Archive for January, 2012

Algernon Blackwood’s “The Doll”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

A while back, I watched the DVD box-set of the 1st season of the TV series, “Night Gallery” by Rod Serling, which I found to be a hit or miss affair. I loved the pilot episode, but found that within the subsequent episodes there was usually at least one or more duds in the episode’s customary trifold offering.

One sequence, however, that really caught my imagination was the adaptation of the novelette, “The Doll”, by British author Algernon Blackwood. In fact, I was so taken by it that I vowed to read it if I ever found a collection that contained the story. This proved harder than I thought, as the novelette seems to be just a shade too lengthy for inclusion in your common story collections. In fact, other than its original 1946 release by Arkham House, It doesn’t seem to pop up much elsewhere. So, imagine my surprise when I did a book buy at work that turned up two Blackwood collections, one f which featured the story as the very first offering in the book! Needless to say, I borrowed it as soon as it was officially ours, and I have just finished reading the story this evening.

"The Doll and One Other", by Algernon Blackwood; Arkham House, 1946.

Well, for starters, even though I should be ready for this by now, I was a bit abashed by the use of the dreaded “N” word within the opening paragraphs of the book. The epithet in this case was used to describe a very dark-skinned Indian man who delivers a parcel to the home of Colonel Hymber Masters, a very bitter career man(“late of an Indian regiment”) who lives in a big house filled with servants and Monica, an illegitimate daughter from some past indiscretion, whom he adores but does not communicate well with. In fact, the set up sounds very much like Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw” or Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”, with a governess watching over a sweet but neglected child as the overbearing (but mysteriously handsome and tragic) master of the house drops in and out of their lives every now and then to stir things up.

The catch in this story is the delivery of a brown paper parcel, which Colonel Masters orders to be disposed of immediately. “Take it away and burn it, he ordered in his army voice, passing it to her outstretched hands. ‘Burn it,’ he repeated it, ‘or chuck the damned thing away.'” However, instead of doing as he ordered, Mrs. O’Reilly, the Irish housemaid he charges with this task, decides to open it to see what all of the fuss is about and “Turning back the thick paper wrappings, she started, and to her rather disappointed amazement,she found herself staring at nothing but a fair, waxen faced doll that could be bought in any toy-shop for one shilling and sixpence. A commonplace little cheap doll! Its face was pallid, white, expressionless, its flaxen hair was dirty, its tiny mouth was closed, though somehow grinning, no teeth visible, its eyelashes ridiculously like a worn tooth brush, its entire presentment in its flimsy skirt, contemptible, harmless, even ugly.” Laughing at the pathetic creature and all of the hubbub the Colonel had made over it, she resolves to  give it to the child instead, since she has no playmates and so few toys to entertain her, and makes  her promise not to mention it to the Colonel.

Everything goes fine at first as Monica loves the doll exclaiming, “It’s so much more real and alive than my teddy bears,”… “Why it even talks to me!” The doll and the girl become inseparable and everyone is happy until one night, as the governess, an attractive young Polish woman by the name of Madame Jodzka checks in on the slumbering Monica and sees the doll walking, “…in a disjointed, hoppity, hideous fashion across the bed in which Monica lay sleeping.” As she starts, the doll notices the governess and charges at her, causing her to faint. The next day, she gives notice to the Colonel using an excuse about family emergency and leaves for her native Poland, but after a brief and disappointing homecoming, she has a change of heart and decides to return to try to save Monica from the evil influence of the doll.

The doll, as it appeared in the Night Gallery episode.

Upon her return to the house, she not only sees the doll move again, but hears it conversing with the slumbering Monica, responding to the sleeping child in indecipherable utterances. Despite her fear of incurring the wrath of the quick tempered Colonel, she resolves to confront him about the doll and see if he can’t help her get rid of the nasty thing.

I shall stop here so as not to ruin the story for you, but needless to say it is a very creepy read and a bit darker than I had expected. The ending was very different from the Night Gallery episode and I was surprised by the darker turn the novelette took in the last pages. The Night Gallery episode had an interesting twist on the ending, which is arguably more palatable for the general viewing audience, but the story is surprisingly blunt and grim. It has some of the old school prejudices, which many writers or the time had, like the racist remarks about foreigners and condescending attitudes about women, but it is well written otherwise and worth checking out if you ever come across it.

 

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Gothilocks

Posted in Dracula, Fairy Tales, Frankenstein, Gothic Tales, The Wolf Man with tags , , , , , , on January 23, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

Cover art, by Jesus Gutierrez, for the 1st Edition of the “Gothilocks” comic.

