Itsukushima Shrine, Shukkei Park, Ujina Port … all Hiroshima landmarks featured in “Zero Sum Game”.
Excalibur is proud to announce the online launch party of “Zero Sum Game” by Cody L Martin, a science fiction novel set in Hiroshima and the surrounding area! The party takes place during Saturday 24th and 25th September, and will feature surprises, surveys and interviews related to the book. We’re also holding a competition, with prizes!
To enter the competition …
We’re looking for your impressions of western Japan – including Hyogo, Okayama, Shimane, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, and also the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku – putting the spotlight on the beauty and charm of western Japan!
Please send your photos, sketches, memories, stories, poems/haiku by posting them as a comment on the launch party site. If the pictures are yours, great! If the pictures came from somewhere else, please say where, or post a link. The entries that get the most responses and likes will win!
3rd prize: The ebook of “Zero Sum Game”.
2nd Prize: A signed print copy of “Zero Sum Game”.
1st prize: A signed print copy of both “Zero Sum Game” and Cody’s first novel, “Adventure Hunter: Similitude”.
If there’s anything else you need to know, just leave a comment here and ask your question, or leave a comment on the FB launch party page, or send us an FB message!
To attend the party and post your entries, go here!
For more information on Cody, check out the author profiles in the menu above!
The Amazon page for “Zero Sum Game” is here!
Out September 2016!
The resurrection of one world will mean the destruction of another.
The homeworld of the alien Noigel has been annihilated. Their existence as a species is on a razor’s edge. But they have found a replacement: Earth. But it must be changed to suit their needs. If they succeed, all of humanity will perish.
When an alien secret agent is killed, his technology and mission are given to Hina Takamachi. The Japanese schoolgirl discovers the alien’s battle suit gives her incredible powers, just like the anime heroines she admired as a kid. The battle suit’s artificial intelligence, whom Hina names Voice, informs her that only she can save the world from the Noigel.
With Voice training and guiding her, Hina must overcome her own self-doubts and find the courage to stop the Noigel’s plan.
For one world to win, the other must lose …
Cody L. Martin is an American writer living in Japan. An avid sci-fi fan, he wrote his first screenplay in high school and has branched out into sci-fi and action novels. He has written articles about Star Trek, science fiction fandom, comic book movies, and living in Japan for various magazines and websites. He is the author of “Adventure Hunters: Similitude.” He lives in Yamaguchi with his beautiful wife, Yoko. When he isn’t writing, he enjoys watching movies, reading, and listening to Morning Musume, Berryz Koubou, C-ute, and other J-pop singers.
a very big thank you to everyone who took part in this book’s august promotion! here’s another excerpt from this gothic steampunk romance …
The new Covent Garden megalith loomed over the rooftops as Mary’s horse and carriage clattered past.
Claire was right – you could see it from New Oxford Street. The Godwin’s driver, Hendrick, turned and swung the carriage onto the wide arc of the new Charing Cross Avenue. Mary sighed. Lances of sunlight pierced the incandescent clouds to turn the monoliths, towers and church spires to the palest gold, and in the distance loomed the giant mausoleum that marked the city’s northernmost point – Londoners referred to it, with good reason, as ‘the Pyramid of Primrose Hill’.
The central part of the capital of Nova Albion was contained within a ring of new megaliths, made of blocks of sandstone fitted together and capped with lintels, known as the Sarsen Circle Line. Within this circle stood a horseshoe formation of five enormous standing trilithons, curving around from Marylebone, through Mayfair and St. James’s, over to Bloomsbury and Russell Square. This was the latest development in the renovation of the London metropolis, overseen by Prime Minister William Wordsworth in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office. They had ordered the sandstone taken from the same region that had fathered the original Stonehenge – the Prescelly Mountains, in south-west Wales – and had adhered to the scale of the original structure, to ensure that telluric power, light and warmth be provided to every London household. It had taken almost thirty years to plan and build, and was scheduled to be completed in another seven months.
Caught in a tangle of horse traffic, the carriage was forced to stop. Mary watched the sunset, the cables of the cargo transport system slicing across the translucent sky, crates suspended from metal sleeves and harnesses moving slowly from rooftop to rooftop overhead. She tilted her head back, watching a number of crates heading away from the Covent Garden pylon – laden, no doubt, with leftover flowers and fruit.
Across the road, a man shouted in anger. A passing horse had splashed him with filthy-looking water as it trotted through a rutted puddle. Mary was struck by the strongest feeling of déjà vu. Had she seen that man before? Had he been in one of her dreams?
Her dreams. Her nightmares. Mary shook her head in silent chagrin. Her father thought that the nightmares were about Mr. Willoughby.
Mary knew – in fact, her father had often told her in no uncertain terms – that her unusual childhood had inclined her toward the phantasmagorical side of life. She was William Godwin’s only child; her mother had died a few days after giving birth to her. She had a half-sister and half-brother by way of her father’s second wife, Jane Clairmont, and her first marriage. William Godwin could have ignored his daughter, consigning her to the care of servants, but he had valued Mary as all that remained of the beloved wife he had lost, and Mary’s intelligence had secured his affection.
Her childhood memories were bright, scattered fragments of experience, like shards of a stained glass window that had shattered but not fallen, that remained perpetually in the air, catching and reflecting the light of days long past and blinding her when she least expected it. There were the long walks in the Peak District, the high, multicolored cliffs, the waterfalls cascading into the lakes, slopes of forest pines and aspens, air like crystal, clouds, rainbows and flowers all sharing her joy. There were the paints her father had given her at the age of four, and the smell of paint and fresh canvas was even now, at seventeen, enough to send her into a state resembling a trance. There were her father’s books, the illustrated volumes of flowers, trees and standing stones he had shown her when she had toddled into his library at the age of five.
But one memory she did not have was the memory of her mother.
There were only paintings, and portraits, and the memories of her father sitting alone with his brandy in front of his fire, staring at those portraits, his eyes distant and damp. Memories of her father sending her to bed every time he had ‘special visitors’. These visitors were often foreigners: some spoke to her father with strong Gallic or Slavic accents, and once they even had a visitor from far Peking. Her father’s friends from the Army often attended these meetings. She knew, from the whispered gossip of Mrs. Hillman and the other servants, that the assembled visitors would turn down the drawing room lamps, and sit around the large circular card table, and hold hands. Once Mary had lain awake in her bedroom and listened to her father hold a conversation with a high, keening, female voice. It sounded as if her father was asking it questions, but in answer, the eerie voice gave a long melodic chant in no language that Mary could recognize.
These meetings became less and less frequent as Mary grew older. Her father seemed to have turned away from these pursuits and regained his joy in life; he smiled more, laughed more, and always encouraged Mary’s learning, even if he looked older, greyer, and more tired.
But then, two months ago, Mary’s nightmares had started.
Her father had helped her as much as he could. He encouraged her to keep a journal, to write her nightmares down, and to talk about them, so they could discuss them in a relaxed atmosphere and try to dispel the gloom and foreboding they threatened.
But even so…
Once past St. James’s Park and into Belgravia, Mary’s spirits rose. She would soon arrive at one of her father’s business ventures, the antiquarian bookstore Et In Arcadia Ego. Here she had enjoyed her childhood, among parchment, vellum and leather. The books had an uncountable number of stories to tell – not simply the stories contained within the pages, but the lives they had lived, changing owners time and again before reaching this shop.
The carriage stopped at Belgrave Square and the driver helped her down onto the muddy street. She looked around; even in Belgravia, a couple of ragged urchins stood watching her from a nearby doorway, and on impulse Mary gave the driver, Hendrick, two pennies to hand over to them. He grimaced, tipped his hat and crossed the street.
Mary entered the bookshop, and London seemed to fade behind her as she entered a world both familiar and strange at the same time. The dusty sunlight was filled with the woody, inky smell of gently yellowing books, and a distant clock ticked faintly somewhere in the hushed atmosphere.
