Originally published by F. Tennyson Neely in 1895.
Also published online by The Project Gutenberg
Title: The King in Yellow Author: Robert W. Chambers

Banner Artwork above by Shasta Lawton.
Illustration for THE PROPHET'S PARADISE by Eric York,
taken from the collection Carcosa Tenement Blues by Edward Morris

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

MAY ISSUE

~ PROUDLY PRESENTS ~




THE DREAM KEY
by Adam Bolivar

© by adam bolivar
+ Click Images Below To Begin Reading +






AS YOU WISH
by johnny strike

art by Richard Sala

© by johnny strike





THE PORCELAIN WOMAN
by Icy Sedgwick

© by icy sedgwick





THE THING AT THE
BOTTOM OF THE SHAFT

by Gil James Bavel

© by gil james bavel





The FREEZINE would like to take this time to thank Blogger for hosting us, and all four contributing authors who provided their fiction here online at zero cost to the reader, for taking a chance with us. If you like an author's story which appears on the Freezine, be sure to look them up on Amazon.com and order one of their books, or something. Also, be sure to tell a friend about the FREEZINE, just tell them to "Google the word FREEZINE" and that should lead them right to it. All stories and posts on the Freezine feature SHARE buttons beneath, so be sure to do your part and help spread the word. You may also click on FOLLOW (either via Blogger or Networked Blogs on Facebook) which shows your support for this online, literary endeavor.

The MAY 2011 ISSUE of the Freezine of Fantasy & Science Fiction features the third "Weird Jack Tale" by Adam Bolivar, THE DREAM KEY, serialized in daily intallments (like its predecessors THE FOX IN THE THORN and THE WHITE CUP) and now archived for the reading pleasure of all present and future visitors. These three stories now comprise the world's first Weird Jack Trilogy—brought to you for free—exlusively on this forum. Mr. Bolivar made his debut appearance on the Freezine in the NOVEMBER 2009 issue, with his anachronistic short story THE TIME-EATER. As of this current MAY 2011 issue, he leaps forth adroitly to the front ranks of our rogue crew of literary misfits, with five (count 'em) stories under his belt. Curiously enough, I've just returned from the Dreamlands myself, and the word is already out, that more Weird Jack Tales are being penned even as we sleep.



For our first stand-alone short story, the Freezine is proud to announce the return of Johnny Strike on Friday the 13th, with AS YOU WISH, a tale culled from his first collection, A Loud Humming Sound Came From Above (published by Rudos and Rubes). AS YOU WISH is a story in loud humming sound, and also happens to be the first chapter from johnny strike's forthcoming novel Curse of the Djinn. If you don't know who Johnny Strike is—he wrote songs, played guitar, and sang for the first-generation San Francisco punk band CRIME in the late seventies and early eighties. The group released three singles. (Strike’s song "Hot Wire My Heart" was later covered by the band Sonic Youth on their Sister album.)

Strike is the author of the cult novel Ports of Hell and the collection of short stories A Loud Humming Sound Came From Above. He has penned articles and conducted interviews for Headpress, and published short fiction in Ambit and the Freezine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Additionally, Strike has worked at various times as a counselor at a methadone clinic, a cab driver (Madonna was one of his fares), and a pet sitter. He lives in San Francisco’s Chinatown with his wife Jane and their family of stray cats. His interests include cigars, cannabis, Masonic and occult rites, reading a variety of novel genres, and traveling in Morocco and Mexico.



For this issue's second stand-alone story, the Freezine is excited to announce a new contributor, London's own Icy Sedgwick, and is proud to showcase the debut of her story THE PORCELAIN WOMAN. Icy Sedgwick hails from the frozen north of England, but currently lives and works in London. She balances her writing with a full time job in office management, although she is about to begin a PhD in Film Studies in October. Icy has two e-books to her name, The First Tale and Checkmate & Other Stories, as well as stories in other anthologies. She can't actually pinpoint when she started writing, as she's been scribbling stories for as long as she can remember. From the first tales scrawled with wax crayons to longer work bashed out on her mother's old typewriter, Icy has since made the leap to weekly flash fictions, web-based serials and even a novel. The Freezine of Fantasy & Science Fiction is thrilled to feature her work, and looks forward to following her 21st-century career, which is on the verge of blasting off to sectors heretofore unexplored in the universe. Watch for Icy's Author Bio just added in the dropdown menu on the Freezine's margin.



THE THING AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SHAFT, by Gil James Bavel, appropriately wraps up the MAY 2011 issue. This is Gil's third story published in the Freezine, and qualifies him to be upgraded to "Freezine Warrior" status. If you look over to the side margin in the "Archive of Stories + Bios", you'll see that Gil has moved up the ranks to join the likes of Vincent Daemon, Sean Manseau, Adam Bolivar, Johnny Strike, and John Shirley—Freezine Veterans, all. For this installment in our growing legacy, we have another homage to the one and only H.P. Lovecraft, and as such, concludes this month's issue appropriately, in the eyes of the Bloodhost—the fleet of nanobots surreptitiously inserted into my bloodstream and possessing me to put the Freezine out. This also marks the second piece of artwork handed in to our webzine by Mr. Bavel, and it will soon find its way to his gallery showcased in the FREE ZINE ZONE, our sister-site dedicated to archiving seperately all the artwork used for the Freezine.



Stay tuned until the next, JULY ISSUE, of the Freezine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, available the world over, free of charge, hosted by the globally assimilating internet and brought to you by the mysterious benefactors known as the Bloodhost. More surprises are in store, so be sure to bookmark this site and tell all your friends about it. See hyperlinks below for guidelines for submitting your own stories, and read a clarifying message from the editors. Thanks again, and see you in JULY.



FREEZINE SEEKS STORIES!





:message from the editors:

Monday, May 30, 2011

THE THING AT THE
BOTTOM OF THE SHAFT

story & art by Gil James Bavel

~WITH APOLOGIES TO H.P. LOVECRAFT~




I had come up to the university library to borrow some books, pursuing my strange fixation of the occult and the bizarre. I took the old freight elevator down, down into the mysterious depths of the ancient building, wondering what horrors I would find. The old brickwork panned slowly upward as the car descended. Finally, the creaking elevator came to a jerky stop at the bottom of the shaft. As I pulled open the iron inner door and strode out into the archive of literature, I noticed an old fluorescent light flickering out, and I was suddenly plunged into complete darkness. I thought it a bit coincidental that it should burn out just as I exited the elevator. Fortunately I had previously obtained a book of matches from a local restaurant, which I now withdrew and made use of.

With a sputter, the match lit up like a small flare, the sulfurous smoke singeing my nostrils. I took a tentative glance at my surroundings, and boldly made my way down the narrow corridor between the dusty stack wall and the long tier of bookshelves. A musty odor pervaded the long room, and I noticed the low ceiling had become lined with cobwebs over the years. It was somewhat difficult to ascertain the call numbers on the shelves by match-light, yet I did manage to locate the shelf, which contained the one tome I was seeking.

Some time beforehand, I had been searching for a few books on demonology, for a religion and theology class I was taking. I found most of them to be quite large, being mostly in German and a few of the much older ones in Latin. It was then that I stumbled across the manual which I now sought—the Necronomicon; that infamous book of evil lore containing spells and incantations which reputedly imbued the reader with the power to summon beings from other planes, and to manipulate his fellow man.

Although my interest was purely academic, I must admit I had become somewhat fanatic in my quest for the book, having seen it in the library once and not again thereafter. I plagued the librarian many times to locate it, and she finally granted me the information that it had been placed in the stacks accidentally, and was not for public borrowing due to its age and condition.

According to her, the book was securely locked away in an area of the building that had been closed off for well over a century.

It was to this place that I had now come, amongst the oldest and most secret books owned by the university, one of the oldest in the country. I rounded the corner, and began to progress down between the shelves when the match burnt down to my fingers, causing some slight pain. I cursed, pulling the matchbook out again, and lit another. I noticed to my surprise that there were quite a few fluorescent bars attached to the ceiling, but none were functioning. I assumed that the power had gone out, and realized that I might be trapped down in the old room, which held the legendary tome I so earnestly searched for. I hurried back to the elevator to find that my fear was justified—the lattice-style doors opened, however the internal floor lights were not illuminated and the elevator did not respond when I pushed the buttons.

I thought that naturally the entire building had suffered a power loss, or at least, a fair portion of it, and that electricity would soon be returned, as it tends to be in such circumstances. I made my way around the entirety of the large room, hoping to find a door leading to a stairway, or perhaps a window through which I could exit if power was not restored soon. This endeavor consumed five more matches to no avail. It was then that I realized my plight; I was beneath the ground floor in an old sub-basement, where no windows were to be found.

I did locate a strange, bricked-up portion of what I thought was the north wall, which presumably served as the entrance to a stairway long ago, but must have been covered over when the elevator was installed. I tested a few of the large, ruddy bricks and found that despite the age of the construction, the mortar was quite solid and none of the bricks were loose. Finally, returning to the task of locating the Necronomicon, I walked between some shelves, which I had previously overlooked, and stumbled quite fortuitously upon an old kerosene lamp in an alcove, between some books. I thanked whatever forces moved decades ago when some absent-minded book-tender neglected to return the lamp to the library proper.

I picked the lamp up carefully, and observed to my dismay that it contained no fluid. Hoping the bottom end might still retain some fumes or residue, I withdrew the wick from its holder, and turned it around, re-inserting it. I then lit my second-to-last-match, touching it to the wick, which sputtered but eventually grew into a fairly bright flame. I covered the lamp with its glass top, and hoped the kerosene resins would burn for a few minutes at least. Slowly walking back to the shelf that contained the Necronomicon, I noticed the shadows from the lantern playing off the old bookshelves, dancing as if to mimic the flame inside it. The large book stood out among the others, its black leather binding after all this time retaining some kind of glossy sheen, and really, all told, was in relatively good condition compared to the decaying books surrounding it.

The book’s title was not on the spine, but some sort of lettering was present; the runes of an ancient alphabet were embossed deeply into the cover’s fiber. Neither title nor name was necessary; according to legend, he who had the grimoire in his possession knew what it was, those who did not probably were better off not knowing its true nature.

