Pihoqahiak

A loquacious waltz droned phantasmically throughout the spacious foyer of Partridge Manor. Charles Jauther found the music simultaneously entrancing and unnerving. He paused beside the U-shaped double stairway which let up to the second floor landing and loosened his tie, eyes roaming aimlessly over peculiar marble statues and framed monochrome illustrations, and ornate synth-spun tapestries, looking for an exit from the oppressive opalescence.

“What is it, Charlie?”

Charles turned to his elegantly garbed wife and forced a smile.

“Nothing, nothing. Just nervous is all. I’ve never been to a showing this ritzy.”

“Whats there to worry about?”

The couple were met at the base of the left foyer staircase by a pale, middle-aged woman dressed all in black. Charles found her outfit curiously antiquated and her lynxish gaze disturbing.

“Mr. and Mrs. Jauther. So pleased you could both make it. I’m Ariadne Campbell.”

“Oh yes, we spoke briefly on the phone,” Catherine Jauther replied with a warm smile, “You’re Mr. Partridge’s secretary, right?”

“Yes. He speaks highly of your husband’s work. I’m sure he’s keen to meet him. This way.”

The couple followed the woman up the left stairway and then left again down a long corridor, lined with simply framed photographs of various people and places. Always there would be a portrait and a construct, a building, a painting, a line of code, directly across from it.

Charles gestured to the photographs.

“Who are all these people?”

Ariadne replied without turning or pausing.

“Mr. Partridge’s students—and their work.”

“There’s… so many… he must be quiet a busy man.”

“Industriousness is one of the few qualities you and he share.”

He felt that the words were meant as a subtle insult and wondered if it was the quality of his work she took issue with, or the philosophy that motivated it, or both. He decided against addressing the issue for the sake of his wife and continued following the icy hostess.

The hall of portraits let out into a massive ballroom where the bulk of the host of the stately manse had gathered. The buzzing throng huddled around a singular figure, pale and elegant, garbed in long white coat, tipped at the collar with similarly albescent fur, appearing more as one of the marble statues that lined the manor’s halls than a man.

Ariadne stopped before the pristine figure and turned towards the two new arrivals.

“Mr. and Ms. Jauther, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Partridge.”

The albescent man turned to greet the couple, revealing a sharp, bloodless face and keen, azure eyes.

“Salutations. So pleased you could make it.”

Catherine smiled and curtsied as Charles extended his hand and shook Lynder’s black-gloved own.

“We appreciated the invitation.”

Lynder nodded and then beckoned a young servant, who approached bearing a platter filled with drinks.

“Wine?”

“Oh yes, sounds lovely. Thank you.”

“What kind is it,” Catherine inquired.

“Scharzhof riesling,” Lydner replied as he gingerly removed two glasses from the servants silver plate and handed them to his guests.

“That’s quite expensive, isn’t it?” Catherine cooed as she eagerly, but cordially, took a glass.

Lynder nodded, “Indeed, but, as the saying goes, one gets what one pays for.”

“Fraid I don’t know much about wine.” Charles declared flatly as he stared down at his glass indecisively.

Lynder raised his vessel to the light, gently swirling the topaz liquid within.

“The drink of choice of the ancient Mediterraneans.”

“Didn’t know they had Scharzhof riesling back then.”

Lynder turned to Charles with a faint smile gracing his bloodless face and then gestured for the man to follow him.

“I hear you’re planning a trip to Nunavut to record the wildlife.”

“Yes. I’ve recorded damn near every land-animal on the continent, but never a polar bear. Besides my wife has always wanted to see the north. So its a win-win.”

“Taking anyone else along?”

“Wasn’t planning to. Why do you ask?”

“Its dangerous up there.”

“Its dangerous everywhere.”

“Yes, but, on my island, for example, you stand little chance of being vivisected by a polar bear.”

“Equipment is sensitive. Won’t be getting too close; that is, if I’m even able to find any.”

“You will at least take a gun with you?”

“Don’t own any. Wouldn’t take one even if I did. Cat hates guns.”

“So do polar bears. Did you know that a man was eaten by one last year. On Sentry Island, up by Nunavut.”

“I know of the place, but I hadn’t heard. What happened?”

“Man named Ridley Garrick had taken his children – a son and daughter, both very young – up for a fishing trip. The isle is a popular fishing spot. While Garrick was distracted, a bear attacked the children-”

“Oh god…”

“However, Garrick was able to intervene before it could reach them and fought it – unfortunately, for him, he was unarmed, and thus, swiftly killed.”

“Did the kids get away?”

“Yes. RCMP was notified and found the bear eating Mr. Garrick’s remains. They shot it in the face – twice – and that was the end of it.”

“What an unfortunate affair.”

“One which could have been easily avoided through the addition of a lightly armed detachment.”

“Do you write for the gun lobby or something?”

Partridge smiled with amusement and took a sip of wine before replying.

“If I were a lobbyist, you’d have long ago returned to your wife out of boredom.”

“Ha, well, its just… you seem like you don’t like animals.”

“We are animals, Mr. Jauther. I’m speaking specifically about the bears. It is not a question of liking or disliking them, but of understanding their nature.”

“Its only because of our disruption that they attack.”

“I’ll not insult your intelligence by suggesting you truly believe that.”

“Condescend all you like, but we press into their territory. Disturb the natural balance.”

