Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

Company of Wolves (1984)

October 20, 2017

95 minutes – Rated R for some gore, body horror, near constant dread and surprising sexual undertones.

Dreams can be very frightening. At least, the ones that I remember are usually very scary to me. I still remember very clearly several dreams I had when I was little where I was chased. One of them was a dream where I was lost in the woods and I came upon a civilization of purple-skinned people stuck in some sort of pre-colonial lifestyle. I stumbled upon the fact they ate humans and, of course, they chased me through the woods. I also clearly remember a dream where I was running from some sort of unseen monster but it was close behind. Along the way, I gathered up my mother and we ran to a barn. We climbed but the monster was so close behind and we went to zip line away but mom fell behind. Of course, I had a dream where I was attacked by a swarm of bees again and I woke up still feeling their stings all over my body in the form of a tingling sensation. The point is: dreams are so scary because our brain tricks us into thinking they are real. We believe so hard that it is hard to swim out of that alternate reality without completely jettisoning it, quickly forgetting what was bothering us.

There are also predators out there in the real world. I am sure you may have noticed but I identify deeply with the wolf but I know what I am. I am not a predator. I gravitate toward the image of the wolf because of my family history and for its positive traits of loyalty. However, I know that the wolf is also a creature that kills. If you work on a farm or camp out in the woods, a wolf is not a friendly, natural image. It is a danger that you must defend yourself against. In the city where I grew up, the worst you would encounter would be a mean dog or an aggressive rat. So when I went camping as a kid, I was terrified because I only had stories of wild predators. In the city, we had different predators we were warned about. Human predators. Stranger danger was something shouted from the rooftops by parents but I was an indoor kid for the most part so I never really feared getting snatched off the streets. When I got older and walked freely around Fells Point, I started to get a little more wary but the worst was somebody asking me if I had any cigarettes. Still, I knew that things could happen at any point.

The first thing that was clear while watching this movie was that this movie would have suffered greatly if the effects budget had been lower. Right off the bat there is a great mix of puppetry and live animals that immediately caught my eye. The puppetry was really unsettling but that was clearly intended. The lighting was really good. I have designed lighting for horror before and the light and shadow can really make or break a good story. The movie made really good use of shadow in particular. It gave the movie more of a Grimm’s fairytale feel. As we all know, those original tales are dark and full of thinly veiled, brutal lessons so shadow really suits this adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood. Beyond that, the visual effects and camera tricks were absolutely brilliant and mind-bending. The makeup effects were really great as well, including really good fake blood. All of it added up to some really dark body horror that was literally like something out of a nightmare.

Speaking of nightmares, the movie does such a good job of creating a world out of dream imagery. The world of the dream seems to have internal logic but, like Wonderland or The Labyrinth, things can come out of left field to change the story. There is a constant level of dread under every single scene so even the non-scary scenes had me a little worried. There are not a lot of jump scares, there is more psychological horror which seems to be a running theme this week. One of the themes is female sexuality and the fear of male sexuality and also the justified fear of the abuse of women by men. It reminded me of a fear that I did not have while I was growing up since I was a boy who did not have to worry so much about being mistreated in that way. This movie awoke a vicarious worry for women that I have thought about more in recent years. And yet, I know there are things that I cannot possibly protect the women in my life (and beyond) from. The movie did a good job of stirring up those societal fears in addition to fears of more literal wolves.

Overall, I thought this was a very good and chilling movie. While it was definitely not a traditional horror movie, it had a lot of horror elements mixed with fantasy elements. It definitely filled me with a feeling of horror at times. Its dreamlike, disjointed nature kept me guessing as to what might happen next even though I have read and seen so many other versions of Little Red Riding Hood. There was so much subtext in this movie that I felt like I was watching two movies at once at times.

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Sabin the IV

September 16, 2017

Cordell and Edmun were helping Sabin into his armor. This was nothing really new as Sabin had put on armor almost every day since he had turned twelve. Before that, he was often caught trying to wear his father’s armor or his older brother’s armor which was met with amusement and only a tiny bit of annoyance. His father had custom armor made with the family crest put on it and, as he grew, new armor was often given to him on his birthday. It was a comfortable second skin just as a sword was a natural extension of his arm. What was different today was that Lady Elena was trying to talk to Sabin during the process.

“Elena, please,” Sabin said, trying to turn his head to face her which made the rest of his body move which made the job of putting on armor more difficult for the servants. “It is immodest for you to be standing there while I am getting dressed!”

“But Sabin,” Elena protested. “You must speak to me. I have heard that you are going on a journey. Why must I learn of this secondhand, my love?”

“I apologize,” Sabin said. He walked to her, his armor half on and hanging off of his body. He ignored the frustrated sighs of the servants. “I did you a disservice but I have only recently resolved to go on this quest.”

“What quest pulls you from your home and my side?” Elena asked. She pressed her hand to his cheek and he placed his hand on her hand gently.

“It is a quest for you, my love,” He said. “You are the only thing that truly matters.”

“A quest for me?” Elena asked with a quizzical look on her face. “Why, I am right here, my lord. You did not have to travel far to find me.” She smiled sweetly and Sabin knew it was a joke but it was also partly earnest.

Sabin laughed softly. “No, my love. I am journeying for your hand, by which I hope to have the rest of you. Your parents have forbidden our marriage unless I prove myself worthy.”

Elena frowned. “And how will you prove yourself worthy? As if you were not already worthy.”

“Through adventure!” Sabin said with a smile. “Only through great deeds can a man (or a woman) be truly great. I will return with such tales that will spin the heads of your parents on their shoulders. They will beg me to marry you.”

