Spain

It was never my intention to make my suffering fodder for your edification, but these are the consequences of this experiment, I suppose.

I will tell you what transpired. Please do not reply with well-wishes or sorrow. I do not require it. Try not to reply in anger, if that is your feeling at the close. I ask that you simply observe as I have tried to, and take it for what it is worth. I was not the person I am now. And this person has very little in common with that predecessor, such that when I look so far back, I have very little emotion invested in my actions, and what little emotion I have is either anger, shame, or the memory of suffering.

If you have read the first Snack, you know that I was in France from the mid 1300’s to 1400’s, until the debacle and depravity I witnessed there. I became very disgusted and annoyed with humanity. I changed from someone looking upon the world with honest wonder and an apologetic deference because of my condition, to someone very rageful and very, very despondent. I ceased to care whom I hurt, or how. I wandered through the south of France, across to Spain. I never settled. I lived hand to mouth and left bodies on the path behind me. I simply did not care.

Recall that at this time, I could not read. Very few people could. Religion was handled with an iron fist and the only legitimacy came from the Pope. It was a dark time; the last Crusades had filled everyone with fear for new faces or new ideas. But regardless there were several reformist movements active at the same time. When the royal family of Spain – the same King and Queen that dispatched Columbus on his quest- got wind of these many attempts to undermine the Church, they sent to Rome. They demanded the Pope take action and sanction a new Inquisition. A witch hunt. The Pope was ambivalent, but they began to blackmail him, saying that they would establish their own if he did not sanction it.

I knew none of this. I wandered to Madrid because I heard of mass migrations and sought to conceal myself among them. As I neared it, I learned that they were Jews being forcibly cast out by the Spanish monarchy. These people had lived there for years. Some knew nothing else. They were businessmen, traders, craftsmen. They owned property, had families. They were Spaniards. This did not matter.

In other parts of the country, dissenters and resistors were rounded up and tortured. Some were put to death in public in large groups. But in 1492, the Inquisition had not yet reached Madrid. I arrived and believed I was safe for at least a time. I knew almost at once that I was wrong.

People had that subdued mood about them, the one that hangs like a film over everything, dimming the sun and setting the air alight with crackling energy. I tried to find work. With Jews being exiled, there would be plenty. I had some papers, given me by a priest, documenting my religious devotion, my skills- at least, this is what he told me they said. I thought I would find a new home, but it all ended rather quickly.

Rumors came, as they usually do, that the Jews were rising up, that some had made pacts with the devil. That moors had been summoned from the dark recesses of Northern Africa. That devils were come to tempt their daughters and seduce their virtue from them.

There was a young lady. I will call her a “sensitive”, because I haven’t any other word. She happened upon me one day near her father’s usual stall. He was a grocer, I think. I am uncertain because I never knew her from anyone, but over the course of a few days, I noticed her following me through the market as I was sent on tasks. At first, she stared, but then began to slink after me, watching me walk down alleys, marking my habits. I surprised her one afternoon by doubling back. And as soon as she gasped, I realized I had done the wrong thing. She knew what I am. There was a moment of utter stillness as I thought of killing her. I hesitated. She saw it on my face, and she ran.

Days later she began to act strangely- a mental breakdown caused by our encounter, I will wager. More than likely combined with the ubiquitous underlying psychological disorders of the day, a fear of hellfire, a fear of her father uncovering her affections for some illicit partner. I really cannot say. But apparently, when she finally collapsed in exhaustion and tremors, they begged to know what had caused her infirmity, and she told them it was I.

At the time, I had given my services to a local widower. He was the proprietor of a small stable. I tended the animals and in turn received a place to live. No better than a horse pen, but something like the Hilton in those days. They came in the night, in a familial mob. They caught me unawares, eating my fill. I was sleepy and obvious in my Monstrous Glory. As the horses became even more agitated, one man set fire to the mews which was arranged in the gap between two buildings, abutting a courtyard. I was pinned, and as I stood there, they dragged the man and his children out of their home. I knew that I could run, kill a few of them, possibly escape, but something in me was just tired. I did not want to see the man harmed for his kindness to me. And to be perfectly honest, I wanted to die.

I had never been captured before. And while I may have been recognized for my condition before, it had never happened like this. I did not know what to expect. I thought it would be more public, a heretical trial on a platform, before a panel of adjudicators from the Chruch as happened with Jeanne de Arc. But there were other things at play.

There was no High Inquisitor in Madrid, you see. There was no expert in the arts of demonic exorcisms and how to gain confessions. The men, simple tradesmen, had only stories. They improvised.

I was chained and stripped, beaten quite severely, such that I recall very little of the trip to the cellar- not because I was unconscious, you see, but because I was not myself. They examined me physically, poking me with sharp things and watching me heal, as if I were a massive pincushion. One of them hit me across the face with a club. I managed to snap at him, and then my teeth were of intense interest. They used hot irons to force me to speak, laying them on my skin like little spitting brands, all the while repeating prayers. Prayers that God should preserve them from me; the irony of it… I told them that if they did not let me leave or kill me outright, there would be consequences. I was ignored.

