Archive for December, 2010

This Year’s Best Fiction

Posted in Archive on December 18, 2010 by cairnwood

I didn’t get to read as much fiction this year as I normally do. All in all I only read 61 books in 2010. Of those, slightly more than half were fiction, and nearly half of those had a publication date earlier than this year. Slim pickings, to be sure, but the majority of what I did read was pretty damn good. Here’s the Top Ten Works of Fiction I read in 2010. I recommend each and every one of them wholeheartedly… Consider this a sneak peek into next week’s Occult Detective Awards.

10.
Hellblazer: Pandemonium
Jamie Delano and Jock

9.
The Frenzy Way
Greg Lamberson

8.
Carnival of Fear
JG Faherty

7.
The Broadcast
Eric Hobbs & Noel Tuazon

6.
Skull Full of Kisses
Michael West

5.
Creatures of the Pool
Ramsey Campbell

4.
The Jake Helman Files: Desperate Souls
Greg Lamberson

3.
The Pack: Winter Kill
Mike Oliveri

2.
A Dark Matter
Peter Straub

1.
A Gathering of Crows
Brian Keene


The House Above Seven Pillars, Chapter Twelve

Posted in Archive with tags , , on December 17, 2010 by cairnwood

Chapter Twelve

***


Dale Parker sat quietly in the chair beside his brother’s hospital bed, reading through the book he’d come away from the Winger Estate with. It was a leather bound journal, handwritten on yellowed vellum by Lewis Percival Winger himself. Much of the writing inside was in some sort of code, with arcane symbols drawn with an uneven hand, but there were also bits and pieces of prose and poetry, and a lengthy work that was, perhaps, an unpublished novella. While the hospital monitors chirped and beeped, he lost himself in the story that was written within its pages.

The silence was unbearable, like a weight crushing the very breath from his lungs. Solemn and melancholy, Lawrence Weaver had sought to drown the oppressive feelings with a smooth Single Malt, culled from his private stock. The Scotch had been aged as long as he had, fifty years this past March, but the spirits did little to raise his. There was no time for him, no place for him in this world, and none that waited in the hereafter. He had bartered away any chance for happiness in the here and now and squandered any hope of salvation.

“So be it,” he barked, downing his glass and tossing the empty vessel into the vacant hearth of the fireplace. “Who wants to live forever anyway?”

“Certainly not you.”

Weaver rose from his chair with a start. He was in a sealed room; the chamber door barred against entry, yet here stood a figure most unwanted. Draped in a black cloak that billowed about him as if it were a sentient thing, the fiend smiled at his prey’s distress.

“Villain,” Weaver spat. “Your very presence is an affront to me. I command you to be gone, unclean spirit.”

“Your command over me has ended, Lawrence Weaver, as per our agreement. Or have you forgotten? Shall I produce the document to which you signed your name, in blood no less?”

“Damn you and that infernal document, demon. I was a child when I signed away that which I would now cling to with my very last breath.”

“Is that so?”

“I will not go quietly, blackheart!”

“I see. What I have come for is mine already, but if it is a sporting chance that you desire, a false hope that our contract might be nullified, then by all means, we shall see to it.”

“A sporting chance? Yes, that’s it exactly. That’s all I ask. Give me a chance to undo that which I have done. I cannot be made to pay for youthful ignorance and folly.”

“Oh, you’ll pay, Lawrence Weaver, in blood most sweet.”

With a subtle gesture, the figure caused a conflagration to erupt within the confines of the fireplace. It crackled with eldritch energy, fueled by the impossible creature that even now discarded its cloak. Crossing the room, it took down the twin sabers that were displayed above the mantle, tossing one to Weaver and cutting at the air with the blade he retained. It sang with a haunting melody, the cold steel alive in the fiend’s expert grasp.

“Surely you jest, Bifrons of the Tombs,” Weaver winced. “A duel? This is your idea of a sporting chance?”

The figure’s vacant stare cut into the man’s soul as deeply as any blade could. There was no sympathy there, no compassion. Within those black orbs there was naught but the promise of death.

“Yes.”

The fiend sprang forward, the saber slicing through the electrified air with a powerful stroke that, had it found its mark, would have surely split Weaver in two. The man had only just raised his weapon, deflecting the blow, but a shockwave raced through his arm, jarring him and shaking him to his very core.

This was it then, Weaver thought, to the death.

It was to the death.

