trapped in the space between two windows.  Sonofabitch.  I took a draught of whiskey from my glass, and my chair creaked, breaking my reverie.

There was a noise in the hall then.  Slight, barely perceptible.  My hand rested on the cool steel of the Derringer atop my desk, finger tensing on the trigger.

A key turned in the lock, and I relaxed hearing the tumblers give way.  There was a slight rap at my door.

“Come in,” I said, wearily.

The door creaked.

Goddamnit, I thought, I've got to fix that.

“Mr Turner?”


Light footsteps across creaking floorboards.  “Today's mail,” she said, placing it on the desk before retreating.

I waited for the door to close, waited for the deadbolt's click

Three pieces.  I flipped through them in the dim light of a banker's lamp.  Hydro, Ma, and – what's this?

A post card: the Bahrain Financial Harbour, her grand towers glowing a beautiful turquoise beneath a pitch sky.

Flipping the card over, I was met with four words in a strangely familiar, but curiously stylised scrawl: Wish you were here.  I couldn't help but smile, and my finger flew to the intercom.

“Julie, book me on the earliest possible flight to Manama.  Call headquarters and let them know I'm leaving, and that I'll touch base with them when I get there.”

“Certainly, Mr Turner.”

“And Julie?”

“Yes, sir?”

“Leave my light suit out – it can get a little hot there this time of year.”

“Will do, Mr Turner.”

“Oh, and one more thing, Julie.”


“Leave my Kevlar and Browning Hi-Power out, as well.”

“Of course, Mr Turner.”

“It sure can get a little hot there this time of year.”

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wish You Were Here (1.6)

a slight reprimand

You lost him?”

“Yeah, I lost him.”

I bit my lip, thinking, eyes darting to the side.  I glanced up, studying the ceiling tiles for a moment, before lowering them to stare at the digital recorder between us.  Agent Morrison waited, robotic, her straight platinum hair tied back in a utilitarian ponytail.  She waited for me as though she knew, like she was expecting, a change in responses.

“Rather,” I continued, “he lost me.  Whichever.”

One corner of her austere lips twitched ever so slightly, signalling veiled bemusement.  She jotted something down in her notes.

“These things happen,” I said.

Glancing up at me, she flashed a quick, cold smile before resuming her note-taking.

“Even the best make mistakes,” I went on, tugging nervously at the fabric of my slacks.  “Who do you trust?”  I puffed my cheeks, and exhaled a big breath of stale air I didn't even know I was holding.  “Who do you trust?” I repeated.  “Who can we trust?”

Agent Morrison simply kept writing for a moment, then stopped, purposefully dotting her last sentence before setting down her pen.  She carefully lined the pen up so it was parallel with the edge of her notebook, which she then closed with equal intent.

Locking her grey eyes on me then, she reached across the table to turn the recorder off.  She leant forward ever so slightly.  I'm sure the colour drained from my face.

“You don't trust anyone.” she coolly answered.  “When you're tracking someone who counts shapeshifting amongst his repertoire, you don't trust anyone.”

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wish You Were Here (1.5)

gross misrepresentation

Istanbul, three weeks into my trip.  She could have been anyone.  I don't know.  Lack of sleep combined with rattled nerves made for a dangerous cocktail, I suppose.  In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have trusted her, but I'll chalk it up to a learning experience.  There's a certain type of woman your archnemesis keeps as company.  Stay away from her.  She's no damned good.

I met her down by the docks in a place Lagan was known to frequent.  Drinks were consumed, trust was gained, and before long, a few of my dollars met the wallet of a loose-lipped bartender.  He pointed in her direction: a dark-haired beauty with ashen skin, and eyes of coal burning from within.

“Her,” he hissed disdainfully, his lip curled.  “I heard he keeps company with her.  That one with the black hair.“

“Know anything about her?”

“I know that if she did not ever come back in my bar again I would not be upset.”

She was his type all right, and I've never been given a reason to distrust a bartender.  I made eye contact, brought her another bottle of Efes, and prayed she spoke English.

Merhaba,” I said.  “Speak English?”

Squinting, she eyed me up and down, and my mind was peeled open like the top of a soup can, while I was hit by an unexpected bout of vertigo.  I gave my head a good shake.

She parted her lips to speak.  “Got a cigaret?” she asked.

That voice.  English.  Cockney accent, I was sure.

“London?” I casually enquired.  “East End?”

“Yeh and naw” she answered. “More like southwest.  Now, 'ow 'bout that smoke?”