I reached for the Necronomicon, and my hand closed around the spine and grasped it firmly. Pulling the over-sized book from the shelf, I found it to be much heavier than I had expected. I looked over it for a moment, and sat down on the floor to examine it at greater length. I lost myself in it for some time, reading the Arabic to which it had been translated. No one knows in what language it was originally written, though it has been speculated that it may have been Babylonian or Sumerian.

After some time, I noted that the flame from the lamp had grown dim, and I remembered my predicament. Taking both the lamp and the tome, I stood up and made my way back to the elevator to find that power had not yet returned. I opened the doors, entered, and closed them behind me. I looked up and noticed a hole in the ceiling, which I knew led into the shaft above that could be my only means of exit. I jumped up and pushed on the panel, which offered no resistance, and merely fell to one side of the opening.

Stashing the tome and lamp on top of the elevator, I prepared to venture into the shaft myself, when I heard an ominous scratching sound from beneath the car. I knew at once that something was amiss. At first, I thought perhaps some poor soul had been trapped underneath the elevator, but then my concern turned to fear and then stark terror as the scratching became louder and louder, until I could feel a powerful vibration under my feet. It was then I realized that something was not only alive under the car, but something primal, intelligent, and evil.

Something had been living at the bottom of the shaft, undisturbed, for God knows how long—and now, it was trying to get out.

My mind raced with horror at the implications. To climb up the long cable would most certainly be an arduous task, but the horrifying alternative, to remain in the library sub-basement alone with the thing at the bottom of the shaft was not a savory idea. I could barely conceive the notion of waiting for the power to return while that unbearable screeching of metal resonated throughout the archive. The unwholesome cacophony was growing progressively louder and more terrifying, and I knew that if I did not escape it, my hysteria would turn quickly to insanity.

Without further hesitation, I jumped for the opening overhead, and pulled myself into the shaft, which was growing ever darker by the dying flame of the lamp. I somehow overcame the instinctual urge to leave both book and lamp behind and climb the cable with the greatest possible expedition, and instead, against my better judgment, lowered the lamp warily into the elevator proper to observe what I could.

Up from below the car came the most horrid shrill growling I have ever heard, either before or since. Suddenly, with a terrible sound, the elevator floor was torn apart as if it were paper, and through it came that which my unbelieving eyes determined to be huge, metallic claws supported by stone-like arms of basic humanoid appearance, if not proportion.

I gasped, my eyes wide with terror, and stuffed the Necronomicon into my shirt, tucking it in so as not to allow the book to fall below where I surely would never recover it. Then, hooking the lantern handle around my arm, I began climbing up the elevator shaft toward the more modern levels of the building. To my horror, the thing, which had come through the floor of the elevator car, had made its way into the car, and jumped effortlessly onto its roof.

This event filled me with the utmost fear, and I redoubled my effort. I was able only to take sporadic glances below, but I saw well enough to know that the thing which had come from beneath the shaft was not natural, nor of this earth, but perhaps some dark cavernous catacomb, from which it found its way into the tunnels and sewers underneath the library, eventually breaking into the shaft. But this was no time for theory, for I could tell by the shrieking of the creature that it was no less than ten feet below me, and I was still well below the first floor; the light emanating from under the elevator doors above made this plain.

Suddenly the lamp unceremoniously flickered and died, plunging both the beast and myself into a nearly absolute shroud of darkness. Overcome with panic, I became somewhat irrational, but it was perhaps this fact and this fact alone that permitted me the insight that may have saved my life. I let the brass kerosene lamp fall from my arm into my hand, and wrapped a leg around the elevator cable. I could hear the heavy breathing of the beast directly underneath me, and hanging on to the cable for dear life, I blindly swung the unwieldy lantern with all my might.

The lamp connected with a loud bang, which reverberated throughout the shaft. A loud and horrible wail came from the monster out of the darkness, and I heard it fall from the cable down perhaps twenty feet of shaft onto the elevator roof below. I could tell that the thing had not been killed by the fall, but only hurt and angered, for its intense wailing did not cease, but in fact, increased substantially.

My load partially lightened, I continued my climb upward, and found it faster going without the encumbrance of the lantern. Upon reaching the first-floor doors, I set one foot on the ledge, and pressed the other against the cable for leverage. I slipped my free hand through the handle of the outer door, but it would not budge. The freight elevator doors had been designed to open in unison, to prevent the unwary from falling down the shaft.

The screaming thing below must have gotten to its feet, because the cable started vibrating as if it were being climbed. Electricity must then have returned to the building, for suddenly the cable jolted, and the car below began to quickly rise. I gasped as I made efforts to regain my balance, my foothold on the cable lost, and I almost fell to a grisly death below, either on the roof of the elevator, or at the fangs of the unnamed creature on it. I managed, however, to grab hold of the sides of the outer doors, and locate the catch that allows them to open. Flipping the catch, I opened the door and fell onto the first floor, breathing hard.

A small crowd had gathered around the doors, obviously attracted by the unearthly shrieking of the thing that was now on its way up the shaft. I wasted no time in scrambling to my feet, looking around for any object I could use as a weapon. Nearby, I spied a small staircase, accompanied by a railing, which attracted my attention.

Pushing my way through the quizzical group, I bolted to the stairs and grabbed a loose bar from the rail, looking it over. It was made of aluminum, but was sturdy and would serve as an effective bludgeon. I spun on my heel to see the elevator doors, which had slammed shut behind me re-opening. I ran at full tilt through the parting crowd at the now-widening gap between the doors.

The demonic thing lunged out of the elevator with an ear-splitting shriek, only to be directly impaled on the bar that I had intended to use on it as a club. The momentum of the creature toppled me to the ground, where I observed it stop and clutch its stomach, which spewed a greenish-red mixture of intestinal fluid and blood. The crowd collectively gasped at the sight, but nevertheless stood paralyzed in fear. Quickly regaining my wits, I swung my leg into the back of the demon’s feet, causing it to fall backward into the dark shaft and plummet to its death.

Later, supported by the eyewitness accounts of the crowd, the authorities and I filled out a report and collected the remains of the hell-spawned creature, which were to be examined and submitted to a postmortem by the county coroner. University officials were quite concerned about the matter, busying themselves so with the strange account that they perhaps forgot to question my presence in the old archive in the first place. I was ultimately released and allowed to go on about my business, which of course, included the perusal of the Necronomicon, which had been furtively hidden in my shirt. I found through my long course of study that a curse had been laid upon the manual by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, which must have been responsible for the fantastic experience I had undergone.

The Necronomicon stated that:

"Those who do not first recite Cthulhu’s own Ritual of Eternal Banishment upon opening the book, will cause Nhgh the forbidden to be summoned from his agony pools of perpetual waiting, granting merciless and unending torment to those who tamper with the Necronomicon."

I read on, and discovered a passage that filled my very being with the utmost dread:

"Lest he is killed, Nhgh will surely slay all who caused him to appear and return with their doomed souls to his dark corner of the abyss...."




~End~








CLICK FOR MAY ISSUE






Thursday, May 26, 2011

THE DREAM KEY:VIII

by Adam Bolivar





Our enthusiasm waned somewhat when we reached the bottom of the stairs and heard a bloodcurdling cacophony of moaning, wailing and shrieking. Gretchen involuntarily clung to me. I would have felt very manly, except that I was clinging to her just as tightly, and shaking like a leaf. We pressed forward, holding onto each other for comfort like Hansel and Gretel in the forest.

Another path of glowing moonstones guided us through the darkness like a trail of breadcrumbs. This time, we had absolutely no desire to stray from it. I felt nothing but fear of the darkness that surrounded us, and yet I had a perverse desire to peer into it just the same. Dimly, I made out scenes of pain and misery.

I saw a naked man strapped to a flaming wheel, spinning slowly around and around like a pig on a spit. Another man was straining for an apple on a tree branch, but never reaching it. Yet another was rolling a boulder up a hill, and, just as it was about to reach the top, the boulder slipped out of his grasp and rolled back down again. And again. And again. And again.

I caught a glimpse of Harriet in the darkness, beckoning us to come to her. With trepidation, we stepped off the moonstone path and the darkness lifted like a black curtain on a stage. We found ourselves in windy field beneath slate grey skies. In the distance, a flock of sheep placidly grazed. It looked a lot like my grandmother’s description of her childhood home in Cornwall.

Harriet was in a circle of standing blue-grey stones, like Stonehenge, only much smaller. There were twelve stones in all, like the signs in the zodiac. In the middle of the circle, a long flat stone lay on the ground like an altar. And lying on the altar was a young man with blond hair wearing overalls and a battered old hat with a feather stuck in it. There were shiny silver chains and manacles binding his wrists and ankles to the stone. Something about him was familiar.

“Holy shit,” Gretchen said. “It’s you!”

It was true. Looking at his face was like looking into a mirror.

“Jack,” Harriet said. “Meet my grandpa. You two met once before, briefly.”

It was the old Jack, my predecessor. He had looked like an old man when I’d met him before. But I suppose in death everyone appeared as their ideal selves, even if chained to an altar stone. The other Jack beamed at me.

“Well, howdy do, Jack.”

“Hi,” I said. “I guess we should get you out of those chains.” I turned to Harriet. “Can you break them with the sword?”

“’Fraid not. Those chains are adamantine. There’s only one thing the Thursbane can’t cut, and that would be it.”

“Every lock has a key,” the other Jack winked. “Answer the riddle and set me free.”

I puzzled over this for a moment and then it hit me. There was a silver key under my shirt, hanging by a cord around my neck. Most of the time I only half-remembered it, like yesterday’s dream. I pulled it out and inserted it into the keyhole of one of the manacles. Click! The key worked like a charm. One hand sprang free. Then the other. Then one foot and the other. Jack leapt to his feet.

“Thanks, cousin! Now we best be on our way.”

Pop-eyed, I discerned a two-headed giant striding across the moor towards us. One of the giant’s heads had a fierce expression and long, scraggly red hair, while the other had dark hair and sad eyes. I remembered the giant well. It was the same one I had helped kill almost a year before. Now, in the land of the dead, the giant was back to repay the favor.

“Fee fie fo fen!” the giant bellowed. “I smell the blood of two Englishmen.”

“Open the dream gate,” the other Jack shouted. “Quick!”