The woman was brought down. By this time she had convinced two other girls of the curse beneath which she labored. They too began to feel afflicted. I was forced to listen to her talk of her dreams, accusing me of all manner of “unnatural” acts.

I listened to all of it. I hung there and I let them do this. Partly because I believed that I deserved it, I suppose. Partly out of a desire to see that dark part of the human mind, the part that could explain all the suffering I had witnessed. Partly because I wanted it to end, and I thought they would free me, when I have never been successful at it myself. But her father and her older brother began to talk, and they decided it was more pious to deliver me to their priest with all my secrets revealed, my summoner exposed. Thus, they would escape suspicion of being my cohorts, and would be lauded as heros.

I do not like to talk about what was done next. The flesh can heal, but the mind does not, and it has been the subject of many conversations with Victoria. I cannot cry or scream for my life. It is not in me. But if I could adequately express my misery, I doubt it would mitigate a damn thing.

Every time I was asked who sent me, what my hellish name might be, whether or not the people I knew were responsible, I said nothing. Most of my limbs were broken, I should think, though by that time I could not discern which part of me was injured. They tied weights to my feet and dragged me over a kind of work horse structure, as I could not stand . The pain was fascinating to me, how it always seemed so fresh. It is the only thing that felt new to me at all. I don’t know how to address it except that I surrendered, I was shocked into silence. I do not know how to explain myself.

They shoved iron into my mouth, to rest if it would hurt me. They laid crucifixes on my skin to see what it would do. Silver did nothing. Their science was cruel but in no way invasive, which did not suit them. They pried loose claws and teeth. Other things are not fit for mentioning.

But what is most important to say, is that they did not laugh or mock me. This was not an occasion for mirth. this was an act on behalf of God to spare them of an evil that was real and right before their eyes. If I had seemed more human doubtless they would have taken some measure of delight in attempting to expose me for a monster, but being obvious, spared me from having to witness that. I would have occasion later to see such behavior- as tormentors are bullies, and bullies find sport in it, because they are joyously undoing their own flaws by painting their victims the embodiment of them.

I do not know how long I held my own, hoping that at every moment they would tire of the sport and cut off my head. I know that it had to be at least into the next evening, perhaps longer. I became less and less coherent.

I have a vague sense that one of them was trying to enlist my aid. It was a man, I think. I could have imagined all of it, but I think I remember him whispering to me. He wanted to know if I could be pulled from the service of my master.

When I woke…it was utter carnage. I had slipped my bonds. How? I know not. They were still locked. The woman was a bloodless doll with her stomach in her lap. She stared into open space, directly at me as I came awake. My accuser still.

Several of the bodies were torn limb from limb. Her father and two brothers, I think. Another young lady in the hall, a man at the top of the stairs. All of them killed quickly and all in very bloody fashion. The walls were spattered. The floors were pools of deep russet.

What I say now, I say through honesty only. I am not proud of it. Please do not tell me that I was within my rights, if you mean to, because that is not true. And I’ll thank you to remember that at the time, I believed myself better than my species and better still than man. I was a creature whose cleverness was unparalleled. I was someone who was neither subject to fancy nor to dullness. In many ways, my still-forming rules of the hunt were founded upon the principle notion that I would never be like you, most especially in how I kill. I was forced to bend to your society, work within your shadows, but in those days the shadows were so long that I had hardly any trouble.

No children, not ever. Because that was something even you could not claim, a level of control you could not reach. I claimed that and then I lost it.

There were two little ones. Both crumpled in a heap in a small courtyard off the kitchens. I think I crushed them with my bare hands, but I could not bring myself to touch them while awake. The liver mortis  had already set in, leaving little lavender tide lines around their limbs.

I sat on the dirt and stared at my handiwork. I waited for the men I knew would come. I waited to be taken to the priest, or dragged to the Inquisition. I waited for hours. But the silence stretched and I realized no one was coming.

I left them there. I stole all that I could and I left them. I do not know what was thought of the horror that was uncovered the next day. Perhaps they imagined it was a thief, a roaming band of angry, displaced exiles or an angry witch. I really cannot tell you. We didn’t have newspapers (or anything like them) for another twenty years or so, and I couldn’t read anyway. I can tell you that within the year, the Church came to Madrid, and carried on. Thus began the heights of the Spanish Inquisition.

I crawled into myself and refused to come out. I do not know how long. A few years, perhaps. I walked back to France, because it was what I knew, though the journey took me ages. I eventually struck east, intent to go to China, and see the Silk Road like a Venetian. I cut through to the Amboise. As I traveled, I became even more angry than I ever had been before. I did not just fail to comprehend humanity. I hated it. And then I met him. And he made me certain that I would never again trust any human, whether I knew their suffering or not. It was not until Strasbourg that I began to see the frailty in the human mind- truly grasp that you cannot conceive of a universe that does not pattern itself after you, swirl around you, focus upon you. The world’s difficulties were sent to torment you, because why else would they happen? Even being ignored, having an average and uneventful existence was somehow planned by a deity that could apparently care less while demanding submission and devotion. To me this was the very definition of an abusive relationship, and even stranger, one you invented and inflicted upon yourself. What a tremendous pressure and burden to put upon a mind. I think I understood after the Dancing Plague that humans torture themselves far more.

