My experiences with spirituality

I post more about my strange experiences with spirituality and chronic nightmares on my side blog: Waking Dreams

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+)

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.

Poe’s Isolation

decorative-line-break-29

Beyond my small prison of old, creaking wood and flickering candlelight, the world falls silent. There is no raven at my chamber door, nor is there the meow of a mischievous black cat. Yet, hark! I can hear the distant cries of Annabelle Lee and the bells in the tower off the beaten cobblestone path. The gentle thrum beneath my floorboards is surely no heart but a gathering below — of people who are none the wiser.

Or perhaps, they tempt the red death slowly closing in on all of us — crushing our lungs and burning us alive.

A growing wind toys with the flame dancing in my vision. There is a storm on the horizon. Its gust spares not my journal’s pages nor my pen — but what is that? Valdemar’s cries that drift through my room. They’re from…

I turn to look toward my bookshelf, noting their emanating from that very spot. My eyes grow wide and I return to the flickering flame and my journal, my hand squeezing the fountain pen much too tight. These voices I’ve created and come to know haunt me in this silence, but they are scattered.

The raven finally makes his appearance known by tapping gently at my window, but when I look up to see the first drops of rain — the pecking of tears on the pane — nothing is there. I run my hands through my thin hair and take a deep breath. While isolation is my dearest friend, it is also my cruelest enemy.

There it is. The cat’s wailing near the–

I look hard through the dusty windows to see a shutter creaking in the wind.

Perhaps the red death has claimed me and my life is flitting before me. My creations and my ghosts, as well as the skeletons I hold dear, are the last and most important memories to guide me into nothingness.

Before my story is finished, I have but one last request.

Please, I beg you. Don’t bury me alive.

©2020 Shane Blackheart

Dissecting Abel

I don’t often dissect an artist and make a greater observation of their music — well, nowhere besides in my own head. Few care to listen to my gushing over a rare talent or my deeper musings about what makes an artist so endearing to me. I then remembered I have a blog that won’t judge me (but you might, hah).

Abel Tesfaye, or as he’s better known, The Weeknd, has been around for a little while. His hit, I Can’t Feel My Face came out in 2013, and it sparked many jokes from people who didn’t understand it’s meaning — I included. I wrote it off like everyone else as another silly pop song, but the years passed and he released new music that caught my ear. It was accompanied by dark, dreamy music videos with a strange style that spoke to my equally strange tastes, and I began to listen deeper.

I started listening to him regularly this year, although I’d had a few of his songs starred in Spotify for a while. Starboy and Secrets were fresh and addicting additions to my playlist, and I became obsessed. I watched more of his videos, which ranged from erotic to hazy and abstract. Party Monster stuck out to me because of the classic Goosebumps font used in the title.

I was into vaporwave/retrowave at the time and always have been, which is a nostalgic and often depressing aesthetic focusing on 90s and 80s themes, imagery, and cassette tape or VHS effects. Abel Tesfaye has a retrowave vibe in his later videos, and with his new album, After Hours, there’s more of that same retro vibe in the instrumentals. It’s been a comfort to me during the rough start of 2020.

Today, I watched what I’m assuming was the last video in his After Hours series. It sparked a lot of thoughts and admiration for him as an artist.

As a whole, the videos follow the journey of Abel’s new character who is a total train wreck. Although dapper and with (assumed) riches, he’s fueled by highs and strange drugs — even going as far as to lick a poisonous toad in Heartless. He proceeds to go on a reckless drive in Blinding Lights, speeding until time itself warps, although we’re pretty sure it’s just the drug’s influence at this point. It’s great cinematography to show just how gone Abel’s character is while providing an awesome, surreal visual effect.

He’s beaten by body guards at a club, but not before reflecting on a beautiful woman who beckons to him, her magic lifting his body through the air to draw them close. Again, the cinematography here is very dreamy and odd, and it adds to my love for the vibe of the series. Abel is dancing among the cars on a highway after all of this, his face bloodied with an unstable look of humor twisting his expression into something more akin to emotional pain.

In my personal order of viewing the series, he then makes his way into a party (Until I Bleed Out), although the drugs still have a strong hold on him. He’s barely bandaged and a colossal mess, crawling around on the floor as the room spins like a merry go round. Nothing is as it seems, and he doesn’t seem to know what’s real or what’s influenced by substances anymore.

To make a long story short, he makes his way into the underground after a performance, clearly in great emotional pain and trying his damndest to control it. It’s clear at this point that while the lyrics paint him as a horrible human being, a womanizer, and a heartless asshole, there is a lot more to the picture than that.

He ends up in an elevator with a couple, and as the last video in the series begins, he produces a knife that shines with malice. The man in the elevator is soon dead and the woman runs from Abel, who follows her throughout a club. They end up in a boiler room below, but the woman eventually overpowers him and cuts his head off with an axe. She proceeds to dance with his head in various environments through the rest of the video — oddly happy to do so and unnoticed by anyone else.

As I read through the comments, curious about what others thought, I began to form my own theories. These are solely my own speculations that may or may not be far off.

Abel has painted us a portrait of an awful person, a man who is on his last breath by his own choice through self-destruction. He’s been hurt by someone dear to him and is doing everything in his power to fight the melancholy inside him, and in doing so, he has become the very thing his ex-lover(s) implied he was. A womanizer. A heartless asshole. He’s completely broken and is having one last crazy night to erase the pain.

