The Mad Missourian, Ben Wheeler returns!
A tome of terror and nightmare beyond your reckoning! IT IS THE NECRONOMICON AESTHETICA . Bound in the twisted and flayed flesh of critics and penned with the blood-tear ink of underpaid and overworked artists, this book will be the end-all and be-all of entertaining fiction analysis. This is not to be an explicit guide to a paint by numbers towards something poor, generic and, Lord forgive me for saying this, derivative. This is a guide to promoting excellence of storytelling, to look at, disagree with or consult like a road map where you already know the way, but you want to make sure.
Read ON brave delver of the darkest literary arts!
In a dark bar, a man comes up to you and starts to speak to you. You have no idea who he is. You have no idea why he decided to talk to you. He just did. Weirdo. Get out of here man. You don’t want this. You don’t even really read books.
Well, that’s what you would say if you weren’t socially awkward. Maybe he’ll go away if you listen to him.
Writing cliche is a dangerous game. If you lack boldness, it will back fire on you and ruin the reader’s experience. Perhaps the greatest of those cliches is “It was a dark and stormy night” See, it’s not about the actual phrase. It’s all about having the confidence to use it. The writer must not blink. After the the phrase “DNSN”, you have one, ONE sentence to justify it. Either you go for comedy, you subvert or you supervert. Whatever you decide, you MUST go for it. I’ll demonstrate a “Straight example” in a second.
A comedy example would be: “It was a dark and stormy night, much like every damn night since the weather wizard’s girlfriend broke up with him. At least it wasn’t a blizzard tonight. The thunder and lightning gave horror movie night some really great drama. Well. Until the murders started. Like last year. Like every year.”
See the comedy. It’s a dark and stormy night because the weather wizard is going through a break up. I snuck in some seriousness with the murders, then made it funny again with the repetition. Of course, by the end, the murderer would be the narrator. The unreliable narrator would only enhance the humor in further rereadings.
Now, lets take a straight example.
Oh dear sweet baby Osiris he’s pulling out a manuscript. ABORT! ABORT! Oh, oh no. He pulled out a gun. Ha ha, you are so interested in his manuscript he doesn’t even know. Doesn’t. Even. Know. The bartender mistook your frantic waving for wanting more beer. She slips you a wink and pours you another jack and coke. NO! SAVE ME!
The man begins to speak and you smile more as he waves his gun around.
It was a dark and stormy night, and, if anyone had been out in the midnight hours, only the bellows of Ranjit and the screams of the horses, overcame the thunder. The Sikh manservant stamped one boot on the footboard and promised terrible threats to the four stampeding horses. One meaty hand gripped the reins like an ancient Byzantine charioteer and the other whipped any foaming horse that pointed their heads in a direction he did not purpose. Only their iron training from the masterful Ranjit kept them together.
The driver, nearly berserk himself, had been struck by branches and even a light-post, which tore at his clothing, baring and bruising his head, shoulders and chest. Every lightning strike illuminated his blood tinged eyes and scarred, glistening body. No amount of thunder dented his courage.
Within, sitting upon a padded bench and holding his praying wife, Hector Burr listened to the curses of his friend as he kept the horses at their top speed, no matter the cost. His wife pressed herself against his broad chest, with one of her hands clutching at his broad arm and the other a message in one hand. His face, more used to smiles than grimaces, showed only his grim determination. His wife held her eyes tight and whispered what prayers she could muster, her long hair wet and plastered to her face and husband alike.
“Her disease worsens. I am sure Mary will die tonight! I cannot wait! The storm shall prop up the incomplete generators and hell itself will not keep me from saving her. Doctor Jupiter”
Ranjit screeched as they passed onto some new cobblestone. The carriage swayed and creaked on iron springs as the horses handled some turn. “I WILL SELL YOU TO THE ASURA FOR THE DIRT BETWEEN THEIR TOES! MONSTERS SHALL COME FORTH FROM YOUR TAINTED WOMBS THAT WILL CURSE YOU, THEIR WHORE MOTHERS! HINDU KALI WILL DANCE ON YOUR GRAVES AND YOU WILL BE REBORN AS THE GUT-GERMS OF THE CORPSE WORMS! TURN, DAMN YOU!”
