Friday, April 28, 2006

Sally Gorgon And The Shattered Werewolf (Part 4)

Sally lifted her heavy mallet. DeMontoya screamed. Sally brought down
the mallet against her chisel. The statue of the young man shattered. The torso
split in half. The arms fell to the floor. The head fell to the floor.

DeMontoya screamed. It started low, guttural, then rose to a banshee shriek.
The scream changed, then, into a kind of howl, rich, echoing
a hard, discordant wail. From outside, through the large windows,
other howls sounded, as if in answer. DeMontoya swung to face Sally.
His skin was pulsating now. There was a kind of auroral glow
obscuring his flesh. His shoulders humped up, and with clawed hands
he tore off his jacket, then his shirt. His skin was dark, hirsute and rippling.
He twitched and grunted with the effort of his transformation.

“Gorgon,” DeMontoya said, struggling to get out the words through teeth
grown to fangs, “this slaughter is on your head. I claim you as my prize.”

Sally didn’t move. She breathed deeply as the man-beast took a step toward her.
DeMontoya kicked away his sandals. Sharp nails on his clawed feet
scrapped against the floor. His eyes, red now, were fixed on Sally’s face.

Sally moved then, stepping to the side and toward DeMontoya.

DeMontoya crouched to pounce, but then shrieked again. This time
it was a scream of pain. And disbelief. The wood and silver cane
of Sally’s old servant had entered the monster’s back
and now pushed out through the creature’s chest. DeMontoya
clawed at the sharp point of the cane, but already his legs
were buckling. DeMontoya fell to the floor, convulsing.
His howling changed to a liquid gurgle, and then fell silent.

The howls outside seemed to rise in intensity. The screams outside
included human voices, voices of horror, of pain, of rage.

Sally stepped over the dead werewolf and the stone parts of his son.
She patted her servant’s shoulder. “The village was prepared?” she asked.

The old man shrugged. “As well as they could be. The soldiers
are mostly deMontoya’s men. But some will fight for the people.
And the people will fight for themselves. For you. Many will die.”

Sally nodded. “This whole province will be thought of as cursed.”
She looked around her work room. “Maybe this province was cursed
to begin with – having deMontoya and me both living here.”

The old servant shook his head. “God’s ways are not our ways,” he said.

Sally raised a hand, gesturing out the windows, to the screams and howls.
“This is not God’s work,” Sally said. “This is the Devil’s business.”

“No, Miss Gorgon,” her old servant said. “It’s all God’s work.
Whether we recognize it or not. The people know that.
The people understand that, if nothing else. That’s why
they’re fighting now. They may not recognize God’s ways,
but they recognize their hatred for the deMontoya’s.
And their love for you. Anything that ends with a creature like this
stretched out, stone dead on the stone floor, that must be God’s work.”

Sally looked down at the carcass, then at the shattered stone
that had been deMontoya’s son. “And the boy?” Sally asked. “Artist.
And monster, too. Yet he came to me. Perhaps
he came to me because he recognized something of himself
in me. And I don’t think it was art he recognized.”

The old servant touched his foot against the dead werewolf.
“That’s a monster, Miss Gorgon,” he said. He pointed
at the wall, at the portrait deMontoya’s son had painted. “That’s you.”

Sally took a breath, let it out slowly. She looked at the portrait.
Then she looked out the windows. Screams and howls
still echoed outside. Sally said, “Nobody will live here after this.
They will call this land cursed. But where does a curse end?
I understand that more Separatists from England are sailing west.
To Vespucci’s territories. I’ve heard they’re building towns
across the Atlantic in a place they’re calling the New World.
Is it possible for a new world to be different from the old?”

The old servant didn’t speak. Sally looked at him and smiled.
“I suppose,” Sally said, “that a new world might be like a new block
of granite. It might be anything an artist chooses to make it.”

