Castle of Ages Release!

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Chapter One

I can say without any semblance of ego that I have seen deeper into the shadows than any of my kind born upon this earth. I have pierced through the hearts of men and found the horns hidden underneath the brows of innocents. I have been kissed by demons and cursed by those who claimed to serve the Lord.

Yet, in all that I have witnessed, of all of the multitudinous horrors, including bearing witness to that awful chamber of the Castellan, nothing could have prepared me for the Aionic canal. Time, the Castellan said, was a difficult thing to manage and there are always the elements of physical law to consider. I know now that time itself occurs simultaneously to our dimension, or no, perhaps it is more accurate to say that time does not occur at all; it is immovable and mass and matter merely revolve around it. This, of course, becomes something of an issue when one decides, perhaps foolishly, that he wishes to travel to an earlier era— for matter must be dissolved to its simplest iota to be put to use elsewhere. Great minds in the fields of chemistry and physics have postulated that there is a finite amount of matter. There would be no lesser or greater amount of the stuff in 1503, my destined era, than there was in 1903, the year I departed from. Hence, the Castellan’s Aionic canal must strip me of my physicality in 1903 and find a suitable amount of atomic material in 1503 to re-establish my form. 

This was not a pleasant experience if I might offer a wry understatement. Imagine that you have been pushed through a sieve with an imperceptibly small mesh or otherwise have fallen into a meat-grinder and even the most vivid of imaginations could not possibly anticipate the amount of pain one must endure to travel backward through linear time. The physical pain was one thing and perhaps easier to understand. Now apply the process to your mental state or, if you dare, your spiritual being. Of how many memories creates a person? Of how many thoughts and ideas? These are ethereal concepts, containing no substance, yet these too must become obliviated, parceled into the tiniest parts of their humane sum. One might be able to calculate the weight, volume, and atomic material a single body possesses, but the equation is less precise when it comes to the intangible modules of the human spirit. This is why the Castellan prefers a sacrifice when transmuting a body along the canal— simple maths of debit. 

Perhaps it would be helpful to provide an allegory to better explain myself. In my travels to visit my mother country of Russia, I encountered a former Buddhist monk from Japan who once tried to explain to me, over a shared bowl of saké, where the concept of separate identities comes from. He asked me to consider the table and he asked me to give it a name. 

“It is a table,” I told him. 

He agreed. Then he asked me to consider what I would call it if he took an axe to it. 

“A broken table,” I told him. 

He agreed. Then he asked me to consider what to call it if he shredded the table to absolute bits. 

“Splinters.” 

He asked me to consider what to call it if he then shredded it further. 

“Sawdust.”

 And then what to call it if he burned it?

 “Smoke. Ash.”

 “And once the smoke disperses and the ash is thrown 

into the dirt?” “Air. Soil.” 

“And yet you continue to call this a table,” the monk said, somewhat mockingly. “And can you make a table out of air and soil?” 

“No,” I said.

 “You can,” he said. “You need only to wait.”

 It was not until I had separated into a million particles that I fully understood what the monk had been saying. My identity as the man, Ulysses Malevich, my body, my mind, had joined the cosmic oblivion of energy passing into states of motion and rest. Memories of my mother holding the obsidian knife to my eye, blessing me with the Siren Goddess’s vision of collapsable probability, separated into the concepts of mother, knife, eye, blessing. And then those concepts separated into vaguer ones, woman, child, stone, sight, prayer, blood… and so on. They mingled with the particles that once comprised my face, my eyes, nose, forehead, eyebrows, ears… Atoms that had comprised my circulatory system passed through synaptic charges of energy that held thoughts of duties, compulsions, the drive to eat… and what’s more, after their unbecoming, the differences between them were unrecognizable. 

This, then, is the Castellan’s gift, for it soon dispatched of the particles that comprised my bodily form and absorbed it to put to use in my “modern” era. With it left all feelings of pain and misery. All else was flushed into a great sea of energy, thought, and consciousness. From there, I witnessed every possibility from every outcome. Perhaps, I misspoke. Earth barely registered as a place here. The universe, as I had once considered it, also appeared small and inconsequential to me. I was then a part of some greater formation, some eternal architecture. Flowing through it. I had not the capacity to feel joy or sublimity, nor had I even the faculties to think— again, I floated like a cloud of concepts, partially formed ideas, and then merged with every concept. There was no future, no past, no love, no hate, nothing. I was the table shattered, burned, and returned into this swirling void of the never-was, the cannot-be, the all-encompassing tide of non-reality. 

And then, when I felt as if I had finally found my home, those damnable Newtonian physics once again began to seep into veracity. With it, my amorphous cloud of concept began cleaving back into itself, memories, lusts, and traumas made whole, as physical law crafted planets and stars according to their mass and volume. I became aware of globules of atoms here, snatches of particles there, elements from quasars, salts from unnamable moons, proteins filched from protozoan organisms from cratered pools of ice pocking the surface of meteors, all of it carrying the pain of entropy, establishing in my thinking that to exist within this universe, one must suffer. 

I became the table reborn. 

A Comedy of TERRORS Part II: Dracula

A Comedy of TERRORS Part II: Dracula

I recently finished Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a novel that, along with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, defined a goddamn genre. Modern readers might be put off by the dry, elevated prose throughout the epistolary epic, especially since recent imaginings of vampires are either laughably melodramatic or so far up its own conceited, dreary ass that a return to the source material seems like an exhausting task.