“Mr. Chadwick,” called Mary. “Can I drag you away from your stocktaking? It’s me, Mary Godwin, and I would be very pleased to speak with you again.”
A side door behind a battered metal till opened, and Mr. Chadwick, who Mr. Godwin employed to run the shop, entered the room. He was over sixty now, grey of hair, slightly bent of shoulder, but always immaculately dressed and with a commanding gaze and cheerful grin that could persuade even the most reluctant customer to part with a shilling or two.
“Mary! Always a delight to see you. What can I do for you today?”
“You have probably guessed that I have finished all the books I purchased last week,” Mary said.
“I would be disappointed if you hadn’t,” he answered, his voice slightly tremulous with age. “What would you be looking for this time?”
Mary regarded the bookshop in silence for a moment, breathing in the inky, redolent air. “I am open to suggestions.”
“Can I interest you in my latest acquisitions?” Mr. Chadwick asked softly. “I have recently come into the possession of a secondhand copy of ‘The Curse of the Lonely Ones’, by Eliza Faust; and if you prefer something even more frightening, I could recommend a work by the brilliant but unfortunately insane Dominic Leeming, splendidly entitled ‘The Forms of the Formless’.”
Mary thought of what Mrs. Hillman and Claire would say, and she couldn’t resist a grin. “Is it really horrid?”
“It is so horrid,” Mr. Chadwick said, his voice descending to a dramatic stage whisper, “that even the dons of Perfectly Horrid Literature at Cambridge University are afraid to read it.”
Mary laughed out loud, and began to prowl the bookshop, letting her fingers brush against the bookshelves. Mr. Chadwick turned back into his little office and Mary heard the clatter of a tin lid upon a kettle; it was their custom to spend a leisurely afternoon in the bookshop, the two of them reading and chatting over tea and pound cake, with Mary helping with the customers who ventured in.
“How about a recent publication, Mr. Chadwick?” Mary put her hands behind her back and surveyed the shelf nearest the dusty window.
“The latest from Archbishop Blake has just come out,” he called. “It is at the front.”
Mary spotted the book as soon as he had mentioned it. ‘Through the Hill and Behind the Stars’, it proclaimed, the cover a hypnotic mixture of ethereal figures in creams, emeralds and violets. The illuminated books of William Blake, Archbishop of Canterbury, visionary churchman, engraver and poet, were eagerly awaited by most citizens in Nova Albion. They regularly topped the best-sellers list, and the esoteric sketches were the subjects of much discussion in the coffee houses. Mary took the volume gently down from the shelf, and began to browse through it, the fantastical, androgynous figures feeding her imagination like oxygen feeds a fire. She turned another page–
She froze. The image on the page – the bald, pale, somehow reptilian face, emerging from a huge cauldron full of steaming, bubbling liquid – she had seen it before. The greenish face with bulbous eyes, the brutish neck and the tongue protruding from between sharp teeth – she had seen it in her dreams.
She read the caption at the bottom of the page; the painting – titled ‘The Beast in the Crucible’ – had been inspired by a vivid nightmare, Blake had told the book’s editor. Her heart built up an unsteady, accelerating rhythm, and she suddenly had to fight for breath, feeling a vile taste seep into her mouth from her throat. I will faint, she thought, I will faint from the sheer terror–
“Is anything the matter?” Mr. Chadwick had returned, and was looking at her in concern.
“Could you excuse me for a moment,” Mary said hoarsely. She put the book back on the shelf, and walked unsteadily to the washroom at the back of the shop.
She splashed cold water from the jug next to the washbasin onto her face with trembling hands. She looked at herself in the mirror: her face had gone white, as white as one of the ghosts in Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels. Oh, what her family had said was true, she thought – she had filled her mind with poison…
“I am not feeling well,” she said to Mr. Chadwick when she left the washroom. “I am most terribly sorry, but I think I shall return home.”
“Why, of course, of course,” Mr. Chadwick said. “If there is anything you wish for, I shall have it sent on to you.”
“You are too kind, as always.” Mary stopped, her hand on the door, wondering if she ought to say something. “Mr. Chadwick – do you have many books on the subject of dreams?”
“Dreams.” The bookseller paused, looking at her shrewdly, his eyebrows knitted. “Well, there have been quite a few publication in recent years, trying to interpret dreams in terms of the wisdom of the ancients. I shall draw up a list.”
“But Mr. Chadwick…” Mary forced herself to smile, as if the matter was nothing to her, a mere trifle, just conversation for passing the time. “What is your opinion? Do you believe dreams can foretell the future?”
He relaxed, and nodded tolerantly; this was obviously not a subject unfamiliar to him. “I have heard many interesting accounts, but nobody can prove one way or the other, Miss Godwin, and I suspect it will remain so. You see, if we understood all the mysteries in this world – well, nobody would need any more books, would they?”
Reluctantly Mary climbed into the carriage, her head lowered in sad acknowledgement of the bookseller’s wisdom.
The sun sank slowly behind tattered clouds and, one by one, the stars emerged, as a diamond-scattered night fell upon London. Mary urged Hendrick to hurry home, and the carriage clattered northwards, through a city where Mary’s fevered visions lurked in the narrow, shadowed alleyways, watching her, mocking her, ready to swarm out into her waking life.
Excalibur is proud to welcome two new members to this loose global association of individuals who occasionally work together …
CODY L MARTIN
Cody L. Martin is an American writer living in Japan. An avid sci-fi fan, he wrote his first screenplay in high school and has branched out into sci-fi and action novels. He has written articles about Star Trek, science fiction fandom, comic book movies, and living in Japan for various magazines and websites. He is the author of “Adventure Hunters: Similitude” (see below). He lives in Yamaguchi with his beautiful wife, Yoko. When he isn’t writing, he enjoys watching movies, reading, and listening to Morning Musume, Berryz Koubou, C-ute, and other J-pop singers.
Connect with him at the following social media links:
Resonant Blue: http://codylmartin.blogspot.com
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/CodyLMartin
JACOB WILLIAM SMITH
Journalist, poet, all-round maverick and part-time DJ, J W Smith has the thankless task of trying to administer and organize the loose global collaboration of writers and artists that is Excalibur Books.
Connect with him through this blog and the following social media links:
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/ExcaliburBooks/
check out the other author profiles by clicking on the menu above!
Days of the Dark Lantern
by Zoe Drake
The story goes like this:
At the end of the school day, the kids are coming out of elementary school, ready for the journey home. They’ve got everything packed up in their big randoseru satchels and they’re shouting, running, all on a high because now the play can go right on till bedtime. It’s late afternoon, but it’s already threatening to get dark – that smoky, sultry dusk that comes only in the Japanese midsummer.
A couple of kids catch sight of a woman standing alone near the school gate. Nobody else seems to notice her. She’s wearing one of those white gauze masks over the lower part of her face that people have when they’ve got colds or hay fever. The kids can only see the woman’s eyes. Wide open. Staring.
The woman walks closer to the kids and says hello. They return the greeting nervously.
The woman points to her face and says, “Do you think I’m beautiful?” The kids are too scared to answer so the woman says again, “Under this mask … do you think I’m beautiful?” There’s still no answer, so the woman says, “Well, why don’t you find out?”
She takes off her mask. Underneath, her face is split from ear to ear. Her mouth is a wide red gash that opens wetly, widens as the children begin to scream, it opens in a grin to reveal rows of sharpened teeth receding into her skull …
“Do you want to be beautiful, like me?”
Whack! The fat guy sitting on the train seat over to the left, and diagonally opposite Trisha, had just dropped his comic for the third time. Every few moments his actions repeated themselves. He flicked open a manga comic magazine the size of the New Jersey phonebook and started to read it, but after a few seconds his eyes rolled back, his jaw slackened, and he dozed until the comic slipped from numb fingers and hit the floor of the railway carriage. Whack! Like that. And then the guy would wake up, reach down and pick it up, and instead of putting it away and grabbing some shut-eye he opened it again and tried to carry on reading until he flaked out again, and the comic followed the line of least resistance once more.
