Tick-tock: 2018

At the end of one and the beginning of another year I can only do you a simple wish. Listen.

Be kind. Be patient. Be humble, but don’t sit down. Stand up and be brave. Be safe. Be good to each other. Be loving.

Above all be the best version of yourself that you can be and have fun, lots and lots and lots of fun.

Read books as many and as different as you can and share them. Create a good time. Write about it. Always write about it.

Best wishes everyone and a big, thirsty cheers!

xx

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#BestReads2017: Outdoorsy Horror

Lists from previous years:

Best Reads 2012

Best Reads 2013

Best Reads 2014

Best Reads 2015

Best Reads 2016

I hope you had a fantastic 2017 and that you read the best, the kindest, the scariest, funniest, saddest and most adventurous stories to your heart’s content! If you have a list, please feel free to share it in the comments. Book suggestions are always welcomed.

FANTASY/SCI-FI

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

9969571It’s a somewhat weird moment when you find a book through a song but browsing through YouTube’s forgotten hits of the 80’s would do that for you it appears. Oingo Bongo’s ‘Dead Man’s Party’ had a top comment “Waiting for Anorak’s invitation to arrive” and naturally I got curious what that references. I’m very glad I did because ‘Ready Player One’ was probably my favorite summer read.

It has a pinch of that teen romance gamers edition, but it runs alongside a deftly generated world (to think of one close reference, it’s akin to what you can see in Sword Art Online for all you anime fans out there) geekish to bursting, chock-full of references, stretching out platforms to Japanese tv shows and cultural pop phenomenon’s and of course paying a wonderful homage to everything 80’s. And I loved that. I’m a big 80’s enthusiast myself, music and movie wise, so those were 385 pages of sheer pleasure and geek-out.

All that is nicely layered on top of a dystopian future in which as a paradox opposing the societal degradation, endless possibilities exist built within what is a beastly virtual reality machinery in the face of a complex imagination-stretching world, or I should rather say universe, called the Oasis.

Throw into that mix some traditional RPG tropes, an adventure, a quest system worth billions and I think you end up with an entertaining story worth the read.

HISTORICAL/DYSTOPIAN

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

38447The most captivating aspect of this ageless dystopian novel is its protagonist’s point of view storytelling. I’m sure there’s no argument there. It’s akin to time traveling within the narrative without the pressure of it being labeled as sci-fi or having need of machines and quantum mechanics. And it shakes you; it pulls you down and strips you naked and often takes your breath away.

It’s kind of fitting reading it today and I’m certain we’ll be reading it tomorrow and next year and at these different times we’ll view it either as a dystopian, futuristic story, or as a historical artefact. It will be relevant at all times and it will be a pinnacle for many women as it has been thus far.

I was fascinated at how much nostalgia it carries and what strong attention it gives to these everyday “invisible” things and objects that serve as some sort of weird corner stones of our lives, of our understanding of modern and ownership. And then there’s the interaction human to human, a frivolous act that can be difficult and anxiety burdened and that usually requires a non-linear and a vastly subconscious approach and it’s destroyed in Atwood’s work. It’s brought down to absurdity. Can you imagine not having Offred’s inner thoughts, her memories? Just those orchestrated interactions, dry and suspicious? You wouldn’t even think about the layers of words and thoughts and fears that are quieted down behind “the right thing to say”.

It’s a fascinating novel and I strongly advise reading it.

HORROR/THRILLER

Bone White by Ronald Malfi

32920015‘Bone White’ is a 2017 newbie but man, does it pack a punch! It’s what I’d say a claustrophobic novel set within the coldest, most remote parts of Alaska. Malfi deftly handles what could easily be local lore, mythology and the supernatural elements mixing it with the sudden confession of a serial killer, the discovery of numerous unmarked graves, a town called Dread’s Hand (which isn’t a far stretch cause’ Alaska has places called Red Devil, Holy Cross and Crooked Creek) and a man hell bent of finding what happened to his missing brother.

I loved’ Bone White’ and would have even if it didn’t throw in the word ‘wendigo’. As far as its wilderness exploration goes (and boy does it go far) it has that Algernon Blackwood flavor that I respect and love and fear but it does its own thing. I can’t share the lore of it without spoiling major aspects but it’s gut churning, skin crawling and worth delving into.

As with these types of novels where it’s a whodunit mixed in with a supernatural fueled thriller, the ending doesn’t disappoint. Far from it.

