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Poems

The Monster, Malgremir

In this Gothic, fairy tale poem, a monster, Malgremir, wakes from an enchanted slumber and begins slaying children one snowy Christmas eve.  Over the years, the monster ruins the small town.

The church organist, Horace Anderson, attempts to stop the monster, and his journeys lead him to a desert labyrinth where he is met with a burning brazier and a strange surprise.

The rhyme scheme is abab.

IMG_9330 (1)
This is a brazier I made from rebar, steel, and expanded metal that I cut up then welded back together.  It works very well, puts out a lot of heat and light, and was very popular with friends and neighbors.  In “The Monster, Malgremir”, Horace Anderson finds a brazier that was inspired by this one.  I built the brazier during the last week of November in 2018.  Photo: December 6th, 2018.  The poem was written in a single day, my first day of writing in Mexico, December 17th, 2018.


The Old Railroad Track

An old railroad track arches over a dark, cold river
Whose banks are enveloped in glittering white snow.
A rumbling, screeching train barrels forth; the tracks shiver;
The falling flakes are illuminated in the headlight’s brash glow,
Sparkling, glistering for an instant, then moonlit and dim again.
The light catches the river, whose eddies spangle in yellow light,
Then the water, too, is cast back into darkness.
The locomotive plows on, its cattleguard hurling snow in its flight,
Leaving the old, arching track quiet once more, muffled and sparkless.
And still the river ripples unflaggingly on, rounding stones, carving banks.
The creaking pines stand still and portentous.
There then stirs a creature with ram’s horns and silvered flanks,
With scarlet eyes lambent in ursine skull, white and horrendous,
With muscular arms ’neath its glossy pelt,
And a long fleecéd tail finishing in the form of a spade.
That creature lugs itself from where it dwelt,
Long dreaming and woolgathering and artfully stayed,
Thrall to a woven spell, one gathered and cast in times forgotten and past,
By a profound sorcerer who fathomed that creature’s dark power.
And through seasons beginning and seasons last,
Age to age, plot to plot, sifting sands, hour upon hour,
The evil lay dormant. Time destroyed the mage.
But the spell remained, growing weaker as mountains grew,
Lessening in strength as the earth did age,
While the restful creature struggled with dreamy thews
And cloudy powers ’gainst that dwindling charm,
Until on the night before Christmas, when the town was aslumber,
The ancient abomination stirred and raised its arm.
Then its lucent, igneous eyes blazed, and it stood in wonder
To look about the snow-swept forest and peaceful star-washed night.

A Christmas Surprise

In the valley, white smoke billows sleepily from chimneys;
Snow lies pleasantly banked on quiet street corners.
Streetlamps cast their lemony glow on leafless, slim trees.
The quiet churchyard with its stones is absent mourners.
And as pearly clouds scud across the crescent mooned sky,
All is calm, all is bright.
Atop a hill stands a home in whose yard a quivering, lone leaf
Trembles in the cold night’s breeze, fixed by its thin stem
To an icy branch. Blustered and gusted in autumn’s withering fief,
And, having borne with silent fortitude the rain and wind,
The dead brown leaf at last releases its clinging grip.
The leaf floats past a lightless window, shaded by heavy sash,
On whose far side sleeps a child, fair of hair, soft of lip,
With dreams of peppermint, gifts, and seasonal Christmas hash.
A cloud sails away from the moon’s sickle shape;
Soft moonbeams filter onto the glittering snow,
As the hellish creature, prowling like some eerie ape,
Steals across the snowy lawn to the lulled child’s window.
And there, with its incandescent eyes shining redly,
It raises the unfastened glass, creeps into the room,
And with movements soft, practiced, and deadly,
Metes out to the sleeping child his untimely doom.
This ancient evil leaves only bones and blood
From its foul feast: pelvis and femur, ribs and skull.
That child, that dream-full spark, is permuted to an eternity of mud:
Far too calm, far too constant, far too distant, far too dull.
Then as the monster entered, so the monster leaves.
Thus it is that on the morning of gleeful anticipation,
The soul that is happy becomes the soul that grieves,
As Mother and Father scream for their lost creation.

The Monster in the Cathedral

It is a cold, sunny morning, remarkable for its shining snow.
Parishioners pass the church’s crooked wrought-iron fence,
Past the gravestones which a child, yesterday, dipped below,
And through the heavy, wooden double-doors of the entrance.
Sunlight filters through the cathedral’s stained glass,
Tinting pews and aisle in colored light thick with dust.
A polished family of four, dressed smartly for mass,
Amble down the aisle in pacific, heavenly trust.
There is a brown-haired boy and a brunette girl,
And it is the boy, who, peering amongst the rafters and eaves,
Sees hanging, its arms ’round its chest in batlike curl
And warily alert of the oppugnant congregation it perceives,
That self-same creature whose dark deeds blasted the town,
And threw its calm citizens into fiery, disconsolate animosity.
“There!” cries the boy, “Look there! Hanging upside-down!
There’s a beast! It’s some kind of monstrosity!”
And his sister, looking upward, screams at the sight,
For there is the creature, tense at being seen,
Now suddenly scuttling in furious, fearful flight
Across the nave’s ceiling, as, in one voice, the two children scream.
Strange it is to see, however, that the confused parents
See nothing of the fell creature that climbs on the ceiling
And so they hush their children with hisses and unfair comments,
Til other children take up the cry. They also see the monster.
The children all gesture, point, and howl,
But the parents see an empty nave, rafters, eaves, balusters,
Nothing that skitters, scuttles, or moves. Not a thing that prowls.
And, looking at the curious scene, of many children screaming,
And of many blank-faced parents searching with their eyes and ears,
The church’s organist, his hands full of sheet music, wonders what he’s seeing.
This man, Mr. Horace Anderson, a bespectacled, retiring gentleman far gone in years,
Considers a moment the strange spectacle, watching with some inkling,
And looks in vain toward the ceiling to find a creature there.
But, like other adults, he sees nothing, yet he sets himself to thinking,
As the creature passes out the nave, towards its belfry lair.

An Ancient Tome

Mr. Anderson, driving home, takes a bridge over a cold dark river,
Whose banks are enveloped in glittering white snow.
Plunged in deep consideration of an antique scrivener,
Mr. Anderson circles up an icy mountain to his home on a windswept, wet plateau,
While the details of an elusive passage frustrate Mr. Anderson’s recall.
Thus it is with furrowed brow that he pulls into his drive
enters his house, and makes for the books near the wall.
Fingering each spine, he mutters and feels his mind revive
As he pulls a book off the shelf and sweeps cobwebs from its cover.
He blows dust off its pale and tattered binding,
turns its brittle yellow pages, and there discovers
the fell description of a child-eating thing,
cast into somnolence by an itinerant wizard
then left to rot in a solemn forest uncolonized by man,
through seasons of sweltering sun and gelid blizzards.
This arcane chronicle details how the child-eating thing
Was invisible to adults but well-seen by children.
The text tells how the evil slept inverted in lofty places, wherever it could cling,
And how, when it devoured a child, it left but bones and patches of skin.
Mr. Anderson read on into the bitter night,
His brow furrowed, and his lips drawn tight and severe.
Behind the twisted yellow moon, stars lay spangled with dull, cold light.
Then Mr. Anderson starts suddenly as he learns the monster’s hateful name, Malgremir.