Staggered, Weaver was driven back. With each attack, the man was only just able to defend, but the ferocity of the blows was sheer agony. Never once did he rear his weapon in offense. The tireless assailant rained down on him cruel strike after cruel strike, filling his opponent with a crippling desperation.

With a mind-numbing flourish, the fiend disarmed Weaver, his saber clanging against the stone floor, far out of reach. The tip of the figure’s saber stopped short of a killing stroke, hovering beneath his chin, drawing but a warm stream of blood. The fluid rolled down the cold steel, arcing along the tempered groove and kissing the bronze hilt like a shy lover would, chaste beneath an enchanted moonlit night in a forest of sinister promise.

“Our contract, Lawrence Weaver, has reached its fruition. Your soul is ripe and ready to be served upon my master’s table.”

“Please, grim Bifrons, a bit longer. I beg of you.” Tears rolled down the man’s cheeks. Exhausted, but filled with fear and the crush of desolation, Weaver was less a man, whimpering as a child would.

“You disgust me, Weaver. Did I not keep my end of our bargain? Did I not fulfill my promise to you?”

“But I had no idea that…” His voice broke and his bladder gave way along with his knees. Dropping to the ground, his head bowed low in grim resolution. He was shamed. In his fantasies he had been a brave and honorable man, one who he had always believed would be able to face death with his head raised high, but this was just a fantasy. In the end he was a pathetic wretch, begging for a chance at one more day.

Even as he silently pleaded, he was forced to wonder why he bothered. He was undeserving of life. He had wasted his time on earth, descending into hedonistic debauchery. He had been cruel to nearly everyone who had crossed his path. What would a reprieve from death gain him, but the promise to deliver more misery upon his fellow man? Better to have it end now, in dishonor and shame, than to sink any lower, if that were even possible.

“Listen Lawrence Weaver. Do you hear it, there in the distance? The thundering waves call out to me. They call me home. And they are calling to you as well. It’s a haunting song those waves play, enticing me to leave this dance behind and lose myself in its melody, rising up into the dark and tumultuous clouds, perhaps to rain down upon another who is a better man than you. Once long ago, I could taste the essence of you. Your soul was alive and held the promise of a cup filled with a sweet nectar, but here now you are a bitter and vile brew, unworthy of my consumption.”

“You’re… you’re releasing me from our bargain?”

“I have no want of you. I’ll see your soul cast into the fire, unmarked by heaven or hell. You will cease to exist, for there is no sustenance in you, for angel or demon or any of the Host. I despise you and consign you to utter oblivion.”

The fiend’s eyes glassed over. Black orbs gave way to the red hue of the fireplace’s blaze and it was a dragon’s breath that Lawrence Weaver felt upon him.

“The Old Ways are lost. They hold no sway over mortal men.”

The figure’s hands grasped the head of Lawrence Weaver, its eyes burrowing into his flesh. Weaver screamed in agony as all that he was and would ever be was consumed by hellfire.

Mores the pity.”

And with that the figure was gone, carried away on an ancient wind.

“What’s that?”

Dale jumped in his seat, startled by his brother’s voice.

“Don’t do that,” he said, sitting up straight and setting the journal aside. His heart was thundering in his chest. Not surprising considering all that had transpired in the past few hours. Dale crossed the room to stand by his brother’s bedside. “How’re you feeling?”

“Fine, and you didn’t answer my question. I know when my brother’s head is wrapped all up in knots.”

Dale picked up the journal and dropped it into Allen’s lap. “It’s some of Winger’s writings. Most of it’s useless, written in some kind of coded language.” Allen flipped through the book. “Some of the sigils seem familiar. Stuff I’ve seen in dad’s library, I think. I’ll investigate more thoroughly once we get out of this place. The rest of it is bits and pieces of stories. One of them’s almost complete, it’s story of a man who had sold his soul and was trying to win it back. I don’t know… I get the feeling it’s important.”

“Well, no sense in getting too caught up in it. Mom told me that Detective Franklin read you the riot act and essentially told us to not butt in where we’re not wanted.”

“Like that’s ever stopped us before.”

“We’ve never stumbled onto something like this before either. This is definitely up dad’s alley. Chasing ghosts is one thing, but this is far beyond anything we’ve ever experienced.”

“I don’t know, Allen. I’m not sure I can let this slide. There’s a young girl in that house that needs help now, not later.”

