Regarding Dreams…

Shame on the night/ for what I’ve done, and things I’ve seen/ for giving me the strangest dreams/ but you never ever tell me what they mean, and oh!/ shame on the night…

Ronnie James Dio (from the song ‘Shame on the Night’)

Dreams define who we are…

But the irony is, we never ADMIT that they do! Most people hold the memory of their dreams close to the chest, sharing them with no one. We almost never talk about them or reveal their contents, not even to our closest friends.

But still they haunt us, plaguing not only our nights but our waking hours as well. Dreams bring our fears to life, and tap into our most cherished fantasies. They are a blessing, for they bring us relief from the curse that is Living…

And yet they’re also a curse unto themselves, in that they confront us with the very things from which we seek relief. Dreams are spawned by terrors of which we dare not even speak, lest through having been given utterance they be brought to unholy life.

I… hate dreams.

And I also LOVE them, because they’ve defined my world since before I was old enough to understand the difference between Reality and Fantasy.

Dreams differ from person to person. According to my sleep specialist (poor, overworked bastard) your average person is a ‘passive dreamer’. In other words, to most people a dream is like a movie. You are a spectator watching a play, and nothing more.

But some people – not very many – are ‘cognitive dreamers’. Cognitive dreamers can make decisions, speak, and act during a dream, oftentimes even altering their outcomes.

That’s me. Always has been.

The problem with being a ‘cognitive dreamer’ is this: It’s a psychological problem. ‘Cognitive dreaming’ means that one’s brain is still mostly awake it’s SUPPOSED to be resting!

This… is bad. Very, VERY bad!

It’s especially troubling to me, because oftentimes my humdrum day segue-ways directly into a dream. So my mind actually creates memories of interactions with friends, co-workers, and family members that aren’t real. That’s embarrassing. Sometimes I’ll try to continue a conversation with someone, only to have them look at me in confusion… because that conversation never actually happened.

What REALLY disturbs me are my recurring nightmares. When I was a little, maybe four or five, I lived in an apartment building that was barely a hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean. I fell asleep to the sound of the breakers crashing onto the sandy shore, night after night…

Picturesque, huh? One would like to think so, anyway.

To this day (and I’m in my forties) I suffer from the same nightmare that I did back then: The ocean rising above its borders, and flooding my home. And with the flooding comes the SHARKS, who chase me from room to room eagerly seeking my bloody demise.

Another recurring nightmare that plagues me is this one: I’m looking in a mirror, and I see something in the mirror that I KNOW isn’t real. Am I going crazy, I wonder? Or is the mirror actually an occultic doorway into worlds that I don’t understand, and probably don’t WANT to?!

Trust me, those two nightmares are only the tip of the iceberg…

At the end of the day, I have to believe that God wired my brain the way He did for a reason. I resent the perpetual insomnia, for sure, and the crazy dreams. But what if my brain was ‘normal’…? Would I still be a writer? An artist? Or would I just be another drone, dutifully contributing to society but having nothing UNIQUE to offer it?

I’ll never know the answer to that question, at least in this life, because I’m ME and not someone else… so my maudlin night terrors will continue to define my reality, as they always have. I’ll never get a glimpse of the ‘other side’, because I was never hard-wired to SEE the other side.

Maybe that’s okay… or maybe it ain’t. Either way, I have no frame of reference.

But I DO trust that God knows what He’s doing. If my head’s a jumbled mess (and it is), then it’s that way for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is…

And you know what?

I don’t HAVE to! ‘Nuff said…

Exploding Heads and the Endless Story…

I think my head’s about to explode… again.

I’ve been training with my new publisher’s marketing director, learning how to network with other writers for promotional purposes. (THANK you, Callie!)

Now, I’ve done this before. But back when I was a player on the ‘indie book’ scene, promoting your work meant MySpace posts and Amazon.com reviews. Well, times have changed since then! By the time the dust settles and I fall into a routine, I’m gonna have more accounts than an offshore bank. FaceBook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter…

What’s really blowing my mind, though, is something that I didn’t quite pick up on years ago: There are a LOT of writers in the world! I’m almost overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people with whom I interact. A part of me wonders, how on earth am I gonna peddle my own work amidst such an endless sea of ink?!

