The Flavor of Life

meat and knifeThe man was born into the palm of luxury – literally.  It’s said he once could fit into the palm of his father’s hand. Born prematurely, he suffered through acute illness and complications just to live. But no one could ever say he didn’t appreciate the flavor of life.

Youth brought him the status that rich parents always bring. He was smart and sociable, but a little odd.  Perhaps his early birth had caused obstacles that would haunt him for life, his parents wondered. But to their amazement, he was a studious young man, compensating for any setbacks he might have suffered with an uncanny intellect and social affability, even if he had few friends. Their proudest moment was when their son was accepted to a PhD program in France. That year, Issei traveled from his home in Japan, to study literature at the Sorbonne.

Four years of study had made him a favorite of the faculty, and earned him respect among his student acquaintances. One student in particular made his heart flutter. What a beautiful name for such a beautiful face – Renee. Issei asked her if she’d like to have dinner with him. It was a huge risk, one he knew he had no right to take, for whatever benefits money and intelligence had brought him, it’s wasn’t enough to deserve her company. She was beautiful. He still considered himself a weak, ugly, inadequate little man.

But she’d said yes!

Renee arrived at his home that evening for some wine, a good meal, and an evening of poetry translation. The talk was mechanical if not pleasant, and soon Issei had convinced her to do what she most feared to do for him – recite her translations of German poetry. She was timid, blushed, but finally began to speak. Her voice was beautiful, built on many layers of femininity and grace, and her voice continued to echo in his house for a few seconds after he’d shot her in the neck with a rifle.

Issei’s dream for her wasn’t to bed her down, or make her his wife. He wanted to eat her.

Taking a few hours to first have sex with his dead victim, and perhaps build up an appetite, he decided he would begin with her buttocks and thighs. They proved terribly difficult to cut away from the bone, so he left to buy a sharper butcher knife. He was surprised at the way raw human fat looked, and more surprised at the taste. He feasted on Renee for two days until, satiated, he took what remained of her to a local river, to dump her in.  But he was weak, and not good at these things. Someone spotted him.

He was arrested by the French police and they quickly began their investigation. How could a man devour another human in just two days, they wondered? There was hardly anything left on the woman’s bones. They found their answer in his refrigerator. He’d packed her up nicely in the finest cuts, and stored her away.

His wealthy father was devastated, but determined neither he nor his son would lose face.  He hired the best defense attorneys to defend his son, but they never made it to trial. Issei was held for two years before the authorities finally declared him insane, and sent him to a mental institution.

It was in that institution that Issei really began to become the man he’d always dreamed of being. He was visited by an author from his home country who interviewed him about his account of what had happened. When the story was published, in an odd way that sick stories often do, he became an instant celebrity.

The French authorities didn’t care for the attention, or the scrutiny of their legal system. They ordered Issei be extradited back to Japan.  When he arrived, Japanese police immediately took him to Matsuzawa hospital, where the attending psychologists found him sane, determining that his cannibalism was the result of sexual perversion, not some underlying mental illness.

It seemed Issei would be finally tried for his crime. However, the requests by Japanese court official to obtain the original documents from the French were denied, the French citing that the case had already been dropped in France, and therefore, the documents were secret and could not be released. Having nothing with which to prosecute Issei, he was discharged from the hospital, a free man.

Issei became a guest lecturer and commentator, and for a time wrote the most poignant restaurant reviews for a well-known magazine. He even tried his hand as a movie actor. He now lives a quiet life, sometimes starring in documentaries, sometimes earning welfare benefits, and providing constant inspiration for copycat killers and horror writers across the globe.

Read more about Issei Sagawa here.

Part 6

Part 6Franklin stood outside of the church, far enough to not be seen but close enough to watch every face that passed through the leaves hanging on the burnt summer branches as they walked up the stairs to where the funeral would soon take place. His throat was dry. He wanted to go in, to watch, to see what kind of people felt sorry such a person was gone. Dead. Aching in a new place or silent in forever, or what ever happened to people when they died. He wanted to see him, his cold face in the box.

But he knew he wasn’t welcome.

He was not a murderer, not in this country. And if war wasn’t murder then he had no guilt to carry, even though he did, every day. And yet, this man, this boy, had died because of him. Because of what he’d said.

He’d often considered suicide himself. Not in the way Stephen had gone about it. There were better ways. A suicide, he thought, was not a demonstration. Those times when the death came in grand fashion were crimes committed by people who didn’t really want to die. Their suicides were accidents. Stephen hadn’t really wanted to die, either.

