Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Fine Romance- Details on Dating a Hooker Part II

            I was surprised when Tabitha called me the next day, having forgotten that I had given her my phone number. She invited me over. “We can just hang out and like do whatever. I don’t feel like going out and stuff.” She said in her scattered way. Why the hell not? I grabbed a couple of bottles of Jack, a cheap pizza, and a few plastic cups that had been rattling around in my cupboard (I’m so generous) and headed over.
She greeted me at the door, giggling, obviously high. She grabbed me about the neck and grinded her crotch against mine. I pushed her back and told her to eat. She dove into the Little Caesar’s pizza ravenously, while I mixed a few drinks with the leftover coke in the bathroom. Dangling the booze in the air, I called to her and she bounced over, gripping the cup with both hands like a child, and took a loooong sip.
She rolled around on the bed grinning, the booze and pain meds in her system really fucking her up. I downed my first drink quickly, and we spent a pleasant evening just hanging out, drinking, talking bullshit, watching garbage shows, and having very specific sex (more on that later).
This was pretty much the template for the whole of our relationship. We never did anything outside of that room. We never went anywhere. We never saw anyone else. It wasn’t as if this was some awkward topic between us. We felt absolutely no need to do anything else. We had booze, food, and sex all right there. The trifecta. What more could we have added by leaving?
We both still had to work though, which was probably the only reason I ever left that dump for an extended period. Her job, of course, was a little different, with more flexible working hours. I’m sure that everyone thinks that her profession would've (or should've) been a big problem in our relationship, but that was actually the least of it.

