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 Hero With a Thousand Faces… (by Shaun Moser)

The following message was delivered to the local Church of Christ in the spring of 2019…

I’m beginning this sermon with one of my customary disclaimers…

Ninety percent of what I’m about to say has no inarguable Biblical backing. I am not giving an expository sermon designed to tell you what you’re supposed to believe. Rather, I am simply sharing some thoughts today because I want to PROVOKE thought. I don’t think Biblical study was ever meant to be a hard-and-fast science. I think that understanding the mind of God requires creative thought, because God is the original Creative Being. And as Moses wrote in Genesis 1:26, we are similar to God in the way we think. Flawed, yes… but still created in His image.

That having been said, turn with me to Luke Chapter 18, starting in Verse 15. Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them.But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

This little vignette about Jesus and the children is chronicled in a couple of different places throughout the Gospels. What interests me, though, is how sketchy the narrative really is. What on earth did Jesus mean when he said that ‘to children belong the Kingdom of Heaven?’ Some teach that this means that one must be baptized as an infant. Unfortunately, that’s a mistake. Peter, in Acts 2, made it quite clear that baptism is reserved for those who have sinned; an infant can’t sin, because sin requires an awareness of right and wrong.

So what was Jesus talking about when he said that ‘we must receive the kingdom of God like a child?’ That always seemed to me to be a somewhat mysterious statement.

Here’s something interesting about Scripture. When it is absolutely necessary for you to understand something in a very specific manner, the teaching will be given in a very specific manner. I mentioned Acts 2 a minute ago; read that again sometime. A very specific question is asked of an apostle, and the apostle gives a specific and inarguable answer. But that’s not always the case. If every single jot and tittle of scripture was written like pages out of an instruction manual, then Christianity would simply be a behavioral system, rather than what it is: A relationship with God. Relationships are complicated sometimes. I’m married. I know.

Similarly, I think that parts of Scripture are a little mysterious because we grow as Christians by trying to figure them out. And I think that Jesus’ teaching on children is one of those mysterious passages.  

I come back to this scripture a lot when I think about God himself. How does a child view God? Actually, let’s step away from religion for just a minute. How does a child view – or mimic – anyone that he or she admires?

When I was little, maybe four or so, I had a stack of comic books that I kept in shoebox under my bed. My mother bought them for me, mostly at yard sales. They were torn and raggedy, but I found them absolutely mesmerizing … and that’s quite a trick when you can’t read yet. I used to look at them for hours, and I’d try to make up stories to go with the pictures.

My absolute favorite character in those comic books… was Superman! To me, Superman was about the coolest person ever. He ran around all day in red underwear, and still managed to look manly.  Now, I lived in a very small apartment when I was little, about a hundred feet from the Atlantic Ocean in Eastern Virginia. And in addition to my comic book collection, we also kept in our apartment a red bath towel. And my mother could never find that bath towel. You know why? Because it was usually tied around my neck. It wasn’t a just bath a towel to me; it was a cape, and I stole it every chance I got so I could run around the yard being just like Superman. I’d spend hours saving imaginary people from imaginary monsters, until my mother dragged me back inside and took her towel back.

I know now that Superman was created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. I am familiar with the eight decades of mythology that followed, and I posses several hundred Superman comics now … but I was just a newbie then. I only had a few comic books, and I didn’t even know how to read those. I just took what I did know and ran with it. Superman was cool, and I wanted to be just like him.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, my future wife lived in the next city over… running around in a princess dress waiting to rescued. I was pretending to be a superhero; she was pretending to be the fair maiden waiting to fall for the superhero.  That’s just what kids do.

I didn’t just look at comics. My upbringing was fairly religious, so my mother read me Bible stories a lot. David and Goliath was a favorite of mine. Samson was, too, although my mother edited out a few parts when she read me that one. (I didn’t get to read the R-rated version until I was old enough to read it on my own.) I remember Noah’s Ark, and Jonah and the Whale. Those stories were inspiring to me as a little boy, and they made me want to imitate the great men of the Bible.

And that was the big epiphany for me. That’s how I understand Jesus’ statement that we should receive the kingdom of heaven as children. Children love stories. Can’t get enough of ‘em. They eat, breathe, and sleep their favorite characters, and then they imitate them.  In the end, I came to the conclusion that the story of scripture is more important than its theology could ever be, because paradoxically…when you come to love the story the theology comes naturally. It’s the story that matters to a child. My comic books didn’t have to say ‘thou shalt wear a red cape when thou playest Superman’. I knew to take the red towel instead of the blue one because that’s the one Superman would have taken.  Easy.

And scripture is a story, unarguably so. Just because it’s a true story doesn’t mean it’s not still a story. Just because we’re meant to live by it doesn’t invalidate it as literature. Scripture begins with ‘in the beginning…’ If they wanted to translate that phrase ‘a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away’… it’d still fit. It follows with ‘God created the heavens and the earth.’  Suddenly, our story has a setting and a timeline. It’s not too long before read ‘and the serpent was more cunning than any other beast the Lord God had made’ … and then your villain appears. You can’t have a tense, exciting story without a villain.