Now the old man did speak. “This is the only choice any world
can face,” he said. “To be shaped by artists. Or used by monsters.”

Sally nodded. “Yes,” she said. “But if I go, do I go
to this New World as artist, or as monster?”

The End

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Sally Gorgon And The Shattered Werewolf (Part 3)


The elderly servant again carried his cane in his hand as he ushered
the tall, heavily built gentleman into Sally Gorgon’s work room.

“Miss Gorgon,” the servant said, “Augustus deMontoya to see you.”

Sally Gorgon’s work room was large. The wide windows made the room
seem more of a patio than an interior. Sally was working, bent over,
among pillars of marble, some coarse, rectangular, some roughly shaped.
Some were half complete sculptures of men and women in various poses.
Some finished statues were covered by rough, gray cloth. Sally stood up.
In one hand she held a massive mallet. In the other hand, a dark, metal chisel,
shaped to a wide, flat edge. “How do you do, Mr. deMontoya,” Sally said.
“I’m covered with dust, so you’ll understand if we don’t shake hands.”

“I don’t shake hands with women,” deMontoya said. His voice was deep
and seemed to fill the room. “And, as I’m sure you are well aware,
I’m not here to exchange pleasantries. I’m here to discuss my son.”

Sally gestured with her chisel to a table by the wall. “That’s your son’s
portfolio. I was going to have it delivered to you.”

DeMontoya walked to the table, opened the portfolio and looked inside.
He shrugged and tossed it back onto the table. “I don’t care about
these scribblings. I’m here about my son, Miss Gorgon. I want
my son. You’d better deliver to me more than these scratches and stains.”

“Your son painted a portrait of me the day before yesterday,” Sally said.
“It’s there on the wall by the door. When I saw your son’s paintings,
I knew he was a great talent. When I watched him work, I realized
his gift was greater than I’d imagined. The way his hand moved the brush
against the paper. The way his eyes held the model. His vision
of the world around him. I was honored to pose for him.”

“I don’t care about any of this prattle,” deMontoya said. “Tell me,
where is my son? That is all I want from you. Tell me now.”

“You must know why your son came here, Mr. deMontoya.”

“For your sake, Miss Gorgon, I am doing my best to refrain
from thinking such thoughts. Possibly for the sake of the pitiful sheep
who inhabit this province I am refraining from thinking such thoughts.
But enough nonsense. I want my son. Tell me where he is.”

DeMontoya’s eyes were tight slits. Every muscle in his body
seemed hard as the stones scattered around the room.

Sally took a step toward deMontoya. She hooked a gray cloth
with the edge of her chisel. She lifted the cloth and tossed it aside.

Under the cloth, between Sally and deMontoya, was a stone statue
of deMontoya’s son. The young man was kneeling, naked. His face
was uplifted, mouth open, captured at the moment of orgasmic ecstasy.

DeMontoya breathed heavily. His skin flushed deep red.
As he breathed, his chest expanded and his hands formed tight fists,
then, clutching empty air, extended claws. His whole body vibrated.
Shaking, deMontoya faced Sally. “Gorgon,” deMontoya growled, “my son
will be released. And his deMontoya blood will run stronger for this outrage.
He will not pass as do humans. In a way, this insane desecration of yours
is a blessing for my family. Now, my son’s deMontoya blood will be hardened
by this . . . this stone Purgatory. But it is a blessing for him that will cost you
your life. I will take it from you slowly. I will rip your skin—”

DeMontoya stopped speaking when Sally moved. She lifted her chisel
and placed the edge against the statue of deMontoya’s son. She positioned
the blade carefully between the young man’s shoulders at the base of his neck.

(“Sally Gorgon And The Shattered Werewolf” concludes tomorrow)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sally Gorgon And The Shattered Werewolf (Part 2)


Sally Gorgon entered the room through a brick archway. She carried
the portfolio the young man had given her servant. She tossed the folder
onto a wooden table. Loose pages from within spilled out, revealing
sheet after sheet of charcoal drawings and watercolor paintings.