Seven Years Later

Seven years later, the quaint town lies abandoned.
Centipedes crawl fearlessly on homes’ stairs; mice inhabit dining rooms.
The cathedral, and particularly the belfry, is well shunned.
In the churchyard, in the cracks of the headstones, are dandelion blooms.
The cemetery gates swing creakily; a gentle wind rustles peeling paint;
The church door’s hinges are broken; the great Gothic door lies ajar and crooked.
Inside, mold grows behind a dusty portraiture of a haloed saint,
While the nave appears washed in hues of rose and blood and red,
For of the stained glass panes only the red remain unbroken.
The pews are covered in a thick layer of dust,
In which an occasional, devilish footprint is imprinted as a token
Of Malgremir, who remains in the belfry as still and as silent as a bust.
Only his brilliant eyes, vivid crimson, are visible in the darkness.
Malgremir hangs batlike from a rafter in the darkest, most shadowed corner.
His mind is as patient as a serpent’s, his behavior as indefatigable as a shark’s address.
Since that first Christmas night, he has made many more mourners
From the families of the staid and respectable parishioners.
He brought the strongest men limitless grief as their children were devoured,
And he bore comfortless heartbreak to loving mothers who fell, as wailing petitioners,
To their knees, beseeching mercy from that almighty heavenly power.
Searches for the monster were inaugurated, but they proved fruitless.
Children were consulted, and they pointed, quavering, at the ghastly thing.
Men fired guns at the points the children marked, their efforts bootless.
Malgremir could not be harmed by steel, lead, or matter made for firing.
Prayers were said against the creature, but they were ineffectual.
A Voodoo priestess was brought from the bayous south of New Orleans.
She brought garlic and woundwort, conducted exorcisms oral and textual.
Her incantations were for naught. That night, during her dreams,
A girl with a kind nature and gentle hand was consumed by Malgremir.
The townspeople sent the priestess away. The church was abandoned; still the wrongs kept on.
Children saw the monster in the night; street jokes grew black with fear.
More children were devoured; men mourned; women wept on.
School classes were cancelled, and the city council voted to desert.
Malgremir, placidly vicious, made a last raid, drinking drop by drop,
The lifeblood of sons and daughters, cracking and sucking their bones, savoring their hurt,
Until the townspeople vacated, and the demon-storm did stop.

The Labyrinth

Mr. Anderson left town in the fifth year of Malgremir’s ascendancy.
The erudite man left not for evasion, but to learn the solution to this fey riddle,
Searching far for a missive that would, for Malgremir, signal death’s embassy.
Long studied Anderson the lore housed in the fabled Alexandrian Library and the Bam Citadel,
But therein he found only hints and clues, trifling gestures as to the secret’s key.
Traveled he thence to the Beineke library of rare books and singular scripts.
Discovering there, at most, vague descriptions and veiled references to the monstrosity—
Yet also mention of a secret library whose doors open only during a total lunar eclipse.
A weathered volume, whose yellow parchment was delicate and cracking,
Told of doors in a Badakshan mountain that were fastened by a genius of the Dark Age
And which led a doughty traveler into an antique wasteland beyond all mapping.
The library, called Maktaba Ghazni al-Khan, lay at a desert’s edge,
And held within its labyrinthine shelves the scrolls of necromancy and power
That did at one time summon djinni, influence sprites, and banish Shayṭān.
And in the center of the Maktaba’s labyrinth was a glass for counting the hour;
Through its glass globes poured the very measurement of Time, in form of falling sand.
Deep study takes time. Seven years had passed since the monster’s ascendancy,
And again Mr. Anderson set out, now from Yale, now to Afghanistan,
For the matter that would snuff the fell creature’s lambency,
And restore fairness and order to the bedeviled land.
From Kabul he traveled the Hindu Kush road through cracking Soviet tunnels;
Thence from Fayzabad, Mr. Anderson set out by donkey,
With a guide promising to take him but halfway, to where the river funnels
Out past the old capital of Wakhan, Qila-e Panj, deep in the Wakhan Valley.
When the guide left Mr. Anderson, he had been traveling for a week.
He was tired, but he felt that his journey had barely begun.
He looked out of his spectacles, down his long nose, and he rubbed his cheek,
Taking in his surroundings. Tall, craggy mountains blotted out the sun.
The gorge that he was left in held nothing but sparse vegetation,
And the way forward appeared both trackless and treacherous.
He found himself longing for his music, his pleasant church, his former station,
And he had no desire to continue upon a path so adventurous.
Mr. Anderson made a few notes in his daily diary, then he laid out his bedroll and slept.
The stars wheeled magnificently above him; a snow leopard peered down on him,
While through the jagged peaks, the Persian wind galloped and swept,
And Mr. Anderson dreamt of caravanserai and carpets, shorn and silken.
In the morning, the sun illuminated the valley, and Mr. Anderson set forth.
He traveled for four nights through chancy mountain passes,
His faith in the book oft-times wavering, his compass steering him further north,
Until in the midst of his dangerous isolation, he came upon weirdly formed crevasses,
Whose lines of cleavage seemed symbolic or runic in nature,
As if fashioned by man rather than nature, and Mr. Anderson, studying the stone,
Noted how the shape of an arcade appeared within the granite architecture,
And that in the stony portal’s area there was a nearly seamless fault, thin as a crack in bone.
Here Mr. Anderson consulted his almanac, reassured himself of the upcoming syzygy,
And did then encamp before the fractured crag. There he remained for six nights.
On the seventh night, the lunar eclipse induced the nearby mountain creek to froth fizzily
And queer characters to luminesce in the adamant stone in tints of radiant blueish-white.
The fracture in the cloven stone did shine with that same color,
While strange shapes as of astrolabes, sextants, gnomonic sundials, and stars appeared.
Mr. Anderson—caught between exhilaration, hope, and dolor—
Observed the glow strengthen into an aura. And the night grew weird.
A flash of light. A purple fire. All at once, a door materialized.
Taking his water and his pack, Mr. Anderson stepped through the door,
And he found himself, quite suddenly, with the sun blinding his eyes,
For he was on reddish desert stone, swept as flat and clean as a palace floor.
Around him, in all directions, was a labyrinth of pathlessness.
There were no mountains to guide his way, no points of any kind.
The place was bleak and flat, dry and severe, wrathful and boundless.
Yet the learning from the Beineke manuscript sprang to his mind,
For its contents directed the traveler due west, two hundred-seventy degrees,
Until, it said, one meets “the fire in the desert”.
Ancient texts being mistily allusive by nature, Mr. Anderson had not fretted,
But now he wondered if greater consideration would have been wise.
But, he thought, it was not a mistake to be greatly regretted,
There being no other texts, to his knowledge, on the subject anyway.
So to the place where there was fire in the desert he bound himself,
Adjusting his pack’s straps, tightening his belt, setting out on his way,
And wondering, with black humor, of the feasibility of diagnosing insanity in oneself.
The thought preoccupied him as the miles turned to leagues under his feet,
And there was no change to the dullish red landscape
And only the compass’ needle to guide him as he crossed this desert sheet,
For he felt that certainly no other explorer could have survived this barren land, this plane shape,
For had another explorer gone but a degree astray in any direction,
Then assuredly death would have risen to meet them.
The wayward traveler would have, step-by-step, separated further from the connection
Until in the name of starvation or thirst, Death would greet them.
Yet Mr. Anderson found himself wondering if the desert were also a labyrinth for the mind,
Whether he truly was insane, for who had heard of such travelers, such places?
And he wondered how to test his insanity, for if the mind were cracked and brined,
How then to know the sanest of its many faces?
Doggedly, and by dint, Mr. Anderson continued onward.
The desert floor remained as flat as a chessboard, and he was its only wanderer.
The sky above was as blue as the sea, and the land as red as dried blood upon a sword.
For three days did Mr. Anderson continue on this path, as worried a ponderer
As ever there has been, nearly freezing in the desert night, doubting his sanity by day,
Until, at last, on that flat and featureless horizon that ringed ’round him,
There appeared to be a spark flickering in the distance.
Another day passed, and Mr. Anderson kept onwards, hopes now slim,
For his water had been used, and of more there was not a trace.
But the spark in the distance grew in size as he drew near,
Until he found himself standing before a hanging fire basket made of steel.
The fire basket hung from a chain that was supported by three legs welded to a sphere.
Inside the basket were logs that burned but did not diminish, crack, or peel.
Mr. Anderson, reaching out to warm his hand upon the flame,
And looking around the desert in some confusion and no little concern,
Then saw the sand beneath the brazier suddenly shape itself into a sandy lane.
On either side of this new path and at regular intervals torches did burn,
And so, ducking his head beneath the fire in the desert, Mr. Anderson descended.
The path was narrow, soft, and mellow, and it soon gave away to a spiral staircase made of sand.
The recessed sconces lit the vertical passage with soft, flickering light, and, as he wended,
he saw that, at the foot of the stairs, the shaft did expand.
When he reached the bottom of the sand-stair, Mr. Anderson found himself in a chamber.
The walls, ceiling, and floor were constructed entirely of sand,
And the room appeared to be round like a wheel laid upon its side.
A single shelf, stocked with ancient books, circled the room like a band,
And, at the center of the room stood another hanging fire basket, six feet tall, two feet wide.
Of the fabled hourglass of time there was no trace,
So Mr. Anderson wondered if there were yet more secrets within the labyrinth,
And whether those secrets held the hourglass in a hidden space.
There was, too, in the room, a kind of plinth,
And upon that plinth stood an unmelting block of ice.
The place held the mysterious air of an enigma;
Thus Mr. Anderson, feeling strange forces at work, was at the books in a trice,
Finding one leathery tome with the inscription, Mælgrymyr, beneath a lunate sigma—
Or perhaps a crescent moon—and, opening the book,
The learned scholar saw an illustration of that thing the children had limned.
As Mr. Anderson took a steady and careful look,
A grain of sand, then another, fell from the ceiling onto the open volume.
Rapidly then did he scan that venerable text for clues on how to slay the beast,
As his mind, able in reckoning, leapt at once to the affairs as they had come to pass:
That, surrounded by fire and ice and texts, he himself was in Time’s frothy yeast,
The room was but a chamber, a globe in Time’s hourglass,
And as the hidden library slowly disintegrated,
Mr. Anderson felt his reasoning fragment,
And the ice, dripping water, did at that time ablate
While the fire did flicker, sputter, and stagnate.
As Mr. Anderson gained more knowledge, the labyrinth crumbled.
Sand poured from the ceiling, onto the book, as Mr. Anderson lifted it vertically to read,
And, reading still, he made for the sandy staircase, reading as he stumbled.
Until at last, at the start of a paragraph, he saw the Latin lead,