“The ‘natural balance?'”

“Yes. Natural harmony.”

“Mr. Jauther, there is no harmony.”

“Butterflies and pollination – that isn’t harmonious?”

Lynder downed the last of his wine and turned the sanguine dregs in the light.

“Even butterflies drink blood.”

 


 

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When Blood Wants Blood

     There is nothing like the smell of Santeria. It is a distinct smell that jolts me into my body the second I find myself enveloped in it: one that suggests cleanliness—in every respect—but with a little magic mixed in. Not easily reproduced, you won’t find it anywhere but homes or other places, such as my botanica—a Santeria supply store—where regular orisha worship happens. It is the intoxicating blend of lavender-scented Fabuloso All-Purpose Cleaner, stale cigar smoke (used for various offerings to our dead and these African gods), burning candle wax, and subtle, earthy hints of animal sacrifice from the past, offered for the sake of continued prosperity, spiritual protection, and other vital blessings from the divine. You won’t find it anywhere else. No, it is not common fare, much like the smell of ozone immediately after a lightning strike: it is a right time, right place kind of thing. But why wax nostalgic (besides the fact that my own home hasn’t smelled like that for a long time)? It will be Dia de Los Muertos tomorrow and there is much work to do. 

     My boveda or spiritual ancestor shrine has gone neglected for months now, squatting in my cramped dining room, cold and lifeless like the spirits it was erected to appease. A thick layer of dust has powdered the picture frames of my dearly departed, making their rectangular glasses dulled and cloudy. I look at the faces of my maternal and paternal grandparents and find that details that were once fine have phased into each other, as if viewed through a thin curtain of gauze: I can’t clearly see them and they—likely—can hardly see me. That is how it feels, anyway. The white tablecloth on top of the table is dingy, looking yellowed and stained from months of occasional sprinklings of agua de florida cologne and errant flakes of cigar ash. The water glasses (nine of them to be exact—one large brandy snifter and four pairs of others in decreasing sizes) seem almost opaque, now, with their contents having long evaporated, leaving behind striated bands of hard mineral and chlorine, plus the occasional dead fly, who’s selfless sacrifice was likely not met with much appreciation by my dead Aunt Minne or PopoEstringel, my mother’s father. Various religious statues call for immediate attention with frozen countenances that glare, annoyed that my Swiffer hasn’t seen the light of day for some weeks, now. Then there is the funky, asymmetrical glass jar on the back right-corner that I use to collect their change. The dead love money (especially mine). This fact has always suggested to me that hunger—in all shapes and forms—lingers, even after the final curtain closes. Makes sense, if you think about it. We gorge ourselves on life, cleave to it when we feel it slip away, and then after we die we

     The statues—mostly Catholic saints—each have their own specific meaning and purpose on my boveda. St. Lazarus provides protection from illness. St. Teresa keeps death at bay. St. Michael and The Sacred Heart of Jesus, which are significantly larger than the other figures, are prominent, flanking either side of the spiritual table, drawing in—and out—energies of protection and—at the same time—mercy; the two things I find myself increasingly in need of these days. At the back of the table, there is a repurposed hutch from an old secretary desk with eight cubbies of varying sizes, where nine silver, metallic ceramic skulls reside that represent my dead, who have passed on (the number nine is the number of the dead in Santeria). They usually shine, quite brightly, in the warm, yellow glow of the dining room’s hanging light fixture, but they look tarnished, as of late, save the eye sockets, which seem to plead for attention, glistening, as if wet with tears. A large resin crucifix rests in the half-full, murky water-glass (the largest one) that rests in the center of the altar. It sounds sacrilegious, but it isn’t, as placing it so calls upon heavenly power to help control the spirits that are attracted (or attached) to the shrine, allowing positive ones to do what they need to do for my well-being, while keeping the negative ones tightly on a leash. Some smaller, but equally as important, fetishes also haunt the altar space, representing spirit guides of mine: African warriors and wise women, a golden bust of an Egyptian sarcophagus, a Native American boy playing a drum, and four steel Hands of Fatima that recently made their way into the mix after a rather nasty spirit settled into my house last year—for a month or so—and created all kinds of chaos and havoc, tormenting me with nightmares—not to mention a ton of bad luck—and my dogs with physical attacks, ultimately resulting in one of them, Argyle, being inexplicably and permanently crippled (but that is another story). Various accents, which I have collected over the years, also add to the ache (power) of the boveda; a multi-colored beaded offering bowl, strands of similarly patterned Czech glass beads, a brass censer atop a wooden base for incenses, a pentacle and athame (from my Wicca days), a deck of Rider-Waite tarot cards in a green velvet pouch with a silver dollar kept inside, and a giant rosary—more appropriate to hang on a wall, actually—made of large wooden beads, dyed red and rose-scented. Looking at all of it in its diminished grandeur, I am reminded of how much I have asked my egun (ancestors) for over the years and can’t help but feel a little ashamed of my non-committal, reactive (not proactive) attitude in terms of their veneration, as well as their regular care and feeding.   