A profound sadness took me. And I despaired. It was offset only by contact with Hans, who was very kind and never pressed me. He taught me what he knew and never expected me to do anything but learn.

That is the story. Or the important parts of it. I will spare you all the emotional torment in between.

Monsters are not natural. They don’t simply exist. We make them. We are them, become them, when we exist in conflict with one another instead of awareness of each other’s flaws and difficulties. The men who tortured me had every reason, for to them I was a dire threat. My explanations would not have mattered in that frenzy. Humanity was simply  not aware enough to converse with me upon the notion that other species exist. The concept would have been heretical.

But at the time, I could not foresee a moment when it would be possible to have that conversation, the one I am currently having with you, gentle reader.

In my experience, most men do what is best for them alone, and feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and mirth at this notion. That is their most basic drive of survival, and I cannot fault them for it, any more than I can a dog for biting. The barest civility keeps them in check. All it takes is one circumstance that gives them permission, and they revert back to that selfish animal. This is why manners are so important, and composure is the best armor.

I know that this week has angered you, filled you with fear for your own survival, but I caution you- do not lash out at the monsters you see. They are frightening because they seem to be strong and outnumber you, but they have stories, reasons they think what they do. You do not need to pity them and they will make their own consequences, but if you mean to disarm them, you cannot yourself become a monster. You will not like the results.

I know this story is a depressing one. Much of my life is. This is one reason I always caution you to stay away. I cannot make it any more enjoyable for you. I cannot change what has been, nor do I owe you that. I can only offer it as something from which I have learned a great deal, and hope that you may do that same.

Thank you.

Monstrous Myths: The Boogeyman

When I began this series of website entries, it was to demonstrate something of a “unified field theory” of monstrosity, if you will. My reasoning was simple: I am a monster, and if there were other species of hideous man-eaters shuffling over the earth, I would have seen them. For the sake of this experiment, it falls to me to demonstrate that your own mythology, as varied and complex as it is, supports my hypothesis. No monster does better in this capacity than the Boogeyman, and so, in the spirit of this Halloween season, and in celebration of the arrival of my second book, I have decided to pursue that infamous figure shrouded in darkness. My mission takes me from the rooftops to the bowels of the earth.

The Boogeyman is largely undefinable with androgynous leanings and an amorphous appearance, but notable for several key commonalities: he is ubiquitous, terrifying, and born of the shadows. In almost every culture, every country, there is a boogeyman. Spiralling away from Europe into Russia and south to Africa, these divergent stories diverge hardly at all — even their names are closely related linguistically. Variously described as dark, clothed in black, able to blend into the night seamlessly, this monster has one purpose: to torment children.

All the world over, you may goad your little ones with the horrors that could befall them for not eating their vegetables, but you also bless them to protect from such hazards.

There were cases of children vanishing. There were instances of abduction. Long before there were understandings of psychology or criminal analysis, these things were attributed to monsters. And every parent knew that the monster must be invisible to have gotten past their protections.

Every child knows that the monster will find them no matter where they cower and there is no blanket on the planet thick enough to protect them. Sometimes lurking beneath the bed, in the recesses of a closet, or in the corners of rooms by night, this devil invades their dreams. He is just waiting for a moment to gobble them up or spirit them away. The poor dears, heads full of nightmares, go to their beds certain that they have reached the end of their lives.

I think you can see why descriptions of the Boogeyman are never precise. The fear is less tangible now, but in the days of my first memories, death was everywhere, and most children did not live into puberty. The Boogeyman only takes the wicked children, but it is the wicked ones who are most likely to wilfully disregard their parents, or run away into the night to be overcome by the elements or some other horrible calamity. And as you know from reading my short stories, there absolutely were child-predators. The threat was mind-numbingly real, and thus, extremely effective.

But was it all a perfect storm of imagination? Was there ever a real Boogeyman to whom the first instances can be attributed, or is this merely the product of the universality of bad parenting, unseen criminal mischief, and the fear of chaotic reality?

I think not.

In a data set packed with noises beneath beds, knocking on walls, disembodied shadows that shift ominously — all easily explained by heightened awareness and fear — there are a few encounters that speak to me, and some of them come from you, my gentle readers.

Once in a great while, you find a child staring out a window at the man with the sharp smile in their favourite tree. Once in a while, there is the hooded figure on the rooftop next door, looking in as if waiting for something. Once in a great while, a child is saved from drowning by a dark hand. Once in a while, the forest herds a lost little one from its treacherous grasp. Once in a while, the monster with whom they live, turns up dead of a broken neck. Once in a while, the man tracking them vanishes into an orchard and is never seen again.