“Ab extra, ab initio, ad astra.  The Monster, Mælgrymyr, having been called thusly, is not, in fact, named Mælgrymyr, and has only been so denominated by monks of the Apostolic order who follow His footsteps in the heavenly name of the Divine, and by servants of the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him, and by those laypeople who speak of the Monster and know It by Its fiendish work. The true name of Mælgrymyr is a closely guarded secret, and it is thanks to anonymous, esoteric scholars—whose sedulous work and whose study of the arcane glyphs and ciphers found carved into long-buried ruins—that we of the Brotherhood at last learnt the true name of the Beast.

As Mr. Anderson read on, the sandy chamber, already deteriorating,
Gave way faster and faster, ’til he wondered how much time had elapsed.

Scholars now know the true name of the Beast, which, by saying its name, will spell the end of the Beast, and bring about Its sudden and immediate end. The Beast’s name is ‘Horace Anderson’.  Ab extra, ab initio, ad astra.”

“Horace Anderson!” he said, aghast, his frisson of horror accelerating,
Then the ice evaporated, the fire extinguished, and the chamber of sand collapsed.

Fin.

Categories
Poems

Poems from February!

In case you missed any, here are my February poems! Send them to your friends!

February
“February” from Les Très Riches Heures du doc Berry, the most famous and possibly the best surviving example of manuscript illumination in the late phase of the International Gothic style.

The Color Yellow Hosts a Picnic
Yellow was feeling sunny,
Blue was feeling blue,
And although Red was being quarrelsome,
Yellow told him to come too,
To a midday picnic party
In a field beside a wood,
One day when the sun was shining
And the temperature felt good.

Well, Blue asked his two neighbors,
The colors Purple and Green,
If they would like to come too,
To the pleasant picnic on the green.
Although Purple felt too aristocratic
To make an appearance there,
Green accepted quickly,
Because she loves the clean, fresh air.

Orange was feeling warm,
Toasting his feet before the fire,
When the invitation came to him,
To join the other colors on the shire.
But he was feeling too contented
In his old, ancestral home,
Wearing his pumpkin-colored robe,
And reading from a pleasant tome.

So Orange and Purple, they stayed in,
But the others joined Yellow that day,
On an afternoon when the warm wind
Carried the fragrances of dirt and hay.
They spread out a checkered blanket,
Which was checked with red and white,
And Yellow said the blanket made her think
Of her friend who reflected beams of light.

At that, impetuous Red nodded and said,
How he and White had once had a drink,
And Red said that his passion had led
Them to produce the color known as Pink!
Well, the other colors blushed to hear this,
But Red was well known for his lack of tact,
So they each continued in their way on that sunny day,
And let every color be as is their nature to act.

Two Young Lovers
There once were two young lovers
Who disappeared each night under covers
They’d reappear at the dawn
With all the night gone
And wonder whether she’d be a mother.

Rebel Pizzanistas
There once were some rebel Pizzanistas
Who were as zealous as the Sandinistas
These rebels put their pepperoni instead
On the underside of the bread,
And called themselves pizza artistas!

The Green Iguana
There once was a green iguana
Who loved to smoke marijuana
When he smiled his lips curled,
When he smoked the smoke furled,
And he lived in a state of nirvana.

And Tim was Left All Orange
Tim the Tiger was born at the zoo,
With a trait that caused a hullabaloo:
When the cat rubbed against his water trough,
Every one of his stripes fell off!
And the baby tiger was left all orange.

The stripes lay like leaves on the ground,
Fluttering in the wind, with rustling sounds.
So the zoo director said to glue the stripes back on,
In the depths of night, before the dawn,
So the baby tiger wouldn’t be all orange.

Well the night that night was a deep, dark black,
When the keepers re-adhered the stripes to Tim’s back.
And the baby cub thought it a very fine game,
Because they petted and stroked him and said his name.
For the baby tiger never knew that he was all orange.

So the keepers worked by Orion’s dull shine,
And, finishing, found they’d made an odd design!
For without the aid of their trusted sight,
They’d glued the stripes from left to right!
And they’d left Tim’s tail completely orange.

Well the people came to the zoo next day,
And they admired the very stylish way,
Tim the Tiger seemed to stand
With his stripes in a horizontal band,
And a tail that was entirely orange.

And although the zoo director was raging mad,
The keepers they were not too sad,
For they said, “Well, if he thinks that Tim has caused a stink—
Just wait till he discovers that our penguin’s pink!”
And over time the stripes fell off, and Tim was left all orange.

And Death Walked a Few Steps Behind
Well, I walk hand-in-hand with Life,
And Death walks a few steps behind,
And wherever I go, and wherever I lead,
Death is sure to follow.
So I had a few words a few years ago,
With that reaper known as Death.
I said, “So long as you’re coming wherever I go,
I’ll go wherever I want.”
He said in reply, “That’s a very fine view,
Just keep in mind, my friend:
When your time comes,
I’ll take you away,
You cannot run too far or too fast.”
So I nodded and considered,
And I went on my way.
And Death walked a few steps behind.

The Ghastly but True Secrets of Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
Madame Tussauds has kept a revolting secret for years—
They harvest their wax from children’s ears!
Now, I’m sorry if the truth has jellied your knees.
It’s disgusting, I know.
But that is why Madame Tussaud’s must go
To such lengths to say their wax comes from bees!

Now, the waxman will sneak into a child’s room,
With a silver speculum and a small spoon,
While the child lies deep in sweet dreams.
This waxman will creep very near,
Insert the instrument deep in the ear,
Then spoon the wax out as if it were cream!