“Those are beautiful,” Sally said. “Now, what is your business here.”

The young man watched carefully as Sally positioned herself
so that the heavy table was between him and her. In the Mediterranean sun
the colors of the watercolor paintings washed out to white.
But when the young man’s shadow fell on the paintings, the colors
came to life in sensitive, muted harmonies. The young man smiled.

“I want to paint you,” he said. Sally started to speak. He interrupted.
“The painting would be a payment. A fee. For a service.”

Sally laughed. She said, “You’re playing some game. But, since you didn’t
offer me money, I’ll play along. At least for a moment. What possible service
could I offer a deMontoya? What possible service could I offer a young man
that dozens of village girls couldn’t provide better? And more cheaply?”

“You know what I am,” the young man said. It wasn’t a question.

“I know who you are,” Sally said. She watched the young man’s face.

“That’s not what I said,” he continued. “I said, you know what I am. And I know
what you are. But let me tell you that tomorrow is my sixteenth birthday.
Tomorrow night is the full moon. Ever year, for the last five years,
I’ve dreaded this time of year. Because I know what I am, too. For years
I’ve been spared. But I know what will happen tomorrow night. This year
it’s been in my dreams. And my body. My body has been, well, making
itself ready. See?”

The young man held up his hand. In the sunlight,
his flesh seemed pure white. As the light shimmered, his fingers
seemed to pulse, then change, becoming first thinner, then wide,
then seeming to flex and come together, but not as a hand, as something
stronger, something sharper. Something bestial. But the young man
tugged his hand back to his side and rubbed his fist against his hip.
After a moment, he put both hands on the table. Both hands were normal.

“I will not do it,” he said. “Look at my paintings. Girls from the village.
Shopkeepers. Cottages with gardens that grow flowers and herbs.
The waterwheel by the stream. Now, before my birthday, before this full moon,
I can see all this beauty. I can be part of this beauty. I can recognize it and,
with my paintings, give glory in some small way to the God who created it.
But after tomorrow—” The young man broke off. He stared at his paintings.
When he spoke again, his voice trembled. “After tomorrow all these places,
all these people, will be like this to me—” He broke off again, picked up
one of his paintings, crumpled it and crushed the paper in his hands.

Sally started to move around the table to stop him, but she caught herself.
She stopped, her eyes fixed intently on the young man’s face.
“What do you think I can do for you?” Sally asked.

“Do you mean, what could you do that the blacksmith couldn’t do?
What can you do that the police chief couldn’t do? The priests?
Would I bring down the wrath of my father on any of them?
On this village? Would they help me knowing the price they’d pay?”

“But you’d have me deal with your father? And the consequence
for the village certainly would be the same.”

The young man shook his head. “What is the wrath of my father to you?
Of my whole family? And what of the village? I will not see them die
like cattle, like sheep. I will not see them butchered. But they understand you.
Maybe not with their heads. Maybe not with their hearts. But
with their souls. They understand you in their souls. For you, they’d fight.
If they die fighting, they die human beings. Not being butchered.”

“Death is death,” Sally said.

The young man shook his head. “No. You know that’s not true.”

Sally put her palm against her forehead. She exhaled deeply.
“Yes,” she said. “I guess I do know that.”

“There’s something else,” the young man said.

“What else could there possibly be?” Sally asked.

“I don’t want to die a boy,” the young man said.

For a flickering instant in the bright white light of the sun
the corners of Sally’s mouth started up into a smile.
Then, just as quickly, her lips hardened into a tight, straight line.
For many breaths, Sally said nothing, staring at the young man.
He remained silent with her. Finally, Sally ran her fingers
through her hair and tugged at the long strands. “Come on,” Sally said.
“First, I must speak with my servants. Then you can paint me in the garden.”