The horses whinnied and screamed as they recklessly charged down some new direction. The top of the carriage swayed again, and two wheels left the ground, threatening to tip them over. Throwing down his wife, Hector slammed his shoulder against the tipping side, ending it’s momentum and sending it to the ground. His wife cried out, and he picked her up, comforting her and putting the paper back into her hands.
“I hope we are not too late.” She whispered into his ear. Any other day he would have comforted her, and kissed her fears away, but neither could bring themselves to make signs of love to another. Both their minds were consumed with fear for Mary and the good Doctor Jupiter. “Ah! I hope to God he waits for us to arrive.”
“Ranjit will kill the horses at this rate, rather than give up one ounce of speed. We must get there! Blast him for being faithless, the doctors gave us months before she approached death’s door. The apparati are not complete yet, and we haven’t even tested it. We do not know if it will work or merely electrocute poor Mary.”
“Please, God, hear us! Delay our friend! Turn him from his mad course. Preserve his daughter!”
“Ranjit! No cost is too much, we must arrive before the experiment is performed!”
Ranjit could not hear his master over the pandemonium. The two of them had fought back to back in Crimea, and so gave them a spirit of brotherhood. He could not hear the words, but he felt his spirit. In his own language, he called on his own pantheon of pagan god. “Ik Onkar, creator! Hear me! To lay such a cruel fate on the innocent girl would deny every teaching I have been told by my gurus. If you, lord of all, would allow this to happen to an innocent girl, you are no god! I will not serve you, but rather the Christian God of my brother Hector! I will abandon you, if you abandon me. Hear me! Put all the evil karma on my soul instead of hers or strike me down so I do not see what is made of her!” He flicked his whip and snapped the tip above the mad horses’ ears.
Lightning flashed down, Ranjit saw it, with his own eyes, streak towards him. Yet, at the last second, it swerved, and struck the church they passed, ringing the bells. Thunder nearly brought the giant to his knees, yet he laughed and roared. The static danced on his whip and lightning of his own sparked as he cracked the whip again. Such a sign! Such a wonder! “Are you dogs or horses? GALLOP, DAMN YOU!”
But at that very moment, Doctor Jupiter gently strapped Mary, slim almost to the appearance of starvation, to the operating slab. Consumption ravaged her and where before pink health had suffused her every ounce of flesh, now corpse-like whiteness infested her. She seemed on the very verge of asphyxiating on her own lungs. Her lips were blue and her thin skin revealed the network of veins just barely below.
Doctor Jupiter’s broad face was wrinkled with every care and concern mankind of which mankind was capable. He sweated from every pore, not just water but also blood. Madness infused his eyes and hands and gave them purpose. Without looking at his notes, he skilled fingers rightly set every hose and tube to the cap on her easily bruised head. Whenever they were not occupied, they played along his nose, ears and hair, stroking and pinching every wrinkle, nostril and lobe until they bled with the strain.
He stared at her face, drinking in the details. There had been so much of Maria, his wife, in her. Indeed, he could still see the alignment of her face upon her, and, should she open her eyes, her deep brown wells would emerge. Even sickly, the spirit within shone with every goodness and virtue his wife had.
He almost regretted moving her from her bed. Every one of her friends had left some gift, flower or poetic card to cheer her in her fight. The entire room had been perfumed by the wondrous flowers of Sally Burr’s greenhouse. Hector had given her a medal he had earned for courage and death-defying deeds to make her brave. Rahjit had given her a small, gold-inlaid dagger which he claimed was so holy, that no demon would come within one hundred and eight feet of it. The Queen, herself, sent her personal physician. His pastor had prayed with her for hours on end. Each of the servants waited on her hand and foot, and encouraged every improvement she made.
But it wasn’t enough. Of course not. They did not yet know the full cause of the disease, but only science, Doctor Jupiter was sure, could cure it. Yet, no tonic, potion or poultice could do more than prolong her suffering. No vacation to the beaches or pure valleys or cold mountain air or dry desert heat did much more than exhaust her.
