automatism, Dreams and Nightmares, Fortean, Ghosts, Hauntings, Holographic Universe, Humor, Mystic, New Age, Short Stories, short-short, Spiritism, Uncategorized, Urban Legends, Weird, Young Adult

Stead’s Folly

WT Stead

Socialist reformer W.T. Stead was fascinated by spiritualism and psychic phenomena, so much so that when a medium told him he must not, under any circumstances, travel by sea, he went and booked passage aboard an ocean liner for her maiden voyage.

He died aboard the Titanic, April 15, 1912.

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Books, Hardboiled, Noise, Poims, Uncategorized

Sayings of Redbeard – Ragnar Redbeard

The infernal wisdom and heroic verse of the mysterious “Ragnar Redbeard” is preserved here, in this tiny, forgotten tome from another day, another age. The fierce, brutal logic of the author of “Might is Right” is presented herein, along with his epic songs and exhortations to Thor, Odin, and old, battle-hardened, bloodthirsty gods from the long ago. Whether you worship Odin or simply revere the brutal, cynical logic of the strange wordsmith who advocated a “World of warring atoms,” you will not fail to delight in this small book, available again in print for the first time in many, many long and silent decades. From an original, crumbling edition of 1890.

ragbeard

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Books, Hardboiled, Rants, short-short, Urban Legends

The Inscrutable Wheel

Kimberly mining camp in South Africa, in 1873, was a rough and tumble collection of shanty shacks, gambling “hells”, dens of iniquity and vice, prostitution, drunkenness; what one would expect, for the most part, from a boom town that had grown up overnight, its development driven by the lust for glittering riches, hidden in the form of diamonds buried beneath the earthen crust.

It was into one of these establishments that a young man entered, possessed of a small sum of money he was eager to multiply. Seeking out the roulette table like a lemming looking for a cliff, he sauntered up, laid down his bets, and began to play. And lose. And go again. And lose again. and, yet, for him, at least, losing only a part of his wealth was not enough.

The gambler’s mania had gripped him, and, soon, he found himself dispossessed of all but a single British pound. (Or, we at least assume it was a British pound. I suppose it could have been a single Rand. We’re unsure of this. Let’s compromise for now and just call the measly currency he proffered a “dollar,” shall we?)

Raymond Chandler has a story called “You Play the Black, and the Red Comes Up.” Raymond Chandler novels were full of desperate men and beautiful, deadly dames, all of whom lived in a world that was, essentially, amoral, predatory, rife with scoundrelism and, just beneath the aching, tired, weather-beaten and undeniably phony fa├žade , was corrupt deep down to the core. Life is ugly, men are predators, and dames is “no damn good.”

Of course, the young man was soon divested of this money, and beating his breast in despair (or, so we assume), dragged his sorry carcass out the door of the so-good den of gambling and vice, much to the cheers and jeers of the other assembled gamblers. It was not long after that a shot rang out in the street.

“Well, I’ll be damned. The sorry bastard has went and done himself in!” someone must have shouted.

(You’ll forgive us the literary license of putting words in the mouth of a fictional bystander. We do it only toward the establishment of a dramatic effect.)

In the dusty, rutted, dirty road lay a bleeding body, the hand still gripping the butt of the pistol, a pool of crimson wetting the earth around the rawboned, grief-addled, but undeniably handsome visage of the dead young miner. A small crowd gathered to circle, like human vultures, and spit forth exclamations, mutterings, and various imprecations to the preservative power of putative saints.

They must have dragged the body off to the morgue. I suppose it was unceremoniously deposited into a cold, lonely, paupers’ grave, to be eternally forgotten, except by the windblown trees.

Soon after, as if in a cosmic chuckle at the ill-starred fate of the so-unfortunate suicided loser, a quite similar young fellow entered a gambling establishment called Dodd’s Canteen. He had only one dollar in his pocket. His name, incidentally, was David Harris.

He sauntered over to the roulette table. Should he lay down his single, hard-earned dollar, risk the only money he had, all and everything, on a simple intuitive feeling?