(continued tomorrow)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Sally Gorgon And The Shattered Werewolf (Part 1)

Spain – 1642


The old servant leaned on his silver-inlaid, wood cane
as he tugged open the massive front door. When he saw
the young man waiting at the threshold, the servant
shifted onto the balls of his feet and grasped his cane
just below the handle. He used the silver handle – a wolf’s head –
to scratch his stomach. The servant spoke without smiling.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

The young man appeared barely into his teens. His eyes were wide,
fixed on the servant’s cane. He spoke quickly, his voice pleading.

“Please, sir,” the young man said, “I’d like to speak with Sally Gorgon.”

“Sally Gorgon has no business with the deMontoyas,” the servant said.
“When she does, she takes care of her business in the town square.”

“Please, sir,” the young man said, again, “I’m not here on family business.”
He reached into a heavy, leather bag slung over his shoulder.
He withdrew a thick, paper portfolio and offered it to the servant.
“Please, sir, if you’d just show this to Miss Gorgon, and tell her
I need to speak with her. It’s not family business, sir, but personal.”

The old servant continued to tightly grip his cane. He accepted
the portfolio with his free hand. He didn’t open the folder, but
took a step back from the door. When the young man stepped inside,
the servant carefully scanned the thin stand of trees out front
and then closed and bolted the front door. The bolts were thick, iron rectangles.
The servant led the way to a sprawling living room. He gestured
with his cane. “Wait here. If Miss Gorgon chooses to see you, I’ll return for you.”

The young man waited. He stood by tall windows that looked out
at the wild blue of the Mediterranean. Flowers in a garden outside the windows
sent flashes of orange, red and yellow to reflect against the white plaster walls.
The young man waited. He stood still, watching the flickering colors,
watching the shadows slowly shift as the sun moved across the sky.
The young man was neither tense nor impatient. He stood still, watching, waiting.

(continued tomorrow)

Monday, April 24, 2006

What Is Paraprosopia?

Donald Hoffman is professor of cognitive science, philosophy, and computer science at the University of California, Irvine. His 1998 book, “Visual Intelligence: How We Create What We See,” is an extraordinary review of how ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ components of the human brain and body work together to process perceptions into the end-results we experience in our consciousness. Many things we know about how normal perceptions appear to our consciousness come from careful study of how dysfunctional perceptions appear to people afflicted by damage to specific parts of their brain, or people who have unusual perceptions because of genetic variance to their brain or nervous system. One such dysfunction is called, ‘paraprosopia.’ Hoffman writes:

“…The visual world doesn’t come prepackaged into objects and parts. You create your visual world and you create its objects and parts. Because of the care you take in creating your parts, they serve you well as you try to navigate through your visual world and recognize its objects. You have countless ways you could in principle create parts. Most would be useless. But the way your visual intelligence creates parts has, as we have seen, the right magic.

“This magic can get out of hand, as it does for schizophrenics with ‘paraprosopia.’ When these schizophrenics look at a face, or a photograph of a face, they see it at first as normal. Then, within seconds, the face transforms before their eyes into a fiendish monster, vampire, werewolf, or devil. The transformation is not a simple distortion of the whole face, such as a stretching or twisting. Instead it is a set of distinct, part-by-part distortions; different parts distort in different ways. The teeth grow into fangs, hair stands up on end, eyebrows become busy, and the eyes grow large and threatening. This is a sophisticated, and horrifying, recreating of the parts of the face.”

The most interesting thing about paraprosopia, at least in the context of goblin studies, is a question which Hoffman doesn’t ask. Before I ask it, let me set up my thinking.

Looking at people who experience their perceptions in a dysfunctional way, there seems to be a pattern. A woman with damage to her brain may have very vivid hallucinations of, for instance, seeing her dog which died years before. The hallucinations may be so vivid she not only sees the dog, but also hears it and even pets the dog, feeling it at her fingers as if it were real. A man with synesthesia may see a visual image and, at the same time, hear a spurious audible sound, for instance, he may see a cloud moving across the sky and hear a puffing sound, like a steam locomotive.

