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.

Combustion

“I hate it.”

I stare at him. How can he hate it? It is my face. I can understand not liking my face, certainly, but he has never said that he does not like my face, in fact quite the opposite.

“Don’t put it up.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want you to.”

“Again, I say why?”

He stomps away and before I can turn from this latest recording of my reflection, he is up the stairs and on the roof, forming an alliance.

“Did he show you that shit?”

Rebecca is caught mid-mouthful and mumbles incoherently. I join them, still caught in a tangle of confuse emotions. I have never found myself completely human, that is true, but my face is as balanced as any other: two eyes, nose, mouth – all slightly odd, but all in place. It meant a great deal to me to take that photo out into the light of day, to digitize and disseminate it to an artist so far away there would never be a risk of discovery. But here he is, hands on hips, glaring down at Rebecca as if he is my father, she my mother, and I have been caught smoking cannabis behind the Seven Eleven.

She dabs the corners of her mouth. “Um…You mean the picture?”

“Yeah, duh! I mean the fucking picture.”

Her gaze swivels to mine as if to imply one of her usually onomatopoetic rejoinders, like “Whhhhaaaaaaa?”

“It’s his book, his face, his life.”

The muscles in his neck tug as he scowls. “You’re okay with this?”

Jimmy, silent at the barbecue, flipping his hamburgers with purposefully stooped shoulders, finally glances backward. “Yo! Wanna relax?”

“No! No I do not want to relax!” He looks around him at every face, young or old, until finally, he realizes that no one feels nearly so strong as he does. In that instant, his ire is redirected to me. “What the fuck are you thinking?”

“Language!” Porter grumbles. The children look up from their table in the open greenhouse. Katherine’s face peeps above the window sill. He turns abruptly and latches onto me with an iron grip. I am dragged bodily from the roof, and down the stairs, following behind him in a shocked silence.

You know me, friends — if I may be permitted to call you that — and you know how much I dislike being given ultimatums. Quite possibly, you also understand that while I am willing to make enormous allowances for the sake of those in my care, I respond to anger in kind.

However, Chef is different. When he is upset with me, something happens to my organs, that results in a complete and utter shutdown of my nerves, tongue, or capacity for greater reason. I wither, in an entirely embarrassing fashion.

I apologize. This is again one of those times when I am acutely aware of the divide I traverse by discussing events out of chronological order. You see, since the publication process began, I have had to develop a system with my editor. I send all my diary entries to her on an almost daily basis. She reads them and tells me whether or not they are “plot”. I have no idea what “plot” she is referencing. Usually I do not have the slightest concept of what any one volume of my life will be “about”, until she has curated the entries. She scrubs detail, alters names, transforms the events so that they do not match any newspaper articles or news programs, and then arranges the entire thing so that it at least has some adherence to the standard publishing models of the industry. For this, I pay her a substantial salary and my literary agent sings her praises, but there are unfortunate side effects, such that when I receive Kristina’s emails (some half dozen a day), I am often told what I can and cannot discuss with my readers directly, as those details may arise in further sequels.

Why am I telling you this? So that you understand that the relationship I now have with Chef is a very different one than is detailed in my first novel, and do not think that in some way, I have misled you about my character. Believe me, I do not enjoy having multiple personality disorder, or frankly disorder of any kind, but this is the only way I am allowed to keep my dear website intact, concurrent with the published works.

When Chef pulls me to the car and steals the keys, I am surprised by the violence of his feelings. While he drives, I sit quietly, staring at myself in the wing mirror, wondering what I have done to earn his distemper. He does not ferry us very far; we end up at the river docks, parked facing the bridges.

“You can’t put it up.”

“Why?”

He closes his eyes and covers his face with his hands. “You know what they told you. They said no pictures. No evidence of any kind.”

They are not in control of my life. Nor does one commissioned portrait constitute a declaration of war. It is a drawn image, based upon a photograph. It is not documentation.”