Elena remained frowning. “As attractive as that sounds, could we not merely elope? I desire you as a husband and you cannot do that if you are carried back here a corpse.”

Sabin shook his head, his long brown hair shaking a little as he did. “Have a little more faith than that, Elena,” He said. “Besides, I want to do this the right way. I want your parents and my parents and all of our family to proudly stand by while we exchange our vows. I do not want our bliss to be a point of contention between our families. Moreover, I do not want to drive a wedge between you and your family.”

Elena sighed. Her blue eyes studied Sabin de Lesartesse carefully. Elena Loncroft was of a noble bearing, one of the richest, well-bred, and well-respected families in the area. Her family obviously had its doubts about most who pursued their crown jewel as such a marriage would be immediately advantageous to the suitor and those advantages would only increase after the natural death of Elena’s parents. Sabin was a young man in the prime of his life, a man who eagerly heeded any call to adventure. At a tournament, he had met Elena by chance and the two had talked so long he had nearly missed his turn. He dedicated the subsequent victory to her but in private so as not to put her on the spot. Since then, they had grown fond of each other and that fondness had turned to love.

“There is wisdom in that and it touches my heart,” Elena said. “However, I also surmise that you are eager to go on this adventure.”

“I cannot lie,” Sabin said. “The idea of the wide open world does excite me. My mother used to read me tales of epic adventure. I always hoped that one day I would be the one they wrote stories about. Perhaps, a bard will write a song.”

“My nanny also read me those stories,” Elena said. “Very well, if your heart brings you elsewhere then I cannot keep you here.” She turned away, reaching to wipe away a tear from her cheek.

Sabin wrapped his arms around her from behind and hugged her close. “My heart does draw me away but it will also be what brings me back to you. I swear it.” He smiled and leaned over her shoulder, his hair falling against her hair, blonde mixing with brown. They stayed like that for a moment.

“I am proud of you, my lord, my Sabin,” Elena said. “As much as I hate to see you go, and that hate is considerable, I know that your journey will benefit us. You will come back stronger so you can protect me and, perhaps, our future children.”

“Elena, I would very much like to have children with you,” Sabin said. “As long as they take more after you than me.”

“You are beautiful to me, Sabin,” Elena said. “I would request that you remain beautiful. Make sure the brigands and monsters do not harm your face. I cannot stress this enough.” She smiled brightly at her own joke.

“I will do my best to make that request, each and every battle,” Sabin said. Both of them laughed softly. The sound was a little sad. “Go back to your chambers while I finish getting ready, my love. I will come and say goodbye when I am ready.”

Elena nodded and then turned in his arms and kissed him. Sabin kissed her back, his arm instinctually supporting her lower back as she went on tiptoe. That moment would be burned into Sabin’s memory along with a whole chain of similar memories. She broke the kiss eventually and stroked his cheek before leaving him to put on the rest of his armor.

Redcross Pt. 10

September 9, 2017

Redcross

Sarah poked her head through the door to the street and saw Reverend Simmons on the roof of the church carefully unloading his rifle at even more beasts that were running in the streets. There were a few others firing from their windows in the night. She watched as a bullet landed on one of the beasts and it slumped to the ground but then it got back up again in a moment. She aimed her own rifle and started to fire but she worried it would not do any good. Still, she managed to land a few hits of her own which at least slowed the things and kept them from attacking anyone.

A single wolf’s howl rang out in the night and then a chorus of howls answered it. A pack of wolves ran into the town and before Sarah could aim, she watched one of the wolves slam into one of the mountain lions. The wolf sank its teeth into the hide of the big cat and there was a spray of blood onto the dirt. Sarah was astonished. Why would a pack of wolves run into town to fight a pack of mountain lions? That was stepping around the odd thought of why a pack of mountain lions would randomly storm a town like Essex.

Sarah raised her hand high and shouted. “Hold your fire! Don’t hit the wolves!” She could almost feel the confusion in the air but the gunfire stopped after a moment. She could feel the Reverend’s gaze all the way from on top of the church. She chose to ignore it at that moment and instead watched the wolves and the mountain lions fight. The fighting was fast and bloody as animals almost moved faster than the human eye at times.

After a few tense minutes, the mountain lions decided to turn tail and run out of town. The wolves gave chase, nipping at their heels. One of the wolves stopped in the middle of the town, a few feet from Sarah and looked at her. Sarah stared back into the eyes of the wolf, stunned. She held her hands up, knowing that accidentally looking it in the eye could be seen as aggressive. She tried to look as innocent as possible, holding her rifle above her head. The wolf cocked its head and then ran to catch up to its pack. Sarah let out her breath and looked around the town.

“Is everybody alright?” Sarah called out.

She could see a lot of the men and women of the town filtering out of their homes. They looked rattled but nobody looked injured. It looked as if the town had been very lucky. She scanned the buildings and saw that the door of the doctor’s house had been torn apart. She jogged over and made her way past the broken pieces of the door. She kept her rifle ready.

“Doctor?” She called out. “Are you alright?” Her heart hammered up against her rib cage and she took two deep breaths to calm herself as she made her way up the stairs. The doctor appeared at the top of the stairs.

“I’m alright,” She said. “The thing had just about gotten through the door when somebody shot it in the back. My guess is I have the Reverend to thank.”

Warren made his way through the door behind Sarah slowly. “Is everything alright?”

“We won’t be needing your services, Mr. Chilton.” The doctor said. Sarah had to smile at that little joke.

“I’m glad of it, ma’am,” Warren replied with a smile. “I don’t really want my skills to be in high demand.”

The doctor descended the stairs now that she knew that things were as safe as they were going to get. She was in her nightgown, her spectacles balanced on her nose. “Are you alright, Sarah? I can see the sheen on your forehead.”

