Fashion Magazines: An Investigative Report

I love me some comic books!

I have around 4,000 in my possession, dating all the way back to the sixties. They’re filed in these stack-able plastic boxes, neatly lined up on one side of my hallway. Each box has a number on it, and I have this little notebook with an index of what’s in each numbered box. Every book is in its own plastic sleeve with a backer board in it, and the titles are separated by dividers with labeled tabs.

I am obsessive about how my comics are handled and arranged; even doctors filing medical records aren’t as fastidious as I am.

Which is why I think it’s weird that my wife leaves her fashion magazines lying all over the house. I mean, shouldn’t she take better care of them? Sometimes I even chuck a few just to whittle down the collection, and she doesn’t even notice. But yet she’s always looking at them, and every time we go somewhere she brings one just in case she has to sit and wait for something.

Now – like most men – I have definite ideas about what clothing I think looks good on a woman. And also like most men, I am more interested in how the clothing makes the woman look than the clothing itself…

Thus, I never really understood the fashion industry.

It’s not that I’m a complete barbarian when it comes to things women enjoy. Two of my favorite films are Kate Beckinsale’s Serendipity and Sandra Bullock’s While You Were Sleeping; I’m also a big fan of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, all love stories. Of the novels, novellas, and shorts I’ve written, many are either outright love stories or have romantic sub-plots. I can dig that, I think, because romance is – at the end of the day – a unisex pursuit. Plus I find emotional interaction and drama very fun to write.

On the other hand, I do notice that none of my heroines tend to be fashion-istas; s’weird that I happened to marry one. Seriously.

So I decided to put on my journalist’s cap, and investigate why these magazines hold such fascination for my wife.

I picked up an issue of InStyle; the date under the UPC code said it’s from December of 2018, and the cover features Jennifer Lopez.

It’s very strange, the cover photo. Jennifer Lopez is wearing what appears to be a green curtain, and she’s obviously naked underneath ‘cuz you can see the side of one of her breasts, and her hip. She’s photo-shopped, too; you can tell because virtually all women (especially ones as ‘hippy’ as J-Lo) have these faded stretch marks from their hips widening at puberty, and J-Lo’s are nowhere in sight. Her naked hip just kinda looks like a balloon; maybe the photo-shop guy shouldn’t have fuzzed it so much that he took out her hip bone right along with her stretch-marks.

Why is Jennifer Lopez naked? Did the photographer corner her in her dressing room? And why the curtain? Did she yank it off the window in a panic? Inquiring minds wanna know!

So I opened the cover, expecting to find a table of contents. You know, like National Geographic or Newsweek would have.

Instead of a table of contents, there’s this picture of a pretty brunette holding a bottle. The bottom of the advertisement just says ‘Si’. Across the top it says ‘Georgio Armani’.

What’s ‘Si’? Is it a bourbon? It kinda looks like bourbon from the bottle it’s in, but the ad doesn’t say that. And who the hell is Georgio Armani, anyway? Is he the distiller? His signature is on the opposite page from the ad, kinda like Jim Beam’s signature appears in the whisky ads from my fishing magazines. What exactly is the pretty brunette trying to actually sell me here?!

Next is a jewelry ad; at least I know what they’re peddling. After that comes a two-page ad that simply says ‘Valentino’. There are four women in the ad… or at least, I think they’re women; they’re all a bit on the androgynous side. And who’s Valentino? Do he and Georgio Armani know each other?

The next two-page ad simply says ‘Michael Kors’, and features three very attractive women. Who’s Michael Kors? Is he a pimp? I mean, the picture shows two women in a car like they’re being dropped off, and another woman slipping her shoes back on like she just came out of a cheap motel. You’d figure if this Michael fella were running an ‘escort service’, he’d at least put his phone number on his ad. That’s just common sense.

Finally I said ‘the heck with it’, and flipped ahead to the table of contents… which began on page twenty-eight!!! It’s three pages long, the table, with an ad between each page.

Do you remember when ‘pop-up ads’ were the bane of every computer user’s existence? Thanks to ad blocking programs, they’re mostly a thing of the past. But I know where they all went…

Fashion mags!

So I flipped ahead to some of the feature articles, which is deucedly difficult to do because most of the pages aren’t numbered. (I suppose Georgio the Distiller and Michael the Pimp don’t like competing with page numbers for space.)

Most of the articles, it seemed, featured pictures of celebrities promising that their ‘go-to’ makeup and accessories will make a gal look just like them. Which sounds nice, except for that picture of Margot Robbie wearing a trash bag, and the one of Nina Bobrev (who?) wearing a Halloween costume that was clearly inspired by one of the Chick-Fil-A cows. The weird thing is, the articles didn’t even mention Hefty and Chick-Fil-A. Much like Michael the Pimp omitting his service’s phone number, that’s just sloppy marketing!

Then I ran into the article about Jennifer Lopez. She talks about her butt a lot, and she never does get around to explaining how she wound up wearing that curtain. (Somewhere in the studio, I’m betting there was a very annoyed interior decorator!)

Then I found this page that listed accessories for ‘the Do-Gooder’, whatever that means. At least the page clearly listed the items being sold, and their prices…

Three hundred and sixty dollars for a bathrobe?! Two hundred and seventy-five for a pair of canvas sneakers?! Three hundred for a braided bracelet with a plastic charm on it?!

What the hell?!

As I closed the magazine in horror, I noticed that the back cover featured an ad for Tiffany diamonds. At least they list their website, so you can find their products and stores. (Tiffany’s is, apparently, smarter than Michael the Pimp.)

I threw the magazine onto the floor, just next to the couch (I always put things back where I found them) and then I headed for the hallway…

It was time to go read Batman for a while.

Regarding Sugar Gliders…

I suspect that sugar gliders are about to explode onto the American pet market in a really big way.

Why?

Because the upcoming motion picture Dr. Dolittle (starring Robert Downey Jr.) has a sugar glider in it. Much like the Harry Potter films led to a rise in the trafficking of black-market owls, Dr. Dolittle will more than likely draw attention to what is, at the moment, still a fairly rare pet.

I have two sugar gliders, both male. They’re four years old, and while their names are officially Bela and Boris, they go by many, many monikers: The booger-brats, the fuzz-butts, Opey and Dopey, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, Thing One and Thing Two, Dumb and Dumber…

Sugar gliders are basically flying squirrels. Actual flying squirrels are rodents, with a lifespan of two to four years; sugar gliders are marsupials, with a lifespan (in captivity) of twelve to fifteen years. Sugar gliders are considered exotic animals, and are not legal in all areas (or they may require special permits to posses).

Sugar gliders make great pets. They’re inquisitive, playful, and – being ‘colony animals’ – are capable of bonding with human beings. That having been said…

One must be aware that taking care of them can be very challenging, and they should not be acquired lightly!!!

For starters, sugar gliders are omnivores… which basically means they’ll eat anything you put in front of them! But just because they will eat anything you put in front of them doesn’t mean they should. The dangers of an unbalanced diet include hind-leg paralysis, extreme lethargy, and aggression. While there are some decent commercial kibbles and vitamins available, they should still be supplemented with fresh treats. There are also tried-and-true diets which use fresh fruits, vegetables, and chicken as a base. But my point is this: Strict attention must be paid to what gliders are eating! They’re not hamsters; you can’t just throw kibble into their bowl and call it a day.

Second of all – and this is most important – one must remember that sugar gliders are basically wild animals, and they take time and patience to socialize!  It can take months of slow, careful training to bring gliders to the point at which they can be easily handled and will interact willingly with humans. It’s often one step forward and two steps back, and no two gliders will be the same. One may bond fairly well, while another may always be a bit stand-offish… and during the socialization process, you are going to get bitten once in a while.

At the end of the day, you get what you get.

Also, sugar gliders require a long-term commitment! One should never purchase a single glider; they are social animals, and in extreme cases they could get so lonely that they self-mutilate. And since sugar gliders are nocturnal, they need a buddy to play with at night while you’re sleeping.

I also recommend buying another pair of gliders before one’s first pair gets too old. (And yes, introducing the two pairs is another long process.) Why? Because a glider whose buddy has just passed may become so distraught that he’ll hurt himself before you can replace the one that died. Simply put: Given the overlap in life spans, you’re gonna have sugar gliders around for a long, long time.

Gliders should never be left out unsupervised. Thus, the kind thing to do is make sure that they have a massive cage, big enough to run around and jump in, with exercise wheels and things to climb on.  It requires a fair amount of space to keep the little guys happy.

Furthermore, gliders have some quirks about which one must be aware. One is this: They can be very, very noisy if they want to! Mine are generally pretty quiet, except when I stay up late and then go to bed while they’re still up playing. I think what runs through their heads goes something like this: Uh-oh, Daddy jumped out of the tree! Must be an owl’s after him. Quick! Start barking so he can find his way back home!

A sugar glider’s bark carries a quarter of a mile. Trust me, there’s no sleeping through it!

Gliders are lovable and fun pets. I certainly recommend them, but only if one is committed to properly caring for them! One must be thorough in researching what they need, and yes… I’ve only scratched the surface here today.

I hope Dr. Dolittle doesn’t cause an uptick in frivolously-purchased, poorly-cared-for gliders. I take comfort from the fact that they are very expensive, which kinda weeds out the ‘impulse purchasers’. Unfortunately, you can buy them from a dodgy, unlicensed breeder for a couple of hundred (American) dollars apiece.  But a licensed, reputable breeder (one who has the males neutered) will charge up to five or six hundred for a glider. Also, a reputable breeder will insist on selling a proper cage along with the gliders. (Gliders can sustain damage to their feet, or even get zinc poisoning from the wrong cage.)

So there you have it: Sugar Gliders. About the coolest little guys going, in my book…

IF you take proper care of them!

Renewing Forever: A Novella

‘Passionate characters transcend even clichéd genres.’ – Virginia Wallace

“Sweetheart, could you check this for me?”

David Wollstonecroft handed his wife the suspect container and stood with his hands behind his back, waiting for her verdict.

Jillian gave the jug’s contents but a passing sniff, and returned it irritably to her husband. “It’s fine,” she said dismissively.