Let me tell you, Bram Stoker’s Dracula indulges heavily in melodrama and dreariness. That being said it also reads like a dream, in part, because it is secretly hilarious.

The primary protagonist of Dracula, while an ensemble piece, is ultimately Van Helsing. He isn’t even mentioned until nearly 150 pages into the novel, but once he’s established, he is the primary agent of action and knowledge against the Un-Dead Count. Once he’s introduced, the entire plot revolves around his decisions. And he’s funny. He’s Dutch, so, naturally, his English is broken and jumbled together in long, raving rants. And he’s awkward. He’s blunt when he should he should be tactful, and overly explicative when he should be precise. Nearly immediately after Lucy Westrenra dies, Helsing verbally diarrheas a litany of his research, confusing his poor former student, Dr. Seward, before obtusely saying, “I want to cut off her head and take out her heart,” which only distresses Seward further. It takes another litany and several demonstrations to get Seward on board.

Van Helsing fucks up socially, constantly. He makes Mina Harker, once the vampiric curse is falls upon her, cry by callously saying, in so many words, “don’t forget that a Vampire breast-fed you a couple of hours ago,” before realizing his social mistake.

What’s more is that he addresses his comedy directly. He straight up fucking laughs in hysterics after Lucy has died. Seward attributes it as  “it was only his sense of humour asserting itself under very terrible conditions.” Van Helsing goes on one of his rants, discerning “laughter who knock at your door and say, ‘ can I come in’,” from laughter that says, “‘I am here.'” I’ve gone on before about how Horror and Comedy are nearly one and the same, given their basic elemental makeup. But here Dracula pokes at a baser inclination with its comedy. Which is that laughter, dramatically induced via comedic relief, is a fear response. I’ve written about this before, thinking my modern perspective of irony of tragedy and comedy was somehow a revelation.

Buddy, we’ve been funny for a long while and for the same reasons.

Take this: Lucy Westenra slowly becomes a Vampire. She’s entombed and the fuckers who loved her mourn her passing. Van Helsing says some crazy shit about wanting to cut her head off and stuff her mouth with garlic (again, hilarious in the way he proposes it). Seward pledges to never take a diary entry down again. CUT TO several newspaper clippings of children, desanguined, found in a feverish daze after being lured away by a ‘bloofer lady’:

A correspondent writes us that to see some of the tiny tots pretending to be ‘the bloofer lady’ is supremely funny. Some of our caricaturists might, he says, take a lesson in the irony of grotesque by comparing the reality and the picture.  (229)

It’s not only that this passage implies that Stoker was, on some level, self-aware of how ridiculous his story is, it’s the baffling use of the term ‘bloofer lady.’ There’s no contextual explanation as to what that means in the clippings, nor is it ever repeated after the chapter closes. Furthermore, there’s no footnote (in my copy, at least) explaining the term, suggesting that it went over the heads of scholars for years and years. Thank Christ for Urban Dictionary, which explains that “bloofer” is, in fact, the reported cockney dialect of “beautiful.” Say it out loud in a cockney accent and you’ll get it. Bloofer lady. Hilarious.

Stoker reports dialects of many UK islanders– Irish, Scottish, cockney, Welsh, I think, in addition to Helsing’s strange Dutch accent. Now, the first reaction might be that Stoker’s making fun of the lower classes (Dracula, after all, is the tale of haunted aristocrats) but I’m one to think that Stoker, being Irish himself, was poking at the intellectual class reading his book. I like to think that he knew well that his literary audience would have been confounded by a lot of the more colloquial verbiage in the book, whereas an educated albeit lower-class reader would be able to decipher the language perfectly. Some of the dialogue is so entrenched in dialect that the only reason I was able to understand half of it is due to my fascination with Scottish People Twitter. It ultimately adds a sense of playful levity to the Gothic narrative, because of the playful nature inherent to “vulgar” UK slang and expressions.

At a certain point when I was discussing Dracula with my companions, I was frustrated that the only common understanding of the book was the “I VANT TO SUCK YOUR BLOOD” parody of a misquote from Bela Legosi’s incarnation of the Count. But the more I thought about it, that comedic take on Dracula is almost closer to Stoker’s intention than initially realized. Nearly everyone can agree that the vampires depicted in Twilight are garbage creatures, over-saturated in the poetry of eternal life and shiny, blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, What We Do In the Shadows nails it, utilizing a comedic tone to play with the wide-spanning vampiric lore without diminishing its potency. Likewise, The Castlevania video game series employs a subtle humor (often in the form of items and certain enemies) that pokes fun at the concepts without taking you out of the experience. There’s a level where you essentially murder everyone in Hogwarts.

And finally there’s the gleeful Sir Anthony Hopkin’s portrayal of Van Helsing in Coppala’s adaptation of Stoker’s classic, who seems to be the only actor cognizant of what movie he’s in.

There are yet unmined opportunities to explore with Vampires. Dracula itself is a culmination of many years studying the folkloric traditions and superstitions surrounding the monster and Stoker only scratched the surface. So take heart, horror authors.

But for Christ’s sake, use some humor to blunt the subject’s poetic edges. Vampires are ridiculous and you know this.

 

I’ve started a horror series myself, written in the vein of the classical tradition as best as I can manage it. The humor is subtle and dry and it is available for pre-order hereCoS_cover_small