He finally decided to do so. Mr. Harris left Dodd’s Canteen 1,400 dollars wealthier than when he entered it. In time, he would develop this small sum of money into a vast fortune.

So turns the inscrutable Wheel of Fortune. For one man wealth and happiness; for another rack and ruin. The completely illogical nature of this seems, to us at least, to almost smack of a kind of cosmic sadism; or perhaps, it’s all one big joke, with the final joke always being on you.

Even the Prince catches up with the Pauper, eventually; in the shallow depths of a cold, hard grave.

But, still, one must surely beat his breast, raise his fists to heaven, and damn God for the inscrutable way in which he metes out destiny in the world. C’est la vie!

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Books, Dreams and Nightmares, Experimental, Fiction, Poims, Short Stories, short-short, surreal, Uncategorized, Weird

One Night in a Dutch Hostel

WE must have been stranded in Amsterdam, at the world’s oldest, ugliest youth hostel. The girl that was with me had red hair and freckles, pale skin. (Note: It is my studied observation that, at least in my dreams, I am always somehow fucking death.)

Outside the window, crossing the pavement, a swarthy man in tight shorts, with a bulging, flabby gut is walking around like the proverbial caged animal of yore, apparently the sap rising in his veins or whatever passes for virility in this day and age.

“The sonofabitch has a higher testosterone count than I,” say I, turning to the girl, whom I instruct must not only froog in the upstairs window, but must thrust her head out and let fall her long tresses Rapunzel-like, so that the potential customer milling about below might crawl up them toward paradise, heaven, Nirvana.

“It’s not working,” say I. “Fish won’t bite.”

“Maybe he’s scared it’s some sort of sting operation,” she say, licking dry, greedy lips in the waning light of an amber sunset glow. Funny I think, the walls in here collect red from the light.

Red, red, everything is red. Hair, freckles; her body, though, is translucent white.

I crawl on top of her. It is late and maybe there is some requisite appreciation of the role I am playing as the impromptu pimp/provider. She covers my mouth with her own before wiggling, jelly-like, out from under my bulk. “I can’t fuck you,” she say. “Sorry.”

I think that this is a completely understandable position for her to take. My repressed sexual drive, however, seems to have made manifest in the turbulence of the barometric drop; as night falls, vast storm clouds seem to roil and brew across the curiously desolate face of Alternate Amsterdam.

(Isn’t this the way it is in gothic hokum stories of mad families living atop reeking, stinking tarns, stories wherein the desolation and madness of the incestuous line is made manifest in the heaving, wild weather, the environment that spills out of the pages and into the desolate soul of the reader, as he [alternately she] envision a living Sheol?)

At some point in the night, I prowl the musty, too-close claustrophobic halls, beating the walls with a club as if looking for hollow spaces. I suppose I was dress-rehearsing a murder, but, as fantastic as it sounds, vast, shimmering clouds of what I could only take to be some sort of globular, mist-like lightning began to shine through the windows, seeping uncannily through the cracks in the plaster. prerecorded and clearly artificial feminine telephone operators are being loudspeakered from some distant park, sounding as if they are trying to coax a 747 out onto the runway.

The Redhead is sitting Siva amidst a glowering crowd of scruffy but undeniably blonde young men. The central figure, a young man not unknown to me, looks upward as I enter, his face a soft pillow of stupid, bovine expectancy. I suppose I could have cleaved his face in twain; or, at the very least, crushed his skull like an egg with the powerful force of my wooden cudgel.

Instead, I compose this poem.

“Lying in bed, I turn over stare blankly as shadows roll across the wall. You bitter red pill that you are, hard to swallow in one exquisite mouthful.

“‘I suppose,’ you say, ‘I taste hot and rank.’
“I dunno, but, for one moment, an entire world lived and died on the tip of my tongue, rolling one bead of sweat down to die…”

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Books, Fiction, Ghosts, Poims, Public Domain, Quotes, Spiritism, Young Adult

The Silver Sixpence by Ethel Clem (?) 1905 (?)

