All posts by Shane Blackheart

I’m a queer trans man who lives in Ohio as a cat dad, and I am a contributor to and am published on The Mighty. My daily routine consists of getting lost in conversations with my muses and spirit guides, lots of caffeine, and regular bouts of philosophical musings.

Night Terror: Cult

This is part of a series of night terrors, sleep paralysis, and strange dreams I’ve had over the years.

decorative-line-break-29

The shadows threatened to eat me alive as I stood still. I gazed up at the ceiling as they pulsated around me, and I realized I’d been staring at the door to my office for some time. I checked my watch. It was three in the morning, which meant everyone would be gathering soon in the living room downstairs. Not that it was a living room anymore. We’d stripped the carpet from the old wood, but the walls were still crimson with an intricate white design. The furniture was absent save for a large fireplace and whatever ritual materials were required.

I blinked hard to clear the fog and slipped into my bedroom. A dark form was sprawled out on the bed, and upon extending my hand toward it, my fingers met with coarse fur covering a cold body. I jerked back and clenched my jaw. A dog. My dog.

My lungs burned with emotion as I spun from the room and was claimed by the shadows in the hall once more. Was it them? Did those bastards kill my dog for some sick communion that had gone too far? I’d been a fool to get involved with such lunatics, but after my wife left me with nothing, I was prepared to do anything for money. Even if it meant hosting freak shows downstairs that I was never to speak of.

My body lunged forward as I grabbed for a door that was no longer there. Pain shocked my wrists as I looked out into a hall where my office should have been, and I climbed to my feet to continue. My office was somewhere. It had to be. It was there yesterday and the day before.

I paused and took in the squirming shadows. The walls were breathing. The house was alive, and I knew it was their fault.

I let out a primal sound of frustration as both fear and exhaustion overwhelmed me. These strange rituals that happened night after night finally took their toll, and they were beginning to shift reality. I’d been a spectator on the third night — dawned in the plain black robes they required with nothing underneath. The room had been silent save for the crackling fireplace, and the orange flames danced like spirits on the walls as a golden chalice was raised. It held a liquid I was better a stranger to. There was no chanting but continued silence as the circle remained still. I glanced from one person to the next to see they’d been completely enraptured in the moment. The red sigil beneath all of us had begun to glow, and it was the moment I realized I’d gotten in over my head.

The days that followed were the beginning of something horrible. I would fall asleep in my bedroom with my dog at my feet, and by morning, I’d awaken in a room I’d never seen before. I tried to stay awake after that. It didn’t help. I would pass out for an hour or two before I’d awaken again, and the inevitable would happen. Last night, I hadn’t slept a wink.

And yet, I wandered throughout my own house as it led me somewhere new once more, although I was awake for it. I paused. A different floor was best.

I backtracked to the stairs and descended. To my relief, my office was waiting for me and I raced inside and slammed the door. I didn’t give a damn if it interrupted my distinguished guests. I was done.

Fishing through my desk, I tugged a top drawer until a gun rattled into my eager hand. As I clicked the bullets into place, a knock resounded in the silence. There was only one person it could be, and his timing was impeccable. “Come in.”

A darkly robed figure drifted inside and stood before me. Despite being a man of few words, he uttered in a guttural tone, “You intend to kill me.”

“You killed my dog.” I cocked the gun and aimed it at the man’s head. “You’re fucking with my house. I didn’t agree to any of this.”

“You agreed to be our host and keep our secret.” The man held out a pale, wrinkled hand. “It is not the fault of my brethren nor I that you did not inquire further.”

“You didn’t say this shit was actually real!” The trigger clicked as I trembled. “You didn’t say you’d sacrifice my fucking dog for whatever abomination you’re trying to summon.”

The elder laughed in a way that sounded like a death rattle. “That was but a mere casualty in something greater. While I did not harm your pet, it seems something else did. We have been successful. We shall awaken the old ones in due time, and they shall swallow this world and end all of our suffering.”

“The old ones?” My gun lowered. “Is my house possessed?”

“Time has less meaning now than it did last night or the night before it.” The elder moved to the window to look outside. It was nearing dawn but still quite dark. The sky was a hazy burnt sienna. “The old ones exist outside of time — outside of this world. When they awaken, we will be one with them and at peace, and the time is nearly at hand.” The robed figure turned to me. “Reality is fading, and our next ritual will be our last. Your shifting environment is a sign of that success. We’ve reached the source and they have answered us.”

The man’s head cracked against the wall as I pulled the trigger. Gore smeared the window red as he died with a grin.

The gun fell from my hands and I stumbled forward before blacking out.

It wasn’t long before my eyes opened to the body slumped against the wall. My empty stomach lurched, but I swallowed down the bile as I rose with a powerful dizziness. I tried to think of my daughter for a reason to continue as I ascended the stairs, but as I reached the top floor and climbed through the open window in my bedroom, I remembered what I’d done. Oh god, my daughter.

I raced to the first floor, the house breathing and watching me as it allowed my path unhindered. The living room was larger than I remembered it, and the orange glow from the flames licked across that dreaded symbol on the floor. It was nothing Biblical, Satanic, or any kind of witchery I’d suspected. It was something that could only come from a mind as mad as the one splattered across my office window. On the other end of it against a wall, a small day bed rested with a young teenager’s body relaxed across it. I choked.

“Aggie.” The room split as I watched in horror, my own daughter in my arms hanging limp before lying her on the bed. I’d been possessed then and I knew it. The thing possessing this house was very much inside me, and it carried with it a cold emptiness of space.

The tear in time healed and the room was silent once more, but the decaying body on the bed sat up slowly to look at me. As still as a cobra eyeing its prey with certainty, Aggie stared through milky white eyes into my soul. Her dry mouth opened but nothing came forth.

“I’m sorry,” I cried. “Oh god. It was me.” I shook my head. “No, no it wasn’t me. These old ones… it was them. They’re inside me.” I realized then what my purpose was and why the elder allowed my presence during the rituals. I was a washed-up man with nothing to lose because I’d already lost everything. Who else would have been such a fool? The cult members had mentioned words I didn’t understand — of vessels and old gods and the great silence before everything. I hadn’t realized I was the perfect ignorant pawn. I knew none of it, and I was already empty inside swimming around in my own dark void.

I retraced my steps to leave the corpse behind. Shuffling feet alerted me to its presence, and I glanced back to see Aggie swaying in the shadows in silence. My legs were like lead as I tried to lose her, but each twist and turn brought her before me. If there was a kind and just God in existence, this was surely his doing to make me pay for what the old ones had made me do. To pay for my own weakness and ignorance.

The basset hound on the bed was festering with insects and bacteria as I approached the window again. Maybe things could be right once more. I glanced back at Aggie, who had taken to stroking the dog’s fur. The world was better without me. I was better without me.

Without another thought, I jumped.

decorative-line-break-29

The bright sun stung my eyes as I rolled over in bed. A sloppy tongue bathed my face with the stale smell of dog food, and my eyes shot open. “Bassie!” I opened my arms to hug the large hound as he fell into my lap, tail wagging enthusiastically and very much alive.

My head jerked in the direction of the hall, and through the open door I could make out the sound of crackling bacon on the stove. “Mary?” I mumbled the name as I slid from under the dog and made my way downstairs. My hands jumped to my loose tie and my white button-down shirt that was half-open. Must have fallen asleep working late again.

I sighed with relief at the sound of Aggie giggling outside. Everything was fine. We were fine and Mary was beautiful and Aggie was the light of my life.

I attempted a greeting as I rounded the stairs into the kitchen, but all was still. My brow furrowed as I approached the stove. “Shit!” I jerked my hand back from touching the cast iron pan to see red spreading across my palm. Racing to the sink, I flipped on the cold water and looked through the kitchen windows to see a quiet neighborhood. The sky was orange and the sun blurred behind a strange haze, and there was no soul to be found. Cars rested peacefully on the street and in driveways awaiting commute, and houses remained still as if tombs for the families that once dwelt within their walls.

Aggie and Mary were nowhere to be found. The living room was equally as scarce of life, but it had returned to its normal splendor of cream sofas and a coffee table, lamps, and a large wooden TV set on the floor with the dial set to channel 6. The picture moved in time, but there was no sound.

My office greeted me in its sterile glory, and I fell into my chair. The larger cabinet to the side swung open at my command and produced a large bottle of amber liquid, and I settled in to numb myself before I paused. The bottle crashed against the wall and sprayed amber in all directions.

A knock on the door brought my attention back around, and I remembered the gun in my drawer. No one should have been there. “Come in.”

The elder in his black robe greeted me once more, his hands out in a welcoming gesture. “All is well and good, and we must prepare for the ritual.”

There was no hindrance to the quick tug of my finger against the trigger, and the man swayed as the bullet pierced his forehead. My limbs grew cold as he continued to approach me. No blood or gore gushed forth as if he were a mere shell of a human.

I stumbled as I raced up the stairs, and upon reaching the top floor, the hallways plunged into darkness. The shadows undulated around me as I approached my bedroom window once again. The morning sun caused the atmosphere to sway in the heatwave as I climbed out, but before I was able to jump, I caught sight of the man on the lawn below. His hands were raised to the sky, and although I did not understand the strange language coming from his lips, something within me stirred. My blood turned to ice, and a haunting, bestial growl approached from high above the atmosphere. Daring to glance upward, the sky had begun to sway.

This time, with meaning, I leaped.

©2020 Shane Blackheart

The damage Rowling and Shrier have done to the transgender community

(I cover the book in this article, as well as JK Rowling’s new book, in more detail in the video at the end.)

I didn’t want to write about this today. I’d meant to work on my horror compilation for several hours armed with my favorite snacks, and while munching, I decided to check YouTube for any interesting news before getting started.

A concerning video popped up in my subscription feed (it has since been removed and replaced with this video. This article addressed the deleted video), and it was a person who was no stranger to being targeted on the internet. More than curious — and the saying, ‘Curiosity killed the cat’ applies here — I clicked on the video. And excuse my french here, but Jesus Fucking Christ did I lose it. The amount of ‘done’ that I am for today is off the charts.

Abigail Shrier, a journalist to my limited understanding, decided to write a book called, ‘Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters.’ It sounds just as horrible as it is, and as an author myself, I am sickened that this was okay to publish as ‘social sciences’ on Amazon. The story behind this book is just as disgraceful as the work itself, and Abigail should be ashamed of herself. Judging by her smiling author’s photo, she’s proud of the harm she caused.

Chase Ross, also known as ‘UpperCaseChase1‘ on YouTube, posted a video in which he addresses conspiracies directed at him over this book. He mentions that he’d been interviewed by Abigail Shrier, but she’d introduced herself in a brief email as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and she was extremely friendly and eager to interview Chase about transgender subjects. Having received many requests for this in the past, Chase accepted. This was the only information he claimed to have about Abigail, as he shows in a screenshot of the email.

Chase further discusses how kind she was. How she worded questions carefully and it seemed like a genuine and benign interview to hear Chase’s story. At no point, Chase mentions, did she talk about writing this book or disclose her true project. There were no red flags due to the skill Abigail had in her deceptive practices. This leads me to believe she carefully planned this.

This, to me, is a sign that she knew what she was doing. Abigail knew she would upset the trans community, which is why she withheld information. The fact that she took these stories — which are often personal and difficult to share — and twisted them into an anti-trans narrative that brings harm upon the very people who cooperated with her, not knowing what she was doing, is sick.