On the other hand…

It’s also comforting to know that I am part of a very, very large community. In some sense I’m e pluribus unum (one of many), but it’s the ‘ones’ that give the ‘many’ its power. With every new writer, the world’s tapestry of stories grows richer and more varied. Each new tale opens up possibilities for another, and every established writer is another pair of hands helping to pull the fledglings into the nest.

Every writer is unique…

And yet, somehow, we’re all plugging away at one epic tale… the tale that will define our age long, long after its people have been forgotten.

Regarding Comfort Zones…

I have a new novel coming out

This still strikes me as somewhat surreal. I’ve published three before, but always through self-publishing/small-print venues. Having a proper publishing company accept my work – under a traditional contract, and not some dodgy ‘hybrid’ deal – is a new one on me.

I’m very grateful for my blessing. God engineers all of our lives, and I’m thankful that He’s nudged mine in this direction. I’m grateful…

And I’m also very, very nervous!

During my small-press days I was a ‘big fish in a small pond’, easily one of the more popular writers in the circles among which I ran. Now I’m just a minnow… in a really big pond!

But that’s okay.

I’m out of my comfort zone, but I also know that I won’t grow unless I challenge myself. I know this as a person, as a Christian, and as a writer. So here I go, learning how to network alongside my publisher’s established writers so I can effectively do what writers are supposed to do: Bring their work to the people who wanna read it!

I’m nervous, sure…

I’m also very, very excited!

And that’s a good feeling. It’s hard to be excited in a comfort zone…

Regarding Lies…

‘For nothing that is hidden will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light…’Luke 8:17

‘But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire…’2 Peter 3:7

Does anyone besides me wonder how the world got so screwed up?!

It’s always been the tradition of rock singers and poets to blame ‘them’, the politicians and world leaders. But are they really the problem?

Is it really ‘them’… or is it us?

One in ten people that you meet, you will not like… for reasons that have nothing to do with them. One in ten people that you meet will also not like you. The usual subconscious reason is that they remind of someone that you already didn’t like, and vice versa.

But do you tell them that? Do they tell you that?

Nope. We hold our unspoken motives close to the chest, turning our day-to-day lives into a cloak-and-dagger game. Half the time, we aren’t even aware of our motives… but that doesn’t stop us from acting upon them.

We live in a world of shadows, a world of half-truths and outright lies. We can’t even begin to unravel it all because we’re telling ourselves the exact same lies that we tell others, often blissfully unaware that we’re being deceitful. Only fiction ever makes sense; only stories come with the blessing of tidy, fully-explained endings…

 In real life, decisions are made based almost entirely upon the Unseen.

I’m pretty sure that’s the reason that, in the end, God’s gonna burn this world to the ground.

We need a fresh start…

Regarding Writing…

I am very interested by this question: Where do stories come from?

The answer, of course, varies from writer to writer.

As Timothy Hutton’s character (in the brilliant film The Kovak Box) said, ‘a good story is a virus’. It plants itself within its intended host, and then it begins to reproduce. At some juncture a ‘tipping point’ is reached and the unwitting host at last surrenders to the virus, bringing it to full-blown life.

My first three published novels were born from my teenage role-playing days, during which I learned to tell stories with my best friends.

My later full-length novels were actually less complex in their origin: They were all born out of varying single, over-arching philosophical concepts. Once the concept dujour became cemented in my mind, everything else (as the late, great David Bowie once put it) was ‘just structure’. Characters, scenarios, foreshadowing, settings…  Everything falls into place once one has developed a clear concept around which to build a tale.

But those are my novels. My short stories…?

Dreams. They all come from dreams, every single time.

Sleep – or lack thereof – is my eternal curse. Chronic Insomnia, Restless Leg Syndrome, Sleep Apnea… If it’s a sleep disorder, I have it! A local sleep specialist actually said this to me (after a couple of overnight studies): ‘You don’t go into deep sleep. Like, ever. How, exactly, is it that you’re still alive?!’

I’m still alive ‘cuz the Good Lord wants me to be. And I ain’t gonna croak ’til He jolly well feels like I should! ‘Nuff said.

I don’t really sleep; I just change realities. Asleep or awake, my mind hums along at ninety miles an hour. It sucks, but I’m used to it.

That means my dreams are brutally vivid, and more than a little bizarre. Every short story that I’ve EVER written (including the ones on this site) was born from a dream. I wake up in a cold sweat, grab my bedside notebook, and begin feverishly scribbling down an outline before the memory of my latest dream fades away.