When we were together it was almost as if her job didn’t exist. I might’ve even forgotten about it, except for her collection come-fuck-me hooker clothes and the slabs of slutty make up she put on before leaving. Those and the seemingly never ending supply of condoms she kept on the top of her hefty handbag- for easy access. Occasionally these would spill out in a long long long strip and scatter about the floor. Embarrassed, she would hurriedly put them back in and I’d pretend not to notice.
She would leave when I did and come back some time later, and absolutely would not discuss where the money came from. It was a verboten topic. Not that I was dying for details. I think she entered a dissociative state while blowing random jerks, so that it felt like someone else. She just got it over with and moved on.
At this point I’m usually asked, “How do you know she just wasn’t using you?” I reply, “I didn’t have to pay for sex, which is a step up from all the others.” Again you would think that the physical side of our relationship would be a big problem, but it wasn’t.
Sex between us was odd but frequent. During it, she was  bossy and liked it rough, but in a very specific way. Our sexual trysts took on a ritualistic element. Everything had to be done with correct precision.
First I made her clean up, which was my only real contribution to the performance. Then I’d take her and lay her out on the bed. She’d try to get up and I’d push her back, yelling at her to, “STAY DOWN!” All part of the dance. When I roared, her face grew terrified and excited, eyes completely wide, hands gripping the side of the bed in anticipation, her entire body shaking slightly. I’d  roughly force her legs apart and pin them down with my elbows. Then I would pull  her lower lips apart, stretching them as far as I could, and act as if I was going to dive right in, only to stop a centimeter above. She’d stare at me, waiting waiting waiting.
After building the anticipation to its highest, I’d blow a steady stream of air onto the exposed clit. Her head would slam back into the pillow, writhing in pleasure, and she held her breath until mine ran out. Occasionally she would want me to do it again, but that was rare.
Then with the tip of my tongue I would ever so lightly begin to caress her clitoris. Slowly, slooowly, I would stroke harder and harder. It was never faster, only slow and hard. Her stomach rose and fell in time with my tongue. We would go on for fifteen to twenty minutes, when, at her behest, I would measuredly insert two fingers and manipulate them inside of her. She’d jump and start randomly when this began, like a jolt of electricity had hit her. Her favorite was when I would twist the fingers and then spread them as wide as I could horizontally, or curl them up into a ball then slowly straighten them out. All of this was still done at a slow calm pace.
After about another fifteen minutes of this, I could usually coax a gushing orgasm out of her.  She would moan in an odd low whine, almost like a male cat, and start banging her head savagely on the pillow. Then grab my wrist with both hands, while still not looking at me, pause, and then climax. All of her tension evaporated with that. She’d lay back smiling wide, staring at the ceiling, as if all the saints in heaven had come down to bless her.
Then it was my turn, and again this would have to be very specific. I’d flip her over and push her face into the pillow with her back end arched up. Then I’d have to insert myself, keeping one hand on the back of her head and holding one of her arms behind. It was quite a balancing act actually and took some practice until we could do the routine smoothly. Sometime later, while talking to some shrinks at a bar, that I was told we were probably reenacting some rape trauma from her childhood, only in a way she could control.
Her drug of choice was prescription pain medications. She got them from a host of different doctors and for each one she used a different ailment pulled from her sack of injuries. Some of them real, some imagined, and some outright faked. She had an intricate list of which pharmacies (and pharmacy chains) she had used for which doctor and what prescription, and went to great pains not to overlap any of them. She kept track of this with an incredible focus that was not displayed in any other part of her life. Most of this was paid for by Medicaid by the way. Your tax dollars at work. Sometimes she would plunk down straight cash (the wages of sin) to avoid too much scrutiny from anyone who might be looking, but I don’t think there ever was.
When on the pills, she was eternally happy. When on them with a booze mixer, she was the most easily amused person I have ever met. She was relaxed and unafraid of the world. As they wore off, she would become frightened of people and often mistook any glance in her direction as some sort of evil intent. Emotions would overwhelm her and she’d burst into tears at the most bizarre provocation. If there was no light for her cigarette, she’d cry. If she couldn’t get the flavor of ice cream she wanted, she’d cry. If she looked in the mirror and some of her clothes didn’t fit right, she’d cry. At first this inspired sympathy in me. Later on it turned into annoyance.
She took the pills to cover up some mental problem that had plagued her for most of her life. What exactly, I’m not sure. As time went on, she randomly retold bits of her life and mentioned more and more men, all of which she claimed had raped or attempted to rape her. Starting with her father, then moving on to include uncles, brothers, school gym coach and so on. Eventually the amount of men whom she accused reached a ridiculous number. I seriously doubted that a woman, outside of a United Nations refugee camp, could have been molested by that many different men.
I didn’t doubt that at some point she had been repeatedly raped, probably as a child, by a relative or a family friend or whoever… but along the way I guess she learned that people will excuse certain behavior if you have been traumatized in some manner, and will even sympathize with you. Desperate to have people actually want to be around her, she played that card over and over, even when it obviously wasn’t working. It’s like when you hear a dirty joke being retold, it loses its impact around the third time.
Yet she seemed unable to move on from this theme. She often would do the same things over and over again, mostly I assume because it had worked once. Her addiction to prescription pain meds and constant hypochondria fell along those lines. They helped her, at one time, with whatever mental problems she had, but even when she received something specifically designed for her problems, she would not stop taking the other stuff. No matter what. Even today, I’m sure, she would have the exact same style of life… if she were able.
I realize that I’m not exactly painting her in a favorable color, so I’m sure you’ve muttered to yourself, “Why the hell did he talk, much less go out, with her?” There was still something about her. A beat, a wildness in her soul that called me. The whiff of craziness that flows off a person attracts me, even though everyone else seems to be repelled. I have a fondness for broken things. I usually label it as character. She had real character. Not like these normal drones that try to fit in with society. Normal is boring. She dared to be different.
 That’s the official line, but she really couldn’t have been any other way. It’s sad, because she really wanted to be just a normal person and have an ordinary life. It just was not going to happen.
There was also her smell (once cleaned up), something about it drove up the wall. She had the perfect pheromonal mixture that caused me to throw away the rest of the world. I couldn’t help myself. Several times I went over to her wrecked motel room, intent on never seeing her again because she had acted really crazy the night before or had vomited all over me in bed (happened more than once). But when she grabbed me and pulled me close, my resolve collapsed and the sex instinct took command.
A Fine Romance will be continued in Part III

