So you can read my books

Saturday, July 31, 2010


{"Smooth the descent and easy the way;

The Gates of Hell stand open night and day;

But to return and view the blissful skies,

In this task grievous labor lies."

- Vergil : AENEID.}

Gabrielle turned from her daughter to me. “You speak French oddly.”

“That I speak it at all is a surprise to me.”

Her eyes flicked to Marlene and Mark Twain and became worried again. “What brings you here, Stranger.”

I sighed. Now, that her enemies were dealt with, suddenly I was a stranger.

“Stranger enemies. I think they wanted me separated from my friends here.”

Her eyebrow arched. “Why would they want that.”

“I think they want me dead.”

Gabrielle’s eyes hollowed and went to her husband’s sword at her feet. “Enemies usually do.”

Marlene frowned. “I still cannot fathom who would want you dead, Liebling.”

Mark Twain gnawed his lips. “If we could stumble onto why, Valkyrie, it might just tell us who.”

I rubbed my face wearily. “Or who murdered the ghost of Hemingway and pinned it on me.”

Like the whisper of useless regret, words of ice came from my pocket. "I am Death. I will not be the tool of an echo! Take out this box."

The birds stopped singing in the branches. The cool breeze wisped to nothing. Shadows filled the verdant glade. I nodded to Rafferty and her mother.

"Go into the cottage."

Rafferty pouted, "But --"

"Now!," urged both Marlene and Mark Twain.

Eyes gone hollow and deep, Gabrielle took Rafferty in a rush to the small cottage that reminded me somehow of Snow White. Death murmured from the dry-ice chill of the rune-etched box I held in my burning fingers :

"Now the play is near over,
The closing curtains are drawing nigh,
Shadows of death
Steal across the sky."

I placed the box on the grass, the blades crisping burnt and dead in a growing circle around it. A billowing black fog swirled from the opening lid.

"Step in, ghosts and mortal. All entrances back to Meilori’s are blocked except the path I take."

I managed to get my voice to work. “But your path is the one of death.”

Mark Twain shrugged. "The scalded child fears cold water. We aren’t children anymore, son."

Marlene smiled faintly at me. "Our fears make us traitors to our better selves."

"And wise dogs drink from the Nile running," I muttered, thinking of unseen dangers, and walked with my two friends into the welcoming embrace of the dark mists.

Death spoke softly, “Roland, how much do you know of Victorian London?”

“Not very –“

And in the middle of the sentence, the world changed around me. Just like that, no pop, no trumpet blast, no anything on Death's part.

Reality just flickered like a dying light bulb, then grew bright as a whole different setting billowed before my eyes.

Thick fog boiled around me, and somehow it felt unclean.

The cold, damp street smelled of unwashed flesh and decaying garbage. The cold drizzle made all my old scars throb and my joints ache.

Death, Mark Twain, Marlene, and I were standing in the middle of a dark maze of ooze-slick alleys, pubs, opium dens, and brothels.

Brooding, hungry men brushed right past us without even looking our way. I had a feeling that Death had made us invisible.

" --- much," I said, my voice trailing away.

“Behold the low-rent district,” grumbled Mark Twain.

"Welcome to Whitechapel, Clemens," sighed Death. "As you can see, this little clot of diseased humanity is packed to the suffocation point with the dregs of Cockney, Jewish, and Irish society."

Mark grumbled, “First, France. Now, Victorian London. Roland, there’s a pattern here if we can but ferret it out.”

The black fog took on form.

Death in black, form-snug robes and hood. Her upper lip curled. "Ferret? You must mean the high-class "toffs" out for a weekend of slumming."

She touched my shoulder, and I winced from the intense cold of her fingers.

"Here, down this alley. It is a shortcut to the intersection of Wentworth and Commercial."

"What's there?," I whispered as I slipped on a puddle of something I didn't want to look at too closely.

Death's shadowed face became a study in ice. "The Princess Alice."

"A princess here?"

"Not a princess but a pub.”

Marlene, showing she time-traveled more than once, sneered, “ A brothel is more like it."

"Weird name for a place like that," I said.

Death hissed, "Not so strange. DayStar named it to please Rev. Dodgson."

I went cold at the name of the worst character in all my novels, but the other name confused me. "Rev. Dodgson? You mean L-Lewis Carroll?"

Death murmured so angry that I shivered, "Yes, though you might know him better as Jack the Ripper."