Once in a great while.

We are dangerous. We are killers, each of us unique. I have never willingly harmed a child outside of war, but I have eaten them. I have my ethics, my feelings, but they are mine alone. I am certain that many of my brethren have spirited your babies away. I am sure that there are many shadowy figures who wait to hear that some little one is nothing but a pain. Perhaps they are salivating in the wings, all too happy to make the baseless threat a reality.

Once in a while, however, a wild child is found.

In the twelfth century, only a few decades after the Norman Conquest of Britain, in the town of Woolpit, two children turned up in a field. They spoke a language no one had ever heard, and were entirely green from head to toe. The young boy was reportedly sickly and died, but the girl acquired English and told her benefactor of a land of eternal twilight. Called St. Martin’s land, its inhabitants were all a fine shade of green. According to this young lady, she and her brother were tending to a flock of animals, when they found a cave and wandered toward the sounds of bells, as if traversing a corridor between worlds.

The accounts that survive are extremely suspect for their vagueness, and modern historians would love to say that whether or not the events actually happened is irrelevant. Some discount it altogether as nothing but folklore, but yet again, they base this assumption only upon the few references to survive the ravages of time. Others believe it must have happened, and that the twilight realm was merely a larger cave, and they wandered out into the sun.

Before you ask, I cannot tell you if these events actually transpired, as this was before my time in England; Indeed it is before the time I remember as my awakening. I can tell you, however, that the story was extremely well-known in my day, and most everyone believed the siblings had been stolen from their beds by a vindictive witch, the fairies, or our friend, the Boogeyman. Compare the tale to Hansel and Gretel, first transcribed by the Brothers Grimm, but predating them. The abandoned little siblings fed a terrible diet of sweets by their cannibalistic captor, kept in the woods until the time was right to make a tasty pie. Everyone knew the Babes in the Wood, and everyone knew that they were lucky to escape.

The girl supposedly lived a normal life above ground, and she never exhibited any magical talents. She married well and was employed. She seemingly never tried to rediscover her colony of green people. And the green people never came looking for their lost children. If it is folklore, I fail to see the point. It could be the delusions of sickly children, but there are entirely too many details for which there is no account. I find it more likely, as odd as it sounds, that it did happen and that there is an explanation for a cloister of people living underground, suffering from chlorosis.

Anyone who has studied feral children knows that they, by definition, lack language. Yet these two spoke a tongue no one, not even their gentleman host, knew— and in those days, England was a cesspit of languages; Anglo-Saxon, Flemish, Briton, Gaelic, Dutch, Norman French. Someone had to have taught them this language. In an era when traveling was fraught with dangers and very expensive, it is doubtful that their ancestors migrated from a prohibitively distant foreign land to start a colony in a subterranean vault.

It is difficult to imagine what sort of person keeps animals in a cave, herds sheep underground. It must needs be someone who never wants to be seen, but eats meat by the pound.

And then again, there is the name of their idyllic sanctuary: St. Martin’s Land. Saint Martin of Tours is the patron saint of alcoholics. If the savage children had no knowledge of faith or English, I wonder how they know to call it that.

There are many explanations for these events, no doubt. It could be a simple story carrying on the ancient trope of the mystical “other” who reveals itself to align with the tainted world of man. It could be that there was a kindly hermit hoarding orphans who had nowhere else to go. It could be that the Boogeyman meant to gobble them up, and had himself quite the collection.

Hell, it could be all three.

Or it could be something else entirely. What that is, I leave to you. Is the Boogeyman real? Who took all the lost children? What peeks out from the treetops as you sleep? Why is it, over all the world, the creature is the same? Is he bad, good, or just terribly complicated?

Reflections

Here it is, or rather, here I am, in all my “glory”. In the late seventies I took one single polaroid photo, and kept it in my box. To avoid the meta data and photo recognition software (as well as other problems associated with displaying my image on the internet), I sent the photograph to an artist somewhere in Europe. He took some liberties, in an effort to make it more “artistic”, but I think the finished product is rather good. I do worry that it has not captured the eyes quite right, but then again, artists seldom do manage the distant stare of a malign intellect.

And before you scoff at me, I am malignant. If you knew how many times a day I peel the skin off of passers-by with my thoughts, you would never wish to come face-to-face with me, I assure you. Unless, of course, you fancy looking like an anatomical model of yourself.

Simonportrait.jpg

If you find me unsettling…good. It is as it should be. If not…see how easily you are fooled? The image will remain up for some time. I may at some point lock it. If I do, I will put the password somewhere or other, and you may hunt around for it. I apologize, but this may become necessary.

Imagery

“Writing is collaborative. You’re not just perfectly rendering a world. You’re making a pact with the reader, and it’s a new agreement, every time the book is read, even with the same person. Also…If you’re still worried about your personal safety, IMHO it’s better that you don’t do it, since the readers’ image of you is always fuzzy and changes all the time.”

I stare at the words for a long while. I wonder if I can agree.