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Fine Romance- Details on Dating a Hooker Part I

            There was a girl named Tabitha with whom I had a torrid affair. The first thing people ask me about this relationship is, “How do you date a hooker?” To which I reply, “You just have to remember, when she fucks another guy it’s not personal, it’s just business.” If you can get past that bump in the road, you’re golden.
The most beautiful of street hookers. Well… there was definitely a beat-up and used quality to her. She must’ve been gorgeous once, now there were deep black lines engrained in her face, like a bigfoot style portrait. To me that only accented what was once there. A faded memory… true beauty.  She was thin, and I mean rail thin, with cheekbones that drew out her face, making her head seem too large for her body, and a big ol’ Jewish nose that I loved. Large brown eyes that no matter what she said or what attitude she tried to project, betrayed a vulnerability that caused me to pause. She knew it too.
The vulnerability was real, but she used it like a snake charm. She had it down to an art and thrived -actually more like survived - on it.  The men she snagged either exploited her or tried to be savior types. Needless to say, those trying to “help” ended up getting used in the end. I never understood how a  guy could fall for Tabitha’s lies, her manipulations were as subtle as a sledgehammer. "I’ll pay you back next week. I’m expecting some money, so could you buy this expensive useless item?” But, I guess there are plenty of men in the world who go stupid for a pretty face.
The ironic part is that the guys who used her, aggressively and openly, are the ones who got the sex and the money. She  immediately crumpled under any pressure and then waited to be tossed aside like a used condom.
I dealt with her by doing neither. I didn’t give or take. She could keep her stuff, but she wasn’t getting mine. An odd respect grew between us over this. Some of you might be shaking your heads, but this is normal for my relationships. What do I look for in a woman? I look for intensity! Something out of the ordinary to set a woman apart from the bovine mooing herds. Tabitha had that in spades.
I first met her at a Waffle House, a couple of blocks from my apartment. Like all sophisticated people, the Waffle House was my favorite non-alcoholic haunt. I liked it because as long as I tipped well, the servers let me hang out for as long as I wanted. It gave me a place to read, write, and whatever else I needed to do.
Twenty years ago it had been a prosperous area, burgeoning with cash and supporting its own mall. Now all of the high-end retail shops, electronic stores, and restaurants had been replaced by bail bondsmen, pay-day loan shops, strip clubs, off-brand dollar stores, fading pornographic book stores, low-rent accident lawyers (“Hurt in a car, call Jamie DaFarr!”), pawn shops (“We buy gold!”), musty motels (“By the hour, day, or week.”), salmonella chicken shacks, storefront Christian start-up ministries (like all businesses usually doomed within a year), and used tire dumps.
Or simply rows of empty storefronts. Gutted plazas, littered with the shells of stores.  There were acres of cement pavement, cracked with age, weeds growing up through the wounds. A man can understand real loneliness when walking around these places. And everything, everything, had a used feel to it. You could see where it had once been brand spanking new and the most modern architectural design. Now it was just worn out, waiting to be torn down.
My Waffle House was smack in the middle of this region. It was a junked up little place, little had changed in it from when it had been thrown up in the early 60s. This seems to be the Waffle House business plan, throw one up and work it to death, until its officially condemned. Apparently back in the day, you had to actually wait to find a seat in the place, now there is no such nonsense. Hours would drift lazily by where I was the only customer, which is just how I liked it. The rest were mostly strippers (“Can I pay in sweaty, wrinkled up ones?”), transients (“How much for half a bowl of grits?”), lost tourists and low rent individuals who frequented the aforementioned businesses…. plus me.
I was sitting at the counter reading A Journal of the Plague Year, enjoying the silence of the evening and a cheap cup of coffee, when in she came. Wild eyed , she was talkied loudly about how she needed a light for her cigarette and how there was no good medical emergency services in this area. She flipped back and forth between the two subjects almost randomly, making her conversation nearly incomprehensible. The annoyed server just stood there, nodding at her while paying no actual attention.