"What? Lewis Carroll was Jack the Ripper?"

"One of them," murmured Marlene with her lips twisted in disgust.

"One of them? Do you mean to say there was more than one?"

Death laid a gentle hand on my shoulder. "Tonight, The Princess Alice’s every customer will have killed as the Ripper."

Marlene cried out as she looked over my shoulder. She started to rush forward. Mark Twain saw what she was heading for and joined her, alarm on his face.

Death, now in a black toga, held up her hand. Both Marlene and Mark were held as if caught in an invisible vise.

I turned and pulled up short. A two year old girl was clutching a stale crust of bread in one hand and pawing off a pack of lunging, biting rats with the other.

The little girl was losing the fight. I started forward, but Death stopped me with an icy palm.

"It is her time, Lakota."

She hustled me on, though I lunged forward to help in some way.

She wrapped two arms of steel around me and literally dragged me down the alley. I glared up at her. There were tears in the one eye of ice that I could see through the shadows.

"Why, Death? Why won’t you let me help her?"

"If you save her life, she will suffer even worse in the years to come. This death will open the door to a kinder, gentler plane of existence. Spare her, and hers will be a path of darkness that leads but to DayStar."

Mark Twain snapped, “Who’s this DayStar you keep talking about?”

“You know him as the Dark Stranger.”

“Oh, Hell.”

“Exactly,” nodded Death.

Marlene struggled against her invisible bonds. " I do not see this other plane of existence you babble about. All I see is a baby being torn apart by rats. Let me help the little girl!”

Death sighed, and sparkles of stardust trailed from her lips.

"Children do not last long in the East End of London. Cease your struggling, Magdalene, she is already gone from this plane of existence."

Marlene husked, “What need of a future Hell when Man makes his own here on earth?”

Marlene, Mark, and I exchanged glances. We had made a mistake trusting Death. Now, what to do? Hell, what could we do …

… against Death?


  1. OK; I'm dating myself here, but Johnny Depp is one of my favorite actors. He's a year younger than me- but I've been a fan since I first saw him on 21 Jump Street. Damn, if he hasn't come a long ways. I didn't especially care for the movie "Edward Scissor Hands", but I liked him in the role. I've been able to appreciate every movie he's been in - except Sweeny Todd. There is - for me - not a single redeeming moment in that movie, or his character. The only one I say "Ukkk" to. And I bought it without previewing!

    I forgive him though; every actor has to have a few bad roles. And Sweeny Todd is the only Johnny Depp role I can't get into. I Can't believe it didn't happen sooner (Edward Scissor Hands - come on!)

    Enough of my favorite actor...

    You know Roland; no one I know combines a moral and historical lesson in the same way you do. You have a talent for bringing deep emotional issues into play with historical facts. Or mythology.

    Your character "Roland" and Samuel Mccord have the same message to humanity. It is good that you can combine the two into a believable hero. The life lessons you impart - while not always easy to swallow - are realistic and can be intuited from not only past history, but by the insensitivity of humans of the present.

    I like the way you weave the past and present to show the reader that we have not evolved all that far from our ancestry.

    Each character you present has a variety of different names, and each name comes with a differing personae, and history. So many aspects to the human condition; how we percieve ourselves as one thing, but are really something different.

    I like the way you make me question my own reality; if I am truly the person I portray myself to be. I think of myself as this person, but really, would you (fictional Roland/Sam McCord) see me different?

    Every time I read your posts, I wonder if Roland - and by extension Samuel McCord - would find me worthy of salvation. Especially given the judgmental job I work at, and so enjoy, on a day to day basis.

    I so enjoy your take on life. It is so different from the life I deal with on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps I am jaded in my perceptions. I really want to see the world from your perspective.

    Anyway; I'm late posting this becaue blogger is not being nice to me tonight. I had a good day with the online computer at my day job, and Blogger problems must be my punishment for that treat.

    Hmmph; it's a long post. I should just let it erase.

    I like the self sacrifice in this for humanity's sake. The idea that one individual takes on the pain of injustice everywhere. It's highly appealing. An awesome premise.

    You know Roland, you are a very intuitive writer.

    And, I showed up late because 1) I worked late, and 2) blogger hates me tonight and I had to wait until it let me post.

  2. This tale gets better and better! Who is waiting to be saved now?

    I love that I care about Death, that she sheds a tear for a dying child whose life would be more awful than her death.

