The Silence & The Howl (§.29)

continued from chapter 28


CHAPTER 29

“Mr. La’Far, I wanted to thank you. For putting me up like this. Especially on such short notice. Means a lot to me.”

“Was the least I could do.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“I was trying to be modest. Besides, extenuating circumstances… its a shame what happened.”

Harmon said nothing and looked out the window of La’Far’s small, kitsch-covered apartment. Harold stood a moment, backlit by chinsy memorabilia, unsure if he should disrupt the younger man’s reverie. After several seconds the security guard blithely encouraged his guest to make himself at home and left for work. Harmon watched the battered pickup clatter down the gray gravel drive, past a group of young lovers, waltzing arm in arm, cackling with the sun shining off the ivory of their teeth, and vanished into the effulgence of the horizon, as if swallowed up in some other world.

His phone rang. He didn’t recognize the number.

He flipped open the machine and gingerly pressed it to his ear.

“Yes?”

“Heya Harmon. Its Daryl. From work.”

“Need something?”

“Not really. You got a moment to talk?”

“Yeah. What is it?”

“The reason we were fired. You know it?”

“No. I didn’t know you were fired too.”

“Swain axed everyone. One a his pals, name of ‘Coats’ – though I doubt that’s his real name – is bringing in folk across the border, folk that’ll work for fewer scraps than us. Scraps Swain can throw under the table. That’s why he fired us. Figured you’d wanna know and that’d I’d better tell ya seeing as Swain sure as hell aint gonna.”

“Thanks for letting me know.”

“You sounded more surprised by me calling than by finding out why you were fired.”

“I didn’t think you liked me.”

“I don’t like most people. But I ain’t never had no problem with you. Its that shithead friend a yours that I can’t stand.”

“Andy?”

“Yeah.”

“Why’d you think I had something against you?”

“Other than the fact you ‘don’t like most people’ you mean?”

“Yeah.”

“Swain. Told me as much.”

“Fuck him, man. That’s his MO.”

“What do you mean?”

“He likes pitting people gainst each other so when they need to talk, they go to him. The sonofabitch likes that kinda shit.”

“I see.”

“Anyways, I gotta git. Sorry you got canned. Sucks.”

“Yeah. Take care, Daryl.”

“You too, man. And say hello to that pretty gal a yours for me.”

The line went dead.

“‘Pretty’…” Harmon muttered aloud as he pocketed his phone.

“You’re mistaken Daryl. She’s the ugliest person I’ve ever known.”

The Silence & The Howl (§.28)

Continued from CHAPTER 27


CHAPTER 28


When Harmon returned to the house in the morning he found Andy’s car in the drive and a pile of boxes sitting on the front porch. Boxes filled with his personal effects. Andy watched from the living room window, his expression dour and wrathful. Harmon turned from the boxes to the window. Andy was gone.

The door burst open.

“Andy, why are my-”

Before he could complete his sentence, Andy shoved him hard in the chest, nearly knocking him off the porch.

“What’s your problem?”

“You.”

“What’s going on?”

“Think she wouldn’t tell me?”

“What did she tell you?”

“Take your things and leave, before I do something I’ll regret.”

“Be happy to, but not before I understand why you’re so put out.”

“Don’t test my patience, Harmon.”

“What did she tell you, exactly?”

“Oh you already know what she told me. I offer you my house – MY HOUSE – and you pull this shit?”

“I didn’t ‘pull’ anything.”

The air grew still and for a moment neither man spoke as storm clouds built in the distance, rumbling like the war drums of an wrathful god.

“I told you—take your things. Leave.”

“No.”

Andy’s face twitched momentarily before he reeled back his arm and caught Harmon full in the face with a stiff right hook. Harmon went tumbling from the porch, down the stairs and landed on the flat of his back in the gravel drive. He groaned and rubbed his jaw as blood trickled from his nose in tandem with the rain that trickled from the sky.

“I told you not to test me.”

Harmon rose to a knee and wiped blood.

