Thursday, December 19, 2013

Yule and the Ghosts of the Past

When the ancient ones celebrated Samhain, now known as Halloween, the festival was not only the point marking the new year, but it also signified a time period during which the northern hemisphere would experience what they called "the long darkness."  

With the Yule season only a couple of days away we now find ourselves situated at the edge of the dark abyss--Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year. This is a time when even the daylight hours are often gloomy, holding within them the possibility of winter storms followed by bitter and sometimes life-threatening cold. 

Yule has long been a Pagan celebration, which dates back to a period before the birth of Jesus and Christianity; yet, it too concerns a birth of sorts as the Sun God is reborn to the Goddess. In more scientific terms, the date and celebration marks the time that the sun begins it's march back toward the equator and eventually, the Northern Hemisphere. The relationship between Yule and Christmas, which follows three or four days later is undeniable, and the reasons for fusing together the two way back in the fourth century are best left to history. Still, the darkness is ever present within both. 

These are times when an icy cold entity inhabits the night and lurks outside our doors and windows hoping to gain access to our small bubble of warmth and security. These are times when one thinks twice before stepping outside for fear of allowing in the creature with its icy grip--a grip capable of causing misery and even death if not vanquished within a short amount of time. Like the mindless zombies in the film Night of the Living Dead, the cold is unrelenting in its efforts to gain entrance and cause havoc. 

Yet, there is also great beauty during these long wintry nights. Just walk along some deserted trail as the full moon shines from behind the silhouetted but naked bodies of trees, stripped of their summer foliage. They stand like dark, ghostly entities casting their eerie but thin shadows onto the snow-laden ground; a picture right out of  your favorite Christmas card--or Halloween perhaps? 

And what about Christmas, that most popular of holidays in the western world? Is it not also a day of both joy and pain? I can still keenly recall the magic I used to feel as a child during the days leading up to the special event. For me, Christmas Eve was the culmination of weeks of preparation and waiting. In a sense, the following morning was anti-climatic; even though that's when we opened our presents. During the afternoon, our house would be teaming with extended family and relatives--on both floors. The smell of turkey lingered in the air and excitement was everywhere. 

That was then and this is now, however. The magic long ago disappeared with the advent of adulthood and greater understanding. Most of those relatives who made Christmas such a special time have long ago departed this world, and those older ones who remain reminisce and long for something that can no longer be. It's a painful time for them;  yet, how can those who no longer believe--who understand that the magic can no longer be created, assuage their sorrows? Even the music of the season, though exquisitely beautiful, is a painful thing. It very effectively transports our minds back to to childhood and recreates all that we felt during those simpler, more innocent times. So just as Ebenezer Scrooge in Dicken's Victorian novel, A Christmas Carol, was forced to face the Ghost of Christmas Past, so are we catapulted into a situation during which, we must confront the phantoms of our own past; these bringing forth feelings of melancholy, uncertainty and perhaps even long-felt regret. Still, we know that it's not just the music or memories that impose these warm but sometimes painful memories and emotions upon us; rather, the darkness itself forces this upon us, for it compels us to look inward, ever inward. 

 There are no bats, vampires, zombies or witches associated with Yule or Christmas imagery; yet, it's a season teaming with Gothic aspects of its own; and for some, an annual reminder of the relationship between pain and pleasure even as we are haunted by the figurative ghosts of our past. As with the case of Mr. Scrooge, these in turn, present us with an opportunity to embrace the darkness, to learn the lessons it teaches us and perhaps, to come to peace with our past.

A happy winter solstice and Yule season to all! 



         

Friday, December 6, 2013

Snowpocalypse

An eerie silence envelopes East Mountain and the surrounding landscape. There's nary a sound except for the occasional barking of a dog or the joyful exclamation a child down below as he or she takes a first step into the altered terrain. Nothing is moving; any sound from moving traffic in the center of town is non existent. Many are calling it a snowpocalypse, And even as the final flakes flutter down from a brightening sky, just about everyone is rejoicing in the fact that the predicted ice storm gave us snow instead; at least, for those of us in the mountains and northward. People living in the Arkansas River Valley, which lies about an hour's drive south on the interstate, were not so lucky however.

The freezing rain began at around 8:00 am yesterday morning, and it quickly put an icy glace on streets, sidewalks and tree branches. Fortunately, the rain changed over sleet within a couple of hours and it continued to come down for the rest of the day and well into the night. Sleet can be a strange phenomenon. It creates a music all of its own as the listener is treated to a  virtual symphony as thousands upon thousands of ice pellets reverberate against sprawling tree branches, a ground cover of newly fallen leaves and the roofs of houses. For those who wanted to listen, last night provided us with a grand symphony! Eventually, the sleet changed over to a dry snow, thereby allaying any fear of downed trees and power outages.

Down in the river valley, things were much less pleasant. According to the last report I heard, more than 30,000 customers are without power; this, with bitter cold temperatures on the way. Last night the news people were reporting that some in the valley can expect to be without electricity for at least a week. Ice storms can inflict a lot of damage in a short amount of time and it can take quite awhile to recover.

A short while ago I measured the amount of snow accumulated here on East Mountain. It appears that we got about six inches (15 cm). Is that all? You might be asking. Yes, that's all but six inches of snow, especially on top of ice and sleet, pretty much immobolizes us for awhile. It will likely be two or three days before I'll be able to get off this mountain; that is, unless I want to walk. Snow plows are almost nonexistent here. We just wait for the sun to come back out and melt things, more or less.




Anyway, another dangerous storm has passed and hopefully, things will get restored to normal very quickly down south, where they got most of the ice. Oh, and don't mind my ghoulish friend here! He's really happy that the ice caused no damage to his haunts; he just doesn't look it at the moment. It seems that the snow made him look something like a cone head. He was a bit angry that I caught him looking so silly. Ghouls after all, are supposed to be scary.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Checking In

It's been nearly two weeks since I've posted, so I just thought I'd take a moment to say, "I'm still alive!" Actually, things have been quite busy lately but I'd been planning to start on a new and interesting (at least to me) post early this week until...

