Archive for October, 2011

7 Minutes in Hell (10-22-11)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 27, 2011 by Manuel Paul Arenas

7 Minutes in Hell 10-22-11

On Saturday, October 22nd , I participated in the event known as 7 Minutes in Hell, at Space 55 in downtown Phoenix. I was one of eleven or so performers who were given carte blanche to do whatever they wanted onstage for the space of 7minutes. It was the first time I had participated or even witnessed this show, and I was impressed with what I saw.
Like any such open mike type show, there were the usual folks who seemed to try a little too hard to be outré, or irreverent, but on the whole there were some really talented people on the stage that night. One of my favorites being the opener, Shawna Franks, who actually is part of the Space 55 staff, who did a piece that she called Marlenesaurus, which consisted of her dressed like a chanteuse with a Brontosaurus mask on her head, topped off with a little blonde wig. She basically had a record player playing Marlene Dietrich singing her old chestnut, “Falling in Love Again” as she pretended to be singing and slinking about the stage with this little dinosaur neck poking through venetian blinds and feeding on the stage decoration foliage during the instrumental passages in the song. It was brilliant and very funny.
I also enjoyed the performances of my old friends Ashley Naftule and Kevin Flanagan, who did a piece about a murderer who is meeting up with someone who is supposed to help him clean up his mess, but they keep getting thrown off point by the song “Orinoco Flow (Sail Away)” by Enya, which is playing in the background.
Hanna Leister and friends did a comedic scene about a racy job interview, with a twist ending that I got a kick out of, and a woman whose name unfortunately eludes me at the moment (Peena?) did an amusingly eccentric rant about Sarah Silverman and pee.
Just before I was called backstage to prepare for my set, a young duo named Samson took the stage. I only got to see their opening number but was pleasantly surprised to see them play an old folk song which I myself used to sing back in my days as the singer for the band known as the Dark Young. I forget what they called it, but I know it as “The Unquiet Grave” and learned it from the debut lp by the English folk-rock band Gryphon. Samson’s version seemed to be some Appalachian variant or something with some of the more poetic language reduced to a more common tongue, but the melody and the essence of the lyrics were there.
For my set, I went on dressed as a priest, explaining to the audience that despite my current attire, I was not a man of the cloth, but I had spent $30 on my Halloween costume and was going to get my money’s worth out of it. I read three pieces, “No Candy from Courtney”, “Witch’s Tit”, and “The Golem of Prague”, all of which seemed to go over well. I gave a brief introduction for each poem, and was still able to get it all in within the allotted time span. The audience was responsive and laughed at the appropriate moments and expressed some marked appreciation for the Golem piece. I shall include all three pieces here after my review, for your perusal.
My set was followed by the Arcana Collective, who also performed at the HP Lovecraft tribute show in August. I liked their performance a lot more this time though. I believe the theme was “what is an arcane collective performance?” or something to that end. As usual, they had dancers, pseudo rituals, someone barking rants from “the Book of Lies” and general artistic and metaphysical mayhem. The flow and the ideas seemed to be better realized this time and I really enjoyed everything that was happening on the stage. As a footnote, Shawna Franks is part of the collective and Ashley & Kevin were asked to participate in the general mêlée onstage as well.
The last act of note was a slight of hand man who through the course of his act peeled off his clothes until he was stark naked. The emcee, Pete, almost had a stroke when the old fellow dropped his briefs, but the audience vociferously opposed his interference in the performance and the nudist was allowed to finish his set unmolested. I unfortunately cannot say the same for his volunteer from the audience!
I was taken aback by all of the compliments and general good will I received from everybody that night and really was made to feel like part of the family. I was asked to participate in a few of the upcoming shows and even told to bring the priest costume gain! LOL I think this is the start of something new and interesting coming into my life. I shall play it by ear, and try not to jinx it, but I am hopeful that it will rekindle the creative spark in this old heart of mine which has been dormant for so long.
Here are the poems I read at the show. For “No Candy…” I omitted the chorus and the nonsense vocalizations that accented the song as it was performed by 40 Grit/Rumpleforeskin in order to conserve time.
Witch’s Tit
There’s something I must show you; there’s something you must see
I’ve got a witch’s tit you know, just behind my left knee
It’s still quite warm with life although it’s sometimes used to wean
The sanguivorous whelp of a loup-garou at nameless rites obscene

No Candy from Courtney
No candy from Courtney – no time for trick or treat
No candy from Courtney – he’s not dispensing sweets
No candy from Courtney – don’t ring upon his bell
‘Cause if you bother Courtney, he’ll give you holy hell

No candy from Courtney – you might think he’s a prick
No candy from Courtney – but don’t you play no tricks
No candy from Courtney – and don’t get in his face
‘Cause if you piss off Courtney, he’ll beat you with his bass