“And I told you I’m not leaving til you lay things out. Can’t do that if you’re trying to put your fist through my brain.”

“Shut the fuck up.”

“I’m not sure what Marla told you. But whatever it was, its a lie.”

“Said you tried to force yourself on her. You denying it?”

“Like I said—a lie.”

Andy descended the creaking wooden porch stairs, body shaking with rage.

“You callin Marla a liar?”

“Every bit as accurate as callin you a fool. Fitting descriptions for the both of you.”

Andy’s face went red as he drew back his right arm and lunged. Harmon blocked the haymaker and took a wide step back, hands up in defense much as entreaty.

“I aint gonna fight you.”

“Then you’re gonna bleed.”

“Ain’t gonna do that either.”

Andy lunged once more but this time Harmon caught his arm and bent it forcefully and awkwardly behind the assailant’s back and brought him to a knee, then down, facefirst to the ground.

“Get offa me!”

“When you relax.”

“I’m relaxed. Alright. I’m fucking relaxed.”

“You don’t seem relaxed.”

“I am. I am.”

Slowly, cautiously, Harmon released the man’s arm and drew away. Andy rose, breath heavy, fingers furled, face smeared with mud, nursing his injured arm along with his wounded pride as the tatterdemalion sidewalkers stopped and starred.

An ill-kempt and middle aged man in a blue hoodie withdrew a phone and began recording, clucking to his disheveled companions who jeered and began to howler.

The bested man looked to the spectators, then to the source of his ire. Wordlessly, he barreled into Harmon with all the ferine strength his thin frame could muster, knocking the slightly bigger man off his feet. Harmon swiftly brought his arms up tight about his face, curling his body towards his attacker, nullifying the hammering, erratic blows of Andy’s knobby fists. Harmon then twisted hard, shucking tormentor from torso and rolling to a knee and springing onto Andy, hooking his left arm about the thrown man’s throat. Andy grabbed up on Harmon’s limbs in a futile attempt to free himself, gasping, choking, gnashing teeth.

Wriggling like a worm on a hook.

As Andy lapsed into unconsciousness and the electric symphony of the welkin reached its fervent crescendo, Marla, emerged from the house, terror-struck and bath-robed, and screamed.

*

The Spaces In Between

How clever I think I am,

pulling words from the air

like rabbits from top hats

to set them ablaze,

across pages

and ravage their pristine virginity.

I bleed.

I sweat.

I shed tears upon reams

so you can feel what I can

no longer.

Here I am

ground down to the gristle,

my passions splayed out–

spread-eagle–

for all to see,

to get…or not.

So, what is this thunder

that tears through my chest

and rattles the brain,

still?

The steely determination of memory—

its greedy clutch—

keeps my cup half-full

with unpotable waters.

Emotions—

all but chemicals—

a drop too much,

a drop too little—

rage and fade along with the dying of the day.

Recollections,

the moving pictures

of my silent film,

continue to linger

like birthdays

and the need to breathe,

hungry for hints of light

that pour in from doors left ajar,

for recognition

by the lonely eyes

of morning and evening skies.

The gravity of my verse is diminished

by blood-letting shades

that haunt the spaces in between

ecstatic bodies of black ink.

But for the raging

of my muse’s vanity

these scribblings bring solace

and succor to my soul,

as I suckle at the raw teats

of my poetry,

Longing

for an empty cup.

Blue Sky through Bare Branches

I look, upwards, at blue sky through bare branches,

the dewy wet of cool, green grass on my back,

clinging,

sinking,

pulling me further away from this place.

I long for the stillness of being

found only in the shedding of this meat that plants me here.

Oh, to touch those spaces in-between.

To graze my lips upon that azure skin.

O, opiate kiss,

Like a stone, skipping across limpid pools.

let me caress that face with my lips and sink into your oblivion.

Your everything!

But I am bound,

here,

by bare branches,

between me and a beckoning sky.

Biting my lip to taste blood,

I long to smear red what God has painted blue.