Her judgment was sufficient for her husband; David breathed a sigh of relief as he filled the baby’s bottle from the exonerated vessel, and dropped the bottle into the simmering stovetop pot to warm it up. One couldn’t trust the expiration dates on those containers, and David’s nose was notoriously paranoid! It was always telling him that drinks, leftovers, and the like had suddenly soured…

His wife’s button nose was far more accurate than his.

David turned as Jillian cleared her throat. He knew the sound; it was an inarticulate euphemism for ‘what do you think you’re doing?’

“Yes?” he answered.

“How long,” asked Jillian, her pretty lips twisting into a frown, “have you been working nights?”

David raised an eyebrow as a puzzled expression dawned upon his chiseled, olive-skinned face. “About three months, I guess,” he replied warily. “Why?”

“Because if you hadn’t been sleeping your days away,” said Jillian tersely, “you would know that your son stopped drinking from a bottle weeks ago.”

David just looked at his wife, clueless. He could hear Baby Charlie behind him, banging away at the tray on his high chair. He was laughing loudly, as though all of this was very amusing indeed!

“Use the sippy cup,” sighed Jillian, adjusting the tie on her bathrobe. “Can you manage this while I get dressed?”

David nodded his head. (He was tempted to retort that he could feed a herd of elephants in the time that it usually took Jillian to get dressed, but he judged it best to keep silent.)

He ran a hand absently through his black, shoulder-length curls as Jillian returned to the bedroom. His dark, luminous eyes were full of trepidation; Jillian had been awfully testy as of late! Perhaps it was because she was still adjusting to life as a new mother. Or perhaps it was because their four-year marriage was hitting that inevitable point at which wedded bliss became more work and less fun.

In either case, the things that David took in stride seemed to bother Jillian terribly. She brooded more and smiled less than she used to, and she was less prone to laughter and more so to strained silence. Oh, she still looked quite the angel, with her halo of shining blonde hair and bright sapphire eyes. She still moved with the same effortless grace with which she always had, her willowy figure seeming to float upon her tiny feet.

But lately her gaze was endlessly guarded, carefully shielding whatever ghosts lurked behind it.

David was so lost in thought that he nearly forgot the bottle; he snatched it from the water and dried it with a towel, squirting a few drops onto his arm to make sure that he wouldn’t scald the baby.

Humming to himself, David transferred the contents to a sippy cup and offered it to Baby Charlie. “Here you go, Up-Chuck,” he smiled. “No messy-messes, you hear?”

“Don’t CALL him that!” shouted Jillian from the bedroom.

David winced. Dear lord, that woman had ears like a bat!

Baby Charlie grasped the sippy cup with chubby hands, gurgling gleefully as he drank greedily of its contents. He was a healthy little fellow, quite loquacious if somewhat inarticulate, and generally pretty cheerful. The dying sunlight shone through the kitchen window and reflected off his bald head, making him look like a cross between an infant and a Tibetan monk.

David took the sippy cup from Charlie only when he’d reached the end of his meal, as indicated by the telltale slurping sound. It took David a moment to wrestle the cup from the struggling baby, but he managed it.

He stood there, waiting, clutching a paper towel with expectation…

Baby Charlie smiled widely (revealing his toothless gums) and burped loudly, spewing a spittle-laced mouthful of blood onto his bib as he did.

David grinned, wiping up the sanguine stain as best he was able. He wished, for the thousandth time, that they made these dumb things in black instead of pastel colors…

But then, bibs weren’t usually designed with the Deista’ari in mind, were they?

David picked up the jug, idly reading its label before returning it to the refrigerator.

Blood Bank of South Hampton Roads, it said. The stuff was getting expensive; it was a good thing that one of Jillian’s cousins worked there, and received a discount.

The children of men feed on their mother’s milk, but the children of the Deista’ari – the hidden nation of werewolves – feed on their mother’s blood. But much as some human women aren’t built for nursing, Jillian was not built for bloodletting. She was too small, too petite to suffer chronic blood loss despite her strength. And so, just as human babies often feed on pre-packaged formula, some Deista’ari children need borrowed blood.

David was not himself Deista’ari, but he had learned to live in reasonable harmony with Jillian, who was… but that was about as far as his ‘comfort zone’ reached. The other half-lupines still made him pretty nervous, on the rare occasions upon which he saw them. The ability to shift from human to wolf at will seemed unutterably alien to him (except in the case of Jillian, who was the most elegant white wolf that David had ever seen).

Okay, so maybe he hadn’t seen any other white wolves in his thirty-five years. But he still thought her a lovely creature, an oddly intriguing blend of danger and softness, a creature of both fang and fur.

Charlie was nearly asleep now; his chubby face was drooping when his mother finally emerged. She was clad in a pink dress, stylishly cut with a draped neckline and a high hem on the skirt. She balanced prettily on her high heels, still adjusting the pins that held up her hair.

David wistfully eyed Jillian’s modest cleavage as she picked up her baby; he was filled with a dull ache that was half physical, and half emotional.

It had been awhile…

But now was not really the time to bring such matters up.

David followed her to the car, locking the front door behind them. Hopefully Jillian would relax as the evening went on. He’d procured tickets for a musical play at the Hampton Coliseum: The Phantom of the Opera. David was excited (being quite fond of the movie version) and hopefully Jillian would have a good time as well.

Jillian had often gone to musicals as a little girl in the nineteen-thirties and forties, but she’d not been in the last three or four decades. David couldn’t imagine himself being that old, of course, but such was the nature of Jillian and her kin. He’d learned to take that in stride, although he tried not to think about what would happen when he was old and Jillian was but middle-aged.

But such bridges are best left un-crossed until their time comes.

The drive to the babysitter’s was silent, but not tense. Just silent, as moments sometimes are between couples that have learned to anticipate each other’s words. Sometimes communication is vital, a bridge that gaps the yawning chasm between two hearts; sometimes, it is comforting.

On other occasions, however, speaking becomes completely superfluous…

Tonight seemed to be one of those occasions.

Darkness was already falling, at six-thirty in the afternoon. David hailed from a small town in upstate New York, scarcely a stone’s throw from Quebec, Canada. Somehow he’d thought that autumn would be more pleasant here, in southern Virginia. And it was, in a way, being mostly bereft of the stone-dead trees and suddenly-freezing temperatures. Yet it had surprised David to find that Virginia’s October was defined by early darkness just as surely as was New York’s. 

He’d never admitted as much, but it seemed as though his adopted home had somehow cheated him; he would’ve liked more sunlight.

Aside from that, however, the Old Dominion was rather pleasant.

Pulling into the sitter’s driveway, David gave Jillian an appraising sideways glance. She stared straight ahead, not frowning but not smiling, either. Although David was tempted to wonder what he might’ve done to upset her, it was also entirely possible that he’d done absolutely nothing. He had about a fifty-fifty shot at being guilty or innocent, and it was a coin toss as to which fifty percent he’d get this time. Lord, she’d been moody lately; she hadn’t even been this unpredictable when she was pregnant.

David offered to unseat the baby and carry him inside, but Jillian shook her head and handled matters herself.

Still keeping her silence, she disappeared inside.

David took the opportunity to stare absently skyward, for just a little while. He liked staring absently skyward; it reminded him of how small he really was, and how utterly insignificant his problems were. Somehow, understanding how little he mattered made his little piece of the world more manageable. 

Pulling his glassy stare away from the silvery moon, David smiled as he watched Jillian approach. She had no doubt delivered her instructions to the babysitter with great sternness; like natural wolves, she was fiercely protective of her cub.

She was a truly devoted mother; David had to give her that.

He jumped from the car to open the passenger door; Jillian gave him a wan smile with her painted lips as she slipped inside, adjusting her skirt daintily as she settled into the bucket seat of the station wagon. (David had possessed a classic Camaro before marrying Jillian, but alas practicality had finally dictated a vehicle change.)

David didn’t often think about the Camaro anymore…

At least, he tried not to.

David threw Jillian a grin before he pulled out of the driveway. They’d engaged the sitter for the entire night; this was a rare return to their pre-parental days.

“Did you remember the tickets?” asked Jillian casually.

“Glove box,” replied David, pulling onto the interstate highway.

“Are you sure?” asked Jillian.

“Of course I’m sure!” replied David firmly.

He wouldn’t have gotten upset, he told himself later, if she hadn’t actually checked to make sure that he’d remembered the tickets. He was usually quite reliable. She hadn’t needed to do that, had she?

In any case, her checking was all it took…

By the time they reached the Hampton Coliseum, the air was full of all ‘why don’t you’ and ‘you always’ and ‘how come you never…?!’ An overwhelming entourage of ‘you’ danced all throughout the pitiful absence of ‘me’, weaving a tapestry of blame that snuffed the memory of their wedding vows like a candle.

David slammed the gear shifter home as he stopped in the parking lot, turning furiously toward Jillian. His emotions were as torn now, as they always were when he argued with his wife; anger and terror were splitting were his tumultuous heart in two.

Jillian stared back at him, her incisors noticeably elongating and her eyes glowing bright yellow. Her upper lip curled in a manner that was distinctly canine, and she flexed her hands spasmodically. David knew from experience that she was trying to keep her prettily-painted nails from turning into talons. She was trying not to turn into a…

A bitch.  

Some of Jillian’s older, more Victorian relatives often called their women ‘bitches’. David thought this abhorrent, but there were moments when he was tempted to hurl the epithet at Jillian just to upset her. Simple perversity, it seemed, was eager to take him over even during moments in which genuine malice was completely absent.

He would never call her a bitch, and he knew it. To bait, to willfully upset was one thing; however, to actually wound was something else entirely.

Calm, darling,” said David gently, laying a firm hand on his wife’s bare shoulder. He squeezed her rather hard, digging his thumbnail into her flesh. The pain would help ease her mood, he knew, although she’d bruise. But what of it? The mark would begin to fade as soon they left the car, and it would be gone entirely by the time they reached the coliseum door.

            Jillian closed her eyes, breathing deeply. She had long ago learned to set aside her anger in order to relax, to appear more normal. She would later resume the spat where she’d left off, of course, but she did have enough sense to momentarily abandon said spat.

“Alright,” she breathed at last, looking at David with bloodshot, deep-blue eyes. “It’s alright. I’m okay.”

