I’m a lucky fella when it comes to having work published and rarely say anything about it, but this magazine deserves recognition. For anybody interested in Gothic Fiction, Love Letters to Poe is a beautifully constructed online magazine dedicated to its titular writer. With stories to read and a podcast to listen to (Yes, I’m on it reading my story, though I’m not quite sure how that happened) and even merchandise to purchase, it really is a sensory treat.
We mere mortals may only put our own twists on Poe’s particular stylings, but I like to think the results are good. Sara Crocoll Smith, the magazine’s editor, has an eye for a story and there’s plenty to choose from. I’m thrilled to appear in the latest issue fresh out for Christmas and am leading the magazine off. I hope you enjoy.
My story, The Human in Me – By Richard M. Ankers, concerns a fellow who having replaced his dead wife with something else realises he may have got more than he bargained for.
Please find below a link to the Love Letters to Poe Podcast. Here you’ll find a selection of stories read by their writers and available for saving/subscribing in most good Podcast apps etcetera.
PS. To one and all if I don’t see you before, please have a lovely and safe Christmas. This year’s going to be very different to normal but I hope you can still enjoy it.
A giant of gold, ochre and sunburst orange, interspersed by flickering, cerulean sky, it almost touched heaven. Almost, but not quite. There were no shouts of timber, nor any of concern. It fell in silence, birthing a tempest the same. More an angry calm than a gentle storm, its discarded mantle made russet oceans of the city streets and obliterated the meadows in deathly hues. Like Autumn in July, I shivered. I tugged up my collar and gritted my teeth. I wept as I watched. The tears hissed off my skin. My last thought? Just why we’d killed it? The Earth, that was. Didn’t we all?
Hi everyone. Having just tidied up over five thousand posts to leave just a handful, I thought I’d start afresh with something more purposeful. I hope you like it. Yet another story written and forgotten about, now dusted off and presented to the world.
Spellbound – Flowers in the Wind
She smiled the way a fox might, inviting but deadly. Her dark blue lips like liquid evening pursed as though lost in deepest thought. She contemplated something the rest of us struggled to grasp. Slim through the face with prominent cheekbones, her skin glittered in a moonlight outshone only by her eyes. They blazed. It was these that drew me, though any number of her exquisite accoutrements might have. Closer to oval and slanted down towards her slender nose, her eyes were like autumn when the leaves began to turn, not gold, not red, but somewhere in-between. Her eyes said more in one gleaming moment than another’s in a lifetime. She was spellbinding. I was spellbound.
The lady oozed style. Hers was the kind of body made anything look divine. She didn’t even try! I suspected she didn’t want to either. There was something about her air, a certain nonchalance that bordered on arrogance when viewed by another, but never by her. She emphasised this with the cut of her raven locks, or lack of cut, left long like a velvet curtain of night. Each strand in this dark web fulfilled a purpose. Each fibre intimated something different: an outstretched palm; a look away; a violent glare; the night; oblivion. But worst of all, when she inclined her head, her hair falling forward like twilight to reveal the porcelain skin of her perfect neck, it hid her eyes. For this, I never forgave her.
She lived in the last house of the last road headed out of town. There she’d sit on her porch each evening reclining in a hammock that swayed back and forth in unfelt winds regardless of whether she sat upon it or not. Bewitched one might’ve said. Yes, bewitched. She’d settle into oversized pillows as dark as her hair and raise a glass of red wine to the moon. A salute to a lost lover I imagined. That saddened me, when it should’ve provided sweet solace, her being widowed, single, or at the least, unattached. It didn’t, though. Her loneliness pooled around her like a spilled drink. I drowned in it.
I made my home from home in the lowest branches of a dying oak located across the way from her home at the edge of an ancient wood. A dark place full of shadows, it suited my needs. An imagined guardian, a sentinel who’d never rest, never sleep, never look away, I patrolled those hours when others dreamed until she returned inside and my heart beat again. I couldn’t have looked away if the world had broken and Heaven dropped from the sky. If Death had come for me scythe in hand, I’d have bade him get on with it so I might come back as her personal ghost. I’d have haunted her forever without one complaint. She meant everything, and I didn’t even know her name.
She grew an array of plants which she displayed in earthenware pots. There were many flowers of many colours but most prominent were her snowdrops. This wasn’t unusual. But if I told you those snowdrops bloomed all year round, through summer sun and shine, it might’ve. And they did. They sat there bobbing their little white-capped heads like settled ghosts in a miniature graveyard. The same wind that always stirred the hammock, stirred them. I often licked my finger and held it to the sky, but never once felt a waft of breeze.