“Not to mention the fact that she’s smoking hot.”

“That has nothing to do with it. She needs our help.”

“Well that’s just too bad.” The boys turned to see their mother in the doorway, hands on her hips. “Dale Parker, you should be ashamed of yourself. Look at your brother. And on a school night? Really, I don’t know what you were thinking. You’re both lucky to be alive.”

“I know mom, but the Martins’ are in trouble. Big trouble,” Dale said. “Someone’s got to help them.”

Mrs. Parker joined her eldest son at Allen’s bedside, placing her hand on the boy’s forehead while her eyes scolded Dale. “Someone, maybe, but not the two of you. It’s bad enough your father trots off to parts unknown on this foolishness. I’ll be damned if I let you both put yourselves in harm’s way chasing phantoms. I had a talk with Joe and he told me what happened in that house, or more accurately what didn’t happen.”

“What are you talking about?” Allen asked, sitting up with a grimace.

“Detective Franklin thinks we imagined everything that happened in the Winger house,” Dale said. “He says it was some form of hysteria.”

“Hysteria? It sure as heck wasn’t hysteria that beat me half to death. Joe Franklin knows us. It’s not like we’re some potheaded rejects from a Scooby Doo cartoon. Why would he say that?”

“I don’t know, Allen. Maybe he’s under pressure from his bosses, or maybe even Security Forces out of Grissom. Cassidy’s dad is the base commander.”

“Or maybe you boys are in over your heads and he wants to make sure nothing happens to his best friend’s kids?” Evelyn Parker looked worried and tired. The weight of the evening was bearing down on her. Dale watched as her eyes looked over Allen’s battered and bruised body. He was lucky that it wasn’t more serious.

“Or maybe nothing. Man, that ticks me off,” Allen huffed. “We didn’t imagine this. Mrs. Martin was not herself. She was a crazed maniac and impossibly strong. I cleaned her clock good with a brass candlestick. By all rights she should be dead, but she just kept coming like some kind of monster.”

“Allen Parker that will be enough. I can’t hear any more of this. I can’t. This is over. Do you understand me? I won’t hear another word on it. We’re going to pretend that none of this ever happened and when your father gets home, he’ll deal with it. Understood?”

“Yes, mother,” the boys said in unison, each lying through their respective teeth.

Review: Krasskova’s Northern Tradition

Posted in Archive with tags , , , , on December 16, 2010 by cairnwood

I was honored to have been asked by New Page Books to review some of their titles and they generously sent me their catalog and offered to send me any books that caught my interest. At the top of the list were two books penned by Galina Krasskova — Exploring the Northern Tradition and Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner (written with Raven Kaldera).

I have had a lifelong passion for the Norse Gods, sparked by my reading of The Children of Odin by Padraic Colum and Willy Pogany when I was eight years old. It was at that tender age that I began to look beyond what I had been taught in Sunday School. The Christianity of my parents and grandparents never spoke to me on any level, but reading of these ancient gods, deities that my ancestors had worshiped before the forced and coerced conversion of these Northern Europeans many centuries ago, showed me a world that was was filled with excitement, adventure, and brutal nobility. Of course there were few books to be read on the subject. I read the Eddas and often bastardized and romanticized mythologies. I consumed Beowulf and  various translations of the Ring Cycle with fervor. And then there was the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien and Robert E. Howard which captured the essence of the Northern Spirit and made it palpable to my young mind.

Was there something in the air? At the same time that I was questioning my Christian upbringing and looking to the Norse Pantheon that had been forcibly stripped from my forefathers, there was a modern movement underway, reconstructing Heathenry and a return to the Old Ways. Now, thirty some odd years later, there are more than forty thousand people that have returned to the Gods of the Northern European Folk.

Still, there have been painfully few books of quality written of this reawakening of the Northern Tradition for the mainstream. Most of what is out there from various publishers are little more than Heathen-lite, Wiccan influenced tracts of new age mumbo jumbo filtered through a Dungeons and Dragons understanding of the Gods and Goddesses that call Asgard their home.

In all honesty, these two books from Galina Krasskova are little different. While there is an attempt to be unbiased and inclusive of the various denominations that embodies the present makeup of Modern Heathenry, there is far too much reliance on unsupported personal gnosis for my taste and an unhealthy fascination with the Rokkr, shadowy figures of chaos and the enemies of the Aesir.