And so they sat: Count Dracula, the Wolf-man, and Frankenstein’s monster, alternately staring at the mean mess spread before them, and the dreary countenances of their compeers.

“What I would give for a nice young milkmaid to feed on,” said Dracula, lisping through his overbite.

“Yeah, then when you were done draining her, I could take her limbs to gnaw on and store the rest in the smokehouse for jerky during the winter!” growled the Wolf-man.

“Jerky would be nice.” uttered the monster.

“I thought you were a vegetarian!” the Wolf-man barked.

“Yeah, well maybe I’m getting tired of all this squirrel food, ever think of that?” retorted the monster, “I need to find something I can really sink my teeth into.”

“Amen to that!” blurted Dracula.

“Something with resistance, but that won’t crack my brittle denture”, the monster continued, as he absentmindedly ran his great gray hand along his massive jaw.

“Hey, you’re the one who said, ‘I do not destroy the lamb and the kid, to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment’.” His lupine messmate howled.

The monster, frustrated and somewhat embarrassed, just clenched his teeth and pounding his big cadaverous fist on the table, responded with an agitated “Arrgh!”

“Gentleman, please!” hissed the count, “Why don’t we go for a walk in the woods, and work out some of this pent up choler!” The other two mumbled their consent and off they went.

Gothilocks had lost her way in the forest looking for belladonna to blanch her complexion, which just wasn’t fair enough for her taste. Even though she was renowned for her lovely mane, which framed her round face in shiny black ringlets, she still secretly coveted the pallor of that bitch Faustine, who was so wan and thin that she looked positively consumptive! “I’m going to get that ghostly hue,” Gothilocks swore, “even if it kills me!”

For a self-proclaimed “Child of the Night”, the little darkling was starting to get uncharacteristically worried now that she noticed the crepuscular sky beginning to drape over the treetops and settle in heavy folds ‘twixt the branches. She had all but lost hope when she noticed a dingy little cottage in a clearing. She was feeling weary, as well as a little peckish, and figured this was the only shelter she was bound to find this deep in the woods. It was a little forbidding and uninviting in its appearance, but it would have to do.

She walked up to the curtained window, caught a glimpse of her reflection in the moonlight, and stopped to primp herself for her meeting with the denizens of this lowly hovel. She wanted to look her best so that they would automatically take her in on account of her jetty locks, and fetching good looks. She grabbed the heavy knocker, unusually ornate for such a paltry looking place, and rapped three times.

No answer. She tried again, only this time a little harder, and to her surprise the door swung open! She sashayed across the threshold and stopped for a moment to take everything in, as well as look for a host to charm.

“Hello there, is anyone home? Hello!” No reply. She noticed a table with three places set for supper. At the head of the table was a fancy dish with a thick red fluid in it. To the side of the dish was an inlaid ebon spoon, with a small bat design on it; the bat had its wings wrapped around it as if it were sleeping with its head at the top of the grip and its body tapering as it wound its way down the spoon. Placing it into the bowl, she scooped up a generous spoonful of its ichorous contents, which she eyed suspiciously, as she mused,

“What is this, borscht? Wait, there’s no sour cream, it must be gazpacho! Either way, I don’t do cold soup, and this stuff looks like it’s starting to congeal.”

She then dropped the spoon into the bowl, causing some of the dish’s contents to spill onto the table, and moved on to the next seat. Before her sat a dish with a large marrowbone that had many teeth marks on it, which indicated that it had been chewed a great deal by something with a large bite.

“What, they let the family dog eat with them at the dinner table? Ew!”

“Ew!” sketch by artist Kim Mc Kelvey.

Disgusted, she pushed away the bone and went to the last place, where she found a dish full of nuts and berries. She figured this was as good as it was going to get without any hosts in sight, so she ate them all up, and washed it down with a swig of water from an Evian bottle she had in her satchel.

Feeling sleepy, she went upstairs to the loft where the beds were kept. She saw a casket, which she climbed into, because she always wondered what it would feel like to be in one. It was too creepy for her though, and she began to feel claustrophobic, so she bailed. She saw a basket with cushions and blankets, but upon closer inspection, found them to be repellant with animal sweat.

Finally, she found a slab, which had a small cushion at the top, and even though it was a bit more like a table than a bed, it reminded her of some Japanese accommodations she had seen in a magazine.

“This is no worse than my futon at home,” she thought, and soon she was fast asleep.