Finally succumbing to everything tearing him apart inside, he snaps and goes after the first couple he sees, rather it be the person who hurt him or a reminder of the situation itself. When the woman finally cuts his head off at the end, we see a different side to the story. It seems that, metaphorically speaking, the woman celebrated his pain and made the deepest cut. She toyed with him and killed him inside. Cheating is heavily implied in more than a few of Abel’s songs, so it could be assumed that was the message here as well.

Throughout a lot of The Weeknd’s videos and music, we see a similar theme of sex and drugs among different characters — or rather, the evolution of one character. It would be extremely interesting if that were the case. If it was one guy going down a steep slope into self-destructive territory because of heartbreak and substance abuse. It could also be three separate caricatures that connect with a central set of themes.

With a creative soul and a unique style such as Abel’s, he’s an amazing artist with a beautiful voice who deserves the fame he’s earned. His lyrics may be unsettling for some and even a bit offensive, but underneath it all there is a story that means so much more than what’s on the surface. I learned this years ago when I joined in on the jokes about I Can’t Feel My Face. Sometimes you have to look deeper and not judge a book by it’s cover.

Check out The Weeknd’s new album:
Buy a copy
Listen on Spotify

 

Featured image and videos belong to The Weeknd
Article ©2020 Shane Blackheart, a hopeless Abel fanboy

The irony of my quarantine life

A few years ago, I spent an entire year in isolation due to fear.

Back then, there was nothing to fear but what anxiety was doing to my body. My stomach was in knots and twisting and squeezing to send me into bouts of pain, and acid reflux scarred my esophagus on a daily basis, sometimes all day every day. Coping with anorexia added to this struggle, and I spent a lot of time speaking with my alters and spirit guides — we wrote down almost all of our conversations at the time. They were my only company some days.

Now that I’ve overcome all of it, I’m in isolation again, but not by choice. This time there is a real fear I don’t have any control over, and my anxiety is just on the precipice of falling back into old patterns. My alters and spirit guides are with me and support me as they always have, but Depression is blocking them out due to a lack of mental energy. This is not good for me or them.

I’m introspecting on all of it; the irony that I’ve been through this song and dance when there wasn’t a real threat, and here I’m reliving those awful years again as they come back to haunt me. My stomach problems are coming back and my energy levels are low, and my agoraphobia is back. I’d overcome all of this just to be challenged by it again due to the pandemic keeping everyone inside.

When all of this is over, I will once again have to relearn how to be a person as I did those few years ago. I’ll have to teach myself, again, that it’s okay to leave my apartment. Most importantly, I’ll have to remind myself that I still carry some of the progress I’ve made. While this quarantine has set me back quite a few steps and undone what I’ve accomplished with my agoraphobia and anxiety, I have knowledge I didn’t have before.

I worry for those who have mental health challenges right now. I hurt knowing that people with problems like mine will be affected by this quarantine long after it’s over. Nightmares. Anxiety attacks. Fear of the outside. Fear of people. Trying to regain a sense of positivity again. It’s going to stick and we’ll have to go through exposure therapy all over again.

But we can do this. It will be safe again and we’ll conquer these beasts that we’ve had to face down before. I may not feel that sentiment while typing it, but I have to think it, say it, and look forward to a day when it will be true again. One day I will be able to grab my backpack and leave my apartment to go to the coffee shop downtown I love so much, and I’ll continue where I left off.

This is a pause. Life will resume again. It has to.

©2020 Shane Blackheart

Something calming for anyone who may need it:

Book Review: Taken Hard At The Magical Time Travel Sex Resort

Taken Hard At The Magical Time Travel Sex ResortTaken Hard At The Magical Time Travel Sex Resort by Madeleine Swann

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the first book I’ve read from Madeleine, and it whets my appetite for more.

The book is a short series of stories involving various women of various timelines, and they find themselves wishing for better sexual experiences or sexual liberation, as they’re unsatisfied in their life. This brings forth a card that leads them down a rabbit hole into a strange world. It’s bathed in hues of blues and pinks and scattered about, some creatures exist comprised mostly of sex organs.

And they need tending.

Among everything, a curious, winged, rainbow character named Rex seems to be in charge, and although we don’t really get to learn much about him, there’s something devious about him that runs with the imagination, making him likable. He leads each woman to what they need the most, rather that be her first orgasm or the fantasies no one could fulfill. In this way, the book has empowering feminist themes with women reclaiming their sexuality to be their own.

It’s best described as a psychedelic trip into a XXX Alice in Wonderland. Each story connects despite the different time periods and the diversity of the characters from around the world. They all reach a certain focal point in this world, and they all exist among each other — at least, those who chose to stay or had no choice but to remain. There’s a devilishly erotic circus, a marketplace selling items of aphrodisia, and a slew of creatures that exist for the sake of pleasure, even if a few may look slightly horrific.

At least one of the stories was very poetic in nature which I loved, and some of the descriptions of such simple things, such as, “Her breathing slowed like the sea,” stuck out to me. Definitely very unique.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to experience something different, or abstract in nature, when it comes to erotica. It’s wickedly fun to read.

View all my reviews