But then God tells the serpent that someday a great hero is going to come along and crush his head. That all the evil the serpent inflicts on mankind is going to be undone. And after a great many plot twists and turns, that hero does come in the person of Jesus Christ.  And in one epic showdown, in a place called Golgotha…  Christ does defeat the serpent, and saves his people from slavery. That’s how every heroic tales goes: it begins with the villain, who imposes some form of slavery… and then the prophesied hero comes along to save them. It’s an oft-repeated outline that was artfully dissected in Joseph Campbell’s book ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’.  Our Bible resonates so deeply in the human consciousness, that it sets the pattern for thousands of great stories.

The story ends in Revelation, where John writes that ‘night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.’ That’s just a really fancy way of saying ‘and they lived happily ever after’.

Great stories provide inspiration, and inspiration inspires imitation. John writes, in 1 John 2:6 that ‘whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did’. Paul wrote that he ‘bore the marks of Christ’ on his body. The Apostles saw scripture for the drama that it is; I don’t think it was just some moldy old theology book to them … nor should it be to us. We should always approach Scripture with the same sense of awe, wonder, and simplicity that a child brings to his favorite story.   

I think the biggest problem we have when we forget the story of scripture and over-focus on its doctrines is that we lose context. One of my favorite books when I was little was Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. It usually took my mother about a week to read to it me. If she’d started in Chapter Three on Tuesday, and then skipped to the last chapter on Wednesday, I’d have been one mad little fella.  I wouldn’t have been able to follow the narrative. Characters’ actions would have made no sense, and I would have misunderstood most of the dialogue. Now, let me ask you this … if bouncing all over the place doesn’t work for ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, then why on earth would it work for the Bible? My method of scriptural study, my ‘hermeneutic’, if you will, was best described by Lewis Carrol, the iconic author of ‘Alice in Wonderland’: You start at the beginning, and when you get to the end, you stop!

When you start reading the Bible in Genesis and end in Revelation, it will make sense all by itself. You don’t have to stop along the way to tear apart the Hebrew of a passage. The interesting thing about scripture is that it is preserved for us by scholars, but it wasn’t written for scholars. Kind of like cars are maintained for us by mechanics, but they aren’t made for mechanics. They’re made for ordinary people to roll around in, whether they understand how the car works or not.  The simplest possible approach is nearly always the best one, I think … the ‘Superman approach’ if you will.

You can tell that God meant for us to have a child-like love for Him by how he describes us. What does the Bible call us, particularly in the New Testament? Sheep. Anyone here know anything about sheep? Sheep … are about the dumbest quadruped wandering God’s green earth. They’re complete idiots.

Where there are sheep there is always a sheep dog, and if that sheep dog gets an ornery streak and runs the sheep over a cliff, they’ll go right over without too much trouble. Sheep just aren’t very bright. And God calls us sheep. A lot. Do we really think that God would call us ‘sheep’, and then turn around and write a book that takes a rocket scientist to figure out? Of course he wouldn’t, because that’d be cruel, and God is kind.


Sheep are simple critters. So apparently are we, since God calls us sheep, and therefore so must scripture be, since it was written for us. When we read scripture and we have questions about it, I’m betting the simple answer is usually the right one. Jesus himself kind of spoke derisively about complicating scripture. Remember what he told the Pharisees in Matthew 23? “You blind guides! You strained out a gnat and you swallowed a camel!’ In other words, the Pharisees were so obsessed with the details of God’s law that they missed the big picture. A child would never have done such a thing. A child wouldn’t have noticed a gnat, but he’d have been excited about the camel. ‘Look, Mommy, a camel!’ A sheep would have noticed the camel, too.

Another problem that arises when we fail to approach scripture with a child-like attitude is that we start to add rules that complicate it. We the Churches of Christ are famous for that! When Alexander Campbell called us back to Biblical Christianity in the 1820’s and 30’s, God was using him to do an incredible thing. After nearly sixteen hundred years of misunderstandings – and I do believe the mistakes of medieval religion were just that, misunderstandings – Biblical salvation was being restored on a massive scale. But in their zeal, the Churches of Christ snuck in a few extra-biblical creeds that have haunted us ever since. They damaged our movement; in some cases, they have very nearly destroyed it.

One creed that snuck into our movement was the ‘commandment/example/inference ‘ idea. Anyone familiar with that one? Campbell and his contemporaries taught that when we study scripture, we should look first for a commandment, then for an example, and then if we still can’t figure out ‘proper doctrine’, we should rely lastly upon  inference. Now that’s not a bad method of study, and it often works… but the cold hard truth is that there’s no commandment saying we HAVE to study scripture that way. I think a bit differently on the topic. Because when you look at Scripture as a child does – as a story – it’s example that you should first be looking for, not commandment. The commandments are there just in case you’re too stubborn to follow the obvious example. Israel was given the Law of Moses because they were a ‘stubborn and stiff-necked people’. If they’d have been obedient enough to follow the examples of righteousness get by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they might not have needed those laws. Example came first, not commandment.