 

Ochre Sepulchre

Hraban Amsler came to the end of the forest path and continued apace. The sparse, charming wood thickening swiftly before him. Ochre and gold. Colors the harbingers of Fall.

He knew the route well and yet felt as if he’d taken a wrong turning. The feeling came unbidden into his mind, though the man knew he had taken the correct path, as he had countless times before.

After several minutes spent vainly attempting to recall his surroundings, he paused in a clearing and looked about, puzzled by the alien peculiarity of the place.

Skeletal branches scrapped the barren welkin as if in the throes of anguished fury and where once there had been stars there was now only ruts of deeper blackness, like scars upon shadow.

There was no wind; nor bird-song; nor cricket cry; nor the croaking of frogs; nor the gallop of deer; nor the skittering of skinks; nor the grunting of boar.

All about were bones and silence and nowhere was the path to Harrohane.

I swore I took the right path. And yet…

Amsler looked down at the watch strapped to his left wrist and muttered a curse. It was later than he expected, though the sun seemed not to have moved at all from when he left the well-worn path. If he didn’t arrive on time he was sure he’d be fired.

Amsler paused and rescanned the forest which seemed to be closing in about him. All about the trunks of the mangled wood were marks of wear, the bark torn and smoothed like deer-sign. He moved closer to the nearest tree, which bore no similarity to any species the man could recall, and bent to the smoothed area about its radius.

They were the marks of hands.

Human hands.

Hands moved by desperate, reptilian fear.

“What place is this?” Amsler wondered aloud, his breath coming cold before him, despite the oppressive heat of the vegetal enclosure. Again when he looked the trees had closed about him, the ground becoming thicker with snaking vines and grasping roots.

“Perhaps I’m dreaming.”

He felt his head as the sky became dark with the leafy canopy, the malevolent foliage drawing shadows upon the ground which danced as if in mockery and obscured the skittering insects which poured forth from flesh-sated soil and spilled like ocean waves against Amsler’s boots.

“Or hallucinating.”

The stalks of the ferns and trunks of the trees were now so thick about the man that the forty-by-forty clearing into which he had stumbled, had nearly disappeared, having now shrunk to the size of a living room.

“What I see, what I hear—this cannot be real, but rather some trickery—of my mind’s construction, or another’s. The marks upon the trees and the bones beneath them attests to the utility of panic. Even if this is some strange, new reality—which I do not believe—to react as my predecessors would prove fruitless. No, this is nothing more than a momentary fit of some kind. I know not its origins, but I know its solution.”

Steeled of mind, Amsler moved loquaciously forth, to a small stone mound in the middle of the clearing and there sat down upon it as branches reached out to him and insects flooded about his boots, exhuming the bones of the wood’s victims with their consumptive fervour.

He closed his eyes and inhaled as the stars, like arrows, fell from the welkin.

“I am unafraid of illusions, truthful though they be.”

When he opened his eyes the wood, and all within it, had gone. In place of the forest, a great sea of ash stretched out before him. The detritus began to shift, revealing a human form, skin cracked and glassy and breathless, and in its hand, a small bronze key, pristine amongst the flat, sandy expanse. Some fifty feet away from the ashen exhumation, a great manse stood out against the starless sky. Amsler observed the door of the house, which, like the key, was also of aged bronze. He bent to the curled corpse and trepidatiously reached towards the artifact.

An Inhabitant Of Carcosa (1886)

For there be divers sorts of death — some wherein the body remaineth; and in some it vanisheth quite away with the spirit. This commonly occurreth only in solitude (such is God’s will) and, none seeing the end, we say the man is lost, or gone on a long journey — which indeed he hath; but sometimes it hath happened in sight of many, as abundant testimony showeth. In one kind of death the spirit also dieth, and this it hath been known to do while yet the body was in vigour for many years. Sometimes, as is veritably attested, it dieth with the body, but after a season is raised up again in that place where the body did decay.

