Archive for the All Hallows Read Category

This Silent Well of Sorrow (Part Five of Five)

Posted in All Hallows Read, Horror, Occult Detectives, Writing in Theory & Practice on November 1, 2018 by Occult Detective

tswos

Part Five of Five

FLESH & BLOOD

The trees pressed in on the magical procession, each intent on the path beneath their feet. It was treacherous footing, where a wrong step could mean the difference between life and death. A perilous cliffside trail, weaving through the Germanic landscape, was a physical manifestation of the spiritual journey these four found themselves bound to.

“The flesh is weak,” Samael muttered. He was at the head of the pack, the fire and impetus of their quest. He wore the skin of Guy Starbiter, long time friend and confidante to the father of the man who walked close behind him.

Landon Connors was calmly repeating a nursery rhyme his mother had recited to him as a small child, over and over again, punctuating each step. It was a talisman of sorts, magic words to block the pain that racked his body each time his ruined knee propelled him forward.

“One for sorrow and two for mirth. Three for a funeral and four for birth. Five for heaven and the sixth is for hell. Seven’s for the devil that we know so well.”

Behind the good doctor came Tracy Larson. Her jaw was set, a scowl locked on her lips. She had been through so much. The thought of following this archangel, fallen or not, soured her. Her instinct was to gut the thing, regardless of its intentions.

Bringing up the rear, Michelle Hawkes felt the same. Both women had their reasons to distrust the entity that had taken root inside Starbiter, both stemming from the loss of their first borns. Though there was more than twenty years separating them, they were bound by that commonality.

A crow cawed from deep within the grim forest as a mist drifted up from the cavernous ravine. A perverse clicking sound mingled with it, driving the corvus from its perch. It swooped over their heads, as if warning them that their journey had neared its end.

woods

“What is that?” Tracy asked, her teeth chattering against the sudden drop in temperature. She tried to sink deeper into her jorongo. Her feet gave way then, slipping in the rich, black mud. Eyes wide, she looked to plunge over the side of the cliff, but a firm hand clasped hers and pulled her to safety. She stared up into Hawkes eyes, thankful for her quick reaction.

“Careful, kiddo,” Michelle said, “the doctor would have my hide if I let you take a tumble.”

“Sometimes I wonder,” Larson sighed. She looked toward him, pressing on, oblivious to what had transpired behind him. “I don’t get him,” she added, dusting herself off and resuming their hike toward who knew what. “It’s almost like he’s two people.”

“Only two?” Michelle laughed. “Wait till you’ve known him longer.”

They tried to hurry their pace, to catch up with the two men ahead of them. It was easy enough. One was slow with age. The other due to crippling injury.

“How much further? ” Michelle called out.

Samael stopped and sniffed at the air.

“We’re here,” the fallen said. “Come, up this way.” They left the path and entered the woods, leaving the cliffside trail behind. It was a short walk, up a steep ravine, until it plateaued. As they entered the grove the clicking stopped and all was as silent as the grave.

The mist had settled here, knee high, swirling about as a thing almost alive and sentient. The effluvium was light, like a sheer fabric and the moon overhead cast a magical luminescence on the clearing, causing the tendril mist to glow a phantasmal white.

A shovel was stabbed into the turned earth beneath the hanging branches of a twisted oak. An ancient bind rune was carved into the bark of the tree. Lying in the exposed roots of the tree was a leather pouch bound with vine, a silver locket lying atop it.

“Harug,” Samael said. “That is the word that comes to mind when I look upon this place. It is not my word, but the word of he whom I wear.”

“Holy grove,” Connors said. “It’s Old High German.”

“Ah, I see,” Samael relied. He looked toward the two women who were hanging back at the edge of the treeline. “The skirts are skittish,” he said. “Not that I blame them.”

Connors pulled the shovel from the earth. Blood seeped up from the wound there.

“I don’t suppose you want to tell me what I’m going to find when I dig up whatever you laid to rest here.”

“What Guy Starbiter laid to rest, you mean.”

“Right.”

“No,” Samael said. “You’d best see for yourself.”

Connors tossed his cane to Michelle who had approached, cautiously. Tracy followed, striking a match to the lantern she’d pulled from her pack. It only added to the tension, casting long shadows in the ethereal night.

Landon went to work, humming the nursery rhyme as fresh waves of pain hammered through him as each shovel full of dirt echoed with a liturgy of exquisite pain. The grave was shallow, but heavy, flat rocks, each painted with a different kenning rune, made the progress slow. Then, peeking up from the black soil, a tuft of cloth, lace fringed, soiled white with a floral pattern.