“One of them attacked me outside of my home,” Sarah said. “It broke the back door of my office when I ran. I scared it off.”

“With that famous Redcross marksmanship, I suppose?” Asked Warren.

“Yes,” Sarah said. “But after I shot it, it had the nerve to get back up. It was not natural. I have never seen anything like it.”

“Curious,” The doctor said. “Healing of that magnitude is definitely not natural.”

“Do you not also find it curious that these beasts tried to get into the both the doctor’s office and the sheriff’s office?” Warren asked. “I have long scratches on my door that would seem to prove that these animals had an agenda.”

“What kind of agenda would a pack of mountain lions have?” Sarah asked. “And why would a pack of wolves have an opposite agenda?”

“There is more at work here than is normal, I believe,” Warren said.

“Are you actually considering he supernatural, Mr. Chilton?” Marion asked.

Warren waved the question away with his hand. “Ridiculous. There is still no proof.”

“I don’t know about that, Warren,” Sarah said. “Things are getting really strange around here.”

“And do you recall the wounds on our mystery body?” Marion asked. “I told you that I thought they looked feline in nature. Now we are invaded by wild cats. Is that merely a coincidence.”

Warren was about to say something but Sarah cut him off. “No, it can’t be,” She said. “I believe those animals are the same ones that killed the man. Now, what that means is still up for debate.”

“I agree,” Warren said. “Surely we must gather more evidence before making a conclusion.”

“Of course, I agree as well,” Marion said. “However, even though my hypothesis would have me laughed out of several universities, I still believe that we are dealing with the supernatural.”

“I don’t know whether I want you to be wrong or right, Doctor,” Sarah said with a shiver. “Either way, we better be on our guard from here on out. You should stay with me until we can get your door fixed.”

“You’ll get no argument from me, Sheriff,” Marion said. “I promise to be a good house guest. I know you have your rounds ahead of you, I will meet you back at your home.”

“Goodnight ladies,” Warren said. “And be careful.”

The Symbol Pt. 2

September 1, 2017

“You!” Victoria yelled out as she jumped from the stool she was sitting on and backed up. She slipped some iron knuckles onto her hand. She stroked some runes along it and it suddenly blazed with a bright white light and there was a crackling sound in the air. She also ripped her blouse from her shoulder and placed her palm on the family protection symbol.

“Whoa!” Solantria yelled out. “I mean you no harm!” Her eyes looked panicked for a moment but her face slowly calmed and a warm, charismatic smile formed on her lips. The words made no sense but they did sound nice to Victoria’s ears. Almost comforting.

Victoria shook her head. “Bullshit!” She went to take a swing at the demon with her blazing white fist. Solantria barely stepped back and out of the way.

“I swear it, Victoria,” Solantria said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to prove it to you.” She had her hands up in her best attempt at placating Victoria.

“You killed six of my family members!” Victoria yelled out. She poured will into the symbol on her shoulder.

“Oh shit,” Solantria said before she was repelled and she hurtled out through the door and tumbled into the street. She got up and steadied herself before taking a breath and counting to three. She calmly walked back into the tavern. “That was well over two centuries ago. I think it’s almost three. I’ve changed.”

“The Heathrow family will never forgive you for those deaths,” Victoria said. “I will use everything in my power to end you.”

“Um, I’m immortal,” Solantria said with a smile. She still had her hands up.

“Then I’ll do what I can to make this a very bad night for you,” Victoria said, her eyes narrowing.

“I need your help,” Solantria said. There was a long silence. Very carefully, she reached over and grabbed her glass of whiskey from the bar and downed the whole thing. She kept her eyes on Victoria the whole time.

After a few moments of stunned silence, Victoria actually started laughing despite how angry and afraid she was. “You need my help?” She asked. “You know what I say to that? Suffer.”

“I need your help to save the world,” Solantria said. She sat back on the stool and poured herself another glass of whiskey. Another confused and stunned silence came after that statement. Victoria’s brain seemed to halt for a moment or two.

“What?” Victoria asked finally.

“I need you to save the world. With me,” Solantria said. She sipped her whiskey and smiled. “It’s kind of imperative at this point. It’s also getting rather urgent.”

“I don’t believe you and, even if I did, why would a thing like you want to save the world?” Victoria asked. “Everybody knows demons live in one of the Hells. Just go home.”

“Have you ever been to Hell?” Solantria asked. “It’s brutal and boring. Brutally boring. Besides, I’ve grown quite fond of this world over the last century. I have my reasons for wanting to save it.”

Victoria scoffed at that. “My family’s greatest enemy is asking for trust and yet it keeps secrets. It’s almost funny.”

“Can you not call me an ‘it’?” Solantria said with a pout. “I may be a demon but I am all woman.” She punctuated that with another sip of her whiskey.

“Tell me your secrets,” Victoria said, completely unamused. She still had her hand on the family symbol, ready to repel the demon again and again.

“All of them?” Solantria asked and then tilted her head back to let out a laugh. “That would take more time than we have. More to the point, after the sordid business with your family ended with my humiliation, I would not dare show my face in any Hell. After a decade, I left my grudge against your family behind me and started to explore this world. For once, my focus was not on the deal but was instead on pure exploration. I had a lot of fun. I grew attached to this world. I changed.”

“Wait,” Victoria said. “You don’t want to kill my family?”

“Did you notice I haven’t shown your kin my face for a long time?” Solantria asked. “It’s not just because of that symbol. Oh and nice tattoo by the way. It is because I decided to drop the issue. Neither side was blameless but I definitely overreacted. I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?” Victoria asked. “My parents raised me with stories about how you might come back one day. I had to sleep with the light on until I was fourteen. I had nightmares. Actually, I still have nightmares. And you’re sorry?”