I nodded and pointed the key towards the centre of the stone circle, but nothing happened. Then I realized what was missing. I turned to Gretchen, who was rooted to the spot, staring at the giant. “The book!” I yelled. “Read from the book!”

She came to her senses and whipped the Mother Goose out of her backpack. As it had before, the book sprang open in her hands, the pages fluttering of their own accord until they settled on the page she needed. Two ravens fluttered down from the heavens and alit on one of the standing stones. They watched us balefully with their midnight eyes. Gretchen incanted the spell.


One is for sorrow,
Two is for mirth,
Open the gate
To take us to earth.


A rip appeared in space itself, right above the altar stone where Jack had been chained. I grabbed Gretchen’s hand and we jumped through together, tumbling out the other side like Jack and Jill down the hill. We had emerged behind old Jack’s cabin in the Appalachian woods, right where we had begun our journey to the land of the dead. With vampiric agility, Harriet soared out of the rip, twirling like an acrobat, and landed on her feet. Jack hopped out a little less gracefully, and plopped to the ground.

The giant’s hand reached through the rip in space and grabbed hold of Jack’s ankle, trying to pull him back to the other side. Jack dug into the ground with his fingernails, but to no avail. In a blur of speed, Harriet drew the sword strapped to her back, and lopped off the giant’s hand. A terrifying howl of agony ensued, abruptly silenced as the rip in space drew together and sealed itself. There was a crackle of electricity and a thunderstorm smell to the air, but otherwise no trace remained of the dream gate. Oh, and also the twitching giant’s hand lying on the ground.



We didn’t linger in Fiddle Creak. Jack and Harriet were putting to sea at dawn, and it was over four hundred miles to the coast. But that was no challenge for a vampire’s driving. Harriet took the wheel of Gretchen’s Jetta, and covered the entire distance in less than four hours. Somehow she was able to sense cops from miles away, and evade them at every turn. We arrived at the beach in the small hours, before the first signs of dawn had even appeared on the horizon. A crescent moon hung over the black ocean, and a million stars twinkled in the sky. I saw a shooting star and made a wish. A whole universe of possibilities was spread out before us.

“Wait,” Gretchen said. “Didn’t you become Jack when the old Jack died? So which one of you is the Jack now?”

Jack and I looked at each other mischievously. Standing next to each other, we looked like twins, albeit separated at birth. With my leather jacket and black jeans, I was definitely the city mouse. And with his patched-up overalls and floppy brown hat, he was the country mouse.

I cupped my hand to his ear and whispered, “Whickedy whack, now we’re Jack!” Why did there have to be only one at a time?

I turned to Gretchen and grinned. “That’s for us to know and you to find out.”

She punched me in the arm. “You are so infuriating, Jack.”

Without our even noticing, a ship had materialized just offshore like an apparition. It was a three-masted sailing ship like a Blackbeard would have sailed, and absolutely utterly black. The sails were black, the masts were black, and the hull was black. A man wearing a tricorne hat and breeches stood on the deck, scowling at a map. Next to him was a cat wearing a red silk kimono and a samurai sword.

“There’s more than one way to get to the dreamlands,” Jack said. “I reckon dreams are big enough for the two of us.”

“See ya round, Jack,” Harriet said to me. “Take care of him for me,” she said to Gretchen. “He’s always getting into trouble. She stole one last kiss, her ice-cold lips reminding me of what I would be missing. But it was all for the best. It was time to enjoy more earthly pleasures.

A black skiff uncannily rowed itself to the beach to convey Jack and Harriet to the ship. In a few minutes they were standing on the deck. Jack slapped the man with the tricorne hat on the back, and they shared a laugh like old friends. And then, the mysterious black ship was gone. One moment it was there. I blinked and it was gone. Harriet and I were alone on the beach.

The sky began to pinken with the first stirrings of dawn. We sat in the sand, she and I, huddled together against the chill, and watched the sun come up on a new day. It was the first day of my seven years. Time to go back to Boston.

There was a very large bag of gold coins buried under a willow tree near Jamaica Pond. And only I knew where it was. The devil may be two steps behind me, but I was Jack with his hound and horn, who hunted the fox that lived in the thorn. I was ready to jump over any candlestick he lit for me.

Bring it.




~ finis ~

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

THE DREAM KEY: VII

by Adam Bolivar



Far away in his garret, the writer stilled his pen. The threads were drawing together, and he must weave them with skill. Why was Jack going to the land of the dead? For what purpose? And how would he escape? Jack would find a way. He was nimble and quick. Jack was Jack. The writer would have to trust the story to find its own end. He dipped his quill in the night-black ink and began scratching words onto fresh vellum...



“Who’s this, Jack?” Gretchen asked, a note of iciness creeping into her voice. I felt like a man who had been caught cheating. But cheating on whom with whom?

“Gretchen this is Harriet. Harriet, Gretchen.”

The two women sized each other up and reluctantly shook each other’s hands.

“Wow, your hand is freezing,” Gretchen remarked.

“That’s because...” I began—then stopped, uncertain whether I should reveal the reason.

“Tell her, Jack,” Harriet said, crossing her arms across her chest. She looked amused.

“Harriet’s a vampire. She was turned into a vampire rescuing me.”

“Is she the one you found the White Cup for?”

“Yeah, although she...changed her mind at the end. Decided to stay a vampire.”

“Is she your girlfriend?”

I thought about the question a minute. “She’s kind of my...fiancée.”

“Your what?”

“It’s hard to explain. I don’t know if she is or not. It happened in a dream...”

Gretchen turned away from me. “You suck, Jack,” she said and stomped off to the other side of the boat.

“Actually...I suck,” Harriet whispered in my ear. “But we can talk about that later if you want.”

For the first time, the prospect of being bitten by Harriet had no appeal whatsoever.

The rest of the ride passed in silence, but for the steady swish of the boat sluicing through the water as Charon poled it across the river. After an awkward eternity, we alit on the far shore and disembarked. Visiting the land of the dead should have been an awe-inspiring moment, but the experience was marred by personal tension. I sighed. This was why I hated relationships.

“Look, Gretchen, I really like you. I’m sorry I’m such a shithead. Do you want to...you know...go out sometime?”

The absurdity of asking someone out on a date on the bank of the River Styx forced her to smile.

“Sure. Do you think there’s any place to get Chinese in Hades?”

I took her by the hand. “Well, I’ve heard the dead are always hungry.”

We started down a long winding path through the bleakest landscape I had ever seen. I looked around but Harriet was gone. She had a way of disappearing and reappearing when she felt like it. No doubt she’d turn up again.

Gretchen dropped my hand and looked me in the eye. “So what’s the deal with you and the vampire chick? Is she your fiancée or not?”

I thought about that for a minute. It’s not like I ever asked her or she asked me. She had been sleeping in the thorn and I pulled up her veil and kissed her. It had been a fairy tale in a dream. But symbolism aside, I was Jack, damn it. I did as I pleased. The Weird or whatever wasn’t the boss of me. It couldn’t decide who I married.

“She’s not,” I said. “It was only a dream.”

Gretchen took my hand again. “Good. Now let’s go talk to Old King Hades and find out what he wants.”

Leading away from the river was a path of white stones that glowed wanly like little moons. We started down the path tentatively. On either side of us was absolute black nothingness. No, not nothingness. I smelled something. Something familiar. A scent from my childhood. I peered into the darkness and saw my grandmother in her kitchen cooking pasties, those yummy meat pies from Cornwall. The sight and smell was so appealing, I was tempted to walk off the path of moonstones into my grandmother’s kitchen.

Ahem,” I heard. I stopped myself. I noticed Gretchen was about to walk off the path too, and I grabbed her hand to stop her.

“Dad,” she said. “I see my dad. He died when I was eight...”

“Do not stray from the path” (came the same voice that had said “ahem”) “Or you will become lotus-eaters and never return.”

A hare stood before us on two legs, his nose twitching furiously. He was wearing a frayed and patched tweed suit and a stiff Edwardian collar with a bow tie. A silver watch chain dangled from his waistcoat.

“Oh my god!” Gretchen gaped. “What is that?”

Who is that, if you please,” the Rampant Hare said. He had a distinct upper-class English accent, very precise and brittle.

“Sorry, it's just that I didn’t know there were talking rabbits outside of Alice in Wonderland.”

“I am a hare, actually. The two breeds are separate and distinct.”

“Gretchen, this is the Rampant Hare,” I cut in quickly before she put her foot in her mouth again. “He keeps popping up just when I need him.”

“It is no accident,” the Rampant Hare said. “I am bound to serve you, Jack.”

“Really?” I said. “I didn’t know that.” Then a memory surfaced. Actually, I did know that. The Rampant Hare had been the squire of the original Jack the Giant-Killer. Well, that was handy. Everyone could use a squire.

“Thanks for keeping us from walking off the path,” Gretchen said, trying to make amends. “Sorry for calling you a rabbit.”

“I am not offended by the rudeness of earthlies. You are an ignorant race. Follow me, please. I shall lead you to the court of the Shadow King.”

With that, the Rampant Hare set off briskly down the path of moonstones without looking back. Gretchen and I looked at each other and shrugged. We followed along behind him. We’re off to see the wizard, I thought.

The last time I had met the Rampant Hare, he had led me to the court of Queen Pussywillow of Hen. That’s when I had been sent on a quest to find the White Cup. Her cousin Oleandra had opened the dream gate for me to start my quest, and her price had been the enchanted emerald I now carried in my messenger bag. Now the Rampant Hare was leading me to the court of the Shadow King. I couldn’t help but feel there was a certain symmetry to events. I was coming to the close of a cycle.

After about a mile of meandering through the darkness, the moonstone path terminated at a black iron gate in a wall of craggy grey stone. The Rampant Hare pushed the gate open and entered into the yawning gap. Gretchen and I exchanged glances, and, holding hands for courage, followed after. The court of Hades was, as might be expected, dark and gloomy. We were met by a skeleton wearing tattered black velvet livery, and carrying a lit torch in one hand. With his free hand, he gestured for us to follow him. The skeleton led us down a long circular tunnel bored through the stone like a giant wormhole. The Rampant Hare had vanished once more, but by now I was used to his comings and goings. My familiar.