Connors took a deep breath and looked to his companions. He knelt then, painfully, and began to brush the loose dirt away, slowly revealing what lie within this silent well of sorrow.

Ashen blue-grey flesh in a pretty gown. Black, patent leather shoes and frilly bobby socks. Blonde hair in pig-tails. A thin silver chain and encircled triangle pendant around her neck, resting softly on her chest.

Connors back away.

“What?” he asked. “Who?” But no answer came, only a child’s eyes opening, revealing black pools of unforgiving and infinite space. As she rose up, slowly, Tracy gasped, backing away from the child’s awakening. She instinctively reached fro Michelle’s hand, but the former federal agent pushed her aside, stepping in front of the girl and drawing her Sig Sauer P365.

“Landon Connors,” a deep guttural growl spoke from the diminutive girl’s blue lips, “the Dark One would have words with you.”

The ground beneath her opened up and she hovered up above them, levitating out of the shallow grave even as Landon Connors tumbled into the breach. Michelle opened fire, but the bullets fell ineffectively to the ground with but a flick of the demon child’s fingers.

The earth around the grave was sucked in after the occult detective and in mere seconds the grave was refilled, the stones all returned to their place. The girl laughed and slowly dissolved as a wind rose up and carried her away.

“What did you do?” Michelle screamed at Samael.

“I-I… Michelle?” he replied. “Mein Gott, ich verstehe nicht.”

“Guy?” Shoving the gun back into the holster in the small of her back, she crossed the ground and grabbed Starbiter by the shoulders. “Where’s Samael? Where’s Landon?”

“I-Ich weiß nicht, he said, staring at the reconstituted grave. “Ich weiß es wirklich nicht.”

to be continued in
A Thousand Oceans
beginning November 21

This Silent Well of Sorrow (Part 4 of 5)

Posted in All Hallows Read, Occult Detectives, Writing in Theory & Practice on October 25, 2018 by Occult Detective

tswos

Part Four of Five

SPIRIT

“Do you remember my name?”

Landon Connors took a long, slow drag from his cigarette. Back turned toward the man speaking. His eyes were on Michelle whom he could see through the open flap of the ceremonial tent. He had meant to leave her out of this, but she was as stubborn as she was beautiful. When the Fed’s Paranormal Ops began eating itself, she had walked away from her career and was aimless. Connors offered her direction, but their relationship had… evolved. It was…complicated, at best.

And now, behind him, two dear friends were one and the implications were like the proverbial albatross.

“Which one?” Connors replied. He withdrew another cigarette from the pack in his inner pocket, lighting it off the dying embers of the last. He dropped the spent butt to the ground and crushed it beneath the sole of his Berluti Gaspards. “Are you Sam, Samael, or Guy?”

“I can’t be all three?”

“No,” Connors said. He turned, stealing one last glance of Michelle before doing so. She was tossing a log on the fire while Tracy paced back and forth. He needed her, needed them both. “And the three men I admire most, the father, son, and the holy ghost, they caught the last train for the coast… the day… the music…died,” he sang, slightly off key, but then, he was under a lot of strain.

“He was dying,” Starbiter said. It was Guy’s voice, Guy’s face, somewhat — the eye patch and disheveled hair not withstanding, but the intonation, the accent, all wrong. No, it was clearly Sam Hill wearing Starbiter like a ragged suit, ill-fitting and threadbear. “I climbed inside to keep him alive, like I did the other, but the difference is, I’ll give him back, once he’s healed.”

spirit

“You know what this will do to him,” Connors said. “He’ll feel empty, his spirit will never be the same.”

“I know, I know,” Samael said. He reached out and took Connors cigarette away from him. and filled Starbiter’s lungs with smoke. He coughed, but smiled.

“Guy doesn’t smoke,” Connors said, lighting another.

“Yeah, well, Sam did.”

A tear slid down Connors’ cheek as he approached his old friend. He hugged him then and Samael returned the gesture. They clung to one another, Connors sobbing, as they were locked in a fierce embrace they neither wanted to end.

“Damn it,” Connors said, finally pulling away. “I’ve missed you. Thea misses you.”

“I realize we shouldn’t be here, now, but if I didn’t intervene, Guy would be dead, discarded in a shallow grave, and we wouldn’t be able to stop what’s coming.” Samael rolled his neck, exposing the deep bruising.

“What the hell did Guy stumble into?”

“To answer that,” Samael answered, “will require us visiting the place of interment.”