He had turned to the bottle, and one night came upon resurrection men in their dark duties. Morbidly, he followed the rogues until he found their base, where a blood-caked scientist paid them. Doctor Jupiter turned to leave, but then saw the criminal put electrodes from a crude battery to the temple of the corpse.
Jerkily, the body spasmed on the table. Moving the apparatus around the head, various parts moved or clenched in accordance to the placement of the current. Doctor Jupiter ran when the corpse sat up, but the idea was planted within his head.
“Father…” He turned to his whispering, whimpering daughter. “I’m cold. Where am I?” She coughed, her torso heaving and twisting as her lungs fought to keep her from drowning.
“My lab, Mary. I’m going to make you better.”
“Where’s Sally? Please, I’m scared. I smell burning and- *COUGH* please. Bring Sally…” She shuddered, and would have curled up if not for the restraints. Doctor Jupiter rubbed her forehead and hand until her face became less contorted by the agony.
“I sent for her and her husband. I am sure they are on their way, but I cannot wait. I don’t want to lose you, my heart. You’ll be so much better soon. This storm will give me the power I need to help you. We’ll run and play again. We’ll climb trees together and I’ll read to you, suspended above the world in the old oak tree.” He kissed her forehead. “And you won’t ever have to worry about disease or pain ever again…”
“Mother…” Her eyes fluttered open and she seemed to see something that Doctor Jupiter could not. His teeth began to chatter and every part of him shook in fear. Panic took hold of him. “Mother!”
“Maria, no! Not yet. Don’t take her! Give me a chance!” He ran to his banks of instruments. No test had been made, true, and lightning would be needed to complete his work, but everything, every theory was sound. He threw switches and levers. All the strange and curved engines he had designed rumbled in their restraints. He pulled on chains until Mary lay at an angle and next to her, the automaton he had made to receive her spirit and mind.
It had taken nearly every last remaining ounce of gold in his fortune, and not a few loans, to make it. A porcelain face, near replica to Mary’s, hid machinery so tiny as to be nearly microscopic. Crystals and minerals that would carry and keep a charge filled much of the expanse. He knew that the electric pulses of the brain would be carried over. The trick would be ‘her existence.’ It wouldn’t be her if things were lost in the translation.
The thick tubing connected the two, through the medium of the galvanic engines and vibrating machines. He heard thunder above him, and smiled. While the power stations were not complete, this thunderstorm would fill the batteries just as well. How many miles of copper had he bought over the last year just to wire up the lightning rods, much less the wires, pipes and engines?
The steel bones of the empty automaton rattled with the force of the thunder. The storm must be right over head. Doctor Jupiter sighed in relief, then laughed. Electricity played over one of the engines and into the batteries. A crude light lit on the control panel. He threw his back into his fit of madness. Yes! He could do it. He could overcome death!
Another peal of thunder and another light lit on the control panel. His daughter cried out as sparks played over her pale body. Brown spots, where the white fabric was singed, began to form. The same happened on the body of the doll. The servants had thrown fits when he took one of Mary’s favorite dresses to cloth the thing, but it would be worth it when she took her first steps, when she would hug him.
The porcelain eyes opened and, behind the lenses, he could see the crystalline cameras focus. One of the lights went out as the human girl and the robot began to mimic her movements. Smoke filled the room. “Yes! Yes! More!” Doctor Jupiter saw one of the lights wink out. They said that lightning contained immeasurable, uncontrollable power, yet he was harnessing it. Just a few more lightning strikes and his daughter would walk and play again. All the struggle would be worth it!
Ranjit barely pulled the horses to a stop. He had thrown down his whip and, with both his mighty hands, he pulled on the reins to slow them down. The mansion of Doctor Jupiter lay before them, the windows dark, yet whenever lightning hit one of the tall rods the entire house lit up with a blue-white light. Indeed, Ranjit couldn’t stop them. The horses collapsed, falling and rolling over each other. Ranjit, seeing the writing on the wall, kicked at the wall separating him and Hector. He leaped for a tree branch above and caught it, hanging for a brief second before landing on his feet.