I looked over. How could I not? She was thin as hell.  I got the idea that she must’ve recently lost a lot of weight because all of her clothes were baggy. Her belt on the last loop and still the pants sagged, while her stained lime green shirt hung about her like a burlap sack. She had on some bizarre crushed red-purple velvet jacket with a lot of puffy fringe at the collar and cuffs, that looked way too hot for the Southern climate.
We made eye contact and she bee-lined over, ending her rant at the near comatose waiter with, “We’ll talk later.” She stood over me holding a cigarette between two extended fingers, clumsily making sure the jacket draped open at an angle to show off her once sleek, now wrecked and sallow, figure. She was so obvious it was laughable. But then me being me, if she had been subtle I probably would’ve missed it.
“Light?” She said, eyes arching up.
At the time I was a two pack a day man, so of course I had a lighter on me. I held it out.  She rubbed my hand as she took it and walked outside. Cheap trick. I figured that that would be the last I saw of her or my lighter. Through the diner window I could see her talking on her phone, pacing back and forth, and making dramatic gestures with her cigarette arm. I turned back to my enthralling tale of people dying of bubonic plague.
A few pages later, I looked up and found her sitting next to me, just staring. “I didn’t want to disturb you…” She said, slipping the lighter across to me. After an initial introduction, she started talking at me in great detail about her life. It wasn’t all just babbling, and there was incredible emphasis in her voice as she painted herself as a tragic figure. She looked directly into my eyes, forcing me to maintain contact and actually have to pay attention to what she was saying. For some reason (I assume common courtesy), I didn’t want her to think that her sad history didn't interest me.
As she went on, she crept closer and closer. That’s when the smell washed over me: stale hair. It was matted down and untended, and almost looked like a poor plastic reproduction of a human scalp. The stench had that odd soapy oil odor that hair will get if it’s not taken care of. I’m not sure how long it takes to get it to smell like that, but my assumption is several weeks.
Like many junkies, she seemed to have an aversion to  getting water on her skin. Usually after a month of steady using, the average (from my previous job experience) crackhead smells like raw ass left out in the sun. Of courese at this time I had no idea that she was an addict, I simply thought that she needed to wash her hair.
Our first conversation was mostly about her various, and completely fictitious, health problems. Conversation is really a misnomer since it implies active participation from both parties. It was really just her rattling on, with me nodding and deploying the occasional interjection. “Yeah.” “Huh.” “I see.” “How about that?” She said that she had a muscular disorder which caused her to not be able to move properly and that she also had a different muscular disorder that was wasting her muscles away. She claimed to have gum disease and that most of her teeth were rotting out of her head (not true, as I later discovered), again this was supposed to be because of some disorder rather than her not brushing her teeth. This was all loused up even further by the ubiquitous, and difficult to disprove, back injury.  She had a lot of technical terms for her conditions, or at least what I assumed were the technical terms.  They were all latin-esque and I couldn’t tell you if they were correct or not, but I nodded knowingly and pretended I understood, like when I go to the mechanic.
After realizing that I would listen to her for an extended period of time, she said, “We could go back to my room and talk some more for a while if you like. We can just hang out and whatever.”
I said sure. Really, how could I not? First though, I excused myself to the bathroom and shoved my wallet into my underwear, just in case she was leading me somewhere to be beaten or drugged and then rolled. I don’t know if hiding it would work, but I figured that it was wiser to crotch than not to crotch.
The motel was in a lot just behind the Waffle House. On the way, she kept leaning into me, claiming that she had some hip problem or something and could I help her walk to her room? I thought she might be trying to pickpocket me and mentally high-fived myself on the wallet maneuver. I realize now that this was some attempt at seduction that I didn’t pick up on.
The room was a disaster. A crumpled version of the same motel design we’ve all seen a hundred times. Except the wall art was different… blander, if that’s possible. Clothes were strewn about in various states of decomposition. Obviously they had been bought, worn, thrown in a corner and then reworn, once the initial smell had gone away, but not cleaned.