When Tussauds first get the wax,
It is as gold-brown as flax,
And they must store it well out of the light.
So they hide it deep in dark caves,
And far underground in fake graves,
So the wax stays in endless night!

And by the time Tussauds brings the wax out,
It has become as treacly as grout,
And they must pour it into enormous glass jars.
Here the stuff sits,
As wax sculptors spoon out small bits
To make their models of stars!

The Bright Butterfly
There once was a bright butterfly,
Who made cheerful the air of the sky,
Three wicked children of kings,
Tore off its fair wings,
Though not even they could ever say why.

The Pennsylvanian-Era Pig
There once was an archaeological dig
On which they found a Pennsylvanian pig
They said How bizarre!
This pig is too early by far!
So they baked it and ate it with figs!

The Violent Boy
There once was a violent boy
Who thought the world was only his toy
He began every fight,
And made girls weep from his spite,
And he grew into an old man with no joy.

The Monster at the Party
A fine party was thrown at the Williams’ home,
And the guests they all wore their best.
Lily had come with her hair in a bun,
A tennis bracelet, and a brooch at her breast.
And Cindy’s diamonds did shine,
While her emeralds looked fine,
And the gentlemen wore cuff links and vests.
But of all the attendees who came,
One was not quite the same—
He stood out from the rest of the crowd.
He wore a suit (that is true),
And he had polished his shoes—
But it wasn’t his clothes that stood out…
He was a good nine feet tall,
And nearly as wide as the hall…
With a face like a tyrannosaur!
He was mottled and scaly,
His white eyes glimmered palely,
And on his sharp teeth were remnants of gore!

Mrs. Williams she said,
“Now I may be misled…”
(Here she gave her husband a forward shove)
“But you should tell him, my love,
That although we’re delighted,
This fellow has not been invited,
And this party is just not for him.
And if he’s aggrieved,
Well, firmly ask him to leave,
And tell him we’re sorry, but there’s been a mistake.”

So Mr. Williams approached the stranger and said,
“Good evening, my name is Fred,
But then Fred stopped himself there…
Because the monster gave a menacing glare,
And Fred’s heart dropped in his chest for a mile
Before he steadied himself and put on a diffident smile.
“Ahem! My friend!” Fred began again,
As he puffed his chest and sucked his gut in,
“Well, I see that you have six arms!
And that’s just one of your charms—
For at the end of your arms there are claws,
And razor sharp teeth in your crocodile jaws!”
At that the monster gave a broad grin,
That creased his pebbly skin.
Then the monster looked through his monocle,
That made his eye seem maniacal,
And he took his top hat off his head.
And wouldn’t you know it,
But there were two antennae and so it,
Seemed he had already heard everything that Mrs. Williams had said.

The monster said, “I hope you won’t fret,
If I’m not ready to leave just quite yet,
Because the reason I’ve come,
Is to feast upon some
Of the guests whom I have just met!”

Then the monster flexed his great chest,
And the muscles burst out of his vest
Revealing skin that was like a dinosaur’s!
There was screaming and wailing amidst his terrible roar,
As the monster broke from his formal wear,
He commenced to rip and to tear
The doors from the walls
The ceilings and halls,
And to destroy everything that was in sight
He ate up Mrs. Williams,
And her diamonds worth millions,
And then he disappeared into the night.

When the dust cleared from the raid
And all the guests stood afraid
One man stood up and began to proclaim,
“Well, Mrs. Williams she was a fine host,
And so I propose a fine toast,
Of her finest and Frenchest champagne!”

And so the glasses were raised
And the revelers continued on in their ways,
Drinking and dancing that night.
For it’s better to stay up,
Through the small hours and sup,
Than to try to sleep while you’re frozen with fright!

I’m Sick Today
I’m sick today, my throat is red;
I’m sick today, I’ll stay in bed.
My body’s sore, I don’t feel right
I sweated through the endless night.
I’m sick today, I think I’ll die.
I’m sick today, this is goodbye.
I feel all achey, my head’s not straight.
My body’s stopped, my brain is late.
Thanks for the Get Wells and your smiling face;
I need no soup; I’m a hopeless case.
Thank heaven for my pillow, and thank heaven for bed,
I’ll lay in mine until I am dead.
Then you can put me in the coffin,
And lower me down,
My friends will weep,
When I’m in the ground
Where I’ll be amongst the spiders and ticks,
The worms and beetles and… Oh! I am sick.
Bleh.

The Pied Piper of Hamlin
There once was a man with a pipe
With pants of a kaleidoscope type
When the mayor reneged
He played a cruel gigue
And left the townsfolk to gripe.

Two Adventurous Friends
There once were two young friends
To whom adventure did always attend,
They lived a wild life,
Walked the edge of a knife,
And hoped the days would never end.

War
Shine, shine oh bitter light
Upon the soldier battle-bright
Through rocket’s array
And ghastly fray
Thy light the tracery of our night.

The Disappearance of a Cat
Red curtains billowed open for that cat;
he waltzed onto the hardwood, so loaded,
his mouth slightly ajar, green eyes sparkling,
luring us into his act—a spider
deftly beckoning, weaving to music
of his own creation, dreamy and gold.

A costume hallucinogenic and gold,
he broke out with a well hung air, that cat
mortified the wild crowds, overloaded
as we were with his glitter and sparkling
hair. He played implications of Spider
and Cherry Wolves, lost in his own music…

*****

Is it madness? the press asked, Your music?
Tell us, how do the things you touch turn gold?
He shrugged, slunk away like a peevish cat,
but turned, It’s all in how you get loaded—
swig the right juice, you’ll be loved, sparkling;
if not, you’ll be trite, clichéd, a spider.

And there’s nothing so lethal as spiders,
save snakes, executives, and flat music-
but every new enigma is choice gold.
We all dug his edgy airs, his cool-cat
Oscar Wilde imitations, stacked and loaded
as they were in packages, all sparkling

and convenient, quickly shipped to sparkling
masses and to the corporate spiders.
And everyone bought his life, his music,
his t-shirt. His album went silver, gold,
platinum; Rolling Stone begged for that cat
to pose, provocative and well loaded.

Vulgar, he said.  Not a chance.  But, loaded
and stoned, his agent dragged him in, sparkling
as wine, and spread him out on a spider
divan with eight purple arms, swank music
regaling him throughout. And royal gold
sashes were draped across the kingly cat.

*****

One day he found nothing more in music-
each grain of gold vanished, nothing sparkling
left. And he disappeared with it, that cat.

A Black Poem
There are many things that go bump in the night:
Monsters and coal stoves can cause us some fright.
There are creaky old floors and loose attic fans,
Leaves in the wind, and tumbling garbage cans.
But sometimes you’re sleeping and a missile will roar,
Like those over England in the Second World War.
And that, my darling, is when I’ll come for you,
When the night is stygian, colored deep black and dark blue,
You’ll see, my friend, by the light of a bomb,
My grin broad and lethal, my eyes full of calm,
And I’ll crook a green finger for you to come here,
And when you reach my side, then it’s Death for you, dear.
For that is my name, my ancient job, my old trade,
I’m the one who waits by the road in the glade,
I’m the one who whispers your one and true name,
The one who ignores both your money and fame,
I’m the one to watch out for, by town or by cave,
I’m the one to spirit you along to your grave.

The Cigarettes Play Farmington
The Cigarettes were a hard core band full of righteous punks and rage,
The singer supported anarchy and sang it out on stage;
Lily was the drummer girl, a saucy lass in black,
She wore a fishnet pair of slacks, her thong rose out the back.
Jimmy was the trumpeter, always barefoot when he played,
Smoking reefers in the club and forever getting laid.
Molly was the bassist, she was a poet in her soul,
Writing chords and lyrics about Hell and money and control.

