Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Virtue and Vampyrism

It is a truth universally acknowledged that suffering arises because of desire. However, it is almost inevitable that this truth is so fixed in the minds of certain people that they consider it almost embarrassing, and make a semblance of ignorance for the benefit of their neighbors. "Oh, suffering? Probably arises out know, lack of fiber in the diet. Or all the zombies around." Which was, while not a noble truth, fairly close to the point, for while the suffering that ensues from having one's brain messily and thoroughly devoured by the undead most directly arises from one's own material attachment to their own cerebrum, the zombie can hardly be said to not have any involvement.

William George Austen was of the firmly-held opinion that suffering, whatever it might arise from, was not morally bettering, nor, in the case of zombie-related mishaps, intellectually enriching. He desired only a loving family in which he could take pride and comfort, a tot of rum at morning breakfast, a bank vault whose capacious innards held sufficient sums of currency to cause the death by crushing of any ne'er-do-well who should intrude upon it, and the occasional ruddy-cheeked prostitute. And so when his daughter Jane was born, he decided that he would gift her with a life free of suffering, that she might have better prospects of finding a sufficiently monied husband so as to provide funding for the latter desires in William's twilight years. It was well known that the local gentlemen scarcely allowed young Jane to be pretty, and were the weight of suffering to be added onto that, then all hope of matrimony would be dashed.

And so Jane's father summoned up a stern-faced demon governess to watch over Jane, and to see to it that she did not see the poor, the sick, or the aged, and that she might forever remain ignorant of suffering. Whenever the young girl went out for her morning constitutional, or her evening peregrination, the demon governess would walk a few steps ahead of her, incinerating any beggars or street urchins with her horrible death-ray eyes before they could blight Jane’s innocence.

But Jane was a child both precocious and perspicacious, and she could not help but notice the heaped-up ashes and the silhouettes burned into walls that seemed to appear every time she went out with her governess. She made certain inquires to her father regarding her governess’s horrible death-ray eyes, but was met with resolute silence and sent to bed without supper. Jane suspected that a girl of sixteen years was slightly too old to be sent to bed without supper, but did not press the point, and took her banishment with phlegmatic resolve.

And it was on such a night that Jane espied the figure of a man, crouched outside her window. Though the mere thought of a peeping tom gazing through her window brought a ferocious blush to her youthful cheeks, she nevertheless unlatched the window and threw it open, inviting whomever might be perched upon the sill in, with hopes of adventure and excitement. Jane, however, not being experienced in the field of inviting strangers in from off of window ledges, failed to notice that in opening the window with such vigor, she had inadvertently knocked the intruder from the windowsill, down into the gardens below. He collapsed jauntily upon a rosebush, a rather difficult feat, all things considered.

Jane knotted her bedsheets together, and lowered them down to aid the man – who she now saw to be quite young – embarrassed over her fecklessness. He grabbed at the makeshift rope, and she had soon pulled him through her fenestration. At once, she recognized his countenance. “Why, you’re that Coleridge boy!” she exclaimed, both startled and somewhat pleased, for while Sam Coleridge’s reputation as a rogue and rapscallion was infamous, he was also possessed of those virtues most exciting to a precociously curious young girl, a hearty lust for adventure and a handsome figure. “Jane!” the boy exclaimed, grinning a neat crescent-moon. “What are the odds that I’d see you here, in your bedroom? I was just going to invite you to accompany me this night on an adventurous romp through the streets of London, and who should I see but you? What an absurd and preposterous happenstance!”

Jane graced his facetiousness with a girlish giggle, and consented to wander a ways with them. They both clambered down the impromptu rope, and set off into London. But, before they could solve any nearby mysteries, discovery whatever pirate treasure might happened to be secreted away in the sewers of London, or watch a zombie fight, Jane was struck by a sight most novel and unfamiliar. It was an old man, leaning on a cane. Jane gazed at the old man with sorrowful eyes, and asked Sam, “Who is this man with grey hair and so decrepit a body, pray tell?” Sam, somewhat taken aback by her surprise at all this, informed her that the man was only elderly, and not to be feared. But Jane squeaked with sorrow at this, and inquired of him again, asking “Is that also to be my fate, that I will grow so old and loathsome?” Sam, rather eager to be getting on with the adventure, explained that old age happened to everyone, and that it happened faster if one were to simply stand around talking instead of going out exploring. Jane was somewhat suspicious of his ratiocination, but nevertheless went along with him, worried in her heart.

But Jane soon fell to a halt again, seeing a man lying helpless on the ground. His limbs were stiff and rigid, as if he had been carved out of ice. “Who is this ma-” she began to ask, but Sam cut her off. “He’s got syphilis. Disease. Nasty thing. Come on, let’s go.” The young man was rather keen on pursuing a route into the unchaperoned drawers of his feminine companion, and would have preferred not to stop and philosophize over the suffering of a syphilitic. He dragged her away towards the nearest theater, hoping to find some entertainment therein.