I highly recommend Ronald Malfi’s ‘Bone White’. It’s certainly a high contender for best horror novel.

The Ritual by Adam Nevill

12063443It’s been years of bypassing anything Nevill and I blame ‘Apartment 16’. Or maybe my mood at the time. Could be a mixture of both. But I had a hard time digesting his pacing until I gave ‘The Ritual’ a fair try.

Sure, at the start its all japes and grumbling and friendly banter but the atmosphere is tense right from the get go and it’s a miserable one. The surrounding nature is nothing equal to that described by Blackwood for example with ‘The Willows’. It’s not a direct character per say, it’s a nuisance, it’s a labyrinth and it’s a guide of sorts but it’s not the subject of the character’s direct fears. It’s what within the woods.

What I love about ‘The Ritual’ is the sense of true expedition, though one gone horribly, horribly wrong. But the hike bears all the marks that make it believable – it’s tiresome and treacherous and lonely. It however lacks that spiritual, cleansing, outdoorsy sensation and replaces it with the helplessness and hopelessness of disorientation, lack of communication and the feeling of trespassing. That on itself is terrifying and it progresses and escalates in terms of the narrative with the decreasing amount of provisions, the sustained injuries and the incessant battle with the unyielding nature. It’s barren against the human spirit, a continuing isolation far, far from civilization and yet rather close to the wrong one.

I’m happy when a novel keeps me suspicious and cautious and I love it even more when it tweaks things to that disturbing level making you me uncomfortable. ‘The Ritual’ certainly did that. I enjoyed the lurking monstrosity, was pretty on terms with the gore part, but I was mostly a fan of that religious aspect of it, of the desolate, forgotten monuments, the Nordic runes hidden within the forest’s folds. The decrepit filter on top of the base narrative is what really sold it to me. And of course the sudden shift from endless wandering and death to a very reminiscent of actual Scandinavian metal/riot history, part 2 of the book. That’s when the true Ritual begins and when the novel really tests the reader. It’s by far not the most disturbing or lacking humanity story I’ve read.

I mean there’s ‘Zombie’ and many, many more all disturbing in their own fashion, but ‘The Ritual’ being the psychological horror that it is, kept me reading way into the early hours day after day. It urges to be progressed and thus served to give me a very different opinion on Nevill’s work. He gave the novel a reality check on superstition, old, pagan beliefs and deities, brought them back under the sounds of death metal (black metal, doom metal any kind of worshiping metal. Rock on!) and he did it via Norwegian and Swedish lore risen together in an effigy of its own.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

The October Faction by  Steve Niles and Damien Worm

25061099‘The October Faction’, a four-volume graphic novel is nothing particularly new on the drawn horizon, but its art done by Damian Worm is outstanding and the issues are worth checking just based on that.

It tells the story of the monster-hunting Allan family, semi-retired from the ghastly business until they are urged to get back in and this time include the children, who also possess certain abilities witching and warlocking being the main two. It’s an adventure beautifully done in browns and blues, blacks and deep yellows and dried-blood reds, dealing with the price of hiding truths and feeding lies, of soul-seeing teens, homosexuality, coming of age, purpose in life and much more craziness.

It’s the family business up-jumped aka popularized vastly by Supernatural but with refined finesse that in following issues expands and welcomes in a werewolf and a robot?

Nothing can suffice to convince to the worthy read so look at these pages I took the liberty of adding for viewing pleasure.

 

SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS    

 Fishing the Sloe-Black River by Colum McCann

110898Life is being far away from home, being alone, being weak, being loved. It’s being afraid and caring about others. And when it’s done like an Irish lullaby, well…it’s something special. It’s very human. It’s stories you wished you knew yourself but then reading them in ‘Fishing the Sloe-Black River’ you feel like you might have been there.

There are a roulette of outstanding characters, quirky and bold, young and old. They each have unique stories.

‘Sisters’ and ‘Around the Bend and Back Again’ are favorites, I think. Tomorrow maybe others will be.

 

 

 

I wish you to read many more books in 2018 and share them with others. A single book can bring so much joy in someone’s life.

Carol of the Christmas Ball

They said you shouldn’t stare into the reflection in the red ornament, the glossy surface dimming the room lights but amplifying the image, the mouth-gaping silhouette. So, naturally but superstitiously silly my hand trembles holding the apple-size red ball, polished plastic, cheap and fragile, thinking who “they” are supposed to be to say things like that.