The city board of Farmington, a town conservative and straight
Booked The Cigarettes unwittingly for their Annual Harvest Fête,
When October came around the leaves turned orange and black,
The pumpkins ripened on their vines, the hay was heaped in stacks
Mrs. Trot put on a dress, her corset, stockings, and her hat,
And toodled out with Mr. Trot who was wearing his cravat.
On the way they met the Smiths who ran the local mill,
They were dressed in modest best, as humble as a hill.

The evening started very fair, with meats and fruits and pie,
There was cider in the goblets and a pretty autumn sky,
And then the band began to play, you could hear them from a mile:
A pounding drum, an ominous hum, the locals lost their smiles,
Then on the stage a screaming rage, as the singer yowled and croaked,
The sun went down, the lights came on, the fires flared and smoked!
The locals of Farmington were first transformed by fear,
And then they caught the wind of it and began to lend an ear!
“This band is fuckin rockin!” shrieked Mrs. Trot and threw the horns,
“Yeah, this is how we celebrate the reaper and the corn!”
And soon enough the town of Farmington said to Hell with our respect!
And threw themselves into a night of drink and dance and sex!
And every year thereafter… the townsfolk booked The Cigarettes!

Two Scornful Armies
Two scornful armies embrace in cataclysm
With death to grace their nihilism,
Like frosted roses on a cake
Like two hearts coupled just to break:
War’s inferno blurs in disinterest’s dulling prism.

The Architects of Espionage
The dour architects of espionage
With greedy eyes doth sabotage
Their own lightless souls
Their own kingdoms of coal
And raise in their place a palatial mirage.

A Spy
What qualities are inborn in a spy?
A treacherous hand, a furtive eye.
Men of gnomic aspirations,
Fertile libidos, splashy libations,
But most: a fool’s insistence to die.

Ray’s Home is Overgrown with Flowers
One day Ray woke to discover that plants had overgrown his home.
A tree rose through the chimney, the carpet was covered with brome,
Ivy crawled up the bricks and wound over grout,
And when Ray squeezed his toothpaste tube, roses came out!
He had to brush his teeth with a paste made of petals,
So his evergreen breath smelled of needles and nettles.
While on the bookcase, where the photographs of his parents had lain,
Were garlands of daisies, tied in tender knots in a bright daisy chain,
And in the picture frame which’d featured a Eurasian magpie,
There was now a photograph of a desert landscape full of succulents and cacti.
In the kitchen bowl where there’d been garlic and chilies,
There was now water, and, in it, red and white Santa Cruz lilies!
When Ray opened the refrigerator door,
He discovered its chamber was abundant with bright slipperwort.
And when Ray walked into his once plainly furnished living room,
He found it overflowing with fungi, a forest of mushrooms!
All throughout his home, wherever he went, wherever he stood,
Ray was surrounded by orchids, azaleas, wisteria and wormwood!
But the most peculiar thing of all, was that Ray felt something in his foot,
And, looking down, he noticed that it had grown a root!
And from his fingers, there were growths of shoots and leaves
And the woody drapes that a liana weaves…
Ray suddenly felt thirsty for water, though his urge to pursue it was scant,
And with a final green look at the verdurous world, Ray turned into a plant!

February 29th, the Leap Year Poem
Here it comes, there it goes, then sleeps for four years: the leap year doze!
That’s the spirit, that’s the way, it’s February twenty-ninth today!
Hidden and swaddled between the twenty-eighth and first,
Seen at once as blessing at times as a curse, as the best birthday and also the worst.

Seasons come and seasons go, and every year brings spring,
But careless of what the groundhog sees (and deaf to notes the robin sings)
Is that uncommon leap year, whose date is uncommon and quite rare,
But also necessary to keep our calendars out of error!

Now to think of strange consequences of this very fleeting day,
I’ll give a quaint example of two twin girls, Cher and May.
Now Cher was born just minutes before midnight on the 28th,
While May was born the 29th, that transient day, that wraith.
It was a mere ten minutes between the times that they were alive,
But because of February 29th, Cher was turning twenty, while May was turning five!

The Captain’s Company
Mountains scarred the dusk sky as the wain creaked along the ridges, grit and dust billowing beneath, while a man in a cotton jerkin sat upon a thwart leading a train of horses with loose reins through scores of leagues, through the grey and brown livery of the land.

Atop his wooden cart burned a lit brazier expectorating malodorous white smoke, and the brazier burned as its fuel the litter and leavings of the dross of humanity. Lying acrossways upon that brazier skewered through with a stick was the head of a blackened doe, the sharp stick having been passed through its ears, and the head all cooked until the flesh was carbonized and the driver, that partisan of violence and ciphers, dragged behind his wagon by a hawser a monstrous burin which graved upon the land a deep trail so that his track could be traced. And when the burin became stuck upon stones buried in the sediment, he only beat the horses carelessly, as thoughtlessly as if he’d learnt abuse by rote.

And there came after him a ragged lieutenant whose good eye was rimed by cataracts, and whose poor one was covered by a patch encrusted by mucus and blood, and there was behind them their crew slogging with horses through that calyx, that whorl of a valley surrounded upon by all sides mountains and the dust. There existed no liquid agent to slake any thirst, so the horses had foamed, and the limping animals had all dried of their lather some long time past. Yet the men continued to beat them, until one animal fell, and the men not even considering the future or perhaps making incongruous concessions to ritual or fortune or deity did not pause to butcher the bony beast, only left it exposed. When the men were some leagues further on, the moon lay in a crescent like the cushion of a lackadaisical, bohemian artist, and the horse was lost from sight. The men pitched their tents at the foot of the mountain, and they pulled from their pockets specie of gold and silver and muttering passed them about to study the faces and obscure origins of their dead makers.

When the sun rose in the morning, the lieutenant set down a dense sun dial carved of jasper, and aligning the gnomon with true north calculated the time, while the leader of that crew, having apathetically discarded both spit and the head during times previous, measured the altitude of the mountain with an iron sextant which he wore around his neck upon a lanyard. There was on that morning a man who would not rise, for he was sick with dehydration, and the lieutenant saying, So see this man’s true color amid this desiccant! did in fact remove from that man both his hands as an attainder, and burning the flesh from them, scraped passively the cartilage and muscle while he rode as a man is wont to whittle a stick, and the blind lieutenant was left with the bony remains of two hands that afternoon as the company passed up the mountains. When the men passed near a steep ravine, the lieutenant cast the bony hands into the gorge, and the men continued traveling. They turned a hairpin corner, found a spring of water was issuing forth from the granite, and the leader of them all put his lips and tongue to the wet wall in a kiss, and he sucked. When it was the last man’s turn to drink, he made haste despite his thirst, for the men were already riding further along the steep path, and in such circumstance he pressed his lips to the vadose wall which smacked of calcite and stone, and he drank.

At last the company reached the mountain’s peak, and they bivouacked in a fissure in the rock, without a fire that night, for their strength lay in their secrecy, and they woke before dawn, and by the time the sun rose they had descended down the mountain a quarter of its height.

The town below lay in a bed of silica, agate, yuccas, and aloe, and there was in it only one street and the leader of that company spit forward upon his horses, and he beat their flanks with a tawse riddled with glass shards. There were upon the horses’ flanks the scars of many beatings, and the animals screamed beneath that taxing thong. The burin acted now as an anchor by which to keep the animals from stumbling down the hill, for the heavy cart that the captain sat upon threatened at all times to overtake the animals from behind and to run them down, and so it would have if that great implement were not being dragged behind. The cart was loaded with the tools of miners: dynamite, powder, torches, picks, mattocks; and the weapons of fell armies: rifles, revolvers, grenades, machetes, bullets, shells, and even a chipped scimitar from God knows where. The town which lay at the foot of the mountain had by now onlookers filtering into the streets, and upon seeing the company in the mountains descending appointed a manciple to coordinate weapons and to revet the bank. A townsman glassed the party with binoculars, observing in that gruesome congress its cynosure and the wagon that he sat upon, and drawing his hand upon whiskers more salt than pepper, remarked, If that ain’t Dylan’s gang, I’m hanged from a honey locust.  And indeed as Dylan’s gang approached, the desert town assumed a sepulchral air, as the men in the town barricaded themselves inside the hastily fortified bank: a bolus of eyes peering around pillars and single shot barrels steadied upon countertops, muzzles aimed toward the bank’s locked door.