But once again, Jane stopped in the streets, pointing at a filthy, shambling man. Before she could even begin to ask, Sam pushed her back. “Jane, zombie! Dead thing, eat brains, run away!” he called out, all thoughts of grammar or sentence completion dispelled in the face of the rotting monstrosity. Sam made a most peculiar screeching noise, and down from the skies winged a snowy-white albatross, perching on his arm. He flung out his arm, and the bird swooped at the zombie, tearing away its soft and rotting flesh with its beak. Sam made haste to catch up with Jane, praying that she would not next stop to marvel at a shaggy lycanthrope or a serial killer with an affinity for mutilating prostitutes.

Jane returned home, safe and cerebrally intact, but she was not happy. As she bid Sam farewell and good night, she pondered how it could be that men grow old, or fall sick, or succumb to vile necrobiolobical viruses and reanimate as mindless zombies. And so it happened that she realized the existence of suffering, and fell gravely sorrowful. For seven long days and nights she immured herself within her room, permitting no visits from anyone. Her father bemoaned his feckless governess, who had let his child witness the suffering of the world, and so great was the demon chaperone’s guilt that she took out a hand mirror, gazed deeply in to it, and immolated herself with her own horrible death-ray eyes.

On the seventh day she stepped out of her room, and announced to her father that she intended to go and meditate beneath the clock tower, that noblest of timepieces that stood at hallowed Westminster, until she had realized the noble truths by which she might transcend her mortal suffering. She sat cross-legged in the shadow of the clock tower, every maidenly ounce of her body wholly given over to her meditations. But, just as scientists have found that Nature abhors a vacuum, and will destroy it with walking trees, so too does the inherent suffering of all life abhor a young English girl meditating beneath a timepiece and striving for enlightenment, and so it manifested a spirit of material desire to tempt and assault the girl.

The spirit manifest from dark of night itself, clad in black finery and a scarlet cape. Its skin was inhumanly pale and rigid, and its teeth were snarled with piercing fangs. It stood before Jane, and spoke. “My name is…Dracula.” he said, and Jane looked up at the inherent suffering that stood in the manifest form of a vampire before her. “I bid you…welcome.” Jane regarded him suspiciously, suspecting that the inherent suffering of all life had manifested him to distract her from her enlightenment. Dracula laughed maniacally, and thunder rumbled as he did, stirring up a storm. But for all the bluster of the gales and the fury of the rains, not a single fold of Jane’s dress was ruffled, nor did the first drop of rain strike her head. Dracula pounced on her, seeking to pierce her throat with his fangs and drain away ever last drop of enlightenment, but he found her skin as hard as marble, and his fangs in need of dental attention.

Jane graced his assaults with a girlish giggle. Her heart was filled with all-encompassing compassion, and she suspired pure enlightenment, a coruscating wave of non-ego that would embrace the vampire and redeem him of his ways. But Dracula is a being of material desire! He cannot be enlightened! The enlightenment coalesced around him, forced into a false material form, and fell to his feet as a manuscript. A pandemonic laugh leapt from Dracula’s throat. “Muahaha! Foolish Buddha, you seek to enlighten me?” But then, Dracula noticed the manuscript as his feet, the pages spread about in disarray. So…messy, so…disorderly. He could not help himself as he stooped on one knee, and began counting the pages, putting them in order, as is the well known habit of all vampires. As he picked up the first page, he read from it: “By a former marriage, Mr. Henry Dashwood had one son: by his present lady, three daughters.” Dracula raised his head up the heavens, and shouted, “NOOOOO!”

Jane frowned. “It’s not that bad.” she muttered, feeling a bit embarrassed despite her enlightenment and all-encompassing compassion, even for book critics. By the time Dracula had put every page in order and finished the whole book, it was dawn – and with the sun’s first rays, he would surely be defeated, burning to ash and nothing more. He trembled with fear as he finished the book’s final line, pronounced it dreadful, and looked up to see the dawn. But as the sun rose up into the sky, so too did Jane. She leapt up and kicked the first beam of sunlight, striking it with the All-Things-Under-Heaven Blossoming Lotus Compassion Kick, transforming the light into a ray of pure, enlightening radiation. The light struck Dracula, but did not destroy him – rather, it irradiated him with compassion and detachment from material wants, causing him to become the Nuclear Bodhisattva Dracula.