Until an ice storm found its way into the forecast for later this week--and the closer we get to the weather event the worse the forecast becomes. I don't know why, but it always seems to work this way. Back in 2009 we got a horrible storm that left something like an inch to 1.50 inches of ice on the power lines, tree branches, etc. We lost something like 25 percent of our trees to that storm and some were without power for weeks while contending with the January cold. Believe me when I tell you that it's no fun sitting in the dark listening to giant oak and maple trees crashing down to the ground all around you. So, you have to excuse me if I'm a little spooked by the prospect of going through this again. Of course, we're still two days out from the event and things can change. Right now, they're predicting .25 to .30 inches of ice for us, which is considerably less than we received back in 09, but it can still cause downed tree limbs and power outages. 

Needless to say, my efforts at creating a new post are postponed for a few more days as it's time to concentrate on finding a Coleman stove, buying candles, and cutting as much firewood as possible while the weather is still pleasant. If power is not lost I hope to start work on my next topic around Thursday. If it goes out...well, I guess I'll get back here when I can. 

About a month ago a lady friend told me that she had a feeling of foreboding about this winter--that she felt we were going to get another ice storm. Her words only justified my own similar feelings. I guess we were both right--and the winter is only just beginning!  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Whitby by the Sea

The year was 1893 when a Russian vessel known as the Demeter was cast ashore by the fury of a powerful storm. When the locals arrived to investigate, they found no personnel on board save one, for lashed to the helm was the corpse of of the ship's captain. The rest of the crew was presumed dead or otherwise, lost at sea. The captain's log told of a series of strange occurrences, which slowly but inexorably led to the disappearance of the entire crew during the vessel's long journey from the coast of the Black Sea. The ship's cargo was equally baffling as it consisted of boxes filled with silver sand and soil from the east. Only one large dog seemed to survive the long journey, as it was spotted jumping ashore from the wreckage. At the time, those who had arrived at the wreckage could not fathom the gravity of the situation at hand, for Count Dracula had just arrived at Whitby.

By all accounts the town of Whitby is a place that inspires the imagination, as it certainly did for Bram Stoker during his time spent there. Although I have never been there, I find that historic community compelling nevertheless. Of course, Bram Stoker was not the first writer to be inspired by Whitby. He is in fact, just a part of the town's literary history. It is believed that the very first pieces of English literature were created there by the monk and Anglo Saxon poet, Cædmon.

Whitby is a seaside community that lies at the mouth of the River Esk where it empties into the North Sea on the east coast of North Yorkshire. Streonshal, as the town was once called, dates back to around the year 656, when Oswi, the Christian King of Northumbria, founded the area's first abbey. Around the year 867 Streonshal's original abbey and monastery were destroyed during the Viking invasion but was rebuilt and reestablished in the year 1078, just 12 years after the Norman invasion. It was at this time that the settlement took on the name of Whitby.

Perhaps even more attractive to Whitby's visitors is the town's ambiance. It's a rather isolated community that to a very great extent, still resembles the Whitby that inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula. An acquaintance who recently attended Whitby Goth Weekend described the community's atmosphere this way: 

"Such is the nature of transport in the UK that, even though only at the northern end of the very county in which I live (in old terms, anyway) getting there takes as long as it would to reach one of the major cities north of the border; the journey - particularly on the last leg, along the North-Eastern coast between Scarborough and Whitby - is distinguished by wild moorland and steep rises and falls. I can easily imagine that Bram Stoker, making the journey, would have found inspiration there for the scenes in "Dracula" which take place in Transylvania."

Of course, Stoker also took inspiration from a Hungarian writer he befriended named Arminius Vámbéry, who excited Stoker's imagination with dark tales from Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains. Still, there is little doubt that Whitby had a major influence on the creation of Mr. Stoker's best known novel.  

The Whitby Goth Weekend attendee continued describing the atmosphere there: 

"Once within Whitby itself the effect of the Moors journey continues to weigh heavily; the town itself has changed little since the late 19th century (a fact I discovered looking at comparative photos of Whitby then and now), and the winding, narrow streets only add to the sensation..." 

Landmarks such as the Whale Bone Arch and explorer Captain Cook's statue only add to the municipality's personality. Further, having personally seen photos of the local churchyard cemetery, I can easily conjure up in my mind's eye a vision visions of the graveyard and its surrounds late on a cloudy, gloomy afternoon/ What a wonderful setting! 

All things considered, I cannot imagine a more fitting place to hold an event such as Whitby Gothic Weekend than in this community by the North Sea. But whether you travel there for WGW or not, Whitby most certainly sounds like a most compelling place for those of us of the Gothic persuasion to visit. I don't know if I'll ever make it there myself, but I'd certainly love to do so and am already dreaming about it. 

By the way, there is a person I see from time to time that is originally from Yorkshire. He has assured me that anyone visiting Whitby simply must stop by The Magpie Cafe, which is right by the harbor. "They have the best fish and chips in all of England," he told me. Now I really, really want to go! 

The above photo, Whitby Abby at Night, appears courtesy of Minnie d'Arc. 

       

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Odds and Ends

Another Halloween has come and gone and I'm finding myself in the lull that exists between All Hallows Eve and the holidays, which I don't particularly look forward to. For the most part, I've been involved in mundane activities such as cutting into firewood a couple of large locust trees that came down in the nearby woods during the summer as well as watching the continuing episodes of Dark Shadows and the occasional horror movie at night. As expected, no trick or treaters braved the darkness to visit here on Halloween night, so I'm still enjoying the occasional leftover chocolate bar when the urge strikes me.

On Friday, November 1 we had the final Darkness Resurrected Dance Night of the year and this one was wisely chosen to serve as The 2013 Halloween Ball. Sure, we missed Halloween proper by a day because it fell on a Thursday this year, but no one was complaining that our event was held on during the nighttime hours on the Day of the Dead. Further, I'm happy to report that this event attracted the largest crowd yet. That's good news because we all appreciate DJ Durandal's efforts at organizing these events and want them to be worthwhile for him.


I didn't bring a camera that night and the photos I took with my phone didn't turn out very well. Fortunately, others did better than me and posted their pics on our Facebook page. The photo on the left should show you what an attractive crew we have at Darkness Resurrected. Pictured from left to right are Lexzy, Katrina, Vixx and DJ Axis.  
 



On a different note, one or two of you asked for more photos of our fall colors around the cemeteries. Truth be told, it's been a very picturesque autumn here in the Ozarks. Further, the beautiful foliage has been a bit slower than usual in disappearing. So, even though we're past our peak there are still some neat sights to behold.

