a selection of short prose pieces from my published books
The Extraction of The Stone of Madness (or The Cure of Folly), Hieronymus Bosch, 1494
From Short Shrift: Sorties in Short Fiction (translucent books, 2017):
Following a Sudden Contusion
Following a sudden contusion on the left side of my skull, I discovered the truth about my body and its singular relationship to the world: My left leg extends beyond the sole and toes and wanders off into the distant West, filled with shadowy figures. My right eye is really the dark side of the moon, while my left eye ogles the orbit of Venus. Likewise, the folds of my brain and the folds of my skin are coterminous with golf courses and the ocean surface, which is known to cover three-fourths of the earth.
At first this caused some confusion in my daily life. When I stretched first thing in the morning, I saluted the magistrates of the Eastern nations. When I touched my toes, I planted rice in Manchuria and dug potatoes in Idaho. And when I blinked my eyes rapidly, there were repercussions on the stock market.
I have gradually come to understand my relationship to the world at large. I learned to accept the responsibilities my condition implies: to consider all possible consequences of my actions before performing them. To a definite extent, this involves placing limits on my freedom. However, I realize that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, and today I am content with the puzzling yet exciting nature of things!
By What Hands?
I grew these hueless clouds in the dreary south –
Where all my giddiest learning was done,
Where even Liberty looks melancholy,
With her book of secrets and her frozen flame.
Unhappily, we miss all the wind –
Oriana, my doleful stormy flower, and I,
Wedded under the oratory round.
We have but one motto:
“Ever the month of Autumn.”
We sat by the Cumberland and heard
The eternal sound of the Tigris.
Possibly a crystalline wild swan was there –
Or else it was my wild imagination.
And so we left – but Tatius stayed on
In the land of darkness they had wrought;
At the southern extremity they built a wavering tower
Whose windows yielded Cubist views of the city.
So live, my dim Tatius, and learn:
The cracked chalice you bought from the carpetbagger
Begs its own forgiveness in chalky tones.
May thy low forehead urge weeping –
Reminded of your shadowy home, and you in it...
You learned to fence on English parapets
Stolen from the Drama Department,
While all about the ivy-grown towers quaked
And fell like dead weights.
Again the wind blows full – another earthy dare –
To scatter wide the Dixie denizens.
We see them run like mad ewes thrilling,
Or insects radiating from the nest.
So look, dear Tatius, this book is my deed
Before the Golden Eye, that a seed may flower
In the space of one mind, reading –
To such a one we pass picked locks.
May they forgive me yet that I did take
The broken road that ever bid me leave
To seek the heart of summer-chase
Where hueful clouds grow free.
Methuselah at 75
As a young man bold, I plundered the riches of the past, breaking into storehouses of cultures far older than my own...
American by birth – with the hindsight of a mere two hundred years – I gazed in awe across six millennia upon the glories of ancient times... I stared upon the golden images of Egyptian pharaohs and smelled sweet-burning myrrh in Nineveh. I strolled along the terraces of Nebuchadnezzar and caught sight of Nefertiti in her perfumed pool. When I rode on Jason’s galley into the harbor at Rhodes, the Colossus itself bowed before me, stone bending toward the reflecting sea, where it beheld its own image and smiled. I was welcomed at Alexandria and Athens, at Memphis and Marathon, at Urfa and at Ur. I stood beside priests at many altars and watched as they sacrificed to the Sun and Moon and to the numberless gods of earth, sea and sky.
And then I led an expedition to the Dead Sea and its surrounding hills; and there I uncovered with my own hands tablets written by ancient ones, who explained all secrets as the products of human minds, all gods as the creations of human thought, and all visions of the afterlife as the escape from earthly life and death.
Maybe Methuselah knew a man called Adam and lived for many moons before the great flood; but in those days, years were counted in months, and the great patriarch died at the ripe old age of 75.
From Intimations of Unreality (Hippocampus Press, 2012), a Lovecraftian tale written when I was 15:
In the Realm of Ying
“Consciousness is the creature of rhythm.”
– AMBROSE BIERCE
I knew not how I had come to this awful place, nor how I returned to our world in maddened flight. But I was there, once – just once, having seen it as from afar in fleeting dreams and memories.