“Simon, please…”

I cross my arms stubbornly. He makes a series of sounds and throws himself out of the car, pacing up and down its flank like a puma. I slowly unfold and emerge, barricading myself behind my door, arms draped over the roof.

“Explain to me what is really at issue here! You have never once seemed to care about them. Why all of a sudden?”

The metallic gaze slices up the bridge of my nose, and runs me through. “Really? With all the times I’ve had to stuff food down your throat and stitch you up with cooking twine to make sure the skin closes properly? Really?”

“You exaggerate.”

“I am not exaggerating and you damn well know it!”

“Chef—”

“I won’t allow it! I’m telling you not to.”

The air thickens around us as the full weight of what he has said settles. Never in all our acquaintance, not even since discovering all the many facets and implications of our partnership, has he ever seen fit to leverage my actions with that old magic. It is a betrayal, of all that we are, and as I look him in the face I see that he knows it. He knows I will not forgive him, and is willing to pay that price, if only to rescue me from a fate he believes I am ignoring.

“Is this a command?” My voice is a hiss, and comes out more sharply than I intend, but I cannot hide the disgust that I feel at the very notion of being anyone’s slave.

“Please, Simon. Do not post that picture.”

“And if I do?”

“I can’t watch you get hurt again.”

“Nothing will happen to me.”

“How can you possibly know that?”

I close my eyes, and think that if something did happen, it would merely be one in a long line of new things, new adventures that have made the last five years bearable.

“I just do. Far be it from me to once again cite my age and experience—”

He snorts. “Yeah, but here we go.”

“I am older and more knowledgeable than you. They will not bother me, and if they do, I will handle it. Stop manufacturing ancient clandestine cults out of a few stragglers who communicate by smoke signals.”

“Now you’re exaggerating.”

I slip around the car. Somewhere nearby a fishing boat trades its grateful use of the first month since the fisheries reopened, for the more lucrative task of tugging civilians out onto the water for the festivities. As I wrap my arms around his neck, the brine and anxiety mingle. He tastes of Hemingway burgers. Gunpowder wafts on the breeze as the fireworks displays are arranged.

“Nothing will happen to me,” I soothe. “Please stop worrying.”

“I can’t.”

“I know.”

He tugs on my hair and smashes his face to mine. “You can put it up, but please take it down if they ask you to.”

“I will,” I say, but in all honestly, I am disgusted at the thought of being at anyone’s behest. They know this. They know I will not bow out so easily, and they are right to fear my reply should they argue.

“Let’s stay here. This is a good place.”

The lot has begun to fill with other onlookers carrying lawn chairs and children. The sun has dipped below the water and the sky has darkened. Soon there will be sounds that put the canon fire of my youth to shame.

Strange that humans should celebrate their unions by blowing something to pieces.

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.

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.

huldra_by_timswit

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 Draugr (or Haugbui)

You have perhaps been asking for some time why I persist in ignoring the “most obvious” comparison of myth to my species – the Vampire. Aside from the fact that I despise the modern imagery of the charismatic but hissing womanizer, my reasons are actually much less petty and infinitely more well-educated.

There is no one source-myth; the “vampire” does not exist. That is to say, every culture on earth has a tale of a walking corpse-figure that eats blood, or babies, or some appending piece of anatomy, and there are as many names as there are legends, all blending into linguistic obscurity. There are a host of ghouls, goblins, demons, skin-walkers, and mischievous forest dwellers that have, when all mashed together, given rise to the popular blood-drinker.

Thus, I will never compare my race to that infernally generalized caricature, and to ask me to do so, you are in fact being quite rude. I can compare it to the soul-maligning comment: “all [insert race despite vast cultural differences] look alike.”

To that end I have tried to give you more foundational myths – ancient stories that have, over time and following the migratory patterns of humans, been overtaken by the infamous vampire and swallowed whole.

So it is that today, we discuss the Draugr of Old Norse. This creature is of course, a flesh-eating zombie creature with magical powers, because of course, it’s far more likely that a human would be so pernicious in life that he, with the aid of sorcery or demons, would reanimate from death just to terrorize the living and guard his interred treasures.