    Donna is right. You are a master storyteller. Yours is the one blog I never miss, even when I have time to read nothing.

    ~that rebel, Olivia

  3. ...another mystical chapter in the saga of Sam McCord. I've mentioned this once before, but feel compelled to repeat myself...if in fact you're related to Dean Koontz, a long lost uncle of yours perhaps? I've read a ton of his work and the similarities in style are uncanny.
    Well done:)
    (on a side note: I've come across several of your comments on other blogs where you've hinted at having difficulty with Internet Explorer. My advice, check out Google Chrome. Trust me on's worth investigating.)

  4. This is a dark chapter, my friend, albeit a sage one. In our limited knowledge and foresight, we often create worse problems when we intervene, not seeing the bigger picture. What restraint you have, and courage.

    Very curious about the patrons in The Princess Alice....

    ...and the movie you've clipped-was strange, but I liked the idea they presented...

    When I was little, my mom took us to see a film, Alice in Wonderland. But, it wasn't a cartoon. It had real people in it, as well as cartoon(?) characters. I remember getting a souvenir book with a record of all the songs from the movie. Funny, I've heard the words (and at some point may have posted them) 'curiouser and curiouser' and here, you've brought Alice into it...

    Do you know about Carroll's 'career' as a photographer? It wouldn't surprise me to find out he really was The Ripper....

  5. Donna : Your comments are deep and insightful. And never doubt for a heartbeat that I do not already believe you are walking the path of the loving, saved heart.

    I, too, dealt with heartbreak and a harsh reality in my job as counselor. Now, as a blood courier, I see the healths of ill patients put on the back burner for the convience of medical staff and others in authority.

    At my apartment complex, I see the blind tearing at one another in a desperate struggle for some small measure of peace in their lives.

    I'm glad you didn't erase your post.

    I begin to doubt if my chapters are entertaining to my readers. They have grown long of late. And my commentators have grown small.

    All of us as writers live to some extent in our fictional worlds. I thought it might be interesting to trap myself in mine and examine my take on life and people struggling in its trenches.

    At least I believe you find my tales worth the reading.

    I like Johnny Depp as well. He was the one reason I went to ALICE IN WONDERLAND. I hear he is going to play Barnabas Collins in Tim Burton's DARK SHADOWS. I look forward to that.

    I wonder if he will play Abraham Lincoln in Tim Burton's ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER?

    Thanks for the wise, reflective comments.

    Olivia : It means a lot that you read my blog when you are too tired to read anything else. And it is a responsibility not to let you down. I hope I never do.

    Elliot : Your praise lifts me up when I was feeling like I was fizzling in my experiment. I have been considering going to Chrome by Google. Internet explorer has been buggy of late.

    Dean Koontz's lawyer just emailed me a "cease and desist" order for stealing his client's style! It is unintentional. I've been compared to Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, too. The three of them will probably make an event of driving down here just to punch me out!

    Word Crafter : Yes, I do know that Lewis Caroll took pictures of little girls in the nude. Sigh. He made himself somewhat of a scary pest to Alice Liddell. And the dates of June 26-29, 1863 were removed by Rev. Dodgson. After those dates, the relationship between Dodgson and the Liddells was never the same.

    Carroll suffered migraines and periods of loss of consciousness (or of what he did in those times), leading to speculation that he lived out his resentment and discomfort in the presence of adult women in the East End.

    Life is never as simple as it appears. All we can do is be the change we wish to see in the world.

    Your supportive comments means so much to me. I hope that the in-law visit went as well as could be expected, Roland

  6. Roland, this is very powerful. I loved the way you incorporated history. I'm coming across Death so much lately in my blog hopping! But your take wasn't too despressing. You write so well. Donna has said most of what I'd liked to have said, but just know I really love your writing. It has great depth..:)

  7. Forgot to say I, too , am a great Johnny Depp fan. He is a rare bird in that he manages to change so much for each role. Being me, my fave of his is Chocolat, still the pirate, but not so much..:)

  8. Oh my goodness, this is wonderful! I love the way Death is a character. Amazing.

  9. Death with a tear in her eye. She is coming to life. Great chapter Roland. Kept me captivated from start to finish.

  10. Excellent chapter! And I love the picture, what a great mood setter!

  11. This time and place I am familiar. I do love your details--the brilliant and the nasty.

    Again, great job! I look forward to the next chap.