 The counter space, on the dresser by the TV, was a perfect mosaic of her mind. It was covered in brown transparent pill bottles, empty, half empty, and various states in-between. The pills, the centerpiece, were very important, but still only thrown together in a confused jumble, accented with little bits and pieces of accoutrements which adorned her habit: several blank prescription pads, receipts (scattered about) from a couple of dozen different pharmacies, shredded candy bar wrappers, and dropped handfuls of loose change.
The beds, twin doubles, stank of long term body odor, with a hint of alcohol or grease or something equally unsavory, yet they were still neatly made and tucked in. The carpet was sprinkled with ash and a random assortment of dirt. The wastepaper baskets were filled with fast food wrappers, empty cigarette packs (Winston Menthol Lights of all things), and plastic bottle caps, but no bottles.
The bathroom was sparse and had everything you’d expect, except for a warm half empty 2 liter of Coke in the sink. I had expected a large smattering of cheap cosmetics, but it was completely bare of that. I found out later that she kept it all in a huge “handbag”- a very misleading word; the damn thing was as wide as her torso. I suspected that she kept everything in there in case she had to make a quick exit, then she could grab everything in one swipe. All of the bathroom towels were balled up and thrown in a corner, dry and dirty, while all of the toiletries -soaps, toilet paper, and shampoo- remained capped, wrapped, and untouched. The “do not disturb” sign must’ve been hanging on the knob for weeks.
I plopped into a padded chair and lit a couple of smokes. She took one, puffed a few times, while avoiding eye contact, picked up a half full water bottle, took a few swigs (of what I assume was water), and  haphazardly wandered about the room, mumbling to herself and moving items about.
“Why don’t you sit down and relax?” I said. 
She complied, eyes down, suddenly shy around me, and started talking again. About problems, about fears, about hopes and dreams for the future, about religion, about medical and dental emergencies, about medication, about vague people from the past, about how life was just completely and utterly unfair. All hers. I didn’t get a word in edgewise.
Four hours later she exhausted herself and wandered into the bathroom, stating that she hated wearing clothes and that she had a medical condition (of course) which made it painful for her to do so. She emerged in an oversized T-shirt, sans pants or panties and laid down on the bed. At her insistence, I crawled on top of her, positioning myself upright on the small of her back. She bade me to ball up my fists and sort of kneaded the flesh on her back, hard. She had me work in this manner all down her body, while she groaned in pleasure.
Then, grinning, she wiggled out from under me and latched onto my face, sending the full stale stench of her hair up my nostrils. I started back sharply and put a hand to my nose to block the funk. Her lower lip trembled and she bent over, hands covering her face, crying and talking about how she was no good.
“That’s enough of that.”
 I took her elbow and lead her into the bathroom. She stripped off her single garment and got in the shower. When taking off my own clothes however, she became frightened and tensed up to panic. I calmed her down with a low soothing tone and slow deliberate movements, and left my black jockey shorts on. It's bizarre I know. She had no problem being naked all the time, but everyone else had better keep their clothes on. I never got a clear answer as to why she preferred things like this, I assumed it was from some sort of abuse.
There was a bit of embarrassment when I started undoing my pants. My wallet fell out. “What’s that?” she said and I realized that it must’ve looked like I had shoved something down there to make my penis look bigger. I mumbled a vague explanation and put the wallet in my shoe. She had been mumbling all night, now it was my turn.
I placed her in front of me in the tub, facing the shower head, and turned it on full force. She tried to squirm for a few minutes, but I kept a firm hand on her left shoulder and told her to stay put.  I cracked open the dusty bars of soap and little shampoo bottles, and went to work scrubbing off the layers of dried sweat and grime- a very determined and time consuming task. The soles of her feet were the most difficult, as she had to balance on one foot while placing a hand on my back. The entire time she whined about her medical conditions, which now apparently had morphed into her not being able to stand for long periods (hence her profession, I guess).