What’s great about being me is that my personality is rare dichotomy: I’m a 50/50 split between Melancholy and Phlegmatic. That means that I am moody and artistic, and yet I am also capable of sorting out my maudlin visions in an orderly, logical fashion. I’m a strange cross between a hippie and a lawyer.

But ya know what? That works for me!

Writers are a strange breed, and every writer has a different system within which he/she works. Mine is ‘have a weird dream, jot down the outline at dawn, let the idea fester for a week, and finally write the story at three a.m. after a glass of wine’. Other writers have different methods, but that’s the beauty of writing: Authors are like flowers. No two are alike.

So yeah, I’ve shared MY method…

Now go find yours!

He is Risen!

Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? – 1 Corinthians 15:55

We are living in a very, very dark time right now!

For those of you who live in a cave, a virus known as COVID-19 was recently unleashed from a laboratory in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Whether its release was deliberate or accidental, it has raged through the Western World like wildfire.

That ain’t the problem. The survival rate for COVID-19 is over ninety-nine percent.

The problem is that the Globalist New World Order unleashed their loyal servant – the Mainstream Media – to inflate and distort the breadth of this ‘pandemic’. Swiftly picking up the ball, governments (at nearly every level) followed by instituting totalitarian, unlawful ‘mitigation’ efforts to see just how far they can push ‘We the People’ before we revolt…

We’re not revolting; apparently, we’re bigger sissies than our forefathers were. How does that Green Day song go? ‘Don’t wanna be an American Idiot/ One nation controlled by the media/ Everybody do the propaganda/ and sing along with the age of paranoia…’

We are all going to wake up tomorrow to a world that will be more socialistic and despotic than it was yesterday… and it was pretty socialistic and despotic yesterday. As South Park’s Big Gay Al once rhetorically asked, ‘The whole world’s gone to hell, but how are you?

To which he replied, ‘I’m SUPER, thanks for asking!’

We may live in dark times right now, but as my man Dave Draiman once wrote: Sometimes darkness can show you the light!

Today – illegally locked in our homes, or not – we celebrate the greatest event in all of human history: The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The triumphant God-made-flesh demonstrated His power by dragging evil into a tomb and leaving it there, and this is the day upon which we celebrate His victory!

Most will, sadly, reject this truth. We still, after all, live in a world plagued by legions of empty, bogus belief systems.

But

Just because Satan hasn’t been done away with yet doesn’t mean that he isn’t still defeated. He’s already been condemned; now he’s just awaiting his sentence. In the meantime, anyone can choose the redemption offered so freely by Jesus Christ. All men and women now have a choice: Embrace these dark times as though that’s all there is, or embrace a bright future in which evil will be burned away and goodness will reign for all time.

We have this hope because Christ died to purge us of our guilt, but that death would have been an empty gesture had He not triumphantly defeated Death…

By His own grace, He did.

The whole world’s gone to hell, but how am I?

I’m SUPER, thanks for asking! HAPPY EASTER!!!

To read more on the subject of Christ: https://shaunmoser.com/2019/12/14/forsaken/

A Few People I Admire…

Life is full of people who earn our admiration.

Sometimes their impact on our life is immeasurable; they show up, in the right place at the right time, shifting the direction of our othoughts in ways that are so radical as to bring about complete paradigm shift.

Sometimes their impact is a little more subtle. They just happen to possess a quality or two that we admire, that we try to mimic in order to become the best possible version of ourselves.

Sometimes we don’t even know the person who’s earned our admiration. They may be just be someone that we relate to, someone with whom we feel a sort of kinship by virtue of shared (or envied) characteristics.

Everyone has a list of people that they admire, both small and great, and for a host of different reasons. They might be the people who made you what you are, or they might just be someone who crosses your mind once in a while – but either way, they stick with you.

Everyone has a list of such people…

Mine’s pretty long – but here’s the beginning.

Bob Westfall (1928-2005)

Bob Westfall was my around-the-corner neighbor when I was growing up.

Exactly fifty years my senior, he was about as crotchety as they came. He could b**** about anything and everything for hours on end, and – like most his age – he had a pretty dim view of anyone under the age of, oh, say about sixty or so.