I often wonder this. Every time I confront an opinion on the internet with which I strenuously disagree — modern political discourse comes to mind — I stare at it and project forward several decades. I contemplate the world, still carrying on, after the offending individual is little more than a pile of dust. And I like Kali-ma am treading the bones on the battlefield and smiling that somewhere among all the putrid rubble of humanity, my editor is being crushed underfoot.

Chef glances at my stern face and lowers his ordering paperwork. “What’s she nit-picking now?”

“My face.”

“How can she do that from two states away? She’s never even seen you! You haven’t started putting up photos have you?”

I would never do something so rash. He knows my fears about facial recognition software, databases, and meta-data. He knows I value his privacy as much as my own, and while he will sometimes steal my phone and annoy the readers who converse with me, he prefers to keep his distance. This is my experiment or personal search, and while he respects it, he is only a tertiary part of it.

“I have considered commissioning a portrait.”

“Why the hell would you do that?”

I stare at him narrowly as I swivel my chair. “People continue to ask for pictures of me.”

“Fuck them.”

While succinct, his criticisms are not quite perspicacious. “Kristina’s argument is a trifle less derisive of my fans. But I disagree with it similarly.”

His mouth falls open and he regards me blankly. “You’re still pissed about all those big words she made you change, aren’t you? Whiny Emo kid.”

Stretching as I rise, I surreptitiously roll my eyes upward. “You only say that because you have no idea what those big words mean.”

“Like trying to suck face with a god damn thesaurus,” he mumbles. “Mouth full of paper cuts.”

“Self-inflicted, you overgrown infant.”

I wander into the bathroom and stare into the mirror. I glance over my features, those odd things I cannot seem to capture when I attempt a self-portrait. I stare into my dark eyes and let the white light sculpt my cheeks and chin.

“Would it augment their experience, or detract from it, I wonder?”

He appears behind me, arms crossed. I know the look on his face; he worries any time I change the rules. He treats it as if he will be one of the things excised by the press of time as I squeak through.

“You don’t owe them anything. They paid for the book, that’s all. Next thing I know, you’re going to be making an appointment on some national television show to have your guts exposed.”

He is adorable in his distress, his eyes shimmering and his face like alabaster, but he needn’t be so concerned. I have no intention of being the first to step forward. It would be betrayal to my cousins, who choose to live in anonymity. It would make their masquerade impossible, our disagreements notwithstanding.

“Even if I did, it would be considered a massive hoax, or did you not hear of the Alien Autopsy debauchal?”

“Yeah, but with inconclusive non-human DNA and an X-ray of your weird ass organs?”

“David Blaine can fly, and before him, Dan Brown could read minds, and oh, yes, there was Houdini and his water tank. I doubt anyone would even take my call.”

I open the plastic case for my eyebrows and lashes. They are handcrafted of mink and cost as much as a new laptop. Their application would be daunting if I had not done it a thousand times. The glue becomes tacky as he stares at me with those uncannily penetrative eyes.

“Where are you going?”

“For a drive.” But that is a half-truth. He follows me down to the car. As I extricate myself from the eager mutt, and slip into my seat, he scrutinizes me. After I have driven away, I receive a text. In my car’s female voice, it sounds strange.

“I love it when you lie to me.”

I shake my head. I know what the next message will be. Chef enjoys being lascivious whenever the opportunity presents itself. You might be tempted to think this is because he cannot accept me and is overtly compensating for my dearth of emotion, but I know that this is not true. I think perhaps, foremost on this earth, he is a person who truly understands me.

“When you come back I’ll be waiting for my apology.”

I park in front of the bank and fish the tiny key from among its many fellows. The manager jumps as I knock on his door jamb. Whether or not he realizes it, I have been a customer of this bank since its founding. I have funneled my assets from place to place for centuries, turning them over like one tills a field, rotating stock and bonds, planting wealth in fertile soil. I am here often, and the entire staff knows me by name.

“Mr. Alkenmayer! Do we have an appointment?”

“No, forgive me. Today I’d like to visit.”

He sees the key in my hand and raises his own in salute.

I almost never come to my safety deposit box. Most of my belongings are more secure in a safe in my own home. Only a few get shoved away, put in the hands of mortals. Only a few things would ever mean anything if they were found to be in my possession, but if hunters ever do come to my door, they will miss me. I will be here, collecting these few things, readying myself to move along.

I follow behind him, my mind tracking his peculiar lumbering gait. I knew his grandfather. The man was stocky, built like a lion, but with the most graceful sea legs. He could run across a heaving deck in the slick of a storm and pull a full net better than a pack mule. That his lineage have become skip-stepping bankers is an interesting development.

“Your diet is doing you good.”

“Thirty pounds!” He looks back at me. “I’ve started jogging!”

He removes my box from its sconce and gives it to me with a curious and eager smile.

“Please tell me you’re about to pull out another ancient promissory and make my week.”