These two texts, Exploring the Northern Tradition and Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner, fell far short of my expectations and my understanding of the Holy Powers and of the People of the North. I will not outright discourage anyone from reading them. There are kernels of truth and inspiration to be found within, but if one is truly seeking enlightenment and the path toward the reawakening of the true Northern Tradition you would be better served by looking to the Prose and Poetic Eddas.

For further guidance I suggest visiting the Asatru Folk Assembly.

Remembering Ida Craddock

Posted in Archive with tags , , , on December 15, 2010 by cairnwood

Ida Craddock was a visionary. Bold, intelligent, provocative, Craddock quite literally sacrificed herself in the name of women’s liberation and sacred spirituality. That this woman has descended into obscurity is a true miscarriage. She was at the vanguard of free thought and expanded consciousness, whose work championed feminism and social progress. That she was ultimately martyred for these ideas should have placed her in the pantheon of the most exalted revolutionary thinkers, but alas she became but a footnote, known primarily by those who studied within the  outer fringes of paganism and the occult sciences alone.

Vere Chappell in Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic reintroduces us to this extraordinary woman by collecting her most important writings, combining them with a thorough, insightful, and impassioned biography. Chappell handles the subject of Ms. Craddock’s life and suicide, her triumphs and trials with a sure and competent hand. The picture painted here is one of exaltation for a life lived without compromise.

In his review of Ida Craddock’s Heavenly Bridegrooms, Aleister Crowley wrote that it was “one of the most remarkable human documents ever produced”. Coming from the Great Beast, that’s saying a lot. He went on to write that the book was “of incalculable value to every student of occult matters. No Magick library is complete without it.” I couldn’t agree more.

Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic: The Essential Ida Craddock is a monumental achievement and a bloody brilliant account of one of the most important spiritual philosophers of the modern age.

Sexual Outlaw, Erotic Mystic by Vere Chappell is published by Red Wheel/Weiser and available wherever books are sold.

Oddfellows Serenade Redux

Posted in Archive on December 14, 2010 by cairnwood

Yesterday’s thumbnail, now with words…
because so many of you asked.

And no, I really can’t share any  more than that.

Oddfellows Serenade

Posted in Archive on December 13, 2010 by cairnwood

Thumbnail Sketch for Oddfellows Serenade
A Landon Connors Supernatural Thriller

The House Above Seven Pillars, Chapter Eleven

Posted in Archive with tags , , on December 10, 2010 by cairnwood

Chapter Eleven

***

Dale Parker was relieved to see Detective Joe Franklin standing beneath the exterior light outside of the Winger Estate. Detective Franklin was one of his father’s oldest friends and had been a valuable ally in the elder Parker’s research. He and Sarah made their way along the roadside and passed through the main gate leading up to the house.

“A little easier this time in, huh?” Dale said.

Sarah didn’t respond. She was still in shock. Dale couldn’t blame her. He was a bit in shock himself. He had helped his father on a number of cases but he had never experienced anything like this.

He waved to the detective as they drew near. Franklin wore a gruff expression on his face and that worried the young man. Dale hoped that Allen wasn’t hurt worse than he’d appeared to be before he’d gone to call for help.

“Evening Dale,” the detective said, offering his hand.

“Good evening, Detective Franklin. Thanks for getting here so fast. Is Allen okay?”

“The boy’s fine. He’s been admitted to Duke Memorial and your mother’s on her way.”

“I can’t tell you how great that is to hear. After everything that’s happened tonight, I wasn’t…”

“Dale, that’s where things go sort of south for me,” the detective interrupted. “Your story doesn’t exactly play out as you told it to me on the phone.”

“How so?” Sarah asked. She stepped forward, trying to look past the man and into the house. “Where’s Cassidy? Dale said he left her with Allen.”

“And you are, Miss…?”

“Jones. Sarah Jones.”

“Right,” the detective said, glancing at a small notepad. “You called in the 911.”

“That’s right.”

“According to dispatch, you claim that your aunt, Mrs. Martin, was attacking Allen Parker and you and he entered into a struggle with her, that Parker in fact struck her repeatedly to the face and yet she kept coming. That’s when you ran for help.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Anything you want to add, Dale?”

“Just what I told you on the phone. When Cassidy and I came downstairs, the place was covered in blood and Allen was pretty roughed up. I caught up with Sarah down at the Kenyon place after she’d called emergency response. Then I called you.”