A house, perhaps, was what it was – or so the interior revealed to me. I stood in darkness illumined ever so slightly by light radiating from an unknown source some indeterminable distance ahead. It seemed that I was in a corridor: a narrow hallway with an impassable barrier to my right and a rail to my left, separating the corridor from a lightless aperture. While there was but the faintest twilight, I sensed an over-all shade of green – a light green hue suffusing all structures in sight: the floor of the corridor itself, the wall on the right, the rail on the left.
I began to walk slowly, almost involuntarily, drawn by a vague memory of what lay ahead. My eyes scrutinized the corridor that stretched before me, ghostly, obscured by a spectral flowing mist. After some indefinable unit of time, I came to a termination of the hall which I almost expected. Here the wall to my right cut in front of me at a right angle and the railing at my left abruptly ended.
My progress had brought me face-to-face with the unfathomable black aperture beyond the railing. A glance into this forbidding region resurrected within me dark memories woven with inexplicable fear. I dreaded unaccountably to peer for long into that vaguely stirring blackness, but soon made out that there were steps leading down, again barely illumined in pale green. The steps continued endlessly downward until they were lost from sight and possessed irrecoverably by the slithering darkness.
I was gripped by the vice of fear and somehow reminded of obscure and seemingly unrelated legends of Ying the Damned, the amorphous flute-player. His unintentional existence in our dimensions was caused by the manifestation of certain notes – daemonic cacophonies that ripped through the peripheral barrier that had separated the spheres for eons before life emerged on earth.
Madness clutched at me and I bounded along the dark corridor – avoiding the stairway and plunging forward at a desperate pace, running and running until fatigue seeped into my calves and thighs like lethal poison, transforming my legs into lead. Crippled by exhaustion, I inevitably stumbled and fell; but fearful of the noise that I made, I immediately grew quiet.
Thus was it possible for me to hear a sound – the first I had heard and the first sign of life I had found in this place. Soon I conjectured that the sound, muffled by distance, had quasi-musical qualities or indications; but while it was certainly a product of life, it had a totally irregular rhythm. This irregularity suggested a decadent life-form with a warped consciousness, since life and consciousness are creations of rhythm.
Again the legends awoke in my memory and Ying was the center of those whispered legends. Ying was called the amorphous servant of Azathoth the Idiot God, that blasphemous foulness whose mindless howling is heard from beyond angled space.
I arose and began to walk very softly toward the source of the sound – which, I knew in a moment, was the selfsame source of the greenish, luminous haze that threw the corridor into eerie twilight. Just ahead, a round window of dull radiance was visible. I walked towards it without hesitation, but not without myriad eldritch pictures construed in my mind of exactly what might lie beyond that window…
Reaching my goal, I stood bathed in the aethereal flow of green hue, stood before a single, large, circular pane of translucent glass and listened to the frightful sound from beyond. That sound, muffled by the thick glass, was undoubtedly of much greater volume in the zones outside the window.
Impulsively, I tested the glass with my hand and found that it would not open without a steady application of force. My mind was set upon opening the window – set by curiosity and an ignorance that I now resent – and I braced myself and pushed against it. After some time of continuous endeavor, I felt the glass slip, just barely; then a moment of resistance; and it abruptly gave way. By the sudden opening of the window and the impetus of the force I arrayed against it, I fell partway through the portal – almost disastrously, to hang breathless above an abyss, supported only by the stone wall that cut painfully into my stomach. I watched the glass disk turn as it fell and disappeared into starlit darkness.
With unguided arms fumbling behind me, I somehow managed to find the windowsill and gained a safe grip on the stone. But when I pulled myself up, I was shown the hellish source of the throbbing sound that had penetrated the luminous glass to reverberate in murmurs through the corridor. That blasphemy was indeed the servant of the idiot Azathoth, and his vile shrieks piped in every place of damnable sin and shame throughout the black universe: the sound had been heard in ancient Greece as the hideous Pan danced ecstatically to its horrible rhythm in his nameless woods; in Egypt of old it was heard as the guttural voice of the Memnon at Thebes, crying out at the first touch of dawn’s light; and it was heard in the feared Harz Mountains of Germany, where forbidden debaucheries were held in diabolic worship of the Black One…
For as I pulled myself from the portal and faced the abyss beyond, I knew. In a moment of ultimate horror preceding the oblivion that overtook me, I beheld with my own eyes the damned, amorphous flute-player Ying, singing to the void!