He can count the number of times this has happened upon one hand, and finds my constant, dragon-like obsession with my wealth to be amusing. That is because he has no idea I have witnessed the rise of banks and still find them terribly bizarre and untrustworthy. I haunt them lest the numbers dwindle, a kind of fiduciary phantasm.

“I’m afraid not.”

With a shrug, he vanishes, but I know he will be hovering right outside.

I open the lid. The book is on top, tightly wrapped in gauze. The leather binding is nearly a century old, and the paper is yellowed with age. I crack the spine and leaf through the pages, falling through time.

My fascination with technology is as old as the subject. From the tinder box to the electric coil, from the fire iron to the washing machine, from the telegraph to the internet — I have tinkered with them all. Photography has not escaped my notice.

I stare down at the turn of the century hat, the unused side arm, the beaded ballgown I wore to a local charity event in the mid thirties. Me after me, in many forms, all assiduously collected and curated, for no one other than myself.

In the Old Age, certainty was easy. I could control exactly how and when I was seen. Now it is almost impossible, and I have given up the fight, or rather, taken it to a different front. Now I cheat time with makeup and prosthetics, human assumptions and easy gender transformations, such that even should I walk right into the manager’s grandfather, the salty dog would never know me.

The photograph I seek is on the last page. I remove it carefully and tuck it away.

Fossil Record

You know from reading my book, gentle reader, that I often discuss history — and in, quite possibly, and unexpected way — from the standpoint of someone who not only lived through it, but continues to find it fascinating. Humans tend to think of history as something that no longer has any function except as a standard, but that is not how I see it. I have a much more metaphysical perspective.

Let us craft a metaphor: I assume you know about gravity and the rules that govern the tug between very large objects, the complex and inextricable patterns that weave when many such bodies interact — for example, the solar system. These planets tug at one another, like dancers with hands clasped. History is not dead. It is not something that ceases to matter, no matter how long ago it transpired. History is, in fact, a large orb, ever-increasing in volume, dwarfing the tiny instantaneous present, rolling over the possible future. Everything you do swivels around that massive sun, though you perhaps, do not recognize it.

I do, but that is not because of any innate superiority. I merely have the benefit of perfect hindsight.

Given this, I have noticed something over the last, oh…perhaps three hundred years or so. It began with exploration— not the sort you did in the 1200’s for the sake of trade, but the sort done with science, immediately after the great enlightenment. Men began to wander around, picking up rocks and dusting them off. Men began to hypothesize incredibly simple (and therefore obviously true) things like evolution. Men began to wonder whence they came, and how long ago.

Their efforts, however, were greatly hampered, by the slow momentum of technology and one other thing — the mysterious vanishing of knowledge.

This is when I saw it: the eerie emotional state that slowly, creeping along like a fog, overtook the human mind. Psychology began to shift, and the focus of horror and revulsion became, not “the other”, but “the other within”. There is a profound gap in your mind. I compare it to walking into a room, and forgetting why you have gone. Standing around, looking at the place, wondering what it was you meant to do — Douglas Adams coined the term “woking” for this, and it is a lovely phrase I intend to utilize. So, deep in the subconscious dungeons of the human mind, a lost soul is woking…wondering what in the hell happened before the burning of the Great Library at Alexandria, wondering what was lost with war and the Dark Ages, wondering just when humanity began to be “human”, wondering if everything it knows…

Is wrong.

You maintain many misconceptions about antiquity. You look back upon tiny tablets and instruments you uncover and propose frankly insulting notions. For example: you look at the pyramids and an increasing number of you shrug and say, “Well, they could not possibly have done that, and so they must have had help from aliens.”

Aliens.

Superior beings from interminable distances away, came to this rock in craft we know not how to classify, and decided to cut up massive rocks and arrange them in clever stacks. Of course. How could I be so stupid to suppose that in fact, it is highly likely that there is a vast lack of information and that humans probably did it themselves. It is probably impossible that they moved these monoliths by encasing their ends in wooden wheels, thus turning the entire stone into an axel, and then slowly, via ropes, leverage, and sheer focus, rolled the things into place as was done in my lifetime. I suppose it is improbable that the evidence of canal and diamond saw usage found recently in the Valley of the Kings is ridiculous — I mean, they’d only been mining diamonds for… what? Ever.

Yes, this is all rhetorical sarcasm.

You have mysteries behind you, and I suppose it is not unreasonable that you will fill in those blanks with whatever thing seems to pack the space best — aliens can do anything (because they are imaginary in this context) and so they explain everything quite nicely. Until there are contradictions, until no one can agree with which aliens, how, when, and for what purpose. Rather like you did with gods, demons, and yes, my species, you can now use aliens to self-medicate your psychological defect.

But why are we discussing this?

Because I know, and have always known, that there is a disparity in the timeline of man. Nearsided men who look backward imperfectly always speak with such absolute certainty, whether or not it is warranted. They declare that civilized man is only 10,000 years old.

I defy them.