I sapped open my silver case of rollies.  “Roll my own.”

“Don't care,” she replied, and grabbed two, putting both between her pert lips.  There was flame, and my mind twitched, a record skipping, a screen flickering.  A flame appeared to issue forth from elsewhere igniting both cigarets.  She puffed on one, and offered me the other.

“Uh, thanks,” I mustered.
A condensed version of the evening: a few hours spent in the darkened corner of the bar, me maintaining a view of the room with my back against the wall, and she not caring about a word I said.

“Lagan,” I repeated once more.  “Arthur Lagan.  Sometimes goes by Artie?”

“Never 'eard of 'im.”

My brain felt kneaded like a hunk of bread dough.  We were at a standstill.  And perhaps she really didn't know him.  I was increasingly convinced she wasn't trying to hide anything.  That accent – she could have disguised it if she desired.  Her easy admission of being from London.  And she'd already admitted to why she was here: to have a good time.  Perfectly reasonable for a young woman such as she.

“I'm gonna jet,” she said at last.  “It's getting late.”

“Listen, I'll walk you home.”

A squint turned her eyes into two alluring, bottomless black slits.  She smirked.  “Got another cigaret?”


“I'm in Levent.”

A walk from one world to another, the maze of old winding streets in Bebek led to the shining new glass towers of Levent.  Talk turned easily from academics and a yearning for travel, to Bogazici University and the trials of campus life, to the Bosporus and the difference between Europe and Asia.

At some point, I skipped out of consciousness for what seemed like only a split second, and when I came back, the girl was kissing me.  With her tongue in my mouth it was hard to speak, but with some effort I was able to push her back a little.  I asked her what she was doing.

“What do you think?” she asked, pulling me close.

She mashed her lips into mine, sticking her tongue back into my mouth.  Things were hot, and I don't simply mean in a lusty sort of way.  It was quite literally hot.  I was burning up, scorching, from the inside out.  My blood was actually rising in temperature, my brain matter cooking.  In retrospect, it sounds so awful, but there is no denying that at the time I found myself absolutely, undeniably, uncontrollably excited.

Kissing me frantically, violently, she turned us around, and I wound up with my back against a crumbling plaster wall just inside the mouth of a shadowy alley.  Dust and dirt clumps rained down upon our heads and shoulders.

Listening for noise, I found only her heady breath in my ears, and managed once again to push her face from mine.  Asked her if we should talk first.  Get to know each other.

“Don't speak,” she breathed.

I stopped trying.

My back roughly scraping the wall, the girl manically sucking at my neck, I threw my head back and found the sky framed between rooftops.  My eyes met the moon there, remaining fixed for an eternity as this strange girl's tameless growls filled the whole of my soul. 

A grainy film clip still loops through my mind of the next scene: she, walking away into the moonlit street, smoothing her dress, wiping her mouth on the sleeve of her cardigan.  Trying to call after her, I found my voice hoarse, unable to make a sound.  She rounded a corner and I stumbled trying to follow.  With bruised pride, my bloodied knees uncooperative, I stood swaying for a moment, lost.

Back in the street, I lost her in a boisterous crowd where the main drag splits in Levent.  I stood there like an idiot, wildly scanning around – making an easy mark of myself.

I didn't even see it coming.

The shuffle of feet through the crowd, soft shoes grinding sand into the concrete.  Shattering like glass in my mind's eye, a vision of a white casual suit set against hellish, leathery wings.  Time stretched, and eternity broke into a long, drawn-out, yawn.  There was a slow motion turning of my head, just enough so the ensuing blow landed as a painful strike on the jaw instead of a potentially killing blow to the base of my neck.


I awoke in the back of an ambulance, face and pride pummelled.  Was he there?  Was he there the whole time?  At the bar?  The walk home?  During that kiss.  I rolled over, violently vomiting onto the medic's shiny shoes.  I puked past the point of spilling yellow-green bile onto the floor, purging until there was nothing left but dry-heaves.

What was my first mistake?  Trusting the bartender.  Trusting that girl.  Trusting anyone.