The following poem was found, uncredited, in an edition of the book The Tower of Wye by William Henry Babcock. The book dates from 1901. This copy is inscribed to “Ethel Clem, 3-05” and a card inside proclaims “from Sophomore and Junior.” A yellowed piece of paper has the following poem written, uncredited, in shaky pencil.

The Silver Sixpence

BY

Unknown (Ethel Clem?)

It was only a silver sixpence,
battered and worn and old,
But worth to the child that held it,
As much as a piece of gold.

A poor little crossing-sweeper,
In the wind and rain all day —
For one who gave her a penny,
There were twenty who bade her nay.

But she carried the bit of silver–
A light in her steady face,
And her step on the crowded pavement,
Full of childish grace.

Straight to the tender pastor,
And, “Send it,” she said, “for me,
“Dear Sir, to the heathen children,
On the other side of the sea.”
***

I don’t believe in coincidences, nor do I think a poem such as this should be lost. If anyone knows the true authorship, let me know.

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Books, Fiction, Humor, Short Stories, Young Adult

Tale of the Spanish Dancer, or One True Love!

Once upon a time there lived a poor girl in Barcelona, who envied the rich and well-dressed girls who sauntered by in the promenade.

“Oh,” she said to herself, “if only Papa could afford to buy me such fine and beautiful dresses as all of those rich, spoiled girls have, why, I would count myself the luckiest girl in the world!”

But of course, her Papa did NOT have such money, and so she went about in rags.

One day, as she was walking through the market, carrying her basket of goods. she saw a gypsy dancing for pennies in the square. She went over to watch the men, who were pitching the coins at her, and were obviously quite taken with her looks.

The gypsy had the most beautiful dress she had ever before seen. It looked as if it had been woven of beautiful wild flowers, and it made the poor girl weep with envy to see it.

Instantly, the gypsy stood beside her, and asked, “Girl, why are you weeping so?”, to which the girl replied, “Oh, I am weeping because you look so beautiful dancing, and I am but a poor girl who could never afford such a beautiful dress!”

And the woman laughed and smiled, and said, “Well, girl, I’ll tell you what: I’ll let you wear my dress, and dance for me here, and give me a well-deserved rest. But, you must be careful to clean the dress every night with this special brush, and place it carefully in your closet, and take the best care of it. For, this dress is an enchanted dress, and the wearer of this dress shall find her true love, by and by!”

And with that, the young girl was exceedingly glad, and clapped her hands, and said, “Oh thank you M’lady, thank you! I shall do all that you say, and take the most wonderful care of your dress, and wear it with pride as I dance all day, and dance all night!”

And the lady laughed, and said, “Very well! Here–”

And, to the amazement of the young girl, the lady snapped her fingers, and suddenly, the two had traded clothing. Now, the lady was wearing the young girl’s tattered rags, and the young girl was wearing the beautiful gypsy dress. And each fit the other perfectly.

“Now,” said the strange woman, “I must be off. Remember what I told you, take special care of my dress while I am gone!”

And with that, the strange girl ran off into the crowded market, and was lost from sight. The young girl, delighted to be wearing the beautiful dress, immediately went into the town square, and began to dance.

Young men, some of whom asked to be her suitors, came and pitched coins at her as she went. Her dancing was divine, and she felt as if her toes were drifting on the wind as she went. And she danced and danced the whole day and night, and the next day, and hardly slept a wink in all that time, until she was exhausted.

Finally, she realized she deserved a rest, and she went home, carefully taking off the dress, and taking out the brush…but, she was so tired from all that dancing that she suddenly yawned and said to herself, “Oh, I am so tired, I shall just die if I don’t lie down for a moment! I shall look after the dress after I get up from my nap! The lady wont mind; after all, she is so kind and generous to allow me to borrow her beautiful dress!”