Letting go of Jillian’s shoulder, David exited the car, opened her door, and extended his elbow.

            Jillian took it only hesitantly, her eyes swimming with confusion. David started to say something (preferably an irritating ‘something’) and then thought better of it. It is better, he thought with macabre amusement, to simply let sleeping dogs lie.

David gave the tickets to the doorman as he and Jillian followed the sea of people inside, searching for their row and section number. Jillian smiled graciously to those around her, carrying herself with demure self-assurance. She was lucky, David knew, for most of her kin could scarcely go out in public. They sported eyes that were permanently unnatural, teeth that were always predatory, and claws that no glove could ever conceal. But Jillian, to one who didn’t know her well, was more woman than wolf.

To one who didn’t know her well, anyway…

David murmured apologies to those already seated as he guided his wife to their seats. Sitting down, he leaned back and waited for the lights to darken, and the curtain to rise.

Out of habit, David laid a gentle arm across Jillian’s’ shoulders. He felt her stiffen, initially (but un-aggressively) resisting his touch…

And then she suddenly gave in, falling limply against him. It was often so with her, and David suspected that it was so for most women: Their innate need for independence inevitably conflicts with their desire to be touched, and held.

Werewolf or no, Jillian Wollstonecroft was a most peculiar creature. If all women were like her, then that made all of them peculiar creatures too (at least as far as David was concerned)…

To be fair, Jillian was almost certainly harboring similar thoughts about her husband.

The musical was amazing, so much so that it seemed to snap Jillian out of her mood. While the stage production of The Phantom of the Opera was different in sound and feel than the film version, it was breathtaking nonetheless.

David walked Jillian to the car and shut the door behind her, feeling relaxed and light-hearted.

“Did you enjoy the show?” he asked, sliding into his own seat and starting the car.

“I did,” she replied, smiling. “Thank you.”

And that was it. No more conversation, although Jillian didn’t seem hostile anymore. Just deep in thought, and more than a little withdrawn.

David found himself growing somewhat despondent as the white lines of I-264 zoomed by his field of vision. He’d wanted so badly to re-connect with his wife tonight, to somehow pull her away from whatever had possessed her. What on earth could be eating at her so?

David looked to the roadside, beyond the guardrails of the highway as the car approached a familiar landmark.

He turned onto the off-ramp so suddenly that Jillian shrieked indignantly.

She turned furiously upon him, her eyes already flecked with incandescent yellow. “What was that all about?!” she demanded, her voice sounding a little like a yelp.

“I’m sorry,” murmured David sheepishly. “I just wanted to take a detour. That’s all.”

Jillian went silent again. David was childishly tempted to drive into the curb, just to force another reaction out of her. She was usually so vivacious, but now she sort of resembled the wooden Indian that Emerson’s Tobacco kept in the front window.

David pulled into a small parking lot at the end of the public park. He turned hesitantly toward Jillian, afraid that he was flirting with a wolf bite. (She’d never actually bitten him before, of course, but every once in a great while he thought she might.)

“Walk with me?” he asked gently.

Jillian nodded tersely, pulling her jacket from the backseat. It was quite warm tonight, although that mattered little to a Deista’ari (even one wearing a short dress).

This was Mount Trashmore, one of Virginia Beach’s more notable landmarks. It was a large, man-made hill that overlooked I-264, much like David imagined that medieval castles used to tower over their surrounding moats.

When they were dating, David had often taken Jillian here. They’d sit on the hillside watching cars pass in the night, talking for hours about whatever happened to cross their love-struck minds.

Of course, this place had also been where Jillian had first revealed her darkest secret to her then-boyfriend. He had laughed when she’d told him, thinking that she was joking…

His amused laughter turned into violent panic when she showed him! 

The evening passers-by walking around the ‘mountain’ had been treated to a most unusual spectacle: The sight of a grown man running desperately away from what appeared to be a white German shepherd (or maybe a husky). The ‘dog’ easily kept pace with the shouting man, whining pitifully.

They’d not come back since. Although David loved Jillian with all his heart, he knew deep down that nothing could ever undo his initial rejection of her nature. Jillian could only ever have made herself that vulnerable once, and he could only have shattered that trust… well, once. While their relationship ultimately proved repairable (as most eventually do) there are some things that can never be undone.

They’d avoided this place ever since by unspoken consent, mutually ducking the shared memory. This was a bittersweet place, one where Pain and Desire never quite extricated themselves from each other.

But tonight, coming here somehow struck David as strangely appropriate.

Crossing the top of the hill and descending a little down the interstate side, David sat cross-legged in the dying grass.

Jillian sat beside him, clutching her jacket to her chest as she leaned against him. The traffic made a whooshing sound below them, rising and fading by intervals as each vehicle approached and passed.

The stars were dim tonight, as they always were. Jillian had grown up in this city where the stars shined but feebly, eternally dimmed by the stifling streetlights. These were the moments during which David missed terribly his remote birthplace, where mankind hardly ever encroached on the handiwork of the Almighty.

David leaned his head against Jillian’s for a moment, wondering how the humans (‘the flock’, as Jillian’s family scornfully called them) would have reacted if they knew who sat here tonight, upon their homemade mountain of recreation. Jillian didn’t seem very frightening at the moment, even if she had been nursed on blood and weaned on raw meat. (Even now she preferred her steak and chicken uncooked, although she often diced the meat up with onions, rice, and teriyaki sauce.)

Quite modern they were, these latter-day Deista’ari.

 “It’s them, isn’t it?” asked Jillian abruptly.

“Come again?” asked David, surprised.

“It’s them,” repeated Jillian. “The Flock. We thought ourselves so above them, so beyond their influence, but at last they’ve corrupted even us. I never before thought that they could; I thought we were supreme, untouchable. But ever since…”

Here she let the sentence linger.

David finished it for her, quite emphatically and with disturbing calmness. “Ever since your father disowned you for marrying me, and forever banished you to the world of men?”

Jillian nodded. The sting, David knew, had long ago left the utterance of such words; now they were just a simple statement of fact.

“We’re just like them, David,” said Jillian, her eyes brightening again, and changing color by perceptible degrees.

“You say ‘them’ as though I’m not one of ‘em,” said David dryly.

“I didn’t mean that, darling,” said Jillian, succumbing to a moment of tenderness as she squeezed her husband’s hand. “You know I didn’t. It’s just that… Well, when I was a girl, my mother raised me with all the care that a mother should, and so did yours. We were sheltered, loved, and brought up by parents who had the time and energy to give us what we needed. They had the financial wherewithal to do so, too; my family because we had ‘old money’, and yours because you grew up in a different era, one not so demanding.”

David was tempted to brusquely demand ‘just what she was getting at’, because he honestly didn’t know…

But he immediately thought better of it; such an inquiry would anger Jillian, and give her a direction towards which to angrily direct her dark thoughts. She was talking now, and this was a good thing. Hopefully she would continue to do so until she’d made sense of her maudlin wonderings.

It was best to let her simply continue.

Look at us!” spat Jillian, as though she suspected that she wasn’t being understood even though she desperately needed to be. “I couldn’t stand working after Charlie was born, even though we relied on my income. I never regretted quitting my job, but what have we given up in order for me to be a proper mother to our son? You’re overworked, David, and I’m terrified that something might happen that we can’t handle because we’re barely getting by on your pay. And you do make decent money, but it just takes so much nowadays. It’s so tempting just to throw our son into day-care so we can go live the American Dream. But we haven’t, and what do I get out of it? No social life, because no one else makes time or space for the little ones anymore; everyone keeps asking me ‘when I’m going back to work,’ as though I don’t have my hands full now. I’m drained, David, and I can’t believe you’re not too.”

David sat in silence, trying to make sense of Jillian’s pell-mell rush of words. This was her first indication that she might have regretted leaving her job. (She’d once held a lucrative position at the police department, where her family had planted her to cover up mysterious incidents involving the Deista’ari. Fledgling werewolves are a dangerous breed, and often un-governable.)

But when Charlie was born, Jillian had quit just like that. She’d discovered upon becoming a mother that she was completely unwilling to abdicate her maternal role to anyone else, and money be damned.

David supported her entirely, despite the fact that it meant longer hours for him and a tighter budget for them both. Still their little family seemed fairly happy; Charlie was being cared for by his mother, who loved him more than anything. All was well in the Wollstonecroft household…

Or so David had thought.

“Are you thinking about going back to your family?” he asked dully.

Fyodor Gwinblaidd would take his disinherited daughter back the very moment that she renounced her human husband; of this David was sure, and he was certain that Jillian knew the same. So deep was the old werewolf’s hatred for his son-in-law that he’d never even laid eyes upon his own grandson (which David found quite sad).

But old Fyodor nevertheless represented a secure life, an environment in which Jillian would have everything she wanted and needed…

Everything except David.

“Well, are you thinking of going back to your family?” insisted David.

Silence…

Sometimes, David realized with a sinking feeling, the absence of reply is actually the most decisive possible reply that one can make.

“Well, if you’d prefer a different life,” spat David heatedly, “then go get it! I wish you all the best. If you’re tired of living this little ‘Romeo and Juliet’ romance, then leave it! I won’t demand anything that you don’t want to give. Perhaps I was wrong about you; perhaps all you ever needed was another blue-blooded bastard, just like your father…”

David was ranting now, spitting bile, driven by his need to hurt as badly as he’d just been hurt. He didn’t mean those hellish words; this he knew the very moment that he spoke them. But oh, how badly it needed to be repaired, that fractured barricade around his wounded heart!   

David closed his eyes, knowing what would come next…

He actually smiled as he heard the howl of anger mixed with pain, coupled with the sound of a shredding evening dress, sized two.

He didn’t open his eyes until she had him on his back; Jillian pressed her forepaw into his chest, forcing him to the earth.

David met her enraged yellow gaze coolly, noting the bloody crimson edge to her feral stare. Her tongue lolled out from between dagger-like teeth, away from which her upper lip curled in fury. Her ears were laid back in rage, and she was panting furiously; David could feel her hot breath upon his face.

“Go ahead,” said David evenly. “Go ahead and do it! Because I, my darling, am quite mortal, short-lived and used to the idea. The moment I was born I began dying, and I accepted that fact very quickly. But you, my dear, will have to live out your long life with the knowledge that you murdered the father of your child. So go ahead; you have more to lose than I do.”