August seared itself into his skin, and he scratched it away. Couldn’t go inside. People would whisper. They’d look at him and think that he’d made love to one of his students, say he’d driven a young man to a death inspired by heartbreak. Some of it might be true.

He wondered if Stephen’s face looked like it had that day he’d seen him standing outside his door. It seemed like a long time ago. In many ways it was. A lot had happened, some of it good, most of it bad. The bad started that day on the porch, he behind the screen and Stephen on the other side of it, the day Stephen had told him he’d just wanted to make sure which house they lived in. The day the son of a bitch said that he was entrusting Crystal’s safety with him. He had a sick way of keeping someone safe.

“So this is how I see it, Franklin,” he’d said, not even having respect enough to call him Mr. Ray, like the other students. “Her safety depends on what you do. So think about it. Your actions can help her, or hurt her. But things are probably the opposite of what you’re imagining.”

“Are you threatening me?” he’d asked Stephen.

“No. I’m not threatening you.”

“Then what are you saying?”

“I’m saying that if I see you with her, ‘helping her’ in the way you feel like you should, I’ll know you want her to feel pain.”

Franklin had told him to get the hell off of his property. He’d threatened to call the police. Stephen said that was also a good way for Crystal to get hurt. He’d said that anything Franklin did that he didn’t like, Crystal would be punished for.

It had terrified him.

The doors shut and the people stopped coming. There was no music inside the church, no sound but the passing traffic and the wind.

He wanted to see, to make sure he was dead.

Franklin stepped from behind the tree where he’d been standing, trying to look like he belonged there, and walked up the steps. The air was cool inside.

There were people near the front, and empty rows of chairs in the back. He sat down in one. He didn’t want to stay long.

They might say it was his fault, if they knew what had really happened. But they would have done it themselves if they’d seen what Franklin had seen.

Stephen’s casket was in the front, closed. Maybe the bullet had disfigured him too badly to fix.

Franklin had once thought he could save her. That was before he’d lost his way.

Part 3

fist 1High school was a place of forgetting and of unbecoming. Stephen had attended five schools in eight years, and had managed not to make a single lasting friend. He blamed his parents, his life, his circumstance, but never himself. He was a young man comprised of parts; the places he lived, the men who’d hurt him, the women who hadn’t given him the ability to see their value, and the hopelessness that comes from being slow. He wasn’t slow, he told himself. It hadn’t been his fault that he’d repeated first grade. It was a matter of starting late. He’d started everything late.

He was the third child of a loveless home. His older brother Reggie had joined the Army before he’d finished high school, and became a hero in his absence. His sister Nikki had a way with men, barely a woman herself, and gave little appreciation to the image she was instilling in her younger brother. She’d had no regard for the restrictions of society and good grace, and instead had embarked upon nightly journeys through the taverns and truck stops of their small town, bringing home strays to make them beg for her. The noises through the wall from her room to his often sounded like a confrontation of dogs. When the parents were away, she’d lock in him his room, his only entertainment being the sounds of laughter, grunting, screaming, and then the drunken requests for him to do something funny, or painful for the sake of entertaining the unknown guests. Stephen observed all of this, and saw what a woman would do for a man’s attention. He learned the lessons she taught very well.

His father had broken him. His face had become numb to the fingers that after years had become fists, and he learned to retaliate by hating him. The more the man would strike him, the more he would wish the most horrific death upon him. Stephen didn’t know that a son was supposed to love his father, but he did know that a son should follow in a father’s footsteps. What hurt him more than his own abuse was watching his mother, as he peeked from behind a chair or a cracked door, while the old man would lay into her, pulling her hair so hard sometimes it made a tearing sound like a ripping burlap, and her cries sounded like they were coming from the lowest, deepest part of her. This, too, he observed, and learned that despite harsh treatment, a good woman took it and stayed.

In high school he had unbecome. He didn’t want to be the poor kid a grade behind. He had anger. He had retribution to bestow. He joined the football team and no one could hit harder than he could, run faster than he could, or play with such brutality. His violence made him a star.

But a girl had made him question once. She was pretty, and had smiled at him. He’d asked her name and that night had said it a thousand times to himself, wondering if she’d say yes if he asked her for a date. He felt vulnerable, weak, and he began to loath her. Loathing felt a lot like love, and somewhere the two got mixed up inside him until he couldn’t tell them apart.

There were things she did that made him feel like he was flying, and things she did that made him feel like he wanted to kill her.

And then there was Franklin.

Unintended Consequences

English: `Stone circle` in a small open space.