Pondering these words of Hali (whom God rest) and questioning their full meaning, as one who, having an intimation, yet doubts if there be not something behind, other than that which he has discerned, I noted not whither I had strayed until a sudden chill wind striking my face revived in me a sense of my surroundings. I observed with astonishment that everything seemed unfamiliar. On every side of me stretched a bleak and desolate expanse of plain, covered with a tall overgrowth of sere grass, which rustled and whistled in the autumn wind with Heaven knows what mysterious and disquieting suggestion. Protruded at long intervals above it, stood strangely shaped and sombrecoloured rocks, which seemed to have an understanding with one another and to exchange looks of uncomfortable significance, as if they had reared their heads to watch the issue of some foreseen event. A few blasted trees here and there appeared as leaders in this malevolent conspiracy of silent expectation.

The day, I thought, must be far advanced, though the sun was invisible; and although sensible that the air was raw and chill my consciousness of that fact was rather mental than physical — I had no feeling of discomfort. Over all the dismal landscape a canopy of low, lead-coloured clouds hung like a visible curse. In all this there was a menace and a portent — a hint of evil, an intimation of doom. Bird, beast, or insect there was none. The wind sighed in the bare branches of the dead trees and the grey grass bent to whisper its dread secret to the earth; but no other sound nor motion broke the awful repose of that dismal place.

I observed in the herbage a number of weatherworn stones, evidently shaped with tools. They were broken, covered with moss and half sunken in the earth. Some lay prostrate, some leaned at various angles, none was vertical. They were obviously headstones of graves, though the graves themselves no longer existed as either mounds or depressions; the years had levelled all. Scattered here and there, more massive blocks showed where some pompous tomb or ambitious monument had once flung its feeble defiance at oblivion. So old seemed these relics, these vestiges of vanity and memorials of affection and piety, so battered and worn and stained — so neglected, deserted, forgotten the place, that I could not help thinking myself the discoverer of the burial-ground of a prehistoric race of men whose very name was long extinct.

Filled with these reflections, I was for some time heedless of the sequence of my own experiences, but soon I thought, ‘How came I hither?’ A moment’s reflection seemed to make this all clear and explain at the same time, though in a disquieting way, the singular character with which my fancy had invested all that I saw or heard. I was ill. I remembered now that I had been prostrated by a sudden fever, and that my family had told me that in my periods of delirium I had constantly cried out for liberty and air, and had been held in bed to prevent my escape out-of-doors. Now I had eluded the vigilance of my attendants and had wandered hither to — to where? I could not conjecture. Clearly I was at a considerable distance from the city where I dwelt — the ancient and famous city of Carcosa.

No signs of human life were anywhere visible nor audible; no rising smoke, no watch-dog’s bark, no lowing of cattle, no shouts of children at play-nothing but that dismal burial-place, with its air of mystery and dread, due to my own disordered brain. Was I not becoming again delirious, there beyond human aid? Was it not indeed all an illusion of my madness? I called aloud the names of my wives and sons, reached out my hands in search of theirs, even as I walked among the crumbling stones and in the withered grass.

A noise behind me caused me to turn about. A wild animal — a lynx — was approaching. The thought came to me: if I break down here in the desert — if the fever return and I fail, this beast will be at my throat. I sprang toward it, shouting. It trotted tranquilly by within a hand’s-breadth of me and disappeared behind a rock.

A moment later a man’s head appeared to rise out of the ground a short distance away. He was ascending the farther slope of a low hill whose crest was hardly to be distinguished from the general level. His whole figure soon came into view against the background of grey cloud. He was half naked, half clad in skins. His hair was unkempt, his beard long and ragged. In one hand he carried a bow and arrow; the other held a blazing torch with a long trail of black smoke. He walked slowly and with caution, as if he feared falling into some open grave concealed by the tall grass. This strange apparition surprised but did not alarm, and taking such a course as to intercept him I met him almost face to face, accosting him with the familiar salutation, ‘God keep you.’

He gave no heed, nor did he arrest his pace.