At the edge of the town, Dylan halted the men with a raised hand, and a company man unhitched the burin from the wain. He spoke to his men in a voice rasping with effort, as if he’d lost his voice in a sickness and would never regain it, No one here is getting out alive. I am the last dynast of the devil’s family, the armature of the dynamo of chaos machines, and the cholera of men. We will hang the tellers and the bankers naked and dead by their wrists to a rafter, for it is only through displays of hegemony that we can grasp dolor and sublimate it, for in violence we express our sorrow and in violence we celebrate our sorrow! At the conclusion of such rasping, the men let out a muted, ragged cheer, and Captain Dylan opened the chest upon the wagon and the men distributed among themselves weapons of war, while the captain hung grenades from rings gusseted into his jerkin and slung rifles by their straps over his shoulders and with a cocked revolver in each hand at waist level strode into town without looking back even to see if his men followed behind him or fled, and the lieutenant grasping at sticks of dynamite, for he was an admitted poor shot what with his eyes, stuffed the dynamite into the pockets of his jacket and hefted a half full keg of powder from the trove and, stowing the barrel upon his shoulder and thus armed with the explosives and feeling inside him a desiderate for wanton cruelty, he began the walk into town

Dylan’s company walked right up the main and only street.

The wind blew a hot breeze, and there were the sounds of scuffling about, of final preparations from within the bank, and a few mutterings from Dylan’s company. Dylan himself fired the first shot when the men were still some ways off from the bank, and he shot straight through the bank’s door, then ejected the spent smoking casing, and reloaded. With a whoop, the men stormed the bank, loping and shooting, and when they drew near the entrance the snipers on the rooftops began to pick them off, but Dylan’s men howled and were indomitable, and the flimsy lock upon the bank door gave way at the second shoulder thrown into it, while from inside the rifles were fired, and more of Dylan’s men were shot down like dogs.

There was a score of men inside the bank, and all were in the end beheaded and hung from their wrists naked as the captain ordered, and the vault of the bank was blasted open, and from that trove more gold and silver bars were thrown into the coffer, and a man who had lain in hiding rose above the counter suddenly, and with a single shot he terminated the life of the lieutenant and for his efforts, the townsman was hung upside-down and naked from a rafter while a company man slit his throat with a bowie knife so that the townsman’s death, among the many others, might serve as a terrible example and cautionary tale.

There were folk screaming from rooftops, and all were ignored.

Captain Dylan shut the trunk of the chest and locking it with an iron padlock bade his men to saddle up, and they did, a new man riding to the fore in replacement of the late lieutenant, this new man with a jacket whose mantle was of fox fur and he was without teeth and in such raiment he stank of something foul and wicked, and saying only very little the men beat their horses into activity and began the journey towards a distant town, their faces to the setting sun, their shadows lying long behind.

The Funky Pizza
Two skateboarders ate a pizza pie
While switch smithing at Hollywood High.
They got switch feebles; they got nollie tres;
They got onions and tomatoes and peppers for days…

Chris was wearing black, and Lux was wearing pink,
Chris he had the piercings, and Lux he had the ink…
Chris he frontside flipped it, laid down a Muska hammer,
The cops showed up, and they hauled them to the slammer.

Well, the pizza it got lonely, it was chillin in the box,
It stood up on its crust, said, “I feel as burly as an ox!”
The pizza looked around through its pepperoni eyes,
And the folks who saw it standing up were taken by surprise!

The pizza took a handful of melted mozzarella
And styled it like the haircut of one very sick fella—
At the tip of its slice was a cheese mohawk,
And the pizza swaggered and it staggered down the L.A. block.!

The pizza gave a knuckle bump of crushed red pepper
To the homeys and the players, the pimps and high steppers!
The girls smelled its fine aroma on the September breeze,
Said, “I want all of that, without the calories!”

Well the slice kept on walkin Highland Avenue
Said, “I’ll stop and Dave and Buster’s, and there I’ll grab a brew.”
So he waltzed on in to the restaurant,
And a fellow looking down said, “This is what I want!”

Then he picked up and ate the slice of funky pizza.

Categories
Poems

The Monster at the Party

The Williams host a fine dinner party, but a monster shows up uninvited, wearing a tuxedo and monocle.

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A fine party was thrown at the Williams’ home,
And the guests they all wore their best.
Lily had come with her hair in a bun,
A tennis bracelet, and a brooch at her breast.
And Cindy’s diamonds did shine,
While her emeralds looked fine,
And the gentlemen wore cuff links and vests.
But of all the attendees who came,
One was not quite the same—
He stood out from the rest of the crowd.
He wore a suit (that is true),
And he had polished his shoes—
But it wasn’t his clothes that stood out…
He was a good nine feet tall,
And nearly as wide as the hall…
With a face like a tyrannosaur!
He was mottled and scaly,
His white eyes glimmered palely,
And on his sharp teeth were remnants of gore!

Mrs. Williams she said,
“Now I may be misled…”
(Here she gave her husband a forward shove)
“But you should tell him, my love,
That although we’re delighted,
This fellow has not been invited,
And this party is just not for him.
And if he’s aggrieved,
Well, firmly ask him to leave,
And tell him we’re sorry, but there’s been a mistake.”

So Mr. Williams approached the stranger and said,
“Good evening, my name is Fred,
But then Fred stopped himself there…
Because the monster gave a menacing glare,
And Fred’s heart dropped in his chest for a mile
Before he steadied himself and put on a diffident smile.
“Ahem! My friend!” Fred began again,
As he puffed his chest and sucked his gut in,
“Well, I see that you have six arms!
And that’s just one of your charms—
For at the end of your arms there are claws,
And razor sharp teeth in your crocodile jaws!”
At that the monster gave a broad grin,
That creased his pebbly skin.
Then the monster looked through his monocle,
That made his eye seem maniacal,
And he took his top hat off his head.
And wouldn’t you know it,
But there were two antennae and so it,
Seemed he had already heard everything that Mrs. Williams had said.

The monster said, “I hope you won’t fret,
If I’m not ready to leave just quite yet,
Because the reason I’ve come,
Is to feast upon some
Of the guests whom I have just met!”

Then the monster flexed his great chest,
And the muscles burst out of his vest
Revealing skin that was like a dinosaur’s!
There was screaming and wailing amidst his terrible roar,
As the monster broke from his formal wear,
He commenced to rip and to tear
The doors from the walls
The ceilings and halls,
And to destroy everything that was in sight
He ate up Mrs. Williams,
And her diamonds worth millions,
And then he disappeared into the night.

When the dust cleared from the raid
And all the guests stood afraid
One man stood up and began to proclaim,
“Well, Mrs. Williams she was a fine host,
And so I propose a fine toast,
Of her finest and Frenchest champagne!”

And so the glasses were raised
And the revelers continued on in their ways,
Drinking and dancing that night.
For it’s better to stay up,
Through the small hours and sup,
Than to try to sleep while you’re frozen with fright!

Categories
Stories

The Kraken

The Kraken describes the monstrous octopus-like creature and its home, and the story also tells of the dreadful voyage of a Spanish ship which was attacked by a kraken in June of 1842.