Solantria looked embarrassed and said weakly. “I’m very sorry? I had no idea how badly I had affected you. Maybe even ‘infected’ would be a better word. I really am sorry for that. I was born among beings with no conscience. In fact, the one I have grown is still pretty new to me. What can I do to make it up to you?”

“Nothing can be done now,” Victoria said and then she sighed and took off her spectacles. She rubbed the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes for a moment. She replaced her glasses and eyed the demon quizzically. The immortal centuries must have been rough on Solantria, she did not look as majestic as Victoria had imagined. She just looked more ordinary than Victoria had always imagined after studying the sketches her ancestors had drawn. “However, you said earlier that you need my help to save the world.”

“Yes!” Solantria said excitedly, a dazzling smile forming on her face for a moment before she turned it down a few notches. “I consulted with a seer who told me that I needed to go to Heathrow’s Victory to start my quest and here you are. Victoria/Victory. Get it?”

“I get it. I’m recognized by several academies and universities as a very intelligent woman so I definitely get the not so subtle wordplay there,” Victoria said.

“Will you help me?” Solantria asked. She looked hopeful and sincere to Victoria.

“I don’t think I could ever help you,” Victoria said. “However, I may be willing to help our world.” She paused and looked around. “Wait, did you do something to my bartender friend?” She looked suspiciously at Solantria.

“Oh, of course not,” Solantria said. She pulled a small stone out that kind of looked like the top of a sundial. “The enchantment on this stops time for those I choose. I gave him a break.”

“Unfreeze him,” Victoria said. “Unfreeze him and I will consider your proposal. Meet me at my apartment tomorrow afternoon.”

Solantria smiled and pulled out a small cloth bag and set it on the bar and it made a little jingling sound. “For the whiskey.” Then she held out the little stone sun dial. “And this as a sign of good faith.” She put the stone on the bar next to Victoria and walked out of the tavern.

“Here’s your sausage, Victoria,” <> said with a smile and set down the plate.

Victoria swept the stone off of the bar and then pocketed it. She took a sip from her glass of whiskey. She did her best to cover up her shoulder quickly. “Thank you, so much.”

“What happened out here?” He asked.

“Just somebody with sticky fingers,” Victoria said. “I encouraged her to pay up.”

“Are you alright?” He asked, a concerned look on his face.

Victoria took another sip of whiskey, eyeing the empty glass still on the bar. “I will be.”

The Symbol

August 26, 2017

Victoria had lived with the symbol all of her life. It was hanging over the front door both inside and out of her childhood home. It was carved into the center of the family dinner table. It was carefully tiled into one of the shower walls. It had been imprinted on the fence posts bordering her ancestral home. At age four it was meticulously tattooed onto her shoulder. It was a very traditional symbol that had been in her family for a long time. Some now confused it for a family crest but it was far more than that. It was a demon ward. It was designed to ward against a very particular demon.

That particular demon would be Solantria and she was a wicked one. Victoria’s ancestor, Leonidas Heathrow, had made a deal with the demon in order to gain the power to save the local town from a dragon. Her many-times-great grandfather had been between a rock and a hard place but he made the sacrifice for the right reasons. When it came time for Solantria to collect, Leo was not available. He had perished after the deed was done but his spirit, his bright and shiny soul had been taken away by the Great Dragon. Feeling cheated, Solantria decided that the family would have to settle their ancestor’s debt. Until the symbol, too many of the family had fallen to the wicked demon.

However, with the advent of the symbol, the demon was kept at bay and the family had flourished. What had started with but one Heathrow had spread to many different kingdoms. Many of them were not even Heathrows anymore but Victoria was. She was proud to be part of the original line. They had taken Leonidas’ sacrifice as a symbol and they worked to gather mystical knowledge to keep the world safe. Some strayed from that specific path but, for the most part, the family loved to be of some service. They left the world better than they had found it. All done while keeping a watchful eye for the demon’s inevitable attempt to return.

For her part, Victoria had become an expert in mystical artifacts. She had collected quite a few after she had grown up and left the family estate. She was currently in residence in Callia, a lovely little apartment scattered with magical items. Some of them Victoria had not yet figured out but that was the fun of it. She tended to crack every puzzle put in front of her eventually and she loved that daily challenge. She was partnered with several magic schools and universities who either sent items to her or summoned her to exam problems. Most every librarian in the world knew her name or would soon learn it. She was happy with that.

She had been examining a ring sent from several towns over when a note had been slid under her door. She walked over and unfolded it, adjusting her spectacles. Her friends wanted to go out for a drink. Victoria looked out of her big window and was surprised that the sun had gone down and the moon was traveling through the sky. Where had the time gone? She could always figure things out the next day. Friends were important. They were just another extension of family which was the most important thing besides your health. Victoria grabbed her coat and slipped it on. Her favorite weapons were almost always tucked inside.

She made her way down the street which was dimly lit by oil lanterns but she felt safe enough in this part of town. Besides, the tavern was not far. The ogre of a bouncer opened the door for her and she thanked him with a smile. She walked into the bar but did not see a single one of her friends. In fact, the place was fairly empty. Victoria frowned and wondered just how late it had gotten. Her stomach grumbled. She moved to sit at the bar and the hawk-nosed bartender smiled at her. She smiled back at him.

“What do you have for dinner tonight, Abram?” She asked.

“Dinner, Ms. Heathrow?” Abram asked with a playful smile and a toss of his blond locks. “It is a little late for dinner. Did you just now come back from the clouds?”

