Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Attention

 Dear readers!

Recently one of my short stories has been published on a website called Horla - Home of the intelligent horror. If you are interested, you can find it here:

http://www.horla.org/mirage-by-viktor-z-noircoer-horla/

And there was another one too:

http://www.horla.org/the-window-by-viktor-z-noircoer/


Have fun reading them!

Viktor Z. Noircoer

Friday, October 4, 2019

The rejected

Dear readers!

After a long time of absence I returned, and decided to start posting those stories, which were rejected by various magazines mostly for reasons unknown. Maybe here these stories will find acknowledgement. Then let us start it with a story taking place in Istanbul:



Eye of the Tepegöz

Dear reader, since the following story contains Turkish words, hereby I include a pronunciation guide for the used letters:

a – as u in sun
c – as j in journal
ç – as ch in church
e – as e in fed
ı – as e in open (it’s a dotless i)
i – as i in bit
ö – as u in turn
u – as u in pull
ü – as u in French tu
y – as y in you

Leaden clouds came with February, blanketing the blue sky above the Bosporus. The clouds burst into a violent downpour. Then it abated, turning into a steadfast spitting, which is the most insidious type of precipitation on this part of the world. It feigns weakness, but in fact it permeates and fills the atmosphere with its implacably chilly touch. Slowly, but more certainly, makes everything damp. And cools the hearts to a murderous temperature.

Istanbul, one of the biggest human anthills, had this unpleasant experience. Its denizens however long got used to this sort of rain and the damp coldness of winter’s last month. So they carried on like good ants on the narrow streets and alleys of the city. Even the ferries continued service, rocking drunkenly between the continents. The real animals of Istanbul, the dogs and thousands of cats, rather looked for shelter from the rain. Only a few gulls cried and screamed above the roofs and the Golden Horn bay, enjoying the mild rain.

Serdal Teke watched the colourful cavalcade of vehicles and people through a great, misty glass wall. No sound could come through that wall. It was early forenoon, but everybody was in a hurry. Many rushed to their work while others fled from the rain. Some of the latter was heading right toward the Büyük Bayran restaurant. Serdal worked here too. Not as a doorman though, yet he opened the door for the customers with a smile. With them the noises of Şişli district entered as well. The din of vehicles with their tooting, the claps of shoes on the rain-soaked streets and the dull shout of a dustman from the side street. But as soon as the door closed, the sounds of the restaurant reigned over again immediately. Serdal however cared little about it. He rather observed his own reflection on the glass.

He had short, dark hair that covered his skull like a helmet. His forehead was particularly plain as no wrinkles ploughed into it. Such contentment reflected in his eyes that widened his nostrils and provoked his lips for a smile. The barely twenty-year-old courier was then woken from his own admiration by one of the older waiters:
“Serdal bey! You’ve got two orders, and one is for your favourite address!” said the older waiter smiling.

The young man’s eyes shone up, he spun around. On the glass-counter, under which various and succulent kinds of Turkish meals exhaled steam, two packages were prepared for him already. While he took both packages, he nodded to the older waiter as a kind of thanks, and set toward the other end of the restaurant. Behind the forepart, which was loud with the din of cutlery, he entered a less stately, but more practical chamber. An oven, a so called tandır was sank into the ground in the middle of the chamber. Around it headscarved women hustled about, baking thin breads in it, which were also called tandır. Serdal had to stop short as one of the women, with a long wooden tool, lifted off a bread from the oven’s wall. She then immediately set to butter it. Meanwhile the young man took his crash helmet from a shelf then hurried on.

Not even a hint of goodbye he said to these women. He didn’t like the “turbaned” as he called his conservative compatriots. Albeit he himself originated from a conservative village by the Black Sea. Hence, the honouring of traditions had a great role in his upbringing. Perhaps this led him to hate customs so much that, at his age of seventeen, he fled to Istanbul from his tyrannical father and bigot family with the help of his only friend: his scooter. Thus the enforced traditions turned Serdal toward the Western values, new friends and the great city. And for him these all were like a refreshing breeze from the sea on a sultry summer day.

Reaching the street, he put both orders in the trunk then he hopped on his scooter. He only entered one of the addresses in his mobile’s map. The other he knew by heart. He started his scooter, and silently like a jinn, since it was electric, rode away quickly.

The real work of Serdal, or of like other couriers, just began, and it was a little bit more than work as well. He not only made his scooter move with the twist of the throttle though. The power of acceleration cast ecstatic ripples of freedom in his soul. And his vehicle’s nimbleness endowed him with the quickness of wild colts. He needed the latter, especially when he zigzagged amongst the cars on the main roads.

Behind the restaurant, at the end of the alley, a taxi stood. The passenger was paying the fare. The courier slowed down, but didn’t stop, instead, jumped on the deserted sidewalk, bypassing the yellow obstacle. Then Serdal twisted the throttle again to regain his original speed. He couldn’t hold it for long however as he reached a busier street. He slowed down once more, but just like in the case of the taxi, he didn’t stop, but dynamically joined the traffic jam. After a few metres though he had to stop. But he didn’t loiter for long, only as long as he surveyed the situation. Then he made his way forward, zigzagging amongst the cars, busses and the crossing pedestrians like a videogame’s protagonist. Once he drove on the sidewalk again, but left it quickly. There were too many pedestrians. At length, he reached a wider avenue where the traffic flowed continuously.

Later, he had to take one of the side-streets, but a sign forbid to turn left. Meanwhile the lamp turned red too, so the more compliant pedestrians could cross the avenue at the proper crossing. Serdal had an idea: following the pedestrians he crossed the avenue, and from the sidewalk he rode into the side-street. From there he turned into another alley. Once again he twisted the throttle, and the scooter raced along.

On top of a parking car, a gull rested. The bird quickly noticed the courier. She leapt, and flew together with him. Serdal felt as if he had climbed to the clouds, and so he just stared at the majestic sight of the soaring gull. The bird then beat her wings and ascended above, crying.