This was her world, her dark fantasy. For the longest time, it became my world, too.
Many early dawns, I’d return home from my vigils more desperate than when I’d left. Which one could be assured was a great deal. I’d slip under the sheets of my bed and weep. I wept regularly. She was the last thing I thought of when I went to sleep and the first when I woke. Spellbound. Always spellbound.
The greatest thrill came on the rare occasions she stepped from her porch, one revealed leg at a time. Eternity paused. She did this only when the world at its darkest, in those obsidian midnights where the moon feared to tread. She’d slide from her hammock with the poise of a hunting panther, stretch, arcing her back in a perfect curve, and tiptoe out onto her lawn. She never wore shoes. Her feet were always bare, toes twiddling, whatever the weather, season or shade. She painted her nails, both hands and feet, with black varnish and glitter so they sparkled like stars. Ten tiny galaxies were at her command, and every soul within them looked upon her as their nocturnal goddess.
Her walk was a thing of graceful beauty. She drifted rather than paced, slid rather than strolled. Her long skirt of claret red, crimson in the streetlights, black when not, gathered around her to conceal the limbs beneath. My own personal spectre, she led me away on a monthly regime of forest wanderings. Without a thought to feet which must surely have hurt, the pine needles and thorns scattered with such abundance, she’d silently sashay along paths only she knew. I trailed her without knowing how.
The river that marked the border between one place and the next was her favourite haunt. A dark shawl around the forest’s neck, this waterway beckoned her. She’d slip out of her garments like a snake shedding its skin and step into the oil dark water even if coated with ice. I’d shiver. She’d laugh. She never bathed, never swam, never even moved just allowed the water to coat her in liquid darkness, the moon strangely absent and stars fast asleep. When she emerged, I’d dare a step closer, a great lump in my throat and weight on my heart. Not for lascivious reasons. No, never this. For one reason and one reason only, that split second when she’d shake out her hair and I might spy her eyes. I longed for those moments each and every evening. I breathed them.
And so our dance went on, night after night, month after month, life after life, until it suddenly stopped.
I found her disappearance hard to swallow. Her porch remained empty, yet the lace that curtained her windows closed and drew back every single night and day. There was never a switched on light, but illuminations never were her thing. That was not odd but normal. Neither was there smoke from her chimney, but, again, she seemed not to require the warmth. The salient truth, she simply deigned not to appear. Was this through choice or persuasion? It bothered me. I was bothered.
The waiting was the hardest game. To want but not know almost killed me. I waited for three full moons to elapse, muscles tensed like steel, mind about to explode, before I made my move. If I hadn’t, I’d have gone mad. Some might’ve said I already had.
The night stood black as pitch, a thick soup that coagulated between one day and the next. I dressed all in black, not to impress, nor to cultivate her favour, but, instead, to remain unseen. Yes, it was my best suit. And, yes, I did wear a tie of black silk over a shirt the same, but they were all I had. How could I have saved her in anything less? As for the kitchen knife? Protection or provocation most likely, but I soon forgot. The streets were deserted, the short passage to the outskirts of the old town and her home, unimpeded. I stole upon her like a cloud the stars, venturing where no other dared.
The hammock fabric froze my fingers. I had to touch it. With no ocular stimulation, I sought to find her in a tactile memory. This failed. The snowdrops ducked and weaved as if in mockery.
As though oiled for my expected visit, the door opened into a kitchen bereft of all but empty cupboards, all their doors either removed or hung askew. I tiptoed into a hallway even more dilapidated, where cobwebs hung instead of pictures and dust made carpets of the floor. The place was as stale as three-week-old bread.
I should’ve spun on my heels and run away. Just fled to the hills and never turned back. I couldn’t though, for I knew her there.
Next came the staircase, like the river, a passage from one world to the next. My story grew stranger here. The staircase was of onyx or some such mineral, not wood, nor stone, nor crafted by man. Every step glistened like a universe polished to glasslike perfection. Every placed foot carried me a step deeper into magisterial night. The air thickened and clogged my throat. My eyes and feet grew heavy. Regardless, I advanced.
I stepped onto the first floor as through having scaled Mount Everest in one night without oxygen or aid. Tired to the point of exhaustion, I scoured the area; it was all changed. Like a weary traveller, lost and found, I appeared from obsidian caves into fabled Xanadu. Gone was the destruction, a place starved of life, instead, awed wonder. How could it be? Why didn’t I care? I couldn’t help but gasp.