     This year’s Dia will be different. It has to be. It’s going to take more than a refreshed boveda and fresh flowers to fix what is going wrong in my life right now; a bowl of fruit and some seven-day candles just won’t cut it. Business at the botanica is slow, money is tight—beyond tight—and all my plans seem to fall apart before they can even get started. The nightmares have come back—a couple of times, anyway—and the dogs grow more and more anxious every day, ready to jump out of their skins at the slightest startle, such as the scratching and scuffling from the large cardboard box that’s tucked away in the garage. My madrina, an old Cuban woman well into her 70s that brought me into the religion and orisha priesthood, told me last night that we all have a spiritual army at our disposal that desperately wants to help us in times of need; meaning our ancestors. She said, with enough faith, one could command legions of them to do one’s bidding, using as little as a few puffs of cigar smoke and a glass of water. While a powerful statement, that isn’t how things roll for me. Her prescription for what ails me was far from that simple. “This year, your muertos need to eat and eat well! They need strength to help you and you need a lot of it. When they are happy, you will be happy. When they are not, you won’t,” she advised, searching my eyes for an anticipated twinge of panic, and they didn’t fail her. I knew—right then and there—what she meant, making my stomach feel as if it had dropped straight down into my Jockey underwear. That feeling may have very well dissuaded me from going through with tonight’s festivities if things were so dire at present. Eyebale is a messy business, regardless of how smooth one is with their knife (blood sacrifice always is, which is why I have always had such a distaste for it. Thank God I only do birds). Regardless of that fact, my egun eat tonight at midnight. I give thanks to my egun tonight at midnight. I—hopefully—change things around tonight at midnight. What else can you do when blood wants blood?                     


Originally published at Digging in the Dirt.

A Siring

By Dan Klefstad


“I was starving, I couldn’t help it.” Camilla wipes blood from her chin and points. “He’s in the car.”

“How could you be starving?” I put my stump in one jacket sleeve while my left arm hurriedly finds the other hole. “You had at least six pints before you left the house.”

“Okay, then, he was delicious. What’s wrong with enjoying a meal?”

A Corvette convertible sits at the edge of the park, red finish partially lit by a perfect half-moon. I lower my voice. “Front or back seat?”

“I put him in the trunk.”

“Please say the interior isn’t white.”

“Okay. It’s some other color.”

“Don’t play with me.”

“You’re the one who’s playing.” Her bare feet make no sound on the grass. In contrast, my loafers seem to find every leaf that gave up the ghost during the recent drought. I shine a light on the driver’s seat. “It’s like Jackson Pollack was here. Fiona was never this messy.”

“You don’t work for her anymore.” She folds her arms. “And I like Jackson Pollack.”

“Did you forget our agreement? I raise money to buy blood and you don’t kill people. We don’t need police sniffing around.” I open the trunk and see a man in a polo shirt and plaid shorts. He looks 35, maybe 40.

Camilla leans against the fiberglass body and runs her hands over it. “I want this car.”

“We have to ditch it.” I reach into the man’s back pocket and take out his wallet.

“Oooh.” She sidles up. “Make it look like we robbed him. Clever.”

Camilla’s been watching a new police show. Maybe it’s an old one, those procedurals are all the same. One minute in, someone finds a body. After the first commercial detectives arrive, and five minutes later something threatens to derail the investigation which leads to the climax. A quick, pithy observation follows, and it ends at 22 minutes. The wallet opens and my thumb lands on metal. Oh God, no. Please, no. I put the flashlight between my teeth. “Fuck me.”

“That’s not in our agreement,” Camilla snaps back. Then she groans as her hands encircle her belly. “I’m too full anyway.”

“You killed a cop.”

“Okay.”

I stare at her, flashlight dangling from my teeth. Finally, I remove it. “Cops never stop looking when one of their own… Oh, Jesus Christ.” I slam the trunk and turn away, gathering my thoughts. Camilla is only six months old, but Fiona warned me she’d never learn caution. I can’t believe I signed up for four years of this.

“Is that what I think it is? Cool.”

It’s best if I hide the body several miles from the car, but I haven’t used a shovel since losing my arm. And Camilla? She’s allergic to manual labor. But, just now, I remember a secluded lake about a mile from here. Perhaps we could find weights to keep him down…

BANG

“What the fuck?” I whip around to see smoke curling up from a pistol. Camilla can’t stop laughing at the hole in her left hand. “I shot myself.” Her excited eyes meet mine. “Coppers back home don’t carry these.”

“Give it to me.”

“No, I’m gonna keep it.”

“You have no need for a gun.”

“We’re in America now.” She waves it in front of me. “Everyone needs a gun.”

“Camilla, I need you to give that to me.”

Her face moves right up to mine. “You’re not the boss.” I feel the barrel against my ribs. “I am, remember?”

“If you kill me, you’re on your own.” I stare back. “Think you can survive by yourself?”

Our standoff lasts several seconds. Finally, she grins. “You’re right.” She turns and walks away. “You’re always right.” She tosses the gun in the bushes. “Good luck with this mess.”

***

It’s after seven when I get home. Camilla’s been asleep since 5:30. Everyone else on our street is scurrying to work, or wherever normal people go in the morning. In the kitchen, I pour myself a scotch, then remember the final item on my list before waking at eleven to check our investments. I walk down the corridor and turn the handle to Camilla’s room to make sure it’s secure. I always order the bolt installed on the inside to protect my employer when they’re most vulnerable. To her credit, Camilla always locks it. So, there’s hope. When I return to the kitchen, I see a letter from Rome on thick, faded stationery.