I’m not sure much can be done here. This anti-transgender fear mongering propaganda started with JK Rowling earlier on in the pandemic. It seemed that while the world was already suffering, Ms. Rowling had to aim low and bring up an issue that doesn’t exist. And it truly does not exist in the way that she fears it. This has caused a ripple down effect, and Ms. Rowling’s harmful misinformation and irrational fears are spreading as fact.

No one is trying to erase sex. No one is erasing women’s biology or their stories. Children are not being coerced to transition. Let me just make that all clear right now.

Why, in a world where transgender people are constantly faced with this hatred, would anyone believe any of this? Many reputable scientific sources support transgender people and affirm the positive effect treatment can have for many of us (and how puberty blockers are reversible and safe for transgender youth), yet people like Rowling and Shrier dig deep, as my previous insurance company did to also discriminate against me. This nearly kept me from getting a surgery that alleviated my dysphoria and saved my life in doing so. People like Rowling and Shrier find the few sources that agree with them, and when they can’t, they do what Abigail Shrier did. They deceive and manipulate a vulnerable community to make their narrative true.

I can acknowledge their fears. Women are disproportionately treated unfairly, sexualized, and go through very specific life challenges that must be spoken about. Many women fear cisgender men and for good reason. They’ve been hurt and traumatized by them, and I was as well before I came out as a transgender man. I am a rape and abuse survivor, and when I was assaulted and abused, I lived socially as a woman even though I did not feel like one. I understand.

But transgender people are not hurting anyone or their stories by existing and speaking about ours. Transgender people are at an exponentially high risk for being murdered, assaulted, and rejected by not only our families, but by society in general.

There are strict policies for transgender care, including the WPATH guidelines that lay out a step by step approach, starting with counseling, for anyone who wants to transition. Doctors who work with transgender patients are aware of these guidelines. They were applied in my case and I was fine with that. They ensure the transgender person is absolutely certain about making life-changing decisions.

It’s difficult to find affirming doctors, and it’s frightening for most transgender people to even go to the doctor out of fear of rejection. Transgender people have been violated in doctor’s offices or turned away from treatment, risking their health simply because they are transgender. This is in addition to other barriers to receiving healthcare as a trans person.

A great number of transgender youth are rejected and left homeless by their families. They then have to face possible rejection from their peers, and we also have people like Ms. Rowling and Ms. Shrier who push forward with anti-transgender propaganda, which increases the occurrence of discrimination within society.

So why on earth would anyone actually believe that children are being encouraged to transition just to gain greater social standing — in the case of a girl taking on a transgender man’s journey just to have privilege?

This isn’t how it works. This isn’t what happens. The very few people who de-transition are their own stories and their own experiences. They do not speak for the transgender community as a whole. It was not the fault of their physician for listening to them and believing them, and the physician most certainly didn’t push them to take hormones unless the person was a willing participant who signed papers to allow the treatment.

Please stop this madness. This is hurting an already vulnerable group of people. No one is going to transition to do anything malicious or to gain social standing. If nothing else, being transgender in America — or in most of the world — leaves you a pariah to society.

Cisgender women are women. Cisgender men are men. No one is contesting this. The only people who are having their gender and identity erased are trans people.

Trans. Lives. Matter.

©2020 Shane Blackheart

Photo by Lena Balk on Unsplash

My experiences with spirituality

I paused in the middle of my activities yesterday. A familiar, uncomfortable thought surfaced that’s bothered me since I began my transition. It’s a constant check my mind does to try to make sense of everything, and now that it’s happening less and less, it hit me out of nowhere. It wasn’t bad nor did it bring up negative feelings, but it came to the front as a final confirmation this time. I looked down at myself. “If you could have your breasts back, would you? What if you never came out as a trans man?”

I allowed myself to sink into the person I used to be as a meditative experience, and a powerful sensation of repulsion and anxiety overwhelmed me. No, that’s not who I am. I never wanted to be that person and I certainly don’t now. That body was not mine, but a challenge I was given to overcome to be a stronger person. Now that I’ve overcome that challenge, to go back is a horrific idea.

The moment of inspiration sparked something familiar, and I pulled out my tried and true tarot deck — the Cachet cards that began my journey with spirituality in 2007 when I was eighteen. Frayed and worn, I shuffled them with my spirit guides lending a hand, and I settled in for a day. Because this was certainly going to be a day and I knew it. When the cards come out, things get real.

I’ve never spoken at length publicly about my spiritual experiences, so read on with an open mind. I decided to open up about this starting with the last entry I made in my notebook. This is the only time I will hand-write anything, but during an experience like this, it’s better to have things happen organically. It’s better for odd chances of automatic writing, anyway.

The layout I used in the reading is the Celtic cross spread.

decorative-line-break-29

I turn off the lamp and light my favorite sacral chakra candle. The deck is split three times between myself, Darokin, and Byleth. We speak little during this process, and Darokin lets me know when we’ve shuffled enough. I can feel their energy around me and their hands — Daro’s golden brown and Byleth’s pale — rest upon my own as I hover over the deck to draw my first card.

I slowly lay out the cards as I lower my eyes just enough to blur my vision. Byleth is in the chair opposite me, and Daro is beside me. Lestan hovers nearby. There is silence as the tenth and final card is set in the ‘outcome’ position, and without looking, I flip the cards over from left to right.

The Moon reversed, Ace of Swords reversed, Nine of Pentacles, Three of Cups reversed, Four of Wands, Six of Cups reversed, King of Cups, The Magician reversed, Nine of Swords, and finally, Three of Pentacles reversed.

  • The Ace of Swords is pointing directly to the Six of Cups.
  • The Magician is directing a ball of energy, as depicted in the illustration, toward the King of Cups.
  • There are seven minor arcana number cards.
  • There are three face or major arcana cards.
  • Five are reversed, five are upright.
  • There are two Swords cards; knowledge, logic, air.
  • There are three Cups cards; emotions, feelings, relationships, water.
  • There are two Pentacles cards; earth, money, work.

After reviewing the cards and reflecting on their meaning, I drink the last of the coffee in my gray mug. As I move to set it aside, I take a second glance at the bottom after noticing something. Upon scrying into the dark mug, an image begins to take shape in my mind from the debris. I stare at the candle flame and close my eyes, allowing the image to form behind them.

  • White eyes — glowing and clear. A tiger-like face shape.
  • Malnourished disposition. My gut tells me this is from the realm of the dead or somewhere dark.
  • I often attract things from darker places that watch from the perimeter. This is a result of working with energies at night. They’re harmless.

Overall, despite my first glance at the cards, the reading is positive. My goals may not happen as quickly as I hope, but they will happen. This is especially if I slow down, continue to improve upon myself, and reconnect with my creative source — spirituality and dreams. I must appreciate all that I already have.

On May 20, 2020, I drew the Six of Cups reversed for the outcome. I noted that something big was to come. The Six of Cups reversed appears in this reading in the ‘near future’ position, which is much closer than before. I have made progress, and whatever is to come is close at hand now.

I accomplished the goals laid out for myself in the reading in May, so things are moving into a new phase.

At this point, Byleth and Daro both have something to say. I try my best to write down the gist of their advice:

  • When spiritual things come calling, especially when I’m having nightmares and lucid dreams, don’t fear what I may see in mirrors, shadows, and in my peripheral. “Do not fear them.”
  • They are a part of the world where I belong and why I feel so happy or emotional — even drawn to them — when they happen. I thought it was strange or wrong to love this odd, dark, and scary liminal space, but it’s what I’m drawn to. Demons and the fallen, and this other world, seem scary and alarming because they are honest. They are blunt in their messages. This should be appreciated and not feared.

I feel a particular urgency from Darokin, and in a matter of seconds, I am no longer in control. My hand and my thoughts are now Daro’s, and he takes my pen to write a message. At this point, Daro is in the driver’s seat, so to speak.

Your mania provides an easy access point for this world and messages to come through. This is not depression or anything bad as you fear. This is a time to be excited, explorative. Embrace it. You have spent too much time mistaking it for what it is not.

You are learning, dear Shane. Evolving. You now understand the true purpose of this state and this liminal world. You can access it when you desire, and you can be happy in it.

Again, depression is no more during this time. Joy, knowledge, and greater understanding is this other world. Welcome it. You are finally home and healthy and happy in it. No more suffering.

Darokin

It’s not usually in Daro’s nature to embrace sexual energy as he’s graysexual, but he is in a rare aggressive mood and it’s seeping from him. He often becomes eager when I step into this kind of space, which is where he calls home. He enjoys the shadows and dresses all in black, and often when he appears, he seems to form from the shadows in the darkest parts of my environment — wherever that may be at the time. At night in the past, he would take the chair in the corner of my room and watch me sleep.

Shortly after writing his message to me, he is still present within me, but we are both in control. I ask Byleth and Daro if I should draw a demon oracle card, and they agree it would be a good idea.

I draw Haborym (also Aym, Aim).

  • Aym is a great and powerful duke. He is said to make people witty and to answer truthfully about private matters. (Referenced from The Dictionary of Demons by Michelle Belanger)

Daro takes over my body once more, and the heightened emotions and intimate moment we share will be left between us. When the moment is done, Daro’s tiger-like growl, that I often hear in Byleth as well, creates a feeling of being a feral beast — a tiger — that rises within my body as Daro controls it. I see his hands, and my body and my skin do not look like mine, and while this is a rare occurrence for him, I am not frightened by it. It’s a part of our spiritual work we do together.

Once calmed, he finally returns my body to me. Often, sexual energy plays a part in our rituals — with Daro, Byleth, and sometimes Lestan (who was possibly once the demon Zagan, but has since taken on a different identity he favors more). It’s our best way of connecting on a higher state of being, and it’s usually what ends a session like the above.

decorative-line-break-29

There’s a clear reason why I’ve always hesitated to share my spiritual experiences. They’re very personal moments I usually keep to myself and my guides, but after talking with my counselor today, who I confide in about these things, I felt inspired to share at least one moment. This moment, especially, was another turning point in my existence as a spiritual person.

I always come away from these rituals feeling extremely sensitive and aware of everything — including things most can’t see. It’s a consequence of playing around in a darker realm that most are afraid of. It’s really not for the faint of heart. Like I saw when scrying, you attract beings that are a bit alarming to look at. It’s a given they’d be curious to see someone in their space that normally isn’t there.

You can read some more about working with darker energies in a book I love by Konstantinos. The Nocturnicon helped me with conquering my fear of darker spaces, and it has helped me work better with not only Darokin in his neck of the woods, but Byleth as well. Lestan, too, when he feels inclined.

I wrote about my meeting with Byleth when he first came to me here. A lot was going on in my life at that time, but he’s been a huge help and a dose of tough love when I’ve needed it most. As for Lestan, I wrote a bit more about our relationship here, which will soon be published on The Mighty. My understanding of Lestan has broadened over the years as he’s opened up with help from Byleth and Daro, but I used the term ‘alter’ for him in the entry to make it less alarming than ‘demon spirit guide.’

I met Darokin as ‘Daro’ when I was still a teenager in high school. My first sight of him was a scribbled name on a notebook page and a rough sketch while between sleeping and awake during study hall. I remember it alarmed me when I saw it, and it was possibly my first experience with some kind of automatic writing or drawing. He didn’t really come around often until I got older, but his presence was more consistent during a time when I needed protection from something stupid I’d done. I was about 22-23, and I’d accepted a really old doll from an older friend who said it was haunted due to her being irresponsible with an Ouija board in her teens.