I struck up a friendship with him when I was about twelve years old. We were sort of an odd pair; he was lonely, and had all the time in the world to shoot the breeze. I was wise beyond my tender years, seldom connecting with those of my own age. He could talk for hours about what life was like in the thirties, or what it was like to be in World War II. He could tell you all about China and Italy and Spain and France, because he’d been to all of those places. We used to hang out in his garage and just yap about nothing at all, for no reason whatsoever.

I missed him terribly when I lived in New York. I missed, I think, having the constant guidance of an older man’s perspective. The young man, by virtue of his total inexperience, tends to catastrophize everything. The old man, however, knows how to truly ignore that which doesn’t matter. I think one of the tragedies of our age is that we don’t value the wisdom of the elderly anymore, and seldom make time to be guided by them. We grow impatient with their crankiness and antiquated tastes, and completely miss the underlying importance of their presence.

Bob passed away in 2005. A memory that will stick with me for the rest of my life was how large and varied the crowd at his funeral was. There was everyone there from the mailman to the store clerk to the kid around the corner, now grown into a man – me. The kid who so loved the generous old fart that so willingly made time for him.

Bob never did anything even remotely epic. He worked in a paint store, and raised a few kids and lived a life that was quite ordinary. But what he will always be loved and admired for was his love for people. He always had time for anyone who wanted to chat… and that quality is so utterly absent in the modern man, driven, pell-mell creatures that we are.

I wonder if Bob knew how profoundly he affected me, helping to shape me during those very formative years into the man I am now. I hope he did.

And I hope that when I am old, I will remember to pass on my hodgepodge ideas and thoughts to the generation that will succeed my own.

Ed –

Ed was my artistic mentor growing up.

I could peg him as ‘a drawing/painting instructor’, but that would trivialize his role in my life. Ed was/is a brilliant artist, with the keenest eye for detail, and the greatest gift for explaining things that I have ever seen.

I first met Ed when I was fifteen. He was teaching a class for the department of Parks and Recreation, and I signed up for one of his classes. I was a decent childhood doodler, with a fair amount of potential, but little polish and no knowledge at all of theory or principle.

It was Ed Stubblefield who molded me into a professional-caliber artist, and I have never let my skills grow rusty. “Them as can, do,” he used to say “and them as can’t, teach.” He was being unusually harsh on himself when he said that, for Ed could both do and teach.

One of my flaws is that I like to be mysterious. Three people – Ed, my mother, and guitarist Jerry Lavene – helped me unlock the mystical secrets behind art, literature and music. Yet rather than pass on what was so unselfishly given to me, I like to keep my own secrets close to my chest, choosing instead to simply amaze others with what I can do without ever telling them how.

Thank God that others in my life were less selfish than I.

Wendy –

Wendy was a childhood friend of mine, a wispy, willowy blonde who was decidedly girl-next-door, and prettily tomboyish even as an adolescent.

Wendy shared my interest in art and literature, as well as my intellect – although I suspect that her nature is less abstract, and far more practical than mine. As boys and girls generally do, we grew apart as teenagers, each one of us fleeing whatever demons teen-dom thrust our way.

I could never have predicted, then, what direction Wendy’s life would take. I saw in her great potential, but that was about all I could’ve told you. I couldn’t even have told you what sort of potential.

She’s now a wife, and a mother.

There was a time when I would have told you that such a life was a waste of potential, a failure to meet one’s self-imposed challenges.

I was a boy when I thought that…

I am a man now, and I know better. I know that there is no higher calling than raising one’s own family, patiently molding and shaping the lives that one has created.

The modern woman, generally speaking, is so saturated with the 1960’s ‘liberated woman’ bull-hockey that she isn’t much use as a wife or mother. ‘Have the kids and chuck ’em in day care’; that seems the child-rearing method of the day. And throwing them into sports somehow counts as ‘family time’ these days, as though that amounts to any kind of meaningful interaction. There is a subtle attitude to the modern woman, one that says domestic life is beneath her, something to be avoided. The ones who suffer, of course, are our children.

(There. I said it. I don’t care how many bra-burning lesbians take offense, either. Right is right, and wrong is wrong!)

But Wendy has chosen to focus all of her intelligence, patience and empathy on the seven children that she’s brought into the world (yep, seven). I am sure that she – as did my mother – suffers persecution from those ‘liberated women’, too. I bet they sneer at her and say things like ‘so, when are you going to work?’, as though she doesn’t run herself ragged now. I don’t know how she handles their presumptuous derision, but I bet well. Seven children do have a way of making one quite patient, after all.