Trisha lifted her paperback (trashy, but it was second-hand and in English) higher, trying to screen out the fat guy’s face and by, association, the sound of the comic. The Chuo line train, carrying Trisha back to her apartment in Koenji, wasn’t crowded at this time of the early evening; there were even some empty seats. Trying to concentrate on the novel, she noticed – over the barrier of the open pages – the eyes of the middle-aged guy in the navy blue suit and obvious under-shirt sitting opposite. Jeez, she thought sourly, why do they have to stare all the time? After all, this is Tokyo, not some hick town in the mountains. Foreigners are everywhere here, just open your window and throw out a rice ball in uptown Aoyama, you’re bound to hit some gaijin. They’re on the TV every few minutes in some trendy commercial; Tommy Lee Jones selling canned coffee or Brad Pitt driving a Toyota or whatever, what’s the problem? Okay, she thought, I don’t look bad … I’m kinda good-looking but I’m no model, no way.
She stopped reading, and locked eyes with the guy opposite. He looked away. He could be a pervert, Trisha thought. He was certainly old enough to be one, although you had to watch out for even young guys these days. Yeah, he had perverted little eyes.
“You know what happened to me on the train last week?” This was her friend Sue, from Ohio, talking to her in the student cafeteria yesterday. “I was on the local train one afternoon, and this guy was sitting opposite, right? Quite a young guy, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that screamed ‘I am a fruitcake’. There weren’t that many people around because it was just after lunch. So I was kind of tired and I was zoning out, you know? I must have dozed off for a couple of minutes.”
Trisha nodded, beginning to realize what was coming.
“So like, I open my eyes and there’s the guy opposite, and his fly’s open and he’s got his dick in his hands.”
Trisha was appropriately shocked in her reaction.
Sue continued. “He was holding his briefcase by his side so the people on his right couldn’t see what he was doing, yeah? And there was nobody sitting on his left so it was just him and me, and I was like, well, excuse me!”
Sue paused and took a fast drag from her Salem Lite, then carried on talking, the smoke leaking out of her mouth behind her words. Trisha could see why Sue would be the centre of attention. She was short but was packing a lot of weight, with stocky hips and a big bust, a real magnet for the chubby-chasers. Added to that she had very long, straight, white hair – not blonde, but almost pure white. Even Trisha found herself staring at it in class sometimes.
“So you know what I did, don’t you? I mean, I can’t let something like that pass by. So I close my book, stand up, walk over to him, and say –
“If it’s that small, I don’t recommend taking it out in public,” the two girls chorused in heavily accented Japanese.
“I mean, Jeez.” She stubbed out her Salem Lite, warming to her theme. “I wish I knew how to say, ‘I’ll help you get it out, if I could find my eyebrow tweezers’.”
Back to the present moment. The train had arrived at Koenji, and Trisha was relieved to find that the pervert guy didn’t try to follow her when she got off.
Outside the station, the night was hot, wet and still, like a warm towel across the brow. The lights of streetlamps, convenience store signs, and vending machines glowed softly in the enveloping warmness. Red lanterns hung outside the yakitori and ramen shops. Trisha started the ten-minute walk to her apartment.
“Japan is still a very safety country,” her students at the part-time English classes would mispronounce, whenever talk turned to relationships between Japan and the US.
Not any more, she thought. There are all kinds of freaks creeping out of the woodwork. Something’s been stewing in this pressure-cooker ever since the War and a few years ago, someone took the lid off.
Notes from the dissertation of Patricia Holly:
Japanese culture – from the earliest folk tales, to the Kabuki, Noh and Ukiyo-e paintings of the feudal Edo period, to the modern film genre of J-Horror – has always been saturated with the supernatural.
Japanese ghost stories, known as “kaidan” and sometimes mistakenly pronounced as “kwaidan”, are in cultural terms very different from what we understand to be ghost stories in the West. Western ghost stories are very often associated with the winter, partly due to the ancient festival of Samhain (now known as Halloween), which associates the beginning of the winter with the return of spirits to this world. In more recent times, the popularity of the British writers Charles Dickens and M. R. James established a tradition of enjoying the vicarious chill of the unknown on or around Christmas Eve, accompanied by a mature cheese and a glass of vintage port. We were used to our ghosts stalking the snow-covered woods, rattling the door handles and tapping at the windows, while we retreat to the warmth and light of the hearth.
In Japan, however, ghost stories are a product of the summer. They are part of the social and cultural activities that the whole community participates in at that time. The Japanese summer is often cruel in its sub-tropical heat and humidity, and from the feudal Edo period ways to escape its heat included the eating of watermelons, the liberal use of ornate fans, and the hanging of wind-chimes, whose clear, crystal tones brought visions of snow-laden mountain streams into the listener’s mind.
More than a social thermostat, however, kaidan were part of the festivities surrounding the summer festival of O-Bon. This festival takes places in either July or August, depending on the locality. Over a period of three days, the spirits of the ancestors return to the world of the living, and the occasion is marked by offerings, visits to family grave plots and the Bon-Odori ritual dance. I have personally attended several of these, and considering that most people complain here how traditional Japanese culture is on the decline, I have always been impressed at how well-attended these open-air summer festivals are. Young adults in their summer yukata robes, the cloth holding a soft phosphorescence in the night. Children buying cheap plastic masks of demons and goblins along with those of their favorite anime characters. Dozens joining in with the slow, dreamlike dance of Bon-Odori, raising their hands to the stars. They dance around a special platform in the center of the festival field, holding the musicians who dictate the dance’s rhythms with their huge ceremonial Taiko drums.
In the Japanese summer, the gates between this world and the others swing open, and in this dissertation, I will attempt to show how this belief is perpetuated by the spread of urban myth.
Trisha’s senses, suddenly alerted, grabbed the sound and tried to comprehend it. She was suddenly aware of her body, tensed, tangled in the sheets of the futon, and she lay still in the darkened bedroom, listening for whatever had woken her up.
Her roommate, Tim. The door slammed shut, and she heard footsteps and the rustling of clothes as he moved through the kitchen, past the door of her room, to his own room, right alongside hers.
Sweat beaded her brow and her upper lip, as she became more attentive, feeling the humid darkness that oozed around her. She really hoped that was all. The only sounds disturbing her tonight, she hoped, would be Tim shucking off his clothes, and hunkering down in his futon with a few sighs and coughs.
No way. She heard Tim speak in a low monotone. She entertained the stupid notion that he might be talking to himself, but a few seconds later she heard someone give a whispered reply.
Tim had picked up a new girlfriend, or one-night-stand, or whatever. The apartment – like most Japanese “manshon” buildings, as they euphemistically called them – was basically a large studio room divided up by thin partitions rolled back whenever necessary. Both Tim and Trisha had tried to soundproof the partitions by pinning up flattened cardboard boxes disguised by blankets. Even so, whenever Tim got laid, Trisha was still an unwilling audience.
Trisha had thought many times about moving out, but the apartment was so damn convenient. Close to Koenji railway station, and a fairly cheap taxi-ride away from the central Tokyo metropolis if she ever missed the last train back. No, the best thing would be for Tim to move out, to shack up at last with one of his girlfriends. Then she could get one of her friends from College to move in. A girl this time. A sister.
The two roommates had begun to argue, recently, on the subject of Tim’s girlfriends. “But Japanese girls are so cool,” he’d simpered the day before yesterday, when neither of them had classes and they’d found themselves in the shared kitchen at the same time. “They’re more refined, more elegant. And they’re so considerate about other people’s feelings.”
“Oh, come on!” Trisha had mocked, “What you mean is, they live in a culture where they’re forced to be subservient to men. For hundreds of years – and that’s one fuck of a long time, Tim – they’ve been conditioned to think the main role of the woman is to satisfy the man. Father, husband, boss, whatever, be a good little girl and don’t rock the boat.”