The Jillian-wolf lowered her trembling lip a little, faltering…

Do it!” hissed David, raising his head a little. “It’ll spare you the indignity of having to worry about some decrepit old man while you’re out with some new ‘sugar daddy’.”

He closed his eyes as Jillian snarled in his face, oddly ambivalent in the face of his own imminent demise…

And then she was gone.

That, thought David as he sat up, was worse even than her staying here and continuing to growl at him. It seemed as though she was ‘rubbing it in his nose’ that he didn’t possess her strength, her speed, or her transformative power. Jillian had disappeared as neatly as Houdini’s stage assistant, and she wouldn’t be found until she wanted to be.  

David had always told her that he loved her. He’d said that he’d stay with her forever (whatever ‘forever’ meant when the marital bond involved both a mortal and a more-than-mortal). He’d promised to cherish her until ‘death did them part’…

Right now David hated Jillian!  

Hatred, he knew instinctively, is not an entity unto itself; it cannot simply spring into existence. No, the purest hate is nothing more than perverted love, a bond of affection gone hideously wrong.

David stood up shakily, looking dazedly about. The passers-by were still walking around, meandering hither and yon without paying him a second thought. In the darkness, it seemed, they had missed Jillian’s moment of transformation; if anyone saw her afterwards, they had probably mistaken her for a dog.

Besides, no sane man believes in werewolves. The strength of the werewolf, David thought as he mentally paraphrased Bram Stoker, is that no one believes in him

Or her, as the case may be.

Either way, David didn’t feel like going home. Jillian may have decided to return thence, or maybe she hadn’t. Either way, David didn’t care to find out; he just wanted to be alone right now, utterly removed from anything living, breathing, or moving.  

Leaving Jillian’s abandoned dress where it lay, David half-sprinted to the car. His thoughts were numb, unable to cognitively process Jillian’s awful words. Not only could he not process her words, but neither could he process her damning absence of words. A man imagines, during his peaceful moments, that he controls his relationships…

It is only in moments such as these that he realizes that he most certainly does not! The reins of a relationship ironically belong to whichever party first chooses to toss them aside, savagely turning one ‘us’ into a pair of tragically lonely ‘me’s’.

Right now, Jillian controlled both David’s life and his future, and there was nothing that he could say to change it.

David zoomed down Independence Boulevard with such reckless abandon that it seemed he would surely attract the notice of Virginia Beach’s uniformed thugs, who relentlessly prowled the streets in search of financially lucrative drunk drivers.

But he didn’t draw any police attention; the marauding officers must have already hauled in their evening jackpot of hefty fines.

It was as if in the face of horrors such as this – the imminent demise of a life so carefully planned – even such lawless entities as ticket-happy Gestapo disappear for a while.

David careened onto Pleasure House Road, taking the shortcut toward Virginia Beach’s historic Shore Drive. He wanted to disappear just as Jillian had, to become nonexistent for a while. He wanted to be alone within the wilderness of his thoughts.

The nighttime cityscape ill suited his mood, and thus he sought to flee its garish luster.

David floored the gas pedal with careless abandon, trying not to feel anything at all. He went numb for a moment…

But when the pain once again reared its ugly head David floored the gas pedal with a vengeance; perhaps he was incognizantly hoping that his ever-increasing speed would propel him beyond the reach of his internal agony.

But it didn’t.

Green light after red light after green light flew by, until at last suburbia began to give way to trees. But the dawning forest would fade near the border of the oceanfront area, surrendering to hotels and luxury homes.

This David could not stand, the odious presence of people and their lives and their drama and the messes that made up their twisted, tormented lives…

David stomped the brake pedal, careening down a darkened side road.

Seashore State Park: The wildest of the wilds, miles of forest and cypress swamps crisscrossed only by footpaths. Nature reigned supreme here, ever desolate and yet oddly welcoming in a forbidding sort of way.

Alas it was closed, this verdant park.

David couldn’t have cared less. Snarling (much as Jillian would have) he sped up the car, ducking behind the wheel as it roared toward the chained gate.

The vehicle damage would cost hundreds, but David didn’t care; he felt a sudden, hedonistic surge of joy as the chain snapped free of the gate, sending the bent steel bars careening over the hood of the car. The casual vandalism didn’t matter; nothing mattered! Not a thing in this whole stinking world mattered, except that his own life was over. Jillian was re-writing his dreams of the future, and his helplessness was quickly driving him into a frenzy.

David jumped from the car as it came to a stop near the tree line; he left the swinging door carelessly ajar as he sprinted into the woods.

He stopped for a moment, impatiently waiting for his eyes to adjust to the gloom.

At last the nighttime forest grew clear, obligingly adjusting itself to David’s pathetically human vision. He couldn’t see as well at night as Jillian could, but he could see well enough to follow the newfound trail by the moonlight.

David began jogging.

He panted as he charged along, still subconsciously thinking that he could somehow outrun his feelings. He was desperately hoping that the pain wouldn’t be waiting for him around every corner, and along every straight stretch of the moonlit path.

David could see the shadows slinking all about him now, those lupine forms that ever teased his eyes without quite revealing themselves. These were the wolf-kin, the Deista’ari, the specie once known as the loup-garou. Once they had been completely hidden from his sight, unknown and unseen to him.

But this place…

This place was their sanctuary, their hunting ground and refuge; they were careless around David because he was known to them.  

David had a vague thought that perhaps the Deista’ari might kill him, pulling him down like a wounded deer. Jillian was angry with him, after all, and apparently tired of his company. Could the loup-garou sense his wife’s displeasure, these strange creatures that were both sub- and superhuman? Could they sense the aura of disfavor lingering around his very being?

Perhaps they could, but David couldn’t make himself conjure up the will to care. Every man dies, and what better time than now? Here, at the end of all he loved?

David ran for almost five miles before he fell headlong onto a hidden beach. Here the brackish water sat still and rank, reflecting the bearded cypress trees like a rippling, distorted mirror. It looked as though one could simply don ice skates and glide across the water; only daylight could and would reveal its utter stagnation.

David flopped onto his back, panting.

Why he ran to this particular spot, he didn’t know. He shouldn’t have come here; his very presence was self-torture, an invitation for the ghosts that haunted the beach to torment him yet again.   

Here he had once lain after a pleasant afternoon walk. Here he had once fallen asleep, waking only after night had long fallen…

Here he’d awakened to the sight of a large white canine sitting near his head, staring curiously down at him with incandescent yellow eyes. Here he had reached out a trembling hand toward her, only to have her bolt into the darkness beyond.

He’d never seen her again, not here. But she had come to him in another life, in another place and with another face. She’d sought him out, chasing his love not with a growl but with a dazzling smile, with a girlish laugh instead of a howl.

Jillian had hunted David as only a wolf could, single-mindedly pursuing her prey until the hunt had cost her everything: Her family, her inheritance, all that she’d once known.

But now, boredom and frustration had taken from her what threats and familial anger could not. That reality seemed almost an insult.

 The moon reached its zenith, and began to descend. Night would soon die, and day would be born again via the glorious dawn. David hated the thought, for daylight inevitably exposes Heartache for the very monster that it is…

In darkness, however, one rediscovers the peace of the womb, a safe place in which to conceal one’s angry thoughts.  

David jogged back as quickly as he could, his legs twitching from the strain. He felt like a vampire, running from the sunrise that he fancied might become his funeral pyre, if only he could find the suicidal courage to let it set him ablaze.

David left the scene of his impulsive break-in quite casually. It may have been that he didn’t care about anything anymore…

Or it may simply have been that he knew a little too much about the doings of the police department, by virtue of his mate. At the end of the day it would cost far less to simply replace the gate than it would to investigate its destruction, and thus David would remain ever anonymous.

That, thought David grimly as he drove away in his battered car, was the curse of being married to a Deista’ari; it made one coldly aware of the bloated white underbelly of things, of the brutal realities beneath the thin veneer that is Human Civility.

It made one understand just how much of the Eternal Wolf lives within each and every one of us!

David pulled into his own driveway at last, scarcely ahead of the coming dawn. He walked toward his front door as one condemned, dreading the sight of Jillian. Her entire family might be waiting inside, eager to tear him to pieces…

The thought frightened David not one whit.

He didn’t fear death. He didn’t fear himself, or even the nighttime terrors that traversed Seashore State Park like phantoms. No, he feared only Jillian. But it was not her fangs, her claws that he feared. No, he feared instead the emotions that she stirred within him…

And he feared those with every fiber of his being.

Jillian was nowhere to be seen (at least in the living room) and David could find no sign of her as he passed the smaller rooms beyond. With a sinking feeling, he reached for the doorknob of their shared bedroom…

He opened the door with a sense of impending doom, half-expecting a newly-installed electric chair to be waiting for him.

There was no chair…

There was only Jillian.

Charlie’s crib was empty; so he was still at the sitter’s, then. Jillian stood with her back to David, looking through the thin curtains toward the indistinct haze that was their backyard. The skirt of Jillian’s bathrobe was swishing a little; David realized that she must have donned it quite suddenly.

So this was what it came down to at last: Marital openness giving way to a complete unwillingness to be seen unclothed, the tearing asunder of the Biblical ‘one flesh’…

David headed for bed, wanting just to duck beneath the covers so that he might hide from everything that had so completely exhausted him.

But he couldn’t. Jillian had scattered a pile of… stuff across his sleeping place.

David picked up the handiest object available, a large photo album. He looked at it dully, frowning.

He opened the cover, and looked at the front-page photo…

This was an older picture, one from another age, another life. Here he and Jillian stood beneath the bright sunlight, clutching each other as though they could never be parted. Smiles. Laughter. Love and life and everything that is good in this world…

David turned the page, moving along to the photos taken at the engagement party. There were no others present except David’s friends and family; Jillian’s had disowned her already, despising her for accepting a marriage proposal from one of the ‘flock’, those good-for-nothing humans.

Yet Jillian smiled still, laughing with genuine mirth as she gazed upon her then-fiancée with honest adoration.  