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The Mariana Trench is known as the deepest canyon in the world. It lies nearly seven miles beneath the Pacific Ocean’s surface. The canyon appears to be an enormous crack on the ocean floor, jagged in shape and lightless in color. The creatures that live along the trench usually live near thermal vents which supply hot water and nutrients from the core of planet Earth. They are mostly small, spineless things, often transparent, usually simple in their cellular structure. They are known as extremophiles, because of their love of the extreme, and science does not often trifle with them nor do merchants traffic in them. Accordingly, the Mariana Trench is a place that is very quiet, calm, and alone. It might well be closer in character to deep space than to the humming, thriving terrestrial gardens upon Earth’s crust.

But there is a place in the Mariana Trench which lies at the juncture of a thermal vent and an underwater cavern. Here boiling water spews into the cavern, thousands of gallons worth of heat at a time, and the heat disperses throughout the cave. The result is that a pocket of warm water exists in an otherwise polar environment. This sea cavern is a haven for life. Within the pocket live sea cucumbers, snails, and spineless fish.

This sea cave is also the birthplace and nesting ground of the kraken.

There are many kraken in this cavern, as many kraken as there are rats in Paris. Most frequently, however, the kraken never leave their cavernous home, preferring instead to cling to the walls of the cave in the warmth, darkness, and serenity of their underground lair. For thousands of years, these krakens have bred and died many fathoms beneath the surface of the sea. They grow to colossal sizes, and as they grow older and larger, they become more languid and leathery.

The life span of a kraken is, more or less, a thousand years. They are born as thin-skinned, slimy creatures, and, at the beginning of their lives, they spend most of their time swimming near the heat vent at the mouth of the cave. Near the end of their twentieth year, they begin their adolescence, and they move to the walls of the cave. They find a rocky place on the wall, and they cling to it, only leaving from time to time to eat sea cucumbers and sea snails.

As the kraken grow older and more torpid, their skin hardens and thickens into leathery armor. The kraken gradually move into the darker, colder parts of the cave, further and further away from the heat vent. The greatest of the kraken occupy the coldest, most tomblike recesses of the cavern. There they remain for so long, and their skin becomes so hard, that they appear to become part of the cave. These great kraken can weigh up to five thousand pounds, and they can measure a quarter of a mile from the tips of their tentacles to the tops of their heads.

Around their five hundredth year, the kraken temporarily depart the cave. For a single day, the kraken visit the surface of the water. In order to surface, the kraken slowly unstick themselves from the cave wall, where they’ve held themselves on with suckers. The unsticking process is a slow one, and, for some kraken, it is deadly. Calcium builds on kraken while they remain stuck to the cave wall, and the calcium deposits cement the kraken to the walls. Many of the kraken are so attached to the stone that portions of their skin or entire tentacles rip off as they unstick themselves. These kraken can bleed to death.

Once unstuck, then the kraken swim out of the cave and into the Mariana Trench. The kraken then spend nearly a month in the laborious process of surfacing. When they reach the surface, they spend time in the sun. It is during this time that they are most aggressive, and it is during this time that ships can be attacked.

After seeing the sun, the kraken return to their sea cavern in the Mariana Trench, and they never leave the cave again. The kraken find a place deep in the recesses of the cave, and there they stay for the rest of their existence. When an ancient sea kraken dies, its body is fed on by young krakens, and so the cycle of life continues.

Benito Curácon was a sailor with long black hair and broad shoulders, dark heavy eyebrows, a smoldering scowl, and once-white skin now tanned to rawhide. His teeth were tartaric. His arms shone with sweat, tattoos, and corded muscle. His chest, beneath his ripped white cotton shirt, was comprised of a washboard stomach and strong pectorals. That white shirt lay open at the collar so that a V of skin could be seen, as could Benito’s leather necklace which held as its pendant a sailor’s knot made of gold. He wore shorts upon the ship’s deck, and he walked barefoot. His toenails were long or broken. His ears were pierced, and he kept in them thorn shaped ornaments of ebony wood. The man carried his life’s fortune in a sealskin bag that he tied to his waist; in the bag were some eight pieces of silver.

The ship was called The Maiden’s Fancy, and she was a whaler. Her length was one hundred and twenty feet, with a beam of twenty-nine feet, and a burthen of six hundred tons. The Maiden’s Fancy had as her figurehead the carving of a near bare-breasted woman, her hair flying backward, and her eyes uplifted as to the horizon beyond.

Eighteen men crewed The Maiden’s Fancy, and her captain was Jorge Rodriguez. Captain Rodriguez’ reputation was that of a martinet. Cold, severe, grave, high-handed and authoritarian, Captain Rodriguez wore a stiff tall collar and a pea jacket in weather fair or foul. He wore tapered breeches and boots which a crewman shined to a mirror polish every morning. Captain Rodriguez was well known for beating a Chinese traveler and author on one voyage, and he was legendary for having reputedly slashed the throat of an idle, drunken sailor during another voyage in the Indian Ocean. The gallows sought him in Cadiz, but when the trial came, the crewmen’s testimonies did not, and the rumor was that the judge was paid handsomely in gold, and the press in silver, so that the result was that Captain Rodriguez not only escaped with his neck, but came out looking all the finer for it.

If he was known for his murderous temper, he was equally as well known for his extraordinary skills in navigation and his command of a ship. His father had been a captain, and his grandfather a sailor. It was said, without much doubt, that Captain Rodriguez had spent more time on sea than land, and that his mother had nursed him on milk and salt water.

So it was that he retained his command, fiery but fair, competent beyond the measure of all other captains.

Benito Curácon was a hard-working, capable sailor, and though he’d been slapped by Captain Rodriguez on one occasion, he knew that the other sailors aboard The Maiden’s Fancy had all suffered worse at Captain Rodriguez’ hands, and that he, Benito, was, so far as Captain Rodriguez’ good graces went, in them.

On nearly every ship there’s a despicable man, and the man that Benito Curácon and his fellow sailors despised was the first mate. Tall and gangly and with olive colored skin and pretty black curly hair and green eyes, the first mate, Salvador Bucarelli, was a Spaniard by birth, half Italian by ancestry. He was handsome and vain, sneering by the overhead light of the full sun, striking with his clenched fists by the horizontal lights of dusk and dawn, and threatening with knives by the glimmer of the stars. The first mate came from wealthy stock, knew nothing of the water, and, worse still, took a sadistic pleasure in the torment of the crew. His captain hated him and shackled him as he could, but the Bucarelli family owned a share of the ship, and so Bucarelli could operate with great latitude and little fear of reprisal.

Bucarelli had found that he could push the crew to the brink of mutiny against him, but no further. The crew feared and respected Captain Rodriguez too much for insurrection, and they relied upon his unparalleled seamanship.

It was a cloudy morning in June of 1842 when the sun rose on a stretch of water so flat and calm that it was like a sheet of blue glass. Floating like a toy boat upon this seemingly limitless expanse of blue was The Maiden’s Fancy. Not another boat had been seen for days, nor was there any to be expected. The morning, despite the month, felt cool and fresh. The sailors rose from their cabins. One man replaced the night’s watch.

Bucarelli was having coffee with the captain, which was the first thing that the cook was instructed to make every morning. He made it in a cast iron pan over flames from a coal fire in his galley, and he strained out the grounds with a knife held to the lip of the pan, with the result that the coffee was always saturated with grounds at the bottom of the cup.

Now the cook was busy preparing breakfast for the sailors, the mate, and the captain. There was half an apple for each man, and a whole one for the captain and the mate. There was salt pork, fried like bacon, and sea biscuits or hardtack, which tasted of flour and salt.

The sails were up, but there was no wind. There was not much spoken, other than the good morning greetings, and a few utterances about what must be done for the day.

Benito Curácon’s morning washing consisted in splashing his face and body with salt water pulled up from the sea by the bucket. He ran his fingers through his long hair to comb it back, and he looked out on the ocean. All was water, everywhere, all about. There was nothing to see but water and clouds, sky and sun.

A voice came. It was Bucarelli’s. His knife was not sharp enough to cut the salt pork, he said.