The sounds of the night came as a great crescendo of wolf and owl and bat and more. Dipped in the infinite wonders of a world I’d never known, I reeled, swayed, fell to my knees. A cold sweat cascaded from my skin like a sponge wrung out by a giant. My hands clenched, throat gulped. I gasped… I grasped… I focused… I fought… And panting like a dog in the darkness, I slowly lifted my head. She was there awaiting my obeisance. My dark queen. She was everything! Everything and more. I dropped the knife that had found its way to my hand; it fell soundlessly to the floor.
She came to me as a midnight fog all curlicued darkness and unravelling mystery. She twirled like the most beautiful ballerina, one wrist raised, pale skin exposed, pulsing veins beating with life. But her eyes! How I died for her eyes. They burned my world in that unknown colour, her lips of darkest blue an oceanic accent to the sparkle above. She drew me. It was all she’d ever wanted. And although I should’ve known it madness, and although I might’ve wept, I kissed her, a lingering impression of death. I was glad I kissed her. It lasted forever.
She made me hers. I was hers.
Through oceans of night and dimensions the same, we travelled. She and me. Me and her. Two lovers in an endless embrace, we tripped over stars and dined on moons. Bliss, in some ways. Torture, in others. It had to end. Reality would not suffer our love. And so we returned, if ever we left? And so I changed.
A flower sunk in a soil of unknown origins, her porch became my home. Spellbound, just one of many flowers stirred by her winds, I died every day, only for her darkness to revive me each evening. And though my roots dove deep to tangle with all those others, and air and water and light were all I should’ve desired, still, I awaited her nocturnal visits. I craved them, nodding away the seconds of every single day until darker than dark, she appeared. She’d take up her rocking birth whispering words of sweet solace, her loving temptations, sitting so close as to touch, each of us hoping it he or she on whom she’d lavish her attentions. She never did. Instead, she’d smile from behind her curtained fringe as if to appease us, whilst I dipped lowest of all.
All I longed for was her eyes. It’s all I ever would.
They said I was. And I was. They say I am. And I am. My decision, not theirs. It rankles and has for the longest time.
I am mired in melancholy. This ennui is as endless as the non-existent dawn. Now even the twilight fades and dusk remains anonymous. Like a mourning widow, I am bereft of all joy. I remember colours. I remember them all. Now, here, in this place where stars twinkle and the moon blazes an unashamed diamond, their memory is all I own. Better to have loved and lost, someone said. Who said it remains moot. They are not me, and I am not them. That blazing ball of nuclear reactions termed the Sun once warmed these bones. Now, I am unsure if I have any. I flap and flail, cobweb along in a sparkling silver masked only by this obsidian cowl and cloak. I desire a revealing. But how can hollow eyes be sure? Do I trust myself? No. Have I ever? I’ve forgotten. They said I was. And I was. They say I am. And I am. I have spanned eternity, my essence one of infinite misadventures. My one constant, my name, is all I have. Not much to show for my work. I am Death to you who’ll meet me. I am life to those who have.
I once watched an artist paint the sky. His brush caressed the canvas like a lover’s kiss. His every fluent movement, poetry in motion. At least, I thought so. The painter did not.
Whether it frustration, or a lack of imagination, who knew? But the fellow grew so incensed, he snatched each sheet from his easel and tossed them into the wind. There they drifted like enormous snowflakes off to decorate unfamiliar landscapes.
The trees provided shade and anonymity. These I used for hours. The painter remained unaware of my presence throughout. And although I couldn’t see what he painted, I took a certain satisfaction in knowing I would.
As the sun evaporated into the river in tangerine bursts, things changed. The poor fellow’s inability to capture what he wished gained momentum until in one shrieking outburst he threw his palette away. It landed upside down in the water.
I expected to see a brief flash of vermillion, perhaps a touch of violet, cerulean or emerald green; there was only black. The paint bled into the river like a cut midnight vein. Spilled ink might have described it, but ink had a purpose and this did not. What a waste. What a terrible waste.
I clasped a hand to my mouth, but too late. The cough echoed into infinity.
The painter turned. He wept. Tears streamed from his old eyes.
“I’m sorry,” I spluttered.
The painter looked right through me, right into my soul. His eyes took in my colours, my personal palette. He refused to stop, swamping me in his sorrows. I feared we’d both drown.
