What’s in a Dream?

Happy Halloween, folks!
This is a snippet that came to me a while back as I considered part-one of my WIP. Whether or not it will appear in the finished work, who knows! I changed the names because, well, I’m not sure, yet, whether or not I want this blog linked to the work itself. I am rather of a mind to finish my work, try and get it published, then be hands-off. But that is just how I feel now. Who knows how I will feel when, and if, the time comes?
Anyway, here it is!

Source unknown. If you know where it is from, please inform me.

Source unknown. If you know where it is from, please inform me.

The crickets were singing. Aubry lay awake, enjoying their rise and fall as if he would not hear it again for months. So late in the season, there was no telling when the first frost would cut them short.

One trilled in the corner of the cabin. A “thump” below told Aubry that ma or pa had thrown something at it. The inside-cricket was silent for a short time, then he started up again.

Aubry sighed. It was cozy under the thick quilt with his newly-adopted brother, Egan, curled up like a squirrel at his back. The small loft window stood open, letting a trickle of cool air move over his face.

Since the death of his last sister, years  back, he had forgotten what it was like to have a bedfellow. The extra warmth, the sound of soft breathing, and the occasional elbow or cold foot jabbed into his side were, at least for now, welcome things.

Sleep came smoothly, and dreaming too, like changes in the sky where gray becomes salmon and gold, then purple, then a luminous dark blue, and blue-black, swift yet gradual.

A chill crept into Aubry’s back, near his shoulder. He shifted, and felt something round and hard against him, cold, like a stoneware jug from the springhouse. He rolled away and turned to look.

What lay on the pallet beside him, where Egan should have been, was a gray, greasy-looking skeleton, still bound with shriveled strands of flesh. With a nearly silent, strangled cry, Aubry shuffled backwards until he was against the wall, next to the ladder. As he started to climb down, the corpse moved, rubbing at the remains of its face as if to wipe away sleep. It made a dull sound of bone on bone.

Aubry froze as it sat up, empty sockets turned to him. Moonlight from the window outlined the angles of its wagging jaw. He slid down the ladder and pulled it away from the loft before the thing could try and follow. His parents’ bed was empty.

At the door, he glanced back to the loft and saw the skeleton kneeling at the edge.

How lonesome.

The thought stung him unexpectedly, like the time he found Lily crying and realized that his teasing, along with the others, was the cause. But little Lily was pretty, when you really looked at her, and alive. The skeleton was cold and filthy, something that should be buried deep, or burned.

There had been a price to pay, learning to see Lily. He had gained a friend and a heartache, and found himself distanced from several of his oldest companions.

The skeleton clacked its jaws.

What’s the cost of this? To let it kill me?

     It had no tongue, or throat, or eyes for expression. Just a blank grin. Only the tilt of its skull and it’s shriveled hands gripping the edge of the loft gave it character. Was it saying “I want to get down and kill you” or “Are you going to leave me here alone?”

“What d’you want!” Aubry squeaked.

The corpse dropped down onto its creaking ribcage and reached out the remains of its hands.

Aubry stared at it, then fumbled for the door behind him and, opening it, ran out into the night.

The fort was as silent as a picture, full of gray and nothing. No wind, no crickets.

“Bear!” He called his dog, but nothing shuffled under the porch. Behind the closed door came a creaking, scraping sound.

With a groan, Aubry leaped off the porch and ran down the common.  Even his footfalls were swallowed into silence as he ran, but the scraping at his cabin door echoed out behind him.  He was scarce strong enough to open the main gate, even with the winch, so he made for the eastern one.

When he reached it, he paused to listen. There was nothing, no creak or clatter, just thick, congealed quiet.

In the dark, he fumbled for the latch and found it locked. He wrestled with it, fighting like a raccoon in a cage. The lock gave way and he burst through the gate into gray, silent fields.

He ran, and ran, past the pine grove, past Dorwich farm, down to the ford at High-bend creek.  There, at last, was sound, but it murmured defeat. The creek was up, too high to cross.

For the first and last time, he turned to look back.

There was nothing in sight.

Trees swayed, but did not rustle, grass moved in soft waves, but he could not hear the wind.

He realized, as he watched the empty fields, that running had been a mistake. The thing could now be anywhere, doing anything. He might live his whole life looking over his shoulder, wondering.

“Where’re you?! Come on out!”

Nothing. He backed away from the nearest tree, sat as close to the creek-bank as he dared, and tried to watch in all directions.