When they find things they cannot explain, like copper-lined clay jars that hold a modest charge when filled with vinegar, they shrug. When they unearth — or in this case pull from the deep — something like the Antikythera Mechanism, they make faces and say “I didn’t know men could do that! They must not have been common, the product of one single genius who died in obscurity, because we have only found one, you see.” When they look at the Roman aqueducts, their holding tanks that use properties of physics to move water uphill, their lines so straight that they deviate over vast distances by less than an inch, they often are awed.

They should not be awed. I tell you there is an enormous pocket of information folded into your blood, that no one will ever open. It is lost. But every now and again, men discover tiny hints, develop new ways of looking. First it was genetics, and you discovered that there were many races mingled together, that your entire race was actually composed of a multitude. This is marvelous enough, especially when it can be used to track your migration across the world.

Now that you know how to seek, you find.

Simon, you say, please come to the point. Why are we enduring this drawn out discourse upon the idea that already makes us cringe?

Something happened recently, and I find it fascinating. That is why.

It was recently discovered that Neanderthal, that long lost, red-headed, step-cousin of current man, built some of the oldest structures ever found, the earliest of any hominid. And they did it underground. Deep in Bruniquel cave in France, about 300 meters from the entrance, these “primitives” shaped and arranged natural mineral stalactites into little rooms. You are not the first masons. You are their descendants.

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Homo sapiens is not the dawn of civilization, a race of superior entities that resulted when the best of nature got together and “humped”. In fact, the more you look, the more you find that it is more likely that these groups of hominids had very evolved and complicated ways of existing, ways that may have been passed to you. Ways that perhaps, even now, tug at you. It is possible that the desire to build is not yours, but belongs instead, to your Neanderthal lineage. And maybe buried in sands deeper than those which surround Ur, there are other Berbebez, Gobekli Tepe, or Bimini Roads.

It is not aliens, unless you consider those ancient parts of your firmament to be wholly alien to you. I advise you to look into that dark mirror. I advise you to embrace these shadows of your ancestry, and smile.

There are pieces missing, and I know that they pull at you in nearly imperceptible ways, but this unquantifiable force is dangerous. It gives rise to the most heinous of fictions.

These fictions are what bury humanity, better than any desert or jungle.

Monstrous Myths: Rå

Deep in the forests, mountains, and fjords of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark dwell a secret race of wardens, the rå. This myth is often conflated with the alfar or elves of German folklore, but they are markedly different. While the elvish appear to be aloof and supernaturally beautiful (at least, as far as the Medieval writer was concerned), unencumbered by the minutia of human life, and just as likely to smite as to assist, have an almost paternal awareness of mankind.

Pardon a short digression — a moment to explain why I will not be comparing my race to the elves.

I do not believe they exist. They are simply what happens to the hidden when the imagination of man takes over. Perhaps there are some particularly handsome members of my species, and perhaps they truly are ambivalent to people, but honestly, I do not think this is true. More than likely, pockets of humanity (towns and villages used to be quite isolated, especially during the colder months) met one or two of my species and learned that the only way to coexist was to pay homage, engage with care and deference. Given enough time and veneration, anything can me made godlike. Look at Gnesha, the elephant-headed many-limbed god of luck of Hinduism. He is not terribly attractive, but he has devotees the world over.

So for you fans of Tolkein, I am sorry. There will be no elves, just as there will be no vampires. Now please allow me to return to the myth at hand.

come in many forms: huldrå of the forests, the sjörå of the lakes, havsrå of the sea, bergsrå of the caves. Their duty, as perceived by man, is to protect and care for the particular natural element they inhabited. When you look closely at their descriptions, however, I think you will find that they are one species, a kind of nexus of all the previous myths we have addressed. One race, living on the outskirts of the remotest regions, fending for themselves, camouflaged or clothed, crossing paths with man to varying consequences.

You say, “But they have tails, don’t they, Simon?”

Not necessarily. Some tales have tails. Others do not. And the fact is, someone could merely have misinterpreted a dead animal hanging from a belt as a tail. When you live away from humanity, and have a tenuous grip on sentience, spinning wheels are not so common. You get what you steal, and often that means you don’t get anything. Not to mention the fact that clothes often interfere with our movement. a belt is the only thing worth making really.

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Hulderfolk, or ”hidden ones”, dwell in the woods, and while the “female” of the species are supposedly comely, the “male” are quite ugly, with rather prominent noses. I think it safe to point out that there probably are no gender distinctions to be made. The more attractive ones were merely much more approachable, and thusly, equated with femininity. So too is it possible, as one image from the 1800’s suggests, that the “females” were simply dressed as women. Keep in mind also, the standards of beauty for the region: pale skin, lustrous hair, strong muscle. Dark eyes and hair would have been exotic, perhaps even lovely. Thus, the myths of beautiful forrest-dwellers can probably be distilled down to an encounter in the twilight of the North with a thin, pallid, creature in a dress, who looked nothing like anything the poor sod had ever seen before. She smiled demurely, and he was smitten. So, let us take these distinctions with a grain of salt, for all the in all their masculine and feminine forms.