English: `Stone circle` in a small open space. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While doing research for my new novel, I stumbled across something fascinating, and disturbing. One of the primary settings in the book, a church in southern England (which I won’t name because I don’t want to risk spoiling the story) appears at first glance to have a history dating from early in the last millennium. It has classic gothic architecture, with a form and design used in many of the churches that dot the island. But if you take a closer look, you see something doesn’t look quite right. There’s something odd about its foundation.

Around and under the base of the church, in regular intervals, are large, odd shaped rocks that have been incorporated into the structure. A little poking around and you’ll find the answer to what these rocks are. They comprise an ancient stone circle dating from the Bronze Age, used for centuries before the first missionaries reached the English soil by druids and others for worship and burial.

The church is built right on top of a pagan ritual site.

This opens the doors to all kinds of possibilities. Perhaps the early Christians wanted to appropriate this ancient place of worship to convert the people of the area. Maybe they wanted to cover up a religion that wasn’t compatible with their own. Or perhaps, they left the stones on purpose, exposed underneath the base of the church, to proclaim the superiority of their God.

Whatever the reason, the outcome is mysterious. The church was a setting in my new novel before I knew this particularly wicked detail. I’d picked it out from a search of churches in the area due to its appearance, but honestly, I could have chosen a dozen other churches in a dozen other towns. In fact, I’d already had the story plotted, and almost 1/3rd of it written before I discovered the rune stones in a place I’d already featured prominently. I felt as if the story had led me there, as if it had been part of the story all along. I just had to discover it myself.

I have to assume that this isn’t the only church built on pagan ruins. Perhaps it is the way of the world. But I can’t help but think that something remains of those people long ago who prayed to different entities. Call it what you want – spirits, energy, ghosts – but these things remain long after the physical has died. I’ve written about it before, in my post on Sarah Winchester. Here, in this English church, things that are opposed are existing on the same ground.

One of the characters from my new novel, an old woman imprisoned for witchcraft, gave this warning: “Be careful when you mix the gods and the demons. You can’t put them all in one place and expect them to stay happy.”

I can’t wait to see what else I discover about my own story.

What have you discovered while writing? Has something ever snuck up on you, without warning, and made you think that, just maybe, this wasn’t your story after all?

The Flavor of Life

meat and knifeThe man was born into the palm of luxury – literally.  It’s said he once could fit into the palm of his father’s hand. Born prematurely, he suffered through acute illness and complications just to live. But no one could ever say he didn’t appreciate the flavor of life.

Youth brought him the status that rich parents always bring. He was smart and sociable, but a little odd.  Perhaps his early birth had caused obstacles that would haunt him for life, his parents wondered. But to their amazement, he was a studious young man, compensating for any setbacks he might have suffered with an uncanny intellect and social affability, even if he had few friends. Their proudest moment was when their son was accepted to a PhD program in France. That year, Issei traveled from his home in Japan, to study literature at the Sorbonne.

Four years of study had made him a favorite of the faculty, and earned him respect among his student acquaintances. One student in particular made his heart flutter. What a beautiful name for such a beautiful face – Renee. Issei asked her if she’d like to have dinner with him. It was a huge risk, one he knew he had no right to take, for whatever benefits money and intelligence had brought him, it’s wasn’t enough to deserve her company. She was beautiful. He still considered himself a weak, ugly, inadequate little man.

But she’d said yes!

Renee arrived at his home that evening for some wine, a good meal, and an evening of poetry translation. The talk was mechanical if not pleasant, and soon Issei had convinced her to do what she most feared to do for him – recite her translations of German poetry. She was timid, blushed, but finally began to speak. Her voice was beautiful, built on many layers of femininity and grace, and her voice continued to echo in his house for a few seconds after he’d shot her in the neck with a rifle.

Issei’s dream for her wasn’t to bed her down, or make her his wife. He wanted to eat her.

Taking a few hours to first have sex with his dead victim, and perhaps build up an appetite, he decided he would begin with her buttocks and thighs. They proved terribly difficult to cut away from the bone, so he left to buy a sharper butcher knife. He was surprised at the way raw human fat looked, and more surprised at the taste. He feasted on Renee for two days until, satiated, he took what remained of her to a local river, to dump her in.  But he was weak, and not good at these things. Someone spotted him.

He was arrested by the French police and they quickly began their investigation. How could a man devour another human in just two days, they wondered? There was hardly anything left on the woman’s bones. They found their answer in his refrigerator. He’d packed her up nicely in the finest cuts, and stored her away.

His wealthy father was devastated, but determined neither he nor his son would lose face.  He hired the best defense attorneys to defend his son, but they never made it to trial. Issei was held for two years before the authorities finally declared him insane, and sent him to a mental institution.