God is all about setting the example. Remember Romans 5:8? God demonstrates his own love for us in this; while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. As we looked at earlier, John says we were to walk as Jesus walked. We dwell on Peter’s commandment to repent and be immersed, but that commandment really didn’t do anything except cement Jesus’ example. Before Peter ever commanded us to be immersed into Christ’s body, Jesus showed us that we need to be. To reiterate His command that we should serve others, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet to show us how.  Commandments exist only to quantify and explain an example. And example is alive, and memorable. A commandment is hollow, and boring. An example inspires you to follow it. A commandment tempts you to look for a loophole in it. A child understands this; a theologian might not.

An author named Clive Barker wrote something years ago that always stuck with me. I read it in passing years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. He wrote that ‘so often we cut up something that’s alive and beautiful to find out why it’s alive and beautiful, and before we know it it’s neither of those things’. I think of that whenever I read 2 Timothy 3:16: ‘All scripture is God-breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness.’  Anything that has breath is something that’s alive. It’s the breath of God that gives scripture its supernatural power to teach, to correct, to rebuke, and ultimately to train us to be more like Jesus. Scripture’s ability to change us is directly linked to the life that God breathed into it.

But here’s the scary thing. Something that is alive is something that can also be killed. Any doctor knows that there is a difference between an examination and an autopsy. You can examine someone to find out how their system works, but if you’re not careful, you can cut too deeply with your scalpel and bleed the life out of them. I think scripture works the same way. If you don’t approach it with the same reverence and innocence that a child would, it ceases to be a great story and instead it just becomes an intellectual curiosity. When that happens, it’s dead. You’re not studying God’s word anymore, you’re giving it an autopsy. It can’t change you because you’re not interacting with it; you’re just bagging and toe-tagging its body parts.

 A good example of this is Dr. Virginia Mollenkott. Does that name ring a bell to anyone? It should. She was the Linguistic Styling Editor of the New International Version of the Bible. Dr. Mollenkott knows scripture perhaps better than any other living person today. Every single word of the NIV Bible went through her hands at least once, to ensure consistency in the English wording.  Know what? Dr. Mollenkott is a militant homosexual activist. I can’t say for sure because I don’t know her, but I’m wondering if scripture didn’t lose its luster for her because she had more of an interest in dissecting it than she did in simply reading it.

Clive Barker wrote something else, too. He wrote that ‘every single person is a book of blood; wherever we are opened, we’re red’. (And yes, the play on words was deliberate.) Scripture is a book of blood. You can honor it, and you can follow it … or you can – in a cold-blooded, deliberate manner – cut the life out of it. Scripture cuts us, as the author of Hebrews wrote in chapter 4, verse 12. But I think we overlook the fact that we can cut it back. By making scripture boring, by making it just another intellectual pursuit, we destroy it.

You know something?

Children don’t destroy scripture. They don’t mangle it. I remember bringing my mom my books and children’s bible and pestering her to read to me. Tell me about Samson. Tell me about David. Tell me about Noah. Tell me about Jesus. It was only when I was much older that I learned how to butcher the things I read in the Bible. It was only as an adult that that the word of Almighty God became insufferably boring to me. It was only as an adult that I forgot how to receive the Kingdom of God as a child would. God forbid we ever do such a thing.

Let me add a couple of caveats here. I’m not saying we don’t need scholars, and I’m not saying we don’t need theologians, because we do. In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul writes that ‘God has appointed teachers for the churches’. I’m just saying that teachers must be very, very careful, lest they – with their superior knowledge of scripture – over-complicate it, butcher it, and kill it. Anyone been to the movies lately? It’s amazing what Hollywood can do with special effects, isn’t it? But I’m betting it’s not so amazing to the director, and that’s what it’s like to be a teacher.  We need teachers, but teachers have to be careful not to lose their simple appreciation for God’s word.

And while I am saying we need to be child-like, understand that that’s not the same thing as being child-ish. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3 that ‘we are to grow in wisdom by studying the scriptures’. But maturing is not the same as becoming jaded. We’re meant to outgrow childish foolishness, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:11. But we are not meant to outgrow child-like enthusiasm, and child-like simplicity in regards to the things of God. We see that in the words of Jesus Himself, in John 8:29: He who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him. How simple is that? That’s not a very complicated idea at all.         

Just think about it for a second… what do you love best? A bunch of dusty old books, spouting a bunch of hard to understand philosophies… or a good story? Stories are alive. They inspire us, and capture our imaginations; they have a way of settling into our collective consciousness, and influencing entire cultures. What do we remember most about ancient Greece? The wars they fought, the kingdoms they conquered… or their myths? The Odyssey and the Iliad, Jason and the Argonauts, Achilles and his cursed heel, the Trojan horse and the golden fleece… Stories survive even the cultures that created them.