Victoria laughed softly. “Yes. I’m afraid so,” She said. “I really should get better at eating at regular times.”

“Why do what regular folk do when you can be interesting?” Abram asked.

“Interesting is fine but eating is healthy,” Victoria said.

“I can cook up some sausage with some onions and tomato sauce?” Abram asked.

“It sounds great, Abram. I’ll eat whatever you put in front of me,” She said.

“We’ll see,” Abram said with another laugh. He headed just out of sight to fire up the sausages. Victoria could hear as the pan bang against the brick of the stove.

It paid to be a regular. People were happy to give you more than they would give a stranger. Victoria did not have a lot of friends due to her bookish life but she cherished the connections she had made. She smiled to herself as she waited for Abram to get done. Maybe he would chat with her over her dinner and she would tip him generously despite his protests. She liked that whole song and dance.

Victoria barely even noticed the hooded woman sitting next to her, at least not at first. She only noticed her when the woman reached over the bar for a bottle and two glasses. She had grabbed some really good stuff. It was an aged scotch/whiskey blend from the kingdom of Shahl. Very expensive stuff and this woman was just helping herself.

“Hey!” Victoria said. “You can’t just help yourself.”

The hooded woman said nothing but poured two glasses of the classy booze and pushed one of the glasses toward Victoria. Victoria just looked at the glass.

“I think you’re going to need that,” The woman said. “Drink up.”

“Who do you think you are?” Victoria asked indignantly. She wished Abram would come out and chase this rude woman out.

“I think you know exactly who I am, Victoria,” The woman said. She drew back her hood. The woman’s skin was light purple, her hair raven black, her eyes blood red. There was a horn protruding from the left part of her forehead and a broken off nub protruding from the right part. All of this was proper evidence but the woman’s smile was what really spoke volumes. The look in her eyes told Victoria everything she needed to know.

“You!” Victoria yelled.

Redcross Pt. 9

August 19, 2017

Redcross

It was not so much a sound that woke Sarah in the middle of the night. At least, it was not a sound that Sarah consciously heard. The Redcrosses had always been famous for their powers of observation, even while deep asleep. At least, that is what her father had told her when she had tried to sneak out of the house back in the city and here in Essex. She believed it was true as the skill had served her well through her short career as Sheriff so far. She caught more mischief with a keen eye and a hard look than with a gun. Of course, she went out into the scrubland outside of town to practice with her pistol and the rifle that hung over her desk. It did no good to get out of practice.

She was glad that she had that training under her belt as she easily reached for that pistol and checked the ammunition. It was full. She pulled on her pants under her nightgown and idly wondered if she should buy some pajamas like her father used to wear. She went without her boots when she heard the sound outside. It was a scratching sound that she did not recognize and that had her concerned. No one would dare prowl around the home of the sheriff. Her little home was just behind the office and nobody wanted to get caught that close to where Sarah could easily lock them up for the rest of the night. She stepped outside, pistol in hand.

That is when she saw the wolf. Actually, it was not so much a wolf as it was the biggest wolf that Sarah had ever seen in her life and she had seen plenty out in the wilds of the Arizona Territory. This one was easily twice the size of a normal wolf. She froze. She knew if it had not noticed her yet then it was only a matter of time until it did. She needed a moment to think. If she faced the animal on its terms, she would not last long. Out here, you grew up learning to respect nature or you ended up a bunch of bleached bones out in the desert. Sarah would not let that happen to her, that was not the way a Redcross or a Sheriff should die. It also sounded incredibly painful.

The wolf was facing the opposite direction from Sarah and luckily the wind was blowing in such a way that she was still upwind. That could shift at any moment. Sarah decided to sprint for the office, a much more secure building than the tiny shack that was her ancestral home. She pushed off and ran as hard as she could. The wolf, confused in the moment, found it hard to pivot to chase her at first but it soon remedied that and the race was on. She pushed herself harder than she had ever pushed herself and she got the back door of the station open and got inside before she slammed the door and threw the deadbolt. She stood there, breathing hard and shaking a bit.

That relative peace did not last for long. The door shook hard as the wolf threw itself against it. Sarah stepped back and aimed her gun at the door, taking a deep breath to stop shaking from all of the adrenaline. She closed one eye and aimed carefully, slipping her finger from the trigger guard to the trigger. She was prepared to kill this thing if necessary. From somewhere in her mind an idea flitted through her concentration. She wondered if this was one of the things that had killed that man out in the desert. The image of the body all torn up flashed behind her eyes and she shook her head and took another deep breath. There was no time for that now.

The wolf rammed the door again and it splintered and the hinges twisted. Sarah had thought at best the wolf would get its head or paw through a hole in the door. Now it looked like either the entire door would shatter or the hinges would come out. Either meant that Sarah would be facing down a seemingly angry and definitely determined wolf with no barrier between them. This was not a good strategy. Sarah backed up into the office and that is when she had her idea. She grabbed the keys from her desk, ran into the cell to her left and closed the door. She backed up against the wall and wished that she had also grabbed the rifle hanging above her desk.

She heard the door’s hinges fail as the beast lunged at the door a final time. There was a moment of stunned silence and then she heard the thing stalking into the Sheriff’s office. Her office. She felt powerful, unreasoning anger welling up in her. The thing knew right where she was. It could smell her fear and sweat and it wasted no time in searching the place. Instead, Sarah could hear it coming right towards the cells. She readied the pistol again and hoped the thing was not stronger than iron bars.