Curácon curled his lip in contempt. He looked up.

Bucarelli was walking up the steps from the captain’s quarters. His features looked aristocratic, his step petulant. He was carrying the knife.

Bucarelli walked across the deck, and he trotted down the steps to the galley.

Curácon heard a sound. Captain Rodriguez had stepped to the top stair of his captain’s quarters, and he was watching the movements of his first mate. Captain Rodriguez wiped his lips with a stained white cloth napkin, then he tossed the napkin back into his quarters.

A moment later, Bucarelli appeared on deck again. Now he had the cook by the hair, and the knife to the cook’s throat.

“Who is responsible for sharpening the knives aboard this ship?” he asked.

“I am!” screamed the cook, miserably twitching in the first mate’s grasp.

“Then you’ll know that the knives should be sharp!”

“Yes!”

“We’ll test this one,” said Bucarelli, smiling evilly.

The other sailors had stopped to watch. The captain was watching. Everything, for a moment, seemed still. The wind was dead, and the ship was fixed like in a painting. The water was still. The crew stood silent. Bucarelli stood with the knife at the cook’s throat.

“I will draw this knife across your throat,” Bucarelli said. “And we’ll see if the blade’s been whetted right.”

Bucarelli began to draw the knife across the cook’s throat, and a drop of blood appeared. Its redness could be seen against the cook’s olive skin from thirty feet away.

“Enough,” said Captain Rodriguez. “Take your hands off that cook, Bucarelli.”

“No,” said Bucarelli.

“No?” said the captain.

Bucarelli sneered. “You can’t do anything to me,” he said, and he slit the cook’s throat.

The cook gasped, a horrible sickening sound, and he grasped his throat. Blood poured around his fingers as the cook slumped to the ground.

“Catch him!” shouted the captain, roaring at his sailors and pointing at Bucarelli. He looked over, and he saw Benito Curácon. “Benito! Now!”

Benito moved forward, and, as he did, he saw other sailors—Juan Gamboa, Fernando Silva, and Ricardo Benítez advancing as well.

Out of the corner of his eye, Benito detected movement in the flat ocean. There was a very strange, large ripple. He glanced at it. Crowning the ocean surface was hideous monster.

It was a kraken. It was shaped like a colossal octopus. Its head was brown and grey. Its eyes were black. The tentacles of the creature rose from the surface of the ocean. A spume of misty saltwater rose around it, and the ocean seemed to bubble and to boil from the froth raised by its motion.

Benito became aware that the sailors were screaming. He looked back aboard the vessel at his shipmates. Bucarelli’s olive face had turned ashen, and the knife had slipped from his fingers. His eyes were wide as he stared out at the strange and frightening monster.

Benito then became aware of words, shouted words, from his captain.

“Below!” Captain Rodriguez was hoarsely crying. “Man the oars! Man the oars!”

Benito glanced up. Indeed the wind was still so calm that it did not so much as ruffle the sail. He rushed toward the hatch with the other sailors to man the oars. They would need to paddle away.

As he reached the hatch, Benito looked back at the scene. The monster had certainly seen the ship, and it was swimming toward them at a tremendous speed. There was no hope, Benito realized, of paddling faster than the monster. Paddling was slow, and it would take time to create any speed at all. The kraken would be upon them before they were able to row any distance.

With a sinking, hopeless feeling in his chest, Benito realized that the kraken would reach them, clutch their ship in its powerful tentacles, and drag them to the bottom of the sea. He had heard tales of it before. He’d heard how quickly ships foundered, how the strength of the kraken could crush the mast’s timbers and break spars like toothpicks. He’d heard of the Charybdian whirlpools that the monster would suck them into, and how the sailors would be carried down with their treasure and their dreamless sleep, past the fishes and to the bottom of the sandy sea where the ruins of other ships lay in perpetuity, where the water was blue and dark and cold, and the fish nibbled the flesh off men’s bones and left them as skeletons which the currents passed through.

In a flash of rage at this merciless fate, Benito pushed his long hair out of his eyes, and he rushed across the deck to Bucarelli. Benito Curácon felt that he had nothing to lose, no future to look forward to. He felt fury. He felt a desire for revenge. Reaching Bucarelli, Curácon punched him in the face, as a token of revenge for the murder that the first mate had done.

The kraken swam closer. Its eyes rose above the level of the sea. Its tentacles streamed behind it, propelling it forward.

On the deck, Captain Rodriguez was shouting. Curácon felt the captain strike him across the back.

“Below decks, sailor!” shouted Captain Rodriguez. “Man the oars!”

But Benito Curácon knew that it was too late for the oar. In front of him, Bucarelli reeled back from the punch, then he staggered. He found his balance, and he touched his nose where it was broken.

The ship was, in fact, very still. Curácon could hear the oars rattling through their port holes. He could hear his fellow men shouting in the galley. But no oar had yet touched water, and the wind was not in the sails.

Bucarelli lunged at Curácon. Curácon jabbed with his knee, and he caught Bucarelli in the chin with it, rattling Bucarelli’s teeth. Bucarelli rose, grabbing his mouth. His face was pale and frightened. Curácon hit him again, and the punch spun Bucarelli around. Curácon caught Bucarelli by the belt and the shoulder, and, facing the direction of the monster, Curácon ran forward with Bucarelli to the rail on the deck, then, reaching that rail, Curácon hurled the first mate overboard.

The first mate plunged into the water with a scream and a splash. A moment later, he bobbed up again. The ship’s tender lay on the opposite side of the ship, and there were no cables or ropes hanging down from the side of the ship that Bucarelli was on, so he struck out in a strong crawl stroke toward the opposite side of the boat.

The kraken had observed all this. It saw the man thrown overboard, and it saw him splashing about in the water.

The kraken disappeared underwater. A few moments later, the ripples from its swim vanished, and the sun broke through the clouds.

Only Captain Rodriguez and Benito Curácon stood on deck. But for the faint sounds of Bucarelli swimming, and but for the cook’s corpse upon the deck, the day seemed calm and peaceful and like any other.

The men found that they were holding their breaths. There came the faint rattling of oars.

“Quiet down there!” roared the captain, rushing to the hatch and shouting down into the galley. “It’s too late to paddle. Stay still men! Stay still and quiet!”

The sounds stopped immediately.

It might have been a just another pretty day at sea, save for the men’s feelings which were thick with fear.

Curácon drew a breath. He looked out over the water. The kraken was gone.

All was quiet and calm.

Then, suddenly, a tentacle flashed out of the water, and it seized the hull of the ship. Yanking at the hull, the kraken pulled the ship down, nearly to the water.

Casks and barrels toppled over. Curácon and the captain tripped and fell, sliding toward starboard side.

Then, just as suddenly, the tentacle released the ship, and the ship sprung back to her natural balance, whipping back and forth until she regained her equilibrium.

They heard a scream. It was a short, piercing scream. It was Bucarelli’s voice.

Too horrified to move, Curácon and Captain Rodriguez, both of whom were laying on their sides up against the guardrail, met one another’s eyes. In each of the other’s eyes, they read what the sound had meant. Bucarelli had been dragged underwater by the kraken.

The men felt they were next. They remained calm, and very still. They did not move a muscle. But no further sounds were heard.

They waited. Their muscles were tense.

Their feelings were anxious. They felt consumed by horror.

Nothing happened.

The kraken had taken Bucarelli, and it had vanished.

Slowly, gingerly, the two men rose to their feet. They looked one another in the eye. They saw terror in one another’s features. The men breathed again. Slowly, very slowly, the captain walked to the hatch.

“Sailors,” he called. “Come up slowly. Very slowly. Do not make a sound.”

In a few minutes, all of the sailors were standing on the deck again. None of them spoke. They looked round.

The day was partly cloudy. There was not a puff of wind in the air. The sea was as smooth as blue ice.