Yes, that was sarcasm.

My point is, that when reading mythology, if one really is determined to ascribe it a place in the factual annuls of humanity, one really must look for the most likely explanation. Aukum’s razor.

Is it more likely that these poor gray-skinned, insatiably hungry, treasure-hoarding creatures are the walking dead? Is it more likely that because a cat jumped over them, or a body died sitting up, or they refused the help of the Church, they somehow transcended mortality? Or is it more likely that another species walks among you, making historical appearances from time to time, being exaggerated out of proportion by horrified human onlookers?

I will leave it to you to infer what my answer might be.

There are some notable traits of this lovable revenant that are of interest. They can supposedly increase their size. I attribute this to bleeding, defeated heroes who would rather say “I was overtaken by a giant, swollen beast!” rather than “It was about average height and size, but royally effed me up,” as the saying goes.

You may be asking why I included the haugbui in this narrative, and that really is very simple. He is the poor cousin of the Draugr, and as such, is the one I think most closely linked to fact. His title, you see, derives from the Old Norse word haugr, meaning “hole” or “hollow”. He is a cave-dweller, or a burial mound skulker and he is exceptionally territorial, often refusing to attack unless a person comes too close for comfort. Sometimes he is seen as a seaside monster, lurking near the water’s edge like the gorgon, blending in with the seaweed through some ridiculous transformative magic that I prefer to call a “hair-do”.

Norse mythology is some of the oldest of which humanity has record, and so of course, we are also there, lurking as usual, eating as usual. Not so bothered by the humans who continually try to exorcize, vanquish, or bottle us.

We are as pervasive in your tales as the wayward traveler, the chivalric hero, and the wizened old hag. Without us, you are not you.

Monstrous Myths: The Gorgon

Among the multitude of questions received by this humble monster, are an assortment of hypotheses on the nature of my “monsterhood” — “personhood” not quite encompassing the meaning I intend. That is to say, they have embraced my argument, that my species are the root of every monstrous folktale the world over. Some point to North American and draw comparisons between myself and certain native ghouls. Some point to the Bible and say, “Now see here! You could easily be one of Satan’s demonic horde.”

Forgive me, they don’t actually use my particular parlance, but the gist is all that matters.

Because so many of you have taken to this idea, I have decided to run a small series. I will list a new monster every entry, give you its characteristics, and then explain to you how I believe it can all be tied to one of my cousins, no doubt doing something undignified, like swooping, or hissing, or flapping his arms…

I detest such displays and never indulge. It does little good to frighten a person away from your lair. I’d rather eat them so that they have no time to retreat to their village. Better that he never return and the others come to fear the forest itself.

Before you ask: yes, that has happened.

For my first monster: The Gorgon

o3kjW

You might know the tale of the Odyssey, and the frightful guise of Medusa, but she is actually merely one version of this fearsome creature. Historians cannot agree upon its origins in history, but it is quite old, and most renditions share similar traits. They are usually “female”, with wide, strange eyes, sometimes fangs, dwell in caves, and are crowned with a mass of writhing tentacles. Homer claims Medusa’s stare can turn a man to stone, and that she is the mortal in a sisterhood of three, but Homer’s depiction is quite recent in the dread mythology.

It can be traced back much farther, linked to other monsters of similar description, but that is not my goal. I am here to convince you that the Gorgon is my long lost cousin.

I have given you a description of my biology, and perhaps, now that I have sketched the Gorgon, you can see the comparison and say to yourself, “Well, that is quite trivial.” And so I will not belabor the twisting hair, bizarre eyes, gender ambiguity, or teeth. My comparison will go much deeper.

Their name, you see. I cannot come away from that, as I am a linguist in my soul. It derives from the Greek word for “terrifying”. So you see, the Gorgon was not a type of monster. It was merely something frightening, encountered in a cave. Some erudite experts of long dead languages link it back to the Sanskrit word for the growling sound an animal makes. And now we see how the fiction evolves.