“But I’m not like that,” Tim had protested. “I’m not a Japanese male, and I’m not a husband. Anyway, I’m not a permanent resident here either. What right have I got to criticize this culture?”
“That’s just an excuse, Tim. You’re taking advantage of this culture. Most white men here treat Tokyo like one big playground. Some of these girls, you know, they find they’ve got a nice young gaijin on their hands, but they behave the same as they would if the boyfriend was Japanese. They say or do whatever they think will please him.” Trisha had slammed down her coffee in indignation, a wave breaking against the lip of the cup, and casting its backwash messily over the side. “Some guys here are the biggest nerds and geeks out, you know? They can’t get laid back home, but over here, the girls are falling over them, just because they come from a ‘freedom country’. Big fucking deal.”
“Are you calling me a geek?” Tim said in a carefully measured tone.
“Don’t be stupid, Tim. No. I’m not. I’m just saying that I thought things would be different here from back in the States. Well, they are, but – aw, you know, not in the way I expected.”
A tremulous moan wormed its way through the inadequate barrier of chipboard, cardboard and wool, and Trisha tried to curb the rage gradually making her more and more awake. Or if she couldn’t stop it, if she wasn’t going to get any sleep again, perhaps she could at least analyze it. Study it. Use it to understand and empower herself, like in the self-improvement books.
It wasn’t just the guys; Trisha had found herself becoming increasingly frustrated with her Japanese sisters. Sometimes it felt like living in a country of Stepford Wives. The schoolgirls everywhere had fake tans, micro-mini-skirts and walked around tapping on a cell-phone with stuffed Mickey Mouse mascots hanging from their satchels. The adult women were mostly Chanel-Gucci-Vuitton clones who were proving themselves very faithful to their great Sugar-Daddy God of Shopping. The so-called female celebrities on TV were little better than twelve-year-olds; women who shouted and screamed and jumped up and down, and cheerfully trained themselves to have voices that had the same effect on Trisha as the sound balloons make when you rub them.
Tarentos? Fucking retards, all of them.
It was only in some nightclubs and parties that Trisha had found some Japanese sisters who had anything to say. Even so, she found their unreserved admiration a little suspicious. How they wanted so much to live in the States. How they wanted to know so much about American culture.
Maybe they were all wearing masks, Trisha thought. Maybe this childish crap was an act to deceive the guys into thinking Japanese girls were their eternal handmaidens, so the girls themselves could twist them around into getting the things they wanted. But if that was true, who benefits? It just ended up perpetuating the whole shitty sexist culture. And still nobody knew what Japanese girls really wanted.
Seems like what the silly bitch in Tim’s room wants is just a good poke, Trisha thought sourly, as she heard the girl on the futon moaning to let her lord and master in.
Wind-chimes tinkled outside in the night, from the jumble of apartment buildings pushed together by meticulous but dispassionate hands. Trisha tried to focus on the sound, to screen out everything else, as the squeals of the nameless girl got louder and louder.
NOTES FROM THE DISSERTATION OF PATRICIA HOLLY:
Most Japanese visit the temples and shrines only on special occasions, such as the big festivals in the summer and winter. Their funerals are Buddhist and their weddings are Shinto – but these are just customs, they say. The Japanese believe that they themselves are not especially religious.
It is my contention that belief in the supernatural has survived, despite all the advances of modern life, in the form of urban legends. Some of these contemporary myths appear realistic; they survive because they have a degree of plausibility that permits suspension of disbelief.
In North American culture there are the ubiquitous tales of the Kentucky Fried Rat and the spider’s eggs in the banana bunch. In Japan, their equivalents are such as the department store that showed its ignorance of Christmas customs by putting Santa Claus on a cross; the popular belief that Love Hotels have concealed cameras to videotape their customers’ activities and sell them in the Kabukicho porno stores; and the rumors of the secret tunnels under Marunouchi leading away from the Imperial Palace, to ensure the Japanese Royal Family can quickly make their honorable getaway in times of disaster.
Naturally, the urban legends told and spread by children contain the strongest elements of the supernatural, and so contain a primal sense of terror. One case in point is the Kuchisake-Onna mentioned in the introduction to this dissertation. Although the character originated in the illustrated scrolls of the Edo period, she made a notable appearance in the greater Tokyo area in the early Eighties. One Tokyo newspaper went so far as to publish a special editorial stating that the Kuchisake-Onna was not real, and appealed for calm. I have interviewed one subject – a female private student of mine – who personally witnessed an outbreak of hysteria at her elementary school, where the children refused to leave school because they actually believed the Kuchisake-Onna waited for them outside the gates.
Then there is Hanako-chan, the ghost in the toilet. Japanese children usually encounter this story during elementary school. Hanako-chan is a spirit that hides in school toilets and engages the girls in games of suspense and humiliation. The child is told by her peers to knock on the toilet door a certain number of times. If the number is the same number that Hanako-chan is thinking of, the child can enter the toilet unmolested. If the number is wrong, then the ghost throws open the toilet door, terrifying the unlucky child with her hideous face, and pushing the child’s head down the toilet. Here we can see the childhood obsession with bodily functions cross over with the fear of the supernatural.
Perhaps the most fascinating (relic?) atavism from the Edo period is the anthropomorphic representation of fear itself. This is the creature known as the Buruburu. Strangely, there is no known artistic representation of the Buruburu; but whatever it looks like, if you meet it, a chill will run up and down your back. The Buruburu will follow you, driving you insane with fear, until one of two things happen;
The spirit erases your personality and takes over your body completely.
You die of fright.
Trisha stopped writing and leaned back in her chair, stretching her arms. She clicked ‘stop’ on her iTunes and took off her headphones. Nearly midnight.
She couldn’t afford satellite or cable in student digs like this. The best she could do was a portable color Toshiba TV. Flicking it on now, she thought she’d have some mindless entertainment to wind down with, and hopefully she’d be asleep by the time Tim got home.
She stopped at one channel and frowned at the grainy black-and-white image she saw on the screen. Oh, Jeez. Of course. Because it was O-Bon, the TV channels had wheeled out their annual ghost specials. Reports of paranormal activity. Photographs with curious shadows and lights, the images of dead relatives glimpsed in vacation snapshots. The scene switched to the studio, where the host breathlessly explained one such photograph, taken by Mrs. Tanaka of Chiba. It was of a gathering at the time of the O-Higan, he said, the vernal equinox, when Mrs. Tanaka’s family had attended a ceremony at the local temple. She had taken a picture of her husband, her sister and her daughter in the temple parking lot, and at first glance it just seemed like a normal photograph.
“But we have specially magnified part of the image for this program. If you look here, at this patch of shadow in the background – just inside the temple gate …”
Trisha gasped, and looked away.
She went into the kitchen, started rearranging things in the cupboards, to calm herself down. To stop her heart from racing away from her. To take away that image she’d seen in the picture.
Why do I do this, she thought. Why do I do this to myself? Why do I have to scare myself stupid? It was a TV special on summer ghosts, for Chrissakes. She shouldn’t have watched any of it.
She went back into her section of the apartment and hastily changed channels, looking for some mindless variety show, with the tarento retards screaming with laughter. Brain Bleach. Anything to calm her down, take away the image.
The image of that … face in the shadows.
Trisha often joked to her friends that she was schizophrenic. Occasionally, she wondered if that were true – because she had been born in Black Hawk, Colorado, just down the highway from Central City.
Central City had been rich and snooty back in the day, complete with an opera house and beautiful old Victorian homes built with the riches from the Glory Hole gold mine. Black Hawk was the working-class town at the bottom of the heap, with its mining families choking on the fumes of puffing ore smelters. The trees had been cut down to feed the sawmills, and a great sulfur cloud hung over the bare hillsides.
Then the mines closed and casinos were opened in the Nineties. A fluke in highway engineering meant that gamblers from Denver reached Black Hawk first – and went no further. Black Hawk got rich on the rubes from all over Colorado, and Central City fumed as it watched its visitors and fortunes decline.