I think we’d win a lot more converts if we remembered what Jesus said about children. So many people look at Christianity, and they see an insane amount of negative drama.  They see creeds and doctrines and denominations and clerical hierarchies and hypocrisy, and in the end most of ‘em don’t want anything to do with it. Maybe we’d do better to teach people simply to climb onto Jesus’ lap and listen to the wonderfully exciting stories that he has to tell, and then live like He did, not because someone told you to, but because you admire Him… and you love Him.

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.

Another Gem from the Poet King…

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Regarding Perishable Immortality (Or Summer: An Essay)… (by Shaun Moser)

‘Memory, prophecy, and fantasy— The past, the future, and The dreaming moment between— Are all in one country, Living one immortal day. To know that is Wisdom. To use it is the Art.’ – Clive Barker

It was a whopping forty degrees outside today, which is positively unheard-of for this region in February. A discernible amount of our piled snow actually melted a little. Not much, mind you, but still a little.

Looking forward to spring, for some reason, often makes me look back on summer… or summers past, as the case may be.

I had only one mantra during my childhood: Escape! My home life was about as controlled as it could possibly get, and off-kilter, inconsistent parenting was usually the order of the day. (The off-kilter parenting was often served up with a side dish of verbal abuse.) Summertime gave me the opportunity to wander even further afield than usual, and thus I eternally relished the season.

There are some summertime memories, I think, that vary wildly from person to person; others are almost universal to our respective cultures. If you’re an American… remember Slip-n’-Slides?

A Slip-n’-Slide is this long rubber thingie, kind of like a bowling-alley lane for your backyard. You hook it up to a garden hose, and that makes it mist water along its length so that it stays slippery. See, the idea of a Slip-n’-Slide is to run at it as fast as you can, and then belly-flop so you can slide down it. (I told you it was kind of like a bowling alley!)

Slip-n’-Slides came in three colors: Yellow, yellow, and yellow. They were also available in three lengths: Five feet too short, ten feet too short, and fifteen feet too short. So the finale of one’s ride usually ended in the sodden grass, leaving the hapless human bowling-ball looking like ‘My Favorite Martian’. (I remember one time when I was at a backyard party, and a pretty girl from the neighborhood was there. I wanted to impress her, so of course I hit the Slip-n’-Slide as fast as I could. I hit the wooden privacy fence as fast as I could, too, which certainly made me look oh-so-debonair!)

I grew up in a vast urban center, kind of the ‘New York City’ of the South. But running right through my neighborhood was something we called ‘The Ditch’. It was a huge drainage trench, flanked on either side by ten or twenty feet of trees and corralled by fencing. To a kid, it was like having one’s own ‘Hundred-Acre Wood’ smack in the middle of a city.

One could walk for miles through the wooded easement, and cross the water at will since it was usually shallow and full of rocks. The Ditch bordered miles of backyard, too, so we could hide in the shrubs and spy on people. Over the years I witnessed a laundry-list of secretive, private acts: People hanging out their wet clothes, people mowing their lawns, people working in the garden, people washing their dogs…

Yeah. I know. Shameless voyeur, me!

I loved summer evenings the best, I think. In the South, that’s when it cools down and everyone comes outside to hang out (or at least, they did before PlayStation and NetFlix). I loved the dawning of dusk the best; that was the prime time for catching fireflies. You could fill up a Mason jar in short order, and read by its light. All the while, the cicada calls – one of the most bewitching sounds I’ve ever heard – would reverberate in the humid air.

I, like most kids my age, had a bicycle. (It was a BMX, which was the preferred brand in those days.) I loved to take it to the local park, which had a bike trail.

Okay, so maybe ‘trail’ is a bit of a misnomer. It was a suicide track, was what it was; I think Planned Parenthood set it up to get around the law banning fortieth-trimester abortions. See, first you dropped down this twenty-foot hill. Then you hit this ten-foot hill doing about mach-3, at which point you flew about twenty feet before you landed. (If you happened to biff the landing, there was this nice, hard embankment with pricker bushes for you to land in.)

And that was just the beginning of the ‘bike trail’. It got a lot worse from there, trust me. Knee pads? Nah. Elbow pads? What? Helmet? Sheeeee-yut, man… we don’t use those!

I grew up in ‘the Bible Belt’, which was pretty fun because there were churchyards on nearly every block. The churches with paved parking lots were a prime place in which to ride one’s skateboard, and the grassy ones were where you played football.

I was always the running-back when we played football, mainly because I could run like the wind and I was too skinny to be a lineman. Us all being from a neighborhood of humble means, no one had uniforms… so ‘shirts and skins’ it was! Lemme tell ya what, there ain’t nothing like being ‘slimed’ by some sweaty galoot who’s been running around in 100-plus degree heat all day. Builds character.

Summer still comes and goes every year, as predictable as human stupidity and infinitely more pleasant. But the summers of adulthood will never rival the summers of youth; how many adults, after all, does one ever see running around chasing fireflies? And if I ever catch some dude hiding in the shrubs spying on my wife, he’s getting hurt. So I suppose that’s all as it should be; the summers of youth end, as they were meant to, with Youth itself.