A man, alone in a dark cave, hears a growl. What is more terrifying than that? The sound becomes the idea, and the idea takes a shape, looming out of the darkness to glare down at him. That is most definitely a Gorgon. No doubt about it.

This is all metaphor, of course. The man in the cave is a stand-in for all of humanity, but I think you take my point.

Homer saw fit to link their origins to Poseidon, the god of the sea, and I think this bears a striking resemblance to my own theory, that we originated in the water and have more in common with squids or sharks, than we do mammals. He could not know biology, per say, but it turns out that the observation that things with four hoofed legs might be related, has proven to largely be true. Observation is a type of data, and should not be discounted out of hand!

Ah, but the stone! you say, gentle reader, and you are right. There is the freezing stare of the Gorgon, but allow me to suggest that you are taking this much too literally. Petrification has been a theme in many of the most ancient tales. If you do not believe me, look to Lot’s wife. I believe in many ways, the idea of petrification was merely an explanation of fossils, of strange rock formations, and thus, a fitting consequence for bad behavior.

Instead, I will offer another hypothesis.

I believe my ancient relatives were experimenting with tarichos, an ancient form of salt pork. If you take a human body and allow it to desiccate in a vat of salt, or soil that is high in salinity, you will succeed in preserving it. It may ferment slightly, be colonized by some bacteria, but that will only make it more tender. It will smell earthy and delicious, but not of putrefaction.

A man, alone, walks into a great cave. The shadows breathe, the air becomes thick. He discovers several humans in a row, lined up like statues, or suspended like prosciutto, covered in waxy adipose or caked in white salt. He staggers backward, his torch flame guttering with his sudden, horrified movements. The monster growls from the depths…

And a myth is born.

A Monstrous FAQ, Part 3 – Culinary

Here I will answer the most commonly received questions about your favorite topic, my diet. I eat people, you see. The proper term for this is “anthropophage”, but let’s just say “man-eating”. Humanity finds this terribly amusing. I can do nothing about that, but insist that you have descended into a collective mental illness.

Culinary

Does human taste like chicken?

I’m afraid I must sigh at this question — not because it has an obvious answer, but because it saddens me that this is even a question. You see, my strongest sense is olfactory. To me, nothing tastes like chicken. Except chicken, of course. There are similarities, I can admit, but chicken is the only chicken. So instead I will answer by comparing it. Human, similar to a four legged animal, has many pieces or “cuts” unique to it. I have named some of them, but that isn’t pertinent, since I am the only one who cares about the semantics. These cuts, however, range in texture and flavor. Some can be quite gamey, others less so. But if the spectrum must be quantified, I would say you have most in common with an elk. In terms of texture, it ranges from as soft as sashimi, to as stringy as stew meat.

Why don’t you eat the skin?

The answer is fairly simple. There’s really only one acceptable way to eat skin: frying. And I am not overly interested in fried foods. I do occasionally indulge, but by and large, I forego. I have tried all manner of preparation, from dehydrating, to baking, and simply do not care for the texture. Nor is it terribly caloric, which is, of course the currency of my biology.

What part of the human is the most delicious?

That has no automatic answer, I’m afraid. It always depends upon the person, their diet, their habits, their genetics. Some people have livers intense with flavor, others have diets so clean that their gaminess is enhanced. Some people have large fat content, and other very little. But if you pin me down (This is a turn of phrase. Please do not ever be so bold as to pin me down. That is a life-threatening engagement, I assure you.), I would have to say that the part I always look forward to, the morsel I seek out and inspect for perfection, is probably the heart. The close second would be the cut just proximal to the hip bones, distal to the bottom rib.

Do you prefer humans that are in shape?

It depends on the recipe. Some call for high fat content, some for less. Sedentary humans make excellent burgers, ground meats, things for which you might generally utilize more moist meats like pork. Healthy, trim individuals make lovely steaks, roasts, et cetera.

Is there a particular cooking method you prefer?