I place it central, hang it there to drink in the light and I pay it no more mind preparing dinner, settling in for the festivity, the food and caroling and presents and bad jokes, the cat under the table meowing for a piece of turkey.

But then I catch myself catching an image still lingering there inside the ball like a smoke ghost, an imprint on the inside of it made to look like me. So I call for my husband, “Come look at this, it’s a most uncanny thing” and then when nobody comes I turn around and my house is in shambles, a dystopian image brick for brick like a tornado swept through it while I wasn’t watching and left me and the tree, spruce five foot nine standing there, me dumbfounded and it close to discoloration, no lights, no golden star at the top. What remains is a jagged piece from that red spherical ornament. A vacant half to which I have to find the missing one to make it whole again, to return home.

I take it off and keep it enclosed careful not to grind it between eager palms and turn it to dust, and I step through what once, when once was the wall of my living room and trespass onto the street close in resemblance to the semi-interior of my demolished house. And I hear caroling though there’s no “Carol of the Bells”, no “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or “O Come Emmanuel”.

They from behind missing walls and smoke curtained corners sing of a different spirit, a true ghost haunting the skies with his phantom carriage, transfixed by his holy unending duty every Christmas month and year and century. I listen to that chorus depicting him as a wandering soul unable to break for eons and eons from a perpetual sacrifice, starting with the dawn and ending out of breath and dead by dusk, an empty bag and skeleton thin reindeer, tired and old and gasping, red tongues darting out of steaming muzzles.

I jerk around and run away from the whispers of the carollers, the wispy voices effortlessly carried through the empty air. In this place so much like my own home and then so different I catch a glimpse at that sprite and he is neither jolly, nor bright, nor laughing. He is gaunt and tall and his red coat, overlong and tattered is worn out, pinkish with time. He walks through thin air with heavy footsteps, descending upon a hollowed rooftop, his body transparent between wall and wall. And he places a long-fingered hand inside the depthless pockets of his coat and pulls out a simple toy, damaged by time but precious and places it in the empty spot where a pine or spruce or fir should be. Then he leaves a little more exhausted, I can see.

I call after him like a child, like I haven’t done in years and years and when he turns before me, taller than a tree and I see his sunken eyes, black as coals and button-shaped, the roundness of them not matching the fake sagging layer of his anemic body. I stare at the creases of his elongated, sharp face, deep by age and cracked by the cold like fjords running along the pastiness of his skin half-hidden by matted white locks. But I show him my red ball like how it is in half, jagged edges and hollow. Do I say please or does he know it, because his face pains, grimaces and frowns.

“I don’t belong here,” I say, telling him I don’t want to either. I offer the ball and hold it there and I don’t think he sees me. For a moment I panic, stranded and abandoned and I imagine growing old here with the carollers in forever winter white this giant visiting abandonment as a promise or a punishment, trying to return some light and joy to it. I tremble, visibly shake with incoming sobs or it’s the cold finally creeping in.

He looks at me, the red coated man, this forgotten saint and he reaches inside the folds of his being. Pinched between two thin digits he offers me wordlessly the other half of my red ornament. I eagerly bring mine closer to fit in the edges and glue together another kind of reality away from the loneliness this alteration exists from.

Then my husband is right behind me saying “what did you want to show me” and “I’ll go check on the oven and the turkey” and I nod, focused on something else outside his voice.

The red ball is polished and complete, the tiniest crack visible only to me, like a hair splitting me from him, his image lingering in there filling the entire space but then it’s gone and later on I sneak into the living room when the house is quiet. I weep silently for some time watching the ball in the darkness.

Passion in Monochrome

So, a couple of weeks ago I decided to collect photos I think decent enough into a more “professional” looking layout rather than just keep posting them all on Instagram. Some Weebly themes caught my eye and after messing around with the platform for a few hours I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted this “professional” photography blog to look like.

It’s mostly dedicated to monochrome stills because I just love them, I love how they look and I am always happy when I work in this minimalist, ambient, shadow infested approach. I think it ended up looking pretty clean and to the point.

It’s still very fresh and I fully intend to grow it out and do some blog posts over there as well regarding certain projects and what not. So, if you dig black and white photography, come on over and give it a look around, get to know this other side of me and drop a few words if the mood strikes. Link is through the photo. Cheers.