Serdal considered this as a good omen since he was somewhat superstitious. No matter how modern his thinking was in general, he inherited some of the beliefs of his despised family. That was the reason he wore a muska around his neck. It was a pouch, an amulet in fact. This pouch was made of leather, and weird signs were carved into it. The courier esteemed this amulet as he got it from a cinci, a mage, who made it personally for him. At least that had been told to him since he was too young at the time to remember that. Besides the pouch around his neck, he also had a nazar bead dangle on his scooter’s key ring. This is another amulet of sort, usually made of sapphirine blue glass, and it’s round or teardrop-like in shape. It’s used usually against the evil eye, but sometimes against general bad luck as well.

Naturally, these artefacts don’t protect the wearer from physical harm. Hence Serdal too almost had an accident. He was so absorbed in the staring of the gull flying away that he didn’t notice the minibus in front of him. The situation was quite alarming, but the courier didn’t lose his head. He pulled the rear break, but not suddenly, and not completely to avoid locking the wheel. It seemed he was about to collide with the bus because of the wet, slippery asphalt. Finally he pulled the front break too. He stopped just a few centimetres from the minibus, but the scooter’s back rose from the ground owing to the momentum. Serdal expected this, and he didn’t fall.

He was about to yell swears at the driver, but he saw that it was a school bus. And the driver stopped because he watched as his little passenger was properly swallowed up by the door where the child lived. When the student got home, the minibus drove on. Serdal was sweating under his helmet, and his heart was racing like moments before his scooter did. He opened his helmet’s visor to let the spitting rain cool him down a bit. He then sighed, closed the visor and twisted the throttle.
He barely rolled a metre when he stopped short again. A fat, one-eyed cat tried to hurry across the alley in front of him. The cat flinched and raised his single eye on him. He involuntarily gripped the dangling nazar bead on his keys because the Turkish believe that the blond and blue-eyed people have evil eye mostly. Though in front of Serdal wasn’t a man, but a yellow furred cat with blue eye. Unpleasant feelings gripped the courier’s heart. He shouted and honked at the cat, but the furry obstacle didn’t move at all. And as if the animal wanted to defy man’s will, sat down and began to groom himself. Serdal then got off his scooter, and angrily, threateningly started toward the cat. The presumptuous predator looked at him, and rather scurried away. The courier jumped back on his scooter and he too scurried away. He found this encounter with the cat a bad omen. Yet he hoped that the gull’s good omen will extinguish the power of evil.

He quickly delivered the first order. As soon as he stopped, an old lady, from a window above, inquired was he the one from the Büyük Bayran restaurant. Serdal answered yes. And the old lady, who lived on the fourth floor, lowered a small basket with enough Turkish lira in it to cover the meal’s price. Serdal counted the money then placed the package in the basket. The old lady thanked him, and pulled the basket up. The courier nodded, pocketed the money, and in an instant he was riding on.

The second address, which the old waiter called Serdal’s favourite, wasn’t far now. Serdal however, didn’t like the address itself though. It was only a pharmacy on the fringe of a slum, where people lived in century-old, dilapidated or wooden houses. And in winters they heated with whatever they could find. Hence, always some kind of nose-wringing smell lingered in the neighbourhood. Sometimes tear-exciting smog curtained these alleys. And the neighbourhood looked haggard, as drawn as a face distorted by unfortunate predicaments. No, he didn’t like this address at all. Only the pharmacist was dear to his heart.

Gönül Aksoy was more mature than Serdal Teke by at least ten years. Her long and wavy hair was velvety black. In her dark eyes coquetry gleamed, her features however lent her a cold countenance of an empress. Faint freckles adorned her celestial nose above her curved lips.

Gönül liked Serdal since she was impressed with his courage, and that he had feared not to leave his family and come to Istanbul without basically anything. She also liked that his courteous character and good humour didn’t change despite the hardships he had to endure. Sometimes Gönül too pondered about what it would be like to live together with him. She knew however that the courier wasn’t educated. Yet she felt that his gentlemanhood wasn’t just a thin glaze or role, but Serdal was indeed a natural born gentleman. The only thing she couldn’t stand in him was that he had the superstitious nature of a toothless old village woman. She thought however that all his shortcomings could be mended. That is why she never refused the courier’s approaches.

Serdal came to a quite spectacular stop in front of the pharmacy then he jumped off his scooter. While he took the package out of the trunk he looked up at the pharmacy. The sign redly glowed into the clouded, grey day: Aksoy İksir Eczanesi, which meant Aksoy’s Arcanum Pharmacy. He took a deep breath, and then he exhaled slowly to calm himself. He was always excited when he met with Gönül. He always wanted to show his best side.

Thus he joyfully entered the pharmacy, whistling. But only the pharmaceutical products, and not the pharmacist, welcomed him. The thick silence soon hugged him so tightly that it made him shiver. The courier didn’t expect this unfriendly desertion, but he didn’t let it to thwart his plans.

“Gönül hanım!”

Serdal first used an official address. He was afraid that behind a shelf perhaps a turbaned skulked, who would later gossip about the situation, eyes rolling. Or moreover she would discourage other customers of the pharmacy since people didn’t speak respectably enough here. However, no answer came. Meanwhile, Serdal looked around thoroughly. But he found nobody, so he tried again differently:

“Gönül, are you here?”

The answer, if that could be considered an answer, was the same as before: the deserted silence of the pharmacy. The courier waited for a few more seconds, then he ventured deeper. He could see that the door communicating with the storage room was open. He deduced that Gönül must had gone back in the storage. He went to the door, and called her again. Yet he still received no answer. He pondered a bit about entering the storage since if they leave it together while someone entered the pharmacy then they themselves will provide a reason for gossip. And Serdal didn’t want to cause any trouble for Gönül.

Then his mobile sounded up like a kemençe of the Black Sea, which is a kind of bowed lute. It played a curt and simple melody, and he knew he got a message. He checked it, it didn’t come from Gönül, but from the restaurant, hurrying his return. He pocketed his mobile a bit vexed since he expected a different message. He hesitated for a few more seconds then entered.

The storage wasn’t as well lit as the shop part of the pharmacy. And the products didn’t form a line on glass shelves, but waited in brown boxes on metallic shelves. As Serdal entered, a motion detector switched on some more lamps. The courier called Gönül again without success. Thus, he ventured deeper with the food in his hand. He walked along an aisle and reached the back of the storage. The pharmacist wasn’t there. He was about to go back in the pharmacy’s shop part to wait for her when he noticed something strange in a corner.