Still, when I think about summers – and the indelible stamp they leave upon our respective memories – the immortal words of Stephen King come back to haunt me: He awakens from this dream unable to remember exactly what it was, or much at all beyond the simple fact that he has dreamed about being a child again. He touches his wife’s smooth back as she sleeps her warm sleep and dreams her own dreams; he thinks that it is good to be a child, but it is also good to be grownup and able to consider the mystery of childhood… its beliefs and desires. I will write about all of this one day, he thinks, and knows it’s just a dawn thought, an after-dreaming thought. But it’s nice to think so for awhile in the morning’s clean silence, to think that childhood has its own sweet secrets and confirms mortality, and that mortality defines all courage and love. To think that what has looked forward must also look back, and that each life makes its own imitation of immortality: a wheel.

Fire and Blood: A Fable in Seven Parts

Author’s note: Fables are not my strong suit. Nor is writing in the present tense. But sometimes breaking one’s mold is satisfying, and more than a little cathartic…

Part I

In all the world, there is none so graceful, so beautiful, or so powerful as the Phoenix.

The awe-inspiring bird of ancient myth soars high above his world, transcending even Time itself. He soars in, out, and through all the ages of men, carried aloft by wings be-feathered with incandescent flame. He turns his piercing eye toward the doings of mankind with open scorn, his plumed head un-bowed. Un-bowed… before man, beast, and even the Almighty Himself.

For who is greater than the Phoenix? He is the dragon-bird of the Heavens, the Watchman of the Ages.

Perhaps he had a beginning, or perhaps he never did. Perhaps someone plucked him from the pyre of his birth. Or perhaps he is simply timeless, without beginning and certainly incapable of ever coming to an end.

In his travels the Phoenix gazes often upon the mountain of the Almighty. He finds it in odd places sometimes, the mountain, and always unexpectedly. Sometimes it rises from the desert, overlooking the heathen hordes of the Middle East. Sometimes it appears on lush isles, surrounded by the resort cities of America, the modern Roman Empire. But always it seems to follow the glorious Phoenix, the mountain, and always the great dragon-bird turns and sails disdainfully away from it, flicking his crimson tail feathers in irritation.

For the Almighty is really just a crutch for the weak, is He not? His worshippers grovel at the feet of their deity, their praise mixed always with barely concealed terror. They are addicts to religion, those weak-minded mortals who must need cling to the idea of a Greater Being. But not so the Phoenix… The Phoenix has sailed through all the ages alone, dependant on none, and will continue to do so.

The immortal Phoenix has no need of either the Almighty or His mortal servants. Do they love their master, really… or do they simply desire release from the fear of death?

Either way, the Phoenix is his own being, an entity apart.

As the sun rises over Eden, hits its zenith over the half-built Sphinx, and sets behind the crumbling Mount Rushmore, the Phoenix flies effortlessly across the fluid eonic winds – ageless, changeless, and proud beyond all measure.

For who, in the end, can be greater than the Phoenix?

Part II

The mammoth trumpets loudly, calling out in anguish as golden claws tear into its hide.

Crimson wings beat about its head, forcing it to the earth in unwilling surrender. It thrashes like a fish, a massive hulk of struggling sinew, fur and tusk. Its piteous cries tear into the frigid Siberian air, mingling with the vicious snarling of the hungry Phoenix.

At last the great mammoth dies, as everything must in the end. It settles into the snow, spreading a scarlet stain upon the pristine white blanket.

The Phoenix throws his head up in triumph, his chilling victory scream piercing the still, frozen night as blood drips from his razor-sharp beak.

While the Phoenix hunts here often, he disdains to actually eat here… For what union can a creature of fire and flame have with the never-ending ice? Grasping his kill in his curved talons, the Phoenix takes wing toward another age, another place.

The Phoenix drops his prey atop a high, lonely mountain, one whose peak pierces the cloud barrier. Here mankind will hinder him not; here, he may continue to remain the stuff of mystery, of myth.

Of course, every boon has it price…

For where mankind is not, the celestial becomes more tangible. Here there be the guardians and warriors, the protectors and killers of mankind; they flock about the Phoenix curiously, cherubim, seraphim, and nephilim all. The winged, ethereal creatures – male and female both – flit about the Phoenix as he feeds, the ghost-like tendrils of their clothing just brushing the great dragon-bird, their touch as light as a whisper.  

It is not long before their presence becomes odious; the Phoenix rises from his gorging, his tearing of flesh and cracking of bones, and snaps angrily at the celestial minions who come too close. This is his prey, his kill, and he is determined that they should hinder him not.

They eye him but coolly, completely unbothered by the rage of the mythical Phoenix. He is merely legend, their indifference seems to say… But they are the sort that pre-dates even legend. As such, they are beyond even the Phoenix’s reproach and retribution. They are as numb to his attempts at rebuttal as Death was to the mammoth’s frantic trumpeting.