The tunnel opened out into a vast echoing cave, complete with stalactites and stalagmites. On two identical jewel-studded golden thrones sat the Shadow King and a woman whom I presumed must be his queen. They were larger than life, maybe eight feet tall, and their skin was pale as milk, their hair black as ink.

The Shadow King had a tightly curled black beard that put me in mind of an engraving of Ashurbanipal I had once seen at the Museum of Fine Arts. Hades was no less fearsome a king. And someone else was in the cave with us. It was Harriet. I gave Gretchen’s hand a squeeze, which she returned.

“I was wondering when you guys would finally turn up,” Harriet said.

She was wearing a sword and scabbard strapped to her back. A blood-red ruby glinted in its pommel. I immediately recognized it as the Thursbane. How had she visited the Reverend in Mousehole and come back so fast?

“You seem to come and go as you please,” I remarked.

“Well, being neither dead nor alive has its privileges,” she replied. “So are you two an item now or what?”

“What if we are?” Gretchen asked.

“Hey, it was a simple question. Jack can do what he wants. It’s all the same to me.”

Was there a note of hurt in Harriet’s voice? I felt like an ass.

“Anyway,” Harriet went on. “We should get down to business. I’ve been negotiating with the Shadow King for you. He’s agreed to be the keeper of the Eye of Set. What safer place for it than the land of the dead? Nobody comes or goes without his knowledge. Well, hardly anybody.”

“But what about Oleandra?” I asked. “She named it as her price from opening the dream gate.”

“Fríg will take on that debt for you. And in return, you will be her champion for seven years. What say you?” All this wheeling and dealing was confusing the hell out of me. It didn’t seem like I had much choice in the matter. I wondered what being Fríg’s champion for seven years would entail? Well, at least I’d be rid of this damned emerald. That was easily worth seven years.

“Fine,” I said. “It’s a deal.”

Another skeleton in black livery stepped forward. He stopped when he was in front of me and held out his hands, palms up. A few moments passed in silence while the skeleton stood there, grinning disconcertingly.

“I think he wants the emerald, Jack,” Gretchen whispered.

Duh. Of course. Feeling foolish, I opened up my messenger bag and pulled out the cedar box. For a moment, I didn’t want to give it up. My precious! Then, quickly, I handed it over. The finger bones closed around the box and took it out of my grasp. The skeleton walked off and disappeared into the gloom. I suddenly felt gleeful, like I wanted to burst into song. The emerald is gone! The emerald is gone! Ding dong, the emerald is gone! Thankfully for everyone else, I kept my silence. Hearing me sing is torture even the dead shouldn’t have to endure.

Throughout this entire transaction, neither the Shadow King nor Queen had uttered a word or moved a muscle. They just sat rigidly upright in their golden thrones, staring fixedly forward like statues. Maybe they existed in a much slower time frame than we did. In any case, I was ready to skedaddle. All these walking skeletons were seriously giving me the heebie-jeebies.

Gretchen shared my feelings. “Can we go now?” she asked.

“Just one last thing,” Harriet said. Between the King and Queen’s thrones, an aperture swung open in the wall, revealing a flight of onyx stairs leading downward. “In exchange for the Eye of Set, the Shadow King will allow us to bring Jack back with us to the upper world.”

“Well, I hope I can go back,” I said.

“Not you, Jack. The other Jack. My grandfather Jack.”

“Your grandfather? We can bring him back from the dead?”

“Not just from the dead. From Tartarus. He was a naughty boy.”

Without another word, Harriet strode through the gate and started down the stairs. I turned to Gretchen.

“You don’t have to come with us.”

“Don’t be silly, Jack. In for a penny. You don’t think I’d let you spend those seven years on your own, do you?”

Gretchen and I shared our first kiss, right there in the land of the dead in front of the disinterested stares of the Shadow King and Queen. And there was nothing gloomy about it. It was warm and alive and full of hope. Drunk with glee, we ran through the gate to Tartarus and took the onyx stairs two by two.

“Tantivy!” I shouted.

“Tantivy!” Gretchen echoed.



Click Here
For the Conclusion of
THE DREAM KEY
by Adam Bolivar



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

THE DREAM KEY: VI

by Adam Bolivar





“I don’t remember Jack being in Norse mythology,” Gretchen said, finishing her glass and holding it out for Woden to refill, which he did. She had also caught onto the fact that the jug was neverending. Funny how quickly you can adapt to fairy-tale logic. “Or is he Thor? No, wait. Jack would be more like Loki. He’s the trickster, right?”

“Jack is Jack,” Woden said.

“I knew you were going to say something like that. Typical god.” Gretchen was almost halfway through her second mason jar and acting very bold.

“My son Thunor was a giant-killer like Jack. But you are right, Jack is also a trickster like Loki. Jack is both Thunor and Loki. He is Woden and Fríg. The sun and the moon. He is the key.”

“Stop,” I said. “You’re going to give me a big head.” But truly I didn’t mind. My head was swelling so fast, it was going to burst through the roof of the cabin soon.

Woden fixed me with a terrible stare that pierced me to my core. For the first time I realized that only one of his eyes was real. “It is only the truth, Jack. You are the key to it all. All the stories revolve around you.”

“I don’t feel like much of a giant-killer,” I said. “The Reverend offered me a sword and I turned it down. I’m no killer.”

“Then we will have to find something else for you to do. There are many ways to be a Jack. He pulled something down from the mantle above the fireplace and handed it to me. It was a worn leather case. I unfastened the clasps and opened it. A beautiful fiddle lay within, made of a dark reddish wood, and a long horsehair bow was affixed inside the top of the case.

“Play us a song, Jack,” Woden bade me.

“You play the fiddle?” Gretchen said. “You never told me that.

“I don’t,” I insisted. “I’ve never picked up a fiddle in my life.”

“Just try it,” Woden said. “You’ll remember.”

Shrugging, I drained the rest of my mason jar of stout for courage, and took the fiddle out of the case. I put the fiddle under my chin and poised the bow as if I’d been playing my entire life. I felt like a marionette. Someone else was pulling the strings. I began to play and a merry old tune came out. Playing was as natural as walking. Gretchen abruptly stood up and started dancing. She sang:

I won’t be my father’s Jack
I won’t be my mother’s Jill
I will be the fiddler’s wife
And have music when I will
.”

I stopped played and Gretchen stopped dancing, flopping back into her chair like a puppet whose strings had been cut. She looked at me openmouthed. “Why did I just do that?”

Woden grinned wolfishly. “Now we’re cookin’. Show me the emerald, Jack. Show me the dream key.”

Gretchen and I looked at each other with fear. We had learned the hard way that taking the emerald out of its box was a bad idea. But Woden was a god. He must know what he was doing, right? I set down the fiddle, retrieved my messenger bag, and pulled out the cedar box with the strange symbols carved on it. Woden held out a lean, wizened hand, and, with trepidation, I handed it to him. What if this were some kind of trick to steal the emerald? But it was too late now.

Woden’s mouth moved in a low incantation. He was reciting something in a guttural, growling language I didn’t recognize, although it sounded vaguely familiar. It was like Old English, but much, much older. It was Old English’s great-grandfather. The cedar box sprang open of its own accord, and the emerald popped out of it like toast from a toaster. Woden caught it in midair and held it between his thumb and forefinger where it glittered darkly in the firelight.

“Play!” Woden commanded me. “Play for your life!”

I grabbed the fiddle and without even thinking about it, started playing a shrill melody that sounded like cats yowling. Gretchen was possessed again, and with forced, jerky movements, pulled the ancient leather-bound tome from her backpack. The book flew open in her hands, and the pages fluttered wildly, like the wings of a frenzied bird. The pages finally settled down, and Gretchen read what was on them aloud:

Iä! Yog-Sothoth! That which must never be,
The Old Ones dream beyond the gate,
A-waiting for the key.
Fríg protect us, Woden, Thunor,
I summon the Old Ones, and open the door
.”

It was the opposite of the spell the Reverend had read. Instead of banishing the Old Ones, Gretchen was summoning them, although not by choice. I stopped fiddling, and Gretchen slammed the book shut, finally in control of her own body again.

All went silent until...a knock sounded on the door. Then another. Then another. Gretchen and I looked at each other wide-eyed. My heart was beating so fast, I felt like it was going to burst out of my chest. Woden moved to answer the door. What was he doing? Was he crazy? He opened it.

At the threshold was a walking skeleton wearing a tattered black hooded cloak. The skeleton held out his hand.

“I reckon he wants his fare. A coin for each of you.” I felt in my pocket. There were two pennies, the old-fashioned kind with the ears of wheat on the back. With a trembling hand, I put them into the skeleton’s hand. The skeleton sequestered the coins beneath his cloak and then turned to leave. He stopped and looked over his shoulder at me, gesturing for me to follow. So I did.



- III -
Jack in the Land of the Dead






I followed my skeletal guide out of the cabin, and Gretchen and Woden followed after. Woden had donned a wide-brimmed hat, a grey cloak, and he was carried a white wooden staff. The ensemble made him look more like Gandalf than ever. But, I supposed, Gandalf was the one who looked like him.

The black-cloaked skeleton led us into the forest behind old Jack’s cabin, a wood filled with whispering, bare-branched trees. Our feet crunched dry, dead leaves, and the full moon illumined our way. Even for November, it was a cold night. A million stars blazed overhead. Finally, we emerged by the bank of a dark river with spectral mist swirling over its murmuring waters. A boat was moored to a rotting pier, bobbing in time to the river’s heartbeat. The skeleton strode onboard the boat and picked up a long pole, which he thrust into the river’s inscrutable depths. Even I knew that this was Charon, come to take us to the land of the dead. Woden handed me back the cedar box that contained the black emerald.

“This is as far as I go,” he said.

“You’re not coming with me?” I felt abandoned. I had been counting on his help.

“This ain’t my mythos, son. But don’t you fret. You’ll get help along the way.”

I turned to Gretchen, who stood next to Woden, as motionless as a statue.

“I know it’s asking a lot...” I began.

“Save it, Jack. In for a penny, in for a pound.”

We joined hands and stepped onto Charon’s boat together. Our weirds were one. The wood creaked disconcertingly beneath our feet. This boat had been around as long as death had. Oh well, I supposed if it held up this long, it wasn’t going to sink now.