It was a great, cylindrical and verdigris coloured object. Its crown was cupola-shaped and on top of that a little sickle moon rose. And Ottoman inscriptions adorned its side. This cylinder reminded Serdal of those brass cannons behind the Istanbul Maritime Museum, in the Barbarossa Park. Yet this wasn’t a cannon, but it seemed some kind of an ancient container. Serdal thought it was some old Ottoman water dispenser as there was even a tap on its side. The courier stepped closer to the tank.
He timorously passed his hand over the side of the tank. His skin touched the rigid smoothness of the verdigris, and his fingers scaled the hills of Arabic-Persian letters. Then his fingers touched a small key with adorned bow that he didn’t notice before. Maybe because it was dressed in the green of verdigris like the rest of the tank. Serdal stared at the arabesque filigreed bow of the key, then tried to turn it. The key turned easily. Serdal didn’t expect that, and thus he involuntarily opened something. He heard a silent hiss or rather a sigh-like sound. He didn’t know what it was as nothing happened for a while. Yet a few seconds later the side of the tank began to lower.

Serdal was afraid that he had broken something, but then he realised nothing wrong happened. Behind the brass cover there was an uneven and smudgy glass wall, which made the contents of the tank visible. Reddish-brown liquid billowed slowly in it. And it seemed something was floating in the fluid; something spherical. The veil of the liquid however only allowed guessing about the exact shape and details of that object. It was as big as a man’s head and probably it was reddish-brown just like the fluid. And this sphere-like object revolved slowly like a planet around its own axis. Serdal hoped to find out what it was. He tapped on the glass. A faint quivering ran along the sphere, or at least that was what the courier thought to see, but it didn’t make it rotate faster.

He patiently waited. He was spinning his keys around his fingers meanwhile. Slowly the orb almost turned around finally. Serdal stepped closer to see it even better. Then the sphere suddenly stirred. Through the rusty mist of the liquid a tiny, teal-coloured rhombus shape could be seen. Then the whole sphere stuck against the tank’s glass wall. The rhombus-shaped pupil dilated, flooding the courier’s face in its teal glow. The courier’s eyes sank deeply into the blueness. But as soon as the light touched the nazar bead the pupil constricted at once. The whole thing barely lasted more than a twinkling.

As Serdal stared into the eye of a Tepegöz, a Cyclops, he became wiser with experiences of centuries. Memories, which he could barely process, beleaguered his mind. The eye of the Tepegöz, wasn’t just an organ of vision, but it was a brain as well. The courier lived through the life of the one-eyed from its birth to the moment when its teal pupil flashed on him.

He heard centuries old languages in his mind, the languages of Oghuz, Seljuk and Ottoman Turks. Some of them he could barely understand. Yet when he was about to grasp the meaning of some words those quickly faded into the murk of his mind. Then he experienced how the Cyclops was captured, how its single eye was carved out only to make healing elixirs for the Ottoman sultans. And the centuries hurled into deafness began because the Tepegöz was only able to see from then on. When the glory of the Ottoman Empire waned, the tank was acquired by Kemal Aksoy, the great grandfather of Gönül. That’s how the ever weeping eye of the Cyclops granted the livelihood of the Aksoy family.

Serdal staggered and was on the verge of queasiness. The foreign memories only made his head ache. The experience however, which weakened him didn’t weighed on his mind, but on his heart. The eye of the Tepegöz offered glance into regions almost unfathomable by the human mind. The courier saw many things, but everything in a different way. So weird and alien was this form of vision that its inscrutability frightened him. But the despair in his heart was caused by those creatures, which he saw through the eye of the Cyclops. He thought to see distorted wraiths or ghosts at first. Before long however he realised these were not spectres at all, but intelligent and sapient beings. They kept watching, examining the humans, and searched for their weaknesses. The strange and inexplicable pains and feelings in the body were all caused by their touch of fingers or feelers as they probed somebody. Still, they remained invisible for everybody. Perhaps certain madmen were the only ones to be able to detect them, yet nobody believed them since no one else was able to experience the same. And these beings surrounded almost everybody like a smack of jellyfish. Their mob instilled pathological fear into Serdal’s soul.

His newly acquired ochlophobia paralysed him. He looked around with dread, but saw nobody. Perspiration gushed from his face like water from the cataracts of the Sakarya River. And he shuddered with terror. Still, in the sober fragments of his mind, he was thinking about leaving Istanbul as soon as he regains his strength and courage. He was thinking about leaving Turkey to find shelter from the invisible beings in the solitude of Syria’s deserts.

His paralysis didn’t last more than a few minutes, yet they seemed as long as the millennia-old life of the Tepegöz. Gönül found him at length.

The pharmacist turned her eyes away while she closed the lid of the tank. Quickly, she got a plastic cup from one of the boxes, and opening the tank’s tap, she half filled it with the rusty-coloured liquid. Then, using a pipette, she dripped a few drops into the courier’s bloodshot eyes. And Serdal fell into a deep dream that abutted unconsciousness.

Meanwhile Gönül arranged everything. She notified the restaurant that their courier felt unwell, hence he was unable to continue his work that day. The courier woke the following day, early morning. He was tired and exhausted. His muscles hurt like as if he had steeled them for hours. He groaned, and as though this had been a signal, his waking immediately became more pleasant: Gönül leaned over him. The pharmacist invented a fake sickness and with that she explained the courier’s state. Serdal wasn’t interested about it of course since the woman he loved leaned over him. And he also felt something else for her: gratitude. He wasn’t able to explain why, he couldn’t remember anything.

From that time, the relationship of the courier and the pharmacist forged closer links between them, tying them in marriage at length. There was barely a happier man than Teke. His happiness mantled the truth from him. Albeit the pharmacist was happy too, but she didn’t marry the courier because she loved him that much. But she felt guilty for what had happened with her husband. She didn’t want to leave him alone as she knew, the tears of the Tepegöz didn’t cure him, only temporarily stifled the unpleasant memories and experiences. It still happened sometimes that he woke from feverish nightmares on which only Gönül could help with a new dose of eye drops. She however, bore the fate of her own choosing since Serdal would later become a good husband to her. Thus they lived together until the end of their days.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Dear Readers!
Unfortunately I did not have time to bring new stories on this blog of mine. But while you are waiting, enjoy this re-translation of Arthur Rimbaud's poem. I re-translated it since I felt the other interpretations of such talent was too distant from the original, which of course can only be fully enjoyed in French. Nonetheless I tried to be more accurate while keeping the rules of sonnet.
So exceptionally let us play on the strings of lyre:

Ma bohème

I went, held my hands in ragged pockets as gloves;
My shoulder's coat wore into a notion;
Journeyed below the sky, Muse! showed you devotion;
Oh, la la! And I dreamed of majestic loves!