  




I took this one yesterday, November 11. As you can see, the leaves are turning to more of a golden brown, but they're still colorful enough to make photographing them a worthwhile endeavor.






Well, that's about it for now. I hope you're all enjoying your fall as much as I am. And don't forget, there are only 352 days and 4 hours until Halloween; at least, for those of us here in the States!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tales of Dark Romance and Horror

I've been considering the possibility of self-publishing my fiction for quite a long time now. For a while, I put the idea off because I wanted enough stories available to create a full-sized hard-cover or paperback book. Still, I was intrigued enough with the idea that I looked into what it would take to self-publish; and after checking with the various agencies that offer the appropriate services and speaking with folks who have done it, I realized that there would be quite a technical learning curve to overcome  in order to meet my goal. Of course, if one is willing to spend the right amount of money, it's possible to get everything done with very little personal effort. Considering that my collection still isn't large enough to publish in a full-sized book, I haven't seen any point in going further with the idea until later. (Whew!) That said, I still found myself wanting to get my material out there without always having to take my chances submitting to various horror magazines. 

I did continue exploring the possibilities therefore, and I finally found a venue that suited my needs and would allow me to offer each of my pieces of fiction for a minimal price as well as a zip file containing the entire collection. So, I began the slow process of setting up another blog/website, permissions for photos and all of the technical issues involved with making it happen last summer. As I've probably mentioned before, I'm not the most technically savvy person in the world; that's why it has taken me months to get this project off the ground. Today however, I'm pleased to announce that things are ready to roll and I'm very happy to provide a link here to my new blog/website, which is called Tales of Romance and Horror.
   
What are my stories about? Well, the title of my new web page pretty much tells it all. Most of my fiction contains all the darkly romantic and sensual elements that my twisted mind can conjure up; this while keeping an eye on magick, the supernatural and horror. If you take the time to read through my material you,ll be brought to places where seductive vampires roam, alluring femme fatales lead their victims to their potential demise, and where hideous creatures terrify and wreak havoc.

Enough said then, I present you all with Tales of Dark Romance and Horror.

The above photo appears courtesy of Lady-Moriendistock. Visit her impressive gallery here.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Colors of Halloween

The crows were fussing once again, as I awoke to what can only be described as a beautiful Sunday morning. The local corvids have been quite noisy these past few mornings, perhaps in their desire to announce that Halloween, their favorite day of the year, is almost upon us. One thing is for certain, their commotion changes from day to day and from season to season. The fussing I heard this morning struck me as particularly joyous; and though these remarkable birds are often seen as the harbingers of bad news or the dark beings who guide discarnate spirits to the land of the dead, I know that there are times when they revel in the beauty that is around them. Indeed, Indian summer has finally arrived in the Ozarks!

The past summer provided us with plentiful amounts of rain, so everyone around here has been waiting in anticipation for that which is expected to be a colorful autumn. For whatever reason, the colors have been slow in coming this year; and truth be told, things are greener than they should be for late October. Still, with the crow's morning announcement and with rain forecast for much of the week ahead, I thought that today would be a good day to at least try capturing some of the emerging colors in the local cemeteries.



 This first photo was taken from my driveway. It captures the Confederate Cemetery with a view to the northwest. Downtown Fayetteville can be seen in the background; and if you look closely, you should see the clock tower on the old Washington County Courthouse. Hangings used to take place there, back in the old days. There's not a lot of color here on East Mountain as of yet, so I didn't focus much on the cemeteries that I live by.







 Next, I drove over to the historic Evergreen Cemetery, which is situated very close to our entertainment district and the University of Arkansas. The tree in the background was displaying unique coloration as if trying to say, "take a picture of me!" So I did; several as a matter of fact. Notice the two grave markers center right. These date back to the nineteenth century.








 The maple shown here displayed some of the brightest colors available on this Sunday morning. Soon, the landscape will be filled with spectacles such as this.












Here's a shot of that unusually colored tree from a different angle.












I just love this spot. There's a small but sturdy bench to sit upon while taking in the colors, the warmth of an Indian summer morning and the peace that picturesque burial grounds such as this are able to provide.





As mentioned earlier, I was hoping to get more spectacular photos of what promises to be a glorious autumn, but the mundane activities of life, personal projects and weather may not allow. Still, it was wonderful taking in such a special place on such a beautiful morning.

The crows have announced it; the trees are now beginning their colorful autumn displays and the veil between the worlds is growing thin. All Hallows Eve is drawing nigh. Those who pay attention to such things can feel it. A Happy Halloween to all!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Halloween Traditions

It's a dreary, cool and overcast day here on East Mountain and across the Ozark region. There's rain coming in and it looks as though it could arrive just about any time now. The nearby maples are beginning to display their autumn colors, which stand out in sharp contrast against a gray and bleak afternoon sky. Days such as this are the true harbingers of an impending Halloween, for they not only impose upon us visual images of a deepening autumn, but they conjure up from within emotions, impressions and feelings of a different nature; this, even as they inspire visions of jack o' lanterns glowing on porches, witches flying in front of a full moon on their broomsticks and discarnate entities roaming the darkened countryside. Preparations for All Hallows Eve are indeed under way!

My witch friend (shown here) had her short photo-op yesterday and has now taken her rightful place swinging from the a long hanging tree branch in front of the cottage. It's a place where, after months of confinement indoors, she can behold the colorful spectacle beginning to unfold inside and around the cemeteries while she hovers and casts devious spells into the autumn breezes. Rather than linger alone, she is joined by her vampire friend who, clad in cloak and top hat, will lie in wait each night in hopes that some passerby--prey if you will, might draw too close and  unwittingly, provide sustenance to this most thirsty of creatures. On the other side of the cottage remains the Guardian, who quite ghoulish in his own right, stands constant vigil against possible disturbances from the North, which might otherwise upset the eerie quiet surrounding these burial grounds. 