Jane set out for home as the Buddha, and was prepared to preach the Four Noble Truths she had learned, as well as a most efficacious method for disposing of unwanted vampires. But before Jane could reach her familiar estate, she encountered a zombie. She regarded it with all-encompassing love. It regarded her with cerebrophagous hunger.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Washington Invictus

“There is not,” George Washington had once remarked, “a bullet in this world that has my name on it.” This was entirely true. The General had lost many a coat to an errant musket-ball, and more than once had his horse shot down as he charged, claymore held high. But not once in his life had a soldier, savage or Imperial, marred his immaculate flesh with gunfire. Such power had cost him much–the Seven Lead Devils who presided over firearms were not bought easily. But in the end Washington had struck a pact with each of the divinities, sacrificing much that he might be made impervious to bullets.

However, on this day, Washington, for the first time in the whole of this long war, feared for his life. The British had somehow come to learn of his divine protection–perhaps Dee had finally broken through the wards of occultation laid in the nation’s capital, or else King George had bargained for the knowledge with beings best not spoken of. And so it was that the army marching against Washington today carried no bullets, nor were they even human. The British were fielding velociraptors. A full legion of them, clad in red coats and powdered wigs, advanced on the colonial army, reptilian eyes aglint with the cold malice of primeval hunger.

Washington did not permit himself the excess of profanity as he charged into the saurian infantry; such indignity did not befit a general of the American states. Were his men of a soldierly caliber, they would have followed him into the fray, brandishing their bayonets and thaumaturgic pistols. But he had been saddled with an unkempt rabble, a militia whose talents lay in bluster and bravado. The Americans ran, and soon discovered just how swiftly a pack of ‘raptors could advance. The scaly redcoats had soon laid open the entrails of many a coward, their sickle-curved talons slicing through fatted flesh with unhindered ease. Within mere moments, Washington stood alone, wheeling his claymore around to parry the rapacious claws that beset him. The rest lay in a morass of red, choking on the warm gore that slicked the fields of Monmouth.

Washington was not a man learned of numbers, but even he could count a legion of ‘raptors beyond his puissance to slay. For every scaled body his claymore cleaved through, for every pair of jaws he tore in half with his bare hands, a dozen more advanced, their powdered wigs shining with menace as the sun’s light receded. He cast aside his sword, its weight more encumbrance than boon, and dropped down into a low, centered stance. He knew he could not hope to break the enemy army, not by himself–but his was a code of honor that permitted no notion of failure, no calculated retreat, no weakness of temperance. Washington had trained in warfare with the greatest sages of the blasted North, the Canadian wasteland whose icy expanse spanned between two oceans. And now it was with their ways he fought–the brutal, unstoppable force of the savage Way of the Moose.

As Washington took on the Iron Antler Stance, the raptors drew back, their eyes almost wary. Dinosaurs had once roamed the American continent, but had fallen before the wrath of Utgun Bull-Moose and Yrka Mammoth, the two shaggy war-gods who had sired the nation of Canada. Did the beasts that now besieged him recognize the fighting stance of the god who had slain their ancestors? Washington cared little for such philosophical questions, though he might relate the tale to Jefferson once he prevailed, if he prevailed. After what an almost millennial moment of tension, one red-clad raptor broke ranks, leaping at Washington with its raking talons extended. The General moved slowly but purposefully, changing his stance ever so slightly and extending a single, ring-clad hand. As the dinosaur plummeted towards him, he caught its neck in one hand, his grasp clamping tight around the beast’s windpipe. He threw it to the ground with such force as to shatter its spine with a swift, agonizing crack. The carcass rebounded from the ground, bouncing softly off the hard soil–and, planting a solid kick, Washington drove it into the mass of the raptors, driving them back.

So the fight went, raptor by raptor. One would lunge out, and Washington would shatter its jaw with a knife-hand lunge, driving his fingertips into the soft brainpan of the lizard. Another would seize on the opening to duck under the General’s legs, striving to knock him off his feet. He, however, had held his balance against the charge of elk and the fall of avalanches during his journeys through the northlands, and it would take more than an alchemically-resurrected velociraptor to undermine General George Washington. And for every raptor that leapt and fell beneath his blows, he took a step. Had he sought to run, to escape the horde, they would have fallen on him in instants, carving the flesh from his bones with those cruel claws, so accustomed to American blood. Instead he moved with such slow purpose that the beasts scarcely comprehended he was moving. As long as he stood at the center of their ranks, as long as they were too cowed by his warrior’s mien to attack him all at once, he was invincible.

For three days and nights he fought, forgoing food, drink, and sleep. Lesser men would have succumbed to weariness or hunger, would have gone out in one glorious surge of strength. But temperance was Washington’s watchword, and he kept careful check on his strength. By the end of the third day, Washington had marched thirty miles, beset every step of the way by his saurian foes. Scores of them had been slain, lying in scavenger-picked heaps across New Jersey. But Washington had not slain without retribution; claw-marks were gouged across his body, deep wounds that would have blood copiously out in minutes had the general not slowed the beating of his heart, ignored the burden of his wounds. He could already see his destination in the distance–another hour, and he would be there.