Hector, hearing and understanding Ranjit’s warning, grabbed his wife, her bag already in their hands and leaped out the door as the carriage began to flip. The momentum threw them onto the wet grass of Doctor Jupiter’s garden, where they rolled, always, it seemed, Hector taking the worst blows, to a stop.
Sally leaped to her feet, her bag being protected by their bodies. “Hector! Let’s go.” She ran for the open door, where the servants were calling to them, or running out to see to them or their horses. Sally tripped and stumbled, but the butler caught her and escorted her into the foyer. The Spanish groomsman, Baptiste, caught Hector as he tried to reach the house.
“Sir, your nose.” Taking a handkerchief, Baptiste held it to Hector’s nostrils.
“Doctor Jupiter…” Hector mumbled.
“He has taken Mary, and holed up in his lab. I have never seen a look upon his eyes before! I, and my sister have not ceased praying for Maria’s holy intercession. He is possessed by some devil, I am sure.” Now his twin sister, Susanna, joined them. Between the two slight siblings, Hector was able to walk. It felt like he sprained his ankle, but he did not stop. “He is attempting the procedure, sir. I heard the engines revving up, but with the noise, we were only waiting for you to put our pry-bars to his door and force it. I have never been so scared.”
Susanna shouted over the thunder in Spanish. Baptiste translated. “Yes, though we heard her coughing like never before in there. It has been agony waiting for you.”
The horses were still screaming, trapped by the ruined carriage. Ranjit was running to them, and would care for them, but Hector thought it a lost cause. Mary might not be. “Take me to him.” They passed the ruins of the fountain, the cupid sent flying and nowhere to be seen. The water, already overflowing in the rain, muddied the roads and path until the soil turned into a swamp.
Lightning struck again. This time it took more than a second for the house to lose its ghastly illumination. “What is going on?” Hector cried. Baptiste and Susanna jabbered with their native tongue, and only their love for Mary kept them from fleeing into the hills to escape their mad-man of a master.
Sally met him at the door. She clutched at him. “He won’t answer me. I can hear Mary screaming in there! He is performing the experiment without us! Winston and – Agh!” Lightning struck the rods once more, and the whole foyer overflowed with intense light. “Agh! Brightest one yet.” Hector held them still as the thunder shook them to their boots.
The light did not go away, and neither did the rumble. This was not thunder. Hector grabbed Sally and screamed for them to run. Baptiste and Susanna ran, and Hector, cursing his ankle, picked up Sally and tried to run. Before he could take more than three steps lightning struck the house once more.
They felt a wave of strange smelling air roll over them, before force threw them from their feet. The gale tossed them around, and they saw the house come apart at the seams. Much of it flew into the sky as blinding white light turned the night to day. Even the storm clouds couldn’t resist the vast energies thrown up by the explosion.
Hector and Sally, still in each other’s arms, landed near to the broken fountain. Sally cried out in pain, while Hector merely grunting. He turned his face up, and saw the wood, stone and glass begin to fall down towards them. The two stared into each other’s pain-filled eyes as Hector bore the brunt of the deadly rain. Glass cut at his hands and arms, burning wood chips pelted his back, stone pierced his legs and he could feel little strips of wire burning into his clothes.
When it was over, Hector tried to stand, but Sally cried out in pain. “My back! Some thing’s in my back!” He tried to flip her over, but saw blood pouring out onto the swampy grass. He told her what he saw. “My bag, use it to stop the bleeding. I can walk you through it!” Carefully, he turned her over. A large, sharp chunk of marble had jammed into her flesh, near the lower part of her spine. He told her.
“I can feel myself bleeding out. Do as I say!” Hector had watched her work before, in the field hospitals. She had removed shot and pieces of metal from his wounds many time. They had even joked that getting married made her nursing more convenient. Following her directions, he covered what he could and staunched most of the bleeding. When she finally fell unconscious, he picked her up and carried miles and miles to the nearest doctor, as fast as he could.
Hector didn’t return until five days later. The sun shone over the wreck of the house. Due to the secret and delicate nature of Doctor Jupiter’s work, the Royal Home Office had sent soldiers to keep looters away. He was joined by Baptiste and Susanna, with a few other doctors. They feared that Jupiter had left some poison or explosive experiment run while he was distracted by his daughter’s illness.