 



For me, putting some of my ghoulish friends outside in advance of All Hallows Eve is a long standing tradition. I just love it when I can add a bit more creepy ambiance to my outdoor surroundings. Still, this is just one of my Halloween customs. Here are a few more:





Fire: It used to be that I would build a small camp fire and sit by it for awhile on All Hallows Eve. In Celtic lore Samhain marks not only the time when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest, but also the beginning of that which was once referred to as the long darkness, the time of year when nights are longest. The ancient Celts kept fires burning throughout the night while thanking the God/Goddess for providing sunlight and plenty during the year. While I haven't built a camp fire in recent years, I maintain my fire tradition by keeping a candle burning in my jack o' lantern throughout the night and while home, a candle burning on a desk or table. 

At the coffee shop: At the shop where I do a lot of my coffee drinking, one of the offerings at this time of year is a flavor called punkin pie. It's a bit spicey, aromatic, and is really has a pumpkin-like taste--a treat I look forward to when October rolls around. 

Going to the entertainment district: Every year I enjoy going down to Dickson Street to see everyone dressed in costume. It can really be a sight to behold and from time to time, the strip becomes an absolute freak show. With growth taking place at the local university and more students in town during the school year, our entertainment district is becoming noisier and more rowdy than it used to be. So, I've been shying away from there somewhat in recent years. Quite simply it's just not my scene anymore, but who knows? A renewed visit is in order. Regardless, I do like to go out, at least to my local pub and favorite hangout, where lots of people show up in costume. 

Gothing up: I consider Halloween to be more than just one night. To me, it's a season of sorts, which depending upon the weather, fall colors and overall feel might last for a week or two. During this time, which extends into the Day of the Dead, I tend to goth up a bit more creatively than usual. You know the routine; black nail polish, vampire shirts or my Reaper's Bride shirt, a personal favorite. Since I don't generally dress in costume, gothing up works quite nicely for me.

Cemetery: I make it a point to visit the small Walker Cemetery, which is situated to the side of my driveway. I'm not saying that it's all that creepy there or anything, but it has more of the types of stones and monuments that figure in Halloween imagery. It's always nice to spend a few minutes there, communing with the spirits of the past.

Halloween Stores: In my opinion, it wouldn't be Halloween without visiting stores catering to the holiday. I've already made my pilgrimage once this season, and might do so again. Often, I return on the day after, when all of the items I coveted but didn't want to pay the price for the first time around, are offered at a 50 percent discount. 

Eating the Children's Candy: This is a good one! Every year, I buy some candy--just in case some trick or treaters come by while I'm still at home. Yet, in all the years that I've lived here by the cemeteries on East Mountain, not one child in costume has ever knocked on my door. It seems that passing by the cemeteries through the Halloween darkness is too unnerving for them. I've known this for a long time now, and really don't expect anyone to come by. Still, I buy the chocolate bars--just in case. So, when the kids don't show up, I get all the candy! Isn't that a bit of evil scheming on my part?

Music: Let's face it; considering my love of doom metal and such, I listen to pretty creepy music all year long. Still, there's some dark ambient and neoclassical dark wave that I especially enjoy listening to on the nights leading up to All Hallows Eve. It's music that conjures up images in my mind and greatly increases my appreciation for this time of year. That said, no Halloween is complete without listening to Type O Negative's Bloody Kisses. I'm referring to the song as opposed to the entire album, which goes by the same name. I consider Bloody Kisses my Halloween theme song and for me at least, it's oh so Goth!

There you have it! Now you know my personal Halloween traditions. So how about you? Would you care to sharel any of yours? 

       

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Beast in the Cave

Autumn has finally arrived to the Ozark Mountains. Until around daybreak yesterday morning the air was still quite warm and summer-like. Then, with flashes of lightning, the rumbling of thunder and heavy rain, the seasons seem to have abruptly changed. Of course, things are still green here on East Mountain, but there is now a briskness in the air, and last night the crickets sang their songs at a much slower tempo. The katydids, those denizens of the summer night whose unmistakeable calls resonate throughout the mountains, valleys and meadows from twilight til the first glimmer of morning light, had fallen silent. The change of the seasons has been abrupt and pronounced. Suddenly, it feels as though Halloween is drawing near--and what better time to read a horror story! 

For me, there hasn't been much going on during the past week or two; at least not anything of interest in a Gothic sense. So, for this week's post, I thought I'd give myself a break and post a short story that I really like. It's a most enjoyable tale that was written on April 21, 1905 by the great American Horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft. The piece was eventually presented for public consumption in a publication called The Vagrant in June, 1918. It has long been known that Mr. Lovecraft's work was greatly inspired by that of Edgar Allan Poe; and of the many stories I've read by this author, I find this one the most Poe-like. So then, for those of you who enjoy a good read, here is...

The Beast in the Cave - by H.P. Lovecraft

The horrible conclusion which had been gradually intruding itself upon my confused and reluctant mind was now an awful certainty. I was lost, completely, hopelessly lost in the vast and labyrinthine recess of the Mammoth Cave. Turn as I might, in no direction could my straining vision seize on any object capable of serving as a guidepost to set me on the outward path. That nevermore should I behold the blessed light of day, or scan the pleasant bills and dales of the beautiful world outside, my reason could no longer entertain the slightest unbelief. Hope had departed. Yet, indoctrinated as I was by a life of philosophical study, I derived no small measure of satisfaction from my unimpassioned demeanour; for although I had frequently read of the wild frenzies into which were thrown the victims of similar situations, I experienced none of these, but stood quiet as soon as I clearly realised the loss of my bearings.

Nor did the thought that I had probably wandered beyond the utmost limits of an ordinary search cause me to abandon my composure even for a moment. If I must die, I reflected, then was this terrible yet majestic cavern as welcome a sepulchre as that which any churchyard might afford, a conception which carried with it more of tranquillity than of despair.
Starving would prove my ultimate fate; of this I was certain. Some, I knew, had gone mad under circumstances such as these, but I felt that this end would not be mine. My disaster was the result of no fault save my own, since unknown to the guide I had separated myself from the regular party of sightseers; and, wandering for over an hour in forbidden avenues of the cave, had found myself unable to retrace the devious windings which I had pursued since forsaking my companions.

Already my torch had begun to expire; soon I would be enveloped by the total and almost palpable blackness of the bowels of the earth. As I stood in the waning, unsteady light, I idly wondered over the exact circumstances of my coming end. I remembered the accounts which I had heard of the colony of consumptives, who, taking their residence in this gigantic grotto to find health from the apparently salubrious air of the underground world, with its steady, uniform temperature, pure air, and peaceful quiet, had found, instead, death in strange and ghastly form. I had seen the sad remains of their ill-made cottages as I passed them by with the party, and had wondered what unnatural influence a long sojourn in this immense and silent cavern would exert upon one as healthy and vigorous as I. Now, I grimly told myself, my opportunity for settling this point had arrived, provided that want of food should not bring me too speedy a departure from this life.