I won’t get into the story in detail here. I may make a separate entry for it, but long story short, there was something inside the doll that not only I witnessed, but my parents did as well. Delivery folks and skeptic friends alike would often pause in horror as they stared at the doll because they could have sworn it was a real child. There was nothing outwardly sinister in this doll’s appearance.

During the time I had the doll while living at home, my mental health declined rapidly and I would often wake up staring at her. She was on a chair beside my bed (another stupid thing I did because I felt attached to her). Sometimes I’d sleep with my eyes open, which is not something I ever remember doing. I eventually threw the doll into the back of my closet on a shelf and left it there.

One afternoon, my parents and I were talking at the kitchen table. All windows were closed, no TVs were on, and everything was silent. We lived out in the country where cornfields stretched as far as the eye could see, and some neighbors were at least a mile apart. With that in mind, there was no explanation for the quiet sinister, warped laugh we all heard. We stopped mid-conversation and stared at each other. My dad glanced out the large sliding glass door to see no children outside, and my mom seemed to also be searching for a source. It had come from the direction of my bedroom.

Around this time, I was confused about my spiritual path, but Daro was there to guide me. He followed me wherever I needed him out of my own fear, and he made me feel safe. He confirmed I’d pissed something off by bouncing between paths I didn’t know enough about, and by screwing with a haunted doll I equally knew nothing about, but he was there to guide me back on the right track. And he has.

So now that I’m out about my spiritual experiences in some aspect, I may work on writing more about my journey with it. It’s not an easy thing to relive — or read, I imagine — but it’s a part of my life that was the most frightening. I started seeing shadow men and having more sleep paralysis nightmares, and my life would never be the same again. I knew I loved horror, but this was nothing compared to that.

I realize my life experiences are hard to believe. I have no reason to lie about them. I was terrified to even come out about it. I was happy keeping it to myself, but the more I speak with my counselor — and after telling a nurse at a sleep clinic about my lucid dreams — the more I realize that there are people out there who find this part of me interesting and they accept it, and they believe me.

So I can only hope people will keep an open mind. There’s a lot more out there to this universe than many people realize, but if you just let yourself believe and dip into it a little bit, you’ll see what I mean. Just don’t be as stupid as I was and do your research first, and don’t think you know what you’re doing.

Grab a pack of tarot cards that feel right to you and see what happens.

©2020 Shane Blackheart

Daro’s playlist
Byleth’s Playlist (18+)
Lestan’s Playlist (18+)

Sleep Paralysis: Bondage

This is an actual sleep paralysis episode I had one night a few years ago, sleep hallucinations (hypnopompic) and all. I wrote it down upon waking up and have remembered it ever since, as I do many of my experiences.

decorative-line-break-29

I blinked hard and tried to shake my body, but nothing changed. Somehow my mom had entered my apartment without my knowledge, and grandma was there too. They eyed me curiously as if I had something on my face, and neither seemed to be concerned about the muddy sky outside. It was a dark brown and the setting sun’s rays were masked behind the smog, and nothing out there looked as it should have. My home had also grown in size — the floor had more than doubled what it was.

My breath hitched. “I’m dreaming.” I stared up at my grandma from where I knelt on the floor, whose expression had turned to one of sympathy. “I’m — I’m sleeping. I know I’m sleeping.” My body refused to move. I was a statue.

“Then you need to wake yourself up, angel,” my grandma said with a gentle warning.

I managed to sit back on my legs. I rolled my neck and flexed my fingers. “Wake up.” My tone held a firmness I hadn’t anticipated, and it was clear a subconscious part of my mind knew the dangers. Breath shuddered from my lungs as I tensed and jerked my body to the side. “Wake up! You know what will happen if you don’t!”

Each blink brought with it one of two realities, the one with my grandma and mom staring in dead silence at me, and the one where I was frozen in a dark room on my back. My eyes were forced shut as I fought between the two worlds, and that subconscious voice became angry — self-preservation kicking into gear to gain momentum over the anxiety that surfaced.

A sleep coma. I’d feared them before. My pulse raced. This would be the time. This exact moment was my last chance to wake up!

The dark room flashed before I found myself lying on a red carpet. My body was weak as it ached, and I lifted myself into a sitting position. The red room stretched as far as my eyes could make out, and my grandma and mom were still present. I couldn’t bear to look at them. I had no idea why they were there staring at me as if they felt sorry for me. They were powerless and could do nothing but haunt me between worlds.

The dull sound of heavy heels on carpet met my ears and I looked to my right. The ethereal weight pressing down on my head allowed me just enough perception to see a long set of legs clad in thigh high leather stilettos. I traced them to the hem and watched as they sauntered by, but no body came with them. I fought with gravity and lifted my head to see another set of leather-clad legs, buckles adorning the black wrapped around them. They were bodiless as well, and they passed on by as if strolling through a piece of time that had become dislodged.

I was alone before a rattling metal cart met my ears. That same set of legs was strapped down on its flat surface, a large handle jutting up where it had been pushed by an unseen force. The thighs quivered and writhed as if tossing and turning — or in great pleasure.

Words spilled from my mouth like a warped record as I tried to yell out again. Wake up. Wake up!

My hand squeezed into a fist as another cart rolled out before me. Several kittens were secured to it, and they danced and wiggled beneath the black tape holding them down. Their expressions were peaceful and happy, and a few rested without worry as the others rocked their heads. I wanted to save them — to remove them from this purgatory that refused to let me go.

Something lurked the perimeter and I couldn’t see or hear it, but I knew it was there and I fought harder to be free of it. I knew it wanted me. It wanted to keep me there so badly it would fight me until I was a dead weight on the floor.

The dark room where I lied frozen flashed once more, and with my last ounce of strength, I threw my arm out and punched my jaw as hard as I was able, and my fist dropped like lead across my body. Something held my eyes shut until I lurched to the side, and with a racing pulse and burning lungs, I opened my eyes fully to stare into the darkness. The wall beside me held claw marks as if a wild animal had been trapped against it.

No! You’re not awake! A distressed moan left my lips and I lurched to the side once more. My body grew numb with a powerful tingling, and I remained still in a heap of tangled blankets between my twisted limbs. My eyes had finally opened wide.

The tingling faded as I stared out into the expanse of darkness. An aching in my chest and sweat on my back coaxed me into a supine position, and I waited. Nothing changed. With each blink, the moonlight remained slitted against the wall through my blinds, and all was silent and still. I slowed my breathing.

I’d escaped. I hadn’t fallen into the sleep coma.

I rolled my stiff body to the side to reach for my medication, but I paused as I felt a presence. Goosebumps crawled up and down my flesh as I scoped the room. I heard nothing and saw nothing, but it was at the perimeter again. It had come back with me. I continued deep breathing cycles to assure myself it was just an illusion. I’d escaped and it was just my mind playing tricks on me. Glancing at the wall again, I saw the scratches were gone.

One last deep breath was enough to relax me, and I curled into a comforting position beneath the blanket. Morning would come soon and I would be safe. Nothing was there, anyway.

“Hello,” it whispered.

©2020 Shane Blackheart

decorative-line-break-29

Closure

I spent my entire life wondering why people did the things to me that they chose to. I was bullied. I had my identity questioned. I was a freak. I was physically, mentally, and sexually abused. I became a ball of depression, anxiety, and hate for so many years.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder, and PTSD after years of trauma. I am also plural, which means I have more than one person who exists through my body sometimes. My alters and spirit guides are my supportive, loving family, not my enemies. At some point throughout my life, sometimes more often than not, I was doubted and not believed. It took years to be believed by mental health professionals, and just as much time to get others to see that I wasn’t faking it. That I wasn’t too young and attractive to be disabled.

When I came out as a trans man in 2015, I knew that my life wasn’t going to get any easier, but a huge change was going to take place. I was finally discovering who I was and I learned to accept that. I spent a long time learning new ways of existing and living on my own and being self-sufficient. I also had to cope with rejection in many different and painful ways.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve hurt people I didn’t mean to hurt. I’ve been too loud and too honest with the wrong people, and I fell in love with my melancholy. My depression was like a toxic lover I tried to shake off but found comfort in. It was familiar. It was in my own head. The conversations and time spent with my alters and spirit guides through it wrapped me in a blanket of comfort, and it created a bubble around me that no one was allowed to enter.

I’ve nearly died a few times, and they were self-inflicted injuries. I’ve been in psychiatric wards — one time for a week at least — and I thought my life would remain static and unchanging. Always fighting for something. Fighting just to be able to live and experience life like everyone else. Fighting to be believed.

I wish I could’ve appreciated the change sooner. It felt so slow and impossible. In reality, the change for the better occurred over a five-year span — five years out of the thirty-one I’ve lived. In that perspective, it really didn’t take so long after all.

I’d taken dialectical behavioral therapy classes and learned mindfulness. I stopped drinking every day and I eventually stopped smoking to start my medical transition with testosterone. I’d found a counselor who finally understood me and believed me when I opened up about being plural, as well as other things that I often struggled to find someone to empathize with. I got my own place and started paying my own bills and I got the assistance I needed to get things done for myself. I became self-sufficient over these five years.

And now, after butting heads with an insurance company for three of those years and dealing with discrimination, I walked into the hospital on Monday, July 20th, 2020 at 8AM to get top surgery.

It’s been about a week and a half since surgery and everything went well. My mom has finally come around and accepts me, and she was sitting right beside me before and after coming out of surgery in the hospital. She’s cared for me at home until I can do things myself, and that’s been very important for my mental health. My dad has also come around, as she’s told me, which is unbelievable for someone so old-fashioned and resistant to change.

Two days ago mom said something that I thought I’d never hear. I’d confided in her that I always felt like the family failure. I was the only one who couldn’t work a normal nine to five job. I’m a disabled writer with severe mental illness, and I certainly don’t have it all together. I always felt like the strange one — the black sheep that didn’t belong.

“Oh, you think everyone else has it together?” she said. She then told me something I never knew about a family member I thought had it right. Who was accomplished in my eyes. And I realized then that I was living a false reality in my head.

I pay my own bills on time every time. I take care of my health and am compliant with therapy. I am working on a writing career I hope will take off with a bit of luck so I don’t have to rely on disability, and the hours and money I put into my books take up quite a bit of time and resources that I manage mostly alright. I rarely have to call anyone to ask for help, if ever. Most importantly, everything I have right now — my home especially — I fought for and got myself.

I looked at her for a moment before it hit me. I haven’t failed at all. And that was the weirdest feeling in the world. It was as strange as waking up after surgery to realize I didn’t hate myself anymore. I’ve spent my entire life hating who I am, hating my body, and feeling like I was destined to always fail. That I would never be good enough. It was all so horribly wrong, and it made me realize how much of my life was dedicated to gaining my parents’ approval and acceptance I thought I would never get. That, and I’ve lived my life based on the hateful statements and identities others placed on me.

It’s a bit scary to gain closure. Everything in my life that was horribly wrong I now understand, have worked through, and I’ve finally closed that last door that kept leading me backward. Now, I have a clean slate to work from. I’ve never had this much freedom and clarity in my life, so I’m not sure what to do with it. I’m used to being on guard and wondering when something will go wrong, or watching my back at all times because I didn’t know who was going to hurt me or abandon me next. Now, I don’t really care about all of that stuff. I realized it really doesn’t matter.