 

The Witch’s House

 

Tender steps. Hand loosely than harshly grasping the rail. Splinters entering the softness of the cold palms. Cold with sweat. Cold with the stickiness so common in fear. Eliot is afraid and that feeling is making his insides freeze. They cheated him into this, his friends, hiding behind the trees, feet rustling in the fallen leaves, no footprints just imprints, the heaviness of their bodies leaving a mark they were there before they run off leaving him with the shortness of their laughter whispery and frail, reverberating in the October chilliness. They called him a faggot, a pussy, a piece of good-for-nothing shit when he didn’t want to go into the Witch’s House, barking the word on repeat.

So Eliot went, not wanting to be anything, anyone but himself. He didn’t want to be scared of their mockery. And as he went up the steps, she came out after hearing the creaks and pops and breathing of the house. With her came the sort of sound wind makes through abandonment, through foreign cracks, alien and old with time and poised with things – words and noises, music bumping on and off, voices and wet eyes watching. With truths kept secret and identities hidden underneath layers of skin that gets pulled and teased and worn until it rips open and the truth oozes out. Like the wind slipping through, a whistle at a time.

‘Do you know what she does, the Witch?’ they asked him when they were all playfully pursuing paths in the forest. ‘She takes your skin away, peeling it with her claws and she wraps it around herself like a cloth. She wears you and you see and hear and feel everything she does. The Witch is fat with the skins of children.’

Standing before Eliot, she was pregnant with the promise of their words. She was layered, folds of smooth skin, colorless and colorful overlapping in the form of shirts and skirts but leaving her naked all the same. There was however one lie to their story and he saw it as she bend over, faceless yet seeing. He wouldn’t see, nor hear nor feel anything she did with his skin after she took it. He would be just another corpse, neatly hidden somewhere. The empty eye sockets, red around the rims of their flesh stared at Eliot emptily devoid of that essence remaining in them that his friends spoke off through puffs of smoke from that shared packet of cigarettes and splashes of stolen beer.

However them having run off meant they would never see or hear the Witch leading him inside a damp and dark room, floor littered with syringes, the pungent smell of piss soaking the walls, the corners. In there she would unfold her face and allow a glimpse at her eyes merging that in-between, outwordly feeling Eliot had standing on her doorstep. She would look at him as her teeth emerge and she lowers her mouth onto his pinky finger, delicately separating skin and meat from the bone. Eliot would watch the Witch chew the soft redness and churn the skin, stretching it with her tongue, modeling it to her own being.

Then she would leave him there, a boy with a skeleton pinky finger trembling in his own pooling piss and she would rustle the leaves with her draping skin to find the friends which left him at her doorstep and ran off with their flesh pink from the October cold.

She of the Glades

a.k.a

‘Hold your body down’

The smell of ropes soaks into my fingertips; in the back, the wispy smoke of that shared cigarette lingers, the ghosts of deceased words shared between us persistent within the unfurling folds of grey and milky. My sunglasses reflect what’s left of you but it’s quickly wrapped, a tight concealment brought into the confines of the trunk.

A sun sets, but it is not the one I wanted and not the one you saw; auburn and bloodshot spill across the sky dipping into the outstretched body of the Glades; a watery field on fire.

I drive towards that forlorn watery front, a swamp system spawning black mosquitos and hungry eyes. No airboats sail today, it’s bad weather down here, tropical and what not; there will be wake and there’s things down below the still murky green that don’t like to be disturbed. My shirt glues to my restless body, sweat creating creases in the fabric drenching them with my own stench covering that of your quick deterioration in the heat. Blood, urine and you permeating my close proximity air fill my nostrils, a delirium of memories. The coffee mug leaving a crescent stain on the newspaper right over the ads – a waitress wanted, 7 bucks an hour; a counselor needed in an orphanage, at least a two year experience in the field. The low buzz of the washing machine from the other room. The smell of detergent sharp on the tongue and eyes. The shuffle of clothes being folded. You, humming along with the radio, stopping when I come in.

I unfurl the beige tarpaulin hiding the red rusted airboat, leather seats grey and brown with time, sun and use. Paddle and legwork push us into the sleeve, the rope dropping from my fingers, me letting go of whatever remains on the shore, forever.

The propeller drills repetition into my brain, but it’s a soothing sound because I dislike quiet. You were always quiet with me. Silent stares, muffled touches, unspoken actions. The only time you weren’t mute at me was at your mother’s funeral.

‘Thaddeus’, you said, ‘I don’t want none of this when I go. It’s too fucking glorifying.’