My sole trousers were richer with a hole
-Dreaming Hop-o'-My-Thumb, on my way I husked rhymes
Great Bear was my lodge in the forest of nighttimes.
-Meanwhile the stars above my skull they roll

I listened to their rumbles on banks of the roads
during evenings of September when droplet loads
of dew fell on my face like divine wine;

Amongst the fantastic penumbras rhymes I graced,
And I strummed my wounded boots' lyrical lithe lace
that hummed at the foot of this heart of mine!

Monday, March 31, 2014

A new tale, right from the pot of a leprechaun...

Spectre
     Now I’m going to share a story with the reader from a time when I had been engaged in my favourite pastime: travelling. For me, travelling is a very entertaining pursuit, though I cannot indulge in it as frequently as I would like, due to a fact that I do not wish to detail now.

     I have been to many places and I have seen many things, but I think it isn’t nearly enough. As a European, I prefer my home continent to others. I have travelled around Europe so many times, and I still can’t get enough of it. Although I still wanted a change from my home, I recognized that I hadn’t yet traveled to every nook of Europe.

     Since I’ve used this word ‘nook’ I will apply it to this place as well, especially being that it is an island. And this island is none other than Ireland! The realization struck upon me that I had never been there, though there are many things to see there. Just to mention a few of them: the Giant’s Causeway—the hexagonal-shaped, basaltic marvel, which, according to legend, was built by a giant in love; the Cliffs of Moher, these nearly 200 meter high unfriendly rock faces that have an almost unearthly quietude—sometimes, if you stand on the top of them you can barely hear the roaring, thundering waves of the Atlantic beneath that are constantly sieging Ireland; and there’s the Benbulbin, the odd, steep, 300 meter high rock formation that looks like the hull of an upside-down ship. Even the names themselves betray a fantastic, imaginative and enriched country!

     Thus I fixed my next destination on the map that hung on the wall in my apartment. From a little bowl containing numbered pins with which I mark my impending destination, I took the number 21 and stabbed Ireland with it. After this little ritual of mine I began to prepare for the voyage. I booked my tickets and accommodation. A few days later I was onboard a flying machine above the clouds, en route to the Emerald Isle.

     I wanted to visit the above mentioned places, and if possible, to immortalize these in photographs. Fortunately I was experienced enough to take such pictures with a professional camera, and produce photographs of a quality worthy to be shown in expositions. For this reason I chose a travel route which I hoped would be not only fascinating, but hauntingly beautiful at the same time. The story that I want to tell you started as I was making my way toward the Giant’s Causeway.
I stumbled into a cozy little village halfway to my destination for I had to change trains there. Due to an accident somewhere along the track I was unable to make my connection that day. I was forced to look for lodging due to the approaching nightfall; I inquired from the locals, and soon found the recommended boarding house.

     The homely little inn was quite a jolly place. As soon as I entered my room I put down my luggage, kicked off my shoes and tumbled onto the bed, in order to determine the mattress’ resilience. And I found it excellent. Then I tried in vain to get up, but it was difficult due to the comfortable pose and the way I had fallen into the bed. And so my weariness, the pleasant atmosphere of the inn, and the town’s agreeable air brought on sleep.

     I woke to the inn’s doors and shutters being closed on the ground floor. Sleep almost overcame me again, but then an old pendulum clock started its ding-dong somewhere in the house. As I counted the dings and dongs I learned that the night had grown eleven hours old. Since I was already awake I decided that I may as well go to bed normally. So I undressed and staggered to the bathroom for the usual evening rites of bathing and teeth brushing. By the time I staggered back to my bed I heard the toll of the church bell strike midnight. The bell had a subtle muted sound, and I think the fog that had fallen on the village had a role in that.

     I looked out of the window and saw the dark silhouette of the church’s tower in the night. The bell had just struck its twelfth tone and I was about to turn back from the window when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I looked there and saw a pale figure walking along the street. It had seemed at first glance that the figure was glowing, but later I realized that his or her white dress was reflected ideally in the lamplight. As this apparition slowly passed, floating by under my window, I thought ‘It cannot be human! It looks like a spectre!’

     After a moment of awe and stupefaction I searched for my camera in my bag, but in vain. For by the time I had managed to find it and get back to the window, the spectre—since I was sure that it was a spectre—was gone.

     On the morrow of the next day while I was consuming my breakfast I pondered: had I only dreamt the spectre?

     I decided that I would postpone my travel, and the inn-keeper was glad to hear that. I changed my train ticket, cancelled my reservations, and then set off to explore the little village and its environs. By late afternoon the fog had started to descend again so I returned to the inn and read until night.

     My thoughts still orbited around the spectre, and later on as well while I dined. This preternatural—or preternaturally fancied—occurrence wouldn’t leave my mind. To pass some time and try to forget about it I played some rounds of gin rummy with the inn-keeper’s son.

     At eleven o’clock I was already in my room, and I heard, as I had heard on the previous night, the doors, windows and shutters being closed. Meanwhile I readied my camera: I put on the proper lens and set it up so that I wouldn’t need a flash.

     As I stared out at the foggy streets that were bathed in the orangey light of the streetlamps, I became immersed in the admiration of the late hour: in fascination of the amethyst firmament where the onyx silhouette of the church’s nave appeared to rise out of the milky mist-sea. The still, deadly silence was broken as the bronze bell of the church resounded full-throatedly.

     With my camera in hand I was ready. I believe I have rarely been so excited as in that moment. I so hoped that I would see the spectre again—this would prove that I hadn’t just dreamt it.
The sound of the last strike of the bell crawled along the rooftops like the fog itself, and died in the distance as a trembling cry.