With this blank slate, I’ll lay out who I am now. I’m an artist, a writer, and a gay trans man. I struggle with mental illness sometimes, but I have my head family — my alters and spirit guides — to get me on the right track again. I have an amazing and supportive healthcare team and a family that accepts me. I have a few close friends, but that’s all I need. I’m single and mostly fine with that, as being single is what allowed me to find myself in the first place. I am self-sufficient and most importantly, I’m safe and in control of my own life.

I have to stop looking back. None of that defines who I am now. What matters is living in the present and making plans for a future I once thought I wouldn’t see. And I have so many things I want to do if we survive this pandemic.

 

©2020 Shane Blackheart

Book Review: Forgotten Lives

Forgotten LivesForgotten Lives by Tristan Shaw

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Forgotten Lives by Tristan Shaw is a collection of short stories ranging from bizarre to horrific, and throughout all of the strangeness, there is dark humor to be had. This review contains many spoilers as there was much to critique, and it’s also a bit long due to this.

I enjoyed the campy feel of “The World’s Tallest Dwarf,” similar to reading short story collections like “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” The story is essentially about a dwarf who works in a carnival freak show, and he’s left to do cleanup work while others perform. A newcomer, Sergio, is ‘the world’s tallest dwarf.’ He takes over our narrator’s, the main character’s, tent and slowly gains favor, and everyone leaves the main character behind. The narrator is treated progressively poorer and is an outcast. I wish there was more of a reason for this. Was Sergio something more than a dwarf? How did his actions cause everyone to despise the main character? It’s an interesting story, but I’m left with too many questions.

In “Hagiography of a Corpse,” a man is killed for failing to have a license to wear shoes while living in an unnamed banana republic. Over time, his corpse is lifted and carried across the land, gathering many people to protest the injustices of a hateful president. A military general is even so intimidated that he flees ‘on a jet ski.’ Eventually, the president loses his mind due to the corpse being thrown through his office window, and he gives power to the corpse.

At this point, the story’s humor was getting a bit on the ridiculous side, but that may just be because it’s not my kind of humor.

In “Waiting,” Sophie, a young girl, is raised by her grandparents due to her mother leaving to go on various trips. Upon returning, the mother starts spending more and more time at night looking up at the stars. She confides in her daughter an alien secret, and that they are going home soon. The daughter rides with her mother out into a field, and they gaze up at the stars sitting on the car.

I liked this story a lot more than the previous one, but I still have many questions. Was the mother truly an alien? Did the mother a have mental illness and it caused a delusion, as it was mentioned she wasn’t supposed to even drive? This story has a lot of promise and I feel it should be expanded upon.

“The Society for the Preservation of Vice” is exactly as it sounds, a story about a society of deviants trying to preserve vice. It was clear, and especially upon the mention of the man’s name, that this was reminiscent of the Marquis de Sade. While I appreciated that, there were a few things in the story that lost me, such as the popular horror trope of Satanists dawning black robes, sacrificing virgins, and drawing evil pentagrams. This is a trope I heavily dislike and am tired of seeing, so my opinion on the story is tainted by that. Some may enjoy it where I did not.

In “A Gourmet’s Confession,” a gourmet finds himself suffering from a loss of taste. This leads him to try cannibalism, and he finds he’s able to taste again. So proceeds his gourmet adventures with human flesh written as a last letter.

There are a few jokes in this one that were a bit much, and while I’m not easily offended, others may be. Although the gourmet’s character is an awful, selfish one, comparing a loss of taste as being a worse tragedy than the bombing of Hiroshima or the loss of a woman’s only child was… we’ll just leave it at that. Taking that out, this was a good read.

In “Nostalgia,” a German man, August, leaves to become a mercenary. He’s known for his fine ability of dismemberment but is also described as a kind man who is loyal and diligent in his duties. He comes down with a case of nostalgia, and a doctor sends him home for a cure.

This had a very Twilight Zone feel to it. It was a well-rounded and complete story, and definitely quite odd, especially in the way the doctor practically beat his patient after failing with leeches to cure his ailment, but it fits with the darkly humorous theme and era (1600s).

In “The Adventure of My Uncle’s Murder,” a Sherlock Holmes style adventure unfolds as our main character becomes taken with the detective’s stories. They follow the path of their uncle’s murder and, due to their interest in police matters being solely based on literature, they end up on a wild goose chase.

I was lost on the foreign words for clothing pieces I didn’t understand. I would’ve had to look up a few definitions as the clothing wasn’t described in any other way, so this took me out of the story. There were also a few word choices that didn’t fit right, which caused me to pause in question. Overall, it was an enjoyable story despite the nuances.

In “The Spirit Photographer,” Vivian makes a living by fooling people into thinking she can photograph their dead family members. A quick bit of editing with a personal photo and the family has, what appears to be, a spirit photograph. One particular couple, however, wanders in and asks for a picture of their son, Knut. Vivian begins to see that ghosts are indeed real, and there is something about Knut.

I’m still wondering what happened to Knut and why the parents took forever to return for their photograph. I think it hinted at self-harm or abuse for the child, but I’m not sure. It was written in the form of journal entries, so this could be why we have questions. While I did enjoy the story, there were too many things unanswered.

“A Final Masterpiece,” I think, is an essay about an infamous theater performer, Evzen Svoboda. I’m not sure why this was included in the book since it doesn’t seem to be fiction, as it has reference notes throughout and at the end. It was genuinely shocking and strange in nature which fits the style of the book, but not knowing whether it was a genuine essay or not, I tried to look up some cited sources. I was mostly led to confusing foreign articles. At this point, I skimmed because I was unsure of why it was here and it read like a well-researched report in a book of otherwise fictional tales.

At last, “Eternal Glory” is about Tiamat, who watches helplessly as Inanna chokes to death on honey and dies, and after a time, seeks out a philosopher to tell him about his death, which is odd because as Tiamat is identified in this story as male, according to studies, Tiamat was a goddess. That aside, the philosopher mocks Tiamat and is put to death. This starts a war, and Tiamat ends up taking his own life. I’m assuming the characters are the goddesses Tiamat and Inanna, and not just people named after them, but I’m not familiar with much of their lore.

I had difficulty getting through “Eternal Glory” as it just isn’t a genre I’m a fan of. There was a war happening and then eventually Tiamat kills himself, which was ironic, but beyond that, this one lost me.

Overall, I feel that while the book started off rather well, regardless of leaving me with many questions for a few of the stories, it seemed to drag near the end with an essay thrown in before a story about a Babylonian war. The last two did not feel like they fit the overall theme of the book.

I encourage the author to continue writing, but to better organize and choose which stories should go in a collection. Strange and weird definitely go together and can cross genres if done well, but overall, while I understand the general theme of weirdness and dark humor, some of the stories left a lot to be desired.

As always, I give many kudos to the author for writing a book and putting it out there. There is always the chance that a particular book is just not for me, and others may enjoy it where I did not, but I highly recommend the author take more care in future books to be sure to answer the important questions posed by a story. I appreciate the chance to review this book and wish the author nothing but the best for their future.

View all my reviews

Book Review: The Gray Man of Smoke and Shadows

The Gray Man of Smoke and Shadows (Vampire Series of Extreme Horror)The Gray Man of Smoke and Shadows by Todd Sullivan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book in an extreme horror series about vampires, and as in the last book, these aren’t your ordinary vampires. This adds to the uniqueness of the series, and it most definitely stands out among other vampire stories because of its gruesome nature. I believe Todd Sullivan has hit upon something great for those who can handle a bit of gore. This review contains spoilers.

Hyeri is hellbent on killing her uncle, Sa-Hak, and for good reason.

As little girls go missing, Hyeri scours Korea for the man who traumatized her. Meanwhile, Min Jae, a member of the Natural Police employed by the Gwanlyo, an organization of vampires, is out for Hyeri’s head for breaking the Gwanlyo code. A human, Seok-Jo, who is to become paramount to both of them, is wasting away in his apartment when his daughter is targetted by Hyeri’s predator uncle.

These separate stories dance around each other as they all find a common goal, although nothing turns out as expected. Min Jae never saw himself working alongside the Man Killer, and his target, Hyeri, and neither of the two imagined a half-golem could even exist, let alone fight alongside them for his daughter’s life.

Linking them all together, however, is a dark and sinister force that has taken hold of Sa-Hak, the predator. The Gray Man of Smoke and Shadows can give power to a human not unlike immortality, and while this demonic entity enjoys being entertained by the cruelest of acts, hence targetting Sa-Hak for its amusement, it has its limits. And it messed with the wrong people.

In the beginning, our reintroduction to Hyeri is a great reminder of how ruthless she is. Sensual, sadistic, and powerful as she seduces a man and lures him into her arms, only for him to desire her so much he chases her, but is quickly crushed by an oncoming bus. I was really glad to see her as a main character in this book because she was my favorite in the last.

Although Hyeri has great power and it’s been many years, she still experiences the fear of her uncle that trauma would impose on anyone. This was a realistic touch that I appreciated. Although she’s done horrible things to others, it really made me sympathize with her regardless.

I want to take a moment to point out Todd’s wonderful ability to invoke a feeling of repulsion with descriptions, especially right in the beginning. He really has a talent for this, and that’s part of what really makes this book come alive.

As the story progresses, there is at least one action scene where I genuinely thought Hyeri was done for. This is when Min Jae shows up to make an attempt on her life for the first time. Her uncle is in the fray as well, and it was also a surprise that this initial confrontation happened so quickly. This was also a sign that the characters were certainly going to survive, and I couldn’t put the book down.

Again, as in the first book, Todd Sullivan really projects a thorough knowledge of Korea to progress the story, and it fully immerses the reader in the atmosphere. While I don’t personally know much about Korea, I did find it easy to become immersed with the characters due to the little details, such as building descriptions, city names, and right down to brand names in a convenience store.

Later in the book around chapters fourteen through fifteen, things shifted once more to add in Seok-Jo’s story, and I was beyond excited. I was definitely taken by surprise at this turn of events with him. The progression with Seok-Jo becoming a figure of half-stone half-man, a half-golem, seemed out of nowhere, but considering his past with an ominous stone garden embedded deep in his family’s history, it all worked together.

The fight at the end of the book was intense, blood-soaked, and full of gore promised by the series. The delivery was satisfying at the end of it, and I couldn’t help but chuckle when Min Jae got his own bit of revenge on Hyeri for her taking his foot earlier in the book.

While the first book was great and I really enjoyed it, this second volume is very engrossing and truly shows Todd Sullivan’s talent! I didn’t have any major, or even minor, complaints as I read through it. I was extremely impressed with how well it was written and how fast it sucked me in, and I highly recommend it to all who love horror. I am looking forward to more from Todd Sullivan, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to review “The Gray Man of Smoke and Shadows.”

View all my reviews

Book review: He Digs A Hole

He Digs A HoleHe Digs A Hole by Danger Slater

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Harrison and Tabitha met in a Home Depot.

Ironically, after having hit it off very quickly due to an in-depth, philosophical conversation, they ended up living a very meaningless life. Your typical suburb, backyard barbecues, plastic smile, sickeningly polite, average life. They’d laughed at Brad and Jennifer Flatly, two of the most average and boring neighbors you could ever dread sharing a space with. Yet, they realized after being so dull and uninterested in their marriage, as well as losing their naughty bits due to a fading interest — likening them to a Ken and Barbie doll — they’d fallen victim to the same fate.

