Who has not asked himself at some time or other: am I a monster, or is this what it means to be a person? -- Clarice Lispecter
I think writers ask themselves this question often, especially if their stories tend to lean towards the macabre. Unsavoury characters, uncomfortable situations, resolute dénouements, yes, I am sure a lot of writers ponder this question from time to time ... or more importantly, they ask themselves if the monster they have unleashed on paper has enough humanity, which is a ridiculous question when you really stop to think about it: Being human, we are all Gods and Monsters. My shadow and I have had lengthy discussions on this subject, not to assuage a fear or anything like that -- I think I was a Goth at birth, though they didn’t call it that back then -- but to fuel my fascination with monsters of all kinds, more specifically the ID and the Ego, and my characters just refrain from suppressing the monster within.
This week it just worked out conveniently that I could tie this all into my latest book release and indulge in some shameless self-promotion, but here is the kick, it won't cost you a thing. So, speaking of monsters -- you knew there would be some sort of segue with Halloween coming and all that -- how would you like to meet one of the Four Horsemen? Part historical fiction, part paranormal, part mythology, add in a whole lot of killing, some social commentary, a smattering of poetry, and a dash of romance -- that is if you don't mind lovers who tend to stab each other to death -- and you have the memoir of a two-thousand year old killer, or cosmic executioner as she likes to call herself. Why not meet Selena. I promise, she won't hurt you -- much.
From now until Halloween you can download Logos free on Smashwords using coupon code: VT83C. Mobi for Kindle, ePub, and straight text PDF files are available. Feedback and reviews are welcome, of course. After all, we talk shop here, and Selena isn't all that bad, really ...
Excerpt from Logos, Chapter 8: Pale Horse, Pale Rider. Reprinted with permission, all rights reserved Cheryl Anne Gardner © 2006
Elise, the young sweet thing. “The apple of my eye,” her mother would say to her while foisting a condescending opinion at her down the length of a rigid bony finger, and Elise would ingratiate herself, if only for the moment. Rebellion just felt natural, like a prerequisite to adulthood, so being labeled a little wild child of the X-generation didn’t seem such a cliché after all. She could tolerate the finger pointing: there were no real consequences, so what did it matter?
To the outside world, even those closest to her, she was cheerful, well adjusted, and exuded a genuine love of life. “A shiny new penny” people often said of her. However, underneath that vivacious and affable exterior — the bouncy red hair, the apricot sheen of her lips, and the quiet blue of her eyes — the twenty–one year old grappled with a hopelessness utterly beyond her control. She was not of a strong mind. She was, in fact, incredibly weak when it came to the opinions of others, more importantly, their opinions and perceptions of her. Could she ever be perfect enough? Popular enough? Smart enough? Pretty enough? As if any of it mattered. But it did. What she adamantly claimed didn’t matter was actually everything she needed. There is something to be said for one’s own perception, how it can be so easily manipulated and distorted, but I was tired of walking and tired of pondering the existential conundrums of the dysfunctional. I just wanted a drink.
The bar was rank with the intermingled stench of sweat and liquor, as the seedier establishments always are. It had an Americanized dive feel to the place, dark and dirty, and the music box thrummed with the latest annoying pop song of the day. Elise was hard not to notice, and so I sat there sipping my whiskey slowly as I watched her undulating, oozing sex onto the dance floor — inhibitions thrown to the wind. To look at her, she didn’t appear all that different from other party-girls of her age. The bar was packed with them: flirting, giggling, twirling their hair and batting their eyelashes, all the while trying to act mature and seductive, blissfully unaware of their inner feminism and just how dangerous it was to be flinging it about so carelessly like their lit cigarette ashes. I knew how dangerous it was. I waived for the barmaid to bring me another drink, or rather, the bottle. She smiled a tired slovenly old smile, nodded towards me, blew a sweat-soaked ringlet of hair from her forehead, and then headed off to the bar to fetch my drink. As my eyes moved over the room, their intended destination indeterminate, that’s when I noticed that He was watching Elise as well, his skin clammy and sour with anticipation, his upper lip trembling almost imperceptibly as he ran his tongue over the lower. His sweat smelled of hot gun-metal in the rain; it smelled of hunger.