As the last fitful rays of my torch faded into obscurity, I resolved to leave no stone unturned, no possible means of escape neglected; so, summoning all the powers possessed by my lungs, I set up a series of loud shoutings, in the vain hope of attracting the attention of the guide by my clamour. Yet, as I called, I believed in my heart that my cries were to no purpose, and that my voice, magnified and reflected by the numberless ramparts of the black maze about me, fell upon no ears save my own.

All at once, however, my attention was fixed with a start as I fancied that I heard the sound of soft approaching steps on the rocky floor of the cavern.

Was my deliverance about to be accomplished so soon? Had, then, all my horrible apprehensions been for naught, and was the guide, having marked my unwarranted absence from the party, following my course and seeking me out in this limestone labyrinth? Whilst these joyful queries arose in my brain, I was on the point of renewing my cries, in order that my discovery might come the sooner, when in an instant my delight was turned to horror as I listened; for my ever acute ear, now sharpened in even greater degree by the complete silence of the cave, bore to my benumbed understanding the unexpected and dreadful knowledge that these footfalls were not like those of any mortal man. In the unearthly stillness of this subterranean region, the tread of the booted guide would have sounded like a series of sharp and incisive blows. These impacts were soft, and stealthy, as of the paws of some feline. Besides, when I listened carefully, I seemed to trace the falls of four instead of two feet.

I was now convinced that I had by my own cries aroused and attracted some wild beast, perhaps a mountain lion which had accidentally strayed within the cave. Perhaps, I considered, the Almighty had chosen for me a swifter and more merciful death than that of hunger; yet the instinct of self-preservation, never wholly dormant, was stirred in my breast, and though escape from the on-coming peril might but spare me for a sterner and more lingering end, I determined nevertheless to part with my life at as high a price as I could command. Strange as it may seem, my mind conceived of no intent on the part of the visitor save that of hostility. Accordingly, I became very quiet, in the hope that the unknown beast would, in the absence of a guiding sound, lose its direction as had I, and thus pass me by. But this hope was not destined for realisation, for the strange footfalls steadily advanced, the animal evidently having obtained my scent, which in an atmosphere so absolutely free from all distracting influences as is that of the cave, could doubtless be followed at great distance.

Seeing therefore that I must be armed for defense against an uncanny and unseen attack in the dark, I groped about me the largest of the fragments of rock which were strewn upon all parts of the floor of the cavern in the vicinity, and grasping one in each hand for immediate use, awaited with resignation the inevitable result. Meanwhile the hideous pattering of the paws drew near. Certainly, the conduct of the creature was exceedingly strange. Most of the time, the tread seemed to be that of a quadruped, walking with a singular lack of unison betwixt hind and fore feet, yet at brief and infrequent intervals I fancied that but two feet were engaged in the process of locomotion. I wondered what species of animal was to confront me; it must, I thought, be some unfortunate beast who had paid for its curiosity to investigate one of the entrances of the fearful grotto with a life-long confinement in its interminable recesses. It doubtless obtained as food the eyeless fish, bats and rats of the cave, as well as some of the ordinary fish that are wafted in at every freshet of Green River, which communicates in some occult manner with the waters of the cave. I occupied my terrible vigil with grotesque conjectures of what alteration cave life might have wrought in the physical structure of the beast, remembering the awful appearances ascribed by local tradition to the consumptives who had died after long residence in the cave. Then I remembered with a start that, even should I succeed in felling my antagonist, I should never behold its form, as my torch had long since been extinct, and I was entirely unprovided with matches. The tension on my brain now became frightful. My disordered fancy conjured up hideous and fearsome shapes from the sinister darkness that surrounded me, and that actually seemed to press upon my body. Nearer, nearer, the dreadful footfalls approached. It seemed that I must give vent to a piercing scream, yet had I been sufficiently irresolute to attempt such a thing, my voice could scarce have responded. I was petrified, rooted to the spot. I doubted if my right arm would allow me to hurl its missile at the oncoming thing when the crucial moment should arrive. Now the steady pat, pat, of the steps was close at hand; now very close. I could hear the laboured breathing of the animal, and terror-struck as I was, I realised that it must have come from a considerable distance, and was correspondingly fatigued. Suddenly the spell broke. My right hand, guided by my ever trustworthy sense of hearing, threw with full force the sharp-angled bit of limestone which it contained, toward that point in the darkness from which emanated the breathing and pattering, and, wonderful to relate, it nearly reached its goal, for I heard the thing jump, landing at a distance away, where it seemed to pause.

Having readjusted my aim, I discharged my second missile, this time most effectively, for with a flood of joy I listened as the creature fell in what sounded like a complete collapse and evidently remained prone and unmoving. Almost overpowered by the great relief which rushed over me, I reeled back against the wall. The breathing continued, in heavy, gasping inhalations and expirations, whence I realised that I had no more than wounded the creature. And now all desire to examine the thing ceased. At last something allied to groundless, superstitious fear had entered my brain, and I did not approach the body, nor did I continue to cast stones at it in order to complete the extinction of its life. Instead, I ran at full speed in what was, as nearly as I could estimate in my frenzied condition, the direction from which I had come. Suddenly I heard a sound or rather, a regular succession of sounds. In another Instant they had resolved themselves into a series of sharp, metallic clicks. This time there was no doubt. It was the guide. And then I shouted, yelled, screamed, even shrieked with joy as I beheld in the vaulted arches above the faint and glimmering effulgence which I knew to be the reflected light of an approaching torch. I ran to meet the flare, and before I could completely understand what had occurred, was lying upon the ground at the feet of the guide, embracing his boots and gibbering. despite my boasted reserve, in a most meaningless and idiotic manner, pouring out my terrible story, and at the same time overwhelming my auditor with protestations of gratitude. At length, I awoke to something like my normal consciousness. The guide had noted my absence upon the arrival of the party at the entrance of the cave, and had, from his own intuitive sense of direction, proceeded to make a thorough canvass of by-passages just ahead of where he had last spoken to me, locating my whereabouts after a quest of about four hours.