As it rounded the corner, she could see its amber eyes, almost aflame with excitement and fury. It looked into the cage and for a moment Sarah could have sworn the thing let out a raspy laugh. It looked unconcerned with the iron bars of the jail cell. She squared her shoulders and sighted down the barrel of the gun. This thing was going straight to Hell. It lunged at the bars, its jaw moving dangerously as it stuck between the bars. Sarah closed one eye, took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. Sparks flew from one of the bars near the thing’s shoulder.

Again, she could have sworn the thing laughed at her. She pulled the hammer back and fired again. This time she drove a bullet right into the chest of the cat. She thought that might be where its heart was and the thing stopped short and fell from the cell door with a thud. It was completely and utterly still on the floor and there was a small pool of blood forming. Sarah started toward the door but the cat jumped up and roared but it turned and ran back toward the door, obviously in pain. Sarah could have sworn she had killed the thing but she guessed she had only won the battle for now.

X Marks the Spot

April 28, 2017

The sand had been easy enough to get through. The dirt was a bit harder. I left most of the digging to Macan. That is one of the perks of being the captain of the ship. You do not have to dig if you do not want to. I still took a turn because that sort of thing is good for morale. Besides, I need a good workout now and then and it had been a while since the last good sword fight. It looked like my turn just might have been the last turn as my shovel hit something hard. The symbols above had indicated that something important was buried here. Pirates and buried treasure seemed a little too on the nose but I was not about to complain. Treasure is treasure.

“Agatha!” I called up. “I don’t really want to dent whatever this is any further. Could you bring up a little wind to clear off what I probably just dented?”

There was no verbal response. Instead, the air started to swirl around me and I covered my eyes, nose, and mouth as best I could. Agatha was a powerful sorcerer but she did not disobey orders even if it meant playfully taking the order a little too literally. The wind picked up and dirt and sand rushed out of the deep hole I was standing in and it did not feel great against my skin. I was tough and I was pretty sure I would survive. When the wind died down, I coughed a little and looked down.

There was a long flat box sticking halfway out of the dirt which intrigued me. Supposedly there were charms and artifacts that would draw out and amplify the powers and abilities of those who obtained them. That is why we had come to the Othersea and whatever was in the box might be the first step in making my small crew the most formidable crew around. I touched the box and I felt the hairs on my arm rise and I shivered a little.

“Throw down a rope!” I called up. When the end of the rope came down, I tied it to a ring on the box. “Macan! Pull the rope!” I called out and I started to scramble out of the hole. As I reached the surface, Macan was grabbing the rope and he pulled hard. I watched as the box shot up to the surface and fell with a thud in the sand. Everybody was instantly crowding around the box but I elbowed my way to the front of the crowd as only somebody in charge can do.

Hooded Kartha was standing next to me. Her robes were encrusted with salt and seaweed and all sorts of bits of nature. She was wise beyond her young years and I valued her counsel. “What do you think it is, Captain?”

“I can only guess,” I answered. “I feel its magic. Can you detect any?”

There was a shiver of magic in the air and Kartha’s barely visible eyes went white for a moment. “There is powerful magic at play but it is in the box. The box, while pretty, is just a container. It is safe to open.”

I knelt down in the sand and smoothed my hands over the box and I felt both the thrill of discovery and something else. I felt the strong magic that Kartha spoke of as well. My excitement reached its peak as I flipped the latches one by one. I gripped the lid and I opened it. Inside was a large sword and I could feel my heart thudding in my chest. There were murmurs from the crew behind me. The clear consensus that this one was for me. I found it hard to argue that point.

I gripped the blade’s handle and mysteriously it began to shrink. It quickly reformed itself into a copy of the soldier’s rapier that I already wore at my side. There were gasps from behind me and I admit that although I was expecting magic, I was not expecting that. I swung the sword around a bit and it felt really good. It felt faster and smoother than any sword I had ever held in my hand. I had held a lot of swords over the years.

“What do you think, Captain?” Oni asked. I turned and saw a very curious crew and I felt myself smiling, not realizing when the smile had started.

“It’s powerful. It’s fast. Once I get used to it, I think I could be even more unbeatable.” I said with a smirk. You can only call it cocky if you cannot back it up. I can back it up. “I just wish it was a little sturdier, a little stronger.” And just like that, the sword transformed into a two-handed claymore. “Nevermind, it’s a magical shape changing sword.”

“Wow,” Oni said. “So what now?”

“We keep searching,” I said. I grabbed up the sword’s sheath and slid the sword into it and slung it over my shoulder. “The tools to conquer the seas are here and we will find one for everybody.”

The King

April 12, 2017

When Arano showed up to the meeting place far below the city, Carana could only sigh and pinch the bridge of her nose. He was just so impossible. He was impeccably dressed like he always was in a bright white cotton shirt with a scarlet vest, the color of the holly berries adorning the doors in the city above. Here Carana was in her most uninteresting dress with her hair wrapped up in rags to hide its color. She had gone incognito to a secret meeting and here was this show off basically advertising the meeting. Arano just stood there waiting for Carana to speak as if he was not already in trouble.

“You idiot,” She said. “I should gut you right here.” She yanked the rags off of her head, revealing hair almost as red as Arano’s vest.

A knife appeared in his hand seemingly from nowhere. “Just try it,” he replied. “They will never hear your screams this far underground.”

“Impressive,” Carana smirked and shrugged. “Your reputation precedes you and does not lie. They said that you were fast. Deadly too.” The man’s reputation was fearsome but unprovable. Of course, just because nobody could prove anything, that did not mean that it was all a lie. It just meant he might be the perfect man for the job.

“You have to be in my line of work,” Arano said, his eyes narrowing a bit. His body projected a feeling of ease and a carefree attitude but Carana could tell that he was a tightly wound spring, ready for action.