Growing up in high school, Trisha had realized what a crazy place it was. Two tiny communities, sometimes fighting with each other but mostly ignoring each other. It felt like a metaphor for what was going on inside her head.
Trisha had her first encounter with urban legends at her Catholic elementary school. A painting of the Pope hung opposite the door to the rest rooms, where the girls would gather after school to whisper ghost stories to each other. In her mind, the face of the Pope, the smell of urine and disinfectant, and the numbing sense of fear were all mixed together. Fear of the two girls who’d died in the service elevator, which was why it wasn’t used any more. Fear of the ghost of the girl who jumped off the roof because of the bullying that never stopped. Fear of the school founder’s portrait in the library – the eyes turned black when the founder’s ghost went walking through the school, they said.
And then there was Bloody Mary, of course. Bloody Mary got everywhere. Just about every childhood friend of hers had stood in front of the mirror and said “Bloody Mary” three times. Nothing evil had happened to them, but …
Trisha had been too scared to ever do it herself.
When Trisha was fourteen years old, she had told her grandmother about the weird scary thoughts and bad dreams she kept having, and Grandma had got quite angry. “You don’t want crazy thoughts like that getting inside your head,” she had said. “That’s how the Devil tries to lead you off the path. You take this, my girl. You take this, and keep it.” And she had given her one of the family Bibles, a volume small enough to fit in the palm of her hand, filled with crinkly cream paper and tiny black print. Trisha had kept it, all through her school days – but she had given it to her parents when she left to take up studying in Japan. It was in storage, along with most of her books and clothes, in her old bedroom.
She sometimes wondered if that had been a mistake.
NOTES FROM THE DISSERTATION OF PATRICIA HOLLY:
In urban myths, things happen not because the world is a magical place full of wonder, as in folk tales, but because of the world is a place filled with terror. Gabler (1996) states that nothing is reliable, and normal morality is suspended. The alligators in the sewers remind us of a Hell below, populated by wild beasts. The baby-sitter and the phone calls from the upstairs room remind us that we are not safe in our own homes. The man who wakes up in a Mexican hotel room with a kidney missing reminds us of primal body horror.
The same is true in Japan; urban myths do not give us obstacles to test our character and ‘ganbaru’ (do our best). The child who has his face mutilated by the Kuchisake-Onna or is tortured in the rest-room by Hanako-chan has not done anything wrong; the whole process is, by its very nature, random. Like so much else in life – tabloids, celebrity gossip, reality shows – urban myths remind us that we are basically impotent. There are no lessons to be learned – there is just the overwhelming presence of fear. Fear of global warming, of environmental disaster, of a random school shooting, of terrorist attack, of financial collapse.
This fear is like a paper lantern of Japanese custom, but not a jolly red lantern like you find outside a izakaya pub-restaurant. Imagine a lantern of black, ripped paper, and instead of light, it spreads darkness, it spreads horror, blackening the night, seeping into your dreams and turning them into nightmares.
In Japanese childhood, there is the tradition of the ‘ghost walk’. The child is dared (or sometimes bullied) by his or her friends to walk through a local cemetery at night. The friends lie in wait behind the incense holders and prayer sticks, waiting to ambush the child and scare him into giving up, and turning back. This is the child’s initiation into adult society and the constant, low-level fear that fuels it.
The constant, nagging fear that whatever you do, it will never be good enough.
Trisha walked out of the thick, liquid night and into the cool haven of the manshon lobby, fishing in her handbag for the key, turning her head – as she habitually did – to see if anyone had entered the building behind her. The sound hit her as soon as she opened the door. The girl’s screams as she worked up to the climax, and just beneath it, Tim’s voice. It was pitched too low for Trisha to hear any words. She couldn’t even tell if he was speaking in English or Japanese, but she had a pretty good idea of the meaning. Dirty talk; his hot little mouth pressed against her sweaty skin.
Trisha stood in the parlor, not taking off her shoes, not putting down her bag or her key, just … standing there. She had an overwhelming urge to turn around and walk back out. I will not, she thought. I will not be forced out of my own home.
She turned her head, and saw her reflection in the mirror next to the door, her pale, bland-looking face beneath her blond hair, tired and unsmiling, the gasping and panting from inside an unfunny counterpoint to her sour expression.
“Bloody …” she began, then caught herself, the words sticking in her throat. She turned away from the mirror, and remembered Grandma’s Bible. You don’t want thoughts like that getting inside your head.
Then she turned back, lifted up her face, and stared into her own eyes. “Bloody Mary,” she said clearly. “Bloody Mary. Bloody Mary.”
She waited, as the animal sounds ebbed and flowed. Well, she thought, picking up her bag again. That proves one –
The sensation hit her so fast she had no time to cry out. It was cold, it was intense, and it paralyzed her, freezing her arms and legs, but twisting her head back round to stare again into the mirror.
Bloody Mary’s eyes were livid and shining, glaring through her tangled mane of hair, spittle hissing from between her lips.
Trisha’s head moved slowly, slowly, as if ice-cold hands had gripped it and were moving it as they wanted. She saw the door to Tim’s room was open. The young man and the anonymous girl lay on the futon, unmoving, their hacked and ripped limbs splayed in awkward positions, the futon sheets and walls around them stained and splattered with thick, dark liquid. By the futon lay the sushi knife Trisha had bought last month, its blade clotted with blood.
Trisha didn’t know if what she was looking at was real. She didn’t know if it was a vision thrown up by madness.
But she did know it would be a good start.
Like to read more ghost stories by Zoe Drake? Go HERE.
NOVELS BY ZOE DRAKE:
A serial killer stalks Tokyo’s sleazy nightlife in “DEAD HAND CLAPPING”.
Occult investigator Professor Benjamin Weiss pursues an ancient evil from London, to Venice, and the remote Japanese countryside in “THE MISTS OF OSOREZAN”.
EXCERPT # 3:
JASON ZODIAC ITV SPECIAL:
“CHILDREN OF TOMORROW”
by PETE CORNER
first broadcast – Dec 26th 1971
running time – 85 min 56 sec
SCENE 1: EXTERIOR – JODRELL BANK
Sunset. Long shot of the radio telescopes at Jodrell Bank.
SCENE 2: INTERIOR – JODRELL BANK CONTROL ROOM 1
Interior. Inside a small, claustrophobic office, two white-coated TECHNICIANS are bent over a monitor screen.
FIRST TECHNICIAN: Look! We’ve got another one!
SECOND TECHNICIAN: You’d better get the Captain, quick.
First Technician leaves. Close-up on Second Technician as he picks up a paper and pencil and frantically makes notes.
The door opens and the First Technician returns, followed by CAPTAIN PRICE. He is wearing a British Army uniform, and the letters S.I.D. can be read on his cap badge.
PRICE: Are you sure?
SECOND TECHNICIAN: Yes, sir. It’s another message. A series of radio pulses from a point near the star Alpha Centauri, and it’s the same binary code as the last one.
PRICE: Right, I want a full press blackout, same as before. Have you decoded it yet?
SECOND TECHNICIAN: Yes, sir . . .
Close-up on Second Technician as he turns slowly to the Captain, shock and confusion on his face.
TECHNICIAN: It says planet Earth is blue . . . and there’s nothing we can do . . .
SCENE 3 EXTERIOR – ALDBOURNE, WILTSHIRE
A sleepy village church at sunset. Flowers are in full bloom in the vicarage gardens. Birdsong.
SCENE 4 INTERIOR – VICAR’S OFFICE
REVEREND LOVEGROVE is writing a sermon. He is a tall, thin, balding man of about 60, who wears thick black NHS spectacles. The VERGER enters.
VERGER: I’ve watered the petunias, Vicar, and dusted the stalls. I’ll be off now. Er … Vicar … I’m taking my wife to the GP tomorrow, you know, it’s her old trouble . . . so I’ll be in Tuesday morning.