Modern science and the global culture have given me many new things to try, but I am afraid my soul always hearkens back to the fire pit and a piece of meat on a dog-wheel spit, turning endlessly. I do go in for basting and stewing, however.

What is your favorite kitchen appliance?

The meat grinder attachment to my Kitchenmaid standing mixer. I make my own sausage now, you see. I now have, thanks to modern refrigeration, the ability to keep odd bits and combine them, mashing people who might otherwise have despised one another into terribly tasty charcuterie. I find this both delicious and intellectually satisfying.

How long does human meat last in the fridge?

All natural rules and laws of thermodynamics apply. Human meat is no different than any other. I usually prepare all the meats in some way — from spice rubs to marinades, from salting to brining — before I freeze them. However, when I do freeze them, I like to wrap each piece in parchment paper, then foil, and finally, place it in a ziplock bag with the date. If you buy a ten pound batch of chicken breast, and you want it to remain frostbite-free, might I suggest you do the same?

Do you like eating fruits and vegetables?

Yes, or I would not do so; however, I do not require them. Strictly speaking, I believe we are carnivores that over time learned to incorporate variety (Please do keep in mind that I am exceedingly old, and thus our evolution is a much slower prospect, perhaps only totaling ten or so generations since the dawn of “farming”. Thusly, we are not as flexible as humanity. You are mayflies, here for a day, and your mutations are extraordinarily evident to someone with my historical knowledge). Such are my senses, that I delight in all the mingling smells and tastes. I find nothing more satisfying that to crunch my teeth through a carrot. Probably because it reminds me of bone, but why should that matter?

What is your favorite herb or spice?

Oh, my goodness. I am terribly sorry, but this is too complex a question for me to manage. Instead, let me give you the history of my interaction with same.

When I awoke, trade via the Silk Road had broken down, largely to the slow deterioration of the Islamic Mongol nations. Georgia was the last stop, and there were several terrible upheavals. Not to mention the devastation of the plague. I found myself in a precarious situation — fodder for another tale — and I lacked the sense to know about human food. However, I did manage to encounter a few of the spices from the east: cardamon, ginger, cinnamon, pepper, but again, my exposure was limited.

These days it is possible to find almost anything from any part of the world. For most of my life, no one even knew about the New World. Many herbs I now know and love are still fairly new to me, and because I have not traveled to the far east, many Asian foods impress me too. I am still experimenting, you see.

Let me reply by saying that there is a perfect spice or herb for every preparation of every dish, but I do tend to rely heavily upon old favorites: sage, rosemary, garlic, thyme, clove, chervil, basil, mace, bay, et cetera.

Is there anything you won’t eat?

Ever? Or more than once?

I will try anything once. And I do mean anything. But on a more habitual basis, when it comes to the human form, I do not consume the most calcified bone, skin, hair, digestive materials, though I have occasionally used these in preparation of other things. If this interests you, you may contact me directly. Most folk are too mild-stomached for that discussion.

I do not like certain vegetables, legumes, pungent herbs, cannot wrap my head around particular cheeses, and for the life of me, though I have made many attempts, cannot gain a taste for Thousand Year Old Egg. I am able to consume them. I simply do not like them. They bite back, as it were. Like zombies. And they are as fragrant.

I do, however, eat many things most people don’t even know are edible, from flowers, to weeds, to sour milk…yes. It’s only sour because bacteria have begun to colonize, but please allow me to point out that that is precisely what yogurt is, and because I have no experience with bacterial infection, I do not mind such things. To me, an old carton is merely the opportunity for liquid cheese.

If I send you a recipe, will you try it?

Oh, please do. I would be ecstatically happy to try it, modify it, repost it. I might even put it in a book, if you like. Please know that cooking is, quite literally, the most important thing to me.

You see, I must maintain my sanity, and that breaks down very quickly if I do not feed regularly. When the mind goes, I am a danger to everyone and everything about which I care. This is unacceptable to me. So you can see, that even should the hobby of food eventually prove boring…

Eating is what I do.