An anxious rifling of pockets found my wallet gone.  Goddamnit.  A short prayer.  Please no.  Yes, my passport, too.  So stupid.  I'd have punched myself in the face if I could've lifted my arm, if I could've only made a fist.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Wish You Were Here (1.4)


I could mention our organisation's name, but it wouldn't mean a thing to anyone.  No fancy acronym.  No celebrity recruiters spilling platitudes on the airwaves.  No government funding.  Sure, there have been loose associations with the more apparent organizations.  Sure, we've been party to some of the more famous or infamous operations.  Throw down any government or military acronym you can think of, and I'm sure we've done business with them – even if the average recruit off the street doesn't know about it.  But you won't find mention of us in any leaked documents, and we've never had to deal with a high-profile defection.

Walking through a too-trendy old quarter in Istanbul, Turkey, I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to check my GPS one last time.  Tiny tables littered the pavement populated with blissfully unaware normals sipping strong black coffee out of tiny white cups.  Exactly the type of naïve scene which never failed to make me feel a little heavy of heart.

Turning down a depressingly narrow side street, claustrophobic, devoid of natural lighting, my feet walked towards what passed for our branch office: a little café tucked away beyond a crumbling stone vestibule.  Little more than a walk-in closet, really.  I quickly flashed my badge at the pert barista manning the counter, and muttered the password.  Through the kitchen, and past a door marked KILER – 'pantry' in my native English – she led me down an uncomfortably cramped set of wooden stairs, where I bid her adieu, and rapped seven times on the steel door in a rote pattern.

It wasn't long before I heard three deadbolts unlatch, the door creaking open to expose the expressionless face of Agent Parker, all steel-rimmed pince-nez glasses and five o'clock shadow.  He silently passed me a bulging, sealed manila envelope through the crack in the door, before shutting and bolting it.

Remote agents.  Odd bunch, I thought, but they make the world go 'round.

Climbing the stairs, I examined the package's contents.  Physical photographs and notes, and a couple memory sticks.  Half of my work done for me in advance, Agent Parker would have been busy these last couple days collecting data on Lagan – leaving the fun stuff entirely up to me.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wish You Were Here (1.3)

bar car blues

Who lost who during that fateful trip from Paris to Moscow?  A handful of sleepless nights aboard a train clacking from one old city to another.  A handful of groggy mornings in the bar car, coffee my only breakfast.  I watched for him there, as always, in the one place I knew he'd turn up, the one place he couldn't resist.  The place where addictions could be fed, not only for alcohol, but for smoke, drugs, and women as well.
Jesus.  I swatted them away like flies during those early hours.  The type guys like him went for: a little insecure, a little dumb, a little needy.  Fuelled by alcohol's fire, these women were looking for their ticket to a life they felt they always deserved.  Looking for a guy with money.  And lots of it.  Even in my worst suit I couldn't keep them away.  Unshowered and unshaven for four days, these women still flocked.  Money: the answer to all problems.  They could smell it, and they swarmed, a real infestation.
Then I saw him.
His frame, his face, his style.  Dressed to stand out.  In a crowd of black, only he would think to step out in a neatly pressed, cream linen suit.  At two in the morning, the peak hour of desperation for these women, there he was, immaculate, new.
I observed him for a couple minutes to verify my mark.  He was a conductor leading a symphony.  A diabolical combination of bestial smiles and graceful movements.  An intoxicating mix of feral attraction and supernatural presence.  Fiendishly, unreasonably, attractive with his unearthly tan painted on unblemished flesh.  His too-perfect hair and immaculate teeth.  Those eyes, ghastly grey and empty.  From where I was sitting, it was all so abhorrent.
I switched my small camcorder on, to record what I don't know, and those terrible eyes instantly turned my way, curdling the contents of my stomach.  The blood in my veins grew hotter and hotter, and my hands began shaking so violently my camera clattered to the table.  It was as though my brain's operating system froze, and the whole machine needed to be restarted.
My mind was still trying to register what happened when I lost him in a quick crowd of hangers-on.  In a second, I was on my feet with the hot of my coffee dumped in my lap, rushing forward, stumbling.  Through the crowd, the glint of gold from a watch.  An exchange of money for drink.  A glass of amber liquid raised in toast.  I forced myself through a bevy of bimbos only to discover the drink being raised was not raised by him, but by another man.
And Lagan was gone.
A frantic racing down darkened corridors ensued.  A trying of random doors, a throwing open of others.  Flannel pyjamas and the pasty moonlit flesh of startled tourists met my eyes at every turn.  I was breathing heavy, near collapse.  Finally, subdued by security, I was confined to the infirmary for the remainder of the trip.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Wish You Were Here (1.2)