Now, the night was waning, and our boys were all tuckered out from walking around the forest and venting spleen, so they decided to head back and eat their supper, no matter how dismally pathetic it was. Upon arrival, they found the front door ajar, so they chose to enter the cottage with caution; Dracula leading, reddened penetrating eyes peering out from above his heavy black cape. Wolf-man followed, beady black eyes squinting, snout a-snarl, teeth bared for an attack; and the monster trailed behind, his yellowed eyes wide as doubloons, nervously looking about, like an oversized, and misshapen boy, frightened out of his patch-worked gourd.

In the main room, where their meal had been set, they found a sight which caused the trio some concern and, for the monster at least, some degree of dismay.

“Someone has spilt my plasma potage!” cried Dracula

“Someone has been hanging around my marrowbone, I can smell it!” yelped the Wolf-man.

“Someone has eaten all of my nuts and berries!” sobbed the monster, “Now I won’t have anything to eat for supper tonight!”

“Don’t worry mon frere, all is not lost,” the Wolf-man said to the monster, as he patted his elbow reassuringly, with a furry black-taloned hand, “for I smell an intruder in our midst!”

And so the Wolf-man led his friends up the ladder, into the loft, where they found a disturbing scene.

“Someone has been in my casket!” gasped Dracula, aghast at the thought of someone else desecrating his immaculate crib.

“Someone has been snooping around my basket!” gnarred the Wolf-man irately.

“Yeah, well someone has been sleeping on my slab, and they’re still there!” bawled the monster, “Where am I going to sleep now?”

The three friends stood around the monster’s sleeping slab and began to marvel at the beauty of their uninvited guest.

“Boy, she sure is pretty,” said the monster, as he rubbed the tears out of his eyes and wiped his nose on his sleeve.

“Yeah, her hair is so shiny and black,” said the Wolf-man, “I just love the way the curls frame her pretty little face. I mean look at that skin, white as alabaster.”

“I’ve seen whiter,” Dracula interjected, “but yes, she is a fine specimen.”

Then the Wolf-man grinned a toothy smile and growled slyly, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Dracula responded with a leer, as the monster looked back towards his comely usurper and said, “Jerky.”

 

Gothilocks Introduction

Posted in Antimärchen, Belladonna, Dracula, Frankenstein, Gothilocks with tags , , , , , on January 23, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

In the early aughts, I took a creative writing course at Broward Community College in Ft Lauderdale, FL (they have since dropped the “Community” part of the name and go by Broward College) which I enjoyed immensely. One day my professor tried to explain to us the concepts of the protagonist and antagonist in a story by using the example of the fairytale of  “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”. Apparently, in the academic community, there is an ongoing debate on whether it is a story about a golden haired girl who gets lost in the forest and takes shelter in a lodging apparently owned by three bears, or is it a story about a family of bears that go out for a walk only to find upon returning their residence usurped by a squatter? After some discussion, he gave the class the assignment of writing our own stories using the model of Goldilocks. Of course, my imagination being filtered through a Gothic lens, I came up with “Gothilocks”, a young Goth girl who stumbles upon a cottage in the woods inhabited by Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and a Wolf-man.

The story went over so well in class that I decided to write more in that vein and ended up writing a whole series of stories involving Gothilocks and her friends interacting with faeries, and various monsters from legend, mythology and Gothic literature and film.

Bandido Studios, circa 2005: Me, Jessica (Gothilocks), Jesus and photographer Juan Sanchez. @ Gothilocks debut signing.   

In around 2005 I collaborated with an Arizona indie comic book artist named Jesus “Jessie” Gutierrez on a comic version of the story. The initial book was sold at comic conventions and the Phoenix Comicon at the Bandido Studios table, which was owned and run by Jessie and had modest success for such a homegrown effort. One of Jessie’s favorite ways to plug his own comic series (Barrio Blues, a “Mexploitation” comic with gun-slinging vatos and voluptuous Latina hotties) was to talk his female acquaintances into donning “Bandido Studios” t-shirts and pretend to be the characters in the stories. This helped a bit to draw interest to his table and when he suggested I do the same for Gothilocks, I gave it much thought and decided to ask my good friend Jessica (I have chosen not to reveal her surname for her personal privacy) to be my spokesperson. I spent lots of cash getting her costume together and she took to the part with gusto! She would show up at in-store signings and would sign the comics with her real name–LOL! She fit the character so well, that she inspired me to write more stories and, in my mind at least, she became synonymous with the character. When we did a reprint of the comic in 2006, I included a few photos of Jessica dressed up as Gothilocks in her cape, corset, mini-skirt and knee-high boots. We did a few different photo sessions around town in a local cemetery and a wooded area by a roadside in Surprise, but none of the photos made it onto any comics as Jesus and I drifted apart before we made any more Gothilocks comics. Also included was the original text of the story since I felt that the comic had cut out way too much of it for my taste.