By the time he had related this to me, I, emboldened by his torch and his company, began to reflect upon the strange beast which I had wounded but a short distance back in the darkness, and suggested that we ascertain, by the flashlight's aid, what manner of creature was my victim. Accordingly I retraced my steps, this time with a courage born of companionship, to the scene of my terrible experience. Soon we descried a white object upon the floor, an object whiter even than the gleaming limestone itself. Cautiously advancing, we gave vent to a simultaneous ejaculation of wonderment, for of all the unnatural monsters either of us had in our lifetimes beheld, this was in surpassing degree the strangest. It appeared to be an anthropoid ape of large proportions, escaped, perhaps, from some itinerant menagerie. Its hair was snow-white, a thing due no doubt to the bleaching action of a long existence within the inky confines of the cave, but it was also surprisingly thin, being indeed largely absent save on the head, where it was of such length and abundance that it fell over the shoulders in considerable profusion. The face was turned away from us, as the creature lay almost directly upon it. The inclination of the limbs was very singular, explaining, however, the alternation in their use which I bad before noted, whereby the beast used sometimes all four, and on other occasions but two for its progress. From the tips of the fingers or toes, long rat-like claws extended. The hands or feet were not prehensile, a fact that I ascribed to that long residence in the cave which, as I before mentioned, seemed evident from the all-pervading and almost unearthly whiteness so characteristic of the whole anatomy. No tail seemed to be present.

The respiration had now grown very feeble, and the guide had drawn his pistol with the evident intent of despatching the creature, when a sudden sound emitted by the latter caused the weapon to fall unused. The sound was of a nature difficult to describe. It was not like the normal note of any known species of simian, and I wonder if this unnatural quality were not the result of a long continued and complete silence, broken by the sensations produced by the advent of the light, a thing which the beast could not have seen since its first entrance into the cave. The sound, which I might feebly attempt to classify as a kind of deep-tone chattering, was faintly continued.

All at once a fleeting spasm of energy seemed to pass through the frame of the beast. The paws went through a convulsive motion, and the limbs contracted. With a jerk, the white body rolled over so that its face was turned in our direction. For a moment I was so struck with horror at the eyes thus revealed that I noted nothing else. They were black, those eyes, deep jetty black, in hideous contrast to the snow-white hair and flesh. Like those of other cave denizens, they were deeply sunken in their orbits, and were entirely destitute of iris. As I looked more closely, I saw that they were set in a face less prognathous than that of the average ape, and infinitely less hairy. The nose was quite distinct. As we gazed upon the uncanny sight presented to our vision, the thick lips opened, and several sounds issued from them, after which the thing relaxed in death.

The guide clutched my coat sleeve and trembled so violently that the light shook fitfully, casting weird moving shadows on the walls.

I made no motion, but stood rigidly still, my horrified eyes fixed upon the floor ahead.

The fear left, and wonder, awe, compassion, and reverence succeeded in its place, for the sounds uttered by the stricken figure that lay stretched out on the limestone had told us the awesome truth. The creature I had killed, the strange beast of the unfathomed cave, was, or had at one time been a MAN!!!



The stories of H.P. Lovecraft are in the public domain.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

In August: Good Music From Norway

Those of you who are regular readers of The Gothic Embrace may recall a recent post I published entitled, Mira: The Empress of Darkness. Mira, also known as Miramariann, is a very compelling Gothic model living in Norway whose fashion style and overall demeanor closely resembles my original vision for a character I'd created and made central to a few of my earlier short stories. Since publishing that post between mid and late August, I've been keeping up with Miramariann's ongoing activities through Facebook. After all, my philosophy is that when meaningful connections are made between people of like mind, staying in touch is usually beneficial for all involved. In the case of what I'm about to discuss here, I can honestly say that I have once again, benefited from our acquaintance.

A few days ago, I found a video that Mira had just posted in which she and  her "darkling" had taken part. Since she is no doubt, my favorite Gothic model, and since I was curious about her taste in music, I put the video on right away. By the time the song had progressed beyond the first few bars I was already having trouble containing myself. "Oh my God!" I said to myself. (explicative) "Damn!" (another explicative) "This is really (explicative) good!"  In other words, I already loved the song on the first listening---and that's exciting.

Categorizing music can be a tricky affair, but I would refer to the type performed by In August as female-fronted metal, something that in and of itself, adds an interesting dynamic to a musical genre, which until fairly recently, was male dominated. The group's current lineup includes Lady August doing the vocals, Kjell providing the guitar work, Tom playing bass and Morten on the drums. On the song, 1000 Words, which is the title track of the video, friend and guest musician Roger Wollan provided the piano work . The band formed about a year ago as the result of friends regularly playing together and others, as Lady August puts it, "because of common interest in both metal and music with strong melodies."

Though not the first song the group has recorded, 1000 Words is the first video it has produced. In my opinion, In August chose wisely in starting off with this one because, while maintaining some metal influences, it is a bit slower than the group's other songs, very melodic and showcases not only Lady August's impressive vocal abilities, but the band's understanding of rock n' roll fundamentals. I cannot say how very refreshing it was for me to hear an already captivating song segue into a really good lead guitar solo. In my opinion, this is a technique that rarely fails to please but is one too often missing in today's metal, a musical genre still dominated by that instrument. 
 
While the chords and tonalities found in 1000 Words do not strike me as particularly Gothic, the video itself keeps reverting back to dark imagery containing flashes of Mira and her partner; this, as well as visions of a man in a top hat serenading his lover in the dark with his violin. I'm not sure if the violin segments feature Mira and her friend or not, but this is imagery that I always find both romantic and compelling nevertheless.  

In August recorded three other songs this past January. These include Frozen Fear, Dad, and You'll Never Know. While these are a bit heavier than 1000 Words, they do maintain melodic quality, interesting tonalities, chord structure and more high-quality guitar work. For the time being however, you'll have to either visit iTunes or Spotify in order to hear them. 

Although the band is still somewhat in flux as it is looking for a rhythm guitarist, it is a testimony to the group's creativity to know that its members write, record and produce all of the material themselves. Additionally, In August has begun playing gigs in their native country and is looking to the future by beginning work on some new songs for an upcoming album; this, with hopes that other doors may open, thereby opening the possibility of performances abroad. 