Then something grabbed and shook him. He lashed out, and someone caught his arm and smacked him across the face.

He startled awake. The waning moon was up and the shutters of the loft window were still open. He could see Egan kneeling beside him, holding his arm.

Aubry sat up, shivering, and rubbed his hands over his face. He looked up to see Egan’s crooked little smile.

“I get nightmares, too. Mostly that I’m still dyin in the shack and yall’re jus a dream.” He leaned towards the window and closed his eyes, taking in a deep, luxurious breath. “If that happens t’ be so, I’d rather die dreamin.”

“I…” the fright was too near for Aubry to put it into words. He managed only “I dreamed you’as dead.”  That’s right, ain’t it? It was Egan. It was Egan, and I ran from ‘im ‘stead of tryin to help. Some brother that makes me.

Egan blinked at him.

“Boys?” Pa rumbled from down below. “Hush and get sleepin.”

“Yessir,” said Aubry. He patted Egan’s shoulder and lay down. Egan curled up and rested his shaved head against Aubry’s back. It was round and solid, but warm.

As Aubry drifted off to sleep, a chill moved over him, and brought him full awake. It was just a passing feeling, perhaps a  final shred of that horrible dream.



If you want more, or something different, here is my favorite spooky poem: http://jubilare.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/the-listeners/
and a spooky poem that I actually wrote: http://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/gothic-galatea/

And, for fun, this is “Lily,” once she’s all grown up and sich: http://jubilare.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/voice-week-day-3/
One of the characters involved in this story eventually picks up a nightstick: http://jubilare.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/mystifying/
And this story is neither mine, nor is it related to any of the above, but I think it is awesome and everyone ought to read it: http://bekindrewrite.wordpress.com/2012/10/19/flash-fiction-the-mysterious-case-of-the-marshmallow-mushroom-forest/
Enjoy!

Vanitas

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gysbrechts_Still_life_with_a_skull.jpg

Vanitas/Still Life with a Skull, one of several by Franciscus Gysbrechts, mid-to-late 1600’s.
Image from Wikimedia Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/12/Gysbrechts_Still_life_with_a_skull.jpg

 

I haven’t many of my own words, right now, which is why I haven’t been posting. What few words I do have are being channeled into fiction and a few friends and loved ones who are facing trouble and pain.

Three friends of a close friend of mine, all from the same family, were killed in a wreck. Serious illness and death have touched several people I love. There is death, illness, strain, pain, separation, abuse, stress, and frustration close at hand, and horrible violence, famine, illness, war and death not far distant.  In other words, everything is normal for the world.


 

It is easy to think, in relatively peaceful and prosperous countries, that we are safe, and in many ways, we are. It’s also easy to feel ashamed of that peace and safety, knowing so many do not have it. I keep asking myself what that shame means. Is it helpful or harmful, a tool or an attack? It shouldn’t mean that I want what little peace and prosperity there is, in the world, to vanish (or should it?) but that I do not want such things to be so isolated, so rare. Perhaps, so long as it makes me want to use what I have to help, then it is good, but if it paralyzes me with shame, it is evil.

But there is something to be learned about both peace and prosperity, for those who are in it: It is, in the end, no real protection. Pain and death will find us. If we delude ourselves into thinking otherwise, or in distracting ourselves until we forget, then we are in for a shock.

Different faiths have different perspectives on how this reality should be faced. In my own, Christianity, there are many different angles from which it is approached. There is no single answer, though some folks pretend that there is. There are no pat sayings that cover all angles, though some people like to pretend there are. There is, instead, a mosaic, with space between the tesserae.


 

Be careful what you say to pain. I have to remind myself of this. It’s too easy to forget, we are so desperate to say something, to help somehow, that we do damage. Better to be silent. After all, in silence the Spirit may have a chance to speak without all of our clutter. My mind is very cluttered… and I am certainly not silent, here. But then, what is this blog if not a place for me to vent? Maybe venting, here, will keep me from saying stupid things to someone anon.


 

The painting, above, is a vanitas, a reminder of mortality and of the ephemeral nature of earthly wealth, power, pleasure and wisdom. In this particular painting, the skull is wreathed in dried grass, a symbol of the brevity of life, and the hope of resurrection, as the grass dies every year, but returns every Spring. It is the only thing in the painting that is treated so. I think C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory points out one reason why.