For the proposed second comic in the series, I had decided to do the prequel, “Belladonna”, which doesn’t feature Gothilocks per se, but does mention her in passing and sets up the pretense for her being in the forest in the first place. After much soul searching, and one failed attempt to recruit a former co-worker, I decided to go with another friend, Shawna (again, surname withheld for privacy). Jesus took some photos of her in her father’s backyard, which came out nicely, but the comic was never made.

Me and Shawna in her Dad’s kitchen after taking photos for the Belladonna comic.

 

To this day, the series has remained largely unread by others because I cannot find the right artist to do the spot illustrations I want. What I hope to do someday is make the series into old fashioned Penny Bloods featuring a few illustrations and a lurid cover. I have approached many artists for this over the years, with interesting results, but none ever really caught the right feel for what I wanted. What follows will be the Gothilocks and Belladonna stories, (as two separate entries) accompanied by their respective artwork and photos…

In Honor of Emperor Norton the 1st of San Francisco (01-08-12)

Posted in emperor norton, hp lovecraft, robert w cambersh, Trunk Space with tags , , , , , , on January 17, 2012 by Manuel Paul Arenas

In Honor of Emperor Norton the 1st of San Francisco
Sunday, January 8th 2012, I participated in a tribute to the 19th Century San Franciscan eccentric, Emperor Norton at the Trunk Space in downtown Phoenix. This was the description on the Facebook event page:

“Description
A night of absurdity with the Cult of the Yellow Sign, Male Pattern Radness, Hi My Name Is Ryan, TK Campo and poetry by Manny Arenas! Emperor Norton is the mentally unstable “Rice King” who claimed dominion over all California, and “Protector of Mexico”. We honor this Genius in Exile.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_Norton”
What made this show special for me was the fact that I got an extended set. I was allowed to do my thing (i.e. read my poetry, deliver my bon mots and even sing a song) for the space of 20-30 minutes. I am sure that I didn’t quite use up all of my time, especially once I realized that I forgot to read one of my prepared poems, but it was nice to have the breathing room to stretch out between pieces and communicate with the audience.
The evening started with the Cult of the Yellow Sign members #138 and #808, Space 55 regulars (my buddies) Kevin Flanagan and Ash Naftule, respectively, introducing the show and imparting a little of information on who exactly this esteemed personage Emperor Norton really was. Of course, they also sprinkled in their usual quips about the Cult and made the usual references to the fictional pantheons of Robert W Chambers and HP Lovecraft.

Kevin Flanagan and Ash Naftule, members #138 and #808 of the Cult of the Yellow Sign

I was the first one up from the guests and opened with an a capella rendition of the song “The Boat of Millions of Years” by Van der Graaf Generator. I was initially concerned that my voice would give when I sang this because I had been suffering from a persistent dry cough, but it went off without a hitch. I then proceeded to recite the poems I had selected for the evening, which dealt mostly with the subject of death. I told the audience that this was not a conscious choice, but rather and intuitive one. I offered that since my set would be so morbid, I would sprinkle in a few “buffer pieces” as the “sugar to help the medicine go down”. Over all the response was positive and folks seemed to enjoy the pieces and laugh in the right spots during my preambles between the poems.
A few of my friends took photos and I understand one even took video, which I haven’t seen yet, but hope to maybe post a clip sometime if it turned out well.

Me, reciting fromone of my little journals where I keep my dark ditties.

The other acts were amusing, particularly the band Male Pattern Radness, who sang songs about disgruntled waiters, getting high, and taking rufies (!).

Male Pattern Radness

Hi, My Name is Ryan, one half of the duo Drunk and Horny, did his usual shtick of standing on chairs, yelling through a megaphone and stirring up the crowd to follow him in a song. This time his set had a “New” New Year theme and he dispensed party hats and noisemakers for everyone to celebrate after a countdown. It was fun, but went on a little longer than it needed to.
Next up was the Cult who summoned up a demon…hand puppet! They then called up folks from the audience to ask the demon questions about joining the Cult of the Yellow Sign, and this was truly an inspired segment of the show. The best moments being when audience member (Space 55 alumnus) Shawna Franks allowed her young sons to participate in the question/answer forum, which ended in the demon taking the brothers into not only joining the Cult, but dueling one another to curry favor with the Cult. Chaos reigned!

Cult member #138 finds a handy host for the demon they channeled.