lusus naturae

I can understand the need for evidence beyond the anecdotal.  That's why we do what we do – we track down proof.  We're bankrolling efforts to find Scotland's Nessie.  We've got teams tracking Bigfoot through the Canadian Rockies.  Crews hunting ghosts in New Orleans.  Members chasing vampires across Europe.  Werewolves in the Pacific Northwest.  The Chupacabra in Mexico.  Haitian zombies.  Chinese dragons.
Lumped into a group marked 'other', this is my so-called reward for years of service.  I'm charged with tracking down creatures classified as one-offs.  The Pope Lick Monster, a purported human-goat hybrid with a knack for hypnosis and mimicry.  The Scape Ore Swamp Lizard Man, a massive bipedal lizard with glowing red eyes.  The Mothman, the Jersey Devil, the Flatwoods Monster.
It was a couple years ago that the seeds of my current assignment were planted after coming into possession of a book, a truly bedevilled thing, in the dusty collection of tomes purchased at an estate sale in Massachusetts.
Barely anybody had clapped eyes on an authentic copy of Dr Hirschkovitsch's Encyclopædia  of Monstrosities and Miscreations in the nearly two centuries since the destruction of its scanty first and only printing.  Until my eyes fell upon this tome, my fingers caressing its cursed covers, there were only rumours and cheap imitations.  And by the time I unhooked the last of its hasps, I knew my world was forever changed.
Dr Itzhak Hirschkovitsch, renowned explorer and acclaimed cryptozoologist, a true pioneer in our field, had begun writing the manuscript at the start of the nineteenth century after nearly two decades of extensive travel and documenting.  The things he had encountered abroad had changed him, his wife was noted as saying, and once back home, Dr Hirschkovitsch flatly refused to discuss the things he had seen, and the “vast network of monstrosities” he had discovered.
All would be laid out in his book, he said, and the world would at last see what it was never meant to see.  Borders would fall away, and religions would crumble with a new, greater one rising up to replace the myriad old.  The earth's population would assume its rightful place as a people of slaves, he said, and it would be happy to do so at the mercy of the “other thing” which he repeatedly declined to elaborate on in his few interviews.
By summer of 1826, the manuscript was ready for printing, and a title was chosen, with the words Encyclopædia  of Monstrosities and Miscreations emblazoned in gold-leaf on the book's great leather cover.  Three brass hasps requiring three different keys secured the tome, and the book's pages were the sturdiest of paper, its accursed words printed with the finest of inks – all details which made the book one of the most expensive produced up to that time.
Dr Itzhak Hirschkovitsch inexplicably chose for the book's printing one of the smallest, most ill-equipped printing houses in all of England: Kohlson's.  It was only Samuel Kohlson's second year in business when Dr Hirschkovitsch made the exhaustive request of him, and he would've declined the work if it weren't for the handsome payment the weird doctor offered.
It's been said that not even two dozen copies of the book were printed by the time Dr Hirschkovitsch abruptly ordered the book's printing stopped, an order was followed closely by another: the immediate destruction of all twenty-three then-printed copies.  Kohlson's apprentice, a boy by the name of Johann Bruhner, was charged with their destruction, however, Bruhner had seen something important in the tome, and managed to squirrel away a copy of the book before burning the rest.   The rest, however, would not go down without a fight, and the fire raged out of control, burning to the ground the printing house with Samuel Kohlson still inside, unable to escape. 
Three days later, the body of Dr Itzhak Hirschkovitsch was found hanging in his home.  He did not leave a note, but did tie a really good noose.  So nicely was the noose tied, that details of its craftsmanship worked their way into every newspaper article on the doctor's suicide.  A new length of the finest hemp rope with twenty-three coils making up the knot, one for each copy of the Encyclopædia  of Monstrosities and Miscreations printed.  In life, Dr Hirschkovitsch enjoyed twenty foot ceilings – in death, these same ceilings made for an awfully long drop over a second floor balustrade.
The printer's apprentice, Johann Bruhner, was never the same after the fiery destruction of his workplace, and it wasn't long before his bloodied body was discovered in the basement of his parent's home.  Police reports from the time mention how Bruhner committed an act now known as seppuku, seemingly ripping open his own abdomen with a long knife.  He was cut almost through, from side to side, they wrote, his body laying nearly separated into two pieces with the knife still in his hand.  A book, indeed the book, lay open by his side.
Police Inspector William Johnson is said to have collected a few things as evidence, including the knife and the unnamed book.  The knife went where evidence is supposed to go.  The book found its way to Inspector Johnson's home.
I've a theory Inspector Johnson never bothered looking through the book, and may have unthinkingly, but luckily, locked the three hasps without having the keys to open them again.  I think this only because Inspector Johnson enjoyed a long life, a life free of curse save for the curse of mundanity.
By the time Chandler Montgomery III, noted philanthropist and bibliophile, found the book in Johnson's attic, it was still locked and under five decade's worth of dust.  The book, considered little more than an oddity by Montgomery's family, found itself being passed down through a few generations until it wound up at the bottom of a cardboard box on an auctioneer's stage.  Mine, for the low, low price of one hundred twenty dollars – and, possibly, my life.
It was a small, seemingly innocuous, article on page 161 of the tome which inexplicably caught my attention, and changed everything:


A fearsome creature rumoured to stalk city streets in plain sight, Q'lagan'yulgz was most recently encountered by a young physician in London, England, one Dr Alston James Toulson, who documented in his journal being “hounded incessantly by a demon” in the months leading up to his untimely suicide. 
The creature's activities are said to include, but are not necessarily limited to, toying with, taunting, and terrorizing his victims.  Its abilities include, but again are certainly not limited to, pyrotechnical conjuration, spontaneous materialisation, manipulation, seduction, and any combination thereof.
While the well-documented incident in London's Roehampton remains the creature's most infamous piece of work, creatures matching the description of Q'lagan'yulgz have been reported in major urban centres as far away as New York City.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Every time, no matter who the mark is, you go through the same procedure: study, trail, choose the location, time, and weapon.  Finally, the moment comes to execute.           

It’s rote, you’re programmed, mindlessly hunting your prey through nameless cities, countless countries.  Always choosing different types of spots to avoid a pattern, but choosing spots with similar vantage points because you know what works.  You have a special system for breaking down a gun in under ten seconds, and you can reassemble it in less than twenty.

Resting your finger ever so delicately on the trigger of your Czech-made CZ-700 sniper rifle, you slow your heartbeat to match the footsteps of the target in your crosshairs.  You wait for that moment when you know you can’t miss, and squeeze off a beautiful shot, flawlessly and effortlessly exterminating your mark.

You break down your gun in record time – in just under eight seconds – but something feels wrong.  You can’t decide what to do next, and just stay there, crouched on the roof, holding your gun case and watching as your slow breath freezes in the air before you.

A thought comes to mind, and you feel the need to speak it out loud: “I’m not alone.  This was not anticipated.”  Hanging frozen in the air, each word looks the same as the last, a white cloud of vapour, and you suddenly realise that all words are meaningless.

Looking up at the moon, you notice it’s near full, but that is all; it offers no advice as to what you should do next.  So, you wait.  You hold your breath and listen carefully, but can hear only frozen silence.  You lean over the edge of the building and look down at the street.  The body of the man you killed moments before still lays motionless where it collapsed, vapour issuing forth from a hole in the head.

You really didn’t expect him to go anywhere.

You pick up your half-finished coffee from the roof ledge, and stand, mindlessly warming your hands on the cheap polystyrene cup.  You begin to shiver, your teeth start to clatter, sympathetic responses as your nervous system kicks into high gear.

Then you hear voices.

“There it is!”

Your already heightened senses  ratchet up even further and you detect a large group of people closing in.

You hardly see it coming.  One second you’re standing on a roof under the evening moon with the shining skyline stretched out before you, your hands smelling of grease and gunpowder.  The next second you’re on the ground, nearly paralyzed, muscles twitching like crazy while two faceless thugs in heavy black armour hold you down, pressing your face into the gravel, frantically screaming commands.

“Stand up straight!”

“Stay on the ground!”

“Hands above your head!”

“Hands behind your back!”

All of these sentences are thrown at you at once, and you, not knowing which instructions to follow, opt instead to turn yourself into a malleable piece of clay, to be moved and shaped however your assailants choose.  After all, they’re the ones holding the laser-sighted rifles.

“It’s still cognizant!”

A new voice.  “It’s still active!  The EMP wasn’t enough.”

“Subdue it!”

“Now, now, now!”

The men slap a mask over your face, and it fills with a sweet oily mist.

You try to move your hands, but find them cuffed behind your back.  You try to speak, but find that nobody is listening.  The flesh on your face is hurting and you turn your head over so the other side can have a turn being ground into the gravel.

Struggling, you’re overcome as you fight and lose.  Suddenly,  someone wrenches open the hatch between your shoulder blades, and you feel a handful of wires being tugged free from inside you; each tug causes a twinge of indescribable pain to shoot like lightning along your synthetic nerves into your brainpan.