David turned the pages slowly, blinded by unwilling tears. The wedding photos, the various anniversary pictures, Charlie’s birth… Jillian had given up so much, and all for David. He’d once worshipped her for that, profoundly grateful that she’d chosen him and him alone ‘to have and to hold’. He’d once cherished her love like nothing else… 

“David?”

David turned toward the window with sudden hostility…

And then he softened. Jillian sounded suddenly vulnerable, and somewhat timid.

“Yes?” answered David, stifling his inclination towards irritability.  

“Are you angry with me?” asked Jillian.

David lunged toward the window, wanting to take his wife by the shoulders so that he might shake the living daylights out of her.

Of course he was angry with her!

But David didn’t reach for Jillian; instead he stopped behind her, his hands twitching from the urge to avenge himself upon his wife. This is the difference between a good man and a bad one; every man wants to do violence to his spouse once in a while, for two cannot live in such close proximity without provoking the occasional violent thought. The difference is that only the oaf and the fool will actually raise their hands to their wives…

But the good man will ever hold his peace, no matter what the provocation.

Yet both the Fool and the Good Man feel the same perennial urge to raise their hands towards the women who offend them, just as women are often tempted to slap their husbands silly. Any and all who deny this are liars, and hypocrites…

David was a good man. Thus he stood behind his wife, unwilling to touch her in anger.

Jillian stared absently through the window, hesitant to face her husband. “I don’t suppose asking you to forgive me would do much good?” she asked, in a carefully neutral tone.

David made no reply.

Jillian sighed, running a hand through her tousled, golden tresses.  “David, is there really more to life than this? This eating, sleeping, and looking forward to nothing but the next day’s work?”

David made no answer, and his eyes smoldered still with latent anger.

Jillian’s question was obviously rhetorical…

And as usually happened in such cases, she answered her own question. “No, I don’t think life consists of much more than repeated trivialities,” she said. “Nor should it. I’m not afraid of the endless ennui, the boredom. No, David, I’m afraid of the end of that boredom, of those decades without you.”

David felt a stab of icy fear pierce his heart; he hated talking about this, and so usually did Jillian.

Thus, they generally didn’t.

“I’m afraid of life without you, David,” whimpered Jillian. “I’m afraid of what the world will be like when you’ve left it. I want our years together to be memorable, special, and I feel cheated that they must be so very ordinary.”

Silence…

“But what greater pleasure,” continued Jillian, “could there be than waking up next to one’s best friend every morning? What greater honor is there than living with the knowledge that someone so very special has bound himself to you? Your life is short, David, and quickly lived. I’ve already lived one human span, and it went by all too fast. I cherish my every moment with you, David, and I always have. What I can’t always do is accept the upcoming terror of losing you. Sometimes that terror becomes so strong that I become tempted to walk away from all of this. Somehow, sometimes, I feel like it might be better to cut my losses than it would be to live out ‘til death do us part’ to its bitter end. I do hate being like the Flock. I do hate being scorned by ‘working’ mothers, and I do resent the restrictions that the modern age puts upon us. But none of that is what really breaks my heart; please forgive my lack of honesty before tonight. What really haunts me is the very thing I love most…”

“And what’s that?” asked David, looking away.

“YOU!!!” finished Jillian, with devastating finality.

David nodded, finally understanding what his wife was ‘getting at’.

Sometimes one feels the need to vent about one’s greatest fear.

Yet all too often that very fear is too terrifying to mention aloud, and thus one settles for fussing about some random side issue; one complains loudly about that inconsequential matter in order to avoid a much bigger issue…

There is always an ‘elephant in the room’, and this is Marriage in the real world!

Jillian reached around, taking David by his hands. He resisted a little as she pulled his arms up over her slender shoulders, but to no avail; she was much stronger than he, and his attempts at fighting her off were laughably futile.

Jillian leaned into him, laying her head affectionately upon his shoulder. David felt the terry-cloth collar of her bathrobe brushing his upper arm, soft and somewhat ticklish.

“Forever, David,” said Jillian gently. “We said ‘forever’, but we both knew that ‘forever’ applies only to me. So what do I do, David? Do I run now, so I can spare myself pain down the road? Or do I stay here with all that I love so? Should I just stare your demise in the face for another few, terrifyingly short decades?”

I have to stare it in the face,” said David mercilessly. “My death, I mean. I’m human, after all. Born yesterday, and dead tomorrow… I have to deal with my demise for what it is.”

 “You do,” agreed Jillian. “And I swore that your troubles would be my troubles, did I not?”

“You did,” replied David quietly. “But it sounds like you’re re-thinking all of that now. So what will it be, Jillian? I won’t try to hold on to you, even if I could do such a thing. Your family would tear me to bits… if you didn’t do it yourself.”

“Do you think that I’ve decided to leave you, David?” asked Jillian, her voice sounding suddenly much younger.

“Yes.”

“Then you’re a fool, David,” retorted Jillian bluntly. “A woman – like a wolf, a dog – was meant to be man’s best friend.” 

“Then why even bring this up?”

“Because I need you, David!” said Jillian heatedly. “I need you to help me live with a reality that exists apart from my own kind, a reality among your kind. I need you to hold my hand through this crazy, pell-mell world that is humanity, and I need you to tell me that everything’s going to be okay. I need hugs and whispered reassurances, and kisses in the night. I need for you to look at me as something precious, something to be protected!

Jillian turned around and laced her fingers together behind David’s neck, staring at him with her magical, mysterious, deep-blue eyes.

I may be the wolf, David,” she whispered, “but you are wrong to think that I am anything but completely vulnerable to you. You’re also wrong to let your perception of me skew your treatment of me. I am partially wild, a little more than half a beast… but in the end, I am still just your wife.”

David stared back at Jillian with his wide brown eyes, awestruck. He’d thought of her lately as so bitter, as such a harridan, and such a…

Well, bitch.

But the whole time, this was the true problem: Jillian herself. Her fears, her insecurities, her weaknesses… and above all else, her desperate need to lean on him.

David hung his head in shame.

Had he let his wife down? Had he allowed his view of her – his knowledge of her ‘other half’- to temper the way he treated her? Had he really viewed her as being the stronger partner, even if he did subconsciously resent her imagined assumption of the role? 

Yes.

The answer need not have been any more complex than that. Jillian needed David – during the short span that was his life – to help carry her troubles, so that she could throw herself into carrying Charlie’s. David had the image of ‘Jillian the Wolf’ so burned into his mind that he’d forgotten ‘Jillian the Woman’ – the petite, soft creature that he now held in his arms.

To think that his marital situation could have gone so wrong, and he’d never even realized it…

This life – this relationship – was terribly mystifying.

“I’m sorry,” said David, kissing Jillian’s forehead. “I had no idea that all this was going through your mind.”

I didn’t know it was going through my head either,” confessed Jillian. “But we did say ‘forever’, after all. Didn’t we?”

There it was again, that icy stab of pain…

“What is Forever?” asked David quietly, hoping that semantics would divert the conversation away from the subject of his own demise.

“I think,” said Jillian, furrowing her pretty brow, “that ‘forever’ is a misnomer, a mistakenly linear term for something that is really cyclical in nature. What is Forever, if not a series of false starts? A resolution to start over again, every time that you need to?”

David pulled Jillian close, nuzzling her hair.

“So what is it to be, Mrs. Wollstonecroft?” he asked quietly. “Do we give in to fear, or do we renew Forever?”

Jillian pulled away for a moment and looked at her husband with tearful eyes, eyes that were no longer blue but brilliant amber…

She smiled a little, revealing teeth that sharpened and elongated even as her husband hesitantly met her prettily hellish gaze…

David felt no fear this time. Time was his enemy. Boredom was his enemy. Extramarital lust, callousness, fear, and insensitivity were all his enemies…

But Jillian was not his enemy.

She belonged to him as surely as he did to her, and all the horrors of this life could not change that. 

“I think,” said Jillian, as she buried her head into her husband’s chest once more, “that the time has come for our next false start. This one won’t ‘take’ either, you know, and we’ll have to start again after that…”

David took Jillian’s face in his hands, staring her dead in her terrifying eyes.

“Yes,” he said firmly. “Our newest start will crash and burn just like our last resolution, but we’ll learn a little something from it, yes? And then we’ll start all over again…”

David spoke softly, barely finishing his intended soliloquy before Jillian’s lips closed in on his…

“One more time,” he murmured.

Time and time again, he thought feverishly as Jillian pushed him onto the cluttered bed, we WILL start over, every time that we must…

Forever.

Regarding… well, nothing… 'cuz I ain't finished it yet…

I promised y’all one of my finest stories, due for release very soon…

I ain’t finished editing it yet. Sorry ’bout that.

But to paraphrase Stephen King, that which looks forward must also look back… and thus I offer you, my dear friends, one of the finest poems ever written. It makes my own feeble writings pale by comparison, but despite its detrimental effect upon my own work I nevertheless feel the need to post it.

My own opus will appear soon enough, I promise. Until then, ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

Oh, hell. There is no need WHATSOEVER for me to introduce this one!!!

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—

    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—

            Only this and nothing more.”

    Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;

And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

    Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow

    From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—

For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

            Nameless here for evermore.

    And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;

    So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating

    “’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—

Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—

            This it is and nothing more.”

    Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,

“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;

    But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,

    And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,

That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—

            Darkness there and nothing more.

    Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,

Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;

    But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,

    And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”

This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—

            Merely this and nothing more.

    Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,

Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.

    “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;

      Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—

Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—

            ’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

    Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,

In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;

    Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;

    But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—

Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—

            Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,

“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,

Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—

Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,

Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;

    For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being

    Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—

Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,

            With such name as “Nevermore.”

    But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only

That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.

    Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—

    Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—

On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”

            Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

    Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,

“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store

    Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster

    Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—

Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore

            Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

    But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,

Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;

    Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking

    Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—

What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore

            Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

    This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing

To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;

    This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining

    On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,

But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,

            She shall press, ah, nevermore!

    Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer

Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.

    “Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee

    Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;

Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—

Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,

    Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—

    On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—

Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—

    Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

    It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    “Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—

“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!

    Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!

    Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!

Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”

            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

    And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting

On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;

    And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,

    And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;

And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor

            Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Coming Soon…

I started to post a short story from the archives tonight…

But as I pored over the tale, carefully checking every word, I decided to give it another day or two.