“You’ll survive.”
It took half an hour to get her body clean, then I moved onto the real difficult part of the process, her hair. This was something else altogether. It was black and shoulder length, besides being stiff, ratty, and gnarled. I had to soften it up a lot before I began lathering, otherwise I was afraid it might break off. When the water hit it, a thick, slightly yellow oil rolled off her scalp and down her back, which was … let’s say unexpected. I squeezed the complimentary shampoo bottle over her head and was afraid it wouldn’t be enough, but after 15 minutes of lathering, I got it into shape or a reasonable facsimile thereof. The smell was gone at any rate.
We got out. I tossed aT-shirt at her and told her to get into bed. She did so, but very nervously, unsure of my intentions. I toweled myself down and squeezed out the jockey shorts  in the sink. In the other room I heard some rattling from a pill bottle and when I emerged she was feeling fine, with a wide droopy  smile on her face. We cuddled up and watched late night crap TV, before passing out.
A perfect first date.

Part II of A Fine Romance is coming soon

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Thief in the Night- Funny Christian Propaganda

            A big fuss was made about the series Left Behind: the apocalyptic series about the End of Days wherein all the good Christians are swept up by the rapture (something they never mentioned to me in Catholic Sunday School), leaving all the rapists, murderers, arsonists, people who enjoy touching themselves in an impure manner (Guilty!), people who don’t like going to church (Guilty!), and  people who drink alcohol (Guilty!) to suffer under the rule of the Antichrist. Well did you know that this idea had been done before? Oh yes. In the 1970’s and early 80s a succession of films conjured up the Christian Armageddon right before our eyes. It was called A Thief in the Night series.
This guy's mustache is the real star
            A Thief in the Night (1972) was the brain child of Russel Daughton, who incidentally was an uncredited writer/director on the 1950’s version of The Blob. He plays a recurring role in all four films as a preacher who lead his flock astray by telling them that God loves them and all they had to do was lead a good life. Widely popular in the Christian underground film movement, the film was followed by A Distant Thunder (1978), Mark of the Beast (1981), and The Prodigal Planet (1983). Daughton was raising funds to finish the series, with The Battle of Armageddon, but passed away in August of 2013. In a sense this series goes beyond Left Behind because it marries Christian prophecy with a lot of crazy conspiracy theories.
            The action of the first film focuses on Patty, a young woman who thinks she’s a good Christian because she reads the Bible and sometimes goes to Church. Ha! She learns soon enough that being a good Christian (according to this film) requires you to constantly lecture other people about their sinful ways and spew Bible quotations from every orifice (“Hey, have you heard about this dead Jew that’ll solve all of your problems? His name is Jesus Christ- even though it really isn’t.”). In fact it’s a relief when the rapture actually comes because all of the smug (and they are oh-so smug) Christian types are gone, along with their sermonizing. No more Bible verses, let’s get to the blood!
            After the rapture a new world order, called UNITE (United Nations Imperium of Total Emergency), takes control. One of its first actions is to decree that everyone must wear an identification mark, the number 0110 repeated three times (0110 being binary code for 6). Patty refuses to take it, making her a target. She is then chased around and around and around the town, until she is knocked off of a bridge by a pair of her former friends who had taken the mark. The original films ends with everything being a dream, but a prophetic one for as Patty wakes up and goes into the kitchen, she learns that the rapture has indeed occurred. She gives a hearty scream and everything goes dead, except for the sound of me laughing.
  As the films progress things get a whole lot crazier. All of the world’s governments give up due to natural disasters and a limited nuclear exchange, and a man by the name of Brother Christopher takes over UNITE. Of course all true Christians know him to be the Antichrist, just like Obama, but everyone else loves the guy even though he speaks in a creepy metallic voice with a staccato cadence to it.