Dear Daniel,

How’s life back in the States? Is Camilla behaving herself? Despite her wild ways, I have every confidence you’ll guide and protect my progeny during these difficult early years. I just hope she’s paying you enough. Speaking of money, please find the enclosed check which should help with surprise expenses. I do hope we work together again someday. My current guardian isn’t even close to your level.

All the best,

Fiona

 

The check is for $10,000, not much in our world. Still, it would be enough if I were to buy a one-way ticket to the Equator where the sun shines twelve hours every day. No doubt, a spurned Camilla would die pursuing her revenge. Fiona, ever more cautious, would send human assassins, but most working today have less experience than me. I could stay hidden for years thanks to secret deposit boxes filled with cash, false passports, and gold. I’m still calculating the exact number of years when I hear her voice:

“Hey.”

I turn and see her door slightly open. My eyes immediately go to the window shades to make sure they’re down. “Yeah?”

“Can you come here for a second?”

I walk to the entrance and see a teary eye staring out. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For being… difficult.”

“I’ll forgive you. Just give me a day or two.”

She sniffles. “It’s just that I feel so unprepared.” Her eyes roll. “That’s probably really obvious to you. But I’m finding it hard to adjust to… this.”

“I understand. Fiona said it took her a couple decades. Try to get some sleep.”

“I can’t.”

This is new; Fiona always slept through the day. “Want some B positive?”

“No. What are you drinking?”

“Whisky. You wouldn’t like it.”

“Can you sleep with me – just for a little while?”

“Umm…”

“I know it’s not part of our agreement.”

“I’ve never slept with…”

“A vampire?”

“Yeah.”

“I just need someone to hold me.” An icy hand takes mine. “Please?”

I follow her in and lock the door. We face each other for a few seconds — she in silk pajamas, me in slacks and a button-down shirt – before she lifts the covers and slides in. I remove my shoes and lay down next to her.

“Spoon me?”

The last time I did this, I had two arms and one grew numb. For the first time, I learn one arm can be a benefit. I press my chest against her back and immediately feel her relax.

“Please don’t leave.”

“You mean, stay all day with you?”

“No, you can go once I’m asleep. Just don’t take off permanently. I don’t know what I’d do on my own.” Both her hands press mine against her chest. “God, I hate being so dependent.”

“Everyone depends on someone.”

“Who do you depend on?”

“I left myself open for that. Touché.”

She turns to face me, eyes searching mine. “You know I’m here for you. I just need to know what you need.”

***

The next evening, I’m reading the news, swiping at my tablet, when something catches my eye: a story about a body, drained of blood, in an alley. Enraged, I push open her door and hold up the tablet. “You did it again.”

She’s in her closet, topless, sifting through dresses. “Hello, that door still means something. What do you want?”

I step in. “Someone sucked a body dry last night. It’s all over the news – we’re exposed.”

“I didn’t do that.”

“Then who did?”

She’s smiling when she faces me. “Congratulations!” She kisses my cheek. “We’re parents.”

“What?”

“It’s a miracle.” Still smiling, both of her hands take mine. “Remember that cop from two nights ago?”

“The one you killed, and I dumped in the lake?”

“I’m calling him Austin – hope you like the name. He’s alive and living nearby.”

My breathing becomes shallow as I extract my hand and grab her upper right arm. “Are you saying you sired that cop?”

“We sired him. We had sex and I gave Austin some of my blood…”

“His name was Officer Jared Brown and we had sex after you killed him.”

“I don’t remember the order — I don’t know how this works — but aren’t you happy? We have a son.” She tries to move, looks at my hand gripping her arm, and fixes her gaze on mine. “Let go of me.”

“Walk me through it. You were alone with him in the car, and you drained him. When did you give him your blood?”

“I can’t REMEMBER.” She yanks herself free. “Really, I thought you’d be happy – at least for me. I didn’t think I could sire someone.”

“Camilla, listen: You brought a being into this world that we can’t protect…”

We brought him into this world.”

“…and once the police catch him, they’ll start looking for others…”

“But you can teach him to survive – like you’re teaching me.”

“STOP ACTING LIKE I’M HIS FATHER.”

Blood pools in her eyes as her body shakes. She points toward the door. “Get. Out.”

I point at her before I leave. “We will talk about this tonight.”

“GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE.”

***

Finally, an order I agree with. Fiona’s check is still on the kitchen table. I pocket that and grab my tablet. Before leaving, I open my go-bag and feel all the way to the bottom. I pull out a pistol, a trophy from a battle that now seems ages ago. The magazine contains regular bullets. Reaching back inside, I find the other mag containing wood-tipped rounds. One through the heart is all that’s needed.

A moment later, I’m driving to the neighborhood where the latest body was found. I’m testing that TV trope that says a criminal always returns to the scene of his crime. It takes several minutes to find the alley, which still has pieces of yellow tape on the ground. I get out, put the gun behind my belt, and begin walking, occasionally looking through a thermal imager. It takes ten minutes to find him. He’s still wearing the polo and plaid shorts, although this time he’s 28 degrees and walking several paces behind a woman registering 98.6. He glances back once, briefly making eye contact. He knows I’m there for him. Still, inexperienced and consumed by hunger, the two-day-old continues his pursuit.