Your eyes fall on the Big Dipper just as consciousness flits away.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Wish You Were Here (1.1)

the longest wait

Picking at the surgical tape holding bandages to the side of my face, I'm mesmerised by the flashing red light on the phone signalling new messages.  Carefully considering the implications of the contents of a small glass phial in my fingers, my chair creaks, and a cringe breaks my mask of stoicism.  There's a noise in the hall.  Slight, barely perceptible.  My hand rests on the cool steel of the Derringer atop my desk, finger tensing on the trigger.

And I'm gonna get that sonofabitch if it’s the last thing I do.

A world travelled in search, and who could've known I never even had to leave my office.  Simply hope, and it would appear.  Think it, and it would be.  Though it might take time, there was never any avoiding it.  The very definition of fatalism: each event, in its time, in its place.

With each creak of the chair, another cascade of memories is triggered. I stare at the wall, straight ahead. Memories. Like scenes cut from a film and left on the editing room floor. Grainy. Overdeveloped. Expired film. My eyes flit around the room.

Arthur Lagan.  I followed that bastard from New York to London only to lose him in Harrods.  Ladies wear – should have known. From London, it was a short hop to Greece only to be given the slip at a shipping magnate’s seventieth birthday party. Then, from Greece to Turkey only to run into a dozen dead ends. And onward. A world travelled in search.

Did he, did it, seek me out?  It's a give and take, that's for sure.  Had he wanted me, he could have found me at any time.  I'm nothing special.  Yet it was I who brought this on, made the first move.  I run my fingertips across the leather cover of the centuries-old tome atop my desk, this deadly book, this book of carelessly spilt secrets.  It was I who took on this assignment.

It's true that no man knows his time, and I've never been an exception to that rule.  That is, until now.  Now there's no other right time.  Only the present.  I can feel it, can see the moment approach, looming – and, oh, its shadow is long.  

The chair creaks. My trigger finger tenses. Always one step behind. But, I’ll get that sonofabitch. One way or another, I always knew I would get him. I’d have followed him to the ends of the earth if you had to. Finger tensing, mind racing, my brain twitches at the light footsteps in the hall. The deceptively slight clicking of heels. Wait for it. The knock. One spends an entire lifetime waiting – and I know I can wait another few seconds.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


“Isn’t that your ex?”

I knew she was there before I even saw her. We both felt it, she and I, in that peculiar way that ex-lovers can just sort of feel each other. The way one Immortal can sense the presence of another in the Highlander movies, I mused.

I gnawed on a carrot stick, garnish for my order of buffalo wings now reduced to a plate of bones, pretending I didn’t hear you, hoping you’d drop it.

You didn’t.

“Hey, that’s your ex-girlfriend over there, isn’t it?” you observed, craning your neck in an overly conspicuous fashion.

I shrugged, feigning nonchalance, eyes locked on a television screen in the distance. “So what if it is?”

You didn’t come right out and say how good she was looking – you knew better than that – but you didn’t have to. I could see it in your eyes.

“What’s she doing now, anyway?” you asked, way too interested, absently holding your pint in your hand, eyes continually drifting in her direction.

“I have no idea,” I flatly said, eyes seeing a game of cricket on the TV, mind a million miles away.

I wanted to turn and look so bad. I wanted to turn to see her, to have our eyes meet, to get up out of my seat, to meet her in the middle of the room, to embrace, to feel that familiar warmth, to tell her she looked so good – to tell her I was so happy for her.

Most of all, I wanted to mean it, and I didn’t.

“Last I heard she was living in Dubai,” you stated. “Modelling or something?”

“Something,” I replied, wishing you would just shut the hell up.

“Wonder what she’s doing back in this shithole of a town.”

Jesus Christ. My mind flashed with visions of flying across the table and throttling you. Smashing my pint glass across your stupid face. Taking you down to the floor, and booting you into unconsciousness.

“Who knows,” was all I said.

I almost looked, but I could see you watching me, studying me, weighing the authenticity of my indifference. I almost looked, I wanted so badly to see her, but I wasn’t about to give you the pleasure.

To be happy for the success of others isn’t something that comes naturally. No-one wants anyone else to be happier than they are, but when that happier person happens to be an ex, someone I once shared a life path with, shared hopes and dreams with, that happiness is particularly devastating. It tickles that competitive part of the brain in just the right spot creating this visceral mash of unpleasant, primeval feelings. Feeling of envy, of jealousy, of anger.