LOVEGROVE: Thank you, Maurice. Give my regards to your wife.
The Verger leaves. Beat. Rev. Lovegrove stands up, walks to the outer door, and locks it. He then goes to the other door and enters the church.
SCENE 5 – INTERIOR, CHURCH.
Close-up on the cross above the altar. Rev. Lovegrove mounts the steps to the pulpit, his footsteps echoing around the church. He stands in the pulpit, closes the open Bible on the lectern, and spreads his hands.
REV. LOVEGROVE: Dearly beloved . . .
Long shot of the nave. Shadowy, hooded figures are materializing in the stalls.
REV. LOVEGROVE: We are gathered here today . . .
The shadowy figures stand, all turned expectantly towards the vicar.
REV. LOVEGROVE: We are gathered here today to witness the dawning of a new age. The bastions of civilization will fall; we, The Church With No Name, shall lead the human race to meet its new masters, its new Gods. It is time to rise – to reveal the glory of the true Church – and destroy our enemies, Rocket Man and Jason Zodiac!
Moving as one, the shadowy figures reach up with bony hands and pull back their hoods. They all have black, featureless heads, and over each blank face is pasted a monochrome, negative image. The X-ray of a skull.
It was the strumming of the iPhone alarm that eventually woke me up. A melodic, four-chord, five-second guitar strum that I quite liked. When I lifted my head from the pillow, though, I immediately knew that something was wrong.
The bedroom was in full daylight. Katy wasn’t there. The house was quiet. When I picked up the iPhone, I could see both the time (almost nine-thirty) and who was calling (Mimi, the features editor at Fugue magazine, AKA my boss). “Oh, bollocks,” I croaked.
“Jamie?” Mimi’s voice was loud, too loud. “You’ve forgotten we had a meeting, haven’t you?”
“No, I haven’t. I’m on my way.”
The offices of Fugue magazine are in Shoreditch. Leaving my car outside Brentwood station, taking the train to Liverpool Street station and then walking through the streets to its office near Brick Lane, takes about an hour and a half. Travelling outside rush hour, as I was on that day, it took a little longer.
Of course, that didn’t matter to Mimi. Everyone knew she was a ball-breaker, and things had got to the stage where a lot of the staff had stopped bothering to even pretend to be polite to her face.
So there we were, in Meeting Room One with its view of Brick Lane, with my line manager Mimi, also Jill from Photography, and Peter in charge of the overall meeting. At least Peter was on my side.
“Thank you for finally getting out of your steaming pit and making the effort to be here,” Peter said.
I raised the last of my takeout café latte in its tall-size paper container and saluted him. “Well, believe it or not, you’re responsible, because I was working for most of last night.”
“Working?” Mimi echoed.
I took the sleeve from the T-Service DVD box set and laid it on the desk. “I’ve now seen all the existing episodes of this show. Seasons 1 and 2.”
“So you claim you were late, because watching DVDs until you fall asleep on the sofa is actually work?” Jill said with a snigger.
“It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it,” I replied, glaring at her.
Peter caught my eye. “Word to the wise, son. Don’t try to claim overtime.”
I shrugged. “So that’s the Sixties done, and today I’m going to start on 1972. Jason Zodiac’s Glam Rock stage.”
Jill snorted out a humorless laugh. “Brickies in eyeliner tottering around on platform heels? Oh, yes, well, good luck with that.”
“You’re going to be investing in some Flying Saucers and Sherbert Dips, eh?” said Peter with a grin. “Don’t have too many, that sherbert will make your head explode.”
“No, actually, I’ll be investing in a copy of Children of Tomorrow.” I drained the thick creamy dregs of my coffee and cleared my throat, ready for the little speech I had rehearsed. “In 1971 ITV released a Christmas one-hour solo Jason Zodiac special. The recording was lost.”
“And your point is?”
I grinned. “I now have a source that may be able to locate existing film of that recording.”
“Get it,” hissed Mimi. “I’ll make the deal with Sky Channel.”
“I don’t want to question anyone’s authority,” Peter drawled, “but I’m not exactly sure we’re doing the right thing here. I mean, don’t you think we’re killed the nostalgia thing now? There’s I Love 1981 and annual repeats of all the Morecombe and Wise Xmas Specials and Dad’s Army never off the screen – I mean, don’t you think even the Baby Boomers are sick of it all by now?”
“That’s not the point we’re trying to make.” Mimi took a sip of her mineral water and turned to him. “We’re digging up these people not just to make money out of them. We’re digging them up to laugh at them. Don’t you remember Bez on Celebrity Big Brother? All that talk about the show resurrecting his career? What bullshit. The viewers didn’t watch because one of the original Happy Mondays had returned to shock and surprise the world. They watched because they wanted to see some aging E-head get in the video confessional and make a total twat out of himself.”
“That’s all well and good,” I said, to the chorus of knowing, throaty giggles that went around the table, “but I don’t think that’s a good example. Jason actually meant something – I mean, he stood up for something, and there’s a long list of urban legends going back . . .”
“Oh darling, am I upsetting you?” She put down her glass of water and beamed at me. A full, pearly-toothed expensive dental-work smile. “Am I spoiling your image of Jason? Is he your new hero now, Jamie, are you dressing like him yet?”
Oh, shit. I stopped talking. When Mimi was sarcastic, she was at her most dangerous.
“Yes, Jason is an old hippy, or an old punk, or an old crusty raver, or whatever you want to call him,” she continued, “and there’s a lot of mystery surrounding his name. So let’s take that mystery and rip it to shreds and feed it to the public. Because the public are pigs, basically. They’ll eat anything that we give them, even if it’s their own shit wrapped up in thirty-year-old tinsel.”
I stared back at her. Even Jill and Peter looked a bit shocked.
“Why?” I said eventually.
Mimi was now going through her handbag, and she looked up at me blankly. “Well, why not?” She pulled out a stick of gum and unwrapped it angrily. She’d never really recovered from the London smoking ban. “There’s no God, the Prime Minister is a rich sadistic idiot, the Archbishop is a pervert, everyone on TV is either a cokehead or gay. Or both. There are no heroes any more, darling, because the public doesn’t want heroes. They want shallow, fucked-up celebrities so they don’t feel so shallow and fucked-up themselves. Do I have to read your job description to you?”
Outside in the corridor, Peter stopped me before I slunk back to my desk with my metaphorical tail between my legs. “Listen, Jamie, that wasn’t very clever, pissing off Mimi like that.”
“Yeah, sorry mate, it’s just that when she’s in one of her moods I feel like . . . like emptying one of her bottles of Evian over her head.”
He chuckled. “If that was me, I’d dump something much worse than that over her. But seriously, Jamie, why didn’t you tell her where you’re getting this lost recording from?”
“I didn’t tell her because I don’t know.”
His eyebrows seemed to be trying to climb over his glasses. “An anonymous tip?”
“An anonymous email, actually.”
“Interesting.” He gave me a smile that maybe was supposed to be sly but just made him look like a pervert. “I’d love to have a Deep Throat.”
To find out more about the search for Jason Zodiac … GO HERE!
Thanks to all our readers for making the promotions of “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” and “The Invention of God” such successes! Watch out for more promotions in the near future. In the meanwhile … Series Two of “The Futurist Manifesto” has started, and the first release is “City of Reflections” (see below)!
But that’s not the BIG news …
Two new authors will be joining the Excalibur group very soon! That’s all we can say at the moment … stay tuned to this blog for details!
THE FUTURIST MANIFESTO # 7: CITY OF REFLECTIONS
VENICE, 1937 …
Who are the sinister masked figures lurking in the Carnival shadows? What are the insane theories of Professor Anton Danilov? How could they aid Hitler and the Nazi Party’s march toward total war? Find out in this e-short!