So one night, after eating a strange seed from a spleen fruit that grew on a horrific tree resembling arms and hands, Brad Moss replaced his arms with a trowel and a garden rake, and he began to dig. And the whispers in his head demanded he continue. It was more important than he could explain. There was definitely more to that odd tree in the Moss’s yard that was one of a kind.

What proceeds is an adventure unlike anything you would expect, but to be fair, nothing about this book is to be expected. A sea of blood, worm monsters, three introspective trials, and all of the body horror to make your stomach queasy follows a leap of faith into an ever-expanding hole. And despite the grotesquery and otherwise bizarre plot, there is a deeper message to be had here about relationships and maintaining enthusiasm for them. About the struggles and impossible ideals that can destroy them.

This is my second Danger Slater book, and I wasn’t disappointed. The way he weaves philosophical meaning into the craziest of bizarro plots is something I never knew I needed. It was the thing to refresh my love for reading, so I definitely give him huge props for that. As it’s bizarro fiction, you’re going to have to read with an open mind that is ready to accept anything. And I mean anything. This includes oddly sexy worms with slime and all. It was a fun ride that I sat back and enjoyed.

Danger truly does steer the ride for us, rather we want him to or not. The narrator and the reader, especially, are characters in this book. At times, Harrison and Tabitha are able to see what is being written and react to it, and it’s clear the main characters are not in control of the story, but helpless to the author’s whims. I genuinely love some good fourth wall breaking stuff, and while it did make the book campy and gave it a unique character, there were a few parts near the end where it seemed to get a bit too lengthy. Some people may not like being told what to think while reading, no matter how comical it may get, but if you’re open-minded to that, it doesn’t ruin the experience.

Everything in the book hit me out of nowhere in the way bizarro tends to, and I found myself genuinely surprised at each new chapter and scene. While time jumps around enthusiastically in this book, it works. It falls in line with the theme.

As I was expecting, the philosophical nature of this book made me happy. It made me think, which is a winning quality in my opinion. It made the ending feel that much more powerful and meaningful, and it really made me think about our ideas of a perfect relationship, what we expect out of them, and what the reality is. Underneath all of the craziness in this book, it’s heartwrenching and tugged at my emotions.

Overall, despite the author’s control over the book, I truly enjoyed it. I didn’t deduct a star because the overbearing narration, at times, became so comical and very much Danger that I forgave it. I’d recommend this book to those who are open-minded and willing to accept that rules are meant to be broken, and all of the rules were broken. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more Danger.

View all my reviews

June 2020 updates

It’s been a while since I’ve written about what’s going on in my life. The pandemic is still all around us and nothing is easing up, and my mental health has been awful for a few months at least. I’ve rarely left my apartment in ninety days and have mostly focused on self-care, coping with mental illness, and surviving to see a day when everything will get better. And everything has to get better eventually. I know that statement annoys a lot of people when I say it, but we have to hold onto some kind of hope.

In May, I finally got a laptop I’ve been after. Ironically, it was so I could take my writing with me to the coffee shop and get out of the apartment. I was doing so well and I felt the best I ever had before all of this, and my mental health was improving. I couldn’t stay home. Life was starting to go so well and so right.

Now, the laptop has found use in relocating to my bedroom to work on projects. Being stuck at home in an apartment building full of people who make a ton of noise, party, get drunk, or in the case of the person next to me, are even a bit dangerous, has been damaging to my creative drive. Usually, I would leave to my favorite coffee shop to escape all of this, but my bedroom and an open window on the cooler days will have to do.

Changing my writing environment at home did bring back my creativity. I managed to write a novella, a 26k-word memoir about my childhood with a small fantasy element added in. I finished it in about three days and edited it in one more day. I truly feel it’s one of my better stories I’ve written in a while, and every time I go back to it to do another self-conscious sweep, I fall in love with it a bit more. It’s with my editor now, so we’ll see what comes of it!

I’m also in the process of (finally) querying my first complete novel, STIGMA, after sitting on it since January. I was so intimidated by how difficult everyone said writing a query was that I put it off. I kept telling myself it wasn’t a good time because I needed to take care of my mental health. I found that once I actually started the damn letter, it wasn’t so bad after all. A wonderful agent on Twitter offered to help critique my letter once my first draft was done, and by the second draft, she said it was so much better! I also got recommended an agent to submit to from a pretty nice agency, so… yeah. This is happening.

The one thing hindering me now from actually submitting is the dreaded synopsis. I knew I’d hit another roadblock because synopses are hard as hell to write. I decided to just dive in like I did with the query. At least I have something now, and even if it’s bad or totally wrong, I’ve got more than a blank page staring at me with the threat of stopping my future writing career in its tracks.

Making myself get back to work was the best thing I could do. It gave my life meaning again and a hope for some kind of future, whatever that may be now. I’m dreaming again of things I most certainly will never see, but at least my head’s in a more dreamy, happy state, and it’s going to help me survive all this madness.

What Lies Beyond

A Gothic short story

A dark figure approached the cemetery, his heart heavy with memories of ages past. He’d been alive for too many years, and he found himself pushing past the cast-iron gates to escape the monotony of it all. Although the moon was high in the sky and all was clear, the city lights near the road blotted out the stars, and the sky cast a strange aura over the resting ground that revealed broken stones and gnarled tree limbs. Roots twisted and fought with marble as older stones were lifted from the ground, and as the figure walked deeper, a silence drifted about the monuments.

Once lost within the twists and turns, the cemetery became a forest of weathered stone and iron, the mausoleums and memorials standing the test of time. Statues wept black tears as age washed away the memories of those who laid beneath them, and the vampire paused to bask in their beauty. It had been some time since he’d wandered around a cemetery at night, but it was a call that beckoned to him every year around the same date. He closed his eyes and bowed his head in memory, his shaggy black hair falling in his face where it was swept to the side.

A soft breeze broke the silence as leaves rustled across the vampire’s path, and he looked off into the dark distance, his red eyes providing their own light. It was then that the peculiar feeling of being watched washed over him, and he turned to look in every direction to find nothing but stone, brush, and ancient gnarled trees. Curiosity became his guide as he followed the direction of the wind. It led him further along the path, and an old church that was small and long since abandoned came into view. 

He slipped his hands into his black leather jacket and continued until a small voice made him pause. It came with the wind and went just as soon with it, and sitting on a gravestone across from him was a figure that seemed to blend with nature itself. 

The being’s voice was melancholic, but coal-black lips curved into a smile as he set dark eyes upon the late-night visitor. “You can hear me?”

“And see you.” The vampire approached the specter as he became clearer. He was in the form of a young man, his pallor white with dark circles around large eyes. Staring into them was like gazing into the void itself, and dark short hair fell to cover his face upon noticing the vampire’s gaze. He looked off to the side and hugged himself as the vampire spoke, “Is that your grave?”

“No.” The entity glimpsed the vampire out of the corner of his eye. “I was never like you.”

“You’re a spirit, though?” The vampire smiled and bowed for flourish to humor them both. “I’m a vampire. My name is Lestan.”

“A vampire!” The spirit smiled and slid from the stone he occupied, approaching his visitor and resting a hand on the side of the vampire’s face. A wave of sadness and something dark enveloped Lestan upon contact, and his chest clenched tight with emotion. Seeing the look of despair upon the vampire’s face, the spirit quickly reclaimed his hand and became anxious. “Oh no… I am sorry! I forget that I cannot touch others.” 

The spirit turned to back away before Lestan grabbed his wrist to stop him, and the vampire was flooded with another wave of anguish. “No. It’s fine.” A lump formed in Lestan’s throat as the urge to weep overcame him, but he swallowed it down. “What’s your name?”

“I do not have one.” The spirit’s form began to fade as he phased through the vampire’s hand, floating backward as he curled into his black robe. He brought his knees to his chest where he rested in the air — visibly upset and unable to speak any further. 

Lestan noticed that the darkness consuming him receded with the spirit’s touch, but it didn’t deter him. It was too peculiar. “If you were never human and you don’t have a name, then what are you?”

“I am a guide.” The spirit unfurled and rested his bare feet on the ground, the loose dirt drifting aside as if a soft breath had disturbed its peace. “I was born from despair itself, and I guide those who have died a lonely and fitful death to their afterlife.” The spirit lifted his hand and upturned his palm, and in it formed a gristly heart that dripped dark blood onto the ground through his fingers. He then focused his void-like eyes on Lestan to search him, a look of understanding dawning upon him. “That is why you can see me.”

“I didn’t exactly die.” Lestan focused on the heart that flickered before an anguished moan drifted around it, cries fading into a crescendo before the organ flickered out of existence. The cries, thankfully, went with it. The blood that had dripped to the ground was gone. 

“In a way you have. But more importantly…” The spirit dared to come close again but kept a distance for fear of scaring Lestan away — now that the vampire knew what his touch brought with it. “You have lost someone. Although your heart barely beats, it aches for that person. That brought you here tonight.”

“You can tell?” Lestan smiled sadly as his hand drifted over his heart, his long black nails digging into his white t-shirt. “I guess you would.”

“I am sorry for your loss.” The spirit wanted more than anything to comfort the vampire. It had been the only time he’d been able to interact with another creature in decades, and the guilt ate away at him as he realized there was nothing he could do. He had only ever existed for one purpose, and to interact with the living was one thing he was forbidden to do — if the living could even perceive him — but this vampire stood before him, seeing him without fear. And Lestan was not among the living. 

“It was a long time ago. Over a few hundred years now. She was my sister.” Lestan’s hand slipped into his pocket for want of something to do.

The spirit was even more intrigued and obviously not experienced in the way of tact. “How did she die? Was her suffering great? Did you remain by her side?” The spirit was rapt with interest, the vampire falling silent as words caught in his throat. It certainly was inappropriate to ask such things, and it was bad enough he’d ended up there with enough hurt inside him as it was. 

He couldn’t possibly relive it again in explanation, and he most certainly couldn’t explain it in any way that any being would understand. “I held her through her last breath.” Lestan closed his eyes and lowered his head as the memories resurfaced. They’d already been fresh in his mind due to it being the anniversary of her death. He’d remembered every single year even though he’d told himself long ago to move on from it.

It seemed the spirit understood that he’d breached a sore subject and looked around nervously, his feet shuffling in the dirt below. Lestan opened his eyes and found it interesting how the earth responded to the specter. It was as if the spirit were corporeal at times but faded whenever something upset him. The vampire looked up and smiled.

“I… I meant no harm. Oh no.” A light blue lit up the spirit’s cheeks and he looked away. “I just get curious, you know? I find the ways in which humans can perish fascinating and it helps me to better understand human grief. Grief brings me joy, so…” Lestan extended his hand and waited in silence, the spirit stopping in his rambling to observe the outstretched fingers. “What… Why are you doing that?”

“A handshake in solidarity.” Lestan chuckled and wiggled his fingers. “It seems we’ve both seen some things in our existences.”

“You… you want to touch me knowing what will happen? I cannot.” 

“Please? I imagine I’ll become desensitized soon enough. Exposure therapy.” The vampire winked and caused the spirit to fall into another embarrassed fit. 

A partially transparent hand reached out to take the vampire’s briefly before withdrawing again. A spark of something the specter couldn’t explain formed within him as he noticed Lestan’s stern expression. “Are you alright?”