All in all, these folks are doing quite well for a group that has only been in existence for a year or so. All I can say is keep up the good work! I'm looking forward to hearing more from you in the future. Oh! And Lady August, I love your hat!    

Here's their video entitled, 1000 Words. This video and accompanying photos appear with the permission of Lady August and the band, In August. 



 


In August's Official Website


       

Monday, September 23, 2013

Another Tale of the Supernatural: The Top Hat Man

A couple of weeks ago I was at our local farmer's market when, deciding that I had a few minutes to kill, I took a seat on a bench directly across from one of the local street musicians who was playing some rather nice sounding slide material on his Dobro. No sooner had I made myself comfortable however, before he stopped playing, looked at me and said, "I've been wanting to talk with you. Judging from your attire, I'm curious about something."

At that moment I figured that I was going to have to confess all; yes, I'm a Goth and no, I'm not a devil worshiper. As it turned out, that wasn't what he wanted to talk about at all. Instead, he told me that I dressed like someone who would know about the Top Hat Man. At this point, he had most definitely garnered my attention, and almost embarrassingly, was forced to admit that I'd never heard of the fellow.

"Well," he began, "he's not a real man; he's a spirit that has been seen all over. I think he might be a defender of children because he seems to come around when something happens to them."

The musician went on to tell me that he was sharing this information with me because I looked like someone who might be interested in what he had to say and wouldn't scoff at him. He went on to describe the Top Hat Man as always dressing in a long, black coat, having long hair and of course, a top hat. He filled me in on encounters people  close to him have had with the mysterious man and those closely associated with celebrity as well. "Look it up," he told me, "you'll find plenty of information about him."

Well, I did look it up and as my new acquaintance suggested, I did find quite a bit of information on the subject.

The first impression I got from my research is that my musician friend was spot on regarding the Top Hat Man's dealings with children. For whatever reason, it seems that it is mostly youngsters who have initial encounters with the entity. It would be easy to discount the various sightings as the product of young imaginations, but that neither explains how kids hundreds of miles apart manage to describe remarkably similar experiences nor accounts for the fact that upon growing into adulthood they continue to stand by their childhood stories. Additionally, older people sometimes see him as well.

One young adult described his first encounter with the Top Hat Man this way:

"The first time I saw the Top Hat Man was my freshman year at Eastern Oklahoma State College in my hometown of Wilburton, Oklahoma. I was walking from the library to my dorm and I saw a man wearing a long black coat, shiny black boots, a top  hat and sunglasses. He had long black hair anc carried a wooden cane with a silver handle. 

"The apparation scared me to death and I told my roomate about it. She said that she and some of her friends had seen the man as well. They weren't sure what he was, but believed that he was a demon closely related to shadow creatures." 1 

Another account tells of a ten-year-old boy named George who, while living in Alaska, heard his friend's mother discuss her personal encounter with the mysterious man in a top hat. According to George, she referred to him as death. A few years later, the young man made the claim to have encountered the entity himself. He didn't tell everyone however, and it was not until after he and his family had moved to Texas that George's mother mentioned having a vision of the man staring at her one night from the foot of her bed.

From Arkansas and Oklahoma to Alaska and even the north coast of France, people of all ages have reported seeing the shadowy man. Some consider him to be pure evil while others think him harmless and perhaps, even a protector of children. Reports such as the ones mentioned here are difficult to verify and perhaps, quite impossible to believe for some. Most of the information about this phenomenon is found in forums or on websites that discuss the unexplainable; and admittedly, these are not necessarily the most dependable sources of information. Still, there's enough similarity between accounts across the miles that there may very well be something to his story. If that's the case, then we must ask, who is this mysterious shadow man who walks the Earth in Victorian attire and a top hat?    

1. About dot com. Paranormal Phenomena: The Top Hat Man

2. From the Shadows











   

Monday, September 16, 2013

The 3rd Annual Ravenwood Gothic Reunion

On Saturday night, I had the privilege of attending The 3rd Annual Ravenwood Gothic Reunion, an event that I'd missed out on in the past and was very much looking forward to finally attending this time around. I knew that on the night of September 14, there would be assembled, in a nice venue known as Teatro Scarpino, a group of individuals that represent the core of Northwest Arkansas' Goth community. Some of these folks I already knew, but there were also those considered central to Ravenwood Manor that I had not yet had the opportunity to meet. It goes without saying that this past Saturday was going to be a big night for me--and it didn't disappoint! Not only was it a night for the making of new friends, but it was a time for enjoying the company of those I'd recently made through Darkness Ressurected Dance Nights and other events over the past several months.  





 Before I begin talking about my experiences on Saturday night, I think it's only right to begin with a photo of this man. He is Al Thompson, the founder of Ravenwood Manor and a person very much loved by all in the community. He is also one of the folks I had the great pleasure of meeting for the first time.








I got to Scarpino's a little before the doors opened. As some of you regular readers know, I really don't like featuring photos of myself--and this is why! Believe it or not, I scared the heck out of myself when I later looked in the mirror during a run to the restroom. While one lady actually complemented me on my makeup, it occurred to me that I had maybe gone a little over the top. Then, for one fleeting moment, I considered the possibility that Batman might mistake me for the joker. Since I didn't want any problems with him and much preferred to stay at the reunion, I eventually decided to wash off the makeup; or at least, do the best I could with hand washing and paper towels. Of course, the fact that some of it was running into my eyes helped make the decision a little bit easier. At any rate, some of you wanted to see photos of me with my new top hat. This is the first of them.




Once the music got going and people had settled in, there were very few times when no one was on the dance floor. Here, some of the ladies are pictured doing a very graceful dance. Music was provided by several deejays, which included Dr. Ford Fitch, D.J. Durandal,  D.J. Anthony Bale, and Oklahoma City's D.J. Morbid Kitty. The deejays presented a good mix of material ranging from electronic to more old-school stuff such as the Sisters of Mercy, a group that never fails to get me dancing. What made my night however, was when D.J. Durandal played Type O Negative's Bloody Kisses. Little did he know at the time that he had chosen to play what I consider my own personal
 Halloween theme song. Good job Durandal!