When the sun disappeared below the horizon with a pfft of extinguished flame, only then did he look away. To heaven, actually.
“Ah,” he crooned. “Now I remember.”
“Remember what?” The words left my lips without permission.
“Raven. Her hair was raven. If only I’d not tossed my paints away. Ah, well!”
Head drooped and feet shuffling, the painter packed up his belongings and made to leave. He paused as the moon came out in mercury silvers, turned back. “Never forget what she looks like, young man.”
“I won’t,” I promised.
With that, he departed. I never saw him again.
I often looked back and mulled over his words. He’d seemed so genuine. But only as I too regarded her bone white features and robes of liquid obsidian, did I know who he meant. I couldn’t have captured her raven hair either. Her ebony eyes already had me.
There once was a boy who lived in a hole. There in the warm, musty darkness where roots embraced him, he hid from the bright world outside. He hid from the loud, the violent and crude. He hid from the harm they’d done.
They found him cringing that meekest of creatures, pushed in a corner like old fruit in a shopping bag. He mouldered. It was their duty to save him. Everyone wanted saving, didn’t they?
The men with their silver badges glittering, their colleagues in white all wide smiles and soft words, tore the boy from the roots he clung to; he screamed for them to stop. They carted him away like a stray dog to a pound and placed him in the knowledgable care of strangers. But they had no knowledge of him, this child from deeper regions.
He woke to crimson, some his, most theirs. Its stickiness reminded him of tree sap back when there were trees to weep. And he remembered. And he wept. The memory of those lost forests stung like the syringes thrown in his hole. His nice safe hole. He ran. They ran, too, those who still could.
Out in the savage daylight, he made a decision. The little lost boy with pain in his eyes made a promise. He’d dig deeper. He’d burrow like a mole. No one would find him again. Once upon a time was one once too many, his mother used to say. Before they took her and all that was green and blue, too.
Is it wrong to wish to write for writing’s sake? Is it wrong to feel the need to write a disclaimer only I’ll ever see?
I sometimes think I was born to the wrong era, that before computers and watches knew your name, I might have been happy. I’d have sat in my room as others scampered about living their lives and smiled at the view beyond the window, written down what I saw without forethought or fear. The clouds would’ve drifted across cerulean fields like mythical beasts and birds would’ve tweeted the minutes. With a quill for a sword and a wooden chair for a colt, I’d have lived out my days as a warrior of words and others would’ve been happy I did. But it isn’t days of yore, and there’s no time for idealism in today’s world of exactitudes and uncompromising rapport. We are. We will. We do as we’re told.
I sometimes wish the curtains to close and never open. Here wrapped in my private night, I’ll live in peace with these hundreds of thousands of words scattered all around; most long forgotten and stashed away in burrows of rabbited nonsenses. The songs I love will play in endless loops through ears with no wish to hear the spouted obscenities and harsh realities — or so they claim — of this, that and the other. Darkness will fold around me like a lover’s kiss, all-encompassing, and I won’t even know if I’m dead, nor care. But then the words will come, white on black, and I’ll feel more alive than ever.
Sometimes a voice calls from deep within that I presume my own but still doubt. This — let’s call it soul — knows my name, my home, my life, wife and circumstance, but even this supposed virgin self is dubious to my needs. What are my needs?
I have absolutely no wish for anyone to read what I write. I have absolutely no desire to be famous. If people happen upon these reams of written words and enjoy them, feel them, I’ll smile and thank them, and expect no thanks in return. If a child picks up one of my books and their eyes light up with wonder, I shouldn’t care if their parent commands them to put it back — not if the spark’s already lit. If? Such a little word. Such a pertinent package. But the cold hard reality, is something has to pay for a coffin and good intentions won’t.
Sometimes I think I’m free. Sometimes, but not often.
Author’s Note: This is a story I wrote some time ago. It was written for a specific theme that I don’t suppose will ever return, so I thought I’d post it for you. I hope you enjoy it as it was one I was always proud of writing. Yet another I’d rather post than leave to fester in a file on my laptop.
She bathed in the waters of the midnight sea unlit by the vibrant moon. Mysterious in her dark allure, she radiated a misting shade far beyond that of the night. An ebony presence outlined by rivulets of flowing stars, her slender figure slipped through the surf in silence. Even the sea gods shied from touching so divine a darkness. Her purity demanded it.