Just as things seemed to be wrapping up, TK Campo showed up to finish off the show. Unfortunately, even though his songs (played alternately on mandolin and piano) were mostly tuneful, his delivery was soporific and cleared the room save a few die-hards and friends.
Over all, it was fun night and I am anxious to see what the Cult does next. The text of the poems I read follows here:
(Note on text: I just changed the title of the first poem from “Altagracia” to “Altagracia’s Lament”.)
Altagracia’s Lament
Amidst the Arizona Red Rocks within her cavern lair
Altagracia plays a tune into the midnight air
Tapping doleful melodies that echo through the night
With velvet mallets on an organ made from stalagmites

Woefully, she keens her sorrow into the desert night
As the victor scorpion-mouse peeps his kettle-cry rite
Night-blooming flowers unfurl buds in welcoming fashion
For the Lesser Long-nosed Bats to lap their nectar with passion

Ruefully she dreams of times before the bloodlust came
The family curse which took her tía, and drove Lupe insane
Forcing her monthly, to transform and shed her human skin
For animal pelts and raven’s wings, steeped in blood and sin

Altagracia could not allow this curse to carry on
And so she chose to kill her aunt, nescient of what would come
By taking the life of her aunt, she hoped more lives to save
But with the best of intentions the road to Hell is paved

The tlahuelpuchi can’t be slain by one who shares her line
The curse just passes to the kin whom perpetrate the crime
By killing Lupe, Grace took on her sanguinary bane
As well as her occult powers, and transfiguring frame

A vegetarian at heart, she cannot brook the thirst
For the blood of innocents, with which she has been cursed
And fight the craving as she might she cannot shirk her fate
But rather acquiesce and drink until the thirst abates

And so she bays unto the moon, coyotes take her cue
Joining in her lamentation, with guilt and gore imbrued
Knowing that her isolation will no way stay the curse
From finding another victim with which to slake her thirst

Wiping up tears with livid hands her ululations spent
She feels the change about to break as she catches a scent
Her body writhes, her structure pops the fur begins to spread
She is now crib death incarnate which newborn mothers dread

XIII
You say that you do not know me; fear not, we shall come to know one another better soon enough—when the time is right.
All come to know me at some time or another: kings and paupers, sinners and saints, the youthful and the decrepit.
All men fear and loathe me; the only ones whom come to me willingly are the wretched, the disfigured and the sickly.
They welcome me with open arms; they constitute my flock.
The generals are my acolytes, my altar the battlefield; my host is mankind and my wine, his blood.
I also provide a service.
Like a blackbird I herald change.
I weed out the old and make way for the new.
I bring an end to suffering and provide a bridge to the next station.
But with all of these responsibilities at hand, I have no time for rest.
Daily, I beg for the hour when I might be suffered to reap my own stalk from this field of perpetual darkness.
Until that day, I shall continue to sheave the souls of the fortunate ones…you favored children of God.
BLACK HYMENEAL
Azraelle, my moribund bride
Gowned in ebon lace
Down the funest aisle you stride
With an exequial pace

Niveous hands let fingers slip
With sharpened ruby nails
Like little bloodied arrow tips
Which have my heart impaled

Your fine fair bosom does not heave
with movements to respire
Yet moves my will, in twain, to cleave
As my heart would to expire

Trailing from your muddy feet
A somber bridal train
Sullied in your brief retreat
Through graveyards in the rain

Tangled in its filigree
Are tokens from the grave
Supported by (with impish glee)
A grotesque lilim babe

Behind a veil of spider’s web
Sable tresses flow
In rivulets, about you, ebb
Away from your dark brow

Peeling back gossamer mesh
Your eyes aglow like gleeds
Burning into my weak flesh
To my wan heart, which bleeds

Your crimson labia do stretch
Into a hungry smile
Enticing me, a poor fey wretch
With lewd and baneful wiles

Eagerly I give to you
My last remaining breath
And as my lips avow, “I do”
Receive your kiss of Death

Ode to Stout
Stout is like a chocolate drink
Semi-sweet and well nigh black
Delectable amaritude
In creamy bitter draught
Sweet unmalted barley wort
Cordial cocoa quaff
Heavy, almost viscous
Seen darkly through the glass
Liquid velvet, hazy curtain
Obfuscates the eyes
Tawny lips, the foamy kiss
A bittersweet goodbye

Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
Is what she said to me that day
Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
Is all she had, for me, to say
“I do not like you, not one bit
Your very presence makes me shit
And so I leave you with this phrase to think upon in future days
“Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
A phrase so plain, so pure, so true
Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
An offering, from me to you
Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
It leaves no doubt per what to do
Manny Manny, Kiss My Fanny
And eat my shorts while your down there to”