THE FUTURIST MANIFESTO # 1: THE INVENTION OF GOD
Mr. Gregory was the most renowned Spiritualist Medium in Victorian Britain – until the agents of the Ottoman Empire ordered him killed, and he was forced into a hunted, vagrant existence in the most squalid parts of London. Now Lady Florence Padbury, head of Imperial Counter Intelligence, wants to bring Gregory back to serve the Crown on one more mission: to contact the soul of a murdered inventor … a man who held the key to a revolutionary new technology that could give the British Empire’s airships and steam-walkers the winning edge in the Crimean War. Mr. Gregory was the most renowned Spiritualist Medium in Victorian Britain – until the agents of the Ottoman Empire ordered him killed, and he was forced into a hunted, vagrant existence in the most squalid parts of London. Now Lady Florence Padbury, head of Imperial Counter Intelligence, wants to bring Gregory back to serve the Crown on one more mission: to contact the soul of a murdered inventor … a man who held the key to a revolutionary new technology that could give the British Empire’s airships and steam-walkers the winning edge in the Crimean War.
MOONLIGHT, MURDER & MACHINERY
A Steampunk re-imagining of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”! Agents of the Crown Byron, Shelley, Godwin and Keats defend the land against a bizarre rogue’s gallery of foes in the strange new nation of Nova Albion!
“The dead man was named Richard Trevithick,” Shelley said, reading from the City Watch report.
“What do we know about him?” Gordon was sitting opposite Shelley and Rose, with Polidori on one side and Felicia on the other. Felicia, who seemed thrilled at the prospect of being ‘out in the field’, had grasped Gordon’s hand upon entering the carriage and showed no sign of letting go. If she received any sensations or suggestions from holding the Captain’s hand, she did not divulge it to the other officers in the carriage.
“Born 1771 at Tregajorram, in the Republic of Kernow,” Shelley continued. “Moved to London in 1799. He was arrested after an explosion in Greenwich in 1803, that resulted in the deaths of four people; convicted of a number of illegal experiments going back to 1801 and sentenced to five years in prison.” Shelley looked up. “The other inmates called him the ‘Puffing Devil’”.
“He should have been deported,” muttered Polidori darkly. “I don’t like the sound of this.”
“Neither do I.” Gordon shook his head adamantly. “But we have to use all the resources we have, and that means detecting as well as fighting. We have to use our brains.”
“Maybe we should have brought Master Keats after all,” Rose said with an admirably straight face. “He has more than his fair share of those.”
The coach turned in to a residential section of Bermondsey – a single street lined on each side with gleaming stucco facades. Shelley looked out of the window at the City Patrol officers holding back onlookers with long stretches of rope, several more officers gathered outside a large terraced house that had lost all the glass in its windows, and was smeared with dark, soot-like stains. Faint wisps of smoke drifted out into the open. As the carriage came to a halt, dead leaves scuttled away from the wheels like frightened insects. Gordon’s boots hit the ground and he marched up to the open front door, the Watchmen standing aside for him.
Once inside the house, the smell hit them. Everything inside, the furniture, most of the carpet, had been burnt to a crisp. The smell was overpowering – an indefinable mix of smoke and blood and fear, like a charnel house. Dark stains arced across the walls and ceilings.
On the far side of the room lay the corpse, although Shelley did not recognize it for long moments. It was as black as charcoal, and as shriveled as a decayed wooden log. The only things remotely human were the teeth, exposed and gleaming like pearls in the skull now the flesh had burnt away. The hands were black, skeletal claws held up in front of the chest as the muscles had contracted.
“Looks like the Puffing Devil went up in smoke,” muttered Rose.
Polidori stood still and took in a series of quick, investigative sniffs. “Aha!” he declared. “Yes, yes, yes. I haven’t smelled that for a long time.”
“Smelled what, Polly?”
The Medical Examiner turned and fixed Gordon with eyes glittering with curiosity. “Greek Fire, that’s what. A mixture of liquid petroleum, sulfur, and quicklime. It was used by the Byzantine Empire in the Seventh Century as a weapon of war. They used to pump the substance from a container through narrow brass tubes and spray it at the enemy.”
Polidori advanced into the wreckage of the room, picking his way carefully through blackened piles of ash, gesticulating at the scorch marks on the walls. “The pattern of the burning here and here indicates that the source of the fire was a directed, concentrated stream of flammable liquid, just as a hose concentrates water into a narrow jet. Whoever was holding the weapon would have some kind of fuse to ignite the fluid as it shoots out, and – whoosh. Goodbye, poor Mr. Trevithick.”
“Hello, Satanic Mills,” whispered Gordon. “Thank you, Polly.”
He swung round to face the psychometrist. “Miss Brown, what can you tell us?”
“Well, I can see the reason why the perpetrator burned all of the unfortunate man’s possessions. He wished to give us nothing to work on, you see. Everything this man touched has been destroyed.”
“Perhaps there are some of his possessions somewhere else,” suggested Rose.
“Oh yes?” Gordon rounded upon him. “And in the whole of London, where do we look? Do you think any of this man’s acquaintances will want to talk to us? They’ll be as scared as little waifs at midnight.”
“There is nothing here that any psychometrist can do,” protested Felicia.
Gordon smiled so lasciviously that Shelley automatically turned away. “But you are not just any psychometrist, are you, Felicia?”
“Wait!” A shout from Polidori made all of them look up. “Captain, I think I’ve got something.”
The Medical Examiner was squatting next to the smoldering corpse, his long nose with glasses perched upon it almost touching the extended, off-white teeth. “God in heaven,” Shelley muttered, pulling out his muffler and holding it over and nose and mouth. Polidori was intent upon manipulating a long pair of tweezers, which he had extended down the dead man’s throat; and as Gordon came up behind him, he eased something out into plain view, something that gleamed with the luster of gold.
“Aha!” Polidori said triumphantly. “The victim swallowed something just before he was killed. It looks like he pulled off his own wedding ring and put it in his mouth.”
“He wanted to leave something for us to find,” Shelley said, moved by the knowledge of the man’s last, desperate moments.
“Felicia, quick,” Gordon snapped.
“Of course, we should really report this to the Watchmen, before we let …” Shelley’s voice trailed off as Gordon turned his haughty, reddening face towards him. “Nothing, sir,” Shelley added quickly.
“Oh, you were so scared.”
Shelley looked at Felicia worriedly as she convulsed, as soon as she held the wedding ring. Gordon and Shelley helped her to a chair, but she held on to the ring tightly, the words flowing.
“You were so scared, and so alone …you didn’t want to die alone, but you had sent your wife and daughter away …the giant! The giant at the door…the bronze man with fire in his hands …but he will never get into …never get into the room …the room . . .”
Felicia’s eyes snapped open, and with a violent movement, she flung the ring away from her, and it fell with a clink into the mantelpiece opposite. “The room!” she shouted. “He had a secret room, where he kept the devices he worked on!”
Gordon raised his eyebrows and looked at Shelley.
“There!” the psychometrist exclaimed, pointing out into the hallway. “The drawing room!”
The group of five hurried to the drawing room. It showed the same level of destruction as the front room, and once inside, Felica turned to face them. “Behind the tapestry is a door that leads down to a hidden basement. That is where Trevithick kept his tools and performed his experiments, out of the sight of any visiting parole officer.”
“Shelley.” Gordon pointed his chin at the burnt tapestry. “That’s your department.”
Obediently, Shelley crossed the room and gingerly pulled aside the remains of the tapestry. He spread his fingers wide and put his hands on the plaster of the wall.
He felt his shoulders tingle, as if he were being watched. The wall rippled, as if he were looking through distorting waves of heat, and then dissolved. He could see everything. He could see, just to his left, the brass and copper arrangement of lock, hinge and handle, and he could feel it, like his own hand was upon it.
He blinked, and the lock snapped open, and part of the wall swung inwards.
“Good work, m’boy!”
His legs and back feeling rather delicate, and a slight headache behind his eyes, Shelley descended into the gloom behind the others, feeling each step carefully with his boots as he went down. He heard the voice of Master Keats once more, the fascinating ideas of the quiet, frail scientist. “I call my theory that of the Chameleon Warrior, you see. If consciousness is just a ghost in the machine, then, Master Shelley, you could be present in any machine.”
