The Numbers

February 22, 2020

How many nights have I lain here like this, feverish with plans,
with fears, with the last sentence someone spoke, still trying to finish
a conversation already over? How many nights were wasted
in not sleeping, how many in sleep — I don’t know
how many hungers there are, how much radiance or salt, how many times
the world breaks apart, disintegrates to nothing and starts up again
in the course of an ordinary hour. I don’t know how God can bear
seeing everything at once: the falling bodies, the monuments and burnings,
the lovers pacing the floors of how many locked hearts. I want to close
my eyes and find a quiet field in fog, a few sheep moving toward a fence.
I want to count them, I want them to end. I don’t want to wonder
how many people are sitting in restaurants about to close down,
which of them will wander the sidewalks all night
while the pies revolve in the refrigerated dark. How many days
are left of my life, how much does it matter if I manage to say
one true thing about it — how often have I tried, how often
failed and fallen into depression? The field is wet, each grassblade
gleaming with its own particularity, even here, so that I can’t help
asking again, the white sky filling with footprints, bricks,
with mutterings over rosaries, with hands that pass over flames
before covering the eyes. I’m tired, I want to rest now.
I want to kiss the body of my lover, the one mouth, the simple name
without a shadow. Let me go. How many prayers
are there tonight, how many of us must stay awake and listen?

Kim Addonizio

Sometimes it’s easier to be a lesbian in real life than it is to read a book about them. Real life is full of distractions that can dull the sharpness of what’s going on. If you’re at a party or a bar, there’s alcohol (there’s a reason for the long history of gay bars). There are other people; there are the daily demands of living your life. And we human beings are really good at ignoring stuff that makes us uncomfortable.

Reading, I think, is one of the most intimate forms of communication there is — even more than film or TV. A book’s words are in your head. While you’re reading that book, you become that book. It makes total sense to me that if you didn’t grow up seeing people like you everywhere, reading about someone like you can be an overwhelming experience. You’ve been conditioned to not see yourself. Seeing yourself turns your world upside down, and while it can be exciting and affirming, it can also be deeply disorienting and scary.

Malinda Lo
The Invisible Lesbian in Young Adult Fiction

frustrated inner longings

February 22, 2020

The human soul is an abyss of viscous darkness, a well whose depths are rarely plumbed from the surface of the world. No one would love himself if he really knew himself and thus, without vanity, which is the life blood of the spirit, our soul would die of anaemia. No one knows anyone else and it’s just as well, for if we did, be they mother, wife or son, we would find lurking in each of them our deep, metaphysical enemy. The only reason we get on together is that we know nothing about one another. What would happen to all those happy couples if they could see into each other’s soul, if they could understand each other, as the romantics say, unaware of the danger (albeit futile) in their words? Every married couple in the world is a mismatch because each person harbours, in the secret part of the soul that belongs to the Devil, the subtle image of the man they desire but who is not their husband, the nubile figure of the sublime woman their wife never was. The happiest are unaware of these frustrated inner longings; the less happy are neither aware nor entirely unaware of them, and only the occasional clumsy impulse, a roughness in the way they treat the other, evokes, on the casual surface of gestures and words, the hidden Demon, the old Eve, the Knight or the Sylph. The life one lives is one long misunderstanding, a happy medium between a greatness that does not exist and a happiness that cannot exist. We are content because, even when thinking or feeling, we are capable of not believing in the existence of the soul.

Fernando Pessoa
The Book of Disquiet

In some senses, science fiction has caught up with us. The idea that we might be able to have android servants, or a personal bond with our computers has been crystallised by Apple’s personal assistant Siri. Research into self-healing implants has brought the prospect of enhancing our bodies to make us more than human ever closer.

The future isn’t as far-fetched as it used to be and it often feels like the futures we see on screen should already be here, or are already here even when they aren’t. We are perhaps shifting from what the futurist Alvin Toffler termed “future shock” to a sort of “past shock”…

As the line between real-world science and science fiction becomes increasingly fluid, the future is closer that it has ever felt before.

Amy C. Chambers
Why science fiction set in the near future is so terrifying

Attention! Product Recall!

February 22, 2020

cryptic hieroglyphics writhed

February 22, 2020

Hour of Dragon

The long tapers flickered, sending the black shadows wavering along the walls, and the velvet tapestries rippled. Yet there was no wind in the chamber. Four men stood about the ebony table on which lay the green sarcophagus that gleamed like carven jade. In the upraised right hand of each man a curious black candle burned with a weird greenish light. Outside was night and a lost wind moaning among the black trees.

Inside the chamber was tense silence, and the wavering of the shadows, while four pairs of eyes, burning with intensity, were fixed on the long green case across which cryptic hieroglyphics writhed, as if lent life and movement by the unsteady light. The man at the foot of the sarcophagus leaned over it and moved his candle as if he were writing with a pen, inscribing a mystic symbol in the air. Then he set down the candle in its black gold stick at the foot of the case, and, mumbling some formula unintelligible to his companions, he thrust a broad white hand into his fur-trimmed robe. When he brought it forth again it was as if he cupped in his palm a ball of living fire.

The other three drew in their breath sharply, and the dark, powerful man who stood at the head of the sarcophagus whispered: ‘The Heart of Ahriman!’ The other lifted a quick hand for silence. Somewhere a dog began howling dolefully, and a stealthy step padded outside the barred and bolted door. But none looked aside from the mummy-case over which the man in the ermine-trimmed robe was now moving the great flaming jewel while he muttered an incantation that was old when Atlantis sank. The glare of the gem dazzled their eyes, so that they could not be sure of what they saw; but with a splintering crash, the carven lid of the sarcophagus burst outward as if from some irresistible pressure applied from within, and the four men, bending eagerly forward, saw the occupant—a huddled, withered, wizened shape, with dried brown limbs like dead wood showing through mouldering bandages.