The two servants guided the others to his engine rooms, greenhouses and tinkering sheds. They hoped a few useful things remained, since a few of the structures still stood. The mansion looked as if a giant had come along and flipped it upside down. The lovely porch, with its six columns and pure white marble stairs couldn’t even be seen in the rubble. Sharp glass shone within the ruined art, furniture and equipment whose uses Hector could only wonder about.
With some soldier’s help, he found the entrance to the basement. Not a few of them backed away when they saw the copper and smelled the burnt and rotting flesh below. He put a handkerchief to his nose and descended.
They were both dead. Their corpses were twisted in strange and unnatural positions Hector, with all his experience with death and violence, could not dissemble. He couldn’t trace the cause and effect. The engines rusted in their cradles, slagged beyond recognition. Melted copper wiring hung down like jungle vines and slick glass had gathered in pools below his feet.
He didn’t need to check the bodies anymore, but instead, went for the automaton on the slab. With a careful hand, he lifted a few stones from her body and head until he could see it fully. The dress had mostly burnt away, and he could see parts of her internal structure. Thankfully, most of that seemed intact. Despite that, She did not react to his hand when he waved it across them.
He sat down and watched the body for a while. He removed the cap on the head. He jiggled the skull a little. He checked to see if her radium heart was still warm. He could not understand it, there wasn’t any internal damage.
He became angry. He kicked stones at the hunks of junk that were supposed to guarantee Mary’s life. He shouted at Doctor Jupiter’s corpse. His wife crippled. Four horses dead. Notes and scientific advancement lost to the explosion. That stone broke her lower spine. It was a miracle she was alive, but she never should have been put in that position. Never.
His heart exploded with wrath. He screamed and grabbed a piece of masonry. He hated that doll! He hated everything about it! Why did Doctor Jupiter have to play God and try to defy death? They were fools to try, and God punished them each for it. Each of them got the pain that would get to them the most.
He lifted the masonry above his head, ready to bring it down and smash the machinery that was supposed to take care of Mary’s soul to pieces. He looked down on it, and saw Mary in the porcelain. He saw her face in the cracks and the body and even in the sleeping expression her closed eyes kept.
He threw down the rubbish beside him and wept for his dead friend and his daughter. When he mastered himself, he got up to leave. The soldiers, he could tell, had fled from him when they heard the screaming and shouting. They could tell a berserker from a dying man, and they knew his reputation.
When he started climbing the chipped and burnt stairs, he heard clicking. He turned and ran for the slab. The replacement body of Mary shook and spasmed. “Oh, God, please let this be Mary.” He didn’t want to touch her, so he waited until she went still.
“Mary? Are you there?” He put a hand to her shoulder. He had no idea what to expect, but his other hand reached for a pistol he carried at his waist.
The voice box, which mimicked a voice by a complex music box that combined music chimes into something close to words, stuttered to life. At first, it was just noise, but then it became music, and, finally, words. “I-I-I am Mary. Where is my-my-my father?”
“He’s- he’s dead, Mary. I’m sorry. There was an explosion. How are you?”
“I cannot feel anything.” Mary’s life-like, but not life-like enough, eyes turned and took in the scene.
“So you can hear me, can you see?”
“I can see.” Her cracked porcelain face focused on her old dead body. “I-I-I would like to leave.”
“I’m going to take you home with me. We’ll see Sally together. She’s going to love seeing you.”
He picked up her body. All the steel and other metals made her heavy, but he bore the weight as he could. She didn’t move, content to be moved about. It was a struggle to get her up, but, if asked later, Hector would always say she weighed nothing at all.
Just a little something I’m working on. See, even though DNSN is some kind of cliche (though, admittedly, it’s done far less often than common belief, starting the story at dawn is SO MUCH WORSE), the dedication to it pulls it through so fast. It started with DNSN, then drifted to the startling image of a Sikh whipping horses into a frenzy for some noble goal and carries the story on. I use that sentence to immediately set up the drama and ensure my readers will be invested for the rest of it.
Anyway, you can go now. Thanks for listening. And if you call the police, I’ll turn you into the cover for my next book.
You think you’re gonna switch bars.