No candy from Courtney – but kiddies don’t you grieve
No candy from Courtney – on this All Hallow’s Eve
No candy from Courtney – just thank your lucky stars
‘Cause treats down at the Brainerd House are tainted candy bars

No candy from Courtney – he won’t tell you again
No candy from Courtney – so steer clear of his den
No candy from Courtney – and don’t come back next year
‘Cause if you call next Halloween, he’ll give you cause to fear

THE GOLEM OF PRAGUE
I am Joseph, the mute beadle of the Maharal; conceived of in a dream, I am the answer to his prayers. God is not my creator, although it is through His mercy that I exist. A child of the elements am I, and of the men, who from them are derived.
Seven times did the fire sign encircle my form, and I began to glow with a fire in my frame.
Seven times did the water sign encircle my form, and the fire was quenched.
Seven times did the air sign encircle my form, circumferring the sacred scrolls of the Torah, and reciting the Kabalistic incantations, which would set my being into motion; then, simultaneously, they uttered the holy verse of creation, and I lived.
I shall only be suffered to do so until my people are free of the dark cloud of the Blood Libel. Then I shall lay myself down, and my fathers shall reverse, and thus undo, the rituals which bind me to this world. Returning, as they themselves must eventually do, to the lifeless clay, from which I was fashioned.

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Excerpt from my Southwestern Gothic Tale

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 18, 2011 by Manuel Paul Arenas

(The following is an excerpt from a Southwestern Gothic Tale I have been working on for several years. This excerpt is entitled “Tía Lupe”, but the overall story will be called “Casanegra”.)