The common thread here is that the dysfunction isn’t in what the person experiences, but in the fact that the experience happens at an anomalous time – seeing and petting a dog isn’t dysfunctional, those of us with dogs do it every day. It is dysfunctional, however, if we see and feel a dog when no dog is with us. Hearing train sounds isn’t dysfunctional, those of us who live near train stations hear trains every day. It is dysfunctional if we hear train sounds when no train is near us.

What if we extend this thread to paraprosopia . . . Shall we infer that seeing a person’s face shapeshift into a demon or beast isn’t dysfunctional per se, but rather is dysfunctional only when a person sees shapeshifting when, for instance, no werewolf is in front of them?

The question can be phrased in a more provocative manner.

Writing twenty years or so before Hoffman, a psychologist named
Jaynes characterized the neurological ‘software’ and ‘hardware’ combinations which shape our experiences as ‘aptic structures,’ because these ‘organizations of the brain’ evolved to make us ‘apt’ to behave in certain ways under certain conditions. The best question, then, of paraprosopia is: Would human beings have evolved aptic structures that allow us to see shapeshifting if seeing shapeshifting didn’t provide us with some evolutionary advantage? (You can’t run away from a werewolf if you can’t see a werewolf . . .)

(Coming tomorrow: Sally Gorgon And The Shattered Werewolf)

Friday, April 21, 2006

What is the Goblin Universe?

John Napier (1917-1987), not the mathematician, was a primatologist. In the course of his career he taught primate biology at the University of London and served as the Director of the Primate Biology Program of the Smithsonian Institute. He did considerable research into the Bigfoot mythos, which he summarized in his 1972 book, “Bigfoot: The Yeti and Sasquatch in Myth and Reality.” Although Napier wrote specifically about Bigfoot, I take his words from the opening chapter as a kind of ‘Policy Statement’ for Goblin Universe studies in general:

“…it is in the spirit of ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ that I am approaching the subject of Bigfoot. It is a supremely complex affair because it concerns both fact and fantasy; it deals with physical truths and hypothetical concepts; it involves the mind of man, with all its genetic and environmental influences and motivations, with its cultural idiosyncrasies, and its plain ‘ornery’ capacity for coming up with an independent idea.

“For these reasons in the succeeding pages it will become intellectually necessary from time to time to abandon the real world and, like Persephone, enter the dark regions of another world which I like to call the Goblin Universe.

“It is simple enough to apply reason to what is reasonable, but it is much more difficult to argue logically about the illogical. However, there comes a time when it is necessary to do so in order to demonstrate the illogicality of a major premise. I shall consider the evidence for the existence of Bigfoot which for a number of reasons is equivocal or poorly documented. In other circumstances I would dismiss it. The rules of logic of our world forbid the drawing of inferences from hypotheses, but this is the currency the monster establishment commonly deals in. In writing this book, I am necessarily tackling them, as well as the subject of Bigfoot, and so I shall sometimes have to resort to their logical method.

“If you see me disappearing down a mental rabbit-hole from time to time you will know where I am headed. I will be traveling unwillingly into the Goblin Universe.”

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Impossible Kisses: The Turtle At The Center Of The World

Part 4 of 4

“Tell me about death,” Alison said.

The turtle at the center of the world
standing with the Earth on its back
turned its head to look at Alison.

In the foggy light – mostly white,
washed through by greens and blues –
Alison saw stars in the turtle’s black eyes.

The turtle at the center of the world
standing with the Earth on its back
spoke like peaceful thunder:

“The Earth rides on my back,” the turtle said.
“The heavens extend in my eyes.
When I turn my head you know it.”

Alison said, “You didn’t tell me anything.”
“I still don’t know anything,” she complained.