If a person intends to live a selfish life, they don’t deserve children.

But Wendy deserves them. If only more women possessed such character, strength, and wisdom.

Mr. Lee –

Mr. Lee is probably the most colorful character in my circle of acquaintances. He owns and operates This Old House, a sushi restaurant in Virginia Beach.

Mr. Lee is from Taiwan; he’s a little midget of an oriental man, with a pot belly and an accent. He’s as friendly as he can be, and an absolute avatar of a chef. His restaurant is probably the best eating establishment around.

What I admire most, though, is the passion with which he runs his business. You can visit his place just once, and then go back a month later. And he will remember exactly what you ate the first time, and suggest something new based on what he thinks you might like. (Yes, he pays that much attention.)

About half of his menu is traditional sushi entrees, and about half of it is unique to him, painstakingly created from customer input. He spends as much time catering to his customers as his waitresses do, if not more.

I remember going in there on evening around 8:30, only to find his door locked. He usually closes at ten, but it was stone dead that night, and he was gonna leave early.

I gave the door a tug, and then turned to leave.

But Mr. Lee let me in, locked the door behind me and hooked me right up – playing chef, waiter and cashier all at once because he’d let his staff leave for the night. I protested, but he insisted – I was ‘good customer’, he said.

I have always believed that a man should do whatever he is passionate about. As a white cracker with relatives in West Virginia, I find the idea of making fish rolls an odd choice for one’s life work.

But Mr. Lee doesn’t… and that’s why he makes the best food one can buy, and the dining experience in his establishment is always second to none.

I wish I had that sort of dedication.

I could go on for hours. I could write a whole book on who I admire, and why. But I won’t. I won’t because you’d get bored, and stop reading. I won’t because I can’t always remember them all at once. I won’t because my hands hurt from having typed all night.

What I will do, however, is live a life worthy of the effort that others have put into me. Some have put forth that effort directly, willfully influencing my thoughts and behavior. Some have simply served as examples to me, and they probably don’t even know it.

Which is my cue, I guess, for living day-to-day with the greatest care…

Because you never know who’s paying attention to what you do and say.

Confessions of a Lifelong Nocturne…

‘I prefer a sunless sky/ to the glittering and stinging in my eye…’ Nina Gordon (from the song ‘Tonight and the Rest of My Life’)

Our world seems to consist mostly of people who adore the daylight…

They wallow in the sunlight, those sprawling masses, forever reveling in the bright light that shows them their path. They bask in every moment of lingering sunshine before they reluctantly retire at dusk, their heads hanging in disappointment as they anxiously begin counting the minutes until the dawn rises anew.

Sunlight may show you your path…

But the darkness shows you the stars. You can find your path by the stars, just as well as by the sun; it just takes more practice.

Nocturnes understand life more deeply than the sun-worshipers ever could. Life slows down at night. It gives one a sense of calm, of focus, and a much more profound sense of things. Daylight invites the ‘sheeple’ to run about in a higgledy-piggledy mess, bumping into one another in their hurry and making no sense as they do.

Nocturnes see life with much more focus, because we prefer to ‘run about’ during the hours in which the ‘sheeple’ aren’t making such a mess of things. Daylight brings confusion; Darkness brings clarity. When one is awake at three a.m., the anxiety that defines humanity just fades away. The world might actually blow up soon… but it won’t happen at night; the moron that ‘pushes the button’ will almost certainly be some brainless ‘early bird’. In the meantime, the Nocturne has more stolen time in which to make sense of the world, of himself.

Some prefer the sun; it makes their path clear.

I prefer to navigate by the stars. I’m good at it, too…

And that’s something that the diurnal masses will never understand.

The Top Ten Metal Albums of All Time (Thus Far…)

Anyone who knows me well knows that when it comes to music, I LOVE the ‘hard stuff’! The louder the better. I tend to think of music as a cathartic thing, a medium through which to purge one’s pain and angst.

An Australian study showed that people who listen to Heavy Metal suffer from fewer neuroses and enjoy better mental health than those who do not. Life… is not always pretty! Sometimes ya just gotta get that nasty stuff out of your head, you know?