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

Growing up, especially while studying history and biology, I got a very different impression of the world. What is the life of a human, so brief and fragile, to the life of a nation, or the world, or the universe?

This is no answer to the question of pain and death, or at least, it is not a complete answer. But it does shift the perspective. If I believe that human’s are, in essence, immortal, then how I treat them becomes much more serious. The responsibility is immense. When we turn our backs on human suffering, we are turning our backs on the suffering of an eternal someone. In Weight of Glory, Lewis catches at a possible risk. A turnabout.

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.

How this post rambles! I’m not sure there is a point, or at least not a clear or singular one. I keep coming back to the vanitas. Almost all is vanity, born from dust and to dust returning, but if there is something eternal in that dust, which I believe, then the one thing that is not vanity is the immortal. The pain in my fellows, the suffering, may be finite, but I do not think it is trivial.


On Myth: “An Experience in Criticism” by C.S. Lewis, Chapter 5

jubilare:

I’m struggling with that old demon of doubt that tells me I can’t write worth crackers… stale, moldy crackers, at that. It whispers that every effort I make is doomed to failure, and I’d better stop trying. But I am not ready to throw my pen down yet. I may, one day, find that I wasn’t up to the task, but if that day comes, I want to have tried my best.

My friend, David, posted this series on Lewis’s “An Experiment in Criticism” a while back. He did not finish it, but this is the last installment he did complete. Reading it has helped me a bit, reminding me that a) I am not alone in my reactions to certain kinds of stories, and b) that stories, themselves, may be more worth telling than the writer knows.

Originally posted on The Warden's Walk:

Unfortunately, this will be my last post in Lewis’ book, at least for the time being. Why? The book is due back to the library tomorrow and I’ve already renewed it twice. But weep not, my friends! For this is one of the more important chapters for understanding what people like Lewis, Tolkien, and MacDonald (hereafter grouped together as the Great Trio) meant when they spoke of myths and fairy stories.

You see, it’s so dreadfully hard to define the word myth, in its deepest sense. Obviously we are not using the word to mean merely “an untrue story,” as you hear the Mythbusters use it. We are using it closer to the cultural sense: the Greek myths, the Egyptian myths, the Scandinavian myths, the Chinese myths, and etcetera. And yet, not completely in this sense. The Great Trio tend to accord the kind of story called myth a reverence…

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Put it to a vote

I am planning to post a few new mask pictures soon, but I am also wanting to post a creepy story snippet next month.

My problem is that I have more than one to consider.  So I have decided to consult you-all. Both are pieces of larger works, and so are not fully explained or resolved, but hopefully both are entertaining, and I certainly want feedback on both.

Option 1.  A short vampire-tale in a more classic-style and with a more medieval setting than usual. There is no mopey vampire wangst, and no sexy-vampire, just, hopefully, and undercurrent of creepy.

Option 2. A less-classic, more “New-World” based snippet that is also, hopefully, creepy. It is shorter and stranger than option 1, and not a monster-tale or ghost-story, exactly.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. I do not aim to write horror. I don’t like blood and gore, and I don’t like things that leave me feeling frightened. I do, however, like stories that give me a creepy chill, or a feeling of suspense. It’s a fine line, and varies from person to person. Also, it is especially hard, I find, to judge where, in my own writing, the line falls. Finding that line is one of my current goals.

So, vote away! And if you want to vote for something else, I suppose that is fair, too, though I may not listen.


Penny Arcade and Me

Fair warning, Penny Arcade can be quite crude. It is also often very funny and insightful, and today’s offering hit the nail on the head for me.

My unread inbox doesn’t range in the thousands, probably because Tycho is a public figure, and I am not, but between my personal and professional accounts, I have over 200 unread e-mails.

Two pets currently having medical issues, a house I am slowly trying to retrieve from chaos and pernicious Bermuda Grass, a nephew about to turn 1 (how does it happen that quickly?!), and various other distractions, good and bad… perhaps it is not so surprising that my inboxes overflow.


Autumn in Tennessee

Autumn opened its eyes, smiled, still half asleep, and rolled over.

At least, that is what it felt like.

We had a spell of cool weather, unseasonably, bizarrely cool, but lovely. Right on its edge, I thought I caught the scent of Autumn. There is no smell like it, no smell that quickens my blood that much. It is like the breath of God entering my lungs and enlivening the spirit He once breathed into me.

August, in my hometown, is hot, oppressive, and usually muggy (though we are in a mild drought this time). 30+ years living here, and indeed, further south where it is worse, have not helped me to like summer weather.