     Several minutes passed, and I was starting to think that the spectre would not appear again….but then its glowing, whitish figure emerged from the murk. Due to its shroud I could barely discern its features, but I took a picture, and then another. I had barely begun when, on the screen of the camera, there appeared a crossed, blinking battery icon. I cursed, hissing at my bad fortune, for I forgotten one of the most important things! I scrambled to find the spare battery in the camera bag, and replaced it quickly. I managed to take two more photos of the occurrence before it disappeared, devoured by the billowing mist.

     On the next day I mentioned the event to the innkeeper, and I even showed him the pictures on the screen of my camera. He didn’t really want to believe it, yet his paleness betrayed his true feelings. Since he was a religious man, he advised me to talk about this with the local minister. I had burst into a loud laugh at this suggestion, but my cackle soon abated when I noticed the absolutely serious look on his face. I apologized for my reaction, then left to consult with the priest.

     The church was ancient: its large dark stones were covered with moss and other green plant life. Its style was completely unknown to me since it looked to have a gothic tower, but rather Romanesque windows. Or perhaps I’m just too much of a dilettante about architecture to describe it well. And yet it seemed to be a Catholic church, though there wasn’t any cross topping its spire.

     As I entered, I paid respect in the house of God, for I am a baptised Catholic, though I’ve never really practiced my religion. I dipped my fingers in the stoup by the door and genuflected as I made the sign of the cross and mumbled the accompanying Latin phrase. Then I stood up and walked toward the altar to look for the priest.

     He appeared behind me from out of nowhere, like a sorcerer; I only missed the smoke. He frightened me though, and when I calmed down I presented him the story of the spectre, and my photographs. After seeing the images he didn’t want to believe his own eyes. We continued our conversation until he offered to join forces and go for a ghost hunt that night. I liked the idea, and even remarked that if we encounter a baleful, foul spirit then at least the loyal servant of the Lord will be within reach. Like the inn-keeper, the priest didn’t appreciate my joke; I found myself apologizing once again.

     I asked him to show me around the church, for I wished to take a few photos of it. The cleric willingly showed me his domain, and then I asked him to take me up to the bell tower. We climbed the stairs, and there the giant bronze bell hung majestically. I took a photo of it too, for I fancied the usual bell inscription’s tortuous letters reading: Vivos voco, mortuos plango, fulgura frango; I call the living, I mourn the dead, I repel the lightning. As we descended I had the chance to hear at very close range the deep resonance of this living-calling, dead-mourning and lightning-repelling object.

     On the way down from the tower, from the window of one of the landings, I noticed a graveyard behind the church. I told the priest that if the village has a real spectre then it might be coming from one of those graves. The cleric smiled at this remark.

     I thanked him, and as we parted we decided we would meet shortly before midnight at the church. I returned to the inn and prepared for the hunt. I charged my batteries, put empty memory cards in the camera, and put two different lenses into the camera bag.

     By half-past eleven I was already in the church and talking with the cleric. This time he was not in his black cassock, but in something more practical for the purposes of ghost hunting.

     We noticed that it was almost midnight, so we gathered our things and set off. I recommended that we check the graveyard first; the priest nodded, and after leaving the church, turned that way. As we stepped out of the building the bell started to sign the beginning of the witching hour. By the time we had rounded the church the bell had just finished tolling. In front of us the silent graveyard lay, with its lopsided, crooked, here and there cracked and mossy tombs. Between the stones, statues and a few sepulchres, a fog billowed, but a weak, thin fog that did not compare to the mists of the previous nights. While we sought to avoid stepping on those mounds that had already lost their stones, we entertained ourselves with reading the epitaphs on the still intact headstones.

     After a few minutes walking, we were suddenly stopped by a sight: from behind one of the tombs stepped a ghastly white-clad figure! By the argent moonlight we could see the spectre well; the cleric crossed himself and began to mumble in prayer. His frightened voice as he milled the words caused me to waken from my shock: I attempted some normal photographs, but my trembling hands didn’t let me.

     The phantom turned back toward us for a brief moment, but we couldn’t see its visage, for still it was covered with a hood or some kind of shroud.

     As we had lost clear sight of it, we ran after it, but of course with the greatest care and respect for the graves. We were almost out of the graveyard when I noticed through the old iron fence that the spectre was heading toward the centre of the village.

     For me it seemed strange and unlikely that I was chasing a wraith through the streets of an Irish village.
The ghastly white phantasm looked more spectral and irrational in the orange light of the streetlamps. Then it turned at a street, and went through a stone wall. The cleric loudly hissed: “This is impossible!” He crossed himself again while I ran to the point where the spectre had gone through the wall, the priest following after me.

     There, what had seemed impassable from afar, between two old, medieval houses, gaped a dark, arched passageway. This passage we went through led out of the village, and we arrived at a road.

     We had once more lost sight of the spectre. The cleric began to speak, but I stopped him, for I spied the phantasm again in the distance, and recommended that we return to the pursuit. As we ran alongside the road we got closer to the ocean. When I looked down from the road I saw the great peaceful waters; this made such a strong and immediate impression on me that for a moment I well-nigh forgot why I was running along the road. The cleric however woke me from my artistic reverie, and we followed the spectre on.

     Soon the phantom left the road and turned onto a path that lead through a scrubland where untamed bushes and weeds proliferated. We followed the path as well, making our way through the tunnel of wild flora. The trail ended on a sloped, grassy glade from which a view opened onto the ocean. An old bench of stone and wood faced the ocean scape, and the cleric and I hid behind it, for there the spectre stood, in the middle of the glade.

     I tried yet again to take a picture of the wraith, but by the time I managed to focus, the spectre had set off once more.

     We followed it again as it descended on the sloped glade. At the bottom of the slope there was another graveyard. The stones were even older than the ones in the churchyard; these were unusual grave markers—not just broken, lopsided and overturned, but large Celtic crosses, some blackened by time, some green with moss.

     The pale full moon shone in the purple velvet sky above the great waters, which reflected back its sickly and unearthly light, giving a fearfully enthralling appearance to the spectre, who stood amongst the broken, ancient ruins. Before us, the ghost stood motionless in front of one of the blackened stones.
I approached furtively, stopping intermittently to take a few more pictures. The priest followed me silently. When I found the perfect spot and angle, I quickly snapped some images. Then I changed the lens to take closer pictures. As I zoomed in on the face of the pursued I saw that it wasn’t wearing a shroud, but rather the hood of the robe which shadowed its features. But now the doubled light of Selene revealed her visage…the spectre was a woman.