We’re trespassing now going opposite to the tourist routs where it’s common feeding Cheetos to baby gators and taking photos of their fast blinking reptilian orange, faking indifference but secretly wishing you to decide swimming is not prohibited. We pass abandonment, a village echoing with the calls of a dead language, a totem pole faded with time watching over the waters, a black eagle head with spread wooden wings in rusty red stares with missing eyes.

The trees, tall skeleton branches soaking feet into the swamp body connect above my head, interlocking, clasping one another. The dome is complete and it forms a tunnel of darkness spilling into an inviting light. I rev the boat, growing impatient and tired, the heat sticking to my body, humidity dangerously high. But my boat goes nowhere near the light – I dream of it, I can reach it back later when I drop you off where you belong.

I take a narrow passage and slow down through. Unmarked gator territory comes ahead, the glades moving with the sway of their heavy bodies, indistinguishable green on green. I catch their eyes however, yellow and glowing above the water. They follow us as we slug through, impatient, a gentle rock of their tails transferring to my boat, tilting it.

I shift the stick and urge the propeller to prowl faster, creating a wake small enough to push the hunger away from their eyes and bellies. In the stillness that follows I hug your body close, faceless remembering you without seeing. I give you to their open maws and you sink quickly between their fighting masculinity.

I am done. You are placed. Caught in the narrowness I can’t turn back, my palms sweaty and calloused. There’s a hoot whistling through the village, the clack of alligator teeth swaying from necklaces tied on dried, sunburned necks. A pouch spills tiny sharp biters, rattling on the wooden pier, currency for the dead. I look below and see you dancing their dance, a share of power transferring within the heat of their beating drums, hardened feet thumping the ground. A large one breaks the water, his head smashing against the boat.  

Your presence encourages them; they smell me too, the dead on me, the flesh spoiling in the sun coated in salty sweat and they want none to waste; they want the whole of me, to devour to tear apart. Now there are four of them, oily and long, chameleon like appearing, rocking the side of the airboat. I swat with the paddle, connecting plastic to bone, and a mouth snaps open quick and deadly tearing the paddle away from my hands. I am defenseless against the onslaught, bodies in multitude slamming against the dented. It capsizes and I fall where they are, where you are, the drums and them in a frenzy escalating to a screech. It stops. I watch.

They’ve went for you first, easier, quicker. The fabric of the canvas has torn open and limbs are poking through. I forgot you were wearing that dress. You didn’t even try it on in the store, you knew it would fit you the way it did. Funny how you never wore it for me. It matched your eyes. Now its paler, colors washed away and again it matches the rot in your eyes. Your body swims towards me, the matted hair pulled down heavy with the thick water. Your arm outstretches, ‘Thaddeus’, you call me without moving your lips, ‘Come swim with me’.

You watch me as I try to break the water, vault myself back into the boat. An alligator is upon me pulling me back in, my arm inside its mouth. It gnaws where the bone turns, the joint fragile under its pressure. I feel the tissue break, the skin raw over torn meat. The muscle slides free off the bone of my left forearm and an abrupt, wild snap detaches it free. I don’t scream but merely gasp and swamp water washes over my teeth. I no longer seek rescue within the boat; I watch as the blood, darker in these sunless waters float towards you, your lips blue and bloated sucking it in a spiral.

Another hungry servant plunges itself towards me, right humerus tearing free, ragdoll like. You grow impatient, you want more. Teeth sink into my right calf loosening another limb; teeth bite down through my left kneecap exploding it with a violent pull. Mutilated I sink further while you drink the rest of me, they feeding on the flesh, you on the essence.

Color and vigor attach to your skin. Your eyes blink; a motion registered and carried through your entire system. I remember your eyes closing in pacific self-prayer when you pulled on that smoke I forbid you to have; a small exhale rising and falling your chest to meet the onslaught of what I said.

I die at the bottom of the marsh with that thought of the last time you and me were both alive, the Glades taking me in as they’ve taken others during the centuries, their bones crushed to dust by the propellers of airboats jumping the waters above. I know others will follow me, jealous and angry and lonely and loving and you’ll sink them all when the drums start playing ghost-like through the village. You will feed and provide for the deal your dead soul did, dancing the gator dance respectfully.

I take one last look at you floating above me, your skin translucent. A smile is spreading across your lips as I become motionless food. I don’t think I ever saw that smile before.