Friday, October 30, 2020

Dave’s Anatomy:  My History as a Writer #140:  Precision Marching and “Oh-E-Oh”: “The Witch’s Guard.”


When you are small The Wizard of Oz could give you some real scares. A lot of kids are frightened by the flying monkeys; the Witch is pretty scarry; but for me it was the green, stern, grim-faced guards in the witch’s castle with their bearskin hats, dangerous-looking halberds, and the deep-throated song they sang as they marched with intricate, complex movements. When I saw a call for submissions based on The Wizard of Oz, my mind went to those particular characters. Who were they? How did they get into the service of the witch? And why were they happy when she is melted—so much that they even help Dorothy after they have chased her down, growled at her, and threatened her with their weapons? The matter called for some fictional investigation.


The story centers on Drustin, whose family works mining granite. He gets to know a girl from a family his family is friendly with. The girl, Noreen, has only a passing interest in Drustin until she finds out that he loves words. He does not read well, but when he charms her by telling her how he likes the way certain words—dawn, mist, ignoramus—sound and feel in his mouth when he says them, she teaches him to read well. The two eventually come to love each other. Then Drustin is taken in the annual levy of children the witch enforces on the people over whom she rules. He goes to the palace to become a guard. He laments that, like everyone who goes there to serve, he will eventually forget his love for family and will become a mindless follower of the witch. Noreen tells him a way he prevent this from happening to him. “Read,” she says.


Conscripted, Drustin is taken away. On the march to the castle, he is assaulted to two older boys. Being strong from years of wielding pick-axes and hauling stone, he kills one of them and disables the other. He wonders if the guards will kill him for this, but they complement him and say if he behaves in such a bold manner he will “go far” as a guard in the Witch’s castle. When he is settled in his place as a guard, he becomes one of the most formidable younger soldiers; the other recruits his age are afraid of him. He also learns that the longer you are in the castle, the more you forget your ties with family and home. One can tell the degree of this by the color you turn:  you might turn green or blue or purple. Drustin manages to not succumb to the influence as much because he manages to find books and read.


He is given a leave and goes home. His family is astonished that he even wants to come home. He tells them he has fought against absorption in the witch’s evil rule because he reads. He also find, to her dismay and horror, that Noreen has been conscripted and will come to the castle to work as a comfort woman—a prostitute.


On his return, he finds the Witch is terrified of a young girl named Dorothy, who has killed her sister and is reportedly coming after her. She captures Dorothy, but Drustin notes, her three companions overcome some of the guards, steal their uniforms, and infiltrate the castle:  A lot of people wonder how they overcame the soldiers, but think about it. A lion (however cowardly) is a formidable beast. A man made out of metal is something to be reckoned with. The Scarecrow, though not strong, displayed adroitness; his soft, straw-filled body could only be harmed if you tore it apart, as the monkeys had, or burned it. My soldiers did not discern as much. They threw down their hauberks because the Witch had ordered intruders captured so they could be tortured for information. Mistake. The trio of Dorothy’s friends made short work of my men, put on their uniforms, and infiltrated the castle.


He is amazed when Dorothy slays the witch not with magic or a weapon, but with a bucket of water. Norella has not yet arrived to assume her role in the witch’s household. And the soldiers, no longer under the spell of her evil magic, revert back to the way they were. They show kindness and, slowly, begin to fade to whatever color their skin was before her enchantments affected her. The monkeys revert to their wild forms. The people from near-by villages come. They leave the guards alone but take vengeance by killing the Witch’s bureaucrats and pulling down her castle.


Drustin returns home, he and Noreen are married and live happily ever after.


The story appeared in Non-Binary Review, which has now ceased publication. The magazine recommended it for a Pushcart Prize. It did not win one, but merely being nominated is an honor. This is one more to add to the list of stories I ought to submit once again.

For a good read this season, get a copy of The Last Minstrel. Music, we are told, can sooth the savage breast. But can it overcome an evil goddess?  You might be surprised.  Get a copy here.

Happy Reading. 














Thursday, August 6, 2020

Dave’s Anatomy: My History as a Writer #139. Finding the Lost Mother: “The Fairy Godmother."

Revisions of fairy tales are popular today. There are journals and anthologies of them, and as a writer I’ve done written some. I’ve published revived stories about Rumpelstiltskin, the Magic Mirror from Snow White, A Christmas Carol by Dickens, Sleeping Beauty, and others. This particular story was on old French fairy tale, very well-known due to the cartoon version of it (which I saw at the theater when I was a kid), Cinderella.