“The land of the dead, please,” I said to Charon. The skeleton nodded, and I could swear he was grinning at me. Maybe it was just all the teeth. The ferryman pushed the boat away from the pier and we were on our way. I looked back to see Woden watching our departure wistfully until he was swallowed up by the swirling mist.

A shiver ran down my spine. Someone tapped me on my shoulder and I wheeled around in surprise.

“Hey Jack. Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?”

It was Harriet.



Click Here for Part VII

Monday, May 23, 2011

THE DREAM KEY: V

by Adam Bolivar





A rush of memories flew into my head like a swarm of buzzing bees. People who had died before I was born, but who the last Jack had known and loved. Sunshine...my darling Sunshine... It was Fiddle Creak, sure as eggs are eggs. How could I forget?

“And Jack’s house?” I pressed. “How do I get to Jack’s house?”

The gas-station attendant lifted up the bill of his cap and looked me square in the eye. His eyes were as blue as heaven and the lines in his face were as deep as hell.

“What in Sam Hill are ye talkin’ about, Jack? Don’t ye know the way to your own house?”

More memories streamed into my head. An oak tree. A road. A scarecrow. A house. Yes, of course I knew where it was. I shook the attendant’s hand, which was as rough as tree bark—tree bark slicked with motor oil—and got back in the car.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Gretchen said.

“The ghost of Christmas past, I reckon. Head down that road up yonder, ’bout a mile, then turn at the old oak. You’ll find it.”

Gretchen looked at me like I had three heads, but did what I told her. In a cloud of dust, we put the tiny town behind us and delved deeper into the unknown.

The Appalachians are the oldest mountains in the world, as old as some stars. And there are secrets nestled in their hollows, secrets that should never be told. Old gods sleep here, gods that ruled the earth æons before man was born. And if they are woken, they will rule again, purging our pitiful kind from the surface of the earth like a layer of mold.

Somehow I remembered the way, directing Gretchen to turn right at the oak tree and then left down a path, the one overgrown with thorns that none had gone down in at least half a century. The memories came from the Jack before me, the one who was a child of these mountains. I didn’t remember much of the other Jacks’ lives, but sometimes I got a flash, a vivid impression, like the sudden remembrance of a dream from years ago.

And then we emerged at a single-pen cabin that must have been built two hundred years ago, and yet somehow was still standing. It was mid-afternoon now, and already the light was fading, now that the days were so short. Gretchen killed the engine and we emerged from the car like two astronauts stepping out onto the surface of another planet, uncertain what to expect. There was smoke coming from the chimney of the cabin.

The door creaked open and a wizened old man with a long grey beard emerged. For half a moment, I thought it was the old Jack, who had lived here once. But no, he was dead. This was another greybeard. Then it clicked into place. I had met him in the subway last summer, and he had given me a bottle full of magic beans.

“Howdy do, Jack,” said Old Greybeard. He had an Appalachian accent with a trace of something else, something older—almost German-sounding. “Who’s yer lady friend?”

“I’m Gretchen,” Gretchen introduced herself. She stretched out her hand. Old Greybeard took hold and shook it. The side of his mouth quirked upwards with amusement.

“Ladyfolk are mighty spirited these days.”

“And proud of it, old timer. Do you have a name?”

“Sure I do. I have a hundred of ’em. Which one do you want to call me? Ol’ Greybeard? Allfather? Lord of the Gallows? Twice Blind? The Ancient One? Take yer pick. You look like you’ve read a sight of books. I reckon you’ve run across me in some of the old tales.”

For a moment, Old Greybeard looked very ancient indeed, and very powerful. Gretchen looked visibly shaken. “O-o-odin?” she stammered.

“Ah, now that’s an old ‘un. I don’t hear that name too often nomore. How ‘bout you call me Woden? That’s what folks in these parts call me. Or their ancestors did leastaways, round about a thousand years ago.”

I sniffed the air. Something was cooking. “Are you going to ask us in for dinner?” I said. “It’s my house, after all.”

Woden smiled and nodded. “Why sure, Jack. You must be hungry as a bear after coming so far. Did you bring my wife’s book?”

“Your wife?” I said.

“Fríg.”

“I have it,” Gretchen said, retrieving her backpack from the car.

“And I reckon you’ve got the dream key.” Woden looked at me meaningfully. I was already carrying the messenger bag that held the cedar box with the emerald inside. “I’ve got it,” I said.

“Well come on in then. I’m cookin’ up a mess of stew. Then we’ll have ourselves a good long jaw session.”

The inside of the cabin was just how I remembered it. I had visited here last January with Harriet, albeit briefly. I noticed the secret hatch in the floor where the old Jack had spirited me to safety before being killed by vampires—their leader the same vampire who had turned Harriet into one of their kind.

On one side of the cabin was a fireplace with a black cast-iron pot straddling it. Old Greybeard, Woden, whatever his name was lifted the lid releasing a pleasant aroma that set my stomach rumbling. I felt like a slavering wolf as the old man ladled out bowls of the stew for us, and as soon as it was in my hands, I practically inhaled it. It was when I was eating my second bowl that I was able to appreciate how good it tasted. Beans, carrots and some kind of unidentifiable roast meat.

Finally, Gretchen and I were sated (I noticed she had eaten hers with equal ravenousness), and we sat by the fire smoking cigarettes, while Woden lit up a long-stemmed wooden pipe. I couldn’t help but think of Gandalf. But of course, Tolkien was a scholar of old Anglo-Saxon mythology. Gandalf was probably based on Woden.

“So how can you be a god?” Gretchen asked. “I still can’t believe it. Shouldn’t you be in Valhalla feasting with valkyries or something?”

Woden lifted a shaggy eyebrow. “Ah, those were days of glory indeed. But we gods are only as powerful as the prayers we receive.”

“Like Tinkerbell?” I asked.

“A fair comparison, if a sassy one. Very few believe in me nowadays, so I am likewise diminished. But it’s all one to me. This is my Valhalla.” He spread his arms to indicate the cabin. It was snug and warm, and our bellies were full of food. A small Valhalla, but a Valhalla still. Only one thing was missing...

Woden produced an ancient clay jug, and poured its contents into three mason jars, handing two to Gretchen and me. I sniffed mine dubiously. It smelled like beer—some kind of dark stout. Woden raised his in a toast and Gretchen and I did the same.

“Skull!” he cried, and took a mighty swig of his stout, drinking about half the jar. I did my best to do the toast justice, but was only able to drink about a quarter of mine. Gretchen, I noticed, did a little better, nearly downing half of her jar. Woden had drained his to the dregs, and he refilled his jar from the jug. The jug didn’t look big enough to hold so much, but I supposed it must have been some kind of magic jug that never ran out. I had a feeling I was going to get very drunk that night.



Click Here for Part VI


Friday, May 20, 2011

THE PORCELAIN WOMAN

by Icy Sedgwick





Gregor sat back in his chair and smiled. He put down the brush to admire his handiwork. The porcelain woman sat on the bench before him, the paint still sticky on her face. He didn’t need to check the photograph to know she was the twin of his beloved Sylvie. They were identical in every way, right down to the fact that neither of them was alive.

Gregor ran a hand through the porcelain woman’s golden curls. They sprang back into place, glinting in the late afternoon sunlight.

“Ah, my beautiful porcelain woman. I shall name you Odile,” he said. He took one of her cold, smooth hands in his own and gazed into the painted blue eyes.

Gregor talked to the porcelain woman, telling Odile about Sylvie, and their dreams of running an art school in the town. He told her about the tuberculosis that stole his Sylvie away, leaving him lost and alone. He explained how he spent the intervening years locked away in his rooms at the top of the tower. Odile simply listened.

Some hours after sunset, Gregor yawned and shook his tired limbs. He scooped up Odile and carried her into his bedroom. He settled her into the rocking chair by the window.

“Sylvie used to sit here when she couldn’t sleep. She said she liked to knit by moonlight, and keep watch over me. You can hold her vigil now,” he said.

Gregor planted a kiss on Odile’s lifeless cheek. He climbed into bed and fell asleep under the watchful gaze of his porcelain angel.



Dawn’s tentative fingers crept over the red roofs and smoking chimneys. Gregor stirred, feeling the sun’s early caress on his cheek. He got out of bed and carried Odile up to the small roof terrace at the top of the tower. Gregor settled her on some pillows so she could gaze down over the town.

“Sylvie used to sit up here while I worked. She liked the fresh air and the morning sun. I’ll come and get you at lunchtime,” said Gregor.

He patted Odile’s head and left the terrace. His footsteps rang out on the narrow stairs. For the first time in fifteen years, he whistled a melody of summer and hope. The tune echoed around his tiny kitchen as he prepared his solitary breakfast, and continued while he pottered around in his workshop. At lunchtime, he fetched Odile, and she watched him work during the afternoon. She listened to his prattle about ceramics and glazing during supper, and she watched over him while he slept.

Days turned into weeks, and Gregor continued to talk to Odile. He fixed up her hair, and sewed her new clothes. Sometimes he touched up her paintwork. Gregor was always very careful with his porcelain woman. On Valentine’s Day, he laid out a special supper for them, and confessed he was scared he might trip on the stairs, and break her.

“I’d be ever so upset if anything ever happened to you, Odile. You have no idea how much I appreciate you. It’s been so long since I had anyone to talk to. The people down in the town...oh, they let you talk as long as they get to interrupt with their gossip and idle chatter. Not you, my dearest Odile, you know how to listen,” said Gregor. He patted her hand.



The weeks turned into months. Gregor showed Odile the pieces he was working on, although he was careful not to allow any buyers to visit him at home. He feared they might want to buy Odile. She was not for sale, and it didn’t seem right to make another.

One Thursday in late September, Odile sat outside. A makeshift shelter of wood and canvas stretched above her in case it rained. The clock in the town square struck noon. People scurried around in the streets below, hurrying to the market for their lunch of bread and cheese.

Later, the clock struck six in the evening. Odile remained on the terrace, surrounded by twilight. Candles burned at the windows in the houses below. Men patrolled the streets, lighting the gas lamps. Their glow cast warm circles of light across the cobbles. Gregor did not come for Odile.