I first learned that my mother had a twin about twenty-five or so years ago, on my eighteenth birthday, when she showed up on our doorstep looking like my mother’s shadow-self. They were not identical, but close enough in their features so that their kinship was undeniable.
My mother, my father and I had just sat down for a pizza dinner (extra cheese-a birthday concession from my mother who thinks takeout food is one of the myriad steps on the path to corruption in this society of questionable morality and gluttonous consumption) when the doorbell rang. Hoping it was one of my friends come to wish me well and whisk me away for a night of celebratory hijinks I leapt from my seat, sprinted to the door and swung it open to reveal my aunt Lupe in all her bewitching glory.
She was petite and curvy, like my mother, and shared her fair complexion, full lips and sable hair but, where my mother wore hers in a tight bun, Lupe’s locks cascaded over her shoulders in ebon waves. Her eyes were two sparkling discs of obsidian drawing me into her gaze as she smiled and said,
“Hola querida, yo soy tu tía Lupe. ¿Está tu mamá en casa?”
I was dumfounded; lost in her glamour when my mother clamped her dishpan hand on my shoulder and through clenched teeth ordered me to return to my birthday dinner. I took a few steps towards the table then slowly turned on my heel to look back at the two figures in the doorway, my mother, in her well-worn but carefully maintained clothes and Tía Lupe, with her slinky getup, smiling like a wolf about to pounce on its prey, engaged in heated Spanish dialogue, most of which was passing too quickly for me to decipher with my limited knowledge of the language.
“Vamanos Charo, is your own flesh and blood not welcome in your house?” Lupe eventually asked in perfect English albeit with a faint accent, in a voice that was high-pitched, youthful and melodious; almost like a little girl’s voice, belied by an undercurrent of amused condescension that showed her true colors, if only I had been wise enough to see them.
My mother continued in Spanish using harsh hushed tones as Lupe listened with a smirk, occasionally casting a burning glance in my direction, each individual look causing me to flinch with an electric shock. Once my mother said her piece she raised her head in a defiant stance and steeled herself for her sister’s response. Lupe reached out, clamping her black nail-polished fingers onto my mother’s right shoulder as she leaned in close and said something which made my mother blanch; stepping back to wink at me, Lupe slipped away into the gloaming.
My mother stood for a moment holding the door frame, looking into the growing night, then snapped to attention and slammed the door shut. My father, whom I had forgotten was there, looked to my mother and asked if she was alright; she raised her hand in a halting gesture and said, “Por favor Eliseo, no empiezas conmigo.” Then stormed off to their bedroom and slammed the door shut.
My father motioned for me to eat my dinner and quietly got up to attend to my mother. I was later informed that if I ever saw my aunt again I was to avoid her no matter what she said, and let my parents know right away. Of course, it was too late for that…
That night, I couldn’t get my newly discovered relative out of my head. I had always wondered how my parents who were so staid and overbearingly religious could spawn such a free spirit as myself. Or perhaps I was a byproduct or opposing reaction to their goody-two-shoes lifestyle? Either way, I found a kindred spirit in Lupe. She had style, confidence, and no fear. She wasn’t at all bothered by my mother’s minacious utterances and even threw her off her footing with just a few choice words. What I would have given to know what she told her sister to make her recoil like she did.
In retrospect, I should have found it alarming when she appeared later that night at the glass sliding door which led from my bedroom to the backyard of our home. I had been startled from a deep sleep to find glowing phosphorescence fogging the outer side of the glass. Trying to focus my sleep-blurred eyes on something forming within the center of the brume, I rubbed my eyes and shook my head to disperse the sleep from my brain and gain some clarity of vision.
Burning a shadowy figure in the dimming light, Lupe stood, hand pressed on the glass, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Unperturbed by this unusual development, I sprinted from my bed to let her in. Upon entering the room, she nimbly pulled me close and embraced me saying, “Querida sobrina, ¡que gusto me da en conocerte finalmente!”
Gently pushing me away to an arm’s length, she looked into my eyes, then lightly snickered and said in her charming lilt, “You don’t speak much Spanish, do you?” Embarrassed, I looked down and self-consciously bit my lip. Lifting up my chin with her index finger, she reassured me, “I’m not trying to embarrass you mija, I’m just stating a fact. You need to learn more about where you come from. I would like for you to come stay with me and your Tío Beltrán once you finish school. Since your mother does not seem to want you to know about me, we shall communicate in secret through the post.”
“The post?” I asked.
“Tu sabes mija, el correo, este…the mail!”
“Oh!” then we both broke out in laughter, which was quickly stifled when we heard my father call agitatedly from across the hall, “Altagracia! Turn off that television and go to sleep!”
Lupe placed her left hand on my shoulder, and then raised her right finger up to her pursed lips in a gesture of silence as she rolled her eyes upwards, listening for any further movement from my parent’s side of the house. Turning her attention back to me, she gently pulled me close for another embrace and said that she would be in touch but that I must never, under any circumstances, reveal that she had been there and emphasized that I must never allow my mother in particular to discover our correspondence. Then, with a kiss on either cheek, she slowly stepped back into the darkness and disappeared. I didn’t recall hearing the door slide although it was slightly ajar. Still groggy from sleep, I dismissed it and went back to bed.
We kept in touch for the next few months while I finished high school. I devoured her letters, which I used to retrieve from a post office box; mind you, these were the days before email.
Through her letters, she told me the story of how she and my mother had grown up in Tlaxcala, Mexico. They were sororal twins, and were very close to each other as well as their parents, spending every moment together until my mother met and fell in love with my father. She became real serious, began ignoring Lupe and their parents to spend all of her free time with him, which hurt my grandparents deeply, and completely devastated Lupe. There was a brief respite when my father went off to medical school in the D.F., but after a couple of years he came back during the holidays, married my mother and took her with him back to the capitol. Lupe tried to find her when my grandparents passed away a few years later, only to find that they had moved to the States and hadn’t left a forwarding address.
Defeated and alone, Lupe spent the next several years wandering around Mexico, never staying anywhere very long, making her way as she could, which often meant doing things she wasn’t proud of. Eventually, she ended up in Hidalgo where she met a bruja, or witch, who took her on as an apprentice and taught Lupe the tricks of her trade. She showed her how to read fortunes, make love potions, home remedies, and how to cast spells on people who had wronged her. Over time, she became quite skilled at her craft and eventually surpassed her teacher, so when the woman passed away, Lupe took over her business.
Although she was successful at her trade, she performed much of her business on the sly as she was publically shunned by many of the locals who, despite seeking her help in many of their personal affairs, still harbored prejudices against her. Even so, she got by as she could and never gave up hope of someday finding her estranged sister.
Eventually, she heard rumors of my parents having moved to Arizona so she spent the next few years going through the process of obtaining a visa while she took on extra odd jobs to save up money for the eventual trip. Somewhere during this time she met my Uncle Beltrán, fell in love, married, then eventually moved to Arizona, although she glossed over the specifics of the move. My gut instinct is that she and Tío Beltran paid a coyote to take them across the border, since he had apparently amassed a small fortune by doing favors for influential people in his hometown of Tepito.
Two weeks before my graduation from Agua Fria High School, my mother and I had a blow-up when she found my letters from Lupe. I was tired of living under her strict rules and dealing with her intolerance anyway, so I decided to pack my things and pay a visit to Lupe as soon as I graduated. She had mentioned in her letters that Tío Beltrán was getting a little fragile health wise and wasn’t able to pitch in to help as much as he used to so I could be of some use to them both for a while as I sorted things out personally.
Preparing for the trip, I put together a trail mix of nuts, dried fruit and chocolate to snack on during the drive along with a canteen of water, this also being in the days before bottled water became so readily available everywhere. If there’s one thing I learned living in Arizona, you should never travel any distance in this state without access to water, because you can succumb to dehydration or disorientation if your car breaks down or if the air conditioning malfunctions.
Setting my cassette carrying case on the passenger seat, I stuck Tubeway Army’s “Replicas” into my car stereo and steeled myself for the two hour drive to Sedona in my little white coupe. I had intended to leave early, before the sun rose, but ended up sleeping late, like I usually do, and didn’t hit the road until the afternoon when the sun was highest in the sky—at least I was in an air conditioned environment. The drive seemed to take forever since I was so anxious to get there but my tapes kept me company. I eventually reached my destination somewhere between 3 and 4 o’clock, parked my car in front of the gate and rang the bell.
Shortly afterward, Lupe appeared at the front door with my Uncle Beltran, arms looped, under a large black parasol. Quite the ghostly pair they were, both dressed in black, which contrasted against their pale skin. I was used to Lupe with her fair skin and long black hair, but Beltran was almost luminescent, with long white hair that flowed down in waves onto his narrow shoulders. As they approached I saw that he wore large, round, wire-rimmed glasses with dark colored lenses. He had a moustache and a goatee which almost obscured his thin-lipped, friendly smile. He was at least a head taller than Lupe, but stooped down to keep her within the shady protection of the parasol. He seemed a bit frail, but over-brimming with enthusiastic energy and I knew right away that we would become good friends.