This was the first short that I wrote after I got married, when the paradigm difference between Male and Female first smacked me upside my rock-hard head. That was when I first learned what it meant to truly love another person despite the fact that she didn’t make a LICK of sense to me! (Note to the ladies: That concept works both ways…)

I composed that short by framing my befuddled marital musings within the literary genre that I love best: Horror. Monsters fascinate us because – in an exaggerated form – we inevitably see ourselves buried within their angst-ridden stories.

‘Renewing Forever’ is the working title.

You’ll get the story when it’s polished and ready…

And not a moment before then!

Sam: A Tale

(Author’s note: Some of the original ‘test readers’ of this short bemoaned the misogynous ramblings of its protagonist. Yes, the protagonist is a disturbed individual, and he invites you to share in his twisted worldview. That doesn’t mean I endorse said worldview; rather, I am simply acknowledging that we live in a world that is not always ‘sunshine n’ rainbows’. And above all else, I’m trying to creep you out. Stephen King gets paid the big bucks for doing that, right?)

I fought my restraints, wincing with pain…

I’d mustered far more strength the day before!

My right arm was free; why could I not rip my bonds away? Wasn’t duct tape meant to simply be torn apart?

Not this much duct tape, apparently…

I eyed the pile of empty cardboard spools scattered in a corner of my basement, wondering how long my current situation had taken to plan.  Days? Weeks? Or had all this simply been a matter of impulse, born of a random trip to the hardware store?

Would I ever know?

I eyed my wrist, shaking terribly as my vision went blurry; I needed a drink, and sooner rather than later.  Knowing that I was a mere floor away from my liquor cabinet was driving me slowly insane.

So was the thirst.  And the hunger.  And the stifling, maddening sense of growing claustrophobia; I felt like a fly wrapped a spider’s web.  I held my wrist before my face, sweating bullets as the colors in the room grew brighter, more surreal…

I could eat, if only I possessed the courage; my own arm was within easy reach of my hungry mouth.  My flesh was firm, meaty, strengthened by years of manual labor; it could ease my hunger, and my blood could slake my own thirst. 

But could I withstand the pain?

My stomach lurched with gnawing hunger as my temples throbbed in agony.  I didn’t have a drink available, at least not one with alcohol in it.  But I could feed, if I so dared, and I could also whet the dryness of my parched throat.

Closing my eyes, I buried my eyeteeth into my shaking wrist…

“For the love of Pete,” I snarled, “will you just SHUT UP already?!”

My wife dodged the beer bottle that I flung at her, her green eyes full of fear. 

I didn’t really mean to hit her, mind you; I just didn’t like her nagging me during a football game, you know? And I mean American football, not that lame soccer crap that my wife watches on our ‘telly’ when I’m not around. 

Molly’s a ‘good girl’ and all that, but her favorite sport just bores me to tears.

I think that’s where our marriage stumbles a bit.  Molly’s Irish; she’s got the red hair, freckles, and flat chest to prove it.  So she’s accustomed to useless men, shiftless clowns who spend years on end being ‘laid off’.

She’s not used to a hard-working guy like me; she’s not used to someone who’s earned the right not to be bossed around.

So she tries bossing me around…

And I ain’t having it.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” whimpered Molly, picking the dripping beer bottle up from the carpet.  “I was just reminding you to pay the garbage bill, ‘cos you forgot last month and they stopped service.”

I handle the bills around here!” I snapped.  “You can’t balance a checkbook to save your life, and you know it! So lemme alone already, wouldja?”

“O… Okay,” stammered Molly.  “Would you like another beer?”

Duh!” I snapped, settling into my recliner. 

Molly brought me another beer, already opened; I took a gulp as she disappeared back into the kitchen, watching eagerly as the Redskins and Panthers re-formed their starting lines.

The game was a complete blowout; the score wasn’t even close.  I lost interest well before the end, so I turned off the TV and opened a novel.

I must have dozed off in my chair; I awoke abruptly around midnight, yawning.  I felt little sheepish as I stretched myself awake; I had to work the next morning, and I was still half-drunk. 

I climbed groggily out of my chair, hoping that Molly was in bed; if she wasn’t, she’d grill me like a drill sergeant.  Did I have clean clothes for tomorrow? Did I remember to set my alarm? Did I need my jacket laid out? Did I check the weather for tomorrow…?

The woman treated me like a kindergartner! Her Irish brogue, once so soothing to me, had become nails on a blackboard.  All I ever wanted her to do, these days, was to shut her pretty mouth…

Unfortunately, that wasn’t gonna happen.

I sighed as I opened the bedroom door.  Molly was lying asleep, half-covered by a blanket. 

I tried climbing quietly into bed beside her…

“Did you set your alarm?” asked Molly, her Irish lilt piercing the darkness.  “And lay out your clothes?”

“Will you quit treating me like a kid?” I snarled.  “Lay off already!”

“I’m sorry,” said Molly humbly.  “I just want you to be rested and ready for work.”

“I learned how to get myself off to work well before I met you!” I yelled.  “So shut up already!!!”

“I’m sorry…” whined Molly.

“I know you are…” I said, flopping into bed and leaning over her.  “Are you willing to show me how sorry you are?”

Molly gave me a hesitant kiss…

I didn’t climb out of bed until I was completely finished with her, and I threw her discarded underwear back onto the bed. 

“You wanna beer?” I asked. 

“You know I don’t drink…” said Molly, staring at the ceiling with a blank expression.

“Some Irish girl you are,” I said sarcastically. “Water it is, then”.

I stumbled down the hallway, and clicked on the kitchen light.

Molly was standing at the sink…

I looked back down the hallway; hadn’t I just left her in the bedroom?

Then I looked back at her.

Molly?” I whispered.

She turned to face me, her eyes jaunty, saucy even. 

“Yes, love?” Molly giggled playfully.

“Were… weren’t you just in the bedroom?”

“Maybe,” she winked, giving her rear end a flirty shake.  “I’m allowed to climb out of me own bed, right?”

“Y… Yeah…” I stammered, pulling a beer and a bottled water from the fridge.  “I just… I didn’t see you come in here.”

“Probably ‘cuz you drank too much!” laughed Molly.

I backed slowly away from her, and walked down the hallway.  Molly didn’t follow me; she just stayed in the kitchen, humming to herself as she washed the dishes.

I clicked on the bedroom light…

Molly was lying in bed; she squinted as I turned on the light. 

“Did you get me a water?” she asked sleepily.

“Were you just in the kitchen?” I demanded.

“What?” yawned Molly.  “No, I’ve been here in bed.  Why?”

“I JUST SAW YOU IN THE KITCHEN!!!” I roared, my hair standing up the back of my neck. 

“I wasn’t IN the kitchen!!!” wailed Molly.  “I swear!”

“Quit yelling at me!” I warned.  “I ain’t having that!”

“I’m sorry…” said Molly contritely, looking at the wall.  “Just lay back down with me, huh?”

Shaking like a leaf, I climbed into bed as Molly took her water from my shaking hands.

My mind was racing as I took a gulp of my beer.  Had I blacked out? Drank so much that I’d forgotten some interaction, a passing-by of my wife in the hallway?

Sleep… came hard that night.

Three days later…

I motioned the tow truck into my driveway, guiding the driver backwards as he dropped off my Chevy Lumina. 

As I paid the driver, Molly came outside. 

“What’s goin’ on?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said dismissively.  “Get back inside.”

“But…”

“Shut up, and get back inside!” I ordered.

The tow truck driver gave me a funny look as Molly obeyed my command, but he wrote out his receipt without commentary.

I stormed into the kitchen as the driver pulled away, rudely interrupting Molly’s dinner preparations. 

“What were you doing out there?!” I demanded. 

“I just… I just wanted to know what was goin’ on,” said Molly, adjusting her apron as she looked down at the floor.

“You were questioning me in front of other people?!” I raged.  “Really?”

“Well, me father was a mechanic!” said Molly, showing a rare spark of spunk.  “And I told you the alternator was goin’ out! If you’d fixed it when I’d first mentioned it, you’d have saved us a towin’ bill!”

“What did you say?” I whispered dangerously.

“I… I…” stammered Molly, “you just mighta listened to me, is all…”

“Listen to THIS!!!” I snapped.

I slapped Molly across the side of her pretty face, as hard as I could. 

She fell onto the floor, looking up at me with terror-stricken green eyes…

(I would NEVER hit my wife with a closed fist, you know? That’s only something a guy does to other men.  But sometimes, a woman’s just gotta be put in her place; sometimes, a man’s just gotta show her who’s the boss.  You fellas know what I’m talking about, right?)

Molly rose from the floor, holding her reddening cheek. 

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, looking at the floor.  “I’ll let you handle the car issues from now on.  I… I deserved that.”

“Yeah,” I said coldly.  “You did.”

I turned, and walked out to the garage. 

I’d hoped that replacing the alternator would be an easy fix, like it was on my old Impala: Remove two bolts, add the new part, and re-adjust the belt.  I was praying that the repair wouldn’t be as hard as it was on my wife’s long-scrapped Nissan: Un-bolt the entire engine, dismantle the exhaust manifold, and then replace the part…

I lifted the hood of our old Chevy, expecting the worst…

I was distracted by a giggle, coming from a corner of the garage.

I lowered the hood, looking toward the garage door…

Molly was standing in front of it.

“What the hell?” I demanded.  “Weren’t you just in the kitchen? How did you get out here?!”

“What?” smiled Molly, her cheeks glowing as though I’d never hit her.  “I’m not allowed inside the garage?”

“No, you’re fine…” I said, gulping.  “I just didn’t see you come out here, is all.”

“Well,” laughed Molly, “I’ll file a flight plan next time I change rooms! Is spaghetti okay for dinner?”

“Yes…” I said, backing away as Molly walked towards me.

“And would you…” asked Molly, shaking her hips seductively, “like to have a good time with me after dinner?”

“Y… Yes…” I stammered.

“Good!” laughed Molly.  “I’ll see you soon.  Dinner in ten minutes!”

I watched, unnerved, as Molly un-tied her apron and dropped it onto the garage floor.  She hummed an eerie tune as she left the garage, leaving me alone with my uneasy thoughts.

It took all of my will to walk back inside…

Molly was scooping spaghetti onto our plates as I took a seat at the table.  She wore her apron yet, and was chatting away as though I hadn’t just given her a well-earned slap.