Almost spectral in those quiet hours, I observed her from behind the sand dunes. She gave no acknowledgement of my presence, or any other, so there I remained unable to tear my eyes from such exquisite a form. She made slow passage through the shallows taking her time as though savoring every delicious moment. I prayed she did it to tease me; a wishful fantasy. Unhurried, she passed my hiding place in slow, undulating strokes, fearless of those creatures that lurked near the ocean boundaries. Then again, why need she, the night was she and she the night.
And so it was I lingered on her horizon as I did each night since first spying her. Drawn to her elemental majesty, I watched from so near, yet so far. However long I dallied it seemed never enough and always over too soon. Time can play tricks on a person in such situations. How I yearned above all else to hold, kiss, love her; tell her I watched over her. But I could not. The coward in me prevented it and the coward within that proved too scared to speak up.
And so it was I made my peace in being content to look but not touch, listen but not speak. Still, what I wouldn’t have given to see her eyes just once. It would have been worth the risk to know the color of perfection, would it not? The same question every night. I must have asked it myriad times from dusk to dawn and back again. There was never an answer to quench my thirst for her.
Time moved slower than usual, or so I imagined. The October moon hovered in an obsidian sky, a diamond set upon a ring of night, and never once looked like descending. The silver orb cast its light upon the ocean, but could not touch she. That saddened me. Such beauty deserved so divine a spotlight more than any soul I had known. And so in a moment I would eternally regret, I revealed myself. Shattered, our tryst lay in tatters.
No sooner did I rise from my eastern berth like a dawning sun, at first slow just peeking above the dunes, then faster ever rising, did she depart. In a haze of smudged charcoals where the pair of us collided as sea mist, then fog, she vanished. My heart felt ripped from its all too mortal cage.
Cursed to never know the one soul I wished, I paced the dawn beach ashamed of my timidity. By the time the tide had swallowed her damp footprints, I had forgotten her. Or so I told myself. By night those thoughts would change.
Once again my midnight would consume me, and the heartache would begin anew. For I, a lowly fisherman did not deserve a goddess for a bride, though I hoped. If I could have talked to her, held her in a tender embrace, then perhaps she would’ve known and wanted me. Perhaps? Sometimes, I thought she already did. Sometimes, but not often.
Isabella’s pros outweighed her many, many cons. After all, one may only sing the praises of one’s maid to so many people before they wish to meet her. I had extolled Isabella’s virtues from the moment she opened her big, blue eyes and smiled at me. I melted that day and have many days since.
Isabella busied herself about my mansion with the verve of a bee overloaded with nectar. She buzzed from here to there with her feather duster in one gloved hand and cleaning cloths and bucket in the other. She would start her cleaning before I awoke, tend to my needs when I did, then return to her incessant sanitations. At first, she was a godsend. Later, she was a hazard.
The problem with Isabella was everything. She understood that I required hygienic conditions for my work and took that knowledge to quite dizzying heights. One day, I walked in to find she had scrubbed so hard that the raised patterns of my carefully chosen wallpapers had been extinguished, buffed away, gone.
My decorating conundrum paled into insignificance once she started on my guests: faces, buffed; nails, trimmed; clothing, stripped and washed. The latter proved the final straw for one elderly dowager who walked out of one particular party with more than just an agog visage. Orders were given. Isabella was to be expunged.
I apologised to my guests, some senior clergy and parliamentarians amongst them, promised to do the deed that evening and made my excuses to bring the shindig to an early conclusion so as to facilitate said task. If only it had been that easy?
As I looked into Isabella’s beautiful glass eyes, those that had once been my beloved wife’s, I crumbled. I wept like a fool as Isabella tried her best to comfort me, her metal arms almost wringing my neck in her supposed embrace. She meant well, but as usual was not made for such things.
I reached around her back, slipped my fingers under her blouse and flipped the termination button, then backed away.
Isabella had no understanding of what occurred. As the steam of self-destruction engulfed her, she even fetched her mop and bucket and began to dab at herself. She only saw something that was not right, as did I.
Once Isabella’s violent juddering ceased, her head coming to rest with her eyes open and fixed on my own, I did the one thing I should’ve from the start. I opened up the trapdoor between her steel breasts, extracted that which powered her, my darling wife’s heart, and held it in my hands one last time.
If only those fools had known my wife wasn’t the only one to be resurrected that day, but they did not. With that I reached under my shirt, flipped the auto-destruct and waited for the boom before heaven to engulf me. It didn’t hurt, not this second time around, not too much, anyway.