“I knew it was coming. I prepared myself.” Although it was a moment of great emotional pain, Lestan had brushed it off just as quickly knowing it wasn’t his own. It was merely the reflections of grief the spirit carried with him.

“Oh, you can do that? That is wonderful.” 

“Yeah…” Lestan wanted to call him something other than ‘spirit’ or ‘guide’. He racked his brain and settled with sleeping on it for the next day. “Hey, I have to call you something if we’re going to be friends.”

“Friends? Us?” The spirit felt the spark grow stronger, and it expanded until something was screaming at him to run away. Dread washed over him as if he’d done something out of line and he began to fade. Lestan moved to reach out for him — touch him as he had before — but his hands went straight through. The spirit’s voice quivered. “I am sorry. I cannot!” 

With that, the presence was gone and Lestan stood in the middle of the large cemetery alone.

He spun around in all directions, hoping to catch a drift of wind as a sign or a glimpse of something moving. He finally settled his sight back on the grave the spirit had rested upon and spoke into the night. “If you can hear me, I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll come right back to this stone and wait for you.”

With that, Lestan left the cemetery with a plan. To live in such misery and exist for nothing but that misery was no way for any entity to carry on. The spirit appeared to be a being of his own with independent thoughts and ideas and feelings. Now, he just needed a name.

decorative-line-break-29

The wind rustled through the spirit’s translucent form, his hair unmoving in the breeze. He stared at the moon as if he were seeing every minute detail, its rocky and cold surface beckoning to him as did the vastness of space. He craved the void but only ever crossed into it when necessary. Otherwise, he was afraid he’d become lost and never return. That was not his purpose, and he knew his place and where he had to remain. To leave would be to abandon those fraught with grief due to their own unfortunate demise, and that was something the spirit would never wish upon any creature. 

He lifted his hand and the battered heart appeared, the agony contained within reaching a volume that could be heard throughout the cemetery. Every soul he led into the next world left their sorrows with him, and in his heart, he felt the weight of every single one. Hundreds — thousands — of cries and haunting screams rustled the energy around him, and the trees swayed with the sheer force of the energy until the spirit withdrew, the heart fizzling out to return to him.

He looked out across the cemetery before slipping off the tombstone he occupied. He didn’t walk often as mortals tended to, but after meeting the vampire earlier that night, he felt the need to think, and to think brought its own kind of melancholy. He’d never spoken to another creature at length. It had been enough to cause his entire existence to pause, but what was even more curious was the vampire’s persistence in wanting to know him. It simply wasn’t the way things were supposed to be, and a powerful anxiety claimed him, the grass beneath his feet flattening with an ethereal breeze as his energy sparked in the darkness. 

A name. The vampire had said something about a name before the spirit vanished. He knew the meaning of them and their importance, but he wasn’t anything important enough in his own mind to be deserving of one. He was just… there. He existed for his purpose and although he’d put a name to that purpose for the vampire’s sake of understanding, it wasn’t even close to the truth. The spirit sighed, a pale blue glow emanating from him as he walked among the shadows. Speaking with the vampire had brought more complications than he wanted to deal with.

Cold stone caressed the spirit’s body as he drifted through it, the mausoleum steps just below him as he hovered near the walls. Thin, vine-like branches wound their way through the narrow openings in the walls, their tendrils dry and clinging to life as they stretched over the worn surface. Silver strands of moonlight disturbed the peaceful dark and spilled upon the floor where the spirit drifted past, the stone steps leading down to introduce a wintry cold despite the budding spring above. Stopping once he was below ground, the spirit gazed around the quiet room.

Hollowed out shelves in the stonework lined the walls, their presence barely visible to the naked eye in the purest of darknesses. The spirit’s black, void-like eyes allowed him a glimpse into that world that none were able to perceive. He was as much a part of this darkness as it was of him, and within it, he could see bones lying neatly and untouched in their respective shrouds. The materials were wrought with decay and their jewels tarnished to never shine again, insects crawling over and between them on their path to devour what was left of the body beneath them. 

It was beautiful.

The spirit drifted over to a body that was much less decayed than the others, the bones jutting out where flesh had all but dissipated with time. His hand trailed over the skull that was thinly veiled with parchment-like skin, and he pressed his fingers gently into the eyes, his own falling shut as he felt a semblance of something that was once there. A sadness gripped at his chest and he pulled his hand away. These were his true friends and the only ones he could ever allow himself to have. They could not tempt him away from his purpose or claim to give him a name. They’d become just as meaningless as he, their own names lost with the passage of time. 

The spirit dropped to the stone floor among the spiders. The tomb wall behind him brought comfort as he welcomed its frigid chill, and the energy of the ever-changing earth seeped through him. He could hear every pulse within the womb of Mother Nature herself as he basked in it, and he closed his eyes once more as he took in the sound. A curious thought crossed his mind.

Perhaps the vampire would enjoy it just as much with him. If not, then all would return to as it should be and maybe he would understand.

decorative-line-break-29

Lestan pushed past the cemetery gates and walked briskly through the grounds. He’d arrived earlier than the night before, the moon not quite high in the sky and the stars just visible. The sounds of humanity faded behind him as he went deeper among the trees, the natural darkness washing over all in place of the streetlight’s glow. He searched for any sign of the spirit and upon finding none, Lestan settled with trying to find the exact spot he’d come across the entity before.

Even with nocturnal eyes it took time, but Lestan was able to find the stone from the night before. Everything seemed as it should and there was nothing present but a slight breeze drifting through the leaves. Lestan looked to the ground as disappointment set in and he dropped to the grass, his leather pants wrinkling as he brought his knees to his chest. He watched the tombstone for some time, his will to remain stronger than his desire to forget anything that had happened. He was certain it had, after all. He wasn’t prone to hallucinating and he remembered most details that humans did not, and he was adamant on speaking with such an interesting specter once more. He refused to let it go.

After a time, the foliage stirred around him and he perked up, a human-like form fading into existence before the tombstone. Lestan jumped to his feet and waited for the spirit to fully manifest before approaching him. He held out his hand in greeting as he had the night before. The specter watched him with unease, his form shrinking back as he looked from the outstretched hand to the vampire’s smile. 

Lestan broke the awkward silence. “There’s no harm in a handshake, is there?”

“Quite a lot coming from me.” The spirit reached out despite his words, his form coming and going as his uncertainty built. 

Lestan grasped what he could of the ethereal hand and chuckled when his fingers faded through it. As it manifested into something more solid, the vampire felt the wave of grief as he had the night before, although he hadn’t been prepared for it that time. It hit him as if he’d been punched in the stomach, the shock of it causing him to jerk his hand back. The emotions faded almost as quickly and the spirit withdrew, hugging himself as he curled up in mid-air. 

“Please, don’t touch me anymore.”

“It just caught me off guard, love. Exposure therapy, remember?” Lestan smiled. “It won’t scare me away.”

“But it’s painful for you to experience that much grief. Vampire or not.” The spirit uncurled and stood upon the ground, his form manifesting into something less ethereal. “This is why we cannot be friends.”

Lestan lifted a questioning eyebrow. “I’m not like a human, and I definitely won’t break because of a brief emotional overload. I’ve had plenty of time to deal with my own anyway, and they aren’t pretty, I assure you.” Lestan chuckled. 

The spirit couldn’t understand why the vampire was so cheerful and it caused him to fall silent in question. No. They couldn’t understand each other. It just wasn’t possible and not meant to be. The energy around the spirit caused reality to warp as he became distressed. “We cannot exist as you desire, Lestan.” The spirit brought his hands to his mouth to cope with his looming anxiety. He had felt something that he couldn’t quite explain, and it wasn’t within himself. Something was wrong. He did not change and neither did his purpose, and it would not do so now. Yet, somehow, something was changing and he couldn’t figure out what. 

“And what divine law says we can’t?” Lestan crossed his arms, defiant and confident. “How do you know what’s forbidden if you’ve never experienced anything?”

“These are good questions.” The spirit’s form flickered as he became upset, and his voice reverberated and crackled like a radio with bad reception. “Questions I am not prepared to answer.”

“Then don’t answer them yet.” Lestan backed down and gestured to the cemetery before them — a portion that he had yet to explore. “Can we walk? Just exist together for a little while?”

“Just exist?” The entity was much more favorable to this decision and the flickering ceased, his gentle and quiet voice audible again. It was then that he remembered his thoughts from the night before. Surely, after showing the vampire just how different they truly were, Lestan would leave the idea alone. “Yes. Existing is fine. Follow me.”

The two drifted through the cemetery in silence. Lestan only spoke up as he noticed something unique in their path. The spirit was content with this, never replying but smiling back to acknowledge the other’s presence. He stopped them once they reached the mausoleum he’d occupied the night before, and he drifted around front to see that it was locked. A sadness enveloped him. He didn’t have to worry about those sorts of things. “I am sorry, it seems you cannot come with me to see what I have to show you.”

“In there?” Lestan approached the chain lock and held it in his hand. The rust flaked against his fair skin.

“Yes, inside. Below.” The spirit dispersed through the peeling green doors and was absent for a second, only to resurface as his face faded through the door. Lestan found it amusing and bit his lip to keep from laughing out loud. The spirit’s distressed expression didn’t affect his humor. “There is no way to let you inside from here, either.”

“A chain lock isn’t going to keep me out, love. Move back — or don’t, actually.” He finally chuckled. “It’s not like you can actually get in the way, can you?”

“No.” The spirit’s interest was piqued as he hovered beside the vampire, watching intently as hands curled around the chain and pulled tight. The lock popped away from the metal and rust crumbled to the ground as Lestan applied his full strength, and the iron gate swung open. The vampire smiled in victory and pushed against the green doors, the lock in them still intact. It went the same way as the chain, and Lestan stumbled inside. He was careful not to fall down the stairs and stopped before them, allowing the spirit to join him. It seemed the entity was able to manipulate objects in the basest of ways only, which allowed him to close the door behind them. Despite the streaks of moonlight inside, they were awash in darkness.

“So, what’s in here?”

“Down there.” The spirit drifted ahead and Lestan followed him down into an even darker abyss. 

The pupils in the vampire’s eyes enlarged like a feline’s as he adjusted to the darkness, seeing everything on par with the entity. “Did you know them?” He looked around at the decayed forms resting in their respective hollows. They’d been down there a while, otherwise the stench would be beyond what the vampire could handle. 

The spirit stood in the center of the room, glad that Lestan could see along with him. “No. I just like it here. Come, stand still.” Lestan did as he was told and stood before the spirit in complete silence. “We are beneath the earth now. Can’t you hear it?” 

Lestan shook his head. “I hear the wind outside and the insects.”

“There’s something else. Maybe you can’t.” The spirit became sad once more but was comforted by the dull hum of the earth’s pulse. “It’s the sound of life from the source itself.”

“You can hear that?” Lestan finally understood and was in awe. “What does it sound like?”

“Listen. If you can hear the insects, you can hear the pulse. Close your eyes.” The entity closed his own and a small smile was on his lips as he heard it, the thrum surrounding his senses as he became lost in the earth’s song. Lestan had closed his eyes for a moment as well, and they stood there in silence for some time before the vampire finally reopened his eyes. The spirit seemed so serene and at peace, and he wondered what it would be like to see other positive emotions on the melancholic being’s face. It suited him more than he would likely ever be able to imagine.