     Parchment-like, yellowish skin stretched over her face; her lips turned inwards as do those of the toothless. Her closed eyes lay in their dark, deep sockets; her eyelashes looked like the tiny legs of bugs, as they moved in the subtle breeze that came from the ocean.

     The tension of the fear manifested in perspiration; I felt an icy drop of sweat running down my spine from my nape to my waist. My hand started to tremble again, and as I tried to stabilize the camera I kept my eyes on the spectre. I saw her eyes moving under her eyelids, and that caused my teeth to chatter. I shivered, but I tried to focus to take another good picture of her, when I noticed something.

     I noticed a weak vapour—a breath—rising from her nose. Immediately I realized the truth! I wanted to tell the cleric, and reached behind my back looking for him while I continued to stare at the woman. I turned around, but the priest was nowhere to be found.

     When I turned back to the woman I saw the cleric approaching her. I signaled to him with heavy gestures, but was in vain, for he couldn’t see me in front of the dark bushes. Then I tried to run there.

     “Don’t wake her! She’s a sleepwalker!”

     But this was too late; the old woman opened her glassy, faded grey eyes and looked deeply into the frightened eyes of the cleric. She then collapsed into his shaking, sinewy hands.

     On the following day we, the cleric and I, learned that thankfully no ill had come to the lady, mentally or physically, as a result of us waking her up. Later we told this whole story to the innkeeper and his family, and we all laughed about the whole banal affair.

     Thus we managed to solve the case of the spectre, and on the next day I travelled on. The minister, the innkeeper and the old lady herself escorted me to the train station and bid me goodbye. The innkeeper asked for my email address before I left.

     I continued my planned trip of the natural wonders of Ireland, and I decided that if I ever return to the Emerald Isle I shall visit that village again.

     When I got home after my journey I received my first mail from the innkeeper. From then on, every month or so, he would write me a brief letter. Once he informed me in such an email that the lady had again taken to roaming the streets of the village. I recommended that he advise the old lady’s family to hire a nurse for her.

     Another email came almost immediately, informing me of a fact that he had somehow forgotten to mention in the previous one: the old lady had passed away…

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Welcome back, dear Reader!
I'm back again with another amusing tale for you. I invite you now to the past! Good reading!

Strugglers
     Snow already mantled the ground. That which had been born of the creative feminine forces of nature was now defiled by man’s masculine-beastly destruction.

       Corpses littered the reddish snow, blood drying on their bodies. The cruelty of a battle had beset upon their skulls. The remains were no longer steaming on the breeze-swept mountain and their souls, like the heat of their bodies, had left them. The eternal ridge, as old as Earth itself, didn’t waste its time on mortal man; it only tolerated him disinterestedly. Though if it had looked at the battlefield at this moment…

       Two men approached one another.

      One was a Barbarian with long, matted hair, naked arms in his drenched clothes and torn leather cuirass. His face was painted according to pagan practice—his belief was that this magic would protect his skull against the strikes aimed for it. He was exhausted, but he didn’t care; he was happy to be alive. However, his happiness wouldn’t last long. The moment he noticed his enemy, he reached down and pried a weapon from the hands of his dead comrade—the hatchet had drunk blood from a Roman’s head as long as the red liquid flowed. He then took hold of a seasoned oak shield from a horseman who now lay amongst the others.

     The other man, a Roman, stood in place and watched the Heathen. He planted his feet as firmly as the roots of an old pine tree. His feet and legs were covered with wool stockings, and encased in military boots, calcei. His shins were shielded by metal protectors, under which he wore wool trousers. He protected his upper body with chain mail, and his head, unlike the Savage’s, was shielded by a helmet. On his side hung his short sword; in his hands he held a spear.

     Their eyes met, the Barbarian stopped. Time, which could have been a moment or an eternity long, was as motionless as these two men. Even the air around them seemed coldly still. They stood like statues carved from dead stone. But they were indeed very alive. Each man slowed his breath to calm himself and to gather his resolve. Without their awareness, the pattern of their heartbeats slowly synchronized. When they finally charged at each other, to a beholder their clash might have looked like the ancient struggle of now vanished giants. Their battle cries flew toward the skies—cries so desperate and at the same time so resolute, each beginning with a low rattle.

     The Savage snapped the ash-wood spear with his hatchet as if it were a piece of reed. Yet this did not halt the Roman’s charge, for he struck his opponent in the head with the other end of the broken spear. And while the Heathen staggered back, the short blade slipped whisperingly out of its scabbard.

     The Barbarian charged again, but the legionary eluded him and parried the strike of the hatchet. No matter how the Savage tried, he could not disarm his rival. Strike followed strike, and when the hatchet missed, the oak shield hit the mark. The legionary showered strikes of steel on the Heathen, leaving long gashes that bore resemblance to the ritual markings meant to protect the Savage.

       As the Barbarian became ever more enraged he tried to break his enemy’s sword. But the blades vainly twanged and vomited sparks; the sword didn’t break. The strikes dented here and there the legionary’s helmet, yet the killer hatchet could not damage the Roman’s skull. And though the head of the legionary ached, he still found consolation in the sound of his pulsing blood, which animated him to kill.

       The Roman’s sword struck the oak shield, slicing into the wood as a ship cleaves the water of the sea which then vapors into foam and spray. The shield broke in two with a loud creaking crack. Both strugglers tottered back only to charge anew against each other. They slowed, for they were now fatigued. They collided anew and as the charge bore down on each they divided like billows; they hit each other like waves. Finally they had become so exhausted that they had to retreat a bit further away, yet still close enough to each other. They both fell on their knees gasping for air like beasts, and leaning onto their chipped weapons to gather some strength for the final clash.

       The savoury taste of blood mixed with sweat flowed into their mouths and over their teeth, teeth as imperfect as the stockade of the garrison from which the legionary came. The same thoughts raced through each mind, and they stood up again in the same moment, like dancers performing long planned and practiced steps. With trembling hands they slowly raised their weapons above their heads. And once again, Time, which could have been a moment or an eternity long, was as motionless as these two men. Nothing moved, nothing could be heard.