I quicken my pace, already thinking beyond the ultimate crime of rendering mortal what was supposed to be immortal. No doubt, Camilla will come after me for killing “our” child – for shattering the illusion that this creature would bind us forever. She’ll disregard her own safety, and the universe will act accordingly; there’s a reason most vampires die before their first year. Still, a longing has settled in, one that threatens to haunt me for the rest of my life. She certainly got to me with that fire in her eyes, and the smell of her hair. How each breast felt when I held it. How she tasted.

This is all my fault. I broke the first rule of guardianship, and the consequences couldn’t be clearer for all involved – including me. But perhaps I’ve been wrong all along. I’ve made a career out of helping others cheat death. Now, for the first time, I see mortality as a gift. It forgives, wipes the slate clean, and allows you to forget difficult memories. For this, Officer Jared or Austin or whatever you call yourself — You are welcome. Just stay dead.

###


You can find Mr. Klefstad’s novel, Shepherd & The Professor, online, here.

 

Hauptsturmführer Fillenius (1944)

By Dan Klefstad


The Russians knew they had no chance; we surrounded them. They also knew we’d have no mercy, but they surrendered anyway. They gave up their weapons and helmets, hoping for cigarettes which we no longer had. Were they buying time? Somewhere across the drifting snow, their swine-kin prepared another attack, but we didn’t know when, or how many. So we tried beating the details out, smashing their fingers and noses with rifles. After burning precious calories, we huddled in our so-called “winter outfits” and stamped our feet to get the blood moving. Then we tried to strip their coats which covered neck-to-ankle with thick, coarse wool. I knew very little Russian but it was clear we’d have to shoot them first. That sealed their fate. I ordered my last surviving officer to line them up and empty our German guns into them; the captured ones work better when frozen, and we’d need those for the next assault.

A corporal limps toward me and salutes. “Herr Hauptsturmführer, shall we aim for the head? The coats would be intact then.”

“If you want pig brains on your collar, that’s your business.” I yank the magazine from my pistol and count the remaining ice-covered rounds. “I’ll take the three on the right.”

Up to now, I thought Der Führer might introduce a Super Weapon that would stop the Red Army from entering Germany, but when half our guns failed to perform a simple mass execution, I knew it was over. The war would go on for another fifteen months but this moment in Estonia is where the end began – for Germany and these mongrel fucks who surrendered everything but their coats. At least their weapons worked; my men were thrilled. I, however, counted every one of the eleven bullets they spent.

“Hauptsturmführer Fillenius!” Major Haas motions from a staff-car that must’ve arrived while we were firing. I walk quickly and salute, expecting a reprimand for wasting ammunition.

Haas ignores the bodies. “I’m going to Tallinn to prepare defenses there. Need I remind you of Der Führer’s directive?”

“Stand and fight. No retreat, no surrender.”

His driver, a lieutenant, salutes. “We know you’ll give your all for the Fatherland.”

I ignore him. “Can you send some food, cigarettes, bandages – anything?”

“I’ll assess the situation and let you know.” Haas motions to his driver who shifts into First. “Don’t let us down, Søren.”

His use of my Christian name is another sign that the “thousand-year Reich” will last little more than a decade. I salute once more as he drives toward the final sunset I expect to see. I try to savor it, but someone yells “Deckung!” and I jump into the nearest trench.

§

I’ve seen men hallucinate before they die, so I’m not surprised by the woman wearing a low-cut peasant-style dress. This moonlit vision is a lovely distraction from the gurgling in my throat and lungs. A sucking chest wound gets priority in any triage, but there’s no one left to plug the holes. Suffocating, I try to relax and enjoy this little film about an underdressed beauty walking toward me through white and crimson snow.

“You don’t look Russian,” I wheeze. “Estonian?”

She gathers the long fabric as she kneels, and I see blue veins in her large white breasts. Long fingernails like shell splinters descend toward me, and I wonder if she’ll gouge my eyes out. I close them as she brushes aside a stray forelock.

“Please.” My eyes reopen. “Just stay with me.”

“What a pity.” She says in English. “You look like an angel.” She fingers a pin on my uniform. “SS Nordland.” Then she frowns and grabs a handful of hair, lifting my face toward hers. “I could have used those prisoners you killed.”

I focus on her accent which is different from that of my language tutor in Copenhagen. “American?”

Her grip tightens. “You wasted them!”

Wasted. What did that mean? This was more than a war. It was a crusade against Slavs and other sub-humans, and Jewish bolshevism – a crusade I joined four years ago to help the Nazis take over my native Denmark. The fact that the Aryans failed means nothing matters anymore – nichts. Nearly defeated, I spend one of my remaining breaths on a question. “What do you want?”

“What do you want, Søren?”

Definitely a dream; even my dog-tags use an initial for my first name. But I consider her words. “Leave the war. Leave this fucking continent.”

Her eyes narrow as if preparing to divulge a secret. “I’m going to America.”

“Take me with you.”

Her fist tightens against my skull, eyes glow red, and lips part revealing two long canines. “You’re a monster,” she hisses. “Only a fellow hunter can go with me.”

“I… Who… What are you?”

Her mouth closes but her glowing eyes remain fixed on mine. Of all the things I expected to see while dying, I never imagined a seductive hellish creature calling me a monster. What does that make her? My frozen lips barely move: “Vampyr?”

She scowls. For a moment, she appears uncertain about what to do. Finally: “You’re useless now, nearly bloodless, but I can change you.” Her face is so close, our noses almost touch. “First, I’m going to give you something I never had: a choice.”