            No one is allowed to buy or sell unless they take the mark (0110). Eventually it is also discovered that the mark is the root code for the UPC symbol system. Patty, still refusing to place it on her hand, is forced to scrounge for food. Jesus shows up, says hi, then leaves.  Several nuclear explosions happen. A new religion is formed around Brother Christopher which everyone, but the faithful Christians, join (I guess the Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Rastafarians, and Hindus just give in). Patty is betrayed by friends, captured by UNITE, and eventually guillotined in the beginning of the third film.
            We are then handed over to a new protagonist, David, a plausible action hero who is out to get UNITE. The films take on a low rent Mad Max vibe here. There are dirt road chases, gun fights, people who aren’t Christians get large boils on their faces, hordes of mutants in robes roam the countryside attacking everyone (I shit you not!), a six year old is guillotined by the government, and one woman is eaten by a giant locust. All ending with a shootout and the heroes blowing up UNITE’s “main computer bunker” in New Mexico, which completely disorganizes them. Apparently this global government has only one server and no backups.
            All of this put together actually sounds pretty cool, but in-between each interesting part is  a lot of sermonizing and morality lessons which seem like they should’ve been scripted for a bad 1980’s sitcom, not an apocalyptic battlefield.
            Something I want to point out here is that I have noticed that the best religious type films/ morality plays don’t mention the Bible or Jesus at all. Whenever the Bible is discussed, the film comes to a screeching halt. Say what you want about The Passion of the Christ, it isn’t preachy and it keeps your interest.
            The entire series is riddled with laughably bad acting, stock footage that doesn’t match the movie’s film stock, and suffers from an extremely low budget. Granted this is a labor of love for the director and no doubt the people in it were all true believers working for low pay (if not for free), still the poor budget becomes very glaring as the series goes on and swings quickly from campy to tedious.This film series needs a fan edit.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Witchlord and The Weaponmaster- Review

1st edition cover
  The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster is the notoriously difficult to find tenth book in The Chronicles of an Age of Darkness series (known as the Wizard War series in the US).  The first edition of it was barely published at all, while the second is available as a print-on-demand novel through Amazon for around $40. I first came across it as a free PDF on the author’s, Hugh Cook, website but that was taken down after his death from brain cancer in 2008.
2nd edition cover
The Chronicles of an Age of Darkness is a series of interconnected books all of which occur at the same time (or roughly the same time) and the events of each impact the others. This leads to some very interesting storytelling as in some cases you saw the impact (it would come across as a rumor in a novel), before the event was described in another book. Each novel centers on a different protagonist and that person would often show up in another novel in a brief reference or as a minor character. So while every book technically stands alone, they all coalesce to make a greater whole- a literary collage.  He must have had one hell of a chart to keep track of it all, but it was one of the things that made this series stand out.
Cover of the 1st novel
        Originally the series was to be twenty books long, with two additional series planned The Chronicles of an Age of Wrath, and The Chronicles of an Age of Heroes- making for a total of 60 books. Unfortunately poor sales aborted that idea and Cook wrote The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster to wrap up the entire series- after which he put it completely behind him. I had contacted him in the mid-2000s offering to work with him on the series, releasing some more as ebooks – a very new idea then- but he was uninterested. Which is understandable, he had recently been diagnosed with cancer, but he also stated that he had moved past the series. Perhaps that was presumptuous of me, but I loved the world and the characters in it and I did not want it to end- especially not with this novel.
Cover of the 1st book-
American Edition
   I first encountered the series when it was published as Wizard War in the late 80s. I was immediately drawn in by the imagination, scope of the book, and the wonderful descriptions. What attracted me most though was the amorality which hung heavy in the setting. This was no typical fantasy fight against the forces of darkness. The protagonists were not shining examples of goodness and heroism. These were men, neither good nor evil (or should I say, both good and evil), struggling against each other, each with their own agenda. Reading it was a breath of fresh air.  As I continued with the series, I saw how one intimately slid into the other, like a great jigsaw puzzle. In fact there are many little things mentioned in the first and second books which are much larger deals in the tenth. Cook really did construct a beautiful literary architecture.