It was in that institution that Issei really began to become the man he’d always dreamed of being. He was visited by an author from his home country who interviewed him about his account of what had happened. When the story was published, in an odd way that sick stories often do, he became an instant celebrity.

The French authorities didn’t care for the attention, or the scrutiny of their legal system. They ordered Issei be extradited back to Japan.  When he arrived, Japanese police immediately took him to Matsuzawa hospital, where the attending psychologists found him sane, determining that his cannibalism was the result of sexual perversion, not some underlying mental illness.

It seemed Issei would be finally tried for his crime. However, the requests by Japanese court official to obtain the original documents from the French were denied, the French citing that the case had already been dropped in France, and therefore, the documents were secret and could not be released. Having nothing with which to prosecute Issei, he was discharged from the hospital, a free man.

Issei became a guest lecturer and commentator, and for a time wrote the most poignant restaurant reviews for a well-known magazine. He even tried his hand as a movie actor. He now lives a quiet life, sometimes starring in documentaries, sometimes earning welfare benefits, and providing constant inspiration for copycat killers and horror writers across the globe.

Read more about Issei Sagawa here.

Writing Beautifully Disturbing Things

“Thus strangely are our souls constructed, and by such slight ligaments are we bound to prosperity or ruin.”

—-  Mary Shelley, from the novel “Frankenstein” (public domain)

Although I have read almost more books that I can count by Stephen King, my favorite book wasn’t written by him. I also enjoy books not by “commercial authors,” of which – for better or worse – Stephen King is considered one of. My favorite book is “A Prayer for the Dying” by Stewart O’Nan. He writes dark literary fiction, but when I stumbled upon this book and finished it, I was shocked. This was horrifying to its core. And, delightfully beautiful.

By Stewart O’Nan

It was this book that inspired me to write in a new fashion.

“A Prayer for the Dying” is the story of a lawman, minister, and undertaker – all the same person – in a time of plague. But it’s not just his story – it’s yours as well, because the novel is written in second person.

Not many writers can pull this off, at least, not that I’ve seen. But this book is brilliant. You feel the emotions stronger, you feel the desperation as if it was yours, and you know the horror is real, because you are the one confronting it. Stewart O’Nan scarred me for life with this one, and I liked it.

But more than the unique perspective, this was the first modern horror(ish) novel I’d ever read that paid as much attention to the prose as it did to the events. The way he uses the language is an essential part of the story, for it puts you in the proper time, and the right place to see the things that are happening. It takes place before cell phones and the internet and the automobile. It is about a time when people rode trains, and bicycles, and sent messages by telegraph. I think in that time, attention spans were longer, and people looked to words not just to be thrilled, but to be enraptured.

When you think of horror as a genre, a few authors come to mind – Lovecraft, Stoker, Poe, Shelley. None of these writers would be given a chance today, because “literary horror” is not considered marketable, at least, by many in the business. But I wonder why? “Dracula” still scares me when I read it, and I’ve read it more than once. The words keep bringing me back. Poe frightens me with poetry – an art form that is decidedly on the out in popular media – and the line I presented at the beginning of this post – a line from “Frankenstein” – shows how deeply we can connect our fears to the beauty of our existence.

I wonder what you think? Is there a place in the market for a book that tells what could only be considered a “horror” story, and yet does not follow the pattern or the style of modern commercial fiction?  Would we have such staples of our culture as Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster if writers of a century ago were concerned with churning out as many novels in a year as they could? Or is it our fault for wanting something much simpler to read, that doesn’t challenge us to take note of the more subtle uses of the language? Will literary horror – like a mummy rising from a tomb – live again?

To Save a Dream

Endless road

Endless road (Photo credit: BuBcSek)

How do you save a dream?

You know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t had the moment, you will, someday. You might find yourself on the edge of a failed relationship, and all of the hopes you had for the future feel like they are dying. All of the unrealized things you will never be, all of the forever you planned your life around.

You may be facing the loss of a job, a job that gave you your identity, provided stability to your family, and allowed you to be who you’ve become.

You may even be facing the loss of your health, knowing that there’s no turning back to the way things used to be. No rescue from the suffering that has come, and will come.

Or, you could have that moment, that realization, that your possibilities are still farther away than you’d hoped they’d be by now. You look into the distance, and see only miles of road, when you’ve already walked for endless miles. And you know other’s have already made it to their destination. You begin to wonder if you’re on the wrong path.

It would be so easy to stop, and begin the walk back home. So easy to sit down on the roadside, and wait for the first car to take you back to where you started.

What do you do then? There are as many answers as there are people, and I’m interested in yours. How do you save a dream?