And so the foolish young girl laid down upon her bunk, and was soon fast asleep. It was not long however before she was awakened by what she took to be a flickering flame. She wondered if the sun had started to come up, when she opened her eyes, and saw the mysterious lady with the dress, standing in a circle of glowing fire!

She now saw the terrible truth of who the lady really was, and the young girl trembled from head to toe to realize that she was in the presenc of the living, breathing Devil himself!

“Foolish girl,” cried the devil, pointing one long, scaly finger at the trembling girl! “I told you never, never to fall asleep without first carefully combing out my dress, and making sure it was washed and hung up properly! Now, you will pay the price for your indolence and lack of care!”

And with that, the Devil snapped his fingers, and the dress flew from the couch upon which it had been carelessly tossed, and the Devil said, “Now, you must wear this dress day and night, forever and ever, and you will not be able to take it off! And you will dance and dance and dance, and you will never, ever stop dancing! And anyone who sees you will dance, too! And if you meet your true love, he must not look upon you, or he will turn to stone!”
And with that, the Devil shrieked with laughter and delight, and disappeared in a cloud of flame and smoke. The young girl was horrified to find the dress wrapped around her; and indeed, struggle as she might, she could NOT get the dress off!

A curious thing then happened: the young girl began to shudder and shake, so that she could not sit still! Her arms began to wiggle, and her legs began to wobble, and she soon found herself on her feet, hopping and skipping and jumping about.

Her mother came in, and saw what was happening, and exclaimed, “Oh my! You have been bewitched, and now cannot stop your dancing! You must go out of this house, at once, lest you dance a hole through the floor, or break all of our furniture flailing about!”

And with that, the young girl was thrust out of doors, where she found herself dancing down the road. It was not long before she had danced her way, like a crazed maniac, all the way to the town square.

Well, when the people saw her, they were quite taken with her, and said, “Oh look! It is the dancing girl from the other day! My, look at her go! It’s as if she cannot help herself!”

And then, as if a mania swept through the gathering crowd, those that beheld her strange, maniacal dancing, began to dance themselves. They gyrated,a nd twisted about, and pulled their hair, and gnashed their teeth, and wagged their tongues and clucked their heads and exclaimed, “Oh my! it is as if we were bewitched!”

And another yelled, “No, it is worse! It is like a legion of devils inside my pants!”

And still another said, “it is as if we have been bitten by the tarantula!”

And so the crowd began to roar and gyrate, and fell upon the dusty ground, and danced through the street, and ripped their clothes,a nd tore their hair, and soon, the village priest came by.

Seeing such brazen, sinful behavior, he quickly exhorted the people to stop what they were doing.

But they simply replied, “We cannot! it is as if our bodies are moving but our minds are asleep!”

And then they told him, “It all started when we watched the little girl in the dress dancing! She has bewitched us! Oh, can’t you do anything to help?”

And the priest, realizing that such an enseemly display was sinful,a nd must not be allowed to continue, thought for a moment, before commanding a few men to go and fetch him a tent. Then, he carefully told them, “You must raise this tent around yon girl. But take car that you do it with your back turned, and do not look at her, or else you will end up just like all of these other poor souls!”

And, with his back turned, the priest pointed at the young dancing girl who had started all the commotion, and the men, with their back turned, slowly put up the cloth barrier between the morning market crowds and the girl.
Soon, no one could see her, and consequently, the dancers soon ceased to dance.

“Good!” said the priest. “That seems to take care of one problem, at least!” But, as to what to do with the girl, now hidden behind the folds of the tent, he could not say. So, he quickly decided to go back to his study and meditate on the matter.

It was not many hours before a dashing young man rode up on a horse. He was a man quite taken with tales of chivalry, and was on a search for his “one true love”; and, so when seeing the strange striped tent in the middle of the street, he became quite curious.

“Ho stranger! And what, pray tell, is the reason for that tent being pitched in the center of the road, where it blocks the traffic?”

And the man said, “Of sir! Behind the flaps of that tent is a young girl who has been bewitched, so that she cannot stop dancing! And, worse, anyone who looks upon her begins dancing as well, and cannot stop! So the village padre has commanded that a tent be put up around her, so that she is hidden. But, as to what else can be done about it, who can say?”