Thursday turned into Friday and Odile still sat on the terrace. A light drizzle pattered on the canvas above her as the sun fought to break through the early morning mist. Lunchtime came and went, but Gregor did not. That evening, a strong wind pulled down the canvas over Odile, blocking her view of the town.

Some days later, a stranger ventured onto the terrace. He saw a pile of old canvas by the chimney stack, and made a note in his book. He muttered about the state in which the old man had left the place, and left. Another strong wind that night tore away the canvas. It fluttered across the terrace and over the side, snapping from one gust to the next into the darkness. Odile sat in the cold night air, watching the lights go out in the windows of the town.

Night and day chased each other across the sky. Heavy rains plastered Odile’s hair to her porcelain head, and strong winds tugged it dry. Birds gathered on the terrace. The sound of nails being driven into wood within the tower drove them away; only mice and rats would use the narrow stairs now.

The nights grew longer, and colder. Rodents sniffed at Odile’s dress, tearing strips from the skirt to line their holes. Her beautiful floral dress, so similar to Sylvie’s, hung in rags around her porcelain legs. Spiders crept across her hands, spinning webs between her fingers.

Snowflakes drifted onto the terrace on Christmas Day. The town spread beneath a steel grey sky. Odile’s painted eyes didn’t see the townsfolk singing carols around the tree in the square. Children ran around in the rooms below, their laughter drifting up the stairs toward the terrace.

A tear slid down Odile’s cheek.









Come Back Monday, May 23
For the Continued Serialization
of
Adam Bolivar's Weird Jack Tale

THE DREAM KEY
only on the FREEZINE
of
Fantasy & Science Fiction





Thursday, May 19, 2011

THE DREAM KEY: IV

by Adam Bolivar




- II -
Return to Fiddle Creak







Gretchen meandered southwards down a series of back roads, studiously avoiding the main highways. I had little to say on the matter, for as a Bostonian, my knowledge of the world south of Braintree was woefully limited, and I was content to let Gretchen navigate a path to Fiddle Creak. Well, she would be able to get us to Asheville, North Carolina, which was the nearest town amounting to a hill of beans. From there, it would be up to me and my Jack instincts to find where we were going. Fiddle Creak wasn’t on any map that we could find.

We got a late start leaving Massachusetts, however, and the shadows were growing long before we reached the Mason-Dixon line, even at the speed Gretchen drove. It was decided that trying to find our way through the backwoods of Appalachia in the dead of night was foolhardy at best, and around midnight we stopped at a motel somewhere in Virginia. The ‘M’ and ‘E’ in the neon MOTEL sign flickered sporadically and the toothless old man in the office had a shotgun propped up next to him. It was one of those kinds of places.

At least the sheets were reasonably clean, and Gretchen collapsed on them, falling asleep within seconds of her head hitting the pillow. I didn’t have a driver’s license (hey, I’m from Boston, all right?) and she had done all the driving. At least I had paid for all the tolls, the gas, our dinner at Jack in the Box (our little joke), and the motel. My last adventure in the land of Hen had yielded a sack full of gold coins, and I had sold a few of them at a pawnshop, so I had a nice head of lettuce in my wallet. I had buried the rest of the coins so I could come back for them later. No, I won’t tell you where.

Gretchen may have fallen asleep, but I was buzzed. I didn’t want to turn on the TV and disturb her, and I couldn’t concentrate on reading the trashy novel she had lent me (some spy thriller thing). I decided to take a walk, and bring the emerald with me. Not that I didn’t trust Gretchen, but she was sleeping and I didn’t want to leave the most dangerous jewel on earth unattended. So I donned my leather jacket and hat, slung the messenger bag over my shoulder, and stepped out into the witching-hour mist.

I wandered across the road into a dark wood, and the trees rustled and moaned in their sleep. A moonbeam stretched out before me like a long pale finger pointed my way. It was no accident that I’d entered this wood. The voices were whispering in my head. The Old Ones were stirring.

After walking for about half an hour, I stumbled upon a long-abandoned graveyard. There were slabs of slate here marking the final resting places of some of the earliest English settlers to this continent. I sat next to the stone of INCREASE PEASLEE, who was born in Sussex in 1630. The ran my fingers over the words graven in the stone:

Remember me as you pass by;
As you are now so once was I.
As I am now so you must be;
Prepare for death and follow me.


“Not everyone is food for worms, you know.”

Startled, I wheeled around and saw Harriet standing there next to a ruined crypt, her skin glowing as if she were made of moonlight.

“Harriet!” I said. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m always near you, Jack. I told you I’d help you get with the emerald.”

“What am I supposed to do with it? Can you tell me?”

“I’m not sure yet. But I think you’re on the right track. Keep heading for Fiddle Creak. Find my grandpa’s old cabin. I think you’ll find something there that will help.”

“Why don’t you come back with me to the motel? You can drive the rest of the way with us, and show us where it is.”

“Don’t be silly, Jack. You’ll be driving in the daytime, and the sun doesn’t...um...agree with my complexion. Besides, I don’t think your friend would like the competition.”

“Gretchen? We’re just friends.”

Harriet smiled, revealing wolf-like fangs.

“Men are so clueless. You’d better get back. There are things in these woods that would like nothing more than to get their hands on that emerald.”

“Okay. I’ll see you soon?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll turn up. I’m like a bad penny.”

I turned to leave, but Harriet’s hand fell on my shoulder stopping me. She had been over twenty feet away just a second before. I forgot how cold she was.

“Before you go...I don’t suppose I could...have a little blood? All I’ve had to drink lately are rats and squirrels. Not very satisfying.”

“Sure, why not?”

Harriet had fed on me before. At first I had enjoyed it. The experience was thrilling. Later, I felt more ambivalent about it. I wasn’t sure how I felt about being dinner. And prime rib at that. Something about the blood of a Jack was special, apparently.

But it was too late to protest now. I felt Harriet’s fangs slide into my neck, and as before I had the unnerving sensation of being penetrated. Then the rush of pleasure, like a drug, flooded my body, and I convulsed involuntarily. Then, it was over as quickly as it had begun. I was alone once more in the cemetery, shivering with the cold. An owl hooted in the wood. I stumbled back up the path from which I had come, back to the warmth of the motel room and a soft bed with Gretchen.

Quietly entering the motel room, I locked the door and set down my gear. Gretchen stirred, but didn’t wake. Opening my messenger bag, I fished out the wooden box that contained its terrible cargo. Resisting the temptation to open it, just to take a peek at that seductively beautiful emerald, I put the box under my pillow and crawled into bed. Thinking about what Harriet had said, I pressed myself up against Gretchen’s warm back. She involuntarily grasped my hand, even though asleep, and we slept like that, two spoons in a drawer through the long cold night.



The next morning, Gretchen and I arose wordlessly, and set about looking for coffee. I didn’t mention my late-night excursion, although I think the early-morning snuggling hadn’t gone unnoticed. Noticed, but not commented on.

Deciding that there was no humanly consumable coffee to be found at this motel, we ventured onwards a bit further until we found a roadside diner that served coffee as black as the screaming abyss I’d seen inside the emerald. I had to get rid of this thing soon. But how?

We ate eggs and bacon that were nauseatingly greasy. I’d traded a hungry belly for a sick one. I’m not sure which was worse. A couple of cigarettes helped tamp down the nausea, however, and we steeled ourselves for the ride ahead.

The roads we found ourselves on became narrower and windier, and the towns became smaller and further apart. We were in serious hill country. The backwoods of Appalachia. At one o’clock—twenty-four hours after we had embarked from Mousehole, Mass., we pulled into a filling station in a tiny settlement, which amounted to nothing more than a few shops (mostly boarded up) huddled together next to a dirt road. The gas-station attendant wore a duckbilled cap as greasy as the eggs we'd had for breakfast.

“Fill ’er up, my good man,” said Gretchen in a cheesy mock-English accent. The taciturn attendant either didn’t see the humor (granted, there was little to see) or didn’t care. Wordlessly, he removed the nozzle from the 1930’s-vintage gas pump and inserted it into the Jetta’s tank. The gas pump made ting-ting-ting noises while little numbers scrolled behind a cracked pane of glass. I got out of the car to stretch my legs and have a smoke.

Finally, the fueling was complete, and the attendant returned the nozzle to its cradle. The total was $19.10. I pulled out my wallet and found exactly nineteen dollars left to my hoard. I forked over the pile of fives and ones, and scrounged in my pocket for change. I found a silver dime and two copper pennies. I handed the attendant the dime and put the two pennies back in my pocket. They were the last of my earthly money.

“By any chance, would you know the way to Fiddle Creak?” I asked.

The attendant spat a wad of chewing tobacco on the ground.

“Are you funnin’ with me?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Why, you’re in it, sure as eggs’re eggs. This is Fiddle Creak.”





We Continue Monday with Part V






Stay Tuned For This Weekend's Short Story


THE PORCELAIN WOMAN

by Icy Sedgwick



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

THE DREAM KEY: III

by Adam Bolivar




“One!” shouted the Reverend.

“Two!” cried Gretchen.

“Threeeeee!!!!” I screamed, the tip of the sword’s blade pointing itself at the crack like a dowsing rod. The crack in the wall drew together and sealed itself. A few seconds later, it was gone. There was no trace that it had ever been there at all. I still clenched the hilt of the sword. My eyes bulged like a madman’s. The Reverend gently prized it from my grip, and slid the blade into the scabbard. He cleared a space on his couch, into which Gretchen and I collapsed like two marionettes whose strings had been cut.

“I think we could all do with a spot of tea,” the Reverend remarked.

A few minutes later, with hot cups of Earl Grey in our hands, the shock of what had just happened waned somewhat. Gretchen broke the silence.

“Am I going to be the first to say it? That was insane! What the fuck just happened?”

“You simply witnessed a textbook example of why you should never perform a summoning ritual without the proper protections,” the Reverend replied.

“But I’ve opened the box before and nothing happened,” I countered.

“Nothing? Nothing at all?”

“Well...there were the whispers in my head. And the strange dreams.”

The Reverend nodded vigorously.

“You have been weakening the wall. This time was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. It’s lucky you were here when it did, or else...who knows what might have happened?”

“The sword,” I said. “I’ve used that sword before...in the dreamlands.”