The Phoenix will later tell himself that he’d eaten enough, that he was about to leave anyway. He takes wing furiously, leaving his gory, dismembered meal to sully the mountain’s craggy peak, and leaves this hell of angelic torment.

He’d eaten enough… really, and truly, and the celestials mattered no. They had nothing whatsoever to do with his leaving.

Really.

Part III

The Almighty is an elusive thing, easy to see, easy to identify but hard to follow, and impossible to pin down.

The Phoenix resents Him mightily for this.

Sometimes the Almighty is obvious but distant, a shining form that tops of the mountains from which he views the entirety of His creation. It is then that the Phoenix resents Him the most, for He is untouchable then, unfathomable and omnipotent; His very presence seems to scorn the mighty Phoenix.

The Almighty, in His untouchable, all-powerful form. How the Phoenix hates Him!

Often the Almighty becomes Spirit, the sentient, changeless phantom. This form, also, the Phoenix dislikes. But he is not so afraid of Him then; he cannot see the Spirit of the Almighty, after all. But he can sense Him, and he finds him frightening nonetheless. The Spirit is separate from the God upon the mountains – but yet He is the same singular, sovereign entity that is the Almighty.

Some days, though, for brief, passing moments, the Almighty becomes simply… mortal. A perishable vessel of flesh. A man, much like any other.

The Phoenix cannot say why he even recognizes this incarnation of the Almighty, this Son of Man. Perhaps he can sense the Spirit within Him, or perhaps the tangible Almighty simply shines even more brightly upon Him.

The Son of Man, too – like the mountaintop Almighty, or the Spirit – is also the Almighty Himself, yet the Phoenix grasps this not. One thing, however, is certain; the Phoenix does not fear the Son of Man. He follows Him daily, floating effortlessly on astral winds, watching as the human Almighty does very human things with His time.

Some days the Son of Man works at mundane tasks, wielding hammer and saw as lustily as any carpenter. He sweats, bleeds, laughs and grunts like any other man intent on building the buildings that house his world.

Yet sometimes the Son of Man pulls away, to pray, to connect with the Almighty upon His mountaintop – this Almighty who is also the Son of Man. Sometimes He wanders the known world with those He has chosen, His select followers. The Phoenix, if he would follow, is forced to fly far and wide, watching from a distance as the Son of Man spreads whatever news He carries to the far corners of His humble nation.

Sometimes the Phoenix lingers within the age of the Son of Man for a time, and sometimes he travels to another, leaving the Almighty-made-flesh to His own devices.

Today, however, the Phoenix is earthbound, watching lazily, preening his crimson feathers disdainfully as the Son of Man stands at the foot of a tall mountain, speaking quietly to his closest friends. The Phoenix cannot hear His words, nor does he care to. He is simply here to observe, to find some new reason to cast scorn upon God and Man both.

The Phoenix raises his plumed head, suddenly intrigued.

The Son of Man has risen above his followers, hands outspread, moving aloft as though pulled by unseen strings.

Now, thinks the Phoenix with macabre humor, Man has learned to fly?! Smiling with his hooked, cruel beak, the Phoenix lunges from beneath his shade tree.

Far, far above the awestruck assemblage, the Almighty shines from His mountain. The Son of Man sails toward Him, as though somehow drawn by the majesty of the Frightfully Eternal.

Determined suddenly not to be denied a privilege handed to a mortal – even a wholly Divine, Immortal Mortal – the Phoenix flies upward, determined to follow the Son of Man into whatever heaven might await Him atop the mountain.

And who truly knows what really waits at the top of the mountain of the Almighty? Only the Almighty Himself, and His Spirit… and the Son of Man.

But soon, the Phoenix vows silently to himself, he too will know.

Part IV

Straining more with each flap of his thunderous wings, the Phoenix rises higher and higher, following the Son of Man as He ascends toward the mountaintop.

Flames lick at the tips of his wings the beat at the chilly air, but the Phoenix worries not. These are not the flames that consume, but the flames that illuminate, that the world may see the Phoenix and stand in awe.

The Phoenix breaks through the clouds and then through the atmosphere, breaking into the Eternal Night as he struggles to overtake the Son of Man. The Son looks serenely down at the Phoenix, shaking his head a little. Silly bird, He seems to be saying. You cannot seize my world for yourself, any more than you can seize the wind

The Phoenix pays Him little heed. He merely redoubles his efforts, determined not to be outdone by anyone, divine or otherwise.

Still the Son of Man rises, moving past star and planet, through the Endless Nothing toward the mountaintop heaven.

The Phoenix begins to tremble more and more with each passing stroke of his wings. Tarnished feathers fall from his aching wings every now and again, drifting slowly toward the atmosphere, where they disappear in flashes of flame and puffs of smoke.

The Phoenix is slowly overtaken by a dawning realization, the sinking feeling that he might actually be able to die.

Still the Son of Man rises serenely, paying the Phoenix little mind.

The ageless beast continues his ascent, but with increasing sluggishness. He hangs his head low, his plume all but gone now, diminished feather by missing feather until it is no more.