The turtle at the center of the world
standing with the Earth on its back
yawned, slowly, indulgently.

“Tell me about impossible things,” Alison said.

The turtle at the center of the world
standing with the Earth on its back
looked away from Alison.

“Impossible things happen,” the turtle said.

Alison stamped her foot.
“Tell me something useful,” Alison said.
“Tell me something real. Something meaningful.”

The turtle at the center of the world
standing with the Earth on its back
coughed, cleared its throat and said,

“The cohesiveness of consciousness dissolves
when conceptual conflicts assert themselves
under perceptual pressure driven
by the quest for hierarchical understanding.
That is all you know on Earth
and all you need to know.”

Alison frowned. “Isn’t
that last bit a quote from Keats?”

The turtle at the center of the world
standing with the Earth on its back
pursed its lips and blew.

Alison fluttered like a leaf
to the sidewalk in front of her home in Wisconsin.
Alison stood on the sidewalk,
thinking about possible and impossible things.

The turtle at the center of the world
standing with the Earth on its back
breathed in, then breathed out.

The turtle at the center of the world
standing with the Earth on its back
turned its head.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Impossible Kisses: The Moon In The Field Behind The Old Post Office

Part 3 of 4

I touched the Moon.
I walked on it.
I picked up a rock
and dropped it in the dust.
The rock fell slowly.
The dust rose and fell,
slowly, slowly.
I stared at the Earth
from the Moon in the field
behind the old post office.
I breathed in the blackness
of the sunlit vacuum
around me, under stars.
On the Moon I smelled flowers.
The flowers that grow in the field
behind the old post office.
The field was there, too,
on the Moon, with me.
I walked off the field
and onto the Moon.
I left footprints in the dust.
As I walked, I thought,
there must be some process
that smoothes the footprints
otherwise some space probe
might see the prints.
But I laughed at my thoughts.
Footprints on the Moon
caught by a lunar probe?
Making sense of madness.
Seeing shapes in clouds.
Messages in rain drops.
I turned around
and walked back to the Earth
from the Moon in the field
behind the old post office.
At home I didn’t laugh.
The reality of my insanity
made me sigh, then shrug.
I touched the Moon –
the Moon in the field
behind the old post office.
On the Moon I smelled flowers.
I know the flowers
grow in the field
behind the old post office.
I smelled them on the Moon.
I have questions, now,
about where I’m at, now.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Impossible Kisses: I Thought It Was Wood

Part 2 of 4

It couldn’t be there.
I know it couldn’t be there.
But, still, I saw it.

I thought it was wood.
Or a ten foot clump of weeds.
Then it raised its head.

A small head, long neck.
It looked at me. Its back heaved,
and it looked away.

Not looking at me,
the thing swam in front of me
then slowly submerged.

But the lake, I found,
was only thirty feet deep.
And just a mile wide.

With vacation homes
along the entire shoreline
how could monsters hide?

No large animal
could live in the little lake
and remain hidden.

But this creature did.
Except for when I saw it.
And I did see it.

A lake monster in
a Wisconsin panfish lake.
Impossible thing.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Impossible Kisses: The Empty Lot Behind My House

Part 1 of 4

I saw a hairy monster
in the empty lot behind my house.
Among the bushes and trees and fallen logs
the creature moved slowly,
disappearing into evening shadows.
The overgrown empty lot
takes up only a city block.
Just bushes and trees and fallen logs.
Hardly an ecosystem.
Hardly a niche where a sasquatch might live.
But I saw this hairy monster,
tall, bent, man-like,
slouching through evening shadows.
The next day, in sunlight,
I walked through the empty lot.
I saw footprints in some soft dirt.
The big footprints led nowhere.
I know monsters don’t live behind my house.
I know sasquatch don’t live
in small, urban empty lots.
But I saw a hairy monster
in the empty lot behind my house.
Now evening shadows worry me.
Evening shadows make me think about
what other impossible things I might see.