“There he goes with the dreamlands again,” Gretchen said.

The Reverend smiled like a Cheshire cat.

“Now, now, Gretchen. There are more things in heaven and earth. Pray continue, Jack.”

“I used it to cut a rope that was holding up a cage... The cage fell and Mother Goose flew out. It was very confusing. But I swear—it was the same sword. Where did you get it?”

“It belonged to my old friend, of course, who was also named Jack.”

Memories came flooding into my head that were not from my own life. They belonged to another Jack, the one before me. The old man in the shack in the Appalachian Mountains. But he had not always been old. Once he had been young like me. Young and blond-haired and full of mischief. He had been Jack. Nimble and quick. The Reverend smiled.

“You remember, don’t you Jack?”

“Wait a minute,” Gretchen said. “You two have met?”

“Not precisely,” the Reverend explained patiently. “I knew the Jack-that-was. But in many ways all the Jacks are the same person. The same, but different.”

“I get it. Not!”

I got up and lifted the sword, now safely ensconced in the scabbard. It was much lighter than a sword of that size should be. But I suppose it was not made of ordinary steel.

“The sword is yours Jack,” the Reverend said. “It is the Thursbane—the giant-killing blade renowned in phrase and fable. It belongs to you.”

A voice whispered in my head. “Take it, Jack. Take it and you will win all the fame and fortune you desire. Wine, women and power. Stacks of gold piled high in a tower...”

I pushed the voice out of my mind and set the sword back on top of the Reverend’s bookshelf.

“No. It’s not for me. I’m not a swordy kind of guy.”

The Reverend nodded. “A wise choice. It will stay in my care then.”

Gretchen, meanwhile, was fingering the book on the Reverend’s desk, the one she had been reading from a few minutes before.

“May I?” she asked.

“By all means, the Reverend replied.

Gretchen opened the cover and I looked over her shoulder at the frontispiece.


Ye Wisdomme of Fryg
Who is elsewyse knowne as
MOTHER GOOSE




Gretchen and I exchanged glances. She flipped through the vellum pages and we saw the same nursery rhymes we grew up with as children. Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle. Rock-a-bye baby on the treetop. Little boy blue, come blow your horn. But as she waded deeper into the book, the rhymes became weirder and unfamiliar. That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange æons even death may die. Something about this rhyme made my stomach flutter, and I shuddered involuntarily. I could tell Gretchen had the same reaction, for after reading the couplet, she shut the book firmly. That was one weird Mother Goose book.

“Yes, perhaps it’s best not to drink in too much knowledge at one time,” the Reverend said. “But I assure the book will come in handy when you need it.” “You mean...you’re giving it to me?” Gretchen said.

“Indeed. It is far too burdensome for me to lug around anymore.”

“I was kind of hoping you’d come with us, Reverend,” I said. “Like in the old days.”

“A tempting offer, Jack. But I am far too old for dream-quests now. The best I can do is offer a word or two of advice from my considerable storehouse of experience.”

“Then what do you advise we do with the emerald?”

“Ah, a tricky conundrum, isn’t it? It is too dangerous to keep, and yet too dangerous to give away.”

“Maybe we can throw it in Mount Doom,” Gretchen grinned.

“Ah, dear old Tolkien,” the Reverend said. “How I miss the talks we had late into the night at the Eagle and Child. The problem, my dear Gretchen, is that unlike the One True Ring, the Eye of Set is indestructible.”

“Then what are we going to do?” I said.

“You must follow your weird,” the Reverend replied. “And trust in the wisdom of Fríg.”

“Frig?” said Gretchen. “Seriously?”

“Now, now. No need to be childish. And it’s not Frig, it’s Fríg.” He pronounced the name Freeg.

“Then I should keep going to Fiddle Creak?” I said. “Isn’t that what...” I whispered the name, that terrible name. “Yog-Sothoth wants?”

“If that is where your weird is taking you, then you should let it. I have faith in you Jack. You’ll find a way to outsmart the Old Ones. You always do.”

The tea had grown cold and more than half the day was spent. It was time to go. Gretchen reluctantly put the ancient Mother Goose (or whatever it was) in her backpack. She didn’t particularly want to take it. But I had refused the sword, and we needed some ace up our sleeve, albeit a very bulky one.

The Reverend walked us to the main gate of Mousehole University, a spindly, wrought iron affair surmounted on either side by two black, cast-iron ravens. He hugged us each and gave Gretchen a kiss on the cheek. I stole one last glance at the back of the frock-coated old man as he scuttled back into the warmth of his office, and wondered if I’d ever see him again. Well, of course I would.

The clock struck one as we climbed into Gretchen’s black Volkswagen Jetta and, unbidden, a nursery rhyme sprang to mind.

Hickory dickory dock,
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory dickory dock.


Mother Goose, Fríg, whoever you are, help us.

We were on our way to Fiddle Creak.



~Click Here for Part IV~

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

THE DREAM KEY: II

by Adam Bolivar







Gretchen made her phone call, and by the time the sun came up we were bundled into her black Volkswagen Jetta, ready to get on the road. All she packed were a few changes of clothes, which was more than I had. I had learned that when crossing over to other dimensions, it was best to travel light. Although the terrible emerald I carried in a cedar box in my backpack was the heaviest burden of all.

We stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts on the way out of town for provisions. She drank her coffee black, as did I. We were hardcore. Next we stopped at Store 24 to buy a pack of American Spirits each. It was 7:30 by the time we were on the highway, heading west. Every fiber of my being was telling me to head for Fiddle Creak. Fiddle Creak! Yog-Sothoth! Fiddle Creak! Iä! Iä! But Gretchen convinced me that we should stop in Mousehole to visit a professor of hers. Mousehole was a little frequented town in western Massachusetts, and although I had lived in Boston my whole life, I had never heard of it. Of course, Bostonians are notoriously ill informed about the world west of Brighton.

Instead of taking the Mass Pike, we meandered up Route 2, past Concord, past Fitchburg, until we were in wilds would make any proper Bostonian shudder. Gretchen, however, seemed to know exactly where she was going, and turned off Route 2 onto a succession of back roads with the surety of a native.

Finally, we arrived in Mousehole. The town had only one main street, and was little more than an excuse to house a university. As we approached the towering spires and gothic architecture of Mousehole University, I was immediately brought to mind of Goosebridge, and said as much.

“Goosebridge?” Gretchen asked. “Where’s that?”

“Would you believe in the land of Hen?”

“At this point if you said that little green men had landed, I’d believe you, giant-killer.”

“You might be closer to the truth than you think.”

Gretchen had no reply for my ominous statement, and she parked the car in the town square. I hefted my blasphemous burden, and together we strolled onto the campus. The air was as crisp as apple cider, and I buttoned my jacket against the unforgiving November chill. The psychedelic foliage that New England is so famous for had by and large fallen away by then, and the trees’ barren branches reached towards blue heaven like supplicant fingers.

“Are you sure this guy can help us?” I asked as we entered a building through an arch-shaped door crowned by a stained glass fanlight.

“Definitely. You’ll see when you meet him. If anyone can help us with the Eye of Set, it’s the Reverend Ezekiel Whitlock.”

Gretchen was telling the truth. She knocked on the door of his office, and we heard a warbling, high-pitched voice emanate from within.

“Enter!”




Gretchen opened the door and ushered me in. The first thing I noticed about the Reverend’s office was the vast multitude of books. Every conceivable surface was covered in books, many of them stacked in precarious leaning towers. And sitting at an ancient oak desk like a spider in a bibliographic web, was an impossibly old man with a long white beard. He wore a tattered black frock coat that must have dated back to Victorian times, a stiff wing collar, and a white cravat. His morning blue eyes twinkled like a wizard’s.

“Gretchen Greene, what a surprise!” He sprang to his feet, surprisingly nimble for someone who must be a hundred years old if he was a day.

“Reverend, let me introduce my friend...” Gretchen began.

“Well bless my soul,” the Reverend said in his peculiar high-pitched voice. “You must be Jack.” He shook my hand as if handshakes were going out of style, working my arm like a water-pump handle.

“I can see you know how many beans make five,” I said, trying to sound clever.

“You are the spit and image of your predecessor.”

“You knew the last Jack?”

“He and I were the dearest of friends. It saddens me to no end to learn of his demise. But I suppose he is with his Sunshine now. As one day, I shall join my Lavinia.”

“I know you’re busy with your work,” Gretchen said. “But we need your help.”

“My dear child, of course. This is my work. How many I be of help to you?”

Gretchen and I exchanged glances. I shrugged.

“May as well cut to the chase,” I said. I opened my messenger bag and pulled out the box of grotesquely carved wood. As I began to open it, the Reverend shouted, “Wait! You must recite the binding spell before...” But it was too late. I had opened the box fully, and laid bare the accursed jewel. That’s when all hell broke loose. A crack opened up in the wall like ice splitting in a frozen pond in the spring. There was madness behind that crack, stark raving madness. There were eyes, thousands of eyes. And mouths filled with razor-sharp fangs, ravening for meaty delights. I would have given my soul to be able to turn away from the sight, to close my eyes. But I couldn’t. Even as I write these words I shudder at the memory. It will haunt me to my dying day.

“Jack!” came a cry, and the voice cut through my delirium like a knife’s blade. It was the Reverend. With my last iota of will power, I turned to see him pulling something down from the top of his bookshelf. It was a sword in a scabbard. The hilt was silver with a blood red ruby set it the pommel. With considerable legerdemain, the old man pulled the sword from the scabbard, revealing a glinting silver blade. “Catch!”

The sword twirled through the air, point over pommel, and in an unconsciously fluid motion, I plucked it from its arc and sliced at the slimy green tentacle that was creeping out of the crack in the wall. The blade repulsed the tentacle as surely as the like poles of two magnets. A terrible shriek rent my eardrums, the sound of a thousand teakettles going off at once.

The Reverend had already opened an ancient hidebound tome and shoved it into Gretchen’s hands. I stole a glimpse at her face and saw that it was ashen and slack-jawed. She had lost as much sanity gazing at the horror as I had.

“Read!” the Reverend bade her. Something about his voice brought her back from the brink. It was as impossible not to do what he said as it had been to turn away from the monstrosities in the crack.