7 Minutes in Hell (10-22-11)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 10, 2011 by Manuel Paul Arenas

7 Minutes in Hell (10-22-11)

Saturday, October 22nd 2011, I shall be participating in the “7 Minutes in Hell” show at Space 55 in Phoenix, AZ. The show starts at 9 pm, but I’m not sure when I shall hit the stage. Basically, the idea of the show is that performers are given 7 minutes free stage time to do whatever they want. I have chosen to recite some of my poetry. For more information on the show, go to http://www.space55.org/ and click on the link in the column on the left that says “7 Minutes in Hell-October” . Look here for a post mortem on the show in the days following the event.

Dan Simmons’ “Summer of Night”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on October 3, 2011 by Manuel Paul Arenas

I just recently read the book “Summer of Night”, by Dan Simmons. I was told by a friend that it was similar to Stephen king’s “It” in the sense that it an recurrent involves a group of young kids, back in the early 1960’s who join together to fight ancient evil that is awakening to prey upon the townsfolk. Fair enough, but that is where the similarities end. This book stands on its own as a classic of the “horrors of childhood” genre.
Basically, without giving too much away, there is an evil entity that has recruited a few of the locals: a school principal, a teacher, the driver of a rendering truck, and a few animated corpses to pave the way for its apocalyptic scheme. Kids start disappearing or ending up dead then later reappear as puppets of this entity that resides in a bell that is kept in the building of the local grade school that has just been shut down for good at the end of the school year.
The main characters, a group of misfit kids (apparently based on Dan Simmons, his brother, and their childhood friends), decide to investigate the disappearance of one of their classmates and stumble upon the dark truth and against all odds decide to fight it since the adults seem to be oblivious of what is really going on. One poignant scene that drives home this disparity is when one of the boys, Mike O’Rourke, a choir boy, tries to confide in his mentor, Father Cavanaugh, a no nonsense priest whom he has befriended. The priest initially tries to talk the boy down and allay his fears by offering more realistic alternatives for some of the things he’s been experiencing. Even so, he decides to humor Mike who seems sincerely frightened, by agreeing to follow him to the cemetery where one of the animated corpses, a World War I dough-boy who used to be an unwelcome suitor of his grandmother when she was younger and now haunts her outside of her window late at night, is buried. At first, there is nothing at his grave-site but some disturbed earth which “Father C” tries to brush off as cemetery upkeep. Just as they’re ready to leave, Mike spots a white face in the shadows, so the priest tries to call out what he believes is a prankster trying to spook them, but soon finds that he is horribly misguided in this assessment.
The book started a little slowly, while Mr. Simmons sets the story up, but just past midway or so, things begin to really get interesting, with the last hundred pages or so culminating in a really exciting dénouement. I would love to see a movie version of this as there are some truly weird and spooky images throughout this book. I understand that there is a sequel called “A Winter Haunting”, which deals with one of the main characters, the young Dale Stewart, now an adult, dealing with the mental and emotional scars from the events of that summer and how they have affected his life. Another book which is not quite a sequel but takes place within the “Summer of Night” universe is “Children of the Night” a modern day vampire yarn that features, in a supporting role, Mike O’Rourke, the altar boy, grown up and become a priest.
Here is a link to a page where Dan Simmons actually posted some personal photographs from his youth showing some of the spots in his hometown that inspired the day-to-day detail for the book as well as photos of him, his brother and their playmates who were the models for the characters in the book: http://dansimmons.com/about/snapshots.htm