Moving on pure impulse, Lestan took a step toward the spirit. He was lost in Mother Nature’s thrum and ignored the vampire’s close proximity as Lestan paused right before the specter, their noses nearly touching. Lestan’s lips parted as he observed the entity’s face up close. He found a beauty in it — in its shockingly pale features with just a touch of humanity. The coal black lips… Lestan wondered what they felt like, if they had a feeling at all. He was able to touch the spirit’s hand at times, and he was sure that while the specter was distracted he would have his chance to find out. 

Lestan slowly ghosted his lips over the spirit’s, a faint feeling of something similar to flesh meeting his own. The being finally noticed their closeness and was uncertain of what to do, his body remaining frozen as the vampire slid his tongue along the ethereal lips that had started to tremble. He finally pulled away, his form more corporeal than ever as a light blue dusted across his face. He had felt a spark of something that he couldn’t put a name to. It was warm, which was something the spirit did not and should not have experienced. It was nice in all of the wrong ways, and he backed away until he was at the wall of the mausoleum. His form was fading.

“No, don’t go, sweetheart. There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Lestan covered the distance between them and reached out to touch the spirit’s hand, but his own just bled right through. “Don’t you want to know the name I thought of for you?”

“I am not worthy of a name.” The spirit’s voice shook and became unclear again. “Please do not give me a name. I have no individuality and am not anything other than my purpose.”

“Jack. I want to call you that so I don’t have to keep referring to you as ‘spirit’.”

“Jack? No.” The spirit curled into himself as he flickered.

“It’s from a movie that reminded me of you, honestly.” Lestan smiled awkwardly. He was suddenly self-conscious. He’d never had to name anything before. What was worse was that it made the spirit highly uncomfortable, even more so than the kiss he’d attempted. 

“I must go. Please leave me and do not return.”

“I can’t do that!” Lestan panicked as the spirit began to fade entirely. “I don’t want to leave you alone. You have to be lonely by yourself existing in this agony all the time. You deserve to be happy.” His words resounded off the walls as he was alone at last. 

The vampire approached the stone wall the spirit had been huddled against and rested his head against the cold surface. “Jack — please let me call you Jack. If you’re still listening, I’ll be back tomorrow. Wait for me by the same tombstone, okay? I’ll be there until you show up. Even if it’s almost sunrise.”

decorative-line-break-29

“J

   a

      c

         k

            .

               .

                  .”

The name echoed in the spirit’s soul as he rested within the void. It reverberated throughout the darkness like a strange sound, the simple syllable creating an energy of its own that burned within him. He curled into a ball, the sound of Mother Nature no longer there to comfort him as it had been moments ago. He was truly alone and at home in that darkness as he felt the agony within his heart reaching out — overpowering him. It was the only kind of pain an entity like him could feel, and it was… agonizing.

He was frightened. Everything was so unsure and he did everything he could to hold onto the memories of his solitary past, since before he met the vampire. Before Lestan moved in close and acted so peculiarly. He’d touched the spirit’s mouth with his, and then… 

A pale blue vibration rippled out across the expanse of darkness as the spirit’s form flickered. As if a candle flame threatening to go out, his form warped and formed again, its blue glow burning in a way he couldn’t quite understand. He knew what the souls told him when they’d crossed over — before he’d left them to discover their own afterlife. Many had mentioned that burning flame within themselves long after death. It was an emotion that stood the test of time and mortality, and one that he had only ever heard the name of before. 

It carried with it a need so strong that it reshaped a person’s soul entirely. For good or bad, the spirit had always seen it no better than something to tarnish what was underneath. The reality that it had tarnished him and had started to change him as well caused the tears to flow, their thin, black streams caressing his face and neck as they poured freely. 

The emotion slithered its way into his ethereal heart and pushed the comforting melancholia aside. He was lost with it and struggled to make the tears stop, but they flowed relentlessly as he curled his arms around himself. For the first time in his entire existence, he was considering a change and it wasn’t a voluntary one. Although he was not supposed to feel anything other than the grief that resided in him — the grief that lost souls stored within his form to be able to move on — he was feeling something that called forth a primal yearning that only man or beast could truly understand. 

The tears stopped and he gazed out into the void. The feeling rose up within him, caressing his form as if it were a pleasant breeze that brought forth a comforting omen. In the time he’d existed with the new emotion, nothing bad had happened. He remained just as he was and the void was still a comfort to him, and he thought no differently of anything he’d perceived before. Except for one thing in particular, and it brought the blue glow around him to a luminescence that pierced the darker edges of the blackness.

“Jack.” The name gained in familiarity as he uttered it again, and the new emotion within him fluttered at the sound. The vampire had bestowed a name upon him, and with it carried a freedom he wasn’t sure he was ready to, or could ever, embrace. There was a profound and greater reason for him to never be given a name, for his identity held one meaning that carried with it its own divine purpose. His sole purpose.

Death. 

One of many fractured beliefs and thoughtforms that spread throughout the consciousness of any living creature at any time. He had been born from a need for a figure to guide those who were lost, and whatever that had been called across millions of lips expanding through time, Death had been the universal word and purpose for the guide’s existence.

To be given a name as if he were among the living, as if he were a soul like those he guided, it was impossible. It was a disruption in the natural way of things. This vampire, however, had been interesting and unique enough to him to cause such a disruption. He had always been the last sight before a soul passed into a better, or worse, plane of existence. The vampire had seen him twice now, and the spirit had to decide whether he would meet with this strange creature a third time. 

“Jack.” The name was like a breath of fresh air upon its third utterance. The flame flickered within him until the melancholy moved further to the side, this new emotion expanding to create a vague warmth that comforted him. He closed his eyes and brought forth the vivid memory of the vampire’s mouth resting against his own, and an irrational fear came to the surface. It was as if the vampire had tried to devour him, for that was the only reason he could think of for such odd behavior. Was it just the strange creature’s way of connecting with him? What would something like that reveal, and what would the vampire have to gain?

The void faded and the spirit settled upon the roof of the mausoleum. The vampire, “Lestan,” was no longer in the cemetery. The spirit placed a hand over his chest and felt the slight warmth of the flame. It was the first time he’d used the vampire’s name aloud, and he was beginning to see the power a name brought with it. Was he allowed this power? He had no way of knowing other than to test it out once more, so he dared to utter it one last time.

“Jack.”

decorative-line-break-29

“Jack?”

Lestan wandered around the mausoleum after having given up on the tombstone. It was well into the third night and the spirit hadn’t revealed any sign of his eventual presence, and Lestan was beginning to worry he’d gone too far. He often moved quickly and became familiar with people much sooner than was appropriate, but it was all due to his genuinely kind nature. He warmed up quickly and enjoyed the excitement that a new relationship of any sort would bring, but he’d never spoken with a being like the specter before. It had caused a strange sense of urgency.

The spirit’s presence held an importance to it that Lestan wasn’t ignorant of. He knew the entity had a much more important reason for being, but to see so much sadness wrapped up in one existence was unbearable. He’d tasted the grief and the raw agony on his own lips the night before, and although it had only been a small taste, he couldn’t help but wonder if there was any possibility of taming it. To see the spirit smile would make him happy enough, but he was doubting whether it would ever happen. There wasn’t even so much as a slight breeze that night.

Lestan dropped onto the steps of the mausoleum and looked down, the memory of the rusting chains still lying on the ground beside him. He remembered what the spirit had tried to show him, and he was disappointed when he couldn’t hear a semblance of what was supposed to be there. Coming to a decision, the vampire stood and opened the mausoleum doors. 

It was as dark as he remembered inside, although it was darker still due to the overcast sky. The moon and stars were hidden behind rain clouds that had only started to drip, but it became more insistent as Lestan made his way down into the crypt. The rain above met his ears as it echoed around him, the cold embracing him as if he’d walked into Hades itself. He closed his eyes as he stood in the center, a small smile creeping across his lips.

It may not have been the thrum of Mother Nature’s womb, but it was close enough. The sound of the soil collecting water as the rain poured outside, and the insects scrambling to get in, was like music to Lestan’s ears. The tapping of the drops against the roof and the panicked shuffling of a rabbit scrambling for shelter masked the wisp behind him. 

“I am sorry. I hope you haven’t been waiting long.” 

Lestan turned around to see the spirit as he dropped to the floor at a crouch, the specter’s hands coming together as he nervously fiddled with his thin fingers. The vampire smiled. “It’s fine. It gave me some time to be down here by myself.”

“You were listening for the pulse, weren’t you?” The spirit hid a shy smile. “Did you hear it?”

“I think so. Maybe not in the way that you do, but I get it. I think.” Lestan chuckled but was rendered silent as the entity approached him. He remained still and allowed the cold palm hovering before him to touch his face, and he closed his eyes as he prepared for an onslaught of grief. It was muted that time, and he opened his eyes to see that a ghastly face was inches from his own, the specter’s mouth drifting across his parted lips. 

After a time, the entity pulled back to look upon the vampire with utter confusion. “I don’t understand. What does that do?”

“What does… You’ve never…” Lestan snorted a laugh and realized his own ignorance. Of course the spirit hadn’t done that before. What reason would he have had? “Sorry. I guess that probably seemed weird.”

“What is it?” The spirit stared into Lestan’s eyes with a childlike curiosity that would have been endearing on any other creature. It only brought a focus to the void that filled him, and the frightening awareness of a vastness beyond the vampire’s comprehension. 

He had to look away as something icy gripped at his insides. A shiver traveled up his spine and he felt so small at that moment — in the reality of the vastness of everything. Could the spirit’s eyes really do all of that? “You said you’re a guide for lost souls, right? That there was a reason why you couldn’t have a name. Answer that first and I promise to answer you.”

“It’s not so easy to explain, but I suppose I could try.” The entity looked off to the side. “You are not human, but you once were, yes?”

“Yeah. A long time ago.” 

“When you were human, you experienced a horrible death. Both yours and your sister’s.”

“Yes.” The memories erased any ounce of a decent mood that the vampire had managed to salvage. Despite it, he stood firm and dared a glance back into the entity’s gaze. It was staring back at him once again.

“What was your perception of Death?”

“It was the end. I was raised to believe in a Christian idea of God and Satan — Heaven and Hell — but beyond that, I didn’t know. After my faith was betrayed…” Lestan averted his gaze, old traumas creeping back to cause an agony in his own heart. He shook his head. “I thought I’d angered God with the way Carrie and I were. It took a while to be rid of that, but honestly, I don’t know what happens after death anymore. I don’t even know what would happen if I were to stop existing as I am.” Lestan hugged himself. “Do I have a soul?”

The spirit smiled sadly. “Every thing walking this earth has a soul of some sort. I believe you do.” He reached out to comfort Lestan but withdrew. The vampire quickly grasped his hand.

It was completely solid. 

Lestan moved closer, ignoring the emotional pain the touch brought forth from the other. From Jack. “You’re so much more than what I thought you were. You’re not just a spirit. You can be whatever you want to be.”

The entity looked down and flexed his fingers, frightened at the fact that he could feel as a corporeal being. The flame flickered within him and he realized that it was making him that way, and although he wanted to disappear and forget all of this madness, he could not. The emotion’s strength refused to let him, and he looked back into Lestan’s eyes as a pair of lips drifted across his own. “You haven’t answered my question,” the spirit whispered. The words shivered with his aura. 