I cast thee out Yog-Sothoth, abhorrent to see,
Back through the gate when I count to three.
Fríg protect us and Woden, Thunor,
I cast thee out Old Ones, and shut fast the door.



~Click Here for Part III~



Monday, May 16, 2011

THE DREAM KEY: I

by Adam Bolivar


- I -
The Black Emerald








I am Jack. I am of a line of Jacks that stretches back to the beginning of time. I walk the threshold between waking and dreaming, and am equally at home in either. I keep the world safe, for there are Things Outside that seek to break through in a torrent of madness, and sweep away all that we know. I hear them whispering in the black emerald I keep in a cedar box beneath my pillow at night, my sleep plagued by nightmares.

Iä! Yog-Sothoth! Yog-Sothoth is the key. The key that opens the gate. Open the gate and we will be free. Be free... Be free... Open the gate and we will be free...

I stood in a windswept moor, a place between worlds that stretched endlessly in all directions. There was a circle of stones standing there, like the ones that dotted the British Isles, erected by a long-forgotten race. I approached the circle in wonderment, running my hand over one of the rough-hewn obelisks. How many æons had it stood here?

“Well met,” intoned a deep, sonorous voice. I wheeled around and beheld a pale-skinned man wearing black Georgian finery: a black frock coat, breeches, hose, a powdered periwig and a black tricorne hat. “I knew we would cross paths one day, Jack.”

“Who are you?”

“What’s in a name? I have so many. I’ll be seeing you again, Jack. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the next day. But I’ll be seeing you again soon...”


I awoke shivering with the cold, even though I was covered in warm blankets. The blue digits of my alarm clock shone in the darkness like a burning bush. 3:33. That could only mean one thing. It was time to call Gretchen.

She was wide-awake as usual, even at this hour, but answered me in an icy tone, quite unlike her usual chirpy banter. “Good morning, Jack.”

She knew it was me. Probably because I was the only one who ever called her at 3:33 in the morning. That used to be endearing to her. Now I wasn’t sure.

“I need your help, Gretchen,” I said.

“What is it this time? Are you playing a riddle game with an owl? Or did you just kill a two-headed giant?” Some desperate calls I’d made to her recently had convinced her I’d gone off the deep end. But our friendship was strong enough that I was sure it would survive, even if it had been strained. I pressed on.

“Look, I know you must think I’m a psycho. And I don’t blame you. Can’t you give me one more chance? My stories must be entertaining at least.”

There was a pause. Then she relented. “Well...I guess it’s better than watching TV. There’s not even a Bela Lugosi movie on. You can come over. But I warn you, I have a black belt in karate. So don’t try anything, giant-killer.”

I could almost hear her smiling through the phone. I was forgiven. Yay! I couldn’t stand the thought of Gretchen being angry with me. I held the engraved cedar box that held the abysmal emerald in my hands. If I were a true friend, maybe I’d let her stay angry at me and not drag her into this mess. But I was going to show her another world—lift the veil of the dreamlands for her. I couldn’t imagine anyone who would be more thrilled about that than Gretchen. We’d have great adventures together.

Idly rubbing the bite marks on my neck, I put the box in a well-loved messenger bag. Then I donned my leather jacket and my hat with the feather stuck in the ribbon, and set off down the road once again. Travelling Jack never looked back.

I had tread this path almost a year before, in icy January. This time it was stark November, which in many ways was even colder, for the trees’ branches were only recently denuded, and I was unused to the chilly breeze that whistled through them. The last time I had come this way, I was almost eaten by a two-headed giant, who had somehow crossed into my reality—or I into his. But this time the street was as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. It was just me, the whistling wind, and the haunted emerald whispering to me from inside my messenger bag.

Open the creak, Jack. Open the creak with the key. Open the creak, Jack. Open it up and set us free...

The first thing I was going to ask Gretchen for was a cigarette. It was time to start smoking again. I climbed the steps to her door and paused on the porch. I was on the threshold of something big, and once I crossed it I knew there would be no turning back. Oh, fuck it. I’d already crossed the threshold last January when I first became Jack. I knocked on the door three times, as Harriet had showed me.

Thrice I smite with holy crock
With this mell I thrice do knock,
Once for God,
Once for Wod,
And once for Lok.


Gretchen threw open the door like she’d been waiting for me just inside. Then she gave me the mother of all hugs.

“It’s all real, isn’t it Jack?”

“I wish I didn’t have to drag you into this. But I don’t know who else to turn to.”

“Are you kidding? This is fantastic. So are you really Jack the Giant-Killer? Are you going to take me with you to fairyland?”

“Basically. Well, the Appalachian Mountains anyway. A place called Fiddle Creak. That’s where it all started. And that’s where it’s going to end. Can you give me a ride?”

“When do you want to leave?”

“At first light.”

Gretchen lit a cigarette and took a deep drag, as if inhaling the significance of what I had just asked her. She saw my expression and offered me her pack. I plucked one of the tubes of tobacco like a flower from a garden and lit up. Ah, nicotine. You sweet, harsh mistress. Her sting felt good.

“I’ll have to get someone to teach my class this week. But I’m sure Rob will do it. I’ll call him before we leave.” I nodded. The concern seemed trivial compared to what we were about to come up against. But I knew Gretchen’s studies were very important to her. She hoped to become a professor one day, and she wouldn’t get tenure by being irresponsible.

“And there’s something I have to show you. I need your help identifying it.”

“Well, don’t leave me in suspense. Bust it out.”

I hesitated. It was too late not to show her. I had her hooked, the poor wriggling fish. Sighing, I opened up the messenger bag and pulled out the cedar box. She snatched it out of my hands and peered at the carvings on top.

“Oh my gods!” she said. “That looks like Hyborean. Where did you get this, Jack?”

“It’s a little difficult to explain. It was part of my reward for finding the White Cup. But I owe it to the Queen of Hen’s cousin.”

Gretchen was already flipping through a large, hidebound tome with yellowing, brittle pages. She stopped on a page with a woodcut illustration of an ornate goblet. That was it. The White Cup. It looked just the same as when I had seen it. And set in the belly of the cup was a large faceted jewel, which was also very familiar to me.

“Are you ready?” I asked.

Gretchen took a drag on her cigarette, which she had already almost smoked down to the filter.

“Ready as I’ll ever be.”

I opened the box and the whispering in my head grew louder and more distinct. From her widened eyes, I knew she could tell she heard it too now. For she had gazed upon the emerald, as black as a thousand nightmares.

“The Eye of Set,” she said hoarsely. “Jesus Christ, you’ve got the Eye of Set!”

Iä! Yog-Sothoth! Yog-Sothoth is the key. The key that opens the gate...





- Click Here for Part II -

Archive of Stories
and Authors

Adam Bolivar's
SERVITORS OF THE
OUTER DARKNESS

Adam Bolivar's
WYRM'S BLOOD


Adam Bolivar's
THE DEVIL CAME
TO BOSTON



Adam Bolivar's
THE DREAM KEY


Adam Bolivar's
THE WHITE CUP


Adam Bolivar's
THE FOX AND THE THORN


Adam Bolivar's
THE TIME-EATER


Adam Bolivar is an expatriate Bostonian
who has lived in New Orleans and Berkeley,
and currently resides in Portland, Oregon
with his beloved wife and fluffy gray cat
Dahlia. Adam wears round, antique glasses
and has a fondness for hats. His greatest
inspirations include H.P. Lovecraft,
Jack tales and coffee.


Keith Graham's
MIZUKI


Keith Graham's
EVERYTHING BUT
THE OINK



Keith Graham's
FAREWELL TOUR


Keith Graham is a computer programmer,
blues harp player, fellow beekeeper, and
speculative fiction writer. He currently
maintains 45 active websites. He has
published more than 50 stories over
the last six years in venues such as
others. Underground rock music
played an integral part in the early
days of cyberpunk, and The Freezine
of Fantasy and Science Fiction is
excited to have Keith onboard, and
grateful to showcase the premiere
of his passionate story of rock'n'roll
redemption.


John Claude Smith's
BLOOD ECHO SYMPHONIES


John Claude Smith's
NOT BREATHING



John Claude Smith writes weird fiction,
something between Horror and Magic
Realism, most of it psychologically driven.
He's had over 40 tales and over 1100 music
reviews, interviews, and profiles published.
He is currently shopping two novels and
a collection to agents and publishers, all
while starting the third novel. Gotta keep
on keepin' on! Looking forward to Rome
in the not too distant future, but for now,
just looking for the next short story to
be written.


David Agranoff's
A PLANET OF YOUR OWN


David Agranoff's
THE FALLEN GUARDIAN'S MANDATE


David Agranoff is the author of the
short story collection Screams From
A Dying World, just published by
Afterbirth Books. David is a hardcore
vegan and tireless environmentalist.
His contributions to the punk horror
scene and the planet in general have
already established him as a bright
new writer and activist to watch out
for. The Freezine of Fantasy and
Science Fiction welcomes him and
his defiant vision open-heartedly.

David is a busy man, usually at work
on several different novels or projects
at once. He is sure to leave his mark on
a world teetering over the edge of
ecological imbalance. David's latest
books include the Wuxia -Pan
(martial arts fantasy) horror
novel called Hunting The Moon Tribe,
already out from Afterbirth Books.;
The Vegan Revolution...with Zombies,
[Deadite Press, 2010]; and
[Deadite Press, 2014]

Daniel José Older's
GRAVEYARD WALTZ


Daniel José Older's
THE COLLECTOR


Daniel José Older's spiritually driven,
urban storytelling takes root at the
crossroads of myth and history.
With sardonic, uplifting and often
hilarious prose, Older draws from
his work as an overnight 911 paramedic,
a teaching artist & an antiracist/antisexist
organizer to weave fast-moving, emotionally
engaging plots that speak whispers and
shouts about power and privilege in
modern day New York City. His work
has appeared in the Freezine of Fantasy
and Science Fiction, The ShadowCast
the collection Sunshine/Noir, and is
featured in Sheree Renee Thomas'
Black Pot Mojo Reading Series in Harlem.

When he's not writing, teaching or
riding around in an ambulance,
Daniel can be found performing with
his Brooklyn-based soul quartet
Ghost Star. His blog about the
ridiculous and disturbing world
of EMS can be found HERE.