“Guy’s grave?”

“Not his,” Samael said solemnly, “but the one he dug, that which led to all this.”

Samael dropped the spent cigarette to the ground and stamped it with the end of his willow staff. Allowing the repurposed branch to support his weight, he moved stiffly, but with purpose, out of the tent to stand beneath the night canopy. A star, perhaps startled by the former celestial’s emergence, fell from the heavens, its wake like a blazing wound  slashed across the black canvas overhead.

A pale imitation of my own fall, Samael thought. As spectacular as that had been, his rise and subsequent rebirth had too been but a unceremonious reflection of the conflagration that had wrested him from his former glory. As Connors rejoined the others, he swallowed the pain in the body that he was so diligently working to reknit. So fragile, he thought, but so delightfully —free.

“I know what you are.”

Samael turned to see Tracy’s approach. She was a pretty girl, would soon be a beautiful woman. He reached out toward her, but she recoiled from his touch. Behind the steely exterior was a wounded bird. She too has fallen, he thought, perhaps even further than I.

“And I know what you are as well,” he said.

“Don’t,” Michelle barked. She stormed across the field to stand between them.

“Ah, a tale of two mothers,” Samael said. “No offense meant, my dear.”

He heard Connors’ approach and pushed forward, walking toward the observation platform. The climb was painful, but it felt good to feel anything again. When Sam Hill had given up his flesh and Samael became a spirit trapped in a hole in the ground, the loss of a tactile perception of the world around him was true torment, far worse than any physical pain one could endure.

“You understand their reaction,” Connors said as he joined his friend, looking out across the Oppenheim environs. “They both have suffered inconceivable loss and your…kind has been instrumental in both.”

“I was reborn, not far from here,” Samael said, as if Connors had not spoken. “And born yet again, so near the same place.” He took a lit cigarette from Connors’ hand and inhaled deeply. “The fabric between worlds in very thin here.”

“What are you not telling me?” Connors asked. He laid his hand on Samael’s shoulder.

“Everything,” he replied, “everything…”

to be concluded, Thursday, November 1

A Passage in Black

Posted in All Hallows Read, Horror with tags , , , , on October 19, 2018 by Occult Detective

Sketch

I had the opportunity to illustrate a 12 page story in Cullen Bunn’s homage to classic horror anthology comics, A Passage in Black, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the way it turned out. My friend Anton Kromoff delivered a terrific script that captured the essence of Cullen’s short story, putting his own spin on it. I added my 2¢ and I think we ended up with something pretty cool.

The kickstarter is live now, with about 20 days left as of this writing.

So, you can back us on kickstarter and bring a trade paperback home for $25 (excluding shipping of course), but for those of you wanting something special, for $150 you get the trade AND a one-of-a-kind original sketch from my drawing board to your door.

Best of all, YOU pick the subject.

Here’s a small sample of the kind of work I do:

sketches

You can check out all the amazing rewards for Cullen Bunn Presents: A Passage in Black on kickstarter. The campaign ends on Thursday, November 8.

Raise a Horn for the Nativity of the Beast

Posted in All Hallows Read, Magick by Trial & Error, Occult Detectives on October 12, 2018 by Occult Detective

Today marks the Lesser Feast of Aleister Crowley, whose nativity occurred 143 years ago on the 12th of October, 1875.

crowley

Crowley had his shortcomings, to be sure, but his libertine spirit and genius for establishing connections and correspondences between various religious, mystical, and scientific principles, as well as an innovative approach to esoterica as a whole, cements his place as the premier occultist of the twentieth century.

His influence is undeniable.

Something that I find criminal is the lack of respect Crowley gets as an author, particularly in the occult detective genre. His novel, Moonchild, is a brilliant example of the form, and his short stories, exploring further the adventures of Simon Iff, while sometimes uneven, are just as often as good as any such prose written in the era.

One could argue that The Testament of Magdalen Blair alone warrants his place among the great authors of horror fiction.

Matter in itself may think, in a sense, but its monotony of woe is less awful than its abomination, the building up of high and holy things only to drag them through infamy and terror to the old abyss.

I leave you now with a video of Gary Lachman’s Aleister Crowley presentation at Treadwell’s. Remember to raise a horn to the memory of the Old Crow this evening. Occultober would be nothing without him in it.