What is important to note, is that the humans who worked the kilns would often leave huldrå gifts of food, in exchange for their assistance in guarding their fires at night. In ancient Germanic folklore, the holda was a witch, her festival celebrated during the “dead time” of winter when corpses were thought to roam: “The Twelve”. You may know it as The Twelve Days of Christmas…

The havsrå are an analogue to the mermaid, in some respects. Like any myth that has persisted for a lengthy time, they have many descriptions and forms. The most common image is a lithe and naked woman, combing her unwieldy, seaweed-like hair atop a rock. They too will provide their services in exchange for provisions. Similarly, the freshwater variety appear to float up from the depths and stare at passers-by, eat fish at them, or capsize craft and rob the struggling swimmers. But they too have a kindly streak, often guiding drowning men to safety.

Bergsrå of the mountains are cave-dwellers, and while they usually spend most of their time driving miners mad by stealing their tools, eating their food, and scaring the holy breath out of them, they are also known to kidnap the odd wanderer, spend an evening acquainting themselves with him, and then setting him upon the path home.

Who can really say if any of these tales are factual? I find it more likely that men capsized their own boats while staring at the eerie, nude monster along the shore, who was doing nothing more nefarious than eating lunch. Perhaps the wayward travelers were understandably exhausted and woke to find their fires being tended by creatures they’d rather befriend than antagonize. I have done many things for humans, including tend kilns, and so long as payment was received, my teeth were never bared. Once home, these humans told wild tales, and forevermore, any passing bird that cawed at the sound of thunder was thought to be a transformed sea nymph, any woman who crossed paths with you in the forest was a witch, and any odd sound from an unstable mineshaft was probably a troll.

Who can say? What I do know is that there were many men who never returned home, and their stories are much darker. Better to meet a than his hungry counterpart.

Image by timswit of Deviantart

Monstrous Myths: The Ghoul

Modern man has a highly unflattering image of the ghoul. That is to say that his impression is rather more like a zombie, mindlessly haunting a graveyard and stumbling around without fine motor skills. That is a very dangerous perception, and the Caliphates of the 14th century would shake their heads at you. The Sumerians would shun.

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The ghoul is an ancient demon. In fact it is one of the oldest myths that the continuity of human history can supply. Its origins date back to the first written stories, and it is not something with which one trifles.

Much like a hungry Yours Truly.

The gallu of Cuneiform lived in hidden places: ruins, burial grounds, and mountain tops. They hovered around the outskirts and “dragged the souls of the dead to the underworld”. I set that last line in quotation for a reason – to draw attention to the fact that that phrase bears a very close resemblance to the modern one as a euphemism for committing murder. For a very very long time, humans have said “I shall send you to your maker” rather than “I will kill you.” – which of course, no one would shout within earshot of people who might stop them. It would not be too far from the mark to suggest that the primary occupation of the gallu is not in fact in service to a deity, or a divine order, but that they were simply killing folks because they felt like it. The author who set down their myth in clay was merely being artistic.

That aside, gallu hang about, weaving into the folklore of Judaism, Islam, and Christian. From the gollum to the ghul of One Thousand and One Nights, they haunt the desert, the outskirts, finding ways to tempt the unwitting out into their territory so that they may consume them in peace. It is said they also eat recently deceased corpses, devour children, drink blood, and hoard wealth by rifling through pockets, graves, unguarded houses. This insatiable hunger, like that of the obour, makes their name synonymous with greed, even in the vernacular of today’s Middle Eastern cultures.

Whatever your particular vantage on the myth, the ghoul is certainly a creature that prays upon human misfortune and is crafty, if only in its ability to ensnare humans and rip them to shreds.

The behavioral comparison to my species seems evident. What is less so are the physical descriptions of such creatures. They can apparently change shape, but as I have upon many previous occasions, I will argue that this is simply a human way of explaining some other catastrophic event, for which the ghoul is not to blame. If you are stupid enough to leave your infant unattended, and it is snatched away by a large and fearless hyena, of course you will not wish to blame yourself. Instead the hyena is not a normal hyena – the sort you have outsmarted a dozen times before, the sort your infant has cooed at and giggled over. That hyena must be a demon in disguise. You rage against heaven or chaos, instead of taking responsibility, instead of killing hyenas, one of nature’s most hideous and malevolent creatures, you instead target me and mine.

Perhaps the human mind must find reasons to blame us, if only to muster the courage to destroy their only natural predator. Perhaps your desire to blame us for all your misfortunes is simply an adaptation. Perhaps you need it. I will not argue that it is vestigial, like the appendix. Instead, I will absolve you of guilt, and say that while I find this annoying, I do not take offense. You cannot help it.

I digress.

In all other ways, the ghoul is a perfect analogue to the obour, the classic wendigo, even the more exotic sounding gorgon. They are all one monster, fast, strong, in love with shiny things, sharpening their intellect by hunting the sentient. Most importantly – they are ravenous.

The image used here is a painting entitled Blightborn Ghoul  by  yanzi-5 of Deviantart