And the man, who was rather stupid, shrugged his shoulders and wandered off. The young squire, overtaken with heroic feelings of chivalry and daring, conceived a plan whereby he might save the girl from her bewitchment.

He decided to go to the door of the tent, with his back turned, and looking at the girl only in the polished surface of his shield.

“For, if I do not look directly at her, the bewitchment cannot effect me as it did the others.” Or, so he reasoned.

So, dismounting, he carefully went to the dark opening of the tent, where, inside, the exhausted girl was still flinging herself about madly, dancing and sending up great clouds of dust in the darkness.

“Oh, kind sir!” exclaimed the girl. “I have angered the Devil himself, who gave me this dress so I might become a great dancer! Alas, in his vengeance, I have been condemned to wear this dress, which causes me to dance and dance! Oh, if only there were some way you could relieve me of this burden, and I would surely go with you, and be your wife!”

And so the bold young man said, “Never fear, my dear! Your salvation is near!”

And, scooting backwards on his heels, with his shield held up before his face, he made his way to the wildly gyrating girl–no easy feat, as she could not stop moving!

Cautiously, he put out a gauntleted hand, and prepared to rip the dress from her body when, viewing her face more clearly in the polished surface of his shield, he suddenly exclaimed–

“Wait! I know thee! I have beheld thee in a dream. Thou art my ONE TRUE LOVE!”

And, forgetting that he could not look directly upon the girl, he turned suddenly. The dancing girl put her hands to her cheeks and screamed in terror, but it was too late!

The young man fell to the earth, stone dead.

Aghast, the young girl decided she could no longer go on. She danced from the tent, through the streets, and to the bridge above the river. It was here she cast her dancing body into the water–which was no easy feat, as she kept moving back and forth, away from the edge!

No, one was sorry to see her go.

(If there is a moral to this story, we haven’t found it yet. Except, perhaps: don’t fall asleep without hanging up your clothes.)

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Fiction, Short Stories, short-short, Young Adult

The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe (Adapted by Tom Baker)

Fortunato I had learned to live with, even when he was at his worst–but when he insulted me in public, I vowed that he would never have the ability to do so again.

It was during the heighth of the carnival, when all the city was in a state of celebration, that I decided when and how I would go about getting my revenge. I would do it so as to not get caught–that would bo the only way my revenge would really be complete. Also, as I made him suffer, he would go to his end knowing it was me that did him in.

I was walking through the streets, wearing my cloak and a black domino mask. Fortunato was wearing a jester’s outfit: a tinkling little hat with bells and a striped costume.

Now, you must understand that, up until that time, I had given Fortunato no reason to suspect me–I had smiled in his presence, and had always been kind and gracious to him when we were together. Deep inside though, I was forever plotting his doom.

Knowing his one weakness, then, it is little surprise that I was finally able to take advantage of it, and make it part of my plans.

Fortuanto fancied himself an expert when it cam to fine wines. Most Italians are frauds when it comes to these things, trying merely to fool British or French experts. Fortunato was just like all the others: he knew nothing about art or the finer things in life, but acted just as if he did. But, when it came to wine, he really did know what he was talking about.

So this is why, when I ran into him one night during the wild carnival season, I said to him, “Ah Fortunato, you are looking so well! And, it must be luck that has brought us together. You see, I’ve just bought a few bottles of something that is supposed ot be Amontillado–but I’m not sure.”

At this, Fiortunato, a little man that, as I said, was dressed in the costume of a jester, sputtered and spat and bugged out his eyes like a toad. He said, “Amontilaldo? During the carnival season? Impossible!”

I was almost to the point of starting to laugh in his face, but instead I told him, “Well, as I’ve said, I have some doubts about it. I thought of goign and finding Luchesi. He is not as good at testing these things as you, of course, but, I knew that you would be busy, and–”

He spat, “Luchesi? He cannot tell Amontillado from sherry! Come! To your cellars! I will try this for myself, and tell you if it really is Amontillado after all!”