This Silent Well of Sorrow (Part 2 of 5)

Posted in All Hallows Read, Horror, Occult Detectives, Writing in Theory & Practice on October 11, 2018 by Occult Detective

tswos

Part Two of Five

WATER & WIND

“The Old Ways are lost,” she said, raising the athame above her head in reverence. She was skyclad, overlooking the tumultuous waters of the Mississinewa from the limestone cliff, her raven’s perch.

“Not lost,” a voice replied from the unnatural mist, “merely obscured, young one.”

“There’s little room for romanticism here, Dr. Connors,” she said. She turned to see the approaching figure. He was slightly above average height, with long reddish blond locks spilling over his bare shoulders. He was leaning heavily on his cane, more heavily than usual. He was in pain. She could see it etched on his face.

“Landon,” he said, adding, “If not here, then where?”

Connors stood before her, the wind whipping his hair back as the gods took notice of the couple’s proximity. He reached out and clasped his free hand over both of hers, sliding the ceremonial blade from her grip. He raised it up, eyes lifted, gazing into the swirl of black clouds that undulated above them.

connorssorrow

“Bòidhchead,” he called into the swirling storm, “na diathan a ‘fàs!” He brought the blade down and touched it to his throat. “Leanabh gaoithe.” Connors then lowered the sacred knife and rested the blade’s edge on his left breast. “Banrigh uisge.” He allowed the knife to glide across his flesh, a trickle of blood slowly cascading down his chest and stomach. “Comharra airson amàireach agus amàireach às deidh sin!”

Lightning flashed overhead, arcing through the tempestuous clouds. Tears swelled in Tracy Larson’s eyes. She touched her stomach, that place where her child had once been. Now barren, today and all the days to come. Her daughter had seen to that, when she crawled out of her womb and spread her dark wings, an ancient thing born again.

Despite the sorrow that welled up inside her, she had nothing but love for the child, and for the man that stood with her now. Even knowing his role in the path ahead, she could not fault this magician. The stakes were unimaginable.

She laid her hand on his right, that which clutched the silver skull handle of the antiquated cane that he clung to for support. She hoped that some of that support, in a spiritual sense, would be transferred from it to her.

When the lights of a car fell upon them, the pair turned, raising hands to shield against the wretched glare. The rain came then, in a torrent, as wind and water took horrific form, lashing out as if a harbinger of the news to come.

Alethea Hill stepped out of the mid-seventies Skylark wrapped in a long raincoat, her umbrella doing little to protect her from the storm’s wrath.

“Thea?” Connors called out over the thundering torrent. “What is it?” He staggered toward her, against the wind, his naked flesh stinging from the pelting rain.

“A call from Guy,” she said, shouting above the roar. “He said, Es tut mir leid.” The wind knocked her against the car and ripped the umbrella from her hands. It rose up into the sky, twirling like some sort of black caped ballerina. “Damn it,” she shouted.

“You’re sure,” Connors said coming to her side. He looked back toward Tracy. “Es tut mir leid?”

“Yes,” she replied. “What does that mean? My German’s rather rusty.”

I am sorry,” Connors muttered. He touched his assistant’s cheek and feigned a grin. “Have Rhodes prep Icarus,” he said, “transfer my outstanding cases to Selina and Martin, and let Michelle know I’ll need a raincheck for this weekend.”

“Right,” Thea said. “And Tracy?” she added, looking toward to windswept teen standing naked on the cliff-edge. She had turned away from them and was embracing the wicked storm’s assault. Her arms were outstretched, like she was conjuring the maelstrom itself.

“Tracy,” Connors replied, “will be coming with me.”

to be continued

This Silent Well of Sorrow (Part 1 of 5)

Posted in All Hallows Read, Horror, Magick by Trial & Error, Occult Detectives, Writing in Theory & Practice on October 4, 2018 by Occult Detective

tswos

Part One of Five

EARTH

The magician’s shovel bit deep into the rich, black soil, the sound of overturned earth swallowed by the vast expanse of old-growth forest that surrounded him. He was not alone. There were many eyes upon him for he was an intruder here.

Starbiter wiped sweat from his brow, pulling his weathered hand down across his face to stroke the hoary beard that he had hid behind for so long. It was a mask of sorts, a deceit. It projected an aura of wisdom and learnedness, and while the years behind him measured him so, the road ahead begged hard to differ.

No, one would be hard pressed to see wisdom in his present course.

A crow cawed from overhead, one of the watchful denizens of the ancient wood. The old scholar recalled a rhyme from his childhood. “One for sorrow, Two for mirth,” he muttered. “Three for a funeral and four for birth.” The crow flapped its wings and swooped down off its perch, soaring over Starbiter’s head. “One it is,” the magician spat. He returned to the soil and finished the grim task he had set himself to.