Washington’s mark was the unearthly tor called Beacon Hill. If it had once been a fine pastoral scene, he knew not–for as long as he had been alive, the hill had been a profaned monument to the awful strength of science. For it was on Beacon Hill that Doctor Franklin had devised his final experiment, though it remained untested. The Continental Congress had feared Franklin for his sorcerer’s ways, and Washington much suspected that the bound demon which had devoured the scientist had been summoned by an American thaumaturge, rather than any of England’s imperial magi. But nevertheless, the diabolical machine built atop that hill was the sole weapon capable of defeating such an army, the hellish brood of thunderous lizards whose scale were proof against sword or musket. And so Washington marched onward.

He reached the hill as midnight slouched into its appointed sphere of the sky, casting a tenebrous pall over his struggles. His reptilian foes needed no light to see by, for their inhuman eyes were accustomed to the heat of Washington’s own body, a merit which he lacked. Every step now cost him a draught of his own blood, or a scrap of his own flesh. Intrepid as he was he could not fight forever without surcease, while the teeming multitude of his foes ensured there would always be another raptor. If he failed or faltered before he could reach the hill, America’s fate would be written indelibly upon the loom of heaven, nothing more than a savage land assigned to Britain’s prehistoric allies, the uncouth and ungentlemanly dragon kings resurrected by the darkest of alchemy.

And so Washington’s heart was gladdened as he looked up to the hill, seeing the engine desired and feared at its summit. A needle of pure iridium, scavenged from fallen stars, pierced through the summit of the hill, reaching all the way down to its stony roots. Ringing the starmetal spire were megalithic coils of copper and tungsten, driven into the face of the hill like massive screws. A console of brazen clockworks and polished steel stood before the engine, like a pagan altar to the sky. It was there that Washington would have to ascend to, that he might seize the engine’s reigns within his hands. He leapt forward with a whirling kick, toppling the velociraptors as if they were cherry trees before his axe. He would need to drive them back before he could ascend the hill–and so he hefted high a massive boulder, of such great girth that a dozen men of lesser mettle would have struggled to budge it from its ponderous place. But Washington lifted it without the semblance of effort, and hurled it. Its meteoric fall crushed the forward advance of the saurian troop, and it rolled through their ranks, forcing them back in panic and fear.

Before his foes could regroup, Washington leapt up to the hillock’s peak in seven bounds, as if, by sheer gravitas, he had disregarded the laws of physics that bounded all things to the earth. He approached the mechanical altar, cursing his own ignorance–for it was a bizarre assembly of unpolished levers, eleven-pointed dials, ebon toggles, and all other sundry apparati. He threw a lever–nothing. He struck a combination of keys on the console–nothing. He twisted a dial and pushed in a plunger–again, nothing. He sank to his knees in intemperate desperation, praying to the gods of star and stone that his death might not be horrible. And as he lay prostrate before the machine, he saw his salvation–an open receptacle, lying on the underside of the device. For all its scientific refinement, Franklin’s doomsday device was guided by the same principles as the demons Washington had once bargained with: there must be a sacrifice. The machine needed power, and Washington had what it asked for.

The ring on his right hand was set with a black stone, a strangely-angled gem whose facets revealed unearthly reflections, ghastly apparitions of one man–the traitor Arnold. His punishment had been consignment to Jefferson’s thaumaturgical workshops, where his soul had been forged into this ebon gem. And now, with almost nonchalant disposition, Washington threw the soul of the traitor into the machine. There was a flash of brilliant light as the engine drained the soul of its essence, and the general’s hearing was smote by a howl, the anguished cry of a soul being unmade. And that was all it took. Lightning wound through the coils along the hill, sparking and leaping freely, holding the raptors at bay. Shimmering light coruscated along the length of the starmetal needle, waiting to be discharged. Without calibration or correction, Washington slammed his fist down on the machine’s largest panel.

Triumph. A beam of light, pure and brilliant, emanated from the tip of the spire, touching the skies. It shone firebird red at first, then oscillated through the entire spectrum, until the sky was suffused with violet. And then, the heavens opened, raining down fire from the sky. Bolt after bolt struck the hill, a pyroclasm that incinerated the saurians down to the last raptor. Washington ducked beneath the altar, seeking refuge against the unstoppable force he had loosed. Skyfire fell for what felt like hours, until thousands of charred and sky-scourged beasts lay piled in charnel heaps. Washington stood, throttling back a lever that pulsed with luminescence. As he pulled it back, the beam of light from the machine dwindled unto nothingness, and the sky fell to silence.

Washington left the hill that night, marching alone towards Philadelphia.