I smiled, trying to appear as if I was really putting him out by asking him ot come to my cellars and taste my wine, as if it were all really MY idea.

“Come then! The servants, I know, will be out.”

They were. I had instructed them not to leave my chateau during the carnival, knowing that they would all leave and go the carnival anyway.

We entered the old dark mansion, and I lead him through the empty, echoing darkness to a doorway in a back coridoor. Grabbing a light, I threw open the door to the cellar, revealing a winding staircase going down, down, down into the black.

“Enter,” I said, thrusting out my hand. He did so, swaying a little as he was quite drunk still. I followed him down, closing the door behind us.

We went down, down into the dark catacombs below, the crypts wherein generations of Montresors had been buried. We passed piles of old bones, and it was very dar, and damp and cold, In the corners, we could hear scurrying rats.

I had the torch in my hand, and I could see hat Fortunato was drunk and ill. It was far to mouoldy and damp down here for him, and he was coughing and hackin like a man with a serious illness.

“Come, my friend,” I said, “Let us go back. You have a terrible cough, and it is far too mouldy and damp down here for you!”

He grew angry when I suggested this, and spat (between coughs),”No! It is nothing. Just a little cough. Bah! I will not die of a cough! Come! Amontillado! Let us go!”

And so we went down, deeper and deeper into the catacombs. We began to discuss various things, and he asked me what the Montressor family arms were.

“Oh, it is a snake, with a boot crushing the snake’s head. That is the family crest!”

He must have liked that, for he smiled while considering it. Then, he made a curious sign, and I surprised him by understanding it.

“Ah, you are a Freemason! I am one, too!”

When I said this, he grew a little suspicious.

“You? A brother Mason? Impossible!”

But I assured him it was true.

“We Montresors are an old and dignified line,” I reminded him. Whatever that was supposed to mean.

Deeper and deeper we went, into the winding darkness, past the heaped piles of old bones–those poor unfortunates who had been imprisoned and buried down here, so long ago.

Finally, we came to a dark recess in the stonework. I shined the torch in there, saying, “It is in there! The cask of amontillado! Perhaps you should go in and investigate for yourself!”

And the drunken fool, so eager to taste the wine, went in, somewhat cautiously though, the little bells on his hat jangling as he walked upon the uneven stones of the floor.

“Yes, yes…well, where is the wine?” he suddenly asked, confused.

I leapt forward, and with a speed few could probably have ever guessed I possessed, clasped a heavy chain around him, fixing him to the wall, where he turned about in shock, in the deep darkness.

“Eh? What is this? Some sort of game?” he blustered, fear coming into his voice.

“No!” I said, “No game!”

And that is when I produced the trowell, and went to a pile of old bricks in the corner. That is where I hid the cement.

I slowly, oh so slowly, began to lay the bricks, forst one, then another, then another, across the face of the recess in the wall. All the time, Fortunato is chained and cannot move, watching as, slowly, he is bricked in, into the darkness…

He kept up a steady, senseless rambling, but I just ignored him.

Slowly, oh so slowly, the wall that would seal his doom began to take shape.

Finally, after a few hours toil, I had but one brick to lay. I shined my lantern in the opening. Therein sat Fortunato, sad and confused, bound in chains. Suddenly, realizing I was looking in at him, he said, “Come! Enough of this joke! Let us return to the carnival. We will have quite a laugh about this when we are gathered together at the carnival! Yes, quickly, undo these chains, and we will both hasten at once back to the carnival!”

And then he was quiet. And then, after a long moment…

“For the love of GOD, Montressor!” he wailed, in a voice quite unlike any I had ever heard come from him before.

“Yes,” I anssered him, “For the love of God!”

And I placed the last brick in the wall, sealing him up in darkness and certain death. Then I rode away, into the night.

That was fifty years ago, and, tot he best of my knowledge, he is down there to this day.

Rest in peace.

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