       A silent, shivering breeze swept across the battlefield. Then once again, the battle cries of the strugglers rose anew, as clear and vivid as if they had just commenced their fight.

       That unison cry was heard by the mountain, a mountain that was older than old; and as yoked animals shake themselves to get rid of flies, so the alp shook its hoary snow beard.

       So blinded by their wrath were the strugglers that they failed to notice the strange echoes. The hollow rumble of the avalanche interrupted their fierce and blinded rage. Even as they ran at each other, they turned their heads aside as the snow charged down upon them like rabid horses. The strugglers collided but forgot about striking. As they rebounded off one another, the icy hooves of the snow herd crumpled them under itself.

       As the rumbling ceased, a pre-human silence alit on the back of the crag like an owl landing on a tree to waylay his prey. And once again fresh snow mantled the ground with its virgin colour.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Greetings Dear Reader! Now that the 2014th year has started so my blog, and here's the first tale as well, I hope you'll enjoy it!  Let it begin then:

Changing past
      It was an enjoyably warm and happy afternoon. It was that kind of calm and sleepy Sunday-like afternoon where the odour of summer floats and mixes with the smell of sweating asphalt. And on this asphalt rode a mocha-bronze Buick. The air conditioner was on, as well as the onboard computer, which projected various data onto the windshield: internal and external temperatures, speed, fuel consumption, position and destination. There was no need for these last two though. The car’s proprietor knew well the way and the environment. He was completely aware that he was driving on the Columbine Pike of Arlington County in the State of Virginia, in the United States of America. His destination was none other than the home of the country’s Ministry of Defence: the Pentagon.
      George Tennessee Baker was the owner of the car; he was fifty years old and the father of two daughters, Georgia and Carolina. He firmly grasped the antiperspirant-coated wheel, and when he saw his destination from afar, a slight relief became visible on his face. Yet the wrinkles on his face still didn’t smooth. These furrows were not due to his hard life. The truth was far from that, for he was raised in a normal family, amongst loving parents and siblings. George T. Baker had been working in the “foreign affairs service” since he was in his twenties. When his performance on the routine physical tests had begun to decline, the position of advisor was offered to him. He had gladly accepted it as it would allow him to spend more time with his family. He had never belonged amongst his adrenalin-addict colleagues; his fosterage focussed rather on his family. He had learned this from his parents in Tennessee; it was an integral part of the traditional southern mentality.
      George somehow had always been different than the average American of Dixie. He spoke an erudite English with a so-called southern gentleman accent–an accent savoury and pleasant to the human ear. But the essence of his talk was often not so pleasant, especially to those who didn’t come from a southern state. He made many uneasy with his behaviour and his views; most just couldn’t label Mr. Baker. For couched within his otherwise progressive set of views was a certain nostalgia for ‘the way things used to be.’ It often happened that those who listened to him would have liked to thrash him to within an inch of his life; but almost in the same moment these same listeners would have gladly clasped him in their arms. This duality, these opposing attributes, characterized a paradoxical personality that verged on impossibility. He could be as headstrong and conceited as a tyrant and at the same time yielding and humble like a good king. In many matters he was severely conservative, almost Prussian–he had even named his daughters after southern states. But at the same time he bore many liberal thoughts, and in many cases adhered to these. If he had caused trouble, perhaps damage, he apologized not—never; he hadn’t been taught that way. But he had been taught how to remedy, how to make amends.
      Not only did George himself embody a complexity of contraries, but the external conditions of his life often mirrored this as well. For example, his workplace: everyone says that it is in Washington, although in theory it belongs to Virginia, for it is on the other side of the Potomac.
      Baker’s first order of business upon arrival that day was to attend a critical meeting in which would be decided the fate of several covert military installations of certain anti-American countries. There were some that would be destroyed, almost in the moment of decision, by stealth-fighters that deluded completely the enemy’s air defence. The airplanes were ready. There were other complexes which would be disabled by local agents. In the second half of the meeting they tried to discern, with the help of air and ground photos, the purpose of other installations. The discussion went on for hours; when it finally finished, everybody set off for home–with the exception of George T. Baker, who went back to his office.
      He had furnished his office such that its every nook inspired him to work. Filing cabinets, a cupboard and his desktop were characterized by a simple, utilitarian Shaker style. All these fittings were made of golden maple, and were very well maintained such that the oil varnish on them shone. He had inherited this furniture from his great-grandfather who had been an officer of General Robert Edward Lee.
      He entered and walked to his desk and at once began to glance through some files. He opened a window, which exceptionally didn’t face the pentagon-shaped central plaza, also known as “ground zero”, but rather looked out at the river and the roads. The soft whirring of cars gently interrupted the office’s tranquility. As George sat down he saw an unfamiliar package lying on top of the files that he had earlier arranged on his desktop. To Uncle George it read in a childish hand. The sender was not indicated on the package. Baker opened the package thinking that there weren’t any children in his family that he knew of besides his daughters. Inside the first envelope was another. Stamped on the second, brown envelope were the words Top Secret and a warning that any unauthorized person looking at it would risk five years in prison.
      Baker opened it, surprised that somebody would have sent him a report in this way when it could easily have been done electronically. What is more, an untouched wax seal secured the internal envelope. He lifted the seal and took out a thick bundle of documents. As he cycled through them, there was a knock on the door. With a brief “Come in!” and an uneasy feeling he let the visitor in.
      A disheveled almond-eyed young man rushed in. He threw himself immediately into the chair in front of Baker’s desk. Baker could see that his man was very agitated; he expected some serious news from the young Gannon Wong. (His real name was Wong Gan but his parents had Anglicized it to help him integrate into American society. His parents had taken a lot of time to find a name for him; they were looking for something similar to Gan, which in Chinese means "adventure". They settled on Gannon, a Gaelic name which means "fair-skinned," but at least sounded like Gan.)