One… last… flap, one last desperate plunge toward the Son of Man – who is all but out of sight.

The bedraggled tail feathers that once pointed toward the earth point suddenly skyward, and the Phoenix begins to fall.

He resists, of course, managing a feeble movement of his twitching wings every now and then. But to no avail; he has reached the end of his strength, and he is utterly spent. There is no help for him now… For who would bother to aid him who has scorned all?

The Phoenix hits the atmosphere with a rush of searing pain, and a sudden stab of fear. Like the returning space capsules of the modern age, the force of re-entering the firmament causes massive heat.

As his body begins to simmer and scorch, the Phoenix realizes that this is not the sort of flame that illuminates…

This is the sort of flame that consumes.

The Phoenix stares downward with bulging eyes. Gone is the stunned crowd who watched the Son of Man ascend into heaven; gone is the lush valley of earlier, the tree beneath which the Phoenix preened his once-lovely feathers.

The earth opens up slowly, a hungry maw of flaming fissures, cracks that scar the face of the earth like veins on a dying man.

The Phoenix plunges down, down, exhausted beyond recovery. He looks upward painfully; the Son of Man is far beyond his gaze.

Gone is the crowd, the followers of the Son.

There is no one to listen, no one to hear as the Phoenix crashes into a fissure and begins to burn.

Part V

The Phoenix lifts his head wearily; exhausted, he lets it fall. The flames in which it lands are unbearably painful, yet he lacks the strength to fly away.

His wings crack ominously as he rolls over; his crimson feathers burn one by one, curling away from his blistering flesh in withering clumps of smoldering ash.

So this, then, is Death. To burn yet not be consumed, to suffer and yet not die.

Squawking weakly, the Phoenix struggles to his knees. His golden claws melt and drip away, and his toes dig into the softened earth. Looking skyward with smoke-blurred eyes, the Phoenix looks skyward at the stars, toward the sky that was once his playground.

The Son of Man is up there somewhere, while he – the great Phoenix, the timeless demon-bird – wallows here, in the flames of his own making. All that he ever knew, all that he ever wanted although he’d taken it for granted, is up there… nearly within the grasp of his twisted talons.

So close… and so far that it may as well be on another planet. Life, liberty and all that is good are just out reach but within easy eyeshot, tormenting, mocking.

The Phoenix flops painfully toward a shadow at the edge of the fissure, dragging his broken wings painfully behind them. Maybe it is cooler here; maybe, he thinks, the fire is not quite so hot.

He curls up in the crack, covering his de-plumed head with his spindly, tattered wings. Gone is the glorious creature of ages both past and future; gone is the Watchman of the Ages. Only this tormented beast remains, worse off than any creature who ever perished beneath his grasp.

The Phoenix lays his head down. Groaning, his breath coming in short, ragged gasps.

He feels something beneath his head, something that shouldn’t be here, something that should not have survived the flames.

Ever curious even in his agony, the Phoenix blinks the smoke from his eyes and peers through the darkness.

A scroll. He’d lain his head upon a scroll, something perishable, a creation forged of parchment and ink. Something easily destroyed by flame and heat… yet here it is.

Bits of his burnt and melted feathers cling to the scroll as he unfurls it, his need for distraction overcoming even his pain.

He reads the first few words aloud, mouthing the words with a smoke-blackened beak. In the beginning

‘In the beginning’, here at the end of all that is worthwhile, the end of all joy…

But he can sit out there, wallowing in the flames… or he can hide here in this crack that barely hides him, where even the flames lick inward every once in a moment, and read.

In the beginning…

Part VI

The Son of Man stands at the edge of the fissure, looking down upon the Phoenix.

The Phoenix looks up, knowing what he must do. He knows why the Son is here, and what he came to do. He knows for what purpose he has been given the scroll…

But such a loss of pride! Such a humiliation, to do what the Son expects of him!

The Phoenix groans as he looks around. He had once lived for his pride, valued it above all else. But now he knew better.

For as long as he clings to his pride… he will burn. It was not the Son of Man who threw him into this furnace, but he himself, and by virtue of his own pride, his own sin. And there was no help for him, by his own effort; he could only, by his own effort, do nothing but sit here and burn.

Giving in at last, the Phoenix raises his voice and cries out to the Son of Man, begging for mercy, for redemption. Screeching, he recants his pride and his rebellion; he wails out a raucous song of repentance and supplication.

As though He had been waiting for just such a cry, the Son of Man readily raises His arm.

His sleeve falls down His arm, revealing a gaping hole in his wrist. Blood pours from the wound, as though the wound is yet fresh, and deliberately un-bandaged. The Phoenix stares in disbelief, wondering what on earth this has to do with his cries for mercy.  

The blood gushes into the fissure like a flood, slowly beginning to fill it. The Phoenix thrashes about in alarm, frightened. He is burnt nearly beyond recognition, still in terrible agony… but what good is this blood going to do him?!