“It’s called a kiss.” Lestan smiled, finally understanding everything. He lifted a hand to brush the hair aside that had fallen in the entity’s face, its texture softer than he’d imagined. “What kind of chaos would happen if I kissed Death itself, I wonder?”

“No! I do not wish for that kind of chaos!” The spirit’s hands pressed against Lestan’s chest to hinder him, but the vampire refused to budge. 

“It was an honest question. What could possibly happen?”

“I… don’t know.” The spirit stared into a pair of red eyes that were swimming with something mirroring the flame within him. A strange tingle of electricity ran up his back and he froze. The vampire’s thumb caressing his cheek was the sole source.

“I don’t have anything to lose by finding out,” Lestan drawled. “And something tells me you don’t either. So, can I make a proposition?”

“Oh, I do not know if that is a wise thing to do.” The spirit flickered, but Lestan remained.

“If I kiss you and nothing bad happens, can we consider that an agreement for your new name?”

The entity’s eyes darted about nervously and he did his best to retain his corporeal form. The flame within him was making it much easier than it normally would be, and he felt an unfamiliar sense of impatience. This kiss was the thing that had started the flame, and he was more than a bit frightened to fan it. However, nothing bad had happened as he’d feared. Nothing bad had happened during any of the three nights spent with Lestan so far. The vampire also knew his true identity at last. He’d wondered if it would come forth without having to utter it. 

The entity finally conceded, nodding as he watched the vampire closely. “Yes. Yes, I can agree to that.”

“Then close your eyes, love.” Lestan brushed their noses together and was pleased to find that the cold flesh he’d felt before was still there. 

“Why must I? Does it matter?”

“It feels better that way. It’s also a bit weird to stare.” He ghosted a laugh over the spirit’s lips before teasing them, diving in as the large void-like eyes drifted shut. 

The flame’s full intensity consumed Jack. He gripped the vampire’s arms tight as his mouth was coaxed open, and he could taste every bit of the flame on Lestan’s tongue. It was powerful enough to shove the melancholy completely aside and he was drowning in the sensation. His only idea of reality faded to nothing but the feeling of the lips against his own. A quiet, content moan left him as the spark grew.

Lestan’s fingers wandered down to feel the form pressed against him, a thin figure and small hips fitting wonderfully into his hands. That simple touches brought no ill effects only emboldened him, and he melded with a body he still couldn’t be certain was real.

Another sigh echoed throughout the crypt and Lestan’s curiosity wandered further. He pressed his arousal into the body clinging to him but found no response, and he pulled back just enough to speak between them. “How much control do you have over your form?”

“All of it, I am afraid.” Jack’s voice trembled as anxiety claimed him, although he had no desire to drift away. The strange warmth within him was pleasant and allowed him a small comfort he’d never known. He wanted to bask in it — to see what this vampire had cursed him with by giving him a name. 

“Can you feel this?” Long, glassy nails drifted up the spirit’s side, and a sliver of electricity sparked from the touch. 

“In this form I can. I think.” Jack clung to the vampire as Lestan continued to create shocks of electricity that consumed him. Another sigh.

“And here.” Lestan took one of Jack’s hands and pressed it against his arousal. “Can you do that, too?”

“I… am not sure if this body can do such things.” Despite his doubts, Jack focused on the flame, finally grasping the purpose of it. It was just like the thrum of Mother Nature, but it resided within him instead of solely in the earth around them. 

Lestan hummed against Jack’s lips as the spirit moved on his own. “Right there, that’s where the greatest pleasures lie. I can show you more if you want.”

“I do not know if…”

The vampire grinned as he observed the light blue covering the spirit’s face. “Use your imagination. You at least have one of those, I’m sure.”

“Yes.” The simple word sounded lecherous in the way it fell from Jack’s lips. He yearned for something. It was a need that bestowed a bravery he hadn’t known he possessed. He would shirk all possibilities of anything horrible to get a taste of what the vampire was alluding to. The flame flickered strongly as he closed his eyes and came to a resolution. He had never desired anything before, but it demanded everything of him. As he focused on that desire, it guided his form to manifest it.

It pained Lestan to part from the entity, but he did so only temporarily. “Hey, why don’t we get out of this crypt.”

“But… is it over now?” Jack’s voice quivered.

Lestan chuckled. “No, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t amused.” He held onto the spirit’s hand, the echoes of Jack’s melancholia all but absent from them both as they made their way outside. The rain had ceased and the moon was out, and the stars were equally alight to witness something that had never happened beneath them before.

decorative-line-break-29

The spirit’s shroud returned and he sat up to better see the vampire kneeling before him. He took the time to observe Lestan’s naked form, entranced by the beauty of it. Before, he had thought nothing of the human body. It was a mere vessel that souls occupied until their passing, but now that he knew the delights it could bring, he saw its allure. He had taken that form himself long ago to connect with those he led into the afterlife, but now he was finding its use as a thing of pleasure. It was all quite strange, but it made sense at the same time.

“I know I said we were going to seal your name with a kiss, but I guess we went a bit further than that,” Lestan laughed. 

The sound graced Jack’s headspace like a wonderful melody. It was a music that drifted directly to the center of him, and it coaxed forth contentment. Laughter was such a beautiful thing even if he could not give it in return. He could at least bask in it as it bled through him from another. A small smile formed on his ashen lips. “Yes. Jack.” The entity extended a hand toward the vampire.

Lestan’s laughter paused and he reached out to grasp the pale hand, but it was in vain as his fingers faded through it. He sighed as he looked at the spirit with forgiveness, but it hadn’t seemed to be a bother.

“Hello, Lestan,” the spirit continued. “I am Jack.”

 Lestan’s smile grew, his fangs poking over his lip as an immense happiness consumed him. “Good to meet you, Jack.” He stood and reclaimed his clothing, redressing haphazardly as the spirit joined him. Once Lestan was decent, he pointed toward the gates in the distance. “Come with me?”

“What?” The entity’s good mood dissolved and the agonized moans within him intruded. Whispering voices surrounded him as if the wind were chastising him, their cacophony having been blocked out while he had been in such forbidden bliss. “No… No!”

“What’s wrong?” Lestan tried to reach out to comfort his friend, but it was impossible. The spirit had curled in mid-air, floating among a breeze that picked up around him. His hands gripped the side of his head and he buried his face in his knees, black tears streaming down his face. 

“I should have never done that.” He curled further until he was a trembling ball of a human form in the air. “Everything is wrong!”

“No, it’s fine, Jack.” Lestan tried to reach out once more, but he was shocked as Jack’s energy repelled him.

“It is not.” The spirit looked up, anxiety looming over him like a dark shadow as he realized all that he had done. How much he’d lost himself. He’d strayed so far, and the only thing he had ever known was now second to him. It was a disruption of the balance of everything that was his existence. “Death cannot experience love.”

“You felt love?” Lestan’s smile returned. “Don’t cry because of that.”

“But what is there for me now? I am no longer as I should be. I am frightened.” The breeze continued as the trees around them swayed in the wind, Jack’s emotions still a flurry of anxiousness. Lestan finally came to a realization as he observed it all. The way the environment reacted to the spirit was enough of a sign that the cemetery was very much a part of him, and he belonged to it. It all made sense — why the spirit had remained in that location and was so at home with it. 

But everything had been calm around them while Jack explored his own desires. If things were supposed to remain as they were, wouldn’t the protests have started long ago? It wasn’t the spirit’s changing nature that was the upset, it was his attachment and his fear of leaving. Lestan reached out again as Jack calmed, his hand bleeding through but remaining where it would grasp trembling fingers. “Hey, everything’s going to be okay. You can still exist as you are without staying here.”

“That is impossible. I have always been here. I have never been outside of this place.” Jack’s voice faded into a messy static.

“Think about it. Where do you go when Death is called for?” 

“The void. Always the void. They are… there.” Jack’s tears stopped as he thought about it. He stared into Lestan’s eyes, the agony in his own difficult to confront. “I go there.”

“Which isn’t here, right?”

“I do not know.” Jack began to uncurl and the wind died down, his feet touching the ground once more. 

Lestan’s fingers came into contact with a viscous memory of a hand, Jack’s form becoming more clear. “You can go there no matter where you are. You’re just scared. I understand.” The spirit watched him like a frightened child searching for answers. Lestan’s chest clenched with emotion as he saw it, wishing more than ever he could pull the entity into a hug. “Just come to the gates. I’ll prove to you that it’s okay.” He stepped backward, hand outstretched. “You can come back here anytime you want.”

“The edge. Only to the edge.” The spirit hesitated as he moved, his hand resting above the vampire’s as he followed. Each step was pure agony as the panic threatened to take control again, but Lestan had been good to him. He wanted to trust the vampire and believe that he would not be led astray. He had no idea what would happen once he crossed the threshold, but if Lestan said it would be okay, he felt it truly might be. He’d changed so much in such a short time as it was. It would be impossible to go back to the way things were without remembering the warmth. 

“You’re doing great, Jack. Just a bit further.” Lestan coaxed his friend forward, his heart growing lighter as the spirit continued. The roads were practically barren due to the late-night hour, and the streetlights came into view to cast a glow over the distant pavement. 

Jack’s void-like eyes reflected their glow as he stared in wonder. There was an entirely new existence out there that he’d never seen, and the newness of it filled him with dread.

Lestan’s own anxiety surfaced as the spirit stopped. “Just a few more steps. The gates are right there.”

“I do not know if I can do this.”

“You can. I believe in you, and I know you’re curious, aren’t you?” Lestan backed into the gate and it creaked open, the sound grating in Jack’s head. His form flickered slightly as he took another step. Lestan coaxed him forward once more. “Come on. You’re the embodiment of Death, you don’t have anything to fear.”

“Maybe.” The spirit’s feet stopped right before the gate.

“One more step and you’ll see that everything will be okay.” To drive the point home, Lestan stepped past the gate and reached out to take Jack’s hand.

The spirit closed his eyes and, with his form flickering, he made the final step over the threshold.

The gate clanked loudly as it latched. Lestan’s outstretched hand trembled. He hadn’t really known what would happen. He had expected Jack to disappear and retreat back into the shadows of the cemetery, but the spirit was still standing there, flickering as he had been before.

The vampire sighed in relief and smiled as anxiety ebbed away from the spirit. “You did it!”

Jack formed into something more visible and looked around, turning to look out over the dark cemetery. He had done it. “I am… fine.” He smiled.

“Of course you are, love. Now you have all kinds of things to explore.” Lestan was pleased when the entity’s hand solidified in his own.

Jack stepped close enough to wrap his arms around the vampire. “Please do not leave me alone out here.”

“I wouldn’t do something like that, don’t worry.” Lestan set his hand on the spirit’s head and rustled messy black hair. “I realize it’s not as easy to hear Mother Nature’s thrum out here, but there are a lot of other cool things to experience.”

“Yes, I believe that. And I think I can still hear it.” Jack stepped back and closed his eyes, a passing car not deterring his attention. He nodded. “Yes, I can still hear it.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

The city clock chimed four in the morning, and the traffic increased as the two wandered down the sidewalk. Rather others could see Jack or not wasn’t really a concern, but he would gain a greater appreciation for the souls he guided into the afterlife. A momentary fear gripped him as he remembered his true purpose, but it comforted him all the same to realize that it hadn’t changed. Everything was still as it should be save for his new sense of self, and he was more than agreeable to exploring it with his friend at his side.

©2020 Shane Blackheart