So here – in no particular order – are my top ten metal albums of all time…

Ozzy Osbourne – Ozzmosis:If you don’t like this album, you’re on crack. It came out in my late teens, and it was a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky. It’s darker than most of Ozzy’s work, and more heartfelt. It’s also (arguably) guitarist Zakk Wylde’s finest piece of work, at least with the Oz-man.

Stryper – To Hell with the Devil:The title track never fails to give me the chills; Michael’s Sweet’s vocals are second to none! Robert Sweet’s drumming is right up there with Mike Portnoy’s, in my book, and no two guitarists ever played in sync like Michael and Oz Fox. It’s a testament to this album’s quality that it was the first Christian metal album to ever achieve ‘mainstream’ success.

Megadeth – Cryptic Writings: ‘She-Wolf’. Need I say more? This is also the first album in which I began to admire Dave Mustaine for his vocals as well as his guitar playing. The way he sang ‘Use the Man’ just blew me away.

Nevermore – Dead Heart in a Dead World: ‘The Heart Collector’ is an underrated classic. Nevermore is second to none when it comes to vocals, lyrics, composition, and guitar work. (Honestly, I had a hard time choosing between this one and ‘Dreaming Neon Black’.)

My Dying Bride – The Angel and the Dark River: My Dying Bride has never released a bad album… but this is unarguably their opus. Not only is it heavy and angst-ridden, the piano and violin tracks truly make it stand out as a metal masterwork.

Metallica – St. Anger: This controversial record is Metallica’s only ‘flop’, since it only went triple platinum. Awww!!! The fans just didn’t get it. James Hetfield had just come out of rehab, and the band was going through some major therapy in the slim hope that they might stay together. Most fans didn’t get it, but I did; this record comes from a place of raw pain and desperate self-exploration. The song ‘The Unnamed Feeling’ is well worth the selling price, and ‘Some Kind of Monster’ is pure-dee Metallica.

Pantera – Cowboys From Hell: The metal album that truly defined the nineties. Singer Phil Anselmo bridged the gap between the high-pitched vocals of the eighties and the darker style that would come to define the nineties. ‘Cemetery Gates’ is truly Dimebag Darrell’s finest piece of guitar work. (May you rest in peace, Dime. We miss you!)

Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes: Black Sabbath’s forgotten gem. Tony Martin’s vocals were off the charts, and this is some of Tony Iommi’s finest guitar work. Sadly, the same lineup would go on to record ‘Forbidden’, which was a total dud… which is probably why ‘Cross Purposes’ tends to get overlooked.

Iron Maiden – Brave New World: Every song is based on a classic book. This album was inspired songwriting on a level that even Maiden had never before achieved. Much like Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’, albums are best when their writers actually have something to say!

Black Sabbath – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath: The demi-gods of metal’s finest release, a unique blend of blues, classical, and good ol’ hard rock. Recorded in an abandoned castle in England, this record is one part Creepy and three parts Beautiful. Sadly, it was Sabbath’s last good album before Ozzy’s departure… but it left a lasting legacy.

So there you have it! That’s some of the music that has shaped me as a person, and defined who and what I became. Every person has a unique soundtrack to his or her own life… so go find yours!

Be well!

The Masque of the Red Death

In the wake of American journalism’s latest crisis ‘du jour’ – the Coronavirus outbreak – I felt the need to post a similarly-themed tale. It was written by a far better writer than I’ll EVER be! So, my dear readers: I give you the immortal Mr. Poe…

THE “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avator and its seal — the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.

   But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”

 It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven — an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different; as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue — and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange — the fifth with white — the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet — a deep blood color. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire, that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.

It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to harken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused revery or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.

 He had directed, in great part, the moveable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fête; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm — much of what has been since seen in “Hernani.” There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these — the dreams — writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away — they have endured but an instant — and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many tinted windows through which stream the rays from the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away; and there flows a ruddier light through the blood-colored panes; and the blackness of the sable drapery appals; and to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulge in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.

But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise — then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.

In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood — and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.

When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.

“Who dares?” he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him — “who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him — that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements!”

It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly — for the prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.

It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who, at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker. But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the prince’s person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple — through the purple to the green — through the green to the orange — through this again to the white — and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry — and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave cerements and corpse-like mask which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.

 And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.