‘Bring that thing back?’ muttered the small dark man who stood on the right, with a short sardonic laugh. ‘It is ready to crumble at a touch. We are fools —’

‘Shhh!’ It was an urgent hiss of command from the large man who held the jewel. Perspiration stood upon his broad white forehead and his eyes were dilated. He leaned forward, and, without touching the thing with his hand, laid on the breast of the mummy the blazing jewel. Then he drew back and watched with fierce intensity, his lips moving in soundless invocation.

It was as if a globe of living fire flickered and burned on the dead, withered bosom. And breath sucked in, hissing, through the clenched teeth of the watchers. For as they watched, an awful transmutation became apparent. The withered shape in the sarcophagus was expanding, was growing, lengthening. The bandages burst and fell into brown dust. The shrivelled limbs swelled, straightened. Their dusky hue began to fade.

‘By Mitra!’ whispered the tall, yellow-haired man on the left. ‘He was not a Stygian. That part at least was true.’

Again a trembling finger warned for silence. The hound outside was no longer howling. He whimpered, as with an evil dream, and then that sound, too, died away in silence, in which the yellow-haired man plainly heard the straining of the heavy door, as if something outside pushed powerfully upon it. He half turned, his hand at his sword, but the man in the ermine robe hissed an urgent warning: ‘Stay! Do not break the chain! And on your life do not go to the door!’

The yellow-haired man shrugged and turned back, and then he stopped short, staring. In the jade sarcophagus lay a living man: a tall, lusty man, naked, white of skin, and dark of hair and beard. He lay motionless, his eyes wide open, and blank and unknowing as a newborn babe’s. On his breast the great jewel smoldered and sparkled.

The man in ermine reeled as if from some let-down of extreme tension.

‘Ishtar!’ he gasped. ‘It is Xaltotun! — and he lives! Valerius! Tarascus! Amalric! Do you see? Do you see? You doubted me—but I have not failed! We have been close to the open gates of hell this night, and the shapes of darkness have gathered close about us — aye, they followed him to the very door — but we have brought the great magician back to life.’

‘And damned our souls to purgatories everlasting, I doubt not,’ muttered the small, dark man, Tarascus.

The yellow-haired man, Valerius, laughed harshly.

‘What purgatory can be worse than life itself? So we are all damned together from birth. Besides, who would not sell his miserable soul for a throne?’

‘There is no intelligence in his stare, Orastes,’ said the large man.

‘He has long been dead,’ answered Orastes. ‘He is as one newly awakened. His mind is empty after the long sleep — nay, he was dead, not sleeping. We brought his spirit back over the voids and gulfs of night and oblivion. I will speak to him.’

He bent over the foot of the sarcophagus, and fixing his gaze on the wide dark eyes of the man within, he said, slowly: ‘Awake, Xaltotun!’

The lips of the man moved mechanically. ‘Xaltotun!’ he repeated in a groping whisper.

‘You are Xaltotun!’ exclaimed Orastes, like a hypnotist driving home his suggestions. ‘You are Xaltotun of Python, in Acheron.’

A dim flame flickered in the dark eyes.

‘I was Xaltotun,’ he whispered. ‘I am dead.’

‘You are Xaltotun!’ cried Orastes. ‘You are not dead! You live!’

‘I am Xaltotun,’ came the eery whisper. ‘But I am dead. In my house in Khemi, in Stygia, there I died.’

‘And the priests who poisoned you mummified your body with their dark arts, keeping all your organs intact!’ exclaimed Orastes. ‘But now you live again! The Heart of Ahriman has restored your life, drawn your spirit back from space and eternity.’

‘The Heart of Ahriman!’ The flame of remembrance grew stronger. ‘The barbarians stole it from me!’

‘He remembers,’ muttered Orastes. ‘Lift him from the case.’

The others obeyed hesitantly, as if reluctant to touch the man they had recreated, and they seemed not easier in their minds when they felt firm muscular flesh, vibrant with blood and life, beneath their fingers. But they lifted him upon the table, and Orastes clothed him in a curious dark velvet robe, splashed with gold stars and crescent moons, and fastened a cloth-of-gold fillet about his temples, confining the black wavy locks that fell to his shoulders. He let them do as they would, saying nothing, not even when they set him in a carven throne-like chair with a high ebony back and wide silver arms, and feet like golden claws. He sat there motionless, and slowly intelligence grew in his dark eyes and made them deep and strange and luminous. It was as if long-sunken witchlights floated slowly up through midnight pools of darkness.

Robert E. Howard
The Hour of the Dragon

Belief in the returning dead

February 22, 2020

Although he makes no reference to it in his notes, Stoker was always interested in Irish folklore. Long before Dracula, he wrote a series of horror tales, based on Celtic themes, for children. He spent time in the West of Ireland, his mother’s home country, where Gaelic and the old traditions still hung on in his day. The word for bad blood in Gaelic is drochfhuil and the genitive singular is drochfhola, which is pronounced very much like the word Dracula. Belief in the returning dead was very strong in Ireland. Stone were piled over the graves of the dead to try to discourage them from rising out of the ground.

Radu R Florescu and Raymond T. McNally
Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times