“Walk with me, kid,” the detective said. He put his arm around Dale’s shoulder and led him through the front door of the Winger house.

“No, no, no… this isn’t right,” Dale said, taken aback by the state of the Great Room. “I don’t understand.” There was no blood, no piece of furniture out of place, no candles… in fact, the whole room was well lit by chandeliers overhead and what shadows there were clung to the corners without menace. “Joe, this place was dripping in blood. I swear to you… this doesn’t make any sense.”

“Where’s Cassidy?” Sarah said from the doorway.

Detective Franklin turned to face her. “She’s in her mother’s room. She didn’t want to go upstairs. In fact, she was in near hysterics. Mrs. Martin administered a sedative to calm her down.”

“A sedative?” Sarah was livid. “Are you kidding me? That’s what started all this mess.”

“Dale, Cassidy Martin has some deep rooted psychological problems.” The detective motioned for them to follow him upstairs. “From what her mother told me, the girl’s borderline schizophrenic. Do you understand? She hears voices. Sees things that aren’t there.”

“But we saw them too. I heard…” Dale responded, climbing the marble steps after his father’s best friend. Sarah was right on his heels. “Are you saying we imagined all this?”

“Suggestion is a powerful thing, Dale. I’ve seen it happen to seasoned veterans on the force. Sometimes our minds play tricks on us.”

“That’s bull,” Sarah muttered.

Detective Franklin stopped before Michelle’s bedroom door. It was whole and unmarked from their earlier escape. The detective turned the knob revealing an undisturbed room. Everything was perfectly placed. Even the bed appeared freshly made. He led the two young people inside, pausing by the window seat.

“Does this look like a room beset upon by unseen forces?”

Dale looked at Sarah who was dumbfounded. “No, sir.”

Reaching down, the detective picked up Dale’s backpack and tossed it to him. Taking a quick inventory, he was surprised to find everything inside and in its place. He added the items from his pockets and the book that had struck him in the head. No, he’d not imagined that. It still throbbed where he’d been struck. Still, none of this made any sense.

“Take your things, Dale, and get yourself to the hospital and look after your brother and forget all about this place. Understand? I’m not saying nothing is going on here, but what I am saying is that this is business best left to your father, and even then, he would need to be called in by the family, not by some worrisome teenager who suspects something is wrong.”

“You’re right, of course. I guess we just got overly excited.”

“That’s a load of —“ Sarah fumed. She pushed Dale hard in the shoulder and gave him an eyeful.

“Sarah, it’s alright. Let’s get you home and we can discuss it tomorrow after we’ve all had a good night’s sleep.”

“That’s what I want to hear,” the detective said.

He led the two out of the room and down the stairs. Dale and Sarah took it all in, every bit of well lit nook and cranny. They walked slowly across the marble floor, through the front entrance, and out into the chilled night air.

“Come on, “ Dale said, “let me give you a lift home, then I’ll head over to check on Allen. You’ve got school tomorrow, after all, and your mom’s probably worried sick.”

“Whatever,” Sarah muttered, sauntering off toward the iron gate.

“Thanks again, Detective. I appreciate your being straight with us.”

“You’re a good kid, Dale. Make sure you dad gives me a call as soon as he gets back from Wisconsin.”

“Will do,” Dale said. He broke into a jog to catch up with Sarah who was walking along the berm of the Frances Slocum Trail. “Hey, wait up.”

“Don’t talk to me,” she said, eyes on the road passing under her feet.

“So you think I handled that wrong back there?”

“That detective is full of it and you know it, Dale Parker. What we saw back there— what happened to us — it was…”

“Real? Yeah, I know, but we weren’t going to get anywhere butting heads with the police. If we’re going to be of any help to Cassidy, we’re going to have to dot all our i’s and cross all out t’s.”

“And mind our p’s and q’s too, I suppose.”

“Exactly,” Dale said, smiling. “Look, we made some headway tonight. More than you might think. At least we know for a fact that something unnatural is going on in that place. Now we just have to put a name to it and then we can figure out how to stop it.”

“And what about Cassidy? We can’t just leave her there.”

“For now, we have no choice, but I promise Sarah, we’re not through yet. We’re going to get her out of there, and we’re going to put an end to whatever has that house in its grip.”

“Another Parker promise?”

“Hey, we’re full of ‘em.”

“You’re full of something.”

 

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