“Make me one of you.”

“You haven’t heard the terms.”

“I don’t want to die.”

“If I save you, the sun will be your mortal enemy. And your thirst will never end.”

“Please… ” I cough a final time as my lungs collapse.

Both her hands support my neck as she moves behind me. Then she rests my head in her lap and holds her right hand above my face. A nail slices her wrist and my head instinctively turns as blood rains down.

“Open.” Her fingers squeeze my jaw. The drops cover my face as I struggle for my last breath.

“Be still.”

§

When I awake, I hear a heart beating and know immediately who it belongs to. I sit up and hear his panicked breathing, but pause to take in the surroundings of a command bunker I visited once, now abandoned. Fiona relaxes in the Field Marshal’s former wing-chair, sipping from a glass of red liquid that I already know – I can smell it. And I want it.

“You can relax.” Fiona swallows. “It’s safe here.”

“Safe for whom?” He yells from across the room. “Hauptsturmführer Fillenius! Untie me and arrest this woman!”

“Sturmbannführer Haas,” I rise, noting the major’s civilian clothes. “Where did you go after you left our position?”

“To Tallinn – like I told you!”

“He’s lying.” Fiona examines her nails. “I found him at the Loksa Shipyard, arranging passage to neutral territory. He and his lieutenant – who’s delicious, by the way – had Swedish passports.”

I glare at him, sitting in a wooden chair, arms and legs bound. “Stand and fight, you said.” Then I see the passports on a nearby table, plus a dozen gold coins. “My men were killed – all of them – covering your rear.”

“Oh, I think Lieutenant Baumann covered his rear just fine, wouldn’t you say Major?” Fiona smiles as she takes another sip.

“Søren, listen.” Haas fixes his eyes on me. “She kidnapped us in Tallinn, planted that stuff on us, and killed Fritzi.”

“Don’t call me ‘Søren’ – I do not consort with cowards!”

Haas’s face wrinkles with disgust as he looks at Fiona. “Then, like an animal, she bit his neck and drank his blood.”

I inhale deeply, suddenly aware that my teeth are longer. Haas’s skin reveals a spider web of throbbing vessels, but I know which one to attack first. I glance at Fiona. “Can I take him now?”

Fiona looks amused as she leans back in the Field Marshal’s chair. “Permission granted, Hauptsturmführer.”

§

The Stockholm Palace looks stunning at night, yellow lights reflecting off the sandstone exterior. But the fact that a King lives there – plus the surrounding architecture, music, and fashions – reminds me that we’re still in Europe. I look at Fiona’s hands which rest on the wrought iron balcony, and place my right on her left. “I hear the war will be over soon.”

“Yes.”

“It should be safe to travel, no?”

“It’s never safe.” She looks at me. “The first leg, to England, is a small risk. We could take two or three passengers, but we’d have to share them. The second leg, though…”  She looks at the night sky. “That would be seven or eight – again, shared – so we’d still be starving. If we’re alive when we get to New York, the police will know something’s wrong and board the ship. All they need is a little luck and they’ll find our trunk.”

“Why not have separate trunks?”

“That doubles the chances they’ll find one. If they discover you or me, they’ll keep looking.”

“Remind me. Why are we doing this?”

She points west. “Because that’s where we’ll get dinner every night.” She waves toward the city. “They just had two devastating wars, and God knows if the Russians are finished marching. There aren’t enough people to hide behind while we make the others disappear.”

I gaze at the rising moon and imagine how it looks from New York, Boston, or Chicago. Then I lift my glass. “To America. May we thrive among her teeming multitudes.”

“To whoever controls the universe,” Fiona raises hers. “May she still need us enough to grant safe passage.”

###

Film Review: The Bone Snatcher (2002)

*** SPOILERS


Having read the deplorably cheezy tagline: It will scare you out of your skull. and being a SyFy original, my expectations for The Bone Snatcher were quite low. I was pleasantly surprised.


Directed by Jason Wulfsohn, written by Malcolm Kohll and Gordon Render and starring Warrick Grier and a bunch of people I had never seen nor heard of, The Bone Snatcher follows the exploits of a talented but mousey systems analyst, Dr. Zach Straker (Scott Bairstow) who is tasked with moving from Canada to the South African Namib Desert to aid a geological survey team after several members of their crew go missing. There he meets the imposing and steely Karl (Warrick Grier), the beautiful and headstrong, Mikki (Rachel Shelley), the superstitious and perpetually ponderous Titus (Patrick Shai), a mouthy driver and a guy who is apparently only in the film to be the first on-screen person to be bonesntached. Once Karl discovers the corpses of his colleagues he is enraged and vows to find their killers. It soon becomes apparent that what killed them is not human when Karl spies a hideous being stalking through the desert. He shoots it and it vanishes, as if into the very air. Shortly, the creature begins picking off the team one by one, forcing Straker, Mikki, Karl and Titus to put aside their differences and formulate a plan to kill it before it steals their bones…

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Straker.
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Mikki.
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Karl.
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Karl discovers the remains of his team, stripped of flesh.
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Karl scopes the bone snatcher but guns prove ineffectual for dealing with the monstrosity.
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Nooo! Character whose name I don’t remember got bonesnatched!
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The Bone Snatcher.