Gordon, in the lead, had found and lit a Fulmer lamp hung on the wall, and the five looked around at the Luddite’s secret workshop. Across a rough stone floor stood a large table with a vice on one end. Tools of all manners and sizes were scattered across the table surface and hung on special hooks bolted to the wall.
The most striking object in the room was a huge wooden crate, as tall and broad as a man. It stood on end next to the table.
“Open that crate, Shelley.”
The young man blinked, confused. “It doesn’t have a mechanical lock.”
“I said open that crate, Shelley.”
He took a crowbar off one of the hooks on the wall and stood in front of the crate. He thrust it between one of the planks, and after some concerted pushing and levering, a section of wood snapped off and fell to the floor. Shelley leant forward and peered inside the crate.
A pair of dark eyes stared back at him.
“Aaaah!” he cried, jumping backwards. “There’s someone in there!”
They gathered around, each trying to look inside, until Gordon yelled furiously for order. Pressing his face to the crate, the Captain peered inside and grunted. “Shelley, you scream like a girl. It’s a dummy of some kind in there.”
Shelley and Rose soon had the front of the crate off, and the manikin stood revealed. It was the life-sized model of a man, dressed in what looked like Turkish robes, and a turban on its wooden head. The face was also painted to resemble that of an Oriental sorcerer, with black beard and slanted eyes.
“What is it?” Felicia asked.
“That, my dear, is the Turk,” Gordon answered. “Well, not the original, of course. It’s a very good copy.”
Shelley nodded, recognition dawning. He remembered the story of the German clock-maker who, perhaps thirty years ago, had built a clockwork chess-playing automaton. It was called the Turk and had been paraded as a novelty around half the Royal courts of Europe.
“What was Trevithick doing with this?” Felicia asked in awe.
“Looks like he had built a new model powered by steam,” said Rose, pointing to the machine parts in the bottom of the crate. “Maybe he had been commissioned to build this by someone on the Continent and he was just about to send it to the port.”
“And he was killed for this?”
“No,” said Shelley. “Those parts over here are different, they are parts of some kind of propulsion engine. I think Trevithick had something to do with the theft of the Remnant.”
“Right,” ordered Gordon. “We can’t let the City Patrol get hold of this. Put all of the tools in envelopes, seal them, and write a description on the front.”
Rose pointed into the crate. “What about the Turk?”
Gordon looked it up and down coolly. “Dismantle it. Put it in the utility chest in the coach.”
“What a colossal waste of money,” Shelley said, partly to himself. Rose heard and looked at him quizzically.
“I mean, they know it’s illegal, they know the penalties for dealing with proscribed technology,” Shelley went on. “Why do they do it?”
Rose shrugged. “It’s human nature. People are always trying to tinker about with things they don’t understand.”
He put his hands on both sides of the wooden head and pulled. It came cleanly off the metal peg that secured it, and Rose stepped back, the disembodied face of the Turk grinning into his.
“Oh, my,” said Rose, shivering. “That is one bad case of déjà vu.”
The setting of the Steampunk thriller “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” is an alternate Regency England where the historical timeline diverged in 1742. This created a decidedly different British Isles where the Industrial Revolution has branched off in a bizarre direction, and an alternative version of Doctor Frankenstein is conducting grotesque experiments. The setting is new, but the main characters are people most of us will recognize!
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) was an English poet of the Romantic era. He is remembered largely for his lyrical works such as “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Skylark” as well as the sonnet “Ozymandias”, but he also wrote a considerable volume of political poetry and prose expressing his anger at the disparity in the distribution of wealth between the classes and the ruthless tactics used by then Prime Minister Robert Jenkinson in dealing with political dissent. In particular, his narrative poem “Queen Mab” is often cited as inspiration to later working class political movements, such as Chartism and Owenism. He is also famous for being the husband of the author Mary Shelley, and he is associated with many famous figures of the Romantic era, including Lord Byron, John Keats, Thomas Love Peacock and William Godwin.
In “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery”, Shelley joins the Royal Army at the age of 20, out of his idealistic beliefs, and also to spite his father; he is detected as having latent psychic powers, and is drafted into the Crown’s new counter-intelligence division, Red Branch.
Mary Shelley (née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; August 30, 1797 – February 1, 1851) was an early novelist who is most famous for her novel Frankenstein, considered to be the first real Science Fiction novel; it was the earliest popular novel whose Speculative Fiction elements were presented as the results of (implausible) human technology.
She was the daughter of the novelist William Godwin and feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. The latter was one of the earliest feminists, famous for her work The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which is one of the earliest significant modern works in favor of women’s rights.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley married the famous Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. She was a very prolific author, writing biographies, poetry, articles, travel journals, and short stories in addition to the novels she is most well-known for.
In “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery”, she is an aspiring writer and socialite who suffers from terrible nightmares that seem to predict the future. These latent psychic powers draw her to the attention of Red Branch … particularly the dreams where she sees a crazed scientist intent on creating life from re-animating the dead, in his laboratory …
George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824), was a Romantic poet, womanizer, and revolutionary. He gave his name to the Byronic Hero trope, by writing about Byronic heroes and being one in real life.
His father, Army Captain John “Mad Jack” Byron, of a junior line of moderately old gentry, married his mother, Catherine Gordon (heiress to the Scottish estate of Gight, in Aberdeenshire), in 1785. By the time George was born in 1788, “Mad Jack” had squandered most of Catherine’s money, and she took her son to Aberdeen to eke out an existence on the remaining crumbs and a small trust fund. When Byron’s great-uncle, the 5th Baron Byron, died childless, George, then 10 years old, inherited the title and the family seat at Newstead Abbey—which was a wreck that his mother preferred to rent out to junior gentry.
Byron grew up to be a hell-raiser, a womanizer, a political idealist, and an immensely talented poet. He had lovers all across Europe, and died while fighting in the Greek War of Independence (1821-1830).
In “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” he is Captain Gordon, a seasoned veteran of Red Branch and leads the squad that includes Percy Shelley as a new recruit. He becomes Shelley’s mentor, as they fight such grotesque enemies of the Crown as Boiler Calhoun and the Dandy Brethren.
The poet John Keats died of tuberculosis when he was only 25. Given what he accomplished in only that time, there is much speculation about what he could have done with a full literary career — for example, he was in progress on an epic poem, The Fall of Hyperion, which had the potential to become a classic on the level of Paradise Lost, but was left unfinished when he died. We’ll never know.
He is most famous for his series of odes, which remain very popular today. They include “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, “Ode to a Nightingale”, and “Ode on Melancholy”. He also wrote many other poems, such as “Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art”, “La Belle Dame sans Merci” and “The Eve of St. Agnes”. His poetry and letters advanced some revolutionary theories of literary composition, such as ‘negative capability’, and the concept of the ‘chameleon poet’, that still influence writers today.
In “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery”, John Keats is head of Red Branch’s Research and Development Division, where he conducts experiments into the soldiers’ psychic and physical capabilities … and how they can be enhanced.
(Above:Dr. Andrew Crosse and his ‘acari’).
Who was the real-life inspiration behind Doctor Frankenstein? Many have been named as the scientists who first gave Mary Godwin the idea … such as Giovanni Aldini, protege of Luigi Galvani, the discoverer of ‘animal electricity’; James Lind MD, friend to the Shelley family; Johann Conrad Dippel, a rumored alchemist; Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein, who perhaps inspired the name of the protagonist; and most intriguing of all, Dr. Andrew Crosse, who claimed to have spontaneously created an insectoid form of life called ‘acari’ in his laboratory (to this day, exactly what he did, how he did it, and what the ‘acari’ really were remains unexplained).
These are some of the main characters in “Moonlight, Murder & Machinery” … want to see them in action? Go HERE!