I closed my eyes and breathed it in as a blast of heat hit me in the face. I felt flames in my hair, tasted smoke in the back of my throat, and my thoughts turned to the future as my fingers went numb and the terrible violations that he had planned for her suddenly burned into my eyes. Yes, he would use his cunning charms to lure her so innocently into the cellar of his home. He was too handsome: his smile too white, his tie too expensive, and his manner too perfect. “Your skin is soft like a rose petal,” he would say as he kissed the words into the nape of her neck, and she would blush with conceit. He had nice things: art, fine furniture, good wine. He would offer her a drink, and she wouldn’t see it coming, the blow to the head too quick, too sharp. She would slip to the floor, and he would sink to his knees praising his salvation: that white white smile now too wide, too sadistic. He might admire her for a while, a little snip at her clothes here and there with a pair of sharp scissors, but she wouldn’t wake. Couldn’t wake, and it wouldn’t matter. Warm, cold, he didn’t care. The post would hold her up. The splintered, nail-riddled wooden post in the center of the room. A structural support, he called it. The post would hold her up, the rope would hold her still while he touched all the soft places, touched them and then cut them. He would cut her slowly, taking his time to savor each stroke, to marvel at each piece of flesh that fell from her bones, and then when he had had enough playing with her blood, when it had gone cold and began to dry on his skin, he would shoot her twice in the face before cooking and eating her. Bits of seared flesh stuck between his teeth as he smiled that wide, white smile.
I thought I would vomit, and then I did. I doubled over in my seat while my stomach promptly returned the whiskey I had just drunk to the table. I could taste blood in it.
I wanted to kill him myself, but that was not for my kind. He did not beg for death, and so I could not answer. His desire was beyond my sphere of influence. His punishment was not mine to give. He would be winged to his rest soon enough though. I could at least take comfort in that. He turned and looked straight at me as if I had stripped the veneer from his soul. I poured myself another shot from the bottle that had been deposited at my table, and then I raised the glass in the air towards him and smiled. “Until then,” I said to myself, “May the demons whisper nursery rhymes to you, good sir.” He looked at the floor, looked around the room, a cursory glance here and a nervous nippy one there. He looked confused, and then he looked back to me, and I just continued to smile at him. His discomfort was amusing, but it was of no consequence. I did have my duty to uphold. He would not get to indulge his depraved urges … not that night. He wanted a clean one, but he would have to settle for a moll instead because I slit Elise’s throat myself — quick and painless.
The how never seemed to matter as much as the why. The venue mattered even less than that. For me, every urine soaked rat’s nest, every distressed doorway silhouetted in the gloom, and every crimson-stained cobblestone looked the same to me, but I can remember the moon on that night. I remember how it mocked the shadows and set the rain-battered pavement of the alley to a starlit shimmer, how it appeared to be in awe at the cold calculated mastery with which I performed my grim endeavor. How, for a moment, it seemed to cast a vicarious smile of approval down upon me, and that was enough for me.
I knelt over her then, steadying myself with one hand on the hilt of my sword and the other pressed against the sooty ooze coating the wet brick wall beside me. As her blood ran down the blade and sank into the earth, she set a terrified gaze directly into my eyes, but it wasn’t the terror that comes with regret, it was the terror that comes with finality, the terror that comes with the realization that all of your perceptions were lies. That you were wrong and it was too late to admit it. As I wrenched her pitiful soul from its fleshy prison, she understood. In that moment, the final stone cast, the bargain struck, she understood with total clarity the gravity of the gift, which I had, with pleasure, bestowed upon her. For even though on this night she had barely escaped the demon’s grasp, her reckless, dark desires fuelled by the self-loathing would have eventually betrayed her into the arms of another. Of that, the moon and I had no doubt. If the demon wanted her now, he would have to come back and pick at her carcass. I left her there and returned to the shadows from whence I came and where I belonged.
Cheryl Anne Gardner
The Art this week is The Crucifixion and Last Judgement by Jan van Eyck circa 1430. Yes, a detail of the Judgement portion of the diptych graces the cover of Logos.