The blood pours in, filling the fissure, rising like a flood…

The Phoenix raises his beak above the rising tide, squawking in terror… But his cries are cut short by an abrupt gurgle. The blood covers even his head now, and there is utter silence.

There is only the Son of Man…

And the fissure full of blood, the sanguine pit that once held an eternally dying Phoenix.

Part VII

The Phoenix stands up, flexing his golden claws… claws that, moments ago, had been melted beyond recognition.

He raises his head slowly, the head once crushed in defeat, the head whose plume had been burned to ash. He clicks his once-scorched beak and surveys the dusky-gray sky above with piercing eyes, eyes undimmed by neither smoke nor tears.

He looks to his left, to his right as he spreads his wings. His crimson feathers gleam wonderfully even beneath the slate-colored dawn, and his shoulders and breath ripple with fluid strength and renewed resilience.

The Phoenix looks over his shoulders and eyes his tail, a glorious thing meant to flow behind him like a trail from a comet.

Awed by his new being, the Phoenix looks around. The blood soaks the fissure yet, the Pit that had once been his Hell. The Pit in which he burned and died a death of sorts, the Pit in which he lay feeble and wounded and tormented by Death that refused to become something final, and clean.

The blood boils yet, but only a little as the heat dies; already it is cooler here. The Phoenix cocks his head, listening to the dead leaves scattering in the breeze above. They make a rasping sound, pleasantly reminiscent of trees limbs, scratching gently on a windowpane on a cold, windy night.

Smiling, the Phoenix crouches a little, holding his wings behind him…

Shrieking like a resurrected banshee, the triumphant Watchman of the Ages lunges from the Pit, soaring toward the clouds in a geyser of color and flame… The sort of flame that glorifies, that illuminates; the flame that consumes is dead now, extinguished once and for all by the outpouring of blood.

Ah, the Blood…

Confused – suddenly unsure of himself – the Phoenix looks downward, gliding for a moment upon a convenient breeze.

The Son of Man stands by the edge of the fissure yet, watching the Phoenix circle the sky, His wrists bleeding yet. Yet the Son of Man seems unconcerned about this, as though He doesn’t mind bleeding. As though He was so eager to watch the flames die that the blood bothers Him not; He seems in no rush to seek a bandage, or healing.

The Phoenix looks up, peering beyond the veil of time…

He looks out across the courtyard, toward the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The great works of man, from Colossus to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon…

He stares across the golden bridge into the New Sodom, imagining it falling into the bay when the Father’s vengeance comes to the city at last…

He watches with growing hunger the migrating mammoth herds of Siberia, and the hustle and bustle of the glory that was once Rome…

And he suddenly realizes that none of it matters. Vanity, meaningless…

Empty.  

The Phoenix circles a little, and looks down upon the one thing in his life of arrogance, death, and re-birth that ever did matter.

Making his decision, the great dragon-bird abandons the skies that he once so loved, and plunges toward the earth.

The Son of Man raises his arms, smiling His gentle smile, as though He’d been waiting. His wrists bleed yet, but perhaps they must; perhaps there are other flames that need snuffed, other victims that need re-birth.

The Phoenix skids to the earth at the feet of the Son, bowing his head in a gesture never before known to him… And there he remains. He spreads his wings, lowering them humbly to the ground, waiting.

Come with me, the Phoenix seems to stay. Let me be your beast of burden; let me be that which bears through all time, to do the work which you came to do. Let me be that which carries you across the sky, in all your glory.

The Son of Man lays a gentle hand on the feathered head before Him, spilling a few more drops of blood as He does.

Let me do this for you, the Phoenix seems to say. Please, not because you need my help…

But because it would be my honor, for I love you.

FINIS

Don’t Call ME a ‘Human’!

I have a writer’s block.

Really, I do.

It’s this shoe-box that sits next to my writing desk. Normally I stack CD’s on it, so I can listen to music while I write. But if I wanted to, I could pick up that shoe-box and set it on the desk where my laptop normally sits. And then I couldn’t write there anymore, see? That shoe-box would totally block my ability to type.

Other’n that, I have NO idea what it means to have ‘writer’s block’.

To me, writing is like throwing up. Or sneezing, or maybe having sex. In all those situations, a physical urge has built up that requires release… and finding release is extremely satisfying. It’s not that I’m pursuing an obsession by writing for hours on end; rather, I’m purging an unknown ‘something’ that has been causing pressure to build up in my fragile little head.

Writing is not a job. It is not a pursuit. Nor is it a hobby, or even a neurosis…

It’s a mental purge. Some people can contain their thoughts, neatly filing them away as they go about their daily lives…

And others cannot. There’s got to be a ‘data dump’, or our mental health begins to suffer. Some of us must eject our excess thoughts, foisting them desperately upon others.

Those who can contain their own thoughts are simply called ‘people’. Those who cannot are a different specie altogether…

They’re called ‘writers’.

If you’re a ‘person’, count yourself lucky; seriously, there is some stuff that you just don’t wanna understand! If you’re a writer, be well my friend…

Or at least, as well as someone like you – or I – can be!