“At ease, I called you here in peace,” Carana said. She showed her palms to the man and smiled gently to show that she meant no harm. Of course, she had plenty of weapons in easy reach. She had what looked like fancy knitting needles hidden on her person. They were coated with belladonna and could take down even the strongest enemy with a single scratch. She breathed easy knowing that as fast as this fox was, she would still survive if it came to it.

“But not for peaceful purposes,” Arano said with a smile. “You do not call an assassin lightly. You call with a purse and a target and then you step aside.”

” I have a purse and a target but I will not step aside.”

“No?” Arano asked. “Little sparrow, I do not need your help.”

“I am no sparrow and we’ll see if you need my help or not when the talking is done,” Carana said. Her eyes went hard as she stared at the man, unflinching and unafraid.

“So what are you then?” Arano asked. He leaned against the wall. He was a little more relaxed but no less dangerous.

Carana let out a long, slow breath. “The city above has become a dark place. The kingdom around us has grown colder and less and less kind until the people suffer unbearably. People are tired of fighting for justice when justice should come naturally. We cry out for relief and none ever comes. When I was a little girl I may have been a sparrow but those days are a distant memory. The world has made me a wolf. A wolf looking for blood.”

“A wolf. I see it now,” Arano said softly. “You know that blood never really washes off, right? You cannot return to your simple life once the deed is done.”

“I have weighed everything before I contacted you. Don’t start worrying about my soul.”

“Fair enough,” Arano said. “I suppose it is not really my concern. My concerns remain the two items I mentioned earlier.”

Carana pulled a large coin purse from the small of her back and tossed it to the professional assassin. “I would never ask you to work for free.”

Arano caught the purse and a puzzled look spread over his face. He opened the purse and found it full to the brim. “This is far too much. I find that suspicious.”

“We took up a collection,” Carana said. “We wouldn’t want you having an excuse to say no.”

“One last cry for justice, hmm?”

“Yes,” Carana said. “One last stab at getting a fair deal for the people. Literally.”

Arano frowned. “Which means I am not going to love the answer to my other question, am I? Your words and this amount of money mean difficult work.”

“Are you complaining already?” Carana asked. She shrugged and walked toward him with her hand held out casually. The gesture was clear and loudly proclaimed ‘nevermind’.

Arano pulled the purse away and shoved it in a satchel at his hip. “Complaining? I would never. I will kill anyone at anytime. If enough money could be raised, I would kill God.”

“How about the King?”

“The… King?” Arano asked. “The people cry out for the blood of the King, hmm? The poor and destitute would give their last coin to see the King dead at their feet. You could have asked anyone to do this but you asked me.”

“And your answer is?” Carana asked. If the answer was no, there was no way she could ensure his silence without his death. She did not want to kill this man even if he was a killer himself.

“My answer? I’m flattered,” Arano said with a fox smile. “Flattered and excited. In the end, when blood gushes from his wounds and his eyes begin to close. When the end is rushing up to meet him. The King will learn to fear the wolves.”

The Raven (1963)

October 7, 2016

I am from Baltimore, Maryland. I am pretty sure I have mentioned this over and over at this point but it always bears repeating because I am proud to call the city my home. I was born, raised and currently reside in the city after an extended stay in New Jersey. So there are certain things that happen when you grow up in Baltimore. A lot of people watch Orioles games, watch Ravens games or go to the Senator Theater. What you definitely do as a kid in Baltimore is you hear the name Edgar Allen Poe a lot and you read and listen to The Raven a lot. The man was inescapable in Baltimore since he was a fixture there in the years before his death. He is buried in the downtown area and there was a long, mysterious tradition surrounding his gravesite that captivated our imaginations. In fact, my senior prom was held in the church that is attached to the small graveyard where his grave rests. And yet, it took reviewing The Raven (2012) to realize that today 10/7/2016 is the anniversary of his death.

Last year I reviewed The Abominable Doctor Phibes and I briefly talked about Vincent Price. Vincent Price is a legend. He has an instantly recognizable voice that has been imitated but never truly replicated. A lot of people go deep and rich when they are trying to be scary. Sometimes actors will make their voice raspy and full of hisses and grating sounds to be scary. Price had a slightly high pitched voice that normally would be innocuous without the acting talent behind him. The force of his personality can be felt in every word and the importance of his words is clear in every single tone. Horror is difficult because the smallest thing can make things seem silly and it sucks the fear right out of you. Older horror movies can suffer from this. However, a lot of the earlier horror movies drew power from using the principle of less is more. A lot of their performances were more subtle because they knew that the ideas themselves could be scary enough. It is not the only way to go about it and it is not necessarily better but it is different from a lot of the big budget films that come out now.

Vincent Price begins the movie by reciting part of the famous poem and, admittedly, the movie could have ended right after he was finished. Few people can recite horror monologues like Mr. Price did. My mind goes back to the terrifying monologue he did as a cold open on The Muppet Show. He has a way of building tension out of nothing and creating an urgency in my gut. Of course, the original poem is about a student longing for his deceased love while falling into madness while talking to a raven. In this, the protagonist is a former sorcerer who is tasked with turning the Raven back to human form. The title character is played by the legendary Peter Lorre who was probably most famous for messing with Humphrey Bogart characters. The two are joined by another horror legend in Boris Karloff who was in a ton of stuff but most famously he played Frankenstein. (Both the Monster and the Doctor in different movies). Karloff is always super creepy. His looks alone are enough to be menacing but his voice just adds to the feeling. Of all people, Jack Nicholson shows up as well. Rounding out the cast are actresses Hazel Court and Olive Sturgess.