Cinderella, Poor
“Cinderella” follows a familiar fairy tale pattern. The mother dies and is replaced by a cruel stepmother. In Cinderella’s case, she is made a servant answerable not just to her stepmother but to her stepsisters. This trio treats her with contempt until a fairy godmother appears, enables her to attend a royal ball, and she ends up marrying the Prince. They lived happily ever after, but my story begins where the Grimm story ends.

Yes, Cinderella is happy. She loves her husband. She bears four healthy children. Still, she finds that life at the palace is not all gold and glass slippers. She learns how people start rumors about her, accuse her of everything from unchastity to sorcery, even plot attempts upon her life. She uses the survivor skill she learned growing up to thwart them. Secure in her position as queen, however, she wonders about her mother. She summons a woman she loves and trusts, Élodie, and asks her if she knows the identity of the fairy godmother who used magic to free her from her former life. Élodie says she doesn’t know, but the two of them are aware of a sorcerer named Burnell who can tell them. Élodie warns Queen Elaine (Cinderella) that she must be careful: if it is known she has consulted with Burnell, her enemies will use this against her.

Elaine has occasion to go to Burnell’s town when her husband, Oslac travels to another country. Burnell appears to her and warns her that Bertrand, the Grand Duke of the Land, is plotting to take control of the kingdom and has suborned a servant girl to murder her at breakfast. He also says her mother’s name is Alura, she is not dead, and that she in fact is the Fairy Godmother who dispensed the magic that made Elaine queen. When she asks where she is, he simply says, “All things are revealed to her who seeks.”

Things unfold just as he says. A servant girl tries to kill Elaine. The Grand Duke says she and her husband have been killed and he is taking control of the country. He also has captured her children.

Elaine takes decisive action. She rides from village to village rallying militia. Loyal troops join her. She rides to the fortress where Burnell told her her son was being held by Bertrand’s brother, Guthrun (her other children are being kept at a nearby convent). By appealing to the loyal troops there, she frees her son and effectively ends the revolt. Her tenacity shows in the action she takes after the loyal troops rally to her:  Two of Gudrun’s troop had been killed already. The loyal soldiers brought the ones still alive and decapitated them in my presence. I fought with all my strength not to vomit or swoon at the sight of it (I had sent Auturic back to the convent). I ordered the heads of all the traitorous men sent to the place and to the Grand Duke.
Guthrun was still alive. I ordered my troops flay him. He was not hurt so badly that he would not feel it. I would send his head and his hide to the Capitol.
My actions later earned me the epithet, “the Bloody Virgin” which made me laugh because by the time I order those killings I had been fucked from one end of my bedchamber to the other and had given birth to four children. Still, it stuck and became a by-word. Others called me Queen Elaine the Just because I had ordered the executions in response to the crime of treason. That caught on as well, and I became known by both titles through the years. Paradoxes come at us in this manner. It’s something that keeps life amusing.

The revolt collapses. Elaine and Oslac return power and co-rule the kingdom. She still wonders if she will be able to find Alura, her mother.

Later, an incident occurs in the north that puts her contact with a sorceress who is able to take her to
Sheena, the Sorceress
her mother, who is under an enchantment and asleep. Elaine is unable to wake her mother and decides it would be proper to let her sleep. The Sorceress appears to her and tells her she has done right and a council of magicians will awaken her mother. She returns home.

Here is where I came up with a beautiful twist. Shortly after she arrives home she receives a note from her mother telling her where she is staying. Elaine goes there, sees her, but when she does she gets the idea that she is growing smaller. Her mother tells her that through magic she will give her daughter the true desire of her heart. Elaine realizes she has reverted to the girl she was at age five, when she lost her mother. With her child’s body, she approaches Alura and puts out her arms. Alura picks her up and gives her heart’s greatest desire:

Nights when I lay on my bed of reeds by the hearth, exhausted from work, lonely, miserable from the insults, taunts, and mockery of my stepmother and stepsisters; hungry and dirty; despairing and, like any other child, wanting to be cherished, I would imagine sitting on my lost mother’s lap in a rocking chair by a warm fire. I would imagine her holding me and loving me. I would imagine how sweet and beautiful that would be. I envisioned warmth and sanctuary. Many nights I drifted off to sleep with this picture in my mind. I imagined it even when I grew into womanhood. I went to sleep with this vision in my mind the night mother came to transform me so I could attend the royal ball.
And now the dream had become reality.

Queen Elaine—Cinderella—receives her heart’s desire. Her mother assures her that she will return her to her adult self. The circle will be completed. She will return to her adult life, this time with her mother at her side.

The story appeared in an anthology, The Fairy-Tale Wisperer. Get a copy here. 