Especially when I’m the one who let her go.

And it suddenly makes sense now why you, sitting across the table from me, eyes darting back and forth between me and her, won’t let this go. This is your way of sapping away my happiness, artificially bolstering your own level of contentment by lowering mine.

But I won’t give you the pleasure.

“I’m sure she would come over and say hi if you weren’t here,” I said. “For some reason, she was never very fond of you.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


There’s still a yearning for that uncertain time when the puzzle had just been dumped out of the box, when you were separating the pieces into two piles of outside and in, then further organising these piles into colours, before working out a place to even begin.

You had been backpacking around Europe, aimless and free, for four months when things went awry. It was a trip you had taken to find yourself – this is the official story, at any rate. This is what you told your family and friends back home. See, the idea of backpacking conjured up benign images of students in hostels, organised tours of famous landmarks, light socialising in ageing public houses, and you were more than happy to keep this illusion alive.

However, this official story couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Instead, you forwent the dull discomfort of hostels in favour of a string of divey rented rooms, couches of trusting locals, and beds of open-minded European women. You were only five weeks in when you stopped noticing the picturesque beauty of cathedral after cathedral, castle after castle, and statue after statue. And there was nothing light about your socialising. By the age of twenty-four you were already a seasoned drunk and connoisseur of illicit pharmacology, able to keep up with the best of them.

You were tearing through a moderate inheritance like a glutton tucking into his favourite dish, the dollars evaporating pint by pint, smoke by smoke, pill by pill. You were unrelenting. A one-man riot. The very centre of a nonstop, no holds barred, party. The living personification of Sodom and Gomorrah.

And then it stopped.


Just like that, with a sort of inverted roar, the camera spinning, zooming in for an up-front, unflattering close-up, everything just sort of froze.

It was dark, and you lay on your back in a strange room, suddenly awake, your naked legs tangled in the legs of another.

This was as clear as your head had been in months, and you knew that you had arrived at something of a critical juncture.

You tried to speak, but your throat was parched, impossibly dry, and could manage only a croak.

“Have a drink,” she said, lifting a glass of warm flat beer to your lips.

You guzzled back a quarter pint in two gulps, allowing the acrid fluid to wet your throat, before asking the obvious. “Where am I?”

She laughed then, a tinkling, fragile sound, likely not understanding the scope of your confusion, or realising how serious you really were.

“Where am I?” you repeated.

“At my place,” she flatly replied, and lighted a cigaret. You watched the cherry zigzag through the dark in your direction as she handed it to you.

You were suddenly painfully aware that none of this was real. This was some kind of bad film, with you little more than a mediocre actor with a walk-on part. You watched this crumby movie now through a gauzy veil, only giving it a further level of unreality, allowing you further distance. Your consciousness was slowly floating, drifting, unravelling.

You’re now pretty sure this is what your psychiatrist means by dissociation.

“No. Really. Where am I?”

“Take this,” she said, and pressed a tiny pill into your mouth.


You awoke hot, a sheen of sweat covering your entire body, with muscles twitching, heart racing, supernovae of colours bursting just behind your eyelids as the MDMA started to work.

She was gone, you thought, and you were simply a body on a bed, hollowed out, empty.

You screamed, but nothing came out.


The flashing red lights, the sirens of an ambulance. Medical personnel telling you to calm down. Recuestate. Cálmate. Respira hondo.

Restraints. A needle in the arm.


You awoke next to the intrusive bright white of a hospital room. Clean. Simple. A portrait of the Virgin Mary hung on the wall past your feet.

There was an awkward telephone call with your parents. You explained that someone must have slipped something into your drink. They were sorry, they said, and they understood. These things happen.

They would make arrangements to get you home.


There was wonderment there, in that first trip abroad. Some kind of simple, crazy, detached, free-floating bewilderment, in which you were free to just wander and wonder what the hell you were doing. It was perfectly OK. You weren’t supposed to know what you were doing – you were taking a moment, however long you needed, in fact, to just look at the picture on the front of the puzzle’s box and ruminate.

You had dumped out the pieces. You were separating the pieces into two piles of outside and in. You were further organising these piles into colours, before working out a place to even begin.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


You were long gone by then, and with each day that had passed a million years had crept in to fill the void. A day gone, and you couldn’t remember the feel of her skin. A week gone, and you couldn’t remember the smell of her hair. A month gone, and you couldn’t remember the taste of her lips. A year gone, and you couldn’t remember the sound of her voice.