The movie is certainly a long way from the dark and romantic poem full of longing and madness. There are plenty of horror elements to the movie. There is a little body horror, mind control and the living dead and these moments have more weight because they are surrounded by lighter stuff. The 1960s saw a peculiar movement that inverted the usual values of what made something “good” or “art”. This was the camp movement which used a certain kind of comic acting to parody more serious ventures. This movie came out shortly before the Addams Family and The Munsters premiered which utilized traditional horror elements in more comic subplots. Of course, this is not strange since Abbot and Costello did it fifteen years earlier. I am more than willing to see the funny side of Halloween since laughing at Death is the only way we can get by sometimes. The movie did a great job mixing a few horror elements in with heavy fantasy elements and plenty of comedy. While the jokes are funny, there is an undercurrent of spookiness that definitely gives me a good Halloween feeling.

Overall, this was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. While it was not a very scary movie, it was definitely suffused with the same spirit that lives in Halloween. I really had no idea what to expect from this movie since I knew the poem was not an hour and a half long. There is only so much you can stretch that original but brilliant poem and I am glad they did not attempt it. Instead, they introduced an original fantasy story that also homages the original poem just enough to be respectful. The ladies are mostly used as props but when they get a chance to act, you can see that they gave it all they had with few opportunities. Peter Lorre provides a lot of funny lines which I understand were mostly improvised. Nicholson was not great but he definitely got better with age. Boris Karloff is manipulative and politely creepy and I really liked his character. Vincent Price is very likable in this and he has unmistakeable charm. The thing was put together by legendary Roger Corman who definitely embraced camp and Richard Matheson who has had a prolific career. I definitely recommend this if you are in the mood for something a little less scary this year.

Death Dealer

September 10, 2016

Sann looked out over the crowd and idly wondered how many of them were guilty. Walking through the marketplace just being eaten by their sins. They might not even realize they were being consumed. They might walk around without a care in the world that their morality was forfeit. Then there were the ones with the shifty eyes and crooked, wary smiles. The obviously guilty. So obvious that even they realized and shrank away from sight when you looked directly at them. They were the easy ones.

Of course, the whole marketplace was guilty. The whole marketplace was guilty because everybody was guilty. Everybody born under the sun was guilty of something. The King had once stated that this belief is what made Sann a great executioner. No hesitation, no remorse. The King’s tone had not indicated that this was a positive trait. Sann had to agree with the King on that point. If he executed every last person in the world, Sann would have to execute himself last. Of course, he would do so without hesitation.

It was the third day of the Grand Festival in Cammaratta and Sann was bored already. He had no heart for festivities and so he only wanted to remain on duty during the festival. Unfortunately, during the Cammaratta Grand Festival, there was a moratorium on executions. Not that there were many executions in a normal day but having guaranteed none was torture. There was no difference between being given a vacation and being forbidden from doing his job. No death was a big thing to ask for Sann. He did not hunger to kill but it gave his life structure.

So, Sann was sitting in a high place at Cammaratta’s largest marketplace. He scanned the crowd for the visibly guilty. The place was teeming with citizens of Cammaratta and other places in Altiria and many travelers from outside Altiria’s borders. He had to see their crime before he could punish them. No killing was allowed but bodily injuries could be very instructive. For that, Sann carried a long bow. In fact, it was close to double the length of a normal longbow. Its distance was unparalleled. For a more personal touch, he had a broad scimitar he had gotten imported from the southern continent. It could be very brutal and just the sight of it dropped crime rates.

Of course, there were always exceptions to every rule. One of those exceptions was illegally grasping an apple off of cart some distance away. There was obvious intent to steal. Before the man could pivot his feet to run, Sann had drawn back his bow. He let the arrow fly and watched and he watched the arrow hit the man’s hand, just missing the apple. The shrill, wounded cry he let out was thanks enough for Sann doing his duty. He watched the man sink to the ground. Two little field mouse guards scurried across the marketplace to retrieve the prisoner. Sann smiled proudly as the crowd acted with nervous dread and horror.

Sann turned to grab another arrow from the bucket behind him but froze instead. There were two stern-looking guards standing very close behind him. Too close.

“Stand away,” Sann barked, “that was a clean strike! My target will live. For now.” He added the last as an afterthought.

“We’re here on behalf of the throne. Collect your things and come with us.” The blond one said.

“Not unless I am given a good reason,” Sann said and moved to reach for another arrow anyway.

“The crown has a job for you.” The red-haired woman said.

“A job, you say? That is more interesting,” Sann said with a tiny smirk. “Fine. Lead on.” Sann picked up his weapons and started to follow the guards, noticing they kept their distance from him.

The two guards were silent as they walked toward the palace. They could remain silent but they had said so much already. They had been vague in their statements but they had been careful to use the correct pronouns. They had called it the crown and the throne which were meaningless terms. They referred to inanimate objects and not people. Those words could mean anyone with authority from the King all the way down to the smallest sniveling official. Sann normally only took his orders from the King and nobody used euphemisms instead of referring to the King. Most people felt that orders from the King were an honor and would never stop using that word. Something was strange and Sann wanted to find out what it was before refusing these new orders.

He wondered what had happened to the King.  If he was dead, perhaps he had been murdered.  Killing the King was the worst crime in the land.  The idea excited Sann almost far too much.  His heart began to beat faster at the thought of somebody guilty of regicide.  The crime would potentially make that person the guiltiest person that Sann had ever been given.  Killing that person or persons would feel better than any he had killed before.  It was an outrageous thought.  The thought brought such pleasure that Sann knew that it must not be true.  The King was merely away on business or incapacitated.  Nothing truly good ever happened to Sann and he guessed that nothing ever would.  He would die, his work of killing all the guilty people would remain unfulfilled.


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