How many graves had he dug in this silent corner of the world? Each was marked by a single stone, never larger than his fist. He made sure it had a flat side to it, and he scratched an appropriate sigil to denote the departed in a significant way.

guystarbiter

He lowered the figure into the ground and covered them, slowly and methodically, reciting that old nursery rhyme over and over, again and again, as he worked. “One for sorrow, Two for mirth, Three for a funeral, Four for birth,” he sang.

“Five for heaven.”

He brought the flat of his shovel down hard, patting the earth solid.

“Six for hell.” He stabbed the shovel into the ground and took up the flat rock he’d uncovered earlier, and with another stone, he etched the sacred symbol onto it, then lowered it atop the mound of black dirt.

A crow cawed, and then another. Starbiter looked up to the trees over head. A murder of crows had arrived. A procession of mourners perhaps, he mused. He counted them, one by one, then acknowledged the truth of it.

“Seven for the devil, his own self.”

Guy Starbiter brushed off his hands and smiled grimly before beginning the long trek out through the forest to his awaiting Opel Kapitän. Within an hour, he was back to civilization, pulling his saloon sedan into the rundown roadhouse at Bishop’s Cross.

He took a deep breath and took out his cell phone. No bars. He cursed, then steeled himself and made for the door beneath the flickering neon sign that read “Beherit Club“.

He approached the bar, eyes intent on the patrons scattered throughout. He ordered a whisky neat, top shelf, and lit a cigarette nervously.

“Pay phone?” he asked.

“Sure,” the bartender replied, pointing toward the bathrooms. There it stood, mounted between the doors to the men’s and women’s lavatories, like some sort of ancient relic from a long lost era.

Starbiter dialed the number by heart and put his back to the wall. All eyes were on him. As he waited for someone to answer he began to count them. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Sev—

Caliburn House.

“Thea?” he muttered, shaken.

“Yes, this is she, who…” Alethea Hill paused for a moment. “Guy, is that you?” she said. “You sound horrible.”

“Tell Landon,” Starbiter said, lowering his voice to a whisper, “Es tut mir leid.”

“What?”

“Just tell him, bitte.” Starbiter returned the handset to its cradle and slouched toward the bar. The magician downed his whisky and leaned there, eyes closed, that damnable nursery rhyme coursing through his brain.

“Another, Herr Starbiter?”

The magician looked up from his empty glass, startled. The bartender smiled as the patrons all rose from their seats.

“I am number eight,” the bartender said.

Dann bin ich neun, scheint es,” Starbiter replied.

Nein, der Hexer” the bartender said. “Du bist die Nummer eins.”

to be continued…

Artistically Speaking

Posted in All Hallows Read, Horror, Magick by Trial & Error, Occult Detectives on October 2, 2018 by Occult Detective

art100218

Occultober is in full swing. Today we honor the births of two legendary figures in the occult world — Jack Parsons — Thelemite, author, and co-founder of Jet Propulsion Laboratory — and Arthur Edward Waite, author and occultist best known for the Rider-Waite Tarot.

I had several important projects to work on this morning.

First off, I tackled the writing of the backcover copy for a forthcoming Landon Connors novella I co-wrote with Greg Mitchell, then followed that up with finalizing the cover and back cover art and producing the fifth (above right) of five illustrations that will grace the interior. Greg is hard at work formatting the text and getting it ready for release. Stay tuned for more details on that front.

Next, I worked for a bit on my new review column that will begin appearing at Paint Monk Library. Here in the coming weeks I’ll be taking over Wally’s Saturday Night Shivers, reviewing horror comics for what is fast becoming the premiere review site on the internet.

I have been reviewing issues of Conan the Barbarian as a fill-in for Paint Monk’s “Countdown to Conan” for the past couple of months and it’s been a blast. I’m thrilled that Wally thought enough of my work to offer me a weekly column.

Finally, I had a chance to work on the cover art (above left) for my son Connor’s next release, Word Hollow. We have spent the last couple of months editing the book. Now all that’s left is formatting the text and getting it uploaded and printed. We hope to have it all wrapped up and ready for purchase by Hallowe’en.

I was really proud of his first work, Jonny Spencer and the Black Lich of Ashrock Earth, but Word Hollow is a much more mature effort. He was a born storyteller and it has been a thrill to watch him hone his craft. He’s already something special. I can hardly wait to see where his incredible talents take him and he continues to grow as an artist.

 

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