This is a shot taken with Chris Brown, aka D.J. Justy. I first met Chris on a cold night last December, when we did a group viewing of The Hobbit. It can truthfully be said that The 3rd Annual Ravenwood Gothic Reunion was Chris' baby. He organized it and created it. 







Here, I'm fortunate enough to be pictured with Lilith Marek, The Dragon of Ravenwood. Like Al, she was another of the people I'd long wanted to meet and finally did. Not only is Lilith a graceful dancer, but she did a lot of the publicity work for Saturday's event.  






I had a great time at my first Ravenwood gathering and can honestly say that it was well worth the months-long wait. What I saw there however, goes beyond just another fun night out on the town. It wasn't a large gathering; we didn't fill up the venue, and I know that there were some folks who wanted to be there but for various reasons were not able to attend. What I actually found however, was a community of people bound together by common interests and experiences. The Ravenwood Community considers itself an extended family; one that takes great joy in getting together and sharing the experience.  It was a pleasure taking part in it all Saturday night.

I, and maybe a few others, left a little before things came to a close at 2:00 a.m. When I departed, I was considering my hungry state and only wanted to grab a hot dog or two out on Dickson Street while the grabbing was still good. It didn't cross my mind that a group photo might be taken before everyone went their separate ways. But that's what happened. This last photo features the majority of those who were in attendance. If you ask me, it was an attractive group indeed!



 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Goths and the New Russian Reality

  

Sometime around 2008, word began spreading around the internet and elsewhere that the Russian Duma, which is that country's legislative body, was in the process of passing legislation designed to ban forms of Goth and Emo music as well as Goth fashion styles from schools and public buildings.
At the time, Russian authorities were allegedly calling the subcultures a threat to national stability and a dangerous teen trend."

There seems to be some confusion in the west as to whether or not that legislation ever became law. Further, most of the online sources providing information about the proposed ban were not exactly the most credible. Still, that country's RT News Network ran a story (in English) on the topic of Goths and the proposed ban around the same time that the legislation was reportedly being considered. RT has proven itself credible over the years and it's reportage on the topic lends one to believe that anti-Goth legislation was, at a minimum, in the works during that time. A video of RT's broadcast is provided here. 

Also disturbing was some of the dialog about Goths both leading  up to and beyond the proposed legislation. In the September 15, 2008 edition of the Telegraph
its Moscow correspondent reported on the arrest of several Goths who were arrested for allegedly murdering and eating teenagers in a satanic ritual. In June, 2011 an independent online newspaper known as the Moscow News reported that a court in southern Russia had sanctioned the arrest of three Goths  suspected of destroying some 40 tombs in the city of Rostov-on-Don during the month of April. 

While none of us have all the facts in these cases we can probably agree that murder, cannibalism and the desecration of graves are not activities condoned by the Goth subculture or its individual members, most of whom are quite peaceful in nature. Still, stories such as those mentioned above can easily incite fear in the general population, thereby paving the way for the acceptance of repressive laws and even violence. 

Monday afternoon NPR's Here and Now radio-talk program ran a disturbing segment about the rise in anti-gay/lesbian violence in Russia since President Putin signed legislation earlier this year, which forbids the dissemination of any information about homosexuality. The segment goes on to report that the legislation has led to the rise of vigilante violence against the gay and lesbian community. Some of the accounts related on the program seem hideous in nature, and it is clear that the legislation and any propaganda preceding it have paved the way for sociopaths to hold an unobstructed field day against those deemed unworthy by the state. 

Taking the current situation a step further, it's not difficult to imagine those using violent behavior against gays, lesbians and transgender folk extending it a bit further by lashing out against Goths; after all, do we not wear a lot of jewelry, makeup, dress differently and in general, support equal rights for all regardless of sexual persuasion?

While certain restrictions against the Goth lifestyle may or may not have been put in place during 2008, it is certain that draconian measures are being taken against Russia's gay/lesbian community and their supporters. The psychopaths, feeling that they have a green light to commit violent acts are on the move--and there's no guaranteeing that they won't target the Goth and Emo communities as well.  


Further references: 

Here and Now - Russian Activists: Anti-Gay Violence on the Rise

The Guardian, June 30, 2013 - Russia Passes Anti-Gay Law

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A New Hat Acquisition

In just a little under two weeks I'll have my chance to attend, for the first time, the 3rd Annual Ravenwood Gothic Reunion. In my mind, this is the big one. It's an event that I have heard about and long believed was somehow central to the local Goth subculture, but always managed to miss the boat on in previous years. I suppose I can lay the blame for missing out on my somewhat introverted nature, but this time I was invited and I'm planning to attend. 

When someone, in reference to such an event says, "get your Goth on," the question that first comes to mind is, okay, what am I going to wear. And even though I have some neat stuff to choose from, I usually end up thinking that I need to find something new anyway

That was my dilemma this past week when I developed this nagging feeling that I should go to the mall. So Wednesday, I did just that and my intuition payed off; for no sooner did I pass through the entrance of one of the stores I frequent there, than I saw a top hat sitting on a shelf to the right. I tried it on and it fit--perfectly!  This is something that I have needed for awhile, so I was very glad to take that fine specimen of a hat home. It will most definitely have its debut at the reunion on the fourteenth. 

The truth of the matter is, I've been wanting another head piece for awhile; not a replacement for what I generally wear, but more of an "in addition to" type accessory. I have long coveted the Van Helsing Hat, which is a replica of the one worn by Hugh Jackman in the movie of the same title. I have found one company that manufactures and sells this item, but their price of $1,400-plus is a bit steep for me. More recently, I have found another outfit that sells a similar Witch Hunter Hat. Its appearance is a bit more western, but I have been assured that if I request this item with a wire inside of it, I'll be able to shape it to my liking. Although the price is still a bit above what I think it's wise to spend at the moment, it's much more affordable than the Van Helsing Hat and is still on my list of must haves. 

I'm happy with the top hat though, because it's something that I have needed for a while--and the price was right. Like so many others, I do indeed enjoy the Victorian look and I've at least taken a step in that direction. Sometimes the wheels of progress turn a bit slowly, but they continue to turn. 

I have no hat photos for you tonight, but more likely than not, I'll be able to cajole someone into taking one or two at the reunion. I'll likely post a picture or two after that. It may not be my typical hat style, but I don't think it looks too bad and I'm happy with it. That's what counts.