For another revised story, this one from the New Testament, read The Prophetess. Here is a link to the novella:  The Prophetess.


Thursday, June 11, 2020

Dave's Anatomy: My History As a Writer, #138: History and Horror: "The Lorelei of the Trenches"

World War I Nurses

World War I was horrific. The use of heavy artillery, poison gas, machine guns against tactics used in the Napoleonic War (e.g., marching infantry straight into the line of fire) cost millions of casualties. The poets of World War I captured some of its horror, particularly the poem by Wilfred Owen, "Dulce et Decorum"; Isaac Rosenberg, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon also chronicled the horror. Robert Graves' memoir, Good-Bye to All That, is a must-read for anyone wanting to know just how terrible it was to have been in that war. 

Does death and destruction attract evil creatures? My story, "The Lorelei of the Trenches," suggests it does indeed. Supernatural creatures who live and feed on fear, sorrow, and death would have been right at home in the mist of World War I's mayhem. The desperate emotions of those around them would have been food for their souls. And they would have encouraged the violence and exacerbated it to gain more nourishment.

Tilda Pennington, a British nurse stationed in a field hospital right on the front lines. Enduring the sights of men wounded and maimed is difficult to take. She has seen nurses sent back home because they simply could not cope with what they daily encountered in the hospital. More then one, she knew, had begun to take morphine so they could cope with conditions there. One night when she goes outside to be alone and to smoke, she sees a tall woman in a white dress standing near one of the salient in the trench.  She is startled.

You never saw women in the trenches except for the occasional nurse. Now and then wilted-looking clusters of French whores would trudge toward their rides home after servicing hundreds of men. This woman was not a nurse nor did she look like exactly like a prostitute. She stood tall, taller than many men, and wore a long, starkly white dress. She had a pale face that contrasted with her abundant black hair. The nails on her white fingers were long. From where Tilda stood, they looked like talons.

The figure raises its arms. Tilda feels buffeted with energy, entranced, and then sees the woman smile and vanish. She dismisses it as a hallucination and turns to go through the door to the hospital. A shot rings out. A bullet hits the doorpost only inches from her head. She hurries inside, gets in bed, and sleeps.

Eventually she shares what happened with Richard Taylor, the ranking doctor in the unit and also her lover. She tells him about the vision and the sounds of singing she sometimes hears—high, eerie but beautiful female singing. He tells her her vision came from thirty-six hours with no sleep; and suggests someone on the German side owns and gramophone and was playing opera.

Tilda agrees. Then she finds out two other nurses have also seen the mysterious woman. One of them, though experienced and battle-wise, eventually walks up a set of wooden steps into no-man's land and is shot is killed. Tilda puzzles over why she would have done anything so stupid; but she remembers hearing the odd song just before her friend was shot. Another woman, learning of her death commits suicide the next day. Tilda had heard the song again, just at the moment she thought the second nurse must have been fitting the rope around her neck.

When she sees the strange female the next day, she rushes at her and accuses her of treachery (she assumes the woman is a prostitute). Suddenly a beautiful song fills her head, a song of longing for her homeland and contrasting the beauty of it to what mayhem, death, and pain all around her. The loveliness of it—the strange woman seems to be singing the song, though Tilda only hears it in her mind—made her long for safety, childhood, and repose; for all she had given up by coming to the battlefield. She could go to that land, the woman sang, with just a step, a few steps up the wooden stairs into the open.

Tilda almost succumbs to the temptation, but thoughts of her love for Richard come to mind.

Death takes the Lorelei

When thoughts of love fills Tilda, the woman winces—as if the vision had rebounded upon her. Tilda watches the metamorphose of the strange woman with horror: Her hair fell off in long, black tails. The outline of her skull appeared as her cheeks, lips, eyes, and scalp dissolved and ran over the bones of her face in a sluggish stream. The bloody flux pooled at her feet, the loss of her flesh transforming her to a skeleton. She collapsed then, a heap of bones and a loathsome mass of liquid flesh. Tilda faints. Richard and some others find her and take her the hospital. She tries to explain what she has seen. They think it only an hallucination from fatigue and stress. They give her a sedative. When she wakes up, the war, she is is told, is over.

She marries Richard and settles down to domestic happiness. When helping her daughter with a test on The Odyssey, she comes across references to the sirens; female creatures who used a song to lure men to their death. Further research informs her of a range of such ghouls: succubae, lamia, lorelei. Lorelei were a European version of the Greek harpy and siren. She realizes she had encountered one and overcome it. Richard returns home. It's their night to be intimate. She invites him into the bedroom for a celebration of love.

The story appeared in an anthology titled History and Horror (Oh My).Get a copy here.

Happy reading.