2nd book- Original cover
           The Witchlord and the Weaponmaster centers around the character of Guest Gulkan- The Weaponmaster, also known as The Emperor in Exile- and his father Onosh Gulkan – The Witchlord- as they rule their empire, lose it due to internal strife, then attempt to regain it. Guest Gulkan has appeared as a minor character in several other novels- The Wordsmiths and the Warguild (book 2), The Women and the Warlords (book 3), The Walrus and the Warwolf (book 4, though he isn't named) and The Wishstone and the Wonderworkers (book 6)-  always with a sinister agenda which is finally revealed.  He begins the novel at the age of 14 (earlier than any other story in the series) and ends with his quest for power uniting many of the plot elements of the series. His eventual success is of a different order from that of the previous protagonists, giving him enough control over his world to change it entirely and shows us the end of the Age of Darkness- and probably therein lies the problem with this book.

2nd book- American cover
  I had several problems with this novel. The first being, despite its length (724 pages), it appears to be hastily written. There is a great deal of repetition of past events (some of them which happened only three or four pages earlier) and the titles of characters (some of which are quite long). Often the same information is repeated almost word for word on the same page. It seems very sloppy, almost like a first draft. An odd thing is that this repetition appears to have gotten worse between the first and second editions. I know when he re-edited the book he was suffering from brain cancer and had vision problems, but it still needed to be smoothed out. He obviously just wanted to get it over with. Perhaps it's understandable with his dreams of a huge series blowing up. 
3rd book- Original cover
        This is also probably the only book in the series which could not be read as a stand-alone book. A lot of the action that we get is either covered entirely in other novels or is skipped over in a few lines. Especially towards the end, the entire story mostly relates Guest zipping to and fro across the world, stopping some place for a few years (covered in a few pages), and then moving on. It wraps up the series, but is not a good story by itself. It feels more like a synopsis in many places.

3rd book- American cover
And because of this, the character of Guest is not very fleshed out. He’s just there. We are told of how he grows and changes, but we don’t feel it. Everything is hastily assembled. The opening of the book is the Collisnon Empire, also the setting for the third book. In the previous novel we get a real feel for this land. It is very distinct, filled with old customs and its own sense of history. All of this is missing here. It feels like just some generic country, not the interesting place described before. The flavor is missing from this novel and we are left with a bland concoction.
            Again I love this series and I’m happy I have this book. It’s simply that the last of the novels is also the least of them.
Buy it here


Monday, February 2, 2015

The Registry of Death

   The Registry of Death is a 56 page graphic novel by Australian artists Matt Coyle and Peter Lamb published by Kitchen Sink Press in 1995.  I first ran across it in Mid-Ohio Con in the late 90s during my routine excavations into the dollar bins - a particularly favorite activity of mine. If ever I thought that I had gotten a great bargain, it was when I snatched this up for 50 cents. it remains one of my favorite horror comics ever.

 It is a different book from your standard graphic novel, mostly consisting of single panel illustrations with captions at the bottom of the page. The pictures are bold, brutal, and mixed with traces of cold antiseptic cleanliness. They aren't explicit, but an anger and viciousness underlies each of the them. Everything is a little bit off in these illustrations (by design), every face is twisted ever so slightly, as if their souls had been stripped away and only the beast remained. The images are haunting and stay with you long after you're finished with the book.

The story is simple. A man, who works for the Registry of Death as an eliminator, now finds himself targeted by that group, seemingly out of nowhere. He has to strive the onslaughts of his former colleagues, a group of unrepentant sociopaths, as he tries to figure out the truth.

The book is simple, yet within it I find a complexity. Every time I read this book, I see something new. It's an overlooked masterpiece that stays with you for a long time afterward.

Buy it here