'Sir, let’s go to the meeting at once! This case…' he pointed at the thick bundle of documents in Baker’s hand '…it brooks no delay'
'Sorry Gannon, but the meeting finished half an hour ago. And I don’t think that…'
'Then sound the alarm and tell them to send that lousy installation to kingdom come!'
'Relax, Gannon!'
'Don’t you understand? We don’t have time! Maybe we’re already too late!'
'We don’t have time for what?'
'You didn’t read my report?'
'No.'
'Shit… sir!Gannon jumped at the desk. 'If we don’t act, we’re done!'
'Calm down and tell me what this is all about.'
'Sir, call the others and tell them…' Gannon grabbed the phone but Baker suddenly slapped his face so hard that the agent fell back into his chair.
'Calm down now! And tell me clearly what happened!' Baker shouted. He was starting to become afraid of his own man.
'Alright. Sit down, sir! I’ll tell you at once,' said Wong, who realized that he wasn’t helping the case with his agitated and nervous behaviour. 'Excuse me, sir…'
'I… You know what? I’ll promote you as soon as you finish what you’ve started' said Baker, who wanted to remedy his slap. (He had already been considering Agent Wong for that promotion anyway.)
'Thank you, sir, but this is not important now. The point is that the Chinese have developed a special submarine.'
'Some nuclear watercraft that uses stealth technology…'
'No. Even worse. I know it because I was there last week. The purpose of this submarine is not ordinary destruction; its purpose is not to destroy the objective… because the objective has never existed!'
'What are you drivelling about here?'
'They’ve constructed a time-machine!'
'Wong, you are going too far!'
'I know, sir. I’m completely aware of that. But I was onboard when it happened. They’ve found a way to use seawater somehow to produce the enormous amount of energy that’s necessary for time travel. The first unit is in that secret submarine plant in Guangdong.'
'How can you prove this?'
'Everything is in the files, sir! I not only took photos of that Chinese junk from the seventeenth century but I also managed to photograph the submarine’s plans as well. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to read the documentation so I don’t know how the submarine works, but take a look at the images.'
'I see the photographs, but this… hmm… I think this is not enough yet.'
'Look, I posted it to you…'
'Post? You simply sent this by post? Are you insane? And I thought all these stamps and so on were simply a diversion of some sort.'
'It was so, sir. This seemed the safest way, sir. Don’t worry! Was the seal broken?'
'No.'
'Phew… Then they didn’t open it. Although I fear our whole security system is not even worth a dime. They could easily acquire the codes to be able to read our emails!'
'So, before I mailed this to you I took a book by Pu Songling that belonged to an English library in Hong Kong and tore a page out of it. This page proves that the Chinese were there with me too.'
'Who is this Pu Songling?'
'A Qing Dynasty writer. Seventeenth century.'
'And what can a…'
'Read it!'
      And here is the story of Pu Songling, to share a work of a peerless story-teller:
DAYLIGHT AT NIGHT
      Traveling merchants were sailing on the South Seas. Around midnight, at their ship such a light rose like that of the day. They got up to see what had happened. They saw a monster as it rose from the water, its upper body alone as enormous as a mountain. Its eyes were like two glowing suns shining beams of light all around that lit up the whole horizon.
      The merchants were filled with dread and asked the sailors what it was, but nobody could answer. They crept forth and watched it. A little later the monster went under the sea again and darkness fell on everything.  Later, when they moored, everyone on land was talking about the strange lights, for they had seen it too.
'That monster! That monster was the submarine! And those lights were its searchlights, as you can see in the photographs. And what the merchants took for a mountain was the submarine’s conning tower!'
'Astounding! I’ll call the members at once and inform them of the emergency. We can’t afford to lose any…'
      But George Tennessee Baker was not able to finish his sentence. Suddenly he experienced such a feeling, a strange feeling that will be difficult to describe. He found his body growing so heavy, his cognitive faculties becoming hazier, until he felt himself to be witnessing the destruction of each thought. In his brain, a strange prickling turned to numbness. Yet in this numbness he felt oddly conscious of every neural pathway in his body.
      Then suddenly he was gripped by the dread of death and felt that certain segments of his mind were falling screaming into the ever-nothing from which they had been created. Pain circulated in his body. It was not a pain that wanted to kill, to destroy, but one which wanted to change, to create, to rebirth. Perhaps an infant feels the same way when coming into this world. Then George Tennessee Baker found that his personality had split and that he, the American Baker, was giving place to someone else. Baker fought with all his strength but he could see that his hands were strangely changed. His thick workman-like fingers grew thinner and more delicate and his shortly cut nails turned into long, claw-like horns. His memories were dying out and being replaced by new ones. Although his eyes were open he couldn’t take in anything of the outside world; but it had changed as well.
      His office had grown larger, and in place of the wall-to-wall carpet was a polished wooden floor. The furniture had transformed into a refined and darkly polished early Beijing style. The pictures on the wall had become decorative scrolls, showing carefully rendered ideograms; the verdant panorama had become a loud and densely packed metropolis.
      Not only had the mind of Wong Gannon disappeared into oblivion but his body as well. It happened with the purpose of building another world from his atoms.
      After this strange metamorphosis-storm everything calmed down.
'…time.'
      This single word was uttered, not in English but in Mandarin Chinese, by a small wizened clerk who was fifty years old and the father of two daughters (Xiayou and Ziyi). He had just realized he was talking to himself. He shook his head and looked down at his desk. In front of him lay a giant family tree. He remembered that he had been examining it before… before something happened; but he didn’t know what. That strange feeling had happened. It seemed that everything had become reality from a dream. Yes! It was a very poetic drafting but it might be true; he had never considered before that he might be only a dream.
      He banished these thoughts from his mind and gazed again at the family tree. Ah, yes. He had been looking at the place on the tree that indicated that his ancestors had inter-bred with an immigrant family called Baker. This name reminded him of another one: Wong Gan. He didn’t know such a person. Maybe he had seen that name in an advertisement. He looked out the window and could see that the sun was about to set. He looked at his watch, then cast a glance at his car keys which rested on the edge of his desk. The little keychain boasted that it belonged to a Tun Changan (East Changan) make of car. Zhang Qian stood up from his desk and walked out of his office. He was hurrying, for that day they were celebrating their liberation from the communist yoke. Zhang Qian was a citizen of the Independent Chinese Republic. And this country was on the continent of Zheng-dalu, named after the great explorer Zhang He.