Something wasn’t sitting well; something was off.  Molly was acting far too chipper for the occasion…

I needed a momentary escape.

I excused myself from the table, giving Molly a lame excuse about having forgotten to lock the garage door.

My blood ran cold as I entered the garage; I saw Molly’s discarded apron lying on the floor.  Hadn’t she tossed it carelessly away, before heading back to the kitchen?

And yet she’d been wearing the exact same apron when I’d entered the kitchen.  Had my alcoholism finally gotten out of control, I wondered? Were my memories getting all mixed up? Was I suffering from ‘delirium tremens’?

I was careful to avoid touching Molly as I stumbled into bed that night.  My habit was usually to read for a while before trying to sleep, but tonight I was just too drunk.

“Did you set your alarm?” yawned Molly.  “You gotta go in early tomorrow, you know.”

Piss off!” I snarled.

I lay there for a moment, thinking about how unnerved I was…

“I’m sorry,” I murmured contritely.

I woke up in the middle of the night…

After the day I’d had, I would like to say that I’d enjoyed some illuminating dream, or at least a memorable nightmare of some kind. 

But I hadn’t…

I just had to pee.

I stumbled down the hallway, annoyed by the lack of light.  (And also by the knowledge that I’d never find the hallway light switch in the darkness…)

I fell into the bathroom, finding the switch despite my assumption that I wouldn’t.

I moaned as I relieved myself, grateful that I’d awakened before soiling the bed.  (Over-consumption had oft been responsible for the ruination of my sleeping place!) I was so wobbly that my aim was off; I sprayed a few drops into the basket of magazines next to the toilet.

I pulled my boxer shorts back up at last, and turned off the bathroom light before heading back to the bedroom.

The kitchen light was on…

I approached the room warily, blinking as I stepped into the garish glow. 

Molly was standing at the sink, washing the dishes; she turned to face me, smiling as though she hadn’t a care in the world.  Her eyes weren’t blacked anymore; they looked as though my after-dinner discipline had never even happened.

Molly was wearing an attractive pair of printed bikini panties.  (That was strange; I seemed to recall that she’d gone to bed wearing her favorite frumpy pajamas.) Her hair was also stylishly bobbed… but I remembered dully that Molly always wore her fiery hair down to her tiny waist.

“WHO ARE YOU?!” I shouted.

Molly smiled wickedly, shaking the red curls away from her porcelain face.  “Whatever do you mean?” she asked innocently.

“Did you suddenly learn to walk through walls?” I whispered, unnerved.  “Cut your hair in seconds? Who are you, woman?”

“You… you’re scaring me!” whimpered Molly, wide-eyed.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

I was about to relent, about to back off.  I mean, my words were crazy, right? I was about to shrug off my irrational fears, and walk away…

And then I heard a loud snore coming from the bedroom. 

Molly stared at me, wide-eyed, as more snores continued to drift down the hallway.  I could feel my heart pounding in my chest now; my temples were throbbing, and I was shaking with sudden terror.

“Who…” I whispered, trying to sound assertive, “ARE you? And why do you look like my Molly?”

 “Oh!” laughed the now un-masked un-Molly.  “You’re sooooo…”

My guess is that she was about to say ‘paranoid’, but I never gave her the chance; I threw my arm around the back of her neck, and wrapped her hair around my fist.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” wailed Molly.

“Shut up!!!” I growled, slapping her.

She flailed against my assault, but alas… men are simply bigger and stronger than women, which is why I always availed myself the luxury of dismissing the complaints of the Feminist Movement.  I dragged Molly down the hallway by her hair, ignoring her screams of protest as I fumbled for the bedroom light.

I flipped the light switch up, and threw my wife onto the bed.

Panty-clad, bobbed-hair Molly rose slowly to her knees… only to face the pajama-clad, long-haired Molly.

“What…” I grated, “is going on here? Do you two know each other?!”

My wife and her doppelganger stared each other in their identical green eyes, each unsure as to how to answer…

“WELL?!” I shouted.

“I… I don’t know!!!” whimpered pajama-clad Molly.

“What’s your NAME?!” I demanded, giving the panty-clad Molly’s hair a cruel yank. 

“SAM!!!” cried the panty-clad Molly.  “My… my name is Sam.”

“What the hell kinda name is that?” I demanded.  “Is it short for ‘Samantha’?”

“Something like that…” smiled the panty-clad Molly, with eerie calmness.  “Sure, Samantha.”

Please stop!” moaned pajama-clad Molly.

“Oh, quit whining!!!” sneered the panty-clad Molly witheringly.  “You’re such a spineless wimp!!! Seriously, stand up to him already!”

“What did you say?” I whispered, raising my hand.

“You heard me…” replied Sam coolly, as Molly stepped around me.

“Yeah, well,” I snarled, “I’M gonna…”

The ‘kick your ass’ never escaped my lips; my intended threat suffered an interjection from a blow, delivered decisively against the back of my head. 

They left me a notebook.  Or she left me a notebook.  Or maybe no one did, and I’ve just lost my ability to keep my thoughts and memories straight.

I also had a pen, and a free right arm.  (The rest of my body was wrapped in too much duct tape for my right arm to tear away.)

I was always too avid a reader to shy away from the chance to actually write something now.  Was this Molly’s revenge? Enticing to me to author a memoir at which she could laugh for the rest of her life?

I can barely read my words now, I wrote.  My hand is shaking too badly, and my blood is obscuring the pages.  I’m also out of my mind with hunger, which makes my thoughts even loonier. 

I tried to keep my grip on reality; Sam was a hallucination, nothing more, and Molly attacked me out of mere panic…

I turned the notebook page dully, doubting that I could write much longer…

Something slipped from between the leaves, a piece of yellowed paper.

It was a page, I realized dully, torn from the Gaelic-English dictionary that Molly had given to me as a wedding gift.  She’d hoped that I would learn her native Irish tongue (which of course I never did). 

I could barely read the page, but one thing stood out.  A single word was highlighted: Samhnach.

I had to blink a couple of times before I could read the attached definition, and its very simplicity chilled me to the bone…

Anger.

What had that fiery-headed phantasm said? What evil words had my Molly’s hellish doppelganger spoken?

My name is Sam…

God DAMN it all!

What the hell kinda name is that?’ I’d demanded, like a complete oaf.  ‘Is it short for ‘Samantha’?

I will perish haunted by the defiant expression in Angry Samhnach’s eyes, an expression that reflected all the years of suppressed rage that had conjured her to unholy life…

What the hell kinda name is that? Is it short for ‘Samantha’?

How Samhnach must have laughed inside as she answered my question!

Something like that… 

Regarding Joy… and also Ren n' Stimpy: A Sermon

The following is a transcript of a sermon delivered to the local Church of Christ over the summer of 2014.

When I was pondering the topic of Today’s sermon, I texted Lee and asked him what he thought I should do. His response was, ‘why don’t you preach about ‘the joy of salvation?’

Now this presents a bit of a problem for me. Generally, preaching about joy and God’s love someone else’s job, not mine.

The reason I’ve never been that adept at preaching about love and joy and sunshine is because I am a product of my environment.  See, in the South, talking about joy isn’t the preacher’s job; it’s the choir’s job. We southern folk kinda do this ‘good cop’, ‘bad cop’ thing that’s designed to keep you spiritually off-kilter. The service opens with rousing songs about ‘glory land’ and ‘the blessed shores of Canaan’ and the ‘chariot that’s coming for to carry me home’. And just when you feel all hyped up about heaven … the choir sits down. And when they do, up comes this black-clad ghoul of man and he drones on and on about hell, and damnation. And just when you’re so scared that you’re about ready to wet the pew, up comes the choir again. I got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in …

You dig?

And I’m assured that this how it’s supposed to work, since this is the ‘authorized New Testament pattern of worship’ that the Lord’s Restoration Church rediscovered in the 1950’s.

But that’s why I’ve never been good at preaching about joy; because I was always the preacher, and never a part of the choir. But be that as it may, Lee presented me with a bit of challenge, so here we go: ‘The Joy of Salvation’. But before we dive into the topic, let’s have a word of prayer…

What does it mean to have the ‘joy of salvation’?

For starters, that statement is so archaic that it’s pretty well lost any meaning. A dear friend of mine who leads a church in North Carolina says that language is like a pair of underwear. When it’s new, it’s stretchy and it’s comfortable and it fits well. But when it gets old, it sags and it’s uncomfortable and it just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. The English language is like that, particularly in a religious context.

For instance, how many of us use the following words outside of a religious context: ‘Faith’, ‘repent’, ‘baptize’, or ‘communion’? We don’t, and consequently a lot of us are kind of fuzzy as to what those words actually mean. If we were to replace those words with ‘trust’, ‘reform’, ‘immerse’, and ‘memorial’, things would probably make a lot more sense to a lot more people.

The phrase ‘the joy of salvation’ has been bandied about so much that few of us stop to think about what it means. So let’s break this down: What is salvation?

The Greek word for ‘salvation’ is soteria, a word that means ‘rescue’ or ‘safety’. It’s related to the word soter, which means a deliverer or ‘savior’. I bring that up because ‘savior’ is another one of those pesky ‘underwear’ words that no one really understands anymore.

To receive salvation is to be rescued. But rescued from what? In order to understand that, we actually to leave this awkward ‘joy’ topic for a moment and revisit a topic with which I’m much more familiar: Hell.

I’ve done lengthier sermons on this before, but I’m gonna put it in a nutshell today: Turn with me, if you would, to Mark chapter 9, starting in verse 42:

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched —44 where

         ‘ Their worm does not die

         And the fire is not quenched.’

45     And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched —46 where

         ‘ Their worm does not die

         And the fire is not quenched.’

47     And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire —48 where

         ‘ Their worm does not die

         And the fire is not quenched.’

“For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.

Notice that Jesus uses the phrase about worms and fire three times. What he’s referring to is the ancient-world habit of throwing all of their garbage outside of the city walls and burning it. This cosmic landfill that Jesus calls Hell is so awful that the fire never goes out because it’s never finished burning up all the garbage. And the worms don’t die because they have an endless food supply of sin and awfulness.