You will never forget the day you needed the help of a photograph to remember what she looked like. You were around a decade gone, you woke up in the morning to an old song on the radio, one of her favourites, and you could not conjure up her image. You lay in bed awake for a time agonizing over this absence of memory, the last shred of memory you had of her, but nothing would come. Bested by the passing of the ages, you reluctantly dragged yourself out of bed, pulled opened a desk drawer, and withdrew a 4x6 photo.

Her, standing in a crowded market in Damascus, disgustedly pointing at a wretched pile of cured animal parts: hooves, hocks, and heads. She wasn’t even smiling – how could she, really? – but it was the only photograph you had. You examined it for a time, taking in her short raven hair, tanned skin, and green eyes. Imagined her exquisite curves beneath those khaki pants and jacket. Found your mind going to another place, another time.

But even then, you were all too familiar with the fallibility of memory. Nothing is ever remembered as it truly was. Each time a memory is called forth it’s modified, altered by every thought and experience occurring between then and now. You nurture different biases. Form different ideals. Nostalgia pollutes, and soon you’re writing fiction. Layering coats of paint on an old fence. Like a stone in a polisher, each memory becomes smoother, shinier, prettier with each trip around the drum. Your reverie broken by this sobering line of thought, you tossed the photograph back in the drawer.

You were long gone by then, with a thousand Mediterranean photographs to peruse. Decaying architecture. Turquoise coasts. Crowded cobblestone streets. Yes, by the time she realised you had left the continent, you were long gone, sitting in another airplane, crossing another border, flipping through these photographs, always lingering on the same one.

When you fled, you had no way of knowing how much you would miss her.

You were around a week gone when guilt raised its ugly head, and you crowded into a ratty telephone booth in Algiers. Needless you say, she wouldn’t return your calls. Why would she? She was too good for you, and when you up and left without telling her, you proved it to both of you. Packing up your few things. Sneaking off to a train station in the middle of the night. Buying a ticket to a place you couldn’t yet pronounce. It was all so... you. You were simply showing her who you were. Doing her a favour.

Twenty years gone, and you still think of her. You imagine what could have been. You wonder where she is now, who she’s with, what she’s doing. You begin to consider what a complete jerk you were back then, until you realise something quite startling: considering time’s masterful way of buffing memories to a glean, you were probably even more of a jerk than you can even begin to fathom.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

the ride

What does one do when all of his dreams have come true? Wish for a time when his dreams lay in pieces, of course. Perhaps even a time before this, a darker, primordial, dream-free time, in which one just was. Meandering. Existing. Coasting.

There was a long stretch of time, a veritable highway cutting through the pitch black night of a foreign land, which was marked with blind, concentrated anticipation. You knew not what lay just beyond the twin beams of headlights cutting through the darkness before you. You knew not what lurked in the alien countryside, or in the blank sky above. You knew only the small patch of illuminated asphalt in front of you, the yellow lines zipping by, the hum of car wheels, the radio playing your favourite tunes.

You held that wheel tight.

You didn’t even have a destination – you simply drove, focused on keeping your car on the road. Then, all of a sudden, you were there. You had reached a destination you didn’t even know existed. No map, no plan, you were confounded. How could you arrive somewhere you didn’t know existed? Could a road simply end? How could that be possible?

Yet there it was. You had arrived. And everyone patted you on the back, and told you how fortunate you were. Complimented you on your navigation skills. Said there weren’t many who could drive quite like that. You smiled because you didn’t know what else to do.

Flash forward to today, you hide. Hide the happiness, hide the contentedness, hide the success behind alternating masks of indifference, wanting, and motivation. No-one back home wants to know how happy you are. There’s a quiet wanting for the gypsy’s life, anyway. The carefree, nonconformist life of a bohemian. Is there somewhere else to go from here?

Each morning, you sneak out of your grand house in the nondescript suburbs, walking barefoot across the cool bristle of carefully manicured grass. You smile and wave to a neighbour. Tactfully chase his cat out of your garden with a discreet hiss. Feel the warmth of a morning sun on your cheek.

You sneak out to the garage with a cup of strong coffee to admire, to caress, to polish that old car. You admire its clean lines. Its ageless beauty. Its spirit. You sink into the bucket seat, your spine creaking, a knee popping. You put your hands on the wheel, your foot resting gently on the gas pedal.

You dream.