There are things I like about summer. The food is great, the greens of the landscape are rich, some of my favorite wildflowers put on a show and there are awesome insects and migratory birds everywhere. The other day I saw a clearwing moth, and just yesterday, I watched two female ruby-throated hummingbirds compete over coral honeysuckle, native salvia and a feeder.  And cicadas. I revel in summer cicada-song! But the heat and humidity wear me down quickly, and I run inside to escape.

The three other seasons, though, make up for the heaviness. For one thing, our seasons are pretty evenly spaced, around 3 months apiece. Spring, instead of being a brief link between winter and summer, is a long stretch of flower successions, greening, warming, and rain. It smells of sap and clean earth and breaks through the grays of winter with sharp, vibrant splashes of yellow, purple and white. Then, as the green begins to show, red, orange and blue mix in with the first colors, like a Fauve painting.

Winter, here, has little in the way of snow or persistent ice (though we always get some) but it is filled with opalescent grays, fawn-browns, and frost. A hillside covered with mostly deciduous trees looks like the speckled flank of a sleeping beast with a long, soft, gray-brown winter coat. It is subtle, and yet beautiful, like the many grays of the limestone sky. And in the morning, as I go to work in the dark, the street-lights set lawns and leaves sparkling with frost. It is as if every surface of the world is covered in glitter, and the smell of frost quickens the cold air.

But autumn. It leaves the rest behind. For some reason, the season of dying is life-giving to me. Sumac is the first to turn, a brilliant scarlet, brighter than flame or blood. The sugar-maples, perhaps the most spectacular, create a spectrum that runs from green, through yellows and oranges and into red, all at the same time. They look like shards of living rainbow. Sweetgums turn dark crimson, purple and black. Each tree species (and sometimes each tree) has its pattern and its method, and we have well over 100 species here. Some non-evergreens even retain their dead leaves to whisper through the winter, shedding them only when the new growth arrives in the spring.

One of my favorite species, eastern red cedar (which is actually a juniper) is an evergreen, though it takes on a winter sheen of dark bronze.

But if it were just about visual wonder, Spring and Autumn would be equally loved by me. They are not.

Spring breaks into winter just when I am weary of the gray. It is welcome and enlivening. But there is something about Autumn air. It blows across my mind, causing the embers there to redden, dusting away the white ash until flames flicker to life. It sparks my creativity, my well-being, my life. The taste we had recently whetted my appetite for that rare wind. I am never satisfied, it is never enough. Even in this place, that has a long autumn, it is too brief.

But for that short time, every year, I seem to touch something beyond myself. Perhaps it really is a time when the boundaries between worlds grows thin. I do not fear fairies, or the dead. What I feel coming near is different from that. It is the Christian song. I feel like I breathe in eternity, that eternity that is already here, present within me, but that I do not fully understand. Not yet. Not yet, but one day. Until that day, I have the contradictions, the mystery, a keyhole through a door.

Autumn, dying and living, curling up to sleep, comfort in fear, but not a vulgar fear as of being afraid. I am not afraid, but my heart is racing. It is so hard to express.  I think C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are right about that desire. The desire I feel that is soothed a little in this world, but never satisfied, the hunger for the excitement of adventure coupled with the comfort of coming home, that contradiction in my soul during Fall, fear and comfort, excitement and peace, thrill and balm.

I think of Bilbo Baggins. That journey at my feet, the road tugging at me, that song in the wind. Maybe that is why Bilbo’s song always brings me tears, good tears, and makes me think of Autumn.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

-J. R. R. Tolkien: From Bilbo, in The Hobbit and (the last stanza) Lord of the Rings.

..

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*I’ve been told that this post can easily be taken as disrespectful to other beliefs. If you find it so, I apologize. That was not my intent.


John of Kronstadt: “Everyone will give an answer for himself before God”

jubilare:

Though the little I know of his anti-semitic leanings bother me, this translation of St. John of Kronstadt’s words is close to the heart of Christianity as I understand it. It makes me want to read some of his writings myself.

Originally posted on Dover Beach:

john kronstadt

“Do not lose your temper with those who sin. Do not have a passion for noticing every sin in your neighbor and judging it, as we usually do. Everyone will give an answer for himself before God. Especially, do not look with evil intention on the sins of those older than you, with whom you have no business. But correct your own sins, your own heart.”

– St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, I.6

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