Impressions & Overview

Though critically panned (it used to be the hip thing for the movie literati to bash Scifi original movies, regardless of their content or quality) I found The Bone Snatcher to be quite enjoyable and far more substantive than I thought it would be. One of the benefits of any survival horror movie is the raising of the question: What would you do in such a situation? Would you act as the meek and attemptedly calculating Straker? The even-keel Mikki? The doomsaying Titus? The by-the-book driver Magda? Or would you strike out for revenge like Karl? Furthermore, the scenery is often quite breathtaking (the film was shot in Cape Town and the deserts of Namibia. Though the film is never scary (which it should have been since it billed itself as a “horror” film) it is very atmospheric and tense with a decent soundtrack and some moments of surprisingly good acting (especially from Warrick Grier who I hope, in the future, to see receiving considerably more starring roles).

The Acting, Characters & Dialogue

The acting is uniformly solid. One of the main problems that some viewers may run into, however, is the strong Afrikaans accents, which may warrant the utilization of subtitles (especially in the introduction to the main geological team members, there was so much mumbling and accent it was like they were speaking a completely different language).

The protagonist of the film, Straker, is boring and tepid and does almost nothing of importance throughout the entire film, yet, it is these very qualities that make him believable and help markedly to ground the fantastical elements of the film, namely the bone-snatching creature itself, in reality. Early on in the film after the first attack by the creature, Straker losses his cool, he’s almost perpetually terrified throughout, even as he tries to focus and craft a logical plan of action.

The standout of the entire film, for me, was Warrick Grier as the hotblooded and fearsome team leader, Karl.  He, together with Straker, have the best moment in the entire film when Karl erupts, “There are no bears in Africa!” and Straker responds, “I know that, Kaaaaarl!” It would be impossible to replicate the tone of the scene so I suggest you watch the film for the full effect, it had me rolling with laughter.

Central Themes

The central theme of the film is teamwork, as none of the members of the crew being stalked by the bone snatcher seem able to agree upon anything, later, after one of them is killed there is a sequence whereupon various characters keep drawing guns upon each other and shouting about how so-and-so is going too far or losing it. All of the characters who bicker and refuse to work in tandem end up dead which I read as the scriptwriters declaring, “If you behaved this aberrantly when a giant bug-bone monster was trying to kill you, you’d end up dead. Form up, or fall down.” And they’re right.

The Creature

Being a creature-feature, we would be remiss if we did not specifically remark upon the titular Bone Snatcher itself. The ant-bone amalgamation is, whilst in no-wise scary (at least it wasn’t to me) a fantastic looking creation (and yes, the “creature” is just a bunch of ants, if you hadn’t guessed from the promo poster for the film, which, though cool, is rather too plot-revealing!). Some of the shots of The Snatcher itself are not CGI but rather a man in a suit (Brian Claxton Payne) and these, in my opinion, are the best in the film (the CGI in the film was very uncanny valley and at times looked like stop-motion which was distracting). The reveal that the creature was an amalgam of prehistoric killer ants was obvious but inventive. What I kept wondering, however, was, how were the ants aided by forming a humanoid mass? Straker says they do it for “survival” but how, precisely? We never really find out and that’s disappointing.

Summation

If you enjoy survival horror action films like Pitch Black (which TBS strongly reminded me of) that are more concerned with atmosphere and character than they are with guts, gore or superfluous jump scares, you might well enjoy The Bone Snatcher.

INTERVAL ONE | THE SEVERING

IN MY DREAM | I lay upon a bed, hard and uncomfortable, unable to sleep, swaddled in darkness. After a single heart’s beating the wall to my abode exploded in tandem with a furious howl that left a dreadful ringing to hover ghastly upon the air. A strange, dim, reddish light flooded the room. Stunned, I rose and slid off the bed, feeling something sticky, something wet.

Blood.

Aghast I fled out of the hole in the ruined tenement but emerged only into a yet larger pool of blood. So shocked was I at the heinous fluid that I neglected immediacy and surroundings both and when I took in what lay before me, horror subsumed all.

A hundred thousand bodies, in various states of undress, hung from great sheets of barbed wire that stretched for miles in either direction, so thick that the grisly conglomeration blotted out the horizon; their blood spooling out from pierced and maggot-ridden flesh like huge, undulating worms. Approaching the closest column of twisted steel I reached out my hand to touch one of the corpses thereupon. Before my hand could clasp its decaying and sanguine flesh it hissed and squirmed and reached out towards me.

Screaming. Screaming. Screaming.

Breath caught in throat, heart thundered in chest, eyes bulged and hairs stood on end. I left off out the scene and tore across the seemingly endless field of blood as the grey and wasted clouds parted from the sky, revealing a black sphere, like a tiny imploded sun, which oozed with a black and viscous substance that drizzled out over the ruptured skin of the world. Miles upon miles of seething black liquid scorching all.

Suddenly a howl erupted from behind me. Low, furious and vaguely human.

I turned to behold a man, wrapt all in bloody bandages, wadding through the life waters with single minded purpose, his movements ferine and jittering; the creature’s eyes nothing more than pools of void, lightless as the star-rent welkin and his mouth sewn shut with strands of its own hair. Behind him he dragged a thick and wooden club to which was affixed a sharp and heavy stone. Another howl and the crude ax sliced through the left side of my abdomen. I leapt aback and cried out for aid. Cried out in vain, splashing through the blood and rheum and suddenly then the chittering of teeth as eyes and hands and tongues and distended chest cavities filled over with multiplying strands of heaving hair rose up from out of the ruddy filth and slithered about my chassis as the ululatious axman brought his cudgel down into my skull.