Damnation is the opposite of salvation. We have all sinned, and we know this instinctively. We cannot stand before Almighty God stained with that sin; we know this instinctively as well. And we can’t offer ourselves as atonement for our sins because we’d be a flawed sacrifice because we’ve sinned. Without a third-party soter, or deliverer, we’re only fit for the great cosmic landfill.

With said deliverer, we receive soteria, or ‘rescue’. Let’s look at it another way: Turn with me to Colossians 2, starting in verse 8:

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

That phrase ‘record of debt’ is interesting. In Greek it’s cheriographon to dogma, literally the ‘writing of law’. Some translations say ‘written charge’, or ‘handwriting of ordinances’. After a fairly exhaustive study, the best translation I can think of for ‘record of debt’ is ‘arrest warrant’. In the Greco-Roman world, if somebody brought you a cheriographon to dogma, you’re in trouble and somebody wants to talk to you … more’n likely a magistrate.

What Paul meant by saying that Jesus cancels the ‘written charge’ is this:  in Christian Baptism you get a free pass, spiritually speaking. No one’s coming after you anymore.

Lemme tell you a story. When I was around eighteen or nineteen, I got into a lot of trouble. Nothing terrible, mind you, certainly nothing worthy of any weird registry or anything like that … just the usual string of silly mistakes that a lot of young men fall into.

Eventually, my buddies and I attracted the notice of the Camden County Sheriff’s Department in North Carolina. The only thing that saved my bacon was that I lived in Virginia; it’s very difficult to investigate someone when they live in the next state over … but several of my Carolinian friends did end up getting busted.

For years, every time I went to North Carolina I was looking over my shoulder. Is today the day I find out that they actually do have a warrant out for me? Is today the day that they get me? That’s not a good feeling!

But in America, virtually all offenses except for murder and certain types of abuse have a statute of limitations on them. In other words, if oh-so-many years go by after a crime and the police have yet to find sufficient evidence to file a charge, they have to drop it. They can’t make you look over your shoulder forever.

By the time I hit my mid-twenties, the statute of limitations had expired on everything I’d been involved in. Let me tell you, I have never felt freer in my life! I felt like this huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I’d messed up, for sure, and I deserved at least some sort of consequences, but it wasn’t gonna happen. I was off the hook: the legal system had given me soteria: Salvation.

So that’s what salvation means, in the Biblical sense. We earned ourselves a place in the great cosmic dumpster fire, and we had an outstanding arrest warrant. But Christ canceled the warrant with His death, and receiving his salvation by faith in baptism keeps any more arrest warrants from being filed. 

But I said that today’s topic was ‘the joy of salvation’, yes? The ‘salvation’ part of that phrase is fairly elementary, but for a ‘doom n’ gloom’ guy like me the ‘joy’ part is harder to figure out.

Let’s look at some passages of scripture where the word ‘joy’ is actually used. I always place a great deal on context, so I will tell you up front: These passages of scripture are completely unconnected. We’re just looking for uses of the word ‘joy’.

1 Chronicles 15:16: David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.

That passage is from the Old Testament, originally rendered in Hebrew.  I can’t make heads or tails of Hebrew and I’m too dumb to try. So what I did is I went to the Greek version of the Old Testament, the version that was actually quoted by Christ and His Apostles. The Greek rendering of the word ‘joy’ there is euphrosune. The word has a distinctly emotional connotation, and it actually is the root of the English word ‘euphoria’.

Let me see if I can give you an illustration of what euphrosune actually means. Y’all remember a cartoon from the nineties called Ren and Stimpy? If you’re my age you watched it when you were little. If you’re an old crisper like Lee, your kids watched it. Anyway, Ren was a Chihuahua, and Stimpy was cat. And whenever something would excite Stimpy, he’d dance this goofy little jig and he’d sing ‘happy happy/ joy joy/ happy happy/ joy joy …’ That’s euphrosune: A euphoric mental state that leads to outbursts of goofiness.

That’s one definition for the word ‘joy’. Joy can be a hyper-excited state of mind, a state of mind that is not so much logical as it is instinctual. Think of King David stripping down to his skivvies and dancing like a loon in 2 Samuel 6. That’s euphrosune joy.      

Now let’s look at 1 Chronicles 16: 27: Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place. The word joy there is the Greek kaukhema.  That word can be either positive or negative, depending on the context.  It can mean to ‘boast’, or it can mean to ‘glory’. Let’s look at another use of the same word to get a better idea of what it means. Let’s go to Romans 2:17: But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God…

The word for ‘boast’ there is kauchaomai, the same word used in 1 Chronicles 16;27, albeit in a slightly different tense.

Basically, to take ‘joy’ in something could mean to give credit to that something. Whether you are boasting or glorying, you are giving the credit to someone else.        

So to have joy could mean to be euphoric, or it could mean to simply pass along the credit for something. Now let’s look at Romans 12:12: Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

The word ‘rejoice’ there is chairo, which means to be cheerfully happy. Not euphoric, mind you. You’re not dancing around going happy happy/ joy joy. You’re just … content.

These passages I’ve chosen were chosen at random, but there is one letter in the New Testament that is known as the ‘joy epistle’. It’s Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, and it’s a letter that was so powerful that it was plagiarized almost in its entirety by Polycarp decades later, and re-circulated from there.

The context of Philippians is … well, Paul was in the slammer, chained to a wall. This context is given to us in Philippians 1:3-13: I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

12               I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Now you notice in some of the examples I’ve given you regarding the word ‘joy’, I just gave you the definition of the Greek word. But here’s the thing about scripture. God will never leave you hanging an entire point of doctrine based on a single word. For instance, the word ‘baptize’ means ‘immerse’. Inarguable point. But for those who question this, scripture tells us that Phillip took the Ethiopian into the water. That John baptized in the Jordan because there was much water there. Sometimes if you wanna know what a word means in scripture, you don’t just look up the word in the concordance. You read a story, and it’s less likely that you’re gonna make a doctrinal mistake that way.

So let’s take a good, hard look at Paul’s story, shall we? We’ll be starting in Philippians 1:18: Yes, and I will rejoice,19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

27               Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I had and now hear that I still have.

            So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

12               Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14               Do all things without grumbling or questioning,15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Let me give you a reality check here. Paul was IN JAIL!!! The only letters we have of Paul’s are the ones that the Holy Spirit allowed to transcend time and decay, the ones that were divinely capable of changing lives. But who are we kidding?! Paul was really good friends with Priscilla and Aquila. And I’ll bet you my next paycheck that at least once they got a letter like this: ‘Dear Priscilla and Aquila. Yep, they caught me again. I was preaching at the temple, and the centurion beat me half to death with the butt of his sword. Yeah, it kinda hurt. Anyway, I only lost two teeth this time. They got me chained up now. I was asleep when they threw my bread under the door, so the rats ate it all. My cellmate’s crazy. I thought he had a demon so I tried to cast it out, but it looks like he’s just crazy after all. Anyway, miss you guys. Best Regards, Paul.’

Philippians was written not from the point of euphrosune joy. Paul was not dancing around his cell. Honestly, I doubt that it was even written from a perspective of chairo joy; I’m not sure how cheerful you can be when you’re fighting with the rats for your dinner. Paul was not euphoric, and I seriously doubt that he was cheerful.

And Philippians gives us a whole new spin on the words ‘joy’ and ‘rejoice’.  One of my favorite books ever, one that I’ve read a dozen times over, is Lewis Carroll’s Alice through the Looking Glass. The book just has this madcap genius to it that never gets old. I remember this one passage in which Alice is having a conversation with a gnat, of all things, and the gnat asks her this: ‘what sort of insects do you rejoice in?’ To which Alice replies, ‘I don’t rejoice in insects at all, because I’m rather afraid of them …’

And in this exchange Lewis Carroll gives us a similar definition for ‘rejoicing’ that Paul does. To rejoice in something is to move toward it, and to cling to it no matter what. Alice didn’t rejoice in insects because she ran away from them, but Paul rejoiced in his salvation because he ran toward it. Paul actually admits to having suicidal thoughts in Philippians, but Christ is the one thing he held onto, no matter what.

And I think that’s the last and most important definition of ‘joy’: What you find joy in is the thing that you turn to when everything else has failed you. You don’t have to be euphoric. You don’t have to be cheerful. Jeremiah was ‘the weeping prophet’. Jesus was ‘the man of sorrows’. Your eternal salvation is not determined by your mood, and thank God for that!

If anyone would know that, it’s me. I’ve been suicidal. I’ve had alcohol issues. I’ve cheated death on several occasions. I’ve been divorced, and psychologically unstable at a number of times in my life. I’m not euphoric. I ain’t always cheerful, either. But at the end of the day, God has still graced me with the ability to look toward Him for comfort. I look at my past and I see ruin. I look at America’s future and I see martial law, economic collapse, and death. (I’m not trying to spark a political debate here, mind you. I’m just saying that’s how I see it.) It takes all of my will to look past the bleak future I see in this life, so that I can embrace the afterlife beyond … but I can nevertheless do it. And that ability is one of the very definitions of ‘joy’.

Some things in Christianity are inarguable, and changeless. You wanna be a Christian? You have to believe that Jesus Christ is the manifestation of God in the Flesh. You have to be willing to move past the sins of your past. You have to be immersed in water to wash away your sinful state, and you have to do your best to live as a Christian. Those rules are changeless, ageless, and not subject to debate. You either accept them or you live outside of Christ. It’s that simple.

But not everything’s that way. Some things in our faith are subject to interpretation, to individual understanding and practice. When we use the phrase ‘the joy of salvation’, the word ‘salvation’ is an inarguable point. We were sentenced to hell, and Christ saved us from it. Pretty simple.

The word ‘joy’ is not so concrete. Some of us will be euphoric. Some of us will be content. Some of us will keep our pointing finger straight up, making sure that Jesus gets the credit for everything that we do.

And some of us will be like me, hanging onto hope by our fingernails, trusting in Heaven when our entire future on this world looks like a living hell. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you define the word joy, because scripture itself defines it fifty ways from Sunday.

Define the ‘joy’ however you will, and then live for it! Take joy in your salvation, however you understand the phrase.

That’ll be it from me, unless anyone has an accusation of heresy. (Someone? Anyone?  Gonna get me one of those someday …)