‘Good stranger,’ I continued, ‘I am ill and lost. Direct me, I beseech you, to Carcosa.’

The man broke into a barbarous chant in an unknown tongue, passing on and away.

An owl on the branch of a decayed tree hooted dismally and was answered by another in the distance. Looking upward, I saw through a sudden rift in the clouds Aldebaran and the Hyades! In all this there was a hint of night — the lynx, the man with the torch, the owl. Yet I saw — I saw even the stars in absence of the darkness. I saw, but was apparently not seen nor heard. Under what awful spell did I exist?

I seated myself at the root of a great tree, seriously to consider what it were best to do. That I was mad I could no longer doubt, yet recognized a ground of doubt in the conviction. Of fever I had no trace. I had, withal, a sense of exhilaration and vigour altogether unknown to me — a feeling of mental and physical exaltation. My senses seemed all alert; I could feel the air as a ponderous substance; I could hear the silence.

A great root of the giant tree against whose trunk I leaned as I sat held enclosed in its grasp a slab of stone, a part of which protruded into a recess formed by another root. The stone was thus partly protected from the weather, though greatly decomposed. Its edges were worn round, its corners eaten away, its surface deeply furrowed and scaled. Glittering particles of mica were visible in the earth about it-vestiges of its decomposition. This stone had apparently marked the grave out of which the tree had sprung ages ago. The tree’s exacting roots had robbed the grave and made the stone a prisoner.

A sudden wind pushed some dry leaves and twigs from the uppermost face of the stone; I saw the lowrelief letters of an inscription and bent to read it. God in heaven! my name in full! — the date of my birth! — the date of my death!

A level shaft of light illuminated the whole side of the tree as I sprang to my feet in terror. The sun was rising in the rosy east. I stood between the tree and his broad red disk — no shadow darkened the trunk!

A chorus of howling wolves saluted the dawn. I saw them sitting on their haunches, singly and in groups, on the summits of irregular mounds and tumuli filling a half of my desert prospect and extending to the horizon. And then I knew that these were ruins of the ancient and famous city of Carcosa.

Such are the facts imparted to the medium Bayrolles by the spirit Hoseib Alar Robardin.

###


—by Ambrose Bierce, first published in the San Francisco Newsletter, December 25, 1886

The Highly Selective Dictionary For The Extraordinarily Literate (1997)

“The Highly Selective Dictionary can be thought of as an antidote to the ongoing, poisonous effects wrought by the forces of linguistic darkness—aided by permissive lexicographers who blithely acquiesce to the depredations of unrestrained language butchers.”

 

—Eugene Ehrlich, Preface to The Highly Selective Dictionary For The Extraordinarily Literate.

Eugene Ehrlich’s The Highly Selective Dictionary For The Extraordinarily Literate (Harper Collins, 1997) is a treasure trove of obscure words. The 192 page book is divided into six sections, Acknowledgements, a Preface, Pronunciation Notes, a Introduction and, lastly, The Dictionary proper and features such obtuse and oft-unuttered words as blatherskite (a person given to blathering), dysphemism (a unpleasant or derogatory word or phrase substituted for a more pleasant and less offensive one) and galimatias (confused or unintelligible talk).

One of the unique strengths of the book is its omission of commonplace words whose meaning(s) are widely known (such as “door,” or, “car”). In leaving aside [near]omnipresent words, the book focuses wholly on those words a common English reader is apt not to know, which sets it apart from other reference dictionaries that include words which most, quite simply, will not ever need to look-up. It might also be remarked that the proliferation of the internet, which was not so pronounced upon the writing of the book as it is now, further mitigates the need to include commonplace words in reference dictionaries, given the readiness with which they can be accessed through the web.

However, simply because one can find obscure words online doesn’t mean that one will (in a suitable timeframe, if at all)—hence the importance of having a reference book to hand. To this end, The Highly Selective Dictionary is excellent.


You can find the book online at Thriftbooks, Amazon, or Ebay.


Cover image: Man wearing Gernsback Isolator (invented 1925) at writing desk.