Then, nothing.

Cannot Cry But Only Shrink

What have I put upon myself. This is me, this is my mind disorganized, drenched in its diverted self, there is nothing but me all over me. Lift me up me. Me help me!! Where is my fucking card, fuck fuck. “I’m outside.” “I’ll be there in a minute, give me a second.”

Can’t he get his shit together spending his time looking through shit, he lives in trash, why? Do I want to be around a person like this, fucking loser. Every minute that goes by I feel it, wasting my gas, I should just go leave.

Where the fuck fuck is it, fuck fuck fuck. “In for a min, got to go sorr- …ol, I’ll see you lat-”

What the fuck is wrong with me? I can’t be like that, I don’t want to be like that, nothing but friction is myselves. I feel so hot. So hot. It is in my face. He’s not busy, he’s tired of my shit, probablyprobably, I’ll… just… The papers, the cartons, the packages, me; it’s going. In moments.

Have to find my lighter first, ha, I guess I saved myself. Can’t find shit. Instinctively grabs for his cigarettes.

 

I want to fog this out the facial heat, turmoil, but there it is agai..heat up in..just lit a cigarette..ha I found it… I did find it.

I’m never going to fix this, the damage is done, this is the right thing to do, the strong thing to do. I am a drag on everyone, I’m toxic. I pick up some magazine and light it with my cigarette. I walk it up the stairs, red projected on the walls and ashes drop to the ground; I shake he shakes. To his room he brings the amber light and throws it on the bed that rides on a sea of trash. And I’m crying and he’s crying.

This fire spreads slowly spidering through the different materials, and this heart is rattling and another him alongside me the immobile frightened one. I, he, is puppeted to the bathroom and dumps out the trash can, spilling the shit rags on to the gross floor and in the act the cigarette, that whimpering mad man stamps out by accident “ow” with a bare foot. Carrying himself in his own sobbing arms. He turns on the shower and fills the scummy trash can with water. The smoke he can smell, the plastic burning, the smoke outgassing from his bedroom.

Fuck bellowing fuck bellowing bellowing “fuck” tears down his face from those harsh chemical, flames, fear and failure. He throws the filled trash can’s water into the room engulfed in flames. Fuck. Call the pol..et more wat..e fire exst..let it burn. All the different sides of I and him and that man converge into none having been three parts of a converse, quiet inside. Out he goes and imagining a cold wind, a cold wind leading him at the back from is bedroom door to the front yard. Where he lights another.

The fire is burning.

His room is burning.

Ha! at least I left my room today… ha!

He remembered that he had tears on his face. That it was all his fault and that somehow he just made it worse, he made himself worse, he couldn’t even erase his life, to weak to die.

Calls his mother.

“Hey mom.”

“What, Tim, are you alright?”

“Ha!..yeah, I’m fine.”

“I’m just calling to see how you are… I guess,”  he walks further away from his house in ruining.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m doing fine actually.. actually have to go.”

“Alright? Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I just got a job.. so I got to go.”

“Ok… love you.”

Bands of color and patterns that don’t exists, the sidewalk shifts the squares get big then small then big, the ground is just a skin that covers an ocean, Tim falls over unable to keep his balance, the rising side walk tide tosses him into the street and a car stops the tires screech the engine still hauling stillness gone to noises, it doesn’t full the wheels accelerate the breaks grating, the tires spinning,burning . The car door opens. Out steps a beautiful muscular man. Tim looks into his eyes and the face changes and shifts, but still holds its symmetry, Tim he’s picked up, grabbed by his collar and he shrinks to half his size at the grasp. This Satan picks him up without effort without the forces of nature upon his decisions and the car that he was in grows, it exceeds the limits of street and overflows partially submerging under the ground. The man carries him into the arch way a former car window, three fours of the car under the asphalt. Tim cannot cry but only shrink; he shrinks and shrinks and he is just a pebble in his hand. This Satanic hand when it’s heart does not beat it is icy cold and when the pressure is driven against the blood he is iron white hot. they walk into the car that is now the size of a cathedral Tim runs screaming panicking in circles and so he shrinks he shrinks he is a molecule, Satan’s face is projected on to every misty matter sphere and Tim shrinks and shrinks and shrinks and shrinks.

Tim laid in the street.

“Get the fuck off the ground, what the fuck is wrong with you, get up, you can’t lay in the street hello! Hello!”

Tim puts his hand gently on the angry man’s wrist, “I’m sorry,” he walks himself to the curb and sits down.

“You’re lucky I didn’t run you over, you’re lucky I didn’t call the cops, get up.. you’re a loon” he slams the car door and car drives away.

Tim sees Bryan’s copper car in the distance.

He pulls into his driveway, he gets out

“What.. you don’t look right… why is your… lets go… inside.”

Tim follows Bryan inside his own house.

“Lets clean this… do you have trash bags.”

“No…”

“Fucking-a.”

“Actually I think have bags in my room, I think.. actually.. um don’t go.”

Bryan walks in to Tim’s room that has been destroyed by fire.

“TIM WHAT FUCK”

“Oh.. I couldn’t find my card when you came.”